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Profile: Philip Chojnacki
Philip Chojnacki was a participant or observer in the following events:
BATF logo. [Source: Wikimedia]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) opens an investigation of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas, after learning that a resident had mail-ordered a box of dummy grenades. Lieutenant Gene Barber of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department meets with BATF agent Davy Aguilera; Barber, a recognized explosives expert, tells Aguilera that the United Parcel Service (UPS) package delivery service has delivered a number of packages containing firearms components and explosives (see May 1992) to the “Mag-Bag,” the UPS nickname for the Davidian tract, in the names of David Koresh and Mike Schroeder. Koresh is the leader of the religious community that lives on the tract (see November 3, 1987 and After), which is also known to area residents as Mt. Carmel. UPS employee Larry Gilbreath reported the suspicious deliveries to the local sheriff’s department. Gilbreath also informed Barber that the compound seems to be patrolled by armed guards. In May 1992, UPS delivered two cases of inert hand grenades and a quantity of black powder to the compound; in early June, UPS delivered 90 pounds of powdered aluminum, 30 to 40 heavy cardboard tubes, and 60 M-16/AR-15 ammunition magazines. Barber also gives Aguilera aerial photos of the compound, taken by the sheriff’s department, which depict a buried bus near the main structure and a three- to four-story tall observation tower. He tells Aguilera that neighbors have heard machine-gun fire coming from the property. Aguilera determines that in late 1992, the Davidians spent over $44,000 on parts for M-16/AR-15 machine guns, as well as a variety of other weaponry and weapons parts. Some of the parts come from an Illinois firm under investigation for selling illegal guns and gun parts. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Aguilera officially opens a BATF investigation on Koresh and the Davidians on June 9. Within a week, Philip Chojnacki, the special agent in charge of the Houston BATF office, classifies the case “sensitive,” thereby calling for a high degree of oversight from both Houston and BATF headquarters in Washington, DC. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the BATF investigation is “grossly incompetent” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Larry Gilbreath, David Koresh, Gene Barber, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Philip Chojnacki, Michael Schroeder, United Parcel Service, Davy Aguilera, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
BATF agents train for a raid. [Source: Time]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) begins preparing for a large-scale raid on the Waco, Texas, compound, Mt. Carmel, owned by the Branch Davidian sect. The BATF has evidence that the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, own a large amount of possibly illegal weapons, are committing statutory rape and child abuse against the female children of the group, and are possibly beating the children as a means of discipline (see November 1992 - January 1993). The raid is approved by BATF Director Stephen Higgins, after a recommendation from Philip Chojnacki, the senior BATF agent in the Houston office. Undercover BATF agents who have infiltrated the Davidian community recommend that the assault take place on a Sunday morning, because during Sunday morning prayer services the men are separated from the women and children, and do not have easy access to the Davidians’ cache of weapons. [New York Times, 3/3/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Significant Lack of Planning - Information compiled after the raid, in which the Davidians kill four BATF agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), is somewhat contradictory; a Treasury Department report issued after the April conflagration at the compound (see Late September - October 1993) will claim there is no written plan for the “dynamic entry” to be executed by BATF agents, and that the raid is code-named “Trojan Horse.” Agents who participate in the assault will later say the raid is code-named “Showtime.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] According to the Treasury Department report, acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer, assigned as support coordinator for the operation, arrived in Waco from his Kansas City office on February 23, asked to see the documents for the plan of attack, and was told none had been drawn up. Dyer and agent William Krone draw up a plan on their own, though they have little knowledge about the work performed by the tactical planners. The two manage to generate a rough plan, but the plan remains on Krone’s desk and is never distributed or referred to during the actual raid. [New York Times, 10/1/1993]
Element of Surprise Key - According to later testimony before a House investigative committee (see August 2, 1996), the element of surprise is so integral to the raid that if it is lost, the raid is to be aborted. Ronald Noble, assistant secretary-designate of the treasury for law enforcement, will testify that on-site BATF commanders knew of the provision. Noble will say in 1995, and will be quoted in the 1996 House investigative report, “What was absolutely clear in Washington at Treasury and in Washington and ATF was that no raid should proceed once the element of surprise was lost.” However, Dan Hartnett, deputy director of the BATF for enforcement, will contradict Noble’s assertion, saying that while “secrecy and safety” were “discussed over and over again,” the provision that the raid should be called off if the Davidians were alerted to it beforehand was not in place; Hartnett will accuse Noble of trying to deflect blame away from the Treasury Department and onto the BATF. The report will conclude that no such provision was in place. The BATF commanders will order the raid to go forward even after learning that the Davidians know it is coming. The House report will conclude that the lack of such a provision was a critical failure of the plan. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
