"Flares were fired to stop intruder at siege, FBI says - Reno, Danforth finalize details of investigation he'll lead"
by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", September 9, 1999)
A military flare recently found among evidence stored after the Branch Davidian tragedy may have been one of two such devices fired by FBI agents to stop an intruder from entering the sect's compound during the standoff, an FBI official said Wednesday.
Two of the incendiary illumination devices - M-583 Star Parachute flares - were fired in the early days of the 1993 standoff as members of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team kept 24-hour watch over the Branch Davidian compound, FBI spokesman John Collingwood said.
"From talking to people in our Hostage Rescue Team, at one time, when our floodlight illumination was not active, they shot two parachute illumination rounds because of concern about people trying to sneak into the compound," Mr. Collingwood said.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno met with former Sen.
John Danforth of Missouri on Wednesday to finalize terms of his appointment to lead an independent inquiry into the FBI's role during the Branch Davidian siege and fire. Ms. Reno had pledged a full outside investigation when the FBI, after years of denying that its agents had used anything capable of starting the fire, admitted using pyrotechnic tear-gas grenades.
It was during a search of a Waco storage facility for missing tear-gas grenades on Friday that Texas Rangers discovered the spent remains of one of the parachute flares.
James B. Francis Jr., chairman of the Texas Public Safety Commission, said the discovery of the device, in a mislabeled box marked "fired tear gas shell," was troubling because the government had powerful spotlights trained on the Davidian compound during most of the 51-day standoff and would not have needed a flare to light up the area.
DPS evidence logs indicate that at least one other Star Parachute flare may have been recovered from the same area, the northeast corner or back side of the Branch Davidian compound. That device has not been located, and Mr. Francis said Rangers will return to Waco soon to try to find it.
Mr. Collingwood said none of the devices was used by the Hostage Rescue Team on the day the Branch Davidian compound burned with David Koresh and about 80 followers inside.
The fire broke out April 19, 1993, six hours after FBI tanks began assaulting it and injecting tear gas. Arson investigators later ruled the fire had been deliberately set in three separate places by compound occupants.
After the tragedy, both FBI and Justice Department leaders insisted for six years that government personnel had used nothing capable of sparking a fire on April 19.
They reversed that stance only after a former FBI official told The Dallas Morning News last month that two pyrotechnic CS tear-gas grenades had been fired at a bunker near the compound in the first hours of the assault.
Critics of the government's actions in Waco, including some angry congressional leaders, say that admission has prompted deep mistrust of the government's entire account of its actions against the Branch Davidians.
Mr. Danforth, a Republican who retired from the Senate in 1995, was at the Justice Department to confer with Ms. Reno on the staffing and scope of the investigation, officials said.
"The attorney general has scheduled an announcement for Thursday," a Justice Department official said.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate's top Republican said Ms. Reno should step down in the wake of newly disclosed evidence about the FBI's 1993 siege at the sect's compound.
"The attorney general has fallen into a pattern of not showing competency and not showing probity," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. "I am beginning to think that the attorney general should resign."
The Senate's Democratic leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, defended Ms. Reno, saying she "deserves commendation rather than criticism."
Members of both parties welcomed the appointment of Mr. Danforth, whose Republican roots were a major factor in his selection, Justice Department officials said.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Danforth investigation would essentially review all aspects of the 51-day siege that continues to serve as a rallying cry for anti-government activists.
The outside investigation will address the role of military personnel at the siege, as well as allegations that federal agents shot at the main Davidian building.
The FBI denies ever shooting at the Branch Davidians, and the Defense Department says its Special Forces soldiers were present as observers, not participants in the assault.
Focus on pyrotechnics
Another major focus will be whether the FBI fired pyrotechnic devices - those capable of starting a fire - into the compound's main building and why it took six years to acknowledge the use of two military tear-gas canisters.
A recent investigation by the federal General Accounting Office indicated that the FBI acquired 50 of the 40 mm illumination rounds from U.S. Army stores at Fort Hood during the first weeks of the standoff.
But a GAO investigator said the inquiry could not fully account for why the FBI's tactical experts also obtained 250 high-explosive 40 mm rounds, devices commonly used as anti-personnel ordnance, from Fort Hood during the standoff.
