My latest essay, a detailed critique of ballistics expert Lucien Haag's recent attempted defense of the 'Magic Bullet Theory', is online here:
Tuesday, 16 June 2015
Monday, 15 September 2014
Cui Bono, Redux
Despite the fact that he has presented no evidence establishing Oswald's guilt, Reitzes nonetheless feels the need to pontificate upon his motivation. To say that he is on shaky ground here would be a vast understatement. After all, people who knew Oswald testified that he was an admirer of President Kennedy who bore him no malice. No doubt fully aware of this fact, Reitzes has little choice but to suggest that Oswald was “mentally unstable”. He writes: “The Warren Commission heard testimony and examined psychological evaluations from his teen years suggesting he was a greatly troubled individual.” Indeed Oswald did have a difficult childhood, during which a spell of truancy led to his being remanded at an institution named Youth House for psychiatric evaluation. However, as the Warren Commission reported, “Contrary to reports that appeared after the assassination, the psychiatric examination did not indicate that Lee Oswald was a potential assassin, potentially dangerous, that 'his outlook on life had strongly paranoid overtones' or that he should be institutionalized.” (WR379)
Essentially, Oswald was a lonely, withdrawn child who suffered from neglect. As social worker, Evelyn Siegel, reported, she saw “a rather pleasant, appealing quality about this emotionally starved, affectionless youngster which grows as one speaks to him.” She concluded that Lee “just felt that his mother never gave a damn for him.” (Ibid, 380) Years later as a grown man in the Soviet Union, following a feigned suicide attempt, Oswald spent three days in a psychiatric ward for observation. One report concluded that he was “not dangerous to other people” and another describes him as being “of clear mind” with “no sign of psychotic phenomena.” (18H464 & 468) If Oswald's troubled childhood left him “mentally unstable” the Soviet psychiatrists did not pick up on it. Nor did the United States Marine Corps. As legendary critic Sylvia Meagher noted, “The Marine Corps medical records on Oswald for 1956-1959 consistently show no sign of emotional problems, mental abnormality, or psychosis.” (Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p. 244)
Reitzes attempts to resurrect the notion of Oswald as a “radically leftist...Castro idolater” which is not something most researchers take seriously today. Although Oswald frequently told anyone that would listen that he was a communist or a Marxist, his behaviour indicated otherwise. The fact of the matter is that Oswald never joined any communist or Marxist organization, even when living in the Soviet Union, and all of his known contacts and acquaintances were right-wingers and anti-Castroites. In the summer of 1963 when Oswald started his own make-believe chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans—which, as previously noted, was at the same time the CIA was running a campaign against the FPCC—it only ended up embarrassing the organization when Oswald was publicly revealed as a former resident of the Soviet Union. Once he had discredited the FPCC in New Orleans by effectively linking the organization with Russian communism, Oswald moved on. For these reasons, and many more, most serious researchers now believe that Oswald's self-professed Marxism was a cover and that he was, in fact, some type of intelligence asset. A thorough discussion of this subject is beyond the scope of this critique so interested readers are referred to the books Conspiracy? by Anthony Summers, Destiny Betrayed (second edition) by Jim DiEugenio, and Oswald and the CIA by John Newman.
Continuing his skewed, hackneyed portrait, Reitzes claims that Oswald had a “history of violence”. When considering that particular deceleration, readers should bear in mind that Reitzes is describing a U.S. Marine who only ever got in one fight during his entire adult life. As it happens, Oswald was considered so timid by his fellow Marines that they nicknamed him “Ozzie Rabbit”. One Marine, Daniel Powers, testified that in his opinion Oswald “was the meek mild individual that a person felt if he had something, that he wouldn't really fight to keep it. He would take the easy way out to avoid conflict.” (8H270) Nevertheless, in support of this supposed “history of violence”, Reitzes offers “the time he [Oswald] threatened his sister-in-law with a knife as a teen”, and alleges that “numerous witnesses...testified about the physical abuse he directed at his wife.” The first of Reitzes' two examples is barely worthy of discussion. It refers to the time a 13-year-old Oswald flashed a pocket knife at his brother's wife. That was the extent of it. It was silly kids stuff and no one was hurt. The second example is more complex.
Contrary to the impression Reitzes attempts to convey, there was actually only one witness who claimed to have first hand knowledge of Oswald hitting his wife, Marina, and he never “testified” to that fact. The witness was Alex Kleinlerer who appears to have taken an instant dislike to Oswald and gave an uncorroborated statement claiming that he once saw him slap Marina around the face. (11H120) The only other person who would claim personal knowledge of such matters was Marina herself who, to say the least, has credibility issues. As Warren Commission lawyer Norman Redlich noted in a once secret memo, “...Marina Oswald has repeatedly lied to the [Secret] Service, the FBI, and this Commission on matters which are of vital concern to the people of this country and the world.” (11HSCA126) Indeed, Marina gave so many conflicting stories that investigators for the HSCA prepared a report titled Marina Oswald Porter's Statements of a Contradictory Nature which totalled over 30 pages.
Physical abuse was one of the many subjects on which Marina gave conflicting accounts. During one of her appearances before the Commission she said that her husband had been a “good family man” and described only one occasion on which he had hit her after she had written a letter to a former boyfriend saying she wished she had married him instead. (1H32-33) Later, she changed her mind and claimed that Lee was “not a good husband” and had “beat” her “on many occasions.” (5H594) In all likelihood, neither of these accounts is quite true. Although Marina attempted to paint herself as a devoted housewife who suffered at the hands of her abusive husband, as Norman Redlich suggested, “...there is a strong probability that Marina Oswald is in fact a very different person—cold, calculating, avaricious, scornful of generosity, and capable of an extreme lack of sympathy in personal relationships.” (11HSCA126) There is testimony that suggests Marina delighted in tormenting and embarrassing Lee in front of others. Jeanne DeMohrenschildt remarked that when friends were giving Marina the things that Lee could not afford, she “was throwing it into his face.” (9H309) Mrs. DeMohrenschildt also noted that “...she ribbed him even in front of us...if I would ever speak to my husband that way we would not last long.” (Ibid, 311-12) “I'm not a quiet woman myself”, Marina testified as she confessed to provoking Lee. (5H598) More importantly, Lee Oswald was himself observed covered in scratches inflicted by his wife (12HSCA129) who admitted that she would hit him and throw objects at him. (5H598) “...he is not a strong man”, Marina said, “and when I collect all my forces and want to do something very badly I am stronger than he is.” (5H389) It is clear that the Oswalds had a tumultuous and, at times, violent relationship. It also seems apparent that neither party was entirely blameless.
Although in her earliest interviews Marina could name no acts of violence by her dead husband, on December 5, 1964, she threw the FBI a bone and claimed that Lee had told her he had taken a shot at right-wing zealot, General Edwin Walker on April 10, 1963. (23H391) Of course, Marina came out with this story during the two month period that she was being held at the Inn of Six Flags in Arlington, Texas, in which she was repeatedly interrogated by the Secret Service and FBI and threatened with deportation. (see 1H79 & 410) Nevertheless, Reitzes claims that there is “documentary evidence” to support Marina's story. He does not detail precisely what that “documentary evidence” is but when we check his citation—pages 688-697 of Bugliosi's book—we see that it consists of an unsigned, undated note that does not mention General Walker and a few photographs of Walker's house that were found in the garage of Michael and Ruth Paine. Not exactly overwhelming stuff.
