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Context of 'February 24-27, 1993: BATF Prepares for Branch Davidian Raid'

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The flag of the Branch Davidians.The flag of the Branch Davidians. [Source: Wikimedia]Vernon Wayne Howell, a Texas musician and a member of the Branch Davidian sect of Seventh-day Adventists, forcibly installs himself as the leader of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. Howell is a self-described loner and dyslexic who dropped out of high school, but taught himself the Bible, memorizing most of it by age 12. He was expelled from the Church of Seventh-day Adventists in 1979 for being a bad influence on the church’s young people, and in 1981 joined the Waco group of Branch Davidians in its 77-acre compound, “Mount Carmel,” on the outskirts of the city. Howell had an affair with the leader of the group, self-described prophetess Lois Roden, some 30 years older than himself.
Power Struggle - After Roden died, Howell began a lengthy struggle for control of the group with Roden’s son George Roden. In late 1987, Roden digs up the body of a member, Anna Hughes, and issues a challenge to Howell: the one who could raise her from the dead is the one to lead the community. Instead, Howell asks the local authorities to charge Roden with abusing a corpse. On November 3, Howell returns to the Mt. Carmel compound with seven male followers, all dressed in camouflage and bearing assault rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. The two groups engage in a gunfight; during the exchange, Roden is shot in the chest and hands. Howell and his followers will be tried for attempted murder, but the others will be acquitted and Howell’s trial will end in a mistrial. In 1989, Roden will try to murder a man with an axe, and will be committed to a mental instutition for the rest of his life. By 1990, Howell will have established himself as the leader of the Waco Branch Davidians, and will legally change his name to David Koresh, explaining that he believes he is now the head of the Biblical House of David. Koresh is a Hebrew translation of “Cyrus,” the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Adventists Join Koresh at Waco Compound - Seventh-day Adventists and others from around the world will journey to Waco to join the Davidians, who all told number somewhere around 75. According to a multi-part series by the Waco Tribune-Herald based on the recollections and observations of former members (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), the Davidians gather at the compound to “await the end of the world.” The members believe that Koresh alone can open the so-called “Seven Seals” of Biblical prophecy, which will trigger the Apocalypse, destroy the world as we know it, and propel Koresh and his followers into heaven. The compound is heavily armed. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] Most of the Davidians live communally in an L-shaped compound of beige buildings. A few of the more elderly members live in a trailer four miles from the main compound. The trailer has more amenities than the main building, which lacks central heating and indoor plumbing. The men live separately from the women and children. Members rise early, breakfasting together in a large cafeteria and then going to work. Some of the men have jobs in the Waco area, and many stay, working on what sect member Paul Fatta will describe as a three-year renovation of the compound but what law enforcement officials say is a network of tunnels and bunkers. The children are home-schooled by the women. [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
Former Member: Koresh Brought Apocalyptic Mindset, Violence to Group - According to Davidian David Bunds, who will later leave the group, Koresh, or Howells as he is known, was something of a destabilizing factor from the time of his arrival. Bunds will later say: “We were a very reserved, very conservative group. There were no emotional displays. Then along came Vernon Howell. I remember my father said one day, ‘Well, that guy sounds like he’s going to end up saying he’s a prophet the way he’s acting.’” Bunds will later say that while he was enthralled for a time by Koresh’s personality and his apocalyptic preaching, he became increasingly disturbed at his insistence on having multiple “wives,” his stockpiling of more and more weapons, and the increasingly violent methods of “discipline” being meted out to “disobedient” children and adults alike (adults, Bunds and other “defectors” will later say, are physically beaten by Koresh’s cadre of militantly loyal “Mighty Men”). Bunds will be forced out of the group after questioning Koresh’s Biblical interpretations, and for taking a sect member as his wife against Koresh’s wishes. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244-246]
Federal Raid, Siege - The Waco Branch Davidians will kill four federal agents attempting to arrest Koresh on gun and sexual abuse charges (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993); most of them, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff (see April 19, 1993). After the February 1993 raid, Waco Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart will say: “The sad part about this group is that it has evolved from the peaceful, pastoral group that it started as in the 1930s. Only since this most recent leader have they begun to acquire some of the weaponry and attitudes that they have.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993]

Entity Tags: Anna Hughes, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, George Roden, David Bunds, Seventh-day Adventists, Lois Roden, Jack Stewart, Paul Gordon Fatta

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Acting on allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children at the Mt. Carmel compound outside of Waco, Texas, the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) opens an investigation into the allegations among the Branch Davidian sect living on the property (see November 3, 1987 and After). Caseworkers go to the compound three times and interview a number of children, but close the case when no evidence of abuse is unearthed, though the children talk freely about “all the men” training with weapons (leader David Koresh tells investigative officer Joyce Sparks that the Davidians have “only a few” weapons, and most of the adults have nothing to do with them). After a February 1993 newspaper series that alleges an array of such abuse (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), and especially after the April 1993 debacle that kills 21 children among the group (see April 19, 1993), the DPRS will come under fire for possibly mishandling the case. Many will say that the agency caseworkers made a mistake in not interviewing the children outside the compound, where, away from the adult Davidians, they may have spoken more freely. Bob Boyd, director of the Waco office, will say in 2003 that none of the children said anything that would lead to a belief that they were being abused. “People are under the assumption that if we had taken the children out of there for an interview, they would have opened up to us about abuse,” he says. “The reality was it was highly unlikely. They were such a closed group, and because of their strong beliefs and devotion to [leader David] Koresh, I don’t believe we would have gotten any of them to talk to us about abuse. They were not going to open up to outsiders. Even those kids we talked to who did come out during the standoff didn’t reveal anything to us. It was only after a long time were we able to piece together some pictures of what it was like inside.” David Jewell, whose daughter Kiri will testify to being abused by Koresh since she was 10 (see July 21, 1995), will say he believes caseworkers called ahead before coming to the compound, and the Davidians were able to hide some of the abused children from the caseworkers. Boyd says no such calls were made. Sparks will allege that McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell told her to “back off” from investigating abuse complaints; Harwell will deny making such statements. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Kiri Jewell, Bob Boyd, Branch Davidians, David Jewell, David Koresh, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Jack Harwell, Joyce Sparks

