Chapter 3c: the Whitewash
Chapter 3c: The Whitewash
A look at the last days of the Warren Commission
The Deliberation Dilemma
By early August 1964, the Commission and its remaining staff are busy busy busy preparing for the release of their report, re-writing draft after draft...trying to be clear as heck that Oswald was guilty as heck. An 8-8-64 critique by Commission Counsel Howard Willens of a 7-21 draft of the report's chapter on "The Assassin," however, gives us reason to be pessimistic about the thoroughness of the report. Willens, the Justice Department's point man on the commission, notes "I still have a question about the validity of including as a minor finding Oswald's capability with a rifle. I think our case remains the same even if Oswald had limited or negligible capability with a rifle. In a way, we are emphasizing an argument we don't really need, which prompts controversy and may tend to weaken the stronger elements of our proof."
This confirms our worst suspicion--the commission and its staff have decided that, no matter how difficult the shots, and how incredible it would be for someone like Oswald to have made these shots, they're prepared to say he made them, without any assistance. This is weak sister stuff. IF Oswald had negligible ability with a rifle, it's unlikely he fired the shots; IF it's unlikely he fired the shots, then, Willens, an attorney for the Justice Department, should be asking "how is it that so much evidence exists that he did fire the shots"? "Was he, in fact, the patsy he claimed he was?"
A Word from Howard
(In 2013, Warren Commission counsel Howard Willens published History Will Prove Us Right, his adamant defense of the Commission and its work. Towards the end of his book, he runs through the Commission's report chapter by chapter, and discusses who wrote what and when it was approved by the Commission itself. Of Specter's chapter on the assassination, he writes:
Chapter 2: The Assassination
Specter's first draft was supplemented by material from other areas, reorganized and substantially edited by Belin and me. The chapter's description of the Secret Service's functions and reactions at the assassination scene came from Stern's work on presidential protection. The commission concluded that the first nine questions on its list were addressed satisfactorily in a June draft of this chapter. These were:
1. What was the purpose of the trip?
2. Who participated in the planning of the trip?
3. When was it decided to visit Dallas?
4. What was the purpose of the motorcade?
5. Who planned the motorcade route?
6. Why was this route chosen?
7. Why did the motorcade turn from Main Street and pass the intersection of Elm and Houston?
8. When was the route announced to the public?
9. What time was the President assassinated?
The commission discussed an additional seven questions addressed in this chapter:
10. How fast was the car going?
11. Did the car slow down after the first shot?
12. What treatment was given President Kennedy at Parkland?
13. What wounds were observed by the doctors?
14. What treatment was given Governor Connally?
15. When and where did President Johnson take the oath of office?
16. What wounds were observed at autopsy?
The notes from the commission meeting on July 2. reflect its conclusions that the car was going 'between 11 and 12 miles per hour' and that the treatment of questions 11 through 16 in the proposed draft was satisfactory.
After receiving the commission's conclusions, we prepared another draft. Goldberg, who was familiar with the facts about the Dallas trip, suggested a new organization for the chapter and provided editing suggestions. Both Stern and Specter participated in rewriting sections of this chapter and providing the needed footnotes. I finished working on a new draft on July 21, and it was distributed to the commission that day.
At its August 11 meeting, the commission approved a revised draft with only minor suggestions and authorized its printing. After implementing the commission's suggestions and clarifying its discussion of a few points, I delivered the chapter to GPO on August 20.
Chapter 3: The Shots From The Texas School Book Depository
When we decided tentatively in early June to have a separate chapter consider the shots from the depository, I prepared an initial draft. I used material from the reenactment project prepared by Specter, supplemented by the discussion of eyewitness testimony and ballistics evidence written by Ball and Belin. My draft was circulated to the commission and staff in mid-June.
Questions 17 through 27 on the commission's list related to the shots fired at the president. The commission's answers to the questions and assessment of the draft chapter were brief and straightforward.
17. How many shots were fired? "A preponderance of evidence indicates that there were 3 shots fired."
18. How many times was the President wounded? "Twice."
19. What was the course of the bullets through his body? "Treatment (of this subject in the proposed draft) satisfactory."
20. Were both shots lethal? "First shot not necessarily lethal; second shot unquestionably lethal."
21. How many times was the Governor wounded? "One."
22. What was the course of the bullets through his body? "Treatment...satisfactory."
23. Where did the shots come from? "It was agreed that all of the shots came from the Texas School Book Depository Bldg. and the treatment in the proposed draft is satisfactory."
24. Did they all come from one place? "Treatment...satisfactory."
25. is there any evidence that the shots came from the Triple Overpass or any other place in front of the car? "Overwhelming weight of the evidence is that the shots did not come from the Triple Overpass (commission indicated that in referring to the three railroad crossings at that point on Elm Street reference should uniformly by the name 'Triple Overpass').
26. What damage was done to the windshield of the Presidential car? "Treatment in draft satisfactory, but make certain that there is a comment that there was no penetration of the windshield and also that there was no roughness that could be felt on either side of the windshield."
27. From what kind of gun were the shots fired? "Treatment satisfactory."
The commission's conclusion that the treatment of the subject was "satisfactory" meant only that it accurately reflected the commission's answer to the relevant question. It did not amount to an endorsement of either the organization of the chapter or the staff's presentation of the evidence bearing on the question. The commission members always made suggestions, both large and small, for the staff to consider in preparing the next draft...
Rankin also authorized Specter to take five additional depositions in Dallas on July 16, including two witnesses who might have information regarding what we called the "missing bullet"...
Based on the comments received and the results of further investigation, I put together another draft that now included the discussion of the expert examination of rifle, cartridge cases, and bullet fragments; the bullet wounds; the trajectories of the two bullets; the number of shots; the shot that missed; and the time span of the shots. After reviewing the draft, Mosk recommended that he and Arthur Marmor, our second historian on loan from the State Department, sit down with the authors of the earlier drafts so that the text and footnotes could be edited to reflect the authors' intentions more accurately in the course of undertaking this chore. Marmor advised Redlich that important information provided by a deputy sheriff had not been used in the chapter. This prompted an immediate request from Redlich to Liebeler, who was then in Texas, to take the deposition of this deputy Sheriff and others.
After further revision the commission considered Chapter 3 again on August 14. I rewrote the section dealing with the missed shot to reflect the testimony of James Tague and James Altgens...
Chapter 3 was approved by the commission later in the month and, by the end of August, the chapter was ready for printing. The commission reached two conclusions in this chapter that have been challenged by critics--the number of shots fired and the probability that the bullet that pierced Kennedy's throat also caused Connally's wounds. The commission did not reach a conclusion on the second issue--the single-bullet theory--until its final meeting on September 18..."
Chapter 4: The Assassin
This chapter provided unanticipated drama in July. Ball and Belin concentrated their investigative efforts in the area called "Oswald as the Assassin," which mostly ended up in Chapter 4. Ball was back in California by this time and Belin was in Iowa, resuming their law practices. After we decided to move the discussion of the shots from the depository to a separate Chapter 3, Redlich prepared a new draft of Chapter 4. Eisenberg helped out with various scientific issues, Specter polished up the discussion of Oswald's rifle, and we included some of Ely's earlier work on Oswald's experience in the Marines and his post-arrest treatment by the Dallas police. Redlich's first draft of the revised chapter was circulated to the commission and staff late in June with a comment that it was incomplete.
The commission considered fourteen questions (28-41) addressed in this chapter and made these decisions based on Redlich's new draft:
28. Who owned the gun? "Lee Harvey Oswald.'
29. WaS Oswald at the window from which the shots were fired? "Treatment satisfactory except that it was suggested that in describing the cartons piled up near the window as a rest for the gun, there be a reference to the Rolling Readers and their light weight."
30. How did the weapon get into the building on November 22? "Treatment satisfactory."
31. Who fired the gun? "Treatment satisfactory."
32. How did Oswald leave the building? "Treatment satisfactory except the report should be explicit that he presumably left by the front entrance and that he had a Coke in his hand when he was seen Mrs. Reed in the office."
33. What time was the building closed off by the police? "Treatment satisfactory."
(questions 34-40 deal with the murder of J.D. Tippit and the attempted murder of Gen. Ewin Walker.)
41. Did Oswald practice with his rifle during October and November of 1963? "This question should be answered by the statement that there is some evidence by reputable people that Oswald practiced with his rifle during October and November 1963 but this is a matter of their recollection without their having known Oswald, and that other circumstances tend to negate any such conclusions. There was some discussion at this point about the Irving Gun Shop incident and whether investigation had been sufficient to conclude that there was no other gun. The Commissioners commented that all the surrounding circumstances that they knew of caused them to question whether the testimony about the Irving Gun Shop incident should be believed, but they desired to have any additional, reasonable, investigation made that might help to determine the matter."
After the commission's review of this chapter, we expanded the material supporting the conclusion that Oswald was the assassin...Redlich set forth the evidence and summarized the basis for the commission's conclusion on each issue. Several members of the staff reviewed this draft to ensure we discussed the issues thoroughly and accurately.
Redlich's revision prompted David Belin to renew his (and Joe Ball's) opposition to a separate chapter dealing with the shots from the depository, rather than include this evidence to support the conclusion that Oswald was the assassin. In an impassioned letter to Rankin, (Note: this letter was dated July 7) he complained that he and Ball were not consulted about this proposed change. He told Rankin that the failure to consult with Ball "frankly shocks me; from my work with Ball I can honestly say that I have never met a lawyer who had better insight on the practical effectiveness of presentation of argument combined with an ability to understand and judge the heart of the testimony of witnesses."
Belin recognized, however, the lack of prior consultation was not the issue. "Rather, the sole question is what is the most effective way of presenting our findings." Belin argued that "the evidence on the source of the shots is among the strongest evidence there is to show that Oswald was the assassin" and therefore it should be included in the chapter dealing with Oswald as the assassin. He suggested that devoting an entire chapter to the shots was an example of "gilding the lily" and expressed concern that "the overproof in this type of a separate chapter serves as a contrast to point up the weaknesses of other aspects of other evidence showing Oswald was the assassin."
Belin was not one, then or later, to soften his arguments for diplomacy's sake. "My frank opinion," he wrote Rankin, "is that this report is far too much influenced by the short-range concern with Buchanan and Lane, et al. Writers of this ilk all center their attack on a claimed shot from the overpass. There can be absolutely no doubt about the source of the shots, and it does not take 68 typewritten pages to prove it. All Buchanan and Lane have succeeded in doing is to steer the Commission on the false course of meeting the short-range argument while undercutting the entire function of what should be the historical findings of fact that will save for the next 100 years or more."
Belin's argument highlighted an important difference of opinion within the staff. He and Ball had developed sufficient evidence that would likely have persuaded a jury to convict Oswald of the assassination...Ball and Belin reasonably concluded that there was no need for the commission report to do more than present the existing evidence--physical evidence, eyewitness testimony, and expert testimony--that proved Oswald was the assassin. They objected to the commission undertaking a rebuttal of possible alternative explanations of the crime.
Others on the staff, including me, had concluded that the Ball-Belin approach would not be sufficient to achieve the commission's objectives. Instead, we thought it was necessary to anticipate criticism directed at the commission's work. And to do that, we had to do just what Ball and Belin wanted us to avoid: marshal the evidence to rebut allegations or contentions that had been made or might be anticipated...
Our effort to document critical facts in Chapter 4 prompted new investigative requests in July and August...
In August, staff lawyers continued doggedly pursuing details on Oswald's activities. New requests asked the agencies to confirm, clarify, or supplement earlier reports. Other requests sought appropriate documentation that could be used in the report. Still others pursued newly developed information. In a few instances, the requested investigation led to further testimony before the commission or by deposition.
In late July, Redlich circulated another draft of Chapter 4 incorporating the suggestions of the commission and members of the staff. Several of us responded in early August with further comments on the new draft. There were forty-one suggestions in my memo, generally focusing on improving the clarity and persuasiveness of the presentation of the evidence demonstrating that Oswald was the shooter...
Goldberg's review of this draft chapter included general comments and fifty-one specific observations or questions...
We were under pressure to get a revised version of Chapter 4 back to the commission for its review. Redlich still had the editing responsibilities for the chapter and had to consider all the comments he had received about the last draft. In addition, the FBI was responding promptly to our requests and this new information had to be reflected in the next draft, which went to the commission on August 20.
After the commission met on August 21, I was surprised to learn that a few members had already returned the latest draft of Chapter 4, which had gone to them the day before. According to Rankin, one of the members had said the chapter "was all factual and that therefore there was not much controversy to it." To the contrary, most of the staff anticipated that this chapter would be of the greatest interest to the critics such as Mark Lane and the broader audience in the United States and Europe...
An 8-21-64 entry in Willens' diary supports Belin's complaint the commission is obsessed with its critics. He writes that on this day "Mr. Rankin also told me that he had raised with the Commission the problem of Archives handling of Commission materials. There is apparently a feeling among the members of the Commission that it would be desirable if all the material of the Commission were not available to the public for a year or two after the report comes out. They suggest that the organization and the screening of these materials will take this long, but of course the principal interest here is making sure that sufficient time elapses before any real critics can get access to material other than those which the Commission desires to publish simultaneous with its report. Apparently the Chief Justice intends to talk with the National Archivist on this subject."
(Well, heck, that's as good as an admission that the commission was not the straight-ahead fact-finding committee some claim them to have been, but the politically-motivated fact-hiding committee others fear they really were. Major props to Willens--a devout commission defender--for both including this juicy tidbit in his book, and for publishing his diary on his website. Now, of course, he couldn't leave it at that. When asked about this diary entry by Stephen Fagin in an 8-18-18 oral history performed for the Sixth Floor Museum, Willens tried to put the cat back in the bag. Instead of addressing the clear implication the release of evidence obtained by the commission but never published by the commission, such as an early FBI report in which the President's wounds were described in a manner not matching the descriptions in the autopsy protocol published by the commission, was delayed at the request of Earl Warren, Willens insisted "No changes were made either in the release of the report or the release of the underlying documents in the 26 volumes." Well, hell, that's a dodge, right? It's like someone being asked if his dad lied on his tax returns, and having him respond "Well, he paid taxes on the income reported on his tax returns.")
Above: Warren Commission Counsel Wesley Liebeler. Liebeler was the most independent-minded member of the commission's staff, prone to do the unexpected...like, say, grow a beard, or, even crazier, act like an investigator as opposed to a prosecutor...
Liebeler for the Defense
Fortunately, at least a few members of the staff have an interest in doing their jobs--investigating the possibility Oswald was set up. On 8-28-64, Commission Counsel Wesley Liebeler writes a memo to General Counsel Rankin informing him that Burt Griffin, David Slawson, and himself are troubled by the circumstances under which Oswald's palm print was identified on a lift taken from the rifle...days after the FBI had inspected the rifle and concluded there was no such print on the rifle. To be specific, Liebeler seeks to clarify a number of matters with Lt. J.C. Day of the Dallas Police. (Day claimed he'd taken a lift from the rifle before handing it off to the FBI, but did not give it to the FBI along with the other key evidence on 11-22, nor analyze the lift before giving it to the FBI on 11-26). In essence, Liebeler seeks to:
Determine whether or not anyone had assisted Day when working on the prints who could corroborate his story.
Determine why Day covered the prints on the trigger guard (which the FBI had failed to identify) with cellophane tape, but failed to cover the print he later claimed he'd found on the barrel.
Determine why he lifted the print from the rifle barrel, but failed to lift the prints from the trigger guard.
Determine if Day felt certain the print was still on the rifle after the lift (the FBI claimed no such print was visible on the barrel when they received the rifle).
Determine if Day had in fact photographed the palm print on the barrel, as he had taken numerous photographs of the trigger guard prints and had forwarded them to the FBI, and it made no sense for him to fail to take pictures of the barrel print he thought was a "better bet" for identification.
Determine if there is any way the FBI could study the lift of the palm print and conclude it had in fact come from the rifle barrel.
On 8-28-64, General Counsel Rankin and Counsels Liebeler and Griffin meet with the FBI's fingerprint expert Sebastian Latona, and ask the FBI's help not only with the problematic palm print but in ascertaining whose fingerprints and palm prints were found on the boxes of the sniper's nest Here, only NINE MONTHS after the shooting, it finally dawns on them that not knowing whose prints were found in the sniper's nest "leaves room for the allegation and speculation that Oswald had a co-conspirator in killing President Kennedy." The FBI's memo on this meeting reflects no genuine interest on their part in finding out whose prints these were, mind you, only that they were concerned about the speculation should they not endeavor to find out whose prints, besides Oswald's, were found in the nest.
In any event, Rankin ends up making formal requests that the FBI help resolve these issues "by whatever additional investigation (is) necessary." Within days, the FBI takes both a closer look at the rifle print, and compares the unidentified box prints to those of 16 current and former employees of the depository, 4 employees of the Dallas Police Department, and 5 employees of the Bureau itself. From this they discover that 14 of the 19 fingerprints, and 4 of the 6 palm prints, came from the DPD Crime Lab's Robert Studebaker, who originally dusted the boxes for prints. They discover as well that of the other 5 fingerprints and 2 remaining palm prints, all but one palm print came from an FBI clerk named Forrest Lucy. Despite their best efforts, however--over the course of the next month, the FBI checks this lone palm print against the prints of another 85 Dallas Police and FBI employees--they are unable to identify the source of this print.
And that's far from the only loose thread on Rankin's mind. On 8-31-64, he writes another letter to Hoover, this time asking the FBI to interview Roy Truly, Oswald's boss at the Texas School Book Depository, to see if anyone came across a bag of curtain rods in the building. Yep, here it is, months after the Warren Commission's staff has written a report claiming Oswald lied when he told Buell Frazier the package he brought to work on 11-22-63 contained curtain rods, and months after the commissioners have signed off on this finding, and it finally occurs to someone that, hey, maybe, the package DID contain curtain rods--and that, geez, we should at least ask Roy Truly if he recalled anyone ever finding a package of curtain rods in the building. The FBI interviews Truly on 9-1-64, and forwards a memo on this interview to the commission on 9-4-64. The brief memo on this interview claims Truly said he never saw any curtain rods in the building, and that he would almost certainly have heard if anyone else had found any curtain rods. But there's a problem here. No sworn affidavit, or sworn testimony, has been provided. And that's by design. The 9-1-64 airtel from Hoover to Dallas Special Agent in Charge J. Gordon Shanklin in which Hoover orders Truly be interviewed specifies that the results of this interview should be communicated in a memo, and that "it will not be necessary to incorporate Truly's interview in a subsequent report." So what's going on here? Was Hoover just trying to save his men some time? Or was he afraid an interview with Truly might lead to more questions, and that a report on such an interview might lead to even more questions? In any event, the memo advising the results of the FBI'S interview with Truly is sent to the commission without a signature line, as one would find on a report. As a result, there's no suggestion whatsoever that the memo reflects what Truly actually told his supposed interviewer, Ray Hall, or that Ray Hall was even consulted in the creation of this memo, or that Ray Hall even spoke to Truly. No, the memo reflects simply that Truly said something to somebody, without noting who this somebody was, or even who was claiming Truly said something to somebody. Here, see for yourself:
(It should be noted, moreover, that the Commission was less than impressed with Hoover's "investigation" of this matter. When the Commission's Final Report was published on 9-24, it cited a Commission Exhibit 2640 re the curtain rods. This Exhibit was then published in the 26 volumes of supporting evidence released later in the year. Well, CE 2640 was the unsigned letter reproduced above. So the Commission bought what Hoover was selling. Only, not entirely. You see, the passage in the report citing this memo was far from convincing, and more than suggestive the Commission itself (or at least the members of its staff finishing up its report, i.e. Willens, Redlich, and Rankin) was dissatisfied with Hoover's investigation. Instead of flatly declaring no curtain rods were found within the building, or even that the DPD and FBI's investigations found no curtain rods within the building, the report offered, meekly, "No curtain rods were known to have been discovered in the Depository Building after the assassination." Well, no cockroaches were known to have been discovered in the building after the assassination, either, but it's a pretty safe bet they'd have found one should anyone have actually looked for one in the days following the shooting.)
