Branch Davidian leader David Koresh talked about the possibility of suicide a month before the final siege of the sect's complex that led to his death along with about 80 of his followers, according to government surveillance tapes.
"My work is finished," Koresh said. "I don't need to hang around here. I've already been shot, understand? I've been rejected. . . . All I need to do is cover it, cock the pistol back, have my thumb on the trigger and my mind on the Psalms."
Koresh's remarks are among the passages that two amateur experts on Waco have referred to when interviewed recently by investigators for Special Counsel John Danforth. The tapes are likely to figure in the upcoming trial of a civil suit that Branch Davidian survivors have filed against the government, as well as in Danforth's own investigation.
The tapes were made by surveillance microphones the government inserted in goods delivered to the complex. Koresh suggested suicide during a taped conversation with his chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, on March 16, 1993, when it appeared negotiations to end the standoff with the government were going nowhere.
Koresh died April 19, 1993, as fire consumed the Branch Davidian complex. An autopsy revealed he died from a bullet wound to the head. Next to him was Schneider, who also had been shot in the head.
Those who have heard the tapes say other conversations reveal that:
Koresh and his followers began talking about the possibility of a fire destroying the complex two days before a tear gas assault by tank-driving FBI agents.
Two weeks after a botched Feb. 28 raid by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Koresh talked about seeing an agent get shot in the head and said, "He shouldn't have been standing in my door."
The Davidians were in possession of pyrotechnic devices capable of starting fires.
Some portions of the tapes were played during a criminal trial in 1994 but only from those on the final day of the siege. Danforth's staff has access to hundreds of hours of tapes, but they have never been made public in their entirety.
Two who have heard the tapes are Mark Swett of Portland, Maine, and J. Phillip Arnold of Houston. An FBI negotiator at Waco has confirmed the accuracy of the passages they've cited to Danforth.
Swett works for an insurance company and describes himself as a student of Biblical apocalyptic groups. He is a friend of Davidian survivors and got copies of the tapes through lawyers for some of the defendants in the criminal trial. Swett has assembled so much material on Waco that he has become a source for writers and movie producers interested in the subject. He also has a Waco research Web site at http://home.maine.rr.com/waco/.
He shared the tapes with Arnold, who has a doctorate in religious studies and has been investigating what happened at Waco ever since he tried to arbitrate an end to the siege in 1993.
Swett was interviewed by an investigator from Danforth's staff last week. Arnold was interviewed in December.
It's difficult to fit either Arnold or Swett into either a pro-Davidian or pro-government category. Sometimes their explanation of the facts supports Davidian claims of government excesses. Other times, they point out information that will surely help the government when the Davidians' wrongful death case is tried next month in federal court in Waco, Texas.
Both say they believe that for Danforth's investigation to be complete, the conversations that took place within the complex, as well as the negotiations with FBI agents, have to be viewed within the structure of the Davidians' religious beliefs.
Swett and Arnold say the tapes show that the Davidians were deeply grounded in their religious beliefs, that no one was being held against his will and that there is no evidence on the tapes of physical or sexual abuse of children.
"The government and the Davidians were like two freight trains in the distance, miles apart, and coming together on the same track," Swett said. "One was following what they believed God told them. The other was saying, 'You broke the law.' They met head on."
"Title III tapes".
During the 51-day siege, the government managed to get listening devices inside the sect's complex by including them in containers that delivered milk to the children. The devices picked up snatches of conversations from March 6 until about 11:45 a.m. on April 19, during the final minutes of the siege. The tapes are known as the Title III tapes, a reference to the federal law that provides for court-approved wiretaps.
On April 17, after FBI tanks began removing parked vehicles from around the complex, the Davidians talked about plans that Arnold interprets as fulfilling a catastrophic version of the prophetic end of the siege. He said that before April 17, sect members believed there would be a peaceful end to the confrontation. They believed Koresh would be able to write his interpretation of the Seven Seals in the biblical Book of Revelation while the FBI waited. Arnold said he believes that after the interpretation was completed, they would all leave the complex peacefully.
When the tanks began removing the cars, it was a signal in the Davidians' minds that the siege would end in a fiery climax, Arnold said.
In one conversation, Schneider was heard to say, "They could bring the fire trucks, but they couldn't even get near us." Koresh replied, "That's all right," and made a sound imitating gunfire.
There was a reference to fire a day later when an unidentified male said, "We will run through the fire." An unidentified female asked, "God said to do this?" Schneider said, "That's what David said to do, and it's fine with me. Wherever you want to be .. all his ways are directed, as far as I am concerned." The woman replied, "That's no fun," and Schneider responded, "Oh, no. Nothing ever is."
That same day, Koresh told an FBI negotiator, "Your commanders are fixing to ruin the safety of me and my children." The negotiator responded, "I think that was something that you brought." In the same conversation, Koresh said the events would "place this in the history books as one of the saddest days in the world."
A wall of fire.
On April 19, when an FBI tank plowed deep into the complex to insert tear gas into a room where women and children had taken refuge, three fires broke out almost simultaneously. About 80 people died, some from gunshots but most from the effects of the fire.
