by Sherri Chunn (Associated Press, March 19, 2000)
KILLEEN, Texas (AP) - Aircraft circled, tanks rumbled and combat-garbed shooters fired off rounds at a Texas military base Sunday in a high-stakes field test to resolve whether federal agents shot at the Branch Davidians in the waning moments of the 1993 Waco standoff.
The test's participants, emerging from the tightly controlled, nonpublic test conducted at Fort Hood, said the demonstration had gone well.
``The test today went smoothly, but we're really kind of limited right now as to what we can share with you,'' said U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, one of the government's lead lawyers in ongoing Branch Davidian litigation.
Government officials have always insisted that their forces fired no shots on the siege's final day, when the FBI launched a tear-gassing operation designed to end the 51-day standoff.
But Branch Davidian plaintiffs suing the government for wrongful death insist Sunday's field test will confirm their experts' analysis: that rapid-fire bursts of light appearing on the FBI's 1993 aerial infrared surveillance footage represent gunfire from government positions into the Davidians' retreat.
``If we ... show that there are flashes from gunfire, I am hopeful FBI leaders will acknowledge that guns were fired and the FBI will find out who fired and on what orders,'' the plaintiffs' lead counsel, Michael Caddell, said prior to the test at the Army outpost, 50 miles southwest of the site of the 1993 Waco siege.
FBI officials have suggested the flashes come from sunlight glinting off water, metal or other debris strewn on the ground while the government's tanks pierced the compound's walls to insert tear gas.
Davidian leader David Koresh and some 80 followers perished during the fire that consumed their compound several hours into the tear-gassing operation. The government contends their deaths, whether from fire or gunshot wounds, came by their own hand. The plaintiffs argue government gunfire cut off Davidians' only avenue of escape as the inferno raged.
The field test, ordered by the federal judge presiding over the Davidians' lawsuit, was designed to determine whether the Forward Looking Infrared camera is capable of detecting people, debris heated by exhaust from tanks, sunlight reflections and, of course, gunfire.
Infrared experts from both sides will compare the test footage with the FBI's 1993 tape to determine whether muzzle blasts fired during the test have similar thermal signatures.
Bradford and Caddell said it was unlikely preliminary results would be released before Monday, when Caddell had hoped to air portions of the test video. But U.S. District Judge Walter Smith barred release of the film, while permitting discussion of its contents. The judge, calling the video evidence, said the court's infrared expert will release its own analysis within 30 days.
Bradford has acknowledged that infrared technology can detect gunfire - a statement Caddell has described as a stunning reversal of the government's earlier position.
The critical issue, Bradford and other federal officials contend, is whether the cameras detect people on the ground. No people were visible on the 1993 infrared tape until after the fire erupted and FBI agents emerged from armored vehicles to search for survivors.
While the government suggests there can be no shots without shooters, the plaintiffs argue that gunmen weren't detected because the temperature of their fire-retardant clothing and body armor was similar to that of the soil.
The test site was overflown by an FBI plane equipped with the since-upgraded FLIR used at Waco and a Lynx helicopter on loan from the British Royal Navy outfitted with an infrared camera of the same generation as the one used in 1993.
The infrared cameras captured images of shooters and tank drivers carrying out the intricately choreographed demonstration. The field was strategically peppered with debris to simulate the scene at the compound on April 19, 1993, as tanks rammed into the sect's rickety wooden structure.
The field test was attended by the special counsel re-investigating the government's conduct during the siege's final day, former Sen. John Danforth. Also among the 25 or so people in attendance were Smith, congressional investigators and the Texas Rangers.
Smith rejected news organizations' request for the event to be public.
by Jim Yardley and Ross E. Milloy ("The New York Times", March 18, 2000)
WACO, Tex., Mar. 17 -- Early this Sunday, a select group of government officials and private lawyers will meet at nearby Fort Hood, the nation's largest military base. For several hours, maybe longer, they will watch an extraordinary simulation intended to answer a question that has raged from Internet chat rooms to the halls of Congress:
Did federal agents fire gunshots into the Branch Davidian compound occupied by David Koresh and his followers shortly before it burned to the ground on April 19, 1993, claiming the lives of about 80 men, women and children?