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) resumes its investigation into the Branch Davidian sect living in a compound, known as Mt. Carmel, outside Waco, Texas (see June-July 1992 and July 30, 1992). The investigation is spearheaded by BATF Special Agent Davy Aguilera, who has reason to believe that the Branch Davidians, under the leadership of David Koresh, are stockpiling a large amount of guns, weapons, and other military materiel. Neighbors have spoken of hearing machine-gun fire at the Mt. Carmel site. Aguilera learns that one of the Davidians is Marshal Keith Butler, a machinist capable of creating illegal guns from the parts bought by the Davidians; Butler has an extensive criminal record, mostly for drug possession. Aguilera also talks to a McLennan County deputy sheriff, Terry Fuller, who heard a loud explosion and saw a large cloud of grey smoke over the northeastern part of the Davidian property. (Fuller investigated and learned that the Davidians had been using dynamite for construction, a fact Aguilera does not elicit.) He learns from BATF Special Agent Carlos Torres that the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) has investigated the Davidians, and their leader David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), on suspicion of physically and sexually abusing children (see April 1992), and learns from former Waco Davidian Robyn Bunds that she had a child by Koresh, and she left because of Koresh’s increasingly abusive behavior towards herself and other community members. Bunds also tells Aguilera that she found what she later learned was a machine gun conversion kit. Her mother Jeannine Bunds, another former resident of the Mt. Carmel community, tells Aguilera that she frequently saw the men practicing with AK-47 and AR-15 machine guns, and that Koresh has fathered children with women and girls as young as 12 years of age, indicating that he may be guilty of statutory rape, a felony in Texas. Aguilera confirms that some 40 of the Mt. Carmel residents are foreign nationals, and that many of them either entered the country illegally or overstayed their visa; he will write in an affidavit for a search warrant (see February 25, 1993) that “it is a violation of Title 18, U.S.C. Section 922, for an illegal alien to receive a firearm.” BATF agents speak to Poia Vaega, a former Davidian now living in New Zealand, who makes further allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Vaega confirms what both Bunds have already said, that Koresh enforces a strict rule that only he can have sexual relations with the females of the community, and that he routinely has sex with girls as young as 11. Several BATF agents confirm that the Davidians have the proper parts, chemical compounds, and equipment to create a wide array of illegal guns, bombs, and explosives, and that in the past BATF agents have seized a number of illegal weapons from the Davidians. David Block, a former Waco Davidian, tells Aguilera that he has seen copies of books in the main building that tell the reader how to manufacture illegal bombs and explosives. Another source tells the BATF that the Davidians have made live grenades and are attempting to make a radio-controlled aircraft for carrying explosives. Documents show that Koresh has spent $199,715 on weapons and ammunition in the past 17 months, including M-16 automatic rifles and parts necessary for turning semiautomatic rifles into machine guns. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993; Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Koresh and the Davidians have also buried a bus in the ground and stocked it with food for a year; members practice daily military drills, and both children and adults are taught how to commit suicide with a gun. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the BATF investigation is “grossly incompetent” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Davy Aguilera, David Koresh, Carlos Torres, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Block, Terry Fuller, Jeannine Bunds, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Marshal Keith Butler, Robyn Bunds, Poia Vaega

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) asks the Army for assistance in raiding the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see November 1992 - January 1993 and 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The request is not acknowledged by federal or military officials for over six years. Army officials will note that such involvement is illegal unless the president personally makes the request; they say that no such request was ever considered. In 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO) will find that military personnel were called to the scene after the BATF “cited possible drug-related activity” at the Davidian compound. The BATF makes the request through Operation Alliance, an agency that coordinates law enforcement requests for military help in fighting drugs. The BATF requests training by special forces troops, instruction in driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs), and the loan of seven BFVs. Operation Alliance will forward the request to Fort Bliss, the home of Joint Task Force 6 (JTF-6), the military’s headquarters for domestic anti-drug efforts. JTF-6 officials are told that the requested assistance is “in direct support of interdiction activities along the Southwest border.” However, Major Mark Petree, the commander of the Army’s special forces, questions the legality of the request. His legal adviser, Major Phillip Lindley, writes a memo stating that the BATF request would make the military an active, illegal partner in a domestic police action. JTF-6 officers accuse Lindley of trying to undermine the mission, and Lindley refers the matter to Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Andrews, the deputy staff judge advocate. Andrews says that the military could probably evaluate the BATF plan of attack (see February 24-27, 1993), but cannot intervene to cancel or revise it. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; Associated Press, 10/31/1999] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the BATF deliberately misrepresented the Davidians as a drug cartel in order to receive military assistance and avoid reimbursing the military for that assistance (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Operation Alliance, Douglas Andrews, Branch Davidians, General Accounting Office, Mark Petree, US Department of the Army, Joint Task Force-6, Phillip Lindley, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

BATF agents train for a raid.BATF agents train for a raid. [Source: Time]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) begins preparing for a large-scale raid on the Waco, Texas, compound, Mt. Carmel, owned by the Branch Davidian sect. The BATF has evidence that the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, own a large amount of possibly illegal weapons, are committing statutory rape and child abuse against the female children of the group, and are possibly beating the children as a means of discipline (see November 1992 - January 1993). The raid is approved by BATF Director Stephen Higgins, after a recommendation from Philip Chojnacki, the senior BATF agent in the Houston office. Undercover BATF agents who have infiltrated the Davidian community recommend that the assault take place on a Sunday morning, because during Sunday morning prayer services the men are separated from the women and children, and do not have easy access to the Davidians’ cache of weapons. [New York Times, 3/3/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Significant Lack of Planning - Information compiled after the raid, in which the Davidians kill four BATF agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), is somewhat contradictory; a Treasury Department report issued after the April conflagration at the compound (see Late September - October 1993) will claim there is no written plan for the “dynamic entry” to be executed by BATF agents, and that the raid is code-named “Trojan Horse.” Agents who participate in the assault will later say the raid is code-named “Showtime.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] According to the Treasury Department report, acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer, assigned as support coordinator for the operation, arrived in Waco from his Kansas City office on February 23, asked to see the documents for the plan of attack, and was told none had been drawn up. Dyer and agent William Krone draw up a plan on their own, though they have little knowledge about the work performed by the tactical planners. The two manage to generate a rough plan, but the plan remains on Krone’s desk and is never distributed or referred to during the actual raid. [New York Times, 10/1/1993]
Element of Surprise Key - According to later testimony before a House investigative committee (see August 2, 1996), the element of surprise is so integral to the raid that if it is lost, the raid is to be aborted. Ronald Noble, assistant secretary-designate of the treasury for law enforcement, will testify that on-site BATF commanders knew of the provision. Noble will say in 1995, and will be quoted in the 1996 House investigative report, “What was absolutely clear in Washington at Treasury and in Washington and ATF was that no raid should proceed once the element of surprise was lost.” However, Dan Hartnett, deputy director of the BATF for enforcement, will contradict Noble’s assertion, saying that while “secrecy and safety” were “discussed over and over again,” the provision that the raid should be called off if the Davidians were alerted to it beforehand was not in place; Hartnett will accuse Noble of trying to deflect blame away from the Treasury Department and onto the BATF. The report will conclude that no such provision was in place. The BATF commanders will order the raid to go forward even after learning that the Davidians know it is coming. The House report will conclude that the lack of such a provision was a critical failure of the plan. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
No Alternatives Considered - BATF agents will also later claim that the raid was necessary because Koresh never left the compound. However, evidence will show that at least three times between January 17 and February 24, Koresh did exit the compound, where agents could have easily apprehended him; among other examples, Koresh is a regular patron of the Chelsea Bar and Grill in Waco, and leaves the compound regularly to jog. According to the Treasury Department report and a 1996 report by the House investigative committee, other options are considered but rejected. The first is to avoid violence and merely serve the warrants by visiting the compound. This is rejected because of Koresh’s history of antipathy towards law enforcement and his propensity towards violence (see November 3, 1987 and After). A second option, arresting Koresh while he is away from the compound, is rejected because, according to subsequent testimony by Chojnacki, Koresh supposedly never leaves the site. A third option, a plan to besiege Mt. Carmel, is rejected because of the possibility that the Davidians might destroy the illegal weapons, commit mass suicide, or both. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Warnings of Violent Response Ignored - The Congressional report will find, “The [B]ATF chose the dynamic entry raid, the most hazardous of the options, despite its recognition that a violent confrontation was predictable.” Before the raid, BATF agents discussed the idea of launching a raid with Joyce Sparks, a Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) caseworker who has spent a considerable amount of time with Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1992). Sparks is familiar with the Davidians’ apocalyptic religious beliefs, and warned the agents that to launch a raid on the compound would invite a violent response. “They will get their guns and kill you,” she told the agents. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Plans, Execution Botched - The Congressional investigation will find that the BATF plan for attacking the Davidian compound was “significantly flawed… poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used… drafted and commanded by [B]ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Reflecting on the planning 10 years later, Robert White, a senior BATF agent wounded in the raid, will recall: “The people actually calling the shots, whether to go or not, did not have the tactical training necessary to make those kind of decisions. They had the authority to make those decisions simply because of their rank.” White will say that because of the botched raid, the agency will revise its tactical procedures: “Now, before any decision is made, a leader of one of the tactical teams, someone who has been trained specifically for that purpose, will make the call.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]
Top Treasury Officials Not Informed - The report also expresses surprise at BATF Director Higgins’s failure to appraise either Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen or Deputy Secretary Roger Altman of the raid. The report will state, “Neither [Bentsen] nor his deputy knew anything about an imminent law enforcement raid—one of the largest ever conducted in US history—being managed by his department, which would endanger the lives of dozens of law enforcement agents, women, and children.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, William Krone, Chelsea Bar and Grill, Darrell Dyer, Dan Hartnett, US Department of the Treasury, Joyce Sparks, Stephen Higgins, Lloyd Bentsen, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Philip Chojnacki, David Koresh, Roger Altman, Robert White, Ronald Noble