The government has maintained that the Branch Davidians started the fire. Arnold said he believes that's likely but that it was an act of deliverance, not suicide. He said the Davidians were living as if in Biblical times and believed the flames would be a wall of fire to protect them from evil.
"Fire would be a defensive mechanism to respond to the FBI's assault they think is probably coming any day now," Arnold said. "If they are not going to write the Seven Seals, what do they do? They think a fire could stop the FBI from coming in further."
Describing the "Davidians' dilemma," Arnold said the sect was caught between a religious belief that the Seven Seals had to be completed and the government's order that they come out.
"They decided to go with their religious faith no matter what it cost," Arnold said. "The worst thing the FBI could do was to precipitate it. There was no talk of suicide until they felt like they were going to be assaulted."
During the ATF's Feb. 28 raid on the complex, four federal agents and six members of the sect were killed in a gun battle. The listening devices picked up Koresh talking about it on March 15. He said he saw a man standing in a corner get shot in the head.
"All of a sudden, puff (makes a sound like a gunshot and laughs) his head blew up," Koresh said. The conversation continued and Koresh said he was sure the man had died.
"He shouldn't have been standing in my door," Koresh said.
Byron Sage, who was the FBI negotiator at Waco, said he has listened to the same tapes and heard the conversations that Swett has pointed out. Sage said that he did not know whether Koresh had been talking about killing the agent himself but that the "total context" of the conversation was that he "dismissed the murder of four federal agents."
"That passage is very telling, as far as the compassion or lack thereof by the Davidians," Sage said.
The conversations show that on March 15, Koresh asked about the whereabouts of a box of flares.
"I want to find out where our parachute flares are," Koresh said.
Much has been made about whether the government's used of pyrotechnic tear gas could have played a role in the start of the fire. Swett said he wasn't suggesting that the parachute flares were used. But he said they may be among the devices found in the burned rubble of the complex.
"I'm not saying there was anything sinister about it," Swett said. "I just want people to know there were flares in there.".
Neither Swett nor Arnold were central figures in the Waco drama. The fact that Danforth's staff interviewed them is a sign that the special confidential investigation is checking beyond the hundreds of agents and the Branch Davidian survivors involved.
Some of the tapes and transcripts will be introduced during the trial of the Davidians' wrongful death case against the government that's scheduled to begin June 19. U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said the tapes contain information helpful to the government and damaging to the Davidians.
However, the tapes also could show that the government had a warning about the possibility of a fire from the Davidians' conversations and should have been ready to prevent it. Two of the major points of the Davidians' claims are that the government violated orders by demolishing the sect's complex and did not have adequate fire-fighting equipment on hand.
Sage said the taped conversations are more easily understood seven years after the event. When the conversations were monitored and recorded, agents often could not understand most of what was said until the tapes were enhanced later.
"We didn't know they were going to initiate fires in their building and intentionally take the lives of 78 people including their own children, Sage said.
For 61/2 years, the Branch Davidians were someone else's problem.
In 1993, when the world first learned about David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers, Michael Bradford was a state district judge in Beaumont.
Now, Bradford, the well-respected U.S. attoney for the Eastern District of Texas, is serving as co-lead counsel in the Branch Davidian civil trial with Assistant Attorney General Marie Hagen, a 20-year government attorney from Washington, D.C.
While their personalities and courtroom styles are drastically different, Bradford said he and Hagen are committed to restoring the government's tarnished image by defending it against what they consider false accusations by the Davidians and their attorneys.
"At stake is public trust in law enforcement," Bradford said. "With the allegations that have been made and put out to the public about the incident, it has undermined confidence in law enforcement. Those allegations are not true and I thought it was important to have an opportunity to show that those allegations are not true."
While Hagen works at keeping a low profile, Bradford, 47, is popular and well-known around Beaumont in southeast Texas, where he has lived since 1979.
Before his appointment in 1994 as U.S. attorney, Bradford was in private practice, served as a federal prosecutor, a federal magistrate and as a state district judge. He also is active in Beaumont civic organizations and works with the Boy Scouts, friends say.
"He is very well-thought of," said Beaumont attorney Lum Hawthorn. "No one is going to say anything bad about Mike Bradford."
James Mehaffy, judge of Beaumont's 58th State District Court, hired Bradford, who had clerked at the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, straight out of the University of Texas law school to work at his law firm in 1979. Mehaffy now is judge in the same courtroom that Bradford presided over before he was named U.S. attorney.
"If there is anybody on earth who could handle a case this controversial and this complex with dignity and aplomb and achieve a result which is just and in the best interest of both the government and the other parties, it would be Mike Bradford," Mehaffy said.
Bradford stood out among UT law grads, Mehaffy said, and there was no question even then that Bradford would be successful.
"He has an air of quiet authority about him and that was immediately attractive," Mehaffy said. "He didn't try to oversell himself and he has a dignity and a sense of purpose about him that were very attractive."
