While reading this, realize, that 6-8 weeks before this man's death, Sheriff Jack Harwell of McLennan County, TX, who was sympathetic to the Davidians and attempted to mediate the siege with the government while it was happening, died of a heart attack (he was to testify at the trial). In addition, in the same time period, Edward Allard, the other FLIR expert for the Davidians (also to testify), suffered a severe, life-threatening and debilitating stroke.
Carlos Ghigliotti, who had been retained by a U.S. House committee to help investigate the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., was found dead in Laurel under unexplained circumstances yesterday.
"We're investigating it as a homicide," said Laurel police spokesman Jim Collins. Ghigliotti, 42, was found about 1:30 p.m. in the 600 block of Washington Boulevard. His body was badly decomposed, said police. There were no signs of a break-in or a struggle at the home, where Ghigliotti ran his business, Infrared Technologies Corp., police said. An expert in thermal imaging and videotape, Ghigliotti told the House Government Reform Committee in October that his analysis of tapes at Waco indicated that an FBI agent fired shots at the compound on April 19, the final day of the siege--a view disputed by the FBI.
Michael Caddell, lead lawyer in a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the Waco siege, said last night that he recently had discussed the findings with Ghigliotti and intended to retain him--not only because his work was impressive but also because Caddell's first expert had suffered a stoke recently. Caddell said that two weeks ago he wrote to Waco Special Counsel John C. Danforth, urging that he interview Ghigliotti immediately. Caddell said he'd heard of Ghigliotti's death yesterday from Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chair of the committee that retained Ghigliotti. Police called Burton, Caddell said, because his business card was found in Ghigliotti's pocket.
A building manager, concerned that no one had seen Ghigliotti for some weeks, contacted police, who found the body. Michael McNulty, who made a documentary film about Waco that was instrumental in reopening the investigation, said he had been looking forward to seeing Ghigliotti's conclusions. He added, "My impression is that the work he did was significant and important."
Ghigliotti's body was transported to the chief medical examiner's office in Baltimore for an autopsy.
Staff writer Richard Leiby contributed to this report.
For the last year I have been privy to certain secrets which I was sworn
not to reveal. For reasons I'll mention later, I am now released from my
promise of secrecy.
The presence of FBI gunshots on the Waco FLIR [Forward-Looking InfraRed]
videotapes has been news for the past few months, but the story had been
setting on media shelves for years before that time.
The FLIR videotapes
were made by an FBI aircraft orbiting the Davidian building, and show the
scene as if it were a black and white video, in terms of heat and cold. The
most important tapes were made on April 19, 1993, the day of the fire.
that day, FBI swore again and again, it did not fire a single shot, and
tried its best to keep Davidians from burning in the blaze.
My involvement in the Waco matter began in 1995, when a friend of my contacted me about the case. Apparently "60 Minutes” had taken an interest in the aerial infra-red footage and has sent it to be analyzed by a private firm called Infraspection. While experts at Infraspection determined the blips of light on the footage was gunfire, "60 Minutes” decided to not air the story at that time.
I contacted Infraspection and they offered me the names of other infrared specialists
who might be willing to take on the work.
They highly recommended a Carlos
Ghigliotti, who ran a lab in Laurel, Md.
I spoke with Carlos, but it was
He 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. At that point, the best
we had were third-generation copies in VHS, so we had to let the matter go.
Three years later, in late 1999, I got a call from Carlos. He needed some
other Waco videos which I had pried out of the FBI and ATF.
He related that
he has been retained by the House Government Reform Committee, chaired by
Congrssman Dan Burton, and was examining the FLIR tape under their authority.
that he had obtained a remarkable copy of the FLIR, a quantum leap above
what anyone else possessed. He had discovered that, even when FBI said it
was passing out a first-generation copy, it was in fact giving out a copy,
not of the original tape, but of a digitized "master copy."
digitization compresses the image and discards detail, Carlos had demanded
and gotten a copy of the original 1993 tape, made in Super VHS with some
format specifications which ensured it had all the sharpness and quality of
By good fortune, I was flying to his area on some work anyway, so I
arranged to visit him in his lab.
It was impressive. He had a bank of Super
VHS recorders feeding a row of large monitors, and tapped into a pair of
the hottest computers I'd yet seen. With this, and some hardware he had
personally designed, he could coordinate two, three, or four different
videos and show them in parallel, frame by frame; thus an infrared image
could be played alongside a simultaneous video made in visible light.
was a pilot, and used the arrangement to track things such as illegal water
pollution (the polluting water is generally warmer than the river or bay
into which it flows, and thus shows up on infrared, while the coordinate
visible image makes it easy to spot the location.).
