Film sequel continues charge of Waco cover-up

The Dallas Morning News, Nov 4, 1999
By David Jackson and Lee Hancock

WASHINGTON - Your typical movie premiere doesn't include allegations of homicide by the federal government.

But that was the theme of Waco: A New Revelation, unveiled Wednesday to reporters and researchers of the 1993 siege that ended in the fiery deaths of more than 80 Branch Davidians.

Over a soundtrack of ominous synthesizer music, the two-hour film claims that federal agents - possibly members of the super-secret Delta Force - gunned down Branch Davidians during the fatal fire near Waco. It also blamed the FBI for the fire, alleging a conspiracy and cover-up that reaches all the way to President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Federal law enforcement officials dismissed the film as conspiracy mongering.

They cited evidence that the Branch Davidians set a suicide blaze and that no FBI agents fired any shots during the final tear gas assault of April 19, 1993.

"We're not aware of anything that would change what we've said all along," FBI spokesman Tron Brekke said.

A spate of previous investigations also found no evidence of undue White House influence.

Still, some of filmmaker Michael McNulty's findings have generated new congressional investigations as well as a special investigation by former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., who did not attend the premiere. While Mr. Danforth and congressional investigators declined to comment, the Union Station premiere just blocks from Capitol Hill attracted a few members of Congress.

"I don't visualize it as propaganda," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. "I visualize it as an attempt to bring questions to the American people." The film is a sequel to an effort called The Rules of Engagement. Despite an Oscar nomination for best documentary and an Emmy for investigative reporting, the movie drew fire for factual inaccuracies and garnered little attention in Congress.

No formal release date has been set for the new movie, but it is expected to be widely available by the end of the year.

The movie, using clips from FBI news conferences in 1993 and congressional hearings in 1995, outlines what some Texas Rangers and law enforcement officials call fault lines in the conduct of federal agencies.

They include:

  • Six years of denials by Justice Department and FBI officials that flammable tear gas was used during the final day. They reversed themselves only after Mr. McNulty gained entry to the evidence locker, finding a shell casing from a pyrotechnic tear gas grenade. FBI officials said that, hours before the fire broke out, they used only two of the military-style rounds in a failed effort to penetrate a concrete bunker near the residential compound.
  • The inconsistent approaches of FBI negotiators and tactical personnel. Within minutes after negotiators promised not to cut off power to the compound as a reward for progress in their negotiations, FBI tacticians cut the electricity for good.

The film also emphasizes videotapes shot from airplanes above the compound on the final day. They show flashes that some analysts call evidence of gunfire.

The FBI says they are reflected sunlight and noted that the infrared tape does not reflect human beings behind the flashes. Gunfire allegations

In discussing the gunfire allegations, the film features interviews with a former CIA employee and a former special forces sergeant. The former CIA employee, Gene Cullen, had told The Dallas Morning News several months ago that he was in a March 1993 CIA meeting in which officials discussed the deployment of more than 10 Delta Force soldiers to Waco.

He leveled far more serious charges in the film, claiming that he was a CIA case officer and learned on an overseas mission that Delta soldiers had exchanged gunfire with the Branch Davidians.

A government official familiar with Mr. Cullen, however, said he never worked as a case officer but was employed by the agency's protective security arm. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said there are no records of any March 1993 meeting at the CIA as described by Mr. Cullen.

"I would take everything he says with a large grain of salt," the official said.

Other aspects of the Branch Davidian investigation are left out of Waco: A New Revelation.

It makes little mention of the group's efforts to amass a huge arsenal of guns, explosives and ammunition. That was the reason for the initial raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Feb. 28, 1993. The film also does little more than hint at the group's unorthodox religious practices. They included the dissolution of all marriages and the assignment of all women in the compound to leader David Koresh.

Surviving Branch Davidians acknowledge that Mr. Koresh took girls as young as 12 as his "wives" and sexual partners.

The film also alleges that government agents somehow set off an explosive device known as a "shape charge" on the top of a bunker deep inside the compound.

Allegation discounted

Government investigators discount the allegation, noting that a shape charge would have vaporized the iron bars clearly visible in photographs of the rooftop bunker hole.

The film includes interviews with retired Air Force Gen. Ben Partin. He became known in militia circles for alleging that secret government agents triggered the Oklahoma City bombing with similar "shape charge" devices. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols are already serving time for the bombing, which resulted in 168 deaths.

Before the screenings, the Libertarian Party distributed a press release headlined, "As the Waco cover-up unravels, is it time to try Janet Reno for murder?"

Mr. McNulty said he expects some critics to try to portray the new documentary as right-wing advocacy, but "it's not about right and left." "It's absolutely about right and wrong," he said.

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