by Jeff Franks (Reuters, March 20, 2000)
HOUSTON (Reuters) - An elaborate field test to determine whether FBI agents fired at Branch Davidians in the last hour of the 1993 siege in Waco, Texas left more questions than answers on Monday when attorneys for both the government and the religious sect said the results vindicated their sharply opposing cases.
The government said videotapes of Sunday's simulation, which included the use of weapons, tanks and aircraft carrying infrared cameras, showed the FBI did not shoot, but the sect lawyer who has filed a wrongful death lawsuit said the tapes proved they did.
About 80 Branch Davidians died when their central Texas compound erupted into flames on April 19, 1993, during an FBI assault to end a 51-day siege that began with the attempted arrest of sect leader David Koresh on federal weapons charges.
The lawsuit charges that the FBI prevented the Davidians from fleeing the burning compound by firing at the sect members while tanks punched holes in the building and pumped in tear gas.
The FBI has denied any shooting that day and says the Davidians torched the compound as part of a suicide plan.
``Our initial review indicates to us that the tape is supportive of our position that there was no gunfire on April 19 by the FBI,'' U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, one of the government's lead lawyers in the case, told Reuters in a telephone interview on Monday.
But Davidians' attorney Michael Caddell said just the opposite in a Houston press conference.
``It clearly demonstrates there was government gunfire in the back of Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993,'' he said, referring to the Davidian's name for their compound.
INFRARED VIDEOTAPE IS AT ISSUE
At issue in Sunday's test, conducted at the U.S. Army's Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas, 50 miles southwest of Waco, was verification of an FBI aerial videotape taken through an infrared camera during the final assault.
It showed flashes of light that the Davidians say were gunshots from FBI agents. The FBI said the flashes were probably reflections of sunlight from debris and pools of water on the site.
During the three-hour-long test, eight shooters wearing combat gear similar to that used by the FBI agents fired weapons into a target range while tanks and armored personnel carriers crunched over a debris field of broken glass and metal to replicate conditions at the Davidian compound during the siege.
A British Royal Navy helicopter equipped with an infrared camera like the one the FBI used in 1993 and an FBI plane with an updated version of the camera videotaped the test while circling overhead.
Bradford, who was still in Killeen on Monday, said Sunday's videotapes showed flashes of gunfire, but only from larger guns that the FBI agents would not have used during the assault. He also said both cameras picked up reflections from the debris field.
``We haven't done enough analysis to be able to take it a step further and say that proves the flashes on the 19th are debris, but at least there are flashes there that we think are consistent with and do make it possible that that could be one explanation for what the flashes are,'' he said.
Caddell disagreed, telling reporters the tapes appeared to show gun flashes from smaller-caliber weapons that FBI agents would have carried. He said the older model camera on the British helicopter showed no debris glints, while the newer model on the FBI plane did.
The FBI also has argued that the 1993 tape showed no FBI agents near the supposed gun flashes, but Caddell said the infrared camera, which detects heat, could not distinguish them from the warm ground.
Bradford said Sunday's tapes showed the test shooters, but Caddell said they did not in all cases, particularly later in the day as the ground temperature rose.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who is presiding over the lawsuit and ordered Sunday's test, also forbade it from being shown publicly. He said the British firm that conducted the test, Vector Data Systems Ltd., would issue its own report on the results.
The government's role in the Waco tragedy is also under investigation by former Sen. John Danforth, who was appointed special counsel in the case by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. He witnessed Sunday's test, but did not comment.
Caddell said he would go to Washington on March 28 to question Reno in a formal deposition.
He said he believes FBI agents leading the 1993 assault to roust the Davidians became ``frustrated and angry'' when the sect refused to come out and disobeyed Reno by ordering their men to demolish the compound and kill the Davidian leaders.
by Sherri Chunn (Associated Press, March 20, 2000)
HOUSTON (AP) - Lawyers for the government and the Branch Davidians both claimed vindication Monday, a day after a simulation designed to answer the question of whether federal agents fired on the Waco cult's burning compound in 1993.
The chief lawyer for the Davidians suing the government said the demonstration Sunday at a Texas military base proved what his side has alleged all along: that federal operatives fired on the remote side of the Davidians' retreat, Mount Carmel, as it burned.
The government said the tests proved the exact opposite.
Davidian leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died during the fire that occurred several hours into an FBI tear-gas operation. The government contends their deaths, whether from fire or gunshot wounds, came by their own hand. The plaintiffs argue government gunfire cut off the cult members' only avenue of escape as the inferno raged.
Michael Caddell, the chief lawyer for the Davidians, said at a Houston news conference that the test ``clearly demonstrates that there was government gunfire on the back of Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993.''
But U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said the test results bolster the government's longstanding insistence that no shots were fired that day.
``We hope that this will put to rest the notion that the FBI was shooting that day,'' Bradford said.
The test at Fort Hood - complete with aircraft equipped with infrared cameras, soldiers firing weapons and rumbling tanks - was ordered by the federal judge presiding over the Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit. The case is scheduled for trial in mid-May.
During the 1993 siege, an FBI infrared camera picked up rapid-fire bursts of light. The plaintiffs contend the bursts are muzzle flashes; the government contends they were sunlight glinting off water puddles or debris.
During Sunday's exercise, soldiers fired a variety of weapons while infrared cameras recorded the scene.
Infrared experts from both sides will compare the footage with the 1993 tape. Separately, a British company that oversaw the test as a neutral expert will present its findings to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith within 30 days.
The judge has sealed the test tape from public view, ruling that it is evidence.
by Terry Ganey ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", March 20, 2000)
KILLEEN, TEXAS - A test to determine whether FBI agents fired at the Branch Davidians at Waco went off as scheduled Sunday, but the federal judge who ordered the test also ruled that the results be kept secret.
A lawyer representing Branch Davidian survivors and another for the Justice Department said the two-hour experiment involving guns, tanks and aircraft took place without a hitch. But in the middle of it, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr. informed the lawyers that while they could discuss the test results, they could not release them to the public or the press.
