The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock

FBI thinks Koresh letter hints at fight, officials say
They say D.C. won't OK raid

WACO -- FBI behavioral experts believe that a letter sent Friday by David Koresh clearly signals that the cult leader will not surrender, but law enforcement officials said Sunday that they cannot get approval from Washington to bring him out by force.

The vitriolic letter sent out of the cult compound Friday, and another letter sent Saturday, threaten God's wrath against authorities, prompting FBI behavioral specialists to say it's the strongest indication to date that Mr. Koresh is still spoiling for a fight, one law enforcement official said Sunday.

Top federal officials have repeatedly refused to authorize aggressive tactical actions against the Branch Davidian compound, fearing more bloodshed, said law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The FBI has been trying to come up with a tactical plan that would pass for the last two weeks. They haven't come up with anything they can sell yet,' one official said.

"At what point do the bureaucrats in Washington say they can't wait any more? The law enforcement community has already felt that point has been reached and passed.'

When asked specifically Sunday whether his agency's chiefs in Waco had been denied permission to take aggressive tactical action, FBI Director William Sessions said, "We've considered dozens and dozens of tactical options, but there's no way I will discuss anything.'

U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bensen, who oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, also was asked Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press whether he or the White House would have to approve any aggressive tactical effort to drive the Davidians out.

"I spent most of one night trying to be sure that there was not an additional use of force at that situation,' he said. "But I'm sure that we will use the appropriate authorities who have the responsibility before any force is used again, and hopefully that will not have to be.'

A White House spokesman said Sunday that the standoff has been regularly monitored by Clinton administration officials but has been managed by the FBI and the ATF.

Four ATF agents were killed and 16 were injured Feb. 28 when they tried to serve search and arrest warrants on the fortified compound east of Waco. Cult members have reported that six Branch Davidians also were killed; federal officials say they have no way to confirm the deaths.

There are 96 people -- including 17 children -- inside the compound.

The raid, dubbed Operation Trojan Horse, followed an eight-month investigation that ATF officials say produced evidence that Mr. Koresh was gathering a massive arsenal of explosives, grenades and other illegal weapons.

After lengthy visits to the compound last week, two Houston lawyers representing Mr. Koresh and his chief lieutenant predicted that the cult leader and his followers would peacefully surrender at the end of their Passover observance this week.

But the law enforcement officials said Sunday that they have little faith in that prediction, and are especially concerned about the violent tone of the two letters.

One threatening four-page letter, purportedly dictated to Mr. Koresh by God, was delivered Friday afternoon to federal authorities in Waco.

A second letter -- a litany of apocalyptic scriptures, including an entire chapter from the book of Revelations -- was given to authorities Saturday afternoon, the officials said.

An analysis of the first letter by the FBI's behavioral sciences unit in Quantico, Va., indicates that Mr. Koresh probably will not initiate another confrontation but is trying to provoke federal authorities into starting one, one official said.

The official, reading from the FBI analysis, said the federal specialists noted that Mr. Koresh's Friday letter showed him to be a "determined, hardened adversary who has no intent of delivering himself or his followers into the hands of his adversaries. His communication does not resemble a suicidal sermon such as the one made by the Rev. Jim Jones in Jonestown. He intends to fight.'

To make their analysis, the behavioral specialists look at tone, phrasing and key language, the official said.

They also have reviewed Mr. Koresh's prophecies dating to the mid '80s, in which he has predicted in increasingly stark, immediate terms that he will unleash the biblical apocalypse described in the book of Revelations.

Although they do not consider Mr. Koresh to be psychotic or afflicted by a multiple-personality disorder, his letter and statements to negotiators throughout the standoff suggest he has "a multiple-personalitylike condition,' the official said, summarizing the FBI analysis.

Mr. Koresh is functional enough to plan strategy against federal authorities but is consumed by the belief that he is Jesus Christ, the official said.

The official added that the FBI's behavioral specialists "consider the letter a delusional communication that implies he is readying to do battle . . . and he feels he is protected by the shield of God.'

That analysis is supported by Janet McBean, a Branch Davidian from California who is in Waco to testify before a grand jury about the whereabouts of fugitive cult member Paul Fatta. Ms. McBean's brother, John, is in the compound.

Mr. Koresh's followers have no fear, Ms. McBean said, because "God has promised us deliverance. We are all easy, because we know God is in control, not the FBI or the ATF.'

Even if they are killed, she said, Mr. Koresh has taught them that God will reunite them on Earth after bringing the present age to a cataclysmic end.

The depth of Mr. Koresh's belief makes the current standoff particularly difficult -- and probably even unique in FBI negotiations, the official said.

Traditional tactics used by FBI negotiators in other standoffs have not worked, he said.

"They've never seen anything like this before. . . . It's a living laboratory,' the official said.

Any direct assault on the compound could face the same devastating firepower and logistical problems that stymied the ATF in its Feb. 28 raid. Because of that, "They have to determine a way to wait him out and gas him out,' one official said.

Although gas is widely thought to be the best tactical option, both officials said, it might endanger very young children still inside, and even the most nauseating or irritating substances might not incapacitate or drive all of Mr. Koresh's followers out.

"They figure if they shoot tear gas in, they'll get fire returned from inside the compound,' one official said.

Using Abrams M-1 tanks to knock down any part of the main compound building also has been rejected because it could provoke gunfire from inside the compound, officials said.

"If they went over and pushed in a wall or knocked in a corner, I think the agency's guess is it might precipitate an armed response. It's my understanding that the White House said, "If that's the case, we're not doing it,' ' the official said. "It's an unbelieveable situation.'

The Easter holiday did bring progress on another front: For the first time since the Feb. 28 raid, federal agents let members of a small congregation return to their church, which is situated several thousand feet away from the Davidian compound.

Texas Rangers had a list of guests expected for an Easter service at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Officers checked the licenses of drivers before allowing them access to the chapel, where the Rev. Lee R. Mathews preached to about a dozen congregants.

"We haven't been able to get back to our home for approximately five Sundays now,' he said. "We're thankful to be here today.'

Staff writers Larry Bleiberg, Kathy Lewis and Victoria Loe contributed to this report.