Although most admit never seeing as many multiple flashes before, FBI agents and technicians are adamant that the flashes seen on an infrared video of Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993, are "glint" and not gunfire, according to depositions for the upcoming wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the government by surviving Branch Davidians.
The Tribune-Herald reviewed the depositions of 20 FBI employees, including technicians, pilots and Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) operators. None of the FBI employees were members of the Hostage Rescue Team, the tactical unit accused by some critics of firing shots at the Davidians on the final day of the 51-day siege, which ended in a fire that led to the deaths of David Koresh and 75 followers.
FBI employee No. 15 - the identities of the agents are sealed on the order of U.S. Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco - testified during his deposition that he reviewed at least 10 FLIR tapes looking for flashes similar to those on the Waco FLIR tape.
He told plaintiffs' attorney Mike Caddell of Houston that he found examples of flashes on other FLIR tapes.
"The one that sticks out in my mind is a surveillance that was being done on a vehicle in the daytime," said the FBI employee, who was the FLIR operator when Mount Carmel caught fire. "And you could see a flash off of the fender and the hood of the car at one point in the orbit."
Caddell asked the FLIR operator if he had ever seen multiple flashes like those present on the Mount Carmel FLIR tape. The FLIR operator maintained circumstances are different every time the camera is used.
"It's different," the FLIR operator said. "Different circumstances, different temperatures, different scenery. You are not looking at the same thing."
Asked if he had considered the possibility that some of the flashes on the Waco FLIR tape were weapons fired by the Davidians, the FLIR operator said, "I think it's glint."
Caddell asked why the FLIR tape doesn't show flashes on both sides of Mount Carmel.
"You don't recall there being an unusual condition where the sun was blocked from the front of Mount Carmel but shone on the back, do you?" Caddell asked.
After wrangling, which involved Justice Department attorneys, the FLIR operator answered, "I still think it's glint."
One of the pilots of Night Stalker, the plane carrying the FLIR camera, also told Caddell that he believes the flashes seen on the Mount Carmel FLIR tape were caused by glint.
"There are certain things that the FLIR tape picks up that can't be explained," said the pilot, a co-pilot when Night Stalker flew during the morning of April 19, 1993. "I think it's often referred to as glint. It's an unexplained phenomenon that appears on a FLIR tape primarily in the daytime."
Caddell showed the pilot a condensed version of the Mount Carmel FLIR tape highlighting the flashes, according to the deposition. One involved a flash seen to the left of a Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV) on the back of the compound.
"I would call that a glint," the pilot said.
"And how did we distinguish between a glint and something else?" Caddell asked. "Is it a glint when it might have otherwise been gunfire from an FBI agent?"
The pilot later explained his reasoning.
"In my opinion, I do not believe that there was an individual on that tank firing a weapon," the pilot said. "Therefore, the fact the flash occurs is an unexplained anomaly."
Caddell pointed out that Carlos Ghigliotti, an expert in thermal imaging and videotape, told The Washington Post that he believes FBI agents fired shots on April 19, 1993. Ghigliotti is one of the FLIR experts working for the congressional committee investigating Mount Carmel.
However, FBI agent No. 7, who rode inside CEV2 on the final day of the siege, was among the FBI employees not agreeing with Ghigliotti's conclusion.
"I have no idea what may or may not cause flashes on this video, but if you are asking about the flashes that came from directly behind my CEV, I believe I would be aware if there had been anything back there," the agent said. "And I saw nothing but ground and junk."
Another FBI employee, a Night Stalker pilot, said the FLIR camera wasn't designed to pick up small arms fire.
"The type of FLIR utilized, the collimation of the FLIR in relation to the gunfire, distances involved, and other parameters would lead me to believe this is not gunfire, based on what I know," said the pilot, who was flying when Mount Carmel caught fire.
By collimation, the pilot said he meant the FLIR camera in the plane would have been at a right angle to the direction of any muzzle blast on the ground.
Caddell asked if the FLIR could detect smoke and hot gases. The pilot said it could under certain conditions.
"But it's your belief that there's something special about hot gases from the muzzle of a gun, that it wouldn't detect those, but it would detect the hot gases from a Davidian starting a fire, right?"
"There is a difference in the spectrum," the pilot said.
Later, Caddell pressed the FBI pilot on whether the FLIR would pick up any type of gunfire.
"Well, that . . . suggests to me that under certain circumstances, you believe this FLIR would pick up gunfire," Caddell said. "Correct?"
"I believe it could pick up a battleship firing its gun, yes," the pilot said. "I believe it could pick up large cannons. I believe it could do several things. I do not believe what I saw you show me is gunfire."
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