by Michelle Mittelstadt (Associated Press, February 15, 2000)
WACO, Texas (AP) - News organizations asked a federal judge Tuesday to open to the public an upcoming field test that is likely to resolve the key outstanding question from the Branch Davidian siege: whether federal agents fired on the compound in the final fiery moments.
In a motion, lawyers for The Dallas Morning News and The Associated Press argued that the public's interest in the case trumps any secrecy claims that the government could assert concerning its conduct during the 51-day standoff.
But the request appears unlikely to be granted by U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who last week rejected a request by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to open the test.
``I am advised that for national security and safety reasons, access will be strictly limited,'' Smith wrote in a Feb. 8 letter. ``Neither the media nor the public will be permitted to attend.'' The question of government gunfire is the focus of a Waco reinvestigation by Congressional committees, the special counsel appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno and Branch Davidian survivors suing the government.
Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died in an inferno at their compound near Waco, ending the standoff with members of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Some died from fire, others from gunshots. The government has said all along that the sect members were responsible for their own deaths.
Smith is presiding over the wrongful death lawsuit, which is due to go to trial in mid-May.
The judge, who ordered the field test, was to meet with lawyers, scientists and special counsel John Danforth on Wednesday in St. Louis to iron out details. The test is expected to take place at Fort Hood early next month.
The government long has insisted that none of its agents fired their weapons. But the Branch Davidian plaintiffs, backed by infrared experts, contend that aerial surveillance footage the FBI filmed captured bursts of light that can be nothing other than gunfire - a claim the government denies.
The airplane and infrared camera used by the FBI to record surveillance footage during the 1993 standoff will be used for the upcoming field test, as will a similarly equipped British Royal Navy helicopter. Weapons like those carried by federal agents and the Davidians during the siege will be fired during the field test. Footage recorded from the two aircraft will then be compared with the 1993 video to determine if the bursts of light represent gunfire.
Issues surrounding the siege and its deadly end continue to be of enormous interest to the public, Dallas attorney Paul Watler argued in Tuesday's filing on behalf of The Dallas Morning News and the AP. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Waco Tribune-Herald also planned to press the case for public access.
``Shrouding the test in secrecy serves only to undermine the public's confidence in any such findings or conclusions,'' the news organizations said in the filing.
by William H. Freivogel and Terry Ganey ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", February 15, 2000)
A tank will run over debris. Water will be sprayed on the ground to increase the moisture content. An unusual grenade launcher will be fired. Aluminum siding and crushed glass will be tested for reflection of sunlight.
These methods are part of the tentative plan for recreating the conditions of the Waco siege in order to answer a key question: What caused the more than 100 flashes that show up on the infrared tape that the FBI shot of the 1993 Waco siege? The Branch Davidians say the flashes are government gunfire. The FBI has said none of its agents fired weapons.
Michael Caddell, the lawyer for the Branch Davidians, said that the court-ordered test next month at Fort Hood, Texas, will create two databases. One will describe the characteristics of the flashes on the infrared tape of the April 19, 1993, siege as it was shot from an FBI surveillance aircraft. The other database will contain the characteristics of the flashes produced by guns, flash-bang grenades and debris as they are recorded at next month's test by infrared cameras at Fort Hood.
A comparison between the two databases should provide some answers as to the source of the flashes on the 1993 tape. Was it government gunfire as the Branch Davidians claim or simply glint from the sun? Here are some of the imponderables and how the draft test plan is approaching them:
Could falling debris have caused the flashes?
Many of the flashes appear near where a converted tank is knocking down the Branch Davidians' gym.
Caddell says the test will include a comprehensive study of the flashes that could have been caused by aluminum siding, insulation, glass, water and other debris. These materials may cause flashes, Caddell admits, but says they would not cause the rhythmic flashes on the tape.
One part of the test of the debris will feature a tank rolling over the debris to see if the exhaust heats the particles enough that they show up as flashes on the tape.
What guns were fired?
Caddell said he was pleased that both sides have agreed to include more weapons in the testing, including an unusual weapon, the Mark-19 grenade launcher. Caddell's expert, former Pentagon analyst Edward Allard, says that the Mark-19 is the only weapon that could have fired as fast as 375 rounds a minute - the rate at which he has computed for some of the flashes.
What was the moisture content of the soil?
The plan for the test includes a proposal to spray water on the ground at Fort Hood to make it similar to the moisture content of the soil at Waco in April 1993. This has created some controversy over whether the added moisture would mask the flashes.
Other atmospheric conditions are important as well. The plan for the test calls for the wind speed to be about 20 knots, close to the speed of the day of the assault.
Could an airborne infrared camera record gunfire on the ground?
The two sides have disagreed over how high the FBI surveillance plane was flying the day of the siege. The test could be conducted at different altitudes.
Of the 100 flashes seen on the 1993 tape, about two-thirds are from the complex where Branch Davidians were firing on government tanks. The remaining flashes could understate the amount of gunfire, if it is gunfire. Out of a dozen shots in a burst of automatic weapons fire, an airborne camera would only pick up three or four, experts say.
by William H. Freivogel and Terry Ganey ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", February 15, 2000)
News organizations have gone to court to open next month's scientific re-enactment of the Waco siege -- and today's meeting in St. Louis to plan it.
Lawyers, experts, a federal judge and Special Counsel John C. Danforth are gathering behind closed doors today at Danforth's office to plan the test for determining if the FBI fired at the Branch Davidians during the 1993 siege.
Already this week, the secrecy of the meeting and test have led to two court actions, a spate of Internet criticism from those who fear the worst about Waco and a strong rebuke from one investigator for the Branch Davidians.
Michael Caddell, a lawyer for the Branch Davidians, attended a preliminary meeting in Danforth's office Tuesday and said afterward that the parties at the session made "good progress" and would probably reconsider today the decision to close the test.
Attorneys for Pulitzer Inc., owner of the Post-Dispatch, filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. on Tuesday seeking permission to attend the unclassified portion of today's meeting. Smith is the judge from Waco who is presiding over the wrongful death suit filed by the Branch Davidians against the government.
When Smith did not act on the motion, the Post-Dispatch went to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans asking the appeals court to prohibit Smith from holding today's meeting. The appeals court turned down the request late Tuesday.
In another court action, the Dallas Morning News and The Associated Press sought to open the test. Judge Smith told the Post-Dispatch on Monday that the test would be closed because of national security concerns expressed by the British government, which is furnishing the infrared camera to be used in the test. The test is designed to see if an airborne infrared camera detects groundfire as flashes, like those that appear on the FBI's infrared tape of the Waco assault on April 19, 1993.
The Post-Dispatch motion seeking access to today's meeting said that the public interest in the Waco controversy is great and that "closing documents and a hearing scheduled to resolve issues relating to one of the central unanswered questions will undermine public confidence in the integrity of the judicial process. . . . The public has a paramount interest . . . in the open workings of government, particularly when, as here, there is a lawsuit involving an alleged cover-up." The newspaper cited Supreme Court decisions recognizing a First Amendment right to access to pretrial hearings and proceedings in civil cases. Before a judge can close a hearing, the court must "both articulate the interest it seeks to protect and make findings specific enough to permit a reviewing court to determine whether the closure order was properly entered." Smith did not do that, the newspaper said.
It was Danforth's office that informed reporters they would be denied access to the meeting. He refused to say why.
The Post-Dispatch asked for copies of the draft and final scientific protocols for the test.
The motion filed by the Dallas Morning News and The Associated Press said that opening the test at Fort Hood would "assist the public in gaining a greater understanding of the events surrounding the Branch Davidian raid, including whether government agents fired shots on April 19, 1993." The news organizations said that "the presence of the media at the field test will provide an independent and objective source of information for the public concerning the field test and the reliability of any findings or conclusions. Shrouding the test in secrecy serves only to undermine the public's confidence in any such findings or conclusions." The news organizations argued that allowing the press to view the test did not threaten military secrets. The equipment that will be used is the same as that used at Waco in 1993, and the press would be no closer to it in the re-enactment than it was during the original event. A spokesman for the British government confirmed Tuesday that it had insisted that the test be closed as part of the agreement to provide a GEC Marconi infrared camera that is almost identical to the one used Waco. That camera is mounted in a British helicopter that will be used for the test. An FBI aircraft with a more modern version of the infrared camera will also record gunfire from a variety of weapons fired on the ground.
Gordon Novel, the unhappy Branch Davidian investigator, said that he was told he could not come to today's meeting because he is not an expert. He is an investigator for Ramsey Clark and was the first person to spot flashes on the FBI's infrared tape.
Novel objected to the secrecy of the test and said the Branch Davidians should know the specifications and optics of the camera being used. "There is nothing top secret about the camera."
(Editorial, "The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", February 15, 2000)
FROM the moment David Koresh's Waco compound went up in flames on April 19, 1993, the whole truth of what happened has eluded the public.
Even questions as basic as, "Who was present?" have taken years to ferret out.
Today in St. Louis, there will be a meeting to plan a re-enactment that may help determine whether the FBI fired shots at the Branch Davidians. U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. ordered that the test, and even the meeting, be closed to the public and the press, ostensibly for national security reasons.
The Associated Press and parent companies of the Post-Dispatch and the Dallas Morning News newspapers filed motions Tuesday afternoon to allow the press to attend unclassified portions of today's meeting, and also next month's test at Fort Hood, Texas. Incredibly, special counsel John C. Danforth would not even say why today's meeting was secret. That, too, is a secret.
If one of the key questions of the investigation of the deaths of 80 Branch Davidians is whether or not the government covered up possible wrongdoing, the smart and ethical move is to err on the side of disclosure, not secrecy.
There are ways of compromising that would protect truly secret information and the public's right to know what our government did that day in Waco. Cameras could be banned, as they are from many court rooms. Press attendance could be limited to a small number of pool reporters who have undergone FBI background checks. Such groups pool information and share it with all members of the press. All regular White House reporters, and many other Washington journalists, have such FBI clearance.
Cooperation between the press and the government on matters that threaten national security has been deteriorating since the Vietnam War. There, for the first time, satellite technology brought home -- live and in color -- a war that became more unpopular with each grisly new film clip. In subsequent American military actions, including the Gulf War, members of the press have been kept further and further from battles, and given briefings instead. As the years have gone by and the information highway has widened, the government has seemed more aggressive in classifying actions and documents as top secret.
But this is not even a war between Americans and a foreign enemy. It has developed into a battle between the government and its citizens, for the simple truth. Seven years of uncertainty are too many. If there is one thing the Waco ordeal could benefit from, it's less secrecy.
by William H. Freivogel and Terry Ganey ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", February 15, 2000)
The public and the press will be barred from next month's test to determine whether the FBI fired on the Branch Davidians during the 1993 siege near Waco, Texas. The public will also be barred from Wednesday's meeting to plan the test.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. told the Post-Dispatch Monday that reporters would not be able to attend the test.
"For national security and safety reasons, access will be strictly limited," he wrote. "Neither the media nor the public will be permitted to attend." In a brief interview Monday, Smith said the decision was not his.
"You have two governments here, and the British government is the one with the national security concerns," he said.
A British helicopter and infrared camera are being used in the re-enactment to determine whether they record gunfire as flashes. Flashes appear on an infrared videotape taken of the complex on the day of the assault, April 19, 1993.
Smith is on his way to St. Louis today to prepare for Wednesday's meeting where participants will iron out how the test will be conducted.
Special Counsel John C. Danforth refused to say why the meeting is closed. "He is telling me that our response is 'No response,'" said Jan Diltz, Danforth's spokeswoman.
The decisions to close the test and the meeting about the test ran into strong criticism on Monday from legal and constitutional experts and from lawyers for those Branch Davidians who survived the 1993 siege and are suing the government.
Paul McMasters, the First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum in Arlington, Va., noted that the government had pushed back the press before the ill-fated assault on the complex in 1993.
"If the press had been allowed to cover the actual event, we might not be having to go through a court case and a government investigation seven years later," said McMasters, the former managing editor of the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader.
"It seems to me that to keep the press away from a test ordered by the court and the Office of Special Counsel is just replicating one of the more dangerous aspects of the original tragedy, and that is to assume that the press can't play a vital role just by observing.
"Not only does the public have a real vested interest in the full matter, it may well be that there are people with knowledge who can contribute to the success of the test but won't know about it or won't know how it is being conducted." McMasters said that relying on the use of British equipment to explain why the test is closed seems to be more of a "cover story" than a good reason for keeping the press out.
Bruce LaPierre, a constitutional law expert at Washington University, said the "First Amendment presumption is that the government is open to public scrutiny. There ought to be a reason before the government restricts access. But no one has told you what the reason is." The Supreme Court has ruled that the press has a First Amendment right to attend legal proceedings unless the government states an overriding interest in secrecy.
Legal issues aside, LaPierre said that closing the Wednesday session was a political blunder.
"Wouldn't it promote public confidence if there were public scrutiny, particularly where some people think that the government is involved in a conspiracy?" he said. "Why would you play into the hands of the people who think this is a conspiracy? It is counterproductive." LaPierre said Danforth and the court could probably come up with national security reasons to close the portion of the Wednesday meeting that deals with classified information about the type of infrared camera to be used. But it would be harder for the government to justify closing the unclassified portion of the meeting, he added.
Ronald Levin, a Washington University law professor and an expert on court procedures, said the Wednesday meeting is unusual because it is being held in Danforth's office instead of the judge's.
Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Danforth last summer to investigate the Waco incident. He has the power to file criminal charges. But he intervened in the civil lawsuit between the Branch Davidian survivors and the government to ask Judge Smith to order the Waco re-enactment. The judge complied.
As a result, the meeting on Wednesday has both the trappings of a meeting of a prosecutor's staff and a pretrial hearing in court. A meeting of a prosecutor's staff can be kept secret, but pretrial proceedings are generally open.
Levin said that judges have broad discretion to keep information confidential but that such power is limited by the First Amendment.
Michael Caddell, the lawyer for the Branch Davidians, blamed the Justice Department for the secrecy.
"I know that obviously the government was adamantly opposed to having anyone present," he said. "I think the judge probably erred on the side of caution. When you raise the specter of national security, it's kind of hard for a judge to say no to that. It's a trump card that gets pulled out, and frankly, there is little he can do. It would be beneficial for the press . . . to observe the test. People will be comforted by the fact that we have gone to great lengths to conduct a fair and thorough demonstration." A spokesman for the Justice Department had no immediate comment.
by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", February 14, 2000)
A military scientist told Justice Department lawyers in 1996 that the FBI's infrared camera was capable of recording gunshots at Waco. But the government never pursued his proposal for tests to determine whether gunfire caused repeated flashes recorded at the end of the Branch Davidian siege, officials said.
The scientist, a U.S. Air Force research physicist, was recently questioned by U.S. Senate and House committees and the Waco special counsel's office re-examining the government's handling of the deadly 1993 standoff, said federal officials familiar with his interviews.
Justice officials declined to discuss the matter.
The scientist recounted how his "back of the envelope" mathematical modeling and lab studies found a small but significant statistical probability that flashes on the FBI's infrared videotape came from gunfire, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The scientist recalled that Justice lawyers did not contact him after he told them that he could not rule out gunfire and recommended field tests to help resolve the issue, the officials said. The scientist declined to be interviewed. Defense Department officials asked that investigators keep his name confidential because of his ongoing work on sensitive military projects.
Justice officials tried last fall - three years after the scientist made his recommendations - to discredit and derail proposals for a public field test.
Despite those efforts, the Waco federal judge overseeing a wrongful-death lawsuit arising from the 1993 tragedy ordered a court-supervised field test. It will be conducted next month at Fort Hood, and all sides in the case will gather with experts Wednesday to finalize protocols.
The spokesman for the House committee re-examining the standoff said the Justice Department's handling of the Air Force scientist's recommendations and the recent field test proposals are the latest examples of what appears to be a long effort to avoid full disclosure of government actions in Waco.
"This goes back to 1996. That's three years after the tragedy at Waco," committee spokesman Mark Corallo said. "So here we are, three years after the fact, with still unanswered questions, and the Justice Department somehow decided not to get the answers." "The perception is that they don't want to get to the bottom of this. Whatever their reasons are, the message that it sends to the public is one of cover-up and obfuscation," said Mr. Corallo, whose committee held extensive 1995 Waco hearings and began a new inquiry last fall. "Why not just do everything they can to answer the questions and put this case to rest?" Work 'privileged' Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said he could not talk about the scientist's work because "the expert to whom you are referring is a consultant. His work is therefore privileged." Under court rules that protect attorneys' work, government lawyers do not have to divulge information about the Air Force scientist's work unless they plan to call him as a witness.
The scientist's study surfaced last month when Pentagon officials brought it to the attention of congressional investigators and Waco special counsel John Danforth.
The scientist was questioned at Mr. Danforth's St. Louis office and interviewed in Washington.
Officials familiar with his account said he told investigators that he was working at the National Air Intelligence Center in late 1996 when he was contacted by Justice Department lawyers. The center, part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, evaluates foreign military technology. The FBI has refused to release the make or model of the infrared camera deployed on its "Nightstalker" airplane in Waco, but outside experts and British Defense Ministry officials have identified it as a British-made GEC-Marconi.
The Justice lawyers told the Air Force scientist in late 1996 that they needed help in evaluating repeated, rhythmic flashes on a videotape recorded by an airborne FBI infrared camera April 19, 1993, the last day of the Branch Davidian siege.
Opinion came in 1996
A retired defense expert had given the sect's lawyers a written opinion in March 1996 that the flashes could have come only from government gunfire. That declaration was filed in September 1996 in the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit.
Many of the flashes on the video that the plaintiff's expert called gunfire appeared around government tanks that were bashing into the sect's building and spraying in tear gas. Others appeared to come from compound windows, toward the tanks.
FBI agents began the assault just after dawn April 19 to end the 51-day standoff. Less than an hour after the flashes began appearing, the compound burned with more than 80 Branch Davidians inside.
The Branch Davidians' lawyers allege that the flashes came from government gunfire that kept women and children from escaping the fire.
FBI officials have always said that their agents never fired a shot. They contend that the government was not responsible for the standoff's deadly end because government arson investigators ruled that the sect deliberately set the fire.
The scientist told interviewers that Justice lawyers never showed him the April 19 video. But they gave him detailed data on the camera that recorded it and the altitude of the airplane that carried it over the compound.
Details of experiment
Officials said the scientist recalled being asked a theoretical question: Could that camera, which creates video images by measuring minute temperature differences, capture heat bursts from gunfire on the ground at Waco? The scientist told officials that he began with a mathematical study and concluded that the camera could detect and record muzzle flashes at Waco. He then moved to a laboratory, using a similar camera to record test shots from a 9 mm pistol, an M-16 assault rifle and an M-60 machine gun. He monitored each shot with lab equipment, measuring the size, intensity and duration of each muzzle blast, officials said.
With that lab data, he extrapolated that the FBI couldn't see the pistol fire. But he concluded that flashes from the other guns were big, bright and long enough for at least some of their shots to be detected by the FBI camera.
He offered the opinion shared by independent infrared experts that the camera's capabilities would allow detection of only a fraction of any series of shots fired. Some experts with extensive experience in infrared analysis have said they would expect about 50 of any 100 shots to be detected and recorded by the type of camera used in Waco.
The Air Force scientist, who had not previously done infrared such as the M-16 or the M-60.
Field test proposed
Some FBI agents in the April 19 operation carried CAR-15 assault rifles, short-barreled versions of the M-16. That could prove important, some experts said, because the muzzle flash of a CAR-15 extends almost a foot from its barrel, while the M-16 flash extends a few inches.
"If an M-16 could show up, then a CAR-15 would be even more likely to be detected. The blast from a CAR-15 looks like a blowtorch," one expert said.
The Air Force scientist told the Justice lawyers that he could not rule out the possibility that gunfire caused at least some of the flashes on the Waco infrared tape, officials familiar with his account said. He proposed a field test as the next logical step. But Justice never responded.
"He said that he had offered a test protocol. They neglected it and ignored him," said one official who questioned the scientist.
In the spring of 1997, Justice and FBI officials hired a Maryland research laboratory as infrared experts for the Branch Davidian case after the lab issued public statements and a short study attempting to debunk the flashes-as-gunfire theory.
The Maryland lab used computer modeling developed for a ground-based sniper detection system to conclude that the FBI camera was too far away and that the flashes on the Waco video lasted too long to be from gunshots.
Officials with the lab did not return phone calls last week, but its director said last fall that the conclusions of a more detailed confidential study for the government mirrored the earlier assessment.
Independent experts have questioned that analysis. They have estimated that the April 19 video was recorded from an altitude of about 5,000 feet, within range to detect gun blasts from CAR-15s, from .50-caliber sniper rifles owned by the Branch Davidians and from other types of high-powered weapons.
