Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gen. Clifton's AF1 Radio Transmission Tape

Gen. Clifton's AF1 Radio Transmission Tape from the Raab Collection


The foremost new addition to the historical record in one the most important events in American history, this tape predates the National Archives / Johnson Library version, is more than 30 minutes longer, and contain new names and incidents.


Years before the creation of the LJB Library version, thought until now to be the only surviving one, another tape existed of conversations aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963. This crucial piece of history has been long sought. White House records revealed nothing. The discovery of this, the earliest version known to exist, and the events and names it discloses, will change the way we view this seminal event of the 20th century.


Ours was a non forensic process; differences were identified solely from professionally digitized files using standard audio equipment


All references to LeMay have been deleted from the Johnson version. His aide wanted to reach him badly and immediately, and was trying to interrupt Air Force One transmissions to do so. (see below for more on LeMay). “Colonel Dorman, General LeMay’s aide. General LeMay is in a C140. Last three numbers are 497, SAM C140. His code name is Grandson. And I want to talk to him.” Any delay, he said, “would be too late.” LeMay’s precise location at the time of the assassination and after have been a subject of open speculation. This places him.

Audio clip excerpt – LeMay’s aide urgently attempts to reach the General


Someone code-named “Monument,” someone referred to as “WTE,” and someone named “John” referred to. “Hello? Can you get me Secretary Rusk? Hold on please…Cedar Rapids, give me 972. Stand by we are having a State Dept. join now. I’m showing a…I’ll have John give you a call soon as he’s done. WTE wants him. OK. Hold on line. 1102 3000 1104.” Talking about Rusk: “He is talking to Mr. Ball. Stand by one. State Dept is talking to Mr. Salinger at this time. Do everything on there. You talk to Ball. Number one is trying to break in…” “…november alpha bravo 90. I’d like to talk to Monument who’s aboard that aircraft.”


He was identified by Pierre Salinger in his book. “Andrews, The answer to your request is Maj. Harold R. Paterson, I think. Maj. Harold R. Paterson.”
Excerpt: “Stranger”


There is additional discussion as to whether it should be taken to Walter Reed or Bethesda, on procuring an ambulance, and on whether Mrs. Kennedy would also going there. These were areas of disagreement. “Andrews supplying ambulance for body to take to Walter Reed. Repeat please, repeat please. Walter Reed for body, Walter Reed. Over. Say again, say again.”


There is expanded discussion of which vehicles would pick up the body: Gerald Behn, the head of the Secret Service, is overheard giving his frank opinion on the matter, discussing the cars, a “black Cadillac,” and/or ambulances. “… a black Cadillac…I would get them out there anyways regardless Henry, get them out there anyways regardless of the maybe. Maybe is what they said…” Later, a separate voice remarks, “I am trying to order White House car 102 and 405x. I understand you are ordering two cars, is that a roger?” The ARRB report noted a later reference to a “black Cadillac” but since this conversation was omitted noted that it lacked context and might be important. This discrepancy is just one of a handful of such specific circumstances the ARRB notes.
Excerpt: The head of the Secret Service on the disposition of the body


There are expanded discussions with him. “Air Force One, Crown, I’m putting General Heaton on the line, over. Air Force One, Crown, go ahead. General Heaton on the line. Hello, General Heaton… General Heaton, this is Admiral Burkley…You…the military district of Washington in regards to the taking care of the remains of the President Kennedy, and we are planning on having the President taken to directly to Walter Reed and probably Mrs. Kennedy will also be going out there.”
Excerpt: General Heaton and Admiral Burkley planning the disposition of the President’s body


Someone was looking for Texan Congressmen who were there during the assassination. “Air Force 1970, John D. needs to know here on the ground if you have Congressmen Thomas, Thornberry and Brooks aboard. Can you check them out for us? Say again, Robby…The…need to know…”

Excerpt: Looking for the Congressmen from Texas


There is additional material relating to the communications with State Dept. officials, coordination of their return information, and concern about information they were being given.


There is expanded conversation about what bands they will speak on, information valuable in assessing the process of communication on board Air Force One during the flight home.

These are just a few of the points of difference we found, using the acoustic equipment at our disposal. Forensic equipment could certainly reveal more. Moreover, this discovery permits the application of new technologies to the original film and not simply to a digital file. It is the most significant piece of audio/visual history ever to reach the public market.

Note on Curtis LeMay: He was the Air Force Chief and a particularly staunch opponent of the Kennedy administration. Robert McNamara stated that LeMay was a staunch advocate of “preemptive nuclear war to rid the world of the Soviet threat.” Air Force Chief Curtis LeMay, who had been advocating nuclear war with the Soviet Union since the early 1950s, thought Cuba was a “sideshow” and told the President that the United States should “fry it.” LeMay, himself a member of the Joint Chiefs, “was in the habit of taking bullying command of Joint Chiefs meetings,” and with LeMay leading the charge for war, “the other chiefs jumped into the fray, repeating the Air Force general’s call for immediate military action.” Around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy told an aide that the administration needed to make sure that the Joint Chiefs did not start a war without his approval. Thirteen days after that crisis began, the Soviets announced that they would remove the missiles from Cuba, with the US agreeing to remove missiles from US bases in Turkey and “pledging not to invade Cuba.” At the announcement of the end to the crisis, General LeMay told Kennedy, “It’s the greatest defeat in our history,” and that, “We should invade today.” Lyndon Johnson had better relations with General LeMay.


November 22, 1963 – John Kennedy is assassinated, and the conversations on board AF1 are recorded. These conversations will eventually become one of the most important primary resources in the investigation

Late 1963-1965 – A copy is created for Ted Clifton, Senior Military Aide to John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson military aide

1966-1968 – A shorter, edited version is created during the Johnson Administration, which was later given to the LBJ Library and distributed by it to the National Archives and the John F. Kennedy Library. By the time LBJ leaves, all other versions go missing.

1970s – The LBJ version is released to the American people

1990s – A governmental agency’s efforts to discover any other version of this tape in governmental repositories are unsuccessful, even under penalty of perjury

2011 – The original, longer copy belonging to Clifton is discovered


President Kennedy was murdered while riding in a motorcade in Dallas at 12:30 pm CST on Friday, November 22, 1963. Several photos and films captured the assassination, including the famous Zapruder Film. JFK was rushed to Parkland Hospital, where a tracheotomy and other efforts failed to keep him alive. After he was pronounced dead around 1 pm, his body was flown back to Washington aboard Air Force One, on board which were his wife Jackie and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. Upon landing his body was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where an autopsy was performed, and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday the 25th.

Meanwhile, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested around 2 pm at the Texas Theatre in the Oak Cliff suburb of Dallas and charged with murdering a police officer named J.D. Tippit. Protesting that he was “a patsy,” Oswald was paraded in front of the world’s gathering cameras and accused of murdering President Kennedy as well. He was interrogated throughout the weekend, though no recordings or transcriptions were made. During an intended transfer to county facilities on Sunday morning the 24th, Oswald was shot and killed on live television in the basement of the Dallas Police station. His murderer was a local nightclub owner with alleged connections to organized crime named Jack Ruby. People were stunned by all this and there was a wide-spread call for investigation of the Kennedy assassination and aftermath.

Who killed Kennedy and why

In 1964, the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, named by President Johnson and known as the Warren Commission, found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby were part of “any conspiracy, domestic or foreign…” The issuance of the Warren Report was followed about two months later by 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits, the “supporting evidence” on which the Report and one-assassin conclusion were based. Soon people who read the tomes were claiming that despite its lengthy report the investigation was half-hearted and incomplete, that there were discrepancies in the evidence, that information tending to place the commission’s conclusion in doubt had been ignored or withheld, that important witnesses had not even been interviewed, etc. They maintained that the official story did not stand up to scrutiny, and there must have been some conspiracy at the heart of the assassination. This led to widespread allegations of a government cover up, and a plethora of theories were proposed about who killed President Kennedy and why. The percentage of Americans who doubted the Warren Commission’s conclusion leaped from 39% after that report was issued to 60% in 1967.

