Tuesday, February 2, 2010
ARRB Interview with Homer McMahon
Satellite View of Building 213 (NPIC) at the Washington Navy Yard
THE ZAPRUDER FILM AT LUNDAHL'S PALACE
COPY A4 Updated 02/18/10
ARRB Interview with NPIC Employee Homer McMahon
Hearing Date July 14, 1997
Interviewed by Douglas P. Horne Chief of Military Records of ARRB
Total Time 1:41:19
DH = Douglas Horne
HM = Homer McMahon
JG = Jeremy Gunn
MC = Michelle Combs
Douglas Horne: Okay, it's Monday, July 14th, 1997, my name is Doug Horne. I'm with the AARB. I am here with Mr. Homer McMahon, former NPIC employee – National Photo Interpretation Center. And I am also here with Michelle Combs of the AARB. And before we begin I'd like to confirm with you on the record, Mr. McMahon, is it okay, do we have your permission to tape this interview?
Homer McMahon: Yes, my name is Homer McMahon, not NPIC, I was CIA. That was my cover.
DH: Oh, okay...
HM: ...at the time, and you have my permission to... At that time NPIC was classified top secret.
DH. Yes, sir. Okay. Thank you very much. We may be joined later; this is for the record, by Mr. Jeremy Gunn of the Review Board staff and also by a new employee (Marie B. Fagnant) who is in the building today also. Could you summarize for us sir, your professional experience - training in photography prior to and up to 1963
HM: I started in photography in 1938.
HM: I worked one summer at the FBI lab. I’m not sure of that summer. [Possible Redaction] My boss was [Jimmy?] Dunlap, who later became, left and went into business for himself and I worked for him part time, at different times.
I was in photography when I was in high school when I worked oh, as a photographer on the yearbook committee. I used to work at...for Pop Baker, and that was Eastman Kodak Photofinishing Georgetown, also a summer...school. I was in photography on the GI bill, I went to the National School of Photography and I went to the Washington School of Photography, and I took several extension courses at the US GS Graduate School at the Law Enforcement Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed.
DH: I see.
HM: I took several courses up at Rochester in Binghamton, under...Ansco in Binghamton Kodak, at Rochester. Other than that, I never had a degree in photography. In those days it was strictly vocational. There was no, you could get a masters degree up there...,the PPA...zip work but I never did or worked on that level,...to make presentations. I was a member of the Professional Photographers of America.
I went to college on the GI Bill at the end of the Second World War. And then I went to work for the CIA. My mentor Mel Fromme (sp. phonetic) was an old OSS operative during the Second World War. His dad ran the National School of Photography; I spent two years there, and he got me a job interview with the CIA. I went out .....? ...Street. That was Printing Services Division,...That was Austin Young (?). I worked there for a year and a half to two years. Then I went into business for myself for five years, and then went back for I think ten years...
DH: Went back to the Agency?
HM: Yeah, but I didn’t go back to the printing service division, I went to the Science Division. When Steuart’s Garage closed down, ah,...Kennedy’s brother Bob got that built. And - it was a special building, it was behind the barrier, you now you had the barrier walls, it couldn’t be penetrated. It was in the Navy Yard and I worked there for I guess close to ten years. And that’s when I was chief of the color lab,
DH: I see...
HM: GS 11 – step 7, was my grade when I worked there.
DH: What. Do you recall what year it was that you returned to the CIA and worked for about ten years, what year it was, more or less?
HM: No, I don’t have an accurate recollection.
DH: Okay. It would be, certainly before 1963,...
HM: Oh, yea. Yes.
DH: It would be in the 50s perhaps?
DH: Okay. When you went back to the CIA for the second time, were you working at the Stewarts Motors building with...ah?
HM: No. I didn’t work in the Steuart Garage; I’m not going to name names of people that I worked with...
DH: Okay, that's fine.
HM: I could give you Harry Vicard [or Vickert?]...he’s retired, he worked at the Steuart but he retired, and I talked to him, and he said he could get me an interview, and I went over, or they come over, I was working for Austin Young on...[ in Alexander?]...right there at [Duke Street?]... or King Street, I've forgotten which.
DH: That's okay...
HM: ... he came over and interviewed me and I transferred. I was LV16, I was under the GPA scale, I was in the Printing Services Division.
DH: Okay. Let me go off the record and introduce you to some people who just arrived.
DH: Okay back on the record. Mr. Jeremy Gunn, Marie Fagnant and Steve Tilley have joined us.
Mr. McMahon do you remember when you became head of the Color Lab?
HM: When I went over I was hired for that position and I transferred from a LV19 to a GS 11 step 7.
DH: Approximately what year was that?
HM: Late 50s.
DH: Okay, late 50s. Were you working at the National Photo Interpretation Center in November, 1963?
DH: Okay. We spoke previously on the telephone on June 9, Mr. Dave Montahue and I called you. I think you may recall that....
DH: ...You mentioned to us during that telephone call that you were involved in analysis and other events involving a home movie of the assassination. Can you tell us how you first head about this and who told you to come into work?
HM: Okay, I wasn’t an analyst. That was a technical term for somebody who did photo interpretation in my branch. And I was a photo-technologist. And what I did I timed...I - to my best recollection, I was - I worked in a vaulted area behind the barrier on extremely sensitive material. And my classification allowed me to work on anything and everything that I had need to know, and I won’t tell you what those were...but...
DH: And I won’t ask.
HM: We had...it was...a world beyond. We had unlimited budget...we had anything we wanted to buy, unlimited money, and it was a palace, it was Lundahl's Palace. I think they said 90% of intelligence came from our operation. And that was, that was what the analysists and photo interpreters did. And they knew along with,...I was in the science division now, but they also had accessed and used other information.
But the best I can remember of how I came to work on this project...and...Of course, we all heard of, you known that motorcade where Kennedy got killed, and I think we shut up shop and went home early after that. And it was within the next two days a chap was introduced to me, and I was sworn to his secrecy. It had nothing to do with the agency’s secrecy. And he was, to the best of my knowledge, he was introduced as Bill Smith,...
DH: Bill Smith, of ...what...what was...?
