Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: This Is Not An Assault

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, August 5, 2001

These officials will concede that surely, mistakes were made, and that the outcome was tragic and regretttable. But they will argue that it was an isolated incident, an anomaly that can never happen again… And therein lies the danger: these kinds of operations can happen and have happened for decades, to hundreds of citizens in this country, albeit on a thankfully smaller scale. When they do happen, the justifications are made…

Liberals who fear a police state will have their fears confirmed, and Conservatives who believe in strong law enforcement should receive a wake up call from “This Is Not An Assault”.

AuthorsDavid T. Hardy, Rex Kimball
Length392 pages
Book Rating7

The title of the book comes from what the loudspeakers were blaring as the tanks demolished the building. The photograph on the front cover puts the lie to that claim. Like Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images”, the book really isn’t about the assault, it’s about the coverup of the assault. Because it’s one thing for a rogue agency to decide that such an assault is necessary; it’s yet another thing to realize that the agency knew that the assault was both illegal and would not hold up to public scrutiny, and went into coverup mode from the beginning.

The beginning of this story reads like the keystone cops. First, the ATF set up shop across the street from Mt. Carmel to conduct surveillance on David Koresh. But no one knew what he looked like, and they were afraid to risk their cover by asking around. So the mission changed from surveillance to infiltration. Meanwhile, Koresh had made it clear that he knew they were agents. And happily went shooting with them, unarmed. Yes, he went shooting unarmed: he provided ammunition for their arms, and they loaned him one of their weapons temporarily.

The sheer brazenness of the ATF’s (and later the FBI’s) claims about how evidence went missing is incredible. First, the ATF claimed that there was no video footage and no still footage; when Hardy proved that there were at least two still cameras and four video cameras, it turned out that ATF was having massive troubles on February 28. One still camera’s owner “forgot to take pictures”. One still camera was stolen from a room under control of the ATF. The automatic video camera across the street failed for no known reason. The video camera near the radio van also failed, and, oh, we gave the tape away without making a copy. A forward observer’s video camera may have existed once, but we can’t find it anymore. The overhead video camera in the helicopter worked fine--except for the important moment when the gunfight began. Yes, there was another video camera in that helicopter; here’s the footage--which also inexplicably failed at the exact same moment.

The disappearances were universal. Even the blank videotape from the failing video camera across the street disappeared. So did the door that both Davidians and ATF claimed would prove their case. And it’s unlikely that the Davidians had anywhere to hide a metal door before they died.

And all throughout the siege, audiotapes from the bugs inside the compound show the Davidians trying desperately to preserve evidence: photographs of the bullet holes in the door, of the bullet holes in the ceiling, cringing when the FBI demolishes their vehicles--not because they’re losing their vehicles but because “How can they do that? That’s evidence. Look at all those bullet holes.” Hardy writes:

There is a logical inference to be drawn when one party tries to preserve all evidence, and the other to great lengths to destroy it. Both direct evidence and inferences from widespread destruction of evidence indicate that ATF began the firefight of February 28.

Where the missing videotapes are the story of the February 28 ATF assault, it’s the missing FLIR tape, which later showed up, and the missing closed-circuit video tapes, that have not yet shown up, that overshadow the April 19 FBI assault.

When I was in college, I happened to be flipping through channels and saw an interview with a former intelligence agent. The interviewer asked how we could know that, for example, Nicaragua doesn’t have nuclear missiles. The answer was. “We know where every missile in Nicaragua is from our satellites.” Well, couldn’t they hide them under, say, a tarpaulin? “We count every tarp in Nicaragua from satellite.” Ever since then I’ve been fascinated by what can be done with surveillance technology. One of the fascinating sections of “This Is Not An Assault”, whether or not you are interested in Waco, is the section on the “FLIR” or Forward-Looking Infra-Red. In order to bolster the congressional expert’s credibility they discuss what that expert had been able to provably find in other circumstances.

The expert, Carlos Ghigliotti, was later found dead at his computer terminal.

