The work of the Waco infrared analyst, who died of a heart attack before presenting his results showing government gunfire against civilians, has never seen the light of day.
It was late March in 2000, and I’d just gotten off the phone with Carlos Ghigliotti, owner and operator of Infrared Technologies in Laurel, MD. An infrared analyst with extensive experience retained by the U. S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Reform, he’d reviewed the videotapes taken by a device called a FLIR—a forward-looking infrared camera—and concluded that the FBI shot streams of automatic weapons fire at Branch Davidian religious sect members as they tried to flee their burning buildings on April 19, 1993, the last day of a 51-day standoff between the Davidians and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.
I could admit to being nonplussed. Carlos had yelled at me, declining my invitation to speak at a technical seminar I was trying to put together that would feature analysts on both sides of the Waco FLIR flash problem. That problem–were bright flashes on Waco’s infrared videotapes evidence of government gunfire against civilians, or sun reflections off debris?–had dominated the national spotlight during a re-examination of the 1993 standoff brought about by the work of individuals including (the late) Waco documentarian, Michael McNulty, Tucson attorney and weapons expert David Hardy, Hollywood producer Dan Gifford (Waco: The Rules of Engagement) and (the late) investigator, Gordon Novel.
Carlos had told me not to conduct the seminar, as the problem would be solved long before my meeting date. He had the answer, he said, adding that he was the only analyst who’d actually understood what Waco’s infrared tapes revealed.
And what was that? I’d asked.
“The FBI lied!” he’d shouted.
By that statement, I took Carlos to mean that the flashes he’d studied constituted evidence of government gunfire against civilians. While it was common to ask the question, “Did the FBI shoot at Waco?” a technical analysis, by itself, cannot determine the agency affiliation of a shooter. Other groups were present on the standoff’s last day, including the U. S. Army’s Combat Applications Group (Delta Force) and the British SAS; and some alleged that Delta was involved in the killing.
Carlos declined to provide additional details, telling me that all would be revealed when he decided to call a press conference. It never happened. Instead, his badly decomposed body was found in his office in late April. His death, at age 42, was determined to have been caused by a heart attack—the latest occurrence in a string of medical maladies affecting FLIR analysts who’d arrived at a “gunfire” conclusion.
What had his analysis revealed? According to Hardy, with whom Carlos had shared his results, Carlos had correlated an infrared flash with visible light photography of a shooter, in both time and space. This result would have been very significant, effectively solving the problem. Unknown to most in the general public, infrared cameras such as Waco’s FLIR do not operate in the same manner as your digital camera. While spatial resolution—being close enough to an object to see details—is important in both visible and infrared imaging, objects within an infrared image must possess sufficient thermal contrast against their background in order to be seen. In other words, if a target—such as a human—exhibits a similar amount of infrared radiation as an earth background, the human may not be seen on infrared even though the spatial resolution is sufficient. This clip, taken from Waco’s infrared tapes after fire consumed the complex, illustrates the point.
Significant, also, was the fact that during the time this controversy raged in the national spotlight, government experts went out of their way to make sure the public misunderstood the connection between seeing shooters on the tapes and the flashes’ origin. No shooters, no shots was the maxim promulgated by anonymous government sources close to the investigation. Vector Data Systems, an expert group working for Waco Special Counsel John Danforth, averred that flashes must always be associated with a shooter firing position in order to have come from the muzzles of guns. And the Federal judge presiding in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought against the FBI by Davidian survivors and relatives of the deceased also negated the gunfire as the flashes’ cause because persons were not seen nearby.
In short, the government rode the public’s lack of knowledge to victory on its side of the argument, utilizing “facts” they should have known were bogus.
What happened to Carlos’ work product (which also included infrared footage of the Davidians’ dwindling water supply, making a raid unnecessary)? According to Hardy, Carlos had delivered a preliminary report to the House Committee before his death, and was working on his final document at the time he died. According to the Washington Post, Special Counsel Danforth directed a federal court to take control of the material found in Carlos’ lab.
The events at Waco, TX in 1993, in which scores of civilians lost their lives, remain an American tragedy. But they are also important for another reason: the individual in charge of their resolution, Hillary Clinton, is running for President.
Now is the time to bring Carlos Ghigliotti’s work to light.
Originally published 8/13/2016.