Mehaffy had a general law practice, but Bradford leaned toward criminal law, he said. Mehaffy remembers getting a letter from a court reporter in a criminal district court when Bradford had been practicing law for about eight months.
"The letter said, 'We just wanted to tell you how highly we all think of Mike Bradford. Most young lawyers fumble around and seem unsure of themselves and want a lot of help. But Mike Bradford, to the contrary, seems like he has been practicing law for a long time. He did a great job on the armed robbery case he did last week.' I didn't even know anything about it. Here is a guy who is so sure of himself that it didn't occur to him to tell his employer that he was going down to try his first criminal case. That is the story of his career."
When he learned that Bradford had agreed to serve as co-lead counsel in the Davidian case, Mehaffy said he talked to him to make sure his friend had not made a terrible mistake. He said he told Bradford that he surely would not emerge from the case "without some serious battle scars."
"He said, 'Look, somebody has to do it and everybody deserves a good representation in court, and it looks like this is just my job. I am not particularly happy with the kind of criticism that I might be exposed to, but it is my job and I am the man who has to do it.' I don't think he is seeking glory. I don't think he is seeking fame. I don't think he is seeking to change the world. I think he is simply looking to do a good job as a lawyer. He is the consummate professional," Mehaffy said.
Bradford, 47, admits he didn't leap into the case instantly or blindly. He has a 6-year-old son at home and he knew the extra duties would take him away from home and his office, which already keeps him very busy. He also knew that he would be required to be in Washington several days a week and that his young son could not fully understand his absence or the missed childhood events.
"Frankly, I thought about it for several weeks before I agreed to do it," Bradford said. "The hardest part is the family sacrifices. And I already had so many responsibilities running the Eastern District. But I felt it was a very important case and it was important that the government be given a fair opportunity to get the truth out."
Bradford served on an advisory commitee for Attorney General Janet Reno for two years and met monthly with Reno to discuss departmental issues. That familiarity with Bradford led top Justice Department officials to pick him to step into the high-profile case, said Patrick Black of Tyler, head of the federal public defender's office for the Eastern District of Texas.
"You have 94 U.S. attorneys in the United States, yet she chose Mike Bradford, not only because of the geographical location, but because she knew him personally and values his opinion," Black said. "Mike has exceptionally high ethics. He is very diligent, both as a lawyer and as a judge. He is very thorough, but I also think he is very fair. If Mike Bradford gives you his word, I don't need it reduced to writing. I believe it. I take it as a fact."
Some attorneys who have dealt with Hagen deride her win-at-all-cost philosophy about defending lawsuits and say many of her tactics have added fuel to the public's growing mistrust about how the government handled the entire matter.
"I think the government's philosophy is that any plaintiff who dares to sue the government is scum and should be treated accordingly," said Houston attorney Mike Caddell, lead plaintiff attorney in the Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit. "That is the message I get. They think that anyone who dares challenge the FBI or the Justice Department deserves every game, every trick, every delay or obstruction that they can throw at them.
"You encounter that fairly often in civil litigation with various defendants. But ususally it's the chemical companies or the tobacco companies that use those tactics. You don't expect that from the Justice Department," Caddell said.
Hagen, 44, a graduate of Cornell Law School in New York, shuns publicity and declined an interview.
"I'm the Greta Garbo of this whole case," she said, referring to the reclusive film star. "Interviews are just not something that I do."
Hagen, a senior trial counsel in the Justice Department's civil division, has represented the government successfully in cases ranging from the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal to a suit involving the death of 47 sailors in an explosion onboard the USS Iowa battleship in 1989. She drew criticism for her handling of the Iowa case, just as she has become a lightning rod in the Branch Davidian case.
Caddell asked U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., who is presiding over the Branch Davidian lawsuit, to sanction government attorneys for what he described as their "dilatory" tactics in the production of documents and other evidence in the case. Smith rejected that motion last month but has expressed impatience with government attorneys during part of the pretrial discovery process.
Bradford said he is aware of the criticism that has dogged Hagen throughout her career, adding that it was something he considered in deciding if he would accept the appointment as special counsel to the attorney general and head up the Davidian case with Hagen.
"It is something, obviously, that you have to be concerned about," Bradford said. "So far, we haven't had any problems and I am hopeful that we won't. Actually, we get along great. We have worked together very well. Our personalities are pretty different, but I think they mesh well.
"She is a very dedicated and hard-working lawyer and has really devoted a great deal of time to this case. She is a very high-energy person, and I am a little more laid-back personality, but we are both devoted to getting this case presented to the court in the best way possible."
Not unlike criticism she has received for her handling of the Branch Davidian case, Hagen also drew complaints in the USS Iowa case.
Cleveland attorney Kreig Brusnahan filed suit against the government on behalf of the family of Clayton Hartwig, a sailor initially thought to have sabotaged the warship guns because he was despondent over a homosexual relationship.
Even after a formal apology by the Navy for wrongfully placing the blame for the explosion on Hartwig, Hagen continued to assert that the Justice Department still considered him responsible.
