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How Delta Force Works

RELEASED September 30, 2008
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Episode Summary
With the world's best weaponry, a shadowy legal status, and almost no oversight, Delta Force is the stuff of military legend. Check out this HowStuffWorks podcast to learn why Delta Force was created, and how this group works.

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh, this is Chuck over here. Say hey, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Hey.

Josh Clark: Chuck, I should probably slow it down, stop sounding so, like, morning talk show hosty. Have you heard about the bombing in Yemen of the U.S. Embassy?

Chuck Bryant: I haven't. Did that just happen?

Josh Clark: Yeah, it happened very recently. I think the 16th - September 16th.

Chuck Bryant: Wow, I feel like a heel now.

Josh Clark: Well, don't feel too bad. For some reason, any bombing that happens in Yemen doesn't make the biggest news. I don't know why because this an Al-Qaeda bombing and [inaudible] it could've been a lot, lot worse. There was a group of guys who were loaded down with explosives, their car was just laden down with explosives and they were making - they were going to go through the first checkpoint, blow up the gate after the first checkpoint and then a second car was going to come through and kill anybody and everybody. Well, the guards at the checkpoint didn't buy the first cars story so they opened fire and they blew up so these guards were killed but it alerted everybody to what was going on. It was a fire fight between the Yemen security around the American Embassy and the second car and eventually all the terrorists were killed but I think 16 people total died and most of those were - well, no, there was one American but most of them were working at the embassy. It was a big deal. It was the first major terrorist attack on a U.S. target since September 11th, 2001.

Chuck Bryant: But we haven't heard anything about it because Sarah Palin's eyeglasses are making front page news.

Josh Clark: Her up dos is capturing most of the headlines.

Chuck Bryant: Right, no wonder I didn't hear about it.

Josh Clark: So, I was reading an article in Time and they were saying, like, this is the most recent clear indicator that we have a real problem with Al-Qaeda in Yemen. It's a hot bed. Like, it's very friendly to the west and actually this attack was supposedly retaliation for Yemeni security forces staging, like, counter terrorist activities and Al-Qaeda is, like, what do you think you're doing? So, it is friendly to the United States but, at the same time, it's still kind of a hotbed of Al-Qaeda activity. The thing is, we're pretty fairly entrenched in Iraq right now. I don't know if you've heard -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, we invaded in 2003, haven't left yet. It doesn't look like we're going to any time soon. And, now, Afghanistan is boiling over again. The last thing we need is another front and Yemen doesn't sound like the kind of country we're just going to walk into and invade basically so what do you do? What do you when you have a hotbed of Al-Qaeda activity and you need surgical precision, take out as much of the guys as possibly?

Josh Clark: You know what I would do?

Chuck Bryant: What?

Josh Clark: Two words, delta force.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, I've heard of these guys.

Josh Clark: Actually, I haven't heard of them. You know why, because they don't officially exist.

Chuck Bryant: I know, that's kind of creepy but kind of cool.

Josh Clark: It is, yeah, there's - we should probably warn the listeners right now. Chuck and I will most likely devolve into some sort of weird boyhood admiration of all the
sick, sick stuff delta force has done over the years so just be forewarned if we start tittering or get really excited or one of us takes our shirt off, don't be offended, okay.

Chuck Bryant: I know, I did find myself, when I was reading your article, because I'm - I would say classify as anti-war. I'm not for this stuff but when I was reading this stuff about the delta force, I just thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.

Josh Clark: Well, I think that's what's so cool about delta force is you send them in; you don't need to go to war. They take care of business.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, maybe that's what I like about it. It's clean and precise and quick and that's kind of how it should be.

Josh Clark: So, we should probably get some background here. Delta force is essentially, as we said, unrecognized officially by the U.S. government. I had a lot of trouble in writing an article on them because you really have to piece everything together, there's lots of hearsay, there's no concrete evidence, like, there's no congressional hearing -

Chuck Bryant: Right, no delta force.com that you can go to.

Josh Clark: Exactly. There is but it was sadly disappointing and clearly run by -

Chuck Bryant: Was it the Chuck Norris movie?

Josh Clark: - some guy - no, no. Which, by the way, the Chuck Norris movie, Delta Force, highly inaccurate, widely inaccurate? There was another movie had made, called Invasion USA, which in that movie he much more resembled a delta force operator. He didn't wear a uniform, he had an uzi, it - I think both of those movies; Lee Marvin was in both of them, right?

Chuck Bryant: The great - late great Lee Marvin.

Josh Clark: Right. Well, specifically in Delta Force, Lee Marvin's character but also in Invasion USA as well, Lee Marvin's character was very much based on this guy named Colonel Beckwith. I don't remember Colonel Beckwith's first name, do you?

Chuck Bryant: Colonel.

