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Profile: Danny Coulson

Danny Coulson was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Pyrotechnic CS gas canisters.Pyrotechnic CS gas canisters. [Source: Law Enforcement Equipment Distribution]According to newly presented documents, the FBI used two or three pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The documents contradict earlier FBI and Justice Department claims that law enforcement officials did nothing that could have contributed to the fire that killed over 80 sect members. Former senior FBI official Danny Coulson begins the revelations by admitting to the Dallas Morning News that the FBI had indeed used pyrotechnic grenades, though he says the grenades did not start the fires that consumed the building. Texas Department of Public Safety Commission Chairman James Francis says the Texas Rangers have “overwhelming evidence” supporting Coulson’s statement. “There are written reports by Rangers, there is photographic evidence, there is physical evidence, all three of which are problematic,” Francis says. Coulson, the founder of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and a former assistant deputy director, says that two M651 CS tear gas grenades were fired into the building, but they were fired hours before the blazes erupted. Attorney General Janet Reno, who tells reporters she knew nothing of the grenade usage and is “very, very frustrated” at the knowledge, appoints former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) as the head of an investigatory commission (see September 7-8, 1999); Danforth will find that, regardless of the use of the pyrotechnic gas canisters, law enforcement officials were not responsible for the fire, and neither the FBI nor the Justice Department tried to cover up any actions (see July 21, 2000). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; Dallas Morning News, 8/25/1999; Salon, 9/9/1999] The military M651 canisters, which burn for about 30 seconds to heat and release the solidified tear gas inside, were fired from a Bradley fighting vehicle at a bunker near the main building (see September 3, 1999). After the assault, a Texas Ranger found a spent 40mm gas canister shell lying on the ground and asked a nearby FBI agent, “What’s this?” The agent promised to find out, but never returned with an answer; the shell went into evidence containers (see August 10, 1999 and After). Two weeks after the FBI acknowledges the use of incendiary gas canisters at the Waco assault, Reno testifies on the matter to the House Judiciary Committee. She says that, based on the briefings she had been given (see April 17-18, 1993), “It was my understanding that the tear gas produced no risk of fire.… That fire was set by David Koresh and the people in that building.” After her testimony, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) calls on Reno to resign. [Newsweek, 9/6/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999] FBI agent Byron Sage, the chief negotiator during the Davidian standoff, will say in 2003 that the incendiary gas canisters could not have set the fires. “This is the critical point, the M651 rounds were never directed towards the wooden structure,” he will say. “They were used in an area yards away from the building. Also, they were used earlier in the day. The fire didn’t start until four hours later. They had absolutely nothing to do with that fire.” Sage will say that the canisters were fired only at a construction pit near the compound where other gas-discharging devices had been smothered in mud. The pit was targeted because some Davidian gunfire during the ATF raid had come from that area, he will say. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003] Charles Cutshaw, an editor of Jane’s Defense Information and an expert on this kind of weapon, says these military tear gas cartridges are not intended to start fires. He says he knows of no studies or reports on how often such cartridges may have caused fires. [Washington Post, 9/4/1999] Shortly after the admission, federal prosecutor Bill Johnston, one of the lawyers for the government in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving Davidians (see April 1995), informs Reno that government lawyers had known for years about the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds (see August 30, 1999). Johnston will be removed from the lawsuit and replaced by US Attorney Michael Bradford. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] He will also plead guilty to concealing evidence from investigators concerning the canisters (see November 9, 2000).

Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Bill Johnston, Danny Coulson, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James B. Francis Jr, Trent Lott, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, John C. Danforth, Texas Rangers, Charles Cutshaw, Michael Bradford

