"Government bets that technology will show agents didn't fire in Waco"
by William H. Freivogel ("St. Louis Post-Dispatch", October 17, 1999)
GREENBELT, Md. - The Justice Department will rely on a high-tech computer program used to detect battlefield sniper fire to prove that government agents did not fire during their 1993 assault in Waco, Texas.
Special counsel John C. Danforth has been scrutinizing infrared videotape of the assault, which some experts say shows government agents firing into the compound as it is enveloped in flames on the day about 80 Branch Davidians died inside.
Danforth's investigators were in Washington on Friday watching an original version of the tape, an FBI spokesman said. Earlier this month, Danforth interviewed the two key infrared experts who say flashes on the tape are government gunfire.
But Norris J. Krone Jr., president of Maryland Advanced Development Laboratory, says that detecting gunfire on an infrared tape requires more than the naked eye. His firm developed the technology, which uses a computer program to identify gunfire in an infrared scene. Krone, in his first detailed interview on the subject, said Friday that his firm used the computer program to analyze the portion of the Waco tape that supposedly shows flashes of gunfire from government agents.
The firm determined that the flashes are too long in duration to be small-arms fire, backing the FBI's long-held contention that no government agent fired a shot at the compound during the assault. Krone said experts from his lab have been hired to testify to their findings in the wrongful death suit filed against the government by the Branch Davidians.
Krone's lab cannot say what the flashes are. And an informed source, who asked not to be identified, told the Post-Dispatch that the government has retreated from an earlier theory that the flashes on the tape were reflections of sunlight. Both sides seem now to agree that the physics of reflected sunlight rules that out.
The two men who claim the flashes are gunfire are Edward Allard and Fred Zegel, former infrared experts at Fort Belvoir, Va., home of the Pentagon's night vision laboratory. They are among the nation's experts on the Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) technology used on the tape.
Allard, who got his doctorate in physics from the University of Missouri at Rolla, lent credibility to the 1997 documentary "Waco: The Rules of Engagement." Zegel, who may have read more battlefield FLIR tapes than anyone, had his doubts about Allard's analysis at first. But he now agrees that gunfire is the most likely explanation of flashes. Allard and Zegel are expected to testify for the Branch Davidians in the wrongful death case. They played the tape and explained their findings to a reporter last week.
Flashes on a moonscape
The government plane taking the FLIR pictures was circling like a hawk, 9,000 feet above the compound. The resulting picture looks like a black-and-whitefilm with the stark contrasts of a moonscape. But the film does not record light. It records differences in the temperatures, with hotter objects appearing whiter.
A key segment of the tape begins about 11:15 a.m., about an hour before the fire that destroyed the compound. A Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV) is just beginning its assault, knocking into the corner of the gymnasium in the rear of the compound.
A CEV is an M-60 tank with a plow in front. Each time it smashes into the wall of the gym, it drives deeper into the compound. At 11:24 a.m., after striking the building five or six times, it pauses. Two dark specks appear behind it. Allard says they are government agents who most likely have emerged from the escape hatch in the bottom of the vehicle. Allard, who can review the tape frame-by-frame on his big-screen TV, shows that flashes seem to shoot out from the specks toward the compound. He says it's a few seconds of automatic weapons fire.
At 11:26 a.m. there appear to be three specks alongside the partly destroyed gym and a series of flashes toward the compound. Allard says this is automatic weapons fire from three gun positions directed at the compound -- a classic "tank-infantry" attack, he says. The flashes stop, and the tank appears to back up directly over the specks. Allard says the men are getting back inside.
The FBI says the specks can't be people because the treads of the tanks appear to roll directly over them and because people visible on a roof after the fire in later sections of the film look like people, appendages and all, rather than specks. Allard replies that FLIR measures the difference in the heat of adjacent bodies. So a man who shows up clearly on a hot roof becomes a speck when he jumps to the ground, which has a temperature about the sameas his body.
The next key segment of the tape begins at 12:05 p.m., two or three minutes before the fire erupts. One government tank circles around the back of the compound. Two big flashes appear near one corner of the building, and seconds later smaller flashes emanate from the tank itself; Allard says this is a gunner riding on the vehicle and firing at the compound. Meanwhile, another tank has punched a hole in a corner near the front of the building. About a minute after it pulls away, a fire breaks out at that spot. Within two minutes, fire appears in two more places.
Allard says his most disturbing observation comes immediately after the fire starts. He points to dark specks near the site of the wrecked gym and flashes toward the cafeteria. He says this was gunfire that would have blocked the exit of the Branch Davidians. He says most of the 22 bodies of those who died of gunshot wounds were found in this area.
When Zegel first saw the film two years ago, he dismissed the flashes as reflections of the sun. The Justice Department too suggested this explanation. But then Zegel realized it wasn't possible. Most of the sun's rays are in the short, visible light. The FLIR looks at much longer wavelengths that are not visible. In that longer range, reflections of the sun have far less power than the radiation emitted by the earth. In other words, sun reflections wouldn't show up as a white flash.
Krone, the lab expert in Maryland, said his company's interest in identifying gunfire on infrared images began with the wars in Somalia and Bosnia, where snipers threatened U.S. forces. The company developed the VIPER system, which Krone said is capable of warning a soldier of incoming fire with a buzzer, sometimes giving the soldier time to dive to the ground, locate the source and fire back before the sniper can lower his gun.
The computer program evaluates four characteristics of a flash -- its intensity, duration, shape and size and, finally, its spectral qualities. Krone won't go into the details of the findings about the flashes on the Waco tape because of the pending litigation, but says the flashes were excluded as gunfire because of their duration. The flashes lasted too long to be gunfire.
Krone said he volunteered to analyze the tapes in 1997 when the Washington Post wrote a story on the film. Since then, the Justice Department has retained the firm, which has provided a more sophisticated analysis. A partial copy of a report by the firm, obtained by Zegel, concludes that the flashes on the tape are so rapid that a gunman would have to be firing at a rate of 1,800 rounds per minute, too fast for a handheld automatic rifle.
Zegel acknowledges that the intensity and duration of the flashes are one remaining doubt he has about the gunfire conclusion. "A gunshot flash itself has low energy. It's the heat from a gas cloud coming out of the barrel that you see. I'm a little surprised that it is as bright as it is because the gas out of a gun is not very luminous," Zegel said. He said he saw no otherlikely explanation.
Zegel says a far-fetched possibility is that the flash could represent voltage generated when the field of view of the FLIR changes. Allard acknowledges that there are flashes on the tape that are technical glitches, but says these are distinguishable from gunfire. He says that all that the Maryland lab proved is that shooters were using bigger guns than the rifles the lab tested. Krone responds that the lab has tested the signatures of many guns.
FLIR tapes are not generally read for small-arms fire because armies are worried about tank fire. Despite their long years of experience, neither Zegel nor Allard has ever read a FLIR tape to detect small-arms fire.
But sitting in his Springfield, Va., home, an American flag in front and a picture of Jesus over the TV, Allard is unshakable. "I don't know who is pulling the trigger. I don't know what weapons they are firing. But I'm the product of a Jesuit education, and I can say to a metaphysical certainty: That is gunfire."
"Filmmakers' tenacity brought the "dark questions" of Waco tragedy into the mainstrea".
by Terry Ganey ("St. Louis Post-Dispatch", October 17, 1999)
Researcher found spent pyrotechnic tear gas canisters in Texas Ranger evidence locker.
When John C. Danforth began the special investigation into what happened at Waco, one of the first sources his office contacted was a documentary filmmaker.
On Sept. 20, Danforth wrote to Dan Gifford, the producer of the documentary "Waco: The Rules of Engagement," to request a meeting. Danforth wanted information about the use of the U.S. armed forces, the names of witnesses and experts, and the location of documents and other evidence that bears on the case.
That Danforth made a moviemaker one of his first stops is a tribute to the impact that Gifford and his chief researcher, Mike McNulty, have had in raising the "dark questions" that Danforth is trying to answer.
Their film premiered at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival in Utah. It later won an Emmy Award and was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary. It tookthe suspicion of the government's version of the event from the realm of the ultra-right into the consciousness of the middle class.
And it was McNulty's work on a sequel, "Waco: The New Revelation," that indirectly prompted Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special Waco investigator.
While doing research for the new movie, McNulty found spent pyrotechnic tear gas canisters in a Texas Ranger evidence locker. The discovery prompted the FBI and the Justice Department to reverse years of denials and finally admit that the canisters, which can cause fire, were used on the last day of the siege.
Danforth is trying to determine whether federal agents or the military killed people on April 19, 1993. That's when about 80 people died as fire consumedthe Branch Davidians' Mount Carmel complex as the FBI attempted to force the Davidians out with tear gas.
From his home in California, McNulty watched the live CNN television coverage as the Davidians' complex went up in flames. Ever since he has been trying to figure out what happened.
"He's pounded on the door," Gifford said. "It shows what six years of work can do."