Carlos had no politics that I ever noted, he was proud of his skill, and
he was rigorously honest. He staked his reputation on every opinion, and
made sure that it was unimpeachable.
In fact, he once mentioned, he'd been
hired by FBI in the past, and cited them as a reference. He would let the
chips fall where they might.
Sitting there in his lab, I was a bit cautious about asking his opinion
of the Waco tape. I got a feeling, though, when he remarked, "The only
thing that pisses me off over this, Dave, is when I hear government
officials lying about things that I KNOW happened, because I've seen the
It was perhaps typical of him: a lack of honesty was more
offensive to him than the prospect of official abuse or even homicide.
Carlos lived by the truth, and could not condone any failure in that arena.
Carlos did offer me a few previews. He ran a portion of the FLIR video,
which depicted events after an FBI tank had demolished the large room,
commonly known as "the gym,' at the back of the Davidian's home.
point, the gym was a field of construction rubble loosely attached to the
main building. In the midst of the image a strange flash occurred, perhaps
ten feet long.
I asked what it was--clearly it was too long for a gun
"That's a bullet in flight," Carlos said. I knew that a bullet after
firing is far too hot to pick up, but I'd never realized they could be seen
in infrared. I asked him if he was sure.
"I've imaged them when I've flown
over shooting ranges. I know what I see there," was his reply.
Carlos rewound the tape.
"Now, let's see what he was shooting at." He
pointed to a spot in the gym wreckage. The unmistakable image of a human
being was there, jumping up from behind the cover of one pile of wreckage
and sprinting to dive behind another.
The bullet flash came just after he
"Missed him by half a second," Carlos said.
I almost gasped. On my FLIR copies -- previously described a first
generation, the best you could get -- the flash was visible but the man was
Carlos' copy, and equipment -- and his eye for detail -- had found the
He had proof that FBI was lying.
FBI agents had dismounted from
the tanks and engaged in a foot assault, invading the building.
Carlos said, "they're lying."
He showed me another preview. This one was from ordinary color video,
shot by telephoto media cameras from their position miles away. It was shot
aftter the fire was already raging. The images were blurry and the angle
shallow--bushes and tanks blocked part of the view of FBI agents moving
I'd seen the tape before, but Carlos' eye had seen what mine had
"Watch this guy here," he said, pointing to a specific human image on
the other side of the parked tanks.
The agent moved, stopped.... and took a
shooting stance. You couldn't see the weapon, but it was the stance of a
man shouldering a rifle.
Then he turned his head toward the cameras, saw
that he was on a line-of-sight with the media positions, and suddenly
ducked down and lunged in front of one of the tanks.
That wasn't all. Carlos showed me another of the conventional video
From in front of one of the tanks, a long bright streak of fire
came, looking like a large tracer bullet.
"That's not a sunlight flash.
I've imaged the same flash from videos taken at two... no, three...
different angles," Carlos said. "I think it's the fuse on a pyrotechnic
The "pyros" are teargas shells, well known for starting fires.
I noticed that the angle of the flash was decidedly downward. Carlos
explained that the FBI was shooting down into the Davidian's underground
storm shelter, sometimes called "the pit."
I said wait a second.... the pit
was the exit of the underground tunnel leading out of the Davidian house.
The tunnel was where the FBI (incorrectly) thought the women and children
had been placed.... so now FBI is gassing what it thought was their only
escape route out of the fire. Carlos nodded affirmatively.
Before I left that day, Carlos gave me another tip.
There is a soundtrack
on the last FLIR tape -- I should listen to it carefully. When I got back
to my office, I did just that.
Before I was through, my jaw was sagging.
FBI officials had admitted they stopped fire engines from responding to the
fire, but only for a few minutes, until they thought it was safe for the
engines to go in.
The soundtrack of the FLIR picks up their radio traffic
that day. On the soundtrack, the commander at the scene is calling for fire
engines, being told they are on the way, and hearing reports that none are
He finally gets so upset that he screams into the radio "IF YOU
HAVE ANY FIRE ENGINES DOWN THERE, GET THEM UP HERE IMMEDIATELY."
He is told
they will be there momentarily.... and none arrive.
Either he had been
overruled by higher command, or the agents had gone insubordinate and were
making sure the Davidians would burn. There was also a strange conversation
about someone outside the building, and then pops that sounded like
gunfire, and the FLIR aircraft pilot's asking another crewman "did you hear
Carlos and I stayed in touch by telephone and email. I sent him useful
data when I found it, and kept my mouth shut.