The truth is that in the eight months the Dallas police investigated the attempt on Walker's life, Oswald was never considered a suspect. The mutilated bullet that was recovered from Walker's home was described by police as being 30.06 steel-jacketed and not 6.5 mm copper-jacketed like the bullets fired from “Oswald's” rifle. (Dallas Morning News, April 11, 1963 & 24H40) Additionally, eyewitness Walter Kirk Coleman told police that almost immediately after the shot was fired, he saw two men getting into two different cars in the nearby church parking lot. One of these men bent over the front seat of his car “as if putting something in the back floorboard.” The other man got into a light green or blue Ford and “took off in a hurry”. (24H41) Oswald could not drive and did not own a car and Coleman later told the FBI that “neither man resembled Oswald and that he had never seen anyone in or around the Walker residence or the church before or after April 10, 1963, who resembled Lee Harvey Oswald.” (26H438)
Also on the subject of violence, Reitzes writes that “The commission heard testimony that Oswald...believed that societal change could only be brought about by violent means”. This he again sources to Bugliosi (p. 937) who quotes from an interview Michael Paine gave to HSCA investigators in 1978 claiming that it was “Oswald's belief that the only way the injustices in society could be corrected was through a violent revolution.” The first thing of note here is that this hearsay claim was made in 1978—14 years after the Warren Commission shut up shop. So Reitzes' claim that the Commission heard such testimony is false. The bigger problem, however, is that in 1964, when Paine testified to the Commission, he specifically stated that Oswald “didn't mention advocating violence or didn't say anything in regard to violence...” (2H411) Paine's latter day claims can only be regarded as either faulty recollection or a deliberate attempt to mislead. Either way, this type of cherry-picking—ignoring earlier, sworn testimony in favour of later claims more friendly to the author's thesis—is par for the course with Bugliosi and Reitzes.
Still relying on Bugliosi (p. 938-39), Reitzes tells us that Oswald “aspired to greatness, though greatness had thus far eluded him”. In this regard, Bugliosi quotes Marina as stating that her husband “wanted in any way, whether good or bad, to do something that would make him outstanding, that he would be known in history.” He also quotes Texan lawyer Max Clark who knew Oswald very briefly and said that it was his “general impression” that Oswald “wanted to become famous or infamous” and “seemed to think he was destined to go down in history someway or other.” From this I presume we are meant to conclude that killing Kennedy was Oswald's way of getting the recognition he so desired. But such reasoning makes little sense in light of the fact that Oswald protested at every available opportunity that not only was he innocent but that he was a fall guy; a “patsy”. Are we really to believe that Oswald decided to kill the President just so that he could achieve a place in the history books as somebody's dupe? As just a pawn in someone else's scheme? Why would he not want to take credit for his “great deed”? Bugliosi struggles mightily with this question. He weakly suggests that Oswald's “conduct after the shooting” shows that he wanted to escape and then “disclose his identity on his own terms and at a time and place he, not the authorities, chose, such as in Cuba or Russia.” But Oswald's movements after the assassination suggest no such thing. When he returned to his rooming house he did not pick up his passport or pack a bag or do anything that suggested he was planning on leaving the country. Not only that but, once he was in custody, Oswald would have had to have known that he was not going to get away and that there was going to be no opportunity to dictate his own terms or choose his own place in which to confess. Right then and there, with the spotlight of the world's media shining directly on him, would have been the perfect time and place for Oswald to get recognition if he so desired it. Instead he denied shooting Kennedy quite literally to his dying breath.
Thursday, 4 September 2014
The Single Bullet Theory
It is hard to believe that 50 years after it was first conceived we are still discussing something as ridiculous and ill-supported as the Single Bullet Theory. If not for the fact that it has been endorsed by so many socially constructive government panels it may well have been consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs decades ago. But Warren Commission apologists will simply not let it die because they know that to admit to the obvious fallacy of the SBT is to admit to a conspiracy. As former Warren commission lawyer Norman Redlich commented to author Edward Epstein, “To say that they [President Kennedy and Governor Connally] were hit by separate bullets, is synonymous with saying that there were two assassins.” (Epstein, Inquest, p. 38) It is no surprise, then, that Reitzes makes a stab at defending the theory. But make no mistake, he does so in spite of the evidence. Because the SBT is challengeable on every level, from the trajectories involved, to the nature of the wounds, to the condition and provenance of the bullet itself. There is not one facet of the SBT that holds up to scrutiny.
It has long been accepted that Commission lawyer Arlen Specter, a man with no medical or ballistics training, was the “father” of the SBT. But hoping to lend it some legitimacy, Reitzes claims that it was actually JFK's pathologist Dr. Humes “who first voiced the possibility that JFK and Governor Connally had been struck by the same bullet.” Let's be very clear about this: The SBT holds that a bullet (dubbed Commission Exhibit 399) entered JFK’s back heading downwards and leftwards. Hitting no bony structures it exited his body from an anatomically higher position, just below the Adam’s apple, then somehow struck Connally under his right armpit. It sailed along Connally’s fifth rib, smashing four inches of it, before exiting his chest below the right nipple and pulverizing the radius of his right wrist. It then entered his left thigh just above the knee, depositing a fragment on the femur, before miraculously popping back out to be found in near-pristine condition on an unattended stretcher in Parkland Hospital. That is the SBT and, despite the impression Reitzes attempts to convey, Humes neither suggested nor endorsed it.
At Specter's prompting, Humes did raise the “possibility” that one bullet had passed through the torsos of both men. However, he considered it “extremely unlikely” that the same bullet had also caused the wounds to Connally's wrist and thigh. The report from Parkland Hospital noted that “small bits of metal were encountered at various levels throughout” Connally's wrist wound as well as in his thigh. Looking at CE399, Humes noted, “this missile is basically intact; its jacket appears to me to be intact, and I do not understand how it could possibly have left fragments in either of these locations.” He suggested that a separate bullet had been responsible for these two wounds. (2H375-76) Humes' colleague, Dr. Finck, concurred. Asked if CE399 could have “inflicted the wound on Governor Connally's right wrist” Finck said, “No; for the reason that there are too many fragments described in that wrist.” (Ibid, 382) Connally's wrist surgeon, Dr. Charles Gregory—who also did not believe the SBT—testified that the amount of debris carried into the wound suggested "that an iregular missile had passed through the wrist". (6H98) Dr. Gregory pointed to the two mangled fragments found on the floor of the limousine as being likely culprits. (5H127-28)
Nonetheless, Reitzes assures his readers that the trajectory analysis of "an actual rocket scientist" and "meticulous reconstructions of the shooting...have confirmed again and again the plausibility, if not certainty, of the single bullet theory". He finishes his discussion of the SBT with the following quote from Vincent Bugliosi: “‘the single-bullet theory’ is an obvious misnomer. Though in its incipient stages it was but a theory, the indisputable evidence is that it is now a proven fact, a wholly supported conclusion.” There are numerous hyperbolic statements in Bugliosi's tedious and bloated tome but this is one of the most ridiculous. In fact it may be one of the silliest claims found anywhere in the JFK literature. In point of fact, the SBT barely meets the requirements necessary to be considered a viable theory. Why? Because it is based on a number of entirely unproven and highly contradicted assumptions.
