2009-02-13 / Community
Former FBI agent shares his adventures in new book
Nowadays James Botting lives the quiet life, investigating cold cases and keeping track of registered sex offenders in Ventura County, but at the prime of his career the Moorpark resident confronted much more thrilling conditions—trying to negotiate sensible solutions with frenzied individuals who detained innocent victims.
Over the course of his 25year career with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Botting came face to face with a distraught cult leader, rescued hostages from an armed gunman, saved airline passengers from a skyjacker and delivered a kidnapped baby back into its parents' arms.
The former hostage negotiator and SWAT agent has been involved in almost every major hostage incident since the mid1980s, including the taking of Patty Hearst, the Cuban prison riots in Louisiana and the Rodney King incident.
His personal experiences, which are sometimes more poignant than the plots of popular movies and television shows, are depicted in a book titled "Bullets, Bombs, and Fast Talk."
"Every huge story that I remember hearing about over the last 20 years, from Ruby Ridge to Waco, Jim Botting was there," said Walt Johnson, a local private investigator who served in the military police and was a member of the U.S. Army's Special Reaction Team, the army's equivalent of a SWAT team.
Johnson said he enjoyed Botting's book because it gave a real account of how the FBI operates.
"In real life nothing just goes off the way you had it planned, and Jim shows a lot of humility, not trying to describe himself as a hero but showing things as they happened," he said.
In the attempt to resolve excitable situations, SWAT teams often make a cascade of errors, and they have to learn to make up for those mistakes as they go, Johnson said.
Each chapter in Botting's book is written in a blunt and honest manner, but not without a good sense of humor.
"Crisis incident management requires experience, flexibility good judgment and luck," the author said. "Each incident is unique and must be handled as such. You're always learning."
In addition to analyzing individual failures in the book, Botting discusses the evolution of hostage negotiations that occurred in the span of his career as the team leader of the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Team from 1981 to 1995 and as a supervisor of the agency's international
critical incident negotiations team since its inception in 1985. "I was fortunate to be part of the hostage negotiation program in the FBI as it moved from playit-by-ear and shootfromthehip to a carefully choreographed psychological interaction of life and death," he said. Botting said he had many notable moments in his career, but the standoff in Waco with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians was the most challenging. "The issues surrounding Waco were more significant and complex than anything we had encountered before, and there was a lot at stake," he said. Many people were involved andmany died. Negotiating with a cult leader and his followers required a lot of tiptoeing because it involved people who have delusional religious beliefs that are firmly implanted.
Botting grew up in Michigan. He studied English and psychology and was a platoon leader in the Vietnam War before becoming an investigator for the U.S. Treasury Department.
He joined the FBI in 1971, briefly working in Mississippi before transferring to Los Angeles, where he spent most of his career dealing with violent crimes and major offenders. Botting earned numerous awards for valor and meritorious service in the FBI.
After retiring from the federal agency in 1995, Botting became vice president and director of corporate security for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Santa Monica.
He then joined the Ventura County Community College District's Police Department, where he served as chief of police until 2007. The local resident, who is 65, said he's still involved in policing because he likes to stay busy.
"I love what I do. Criminal investigation is just my thing, and I can't see myself ever really going fishing every day," he said.
He's been working part time for the Major Crimes Bureau of the Ventura County Sheriff 's Department since January last year.
2008 was engaging in a new way for Botting, since he didn't anticipate his current success in the publishing world.
The FBI stories written three years ago weren't created for publication, and only five copies were made for family members, he said.
When one of those copies was given to a bookstore owner in Michigan by Botting's brother, it changed everything.
"A month later the book was in the hands of a Potomac Books editor who told me they wanted to publish it. That was a year ago, and it's occupied most of my attention since then" said Botting, who completed a weeklong book tour in Michigan last month.
One nice side effect of the project has been reconnecting with his friends all over the United States, he said.
Botting and his wife, Robbin, have been married since 1969. They moved to Moorpark in 1996 and have three adult children, none of whom work in law enforcement.
The former FBI agent is scheduled to speak at a Rotary Club of Moorpark meeting at the Moorpark Country Club on March 6.
His book can be purchased at local bookstores or online at Amazon.com.