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Profile: Janet Reno
a.k.a. Janet Wood Reno
Positions that Janet Reno has held:
Janet Reno was a participant or observer in the following events:
Branch Davidian Livingstone Fagan leaves the besieged compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). He is the last Davidian to leave before the final conflagration (see April 19, 1993). The FBI apparently believes that its “stress escalation measures” (see March 21, 1993 and March 22, 1993) are driving the Davidians out of the compound. That evening, the FBI shines floodlights into the compound and, over the loudspeakers, begins playing tapes of previous negotiations and messages from Davidians who have left the compound (see March 22, 1993). In the hours after midnight, agents begin playing exceedingly loud music (see March 21, 1993) and taped sound effects (including the sounds of rabbits being slaughtered), angering some of the Davidians inside the compound. Assistant US Attorney William Johnston of Waco writes a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, complaining about the methods the FBI is employing to resolve the siege. [Moore, 1995; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Attorney General Janet Reno announces that all 93 US Attorneys must resign promptly, allowing the Clinton administration to appoint its own prosecutors for the positions. All 93 US Attorneys are Republicans appointed during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and US Attorneys are routinely replaced after a change in administrations, particularly when the incoming president is of a different party than the outgoing president. Jay B. Stephens, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, suggests that the Clinton administration wants to derail his ongoing investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), a key Clinton ally thought to be involved in political corruption. While stopping short of directly accusing Reno or President Clinton of desiring to interfere in the case, he says, “This case has been conducted with integrity, and I trust the decisions in this case will not be made based on political considerations.” If Stephens or his successor indicts Rostenkowski, the congressman would have to relinquish his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, costing Clinton a key political ally in that powerful body. Reno denies any connection between the Rostenkowski investigation and the firings. Stephens is being treated like the rest of the US Attorneys, she says, and she would consider allowing some to stay on if they were critically involved in ongoing investigations. All 93 US Attorneys knew they would be asked to leave office if Clinton won the election, and 16 have already resigned. Reno says she wants the resignations “so that the US Attorneys presently in position will know where they stand and that we can begin to build a team.” Some Clinton administration officials call Stephens’s veiled allegations “absurd,” and say that it is surprising it has taken this long to ask for the US Attorney resignations. [New York Times, 3/24/1993; Providence Journal, 3/24/1993] The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. [Washington Post, 4/10/1996]
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard, who represents Attorney General Janet Reno in the Branch Davidian situation (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), holds meetings in Waco and San Antonio to learn about the infighting between FBI and other law enforcement officials. The next day, Reno hears Richard’s report, and assigns Ray Jahn as the Justice Department’s lead prosecutor and coordinator. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] The infighting at Waco is largely between two camps: the FBI negotiators and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, or HRT. The negotiators are willing to take whatever time is needed to win the release of everyone inside the compound, mostly by building trust and then using that trust to get people out. The HRT, more inclined to action than talk, has pressed since the beginning of the standoff to increase the pressure on Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers. Several times, the HRT has actively undermined negotiators’ efforts with the Davidians; at one point, the negotiators persuaded Koresh to let two people leave, but that very same night, HRT turned off the electricity to the compound, enraging Koresh (see March 12, 1993). Days later, the negotiators won the release of seven more people, but that same evening, HRT ordered the bulldozing of several Davidian cars outside the compound and bombarded the compound with loud music (see March 21, 1993). Negotiators have complained that whatever trust they have managed to secure has been undermined by the HRT. Two FBI agents who agree with the negotiators are the profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993), who warned their superiors that increasing the pressure on Koresh and the Davidians would precipitate a bloody, violent end to the standoff (see March 7-8, 1993). Smerick and Young also warned that the HRT’s tactics would drive the Davidians ever closer to Koresh, uniting them together by demonstrating that the government agents outside the compound are indeed their enemy, as Koresh preaches. Later investigation will show that the negotiators failed to make progress in part because of harassment from the HRT. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Bruce Fein, an associate attorney general under the Reagan administration, accuses the Clinton administration of “politicizing” the Justice Department by asking for all 93 sitting US Attorneys to resign (see March 24, 1993). All 93 US Attorneys are Republican political appointees, and many expected to be asked to leave when President Clinton won the election in November 1992. But Fein accuses Clinton of “accommodat[ing] Democratic spoils” by asking the Reagan and Bush appointees to leave, and says the resignations will stop the investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of Clinton’s close allies in Congress. Fein accuses that the resignations are being carried out for “partisan political reasons,” though he cites no evidence to back this claim. “That genuflection to the Democratic Party undermines public confidence in the administration of justice, a consequence [Attorney General Janet] Reno was purported to deplore.… [M]aking allegiance to the Democratic Party the chief concern in selecting federal prosecutors creates, at a minimum, an appearance that justice will be skewed, not evenhanded.” Removing US Attorney Jay Stephens while his office is investigating Rostenkowski constitutes an “obvious political conflict of interest,” as, Fein says, a Democratic US Attorney can be expected to exonerate Rostenkowski. Moreover, Fein writes, “partisan Democrat” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congressional delegate from Washington, DC, will help select Stephens’s successor, and Norton, Fein says, “is thus likely to lobby for a US Attorney benignly disposed toward Rostenkowski.” [New York Times, 3/24/1993; San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/4/1993] The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. [Washington Post, 4/10/1996]
The day before the promised departure of the Branch Davidian sect members from their besieged compound (see April 1-4, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh sends a four-page letter to the FBI, identifying himself as “Yahweh” (the Jewish name for God) and telling it that the “heavens are calling you to judgment.” The letter is written in first-person as if God penned it. “The letter is threatening and cites six Biblical passages,” says FBI spokesman Bob Ricks. “The gist of the letter, like the Biblical passages, conveys messages of a powerful, angry God empowering his chosen people to punish and harm those who oppose him.” Experts analyze the letter, along with others Koresh will send over the next few days (see April 10-11, 1993), and will conclude that Koresh is possibly psychotic and has no intention of leaving voluntarily. [New York Times, 4/10/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Davidian Attacked with Stun Grenades - Steve Schneider, David Koresh’s lieutenant, is allowed to briefly leave the compound to deliver Koresh’s letter and to ignite seven smoke flares to commemorate Passover. In the process, FBI agents bombard him with stun grenades, sometimes called “flash-bangs,” to drive him back inside. Ricks explains, “Mr. Schneider, either through his own confusion or whatever, came out one occasion too many yesterday and we had to flash-bang him twice.” [New York Times, 4/10/1993]
Letter Helps Precipitate Decision to Assault Compound - Impelled in part by the letter, the FBI finalizes plans to use tear gas to flush the Davidians from the compound (see April 7, 1993), and begins moving to secure Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval to carry out these plans. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Some within the FBI feel that the tear-gas assault is the very worst thing that can be done to resolve the situation (see March 31, 1993). FBI profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993), who warned their superiors that increasing the pressure on Koresh and the Davidians would precipitate a bloody, violent end to the standoff (see March 7-8, 1993), say that the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel should withdraw from the compound, and that tactical pressure “should be the absolute last option we should consider.” The two experts who analyze the letter tend to agree with Smerick and Young. Clint Van Zandt, of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime—the so-called “Silence of the Lambs” team—and Dr. Joseph Krofcheck, a psychiatrist, conclude after reading the letter that an FBI confrontation with Koresh might “bring this matter to a ‘magnificent’ end, in his mind, a conclusion that could take the lives of all of his followers and as many of the authorities as possible.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Janet Reno, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Steve Schneider, Mark Young, Joseph Krofcheck, Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Attorney General Janet Reno discusses tear-gassing the Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 7, 1993) with senior Justice Department and FBI officials. At first she is reluctant to approve any such plan, asking repeatedly, “Why now, why not wait?” but as the discussion progresses, she becomes more convinced that action must be taken (see April 9, 1993). The plan is presented not as an all-out assault, but as a staged assault whereby gas is used on parts of the compound, theoretically allowing sect members to exit through uncontaminated areas. Reno asks if it is feasible to cut the water supply to the compound. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Reno has little real knowledge of the level of infighting and dissension among the FBI officials involved in the standoff (see March 31, 1993). The FBI officials who come to her office give no hint that many are recommending that the negotiations continue and the pressure on the Davidians be lessened. Reporter Peter Boyer will later note that Reno, a Washington outsider only a month into the job (see March 12, 1993), has no “cadre of confidants” willing to give her an unvarnished, complete picture of events. Instead, the FBI officials, led by Director William Sessions, present her with what Boyer will call a “united front,” all agreeing that negotiations have completely broken down and action is now the only option. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] In 1995, FBI profiler Peter Smerick will claim that top FBI officials “misled” Reno by not providing her with work by himself and other FBI behavioral analysts and negotiators that warned of the risks of such an assault (see 1995). Unbeknownst to Reno, the Washington FBI officials have sent a high-priority request to the FBI commanders in Waco asking for “specific documentation to support our position” that tear gas is the only option. The request outlines how the information would be used to argue against waiting out the Davidians. The request also states the FBI’s plan for addressing questions about negotiations in the report to the attorney general: “The universal assessment of all involved—including FBI and outside consultants: that negotiation would not work,” it says. [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
David Koresh, the increasingly unstable leader (see April 9, 1993) of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), informs FBI negotiators in a letter written to his lawyer Richard DeGuerin that God has finally spoken to him; he will leave the compound once he has written a manuscript explaining the Seven Seals, a Biblical concept that is associated with the Apocalypse. According to the book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, Koresh’s lieutenant Steve Schneider tells negotiators that it might take “six months or six years” to complete the manuscript. Other sources say that Koresh intends to finish the manuscript within several weeks. [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244; Moore, 1995; New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Religious Basis for Surrender? - The latest letter from Koresh is substantially different from his previous letters; while the earlier letters were primarily rambling Biblical dissertations, this letter states a deadline as to when the Davidians will leave and Koresh will surrender. Experts reading the letter note that it is far more prosaically written than the earlier letters, and states Koresh’s desire to leave the compound and “stand before man to answer any and all questions regarding my actions.” Some religious scholars, later reading the letter, will say that they believe Koresh has found a religious rationale for surrendering. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina will say, “Koresh used the religious arguments in this letter for why he had now seen that the scriptures told him to come out.” Tabor and his colleague, Philip Arnold of the Reunion Institute of Houston (see March 7, 1993), will note that Koresh now seems to believe that surrender is a viable option because he “could come out and preach his message.” [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians 'Cheer' over Likelihood of Departure - DeGuerin, representing Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1-4, 1993), says that the Davidians are happy about the prospect of their imminent release. “[E]everyone was relieved they did not have to die,” DeGuerin will later recall. The Davidians obviously believe they are leaving; cheering can be heard on FBI surveillance audiotapes. Tabor will later testify: “You can exactly see the mental state of the people inside. It is buoyant. They are talking about coming out. They are excited about it.” Tabor will quote surviving Davidians as saying, “We were so joyful that weekend because we knew we were coming out, that finally David had got his word of how to do this legally, the lawyers, and theologically in terms of his system.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI, Justice Department Refuse to Countenance Idea, Continue with Plans to Assault Compound - In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno continues to review plans to flush the Davidians out with tear gas (see April 12, 1993), and meets with members of the Army’s elite Delta Force to fine-tune the strategy. Senior White House and Justice Department officials conclude that there is no hope of Koresh surrendering peacefully, a conclusion reinforced by FBI senior agent Byron Sage, one of the principal negotiators, who tells officials that in his opinion further negotiations would be fruitless. The FBI agent in charge of the siege, Jeffrey Jamar, gives DeGuerin and his fellow lawyer Jack Zimmerman the impression that he takes Koresh’s offer of surrender seriously, but as Jamar will later testify, he does not. Jamar will later testify: “It was serious in [DeGuerin’s and Zimmerman’s] minds. I think they were earnest and really hopeful, but in Koresh’s mind, never a chance. I’m sorry.” The Delta Force members are present at the request of FBI Director William Sessions, to convince Reno to go along with the tear-gas plan. They reassure her that tear gas presents no danger to both the adults and the children in the compound, and that it cannot catch fire. Richard Rogers, the head of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT—see March 31, 1993), says that if the situation in Waco is not resolved soon, he will have to withdraw his men for rest and retraining. Reno asks why, if the HRT teams must be withdrawn, local SWAT teams cannot be deployed in their place; Rogers and other FBI officials say the presence of the HRT teams is “essential.” However, even with the pressure from the FBI officials, Reno rejects the plan. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] She will approve a modified version of the plan two days later (see April 17-18, 1993). She is apparently unaware that the FBI will lob pyrotechnic grenades either into or near the building (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Opinions Vary on Koresh's Intentions, Sincerity - Sage will later say that in his opinion, Koresh never intended to follow through with the proposed surrender. He will say that Koresh turns down offers to provide typists and word processors to help him complete his manuscript, though the FBI provides equipment to let Davidian Ruth Riddle begin typing transcripts for him. Sage is convinced, he will say, that the entire manuscript proposal is “just another delaying tactic.” [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Others have a different opinion. Two religious scholars, Arnold and Tabor, have studied Koresh’s earlier broadcast (see March 2, 1993), and believe that Koresh has decided that the Apocalypse he believes is unfolding at Mt. Carmel still has a year or so before it concludes; Koresh’s decision to write the manuscript about the Seven Seals indicates to them that he has changed his mind about the timeframe of the End Days. They believe that Koresh means what he says and does intend to surrender after completing the manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Byron Sage, David Koresh, Clinton administration, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, William S. Sessions, Steve Schneider, Branch Davidians, Richard Rogers, Ruth Riddle, James Tabor, Janet Reno, Jack Zimmerman, Philip Arnold, Richard DeGuerin, Jeffrey Jamar
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Branch Davidian leader David Koresh tells the FBI he has completed work on the portion of his manuscript that explains the first of the Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno, after a private briefing by FBI Director William Sessions, requests that the FBI prepare documentation about the tear-gas assault plan currently under development (see April 12, 1993). [Moore, 1995]
A variety of military-grade CS gas canisters. A ruler lies between them as a size reference. It is unclear if the FBI plans to use canisters similar to these in the Davidian assault. [Source: British Ordnance Collectors]Attorney General Janet Reno approves a modified version of the FBI’s original plan to flush the Branch Davidian compound, Mt. Carmel, with tear gas and force the departure of the 80-odd members (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 7, 1993). Reno rejected an earlier plan, instead asking for further review (see April 14-15, 1993). According to a later Justice Department report, she gives the prepared material “only a cursory review, leaving tactical decisions to those at Waco,” and begins discussing rules of engagement with FBI Director William Sessions and his top aides. She briefs President Clinton, who concurs with the plan after asking questions about measures designed to ensure the safety of the children in the compound (see March 28, 1993). According to Reno, who will later discuss her conversation with Clinton: “He said: ‘Have you carefully considered it? Have you looked at everything? Do you feel like this is the best way to go?’ And I said: ‘Yes, sir. It’s my responsibility, and I think it’s the best way to go.’” Ultimately, Clinton says, “it is your decision.” The plan has been under discussion since March 22 (see March 22, 1993); Reno will acknowledge that she has been appraised of such a plan since “around March 27th or sometime near the very end of March.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Parameters of Plan - The stated mission of the plan is to “secure the surrender/arrest of all adult occupants of the residence while providing the maximum possible security for the children within the compound.” The plan spans some 48 hours, or until all the Davidians have left the building and surrendered. The raid will start with the first “insertion” of CS gas into the front left portion of the residence, the main building of the compound. After a period of time dependent on the Davidians’ response to the CS gas and any negotiations that might take place, more CS will be inserted into the back right portion of the residence. A third insertion will be made at an unspecified point in the residence. After that, all subsequent insertions will be made through the upper and lower windows of the building. The first three insertions will be made by two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs), military vehicles similar to Bradley fighting vehicles but lacking armaments. The CEVs to be used have been outfitted with boom-like arms capable of punching through the walls of the residence. On the booms are mechanical sprayers for the CS. After the third insertion, agents will fire “ferret” round projectiles through the windows; these are small, non-explosive grenade-like projectiles containing CS gas which break apart upon impact and deliver the gas. In addition, more CS will be inserted by the CEVs. HRT (hostage rescue team) and SWAT (special weapons and tactics) units have specific assignments. Maneuvers for the two CEVs, nine Bradleys, and one M-88 tank retrieval vehicle are also specified. FBI snipers are carefully positioned. A “medical annex” is placed to treat what the plan calls “the potentially large number of casualties which could exceed the current medical capabilities of any single agency present,” and there are procedures to be followed to arrest persons exposed to CS. The annex is prepared to evacuate seriously injured agents or Davidians to local and secondary hospitals, as well as the mass surrender of the Davidians if that occurs. The plan also provides for the possibility that the Davidians might not surrender. In that case, the plan states that “if all subjects failed to surrender after 48 hours of tear gas, then a CEV with a modified blade will commence a systematic opening up/disassembly of the structure until all subjects are located.” If Davidians are observed in the compound’s guard tower, agents will fire ferret rounds into the tower. Also: “If during any tear gas delivery operations, subjects open fire with a weapon, then the FBI rules of engagement will apply and appropriate deadly force will be used. Additionally, tear gas will immediately be inserted into all windows of the compound utilizing the four Bradley vehicles as well as the CEVs.”
No Frontal Assault - The plan has no provision for any sort of frontal assault by armed FBI agents; the planners feel that any such assault would almost certainly result in “significant casualties” among the agents, and might well trigger a mass suicide among the Davidians. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Reno Deliberately Misinformed - Later investigations will show that Reno is being actively misinformed by the FBI in order to secure her approval for the tear gas plan. The FBI procured documentation from the on-site commanders in Waco that supports only the Washington officials’ desire for an aggressive assault using a heavy bombardment of tear gas, and omits material from FBI profiler Pete Smerick and FBI negotiators that warns against such a plan (see April 12, 1993 and 1995). The FBI information presented to Reno does not contain Smerick’s behavioral memos, omits complaints from Smerick and an array of negotiators that negotiations had been progressing until derailed by more aggressive FBI tactics, and omits warnings that using tanks or other force against the Davidians would cause violence and death. The report concludes, “Since negotiations began on Feb. 28, 1993, despite 51 days of efforts, the negotiators have concluded that they have not been able to successfully negotiate a single item with [Davidian leader David] Koresh.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995; Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
Allegations of Child Abuse - A later Justice Department study will show that Reno changes her mind about the plan primarily because she fears the children in the compound are being abused. The FBI’s briefing book notes allegations of child abuse by Davidian leader David Koresh, both sexual and physical. Although the FBI has no evidence of current abuse taking place, someone in the FBI tells Reno that children in the compound are being raped and beaten. According to the Justice Department report, “someone had made a comment in one of the meetings that Koresh was beating babies.” Reno, who came to Washington with the reputation of being a child advocate, later says she “double-checked” the allegation and got “the clear impression that, at some point since the FBI had assumed command and control for the situation, they had learned that the Branch Davidians were beating babies.” However, it is highly unlikely that Koresh is abusing children, largely because the wounds he suffered in the February 28 shootout sharply limit his mobility. Dr. Bruce Perry, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital, has closely examined the children already released from the compound, and concluded that none of them had been subjected to sexual or physical abuse. Perry will later say of the child-abuse allegations, “The FBI maximized things they knew would ring a bell with her.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995] FBI Director William Sessions says on April 19 that no direct evidence exists of current sexual or physical abuse going on among the Davidians. Reno will later state that she possessed “no contemporary evidence” of such abuse. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Additionally, some FBI officials worry that Koresh and the other adults may try to break out of the compound using the children as human shields, though no evidence supports this fear. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Reno Not Told CS Gas Can Be Flammable - The CS gas to be used is also flammable under certain conditions, a fact of which Reno may not be aware. [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995]
Exaggerated Warnings of Militia Members En Route - Reno will later state that she receives warnings during the briefings about the possibility that armed militia members may be preparing to converge on Waco to join Koresh in resisting the law enforcement forces gathered around the Mt. Carmel compound (see April 3, 1993). Later investigation shows that the “threat” of “armed militias” consists of one Indianapolis lawyer, Linda Thompson, who has promised to load people into a van, drive to Waco, and protest for the right to bear arms. Thompson says she is part of an organization called the Unorganized Militia of the United States, an organization of which few Justice Department officials are aware. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995]
'Highly Irresponsible' - A House committee investigation in 1996 will find Reno’s decision to approve the assault “highly irresponsible,” and will find, “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Attorney General Janet Reno, described by the New York Times as “shaken,” explains the decision to allow the FBI to assault the besieged Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see March 1, 1993), a decision that resulted in an inferno of flames and almost 80 dead Davidians (see April 19, 1993). She says that in hindsight the order to assault the compound was a mistake. Reno takes responsibility for the assault and says that she regrets the loss of life. “Today was not meant to be D-Day,” she says. “This was just a step forward in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution by constantly exerting further pressure to shrink the perimeter.… Obviously, if I had thought that the chances were great of a mass suicide, I would never have approved the plan.” She says FBI officials in charge of the operation did not believe that Koresh’s reaction to the assault, which deployed tanks, armored vehicles, and a huge amount of tear gas, would be to order a mass suicide. In an interview on CNN, Reno says the decision “was based on what we knew then,” apparently referring to what she and FBI officials knew before the raid (see April 17-18, 1993). “Based on what we know now, it was obviously wrong.” FBI senior agent Bob Ricks, who was at the siege for almost all of its 51 days, concurs with Reno’s statements. “Our desire was to get them out, use nonlethal means in a systematic manner, so that they could come before the bar and face justice,” he says, not to precipitate their deaths. Reno says that one of the factors that led her to approve the assault was reports that the Davidians were physically abusing the children inside. “We had information that babies were being beaten” by Davidian leader David Koresh, she says. “I specifically asked, ‘You really mean babies?’ ‘Yes, that he’s slapping babies around.’ These are concerns that we had.” She also says that had the siege lasted much longer, most if not all of the FBI agents deployed around the compound would have needed to be withdrawn for rest and retraining, and replaced with a new team. “The experts advised us, advised me, that in those situations where you had to be constantly on the alert that it was in the best interests of everybody concerned, including the safety of the agents and others involved, to provide for really time off, and what I was told is that there were no backups,” she says. [New York Times, 4/20/1993; New York Times, 4/20/1993; New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound. [Source: PBS]The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both (see April 18, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Warning - At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. [Time, 5/3/1993]
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire - At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.” Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons, 2002] (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000] Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI's Actions an Assault - A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee (see August 2, 1996) will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Monitoring from Washington - At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Buildings Breached - At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well - At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Transcriptionist Escapes - Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript (see April 18, 1993), escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound - At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993] Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1993 Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993) will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs” (see October 8, 1999). Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Plea for Release - At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. [New York Times, 4/20/1993] One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Systematic Gunfire' - At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors - At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Death Toll - In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In the Bunker - FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing. That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Koresh's Fate - Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
No Ill Effects from Gas - Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Wrongly Executed Plan - The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Taking Responsibility - One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack (see April 17-18, 1993), and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here” (see April 19, 1993). She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Bob Sheehy, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Barry Higginbotham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, Jeffrey Jamar, Byron Sage, US Department of Justice, Nizam Peerwani, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard Rogers, Rodney Rawlings, Rodney Crow, Ruth Riddle, Texas Rangers, Steve Schneider
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
A New York Times op-ed excoriates the federal government for allowing the FBI to assault the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas, a decision that resulted in the fiery deaths of 78 Davidians (see April 19, 1993). “[T]here was nothing divinely ordained by yesterday’s catastrophe,” the op-ed states, and says that Attorney General Janet Reno’s later explanation of events (see April 19, 1993) clearly shows “time was on the authorities’ side, and they threw it away.” The op-ed finds Reno’s characterization of the assault as an incremental increase in pressure on the Davidians to be specious: “[A]ssault by an armored vehicle equipped to poke holes in buildings seems like a large escalation of force more likely to make cultists think that D-Day had indeed arrived.” The op-ed credits the FBI agents on site with restraint in not returning fire when the Davidians fired on them, but says both the bureau and Reno “sadly… miss the point” of the debacle. “The miscalculation was near-total,” it says. The op-ed concludes: “The Koresh affair has been mishandled from beginning to end (see March 27, 1993). It started with a bungled attack by Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents in which four agents and unknown number of cultists were killed (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), and ended in yesterday’s FBI misjudgment. The hard lesson is that patience and determination do not cost lives, but impatience does. Does anyone now doubt that it would have been better to let the standoff in Waco continue?” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In interviews conducted for the Justice Department’s probe of the FBI’s 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993), several FBI agents present during the siege and/or final assault say the bureau abandoned negotiations much too early and instead implemented aggressive measures that were counterproductive (see March 23, 1993). The interviews will not be included in the Justice Department’s report, and will not be released until December 1999, when they are made available to the special counsel investigating the FBI’s conduct during the final assault (see September 7-8, 1999).
Negotiators 'Had the Rug Pulled Out from under Them' - Some negotiators say during their interviews that because the FBI used punitive paramilitary actions (see March 12, 1993, March 14, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, March 21, 1993, March 22, 1993, March 23-24, 1993, March 25-26, 1993, April 7, 1993, April 10, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), many Davidians chose to remain inside the compound rather than leave. Gary Noesner, the FBI’s negotiation coordinator for the first weeks of the siege, says, “The negotiators’ approach was working until they had the rug pulled out from under them” by aggressive tactical actions. Noesner’s replacement, Clint Van Zandt, agrees, saying the negotiators’ position was “akin to sitting on the bow of the Titanic and watching the iceberg approach.” Former FBI profiler Pete Smerick, who warned early in the siege that the aggressive tactics being used by the FBI might backfire (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 7-8, 1993), says that the FBI “should not send in the tanks, because if they did so, children would die and the FBI would be blamed even if they were not responsible.… The outcome would have been different if the negotiation approach had been used. More people would have come out, even if Koresh and his core never did.”
Negotiators Submitted Own Plan for Tear-Gas Assault - Noesner says that on March 22, he and other negotiators submitted their own plan for gassing the compound, in hopes that their more moderated plan would be chosen over a more aggressive plan from the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). “This showed a clear realization… that the negotiations were basically over. They knew they were at an impasse,” Noesner says of FBI negotiators. “They recommended that tear gas be used because they realized this was going to happen anyway and they wanted to control it, to use it with leverage in the negotiations. The tactical interests just wanted to throw the gas in.” The negotiators’ plan became the blueprint for the plan accepted by Attorney General Janet Reno. “It would be allowed to work by letting them sit in it. The idea was to increase pressure but not in a way to provoke a violent response,” Noesner says.
Negotiators' Positions Disputed - FBI agent Byron Sage, one of the senior agents present during the siege, disagrees with some of his colleagues’ comments. In an interview repeatedly cited in the Justice Department report, Sage says: “Could we have gotten a few more people out [had the FBI used different tactics]? Maybe so, and God knows, any life that we could’ve saved would’ve been important. But it’s a total what-if. The fact remains that we did everything we could.” According to former White House counsel Webster Hubbell, also interviewed for the Justice Department report, Sage told him in a phone call that further negotiations were useless, and that some kind of assault on the compound was the only way to resolve the situation. Sage disputes Hubbell’s recollections, saying, “I never said negotiations were abandoned or at a total impasse.” Van Zandt, speaking to reporters in 1999, will say that he is not surprised to learn that Sage, and not Van Zandt, received Hubbell’s phone call. “I probably would’ve told him a lot different,” Van Zandt will recall. “When anyone from Washington asked who should we talk to, [on-site commander Jeffrey] Jamar strongly suggested Sage because he would speak the company line.… I don’t say [Sage] was Jeff Jamar’s man in a negative sense. But Jamar trusted him and knew he’d be working for Jamar when this was all over.” Van Zandt will recall warning “whoever would listen” that the plan was too risky and wouldn’t work. “That fell on deaf ears. I said we’re playing into Koresh’s prophecies. We’re doing what he wants.” Van Zandt will say that shortly before the assault he told the other negotiators what was coming. “It was a very deep, sobering time,” he will recall. Sage will dispute Van Zandt’s recollections also. “I don’t remember anyone jumping up and disagreeing,” he will say. “Hindsight is 20/20. We all agreed that we had reached a point where we would try to force the issue. If that meant the exercise of some force, then tear gas was the lowest level of force available.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/30/1999; USA Today, 12/30/1999]
Entity Tags: Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeffrey Jamar, Gary Noesner, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Webster Hubbell
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Judge Walter Smith convenes a sentencing hearing for the Branch Davidians convicted of crimes in regards to the Waco siege that resulted in the death of scores of their companions (see January-February 1994). Defendant Ruth Riddle, facing deportation to Canada for overstaying her visa, is brought back to Texas for sentencing on her immigration violation; Riddle and six other defendants face sentencing for similar charges. In all, nine defendants receive jail sentences. During “allocution,” some argue that the court has no jurisdiction, and that Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton should have been witnesses. Others deny any guilt. One defendant, Livingston Fagan (see March 23-24, 1993), tells the court that he and his fellow defendants are all innocent. Fagan, “probably the only Branch Davidian with any formal theological training,” says he still considers himself a devotee of Davidian leader David Koresh, and says everything the Davidians did during the siege was justified by the harsh and aggressive actions taken by federal agents. “Right from the beginning, the spiritual aspect of this was totally and absolutely rejected,” he says. “But it was the very core of why we were at Mt. Carmel, and essentially, why we acted the way that we acted.” Defense lawyers argue that their clients are being forced to answer for crimes committed by Koresh and other Davidian leaders who are dead and cannot face justice themselves. Prosecutors argue that the theology as avowed by the Davidians shows a propensity towards violence, and ask the judge to give each defendant the maximum sentence. Smith, though the jury had not convicted the defendants of conspiracy to kill federal agents, holds the defendants responsible for the deaths of four agents nonetheless (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). He says the Davidians had assembled an “armory” of weapons “to rival that of a National Guard unit’s,” as well as a huge stockpile of ammunition and paramilitary gear, and that the Davidians had fortified the compound. He accuses Koresh of inciting his followers through his sermons and teachings to resist the authorities up to the point of death. Five Davidians, including Fagan, receive sentences of 40 years for carrying firearms while committing violent crimes. Another defendant, Paul Fatta, receives 15 years for firearms offenses. Defendant Graeme Craddock, who cooperated to an extent with authorities, receives 10 years for voluntary manslaughter and 10 years for carrying firearms during the commission of a violent crime. Riddle is given a five-year sentence; Katherine Schroeder, who testified for the prosecution, receives three years in jail. Later in the month, jury foreperson Sara Bain will say that Smith went much farther in his sentencing than the jury had intended. “They [the sentences] certainly didn’t reflect the jury’s intention at all,” she will say. “We had thought that the weapons charges would be a slap on the wrist.… I wish everyone had just been acquitted on all charges.… The federal government was absolutely out of control there. We spoke in the jury room about the fact that the wrong people were on trial, that it should have been the ones that planned the raid and orchestrated it and insisted on carrying out this plan who should have been on trial.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 2000, the Supreme Court will rule that many of the more lengthy sentences are improper (see June 5, 2000).
Entity Tags: Ruth Riddle, Graeme Leonard Craddock, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Janet Reno, Kathryn Schroeder, Walter Smith, Livingstone Fagan, Paul Gordon Fatta, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Sara Bain, US Supreme Court
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Former FBI profiler Peter Smerick tells FBI agents investigating the 1993 siege and assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993), that he believes FBI officials “misled” Attorney General Janet Reno in order to gain her approval to launch a tear-gas assault on the compound (see April 17-18, 1993). Smerick’s interview is contained in a confidential document that is obtained by the press in March 2000. Smerick retired from the bureau in late 1993, and began a career as a behavioral consultant in a firm staffed by ex-FBI agents. His psychological profiles are considered in hindsight to have been the best predictors of the tragedy by experts and negotiators involved in the siege.
'Slanted View of the Operation' Given to Reno by FBI Officials - Smerick tells interviewers that in his opinion, “the FBI misled the attorney general by giving her ‘a slanted view of the operation’ in Waco.” Smerick blames top FBI officials in Washington for convincing Reno that the only way to bring the siege to a peaceful end was with tear gas. Smerick says he and an unnamed negotiator had by then “concluded that the best strategy would have been to convert the Branch Davidian compound into a prison and simply announce to [sect leader David] Koresh that he was in the custody of the United States. This idea was not endorsed, however.” The report of Smerick’s interview says, “Smerick speculated that FBI headquarters viewed this option as one which would have caused them to ‘lose face’ and therefore was unacceptable.” Smerick notes that his five Waco profiling memos (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, and March 9, 1993) were not in the “briefing book” FBI officials gave to Reno when they began lobbying her to approve using tear gas (see April 12, 1993). Had Reno seen those memos, she would have read of warnings that using force against the Davidians would intensify a “bunker mentality” in which “they would rather die than surrender.” Smerick warned that the sect considered its home “sacred ground” and would “fight back to the death” if the authorities tried to go in. “The bottom line is that we can always resort to tactical pressure, but it should be the absolute last option we should consider,” one memo read. Smerick examines the briefing book given to Reno and, according to the interview report: “Smerick speculated that the preparers selectively incorporated memoranda and evidence from the case which selectively supported the tactical step of tear gas insertion. He feels compelled to present the foregoing information for the bureau’s consideration and deliberation in an attempt to prevent similar outcomes in future hostage situations.”
Mocking, Belittlement - Smerick notes that his memos were so strongly against the use of force that FBI leaders in Waco and Washington mocked and belittled them. An administrative notebook kept by the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) in Waco documents Smerick’s claim. An unsigned note in the notebook outlines Smerick’s recommendations for ensuring “safety of children who are victims,” and “facilitat[ing] peaceful surrender,” and concludes that Smerick and his colleagues have provided a “psychological profile of a… [expletive] by jerks.” Smerick notes that on March 9, 1993, he was informed that future memos would have to be approved in Washington before being distributed to the on-site supervisors, and that he was pressured to have his analyses conform to a more aggressive stance (see March 9, 1993). “[T]he traditionally independent process of FBI criminal analysis… was compromised at Waco,” he states. Smerick describes his final memo as “acquiescent,” omitting his earlier cautions against pushing the Davidians too far and incorporating suggestions from his Washington superiors. He left Waco shortly thereafter “in frustration” (see March 17-18, 1993), though he says he kept in contact with some negotiators.
Loyalty First - Smerick concludes by reiterating his loyalty to the FBI, and his intention not to make any of his criticisms public. The report reads: “Smerick explained that if he is called to testify at any official public hearings regarding this matter, he will present the facts in a fashion as favorable to the FBI as possible.… Smerick concluded the interview by noting that he has always been loyal to the FBI and will continue to be loyal. He advised that he is providing the foregoing information for in-house edification, not to publicly criticize the FBI.” Two months after the interview, Smerick will testify before Congress about the siege and the final assault; he will briefly mention his memos, but will not offer the detailed criticisms of the FBI that he states in this interview. [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
The US decides to deport Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, who was arrested in the US in mid-December 1994 (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). Khalifa was sentenced to death in Jordan later in December and the Jordanian government wants the US to deport him to face retrial, even though Jordan does not have an extradition treaty with the US. On this day, Secretary of State William Christopher writes a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno: “Jordan is aware of Mr. Khalifa’s presence in the United States and has asked for our assistance in sending him to Jordan so that he may be brought to justice. To permit Mr. Khalifa to remain in the United States in these circumstances would potentially be seen as an affront to Jordan and at odd with many of the basic elements of our cooperative bilateral relationship [and] potentially undermine our longstanding and successful policy of international legal cooperation to bring about the prosecution of terrorists.” The next day, Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, acting for an absent Janet Reno, sends a letter supporting the deportation request. [Lance, 2006, pp. 160-161] Gorelick will later be named one of the ten 9/11 Commissioners. The 9/11 Commission will not discuss the decision to deport Khalifa at all. Victim’s relative Monica Gabrielle will later note, “Gorelick was one of those who wanted [the 9/11 Commission] to concentrate only on the last few years.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 169] In April 1995, Khalifa’s conviction will be overturned in Jordan after a key witness recants, making it highly probable Khalifa will be found innocent if deported there (see Early April 1995). But the US will go ahead with the deportation anyway, and Khalifa will be found innocent and set free (see April 26-May 3, 1995).
Two US Senators, Lauch Faircloth (R-NC) and Larry E. Craig (R-ID), ask the Justice Department to explain rumors they have heard from militia groups that federal agents are training at Fort Bliss, Texas, to assault those militia groups. In a letter, Faircloth and Craig ask about Fort Bliss and police training, writing in part, “You are doubtless aware of the concerns being raised in many quarters about what is perceived as the growing militarization of our domestic law enforcement agencies.” When the letter becomes publicly known, aides for both senators will claim that the senators are merely seeking information and concerned only about federal police agencies’ going beyond their normal training. The aides will claim that the letter does not mention the paramilitary groups, and will say neither Faircloth nor Craig support such groups. In a separate letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX) makes the same accusation, saying that he has heard from militia group representatives that “New World Order” agents (see September 11, 1990) were preparing to invade them. Stockman calls these group representatives “reliable sources.” Stockman’s “reliable sources” told him that the assault was scheduled for March 25. It is unclear what Stockman believes had happened to that scheduled assault, which did not take place. Fort Bliss spokesperson Jean Offutt calls the warnings “ridiculous,” and Justice Department officials call them “nonsense.” Stockman, like Faircloth and Craig, says he has no ties to paramilitary groups, a statement that is false (see 10:50 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 23-24, 1995). [New York Times, 5/2/1995]
Merrick Garland, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division in Washington, receives an “Urgent” report on his computer from Oklahoma City. The report concerns the bomb that has just ripped through the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Some of the report is speculation and some of it is incorrect. It was hastily compiled and sent out from the administrative office of the US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. The report reads in part: “An explosion was heard. Black smoke billowed from a few blocks north.… The explosion rocked the private leased space which houses the US Attorney’s office three blocks north from the federal courthouse.” The report gives details about the federal safety officials sent to investigate: “Along the three-block walk, they found massive glass in the streets from several of the high-rise buildings. Along the way, walking wounded were everywhere, along with emergency rescue vehicles. It appears, and has been speculated, that a massive bomb exploded in the area of ATF, DEA, or Secret Service offices in the Murrah Federal Building. Employees from HUD indicated there were a few suspected deaths, and a couple of critically injured.… Damage to the Murrah building included the front of the building being blown off, several floors seem to be missing, and you can see right through the building in the area of the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors.” Safety officials have inspected the nearby federal courthouse and found extensive damage there as well. “It appeared some small explosions were continuing, perhaps gas lines.” Garland enters the office of Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who calls Attorney General Janet Reno with the news. Reno asks for further information as it comes in. Garland looks for television news reports but sees nothing yet. Another “Urgent” report comes over his computer, again from the US Attorney’s office for the Western District in Oklahoma, and again mixing factual details with errors. “Information was received by the district that it was a bomb,” it reads. “Information was received by the district that there was a second bomb and it was NOT detonated. The northeast side of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was blown out. The 9th floor of the building is gone. All grand jurors have been evacuated. One WDOK (Western District of Oklahoma) employee has a child in the day care center in the Federal Building. Unconfirmed reports from the district were six children in the day care center killed, although CNN is reporting that all of the children are safe. The district reported that there was a bomb threat at a church located north of Oklahoma City. In reviewing cases, the US Attorney’s office initially reported that a defendant in a methamphetamine case had apparently made threats against the government.” Garland now sees pictures from the scene on television news reports, and realizes immediately that the devastation had to have been caused by a bomb and not a gas main break or any other accidental occurrance. By this time, Garland’s office is filling with prosecutors and staffers, stunned at the scenes they are witnessing on TV. Garland meets again with Gorelick, and both meet with Reno. Their first priority is to take control of the situation, and Reno alerts the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A third “Urgent” report comes in; Garland reads: “A Channel 4 [local Oklahoma City television station] reporter reported the Nation of Islam has claimed responsibility for the bombing.… (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After) Dahlia Lehman, the victim witness coordinator in the Western District of Oklahoma, has a daughter employed at the DEA office in the Alfred Murrah Federal Building.” Garland leaves the Justice Department and runs across the street to the FBI building. Stepping into the Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC), he is amazed at the number of tips already pouring in about the bombing. He stays in the SIOC office for much of the day, coordinating leads and details as information arrives. FBI Director Louis Freeh is in an adjacent room; like Garland, he is collating and processing information. Reports of bomb threats swamp the offices throughout the day (see 9:22 a.m. April 19, 1995 and 10:00 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 182-187]
The rear axle of the Ryder truck from the bombing (foreground), used by the FBI to identify the truck and discover the identity of the bomber. The axle was blown 575 feet and crushed the Ford Festiva depicted in the photo. [Source: Associated Press]The White House announces that the FBI will be the lead investigative agency for the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Some in federal law enforcement feel that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) is the better choice to conduct the investigation, considering that agency’s expertise with explosives, but the White House wants to avoid the infighting and turf wars that ensued after the Branch Davidian raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and culminated in the tragedy that claimed 78 lives (see April 19, 1993). The FBI has also been training intensively since the Davidian tragedy on handling major events such as this one. The BATF will be involved, and some internal bickering will take place. FBI supervisor Weldon Kennedy, who runs the Phoenix FBI office, is named lead agent. Kennedy supplants Robert “Bob” Ricks, the FBI’s special agent in charge of Oklahoma City. Ricks had worked on the Branch Davidian siege. FBI Director Louis Freeh names Kennedy, not Ricks, to lead the investigation because of new FBI procedures, implemented after the Davidian tragedy, that call for increased group responses to major crisis situations. Kennedy has been training other agents in the new system and has experience working with a recent series of prison riots in Atlanta. Moreover, Kennedy has no connection to Oklahoma City and therefore does not know any of the victims or the law enforcement officials involved. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 184, 191-192] Some 350 agents and specialists, many of whom have friends and co-workers in the Murrah Building, are assigned to the investigative task force. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 33] In the following days, the FBI will perform intensive searches of the site of the bombing and of the surrounding area, marking off the areas in small grids and questioning everyone available. Gas stations and truck stops on highways leading in and out of Oklahoma City will be searched, and their employees questioned. A hundred and twenty-nine dump truck loads of debris will be carted to a sifting site at the county sheriff’s gun range 10 miles away, and the debris examined and sorted. In all, 1,035 tons of debris will be examined, much of it by hand. Telephone leads are followed up. The Justice Department’s Merrick Garland will spend the next three months leading the investigation until a group of US Attorneys named by Attorney General Janet Reno takes over. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 221]
President Clinton declares a state of emergency for Oklahoma City. Attorney Janet Reno is at the left. [Source: The Oklahoman]In a live television press conference, President Clinton addresses the nation regarding the morning’s bombing in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). He says: “The bombing in Oklahoma City was an attack on innocent children and defenseless citizens. It was an act of cowardice and it was evil. The United States will not tolerate it. And I will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated by evil cowards. I have met with our team which we assembled to deal with this bombing, and I have determined to take the following steps to assure the strongest response to this situation. First, I have deployed a crisis management under the leadership of the FBI (see After 9:02 a.m., April 19, 1995), working with the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, military and local authorities. We are sending the world’s finest investigators to solve these murders. Second, I have declared an emergency in Oklahoma City. And at my direction, James Lee Witt, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is now on his way there to make sure we do everything we can to help the people of Oklahoma deal with the tragedy. Third, we are taking every precaution to reassure and to protect people who work in or live near other federal facilities. Let there be no room for doubt. We will find the people who did this. When we do, justice will be swift, certain, and severe. These people are killers and they must be treated like killers. Finally, let me say that I ask all Americans tonight to pray, to pray for the people who have lost their lives, to pray for the families and the friends of the dead and the wounded, to pray for the people of Oklahoma City. May God’s grace be with them. Meanwhile, we will be about our work. Thank you.” Clinton asks Americans to pray for the victims. Attorney General Janet Reno follows Clinton in the conference, and says, “The death penalty is available and we will seek it.” She refuses to speculate on whether the date of the bombing—the two-year anniversary of the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After)—is a coincidence or something more. “We are pursuing all leads,” she says. “This has been a tragic and heartbreaking day.… We cannot tell you how long it will be before we can say with certainty what occurred and who is responsible but we will find the perpetrators and we will bring them to justice.” At another time during the same day, Clinton tells a Des Moines reporter: “I was sick all day long. All of us have been looking at the scene where those children were taken out, and all of us were seeing our own children there. This is an awful, awful thing.” [PBS, 4/19/1995; Los Angeles Times, 4/20/1995; Associated Press, 4/20/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 187] Clinton press secretary Michael “Mack” McCurry later credits Clinton for putting an end to what he will call “the anti-Arab hysteria that almost swept this country. Because remember, in the first several hours, everyone was pointing fingers at Arab terrorists (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After and April 19, 1995), which turned out to be obviously wrong.” [PBS Frontline, 2000]
The sketches of “John Doe No. 1” and “John Doe No. 2” as released by the FBI. [Source: The Oklahoman]The FBI releases sketches of the two men believed to be responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing the day before (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The men are identified as “John Doe No. 1” and “John Doe No. 2.” [Indianapolis Star, 2003; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] The sketches are based on interviews with witnesses in Oklahoma City and in Kansas (see April 15, 1995). FBI agent Raymond Rozycki speaks to three employees at Elliott’s Body Shop in Junction City, Kansas, who give him most of the details used to compile the sketches (see April 13, 1995 and April 15, 1995). [Fox News, 4/13/2005] Additionally, Attorney General Janet Reno announces a $2 million reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the bombers. [Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 809] The sketches are released on the authority of lead FBI agent in charge Weldon Kennedy (see After 9:02 a.m., April 19, 1995). In the following days, updated sketches are released, showing “John Doe No. 2” in profile and wearing a baseball cap with lightning streaks on the side. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 193, 261]
One Identified within a Day; Second Never Identified, May Not Exist - Within a day, “John Doe No. 1” is identified as Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995). Lea McGown, the owner of the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kansas, speaks to FBI agents and recognizes “Robert Kling” as “Tom McVeigh,” a man who stayed in the motel the week before (see April 13, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). McVeigh had checked into Room 25 on Friday, April 14, she says, and stayed through the weekend. She also remembers McVeigh driving a large Ryder truck to the motel. “John Doe No. 2,” described as a stocky, swarthy man with a lantern jaw and a tattoo on his arm, will never be conclusively identified (see June 14, 1995). Agents seal off Room 25 and begin going over it for forensic evidence. [New York Times, 4/24/1995; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 194; Indianapolis Star, 2003] In 1998, author Richard A. Serrano will characterize “John Doe No. 2” as the man who “either got away with the biggest crime in US history or is a man who never lived.… Discounting the crank or ‘hysterical’ sightings (see February 17, 1995 and After, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 15, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, April 18, 1995, and (1:00 a.m.) April 19, 1995), only three people ever saw John Doe No. 2. Eldon Elliott, Vicki Beemer, and Tom Kessinger, the three Ryder employees (see April 13, 1995 and April 15, 1995), would recall only minor details about the man, and their recollections were as shadowy as his face.” Beemer will later say: “They were both in the office. I really don’t recall what the other guy—he was in there, but I don’t really recall where he was standing exactly.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 259-260]
False Sightings - Bogus sightings and detentions will abound after the sketches of “John Doe No. 2” are released. In Georgia, motorist Scott Sweely is stopped by a local sheriff and ordered to crawl out of his car window and lie facedown on the asphalt. Someone at a gas station told local police that Sweely looked like the sketch of Doe No. 2. Sweely is taken into custody and grilled by federal agents for four hours before being released. In Minnesota, a man resembling Doe No. 2 is arrested at gunpoint at the Mall of America. In California, a man AWOL from the US Army is rousted from his home and transferred to Los Angeles, where crowds scream and demand “justice” be carried out against him. A former Army friend of McVeigh’s, Roger L. Barnett (see January - March 1991 and After and January - March 1991 and After), is considered a possible Doe No. 2. Barnett resembles the descriptions of the supposed accomplice—he is stocky and has a skull-and-crossbones tattoo on his arm. He also lives near the Arkansas state line, close to the gun dealer whom alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols robbed to help finance the bombing (see November 5, 1994). However, time cards from his workplace show Barnett was at work the entire week of the bombing, and he passes a lie detector test. Another Army friend, Ray Jimboy, now working as a fry cook in Okemah, Oklahoma, is briefly considered a possibility, but a lie detector test clears him. For a time, Joshua Nichols, Terry Nichols’s son, is considered a possible Doe No. 2, though Joshua is 13 years old. The FBI is bombarded with calls; one husband even tells agents that the Doe No. 2 sketch is his wife. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 260-262]
Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Vicki Beemer, Elliott’s Body Shop (Junction City, Kansas), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eldon Elliott, Dreamland Motel (Junction City, Kansas), Tom Kessinger, Timothy James McVeigh, Weldon Kennedy, Scott Sweely, Raymond Rozycki, Lea McGown, Ray Jimboy, Richard A. Serrano, Joshua Nichols, Roger L. Barnett, Terry Lynn Nichols
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Attorney General Janet Reno, following up on the arrest of suspected Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995) and the detention of his suspected co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995), says the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) was almost certainly “domestic in nature,” and not the work of foreign terrorists (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). In a separate statement, President Clinton praises law enforcement officials for their rapid action, and again promises that authorities will seek the death penalty for those responsible (see 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995). Reno warns that the investigation is still in its preliminary stages. [Washington Post, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/22/1995]
Firefighter Chris Fields carries a mortally wounded child, Baylee Almon, from the wreckage of the Murrah Building on April 19. The child dies in the ambulance. The photograph, by Charles H. Porter IV, wins a Pulitzer Prize and becomes one of the iconic images of the bombing. [Source: Associated Press / Charles H. Porter IV]A national day of mourning for the Oklahoma City bombing victims (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) is held. President Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno, the Reverend Billy Graham, and others attend. [Indianapolis Star, 2003; Fox News, 4/13/2005] “My fellow Americans, a tree takes a long time to grow and wounds take a long time to heal, but we must begin,” Clinton says at the service. “Those who are lost now belong to God.… We pledge to do all we can to help you heal the injured, to rebuild this city, and to bring to justice those who did this evil. You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything. And you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.” [Presidential Rhetoric (.com), 4/23/1995; Denver Post, 6/14/1997; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] Graham tells the assemblage: “That blast was like a violent explosion ripping at the heart of America. And long after the rubble is cleared and the rebuilding begins, the scars of this senseless and evil outrage will remain.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 173]
The press reports that Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX) received a fax shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) that described the effects of the blast (see 10:50 a.m. April 19, 1995). FBI investigators initially believed that Stockman received the fax three minutes before the 9:02 a.m. blast, but later determined that it had been sent shortly afterwards. They believe that the fax may have been sent by Mark Koernke, a member of the Michigan Militia. Authorities are seeking Koernke for questioning, but say that questioning him is not a high priority. [New York Times, 4/23/1995; 'Lectric Law Library, 4/24/1995] The fax will later be determined to have been sent around 10:50 a.m., almost two hours after the blast. Subsequent reporting claims that Stockman received the fax from Libby Molloy, the former Republican chairwoman from Orange County, Texas, who has ties to the Michigan Militia. Texas State Senator Mike Galloway also says that his office received a copy of the fax the same day, and turned it over to the FBI. The fax contained the word “Wolverine” stamped at the top; Molloy now works for Wolverine Productions, a Michigan firm that produces shortwave broadcasts aimed at militia audiences. [Dallas Morning News, 4/25/1995] Koernke broadcasts via Wolverine Productions. Stockman will deny knowing either Molloy or Koernke, though Molloy will later say that Stockman’s office has provided Wolverine Productions with information helpful for Koernke’s broadcasts. [Time, 5/8/1995] Stockman releases a statement concerning the fax and the subsequent press reporting, writing in part: “On the day of the Oklahoma City bombing someone sent our office an anonymous fax which appeared to relate to that tragedy. Our office—not aware of the bombing or the meaning of the fax—set it aside. Our office—like the offices of most public officials, receives every imaginable kind of mail from the public. This fax was no different. After my staff heard news reports of the tragedy—the fax was retrieved and I was made aware of it. I immediately instructed my staff to turn the fax over to the FBI. My office did so within minutes. There has been some confusion in the media over when my office received this fax and when we turned it over to the FBI. There has been no confusion in my office—we turned it over right away.” Stockman says the FBI has confirmed his version of events, and attaches a statement from FBI official John Collingwood showing that he sent the fax “at 11:57 a.m. on April 19, 1995, to the FBI Office of Public and Congressional Affairs.” Stockman also says that a member of his staff sent another copy of the fax to the National Rifle Association (NRA) on April 20, and says, “I believe the staffer acted in good faith, nonetheless, this was done without my knowledge.” Stockman believes he received the fax because of a memo he sent to Attorney General Janet Reno on March 22, 1995, asking if the Justice Department planned any raids against “citizen’s militia” groups and warning of a Branch Davidian-like debacle (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) if the raids were actually carried out. ['Lectric Law Library, 4/24/1995] The Houston Press will later report that the initial confusion about the timing of the fax was caused by the NRA, whom the Press will call “Stockman’s chief patron.” The Press will also note that Stockman has ties to the militia movement, and in a recent Guns and Ammo magazine article, accused the Clinton administration of deliberately killing the Branch Davidians and burning their compound in order to justify its ban on assault weapons (see September 13, 1994). Stockman says he regrets “some of the language he used” in the article. Stockman has also associated himself with anti-Semitic radio show host Tom Valentine, and railed against “outside influences,” presumably Jewish, in the Federal Reserve and other federal financial institutions. [Houston Press, 6/22/1995]
Entity Tags: Mark Koernke, Houston Press, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clinton administration, Janet Reno, Libby Molloy, US Department of Justice, John Collingwood, Tom Valentine, Steve Stockman, Wolverine Productions, Michigan Militia, Mike Galloway, National Rifle Association
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
The FBI says that evidence compiled on the Oklahoma City bombing shows that it was planned for months by accused bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995) and a small number of co-conspirators. The statement by the FBI echoes statements made earlier by Attorney General Janet Reno (see April 22, 1995). Evidence shows that McVeigh was driven in part by his rage at the government’s handling of the Branch Davidian standoff two years earlier (see April 19, 1993). McVeigh has refused to cooperate with investigators, and reportedly has shown no remorse or emotion of any kind, even when confronted with photographs of dead and maimed children being taken from the devasted Murrah Federal Building. The attack was timed to coincide with the Branch Davidian conflagration of April 19, 1993, investigators say, and was executed after months of planning, preparation, and testing. Some investigators believe that McVeigh may lack the leadership skills to plan and execute such a plot, and theorize that the ringleader of the conspiracy may turn out to be someone else (see April 21, 1995 and After). Evidence collected from the Ryder truck, particularly shards of blue plastic from barrels containing the fertilizer and fuel oil that comprised most of the bomb’s elements, point to the involvement of Terry Nichols, a friend of McVeigh’s who is coming under increasing scrutiny as a possible co-conspirator (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). Similar barrels were found in Nichols’s garage in his Herington, Kansas, home (see (February 20, 1995)), along with other evidence tying him to the bomb’s construction.
Investigating Possible Involvement of Sister - Investigators are in the process of searching the home of McVeigh’s younger sister Jennifer, who has returned from a vacation in Pensacola, Florida (see April 7, 1995 and April 21-23, 1995). They are also poring over Jennifer McVeigh’s 1995 Chevrolet pickup truck, registered in New York. Investigators say the two siblings are very close, share similar anti-government views (see March 9, 1995), and have had numerous conversations in recent months (see Mid-December 1994). Jennifer McVeigh is taken into federal custody as well, as a witness, not as a suspect, and is released on April 25, after an intensive interrogation session that leaves her frightened and angry. “They told me Tim was guilty,” she will later recall, “and that he was going to fry.” According to her recollections, the agents threaten to charge her as a co-conspirator unless she gives them evidence against her brother, but she refuses to cooperate. She does reveal some information about her brother’s involvement in gun dealing, his strong belief in the US Constitution as he and right-wing white separatist groups interpret it, and his obsession with the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978). “He had people he knew around the country,” she tells agents, mentioning three: “Mike and Lori and Terry.” Terry is Terry Nichols. “Mike and Lori” are McVeigh’s close friends Michael and Lori Fortier (see May-September 1993, February - July 1994, August 1994, September 13, 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, April 19, 1995 and After, and December 16, 1994 and After). She tells them about watching anti-government videotapes with her brother, in particular one called “Day 51” about the Waco siege. “It depicted the government raiding the compound, and it implied that the government gassed and burned the people inside intentionally and attacked the people,” she tells the agents. “He was very angry. I think he thought the government murdered the people there, basically gassed and burned them down.” The agents ask if by the government, he meant the FBI and the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, also abbreviated BATF). “He felt that someone should be held accountable,” she answers, and says her brother believed no one ever had been held responsible. She shows them the “ATF Read” letter he had written on her word processor (see November 1994) that concludes with the exhortation, “Die, you spineless cowardice [sic] b_stards!” She says that McVeigh had told her he had moved out of a “planning” stage into an “action” stage, though he never explained to her exactly what “action” he intended to take. Later, she will sign a statement detailing what her brother had told her. She will always insist that he never spoke to her about ammonium nitrate, anhydrous hydrazine, or any of the chemical components of the bomb, and had never spoken to her about the scene in The Turner Diaries that depicts the FBI building in Washington being obliterated by a truck bomb similar to the one used in Oklahoma City. The FBI seizes a number of her belongings, including samples of her antigovernment “patriot” literature. But, they determine, Jennifer McVeigh was never a part of her brother’s conspiracy.
Interviewing Alleged Co-Conspirator's Ex-Wife - Investigators are also interviewing Nichols’s ex-wife, Lana Padilla, who currently lives in Las Vegas. The press speculates that she is cooperating with the investigation and may have been taken to a undisclosed location for security reasons. Investigators are combing through a large body of writings McVeigh left behind, many of which detail his far-right, anti-government ideological beliefs. From what they have read so far, McVeigh believes that his Second Amendment rights are absolute, and he has the right to live without any restraints from the government. They have not found any documents detailing any operational plan for the bombing, nor have they found evidence that McVeigh directly threatened any government buildings or personnel. The FBI is offering a $2 million reward for information about McVeigh and the bombing. [New York Times, 4/24/1995; New York Times, 4/24/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 237-238]
Entity Tags: Michael Joseph Fortier, Janet Reno, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Jennifer McVeigh, Lori Fortier, Timothy James McVeigh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Terry Lynn Nichols, Lana Padilla
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
The US government denies two press reports concerning the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). One report, disseminated by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, says that federal investigators have discovered a diary by bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995 and April 27, 1995) that contained threats to bomb federal buildings in Phoenix and Omaha. Attorney General Janet Reno says during a news conference, “I have not received any evidence to that effect.” And the Defense Department denies reports that Army explosives might have been used in the bombing. [New York Times, 4/27/1995]
Joseph H. Hartzler. [Source: Associated Press]The US Justice Department names Joseph H. Hartzler, an Assistant US Attorney in Springfield, Illinois, to lead its prosecution of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995, and May 16, 1995). Attorney General Janet Reno has moved Merrick Garland, who oversaw the initial phase of the bombing investigation, back to Washington to head the Justice Department’s criminal division. She creates what becomes known as the OKBOMB task force, a trial team focusing on continued investigation and the prosecution of McVeigh and his alleged accomplice, Terry Nichols. Reno selects Hartzler from dozens of resumes submitted by government lawyers from around the country. In the 1980s, Hartzler, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair-bound, helped convict four Puerto Rican nationalists accused in a bombing plot, and helped prosecute a federal judge in Chicago, in what became known as the “Greylord investigation.” He has worked as the chief of both the criminal and civil divisions in Chicago, one of the country’s largest US Attorney’s offices. Arlene Joplin, an Oklahoma City prosecutor, will remain on Hartzler’s prosecution team. Justice officials say that Hartzler was chosen because of several factors, including his background in complex criminal cases, terrorist prosecutions, and his ability to work with other government lawyers already on the case. Hartzler is asked by a criminal defense attorney not involved in the case what he thinks about it. Hartzler responds: “Whoever did this should spend some time in hell. I just want to accelerate the process.” Hartzler vows to have no press conferences, and will in fact have very few, though his team does have a few media “favorites,” most notably Jeffrey Toobin, a writer for the New Yorker and a legal analyst for ABC News who once worked with two of the OKBOMB staffers and is considered a supporter of the prosecution. [New York Times, 5/22/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 249-250] Missouri criminal defense lawyer Michael B. Metnick will later say of Hartzler: “His integrity is beyond reproach. He’s a prosecutor I can turn my back on.” Hartzler will tell a reporter that he asked for the McVeigh prosecution because “I thought I could make a difference.” [New York Times, 6/2/1997]
Federal prosecutors formally notify Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995, and April 24, 1995) that they intend to seek the death penalty against him in his upcoming trial. Prosecutors send a letter to McVeigh’s lead lawyer, Stephen Jones, advising that McVeigh will be indicted before August 11 with “one or more crimes potentially punishable by death.” The letter is signed by Patrick M. Ryan, the US Attorney in Oklahoma City. Government officials, including President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno, have said they would press for the death penalty against the person or persons responsible for the bombing (see 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995 and April 22, 1995). The announcement ends speculation that the prosecution might take the death penalty off the table if McVeigh pleads guilty and cooperates with the investigation. While the prosecutors can seek the death penalty, only the trial jury can impose it, if it so chooses. Jones calls the decision to seek the death penalty a “charade,” saying that the decision was made by Clinton and Reno months ago. In a response to Ryan, Jones writes, “For us to reasonably believe that any type of fair review is to be conducted would require us to accept that you, as a nominee of the president for the position you hold, and the attorney general’s Capital Review Committee, appointed by Ms. Reno, would reach a decision and recommendation which overrides the president and the attorney general’s own public commitment.” Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to invoke the death penalty against McVeigh’s accused co-conspirator, Terry Nichols (see March 1995, April 16-17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995, and June 23, 1995). Nichols’s attorney Michael Tigar says he is preparing his defense as if it will be a death-penalty case. [New York Times, 7/12/1995] Two days later, defense lawyers for Nichols inform reporters that the federal government will also seek the death penalty against Nichols. [New York Times, 7/14/1995]
Attorney General Janet Reno, who signed the 1995 Procedures memo. [Source: US Department of Justice]The Justice Department issues the “wall” memo, a later heavily criticized memo that establishes procedures to regulate the flow of information from FBI intelligence investigations to criminal investigators and prosecutors. Such procedures already exist, but this “wall” is now formalized and extended. The memo is signed by Attorney General Janet Reno, but is based on a similar one recently issued by Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick governing the 1993 WTC bombing cases (see March 4, 1995). The wall exists to prevent defendants from successfully arguing in court that information gathered under a warrant issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) should not be used in a criminal prosecution, as the standard for obtaining a FISA warrant is considered to be lower than that for obtaining a criminal search warrant (see Early 1980s). Such arguments are usually unsuccessful, according to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which believes that courts are showing “great deference” to the government when such challenges are made. The procedures, which now apply to all intelligence investigations regardless of whether or not a FISA warrant has been issued, state that the FBI must consult the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, not local United States Attorneys’ offices, about intelligence investigations when it is considering starting a parallel criminal investigation, and that it must do so when there is reasonable indication of a significant federal crime. This means that FBI headquarters has veto power over whether a field office can contact a local prosecutor about an intelligence investigation. However, Criminal Division prosecutors should only be consulted and cannot control an investigation. [Office of the Attorney General, 7/19/1995; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 25-30 ] These procedures will be implemented in such a way that even greater restrictions are placed on information sharing (see (Late 1995-1997)), although a partial exception will be created for the Southern District of New York, which handles a lot of terrorism work (see August 29, 1997). The procedures will also be much criticized for the way they are implemented in the FBI (see July 1999). The increased barriers to information sharing often mean that the FBI monitors terrorists as before, but the information does not get passed to criminal investigators, so the cells carry on operating in the US and the FBI carries on monitoring them. For example, the FBI monitors a Florida-based cell that funds and recruits for jihad throughout the world for nearly a decade before it is rolled up (see (October 1993-November 2001)). Some money raised by terrorism financiers in the US goes to Bosnia, where the US has a policy of enabling covert support for the Muslim side in the civil war (see April 27, 1994). Prosecutor Andrew McCarthy will later call the wall a “rudimentary blunder,” and say that it “was not only a deliberate and unnecessary impediment to information sharing; it bred a culture of intelligence dysfunction.” [National Review, 4/13/2004] John Ashcroft, Attorney General in the Bush Administration (see April 13, 2004), will say that “Government buttressed this ‘wall’,” and will call it the “single greatest structural cause for September 11.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
The House of Representatives concludes a 10-day series of hearings on the series of events that concluded with the fiery deaths of scores of Branch Davidian members near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and Late July 1995). The hearings do not find evidence of a White House-driven conspiracy to either destroy the Davidians or cover up the truth of the matter, as some Republican House members had predicted. An Orlando Sentinel article says that many of the questions from those House Republicans “seemed fueled more by politics than any true desire to ensure that the government avoid future fiascos a la Waco.” The hearings determined that President Clinton did not micro-manage the events of the siege and ultimate assault, nor did they find evidence that Clinton ordered the assault to prove, as some House members alleged, that his administration is “tough on crime.” Committee co-chair Bill McCollum (R-FL) acknowledged at the end of the hearings that the raid, siege, and final conflagration were caused by a string of blunders by federal law enforcement agencies. Attorney General Janet Reno testified as to why the FBI’s final assault seemed at the time to be the best approach; her overriding concern was to remove Davidian leader David Koresh without harming the children inside the compound. A Davidian who survived the fire testified that the fires that devastated the compound were started under orders from Koresh. [Orlando Sentinel, 8/4/1995] In emotional testimony before the House, former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agent Robert Rodriguez, who served as an informant for the BATF inside the Davidian compound, said he was angered and dismayed by his superiors’ decision to raid the compound even though the Davidians knew they were coming (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Rodriguez testified that two of his then-superiors, Philip Chojnacki and Charles Sarabyn, lied to the committee when they said they did not know that the Davidians had been alerted to the February raid. Chojnacki and Sarabyn were fired for their mismanagement of the BATF raid and for covering up evidence of their malfeasance (see Late September - October 1993), but were subsequently rehired (see December 23, 1994). Rodriguez said: “Two years I’ve waited for this.… It let me get everything out.” The events of that raid and the subsequent actions, he said, were “tearing me up inside.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/25/1995] In 1999, the FBI will admit to lobbing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound during the April assault, though the bureau will deny that the grenades started the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Entity Tags: Philip Chojnacki, Charles Sarabyn, Branch Davidians, Bill McCollum, David Koresh, Janet Reno, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US House of Representatives, Robert Rodriguez, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
A federal grand jury indicts Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) on 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. Neither McVeigh nor Nichols are present during the hearing. The grand jury is only empowered to bring federal charges; the eight murder charges are in regards to the eight federal agents slain in the bombing: Secret Service agents Mickey Maroney, Donald Leonard, Alan Whicher, and Cynthia Campbell-Brown; DEA agent Kenneth McCullough; Customs Service agents Paul Ice and Claude Madearis; and Paul Broxterman, an agent in the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Both Nichols and McVeigh are expected to face 160 counts of murder brought by the state of Oklahoma; both will plead not guilty to all counts of the indictment (see August 15, 1995). The indictment levels the following charges:
on September 30, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols purchased 40 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate (2,000 pounds in total, or one ton) in McPherson, Kansas, under the alias “Mike Havens” (see September 30, 1994);
on October 1, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols stole explosives from a storage locker in Marion, Kansas (the actual date of the theft is October 3—see October 3, 1994);
on October 3-4, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols transported the stolen explosives to Kingman, Arizona, and stored them in a rented storage unit (see October 4 - Late October, 1994);
on October 18, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols bought another ton of ammonium nitrate in McPherson, Kansas, again using the “Mike Havens” alias (see October 18, 1994);
in October 1994, McVeigh and Nichols planned the robbery of a firearms dealer in Arkansas as a means to finance the bombing, and on November 5 they “caused” firearms, ammunition, coins, cash, precious metals, and other items to be stolen from gun dealer Roger Moore (see November 5, 1994);
on December 16, 1994, McVeigh drove with Michael Fortier to Oklahoma City and identified the Murrah Federal Building as the target of the upcoming bombing (see December 16, 1994 and After);
in March 1995 McVeigh obtained a driver’s license in the name of “Robert Kling,” bearing a date of birth of April 19, 1972 (see Mid-March, 1995);
on April 14, 1995, McVeigh bought a 1977 Mercury Marquis in Junction City, Kansas, called Nichols in Herington, Kansas, used the “Kling” alias to set up the rental of a Ryder truck capable of transporting 5,000 pounds of cargo, and rented a room in Junction City (see April 13, 1995);
on April 15, 1995, McVeigh put down a deposit on a rental truck under the name of “Robert Kling” (see April 15, 1995);
on April 17, 1995, McVeigh took possession of the rental truck in Junction City (see 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995);
on April 18, 1995, at Geary Lake State Park in Kansas, McVeigh and Nichols constructed the truck bomb using barrels filled with ammonium nitrate, fuel, and other explosives, and placed the cargo in the compartment of the Ryder truck (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995);
on April 19, 1995, McVeigh parked the truck bomb directly outside the Murrah Building during regular business hours; and
on April 19, 1995, McVeigh “caused the truck bomb to explode” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
The indictment accuses McVeigh and Nichols of plotting the bombing “with others unknown to the Grand Jury.” It does not mention the person identified earlier as “John Doe No. 2” (see June 14, 1995). The grand jury says it is confident others, as yet unidentified, also participated in the plot. Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says: “The indictment mentions unknown co-conspirators. We will try to determine if there are others who aided and abetted this crime.” After the indictments are handed down, Attorney General Janet Reno says: “We will pursue every lead based on the evidence.… [M]ost of these leads have been pursued and exhausted.… [W]e have charged everyone involved that we have evidence of at this point.” Prosecutors say that while others may well have been involved, the plot was closely held between McVeigh and Nichols. US Attorney Patrick Ryan has already announced he will seek the death penalty against both McVeigh and Nichols (see July 11-13, 1995), a decision supported by Reno (see 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995). A third conspirator, Michael Fortier, has pled guilty to lesser crimes regarding his involvement; Fortier has testified against McVeigh and Nichols in return for the lesser charges (see May 19, 1995 and August 8, 1995), and defense lawyers are expected to assail Fortier’s credibility during the trials (see April 19, 1995 and After, April 23 - May 6, 1995, and May 8, 1995). Nichols’s lawyer Michael Tigar says, “Terry Nichols is not guilty of the allegations of which he is charged,” calls the case against his client “flimsy” and “irresponsible,” and accuses prosecutors of attempting to try his client “in the national media.” Periodically, Tigar holds up hand-lettered signs reading, among other messages, “Terry Nichols Wasn’t There” and “A Fair Trial in a Fair Forum.” Prosecutors have dropped all charges against Nichols’s brother James Nichols, who was indicted on three related explosive charges (see December 22 or 23, 1988, April 25, 1995, and May 11, 1995). US Attorney Saul A. Green says that “additional investigation failed to corroborate some of the important evidence on which the government initially relied.” [Washington Post, 8/11/1995; New York Times, 8/11/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 189-191; Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 811; Washington Post, 12/24/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 245; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, tells reporters after the hearing that he has been in contact with a man who, he says, told the government early in the fall of 1994 of plans to blow up federal buildings. This man, Jones says, was given a “letter of immunity” by the authorities in exchange for information involving a trip he had taken to Kingman, Arizona, Fortier’s hometown, and for information about his discussions with potential bombers whom, Jones says, the man had described as either “Latin American or Arab.” Jones refuses to identify the person to whom he is referring. [New York Times, 8/11/1995]
Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Cynthia Campbell-Brown, Alan Whicher, Stephen Jones, Donald Leonard, Claude Madearis, Roger E. (“Bob”) Moore, Saul A. Green, Paul Broxterman, Paul Douglas Ice, Janet Reno, James Nichols, Kenneth McCullough, Joseph H. Hartzler, Michael Joseph Fortier, Patrick M. Ryan, Mickey Maroney, Michael E. Tigar
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
In a letter to US Attorney Patrick Ryan, Attorney General Janet Reno authorizes prosecutors to seek the death penalty against indicted Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995). The prosecutors promptly inform the federal court in Oklahoma City that they will do just that. Reno overrides protests from defense lawyers asking her to disqualify herself from the proceedings; McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, told reporters that Reno and President Clinton both said “they would seek the death penalty before they even knew who the defendants were. We will mount our attack on the obvious prejudgment of the case.” Ryan says the prosecution will seek the death penalty on four of the counts lodged against McVeigh and Nichols: first-degree murder, conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction with death resulting, using an explosive to destroy government property with death resulting, and using a weapon of mass destruction with death resulting. He says “aggravating factors” include the maiming, disfigurement, and other injuries inflicted on many individuals and the involvement of both defendants in “acts of burglary, robbery, and theft to finance and otherwise facilitate” the bombing. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) approves of the decision, and recently said in an interview that it was not at all unusual “to see the president and the attorney general express their outrage” when they did. “This was an enormous national tragedy of titanic proportions,” Keating said. “The question is, are these [McVeigh and Nichols] the people who did it? If not, we need to find those who did.… But we want whoever did this to be prosecuted, convicted, and executed.” [New York Times, 8/21/1995; Washington Post, 10/21/1995; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] Jones refused to take part in the panel discussions over the use of the death penalty, calling them a fraud and a sham, and saying that the process should not have been conducted by the Justice Department. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 253]
The cover of Conway and Siegelman’s book ‘Snapping.’ [Source: aLibris (.com)]In their book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman write of their recent interviews with several law enforcement officials who dealt with various aspects of the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), the final tragic assault (see April 19, 1993), and the aftermath.
Former Deputy Attorney General Admits FBI Unprepared for Dealing with 'Cult' Behaviors - Former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann took his post on April 19, 1993, the day of the assault on the Davidian compound, and managed the Justice Department (DOJ) review of the siege and assault (see October 8, 1993). Heymann acknowledges that the FBI went into the siege unprepared to deal with a “cult,” as many label that particular group of the Branch Davidian sect, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists Church. “The FBI was trained to deal with terrorists,” Heymann tells the authors, “but it wasn’t trained to deal with a religious group with a messianic leader. There was no precedent of the FBI’s handling such a situation and there had been no planning for one.” Heymann says he conducted the DOJ review less to assign blame than to help improve federal authorities’ future responses to situations like the Davidian confrontation, and even less connected situations such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). “I wanted to see that we were organized in such a way that, if this situation came up again in any form, including an extreme Islamic fundamentalist group, we could understand how to think about them, how to talk to them, when to put pressure on and when not to put pressure on, all the things that go into negotiations,” Heymann says. He acknowledges that many DOJ and FBI officials are uncomfortable with the idea of cults and with the tactical changes dealing with such groups requires. “I hesitated to use any of those terms,” he says. “We tried to avoid labeling the group as a ‘cult’ suggesting crazies. There was a purposeful attempt to not give the group one label or another. The general understanding was that we were dealing with a, you know, a group that had passionate beliefs, that was extremely suspicious of the government.… We wanted to avoid having to dispute the people who, on the one side, treat groups like this as just another fundamentalist religion and, on the other, regard them as a dangerous form of mind control. I did not want to come down on one side or the other of that debate.” Conway and Siegelman believe that the FBI’s reluctance to deal with the “cult” aspect of the Davidians helped bring about the deaths of the Davidians on the final day of the siege. Heymann admits that many in the FBI and DOJ ignored or downplayed warnings that as a cult, the Davidians were prone to take unreasonable actions, such as hopeless confrontations with authorities and even mass suicide (see February 24-27, 1993, Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 5, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 12, 1993, (March 19, 1993), and March 23, 1993), and that some officials denied ever receiving those warnings after the final conflagration. “I think you have to assume that any organization after a result like this is going to try to play down their responsibility, but we ought to have picked that up in our report and I’m disappointed if we weren’t skeptical enough,” he says. He concludes: “I think we’re going to be prepared to confront any obvious illegality done in the name of religion. If someone commits a serious crime, like killing government agents, there’s no doubt that the government will be prepared to use force to make an arrest. But if they haven’t, if it’s a question of whether people have been brainwashed, I think you’ll continue to see the same history we’ve had for the last 20 or 30 years. We don’t really have any way of deciding whether brainwashing is holding someone against one’s will or not, or what to do about it.”
DOJ Assistant - Richard Scruggs, an assistant to the attorney general, worked with Heymann on the DOJ review, assembling the timeline of events of the siege. He recalls: “The AG [Attorney General Janet Reno] started here two weeks into the siege. I arrived two weeks later and, by that time, planning was already well underway to get the people out of the compound. After the fire, I was called in to try to figure out what the hell had happened. We did a thousand interviews. We got every piece of the story from everyone’s perspective.” He discusses the array of evidence and opinions the DOJ received concerning the reaction the Davidians were likely to have to the increasingly harsh and aggressive tactics mounted by the FBI during the siege. “The whole issue of suicide and the psychological makeup of Koresh and his followers was obviously something we looked into,” Scruggs says. “The bureau [FBI] sought dozens of expert opinions and many more were offered. There were literally hundreds of people calling in with advice, not just people off the street but people from recognized institutes and universities. The result was that FBI commanders, both in Waco and in Washington, had so many opinions, ranging from ‘they’ll commit suicide as soon as you make any move at all’ to ‘they’ll never commit suicide,’ that it really allowed them to pick whichever experts confirmed their own point of view. The experts FBI officials judged to be the most accurate were those who said suicide was unlikely, which turned out to be wrong.” Scruggs acknowledges that Reno was not given examples of all the opinions expressed, saying, “She only got the no-suicide opinion.” He insists that Reno was aware of the possibility of suicide, and offers two possible explanations as to why the FBI officials only gave her selected and slanted information (see April 17-18, 1993). “My first impression was that someone made a conscious decision to keep this information away from the AG,” he says. “It certainly looked that way. On the other hand, sometimes these things just happen, one decision leads to another, and nobody really thinks things through. I think the people who were putting together the material truly believed there was a low chance of suicide and then simply picked the materials that confirmed what they wanted to believe.” Scruggs acknowledges that DOJ and FBI officials ignored the warnings given by two FBI “profilers,” Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, and March 9, 1993). “Oh yes, absolutely,” he says. “Smerick and Young got wiped out by the on-site commander, who wanted a combination of negotiation and increasing pressure on the compound, the so-called ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach.” Scruggs, unlike Heymann and other government officials, says that the FBI “believes strongly in mind control, believe me.… There was a great debate going on in the bureau whether Koresh was a con man or whether he really thought he was some kind of messiah, but whichever he was there was no doubt that he was effectively controlling the rest of the people. Everybody assumed that.… Everybody believed he did it through some kind of brainwashing or mind control. We scrubbed the report of words like that, but the bureau used them. They fully understood that.” The mistake that was made during the siege was in believing that the increasingly aggressive “psywar” tactics used during the siege, even during the initial hours of the assault itself, was that “by making it very uncomfortable, they could overcome the control Koresh exercised over the rest and get out a large number of the women and children. They even used the phrase ‘the motherhood instinct.’”
Alternatives Considered and Rejected - But the options aside from assaulting the compound were in some ways worse. “The options were minimal. They could have killed Koresh—the Israelis couldn’t understand why he didn’t do that. The HRT had Koresh in their sights 50 times. They could have killed him and all his leaders and that would have been the end of it, but that was not an option. They looked into all kinds of other things. One official had heard rumors that the government had a secret weapon, like a laser weapon or sound weapon, that could vibrate people in some non-lethal way and get them out of there. We didn’t. We found out later there was a microwave weapon, but they couldn’t use it because it affected people differently based on their body size and weight. It didn’t do much to big people but it tended to cook little people.” Scruggs says that there was no “win” in any scenario they considered. “I’m not saying that mistakes weren’t made, because they were,” he says, “but I became firmly convinced in my own mind, after looking at this 16 hours a day for six months, that it was Koresh’s game. He was, in effect, controlling us no less than he was controlling his own people.” Scruggs echoes the words of senior FBI agent Byron Sage, who was present for the siege and the assault, who will say five years later that Koresh “had an apocalyptic end in mind, and he used us to fulfill his own prophecy” (see January 2000). Carl Stern, director of public affairs for the Department of Justice, was present at the decision-making sessions held in Reno’s office, and saw the FBI present its tear-gas assault plan for her approval. Stern, like Reno and others, was new to Washington and to the Davidian situation, and recalls the turmoil of meetings and decisions in the final weekend before the assault on Monday, April 19. “I arrived here on Tuesday and had my first meeting on Waco 15 minutes after I walked in the door,” Stern says. “Two people from the criminal division were advocating the tear gas plan. I took the other position and we argued it in front of the attorney general. The next day I attended a meeting where I really felt the idea had been turned off. I was confident that nothing was going forward (see April 12, 1993). Then on Saturday it got turned around 180 degrees” (see April 17-18, 1993). Stern is still unsure why the opposition to the assault plan disappeared so thoroughly. “The AG [Reno] was there with her deputies, the FBI director [William Sessions] was there with his deputies, and they were going through the whole thing all over again.” Stern summarizes the list of official priorities that weighed in favor of the action. “The FBI was concerned about deteriorating health conditions in the compound. There were dead bodies on the premises. The building had no indoor plumbing. People were defecating in buckets and dumping it in a pit out back and, after 50 days, there was real concern that there would be a massive disease outbreak and the first ones to get sick would be the kids. They were concerned that the perimeter of the compound was highly unstable. It was a large perimeter. There had been several breaches of it. There were rumors that armed pro-Koresh groups might come from Houston or California or elsewhere to put an end to the siege. Finally, the Hostage Rescue Team had been there for 49 days at that point—the longest they had ever gone before was four days. They were in sniper positions around the clock. They were losing their edge, not training, sitting out there in mudholes, and they were afraid if something went wrong in the rest of the country they would not be able to respond.” Stern confirms that one of Reno’s overriding concerns was the reports of child abuse she was receiving. “The AG asked a number of questions and this became the legend of what she was concerned about. She asked first about sanitary conditions. She asked next about sexual assault and child abuse. The FBI replied that if Koresh was still doing what he had been point prior to the raid (see November 3, 1987 and After) he was legally committing statutory rape. Third, the question of beatings came up. As recently as March 21, youngsters had been released who described having been beaten. The consensus was that, at a minimum, the government was not adequately protecting these children, but all that got distorted later.”
Mass Suicide Never Considered an Option for Davidians - Stern also confirms that FBI officials dismissed any idea that the Davidians might commit mass suicide, and that possibility was never figured into the plans for the assault. “What the attorney general heard was the assessment that he was not suicidal,” Stern says. What did figure into the planning was what the authors calls the “tough-cop culture of the FBI, which later evaluators cited as central factors in the proposal by bureau commanders to attack the compound with tear gas.” Stern says, “Remember, four officers had been killed, the FBI had never waited so long in the hostage situation, and from their perspective, it was really untenable that people who had killed federal officers were going on week after week thumbing their noses at law enforcement.”
Assault Did Not Follow Plan - The plans as approved by Reno never contained an option to attack the compound with armored vehicles. “Please keep in mind that there was no plan to demolish the compound. As we said at the time, it was not D-Day. The original plan was a two-day plan for gradual insertion of gas to progressively shrink the usable space and continually encourage people to come out.” The assault was carried out entirely differently; when the Davidians began firing automatic weapons at the armored vehicles and at personnel, ground commanders abandoned the plans and ordered an all-out assault with tear gas and armored vehicles. Even weather conditions played a part in the final conflagration. “No one anticipated the wind,” Stern recalls. “The tanks were not supposed to strike the building, but because of the wind, the gas wasn’t getting in and they had to get closer and finally insert the booms through the window millwork. In the course of doing so, they struck the walls and the roof.” Stern recalls the moments when the fires erupted throughout the compound. “I was in the SIOC [Strategic Intervention Operations Center] when the fire broke out. At first, Floyd Clarke, the FBI’s deputy director, thought an engine had blown on one of the vehicles they had rented from the Army. They didn’t realize what had happened. Then, when it became clear that it was a fire, they all sat there waiting for the people to come out. They were saying, ‘Come on baby, come on out, come on out.’ They were expecting people to come flooding out and there were no people coming out and they were absolutely incredulous. Even when it was over, they were still assuming they would find the kids in the bus they had buried underground.” Stern says FBI and DOJ officials were stunned at the realization that the Davidians had, in essence, committed mass suicide. “All I can tell you is that, given the atmosphere at the time, it was a surprise the suicide occurred. Remember, by then, most of the children in the compound were Koresh’s own. The thought that he would permit his own children to be harmed was inconceivable.” Conway and Siegelman point out that those experienced in “cult” “mind control” techniques had, indeed, anticipated just such an outcome. They theorize “that ranking FBI officers, tired of being manipulated by Koresh and, no doubt, genuinely concerned for the precedents they were setting for future confrontations, may have misguided the attorney general into giving ground commanders too much leeway in the execution of the final assault plan—leeway that, as the tank and tear gas assault progressed, unleashed the full destructive potential of Koresh and the people under his control. However, in our view, that gaping hole in the government’s strategy was not wrought by any battering ram or armored vehicle. Amid the push and pull of the government’s internal debate, the failure of FBI officials in Washington and Waco to heed warning that the cult’s destructive urges would ignite under pressure hastened the demise of the doom-bent Davidians.” The Davidians were never Koresh’s hostages as the FBI viewed them, the authors conclude, but willing participants willing to die for their leader and for their beliefs.
Reno Forced to Rely on FBI - Stern reminds the authors: “The attorney general had only been on the job five weeks. She didn’t even have her own staff yet. She was really flying solo. She had to rely on somebody, so she relied on the FBI and their vaunted Hostage Rescue Team. Those of us who have been around town a little longer know that, while there’s much to admire about the FBI, it does not have an unblemished record. There are times when they have been mistaken. They’re not perfect. In the world of cats and dogs, sometimes they’re closer to dogs than cats. If she had been attorney general for two years and had more experience dealing with the bureau, she might have solicited more information.” [Conway and Siegelman, 1995]
Entity Tags: Flo Conway, David Koresh, Carl Stern, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, US Department of Justice, Philip Heymann, Mark Young, Jim Siegelman, Richard Scruggs, Janet Reno, Floyd Clarke, Peter Smerick
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
The defense in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995) presents evidence in one of the hearings conducted to consider a change of venue in the trial (see November 21, 1995). The hearing takes place at the Oklahoma City courthouse; McVeigh has been brought from his cell at the El Reno federal detention facility to take part, though he says nothing during the proceedings. The defense plays clips from television news broadcasts, some of which contain erroneous information; footage of tearful calls for McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols to be executed; coverage of memorial services for the victims of the bombing; and promises by President Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno, and Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating that the death penalty would be sought. In the back of the courtroom, victims’ family members begin weeping. An Associated Press report by Paul Queary notes that McVeigh “smiled” as the films were shown; Los Angeles Times reporter Richard A. Serrano will write that McVeigh “appeared relaxed and at ease in court.” The reports anger McVeigh’s sister Jennifer, who has driven from Pendleton, New York, to be with her brother in court. She later says: “He wasn’t smiling in reference to anything. He was smiling at me. And you know that if he wasn’t smiling, they’d criticize him and if he was smiling, they’d criticize him. You know what happened the last time when he wasn’t smiling.” She is referring to the iconic image of a grim-looking McVeigh squinting as he is “perp walked” on the day of his arrest (see April 21, 1995). Jennifer tells reporters after the hearing: “No matter what, he’s still my brother and I’m still going to be there for him. He’s just a normal person. He’s not this evil thing they’ve painted him.” She visits him at the city jail before returning to her hotel room and calling her father in Pendleton. She will begin the long drive back to Pendleton a few days later. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 268-270]
Stephen Jones, the lead defense lawyer for indicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995), asks the court to subpoena four men that Jones says may have information about the bombing. The subpoenas are in response to a $30 million wrongful-death lawsuit filed against McVeigh by Edye Smith, who lost her two sons in the blast. Jones wants to depose three members of the neo-Nazi British National Party (BNP): John Tyndall, David Irving, and Charles Sergeant. He also wants to depose Dennis Mahon, a Tulsa resident who heads the regional chapter of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), a white separatist organization. Jones says he wants to know if the three BNP members supplied Mahon with a detonator that may have been used in the bombing. Jones also says that Mahon has told his staffers that he is an explosives expert and had bombed buildings in the past. Mahon denies making these claims, but affirms that Interpol considers him an international terrorist and has denied him admission to Great Britain. Jones says of Mahon, “The FBI has interviewed thousands of people in connection with this case yet they didn’t interview an international terrorist living just 90 miles away.” Jones has hired a London legal firm to pursue leads that suggest international connections in the bombing. Mahon has said he knew McVeigh from 1993 and 1994, when McVeigh traveled around the country selling weapons and items at gun shows (see April 19, 1993 and After). An informant has also told federal officials that Mahon may have been involved in a bombing plot targeting an Oklahoma City federal building (see August 1994 - March 1995 and November 1994). Jones also sends defense team researcher Ann Bradley to Amsterdam to talk with a lawyer for Daniel Spiegelman, a US citizen being held by Dutch authorities on a charge of “trading in stolen manuscripts,” and who faces extradition to the US for weapons smuggling and falsifying passports. The Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf runs a story noting the “resemblance” Spiegelman bears to the bombing suspect identified as “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995). Jones tells reporters: “We are certainly pursuing an investigation of that line and have been for some months. The attorney general herself [Janet Reno] said the FBI would certainly be justified to look at a European connection. We believe that the evidence may suggest a broader, deeper, more sophisticated conspiracy.” [Stickney, 1996, pp. 264, 271; Associated Press, 2/10/1996]
Entity Tags: Edye Smith, Charles Sergeant, British National Party, Ann Bradley, Daniel Spiegelman, Dennis Mahon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Tyndall, David Irving, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh, Janet Reno
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Judge Richard Matsch (see December 1, 1995), citing the defendants’ right to an impartial jury in the Oklahoma City bombing trial (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and November 21, 1995), moves the trial from Oklahoma City to Denver, Colorado. Matsch is the Chief Judge of the Federal District Court in Colorado, and is essentially moving the case to his “home” courtroom. Matsch rules that because of intensive negative media coverage of the bombing, neither Timothy McVeigh nor Terry Nichols can receive fair trials in Oklahoma City. “This court… concludes that there is so great a prejudice against these two defendants in the State of Oklahoma that they cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial at any place… in that state,” Matsch writes. McVeigh and Nichols have been “demonized” in the press, he continues. “The intensity of the humanization of the victims in the public mind is in sharp contrast with the prevalent portrayals of the defendants.… [T]he interests of the victims in being able to attend this trial in Oklahoma are outweighed by the court’s obligation to assure that the trial be conducted with fundamental fairness and with due regard for all constitutional requirements.” McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, says, “The judge examined all the evidence and saw that Oklahoma sees itself as the victims and that makes it difficult to get a fair trial here.” Prosecutors agreed that Oklahoma City was not the proper venue for the trial, but had asked that the trial be moved to Tulsa, only two hours from Oklahoma City; US Attorney Patrick Ryan, newly appointed by President Clinton to represent the Oklahoma City district, argued that moving the trial would present an undue hardship on the families of the victims who want to observe the trial. Attorney General Janet Reno says the government “does not have the right” to appeal Matsch’s decision and therefore is ready to move to trial “expeditiously.” Reno says the Justice Department would “pursue every means available to provide survivors and loved ones with an opportunity to observe and follow events in the courtroom.” Kathleen Treanor, who lost her daughter and her in-laws in the bombing, is angry with the decision, saying she had intended to go to the trials: “It stinks. Judge Matsch will not have to give up his bed or leave his home. He is inconvenienced in no way. I lost my only daughter and I won’t be able to afford to go.” But Toby Thompson, who lost his brother in the bombing, says: “It is very important that the trial be squeaky clean. If moving it to Nova Scotia would ensure that I wouldn’t have to go through it twice, that would be fine with me.” Legal experts say Matsch made the decision in order to obviate any possibility that the defense would use the venue of the trial as the basis for a possible appeal. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) criticizes the decision, saying Matsch moved the trial to Denver “for his personal comfort.… It is easier for him to go home and sleep in his own bed. That’s what his decision says to the hundreds and thousands of people impacted in this bombing. Its wrong on the facts and it’s wrong on the law.” Keating says he will coordinate with Governor Roy Romer (D-CO) and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, as well as the federal government, to fund transport and housing for relatives and friends of the victims who wish to attend the trials. [Washington Post, 2/21/1996; New York Times, 2/21/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 256; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] Chicago jury consultant Joe Guaftaferro says of the venue change: “Colorado, from a jury perspective, could be risky. There’s a lot of white supremacists in those hills.” Public affairs law professor Rita Simon, an expert on the effects of publicity on a jury, says she agrees with Matsch’s decision, and adds, “With proper instruction, jurors could put aside any pretrial prejudice they may have picked up as a result of publicity about the case.” [New York Times, 2/22/1996]
Entity Tags: Patrick M. Ryan, Kathleen Treanor, Janet Reno, Frank Keating, Wellington Webb, Toby Thompson, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Roy Romer, Joe Guaftaferro, Rita J. Simon, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Two armed Freemen man a patrol outpost on their besieged ranch. The US flag is flown upside down to indicate distress. [Source: Idaho Observer]Undercover FBI agents arrest the leader of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), LeRoy Schweitzer, and two of his colleagues, Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and Lavon T. Hanson, on the “Justus Township” ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After). Schweitzer and Peterson go out in the early morning to inspect the site of a ham radio antenna they were having set up to facilitate communications; the site is on the ranch, but some distance from the main compound. The two are responding to a request from the chief of the installation crew to inspect the antenna. When they arrive, they learn that the installation crew is actually composed of FBI agents. Though Schweitzer and Petersen are heavily armed, they do not resist arrest. Hanson is also arrested without incident. Federal agents then surround the ranch with over 100 agents. Six Freemen voluntarily leave the compound; 20 or more heavily armed Freemen remain inside the ranch, along with several children, and a standoff between the Freemen and the FBI begins. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] A lawyer who visited a Freemen residence in the fall of 1995 recalls seeing guns such as AR-15 assault rifles, shotguns, and hunting rifles in every corner, and gas masks hanging from the doors. Authorities believe that the Freemen ensconsced in the ranch house have those weapons and more besides. [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Tactics Very Different from Ruby Ridge, Waco - US Attorney Sherry Matteucci says that federal authorities are seeking eight other people who are not in custody in the Freeman case, including Rodney Skurdal, who has been at large since a warrant for his arrest was issued in March 1995. Skurdal is the de facto leader of the Freemen holed up inside the ranch. The FBI says it is going to great lengths to ensure that this standoff does not end badly, as previous confrontations have in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). “The FBI has gone to great pains to ensure that there is no armed confrontation, no siege, no armed perimeter, and no use of military assault-type tactics or equipment,” says Attorney General Janet Reno. “The FBI is trying to negotiate a peaceful solution.” The FBI says the confrontation is not a “siege,” as two of the three roads leading out of the Freeman compound are not blocked. Matteucci says authorities believe there are women and children among the besieged Freemen, but will not speculate as to the Freemen’s numbers or composition. FBI Director Louis Freeh decides at the outset not to use overt military tactics, as was done at both Ruby Ridge and Waco. Agents and law enforcement officials on the scene do not wear camouflage or black uniforms, but civilian clothes, and no armored personnel carriers are brought in. The FBI’s quasi-military Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is heavily supplemented by trained negotiators and “profilers.” Instead of snipers, the FBI installs video surveillance cameras on a microwave tower leading into the farm, as well as extensive audio surveillance equipment. No perimeter is established, only roads leading into the ranch are blocked, and many people are allowed to drive in and out of the farm after being stopped and questioned by FBI or law enforcement agents. (Days after the arrests, the Freemen themselves will block the county road in front of their farm with a barbed wire barricade.) The HRT does not manage the standoff, as it did in Waco; instead, the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group is in charge. The FBI agent in charge is Robert “Bear” Bryant, an assistant FBI director who in 1988 participated in the Marion, Utah, siege of a group of armed religious zealots that ended peacefully. Local police block media access to the farm, allegedly fearing violence against journalists. The FBI and the various law enforcement agencies establish an operations center at the Jordan county fairgrounds, with vehicles, command post trailers, and even an airstrip. The FBI sets up a dedicated telephone line into the farm for family members, and cuts the other phone lines. Jim Pate of Soldier of Fortune magazine, who met the Freemen leaders last year, warns that the confrontation could easily become violent. Lynn Davis of the Montana Human Rights Network agrees. “They haven’t shot anybody, but they’ve held people at gunpoint,” she says. “They’ve threatened. I’ve had two calls in the past week threatening my life, my children. Phone calls to both my home and office.” [CNN, 3/28/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
'Sad, Middle-Aged Men' - Nick Murnion, the Garfield County attorney and a lifelong resident of Jordan, says of the Freemen, “It’s like they’re brainwashed.” The Freemen represent maybe one percent of the town, Murnion says, but “they are causing misery for the whole county.” A Jordan resident who asks to remain anonymous says: “We’re tore up about it. A lot of us have family out there.” She says that the Freemen have rejected everyone who does not share their beliefs, even family members. “If we’re not with them, we’re against them,” she says. [Washington Post, 4/1996] Matthew Sisler, the lawyer who visited the Freemen last year, has a somewhat different view. When he saw the group of heavily armed men, he says he did not fear them: “What we saw was a bunch of sad, middle-aged men who had lost their homes, who had not paid loans back or taxes, and wanted someone to blame.” [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Entity Tags: Nick Murnion, Sherry Matteucci, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Robert (“Bear”) Bryant, Matthew Sisler, Montana Freemen, Louis J. Freeh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Critical Incident Response Group, Daniel Petersen, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lynn Davis, Jim Pate, LeRoy Schweitzer, Lavon T. Hanson, Janet Reno
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Lawyers for the accused Oklahoma City bombers (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995) assail the prosecution’s decision to seek the death penalty against their clients. They say that Attorney General Janet Reno, who made the final decision to seek the execution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols if they are convicted (see October 20, 1995), ignored Justice Department procedures in making that decision. “The government cannot simply ignore its own rules when it decides who lives or dies,” says McVeigh’s lead lawyer, Stephen Jones. Jones accuses Reno of “categorical prejudgment” of the death penalty. Nichols’s lead lawyer, Michael Tigar, calls Reno’s decision “two-faced.” Both note that within hours of the bombing, Reno announced the government would seek to execute whoever carried out the attack (see 4:00 p.m., April 19, 1995 and April 22, 1995); rules adopted in February 1996 allow the attorney general to seek the death penalty in federal cases only after informing defense lawyers and going through a review by an in-house Death Penalty Committee. US Attorney Sean Connelly counters that when Reno announced that “she would prosecute [the bombing] to the fullest extent possible, she was not acting as a judge, she was acting as a law enforcement officer.” Defense lawyers also argue that the 1994 federal death penalty statutes are unconstitutional. Connelly retorts, “If the death penalty is not appropriate in this case, it would be hard to imagine any case where it would be.” [New York Times, 5/2/1996]
The FBI orders reporters and photographers to leave a hill overlooking the Montana Freemen compound, currently surrounded by law enforcement authorities (see March 25, 1996), but deny that the move is a prelude to a raid against the group. “We’re trying to do everything we can to peacefully resolve the situation,” Attorney General Janet Reno says, “and we will continue those efforts.” FBI officials say they decided to evict the news media after a Fox Television news crew went to a fence around the compound the night of May 28, and attempted to negotiate for interviews without FBI knowledge. “The negotiators have their own strategy for contacting the Freemen and don’t want this kind of disruption,” says a senior official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity. Fox News chairman Roger Ailes complains that his journalists are being used as scapegoats, and alleges that the FBI had planned on moving the news media from the hill well before they made contact with the Freemen. [Associated Press, 5/30/1996]
In its escalating pressure against the besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996), the FBI shuts off the electricity to the Freemen’s compound. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The Freemen have at least one generator, so they are not entirely without electricity; it is possible that they could go for months without outside power. If the power shutdown elicts no response, the FBI has other options it can implement, including moving agents incrementally closer to the main buildings, disrupting the Freemen’s satellite feeds and other communications, and even blocking their access to outside food sources such as fish ponds and storage buildings. “In effect, we could shut them off from the world,” says one official, who adds that the steps would be put into effect gradually in the hope that any one of them might lead to negotiations. Officials say any escalation would have to be gradual to ensure that the situation does not escalate out of control. They say they have no plans to raid the compound at this time. FBI Director Louis Freeh is monitoring the standoff very closely, officials say, and has mediated discussions and disputes between his aides and his field commanders. [New York Times, 6/5/1996; Associated Press, 6/10/1996]
Dissenting Viewpoints on Efficacy of Power Shutdown - The next day, retired FBI agent Joe Conley tells PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer that he thinks the power shutdown is “basically going to send a signal. In and of itself, turning off the electricity isn’t going to prompt these people to come directly to the negotiating table, but it is telling them that the FBI is there, law enforcement is there, and law enforcement is not going to go away.” Freelance writer and reporter Lawrence Myers disagrees with Conley about the efficacy of shutting down the Freemen’s power, saying: “They, first of all, don’t recognize the jurisdictional authority of the people who have them surrounded. Second of all, as I recall looking into this, I flew up there last year to talk with these people and look into it, and the fact is that in the late 1980s, the electricity was shut off on the Clark ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After) for three years. Nobody came out. Nobody moved away.” State Senator Charles Duke (R-CO), who has come off a series of frustrating negotiations with the Freemen (see May 15-21, 1996), says while he believes the electricity shutdown will have a “helpful long-term” effect, the Freemen are not a unified whole: “Had it just been up to the Clarks, this would have been over sometime ago, I believe. But what you’ve got there are some destabilizing factors, such as Russ Landers, Dale Jacobi, and Rod Skurdal,” he says, and those men are influencing the others to stay put in defiance of the FBI. “[T]hose are the three main destabilizing factors, and my recommendation to the FBI when I left is that those three somehow be isolated from the remainder of the farm, if necessary by force. And I think the rest of the farm would capitulate. I have seen people who are prepared to die for their beliefs, and these people don’t strike me as that type of person.”
Senator: FBI Showing Admirable Restraint - In a sidebar to the conversation about the power shutdown, Duke tells Lehrer that he admires the FBI’s restraint in handling the Freemen. “I think they have been lenient deliberately,” he says. “That’s really to the FBI’s credit—not to say they will always do this, but they’re at least doing that in this case. I think it’s more going out of their way, even over-correcting, if necessary, in order to make sure that the constitutional rights of these people is observed, and an example of how far the FBI was willing to go is they were willing to step aside if these people on the Clark ranch would simply walk across the cattle guard, the FBI would step aside and let the county sheriff process this, these people or the Montana State Police, or the Montana state legislature.” Myers agrees, noting that Attorney General Janet Reno said if given the chance to redo the FBI siege in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of almost 80 Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), “she’d do a lot of things differently. Well, this is the opportunity to demonstrate what type of patience they’re willing to show with American citizens. I think they’re doing fine so far and I know it’s problematic.… I think [Duke] and I and Mr. Conley can agree, this is a very unique, very difficult, and incredibly complicated negotiating situation here.” [PBS, 6/4/1996]
Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Montana Freemen, Russell Dean Landers, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Lawrence Myers, Jim Lehrer, Dale Jacobi, Charles Duke, Janet Reno, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joe Conley
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
House Oversight Committee holds public hearings on the Waco debacle. [Source: C-SPAN]The House Oversight Committee releases its report on the FBI’s siege and final assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 19, 1993). The report was prepared in conjunction with the House Judiciary Committee. The report spans investigative activities undertaken on behalf of the committees by Congressional investigators from April 1995 through May 1996; the committees took almost three months to write the final report. As part of that investigation, the Oversight Committee held 10 days of public hearings (see August 4, 1995). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Findings - The report makes the following conclusions:
Branch Davidians Responsible for Situation, Deaths - “But for the criminal conduct and aberrational behavior of David Koresh and other Branch Davidians, the tragedies that occurred in Waco would not have occurred,” the report finds. “The ultimate responsibility for the deaths of the Davidians and the four federal law enforcement agents [referring to the federal agents slain in the February 1993 raid] lies with Koresh.” The Davidians set the fires themselves, the report finds. Moreover, the Davidians had time to leave the premises after their cohorts set the fires, and most either chose to stay or were prevented from leaving by their fellows. The 19 Davidians killed by gunfire either shot themselves, the report finds, were shot by their fellows, or were killed by “the remote possibility of accidental discharge from rounds exploding in the fire.”
Treasury Department 'Derelict' in Duties - Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Deputy Secretary Roger Altman were “irresponsible” and “derelict in their duties” refusing to meet with the director of the BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, sometimes abbreviated ATF] in the month before the February raid, and failing to ask for briefings. Senior Treasury officials “routinely failed” to monitor BATF officials, knew little to nothing of the plans for the raid, and therefore failed to uncover the significant flaws in the plan. When the raid failed, Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Noble tried to blame the BATF for the failure, even though Noble and his fellow Treasury officials failed to supervise the BATF’s plans and activities.
BATF 'Grossly Incompetent' - Some of the worst criticism of the report are leveled at the BATF. The report calls the agency’s investigation of the Davidians (see June-July 1992, November 1992 - January 1993, and January 11, 1993 and After) “grossly incompetent” and lacking in “the minimum professionalism expected of a major federal law enforcement agency.” The agents in charge of planning decided to use a “military-style raid” two months before beginning surveillance, undercover, and infiltration efforts. The agency did have probable cause for a search warrant against Koresh and the Davidians (see February 25, 1993), but the affidavit applying for the warrant “contained an incredible number of false statements.” The BATF agents responsible for the affidavit either knew, or should have known, the affidavit was so inaccurate and false. Koresh could easily have been arrested outside the compound, the report finds; the BATF planners “were determined to use a dynamic entry approach,” and thusly “exercised extremely poor judgment, made erroneous assumptions, and ignored the foreseeable perils of their course of action.” BATF agents lied to Defense Department officials about the Davidians’ supposed involvement in drug manufacturing, and by those lies secured Defense Department training without having to reimburse the department, as they should have. The raid plan itself “was poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used, was drafted and commanded by ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” Plan security was lax, making it easy for the Davidians to learn about the plan and take precautions. The report singles out BATF raid commanders Philip Chojnacki and Chuck Sarabyn for criticism, noting that they endangered BATF agents’ lives by choosing to go ahead with the raid even though they knew, or should have known, the Davidians had found out about it and were taking defensive action. “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28.” The report is highly critical of Chojnacki’s and Sarabyn’s rehiring after they were fired (see December 23, 1994). The report also cites former BATF Director Stephen Higgins (see July 2, 1995) and former Deputy Director Daniel Hartnett for failing to become involved in the planning.
