WASHINGTON — The 51-day standoff between federal lawmen and members of the Branch Davidian religious cult cost one agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, $4.6 million.
ATF Director Stephen E. Higgins provided the cost estimate during hearings last week by the House Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over ATF.
Bureau spokesman Jack Killorin said after the hearing ended that the figure did not cover the cost of an investigation into the cult’s alleged acquisition of illegal firearms and explosives or the raid by more than 100 ATF agents at the Mount Carmel compound on Feb. 28.
Following the bloody raid, in which four agents and six members of the Davidian group were killed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation took charge of the unsuccessful efforts to talk Davidian leader Vernon Howell and his followers into coming out.
However, Killorin said the number of ATF employees sent to Waco increased, so that more than 150 were at Mount Carmel throughout the siege.
The $4.6 million went primarily for daily room and board for the employees, rental of equipment and setting up a Waco office, he said. It does not include salaries “since we would have been paying those people anyhow,” he said.
During the hearings, on Wednesday and Thursday, members of the subcommittee reviewed the elements of police raids from a wide variety of perspectives, including the bureaucratic and policy discussions that take place beforehand and the decisions police commanders make on the scenes.
Ronald Noble, assistant treasury secretary for law enforcement, described learning of the planned ATF raid in a briefing on Friday, Feb. 26.
On Sunday, Noble said, he was riding a Metroliner train from Washington to New York, where he was still teaching a course at the New York University law school, when he was beeped on his portable pager.
Using a train telephone, he called his office and learned that “the raid had not gone well, that in fact it had gone very badly and that at least one agent was dead,” he said.
At that point, the train was passing through the suburbs north of Washington, he said.
At Philadelphia, he learned that there were two dead agents and many more wounded, he said.
Somewhere near Trenton, N.J., he said, he learned that three were dead and at least one more was wounded so badly he probably would die.
Another witness, John Miller of New York’s WNBC, showed the subcommittee video tapes of some of the raids he and his crew had taken with ATF agents and said that in the last year he had accompanied the agency on six raids. He said he went on seven raids by federal Drug Enforcement Agency and still others by the U.S. Marshal’s service, not to mention New York Police Department SWAT teams.
He said he thought police agencies should routinely take journalists on their raids, in return for the news organizations’ agreements to stay out of the way and avoid compromising the operation’s secrecy.
In the aftermath of the Waco raid and reports local news organizations had learned in advance of the operation and had actually beat the lawmen to the scene, Attorney General Janet Reno has directed U.S. attorneys to bar the press from places where federal warrants are being served.
SWAT team commanders from the Dallas and Los Angeles police departments described to fascinated subcommittee members the policies and strategies involved in the decisions they make during raids.
But the descriptions were expressed in police jargon and somehow lacked the excitement of a good, rip-roaring episode of television’s “Top Cops.”
For example, beating down doors and kicking out windows was called “dynamic mode.”
Waiting was “static mode.”
Lt. Thomas Lorenzen, officer in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT section, was asked what he would do if he realized agents were going into an unexpectedly dangerous situation and there was still time to call it off.
“At that point, I would hold ground and orchestrate a number of other contingencies that had been briefed into that particular scenario, sir,” he replied stiffly.
What would he have done at Mount Carmel if he had learned that members of the Davidian sect knew he was coming, committee chairman Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wanted to know.
“That would be situational and would depend,” he replied, adding, “I can’t say.”