"FBI Cameras May Have Waco Footage"
("Associated Press", October 14, 1999)
DALLAS (AP) - The FBI had closed-circuit cameras surrounding the Branch Davidian compound that may have captured footage of the 1993 standoff never seen by the public, The Dallas Morning News reported today.
Government documents obtained by the newspaper show that at least five FBI agents were sent to the compound near Waco to maintain closed-circuit cameras during the standoff and specifically on April 19, the day federal agents launched an assault against the compound.
Later that day, the Davidian compound erupted in flames. About 80 members of the cult, including leader David Koresh, died. Law enforcement officials insist the Davidians started the fire.
The government's conduct at Waco has come under renewed scrutiny from Congress and a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno following the FBI's belated admission that its agents fired potentially incendiary tear-gas canisters in the hours before flames consumed the Davidians' retreat.
The videotapes may help to answer some of the lingering questions. The FBI has long denied that its agents fired any shots during the siege, and bureau officials have said rules of engagement did not permit deadly force against unarmed Davidians.
The records obtained by the newspaper contain written statements from FBI agents and technicians that recordings were made, even though no such videotape from the surveillance cameras has ever been released.
``CCTV (closed-circuit TV) monitoring sites ... were all around the compound,'' one agent stated in a June 1993 interview detailed in a three-page document. ``This enabled observers to see everything that was going on at the compound without showing themselves.''
Congressional investigators refused to reveal details about the cameras because the matter involves government secrets, the News reported.
``Until that information is declassified, we cannot discuss it,'' said Mark Corallo, spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee.
An FBI spokesman also refused to comment, saying he would need to look into the matter first. A Justice Department spokesman did not return calls.
"FBI cameras encircled compound, files show - Critics question lack of tapes in Waco siege"
by Lee Hancock and David Jackson ("The Dallas Morning News", October 14, 1999)
The Branch Davidian compound was ringed with FBI closed-circuit cameras and secret government sensing devices during the entire 1993 standoff, and the cameras were used throughout April 19, the day federal agents launched a tank and tear-gas assault, government documents show.
But despite written statements from FBI agents and technicians that recordings were made, no videotape from the surveillance cameras has ever been made public by the federal government. Critics of the government's actions in the standoff say their efforts to obtain such videos have been blocked for years by the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Congressional investigators who recently began re-examining investigations of the standoff said Wednesday that they cannot say what Congress has been told about the use of closed-circuit cameras at the compound because the matter involves government secrets.
"Until that information is declassified, we cannot discuss it," said Mark Corallo, spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee.
An FBI spokesman said he would need to look into the matter further before commenting. A Justice Department spokesman did not return calls Wednesday night.
Lawyers for surviving sect members who have filed a massive wrongful-death lawsuit against the federal government say they are outraged because they have been told repeatedly by government lawyers that the only FBI cameras in use on April 19 were infrared cameras deployed in airplanes high above the sect's compound.
"We have asked for every possible form of recording known to man that could have been utilized at Mount Carmel," said the lead lawyer for the group, Michael Caddell of Houston. "We have been told that the only thing that exists are the [infrared] tapes and the surveillance tapes from FBI bugs inside the compound."
But formal written statements, known as FBI 302s, obtained by The Dallas Morning News show that at least five FBI agents were sent to the compound near Waco to maintain closed-circuit cameras.
"CCTV [closed-circuit TV] monitoring sites . . . were all around the compound," one FBI technical expert stated in a June 1993 interview detailed in a three-page FBI 302. "This enabled observers to see everything that was going on at the compound without showing themselves."
One agent reported watching from the closed-circuit TV system as FBI tanks began gassing the compound on April 19, the documents state. A supervisor from the FBI's Quantico, Va., training academy said that the FBI's cameras were also running as the compound caught fire with sect leader David Koresh and more than 80 followers inside, according to a second FBI 302.
The supervisor's June 1993 statement said that recordings were routinely made from the closed-circuit cameras that ringed the compound to help document FBI actions during the 51-day standoff.