Firstly, there is the location of Kennedy's back wound. Because a bullet fired from the sixth floor of the depository building would have been travelling at a downward angle of apprxomiately 20 degrees, for the SBT to work, the back wound had to have been considerably higher than the hole in the throat. But as crazy as it seems, five decades after the assassination, we still do not know the precise location of this wound. In large part this is due to the faliure of the autopsy doctors to record its position according to fixed anatomical landmarks. The autopsy report states that the "7 x4 mm oval wound" was "14 cm from the tip of the right acromion process and 14 cm below the tip of the right mastoid process." But as the HSCA pathology panel noted, the mastoid process and the acromion "are moveable points and should not have been used." (7HSCA17) A more precise way to record the location of the back wound would have been with respect to the thoracic vertebrae. This was, in fact, done but not by the autopsy doctors.
The official death certificate prepared and signed by Kennedy's personal physician, Dr. George Burkley—who was present at both Parkland Hospital during the attempts to save the President's life and at Bethesda Naval Hospital for the autopsy—states that the wound of "the posterior back" was situated "at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra" which is typically 4 to 6 inches below the shirt collar. This location is fully supported by the bullet holes in Kennedy's shirt and jacket, which are approximately 5.5 inches below the top of the collar, (7HSCA83) and by the autopsy descriptive sheet prepared by the autopsy surgeons. (ARRB MD1) However, it must be admitted that Burkley's wording, "about the level of", is not precise and the clothing could have ridden up Kennedy's back somewhat during the shooting.
The Warren Commission could and should have tried to clear this matter up but instead it added to the confusion. The transcript of the Commission's January 27, 1964, executive session reveals that it had the autopsy photos at its disposal and was fully aware that Kennedy's rear wound was below the shoulder. Nonetheless, in order to make the SBT more palatable, the Commission wrote with deliberately misleading language that the bullet had "entered the base of the back of his neck" (WR2). It then kept the troublesome autopsy photos out of the report and accompanyng volumes and instead presented another of its deceptive drawings which showed a bullet hole above the shoulder (CE386)—far above where the Commission knew it to be.
A decade and a half later, following its review of the autopsy materials, the HSCA forensic pathology panel suggested that the bullet had entered at the approximate level of the first thoracic vertebra (T1). Although this location has been generally accepted by proponents of the SBT, it is far from proven. The HSCA panel admitted that it was not possible to determine "the exact entrance point" from the available evidence (7HSCA87) but largely based its conclusion on two factors: Interstitial emphysema (a pocket of air) overlying T1, and a fracture of the transverse process of T1. (Ibid, 93) However, the panel explained that although the "air in the soft tissues" could have been caused by the passage of a bullet, it was just as likely a result of the tracheotomy performed at Parkland Hospital. (Ibid) As for the alleged fracture of the transverve process, Dr. Baden only said in his testimony that it could have been caused by a bullet strike. "...we cannot be certain of that," he admitted. (1HSCA305) Additionally, it seems that there is some disagreement as to the very existence of the fracture as one of the panel's consultant radiologists, Dr. William Seaman, told the panel that to him, "the transverse process appears normal..." (7HSCA99)
The available evidence simply does not allow us to pinpoint exactly where the bullet entered the President's back. When the three autopsy doctors gave depositions for the Assassination Records Review Board, both Humes and Finck refused to be pinned down on this issue. Dr. Boswell, however, at least tried to be a little more helpful. "Well, it's certainly not as low as T4", he said. "I would say at the lowest it might be T2. I would say around T2." (Boswell deposition, p. 155) But this again is just an estimate. It seems that the best that can be said is that the wound was somewhere between T1 and T3.
As previously noted, most single bullet theorists accept the HSCA's T1 hypothesis. But even this assumed entrance location is problematic for the SBT since it is anatomically lower than the hole in the throat. Looking to endorse the SBT, the pathology panel suggested that the theory was still possible but that JFK had to be leaning significantly forward at the moment he was struck. The necessity of the forward lean was confirmed by two of the "meticulous reconstructions" Reitzes alluded to. One of these, utilizing lasers, dummies, and the Presidential limousine, was undertaken in 1998 for the TV special, The Secret KGB JFK Assassination Files. In order to get a trajectory through the body that pointed back to the sixth floor, the show's participants had to bend the JFK dummy markedly forward.
The second of these reconstructions was conducted for the 2004 Discovery Channel show, JFK: Beyond the Magic Bullet. The Discovery Channel shot a rifle from a crane set at the height of the sixth floor window into specially made torsos that were placed in normal, upright seated positions. The bullet entered the upper back of the Kennedy torso just below the shoulder and exited through the upper chest—completely missing the throat. Thus, these real-world experiments demonstrated that the forward lean is absolutely integral to the SBT. The problem is that the Zapruder film shows President Kennedy in the moments before and immediately after he was shot and at all times he is sitting upright.
SBT proponents, therefore, must assume that Kennedy adopted the necessary pose during the tiny 0.9 second interval that he was hidden from Zapruder's view by the Stemmons Freeway sign. Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht rightly ridiculed this notion in his HSCA testimony: "I just think it is important for the record to reflect upon the fact that what presumably they are asking us to speculate upon is that in that 0.9 second interval, the President bent down to tie his shoelace or fix his sock, he was then shot and then sat back up...I would suggest that is a movement that the most skilled athlete, knowing what he is going to do, could not perform in that period of time." (1HSCA339)
On top of assuming that the back wound was at T1, and that Kennedy was leaning forward when shot, it must also be assumed that the throat wound was an exit for the bullet which entered the back. This has also never been established. As noted in part one of this critique, all of the doctors at Parkland Hospital believed the wound looked more like an entrance than an exit and described it as small, round and neat. Dr. Perry told Dr. Humes that it measured only 3-5 mm and Dr. Carrico recalled that it had "no jagged edges or stellate lacerations." In tests performed for the Commission at Edgewood Arsenal using the very rifle and ammunition Oswald is alleged to have used, Dr. Alfred Olivier fired numerous rounds through blocks of gelatin, horsemeat, and goatmeat with skin and clothing attached. At a distance of 60 yards, which was the approximate distance from the sixth floor window to Kennedy's back at Zapruder frame 224, typical exit wounds were elongated and measured 10-15 mm (5H77, 17H846)—twice the size or more than the wound in Kennedy's throat.
