An embattled Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms continued to endure questions about its Feb. 28 raid on Mount Carmel, where a standoff between authorities and Branch Davidians enters Day 41 today.
ATF Intelligence Division Chief David Troy refused Thursday to answer whether an undercover agent asked for the raid to be called off.
“It would be grossly unfair to those involved in that decision and in the raid . . . to characterize what was said by whom to whom,” Troy said.
The Houston Chronicle quoted an unidentified source as saying an undercover agent told superiors, “They know you’re coming, and you better hold up.”
The story counters Associate Director Dan Hartnett’s report in early March that ATF did not immediately know that cult leader Vernon Howell had been tipped to the raid, in which four ATF agents were killed trying to serve a warrant to Howell for possession of automatic weapons.
Hartnett said ATF realized there was a tip only after its undercover agent recounted a phone call Howell received early on Feb. 28.
After receiving the call, Howell supposedly uttered several Bible verses.
But a source told the Chronicle that Howell, also known as David Koresh, voiced his fears of an ATF raid in plain English.
A veteran law officer reported, “Koresh came back, wiped his hands on his pants and was saying, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming, the ATF and National Guard.’”
Troy, though, insisted that the raid was not compromised.
“Based on the information that we had prior to launching the raid, we felt our tactical plan was still a viable plan,” he said.
Reports by Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represents Howell, that the cult leader and his followers would leave Mount Carmel after Passover are proving doubtful, according to FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks.
Ricks said Howell’s confidant, Steve Schneider, backtracked on DeGuerin’s claim.
Ricks said the Branch Davidians report that they never made an agreement with their attorneys to leave the compound.
Meanwhile Thursday night, the Davidians hung a new sign from one of the compound windows. It read: “FBI God sees you” and referred to Habakkuk 3:14.
Late Wednesday, Ricks said, a person slipped out of the compound through a window and then re-entered the fortress. He said the maneuver alarmed authorities.
Cult members said they were not aware of a person leaving the compound, according to Ricks.