Profile: FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT)
FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) was a participant or observer in the following events:
FBI agent in charge Jeffrey Jamar. [Source: PBS]The FBI dispatches agents to the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, the scene of a bloody standoff this morning between the Davidian sect members and a large force of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which resulted in the deaths of four BATF agents and six Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). By the afternoon, the FBI becomes the lead agency for resolving the standoff. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Jeffrey Jamar, head of the FBI’s San Antonio office, is named the on-site commander. The bureau quickly deploys its own agents, and local law enforcement officials, around the compound to ensure no one tries to escape. The deployment quickly becomes an all-out siege. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] President Clinton was reportedly angered at reports of the botched raid. His chief of staff, Mack McLarty, demanded of a senior Justice Department official, “What the hell happened here?” The order to replace the BATF with the FBI came from Clinton. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel are in place by the afternoon, and hostage negotiators spend much of the afternoon talking on the telephone with Koresh. Some bring Bibles, later telling reporters: “This guy’s a Bible-citing machine. We have to speak his language.” As part of the negotiations to persuade Koresh to allow some of the sect members to leave safely, Koresh will be allowed to broadcast his religious teachings on a local radio station (see March 2, 1993) and to give an interview to a CNN reporter (see 5:00 p.m. February 28, 1993 and After). Texas Rangers attempt to begin their own investigation, but are barred by the FBI from continuing. Clinton closely follows the events as they progress. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mack McLarty, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Vic Feazell, Jeffrey Jamar
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period. [Source: PBS]President Clinton gives his implicit endorsement for a negotiated solution to the standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidian sect members near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993). By 6:00 a.m., the FBI has assumed formal control of the situation. FBI agents set up a fully functioning command post by the afternoon, and FBI agents in armored vehicles surround the compound. FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Jamar, named site commander, arrives to take charge. Daniel Hartnett, the associate director of enforcement for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) also arrives. The Davidians allow 10 children to leave the compound, apparently as a result of intense hostage negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel, who have just arrived on-scene. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman goes to Waco and meets with BATF agent Bill Buford. Davidian leader David Koresh becomes agitated when he sees the vehicles moving in; he is further angered when he learns that the FBI has blocked all incoming and outgoing telephone calls except for communications between him and the negotiators. Koresh assures the negotiatiors that his Davidians are not contemplating mass suicide. FBI Director William Sessions advises Clinton that a “waiting strategy” to handle the situation is best, and Clinton agrees. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the agents who surround the compound have black ribbons on their identification badges to memorialize the four BATF agents slain during the raid. [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
Supplies and Surveillance - Starting today and for weeks to follow, FBI negotiators will provide the besieged Davidians with some requested items, including food and supplies for the children. In some of these provisions, FBI agents insert listening devices, which give the agents a limited amount of knowledge as to topics being discussed among the Davidians. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Negotiations - The FBI chooses not to retain the services of BATF agent James Cavanaugh, who successfully negotiated the cease-fire between the BATF and the Davidians; Cavanaugh has already gained a measure of trust from Koresh and his aide Steve Schneider, and had successfully convinced the two to let some children leave the compound. The FBI does allow McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell to speak with the Davidians, as the Davidians know him and trust him to an extent. The FBI comes to consider Harwell a “natural” at low-key negotiations. However, within two days, it will prevent him from any further contact with the Davidians. The FBI never allows the Texas Rangers to speak with the Davidians, though the Davidians say they trust the Rangers to treat them fairly; Jamar refuses to speak to Rangers chief David Byrnes. The FBI will later say that it was concerned that “third party” negotiators did not have training in FBI negotiation tactics. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Dan Hartnett, Branch Davidians, Bill Buford, William S. Sessions, David Byrnes, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, James Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Jamar, Roger Altman, Steve Schneider, Jack Harwell, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation
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]
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).
