On April 19, 1993, the final day of the siege and the day of the deadly fire, FBI had a fixed-wing aircraft circling overhead carrying a forward-looking infrared [FLIR] video recording unit.
FLIR is so called because the earliest units were large and mounted on fighter aircraft to supplement their radar. Their size required them to be mounted looking forward. While units today are small and can be rotated to point in any direction, the term "FLIR" has stuck. FLIR is sensitive for a part of the infrared spectrum where heat radiation can be picked up. It looks vaguely like black-and-white video. It shows up gunshots and other bursts of heat vividly.
If the question is whether FBI knew that the FLIR early on April 19 would show some shocking events, then the logical question is whether FBI went out of its way to hide that FLIR tape.
The gassing operation on April 19 began at about 6 A.M. The FLIR tape produced for me (and every other requestor prior to September, 1999) began only at 10:42 A.M. I cited the discrepancy and was assured by FBI's FOIA division that they had talked to the FLIR operator (Arnold Ligi) and "he advised us that the earliest FLIR videotape was not recorded at 6:00 a.m., but rather at the approximate time (10:42 a.m.) indicated by your attorney as the earliest FLIR videotape recorded on April 19, 1993."
Click here for the page with this statement; click here for the following page of the FBI letter.
We sought the reports of the FLIR operator(s). We were provided with only one, which indicated "9:30-10:00 am up in the air." But strangely, the first two paragraphs of the notes (which I suspect would have mentioned an earlier flight--we now know that the aircraft landed to refuel somewhat before 9:30, and Ligi then took over for the second shift) were deleted.
Click here for the redacted memo.
We challenged this claim in court, pointing out that the operation began at 6 A.M. and the U.S. Attorney had claimed the whole purpose of using FLIR was to film the predawn hours of the operation.
Justice Department responded with a July 1998 motion informing the court that "the earliest FLIR videotapes recorded on April 19, 1993 occurred at approximately 10:42 A.M." and attaching an sworn statement from the chief of FBI's litigation unit to that same effect.
Click here for pages one, two three, four (the critical page) and five of the Justice Department motion. Return to the main page to examine the FBI affidavit, or just click here for the most vital page..
It's hard to deny that, over a period of years, a group of people, including the FBI FLIR operators, FBI's FOIA staff, the chief of its litigation unit, and non-FBI Department of Justice staff, were involved in concealing the fact that FBI had made FLIR tapes before 10:42 A.M. on the critical day. Some, to be sure, may have been honestly misled by the others. But even after arguments were made that earlier tapes must exist, numerous persons in various units and subunits of Justice continued in affirming to the court--and stating under oath--that none did, and everything began at 10:42.. That the FOIA staff claims it talked to the second-shift FLIR operator and he assured them nothing was made before 10:42--a claim which he would have known was false, since he took over from the earlier operator--and that his memorandum of activities had the earliest entries deleted by FBI before release--suggests that personnel knew they were making false statements under oath.
The most optimistic hypothesis that can explain these facts is that some number of persons knew that FLIRs before 10:42 documented an event that must be kept in the dark, even at the risk of perjury. The only real question is how many Justice representatives knew these statements were false, and how many might have been misled by the others. The sheer number of the discrepancies, however, is suggestive that most if not all in the chain had reason to believe that their statements might not be true.