Planning and Approval of the Raid

Activities of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Toward the Branch Davidians

Report House of Representatives
104th Congress, 2nd Session, Union Calendar No. 395
August 2, 1996

                 III. Planning and Approval of the Raid

    The ATF had a variety of options in the manner in which it could 
have served the arrest and search warrants on Koresh. These options 
included luring Koresh off the Davidian residence, arresting Koresh 
while he was off the Davidian property, surrounding the Davidian 
residence and waiting for Koresh to surrender himself and consent to the 
search, and executing a ``dynamic entry'' style raid into the residence. 
The ATF chose the dynamic entry raid, the most hazardous of the options, 
despite its recognition that a violent confrontation was predictable. 
The decisions regarding the raid were made without the participation of 
either Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen or the Deputy Secretary 
of the Treasury Roger Altman.

                  a. was ``show time'' even necessary?

    The subcommittees received evidence of numerous opportunities to 
arrest Koresh away from the residence, thereby reducing the likelihood 
of violence. The failure to make use of these opportunities raises the 
question of the dynamic entry's necessity. ATF officials offered at 
least three different reasons for this critical decision.
    ATF Special Agent Phillip Chojnacki, the overall commander of the 
raid, testified that Koresh could not be arrested outside the residence 
because the intelligence from the undercover house was that he rarely 
left the residence.\38\ ATF did not want the tactical problem of having 
agents on standby indefinitely while they waited for the rare occurrence 
of Koresh going into town.
    \38\ Hearings Part 1 at 416.
    Yet the testimony before the subcommittees revealed that Koresh left 
the Davidian residence at least once a week during January and 
February.\39\ David Thibodeau, who lived at the Branch Davidian 
residence but did not consider himself to be a member of the Branch 
Davidian religious community, testified that Koresh was a regular 
jogger.\40\ It was also revealed during the trial that Koresh had left 
the residence on January 29, 1993, to conduct business at a machine 
shop.\41\ Finally, the manager at the Chelsea Bar and Grill in Waco 
stated that they served Koresh about once a week through February.\42\
    \39\ Id. at 123.
    \40\ Id.
    \41\ Id. at 124.
    \42\ Id.
    ATF agents next explained that it did not make practical sense to 
arrest Koresh outside because he would immediately be released and would 
be back at the residence. The window was simply too narrow.\43\ This 
answer also lacked credibility since Federal law provides that the 
arrestee can be held for 3 days upon motion of the government.\44\
    \43\ Id. at 309-312.
    \44\ 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3142(f).
    Finally, ATF officials testified at the hearings that they abandoned 
the idea of trying to arrest Koresh outside the residence because their 
primary goal was to get inside to conduct a search. These officials 
maintained that it was preferable to attack the residence by surprise 
and get Koresh and the guns at the same time.\45\ However, the ATF had 
developed its own scheme to lure Koresh off the complex. The ruse was 
proposed to Joyce Sparks, the social worker who had conducted an earlier 
child protection investigation at the Branch Davidian residence. Sparks 
was to contact Koresh, who she had come to know relatively well, and 
make an appointment with him to be held in her office. While Sparks 
agreed to cooperate with the ATF, Sparks' supervisor refused to approve 
the ruse tactic.\46\
    \45\ Hearings Part 1 at 221-222.
    \46\ Id. at 595.

                b. was the violent outburst predictable?

    The record of the subcommittees' investigation shows that persons 
who through contact and experience became familiar with the belief 
system and the authoritarian structure of the Branch Davidians could 
have predicted a violent resistance by the Davidians to a mass law 
enforcement action. The Branch Davidians predicted a violent apocalypse, 
a vision that followers believed be necessary to go to heaven.\47\
    \47\ James D. Tabor & Eugene V. Gallagher, Why Waco? 7-10 (1995).
    The ATF investigative agents interviewed Sparks, who had kept lines 
of communication open between Koresh and herself even after the end of 
her Child Protective Services investigation. During their conversations, 
Koresh would often provide lengthy presentations of his religious 
beliefs. Sparks developed an understanding of how Koresh thought and how 
he was viewed within the Branch Davidian group at the residence. When 
ATF sought her opinion about the raid, she stated that the Branch 
Davidians believed that Koresh was the Lamb of God and that they would 
protect him to the death. ``They will get their guns and kill you,'' 
Sparks recalls saying.\48\
    \48\ Hearings Part 1.
    The ATF also received information from Marc Breault, a former Branch 
Davidian and resident at Mount Carmel, the Davidians' home.\49\ Contact 
between ATF and Breault was made during December 1992. During that time 
and up to the time of the raid, the former Branch Davidian provided 
information about the Davidians and Koresh in particular, including his 
past correspondence. In a paper prepared by Breault and provided to the 
ATF, a recent history of the Branch Davidians recounts the group's views 
that the world will end in a final violent battle.
    \49\ U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, Report of the Department of the 
Treasury on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Investigation 
of Vernon Wayne Howell also known as David Koresh 29 (1993) [hereinafter 
Treasury Department Report].

