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Treasury Official Says ATF Made Mistakes in Waco : Inquiry: The leadership of the firearms agency likely will be overhauled over Branch Davidian siege. Agents and church members were killed.

August 14, 1993|PIERRE THOMAS | THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department's top law enforcement officer has told federal firearms administrators that a probe into their Feb. 28 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., has uncovered serious errors in judgment and said that some officials knowingly made misleading statements about the raid to superiors and the media.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sources said it appears that there will be an overhaul of the leadership at the agency.

Four ATF agents and several Branch Davidians died in the initial raid, and nearly 80 of the religious cult members died when the compound burned after federal agents fired tear gas into the group's headquarters during a final assault in April.

In a recent series of private meetings, Ronald K. Noble, assistant Treasury secretary for law enforcement, told some ATF officials to consider retirement and said others could face severe reprimands, bureau sources said.

Noble also questioned whether, given the problems uncovered, ATF Director Stephen Higgins could remain in office, the sources said. But one ATF source said the tenure of Higgins, who has run the agency for more than a decade, is not in question. ATF is a division of the Treasury Department.

Treasury officials would not comment on the meetings. Some of the officials interviewed by Noble declined a request for comment.

Noble held the meetings after reviewing the findings of a cadre of investigators probing the bureau's performance in Waco. The Treasury Department is expected in September to release a report on the deadly incident and the ensuing 51-day siege.

At the center of the probe is whether ATF administrators went ahead with the Feb. 28 raid despite evidence that cult leader David Koresh was expecting their assault and would not surrender.

Part of the inquiry also has focused on whether some bureau officials misled or withheld information from superiors.

In the early weeks of the siege, top ATF officials said repeatedly that the agents conducting the raid were ambushed by Branch Davidians inside the compound. ATF officials said they would not have launched the attack without the element of surprise.

It was revealed later, however, that ATF's own undercover agent in the compound said he told ATF commanders before the raid that Koresh knew the agents were coming. The undercover agent, in a sworn statement, said he told ATF officials that less than two hours before the raid, Koresh told his followers that ATF and the National Guard were about to assault the compound.

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