The Dallas Morning News
Inquiry of leak to cult shifts to news media
Officials believe call, meeting tipped off sect
CORRECTIONS, CLARIFICATIONS: On Page 16A Thursday, the age of ATF Special Agent John T. Risenhoover was incorrectly reported. He is 29. (Ran: Friday, March 19, 1993)
An investigation of tips that may have allowed an armed cult to ambush ATF agents during a raid has shifted to determining whether the news media were the source of the leaks, federal officials said Wednesday.
Almost three weeks into their investigation, Texas Rangers have disproved speculation that the leaks to the Branch Davidians came from local or federal law enforcement officers, said the federal officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Four agents were killed and 16 wounded in a 45-minute gunbattle Feb. 28.
The investigators believe leaks occurred in a telephone call to cult leader David Koresh and a separate meeting in which a tipster warned a cult member that the Branch Davidian compound east of Waco was about to be raided, the officials said.
The disclosures came the day that a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent wounded in the firefight filed a state lawsuit alleging that Waco Tribune-Herald employees warned the cult just before federal agents raided their rural compound.
A 15-page lawsuit filed in state District Court in McLennan County by Special Agent John T. Risen-hoover charges that newspaper employees leaked information directly to Mr. Koresh and to one of his followers because the newspaper wanted a conflict that would make a good news story.
Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott said the lawsuit, which names the newpaper's Atlanta-based parent, Cox Enterprises, and subsidiary Cox Texas Publications, is baseless.
"The injuries to Agent Risen-hoover and the deaths and injuries to others are regrettable. But they were not caused by this paper,' he said.
Mr. Lott said the newspaper will cooperate with the Rangers' investigation to the extent that cooperation does not violate journalistic ethics or confidential sources.
An ATF official in Washington said the agency cannot comment on the allegations. While sympathetic to the wounded agent, the ATF official said, the agency does not support his lawsuit seeking unspecified damages from the newspaper.
"We had some sense that it was coming. . . . We're unhappy with the timing of this suit, obviously, because there is an ongoing criminal investigation,' the official said. "We asked them not to file suit, but we could not order them (not) to do so.'
Texas Rangers began investigating the possibility of leaks almost immediately after the raid, and an ATF official said state officers were brought in "precisely because it was our agents that were killed. An independent agency with jurisdiction over homicide cases is needed.'
ATF officials won't talk about the Rangers' inquiry, and information has been limited even within the federal agency.
One federal law enforcement official said the investigation has determined that one leak to the cult resulted from a direct encounter between a tipster and a cult member outside the compound the morning of the raid. The official declined to comment on the possible identity of the tipster.
"The member was tipped and somehow got word to Koresh,' the official said. "In addition, there was a phone call to Koresh that was witnessed by our undercover agent.'
Federal officials said the agent did not realize the importance of the call or Mr. Koresh's reaction to it until after the raid.
Agent Risenhoover, a San Antonio resident and four-year member of the ATF, was a member of the Houston division's special response team assigned to enter the front of the compound. He was shot twice in the ankle and once in the hip as he crouched behind a vehicle during the firefight. Four shots that hit his chest were stopped by a bulletproof vest.
James. R. Dunham of Waco, Agent Risen-hoover's attorney, said doctors have told the agent that his ankle may have permanent damage and probably will require reconstructive surgery.
Agent Risenhoover, 31, is the son of noted Texas journalist C.C. Risen-hoover, a former Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter who has taught journalism at Baylor University and Southern Methodist University.
ATF agents have privately criticized the Waco newspaper because it began publishing a lengthy investigative series on Feb. 27, one day before the raid. The series reported that Mr. Koresh had declared himself Christ, routinely had sex with female followers as young as 12, stockpiled a huge arsenal, practiced polygamy and was preparing his followers to fight the apocalypse.
Seven newspaper staffers -- reporters, photographers and an editor -- went to the compound on the morning of Feb. 28 after receiving a confidential tip and witnessed the bloody raid.