Mr. Caddell said he believes that FBI officials may have withheld information about the cameras because of the images that they captured on April 19. He noted that references to the closed-circuit television cameras were blacked out on the formal statements or FBI 302s that the Justice Department has so far disclosed in the civil wrongful-death lawsuit.
Two retired Defense Department experts hired by Mr. Caddell's law firm and a third expert retained by congressional investigators have said that the FBI's infrared airborne video cameras recorded thermal flashes from the compound and from government positions on April 19 that could only have come from gunfire.
FBI officials have insisted that FBI agents did not fire a single shot that day or at any other time during the 51-day siege. The compound fire erupted six hours into the FBI's tank and tear-gas assault, and government investigators ruled that it was deliberately set by the Branch Davidians.
Act of nature?
Government officials have said the repeated bursts of white flashes recorded on the infrared were caused by sunlight reflecting on mud puddles or shiny debris around the compound.
"We remain confident that it was not gunfire," FBI spokesman John Collingwood said Wednesday.
But outside experts, including a retired satellite imagery analyst who spent months studying the infrared tape from the standoff, said the rhythmic flashes could not have been caused by anything found in nature.
Recently released copies of the FBI's infrared tapes show that many of the flashes emanating from the compound and all of the flashes that come toward the building from around government positions occurred on the back side of the compound. That rear area was not visible to commercial network television cameras that captured images of the tear-gas assault from media observation posts about a mile and a half away.
"Clearly, whatever those cameras recorded may very well reveal the presence of government gunmen on April 19," Mr. Caddell said. "Consider the alternative. If this evidence showed conclusively that there was no government gunfire on April 19, don't you think the government would've trotted this out front and center six years ago?
"This is clearly a deliberate, intentional coverup by people high within the FBI hierarchy," he said. "This type of closed-circuit TV system and recording system would've required approval from FBI higher-ups, and they've known for the last six years that this information was withheld."
FBI logs, reports and other documents state that the bureau's agents began setting up closed-circuit cameras within hours after arriving in Waco on Feb. 28, 1993. The standoff began that day when gunfire broke out as agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to arrest sect leader David Koresh and search the compound for illegal weapons.
Four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians died, and the FBI's hostage rescue team was called in to try to resolve the standoff.
One hand-written log from the FBI's forward command post in Waco stated that approval for the first camera was granted at 10:57 p.m. by a deputy assistant FBI director in Washington. The next morning, officials at the FBI's crisis command post in Washington called to request notification "when the CCTV hookup is completed and the scene is visible in the HRT CP [command post]."
Use of robots
Seven days later, FBI agents asked the Defense Department to send prototype robots equipped with video and audio recording devices to the scene, according to Defense Department documents provided by the National Security News Service, a nonprofit, Washington-based research group.
The Defense Department documents, obtained by the news service under the federal Freedom of Information Act, state that three of the robots were shipped the next day.
The robots, designed for battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance, "possess day and night cameras, forward-looking infrared imaging sensors, acoustics sensors, video recorder and two-way voice communication," according to a March 1993 Defense Department memo provided by the news service.
Federal officials now re-examining the government's actions during the Branch Davidian standoff say the federal government has classified all information about the robots' performance.
The devices were not effective, officials stated, because the lenses of their cameras fogged in heavy Texas spring rains and their fiber-optic cables were repeatedly severed by the treads of tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles used by the FBI.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco, who is overseeing the Branch Davidians' ongoing wrongful-death lawsuit, issued an order in August demanding that all government documents related to the incident be turned over to his court.
A general from the U.S. Army's Special Forces briefed the judge Friday on the government's system of classifying and handling sensitive documents.
Recent government filings state that the Defense Department has more than 6,000 pages of classified documents on the siege. The FBI, ATF and CIA have reported an unspecified number of classified documents, and even the U.S. Commerce Department has reported nine classified documents on the standoff.
In a similar memo written last month, the Treasury Department reported "three documents that we have referred to the office of counsel to the president in order to assess a possible claim of executive privilege."
