Wednesday, February 1, 2012
ARRB Search for AF1 Radio Tapes
Douglas Horne, the senior analyst for military records for the Assassination Records Review Boad (ARRB) writes about the Air Force One radio tapes in his book Inside ARRB (Chapter 13) The "Air Force One" Audiotapes.
HORNE: One of the most intriguing, and frustrating, records of the assassination are the heavily edited "Air Force One" audiotapes available from the LBJ Presidential Library in Texas. Colleague Joan Zimmerman, who was as curious about the autopsy and the role of the Secret Service the night of the autopsy as I was, spent two whole days with me at the Archives II facility in College Park, Maryland—October 10-11, 1995—studying the tapes. The result was my first ARRB "research memo," completed on October 17, 1995. I am referencing it now as I write up this brief section.
The tapes were recorded by the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), which is responsible for coordinating all Presidential communications. The total length of the edited conversations on the three audiocassettes is approximately 2 hours; a disclaimer at the beginning says the tapes are "edited and condensed," but does not indicate who did the editing or how much material was deleted.
The tapes are recordings of in-flight conversations that occurred on November 22, 1963 between SAM 26000 (Air Force One), SAM 86972 (the aircraft carrying several Cabinet officials and Press Secretary Pierre Salinger from Hawaii to Japan when JFK was assassinated), Andrews AFB, "Liberty" (the "Fish Bowl," run by Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa—the outfit patching all of the radio calls back and forth between the different parties), and "Crown" (the White House Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House).
The purpose of the 2-day visit to the Archives was to determine whether there were any significant reasons to pursue the unedited, full length version of the recordings. There were; we did; and neither the Air Force nor the White House Communications Agency exhibited any interest or cooperation whatsoever. The ARRB's inability to locate the unedited recordings was my second biggest
disappointment while working there. (My biggest disappointment, of course, was not taking the depositions of the Dallas doctors in the presence of the autopsy photographs.) Four frequencies were identified on the tape as being in use that night, and a memo written by USAF Master Sergeant John C. Trimble (the radio operator aboard Air Force One on 11/22/63) stated that he "...had three phone patches going simultaneously for much of the time..." during the flight back to Andrews AFB from Love Field. Since the flight time from "wheels up" to "on the blocks" at the final destination was 2 hrs. 17 min., it is possible that the total duration of recorded conversation, on all four channels, was anywhere from seven to nine hours long. One of the problems when listening to the tapes is that the listener does not know which "patch" he is listening to at any one time, or whether or not the various conversations on the edited tapes are recorded in the right time sequence in relation to each other (since there were three circuits in use almost continuously).
Some of the 'investigative leads' I noted in my memo of October 17, 1995 are summarized below:
• Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman, and later U.S. Army General Ted Clifton (Military Aide to President Kennedy) make it clear on the radio that their desire is for an ambulance and a limousine to take President Kennedy's body to Walter Reed (not Bethesda) for autopsy "...under guard...," as specified by General Clifton.
• Gerald Behn, Head of the Secret Service White House Detail (speaking from "Crown"), counters that a helicopter has been arranged to take the President's body to the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda for autopsy, and that all other personnel will be choppered to the south grounds of the White House.
• Ultimately, Dr. Burkley (onboard Air Force One) sides with Gerald Behn (at the White House) in support of a Bethesda autopsy, and persuades General Heaton (the Surgeon General of the Army, in Washington) to cancel arrangements for a Walter Reed autopsy.
• After Bethesda has been selected as the autopsy site, the mode of transportation to Bethesda is discussed. Burkley and Clifton insist that JFK's body be transported by ambulance (vice helicopter), even though JFK's Naval aide, CAPT Shepard, has assured Behn that it would be no problem for a helicopter to carry the heavy casket.
• Unaccountably, even though ambulance transport had been selected for JFK's body, Gerald Behn directs Kellerman on the radio: "You accompany the body aboard the helicopter." [Question: Was Behn aware that the bronze Dallas casket was empty and that JFK's body was in the forward luggage compartment?]
• General Clifton insists upon, and then repeats, in great detail, orders for the following ground support at Andrews AFB upon arrival: a forklift and platform at the left rear of the aircraft for the casket; a personnel ramp at the left front of the aircraft for the debarkation of President Johnson and the other passengers; and another personnel ramp at the right front of the airplane (the dark, unlit side where there is a galley door)for the departure of Jacqueline Kennedy. [Mrs. Kennedy did not use the forward starboard galley door to leave the aircraft in secret; she insisted on staying with the Dallas casket, which threw a monkey wrench in the conspirators' likely plans to reunite JFK's body with the Dallas casket at Walter Reed hospital prior to taking the bronze coffin to Bethesda.]
