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Context of 'August 1993: FBI Interviews Say Negotiations Abandoned Too Soon for Counterproductive Aggressive Measures in Davidian Standoff'

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In a conciliatory gesture, the FBI drops murder charges against two elderly women who left the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see March 2-3, 1993). Davidian leader David Koresh tells FBI negotiators that he reneged on his agreement to surrender (see March 2, 1993) because he is “dealing now with his Father,” meaning God, and no longer with “your bureaucratic system of government.” Much of Koresh’s interactions with negotiators is marked by lengthy harangues about the End Times and other apocalyptic sermonizing, combined with implied threats to bring a violent end to the situation. FBI profilers Pete Smerick and Mark Young write a memo noting that the present tactics of lengthy negotiations and an increasingly aggressive tactical presence could be counterproductive, and result in lives lost (see March 5, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Peter Smerick, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mark Young, Branch Davidians, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Pete Smerick.Pete Smerick. [Source: University of Louisville]The siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas continues (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). FBI profilers Pete Smerick and Mark Young, who have warned that the authorities’ strategy of negotiation and intimidation may backfire (see March 3-4, 1993), predict that the siege will end with an all-out assault on the compound by federal authorities (see April 19, 1993). Smerick and Young also predict that most of the Davidians may well commit mass suicide (see March 5, 1993), and warn that a strong show of force is merely playing into Davidian leader David Koresh’s hands. In Washington, acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson talks FBI Director William Webster out of going to Waco to negotiate directly with Koresh. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] One of Smerick’s memos warns that aggressive measures would “draw David Koresh and his followers closer together in the ‘bunker mentality’ and they would rather die than surrender.” [USA Today, 12/30/1999] Tactical pressure, Smerick writes, “should be the absolute last option we should consider, and that the FBI might unintentionally make Koresh’s vision of a fiery end come true.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] On March 9, FBI officials will pressure Smerick and Young into issuing a memorandum that supports the increased harassment of the Davidians (see March 9, 1993). [Moore, 1995]

Entity Tags: Stuart Gerson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh, Mark Young, Branch Davidians, William H. Webster, Peter Smerick

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Jeff Jamar, the onsite commander of FBI forces besieging the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), ignores the objections of some negotiators who feel that the release of two Davidians (see March 12, 1993) is a sign of progress, and orders the electricity to the compound to be cut off for good (see March 9, 1993), saying he wants the Davidians to “experience the same wet and cold night as the tactical personnel outside.” Jamar’s rationale is that a cold night inside the compound will increase the stress levels among the Davidians, and work to destabilize leader David Koresh’s control of the situation. Steve Schneider, Koresh’s top aide, changes his mind about leaving the compound due to the power outage. The next day, Schneider relays the complaints of cold and discomfort from those inside to the FBI. Koresh will later upbraid Schneider for doing what he calls a poor job of representing the Davidians to the FBI. [New York Times, 3/13/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Steve Schneider, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeffrey Jamar, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The FBI begins illuminating the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) with bright lights during the night. According to a Justice Department report on the siege (see October 8, 1993), the rationale is to use the lights “to disrupt sleep, to put additional pressure on those inside, and to increase the safety of the HRT,” or Hostage Rescue Team members. For their part, the Davidians hang a banner reading, “FBI broke negotiations, we want press,” and flash SOS signals. [New York Times, 3/14/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, FBI Hostage Rescue Team