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

BATF agents surround the Branch Davidian compound in the first minutes of the raid.BATF agents surround the Branch Davidian compound in the first minutes of the raid. [Source: Associated Press]Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) prepare to serve arrest and search warrants against members of the Branch Davidian religious sect, housed in a compound they call Mt. Carmel, on a hill just outside Waco, Texas (see November 1992 - January 1993). The Branch Davidians are a Christian group currently led by David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), who is the prime focus of the arrest and search warrants. Koresh and the Davidians are known to have large stashes of firearms, many of which authorities suspect are illegal to own by US citizens—automatic rifles, machine guns, and the like. Koresh has preached that the End Times, or Apocalypse, will begin sometime around 1995, and the Davidians must arm themselves to prepare for the coming conflict. As a result, Koresh and a number of Davidians have been amassing weapons since 1991, along with gas masks, bulletproof vests, and military-issue MREs, or “meals ready to eat.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; US Department of Justice, 7/16/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Large-Scale Raid Launched - After four days of preparation (see February 24-27, 1993), the BATF forces close on the compound: some 80 government vehicles, including two covered cattle trailers containing 70 BATF agents in full SWAT gear, reach the staging area near the compound by 7:30 a.m. Two or perhaps three Texas National Guard helicopters are deployed. [New York Times, 3/27/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Austin Chronicle, 6/23/2000] The raid was originally planned for March 1, but was moved forward when the Waco Tribune-Herald began publishing its “Sinful Messiah” series about Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). BATF spokesman John Killorin will later say the BATF feared the cult might become more alert to the possibility of a raid once the series started. Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott will say that the newspaper alerted federal authorities the day before the first installment ran, giving the BATF a chance to review its raid plans. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
Davidians Alerted - A local news reporter’s discussion with a US postal official inadvertently “tips off” the Davidians to the impending raid (see Before 9:45 a.m. February 28, 1993).
BATF Decides Element of Surprise Unnecessary - Koresh is visibly agitated at the news of the impending raid; he tells Robert Rodriguez, whom many Davidians correctly suspect to be a BATF undercover agent (see January 11, 1993 and After): “Neither the ATF nor the National Guard will ever get me. They got me once, and they’ll never get me again.” Looking out of a window, he adds: “They’re coming, Robert, they’re coming.… The time has come.” Fearing that he will be caught on the premises when the raid begins, Rodriguez makes an excuse and hurriedly leaves. Once off the grounds, he alerts the BATF raid commanders that Koresh knows the agents are on their way. Rodriguez reports via telephone to his immediate superior, BATF tactical coordinator Charles Sarabyn, who relays word to Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge of the raid. The commanders ask if Rodriguez has seen any signs of alarm or guns being distributed. Rodriguez says he has not, though he tells them that Koresh is so agitated that he is having trouble speaking and holding on to his Bible. According to a Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993): “Sarabyn expressed his belief that the raid could still be executed successfully if they hurried. Chojnacki responded, ‘Let’s go.’ A number of agents informed the Treasury investigative panel that Sarabyn said things like, ‘Get ready to go; they know we are coming.’” Chojnacki and Sarabyn decide to rush the raid, hoping to deploy before the Davidians are mobilized. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/28/1993; Time, 10/11/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Rodriguez will testify that he attempts to find Sarabyn and appraise him of his fears that the Davidians are preparing to resist with violence, but will say that by the time he arrives at the BATF command post, on the Texas State Technical College campus, Sarabyn and his companions have already departed. Rodriguez will testify: “At that time, I started yelling and I said: ‘Why, why, why? They know we’re coming, they know we’re coming.‘… [E]verything was very quiet, very quiet, and if I remember right, everybody was really concerned. I went outside and I sat down and I remember starting to cry.” Sarabyn and Chojnacki will later testify that while they understood Rodriguez’s fears, neither of them believe Koresh is aware of the impending raid; testimony from Rodriguez and another BATF agent, Roger Ballesteros, will contradict their claims. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] A Los Angeles Times report later makes a similar claim, apparently based on Rodriguez’s recollections; the BATF will deny that report entirely. A Waco Tribune-Herald article later reports that just before the raid, a voice comes over BATF radios saying: “There no guns in the windows. Tell them it’s a go.” Two weeks after the raid, Newsweek will incorrectly report that Rodriguez, whom the article does not identify, “apparently thought little of the call [alerting Koresh of the impending raid] at the time,” left the compound, and reported an “all clear” to his colleagues. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] Other reports have Davidians telling one another, “The Assyrians are coming,” and making preparations to resist an assault. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that Chojnacki and Sarabyn’s decision to go ahead with the raid even though the element of surprise had been lost was a “reckless” error: “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians Resist - The Davidians successfully resist the raid (see 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993), in the process killing four BATF agents (see 11:00 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993) and bringing about a standoff between themselves and the FBI (see 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993).

