Tony Levatino Covert Operations Interview

Tony Levatino appears in Covert Operations Essentials Training disk movie clips. You can see these in the Ranged Weapons Technical Section by clicking on Explore>Gear. Mr Levatino talks through the use of pistols, assault rifles, and sub machine guns and gives shooting range demonstrations for each weapon. For those of you without COE here is what Red Storm say about Mr Levatino.

“Sergeant 19 years California Law Enforcement Agency. Team Leader and sniper of a large special operations unit. Extensive experience in Marksmanship and Hostage Rescue.”

Part 1 Contents

  • Law Enforcement
  • Special Ops Units
  • Real-life Situations
  • US Secret Service
  • SAS / FSK
  • Missing COE movie

 

Aggression : First off welcome to Aggression and thank you very much for taking the time and sharing your experiences with us. Can you tell us a little about yourself first? You have a web presence at centurion-intl which yields no information about your services or history. Is that intentional due to the secrecy of your work?

Mr Levatino : Rocky, first let me commend you on your website – It is a credit to the entire R6 community. About myself, well one of the reasons my webpage is so plain is that it is merely a placeholder for the email address I put on my business cards. Those people who need me, know how to get a hold of me by other means; others who inquire are usually referred. It is not that what I do is secret, it is just that I have a family and reputation to protect.

All my experience is in domestic law enforcement special operations. I entered the police academy at age 20 and have worked in the same organisation my entire career. All my family members are former military, and I have great respect for military operators, and claim many A Team, Ranger, and Seal Team members as friends and fellow professionals. I am a cop – and proud of it! I would encourage any of your readers to choose the same path. Here on the West Coast USA officers are making $100K a year and receive 85% of their salary in retirement at age 50….that is one reason I did not go into the military. When I have done recruitment I have told people: “What if I told you that you could have a job where your company gave you an $1,800 suit to wear, gave you a $50,000 car to drive, and allowed you to make life-and-death decisions affecting a great many lives.” That job is not an executive at IBM, or a lawyer, but a police officer. An officer’s uniform costs at least that much (uniform, weapon, belt, boots, bullet proof vest, badge); our cars are new, filled with computers, trackers, emergency equipment; and the life-and-death part, well that is a reality.

Aggression : Can you tell us which route led to you Special Ops ? Were you “recruited” or was it by application?

Mr Levatino : It is by application. Our Team has been in operation for almost 30 years and is extremely well respected in the SWAT Community. In order to be considered for this duty you must pass a Physical Agility Test, Medical, Weapons Proficiency Test, Psychological Examination, Background Investigation, Oral Board, Team Leader Assessment, and then be approved by the Chief of Police.

Aggression : Many missions in Rainbow Six are Hostage situations, and Red Storm describe you as having extensive Hostage Rescue experience. Can you tell us about any real-life Hostage situations you have been involved in, either active or advisory capacity?

Mr Levatino : Well, this is an area where I have to be a bit vague. This is not out of secrecy, because anything a domestic law enforcement agency does is supposed to be open to public scrutiny. I would rather talk about it over a pint of Guinness…my preferred beverage of choice. We resolve many situations peacefully, but others are not so peaceful. Even though we try to stay as low profile as possible, on our last rescue I ended up in a large color photograph on the front page of the newspaper walking across the street, all by myself carrying my rifle, with a very large caption at the top of the page proclaiming SWAT TEAM SHOOTS HOSTAGE-TAKER.

Now you just try to imagine what it is like to go pick your kids up from school after 2 million people have seen your smiling face beneath a caption like that….it is just a part of the job.

Aggression : So you don’t have to wear balaclavas SAS style?

Mr Levatino : Yes, we do use Nomex Balaclavas for protection against explosive entry, fire, glass fragments, and for camouflage. They are hot and can obstruct your vision. I had just left our Command Post where we were briefed and had not pulled it over my face yet when they took the picture. The cameraman had a long-range lens – I pull it down a lot sooner as a result.

Unfortunately, Rogue Spear does not let us negotiate with Tangos, so they do not often get the chance to surrender.

Aggression : The RS tangos do sometimes take up a kneeling surrender position when its all going pear shaped – however I wouldn’t like to lay odds on how many RS gamers actually leave the tango sitting there! In a multiple tango assault how would a surrendering tango be dealt with in the field, are they immediately removed or incapacitated somehow?

Mr Levatino : They are flex-cuffed and searched immediately. A flex-cuff is a large industrial type of wire-tie. They are then removed from the Area of Operation to the Command Post where an Intelligence Officer interrogates them. The SAS have their own version of this.

In real-life, only a relatively small percentage of military CT operatives ever see action with most spending their entire time training for the opportunity to be used. My Team has close to 1000 mobilizations throughout our existence doing rescues, dignitary protection, high-risk security operations, warrant services, less-lethal deployments, and riot control.

