The Flir Project: Revealing Danforth's Deceit

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by Cletus Nelson

“Everyone thought that the issues surrounding the WACO tragedy were finally dead and buried…We are here today to proclaim the rise of the Phoenix and to offer the truth…”

~ Press Statement, COPS Productions

It was a stirring victory for the leviathan state when Independent counsel John Danforth produced the interim findings of his WACO investigation on July 21, 2000. In starkly unequivocal language, the former Senator inveighed with complete certitude that “the blame rests solely on the shoulders of [Davidian leader] David Koresh” His allegedly definitive account of the worst law enforcement debacle in modern history would constitute the second legal blow against the Davidian faithful. One week earlier, Judge Walter Smith determined that federal officials were not liable for the deaths of the 76 men, women, and children who perished during the fatal climax of the April 19th, 1993 BATF-FBI siege. As the Washington political establishment breathed a collective sigh of relief, it would seem the ranks of “extremists” and “conspiracy theorists” who showed the temerity to challenge the media-sanctified “mass suicide” theory had finally been silenced – or so it was believed. Enter the FLIR Project.

The brainchild of Emmy-winning Investigative journalist Michael McNulty, the man considered to be the driving force behind the critically acclaimed 1997 documentary WACO: The Rules of Engagement (1997) and its groundbreaking sequel WACO: A New Revelation (1999), the third installment of his investigative trilogy is no less provocative. Unlike his two previous efforts which exhaustively dissect the initial BATF raid and its brutal aftermath, this tightly edited video centers on a singular question which strikes at the very heart of this unsettling conspiracy: were Branch Davidians deterred from exiting the burning Mt. Carmel complex by bursts of FBI gunfire?

To the many state apologists who seem all-to-willing to justify the ill-conceived tear-gas attack, the placement of a few stray rounds may seem an insignificant matter. Nevertheless, the law is unambiguous about the illegality of such an act. “Ordinary citizens can use deadly force to defend themselves and others from imminent harm. But if someone fired a gun to keep others from fleeing a burning building, he would be subject to prosecution for murder” observes CATO Institute legal analyst Timothy Lynch (No Confidence, An Unofficial Account of the WACO Incident, Cato Institute, April 9, 2001).

This is no mere speculative claim. There is a great deal of circumstantial evidence which lends credence to this troubling thesis. A post-mortem autopsy has revealed that nearly two-dozen of the deceased showed suspicious gunshot wounds. Moreover, on the day of the deadly fire, author Carol Moore reports that “CNN and other news outlets reported that as many as 20 Davidians were seen fleeing out of the back of the building” but “Such claims ceased as soon as the FBI announced there were only nine survivors”(The Davidian Massacre, Legacy Communications, 1995). The bureau's recent admission that agents fired over 300 deadly “ferret rounds” into a building containing women and children provides further evidence that a “shoot to kill” mentality characterized the relentless attack on the embattled religious sect.

However, in perhaps the cruelest of ironies, the FBI's own Forward Looking Infrared Red (FLIR) footage of the paramilitary assault is central to this allegation. Prior to the conflagration which overtook Mt. Carmel, an FBI FLIR camera mounted to an observation plane documented several ephemeral flashes of light directed toward the rear of the building. A battery of experts have subsequently analyzed the staccato-like emissions and attributed their unique thermal signature to automatic weapon fire.

These aren't the half-baked ramblings of armchair experts or Internet rumor mongers, but the qualified assertions of highly credible specialists like Dr. Edward F. Allard, former Deputy Director of the US Defense Department's Night Vision Laboratory, and the late Carlos Ghigliotti, a renowned expert in thermal imaging technology.

Nevertheless, without even acknowledging this wealth of contradictory data, Danforth avers with “100% certainty” that no evidence exists to refute the FBI's claim that agents didn't fire a single shot. However, the learned Senator's rhetorical hyperbole hangs on a slim evidentiary thread: the March 19, 2000 WACO “recreation” conducted at Ft. Hood TX. The costly field test, which allegedly replicated the dramatic final moments at WACO, was later examined by Vector Data Systems (VDS) – a British firm retained by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). VDS (whose parent company possesses contracts with some 50 federal agencies), predictably ascribed the rhythmic flashes on the FLIR tape to “glint” and ruled out allegations of FBI treachery because the muzzle flashes captured on the eight-year-old surveillance tape are “too long to be gunfire.”