Entity Tags: Charles Sarabyn, Texas National Guard, John Killorin, Philip Chojnacki, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Waco Tribune-Herald, Texas State Technical College, Bob Lott, Robert Rodriguez, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The Treasury Department issues a 220-page report on the raid mounted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) against the Mt. Carmel compound of the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The raid resulted in the deaths of four BATF agents, six Davidians, and a 51-day siege culminating in a fiery conflagration that killed most of the Davidians in their burning compound (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993). The report finds that the BATF raid was poorly planned and needlessly aggressive. It criticizes the BATF agents for inadequate information on the Davidians and a plan for an assault dependant on surprise—“shock and awe”—that was carried out even after the Davidians learned of the imminent assault. “The decision to proceed was tragically wrong, not just in retrospect, but because of what the decision makers knew at the time,” the report concludes. The BATF, the report says, handled the situation badly, and then attempted to cover up its poor management with falsehoods and obfustations. “There may be occasions when pressing operational considerations—or legal constraints—prevent law-enforcement officials from being… completely candid in their public utterances,” the report states. “This was not one of them.” After the report is issued, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen announces the replacement of the BATF’s entire top management; BATF chief Stephen Higgins retires three days before the report is released. Bentsen says, “It is now clear that those in charge in Texas realized they had lost the element of surprise before the raid began.” The field commanders made “inaccurate and disingenuous statements” to cover up their missteps, attempting to blame the agents who actually carried out the raid for their poor planning. [Time, 10/11/1993] However, the report finds that while the BATF made errors during the February raid, the agency was correct in its effort to apprehend violators of federal firearms laws, and the decision to effect a “dynamic entry” was the correct one. The report finds the raid was justified because “[t]he extraordinary discipline that [Davidian leader David] Koresh imposed on his followers… made him far more threatening than a lone individual who had a liking for illegal weapons. The compound became a rural fortress, often patrolled by armed guards, in which Koresh’s word—or the word that [he] purported to extrapolate from the Scripture—was the only law.… Were [he] to decide to turn his weapons on society, he would have devotees to follow him, and they would be equipped with weapons that could inflict serious damage.” The report concurs with BATF claims that Koresh and the Davidians had illegal weapons (see May 26, 1993), though it includes analyses from two firearms experts that show the Davidians may not have had such illegal weapons. The Treasury report repeatedly asserts that Koresh and his followers “ambushed” the BATF agents, finding, “On February 28, [they] knew that [B]ATF agents were coming and decided to kill them.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] According to a 1996 House investigation, the Treasury report “criticized [B]ATF personnel, but it exonerated all [Justice] Department officials.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
In Memorium - The Treasury report begins with a black-bordered page reading “In Memory Of” and listing the names of the four BATF officers killed in the raid. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Lost the Element of Surprise - Acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer, the report finds, arrived days before the raid to find no plans had been drawn up; he and another agent drew up a plan that was never distributed. And the agents in charge of the raid, Charles Sarabyn and Philip Chojnacki, decided to stage the raid despite information that the Davidians knew of it and were making preparations to defend themselves. [Time, 10/11/1993]
Falsifications and Questionable Statements - Even before the Waco compound burned, BATF officials were already misrepresenting the situtation. On March 3, 1993, Daniel Hartnett, associate director of law enforcement, told the press that though their agent, informant Robert Rodriguez, knew Koresh had received a phone call, the agent “did not realize this was a tip at the time.” Twenty-six days later, Higgins said, “We would not have executed the plans if our supervisors had lost the element [of surprise].” Both statements are questionable at best. After the compound burned, Texas Rangers asked BATF officials Dyer, Sarabyn, and Chojnacki to show them the plans for the raid; Dyer realized that the rough written plan was not in a satisfactory form, and the three revised the plan “to make it more thorough and complete.” The document they provided to the Rangers did not indicate that it was an after-action revision. The report states: “The readiness of Chojnacki, Sarabyn, and Dyer to revise an official document that would likely be of great significance in any official inquiry into the raid without making clear what they had done is extremely troubling and itself reflects a lack of judgment. This conduct, however, does not necessarily reveal an intent to deceive. And, in the case of Dyer, there does not appear to have been any such intent. The behavior of Chojnacki and Sarabyn when the alteration was investigated does not lead to the same conclusion.” [New York Times, 10/1/1993; Time, 10/11/1993]
Repercussions - Vice President Al Gore recommends that the BATF be dissolved, with its firearms division merged into the FBI and the other two sections merged with the IRS. Bentsen is resistant to the idea. However, such large-scale reorgzanizations are unlikely. After the report is issued, Bentsen removes Chojnacki, Sarabyn, Deputy Director Edward Daniel Conroy, and intelligence chief David Troy from active service. A year later, Chojnacki and Sarabyn will be rehired with full back pay and benefits (see December 23, 1994). [Time, 10/11/1993] The Treasury report, according to author and church advocate Dean Kelley, “helped to diminish criticism of the federal role.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Treasury, Darrell Dyer, Branch Davidians, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Charles Sarabyn, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Robert Rodriguez, Stephen Higgins, David Troy, Philip Chojnacki, Dean M. Kelley, Edward Daniel Conroy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lloyd Bentsen, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

