Part 8: Feb. 28-April 19, 1993Waco: unbridled government arrogance
by Tanya K. Metaksa
The ATF is not your friend
What had begun as a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) exercise in self-aggrandizement, turned into another disaster for the agency. The ATF’s response to the inevitable question of what happened was, “we were outgunned.” Yet the media wasn’t buying it. They were all asking why ATF had lost the element of surprise. On March 6 ATF Director Steve Higgins stubbornly stuck with the notion that no one in ATF knew that the surprise element had been lost. He said, “this plan was based on the element of surprise . . . We would not send agents into a situation where we didn’t think we had the element of surprise. . .”
National media were taking a slightly different tactic in covering the story. Anchorman Ted Koppel on “Nightline,” relying on “my sources,” reported that various ATF personnel were saying the surprise element was lost due to reporters for either the Waco TV station or the Waco Tribune-Herald. The speculation became so rampant that on March 15 ATF issued a gag order on all its agents. Any violation of that order would result in dismissal. Yet on March 28 the New York Times reported that, “Several Federal agents involved in the violent raid on a heavily armed cult in Texas dispute official descriptions of the operations as well-planned, likening it instead to the Charge of the Light Brigade, laden with missteps, miscalculations and unheeded warnings that could have averted bloodshed. Contradicting the official version of events . . .the agents . . . said their supervisors had realized even before they began their assault that they had lost the element of surprise but went ahead anyway.”
Although it became obvious to the media that any surprise delivery of a search warrant had been completely botched, it served the purpose of ATF because none of the reporters at the time ever bothered to ask why they didn’t deliver the warrant to Koresh when he was not at Mt. Carmel or why the method of delivery was a ATF assault.
It wasn’t until an April 9 congressional hearing that David Troy, the agency intelligence chief, testified that the raid was appropriate because no one ever saw Koresh outside the compound after the warrant had been issued. Troy never testified that the warrant had been issued only three days before the raid took place.
Additionally, Dan Hartnett, the associate director of ATF, told another congressional investigation that “from a time in January until the day of the raid that we had not ever seen him off the compound.”
Hartnett and Troy’s testimony was very misleading, if not an outright lie, because the ATF’s own logs kept at the “undercover house” noted that Koresh had left Mt. Carmel on Jan. 28, and there were other sightings of Koresh away from Mt. Carmel during both late January and February. The true answer was given in the 500 page, September 1993 Treasury Department report that stated, “The chief attraction of a raid scenario was that it offered the possibility of catching Koresh and his followers by surprise.” As has been demonstrated throughout its history, the ATF was accustomed to raiding alleged criminals and it was the preferred modus operandi.
When the ATF was relieved of its duties at Mt. Carmel, the FBI took over. The FBI operation was under the direction of FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeff Jamar. Jamar was to be the commander-in-chief of the operations at Mt. Carmel. Under FBI rules he was to control all FBI forces including negotiators, media personnel and the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT).
Jamar’s original statement upon taking over from ATF was “We’re prepared to do whatever it takes and stay here as long as it takes to settle this matter without any further bloodshed.” During the first weeks of negotiations Jamar’s negotiators had significant achievements; they had influenced 35 women and children to leave the Mt. Carmel complex.
In retrospect it appears that those successes were accomplished far too slowly for the rest of Jamar’s teamthe HRT. The HRT consisted of former military elite personnel who were trained to carry out violent solutions to crisis situations. They weren’t trained to “to settle this matter without any bloodshed.”
To say they were a paramilitary arm of the FBI is to be generous. They not only used military tactics, but they were supplied with equipment from the US military; primarily from Fort Hood, less than 50 miles away. The military was led to believe that the entire Branch Davidian operation had a drug nexus because ATF had told them that David Koresh was running a methamphetamine laboratory, a claim that has never been verified by independent sources.
Using allegations of drug making was the only way that both ATF and the FBI could bypass the Posse Comitatus Act of 1876 and get military aid. According to David Kopel in his article Can soldiers be peace officers (http://www.davekopel.com/waco/lawrev/cansoldiersbepeaceofficers.htm#fnb24) a Joint Task Force of the Department of Defense was requested by ATF prior to their attack of Feb. 28.
“BATF asserted that the Waco case was a drug investigation; Branch Davidian prophet David Koresh was supposedly running a methamphetamine laboratory. The military should have known that the drug claim was merely a guise; BATF came up with the allegation only after being told of the benefits of such an allegation. In addition, the military prepared a memorandum for BATF on methamphetamine labs, and the precautions essential for dealing with such a lab. However, when the paper was presented to BATF agents, they openly ignored the information in front of the soldiers who prepared it. . . “
Despite Jamar’s promise of resolving the standoff without any more bloodshed, the dynamics surrounding Mt. Carmel were too highly weighted towards a violent confrontation. The attitude by the FBI was in direct opposition to the FBI manual on negotiation techniques. According to the Findings section of the Investigation into the Activities of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies toward the Branch Davidians, Report 104-749, page 64:
FINDINGS CONCERNING THE NEGOTIATIONS TO END THE STANDOFF WITH THE DAVIDIANS
1. The FBI allowed negotiators to remain in position at the Branch Davidian residence for too long, resulting in the physical and emotional fatigue, affecting the course of the negotiations. . .
2. The FBI did not take appropriate steps to understand the mindset of the subjects of the negotiations ... The subcommittees believe that the course of the negotiations could have been better directed by an increased understanding of the Davidians’ religious perspective.
3. The FBI leadership failed to make crucial decisions about which strategy to employ. Two separate strategies were enacted simultaneously. The tactical pressure constantly worked against the strategy of negotiation. FBI leadership engaged these two strategies in a way that bonded the Davidians together and perpetuated the stand-off.
These failures, as well as lack of communication between the FBI at Waco and government leaders in Washington, led to Attorney General Janet Reno’s final decision to attack the compound with CS gas, Ferret projectiles, and pyrotechnic projectiles. The April 19 attack, which the FBI’s loudspeakers announced over and over again, “This is NOT an assault,” led to the huge fire and the death of 76 inhabitants of the Mt. Carmel Center.
After the fire was extinguished, the bodies and the guns that had started this six-week nightmare were taken to the Texas Department of Public Safety for safekeeping. The FBI quarantined the entire area, fenced it off and then hired a local contractor to bulldoze the area. Bulldozing a crime scene was highly irregular in law enforcement procedures, unless the intended desire was to destroy evidence. Evidence was destroyed or just disappeared; including the large right metal door that the Davidians insisted would show that ATF had fired a fusillade into their home. According the David Hardy in his book, This Is Not An Assault, years later “a Texas Department of Public Safety officer would reveal that, shortly after the fire, FBI agents had brought in a van that loaded up material from the site, including an object with the size and shape of the vanishing door.”
Additionally, the dead Davidian bodies that were stored in special refrigeration units to be preserved for further investigation, decomposed when inexplicably the electricity was turned off at the storage site several months after the fire. The only evidence remaining is the seized charred firearms that are in the custody of the Treasury Department. Everyone, except a Davidian gun expert who was allowed to do so through thick plastic, who had asked to ascertain whether they were in fact fully automatic firearms, has been denied.
In pursuit of self-aggrandizement the ATF “Showtime” raid began a seven-week standoff between the US government and the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX.
At the end, over 80 persons including federal agents and Branch Davidiansmen, women and childrenwere dead. Although almost 30 years have passed since the ATF tried to serve a search warrant using a full-blown attack, it was and still is a story of inept, ineffective and incorrigible law enforcement action against US citizenry. It is the story of a massacre.
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