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Memos withheld from Congressional investigators (see August 4, 1995) by the FBI show that the FBI was riven by dissension during the Branch Davidian siege, which culminated in a fiery conflagration that killed scores of sect members (see April 19, 1993). The memos are released by the Dallas Morning News. Many senior FBI officials were pressing to use tear gas to bring the siege to a close, some as early as three weeks after its start. According to a March 23, 1993 memo (see March 23, 1993) written by then-Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson, the FBI’s top expert on tactics, the Hostage Rescue Team leader, Richard Rogers, was pressuring FBI officials to terminate the siege by using gas as part of an assault. Coulson disagreed with Rogers’s recommendations. Coulson is the former agent who recently revealed that the FBI had used pyrotechnic grenades during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Some House members are angry about the withheld memo, and note that they have consistently been denied documents even after subpoenas were issued. “We’ve had a subpoena out there for all relevant documents—all documents—since September 7, 1999,” says Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee. “Is the Department of Justice withholding only embarrassing documents from us? It makes you wonder.” Other FBI documents released by the Dallas Morning News show that Attorney General Janet Reno gave her approval to use tear gas on the compound (see April 17-18, 1993). [Dallas Morning News, 2/28/2000]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Dallas Morning News, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Mark Corallo, Richard Rogers, Janet Reno, Danny Coulson

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The FBI gathered a significant amount of evidence that showed links between convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997, June 11-13, 1997, and 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) and white supremacists who had threatened to attack government buildings, according to investigative memos procured by the Associated Press. This evidence includes hotel receipts, a speeding ticket, prisoner interviews, informant reports, and phone records suggesting that McVeigh had contact with white supremacists connected to the Elohim City community (see 1983, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, April 1993, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, August 1994 - March 1995, August - September 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, September 13, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, February 1995, March 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 5, 1995, April 8, 1995, and Before 9:00 A.M. April 19, 1995). “It is suspected that members of Elohim City are involved either directly or indirectly through conspiracy,” FBI agents wrote in a memo shortly after the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). An FBI teletype shows that some of the supremacists who were present when McVeigh called Elohim City (see April 5, 1995) were familiar with explosives, and had made a videotape in February 1995 vowing to wage war against the federal government and promising a “courthouse massacre.” The AP notes that the Murrah Building, devastated by the blast, was directly across the street from the federal courthouse. The teletype also notes that two members of a violent Aryan Nation bank robbery gang who live in the Elohim City compound left the compound on April 16 for a location in Kansas a few hours away from where McVeigh completed the final assembly of the bomb (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Some of the evidence was not turned over to McVeigh’s lawyers for his trial. “They short-circuited the search for the truth,” says McVeigh’s original lead attorney, Stephen Jones. “I don’t doubt Tim’s role in the conspiracy. But I think he clearly aggrandized his role, enlarged it, to cover for others who were involved.” The FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Dan Defenbaugh, says he never saw the FBI teletype that linked McVeigh to the Elohim City community. He says he would not have considered the teletype a “smoking gun” that would have altered the outcome of the investigation, but his team “shouldn’t have been cut out. We should have been kept in on all the items of the robbery investigation until it was resolved as connected or not connected to Oklahoma City.” Defenbaugh adds that he knew nothing of a 1996 plea offer by prosecutors to one of the robbers, Peter Kevin Langan (identified by the AP as Kevin Peter Langan), who said he had information about the bombing. Langan made several demands the government was unwilling to meet, and the plea offer was rescinded. Langan’s lawyer later said Langan could disprove the April 19, 1995 alibis for two of the bank robbers, casting doubt on their denials of non-involvement with the bomb conspiracy. The FBI acknowledges its failure to turn over some documents, but says it found no evidence that McVeigh was involved with anyone in the conspiracy aside from his accomplice Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). FBI spokesman Mike Kortan says: “We believe we conducted an exhaustive investigation that pursued every possible lead and ran it to ground. We are confident that those who committed the crime have been brought to justice and that there are no other accomplices out there.” Part of the problem, Defenbaugh says, was that white supremacist militia groups shared many of McVeigh’s far-right beliefs, and some had their own plans for carrying out bombings that had nothing to do with McVeigh’s tightly controlled conspiracy. “Even though we had our conspiracy theories, we still had to deal with facts and the fact is we couldn’t find anyone else who was involved,” Defenbaugh says. Jones says of the Elohim City connection: “I think Tim was there. I think he knew those people and I think some helped, if not in a specific way, in a general way.” Retired FBI agent Danny Coulson says: “I think you have too many coincidences here that raise questions about whether other people are involved. The close associations with Elohim City and the earlier plan to do the same Murrah building all suggest the complicity of other people.” [Associated Press, 2/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Associated Press, Danny Coulson, Elohim City, Mike Kortan, Terry Lynn Nichols, Danny Defenbaugh, Timothy James McVeigh, Peter Kevin Langan, Stephen Jones

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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