Meanwhile, in Washington, on 9-1-64, FBI photo expert Lyndal Shaneyfelt testifies before the Commission. This is actually the the third time he's testified. He discusses the various photos of Oswald with his rifle, and how the newspapers and magazines showing these photos had tampered with them, and accidentally created the illusion the rifle was not the rifle recovered at the Book Depository. He then discusses photos of Oswald's shirt, which essentially prove nothing other than that Oswald had been wearing that shirt when arrested. He also discusses a photograph by Phil Willis. This photo was taken, per Willis' testimony, a split second after the first shot. Egged on by Norman Redlich, Shaneyfelt testifies "it is my opinion that photograph A of Shaneyfelt exhibit no. 25 was taken in the vicinity of the time that frame 210 of the Zapruder film was taken. This is not an accurate determination because the exact location of Mr. Willis is unknown. This would allow for some variation, but the time of the photograph A, as related to the Zapruder film, would be generally during the period that the President was behind the signboard in the Zapruder films, which covers a range from around frame 205 to frame 225." Redlich then interjects "Prior investigation has also revealed that when viewed from the southeast corner window of the sixth floor, the President emerges from the oak tree at approximately frame 210." Redlich then asks Shaneyfelt if it would be possible to fix Willis' exact location, and thus the exact time of his photograph as compared to the Zapruder film. Shaneyfelt replies "Yes, it would be possible having Mr. Willis' camera, to fix his location with some degree of accuracy..." When then nudged by Redlich "You are reasonably satisfied, however, that the technique that you have used to fix his location is a reasonably accurate one upon which you can base your conclusions which you have stated today?" Shaneyfelt responds "Yes, yes. I feel that the exact establishing of the position of Mr. Willis would not add a great detail of additional accuracy to my present conclusions."
Well, wait a minute. On June 4, Shaneyfelt testified in a curious manner that Kennedy appeared to be un-hit before he went behind the sign around frame 210 of the Zapruder film. Now he has testified that the Willis photo was taken around frame 210, the exact moment, as Norman Redlich was so kind to point out, that Kennedy was first visible to the sniper's nest after passing under the oak tree. A more accurate location for Willis's photo might mean that Willis took his picture before Kennedy went behind the sign. It might be an indication that someone fired a shot when a tree was blocking the view of anyone firing from the sniper's nest. It might be an indication, then, there was a second shooter. That Shaneyfelt refused to accurately plot Willis' location, and thus the timing of his photo, when added to the fact that he and Redlich went to such great lengths to assure everyone a more accurate assessment was unnecessary, when added to the fact that this testimony is being taken in the last weeks of the Commission, suggests the possibility that both men know the photo was taken when Oswald couldn't have fired the shot, and were trying to keep this off the record.
(Sure enough, it was subsequently demonstrated that the photo was taken at frame 202 of the Zapruder film, before Kennedy went behind the sign. Equally intriguing, when deposed in a Freedom of Information act lawsuit brought by Harold Weisberg in 1977, and asked about his work on the Willis photo by Weisberg's lawyer Jim Lesar, Shaneyfelt testified "I may have" three times and "I don't recall" five times, and concluded smugly that "I am sure the record speaks for itself." Yes, it does--to those who listen.)
Here is the proof the photo was taken at frame 202. A crop from frame 202 is on the top and a crop from the Willis photo is on the bottom. Not only is Willis seen snapping his photo in the Zapruder film, he captures Zapruder in the background of his photo, filming him. When one aligns the two photographers, moreover, one finds that Secret Service Agent Clint Hill is mirrored, just to the left of Zapruder in Willis, and just to the right of Willis in Zapruder. Thus, the images were created within a split second of each other. Well...why couldn't the FBI's top photo expert figure this out!
On 9-4-64, FBI Director Hoover sends General Counsel Rankin a letter claiming the FBI's examiners have studied the background marks and irregularities of the palm print lift and have been able to positively identify it as having come from the assassination rifle. Accompanying this letter is a blurry illegible comparison of a small part of the barrel with and the palm print lift. This comparison is nevertheless accepted into evidence as exhibit CE 2637. No testimony is taken from the actual examiners, and Hoover is not asked to submit under oath that his letter is anything more than a fantasy. There is nothing to indicate, furthermore, that the small part of a barrel used in the comparison was even on the famous rifle.
Huh. In the last week of August, Rankin wrote two letters to Hoover in which he asked his help in answering some questions--1) whether or not the palm print purportedly lifted From the rifle could be associated with the rifle, and 2) whether or not the curtain rods Oswald told Frazier he was bringing to work were ever located in the depository, and Hoover has responded to both questions with letters, and not reports. As a consequence, then, no official document detailing the efforts of the FBI to answer these questions, and no sworn testimony in which the FBI agents conducting these investigations offered their support for the results claimed by Hoover, has been provided.
In the years to come, supporters of the Warren Commission's conclusions would come to claim the evidence supporting Oswald's guilt all came from sworn testimony. And yet, here are two prime pieces of evidence used to convict Oswald in the public eye, that came solely from letters from Hoover.
Leave It to Liebeler
Elsewhere on 9-4-64, after rapidly devouring a copy of chapter 4 of the report, Warren Commission Counsel Wesley J. Liebeler nearly has a heart attack. Sensing that critics would see this chapter, which lays out the Commission's reasons for believing Oswald was the assassin, as, in his own words, "a brief for the prosecution," he fires off a 26 page long memorandum to Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin on 9-6. His comments on the Oswald's Rifle Capability section of chapter 4 follow... (with some of the key parts highlighted).
OSWALD'S RIFLE CAPABILITY
1. The purpose of this section is to determine Oswald's ability to fire a rifle. The third word at the top of page 50 of the galleys, which is apparently meant to describe Oswald, is "marksman." A marksman is one skilled at shooting at mark; one who shoots well. Not only do we beg the question a little, but the sentence is inexact in that the shot, which it describes, would be the same for a marksman as it would for one who was not a marksman. How about: the assassin's shots from the easternmost window of the south side of the Texas School Book Depository were at a slow-moving target proceeding on a downgrade virtually straight away from the assassin, at a range of 177 to 266 feet."
2. The last sentence in the first paragraph on galley page 50 should indicate that the slope of Elm Street is downward.
3. The section on the nature of the shots deals basically with the range and the effect of a telescopic sight. Several experts conclude that the shots were easy. There is, however, no consideration given here to the time allowed for the shots. I do not see how someone can conclude that a shot is easy or hard unless he knows something about how long the firer has to shoot, that is, how much time is allotted for the shots.
4. On nature of the shots--Frazier testified that one would have no difficulty in hitting a target with a telescopic sight, since all you have to do is put the crosshairs on the target. On page 51 of the galleys, however, he testified that shots fired by FBI agents with the assassination weapon were "a few inches high and to the right of the target * * * because of a defect in the scope." Apparently no one knows when that defect appeared, or if it was in the scope at the time of the assassination. If it was, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary one may assume that it was, putting the crosshairs on the target would clearly have resulted in a miss, or it very likely would, in any event. I have raised this question before. There is a great deal of testimony in the record that a telescopic sight is a sensitive proposition. You can't leave a rifle and scope laying around in a garage underfoot for almost 3 months, just having brought it back from New Orleans in the back of a station wagon, and expect to hit anything with it, unless you take the trouble to fire it and sight the scope in. This would have been a problem that should have been dealt with in any event, and now that it turns out that there actually was a defect in the scope, it is perfectly clear that the question must be considered. The present draft leaves the Commission open to severe criticism. Furthermore, to the extent that it leaves testimony suggesting that the shots might not have been so easy out of the discussion, thereby giving only a part of the story, it is simply dishonest.
5. Why do we have a statement concerning the fact that Oswald's Marine records show that he was familiar with the Browning automatic rifle, .45-caliber pistol and 12-gage riot gun? That is completely irrelevant to the question of his ability to fire a rifle, unless there is evidence that the same skills are involved. It is, furthermore, prejudicial to some extent.
6. Under the heading "Oswald's Rifle Practice Outside the Marines" we have a statement concerning his hunting activities in Russia. It says that he joined a hunting club, obtained a license and went hunting about six times. It does not say what kind of a weapon he used. While I am not completely familiar with the record on this point, I do know for a fact that there is some indication that he used a shotgun. Under what theory do we include activities concerning a shotgun under a heading relating to rifle practice, and then presume not to advise the reader of the fact?
7. The statements concerning Oswald's practice with the assassination weapon are misleading. They tend to give the impression that he did more practicing than the record suggests that he did. My recollection is that there is only one specific time when he might have practiced. We should be more precise in this area, because the Commission is going to have its work in this area examined very closely.
8. On the top of galley page 51 we have that statement about Oswald sighting the telescopic sight at night on the porch in New Orleans. I think the support for that proposition is thin indeed. Marina Oswald first testified that she did not know what he was doing out there and then she was clearly led into the only answer that gives any support to this proposition.
9. I think the level of reaching that is going on in this whole discussion of rifle capability is merely shown by the fact that under the heading of rifle practice outside the Marine Corps appears the damning statement that "Oswald showed an interest in rifles by discussing that subject with others (in fact only one person as I remember it) and reading gun magazines."
10. I do not think the record will support the statement that Oswald did not leave his Beckley Avenue rooming house on one of the weekends that he was supposedly seen at the Sports Drome Rifle Range.
11. There is a misstatement in the third paragraph under rapid fire tests when it says "Four of the firers missed the second shot." The preceding paragraph states that there were only three firers.
12. There are no footnotes whatsoever in the fifth paragraph under rapid fire tests and some rather important statements are made which require some support from someplace.
13. A minor point as to the next paragraph--bullets are better said to strike rather than land.
14. As I read through the section on rifle capability it appears that 15 different sets of three shots were fired by supposedly expert riflemen of the FBI and other places. According to my calculations those 15 sets of shots took a total of 93.8 seconds to be fired. The average of all 15 is a little over 6.2 seconds. Assuming that time is calculated commencing with the firing of the first shot, that means the average time it took to fire the two remaining shots was about 6.2 seconds. That comes to about 3.1 seconds for each shot, not counting the time consumed by the actual firing, which would not be very much. I recall that chapter 3 said that the minimum time that had to elapse between shots was 2.25 seconds, which is pretty close to the one set of fast shots fired by Frazier of the FBI. The conclusion indicates that Oswald had the capability to fire three shots with two hits in from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. Of the 15 sets of 3 shots described above, only 3 were fired within 4.8 seconds. A total of five sets, including the three just mentioned were fired within a total of 5.6 seconds. The conclusion at its most extreme states that Oswald could fire faster than the Commission experts fired in 12 of their 15 tries and that in any event he could fire faster than the experts did in 10 of their 15 tries. If we are going to set forth material such as this, I think we should set forth some information on how much training and how much shooting the experts had and did as a whole. The readers could then have something on which to base their judgments concerning the relative abilities of the apparently slow firing experts used by the Commission and the ability of Lee Harvey Oswald.
15. The problems raised by the above analyses should be met at some point in the text of the report. The figure of 2.25 as a minimum firing time for each shot used throughout chapter 3. The present discussion of rifle capability shows that expert riflemen could not fire the assassination weapon that fast. Only one of the experts managed to do so, and his shots, like those of the other FBI experts, were high and to the right of the target. The fact is that most of the experts were much more proficient with a rifle than Oswald could ever be expected to be, and the record indicates that fact, according to my recollection of the response of one of the experts to a question by Mr. McCloy asking for a comparison of an NRA master marksman to a Marine Corps sharpshooter.
16. The present section on rifle capability fails to set forth material in the record tending to indicate that Oswald was not a good shot and that he was not interested in his rifle while in the Marine Corps. It does not set forth material indicating that a telescopic sight must be tested and sighted in after a period of non-use before it can be expected to be accurate. That problem is emphasized by the fact that the FBI actually found that there was a defect in the scope which caused the rifle to fire high and to the right. In spite of the above the present section takes only part of the material in the record to show that Oswald was a good shot and that he was interested in rifles. I submit that the testimony of Delgado that Oswald was not interested in his rifle while in the Marines is at least as probative as Alba's testimony that Oswald came into his garage to read rifle--and hunting--magazines. To put it bluntly that sort of selection from the record could seriously affect the integrity and credibility of the entire report.
17. It seems to me that the most honest and the most sensible thing to do given the present state of the record on Oswald's rifle capability would be to write a very short section indicating that there is testimony on both sides of several issues. The Commission could then conclude that the best evidence that Oswald could fire his rifle as fast as he did and hit the target is the fact that he did so. It may have been pure luck. It probably was to a very great extent. But it happened. He would have had to have been lucky to hit as he did if he had only 4.8 seconds to fire the shots. Why don't we admit instead of reaching and using only part of the record to support the propositions presently set forth in the galleys. Those conclusions will never be accepted by critical persons anyway.
(Let's skip ahead. It should not come as a surprise that Liebeler's complaints about this section of the report were for the most part ignored. According to writer Edward Epstein, with whom Liebeler confided regarding this matter, General Counsel Rankin at first refused to even read the memo, declaring "No more memorandums! The report has to be published!" But Liebeler persisted. Ultimately, Rankin relented and allowed Liebeler to argue his points one by one with Norman Redlich, Rankin's top aide and the man responsible for reviewing and re-writing both the chapters on the shooting and those on Oswald's likely guilt. According to Epstein, "Redlich heatedly objected to all Liebeler's criticisms" and explained to Liebeler that the chapter had been written exactly how the commissioners wanted it written, and had even admitted "The Commissioners judged it an easy shot, and I work for the Commission." According to Epstein, Rankin then adjudicated the memo point by point, and almost always sided with Redlich.
Now, let's think about this a second. Liebeler, one of the Warren Commission's top lawyers, had told his superiors in the commission that there were deceptive, even dishonest, passages in their report. And they ignored him, by and large, telling him that this was what the commissioners wanted. This makes it clear then that by September, if not earlier, they just didn't give a damn. They were there to sell the public what they wanted them to believe, not lay out all the evidence and let the public decide for itself.
(Apparently they thought it best that someone else tackle that job...)
In History Will Prove Us Right, Warren Commission Counsel Howard Willens addresses Liebeler's memos. He writes:
Liebeler got the galley proofs of Chapter 4 on September 4 and submitted detailed comments two days later. Although Liebeler was aware of the controversy about this chapter and the decision to treat the shots from the depository in another chapter, I do not believe that he had reviewed earlier drafts of Chapter 4. Liebeler had a passion for detail, a keen eye for lack of clarity, and a deep love of identifying potential improvements in the work of his colleagues, especially Redlich and me. With Chapter 4 already in the galley proofs, it was a very difficult time to deal with the range and detail of his suggestions. But Liebeler's concerns--ten pages worth--were important...
I did not realize at the time that this was the first of four such memos that Liebeler would be delivering to me and Rankin, who expected me to manage this project and bring it to a successful conclusion on time...I was not pleased with Liebeler's last minute decision to be the staff gadfly who would bring me detailed criticisms of chapters that had already been approved by Rankin and the commission...
But even at this eleventh hour, I knew it was essential to carefully consider all of Liebeler's suggestions. I made changes responding to about fifty of his eighty comments. About fifteen of his eighty suggestions required no changes, either because they were not substantive or had already been addressed. The remaining fifteen involved questions of judgment on which reasonable observers might disagree, and I decided to stick with what had been written...
About fifteen of Liebeler's eighty comments included substantive aspects of the chapter where Liebeler would have preferred a more extensive, or modified, discussion of the evidence...I did not make these proposed changes because I believed that commission members and other staff members, if presented with these suggestions in plenty of time, might have reasonably decided not to change the chapter's language...
I was impressed with Liebeler's request for a more nuanced statement of the facts, and I would have supported some further editing if I had gotten the suggestions before we had galley proofs in hand for final approval. But they would only have added nuance, not substance, and by this time I limited changes to those that significantly clarified the commission's conclusions.
On 9-6-64, Commissioners Russell, Boggs, and Cooper visit Dallas, and receive a tour of Dealey Plaza and the book depository. This completes a task, as all the commissioners can now say they went to Dallas and personally investigated the case, etc. It also provides Senator Russell the opportunity to sit down in the sniper's nest, and aim a rifle out the window. Presumably, he did this so he could judge for himself the difficulty of the shooting.
In any event, this trip does not go unnoticed by the media. Some news articles emerge.These men are hard at work, etc.
Here is an Associated Press photo of the tour. From L to R, Commissioner Hale Boggs, Secret Service agent (and part-time tour guide) John Joe Howlett, Commissioner Richard Russell, and Commissioner John Sherman Cooper.
Now look what's behind them... It's the school book depository! So where are they pointing? At the Post Office across the Plaza! Presumably, Russell asked Howlett "What's that?" and Howlett said "That's the Terminal Annex for the Post Office." And someone thought this looked dramatic, and decided that this was exactly what America needed to see to be assured the President's Commission was on the case.
Believe it or not!
Cover-ups are afoot. The wound ballistics expert at Kennedy's autopsy, Dr. Pierre Finck, writes a memo to himself on 9-11-64, stating: "I am called by Captain Stover, CO of Naval Med school. He tells me that Adm Burkley, White House Physician called him. The Warren Commission Report will be released to the Press shortly. However, the prosectors involved in Kennedy's autopsy are still required not to release information to the press. Inquiries should be referred to the White House Press Office. Brig Gen Blumberg, AFIP Director, calls me within two hours, notifying me of the same White House orders." This memo suggests that Johnson himself is behind the scenes, orchestrating a hush-hush of the medical evidence. For who else could pressure the President's personal physician into making phone calls first to the boss of Dr.s Humes and Boswell (Stover) and then to Finck's boss (Gen. Blumberg) insisting that the doctors stay quiet? While one might venture that Burkley has taken this upon himself, due to his loyalty to his former patient, Kennedy, it is highly doubtful that an Admiral in the Navy would give orders to a Brigadier General in the Army without first obtaining backing from his Commander-in-Chief.