The exercise is intended to address one of the unresolved mysteries of the Branch Davidian standoff, an episode widely regarded as one of the most troubling in American law-enforcement history. On that final day, an infrared aerial surveillance video by the Federal Bureau of Investigation captured unexplained "flashes" near the compound just before the fire erupted.
Government officials have steadfastly denied that agents fired any weapons, but lawyers representing survivors and descendants of the Branch Davidians in a wrongful-death lawsuit claim that the flashes indicated gunfire.
Since the fall, former Senator John C. Danforth has been leading an investigation into the episode near here, and Sunday's test could be important in his efforts to determine whether the government was truthful in its account of how it carried out the siege.
That such an exercise will occur is another reminder that the furor over the incident remains one of the most vexing issues still facing the Department of Justice in the waning months of the Clinton administration.
Some experts question how far even Sunday's test will go in answering the most troubling questions.
Mr. Danforth's staff is overseeing the exercise, the first such major simulation involving the government since investigators re-enacted the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
"If we are right, and if we prove there is gunfire, the implications go far beyond the whole issue of just whether the Davidians were killed or not," said Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Branch Davidians.
The field test, which was ordered in December by Judge Walter S. Smith of United States District Court, who is presiding over the civil lawsuit, is a major logistical undertaking. The test could be postponed if the weather is bad. If not, an F.B.I. airplane and a British helicopter will be equipped with cameras similar to the Forward Looking Infrared, or FLIR, device used by the F.B.I. on April 19. On the ground, eight participants -- six postal inspectors and two Army soldiers -- will fire weapons from prone, kneeling and standing positions. Tanks and armored vehicles will rumble over a field of debris intended to replicate the Branch Davidian compound. There will be a rehearsal on Saturday.
Once completed, the new footage will be compared to the FLIR video account of the fire. Mr. Caddell believes that the staged gunfire will produce flashes similar to those recorded on the original video and confirm his contention that agents fired into the compound.
Various news organizations, including The New York Times, had sought access to the test, but Judge Smith denied it.
Mr. Caddell, however, said he planned to release copies of the video as soon as Monday so that the public can draw its own conclusions.
"The reality is that people are going to make up their own minds on this," Mr. Caddell said. "Do you have to have an expert tell you the difference between the sun and the moon?"
Mike Bradford, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Texas and one of the lead government lawyers in the case, said he was concerned that the experiment could simply create more confusion. Mr. Bradford said government lawyers initially opposed the test because they regarded it as a misguided and inauthentic effort to re-enact the final day of the standoff. But, he said, the protocol for Sunday is not a re-enactment, and he hopes the test will dispel the speculation that has surrounded the role of F.B.I. agents.
"These flashes do appear on the tape that seem to have created some doubts," Mr. Bradford said. "We are hopeful that maybe this test will make it clear that what you see on the tape of the 19th could not be agents moving and shooting."
The standoff began on Feb. 28, 1993, after a gun battle at the compound near Waco left four federal agents and six Branch Davidians dead. The agents had gone to the compound to serve an arrest warrant on Mr. Koresh on weapons charges. For 51 days thereafter, a standoff ensued until the morning of April 19, when government tanks poked holes in the building and began spreading tear gas. Within a short time, the building erupted in flames.
Government officials describe Mr. Koresh as a madman. In past Congressional hearings, they have presented evidence that he ordered his followers to set the compound on fire as part of a suicide pact.
But the role played by federal agents has continued to draw scrutiny. In September, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Mr. Danforth as a special counsel to re-examine the April 19 F.B.I. raid after disclosures that F.B.I. agents fired at least one flammable tear-gas canister at a concrete bunker near the Davidian building. The F.B.I. had previously maintained that it had not fired any device capable of starting a fire.
Since the fall, Mr. Danforth's 68-person staff has sifted through piles of evidence and examined weapons and bullet casings used by federal agents during the standoff and fire. In January, Mr. Danforth moved to perform toxicology test on the tissue and bones of those who died to determine if they were affected by the tear gas pumped into the compound. Mr. Danforth, who promised on the day of his appointment to answer "the dark questions," has not commented since.
