The Treasury Department report admits only that BATF commanders tried to cover up their decision to go ahead with the raid despite the loss of surprise, and that several officials disregarded evidence of this coverup. Some believe that the "loss of surprise" accusation is just a smoke screen for BATF's real crime: using illegal military tactics on civilians, leading to ten deaths.
BATF Intimidated the Press
In the hours before the raid, law enforcement made no attempt to stop reporters from approaching Mount Carmel, including the television camera crew that drove up Mount Carmel's driveway right behind BATF cattle trucks. However, once the raid became a debacle, captured on film, BATF turned against the press.
On February 28th BATF agents verbally and physically assaulted KWTX-TV cameraman Dan Mulloney as he filmed dead BATF agents. Mulloney captured the assault on video tape. In trial testimony Mulloney denied he had impeded BATF in any way.2/
BATF planners and agents blamed the Waco Tribune-Herald for not delaying publication of "The Sinful Messiah" series until after the BATF raid. BATF later accused KWTX-TV's Dan Mulloney and John McLemore of making a deal with Davidians that they would warn them of the impending raid if they were allowed to hide in a tree and tape the raid.3/
Some BATF agents and families accused the publisher of the Waco Tribune-Herald of being a "murderer" for running his series on the Branch Davidians before the raid. In March, 1993 wounded BATF agent John T. Risenhoover filed a lawsuit claiming that an unnamed Waco Tribune-Herald employee warned David Koresh about the impending raid. Risenhoover's lawsuit claimed the newspaper reneged on an agreement to withhold its series on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians until BATF completed its investigation. Assumedly, Risenhoover could have found out about this alleged agreement only from higher-up agents and officials who mistakenly thought they had such an agreement with the newspaper.4/ In early 1994 the families of deceased agents sued the Waco Tribune-Herald and KWTX-TV for tipping off the Davidians about the raid.5/
BATF immediately distanced itself from Risenhoover's lawsuit. "This is strictly between the agent and the newspaper," said BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler.6/ However, many suspect that this was just part of a broader government effort to intimidate the media.
In March, 1993 BATF and FBI "gagged" their agents, forbidding them to speak to the press, a policy which continues to this day. Both agencies warned that "loose and often uninformed comments to the press" might jeopardize the investigation and undermine public confidence in the agencies.7/ Such warnings, of course, are backed by the threat of disciplinary action and even firing.
BATF Spread Disinformation
Examples of disinformation have been mentioned in previous chapters--especially the dubious allegation the Davidians "ambushed" BATF agents and used grenades and machineguns. The press widely quoted BATF spokesperson Sharon Wheeler's statement the day after the raid, "Everything would have been fine, except their guns were bigger than ours." Other examples are BATF officials harping on the most lurid accusations of child abuse, religious fanaticism and arms buildups.
BATF spokesman Jack Killorin claimed, "The warrant is for an imminent threat to the life and safety of everybody in that compound. The warrant is for the illicit manufacture of explosives and explosive devices which right away is an immediate threat to the life and safety of every person in there."8/ However, the Treasury report never mentions this "for-their-own-good" rationale.
The greatest disinformation related to coverups of BATF agent errors and crimes--the shooting from helicopters that killed four Davidians, the shooting of Perry Jones, friendly fire, and the death of Michael Schroeder. Other BATF disinformation was disseminated as part of additional coverups described in the following sections.
BATF Raid Commanders Covered Up Loss of Surprise
When BATF finally informed the Treasury's Office of Law Enforcement of the planned raid on Friday, February 26, 1993, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Treasury John P. Simpson decided the action was too dangerous and "directed that the operation not go forward." Also expressing reservations was Ronald K. Noble, the designated, but unconfirmed, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Law Enforcement, who was acting as a consultant.