By the end, Carlos told me
that he had spotted nearly 200 likely gunshots, many at full auto.
hadn't merely fired shots on April 19, it had hosed down the back of the
building with rapid gunfire.
Carlos had carefully plotted the movements of each shooters. He
could now show shots from one location, the shooter moving to another, and
shots from his new site.
At least two individuals were shooting, close in
to the building, with others lending support from a distance. And, all the
while, FBI was going out with press statements claiming that the flashes
could not be gunfire because no shooters were visible near them.
The FBI was
digging itself deeper and deeper into the hole.
Carlos also told me that he'd seen FLIRs from nights before the gassing
assault, 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 4/19 was almost gone. He had heard the aircraft crew
talking about it, and noting that the level was going down.
essentially, they knew that thirst would force an end to the siege within a
few days of 4/19. Which also meant that the FBI officials had lied to Reno
when they said the Davidians had plenty of food and water and the siege was
unlikely to end soon.
During this timeframe, Carlos' name first cropped up in the press, as an
expert for the House Government Reform Committee who had opined that the
FBI fired shots. Strangely, the Committee distanced itself from its own
expert, stating in the same article that his opinion was based on regular
video rather than FLIR -- which wasn't the case.
I asked Carlos if the
Committee was abandoning him and covering matters up.
No, he replied, it
was quite the opposite. He was briefing them on virtually a weekly basis.
They had uncovered a lot more information than he had. What he knew he
couldn't talk about, except that one tiny part of it was that, not only the
initial ATF raid, but the entire siege, had been funding out of money
dedicated to the war on drugs.
One might say that the entire Waco affair
was funded by official embezzlement, since all legal guidelines for use of
those millions had been violated by ATF and FBI.
There were other things, he added. But these could simply not be let out.
They were sufficiently shocking to where the Committee was genuinely
concerned that, if known, they might inspire violent retribution from
I said I'd heard statements like that -- the truth about Waco could
not be explored, for fear of violence, but discarded them as agency
Carlos said no -- the fear is real, and it's not poppycock. The
truth is really that grim. The Committee had not yet figured out how to
reveal the truth without running this risk, and until it did, it had to
disavow his work and sit on the other information.
Much of the data was in
the hands of certain key reporters (a few of whom he named), and they were
sitting on it for the same reason. But it would come out in time.
In March of this year, Carlos called with several more discoveries, that
truly sealed the matter.
He'd managed to spot when a hatch opened on the
tank at the back of the building, and when a crewman got out of it.
crewman then fired at an image of a man who fled back into the burning
building. Carlos had said that the House Government Reform Committee knew
the name of the FBI agent under that hatch. When his testimony was taken,
he denied everything -- but began shaking violently as he did so.
Carlos had another breakthrough. I'd spotted a strange flash on the tape,
and for once had found one that he'd missed. While he was looking for that,
however, he found some other flashes.
He told me that he could now link, by
time and place, one of the conventional video images of an FBI agent taking
a shooting stance, to the FLIR image of a gun flash at the same location
and instant in time. The case was now open and shut.
Then, sometime in March of this year, his relationship with the Committee began to
break up. I have only his side of the story on this. Apparently, the
committee staff wanted quick results.
His response was that he had
cataloged nearly 200 likely gunshots. To pin down each one to the certainty
he required would take some more months. He wanted, not merely to say
something looked like a gunshot, but that after examining every other
possibility, after tying in the media videotapes and soundtracks, that
there was no possibility it could be anything else.
He had reached that
certaintly with some gunshots, but not with the rest. The staffers got into
arguments with him -- they wanted results, now.
Some threatened not only to
stop payment, but to sue him for what he'd already been paid. Chairman
Burton himself called and tried to chew him out.
I urged him to stay on
with them -- this was vital, and politicos were often hard to work with,
you just had to put up with them. He called back a day later and said he'd
thought it over and, no, he had better things to do than work with people
who threatened him.
He was going to give a preliminary report, brief
majority and minority staff, finish his report on the gunshots of which he
was certain, and present that with a list of all the things he had not been
able to analyze.
On March 18, he faxed me a copy of his preliminary report, identifying
when the FBI agent (described simply as an "unknown subject") exited the
tank hatch, and the gunfire of which he was certain, together with a brief
outline of the movements of the FBI shooters. (As it turns out, this fax is
apparently the only surviving copy of that preliminary report, other than
those given to the Committee.). In late March, he briefed the staffs.
