"Siege tactics weighed by FBI detailed - Davidian files reveal plan to drug water"
by Lee Hancock and David Jackson ("The Dallas Morning News", October 9, 1999)
WASHINGTON - Thousands of recently disclosed internal FBI documents show that some bureau officials proposed drugging Branch Davidians' water supplies and faxed a formal assault plan directly to the White House in the first weeks of the 1993 siege.
The documents reveal intricacies of the FBI's 51-day operation never previously made public in the six years since the nation's most deadly law enforcement tragedy.
Among the thousand of pages of internal FBI tactical documents are notations indicating that tanks used by the hostage rescue team near Waco carried such military ordnance as high-explosive grenades, illumination rounds and pyrotechnic tear gas cannisters.
The notes also indicate FBI tactical experts in Waco asked for permission to shoot any unarmed Branch Davidians who left the compound and approached their armored vehicles. That proposal was rejected by FBI officials in Washington, who ultimately imposed rules authorizing deadly force only if the Branch
Davidians fired 50-caliber rifles capable of piercing the armor of tanks.
House and Senate investigators are poring over the documents, some of which were not disclosed despite previous exhaustive congressional requests for detailed information about the government's handling of the siege near Waco.
They were discovered last month at the headquarters of the FBI's hostage
rescue team in Quantico, Va., stacked in four boxes. They included infrared videotapes shot during the early hours of the FBI's April 19, 1993, tank-and-tear-gas assault on the Davidian compound. FBI officials had previously sworn in court that such tapes did not exist.
FBI officials said that the boxes - containing notes, sketches, cartoons, personnel rosters, interview reports and other information - were overlooked when bureau officials responded to previous inquiries or were not specifically sought by congressional investigators.
They came to light last month after a former senior FBI official acknowledged for the first time that the hostage rescue team had fired military tear gas on April 19. That reversed six years of government denials that anything capable of sparking fires had been used in the final assault.
Attorney General Janet Reno has said she expressly banned the use of any pyrotechnic devices in the tear-gas operation.
The compound caught fire that day, six hours after FBI tanks began inserting tear gas and dismantling the wooden building in an attempt to force the sect's surrender. Leader David Koresh and more than 80 followers died. Arson investigators later ruled that the fires were set by compound occupants.
FBI officials maintain that they fired only two military tear gas rounds, aiming them at an area next to the main compound hours before the fire erupted.
The FBI documents kept secret for years at Quantico indicate that agents had at least 60 of the military gas rounds, known as M-651 canisters, near Waco.
FBI spokesman John Collingwood said those devices and the high-explosive rounds deployed in FBI tanks during the siege are standard equipment for all of the bureau's SWAT teams as well as the hostage rescue team.
Military records indicate that the FBI obtained 250 of the high-explosive rounds from nearby Fort Hood.
"This is part of their normal ammo load,"Mr. Collingwood said. "What I'm confident of is that none were used at any time during the entire standoff."
The documents also suggest that the FBI was consulting U.S. military experts regularly during the standoff.
One undated document stated an Army general with an extensive special-operations background had been given special permission to go to Waco despite questions about the military's authority to send him.
U.S. military special-operations lawyers had previously ordered Special Forces soldiers not to go to Waco even to watch the botched Feb. 28, 1993, raid that began the standoff. Four agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms died in a gunfight that broke out as they tried to search the compound and arrest Mr. Koresh on weapons charges.
Federal law prohibits any military involvement in domestic operations against U.S. citizens without authorization from the highest levels of government.
"No auth. for Gen. Shoomaker [sic] to go. Has been approved, but approved by SEC DEF," the note on stationery from an FBI commander in Waco. "SEC DEF" is an abbreviation for the secretary of defense, then Les Aspin.
The general, Peter J. Schoomaker, had once headed the Army's secret, anti-terrorist Delta Force unit and now is at U.S. Special Forces Command at Macdill Air Force Base in Florida. He was one of two senior military special operations officers who visited Waco during the standoff and then attended FBI briefings with the attorney general before she approved the final tear gas plan.
Another undated, handwritten note mentions that Delta Force commandos and intelligence experts should be "invited" to Waco, stating "Delta commo/intel guys - helpful in observation role."