Mike Caddell, the lawyer for the Branch Davidians' survivors, and Mike Bradford, the U.S. attorney from Beaumont, Texas, said Sunday afternoon they did not know how the test turned out. They said it followed the plan adopted last month in the St. Louis offices of special Waco counsel John Danforth.
The lawyers said that it might take a day for them to get copies of the results from test supervisor Vector Data Systems.
In another development Sunday, the lawyers said that Vector will provide an analysis of the results to Judge Smith for use in the trial of the wrongful death suit that the Branch Davidians have filed against the federal government.
Before Sunday, the plan had called for Vector to give its analysis to Danforth's office only and after the trial. That left open the possibility that Danforth's independent investigation report later this year could have had a different finding on the gunfire issue than the civil trial scheduled to start May 15. With Sunday's development, that is less likely now since both Danforth's inquiry and Judge Smith's court will be operating with the same information.
Sunday's test was staged at a remote area on Fort Hood, which sprawls over 339 square miles of Texas prairie, about 50 miles south of Waco. Gunmen fired a variety of weapons from different positions while aircraft overhead recorded the activity with infrared equipment. The events were designed to determine whether heat from muzzle blasts shows up on infrared recordings.
Some experts say flashes on a 1993 FBI infrared tape of the government's siege look like gunfire directed at the rear of the Branch Davidian complex, known as Mount Carmel. At the time, converted tanks driven by FBI agents were tear-gassing and ramming Mount Carmel. Davidians inside were firing on the tanks. FBI agents said they didn't return the fire, and government experts say the flashes may be sun reflections.
The gunfire issue is central to Danforth's investigation of potential government wrongdoing at Waco. It's also a crucial element of Caddell's case, since gunfire would have prevented people from escaping from the rear of the complex when it caught fire. About 80 people died in the final assault, two thirds from the effects of the fire and the rest from gunshots. The government's investigators have concluded that all of the fatal bullet wounds were self-inflicted or from shots fired by companions.
Judge Smith ordered the test at the recommendation of Danforth, whom Attorney General Janet Reno appointed to investigate what happened at Waco. The test was first suggested by the Branch Davidian plaintiffs and rejected by the Justice Department.
Danforth had suggested Vector supervise the test, and Smith appointed the British defense firm as the court's independent expert. Since Vector works for the court and is providing evidence in the case, Smith had the authority to order that its test findings be kept secret, the lawyers said.
A sunny day at Fort Hood
Secrecy was the order of the day for Sunday's test, which Smith had ordered be closed at Danforth's suggestion. About two dozen people were allowed to observe. They included congressional investigators, lawyers and experts for the government and plaintiffs and a representative of the Texas Rangers. Danforth and his chief of staff were also present.
The observers boarded a bus at 9:20 a.m. for the one-hour ride to the remote location. Caddell said the bus passed through three checkpoints that were set up to keep people away. The test went from 11 a.m. to about 2 p.m., with a one hour break during which time Judge Smith issued his orders about the results.
In addition to the shooting maneuvers, a tank and two combat engineering vehicles rolled over a debris-strewn field to test the theory that flashes could be created by sun reflections. There was a cloudless sky over Fort Hood on Sunday as compared with a partly cloudy day at Waco nearly seven years ago.
Sunday's temperature got up to 69 degrees as opposed to 85 at Waco on April 19, 1993. The test plan required that Sunday's temperature be between 65 and 85 degrees. Caddell said lower ground temperatures would increase the likelihood that bodies are observed on the test tape. Because infrared measures the differences between heat radiation of objects, warm bodies would be more readily visible on colder ground. The government has said that because no agents' bodies can be seen near the flashes on the 1993 tape, no agents were there to fire.
A closer look at "blobs"
Caddell said for the first time Sunday that in addition to the infrared flashes, an FBI surveillance photograph by a still camera points to the presence of FBI shooters behind the complex. He said two specks that show up on a picture taken behind the complex about 11:43 a.m. on the last day of the siege are two FBI gunmen. The specks, "elongated dark blobs" as Caddell calls them, are near a piece of debris that appears to be part of the collapsed side of the building. The site is in a courtyard close to the complex.
He said the specks were discovered on an enlargement of one of 155 FBI surveillance photos that had been turned over to the court. They were not noticed earlier, Caddell said, because all the plaintiffs had to work with were "poor quality" 3-by-5-inch photographs the FBI had supplied earlier.
Caddell said the specks do not appear in the same location in earlier photographs, as if the "shooters" moved to the position. Flashes on the original infrared tape that the Branch Davidians say are gunfire show up in the courtyard area at 11:48 a.m.
"They are trying to take out people shooting in the tower," Caddell said. The wooden church complex included a four-story tower in the center of the structure. Caddell also said the pair may have been going after Davidian leader David Koresh, or trying to eliminate the .50-caliber rifle that was part of the sect's arsenal.
John Collingwood, an FBI spokesman, said common sense would eliminate the possibility that FBI agents would be lying in prone positions close to the complex. For one thing, the agents would be-vulnerable to fire from people in the tower.
"Why would they go there?" Collingwood asked. "The Davidians are firing. What would they accomplish? Why would someone stay out there in range of rifle fire and be fully exposed?" At the time, the FBI had fortified sniper positions around the complex. One was 300 yards to the rear, in a concrete building surrounded by sandbags. Snipers who are members of the agency's elite Hostage Rescue Team could have fired from those safe positions rather than being out in the open, Collingwood said. However, he added that they did not fire.
"I don't think those are bodies," Collingwood said.
Caddell said he planned to elaborate on the allegation today and to discuss his belief that bodies of FBI agents are visible on the 1993 infrared tape.
by Paul Duggan ("The Washington Post", March 20, 2000)
KILLEEN, Tex., March 19 Seven years after the FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., ended in a deadly conflagration, lawyers and government officials involved in a lawsuit over the tragedy joined independent investigators today for an unusual exercise that may--or may not--answer a disputed question about the FBI's conduct during the raid.
