THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 71, May 8, 2000
Nasty, Brutish, and Short
What is the Life Expectancy of a Waco Investigator?
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
The lead lawyer in the Branch Davidians' wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government Monday asked a federal judge to impound all information relating to the 1993 Mount Carmel siege from a Washington-area office where a government infrared expert was found dead last week, reports Lee Hancock in The Dallas Morning News.
Attorney Mike Caddell of Houston said he sought emergency intervention from the court to ensure all significant information was preserved from the Laurel, Md., office and home of Carlos Ghigliotti.
Police were still investigating the cause of Ghigliotti's death this week. Ghigliotti's decomposed body was found in in his office April 28 after the building manager grew concerned that the 42-year-old thermal imaging analyst had not been seen for weeks.
Ghigliotti was hired by the House Government Reform Committee to review tapes of the Waco siege. He made headlines last fall by confirming that government troops fired into the church on April 19, 1993.
"I conclude this based on the ground view videotapes taken from several different angles simultaneously and based on the overhead thermal tape," Ghigliotti told The Washington Post last October. "The gunfire from the ground is there, without a doubt."
Ghigliotti said the tapes also confirm Davidians repeatedly fired at FBI agents during the assault, though he noted return fire came from the building only on the occasions when government tanks actually penetrated or demolished the walls. About 80 Branch Davidians perished that day, some from the fire, others from gunshot wounds.
Attorney Caddell had written to the office of former Sen. John Danforth, now conducting an independent investigation into the Waco holocaust, on April 17, asking investigators to interview Mr. Ghigliotti, saying the analyst had shown him one particularly compelling image on the video in which the hatch of an FBI armored vehicle "clearly opens, and it appears someone emerges from that tank."
Mr. Caddell's letter states that image appeared as the compound began burning and only seconds before a series of flashes appeared near the same armored vehicle.
"I have been trying to reach him for the last few days, but he is apparently out of town," the April 17 letter to Danforth stated. "In any event, his work is by far the most impressive I have seen in terms of analyzing the April 19 (1993 videotape), and I do not think you can fully appreciate his work unless you visit his lab and spend several hours with him reviewing key points."
Attorney Caddell had also told the court last month that he planned to hire Mr. Ghigliotti to replace his principal infrared expert, Dr. Edward Allard, who suffered a stroke in March.
"Mr. Ghigliotti's work product on this issue is extremely important to plaintiffs and to the court's analysis and conclusions," Caddell's Monday motion stated.
But Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the congressional committee chaired by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., told police shortly after Ghigliotti's body was found that the analyst's work for the committee ended "some time ago."
That sounded odd, so I decided to check with Tucson attorney David T. Hardy, who retired recently after a decade as headquarters agency attorney for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. -- a fellow whose credentials include letters of commendation for his "exceptional litigation support" from such anti-government extremists as the assistant attorney general of the United States (home page, indirect.com/www/dhardy/waco.html.)
Dave Hardy knew Ghigliotti's work and had visited him in his Laurel, Md. office.
"When gunshots on the FLIR (government Forward-Looking Infrared footage, obtained by documentary film producer Mike McNulty under the Freedom of Information Act) were first seen, back in 1996, we took the tape to (CBS television's) '60 Minutes,' " recalls attorney Hardy, who was also using the FOIA at the time to write a book on the militarization of law enforcement.
" '60 Minutes' said they wanted a second opinion, so they sent it to a firm called Infraspection, in Vermont, I seem to remember. It came back with a written report that said 'Yeah, those are gunshots, and we can see people moving around.' Then '60 Minutes' killed the story; this is back in 1996.
"Afterward, Infraspection refused to publicly confirm its findings, apparently because of potential negative consequences to the firm -- I think those were the words they used. At that point, the guy's comment was 'Too many people are in their graves over this already.' I believe he was referring at that point to William Colby, whom Gordon (Novel) said had given him the FLIR gunshot info, and who had been found dead just before this conversation."
When Infraspection declined to have anything further to do with analyzing the Waco footage, they referred Hardy to Carlos Ghigliotti, who ran a lab in Laurel, Md. But "Ghigliotti said that before he would put his name on an opinion, he would need a first-generation copy of the original FBI tape; he would stake his reputation on nothing less than the best material," Hardy recalls. "At that point, the best we had were third-generation copies in VHS, so we had to let the matter go. I don't think I talked to him after that for three years.
"Then, on September first of this past year, Carlos called me up out of the blue, said he'd been retained by the government committee, and said he needed some videos I had," Hardy went on. "That was the first time I visited him at his lab in Laurel."