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard, who represents Attorney General Janet Reno in the Branch Davidian situation (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), holds meetings in Waco and San Antonio to learn about the infighting between FBI and other law enforcement officials. The next day, Reno hears Richard’s report, and assigns Ray Jahn as the Justice Department’s lead prosecutor and coordinator. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] The infighting at Waco is largely between two camps: the FBI negotiators and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, or HRT. The negotiators are willing to take whatever time is needed to win the release of everyone inside the compound, mostly by building trust and then using that trust to get people out. The HRT, more inclined to action than talk, has pressed since the beginning of the standoff to increase the pressure on Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers. Several times, the HRT has actively undermined negotiators’ efforts with the Davidians; at one point, the negotiators persuaded Koresh to let two people leave, but that very same night, HRT turned off the electricity to the compound, enraging Koresh (see March 12, 1993). Days later, the negotiators won the release of seven more people, but that same evening, HRT ordered the bulldozing of several Davidian cars outside the compound and bombarded the compound with loud music (see March 21, 1993). Negotiators have complained that whatever trust they have managed to secure has been undermined by the HRT. Two FBI agents who agree with the negotiators are the profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993), who warned their superiors that increasing the pressure on Koresh and the Davidians would precipitate a bloody, violent end to the standoff (see March 7-8, 1993). Smerick and Young also warned that the HRT’s tactics would drive the Davidians ever closer to Koresh, uniting them together by demonstrating that the government agents outside the compound are indeed their enemy, as Koresh preaches. Later investigation will show that the negotiators failed to make progress in part because of harassment from the HRT. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
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]
The day before the promised departure of the Branch Davidian sect members from their besieged compound (see April 1-4, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh sends a four-page letter to the FBI, identifying himself as “Yahweh” (the Jewish name for God) and telling it that the “heavens are calling you to judgment.” The letter is written in first-person as if God penned it. “The letter is threatening and cites six Biblical passages,” says FBI spokesman Bob Ricks. “The gist of the letter, like the Biblical passages, conveys messages of a powerful, angry God empowering his chosen people to punish and harm those who oppose him.” Experts analyze the letter, along with others Koresh will send over the next few days (see April 10-11, 1993), and will conclude that Koresh is possibly psychotic and has no intention of leaving voluntarily. [New York Times, 4/10/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Davidian Attacked with Stun Grenades - Steve Schneider, David Koresh’s lieutenant, is allowed to briefly leave the compound to deliver Koresh’s letter and to ignite seven smoke flares to commemorate Passover. In the process, FBI agents bombard him with stun grenades, sometimes called “flash-bangs,” to drive him back inside. Ricks explains, “Mr. Schneider, either through his own confusion or whatever, came out one occasion too many yesterday and we had to flash-bang him twice.” [New York Times, 4/10/1993]
Letter Helps Precipitate Decision to Assault Compound - Impelled in part by the letter, the FBI finalizes plans to use tear gas to flush the Davidians from the compound (see April 7, 1993), and begins moving to secure Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval to carry out these plans. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Some within the FBI feel that the tear-gas assault is the very worst thing that can be done to resolve the situation (see March 31, 1993). FBI profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993), who warned their superiors that increasing the pressure on Koresh and the Davidians would precipitate a bloody, violent end to the standoff (see March 7-8, 1993), say that the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel should withdraw from the compound, and that tactical pressure “should be the absolute last option we should consider.” The two experts who analyze the letter tend to agree with Smerick and Young. Clint Van Zandt, of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime—the so-called “Silence of the Lambs” team—and Dr. Joseph Krofcheck, a psychiatrist, conclude after reading the letter that an FBI confrontation with Koresh might “bring this matter to a ‘magnificent’ end, in his mind, a conclusion that could take the lives of all of his followers and as many of the authorities as possible.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Janet Reno, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Steve Schneider, Mark Young, Joseph Krofcheck, Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
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]