On 9-16-64, FBI Director Hoover sends Rankin more of the info he'd requested regarding the palm print allegedly lifted from the rifle. Included in this info is a 9-9-64 FBI report on an interview of Lt. J.C. Day, the Dallas crime scene investigator claiming to have lifted the print on 11-22. According to the report, Lt. Day claimed he'd meant to photograph the palm print on the rifle, but didn't have time, as he was told to give all his evidence to the FBI as soon as possible. He said furthermore that he'd tentatively ID'ed the print on the night of the 22nd as Oswald's and had told this to Capt. Will Fritz and Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry. Strangely, however, the FBI has failed to follow-up on this, and neither Fritz nor Curry have been asked to confirm Day's account. Even stranger, Lt. Day has refused to provide a signed statement presenting his account, and has opted instead to present the commission with a strangely vague 1-8-64 report he'd written for the Dallas Police. As a result, the only evidence provided the Commission confirming that the palm print was lifted from the rifle, and that this was discussed within the Dallas Police Department on 11-22-63, come via last minute letters and reports, as opposed to sworn testimony and signed statements. (FWIW, neither Fritz nor Curry would ever confirm Day's claim he'd told them of the print on the 22nd.)
On 9-18-64, the Warren Commission has its final session. Its purpose is to resolve one outstanding issue--a big one. Did one of the three bullets fired hit both Kennedy and Connally? And, assuming one did, did one bullet miss both Kennedy and Connally? Because, if all three shots hit, the Zapruder film suggests they were fired too close together to have been fired by Oswald using his bolt-action rifle. And that means the rest of the commission's conclusions are suspect...
Now, Sen. Richard Russell is the main one to argue against the single-bullet theory. He’s prepared a dissent on this issue which he wishes to add to the commission’s report. It reads:
“I do not share the finding of the Commission as to the probability that both President Kennedy and Governor Connally were struck by the same bullet. The expert testimony based on measurements and surveys, including re-enactment of the motortrip of the Presidential party on that fateful November 22nd presents a persuasive case. However, the movement of one of the victims by either leaning forward or to either side or rising a few inches from his seat would have made a considerable difference in the mathematical computations.
I join my colleagues in the belief that three shots were fired but, to me, the testimony of Governor Connally that he heard the first shot fired and strike the President and turned before he himself was wounded makes more logical a finding that the first and third shots struck the President and the second shot wounded Governor Connally. Reviewing the Zapruder film several times adds to my conviction that the bullet that passed through Governor Connally’s body was not the same bullet as that which passed through the President’s back and neck.
In addition, from carefully examining the site where the tragedy occurred, I am convinced that any marksman firing from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building who could shoot with the deadly accuracy which caused the wounds suffered by President Kennedy would have been highly unlikely to have fired a shot that completely missed the other occupants of the President’s automobile or automobile itself. The fact that no trace of a third bullet was found either on the automobile or several feet of paved street on each side of the Presidential car is to me convincing evidence that all three shots fired by the assassin found their targets in the bodies of the President and the Governor of Texas.”
Of course, Warren wants a unanimous report, and refuses to accept this dissent. So, by golly, hijinks ensue.
In the end, Russell and Warren compromise. Russell's dissent is not published but a paragraph is added into the report acknowledging his doubts. It reads:
3. Although it is not necessary to any essential findings of the Commission to determine just which shot hit Governor Connally, there is very persuasive evidence from the experts to indicate that the same bullet which pierced the President's throat also caused Governor Connally's wounds. However, Governor Connally's testimony and certain other factors have given rise to some difference of opinion as to this probability but there is no question in the mind of any member of the Commission that all the shots which caused the President's and Governor Connally's wounds were fired from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.
After this session, President Johnson and Sen. Russell have an intriguing conversation. This conversation further illuminates Johnson's desire that the murder of his predecessor just disappear. The conversation reflects the dissent within the Commission over Arlen Specter’s single-bullet theory, as well as Russell and Johnson’s inability to understand the importance of the single-bullet theory to the single-assassin conclusion.
Senator Richard Russell: “No, no. They’re trying to prove that the same bullet that hit Kennedy first was the one that hit Connally, went through him and through his hand, his bone, and into his leg…I couldn’t hear all the evidence and cross-examine all of ‘em. But I did read the record…I was the only fellow there that…suggested any change whatever in what the staff got up. This staff business always scares me. I like to put my own views down. But we got you a pretty good report.”
President Lyndon Johnson: Well, what difference does it make which bullet got Connally?
Senator Richard Russell: Well, it don’t make much difference. But they said that…the commission believes that the same bullet that hit Kennedy hit Connally. Well, I don’t believe it.
President Lyndon Johnson: I don’t either.
Senator Richard Russell: And so I couldn’t sign it. And I said that Governor Connally testified directly to the contrary and I’m not gonna approve of that. So I finally made ‘em say there was a difference in the commission, in that part of ‘em believed that that wasn’t so. And, course if a fellow was accurate enough to hit Kennedy right in the neck on one shot and knock his head off in the next one—and he’s leaning up against his wife’s head—and not even wound her—why he didn’t miss completely with that third shot. But according to their theory, he not only missed the whole auto mobile, but he missed the street! Well, a man that’s a good enough shot to put two bullets right into Kennedy, he didn’t miss that whole automobile.”
This Russell/Johnson conversation (and no, I don't mean the professor on Gilligan's Island) becomes even more intriguing once one takes into account that the minutes of the 9-18-64 executive session of the Warren Commission fail to note Russell’s dissent, or even that the single-bullet theory was discussed. (When researcher Harold Weisberg pointed this out to Russell in 1968, Russell cut-off contact with his one-time protege Johnson. While this was probably not the only reason for his cutting Johnson off--he was also upset about Johnson dragging his feet on the appointment of a judge--it is symptomatic of most historians' refusal to understand the dark legacy of the assassination and subsequent investigation that they fail to mention it as even one of many reasons.)
(The Russell/Warren compromise, moreover, would later be criticized by a number of the commission's staff. In History Will Prove Us Right (2013), Howard Willens writes:
"Governor Connally had been adamant in testifying, based on his memory of the gunfire he heard, that he was not hit by the same bullet that struck the president. He was a man of considerable self-confidence and was obviously not persuaded by the expert testimony that his wounds would have been different and more serious if he had been struck by a pristine bullet...(Note: there was no such testimony.) The commission members held him in high regard...The commission members...were also concerned that Connally would criticize their report if it rejected his testimony, which might in turn adversely affect the report's acceptance by the public...
Out of deference to Connally and in pursuit of unanimity, the commission produced a compromise statement on the single-bullet question...The problems with the commission's equivocation are obvious. If the members were certain that all three shots came from the depository's sixth floor but also rejected the single-bullet theory, it left critical questions unanswered. If the first bullet to hit the president did not also cause Connally's wounds, and we knew an additional bullet that hit Kennedy did not hit Connally, then there must have been a further bullet (either second or third) that did hit Connally. Considering his wound and the trajectory of the bullet that hit him, the bullet necessarily came from behind. However, the assumption of a separate bullet hitting Connally raised a different question not considered by the members. Could Oswald have fired such a second shot within the assumed time interval between Kennedy showing a reaction to being hit and the point at which Connally could not have suffered the wounds he did incur?...
I was disappointed and angry--and most of us were--by this clumsy effort at compromise that endangered the credibility of the whole report. Rankin made an effort to explain it to Redlich and me, but we would not accept the excuses that he offered on behalf of the commission. It was incredible to us then--and to me some fifty years later--that the members would reject persuasive scientific and other evidence in order to avoid suggesting that a single prestigious witness may have been incorrect in assessing, from memories of a traumatic event, which bullet hit him.
In retrospect, Warren (and to a lesser extent Rankin) failed to exercise the leadership necessary to avoid this outcome. They--or perhaps Dulles or McCloy--should have ascertained long before September 18 that Russell was going to insist on not contradicting Connally. If they had done that, we could have urged our most knowledgeable lawyers to again present the evidence supporting the single-bullet conclusion and the problems inherent in any compromise like the one they adopted. It is unlikely that these discussions would have dissuaded Russell. But a powerful staff explanation to the commission might have persuaded Warren and other commission members that the single-bullet conclusion was the only supportable interpretation of all the evidence and...saying so might have led to a more defensible compromise.)
It's clear, then, that the fix is in. The commission's report and records are to indicate that Oswald did it alone, no matter what the evidence suggests, and no matter what the commissioners believe about this evidence. No dissent is acceptable, as it might reflect negatively on President Johnson, and the country as a whole.
That the Johnson Administration and intelligence community are banking on having a unanimous report claiming Oswald did it alone, moreover, is made clear by a 9-22 CIA memo entitled "Propaganda Notes." This memo, (not released until 1976), declares "Reports from around the world indicate that there is a strong belief in many countries that the assassination of the president was the result of a 'political plot;' the unwarranted interpretation that Ruby's murder of Oswald was committed to prevent Oswald from revealing the purported conspiracy adds to this belief. Communist regimes have used both murders to denigrate American society and the release of the Report will undoubtedly be used as a new peg for the same purpose. Covert assets should explain the tragedy wherever it is genuinely misunderstood and counter all efforts to misconstrue it intentionally--provided the depth of impact warrants such action. Communists and other extremists always attempt to prove a political conspiracy behind violence. In countries accustomed to assassination by political conspiracy, American dedication to institutions of law and government with stable administrative procedures can be described, and American presidents can be shown the victim (with the exception of Lincoln) of single, fanatical individuals." The memo then explains that copies of the report have been purchased and will be widely disseminated.
It's ironic, and perhaps more than suspicious, then, that while Chief Justice Warren supposedly agreed to chair the commission so he could help prevent the right wing of American politics from convincing the public there was a communist conspiracy, his finalized report is to be used primarily to stop communists from convincing the public there was a right wing conspiracy.
That at least someone was aware of this irony, however, is hinted at in Drew Pearson's 9-24-64 newspaper column, Washington Merry-Go-Round. Pearson notes that Warren was asked by Johnson to serve as "a soldier for his country." He notes that members of Warren's court "scolded him" when he told them of his appointment to the commission. He notes further that the 73-year-old Warren was "accustomed to swimming, relaxing, and storing up energy during recent summers," but that "Warren spent most of this summer working until 7 o'clock PM each evening." In closing, Pearson offers that Warren's job was a "thankless" one, but that he had indeed "served, as LBJ asked him to, as a soldier for his country."
Pearson was the ultimate Washington insider. He was friends with Warren. He almost certainly knew that, at the height of the Warren Commission's investigation, Warren slipped out to go fishing...and stayed out for nearly a month. And Pearson was no dummy. He almost certainly understood that the role of a chief justice is actually quite different, and thoroughly at odds, with the role of a soldier.
It only makes sense then that the eye of history view Pearson's column as a dig at both Warren and Johnson, as if to say "I'm not stupid; I see what happened; but don't worry, I'll play ball with you as long as you play ball with me."
The Washington Merry-Go-Round indeed.
(Of course, Pearson wasn't the only one spreading the myth of Warren's long hot summer, in which he supposedly slaved day after day--including the days when he was actually fishing. In fact, no one seems to have liked spreading this myth more than Warren himself. On 12-11-72, Warren was interviewed on PBS by Brandeis University Chancellor Abram Sachar. He told Sachar that "I just wore two hats for ten months while we were investigating the assassination of the President...I would run back and forth between these two-places. I don't believe I left my work before midnight any night for ten months." Hmm... What was 7 o'clock in '64 had stretched to midnight by '72...and stayed that way for some time. In 1997, Ed Cray published Chief Justice, a biography on Warren. For this book Cray interviewed a number of those closest to Warren, including his children. He also wrote a chapter on Warren's participation on the commission. And guess what? Cray never mentioned the nearly month-long vacation taken by Warren. No, instead, he claimed that "From January to October, 1964, Warren held two full-time jobs" and that he was "putting in fifteen and sixteen hour days." Well, hell. Warren's day started at 8 in the morning with the commission. He went over to the court from 10 to 3. And he undoubtedly took breaks for lunch. If he went home at 7, as claimed by Pearson, then, he was putting in ten-hour days, not fifteen and sixteen hour days. It seems likely, then, that Cray believed Warren's subsequent boasts that he worked 'til midnight. Still, at least Cray had plausible deniability in that he may not have known about Warren's vacation. Not so Howard Willens. In 2013, Warren Commission attorney Willens pumped out History Will Prove Us Right, his defense of the commission's actions and conclusions. And guess what? He failed to mention Warren's vacation.)
In any event, on 9-24-64, at 11:00 AM, the Commission gives their completed report to President Johnson. After receiving the report, Johnson calls Senator Richard Russell in his office for a private conversation. He then calls Governor John Connally in Texas. Neither of these conversations, which almost certainly touched upon the Kennedy assassination and Warren Report, were recorded. Or at least no recordings remain of these conversations.
Although the report's conclusions are supposedly hush-hush until the 28th, copies of the report are provided the press on the morning of the 26th, so that the release of the report can be orchestrated and the report's conclusions can reach the widest audience possible. A publisher's note in the 10-2-64 issue of Time Magazine reveals:
"While printing presses ran day and night to reprint the full document in various editions, our job was different: we went to work to excerpt the report, cull its most significant detail, and summarize its meaning in a special nine-page section.
The task began on Friday morning, 54 hours before the report’s official release and less than 36 hours before this issue was to go to press. In the Indian Treaty Room of Washington’s old Executive Office Building, advance copies were being handed out to the press from three pushcarts. Near the head of the line that had formed was John Brown, a messenger working for TIME’S Washington Bureau. He placed ten copies in a suitcase and headed for the airport. Less than two hours later, copies were turned over to a team assigned to prepare the special section—Nation Editor Champ Clark, Writers Marshall Loeb and William Johnson, Researchers Harriet Heck and Pat Gordon. They closed their doors and started reading the nearly 300,000 words.
About seven hours later, they were ready for a dinner conference with TIME’S managing editor. The entire section was written, edited, checked and in type not long after our usual press time on Saturday night."
And it wasn't just the print media that was given a heads-up. CBS News broadcast a special report on Warren's report on the night of the 27th. Mid-way through this special, Walter Cronkite announced: "The final Warren Commission report has been printed. Newsman have had their copies all weekend and a half hour from now the findings will be released to the public. We will report them to you at the time."
It should be noted that the 36-hour window between receipt and broadcast/publication provided CBS, Time, and other prominent news outlets little or no time to critique the report, compare its findings to the statements of prominent witnesses, or perform any kind of detailed analysis. By throwing the press a bone on a Friday morning, the Johnson Administration had bought itself a week of support and even praise. It's hard to believe this was a coincidence.
The Final Draft
In any event, a quick look at the report reveals that there have been some last-minute changes. After Chief Justice Warren compromises with Senator Richard Russell, the Single-Bullet Theory that had once been supported by “compelling evidence” is now only supported by “persuasive evidence.” This, in effect, conceals Russell’s skepticism. (In time it would be revealed that three other Commissioners--Senator Cooper, Congressman Boggs and John McCloy--had also expressed misgivings about Arlen Specter’s single-bullet theory.)
So, now we’re in the shoes of the Commissioners. Of the 40 closest witnesses hearing three shots, 35 have indicated that either the last two shots were close together or that the last shot came after the head shot. Only 5 have indicated the last shot was the head shot without also indicating the last two shots were grouped together. Since 3 of those indicating the last two shots came together said the last shot was the head shot, this makes a total of 8 witnesses hearing 3 shots to state the last shot was the head shot. And 2 of these were the Connallys who ducked down in the car before the head shot. And another of these was Gayle Newman, who dived to the grass after the head shot. And 4 of these were men in the Secret Service back-up car; 3 of whom made no statements indicating the last shot was the head shot until after the Secret Service had studied the film and come to its conclusion the last shot was the head shot. Which leaves just one bystander witness to assert the last shot was the head shot: a 14-year old girl who testified for the first time eight months to the day after the assassination. On the other hand there are 22 witnesses claiming to have heard shots after the head shot, including the young girl’s mother and the majority of the closest witnesses. So how do Arlen Specter (who wrote the original chapter on the basic facts of the shooting), Norman Redlich (who re-wrote much of Specter's chapter) and ultimately the Warren Commission itself (who made a few changes before signing off on the chapter) describe the shots?.
The Specter Solution: The Warren Report's Conclusions (with Comments in Bold)
Number of shots
The consensus among the witnesses at the scene was that three shots were fired. However, some heard only two shots, while others testified that they heard four and perhaps as many as five or six shots. The difficulty of accurate perception of the sound of gunshots required careful scrutiny of all of this testimony regarding the number of shots. The firing of a bullet causes a number of noises, the muzzle blast, caused by the smashing of the hot gases which propel the bullet into the relatively stable air at the gun's muzzle, the noise of the bullet caused by the shock wave built up ahead of the bullet's nose as it travels through the air, and the noise caused by the impact of the bullet on its target. Each noise can be quite sharp and may be perceived as a separate shot. The tall buildings in the area might have further distorted the sound.
The physical and other evidence examined by the Commission compels the conclusion that at least two shots were fired. As discussed previously, the nearly whole bullet discovered at Parkland Hospital and the two larger fragments found in the Presidential automobile, which were identified as coming from the assassination rifle, came from at least two separate bullets and possibly from three. The most convincing evidence relating to the number of shots was provided by the presence on the sixth floor of three spent cartridges which were demonstrated to have been fired by the same rifle that fired the bullets which caused the wounds. It is possible that the assassin carried an empty shell in the rifle and fired only two shots, with the witnesses hearing multiple noises made by the same shot. Soon after the three empty cartridges were found, officials at the scene decided that three shots were fired, and that conclusion was widely circulated by the press. The eyewitness testimony may be subconsciously colored by the extensive publicity given the conclusion that three shots were fired. Nevertheless, the preponderance of the evidence, in particular the three spent cartridges, led the Commission to conclude that there were three shots fired.
The Shot That Missed
From the initial findings that (a) one shot passed through the President's neck and then most probably passed through the Governor's body, (b) a subsequent shot penetrated the President's head, (c) no other shot struck any part of the automobile, and (d) three shots were fired, it follows that one shot probably missed the car and its occupants. The evidence is inconclusive as to whether it was the first, second, or third shot which missed.
The First Shot
If the first shot missed, the assassin perhaps missed in an effort to fire a hurried shot before the President passed under the oak tree, or possibly he fired as the President passed under the tree and the tree obstructed his view. The bullet might have struck a portion of the tree and been completely deflected. On the other hand, the greatest cause for doubt that the first shot missed is the improbability that the same marksman who twice hit a moving target would be so inaccurate on the first and closest of his shots as to miss completely, not only the target, but the large automobile.
Some support for the contention that the first shot missed is found in the statement of Secret Service Agent Glen A. Bennett, stationed in the right rear seat of the President's follow-up car, who heard a sound like a firecracker as the motorcade proceeded down Elm Street. At that moment, Agent Bennett stated:
...I looked at the back of the President. I heard another firecracker noise and saw that shot hit the President about four inches down from the right shoulder. A second shot followed immediately and hit the right rear high of the President's head.
