ATF director resigns just days before critical report on Waco

September 28, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The director of the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms resigned yesterday, just days before the release of a Treasury Department report that is expected to criticize his agency's handling of last February's fatal raid on the Branch Davidian cult headquarters near Waco, Texas.

Stephen E. Higgins, director of the ATF for 10 years, said in his resignation letter to Treasury Secretary Lloyd M. Bentsen that he realized that "changes in direction and focus" will be called for in the report. But he said he disagreed with some of the conclusions reached in the report.

Joan Logue-Kinder, an aide to Mr. Bentsen, said Mr. Higgins' decision to retire had been accepted and the report will be released this week.

"ATF deserves a director who is willing to act on it," she said.

Mr. Higgins, 55, said in April that he expected to retire once the Treasury Department had completed its review. He was widely criticized in Congress for the incomplete and confusing statements ATF officials made about the raid and the events that led to it.

Of particular concern was whether the agency had been aware of reports that David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian cult, had been tipped to the raid in advance.

Congressional sources have said that ATF may have inadvertently alerted Mr. Koresh to the raid in the course of seeking media coverage of it.

Responding to reports that cult members were stockpiling weapons, AFT agents mounted their ill-fated raid on the compound outside Waco in the early Feb. 28. In an ensuing gun battle, four agents and at least six cultists were killed and 16 agents were wounded.

The failed raid then led to a 51-day standoff between the cult and the FBI that ended in a conflagration April 19, when the FBI attacked the compound with tanks and tear gas. Mr. Koresh and 86 cultists died -- some reportedly shot by other members -- as fire consumed the wooden structures.

While telling Congress no ATF official would "knowingly" lead his men into an ambush, Mr. Higgins declined to say specifically whether agents knew they had lost "the element of surprise."

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