WASHINGTON -- The FBI released a second infrared videotape Friday confirming the use of potentially incendiary military tear gas cartridges during the early stages of the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.
However, Attorney General Janet Reno said Friday that she remained convinced the fire that later engulfed the compound where about 75 people died was started by the Branch Davidians.
At her weekly news conference Friday, Reno was asked whether the disclosure last week that the FBI used military tear gas at Waco cast doubt on her long-held conviction that the fatal fire was started at the direction of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.
"I think that's what every piece of information I have seen clearly shows," Reno replied. "And it is important, again, to put it in perspective. But it is also important that we pursue any confusion, any question, in order to provide the American people with the truth." Approval heard The grainy, black-and-white videotape, shot from a surveillance aircraft through wispy clouds that sometimes obscured the ground, also recorded ground radio traffic among FBI agents. In an earlier portion of the tape that was released Thursday, Richard M. Rogers, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, can be heard authorizing the use of a military tear gas cartridge in an attempt to penetrate the entrance to an underground storm shelter that was about 50 yards from the main compound structure.
Rogers gave his authorization at 7:48 a.m. In the later portion of the tape that was released Friday, the operator of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle designated "Charlie 1" reported to Rogers at 8:08 a.m. that the attempt had failed.
"Yeah, the military gas did not penetrate that bunker where the bus was," the operator told Rogers. "It bounced off."
Later in the recorded conversation, the operator of another Bradley vehicle designated "Echo 1" made suggestions on how "Charlie 1" could reposition itself to get a better shot at the target. But the outcome of later attempts to penetrate the shelter using military tear gas cartridges was not recorded on videotape. According to the FBI, at 8:24 a.m. the audio portion of the videotape was disconnected at the request of the aircraft's pilot.
It appears, however, that later attempts also failed. According to an FBI official, a 1996 memo from the Hostage Rescue Team to the FBI general counsel's office that came to light last week reported that "two, possibly three" military tear gas cartridges were used during this stage of the assault and that they "bounced off and landed in the open field well behind the main structure."
FBI officials argue that the videotape supports their assertion that the military tear gas cartridges did not start the fatal fire. They note that Rogers gave his authorization and the first round was fired and failed a little more than four hours before the fire began at 12:07 p.m.
But the episode has become a painful embarrassment to the FBI, largely because of the bureau's insistence until last week that no military tear gas cartridges or other potentially incendiary weapons were used during the assault. Reno has said the FBI assured her of that both before and after the operation and, based on those assurances, she testified before Congress to that effect.
Civilian law enforcement agencies generally use tear gas cartridges that do not generate heat. These are plastic cartridges that contain CS gas in liquid or powder form that is spread when the cartridge shatters on impact on the target. Potentially flammable The M651 military tear gas cartridges that the FBI now acknowledges using at Waco usually are made of aluminum or some other hard metal and contain CS in a solid form. After they are fired from a grenade launcher, a fuse inside the cartridge ignites and begins turning the solid material into a gas that escapes through a vent in the bottom of the cartridge.
According to Charles Cutshaw, an editor of Jane's Defense Information and an expert on this kind of weapon, these military tear gas cartridges are not intended to start fires. He said he was not aware of any studies or reports on how often such cartridges may have caused fires.
Rogers, the agent who gave the authorization to use the military rounds, also was the Hostage Rescue Team commander during an earlier siege against white supremacist Randy Weaver in August 1992 in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in which Weaver's wife, Vicki, was shot and killed by an FBI sniper. "Rules of engagement" drafted by Rogers, which allowed agents to shoot armed suspects on sight, were later deemed illegal by a Justice Department task force. As a result of his role at Ruby Ridge, Rogers was issued a 10-day suspension in 1995 and he voluntarily accepted reassignment to a non-tactical management job. He has since retired from the bureau.
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