"Marie Hagen is aggressive, disingenuous, mean-spirited and controversial," Brusnahan said. "...She doesn't care what the truth is. She won't let the truth stand in her way. It doesn't matter whose feelings she tramples on if it gets in the way of what is right for the government."
Magistrate Judge David Perelman criticized Hagen for withholding documents in the case that dealt with "lessons learned" by the Navy.
"Were the lessons learned by the Navy from the Iowa tragedy and its aftermath the positive ones to be more vigilant and precise ... as to modes of operation aboard war vessels?" the judge asked. "Or were they perhaps less laudable ones, such as not to engage in a cover-up after a screw-up, to be more circumspect in choosing a scapegoat when attempting a whitewash; ... or that it is not quite as easy to mislead the public as might be assumed?"
Hagen also has been accused of holding back important information in the Branch Davidian case, particularly the FBI's use of a pyrotechnic tear-gas device on the final day of the siege.
Both Hagen and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston of Waco, who helped prosecute the criminal case against the Davidians in 1994, have said that they had not realized that the tear-gas device could cause a fire and were unaware that when government agents referred to "military gas" they were talking about pyrotechnic devices.
Johnston allowed filmmaker Michael McNulty access to an evidence room where items collected from the fire at Mount Carmel were stored. McNulty discovered a pyrotechnic tear gas canister among the evidence, exposing what many considered another government lie.
The disclosure of the use of the pyrotechnic device prompted Reno to appoint former Missour Sen. John Danforth to investigate government actions on April 19, 1993, the final day of the 51-day siege with Koresh.
It also prompted an angry Hagen to telephone Johnston to berate him for allowing McNulty into the evidence room.
"Ms. Hagen and I had a disagreement regarding public access to that evidence, but beyond that, I don't really want to comment with the case pending," Johnston said.
Justice Department memos uncovered in August revealed that an FBI agent had told Johnston in a 1993 interview that a "military gas round" had been used during the early part of the Mount Carmel tear-gas operation on April 19, 1993. That was contrary to government claims that no incendiary devices were used on the day that 76 Davidians perished in a fire at Mount Carmel.
Johnston's former boss, U.S. Attorney Bill Blagg of San Antonio, faxed the memos to Johnston, who considered them a "shot over his head," as Blagg describes it. Johnston then dashed off a letter to Reno, warning her that Justice Department officials could be withholding pertinent information from her.
The rift resulted in Blagg's office being recused from the case and led to Bradford's involvement.
DALLAS -- The wrongful death lawsuit blaming the government for the fire that ended the 1993 Branch Davidian siege will be decided by a jury and not a federal judge alone.
The decision Friday by U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith comes only weeks before the June 19 start of the trial.
Federal limits on private lawsuits against the government and its agencies require that most such cases be heard and decided by a judge without a jury. But federal judges have discretion to bring in juries to hear some civil cases.
The Branch Davidians and their families are seeking a multimillion-dollar judgment against the government for actions in the showdown that they allege caused the deaths of more that 80 sect members.
Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers died during the inferno that ended the 51-day siege. The government contends they perished at their own hands.
Reached by The Dallas Morning News, attorneys for the government declined to comment Friday.
But attorneys representing the Branch Davidians and families of sect members who died in the siege hailed the judge's move.
"I applaud the judge for doing this," lead attorney Michael Caddell said in Saturday's editions of The Dallas Morning News. "I think the government won't like it."
Whoever was trying to reach me hung up after only two rings. But I managed to catch the 301 area code on my caller-ID screen and thought, "Carlos."
Carlos was a source I'd known for almost four years. His specialty was analyzing videotapes made during the infamous 1993 Waco siege. For months he'd been calling me every week, but I hadn't heard from him lately. I dialed his office number.
A strange voice answered. That had never happened before.
"Is Carlos there?" I asked.
"Uh, he's not . . . umm . . . available right now," the guy on the other end mumbled.
"Who is this?" I said.
The voice identified himself as a police sergeant. I said I was a reporter and he signed off abruptly: "I can't discuss anything with you right now."
Had I had dialed into a crime scene? It figured. Things were always weird with Waco. After all these years, the surprises--and the mysteries--never seemed to end.
"Give Carlos the message that I called," I told the sergeant.
Carlos Ghigliotti would never get that message. He was, at that moment, deceased. The police had just discovered his corpse in an advanced state of decomposition at the office where he worked alone--Infrared Technologies Corp., on the third floor of a former bank building in downtown Laurel.
It was the afternoon of April 28. A seemingly healthy man was dead at 42. Nobody had seen him in weeks; nobody had reported him missing. Police found no sign of suicide or a break-in. Citing the unusual circumstances of his death, they were investigating it as a possible homicide.
Soon my phone was burning up with calls from people who knew of Ghigliotti's work on Waco and had heard he was dead. Maybe he was poisoned, some suggested, just as he was preparing to expose the whole sordid coverup.
The Internet boiled over with conspiracy theories. "Carlos Ghigliotti," stated one typical message, "was a man who knew too much." On Web sites like www.freerepublic.com, his name was put on lists with others who had allegedly perished from "Arkancide"--that's what the paranoiacs called other untimely deaths they'd somehow linked to the Clinton administration.
