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Lessons from Waco - Understanding Leads To Answers

How Could The FBI Get It So Wrong, And Have We Learnt the Lessons?

Hmmm. Waco. Texas. David Koresh. Women & Children killed. Over use of force. Poor intelligence. A disaster. Sound familiar?

In 1993 a 51 day siege ended in Mount Carmel, Texas, with a fire that burned down the ranch of the Branch Davidian Religious Cult, led by self-proclaimed messiah David Koresh. 74 people including 21 children died. The siege started because the US ATF wanted to arrest Koresh on charges of having illegal fire-arms (automatic machine-guns).

Lets take a step back now and try to look at the bigger picture, and what each part of the puzzle can teach us, and how it might relate to our world today.

Firstly, the Branch Davidians, a religious sect that undoubtedly had some very strange ideas, believing that the end of the world was nigh. They also liked guns, and there was some nasty allegations of polygamy and child abuse, but nothing proved. To your average American (or Brit) they were a weird, suspicious lot who we couldn't understand.

Next, the ATF ( Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ), the organization that wanted to arrest Koresh because of the illegal weapons. The ATF were well trained, but failed to abandon their plan when the lack of surprise was lost, and totally underestimated the willingness of the Davidians to defend their property and their people.

The FBI. Tried to negotiate with the Davidians to bring them out peacefully, while at the same time subjected them to a barrage of psychological warfare to make them crack up - loud noises, cutting the water & electricity off. Finally they came up with some terrible plans to break the siege, using Tanks to inject tear-gas into the building, which may have led to the fire which killed almost everyone inside.

This sorry chapter in history illuminates, with hindsight, many things. Firstly that although we may not understand why people believe the things they do, people with faith can make the ultimate sacrifice to defend that faith and it's ideals. The FBI never imagined that Koresh and his followers would die in the Ranch, defending a run down property with no worth. Yet they were there and this is how they thought, and they had to be dealt with accordingly if the FBI wanted to end the siege peacefully. I feel this relates to our understanding of suicide bombers or terrorists. Forget trying to empathize with them, often that is an impossibility, but we must understand that although we cannot understand why they believe what they are doing is right, if we want to do something about it we must take those beliefs and treat them seriously and not underestimate them.

Next is the ATF and FBI. Well respected organizations with highly competent people, yet both able to make horrendous errors due to poor intelligence, a lack of focused leadership and a misunderstanding of their adversary. Imagine that the ATF and FBI are the US & UK army in Iraq. They went in because of bad intelligence, even with the best intentions, and now the whole situation is descending into chaos because the US administration doesn't seem to understand why Iraq is in a civil way, and is unable to bring enough of the right force to bear to sort it out.

Every military planner, every general, every politician and police chief should study waco and what happened there. Good men made mistakes that led to a terrible disaster. The Davidians were not like you or me, but they didn't deserve to die. We must thoroughly understand, to the best of our abilities, any situation we are going to be getting ourselves into, our ideas and assumptions need to be challenged, otherwise any future interventions will surely lead to disaster.

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