Josh Clark: Yeah, we'll just call him Colonel.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I think that's how they prefer it.

Josh Clark: He's like a murderous version of Cher in Colonel. So, Colonel Beckwith was this guy who basically had been over in Great Britain to train with the SAS -

Chuck Bryant: Right, the British special forces.

Josh Clark: Special Forces. Right. So, he's over there. He's really impressed with this group. We have our own version of the Special Forces. It's - I can't remember what - it's special forces operational detachment A I believe. And that's our regular special forces, who in and of themselves, are just complete and total just - they're rough, they're tough.

Chuck Bryant: Right, can we say badass?

Josh Clark: I don't think there's any way to get around it. Let's just get it out of the way right now. Delta force is badass. Yes, they are most decidedly and the special forces, in and of themselves, these are the thinking man's arm of the Army. They are basically inserted into enemy territory and they identify descending groups against the - whatever government we want to topple and one or two Special Forces guys assemble guerrilla armies out of these descending forces and create insurgencies from within. It's been done before. That's just Special Forces. Delta force actually draws from Special Forces.

Chuck Bryant: They're not even Army. They don't even - they don't identify with any particular branch, right, because they draw the toughest dudes out of all the branches.

Josh Clark: Right, yeah, yeah, and have you read Black Hawk Down or Killing Pablo?

Chuck Bryant: No, I saw the movie.

Josh Clark: Okay. There's this -

Chuck Bryant: And I saw a great documentary on it, too.

Josh Clark: I saw that one, too. It was excellent. On an unnamed channel! The author of that book, Mark Bowden, is apparently just loved by the delta force because he's actually interviewed delta force operators which is what they're called, they're not soldiers. They're operators.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I kind of like that.

Josh Clark: And they don't wear uniforms or fatigues. They shoot anything they like, which we'll get into later. That gets a certain private companies who hire delta force operators in trouble but Mark Bowden put it pretty clearly. He said they are professional soldiers who hate the Army, which really, if you think about it, that's the definition of a Mercenary.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, basically.

Josh Clark: But they're under control. They're ostensibly under the control of the U.S. Military, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but apparently, like we say, this is all kind of -

Josh Clark: It's all conjecture.

Chuck Bryant: - conjecture but only answer to the president and that's kind of my favorite part.

Josh Clark: Yeah, well, that whole thing came out of their second mission. Their first mission was to guard the Pan-American Games I think in 1978 and that went smoothly. Nothing noteworthy happened, maybe because the delta force was there. I don't know. Their second mission was Operation Eagle Claw. This was the hostage takeover in Iran in 1980 - 1979. Two years after delta force had been assembled and this was back when Colonel Beckwith was real hands-on and he was in there and basically like the Lee Marvin character, he's leading the charge and shooting commie's and all that kind of thing. So, this is Operation Eagle Claw. They're flying in to do a strike on the American Embassy that's been taken over by Irani extremists.

Chuck Bryant: Flying in and what? Plane, black helicopters?

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: It's not like a TCs rainbow colored island hopper on Magnum PI. It doesn't say U.S. Army, it doesn't say CIA.

Josh Clark: Actually, to tell you the truth, it would probably more resemble TCs helicopter than your normal Hughie. They have their own aviation platoon that can get them from place-to-place and actually creates plausible deniability. It could just as easily be a bunch of crazed, wealthy American businessmen bent on patriotism as it could be delta force.

Chuck Bryant: Right, but Eagle Claw - I had distracted you.

Josh Clark: So, Eagle Claw, they're going in - there's a helicopter crash and they never get to actually carry out the mission. The problem was is that delta force was being commanded by traditional special forces -

Chuck Bryant: Commanders.

Josh Clark: - at the time.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: After that, they were taken out of command. As I say in the article, no one has any idea whose command they were put under and you kind of get the impression the more you find out about delta force, that they're not under anyone's command. Like I say, they answer to the president. I think that's probably about it.

Chuck Bryant: Right and no one knows where their funding comes from. I think you called it a black fund.

Josh Clark: It is a black fund, yes. There's some sort of appropriations that I'm sure congress deals with every year, two years, whatever, and then gives X number of millions and millions of dollars to this delta force black fund and they do whatever they like with it, and actually, in 1985, that was a banner year for getting actual documented evidence that there is a delta force. Some delta force operators were being investigated for basically misappropriating money from that black funds. They had been deployed to, I think Sicily, to - for counter terrorism activity and before they could leave the country they had to be cleared by the justice department because they were all under investigation because they had been basically pilfering money from black fund. I mean, what do you do? How do you pilfer money from a black fund? You just put it in your pocket and you walk away?

Chuck Bryant: I guess so. There's a got to be a money trail somehow but nothing that is public, obviously.