In a Friday night conference call, BATF Director Stephen Higgins told Simpson and Noble that he had obtained reassurance from raid co-commander Phillip Chojnacki that the "raid could be executed safely" and that "the raid would be aborted. . .if things did not look right," i.e., if there was any evidence of a "change in routine." Noble told a House Appropriations subcommittee that Higgins had told him, "if for any reason they lose the element of surprise. . .express orders or directives to call off the operation."9/
Simpson allowed the raid to go forward, "after these assurances were given." Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman was informed of the upcoming raid, but Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, who was in Europe, was not.10/
However, even after Chojnacki learned from his co-commander Chuck Sarabyn that the Davidians knew BATF was coming, and after consulting briefly with SAC Ted Royster, he allowed the raid to go forward. (Royster did not have a "raid-specific" title, but he had the power to abort the raid because of his position as Special Agent-in-Charge of Dallas BATF.) Chojnacki even called the National Command Center in Washington and reported that the raid was commencing. He did not report that the Davidians knew about the raid. When undercover agent Rodriguez learned that the raid was underway he was "distraught."11/
It would be more than two months before this account of what really happened that morning would be related to the press and the public. From the start, BATF officials denied reports like one in the Los Angeles Times that stated an agent was heard shouting, "We've gotta move. He's been tipped off."12/ Undercover agent Robert Rodriguez and three other agents who overheard the conversation told BATF investigators that Rodriguez had told Sarabyn that Koresh knew a raid was imminent.
However, commander Chuck Sarabyn claimed that Rodriguez "was not real descriptive as to the ATF-National Guard statement" and commander Phillip Chojnacki claimed that Sarabyn had not told him anything about Koresh's prior knowledge. Chojnacki and Sarabyn also tried to cover up their lack of professionalism and errors by altering the written plan of the raid, which they had not issued before it took place. They did not tell the Texas Rangers or the Treasury review team that it had been altered. They then tried to blame the alterations on a lower ranking agent who had assisted them. Finally, they confessed the truth to the Treasury review team.13/
BATF Officials Covered Up Loss of Surprise
Associate Director Daniel Hartnett and Intelligence Division Chief David Troy gave less credence to Rodriguez and other low ranking agents' accounts than to those of their superiors Sarabyn and Chojnacki. So Troy continued to deny to the press that the commanders knew that Koresh had been alerted.14/ Rodriguez testified during the trial that he wondered if there was some strategy behind this continued disinformation; however, just in case, he hired himself an attorney. (In February, 1995 Rodriquez filed suit against BATF, raid commanders and officials, alleging they had violated his privacy and civil rights, defamed him and conspired to make him a scapegoat.)15/
During March, 1993 the Texas Rangers were gathering even more evidence, including from 60 BATF agents, that raid commanders Sarabyn and Chojnacki knew that they had lost the element of surprise. They passed this along to Hartnett and Conroy. However, "Hartnett and Conroy failed to keep [BATF Director] Higgins informed about the mounting weight of evidence that Sarabyn and Chojnacki's account was false," so Higgins continued to mislead the press and the public. In late March Director Higgins wrote a memo to BATF agents denying there was a coverup of "mistakes in planning, leadership or both" after he discovered some agents were planning to make coverup allegations to the media.16/
Finally, in early April, after a number of agents contacted Higgins directly to complain about these misstatements, Higgins asked for a copy of Rodriguez' statement. Yet for another month Higgins allowed Hartnett and Conroy to instruct Troy to keep denying that raid commanders had definitive knowledge about the loss of surprise. And only under pressure from the Treasury review team did Sarabyn, Chojnacki, Hartnett and Conroy finally admit to their roles in the coverup.17/ Ted Royster also participated in the coverup, claiming he did not know that surprise had been lost. When Noble threatened him with disciplinary action, "Royster then sent agents a three-page letter outlining personal pressures and career problems that caused his memory lapse."18/
BATF Involved with Texas Rangers' Investigation
As we have seen, the U.S. Attorney's office in Waco deputized the Texas Rangers as U.S. Marshals for the criminal investigation. Nevertheless, BATF continued to interfere with the investigations, including after the fire. The Justice report reveals, "a memorandum of understanding between the FBI and ATF gave the ATF jurisdiction in cases involving the injury or death of their own agents."19/ It was BATF agents Aguilera and Dunagan who continued to issue search and arrest warrants during the siege.