No Alternatives Considered - BATF agents will also later claim that the raid was necessary because Koresh never left the compound. However, evidence will show that at least three times between January 17 and February 24, Koresh did exit the compound, where agents could have easily apprehended him; among other examples, Koresh is a regular patron of the Chelsea Bar and Grill in Waco, and leaves the compound regularly to jog. According to the Treasury Department report and a 1996 report by the House investigative committee, other options are considered but rejected. The first is to avoid violence and merely serve the warrants by visiting the compound. This is rejected because of Koresh’s history of antipathy towards law enforcement and his propensity towards violence (see November 3, 1987 and After). A second option, arresting Koresh while he is away from the compound, is rejected because, according to subsequent testimony by Chojnacki, Koresh supposedly never leaves the site. A third option, a plan to besiege Mt. Carmel, is rejected because of the possibility that the Davidians might destroy the illegal weapons, commit mass suicide, or both. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Warnings of Violent Response Ignored - The Congressional report will find, “The [B]ATF chose the dynamic entry raid, the most hazardous of the options, despite its recognition that a violent confrontation was predictable.” Before the raid, BATF agents discussed the idea of launching a raid with Joyce Sparks, a Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) caseworker who has spent a considerable amount of time with Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1992). Sparks is familiar with the Davidians’ apocalyptic religious beliefs, and warned the agents that to launch a raid on the compound would invite a violent response. “They will get their guns and kill you,” she told the agents. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Plans, Execution Botched - The Congressional investigation will find that the BATF plan for attacking the Davidian compound was “significantly flawed… poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used… drafted and commanded by [B]ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Reflecting on the planning 10 years later, Robert White, a senior BATF agent wounded in the raid, will recall: “The people actually calling the shots, whether to go or not, did not have the tactical training necessary to make those kind of decisions. They had the authority to make those decisions simply because of their rank.” White will say that because of the botched raid, the agency will revise its tactical procedures: “Now, before any decision is made, a leader of one of the tactical teams, someone who has been trained specifically for that purpose, will make the call.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]
Top Treasury Officials Not Informed - The report also expresses surprise at BATF Director Higgins’s failure to appraise either Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen or Deputy Secretary Roger Altman of the raid. The report will state, “Neither [Bentsen] nor his deputy knew anything about an imminent law enforcement raid—one of the largest ever conducted in US history—being managed by his department, which would endanger the lives of dozens of law enforcement agents, women, and children.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, William Krone, Chelsea Bar and Grill, Darrell Dyer, Dan Hartnett, US Department of the Treasury, Joyce Sparks, Stephen Higgins, Lloyd Bentsen, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Philip Chojnacki, David Koresh, Roger Altman, Robert White, Ronald Noble
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
BATF agents surround the Branch Davidian compound in the first minutes of the raid. [Source: Associated Press]Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) prepare to serve arrest and search warrants against members of the Branch Davidian religious sect, housed in a compound they call Mt. Carmel, on a hill just outside Waco, Texas (see November 1992 - January 1993). The Branch Davidians are a Christian group currently led by David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), who is the prime focus of the arrest and search warrants. Koresh and the Davidians are known to have large stashes of firearms, many of which authorities suspect are illegal to own by US citizens—automatic rifles, machine guns, and the like. Koresh has preached that the End Times, or Apocalypse, will begin sometime around 1995, and the Davidians must arm themselves to prepare for the coming conflict. As a result, Koresh and a number of Davidians have been amassing weapons since 1991, along with gas masks, bulletproof vests, and military-issue MREs, or “meals ready to eat.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; US Department of Justice, 7/16/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Large-Scale Raid Launched - After four days of preparation (see February 24-27, 1993), the BATF forces close on the compound: some 80 government vehicles, including two covered cattle trailers containing 70 BATF agents in full SWAT gear, reach the staging area near the compound by 7:30 a.m. Two or perhaps three Texas National Guard helicopters are deployed. [New York Times, 3/27/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Austin Chronicle, 6/23/2000] The raid was originally planned for March 1, but was moved forward when the Waco Tribune-Herald began publishing its “Sinful Messiah” series about Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). BATF spokesman John Killorin will later say the BATF feared the cult might become more alert to the possibility of a raid once the series started. Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott will say that the newspaper alerted federal authorities the day before the first installment ran, giving the BATF a chance to review its raid plans. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
Davidians Alerted - A local news reporter’s discussion with a US postal official inadvertently “tips off” the Davidians to the impending raid (see Before 9:45 a.m. February 28, 1993).