Already declassified military documents state that U.S. Special Forces went to Waco to help operate classified military equipment. A May 1995 memo states that those soldiers were ordered not to videotape anything that happened on April 19.
No information given
Tim Evans, a Fort Worth lawyer who represented one of the surviving Branch Davidians prosecuted in a 1994 federal trial, said no information about the cameras or resulting videotapes was ever given to the sect's defense team.
He said that violates a federal rule requiring government disclosure of anything that might be helpful to defendants.
"Sadly, I'm not surprised," said Mr. Evans, whose client was among three
Davidians acquitted. "Once again, crucial evidence has been hidden not only from the public but the jury who convicted and the judge who sentenced the survivors of this holocaust to an average of 30 years without parole."
Mr. Caddell said the information about the cameras strengthens his argument that the government's account of the siege is not credible.
"For six years, they said no pyrotechnics were ever used on April 19. For six years, they said there was no recording of FBI radio traffic. For six years, no video recordings. For six years, the only infrared recordings still in existence from April 19 started at 10:42 a.m. For six years, they said we didn't know what David Koresh was planning inside Mount Carmel," Mr. Caddell said. "Now we know that all of these were lies. The real question is, isthere anything that they told us about Mount Carmel that was true?"
"Koresh Convinced Followers He Was Messiah; Some Still Believe It"
by Julia Campbell ("Fox TV News", October 14, 1999)
WACO, Texas - David Thibodeau remembers the day clearly. Trapped in a maze of confusion, acrid smoke and fireballs, he managed to crawl out of a hole in a wall as his home of three years burned to the ground.
"It was horrible," said Thibodeau, a former Branch Davidian, in a recent interview. "The building shook like an earthquake had hit it. I thought I was going to be shot at when I left."
Thibodeau, the drummer in Koresh's Christian rock band, Messiah, was one of only nine Branch Davidians who escaped the fiery end to the siege on April 19, 1993, in Waco. David Koresh, the obscure sect's prophetic leader, and about 80 of his devotees, including 17 small children, perished in the swift-spreading blaze that federal agents say was deliberately set from inside.
In minutes, the fire leveled the sect's compound and wiped out a majority of its members. Today, the surviving members total about 70 in the U.S. and abroad, down from as many as 300, according to the current sect members.
About 20 surviving members remain in Waco. The foundering sect is being held together by Edna and Clive Doyle, longtime Branch Davidians who are leading the construction of a new chapel and holding Bible study in small groups - all while preparing for Koresh's resurrection.
"We expect him to come back so we don't need anyone else," said Edna Doyle, who was away from the compound on the first day of the siege. "I would like him to hurry up though."
Six years after the botched siege thrust the sect into the spotlight, debate continues about the nature and the intent of the Branch Davidians, and what the future holds for the survivors.
"These people made real sacrifices to be there," said Nancy Ammerman, a professor of sociology and religion at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. "Their beliefs became the centerpiece of their lives. It is no surprise that they would try to put that back together, in whatever form."
But without their former leader, rebuilding will be hard. "It is going to be very difficult for them because David Koresh had become very central to their community," said Ammerman.
Succession of Leaders Ends With Koresh
For nearly 60 years before David Koresh assumed the leadership of the sect and declared himself the Lamb of God, the Branch Davidians lived a peaceful, austere existence, with little notice by the general public.
"I did not consider them a cult," said David Bunds, 34, a former Branch Davidian who was a member of the sect for 20 years before leaving in 1989, when Koresh tried to take Bunds's wife as his own. "There were no guns, no controls - no one saying 'You can't eat this or that.'"
The original Branch Davidians sect, a splinter group of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, was formed in the 1930s under the guidance of an earlier self-proclaimed prophet, Victor Houteff. His wife, Florence, assumed the leadership after he died. When her prophesy that the world would end April 22, 1959, did not come true, many members abandoned the group.
