Janet Reno Statement
Attorney General Janet Reno's Opening Statement Before The Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee and the National Security International Affairs and Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee
August 1, 1995, Tuesday morning
Attorney General Reno:
"Three days after the Waco standoff began, David Koresh promised the FBI that he and his followers would surrender immediately after a tape he had made was broadcast on the radio. The tape was broadcast.
What did he do? He broke his word. He did not surrender. In fact, while the tape was being broadcast, Koresh and his followers were not gathering their belongings and preparing to surrender peacefully. Instead, they were busy rehearsing a plan to blow themselves up and take as many agents as possible with them by walking out of the compound with explosives strapped to their waists.
On March 19 and 20, Koresh said he would come out soon. He did not.
In early April, he said he would come out after Passover. He did not.
On April the 14th, he let his lawyers believe he needed only a few days to complete his manuscript on the seven seals, and he would then surrender. The FBI showed Koresh's April 14 letter to an expert at Syracuse University, who concluded it was another ploy, another delaying tactic.
But the FBI kept negotiating. They kept asking Koresh when he would finish the seven seals and come out. On April the 15th, the negotiators asked Steve Schneider, Koresh's second in command, whether he had seen any finished pages of the manuscript. Schneider said he had not. On April the 16th, the negotiators asked Steven Schneider again whether Koresh had completed the first seal. Schneider said no. On the 17th, Schneider said he couldn't say whether it would be six months or six years.
It's easy, in hindsight, to suggest the so-called surrender offer of April 14 was a missed opportunity, but we considered it carefully. We didn't dismiss it casually. Even though Koresh broke every promise he made and even though he never gave the FBI any reason to believe he would surrender peacefully, the FBI kept negotiating, kept trying every way they knew how to talk Koresh into leaving, but he never gave them a specific date.
When I took office on March the 12th, 1993, the most urgent issue I faced was how to bring the standoff to a safe and peaceful end. Remember why we were in Waco: Four federal agents had been killed trying to arrest Koresh and to seize illegal explosives and illegal weapons, including hand grenades, grenade launchers, and machine guns. We couldn't just walk away from it.
Day after day, FBI negotiators tried to arrange a surrender. During the standoff, the FBI had 949 conversations with Koresh or his lieutenants, totaling almost 215 hours. At the urging of the FBI, the local sheriff attempted to get Koresh to surrender. So did several lawyers and others who were given extraordinary access to the compound.
We faced an impossible situation, Koresh wouldn't leave. He had told the FBI as early as March 7 that no more children would be released. What to do next?
We studied intelligence reports. We met outside experts. The perimeter was becoming increasingly unstable, with frequent reports of outsiders, including at least one militia group, on the way either to help Koresh or attack him. The FBI's hostage rescue team was nearing its seventh week at Waco, and experts had advised me that they would soon have to be pulled back for retraining if they were to maintain their state of readiness.
We checked on the Davidians' food and water supplies, and I was advised that they had provisions to last up to a year. I asked the FBI to check the water supply again, and I was advised the supply was plentiful and it was constantly being replenished.
Clearly, a dangerous situation was becoming more dangerous, especially for the children. We had received allegations that Koresh had sexually abused the children in the past, including Kiri Jewell when she was just 10 years old. We had also received allegations that Koresh had physically abused the children. For example, a former Davidian alleged that Koresh had once spanked a young child for 40 minutes so hard that her bottom was bleeding. The child was only eight months old.
During the standoff, the environment in which Koresh forced those children to remain continued to deteriorate. Human waste was being dumped into the courtyard.
The FBI submitted a plan to use an irritant gas incrementally, beginning at one end of the compound, to shrink the usable space, to induce Koresh to start letting his people go. I asked whether the gas could cause permanent harm, especially to the children and the elderly. Dr. Harry Salem told me, as he told you again last week, that CS gas was the safest, best-studied tear gas in the world. He told me the gas would not cause any permanent harm to the children and the elderly.
The April 19 operation began to clear announcements of our intentions, repeated time and time again, aimed at giving the Branch Davidians opportunities to leave safely. The Davidians responded with heavy gunfire from the tower and other parts of the compound.
Yes, we had hoped the Davidians might not react violently if we used gas in a slow, incremental manner, but those hopes were dashed by the Davidians and their guns. Our response was measured. We inserted gas, then waited, then inserted more gas. We were very careful never to insert more gas than a fraction of the safe limit.
Six hours went by, six hours, and still no one came out. The rest you know. The Branch Davidians were recorded while they spread the fuels used to ignite the fire that resulted in the deaths of all but nine. FBI agents risked their lives to rescue several of them. Others emerged through holes the tanks had made in the walls after it was learned that other exits had been blocked from the inside.
We will never know whether there was a better solution. Had we not acted when we did, Koresh had brought things to a sudden and violent finish as he had rehearsed, we would probably be here today anyhow. And you would be asking me why I hadn't taken action earlier; why we had not tried to use tear gas to resolve the situation. Everyone involved in the events of April the 19th made their best judgments based on all the information we had. We have tried as hard as we can to study what happened at Waco, to learn from our experience and to make changes so that as we go forward, we can be as prepared as possible to deal with such future situations.
Let me describe briefly some of the steps I have directed the FBI to take to improve our capacity to respond to complex hostage barricade incidents in the future. The FBI has selected a group of more than 30 senior agents for additional training and hostage barricade situations. And these crisis managers will be called upon to assist the on-scene commander during a crisis. This system was used very effectively in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, and I am very proud of the results. The FBI is increasing the size, composition and equipment of the hostage rescue team or HRT to permit the replenish of resources and personnel during long-term hostage barricade situations. The FBI has increased the number of negotiators stationed at HRT headquarters, and additional training and hostage barricade situations. And these crisis managers will be called upon to assist the on-scene commander during a crisis. This system was used very effectively in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, and I am very proud of the results. The FBI is increasing the size, composition and equipment of the hostage rescue team or HRT to permit the replenish of resources and personnel during long-term hostage barricade situations. The FBI has increased the number of negotiators stationed at HRT headquarters, and additional training seminars have been focused on identifying negotiating psychology and strategies.
The FBI formed a critical incident response group to deal with crisis situations. This group has also been used successfully in the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing. In addition, they have provided training to key officials in the Department of Justice and the FBI. The FBI special weapons and tactics or SWAT teams are not better able to assist the HRT in a crisis. The FBI has increased its SWAT team capabilities. There are now 19 enhanced SWAT teams strategically placed around the country; SWAT teams now cross-trained with the hostage rescue team, and the SWAT training unit is now under the direct supervision of the HRT commander. The FBI is in the process of establishing a long-term relationship with the crisis resolution centers at both Michigan State University and George mason University to call on their behavioral science expertise during a crisis incident.
The FBI has also created a resource list of experts knowledgeable about both mainstream and non-mainstream religions and will be in a position to tap both their expertise and their contacts within the religious community in the event of a future crisis. The FBI is continuing its research into non-lethal and less-than-lethal technologies such as CS gas as alternatives to the use of deadly force. Ladies and gentleman, Chairman McCollum, Chairman Zeliff, and the members of the subcommittee, this was the hardest decision I have ever had to make, probably one of the hardest decisions that anybody could have to make. It will live with me for the rest of my life. I'm accountable for it, and I'm happy to answer your questions."