An undercover federal agent who provided crucial details on the Branch Davidians’ state of readiness told his superiors that cult leader Vernon Howell knew on Feb. 28, the day federal agents raided his heavily armed compound, that the raid was imminent.
The Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent made the assertion in a sworn statement to Texas Rangers, who are investigating the deaths of four ATF agents and at least two cult members in the failed raid, according to high-ranking federal sources.
But in an earlier statement, made to an ATF manager soon after the raid, the undercover agent was less definitive about whether Howell knew what was coming, the sources said.
In both accounts, however, the agent told ATF supervisors that while he was in the compound five weeks ago Sunday, neither Howell nor his followers had taken any steps to arm themselves and were going about their usual routine.
The agent, whose report to supervisors was a key factor ATF considered before launching the raid, said Howell acted nervous and agitated after receiving a telephone call and had begun reading his Bible.
The agent’s statement to Texas investigators is at odds with assertions by ATF officials that they would not have launched the raid if they had known the element of surprise had been lost.
Nevertheless, in recent internal comments and statements, ATF officials have not been able to say with certainty that allegations such as the one form the ATF undercover agent are completely unfounded. Some ATF agents have said they are troubled that the agency had not flatly denied that it staged the raid knowing its intention to do so might have been compromised.