                 c. the predisposition to dynamic entry

    An examination of ATF's timeline in the Waco investigation and raid 
planning activities reveals that planning for a military style raid 
began more than 2 months before undercover and infiltration efforts even 
1. The source of the predisposition
            a. The culture within the ATF
    Management initiatives, promotional criteria, training, and a broad 
range of other cultural factors point to ATF's propensity to engage in 
aggressive law enforcement. Senior officials from other law enforcement 
agencies have commented on the ATF raid. Several have informed the 
subcommittees that their organizations would not have handled the 
execution of the Branch Davidian search warrants in the aggressive way 
chosen by ATF.\50\ For example, Jeffrey Jamar, the FBI Special Agent-in-
Charge of the Waco standoff, was asked about the FBI's approach to such 
a circumstance. He stated that he ``would not have gone near the place 
with 100 assault weapons.'' \51\
    \50\ Investigation Into the Activities of Federal Law Enforcement 
Agencies Toward the Branch Davidians (Part 3): Hearings Before the 
Subcommittee on Crime of the House Committee on the Judiciary and the 
Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal 
Justice of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 104th 
Cong., 1st Sess. 300 (1995) [hereinafter Hearings Part 3].
    \51\ Id.
            b. The Waco Tribune-Herald's ``Sinful Messiah''
    One factor affecting ATF's decision to employ a dynamic entry was 
the impending release of a newspaper story about Koresh and the 
Davidians which revealed the Federal law enforcement investigation then 
underway. The Waco Tribune-Herald had planned to release a series of 
articles on David Koresh in early 1993.\52\ Fearing publication of the 
article, ATF hastened its plans to serve the arrest and search warrant. 
It was unclear, however, how Koresh would react to the story. In fact, 
ATF Special Agent Robert Rodriguez suggested that the newspaper article 
did not upset Koresh.\53\
    \52\ Treasury Department Report at 67-68.
    \53\ Hearings Part 1 at 757, 805.
2. Raid approval and lack of Treasury Department oversight of ATF
    Testimony received during the hearings established that there was no 
process through which Treasury Department officials were able to review 
pending ATF matters prior to their reaching a crisis stage. In the 
investigation of Koresh, there was no oversight by Treasury over the 
ATF's planning and execution of the raid until approximately 48 hours 
before the raid occurred.\54\ Testimony revealed that, even though 
Bentsen had been Treasury Secretary for approximately 1 month at the 
time of the ATF raid, and Altman had been serving as Deputy Secretary 
for the same time period, ATF Director Steven Higgins had never met 
either of them, let alone briefed them regarding the investigation and 
planned raid. This point was established at the hearings during the 
questioning of Higgins by Representative Ed Bryant.
    \54\ Id. at 519-520.

          Mr. Bryant: When did you first meet with the Secretary to 
        discuss anything about your agency, the ATF?
          Mr. Higgins: I don't remember any briefings with the 
        Secretary. I haven't gone back to look at my documents. Probably 
        in that first month, month and a half, I don't remember any 
        meetings with him. The only interaction we really had during the 
        transition would have been with Mr. Simpson.
          Mr. Bryant: Are you saying that you never had met with 
        Secretary Bentsen prior to this point?
          Mr. Higgins: I can't remember having gone to a staff meeting 
        while he was there . . . I don't remember specifically today 
        having been at one with him.
          Mr. Bryant: Had you ever met with his deputy, Mr. Altman, 
        before this raid?
          Mr. Higgins: I don't believe I knew Mr. Altman until then. I 
        knew who he was, obviously.
          Mr. Bryant: Well, I am a little confused here. You are saying 
        that you were the director of the ATF, which we all know is very 
        significant, powerful element of the Department of Treasury, and 
        you had not met with your ultimate boss, the Secretary, for 30 
        days or so?
          Mr. Higgins: I don't believe so, other than maybe to shake 
        hands, and I don't even remember doing that. It is interesting 
        that those who think there is some giant conspiracy in the 
        government don't realize how little we knew each other.\55\
    \55\ Id. at 566.

Under Congressman Bryant's further questioning, Higgins testified that 
there was no procedure in place for the director of the ATF to apprise 
the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of the ATF's plans.

          Mr. Bryant: Was there any process or procedure available to 
        you as the Director of the ATF to brief either the Deputy or the 
          Mr. Higgins: I could have called them and said, yes, I would 
        like to brief you on something. I think they were accessible, 
          Mr. Bryant: But there was no routine process? This was no 
        regularly done at that point?
          Mr. Higgins: No routine process, although most secretaries at 
        some point set up a system where there is a regular, either 
        every week or every 2 weeks, meeting with bureau heads.\56\
    \56\ Id. at 566-567.

    The testimony before the subcommittees consistently depicted a 
Treasury Department that treated ATF as its lowest priority. Department 
officials repeatedly demonstrated a lack of interest in even major ATF 
actions, such as that of February 28, 1993. The Department maintained a 
culture that perceived law enforcement as, at best, a peripheral part of 
its mission, according the ATF correspondingly little attention. This 
point was brought out during the hearings through questioning by 
Representative Bill McCollum, co-chairman of the subcommittees, of 
former Treasury Secretary Bentsen about his knowledge of the raid prior 
to February 28, 1993.