Justice Department Decision to Approve Final Assault 'Highly Irresponsible' - The report charactizes Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval of the FBI’s plan to end the standoff “premature, wrong… highly irresponsible… [and] seriously negligent” (see April 17-18, 1993). Reno should have known that the plan would put the Davidians’s lives at extreme risk, especially the children inside, and should have been doubly reluctant because of the lack of a serious threat posed by the Davidians to the FBI or to the surrounding community. Reno should have been skeptical of the FBI’s reasons for ending the standoff: negotiations were continuing, the Davidians were not threatening to break out in force, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) could have gone longer without mandatory rest and retraining, the Davidians’ living conditions had not significantly deteriorated, and there was no reason to believe that children were being abused or mistreated any more than they may have been before the February raid. “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk.” The report calls the plan to use CS riot control gas “fatally flawed.” CS gas is a dangerous substance, and particularly threatening to children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with respiratory conditions, all of which were represented in the compound. Some of those who died in the fires may have died from exposure to CS gas before the fires consumed them, the report speculates. The Davidians were likely to react violently and not submissively, as the FBI insisted, and the likelihood of armed resistance and mass suicide in response to the CS gas insertion was high. Moreover, the plan had no contingency provisions in case the initial insertion did not provide the desired result. Reno offered her resignation after the April 19 assault; the report says that President Clinton “should have accepted it.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI Pushed for Violent Confrontation Instead of Allowing Negotiations to Continue - The FBI was riven by the conflict between two teams with “incompatible methodologies,” the report finds: the HRT, which ultimately controlled the situation, and the negotiators. Senior FBI agent Jeffrey Jamar almost always sided with the HRT’s aggressive approach, but often “allowed the proposals of each team to be implemented simultaneously, working against each other.” The FBI’s chief negotiator on-site, Gary Noesner, told the committee that the dichotomy between the “action-oriented” HRT and the “nonviolent” negotiators is a problem that the FBI routinely experiences; it was not unique to the Davidian standoff. The two teams battled with increasing hostility and anger towards one another as the siege progressed, with the negotiators becoming less and less influential. The negotiators later testified that the pressure tactics used by the HRT against the Davidians undermined their efforts at winning the Davidians’ trust and rendered their efforts ineffective. FBI profiler Peter Smerick (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, August 1993, and 1995) was particularly harsh in his assessment of the tactics of the HRT during the siege; during his interviews with investigators, Smerick said “the FBI commanders were moving too rapidly toward a tactical solution and were not allowing adequate time for negotiations to work.” Smerick told investigators that while the “negotiators were building bonds… the tactical group was undermining everything.… Every time the negotiators were making progress the tactical people would undo it.” The report concludes, “FBI leadership engaged these two strategies in a way that bonded the Davidians together and perpetuated the standoff.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After March 2, when Koresh and the Davidians broke what some considered to be a promise to come out (see March 2, 1993), Jamar believed nothing Koresh or the others said, and essentially gave up on the idea of a negotiated surrender. Chief negotiator Byron Sage did not share that view, but Jamar and the HRT officials began thinking, and planning, exclusively on a forced end to the standoff, even ignoring evidence that Koresh intended to lead his people out after completing his work on an interpretation of the Biblical Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). Many FBI officials, particularly Jamar, Noesner, and the HRT leadership, became frustrated and impatient with what the report calls “endless dissertations of Branch Davidian beliefs” (see March 15, 1993), to the point where they ignored the assertions from religious experts that the Davidians could be productively negotiated with on a religiously theoretical level (see March 16, 1993). The FBI, the report says, “should have sought and accepted more expert advice on the Branch Davidians and their religious views and been more open-minded to the advice of the FBI’s own experts.” Jamar and the senior FBI officials advising Reno should have known that the reasons they gave to end negotiations and force an ending were groundless; their advice to Reno was, the report says, “wrong and highly irresponsible.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] However, some charges against the FBI are baseless, the report finds. CS gas would not have built up in any areas of the residence to anything approaching lethal levels. No FBI agents shot at the Davidians or the compound. No agent set any fires, either deliberately or inadvertently. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Defense Department Bears No Responsibility - The report finds no reason to fault the Defense Department or National Guard, as no DoD nor Guard personnel took an active part in the assault; the Posse Comitatus Act was therefore not violated. No foreign military personnel or foreign nationals took any part in the assault, though “[s]ome foreign military personnel were present near the Davidian residence as observers at the invitation of the FBI.”
Recommendations - The report recommends that:
the Justice Department consider assuming control of the BATF from the Treasury Department;
Waco residents who made the false statements to law enforcement officials included in the original search warrants should be charged with crimes;
federal agents should use caution in using such statements to obtain warrants; the BATF should review and revise its planning to ensure that “its best qualified agents are placed in command and control positions in all operations”;
senior BATF officials “should assert greater command and control over significant operations”;
the BATF should no longer have sole jurisdiction over any drug-related crimes;
Congress should consider enhancing the Posse Comitatus Act to restrain the National Guard from being involved with federal law enforcement actions;
the Defense Department should clarify the grounds upon which law enforcement agencies can apply for its assistance;
the General Accounting Office (GAO) should ensure that the BATF reimburses the Defense Department for the training and assistance it improperly received;
the GAO should investigate Operation Alliance, the organization that acts as a liaison between the military and other federal agencies;
the FBI should revamp its negotiation policies and training to minimize the effects of physical and emotional fatigue on negotiators;
the FBI should take steps to ensure greater understanding of the targets under investigation (the report notes that had the FBI and BATF agents understood more about the Davidians’ religious philosophies, they “could have made better choices in planning to deal with the Branch Davidians” (see March 15, 1993);
the FBI should ensure better training for its lead negotiators;
FBI agents should rely more on outside experts (the reports notes that several religious experts offered their services in helping the agents understand the Davidians, but were either rebuffed or ignored—see March 3, 1993, March 7, 1993, and March 16, 1993);
federal law enforcement agencies should welcome the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, particularly state and local agencies;
the FBI should expand the size of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) “so that there are sufficient numbers of team members to participate in an operation and to relieve those involved when necessary”;
the FBI should conduct further examinations on the use of CS gas against children, those with respiratory problems, pregnant women, and the elderly. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Perhaps the Greatest Law Enforcement Tragedy in American History' - In a statement appended to the final report, Representative Steven Schiff (R-NM) calls the Davidian raid, standoff, and final assault “perhaps the greatest law enforcement tragedy in American history.” He writes: “It would not be a significant overstatement to describe the Waco operation from the government’s standpoint, as one in which if something could go wrong, it did. The true tragedy is, virtually all of those mistakes could have been avoided.” His statement decries what he calls the increasing “militarization of law enforcement,” recommends that the HRT be scaled back instead of expanded, expresses little confidence in the FLIR (forward-looking infrared radar) videotapes used to determine when and how the fires were started, calls for stringent limitations on the use of CS gas, and blames the FBI for not allowing many of the residents to escape. He accuses the Justice Department of a “breach of ethics” in what he says were its attempts to conceal and withhold evidence from the committee, and to shape its findings. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Dissenting Views - The investigating committees’ 17 Democrats issue a “dissenting views” addendum that is highly critical of what it calls the Republican majority’s use of “false assumptions and unfounded allegations” to besmirch the reputations of Reno and Bentsen, and the use of those “assumptions and allegations” to press for Reno’s resignation. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Entity Tags: Gary Noesner, US Department of the Treasury, US Department of Defense, Branch Davidians, Clinton administration, Dan Hartnett, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steven Schiff, Charles Sarabyn, Ronald Noble, Janet Reno, Stephen Higgins, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, General Accounting Office, Lloyd Bentsen, Jeffrey Jamar, Operation Alliance, Peter Smerick, Roger Altman, Philip Chojnacki
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
The US government once again considers going after the Holy Land Foundation for its ties to Hamas. Israel freezes the foundation’s assets this year, and the Treasury Department proposes making a similar asset freeze in the US as well. [Wall Street Journal, 2/27/2002] In 2000, the New York Times will report, “Some government officials recommended that the group be prosecuted in 1997 for supporting Hamas, the militant Islamic group. But others opposed the effort, fearing that it would expose intelligence sources and spur public criticism of the administration as anti-Muslim.” [New York Times, 2/19/2000] Those pushing to prosecute the group would certainly include Vulgar Betrayal investigation FBI agents like Robert Wright. Wright had been aware of Holy Land’s ties to Hamas since 1993 (see After January 1993 and October 1993). However, Attorney General Janet Reno blocks the proposal and no action is taken. [Wall Street Journal, 2/27/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims that in 1995 he pushed for something to be done to Holy Land, but higher-ups overruled him (see January 1995-April 1996).
Larry Mackey. [Source: Washington Post]Lawyer Larry A. Mackey, the lead prosecutor in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995), is profiled by the New York Times. Mackey played what the Times calls “a major, though low-profile role in the first Oklahoma City bombing trial” of Nichols’s co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), and delivered the closing argument in that trial (see May 30, 1997). Mackey had not planned on being involved in the Nichols trial, but honored a request from Attorney General Janet Reno to head the prosecution. McVeigh’s lead lawyer Stephen Jones calls Mackey “very professional,” and says: “He honors his word. If he tells you something, you can bank on it.” Former US Attorney Gerald D. Fines says of Mackey, “He is the most thorough and best-prepared lawyer I have seen in the government or private practice.” [New York Times, 11/1/1997]
South Carolina militia member Paul T. Chastain is charged with weapons, explosives, and drug violations after he allegedly tries to trade drugs for a machine gun and enough C-4 plastic explosive to demolish a five-room house. Chastain, who has written of the need to counter what he calls government tyranny with “brute force,” swapped 300 tablets of Dilaudid to undercover police officers. South Carolina law enforcement official Robert Stewart later says: “I think it is safe to say Paul T. Chastain was not planning to go duck-hunting with C-4 explosives and an M-16 rifle.… I truly believe lives were saved by this arrest.” Chastain is a member of a newly formed militia, the “South Carolina Minutemen Corps.” Officials say the militia group operates out of a dilapidated former boating and fishing campground named Sky Ranch. The next year, Chastain will plead guilty to an array of charges, including threatening to kill Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh, and be sentenced to 15 years in prison. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/1998; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files. [Source: Public domain via Richard Miniter]On August 4, 1998, Sudanese immigration suspects two men, Sayyid Nazir Abbass and Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, arriving in Sudan, apparently due to something in their Pakistani passports. They attempt to rent an apartment overlooking the US embassy. Three days later, US embassies are bombed in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Within hours, Sudanese officials arrest Abbass and Suliman. The two of them had just come from Kenya, and one of them quickly admits to staying in the same hotel in Kenya as some of the embassy bombers. Sudanese intelligence believes they are al-Qaeda operatives involved in the bombings. [Observer, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The US embassy in Sudan has been shut down for several years. But around August 14, a Sudanese intelligence official contacts an intermediary and former White House employee named Janet McElligott and gives her a vague message that Sudan is holding important suspects and the FBI should send a team immediately to see if they want to take custody of them. [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The FBI wants the two men, but on August 17, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright forbids their extradition. The US has decided to bomb a factory in Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings instead of cooperating with Sudan. But FBI agent John O’Neill is not yet aware of Albright’s decision, and word of the Sudanese offer reaches him on August 19. He wants immediate approval to arrest the two suspects and flies to Washington that evening to discuss the issue with counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. But Clarke tells O’Neill to speak to Attorney General Janet Reno. Later that night, O’Neill talks to Reno and she tells him that the decision to retaliate against Sudan instead has already been made. Mere hours later, the US attack a factory in Sudan with cruise missiles (see August 20, 1998). Within days, it becomes apparent that the factory had no link to al-Qaeda (see September 23, 1998), and no link between the bombings and the Sudanese government will emerge (although Sudan harbored bin Laden until 1996). [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-138] The Sudanese will continue to hold the two men in hopes to make a deal with the US. But the US is not interested, so after two weeks they are send to Pakistan and set free there (see August 20-September 2, 1998).
A training exercise, code-named Poised Response, is held at the FBI’s headquarter in Washington, DC, based around a possible terrorist attack in the nation’s capital. US Attorney General Janet Reno invites 200 policemen from the Washington metropolitan area to participate. They have to consider four scenarios: a car bombing, an explosive device in a federal building, an assassination attempt on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and a chemical weapon attack on a Washington Redskins football game. As Time magazine later describes, while the exercise participants are “never told which terrorist might carry out such an audacious attack, Reno and other top Administration aides had one man in mind: Osama bin Laden, whose Afghan camp had been blasted by US cruise missiles two months earlier. His operatives might be coming to town soon.” Time will report there being evidence that bin Laden could be planning to strike Washington or New York (see December 21, 1998). Reportedly, Poised Response is unsuccessful, quickly degenerating into interagency squabbling, and Reno leaves it feeling uneasy. [Agence France-Presse, 12/15/1998; Time, 12/21/1998; Washington Times, 5/17/2002]
The FBI announces that it is charging anti-abortion activist Eric Robert Rudolph with the 1996 bombing of Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park as well as with the 1997 bombing of an Atlanta abortion clinic (see January 16, 1997) and an Atlanta nightclub (see February 21, 1997). Rudolph has been a fugitive from law enforcement authorities since his January 1998 bombing of an Alabama clinic (see January 29, 1998), for which he has already been charged. “We are going to keep searching until we find him,” says Attorney General Janet Reno. The current complaint against Rudolph cites five counts of malicious use of an explosive in violation of federal law. FBI Director Louis Freeh calls Rudolph a domestic terrorist. The FBI has Rudolph on its Most Wanted list. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/14/1998] The charges will be formalized, and new charges added, in November 2000, when grand juries hand down additional indictments. [CNN, 5/31/2003] Rudolph will be captured after almost five years of living as a fugitive (see May 31, 2003).
Attorney General Janet Reno says she knows of no evidence that would prove the FBI was responsible for the fires that killed nearly 80 Branch Davidians in a 1993 assault on the group’s Waco compound (see April 19, 1993). Reno is responding to questions raised by a Texas state commissioner and a documentary filmmaker that center on the possible use of incendiary devices by the FBI during the final assault on the Davidian compound (see July 29, 1999). “I have gone over everything and I know of no such evidence,” she says, and echoes Justice Department assertions that the Davidians themselves started the fires that destroyed their compound and killed most of their fellow group members. “Our practice has been… to review all reports, to consider all allegations. And to date, I have found no basis for concluding that the FBI was in any way responsible,” Reno says. A Justice Department spokesperson has called the allegations “nonsense.” [Excite, 7/29/1999] Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department will admit that such devices were indeed used during the assault, but will claim that they had nothing to do with starting the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
James B. Francis Jr., the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety and a fundraiser for the presidential campaign of Governor George W. Bush, convinces federal judge Walter Smith to order that government vaults containing 12 tons of evidence from the Branch Davidian compound near Waco be opened, and the contents reexamined. The Davidian compound was destroyed six years ago as the culmination of a 51-day standoff between the residents and the FBI (see April 19, 1993). Smith orders the reopening of the vaults after inquiries from an independent filmmaker, Michael McNulty (see July 29, 1999), and a lawyer, David Hardy, who has long challenged the government’s account of events. There are three kinds of evidence to be examined, Francis has said: “One is shells, shell casings, physical things. The second type of evidence is video and still photographs. The third type are interviews done there on the spot at the time.” Smith’s order reads in part: “First and foremost, the parties to civil litigation pending in this court have the right to seek access (see April 1995). Second, the events that took place between Feb. 28 and April 19, 1993, and thereafter, have resulted in sometimes intense interest from the national media and the members of the public. There may come a time when persons other than the current civil litigants would be allowed access to the materials.” [Associated Press, 8/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/17/1999] One document that will prove to be extremely significant is the 49th and final page of a December 1993 lab report that has long ago been made available to lawmakers and attorneys. The 49th page had been removed. It states that FBI investigators who examined the scene at Waco found a “fired US military 40mm shell casing which originally contained a CS gas round,” and two “expended 40mm tear gas projectiles.” (The Justice Department will later claim that the prosecution and defense lawyers in the civil trial received the 49th page as well.) [Associated Press, 9/11/1999] The Texas Rangers review the contents, and find a spent military tear-gas canister, which forces the FBI and the Justice Department to admit that their agents fired incendiary gas canisters into the compound during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). The government has previously denied firing any weapons into the compound that might have caused the conflagration that consumed the building and killed almost all of the residents. As a result of the investigation, the federal government names a special prosecutor to investigate whether there was a government cover-up (see September 7-8, 1999 and July 21, 2000), and Attorney General Janet Reno (see July 29, 1999) has to weather calls from Republican lawmakers to resign. Later, Francis denies reopening the case for political reasons. His decision “unleashed a series of forces that were apparently a lot bigger than what I recognized,” he will say. “I never dreamed that it would turn into something like this.” He will claim that he is “doing everything in my power to not politicize this” controversy. Governor Bush himself refrains from commenting on the issue, though his chief of staff helped bring McNulty and Hardy to Francis’s attention. Hardy will say of Francis, “I don’t think there’s any question that he is the shining light of this entire inquiry.” Hardy used his friends in the Texas gun lobby to contact former Texas Senator Jerry Patterson; Patterson contacted Bush’s chief of staff Clay Johnson, who in turn referred him to Francis. “I think what happened to Jim Francis is he initially wanted to be very low-key and then as more and more revelations began to surface, he became angry and disgusted, as all of us are,” Patterson will say. “This was not a role that he sought.” As for his own role, Francis will say: “It’s important that the facts come out, whatever those are. I’m not a hero, but I have done the right thing.” [Excite, 7/28/1999; Excite, 7/29/1999; Associated Press, 8/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/17/1999] In July, the Justice Department called Francis’s allegations of mismanagement and possible cover-ups “nonsense.” [Excite, 7/28/1999; Excite, 7/29/1999]
Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, George W. Bush, David Hardy, Clay Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Walter Smith, Texas Rangers, James B. Francis Jr, US Department of Justice, Janet Reno, Michael McNulty, Jerry Patterson
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Pyrotechnic CS gas canisters. [Source: Law Enforcement Equipment Distribution]According to newly presented documents, the FBI used two or three pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The documents contradict earlier FBI and Justice Department claims that law enforcement officials did nothing that could have contributed to the fire that killed over 80 sect members. Former senior FBI official Danny Coulson begins the revelations by admitting to the Dallas Morning News that the FBI had indeed used pyrotechnic grenades, though he says the grenades did not start the fires that consumed the building. Texas Department of Public Safety Commission Chairman James Francis says the Texas Rangers have “overwhelming evidence” supporting Coulson’s statement. “There are written reports by Rangers, there is photographic evidence, there is physical evidence, all three of which are problematic,” Francis says. Coulson, the founder of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and a former assistant deputy director, says that two M651 CS tear gas grenades were fired into the building, but they were fired hours before the blazes erupted. Attorney General Janet Reno, who tells reporters she knew nothing of the grenade usage and is “very, very frustrated” at the knowledge, appoints former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) as the head of an investigatory commission (see September 7-8, 1999); Danforth will find that, regardless of the use of the pyrotechnic gas canisters, law enforcement officials were not responsible for the fire, and neither the FBI nor the Justice Department tried to cover up any actions (see July 21, 2000). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; Dallas Morning News, 8/25/1999; Salon, 9/9/1999] The military M651 canisters, which burn for about 30 seconds to heat and release the solidified tear gas inside, were fired from a Bradley fighting vehicle at a bunker near the main building (see September 3, 1999). After the assault, a Texas Ranger found a spent 40mm gas canister shell lying on the ground and asked a nearby FBI agent, “What’s this?” The agent promised to find out, but never returned with an answer; the shell went into evidence containers (see August 10, 1999 and After). Two weeks after the FBI acknowledges the use of incendiary gas canisters at the Waco assault, Reno testifies on the matter to the House Judiciary Committee. She says that, based on the briefings she had been given (see April 17-18, 1993), “It was my understanding that the tear gas produced no risk of fire.… That fire was set by David Koresh and the people in that building.” After her testimony, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) calls on Reno to resign. [Newsweek, 9/6/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999] FBI agent Byron Sage, the chief negotiator during the Davidian standoff, will say in 2003 that the incendiary gas canisters could not have set the fires. “This is the critical point, the M651 rounds were never directed towards the wooden structure,” he will say. “They were used in an area yards away from the building. Also, they were used earlier in the day. The fire didn’t start until four hours later. They had absolutely nothing to do with that fire.” Sage will say that the canisters were fired only at a construction pit near the compound where other gas-discharging devices had been smothered in mud. The pit was targeted because some Davidian gunfire during the ATF raid had come from that area, he will say. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003] Charles Cutshaw, an editor of Jane’s Defense Information and an expert on this kind of weapon, says these military tear gas cartridges are not intended to start fires. He says he knows of no studies or reports on how often such cartridges may have caused fires. [Washington Post, 9/4/1999] Shortly after the admission, federal prosecutor Bill Johnston, one of the lawyers for the government in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving Davidians (see April 1995), informs Reno that government lawyers had known for years about the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds (see August 30, 1999). Johnston will be removed from the lawsuit and replaced by US Attorney Michael Bradford. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] He will also plead guilty to concealing evidence from investigators concerning the canisters (see November 9, 2000).
Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Bill Johnston, Danny Coulson, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James B. Francis Jr, Trent Lott, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, John C. Danforth, Texas Rangers, Charles Cutshaw, Michael Bradford
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
The FBI launches an internal inquiry into why it took six years to admit that agents may have fired potentially flammable tear gas canisters on the final day of the 1993 standoff with the Branch Davidian cult near Waco, Texas (see August 25, 1999 and After). Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh order 40 FBI agents led by an FBI inspector to re-interview everyone who was at the Waco scene. James Francis, the chairman of the Texas Department of Public Safety who pressed for evidence to be reexamined (see August 10, 1999 and After), says federal officials must explain why Delta Force members were at the scene of the final assault (see August 28, 1999). “Everyone involved knows they were there. If there is an issue, it was what was their role at the time,” Francis says. “Some of the evidence that I have reviewed and been made aware of is very problematical as to the role of Delta Force at the siege.” A Defense Department document shows that a Special Forces unit was at the assault; the US military is prohibited from involvement in domestic police work without a presidential order. FBI spokesman James Collingwood says the bureau continues to insist that it did nothing to start the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians (see April 19, 1993). “Freeh is deeply concerned that prior Congressional testimony and public statements [about the use of flammable devices] may prove to be inaccurate, a possibility we sincerely would regret.… [A]ll available indications are that those [pyrotechnic gas] rounds were not directed at the main, wooden compound. The rounds did not land near the wooden compound, and they were discharged several hours before the fire started.” Dan Burton (R-IN), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, says: “I am deeply concerned by these inconsistencies.… I intend for the committee to get to the bottom of this.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says that the new evidence indicated “further erosion of the FBI’s credibility.” Privately, Justice Department officials are said to be furious that Reno was allowed to maintain for years that no such incendiary rounds were used during the assault, when some FBI officials presumably knew otherwise. [Associated Press, 8/26/1999] Reno has publicly said she is “very, very upset” at the sequence of events, and Collingwood describes Freeh as “incredulous.” [Newsweek, 9/6/1999]
The media learns that members of the US Army’s elite Delta Force were involved in a March 1993 meeting to discuss the management of the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993). Former CIA officer Gene Cullen, who was a senior officer in the CIA’s Office of Security, says that he attended that meeting, which took place at CIA headquarters. Federal law prohibits military involvement in law enforcement matters and precludes CIA operations on domestic soil. The Delta Force members were “mostly observers,” Cullen recalls, but he says that they offered to lend more overt assistance if any more federal agents were killed. “Their biggest fear was that more agents would be killed,” says Cullen. Participants at the meeting also discussed the use of “sleeping gas” which could be used to peacefully end the siege. Cullen tells reporters: “My charter at the agency was facilities personnel and operations worldwide. So we called this meeting [at CIA] during the Waco crisis… to see how the [FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team] would respond if it was one of our buildings in this country, and if it were overseas, how Delta would respond. So we’re all sitting around the room talking about scenarios. The FBI gave us a briefing on what had transpired. The Delta guys didn’t say much. They were playing second fiddle to the FBI.” Pentagon officials deny any military involvement in the Waco siege. [Salon, 8/28/1999] In late October, Army officials will confirm they were asked to assist in the BATF assault that precipitated the crisis (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), and say they questioned the legality of military involvement, which would require a presidential order to allow their involvement in domestic law enforcement matters. A Pentagon official says no consideration was ever given to making a request of President Clinton to allow Army involvement in the situation. Pentagon officials will also admit that three Delta Force members were present at the April assault that destroyed the Davidians and killed almost all of the members, but say that they participated only as observers. They also admit that Delta Force officers did meet with Reno to discuss strategies of forcing the Davidians out of their compound. [Associated Press, 10/31/1999]
Assistant US Attorney William Johnston writes a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, stating that he believes Justice Department officials may have withheld information from her about the FBI’s use of incendiary tear-gas canisters during the assault on the Branch Davidian compound (see April 17-18, 1993 and August 25, 1999 and After). “I have formed the belief that facts may have been kept from you—and quite possibly are being kept from you even now, by components of the department,” he writes. Johnston is the Justice Department’s assistant US attorney in Waco, Texas. [New York Times, 9/14/1999] As recently as a month ago, Reno told reporters that she knew nothing of the use of incendiary devices during the assault (see July 29, 1999). Over a year later, Johnston will plead guilty to concealing such evidence himself (see November 9, 2000).
The FBI releases a newly discovered videotape that shows FBI agents using incendiary, or pyrotechnic, tear-gas canisters during the April 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The audio portion of the videotape, taken by an FBI surveillance aircraft using infrared radar during the first hours of the assault, shows that agents were unable to breach the concrete wall of a bunker near to the main compound with the gas canister; the tape has an agent saying: “Yeah, the military gas did not penetrate that, uh, bunker where the bus was. It bounced off.” Another agent then suggested moving to a different position where a gas canister could be fired into the bunker through a doorway. The day before, the FBI released an earlier portion of the same videotape that shows the head of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) giving permission for agents to use the incendiary gas canisters on the bunker (see September 2, 1999). The canister bounced off the bunker wall at 8:08 a.m.; the tape runs through 8:24 a.m., when an agent asked that it be shut off. The videotape is more evidence that, contrary to six years of denials from the FBI and the Justice Department, the FBI did use two and perhaps three incendiary devices during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Four hours after the events of the videotape, the compound erupted in flames that killed almost 80 Davidians; both the Justice Department and the FBI insist that the Davidians, not the FBI, caused the fires that consumed the compound. Attorney General Janet Reno describes herself as “very troubled” over the new evidence. “Over the past two weeks, I, along with many Americans, have been troubled, very troubled, over what has transpired,” she says during a press converence. Reno says her orders to assault the compound (see April 17-18, 1993) were very specific in banning the use of incendiary devices on any portion of the compound. Reno says she will appoint an outsider to head an independent investigation to “get to the truth” of what happened during that assault (see September 7-8, 1999). Reno says she has asked why it took so long for the FBI to inform the Justice Department about the tapes: “I questioned that. I think this is a matter the outside investigator should look at.” [Reuters, 9/4/1999; Washington Post, 9/4/1999]
John C. Danforth. [Source: Huffington Post]Attorney General Janet Reno names former Senator John Danforth (R-MO) as a special counsel to investigate the events of the April 1993 tragedy outside of Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), and specifically to determine whether actions by the FBI led to the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Reno opens the investigation after learning that the FBI concealed evidence of the use of incendiary gas cartridges during the assault on the Davidian compound, actions that some believe may have started some of the fires (see August 10, 1999 and After, August 25, 1999 and After, and August 26, 1999). Danforth is a former US attorney general and an Episcopal priest. According to an Associated Press report, “both admirers and detractors have noted his emphasis on morals as well as his stubborn independence.” Former Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), who served in the Senate with Danforth for 10 years, says: “He calls them like he sees them. Members of the Senate or House will have full faith in his finding.” [Associated Press, 9/7/1999; Associated Press, 9/9/1999; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] Republicans in Congress have called on Reno to resign, while Democrats defend her tenure and say her actions during and after the Waco assault have been “commendable.” House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) says that he will hold off on attempting to launch a five-member commission to probe the Waco debacle. He will allow the Danforth investigation to proceed unimpeded, unless he feels the Justice Department is not cooperating with the probe. “Should events prove otherwise, we will reconsider this decision,” Hyde says. [Associated Press, 9/9/1999] Danforth’s investigation will clear the FBI and the federal government of any wrongdoing (see July 21, 2000).
Former Senator John Danforth (R-MO), the newly empaneled special counsel who will head a government investigation of the FBI’s actions that led up to the 1993 debacle at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), says his investigation will answer “the dark questions” still pending six years later. “Was there a cover-up? Did the government kill people? How did the fire start? And was there shooting?” Danforth asks, ticking off the issues he hopes to resolve. “Those are questions that go to the basic integrity of government, not judgment calls.” Danforth says the investigation will focus primarily on the events of April 19, 1993, the final day in a 51-day standoff between the FBI and the Davidians, including allegations that FBI agents fired at the compound during that final assault and military personnel took part in the assault (see August 28, 1999). As a “special counsel,” Danforth can impanel a grand jury and seek federal charges. “I come into this with a totally open mind,” Danforth says, with Attorney General Janet Reno standing at his side. “I come into this with the notion that the chips should fall where they may. And that’s going to happen.” Congressional Republicans praise Danforth’s appointment, while President Clinton calls him honorable and intelligent, and says, “Based on what I know of him, it [Danforth’s selection] was a good move by the attorney general.” Reno says she will turn over future decisions on Danforth’s investigation to her deputy, Eric Holder, in the interests of impartiality. Danforth says he will use private-sector investigators rather than FBI agents to do the actual investigating. US Attorney Edward Dowd of St. Louis, a Democrat, will resign his position to join Danforth as his chief assistant. [Knight Ridder, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999]
Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) discloses that internal FBI documents that show information about the FBI’s use of incendiary tear-gas canisters during the 1993 Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), have been available in Justice Department files for years and were given to Congress no later than 1995. The FBI was embarrassed by recent revelations that its agents fired such canisters near the Davidian compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After), though the bureau and the Justice Department both deny that the canisters had anything to do with the fires that consumed the compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Two weeks ago, the Justice Department sent US Marshals to the FBI’s headquarters in Washington to seize infrared videotapes that contain references to the tear-gas rounds, but did not reveal that it contained FBI records in its own files regarding the use of those rounds. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the seizure, saying she was angered by the revelations after spending six years denying the FBI ever used such incendiary devices. Reno says she did not see the internal FBI documents until two weeks ago. From the documents that have been made public, there is no indication that FBI officials explained to Reno or other Justice Department officials the potential dangers surrounding the use of such canisters (see April 17-18, 1993). A senior Justice Department official says the documents will likely be scrutinized by investigators with the Danforth inquiry (see September 7-8, 1999). Waxman, the ranking minority member of the House Oversight Committee, says he released the documents because the committee chairman, Dan Burton (R-IN), has said Reno failed to tell Congress about the incendiary canisters. Burton accused Reno of failing to inform Congress about the canisters after learning that an incomplete copy of a FBI lab report was sent to his committee in 1995 (see August 10, 1999 and After). [New York Times, 9/14/1999]
Special counsel John Danforth, heading the government’s probe into the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), asks the judge presiding over a civil lawsuit filed by some of the Davidian survivors (see April 1995) for a delay in the suit’s proceedings. In a filing for Judge Walter Smith, Danforth explains that the government inquiry seeks to depose witnesses who will also testify in the civil suit, and wants to interview those witnesses before they testify for the lawsuit, saying: “It is my firm belief that our inquiry will benefit by interviewing witnesses prior to their preparation for testimony in a civil trial. Because a civil trial inherently involves advocacy, testimony tends to be very well-rehearsed and coordinated with the testimony of other witnesses.” Danforth wants to find out if the FBI deliberately covered up its use of incendiary gas grenades during the April 19, 1993 siege (see August 25, 1999 and After), and whether agents fired shots during the assault on the Davidian compound. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys has volunteered to postpone taking depositions from Attorney General Janet Reno and two key FBI agents for two weeks, but is reluctant to delay the depositions for 30 days; another lawyer intends to resist the request completely. [Associated Press, 9/17/1999]
A former Army colonel tells a Dallas reporter that the FBI overheard Branch Davidian leader David Koresh ordering the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 of Koresh’s followers (see April 19, 1993). For years, many have accused the FBI of causing the fires that culminated the April 19, 1993 assault on the Davidian compound. Now, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, a former military adviser, says that he was in the FBI monitoring room outside the compound on the day of the assault, and he and several FBI agents overheard Koresh give the orders to fire the compound. The FBI had surveillance “bugs” in several places inside the compound, but FBI and Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, have said that they did not know if Koresh ordered the fires. In recent weeks, the FBI has come under heavy criticism for having to admit that its agents fired incendiary tear gas rounds at a bunker near the compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Rawlings tells the Dallas Morning News that as the Army’s senior liaison to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), he was in the monitoring room during the assault. He says: “You could hear everything from the very beginning, as it was happening. Anyone who says you couldn’t at the time is being less than truthful.” Rawlings says the FBI surveillance bugs picked up Koresh’s orders to set the fires. Shortly afterwards, he says, the bugs picked up the sound of gunfire. The bugs then recorded Koresh declaring that God did not want him to die, and Koresh’s chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, saying that Koresh “wasn’t going to get out of this.” Both Koresh and Schneider were later found dead in a room of the compound, both dead of gunshot wounds. FBI officials have previously testified that transmissions from the eavesdropping devices were too garbled to allow agents to hear discussions about spreading fuel and setting fires. Rawlings says that the FBI’s denials bother him “to no end. They’ve had the opportunity to say, ‘We knew.’ We’ve not gotten a straightforward answer.” [Reuters, 10/8/1999]
The US deports Hani El-Sayegh, a Saudi National who is a suspect in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing (see June 25, 1996), back to Saudi Arabia. [Grey, 2007, pp. 247] The deportation is approved by a US judge. [Washington Post, 10/29/2000]
History - In 1996, el-Sayegh, who had been living in Iran, moved to Kuwait. He later went to Canada, where he cut a deal with American officials that called for him to plead guilty in an unrelated plot against Americans in Saudi Arabia that was never carried out. In 1997, Canada expelled el-Sayegh for suspected terrorist activity. Attorney General Janet Reno allowed him into the United States solely for prosecution under the pact. But after arriving, he said he had not understood the accord, knew nothing about the Khobar attack, and was out of Saudi Arabia when the bombing occurred. Despite this, the Saudis suspected him of being present at the bombing and his brother was held in connection with it, and allegedly tortured in a Saudi jail. [New York Times, 10/12/1999]
Agreement - The deportation follows an agreement between FBI Director Louis Freeh and Prince Naif, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister. Under the agreement, el-Sayagh is returned to Saudi Arabia, and, according to officials familiar with the arrangement, FBI agents will be allowed to watch his interrogation through a one-way mirror and submit questions to his Saudi inquisitors. Washington Post journalist David Vine will comment, “Such practices are sharply at odds with Freeh’s oft-stated message about the FBI’s need to respect human dignity and the tenets of democracy while fighting crime.” Although FBI officials will say a year later they have not seen any indication that el-Sayegh has been tortured, Vine will add, “But agents say privately that when entering a foreign culture to do police work they do not have control over how prisoners are treated and must tread lightly.” [Washington Post, 10/29/2000]
Khobar Towers Attack Could Have Been Prosecuted in US - The Khobar Towers attacks may have been in Saudi Arabia, but were against US nationals, so suspects can be prosecuted in the US. Tony Karon of Time magazine will express surprise at the deportation: “Run that one by again: The United States doesn’t want to try a man suspected of a bomb attack that killed Americans—and they’re sending him home?!” However, the Justice Department apparently thinks there is not enough evidence to try him in the US, and, according to Time correspondent William Dowell, “Clearly, there’s a lower standard of proof in Saudi courts,” so, “It may be easier for Washington if the Saudis handle the trial—and the execution, which would likely follow.”
Possible Geopolitical Motive - According to Karon, an alternative explanation is that geopolitics may be behind the decision: “Sending el-Sayegh… back to Saudi Arabia could solve another touchy problem for Washington.” This is because President Clinton said the US would retaliate against any government that was involved in the attacks, and an Iranian hand is suspected in the bombing. However, according to Time Middle East bureau chief Scott Macleod: “the attack occurred before the election of President Khatami, who has clearly demonstrated a commitment to end state terrorism and normalize Iran’s relations with the rest of the world. Given Washington’s desire to strengthen his reformist government against its hard-line opponents, the US would be unlikely to take military action against Iran unless there were fresh acts of terrorism.” [Time, 10/5/1999]
Memos withheld from Congressional investigators (see August 4, 1995) by the FBI show that the FBI was riven by dissension during the Branch Davidian siege, which culminated in a fiery conflagration that killed scores of sect members (see April 19, 1993). The memos are released by the Dallas Morning News. Many senior FBI officials were pressing to use tear gas to bring the siege to a close, some as early as three weeks after its start. According to a March 23, 1993 memo (see March 23, 1993) written by then-Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson, the FBI’s top expert on tactics, the Hostage Rescue Team leader, Richard Rogers, was pressuring FBI officials to terminate the siege by using gas as part of an assault. Coulson disagreed with Rogers’s recommendations. Coulson is the former agent who recently revealed that the FBI had used pyrotechnic grenades during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Some House members are angry about the withheld memo, and note that they have consistently been denied documents even after subpoenas were issued. “We’ve had a subpoena out there for all relevant documents—all documents—since September 7, 1999,” says Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee. “Is the Department of Justice withholding only embarrassing documents from us? It makes you wonder.” Other FBI documents released by the Dallas Morning News show that Attorney General Janet Reno gave her approval to use tear gas on the compound (see April 17-18, 1993). [Dallas Morning News, 2/28/2000]
In an interview, President Clinton says he “gave in” to the Justice Department’s arguments to go forward with the April 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The resulting fiery conflagration took the lives of almost 80 Davidians and touched off a never-ending storm of controversy, accusations, and alternative theories (see April 19, 1993). The transcript of the interview will not be released until July 2000. When the transcript is released, Attorney General Janet Reno will say both she and Clinton required assurances about the operation’s necessity. “I think we both had to be convinced, if you will,” Reno will say. Reno signed off on the final orders for the assault (see April 17-18, 1993). Clinton says: “I gave in to the people in the Justice Department who were pleading to go in early, and I felt personally responsible for what had happened, and I still do. I made a terrible mistake.” Reno will say that she and Clinton discussed the imminent assault and the answers she had received from senior FBI officials. “My recollection was that we had a very difficult situation, that there were many issues,” she will say. “I went over those issues with him. He wanted to make sure my questions had been answered.” [Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000] In November 2000, Reno will tell a group of schoolchildren in New York City, “[I]n a way, I’ll never know what the right thing to do was” in ending the standoff, but people have to “live with [their] judgments.… I’ve tried to do what is right.” Reno will make her statement in response to a direct question by a young girl. [New York Post, 11/21/2000]
John O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, has his briefcase, which contains important classified information, stolen when he leaves it unattended during a conference and he will subsequently be placed under investigation over the incident. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002; PBS, 10/3/2002] O’Neill is required to attend a pre-retirement conference in Orlando, Florida, even though he currently has no plans to retire from the FBI. He brings his division’s annual field office report with him, so he can complete it during the event. The important document outlines every counterterrorism and counterespionage case in New York, and will be used to help determine his division’s future funding levels. During the seminar, O’Neill sits at the back of the conference room so he can ignore the presentations and instead work on the report.
Briefcase Is Taken While O'Neill Makes a Phone Call - His pager goes off during the seminar. He goes out of the room to return the call, but leaves his briefcase in the room unattended while he does so. When he returns a few minutes later, he finds the other agents at the conference have left for lunch. Moreover, his briefcase is missing. He immediately realizes the seriousness of this. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 278-280; Wright, 2006, pp. 317; Graff, 2011, pp. 260] FBI agents are prohibited from removing classified documents from their offices without authorization and violations can be punished by censure, suspension, or dismissal, depending on how serious they are. [New York Times, 8/19/2001] Furthermore, the annual field office report contains strategic plans that show what the FBI is doing around the issues of terrorism and counterintelligence. O’Neill knows if it fell into the hands of foreign agents or enemies of the US, these people would have details of every case the FBI is working on under his command. The report is “the crown jewel of an FBI office” and, “in the wrong hands, it would undo years of the entire division’s work,” journalist and author Garrett Graff will later comment.
Briefcase Is Found with the Report Still Inside - O’Neill immediately calls the local police to report the theft. He then calls his boss, Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, and Neil Gallagher, the head of the FBI’s national security division, and tells them what has happened. FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno will subsequently be notified of the incident. Fortunately, the briefcase is found a few hours later in a nearby hotel. It appears to have been stolen by a petty thief who was unaware of the value of the documents in it, since the annual field office report is still there. All that has been taken are O’Neill’s Montblanc pen, his silver cigar cutter, and an expensive lighter. FBI fingerprint examiners will soon determine that no one has touched the report.