Attorney Hardy now posts a long description of Ghigliotti's work at his own and numerous other web sites (including http://www.webleyweb.com/tle/index.html.) Among other things, he describes how "Through the committee, Carlos was able to obtain a remarkable copy of the FLIR, a quantum leap above what anyone else possessed."
On that high-quality tape, Ghigliotti catalogued "nearly 200 suspected gunshots, and had done the work necessary to verify that many of these were genuine. Understand that his idea of 'verify' wasn't just to see the image. He wanted to find the shooters, as well, and to plot their movement from one flash location to another. And he wanted to correlate the FLIR images to every possible ordinary video image, to see if he could link up what the media filmed from the side with what the FLIR registered from overhead. He was really hot on getting some footage shot by DPS from a site behind the building, so that he could tie that in as well. This man was thorough -- no rushing to judgment. ...
"He knew this was no normal case. As he once said, the Waco FLIR was probably going to be the next Zapruder film, and he wasn't going to say something that he couldn't prove against any criticism. On the side (and I have no idea why he was analyzing this) he said it had been determined that almost the entire Waco operation, not only (the Feb. 28 raid) but the siege, had been improperly financed from money that law enforcement was supposed to use only in the war on drugs.
"He said there was plenty of documentation here, showing flow of money. In the Feb. 28 videotape, the ATF agents are all trying on new uniforms, new equipment -- everything down to the computers in the media area of the raid HQ were bought out of money supposed to be used only in drug enforcement. He said that much or all of the siege had been financed the same way. ... A considerable amount of money had been, well, embezzled, to support the effort. ...
"Carlos also told me, last month, that he'd seen FLIRs from nights before April 19, and that it was apparent that the FLIR aircraft was being used to monitor the Davidians' water supply. The water was stored in those big plastic tanks at the rear of the building, and the coolness of the water inside showed up as a darker area. It was apparent that the water supply was shrinking, and by April 19 was almost gone. He had heard the aircraft crew talking about it, and noting that the level was going down. So, essentially, they knew that thirst would force an end to the siege within a few days of April 19. ...
"While I was in his lab, he showed me some footage where it was clear, beyond any doubt, that a man was moving in the wreckage of the gym. The guy gets up from behind one pile of cover and races to another. In between, you see a very long flash that exists only for an instant -- much longer in terms of physical length than could be attributed to a gunshot ... perhaps ten feet long.
"He said that was a bullet imaged in flight -- he'd imaged them before, while flying past shooting ranges. These scenes I saw with my own eyes, on his equipment -- it was clear there was a person there.
"A hatch opens on the CEV. When it opens, the cooler, darker interior of the vehicle is visible. A person exits the hatch. This is not totally clear, and some people agreed with his interpretation and others did not. But the person who dismounts then fires, the shots going toward the last location where the suspected Davidian is seen. He added that the Committee knew exactly who was under that hatch, so they could actually name the guy who did it.
"He could afterward track at least two suspected FBI shooters. He could spot their location -- one stayed in the gym wreckage, and the other moved out into the courtyard, where he shoots.
"He noted that a pattern was apparent: The Davidians returned fire only following penetration of the building by an armored vehicle.
"Carlos also found indications that shots were being fired into the underground storm shelter after the fire began. On one of the regular media videotapes, you could see a long, bright flash going down into the pit, from in front of one of the armored vehicles. He said it was no sunlight flash, he'd imaged it on three different media tapes from slightly different angles. His best assessment was that it was the fuse on a pyrotechnic round. I saw this tape, also, with my own eyes. His view was that they were gassing the underground vault to pin Davidians in place during the fire. ..."
Former government attorney Hardy reports there is an audible soundtrack on the version of the government FLIR footage Ghigliotti was working from, that "The soundtrack of the FLIR picked up their radio traffic that day." On that soundtrack, Hardy reports the FBI commander at the scene can be heard repeatedly calling for fire engines, and being told they're on the way, though none arrive. Reportedly, he finally grows irate enough to shout into the radio, "If you have any fire engines down there, get them up here immediately." He is again told the equipment will be there momentarily. But of course, the fire engines were never allowed to proceed through the FBI roadblock, three miles away.
"Ghigliotti had no politics that I ever noted, he was proud of his skill, and he was rigorously honest. In fact, he once mentioned he'd been hired by the FBI in the past, and cited them as a reference.
"He had no particular ax to grind with regard to Waco: he once told me 'The only thing that makes me mad about this is when I can see government officials making statements, and know for an absolute fact that they are lying.' He also told me that that the House Government Reform Committee had even more data than he did, that he knew only part of it and couldn't talk about it, but that it was really shocking.
