Department of Defense:

Military Assistance Provided at Branch Davidian Incident

NSIAD/OSI-99-133: Published: Aug 26, 1999. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 1999.

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Norman J. Rabkin
(202) 512-3610
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed certain aspects of the military assistance provided to law enforcement agencies during the Branch Davidians incident, focusing on: (1) whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) requests for support from military counterdrug programs met requirements for authorizing that support; (2) the measures ATF took to deal with any drug activity it might find during its warrant service, and whether those measures were appropriate for such operations where a methamphetamine laboratory might be encountered; and (3) the types, costs, and reimbursements of all military support, including that from counterdrug programs, provided to ATF and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

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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