Substantial weight may be given Bennett's observations. Although his formal statement was dated November 23, 1963, his notes indicate that he recorded what he saw and heard at 5:30 p.m., November 22, 1963, on the airplane en route back to Washington, prior to the autopsy, when it was not yet.known that the President had been hit in the back. It is possible, of course, that Bennett did not observe the hole in the President's back, which might have been there immediately after the first noise. (It is interesting that Specter accords Bennett’s observations substantial weight here, considering that Bennett was never called to testify and that elsewhere Specter completely ignores Bennett’s appraisal of the back wound and head wound. It is also interesting that Specter gives Bennett's statement substantial weight, because it was based on notes written within hours of the shooting, but ignores the notes themselves. In the notes Bennett says that after he heard the first shot and he looked at the President he saw "a shot that hit the boss" and that "a second shoot followed immediately and hit the right rear high of the boss's head." This suggests that writing skills were not Bennett's strong point, and that he may have merely seen "that a shot had hit the boss" before a second shot followed. In other words, Bennett may very well have heard only two shots and have seen the President hit by the first of these shots. This makes using him to support that the first shot missed--without ever talking to him to get a clarification--surprising, even more surprising when one considers that the commission's counsel would later deny having done such a thing. On 12-4-64, shortly after the issuance of the Warren Commission's 26 volumes of supporting testimony and exhibits, Warren Commission counsel Joseph Ball, who had worked closely with Specter on his investigation, insisted in a debate with Commission critic Mark Lane that "We didn't take a single bit of evidence into consideration unless it was under oath." Wrong.)
Governor Connally's testimony supports the view that the first shot missed, because he stated that he heard a shot, turned slightly to his right, and, as he started to turn back toward his left, was struck by the second bullet. He never saw the President during the shooting sequence, and it is entirely possible that he heard the missed shot and that both men were struck by the second bullet. Mrs. Connally testified that after the first shot she turned and saw the President's hands moving toward his throat, as seen in the films at frame 225. However, Mrs. Connally further stated that she thought her husband was hit immediately thereafter by the second bullet. If the same bullet struck both the President and the Governor, it is entirely possible that she saw the President's movements at the same time as she heard the second shot. Her testimony, therefore, does not preclude the possibility of the first shot having missed.(Specter is being disingenuous here, and is attempting to hide that the single-bullet theory he proposes elsewhere is at odds with the testimony of the Connallys. Mrs. Connally would have heard a shot from the sniper’s nest only 1/10th of a second after the bullet impacted on Kennedy. It is not reasonable to assume she would hear a shot, turn, see Kennedy’s reaction to a second shot at the same time she heard this second shot, and then attribute Kennedy’s reaction to the first shot heard more than 2 ½ seconds earlier.)
Other eyewitness testimony, however, supports the conclusion that the first of the shots fired hit the President. As discussed in chapter II, Special Agent Hill's testimony indicates that the President was hit by the first shot and that the head injury was caused by a second shot which followed about 5 seconds later. James W. Altgens, a photographer in Dallas for the Associated Press, had stationed himself on Elm Street opposite the Depository to take pictures of the passing motorcade. Altgens took a widely circulated photograph which showed President Kennedy reacting to the first of the two shots which hit him. (See Commission Exhibit No. 900, p. 113.) According to Altgens, he snapped the picture "almost simultaneously" with a shot which he is confident was the first one fired. Comparison of his photograph with the Zapruder film, however, revealed that Altgens took his picture at approximately the same moment as frame 255 of the movie, 30 to 45 frames (approximately 2 seconds) later than the point at which the President was shot in the neck. (See Commission Exhibit No. 901, p. 114.) Another photographer, Phillip L. Willis, snapped a picture at a time which he also asserts was simultaneous with the first shot. Analysis of his photograph revealed that it was taken at approximately frame 210 of the Zapruder film, which was the approximate time of the shot that probably hit the President and the Governor. If Willis accurately recalled that there were no previous shots, this would be strong evidence that the first shot did not miss. (Subsequent study of Willis' photo showed that it was taken at frame 202, when a tree blocked a clear view of Kennedy from the sniper's nest. The FBI conclusion that it was taken at frame 210, just as the limousine was emerging from behind this tree, is more than a little suspicious.)
If the first shot did not miss, there must be an explanation for Governor Connally's recollection that he was not hit by it. There was, conceivably, a delayed reaction between the time the bullet struck him and the time he realized that he was hit, despite the fact that the bullet struck a glancing blow to a rib and penetrated his wrist bone. The Governor did not even know that he had been struck in the wrist or in the thigh until he regained consciousness in the hospital the next day. Moreover, he testified that he did not hear what he thought was the second shot, although he did hear a subsequent shot which coincided with the shattering of the President's head. One possibility, therefore, would be a sequence in which the Governor heard the first shot, did not immediately feel the penetration of the bullet, then felt the delayed reaction of the impact on his back, later heard the shot which shattered the President's head, and then lost consciousness without hearing a third shot which might have occurred later.
The Second Shot
The possibility that the second shot missed is consistent with the elapsed time between the two shots that hit their mark. From the timing evidenced by the Zapruder films, there was an interval of from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds between the shot which struck President Kennedy's neck (between frames 210 to 225) and the shot which struck his head at frame 313. Since a minimum of 2.3 seconds must elapse between shots, a bullet could have been fired from the rifle and missed during this interval. This possibility was buttressed by the testimony of witnesses who claimed that the shots were evenly spaced, since a second shot occurring within an interval of approximately 5 seconds would have to be almost exactly midway in this period. If Altgens' recollection is correct that he snapped his picture at the same moment as he heard a shot, then it is possible that he heard a second shot which missed, since a shot fired 2.3 seconds before he took his picture at frame 255 could have hit the President at about frame 213. (Specter misrepresents the minimum time lapse between the shots. FBI ballistics expert Robert Frazier, who test-fired the gun, testified that 2.3 seconds was the time lapse between shots while firing at a stationary target, and that firing 3 shots at a moving target would add a second to the overall time. This translates to 51 frames between shots; in other words, Oswald would have to have fired as rapidly as possible in order to squeeze 3 shots between frames 210 and 313.)
On the other hand, a substantial majority of the witnesses stated that the shots were not evenly spaced. Most witnesses recalled that the second and third shots were bunched together, although some believed that it was the first and second which were bunched. To the extent that reliance can be placed on recollection of witnesses as to the spacing of the shots, the testimony that the shots were not evenly spaced would militate against a second shot missing. Another factor arguing against the second shot missing is that the gunman would have been shooting at very near the minimum allowable time to have fired the three shots within 4.8 to 5.6 seconds, although it was entirely possible for him to have done so. (See ch. IV, pp. 188-194.) (Here, Specter is admitting that the majority of witnesses heard the last two shots bunched together, and that this suggests that the second shot did not miss, and was therefore most probably the head shot.)
The Third Shot
The last possibility, of course, is that it was the third shot which missed. This conclusion conforms most easily with the probability that the assassin would most likely have missed the farthest shot, particularly since there was an acceleration of the automobile after the shot which struck the President's head. The limousine also changed direction by following the curve to the right, whereas previously it had been proceeding in almost a straight line with a rifle protruding from the sixth-floor window of the Depository Building.
One must consider, however, the testimony of the witnesses who described the head shot as the concluding event in the assassination sequence. Illustrative is the testimony of Associated Press photographer Altgens, who had an excellent vantage point near the President's car. He recalled that the shot which hit the President's head "was the last shot that much I will say with a great degree of certainty." On the other hand, Emmett J. Hudson, the grounds-keeper of Dealey Plaza, testified that from his position on Elm Street, midway between Houston Street and the Triple Underpass, he heard a third shot after the shot which hit the President in the head. In addition, Mrs. Kennedy's testimony indicated that neither the first nor the second shot missed. Immediately after the first noise she turned, because of the Governor's yell, and saw her husband raise his hand to his forehead. Then the second shot struck the President's head. (Here, Specter is confusing the issue unnecessarily. As Mr. Altgens and Mrs. Kennedy could clearly recall but two shots, his attempts at using their testimony to establish which of the three shots missed the car is a bit strange. Why doesn’t he use the words of Charles Brehm, Malcolm Summers, or Marilyn Willis? Oh, that’s right, they were never called before the Commission…)
Some evidence suggested that a third shot may have entirely missed and hit the turf or street by the Triple Underpass. Royce G. Skelton, who watched the motorcade from the railroad bridge, testified that after two shots "the car came on down close to the Triple Underpass" and an additional shot "hit in the left front of the President's car on the cement." Skelton thought that there had been a total of four shots, either the third or fourth of which hit in the vicinity of the underpass. Dallas Patrolman J. W. Foster, who was also on the Triple Underpass, testified that a shot hit the turf near a manhole cover in the vicinity of the underpass. Examination of this area, however, disclosed no indication that a bullet struck at the locations indicated by Skelton or Foster.
At a different location in Dealey Plaza, the evidence indicated that a bullet fragment did hit the street. James T. Tague, who got out of his car to watch the motorcade from a position between Commerce and Main Streets near the Triple Underpass, was hit on the cheek by an object during the shooting. Within a few minutes Tague reported this to Deputy Sheriff Eddy R. Walthers, who was examining the area to see if any bullets had struck the turf. Walthers immediately started to search where Tague had been standing and located a place on the south curb of Main Street where it appeared a bullet had hit the cement. According to Tague, "There was a mark quite obviously. that was a bullet, and it was very fresh." In Tague's opinion, it was the second shot which caused the mark, since he thinks he heard the third shot after he was hit in the face. This incident appears to have been recorded in the contemporaneous report of Dallas Patrolman L. L. Hill, who radioed in around 12:40 p.m.: "I have one guy that was possibly hit by a ricochet from the bullet off the concrete." Scientific examination of the mark on the south curb of Main Street by FBI experts disclosed metal smears which, "were spectrographically determined to be essentially lead with a trace of antimony." The mark on the curb could have originated from the lead core of a bullet but the absence of copper precluded "the possibility that the mark on the curbing section was made by an unmutilated military full metal-jacketed bullet such as the bullet from Governor Connally's stretcher."
It is true that the noise of a subsequent shot might have been drowned out by the siren on the Secret Service follow-up car immediately after the head shot, or the dramatic effect of the head shot might have caused so much confusion that the memory of subsequent events was blurred. Nevertheless, the preponderance of the eyewitness testimony that the head shot was the final shot must be weighed in any determination as to whether it was the third shot that missed. Even if it were caused by a bullet fragment, the mark on the south curb of Main Street cannot be identified conclusively with any of the three shots fired. Under the circumstances it might have come from the bullet which hit the President's head, or it might have been a product of the fragmentation of the missed shot upon hitting some other object in the area. Since he did not observe any of the shots striking the President, Tague's testimony that the second shot, rather than the third, caused the scratch on his cheek, does not assist in limiting the possibilities. (What preponderance of the eyewitness testimony? That members of the Commission and its counsel knew this was nonsense is supported by a December 17, 1991 Washington Post article by Commissioner Gerald Ford and counsel David Belin. While trying to argue that Oswald had more time to fire his shots than proposed by Oliver Stone in his film JFK, they nonsensically argued "the most probable time span of Oswald's three shots was around 10 seconds, in light of the fact that one of Oswald's shots missed--most likely the first or the last." By citing that it was more likely that the third shot missed than the second, they confirmed that the section of their report arguing that a final shot miss was unlikely, was not a unanimous opinion.)
The wide range of possibilities and the existence of conflicting testimony, when coupled with the impossibility of scientific verification, precludes a conclusive finding by the Commission as to which shot missed. (He is clearly mistaken here. The preponderance of eyewitness statements indicates that the first shot hit. It also indicates the likelihood that the last shot missed. The problem for Specter is that, if he submits that the last shot missed, then he has to butt heads with those absolutely convinced that the last shot hit. If he goes along and states that the last shot hit, however, he can’t come to the obvious conclusion that the first shot hit, without committing the Commission to a shooting scenario he knows may not pass the smell test, particularly after Frazier’s testimony. So what does Specter do? He pretends there is just no way of knowing what happened.)
Time Span of Shots
Witnesses at the assassination scene said that the shots were fired within a few seconds, with the general estimate being 5 to 6 seconds. That approximation was most probably based on the earlier publicized reports that the first shot struck the President in the neck, the second wounded the Governor and the third shattered the President's head, with the time span from the neck to the head shots on the President being approximately 5 seconds. As previously indicated, the time span between the shot entering the back of the President's neck and the bullet which shattered his skull was 4.8 to 5 seconds. If the second shot missed, then 4.8 to 5.6 seconds was the total time span of the shots. If either the first or third shots missed, then a minimum of 2.3 seconds (necessary to operate the rifle) must be added to the time span of the shots which hit, giving a minimum time of 7.1 to 7.9 seconds for the three shots. If more than 2.3 seconds elapsed between a shot that missed and one that hit, then the time span would be correspondingly increased. (This is Specter at his best/worst. Here he sidesteps the possibility of the missed shot’s being too close in time to either the first or second hit to have been fired by Oswald, by arbitrarily adding 2.3 seconds on to either end of his shooting scenario. He almost certainly knows that the expected delay between shots while firing at a moving target is 2.8 seconds, not 2.3, and that this amounts to 51 frames. He almost certainly knows there is no eyewitness support for a shot as early as frame 173 (51 frames before the last possible moment Kennedy could have been hit by the second shot) nor for a shot as late as frame 364 (51 frames after the head shot). The only scenario he can honestly push therefore is that the second shot missed. He doesn’t want to do this, however, for two reasons: one, Governor Connally insisted he was hit by the second shot, and two, the shorter elapsed time makes Oswald’s purported shooting feat many times more difficult and probably beyond his abilities. So what does Specter do? Once again, he decides not to decide.)
Based on the evidence analyzed in this chapter, the Commission has concluded that the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally were fired from the sixth-floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository Building. Two bullets probably caused all the wounds suffered by President Kennedy and Governor Connally. Since the preponderance of the evidence indicated that three shots were fired, the Commission concluded that one shot probably missed the Presidential limousine and its occupants, and that the three shots were fired in a time period ranging from approximately 4.8 to in excess of 7 seconds. (Let’s recall the 12-16-63 Executive Session of the Warren Commission, in which Chief Justice Warren and Congressman Boggs discussed the FBI Report’s failure to clear up which shots struck the President. Sayeth Warren: “It doesn’t do anything” Respondeth Boggs: “It raises a lot of new questions in my mind.” Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?)
That the "Golly-gee, I guess we don't really know if the first shot hit, and also haven't concluded that the third shot hit" claims in the commission's final report, are disingenuous, and a desperate ploy to avoid admitting the commission believed the first and third shot hit and the shots were fired in under five seconds, is made clear, moreover, by a quick gander at the commission's file on Kennedy's autopsy. There, one can find a copy of the autopsy report, with handwritten notations, matching up the wounds with the shot. Here it is:
Straight Shooters or Smoke Blowers?
Since the Commission refused to decide how the shots were fired, the possibility that Oswald successfully hit a moving target two of three times in as little as 4.8 seconds had to be supported. This put the writers of the report in a bind. As a result, the section of the report on Oswald's rifle capability is among the least credible parts of the report, filled with errors and (almost certainly) deliberate deceptions. This section, from chapter 4, originally written by Joseph Ball and David Belin, and then re-written by Norman Redlich, with a few final tweaks added by the Warren Commissioners, follows... with my comments in bold (of course).
Oswald's Rifle Capability
In deciding whether Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally, the Commission considered whether Oswald, using his own rifle, possessed the capability to hit his target with two out of three shots under the conditions described in chapter Ill. The Commission evaluated (1) the nature of the shots, (2) Oswald's Marine training in marksmanship, (8) his experience and practice after leaving the Marine Corps, and (4) the accuracy of the weapon and the quality of the ammunition.
The Nature of the Shots
For a rifleman situated on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building the shots were at a slow-moving target proceeding on a downgrade in virtually a straight line with the alignment of the assassin's rifle, at a range of 177 to 266 feet. An aerial photograph of Dealey Plaza shows that Elm Street runs at an angle so that the President would have been moving in an almost straight line away from the assassin's rifle. (See Commission Exhibit No. 876, p. 33.) In addition, the 3 degree downward slope of Elm Street was of assistance in eliminating at least some of the adjustment which is ordinarily required when a marksman must raise his rifle as a target moves farther away.
(As shown on the slide above, the Commission knew full well that the limousine was not proceeding "in virtually a straight line away" from the sixth floor sniper's nest, but was heading to the right. This makes this statement suspicious. That the FBI's Robert Frazier failed to measure the lead to the right necessary to hit the limousine for his March 31 testimony, and that FBI Exhibits Chief Leo Gauthier on June 4 misrepresented a photo taken from across the street of the sniper's nest and directly behind the limo as a photo taken from the sniper's nest, suggests that the FBI was being deliberately deceptive on this issue. That the Warren Commission, which oversaw the May 24, 1964 re-enactment, measured the vertical angle of descent from the sniper's nest, but not the horizontal angle of the bullet into the car (which was subsequently shown to vary from 12 to 8 degrees during the assassination sequence), and that photos of this re-enactment show the limo at frame 313 in line with a shot from the sniper's nest, but out of alignment with the lines in the street, suggests, furthermore, that they were a witting part of this deception. This should make us wonder if some "executive decision" had been made on this point. That Legendary LAPD Chief William Parker called a press conference on 11-27-63, and told the big, fat, Canada goose-honking lie that the lateral movement of the limo during the shooting sequence was so small it would have been "imperceptible" to a shooter in the sniper's nest, should only intensify this suspicion. Should one think I'm exaggerating the damage done by these deceptions, moreover, one should consider that in 2012, nearly fifty years after the assassination, veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather wrote a book in which he repeated Parker's lie about the right-to-left movement of the limo as seen from the sniper's nest during the shooting sequence. When discussing CBS' 1967 re-enactment of the shooting and its claim Oswald could have pulled off the shots, Rather wrote: "From the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, what Oswald saw through the gunsight of his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was his victim, first up close, then receding in a straight line, not crossing in front of him. In other words, even though the limousine was moving, President Kennedy remained in the crosshairs." Bullpucky. )
Four marksmanship experts testified before the Commission. Maj. Eugene D. Anderson, assistant head of the Marksmanship Branch of the US. Marine Corps, testified that the shots which struck the President in the neck and in the head were "not ... particularly difficult."
Robert A. Frazier, FBI expert in firearms identification and training, said:"From my own experience in shooting over the years, when you shoot at 175 feet or 260 feet, which is less than 100 yards, with a telescopic sight, you should not have any difficulty in hitting your target. I mean it requires no training at all to shoot a weapon with a telescopic sight once you know that you must put the crosshairs on the target and that is all that is necessary." (This avoids that, according to Frazier's own testimony, the crosshairs of Oswald's rifle were misaligned, and that his rifle, when first tested by the FBI, fired 4 inches high and 1 to the right at only 15 yards.)
Ronald Simmons, chief of the US. Army Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory, said: "Well, in order to achieve three hits, it would not be required that a man be an exceptional shot. A proficient man with this weapon, yes." (This avoids that Simmons actually tested the rifle, using three Master shooters employed by the Army, and that, of the 14 shots rapid-fired by these men, not one of them hit as close to the center of the stationary head and shoulders target as the two hits attributed to Oswald.)
