Waco Feb 28-April 19, 1993
ThreeYear Freedom of Information lawsuit yields new evidence--
Videotapes, audiotapes, planning documents. But first, a few late-breaking
(hey, this page has been here for three years) highlights:
(1) A note on the recent (April, 2000) death of FLIR analyst Carlos Ghigliotti.... a memorial to an honest man.
(2) a brief word about the author. Ignore it if you want to assess the evidence. Take a look if you're concerned about whether the author is some manner of anarchist who sleeps in camoflage pajamas and believes that the meaning of the Constitution can only be determined with his secret decoder ring.
(3) If you would like to see the FBI affidavit which caused some consternation after FBI revealed there were FLIR (infrared) tapes beginning at 6 AM with soundtracks--the affidavit where the chief of the FBI Litigation Unit had earlier sworn in federal District Court that FLIR taping only began at 10:42 AM, and had no sound track, click here.
(4) For the question whether the Dep't of Justice or FBI went beyond this to intentionally cover up the earlier FLIR infrared tapes-- click here.
(5) For the latest (Sept. '99) revelation from ATF--a taped conversation between the wounded Koresh and ATF agent Cavanaugh, at the end of the gunbattle, in which Koresh says he "really liked" ATF agent Robert Gonzales [covername for Robert Rodriguez], had "always loved law enforcement, 'cuz you guys risk your lives every day," and adds he is "so sorry," click here.
The 1993 incident outside Waco, Texas, was the bloodiest encounter in the history of Federal law enforcement. By its end in the fire of April 19, nearly a ninety civilians and four law enforcement agents were dead.
The incident originated in an attempt by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to serve search and arrest warrants on a building, known to its residents as Mount Carmel, located in a rural area a few miles outside of Waco, Texas. The operation required mustering appoximately a hundred agents (flown in from sites around the country), and who received military training at Ft. Hood. They travelled in a convoy of sixty vehicles and were supported by three National Guard helicopters and one fixed-wing aircraft, with armored vehicles in reserve.
The official explanation is that the raid was intended to gather evidence in support of suspicion that the residents of Mount Carmel (members of the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of Seventh-Day Adventism), possessed machineguns without the required licenses and tax, and that nothing but overwhelming military force would enable he arrest of their leader, David Koresh, and a search of the residence.
The official version is undercut by BATF's concession that, when informed of the investigation, Koresh invited agents to come over, look at the firearms, and take any that they might feel were questionable. It is also undercut by a rather embarassing event. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we now know how ATF undercover agents investigating the case spent February 19, 1993--nine days before the raid.
They went shooting with David Koresh. He provided the ammunition, and they handed him their guns. No, I am not jesting. And yes, he knew they were agents. Click here for their report.
Even a well-heeled agency does not divert a hundred agents with air support to investigate a single and rather small case--particularly not if a simple audit could resolve the matter.
A different, and less acceptable, motivation appears most likely. At the Federal level, law enforcement operations center upon the annual appropriation process. Anyone who has worked with such an agency (as I did, for nine years) knows that they try to schedule a "showcase" operation, one which will garner national coverage, just before their House Appropriations cycle begins. An agency director loves to begin the hearings with "Typical of the dangerous work undertaken by our agents is ...." Such a showcase move is usually given a suitably dramatic and military-sounding name.
The codename for the Waco raid was "Operation Trojan Horse." The code for its initiation was "Showtime." The target date was less than two weeks before BATF's House Appropriations hearings were scheduled. The team assigned included a Public Information Officer, who made sure to alert newspapers to stand by for a story that weekend. There would indeed be a story--four agents and six civilians would die to make it.
Freedom of Information Act
In late 1995, I submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to BATF and FBI relating to critical information on the events at Waco. Neither agency responded, and in December, 1995, I commenced a Freedom of Information Act suit (Hardy v. FBI & ATF, No. 95-883-TUC-ACM, D. Ariz.). After weathering two motions to dismiss, fourteen motions for stay or extension of time, and four motions for summary judgment, we obtained quantities of useful data, some of which the agencies admit was never revealed to Congressional investigators.
Some of the most interesting data may, however, never see the light of day. ATF's affidavits contend that all of its photographic and video evidence met a sticky end. In particular:
The "official" videocam, set up to film the operation, mysteriously ejected its tapes rather than recording them. The agency attributes this to radio interference from nearby transmitters. (Strange, since video remote controls work on infrared, not radio, signals. Just as strange, the agency admits that when it attempted to duplicate the occurence, it was unable to make it happen.).
That wasn't the only "official" videocam filming the front of the building during the raid. There was another, mounted on a tripod beside the communications van. And another at a sniper position. And still another (although this may overlap with one of the first two) filming from an "elevated position." Mysteriously, none of these videotapes can be found. And the agency officials who saw them in the past say that every single camera malfunctioned in the seconds before the raid. (Quality control isn't what it used to be apparently.). The only clue was that these videos may have been given to the Texas Rangers. But when I asked for copies from the Rangers, they replied that the videos were in Rangers' possession, but not in their control. Control was vested in the U.S. Marshall's Office, for whom they had gathered them. I then made a FOIA request to the Marshall's Office.... which said they could not produce them, since they were not in their control. [I've since sent this letter to the Rangers, but have not gotten a reaction.].
The "official" still camera's film....and indeed the official still camera...vanished from a table in raid headquarters, surrounded by Federal agents, during the raid. At least that's what the ATF's Public Information Office swore happened. (Crime may be rising, but you would think a room full of Federal agents would be safe from thieves).
While "unofficial" cameras were there in abundance (three of the four agents killed had them, and the videos of agents show them wandering around snapping pictures), their film seems to have wandered off. Despite a court order, only two rolls of film could be found, neither of them depicting the raid itself.
It seems as if all this evidence fell prey to an evidentiary variant of King Tut's Curse. It took two years of litigation to pry the remaining evidence out, one piece at a time. First, ATF had no videos. Then it had one, but only one, and that made from the helicopters approaching the rear. A video analyst found that that tape had been edited. The agency found another, and swore that was all. Strange, since that video showed two other agents making still more videos. The agency finally admitted there were more, but those had been turned over to the Texas Rangers, no copies made. But the Texas Rangers stated that, when they received the videos, they were acting as deputized U.S. Marshalls, and had given the videos back to federal authorities. And so on....
But enough of the preliminaries. After repeated battles, the agency did yield up some data. Here are the more important yields of two years of litigation--audiotapes of radio traffic, still photographs, videotapes, documents. Much of this will outrage civil libertarians. Some of it will outrage Federal agents: four of them died here, after all, after some monumental foul-ups, and the responsible supervisors were fired but re-hired with back pay, attorneys' fees, and an agreement to change their personnel files.
First, your preparation. Still photos can of course be viewed in any web browser. You can get a good idea of the evidence by looking over the following pages without any plug-ins; you can get an excellent experience with just the audio plug-in. For video, you'll want the Quicktime plug-in, which comes with Netscape.
Check your browser's plug-ins folder to see if you have the Real Audio plug in allowing realtime audio. If not:
1) Bookmark this page so you can come back to it. You're going to have to restart your browser before returning.
2) Download the desired plug-in:
Audio: RealAudio's player.(http://www.realaudio.com/products/player/index.html.)
3) Place it in your net browser's plug ins folder.
4) Quit and restart your web browser, so the plug-in functions, then use the bookmark to come back here.
Fasten seat belts. You're about to go on quite a ride. We'll start by putting you inside the raid headquarters near Waco. It's Sunday morning, February 28, 1993.