Coulson to head FBI here Portfolio includes Iran-contra case, Waco standoff

June 03, 1993|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Staff Writer

The new head of the FBI's Maryland-Delaware office comes to Baltimore with experience that spans a quarter of a century and includes some of the agency's most notable cases, from the Iran-contra affair to the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas.

Danny O. Coulson, a 51-year-old Texas native and lawyer, presently is a deputy assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigations division in Washington, where he oversees violent crime operations, domestic terrorism, civil rights investigations and special inquiries for the White House.

He was part of the agency's management team that oversaw the bureau's attempt to peacefully end the 51-day standoff with David Koresh and his followers at Waco.

Mr. Coulson's appointment to the Baltimore office -- with 210 agents, it is the 11th largest of the bureau's 57 field offices -- was announced yesterday. He replaces Bobby R. Gillham, who retired in March, and expects to begin the new job within the month.

Mr. Coulson is no stranger to Maryland -- he lives in Howard County with his family. And when he's not working, this father of four can usually be found at a son's football game or a daughter's soccer match.

"I knew sooner or later I was going back to a field division I would command. So I asked for Baltimore," said Mr. Coulson, who commanded the much smaller Portland, Ore., office between 1988 and 1991. "It's a terrific field office. I think the problem in Portland, the problem in Baltimore [the problem throughout the country] is violent crime as far as I'm concerned."

Mr. Gillham, the former special agent in charge, described his successor as a "good leader" and "a strong manager" with "the kind of background to continue and enhance on what we built on."

During the FBI's investigation of the Branch Davidian members and the shooting deaths of four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, Mr. Coulson worked 51 straight days in the agency's Washington command post, a bunker-like room he nicknamed "the submarine."

This assignment took on a special poignancy in that the bureau's crack hostage rescue team -- a key element in trying to remove the children from the Branch Davidian compound -- was the same elite unit that Mr. Coulson founded and commanded until 1986.

Mr. Coulson coined the team's motto: "Servare Vitas -- To save lives." But the FBI's decision April 21 to flood the compound with tear gas ended in a fiery tragedy.

"I think about that thing every night I go to sleep to this day," said Mr. Coulson, who joined the FBI in 1966 fresh out of law school. "Our whole strategy was to get the children out. When you plan these things, you rely on certain instincts that . . . of a mother or father to protect their children. I really believed that instinct would take over."

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