ATF official defend initial raid on Branch Davidian compound

WACO, Texas -- The ATF raid on the Branch Davidian cult's compound was aimed at stopping what undercover agents believed would be an attack on Waco residents by cult members or a mass suicide by them, a federal official said.

The official, who asked not to be named, told the Houston Chronicle the timing of the raid 'was a (coin) flip (over whether) they would attack the citizens of Waco or do a Jonestown,' referring to the mass suicide in 1978 led by the Rev. Jim Jones.


'We understood either they were going to come out or commit self- immolation, which was why an operation was staged that placed our agents between a rock and a hard place,' the official said. 'Our informaiton was that was how bad it was.'

Defending his agency's action, Jack Killorin, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Washington, D.C., told the Chonicle the raid didn't go as planned because of a phone tip warning the cult members of the raid during a Sunday morning service in the compound.

The phone tip 'obviously changed the chemistry, and they had to decide what to do,' said Killorin.


The two-day siege and standoff already has claimed the lives of five people and wounded 15 more in two gunfights. Negotiations with the cult's leader David Koresh have resulted in the release of at least 16 children.

Questions have been raised by the media about the handling of the raid by the ATF bureau.

The senior official, however, maintained the phone tip disrupted the Bureau's plans.

'We had undercovers in there, the message is apocalyptic, the Armageddon is coming, and you know, it's going to be us, the chosen people against the infidels, the unbelievers. That message is, I think, unnerving in any cirumstances,' he told the Chronicle.

'It is particularly unnerving with people who are actually engaged in ordering weapons, in manufactuirng machine guns and explosive devices. How far down the road do you let that go? Not very far.'

At a news conference in Waco Monday, ATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler said the raid had been planned and rehearsed for months.

'We had sufficient people to get the job done, and again, we had sufficient people in place and planned to move them based on the longtime observation of their routine and the observation of the premises. I think we lost the element of surprise,' Killorin said.


He said undercover agents were at the sect's religious services Sunday when a 'call was received and a subsequent announcement' made.

He said the announcement was 'words to the effect that ATF and the National Guard was on the way. The announcement was made by (cult leader Veron) Howell.'

Killorin said an agent got out before the raid began.

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