The Dallas Morning News
Siege chronology reveals frustrations, disagreements
A Justice Department chronology of the Branch Davidian standoff is a litany of maddening efforts to negotiate with a rambling, threatening David Koresh.
It also shows that as FBI negotiations stalled with the sect leader, agents feuded with each other and with Texas Rangers about the handling of the siege near Waco.
The report, part of the Justice Department's review of the operation, concludes that Mr. Koresh reneged on promises to come out and never engaged in meaningful negotiations.
It notes that all of the 35 adults and children released from the compound before it burned April 19 were "expelled" as weaklings or troublemakers.
Among the other findings and new details:
Mr. Koresh repeatedly threatened violence during negotiations. He warned that he could blow up tanks when FBI agents moved armored vehicles around the compound. And he once told negotiators to stop or "bear responsibility for the loss of innocent lives" and face having to "look at some of the pictures of the little ones that ended up perishing."
He told negotiators the sect had been preparing to battle authorities since 1985.
Cult lieutenant Steve Schneider told negotiators that he believed the FBI ultimately would burn the building and kill everyone inside.
In early April, Assistant U.S. Attorney LeRoy Jahn, one of the lead prosecutors handling prosecutions of the sect, had urged FBI agents to place firefighting equipment near the compound because she feared the risk of fire. FBI officials decided, however, that the armed cultists posed an unacceptable risk to firefighters.
After learning April 16 that Attorney General Janet Reno initially opposed the use of gas, Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern told another official "that going ahead with the plan might be looked down on in the eyes of the public, and likened (the plan) to Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds."
When FBI agents pulled the last cars away from the compound the eve of the teargas assault, an FBI sniper saw a cardboard sign in a compound window decorated with flames and bearing the words: "flames await."
After the fires began, FBI agents began hearing "systematic gunfire" inside the compound and concluded that sect members were killing each other. Autopsies later determined that 17 Davidians, including several children, died of gunshots and a 3-year-old child was stabbed to death. Several children also died of blows to the head.
As the siege ground on, negotiators feuded with tactical experts about FBI commanders' decisions to use psychological and physical pressures, such as cutting the power to the compound and blaring lights and loud music.
FBI tacticians also objected to FBI commander Jeff Jamar's decision in late March to allow two Houston lawyers to enter the compound to talk with Mr. Koresh and his lieutenant, Mr. Schneider.
Texas Rangers investigating the deaths of four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents killed in the Feb. 28 raid on the compound also opposed allowing the lawyers in.
By then, the chronology notes, the Rangers were barely speaking to the FBI.
Texas Ranger Capt. David Byrnes told Justice Department investigators that from the beginning of the siege, the Rangers relations with the FBI command post "deteriorated rapidly."
"Numerous Rangers complained to him that (special agent) Jamar and others in the command post treated them rudely. The Rangers eventually pulled out of what they considered a hostile atmosphere," according to the chronology.
In one instance, Capt. Byrnes told investigators, Mr. Jamar refused the Rangers request to complete a crime scene examination near the compound where one Branch Davidian's body had been found.
Mr. Jamar wouldn't allow them to return to the scene for 10 days, by which time key evidence had deteriorated, the report said.
Mr. Jamar, through a spokesman, declined to comment Friday. He told review investigators that he recognized Rangers' and negotiators' concerns but gave more weight to protecting his agents and ending the siege.
Federal prosecutors also were feuding. On March 23, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston in Waco wrote Ms. Reno, complaining that the FBI had mishandled the crime scene and that his superior, U.S. Attorney Ron Ederer, appeared not to care.
Mr. Ederer, now in private practice, could not be reached for comment. He earlier told the Justice Department that he had no problems with the FBI and that friction within the agency "had absolutely no effect" on the standoff's end.
In early April, Justice Department officials brought in Washington-based prosecutors Ray and LeRoy Jahn, to head the criminal inquiry and soothe the disputes.
The Dallas Morning News
Report blames Koresh FBI cleared in raid that led to deaths
WASHINGTON - David Koresh, not the FBI, orchestrated the holocaust that ended his Branch Davidian sect's standoff with federal agents, said a report on the Justice Department's role released Friday.