July 2, 1995: Former BATF Head Defends Waco Raid

Stephen Higgins, the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF), publishes an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining why his agency mounted a raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Higgins says he wrote the piece after watching and reading about the public reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), which many claim was triggered by the Waco debacle (see April 19, 1993). Higgins says a raft of misinformation surrounds the BATF raid on the Davidian compound, and gives his rationale for the raid.
BATF Did Not Instigate Investigation into Davidians - “[D]espite what fundraisers at the National Rifle Association would have us believe, the [B]ATF is not part of some sinister federal plot to confiscate guns from innocent people,” he writes. The agency was alerted to the Davidians’ stockpiling of weapons by reports from a local deputy sheriff, who heard from a United Parcel Services driver that a package he delivered to the Davidians contained grenade parts (see November 1992 - January 1993), and earlier deliveries included black gunpower, firearms parts, and casings. “[C]onspiracy theorists had best include the local sheriff’s office and UPS as part of the collusion,” Higgins writes. In addition, the day before the raid, the Waco Tribune-Herald began the “Sinful Messiah” series of reports on the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), which detailed, Higgins writes, “the potential danger the group represented to the community as well as, somewhat ironically, the failure of local law enforcement agencies in addressing the threat. (The conspiracy now would have to include the local newspaper publisher!)”
Davidians Posed Clear Threat to Community - Higgins says that it would have been dangerous to assume that the Davidians were peaceful people who did not plan to actually use the weapons they were amassing, and repeats the claim that Koresh said in late 1992 that “the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco” (see December 7, 1992). Higgins goes on to say that during the 51-day siege, Koresh alluded to a previous plan to blow up the dam at Lake Waco, that Koresh wanted to provoke a confrontation with the BATF, and had at one point considered opening fire on a Waco restaurant to provoke just such a conflict.
BATF Feared Mass Suicide - Higgins notes that the BATF, like the FBI, feared the possibility of “mass suicide” (see February 24-27, 1993, Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 5, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 12, 1993, (March 19, 1993), and March 23, 1993), and gives several examples of cults who have carried out just such mass suicides.
Disputes Claims that BATF Fired First Shots - Higgins disputes the claims “that the Davidians were only defending themselves when they shot and killed four [B]ATF agents and wounded numerous others” during the February 1993 raid. He notes that investigations have shown that all four BATF agents were killed by Davidian gunfire (see February 2000) and not “friendly fire,” as some have alleged, and asks, “[W]hat possible excuse could there have been for the Davidians even taking up arms—let along using them—upon learning inadvertently from a TV cameraman that ATF agents were on their way to serve warrants?” Had the Davidians allowed the BATF agents to serve their warrants, “there would have been no subsequent loss of life on either side.” He goes on to say that it was the Davidians, not the BATF, who first opened fire, as a Treasury Department report has confirmed (see Late September - October 1993). He writes that for BATF agents to have merely “driven up to the compound and politely asked to conduct a search without displaying any firearms” would have been “dangerous and potentially suicidal.”
Using Waco as an Excuse for Violence - Higgins concludes that people like Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, do not decide to do violence to innocent people because of tragedies such as the Davidian incident, but “use it as an excuse for their behavior.” He notes that after the Oklahoma City bombing, someone called it a “damned good start.” He says perhaps the upcoming hearings on the Waco tragedy (see Late July 1995) might influence some of these people: “By seeing the faces of the survivors and reading their stories, maybe those who so vehemently rail against government authority in general, and government workers in particular, will come to understand better that those people they’ve been so quick to criticize have real faces and real families. They car-pool to work. They coach Little League sports. They mow their lawns. They’re the family next door that waters your plants and takes in your mail while you’re away. No one deserves to have their life placed in jeopardy simply because they work in, or happen to be passing by, a government office. And no one, not even law enforcement officers who get paid for risking their lives, deserves to be targeted by violent extremists threatening to kill them simply for doing their jobs.” For others, like radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, who has advised his listeners to shoot BATF agents in the head because they wear bulletproof vests (see August 26 - September 15, 1994), “I doubt there’s much hope,” Higgins writes. He says that Liddy’s excuse that he was talking strictly about self-defense doesn’t wash; some angry and unstable individuals might well take Liddy’s words literally. Higgins compares Koresh to mass murderers such as Charles Manson and David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), and concludes: “We can’t change the outcome of what happened at Waco, but we have a responsibility not to ignore simple fairness and compassion in our search for the truth. If there is to be another hearing on Waco, let’s hope it’s for the purpose of examining the facts and learning from the tragedy, not merely to please one more special interest group with an anti-government agenda.” [Washington Post, 7/2/1995]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh, G. Gordon Liddy, Branch Davidians, Stephen Higgins, Washington Post, Waco Tribune-Herald, Timothy James McVeigh, National Rifle Association