Ghigliotti, an expert in thermal imaging, was retained by the House Government Reform Committee last year to probe allegations that FBI agents--despite their vehement assertions to the contrary--had fired their weapons at members of the Branch Davidian sect, trapping helpless women and children inside the burning compound on April 19, 1993. Last fall I had quoted him in The Post as saying that infrared surveillance tapes--as well as regular videos made by the media--contained proof that the FBI fired: "The gunfire . . . is there, without a doubt."
In March he was finalizing his report to Congress, and he also had been advising attorneys waging a $100 million wrongful death suit against the government on behalf of the Davidians and their heirs. "I still have a lot of shocking evidence to show you," he wrote in a March 28 letter to Michael Caddell, the lead attorney in that case.
When his body was discovered, Ghigliotti's office got the scrutiny that Vince Foster's warranted after his suicide. Police sealed the premises and carted off computers and files. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), whose committee had retained Ghigliotti, called for "a full and thorough investigation." The Justice Department's special counsel on Waco, John C. Danforth, asked a federal court to take control of all evidence from Ghigliotti's firm.
I'd spent hours in that workshop, reviewing tapes on his eight-monitor JVC video console, looking for evidence of government perfidy in grainy images, debating theories while his beloved cats, Simone and Sipowicz, lolled at our feet. Carlos could be exasperating--brusque, inflexible and short-tempered, a fireplug of a guy who carried himself like a street fighter--but he had a soft side. More than once he admitted to breaking down in tears while examining Waco evidence. Someone had to speak for the dead, he told me. He believed with all his heart that he had finally uncovered the Truth.
"I've solved the case," he announced during one of his calls in March, urging me to come once again to his lab to review videotapes. "I know exactly what happened."
But I was busy on other stories and never made it back. Now there was one more mystery to unravel: Was Carlos the final victim of Waco?
Theorists and Theories
In the summer of 1996, a private investigator named Gordon Novel--a thin, bearded, tightly wound character who'd been enmeshed in conspiracy investigations since the JFK assassination--brought a piece of surveillance tape to Ghigliotti's office for examination. The black-and-white video was recorded by the FBI's Night Stalker plane as it circled lazily over the Branch Davidian compound, using a technology known as Forward Looking Infrared. (FLIR--pronounced fleer--detects temperature differences; heat sources register brightly on videotape.)
The Waco FLIR has become a Rosetta Stone for researchers because it shows what the media's cameras--set up miles away--couldn't see that day. It recorded the action at the back of the compound, as tanks smashed down walls and dismantled the building. A portion of the tape was filed in court in 1994 when federal prosecutors put the surviving followers of David Koresh on trial.
Seventy-five sect members died in the Waco inferno. President Clinton called it a typical cult suicide, but the Davidians said the havoc and rubble created by the tanks--not to mention clouds of tear gas--prevented many from fleeing the church. Scrutinizing the tape, Novel and others also noticed strange, repetitive flashes emanating from positions near the tanks. They claimed these were the thermal signatures of gunfire, but officials from Attorney General Janet Reno on down swore the FBI never fired that day. Government spokesmen said the flashes were nothing more than glints of sunlight on broken glass and other debris. They also said no shooters were visible on the tape.
Ramsey Clark--a former U.S. attorney general and world-class conspiracy theorist in his own right--believed the Justice Department was lying about Waco. To help him gather evidence in the lawsuit he filed on behalf of the dead, Clark turned to Novel, who claimed to have connections within the CIA and a close friendship with ex-agency director William E. Colby.
Novel pushed the Arkancide theory. He asserted that deputy White House counsel Foster was assassinated in July 1993 "to shut him up" about Waco and that Colby--who drowned in a 1996 canoeing mishap--had been killed because he'd corroborated the FLIR gunfire. (Novel also had an abiding interest in alien technology that he said was hidden at Area 51, but that's another story.)
Seeking corroboration of government misconduct at Waco, Novel turned to Ghigliotti, recognized as one of the best FLIR analysts in the country. Ghigliotti, a Navy veteran who'd also done work for the FBI, wanted no part of it. He considered Novel something of a kook. Besides, the piece of Waco tape Novel brought him, he told me later, was junk--a washed-out, fourth-generation copy, not worthy of analysis.
"I won't put my name on any report unless I can analyze the best available tape," he said. "I don't believe conspiracy bull----." (In Novel's telling, Ghigliotti wanted "too much money" to do the work--$5,000.)
By early 1997, the FLIR gunfire allegations were about to hit the mainstream--as the centerpiece of a documentary film, "Waco: The Rules of Engagement," which premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and was later nominated for an Oscar. The film's producers got a retired supervisor in the Army's Night Vision Laboratory--a scientist who held several FLIR patents--to go on record supporting the gunfire theory.
Could the FBI be guilty of perjury? Even homicide? I decided to submit the tape to as many experts as I could find. Several were skittish, unwilling to go on the record. They feared government retribution--in the form of IRS audits or being blacklisted from future contracts. One said flat-out that he didn't want to end up dead.
