Re: Waco: Govt Set Fire

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 29 Nov 1999 10:46:58 -0500

On Sept. 10, I wrote:

 >And I find it really hard to buy the reflection interpretation
 >of what I saw. But if you Hal will rent the video and tell me it looks
 >equivocal to you, I will rent it again and reconsider.

On Sept. 27, Hal wrote that he had seen it, and then described his reasons for considering it not entirely persuasive. I have finally been able to rent it again (it has been very popular at my video rental place), and have considered Hal's concerns.

Hal wrote:
>I don't find the evidence entirely persuasive that the Forward Looking
>Infra Red (FLIR) imaging shows gunfire directed at the building. It is
>possible that it is gunfire, but there are some things about this
>interpretation that bother me. ...
>First, all of the supposed gunfire is aimed in the same direction relative
>to the camera, left to right horizontally from this overhead view.
>But the video quality is poor and it has a tendency to stretch pixels
>horizontally. So the flashes which are observed look like horizontal
>streaks, which makes them look more like gunfire. This is essentially
>an optical illusion due to the poor video quality, and what we see is
>consistent with point sources. Hopefully this optical illusion would
>not fool an expert like Dr. Allard, but it is curious that all the cases
>he cites happen to have this geometry.

I agree one shouldn't rely very heavily on the shape of the flashes. But I did notice several features in many of the same frames which had shorter horizontal elongation, and wider vertical elongation. So it does seem possible for the camera to give other orientations and shapes.

>More significantly, in each of the five cases the airplane is observing
>the scene from approximately the same angle. It has just completed its
>turn around the corner of the building where there is a large rectangular
>pond of some sort. All five of the gunfire instances involve the same
>gun/building/airplane geometry. ... if sunlight reflections are involved,
>it is plausible that the plane would be at about the same angle each time.

I'd say "approximately the same angle" is a range of roughly 45 degrees. A fact worth noting, to be sure, but the camera angle seems to change by a few degrees during some of the sequences of flashes. I find it hard to imagine several reflecting surfaces large enough to flash, close enough together, and within a few degrees of the same normal vector.

Also, several of the flashes seem to come from within an area that is made dark (i.e., cool) by being in the shadow of a building. You would seemingly have to imagine two reflecting surfaces, one in the sun shining light on the second one in shadow.

>It is especially frustrating that the last gunfire sequence is not shown
>in full. Dr. Allard says that it involves 30 seconds of almost continuous
>gunfire, during which time the shooters retreat from the burning building.

I agree that showing this in full would have helped.

>It would also be helpful in evaluating the film to know what gunfire looks
>like on FLIR. ...

I agree, but I think this may be asking too much of the Waco video producers, whose funding and access to FLIR equipment is presumably much less than the FBI and allied agencies. Hopefully a reenactment will occur.

>The narrator says, on page 39, "Sunlight reflections would show-up as a
>flash on regular film which records light. But reflections don't generate
>enough heat, say specialists like Allard, to create a flash on infra red."
>This does not appear to be consistent with the statements of other experts
>in the article I posted last week, and makes me suspicious that Dr.
>Allard is adjusting his views to reach the desired conclusion.

One could charitably interpret this as Allard saying that surfaces large, flat, and IR-reflective enough (such as a large pane of glass) are rather unusual in familiar circumstances. Especially surface groups that could produce repeated flashes as ones angle changed by small amounts. I accept that the producers tried to tone down the technical language for a widely accessible movie, but I do wish there were an academic quality presentation of their best case for us to consider.

>... We can expect that what we are shown
>has been carefully selected and edited to make the strongest case possible
>with regard to the evil nature of the government's actions. In that case
>I think we as observers have the responsibility to exercise skepticism.
> From that perspective I don't think the case has been made that there
>was gunfire directed towards the Waco compound on that day.

I guess it depends on how strong a case you think is required. I agree it may not yet be "beyond a reasonable doubt" (criminal court standard), but I think the "preponderance of the evidence" (civil court standard) is there. The strongest evidence is twenty odd dead bodies with bullets in them, while a clearly hostile party with motive and intent to harm, and who pointed many guns at the victims, kept observers away during the period and then destroyed, took, and hid the crime scene evidence. With no apparent evidence of suicide, if you add the FLIR apparent gun shots on to this evidence, I see a pretty strong total case.

Hal wrote a bit later:
> > technology. "Only an experiment makes sense. But the key is an experiment
> > that takes into account the low probability of intercept: The way these
> > cameras work, if 50 flashes were captured on film, there must have been
> > a far higher number of gunshots that actually occurred."
>This is a surprising comment, because it seemed to me that the flashes
>were relatively obvious and well defined compared to the background noise.
>I'm not sure what effects he is imagining which would lead to a low
>probability of seeing them. It almost sounds like he's doing a little
>preparatory CYA in the event that the re-creation doesn't show flashes;
>he can explain it as due to the "low probability of interecept".

If the "shutter" were only open for a .01sec period, and then stayed closed until the next opening .1sec later, and if a gun flash only lasted .1 sec, then you should only expect to see between 10% and 20% of the flashes. I don't know what the actual time numbers here are, but the concern seems very plausible to me.

Lee Crocker wrote on 28 Sep:
>I /am/ persuaded that the ATF and FBI were and are lying through
>their teeth for other reasons.
>I'm surprized they didn't spend more time on the flashes that
>appear before the second burst of "gunfire". These are also
>identified as reflections by the feds, but anyone can tell that
>they were flames; no expertise is necessary to identify a burst
>of flame when you see it, and this was a burst of flame. The
>fact that they still call this a reflection is an obvious lie.

I agree this was very damning evidence regarding the FBI lying. I can see Hal's concerns about the supposed gunshots, but that one burst was clearly bright (attracting the attention of the camera operator) and was viewed though a window as happening inside a building. How could such a bright reflection come from inside a building? And why would a reflection happen just when the fire was starting there?

Robin Hanson Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323