The Siege: Feb. 29-April 19.
FBI took over the matter and settled in for a siege. The approach taken was scarcely more intelligent than the initial raid had been. If the strategic objective was to induce the Davidians to leave, the logical approach would have been to (1) encourage departure; (2) convince those inside that the agency did not represent a demonic force. Instead the besiegers fired "flash bangs" at anyone attempting to leave without prior agreement, surrounded the building with high-intensity lights, and played raucous noises to disrupt their sleep. Bugs planted inside the building picked up some of the noise on the morning of April 19. As to whether this was an appropriate way to demonstrate that the persons playing the audio are reasonable, balanced, and not at all demonic, well, judge for yourself.
In its assault plan, delivered to the Attorney General, FBI estimated costs of the siege to April 8 as $5,005,351: "the average cost per day of the WACMUR [presumably Waco Murder] operation is $128,429..." We know that the government was becoming impatient. In fact, there is some evidence suggesting that ending the siege by starting a fire was being considered. FBI had ended an earlier siege by firing illuminating rounds (essentially magnesium starshells, which are designed to spray burning magnesium stars if fired into the air) into the building. An Army memo obtained under FOIA shows that FBI requested training for their 40mm grenade launchers. Two types of ammunition were to be used; the usual target/practice rounds.... and illuminating rounds. It's hard to see much use for illuminating when a building is surrounded by floodlights. A postscript adds that FBI is authorized to leave with all unfired ammunition.
In the course of the siege, FBI rammed and spilled no less than two thousand gallons of diesel fuel, stored in tanks about sixty feet from the building. The Texas Water Commission later complained, and FBI accepted responsibility for the cleanup. 2,000 gallons spread in a one-inch layer will make a pool a hundred ten feet in diameter. The building--constructed of wood in a dry climate--became all the more flammable. (Strangely, there is no indication that the spill was mentioned to the government's fire experts....)
An apparent breakthrough came when two theologians, Drs. Phillip Arnold and James Tabor, broadcast a discussion on a radio station which FBI knew, from bugs planted inside the building, was regularly listened to by the Davidians. The gist of the theologian's broadcast was that the scriptural passages most relied upon by Koresh did not in fact predict a rapid progress to Armageddon. The timeframe was much broader, and the prophet announcing it must be one who, like Jeremiah, gives himself up to be judged by his worldly opponents.
It was the breakthrough. Steve Schneider, Koresh's deputy, told the FBI negotiators it was the best thing he'd heard, and suggested that Drs. Arnold and Tabor were exactly the people to resolve the issue. He opined that they might be able to convince David Koresh that he was wrong. The FBI did nothing about the suggestion.
On April 14, however, Koresh sent out a letter to his attorney Dick DeGuerin, stating that he was writing his explanation of the Seven Seals, and that he would give himself up to be judged upon its completion. That he had heard the program was obvious; he requested that copies be sent to Arnold and Tabor. The letter makes it clear the author has no plans of suicide. He speaks of surrender and judgment, and asks how he will contact DeGuerin while imprisoned.
The proposal threatened to throw the assault plans--which had been finalized and submitted to the Attorney General two days before--into the trash heap. The April 14 letter was, accordingly, not shown to the Attorney General. The plans had been finalized; the HRT was going to show it was in control, it would make the Davidians come out on its terms, not in their own good time.
Transcripts of FBI negotiation tapes show Koresh at this point made it clear he was going to surrender. He is writing his explanation of the Seven Seals, discusses Tabor and Arnold, jokes with negotiators. Once he's done, he tells negotiators,
Koresh: Then I'll be out - yes - definitely.
FBI: I know you'll be out, but that could - excuse me I've got a cold. That could mean a lot of things David. That could mean -
Koresh: I'll be in custody in the jailhouse. You can come down there and feed me bananas if you want.