BATF Decides Element of Surprise Unnecessary - Koresh is visibly agitated at the news of the impending raid; he tells Robert Rodriguez, whom many Davidians correctly suspect to be a BATF undercover agent (see January 11, 1993 and After): “Neither the ATF nor the National Guard will ever get me. They got me once, and they’ll never get me again.” Looking out of a window, he adds: “They’re coming, Robert, they’re coming.… The time has come.” Fearing that he will be caught on the premises when the raid begins, Rodriguez makes an excuse and hurriedly leaves. Once off the grounds, he alerts the BATF raid commanders that Koresh knows the agents are on their way. Rodriguez reports via telephone to his immediate superior, BATF tactical coordinator Charles Sarabyn, who relays word to Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge of the raid. The commanders ask if Rodriguez has seen any signs of alarm or guns being distributed. Rodriguez says he has not, though he tells them that Koresh is so agitated that he is having trouble speaking and holding on to his Bible. According to a Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993): “Sarabyn expressed his belief that the raid could still be executed successfully if they hurried. Chojnacki responded, ‘Let’s go.’ A number of agents informed the Treasury investigative panel that Sarabyn said things like, ‘Get ready to go; they know we are coming.’” Chojnacki and Sarabyn decide to rush the raid, hoping to deploy before the Davidians are mobilized. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/28/1993; Time, 10/11/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Rodriguez will testify that he attempts to find Sarabyn and appraise him of his fears that the Davidians are preparing to resist with violence, but will say that by the time he arrives at the BATF command post, on the Texas State Technical College campus, Sarabyn and his companions have already departed. Rodriguez will testify: “At that time, I started yelling and I said: ‘Why, why, why? They know we’re coming, they know we’re coming.‘… [E]verything was very quiet, very quiet, and if I remember right, everybody was really concerned. I went outside and I sat down and I remember starting to cry.” Sarabyn and Chojnacki will later testify that while they understood Rodriguez’s fears, neither of them believe Koresh is aware of the impending raid; testimony from Rodriguez and another BATF agent, Roger Ballesteros, will contradict their claims. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] A Los Angeles Times report later makes a similar claim, apparently based on Rodriguez’s recollections; the BATF will deny that report entirely. A Waco Tribune-Herald article later reports that just before the raid, a voice comes over BATF radios saying: “There no guns in the windows. Tell them it’s a go.” Two weeks after the raid, Newsweek will incorrectly report that Rodriguez, whom the article does not identify, “apparently thought little of the call [alerting Koresh of the impending raid] at the time,” left the compound, and reported an “all clear” to his colleagues. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] Other reports have Davidians telling one another, “The Assyrians are coming,” and making preparations to resist an assault. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that Chojnacki and Sarabyn’s decision to go ahead with the raid even though the element of surprise had been lost was a “reckless” error: “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians Resist - The Davidians successfully resist the raid (see 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993), in the process killing four BATF agents (see 11:00 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993) and bringing about a standoff between themselves and the FBI (see 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993).