"He has maintained a code of silence throughout the investigation," said Jan Diltz, a spokeswoman. "He is going to tell the American people at the conclusion what the facts are, and we'll just go with that."
At Judge Smith's request, Mr. Danforth's staff has organized Sunday's field test, which will be conducted by a British company. In October, Mr. Caddell filed a motion seeking the test. His lawsuit contends that Federal agents fired gunshots from behind the compound. As a result Mr. Caddell contends, people
were trapped inside when the fire erupted. Government lawyers have fiercely denied such an explanation, pointing out that there is no concrete evidence that any agents fired that day. This month Mr. Caddell dropped his action against one well-known government sniper, Lon Horiuchi, because ballistics tests failed to show he had fired his weapon.
Government lawyers initially tried to prevent the Sunday field test by telling the court that the FLIR camera used on April 19 no longer existed, a position they retracted after Mr. Danforth's staff located the device in England. When it became clear that both Mr. Danforth and Judge Smith favored the test, the government reversed course and agreed to participate.
"It shows the court takes the case very seriously and is looking for every opportunity to let the parties get to the truth," said Bill Johnston, a former assistant United States attorney, who was intimately involved in the Branch Davidian case before he resigned earlier this year to enter private practice.
Danny Coulson, the deputy assistant director of the F.B.I. at the time of the standoff, acknowledged that the field test could further inflame speculation by conspiracy theorists and others critical of the government. Mr. Coulson himself disputes allegations that F.B.I. agents fired weapons. But he said the test was essential if the F.B.I. wanted to finally expunge any public doubts about the agency's role.
"If there were people out there shooting, we need to know that," said Mr. Coulson, who has retired from the F.B.I. and now works as an author and security consultant. "In order for the F.B.I. to have any credibility with certain segments of society, we need to resolve it. If the F.B.I. doesn't have any credibility, its ability to function is greatly diminished."
He added, "It's crazy, but if we can put this to rest, I think that is good for the country."
In recent months, experts for Mr. Caddell and the government have offered conflicting opinions on whether the flashes on the original tape could have been gunfire. F.B.I. experts have suggested that the flashes came from reflections of standing water or other debris around the compound. The field of debris in Sunday's test is an effort to duplicate that condition. Mr. Caddell hired two experts, who determined that the flashes were gunfire.
The civil trial in the wrongful-death suit is scheduled to begin May 15, and this week Mr. Caddell filed a motion claiming that the government had "lost, altered or tampered with" key evidence. Government lawyers have not yet responded.
by Guillermo X. Garcia ("USA Today", March 17, 2000)
WACO, Texas -- Radar-laden military aircraft and hundreds of camouflaged soldiers are assembling here in an unusual crime-scene re-creation to determine whether FBI sharpshooters fired on the Branch Davidian compound the day it burned to the ground in 1993.
The secret re-creation is set for Sunday, weather permitting. It will be held at a remote location inside Fort Hood, an Army base 50 miles from where the Davidians' Mount Carmel compound stood.
With the assistance of the British navy, several U.S. Army platoons and others, Waco special counsel John Danforth hopes to re-create the conditions that existed at the compound the day Davidian leader David Koresh and more than 80 adults and children died.
The Waco re-creation is the product of a series of events, beginning last August, which raised serious questions about the government's conduct in the final hours of the 51-day siege. After years of denials came disclosures that federal authorities did use potentially flammable tear-gas canisters in the final assault.
Though the FBI has continued to assert that the canisters could not have caused the fire, the disclosures helped raise broader questions about the use of force against the Davidians. In September, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Danforth, a former senator, to re-examine the government's conduct in the case. Danforth called for a re-creation of the event, as did plaintiffs in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed on behalf of those who died in the assault. The government was opposed to the re-creation.
Whatever the result Sunday, it is expected to have implications in Danforth's inquiry and the civil lawsuit, scheduled for trial in May. The lawsuit alleges that government actions and negligence caused the tragedy.
Sunday, officials will fly a British Royal Navy Lynx Mk8 helicopter and an FBI Night Stalker fixed-wing craft in the same patterns the government used to fly aircraft the day of the fire. Forward-Looking Infrared cameras on the Lynx and Night Stalker will film soldiers on the ground crouching, kneeling and standing as they fire tracer ammunition.
