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Context of 'October 7, 1999: Experts: FBI, Davidians Both Fired Guns during Final Assault'

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Copies of FBI infrared surveillance tapes taken during the first hours of the FBI assault against the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), clearly show repeated bursts of rhythmic flashes from agents’ positions and from the compound; two experts hired by the surviving Davidians say the flashes must be gunfire. A third expert retained by the House Government Reform Committee, Carlos Ghigliotti, an expert in thermal imaging and videotape analysis, says he, too, believes the flashes to be gunfire. “The gunfire from the ground is there, without a doubt,” he says. FBI officials have long maintained that no agent fired a shot during either the 51-day standoff or during the final assault. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in their lawsuit against the government (see April 1995), says he has shown the tapes and the expert analysis to John Danforth, the former senator who is leading a government investigation into the FBI’s actions during the siege and the assault (see September 7-8, 1999). Caddell says his two experts are former Defense Department surveillance analysts. One of Caddell’s two experts also says the FBI’s infrared videotapes that have been released to the public, Congress, and the courts may have been altered. “There’s so much editing on this tape, it’s ridiculous,” says Steve Cain, an audio and video analysis expert who has worked with the Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service. Cain says his analysis is preliminary because he has not been granted access to the original tapes. But, he says, the tapes appear to have been erased. There are significant erasures during the 80-minute period before the compound began burning. Cain says: “It’s just like the 18-minute gap on the Watergate tape. That was erased six times by Rose Mary Woods (see November 21, 1973). That’s why we’re trying to get to the originals.” Cain also says that he believes images were inserted into the videotapes, perhaps from different video cameras. Caddell says, “I think at this point, it’s clear that the whole investigation, and particularly the fire investigation, was garbage in-garbage out.” The videotapes were used in a 1993 Treasury Department review of the siege (see Late September - October 1993) and as evidence in a 1994 criminal trial against some of the surviving Davidians (see January-February 1994), both of which concluded that the Davidians themselves set the fires that consumed the compound. [Associated Press, 10/6/1999; Dallas Morning News, 10/7/1999]

Entity Tags: John C. Danforth, Branch Davidians, Carlos Ghigliotti, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Steve Cain, Michael Caddell, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

A newly released surveillance photograph taken during the FBI’s final assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), casts doubt on theories that FBI agents opened fire on the Davidians during the assault (see September 14, 1999, October 1999, October 7, 1999, November 5, 1999, and November 15, 1999). The photo is part of a batch submitted to the Danforth investigation (see September 7-8, 1999) and to Judge Walter Smith, who is presiding over the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Davidian survivors against the government (see April 1995). The photograph was taken on April 19, 1993, within seconds of the time when a flash appears on an infrared surveillance videotape at 11:24 a.m. Experts have claimed that such flashes indicate gunfire from FBI agents; however, no one is in the vicinity of the flash as shown in the photograph. Smith has ordered tests to be done to determine if the flashes on the videotapes are, indeed, gunfire. Lawyer Michael Caddell, speaking for the Davidians, says the photograph proves nothing: “Seeing one or two or 10 photographs doesn’t tell you a whole lot.” Two FBI planes were flying over the compound during the attack. One, an FBI Nightstalker, took infrared videotape of the scene and the other took still photographs on film. Until recently, the two had not been compared to one another. The infrared tapes show a tank destroying the back wall of the Davidians’ gymnasium just before 11:30 a.m.; at 11:24, the tape shows a flash off the right rear corner of the tank. The photo was taken almost at that same instance; no one can be seen in the photo, casting doubt on claims that someone was near the tank firing into the compound. Caddell notes that the photographs are not time-stamped, and the times of the photos must be estimated based on the amount of damage done to the gymnasium. “Being able to identify what time it is and whatever the precise moment when someone was firing from the rear of the tank is very suspect unless you’ve got a complete roll of film and you can see the entire sequence,” he says. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2000; Associated Press, 1/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Walter Smith, Branch Davidians, Michael Caddell, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John C. Danforth