More importantly, no pathway between the two wounds was observed at autopsy. On the contrary, physical probing of the wound led the prosectors to conclude that the back wound was shallow with no point of exit. FBI agents James Sibert and Francis O'Neil were present for the entire autopsy and filed a report of their observations. The report states: "During the latter stages of the autopsy, Dr. Humes located an opening which appeared to be a bullet hole which was below the shoulders and two inches to the right of the middle line of the spinal column. This opening was probed by Dr. Humes with the finger, at which time it was determined that the trajectory of the missile entering at this point had entered at a downward position of 45 to 60 degrees. Further probing determined that the distance travelled by this missile was a short distance inasmuch as the end of the opening could be felt with the finger." (AARB MD44) Further inspection of the wound was carried out with the use of a surgical probe as Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman explained in his Warren Commission testimony: “There were three gentlemen who were performing the autopsy. A colonel Finck—during the examination of the President, from the hole that was in his shoulder, and with a probe, and we were standing alongside of him, he is probing inside the shoulder with his instrument and I said, ‘Colonel, where did it go?’ He said, ‘There are no lanes for an outlet of this entry in this man’s shoulder.’” (2H93)
Bethesda laboratory technician James Curtis Jenkins recalled that the back wound was “very shallow…it didn’t enter the peritoneal (chest) cavity.” He remembered the doctors extensively probing the wound with a metal probe, “approximately eight inches long”, and that it was only able to go in at a “...fairly drastic downward angle so as not to enter the cavity.” (MD65) Jenkins also recalled in an interview with David Lifton that the doctors continued to probe the wound after the chest was opened and the organs removed. At that time he could “see the probe…through the pleura [the lining of the chest cavity]…where it was pushing the skin up…There was no entry in the chest cavity…it would have been no way that that could have exited in front because it was then low in the chest cavity…somewhere around the junction of the descending aorta [the main artery carrying blood from the heart].” (Lifton, Best Evidence, p. 713)
Jenkins' colleague, Paul O'Connor, concurred. In an interview for the HSCA, O'Connor said that “it did not seem” to him “that the doctors ever considered the possibility that the bullet had exited through the front of the neck.” (MD64) He later told author William Law: “…another thing, we found out, while the autopsy was proceeding, that he was shot from a high building, which meant the bullet had to be traveling in a downward trajectory and we also realized that this bullet—that hit him in the back—is what we called in the military a ‘short shot,’ which means that the powder in the bullet was defective so it didn’t have the power to push the projectile—the bullet—clear through the body. If it had been a full shot at the angle he was shot, it would have come out through his heart and through his sternum.” (Law, In the Eye of History, p. 41)
In 1973, pathology professor John Nichols, MD, Ph.D., suggested that a straight-line from the back wound to the throat wound would have had to have to passed directly through the hard bone of the spine. In 1998, radiologist Dr. David Mantik provided striking confirmation of Nichols' conclusion using a cross-sectional CAT scan of a patient with approximately the same upper body dimensions as President Kennedy. Mantik added the proposed entrance and exit points to the CAT scan and demonstrated that a straight-line from one to the other had to intercept the spine. Any bullet taking this path through Kennedy's torso would have been severely deformed and the spine would have been shattered. And yet there had been no major trauma to Kennedy's spine and CE399 is in the same near-pristine condition as test bullets fired into water.
To recap, the SBT assumes that the back wound was at T1 but there is evidence that it was considerably lower. It assumes that President Kennedy was leaning significantly forward when he was struck even though the Zapruder film shows no such thing. And it assumes that the throat wound was an exit for the bullet which entered the back when no such thing was established at autopsy, the only physical examination ever conducted contradicts the idea, and medical evidence strongly suggests that such a path through the body was not possible. The reader will notice that all of these assumptions have to do with the wounds to President Kennedy which is just one section of CE399's supposed journey. There are numerous other problems with the bullet's magical voyage but to highlight them all now would be simply flogging a dead horse. The point has been made: The SBT is not built upon proven facts but upon a series of unproven assumptions that are not borne out by closer examination of the evidence. The SBT, therefore, is not even remotely close to being considered a “proven fact” and no honest person would make or repeat such a claim.
Saturday, 9 August 2014
After spending a few paragraphs dismissing—to his own satisfaction if nobody else's—usual suspects like the Mafia and the CIA, Reitzes turns his attention to Lee Harvey Oswald. “How do we navigate a path through the complex morass of claims, speculation, rumors, and confusion...?” He asks. “We use critical thinking tools to discern the most reliable evidence” he answers, right before demonstrating that he has no idea what either critical thinking or reliable evidence actually means.
Reitzes writes that immediately after the shooting “eyewitnesses directed police” to the depository building and the Knoll. In point of fact, many officers made their own way to the Knoll having either made up their own mind about the source of the shots or having been ordered to do so by Police Chief Jesse Curry and Sheriff Bill Decker. (see 21H390-91) Reitzes then makes a point of noting that “no one had actually seen a gunman” behind the fence—again failing to mention the previously discussed smoke consistent with a rifle discharge—and that a search of the area turned up “no suspect, no weapon, no spent shells, and no other evidence of a crime.” This is all undeniably true but, once again, does not tell the full story.
Firstly, it is hardly surprising that officers did not encounter a man standing with smoking gun in hand waiting to be caught. And since the acoustics indicates that if there was a Knoll gunman he only fired a single shot, picking up one shell and taking it with him would hardly have been a taxing exercise. Secondly, and more importantly, officers did encounter a still unidentified man who was brandishing fake Secret Service credentials before he disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. We know the ID was fake because there were no Secret Service Agents in the area, having all accompanied the motorcade to Parkland Hospital. (5HSCA589) Commission apologists like Vincent Bugliosi have tried to explain this away by claiming that Dallas policeman Joe Marshall Smith, who confronted the fake agent, was mistaken and probably just “assumed” the man showed him Secret Service ID. (Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, p. 865) But this ignores what Smith himself told author Anthony Summers: “The man, this character, produces credentials from his hip pocket which showed him to be Secret Service. I have seen those credentials before, and they satisfied me and the deputy sheriff.” [my emphasis] (Summers, Conspiracy, p. 36-37) So the very real possibility exists that this man with the fake ID was, if not a gunman himself, an accomplice who helped one to escape. And the fact that, after all these years, no one has ever come forward to identify himself and explain who he was and what he was doing up on the Knoll with Secret Service credentials supports that contention.
Although Smith later noted that the man's appearance “didn't ring true for the Secret Service” and came to believe that he “should have checked that man closer”, (Ibid) on the day of the assassination officers were unaware that no genuine agents were in the area so they saw no reason to treat him with suspicion. It is understandable, then, that they soon came to concentrate their efforts on the Texas School Book Depository where a man with a rifle had indeed been spotted. Inside the building they found an old, bolt-action, Mannlicher Carcano rifle and three spent shells. According to Reitzes “Documentary evidence...established that the weapon had been purchased through the mail under an assumed name by Lee Harvey Oswald...” This is not nearly the clear-cut issue he makes it out to be but rather than waste time on the details here, I will instead refer the reader to chapter 4 of Jim DiEugenio's excellent book, Reclaiming Parkland. For the sake of argument let us accept the premise that Oswald did indeed mail-order the rifle found on the sixth floor of the depository building. That in itself raises some intriguing questions.
Oswald had never shown much of an interest in guns. His brother Robert testified to the Warren Commission that he had only ever known Lee “to own but one firearm in his life” which was a small, .22 caliber rifle that he owned briefly as a teenager before selling it to Robert for $10. (1H397) His buddy in the Marines, Nelson Delgado, recalled that Oswald was often getting in trouble for failing to clean and take care of his weapon and “didn't give a darn” about keeping up his rifle practice. (8H235) And when he was living in Russia Oswald apparently joined a hunting club but, as his wife Marina told the Secret Service, “he never attended any meetings.” The only reason he had joined the club is because it entitled him to “free transportation in an automobile which enabled him to go out of town.” (CD344, p. 22) It is quite clear that throughout his life guns had held no special fascination for Oswald. So why, in early 1963, would he suddenly decide to purchase a rifle from Klein's Sporting Goods, of Chicago, and a pistol from Seaport Traders, of Los Angeles? This mail-order purchase, made using a false name, seems all the more bizarre in light of the fact that, at the time, he was living in Texas where it was easy to obtain firearms over the counter without leaving a long paper trail.