Mr. Collingwood said the shipment, described by some military veterans as enough high-explosive rounds to supply an entire Army company, was probably a routine delivery for FBI tactical teams around the country.
"I'm not sure it had any connection with Waco. All of our SWAT teams have them," he said, adding that the rounds were acquired from Fort Hood because "that's the only place you can buy them."
Danny Coulson, founding commander of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, said the high-explosive rounds could have been sent to Waco as a precautionary measure.
Texas law enforcement officials have said the recent discovery of a spent flare in the Branch Davidian evidence raised new questions about what else may be in the tons of evidence recovered after the compound burned.
The Rangers were brought in to investigate after the siege began. They were later asked by the Justice Department to keep the trove of evidence involved in the criminal prosecutions that followed the siege. But tons of other debris has been kept for years in large storage boxes in Waco.
A retired Ranger captain who headed the agency's Branch Davidian investigation said Wednesday that the spent pyrotechnic devices recovered or photographed after the fire may have gone unnoticed because of the complexity of the crime scene and the relatively narrow focus of the Rangers' investigation.
The investigators had to comb through a burned building that yielded 24,000 pounds of evidence, and their assignment was largely limited to developing a murder case from the deaths of four federal agents killed during the Feb. 28, 1993, firefight that began the standoff, retired Capt. David Byrnes said.
Four federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were fatally shot and more than 20 were wounded as they tried to search the compound and arrest Mr. Koresh on weapons violations.
Rangers focused on collecting evidence to prosecute surviving Branch Davidians for the agents' slayings and finding proof that the sect had stockpiled illegal weapons, he said. More than 40 illegal automatic weapons and a number of illegal silencers and homemade hand grenades were recovered from the compound wreckage, along with more than 300,000 rounds of ammunition.
"The thing that I think we have to keep in proper perspective is that we're in a totally different atmosphere than we were six years ago," Capt. Byrnes said. "We were so focused and had such a limited scope or view down there.
"There was so much evidence, and in every crime scene you have to make sort of a cut: what is credible or important evidence and what is not," he said.
The devices that have reignited the Waco controversy - U.S. military flares and pyrotechnic CS grenades - "didn't have meaning to us at that time," he said. "I've never felt like we knew everything that went on down there."
Capt. Byrnes also noted that the Rangers did not directly question any of the Hostage Rescue Team members during the crucial first days of their post-fire investigation, in part because the team was immediately flown out of Waco within hours after the compound fire.
"They left so quick, they left part of their equipment up there," he said, adding that the fire was still burning when the FBI turned over the site to the Rangers. "They did get out of Dodge in a hurry.
Staff writers David Jackson and Catalina Camia in Washington contributed to this report.
"Danforth will ask 'dark questions' "
by Jerry Seper ("The Washington Times", September 9, 1999)
Special Counsel John Danforth Thursday said his probe of the government's raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, will answer the "dark questions" of whether federal agents killed U.S. citizens and later sought to cover up their actions.
"Was there a cover-up? That's a dark question. Did the government kill people? How did the fire start? And was there shooting?" Mr. Danforth said at a press conference called by Attorney General Janet Reno to announce his appointment. "Those are questions that go to the basic integrity of government," he said, adding that the "country can survive bad judgment but the thing that really undermines the integrity of government is whether there were bad acts."
Mr. Danforth's appointment as special counsel with the power to prosecute came after nearly two weeks of criticism aimed at Miss Reno and the FBI over the bureau's admission -- after six years of denials -- that it used incendiary devices on the day a fire ravaged the Davidian compound, killing 86 persons, including 24 children.
In an agreement reached after several days of negotiations, the three-term former Republican senator from Missouri, who will conduct the probe from his law offices in St. Louis, was given the power to use a federal grand jury in the probe and to issue subpoenas. He also can interview any witness he deems necessary, including Miss Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh.
Miss Reno said Mr. Danforth will have the authority to investigate whether during the April 19, 1993, raid federal officials made false or misleading statements, allowed others to make false or misleading statements; withheld evidence or information; destroyed, altered or suppressed evidence or information; used any incendiary or pyrotechnic device; started or contributed to the spread of the fire; or engaged in gunfire.
She also said he could investigate whether there was any illegal use of military forces, including the Army's Delta Force members, "in connection with the events leading up to the deaths." "The recent revelations have caused the American people to raise new questions, questions that deserve to be answered," she said.
