Barbara Grant, Contributing Editor
The Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, burned to the ground on April 19, 1993, marking the end of a 51-day standoff between members of the religious group and federal officials. What began as a raid by agents of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Feb. 28, 1993, ended in the deaths of more than 80 people, including 17 children.
The tragic outcome ignited international controversy that continues to smolder -- one in which photonics technology plays a critical role: Did government agents fire weapons at the Davidians on April 19?
The FBI has repeatedly said no, but some IR analysts think infrared imagery speaks louder than expedient words. Officials hope that a field test scheduled for mid-March at Fort Hood, Texas, will produce some new infrared imagery that can extinguish the flames of debate once and for all.
On that April day, a fixed-wing aircraft flew over the buildings and grounds, capturing imagery in the 8- to 12-µm spectral region with a HgCdTe-based forward-looking IR (FLIR) imager from GEC-Marconi. Experts agree that the imagery from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. shows many bright thermal flashes. Their debate centers on how to interpret the flashes.