FBI: I know - I know that some point in time that's true. But I'm getting from you - I'm asking you, "When that is finished, are you than telling me that you are coming out the next day, or two hours after you send that out or what?"
Koresh: Oh, I'll probably - when I - when I bring it out - see - my attorney is gonna get the - get to the copy.
Koresh: OK? And as soon as he hands it over to the scholars - the theologians - right?
FBI: Um, hm.
Koresh: That's when - he's gonna come back, and that's when I'm going to go out with him, because he said point blank that -you know - one of the guarantees of me arriving down there is that he is gonna go with me.
FBI: So you go on paper here and said that David Koresh told me that as soon as he finishes this manuscript - the seven seals -of which you've finished the first chapter dealing with the first seal -
Koresh: The first seal - right.
FBI: That you're gonna make that available -
Koresh: I'll be splitting out of this place. I'm so sick of MRE's - Dick - that ah -
FBI: Well, I just want to make sure that I have this right - that you're coming out. As soon as that's finished -
Koresh: That's what - it was said by the attorney's -
FBI: Well, I know - I know.
Koresh: That's what I'm saying -
Koresh: It's clarified. Lock, stock, and barrel it.
Later on April 16, Koresh adds "I'm giving you the simple answer. Yes. Yes. Yes. I never intended to die in here."
The same day, Schneider reported that Koresh had finished draft of his explanation of the first seal, and asked for a word processor to speed things along. Ruth Riddle was apparently in charge of transcription. Bugs inside the building picked up conversations that indicated several Davidians were working hard on the project, while others groused that it was taking too long: plainly all expected to leave as soon as possible:
Transcript of bugging tapes of April 17 [UF=unidentified female; UI=unintelligible]
UF: He wanted to type this on the manual...
UF: Why? (conversation--unintelligible--several people talking at once)
UF: Do it by shorthand, they're all three doing shorthand.
UF: We don't even have time to do it.
UF: They want it fast.
UF: They want it fast, but they don't want to do anything right. (UI) Ruth, or whoever, is doing nothing.
On April 18, the FBI sent in the word processor. One day later, it staged the final assault.
The final day: April 19.
There was every reason to be cautious at this point. There were, after all, two dozen children inside, some mere infants. All indications were that Koresh was working on the manuscript, and a non-lethal end would follow within some days.
FBI prepared a plan to end the siege by frontal assault: armored vehicles would spray CS gas (actually a mixture of CS in methylene chloride) into the building, while other vehicles fired "Ferret" rounds, plastic projectiles filled with the same mixture.
Risks of the Mixture Injected
The risks of the gas mixture to persons within--and especially to children--were known. CS is a powerful irritant of lungs and breathing passages. It can kill. I've prepared a brief, and inexpert, survey of the medical literature. The doses injected at Waco were astronomical. Failure Analysis Associates' study found:
1. The first assault started at approximately 6:00 A.M. ....
CS concentrations in the rooms directly injected by the M5 delivery alone ranged from 2 to 90 times that required to deter trained soldiers.
Methylene chloride concentrations in the rooms directly injected by gas were as high as 1.8 times the IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) concentration and nearly to the concentration that would render a person unconscious.
2. The second assault started at approximately 7:30 A.M.
CS concentrations in the rooms directly injected by gas from M5 delivery alone ranged from 2 to 80 times that required to deter trained soldiers.
Methylene chloride concentrations ... were as high as 1.6 times the IDLH....
And so on for the remaining two assaults. To be sure, it was windy. But the CS injected would not be swept away; even with elaborate equipment, decontaminating a building after a CS dose is difficult. Most of it would have remained behind, to be supplemented by that injected later.