Texas Ranger David Byrnes testified that on April 19, 1993 Texas Rangers did not start taking over the scene until 3:00 p.m., two hours after the fire had burned the building to the ground. Thirty-two Texas Rangers supervised 60 or more federal agents.20/
News footage clearly shows, dozens of agents walking through the smoldering ruins in the hours immediately following the fire. Clearly, they considered themselves to be in complete control of the crime scene--local news video tape taken a few hours after the fire shows a federal agent urinating against the side of a tank sitting amidst the ruins!21/
Byrnes revealed that one or more BATF explosives experts did the "initial explosive sweep." He claimed that BATF agents were excluded from within the police tape so that no one could claim BATF had "salted" the scene. Ranger Fred Cummings revealed the BATF bomb squad was there was there on April 20th as well as on the 19th.22/
Byrnes also disclosed that Texas Rangers had run the BATF flag up Mount Carmel's flag post on request of BATF agents. During closing arguments defense attorney Dan Cogdell said angrily, "What kind of people stuck a flag like they've won a war, like some overgrown G.I. Joes?"23/ Again, many believe that deputizing Texas state investigators as U.S. Marshals prevented them from fully investigating BATF and FBI crimes.
BATF Took Koresh's Gun Dealer Into "Protective
March 1, 1993, the day after the failed raid, BATF agents took custody of gun dealer Henry McMahon and his woman friend Karen Kilpatrick. In September, 1993 Dick DeGuerin revealed: "They told these two people they were in danger from Branch Davidians who were not inside Mount Carmel who might try to kill them and convinced them to ask for protective custody."24/
BATF obviously was afraid the public and politicians would be sympathetic with the Davidians if it learned David Koresh had cooperated fully with BATF agents. For four weeks BATF agents also tried to keep them McMahon and Kilpatrick away from the press and the FBI.
When the couple finally rebelled against BATF's confinement, BATF flew them to Waco. BATF agents Davy Aguilera and Dale Littleton grilled them for hours seeking evidence of criminal conduct by the Davidians. Aguilera threatened to arrest them for conspiracy to commit murder of federal agents. In a lawsuit, Kilpatrick accuses Littleton of physically assaulting her by knocking her against a wall when she would not answer his questions. They later were interviewed by a U.S. staff attorney but the government never charged either with a crime. BATF agents made it clear they would never allow McMahon to work as a gun dealer again and he let his license lapse, due to fears of harassment.25/
Given the damaging testimony that McMahon could have provided against agent Aguilera and the BATF agents who took him into custody, it is not surprising that prosecutors claimed that McMahon told "Elvis" stories about BATF's mistreatment of him after the raid. Smith agreed to the prosecution's demand that McMahon not be allowed to testify in person during the trial and that his written testimony be restricted.26/
Davidian Paul Fatta Charged After Press Interviews
Another individual who could attest to David Koresh's legal gun business was Paul Fatta, who ran the business. He was in Austin with his son selling weapons and equipment at a gun show on the morning of February 28th. Fatta offered his assistance to the FBI to bring about a peaceful end to the standoff. However, they refused his help and were abusive towards him. Fatta began give interviews to reporters, asserting that the Davidians were not violent or paramilitary and that Davidians had a gun business. His commentn received national attention.27/
The fact that Fatta was drumming up sympathy for the Davidians in the press doubtless motivated BATF to bring charges against Fatta, something his attorney brought up at trial. When Fatta heard these charges had been brought, he contacted an attorney--but BATF would not tell him what the charges against Fatta were. Fearful for his life, and wanting to get his son to safety, Fatta left Texas for Oregon.28/
BATF issued a warrant for Fatta's arrest and declared that he was "armed and dangerous." This action further frightened Fatta into believing BATF would murder him if he surrendered to them. Fatta finally surrendered to Texas Rangers in Houston on April 26. Fatta's attorney Mike DeGeurin told reporters Fatta did not surrender earlier because of his "mistrust of federal agents."29/
Government Kept Warrants Sealed After Koresh
Immediately after the failed February 28th raid, BATF had the magistrate seal the contents of the affidavit and search and arrest warrants supposedly "to ensure the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation." The Associated Press noted, "One problem with either criticism or support for the government is that the reasons for the raid remain largely secret. The original search and arrest warrants remain sealed, and the ATF won't say exactly what it was looking for, or what information it has."30/
On March 19th the FBI delivered to David Koresh "copies of legal documents concerning the ATF warrants."31/ Despite the fact that Koresh now knew the contents of the February and later March affidavits and warrants, the government refused to release these to the press and public until April 20, 1993, the day after Koresh's death.32/
TREASURY DEPARTMENT COVERUP
The Treasury Department's official report on BATF actions does expose inept planning and execution of the BATF raid. However, it defends the probable cause basis for the search and arrest warrants, excuses the decision to go forward with a paramilitary raid and ignores evidence that agents committed crimes like firing from helicopters and killing Michael Schroeder. Throughout these chapters documentation shows where the Treasury report has failed to provide information or has provided questionable information.
