The BATF at Waco

The BATF at Waco

It started out easy enough. Over a hundred agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms would pack themselves shoulder-to-shoulder inside cattle trailers, and pull up to the front of the building in broad daylight. At the cry of "ShowTime!" The agents would pour out, divide into four columns, and storm the building. Some would surround the building, others would take ladders to the right side, go into the second floor with flash-bang grenades, and still others would storm the front door with battering rams. The dogs would be sprayed with fire extinguishers and, if they did not depart, be shot on the spot. The raid plan overlooked the fact the humans were involved. Both sides might be armed as the agents came running up; over a hundred persons would be looking down the muzzles of each others guns, hands shaking, adrenaline pumping, tunnel vision setting in, each person convinced that if shooting broke they would be the first one hit A situation where one gunshot could result in everyone, on both sides, yanking the trigger. All in all, not a setting for shooting dogs and setting off stun grenades. And the dogs where indeed shot.

The raid plan assumed that all male Davidians would be outside and behind the building, working on a construction project, and thus in a position to be cut off when the cattle trailers pulled up to the front. In fact, the intelligence reports said only many Davidians were often working on the project. The plan assumed all firearms were in a second-floor room on the extreme right of the building; a special team would dramatically scale ladders and seize the room to cut off all access to thefirearms. In fact, the intelligence was years old; the firearms had been moved months before to a first-floor room in the central building. Men would die storming and empty room. Under the raid plan, three National Guard helicopters would race in at the back, just before the raid began, to distract everyone as the cattle trailers pulled up in front.

The helicopters were late, arriving only as the agents were exiting the trailers and the shooting began. Audio tape of ATF radio traffic (which the agency admits was not revealed to Congressional investigators) shows why. The two raid commanders got on different radio channels and could not converse. The radio van tries to sort out the confusion, instructing the commanders to reset their "Sabres" (portable encrypted radios), without success. For nearly four minutes before the raid begins (the transmitted announcement of "ShowTime!"), the ground commander is calling to the air commander in increasing desperation for the helicopter support.

The arrival of the helicopters poses another critical question. Several Davidians state that the first shots came from the approaching helicopters (perhaps in desperation for being late, and the screaming of ATF agents on the radios crying out "Where is the air support?!?"); government witnesses, in contrast, deny that any shots were fired from the aircraft-although a memo of the training exercises mentions using gunshots from aircraft to add to the original mission of distraction. Recorded radio traffic from the raid, however, has an interesting soundtrack with gunshots audible. Note that (according to the pilots testimony) the helicopters never got closer that 350 yards to the building. The suggestion of hearing gunfire from the ground at that distance, over the helicopters engine, rotor, and transmission noise, is highly unlikely. Further (although the helicopters are rapid approaching the ground battle) the sound of gunshots ceases, rather than becomes louder, as they pull up and pass the building. It is very strange gunfire to be audible at 500 yards, but inaudible at 350.

Within seconds of the agents' dismounting, a major gun battle was underway. The governments version of the incident was that the Davidians, bent upon homicide, sprang an ambush. However, from inside the building, Wayne Martin calls 9-1-1 and screams "there are 75 people around our building and they're shooting at us!" Government witnesses contend the agents were raked by fully automatic fire from multiple positions-and on this basis six Davidians were convicted of use of fully automatic weapons. The audio tape made from the radio van (within hearing range of the gunfight) shows, however, only semi-automatic fire, with one exception. A full twelve minutes into the fight, there is a burst of full automatic gunfire, with shocks the radio van crew. A minute later, a garbled radio transmission comes in and the agent listing inside the van proclaims "Hey, heh, we got the machine gun!" the logical inferences would be (1) one person did indeed fire a fully automatic weapon, after a considerable delay; (2) he was promptly hit by return fire. But since none of the six Davidians convicted were shot on February 28th, it seems unlikely that they were that person, and certainly not all six could have been firing the one full auto. The theory upon which six people were convicted is inconsistent with the recorded audio tape-which, the agency now admits, was not revealed even to Congressional committees.

The firefight raged for a period of time for about thirty minutes, then petered into occasional exchanges of shots. At the end, the agents were running short on ammunition. With a lake at their rear and flat ground to either side, there was no possible retreat. They would survive only if the Davidians allowed them to withdraw. A 9-1-1 operator called the building, reached a skeptical David Koresh (who had been shot in the groin, the bullet blasting an inch-wide hole through the bone of his pelvis) and negotiated an agreement to send in a team to withdraw the wounded. The first cease-fire broke down. New gunshots are audible and Wayne Martin reported that the ATF had resumed firing, that the helicopters were shooting as well. In the end, a new cease-fire was arranged. The radio van used loud speakers to tell the agents that they could withdraw.

After this ordeal, with four ATF agents dead, and dozens more wounded and six Branch Divadians dead, and scores more wounded, why did the ATF pull out a seemingly suicidal raid such as this? Why didn't they just arrest David Koresh (which was the entire reason for the raid) while he was alone on one of his many common visits into town? Or better yet, why didn't the AFT just accept David Koresh's invitation for the ATF and local sheriff's department to come in to the complex with an expressed permission to check out every weapon which David Koresh owned? One answer might be the very reason they brought news camera crews with them along on the raid, good press. The AFT agents in body armor busting up and bunch of Texas crazy gun nuts looks good on the six o'clock news.

As of now, the ATF still says it did the right thing and followed the proper procedures, if this is true, then there is obviously a serious flaw in the procedures for cases such as this.

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