•At one point Roy Kellerman says to Gerald Behn: "I'm sure the Volunteer boys will go over his car and so forth." ("Volunteer" was the WHCA code word used for LBJ.) Late in the flight, as Air Force One nears Andrews, someone is heard discussing the status of the flight carrying the two vehicles—the Presidential limousine and the Queen Mary—back to Washington. [The "Volunteer boys" is surely a reference to Secret Service agents assigned to LBJ; I wonder whether Kellerman was discussingan impending search of the Presidential limousine, in an attempt to remove any of the 'wrong' kind of evidence—such as evidence of shots from the front striking the automobile?]
• Background chatter can be heard at one point, discussing a "limousine and ambulance at Andrews," and at another juncture, as part of this same background chatter, the phrase "black Cadillac" can be heard. [A hearse is a black Cadillac.]
• During the flight, "SAM Command Post" (undefined) calls Air Force One and a Colonel 'Arnbuck' (phonetic spelling) expresses a concern from the Chief of Staff (almost certainly Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay) as to whether President Johnson and Mr. Kennedy's body are onboard the aircraft.
• During the flight, several players make plans to separate Mrs. Kennedy from JFK's body [i.e., the Dallas casket] after landing. General Clifton is the person who asked for a personnel ramp after landing at the forward starboard galley door for Mrs. Kennedy's debarkation. Gerald Behn attempts on two occasions to separateall passengers aboard Air Force One from JFK's body after landing (desiring to send 'the body' to Bethesda via helicopter, and all other passengers to the south grounds of the White House via helicopter also). [Since we now know—thanks to the Boyajian document—that the Dallas casket had to be empty when it was offloaded from Air Force One, the repeated interest in separating JBK from the Dallas casket indicates an intention to reunite the body with the casket prior to the autopsy.]
• Immediately after Behn ordered Kellerman to "...accompany the body aboard the helicopter," the following exchange took place:
Kellerman: I was unable to get ahold of Payne and Bob Burke (names are phonetic approximations).
Kellerman or Behn: ...Payne and Burke at the ranch...
Unidentified: ...Payne and Burke were not notified...
• Finally, "Wing" (Kennedy's Air Force aide, General Godfrey McHugh) asks "Crown"(the White House situation room) to contact "Slugger" (USAF Captain Cecil Stoughton), and to direct him to meet the aircraft as soon as possible on the ground at Andrews. A reason is not given, but the urgency and importance of the matter to General McHugh is quite clear because of his tone of voice. "Crown" later informs "Wing" that "Slugger" remained on the ground in Dallas. [Cecil Stoughton took the now infamous photo of Congressman Al Thomas of Houston smiling and winking at LBJ immediately after Johnson had been sworn in as President onboard Air Force One, just prior to takeoff from Love Field. Could LBJ have been concerned about the possibility of the 'wink' photo getting published? He need not have worried;
Cecil Stoughton had better discretion than that. However, he was aware of the political significance of the photograph. When David Lifton called him to ask him about the photo just prior to its publication inBest Evidence, Stoughton expressed surprise and alarm, and asked Lifton how he knew about it. Apparently, the LBJ Library had printed it for Lifton by mistake; Stoughton clearly thought it had been suppressed. Author Richard Trask writes (on page 47 of Pictures of the Pain) that the negative of the 'wink photo' has now disappeared from the LBJ Library.]
DOUG HORNE IARRB p. 1660
THE AIR FORCE ONE TAPES: MORE EVIDENCE OF A U.S. GOVERNMENT COVERUP
In his 1996 book History Will Not Absolve Us, author E. Martin Schotz writes of Vincent Salandria's discovery in 1966 of an extremely early Government attempt at a simplistic whitewash, placing the sole blame for the assassination on a lone malcontent, Lee Harvey Oswald, before Air Force One even landed at Andrews Air Force Base on November 22, 1963. Salandria's discovery came from Theodore H. White's book The Making of a President, 1964 – in which White wrote on page 20:
There is a tape recording in the archives of the Government which best recaptures the sound of the hours as it waited for leadership. It is a recording of all the conversations in the air, monitored by the [Army] Signal Corps Midwestern center "Liberty," between Air Force One in Dallas, the Cabinet plane over the Pacific, and the Joint Chiefs' Communication Center in Washington.
White continued on page 48:
On the flight the party learned that there was no conspiracy, learned of the identity of Oswald and his arrest; and the President's mind turned to the duties of consoling the stricken and guiding the quick.
Corroboration for White's claim can be found in the 1993 oral history edited by Gerald S. and Debroah H. Strober, Let Us Begin Anew: An Oral History of the Kennedy Presidency. On pages 450-451, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Manning – who was aboard the Cabinet plane to Japan with Secretary of State Rusk and Presidential Press Secretary Pierre Salinger – is quoted as saying that the White House situation room was in continuous voice contact with the Cabinet aircraft, and not only informed Rusk that "Lancer [the President] is dead," but also told the editors of the book: "The news then came in that someone named Oswald who had been in the Soviet Union had done this."
This is most curious, since on November 23, 1963 (the next morning) the Dallas Morning News printed the following, quoting District Attorney Henry Wade from the previous day:"…preliminary reports indicated more than one person was involved in the shooting…the electric chair is too good for the killers."
For the Dallas District Attorney to say that preliminary reports indicated more than one person was involved in the shooting was quite understandable, given that the suspect's rifle was found in the Book Depository (behind the motorcade at the time of the shooting), and yet numerous eyewitnesses indicated shots had unmistakenly come from the Grassy Knoll, to the right front of the vehicle at the time of the shooting. What is truly strange is that anyone in the White House Situation Room could pass on a solution to the crime while Air Force One was in the air enroute from Dallas to Washington the day of the assassination – before the sun had even set – when no one in Dallas had solved the crime, or had even yet claimed to have solved the crime. At the time the information White and Manning referred to was passed to Air Force One, suspect Oswald had not even been charged with the murder of the President. If the White House Situation Room had been an honest broker in all of this, its report should have said: "a suspect has been arrested in the shooting of a policeman, and a rifle has been found in a building along the motorcade route." Either someone was feeding the White House Situation Room the desired "legend" about the assassination, or someone in the White House Situation Room was in on the conspiracy.
What was unclear then, and remains unclear now, is whether journalist Theodore H. White listened to these tapes himself, or whether he was indirectly fed some of the information on the tapes by LBJ aids while researching and writing his book. White tries to give the impression that he was privy to the tapes himself, but as subsequent events revealed, this was extremely unlikely. It is much more likely that he was simply told what was on the tapes by an LBJ aid 'on background.' Vincent Salandria's dogged attempts to obtain access to these audio recordings – through Theodore White, the National Archives, Pierre Salinger, and ultimately, the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) – were fruitless.
The White House Communications Agency turned out to be the correct point of contact, but WHCA only hinted at this, neither confirming nor denying that such a tape from 11/22/63 existed, and simply replied to Salandria that any such tapes would not be made available to US citizens:
January 2, 1968
Dear Mr. Salandria:
I have been asked to respond to your letter, addressed to the White House Communications Agency, concerning a tape recording to [sic] Air Force One, November 22, 1963.
Logs and tapes of the radio transmissions of military aircraft, including those of Air Force One, are kept for official use only. These tapes are not releasable, nor are they obtainable from commercial sources.
I am sorry my response cannot be more favorable.
James U. Cross
Armed Forces Aide to the President"
This response – which undoubtedly was coordinated with LBJ – makes it a virtual certainty that Theodore H. White never listened t the tapes himself, but instead was given a summary account of some of the content material in the recordings by an insider who had listened to them.
As a member of the Military Records Team on the staff of the Assassinations Records Review Board, I did my best to locate the original, unedited Air Force one tapes; ultimately, I had no more success than Vincent Salandria. But by this time – by 1995, when I first became involved in the search – the landscape had changed considerably.
A commercial version – a heavily edited version – of the tapes of in-flight recordings made on 11/22/63 by the White House Communications Agency had surfacedsubsequent to Salandria's search, so the existence of the tapes was no longer subject to question. I visited Archives II on October 10-11, 1995 with colleague Dr. Joan Zimmerman, and listened to the version of the Air Force One tapes released by the LBJ Library. The NARA recordings available at Archives II in College Park, Maryland – sent to them by the LBJ Library – appeared to be identical to what I had purchased through the mail a few years previously through a small Texas bookstore. The very first voice audible on the tape is a member of the Army Signal Corps, who announces that the recording is "edited and condensed." Large portions of the 3 cassette tapes at Archives II consist of blank space, but I would estimate that the total length of spoken material on the 3 cassettes is somewhere between 110-120 minutes, or a maximum of two hours. The information reported below is from the staff memo I wrote about the experience on October 17, 1995.