David Koresh, the increasingly unstable leader (see April 9, 1993) 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), informs FBI negotiators in a letter written to his lawyer Richard DeGuerin that God has finally spoken to him; he will leave the compound once he has written a manuscript explaining the Seven Seals, a Biblical concept that is associated with the Apocalypse. According to the book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, Koresh’s lieutenant Steve Schneider tells negotiators that it might take “six months or six years” to complete the manuscript. Other sources say that Koresh intends to finish the manuscript within several weeks. [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244; Moore, 1995; New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Religious Basis for Surrender? - The latest letter from Koresh is substantially different from his previous letters; while the earlier letters were primarily rambling Biblical dissertations, this letter states a deadline as to when the Davidians will leave and Koresh will surrender. Experts reading the letter note that it is far more prosaically written than the earlier letters, and states Koresh’s desire to leave the compound and “stand before man to answer any and all questions regarding my actions.” Some religious scholars, later reading the letter, will say that they believe Koresh has found a religious rationale for surrendering. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina will say, “Koresh used the religious arguments in this letter for why he had now seen that the scriptures told him to come out.” Tabor and his colleague, Philip Arnold of the Reunion Institute of Houston (see March 7, 1993), will note that Koresh now seems to believe that surrender is a viable option because he “could come out and preach his message.” [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians 'Cheer' over Likelihood of Departure - DeGuerin, representing Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1-4, 1993), says that the Davidians are happy about the prospect of their imminent release. “[E]everyone was relieved they did not have to die,” DeGuerin will later recall. The Davidians obviously believe they are leaving; cheering can be heard on FBI surveillance audiotapes. Tabor will later testify: “You can exactly see the mental state of the people inside. It is buoyant. They are talking about coming out. They are excited about it.” Tabor will quote surviving Davidians as saying, “We were so joyful that weekend because we knew we were coming out, that finally David had got his word of how to do this legally, the lawyers, and theologically in terms of his system.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI, Justice Department Refuse to Countenance Idea, Continue with Plans to Assault Compound - In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno continues to review plans to flush the Davidians out with tear gas (see April 12, 1993), and meets with members of the Army’s elite Delta Force to fine-tune the strategy. Senior White House and Justice Department officials conclude that there is no hope of Koresh surrendering peacefully, a conclusion reinforced by FBI senior agent Byron Sage, one of the principal negotiators, who tells officials that in his opinion further negotiations would be fruitless. The FBI agent in charge of the siege, Jeffrey Jamar, gives DeGuerin and his fellow lawyer Jack Zimmerman the impression that he takes Koresh’s offer of surrender seriously, but as Jamar will later testify, he does not. Jamar will later testify: “It was serious in [DeGuerin’s and Zimmerman’s] minds. I think they were earnest and really hopeful, but in Koresh’s mind, never a chance. I’m sorry.” The Delta Force members are present at the request of FBI Director William Sessions, to convince Reno to go along with the tear-gas plan. They reassure her that tear gas presents no danger to both the adults and the children in the compound, and that it cannot catch fire. Richard Rogers, the head of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT—see March 31, 1993), says that if the situation in Waco is not resolved soon, he will have to withdraw his men for rest and retraining. Reno asks why, if the HRT teams must be withdrawn, local SWAT teams cannot be deployed in their place; Rogers and other FBI officials say the presence of the HRT teams is “essential.” However, even with the pressure from the FBI officials, Reno rejects the plan. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] She will approve a modified version of the plan two days later (see April 17-18, 1993). She is apparently unaware that the FBI will lob pyrotechnic grenades either into or near the building (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Opinions Vary on Koresh's Intentions, Sincerity - Sage will later say that in his opinion, Koresh never intended to follow through with the proposed surrender. He will say that Koresh turns down offers to provide typists and word processors to help him complete his manuscript, though the FBI provides equipment to let Davidian Ruth Riddle begin typing transcripts for him. Sage is convinced, he will say, that the entire manuscript proposal is “just another delaying tactic.” [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Others have a different opinion. Two religious scholars, Arnold and Tabor, have studied Koresh’s earlier broadcast (see March 2, 1993), and believe that Koresh has decided that the Apocalypse he believes is unfolding at Mt. Carmel still has a year or so before it concludes; Koresh’s decision to write the manuscript about the Seven Seals indicates to them that he has changed his mind about the timeframe of the End Days. They believe that Koresh means what he says and does intend to surrender after completing the manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Byron Sage, David Koresh, Clinton administration, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, William S. Sessions, Steve Schneider, Branch Davidians, Richard Rogers, Ruth Riddle, James Tabor, Janet Reno, Jack Zimmerman, Philip Arnold, Richard DeGuerin, Jeffrey Jamar
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound. [Source: PBS]The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both (see April 18, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Warning - At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. [Time, 5/3/1993]