Mr. Danforth will be required to deliver a final report to the Justice Department, although no timetable has been announced on when that might be.
Miss Reno has denied the incendiary devices used by the FBI started the fire, but has been unable to explain why the information was kept secret since 1993. The Army has said three Delta Force commanders were at Waco on the day of the raid, but only as observers -- a position reiterated Thursday by Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Miss Reno said in her search for someone to head the Waco probe, she sought a person with "impeccable credentials," bipartisan support in Washington, high regard throughout the country, independence, and the "wisdom and determination to do the job the right way." "I have found that person in Senator John Danforth," she said.
President Clinton, speaking to reporters yesterday on the south lawn of the White House, described Mr. Danforth as "an honorable man and an intelligent and straightforward man." He said he would ask only that he "conduct a thorough and prompt investigation." Mr. Clinton added that he saw no reason for Miss Reno to resign. Miss Reno recused herself from the inquiry since she believes she will be called as a witness. Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who was not at Justice in April 1993, was assigned to oversee the probe. She also said Mr. Freeh, who first suggested an outside investigator be named, described Mr. Danforth's selection as an "excellent choice."
Mr. Danforth, a former attorney general in Missouri, said the appointment of a qualified staff to conduct the investigation was a high priority, adding that "the quality of the product we hope to produce is going to depend upon the quality of the people we get to produce it." He announced that his first appointment was U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd of St. Louis as his deputy, describing Mr. Dowd as "a very respected prosecutor."He also said he did not intend to use FBI agents in the inquiry, but would rely on the "private sector." "I don't believe the FBI should be investigating the FBI, and I think that that's the reason for a special counsel. I would hope . . . to use people who are in the private sector," he said.
Mr. Danforth also said he would work with Congress -- where two committees have said they are also investigating the Waco matter --but had no intention of telling House or Senate members "what to do or what not to do." "I spent 18 years of my life in Congress and I have the highest regard for Congress as an institution, and I have many friends in the Congress, and I know they will discharge their responsibilities as they see fit," he said, adding that he intended to meet with congressional leaders to outline his investigation and ask them to share whatever information they have.
The Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Government Reform Committee will hold hearings on the siege later this year. House investigators have been to Texas to interview witnesses and review evidence in the case. Miss Reno has come under fire from Congress, including calls for her resignation. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi added his voice on Wednesday. But the attorney general said she had no intention of leaving, saying: "I don't run from controversy and I don't run from situations where we need to pursue the matter to get to the truth and then take whatever steps are appropriate."
Mr. Danforth said he initially was reluctant about the job, but eventually decided it was something he wanted to do. "This is really a big thing, and I think it is very important to try to get answers to questions that are important for the whole integrity of our government," he said. "I further believe that, as the Declaration of Independence says, that the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the people . . . and that consent is based on knowledge of what happened."
Mr. Danforth also rejected the idea of the appointment of a Democrat as a co-counsel in the probe --as had been discussed at the Justice Department.
He said that while he intended to operate on a "very collegial basis," it was important to have "decisiveness and decision-making."
"I have always been impressed by the comment that, 'One bad general is better than two good ones,' " he said. Mr. Danforth's deputy, Mr. Dowd, is a lifelong Democrat, who was recommended for the U.S. attorney's job by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. Mr. Dowd's father was the Democratic nominee for Missouri governor in 1972.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News yesterday said a spent illumination flare found after the Davidian fire may have been one of two such devices fired by FBI agents to stop an intruder from entering the compound in the early days of the standoff.
Two of the flares were fired as members of the FBI's hostage rescue team kept watch over the compound, FBI spokesman John Collingwood told the newspaper.
Rowan Scarborough contributed to the report.
"Evidence delay angers siege judge -U.S. marshals wait to act in Branch Davidian case"
by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", September 10, 1999)
A federal judge was furious Thursday after U.S. marshals in Waco hesitated to carry out his order to seize the contents of an entire government office and massive storage lockers holding evidence from the Branch Davidian standoff.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith ordered the seizure Thursday morning and was "infuriated" after the chief U.S. marshal for his district spent hours consulting with his agency's headquarters in Washington and the U.S. attorney's office in San Antonio before executing the raid on the Waco office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, officials said.