Questions About Oversight of the Review
In late April, 1993 Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen selected Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Law Enforcement Ronald K. Noble to head the investigation. As we know, Noble approved the decision to go ahead with the raid. Since he had not been confirmed at that point, Noble had no formal authority. However, he still retains moral responsibility. Therefore, Noble would have little interest in issuing a report that either would challenge significantly BATF's investigation or operations modus operandi or would admit these led to crimes against the Davidians.
The Treasury Department named three individuals to be "independent reviewers" of BATF's actions in Waco. There have been questions about two of them. Henry S. Ruth, Jr., a former Watergate prosecutor, served on the Special Investigative Commission that examined law enforcement actions in connection with the police assault on the MOVE group which resulted in a devastating fire that destroyed two city blocks and killed 11 MOVE members. Another reviewer, Willie L. Williams, had been a high-ranking Philadelphia police official during the MOVE incident and became police commissioner in 1988.33/ Because Ruth's investigation never recommended any prosecutions, despite the Philadelphia police's dropping a fire bomb on a building that killed eleven MOVE members, many doubt either man was likely to criticize BATF's actions.
No Testimony Taken Under Oath
There is no indication that any individuals gave testimony under oath to those who conducted the review. In fact, the Treasury's review team seems to have been hampered in getting at the whole truth by "employment contracts," the "Privacy Act" and the "Federal Advisory Committee Act."34/ Also, some of the BATF officials who testified before congressional committees were not sworn in and they still could be prosecuted were it proved they had lied to a congressional committee--as some of those who eventually were dismissed may have done.
It is likely that some BATF agents who met with the Treasury Department's review teams later changed their stories at trial to conform to the "official line" that agents had been ambushed and that Davidians shot first. So not only did review teams not take testimony under oath, they may have encouraged those interviewed to lie under oath.
Treasury Department Attempted to Seal Investigation
In mid-August 1993 the Treasury Department proposed exempting the Treasury Department's report from public scrutiny. The Treasury Department gave the public a month to comment. Because radio talk show hosts encouraged protest, the Treasury received 5,150 telegrams and letters, an unusually large number. David Kopel, director of the Firearms Research Project in Denver said, "I think it is a scandalous attempt to cover up the facts surrounding one of the greatest governmental disasters in the 20th century."35/
Treasury Department Report Demonizes Davidians
The Treasury report demonizes David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in an obvious attempt to excuse BATF's shoddy investigation and aggressive raid. The Treasury report makes allegations against Koresh which were not made either in Davy Aguilera's original affidavit or during the trial, including the Bunds' family accusations about Koresh's preparing a "hit list" of former members, the finding of an alleged machinegun conversion kit, and Donald Bunds' alleged comments that he himself would resist authorities if they tried to arrest him.36/
The report claims Mount Carmel Center had been renamed "Ranch Apocalypse." The only evidence I found of this is Clifford L. Linedecker and a Washington Post reporter's repeating two different stories that Perry Jones had made this claim when paying bills in late 1992. Judge Smith would not allow mention of such a name change during the trial because of the lack of evidence.37/