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), refuses to allow his top aide Steve Schneider to talk further with FBI senior agent Byron Sage (see March 15, 1993). Instead, Sage urges Koresh to surrender, questioning his sincerity and challenging him to take some positive action. Sage and FBI commander Jeff Jamar decide to increase the pressure on Koresh, hoping to force him into surrendering; the next day, agents broadcast a message into the compound over loudspeakers, advising those inside that they will be treated fairly if they come out. FBI profiler Pete Smerick, frustrated at the increasingly aggressive tactics being employed (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 9, 1993), leaves the site. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Jamar, Branch Davidians, Byron Sage, Peter Smerick, David Koresh, Steve Schneider, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Six women and one man depart the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) and are taken into federal custody. Two women leave at 1:30 a.m. Davidian leader David Koresh again reneges on his previous promise to surrender (see March 19, 1993), telling FBI negotiators, “I told you my God says wait.” After Koresh’s statement, two more women leave around 10:30 a.m. During the afternoon, a woman and a man leave the compound. The seven Davidians to leave are Victoria Hollingsworth, James Lawton, Sheila Martin, Gladys Ottman, Annetta Richards, Rita Riddle, and Ofelia Santoya. FBI agents say the departures raise hopes that a large-scale surrender may be in the offing, but caution that they have no way to know if any such surrender is actually being planned. In recent days, Koresh has been allowing small numbers of Davidians to leave in return for delivery of items such as milk, medical supplies, and national news magazines with articles about the Davidians. FBI agent Bob Ricks says Koresh can be fractious and uncooperative: “It’s very difficult for him to handle anyone who puts a demand on him,” Ricks says. Koresh has suggested that “certain astrological things” may mean a large-scale surrender is forthcoming. “My understanding is he is relaying to us that certain events have occurred which he takes to be at least a sign, or signs have taken place, and he believes that other things are in motion that would fulfill his desire to have a sign,” Ricks says. Ricks says Koresh has indicated he wants to ensure that he stays alive to spread his message. He quotes Koresh as saying: “I have a great desire to settle this issue. I realize if I’m dead, my message will not come out.” [New York Times, 3/22/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Ricks, Annetta Richards, David Koresh, Victoria Hollingsworth, Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, Gladys Ottman, James Lawton, Sheila Martin, Ofelia Santoya

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Jeffrey Jamar, the leader of the FBI contingent at the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), calls a meeting of the FBI’s crisis management team on-site. The team discusses what it calls “stress escalation measures,” methods designed to increase the stress on the Davidians and particularly on their leader David Koresh. Some of these measures are already being used (see March 14, 1993 and March 21, 1993). If these measures fail, FBI negotiators recommend using tear gas to drive members out of the compound (the negotiators will later say that they came up with their own assault plan for fear that other FBI officials would mount a more aggressive and dangerous plan of their own—see August 1993 and August 2, 1996). However, the negotiators predict that while Koresh will continue to stall, eventually he will cooperate in producing a peaceful outcome to the siege (see March 3-4, 1993). [New York Times, 3/25/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Jamar, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) leader Richard Rogers urges senior FBI and Justice Department officials to use tear gas to bring the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) to a close. According to a memo written by Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson, the FBI’s top expert on tactical matters, “A lot of pressure is coming from Rogers.” Coulson writes that Rogers urged similar tactics in the 1992 Ruby Ridge debacle (see August 31, 1992): “We had similar problems in Idaho with him [Rogers] and he argued and convinced the SACs [special agents in charge of local FBI offices involved in the incident] that [Randy] Weaver would not come out. That proved to be wrong. I believe he is a significant part of the problem here.” Rogers’s advice, that only extreme and violent action could force Weaver to emerge, sparked the death of Weaver’s wife and son. In 1992, Rogers relaxed FBI rules of engagement and tried to force an all-out assault on the Weaver cabin using tanks and tear gas. Weaver eventually surrendered. Coulson believes that Davidian leader David Koresh will also surrender, if given enough time. “All of their intelligence indicates that David [Koresh] does not intend suicide and that he will come out eventually,” Coulson’s memo concludes. [Dallas Morning News, 2/28/2000] The day after Coulson’s memo is circulated, the FBI begins bombarding the compound with sound and light (see March 23-24, 1993).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Danny Coulson, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Richard Rogers, Randy Weaver, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The FBI delivers an ultimatum to the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993): 10 to 20 people must leave by 4 p.m., or some unspecified action will be taken. At 4 p.m., when no one leaves, armored vehicles move into the compound and destroy motorcycles and go-carts. That night, the FBI again bombards the compound with floodlights, loud music, and helicopters buzzing the buildings (see March 22, 1993). The following morning, the FBI issues another ultimatum, and the armored vehicles begin clearing the front side of the compound. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1996 investigation by the House of Representatives cites expert opinions that the encroachment of armored vehicles into the compound and the extraordinarily loud music blasted into the main building (see March 21, 1993) are “exactly the wrong tactics.” The report will conclude, “More than simply bonding the Davidians together, experts concluded that these actions proved [Branch Davidian leader David] Koresh right in the minds of the Davidians.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: US House of Representatives, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Despite his promises that his Davidian sect members will leave the compound on April 10 (see April 1-4, 1993), David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), now refuses to confirm an exit date. Larry Potts, the supervising FBI agent in Washington, and his colleague Floyd Clarke, have flown to Waco; they meet with Richard Rogers, the chief of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) to discuss strategy. Rogers proposes using tear gas to flush the Davidians from the compound if they fail to leave as promised (see March 23, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Floyd Clarke, David Koresh, Larry Potts, FBI Hostage Rescue Team