A Missouri massacre
McNulty, a Mormon, said he had a "very bad feeling" about the tragic end of the Branch Davidians. He said it reminded him of an episode in his church's history: the Haun's Mill massacre, in northwestern Missouri. In October 1837, 17 Mormon men and boys were killed by members of the Missouri militia. The militia was reacting to an order issued by Gov. Lilburn Boggs, who said all Mormons should either be driven out of Missouri or exterminated.
Although 156 years separated Waco from the Haun's Mill incident, McNulty saw a parallel between the government's tactics in both cases. He began investigating Waco on his own and got a copy of the FBI's infrared videotape of the Branch Davidian complex, shot from an airplane overhead. Some experts have concluded that the tape shows government agents firing into the complex buildings.
FBI agents have denied firing any shots, and a new computer program used to detect gunfire on infrared images upholds that contention.
McNulty approached Gifford, a former CNN reporter and now president of SomFord Entertainment, with the idea of making a movie about Waco. Gifford thought it was a news story and advised McNulty to take it to television news departments.
"He was gone five months and came back and said no one was interested," Gifford said. Gifford said that although he was skeptical, he agreed to take on the project. Gifford said as he got deeper into the research he found that the official story of what happened at Waco "came apart like wet paper bag at the seams."
Their movie says government agents fired into the compound and may have started the fire.
Last month, the film was shown to members of the Zenith Boosters Club, an organization of conservatives and libertarians in Kansas City. Gifford also spoke to the group.
"The movie makes people wonder about what's going on and who is giving us the full story," said Arlene Krings, spokeswoman for the organization.
A new film
In March 1998, McNulty joined forces with MGA Entertainment to develop a new movie about Waco. MGA, based in Fort Collins, Colo., was established in 1996 to make family and children's films for television.
"We decided to make this documentary because there were too many unanswered questions," said Rick Van Vleet, MGA president. His son, Jason, is director of the film. Van Vleet said the new movie, "Waco: The New Revelation," will be advertised for sale on television, in newspapers and magazines and on the Internet. He said it will be shown in theaters early next year. A private showing is planned for Washington sometime next month, and Danforth will be among those invited.
McNulty said the new movie would contain more information about the gunfight he says took place between the Davidians and the authorities on the last day of the siege. He said it would show the participants and explain why it happened. He also said the movie would show how the raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Feb. 28, 1993 -- in which four agents were killed -- turned into a gunfight.
"The first shots were fired by the BATF," McNulty said. "The evidence shows that while the BATF fired first, it wasn't at people."
During the 1994 criminal trial of Branch Davidian survivors, ATF agents testified that the Branch Davidians shot at them first. But there was other testimony that federal agents first shot and killed the Branch Davidians' dogs as the agents approached the front of the complex. Seven of 11 Branch Davidians on trial for murder were convicted on lesser charges ranging from voluntary manslaughter to weapons violations. Four were acquitted on all charges.
Jason Van Vleet said his office was cooperating with Danforth's investigators.
He is critical of the news media's coverage of Waco.
"We have seen a one-sided story that focused on whatever the ATF or the FBI wanted us to know and the news reported it," Van Vleet said.
"One-sided" is a criticism that some have leveled at "Waco: The Rules of Engagement." There is little of the government's explanation for what happened in the film, which is heavy with the Branch Davidians' interpretation of events. And after McNulty spoke recently to college students in Colorado about the new film, some of them said he sounded more like an infomercial trying to make money by promoting the movie rather than a fact-finder trying to get at the truth.
"It's going to have to go a ways before it ever sees a profit," McNulty said. Rick Van Vleet has said the film will cost about $1 million to produce.
McNulty, 53, is the father of five children and has three grandchildren. A former commercial insurance broker, he has also worked in public relations. He has no journalistic background but worked in the campaigns of Democratic candidates in California, including one of Jerry Brown's campaigns for governor. He now lives in Colorado and leads an organization called Citizens Organization for Public Safety. He describes it as a loose-knit group of people concerned about public safety issues.
He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and later came to oppose it. McNulty said he had been a Democrat "many years ago when I was young and passionate. I'm a Republican now."
"Waco has been spun and played by both the Democrats and Republicans as being right or left," McNulty said. "It's not about right or left. It's about right and wrong."
"May trial likely for Davidians' suit Study of infrared tapes continues"
by Lee Hancock, ("The Dallas Morning News", October 16, 1999)
WACO - The Branch Davidians' massive wrongful-death lawsuit against the government probably will go to trial in May, lawyers said Friday after a closed-door conference with the federal judge overseeing the case.
And in Washington, congressional staffers, scientific experts and investigators from the Waco independent counsel's office went to FBI headquarters Friday to review original videotapes recorded by airborne FBI infrared cameras during the final hours of the 1993 standoff, a bureau official said.
Among the group allowed to study the FBI's original film in a frame-by-frame analysis Friday was an expert retained by the House Government ReformCommittee.
The expert, Carlos Ghigliotti, told The Washington Post this month that his preliminary study of copies of the infrared tape had determined that it contained evidence of government gunfire against the Branch Davidians on April 19, 1993.
FBI officials have adamantly denied that their agents fired a single shot during the Branch Davidian siege. They have maintained that the bursts of white flashes appearing repeatedly on the infrared videotapes are not gunfire.
Mr. Ghigliotti, a scientist with Infrared Technologies of Laurel, Md., could not be reached for comment Friday. A spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee declined to comment.
Two former Defense Department infrared experts hired by lawyers for the Branch Davidians have also concluded that the bursts of white flashes that erupted both from the compound windows and from areas around FBI tanks could have come only from gunfire.
The allegation is central to the pending wrongful-death lawsuit. Lawyers for the Branch Davidians have alleged that government personnel deliberately caused the deaths of sect leader David Koresh and more than 80 followers.
They died when their compound burned six hours after the FBI began assaulting it with tear gas and tanks in a bid to end the 51-day standoff. Government lawyers have vehemently denied that the FBI's actions played any role in the compound fire or the Branch Davidians' deaths.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. is expected to set a trial date next week.
But lawyers on both sides indicated that it will take months to turn over thousands of pages of government documents to the Branch Davidians' lawyers, obtain expert examination of tons of evidence from the wrecked compound and complete expert analysis of the hundreds of video and audio tapes amassed during the siege.
Michael Caddell, lead lawyer for the Branch Davidians, said he has offered to conduct field tests with airborne infrared cameras and guns similar to those deployed with government agents in Waco. But he said the government has refused all requests for technical specifications of its infrared cameras that would ensure the accuracy of the field tests.
They and other government critics say technical information about the make of the camera used by the FBI would allow independent experts to conclusively determine what caused the repeated white flashes on the April 19 infrared videotape.
"We think we've found a camera that's similar, and we're going to do it anyway. We're going to invite anybody that wants to attend. The message is, we are so confident that this is gunfire, that we have nothing to hide," he said. "We're willing to put everything out there, unlike the government."
Although such cameras are commercially available in the United States, FBI officials and Justice Department officials have said information on the FBI's infrared camera used at the siege is classified.
Within the past week, one official said, some within the bureau have tried to persuade government lawyers to allow the release of information about the infrared video and government experts' assessment that the flashes could not possibly be gunfire. The official said that might quiet growing questions from the media and from Congress on the issue.
"We're getting torn up on this," the FBI official said. "Everything that's done or not being done is in preparation for litigation. That seems to be controlling."
Friday's status conference in Waco was attended not only by lawyers involved in the case but by representatives from the office of independent counsel John Danforth and a Senate congressional investigator.
Both the independent counsel's staff and the congressional investigator left without comment.
A few hours before the meeting, government lawyers filed a report indicating that it may take three months to turn over all evidence and governmentdocuments relating to the standoff to the federal court in Waco.
Judge Smith issued an unprecedented order in August instructing the government to find and surrender anything in its possession even remotely relating to the case.
Government lawyers initially tried to fight the order but decided last month not to appeal after the judge refused to narrow his demand.
But in a 15-page status report filed Friday with the court, the Justice Department's lawyers appeared to be trying to renew their complaint about the huge scope of the production order.
"As detailed below, this unprecedented review and production has placed an enormous burden," the report states. It then details an effort already costing more than $400,000 and requiring the full-time services of more than 60 attorneys, paralegals and secretaries in more than a dozen government agencies.
In the Defense Department alone,the report notes, a new copying center has been set up and staffed with active duty military lawyers and other personnel. They are processing more than 30,000 pages of unclassified materials and more than 5,000 pages of classified documents.
The "sensitivity" of the secret documents has required an extensive security review and the imposition of special security measures for the Waco court, the report states.
Completing reviews and copying of all government documents could take three more months, the report says.
Friday's government pleadings also asked the judge not to consider any public or media requests for access to the government's Waco documents.
Federal courts are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, and each of the federal agencies that have forwarded the documents will retain copies to respond to such requests, the government filing noted.
"The United States respectfully asks that any . . . requests for access to records submitted to the court be referred to a contact point to be designated by . . . [the Department of Justice]," the report states.
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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