FBI releases new Waco tape; Reno "very troubled"

Reuters, September 4, 1999
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI released on Friday a newly discovered videotape detailing the use of military tear gas during the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, as Attorney General Janet Reno described herself as "very troubled" by recent revelations.

"Over the past two weeks, I, along with many Americans, have been troubled, very troubled, over what has transpired," Reno told a news conference dominated by questions about why it took the FBI six years to discover the evidence.

Reno said her orders to the FBI on April 19, 1993 -- the day of the assault, when cult leader David Koresh and about 80 followers died as the compound erupted in flames -- were not to use any incendiary devices on any part of the complex.

The audio part of the newly released videotape showed that an attempt by the FBI to use a military gas round to penetrate a concrete bunker near the compound was unsuccessful.

It was the third key piece of evidence that the FBI had discovered in two weeks confirming that potentially incendiary devices had been fired during the assault. For six years before that, the FBI had denied that such devices were used.

The evidence details how the FBI fired the devices about four hours before the fire began. Reno continued to say they did not ignite the fatal blaze.

"The facts that we know now indicate that the FBI did not set that fire. That fire was set by David Koresh and the people in that building," she said.

Reno, supported by the White House, said she wanted an outsider to head an independent investigation to "get to the truth" of what the FBI did.

A decision has not been made on who will lead the probe, but Reno said one would be made soon.

She declined to comment on whether former Sen. John Danforth, a Republican from Missouri, had emerged as the leading candidate for the job. But Justice Department officials described him as a "serious contender."

The recent disclosures have undermined the government's long-standing version of what happened at Waco, raising questions about whether information was overlooked or withheld and prompting a spate of inquiries.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch sent a letter to Reno requesting documents and other material on the use of military gas rounds and pyrotechnic devices at Waco.

The Utah Republican gave Reno a week to turn over the material. He said the committee was conducting an independent examination of what happened and most likely would hold hearings.

The new videotape released by the FBI quoted one of its agents in a tanklike Bradley Fighting Vehicle as saying: "Yeah, the military gas did not penetrate that, uh, bunker where the bus was. It bounced off."

The agent then described moving the vehicle to get a better angle, according to a transcript of the radio traffic recorded on the videotape.

An agent in another vehicle agreed about an alternative position. "Yeah, if you come to the ... (back) side of that structure, I think there's an opening there that you may be able to shoot through -- a doorway," the agent said, according to the transcript.

The videotape was taken by an FBI surveillance aircraft using infrared radar above the compound. The videotape described events around 8:08 a.m. April 19, about four hours before the compound was engulfed in flames.

The audio part of the videotape was discontinued at 8:24 a.m. at the request of one of the pilots and was not resumed during the rest of the operation, the FBI said.

The FBI on Thursday released a first video tape, containing a dialogue in which an FBI agent asked for and received permission to fire military tear gas at the bunker.

Last week, the Justice Department officials said a memo about use of the gas canisters was discovered to have been in the files of the FBI general counsel's office since 1996.

Reno defended the decision by senior Justice Department officials to send U.S. marshals to FBI headquarters this week to take possession of the videotapes and the other recently discovered evidence.

She said she questioned why it took the FBI several days to inform the Justice Department about the tapes. "I questioned that. I think this is a matter the outside investigator should look at," she said.

The White House, which has supported Reno throughout the controversy and has been silent about the FBI, gave a new vote of confidence to the attorney general.

"The president has confidence in the Department of Justice, and we certainly support the attorney general's decision to get to the bottom of this through an independent inquiry," White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said.

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