As the 51-day standoff at the religious sect's main building reached its violent climax on April 19, 1993, did agents fire shots into the structure as it was burning, preventing about 80 Branch Davidians, many of them children, from fleeing the blaze that engulfed them?
At an Army base here, far from the view of reporters, eight shooters fired a variety of weapons today on a remote field strewn with Waco-like debris while aircraft equipped with heat-sensing cameras recorded the activity. The images will be scientifically compared with a recording made by a similar camera on an FBI plane during the 1993 raid in an effort to determine if flashes appearing on the 1993 tape are gunfire.
It remains to be seen whether the three-hour exercise at Fort Hood, about 40 miles southwest of Waco, finally will settle the much-debated gunfire question. Long before experts were ready to offer even a preliminary analysis of today's recording, lawyers in the dispute voiced differing opinions of what the experiment likely will show.
"I personally believe that it's going to be very easy to tell" that the 1993 flashes were gunfire, said lawyer Michael Caddell, who represents family members of some of the dead Branch Davidians in a lawsuit against the government.
But Mike Bradford, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas and one of the government's lead lawyers in the case, disagreed.
"What we're trying to do here . . . is get this issue hopefully put to rest so that the American public will not continue to hear what we consider a baseless allegation without foundation that the FBI was out in the back of that compound shooting that day," said Bradford. "It didn't happen."
Today's recording, made by a device known as a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera, was ordered sealed from public viewing by U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., who is presiding in the lawsuit. The test was arranged by former Republican senator John C. Danforth of Missouri, who was appointed last September by Attorney General Janet Reno to conduct an independent probe of the disastrous siege.
The FBI has long maintained that its agents did not fire gunshots during the assault, which was carried out with armored vehicles and tear gas, and that the blaze was started by suicidal Branch Davidians, not by government agents.. The wrongful-death lawsuit by Caddell's clients questions both of those assertions and faults the government for not moving quickly to extinguish the blaze.
Debate over the FBI's conduct flared anew last August when a former top official of the bureau disclosed that agents fired two pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the assault. The FBI had asserted for years that it did not use flammable projectiles during the raid. In the ensuing controversy, Danforth was chosen to conduct an independent probe and put to rest what he called "dark questions" still surrounding the siege, which began Feb. 28, 1993, when federal agents arrived at the compound to arrest sect leader David Koresh on weapons charges and became involved in a shootout that left four agents and six Branch Davidians dead.
Caddell said repeatedly today that, unlike some, he does not believe that officials in Washington are involved in "a big conspiracy" to cover up mistakes and misconduct by the FBI at Waco.
"This is a small conspiracy," he said. "There were a handful of people who, on April 19, took matters into their own hands, who disobeyed the orders of the attorney general and the FBI leadership. And I think those people have to be held accountable. . . .
"I believe that our government is a good government," Caddell said. "I believe the FBI is an outstanding law enforcement agency. I don't think what happened at [Waco] is a reflection on the entire FBI. I think what happened is a reflection on some mistakes in FBI procedures at the time." Danforth and Judge Smith were among about 20 observers at today's exercise, in which the shooters--prone, kneeling and standing--fired single shots, short bursts and long bursts from different weapons as they moved across a field littered with glass, aluminum foil and other reflective debris. The FBI has said that the dozens of flashes on the 1993 FLIR tape could have been sunlight reflecting off debris at the compound.
The FBI has argued that if the 1993 recording were proof of gunfire, the tape would show not only the flashes but the body heat of agents doing the shooting. The shooters in today's experiment wore a variety of combat-type clothing, including an FBI sniper outfit that proponents of the gunfire theory say would have prevented the airborne FLIR camera from detecting the agents' bodies.
The recordings were made by an FBI Nightstalker plane, equipped with a FLIR camera upgraded since 1993, and a British military helicopter carrying a FLIR camera more similar to the one in use on the day of the FBI assault.
"Because there are no people visible on the tape from ," Bradford said, "we're going to be looking to see if people are visible on [today's] tape or not. We think that's an important issue. And we're going to be looking at the debris field to see if that causes any kind of glint, any kind of flashes on the tape."
Copies of today's tape were to be given to both sides in the lawsuit, to be used in a trial scheduled for May 15. Danforth, in preparing his report on the siege, will rely on an analysis conducted by Vector Data Systems Ltd., a British company.
"I think they'll issue an honest report, a fair report," Caddell said of Danforth and his staff. "And I think it will be critical in many respects."
BACKGROUND: THE WACO SIEGE
Seven years ago, about 75 Branch Davidians died in a fire at the end of a 51-day standoff with federal officials. A lawsuit filed by surviving members and families of the dead challenges conclusions that the Davidians started the fire and shot first during an initial raid.
Founded: By Victor Houteff in 1929 as an offshoot of Seventh-Day Adventists Followers: 130 before the siege.
Beliefs: * Their leader was a living prophet, who was treated as a theological king.
* The second coming of Christ would be announced by their leader. They would move to Palestine to meet the messiah at Mount Zion.
History: Houteff founded the Mount Carmel center near Waco, Tex., in 1935 to recruit followers. When Houteff died in 1955, the group splintered and Benjamin Roden took control of the movement. He settled the group at what was then called New Mount Carmel.
History: Vernon David Koresh joined the Branch Davidians in 1981 and took control in 1988. He changed his name to David Koresh in 1990 and changed the name of Mount Carmel to Ranch Apocalypse in 1992.
Beliefs: Koresh believed the apocalypse would occur in the United States, and the Davidians began stockpiling food and weapons. He also took "spiritual wives" out of a desire to create a new lineage of God's children.
1992: Federal agents began a formal investigation into whether the Branch Davidians were stockpiling illegal weapons.
Feb. 28, 1993: An undercover agent learned Koresh had been warned about an impending raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. About 100 agents raided the compound anyway. Four agents and six cult members died in the firefight.
