BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK
Report clears FBI of Waco blame
Waco fire, 1993
The FBI has always denied starting the blaze
An independent report has cleared the FBI of accidentally starting the fire at the 1993 Waco siege by firing live rounds into the compound.

Around 80 members of the Branch Davidian cult died in the blaze, which broke out as the authorities attempted to end a 51-day siege at the compound in Texas.

The report says that flashes seen on a video tape of the incident were probably caused by sunlight, and not by gunfire as has been claimed by lawyers acting for the cult.

The report's findings have been welcomed by the FBI, which said it had been vindicated.

The FBI's long-standing and steadfast position that no shots were fired has now been strongly and independently corroborated

FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard
But lawyers representing survivors and relatives of those who died, who are bringing a wrongful death case against the FBI, said the report was either incompetent or had been sabotaged.

The experts' conclusion comes after a reconstruction of the end of the siege was staged at an army base in Texas, using a Royal Navy helicopter with the same kind of infra-red camera used in the original incident.

The two video tapes were compared, and experts concluded that the flashes at Waco were probably sunlight reflecting off glass and debris.

David Koresh
Cult leader David Koresh and about 80 others died in the fire
The report, from British firm Vector Data Systems, said: "We were unable to identify any gunfire, either from government forces or from Davidians, from either the (infrared tapes) or other collateral imagery available to us."

The report has been handed to the judge presiding over the wrongful death court case, which is under way in Texas.

The FBI had been given direct orders from the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, not to fire live rounds into the cult compound.

Washington and the bureau have always denied that live rounds were used, and say the cult members started the fire themselves.

Vector was either incompetent or they wilfully sabotaged the test

Cult lawyer Jim Brannon
The FBI's deputy director, Thomas Pickard, welcomed the report.

"This analysis vindicates those FBI people long accused of shooting into the compound," he said.

"The FBI's long-standing and steadfast position that no shots were fired has now been strongly and independently corroborated."

But the report was described as "fatally flawed" by one of the lawyers for the cult's survivors and relatives, Jim Brannon.

Waco, Texas
The siege began when FBI agents tried to enter the compound
"Vector was either incompetent or they wilfully sabotaged the test," he said. Vector was hired to conduct the test by Special Counsel John Danforth, who the Attorney General appointed to oversee an independent investigation into the standoff and fire.

A preliminary version of the findings from the reconstruction had already been made public by government lawyers.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Americas Contents

Country profiles
See also:

20 Mar 00 | Americas
Waco re-enactment 'clears' FBI
18 Mar 00 | Africa
When devotion means death
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories