(Associated Press, March 21, 2000)
HOUSTON (AP) -- Despite spinning by the government and Branch Davidians, the actual results from a re-enactment of the Waco siege may not be known until British infrared experts release their own report.
The elaborate Sunday demonstration -- which featured tanks, planes and combat-garbed soldiers -- was designed to resolve whether federal agents fired at sect members during the final hour of the 1993 standoff.
A federal judge refused to let video from the test immediately be released to the public. Yet both sides scrambled to claim victory Monday, saying their legal positions were enhanced by findings of the British experts from Vector Data Systems, who handed over raw test data to officials after certifying its accuracy.
Vector was hired by Special Counsel John Danforth to oversee the test as a neutral expert and was slated to file a report to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith within 30 days.
Infrared experts working for U.S. attorneys and Davidian lawyers will also analyze the data, comparing it to FBI video footage captured during the waning moments of the standoff.
U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford acknowledged that with the differing spins, the public may be confused about the results of the test held at Fort Hood, a Texas military post.
``We had raised some of these questions about whether or not the test could accurately be reproduced and whether it may raise more questions than give a final answer to,'' he said.
``We're going to have Vector Group at some point offering their opinion. We have experts that are going to offer our opinion,'' he said.
But the lead counsel for Davidian plaintiffs who are suing the government, Mike Caddell, said the outcome of the demonstration will prove that federal agents fired on the remote side of the Davidians' retreat as it burned on April 19, 1993. The FBI denies that its agents fired on the compound.
The test ``clearly supports the plaintiffs' case,'' Caddell said at a Houston news conference Monday.
Davidian leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died during the fire that occurred several hours into an FBI tear-gassing operation. The government contends their deaths, whether from fire or gunshot wounds, came by their own hand.
by Paul Duggan ("The Washington Post", March 21, 2000)
AUSTIN, March 20 - Lawyers on opposing sides of the legal battle over the FBI's 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., both claimed yesterday that the results from Sunday's live-fire exercise supports their version of events.
The experiment, carried out at an Army base, involved eight shooters firing a variety of weapons while two aircraft with heat-sensing cameras recorded the activity. The tapes will be scientifically compared with images recorded by a similar camera on an FBI plane during the 1993 raid to determine whether agents fired gunshots at the religious sect's burning building. The 1993 tape shows dozens of small flashes that lawyers representing Branch Davidians' relatives in a wrongful-death lawsuit say could be FBI gunfire.
After watching copies of Sunday's tapes, which a judge ordered sealed from public view, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, Michael Caddell, said today that gunfire flashes appearing on the tape from the experiment bolster his case.
"It clearly demonstrates that there was government gunfire on the back of [the Branch Davidian compound] on April 19, 1993," said Caddell, who represents family members of some of the approximately 80 Branch Davidians who died in the confrontation. The plaintiffs contend that sect members might have fled the blaze if not for the purported hostile gunfire.
The FBI has long maintained that agents did not fire shots during the assault, and that the blaze was started by suicidal Branch Davidians.
If the flashes on the 1993 tape were FBI gunfire, the bureau contends, the tape also would show images of the body heat of agents doing the shooting.
But while there are no such body images on the 1993 tape, Sunday's recordings clearly shows the bodies of the shooters in the experiment, said Mike Bradford, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas and one of the government's lead lawyers in the lawsuit.
"We could see people moving," Bradford said today after viewing Sunday's tapes. "And the significance of that is, on the  tape, there were no instances in which anyone was seen walking or running around" during the tank-and-tear-gas assault.
Bradford said that on Sunday's tapes, "we also see flashes and glints" apparently caused by sunlight hitting broken glass, aluminum foil and other reflective debris spread on the ground for the experiment. He said those images "confirm our opinion" that the flashes on the 1993 tape could be sunlight reflecting off similar debris at the Branch Davidian compound.
Both lawyers based their opinions on early analyses of the tapes. The recordings will be subject to more sophisticated scrutiny in coming weeks. The judge in the lawsuit has set a May 15 trial date.
by Lee Hancock and David Jackson ("The Dallas Morning News", March 21, 2000)
If Sunday was a day for history in the Branch Davidian case, then Monday was a day for spin.
WACO TEST INTERPRETATIONS
Here is a synopsis of positions staked out Monday by government and Branch Davidian lawyers based on their preliminary review of data produced by a field test of airborne infrared cameras on Sunday. The Fort Hood test sought to determine whether flashes seen on FBI infrared tape shot on April 19, 1993, could be government gunfire.
