Depositions of two U.S. Army Delta Force technicians offer the first detailed public accounts of the secret unit's role in the 1993 Branch Davidian siege.
The special forces soldiers testified that their primary mission was helping the FBI use sophisticated surveillance gear from their unit and that they had no direct knowledge that any Delta Force personnel participated in the FBI assault that ended the standoff.
Transcripts of the depositions, taken last month in Washington, were released this week by lawyers for the sect. Under an agreement with the government, all names of government personnel involved in Waco and most references to the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based special operations unit were blacked out before the transcripts were released.
FBI agents testified in separate depositions that they knew of no active Delta Force involvement or shooting by anyone on the government side during the FBI's tank-and-tear gas assault. By law, the military cannot directly participate in civilian law enforcement.
"To the best of my knowledge, nobody inside - nobody . . . nobody that I was there with ever entered nor ever even came very close to the compound," said one soldier, a 32-year-old sergeant who described himself as one of only three special forces personnel in Waco in the last five days of the standoff.
"I don't believe there would have been other personnel from my organization there without my knowing it," the sergeant said. Despite allegations from the Branch Davidians' lawyers that FBI agents shot into the compound during their final assault, the soldier said he had no direct knowledge of that.
The two soldiers who were deposed last month testified behind screens and said their unit was so secretive that they could not divulge its name and or its commanders. Even plaintiffs' lawyers have not been provided the identities of the special operations soldiers involved in the siege. Lawyers representing the sect in a wrongful-death lawsuit contend that the depositions of the soldiers and 19 FBI personnel raise significant questions about the government's account of what happened April 19, 1993. The Branch Davidian compound burned that day with leader David Koresh and more than 80 followers inside.
Government investigators have said that the Branch Davidians set the fires. But lawyers for the sect have alleged in the lawsuit that the government's actions contributed to the tragedy.
They contend that infrared videotapes taken that day by an airborne FBI camera show that government agents fired into the building, preventing women and children from escaping.
They and some other government critics, including a former CIA employee and a former congressional investigator, have also suggested in recent months that Delta personnel may have played an active role in the final FBI assault.
Government officials have said that no FBI agents fired a shot during the 51-day standoff.
The Branch Davidians' lawyers say the role of Delta Force personnel in the final FBI operation remains unclear, in part because a Delta Force combat arms specialist in Waco at the time wasn't seen by fellow special forces soldiers until hours after the assault.
The Delta Force electronics technician deposed last month testified that he did not recall anything about the combat expert's whereabouts. A second soldier, a now-retired radio technician, testified that the man showed up red-eyed, tired and somewhat disheveled several hours after the compound fire.
The radioman, who now works as a government contractor, said the combat sergeant reported getting drunk the night before, oversleeping and missing everything.
"He looked like he had been drinking the night before and looked like he had just got out of bed," the former radioman said of his combat colleague, who has retired.
The technician said he did not question the sergeant's story because he "was known as a pretty heavy drinker" and appeared to be hung over. Defense Department officials have confirmed that three special forces soldiers were in Waco to watch FBI operations April 19. But defense officials have declined to name their unit or even to acknowledge the existence of Delta Force.
But Defense Department documents indicate that the soldiers sent to Waco were from Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, the U.S. military's elite counterterrorism combat team known as Delta Force.
The December depositions suggest that the Delta Force soldiers worked closely with FBI technicians and electronics experts but had little contact with FBI commanders - even those who ran the bureau's elite paramilitary hostage rescue team, or HRT.
Asked, "What interaction was there between these observers and the HRT command structure?" the electronics technician replied: "We were largely ignored."
The soldiers testified that they were among 10 members of their unit who rotated in and out of Waco beginning March 2, just after the standoff began. The siege was touched off by a gunbattle that erupted as agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to search the compound and arrest Mr. Koresh on weapons charges. Four agents and several sect members died. The FBI was then asked to try to resolve the standoff. Senior U.S. military leaders immediately sent equipment and special forces advisers to assist the FBI. The two soldiers testified that most of the personnel sent from the secret military unit were technicians assigned to advise the FBI on how to use borrowed military motion sensors, microwave transmitters, thermal-imaging cameras and specialized video and optical equipment.
The two soldiers acknowledged that one sergeant sent in initially and a sergeant there at the end were combat arms specialists. "My understanding was that he was just to observe and just give advice on how they may do different types of scenarios that he was familiar with as far as tactics," the retired radio expert said of one combat sergeant. The special forces specialists helped install military equipment, including ground sensors designed to detect footsteps or movement and a "thermal imager" mounted on a water tower about 1,500 feet from the compound, the two soldiers and some FBI technical experts testified. Most of the electronic surveillance equipment used by the FBI in Waco was military, in large part because the FBI's was not as good, the soldiers said.
The soldiers helped maintain the equipment and were assigned to a small trailer beside the FBI's "forward command post." That was more than a kilometer from the compound, the soldiers said. One FBI agent testified that he worked closely with the soldiers but never saw them with weapons. And unlike FBI law enforcement personnel, who dressed almost exclusively in combat fatigues, the Delta Force soldiers always wore civilian clothing.
Even FBI technicians who worked directly with some of the special forces soldiers said they did not report to the bureau's command structure in Waco. "They were pretty much allowed to come and go as they pleased," the FBI agent testified.
That sometimes meant the soldiers would refuse to identify themselves, even to the FBI. In one instance, an FBI bugging expert testified, he was startled when he spotted a stranger installing what appeared to be a microwave antenna and video equipment on a stone pillar near the compound. The man stood out, the agent recalled, because he was extremely fit, wore civilian clothing and was behind a perimeter accessible only to law enforcement. The man would say almost nothing about who he was or what he was doing, the now-retired FBI agent said.
"It was a difficult conversation. You know, he didn't really want to much talk to me," the former agent said. "The answer to, 'What are you doing?' was . . . 'Well, you know, I'm putting up a microwave antenna for video.' That's about as much as I got out of him on that deal. And then as far as, 'Who are you?' after a lot of screwing around there, finally he said, 'Well, I'm DOD [Department of Defense].' " The two soldiers in Waco in the last week of the siege testified that they never got closer to the sect's building than their small trailer beside the FBI's forward command post. One said that he was expressly forbidden even to enter the FBI command post, where bureau technicians had set up an array of TV monitors for the closed-circuit television cameras and thermal cameras aimed at the front and sides of the Branch Davidian building.
"We were told from the onset we would not be exposed to any of the video coming from the remote OPs [remote observation post cameras]," the electronics technician said.
On the day of the FBI assault, he said, he and the military radioman went to the trailer to watch because they had been told the previous afternoon that an operation was planned.
But he contended that he and his colleague could see little. "There was not a whole lot of observing going on that far away," he said. >From where he was, the soldier said, he couldn't see anything on the back side of the compound - the area where flashes that appear on FBI infrared tapes occurred. Several FBI technicians confirmed in separate depositions that the area was the one not covered by a closed-circuit TV camera system that ringed the compound during the entire siege. But the soldier added that he knew of no instance in which anyone from special forces was inside the tanks that FBI agents used to circle and assault the compound.
"I can only speak from the time frame I was there, which was the 14th to the 21st of April, and I never saw myself nor SF Soldier 2 or 3 ride in the armored vehicles," he said, using the code required by government lawyers for special forces personnel. "As I said, I knew of no other unit members there."
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