March 1-21: Thirty-five men, women and children left the compound.
April 12: FBI brought tear gas plan to Attorney General Janet Reno.
April 19: The FBI began firing and pumping tear gas into the compound in an attempt to flush out the Davidians. A fire erupted, quickly spreading and destroying the compound and killing about 75, including Koresh.
The Final Day
Storm shelter was targeted with military tear gas canisters.
Beginning around 6 a.m., modified Bradley tanks broke holes in walls and injected tear gas into the compound.
Non-incendiary tear gas canisters were fired into windows throughout building.
SOURCES: Staff reports, University of Virginia Religious Movement Home Page, congressional testimony, Associated Press
by Hugh Aynesworth ("The Washington Times", March 20, 2000)
FORT HOOD, Texas -- A court-supervised series of weaponry tests -- designed to find out whether FBI agents shot at Branch Davidians just before the April 19, 1993, tragedy that ended with more than 80 of the sect dying in an inferno near Waco -- ended late yesterday with the results unknown..
"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, as he and Houston lawyer Michael Caddell met briefly with the media following the unusual tests here.
Mr. Caddell did not hint what the experiment indicated, but said that
if the newly obtained video proves the FBI did shoot that day, he would push for indictments of those commanders who ordered such action.
The reply came to a specific question about what should occur if the plaintiffs' claims were proven and the FBI was proven less than truthful.
"Yes, I would [seek indictments], because I think people lied to Congress and lied to the American people. I think they should be prosecuted."
Mr. Bradford, based in Beaumont, recently became the lead government lawyer in defending against a series of Branch Davidian civil lawsuits. Mr. Caddell is the lead lawyer for several families who lost relatives in the showdown at Mount Carmel almost seven years ago.
It was this civil litigation -- a multimillion-dollar wrongful-death suit slated to begin in mid-May in Waco -- that forced the issue and prompted U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco to order yesterday's tests.
The government continually has denied FBI agents fired even a single shot. Mr. Caddell's experts claim flashes on FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) video tapes clearly indicate dozens of such firings.
Yesterday, a British Royal Navy Lynx Mk8 helicopter and an FBI Night Stalker fixed-wing aircraft flew the same patterns the government used to fly aircraft the day of the fire. They filmed camouflaged soldiers on the ground as they fired several different kinds of weapons.
Fort Hood personnel had helped with preparation of the site, down to strewing broken glass, debris, pieces of metal and tires, so the terrain would approximate the Mount Carmel scene.
Mr. Caddell said he felt certain that the question of whether the FBI fired on the Davidians would be determined when all participants and their experts had a chance to examine the footage shot yesterday and compare it with the FLIR videos taken in 1993.
"I'm an optimist," said Mr. Caddell, "and I continue to believe that ....
... if the test concludes that there are flashes from gunfire, and they look like the flashes from April 19, I believe -- I'm hoping, that the FBI leadership will acknowledge that gunfire and will commence an internal investigation to determine who was firing and upon whose orders."
FBI officials have claimed that the flashes seen on the earlier video came from sunlight bouncing off pools of water or off pieces of strewn metal and other debris as the army tanks pierced the compound's walls to thrust tear gas inside.
FBI officials have said the critical issue remained whether the infrared cameras could detect people on the ground. No people were visible on the 1993 tapes until after the fire began.
"I don't think this is a big conspiracy," said Mr. Caddell. "This is a small conspiracy. There were a handful of people who took matters into their own hands, who disobeyed the orders of the attorney general and the FBI leadership and I think those people should be held responsible."
Mr. Caddell said he would release copies of the videos today at a Houston news conference.
"You're not going to need me or an expert, or the FBI to tell you the answer to this question," he said yesterday. "You're going to know if those flashes from April 19 were gunfire or not -- just by looking and comparing."
by Hugh Aynesworth ("The Washington Times", March 20, 2000)
FORT HOOD, Texas A court-supervised series of weaponry tests designed to find out whether FBI agents shot at Branch Davidians just before the April 19, 1993, tragedy that ended with more than 80 of the sect dying in an inferno near Waco ended late yesterday with the results unknown...
"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, as he and Houston lawyer Michael Caddell met briefly with the media following the unusual tests here..
Mr. Caddell did not hint what the experiment indicated, but said that if the newly obtained video proves the FBI did shoot that day, he would push for indictments of those commanders who ordered such action..
The reply came to a specific question about what should occur if the plaintiffs' claims were proven and the FBI was proven less than truthful..
"Yes, I would [seek indictments], because I think people lied to Congress and lied to the American people. I think they should be prosecuted.".
Mr. Bradford, based in Beaumont, recently became the lead government lawyer in defending against a series of Branch Davidian civil lawsuits. Mr. Caddell is the lead lawyer for several families who lost relatives in the showdown at Mount Carmel almost seven years ago..
It was this civil litigation a multimillion-dollar wrongful-death suit slated to begin in mid-May in Waco that forced the issue and prompted U.S.. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco to order yesterday's tests..
The government continually has denied FBI agents fired even a single shot. Mr. Caddell's experts claim flashes on FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) video tapes clearly indicate dozens of such firings..
Yesterday, a British Royal Navy Lynx Mk8 helicopter and an FBI Night Stalker fixed-wing aircraft flew the same patterns the government used to fly aircraft the day of the fire. They filmed camouflaged soldiers on the ground as they fired several different kinds of weapons..
Fort Hood personnel had helped with preparation of the site, down to strewing broken glass, debris, pieces of metal and tires, so the terrain would approximate the Mount Carmel scene..
Mr. Caddell said he felt certain that the question of whether the FBI fired on the Davidians would be determined when all participants and their experts had a chance to examine the footage shot yesterday and compare it with the FLIR videos taken in 1993..