Entity Tags: Charles Sarabyn, Texas National Guard, John Killorin, Philip Chojnacki, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Waco Tribune-Herald, Texas State Technical College, Bob Lott, Robert Rodriguez, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
BATF agents attempt to force entry through a second-floor window of the Branch Davidian compound. At least one of the agents depicited will be shot in the firefight. [Source: Asian Celebrities (.com)]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) launches its long-planned raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). About 9:30, the BATF forces arrive at Mt. Carmel, the location of the Davidian compound. Two National Guard helicopters, which had been scheduled to create a diversion in the rear of the compound so as to allow the cattle trucks carrying the BATF agents to arrive unseen, are late in arriving, and fail to carry out their mission. The raid commanders are out of radio range and unable to abort the raid or modify the deployment of agents. Moreover, as some agents will later tell the New York Times (see March 27, 1993), only squad leaders can communicate with their team members, so communications are difficult, and when a squad leader is shot—and one will be shot in the first few minutes of the raid—that leader’s squad can no longer receive or send information. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
BATF Agents Advance, Shots Fired - At least 70 agents wearing bulletproof vests, helmets, and army gear emblazened with “ATF Agent” in yellow and white letters, emerge from the trailers and race towards the buildings in groups. Davidian leader David Koresh opens the front door and shouts: “What do you want? There’s women and children in here!” (Some reports say Koresh is unarmed; others say he is dressed in black and carrying an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.) The lead agent, Roger Ballesteros, brandishes a search warrant and shouts: “Police! Get down!” and Koresh closes the door. Moments later, BATF agents, including Ballesteros (see January-February 1994) and John Henry Williams, and Texas Ranger David Byrnes will report that the Davidians shoot first; Davidians will claim the opposite. One BATF agent will later report that a fellow agent actually shoots first, at a dog he feels is threatening him, but later that agent will retract the claim. A team of agents with a battering ram is slated to burst through the main doors. Two teams of BATF agents with ladders mount to the roof of the first floor and break into windows on the second floor, where they believe the weapons are stored. The ladder and battering ram teams all encounter heavy fire, and several agents are hit, including one on the roof who manages to hobble to a ladder and slide down. Davidians rain bullets from the upper windows onto the agents. One BATF team manages to force entry into the compound, but is unable to advance. Most of the agents are pinned down behind vehicles. The two sides exchange heavy gunfire. [New York Times, 3/27/1993; Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; LMPD Arcade, 2009] A federal law from 1917 mandates that federal agents use what is called the “knock and announce” approach—in essence, a federal law enforcement agent must knock on a door and announce himself and his intentions before entering. Ballesteros and his fellow BATF agents do not follow this legal provision, though the law does have several exceptions that may apply in this instance. A later House investigation will find the BATF’s choice not to “knock and announce” reasonable under the circumstances. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Helicopter Activity - Two of the three helicopters land after taking fire. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge, rides in one of the helicopters; he is almost struck by a Davidian bullet in the first minutes of the raid. [New York Times, 3/27/1993] The House investigation will find that Chojnacki’s presence in the helicopter essentially takes him out of the communications loop with the raid commanders and team leaders before the beginning of the raid, and deprives him of any opportunity to learn that the Davidians are planning an ambush. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Catherine Mattison, a Davidian who will escape the April 1993 conflagration (see April 19, 1993), will say in 2003 that she saw gunfire from the helicopters. “They were shooting when they came in,” she will recall. “I went upstairs to my room and all of a sudden I could see three helicopters in V-formation firing. David’s rooms were in the back of the building and that’s where they were firing. I didn’t realize that for three months afterwards because of all the shock and commotion but they were trying to kill him right then.” [Guardian, 10/28/2003] Mattison’s allegations are unconfirmed; testimony from a number of agents will challenge her account, and videotape from the raid shows no gunfire from the helicopters. The helicopters are on loan from the National Guard, and are expressly forbidden to engage in any role save as observational. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Machine-Gun Fire - Reflecting on the raid 10 years later, BATF agent Bill Buford will say: “But before I even got out of the trailer, I could hear machine guns, and I knew we didn’t have any.… I’m an old Vietnam vet, and I can tell you—the firing was intense.” Buford is wounded in the gun battle. “The one thing we had not planned for was to be pinned down by fire right out in front of the building,” Buford will add. “We did not anticipate we would come under such heavy fire, nor did we anticipate we would have such heavy casualties.” Buford will say that after the botched raid, the BATF will all but abandon such “insertion”-type assaults, and rely instead on surrounding a building and negotiating with the inhabitants. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]
