A Tale of Two Conspiracies

FLIR tape conspiracy theorists compare notes with the Kennedy assassination theorists

A Tale of Two Conspiracies

Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists have the Zapruder film. Waco conspiracy theorists have the FLIR tape. And just like the Zapruder film, the FLIR (short for forward looking infrared) tape has spawned a firestorm of controversy over what it allegedly shows.

The Zapruder film suggests there was at least one assassin other than Lee Harvey Oswald who murdered John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. The FLIR appears to show several assassins shooting into the Mount Carmel compound shortly before the building was engulfed in flame. And just as Zapruder's 8mm Bell & Howell camera gave rise to a myriad of conspiracy theories, the infrared video shot by a government plane has given rise to mysterious blank résumé pages on court documents, military secrets, dueling spies, and a rash of mysterious ailments that have struck the men analyzing the FLIR tape for the plaintiffs.

The Zapruder film appears to show that another shooter besides Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shot that killed President John F. Kennedy. If that's true, there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. If you believe the conspiracy theorists on the Waco controversy, the videotape shot by an FLIR camera that was mounted on a government plane that flew over Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993, shows gunfire from several sites into the rear sections of the building. The flashes, allegedly those of muzzle blasts, occur over a four-minute time period, and allegedly show about 100 gunshots heading into the Davidians' home.

If true, it suggests a conspiracy much larger and more complex than anything that might have been hidden by the Warren Commission. If there were shooters on the back side of Mount Carmel, it means that high government officials decided to kill all the Davidians inside the building on April 19, 1993.

The alleged gunfire could explain why more Davidians didn't leave the burning building after it caught fire. Attorneys for the Branch Davidians hoped the FLIR tape would be a central part of their lawsuit. But earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith ruled that the FLIR controversy would not be discussed during the trial because some of the government's experts could not attend the trial.

Excluding the FLIR from the civil trial, said one attorney for the Davidians, former attorney general Ramsey Clark, was "like trying to put on Hamlet without Hamlet."

But Smith chose to exclude the tape, basing his decision on a report done by a British firm, Vector Data Systems, which was hired by the court to examine the results of a special re-enactment held at Fort Hood on March 19. That re-enactment, done in coordination with the Office of Special Counsel John Danforth, was performed to see if gunfire could be detected by the government's FLIR camera. Vector determined that the pulsing flashes shown on the videotape were caused by reflections coming off of glass, metal, and windblown debris.

Vector's analysis was immediately attacked by lawyers for the plaintiffs, who alleged the firm did not have the expertise to do the FLIR analysis and had too many ties to the government. To counter the Vector report, the Davidians' lead lawyer, Michael Caddell, hired his own expert, Carroll L. Lucas, who worked for the CIA for 25 years and has more than 45 years of experience in both classified and unclassified imagery analysis. Lucas insisted that the Vector report was incorrect, and called their analysis of the flashes "flawed and unreliable."

Toward the end of the trial, government lawyers brought out another expert, an employee of Bechtel Nevada named I. William Ginsberg, who holds a doctorate in theoretical physics from Wayne State University. Bechtel Nevada, a subsidiary of international construction firm Bechtel, holds several large government contracts including a $1.5 billion contract with the Department of Energy to operate the Nevada Test Site. In his affidavit, Ginsberg, who works at the Dept. of Energy's Remote Sensing Laboratory, said there was no way the flashes on the FLIR tapes could have been made by gunfire because the duration of the alleged muzzle flashes would have been too short to have been recorded by the FLIR camera. Ginsberg pointed out that the FLIR captures images at a rate of 30 frames per second, yet the flashes shown on the FLIR occur over several video frames -- far too long to be a muzzle flash that lasts only about eight milliseconds. "The complete absence of discernible personnel during the times at issue, coupled with the ability to detect personnel in the vicinity later in the tape, after the firetrucks are on scene, supports the conclusion that the flashes are not caused by muzzle blasts," concluded Ginsberg. "Gunfire can be ruled out mathematically as the source of 90% of the flashes on the FLIR tape."