A March 8 note states that a formal assault or "ops plan" had been faxed directly to the White House by FBI tactical officials.
An FBI official in Washington said that was done at the direction of Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbell.
During 1995 congressional hearings, Mr. Hubbell said he often consulted with the White House counsel's office about the standoff. He said that the White House was not involved in decision-making during the FBI operation.
The compound fire ended a 51-day siege in which the FBI's tactical commanders steadily racheted up pressure on the sect. In the final weeks, agents disrupted the sect's nights with loud noises and lights, constantly circled their building with armored vehicles and fired flash-bang explosive devices at anyone who ventured outside to drive them back in their compound.
The documents - many marked "secret" and "confidential" - indicate that FBI agents considered and rejected a number of even more intensive tactics.
One undated, handwritten document indicates that agents briefly considered introducing a foul-smelling, nausea-inducing chemical known as ethyl mercaptan or ethane thiol in the compound's water supply.
Vapors from the chemical irritate eyes and skin and can induce headaches, and they would spread each time someone turned on water taps, according to a report from the Texas Poison Control Center.
Center officials said the chemical has caused death in rare cases. It is sometimes used by law enforcement to incapacitate subjects.
The FBI documents indicated that its use was rejected against the Branch Davidians because of the sect's children. "Young and smaller=worse/more serious," noted one document bearing the name of an ATF agent.
At one point during the siege, FBI agents suspected that some reporters at the scene might be monitoring law enforcement cellular phone conversations, according to the documents. Justice Department officials proposed infiltrating reporters' ranks with undercover officers to check that report. The records include no indication that the plan was carried out.
Records show the bureau's tactics at the siege drew complaints from compound neighbors. One FBI log notes that a farmer near the compound wanted the FBI to stop blasting sounds of screaming and dying rabbits because it was disturbing his pregnant cattle.
Even after the standoff ended in mass death, the newly disclosed FBI documents indicate, FBI agents who led the bureau's efforts in Waco and Washington proposed rewarding members of the hostage rescue team with FBI medals.
One memo noted "there may be reluctance to award such a high number of shields of bravery, but the discipline and courage which was exhibited by the HRT for the seven-week siege . . . cannot be overstated."
The FBI Waco commanders also proposed cash awards for the hostage rescue team, its intelligence analysts and its clerical staff.
The proposed awards were ultimately rejected as inappropriate, an FBI spokesman said.
"FBI supervisors had proposed rewards for agents at Waco"
("Associated Press", October 9, 1999)
WASHINGTON - A proposal for medals and bonuses was included in newly released documents. A former agency official says no rewards were ever given.
FBI supervisors sought to reward agents running its Waco siege, proposing medals and "substantial cash incentive awards" for members of the bureau's Hostage Rescue Team, newly released internal documents show.
The documents are silent on the outcome of the request to reward agents who fired tear gas into the Branch Davidians' home, manned sniper positions and drove tanks. An FBI spokesman said Friday that he was unaware whether awards were granted.
But former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson, the founding commander of the rescue team and one of the top officials overseeing the Waco operation, said neither medals nor bonuses were handed out.
"It wasn't approved, and they received nothing," Coulson said.
The FBI documents were recently turned over to investigators looking into the bureau's conduct during the 51-day Waco siege in 1993. They show that an extensive effort was made to honor the agents' "brave and selfless actions."
One 13-page memo recommended the entire Hostage Rescue Team for the FBI Shield of Bravery, with individual commendations for agents who left their tank during the siege's fiery end to save a Davidian woman caught in the burning building.
Another memo proposed financial rewards for the team's agents to recognize "their exceptional and exemplary individual efforts."
Said Coulson: "We tend to want to demonize every FBI agent who was there ... (but) the American public needs to remember that agents did risk their lives."
Sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died on April 19, 1993, in the final hours of the siege.
The internal documents are a combination of the serious and the mundane, covering the FBI's evolving final-day tactical plan and daily intelligence reports to a local hotel's invitation to federal agents for a free Easter Sunday brunch.
The records outline the evolution of the FBI's rules of engagement for the final assault, dictating under what conditions agents could use deadly force.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors.
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