A demand for answers 30 years after the event

In 1991 Oliver Stone released the film “JFK,” which examined the events leading to the assassination and the alleged subsequent cover-up. The film was very popular, showing again the enduring fascination of the public with this quintessential story of tragedy and conspiracy. It also proved to be a landmark moment politically, as it ignited an outcry for answers about the assassination that led to the passage of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. The act set up the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board to search for, collect and re-examine for public release assassination-related records held by federal agencies. The Board finished its work in 1998 and issued a final report, which though not containing findings on the assassination of President Kennedy, did result in the release of previously withheld government records and the exposure of some new additional information through its depositions of eyewitnesses. Yet for all the excitement and good intentions, the Board’s work spotlighted more the important information that was still missing than what it had been able to find.

The famed Air Force One Tapes

There is just a trio of important sources of primary evidentiary material in the Kennedy assassination. Two of these are the evidence created or found in Dallas (such as acoustic evidence, ballistic evidence, and physical findings in the Book Depository), and the medical evidence (such as coroner’s photographs and reports). Essentially everything about these materials is known, and they have been analyzed and reanalyzed. They have not been significantly augmented for decades, and not much can be expected in the way of new discoveries.

The third important source of evidence in the Kennedy assassination are the famous Air Force One tapes, which recorded conversations between that plane, the White House Situation Room, and other places in the immediate wake of the assassination.

The matters discussed included the disposition of the President’s body, where it should be taken and how it should be removed from the plane and transported, the details of disagreements about these key facts, plans for where Mrs. Kennedy would be taken, attempts to organize a conversation about the President’s autopsy, mentions of cars, limousines and ambulances, plus innumerable other topics. The tapes also placed the various parties, allowing the public to learn where they were, at what time, and what they were saying.

These tapes were released by the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, and they start with an announcer stating: “The following recording has been reproduced from ground recorded non-high fidelity tape to re-cord record patch communications of Air Force One.” He continues, “This tape has been edited and condensed to contain only pertinent information relative to events during 22nd of November, 1963. Only material available from radio circuits used is available.” The tapes at the National Archives and John F. Kennedy Library are the version provided by the Johnson Library, and no other version of the tapes has been known to exist. So with the only tapes available an edited version, and no answer to the questions of who ordered the edits or what had been edited out, the tapes themselves poured fuel on the fire and became a central part of the controversy.

ARRB expressed a great deal of interest in these tapes, and in a lengthy memo stated that they contained important observations that would “clearly justify” its pursuing them. It was concerned about the accuracy of the edited version, “crude edits and breaks,” and its known discrepancies, like a conversation with General Heaton that was referenced at one spot but not recorded anywhere. Plus there were the questions of what code names, locales and call numbers were missing, and what may have been the significance of others statements. And most obviously, what was edited out and why.

The ARRB went looking for the unedited tapes. It went so far as to issue a targeted request to the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) under penalty of perjury, and to the Air Force, seeking all additional records or versions of the Air Force One tapes. Neither had any such records nor knowledge of the disposition of any such records. So again all that was left was the Johnson Library version.

The Discovery of the first Air Force One Assassination tape, not previously known to exist; Timeline of the versions of the Kennedy assassination tapes

So the prevailing state of affairs has been that the LBJ tape is the only one that exists, that it was edited from original tapes that are presumed lost or destroyed, and that we would learn nothing else.