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Concertina wire.Concertina wire. [Source: Sodahead (.com)]The day of the Branch Davidians’ promised departure from their compound (see April 1-4, 1993 and April 8, 1993) arrives. No one departs. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) members begin installing razor-sharp concertina wire around the compound. FBI agents intend to prevent Davidians from sneaking out of the compound, perhaps to assault the agents besieging it (see March 1, 1993); they also intend to keep others from sneaking in, as has already happened twice (see March 24, 1993 and March 26, 1993). The wire may allow the FBI to relieve some of the agents, many of whom have been on-site for five weeks. Officials also admit that the wire is a tacit admission that they expect the Davidians to remain immured in their compound for an indefinite period of time. The FBI is reluctant to mount an assault, spokespersons say, because of its concerns over the welfare of the children inside (see March 28, 1993 and April 9, 1993). Concerns include the effect of tear gas on the children; one agent explains that the amounts necessary to irritate adults enough to drive them out of the compound could prove harmful or even lethal to small children. Moreover, two of the women inside are pregnant, with one expected to deliver sometime in May. Two senior FBI officials have visited Waco in recent days to discuss a possible “end strategy,” including the idea of assaulting the compound with tear gas or other chemicals to drive the Davidians out (see April 7, 1993). FBI officials in Washington say all the options under discussion have flaws, and the only option that could be mutually agreed upon was the installation of the razor wire. Lloyd Bentsen, the secretary of the Treasury, who supervises the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF—see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), says he is intensely worried that any such assault will cost lives, and he has already spoken against escalating the pressure on the Davidians. “I spent most of one night trying to be sure there was not an additional use of force at that situation,” he says. [New York Times, 4/13/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Lloyd Bentsen

