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.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.