Who possessed the newly discovered tape, one that is longer than the LBJ Library tape
President Kennedy never appointed a chief of staff, but the man who undertook many of the responsibilities of that office was his senior military aide Chester (Ted) Clifton. Clifton was in the Dallas motorcade and was aboard Air Force One on that fateful day and involved in the discussions. Following the assassination, he was in charge of dealing with military and national security affairs in the aftermath. He retained his position for a while in the Johnson administration. He served from January 20, 1961 to his retirement on August 3, 1965.

The raw tapes

The ARRB established that the WHCA was responsible for communications between Air Force One, the White House Situation Room, and other sites on the day of the assassination. It tape recorded those actual communications. These were the raw tapes. They would have been at least 4 hours and 20 minutes long, as known portions of the tape commence no later than 1:45 EST and conclude on wheels down for Air Force One at approximately 6:05. The version states that it had been edited down from these.
The first Air Force One Assassination tape

Sometime between the end of November 1963 and July 1965, the raw WHCA tapes from November 22, 1963 were used to create an Air Force One Assassination tape that was 2:22 minutes long. The WHCA labels the tape as “For General Clifton,” and it is the first identifiable White House Version of the tape produced. Two originals of this version were made for General Clifton at that time. That this version was made prior to General Clifton’s retirement in August 1965 is indicated by the fact that Pierre Salinger was given access to at least some portions of it to research his book, “With Kennedy,” which was published in 1966.

The Johnson Library edited version

During the Johnson presidency, at some time between the end of 1965 and January 1969 when LBJ left the White House, a different, shorter and edited version was created. The preparer of this still had access to the raw tapes, showing that they existed then, and may well also have had access to the first Air Force One Assassination tape. In this edited version, dozens of deletions were made from the first Air Force One Assassination tape. This edited version went back to Texas with LBJ (leaving no version in the White House records), and it was given by him to the Johnson Library, where it resides today. This version is the one that both the Kennedy Library and National Archives have, and is the one that was made available to the public in the 1970s.

The loss and/or destruction of the raw tapes and the first Air Force One Assassination tape

The raw tapes never resurfaced after 1965-6, and the very existence of the first Air Force One Assassination tape was forgotten. Over the years all efforts to find the raw tapes or any other original version proved fruitless. They are no longer with the White House Communications Agency, where they were created.

General Clifton’s first Air Force One Assassination tape rediscovered

General Clifton’s effects were recently disposed of by his heirs, and his copies of the original first Air Force One Assassination tape were among them. The reappearance of this tape is a major event in the Kennedy assassination case, and makes possible for the first time a complete understanding of the versions of the tapes and their chronology. We had the tapes professionally digitized, so they are now in both digitized and reel-to-reel form.


The long term impacts of this proved to be profound. The assassination left people more cynical and distrustful than before, an attitude still in evidence today. And though the Kennedy years were not really part of the era that followed known as the Sixties, they set off various chain reactions that led it off.

The phenomenon of interest in the Kennedy assassination, which never seems to die
The event took place in 1963, 48 years ago. Yet people still have a keen interest in it and very definite opinions. A 2009 CBS poll found that only one in 10 Americans believes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. By 74% to 13%, the public thought there was an official cover-up to keep the public from learning the truth about the assassination.
This discovery is the first major change in the availability of primary resource on the assassination since the Commission finished its deliberations in the 1990s and the most important since the 1970s.

The sale of the original first Air Force One Assassination tape and donation of the digitized content

In January 2012, one of the two originals officially went to the National Archives at a Press Conference to the Kennedy Assassination Records division which has a Congressional mandate to collect important history and is the nation’s repository for Kennedy Assassination records.

For sale is the other original, identical, tape. The buyer will receive the original reel-to-reel, and the high definition digitized copy. It is the only original known to be in private hands.


The Raab Collection is a leading international dealer in important historical documents for sale and has worked with the families of great historical figures for decades to discover, save, preserve, and sell original history.

The Raab Collection
(800) 977-8333

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