Eventually I got a dozen experts to view the tape. Half of them saw gunfire. The other half saw reflections. I wrote an article in April 1997 concluding that reading FLIR seemed to be more of an art than a science.
Ghigliotti refused to participate then, except as a background consultant. The most scientific way to settle the question, he said, was to re-create the event: Fly a plane over the Texas prairie while men were firing below, using the same FLIR camera as in 1993, then match that tape against the original.
Good idea, I said. But that would probably never happen--unless someone were willing to spend a fortune.
For history's sake, he hoped it would be done. "This needs to be settled once and for all," Ghigliotti liked to say. "We need to have the facts. It's too important not to."
With some coaxing, Ghigliotti finally agreed to offer an analysis if I could supply him the full FLIR record of April 19. He wanted to see and hear the entire context.
Officials at the FBI and Justice Department told me there was only one FLIR video--a silent one that started around 10:42 a.m. (Even though the gassing operation began at 6 a.m.)
Ghigliotti believed the FBI was hiding something. He was right.
Sometimes, in letters to clients and other writings, Ghigliotti spelled his last name differently: Ghigliotty. When I asked about it, he was evasive. He seemed to enjoy building an air of mystery around himself.
I'd noticed that his resume said he was a minority businessman. What minority? Italian?
"Full-blooded Puerto Rican," he said. "But my family originally came to Puerto Rico from Italy."
Carlos Luis Ghigliotti Jr. was born in New York. He wore a neatly trimmed beard and had light olive features. No trace of an accent. A bit portly--5-foot-7, he weighed 175 pounds--but not fat.
He said his father ran a transmission repair business. He wouldn't discuss his upbringing any further.
Later I learned that his boyhood nickname was Froggie because he enjoyed dissecting frogs in science class. He studied engineering in Puerto Rico, but didn't take a degree. He spent six years working as a machinist's mate aboard guided-missile cruisers.
His father, Carlos Sr., died of heart problems in his sixties. He lost his mother, Sylvia, a heavy smoker, even earlier. She died in Puerto Rico when Carlos Jr., her only son, was in naval training. He flew home immediately.
He told a few close friends the story of how he ended up at her autopsy. Mistaken for a member of the medical staff, he was in the room when the cutting began. The medical examiners found him out and urged him to leave: No man should see his own mother being dissected.
Carlos refused. He was fascinated. He had to know the details.
It turned out she, too, had a bad heart. She was 42 years old.
Analyzing the Man
"I never get sick," Carlos once boasted while I was visiting him with another Post reporter. But that day last September he was nearly crippled by back pain, wincing and barely able to talk at times. Too much stress, we speculated.
He'd been examining tapes for hours on end, late into the night, ever since Waco flared back into the news. "I always see something I didn't see before," he said.
In the rarefied field of IR analysis, Ghigliotti was known for his exceptional equipment and hyper-accurate eyesight--he'd received certification and recognition from the Infraspection Institute for his "outstanding contribution to infrared technology."
But he was just as well known for explosions of temper and willingness to bait his foes in the courtroom, accusing them of fabricating evidence. This hotheaded reputation earned him the nickname "Crazy Carlos."
That day he was scrutinizing FBI tear-gassing tactics and tank movements on some newly obtained videos. For the first time, he was hearing sound on the FLIR tapes--including what he thought was the report of gunfire.
These previously nonexistent FBI tapes suddenly materialized after Attorney General Reno learned that agents had fired potentially incendiary gas rounds at the Branch Davidian complex on the morning of April 19, in direct violation of her orders. The soundtrack confirmed it.
Outraged, she brought in former Missouri senator Danforth, who vowed to answer "the dark questions" about Waco. Among them: "Was there a coverup? Did the government kill people? How did the fire start? Were there shootings?"
Ghigliotti claimed to already know most of the answers. He cued up one of the videotapes I'd given him. It was fuzzy but we could see men with breathing apparatus clustered around the tanks as the compound burned to the ground. According to the FBI, this was a rescue team, hoping against hope to find some Davidians alive.
"Keep your eyes on the section there," Carlos instructed. "There's a whole bunch of firing going on in there, and you see those guys standing up there? They're shooting into the complex."
As reporters, we couldn't say what those flashes were. Ghigliotti, though, was dead certain--and so excited he couldn't stop working. Never mind the pain.
"You can't deny that, okay?" He pointed at a bright smear on the monitor. "I mean, that's undeniable."
The smoking gun? Well, maybe.
"He didn't know how to let go," the dark-haired woman in sunglasses says solemnly. "He spent many restless nights, insomniac nights with this."
She means Waco: "He was in it. He lived it. He breathed it," Claire Ghigliotti says.
She is stout and speaks with a slight Hispanic accent. Her manner is clipped and no-nonsense. It's easy to see some of Carlos in Claire, his younger sister and sole heir.