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire - At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.” Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons, 2002] (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000] Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI's Actions an Assault - A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee (see August 2, 1996) will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Monitoring from Washington - At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Buildings Breached - At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well - At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Transcriptionist Escapes - Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript (see April 18, 1993), escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound - At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993] Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1993 Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993) will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs” (see October 8, 1999). Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Plea for Release - At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. [New York Times, 4/20/1993] One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Systematic Gunfire' - At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors - At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Death Toll - In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In the Bunker - FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing. That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Koresh's Fate - Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
No Ill Effects from Gas - Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Wrongly Executed Plan - The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Taking Responsibility - One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack (see April 17-18, 1993), and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here” (see April 19, 1993). She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Bob Sheehy, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Barry Higginbotham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, Jeffrey Jamar, Byron Sage, US Department of Justice, Nizam Peerwani, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard Rogers, Rodney Rawlings, Rodney Crow, Ruth Riddle, Texas Rangers, Steve Schneider
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
Former FBI profiler Peter Smerick tells FBI agents investigating the 1993 siege and assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993), that he believes FBI officials “misled” Attorney General Janet Reno in order to gain her approval to launch a tear-gas assault on the compound (see April 17-18, 1993). Smerick’s interview is contained in a confidential document that is obtained by the press in March 2000. Smerick retired from the bureau in late 1993, and began a career as a behavioral consultant in a firm staffed by ex-FBI agents. His psychological profiles are considered in hindsight to have been the best predictors of the tragedy by experts and negotiators involved in the siege.
'Slanted View of the Operation' Given to Reno by FBI Officials - Smerick tells interviewers that in his opinion, “the FBI misled the attorney general by giving her ‘a slanted view of the operation’ in Waco.” Smerick blames top FBI officials in Washington for convincing Reno that the only way to bring the siege to a peaceful end was with tear gas. Smerick says he and an unnamed negotiator had by then “concluded that the best strategy would have been to convert the Branch Davidian compound into a prison and simply announce to [sect leader David] Koresh that he was in the custody of the United States. This idea was not endorsed, however.” The report of Smerick’s interview says, “Smerick speculated that FBI headquarters viewed this option as one which would have caused them to ‘lose face’ and therefore was unacceptable.” Smerick notes that his five Waco profiling memos (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, and March 9, 1993) were not in the “briefing book” FBI officials gave to Reno when they began lobbying her to approve using tear gas (see April 12, 1993). Had Reno seen those memos, she would have read of warnings that using force against the Davidians would intensify a “bunker mentality” in which “they would rather die than surrender.” Smerick warned that the sect considered its home “sacred ground” and would “fight back to the death” if the authorities tried to go in. “The bottom line is that we can always resort to tactical pressure, but it should be the absolute last option we should consider,” one memo read. Smerick examines the briefing book given to Reno and, according to the interview report: “Smerick speculated that the preparers selectively incorporated memoranda and evidence from the case which selectively supported the tactical step of tear gas insertion. He feels compelled to present the foregoing information for the bureau’s consideration and deliberation in an attempt to prevent similar outcomes in future hostage situations.”
Mocking, Belittlement - Smerick notes that his memos were so strongly against the use of force that FBI leaders in Waco and Washington mocked and belittled them. An administrative notebook kept by the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) in Waco documents Smerick’s claim. An unsigned note in the notebook outlines Smerick’s recommendations for ensuring “safety of children who are victims,” and “facilitat[ing] peaceful surrender,” and concludes that Smerick and his colleagues have provided a “psychological profile of a… [expletive] by jerks.” Smerick notes that on March 9, 1993, he was informed that future memos would have to be approved in Washington before being distributed to the on-site supervisors, and that he was pressured to have his analyses conform to a more aggressive stance (see March 9, 1993). “[T]he traditionally independent process of FBI criminal analysis… was compromised at Waco,” he states. Smerick describes his final memo as “acquiescent,” omitting his earlier cautions against pushing the Davidians too far and incorporating suggestions from his Washington superiors. He left Waco shortly thereafter “in frustration” (see March 17-18, 1993), though he says he kept in contact with some negotiators.