While agents disagreed over tactics, and their assessment of a mass suicide risk proved wrong, the FBI's overall handling of the 51-day crisis was thorough and professional, the report stated.
The report's author, Edward Dennis, said agents had contradictory evidence about Mr. Koresh's suicidal tendencies and legitimate law enforcement reasons for seeking to end the stalemate.
There was "no evidence" that the FBI caused the fire that destroyed the complex near Waco, Mr. Dennis stated. "In the final analysis," he wrote, "the deaths of the Davidians were caused by David Koresh."
In another part of the review, Justice Department investigators said they found no proof of child abuse inside the compound - a reason that Attorney General Janet Reno cited for approving the assault on the cultists' home in April.
Ms. Reno, who had said after the fatal fire that she was responsible for the actions taken, acknowledged Friday that she misunderstood officials who briefed her about the child abuse allegations.
"I go out to seek the truth, and that's what I've tried to do here," she said of the report.
Mr. Dennis, a Philadelphia lawyer and former assistant attorney general, was commissioned by the Justice Department to review its role in the standoff and subsequent deaths of at least 80 Branch Davidians.
The review was based on Mr. Dennis' evaluation of more than 800 interviews conducted by FBI agents and information he obtained through his own interviews with an unstated number of officials.
The department also released a chronology of the siege compiled by Justice Department attorneys and the FBI as well as reports from nine outside experts on FBI hostage negotiation methods.
Unlike a scathing review of the Treasury Department's role released last week, Mr. Dennis' report aimed few barbs at anyone besides Mr. Koresh, the charismatic cult leader who called himself Jesus Christ.
The report credited on-site commanders with sound planning and BMs. Reno for making a well-reasoned decision to authorize the FBI tear-gas assault.
That failed - and an inferno erupted - because Mr. Koresh wanted to fulfill his apocalyptic prophecies rather than lose control over his followers or face capital murder charges, the report contended.
The cult leader was depicted as paranoid, delusional and obsessed with death.
Mr. Koresh and at least 79 followers later were found dead inside the compound. Thirteen of the cultists, including Mr. Koresh, died from gunshot wounds. In a new revelation, the report said a number ofchildren were fatally shot, stabbed and beaten to death.
Their deaths, coupled with the slayings of four Treasury Department agents during a Feb. 28 raid on the compound, marked one of the bloodiest episodes in American law enforcement history. The agents were serving warrants based on allegations that the cult was stockpiling illegal weapons.
Nine other cult members escaped from the blaze, and some are facing trial on a variety of federal charges in Waco.
The Treasury Department's report strongly faulted the planning and execution of the raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and accused five senior officials of attempting to cover up mistakes.
Two of the reports released Friday - Mr. Dennis' and the chronology - were marked "redacted." Justice department officials said the exclusions were mandated by federal wiretapping laws.
Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann said the release of the reports had been delayed for several days by efforts to keep editing to a minimum. Some of the missing material is "newsworthy," he said.
The sharpest criticisms of the Justice Department came not from the overall review by Mr. Dennis but from the outside experts recruited by the department to make recommendations for handling future crises.
Dr. Nancy Ammerman, a professor of sociology and religion, concluded that FBI commanders in Waco ignored the analysis of their own behavioral science experts about Mr. Koresh's suicidal tendencies and relied on outside experts unfamiliar with non-mainstream religions.
"Arguments for patience and unconventional tactics fell on deaf ears," Dr. Ammerman, a visiting professor at Princeton University, wrote in her analysis of the FBI's performance.
Eight other experts issued separate evaluations of the FBI's negotiation methods and tactical moves. One expert, Dr. Alan Stone of Harvard University, will issue his report at a later time.
Mr. Heymann described the experts' reports as "interesting, stimulating (and) hard-hitting." He also said that he did not agree with all the conclusions or recommendations.
In his own report, Mr. Heymann suggested that the major reform needed was to double the size of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team and provide more integrated training with negotiators and behavioral scientists.
He acknowledged, however, that such reforms would not have changed the outcome in Waco but may be helpful in future terrorist situations.
Mr. Heymann said the reports would be sent to the FBI's new director, Louis Freeh, to determine whether any disciplinary actions were warranted. No such action was mentioned in any of the reports.