Mike Bradford U.S. attorney, Beaumont Mike Caddell lead attorney for Branch Davidians
TEST VIDEO OF GUNFIRE
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SAYS:
Two large weapons - a tripod-mounted M-60 machine gun and a Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher - produced flashes detected by FBI and British infrared test cameras. FBI agents had no Mark 19 at Waco, and their M-60 was never fired, officials say. Other weapons - including a CAR-15 assault rifle, ..380-caliber sniper rifle, 9 mm pistol and 9 mm machine guns - produced no muzzle flashes caught on the test's infrared tape.
WHAT THE BRANCH DAVIDIANS SAY:
Both test cameras recorded flashes not only from the M-60 and Mark 19, but also from the CAR-15, which FBI agents say they had in Waco. Test cameras also recorded explosions of "flash-bang" distraction devices, which looked similar to flashes recorded by the FBI on April 19. The FBI has denied using flash-bangs that day.
Allegations that FBI agents shot at the Branch Davidians are at the heart of the wrongful-death lawsuit that the sect has filed against the government. Sect experts say flashes on the April 19 FBI tape suggest a Mark 19 was used at Waco. TEST VIDEO OF PEOPLE
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SAYS:
The eight people maneuvering and shooting on the test field are clearly visible on recordings by both infrared test cameras. People sometimes fade in and out of view on the British test video.
WHAT THE BRANCH DAVIDIANS SAY:
People vanish from view - sometimes all eight, sometimes one or two - on recordings made by the British test camera.
SIGNIFICANCE: The government maintains that no gunmen were visible on the FBI's April 19 video, so the infrared flashes must be something other than gunfire. The sect's lawyer says the people's disappearing supports his gunfire theory because the British camera produced the official data for the court-ordered test.
TEST VIDEO OF DEBRIS
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SAYS:
Flashes, or "glints," appear on test recordings made by both the FBI and British infrared cameras trained on a field of debris, including aluminum, glass, mirrors and siding.
WHAT THE BRANCH DAVIDIANS SAY:
Flashes appear from the debris field only on the recording made by the FBI test camera, not the British camera.
Government officials maintain that repeated flashes recorded by the FBI camera on the last day of the siege came from sunlight reflecting off debris, not from gunfire.
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research
Lawyers for the government and the sect each declared victory after the landmark Sunday field test designed to help a federal court sort out whether flashes on an infrared video at the end of the Branch Davidian siege came from government gunfire or ground debris.
Each side offered equally detailed but starkly different interpretations of what the test showed. They argued in back-to-back news conferences that the test clearly proved that government agents shot repeatedly at the sect's embattled home near Waco on April 19, 1993, or that agents were never anywhere near areas where the tiny blips of light appeared.
"It clearly demonstrates that there was government gunfire," lead Branch Davidian lawyer Mike Caddell told reporters in Houston after a quick, pre-dawn study of data from the test.
Countered lead government attorney Mike Bradford in Killeen: "The preliminary review that we saw, we think, does substantiate our position that there was not gunfire out there that day."
But each conceded that it may be weeks or longer before their experts complete detailed analyses of the data obtained Sunday at a closed Fort Hood firing range.
The federal judge in the case, Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco, weighed in with an order Monday reminding each side not to show results from the test or make copies of the test data available to anyone who is not a lawyer or an expert in the case. Even congressional investigators who were allowed to watch the three-hour test were excluded when copies of test data were distributed late Sunday to Mr. Caddell, the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the office of Waco special counsel John C. Danforth.
"The tapes are not part of the public domain," the judge wrote in a two-page order. "At an appropriate time, and after all the designated experts have had an adequate opportunity to examine the tapes, the information will be released to the public."
To permit study
Both sides conceded that the judge's order appeared aimed at allowing a careful evaluation by their experts and by the court's own scientists before the test results become part of an already intense public debate over the government's actions in Waco.
Judge Smith has ordered the British firm he appointed to supervise Sunday's test to prepare a full written analysis, and lawyers for the government and the sect said it was expected to be completed within 30 days.
"I know that people are basically left with hearing our explanation of the tape without actually being able to look at it," said Mr. Bradford, the U.S. attorney from Beaumont. "Obviously this is a test where there is a lot of public interest. We felt an obligation to get a lot of information out as quickly as possible."
He and lawyers for the sect feverishly scanned the data late Sunday and early Monday morning so they could offer the news media an immediate post-test analysis.
At stake is a key issue in a pending wrongful-death lawsuit brought by survivors of the Branch Davidians in Judge Smith's court.
It alleges that repeated rhythmic flashes recorded by an airborne FBI infrared camera on April 19 were caused by government gunfire. Some independent experts have echoed that analysis, but experts for the government have said that the flashes on the tape lasted too long to be muzzle flashes.
FBI officials said no shots were fired that day as their agents bashed the sect's home and injected tear gas to force an end to a 51-day standoff. But lawyers for the sect say that repeated government gunshots in the last hour of the assault kept innocent women and children from fleeing when a fire engulfed their building. More than 80 people died amid the blaze.
Mr. Bradford huddled until after midnight Sunday with a government infrared expert and a team of more than a dozen senior FBI lawyers and public affairs officials from Washington to review one copy of the test data. He then emerged for a 1:30 a.m. news conference at a Killeen hotel and told reporters that the test vindicated the government's agents in Waco.
"We are very pleased," Mr. Bradford said. "We believe that it confirms our position and hopefully . . . will put an end to this claim that the FBI was shooting behind the compound that day."
What the test did show, he said, was that flashes could be produced on video from infrared cameras like those used at Waco by sunlight reflecting off ground debris such as aluminum, glass and other reflective materials.
Mr. Caddell disputed that, arguing that he saw no such flashes from debris in his initial examination of the recordings. He told reporters that he believed flashes that did appear were caused by at least four different types of weapons, including short-barreled CAR-15 assault rifles used by the FBI's hostage rescue team.
But one independent federal investigator who watched the field test said there were already significant indications that Mr. Caddell might have promised too much in predicting what the recordings show.
The investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he based his conclusions on discussions with officials involved in conducting the test and reviewing its data.
Mr. Caddell said Monday that he remains confident that gunfire from assault rifles and other weapons carried by the FBI in the standoff will be shown to cause flashes like those on the April 19 forward-looking-infrared video.
"It was not a goal of the test to duplicate what we see on the April 19 FLIR," he said. "The goal was to gather data for a comparative analysis. The best, I think, that we'll be able to do is to reach a comparative analysis and say that this looks more like gunfire than like anything," Mr. Caddell said.
Mr. Caddell emphasized, however, in his two-hour Houston news conference, that the gunfire question is only one of four key issues in the wrongful-death lawsuit.
The other issues include the questions: Did the FBI's use of tanks or other actions contribute to the fire that consumed the compound and ended the siege? Were FBI leaders at the compound negligent in their decision not to bring in adequate firefighting equipment before launching the tear-gas assault? And did those FBI leaders violate the express orders of Attorney General Janet Reno when they decided to send tanks deep into the sect's building in the hour before it burned?
Mr. Caddell said he would begin a new round of depositions on Wednesday with senior FBI and Justice Department officials that would focus on those issues.
He will spend the next week questioning the three men who headed the FBI during the Waco siege, including former Director William Sessions. And on March 28, he and other lawyers representing sect members and their families will go to the Justice Department to depose Ms. Reno.
Officials with the FBI said they also expected that those three other allegations, which they also dispute, would soon eclipse the charges of government gunfire in the case that Mr. Caddell and others are preparing for a May trial.
by Terry Ganey ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", March 21, 2000)
HOUSTON - The scientific test to determine what happened at Waco has proved at least one thing: A pop-up tent covered with space blankets will not cause flashes on infrared film.
Beyond that, there was little that the two lawyers involved in Sunday's test agreed about Monday as the debate continued over the FBI's conduct on the last day of the 1993 siege on the Branch Davidians' complex.
U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said the results of the test "confirm our position and will put an end to the claim that the FBI was firing at the compound."
Mike Caddell, the lead lawyer for some survivors of the sect, said the test outcome supported his clients' claims that agents were firing guns at the rear of the complex. He said flashes of gunfire on the infrared test sample made Sunday were consistent with flashes on the FBI surveillance tape recorded April 19, 1993.
Bradford and Caddell differed on so many aspects of the court-ordered experiment that it seemed they had studied totally different results. Their interpretations cannot be independently examined at this point, because U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr. has ordered that the tapes be sealed.
A "tiebreaker" opinion may emerge within 30 days, when Vector Data Systems Ltd. provides an independent assessment to the court. Vector is the British defense firm approved by Smith and recommended by special counsel John Danforth to act as an independent expert on whether flashes on the FBI's 1993 infrared tape are indications of gunfire, reflections of debris or something else. Vector's report will inform Danforth's investigation as well as Judge Smith, who is presiding over the Branch Davidians' wrongful death suit in Waco.
In Sunday's two-hour test at Fort Hood, Texas, an array of weapons was fired from various positions, and tanks ran over debris. It was part of an attempt to simulate what happened at Waco. Overhead, an FBI "Nightstalker" surveillance plane covered the maneuvers with an infrared camera. A British Royal Navy helicopter did the same; its results will have greater weight because its camera was more like the one the FBI used in 1993.
After determining that the test met the plan arranged at Danforth's office in St. Louis last month, Vector provided the resulting tapes to Bradford and Caddell on Sunday night. Bradford and the government's expert, I. William Ginsberg, reviewed the tapes at Fort Hood. Caddell and his staff saw a computerized version in Houston early Monday morning. The Branch Davidians' expert, Edward Allard, was recovering from a stroke and could not review the results with Caddell.
Caddell said a former Pentagon colleague of Allard's, Fred Zegel, would look at the results later this week.
Bradford and Caddell differed on two key issues: which muzzle blasts showed up as flashes on the test tape and whether debris also caused flashes.
Bradford said that only the firing of a Mark 19 grenade launcher and of an M-60 machine gun produced light flashes on the British infrared recording. Bradford said FBI agents used neither of those weapons at Waco.
Caddell said he saw light images from muzzle blasts of four kinds of weapons and an explosive device. In addition to the two Bradford saw, Caddell said an M-79 grenade launcher and a CAR-15 produced results. The CAR-15 is a modification of the M-16, an automatic rifle that was used by FBI agents at Waco.
"Flashbangs" are debated
Caddell also said he saw bursts of white light from "flashbangs," explosive devices that make a loud noise and intense light to distract combatants during close-quarter battles.
Flashbangs are either hand thrown or propelled with the Mark 19. Caddell said the test signatures of the flashbangs were similar to the flashes on the 1993 tape. He believes several of the devices were used because at least seven were found in the burned ruins of the complex after the assault was over.
He said a Texas Rangers report showed the FBI lab had misidentified the devices as silencers. Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also used flashbangs at the complex in the original raid Feb. 28, 1993.
Government experts have said the flashes on the 1993 tape may have been caused by debris stirred up when tanks rammed into the compound. That's why the Justice Department wanted debris like broken glass and aluminum foil included in the test.
"In all of the films, we were able to see flashes from the debris field," Bradford said. He said there were more flashes on the more sensitive infrared recordings made by the more advanced "Nightstalker" system. But he also said they appeared on the official tape made by the British helicopter.
Caddell said he saw only debris-related flashes on the "Nightstalker" tape. He said he doubted debris was the source of the flashes on the 1993 tape, since there are none shown on the front of the complex where tanks were also demolishing the structure. If debris caused flashes at the rear of the complex, it should also produce them at the front, Caddell said.
Another element of the test was to determine how infrared detected people. The shooters participating in the test wore sniper suits, camouflage outfits and flight coveralls to determine whether clothing masks body heat compared with nearby objects. The government has said that no bodies are visible near the flashes on the 1993 tape, proving there was no one present doing any shooting.
Bradford said people can be seen when they are moving on the test tape, which supports the government's position.
"In each instance, it's our opinion individuals are visible in contrast to the tape on April 19," Bradford said.
Caddell held a news conference Monday in Houston in which he showed parts of the 1993 tape in which people are visible walking across the sun-baked black tarpaper roof of an underground bunker. The bodies seem to disappear when they walk across the ground around the complex.
He said the test tape seemed very similar to him with people "fading in and out." He pointed out that the ground temperature for the test was cooler than that for the original Waco tape. It would be easier to see warm bodies against a cooler ground because infrared equipment identifies heat radiation; hotter objects appear brighter than nearby colder ones.
As for the six-person pop-up tent, the government sought its inclusion in the test as a "hemispherical reflector" that would be most likely to reflect the sun. Caddell had ridiculed the idea, saying there wasn't anything like it at Waco during the government's siege. Caddell and Bradford said the tent produced no flashes.
