The FBI has turned over to investigators thousands of pages of newly discovered internal documents that paint the most detailed picture yet of the aggressive federal tactics used during the 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., in 1993 and offer a revealing look at the inner workings of the operation.
Included among the intelligence reports, operational plans, logs, photos and videos that the bureau did not produce during previous broad-based congressional and federal probes is new information that agents sought approval to shoot at Branch Davidians who were not carrying weapons during the final siege. But headquarters rejected the request. The documents also outline seven instances in which the FBI threw or launched hand-held "flash-bang" grenades at Davidians who were exiting the compound earlier in the standoff.
The new documents were discovered in boxes at the FBI's complex in Quantico after fresh subpoenas and other requests from the Justice Department, various congressional committees and former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), who is spearheading a new federal probe.
Federal officials, who asked not to be identified, said the FBI had not previously provided the records, some of which are stamped "Secret" or "Confidential," because earlier congressional requests were drafted too narrowly or the bureau overlooked the records.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said yesterday that the newly discovered FBI documents raise troubling questions.
"The material does fill in more pieces of the puzzle and paints a disturbing picture of the FBI's judgment and tactics during the final days of the siege," Grassley said. "Did all of the Waco-related documents that would have reflected poorly on the FBI end up at Quantico? How do we know all the documents have been turned over now?"
The FBI documents range from the first day of the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raid, in which heavily armed Branch Davidians killed four agents, through the aftermath of the fire of April 19, 1993, that left about 75 sect members dead. They appear to contain no conclusive evidence that the FBI contributed to the start of the fire, or fired at the Branch Davidians.
But the new records do provide clues relevant to Danforth's inquiry regarding the possible use of deadly force. And they give a day-by-day description of FBI operations during the almost two-month siege, ranging from the often humorous daily weather report that included a "mud index" to intelligence reports on Waco-related Internet activities by militia groups.
They also reveal for the first time that FBI officials sought medals for the agents involved in the deadly siege; headquarters rejected that request too.
Among the documents are seven drafts of the FBI's operational orders for the final siege, including two that said agents could use deadly force against Branch Davidians carrying no weapons as they emerged from the compound if they failed to respond to commands as they approached law enforcement officials.
The final version of the operational orders reverts to standard FBI policy, which prohibits the use of deadly force except as necessary in self-defense or in the defense of another person.
Byron Sage, the FBI's chief negotiator at Waco, said the modification in the agency's deadly force policy was proposed after FBI agents received information from a Davidian who had left that others inside were considering exiting the compound with explosives strapped to their bodies. In that instance, he said, the Davidians would have posed a danger even though no weapons were visible.
The proposed orders were reviewed by Jeff Jamar and Richard Rogers, the two senior FBI agents at Waco. Rogers also played a role in the pivotal change in deadly-force policy that critics of the FBI argue led to the 1992 fatal shooting of Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
In the first version of the Waco plan, dated March 4, 1993, the field agents propose that the standard FBI deadly-force policy be in effect: "Agents are not to use deadly force against any person except as necessary in self-defense or the defense of another." But in a later version, dated March 10, the FBI added language that said agents could use deadly force against Davidians emerging from the compound who did not respond to directions and approached FBI agents, even if they had no visible weapon. Then, in an April 9 version, the standard FBI policy is again listed, although it is followed by a section that was redacted in the document.
Danny O. Coulson, the FBI agent who manned the command post in Washington during the evenings, emphasized yesterday that the rules ultimately approved by Attorney General Janet Reno did not include firing on unarmed Davidians. "I think the important thing here is what were the rules they were operating under April 19th," he said.
The new documents also detail at least seven occasions in April 1993 when flash-bang grenades were used against Davidians attempting to exit the compound, forcing them to go back inside. Flash-bangs are designed to disorient targets without causing permanent injury by producing a blinding flash of light, a loud blast and smoke.
The FBI's use of flash-bangs was disclosed in a 1993 Justice Department report and later House hearings.
Critics of the FBI's handling of the siege argue the use of flash-bangs encouraged the Davidians to remain inside the compound, where most of them ultimately died during the final assault.
Sage and others said the Davidians had the opportunity to come out if they were prepared to surrender but that they could not allow them to exit at will. "The use of the flash-bangs was to drive them back inside," Sage said. "It had to be a well-orchestrated and planned exit," so nobody perceived their exit as an attack.
Other information in the newly disclosed FBI documents showed that:
* On April 13, then-Associate Attorney General Webster L. Hubbell advised the FBI that the Clinton administration wanted "military experts' opinion of the operation."
* Even after the FBI took control of the operation following the ATF's failed February 1993 raid, a significant contingent of ATF agents remained on the scene. The FBI documents show that on April 11, 1993, the ATF advised that it still had 136 agents there. "After the initial raid, ATF's role was strictly a support function," said ATF spokesman Jeff Roehm.
* The FBI received a fax in late March urging agents to "step aside" and let the Texas Rangers, a state police force, negotiate a peaceful solution and have an independent grand jury investigation. "The shedding of more blood through more bungling will only further damage the credibility of the FBI and the federal government," the fax says.
Staff writer Richard Leiby and staff researcher Margot Williams contributed to this report.