HM: Oh, Secret Service, he was an agent. And hh had, he had gotten a roll of film directly from the person that had photographed it, who called the Secret Service and told them that he thought he had that on film, and he shot it with a little Brownie Double 8, and he took it, he took it to Rochester. And we had a division up there - I won’t get into that, but they processed the film, it was Ek...it was Kodacrome, I think I or II, the daylight version, whichever it was, and it was Double 8 and, after he got it processed, they told him there that we were probably the only place that had the equipment that could do what he wanted to, - take every frame on there,(ha ha) of the entire event, and, and make the best possible quality reproductions.
DH: When you say they told him, who do you mean?
HM: Well. (Ha, ha,)...Well, Eastman Kodak had contracts with the US government, and if you want to know, you can go to the CIA - they's tell you who told him, okay? But he got the film processed, and he brought it to us, and he and three other people timed the film, for - the - through observation you can tell where the gunshots actually caused the hits and the slumps. We didn’t know anything about any audio, it was just visual, and we timed it, and determined where the time between the - physically timed it with a stop watch, where the gunshot hits - hit. And we, we went from I think maybe two frames before the first hit and then we hit every single frame through and - we only...he only counted three hits, possibly four. I couldn’t tell I think, when Connally got hit. It was obvious when - when he got hit the first time, and then the second time he was hit, going off into...the angle up, and...
DH: Could I break in and ask you a question? When you say he and three others timed the film, does this mean that you people viewed it as a motion picture?
HM: Yes, we were in a briefing room, with a camera and a large screen - you said I could use Ben Hunter’s name?
DH: Yes sir.
HM: I worked with Ben Hunter, and I think he was a GS 7 and he was working with me as a trainee at the time in the color lab, and Bill Smith, ah,...excuse me, there were three of us, including myself (ha, ha), that’s it.
DH: That's it?...
HM: To the best of my knowledge.
DH: So the total number of people you can recall are yourself, Ben Hunter and Bill Smith?
HM: Yes. That’s all that were involved to my knowledge.
DH: How were you first notified to go in? Did this happen during the work day or after hours? How did you first get notified?
HM: I haven’t the faintest idea,
DH: Do you recall...?
HM: ....because I didn't - I didn't - I’ve been called in so many times...ah...
DH: For other jobs, right? Do you recall whether you did the job during the day or did...?
Jeremy Gunn: Excuse me, I'm sorry - I just want to make sure we're clear on the record. When you say you were called in many other times, was that for other jobs?...or...did you mean you were called many times on...
HM: When the goose laid the egg, we went on 12 to 12, these split shifts until we worked out the mission. Or...I don’t think that’s important. The other work I did had nothing to do with this.
DH: That’s all we're trying to do for the record, is to clairfy that when you said that statement, were you referring to this particular film or other jobs?
HM: Okay,...I had other clearances,... but none of these clearances that were given to me under the CIA or other clearances that I held for other government agencies, this was under strictly a, I was told that none of this was to be divulged to anyone. That we had it, that we did it, and I know that it was being used for a briefing but I don’t know who they briefed on it. My only guess, okay, we normally briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Reconnaissance Committee, and the President of the United States, with the work that I did. And I didn’t do any of the analysis. I just did the color part that was used in the briefing boards, and the Teleprompters and that kind of work, and it was also distributed under different Top Secret classifications...to the community.
JG: We just want to be clear on when you said you were called in several times, you were only called in once for the film related to the assassination.
HM: I worked on that one, and I worked on it until it was completed and I think it was probably more than a work day.
HM: When we spoke on June 9th, sir, it was your recollection at that time that you went in after hours and you worked basically all night long. Does that refresh your recollection?
HM: Yes,...but it was not during my normal...I don’t think it was during my normal - I don't think it was...I was called in but I wasn't told what I was called in for
DH: I see...
HM: I didn’t have the faintest idea what I was going to do there.
DH: Okay. Would you allow me to test your recollection on something that you said a moment ago that you thought this was within two days of the assassination. Is there any particular reason why you associate it as being that close to the assassinatin, any particular other events?
HM: I think, I think I was told that to get the film from the individual, take it and get it processed, and come back, was a couple of days. I’m not sure. I'm not...I don't really recall that.
DH: Do you recall whether this work that you did was before the funeral or after the funeral of the president?
HM: I’m pretty sure it was before.
DH: Before we get into some details of what you did, how would you best summarize the tasking that your agency received from Mr. Smith? Or could you revisit that topic again? Try to...
HM: Okay. I don’t know how it came through channels to us. I wasn’t told that. What I’m reflecting is what I think happened. I know it wasn’t under any clearances that I held, do I know it was being done for analysis and briefing, but I’m not sure who that was for.
DH: Okay. And what is it that he wanted you to do again, one more time?
HM: Okay, what he wanted us to do, after we came to the decision after we had timed it, was to take a frame by frame presentation of that sequence, and make a...best recollection five by seven internegs not printed two up on an eight by ten...Ben Hunter and myself, exposed them and processed them. Then we had a period of time were you have to wait for the drying of the material, and then we went back and viewed all of the negatives, and we had them marked and identified as to the sequence, and we made three each color contact prints, and again went back and processed those and had to wait for the drying. Ah…
DH: So the color prints were the same size then as the inter negative?
HM: I’m pretty sure we...
DH: Contact? Without an enlarger?
HM: ...we contacted the 8 x 10 negatives that were exposed two up. And then they were cut apart and identified on the back, and I did not do that, the identification, I don’t think I did that, I might have.
JG: I'm sorry can I interrupt you for a second, I apologize. He wasn’t clear to me about the negatives and the internegatives. You refer to there being five by seven internegatives and eight by ten negatives and I didn't know whether those were two entirely separate things or whether you were referring to the same thing?
HM: It’s called a work in turn (?)...You take an eight by ten negative, print a five by seven on five by eight,...then you turn it...move the frame, set up the liquid gate, and make the other one, and then put it in the box. So you finish say the first two, then you move the frame to the third frame. These were, this was precision equipment to make a one stage enlargement, and my best guess is 40 X, is what we made the little image to.