The film will help determine what caused more than 100 flashes to appear on an FBI infrared tape taken during the siege's last hours. Soldiers on the ground will wear body suits, camouflage and other types of sniper suits similar to what FBI sharpshooters wore that day.
They will fire different types of weapons as the aircraft overhead record the discharges. Experts then will compare Sunday's tape with FBI surveillance tapes taken April 19, 1993, the day of the fire.
''After this test, people will know definitively and quickly, without sophisticated computers or experts interpreting algorithms, whether those flashes were gunfire or not,'' says Mike Cadell, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit.
The test may also be crucial in determining whether rifle fire from government sharpshooters might have hindered Davidian cult members from evacuating the burning building, as Cadell claims. The Justice Department has denied that FBI riflemen fired on the compound that day. The fire ended the siege that began when federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents attempted to arrest Koresh on weapons possession charges.
Some members died from gunshots in the siege's final frantic hours. Others died in the fire, which Cadell blames on tear-gas pyrotechnic grenades launched by a 60-ton FBI tank. Officials have claimed the gunshots were self-inflicted.
The Justice Department says that the FBI fired two projectiles -- the tear gas canisters -- and that it is unlikely they caused the fire. Federal officials say Koresh ordered that fires be lighted to end the standoff in the apocalyptic manner he had predicted.
Videos and photographs taken that day seem to contradict the government's account of how many devices were fired and from what direction. The government says the tear gas canisters were fired at a bunker away from the main building. However, a Texas Ranger forensic report indicates the canisters were fired from behind the main building, not from the area where the FBI had said it fired the projectiles.
Cadell charges that only gunfire can explain the bursts of light in the surveillance footage, which he says come from areas around the compound where FBI snipers were positioned. The government has said sunlight reflecting off water, glass, mirrors, trash or abandoned automobiles at the site could explain the flashes.
''The government is desperate to generate a flash on (Sunday's) test by any means other than gunfire,'' Cadell says.
Reno declined to comment on the re-creation. However, she described the tragic outcome as ''extraordinarily painful then, and it continues to be.''
Sunday's test should take a few hours but could be delayed until Monday if weather conditions do not closely match those on the day of the fire. A front this week brought cool, rainy weather to Waco, about 85 miles south of Dallas. Sunday's forecast calls for overcast skies, which would likely cause the test to be postponed.
Earlier, several newspapers, including The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News argued at a court hearing that the re-creation should not be ''shrouded in secrecy,'' because to do so would only increase public skepticism about the raid's details and the government's role in the siege's fiery conclusion. The federal judge hearing the case rejected the news organizations' request.
by Sherri Chunn (Associated Press, March 17, 2000)
DALLAS (AP) - The government's credibility will be put to the test this weekend when critical portions of the 1993 assault at Waco are re-enacted at a military base with tanks, a helicopter and camouflaged gunmen.
The re-creation could challenge the government's unequivocal assertion that federal agents fired no shots at the Branch Davidian compound in the final hours of the 51-day siege.
The test is pivotal for the Davidian plaintiffs who are suing the government for wrongful death in a case headed for trial in mid-May. Much of their case is built on their claim that government operatives fired into the compound as flames raced through the wooden building, cutting off the sect members' only avenue of escape. Sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died during the April 19, 1993, inferno that consumed the compound several hours into an FBI tear-gas operation designed to flush them from their holdout. Some died were killed by the blaze, others by gunfire.
The two-hour demonstration, scheduled for Sunday if the weather is favorable, is designed to answer a question central to the investigations being conducted by Congress and a special counsel: What caused the dozens of rapid-fire bursts of light that appear on FBI infrared surveillance footage taken during the siege's final moments? Infrared experts hired by the plaintiffs, as well as one retained by a House committee, contend the flashes represent gunfire from government positions and a smattering of return fire from the Davidians.
FBI officials are adamant that the Davidians died by their own hands, and have suggested that the flashes came from sunlight glinting off pools of water, metal or other debris on the ground.
During the test, aircraft with infrared cameras will fly over Fort Hood - 50 miles southwest of Waco - as gunmen in combat garb fire weapons similar to those carried by federal agents and Davidians alike.