"I'm an optimist," said Mr. Caddell, "and I continue to believe that . ... ... if the test concludes that there are flashes from gunfire, and they look like the flashes from April 19, I believe I'm hoping, that the FBI leadership will acknowledge that gunfire and will commence an internal investigation to determine who was firing and upon whose orders.".
FBI officials have claimed that the flashes seen on the earlier video came from sunlight bouncing off pools of water or off pieces of strewn metal and other debris as the army tanks pierced the compound's walls to thrust tear gas inside..
FBI officials have said the critical issue remained whether the infrared cameras could detect people on the ground. No people were visible on the 1993 tapes until after the fire began..
"I don't think this is a big conspiracy," said Mr. Caddell. "This is a small conspiracy. There were a handful of people who took matters into their own hands, who disobeyed the orders of the attorney general and the FBI leadership and I think those people should be held responsible.".
Mr. Caddell said he would release copies of the videos today at a Houston news conference..
"You're not going to need me or an expert, or the FBI to tell you the answer to this question," he said yesterday. "You're going to know if those flashes from April 19 were gunfire or not just by looking and comparing."
by Lee Hancock and David Jackson ("The Dallas Morning News", March 20, 2000)
KILLEEN, Texas - A federal judge unexpectedly banned both sides in the Branch Davidian case from releasing footage from a Sunday field test aimed at determining whether government agents fired at the sect's compound at the end of the 1993 siege.
His decision did not stop attorneys for the government and the sect from predicting that the experiment at a remote Fort Hood firing range Sunday will support their sharply opposing views of what happened near Waco on April 19, 1993.
U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, one of the government's lead lawyers, said after the test that government officials were confident it would disprove "baseless allegations with no foundation that the FBI was out at the back of that compound shooting."
But Mike Caddell of Houston, lead lawyer in the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit, voiced equal certainty that the results would show gunfire muzzle blasts similar to repeated flashes recorded by the FBI in 1993 with an airborne forward-looking-infrared (FLIR) camera.
"We're likely to get flashes today that will look like the flashes from the April 19 FLIR that will be generated by gunfire," he said.
While video from Sunday's test will not be made public immediately, both sides promised to discuss their initial assessments of test data by Monday morning. The supervisors of the test, British infrared experts chosen by Waco special counsel John C. Danforth and the federal court in Waco, released the raw data to both sides late Sunday after certifying the data's accuracy.
FBI officials have long maintained that their agents fired no shots on April 19 as government tanks bashed into 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 women and children from fleeing when a fire engulfed their building.
Their federal wrongful death lawsuit against the government alleges that repeated rhythmic flashes recorded by the FBI's infrared camera on April 19 were caused by government gunfire. While some independent experts have offered similar assessments of the video, experts for the government have said that the flashes on the tape lasted too long to be muzzle flashes.
So both sides took their argument to Fort Hood, gathering on a breezy, cool and cloudless morning along with their scientists and a contingent of state, federal and congressional investigators. Also present were Mr. Danforth and the federal judge hearing the Branch Davidians' case, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr.
For two hours, they watched as gunmen armed with weapons like those carried by both sides in Waco fired repeated volleys. Armored vehicles matching those used by the FBI in Waco also lumbered across a debris-strewn field as a British Royal Navy helicopter and an FBI aircraft took turns filming with infrared cameras.
In addition to blocking release of the film, Judge Smith surprised both sides with the announcement that the British experts overseeing Sunday's operation, Vector Data Systems Ltd., would give the court their own written analysis of the test within 30 days.
Mr. Bradford and Mr. Caddell said they believe the judge decided to seal the test data to give Vector Data time to prepare a formal report before the Fort Hood footage becomes public.
Both attorneys acknowledged that the court's request for a full report could mean that Vector Data scientists will be deposed before the trial. That could mean the court will have to extend depositions and possibly delay the May 15 trial.
Even before the test, some government officials were cautioning that its results could fuel rather than resolve public debate over the flashes on the infrared video from the last day of the siege.
Minutes after the test ended, the arguing began. A handful of protesters who attended a joint post-test news conference berated lawyers for both sides, accusing them of covering up a mass government murder.
Branch Davidian fire survivor Clive Doyle also came from Waco to complain after learning that Mr. Caddell had publicly criticized David Koresh, the sect's messianic leader.
Mr. Bradford told reporters that any gun flashes that appeared on the test recordings "are going to have to be analyzed. We're going to have to see how that compares to the April 19 video."
While Mr. Caddell predicted that evaluating the data would be relatively "easy," he reminded reporters that it would address only a portion of the allegations leveled against the government.
Also at issue, he said, is whether the FBI's commanders exceeded their authority in ordering tanks to begin driving deep into the building and demolishing its rear on April 19.
Mr. Caddell said he also expects to be able to prove government negligence in the FBI's decision not to try to fight a fire if one broke out at the compound. He said he also believes that he can convince a federal judge that the government's agents and tanks contributed to the fire in which Mr. Koresh and more than 80 followers died.
"David Koresh bears part of that responsibility," Mr. Caddell said. "And what our lawsuit is about, I think, is that the government needs to accept its share of responsibility as well."
Looking for gunmen
In arguing against the idea of government gunfire, FBI officials point out that no gunmen are visible anywhere near the repeated flashes on the April 19 infrared video. In contrast, they predicted that shooters would clearly be visible in the tapes of the test conducted Sunday.
But Mr. Caddell said gunmen would be more likely to show up in Sunday's test because Sunday's weather was between 15 and 20 degrees colder than in 1993. Temperatures reached 85 in Waco on April 19 in the final hour before the compound burned.
"If there's a match between the gunfire on April 19 and gunfire at Fort Hood, people are going to overcome questions about seeing bodies," he said. "I think the bodies are a secondary issue."
He said that an FBI still camera in another bureau plane captured a photo of agents standing outside their tanks several hundred feet away from the rear of the compound on April 19. In a motion last week in federal court, Mr. Caddell stated that his comparison of FBI still and infrared photos pegged that image as having been taken at 11:35 a.m.