Aggression : I thought the US Secret Service was tasked with dignitary protection?

Mr Levatino : The US Secret Service does protect the President and former Presidents, but he is not the only dignitary. I bet you did not know that they also do counterfeit currency investigations? We consider a dignitary anyone who requires protection from a threat who might be in our jurisdiction.

When the President comes into our area, we liaison with the Secret Service to co-ordinate the visit. We provide close protection support and assist with site management. I have worked on visits for Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, but we also do other heads of state such as Congressmen, Governors, and for example Desmond TuTu who visited. We also provided dignitary protection services at a museum that exhibited the Chinese artefacts from the Forbidden City – we were required to wear tuxedos and mingle with the guests, but no champagne for us. The USSS are not the only ones who provide this service.

Aggression : Some CT games emphasis life preservation – even for tango’s in hostage situations, is that true to life – or is the R6 strategy more accurate – shoot to kill?

Mr Levatino : Well, the justification for shooting someone is the preservation of life. We have the following priorities in these situations.

  • 1) protection of the hostage,
  • 2) protection of innocent bystanders,
  • 3) protection of the operators (rescuers), and
  • 4) protection of the hostage-taker (Tango or otherwise).

If you read Rainbow Six you will get a general flavor of how an operation is actually conducted. We will always attempt to negotiate to seek the peaceful release of the hostages. An actual entry into a location is fraught with danger. You always run the risk that you will not get to the hostages in time. Sometimes the breach at the entry point does not go well, and you may be delayed, or the hostage have been moved, or any number of variables. Since you can’t predict all variables someone may be injured or killed.

Negotiation, if it does not secure release, allows you time to gather intelligence, wear down the hostage-taker, allows the Stockholm Syndrome to take affect, or lets you put your plan together and get into position. I never say that we shoot to kill. That may seem a bit odd, but it is the generally accepted law enforcement response since we live in such a litigious society.

The whole idea behind the resolution of a situation is to get the hostage-taker to “stop” his dangerous and aggressive behaviour. When we are forced to shoot a hostage-taker, the net effect of the bullet it to stop him from harming the hostages, bystanders, or us. Now, if the ultimate effect is death…then so be it. Bullets are notoriously poor in this regard, but we train to be accurate enough to place a single round in an eye socket with an MP5…that ensures a “stop” most often.

Aggression : In RS a head shot is known to be rewarded as the most effective take down, its interesting to hear that you actually go a step further and go for an even smaller target.

Mr Levatino : One of the movies you did not see was a demonstration of a 30 round magazine fired from a PDW on full-auto with all rounds staying within a 1″ circle. If a Terrorist is hiding behind the head of a hostage and only showing half of his face, then you have to be very accurate with your shot.

I find that those missions which allow you to covertly enter a location and get as close to the room where the hostages are being held are the most realistic. One time we tirelessly negotiated with a lone-gunmen who claimed to have explosives, and then silently entered and jumped him on the couch when he fell asleep. This is not always an option in R6.

Aggression : Red Storm also state you are the Team Leader of a large Special Ops Unit. The US has scores of Counter terrorism agencies from the FBI to the CIA, are you at liberty to say which, if any of these agencies have employed your services?

Mr Levatino : I am one of 4 Team Leaders of a 32 man Team, and my rank is Sergeant. My primary deployable skill is Precision Marksman (Sniper). I am my agencies full-time training co-ordinator responsible for training all personnel in the use of handgun, shotgun, rifle, sub machinegun, diversionary devices (flashbangs), electronic weapons, less-lethal weaponry, chemical agents, and hand-to-hand tactics. Through my involvement in Special Operations I have had the opportunity to train with many fine organization….which I would like to remain nameless.

Aggression : There is often speculation regarding which Covert Special Forces are “The Best”. According to COE Training disk the British SAS is accepted as being the Premier Special Ops Unit, although many members at Aggression would argue that Norway’s FSK are the Elite! Have you any experience with CT units outwith the USA, which would you rank highly?

Mr Levatino : I have met members of Special Ops Units from quite a few places. I think that the phrase “The Best” is a relative term, because most units have specific missions. They can’t all be experts in everything. For this reason sub-elements specialise in various specialities. Although the SEAL are mainly know for waterborne operations, they have units specialising in desert, artic, and jungle operations.

Now, the SAS have been in business for a very long time – 1942. They have realtime operational experience in many conflicts to include Northern Ireland and other speculated places (Libya). You have to remember that CT Units are still a military service with new personnel coming and going. For any CT Team maintaining proficiency is a difficult task – you are always having to relearn what you should already know. However, the SAS are dedicated to perfection and have been seen in “advisory” roles at may high-profile incidents trying to learn what happened to learn from it. We could talk about this for hours, everything from their 6 month rotation to the SP Squadron and CRW duty to equipment and probably never come to agreement.

The Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK) have been in business since 1982. They do a great job on oil rigs and have some experience in aircraft, trains, and buildings. They received initial training from the SAS, and were rumored to have even rotated through Northern Ireland. Although very skilled, they do not have the breadth of experience that the SAS have. If I had to pick between the two…I would pick the SEALS 😉 (sorry…remember I am a yank)

Part 2 Contents

  • Filming COE clips
  • Unused footage
  • Hidden out-takes
  • R6 Realism
  • HBS
  • Weapons

 

Aggression : Had you heard of the Rainbow-Six series of games prior to Red Storm contact?

Mr Levatino : I am very, very, familiar with the R6 series and have had the game since the start. I happened to have sent an email to RSE on another issue which I am not at liberty to discuss right now. They thought it would be good, in light of my experience, if I met with the guys from Magic Lantern who were developing the COE Training Disc.

I had an initial meeting with Paul Schuytema and John Fowler during the week of E3 in Los Angeles. We all hit it off right away…my first interview scene was shot poolside in Marina Del Rey while a bevy of Virgin Atlantic stewardesses were frolicking in the water…quite distracting!

Aggression : So I can imagine; it cant have been easy with a pesky interviewer distracting you.

Have you read any Tom Clancy Novels, or any CT novels? Who is your favourite author?

Mr Levatino : Uh, Clancy is my favorite (or favourite) of course! I have read all of his books. I am also partial to Stephen Hunter.

Aggression : How long did your COE involvement take? Was the filming complete in one day or over a period of weeks?

Mr Levatino : I started with them in March 2000. Lots of email on ideas, concepts, logistics, and research. The weapons filming was done in one day. I have to say that I personally am issued, by way of my Special Operations duties several weapons (HK MP5/40, M-16, M-14, custom 7.62 rifle) and have access to a host of other weapons, however, as a consultant I make sure to never mix my business with my real job. To do so would be considered a “conflict of interest.” Therefore, all the weapons you see, I obtained through “other sources.”

Aggression : Are there any parts of your involvement you are not happy with, scenes you would like to shoot again?

Mr Levatino : I guess I should ask you that. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, but I was not really allowed any second takes. I think they did a good job of editing.

If you see any scenes with voice-over while I was shooting it had to do with a sound problem. I can tell you that you did not see even half of the weapons that I did demonstrations with. This was due to the amount of available disc space even though bink format does a good job of compression. Weapons you did not see, but that we have footage for are:

  • HK USP .40
  • M-14
  • HK G36K
  • HK UMP .45
  • HK M21E belt-fed
  • M60 belt-fed
  • HK 53
  • Benelli .12 guage, and others.

If they could have given me another week I could have had a PSG-1, M249, and an Enfield. I think the only way for you to see those is to convince Red Storm to do a sequel. I would get into some live-fire entry, sniping, explosive demolitions, and maybe a frag grenade or two.

Now I have a question for you….did you find the out-take videos hidden on the disc?

Aggression : No, and neither has any other gamer – or it would be all over the R6 community. You wouldn’t like to give us a heads-up on that would you?

Mr Levatino : Ha. Now it wouldn’t be any fun if we gave away all the secrets. I think it is enough of a hint that I even mentioned that there are out-takes on the disc.[1] I will make you a deal…if no one can find it by Christmas I might consider telling you how to find it. When you do, you will see an interview of me poolside…becoming very distracted by those VAA stews.

Aggression : Well thats got to be worth searching for – I’ll put our best sniffer on it!

Which of the series have you played, and to what degree?

Mr Levatino : I played the original R6, Rogue Spear, Urban Ops, and Covert Ops..all of them. I have quite a few mods, maps, and additional missions…my computer is quite full in this regard. I have done all the missions at all difficulty levels.

Aggression : Were you impressed with the level of detail in the games? Which aspects impressed you most and least?

Mr Levatino : Yes, I am quite impressed with the level of detail. I am actively involved in “training simulation” which is how I kind of got involved with Red Storm, although I don’t want to elaborate any further on any other projects. The LOD is the best; Delta Force cannot even compare…sorry Novalogic, although their game engine handles large amounts of real estate reasonably well. The aspect that impressed me the most was the multi-player Internet capabilities. I think it is a very stable platform and reasonably reliable game-play. The least impressive…can’t think of anything. I think this is the game by which all others will be measured.

Aggression : How “realistic” is the Rainbow Six series compared to real-life CT tactics, missions, equipment and such?

Mr Levatino : As compared to real-life, simulated bullets do not hurt as much. I have had friends killed in action and training accidents more than I would care discuss. Just a few weeks ago in a live-fire kill house that I use a trainer fell off the catwalk and landed on his head, killing him.

