Revolution

FBI Pressured Agent to Justify Violence

A May 2, 1995, New York Times article, "FBI agent at Waco says bureau pressured him on Koresh reports," said that the FBI agent in charge of analyzing David Koresh and recommending a course of action was pressured by superiors to justify a violent attack on the Davidians.

Peter Smerick, the FBI's lead criminal analyst and profiler of Koresh, has broken his silence to charge that bureau officials pressured him into changing his advice on how to resolve the situation without bloodshed.

Smerick, now retired from the bureau and working as a consultant in the Washington area, said he had counseled a cautious, non-confrontational approach to Koresh in four memos written from Waco for senior FBI officials between March 3 and March 8, 1993.

But he was pressured from above, Smerick says, as he was writing a fifth memo March 9. As a result, that memo contained subtle changes in tone and emphasis that amounted to an endorsement of a more aggressive approach against the Davidians.

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At the time of Waco, Smerick was a senior agent from the bureau's Behavioral Science Center in Quantico, Va. He was in Waco from March 2 to March 17, the standoff's crucial early period when the FBI's strategy was still evolving.

Smerick wrote psychological profiles of Koresh ... While pressure tactics might work in typical hostage situations, Smerick advised, such a strategy when dealing with a charismatic zealot like Koresh, "if carried to excess, could eventually be counter-productive and could result in loss of life."

The warning was clear: Confront Koresh at your peril. But FBI officials not only rejected this advice, they sought to get Smerick to change it.

Senior FBI officials had complained the first four memos counseling caution "were tying their hands," Smerick said ... At that point, Smerick said, he realized his viewpoint was being sanitized. "You don't have to be hit with a two by four to get message they want their own input on memos coming up," he said.

As a result, he adopted a get-tough approach in his March 9 memo and downplayed caution. Since talks had met with limited success, the memo said, "other measures" should be employed, such as turning utilities on and off, moving agents and equipment outside the Davidians' house around suddenly and cutting off negotiations.

Smerick said he left Waco in disgust after writing the fifth memo rather than see his work compromised.

The following month the memo emerged as a key ingredient in the factors Reno weighed in deciding to back the FBI's gas-insertion plan.