Infrared experts will compare the resulting footage with the FBI's 1993 tape to determine whether the muzzle flashes during the test have thermal signatures similar to those of the bursts of light recorded nearly seven years ago. The results of the analysis won't be immediately available.
The re-creation, which will be closed to the media and public, was ordered by the federal judge presiding over the Davidian case. It was requested by special counsel John Danforth, the former Republican senator from Missouri who was appointed last fall by Attorney General Janet Reno to re-investigate the resurgent Waco controversy.
``At the end of the day, the American people need to feel satisified that this question has been thoroughly investigated, and that it has been resolved one way or the other,'' said the plaintiffs' chief lawyer, Michael Caddell. ``And I think at the end of this test, we'll know.''
U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, one of the government's lawyers in the case, said: ``When you look at those (1993) tapes, you don't see people. You just see a glint. Our position has been if there were people out there moving around, you'd see them.''
While the government suggests there can be no shots fired without shooters, the plaintiffs argue that the agents weren't detected because the temperature of their clothing was similar to that of the soil.
Before the test begins, tanks will disturb the soil and crush glass, aluminum and other debris to help reproduce conditions from 1993.
Two aircraft equipped with infrared cameras will circle over the test site: the FBI Night Stalker plane used at Waco, with its since-upgraded infrared camera; and a Lynx helicopter on loan from the British navy. The helicopter's infrared camera is much like the one used in 1993.
While the aircraft hover, Danforth's investigators and military personnel will fire an array of weaponry, including rifles, pistols and grenade launchers with both non-burning tear gas rounds and military-issue, pyrotechnic gas grenades.
It was the FBI's admission last August that potentially incendiary tear gas canisters were fired at the Davidians' compound - Reno's orders to the contrary - that revived the controversy and led to Danforth's appointment and the congressional inquiries. The government has insisted the canisters were fired well before the blaze broke out.
("The Dallas Morning News", March 17, 2000)
WACO - Sheriff Jack Harwell, whose 40 years with McLennan County included mediating negotiations between David Koresh and FBI agents during the 1993 Branch Davidian siege, died Thursday of an apparent heart attack in his Robinson home. He was 71.
Sheriff Harwell, whose tenure as a sheriff was the third-longest in the state, was nine months from retirement. He became sheriff in 1973 after the death of Sheriff C.C. Maxey.
The flags at the McLennan Courthouse were at half-staff Thursday, and Sheriff Harwell's deputies placed black tape over their badges. Co-workers described him as a man who always had the time to listen.
"Compassion. That was his greatest attribute," Capt. Dan Weyenberg, Sheriff Harwell's longtime chief deputy and friend of 40 years, told the Waco Tribune-Herald.
"He still believed in the fact that the sheriff's department is a public service organization to help people and not to put everybody in jail . . . He was very interested and concerned about people."
Born into a farming family in Riesel, about 15 miles southeast of Waco, Mr. Harwell served in the Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy during World War II before joining the McLennan County Sheriff's Office in 1961.
The sheriff was thrust into the forefront during the 1993 Branch Davidian siege, serving as a mediator between Mr. Koresh, whom he had known for years, and FBI negotiators. During that time, he fended off criticism that his department did too little to investigate child-abuse allegations against Mr. Koresh.
Sheriff Harwell underwent angioplasty in November 1992. Doctors discovered two arteries leading to his heart were 95 percent blocked.
Sheriff Harwell is survived by a wife, two sons, a daughter and numerous grandchildren.
A funeral service for Sheriff Harwell has been scheduled for Monday at the First Baptist Church of Waco.
by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", March 16, 2000)
Lawyers for the Branch Davidians told a federal judge Wednesday that key government photos and audio and video recordings from the last day of the 1993 Waco siege have been "lost, altered or tampered with."
In a motion, the lead attorney for the sect asked U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith to force the government to explain the "disturbing pattern." The attorney also asked the judge to impose punishment over the mishandling of critical evidence from April 19, 1993, the day that the sect's compound burned.
Among evidence that the sect's lawyers and their experts described as flawed, partially missing or otherwise suspect: Still photographs taken from an FBI surveillance airplane on the morning of April 19 as agents on the ground used tanks and tear gas against the compound.
