A former official in John C. Danforth’s Office of Special Counsel, which was tasked by then-Attorney General Janet Reno with examining FBI actions during that agency’s disastrous 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian community in Waco, Texas, has denied allegations that FBI agents shot at fleeing Davidians.
Tom Schweich, a lawyer who was Danforth’s chief of staff last year when he was empowered by the Justice Department to conduct a final review of the FBI’s April 19, 1993 raid, said the former Missouri senator’s investigation “left no doubt” that the FBI did not fire on church members as they fled the conflagration.
At issue are charges made in a new video documentary produced by Mike McNulty, called “The F.L.I.R. Project,” which features questionable flashes of light captured by infrared video cameras aboard an FBI aircraft flying overhead during the raid.
McNulty, who has helped produce two other Waco-related videos, says experts he has consulted have indicated that those flashes of light are automatic weapons allegedly fired by FBI agents stationed at the rear of the Mount Carmel complex. As the buildings burned, McNulty charges, Davidians inside tried to escape the flames but were gunned down by federal agents.
The Waco film producer also said that Danforth’s office, in its testing, did not test-fire the correct weapons carried by FBI agents the day of the raid. McNulty said a Texas Department of Safety video shows agents were carrying carbine variants of the standard M-16 A2 rifle. Carbine models, such as the CAR-15 or newer M-4, have shorter barrels of between 14.5 and 16 inches; A2s have 20-inch barrels.
McNulty told WND Friday that because Danforth’s office did not test-fire carbines and instead sampled a standard-sized M-16, the OSC’s conclusions that the flashes seen on the infrared videos were not gunfire, made in Danforth’s Nov. 8, 2000, report, are fatally flawed and unreliable.
“This whole thing boils down to one thing. The one variant of the M-16 produces a much larger flash signature than the other variant,” he said. “The M-4 carbine/CAR-15 produces a much larger signature,” especially when using commercial ammunition rather than military stocks.
Military ammunition has flash-suppression ingredients integrated into the gunpowder, McNulty — a certified weapons expert — told WND.
McNulty has also questioned why Danforth accepted the FBI’s denial that it didn’t have any M-16 carbine-type weapons in its inventory, even though video evidence exists showing agents at Waco carrying them.
Schweich, in an exclusive interview with WND, said that all weapons tested by Danforth’s office were agreed upon by all relevant parties in the investigation.
“The protocol by which we conducted the FLIR test [at Fort Hood, Texas, last spring] was developed with substantial input both from government entities that were interested in the event, as well as parties representing Branch Davidians,” Schweich said.
“It was agreed to at a meeting in St. Louis with all parties present,” he said, which included “all the FBI people, all the military people, all the various lawyers representing the Davidians, and their experts.”
In that meeting, which took place in several rooms, Schweich said “we negotiated which weapons would and would not be used” in Danforth’s subsequent tests.
“In the end, everybody did agree on which weapons would be fired,” he said. “As a result, the test took place.”
However, Schweich said, “what Mr. McNulty’s new video doesn’t show — and conspicuously leaves out — is that when the weapons were fired and the debris was placed … the debris did create … solar reflections.”
In his report, Danforth’s office concluded that the flashes seen on infrared were not guns being fired, but instead were sunlight “glint” off debris on the ground, including metal, glass shards and other objects.
“That was something that all of the Davidian experts and Mr. McNulty were saying was physically impossible,” Schweich said.
“Particularly the glass” created glint, he said, “but metal did too in some circumstances. Glass was the principal cause of the reflections of the same shape and duration that you found at Waco.”
He said personnel from the government’s expert, Vector Data Systems, “sat down with thousands of photographs … and they matched the piece of debris that was causing each reflection.”
One of the analysts, he said, even performed a mathematical study that could predict precisely where and when the flash would occur, “based on the angle of the sun, the angle of the helicopter, and the location of the debris.”
“That evidence is absolutely conclusive,” Schweich said. “They identified which piece of debris caused which flash. They completely disproved the notion that debris could not cause flashes, which was the position that Mr. McNulty and others were taking.
“Up to that point, we didn’t know the answers to it. We were totally objective. We had no preconceptions going in” to the investigation, he said. “We didn’t know if it was the guns that was going to cause the flashes like that or if it was the debris. It clearly proved to be the debris.”