William Sessions, who was FBI director during the Waco crisis, could not be reached for comment. His wife, Alice, said during a brief telephone interview that her husband had not seen reports and was interviewed for it.
The reports indicate that in March, Mr. Sessions independently contacted one of Mr. Koresh's former lawyers to discuss whether that attorney would help negotiate. FBI officials persuaded Mr. Sessions to drop the idea.
Not a `whitewash'
Mr. Heymann, Mr. Dennis and Ms. Reno, appearing at a joint news conference, rejected suggestions that the Justice Department's review amounted to "a whitewash" of its performance in Waco.
"We can't come out with scapegoats when there is no severe blame to be placed," Mr. Heymann said.
When a reporter said the review had cleared her, she shot back, "I don't think any of us came to seek vindication."
The chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee that oversees the FBI said he was disappointed that Mr. Dennis' report was not more critical of the dominance that tactical commanders exercised over negotiators.
"It seems to us that the report indicates that if a similar situation came up, that the same tactics would be used," Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., said in an interview.
Mr. Dennis' report lauded the negotiation team and acknowledged that it was incensed by a series of decisions by tactical commanders to increase psychological pressure on the Davidians to surrender.
During the first month, as 35 cult members were permitted to leave, negotiators believed that techniques like playing loud music and shining bright spotlights sent a punitive message.
Negotiators complained that they were not consulted before tactical decisions were implemented and felt that they were being isolated from the on-scene commanders, the Dennis report stated.
The report repeatedly stressed that the FBI was aware of the possibility that Mr. Koresh might lead his followers in a mass suicide reminiscent of the Rev. Jim Jones' actions at Jonestown.
The report cited a March 8 memo from FBI behavioral scientists that noted "a mass suicide ordered by Koresh cannot be discounted." Such a directive "would be his effort to maintain the ultimate control over his group, in the event of his death," the memo stated.
Late that month, the report said, FBI agents learned that Mr. Koresh had planned to blow up himself and his followers but aborted the plan at the last minute because he received a message from God "to wait."
Concerns about a mass suicide prompted negotiators on several occasions to ask Mr. Koresh and his chief aide, Steve Schneider, if the Davidians were thinking of killing themselves. Each time, the report said, negotiators were assured that no such action was being planned.
"I would lose myself for all eternity," Mr. Schneider is quoted as telling a negotiator during one telephone conversation.
The decision to launch a tear-gas assault on the compound was made after a series of pressure tactics had failed and outside experts advised the FBI that further negotiations would be fruitless.
Mr. Dennis stated the gas option was considered for a month before it was presented to Ms. Reno on April 12. After rejecting the idea once, the attorney general agreed five days later, the report said.
The decision was well-informed, Mr. Dennis stated. "All reasonable alternatives were considered and the decision to insert CS gas was a reasonable one," Mr. Dennis wrote. "I conclude that an indefinite siege was not a realistic option."
At the news conference, Mr. Dennis said that child abuse allegations were voiced during the decision-making process but were only one of many factors considered by Ms. Reno and other top officials for the timing of the assault.
He cited as other factors fatigue among members of the Hostage Rescue Team and concerns that the FBI could not maintain the security perimeter it had established around the cult compound.
Ms. Reno said she misunderstood the child abuse allegation. She said she believed the allegation was based on information gathered after the siege began when, in fact, it was based on earlier accusations.
Mr. Dennis' report noted that arson investigators had concluded that the fire that engulfed the compound was deliberately set from inside.
"The fire that occurred on April 19th was not caused by the tear-gas assault," he said. "I think that the evidence is overwhelming."
Richard Scruggs, a special assistant to Ms. Reno who helped to compile the chronology, conceded that he was troubled by a videotape which shows a flash as a tank pulls away from the building.
He said the tape is being analyzed at the University of Maryland and preliminary results show that the flash may have been the dispersing agent for the tear gas, which is not flammable.
The Dallas Morning News
FBI failed to weigh cult's beliefs, outside report says Police faulted for using hostage-rescue tactics
The FBI ignored the Branch Davidians' apocalyptic religious beliefs and failed to heed warnings that tactical pressure might push the sect to suicide, three outside experts concluded in a report released Friday.