Forward-looking-infrared (FLIR) videos recorded from another airplane during the entire FBI assault.
Audio recordings from FBI bugs inside the Branch Davidian compound and the government's transcripts of tapes, which officials have said included sect members' discussions of plans to torch their home.
Government attorneys declined to comment Wednesday, saying that they had not yet seen the motion.
"We'll review it as to specific allegations and will respond," said U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford of Beaumont, one of two lead lawyers. He has previously said that the government turned over to the U.S. District Court in Waco all original government documents, photos, recordings and other evidence related to the siege.
The government's lawyers also recently asked the court for custody of all recorded evidence in the case so it could be examined by a government-paid expert.
Michael Caddell, lead attorney for the sect, said Wednesday that careful review of what the government has turned over reveals a pattern that "gets to be beyond coincidence or sloppiness. It is clear that there is a calculated plan on the part of people within the FBI to withhold evidence or to present only that evidence that is favorable."
Judge Smith ordered the turnover of all government evidence relating to the 1993 siege after the Texas Rangers notified the court that they had discovered that some evidence given to them for safekeeping had been mislabeled by an FBI laboratory, and that other evidence was missing after being photographed just after the standoff.
The judge said then that he thought his order was needed to avoid a perception that evidence might be concealed or tampered with before the sect's wrongful-death lawsuit against the government went to trial.
Judge Smith repeatedly threatened government lawyers with contempt last fall before they fully complied with his order to surrender all Waco evidence to his court.
Hearing sought Mr. Caddell argued Wednesday that the government has continued to defy the court's order, and he asked for a full contempt hearing and "appropriate sanctions for the government's willful or neglectful destruction or alteration of original evidence."
"If the court is to fulfill its goal of assuring the American public that the original critical evidence . . . has not been lost, tampered with or altered, it must take immediate steps," Mr. Caddell's 31-page motion argued.
The motion detailed allegations of significant time gaps and missing images among the photos taken from an FBI airplane on April 19.
Mr. Caddell said he began a detailed analysis of the photos last month, sending an assistant to Waco to compare negatives sent to the federal court with infrared video shot from another FBI aircraft on April 19.
His motion Wednesday said his assistant found previously undisclosed anomalies in the government's photographs. Among the most troubling, the motion stated, was the fact that all but a few of the original negatives were missing from a key 36-frame roll of photographs taken in the hour before the compound burned.
Photographic negative sleeves submitted to the court for that roll of film bore the notation "originals lost," the motion stated. In place of the originals, the FBI sent negatives to the court that had been made by copying "severely scratched and damaged" photographic prints, the motion stated.
Some scratches "appeared to be strategically located to obscure material which may have been present on the original photograph," the motion alleged. In one of the negative images, a large white scratch obscures a brownish object near a tank behind the building.
Two frames among those duplicate negatives - frames 31 and 36 - show exactly the same photo image, which the motion asserts would be "an impossibility" if the duplicate negatives sent to the court are accurate copies of the original roll of film. The motion noted that contact sheets from that film supplied to the sect's lawyers by the Justice Department contained a "completely different photograph" for Frame 36 from what was found among the court's negatives.
Among the only original negatives still present from that film is a photograph shown to reporters by the FBI to challenge the sect's contention that muzzle flashes from bureau guns were recorded by an overhead infrared camera.
The photo, featured in January stories by The CBS Evening News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, shows a tank bashing into the rear of the compound. No people are visible near the tank, and FBI officials said that proved their argument that flashes seen a short time after the photo was made could not be from government gunfire.
But lawyers for the sect argued that there are suspicious time gaps between that photograph, which authorities said was taken about 11:24 a.m., and other photos shot from above the compound. After that picture was taken, about four minutes lapsed before the next photo in the FBI's picture collection.
Bigger gaps The collection of stills sent to the court contains even longer time gaps - including two lasting 8 minutes each and one exceeding 10 minutes - between photographs, the motion stated.
Mr. Caddell said he found those gaps by comparing the still photos with the FBI's infrared videos from April 19, which contain split-second time stamps. He noted that the FBI made a similar comparison to estimate that the photo displayed to some media outlets had been taken about 11:24 a.m.