Loyalty First - Smerick concludes by reiterating his loyalty to the FBI, and his intention not to make any of his criticisms public. The report reads: “Smerick explained that if he is called to testify at any official public hearings regarding this matter, he will present the facts in a fashion as favorable to the FBI as possible.… Smerick concluded the interview by noting that he has always been loyal to the FBI and will continue to be loyal. He advised that he is providing the foregoing information for in-house edification, not to publicly criticize the FBI.” Two months after the interview, Smerick will testify before Congress about the siege and the final assault; he will briefly mention his memos, but will not offer the detailed criticisms of the FBI that he states in this interview. [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
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
Two armed Freemen man a patrol outpost on their besieged ranch. The US flag is flown upside down to indicate distress. [Source: Idaho Observer]Undercover FBI agents arrest the leader of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), LeRoy Schweitzer, and two of his colleagues, Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and Lavon T. Hanson, on the “Justus Township” ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After). Schweitzer and Peterson go out in the early morning to inspect the site of a ham radio antenna they were having set up to facilitate communications; the site is on the ranch, but some distance from the main compound. The two are responding to a request from the chief of the installation crew to inspect the antenna. When they arrive, they learn that the installation crew is actually composed of FBI agents. Though Schweitzer and Petersen are heavily armed, they do not resist arrest. Hanson is also arrested without incident. Federal agents then surround the ranch with over 100 agents. Six Freemen voluntarily leave the compound; 20 or more heavily armed Freemen remain inside the ranch, along with several children, and a standoff between the Freemen and the FBI begins. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] A lawyer who visited a Freemen residence in the fall of 1995 recalls seeing guns such as AR-15 assault rifles, shotguns, and hunting rifles in every corner, and gas masks hanging from the doors. Authorities believe that the Freemen ensconsced in the ranch house have those weapons and more besides. [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Tactics Very Different from Ruby Ridge, Waco - US Attorney Sherry Matteucci says that federal authorities are seeking eight other people who are not in custody in the Freeman case, including Rodney Skurdal, who has been at large since a warrant for his arrest was issued in March 1995. Skurdal is the de facto leader of the Freemen holed up inside the ranch. The FBI says it is going to great lengths to ensure that this standoff does not end badly, as previous confrontations have in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). “The FBI has gone to great pains to ensure that there is no armed confrontation, no siege, no armed perimeter, and no use of military assault-type tactics or equipment,” says Attorney General Janet Reno. “The FBI is trying to negotiate a peaceful solution.” The FBI says the confrontation is not a “siege,” as two of the three roads leading out of the Freeman compound are not blocked. Matteucci says authorities believe there are women and children among the besieged Freemen, but will not speculate as to the Freemen’s numbers or composition. FBI Director Louis Freeh decides at the outset not to use overt military tactics, as was done at both Ruby Ridge and Waco. Agents and law enforcement officials on the scene do not wear camouflage or black uniforms, but civilian clothes, and no armored personnel carriers are brought in. The FBI’s quasi-military Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is heavily supplemented by trained negotiators and “profilers.” Instead of snipers, the FBI installs video surveillance cameras on a microwave tower leading into the farm, as well as extensive audio surveillance equipment. No perimeter is established, only roads leading into the ranch are blocked, and many people are allowed to drive in and out of the farm after being stopped and questioned by FBI or law enforcement agents. (Days after the arrests, the Freemen themselves will block the county road in front of their farm with a barbed wire barricade.) The HRT does not manage the standoff, as it did in Waco; instead, the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group is in charge. The FBI agent in charge is Robert “Bear” Bryant, an assistant FBI director who in 1988 participated in the Marion, Utah, siege of a group of armed religious zealots that ended peacefully. Local police block media access to the farm, allegedly fearing violence against journalists. The FBI and the various law enforcement agencies establish an operations center at the Jordan county fairgrounds, with vehicles, command post trailers, and even an airstrip. The FBI sets up a dedicated telephone line into the farm for family members, and cuts the other phone lines. Jim Pate of Soldier of Fortune magazine, who met the Freemen leaders last year, warns that the confrontation could easily become violent. Lynn Davis of the Montana Human Rights Network agrees. “They haven’t shot anybody, but they’ve held people at gunpoint,” she says. “They’ve threatened. I’ve had two calls in the past week threatening my life, my children. Phone calls to both my home and office.” [CNN, 3/28/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