I got a compression fracture in my neck jumping off a 10′ wall on a call-out, and have had 3 operations on my wrist from going over a wall…for obvious reasons I now try and go around walls. There is so much risk-taking in R6 because you will live to play again.

Everyone seem to hate “campers,” but camping is more like real-life. If you are patient, and the other guy is not, he will get sloppy and rush in, other than in a planned hostage rescue that is suicide. RSE has done an excellent job with the realism and I think that for a game it has done something that no other game of this genre has captured. Of course, in real life we do not have Kit Restrictions and you could carry more gear.

Heart Beat sensors are not “yet” operational…about the smallest units even close to that technology are about the size of a bathtub. All I can say is that 3 companies have demonstrated prototypes of a crude HBS that can detect a HB on the other side of a wall – a very short distance. These prototypes exist in demonstration models only and were shown to governmental entities in an attempt to secure funding for further development. Although not an HBS, I have used a radar system contained in a briefcase that can determine the location of an object on the otherside of a concrete wall. If you know what is supposed to be on the other side, i.e. the layout of the room, the presence of a solid object detected where you know no object is supposed to be can be some very useful information.

Without boring you to death about the history of military training simulator technology, which I know a great deal, I can tell you that governments have spent untold millions of dollars trying to make simulators that will do what your little copy of R6 does right now. The mission planning screen is unique and could actually be used to train personnel on tactical command and planning operations. The people I work with are not gamers, but those who I have shown it to are amazed how realistic it is.

Aggression : Do you feel the weapons are well portrayed?

Mr Levatino : Everything is a compromise, because it is a game. In real-life there is no reticule blooming. An M249 SAW is actually more controllable than is portrayed, but you have to give it a penalty otherwise everyone would carry it because it has 100 round capacity. It is difficult to do any real ballistic testing, but I think RSE did a good job.

Aggression : Which titles have you played online?

Mr Levatino : I played all the above listed R6 titles. My other passion is Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator. I am on The Zone quite frequently, but keep my Zone Name a secret for obvious reasons. My partner and I are a Clan of 2, and I like it that way.

Aggression : At Aggression one of the favourite games is called Killhouse Ten where two operatives go head to head in the Killhouse playing rapid games until one player has won 10 games. Which primary and secondary weapon from R6 would you select for such an encounter?

Mr Levatino : Sounds like fun. If it is that fast, I would use the PDW and the Beretta 92 and go for head shots. After the PDW depletes do not reload, but go for the Beretta.

Aggression : I remember seeing a tape of an SAS operative switching from primary to pistol in the killhouse in a stoppage training situation, the speed at which the primary was swung to the side and the pistol brought up to aim was awesome.

Mr Levatino : That is the standard procedure. You can rarely reload your primary weapon faster than you can deploy your sidearm. We train that if for whatever reason if your primary weapon has a “stoppage” you press the trigger one more time, and if that fails to work you let your primary “hang” and go for your handgun. Your primary can stop for any number of reasons from an ammunition malfunction, bad ammunition, a double feed, damaged magazine, a magazine was bumped and fell out, to a stove-pipe jam. There is never time to diagnose the stoppage..you just draw your handgun and finish the job. When there is time, you move to cover and perform an “Immediate Action Drill.” The procedure for this is quite different from weapon to weapon.

Aggression : Some Aggression members are keen snipers. How do you rate the representation of sniper weapons in R6?

Mr Levatino : I think they are under-represented a bit, but they are still adequate. I would have liked to have seen a Remington action-based weapon in the selection.

Aggression : COE Jungle map is taylor made for sniping missions – which rifle would you select for such a mission?

Mr Levatino : If there is no crossing allowed, I like the Barrett for long distance. I would make sure I keep an Observer by my side with an Assault Rifle to cover me.

Aggression : Finally, is there any truth in the rumour that the real reason Greg Stelmack (Quality Assurance COE) has left Red Storm is because he misspelled your name on all COE documentation, and has went into hiding awaiting a New Identity?

Mr Levatino : Ha Ha…Well, no that rumor is not true, but if he re-surfaces, please tell me where he is at! Oh, by the way if it was true you would have to worry too….look at your paragraph #3..”Tony Levantino talks through the use of pistols….” You could run…but you would only die tired.

Aggression : Ahhhh – point taken, amendment made.

Mr Levatino : Finally, would you be agreeable to perhaps playing a challenge game of RS sometime?

Mr Levatino : I would play one of your members – my schedule allowing. [2]

Aggression : Excellent, I will look forward to that! Once again, thank you for sharing your fascinating experiences and knowledge.

[1] Update : You can find the out-takes by browsing the COE Training CD to D:\Videos\outtakes.bik You will need Bink and Smacker to watch the clips in this manner.

[2] Update : I was lucky enough to play Urban Operations with Mr Levatino a few times after the interview, but I didn’t go alone, Daywanderer came as my backup. And yes, I did need backup!