DH: By that you mean 40 times the original size?
HM: 40 times the original half frame super double eight...or whatever it was,...
DH: Just for the sake of the...
HM: ....We had three different, okay, we had a ten twenty forty...
DH: Is that the enlarging machine?
HM: Yes, that’s the enlarging machine. And you set up with – this is a coherent light source enlarger...and we set it up with a specific optical lens, and a specific condenser, and a color pack CC filters, so that we could expose all three layers of the Kodachrome on these negatives.
DH: You mentioned wet gate a moment ago?
HM: Yeah, it’s a liquid gate, a liquid gate, it's a...[new, no?]...today because, it was two parts of a...okay, we made our own liquid. And what the purpose of the liquid was, - it has a refraction index to eliminate the surfaces of the film which degrade the image, the front and back surface. It was called 10-20-40 fluid, and to my knowledge it was two parts of...(pause)...I don’t have...I can’t remember the...
DH: It’s alright. Was this applied by hand or full immersion wet gate?
HM: Oh no, you had little injection, and what happened your front lens came down...okay...it was precision equipment, and the excessive fluid went out, so it was full gate, almost like a microscope. Alright?
HM: And if you got air bubbles in it, you had to go back to start again and reinject it and bring it back down.
DH: Alright. May I ask another question before we move along? You mentioned Double 8 film a few times.
DH: Do you recall the condition of this movie when you saw it, had it been slit or unslit?
HM: I think it was unslit...the reason I...said that, and we might have slit it, but before we used it, but they were - I thought they were told that they didn’t want to slit the film,...and I don’t, I don’t think we slit it, I think we used it unslit in a 16 mm projector...
DH: That was going to be my next question, how did you project it? You think it was...
HM: I think it was unslit...This was the original film. It had been - I think they ran dupes of it, but we actually worked from the - the acquisition material of the original film.
DH: Is this something you observed yourself or something you were told by Mr. Smith? How do you come to the conclusion today that you had the original film?
HM: Alright, I think it was a combination of everything you said, along with, ah, the quality of the film. Normally when you dupe it, you loose a lot of resolution and when we made them you could ah...Kodachrome is an additive process. It’s black and white film with filers that give you color separation negatives, and then you use...dyes...After you flash them and redevelop them selectively onto the original film, and it has a Yellow coupler, a Magenta coupler, and Cyan coupler that give you the three subtractive primary colors that give you the illusion of image and color and there was very little dye that changes,...it was excellent imagery, and I don’t know if that still exists or not, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I used.
DH: Okay. One more follow up on the first part of the interview, and then we’ll move along. How certain are you that Mr. Smith said he went down to pick up the film from the person who took it and then took it to Rochester? Are you...
HM: I know he took it to Rochester, and I’m not certain other than I think he said he got it from the original person himself, but I am not positive of that. I am positive that he said that he took it to Rochester, hand carried it, got it processed, and then they guided him back to us to do the...
DH: So, Rochester wasn’t set up to do that stuff? In the sense that you had the big enlarger and they did not?
HM: We had a complete world beyond facility...(ha ha) - a multi-billion dollar photo lab, that Kennedy brothers got built for us in what? Three months I thik. They moved out of the Steuart, right in.
DH: Did the NPIC relocate, was it after the Missile Crisis? After the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 that you moved?
HM: ....[Long pause] When did Kennedy's inauguration take place?
DH: January 1961.
HM: 61. It was shortly after that.
DH: Do you remember the approximate number of internegatives that you made?
HM: It was before the Cuban Missile Crisis, because I did alot - but I’m not going to talk about that. Now what was that question again?
DH: Do you remember the approximate number of frames on the original film of what you made internegatives?
HM: The best recollection is 40
HM: (pause)... and it might have been 20, between 20 and 40
DH: Between 20 and 40 - Okay. And which person in the room decided which, who decided which frames would…?
HM: We all did...
DH: It was a joint thing?...
DH: This, was this subsequent to viewing it as a motion picture, after that, or?
HM: Yeah. Oh after hindsight is, you know retrospect. Smith said afterward that he wished he had done the whole damn role.
DH: When did he say that?
HM: After we were finished (ha ha).
DH: Oh, during the same event? Okay. After you viewed this as a motion picture, did you, how did you, did you lay it out on a light table and use a loop, what did you do for further study? Before...I’m trying to ask you to recall the...process?
HM: Okay. After it was viewed, and I’m not sure we used a dupe to view it with, or we used the acquisition. We might have used a dupe roll to view it...
DH: Okay, for the projection?
HM: ...for the projection, I'm not sure. My recollectino isn't real good. I know that...I know he had dupes made of it, and yes, we could use loops and we could visually look at that, but when you put it in the type of equipment we had, you can actually physically see it...
DH: I see.
HM: ....on the vacuum board where the film goes.
DH: That would be superior to the loops viewing?
DH: Did...you gentlmen...?
HM: ....and we also used a ten-X magnifier to grain focus the image, each image, before we exposed it on the internegative, so we actually were getting the acquisition, the grain on the acquisition material into sharp focus, 'cause you couldn’t see the image of that - ten times forty is four hundred...
DH: So you were focusing on the actual grain?
HM: The actual. Well, it’s not grain, see it...Kodahcrome, the grain is in the negative, and you develop three black and white negatives and then you selectively expose them with the red, green and blue light and develop the complementary, added the primary color, which is Yellow, Magenta and Cyan couplers. So when these are all developed on the tri-pack of film you have, you have a positive dye image. The negative had the grain; the positive had a reciprocal dye image, which would have been a very much finer grain of silver that...Okay the chemical reaction is to replace the fine grain silver positive image with dye, and then you bleach out the sliver and are left with just the dye image, so it’s not technically grainy, it’s perception of what used to be grain.
DH: Okay. Thank you for that technical explanation. Is this process which you have described, is it proprietary to Kodak?
HM: Yes. They had a proprietary...Well no, at the time they passed a law that they had to relinquish the processing of Kodachrome, and there were two or three other...and one branch of Kodak went out and opened another company, so it was not proprietary.
DH: Did it, at any time during this work was the motion picture copied as a motion picture?
