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Agent Denies ATF Fired First at Waco, Surrender Offer Called Ruse

July 26, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tearfully defending his colleagues at Waco, a federal agent told lawmakers Wednesday there was no way that officers instigated the spectacular gunfight that started the siege. He also testified of the difficulty in negotiating with a man ``who thought he was God.″

That agent and others also testified that they did not believe David Koresh was on the verge of surrendering as the sect leader’s lawyer contended on Tuesday. The offer was an empty promise, like others during the 51-day standoff, they said.

Jim Cavanaugh, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said he watched in horror from a nearby house on Feb. 28, 1993, as an attempt to serve warrants turned into a raging gun battle that left four ATF agents and six Davidians dead at the Branch Davidian compound.

In one poignant recitation, he described his attempts to negotiate an end to the gunfight and rescue wounded agents.

``I had a radio mike in one ear with an agent pleading for his life and I had a guy on the phone who thought he was God,″ he said.

Cavanaugh rejected Tuesday’s testimony by lawyers who accused government agents of starting the siege by firing first and ending it by launching a tear gas attack after Koresh and his followers had agreed to surrender.

``The Davidians fired first and I am sickened by any other assertion,″ Cavanaugh said. ``If I thought an ATF agent would drive up to a structure and start firing, I’d throw my badge in the garbage,″ he added. ``It didn’t happen.″

He also said Koresh had reneged on several offers to surrender and probably would not have come out, no matter how long the FBI waited before using gas to try to flush the Davidians out of the compound.

``I don’t think the archangel Gabriel could have talked that guy out of there,″ Cavanaugh told the two subcommittees that have combined to hold the House hearings into what went wrong at Waco.

The siege ended 51 days after the shootout. After the FBI filled the compound with tear gas, fire swept through the dilapidated compound. Koresh and 80 followers died in the flames or from bullets in what government investigators called a mass suicide. Critics have said the government was responsible for the deaths.

FBI agent Jeffrey Jamar, who commanded the federal agents when the siege ended and is now retired, testified that he went ahead with the plan to gas the compound because it was clear Koresh’s agreement to surrender after writing a Biblical treatise was a ruse.

On Tuesday, the lawyers testified that Jamar had agreed to the surrender plan but was overruled by ``some deskbound bureaucrat in Washington.″ But Jamar said he made the decision himself.

He also said he did not tell Attorney General Janet Reno about the offer, although he subsequently learned someone else had notified her.

``There was never any reason to (tell her) because it was not a serious plan,″ Jamar said. ``It was a delaying tactic.″

Reno, who approved the plan to use tear gas, is scheduled to testify Monday, on the final day of the hearings.

Some Republican members of Congress contend the FBI lost patience with Koresh and ordered the gas attack even though he appeared ready to end the standoff. They pressed former FBI analyst Pete Smerick Wednesday about why he urged an end to negotiations with Koresh after a series of earlier memos he wrote suggested a ``wait and be patient″ approach.

Smerick testified that he may have subconsciously changed direction after his supervisor told him then-FBI Director William Sessions was unhappy with the tone of his writings.

Also Wednesday, the Justice Department released a three-page analysis of letters in which Koresh suggested he would surrender when he finished his religious manuscript. The analysis, by M.S. Miron of the Psycholinguistics Center in Syracuse, N.Y., was done for the FBI four days before the siege ended.

``I do not believe there is in these writings any better, or at least certain, hope for an early end to the siege,″ Miron concluded.

Cavanaugh said the best chance for a peaceful resolution probably came March 2, just days after the shootout.

On that day, he said, the women and children lined up in a hallway ``and they all came by to kiss (Koresh’s) ring.″ Then, instead of coming out, Koresh said God told him to wait.

Cavanaugh said he agreed with others who theorized ``that he couldn’t leave this place, where he was God, with unlimited sexual favors ... and walk out to a cold jail cell.″

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