A so-called "transcript" of the 3 cassette tapes is available in the JFK Records Collection, 67 and is not to be trusted, since it is incomplete, and is not verbatim.
Any interested researcher is advised to request copies of the audiotapes themselves from the audiovisual branch of Archives II in College Park, Maryland (or the LBJ Library itself). One Warren Commission document, a typed statement signed by the radio operator on Air Force One on 11/22/63 – Master Sergeant John C. Trimble, USAF – reveals that four radio frequencies for voice communications had been set up by him the day of the assassination for the flight from Love Field back to Andrews AFB, and that 3 of them were in almost constant use. I quote from his statement: "I ….had three phone patches going simultaneously most of the time."
As an ARRB staff member I was very concerned with determining whether or not a significant portion of time had been excised from the original recordings. Anyone concerned with this exercise must begin with the flight time from Love Field to Andrews AFB: 2 hours 17 minutes. Next, since Trimble had written that he had "three phone patches going simultaneously most of the time," it is wise to take a conservative approach to his statement "most of the time." I interpreted "most of the time" as 2 hours out of the total flight time of 2 hours, 17 minutes. Continuing with this calculation, the reader should multiply 2 hours ('most of the time') times 3 radio circuits ( 'going simultaneously'), i.e., 2 x 3 = 6, which conservatively yields six hours of unedited voice conversationsas the length of the unedited Air Force One tapes
67 In LBJ Library box # 19
from November 22, 1963. Since the tapes at Archives II are a maximum of two hours in length, approximately 4 hours have been excised. It appears safe to say, then, that the amount of time edited out of the existing tape is twice as long as the length of the information released by the LBJ Library.
This is extremely disturbing.
Furthermore, there is no mention on the edited version of the Air Force Once conversations (with either the White House Situation Room, or the Cabinet plane), of the crime being solved, or of the assassin being captured and identified, as referenced by Theodore White and Robert Manning. I can only conclude from this that the information passed to Air Force One was premature, in that it was too detailed for the information available on the ground in Dallas at the time, and therefore had to be excised from the historical record to protect the conspirators who passed along this information. To have released the unedited tapes would have revealed, directly or indirectly, the identity of one of the conspirators.
One prominent voice that is present on the tapes is that of Gerald Behn, the Head of the White House Detail of the U.S. Secret Service, who had chosen to take leave during the President's trip to Texas, but was nevertheless present in the White House Situation Room coordinating arrangements. In one conversation that did survive on the edited version, Behn is heard ordering ASAIC Roy Kellerman (who was in charge of the Dallas trip, who was in the front right-hand seat of the limousine in Dallas, and who subsequently monitored and partially controlled entrance to the morgue during the autopsy), "You accompany the body [of the President] aboard the helicopter." This is particularly interesting, since the Dallas casket was transported by a Navy Ambulance, containing Greer, Kelleman, RFK, JBK, and others. 68.
There can be heard on the existing tape what appear to be crude edits and breaks in the conversation, as well as references to other conversations which are not on the tape available today. The indecision, or rather tug-of-war, over whether the President's autopsy should be performed at Walter Reed Hospital or Bethesda Naval Hospital is one of the subjects of interest on the edited tapes, as is interest by the White House in the limousine and follow-up car being transported back to Washington D.C. in a C-130 aircraft. In another tantalizing fragment of a conversation on the edited tapes, there is discussion of a "limousine and ambulance at Andrews," and an indistinct reference to a "black Cadillac" at one point. It is unclear whether this is a reference to a hearse (which is indeed a black Cadillac), or to the follow-up car in the Dallas motorcade, the so-called Queen Mary, which was itself a black Cadillac convertible. In one fragment of conversation, a Colonel from OPS expresses a concern from the Chief of Staff (General LeMay?) as to whetherPresident Johnson or Mr. Kennedy's body is onboard the aircraft. One would have expected the Chief of Staff of the Air Force to be concerned with the overall DEFCON status, or the alert status of SAC's bombers and ICBMs, not the whereabouts of JFK's body. This seems to me
[68 It is still unknown today whether JFK's body was helicoptered from Andrews to the grounds of Bethesda and then placed in a black hearse, or whether a black hearse spirited it at high speed, uninterrupted, directly from Andrews to the loading dock outside the Bethesda morgue. The fact that President Kennedy's body actually arrived at 1835 (6:35 PM) at the loading dock outside the Bethesda NNMC morgue, whereas the Andrews motorcade did not arrived until about 6:55 PM (twenty minutes later), strongly implies that a helicopter was used to transport it to the Navy complex, and that it was united with the Gawler's hearse containing Hagen and Robinson a short distance from the hospital complex itself. ]
a pretty damning statement, given the fact that LeMay disobeyed orders from the Secretary of the Air Force to proceed to Andrews AFB; instead proceeded to the Natinoal Airport near downtown Washington D.C.; and was reported by autopsy technician Paul O'Conner to have been at President Kennedy's autopsy.