The above oddities leave open the possibility that, if Oswald actually did purchase those weapons, he did so at somebody else's suggestion or request. It is known that at the very time Oswald allegedly placed his orders, a Senate Subcommittee led by Senator Thomas Dodd was investigating the availability of firearms through the mail and both Klein's and Seaport had been named as companies involved in illegal practices. (Alex Cox, The President and the Provocateur, p. 127) Whether or not there is any connection between the activities of the Dodd Committee and Oswald's alleged decision to break the law by mail ordering two weapons under a false name is unknown. However, it is curious to note that Oswald also “defected” to Russia during the period of time that the CIA was running a fake defector program, and launched a one-man FPCC chapter that ended up embarrassing the organization at the same time the FBI and CIA were conducting their own anti-FPCC campaigns. Perhaps these are all coincidences. Then again, perhaps not.
Regardless, the central question is not why (or indeed if) Oswald purchased the rifle but whether or not he had it in his hands at 12:30 pm on November 22, 1963. Even by the official account, it was certainly not in his possession in the two months leading up to the assassination when it was allegedly sitting in the garage of Ruth Paine—although nobody actually saw it there. Reitzes writes matter-of-factly and without elaboration that “Oswald's palm print was found on the weapon”. But Reitzes knows that this claim is hotly contested. And with very good reason. The print was supposedly found on the underside of the barrel by Dallas police lieutenant J.C. Day on the evening of November 22, 1963. But when FBI fingerprint expert Sebastian Latona carefully inspected the entire rifle a few hours later he found “no latent prints of value” anywhere on it. (4H23) It was not until after Oswald was dead at the hands of Jack Ruby that the Dallas police suddenly announced they had found his print on the rifle. Lt. Day claimed that he had “lifted” the print before sending the rifle to the FBI but could never adequately explain why he had failed to inform the Bureau of his discovery when he handed the evidence over. Nor could he explain why he failed to photograph the print before it was “lifted” in accordance with proper procedure. To make matters worse, Day later declined “to make a written signed statement” when the Bureau asked. (26H829)
An FBI memo that was suppressed until 1978 reveals that even the Warren Commission was dubious of Day's claims. The memo dated August 28, 1964, states: “[Warren commission general counsel J. Lee] Rankin advised because of the circumstances that now exist there was a serious concern in the minds of the commission as to whether or not the palm impression that has been obtained from the Dallas Police Department is a legitimate latent palm impression removed from the rifle barrel or whether it was obtained from some other source and that for this reason this matter needs to be resolved.” FBI Special Agent Vincent Drain, who had collected the evidence from the Dallas police on November 22, 1963, was also highly skeptical when he was interviewed by author Henry Hurt in 1984: “'I just don't believe there ever was a print,' said Drain. He noted that there was increasing pressure on the Dallas police to build evidence in the case. Asked to explain what might have happened, Agent Drain stated, 'All I can figure is that it [Oswald's print] was some sort of cushion, because they were getting a lot of heat by Sunday night. You could take the print off Oswald's card and put it on the rifle. Something like that happened.'" (Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 109)
With the above in mind one has to ask, is this really Reitzes' idea of “the most reliable evidence”? Quite obviously, had Oswald lived to face trial, any defense lawyer worth his salt would surely have argued that the palm print should be thrown out for lack of proof. And were it actually admitted, it would most certainly have become the focus of his appeal. But even if we choose to take Lt. Day at his word and accept the print as genuine, it still does not place the rifle in Oswald's hands at the time of the assassination. Why? Because Day would only say it was an “old dry print” that “had been on the gun several weeks or months”, (26H831; Summers, p. 54) a detail which Reitzes and his fellow anti-conspiracy buffs never fail to omit.
Reitzes goes from bad to worse when he writes that in addition to the palm print, “fingerprints lifted from the trigger housing were later determined to be” Oswald's. Which, quite frankly, is just nonsense. The partial prints in question were discovered by Lt. Day who could not identify them as belonging to Oswald. As he told the Warren Commission, “...in fingerprinting it either is or is not the man. So I wouldn't say those were his prints...from what I had I could not make a positive identification as being his prints.” (4H262) The prints were then examined by the FBI's Sebastian Latona who also judged them to be “of no value”. (4H21) Another FBI expert, Ronald Wittmus, agreed with Latona's assessment. (7H590) 15 years later, yet another expert examined the prints on behalf of the HSCA and once again they were said to be “of no value for identification purposes.” (8HSCA248) And in 2003, researcher James K. Olmstead reported that a new analysis had been conducted using the FBI laboratory computer software. The computer had failed to find a match. (Thomas, p. 85)
So where does Reitzes get his claim that the prints were “determined to be Oswald's”? Well, if you can believe it, from a TV show. In 1993, the producers of the PBS documentary Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? asked two experts to review the fingerprint evidence. The first, former head of the FBI's latent print section, George Bonebrake, reached the same conclusion as every expert who came before him and stated that the prints were “simply not clear enough to make an identification”. The second, Vincent J. Scalice, claimed that not only had he positively matched the prints, but he had found 18 points of identity! At this point, the real skeptics and critical thinkers out there might well be wondering how it was that Scalice was able to see what no other expert could see. And they might find it all the more bizarre to learn that one of opinions he was disagreeing with was, in fact, his own since he was the very same expert who had told the HSCA that the prints were “of no value for identification purposes”.
So what had changed between 1978 and 1993? Well, nothing. Scalice claimed that he was able to reach his conclusion after carrying out various enhancements on the photographs that Lt. Day took of the prints on the evening of November 22, 1963. But unlike Scalice, Day and the FBI experts were not just working with photographs, they were working with the rifle and the actual latent prints when they concluded that they were “insufficient” for identification. And no amount of enhancement, no matter how sophisticated, can bring out more detail in the photographs than was visible on the actual prints. Scalice's claim is simply not worthy of serious consideration and not surprisingly, neither PBS nor Scalice has ever made available a chart displaying his alleged 18 match points so that they can be corroborated or refuted by independent experts. It hardly needs pointing out that by no stretch of the imagination was Reitzes using “critical thinking tools to discern the best evidence” when he cherry-picked Scalice's unsupported and highly contradicted “determination” over that of all the other experts. That he presented this malarkey to readers as if it were established fact is blatant dishonesty.
Having utterly failed to put Oswald in the depository building with a rifle in his hands, Reitzes next seeks to establish that all of the shots were fired from the sixth floor window. “The autopsy of the President...” he writes, “confirmed that the shots had come from above and behind the limousine, not the grassy knoll.” This, of course, was the rushed and incomplete autopsy—performed by inexperienced and under qualified prosectors—that former president of the American Academy of Forensic Science, Dr. Cyril Wecht, described as “a botched autopsy, a terrible piece of medicolegal investigation.” (Wecht, Cause of Death, p. 23) This does not worry Reitzes who claims that “Later reviews of the autopsy photographs and X-rays by panels of forensic experts appointed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark in 1968, the Rockefeller Commission in 1975, and the HSCA in 1978 affirmed the conclusions of the autopsy report.” But once again Reitzes is not telling the whole truth.