Mr. Caddell said those elongated dark shapes of men on the ground look remarkably similar to shapes that appeared in a courtyard at the rear of the compound at 11:43 a.m. on the infrared video.
The April 19 video shows repeated white flashes emanating just after 11:43 a.m. from the same area of the courtyard where the dark shapes appeared on the still picture, Mr. Caddell.
"We're really focusing on this because of their effort to prove their argument by saying you can't see bodies on the April 19 tape," Mr. Caddell said. "There are times when you can see bodies. . . . The bodies are hard to find. They clearly are taking cover. But if you look, you can see bodies."
Asked about the 11:43 a.m. photograph, FBI officials repeated their long-held position that no agents left the protection of their armored vehicles anywhere near the compound until after it caught fire.
"Why would they go there? Why would they do that? What would they accomplish? They would be completely open to Davidian gunfire," one official said of the shapes in the courtyard picture. "There's just no common-sense explanation of why anyone would go right into the open fully exposed to Davidian gunfire."
FBI officials added that determining what the shapes might be would require far more sophisticated analysis, noting that they appear to the naked eye to be shorter than the black shapes of men photographed earlier near the FBI tanks.
A federal investigator involved in re-examining the incident said the shapes could also conceivably be the shadowy figures of Branch Davidians.
Media organizations had sought access to the test. But Judge Smith barred reporters at Mr. Danforth's request.
The lawyers, their scientists and other observers gathered just before 9 a.m. at the U.S. Army's III Corps headquarters building and were driven by bus to a remote, heavily guarded firing range.
The test got under way about 11 a.m., after temperatures rose to 59 degrees. By the time it ended at 2 p.m., the temperature was about 69.
The British helicopter and the FBI plane recorded the test gun shots and other ground maneuvers from an altitude of 4,000 feet and then filmed again at 6,000 feet. The Waco infrared footage was shot at roughly 4,500 feet.
In addition to the gunshots, the cameras took footage of men maneuvering in different types of camouflage gear. At issue is how the heat-sensing camera's ability to detect body heat from humans might be diminished by different kinds of camouflage clothing or body armor.
Armored vehicles matching those used by the FBI in Waco were filmed driving over fields of aluminum, glass and other debris, and the cameras also shot footage of pools of standing water and a family-sized dome tent specially rigged with reflective aluminum coated "space" blankets.
Government officials requested that the aluminum-covered tent be included in the test to guarantee that at least some flashes on the test recordings would be generated from sunlight reflections.
The British aircraft was borrowed and flown in from England late last week because its infrared camera, a GEC-Marconi Sea Owl, is near-identical to the FBI's Waco camera.
Both sides agreed that camera would provide official test results, because the FBI's camera from 1993 has been upgraded. That camera, mounted in the same "Nightstalker" aircraft used at Waco, was to provide backup test data at Fort Hood.
Representatives from Mr. Danforth's office flew in both aircraft to observe the operation of the infrared cameras. Under previously agreed protocols, each camera was set to specific NATO infrared standards used by U.S. and European military forces.
by William H. Freivogel and Terry Ganey ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", March 19, 2000)
One St. Louisan who knows a lot about infrared technology is decidedly skeptical about the test simulating the Waco siege.
Gary Waldman, author of a book on optics and infrared technology, doubts the test will prove anything.
"I am always amazed and amused by the many people with little or no scientific training who express absolute certainty on matters of scientific inquiry," said Waldman, a senior staff engineer at System & Electronics Inc. "In science it is hard to rule out something as impossible, which leads me to conclude that the test will find that it was possible that it was either gunfire or sunlight." During his career, Waldman taught physics at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley, worked for McDonnell Douglas Corp. and wrote "Electro-Optical Systems Performance Modeling." From his work he knows that gunfire can show up as flashes on infrared tape and believes that glint from the sun would also show up as a flash.
Other infrared experts have similar reservations. Some think the test could shed new light on the origin of the flashes on the 1993 tape, but many think a definitive result will be elusive.
Waldman questioned the design of the test. He said the debris that will be placed at the site will be lying flat on the ground, which will be less likely to reflect sunlight than reflective surfaces tumbling through the air.
For sunlight to reflect off flat surfaces, the angle has to be just right to show up as glint. By contrast, shiny particles blowing through the air tumble through many different angles. That makes it more likely that airborne debris will reflect the sunlight around noontime, Waldman said.
A number of the flashes on the 1993 tape occur within seconds of the moment when the wall of the gymnasium of the complex collapses under the battering of a tank. That could have created airborne debris near the flashes.
Crumpled aluminum foil and hubcaps that will be used in the test might reflect the sun, Waldman said, because parts of their curved surfaces will be at an angle to the sun.
by Jim Yardley ("The New York Times", March 20, 2000)
KILLEEN, Tex., March 19 -- Gathered deep inside the nation's largest military base, a group of government officials, special investigators and private lawyers watched an unusual simulation today that was intended to help determine whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been truthful about its role in the fatal Branch Davidian standoff in 1993.
The exercise, which was ordered by a federal judge and carried out at Fort Hood, was designed to examine unproven allegations that F.B.I. agents fired into the Branch Davidian's Mount Carmel compound before it burned to the ground on April 19, 1993. About 80 men, women and children died that day, including the leader of the religious sect, David Koresh.
Initially, the special infrared videos taken of today's simulation were supposed to have been released to the public. But this morning United States District Judge Walter S. Smith, presiding over a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the government by survivors and descendants of the Branch Davidians, sealed the videos, precluding any public viewing. The simulation was supervised by former Senator John C. Danforth, who was appointed by United States Attorney General Janet Reno to lead an investigation into the F.B.I.'s role in the standoff.
Early this evening, F.B.I. officials said that agency experts had conducted a preliminary review of the videos, and said they vindicated their position that agents had never fired on April 19. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the wrongful death lawsuit, was scheduled to hold a news conference on Monday morning in Houston after his experts had concluded reviewing the videos.