Throughout this book, you come to care less about whose fault it was or how horrible either side were, but about the incredible blatantness of the ATF and FBI coverup. Evidence lost, cameras from multiple sources all inexplicably losing video at the same, important, time. Still cameras disappearing from the evidence table; videotape from multiple sources but all aimed at the same location all disappearing; the mysterious front door. All gone, none of it the fault of Davidians, but of government agents. And a massive, twelve million dollar Justice Department investigation not doing anything about it except indicting the one whistle-blower who brought one of those disappearances to light. If it hadn’t been for Bill Johnston, no one would know about the incendiary devices used at Waco by the FBI, or even about the twelve tons of evidence held by the Texas Rangers. When ex-Senator Danforth’s Justice investigation was over, he spent pages and pages explaining why all the other cases of perjury weren’t worth litigating over--only the whistleblower deserved to be arrested.

He might as well have just taken that twelve million dollars and erected a gigantic neon billboard over Washington DC saying “Of course it was the ATF and FBI’s fault!”

Unlike many conspiracy theories, this one is backed up by primary evidence: a few of the tapes have survived the disappearing act. Mostly they are audio tapes, but Hardy picks them apart and shows clearly that his inferences and deductions are correct. That the ATF and later the FBI lied to us about what they did at Mt. Carmel.

One of the “cruelist of ironies” about the Davidian siege is that a week before the siege ended, there was a prison riot in Southern Ohio. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team was asked to assist. They were unable to, due to their presence at Waco. With the HRT out of the picture and with negotiators in full control, the matter of “the convicted criminals and felons in Ohio” was settled in ten days, with no bloodshed.

The explanation for the peaceful resolution of the Ohio prison incident is fairly straightforward: negotiators followed standard crisis negotiation protocol, they employed conciliatory negotiations, bargained in good faith, exercised patience, built trust between the hostage-takers, sought to meet legitimate needs of both parties, provided assurance of safety and security of person in crisis, refused to challenge the hostage-taker’s sense of control, and avoided the pressure by tactical personnel to pursue a violent confrontation.

In other words, they followed the FBI negotiating manual. Almost every one of those rules was broken at Waco. The FBI went out of its way to prove that the FBI could not be trusted, that everyone who left the compound--even children and elderly women--would have the book thrown at them (the elderly were arrested, without evidence, on first degree murder; the children sent to foster homes immediately).

Time after time, negotiators made promises, and other elements of FBI violated them.... In the most egregious of violations of its own norms, the FBI appeared to punish the Davidians whenever they engaged in desirable behavior.

Whenever Davidians began leaving Mt. Carmel, the HRT would cut off electricity, bulldoze their vehicles, begin playing chants over loudspeakers in the middle of the night.

The HRT didn’t want negotiations to work, and they didn’t want negotiators. Negotiators were wimps, and would find “their cars festooned with women’s lacy undergarments”--placed there by HRT agents.

Perhaps the oddest figure in this story is Attorney General Janet Reno. Hardy discusses the political factors surrounding her decision, and also the meeting at which she made the decision to “assault”. Her decision was based on three factors at the time, according to Delta Force notes. Later, a fourth factor would have to be elevated to importance because the first three were discovered to be lies. One was that children would not be harmed by CS gas. A military expert told her that “there was one case known of a toddler having been exposed to CS, and the toddler had recovered without lasting harm.”

The real case was that the child in question had required emergency medical treatment immediately after CS was ingested, but even then

the child still went into respiratory failure and had to be placed on a respirator. It took 28 days of hospital treatment, with oxygen, antibiotics, steroids, and respirators before the child could be released: “Recovered without lasting harm” here was a substitute for “nearly died.”

Even then, the amount of CS the Davidians and their children were subjected to was far more than the amount which subjected the above child to a month-long hospital stay. The CS concentrations in the vault where the women and children were hiding was deliberately brought to over a thousand milligrams per cubic meter; half a milligram is considered sufficient to break civilians, ten milligrams for trained troops. Which “military expert” told her the lie about the child? After discovering that it was a lie, she forgot.

He is very careful to make inferences only from evidence which he has personally viewed, or from first-hand accounts from those whose opinions he trusts to be both accurate and honest. Even when the available data cries out for speculation, as when three of the FLIR experts claiming to see bullets were put out of commission, he not only doesn’t discuss it, he doesn’t say that he’s not discussing it. It simply passes:

In the meantime, our FLIR expert witnesses suffered an unbelievable casualty rate. In one six-week span, Carlos Ghigliotti died at age 42 of a heart attack, Dr. Allard suffered an incapacitating stroke, and Ferdinand Zegel collapsed and nearly died of blood poisoning, apparently resulting from an infected insect bite.

The public, for the most part, is tired of Waco; Hardy self-published this book through the XLibris publishing services company, and appears to have skimped on editing. “This Is Not An Assault” is marred by numerous typos, and sentences that change course midstream. Spelling is all great--I suspect that the only editing that was done on “This Is Not An Assault” was to run it through a spell-checker. Even then, there are some errors that a spell-checker would have picked up on, meaning that they probably continued adding to the book after the last spell-check. I don’t understand what it is about some writers that makes them spend months, if not years, writing a book, finally to skip a simple editing read-through by a friend or two. In a novel, this is bad, but in a book like this, it detracts significantly from the message that the author is trying to convey. David Hardy is an intelligent man. He has successfully argued at least one case before the Supreme Court of the United States. He should know that preparation is important when going before the court of public opinion--which is what he’s trying to do here.

Hardy started his research into Waco as only part of a book he wanted to do (and apparently is still working on) about the militarization of law enforcement. He first considered it simply an example, and later a prime example, of that trend. He makes recommendations towards the end that perhaps not all civil agencies require their own paramilitary force, and discusses the concepts of “hyper democracy” and micro-praetorianism, as well as the natural tendency of bureaucracies to work towards their own survival regardless of the consequences outside the bureaucracy.

At one point, he talks about how the United States is an icon of freedom to the world, and that if democracy can fail in the United States, “not only our democracy is impaired, but the very concept of democracy itself is damaged, worldwide.”

It reminds me of the scene from “Animal House”, where Eric Stratton takes the stand in a rigged trial against his fraternity. It sounds silly at first, but Stratton’s indictment of the corrupt trial being a reflection on the corruption of the United States was valid. The college dean was only imitating what he had seen in the House Unamerican Activities Committee. And the treatment of the Waco assaults and siege by various government bureaucracies and the media is a reflection of important changes going on in the American system of government. The story of the Waco siege and assaults is most embarrassing, not to the ATF and the FBI, but to Congress and to the media who “covered” the event huddled miles away. And to us, for believing the blatant lies for so long.

I remember the first excuse that the FBI gave for not letting the fire engines up as the Davidians’ house burned down. The FBI claimed that “exploding bullets” might accidentally shoot firefighters. I was amazed. Everyone who uses firearms knows that bullets don’t explode like that. Dangerous explosions can only occur if pressure is allowed to build within a confined space. This is what the barrel on a firearm is for: it confines the exploding gasses between the bullet and the case, directing the pressure in only one direction. That’s why rifle bullets have greater speed and penetration than handguns, even if the bullet used is exactly the same: the longer the barrel, the more speed the bullet builds up. Conversely, the shorter the barrel, the less speed, and if there is no barrel at all--as is the case when the bullets are just lying around--the bullet can literally not poke its way out of a cardboard box.

The FBI’s soldiers must have known this. Did they really believe that no one else in the U.S. would? Or did they just believe that most of us wouldn’t care? I have this image of the on-scene commander telling an FBI media liaison to “just come up with a story, after all, that’s your job”. And then the non-soldier media rep makes up a story about dangerous exploding bullets, thus requiring yet another official about-face on the part of the government agents at Mt. Carmel.

“This Is Not An Assault” should be required reading for anyone interested in civil liberties--and especially for anyone who believes “it can’t happen here”.

This Is Not An Assault

David T. Hardy, Rex Kimball

Recommendation: Purchase