The first group of experts to “review” the autopsy materials—the “Clark Panel”—was convened by Attorney General Ramsey Clark in 1968 after he read the proofs of the not yet published book, Six Seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson. In the book, Thompson used the Zapruder film, the autopsy report, and the testimony of both the Parkland and Bethesda physicians to make a case for two shots striking President Kennedy's head almost simultaneously; one from the rear and one from the Knoll. He also highlighted a seeming trajectory problem that had gone ignored by the Warren Commission. In their report, the autopsy doctors described an entry wound low down in the back of the skull, “2.5 centimeters to the right, and slightly above the external occipital protuberance.” To illustrate the trajectory the bullet took through JFK's head, the Warren Commission published a drawing prepared according to Humes' verbal descriptions by Naval artist Harold Rydberg. This illustration showed Kennedy with his head tilted significantly forward as if looking at the floor of the limousine. The problem, as Thompson demonstrated, was that at frame 313 of the Zaprduer film the position of Kennedy's head was nothing like that shown in the Rydberg drawing. When the head was placed in the correct position it became clear that the bullet, supposedly travelling downwards from the sixth floor window at an angle approaching 16 degrees, would have had to have taken a steeply upward trajectory through the skull.
Maryland Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Fisher, who led the Clark Panel, later admitted in an interview for the March, 1977, Maryland State Medical Journal that the Attorney General was so “concerned” by what he had read in the proofs that he created the panel “partly to refute some of the junk that was in [Thompson's] book”. Clearly, if Fisher and his colleagues were being told what they had to “refute”, then they were never tasked with an honest and objective assessment of the autopsy materials. And they never made one. They did, however, deliver as promised and found a creative solution to the apparent trajectory problem by moving the entry wound four inches up the skull! Quite obviously, the Clark panel claiming the autopsy doctors were completely wrong about where the bullet entered the skull stands in stark contradiction to Reitzes' claim that the panel's review “affirmed the conclusions of the autopsy report.”
In truth, as Dr. Wecht and others have pointed out, Kennedy's autopsy doctors did make many errors. However, it strains credulity to suggest that mistaking the top of the skull for the bottom was one of them. Even if one wants to argue that the three doctors were so utterly incompetent that they were unable to do what a child could do, there were at least four independent eyewitnesses who recalled seeing the entry wound and fully corroborated them. Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman, FBI Agent Francis O'Neil, Richard Lipsey (aide to U.S. Army General Wehle), and Bethesda photographer John Stringer all placed the wound low down in the back of the skull. Conversely, not a single witness recalled seeing an entrance in the top of the head where the Clark Panel claimed it was. In the years since, a number of experts including neuroscientist Dr. Joseph Riley, radiologist Dr. Randy Robertson, and pathologist Dr. Peter Cummings, have independently identified the same defect on the right lateral skull X-ray as being the entrance hole. And this defect sits to the right and slightly above the EOP—precisely where Humes said the entrance wound was. The Clark Panel's decision to move the wound upwards clearly had nothing to do with what the evidence showed and everything to do with “refuting” Josiah Thompson.
The next socially constructive assessment of the medical evidence was conducted on behalf of the Rockefeller Commission which had as its Executive Director none other than former Warren Commission lawyer David Belin. The make-up of the medical panel leaves no doubt about its loyalties or the pre-ordained nature of its conclusions. Dr. Werner Spitz and Dr. Richard Lindenberg were both close professional associates of Dr. Russell Fisher, having worked under him at the Maryland State Medical Examiner's Office. Dr. Fred Hodges worked alongside Clark Panel radiologist Russell Morgan MD at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Pathologist Lt. Col. Robert R. McMeeken was a colleague of one of Kennedy's autopsy surgeons, Dr. Pierre Finck, at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. And Dr. Alfred Olivier had previously served as the ballistics expert for the Warren Commission. (Gary Aguilar, How Five Investigations into JFK's Medical/Autopsy Evidence Got it Wrong, Part IV) Is it any wonder that this particular group of individuals rubber-stamped the Clark Panel's report? Not hardly. As Dr. Cyril Wecht noted in a telephone conversation with Rockefeller Commission Senior Counsel Robert Olsen, given their strong ties to the government and especially to Dr. Russell Fisher, “it was wholly unrealistic to expect that anybody on this panel would express views different from those expressed by the Ramsey Clark Panel in 1968...” (Olsen, memo to file, April 19, 1975) Later, in a public press release, Dr. Wecht—alongside Professor of Criminalistics, Herbert MacDonell, and President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Dr. Robert Joling—charged that the Commission had “set up a panel of governmental sycophants to defend the Warren Report.” (Aguilar, Op. cit.)
The trend continued with the HSCA forensic pathology panel which included Rockefeller medical expert and close Fisher associate, Dr. Werner Spitz, as well as Dr. Charles Petty who had spent nine years under Fisher at the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office. (Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death, p. 13) In fact, according to researcher Pat Speer, “of the nine pathologists on the HSCA panel, six had embraced a professional relationship with Dr. Russell Fisher...” The HSCA panel was chaired by Dr. Michael Baden who had contributed to Spitz and Fisher's book, Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Baden is himself a controversial figure. He was Chief Medical Examiner for the city of New York from 1978 until 1979 when he was dismissed for his “inability to work within the system.” (The New York Times, June 26, 1982) In 1995, in exchange for more than $100,000, he took the stand in defense of O.J. Simpson, claiming that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were killed by multiple assailants using multiple weapons. (Ibid, August 11, 1995) In 2007, he testified on behalf of the defense in the trial of legendary pop music producer, Phil Spector. Baden's wife, Linda Kenney Baden, just happened to be Spector's trial counsel. As Journalist Jonathan Turley noted, “...it was fair game for the Spector prosecutors to challenge the objectivity of forensic pathologist Michael Baden...and the prosecution scored points on the issue, particularly after Michael Baden said he could not define a 'conflict of interest' and prosecutors asked if he would end up 'sleeping on the couch' if his testimony did not favour Spector's case.” (L.A. Times, September 11, 2007)
In his book Dead Reckoning, Baden wrote that "Physicians may be the worst witnesses. They are often swayed by whoever asked them to be an expert. If that lawyer is smart enough to ask their advice, they conclude, he must know what he is doing. That being the case, physicians therefore adopt whatever the lawyer tells them as the facts of the case and become, if only subconsciously, an advocate for the lawyer rather than an independent adviser." (Baden, p. 89) This is certainly true of Baden himself. According to original HSCA Deputy Chief Counsel Robert Tanenbaum, when the committee was being led by dedicated truth seeker Richard Sprague, Dr. Baden was saying that there had been a conspiracy with shots coming from the right front. (see this video) But when the leadership changed so too did Baden's expert opinion.