His motion asserted that the gaps between still photos are particularly significant because they occur just before the fire erupted. That was a period when the FBI infrared video showed that government tanks were most active in tearing into the back side of the building.
It was also during those gaps among the FBI's still photos that the infrared video showed repeated flashes around the government tanks and the first heat signatures of fires appearing inside the compound, the motion stated.
The long gaps were particularly suspicious, the motion argued, because the FBI photographer said in a deposition that he took photos "anytime there was any activity going on around the building" involving the FBI tanks. That photographer had previously averaged two to three shots per minute, the motion noted.
The photogapher also testified that he recalled shooting about 10 rolls of film on April 19, but only seven rolls have been turned over to the federal court in Waco.
"The pattern of the photographs produced by the FBI suggests only one thing: The FBI has turned over only those photographs to the court and to the press that the FBI wants the court and the public to see," the motion says. "It is clear that the photographs have been 'cherry-picked' to provide only those photographs that are not incriminating."
Another major area of complaint in Mr. Caddell's motion Wednesday focused on the FLIR video recorded from the air as FBI tanks attacked and tear-gassed the compound.
That video was the cornerstone of the government's finding in 1993 that the sect torched its own building. The video has also become the foundation of the Branch Davidians' assertion that government gunfire cut off escape routes for women and children just before the compound burned - a charge the government denies. More than 80 sect members died amid the blaze.
Testimony differs An expert hired by the sect to analyze the infrared video recorded on April 19 concluded that someone erased audio tracks from the period when rhythmic flashes were recorded. The sect's experts say those flashes, which emanated from compound windows and areas around government tanks in the hour before the compound burned, could have come only from government gunfire.
Experts for the government have sharply disputed that, saying the flashes last too long to be from muzzle blasts.
The agents who manned the infrared plane have said in recent depositions that they were surprised and could not explain why the audio track was missing from the videotape between 10:41 a.m. and noon on April 19.
The infrared recordings made earlier that day had included full audio recordings of discussions among agents in the plane about what was happening on the ground as well as radio transmissions among FBI agents on the ground. One agent who operated the infrared camera said in a recent deposition that a dozen or more agents had access to the original infrared videos because they were stored in a safe at the headquarters of the FBI's aviation surveillance wing. Because there was no requirement that tapes be signed out, and hostage rescue team members also had access to the area where they were stored, the motion contended that "any number of persons could have destroyed, altered or tampered with the FLIR recordings."
"Because of the FBI's shoddy procedure for maintaining this key evidence, it would be impossible to identify the culprit," the motion contended.
The sect's motion noted that the FBI's official account of how many infrared tapes were made and exactly what was on them has changed. FBI officials swore under oath in 1998 that no infrared videos existed from the period before 10:41 a.m.
But last fall, FBI officials acknowledged that earlier videos had been found at the FBI's hostage rescue team headquarters. They issued a statement saying that no audio was recorded in the FLIR airplane after 8:24 a.m.
"This last statement was also false," Wednesday's motion stated. "In fact, the FLIR tapes produced by the FBI have a highly suspicious pattern of turning the audio recording off and on throughout the day on April 19."
The motion noted that government lawyers have acknowleged that they could not find all of the infrared tapes recorded on April 19. The sect's lawyers say the recordings purported to be originals are suspect because one contains evidence of erasures and another contains time-stamped images recorded on the previous two days.
One infrared operator recently testified that the FBI always used new videotapes in Waco, the motion noted.
"In the words of the plaintiff's forensic audio/video analyst, 'This tape cannot be trusted concerning its reliability and the possibility that it may have been tampered with.' " The third major area of complaint in Wednesday's motion focuses on the audiotapes that recorded transmissions from FBI bugs inside the compound on April 19.
The sect's recording expert found that those tapes contained electronic signals commonly found only in high-speed copies. One tape, purportedly recorded in the hour and a half just before the compound burned, bears distinct magnetic imprints that suggest it was recorded on at least three different tape recorders.