He noted that “the only way McNulty,” in his video, “could even get the guns to cause the flash was by throwing clouds of dust in front of certain weapons in the most preposterously unscientific method I could imagine.”
“We had Republicans, we had Democrats, we had prosecutors, we had defense lawyers … our team was so mixed to ensure we had complete objectivity and balance in our tests,” Schweich said. “We were going to call it like it was.”
Schweich said he was amused by earlier statements suggesting he and Danforth relied upon or completely trusted the FBI, because “I don’t believe they [the FBI] would see it that way. We were very hard on them.”
The former Danforth chief of staff also accused McNulty of “leaving out of his video the flashes caused by the very debris he says can’t cause them.” He added that McNulty’s tests included different infrared cameras than the ones used at Waco, different camera distances from the actual Waco footage, and other testing deficiencies.
Regarding the camera that shot the actual infrared footage in 1993, Schweich said he personally had to fly over to England to find the exact camera used by the FBI.
Initially, he said, the FBI told him they couldn’t produce the exact camera because it was a “hybrid” — an upgraded version of a standard camera that was manufactured by a British company, and that no others were made.
After arriving in Britain and contacting the company, Schweich said officials there refuted the FBI’s claim that no other cameras of that type existed.
“They [the British camera-maker] told me they made lots of those cameras, and many of them were still in use,” Schweich told WND.
He said that after negotiations with U.S. and British government and military officials, Danforth’s office was able to gain permission to have a British military Lynx helicopter with the same kind of camera used at Waco mounted in it flown to Fort Hood for the firing and FLIR tests.
When asked if Danforth’s office did or did not examine Texas Department of Safety film showing FBI agents carrying different weapons, Schweich said he couldn’t address the specifics of the weapons themselves.
“We had dozens of people working on this, and I can’t answer a question that is that specific,” he said. “What I can answer is that we had everybody from both sides making inputs as to what should be fired and what shouldn’t be fired.”
When pressed about McNulty’s specific charges that the correct types of weapons (carbines) and type of ammunition (non-military commercial ammunition, as used by the FBI during the Waco raid) were not tested, Schweich again said the test’s results left no doubt that debris, not gunfire, caused the FLIR flashes.
“Anybody that looks at the result of that test is going to know not only that it’s debris that is causing those flashes, but even which pieces of debris was causing those flashes,” he said. “We did our best to get the right weapons … but I’m in no position to say why, in an office of 74 people, one weapon was in and one weapon was out, other than to say that we had tremendous input from both sides as to what weapons should be shot.”
“The idea that that is gunfire [on the infrared video] is preposterous. Preposterous,” he insisted.
WND noted that other infrared video experts have maintained that the flashes of light resemble gunfire flashes they have seen in other, non-Waco related videotape.
Schweich said neither he nor Danforth dismissed those experts’ claims out of hand.
“The first week that we were appointed [by the Justice Department], I arranged for Sen. Danforth and others to go down to” Davidian attorney Mike Caddell’s office “to view that FLIR tape with” infrared expert Ed Allard, “and to tell us what was causing it.”
“We sat there and we listened to Ed explain to us that it was gunfire, and we took it very seriously,” Schweich said. “He was the first expert we talked to, and we sat there for hours watching him point out which flashes were gunfire, and how debris cannot physically cause a flash on a FLIR tape.
“What we have here is the classic battle of experts,” Schwiech said. “I’m a civil litigator, so I deal with this all the time. Everybody can get an expert to say anything.”
So, he noted, “what we decided was, ‘We need to go out there and do a test.’”
When it was over, Schweich said Danforth gathered his staff and all personnel involved in the investigation into a room to gauge their confidence in the test and the Office of Special Counsel’s handling of the final investigation.
“When we got ready to write the final report, we pulled all 74 people involved in the investigation into a room and went through the evidence with them,” Schweich said. “We asked them, ‘Do any of you 74 people have any doubt as to whether the FBI fired or didn’t fire at those people in that complex?’ And every single one said, ‘There is no doubt that the FBI did not fire at Davidians.’”
“We were no friends of the FBI,” he added, as implied in earlier reports. “We did not trust the FBI … they’re probably laughing when they read that. We were tough on those guys.”
“And let me say — if we had found that they fired shots, we would have said so in our report,” Schweich said.