The behavioral science experts were among 10 outside specialists asked to examine various aspects of FBI actions during the 51-day Waco standoff and recommend ways to improve response to future standoffs.
In a report that is markedly more critical than the main Justice Department review, the behavioral experts said the FBI erred in dismissing cult leader David Koresh as a con man and failed to consider that the use of tanks, psychological warfare and tear gas could reinforce Mr. Koresh's apocalyptic prophecies.
"In the end, the intense theological commitment of the Davidians to Koresh and his religious ideas may better explain what happened than the FBI picture of Koresh as a dissembling con man and his followers as psychologically weak but religiously uncommitted sheep," wrote Lawrence Sullivan, director of Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions.
Experts in police tactics, terrorism and law enforcement also explored use of the FBI's hostage-rescue team and coordination with other law enforcement agencies. Among their recommendations in nine separate reports released Friday with the Justice review:
Expanding the hostage-rescue team and giving it clear authority over hostage and barricade standoffs.
Beefing up the FBI's negotiations and behavioral unit and setting up a central data base for information on standoffs, the characteristics of standoff subjects and marginal religions.
Establishing a pool of experts in marginal religions, psychology and sociology for use in future standoffs.
Ensuring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other federal law enforcement agencies have access to behavioral science expertise. Because ATF officials planning the original raid on the Waco compound did not consult outside behavioral experts, religion and sociology expert Nancy Ammerman wrote: "It became easy to lose sight of the human dynamics of the group involved, to plan as if the group were indeed a military target."
Assigning crisis command to trained specialists instead of to the FBI special agent in charge of the geographic area where the crisis occurs.
Several police and terrorism experts noted that they found no fault with FBI actions in Waco. But several criticized ATF's planning and execution of the initial raid.
A Treasury Department review of the Feb. 28 ATF raid that began the standoff concluded commanders should have called off their operation after learning it had been compromised.
In the Justice Department review, FBI and Justice officials stated that siege commanders received advice from religion scholars, psychiatrists, psychologists and other behavioral experts during the 51-day siege. The Justice review also concluded that senior FBI and Justice officials adequately considered the threat of suicide before deciding to use tear gas, and it noted that behavioral experts gave the FBI conflicting advice on whether Mr. Koresh posed a suicide risk.
Dr. Ammerman, a visiting scholar from Princeton University, wrote, however, that agents did not reach out to recognized experts in marginal religions who might have helped explore the sect's beliefs.
"They (agents) were not in a hostage-rescue situation. They were in a tragic standoff with a group for whom they were already the enemy foretold to destroy them," she said.
New York University Medical Center psychiatrist Robert Cancro said the Branch Davidians likely viewed the FBI's April 19 tear-gas assault as only the first stage of a larger, fatal assault. The sect members then probably concluded that they had "the choice of being killed by enemy weapons or by their own hand," he wrote.
The behavioral experts praised early analysis of the sect by specialists from the FBI's Quantico-based investigative support unit, and they chastised FBI officials for not paying more heed to them.
On March 5, two FBI analysts wrote that increasing tactical and physical pressure "could eventually be counterproductive and could result in loss of life. Every time his followers sense movement of tactical personnel, Koresh validates his prophetic warnings that an attack is forthcoming, and they are going to have to defend themselves."
On March 7, one outside expert noted, the same FBI analysts warned that using psychological warfare such as lights and loud music "would also succeed in shutting down negotiations and convince Koresh and his followers that the end is near."
And on March 8, the FBI analysts also warned against dismissing Mr. Koresh's religious claims as "a con" that could be overcome with a strong show of force.
"In fact, the opposite very well may also occur, whereby the presence of that show of force will draw David Koresh and his followers closer together in the bunker mentality, and they would rather die than surrender," the FBI analysts wrote in the March 8 memo.
Although their assessments were "on target," Dr. Ammerman wrote, the FBI analysts' advice was not heeded because they were outranked and outnumbered by tactical proponents, whose ranks included the Waco FBI commanders.
"There was an understandable desire among many agents in Waco to make Koresh and the Davidians pay for the harm they had caused. Arguments for patience or unconventional tactics fell on deaf ears," she wrote.