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The cover of Conway and Siegelman’s book ‘Snapping.’The cover of Conway and Siegelman’s book ‘Snapping.’ [Source: aLibris (.com)]In their book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman write of their recent interviews with several law enforcement officials who dealt with various aspects of the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), the final tragic assault (see April 19, 1993), and the aftermath.
Former Deputy Attorney General Admits FBI Unprepared for Dealing with 'Cult' Behaviors - Former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann took his post on April 19, 1993, the day of the assault on the Davidian compound, and managed the Justice Department (DOJ) review of the siege and assault (see October 8, 1993). Heymann acknowledges that the FBI went into the siege unprepared to deal with a “cult,” as many label that particular group of the Branch Davidian sect, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists Church. “The FBI was trained to deal with terrorists,” Heymann tells the authors, “but it wasn’t trained to deal with a religious group with a messianic leader. There was no precedent of the FBI’s handling such a situation and there had been no planning for one.” Heymann says he conducted the DOJ review less to assign blame than to help improve federal authorities’ future responses to situations like the Davidian confrontation, and even less connected situations such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). “I wanted to see that we were organized in such a way that, if this situation came up again in any form, including an extreme Islamic fundamentalist group, we could understand how to think about them, how to talk to them, when to put pressure on and when not to put pressure on, all the things that go into negotiations,” Heymann says. He acknowledges that many DOJ and FBI officials are uncomfortable with the idea of cults and with the tactical changes dealing with such groups requires. “I hesitated to use any of those terms,” he says. “We tried to avoid labeling the group as a ‘cult’ suggesting crazies. There was a purposeful attempt to not give the group one label or another. The general understanding was that we were dealing with a, you know, a group that had passionate beliefs, that was extremely suspicious of the government.… We wanted to avoid having to dispute the people who, on the one side, treat groups like this as just another fundamentalist religion and, on the other, regard them as a dangerous form of mind control. I did not want to come down on one side or the other of that debate.” Conway and Siegelman believe that the FBI’s reluctance to deal with the “cult” aspect of the Davidians helped bring about the deaths of the Davidians on the final day of the siege. Heymann admits that many in the FBI and DOJ ignored or downplayed warnings that as a cult, the Davidians were prone to take unreasonable actions, such as hopeless confrontations with authorities and even mass suicide (see February 24-27, 1993, Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 5, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 12, 1993, (March 19, 1993), and March 23, 1993), and that some officials denied ever receiving those warnings after the final conflagration. “I think you have to assume that any organization after a result like this is going to try to play down their responsibility, but we ought to have picked that up in our report and I’m disappointed if we weren’t skeptical enough,” he says. He concludes: “I think we’re going to be prepared to confront any obvious illegality done in the name of religion. If someone commits a serious crime, like killing government agents, there’s no doubt that the government will be prepared to use force to make an arrest. But if they haven’t, if it’s a question of whether people have been brainwashed, I think you’ll continue to see the same history we’ve had for the last 20 or 30 years. We don’t really have any way of deciding whether brainwashing is holding someone against one’s will or not, or what to do about it.”
DOJ Assistant - Richard Scruggs, an assistant to the attorney general, worked with Heymann on the DOJ review, assembling the timeline of events of the siege. He recalls: “The AG [Attorney General Janet Reno] started here two weeks into the siege. I arrived two weeks later and, by that time, planning was already well underway to get the people out of the compound. After the fire, I was called in to try to figure out what the hell had happened. We did a thousand interviews. We got every piece of the story from everyone’s perspective.” He discusses the array of evidence and opinions the DOJ received concerning the reaction the Davidians were likely to have to the increasingly harsh and aggressive tactics mounted by the FBI during the siege. “The whole issue of suicide and the psychological makeup of Koresh and his followers was obviously something we looked into,” Scruggs says. “The bureau [FBI] sought dozens of expert opinions and many more were offered. There were literally hundreds of people calling in with advice, not just people off the street but people from recognized institutes and universities. The result was that FBI commanders, both in Waco and in Washington, had so many opinions, ranging from ‘they’ll commit suicide as soon as you make any move at all’ to ‘they’ll never commit suicide,’ that it really allowed them to pick whichever experts confirmed their own point of view. The experts FBI officials judged to be the most accurate were those who said suicide was unlikely, which turned out to be wrong.” Scruggs acknowledges that Reno was not given examples of all the opinions expressed, saying, “She only got the no-suicide opinion.” He insists that Reno was aware of the possibility of suicide, and offers two possible explanations as to why the FBI officials only gave her selected and slanted information (see April 17-18, 1993). “My first impression was that someone made a conscious decision to keep this information away from the AG,” he says. “It certainly looked that way. On the other hand, sometimes these things just happen, one decision leads to another, and nobody really thinks things through. I think the people who were putting together the material truly believed there was a low chance of suicide and then simply picked the materials that confirmed what they wanted to believe.” Scruggs acknowledges that DOJ and FBI officials ignored the warnings given by two FBI “profilers,” Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, and March 9, 1993). “Oh yes, absolutely,” he says. “Smerick and Young got wiped out by the on-site commander, who wanted a combination of negotiation and increasing pressure on the compound, the so-called ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach.” Scruggs, unlike Heymann and other government officials, says that the FBI “believes strongly in mind control, believe me.… There was a great debate going on in the bureau whether Koresh was a con man or whether he really thought he was some kind of messiah, but whichever he was there was no doubt that he was effectively controlling the rest of the people. Everybody assumed that.… Everybody believed he did it through some kind of brainwashing or mind control. We scrubbed the report of words like that, but the bureau used them. They fully understood that.” The mistake that was made during the siege was in believing that the increasingly aggressive “psywar” tactics used during the siege, even during the initial hours of the assault itself, was that “by making it very uncomfortable, they could overcome the control Koresh exercised over the rest and get out a large number of the women and children. They even used the phrase ‘the motherhood instinct.’”
