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January 30, 2000: FBI Agents Contradict Official Story of Armored Vehicles’ Purpose in Demolishing Davidian Compound

FBI agents testifying for an upcoming civil case filed against the government by survivors of the Branch Davidian tragedy near Waco, Texas, in 1993 (see April 19, 1993) contradict the government’s official explanation for its decision to dismantle the Davidians’ gymnasium with armored vehicles, as laid out in a 1993 Justice Department report on the assault by FBI agents on the Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993). The Justice Department report gave two reasons why a Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV)—described as a modified Patton tank—tore through the back of the Davidian compound, causing the gym to partially collapse. According to the report, the CEV ripped out the back wall to give the Davidians an escape route and to allow for the eventual insertion of tear gas. However, an FBI agent testifying in the trial says the orders were to use the CEV to find a way to get to a guard tower at the back of the compound, where supervisors believed the Davidians had retreated to escape the tear gas already fired inside the compound. The agent was a passenger in the CEV in question. “You were not ordered to breach the rear side of the building to create escape openings?” plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Caddell of Houston asks in the deposition. “You were ordered to clear this path to the tower, correct?” The passenger responds, “Correct.” Caddell then asks, “What was the purpose of this path if it was cleared, or when it was cleared?” The passenger responds, “To effectively deliver gas to that tower area of the building where it was believed we were not getting gas.” He denies that the CEV was attempting to demolish the building, but Caddell asks, “You don’t call that building destroyed?” The passenger acknowledges that “portions of it” were indeed destroyed. An FBI agent who piloted a surveillance plane over the Davidian compound testifies that other agents in the plane noted that the Davidians would have to flee the compound because it was being demolished. The pilot testifies: “I recall some remarks that were made while, you know, ‘People were going to have to get out pretty soon because it’s going to, you know, the things are being kind of, during the penetrations, being taken away from them.’” Caddell also questions another agent, who drove the CEV in question. Caddell focuses on his assertion that the FBI drastically sped up the execution of the plan, which was originally conceived to take place over two days instead of a matter of hours. The driver testifies, “It was another CEV that had basically, what had been done was a railroad, a stanchion of railroad was welded to the blade itself, extending three feet on either side of the blade, and it was going to be used to drive along the side of the building, basically cutting the studs away and the sheetrock away, so we could actually see into the front sides of the building in hopes that they would come out when they were in plain view at that point.” Caddell asks, “How would the gym have looked any different if you had attacked it with the railroad CEV as opposed to the CEV you had?” The driver responds: “I have no idea. We never got to that part of the plan. I mean, in hindsight, it could have very well been the exact same result. But my plan at that point was not to destroy the gymnasium.” The agent who was riding in the CEV says that the FBI could have easily and quickly demolished the entire compound if it wanted to: “I think in no time at all the collateral destruction that you see on the empty gymnasium area would be the entire compound. I mean these are large powerful vehicles.” The driver denies Caddell’s assertion that the holes made by the CEVs could have served as openings for agents on foot to enter the compound. “They had told them we weren’t going to make entry into the building, and we didn’t,” he says. The passenger testifies that he didn’t think the Davidians would see the FBI’s actions as hostile and begin firing weapons, which led to the FBI dramatically escalating its schedule of firing tear gas into the compound. “I was actually very surprised when we were shot at,” the CEV passenger testifies. “I mean, you’ve got to keep in mind we were here 50 some days and there had been no exchanges and no shooting. And I especially felt with the notification and the negotiators talking to them and explaining what was going on, that they would not shoot. Didn’t see where that would be the logical step.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000]

Entity Tags: Michael Caddell, US Department of Justice, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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