The Treasury report also refers to Kathryn Schroeder's allegation--which they discovered well after the raid--that Koresh "told his followers that soon they would go out into the world, turn their weapons on individual members of the public, and kill those who did not say they were believers. As he explained to his followers, `you can't die for God if you can't kill for God.' Koresh later canceled the planned action, telling his followers that it had been a test of their loyalty to him." However, even prosecutors admitted this description of a conversation Koresh had with a few Davidians after the 1991 massacre at Luby's restaurant in Killeen, Texas, was a prejudicial accusation of questionable value and did not ask Schroeder to repeat it during the trial. And Schroeder at trial did not link the statement about "killing for God" to any specific event.38/
The Treasury report also made much of social worker Joyce Sparks' allegation that during one of her conversations with him he said: "My time is coming. When I reveal myself as the messenger and my time comes, what happens will make the riots in L.A. pale in comparison."39/ However, even the anti-Davidian trial judge would not allow this obvious reference to biblical prophecy to be mentioned in court, because, even if Koresh said it, he did not do so in furtherance of any conspiracy.40/ American political activists of both the right and left often use aggressive rhetoric and joke about violence. If these are the only examples of aggressive rhetoric that Koresh's critics could find, Koresh appears to have been a relatively non-aggressive individual.
No Prosecutions of Agents or Officials
Immediately after the September, 1993 release of the Treasury report, Treasury Secretary Bentsen put Hartnett, Conroy, Troy, Chojnacki and Sarabyn on administrative leave. Hartnett and Conroy immediately resigned. Bentsen also removed BATF Director Higgins, who had another month to go before retirement.
In February, 1994 BATF recommended that Phil Chojnacki and Chuck Sarabyn be fired for improperly supervising the 1993 raid on the Davidians. They challenged the recommendation.41/ It was not until late October, 1994 that BATF finally fired Sarabyn and Chojnacki, and even then they were asserting they had been wronged. They asserted they ignored Koresh's statement about "ATF coming" because he "often said such things." They did not explain why they alerted most BATF agents to the fact Koresh had said this.42/
After their case went before the Federal Merit Systems Protections Board, Chojnacki and Sarabyn were rehired by BATF in December, 1994. Sarabyn was moved to Washington, D.C., and named chief of the BATF's Visual Information Branch which aids in criminal trial preparation. Chojnacki remained in Houston and was named liaison between BATF and the U.S. Customs Service. Sarabyn's attorney Steve Gardner told reporters, "Our position all along was that the Treasury review had been a jerry-rigged, cooked-up piece of work that had been cooked up at the getgo so they could blame Chuck and Phil. When (the raid) backfired and didn't go the way they thought it should go, Treasury started looking for scapegoats."43/ Many believe Chojnacki and Sarabyn threatened to reveal BATF crimes if they were not rehired.
National Association of Treasury Agents deputy director Jim Jorgensen denounced the Treasury Department for reinstating Chojnacki and Sarabyn. "It defiles the memory of the brave ATF agents who gave their lives doing their duty. . .It sends a message to these living agents that their lives aren't worth a plugged nickel."44/
Dallas BATF chief Ted Royster was not disciplined, but instead was made director of Project Alliance, a multi-agency drug task force on the Mexican border. "I was cleared of any wrongdoing. If I had done anything wrong, it would have come out in the report," Royster told a reporter.45/
The U.S. government has conspired successfully to hide from the public that BATF actually drove the Branch Davidians to self-defense. The Justice Department and FBI instead of taking pity on the persecuted Davidians, merely continued the persecution, ultimately killing most members of the group.
James L. Pate, July, 1994, p. 47.
2. Trial transcript, p. 3325.
3. From audio tape of John O. Lumpkin, Texas Bureau Chief of the Associated Press, speaking at September 10, 1993 Freedom of Information Foundation panel on "Mt. Carmel: What Should the Public Know"; John McLemore and Dan Mulloney statement on "The Maury Show," November 9, 1993.