It goes without saying that by this point, Carlos had become a rather
He had found the most solid of evidence that
implicated virtually the entire of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and FBI's
high command, in clear perjury.
To the extent they were shooting and
gassing in order to pin people in the fire, they were tied in on attempted
murder, and accessory after the fact to attempted murder, as well.
collecting government pensions who deserved to be in prison. The survival
of HRT -- the reputation and perhaps survival of the FBI -- were on the
This was far worse than J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO, far worse than
Watergate, and after years of covering up, the entire agency hierarchy was
now stuck to the tar baby.
Now Carlos was no longer under the Committee's
control; he was free to talk to whomsoever he chose. Indeed, he had already
briefed one of the Davidian's attorneys, and was mulling over whether to
testify in the wrongful death suit they had brought.
I've said that I had sworn secrecy, and that I'm now released from that
promise. This is a rather long article, but there is a reason. It's in part
a memorial for a feisty and totally honest guy I came to like a good deal.
On April 19 of this year, from a hotel room in Waco, I called Carlos to
report a minor discovery I had just made at the scene. I got his answering
machine, but when it came time to leave a message, the tape just said "tape
finished. Thank you for calling."
I thought he'd run out of tape--never
happened before, but who knows?
I tried again from time to time -- same
result. I sent email asking him to call. No reply. Well, maybe he was out
of town. He did have other court cases going, and had been talking about
taking a vacation,
Early on April 29 I tried again, and this time nothing picked up; the phone
just rang off the hook.
That afternoon I received a call. Carlos had been
found dead in his office. (The press reports said in his apartment, but the
address was that of his office; it was on the third floor of an office
building, and had no living quarters.)
Perhaps his time was up. He was
only 42, and looked in excellent shape (I bet he worked out), but he did
have a Type-A personality. Whatever it was, the man most dangerous to a
very powerful agency, and scores of its agents, had been removed from the
The next day the House Government Reform Committee was quickly distancing
itself from its own expert, a man who had been briefing it for months, had
submitted his preliminary report a few weeks before, and had been briefing
its staffs within the past two weeks.
An AP story quoted Committee staff
as saying that "Ghigliotti's work for the committee ended some time ago."
Rumors were quietly placed that he was "controversial" and had been "fired
by the Committee."
Let me set the record straight: I owe it to that honest man. In my phone
log I have two calls from him, sometime between 3/18 and 3/23 (I often
overlook writing in the new day). These are about 3-4 weeks before his
Notes on first call:
Kevin Binger, chief of staff to Burton, wanted report rewritten his way.
Carlos needed stuff from locker (presumably Rangers' evidence locker or
locker in custody of court) and committee refused to send him (Carlos) down
there. [Again, the indication is that he's not fully broken off
Notes on second call:
Shots from side of tank. He had been showing the FLIR of a tank hatch
opening and a guy coming out of the CEV to the Demo staff members; they
agreed that the hatch opened but some didn't agree they could see the
person. They knew by name the person under that hatch. Guy dismounts and
shoots at a Davidian. Something about audio track at another point says
tank is in pursuit of an unidentified subject. [Word unclear, begins with
C, likely "Congress"] only wanted his anomaly list [i.e., his list of
thermal anomalies, rather than a study of each]. Over a hundred of those.
Something about four gunshots. He suggested Demos might pay for analysis of
the rest. Demos unaware. [As I recall, he said the minority staff had been
kept apprised only of the major developments, and were surprised to learn
of all the details.]
I had placed high hopes on the Congressional inquiry, but my trust level is
Carlos had said that the Committee would let it all out
eventually, that they were just keeping a distance from him in the press
reports until that time.
But now he's dead, and the Committee is claiming
falsely that he was fired and had not worked for them for some time. But
for his fax, and a phone log, the story might pass muster and his
discoveries be buried with him.
I'm beginning to wonder if Carlos wasn't a bit too trusting of his
employers. There are ways to silence Congressional oversight.
Hoover was a master of that ... it was amazing what a few files on the
pecadillos of congressmen could do. And so far, for all the thousands of
pages of documentation the Committee has gotten -- for the secrets they had
uncovered, that Carlos takes to his grave, but considered so damning of the
agencies that it might inspire another Oklahoma City -- not one word has
been revealed to the public, and no hearings are scheduled.
Nobody ever said that politics is conducive to honor. But Carlos
deserved better -- he was a genuinely honorable man.