Excerpts from report and ongoing issues

Dallas Morning News/July 22, 2000

The Siege

Four Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents died in a gunbattle that also took the lives of six Branch Davidians on Feb. 28, 1993, when the agents tried to search the compound and serve sect leader David Koresh with an arrest warrant on weapons charges.

Early on April 19, FBI agents began ramming the compound building and inserting tear gas to force the Branch Davidians to surrender. Instead, three fires erupted at the compound about six hours later. About 80 Branch Davidians died during the blaze. After years of denials, the Justice Department admitted last year that pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds, which could ignite a tear-gas filled building, were used on the last day of the siege.

Danforth's Report

After a 10-month independent inquiry involving about 74 personnel, former Missouri Sen. John Danforth issued a 152-page report clearing the government of wrongdoing during the siege.

Some of the report's specific conclusions

Attorney General Janet Reno: There was "overwhelming" evidence that Ms. Reno "did not knowingly cover up the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds by the FBI. ...Any misstatement that she made was inadvertent and occurred after diligent efforts on her part to learn the truth." The special counsel also found "baseless" the allegations that the FBI misled Ms. Reno "about the conditions in the complex and the status of negotiations in order to convince her to approve the tear-gas plan."

FBI statements in 1993: Former FBI Director William Sessions "did not knowingly mislead Congress regarding the FBI's use of pyrotechnics in Waco ...He simply did not know" that they were used. Nor did FBI spokesmen. The 1993 Justice Department review: The review indicated that all tear gas used was "non-incendiary," but investigators did not investigate the issue of pyrotechnics. "The failure ... to discover and report that the FBI used pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds was the result of initiating the investigation with the assumption that the FBI had done nothing wrong ... and was clearly negligent."

The FBI hostage rescue team: Members of the team "candidly admitted" to Mr. Danforth (during the investigation over the last year) that they used military tear-gas rounds. "There was clearly no attempt on their part to conceal the use of military tear-gas rounds."

Rescue team commander Richard Rogers: Former commander Rogers did "sit silently behind Attorney General Reno when she testified to Congress in April 1993 that she had sought and received assurances that the gas and its means of delivery would be non-pyrotechnic." Mr. Rogers - who authorized the use of pyrotechnic tear gas - "claims he was not paying attention and did not even hear her when she made this statement." Additionally, Mr. Rogers did not correct "misimpressions" left by Mr. Sessions' "statement that the FBI had chosen CS gas because it could be delivered without pyrotechnics ... Rogers' failure to correct the misleading implications of the testimony of Attorney General Reno and Director Sessions ... contributed to the public perception of a cover-up and that permitted a false impression to persist for several years." The special counsel "will not pursue any further investigation of Rogers or any member" of the hostage rescue team. The office determined that his conduct did not "constitute a prosecutable offense."

Infrared tape: The counsel also found that the FBI did not alter an infrared tape recorded by an FBI aircraft on the last day of the siege, disputing allegations by attorneys for the Branch Davidians and their families "that the FBI removed the audio in the weeks following the fire in order to hide radio communications among FBI commanders." 

1995 congressional hearings: The special counsel concluded that a missing 49th page of a lab report referring to the pyrotechnic rounds in 1995 is "attributable to an innocent photocopying error, and the Office of Special Counsel will not pursue the matter further." The missing page was part of a report from the Justice Department to be reviewed by Congress.

Tank assault: The special counsel found that "FBI commanders did not mislead Congress" about reasons for using combat engineering vehicles to breach the compound's gymnasium area "in order to facilitate the introduction of tear gas." The counsel said current evidence shows that FBI commanders "wanted the Davidians to exit the complex peacefully and they testified truthfully as to their intent in ordering ... [the vehicles] to breach the gymnasium." Evidence discovery during the civil trial: FBI attorney Jacqueline Brown made "inconsistent, self-serving, misleading, and false statements" to the special counsel in regards to the use of pyrotechnic military rounds "and their potential for causing fires" after she learned from an FBI agent in February 1996 about their use. The special counsel found that "while this is reprehensible, it is not the principal focus of this investigation." The report says the special counsel will not pursue "a criminal prosecution, but will forward the matter to the appropriate State Bar Association and to the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility for appropriate action."

Ongoing Issues

From Danforth's inquiry: Mr. Danforth said Friday that his final report coming later this year will seek to answer these questions: Did the FBI or Justice Department intentionally make "misstatements" in internal documents generated in connection with the 1995 congressional hearings that detail use of gas grenades in Waco and that say none of the gas was pyrotechnic?

What happened to the pyrotechnic tear-gas grenade shells? Why did the FBI not reveal until 1999 the existence of infrared tapes from the last day of the siege that contain audio tracks showing an FBI commander authorizing use of the pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds? Did Justice Department attorneys "intentionally" conceal the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds when they failed to inform defense attorneys about them during the 1994 criminal trial in which eight Branch Davidians were convicted on weapons and other charges relating to the siege? The report says they "instead told the defense lawyers the FBI only shot 'nonlethal ferret rounds.' "

From the civil trial: U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith is expected to make final rulings within a few weeks in the civil lawsuit by surviving Branch Davidians and their relatives. An advisory jury on July 14 found federal agents not guilty of using excess force at the beginning of the siege and not guilty of starting the fire at the end of the siege or being negligent for not having firefighting equipment nearby. The judge will also rule on whether FBI agents shot into the burning compound, thereby preventing sect members from escaping.

From Congress: Mr. Danforth is expected to be asked to appear as soon as next week before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee to discuss his findings and how he conducted his investigation. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is leading the investigation for the subcommittee. The House Government Reform Committee, which also has been examining issues arising from the siege, has yet to determine whether it will hold hearings.


Interim Report to the Deputy Attorney General concerning the 1993 confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Complex in Waco, Texas; Dallas Morning News research by staff writers Brenda Rodriguez and Michelle Mittelstadt

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