The Danforth Report:
Semantic Difficulties in Danforth Report on Waco 
by Stuart A. Wright (Associate Director of Graduate Studies and Professor of 
Sociology at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He is editor of Armageddon 
in Waco (University of Chicago Press, 1995) and he testified in the 1995 
Congressional hearings on Waco.)
Was anyone else confused by the inconsistencies between the Special Counsel's 
conclusions and the substantive discussions of material in the report on 
Waco? On Friday, July 21, Special Counsel John Danforth absolved the 
government of wrongdoing and concluded that there was no cover-up in the Waco 
disaster. A 152-page Interim Report was issued to the press and can be 
downloaded over the internet ( Curiously, much of the 
report is spent discussing missing or concealed evidence (audio tapes, FLIR 
tapes, expended pyrotechnic projectiles, incriminating page from FBI 
evidentiary lab report), FBI misstatements to the Attorney General, Congress 
and the public, the failure of government prosecutors to turn over 
exculpatory evidence in the 1994 Davidian criminal trial, withholding key 
evidence of incendiary devices in the civil case by an FBI attorney, the 
failure by officials who authored the Justice report to discover and document 
use of pyrotechnic devices, and various other instances of miscommunication, 
negligence and vital omissions.
No cover-up? The authoritative Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary 
defines cover-up as "something used for hiding one's real activities, 
intentions, etc.." The report even chides government personnel for 
"non-disclosure," suggesting that these individuals might have sought to 
conceal information for fear of "personal or professional ruin." How does the 
Office of Special Counsel (OSC) define "cover-up?"
The answer lies on p.44 of the report. It states: "Whether or not there was a 
cover-up is in many respects dependent upon nuances in terminology." Nuances 
in terminology?
A central issue in the Danforth investigation has been the use of incendiary 
devices by the FBI during the April 19 CS insertion. For six years, the FBI 
denied using incendiary devices that might have started the fire that killed 
74 Davidians. These denials were relayed to the Attorney General immediately 
after the tragic conflagration. Indeed, the AG asked for and received 
assurances that no incendiary devices would be used prior to the April 19 
assault as a condition of her approval for the gassing plan. These denials 
were repeated in the 1994 criminal trial of the Davidians in San Antonio, as 
prosecutors failed to disclose evidence of pyrotechnic rounds in their Brady 
v. Maryland submission to defense attorneys . They were repeated in the 1995 
Congressional hearings to members of the subcommittees who specifically 
requested "a listing of all pyrotechnic and incendiary devices" used at the 
Davidian complex. And finally, they were repeated in responses to requests 
for FBI documents in the civil case.
For the semantically challenged, the report explains that there is an 
important, though subtle, difference between "pyrotechnic" and "incendiary" 
devices. The purpose of an incendiary device, we learn, is designed to cause 
a fire. Technically, therefore, a pyrotechnic tear gas round is not 
incendiary, presumably because a pyrotechnic round may cause a fire but is 
not intended to do so. Incredibly, the Danforth report concludes that the FBI 
(mis)statements to the AG, the Justice Department, to Congress and the 
American public that "they never used any incendiary devices" were 
"technically true," excluding, of course, the failure to disclose to 
Congressional subcommittees who asked for a list of both pyrotechnic and 
incendiary devices. In the latter case, the federal prosecutor, Ray Jahn,
admitted to making a false statement, claiming he was merely "negligent."
Further complicating matters was that different terms were used for 
pyrotechnics rounds by different personnel. Pyrotechnic rounds were variously 
referred to as "military rounds," "bubbleheads," and "cupcake rounds." Who 
could know that these terms all referred to pyrotechnic devices in the 
absence of a government linguist or translator?
Another complication, we are told, was that HRT commander Dick Rogers, who 
authorized the use of pyrotechnic rounds, claimed that the AG's prohibition 
against pyrotechnics applied only to its use at the living quarters of the 
Davidians and not the concrete construction pit where they were apparently 
fired. Never mind that Attorney General Reno believes her exact words 
prohibited pyrotechnics at the compound, "which...included the concrete 
construction pit." Apparently, Rogers did not share this belief, "so there 
was no meeting of the minds."
Rogers also failed to correct false statements given to Congress by the FBI 
in 1993 and the Attorney General in 1995 even though "Rogers attended the 
congressional hearings precisely to ensure that Congress was provided with 
accurate information." The OSC downplayed the actions as merely "a 
significant omission."
