The FBI sneaked 11 bugs into the Branch Davidian Compound outside Waco in deliveries of milk and other items during the months-long standoff with the cult. FBI agents monitored 444 intercepted conversations over 47 days but couldn't always understand what was being said. On April 19, 1993, as the FBI tear gassed the compound, the bugs intercepted Davidian talk about spreading fuel and setting fires.
FBI officials said background noise made it impossible to hear the talk in real time. In 2000, Waco Special Counsel John Danforth had the intercept recordings reviewed by an independent British expert, who concluded they were largely incomprehensible until they were enhanced.
But even if they had been immediately understood, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said, FBI leaders probably would've concluded Branch Davidians were making Molotov cocktails to hurl at tanks and would've escalated the tear-gas operation instead of halting it.
This chronology comes from FBI records, bug transcripts prepared for criminal and civil trials, and Danforth's report, as well as from reviews of FBI surveillance recordings at Baylor University:
A Davidian recounts leader David Koresh saying it's "too late to turn back," and telling followers that "you're going to get to the point where there is no way out, that, 'You know you're gonna die. And then you're gonna trust God. 'Cause even if it's the last second before the tank hits you, even if it's a foot away and you go, God! You know. And if it's for a second, the last second, it's gonna run you over, or you burn, you know, or you get shot or whatever. ...asked why he hasn't delivered us yet, he says we haven't travailed enough."
Koresh writes to his lawyer, saying he'll write "decoded message of the Seven Seals" and come out. Though they sent in ribbons and typewriter batteries, FBI officials say Koresh refused to show them proof he was writing anything.
A sign appears in a window: "flames await: Isaiah 13."
Louis Alaniz, a non-Davidian who sneaked into the compound after the siege began, says he's leaving to warn the FBI not to attack. Steve Schneider, Koresh's lieutenant, says no believer leaves or does anything else unless Koresh tells them to, and he will be lost if he leaves. "They can't destroy us unless it's God's will. Haven't you read Joel 2 and Isaiah 13, where it says he's gonna take us up like flames of fire? I trust in God." Alaniz leaves.
Amid talk about the Feb. 28 firefight where four ATF agents were killed and two Davidians shot dead by agents, Koresh declares, "Why, has God totally forsaken us?" Schneider responds that God sees they need more patience and "a greater experience," adding, "It doesn't seem we should really get out of here so easy.
Koresh describes the Bradley Fighting Vehicles' firepower, saying FBI crews inside them "want to shoot that thing so bad." Schneider says the fact that they're wrecking the sect's cars and motorcycles shows "they're planning on putting every one of us in prison for life." He predicts the tanks will come in soon, adding, "Nobody comes back here." "Make sure of it," Koresh says.
"What would they do?" Schneider says. "Catch fire, and they couldn't bring the fire trucks, and they couldn't even get near us."
"That's right," Koresh says, making shooting noises. Someone mentions "going through the judicial system," and Koresh says he doesn't see "sitting in prison for two years waiting to be tried." Later, he says: "You don't have to worry. You're scared. Everybody's scared — I'm gonna die! I don't wanna die! ... You got to die sometime!"
"It's not easy," Koresh says, later adding: "It's supposed to be me and God. ... You guys don't count."
Koresh says a final verse in Revelation is "the key." Schneider recites: "Even so, come Lord Jesus. Surely, I come quickly," and adds, "I'm happy about that." Koresh says: "You're gonna die here. I'm gonna die there. Or live here or live there. It don't make no difference."
Later, as tanks bash Davidian cars, including Koresh's 1968 Camaro, someone says, "They're trying to destroy our place." "What's new about that?" someone says. Another says, "Why don't they come in and charge us down and blow us up?" "They will."
A woman asks, "What's going on? Anything good?" Schneider says, "Ah, it may be scary!" adding, "He's been talking about that two-three days." A man quips, "That should be fun." Schneider says, "You always wanted to be a charcoal briquette." People laugh, saying it's "your prophecy." A man says, "I told him there's nothing like a good fire to bring us to the birth." Schneider squeals, "Oh oh oh oh! My impression of the first man landing on the sun. Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh!"... Darn, our controls are jammed. Here comes Mr. Sun!"
Schneider says fiery prophecies in the books of Joel and Isaiah are for them, "whose faces are like flames." A man says, "We will run through the fire." The woman asks, "That's what God said to do, Steve?" "That's what David said to do," Schneider replies. "And it's fine with me. Whatever he wants to do. All his ways are directed, as far as I'm concerned." "That's no fun," the woman says. Schneider responds, "Oh, no, nothing ever is!"
5:59 a.m.: An FBI negotiator calls to say the compound will be tear-gassed. The bureau's plan is to gas intermittently for 48 hours and then gradually dismantle the building, if needed, to force Davidians out. Schneider yells, "Grab your gas masks!" Someone throws the Davidians' phone outside.