Failure to Follow Manual - Ballesteros will later testify that no particular agent was assigned to announce their identity and the purpose of the raid. “We basically all announced,” he will say. He will admit that according to the BATF manual, “[o]fficers are required to wait a reasonable period of time to permit the occupants to respond before forcing entry,” and the agents do not follow that mandate. He will testify that the agents expected resistance, but not gunfire, and had not planned for that contingency. BATF agent Kenneth King, one of the two “ladder” team members who attempt to force entry through the second-floor windows, will also testify that the agents did not plan for gunfire, and were unprepared for such a heavy level of resistance. Later testimony also shows that some of the damage suffered by the agents may have been from “friendly fire”; one BATF agent is wounded by what later proves to be a 9mm hydroshock bullet, the ordnance being used by the BATF assault teams. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: Catherine Mattison, Kenneth King, David Byrnes, John Henry Williams, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Roger Ballesteros, Bill Buford, Philip Chojnacki, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
The New York Times publishes a “special report” that claims the February 28 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), was “laden with missteps, miscalculations, and unheeded warnings that could have averted bloodshed.” The report is based on interviews with several Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agents involved in the raid as well as FBI agents and soldiers skilled in military raids. At least one of the BATF agents likens the raid to the infamously unsuccessful Charge of the Light Brigade. Four of the agents say that their supervisors knew the BATF agents had lost the element of surprise, but went ahead with the raid anyway. The Times says the raid was “the costliest and deadliest operation in the history of the” bureau. BATF leaders insist they did nothing wrong, and blame a last-minute warning about the raid to the Davidians for the agents’ failure to apprehend Davidian leader David Koresh. BATF chief Stephen Higgins said recently: “I’ve looked at it and rethought it. There was no problem with the plan.” But, the Times notes, the BATF “has provided only sketchy details of what happened, why the raid was even tried, and why it was carried out when it was.” The warrants that provided the basis for the raids are currently sealed (see February 25, 1993); no criminal charges have yet been filed; no government official has even clearly articulated what laws Koresh or his fellow Davidians are believed to have violated, though BATF officials say they believe Koresh has violated federal firearms and explosives laws, and Higgins told a reporter that it was the illegal conversion of weapons from semi-automatic to automatic that led to the raid.
Problems Underlying the Raid - Based on its interviews with its sources, the Times says the following problems caused the raid to fail:
The BATF did not conduct round-the-clock surveillance on Koresh, so its agents did not know for sure if they could have arrested him while he was out of the compound.
“Supervisors of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms knew they had lost the element of surprise even before the agents tried to surround the compound but ordered agents to move in anyway.” It was common knowledge in Waco and the surrounding area that something large was being prepared. Hotel workers were amazed to see men from Houston, Dallas, and New Orleans descend on their hotels, wearing army fatigues and talking on two-way radios, which area residents could monitor on police scanners. In addition, at least one BATF official alerted Dallas television news stations to the impending raid the day before it took place (see February 27, 1993). At least 11 reporters were at the scene before the raid began, though none have said how they knew to be there. The reporters now say the BATF did nothing to prevent them from watching and videotaping the raid, and add that agents only became hostile after it became clear that the raid was a failure.
“Helicopters carrying [BATF] agents came under fire over the compound before the assault began, yet the bureau pushed ahead with the mission, which relied on an element of surprise.” The helicopters, on loan from the Texas National Guard and used to observe the raid from the air, quickly came under fire; a bullet passed close to the head of Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge of the raid. When the helicopters were fired upon, several agents tell the Times, the raid should have been aborted. “That was inexcusable,” one career agent says. “As soon as those shots were taken, the raid should have been aborted. Instead, we were ordered to walk right into it.” He and others say that the agents who were heading toward the compound on the ground were not warned that shots were being fired by the cult.
“The operation was hindered by a communications strategy that made it impossible for different squads surrounding the compound to talk to each other after their squad leaders had been wounded.”
Some agents had not been supplied with contingency plans for encountering heavy gunfire, even though supervisors knew that the cult had for years been stockpiling weapons and suspected that sect members had been converting semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons to make them more deadly.”
“Some agents’ requests to take more powerful weapons were denied and many had only handguns to face the cult’s arsenal, which included many rifles and at least one .50-caliber weapon.”
“Some agents had not been briefed about the operation until a day earlier and had never been told of the cache of assault-style weapons they would be facing.”
“The firearms bureau did not bring a doctor or set up a dispensary to treat wounded agents, a practice of the FBI. Wounded agents ended up being carried, some by other agents, others on the hoods of trucks and cars, down a muddy road hundreds of yards to await medical assistance.”
No Faith in Promised Federal Investigation - Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen, whose department oversees the BATF, has promised a full and independent investigation of the raid. But the Times’s sources say they do not trust Bentsen to launch such an investigation; presumably this explains why they agreed to talk to the Times about the raid. The BATF and FBI agents have been ordered not to publicly discuss the raid, and say the orders on the subject implied they would be disciplined and prosecuted for describing the events of the raid. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
The Treasury Department issues a 220-page report on the raid mounted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) against the Mt. Carmel compound of the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The raid resulted in the deaths of four BATF agents, six Davidians, and a 51-day siege culminating in a fiery conflagration that killed most of the Davidians in their burning compound (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993). The report finds that the BATF raid was poorly planned and needlessly aggressive. It criticizes the BATF agents for inadequate information on the Davidians and a plan for an assault dependant on surprise—“shock and awe”—that was carried out even after the Davidians learned of the imminent assault. “The decision to proceed was tragically wrong, not just in retrospect, but because of what the decision makers knew at the time,” the report concludes. The BATF, the report says, handled the situation badly, and then attempted to cover up its poor management with falsehoods and obfustations. “There may be occasions when pressing operational considerations—or legal constraints—prevent law-enforcement officials from being… completely candid in their public utterances,” the report states. “This was not one of them.” After the report is issued, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen announces the replacement of the BATF’s entire top management; BATF chief Stephen Higgins retires three days before the report is released. Bentsen says, “It is now clear that those in charge in Texas realized they had lost the element of surprise before the raid began.” The field commanders made “inaccurate and disingenuous statements” to cover up their missteps, attempting to blame the agents who actually carried out the raid for their poor planning. [Time, 10/11/1993] However, the report finds that while the BATF made errors during the February raid, the agency was correct in its effort to apprehend violators of federal firearms laws, and the decision to effect a “dynamic entry” was the correct one. The report finds the raid was justified because “[t]he extraordinary discipline that [Davidian leader David] Koresh imposed on his followers… made him far more threatening than a lone individual who had a liking for illegal weapons. The compound became a rural fortress, often patrolled by armed guards, in which Koresh’s word—or the word that [he] purported to extrapolate from the Scripture—was the only law.… Were [he] to decide to turn his weapons on society, he would have devotees to follow him, and they would be equipped with weapons that could inflict serious damage.” The report concurs with BATF claims that Koresh and the Davidians had illegal weapons (see May 26, 1993), though it includes analyses from two firearms experts that show the Davidians may not have had such illegal weapons. The Treasury report repeatedly asserts that Koresh and his followers “ambushed” the BATF agents, finding, “On February 28, [they] knew that [B]ATF agents were coming and decided to kill them.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] According to a 1996 House investigation, the Treasury report “criticized [B]ATF personnel, but it exonerated all [Justice] Department officials.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
In Memorium - The Treasury report begins with a black-bordered page reading “In Memory Of” and listing the names of the four BATF officers killed in the raid. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Lost the Element of Surprise - Acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer, the report finds, arrived days before the raid to find no plans had been drawn up; he and another agent drew up a plan that was never distributed. And the agents in charge of the raid, Charles Sarabyn and Philip Chojnacki, decided to stage the raid despite information that the Davidians knew of it and were making preparations to defend themselves. [Time, 10/11/1993]