Some have also questioned whether the Maryland lab had the expertise to analyze the Waco video because its earlier work was in different infrared technology, and their detection system was not pursued by U.S. military officials after the lab built prototypes in the mid-1990s.
The Waco case drew renewed national attention last fall after The Dallas Morning News reported that the FBI had misled the public, Congress and Attorney General Janet Reno about the type of tear gas used in its final assault. Although Ms. Reno had banned the use of anything capable of sparking fires that day, a retired FBI official acknowledged canisters April 19.
That prompted the appointment of Mr. Danforth as special counsel to investigate the Waco incident.
He identified the question of government gunfire as a major focus of his inquiry.
In October, the sect's lawyers challenged the government to a public field test to settle the issue. They proposed that cameras similar to the FBI device be flown above a firing range to record test shots from weapons similar to those carried by both sides in the Waco siege. Those recordings would with the April 19 tape.
Justice fights back
Government lawyers responded with letters ridiculing the idea. They said that any test would be flawed without data on the FBI's camera and how it operated in Waco, information that Justice lawyers said was classified and would not be released.
But in November, the special counsel asked the Waco federal court to order and supervise tests. The stated reason was simple: While Justice Department lawyers dismissed the Branch Davidians' proposal, FBI officials had offered a private, "accurate" field re-enactment for the special counsel.
Even after Judge Walter Smith ordered a test, Justice lawyers filed a pleading in late November arguing that any field test would be unreliable and inadmissible in court.
They said the FBI camera was one of a kind and had been significantly upgraded since 1993, making an accurate test impossible. They added that it would also be impossible to replicate environmental conditions of April 19.
Justice lawyers instead proposed theoretical studies to explore what gunfire might look like and whether it would show up at all - the same kind of analysis that federal officials said the Air Force physicist had conducted in 1996 before proposing a field test.
Help from overseas
In late December, the Waco special counsel's office filed a court pleading stating that it had learned from the maker of the FBI camera that it was a relatively common device still used by foreign military forces. That filing stated that the government had dropped its opposition and accepted a British infrared expert chosen by the special counsel as court-appointed supervisor for a field test.
In January, British government officials said, the special counsel asked to borrow a Royal Navy Sea Owl infrared system mounted on a Lynx helicopter for the court-ordered field test. Experts say the camera is identical to the FBI's 1993 device.
With plans for the test being finalized, some FBI officials say the bureau faces a no-win situation with the field test, and they believe the flashes on the Waco tape may never be explained.
FBI infrared camera operators conceded in recent depositions that they have never seen anything quite like the Waco flashes, but they believe they were caused by sunlight glints or electronic glitches.
The Air Force scientist who had proposed field tests in 1996 saw segments of the April 19 infrared video last month during his interviews with Waco investigators, officials familiar with the inquiries said. He told interviewers that he was skeptical but would not dismiss gunfire as a possible cause of at least some of the blips of light on the tape.
"He wouldn't say it was gunfire but he wouldn't rule it out. He couldn't rule it out," one official said. "It's certainly a reason for maintaining the question: What did cause those flashes and was it gunfire?" Quote for the day: Sometimes the world can tire and age us faster than we'd like. Look at the world through a child's eyes and see if you can't bring a little zest for living back into your life.
by William H. Freivogel and Terry Ganey ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", February 13, 2000)
An Air Force expert told the Justice Department in 1997 that he could not rule out the possibility that the FBI's infrared camera had recorded flashes of gunfire during the 1993 siege on the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, the Post-Dispatch has learned.
At the Justice Department's request, the expert, Capt. John Perry, used an infrared camera like the one used by the FBI at Waco, to see if it would record M-16 rifle fire as flashes. Sources said he concluded that he could not rule out the possibility that flashes on the tape were from gunfire without performing field tests. But the Justice Department did not ask him to go forward with those tests.
Lawyers for the Branch Davidians say that the Justice Department dropped Perry like a hot potato because it did not like his answers. The Justice Department denies it.
The story of Perry's test emerged last week as lawyers and experts packed their bags for St. Louis and Wednesday's meeting with special counsel John C. Danforth. The session is scheduled to work out the details of next month's test in Texas to determine if flashes on the infrared tape of the siege on April 19, 1993, could have been from government gunfire.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., who ordered the test, has insisted that the plan for the test remain secret for now. But the Post-Dispatch has learned two key elements: * The re-enactment will include knocking down a structure to see if flying debris could have produced the flashes on the tape. That is important because the flashes on the tape occur near to a spot where a converted government tank was bulldozing a wall. Both sides say that building material from a heated structure can show up as a bright spot on infrared tape.
* The two test aircraft that will record gunfire on the ground will fly at various altitudes, partly because of disagreement over how high the FBI surveillance plane was flying at the time of the siege.
The dozens of flashes on the infrared tape have emerged so far as the most powerful evidence of possible government wrongdoing during the siege that ended in the death of about 80 Branch Davidians. The government contends that none of its agents fired and that the Branch Davidians died in a fire they had set.
Determining whether the flashes are gunfire is central to Danforth's investigation and to the upcoming trial in Judge Smith's court in Waco. Branch Davidians are suing the government, claiming the deaths were caused by government wrongdoing.
The dispute about the flashes began about the time that the Justice Department asked Perry to perform his tests at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, in 1997.
Sources say Marie L. Hagen, the Justice Department lawyer defending against the wrongful death suit, contacted Perry to ask for the initial tests. Perry used a GEC Marconi infrared camera, like the one used by the FBI at Waco, to tape M-16 rifle fire. He found that groundfire might turn up as a flash on the tape. But that is where the matter ended.
Perry, now at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, would not comment Friday. Myron Marlin, the Justice Department's spokesman, said he could not comment because Perry's report was a "client work product and was privileged." Michael Caddell, the Branch Davidians' lawyer, criticizes the Justice Department, saying it covered up information about the 1997 test.
"What we think we will be faced with is frankly a cover-up of unprecedented proportions in our government," he said.
But Justice Department sources suggest that Perry was not asked to perform additional tests because the Branch Davidian case had seemed at the time to be winding down.
Last week, congressional investigators also sought to discredit a 1997 analysis of the infrared tape by the Maryland Advanced Development Laboratory, a defense contractor. The company is one of the experts that the Justice Department may use in the upcoming wrongful death trial.
The Maryland lab analyzed the 1993 infrared tape using its VIPER anti-sniper computer program. The program can pick out small arms fire in an infrared scene. The lab concluded that the flashes on the Waco tape were not gunfire, partly because they were too long in duration.
Now congressional investigators say that the VIPER system is not that reliable and that the Maryland lab did not use the GEC Marconi camera in its test. Nor did the lab fire the short-barreled CAR-15 assault rifle that the FBI used at Waco. That is significant, they say, because the CAR-15 has a bigger, more visible plume of gas than the M-16 used by the lab.