The Attorney General was advised of a reported case where a child had been dosed with CS and "recovered without permanent injury." A reading of the 1972 medical report of the incident suggests a better conclusion would be: "survived, but barely." The child suffered second-degree skin burns and chemical pneumonia, went into acute respiratory failure, had to be put on a respirator, and spent weeks in the hospital. This was produced by a few CS grenades thrown into a house. At Waco, nearly 400 Ferret projectiles were fired in, and CS was sprayed from four-tank rack arrangements on the armored vehicles. As Failure Analysis Associates concluded in their study of the use, this was the most intensive use of riot control chemicals in the history of the United States. The government planners had actual knowledge of the risks to the two dozen children inside--they'd found, and had to read, the 1972 medical report in order to give the Attorney General the advice they did.
Methylene chloride is even more dangerous than CS--and five pounds of MeCl were injected for every ounce of CS. MeCl is an industrial solvent, with powerful anesthetic properties. It was once used as paint remover--a use which ended after deaths and hospitalizations resulted from inhalation of fumes. A chemical engineer has opined that concentrations may have reached lethal ranges for children, and certainly may have rendered them unconscious and unable to flee. It is noteworthy that several of the dead children were found without any wounds, and with no carbon monoxide in their blood: they had died before there was smoke in the air.
That the proposed assault might lead to a disasterous fire was obvious. The building was dry wood, with hay bales used to block windows. Light was provided by candles and kerosene lanterns. The risk of fire was known. There have been reports that government agents telephoned area hospitals to determine their burn unit capacities. This was confirmed in the FOIA suit, where we obtained the raid plan given to the Attorney General. The plan listed hospitals with burn units to which the injured might be evacuated. When the risk of fire is so obvious that burn units are being polled, and infants unable to flee are on the receiving end, we might expect that only the direst necessity could justify taking that risk. And that the one running it would have a plan for rescuing the children if it did break out. As it turned out, the only fire plan was--to stop the firemen from going in until everyone was dead. That's strong language; it will be justified below.
The Swindling of the Attorney General
If I may be forgiven a digression from evidence into opinion: careerists in Washington have evolved certain defenses against political appointees. The first level defense is to control the flow of information. The appointee may make the decisions, but knows only what you provide them. You figure out what motivates them, focus on that, and control the decision. A few conversations with Ms. Reno would have revealed her relevant motivator to be concern for children. Accordingly, she was assured that (1) CS was harmless to them and (2) child abuse was occurring, and only a raid would stop it.
The second line defense (practiced with skill in Justice) is to send the appointee off on speaking engagements. The appointee is duly gratified, and in the meantime the subordinate managers run the shop. An Assistant Attorney General can always count on a full speaking schedule, and in the meantime his career deputies can count on being in command. So it's not suprising that Ms. Reno had a speaking appointment in Baltimore on April 19. Nor that her subordinates counselled her against cancelling it, on the basis that it might give the impression that an emergency was afoot (presumably, the Baltimore chapter of the ABA might injure themselves in the resulting panic.). Nor that (although even assistant cabinet officials have cellulars in their official cars), no one bothered to give her a call when the gassing was accelerated.
A final meeting was held to approve the assault. Two officers from the Army were summoned to meet with Reno and others, and afterward composed a memorandum which was obtained through FOIA. The swindle is apparent. Reno asks the right question--"Why now?" and is told:
There is no evidence that Koresh intends to come out--which was a falsehood;
There is evidence that children are being abused during the siege--which, during Congressional hearings, was admitted to be a falsehood;
The HRT needs retraining--which, as the memo shows, was abandoned the minute the Army experts asked a few questions--FBI admitted it had constructed a training facility near the site.
HRT-types are the most macho of the macho--even when they aren't driving tanks. What they thought of being commanded by a middle-aged woman can be guessed. You don't see Rambo taking orders from a schoolmarm, do you? The simplest solution was to get her out of the loop entirely, do as they pleased, and count on it all being over before she found out. She had approved only a plan for gradual gassing. But the drafters of it had buried a loophole: the gloves came off if the Davidians fired a shot. And as soon as Ms. Reno was safely out of sight, all they had to do was proclaim that shots had been fired....
Initiation of the Final Assault