The White House Communications Agency played 'dumb' with the ARRB on the subject of the Air Force One tapes, as did the LBJ Library. Neither entity professed to having any knowledge as to who edited the tapes, when they were edited, or the whereabouts of the unedited version, if it even existed (which I seriously doubt).
As the Final Report of the ARRB states:
The Review Board sought to locate any audio recordings of voice communications to or from Air Force One on the day of the assassination, including communications between Air Force One and Andrews Air Force Base during the return flight from Dallas to Washington, D.C. As many people are now aware, in the 1970s, the LBJ Presidential Library released edited audio cassettes of unsecured, or open voice conversations with Air Force One, Andrews Air Force Base, the White House Situation Room, and the Cabinet aircraft carrying the Secretary of State and other officials on November 22, 1963. The LBJ Library version of these tapes consists of about 110 minutes of vice transmissions, but the tapes are edited and condensed, so the Review Board staff sought access to unedited, uncondensed versions. Since the edited version of the tapes contains considerable talk about both the forthcoming autopsy on the President, as well as the reaction of a government in crisis, the tapes are of considerable interest to assassination researchers and historians.
Given that the LBJ Library released the tapes in the 1970s, the paper trail is now sketchy and quite cold. The LBJ Library staff is fairly confident that the tapes originated with the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). The LBJ Library staff told the ARRB that it received the tapes from the White House as part of the original shipment of President Johnson's papers in 1968 or 1969. According to the LBJ Library's documentation, the accession card reads: "WHCA?" and is dated 1975. The Review Board staff could not locate any records indicating who performed the editing, or when, or where.
The Review Board's repeated written and oral inquiries of the White House Communication Agency did not bear fruit. The WHCA could not produce any records that illuminated the provenance of the edited tapes.
I was the person on the staff driving the effort to find the original, unedited Air Force Once tapes, and I do not mind admitting that our inability to obtain any information whatsoever from WHCA was extremely frustrating, and disappointing. Not only was the paper trail extremely old (and cold), but the attitude of the WHCA official responsible for ARRB liaison was one of amusement, and barely concealed contempt for the Review Board's concern over this issue.
FINAL REPORT OF THE ARRB, CHAPTER SIX
6. White House Communications Agency
WHCA was, and is, responsible for maintaining both secure (encrypted) and unsecured (open) telephone, radio, and telex communication between the President and the government of the United States. Most of the personnel that constitute this elite agency are U.S. military communications specialists; many, in 1963, were from the Army Signal Corps. On November 22, 1963, WHCA was responsible for communications between and among Air Force One and Two, the White House Situation Room, the mobile White House, and with the Secret Service in the motorcade.
The Review Board sought to locate any audio recordings of voice communications to or from Air Force One on the day of the assassination, including communications between Air Force One and Andrews Air Force Base during the return flight from Dallas to Washington, D.C. As many people are aware, in the 1970s, the LBJ Presidential Library released edited audio cassettes of unsecured, or open voice communications with Air Force One, Andrews Air Force Base, the White House Situation Room, and the Cabinet Aircraft carrying the Secretary of State and other officials on November 22, 1963. The LBJ Library version of these tapes consists of about 110 minutes of voice transmission, but the tapes are edited and condensed, so the Review Board staff sought access to the unedited versions. Since the edited version of the tapes contains considerable talk about both the forthcoming autopsy on the President, as well as the reaction of a government in crisis, the tapes are of considerable interest to assassination researchers and historians.
Given that the LBJ Library released the tapes in the 1970s, the paper trail is now sketchy and quite cold. The LBJ Library staff is fairly confident that the tapes originated with the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). The LBJ Library staff told the Review board staff that it received the tapes from the White House as part of the original shipment of President Johnson’s papers in 1968 or 1969. According to the LBJ Library’s documentation, the accession card reads: “WHCA?” and is dated 1975. The Review Board staff could not locate any records indicating who performed the editing, or when, or where.
The Review Board’s repeated written and oral inquiries of the White House Communications Agency did not bear fruit. The WHCA could not produce any records that illuminated the provenance of the edited tapes.
FINAL REPORT ARRB Chapter Six p. 116