Once Baden had decided to back the official story, he and the rest of the Fisher-influenced panel members went to work denigrating the autopsy surgeons and affirming the Clark Panel Report. In spite of the evidence to the contrary, Baden was determined to prove that the rear entry wound was in the top of the skull where Fisher claimed it was and not the bottom where the autopsy doctors had observed it. The HSCA panel claimed that the autopsy photographs of the back of Kennedy's head showed a “red spot” high in the rear and that this was the wound of entrance. But when the panel tried to impress this on the autopsy surgeons—the men who had inspected the actual wounds on the body—its interpretation was firmly rejected. Referring to the “red spot”, Dr. Humes stated, “I don’t know what that is...I can assure you that as we reflected the scalp to get to this point, there was no defect corresponding to this in the skull at any point. I don’t know what that is. It could be to me clotted blood. I don’t, I just don’t know what it is, but it certainly was not any wound of entrance.” (7HSCA254) Rather than accept that Humes may have had some idea what he was talking about, the HSCA pressured him to change his testimony.
When it came time to illustrate the entry wound, the HSCA did not publish the autopsy photo of the back of the head. Instead they presented a lifelike drawing of the photo prepared by professional medical illustrator Ida Dox. The difference between the photo and the drawing is that in the drawing the “red spot” has been greatly accentuated to look more like a bullet wound. At a JFK conference in 2003, Dr. Randy Robertson presented a stunning document from the newly declassified HSCA files. It was a note from Baden to Dox that said “Ida, you can do much better.” Attached to the note was a picture of a typical entrance wound from Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death. In other words, Baden was actually instructing her to make the red spot look more like an entrance wound than it really did in the photographs. Which just goes to show the lengths Baden was willing to go to in order to push the Clark Panel's more lone assassin friendly revision of the head wound.
There is another extremely important point that needs to be made when discussing these latter day reviews of the medical evidence. Even if the HSCA pathology panel had not been stacked with Russell Fisher acolytes and experts for hire like Dr. Baden, it would still have been hampered by the fact that crucial autopsy materials had long since “disappeared” from the archive. Photographs showing the interior of the chest and skull, microscopic tissue slides, Kodachrome slides of the interior of the chest, and even the President's brain were all among the items that were mysteriously missing by the time the HSCA came to inspect the evidence. Is it not reasonable to suggest that in order to make an accurate determination about the number and direction of bullets striking JFK it is important to have all the relevant evidence? Dr. Cyril Wecht, the HSCA panel's lone dissenting member, certainly believed so.
Dr. Wecht criticized his colleagues for engaging in “semantical sophistry and intellectual gymnastics”, for being “slavishly dedicated to defending the Warren Report”, and noted a “preconceived bias and professionally injudicious attitude vis-a-vis this case.” (7HSCA209-11) In his testimony before the committee, Wecht was asked why he felt his colleagues had taken the position they had. Apparently with the allegiances to Russell Fisher in mind, he responded, “There are some things involving some present and former professional relationships and things between some of them, and some people who have served on previous panels.” (1HSCA354) Years later he added that “many of these same people had a long-standing involvement with the federal government—many had received federal grants for research and appointments to various influential government boards. To be highly critical of a government action could end that friendly relationship with Uncle Sam.” (Wecht, p. 43-44) Indeed, it is not normally considered a sensible course of action to bite the hand that feeds.
Reitzes may pretend or even wish to believe otherwise but scientists do not operate in a vacuum. As Don Thomas writes, “science is a social process and...scientific conclusions are in fact, social constructs. The consequences of the results, as much if not more than the empirical evidence itself, will often steer the scientist to one conclusion over the other.” (Thomas, p. 8) The reports of the Clark, Rockefeller, and HSCA panels are the perfect example of what happens when genuine experts allow political considerations, as well as personal and professional biases, to cloud their judgement and dictate their conclusions.
Thursday, 24 July 2014
Shots in the Dark
The Dallas Police dictabelt recording, previously mentioned in part two of this critique, is the only piece of evidence that has ever changed the way the Kennedy assassination has been reported by officialdom; albeit for all too brief a time. The way Reitzes chooses to cover this particular topic is revealing to say the least. It certainly makes a mockery of Skeptic's claim that it promotes science and critical thinking since these two things are notable only by their absence. For those who are new to the subject, the dictabelt is an audio recording of Dallas police radio transmissions made at the time of the assassination by a police motorcycle officer who's microphone had become stuck in the 'on' position. It was brought to the attention of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s by researchers Mary Ferrell and Gary Mack.
As Reitzes describes it, the HSCA “endorsed the findings of a computer science professor and his assistant, indicating that a shot had indeed been fired from the grassy knoll.” This description of the committee's experts is laughably inept, incomplete, and clearly intended to downplay their expertise. Analysis of the acoustics data was, in actual fact, undertaken by two independent teams of scientists who were at the very top of their profession. To find someone with the requisite qualifications to conduct an analysis of the tape, the HSCA asked the Acoustical Society of America for a short list of leading experts in the field. Top of the list was the Cambridge, Massachusetts, firm of Bolt, Baranek and Newman. As the HSCA reported, BBN “specializes in acoustical analysis and performs such work as locating submarines by analyzing underwater sound impulses. It pioneered the technique of using sound recordings to determine the timing and direction of gunfire in an analysis of a tape that was recorded during the shootings at Kent State University in 1970.” (HSCA report, p. 67)
The second team of experts recommended by the ASA was that of Mark Weiss and Ernest Aschkenasy of Queens College, New York. As well as being involved in various acoustical projects such as the examination of the Watergate tapes, (Ibid, p. 69) Weiss and Aschkenasy wrote computer programs for processing acoustical data for military applications. For example, a submarine navigates by bouncing sounds of its environment and the on-board computer is able to factor in and adjust for important elements like the vessel's speed and the water temperature which varies with latitude. Weiss and Aschkenasy wrote those software programs for the U.S. Navy. (Thomas, p. 594) They were genuine, proven and trusted acoustical experts, something one would not realise from reading Reitzes' facile characterization.
In his typically misinformed manner, Reitzes writes that the dictabelt “contained no audible sounds of gunfire”, which is factually incorrect. It is not that the sounds are inaudible but that they are mixed in with other white noises making them indiscernible to the human ear. BBN chief scientist, Dr. James Barger, and his colleagues discovered six impulses on the tape occurring at approximately 12:30 pm (the time of the assassination) that it was believed could be gunfire. On-site testing was then conducted in Dealey Plaza with microphones being placed along the parade route on Houston and Elm Streets. Test shots were then fired from the Texas School Book Depository and the Grassy Knoll and recorded at each of the microphones. BBN found that five of the suspect impulses on the dictabelt acoustically matched the echo patterns of tests shots fired in the plaza, the fourth in sequence matching a shot fired from the Knoll. (8HSCA101) However, at that point in time, Barger could only attach a statistical probability rating of 50% to the matching of the Knoll shot. (HSCA report, p. 72)
The HSCA then turned to Weiss and Aschkenasy, asking if they could move that 50-50 probability off center, one way or the other. The sonar experts refined BBN's analysis using, as Dr. Weiss testified, “fundamental things in acoustics...basic well-tested, well-established principles” (5HSCA558) and were able to reduce the margin of error from six one-thousandths of a second to one one-thousandths of a second. Thus, after more than two months of calculations, they were able to move the probability of a Grassy Knoll gunshot from 50 to “95 percent or better”. (Ibid, 556) Dr. Barger and his colleagues at BBN then reviewed the work of Weiss and Aschkenasy, making their own independent calculations, and agreed that “the likelihood of there having been a gun shot from the knoll” was “about 95 percent or possibly better”. (Ibid, 674)
It should come as no real surprise that the work of the HSCA's scientists came under attack long before the committee had finished its work. Dr. Barger even had to dispose of criticisms made by private investigator, Anthony Pellicano, during his second appearance before the committee. (5HSCA671-72) Reitzes claims that when the findings of the acoustics experts “were subjected to peer review by a National Academy of Sciences committee...the failings of the HSCA's conspiracy theory were revealed.” But “peer review” does not accurately describe a group with no intentions of approaching the evidence fairly and objectively deliberately setting out to discredit the work of another.