The effect of a four-power telescopic sight on the difficulty of these shots was considered in detail by M. Sgt. James A. Zahm, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Marksmanship Training Unit in the Weapons Training Battalion of the Marine Corps School at Quantico, Va. Referring to a rifle with a four-power telescope, Sergeant Zahm said:"...this is the ideal type of weapon for moving targets...
...Using the scope, rapidly working a bolt and using the scope to relocate your target quickly and at the same time when you locate that target you identify it and the crosshairs are in close relationship to the point you want to shoot at, it just takes a minor move in aiming to bring the crosshairs to bear, and then it is a quick squeeze. I consider it a real advantage, particularly at the range of 100 yards, in identifying your target. It. allows you to see your target clearly, and it is still of a minimum amount of power that it doesn't exaggerate your own body movements. It just is an aid in seeing in the fact that you only have the one element, the crosshair, in relation to the target as opposed to iron sights with aligning the sights and then aligning them on the target."
Characterizing the four-power scope as "a real aid, an extreme aid" in rapid fire shooting, Sergeant Zahm expressed the opinion that the shot which struck President Kennedy in the neck at 176.9 to 190.8 feet was "very easy" and the shot which struck the President in the head at a distance of 265.3 feet was "an easy shot." After viewing photographs depicting the alignment of Elm Street in relation to the Texas School Book Depository Building, Zahm stated further: "This is a definite advantage to the shooter, the vehicle moving directly away from him and the downgrade of the street, and he being in an elevated position made an almost stationary target while he was aiming in, very little movement if any."
(It bears repeating that the vehicle was not actually moving directly away from the sniper in the school book depository, but away and to the right. It is also suspicious that Zahm was shown an overhead view of Dealey Plaza to convince him of this alignment, long after photographs of the May 24 re-enactment, and showing the exact angle of the limo to the sniper's nest, were available. It is also intriguing that Zahm was only asked to testify after the report had been completed, and was being re-written. Why was his speculation on the difficulty of the shots considered more significant than the tests performed by Simmons?
Oh yeah, Simmons... Here's Commission Exhibit 580, entered into evidence during the 3-31-64 testimony of Ronald Simmons. This shows the view from the simulated sniper's nest created by the Army, and used during its tests of the shot sequence. Three targets are evident in the simulated Dealey Plaza. But they are not even close to being in a straight line heading directly away from the shooter. Case closed.)
Oswald's Marine Training
In accordance with standard Marine procedures, Oswald received extensive training in marksmanship. During the first week of an intensive 8-week training period he received instruction in sighting, aiming, and manipulation of the trigger. He went through a series of exercises called dry firing where he assumed all positions which would later be used in the qualification course. After familiarization with live ammunition in The .22 rifle and .22 pistol, Oswald, like all Marine recruits, received training on the rifle range at distances up to 500 yards, firing 50 rounds each day for five days.
Following that training, Oswald was tested in December of 1956, and obtained a score of 212, which was 2 points above the minimum for qualifications as a "sharpshooter" in a scale of marksman/sharp-shooter/expert. In May of 1959, on another range, Oswald scored 191, which was 1 point over the minimum for ranking as a "marksman." The Marine Corps records maintained on Oswald further show that he had fired and was familiar with the Browning Automatic rifle, .45 caliber pistol, and 12-gage riot gun.
Based on the general Marine Corps ratings, Lt. Col. A. G. Folsom, Jr., head, Records Branch, Personnel Department, Headquarters US. Marine Corps, evaluated the sharpshooter qualification as a "fairly good shot" and a low marksman rating as a "rather poor shot." When asked to explain the different scores achieved by Oswald on the two occasions when he fired for record, Major Anderson said: "...when he fired that  he had just completed a very intensive preliminary training period. He had the services of an experienced highly trained coach. He had high motivation. He had presumably a good to excellent rifle and good ammunition. We have nothing here to show under what conditions the B course was fired. It might well have been a bad day for firing the rifle, windy, rainy, dark. There is little probability that he had a good, expert coach, and he probably didn't have as high a motivation because he was no longer in recruit training and under the care of the drill instructor. There is some possibility that the rifle he was firing might not have been as good a rifle as the rifle that he was firing in his A course firing, because [he] may well have carried this rifle for quite some time, and it got banged around in normal usage."
(This is classic obfuscation. The Commission offers speculation by Anderson that Oswald's "poor" shooting could have come as a result of bad weather, but fails to follow through and call the Weather Bureau or check a newspaper archive to see if this was true. Well, for what it's worth, early critic Mark Lane was a little more industrious and found the day in question to have been a warm sunny day with temperatures ranging from 72 to 79 degrees, with only a slight breeze. Anderson's speculation that Oswald's rifle in 1959 may have been inferior to the rifle he'd used earlier is also problematic. Oswald's Marine Corps-issued rifle was without doubt in far better condition and far more accurate than the presumed assassination weapon, a WWII surplus rifle that had not been cleaned for months, and had purportedly been carried to the assassination disassembled in a paper bag.)
Major Anderson concluded: "I would say that as compared to other Marines receiving the same type of training, that Oswald was a good shot, somewhat better than or equal to better than the average let us say. As compared to a civilian who had not received this intensive training, he would be considered as a good to excellent shot."
When Sergeant Zahm was asked whether Oswald's Marine Corps training would have made it easier to operate a rifle with a four-power scope, he replied: "Based on that training, his basic knowledge in sight manipulation and trigger squeeze and what not, I would say that he would be capable of sighting that rifle in well, firing it, with 10 rounds." (This avoids both that there is no evidence Oswald's rifle had ever been sighted in prior to the assassination, and that it could not be properly sighted-in when the FBI tried to do so.)
After reviewing Oswald's marksmanship scores, Sergeant Zahm concluded: "I would say in the Marine Corps he is a good shot, slightly above average, and as compared to the average male of his age throughout the civilian, throughout the United States, that he is an excellent shot." (More obfuscation: Zahm was asked to comment on Oswald's ability based upon his earliest test scores in the Marines, and was not asked to speculate on Oswald's presumed abilities after falling out of practice, and firing a rifle unlike any he'd ever been trained on.)
Oswald's Rifle Practice Outside the Marines
During one of his leaves from the Marines, Oswald hunted with his brother Robert, using a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle belonging either to Robert or Robert's in-laws. After he left the Marines and before departing for Russia, Oswald, his brother, and a third companion went hunting for squirrels and rabbits. On that occasion Oswald again used a bolt-action .22 caliber rifle; and according to Robert, Lee Oswald exhibited an average amount of proficiency with that weapon. While in Russia, Oswald obtained a hunting license, joined a hunting club and went hunting about six times, as discussed more fully in chapter VI. Soon after Oswald returned from the Soviet Union he again went hunting with his brother, Robert, and used a borrowed .22 caliber bolt-action rifle. After Oswald purchased the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, he told his wife that he practiced with it. Marina Oswald testified that on one occasion she saw him take the rifle, concealed in a raincoat, from the house on Neely Street. Oswald told her he was going to practice with it. According to George De Mohrenschildt, Oswald said that he went target shooting with that rifle.
(Notice that the Commission could not find a single witness to Oswald's actually practicing with the rifle. Notice also that it fails to show how practice so many months before could be of any help in the shooting. It also avoids that neither cleaning supplies nor ammunition were found among Oswald's possessions.)
Marina Oswald testified that in New Orleans in May of 1963, she observed Oswald sitting with the rifle on their screened porch at night, sighting with the telescopic lens and operating the bolt. Examination of the cartridge cases found on the sixth floor of the Depository Building established that they had been previously loaded and ejected from the assassination rifle, which would indicate that Oswald practiced operating the bolt.
Accuracy of Weapon
It will be recalled from the discussion in chapter III that the assassin in all probability hit two out of the three shots during the maximum time span of 4.8 to 5.6 seconds if the second shot missed, or, if either the first or third shots missed, the assassin fired the three shots during a minimum time span of 7.1 to 7.9 seconds. A series of tests were performed to determine whether the weapon and ammunition used in the assassination were capable of firing the shots which were fired by the assassin on November 22, 1968. The ammunition used by the assassin was manufactured by Western Cartridge Co. of East Alton, III. In tests with the Mannlicher-Carcano C2766 rifle, over 100 rounds of this ammunition were fired by the FBI and the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the US. Army. There were no misfires.
In an effort to test the rifle under conditions which simulated those which prevailed during the assassination, the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory had expert riflemen fire the assassination weapon from a tower at three silhouette targets at distances of 175, 240, and 265 feet. The target at 265 feet was placed to the right of the 240-foot target which was in turn placed to the right of the closest silhouette. Using the assassination rifle mounted with the telescopic sight, three marksmen, rated as master by the National Rifle Association, each fired two series of three shots. In the first series the firers required time spans of 4.6, 6.75, and 8.25 seconds respectively. On the second series they required 5.15, 6.45, and 7 seconds. None of the marksmen had any practice with the assassination weapon except for exercising the bolt for 2 or 3 minutes on a dry run. They had not even pulled the trigger because of concern about breaking the firing pin.
The marksmen took as much time as they wanted for the first target and all hit the target. For the first four attempts, the firers missed the second shot by several inches. The angle from the first to the second shot was greater than from the second to the third shot and required a movement in the basic firing position of the marksmen. This angle was used in the test because the majority of the eyewitnesses to the assassination stated that there was a shorter interval between shots two and three than between shots one and two. As has been shown in chapter III, if the three shots were fired within a period of from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds, the shots would have been evenly spaced and the assassin would not have incurred so sharp an angular movement.
Five of the six shots hit the third target where the angle of movement of the weapon was small. (This avoids that none of these hits landed as close to the center of the head and shoulders target as the final hit on Kennedy, even though the rifle, for this test, had been re-aligned, and was purportedly shooting straight as an arrow.) On the basis of these results, Simmons testified that in his opinion the probability of hitting the targets at the relatively short range at which they were hit was very high. Considering the various probabilities which may have prevailed during the actual assassination, the highest level of firing performance which would have been required of the assassin and the C2766 rifle would have been to fire three times and hit the target twice within a span of 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. In fact, one of the firers in the rapid fire test in firing his two series of three shots, hit the target twice within a span of 4.6 and 5.15 seconds. (Note that they are discussing hitting the target, not hitting the target as close to center as the purported hits on Kennedy.) The others would have been able to reduce their times if they had been given the opportunity to become familiar with the movement of the bolt and the trigger pull. Simmons testified that familiarity with the bolt could be achieved in dry practice and, as has been indicated above, Oswald engaged in such practice. If the assassin missed either the first or third shot, he had a total of between 4.8 and 5.6 seconds between the two shots which hit and a total minimum time period of from 7.1 to 7.9 seconds for all three shots. All three of the firers in these tests were able to fire the rounds within the time period which would have been available to the assassin under those conditions. Three FBI firearms experts tested the rifle in order to determine the speed with which it could be fired. The purpose of this experiment was not to test the rifle under conditions which prevailed at the time of the assassination but to determine the maximum speed at which it could be fired. The three FBI experts each fired three shots from the weapon at 15 yards in 6, 7, and 9 seconds (Not true: Agent Frazier later corrected his testimony and claimed the correct times were 5.9, 8, and 9 seconds), and one of these agents, Robert A. Frazier, fired two series of three shots at 25 yards in 4.6 and 4.8 seconds. At 15 yards each man's shots landed within the size of a dime. (This deliberately overlooks that these shots all landed inches high and to the right and that, by Frazier's own testimony, the close grouping of these shots suggested that the scope had not recently been adjusted. And, yes, it follows from this that the sniper who'd fired shots from the depository had done so with a severely misaligned scope!) The shots fired by Frazier at the range of 25 yards landed within an area of 2 inches and 5 inches respectively. Frazier later fired four groups of three shots at a distance of 100 yards in 5.9, 6.2, 5.6, and 6.5 seconds. Each series of three shots landed within areas ranging in diameter from 3 to 5 inches. Although all of the shots were a few inches high and to the right of the target., this was because of a defect in the scope which was recognized by the FBI agents and which they could have compensated for if they were aiming to hit a bull's-eye. They were instead firing to determine how rapidly the weapon could be fired and the area within which three shots could be placed. Frazier testified that while he could not tell when the defect occurred, but that a person familiar with the weapon could compensate for it. Moreover, the defect was one which would have assisted the assassin aiming at a target which was moving away. Frazier said, "The fact that the crosshairs are set high would actually compensate for any lead which had to be taken. So that if you aimed with this weapon as it actually was received at the laboratory, it would not be necessary to take any lead whatsoever in order to hit the intended object. The scope would accomplish the lead for you." (While it's true that Frazier said this, it is a completely ridiculous statement that should not have been repeated, let alone cited. FBI Director Hoover's letter to the Commission preceding Frazier's testimony specified that the misalignment as it was in March, AFTER the rifle had been sighted-in, could have been an advantage. Frazier then screwed up, or was pressured into screwing up, and said that the misalignment of the rifle as first received by the FBI in November could have been an advantage. There's a huge difference. If the scope was as misaligned in November as Frazier indicated, the assassin would have to have fired behind Kennedy in order to lead him while he was moving away. This is of no assistance whatsoever to a sniper.) Frazier added that the scope would cause a slight miss to the right. It should be noted, however, that the President's car was curving slightly to the right when the third shot was fired. (This is disingenuous. Yes, the car was curving slightly to the right at the time of the head shot, but earlier, in order to sell the relative ease of the shots, the report has claimed it was driving "virtually in a straight line away" from the sniper's nest. Well, which is it? One can not say that the car started out in a straight line but then curved away, because this simply is not true. It started out curving to the left and then began curving to the right.) Based on these tests the experts agreed that the assassination rifle was an accurate weapon. Simmons described it as "quite accurate," in fact, as accurate as current. military rifles. Frazier testified that the rifle was accurate, that it had less recoil than the average military rifle and that one would not have to be an expert marksman to have accomplished the assassination with the weapon which was used. (Both Simmons and Frazier were discussing the relative consistency of the rifle, and were operating under the assumption the misalignment of the scope was either not present on the day of the shooting, or was something well known to the sniper. The problems with the scope were, in fact, so severe the HSCA ballistics panel concluded the sniper would not have even used the scope, and would have instead just used the iron sights of the rifle.)
The various tests showed that the Mannlicher-Carcano was an accurate rifle and that the use of a four-power scope was a substantial aid to rapid, accurate firing. Oswald's Marine training in marksmanship, his other rifle experience and his established familiarity with this particular weapon show that he possessed ample capability to commit the assassination. Based on the known facts of the assassination, the Marine marksmanship experts, Major Anderson and Sergeant Zahm, concurred in the opinion that Oswald had the capability to fire three shots, with two hits, within 4.8 and 5.6 seconds. Concerning the shots which struck the President in the back of the neck, Sergeant Zahm testified: "With the equipment he [Oswald] had and with his ability I consider it a very easy shot." Having fired this slot the assassin was then required to hit the target one more time within a space of from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. On the basis of Oswald's training and the accuracy of the weapon as established by the tests, the Commission concluded that Oswald was capable of accomplishing this second hit even if there was an intervening shot which missed. The probability of hitting the President a second time would have been markedly increased if, in fact, he had missed either the first or third shots thereby leaving a time span of 4.8 to 5.6' seconds between the two shots which struck their mark. The Commission agrees with the testimony of Marine marksmanship expert Zahm that it was easy shot" to hit some part of the President's body, and that the range where the rifleman would be expected to hit would include the President's head. (This is as close to the truth as the Report comes. It was "easy" to hit some part of the President. The head is a part of the President. Therefore, it was "easy" to hit the President in the head. This, of course, presumes that the assassin was not actually all that skilled, and that he JUST GOT LUCKY, a presumption that becomes difficult to swallow once one considers that the previous hit is presumed to have landed but a few inches away and that BOTH of these shots landed closer to the middle of a head and shoulders target than ANY of the 14 shots rapid-fired by the Army's test shooters on STATIONARY head and shoulders targets.)
Oswald's Rifle Capability Conclusion
On the basis of the evidence reviewed in this chapter, the Commission has found that Lee Harvey Oswald (1) owned and possessed the rifle used to kill President Kennedy and wound Governor Connally, (2) brought this rifle into the Depository Building on the morning of the assassination, (3) was present, at the time of the assassination, at the window from which the shots were fired (4) killed Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit in an apparent attempt to escape, (5) resisted arrest by drawing a fully loaded pistol and attempting to shoot. another police officer, (6) lied to the police after his arrest concerning important substantive matters, (7) attempted, in April 1963, to kill Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, and (8) possessed the capability with a rifle which would have enabled him to commit the assassination. On the basis of these findings the Commission has concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin of President Kennedy. ("Possessing the capability" is, of course, another way of saying "well, it's possible..." Well, OF COURSE, it's possible. But was it likely? The Commission clearly felt the answer to this was "no", but was so committed to their premise Oswald alone fired the shots that they saw no alternative other than to pull a Chico Marx and say "well, he musta gotta lucky.")
In a Word: Whitewash...
Let's recall that the FBI found no evidence Oswald had been practicing with his rifle in the weeks before the assassination. They found no extra ammunition or cleaning supplies among his possessions. The re-enactments of the shots by the FBI and outside experts, which suggested that Oswald may have been able to fire the shots as rapidly as presumed, were all conducted on stationary targets. The testimony on Oswald's shooting ability was based on test scores from many years before, and not based on his presumed ability after failing to keep in practice. There was, moreover, no attempt to re-enact the shots using a rifle with the limitations of Oswald's rifle, and shooters of Oswald's presumed ability on 11-22-63, firing cold without any practice shots. It seems clear, moreover, that if such a test had been performed, the results would almost certainly have been negative, and have forced the Commission to explore the possibility Oswald did not fire the shots, and was, indeed, the "patsy" he claimed to be.
And how could they do that when the FBI, the Secret Service, and, gulp, Life Magazine, had already crowned Oswald the assassin?
Above: Sylvia Odio. It would later come out that at the same time the FBI was trying to round up suspects to discredit Mrs. Odio, commission counsel Wesley Liebeler was trying to wrangle Mrs. Odio into his hotel room. One can only wonder then what would have happened if she had given in to Liebeler's moves--that is, whether in the eyes of the commission a night with Liebeler would have improved or weakened her eyesight and/or memory.
Rounding Up the Suspects at the Odio Rodeo
The bullshit-like essence of the commission's report, for that matter, is probably best demonstrated on pages 321-324, which dealt, or rather, pretended to deal, with a problematic appearance of Oswald in a woman's doorway in September 1963.
Now, to be clear, the commission planned on simply ignoring the appearance of Oswald at this woman's doorstep...by claiming her story wasn't credible. But commission counsel Wesley Liebeler, in keeping with his usual M.O., had realized how bad this looked and had asked a reluctant General Counsel Rankin (who, Liebeler would later tell Edward Epstein, had complained "At this stage of the investigation, we are supposed to be closing doors, not opening them"), to talk to the FBI, and have the FBI get to the bottom of this matter.
Under pressure from Liebeler, Rankin gave in, and the FBI did, yessiree, conduct several interviews regarding the appearance of Oswald at this woman's door.
It was all a sham, however.
Here's the FBI and commission's dishonest dismissal of what has come to be known as the "Odio Incident"... (My comments, largely built upon the 1979 report of HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi, and published in Volume 10 of that committee's appendices, are in bold.)