Although Ginsberg can make the flashes disappear, no one can explain why three pages of Ginsberg's résumé have vanished. Attached to their brief to the court, federal lawyers appended Ginsberg's affidavit. And it's one of the most peculiar documents among the 100,000 pages of material produced by lawyers on the case. Ginsberg's eight-page résumé includes three blank, numbered pages. Bechtel Nevada spokesman Kurt Arnold refused to speculate on Ginsberg's background, saying instead that Ginsberg "could very well be" working on secret or classified programs for the government. After checking with other officials at Bechtel, Arnold called back to say that he did not know why the pages on Ginsberg's résumé were blank. He referred questions to the Department of Justice. Michael Bradford, the lead attorney for the DOJ, could not explain the blank pages either.

While the government analysis of the FLIR clearly verged into the spook territory, curious things were happening to the people who had first suspected that the FLIR tape showed gunfire. Less than a week after Smith was given Vector's findings, Carlos Ghigliotti turned up dead. Ghigliotti, an expert in thermal imaging and videotape, told Rep. Dan Burton's House Government Reform Committee last year that his analysis of the FLIR tapes showed gunfire going into the Davidians' building. In late April, Ghigliotti's badly decomposed body was found in his home in Laurel, Maryland. There were no signs of struggle or break-in. An autopsy later showed no foul play and that Ghigliotti died of a heart attack.

At about the same time Ghigliotti died, another FLIR expert, Edward Allard, was felled by a stroke. Allard, the former deputy director of the Defense Department's Night Vision Laboratory at Fort Belvoir, Va., also believes the FLIR tape from Waco shows gunfire. Allard, who was working for Davidian lawyer Michael Caddell, continues to believe that. "I am positive from a technical viewpoint," Allard told me last week. "I've had numerous technical people look at the film and they immediately say it's gunfire with no hesitation," said Allard, who holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Missouri.

Another infrared expert who was working for the plaintiffs, Fred Zegel, came down with blood poisoning and was hospitalized at about the time the FLIR test occurred at Fort Hood. Zegel, who worked with Allard at the night vision laboratory, also agreed that the FLIR tape shows gunfire.

"There's a lot of bad luck around the FLIR," says Gordon Novel, a controversial New Orleans-based private investigator who discovered the potential importance of the videotape five years ago. Novel, whose past exploits include efforts to prove the existence of unidentified flying objects and that the FBI was behind the assassination of President Kennedy, believes the Fort Hood tests of the FLIR were rigged and that Vector was part of a government effort to obscure the gunfire shown on the FLIR taken at Waco.

Although Novel and the others insist the FLIR taken at Mount Carmel shows gunfire, they still have a difficult time explaining how and why the government would deploy assassins to kill the Davidians. What would be the motive for killing all those people? The scenario is so sinister that it defies the credulity of even the most cynical government detractor. Nevertheless, suspicions about the FLIR tape will remain. David Hardy, a lawyer for the Davidians, may have put it best. He said that Ghigliotti was well-aware of the importance of the FLIR tape, and compared it to the 8mm Kodachrome film shot by Zapruder. "Carlos said before he died that the FLIR tape was bigger and more important than the Zapruder film," Hardy recalls, but adds that the FLIR tape is just as inscrutable. "The FLIR tape would be just like the Zapruder film," he says, "only if all of the people in Kennedy's car died from gunshots, the car caught fire and was burned to a cinder, and all the bullets disappeared."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More by Robert Bryce
If More CO<sub>2</sub> Is Bad ... Then What?
If More CO2 Is Bad ... Then What?
The need to reduce emissions collides head-on with the growing world demand for energy

Dec. 7, 2007

'I Am Sullied – No More'
'I Am Sullied – No More'
Col. Ted Westhusing chose death over dishonor in Iraq

April 27, 2007

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

FLIR, Zapruder, President John F. Kennedy, Willaim Ginsberg, Gordon Novel, Waco, Mount Carmel

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle