The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock

Cult wiretaps won't be released

FBI wiretaps from the Branch Davidian siege will not be made public in a federal review because the release could jeopardize criminal trials, an official familiar with the inquiry said Thursday.

The four-part Justice Department review, to be released Friday, also does not severely criticize decisions by senior FBI and Justice Department officials, knowledgeable federal officials said.

One official said that the report will focus attention on mid- and low-level FBI agents because "most of what happened had to do with the people who were at Waco."

"This was never intended to be a report about blame because no person in our agency has been accused of misconduct," said the official, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.

A major section of the report, a 500-page chronology of key events of the 51-day siege, will not include some sensitive information, such as wiretap transcripts, an official said.

Federal prosecutors raised concerns earlier this month that releasing excerpts of negotiations and the wiretaps in the review might prejudice potential jurors with information that probably would not be admissible in trial.

The 11 Branch Davidians are accused of conspiracy to kill federal agents in connection with the Feb. 28 deaths of four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who tried to serve search and arrest warrants on the sect's compound near Waco.

The FBI's negotiators and hostage rescue team were brought in to try to end the ensuing standoff.

It ended April 19 after Attorney General Janet Reno, acting on advice of senior FBI officals, agreed to an FBI plan to try forcing a surrender by tear-gassing the compound. Within hours, a fire broke out that killed cult leader David Koresh and more than 80 of his followers.

A Treasury Department review released last week criticized the ATF for poor planning and decision making in its raid and censured some officials for lying about what happened after the assault failed.

The Justice review will include reports by outside experts in behavioral sciences, tactical operations and law enforcement interagency cooperation.

Several of the experts concluded that FBI commanders erred by ignoring early warnings from their in-house experts of the sect's suicide risk.