The lack of public access has created the possibility that both sides in the case would offer conflicting opinions without any public review of the videos. An independent analysis of the videos by the British company that conducted today's simulation could be turned over to the court within 30 days and then possibly released to the public.
At a news conference after the simulation, Mr. Caddell and one of the lead lawyers for the government relayed Judge Smith's action to reporters, saying they had not anticipated the judge's action. "That was the court's decision," said United States Attorney Mike Bradford, one of the main lawyers for the government in the civil case. "I don't think either side really solicited it."
For years, controversy has surrounded aerial infrared videos taken by the F.B.I. on the day of the fire that showed unexplained "flashes." Mr. Caddell and other government critics have contended that the flashes were from F.B.I. agents firing into the compound. He has argued that the gunfire trapped Davidians inside when the fire broke out. Government officials have presented evidence that Mr. Koresh ordered that the fires be started as part of a suicide pact.
Today's simulation was designed to capture gunfire on a similar infrared video and then determine if the shots created similar flashes.
The exercise began at about 11 a.m. and lasted about three hours. In addition to Mr. Danforth and Judge Smith, the group of about 20 observers included representatives from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., the Texas Rangers and private lawyers representing the plaintiffs. They watched a series of drills performed by six postal inspectors and two Army soldiers dressed in uniforms similar to those worn by F.B.I. agents on the day of the fire.
First, the eight participants fired different weapons from prone and kneeling positions. Then, they slowly advanced to a prescribed firing line where they fired a series of single shots followed by shorts bursts and long bursts of automatic gunfire. They repeated the exercise four times as the F.B.I. Nightstalker airplane and a British Navy helicopter took turns filming from different altitudes.
In addition, an armored vehicle was driven beside a field littered with debris like twisted aluminum, broken glass and pools of water. Each aspect of the exercise -- the gunfire and the armored vehicle -- was intended to test the conflicting theories about the flashes. Mr. Caddell said he thought the staged gunfire would create identical flashes on the infrared tape put forth by the plaintiffs and by the government. Mr. Caddell has contended that the flashes were gunfire while the government had said the flashes, or "glints," were merely reflections from debris scattered around the Mount Carmel compound.
Mr. Caddell said secrecy and security was at a premium. The observers were driven by bus for nearly an hour to a location within Fort Hood. For security, he said, several military vehicles were positioned nearby. Judge Smith denied a motion by several news media organizations, including The New York Times, to witness the test. There had been concerns that cold weather might force a postponement or possibly skew today's results. But the temperatures eventually pushed above the agreed upon minimum of 65 degrees. On the day of the fire at Mount Carmel, temperatures reached 85 degrees.
Last December, Judge Smith granted a plaintiffs' motion to hold the demonstration and ordered that Mr. Danforth's staff supervise the exercise. Initially, government lawyers had fought against the motion, contending that similar Forward Looking Infrared, or FLIR, technology no longer existed. But Mr. Danforth's staff located such a device in Britain.
When it became clear that both the judge and Mr. Danforth favored the exercise, the government reversed itself and consented.
Regardless of the results of the exercise, the Waco controversy seems likely to rage on, particularly for those who believe the Davidians were innocent victims. Clive Doyle, a surviving Branch Davidian not represented by Mr. Caddell, criticized Mr. Caddell as not taking a hard enough line against the government. Mr. Doyle and other survivors are represented by Ramsey Clark, the former United States Attorney General, while Mr. Caddell represents many descendants of those who died in the fire. Judge Smith appointed Mr. Caddell as the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the civil case.
Mr. Doyle said he had "no confidence in the test because I believe the test is being done to try to justify and prove the government line rather than the plaintiffs'."
Early this morning, before the test, Mr. Caddell signaled his likely approach to the civil trial when he told reporters that he did not believe the deaths of the Branch Davidians resulted from an overarching government conspiracy but rather from the improper actions of supervisory agents at the scene.
"I know that may disappoint some people," he said. "But this is not a big conspiracy, it's a small conspiracy. There were a handful of people on April 19 who took matters into their own hands and disobeyed the orders of the Attorney General and the F.B.I. leadership. Those people have to be held accountable."
(CNN, March 20, 2000)
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Films of a field test aimed at resolving whether federal agents fired on Branch Davidians during the final hours of the 1993 Waco standoff will require more extensive examination, a government spokesman said Monday.
But a preliminary review of the films by the FBI, the U.S. attorney's office, and a Justice Department expert bolstered the case that FBI agents did not fire at the back of the compound as the siege ended, U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said.
"We're pleased to say that this does confirm what we have said all along," Bradford said.
Sunday's test of the Forward Looking Infrared Camera at Fort Hood Army base was intended to determine the cause of flashes of light on FBI infrared surveillance footage taken during the final moments of the siege.
Infrared experts hired by survivors who have filed a wrongful death suit against the government contend the flashes represent gunfire from government positions and a smattering of return fire from the Davidians.
The Davidians allege that during the final hours of the 51- day siege, FBI agents fired guns into the blazing compound, cutting off the sect members' only avenue of escape. The FBI says its agents never fired guns at the Davidians during the siege.
FBI officials say the Davidians died by their own hands. They have suggested that the flashes came from sunlight glinting off pools of water, metal or other debris.
Sunday's field test of the infrared camera was meant to show how gunfire, debris and people appear under weather and terrain conditions similar to those during the assault. During the test, aircraft with infrared cameras flew over Fort Hood while gunmen in combat garb fired weapons similar to those carried by federal agents and Davidians alike.
No problems with test
About 25 people, including Smith, congressional investigators and the Texas Rangers, attended the field test. The media and public were banned from the test site.
Caddell, who was allowed to witness the test, said it appeared to go smoothly. "There were individuals moving from position to position; they had a debris field set up, we saw the test conducted."
Bradford also said the test went smoothly. "But we're really kind of limited right now as to what we can share with you," he said.