HM: No. Not in our operation.
DH: So you only made inter negatives and color prints, is that correct?
DH: And the size of the prints again?
HM: I’m pretty sure they were five by seven, by the best of...if they were the same ones I made.
DH: After the prints were made, I assume they had to dry. What happened next? Who were they given to?
HM: Ah, now the mounting on the briefing boards and the photo interpretation, so to speak, I was not involved in. And I think I went home (ha, ha). But Smith probably went to another area, it’s not even a vaulted area, it’s a finishing room upstairs.
DH: Did you and Mr. Hunter stop work at about the same time?
HM: He might have stayed on and helped. There was another chap who was probably involved in that work. And it was probably was done by the other chap,... and I’m sure Bill Smith. And I think you mentioned that Ben Hunter said he didn’t recall Bill Smith as the name of the agent that brought the film in?
DH: He did not independently recall that name.
HM: I remember Snuffy Smith, he was a Senator from Texas, and I think I asked the guy, 'cause I met him when I was overseas, and I asked him if he was any relation? (ha ha)... I knew he had been in Texas, where he got the film.
DH: So you remember asking him this question?
HM: I remember that, and he said no.
DH: Okay, that’s interesting. You just mentioned another chap who may have been involved with the briefing boards and photo analysis...,
HM: I can’t recall the name.
DH: ...and you can't recall their name?
HM: I don’t recall, and even if I did I wouldn’t tell you...because he was young...
DH: Let me ask you this question about names. Do you recall a person named Sands? S-A-N-D-S, at this point?
HM: Nope. Absolutly no recollection of that name.
DH: If I was to call this person Captain Sands, would that help anyway?
HM: Okay. We might have had an intermediate, naval officer that brought the chap in. Someone had to bring him in because they wouldn’t have had clearance and to get behind the barrier was pretty tough to do (ha ha) without presidential or above Top Secret clearance (ha ha).
DH: I see.
HM: ...and your...I had a CIA badge that would get me past the guard, and to get behind the barrier I had to have another special badge and that had to be picked up and turned in when I went in and then we were in a vaulted area that had crypto code you had to run to get in the door. So it was virtually not penetrable.
HM: ...And then after you got in the door you had to have a procedure to disarm the vaulted area or security would be on you...
DH: Extensive security
DH: It's good to hear that...Do you remember a Captain Sands was on the staff at NPIC? Was he...
HM: Even if I am I couldn't talk about that with you. We - we did have security officers. It was a geo-military operation...I shouldn't probably tell you that...
DH: I should explain to you the reason why we're asking you this. Ben Hunter independently recalled that a Captain Sands brought in the film and he could not remember anyone being with him. Subsequently he said there might have been a Secret Service fellow, but he remembered a Captain Sands. But he was unclear...what the person's job...
HM: Okay, most of the geo-military who were there were undercover, and I can’t mention them.
DH: Okay. Did you create or do you recall anyone taking any records or notes during your work?
HM: I think Hunter and I did the only records of the work, and I think there was on either a yellow...yellow...(a ha)
DH: You just put your hand on a yellow legal pad.
HM: Yes...it was a legal type pad. Unless it was recorded on, we made our marks on some of the...to keep the, but I did not put any classification or any of that nature, I didn’t put any control, no classification or control, on any of the documents. Normally that's required before it cold leave the vault, it has to be controlled with a Top Secret Cover sheet, but I did not do that. Now after the briefing board is made from the material, and that classification precedes the classification then needs...a cover sheet. We made briefing boards, Teleprompters and graphs for... dissemination to the intelligence community.
DH: For other types of work routinely, but for this job you may have made notes on a yellow legal pad?
HM: Now I’m sure this did not go to the intelligence community, it was not part of the CIA. It was not...This was a Need To Know basis and it was used by whoever brought it in, (ha ha) either for the Warren Commission or to brief somebody else. It wasn’t for history,...I think it was to...I don’t know what it was for...I didn't even exercise a thought.
DH: Before we move along and before I show you the notes that the Archives has, let me revisit with you, what exactly did Mr. Smith say in regards to secrecy or non-disclosure regarding this event? Could you tell me that story again?
HM: I knew that my immediate supervisor was not allowed in the vault, that it was so sensitive, and he had all the tickets, and he was not allowed in the room. It was strictly on a need to know, do the job and get it out, and no one knew about it, there was no records...
JG: Just so the record is clear, when you say he had all the tickets, you mean all the clearances that he ha, he had a lot of security clearances?
HM: He had all the clearance equal to or the same that I had, but was not allowed, it was not, it was not the CIA or, a - I had all the clearances – the Atomic Energy, the National Security Agency, and it was not under any of these.
JG: Was there any other compartment, or was it just with a name which is...?
HM: There was no code name on it that I know of and if there was I couldn’t tell you. (ha, ha)
DH: Did Mr. Smith tell you it was classified at a certain level?
HM: Yes, he said it was defiantly classified on a Need to Know Basis...and he didn’t give me anything other than it that I was sworn to secrecy and I had - I don’t know whether I had to sign a document, I don’t recall any of that, but I know it couldn’t be divulged.
DH: Did he give you a level of classification, like Confidential or Secret?
HM: I have no...No, it did not have...He said it was Above Top Secret, and
HM: Okay and that meant it had to have a code name. Now I don’t know what turned up on the briefing boards, I never saw'em.
DH: Before we examine the notes that the Archives has, Jeremy did you want to ask a follow up question?
Jeremy Gunn: Yes, I’d like to go back to something you said eary on in the interview where ah, a couple of things, where you said, “If I recall...he took three hits, possibly four,” and it wasn’t clear to me whether that he was, Kennedy or ... Connally. Did you reach a conclusion as to the number of hits on President Kennedy?
HM: My guess, I thought six or eight, but the consensus was two or three.
JG: Hits on Kennedy?
HM:: Yeah, Connally - They said it hit Kennedy and then went into Connally, ricochet....
DH: Did they say that that night?
