Waco field test film needs closer study, says government

CNN News, 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.

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