She arrives at a restaurant in Crofton driving Carlos's white Crown Victoria--a former police car with dark-tinted windows. He'd rigged it to receive Internet feeds and satellite positioning data; while driving he could also view an infrared camera display, helpful for detecting steam leaks and malfunctioning electrical lines when he did utility work. Carlos loved showing off that car, she says, and even the local cops were impressed.
"He was unique in what he did and how he lived and what he was," says Claire.. He could also be described as obsessive.
Carlos was extremely frugal--at least when it came to spending on himself.
He lived in his two-room office, sleeping on an air mattress. Yet he boasted of having spent more than $100,000 on sophisticated gadgetry for his business.
Out of embarrassment, Ghigliotti pretended to have another home. Even friends didn't know of this secret life; I never caught on during my five or six visits to his firm. The building had a bathroom down the hall, and apparently he would check into local hotels to shower, his sister speculates. He was always well groomed.
Claire, a Home Depot receiving administrator who moved here last year from Colorado, says she sometimes wouldn't hear from Carlos for weeks--though they lived just 20 miles apart. She last spoke to her brother April 2 and left him three phone messages thereafter--including an invitation to have arroz con pollo at her place--but figured he was busy or didn't want to see her.
He often traveled to testify in drug and forfeiture cases in which infrared cameras were used. Increasingly, law enforcement relies upon IR to detect the heat of methamphetamine labs and high-intensity "grow lights" used by marijuana cultivators. Ghigliotti would only agree to do defense work for dope suspects in accordance with his personal code: He'd do it just once, and only after they pledged never to break the law again. "He lectured every defendant he worked for," recalls Scott Kremer, a convicted pot grower in California, who says he had to make a donation to a drug-treatment program before Ghigliotti would take on his case.
Nobody knows exactly when Ghigliotti died, but his sister thinks it was April 6. Police found him dressed in nightclothes and lying on the air mattress. They also discovered a grocery receipt--he'd been out shopping on April 4--and some moldy ham and cheese sandwiches. One was half-eaten by his cats.
Simone and Sipowicz--both older, hefty felines--survived. Claire has adopted them.
If not for some of the other tenants' curiosity, Ghigliotti's body might have gone undetected even longer behind the locked, thick metal door to Suite 304.. His car hadn't been moved for three weeks. The computer dealers, accountants and secretaries in the building thought that strange; they also may have heard the cats meowing. They notified the management.
Claire figured she would have tracked Carlos down by May 4--to give him a present for his 43rd birthday. Instead she ended up arranging his funeral, calling numbers from a tidy list of 25 names in his wallet.
A Laurel police officer who attended the autopsy let Claire know that her brother most likely died of natural causes. She figured as much: Carlos had a classic Type A personality. He hadn't taken a vacation since 1989. He internalized stress. He didn't smoke, but he didn't exercise. And he didn't eat right: "He was a fast-food junkie," Claire says.
Maryland's chief medical examiner later confirmed that Ghigliotti suffered a heart attack; he had massive arterial blockage. The coroner performed toxicology tests and found no chemical substances except an over-the-counter flu remedy. Nevertheless, on the Internet there continued to be suggestions that Carlos was (a) killed by anthrax, which creates flu-like symptoms, or (b) survives as a government agent--paid off handsomely to allow a pauper's corpse to be planted in his office.
"Let the crazies think what they want to think," says Claire, sounding just as hard-nosed as her brother. She's no believer in conspiracies. Except . . ..
"I saw the tapes," she says. Once last fall her brother stayed at her home, paranoid, believing his life was in danger. He made her watch everything.
"He did a second-by-second analysis of where, what, when."
So the FBI is lying?
"Of course," she says. "Every one of them lied."
Claire decided to have her brother buried, not cremated--just in case, she says. Because maybe, someday, he might need to be exhumed.
One of the last times I heard from Carlos, he was furious. He cursed Dan Burton and said he was through with the congressional committee. "I'm quitting," he said. "The Republicans are more worried about their budget than with finding out what really happened."
Since being retained in October, he had put in five months of work and been paid only $16,100, he said. Now the committee was refusing to fund the hours he felt he needed to complete his work. It also wouldn't pay for a trip to Texas so he could participate in the March 19 Waco gunfire test being staged at the request of Special Counsel Danforth.
That came as a huge blow. Finally, somebody was going to fly over Texas with a FLIR camera--the idea he had years ago--and he wouldn't be in the game.
"He had a delicate ego. He took everything so personally," said David Michael, a San Francisco criminal defense lawyer. "He couldn't separate his personality from his professionalism."
Claire Ghigliotti believes that Congress cut her brother's funds because he got "too close to the truth." But a Government Reform Committee spokesman said Ghigliotti was defunded because the analyst repeatedly failed to produce what the staff considered a "scientific" report.
Ghigliotti wrote a detailed listing of where he detected alleged gunfire, but included no calculations or comparisons based on other IR-recorded muzzle bursts. He said he knew exactly what gunfire looked like, based on his previous experience. He simply ruled out the possibility of sunlight reflections with this statement: "There is no alternative explanation. None."