Temperatures during the test were cooler -- about 69 by its conclusion -- than those on the final day of the Waco siege, which reached the mid-80s. Caddell said he considered the temperatures to be "within acceptable limits.
"When you think about coordinating weather, equipment, personnel, I think we're all pleased that we got it done and that all of those things came together today," Caddell said.
The test, some 40 miles southwest of Waco, was ordered by Smith at the request of special counsel John Danforth, appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno to reinvestigate the Waco controversy.
Asked about the independence of the inquiry, Caddell said, "I don't think they have any preconceived notions as to how this test should come out.
"I just know that, based on what I've seen and what I know that they've been told, I think they will issue an honest report, a fair report, and I think it will be critical in many respects."
Tapes to be compared
Experts will compare the footage from the test 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.
Bradford 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."
The government says shots cannot be fired without shooters, but 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 began, tanks disturbed the soil and crushed glass, aluminum and other debris to help reproduce conditions from 1993.
Two aircraft equipped with infrared cameras circled 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 Royal Navy outfitted with an infrared camera of the same generation of the one used in 1993.
While the aircraft hovered, Danforth's investigators and military personnel fired an array of weaponry, including rifles, pistols and grenade launchers with nonburning tear gas rounds and military-issue gas grenades.
Danforth's office declined to comment on the cost of the test or who will pay for it.
by Dick J. Reavis ("San Antonio Express-News", March 19, 2000)
FORT HOOD - Shortly before a barrage of weapons fire choreographed to resemble the siege at Mount Carmel sounded on an Army firing range here Sunday, a Houston lawyer outlined his theory of the Branch Davidian case: that the FBI engaged in "a small conspiracy" to make sure no one lived through the ordeal.
"What happened at Waco was the result not of a big conspiracy, but a small conspiracy," Mike Caddell told reporters. "A small group took matters into their own hands."
Caddell, who is bringing a wrongful death suit against the government for the Branch Davidian deaths seven years ago, made his remarks at a morning news conference held on a grassy lot near the entrance to Fort Hood, shortly before the special forensic field test took place.
Later in the day, both Caddell and Mike Bradford, the government's defense lawyer, announced that as the test was under way, the judge overseeing the case ordered the lawyers not to release to reporters copies of videotapes of the field test, or excerpts from them.
According to the theory that Caddell is advancing, two FBI commanders at Waco, Jeff Jamar and Dick Rogers, "decided on their own to break with the Attorney General's plan and to commence with the demolition of the building."
Caddell blames that - and gunfire from FBI agents - for the failure of the Davidians to come out of Mount Carmel when fire broke out, resulting in the deaths of about 60 people.
"Seventeen others," he declared, "died by gunfire, but only five or six of them were killed by gunfire at close range. The majority were not killed by gunfire at close range."
Bradford disputed that, stating: "The FBI was not shooting out there, and we're hoping the results of this test today will put this issue to rest."
The FBI has consistently denied that its agents fired any shots on April 19, and in depositions taken in the case, Jamar and Rogers have argued that the decision to send tanks crashing into Mount Carmel was within their scope of authority, and the do not feel they went against their instructions.
On March 28 in Washington, Caddell will take testimony from U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno about whether she believes the destruction of Mount Carmel's gymnasium, and the entry of tanks into the building at other points, were part of her plan for the April 19, 1993, assault.
Caddell said he believes U.S. military personnel, including members of the shadowy Delta Force, did not exchange shots with Davidians.
Having taken statements from three soldiers who were on assignment at Mount Carmel that day, he said, "I don't see much evidence of Delta Force involvement."
Instead, he charges that members of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team fired on the Davidians as their building burned to the ground.
"When all of this is over, I think that the FBI will acknowledge the gunfire and (will) commence an internal investigation to find out which agents fired."
He added that if gunfire is shown by Sunday's re-enactment of the April 19 FLIR test, and if the FBI agents who fired can be identified, he will call for criminal indictments.
Wearing sunglasses, a bomber jacket, jeans and black ostrich boots, the 45-year-old lawyer parked his gray Fiat Spider to meet reporters on a chilly morning at Fort Hood, minutes before a bus carried him and a dozen other principals in the Waco lawsuit to a remote spot on this military post, 45 minutes away from its main gate.
On hand for the exercise were technical experts from the plaintiffs and federal teams in the civil suit, Judge Walter Smith Jr. of Waco, who will hear the civil suit, and former Missouri Sen. John Danforth, who is investigating the April 19 events for Reno.
Danforth, whose office staged the field test, and lawyers for the government, in motions filed in recent weeks, opposed reporters' attendance at the field test. Smith granted the motions, and the media were barred.
Caddell and the other observers witnessed the firing of more than a dozen weapons on a specially prepared small arms range, scattered with debris to resemble conditions at Mount Carmel late on the morning of April 19.
Overhead, at altitudes of 4,000 to 6,000 feet, flew two aircraft, a Lynx helicopter supplied by the Royal British Navy and a fixed-wing airplane owned by the FBI, called "The Night Stalker."
Both aircraft were equipped with forward-looking infrared, or FLIR cameras, which produce images of heat variations.
Clive Doyle, a survivor of the Mount Carmel fire who was acquitted of criminal charges in a 1994 trial in San Antonio, appeared at the afternoon news conference to say he doubted the need for the test and its possible results.
"I have no confidence in the test. I believe the test is being done to prove the government line. It can be manipulated," he said.
Doyle and other Davidian faithful are not represented by Caddell, but by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who has referred to the re-enactment as "worthy of Cecil B. DeMille."
A FLIR tape made during the siege shows flashes on the back side of Mount Carmel that Caddell and other plaintiffs' lawyers allege are the "thermal signatures" of gunfire.
"This is a demonstration to gather data so that we can do a comparative analysis," he said.
At the end of their flights, the two aircraft transferred their images to a computer hard drive, whose images Caddell promised to analyze overnight. He said he will announce results of his analysis at a news conference today in Houston.
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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