Josh Clark: Well, also, I mean, what are you going to do, it's delta force. Like, hey, give us our money back. No. Okay. Sure.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. We'll come in there with a submachine gun and -

Josh Clark: Yeah, yeah.

Chuck Bryant: - have a talk about it.

Josh Clark: And their weaponry actually is the stuff of legends as well. Apparently, they favor Heckler and Kach tremendously, MP5s, M4s -

Chuck Bryant: M4s and MP5s.

Josh Clark: - which are pretty cool submachine guns.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I looked them up on the internet. It's really cool looking.

Josh Clark: I can tell you -

Chuck Bryant: And I don't even like guns.

Josh Clark: No, but these things -

Chuck Bryant: And these things are awesome.

Josh Clark: Exactly. This is the heart of delta force. Okay. This is - what Chuck just said is exactly the heart of delta force. He is against war and yet he is awed by delta force. He doesn't even like guns and yet he's awed by the gun that delta force uses. This is quintessential delta force.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. And, well, part of it has to do with the fact that their operations, they have some of the names, Eagle Claw and Operation Urgent Fiery was one of my favorites.

Josh Clark: Where was that, Granada or -

Chuck Bryant: That was -

Josh Clark: - Panama?

Chuck Bryant: No, that Granada and then Panama was Operation Just Cause.

Josh Clark: Operation Just Cause was the operation where the United States, including special forces, I think the Army rangers were there. Basically, we sent in a contingent of our best of the best down there to get rid of Manual Noriega and -

Chuck Bryant: Right, and rescued a CIA guy.

Josh Clark: Yeah, there was a CIA guy who'd been operating in Panama, basically doing radio-free broadcast and he'd been captured and so delta force went in and I believe rescued him.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, rescued him.

Josh Clark: And they also captured Noriega. If it wasn't delta force, somebody captured Noriega because, as far as I know, he's still in a prison in Miami right now.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I think they help capture him. So, it might have been one of those things where - I have a feeling delta force a lot of times doesn't get the public credit for some of these things because they don't exist.

Josh Clark: Right. Exactly. And the other impression I have is that delta force really doesn't care about the public credit. I think they just like to be deployed. Whenever I think of delta force, supposedly they're headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina which is the home of the Army Special Forces as well and apparently it's a very-well funded, great training center but when I think about delta force training, I just see a bunch of guys who are either bored or frustrated. They want to be around in the world, in Yemen for example, illegally, hunting down Al-Qaeda operatives and shooting them while they're unarmed.

Chuck Bryant: Well, the other thing that you'll find, if you were to see a delta force training operation, is some excellent marksmen.

Josh Clark: Yeah, this is really something. You want to tell them what the requirements are? As far as we know, again, this is conjecture but we got this from, I think VWF Magazine, you want me to tell them there, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: No, I'll take it. This is reputed, of course. The delta force recruits must show 100 percent accuracy from 600 yards away.

Josh Clark: Okay. So, that's six football fields.

Chuck Bryant: Six football fields. 100 percent!

Josh Clark: You have to be able to hit a target in the heart from six football fields away. Where's the 90 percent accuracy?

Chuck Bryant: 90 percent is at a 1,000 yards so they'll give you a little bit of leeway if you're shooting from a 1,000 yards away.

Josh Clark: That's 10 football fields.

Chuck Bryant: Right, 10 football fields.

Josh Clark: Now, they also - we were talking about the [inaudible], the weapons they like, there's a Browning 50 caliber sniper rifle.

Chuck Bryant: That's a very large shell for people that don't know.

Josh Clark: It's enormous. It is enormous. And, apparently, they use that for targets up to 1,750 yards.

Chuck Bryant: Right. I mean, that's the kind of thing that can go through a wall, then through another wall and then threw a brick wall and then into someone's tank probably.

Josh Clark: Yeah, probably.

Chuck Bryant: And then threw somebody's helmet and head. That's what a 50 cal will do.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and then go out the back and wrap a Christmas present on the way.

Chuck Bryant: It's not a friendly caliber.

Josh Clark: It's pretty amazing. No.

Chuck Bryant: I'll tell you what, man, if I was stuck in Granada, if I was a journalist and I was blindfolded and potentially going to be beheaded, you know who I would want coming to visit me -

Josh Clark: Oh, no, I realize.

Chuck Bryant: - delta force.

Josh Clark: Sure, of course.

Chuck Bryant: Nobody else.

Josh Clark: No, and they have had some sterling operations that have made it into the media. There was a hi-jacked airliner in I think 1984 and what country was it, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: '84, was that Yemen?

Josh Clark: If it was, then wow.

Chuck Bryant: It wasn't Yemen. I'm kidding.