"He was livid," said one source who spoke on condition on anonymity. "It appears that the marshals refused to execute his order until they went to Washington."
The seizure is the latest development in an escalating skirmish over who will control and investigate the vast array of evidence tied to the Branch Davidian standoff.
Judge Smith, a conservative judge normally considered to support law enforcement agencies, has been at odds with the Justice Department, which has reeled from crisis to crisis in the weeks since it admitted that pyrotechnic devices were used by its agents in Waco on April 19, 1993.
Observers say Thursday's incident is remarkable because Judge Smith's rulings relating to the 1993 tragedy have long shown little patience for criticism of government law enforcement actions against the Branch Davidians.
A Justice Department spokesman in Washington declined to comment. But an ATF spokesman in Washington confirmed that Judge Smith issued the order after hearing that the agency had recently begun discussing closing the office. The judge acted to ensure that the office's contents would be preserved.
"There was, I guess on his part, some concern that the office might be closing," said Jeff Roehm, public affairs chief at the agency's headquarters. "It was pretty much expected."
The seizure came one week after Judge Smith flatly rejected a plea by the U.S. Justice Department, parent agency of the U.S. Marshals Service, not to take control of the government's evidence.
It also comes eight days after the Justice Department dispatched marshals to the FBI to seize previously undisclosed videotapes showing that government agents used pyrotechnic tear gas against the compound - something the U.S. government denied for six years.
The Waco ATF office was set up to help coordinate federal prosecutions after the standoff.
The siege began Feb. 28, 1993, when a gunfight erupted as ATF agents tried to arrest Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and search his compound for illegal weapons. Four ATF agents died.
A ensuing standoff ended 51 days later when a fire erupted hours after the FBI assaulted the compound with tanks and tear gas. Mr. Koresh and more that 80 followers died in a blaze the government says was started by the Branch Davidians.
Judge Smith presided over the criminal case arising from the standoff, a 1994 trial in which eight Branch Davidians were convicted on charges ranging from manslaughter to weapons violations.
The ATF's Waco office that was opened to prepare for that trial included a large collection of case files, work papers and other documents amassed by ATF agents involved in the Branch Davidian investigation. The office also had custody of tons of debris, spent ammunition and other items from the siege not considered crucial to the federal government's criminal investigation of the sect.
Sources said the marshals obtained the judge's order before lunch Thursday and spent several hours consulting with their superiors about whether to execute it.
The judge, furious because his directive had been issued under court seal, then told the chief U.S. marshal for the district that the agency must comply immediately, officials said.
Only then did the marshals carry out the order, seizing files and taking custody of keys to the storage facilities that hold what has been called "junk evidence."
Mr. Roehm, the ATF spokesman, said the agency had decided to keep the office open until the end of an upcoming wrongful-death lawsuit focusing on the government's handling of the 51-day siege. Judge Smith is also presiding over that case.
Lawyers for the Branch Davidians have alleged that the government's negligence and deliberate actions caused the 1993 tragedy. For several years, they've claimed projectiles and shell casings found in the compound rubble include pyrotechnic tear-gas grenades and incendiary devices. They have also alleged that government officials have worked for years to hide such evidence.
Use of devices
Federal officials only recently conceded that federal agents used anything capable of sparking a fire on the day the compound burned. They made that admission after a former senior FBI official told "The Dallas Morning News" that use of pyrotechnic tear-gas shells on April 19 was "common knowledge" among members of the bureau's hostage rescue team.
And last week, a Waco federal prosecutor faxed a five-page letter to warn Attorney General Janet Reno that he had recently been shown documents suggesting that Justice Department lawyers had long withheld information about the use of pyrotechnic devices.
Last Friday, Judge Smith had to intervene before the ATF allowed the Texas Rangers access to the Waco storage facility containing the massive collection of evidence.
The Rangers had asked to enter the facility to search for items relating to pyrotechnic tear-gas devices fired by the FBI.
The Rangers have been involved in the case since they were brought in as independent criminal investigators in the first weeks after the siege began.
They have kept key trial evidence in their Austin evidence lockers ever since, at the request of Justice Department officials.
The Rangers launched a new inquiry early this summer to determine the nature of some of the evidence in their custody after questions arose about whether the evidence might contradict the government's account of its actions.
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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