Alleged association with various Mexican or Cuban individuals--The Commission has examined Oswald's known or alleged contacts and activities in an effort to ascertain whether or not he was involved in any conspiracy may be seen in the investigation it conducted as a result of the testimony given by Mrs. Sylvia Odio. (Okay. We're off to a great start. This section of the whitewash/report was rushed out so fast no one caught that this sentence was garbled--apparently, two sentences were improperly merged together. It is intriguing, moreover, that this section was re-written in some versions of the published report, such as the 1964 Doubleday version of the report. In that version, these first sentences are as follows: "The Commission's efforts to ascertain whether Oswald was involved in any conspiracy included examination of Oswald's known or alleged contacts and activities. The extent of these efforts is reflected in the investigation of statements made by Mrs. Sylvia Odio." Well, this raises two questions: 1) Who wrote this re-write?; and 2) Was it approved by the Commissioners, under whose name the report was issued?)
The Commission investigated her statements in connection with its consideration of the testimony of several witnesses suggesting that Oswald may have been seen in the company of unidentified persons of Cuban or Mexican background. Mrs. Odio was born in Havana in 1937 and remained in Cuba until 1960; it appears that both of her parents are political prisoners of the Castro regime. Mrs. Odio is a member of the Cuban Revolutionary Junta (JURE), an anti-Castro organization.710 She testified that late in September 1963, three men came to her apartment in Dallas and asked her to help them prepare a letter soliciting funds for JURE activities. She claimed that the men, who exhibited personal familiarity with her imprisoned father, asked her if she were "working in the underground," and she replied that she was not.711 She testified that two of the men appeared to be Cubans, although they also had some characteristics that she associated with Mexicans. Those two men did not state their full names, but identified themselves only by their fictitious underground "war names." Mrs. Odio remembered the name of one of the Cubans as "Leopoldo." 712 The third man, an American, allegedly was introduced to Mrs. Odio as "Leon Oswald," and she was told that he was very much interested in the Cuban cause.713 Mrs. Odio said that the men told her that they had just come from New Orleans and that they were then about to leave on a trip. 714 Mrs. Odio testified that the next day Leopoldo called her on the telephone and told her that it was his idea to introduce the American into the underground "because he is great, he is kind of nuts." 715 Leopoldo also said that the American had been in the Marine Corps and was an excellent shot, and that the American said the Cubans "don't have any guts ... because President Kennedy should have been assassinated after the Bay of Pigs, and some Cubans should have done that, because he was the one that was holding the freedom of Cuba actually." 716
Although Mrs. Odio suggested doubts that the men were in fact members of JURE, 717 she was certain that the American who was introduced to her as Leon Oswald was Lee Harvey Oswald.718 Her sister, who was in the apartment at the time of the visit by the three men, and who stated that she saw them briefly in the hallway when answering the door, also believed that the American was Lee Harvey Oswald.719 By referring to the date on which she moved from her former apartment, October 1, 1963, Mrs. Odio fixed the date of the alleged visit on the Thursday or Friday immediately preceding that date, i.e., September 26 or 27. She was positive that the visit occurred prior to October 1.720 (As pointed out by Gaeton Fonzi in his HSCA report, this was not true. Mrs. Odio told the FBI she was not sure of the exact date, and that it could have been as early as September 25.)
During the course of its investigation, however, the Commission concluded that Oswald could not have been in Dallas on the evening of either September 26 or 27, 1963. It also developed considerable evidence that he was not in Dallas at any time between the beginning of September and October 3, 1963. On April 24, Oswald left Dallas for New Orleans, where he lived until his trip to Mexico City in late September and his subsequent return to Dallas. Oswald is known to have been in New Orleans as late as September 23, 1963, the date on which Mrs. Paine and Marina Oswald left New Orleans for Dallas.721 Sometime between 4 p.m. on September 24 and 1 p.m. on September 25, Oswald cashed an unemployment compensation check at a store in New Orleans;722 under normal procedures this check would not have reached Oswald's postal box in New Orleans until at least 5 on September 25.723 The store at which he cashed the check did not open until 8 a.m.724 Therefore, it appeared that Oswald's presence in New Orleans until sometime between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on September 25 was quite firmly established.
Although there is no firm evidence of the means by which Oswald traveled from New Orleans to Houston, on the first leg of his Mexico City trip, the Commission noted that a Continental Trailways bus leaving New Orleans at 12:30 p.m. on September 25 would have brought Oswald to Houston at 10:50 p.m. that evening.725 His presence on this bus would be consistent with other evidence before the Commission.726 (Once again, this isn't true. No one on the bus remembered seeing Oswald. His wife thought he was gonna leave on the 24th. And a neighbor (Eric Rogers) testified that he saw Oswald carry two suitcases out of the house and load them onto a local bus the day after Mrs. Paine and Marina Oswald left for Dallas--which would be the 24th.)
There is strong evidence that on September 26, 1963, Oswald traveled on Continental Trailways bus No. 5133 which left Houston at 2:35 a.m. for Laredo, Tex. Bus company records disclose that one ticket from Houston to Laredo was sold during the night shift on September 25-26, and that such ticket was the only one of its kind sold in the period of September 24 through September 26. The agent who sold this ticket has stated that Oswald could have been the purchaser.727 Two English passengers, Dr. and Mrs. John B. McFarland, testified that they saw Oswald riding alone on this bus shortly after they awoke at 6 a.m.728 The bus was scheduled to arrive in Laredo at 1:20 p.m. on September 26, and Mexican immigration records show that Oswald in fact crossed the border at Laredo to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on that day.729 Evidence set out in appendix XIII establishes that Oswald did not leave Mexico until October 3, and that he arrived in Dallas the same day.
The Commission noted that the only time not strictly accounted for during the period that Mrs. Odio thought Oswald might have visited her is the span between the morning of September 25 and 2:35 a.m. on September 26. The only public means of transportation by which Oswald could have traveled from New Orleans to Dallas in time to catch his bus from Houston to Laredo, would have been the airlines. Investigation disclosed no indication that he flew between these points.730 Moreover, it did not seem probable that Oswald would speed from New Orleans, spend a short time talking to Sylvia Odio, and then travel from Dallas to Mexico City and back on the bus. Automobile travel in the time available, though perhaps possible, would have been difficult.731 The Commission noted, however, that if Oswald had reached Dallas on the evening of September 25, he could have traveled by bus to Alice, Tex., and there caught the bus which had left Houston for Laredo at 2:35 a.m. on September 26, 1963.732 Further investigation in that regard indicated, however, that no tickets were sold, during the period September 23-26, 1963 for travel from Dallas to Laredo or points beyond by the Dallas office of Continental Trailways, the only bus line on which Oswald could have made connections with the bus on which he was later seen. Furthermore, if Oswald had traveled from Dallas to Alice, he would not have reached the Houston to Laredo bus until after he was first reportedly observed on it by the McFarlands.733 Oswald had also told passengers on the bus to Laredo that he had traveled from New Orleans by bus, and made no mention of an intervening trip to Dallas. 734 In addition, the Commission noted evidence that on the evening of September 25, 1963, Oswald made a telephone call to a party in Houston proposing to visit a resident of Houston that evening 735 and the fact that such a call would appear to be inconsistent with Oswald's having been in Dallas at the time. It thus appeared that the evidence was persuasive that Oswald was not in Dallas on September 25, and, therefore, that he was not in that city at the time Mrs. Odio said she saw him.(Uhh...no. This is circular reasoning. Essentially, the commission dismissed that Oswald could have been traveling in the company of others by claiming he could not have traveled the distance required if he'd been traveling by himself. Well, HELLO. That's the problem. This last bit is especially slippery. Oswald is purported to have made a phone call while in Houston from the bus depot, and to have asked if he could visit the subject of his phone call, only to be told the man wasn't home. Well, if this man (Horace Twiford) had been home, how was Oswald going to visit him? Walk? No. Twiford lived a good distance from the bus depot. Take a cab? Really? The notoriously-cheap Oswald? In the middle of the night? Was gonna cough up some of his hard-earned cash to visit someone he did not know? Only to turn around and take a cab back to the bus depot? Really? The logical conclusion to be taken from the Twiford phone call is that Oswald was indeed traveling with someone else, and the commission's pretending otherwise is symptomatic of its determination to close the case, regardless of the evidence.)
In spite of the fact that it appeared almost certain that Oswald could not have been in Dallas at the time Mrs. Odio thought he was, the Commission requested the FBI to conduct further investigation to determine the validity of Mrs. Odio's testimony.736 The Commission considered the problems raised by that testimony as important, in view of the possibility it raised that Oswald may have had companions on his trip to Mexico.737 The Commission specifically requested the FBI to attempt to locate and identify the two men who Mrs. Odio stated were with the man she thought was Oswald. 738 In an effort to do that the FBI located and interviewed Manuel Ray, a leader of JURE who confirmed that Mrs. Odio's parents were political prisoners in Cuba, but stated that he did not know anything about the alleged Oswald visit.739 The same was true of Rogelio Cisneros,740 a former anti-Castro leader from Miami who had visited Mrs. Odio in June of 1962 in connection with certain anti-Castro activities. 741 Additional investigation was conducted in Dallas and in other cities in search of the visitors to Mrs. Odio's apartment. 742 Mrs. Odio herself was reinterviewed.743
On September 16, 1964, the FBI located Loran Eugene Hall in Johnsandale Calif. 744 Hall has been identified as a participant in numerous anti-Castro activities. 745 He told the FBI that in September of 1963 he was in Dallas, soliciting aid in connection with anti-Castro activities. He said he had visited Mrs. Odio. He was accompanied by Lawrence Howard, a Mexican-American from East Los Angeles and one William Seymour from Arizona. He stated that Seymour is similar in appearance to Lee Harvey Oswald; he speaks only a few words of Spanish,746 as Mrs. Odio had testified one of the men who visited her did.747 While the FBI had not yet completed its investigation into this matter at the time the report went to press, the Commission has concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was not at Mrs. Odio's apartment in September of 1963. (Now here's where things get messy. It appears that this was a deliberate deception, but it's hard to specify just who is primarily responsible--the Commission or the FBI. The commission's report was handed over to President Johnson on 9-24. Well, on 9-18, the FBI contacted William Seymour--the supposed Oswald look-alike, and he denied ever having been in Dallas with Loran Hall in September 1963, and ever having visited Sylvia Odio. The FBI then contacted Lawrence Howard on 9-20, and he admitted visiting Dallas with Loran Hall and Cellios Albas in September 1963, but said both that Seymour wasn't with them and that they'd never visited Odio. The FBI then went back to Loran Hall and he now said he'd visited Dallas in September 1963, but that he was with Lawrence Howard and Cellios Albas, and that they didn't call on Odio. Now, this was 9-20...four days before the report was turned over to Johnson. At this point, the report's explanation of the Odio incident was KNOWN to be false. So...how did it make it into the report handed over to Johnson? The thought that the commission's staff--presumably Rankin and Redlich--had been provided the first report on Hall, but not the subsequent ones on Seymour, Howard, and Hall, doesn't hold water. ALL these reports were typed up on the 23rd. This suggests, then, that someone from the commission called up the FBI and asked if they'd found anything they could use to close out their discussion of the Odio incident in their report, and that someone had told them of the FBI's meeting with Hall. So why wasn't this report typed up for a week? Well, the possibility exists it was written up but that the bit about Seymour--the only Oswald look-alike connected to Hall--hadn't been included, and that this report was then re-written to make out that Hall had mentioned Seymour. The possibility it was all a hoax is buttressed, moreover, by Hall's 9-5-77 testimony to the HSCA in which he claimed he'd NEVER told the FBI he'd been accompanied by Seymour when he'd visited Dallas in September 1963. There's also this to consider--no one bothered to show Sylvia and Annie Odio pictures of these men until October 1, at such time they denied having ever seen any of them. It sure seems that an actual investigation--as opposed to a deliberate whitewash--would have arranged for these women to have viewed pictures of these men within days of Hall's supposedly ID-ing Seymour as the Oswald look-alike--and before this supposed ID was repeated in a report to the President--and not weeks after.)
Sharing Some Secret Thoughts on Some Secret Spy Stuff
While it is tempting to consider the Commission's' work completed with the publishing of its report, this was not actually the case. There was much more work to be done. The commission had decided to publish the bulk of the testimony, exhibits, and reports used to come to its conclusions, and this material would not be published for another two months.
While one might prefer to believe, moreover, that the preparation and publication of what turned out to be 26 volumes of additional material was a simple administrative matter--gather the material, arrange it into volumes, and then publish, publish, publish--there appears to have been more to it.
A 9-25-64 CIA document (brought to our attention by Rex Bradford, and discussed on his History Matters website) provides considerable cause for concern. This cable, from the CIA station in Mexico to CIA headquarters, written in response to General Counsel Rankin's decision to publish the CIA surveillance photo shown Marguerite Oswald on 11-23-63--so the Commission could prove it wasn't a photo of Jack Ruby--bellows:
"ONLY REMAINING HOPE WOULD APPEAR BE TO GET ASCHAM PREVAIL ON COMMISSION NOT ONLY RETOUCH BACKGROUND IN PHOTOS BUT ALSO RETOUCH FACE TO DEGREE OBVIOUSLY NOT IDENTIFIABLE WITH RUBY BUT ALSO NOT WITH ACTUAL SUBJECT OF PHOTO." [MEXI 1018 of 9-25-64, at RIF #104-10400-10288]
Wait. What? The CIA claimed, and continued to claim, that they didn't know the identity of the man in the photo--that it had all been a dumb mistake, that he was just some guy who just so happened to have his picture taken in Mexico City, and that someone had mistakenly thought he was Oswald. But here they had revealed their true concerns--that they were desperate to conceal this man's identity from the American public and the world--to such an extent even that they wanted someone ("ASCHAM") to prevail upon the Commission to have this man's face retouched in the photo published by the Commission.
Well, this is as much as a confession--a confession that is, that the CIA had been deceptive in its discussion with the FBI and Warren Commission regarding this so-called "Mexico City Mystery Man."
Here he is, in the un-cropped photos later published by the HSCA. While it was not unreasonable for the CIA to request the background of the one photo published by the commission be cropped off the photo, to conceal the location of the photographer, the photos subsequently published revealed that this mystery man was photographed from multiple locations, and on two separate occasions.
Well, this proves that the cover story--that the man was mistakenly presumed to have been Oswald--was nonsense. Either this man had arrived at the Russian Embassy at the exact dates and times of Oswald's purported appearances at the embassy--and had thereby been impersonating, or working with, Oswald--or the CIA had made a major screw-up, and had forwarded a photograph to the FBI of a man they thought was Oswald...that their own records proved was not Oswald.
There's also this. The good men of CIA (or, at the very least, Mexico City Station Chief Win Scott) were so immersed in their secret spy stuff that they failed to see that the publication of a doctored photo to show the public it was not Ruby in the photo might boomerang back and lead to still stronger speculation it really was Ruby in the photo.
Unless...unless...they (or he) felt quite confident that no one would spot a re-touched photo--because they (the CIA) had done it numerous times in the past and had not got...caught.
Now, this brings us to another mystery...who the heck was ASCHAM? Well, Rex Bradford looked into this as well, and was able to find some strong overlaps (having a a "very sick" brother in 1958) between the man code-named ASCHAM and Warren Commissioner (and former CIA Director) Allen Dulles.
So, yeah, while the photo shown Marguerite was indeed published by the Commission (and presumably without any retouching) we have no idea how many times the CIA reached out to Dulles beyond this time, where he acceded to their wishes and prevailed upon the Commission.
We simply don't know what Dulles was doing on that danged commission.
But such is life...
Ahh, such is Life...
Against the wishes of Chairman Warren and his fellow commissioners, Congressman, Warren Commissioner, and future President Gerald Ford agreed to sell a story to Life Magazine on the conclusions and inner workings of the Warren Commission. This article was published in the October 2, 1964 issue, and on the stands when the commission's report was released to the public on September 28.
Within this story, moreover, were a number of claims in opposition to the commission's report, the report signed by Ford days earlier. Not surprisingly, but nevertheless disturbingly, these "mistakes" or mis-statements, if you will, all had one thing in common--they exaggerated the strength of the case against Oswald.
First and foremost, Ford claimed that assassination witness Howard Brennan "identified Oswald in a police line-up." This hid from Life's millions of readers that Brennan claimed in his 11-22 statement that he could identify the shooter he saw in the sixth floor window, but that he refused to identify Oswald in the line-up that evening. It also hid that Brennan only told the police he really could have IDed Oswald weeks later, after receiving a visit from the FBI. It also hid from Life's readers the words of the commission's report, which admitted: "During the evening of November 22, Brennan identified Oswald as the person in the lineup who bore the closest resemblance to the man in the window but he said he was unable to make a positive identification. Prior to the lineup, Brennan had seen Oswald's picture on television and he told the Commission that whether this affected his identification "is something I do not know." In an interview with FBI agents on December 17, 1963, Brennan stated that he was sure that the person firing the rifle was Oswald. In another interview with FBI agents on January 7, 1964, Brennan appeared to revert to his earlier inability to make a positive identification, but, in his testimony before the Commission, Brennan stated that his remarks of January 7 were intended by him merely as an accurate report of what he said on November 22."
And this was just the beginning of Ford's trail of nonsense most foul. A paragraph later he claimed that Oswald's absence from the depository was noted a mere half hour after Brennan's initial description of a shooter was broadcast over the police airwaves, and that a bulletin regarding Oswald was then broadcast over the airwaves. He then claimed "After this second bulletin was issued, Officer J.D. Tippit stopped Oswald on the street and Oswald shot him dead."
Well, that would be most interesting, as Tippit had been dead for at least ten minutes before such a bulletin could have been issued. According to the Warren Report supposedly studied and signed by Ford: "Although Oswald probably left the building at about 12:33 p.m., his absence was not noticed until at least one-half hour later. Truly, who had returned with Patrolman Baker from the roof, saw the police questioning the warehouse employees. Approximately 15 men worked in the warehouse and Truly noticed that Oswald was not among those being questioned. Satisfying himself that Oswald was missing, Truly obtained Oswald's address, phone number, and description from his employment application card. The address listed was for the Paine home in Irving. Truly gave this information to Captain Fritz who was on the sixth floor at the time. Truly estimated that he gave this information to Fritz about 15 or 20 minutes after the shots, but it was probably no earlier than 1:22 p.m., the time when the rifle was found. Fritz believed that he learned of Oswald's absence after the rifle was found. The fact that Truly found Fritz in the northwest corner of the floor, near the point where the rifle was found, supports Fritz's recollection."
So there you have it, the Commission concluded Fritz first heard about Oswald's disappearance around 1:22, seven minutes after 1:15, the time they'd concluded Tippit had been shot. So much for Ford's fabricated scenario whereby Tippit stopped Oswald only after receiving a bulletin about him.
And so much for Ford's credibility. You see, he was not only blowing smoke about the timing of the bulletin regarding Oswald, he was blowing smoke about the existence of such a bulletin. None was ever issued. When asked by the Commission what he did with the information about Oswald given him by Truly, Fritz responded: "Well, I never did give it to anyone because when I got to the office he (Oswald) was there."
