Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New AF1 Radio Tape Discovered


Nov 15, 10:20 AM (ET)


PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A long-lost version of the Air Force One recordings made in the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, with more than 30 minutes of additional material not in the official version in the government's archives, has been found and is for sale.

There are incidents and code names described on the newly discovered two-plus hour recording, which predates the shorter and newer recording currently housed in the National Archives outside Washington and the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Texas. The shorter recording was thought to be the only surviving version of the tape.

The asking price is $500,000 for the reel-to-reel tape, which is inside its original box with a typewritten label showing it was made by the White House Communications Agency for Army Gen. Chester "Ted" Clifton Jr.

It is titled "Radio Traffic involving AF-1 in flight from Dallas, Texas to Andrews AFB on November 22, 1963."

"As Americans have looked to the history of the Kennedy assassination in search of answers, somewhere in an attic there existed a tape made years before the only known surviving version, of the conversations on Air Force One on that fateful day," said Nathan Raab, vice president of The Raab Collection, a Philadelphia historic documents dealer that put the tape up for sale Tuesday.

The recording is the highlight of the personal effects from the estate of Clifton, who was Kennedy's senior military aide and was in the Dallas motorcade when the president was assassinated.

Clifton, who died in 1991, had kept a collection of audio tapes, documents, photographs and video stemming from his years in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The Raab Collection, which is selling the tape and the rest of the archive, acquired the items at a public sale from Clifton's heirs after the death of Clifton's wife in 2009.

"At a time when there really wasn't what we consider today a chief of staff, Clifton carried on many of those functions," Raab said. "He retires in 1965, this goes with him."
The recording consists of in-flight radio calls between the aircraft, the White House Situation Room, Andrews Air Force Base, and a plane that was carrying Kennedy press secretary Pierre Salinger and six Cabinet members from Hawaii to Tokyo when the president was assassinated.

The Clifton tapes include additional debate about whether Kennedy's body would be brought to Bethesda Naval Hospital or Walter Reed Hospital for autopsy and if first lady Jackie Kennedy would accompany the fallen president, as well as expanded discussions about arranging for ambulances and limousines to meet the plane.

No references to Kennedy nemesis Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay occur in the shorter version, but the Clifton tape contains an urgent attempt by an aide to contact him. The aide, seeking to interrupt Air Force transmissions to reach LeMay, is heard saying the general "is in a C140. Last three numbers are 497. His code name is Grandson. And I want to talk to him."

The whereabouts of LeMay, whose enmity for the president makes him a central figure for Kennedy assassination researchers, have long been disputed. The newly discovered recording can finally end the speculation and pinpoint his location immediately after the president's murder, Raab said.

Other conversations on the tape refer to "Monument" and "W.T.E." - code names for people as yet unknown - and someone only called "John."

Parts of the audio are difficult to discern because several conversations from the different patches are going on simultaneously. Raab said their digital recording was made as a straightforward recording, not as a forensic analysis, and current or future technology may be able to tease out and enhance the conversations.

The edited recording in the National Archives and the LBJ Library, available to the public since 1971, begins with an announcer stating it has been "edited and condensed" but not explaining how much was cut or by whom.

A more complete version of the Air Force One tapes were long sought but never found, adding fuel to decades-old suspicions that there is more to Kennedy's assassination than the official account naming Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman.

The Assassination Records Review Board, created by an act of Congress in 1992 after the Oliver Stone film "JFK" caused public uproar to re-examine Kennedy's killing,
unsuccessfully sought the unedited Air Force One tapes for its probe. Its final report in 1998, the board said the LBJ Library version was filled with crude breaks and chopped conversations.

"That this tape even exists will change the way we view this great event in history," Raab said. "It took decades to analyze the shorter, newer version and it will take years to do the same here."

The Clifton tape has been professionally digitized and a copy is being donated by the Raab Collection to the National Archives and the John F. Kennedy Library so the public will have access to the material even if the original tape is sold to a private collector.

The wholly unedited "raw" recording of the entirety of the trip, which also would have included periods of silence and static, has never been located. It would have been roughly 4 1/2 hours long.


General LeMay's aide urgently attempts to reach him

First Notice

Figures who surface for the first time

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 LBJ 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 version was more than 30 minutes longer and contained new names and incidents. This piece of history has been long sought. The existence of this original version and the events and names it discloses will change the way we view this seminal event of the 20th century.

To print, download this PDF. For the Press Release, download this PDF.

A digital copy will be donated to the National Archives and Kennedy Library.

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.”

Excerpt: “WTE”
Excerpt: “Monument”


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, thought lost or destroyed; 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 tape produced. This was either the official White House version at that time, or it was produced specifically for Clifton. That this was the White House version as late as 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 and the first Air Force One Assassination tape never resurfaced after 1965-6. Over the years all efforts to find them 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 copy of the original first Air Force One Assassination tape was 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 have had it professionally digitized, so the tape is 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

The original tape, the essence of the history itself, is being offered for sale. A professionally digitized version will be donated to the National Archives and John F. Kennedy Library, and be available to the American people; it will be given as well to the purchaser of the original reel.

Raab Collection – Buying and Selling Historical Letters, Documents, And Manuscripts


The Raab Collection is in its third decade as a nationally recognized name in historical autographs. Founded by attorney and author Steven Raab as an outlet for his love of history, it became a family business when his sons Nathan and Jonas joined. The Raab Collection specializes in seeking out and bringing to life important pieces in history, and has been instrumental in helping build some of the great autograph and manuscript collections in the country. It counts among its clients many of the great collecting institutions, among them the Library of Congress and the British Library. Moreover, it has represented the families of famous Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford, in the sale and preservation of their most significant historical documents.

Among the families we’ve worked with are those of:

Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Knox Polk, Andrew Jackson, Several Prominent Senators and Members of the House of Representatives, Many others

Steven Raab is a noted lecturer and writer on the subject of historical autographs, and is a founding member of the Professional Autograph Dealers Association. He and Jonas are the authors of the definitive book on historical autographs, In the Presence of History. Nathan Raab is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and is currently the Secretary and Chair of the Committee on Nominations.

He is also a regular guest contributor to Forbes.com. The Raab Collection has frequently been called upon by the media to serve as a source and resource, having appeared on CNN and CNBC, and in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and the New York Times, among many other venues.

Raab Collection documents are often on display in institutions nationwide, most recently with loans to the National Constitution Center, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. In 2008 the Raab Collection created the historical exhibit inside the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the first of its kind.

Building a legacy

We will help you not only build a collection but create a legacy that you can share with your family and the world. In addition to offering our clients access to the most important historical documents, we help connect them institutions nationwide, if they choose. Our clients have loaned or will loan their documents to: The National Constitution Center; The National Jewish Museum; Mount Vernon; The Heinz History Center; The Lincoln Museum; The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library; others.

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