Initiation of the Final Assault
At approximately 6:00 A.M., FBI negotiators telephoned the Davidians to announce the assault. It took two minutes to awaken Steve Schnider, Koresh's deputy, and bring him to the phone. Bugs inside caught the resulting conversation.
The plan as approved by the Attorney General provided for a gradual gassing over a period of 48 hours. It also provided for an accelerated gassing if the Davidians fired back. Supposedly, the Davidians immediately responded with streams of machinegun fire. There are two problems with this explanation. First, although the bugging tape above picks up conversations, the FBI loudspeakers, and the sounds of the tanks, it shows no sound of gunfire. Second, aerial photographs made by FBI show agents standing, in the open, within fifty yards of the building--hardly prudent behavior if one is being raked by machineguns.
Another view. No doubt the FBI anticipated that massive gassing would lead to a speedy end. The agents and supervisors were, after all, either exceeding or "creatively interpreting" their orders. But it didn't. Five hours into the operation, not a single Davidian had emerged. By this point, the agency seems to have gone off the deep end. The tanks were ordered, not merely to gas, but to commence destruction of the building. Within an hour, the structure at the rear (the "gymnasium") mostly flattened.
Shortly after noon, fire was seen on a corner of the building. It was the corner facing into the 35 mph wind. (The flames belch out into the wind: the government's fire experts explain this was the result of the room's internal doors being shut, so that at flashover the flames had nowhere to go but out. How this is reconciled with arson conclusions isn't clear; an arsonist is hardly likely to shut doors to seal off the fire). It rapidly spread to the remainder of the structure.
The women and children had taken shelter in a concrete room, known as the vault to the Davidians and "the Bunker" to the government. It was hardly a bunker, as that term is usually employed. It had but one opening, a door which led forward into the hall. As soon as the hall filled with smoke and superheated gas, all escape was cut off. Searchers later found several of the children fused into masses.
The local volunteer fire department responded. They were held at the FBI roadblocks, and not allowed into the area until the fire had long done its work. Special Agent Jamar later described his decision to stop the trucks:
...what occurred is when the fire did start and the fire trucks did arrive, I didn't let them in. I held them at the checkpoint because I didn't want the firemen to drive into gunfire. It's a terrible thing and a very terrible decision to have to make, but it wasn't that--it took me two seconds to make it. But we held the fire trucks. So that was our fire plan.
(Testimony, House hearings, July 26, 1995). "That was our fire plan." Keeping firemen away from burning children would indeed seem a terrible decision.....particularly if there's no reason for it. It's hard to believe Jamar's explanation that he held them off simply because he was fearful the firemen might be shot. As noted above, his own agents had gotten out of their armored vehicles from time to time. Even after the building had essentially vanished, and all that remained was burning 2x4's on the ground, no firetrucks are visible.
The hard evidence is difficult to reconcile with the official Justice Department report's conclusion that "Although the fire crews did not approach the burning building until 31 minutes after the fire had first been reported, it would not have been safe for them to do so earlier given the reports of gunfire from inside the compound." (p. 303). By the time the firetrucks were allowed onto the site, they could do little but cool the smoking ashes. Here is the first aerial photograph showing the fire department on scene.
Stop and think about this "fire plan."
1. Firemen will not be allowed on the scene until they are in no danger.
2. They will (supposedly) be in danger so long as they could be shot at.
3. They could be shot at while there is a chance any person inside could still be alive.
4. So firemen will not be allowed on the scene until......
While we're on this grim subject......Of equal concern is the possibility that some FBI agents were trigger-happy on April 19. One of the FBI aircraft was equiped with a FLIR [forward looking infrared] recorder. FLIR produces a videotape of heat images: cold objects are black and hot objects white. Since gunshots are bursts of incandescent heat (technically, small carbon particles from the gunpowder and still-burning powder grains) they show up as bright flashes. FLIR expert Edward Allard has opined that gunshots are visible on the tape, going from positions outside the building back toward the building.
Allard also adds that there is an incandescent flash at the rear of the building, near one of the armored vehicles, less than a minute before the fire is first seen. This one is not a gunshot; it continues far too long (about a third of a second, as opposed to the 1/10-1/15 of the gunshots and is larger.
In September, 1998, the District Court essentially found that we'd gotten all the information we were going to get, and dismissed the lawsuit. Since the information already obtained fills a three-foot file drawer, I suppose we can't complain too much.
A second suit has been filed, this time against Justice Department. In the first suit, we'd determined that Waco records were mysteriously shuffled around. The infrared video made from the helicopters, for instance, had been passed from the National Guard to the ATF to the Texas Rangers to the U.S. Marshall to the U.S. Attorney. It took two years of fighting just to get this information: when challenged, the agencies would simply respond that they could find no records after a reasonable search, and give no clue that they had once had the records but passed them on. Eventually, enough details were pried out to reconstruct the path.
The U.S. Attorney's Office now contends that it doesn't have the videotapes, either. All videotapes were boxed and sent to FBI Headquarters in Washington. We're now fighting over that; under FOIA the duty to disclose falls upon the entire cabinet department, not the usual "agency," and FBI and the US Attorney are both in the same cabinet department.
As a result of the groundwork already undertaken, we can say for a certainty that there are entire categories of evidence which were neither disclosed to the defense attorneys, nor to Congressional investigators, and which still remain buried. These include:
The FLIR tape taken from the National Guard helicopters on February 28. This is vital to determining whether the gunshots heard on the regular footage made from the helicopters came from the ground or from the helicopters. If from the ground, gunshots should be visible on the FLIR footage. ATF originally denied under oath that any such tape was made. It then had to retract the claim, after National Guard confirmed that it had made such a tape and given it to ATF. ATF had earlier sworn that "No FLIR was made from the helicopters." Now, it informs the court, "While ATF had previously indicated that FLIR videos were not taken on February 28, 1993, in light of Plaintiff's evidence, ATF does not contest that some manner of FLIR videotape may have been taken by the National Guard." This data is now being sought from Justice Department in the second suit.
A complete copy of the FLIR. The FLIR as released is in VHS format, starts only at 10:42 AM, and has an unexplained five-minute gap. In the lawsuit, FBI stated under oath that the tape released was made directly from the original. During a settlement conference (which is, unfortunately, privileged against being introduced into evidence) FBI's attorney stated that no one, either myself or the Washington Post report who covered the FLIR story, had been given a direct copy of the original, nor would anyone be permitted to see the original. An official copy had been made, and all that anyone would be allowed to view were copies of that copy.
Tapes of the radio traffic on April 19. FBI contends it did not record any radio traffic that day, period. Yet even small police departments record routine vehicle stops, and this was the largest law enforcement operation of the decade.
Videos of February 28. ATF released one video, made from the helicopters at the back. In the course of the first lawsuit, it claimed that it had no videos at all made from the ground or from the front of the building. By the time the suit was over, it had admitted there were four agency videocams running, pointed at the front: one from the "undercover house;" one from a tripod outside the undercover housel one from a sniper position and one (possibly overlapping the others) made from an elevated position (presumably the recorder fitted to the telephone pole). But, it contends, it possessed none of these tapes and thus could not produce them. They are now being sought from Justice Department.
Additional homepages useful on the Waco tragedy:
Dick Reavis, author of "The Ashes of Waco": page contains audio excerpts of negotiation tapes and the 911 call.
Carol Moore, author of "The Davidian Massacre:" page contains extensive text analysis of the entire tragedy.
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