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Six postal inspectors and two Army soldiers, all dressed in a variety of FBI-standard assault garb, reenact key scenarios from the 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The purpose is to recreate “flashes” observed in 1993 infrared videotapes made by FBI observers during the assault, and determine if they were indeed gunfire from FBI agents, as some have alleged (see November 15, 1999). The exercise is done at the behest of District Judge Walter Smith, who ordered it as part of the proceedings of a civil suit by surviving Davidians against the federal government (see April 1995); additionally, the scenario is part of the evidentiary gathering by federal special counsel John Danforth, investigating the role of the FBI in the burning of the Davidian compound (see September 7-8, 1999). FBI officials who view the infrared tapes say they bear out their long-held assertions that none of their agents fired their guns during the April 19 assault on the Davidian compound. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in the lawsuit, says he believes the simulations will prove that the FBI shot at the compound, which is what his own experts reviewing the videos have said. US Attorney Michael Bradford, one of the government’s lead lawyers in the case, disagrees. “What we’re trying to do here… is get this issue hopefully put to rest so that the American public will not continue to hear what we consider a baseless allegation without foundation that the FBI was out in the back of that compound shooting that day,” he says. “It didn’t happen.” [New York Times, 3/20/2000; Washington Post, 3/20/2000]
Public Precluded from Seeing Videotapes - The exercise takes place at Fort Hood, Texas, under Danforth’s supervision. Initially, the infrared videos of the exercises were to be released to the public, but Smith seals the videos from public view. And, siding with Danforth against the Davidian lawyers, Smith denies motions by several news media organizations to witness the test. The New York Times writes, “The lack of public access has created the possibility that both sides in the case would offer conflicting opinions without any public review of the videos.” An independent analysis of the videos conducted by the private British company that conducts the simulations may be released to the public after they are turned over to the court some time in April. [New York Times, 2/17/2000; New York Times, 3/20/2000]
Simulations Carried Out to Determine Whether Videotaped 'Flashes' Might Be Gunfire - Danforth, Smith, and a group of about 20 observers watch the simulations, including representatives from the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Texas Rangers, and private lawyers representing the plaintiffs. In the simulations, the eight participants fire different weapons from prone and kneeling positions. They then slowly advance to a prescribed firing line, where they fire a series of single shots followed by short bursts and then long bursts of automatic gunfire. They repeat the exercise four times, as an FBI “Nightstalker” surveillance aircraft and a British Navy helicopter take turns filming from different angles. Additionally, an armored vehicle is driven beside a field littered with debris like twisted aluminum, broken glass, and pools of water, to see if light flashes from the debris could have caused similar flashes on the infrared video that could be mistaken for gunfire. Bradford has said that no matter how the videos are interpreted, they cannot be taken as proof that agents fired guns during the assault. “If there’s a flash in the testing, you can’t just conclude that means there was gunfire on April 19th,” Bradford said. “To me, that would mean the opposite. It would indicate it’s not a gun flash because you can’t see a person there. There’s more to be analyzed than just the flashes.” The private British firm, Vector Data Systems, was chosen in part because it owns FLIR, or “forward-looking infrared,” video cameras similar to those used by the FBI in 1993; the bureau has since abandoned those video cameras for more current technology. [New York Times, 2/17/2000; New York Times, 3/20/2000]
Davidian Lawyer: No Broad Conspiracy by FBI, Justice Department to Conceal Truth - Caddell disagrees with some Davidian supporters in discounting the broader conspiracy theories they advocate. “I know that may disappoint some people,” he says. “But this is not a big conspiracy, it’s a small conspiracy. There were a handful of people on April 19 who took matters into their own hands and disobeyed the orders of the attorney general and the FBI leadership. Those people have to be held accountable.” Of the Danforth investigators, Caddell says: “I think they’ll issue an honest report, a fair report. And I think it will be critical in many respects.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 2/18/2000; Washington Post, 3/20/2000]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, John C. Danforth, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Bradford, Michael Caddell, Vector Data Systems, Walter Smith, New York Times, US Department of Justice, Texas Rangers

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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