HM: That was a - We were just trying to get were all the shots of action...and covered frames from both ends of it....and I knew that later they found some sound audio tapes and could get voice prints on sound and could tell how many separate weapons were fired because of the Dopler front and back and from directions it came from - and it showed up on a police tape that was recorded, one of the motorcycles had it on...I don’t know.
JG: Ah...How is you and the others came to reach the observation to the number of hits? Was that while the film was rolling, or was that a frame by frame analysis?
HM: Well the person who brought the film in had already seen it, and he knew where - he had already reviewed it - he already had pre-knowledge before we had it, so maybe we were swayed to go along with his ah, first impression. I don’t know.
JG: Did he say anything? Could you sort of recount the events as they occurred in terms of what, ah, is this Bill Smith,
JG: ...Okay, what Bill Smith said about what he already knew about the film and what it showed?
HM: He viewed it, he viewed it after it was processed at Eastman Kodak –
TAPE RUNS OUT 51:08
DH: We’re back on record. Turned the tape over.
HM: Okay. I was just selected to do the job that I covered, and I really don’t think I should talk about what happened before, because I don't have, - it is hearsay information that I have no real knowledge of it.
JG: ...Just so it’s clear...The only things that we want to ask questions about are related to the film of the assassination
JG: That's all we are asking about. But it’s important for us to get as much information as we can about the processing and analysis of the film of the assassination, and the other work we’re not asking about, but this is something we want to get as much information as we can. If Bill Smith told you something about the film, that's very important for us to be able to know and document what happened, so if you could you just tell us what he said happened?
HM: Okay, to the best of my recollection he said, that he was contacted through his organization of a film, a person called up and they said they had it, and they felt that, they thought they had it, and they felt they didn’t want to give to anyone, or to sell it, or make a profit on it, and they wanted it to go to the Secret Service, and let them have that, and he gave the original film - the person who did the photography, to the Secret Service, and I don’t think anyone else knew about it until much later....alright...
JG: Let me try a question?...You are acquainted with the Zapruder film, the film called the Zapruder film? Is this the Zapruder film or a different film?
HM: I haven’t seen it for 35 years. Ah, I never heard Dalcruder at the time. I heard that much, much later.
DH: Do you mean Dalcruder? Did you say Dalcruder?
HM: He did. The man who took the most famous film was Abraham Zapruder.
HM: Abraham Zapruder. I never heard that name, or if I did I don’t remember it.
JG: But right now, you’re not certain whether the film you processed or that you were involved in working with was the Zapruder film...?
HM: Well, I'm told it was the only coverage they had. That that was it. No one else photographed it. They said it was the only film, and I don’t know if it was or if it was the historic film.
JG: What did Mr. Smith say had happened to the film prior to the time when you got it, regarding processing?
HM: Okay. Because of expedite, and the expedite part is they wanted to find out what happened, and they had film that was generously turned in by a very patriotic person, who told it was given to them because it might help in the investigation. This is what he was told, what I was told, and that it was of the utmost urgency, so he hand-carried it and flew to Rochester, and got it processed at the processing division there. And they were made aware that he was coming, and did it immediately for him, and I also think they made duplications of that, which I was told, and then he came back. Because they told him they couldn’t do what he wanted to get done, and that NPIC could do it, it fell on our laps and we did it.
JG: When you say they couldn’t get done what needed to be done, did you mean enlargements or was there some other?
HM: They didn’t have a laboratory that could do the quality of work that he wanted. He wanted maximum sharpness, the most see-ability, that - that you can get of the imagery and that we were set up to do and we were way beyond the state of the art and the quality that was turned out.
JG: For the film of the assassination, was it your understanding that anything more that could be done to it other than developing the original film and making some films of the original film...?
HM: The prints were duplications of the original film.
DH: Was anything else done to the film besides...?
HM: No, no one else had got...to my knowledge.
DH: Was it your understanding that Mr. Smith had come directly to Washington from Rochester?
HM: Yes, yes, he got off the airplane at the National Airport and came directly to us, to our building.
JG: Just so we are clear on something. It was our understanding that the film had been processed by Kodak. When you said it was done in Rochester, was that an inference that you drew when they said it had been processed by Kodak or did they specifically mention Rochester?
HM: Okay,....you’re getting on classified grounds there, that I can’t answer that question. I know but I can’t talk to you about that. There was another top secret lab that the government used.
JG: If you are uncomfortable talking about it, we can stop that here and that's fine, but this is something that is important for us to be able to do, and we can go back to the agency and talk to them....
HM: No. You can do that back through the agency, and I know that hasn’t been done, (ha ha) or it is in the public domain….
DH: I think there is a way to rephrase the question so that it is not a classified...so that you don't perceive a classified intent – I think the way to rephrase the question might be - Did Mr. Smith say this was done at Kodak or did he say this was developed at Rochester?
HM: Okay, again, I know where it was done, and I know who did it, and I’m (ha ha) not going to answer.
DH: Okay, is there any chance that where it was done was a Kodak lab in Dallas?
HM: To my knowledge no. (Pause) When you are in bed with the other (?) guy, we had their top scientists and photo chemists and optical people working in the world beyond. We had their people - I shouldn’t even be talking about it, sorry, and there was a definite link on the national level, where we had the best there was working with us...
JG: Would it be fair to say that there was another facility
JG: ...where you're understanding that is where it was processed...
JG:...and that facility was mentioned to you by name so that you knew where it was?
JG: ...In terms of the name of it, we don't need that...but just,...there...There was a reference to a specific place...?
HM: ...I don’t know if there's been any downgrading...National Photo Interpretation Center was Top Secret, you could not say it. You could say NPIC, and that was secret.
JG: I see, that's....
HM: ...and my cover was that I worked for the CIA. I did not work for NPIC. The military that worked there worked for the military, whether it was Navy, Army, Air Force, whatever. They did not work...for the CIA.
DH: I’d like to ask a follow on question if I can on the opinions in the room while you were discussing the hits, the shots that hit the people in the limousie - the governor and the president. Did Mr. Smith tell you the directions the shots came from, or did you people try to determine that on your own from your study?
