HOUSTON -- Federal officials waited seven months before acting on information that Branch Davidian members possessed parts to illegally manufacture machine guns and explosive devices, documents indicate.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms affidavits filed in federal court, as well as other investigation documents reviewed by the Houston Chronicle, suggest that information on the parts was gathered in June, but the ATF investigation came to a virtual standstill the following month and the probe was not revived until early December.
The information contradicts ATF officials' public assertions that they acted as soon as they had evidence of weapons violations by David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers.
David C. Troy, chief of the ATF's intelligence division, told a congressional committee last month that by the time agents had probable cause to arrest Mr. Koresh in late February, he was "so kinked up," he rarely left the compound.
"We've been criticized a number of times for not arresting him when he was outside the compound," Mr. Troy said. "But after the point when we had gotten an arrest warrant for David Koresh, he never walked outside again."
The affidavits show, however, that within days of starting an investigation in June, ATF agents learned that Mr. Koresh and his followers possessed 90 AR-15 assault rifles and the kits to convert at least four of the weapons into machine guns.
The agents also learned that Branch Davidians had taken delivery of large amounts of gunpowder and other supplies used in manufacture of illegal explosive devices.
The next month, ATF officials received accounts from a neighbor who reported hearing fully automatic gunfire coming from the cult's compound, known as Mount Carmel.
But rather than seek a search warrant in July for weapons violations, the agency waited until February, more than seven months, beforeobtaining a warrant for the compound. The affidavits also reflect virtually no additional investigative activity until December.
ATF made its ill-fated raid on the compound Feb. 28.
ATF spokesman Jack Killorin said that the affidavits' failure to indicate ATF activity does not mean that his agency was not proceeding with the investigation.
"Obviously, investigative activity was going forward, interviews werebeing conducted and other activity that I am not at liberty to discuss," Mr. Killorin said.
He declined to provide examples of interviews or other ATF activities during the gap in the affidavits.
Mr. Killorin also declined to comment on why his agency waited seven months to act on its information regarding possible weapons violations at the compound, except to say the investigation also focused on the source of weapons being supplied to the Branch Davidians.