So why would Ford, who was in a position to know better, push total nonsense, and pretend the information provided Fritz led to the issuance of a bulletin, which in turn led to Tippit's stopping Oswald?
Here's one possibility... As Tippit was killed before a bulletin on Oswald could be issued, he would, assuming he stopped Oswald due to his matching a description, be reacting to the earlier bulletin based upon the description given by Brennan; this description read "white male, approximately 30, slender build, height 5 foot 10 inches, weight 165 pounds." Well, in 1963, when the U.S. was far thinner than it is now, that could be most anyone. Tippit may well have seen dozens of men matching that description in the 20 minutes following the broadcast of that bulletin. And yet...there is no record of him stopping or pulling over anyone based upon that description. This suggests, then, that either Tippit stopped to talk to Oswald for reasons other than his thinking Oswald was a suspect in the assassination--which would be a heck of a coincidence--or that Tippit was out looking for Oswald specifically, based upon information coming from someone other than Fritz. This last possibility, one can only assume, was something Ford would not want to share with his readers. He may have felt it better, then, that he simply pretend Tippit had a clear-cut reason for stopping Oswald.
In any event, that wasn't the end of Ford's fabrications surrounding this mythical bulletin about Oswald. After discussing the initial description of the shooter based upon Brennan's description, and the description of Oswald in his imaginary bulletin, Ford wrote: "The two descriptions differed in some details...and it was this discrepancy which set off the first of the countless rumors concerning the President's assassination: namely, the story that two men were involved. Thus, both here and abroad began the cascade of innuendo, supposition, twisted fact, misunderstanding, faulty analysis, and downright fantasy that surrounded the tragic death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy."
Well, this was more smoke, of course. The public's suspicion there were multiple shooters came not from divergent descriptions of the shooter and Oswald broadcast on the 22nd, but from the statements of witnesses suggesting shots came from somewhere other than the book depository. This suspicion was then fed by the statements of witnesses describing men other than Oswald running from the building. Ford's failure to note this, and his summing up the commission's investigation with "there is not a scintilla of credible evidence to suggest a conspiracy" made his purpose most plain. He was out to discredit conspiracy theories at any cost, even if it meant misrepresenting the facts and inventing incidents from whole cloth--even if in doing so he'd damage the long-term credibility of the commission.
He proved this yet again in the closing paragraphs of the article. He acknowledged there'd been rumors Oswald had been a government agent, but wrote these off as having been started by Oswald's mother, Marguerite, who was confused and in denial. He thereby hid from his readers that these rumors were actually started by a number of prominent journalists, who felt there was something odd about Oswald's actions in the years leading up to the shooting that could best be explained by his being an American agent. Ford then claimed Marguerite's claims led the commission to conduct "a massive search...to prove or disprove the secret agent theory" that led nowhere. Here, he hid from his readers that back in January, when the rumors about Oswald being an agent first bubbled to the surface, Commissioner Allen Dulles, a former CIA Director, told his fellow commissioners that the heads of the CIA and FBI would probably LIE about Oswald's being an agent unless they were directed by President Lyndon Johnson NOT to lie about such things, and that no one from the commission dared ask President Johnson to make such a request. Ford was thus pushing that the question of Oswald's being an agent had been resolved--when he knew for a fact it had not.
In short, he was blowing a whole lotta smoke for a whole lotta bucks... precisely what one looks for in a future president...
That Ford was a less-than-honest broker on the matter of President Kennedy's murder was confirmed, moreover, by his subsequent actions, more than a decade later. When tasked, as President, with creating a commission to investigate America's role in a number of political assassinations, he not only selected his newly-crowned Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller as the chair of the Commission, he convinced his chief political rival (and a man who had publicly expressed doubts about Kennedy's assassination) Ronald Reagan, into sitting on the Commission.
Here they are, by golly, the three of them, with yep, believe it or not, John Connally, who jumped parties after LBJ lost power to become, first, a Nixon supporter, and second, a Republican... (And yes, that's General George Washington looking down on this quartet with moderate disgust...)
In any event, after creating this commission, Ford reached for his ace-in-the-hole, someone he knew he could trust as its Executive Director. He chose former Warren Commission Counsel David Belin--the most dogged of the Commission's defenders.
And this wasn't just a coincidence. When dragged before the HSCA to testify a few years later, well, Ford once again reached for Belin, who was brought in as his counsel, and not just his counsel, but counsel to the other two surviving members of the Warren Commission, Sen. John Sherman Cooper and John McCloy.
Here they are (Belin on the left, and an apparently parched Ford on the right). What a team!
Liebeler on the Defensive
Of course, Ford and Belin (and Specter, we mustn't forget Specter) weren't the only ones defending the commission's conclusions... with smoke...
In 1966, after a series of books criticizing the Commission, including Epstein's Inquest, started gaining traction with the public, Wesley Liebeler went on the defensive, and began lobbying his fellow Warren Commission counsel for help in fighting the critics. He even had some success. Ironically, however, he also wrote the FBI asking for their help, and was refused.The key reason for this refusal, as spelled out in a 10-19-66 FBI memo from Assistant FBI Director Alex Rosen (the man tasked with investigating the basic facts of the assassination), was that Liebeler was "obnoxious" and that he'd pestered the FBI during the Warren Commission's investigation with "completely unreasonable", "screwball", and "idiotic" requests that they'd failed to respond to unless specifically asked to do so by his boss, Rankin.
That Liebeler would be so offensive to Rosen, moreover, should come as no surprise. Let's recall here that Rosen had 1) failed to acquire and study the autopsy report and note that the doctors' interpretation of the wounds had changed the day after the autopsy, 2) failed to bring the FBI's conclusions in line with the autopsy report once the FBI had received this report, 3) pretended he'd done so on purpose once his failure to adjust the FBI's conclusions had become a public embarrassment, 4) tried to blame his mistakes on the Kennedy family, 5) refused to investigate the rumor there was a bullet hole in the floor of the limousine beyond calling a top Secret Service official and asking if it was true, 6) threatened to refuse the Warren Commission FBI cooperation when it sought the opinions of non-FBI experts, and 7) refused to investigate when it was subsequently brought to his attention that the CIA and Mafia had teamed up to kill Castro and that one of those involved in the operation had claimed it had boomeranged back at Kennedy.
Wow. That's quite the resume. Is it any wonder then that, with a man like Rosen leading its investigation, the FBI had failed to uncover much of anything?
And there's an even more disturbing aspect to Rosen's refusing to help Liebeler. And that's that, by 1966, Liebeler had become every bit as disinterested in uncovering the truth as Rosen had been in 1964. On November 7, 1966, Liebeler, along with fellow Warren Commission counsel Joseph Ball and Albert Jenner, was interviewed on KCBS radio by Harv Morgan. They then took calls from the audience. One of the callers asked about Oswald's rifle capability and the difficulty of the shots. And Liebeler spewed forth the very nonsense he once had found so objectionable...
When asked if firing at stationary targets, as was done in the re-enactments, was easier than firing at moving targets, as was done in Dealey Plaza, he replied: "It depends which way it's moving. If it's moving straight away from you, there's not much difference, is there? ...If the target is moving slowly and directly away from you on a line, there's little difference." (Liebeler knew, of course, that the "target" in this instance was not moving directly away from the supposed sniper's nest.)
When asked why the Army's shooters didn't replicate the shots as closely as possible, he replied: "It was probably too difficult to shoot at a moving target under the circumstances." He then offered: "We shot with a camera from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository towards a moving target."
When the caller pointed out that the sniper in Dealey Plaza wasn't shooting with a camera, Liebeler responded: "The point is that the Commission did set up a situation that was quite similar to the moving target by using three still targets. Now, as indicated, it might be somewhat easier to hit a still target but when the target was moving slowly away in a direct line, as this one was, very slightly curving to the right, there's not very much difference." (Note: Liebeler had thereby admitted that he knew full well that the "target" in question was not moving in a "direct line" away from the sniper's nest, as he'd previously suggested.)
But he wasn't done. Even though the caller had by this time been cut off, Liebeler insisted on discussing the question of Oswald's shooting abilities further. In the process, he revealed just how far he'd come from the lone voice of dissent he'd been in 1964. He complained: "I want to know whether he's asking the question of the accuracy involved or the time sequence involved. The accuracy is a very subjective thing and there may have been a good deal of luck involved in the shot. The time sequence is a different matter. In the time sequence, it was clearly established that there was plenty of time to make these shots. I've always taken the position that the best evidence that you could hit this target in this way from the sixth floor of the building was the fact that it did happen. In fact it was a very easy shot and that's exactly what did happen based on the existence of all kinds of other evidence." (Note: this comes from the same man who'd previously observed that Oswald "would have had to have been lucky to hit as he did if he had only 4.8 seconds to fire the shots" and had similarly observed that the belief Oswald was that lucky entails that "Oswald could fire faster than the Commission experts fired in 12 of their 15 tries.")
When asked if the shot was truly easy, he then snapped: "Of course, it's a simple shot. It's less than 200 feet away." (Note: for the "shot" now in question, presumably the head shot, the presumed target, Kennedy, was 265 feet away, not less than 200 feet away.)
When finally asked why, if the shot was so easy, so many critics had claimed no one had duplicated Oswald's shooting, he spat: "There are all kinds of people who've duplicated it. All these people ought to go up there and look out that window and see what an easy shot it is. It's like shooting, well--it's a very easy shot." (Note: Liebeler had thereby pulled an old lawyer's trick, and had avoided answering a problematic question by answering another question entirely. What had started out as a discussion of the Commission's tests and whether Oswald could hit Kennedy two of three times in 4.8 seconds, as claimed by the Commission, had been blurred into whether it was possible for Oswald to hit Kennedy in the head from the sniper's nest when given all the time in the world.)
The Mysterious Mr. Moore
Should the Warren Commission's refusal to reach a conclusion on the number and timing of the shots, and its deliberate and ongoing efforts to deceive the public regarding Oswald's ability with a rifle not cause one to wonder if their entire investigation wasn't a political charade, and should Gerald Ford's misrepresentations of the evidence against Oswald not confirm these suspicions, then one needs to learn more about...Moore. Secret Service Agent Elmer Moore, that is...
After seeing Moore's name pop up numerous times in the most suspicious of circumstances, I asked researcher Gary Murr if he’d ever looked into Moore, and it turned out that he'd shared my curiosity. He sent me some of what he’d compiled on Moore. I then matched this up with Moore’s 1-6-76 testimony before the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (aka the Church Committee). Some years later, moreover, I discovered the following photo of Moore online, where it had been posted by researcher Vincent Palamara.
(This photo once accompanied a newspaper article in which Moore discussed his service for four U.S. Presidents. One might note, moreover, that he's placed LBJ at the top and JFK at the bottom.)
Here, then, is what we know about Moore...
At the time of the assassination, Elmer Moore was a Secret Service investigator assigned to their San Francisco office. A week after the assassination, 11-29-63, he was instructed to go to Dallas and assist Inspector Thomas Kelley with his investigation of the assassination. Once there, he conducted the Secret Service’s investigation of Jack Ruby, in order to establish the connection or lack thereof between Ruby and Oswald. Not surprisingly, he found no connection. On 12-5-63, he oversaw the Secret Service Survey of Dealey Plaza. The survey plat of this re-enactment, published by the Warren Commission as CE 585, and Moore’s subsequent reports, reveals that he concluded, after studying the Zapruder film, that the fatal head shot at frame 313 occurred when Kennedy was 34 feet further down the street than his fellow Agent Howlett concluded only the week before, and 29 feet further down the street than the Warren Commission would conclude 6 months later. This is a bit suspicious. Is it a coincidence that Kennedy’s traveling this extra distance would give the presumed sniper more time to aim, and make Oswald’s purported shooting feat less fantastic? The next week, on 12-11, Moore engaged in more mysterious activity. He visited the doctors at Parkland hospital who’d worked on Kennedy, and showed them the official autopsy report stating that the throat wound was an exit. This came as a surprise to some of these doctors, who’d initially believed and stated that the throat wound was an entrance, and repeated this speculation to reporter Jimmy Breslin, whose article on their treatment of Kennedy was in that week’s Saturday Evening Post. Since the doctors were giving interviews and repeating what was believed to be incorrect information, it only makes sense then that someone in the government would want to set them straight. Evidently, it was Moore’s job to set them straight.
Now here’s where things get weird. Moore’s 1976 testimony reflects that on 12-19, he was ordered to contact Chief Justice Earl Warren and request that he accept Secret Service protection.He had known Warren for over 20 years. But he had never worked in the protective detail of the Secret Service beyond temporary assignments. Nevertheless, he successfully convinced Warren he needed protection, and was Warren’s near-constant companion and bodyguard from that day until after the Warren Report was issued the next September. In this role, as bodyguard, he accompanied Warren to Warren’s questioning of Jack Ruby. But Moore was more than just a bodyguard. He admitted to the Senate Committee in 1976 that he had “discussions daily” with Warren. The obvious and vital question of whether or not Moore kept anyone informed of these discussions was not asked. The equally obvious question of whether anyone thought it was a conflict of interest to have one of the Secret Service’s chief investigators act as Warren’s personal security, when Warren was supposed to be reviewing the Secret Service’s investigation, also was not asked. (A Church Committee document listing the names of 27 "Secret Service Agents investigating the Assassination of President Kennedy" lists Moore as one of three "supervisors," with 24 subordinates.)
What was discussed in 1976 was Moore’s relationship with James Gochenaur. Gochenaur had come forward with the allegation he’d met Moore in 1970, and that Moore had told him about some of his experiences investigating the assassination of President Kennedy. More to the point, Gochenaur said that Moore had guiltily admitted he’d badgered Dr. Malcolm Perry into changing his testimony about the President's throat wound.
So how did Moore respond to this allegation? Well, Moore admitted meeting Gochenaur, and discussing the assassination with him, but denied telling Gochenaur he'd pressured Dr. Perry. Moore’s behavior, however, reveals he was greatly concerned about Gochenaur’s allegation, perhaps concerned enough to lie. He'd arrived for questioning with a personal attorney. He expressed the opinion that “to induce any witness to change his testimony, of course that’s a felony.”
So far, so good. Moore’s testimony fell apart, however, when he tried to explain what DID happen when he talked to Dr. Perry and the other Parkland doctors. Moore testified: “I was given a copy of the Bethesda autopsy. A mimeographed copy. There were numerous copies sent to the Dallas office and it was assigned to attempt to determine the trajectory of the bullets, the missiles, from the wound, and the report I referred to covers this…Well, what happened here, when I received the autopsy reports, there were medical terms and measurements that I was not familiar with one. I recall it was the acromion which is a process of the shoulder blade, I learned through Dr. Perry. And I think the description of the neck strap wound, the first bullet in the President’s neck, was determined about 14 centimeters from the acromion process arc, and another arc from the mastoid of 14 centimeters... They’re exactly the same measurements. And I was not sure of these in medical terms. The logical thing I thought at the time was to go out to talk to these people and also to let them see for the first time the results of the autopsy because they had not had the opportunity to actually see the fatal wound at all. They had never turned the body over at Parkland. They were engaged in respiratory and circulatory, you know, the trauma actions rather than examining wounds. So I had talked to Dr. Perry and he was, as I recall, 34 years old, a very personable man. He was very disturbed, as he had been quoted, where he had performed the tracheotomy through the exit wound, which is right over the Adam’s Apple, it went by part of the tie. He was quite disturbed that he had been quoted in the press as having said that is an entrance wound, and he had denied that consistently, that he ever said that, that what he said was there was a wound there and it could have been an entrance or an exit…And then when he saw the autopsy report, which was the first occasion, they got a copy, I think, the following day or so, was sent down from Bethesda, and they had been in contact with the doctors by phone, I believe…but they were quite interested in the autopsy report. And after reading it I think it was Dr. Perry first and then Dr. Carrico came in. And after they read it they asked if there would be any objection to other staff doctors seeing it who had attended the President in some manner or another and were interested in it. And I saw no objection. So they went into a little conference room—I would say six or seven doctors—and discussed it for possibly ten or fifteen minutes, and I left.” (When asked why he went to Parkland) “(To see) If it could be determined from the wounds the trajectory of the bullets. Did they come from the sixth floor of this and could this be proven by the—(When asked what Perry told him) “Well, that was not actually for him to answer, but what he was doing for me was determining where this wound was on the body and what direction it went.”
The problem with Moore's testimony is it’s just not credible. I mean, really, Moore just so happens to show Perry the autopsy report, telling him the throat wound is officially an exit, to let him "see for the first time the results of the autopsy because they had not had the opportunity to actually see the fatal wound at all...They had never turned the body over at Parkland"? It was all just for Perry's general information, mind you, and not to get him to shut up? And really, Moore just so happens to pick Perry, the guy who told the nation in a press conference the throat wound was an entrance, as the guy to teach him a little anatomy?
Moore's contention he consulted with Perry about the relative locations of the wounds, as opposed to his telling Perry the official conclusion about the relative positions of the wounds, is also suspect. The measurements for the back wound on the autopsy report, 14 cm from acromion and 14 cm below the tip of the right mastoid process, as we shall see, place the back wound in the back, at the same level as the throat wound. Moore’s 12-11 report, after his meeting with Perry, however, asserts that the missile path of the first bullet to strike the President “is from the upper right posterior thorax to the exit position in the low anterior cervical region and is in slight general downward direction.” I doubt a doctor would say such a thing. The upper thorax is, by definition, below the lower cervical region, unless the body is leaning forward. And the Zapruder film studied by Moore demonstrated that Kennedy was not leaning forward before the shots were fired. The probability, then, is that Moore went to Parkland at least in part to bring Perry into line, and let him know that the throat wound was officially an exit., and below the back wound.
Now let's be fair. As Moore, in his testimony, expressed skepticism wound locations could effectively establish a bullet’s trajectory, he may honestly have figured the entrance on Kennedy’s back was close enough. This doesn’t explain, however, his reporting that the back wound was above the throat wound--something the measurements shown to Perry proved false. One should wonder, furthermore, if Moore noticed that the location of the back wound in the drawings created by the autopsy doctors in March was far higher than the wound location he’d mapped out with Perry, and if he told Chief Warren about this problem... Or even if the apathetic attitude towards the wound locations and trajectories revealed by Moore in his work for the Secret Service infected the Commission’s re-enactment in May...
If that's it, moreover, that Moore was apathetic to the extreme, well, that may have been just what qualified him for the job. A 1-7-64 Treasury Department memorandum for the file reflects that Moore, who’d been traveling with Earl Warren since 12-19, was asked by Warren on 12-2 if “he could be available to the Commission for an indefinite period to assist in its work.” A 12-8 memo from Secret Service Chief Rowley reflects that Moore was assigned to “furnish any service, assistance, and cooperation the Commission considers necessary.” Hmmm... These memos fail to mention Moore’s purported role as Warren’s bodyguard. This raises the question, then, of whether Moore was protecting Warren or helping him run the investigation. In Professor Gerald McKnight’s book Breach of Trust, he discusses a document found in the voluminous archives of researcher Harold Weisberg, now held at Hood College. Among the documents recovered via Weisberg’s numerous Freedom of Information Act lawsuits was a February 7. 1964 letter from General Counsel Rankin’s Secretary, Julia Eide. This letter reflects that “all the waste material” (that is, notes, carbons, tapes) of the 1-22-64 meeting of the Warren Commission, in which they discussed the possibility Oswald was working for the FBI, was to be turned over to Secret Service Inspector Elmer Moore and burned.