Norris J. Krone Jr., president of the lab, discounted the criticism and said that his firm had performed more recent tests that confirmed its earlier findings. "We have no ax to grind on this thing," Krone said. "We got into this voluntarily in 1997 when we saw a Washington Post story about the flashes. We had spent four years developing the VIPER specifically to determine what was gunfire in an infrared scene and what wasn't." Krone said the computer program was designed to pick out any kind of weapon that a sniper might use, including a CAR-15.
Krone said it was crucial to "recreate the exact same situation" in next month's court reenactment, including the destruction of the building. "We have seen in our testing over the years lots of cases where you see flashes on infrared tape that could be mistaken for gunfire - a building falling down amplifies the opportunity for false alarms."
by Mark England ("The Waco Tribune-Herald", February, 12, 2000)
Trying to piece together how Branch Davidian Jimmy Riddle died hasn't proved an easy task. A pathologist hired last year by his family found many of Riddle's bones missing.
"What's missing are all the bones that would help answer questions about his death," said Dr. Ronald Graeser, who has since retired as a pathologist and now practices family medicine in Michigan. "The cadaver was in a body bag. It appeared that someone had gone in and taken out the key bones." In his autopsy notes, Graeser stated that the missing bones in question were "clearly seen or described as being present in the original autopsy." Riddle was one of David Koresh's most ardent followers. He was arrested with Koresh and six other Davidians in 1987 after a gunfight with the late George Roden, who lost a power struggle for control of the group to Koresh. A McLennan County jury later found Riddle not guilty of attempted murder.
He died on April 19, 1993 at Mount Carmel along with Koresh and 74 other Davidians.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner ruled that Riddle died from a gunshot wound. There were two bullet wounds in his forehead, one having evidence of soot deposits - indicative of a close-contact wound.
The original autopsy also reported some bones missing.
Riddle's right arm and shoulder were noted as being absent. Part of his skull was also gone. Medical examiners described Riddle's body as having suffered "global charring with body mutilation." The mutilation has been attributed by some people to a tank running over Riddle's body. In "Waco: Rules of Engagement," attention is called to infrared video that the documentary claims shows a tank running over a body and part of a jacket caught up in the tank's treads.
Shreds of a jacket were found on Riddle, according to the original autopsy.
There has been speculation that Riddle was shot while outside Mount Carmel, run over by a tank, then his body scooped up and deposited inside the burning compound.
However, apparently none of the surviving Davidians actually saw Riddle outside the building.
"There have been a lot of conflicting stories," said attorney Kirk Lyons, who represents Misty Ferguson, Riddle's niece and a fire survivor, and others in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the government. "I've not seen any hard evidence he was outside. I heard that Derek Lovelock (a fire survivor) had said Jimmy was. I represent Derek, so I asked him if Jimmy was outside the building. He said, 'I've heard that, too.' But, no, he didn't see him." In a new twist, depositions given by FBI agents in connection with the lawsuit reveal a hunt for a person seen at the rear of Mount Carmel about 9 a.m. on April 19. That would have been three hours after the FBI began inserting tear gas through the compound walls. The pilot of the so-called Night Stalker testified he was ordered to try to focus the FBI's infrared camera on the individual. The pilot of a surveillance airplane also said he was asked to make a sweep over the compound. A tactical squad and helicopter were also dispatched to look for the person, according to an audio tape played during the depositions.
The Justice Department did not return numerous calls seeking information on the outcome of the search.
"The official explanation is that they never found anyone," said Mike Caddell, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "But given all the other lies, it's hard to know what to make of that. Certainly someone saw something that justified dispatching a helicopter and a Hostage Rescue Team. You'd think they were trained well enough to distinguish between a person on foot and trash." There is a six-minute gap in the infrared video after the Hostage Rescue Team and helicopter are dispatched, Caddell said.
A radio log submitted by the government to Waco's federal court, where the lawsuit is set for trial on May 15, records the search for the person as starting at 9:03 a.m. At 9:14 a.m., the helicopter crew messaged that it could not find anyone and had landed.
During his questioning of the FBI agents, however, Caddell noted that audio tapes seemingly recorded reports of a man being down on the green side of Mount Carmel. The green side of Mount Carmel was the side nearest the water tower - roughly northeast, with the front of the compound pointed west.
"Did that sound like, 'Man down,' to you?" Caddell asked the Night Stalker pilot.
"It did sound like, 'Person down,'" the pilot said.
Other voices can be heard on the tape saying, "That's just great," and "On the green side," Caddell stated during the Night Stalker pilot's deposition.
Riddle was the last Davidian who died at Mount Carmel to be buried. His family took his body back to North Carolina after the second autopsy. Riddle's body had been released after the original autopsy to the Tarrant County Morticians Service and shipped to Waco for a pauper burial. However, Riddle's family and the CAUSE Foundation, now defunct, intervened and Riddle's body was returned to Fort Worth.
The Tarrant County Morticians Service stored the body for four years before Dr. Graeser performed the second autopsy on March 10, 1999.
Graeser, relying on the original autopsy, listed the entire right innominate (hip) bone, portions of the lower right ribs and the portions of the skull with the bullet wounds among the bones missing. He stated in his autopsy notes that the remaining bones showed evidence of mutilation.
He wrote that the remaining right rib bones showed "avulsion (fracture) type terminations of the missing bones rather than charred fragmented ends as would be caused solely by fire," and the lower spine showed fractures "consistent with tissue being torn away from them and carrying portions of the bone with that tissue." "Some of the evidence left is consistent with certain things, such as bones being torn," Graeser told the Tribune-Herald. "I can't prove how it was done. Too many key bones are missing." A spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Morticians Service said Riddle's body was stored in a hermetically sealed steel case that was not opened until the second autopsy.
The medical examiner's office did not return repeated calls asking for an interview.
It's unlikely the trial on the wrongful-death lawsuit will clear up the murkiness surrounding the death of Jimmy Riddle. Caddell doesn't plan to try to prove how individual Davidians died.
"From the standpoint of trying the lawsuit, if we can establish that tanks were used to demolish the building - and I think we've done that - any reasonable person could conclude that (Jeffrey) Jamar and (Richard) Rogers exceeded their authority," Caddell said. "With that and the gunfire, we have a couple of global causes that cut across all the deaths, creating a contributory cause. We don't have to single out an individual death and focus on it." Jamar was the FBI special agent in charge at Mount Carmel. Rogers headed the Hostage Rescue Team.
by Marcus Kabel (Reuters, February 10, 2000)
WACO, Texas (Reuters) - Volunteers erecting a new church on the wind-swept ruins of the Branch Davidian compound in central Texas Thursday sprayed the half-finished structure with flame retardent to prevent the kind of inferno that engulfed the original buildings and killed some 80 people.
Volunteers working for the small remaining Branch Davidian congregation in Waco, Texas, said the step is a precaution because of repeated threats against the revived church.
``We've had a lot of arson threats. One guy told us he wanted to walk through the ashes,'' said Alex Jones, an Austin, Texas-based radio talk show host who started the drive to build the church last September at the request of Branch Davidian survivors.