Alternatives Considered and Rejected - But the options aside from assaulting the compound were in some ways worse. “The options were minimal. They could have killed Koresh—the Israelis couldn’t understand why he didn’t do that. The HRT had Koresh in their sights 50 times. They could have killed him and all his leaders and that would have been the end of it, but that was not an option. They looked into all kinds of other things. One official had heard rumors that the government had a secret weapon, like a laser weapon or sound weapon, that could vibrate people in some non-lethal way and get them out of there. We didn’t. We found out later there was a microwave weapon, but they couldn’t use it because it affected people differently based on their body size and weight. It didn’t do much to big people but it tended to cook little people.” Scruggs says that there was no “win” in any scenario they considered. “I’m not saying that mistakes weren’t made, because they were,” he says, “but I became firmly convinced in my own mind, after looking at this 16 hours a day for six months, that it was Koresh’s game. He was, in effect, controlling us no less than he was controlling his own people.” Scruggs echoes the words of senior FBI agent Byron Sage, who was present for the siege and the assault, who will say five years later that Koresh “had an apocalyptic end in mind, and he used us to fulfill his own prophecy” (see January 2000). Carl Stern, director of public affairs for the Department of Justice, was present at the decision-making sessions held in Reno’s office, and saw the FBI present its tear-gas assault plan for her approval. Stern, like Reno and others, was new to Washington and to the Davidian situation, and recalls the turmoil of meetings and decisions in the final weekend before the assault on Monday, April 19. “I arrived here on Tuesday and had my first meeting on Waco 15 minutes after I walked in the door,” Stern says. “Two people from the criminal division were advocating the tear gas plan. I took the other position and we argued it in front of the attorney general. The next day I attended a meeting where I really felt the idea had been turned off. I was confident that nothing was going forward (see April 12, 1993). Then on Saturday it got turned around 180 degrees” (see April 17-18, 1993). Stern is still unsure why the opposition to the assault plan disappeared so thoroughly. “The AG [Reno] was there with her deputies, the FBI director [William Sessions] was there with his deputies, and they were going through the whole thing all over again.” Stern summarizes the list of official priorities that weighed in favor of the action. “The FBI was concerned about deteriorating health conditions in the compound. There were dead bodies on the premises. The building had no indoor plumbing. People were defecating in buckets and dumping it in a pit out back and, after 50 days, there was real concern that there would be a massive disease outbreak and the first ones to get sick would be the kids. They were concerned that the perimeter of the compound was highly unstable. It was a large perimeter. There had been several breaches of it. There were rumors that armed pro-Koresh groups might come from Houston or California or elsewhere to put an end to the siege. Finally, the Hostage Rescue Team had been there for 49 days at that point—the longest they had ever gone before was four days. They were in sniper positions around the clock. They were losing their edge, not training, sitting out there in mudholes, and they were afraid if something went wrong in the rest of the country they would not be able to respond.” Stern confirms that one of Reno’s overriding concerns was the reports of child abuse she was receiving. “The AG asked a number of questions and this became the legend of what she was concerned about. She asked first about sanitary conditions. She asked next about sexual assault and child abuse. The FBI replied that if Koresh was still doing what he had been point prior to the raid (see November 3, 1987 and After) he was legally committing statutory rape. Third, the question of beatings came up. As recently as March 21, youngsters had been released who described having been beaten. The consensus was that, at a minimum, the government was not adequately protecting these children, but all that got distorted later.”
Mass Suicide Never Considered an Option for Davidians - Stern also confirms that FBI officials dismissed any idea that the Davidians might commit mass suicide, and that possibility was never figured into the plans for the assault. “What the attorney general heard was the assessment that he was not suicidal,” Stern says. What did figure into the planning was what the authors calls the “tough-cop culture of the FBI, which later evaluators cited as central factors in the proposal by bureau commanders to attack the compound with tear gas.” Stern says, “Remember, four officers had been killed, the FBI had never waited so long in the hostage situation, and from their perspective, it was really untenable that people who had killed federal officers were going on week after week thumbing their noses at law enforcement.”
Assault Did Not Follow Plan - The plans as approved by Reno never contained an option to attack the compound with armored vehicles. “Please keep in mind that there was no plan to demolish the compound. As we said at the time, it was not D-Day. The original plan was a two-day plan for gradual insertion of gas to progressively shrink the usable space and continually encourage people to come out.” The assault was carried out entirely differently; when the Davidians began firing automatic weapons at the armored vehicles and at personnel, ground commanders abandoned the plans and ordered an all-out assault with tear gas and armored vehicles. Even weather conditions played a part in the final conflagration. “No one anticipated the wind,” Stern recalls. “The tanks were not supposed to strike the building, but because of the wind, the gas wasn’t getting in and they had to get closer and finally insert the booms through the window millwork. In the course of doing so, they struck the walls and the roof.” Stern recalls the moments when the fires erupted throughout the compound. “I was in the SIOC [Strategic Intervention Operations Center] when the fire broke out. At first, Floyd Clarke, the FBI’s deputy director, thought an engine had blown on one of the vehicles they had rented from the Army. They didn’t realize what had happened. Then, when it became clear that it was a fire, they all sat there waiting for the people to come out. They were saying, ‘Come on baby, come on out, come on out.’ They were expecting people to come flooding out and there were no people coming out and they were absolutely incredulous. Even when it was over, they were still assuming they would find the kids in the bus they had buried underground.” Stern says FBI and DOJ officials were stunned at the realization that the Davidians had, in essence, committed mass suicide. “All I can tell you is that, given the atmosphere at the time, it was a surprise the suicide occurred. Remember, by then, most of the children in the compound were Koresh’s own. The thought that he would permit his own children to be harmed was inconceivable.” Conway and Siegelman point out that those experienced in “cult” “mind control” techniques had, indeed, anticipated just such an outcome. They theorize “that ranking FBI officers, tired of being manipulated by Koresh and, no doubt, genuinely concerned for the precedents they were setting for future confrontations, may have misguided the attorney general into giving ground commanders too much leeway in the execution of the final assault plan—leeway that, as the tank and tear gas assault progressed, unleashed the full destructive potential of Koresh and the people under his control. However, in our view, that gaping hole in the government’s strategy was not wrought by any battering ram or armored vehicle. Amid the push and pull of the government’s internal debate, the failure of FBI officials in Washington and Waco to heed warning that the cult’s destructive urges would ignite under pressure hastened the demise of the doom-bent Davidians.” The Davidians were never Koresh’s hostages as the FBI viewed them, the authors conclude, but willing participants willing to die for their leader and for their beliefs.
Reno Forced to Rely on FBI - Stern reminds the authors: “The attorney general had only been on the job five weeks. She didn’t even have her own staff yet. She was really flying solo. She had to rely on somebody, so she relied on the FBI and their vaunted Hostage Rescue Team. Those of us who have been around town a little longer know that, while there’s much to admire about the FBI, it does not have an unblemished record. There are times when they have been mistaken. They’re not perfect. In the world of cats and dogs, sometimes they’re closer to dogs than cats. If she had been attorney general for two years and had more experience dealing with the bureau, she might have solicited more information.” [Conway and Siegelman, 1995]