4. John Lumpkin comments; Treasury Department report, p. 59, 71.
5. Tommy Witherspoon, "Wife of slain ATF agent sues Trib, KWTX," Waco Tribune-Herald, March 23, 1994; Tommy Witherspoon, "ATF agent's family sues media, ambulance service," Waco Tribune-Herald, March 31, 1994.
6. Associated Press wire story, March 13, 1993, 02:57 EST.
7. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press report, "The Clinton Administration and the News Media," 1994; Jacque Crouse, "ATF agents fume beneath Waco gag order," Washington Times, April 5, 1994.
8. Daniel Wattenberg, p. 38.
9. June 9, 1993, House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, p. 18, 60.
10. Treasury Department report, pgs. 75-76, 178.
11. Ibid. pgs. 89-91, 165.
12. Newsweek, March 15, 1993, p. 55.
13. Treasury Department report, pgs. 196-199, 208-10.
14. Ibid. pgs. 196-99.
15. Associated Press, "ATF brass lied, agent testifies in Waco trial," Washington Times, January 29, 1994; Lee Hancock, "Agent sues ATF officials, Bureau in Koresh cult raid, He says agency made him scapegoat to hide its errors," The Dallas Morning News, Saturday, February 25, 1995, 28A.
16. Jerry Seper, "ATF chief denies Waco cover-up,' Washington Times, April 19, 1993, A3.
17. Treasury Department report, p. 199-206.
18. Kathy Fair, "Report on Waco cult raid likely to be scathing," Houston Chronicle, September 26, 1993, 9A.
19. Justice Department report, p. 23.
20. Trial transcript, pgs. 603, 1162.
21. Video footage included in "Waco, the Big Lie Continues."
22. Trial transcript, pgs. 614, 1087-88.
23. Ibid. pgs. 643, 7256.
24. From audiotape of September 10, 1993 Freedom of Information Foundation media panel on "Mount Carmel: What Should the Public Know?" in Austin, Texas.
25. "Gun Couple Sues Feds," The Balance, newsletter of the Cause Foundation, March-April, 1995, pgs. 6, 8.
26. Trial transcript, pgs. 6841-43.
27. Michael deCourcy Hinds, March 6, 1993, A1.
28. Trial transcript, pgs. 527, 4375-76.
29. Ron Engelman, "Ron's Waco Update," The Freedom Report, September, 1993; Ron Cole, p. 53; Hugh Aynesworth, "Koresh followers set fires," Washington Times, April 27, 1993.
30. Associated Press wire story, March 11, 1993, 16:23 EST.
31. Justice Department report, p. 74.
32. Sam Howe Verhovek, "FBI Cites Fresh Evidence That Cult Set Fatal Fire," New York Times, April 21, 1994, A20.
33. Treasury Department report, p. 3.
34. Ibid. p. 6.
35. Lee Hancock, "Thousands protest proposal to limit access to cult data," Dallas Morning News, September 23, 1993; Jerry Seper, "Treasury wants to hide reports on Waco raid," Washington Times, September 2, 1993.
36. Treasury Department report, p. 28.
37. Ibid. p. 127; Clifford L. Lindecker, pgs. 17-18; Mary Jordan and Sue Anne Pressley, "Freed Cult Members Depict Horror Scene," Washington Post, March 4, 1993, A11; trial transcript, pgs. 446-47.
38. Treasury Department report, p. 127; Clare Tuma report, "Court TV," February 3, 1994; trial transcript, p. 4415-18.
39. Treasury Department report, p. 30.
40. Trial transcript, p. 456.
41. Pierre Thomas, "ATF Officials Ousted Over Raid," Washington Post, October 1, 1993; "ATF recommends firing Davidian raid leaders," Washington Times, February 12, 1994.
42. "Agents Dismissed in Raid on Sect Say They Were Blamed Unfairly," New York Times, November 13, 1994, A38.
43. Lee Hancock, "ATF re-hires two agents fired after raid on cultists," Dallas Morning News, December 22, 1994, 26A.
44. Theresa Talerico, "A Time for Tears," Waco Tribune-Herald, March 1, 1995.
45. Associated Press, "Top ATF official transferred," Waco Tribune-Herald, October 27, 1993, 3C.