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Profile: Robert Rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez was a participant or observer in the following events:
Eight agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) take up surveillance on the Branch Davidian compound just outside of Waco, Texas, after compiling evidence of illegal gun caches and child abuse among the community (see November 1992 - January 1993). The agents assume undercover identities as students at Texas State Technical Institute and rent a ramshackle house directly across from the front driveway leading into the Davidian property. One of the agents pretends to be interested in the Davidians’ religious teachings in order to gain access to the compound itself. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Weapons Observed - The agents who manage to gain access to the compound find a large cache of semi-automatic weapons, including AK-47’s, AR-15’s, M-16’s, 9-millimeter handguns, Israeli assault rifles, and others. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
Undercover Identities Compromised - Many of the Davidians believe the men to be federal agents, correctly surmising that they are too old and too affluent to be college students. The 1995 House investigation of the Davidian debacle (see August 2, 1996) will determine that “a series of mistakes” by the agents alerts the Davidians to their true identities; a 1996 House committee report will find, “At least some of the breaches of security were so serious, and obvious, that they should have been recognized as such by [B]ATF, and become the basis for modifying the nature and timing of any subsequent action against [Davidian leader David] Koresh.” Koresh tells his next-door neighbor of his suspicions, and says he believes the “college students” to be federal agents. The agents are told by another neighbor that Koresh suspects them of being undercover agents. On one occasion, some Davidians visit the agents’ house with a six-pack of beer to welcome their new neighbors, but the agents refuse to let them in. One of the agents, Robert Rodriguez, will later testify that “all of [the undercover BATF agents], or myself, knew we were going to have problems. It was just too—too obvious.”
Agents Unprepared with Basic Intelligence - Moreover, the agents’ preparation was so poor that they do not even know what Koresh looks like; their single means of identifying him is an old driver’s license photograph. The House investigation will find that the “lack of such basic and critical intelligence clearly undermined the ability of the undercover operation to fulfill its mission.” [New York Times, 3/6/1993; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Surveillance Fails to Find Evidence of Criminal Activity - The surveillance, including film from cameras peering into the Davidian compound, produces no evidence of criminal activity. What surveillance material that is created—some 900 photographs and other materials—is largely ignored. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Grossly Incompetent' - In 1996, the House committee investigation will find that the BATF investigation is “grossly incompetent” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
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
Steve Schneider, David Koresh’s top aide inside the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), suggests that federal agents might burn the compound down to destroy evidence. Both Koresh and Schneider are “highly agitated and upset,” according to a later Justice Department report, for most of the day. FBI negotiators privately say that the negotiations are at an impasse, and acknowledge their frustration at dealing with Koresh. Koresh offers to send out one of his followers, Melissa Morrison, if in turn he is allowed to talk to FBI informant Robert Rodriguez. The FBI refuses, and Koresh does not allow Morrison to leave the compound. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
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
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
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