Falsifications and Questionable Statements - Even before the Waco compound burned, BATF officials were already misrepresenting the situtation. On March 3, 1993, Daniel Hartnett, associate director of law enforcement, told the press that though their agent, informant Robert Rodriguez, knew Koresh had received a phone call, the agent “did not realize this was a tip at the time.” Twenty-six days later, Higgins said, “We would not have executed the plans if our supervisors had lost the element [of surprise].” Both statements are questionable at best. After the compound burned, Texas Rangers asked BATF officials Dyer, Sarabyn, and Chojnacki to show them the plans for the raid; Dyer realized that the rough written plan was not in a satisfactory form, and the three revised the plan “to make it more thorough and complete.” The document they provided to the Rangers did not indicate that it was an after-action revision. The report states: “The readiness of Chojnacki, Sarabyn, and Dyer to revise an official document that would likely be of great significance in any official inquiry into the raid without making clear what they had done is extremely troubling and itself reflects a lack of judgment. This conduct, however, does not necessarily reveal an intent to deceive. And, in the case of Dyer, there does not appear to have been any such intent. The behavior of Chojnacki and Sarabyn when the alteration was investigated does not lead to the same conclusion.” [New York Times, 10/1/1993; Time, 10/11/1993]
Repercussions - Vice President Al Gore recommends that the BATF be dissolved, with its firearms division merged into the FBI and the other two sections merged with the IRS. Bentsen is resistant to the idea. However, such large-scale reorgzanizations are unlikely. After the report is issued, Bentsen removes Chojnacki, Sarabyn, Deputy Director Edward Daniel Conroy, and intelligence chief David Troy from active service. A year later, Chojnacki and Sarabyn will be rehired with full back pay and benefits (see December 23, 1994). [Time, 10/11/1993] The Treasury report, according to author and church advocate Dean Kelley, “helped to diminish criticism of the federal role.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Treasury, Darrell Dyer, Branch Davidians, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Charles Sarabyn, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Robert Rodriguez, Stephen Higgins, David Troy, Philip Chojnacki, Dean M. Kelley, Edward Daniel Conroy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lloyd Bentsen, David Koresh
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Two federal agents fired for botching a 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, that cost four agents and six Davidians their lives (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and attempting to cover up their actions (see Late September - October 1993) are rehired. Under a settlement reached with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), Philip Chojnacki and Charles Sarabyn will receive full back pay and benefits. [Orlando Sentinel, 12/23/1994]
The House of Representatives concludes a 10-day series of hearings on the series of events that concluded with the fiery deaths of scores of Branch Davidian members near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and Late July 1995). The hearings do not find evidence of a White House-driven conspiracy to either destroy the Davidians or cover up the truth of the matter, as some Republican House members had predicted. An Orlando Sentinel article says that many of the questions from those House Republicans “seemed fueled more by politics than any true desire to ensure that the government avoid future fiascos a la Waco.” The hearings determined that President Clinton did not micro-manage the events of the siege and ultimate assault, nor did they find evidence that Clinton ordered the assault to prove, as some House members alleged, that his administration is “tough on crime.” Committee co-chair Bill McCollum (R-FL) acknowledged at the end of the hearings that the raid, siege, and final conflagration were caused by a string of blunders by federal law enforcement agencies. Attorney General Janet Reno testified as to why the FBI’s final assault seemed at the time to be the best approach; her overriding concern was to remove Davidian leader David Koresh without harming the children inside the compound. A Davidian who survived the fire testified that the fires that devastated the compound were started under orders from Koresh. [Orlando Sentinel, 8/4/1995] In emotional testimony before the House, former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agent Robert Rodriguez, who served as an informant for the BATF inside the Davidian compound, said he was angered and dismayed by his superiors’ decision to raid the compound even though the Davidians knew they were coming (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Rodriguez testified that two of his then-superiors, Philip Chojnacki and Charles Sarabyn, lied to the committee when they said they did not know that the Davidians had been alerted to the February raid. Chojnacki and Sarabyn were fired for their mismanagement of the BATF raid and for covering up evidence of their malfeasance (see Late September - October 1993), but were subsequently rehired (see December 23, 1994). Rodriguez said: “Two years I’ve waited for this.… It let me get everything out.” The events of that raid and the subsequent actions, he said, were “tearing me up inside.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/25/1995] In 1999, the FBI will admit to lobbing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound during the April assault, though the bureau will deny that the grenades started the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Entity Tags: Philip Chojnacki, Charles Sarabyn, Branch Davidians, Bill McCollum, David Koresh, Janet Reno, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US House of Representatives, Robert Rodriguez, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
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
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