          Mr. McCollum: When did you first learn of the raid or any plan 
        for that raid?
          Mr. Bentsen: I was in London at my first meeting with G-7 with 
        the Ministers of Finance and was very much involved in that one. 
        I came back, to the best I can recall, some time early Sunday 
        morning on a night flight from London, and in turn I did not 
        find out about the raid, to the best of my memory, until early 
        Sunday evening and that is the first knowledge I had of it at 
          Mr. McCollum: In other words, there was no discussion with 
        you, no information passed to you prior to the time of the raid 
        that it was anticipated or that it might exist or any nature----
          Mr. Bentsen: That is correct.
          Mr. McCollum: Isn't it a little surprising one of the largest 
        or one of the largest raids in the BATF's history was taking 
        place, and the Secretary of the Treasury, the chief of all of 
        the law enforcement of the ATF was not notified?
          Mr. Bentsen: I can well understand when I was abroad attending 
        an international meeting involving questions of monetary 
        exchange rates and some very serious subjects at that point, 
        that others within the Department were handling the situation.
          Mr. McCollum: But didn't you keep in contact with your office 
        during the time you were over there? Weren't there telephone 
          Mr. Bentsen: Of course.
          Mr. McCollum: Nobody in the law enforcement division thought 
        you ought to be disturbed about this incident and asked about 
        it. I understand.\57\
    \57\ Id. at 515-516.

    Bentsen's responses reveal that throughout the planning of the raid, 
including the critical days just prior to its initiation, the Treasury 
Secretary knew nothing about it. Neither he nor his deputy knew anything 
about an imminent law enforcement raid--one of the largest ever 
conducted in U.S. history--being managed by his Department, which would 
endanger the lives of dozens of law enforcement agents, women, and 
    Other testimony from the hearings further demonstrated insufficient 
oversight by Treasury Department officials of ATF planning. At the 
hearings before the subcommittees, Representative McCollum questioned 
Christopher Cuyler, who in February 1993 was the ATF's liaison to the 
Treasury Department. Cuyler testified that no Treasury officials had 
knowledge about the potential for the raid until February 26--2 days 
before the raid was initiated.\58\
    \58\ Id. at 516.
    The inadequate oversight of the ATF by Treasury Department officials 
was further evidenced in the final communications between Treasury and 
ATF in the day before the raid. The Department maintains that it 
conditioned the raid on ensuring the element of surprise was preserved. 
As stated in the Treasury Department Report, Department officials 
assured that those directing the raid were under express orders ``to 
cancel the operation if they learned that its secrecy had been 
compromised. . . .'' \59\ Yet, ATF officials, including Higgins, Cuyler, 
and the agents in charge of the raid testified that it was not at all 
clear to them that Treasury wanted the raid canceled if the element of 
surprise was lost.\60\
    \59\ Treasury Department Report at 179.
    \60\ Hearings Part 1 at 562, 563.

     d. failure to comply with ``sensitive-significant'' procedures

    As noted in the Treasury Department Report, the Koresh investigation 
was classified as ``sensitive'' and ``significant'' within a week of its 
formal initiation on June 9, 1992.\61\ Such a classification is designed 
to ensure a higher degree of involvement and oversight from both the ATF 
Special Agent in charge and ATF headquarters, yet this designation was 
ignored in practice. In view of this designation, the lack of knowledge 
on the part of the Special Agent in Charge and ATF Headquarters 
throughout the investigation, including the undercover operation, is 
striking. The ``sensitive/ significant'' designation makes ATF's failure 
to have implemented a process for continually reviewing intelligence and 
modifying plans accordingly a glaring omission.
    \61\ Treasury Department Report at 24.

      e. findings concerning the planning and approval of the raid

    1. The subcommittees conclude that the ATF was predisposed to using 
aggressive, military tactics in an attempt to serve the arrest and 
search warrant. The ATF deliberately choose not to arrest Koresh outside 
the Davidian residence and instead determined to use a dynamic entry 
approach. The bias toward the use of force may in large part be 
explained by a culture within ATF.
    2. The ATF did not attempt to fully understand the subjects of the 
raid. The experience of Joyce Sparks, Marc Breault, and ATF undercover 
agent Robert Rodriguez demonstrate that persons who spent a reasonable 
amount of time with Koresh, even without professional training specific 
to persons such as Koresh, understood with some predictability the range 
of behaviors that might result from a military style assault on the 
Branch Davidians.
    3. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Deputy Secretary Roger 
Altman acted highly irresponsibly and were derelict in their duties in 
failing to even meet with the Director of the ATF in the month or so 
they were in office prior to the February 28 raid on the Davidians 
residence, in failing to request any briefing on ATF operations during 
this time, and in wholly failing to involve themselves with the 
activities of the ATF.
    4. Senior Treasury Department officials routinely failed in their 
duty to monitor the actions of ATF officials, and as a result were 
uninvolved in the planning of the February 28 raid. This failure 
eliminated a layer of scrutiny of the plan during which flaws might have 
been uncovered and corrected.

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