In 1984, a man named Vernon Howell (who would later change his name to the biblical David Koresh), a high school dropout from Tyler, Texas, and a wannabe rock star, joined the group and soon became entangled in a fight for leadership.
Koresh started an affair with the 60-something leader of the group, Lois Roden, who took him on a trip to Jerusalem and proclaimed that he would be the group's next prophet. When she died in 1985, her son, George Roden, ejected Koresh and his followers at gunpoint.
Koresh took his people to the Angelina National Forest near Palestine, Texas, declared himself a prophet and began preaching his own interpretation of the Seven Seals of the Book of Revelation. He and his followers lived in plywood boxes, tents and converted school buses. They also began collecting guns.
Some Branch Davidians said they merely bought and sold guns to earn money. Others, whose statements are backed by law enforcement officials, say sect members were given paramilitary training, with Koresh repeatedly telling them, "You can't die for God if you can't kill for God."
In 1987, Koresh and several armed followers left their ramshackle camp and stormed Mount Carmel to reclaim the property. Roden was injured in the ensuing gunfight. All of Koresh's followers were tried on attempted murder charges and acquitted, while a jury was deadlocked on a verdict on Koresh. Charges against him were later dismissed.
The victory gave Koresh his place as the undisputed leader of the Branch Davidians.
Koresh Linked to Child Rape and Gun Stockpiles
David Koresh had a remarkable ability to quote from scripture and interpret the Bible, his followers said.
"He was very convincing in his ability to convey to you that he knew exactly what he was talking about," said Bunds. "He had this certitude, this attitude, that 'I know what I am talking about.' When he expounded on the Bible, he was very quick on his feet and a very smooth talker."
David and Deborah Bunds, who live in southern California and no longer consider themselves Branch Davidians, and others like them left Koresh and the Waco compound when he declared himself the new Messiah, asserting that all women belonged to him.
In the early 1990s, allegations of child abuse began to surface as Koresh "married" girls in the sect as young as 12. He fathered more than a dozen children, experts say.
"He ended up with a scriptural justification for what he was doing," said Ammerman. "He was the new David, charged with creating a new race of people and he spread his seed. How much of that is sincere religious fervor or how much of it is his own perversity?"
Koresh's sexual deviance gained the attention of the media, but the ATF first began to take notice when agents learned the sect was amassing a large collection of illegal weapons, including machine guns and hand grenades.
Several reports came from a United Parcel Service driver who said he had made several suspicious deliveries to the compound, including $10,000 worth of firearms, grenade casings, black powder and explosives.
Shortly before the siege, the Bunds were interviewed by ATF agents who were assembling evidence for the search warrant that led to the 51-day standoff. They told the agents they had seen Koresh fire machine guns and heard him talk about getting more.
The evidence ultimately led the ATF to seek a warrant for Koresh's arrest.
In the botched raid of the compound on Feb. 28, 1993 - the agency's attempt to execute its warrant - ATF agents engaged in a gunfight with sect members who had been tipped off to the raid. Four agents and six Branch Davidians were killed.
Thibodeau says that the federal agents misread Koresh's intentions, and he and other sect members insist that the sect was trying to protect itself from attack.
"He wasn't some freak holed up in the middle of nowhere waiting for someone to come and shoot him," says Thibodeau, who now lives in Austin and recently released a book on the sect called A Place Called Waco. "These people were invited onto our property and they chose to come and attack us."
Federal officials admit the initial raid was handled badly and that many mistakes were made, but they maintain that Koresh, in his desire for power and attention, ultimately led his followers, many of them women and children, to their deaths.
"Do I think Koresh was delusional?" said Byron Sage, a retired FBI agent who tried to negotiate with Koresh during the 51-day standoff before the deadly fire. "No. Koresh was a con man and his chosen con was religion. These people thoroughly and completely believed what Koresh was professing, that he was the Lamb of God, a prophet. They bought off on this, and that is evidenced by the fact that these people turned over their wives and daughters to sleep with him. He completely had them deceived - and that deception continues to work to this day.
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Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors.
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