First Waco raid said to receive heavy criticism Report is to detail leadership failings

September 13, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- The bungled, bloody raid that led to a standoff at the cult compound in Texas last February was supervised by "unqualified people" who did not adjust their plan after learning they had lost the element of surprise, according to an expert who is helping prepare a federal report on the debacle.

Instead, they went ahead with a Trojan-horse plan that depended on taking the Waco cult members by surprise, the expert said, only to be overwhelmed by gunfire that left four federal agents dead and 15 wounded.

"It was either go in -- or go home," said another source familiar with the plan. "They were dead ducks."

The field commanders of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms never informed their superiors in Washington that members of the heavily armed Branch Davidian cult knew the raiders were coming, the expert said.

At least six cult members died in repulsing the assault, and as many as 85 more died after the ensuing 51-day siege ended in a conflagration that consumed their compound.

The failure of the initial raid is being analyzed by six tactical specialists working for the Treasury Department, which is expected to issue a report late this month. The ATF is part of the Treasury Department.

A second investigation, concentrating on the Justice Department's actions in Waco and focusing more heavily on the fatal conclusion of the standoff, also is under way. The FBI took command of the operation after the ATF raid failed.

The Treasury Department report will lead to the transfer or forced retirement of at least five high-ranking ATF officials, according to ATF and other law enforcement sources.

"You had unqualified people in charge of a complex operation," said an expert working on the report, speaking of the ATF field commanders.

Senior ATF officials also made misleading statements to the media and to their supervisors in Washington, the report will charge.

Two senior ATF officials involved in planning the assault, Daniel M. Hartnett, the associate director for enforcement, and his deputy, Edward D. Conroy, are said to be ready to retire when the review is completed.

Another source familiar with the review said he expected all or most of the personnel changes to be "contemporaneous" with the release of the report.

The ATF commander in Waco, Philip J. Chojnacki, and his deputy, Chuck Sarabyn, will be asked to retire or face transfer, according to the ATF source. Neither man could be reached for comment.

ATF Director Stephen E. Higgins, who turns 55 Oct. 19 and becomes eligible to collect retirement benefits, may escape direct blame.

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