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

A variety of military-grade CS gas canisters. A ruler lies between them as a size reference. It is unclear if the FBI plans to use canisters similar to these in the Davidian assault.A variety of military-grade CS gas canisters. A ruler lies between them as a size reference. It is unclear if the FBI plans to use canisters similar to these in the Davidian assault. [Source: British Ordnance Collectors]Attorney General Janet Reno approves a modified version of the FBI’s original plan to flush the Branch Davidian compound, Mt. Carmel, with tear gas and force the departure of the 80-odd members (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 7, 1993). Reno rejected an earlier plan, instead asking for further review (see April 14-15, 1993). According to a later Justice Department report, she gives the prepared material “only a cursory review, leaving tactical decisions to those at Waco,” and begins discussing rules of engagement with FBI Director William Sessions and his top aides. She briefs President Clinton, who concurs with the plan after asking questions about measures designed to ensure the safety of the children in the compound (see March 28, 1993). According to Reno, who will later discuss her conversation with Clinton: “He said: ‘Have you carefully considered it? Have you looked at everything? Do you feel like this is the best way to go?’ And I said: ‘Yes, sir. It’s my responsibility, and I think it’s the best way to go.’” Ultimately, Clinton says, “it is your decision.” The plan has been under discussion since March 22 (see March 22, 1993); Reno will acknowledge that she has been appraised of such a plan since “around March 27th or sometime near the very end of March.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Parameters of Plan - The stated mission of the plan is to “secure the surrender/arrest of all adult occupants of the residence while providing the maximum possible security for the children within the compound.” The plan spans some 48 hours, or until all the Davidians have left the building and surrendered. The raid will start with the first “insertion” of CS gas into the front left portion of the residence, the main building of the compound. After a period of time dependent on the Davidians’ response to the CS gas and any negotiations that might take place, more CS will be inserted into the back right portion of the residence. A third insertion will be made at an unspecified point in the residence. After that, all subsequent insertions will be made through the upper and lower windows of the building. The first three insertions will be made by two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs), military vehicles similar to Bradley fighting vehicles but lacking armaments. The CEVs to be used have been outfitted with boom-like arms capable of punching through the walls of the residence. On the booms are mechanical sprayers for the CS. After the third insertion, agents will fire “ferret” round projectiles through the windows; these are small, non-explosive grenade-like projectiles containing CS gas which break apart upon impact and deliver the gas. In addition, more CS will be inserted by the CEVs. HRT (hostage rescue team) and SWAT (special weapons and tactics) units have specific assignments. Maneuvers for the two CEVs, nine Bradleys, and one M-88 tank retrieval vehicle are also specified. FBI snipers are carefully positioned. A “medical annex” is placed to treat what the plan calls “the potentially large number of casualties which could exceed the current medical capabilities of any single agency present,” and there are procedures to be followed to arrest persons exposed to CS. The annex is prepared to evacuate seriously injured agents or Davidians to local and secondary hospitals, as well as the mass surrender of the Davidians if that occurs. The plan also provides for the possibility that the Davidians might not surrender. In that case, the plan states that “if all subjects failed to surrender after 48 hours of tear gas, then a CEV with a modified blade will commence a systematic opening up/disassembly of the structure until all subjects are located.” If Davidians are observed in the compound’s guard tower, agents will fire ferret rounds into the tower. Also: “If during any tear gas delivery operations, subjects open fire with a weapon, then the FBI rules of engagement will apply and appropriate deadly force will be used. Additionally, tear gas will immediately be inserted into all windows of the compound utilizing the four Bradley vehicles as well as the CEVs.”