HM:...Let me not answer that question, let me take a detour. I’m an army brat. My dad was in the first and second world war. And he was an officer. And when I was four years old, I was taught to shoot tricks. I was one of the greatest trick shot artists. When I was sixteen I used to fire at Perry, at Camp Perry, Ohio, I was in the NRA national championships. I’m talking about target shooting, not tricks. I was what they called a sight shooter. I could hit without aiming. In other words I was a trick shot artist. My dad would hold a dime between his fingers and at fifty foot I could shoot it out (ha ha) with a little trick gun. I’d pump three balls, golf balls and could pump and hit the three of them before they hit the ground. I used to have a rifle range in my basement and I would shoot every day and I became….it was like driving a car and after you’ve done it for so long you’re reflexes do it automatically. I could shoot without looking. I didn’t close one eye and look through a sight. I could actually shoot and hit what I wanted to hit. And I think I could really see the bullets hitting the object, and their trajectory, I could see the path of the bullet, and I could compensate for that if I missed. It was a feedback mechanism. And I was very good at what I did. In fact I’d make money in the money matches with the larger rifles, and I could make four or five hundred dollars in prize money firing, so I was a professional shooter, and yes, I could look at the pictures and tell you how many shots and possibly where they came from up, down, right, left, and this is intuition, and I couldn’t explain how I know that.
DH: What was it, how many shots were there in the assassination? What is your opinion?
HM: About eight shots.
DH: Where did they come from?
HM: From three different directions, at least.
DH: Could you remember what the directions were?
HM: No, but if you have the film, you can plot vectors. Because you can go out, I’m a photogramist as well. (ha ha) You can go out. Okay there’s a way to do it, believe me.
DH: Were you asked to do that?
DH: Did you say that you were looking at the film with the others...
HM: I wasn’t a photogramacist at the time...
DH: I understand. I didn't...
HM: ...I later worked for photo science, this was a photogram. I was a, a aerial photographer and I did aerial photography for whatever you want to call it, for mapping, first, second and third order surveying. I did that for ten or twelve years...and...Now I was a shooter, and that is the only reason I can tell you what I saw and thought I saw, and it wasn’t superior vision, it was just intuition. And no I did not agree with their analysis at the time I was doing the work, and I didn’t have to because I wasn’t a photo analysist, (ha ha) I wasn't asked to do that.
DH: Yeah. Do you remember what Mr. Smith's analysis was, or what his...?
HM: He thought there were three shots.
JG: From what direction he opined...?
HM: Well, he went with the standard concept, that Oswald a shooter out of the second story...now you have psychological profiles on Oswald...you've got tons of it, you ought to be able to figure out...(ha ha)
JG: Was there a selection made of the photographs to be enlarged – frames to be enlarged?
HM: I didn’t make any selection. It just went sequential, for that one group, everything was sequential, nothing was left out.
JG: Would that be from the first time you first identified there having been a shot until...?
HM: Up to what they thought were three shots...
JG: Approximately how many frames were there between...the sign...shots...
DH: ...Well the limo occupants disappear behind the sign at about frame 190 and the fatal head shot according to the Warren Commission was 313, so that’s quite a few frames.
JG: That's more than a hundred frames...So the question I have is how many frames were actually made?
HM: Maybe then for each of what they thought were the three shots, we, we did before and after, I’m not clear on that. But I know we covered three shots but I thought that, okay, I thought that they were sequential, one frame after the other, when I did it, and again, I’m only talking about forty shots that I was involved in making...
DH: 40 frames?
HM: 40 frames...so then it might have been, that it was befoer each hit that they thought was detectable, but I thought there were others in there, and that, that's another opinion, so...
DH: Did they ask you...
HM: No. (ha)
DH: ...for your opinion?
HM: Hah, well I couldn't convince anyone.
DH: Did you try?
DH: You did express your opinion that night?
HM: Oh, yes, I expressed my opinion, but (ha ha) you know, it was preconceived. That’s the way I thought about it. It was preconceived, so you don’t fight city hall and I wasn’t there to fight them. I was there to do the work. (ha ha)
JG: When you say preconceived, you mean the Secret Service agent already had notion in mind that he was ....and others...?
HM: Yes, and I didn’t care. I had no vested interest in what was happening.
JG: One time in the course of the discussion you were talking about the viewing of the film. If I recall correctly you said that - you referred to there wre people in the room and a camera, and I just wondered if you meant a motion picture...
HM: Motion picture, yea. And I am sure it was a...
JG: Motion picture?
HM: It was a projector.
JG: A projector. Was there a camera or was it just a projector?
HM: It was a projector. And we had the still frames filters that we could put in and stop it and run it forwards and back. It was a unique one, not a cheap one. (ha)
JG: Was it 16 mm projector?
HM: I seem to recall it as being a 16 mm, but that again, we had every kind of projector. It was in a briefing room, we went up to one of our briefing rooms and they have all that equipment up there.
JG: When you say Double 8 film I assume you refer to a type of film where there would be one series of images that go down on one side and another series that comes up the other side? Is that right?
HM: Correct, absolutly.
JG: Mpw. when that's - If that were projected as a 16 mm film you would be seeing two series of action, one in reverse and one going forward, one upside down, do have a recollection of whether that happened?
HM: I think that happened from the original film when I put it on the optical precision enlarger, okay, because, but we would center, you can center that film in the liquid gate, the frame, right in the center of it, and you don’t see it.
JG: That was my next question. I had assumed that when you made the negatives you were focusing just on the single frames that would be in the assassination seqiemce; do you have any recollection now if there was anything in the other part of the picture..., that wasn’t part of the assassination sequence?
HM: I have senile dementia...I can’t remember really anything. Most of my reflections are what I have recalled and remembered after the fact. In other words, I did it once, and then I recalled it, and remembered it. I don’t know how the mind works, but I do know I am not. I am a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Do you know what a wet brain is? Well, you’re looking at one. I damn near died. And I’m not a competent witness because I don’t have accurate recall. I don’t have absolute recall.
JG: With regards to the other events that you talked about, what is your sense of how accurate your memory is of that?
HM: I just told you, I don’t have a full deck. I don’t know how (ha) I figured I am presenting anything here. This is not...at the time I did it I was not, I was not impaired, but I later became impaired. So whether you are talking to a reliable witness or not, that’s up for you to decide. (ha)
DH: Shall we move on to the notes? I’m going to go off the record to get notes that the Archives.
