Probers of Waco cult raid fault leadership in ATF

August 30, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Senior officials of the agency that conducted the botched raid on a cult near Waco, Texas, in February were "too detached" from the operation, leaving the main decisions to agents who had no training in large paramilitary missions, internal investigators reviewing the operation have found.

The findings, part of a review to be made public in mid-September, cast new doubt on the future of Stephen E. Higgins, the longtime director of the agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a division of the Treasury Department.

Investigators and officials involved in the review say they had found fundamental problems with the planning, execution and follow-up of the operation, which began a 51-day standoff with the Branch Davidian cult.

They also determined that in the days and weeks after the raid, Mr. Higgins and other senior officials made misleading statements about what had occurred in the initial raid, in which four agents and at least six cult members were killed.

For months the Clinton administration has strongly hinted that it would like Mr. Higgins to retire, although it has taken the position that it would await the outcome of the review.

Since the review has found no intentional wrongdoing by Mr. Higgins or other top agency officials, but rather that they failed to supervise the operation adequately, the administration is considering what one official calls the "least painful and most graceful way" of easing Mr. Higgins out of the office he has held for a decade.

Last week, Mr. Higgins declined to comment on the findings of the report until it is made public. In an interview he said he preferred to stay on but would retire if his leadership was found wanting. He said he had not discussed his future with senior Treasury officials.

"I'll stay here as long as I and the people in the organization and the department think I can do an effective job," he said.

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