'Sad, Middle-Aged Men' - Nick Murnion, the Garfield County attorney and a lifelong resident of Jordan, says of the Freemen, “It’s like they’re brainwashed.” The Freemen represent maybe one percent of the town, Murnion says, but “they are causing misery for the whole county.” A Jordan resident who asks to remain anonymous says: “We’re tore up about it. A lot of us have family out there.” She says that the Freemen have rejected everyone who does not share their beliefs, even family members. “If we’re not with them, we’re against them,” she says. [Washington Post, 4/1996] Matthew Sisler, the lawyer who visited the Freemen last year, has a somewhat different view. When he saw the group of heavily armed men, he says he did not fear them: “What we saw was a bunch of sad, middle-aged men who had lost their homes, who had not paid loans back or taxes, and wanted someone to blame.” [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Entity Tags: Nick Murnion, Sherry Matteucci, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Robert (“Bear”) Bryant, Matthew Sisler, Montana Freemen, Louis J. Freeh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Critical Incident Response Group, Daniel Petersen, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lynn Davis, Jim Pate, LeRoy Schweitzer, Lavon T. Hanson, Janet Reno
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
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:
the Justice Department consider assuming control of the BATF from the Treasury Department;
Waco residents who made the false statements to law enforcement officials included in the original search warrants should be charged with crimes;
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”;
senior BATF officials “should assert greater command and control over significant operations”;
the BATF should no longer have sole jurisdiction over any drug-related crimes;
Congress should consider enhancing the Posse Comitatus Act to restrain the National Guard from being involved with federal law enforcement actions;
the Defense Department should clarify the grounds upon which law enforcement agencies can apply for its assistance;
the General Accounting Office (GAO) should ensure that the BATF reimburses the Defense Department for the training and assistance it improperly received;
the GAO should investigate Operation Alliance, the organization that acts as a liaison between the military and other federal agencies;
the FBI should revamp its negotiation policies and training to minimize the effects of physical and emotional fatigue on negotiators;
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);
the FBI should ensure better training for its lead negotiators;
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);
federal law enforcement agencies should welcome the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, particularly state and local agencies;
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”;
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
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
The media learns that members of the US Army’s elite Delta Force were involved in a March 1993 meeting to discuss the management of the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993). Former CIA officer Gene Cullen, who was a senior officer in the CIA’s Office of Security, says that he attended that meeting, which took place at CIA headquarters. Federal law prohibits military involvement in law enforcement matters and precludes CIA operations on domestic soil. The Delta Force members were “mostly observers,” Cullen recalls, but he says that they offered to lend more overt assistance if any more federal agents were killed. “Their biggest fear was that more agents would be killed,” says Cullen. Participants at the meeting also discussed the use of “sleeping gas” which could be used to peacefully end the siege. Cullen tells reporters: “My charter at the agency was facilities personnel and operations worldwide. So we called this meeting [at CIA] during the Waco crisis… to see how the [FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team] would respond if it was one of our buildings in this country, and if it were overseas, how Delta would respond. So we’re all sitting around the room talking about scenarios. The FBI gave us a briefing on what had transpired. The Delta guys didn’t say much. They were playing second fiddle to the FBI.” Pentagon officials deny any military involvement in the Waco siege. [Salon, 8/28/1999] In late October, Army officials will confirm they were asked to assist in the BATF assault that precipitated the crisis (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), and say they questioned the legality of military involvement, which would require a presidential order to allow their involvement in domestic law enforcement matters. A Pentagon official says no consideration was ever given to making a request of President Clinton to allow Army involvement in the situation. Pentagon officials will also admit that three Delta Force members were present at the April assault that destroyed the Davidians and killed almost all of the members, but say that they participated only as observers. They also admit that Delta Force officers did meet with Reno to discuss strategies of forcing the Davidians out of their compound. [Associated Press, 10/31/1999]
The FBI releases a videotape taken during the first minutes of the April 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), which contains audio of Richard Rogers, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (see March 23, 1993), giving permission for agents to fire military tear gas at a bunker several hundred yards away from the main Davidian compound. Those military gas canisters contained incendiary devices to help disperse the gas. The Justice Department recently admitted, after six years of denials, that the FBI did use incendiary devices during the attack, though both agencies continue to insist that their actions did not lead to the fires that consumed the compound and killed almost 80 Davidians (see August 25, 1999 and After). Rogers gave permission to fire the incendiary canisters at 7:48 a.m., almost two hours after the assault commenced. The videotape was taken by an FBI surveillance aircraft using infrared radar during the first hours of the assault. [Reuters, 9/4/1999; Washington Post, 9/4/1999] The next day, the FBI will release another tape with audio describing the effects of one such gas canister on the bunker (see September 3, 1999).
The FBI releases a newly discovered videotape that shows FBI agents using incendiary, or pyrotechnic, tear-gas canisters during the April 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The audio portion of the videotape, taken by an FBI surveillance aircraft using infrared radar during the first hours of the assault, shows that agents were unable to breach the concrete wall of a bunker near to the main compound with the gas canister; the tape has an agent saying: “Yeah, the military gas did not penetrate that, uh, bunker where the bus was. It bounced off.” Another agent then suggested moving to a different position where a gas canister could be fired into the bunker through a doorway. The day before, the FBI released an earlier portion of the same videotape that shows the head of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) giving permission for agents to use the incendiary gas canisters on the bunker (see September 2, 1999). The canister bounced off the bunker wall at 8:08 a.m.; the tape runs through 8:24 a.m., when an agent asked that it be shut off. The videotape is more evidence that, contrary to six years of denials from the FBI and the Justice Department, the FBI did use two and perhaps three incendiary devices during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Four hours after the events of the videotape, the compound erupted in flames that killed almost 80 Davidians; both the Justice Department and the FBI insist that the Davidians, not the FBI, caused the fires that consumed the compound. Attorney General Janet Reno describes herself as “very troubled” over the new evidence. “Over the past two weeks, I, along with many Americans, have been troubled, very troubled, over what has transpired,” she says during a press converence. Reno says her orders to assault the compound (see April 17-18, 1993) were very specific in banning the use of incendiary devices on any portion of the compound. Reno says she will appoint an outsider to head an independent investigation to “get to the truth” of what happened during that assault (see September 7-8, 1999). Reno says she has asked why it took so long for the FBI to inform the Justice Department about the tapes: “I questioned that. I think this is a matter the outside investigator should look at.” [Reuters, 9/4/1999; Washington Post, 9/4/1999]
Investigators say that a spent illumination flare found in evidence stored after the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7, 1999) may have been one of two such devices fired by FBI agents to stop an intruder from entering the sect’s compound during the early days of the standoff (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). At least two such flares were fired during the 51-day standoff, which ended in flames that killed almost 80 Davidians. Some believe the FBI started the fires, either deliberately or accidentally, that consumed the compound. FBI spokesman John Collingwood says, “From talking to people in our Hostage Rescue Team, at one time, when your floodlight illumination was not active, they shot two parachute illumination rounds because of concern about people trying to sneak into the compound.” Rangers discovered the spent remains of one of the devices, a star parachute flare, when they recently searched a Waco storage facility for missing pyrotechnic tear-gas grenades (see August 10, 1999 and After). Currently, the government is enacting an investigation to determine if the FBI fired flammable devices into the compound, and why it took six years to acknowledge the use of military tear-gas canisters (see September 7-8, 1999). [Associated Press, 9/9/1999]
A former Army colonel tells a Dallas reporter that the FBI overheard Branch Davidian leader David Koresh ordering the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 of Koresh’s followers (see April 19, 1993). For years, many have accused the FBI of causing the fires that culminated the April 19, 1993 assault on the Davidian compound. Now, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, a former military adviser, says that he was in the FBI monitoring room outside the compound on the day of the assault, and he and several FBI agents overheard Koresh give the orders to fire the compound. The FBI had surveillance “bugs” in several places inside the compound, but FBI and Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, have said that they did not know if Koresh ordered the fires. In recent weeks, the FBI has come under heavy criticism for having to admit that its agents fired incendiary tear gas rounds at a bunker near the compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Rawlings tells the Dallas Morning News that as the Army’s senior liaison to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), he was in the monitoring room during the assault. He says: “You could hear everything from the very beginning, as it was happening. Anyone who says you couldn’t at the time is being less than truthful.” Rawlings says the FBI surveillance bugs picked up Koresh’s orders to set the fires. Shortly afterwards, he says, the bugs picked up the sound of gunfire. The bugs then recorded Koresh declaring that God did not want him to die, and Koresh’s chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, saying that Koresh “wasn’t going to get out of this.” Both Koresh and Schneider were later found dead in a room of the compound, both dead of gunshot wounds. FBI officials have previously testified that transmissions from the eavesdropping devices were too garbled to allow agents to hear discussions about spreading fuel and setting fires. Rawlings says that the FBI’s denials bother him “to no end. They’ve had the opportunity to say, ‘We knew.’ We’ve not gotten a straightforward answer.” [Reuters, 10/8/1999]
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]
Members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. [Source: Training and Simulation Journal]The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) goes to California for a week of training and is therefore stranded away from Washington, DC, when it is required to help in the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 75] The CIRG is “the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks,” according to Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office. Its members arrive in San Francisco this evening to participate in a week of special weapons and tactics (SWAT)-related field training. [Darling, 2010, pp. 74-75] While the 9/11 attacks are underway, NBC News will report that the FBI is in a state of “chaos,” partly because of the CIRG being stranded in California (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001] On the afternoon of September 11, the White House will arrange for the CIRG to return to Washington as a matter of priority (see (3:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and the unit’s members will be flown back later that day (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76]
Unit Created to Respond to Terrorist Incidents - The CIRG would be a valuable resource for responding to the 9/11 attacks. The unit was established in 1994 “to give the FBI the ability to respond with the tactical and investigative expertise needed in a major terrorist incident,” according to the Congressional Research Service. It has crisis managers, hostage negotiators, behavioral scientists, surveillance assets, and agents that it can utilize. [United States General Accounting Office, 9/1997, pp. 40 ; Brake, 4/19/2001, pp. 9-10 ] The CIRG also has a “seven-step approach” it follows, which uses “active listening” to defuse a crisis. According to the Indian Express, “by showing support and empathy, [CIRG] negotiators often can talk a hijacker into surrendering largely by listening.” [Law Enforcement Bulletin, 8/1997; Indian Express, 12/29/1999]
Hostage Rescue Team Serves as Domestic Counterterrorism Unit - The tactical centerpiece of the CIRG is the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), a full-time team headquartered in Quantico, Virginia, that is able to deploy to any location within four hours of notification. Its skills include hostage rescue tactics, precision shooting, and tactical site surveys. [United States General Accounting Office, 9/1997, pp. 40 ; Brake, 4/19/2001, pp. 10 ] The HRT was created to give civilian law enforcement agencies a counterterrorist community comparable to that which exists in the military. Many of its members have a military background. [Training and Simulation Journal, 2/2009] According to Darling, the HRT is ”the domestic counterterrorism unit, offering a tactical resolution option in hostage and high-risk law enforcement situations.” [Darling, 2010, pp. 7]
United Airlines Flight 8811 takes off from San Francisco, California, to transport a group of FBI agents to Washington, DC. The Boeing 757 is carrying 75 FBI agents and 14,000 pounds of equipment across the US. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] The agents are members of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) and its Hostage Rescue Team, which is operated by the CIRG, who arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and were therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). After learning that the FBI had essential personnel wanting to return to Washington, United Airlines offered to provide an aircraft and crew to fly them home (see (3:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76] Flight 8811 has received approval to take off from NORAD headquarters. It is one of the first non-military aircraft to be permitted to take off since NORAD implemented a limited version of a plan called “SCATANA,” which gave the military control over US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After taking off, the plane’s pilot, Captain Barry Nance, is cleared “direct” across the country. As he flies to Washington, Nance hears just three other aircraft over the radio, all of them military fighter jets. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] Flight 8811 will reach Washington just after midnight and land at Reagan National Airport. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 282; Lynn Spencer, 2008]
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