6:01 a.m.: A combat engineering vehicle (CEV) hits the building and sprays bursts of liquified CS gas powder. A Hostage Rescue Team sniper sees green tracer rounds fired at the CEV from the compound. FBI commanders shift to their "compromise plan" and gas the entire building.
6:09 a.m.: Davidians discuss pouring something in a hallway. One asks, "David said pour it, right?" Another says, "David said we have to get the fuel on."
6:19 a.m.: Koresh says, "Nobody comes in, huh?" Someone answers, "Nobody comes in." "Allright. They got some fuel around here?" Koresh asks. Schneider says, "Yeah, everybody."
6:29 a.m.: FBI commanders report that a CEV accidentally cut the Davidians' telephone line.
7:08 a.m.: A man says, "Real quickly you can order the fire, yes."
7:21 a.m.: Amid talk of spreading fuel, a man says, "So, we only light it first when they come in with the tank. ...right as they're coming in?" "Right," someone replies. A voice calls, "We should get more hay in here."
7:28 a.m.: Waco commanders tell FBI headquarters about overhearing Schneider and Koresh talking and one of them saying, "All we can do is just wait."
7:30 a.m.: Men are told to go up one at a time to David. Minutes later, one says: "Tell 'em to hold 'til David says OK. ... You got that?"
7:40 a.m.: FBI headquarters is told that Koresh just said, "Don't fire until the last minute."
7:48 a.m.: FBI tactical commander Richard Rogers approves firing military tear gas rounds at a concrete pit near the compound. Military gas rounds aren't in the approved gas plan because they can start fires. Several are fired; they bounce and land away from the building. HRT agents later discuss their use with federal prosecutors preparing for a 1994 criminal trial, saying they considered their use insignificant. But FBI and Justice Department officials tell the public and Congress that nothing pyrotechnic was used in the gas operation. The 1999 revelation that several military rounds were used will prompt the Waco special counsel's investigation.
9:10 a.m.: A banner appears on the compound tower: "We want our phone fixed."
9:20 a.m.: Koresh says, "They got two cans of Coleman fuel down there?" Schneider says, "Empty." Someone says there's mineral oil.
9:30 a.m: Rogers and overall FBI commander Jeff Jamar meet to discuss why no one has come out. They note that bug transmissions indicate many Davidians appear to be in a concrete-walled room near the tower where they can take off gas masks because so little tear gas had seeped inside. The commanders agree to send CEVs deep into the front and rear of the building to gas the tower area.
9:44 a.m.: Schneider discusses repairing the phone line, "cause we need to say one last thing to them." He adds that the "first one of the manuscript was finished last night." An FBI monitoring agent notes hearing Schneider say, "The manuscript is almost complete."
1:18 am: A CEV rams the gym at the back of the compound, driving toward the tower.
11:25 am: Davidians talk about lighting torches, saying "Is it lit?" and "They're already lit."
11:27 a.m.: A CEV collapses the gym roof. Voices call: "Do you think I could light this soon?" "They're gonna go right through the middle here" and, "Whoa!"
11:40 a.m.: A CEV drives into the front of the compound. Someone says: "So we only light 'em as they come in ... right?" Another says: "Now we're committed." Minutes later, voices say, "Go and get the kids," and, "I want a fire on the front ... you two can go."
11:49 a.m.: A CEV sprays gas near the concrete-walled room at the base of the tower, and an HRT member radios that's "where many hostiles [are] located."
11:54 a.m.: Just before a CEV crushes the last working FBI bug, it intercepts a shout: "Let's keep that fire going!"
12 p.m: An FBI negotiator broadcasts: "Vernon is finished. He is no longer the messiah. Leave the building now." Vernon Howell is David Koresh's birth name.
12:06 p.m.: An HRT member reports seeing a Davidian moving his hands as if pouring something and flames appearing.
12:07 p.m.: An FBI aircraft's infrared camera records a fire starting in a second-floor room. Smoke appears.
12:08 p.m.: HRT members see smoke rising from a fire in the kitchen.
12:09 p.m.: The second-floor fire grows. A third fire spreads in the chapel. A negotiator broadcasts pleads to bring children out, adding: "Fire is plainly visible. We observed people lighting the fire."
One of nine surviving Davidians carries out a computer disk containing Koresh's 6,075-word partial manuscript decoding the Bible's secrets on how the world would end. The survivor, who runs back into the burning building before being dragged to safety by an HRT member, later tells religion scholars that Koresh spent the evening of April 18 dictating the manuscript. Investigators find fuel on all the survivors' shoes; one emerges with hands on fire and lighter fluid saturating his coat sleeves. Authorities determine at least 75 Davidians died in the fire. Bodies of more than 20 children and eight adults are found in the concrete room, many buried in waist-deep piles of ammo that exploded in the fire. One child was stabbed and five died of gunshots, as did Koresh, Schneider and 18 other adults.
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