When the Justice Department commissioned the NAS study, it revealed immediately that it had no interest in conducting an open-minded analysis by offering the chairmanship to none other than Luis Alvarez, a vocal defender of the Warren Commission who had staked his professional reputation on there having been no shots from the Knoll. Alvarez, who had publicly dismissed the acoustics evidence before he even looked at it, wisely declined the position and instead recommended his colleague, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Norman Ramsey. Nonetheless, Alvarez stayed on as the panel's most active member. (Thomas, p. 618) Needless to say, the conclusions of the “Ramsey Panel”, which did not include a single expert on ballistics or acoustics, were preordained. When Dr. Barger met with the panel to explain and defend his work, Alverez let him know that it didn't actually matter what he said, they were going to shoot down the HSCA's findings regardless. (Ibid, 619)
The Ramsey Panel spent two years going over the acoustics data with a fine tooth comb looking for serious flaws but kept coming up empty handed. In the end, the only significant argument in its report was based on a discovery made not by a member of the panel but by a rock drummer from Ohio named Steve Barber. Before discussing what Barber found, it is important to understand that on the day of the assassination, the Dallas police were using two radio channels. Ch-1 was for routine communications and Ch-2 was for the police escort of the Presidential motorcade. If two police units who were tuned to opposite channels came close to one another, and one opened a microphone, it could capture a broadcast from one channel and simulcast it over the other. This phenomenon, known as “cross-talk”, occurred several times during the five and a half minute sequence during which the motorcycle microphone that recorded the alleged shots was stuck open. These simulcasts are a potential means of synchronizing events between both channels.
Steve Barber acquired a copy of the dictabelt recording that came as a promotional plastic insert with a girlie magazine and, after repeated listens, heard something that nobody else had noticed—a barley audible instance of cross-talk in which Dallas Sheriff Bill Decker seems to say the words “...hold everything secure...” These words came from a broadcast Decker made about a minute after the assassination on Ch-2. On Ch-1, they appear only one-half second after the impulses identified as a gunshots by the HSCA acoustics experts. The Ramsey Panel seized Barber's discovery with both hands and with it concluded that whatever the impulses on the tape were they could not be the shots that killed Kennedy because they occurred a minute after the assassination. The HSCA's conclusion of a probable conspiracy had supposedly been “debunked”.
However, in 2001, Dr. Donald Thomas reopened the acoustics debate with a paper published in the British forensics journal, Science & Justice. Dr. Thomas debunked the debunkers, pointing out that the Ramsey Panel had overlooked a second instance of cross-talk, the “Bellah broadcast”, and that using that simulcast to synchronize the transmissions placed the impulses “at the exact instant that John F. Kennedy was assassinated”. Several years later, Dr. Thomas noted that none of the five instances of cross-talk on the recordings actually synchronizes with one another, “Hence, the cross-talk evidence does not prove that the putative gunshots are not synchronous with the shooting.” (Hear No Evil, p. 662) In his original paper, Dr. Thomas pointed out numerous errors made by the Ramsey Panel and called special attention to facts which the panel had been very careful to omit from its report. Namely, the “order in the data”.
If the impulses on the dictabelt are not gunshots then any matches to the test patterns are spurious. Therefore, a match would be equally as likely to occur at the first microphone as the last and the five matches could fall in any one of 125 random sequences. But, as Dr. Thomas explains:
“...the matching of the five putative shots were to five microphone positions in the correct topographic order...Moreover, not just the order but the spacing was correct. The time lapse between the five matching impulsive sounds was 1.7, 1.1, 4.8, and 0.7 sec on the evidence tape. The first three impulses obtained their highest matches...at three consecutive microphone locations...which were spaced at 6 m increments on Houston Street. The fourth sound matched to a microphone location on Elm Street...24 m removed [from the previous matching microphone]...and, the last matched to a pattern recorded at the very next microphone location...Thus the order spacing revealed by the matching procedure is an accurate fit with the hypothesis that the sounds were gunshots captured on a microphone of a motorcycle travelling north on Houston Street then Westerly on Elm Street at the time of the assassination.”
Furthermore, the distance from the first matching microphone to the last was 143 feet and the time between the first and last suspect impulse on the tape was 8.3 seconds. In order for the motorcycle with the stuck microphone to cover 143 feet in 8.3 seconds it would need to be travelling at approximately 11 mph—the very speed that the Presidential limousine was travelling on Elm Street. (see Warren Report, p. 49) And lastly, the impulses on the dictabelt synchronize perfectly with the images on the Zapruder film. The most obvious reaction to a shot on the film occurs at frame 313 with the explosion of President Kennedy's head. This is preceded by the flipping up and down of Governor Connally's white Stetson hat between frames 225 and 230; the apparent result of a bullet passing through his wrist. When we align the fourth shot on the dictabelt—the Grassy Knoll shot—with frame 313, the third shot falls precisely as expected at frame 225. Therefore, the exact same 4.8 second gap between shots is found on both the audio and visual evidence.
The above described correlations between the dictabelt recording and all other known data are beyond coincidence. In fact, NASA physicist G. Paul Chambers has calculated the odds of the order in the data and the synchronization of film and audio being random together as “only one chance in eleven billion”. (Chambers, Head Shot: The Science Behind the JFK Assassination, p. 142-143) And yet, as noted, the Ramsey Panel mentioned absolutely none of it. The same is true of Reitzes and the authors he most frequently relies upon such as Gerald Posner, John McAdams and Vincent Bugliosi. In Bugliosi's case this is a particularly egregious omission given that his critique of the acoustics evidence takes up some 66 pages of his endnotes section. 66 pages and yet he could not find room for what I summarized above in just a few short paragraphs? Of course he could. But Bugliosi, Reitzes, the Ramsey Panel and their cohorts know full well that if they disclose the order in the data to their readers they will end up convincing them of the validity of the acoustics evidence.
The order in the data leaves us with only two possible conclusions. Either the Dallas police dictabelt genuinely captured the sounds of the shots that killed President Kennedy, or, as Dr. Thomas remarks, “...within moments of President Kennedy being assassinated a burst of static (perhaps cosmic particles from some supernova, or an eruption of the sun, or a thunderclap in the distance) had occurred, and...these static clusters [gave] rise to seperate patterns that just happened to mimic the echo patterns of three gunshots from the Texas School Book Depository, one gunshot from nearby, and one from the grassy knoll, if recorded over a microphone travelling north on Houston Street then west on Elm Street at 11 mph when the air temperature was 65 degrees F.” (Thomas, p. 625)
I believe most reasonable-minded people will agree that the latter is a notion much too ridiculous to take seriously.