FBI attorney Jacqueline Brown twice failed to disclose key evidence of 
military rounds in the civil case brought by the Davidians against the 
government. She also attempted to conceal her actions to the OSC. "Brown 
repeatedly made inconsistent, self-serving, misleading, and false statements 
to the Office of Special Counsel," the report states. Her punishment? Barring 
additional evidence, the OSC declined to pursue criminal prosecution.
What appears as nuanced terminology to the OSC may seem more like a rather 
straightforward case of cover-up to government outsiders. The Danforth team 
expends a lot of energy apologizing for government misdeeds by attributing 
the problem to "semantic difficulties."
While the Special Counsel's findings that the government did not start the 
fire at Mt. Carmel or shoot at sect members trying to escape are a welcome 
relief, the correlative claim that no cover-up took place suffers semantic 
difficulties of its own. A careful reading of the report, in conjunction with 
other evidence, suggests that government officials in the FBI and DOJ were 
fearful of disclosing the use of pyrotechnic devices for obvious reasons. 
Waco is a touchstone of antigovernment sentiment and a black mark on federal 
law enforcement. While the government was cleared of these specific charges, 
there are plenty of other things they did wrong at Waco which neither the OSC 
investigation or the civil trial addressed. Let's be honest.
The failure to disclose evidence, whether by intent, omission, or negligence, 
was an exercise in damage control to preserve the already beleaguered image 
of federal law enforcement. Or perhaps in some cases, an effort to avoid 
"personal or professional ruin." The OSC should takes its own advice; 
government has a responsibility to be open and candid to the American people 
so as to restore confidence in public officials. 
Counterpoint: Who should decide what the public needs to know?

by Karen Foss ("St. Louis Post-Dispatch," August 26, 2000)
I am writing not as a representative of the news organization for which I 
work, but rather as a concerned, individual journalist.
I commend former Sen. John Danforth for his service to our country, but I 
disagree with his expectations of the news media as outlined in his Aug. 22 
letter to the editor.
His comments raised many questions for me. Danforth suggests that the media 
have not learned the "lessons" of Waco, and he points to follow-up reports on 
the tragic killing of police officer Robert Stanze as evidence of an 
irresponsible media. Danforth asserts that news organizations erred by 
reporting on a news conference called by the family of the man charged with 
murdering the officer.
First of all, I object to Danforth's disdainful characterization of the 
"curbside" news conference. As a reporter, I can testify that cosseting a 
speaker in a wood-paneled conference room does not guarantee his credibility.
Second, I take exception to his broadbrush characterization of the "media." 
In so doing, he perpetuates the myth that news organizations act as a pack 
and conspire to inflame public opinion. In reality, the competitive nature of 
daily news coverage -- and varying concepts of what warrants attention -- 
will lead to differing degrees of scrutiny paid to any event by various media 
But my greatest concern is with his assertion that news organizations should 
not bestow "public credence" by reporting on unofficial claims. Danforth 
acknowledges that the Post-Dispatch report (and I would add News Channel 5's 
reports as well) included not only the family's claims of brutality, but also 
their lack of documentation, as well as denials of abuse from the police and 
sheriff's department and the hospital.
In other words, the reports were textbook good journalism. They were balanced 
and inclusive, giving the reader or viewer information from which to draw 
conclusions. Many of whom, no doubt, came to the same conclusions as Danforth.
I would ask him to consider what would have happened if the "media" had 
docilely accepted the official explanations regarding the Watergate break-in? 
Would he have liked us to accept the theory that Monica Lewinsky was a 
deluded young White House intern with an overactive imagination? Would he 
accept the denials from New York City police officers, later convicted, of a 
savage sexual assault on suspect Abner Louima?
Finally, who would Danforth like to charge with the responsibility of making 
those decisions about what the public needs to know? Surely he would not have 
journalists pre-judge which claims are "sensational but baseless." Would he 
truly want us to limit the scope of public discourse and report only the 
unchallenged official positions on controversial issues? Danforth seems to 
regard open, inquiring media as a "nuisance."
He shows little confidence in the abilities of the men and women of this 
region to process conflicting accounts and arrive at sensible conclusions.
Who better -- I would ask -- to draw those conclusions than an informed 
citizenry, armed with all the information available, thanks to a 
constitutionally guaranteed free press?
Karen Foss is a news anchor at KSDK, Channel 5.