Entity Tags: Flo Conway, David Koresh, Carl Stern, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, US Department of Justice, Philip Heymann, Mark Young, Jim Siegelman, Richard Scruggs, Janet Reno, Floyd Clarke, Peter Smerick

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

House Oversight Committee holds public hearings on the Waco debacle.House Oversight Committee holds public hearings on the Waco debacle. [Source: C-SPAN]The House Oversight Committee releases its report on the FBI’s siege and final assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 19, 1993). The report was prepared in conjunction with the House Judiciary Committee. The report spans investigative activities undertaken on behalf of the committees by Congressional investigators from April 1995 through May 1996; the committees took almost three months to write the final report. As part of that investigation, the Oversight Committee held 10 days of public hearings (see August 4, 1995). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Findings - The report makes the following conclusions:
Branch Davidians Responsible for Situation, Deaths - “But for the criminal conduct and aberrational behavior of David Koresh and other Branch Davidians, the tragedies that occurred in Waco would not have occurred,” the report finds. “The ultimate responsibility for the deaths of the Davidians and the four federal law enforcement agents [referring to the federal agents slain in the February 1993 raid] lies with Koresh.” The Davidians set the fires themselves, the report finds. Moreover, the Davidians had time to leave the premises after their cohorts set the fires, and most either chose to stay or were prevented from leaving by their fellows. The 19 Davidians killed by gunfire either shot themselves, the report finds, were shot by their fellows, or were killed by “the remote possibility of accidental discharge from rounds exploding in the fire.”
Treasury Department 'Derelict' in Duties - Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Deputy Secretary Roger Altman were “irresponsible” and “derelict in their duties” refusing to meet with the director of the BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, sometimes abbreviated ATF] in the month before the February raid, and failing to ask for briefings. Senior Treasury officials “routinely failed” to monitor BATF officials, knew little to nothing of the plans for the raid, and therefore failed to uncover the significant flaws in the plan. When the raid failed, Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Noble tried to blame the BATF for the failure, even though Noble and his fellow Treasury officials failed to supervise the BATF’s plans and activities.
BATF 'Grossly Incompetent' - Some of the worst criticism of the report are leveled at the BATF. The report calls the agency’s investigation of the Davidians (see June-July 1992, November 1992 - January 1993, and January 11, 1993 and After) “grossly incompetent” and lacking in “the minimum professionalism expected of a major federal law enforcement agency.” The agents in charge of planning decided to use a “military-style raid” two months before beginning surveillance, undercover, and infiltration efforts. The agency did have probable cause for a search warrant against Koresh and the Davidians (see February 25, 1993), but the affidavit applying for the warrant “contained an incredible number of false statements.” The BATF agents responsible for the affidavit either knew, or should have known, the affidavit was so inaccurate and false. Koresh could easily have been arrested outside the compound, the report finds; the BATF planners “were determined to use a dynamic entry approach,” and thusly “exercised extremely poor judgment, made erroneous assumptions, and ignored the foreseeable perils of their course of action.” BATF agents lied to Defense Department officials about the Davidians’ supposed involvement in drug manufacturing, and by those lies secured Defense Department training without having to reimburse the department, as they should have. The raid plan itself “was poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used, was drafted and commanded by ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” Plan security was lax, making it easy for the Davidians to learn about the plan and take precautions. The report singles out BATF raid commanders Philip Chojnacki and Chuck Sarabyn for criticism, noting that they endangered BATF agents’ lives by choosing to go ahead with the raid even though they knew, or should have known, the Davidians had found out about it and were taking defensive action. “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28.” The report is highly critical of Chojnacki’s and Sarabyn’s rehiring after they were fired (see December 23, 1994). The report also cites former BATF Director Stephen Higgins (see July 2, 1995) and former Deputy Director Daniel Hartnett for failing to become involved in the planning.
Justice Department Decision to Approve Final Assault 'Highly Irresponsible' - The report charactizes Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval of the FBI’s plan to end the standoff “premature, wrong… highly irresponsible… [and] seriously negligent” (see April 17-18, 1993). Reno should have known that the plan would put the Davidians’s lives at extreme risk, especially the children inside, and should have been doubly reluctant because of the lack of a serious threat posed by the Davidians to the FBI or to the surrounding community. Reno should have been skeptical of the FBI’s reasons for ending the standoff: negotiations were continuing, the Davidians were not threatening to break out in force, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) could have gone longer without mandatory rest and retraining, the Davidians’ living conditions had not significantly deteriorated, and there was no reason to believe that children were being abused or mistreated any more than they may have been before the February raid. “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk.” The report calls the plan to use CS riot control gas “fatally flawed.” CS gas is a dangerous substance, and particularly threatening to children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with respiratory conditions, all of which were represented in the compound. Some of those who died in the fires may have died from exposure to CS gas before the fires consumed them, the report speculates. The Davidians were likely to react violently and not submissively, as the FBI insisted, and the likelihood of armed resistance and mass suicide in response to the CS gas insertion was high. Moreover, the plan had no contingency provisions in case the initial insertion did not provide the desired result. Reno offered her resignation after the April 19 assault; the report says that President Clinton “should have accepted it.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI Pushed for Violent Confrontation Instead of Allowing Negotiations to Continue - The FBI was riven by the conflict between two teams with “incompatible methodologies,” the report finds: the HRT, which ultimately controlled the situation, and the negotiators. Senior FBI agent Jeffrey Jamar almost always sided with the HRT’s aggressive approach, but often “allowed the proposals of each team to be implemented simultaneously, working against each other.” The FBI’s chief negotiator on-site, Gary Noesner, told the committee that the dichotomy between the “action-oriented” HRT and the “nonviolent” negotiators is a problem that the FBI routinely experiences; it was not unique to the Davidian standoff. The two teams battled with increasing hostility and anger towards one another as the siege progressed, with the negotiators becoming less and less influential. The negotiators later testified that the pressure tactics used by the HRT against the Davidians undermined their efforts at winning the Davidians’ trust and rendered their efforts ineffective. FBI profiler Peter Smerick (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, August 1993, and 1995) was particularly harsh in his assessment of the tactics of the HRT during the siege; during his interviews with investigators, Smerick said “the FBI commanders were moving too rapidly toward a tactical solution and were not allowing adequate time for negotiations to work.” Smerick told investigators that while the “negotiators were building bonds… the tactical group was undermining everything.… Every time the negotiators were making progress the tactical people would undo it.” The report concludes, “FBI leadership engaged these two strategies in a way that bonded the Davidians together and perpetuated the standoff.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After March 2, when Koresh and the Davidians broke what some considered to be a promise to come out (see March 2, 1993), Jamar believed nothing Koresh or the others said, and essentially gave up on the idea of a negotiated surrender. Chief negotiator Byron Sage did not share that view, but Jamar and the HRT officials began thinking, and planning, exclusively on a forced end to the standoff, even ignoring evidence that Koresh intended to lead his people out after completing his work on an interpretation of the Biblical Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). Many FBI officials, particularly Jamar, Noesner, and the HRT leadership, became frustrated and impatient with what the report calls “endless dissertations of Branch Davidian beliefs” (see March 15, 1993), to the point where they ignored the assertions from religious experts that the Davidians could be productively negotiated with on a religiously theoretical level (see March 16, 1993). The FBI, the report says, “should have sought and accepted more expert advice on the Branch Davidians and their religious views and been more open-minded to the advice of the FBI’s own experts.” Jamar and the senior FBI officials advising Reno should have known that the reasons they gave to end negotiations and force an ending were groundless; their advice to Reno was, the report says, “wrong and highly irresponsible.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] However, some charges against the FBI are baseless, the report finds. CS gas would not have built up in any areas of the residence to anything approaching lethal levels. No FBI agents shot at the Davidians or the compound. No agent set any fires, either deliberately or inadvertently. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Defense Department Bears No Responsibility - The report finds no reason to fault the Defense Department or National Guard, as no DoD nor Guard personnel took an active part in the assault; the Posse Comitatus Act was therefore not violated. No foreign military personnel or foreign nationals took any part in the assault, though “[s]ome foreign military personnel were present near the Davidian residence as observers at the invitation of the FBI.”
Recommendations - The report recommends that:
bullet the Justice Department consider assuming control of the BATF from the Treasury Department;
bullet Waco residents who made the false statements to law enforcement officials included in the original search warrants should be charged with crimes;
bullet federal agents should use caution in using such statements to obtain warrants; the BATF should review and revise its planning to ensure that “its best qualified agents are placed in command and control positions in all operations”;
bullet senior BATF officials “should assert greater command and control over significant operations”;
bullet the BATF should no longer have sole jurisdiction over any drug-related crimes;
bullet Congress should consider enhancing the Posse Comitatus Act to restrain the National Guard from being involved with federal law enforcement actions;
bullet the Defense Department should clarify the grounds upon which law enforcement agencies can apply for its assistance;
bullet the General Accounting Office (GAO) should ensure that the BATF reimburses the Defense Department for the training and assistance it improperly received;
bullet the GAO should investigate Operation Alliance, the organization that acts as a liaison between the military and other federal agencies;
bullet the FBI should revamp its negotiation policies and training to minimize the effects of physical and emotional fatigue on negotiators;
bullet the FBI should take steps to ensure greater understanding of the targets under investigation (the report notes that had the FBI and BATF agents understood more about the Davidians’ religious philosophies, they “could have made better choices in planning to deal with the Branch Davidians” (see March 15, 1993);
bullet the FBI should ensure better training for its lead negotiators;
bullet FBI agents should rely more on outside experts (the reports notes that several religious experts offered their services in helping the agents understand the Davidians, but were either rebuffed or ignored—see March 3, 1993, March 7, 1993, and March 16, 1993);
bullet federal law enforcement agencies should welcome the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, particularly state and local agencies;
bullet the FBI should expand the size of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) “so that there are sufficient numbers of team members to participate in an operation and to relieve those involved when necessary”;
bullet the FBI should conduct further examinations on the use of CS gas against children, those with respiratory problems, pregnant women, and the elderly. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Perhaps the Greatest Law Enforcement Tragedy in American History' - In a statement appended to the final report, Representative Steven Schiff (R-NM) calls the Davidian raid, standoff, and final assault “perhaps the greatest law enforcement tragedy in American history.” He writes: “It would not be a significant overstatement to describe the Waco operation from the government’s standpoint, as one in which if something could go wrong, it did. The true tragedy is, virtually all of those mistakes could have been avoided.” His statement decries what he calls the increasing “militarization of law enforcement,” recommends that the HRT be scaled back instead of expanded, expresses little confidence in the FLIR (forward-looking infrared radar) videotapes used to determine when and how the fires were started, calls for stringent limitations on the use of CS gas, and blames the FBI for not allowing many of the residents to escape. He accuses the Justice Department of a “breach of ethics” in what he says were its attempts to conceal and withhold evidence from the committee, and to shape its findings. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Dissenting Views - The investigating committees’ 17 Democrats issue a “dissenting views” addendum that is highly critical of what it calls the Republican majority’s use of “false assumptions and unfounded allegations” to besmirch the reputations of Reno and Bentsen, and the use of those “assumptions and allegations” to press for Reno’s resignation. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Gary Noesner, US Department of the Treasury, US Department of Defense, Branch Davidians, Clinton administration, Dan Hartnett, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steven Schiff, Charles Sarabyn, Ronald Noble, Janet Reno, Stephen Higgins, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, General Accounting Office, Lloyd Bentsen, Jeffrey Jamar, Operation Alliance, Peter Smerick, Roger Altman, Philip Chojnacki

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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