No Frontal Assault - The plan has no provision for any sort of frontal assault by armed FBI agents; the planners feel that any such assault would almost certainly result in “significant casualties” among the agents, and might well trigger a mass suicide among the Davidians. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Reno Deliberately Misinformed - Later investigations will show that Reno is being actively misinformed by the FBI in order to secure her approval for the tear gas plan. The FBI procured documentation from the on-site commanders in Waco that supports only the Washington officials’ desire for an aggressive assault using a heavy bombardment of tear gas, and omits material from FBI profiler Pete Smerick and FBI negotiators that warns against such a plan (see April 12, 1993 and 1995). The FBI information presented to Reno does not contain Smerick’s behavioral memos, omits complaints from Smerick and an array of negotiators that negotiations had been progressing until derailed by more aggressive FBI tactics, and omits warnings that using tanks or other force against the Davidians would cause violence and death. The report concludes, “Since negotiations began on Feb. 28, 1993, despite 51 days of efforts, the negotiators have concluded that they have not been able to successfully negotiate a single item with [Davidian leader David] Koresh.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995; Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
Allegations of Child Abuse - A later Justice Department study will show that Reno changes her mind about the plan primarily because she fears the children in the compound are being abused. The FBI’s briefing book notes allegations of child abuse by Davidian leader David Koresh, both sexual and physical. Although the FBI has no evidence of current abuse taking place, someone in the FBI tells Reno that children in the compound are being raped and beaten. According to the Justice Department report, “someone had made a comment in one of the meetings that Koresh was beating babies.” Reno, who came to Washington with the reputation of being a child advocate, later says she “double-checked” the allegation and got “the clear impression that, at some point since the FBI had assumed command and control for the situation, they had learned that the Branch Davidians were beating babies.” However, it is highly unlikely that Koresh is abusing children, largely because the wounds he suffered in the February 28 shootout sharply limit his mobility. Dr. Bruce Perry, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital, has closely examined the children already released from the compound, and concluded that none of them had been subjected to sexual or physical abuse. Perry will later say of the child-abuse allegations, “The FBI maximized things they knew would ring a bell with her.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995] FBI Director William Sessions says on April 19 that no direct evidence exists of current sexual or physical abuse going on among the Davidians. Reno will later state that she possessed “no contemporary evidence” of such abuse. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Additionally, some FBI officials worry that Koresh and the other adults may try to break out of the compound using the children as human shields, though no evidence supports this fear. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Reno Not Told CS Gas Can Be Flammable - The CS gas to be used is also flammable under certain conditions, a fact of which Reno may not be aware. [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995]
Exaggerated Warnings of Militia Members En Route - Reno will later state that she receives warnings during the briefings about the possibility that armed militia members may be preparing to converge on Waco to join Koresh in resisting the law enforcement forces gathered around the Mt. Carmel compound (see April 3, 1993). Later investigation shows that the “threat” of “armed militias” consists of one Indianapolis lawyer, Linda Thompson, who has promised to load people into a van, drive to Waco, and protest for the right to bear arms. Thompson says she is part of an organization called the Unorganized Militia of the United States, an organization of which few Justice Department officials are aware. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995]
'Highly Irresponsible' - A House committee investigation in 1996 will find Reno’s decision to approve the assault “highly irresponsible,” and will find, “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Janet Reno, Linda Thompson, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Bruce Perry, Peter Smerick, William S. Sessions