Neither the establishment press nor the Congress have attempted to reconcile this analysis with expert opinion – a vast conspiracy of silence which compelled McNulty to conduct his own shadow investigation last Fall. After staking out locations in two western states, the Colorado filmmaker assembled a team of experts to assess the available evidence. The results are distilled in this intense 35-minute video which surgically demolishes the credibility of the Ft. Hood Reenactment, challenges the legitimacy of the Danforth report, and offers the disquieting counter-theory that FBI agents did indeed open fire on the trapped Davidians.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of the documentary medium is its inherent ability to convey a particular message by using powerful photographic, video, and other graphic images. In this instance, McNulty builds his case against the OSC investigation by incorporating data from the 1993 FBI FLIR tape, footage taken at Ft. Hood, and test shots taken by the FLIR Project team. The resulting analysis demonstrates the surfeit of oversights, anomalies, and outright falsehoods which permeate the Danforth probe. For example, the former Senator's mendacious claim that “People are Not Visible on FLIR” is adeptly undermined within seconds by the presentation of FLIR imagery depicting highly visible FBI shock troops prowling through the Mt. Carmel wreckage.

Repeated assertions that reflective materials or “glint” produced the noticeable flashes which appear on the FBI tape are proven equally untenable. Having attached a FLIR camera to a stable hoist, McNulty and his crew provide extensive Infrared footage of aluminum foil, hubcaps, window glass, and other highly reflective objects which seem utterly unlike the thermal signatures which appear on the contested FBI footage.

Yet this is merely the tip of the iceberg. It is revealed that Danforth's investigative team issued M-16 A-2 assault rifles for the reenactment despite the fact that photos of the WACO assault team depict agents toting short-barreled M-4 caribines. This dissimilitude in barrel length effectively inhibited the amount of heat detected by the Ft. Hood FLIR camera. As if to fabricate a greater disparity in the muzzle flash produced by each weapon, military rounds were dispensed for the March reenactment. Once again, FBI photos provide evidence that FBI and BATF agents used highly volatile commercial ammunition during the initial raid and its tragic end. The questionable decision to use military ordinance which contains chemical additives designed to limit muzzle flash throws into question the Special Prosecutor's glib assurance that the variance in test results constitutes de facto proof that federal law enforcement didn't fire at Davidians.

The film climaxes with the FLIR Project's attempted WACO reproduction. Using M-4 carbines loaded with commercial ammunition and allowing for a number of important variables ranging from temperature to the highly visible dust clouds caused by tanks ramming the Mt. Carmel structure, the lengthy and sustained muzzle flashes recorded at Mt. Carmel are eerily duplicated. “It is with a high degree of certainty that COPS, Productions and the scientists who conducted the tests depicted in the FLIR Project” allege the “FBI did fire on the trapped Branch Davidians in the burning building as women and children burned to death in the inferno” states the movie's web page.

While the more skeptical viewers may dispute the exactitude of this replication, few will contest the presence of FBI gunfire on the initial FLIR tape, the overwhelming evidence debunking the Danforth report, or the existence of a massive cover-up. Indeed, the FLIR Project suggests that the high-profile investigation was cleverly rigged from the outset with government investigators using alternative weapons, different ammunition, a malfunctioning camera, and other stratagems to ensure the exoneration of FBI officials.

Meticulous, even-handed, and subtle in its execution, the FLIR Project effectively illuminates yet another chapter in the WACO cover-up. Whether this powerful documentary will spur another investigation into the state-sponsored massacre at Mt. Carmel remains to be seen, but this highly recommended film offers one definite certainty: the WACO killers are still at large.

Cletus Nelson [send him mail] is a journalist in Los Angeles.

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