Excerpts from FRONTLINE interview with Barry Higginbotham, member of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team at Waco, conducted Sunday October 1, 1995.
Q: Did you understand what the negotiators were getting, or are you out there just watching it?
A: I think we'd get about half of what was going on usually. Those of us on the front lines. Through whoever's fault that was. Just how it was disseminated down to the front lines.
But I remember the moment where they brought the buses up, and those of us that were in my position were just looking at each other and said, "We know they're not going to come out, why are they doing this?" And they certainly did not come out. And afterward we just all looked at each other, said, "This was no surprise to us, we know they're not going to come out of there."
Q: How did you know?
A: Basically, a gut feeling. As a sniper observer, our whole team there, we were the eyes of the entire operation--we are the negotiators' eyes. They're all the way in the rear. They're talking to Koresh on the phone but they don't get to see his day-to-day activity, his body motions, the motions of his sentries as how they even change posts at the doors. We see how alert they are, we see how they're cleaning their weapons up in the windows, watching us.
And when a person's cleaning their weapons and stacking their ammunition and we're watching that, we're relaying that back, we know they're not getting ready to come out on a bus and give up. And that's why in a way we just looked at each other and said, "We could have told them that," that they're not coming out. Not at this moment at least.
Q: What about the analyses of those who said the tighter you get, the more you're going to drive them together--the more you're going to play into their Armageddon sort of mindset?
A: I can only go by my observations each day on the front. As I say, the sniper observers, they were the eyes of the operation. When you see something visually each day, their activity inside, how much freedom and leisure they have inside, how they even have recreation perhaps. They're sitting on guard posts reading and all. Things are not that bad inside then. And to me, you need to make them a little more hazardous inside. And tighten 'em down a little bit. Make them not as comfortable. Let them be cold for a while. Deny them food, deny them water.
And let them go to their leadership inside, and let them deal with that pressure. And I think that would cause better negotiations.
Q: What is your view of the decision making of those in charge?
A: The leadership of the tactical forces and negotiators, and the overall on-scene command, they all had a very difficult job. It was a very hard balance to weigh the security of the tactical forces against that of the children and others inside the compound. And how they might suffer as a result of any action we took. Overall I felt the commanders had to always consider our security the most important thing. And I think they made very good decisions. And the negotiators did a wonderful job.
I think this whole situation does not fit into any kind of negotiation scenario that's ever been developed or they've had to deal with. Especially because of the duration of it. And it got down to, toward the end, no matter what they did, nothing worked. The progress stopped. And those of us up front could see that a lot sooner than they could back in the rear, 10 or 12 miles away, in a sterile atmosphere, where they're just receiving phone calls.
I think if they had been able to physically see it more up front, they would have seen that this is not going to work. He's not going to give in. They're too comfortable. There's no real hardships inside. They're not suffering. 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.