Josh Clark: Well, let's just say it - okay. Well, go with a 1984 airliner hi-jacking. These guys, I believe - I don't know how many members were on the team, they stormed the airliner. Now, there's four hi-jackers in there -

Chuck Bryant: Indonesia.

Josh Clark: Indonesia. Right. Okay. They stormed the airliner that was on the tarmac, the jet. There's four hi-jackers who had this whole plane load of hostages. Delta force goes in there and, as far as I know, they used the two-tap method which Colonel Beckwith came up with. The two-tap method is where you put two bullets in the head of each target.

Chuck Bryant: Right, it's not a love tap. Exactly!

Josh Clark: No, no. So, I think I point out in the article, you know, when you see somebody on TV or in a movie and they have spared some enemy that is dying but he picks up a gun and tries to shoot and maybe kills so -

Chuck Bryant: Die Hard for instance.

Josh Clark: - that doesn't happen with delta force. If you get two bullets in the head from a delta force operative, you're going down and you're coming back.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's definitely a shoot first, don't even ask questions. There are no questions.

Josh Clark: So, I think this was TWA flight or something. They stormed this flight, two -taps to each hostage taker. Not one causality! Not one innocent causality. As far as I know, only the four hi-jackers died.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Isn't that crazy to think about this international incident and these hostages and eight bullets takes care of the whole thing.

Josh Clark: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Chuck Bryant: I kind of thinks that cool.

Josh Clark: I agree wholeheartedly. Now, we are getting a little drooly, as I warned, we're pretty excited about delta force right now.

Chuck Bryant: We want to be in delta force.

Josh Clark: Kind of, kind of, although, you wouldn't know if I was.

Chuck Bryant: Oh.

Josh Clark: So, there's plenty of criticism of delta force. They were reputably part of the siege of the Branch Davidians compound in Waco that went horribly awry. This didn't get across in the article but some of the sources that I read, it sounded very plausible.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and that's one of the black eyes on the Clinton Administration and our country as a whole I think.

Josh Clark: The other thing, from researching this article is, Clinton seemed - let me put it differently. The delta force was operating within U.S. borders which is not what's supposed to be done. The military isn't supposed to operate in the borders of the United States unless Marshall Law has been declared.

Chuck Bryant: Right, as far as police action goes.

Josh Clark: Right, that happened a lot under Clinton. A disproportionate amount! It happened supposedly at Waco.

Chuck Bryant: Well, actually, what I love about Waco though is they admitted there were three delta force guys there and one was supposedly an observer which, I don't know -

Josh Clark: Right. He was just standing there watching. Sure.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, from what I get from these guys, they're not ones to stand around and look and go, wow, you're doing a great job.

Josh Clark: Right, exactly, you know, padding the backs of the FBI, like, way to firestorm that place. Way to go, buddy. We know for a fact that they were at the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle in 1999, which went horribly awry which we mentioned [inaudible] -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they do a lot of guarding of dignitaries and -

Josh Clark: Harmed Carzi apparently is being protected by delta force right now.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And it's so weird. When I was researching this again, I saw photos of Carzi with guys that were identified as delta force operators and you'd start looking and all of a sudden you'd start to recognize that this guy or that guy -

Chuck Bryant: Really, same guys?

Josh Clark: Same guys, but in different locations. There's a very famous photo of a special forces guy out of uniform wearing - I can't remember what they call it but basically the head wrap that goes around the head and then - it's not a turban but it's somewhat similar, it goes down the back. He's riding a horse through Afghanistan with - laden with guns and -

Chuck Bryant: Two-tapping his way again.

Josh Clark: Exactly. But he special forces but you see that guy around here or there. So, it's really interesting to start to root through their history and come to the present and start to see the same people over and over and you're, like, I'm pretty sure I'm l
ooking at a delta force operator. Somebody who doesn't exist, somebody who is a shadow, somebody who is basically the closest thing we have to a licensed to kill. You don't send delta force into rough somebody up; you send them in to completely slaughter everybody.

Chuck Bryant: Two-taps.

Josh Clark: Hopefully Chuck and I will survive the night after recording this podcast. We'll find out.

Chuck Bryant: I know. We just want to say that we're glad these guys are out there. I mean, I much prefer delta force going in, a few guys doing something efficiently and quietly than sending in 10,000 troops.

Josh Clark: Oh, sure, yeah, it's much less clumsy and it gets the job done although I'm quite sure there's several human rights activists that would disagree with us on that matter.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah, Josh, I'm sure you're right. That's a good point.

Josh Clark: Yeah, well, I'm sure the delta force would disagree with them and I would not want to be the human rights activist.

Chuck Bryant: No, thank you.

Josh Clark: While we're sidestepping an international incident, don't forget to look up How Delta Force Works on howstuffworks.com.

Announcer: Let us know what you think. Send an email to podcast@howstuffworks.com.

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