"He said that the big problem the Committee seemed to see was the question of how they could get the information out, while at the same time preventing another Oklahoma City type reprisal -- it was that shocking. ...
"Carlos had already briefed one of the Davidians' attorneys, and was mulling over whether to testify in the wrongful death suit.
"I talked to him after the (British firm's) recreation, and his assessment was that it was pure junk -- the aircraft wasn't even at the right altitude, they didn't have the right procedures to verify that the sensor was functioning comparable to the one of April 19 (1993). (He said) the best thing that could be done with any resulting tape -- and this is before the results were known -- was to drop it in the waste can. ...
"I remember talking to him outside his office, after the first visit, standing there in the parking lot after dark. He'd mentioned that the guy with Infraspection Institute, who had analyzed the FLIR for '60 Minutes' back in '95 or '96, and found FBI gunshots and shooters on it, had been terrified. In fact, he'd sent copies of the tape to Carlos and to several others in the IR field, with notes saying 'If anything happens to me, you'll know why.'
"I asked Carlos, there in the parking lot, if he'd ever been fearful. He said only for a while, between the time he made his findings and the time he reported them to the Committee. Then he had been worried, because he was looking at clear evidence that would nail a lot of FBI agents on perjury, and perhaps much worse. But once he told others of his results, he figured the cat was out of the bag. Since the Committee has his results, and has had information on it for months now, I guess we'll soon know how serious they are about investigating Waco."
I asked Hardy what he thought of the manner of Ghigliotti's death.
"It's very suspicious, though there's no evidence yet. The guy was only 42, he was in good health when I saw him, reasonably fit. A heart attack in a 42-year-old? It's not impossible, but it's sort of rare.
"There are three computer analysts on the side against the government in this case. The first one, Dr. Ed Allard, collapsed of a stroke in mid-March just before the re-creation test, so he couldn't attend. The second one, who was to be his replacement, a Dr. Siegel, collapsed in late March, unconscious; they diagnosed it as massive blood poisoning. After 10 days in the hospital he gets out. Now Carlos is found dead.
"This is like the bass players for the Rolling Stones. You find a replacement and hope he's still alive by the time of the concert. ... This tiny group is involved in Waco, and now it's three out of three."
I asked Dave Hardy if it was in anyone's power to make Carlos Ghigliotti's work disappear.
"He delivered at least a preliminary report to the committee; he was working on the final report as late as early April. He was still working on the final report, so that, if no one has gotten to it, it should be sitting there in the office or on his word processor.
"Mike McNulty told me he had taken Carlos' notes to Dr. Allard, who is apparently in good enough shape to go back and do some FLIR analysis now, and they had found some of the stuff notated by Carlos, including the guy running and shooting through the gym wreckage. So his final report, we may be able to find some truth out of that. ...
"My last conversation with Carlos, he was trying to get that piece of footage of the helicopter (seen in McNulty's new video "Waco: A New Revelation," firing at a Branch Davidian on the roof of the church just before the fire) which is in the hands of the Texas Department of Public Safety, so he could compare it with the FLIR. He said the committee wouldn't send him to Texas to get it; they wouldn't pay for the plane ticket. So you've got the man who's going to hand you everything on a platter, and they won't spring for the plane ticket.
"What really hacks me off is the committee saying 'He hadn't worked with us for some time.' According to my notes he only had a dispute with them" (the committee declined to give Ghigliotti more time to do a more detailed analysis, and he also complained they were slow in paying him) "in mid-March, after he'd been working with them for seven and a half months. I know he was still briefing them on work he'd already done, as late as March 30."
I asked Hardy, the former U.S. government attorney, if he believed Rep. Dan Burton's committee is really trying to get out the truth about the Waco paramilitary action and subsequent massacre.
"Up until the events with Carlos I would have said they were trying to bring the facts out, but now I doubt it. You've seen the evidence with your own eyes, he's given you the reports, and now they're claiming, 'Well, he hasn't worked for us for some time'? I start to doubt it."
Lee Hancock in Dallas reports Judge Walter Smith told both sides in the wrongful death suit this week that Vector Data Research, the American-owned British aerospace firm hired by former Sen. Danforth to conduct the FLIR "re-creation" (after Dr. Allard was out of commission, and, it now appears, possibly after Mr. Ghigliotti's death as well) will submit its final report Monday, May 8. The judge said that report will provide "conclusive evidence" linking each flash to a specific cause ... such as sunlight reflecting off broken glass.