FBI Will Investigate the Incident - All the same, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) will promptly launch an investigation to determine whether any criminal charges should be brought against O’Neill over the incident. There will also be an internal investigation to determine if O’Neill violated FBI guidelines and should be punished. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 280-281; Wright, 2006, pp. 317; Graff, 2011, pp. 260] The OPR inquiry will end in the summer of 2001 with a decision not to prosecute and O’Neill will retire from the FBI before the internal investigation has been completed (see August 22, 2001). [New York Times, 8/19/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002] O’Neill is “the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden,” according to New York magazine. [New York Magazine, 12/17/2001] He previously got into trouble for taking his longtime girlfriend to a secret FBI garage and letting her use the bathroom there (see Summer 1999). [Graff, 2011, pp. 260-261]
An investigative commission headed by former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) finds no wrongdoing on the parts of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), or the Justice Department in their actions during the Waco standoff between law enforcement officials and the Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993). Attorney General Janet Reno appointed the commission after documents surfaced in 1999 that indicated an FBI agent fired pyrotechnic gas canisters near the Branch Davidian compound during the raid, possibily contributing to the fire that destroyed the compound and killed many sect members (see August 25, 1999 and After). Danforth’s investigation also finds that, despite the documents, no government agency or individual contributed to any alleged cover-up, and emphatically clears Reno of any responsibility for the calamity. Danforth does find that a single FBI agent fired three flammable gas canisters into a concrete pit some 75 feet from the compound itself, as previously acknowledged. His report concludes that the FBI most likely mishandled that information, though the possibility exists of some sort of deliberate cover-up or falsification of evidence. Danforth’s report also notes that he had encountered “substantial resistance” to his probe from Justice Department officials, in some cases resulting in a “tug of war” over requested evidence that required intervention by Reno’s top deputy. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000] Asked whether she feels vindicated by the report, Reno says: “One doesn’t think in terms of exoneration when you look at something like that. That was a terrible tragedy. And what I have always said was we have got to look to the future to see what we can do, what we can learn about human behavior to avoid tragedies like that.” The final report sums up 10 months of investigation, interviews, and evidence assessment; the investigation cost $12 million. [Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000]
Michael Sheehan. [Source: Center on Law and Security]In the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), Clinton administration officials hold a high level meeting to discuss what the US response should be. The meeting attendees include: Counterterrorism “Tsar” Richard Clarke, Defense Secretary William Cohen, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg, and State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan.
Clarke suggests that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks. There is no hard evidence of this yet but he argues that the attack matches their profile and capabilities. He presents a detailed plan, which he’d been working on before the bombing, to level all the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan as well as key Taliban buildings in such towns as Kandahar and Kabul.
Reno argues there’s no clear evidence yet who was behind the bombing. If there is such evidence, any US actions should not be for retaliation but only for self-protection against future attacks.
Tenet says that he suspects al-Qaeda is behind the bombing but also wants to wait until an investigation determines that before acting.
Cohen is against any counterattack. Clarke will later recall Cohen saying at the meeting that the Cole bombing “was not sufficient provocation.” Sheehan will later say that the “entire Pentagon” was generally against a counterattack.
Albright is against a counterattack for diplomatic reasons. The Clinton administration is involved in trying to create a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and bombing Afghanistan could ruin such talks.
Many also argue that if Afghanistan is attacked and bin Laden is not killed, he could emerge a greater hero in the Muslim world, just as he did after a 1998 US missile strike (see Late 1998). Clarke argues that the continual creation of new trained militants in Afghanistan needs to stop, and if bin Laden is killed, that would merely be a “bonus.” At the end of the meeting, the highest-ranking officials cast votes, and seven vote against Clarke’s counterstrike plan, while only Clarke votes in favor of it. After the meeting, Sheehan will meet with Clarke and express frustration with the outcome, saying, “What’s it going to take to get them to hit al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al-Qaeda have to hit the Pentagon?” [Miniter, 2003, pp. 222-227]
Former federal prosecutor William “Bill” Johnston is indicted for obstructing the investigation of special counsel John Danforth, who led a government probe into the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993, September 7-8, 1999, and July 21, 2000). Johnston, a former US attorney in Waco, is accused of concealing information about the FBI’s use of pyrotechnic CS gas rounds during the final assault on the Davidian compound (see August 25, 1999 and After). Danforth, a former Republican senator, says he preferred to release the investigation report without prosecuting anyone, but says the charges against Johnston are too severe to ignore. “I couldn’t just shrug it off,” Danforth says. Johnston is accused of hiding his notes about the use of incendiary tear gas rounds from the Justice Department and Congress. He is also accused of later lying about the notes to Danforth’s investigators and to the grand jury. Johnston has admitted to hiding his notes, but also helped bring the information about the incendiary gas rounds to the public. “My actions were foolish, regrettable, and wrong, but they were not criminal,” Johnston says. “I can’t confess to concealing the pyrotechnics when I was the government employee most responsible for disclosing them. And I can’t take full blame when there is so much blame to be spread around.” Danforth’s report found no evidence of a widespread government conspiracy to cover up the use of the pyrotechnic gas rounds, but asserted that members of the Justice Department’s prosecution team had failed to give information about the rounds to Davidian defense lawyers during a criminal trial in 1994 (see January-February 1994). The report also criticized two FBI evidence technicians, Richard Crum and James Cadigan, who checked the crime scene for failing to keep notes and giving evasive statements on their findings. Johnston says he hid his notes to protect himself from “enemies” in the Justice Department. “Certain people leaked a memo to the news media making it appear—falsely—that I attended a 1993 meeting at which the term ‘pyrotechnic’ was used,” Johnston says. “In any event, when I uncovered the notes, only days after the memo was leaked, I panicked, because I had just been ordered to place all my trial material in the hands of the people behind the smear campaign. I should have turned those notes over anyway and suffered the consequences, but I didn’t.” Danforth says that two other prosecutors on the trial, Ray Jahns and LeRoy Jahns, knew about the pyrotechnic gas rounds but did not disclose their knowledge. However, Danforth says there is not enough “tangible” evidence against the two to file charges. “There is a difference between what I believe and conclude and what I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” he says. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/9/2000] Johnston will accept a plea-bargain deal that gives him two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service in return for an admission of guilt. He will tell the court: “Whatever my reason [for withholding his notes], it was wrong. It will never be right to withhold something in fear or panic or whatever reason.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2001] In August 1999, Johnston wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno that he believes unnamed Justice Department officials were concealing evidence from her (see August 30, 1999).
Conservative columnist George Will lambasts the Gore presidential campaign for trying to “steal” the presidential election through unwarranted legal manipulation (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and November 9, 2000). Will begins his Washington Post column by comparing the Gore request for recounts to “the blue dress,” a reference to President Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and accuses Democrats of “complaining that the Constitution should not be the controlling legal authority” over elections. Will continues: “The mendacity of Al Gore’s pre-election campaign is pertinent to the post-election chaos. He ran with gale-force economic winds at his back, and with a powerful media bias pulling him along.… Even on election night: by calling Florida for Gore before all Floridians had voted, the networks almost certainly hurt Republican turnout in Florida, and out West” (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000). Will does not mention Fox News’s inaccurate call of Florida for Bush (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and November 7-8, 2000). Gore is attempting to steal the election because of his “corrupt… hunger for power” and his “serial mendacity,” Will states, accusing Gore of “desperately seeking lawyering strategies and a friendly court to hand him the presidential election.” He is, Will states, the quintessential liberal, attempting to impose his will “through litigation rather than legislation. Liberalism’s fondness for judicial fiat rather than democratic decision-making explains the entwinement of the Democratic Party and trial lawyers.” Will ridicules reports that the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” may have denied Gore votes (see November 9, 2000), and calls Democrats’ questioning of that ballot “sinister.” The claims that Palm Beach voters were confused by the ballot are, Will writes, “baseless.” Will says that the November 17 addition of absentee ballots (see November 18, 2000), with their “large military, hence Republican, component,” will almost certainly lock down the Florida vote for Bush. However, Will writes, “Gore operatives probably will still toil to delegitimize the election. Their actions demolish the presidential pretensions of the dangerous man for whom they do their reckless work.” Will concludes: “All that remains to complete the squalor of Gore’s attempted coup d’etat is some improvisation by Janet Reno, whose last Florida intervention involved a lawless SWAT team seizing a 6-year-old [referring to Cuban-American youngster Elian Gonzales, whom Reno ordered to be sent back to Cuba with his father instead of being allowed to remain in the US with a group of more distant relatives]. She says there is no federal role, but watch for a ‘civil rights’ claim on behalf of some protected minority, or some other conjured pretext. Remember, Reno is, strictly speaking, unbelievable, and these things will continue until these people are gone.” [Washington Post, 11/12/2000] The progressive media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) will note, “The comment about a ‘protected minority’ seems to be a reference to the complaints of voter fraud and intimidation coming from African-American communities in Florida” (see November 7, 2000). [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 11/16/2000]
Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, persuades FBI Director Louis Freeh to approve a meeting where senior FBI agents from around the US can learn about terrorism from Richard Clarke, the White House chief of counterterrorism. Watson wants the event held due to concerns around the general inaction and lack of interest in terrorism. The meeting, which takes place in Tampa, Florida, is attended by 250 special agents in charge and counterterrorism supervisors who come from all 56 FBI field offices. Attorney General Janet Reno also attends. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 218; 9/11 Commission, 1/6/2004 ; Graff, 2011, pp. 272] The meeting will subsequently be nicknamed the “Terrorism for Dummies” seminar. [Weiner, 2012, pp. 406] During it, Clarke gives the attendees a summary of al-Qaeda’s aims, goals, and methods.
One Al-Qaeda Goal Is the Destruction of the US, Clarke Says - “Al-Qaeda is a worldwide political conspiracy masquerading as a religious sect,” he tells them. The terrorist network, he says, “engages in murder of innocent people to grab attention. Its goal is a 14th-century style theocracy in which women have no rights, everyone is forced to be a Muslim, and the Sharia legal system is used to cut off hands and stone people to death.” He explains that the group “uses a global banking network and financial system to support its activities,” and its members “are smart; many trained in our colleges and they have a very long view.” “They think it may take them a century to accomplish their goals,” he says and adds that one of these goals is “the destruction of the United States of America.” He says al-Qaeda members “have good spy tradecraft,” and the network employs “sleeper cells and front groups that plan for years before acting.” He says the group’s members “are our number one enemy and they are amongst us, in your cities.” He then gives the FBI agents the simple instruction, “Find them.”
Watson Says Agents Will Be Evaluated on Their Performance against Terrorists - After Clarke has spoken, Watson addresses the FBI agents. He tells them terrorism is the bureau’s “number one priority.” He says: “You will find [the terrorists]. If you have to arrest them for jaywalking, do it. If the local US attorney won’t prosecute them, call me. If you can’t get your FISA wiretap approved by Justice, call us. Don’t just sit out there and sulk.” Some of the attendees appear to be indifferent about what Watson is telling them, according to Clarke. “People were taking notes, but some looked like they had heard this sort of ‘new priority’ speech before,” he will later recall. Watson ends with one final point. “Your bonus, your promotion, your city of assignment all depend upon how well you do on this mission,” he says, adding: “I mean it. I’ve got [Freeh’s] backing. If you don’t believe me, try me.” After Watson and Clarke leave the meeting, Watson explains to Clarke how his agency functions. “The FBI is like an aircraft carrier,” he says. “It takes a long time to get going in one direction and turn around and go in another.” He adds: “These field offices have all had their own way, little fiefdoms, for years. At least I’m starting.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 218-219; Graff, 2011, pp. 272]
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) says that he bombed the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) after considering a plan to assassinate Attorney General Janet Reno. McVeigh’s statement comes in a written response he gives to questions submitted by Fox News reporter Rita Cosby. McVeigh calls the bombing both a retaliatory strike and a pre-emptive one against an “increasingly militaristic and violent federal government.” Last month, McVeigh’s admission of his role in the bombing was made public by two reporters, in which he called the deaths of children in the blast “collateral damage” (see March 29, 2001). McVeigh provides the answers to the Fox reporters’ questions to make sure his motives for setting the bomb are clear. “I explain this not for publicity,” he writes. “I explain so that the record is clear as to my thinking and motivations in bombing a government installation.” He notes again that the date of April 19 was chosen to reflect the date of the Branch Davidian debacle (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), calling the government’s assault on the Davidian compound the equivalent of the Chinese government’s “deploying tanks against its own citizens.” McVeigh says he waited two years for the government to correct its “abuse of power,” and became angry when “they actually gave awards and bonus pay to those agents involved, and conversely, jailed the survivors of the Waco inferno after the jury wanted them set free” (see January-February 1994). McVeigh says he observed what he calls “multiple and ever-more aggressive raids across the country” by the government that constituted what he calls an unacceptable pattern of behavior. He says violent action against the government became an option for him only after protest marches, letter-writing campaigns, and media awareness “failed to correct the abuse.” His first thought was “a campaign of assassination,” including Reno, Judge Walter Smith, who handled the Branch Davidian trial, and Lon Horiuchi, the FBI agent who shot to death the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver during the Ruby Ridge siege (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992). Assassinating Reno, McVeigh says, would “mak[e] her accept ‘full responsibility’ in deed, not just word,” for the Davidian disaster. But, he says, federal agents are merely soldiers, and he decided to strike against them at what he calls one of their command centers. The bombing, he says, was “morally and strategically equivalent to the US hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations,” and therefore was acceptable for that reason. “I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government,” he writes. “Based on the observations of the policies of my own government, I viewed this action as an acceptable option.” Asked about calling the children slain in the blast “collateral damage,” McVeigh writes: “Collateral Damage? As an American news junkie; a military man; and a Gulf War Veteran, where do they think I learned that (It sure as hell wasn’t Osami [sic] Bin Laden!)” [Fox News, 4/26/2001; Associated Press, 4/27/2001; New York Times, 4/27/2001; Fox News, 4/27/2001]
The House Appropriations subcommittee investigating the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993) releases heavily edited excerpts from 911 call conversations between federal agents and Davidian members made during the February 1993 raid on the Davidian compound by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF—see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). A Dallas FBI agent released edited portions of the tapes to a Congressional investigator, who gave the tapes to the subcommittee members. The Justice Department says the FBI agent, Oliver “Buck” Revell, erred in giving the tape; a department investigation finds Revell did not knowingly do anything wrong in releasing the tape, which is used by the FBI to train negotiators to deal with similar situations. The McLennan County, Texas, Police Department releases unedited versions of the tapes shortly after the House subcommittee makes its tapes public; federal prosecutors who intend to prosecute some of the surviving Davidians (see August 7, 1993) had intended to keep the tapes secret until the trial. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) asks Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate the tape’s initial release, saying: “Who edited the version of the tape given to the House in the first place, and why, in that version, are conversations with David Koresh out of order? Is there a reason why the FBI, for training purposes, would leave out the threatening statements made by the Branch Davidians on the actual tape?” The House subcommittee was told that the tape was an accurate recording of the first half-hour of local police negotiations with Davidian Wayne Martin. “The release of altered tapes that are evidence before a grand jury is an assault on the department’s integrity,” DeConcini writes. “It is essential that this matter be investigated thoroughly and that the individuals responsible receive the most severe penalties available under the law.” The edited tape makes it appear that the 911 call center could not reach BATF agents for almost an hour after the 911 calls commenced. The police tapes feature two unedited hours of conversation between Martin and local law enforcement officials, and show that 911 operators made contact with BATF raid commanders within a half-hour of the first call to the hotline by Martin. The police tapes also indicate that BATF officials worked closely with the 911 call center to negotiate a cease-fire and evacuation of wounded federal agents. [Dallas Morning News, 8/7/1993]
Entity Tags: McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Dennis DeConcini, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, House Committee on Appropriations, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Wayne Martin, Oliver (“Buck”) Revell
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
9/11 Commission staffer Les Hawley is shocked by the interview of former Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno, which is primarily conducted by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow. Hawley himself had prepared the questions for Reno after researching what she might be able to tell the commission about her aggressive pursuit of criminal investigations against al-Qaeda, but her caution about using other means.
Questioning - However, at the interview Zelikow dispenses with Hawley’s questions and, according to author Philip Shenon, launches into a “fierce interrogation.” Zelikow makes it obvious, “at least to Hawley, that he [has] utter disdain for Reno and her performance at the Justice Department under Clinton, that she was an architect of the Clinton administration’s weak-kneed antiterrorism policies.” His questions are “focused on demonstrating that Reno had been disorganized, even incompetent, in her management of the department and in overseeing its part in the war on terror.”
Hawley's Reaction - Reno, who is visibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease, seems unconcerned, possibly because she got used to such treatment when she was in office. Hawley, however, is “startled by Zelikow’s antagonistic tone.” Zelikow takes up the vast majority of the two hours allocated for the interview, leaving only a few minutes for other staffers at the end. A memo for the records is drafted after every interview, and in this case it is Hawley’s job to write it up. According to Shenon, he decides he needs “to get across to the commission what Zelikow was up to—that his partisanship had been blatantly on display in his questioning of Reno.” Therefore, the memo is not a summary of the interview, but mostly “a transcript of the harsh questions that Zelikow had asked and the answers Reno had given.” Hawley tells his colleagues, “I don’t want anybody reading this memo, commissioner or staff, not to understand what happened.”
Part of a Pattern - Shenon will comment: “It was a pattern that Hawley would see again and again on the commission. Others would tell him how offended they were by Zelikow and what they saw as his pattern of partisan moves intended to protect the White House in the investigation. But apart from Warren Bass [another staffer], most would never confront Zelikow themselves. Others on the commission, including some of the commissioners, were frightened of Zelikow.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 485; Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-319]
Attorneys for accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) challenge his detention as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003). The attorneys, appearing before a three-judge panel in Richmond’s Fourth US Court of Appeals, say that al-Marri is being held unconstitutionally and should be allowed to challenge his imprisonment in court under his right to habeas corpus. Al-Marri, a Qatari national, is the only person being held as an enemy combatant on US soil. His lawyers argue that he has inalienable rights as a legal resident of the US, including the right to due process and to challenge his accusers in court. One of al-Marri’s lawyers, Jonathan Hafetz, tells the court: “The basic question is whether criminal or military law governs this case. [The president] cannot militarize the case of a man in Peoria with the stroke of a pen.” The government says that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) gives the government the right to hold al-Marri and any other designated enemy combatant indefinitely, without recourse to the courts. Hafetz contends that the MCA doesn’t repeal defendants’ right to challenge their detention. He also says al-Marri was improperly classified as an enemy combatant. Justice Department lawyers argue that the court has no jurisdiction to hear such cases, and that the government has classified evidence proving that al-Marri is indeed an al-Qaeda agent. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons what would stop Bush from declaring anyone he chose an enemy combatant, even if that person was a citizen of a nation not at war with the US. “What I don’t understand is how you make one an enemy combatant,” she says. “What did the president look to, to call someone an enemy combatant?” Salmons says that Congress and the Supreme Court have granted Bush the authority to fight terrorism, (see September 14-18, 2001) and that authorization grants Bush the right to designate people with suspected al-Qaeda links as enemy combatants. Motz disagrees: “If the US can do this, it’s contrary to the Constitution. It would give other nations the ability to do that by declaring a US citizen an enemy combatant.” Salmons says the 9/11 attacks make the situation different. Al-Marri is supported in the court by, among others, former Attorney General Janet Reno, seven former Justice Department officials, and 29 US law school professors, who all contend that the government’s treatment of al-Marri is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent in depriving US residents of basic legal rights. The case is al-Marri v. Wright, 06-7427. [Associated Press, 2/1/2007]
The White House refuses to allow special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to turn over key documents from his investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak to Congress, as requested by House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) since June 2007 and revealed by Waxman today. Waxman has repeatedly requested reports of interviews by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and five top White House aides—White House political strategist Karl Rove, former press secretary Scott McClellan, former chief of staff Andrew Card, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former communications director Dan Bartlett. Waxman has also requested transcripts and other documents relevant to these officials’ testimony. According to Waxman, Fitzgerald is willing to turn over the documents to the committee, but cannot gain White House permission to do so. Waxman appeals to newly appointed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to overrule the White House and release the documents. “I hope you will not accede to the White House objections,” Waxman writes to Mukasey. “During the Clinton administration, your predecessor, Janet Reno, made an independent judgment and provided numerous FBI interview reports to the committee, including reports of interviews with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and three White House chiefs of staff. I have been informed that Attorney General Reno neither sought nor obtained White House consent before providing these interview records to the committee. I believe the Justice Department should exercise the same independence in this case.… There is no legitimate basis for the withholding of these documents. Mr. Fitzgerald has apparently determined that these documents can be produced to the committee without infringing on his prosecutorial independence or violating the rules of grand jury secrecy. As records of statements made by White House officials to federal investigators, outside the framework of presidential decision-making, the documents could not be subject to a valid claim of executive privilege.” Mukasey will not accede to Waxman’s request. Many believe that even though Fitzgerald only managed to convict one White House official as a result of his investigation (see March 6, 2007), he compiled evidence that indicates others, including Cheney, were involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Fitzgerald has indicated that his investigation into other White House officials was drastically hindered by Libby’s repeated lies under oath (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007 and May 25, 2007). Fitzgerald has declined to testify before Waxman’s committee, citing rules that prohibit him from revealing grand jury proceedings, and noting that prosecutors “traditionally refrain from commenting outside of the judicial process on the actions of persons not charged with criminal offenses.” [Washington Post, 12/3/2007] Waxman will continue, without success, to request the information (see June 3, 2008), though the White House will release heavily redacted transcripts of Libby’s grand jury testimony in the summer of 2008. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Michael Mukasey, Henry A. Waxman, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Janet Reno, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The cover of Jamieson and Cappella’s ‘Echo Chamber.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble (.com)]Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” [Washington Post, 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 184-190]
Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Robert C. Byrd, Wesley Clark, Tom Daschle, Teresa Heinz-Kerry, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, National Organization for Women, Nancy Pelosi, Rush Limbaugh, Larry Summers, Madonna, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Cruz Bustamante, Arianna Huffington, Barbara Cubin, Hillary Clinton, Patrick J. Leahy, Janet Reno, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joseph N. Cappella, Jane Harman, Kathleen Hall Jamieson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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