``These are good people. They've been demonized and there are a lot of crazies out there who buy into the government propaganda,'' he said.
Mike Hansen, an Austin contractor who has coordinated fund-raising for the project, held a news conference on the plot of ranchland to display the wooden frame of the 38 by 40 foot single-story church as it was sprayed with a high-tech liquid compound meant to stop flames.
``Anyone that saw how the old compound caught fire and quickly burned to the ground will understand our concerns,'' Hansen said.
The cause of the April 19, 1993, fire at the original Branch Davidian compound, which killed cult leader David Koresh and about 80 of his followers, remains hotly disputed nearly seven years after it broke out.
Federal agents, who laid siege to the compound for 51 days after an attempt to arrest Koresh on arms charges prompted a deadly gunbattle, have said the Branch Davidians started the blaze as the FBI moved in with tanks and armored vehicles to break down the walls and inject tear gas to force members outside.
The handful of surviving Branch Davidians and their supporters say federal agents caused the fire, a claim that has become a rallying point for anti-government activists and militias who see the siege at Waco as a case of police powers run amok.
The FBI acknowledged for the first time last year that it had fired tear gas grenades on April 19, 1993, that were capable of sparking a fire, but maintains the grenades were not the cause of the deadly blaze. The Justice Department in response appointed former U.S. Sen. John Danforth as a special counsel to investigate the siege and the government's actions.
Only about 20 Branch Davidians remain in the Waco area, member Thomas Cook said.
The new Branch Davidian church is being built on the site of the former compound's entry doors and chapel, near the front of the 77-acre property on a country road about 10 miles east of Waco.
The only remains of the old compound are cracked concrete foundations and a concrete swimming pool, now partly full of muddy rain water.
Memorial plaques describing the siege and the lay-out of the compound, as well as a trim plot of 82 markers with the names of the Branch Davidian victims, are scattered around the grassy acreage. A small visitors center stands on the driveway, housing a museum with photographs and pamphlets on the siege and the Branch Davidians.
Much of the coordination of work and donations is done through a Web site, http://www.rebuildthechurch.com.
Builders hope to have the church completed by the seventh anniversary of the fire, on April 19, 2000.
by Terry Ganey and William H . Freivogel ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", February 10, 2000)
Lawyers, scientists and a judge will meet in St. Louis next week to draft the blueprint for an unusual experiment that could prove pivotal in determining whether government agents fired on the Branch Davidian complex during the siege at Waco in 1993.
Because of the "top secret" nature of some of the information to be discussed at the meeting, the participants will need security clearances.
The closed-door session will take place Wednesday in the offices of special counsel John C. Danforth, whose staff has worked for months on plans to re-create conditions at the time of the assault, which ended with the deaths of about 80 people. The re-creation is designed to find out whether gunfire can be detected by an infrared camera.
The outcome of the test will be crucial not only to Danforth's investigation into what happened at Waco, but also to a wrongful death suit filed by survivors of the Branch Davidians against the government. The survivors' lawyers contend that the flashes recorded by an airborne FBI infrared surveillance camera show gunfire coming from government positions on April 19, the last day of the siege. FBI agents and Justice Department lawyers have said no FBI agents fired on the complex.
The meeting at 200 North Broadway is to iron out details of how the test will be conducted. The meeting will give the parties the opportunity to voice concerns they have about how the test will be conducted. If all goes according to schedule, the test will take place next month, probably on a firing range at Fort Hood, Texas.
Joining Danforth for the session will be U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., who will preside over the wrongful death trial in Waco in May. Representing the Branch Davidian survivors will be Michael Caddell, a lawyer from Houston, and two infrared experts, Fred S. Zegel and Edward Allard. Government lawyers and experts will also attend, but their identities were not available Wednesday.
Defense Department representatives will be present to answer questions about the test site, and FBI officials will discuss the agency's surveillance aircraft and the infrared system it now uses.
Also expected is David Oxlee of Vector Data Systems Inc., the company that Danforth selected and Judge Smith approved to act as a court-appointed expert for the test.
Vector Data Systems is a subsidiary of Anteon Corp. of Fairfax, Va., a major U.S. defense contractor. Among the services that Vector supplies are the design, development and installation of intelligence gathering systems. It has offices around the world. Oxlee works at the company's office near London.
Caddell said he was comfortable with Vector. "They won't have an agenda except to try and get at the truth," Caddell said. "That's what we are counting on. We are going to see flashes on the tape, and those flashes are going to be identical to those from April 19." Allard, Caddell's infrared expert, said he has read Vector's draft plan for the test and thinks it is "well laid out. These are retired RAF (Royal Air Force) pilots at Vector who have been testing this technology on Tornado bombers. I like the idea they are ex-military. They should recognize gunfire when they see it." Tom Schweich, Danforth's chief of staff, has been lining up the equipment that will be used for the test, including a British Navy helicopter equipped with a GEC Marconi camera like the one in the FBI Nightstalker surveillance plane that was at Waco.
Beyond the equipment, the parties have dozens of details to work out before the test can be conducted. They include: * Making sure the geometry is right. Experts say a correct test will require the same angles between the sun, the ground and the camera lens as they existed at the time of the event.
* Making sure the test camera is calibrated like the one that recorded the original event. Infrared tapes show temperature differences, with hotter objects appearing whiter and colder objects appearing darker. But the camera can be calibrated so that an object only a few degrees warmer looks hot.
* Testing all of the weapons that were available to government agents.
* Testing for false positives. In other words, could sources other than weapons have created the flashes? Glint from sunlight reflected off aluminum is one possibility.
One potential bone of contention is the Nightstalker's altitude. The government has said that the aircraft was at about 9,000 feet. Caddell thinks it was closer to 4,000 feet, based on a comparison of the April 19 surveillance tape with another recorded April 1.
Caddell says the size of the complex on the crucial April 19 tape makes it appear that it was shot from a much lower altitude. This is important because the heat from a rifle's muzzle flash would be more visible from 4,000 feet than from 9,000 feet.
Whether the flashes could be sunlight reflections is also an issue. The Justice Department once said the flashes were reflections. But it backed off after scientists said reflected sunlight does not have much energy in the long infrared wavelengths that the Marconi camera picks up. Thus, it would not show up as hot.
More recently, operators of the FBI's infrared camera at Waco have again raised the "glint" possibility in court depositions. Some scientists say that a reflection of the sun on aluminum or water might show up on an infrared tape if the reflection of the full globe of the sun is picked up by the camera.
Allard and Zegel have said the character of the flashes is consistent with what would be expected from small arms fire. An expert for the government, the Maryland Advanced Development Laboratory, used a computer program to analyze the flashes and determined their duration was too long to be gunfire.
Ed Friday, a principal scientist for System Planning Corp. of Arlington, Va., used a GEC Marconi camera to analyze gunfire in a test he performed in 1997 for The Washington Post. He put the camera 10 meters away from guns at a firing range. The camera recorded muzzle gasses, but not the short intense flash that appears on the Waco tapes.
