Department of Defense

Military Assistance Provided at Branch Davidian Incident Gao ID: NSIAD/OSI-99-133 August 26, 1999

The U.S. military provided assistance, including counterdrug program support, to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) during its investigation of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas. That investigation led to a 51-day standoff at the Branch Davidian compound, which ultimately burned to the ground in April 1993. GAO found that ATF's requests for military counterdrug programs met the requirements of the relevant statutes for authorizing such support. In these written requests, ATF cited its suspicions of drug activity. In both cases, the military reasonably exercised its discretion in providing that support as authorized under the relevant statutes. In planning how it would serve warrants at the compound, ATF planned for the possibility of encountering a methamphetamine laboratory or other hazardous drug materials. As required by agency policy, ATF agents in the operation were made aware of the suspected laboratory and of the appropriate precautions. Moreover, Drug Enforcement Agency agents were at the command post to handle any drug-related materials.

GAO noted that: (1) ATF's two requests for military counterdrug support of its Davidian operations met requirements to authorize provision of that support under the relevant statutes; (2) ATF cited possible drug-related activity at the compound in both its written requests--the first to the Texas National Guard and the second to Operation Alliance, a coordinating center for counterdrug assistance; (3) the military's decision in both cases to provide the counterdrug support was a reasonable exercise of agency discretion and was authorized under the relevant statutes; (4) ATF's planning for the warrant service addressed the possibility of encountering hazardous drug materials; (5) ATF agents were made aware of the suspected drug laboratory and the appropriate precautions; (6) moreover, a team from the Drug Enforcement Administration was at the command post the day of the operation to handle any drug-related materials that might be found; (7) this planning was consistent with ATF's own policies--and those of other federal law enforcement agencies--governing operations to secure armed suspects and facilities, including those where a drug laboratory is present; (8) military assistance to ATF and FBI included: (a) surveillance, reconnaissance, and transport; (b) equipment and supplies; (c) training and instruction; and (d) maintenance and repairs; (9) the military provided several items of major equipment, including helicopters and unarmed tactical ground vehicles; (10) GAO estimated the total cost of military assistance to be about $1 million, of which nearly 90 percent was incurred by the Texas National Guard and active Army units and the rest by the Alabama National Guard and active Air Force; (11) under the Economy Act, ATF and FBI reimbursed the Texas National Guard, the Army, and the Air Force for about three-quarters of the support; (12) repayment of another 14 percent, which came from counterdrug programs, was waived by the military, which has the authority to do so if the supported agency suspects a drug connection; (13) these nonreimbursable expenses represented less than $140,000; (14) the military also mistakenly undercharged these two agencies by a comparatively small amount, which should have been reimbursed; (15) the Army does not plan to collect these undercharges, as it would realize no benefit--it would have to apply any collection to prior-year obligations; and (16) finally, under applicable statutes, the military gave ATF and FBI without charge some excess military items, mostly office and camp equipment, clothes, and tools.

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