A Blackhawk helicopter flew low and circled Florida's Orange Bowl stadium Wednesday when, suddenly, ropes were thrown out of the body of the aircraft and SWAT teams began fast roping from the chopper to the ground in a matter of seconds.
The team was part of an unusual demonstration meant to showcase how the FBI and local SWAT teams would handle the threat of a so-called dirty bomb on a major metropolitan city.
"It is really a more highly choreographed demonstration than we would usually have," said Stephanie Veigas, a special agent with the FBI who is in charge of Miami's weapons of mass destruction team. "If this were real life it would be much slower, but we want to be able to show how local and federal law enforcement would neutralize weapons of mass destruction and radiological threats in a metropolitan area."
Hundreds of law enforcement officials from nearly 30 countries gathered in Miami this week to compare notes on how to best combat what many fear is the next step in global terrorism: a nuclear weapon.
The conference opened with a live feed from a group of delegates in Kazhakstan. The deputy director of Russia's equivalent of the FBI, the FSB, sat next to the superintendent of the French National Police. This is a global effort and a global worry.
"By some estimates there is enough highly enriched uranium in global stockpiles to construct thousands of nuclear weapons — and it is safe to assume that there are many individuals who would not think twice about using such weapons," said FBI Director Robert Mueller in his opening speech at the conference. Mueller said the only way to fight the threat is without regard to borders, and with total cooperation — not just between countries, but between local and federal law enforcement also.
During the demonstration, a Sikorsky flew over the stadium and made a deep banking turn and hovered just 50 feet off the ground to let the SWAT teams out. Instead of carrying real guns, they emerged with paintball weapons and immediately surrounded a mock warehouse on the 50-yard-line of the field. The officers surrounded the house in question and broke down the doors. Shots were fired. The popping sound echoed around the stadium.
Needless to say, law enforcement in this case won the day. They found the nuclear device, disarmed it and no one was hurt.
Outside the Orange Bowl, FBI officials and members of local Hazmat teams had assembled a bazaar of sorts. They stood before shiny black trucks and little devices to track radioactive sources. There were rubber boats and hydraulic hammers.
Brandon Hancock, a hazmat specialist with the FBI, stood in front of what he called a "disaster toolbox." In cases like that of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon in 2001, the FBI uses these tools to get under major rubble. Hancock picked up diamond bits and jackhammers and weighed them in his hands to show how heavy they were.
"You have a lot of steel breakers and you have diamond bit plates," Hancock said. "We have pretty much every hydraulic tool you can imagine."
The gamma spectrometer, one of Sgt. John Fleishman's favorite devices, looked like the handheld computers that agents at rent-a-car companies use to check in cars upon return. But Fleishman said this computer is used for radiological monitoring and identification.
"It helps you monitor radiation around you," Fleishman said. "It can help you find the radiation source and tell you if it is uranium, plutonium, Cobalt 67, whichever."
Orange Bowl demonstration, and the tools involved, revolved around worst case scenarios. The tools would help law enforcement once the terrorists had already struck, when the nuclear or chemical or biological device had already gone off.
Officials at the conference said they hoped to never have to put their exercise – or their tools – to work in a real scenario.