Tapes show gunfire, Davidians' experts say

House analyst agrees; FBI has said agents didn't shoot during standoff

The Dallas Morning News, Oct 7, 1999
By Lee Hancock

HOUSTON - High-quality copies of FBI infrared tapes released this week to Branch Davidian lawyers include repeated bursts of rhythmic flashes from both government positions and the sect's compound, and two experts hired by the sect's lawyer say the flashes must be gunfire.

A third expert, retained by the House Government Reform committee, analyzed a lower-quality copy of the infrared tape, which was shot on the last day of a 1993 standoff with the sect near Waco. He also concluded that flashes visible on the tape had to be gunfire, a committee staffer confirmed Wednesday.

Federal officials have maintained that the FBI didn't fire a shot during the 51-day standoff, which ended with a federal tank-and-tear-gas assault on April 19. The compound caught fire six hours after the assault began and quickly burned with sect leader David Koresh and more than 80 followers inside. Arson investigators concluded that the sect members deliberately set the fire.

An FBI spokesman did not return calls for comment Wednesday. Michael Caddell, a Houston lawyer representing sect members in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the federal government, said Wednesday that he played the new videotapes and presented other information and expert analysis in a daylong briefing Tuesday for former Sen. John Danforth. Mr. Caddell said the briefing included presentations by two former Defense Department infrared experts who have concluded that the FBI videotapes captured government gunfire.

A spokesman for Mr. Danforth declined to comment. Mr. Danforth, a Missouri Republican, was named last month by Attorney General Janet Reno to head an independent investigation of federal actions against the sect.

Information that the Houston lawyers presented to Mr. Danforth's team included an expert's analysis that the FBI's infrared videotapes released to the public, Congress and the courts appear to have been altered, Mr. Caddell said.

If the same gaps and electronic anomalies appear in original tapes still in Justice Department custody, Mr. Caddell said, he will use that to challenge the government's fire investigation as fatally flawed. "I think at this point, it's clear that the whole investigation, and particularly the fire investigation, was garbage in-garbage out," Mr. Caddell said.

Arson team testimony

Members of the arson investigation team testified in a 1994 criminal trial and also told Congress that the infrared videotape, shot from an FBI airplane, was a key reason for their conclusion that the sect immolated itself and its compound.

The tape included images of three fires erupting almost simultaneously in different parts of the compound. Investigators also found traces of multiple accelerants in the compound wreckage.

The same videotape the arson team used was presented as government evidence in a 1994 criminal trial against surviving Branch Davidians and a 1995 congressional inquiry into the standoff.

A former government recording expert hired by the Houston lawyer said he found repeated anomalies.

"There's so much editing on this tape, it's ridiculous," said Steve Cain, who spent more than 20 years as an audio and video expert with the U.S. Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service's national crime lab in Chicago.

Mr. Cain said his analysis is preliminary because he has not been granted access to the original tapes.

But he said his work has turned up evidence of erasures of audio, including the one-hour, 20-minute period before the compound fire. "It's just like the 18-minute gap on the Watergate tape. That was erased six times by Rose Mary Woods," he said. "That's why we're trying to get to the originals."

Carlos Ghigliotti, an expert retained by the House panel investigating the Waco matter, was quoted by the Washington Post Wednesday that his analysis of the tapes convinced him that FBI agents shot in the direction of the Davidian compound on April 19.

Infrared footage shot early in the first three hours of the FBI assault was disclosed last month. It includes repeated orders from an FBI pilot to turn off the audio on the airborne infrared recorder used at Waco. The audio that remained includes radio transmissions in which an FBI commander ordered the firing of pyrotechnic tear gas grenades at a bunker near the compound. Pyrotechnic gas was banned by Ms. Reno when she approved the assault, and FBI and Justice Department officials denied for six years that the government had used anything capable of sparking fires on April 19. They only acknowledged that the pyrotechnic grenades were fired after a former FBI official confirmed their use in late August. That admission prompted new congressional inquiries and the appointment of Mr. Danforth. Sent to Congress

The infrared tapes sent Monday to Mr. Caddell were described by Justice Department lawyers as "first-generation" copies of the original tapes shot at Waco on April 19, he said.

Inexplicably included in the opening minutes of that tape is an eight-minute portion date-stamped April 16. That footage appears to be a frozen infrared shot of an empty field with no images of the compound. Mr. Cain said that was one of the most egregious of what he described as dozens of unexplained anomalies.

"And it appears that either insert edits or other types of over recordings were made by the same or different video camera sources," said his Sept. 30 preliminary report to Mr. Caddell.

Shared concerns

Maurice Cox, a retired satellite imagery analyst and mathematician who worked for 33 years on secret government photo-reconnaissance projects said Wednesday that he shares many of Mr. Cain's concerns. He recently examined copies of the FBI infrared tapes released last month.

"There are things that I don't understand. I don't know what they mean, but I know that you need to go to the master tapes and find out what in the hell is going on," said Mr. Cox, who lives in California.

Mr. Cox began studying infrared Waco footage after hearing that FBI officials dismissed the flashes that appeared even on poor-quality copies of the Waco infrared tape as "sunlight reflections."

He said he became interested in the issue after viewing a 1997 Waco documentary that first publicized the infrared footage and presented a former Defense Department expert's assessment that it captured government gunfire.

A second film due out this fall from the same Colorado investigator, backed by MGA Productions of Fort Collins, further explores the infrared issue. Government officials have said their agents held their fire even after FBI tanks drew heavy Davidian gunfire as they rammed the compound. The infrared tape includes segments in which flashes are visible around government tanks as they approached or left the building. The flashes are particularly prominent on first-generation tapes sent to Davidian lawyers this week and appear most frequently during the half-hour before the compound burned.

The first-generation tapes also show flashes coming from compound windows at angles consistent with shots being fired at approaching or retreating tanks. Explained as sun

FBI officials have said they believe flashes on the infrared were caused by sunlight reflecting off puddles of water or shiny debris.

Mr. Cox said he spent months on a detailed mathematical and physical analysis, even traveling to Waco at his own expense to complete a study that concluded that the FBI's explanation for the flashes was physically impossible.

Mr. Cox submitted his technical report to the FBI and to lawyers on both sides in the pending wrongful-death lawsuit.

He said he has not been retained by either side and does not plan to testify in the lawsuit, which alleges that the government's negligence or actions led to the tragedy. Davidian lawyers have alleged that government forces even fired repeatedly into the compound during the final hours of the tear-gas assault, a charge that Justice Department lawyers have vehemently denied.

Mr. Cox recently posted his report on a Web site, www.rolandresearch.com <http://www.rolandresearch.com> .

"The only logical conclusion is gunshots, because nothing else works," he said. "Nothing in nature could do that. Nothing that you could find in a shop or home could get hot and cool off and get hot again at those tremendous high rates that are seen on that videotape."

Mr. Ghigliotti could not be reached Wednesday. In a statement released by the House Government Reform Committee, Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., said he had been briefed on his findings and found them "troubling." But he said that it was premature to draw conclusions.

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