Federal agents also have privately cricitized a Waco television station because of the presence of its news crew, which filmed powerful footage of the 45-minute firefight.
A producer for KWTX-TV said its news crew has been ordered not to talk to the news media and referred questions about its presence at the compound during the raid to the station's president, who has not returned telephone calls.
ATF officials and Mr. Lott, the Waco newspaper editor, told The Dallas Morning News that the federal agency had approached the newspaper about a month before the raid and asked its management not to publish the series until after a federal action against the cult.
Both said the newspaper refused the request, and they said federal officials never specified when action might be taken or what it might involve.
The agency then decided about a week before the raid to move it from March 1 to Feb. 28.
Newspapers traditionally begin high-profile series on Sundays, so ATF officials expected that the Waco newspaper would begin running its Branch Davidian stories on Feb. 28, one federal official said.
Because officials feared that the series would heighten tensions at the compound, they wanted as little time as possible between its publication and their attempt to arrest Mr. Koresh and search his compound for illegal weapons, the official said.
The ATF agent's lawsuit alleges that newspaper employees who were waiting outside the compound told a cult member or sympathizer that they were awaiting the arrival of federal agents. The lawsuit charges that the member went inside the compound to warn its occupants.
In allegations paralleling some of what Rangers apparently have learned, the lawsuit charges the newspaper should have known its series "would alert David Koresh . . . and would heighten the potential for violence.' It also contends that the presence of reporters at the compound "attracted the attention of those in the compound and those in the surrounding community.'
The suit alleges that the leak was made "for the sole and selfish motive of . . . obtaining a news story . . . and financial gain and publicity for themselves.'
If sources of the leaks can be proved, one federal source said, any prosecution would be "a massive legal undertaking.'
The Rangers' investigation will not be completed until at least several weeks after the siege ends, and only then will federal prosecutors determine whether there is evidence to present to a federal grand jury in Waco, the official said.
If there is enough evidence, sources of the leaks could could be prosecuted on charges of obstructing justice, interfering with federal agents, or revealing information about impending federal search or arrest warrants, said one law enforcement official.
The official said the prosecution could be complicated by apparent widespread talk around Waco that federal action against the compound was imminent the weekend it occurred.
Even motel maids have said that they knew a massive federal action was under way because large numbers of federal agents were staying at their motels during that weekend and left their rooms the morning of Feb. 28 heavily armed and wearing dark raid clothing.
But several federal law enforcement officials told The News that there are strong indications that the leak was not inadvertent and that without it, the cult could not have been armed, ready and waiting to shoot agents participating in the ATF raid.
"This is a terrible allegation. It involves an allegation that someone sent four men to their deaths,' the ATF official said.
"We don't make scapegoats, and we aren't making scapegoats here,' the ATF official said. "The fact remains that ATF needed five minutes for surprise to accomplish our objective.
"What's believed to be a tip to the compound caused the people inside to set an ambush in which four federal agents were killed.'
The Dallas Morning News
Up to 30 in cult want to leave, FBI agent says they seek agency's assurances
WACO -- As many as 30 members at a besieged religious compound have signaled an interest in leaving, awaiting answers about their treatment if they surrender, federal authorities said Wednesday.
The FBI also said it has delivered taped messages from relatives of cult followers, but they may not have been relayed to all of those barricaded inside. Speakers around the compound may be used to broadcast messages, FBI Agent Bob Ricks said.
"Information is closely held in compound by only the most trusted people inside,' Agent Ricks said, citing interviews with a handful of Branch Davidians who have left since the armed standoff began Feb. 28. "We do have a concern that what we are sending in there is not being received by everyone in the compound.'
He said agents may use the speakers if they get a message encouraging surrender from other cult members who have left the compound previously, such as Kathryn Schroeder or Oliver Gyarfas. On Wednesday, Mr. Gyarfas, a 19-year-old Australian, was ordered held without bail as a material witness.
"We want to make sure that everyone in there knows that we are still knocking on the door, asking them to come out,' Agent Ricks said. "And we will give them assurances that they will be treated fairly and humanely.'
Those wanting to come out were waiting for answers to questions about how they would be processed, what charges they could face and where they will be kept, he said.
Negotiators hoped to obtain a list of legal questions in a face-to-face meeting with cult leaders Tuesday afternoon, but they were disappointed when Steve Schneider, cult leader David Koresh's top lieutenant, said he was too tired. FBI agents said they hoped to schedule the meeting later Wednesday.
With or without the meeting, FBI agents consider the questions a sign of progress, Agent Ricks said.
"We're encouraged that they are now focusing on specific legal questions,' he said. In some cases, the FBI is trying to explain the American justice system to foreign members of the cult.
Agent Ricks said authorities are concerned that not all of the 105 cult members -- including 17 children -- remaining inside are being given the information available.
For instance, agents have offered medical treatment to wounded cult members if they venture to the edge of the compound. Those not requiring hospitalization would be allowed to return to the compound, said Agent Ricks. As of Wednesday morning, no one had accepted the offer.
Meanwhile, a Fort Worth lawyer hired to represent a woman inside the cult, Rachel Jones Koresh, said he had sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI Director William Sessions and others seeking telephone access to his client.
The attorney, Jeff Kearney, said he fears that cult members are unaware of their legal opportunities and don't trust the FBI agents to tell them.
"The standoff continues and progress is lacking. Why not try something different?' he said in his letter sent to The Dallas Morning News and other media outlets.
Asked why attorneys retained by family members were not being allowed to deliver messages, Agent Ricks said cult members are not entitled to legal counsel because they "are not in custody.'
"Some people have made statements to the effect that they are in custody, but I have never, in my history of the FBI, perceived a person to be in custody when he has an AK-47 pointed at my head.'
Those wanting to come out may be carefully watching court proceedings against Ms. Schroeder and Mr. Gyarfas. Authorities believe 87 adults remain with Mr. Koresh.
Mr. Koresh was still awaiting word from God to end the ordeal and showed no signs of changing his plans, Agent Ricks said.
The agent also said that Mr. Koresh's wounds -- suffered in the gun battle with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents -- were not worsening.
Mr. Koresh "has his moments when he expresses great pain,' Agent Ricks said. "But once he gets into a discussion with us, he seems to regain his strength.'
The cult leader has not talked to negotiators since Monday, Agent Ricks said, and Mr. Schneider continues to handle discussions with federal agents.
Mr. Koresh, through Mr. Schneider, is still demanding access to the media. The FBI is willing to incorporate that into an agreement to end the standoff, but it will not allow the cult access to reporters until then, Agent Ricks said.
"We are very open to how this matter will be ended,' he said. "We may be amenable to a similar situation as before (when a taped message from Mr. Koresh was broadcast on a Dallas radio station). But we will no longer allow him direct access to the media until we are sure he has come out.'
On March 2, radio stations aired an hourlong message from Mr. Koresh in exchange for his surrender. Hours later he reneged, saying God told him to wait for further instructions. Since then, FBI agents have refused to let anyone inside the compound talk to reporters.
ATF associate director Dan Hartnett said at the briefing that one of the agents went to the front door of the compound during the raid, announced himself. A person at the door slammed it shut and firing began from 40 to 50 positions in the compound buildings.
Once the standoff ends, the ATF will take control of the compound to continue its investigation of the cult's arsenal, said ATF associate director Dan Hartnett.
The bureau will bring in fresh agents Sunday, replacing nearly 100 who have been here since the standoff began. When they arrive, the agents will have apartments in Waco because their investigation could take more than a month, he said.
The Dallas Morning News
Teen-ager who left sect ordered held as material witness
Action may deter exits, lawyer says
WACO -- A judge ordered a 19-year-old cult member held without bail Wednesday after prosecutors unveiled a recorded conversation in which the teen said he could have shot a federal agent during a confrontation last month.
Oliver Gyarfas of Australia, who voluntarily left the Branch Davidian compound Saturday, said the federal agent was "lucky' he wasn't shot, according to a transcript of the tape.
Disclosure of the tape was the first public indication that the negotiations were being recorded by the FBI and that comments made by members of the religious sect could be used in court against them.
U.S. Magistrate Dennis Green ordered Mr. Gyarfas held without bail as a material witness in the gunbattle Feb. 28 between Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and the Branch Davidians.
Mr. Gyarfas' attorney, Brian Pollard, had sought to have him released. Mr. Pollard said after the hearing that the detention of Mr. Gyarfas could send the wrong message.
"I kind of think if people think they're going to be detained when they get out, they're not going to want to come out,' Mr. Pollard said, referring to other cult members in the compound.
U.S. Attorney Ron Ederer of San Antonio told reporters that he did not know whether such information would be detrimental to negotiations between the FBI and the followers of religious leader David Koresh.
Asked whether all adults who leave the compound will be detained, he said, "You'll have to ask the judge about that.'
Mr. Ederer declined to discuss any potential action in the case involving Mr. Gyarfas.
In the hearing, Texas Ranger Robert Garza read a transcript of a conversation recorded at 12:04 a.m. March 8, between Mr. Gyarfas and FBI negotiator John Cox.
Mr. Garza read only a small excerpt from the 20-minute talk, which begins by Mr. Gyarfas saying, "Hello, this is an Aussie from down under, mate.'
He then goes on to tell Mr. Cox: "I'd just like to tell you about my experience (on Feb. 28). I heard gunfire, so we've got a bunker -- you know, what that is? Well anyway, it's like a tornado shelter or something like that.
"I went down there and walked up in a tunnel entrance, and I could see one of you guys in a puddle (reflection). I couldn't shoot the guy because he was behind some cement. He was lucky. I'm ready, I'm ready for any action you guys want to give out. That is all I'm telling you.'
Mr. Pollard said after the hearing that his client was asleep when the shooting began and went down into the shelter for cover. He said Mr. Gyarfas was unarmed, and his comments were taken out of context.
He said Mr. Gyarfas was upset because his friend at the compound, Peter Gent, was killed during the shootout, and he was just "venting his anger' at federal agents in the phone conversation.
Mr. Pollard also said he knew his client had talked to an FBI negotiator but the transcript and the recording, which was not brought to the courtroom, came as a surprise.
"I had known that he had talked to authorities before, but I didn't know there was a tape made,' he said.
Mr. Green is expected to decide Thursday whether to continue the detention of cult follower Kathryn Schroeder, 30, who walked out of the compound the same day as Mr. Gyarfas.
Mr. Gyarfas' only relatives in the United States are his pregnant sister, her daughter and her husband, who remain in the compound, according to evidence presented at the hearing. Mr. Gyarfas' mother and father, who are unemployed, are in Australia.
In addition, testimony indicated that Mr. Gyarfas entered the United States to join Mr. Koresh's group April 1 and that his tourist's visa expired in September.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston, who handled the hearing in Waco, asked that Mr. Gyarfas be detained because he had no ties to the area and posed a flight risk to the court.
Mr. Gyarfas was handcuffed and manacled on his way into and out of the courthouse. Mr. Gyarfas took the stand in his defense, saying he no longer had his passport and would promise to stay in Waco, possibly at a halfway house.
During his four days in custody, Mr. Gyarfas has spoken to Mr. Koresh twice to assure him that he is being treated kindly, Mr. Pollard said.
"He would like the people in the compound to realize he's being treated OK,' Mr. Pollard said.
He said Mr. Gyarfas took the ruling of his detention well.
"Even though he might have some unorthodox religious beliefs, I think that perhaps he sees it as, well, bad things happen occasionally, and I'm going through some temporary bad things and I'll withstand it,' the attorney said.
Mr. Gyarfas, as he returned to the jail, told reporters that he loves those in the comopound and hopes "to see them one day.'