No matter how careful the test, Danforth's expert may not be able to make a definitive finding. One infrared expert who is familiar with the Waco tapes but who doesn't want to be named put it this way: "You very likely won't have a final answer. As a scientist there are always going to be some things you might not be able to account for and it is not going to be a yes or no answer. Given the conditions ... I would not be willing to stand up and say that based on these tests I know exactly what is on those tapes."
by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", February 10, 2000)
The Waco special counsel has asked the Army to lend a small arsenal of firearms, tanks, camouflage gear and personnel for a March field test aimed at determining whether government agents fired guns at the end of the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff.
A Feb. 1 letter to the Pentagon from deputy special counsel Thomas A. Schweich stated that the planned test will require a wide array of military gear and personnel and a full week's access to a restricted Fort Hood firing range.
The office of independent counsel John Danforth has declined to answer questions about any aspect of its inquiry, including how it will conduct a scientific re-creation that could prove pivotal to the government and surviving Branch Davidians.
The special counsel's letter suggests that Mr. Danforth's investigators are planning an elaborate operation involving dozens of military personnel at the Central Texas military post.
Among the equipment sought is a 60-ton combat engineering vehicle, or CEV, similar to those used by FBI agents to bash the Branch Davidians' compound near Waco and spray in tear gas on April 19, 1993.
Also requested are two Bradley Fighting Vehicles, camouflage rain gear and fatigues, sniper suits "with face paint and appropriate vegetation adornment," ballistic helmets and Nomex fire-retardant flight suits.
The clothing would match gear worn by federal agents during the standoff.
The request also includes some weapons, including a .308-caliber sniper rifle, an M-16 assault rifle and shoulder-fired M-79 grenade launchers identical to those used by the FBI to lob both pyrotechnic and nonburning tear-gas canisters into the building on April 19.
The special counsel's request noted that "other weapons will be provided by the OSC [office of the special counsel] or the FBI." The office obtained a court order last year to take custody of and conduct ballistic tests on all FBI weapons used in Waco, including sniper rifles, short-barreled CAR-15 assault weapons and German-made MP5 machine guns.
The weapons will be used for repeated test shots that will be recorded by two airborne infrared cameras, one owned by the FBI and an identical system borrowed from the British Navy.
The recordings will be compared to the FBI's infrared videotape from April 19, a recording that included repeated rhythmic flashes that appeared to come from government positions in the hour before the compound burned.
Lawyers for the sect have alleged in a wrongful-death suit that government agents fired guns from positions around the combat engineering vehicle just before the compound fire. They allege that those gunshots kept innocent women and children from escaping the blaze, in which more than 80 Davidians perished.
Government officials have denied that anyone from their side fired a shot on April 19. They say the sect is solely responsible for the standoff's deadly end, noting that government arson investigators ruled that Davidians set the fires and that one fire survivor recently testified that he heard orders given to set the blaze just before it began.
They have also argued that the infrared camera was too far away to detect and record gunfire.
Experts hired by the sect and some independent analysts have disputed that, saying that at least some of the flashes have the distinct thermal characteristics of automatic gunfire.
Government officials have also tried to debunk the flashes-as-gunfire theory by noting that no gunmen are visible on the videotape, and the heat-sensing camera would have captured their body heat if they had been on the ground and firing weapons.
FBI agents in recent depositions have denied that anyone from their side fired guns or exited the tanks that day.
Lawyers for the sect and their experts have suggested that the body heat of gunmen might have been masked by body armor or camouflage clothing. Using clothing similar to that worn by government agents in 1993 for the Fort Hood camera test may be one way to resolve that issue.
A proposed protocol for the test, drawn up by a court-appointed British infrared expert selected by the special counsel's office, was sent this week to both sides in the lawsuit. But U.S. District Judge Walter Smith ordered the proposal to be kept secret. His order Monday also said the protocol will undergo final revisions after a Feb. 16 conference of lawyers and experts from both sides at the special counsel's office in St. Louis.
Mike Caddell, lead lawyer for the sect, said he received assurances on Wednesday that the final test plan will be made public.
"The whole point of keeping it confidential is so that no one will be upset or suspicious if it gets changed," he said. "I believe that the end document will be made public so that people can confirm for themselves that the test has been fair." He said he will seek some revisions to ensure proper calibration of the two forward-looking-infrared (FLIR) cameras and other equipment in the test.
One of the cameras that will be used in the test is the one the FBI used during the 1993 siege. It has been upgraded since the Waco incident, but is still mounted in the same unaltered FBI "nightstalker" plane that circled the Branch Davidian compound.
The second camera, a GEC-Marconi "sea owl" infrared system, is being borrowed from the British government and is mounted on a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter. It is virtually identical to the camera used in Waco in 1993.
Some independent infrared experts say that careful calibration is especially important to ensure that neither camera contains optical filters or internal alterations that might inhibit their ability to detect the heat signatures of gunfire.
Infrared cameras create black-and-white visual images by detecting differences in temperature.
The camera experts said the Texas test should involve a relatively large number of gunshots to ensure a fair scientific study because the British camera is probably capable of detecting only some of any series of shots fired.
Mr. Caddell said he expects resistance from Justice Department officials on the question of whether media will be allowed to witness the tests.
Justice Department officials have declined to comment on the matter. But some Justice officials have said privately that some within their agency and the FBI fear that allowing media access might jeopardize classified or sensitive information.
FBI officials have long insisted that even basic information such as the name of the manufacturer of their camera is "law enforcement-sensitive" and thus classified.
Lawyers for the sect said that is not a proper basis for excluding media representatives from the field test. They note that hundreds of reporters, camera crews and other journalists watched the FBI's airplane and other government aircraft circle the Davidian compound for weeks during the 51-day siege. Although reporters were kept a mile and a half away, the aircraft were visible to the naked eye and could be seen even more plainly through the sophisticated telephoto camera equipment brought to Waco by many journalists.
The sect's lawyers also said the U.S. government's insistence on secrecy is baffling in light of open discussions by the British military of the exact type of helicopter and infrared camera being sent to Texas.
by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", February 9, 2000)
Both sides in the Branch Davidian lawsuit and the federal judge hearing the case will gather in St. Louis next week to finalize plans for field tests aimed at resolving key questions about government gunfire.
An order issued late Monday by U.S. District Judge Walter Smith announced the Feb. 16 meeting at the office of Waco special counsel John C. Danforth.
The order indicated that lawyers for the sect and the government and their scientific experts will discuss proposed protocols for the field test.
The judge dictated that specifics of the test, outlined by a court-appointed expert, must be kept secret, and he threatened to impose sanctions against anyone who revealed them "to the press or the public." The order does not specify where the test will take place. But officials recently told parties for both sides that the Defense Department has given clearance for the test to be conducted at Fort Hood, Texas, in the latter part of March.
Two lawyers representing the sect said Tuesday that they are concerned that the imposition of strict secrecy will be extended to the test. They predicted Tuesday that such a move would further inflame public doubts about the controversial Branch Davidian case.