"This finding casts further doubt on the authenticity and reliability of the government's surveillance tapes," the motion said.
by Terry Ganey and William Freivogel ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", March 16, 2000)
The government has "lost, altered or tampered with" key evidence to understanding what happened at Waco, lawyers for the Branch Davidian survivors said Wednesday.
In a motion filed in federal court, the lawyers said the tainted evidence included FBI photos that show no agents shooting at the Branch Davidian complex. The lawyers said some of the pictures came from film negatives that had been copied from other photos, raising the possibility they had been tampered with.
They said almost all of the 36 exposures of one roll of original negatives taken during a crucial period of the government's siege were "lost" and that only duplicates were available for analysis in federal court. They also said rolls of film appeared to be missing and there were time gaps between pictures during periods in which other evidence suggests gunfire was coming from government positions.
J. Michael Bradford, the U.S. Attorney in Beaumont, Texas, said the Justice Department had no immediate comment.
"I will have to look into it," he said, "It sounds as if it is a complicated accusation that will require that we obtain some records and documents. I'm not in a position to comment until we can check on all of it."
The Branch Davidians' motion also said other pieces of evidence appeared to have been doctored. They said surveillance audio tapes had been erased and parts of an infrared video tape had been recorded over.
"There are many suspicious gaps in the evidence indicating key evidence has been withheld or destroyed," the motion said. "Moreover, the evidence that has been produced is inconsistent with key testimony, and suggestive of tampering or alteration."
Mike Caddell, the lead lawyer for Branch Davidians survivors, filed the motion in U.S. District Court in Waco. The survivors have filed a wrongful death suit against the federal government. The motion seeks to have the government held in contempt of a judge's order requiring all original pieces of evidence be turned over to the court.
Part of the motion focuses on FBI aerial surveillance photographs taken April 19, 1993, during the last hours of the government's siege on the complex, known as Mount Carmel. The motion cited statements by the FBI photographer who said he took approximately 10 rolls of film - "give or take one or two" - but that the government supplied only seven rolls of film to the court.
The seven rolls have been cut into strips. One of those rolls includes duplicates rather than original negatives, except for a five-frame strip of that roll, the motion said. It is "Roll No. 1" that covers the critical period of time when an infrared video camera on a separate FBI surveillance plane recorded some flashes. Some experts have identified the flashes as heat from muzzle blasts from guns from government positions. The FBI has maintained that none of its agents fired at Mount Carmel.
The resolution of prints made from anything other than original negatives would not be as clear, the motion said.
The FBI and the Justice Department have used one photo to rebut claims that agents on the ground fired on the back side of the complex. It was taken at approximately 11:24 a.m. and shows no one on the ground while at about the same time there are flashes near the same location on the infrared video.
Caddell's motion said that the "supposed" 11:24 photo was in the set that included duplicates, not original negatives. The motion also said that in addition to the duplicates, there was one strip of five original negatives from Roll No. 1. The "original" strip includes the photograph taken at 11:24. "Coincidentally(?), this supposed original fragment happens to contain the supposed 11:24 photograph touted by the FBI to reporters," the motion said. "Of course the coincidence is too much. All of the negative strips from Roll 1 are 'lost,' except for the one that seems to help the FBI?" Of the seven rolls of film, two cover the one-hour period leading up to the fire that destroyed Mount Carmel. The other five rolls were taken of the fire. During the period leading up to the fire, Caddell said there were four major time gaps of about five, eight, 11 and eight minutes during which no photos were taken. The gaps are suspicious, Caddell said, because the photographer had said he took pictures at the rate of two or three per minute.
The gaps occur when agents were inserting gas into the complex and ramming it with tanks. At the same time, dozens of flashes appear on the infrared video tape.
The fact that no photos were made of this activity "raises the likelihood that there are several rolls of film missing from the evidence turned over by the government to the court," Caddell said.
"The pattern of the photographs produced by the FBI suggests only one thing: the FBI has turned over only those photographs to the court (and the press) that the FBI wants the court and the public to see," Caddell said. "It is clear that the photographs have been 'cherry-picked' to provide only those photographs which are not incriminating."
Caddell also noted that four agents who operated the infrared camera said it was standard procedure to include audio on the tape. Because there is no sound on the Waco infrared tapes, it appears the audio was later erased, Caddell 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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