DH: Back on record. Notes: From Record Group 233 – 90A Doc. ID# 1993.07.22.08:41:07-620600 Titled Analysis of the Zapruder Film Date 5-22-1975
I’m now going to hand these notes to Mr. McMahon and to let him read them and to see if he’s seen them before. Look at them and take your time.
01:16:00 - 01:17:09
HM: Some of the writing is mine.
DH: And by this ah, this page here, sir?
HM: I don’t know whose that is.
DH: Okay. And the page you are not sure about is the page with three shot scenarios. One is labeled Life Magazine, and then two other possiblities...
HM: Okay...This is my writing.
DH: What Mahon has identified as his writing is on the backside of the half page: which reads: "shoot internegatives, one and a half hours,...process and dry internegatives, two hours, print test, one hour, make three prints, looks like they each signed one hour, process and dried prints, one and a half hours, a total of seven hours.”
DH: Below that there is some - That’s in pencil. Below that is some blue ink...long divisions, and additions
HM: This is my writing.
DH: Those are also your writing?
DH: Also the pencil?
DH: Okay, could you explain what that - well? What are the long divisions and additions? Do you recall what they are?
HM: ...marks. I don't know what...? It’s my writing; I think, no wait, I think it's my writing. It's either mine or Ben’s.
HM: Do you have Ben’s handwriting?
DH: I can show you I have one section of the notes that he recalled was his handwriting, if you like and I can ask you if that...
HM: This looks like Ben’s writing up here.
DH: Okay and now you are looking at the other side of the half sheet...
HM: This looks like my writing here...
DH: Okay, the other side of the half sheet, which is a description of four briefing board panels... and when you said it looked like Ben's writing you were pointing at the, that penciled panel one, panel two, panel three, panel four...
DH: Ben identified for us right below that the printing, print number frame number...These two marks here are the only two that he thought were his writing. Right here and here, underneath the column labeled Panel One.
HM: This is...this looks like Ben’s writing to what I, and this looks like my writing.
DH: And your writing it would be at the bottom of the half page where it talks about time between shots.
HM: I’m not sure about this. This looks like mine and this looks like...
DH: So the ah....Just for the records, the descriptions of the time it took to make internegatives and prints are Mr. McMahon’s writing.
HM: This is not my writing.
DH: Okay, Mr. McMahon is now looking at the page of - the top half says at 18 frames per second, the bottom half at sixteen frames per second and he has just said that...
HM: This is not my writing.
DH:...that is not his writing.
HM: This is not my writing. That might have been Ben Hunter’s.
DH: This next page that is not Mr. McMahon's writing is a page which on the uppe right hand corner which reads: "Questions from the 8mm film, how do they know exact frames of first and second shot, queston."
HM: Okay, we didn’t have...we were told what they thought they were, and this is what we we were told they thought they were, and this is what we concluded they were, and this is what we set the photography to...that’s the best I can do...
JG: Do you remember when you prepared the notes that you just looked at?
HM: Yeah, we were in the briefing room, in Building 213 in the Navy Yard, and it was, we were viewing it there because of the equipment.
JG: So that these were made on the day that you processed...?
HM: Yes, this was when we...these are fairly accurate timing shots, time, the way that it could be timed...The 16 frames per second, I don’t know whether I agree on the 18...This might have been ...frames pers second. This might have been a further analysis.
JG: Do you know if somebody else comparing the other notes that you don't recognize at the time or was there a...later...you have any idea...?
HM: They conformed, my best recollection, to what we wrote on that's all I know...I don’t know why I remembered that.
DH: You mean the yellow legal size paper?
DH: Okay, we would like to show you four briefing board panels that survived to see if you recognize the prints.
DH: Let me off The Record While we figure out how to move the briefing board in.
Back on Record:
DH: Okay back on the record and from the same ....90-A. We are looking at the Riff which reads as follows: Document is 90 – A RIF# 1993.07.21 15:48:04.930600 This is titled, quote:
Briefing Panels containing Zapruder Photos of Kennedy's Assassination enquote
Dated 11, 23, 1963. I am handing Mr. McMahon Panel one of four for his examination.
HM: They’ve been trimmed out, but that’s what we shot.
DH: You say it’s been trimmed?
DH: But you recognize it as prints you have made?
HM: Yes. To the best of my knowledge.
DH: We'll show you the four panels, and ask you if you recognize - the same question for each. This is labeled Panel 2.
DH: You also recognize these, for the record, as photographs, prints that you made. If at any time you see something that is not prints you made, please say so. This is Panel 3.
HM: There’s some missing.
DH: This is the final panel, Panel 4.
HM: Yes. I did all those.
DH: Okay. Now that you’ve seen all four panels do you feel like this represents all of the views that you created or do you still feel there is some missing?
HM: No, there are some more...
DH: The notes say, 28, you said earlier there were between 20 and 40.
HM: As a matter of interest I might point out that in the working notes on the page labeled "Briefing Panel," it lists 28 different prints. A total of 28, and earlier you had said that it was somewhere between 20 and 40.
DH: And your opinion now is that you still think some that you made are not present?
HM: Yes, I think there's some missing.
DH: I know it's a long time ago...
HM: No I'm not....(ha ha)
DH: ...Do you recall the image content that might be missing what it might have showed?
HM: You mention they went behind the sign and came out again. I don’t think they had all that sequence there...And then there was one of the FBI agent jumping up,...not the FBI, the body guard, jumping on the back...and then there was one where his head fell down on her lap - so I don't see that.
DH: When you say his head you mean the president?
HM: The President's head - after the one that you showed, the last brefing board that you showed, not this one.
HM: Then again that might have been not used.
DH: Here's the last one, Panel 4, and the last print on the board shows Secret Service Agent Clint Hill on the rear of the limousine, it's the only frame that shows him.
HM: I think there ultimately were two agents no the back of the limousine, but that was after the barn door was...has since closed at that point...maybe that was there...
DH: Let’s look at Panel 1...Panel one shows the limousine half behind this road sign and there are several road sign shots. At the end of Panel one the car is coming form behind the road sign. Does this sequence look like it represents...?
HM: Yes, that looks fairly en...tire...but I think there were more before the road sign, before...
DH: This frame or the frame...
HM: ....maybe they determined that....
DH: This first frame on Panel 1 – although it is not labeled on the panel, in the working notes it's labeled "this frame 188." It's your recollection that there may have been other frames prior to 188?
HM: Yes... where there was some action of some sort.
DH: I’d like to clarify for the record. I think we've covered it already but just for the sake of those who listen to thist tape later...Did you see the actual briefing boards that night?
HM: No. I saw the pictures, the actual pictures. I made the pictures, and I made three each of everything.
DH: Okay, and did you give them to Mr. Smith when you were finished or do you recall?
HM: I know that Ben Hunter, and if it was - Smith, or whoever he was (ha ha), took them and had the briefing boards made upstairs, and I might have gone up but then I didn't stay to, ah, to see the finished product, or they had to take - make what they call headliners and text and they might have put classifications on them, I think there was a classification that had to be put on, but I’m not positive.
DH: Do you...In relation to the discussions that were held that night by the workers, between yourself and Mr. Smith and Mr. Hunter, do you have any opinion on what these triangles might mean on the briefing boards, Panel one there's a red triangle, on the first row, on the second row there's a blue triangle, there's a blue triangle on the second row on Panel 2?
HM: I haven’t the faintest idea.
DH: Okay...Okay...Do you recall what happened to the internegatives?
HM: Yeah, they were given...all of the information, including the scraps, were given to Bill Smith. (ha ha). Everything we did, including scraps, waste, test sheets, was all given back and nothing, no parts were saved, we didn’t even put it in the classified trash, we gave the trash back.
DH: Okay. Is there anything about this event that we have not covered yet, that we should cover? Anything that comes to mind that we have been discussing now and go...that maybe there’s something important that we feel should be covered that we haven’t asked you about?
HM: Yes. You know what opinions are? Opinions, everybody has an opinion, and yes, I am very opinionated, and I have a lot of opinions, we all have opinions, and I'd just as soon not...I was trying to reflect, this is for history,...and I don’t want to interject anything into this that shouldn’t be. I’m trying to be as open and honest, and telling what I remember, and I don’t have good remembrance. I’m almost 70 years old, I’m almost 80 years old, I’m almost 90 years old, I don’t know, but that’s the best of my knowledge.
DH: Okay,...Welll, I want to thank you very much for your time, and I'm sorry, Michelle, before I close, is there anything you wanted to ask? You've been taking notes here today.
K. Michelle Combs: I have one very quick question. Who called you in?
HM: I was not contacted.
MC: Were you in the building...or did you come in?
HM: Okay, I think that I was, okay when I’m contacted from home, it’s by a security officer,
MC: Or by the duty officer?
HM: A duty officer, because they probably had to open the lab, turn on the electricity, lights, and I know it was an all night affair
MC: Do you think the duty officer called your house?
HM: I'm pretty sure it was recorded somewhere in the security, and the opening of the vault would be recorded - if they kept those records.
HM: These had deteriated rather badly. There’s dye, tremendous dye loss...you could see the pictures, the faces and everything else much clearer when I originally made them, so there’s been a tremendous loss of image and quality. You’ve lost about 60% of the...magenta resin core coupler, and about 80 percent of the yellow resin core, and maybe 10 percent of the cyan... so there’s a lot of information that’s not there. That was a problem with the old resin core couplers, they were not stable, buffing solutions couldn’t stabilize the dies for 35 years.
DH: Thank you very much for sharing your recollections and opinions with us. There have been many things about these notes that were actually either not understood or I think misunderstood by many people, including myself. This has been very helpful for the record. Thank you very much.
DH: We’re back on the record. This is Doug Horne with Mr. McMahon and I just found one more photographic print, it's separate from the briefing boards, it looks to me like its eight by ten or very close to eight by ten. It's bigger than the photos on the briefing boards. It's Document ID # 1993.07.22.08:33:27:250600 Dated 11-23-63. It's an eight by ten color print of a frame from the Zapruder film, in between the road sign and the head shot, and on the back there's a color crayon marking 80X. I'd like to ask Mr. McMahon to explain what this is?
HM: This was made from the 40X internegative and it was a 2X enlargement done on a DeVere, not a precision enlarger, and it shows...I'm not sure in the sequence where it is...but it was made to show what the enlargement would look like compared - The contact print was of a better quality. Because we didn't have a 2X briefing board enlarger set up to do it. We had to do it on a cheaper Italian DeVere enlarger...If we put on our briefing board enlarger with the liquid gate, we could have gotten equal quality to resolution and sharpness, but it wasn't available for some reason, so we couldn't use that equipment and we had to use a lesser, and they would rather go - it was big enough and they wpi;d rather go with the sharpness and the resolution so that....There was too much loss.
DH: Too much loss with reproducing the image in the manner it is in this one print...
HM: Well it was not a liquid gate, it was a 2X conventional enlarger.
DH: Okay, from the internegative...
HM: Okay....from the original 40x interneg, so we elected not to go that way.
DH: So this would have been made a test prior to the prints made for the briefing board, perhaps?
HM: Well we made a contact print, and we made a 2X enlargement.
DH: I see, I see...
HM: And the contact print was far better in quality...
HM: But it wouldn't have been if we had one of the briefing board enlargers to make the 2X.
DH:I see. But you didn't?
HM: It was, for some reason, it was down, it wasn't operative.
DH: So this 80X on the back it looks like colored pencil. Is that your writing?
HM: Yes. that's my writing.
DH: Okay, and there's a number in the corner, a blue number. It's either a nine or a six upside down. I think it's a nine, looks like a nine, do you recognize that number?
HM: It looks like a nine...do you recognize that number...?
Over at 1:41:19
[Bill Kelly Notes: Many thanks to Jones Harris for calling attention to the signifiance of this interview, Peter Janney for providing the recording and Jerry Ellis for correcting and filling in the gaps in the transcript.]