Burton's investigators didn't think his view would hold up as testimony, unless it were backed with algorithms, models and charts. Ghigliotti maintained that he needed more time for that.
It's hard to imagine that Burton was party to some uber-conspiracy to silence Ghigliotti. This, after all, is a member of Congress who once shot a cantaloupe in his back yard to pursue a theory that a second gunman was involved in Foster's suicide.
Claire has a copy of her brother's preliminary report to Burton, dated March 20. It dissects just one of the FLIR tapes from that day. It counts 70 shots supposedly fired from the weapons of the well-armed Branch Davidians. (The FBI has always said the Koresh forces blasted away at its agents all morning..)
Ghigliotti also counted 57 shots "going into the structure"--gunfire he said clearly came from government positions. He presumed the FBI was simply defending itself, as authorized by the rules of engagement. His eyes also saw seven "unknown subjects" flitting around in the rubble at the back of the collapsed structure near the tanks.
In the months before his death, he eagerly showed several people the "subjects" captured on the FLIR tape, saying these were most likely the FBI gunmen. They were impossible to see until he slowed the film to a frame-by-frame crawl on special monitors, but they were there: spectral gray images that looked and moved exactly like human beings. Or ghosts.
I saw a couple of them myself. Federal forces? Who knows. The government's latest position is that no people are ever visible at the back of the compound where the tanks are.
A new batch of British infrared experts--hired by Danforth's office to simulate the Waco incident and analyze the April 1993 FLIR tapes--says it's all tricks of sunlight. A report from Vector Data Systems found no evidence of a gun battle whatsoever. Just flashes from debris, including a shiny metal plate.
These "thermal events, including the alleged sighting of a person, are all caused by passive specular solar reflection, active thermal reflection or movement of debris," Vector reported.
The FBI was overjoyed when the Vector report came out in early May. "This resolves the FLIR flash issue," an FBI spokesman, John Collingwood, told me. "From our perspective, it lays it to rest."
But the ghosts of Waco never seem to stay at rest. Burton's investigation grinds along. So does Danforth's--last week his staff obtained copies of some of Ghigliotti's files. The civil case in Texas is set for trial June 19.
Houston lawyer Michael Caddell, representing the Davidian side, wanted Ghigliotti to be his expert witness. Visiting the lab in late March, Caddell was astonished at the detail Ghigliotti had coaxed from the FLIR and media tapes with his super-enhancing equipment. He offered him $20,000 for further analysis.
"He had a better handle on this than anyone I've seen," Caddell recalls. "And he was the most reasonable in his assessments."
But Ghigliotti was deeply ambivalent about doing more Waco work. He told his sister it was depressing him. He told me he didn't want to endlessly relive a tragedy that most Americans had long forgotten.
"My current plans (until I met you) were to finish the congressional findings and then take a long vacation," he wrote to Caddell on March 28. "I forgot to tell you that I am currently suffering a rare sickness. It has been diagnosed as Waco fatigue."
What He Left Behind
Carlos didn't have health insurance. When he was feeling ill, he relied on drugstore potions.
At Claire's invitation, I visited his office one last time. The Carlos Bunker--that's what I used to call it. Now, standing amid the accumulated evidence of his short life, that glib journalistic label didn't seem so funny.
I noticed several packets of TheraFlu medication strewn about. He stored Milk of Magnesia and Pepto-Bismol in the small refrigerator. A hoard of painkillers was stashed in desk drawers.
I imagined him rising from a fitful sleep, agitated over FLIR flashes, Dan Burton and the specters of Waco, vainly trying to stave off symptoms of heart disease.
For the first time I noticed a closet, and I found a suit bag hanging there, as well as a small mirror. I saw how he made this place his home. On a shelf sat a mini-stereo and rows of New Wave CDs: He liked the Police, Human League and the Psychedelic Furs. On another shelf was a lone video disc: "The X-Files."
I wondered what had ever happened to the woman, about his age, whom I'd once met working here. She seemed more familiar to him than a temp. I thought maybe they were close. Carlos once mentioned he was looking for a woman to settle down and have children with.
I didn't wonder anymore whether he was right or wrong about Waco. That's for the courts, the prosecutors and Congress to decide. I just wondered how Carlos Ghigliotti, who wanted so much to speak for the dead, forgot how to live.
Two sailors in blazing white uniforms and white gloves saluted as the hearse pulled up at the Maryland Veterans' Cemetery at Cheltenham. As befit a man who had served his country honorably, Ghigliotti was entitled to a flag-draped casket, a flawlessly performed military ceremony and a decent plot of ground.
The mourners were few--just nine of us, including those who'd met Carlos through his work. We sat close to the front of the sweltering chapel, the better to hear the Catholic priest over the clanking air-cooling system.
The message was entirely clear to me when he cited one of St. Paul's lessons: We live by faith--by believing, not by seeing.
There was a stir in the back of the room as a knot of dark-suited men arrived. They sat off to the side, by themselves, five of them. They exited hastily after the ceremony, not pausing to greet Claire or anyone else.
They departed in an SUV behind smoked windows. None of the mourners had any idea who they were.
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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