Secret Memo Shows FBI Dissension Over Waco, February 28, 2000
By Lee Hancock

Worn down by weeks of failure to budge Branch Davidians and their leader David Koresh from their Waco sanctuary, and under intense pressure from the official in charge of the FBI team in Waco, FBI officials lobbied for permission to gas the recalcitrant cult members, a long-hidden memo reveals. Moreover, the pressure to escalate the government assault to include gas began a scant three weeks after the incident began.

"A lot of pressure is coming from [Hostage Rescue Team commander Richard] Rogers," wrote deputy assistant FBI director Danny O. Coulson, the FBI's top expert on tactical matters, in an internal FBI memo dated March 23, 1993 - a memo withheld from congressional investigators.

"We had similar problems in Idaho with him [Rogers] and he argued and convinced the SACs [Special Agents in charge of local FBI offices involved in the incident] that Weaver would not come out. That proved to be wrong. I believe he is a significant part of the problem here." Release of the memo's contents by the Dallas Morning News angered members of Congress, who said they were kept in the dark about the dissension expressed in the document, which shows that a top bureau official was dubious about Rogers' claim that only by gassing the Branch Davidians could the matter be resolved.

Moreover, the on-scene FBI boss had made similar claims that only extreme action could resolve the standoff at Ruby Ridge, which resulted in the death of Weaver's wife and son, that also turned out to be untrue. Rogers had insisted that Weaver would never voluntarily surrender, when in fact he eventually did.

During the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff, the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver was killed by an FBI sniper under Rogers' command after Rogers relaxed bureau rules of engagement and insisted that only an all-out tank and tear-gas assault on the Weavers' cabin could end the standoff. Coulson found a similar pattern developing at Waco. "All of their intelligence indicates that [sect leader] David [Koresh] does not intend suicide and that he will come out eventually," Mr. Coulson's memo added.

Angered House of Representatives probers said that the failure of the FBI to make Coulson's key memo available was simply one more instance of the bureau's history of stonewalling congressional investigators. They say that they have gotten less than half of the documents they have demanded. Senate staffers echo the complaints of their colleagues on the other side of Capitol Hill

"We've had a subpoena out there for all relevant documents - all documents - since Sept. 7, 1999," Mark Corallo, spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee told the Dallas Morning News. "Is the Department of Justice withholding only embarrassing documents from us? It makes you wonder." The FBI documents obtained by the News revealed that

  • A plan to gas the compound on April 19, 1993, was OK'd by Attorney General Janet Reno. The assault got under way with the gradual insertion of tear gas into the compound but escalated immediately to an all-out tear gas assault after sect members allegedly began shooting at FBI tanks.

  • Six hours later, after agents' increased pressure sent tanks crashing deep into the building, the compound exploded in flames, incinerating Koresh and more than 80 followers inside.

  • According to Justice Department records, top FBI negotiators said after the standoff that they endorsed gas only because their efforts to talk the sect out were hamstrung by the aggressive tactics of Mr. Rogers and his Hostage Rescue Team.

    FBI and Justice Department officials claim the sect was solely responsible, stating that a government investigation concluded it was the Branch Davidians who started the fire.

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