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

In interviews conducted for the Justice Department’s probe of the FBI’s 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993), several FBI agents present during the siege and/or final assault say the bureau abandoned negotiations much too early and instead implemented aggressive measures that were counterproductive (see March 23, 1993). The interviews will not be included in the Justice Department’s report, and will not be released until December 1999, when they are made available to the special counsel investigating the FBI’s conduct during the final assault (see September 7-8, 1999).
Negotiators 'Had the Rug Pulled Out from under Them' - Some negotiators say during their interviews that because the FBI used punitive paramilitary actions (see March 12, 1993, March 14, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, March 21, 1993, March 22, 1993, March 23-24, 1993, March 25-26, 1993, April 7, 1993, April 10, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), many Davidians chose to remain inside the compound rather than leave. Gary Noesner, the FBI’s negotiation coordinator for the first weeks of the siege, says, “The negotiators’ approach was working until they had the rug pulled out from under them” by aggressive tactical actions. Noesner’s replacement, Clint Van Zandt, agrees, saying the negotiators’ position was “akin to sitting on the bow of the Titanic and watching the iceberg approach.” Former FBI profiler Pete Smerick, who warned early in the siege that the aggressive tactics being used by the FBI might backfire (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 7-8, 1993), says that the FBI “should not send in the tanks, because if they did so, children would die and the FBI would be blamed even if they were not responsible.… The outcome would have been different if the negotiation approach had been used. More people would have come out, even if Koresh and his core never did.”
Negotiators Submitted Own Plan for Tear-Gas Assault - Noesner says that on March 22, he and other negotiators submitted their own plan for gassing the compound, in hopes that their more moderated plan would be chosen over a more aggressive plan from the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). “This showed a clear realization… that the negotiations were basically over. They knew they were at an impasse,” Noesner says of FBI negotiators. “They recommended that tear gas be used because they realized this was going to happen anyway and they wanted to control it, to use it with leverage in the negotiations. The tactical interests just wanted to throw the gas in.” The negotiators’ plan became the blueprint for the plan accepted by Attorney General Janet Reno. “It would be allowed to work by letting them sit in it. The idea was to increase pressure but not in a way to provoke a violent response,” Noesner says.
Negotiators' Positions Disputed - FBI agent Byron Sage, one of the senior agents present during the siege, disagrees with some of his colleagues’ comments. In an interview repeatedly cited in the Justice Department report, Sage says: “Could we have gotten a few more people out [had the FBI used different tactics]? Maybe so, and God knows, any life that we could’ve saved would’ve been important. But it’s a total what-if. The fact remains that we did everything we could.” According to former White House counsel Webster Hubbell, also interviewed for the Justice Department report, Sage told him in a phone call that further negotiations were useless, and that some kind of assault on the compound was the only way to resolve the situation. Sage disputes Hubbell’s recollections, saying, “I never said negotiations were abandoned or at a total impasse.” Van Zandt, speaking to reporters in 1999, will say that he is not surprised to learn that Sage, and not Van Zandt, received Hubbell’s phone call. “I probably would’ve told him a lot different,” Van Zandt will recall. “When anyone from Washington asked who should we talk to, [on-site commander Jeffrey] Jamar strongly suggested Sage because he would speak the company line.… I don’t say [Sage] was Jeff Jamar’s man in a negative sense. But Jamar trusted him and knew he’d be working for Jamar when this was all over.” Van Zandt will recall warning “whoever would listen” that the plan was too risky and wouldn’t work. “That fell on deaf ears. I said we’re playing into Koresh’s prophecies. We’re doing what he wants.” Van Zandt will say that shortly before the assault he told the other negotiators what was coming. “It was a very deep, sobering time,” he will recall. Sage will dispute Van Zandt’s recollections also. “I don’t remember anyone jumping up and disagreeing,” he will say. “Hindsight is 20/20. We all agreed that we had reached a point where we would try to force the issue. If that meant the exercise of some force, then tear gas was the lowest level of force available.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/30/1999; USA Today, 12/30/1999]

Entity Tags: Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeffrey Jamar, Gary Noesner, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Webster Hubbell

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

John C. Danforth.John C. Danforth. [Source: Huffington Post]Attorney General Janet Reno names former Senator John Danforth (R-MO) as a special counsel to investigate the events of the April 1993 tragedy outside of Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), and specifically to determine whether actions by the FBI led to the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Reno opens the investigation after learning that the FBI concealed evidence of the use of incendiary gas cartridges during the assault on the Davidian compound, actions that some believe may have started some of the fires (see August 10, 1999 and After, August 25, 1999 and After, and August 26, 1999). Danforth is a former US attorney general and an Episcopal priest. According to an Associated Press report, “both admirers and detractors have noted his emphasis on morals as well as his stubborn independence.” Former Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), who served in the Senate with Danforth for 10 years, says: “He calls them like he sees them. Members of the Senate or House will have full faith in his finding.” [Associated Press, 9/7/1999; Associated Press, 9/9/1999; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] Republicans in Congress have called on Reno to resign, while Democrats defend her tenure and say her actions during and after the Waco assault have been “commendable.” House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) says that he will hold off on attempting to launch a five-member commission to probe the Waco debacle. He will allow the Danforth investigation to proceed unimpeded, unless he feels the Justice Department is not cooperating with the probe. “Should events prove otherwise, we will reconsider this decision,” Hyde says. [Associated Press, 9/9/1999] Danforth’s investigation will clear the FBI and the federal government of any wrongdoing (see July 21, 2000).

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Henry Hyde, John C. Danforth, Branch Davidians, Thomas F. Eagleton, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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