U.S. marshals this week seized taped evidence from the FBI showing that Its agents got permission to use flammable tear gas canisters during the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The marshals were sent to FBI offices by Attorney General Janet Reno, who was angry that the agency had held onto the tape for four days without turning over the evidence.
The discovery of the audiotape is the second time in recent days that the FBI has disclosed evidence of the use of the flammable military tear gas rounds, after six years of adamantly denying that the devices had been used.
Justice Department officials described Attorney General Janet Reno as “furious” with the discovery of the tape, which includes the voice of an FBI field commander authorizing his agents to fire pyrotechnic tear gas canisters into a concrete bunker at the compound. The commander, Richard Rogers, later sat behind then-FBI director William Sessions when he testified before Congress and denied the use of such munitions.
Several hours after the canisters were fired, a fire at the compound killed 80 members of the group, including its leader, David Koresh. The Justice Department and the FBI continue to maintain that Koresh and his followers started the fire.
Controversy over Waco, one of the murkiest incidents in recent American history, was re-ignited last week when the Dallas Morning News uncovered evidence from a Texas lawsuit that FBI agents had used the incendiary canisters, and quoted a former senior FBI official who confirmed the story. The paper also quoted a former CIA officer as saying that three or four commandos of the “Delta Force,” a secret Army unit, had played an active role in helping the FBI in the final assault of the compound. The Pentagon has said that members of the unit were there only as observers.
- Lee Hancock, Dallas Morning News reporter who broke the story.
- David Hardy, Attorney in Arizona who for the past three years has been battling government agencies through the courts to gain access to records on the standoff. He has filed eight Freedom of Information Act requests with the Justice Department and the FBI, and recently won $32,000 in attorney’s fees after a judge ruled that the FBI and the Agency for Tobacco and Firearms had “stonewalled” his requests.