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Waco: Military Involvement

Guide Extra: 09/05/99
(About the GAO)

Why were military personnel used in the 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas? What did they do? What did it cost? Was it legal? Those are just the kind of questions the General Accounting Office (GAO) is in business to answer.

Why Were They There?
According to an August 26, 1999 GAO report, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) had received a warrant to search the Branch Davidian property for the existence and operation of a methamphetamine laboratory and other illegal drugs and related material. Fearing difficulty and danger in serving the warrant and conducting the search, ATF requested assistance from military counterdrug units.

What Did They Do?
The GAO reports that units of the Texas National Guard, US Army, Alabama National Guard and US Air Force provided the following services and equipment:

  • Surveillance
  • Reconnaissance
  • Transport
  • Maintenance & Repairs
  • Training & Instruction
  • Helicopters
  • Unarmed tactical ground vehicles

What Did it Cost?
GAO investigators estimated the total cost of military involvement at about $1 million, with 90 percent of that being incurred by units of the Texas National Guard and US Army. The FBI and ATF reimbursed the US Army and Texas National Guard about 75 percent of their expenses. Counterdrug programs would have repaid another 14 percent, but the military waived those payments.

Was it Legal?
The GAO concluded that ATF's request for military counterdrug assistance did meet the requirements for authorizing such assistance under the relevant statutes. In addition, GAO found that the military's decision to provide the support was appropriate and authorized under the statutes.

(Note: The use of "elite" special Army units has been reported in the media, but not confirmed by any US Government source at this time.)

The full GAO report (GAO/NSIAD/OSI-99-133) can be downloaded in Adobe .pdf format from:

Download Adobe Acrobat .pdf Reader (free)

About the General Accounting Office (GAO)
The General Accounting Office is the investigative arm of Congress. Charged with examining matters relating to the
receipt and disbursement of public funds, GAO performs audits and evaluations of Government programs and activities.

Created under the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 (31 U.S.C. 702), the GAO conducts independent audits of government agencies. GAO is under the control and direction of the Comptroller General of the United States, who is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate for a term of 15 years.

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