Tapes will be studied extensively
Caddell said the quality of the test tape was not as good as that made in 1993. Bradford said the images moved around because the helicopter was buffeted by the wind. Both lawyers said their opinions were based on preliminary reviews and that the tapes will be studied extensively in the days ahead.
Asked how the two lawyers could have such different opinions, Caddell shrugged and said, "That's why we have a lawsuit."
by Jim Yardley ("The New York Times", March 21, 2000)
HOUSTON, March 20 -- The two sides in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death civil lawsuit offered starkly different conclusions today after hurriedly reviewing infrared videos taken of a unique court-ordered simulation conducted this weekend at Fort Hood in Central Texas.
Perhaps not surprisingly, both sides claimed victory.
The simulation, which involved men in combat gear firing weapons as two circling aircraft filmed the exercise, was designed to determine whether federal agents fired gunshots into the Branch Davidian compound shortly before it burned to the ground on April 19, 1993. The importance assigned to the exercise was underscored by the fact that it was supervised by John C. Danforth, the former senator who is leading a broad special investigation re-examining the episode. But any expectation for a fast and clear answer now seems very unlikely. On Sunday, Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Federal District Court in Waco, who is presiding over the case, unexpectedly blocked lawyers from releasing the videos to the public. A private British company that conducted the exercise for Mr. Danforth will issue a report to the court within 30 days. Eager to influence public opinion, both sides in the civil case rushed out conflicting interpretations today.
"It clearly supports the plaintiffs case," said Michael Caddell, the lead plaintiffs lawyer in the lawsuit, which claims that reckless action by federal agents caused the deaths of the Branch Davidians. He held an 11 a.m. news conference in Houston to release his preliminary finding on the videos.
Hours earlier, however, government lawyers had been so eager to land the first public relations blow that they held a sparsely attended news conference at 2 a.m. inside a hotel near Fort Hood.
"We were encouraged by what we saw and think it supports our position," said United States Attorney Mike Bradford, a lead lawyer in the case, speaking in a telephone interview early this afternoon.
Both sides admit that much more review and analysis will be needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn. The simulation was not a re-enactment of the final day of Branch Davidian standoff, which claimed the lives of about 80 men, women and children, but rather an effort to test conflicting theories about mysterious flashes that appear on an aerial infrared surveillance video taken that day by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The F.B.I. has said the flashes in the original video were from debris scattered around the compound, while Mr. Caddell has said the flashes represented gunfire.
In the simulation, the two aircraft used infrared cameras to film the eight participants as they fired eight weapons. In addition, an armored vehicle similar to those used by the government on April 19 moved near a field that had been filled with debris such as aluminum hubcaps and broken glass. The three main areas in dispute dealt with what sort of flash, if any, gunfire would register; whether people would be visible on the tape; and whether the debris field would generate any flashes.
First, both sides agreed that the gunfire demonstration had created flashes.. Mr. Caddell said there were flashes from four of the eight weapons, while Mr. Bradford said he had noticed flashes from only two of the larger weapons.. Mr. Caddell said he did not yet know if the gunfire flashes from the simulation matched the flashes detected in the original April 19 tape. Neither of his two experts had examined the new videos. He said the mere presence of gunfire flashes bolstered his case because it discredited any suggestion that the tapes did not detect gunfire.
Mr. Bradford and Mr. Caddell disagreed on whether the debris had also elicited flashes on the video. Mr. Caddell said he did not detect any flashes, though he conceded a more thorough review might show some. Mr. Bradford said F..B.I. experts detected flashes from the debris field, a finding he believes bolsters his argument that no gunfire erupted.
Finally, Mr. Bradford noted that the simulation videos clearly showed images of the eight participants in the exercise, unlike the April 19 video, in which it was more difficult to detect people. Mr. Bradford argued that had F.B.I. agents been firing on the compound, they would have been clearly visible during the key moments in the original infrared tape. Mr. Caddell, however, noted the eight participants often were not visible in the videos. In some cases, he said, seven participants were visible and one was not. He said the visibility, or lack of it, depended on the ground temperature where a person was standing.
Mr. Bradford agreed that the eight participants did disappear at different moments in the simulation. But, for the most part, he said they were visible and presented a very different image than on the original tape.
While the two sides are likely to continue their debate, the trial remains scheduled for May 15. In coming days, Mr. Caddell will depose crucial government officials during the standoff. A deposition of Attorney General Janet Reno is scheduled for next week.
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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