Accuracy in Media

The FBI’s assault on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco in April 1993 claimed some 75 lives, and seven years later, on April 28 another body was found far away in Maryland, a death that may be related to Waco. The badly decomposed body was that of Carlos Ghigliotti, a forty-two year old expert on thermal imaging, who had died several weeks before his body was found in his office. Ghigliotti was doing work on the Waco case for the House Government Reform Committee. He had concluded from his analysis of FLIR, infrared footage of the assault, that bullets had been fired into the back of the Waco compound.

This charge was first reported in the documentary, “Waco: The Rules of Engagement.” The FBI insisted that they fired no shots into the building and that the FLIR analysis was faulty. The controversy was rekindled by a new documentary, “Waco: A New Revelation,” released last year. It charged that Delta Force personnel were at Waco and that they may have fired into the compound. It also revealed that incendiary gas canisters fired by the FBI were found in the ruins. That angered Attorney General Reno who had never been told of this. Branch Davidian survivors and relatives of the dead sued the government for $100 million. An independent investigation headed by former Senator John Danforth was launched.

Danforth decided to settle the argument over the validity of the FLIR footage by recreating the scene and shooting new footage to see if what some experts said were bullets being fired could have been glass shards or shiny metal on the ground reflecting the sun’s rays. A British company, Vector Data Systems, was hired to shoot and analyze new FLIR footage. The test was first proposed by Carlos Ghigliotti.

It was done at Fort Hood, Texas on March 19. Suspicions were immediately aroused when it was discovered that the test would not be open to the media. The secrecy was seen by some as an indication that it would be rigged to produce the results the government wanted. These suspicions were heightened when it was learned that Vector Data Systems is a subsidiary of a Washington D.C. area company with major government contracts acquired in the past three years.

The suspicions were so strong, that even before the results of the test were revealed, skeptics were laying plans for an independent test to be made to counter what they believed would be rigged results from the Vector test. As the skeptics expected, that test came up with the finding that the flashes that most experts said was gunfire were only glints of sunlight.

Carlos Ghigliotti was one of the best of those experts. On May 28, the Washington Post ran a two-page article about him by Richard Leiby. headlined, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Ghigliotti was convinced that the FBI’s denial that it had fired on the Davidians was a lie. He was very disappointed that he was not able to observe the Vector test, and his analysis of its findings could have been devastating. Officially, he died of heart failure. There was no sign of foul play, but the Washington Post noted that five aloof mystery men attended his funeral. It asked, “Was Ghigliotti the last victim of Waco?”

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