Huh? Doesn’t sound like straight guard duty to me...
That Moore was more...than Warren’s guard dog... is undoubtedly intriguing. In the years following the assassination of President Kennedy, it would be revealed that the Secret Service has been used at times as a private intelligence unit answering only to the President. Richard Nixon used them to spy on his own brother, and, according to Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield, spy on other political candidates as well. Huh... This raises the uncomfortable possibility that Moore was President Johnson’s eyes and ears on the Commission, put in place, with Warren's acquiescence, to help keep the commission "in line." Huh... This might explain why Moore, a long time Warren acquaintance, was brought into the Secret Service’s investigation on the same day Warren agreed to chair a Presidential Commission reviewing the Secret Service’s findings.
And that's not all... This might explain as well how Anthony Lewis, a writer for the New York Times, while working on a book with Johnson's close associate Abe Fortas, became privy to information that could only have come from within the Commission. And it might also explain Moore’s seemingly exaggerated concerns about Gochenaur’s statements, and his willingness to lie about his visit to Perry. And, while we're at it, it might also explain why Moore, the only one working with the Commission to admit measuring out 14 cms from the tip of the mastoid process on a body, failed to alert Warren that this put the wound on Kennedy’s back, inches below the location on the drawings entered into evidence on March 16, 1964 as the official representations of the President’s wounds.
And, oh yeah, before I forget... it might also explain why an HSCA contact sheet (brought to my attention by Vince Palamara) reveals that Moore called HSCA staff member Eileen Dinneen on 3-9-78 to tell her that "a young lawyer" on the Schweicker Committee (sic--he meant Church Committee) "had been ready to send him to jail for perjury" and that, as a consequence, "he would refuse to answer questions about matters he was already questioned about."
I mean, that's some balls, right? He called the HSCA to tell them he'd refuse to answer any question he'd ever been asked before, seeing as his answer to such a question might reveal an inconsistency in his story, and the possibility/probability he'd been lying.
Now that's some public servant!
There’s also this… On November 22nd 2003, Senator Arlen Specter addressed a crowd at an assassination conference held at Duquesne University. He told the crowd about his work for the Warren Commission and of being shown an autopsy photo of the President’s back wound on May 24, 1964. This autopsy photo, as we have seen, should have convinced Specter that the wound on Kennedy's back was inches below the level depicted in the commission's exhibits, and that it was therefore doubtful the shooting had occurred as purported. Instead, Specter stuck by his belief the bullet causing this wound, after striking Kennedy's back on a sharply downward trajectory, had somehow exited from his throat. Now, in his 2000 book Passion for Truth, and in previous interviews, Specter had said that Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley had shown him this photo. On this day, the 40th anniversary of the assassination, however, he told the audience it was “Elmer Moore, who was the Chief’s bodyguard.”
Yikes. If it was in fact Moore, well, that would suggest Specter was shown the photo with Warren’s blessing. And this, in turn, would suggest that Warren, Moore and Specter all knew the wound was on the back and inches lower on the body than as shown in the commission's exhibits...and that they'd conspired to hide this from the public...
Above: President Lyndon Johnson (M) on the day of his Deliverance, with two of his Deliverers, appropriately enough, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren on the left, and former CIA Director Allen Dulles ("ASCHAM") on the right.
The Warren "No-No"s
But one needn't be a believer in conspiracies to see that the Warren Commission's investigation was not all that it was cracked up to be--a tireless investigation performed by dedicated men whose only client was the truth, blah blah blah.
The year 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination. Two books on the Warren Commission--one by New York Times reporter Philip Shenon and one by Warren Commission attorney Howard Willens--were pushed upon the public. Although Shenon's book held out that Oswald may have been put in motion by some Cubans he met in Mexico, both were essentially Oswald-did-it books.
Still, the release of these books exposed some startling facts...that only added to what we'd already come to know...
As a compliment to Willens' book, he released a number of documents, some of which have been previously discussed. One document which we have not discussed, however, is a memo created by Willens, in which he reported the number of days worked by the key members of the commission's staff.
Here, then, is a re-listing of these key employees, along with the number of days they worked, according to Willens.
Area 1: Francis Adams (16 days, 5 hours) and Arlen Specter (145 days, 5 hours) were charged with establishing the "basic facts of the assassination." (162 days, 2 hours)
Area 2: Joseph Ball (91 days) and David Belin (125 days) were charged with establishing the "identity of the assassin." (216 days)
Area 3: Albert Jenner (203 days) and J. Wesley Liebeler (219 days, 4 hours) were charged with establishing "Oswald's background." (422 days, 4 hours)
Area 4: William Coleman (64 days) and W. David Slawson (211 days) were charged with investigating "possible conspiratorial relationships." They were thus tasked with investigating Oswald's actions in Russia and Mexico. (275 days)
Area 5: Leon Hubert (115 days, 5 hours) and Burt Griffin (225 days, 4 hours) were charged with investigating "Oswald's death," and establishing both whether Ruby knew Oswald, and if Ruby had help in killing Oswald. (341 days, 1 hour)
Area 6: Samuel Stern was charged with researching the history of Presidential protection, so that the commission could make appropriate recommendations. (149 days)
Norman Redlich (186 days) was charged with supervising the investigations of all these areas, and with the subsequent writing of their report. His assistant--the man directly overseeing much of the investigation--was Melvin Eisenberg (167 days).
And, of course, the whole she-bang was overseen by J. Lee Rankin (308 days) and Howard Willens (an approximate of 250 days).
So, let's break this down. The Warren Commission's top staff (Rankin, Willens, Redlich, and Eisenberg) spent over 900 work-days supervising its investigation, co-ordinating its investigation with the commissioners, and editing and re-writing the commission's report. While, at the same time, the commission's investigators spent over 1,000 work-days investigating and writing about Oswald's life and death--separate from his role in the assassination. While, at the same time, the commission's investigators spent less than 400 work-days investigating what happened on the day of the shooting, and who pulled the trigger...
Well, this seems a bit backwards, correct? When one looks at the timing of these man-hours, this ratio seems even more out-of-whack. The investigation lasted, basically, 8 months, from late January to late September. Adams, Specter, Ball, and Belin (the investigators for Areas 1 and 2) worked 378 days, 2 hours, between them. But only 73 days, 1 hour of this was in the last three months of the commission's investigation. Well, this suggests that the commission's investigation into what happened and who did it was essentially over by June, and not September. And that the rest was just putting lipstick on a pig. I mean, seriously, Burt Griffin worked 91 of the last 96 days trying to understand why and how mobster wannabe Jack Ruby came to kill the supposedly lone-nut Oswald, and David Slawson worked 83 of the last 96 days trying to understand what the supposedly lone-nut Oswald was doing in Mexico City, meeting with Cubans and Russians. And that's not even to mention that Albert Jenner and Wesley Liebeler worked 81 days and 90 days, respectively, of the last 96 days of the commission, while trying to understand why in the heck Oswald would kill a President he claimed to admire.
All four of these men, individually, worked more days in the last three months of the commission's investigation than the four men who'd worked in areas 1 and 2, COMBINED.
Well, this supports what seemed clear from the beginning of the commission's investigation--that the commission was ready to claim Oswald did it without doing much digging, but was concerned this wouldn't fly if they didn't offer the public a mountain of reasons to believe Oswald was nothing but a nut, who acted alone.
But that's not all we learned from the release of Shenon's and Willens' books.
When one read between the lines, one discovered an awful reality--that liberal icon Earl Warren was not the simple bumpkin many had presumed, and that he was instead a one-man wrecking crew, committed to making sure his commission went nowhere and learned nothing.
Here, then, is a partial list of Warren "no-no"s, as we now know them.
1. Chief Justice Warren was determined from the outset that the commission investigating President Kennedy's death limit its scope to the investigations already performed by the Dallas Police, Secret Service and FBI. Yes, unbelievably, the transcript of the commission's first conference reflects that Warren wanted the commission to have no investigators of its own, no subpoena power, and no public hearings.
2. When the Attorney General of Texas, Waggoner Carr, persisted in his plan to convene a Texas Court of Inquiry, a public hearing at which much of the evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald would be presented, Warren convinced him to cancel his plan by assuring him the commission would be "fair to Texas." No record was made of this meeting.
3. Not long thereafter, the commission became privy to the rumor Oswald had been an intelligence asset. Although commissioner and former CIA chief Allen Dulles assured Warren and his fellow commissioners the FBI and CIA would lie about this, he also told them the only way to get to the bottom of it was to ask President Johnson to personally tell the heads of the FBI and CIA not to lie. Warren did not do this. And the transcript of the hearing in which this rumor was first discussed was destroyed, undoubtedly at Warren's direction.
4. The commission's staff had questions about the medical evidence. They were particularly concerned about the location of Kennedy's back wound, which may have been too low to support the single-bullet theory deemed necessary to the commission's conclusion Oswald acted alone. Even so, Warren personally prevented Dr. James J. Humes from reviewing the autopsy photos he'd had taken, and wished to review.
5. The commission's staff had questions about Oswald's trip to Mexico. What did he say to those he spoke to? What did he do at night? Did he actually go to the Cuban consulate and Russian embassy on the days the CIA said he'd visited the consulate and embassy? And yet, despite the commission's staff's fervid desire they be allowed to interview Sylvia Duran, a Mexican woman employed by the Cuban consulate, who'd handled Oswald's request he be allowed to visit Cuba, (and who, it turns out, was rumored to have entertained Oswald at night), Chief Justice Warren personally prevented them from doing so, telling commission counsel David Slawson that "You just can't believe a Communist...We don't talk to Communists. You cannot trust a dedicated Communist to tell us the truth, so what's the point?"
6. The commission's staff had questions about Russia's involvement in the assassination. Oswald, of course, had lived in Russia. His wife was Russian. While in Mexico, he'd met with a KGB agent named Kostikov, who was believed to have been the KGB's point man on assassinations for the western hemisphere. Shortly after the assassination, a KGB officer named Yuri Nosenko defected to the west. Nosenko told his handlers he'd reviewed Oswald's file, and that Oswald was not a Russian agent. The timing of Nosenko's defection, however, convinced some within the CIA that Nosenko's defection was a set-up. The commission's staff hoped to talk to Nosenko, and judge for themselves if his word meant anything. The CIA (er, rather, The CIA's Assistant Director of Plans--its master of dirty tricks) Richard Helms, on the other hand, asked the commission to not only not talk to Nosenko, but to avoid any mention of him within their report. Chief Justice Earl Warren, acting alone, agreed to this request. He later admitted "I was adamant that we should not in any way base our findings on the testimony of a Russian defector."
7. The commission's staff had questions about Jack Ruby's motive in killing Oswald. Strangely, however, the commission's staff charged with investigating Ruby and his background were not allowed to interview him. Instead, the interview of Ruby was performed by, you guessed it, Chief Justice Earl Warren. Despite Ruby's telling Warren such things as "unless you get me to Washington, you can’t get a fair shake out of me...I want to tell the truth, and I can’t tell it here. I can’t tell it here…this isn’t the place for me to tell what I want to tell…” Warren refused to bring Ruby to Washington so he could provide the details he so clearly wanted to provide.
8. The commission's staff had even more questions about how Ruby came to kill Oswald. It was hard to believe he'd just walked down a ramp and shot Oswald, as claimed. As Ruby had many buddies within the Dallas Police, for that matter, it was reasonable to investigate the possibility one or more of the officers responsible for Oswald's protection had provided Ruby access to the basement. Commission counsel Burt Griffin even found a suspect: Sgt Patrick Dean. In the middle of Dean's testimony in Dallas, in which Dean said Ruby had told him he'd gained access to the garage by walking down the ramp, Griffin let Dean know he didn't believe him, and gave him a chance to change his testimony. Dean was outraged and called Dallas DA Henry Wade, who in turn called Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin. Dean then asked that he be allowed to testify against Griffin in Washington. Not only was he allowed to do so, he received what amounted to an apology from, you guessed it, Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren told Dean "No member of our staff has a right to tell any witness that he is lying or that he is testifying falsely. That is not his business. It is the business of this Commission to appraise the testimony of all the witnesses, and, at the time you are talking about, and up to the present time, this Commission has never appraised your testimony or fully appraised the testimony of any other witness, and furthermore, I want to say to you that no member of our staff has any power to help or injure any witness." It was later revealed that Dean had failed a lie detector test designed to test his truthfulness regarding Ruby, and that the Dallas Police had kept the results of this test from the Warren Commission. If Griffin had been allowed to pursue Dean, this could have all come out in 1964. But no, Warren made Griffin back down, and the probability Dean lied was swept under the rug. (None of this is mentioned in Willens' book, of course.)
9. Although Warren was purportedly all-concerned about transparency, and wanted all the evidence viewed by the commission to be made available to the public, he (along with commissioners McCloy and Dulles) came to a decision on April 30, 1964, that the testimony before the commission would not be published along with the commission's report. (This decision was over-turned after the other commissioners--the four elected officials on the commission, and thereby the only ones accountable to the public--objected.)
10. Although Warren was purportedly all-concerned about transparency, and wanted the public to trust the commission's decisions, he wanted to shred or incinerate all the commission's internal files, so no one would know how the commission came to its decisions. (This decision was over-turned after commission historian Alfred Goldberg sent word of Warren's intentions to Senator Richard Russell, and Russell intervened.)
11. Although Warren was purported to have worked himself day and night in order to give the President the most thorough report possible, he actually flew off on a fishing trip that lasted from July 6 to August 1, 1964, while testimony was still being taken, and the commission's report still being polished.
12. Although Warren was purportedly all-concerned about transparency, and felt the commission's work should speak for itself, he (according to Howard Willens' diary) asked the National Archives to hold up the release of assassination-related documents that were not used in the commission's hearings, so that said documents could not be used by critics to undermine the commission's findings.
So let's review. The Chief Justice, who was, by his own admission, roped into serving as chairman of the commission by President Johnson through the prospect of nuclear war, refused to allow important evidence to be viewed, refused to allow important witnesses to be called, cut off investigations into controversial areas, demanded that testimony before the commission be done in secret, agreed to keep the testimony before the commission from the public, tried to keep the commission's internal files from the public, and ultimately asked the national archives to help hide some of the evidence available to the commission from the public until a decent interval had passed in which the commission and its friends in the media could sell the commission's conclusions.
Now if that ain't a whitewash, then what the heck is?
Above: five of the then-remaining members of the Warren Commission's staff reunite at Southern Methodist University, 2015. From L to R: Stuart Pollak, Richard Mosk, Burt Griffin, David Slawson, and Howard Willens.
The Last Line of Defense?
On 6-17-18, BBC World ran a radio program in which four surviving members of the Warren Commission's staff--Howard Willens, Burt Griffin, Samuel Stern, and Lloyd Weinreb--were asked to discuss the work of the commission. All stood by the commission's conclusion Oswald acted alone.
But they weren't the staunch defenders of the realm one would expect.
Stern, for example, had once been quite critical of the Commission. A report written by HSCA investigator Mike Ewing on an 8-22-78 interview with Stern offered a laundry list of complaints about the investigation of Kennedy's death. Among this list:
"Stern stated that he and several of his Commiss colleagues discussed what they regarded as 'the fact that the agencies - the FBI and CIA - could formulate and maintain a cover-up which no one would ever penetrate.'"
"Mr. Stern stated that on one occasion he believed that the Commission was influenced in its investigation by what he regarded as 'some type of pressure or fear of the FBI.'"
"Stern stated that his evaluation of the Secret Service showed that 'the Secret Service was not a modern, demonstrably reliable, body at that time. It was, plain and simply, primitive. Both in operations and structure.'"
"Speaking of the friction he observed between the FBI and SS during his work on the Commission, Stern stated that 'the 'friction was expressed more by the Secret Service than by the FBI.'"
"Stern stated that he and various other staffers had not had a very high regard for James Malley, the FBI's liaison with the Commission. 'We knew he was there hustling us. That was his job. He was the big jovial insurance salesman, without any great intelligence.'"
"Speaking of the FBI in general, Stern stated that 'I had a very limited regard for their ability. They had almost a crazy impotent system of headquarters control...I thought the level of competence in headquarters was very poor.'"
"Speaking of the Dallas Police Department, Stern stated that 'I had no problem believing the Dallas Police would let someone down in the basement. Not as a conspiracy, but as an incompetent operation in guarding Oswald. I had a very low opinion of them.'"
"Speaking of the possibility of various Members of the Commission leaking information to the agencies or other people, Stern stated that 'I always assumed Dulles was doing that - to the CIA. But I had no hard information.' Stern stated that the FBI had a 'pretty good idea' of what the Commission was doing 'because Malley was there to ingratiate himself as much as possible with each of us.'"
Stern stated that among his closest colleagues on the staff, they were convinced that Albert Jenner was frequently leaking material to the press. Stern stated that at one point Jenner was more or less 'caught' leaking something, and made 'a partial confession.'"
In response to the question as to how he now feels about the conclusions of the Warren Commission, Stern stated, 'I am less certain now than at the time we wrote the Report. Less certain that Oswald acted alone. Actually, I wasn't all that certain at the time. I thought the best evidence supported the final findings, and I agreed with them, but I wasn't tremendously firm or immovable in that, in my own mind. I just thought there were a lot of straws left.'"
But if Stern was not entirely comfortable with the commission's role in history back in 1978, his negativity was destined to be topped by Weinreb's in 2018.
Weinreb was the last to speak. He basically had the last word. When asked the commission's purpose, and whether he was proud of his part in fulfilling that purpose, Weinreb, a long-time Harvard professor, replied: "The commission was to satisfy the public...The expectation was that Oswald was the assassin...No, I'm not proud of it...I think it was, in many ways, a dreadful report. The work of the commission got confused between a criminal trial where you have a verdict and an historical investigation...It wasn't clear which it was. Most of the people on the staff were lawyers, used to pushing towards a verdict, and that's the end of it. I think there was a little bit of confusion about what we were working towards...The report was thrown together at the end because we were working under such desperate conditions...Johnson was desperate to get the report out...The circumstances didn't allow us to sit back and reflect."
So there it is...from a Professor at Harvard Law who worked for the Commission. The Warren Report was essentially a prosecutor's brief pushing the Oswald did it scenario...rushed out for the benefit of President Johnson.
Hmmm...what are we to conclude when the statements of the Warren Commission's most ardent defenders are hard to distinguish from the statements of its earliest critics?
The dust has settled on this one, folks.
Even if they somehow were correct in that Oswald acted alone, the Warren Commission's investigation did not substantiate that conclusion, and their failure to address the shortcomings of the FBI and Secret Service's investigations marked their endeavor as a whitewash.
History has proved them wrong...
Above: the eternal flame at JFK's grave, Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, USA.