"I'm sure that the Justice Department opposes any participation by the press in the demonstration," said Mike Caddell, lead lawyer for the sect. "Our concern is, rightly or wrongly, by excluding the press, you're confirming the fears of some people about the integrity of the test." He and other lawyers for the sect said they plan to argue for media coverage of the test "so there can be an independent report back to the American people about how thorough and fair this demonstration is." Officials with the special counsel's office and the Justice Department have declined to comment on the matter.
"We'll let our views be known to the judge," a Justice Department spokesman said Tuesday evening.
The question of whether government agents fired guns at the Branch Davidian compound on April 19, 1993, has become a pivotal issue in the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit.
Government officials have long denied that anyone from their side fired a shot that day, when FBI agents bashed the sect's embattled compound with tanks and sprayed in tear gas to force a surrender.
More than 80 Branch Davidians died in a fire that began six hours into the FBI tear-gas assault. Government arson investigators ruled that the sect deliberately set the building on fire.
But lawyers for the sect contend that government gunfire kept innocent people from escaping the inferno.
The cornerstone of their argument is a videotape shot by an FBI airplane circling the compound on April 19. The plane's infrared camera, designed to detect and create images from differences in temperatures of objects on the ground, recorded repeated, rhythmic white blips that appeared to emanate from government positions in the last hour before the fire.
Retired Defense Department experts hired by the sect have said those flashes are distinctive heat signatures of gunfire. Their analysis has been echoed by some independent experts and a scientist who recently evaluated the recording for the House Government Reform Committee.
But government experts have contended that the camera was too far away to capture the tiny blips of heat generated from gunshots. They contend the flashes are sunlight glint or electronic glitches.
But they have refused to discuss general information about the camera's capabilities or even its manufacturer, contending that such information is classified.
Mr. Danforth's office jumped into the fray last fall, asking Judge Smith for a court-supervised field test to resolve whether the FBI's camera could detect gunfire and whether the Waco flashes came from gunshots.
The court ordered a test using the FBI's camera and airplane and a similar, borrowed camera system to record test shots from guns like those carried by government agents and Branch Davidians.
A spokesman with the British Defence Ministry said the American investigators recently requested the use of a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter outfitted with a near-identical infrared camera for the Texas test.
The camera is a GEC-Marconi "Sea Owl," and the Lynx helicopter that carries it is flown by a two-member crew from British frigates and destroyers, the British military spokesman said. It is commonly used to monitor shipping and sea traffic.
The British government has been asked to provide the aircraft and a crew for a week of U.S. operations, the spokesman said. But left unresolved is the question of who will pay to get the helicopter to Texas, which could cost $250,000 or more.
Mr. Caddell said that will be explored at next week's meeting in St. Louis.
James Brannon, another lawyer for the sect, said he also will use the meeting to air his concern that secret protocols proposed for the test lack "enough checks and balances to completely allay my fears of a stacked deck." "I am very concerned about what controls we're going to have, or be given, to make certain that the FBI, if it's going to put its own plane up there, is not going to be in a position to cheat," Mr. Brannon said.
Independent experts in infrared technology say that ensuring accuracy will require careful calibration of the British and FBI cameras before and after their deployment at Fort Hood.
They said they would expect such calibration to include thorough pre-test examination to ensure that each camera's internal processing system matches the manufacturer's original design specifications.
Both cameras also should be subjected to lab tests aimed at ensuring they do not contain optical filters that could hamper their ability to capture the relatively short detectable energy bursts or "spectral wavelengths" of gunfire, the experts said. Such filters are sometimes used in infrared cameras to eliminate unwanted images, and they could be hard to detect without specific spectral sensitivity tests, experts said.
Flying each of the cameras over a small, known heat source, such as a burning trash can, before and after the gunshot tests also would be an easy way to confirm their reliability, said one expert who spoke on condition on anonymity.
"If they run a test of its ability to see small hot spots and then fly the test, and then re-verify its ability to detect those same hot spots, I think you are pretty safe," the expert said.
It also will be necessary to include relatively large samplings of gunfire from each weapon being tested, because the British infrared technology, known as SPRITE Forward Looking Infrared, is capable of capturing only a fraction of such small thermal signatures, he and other experts said.
"It is difficult to see gun flash with a SPRITE FLIR. Since it is difficult to see them, there must be many gun flashes in any test," said the expert. He added that the difficulty precludes the probability that some gunshots can be detected. "A short test is therefore likely to favor the FBI," he said. .
by Christy Hoppe ("The Dallas Morning News", February 8, 2000)
AUSTIN - Attorney General Janet Reno fended off numerous questions Monday night about the government's role in the Branch Davidian tragedy, saying that special counsel John C. Danforth's investigation will provide the needed answers.
Speaking to 1,000 community volunteers at the University of Texas, Ms. Reno said the pending lawsuit accusing the government of wrongful death and the investigation by former Sen. Danforth require her to allow previous statements to speak for themselves.
In other matters, she reiterated the reasons that she opposes the death penalty and defended her decision not to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate campaign contributions linked to foreign governments.
About a dozen protesters handed out leaflets outside the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, where Ms. Reno spoke, and some of their questions about the Branch Davidian standoff were posed during a question-and-answer session.
Asked about the presence of elite Delta Force military personnel, the use of incendiary gas and whether Mr. Danforth can be truly independent, because Ms. Reno appointed him, the attorney general responded: "I will continue to try and provide every bit of information that I can, in every appropriate forum that I can." She said she had no information concerning how Delta Force personnel were used.
She said she has testified twice regarding the use of tear gas, referring to her earlier statements that she gave orders that no incendiary ordnance be used.
"What I have tried to do is to make sure that I chose somebody [Mr. Danforth] of impeccable reputation who has total independence, as far I am concerned. I have recused myself from considerations," Ms. Reno said.
Audience member Mary Aleshire said she has devoted much of her free time to helping clear the site and rebuild a chapel at Mount Carmel in hopes of promoting reconciliation. She asked Ms. Reno whether she would join the effort.
"If I get in my truck when I leave office and have time, I'll stop by," Ms. Reno said. Her answers were met with supportive applause.
Asked about a national moratorium on the death penalty, similar to one just announced in Illinois, Ms. Reno said, "I think it's time this country speaks out on the subject of innocence."
She said that if 19 men convicted of capital murder since 1992 in Illinois can subsequently be found innocent, then Americans need to better ensure that the right offenders receive the ultimate penalty.
"All punishment is arbitrary" and can be mitigated, except the death penalty once carried out, she said.
"I think the ultimate purpose of the law is to prize human life," she said, adding that the death penalty is the antithesis of that theory, Although she said that if someone had harmed her mother, she would physically attack the perpetrator, the government must act differently.
". . . I think vengeance is a very personal thing that government should not engage in," Ms. Reno said.
Regarding her declining to appoint a special counsel to look into foreign government campaign donations, Ms. Reno said she did not believe that the facts met the criteria of the now-defunct law creating independent counsels.
She said no one should support the idea of "just appointing an independent counsel for the point of doing it." "You have great harm to our government," she said. "You have, in effect, a fourth branch of government, independent of the executive, independent of others," she said.
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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