Saturday, March 17, 2012

Off the Tapes - What's Missing from AF1 Radio Tapes

OFF THE TAPES – What’s Missing from the AF1 Radio Tapes
By William Kelly

At first analysis, it seemed quite clear that if McGeorge Bundy, the President’s national security advisor in the Situation Room at the White House, told those aboard Air Force One that the culprit in the assassination was arrested and there was no conspiracy before the accused assassin was even charged with a crime, then this was a premature announcement that had to stem from close to those who had President Kennedy killed.

This was first brought out by Philadelphia attorney Vincent Salandria and reinforced by E. Martin Schotz and others who immediately suspected that the assassination was not only a conspiracy but a coup with origins within the government itself.
1) Salandria, Tales of the Tapes.

Salandria was basing much of his analysis on the early and first hand accounts of T. H. White, William Manchester and Pierre Salinger, all of whom read and quoted from transcripts of the recorded Air Forced One radio conversations though they never heard the Air Force One radio tapes, something we can do now.


Theodore.H. White, author of the The Making of the President series of books, who first described Jackie Kennedy’s “Camelot,” wrote in The Making of a President 1964, "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 Signal Corps Midwestern center ‘Liberty,’ between Air Force One in Dallas, the Cabinet plane over the Pacific, and the Joint Chiefs’ Communications Center in Washington….On the flight the party learned that there was no conspiracy, learned the identity of Oswald and his arrest; and the President’s mind turned to the duties of consoling the stricken and guiding the quick."
2) White, T. H. Making of a President 1964.


According to the analysis of E. Martin Schotz and Vincent Salandria (in History Will Not Absolve Us, 1996), "And yet the White House had informed President Johnson and the other occupants of Air Force One, all of them witnesses to the hail of bullets which had poured down on Dealey Plaza, that as of the afternoon of the assassination there was to be no conspiracy and that Oswald was to be the lone assassin. If White’s report were correct this would mean that federal officials in Washington were marrying the government to the cover-up of Oswald as the lone assassin virtually instantaneously. This could have occurred only if those federal authorities had had foreknowledge that the evidence would implicate Oswald and that he would have ‘no confederates.’ An innocent government could not have reacted in such a fashion internally."
3) History Will Not Absolve Us. (1966)

William Manchester, personally selected by Jackie Kennedy to write the definitive story of the assassination, wrote in The Death of the President: “Aft of the cockpit Signalman John Trimble was too busy to brood. He had three phone patches going to the communications shack, and he was using Hanson's UHF and VHF sets, yet it wasn't enough. Every official in Washington it seemed, wanted to talk to Air Force One...Several conversations were trivial....Lem Johns was forwarding instructions to the White House Communications Agency, and Bill Moyers was talking to Walter Jenkins and Mac Bundy. (Ted Clifon talked to Bundy, too, asking again whether an international plot was emerging. It was not a discreet inquiry. Trimble's patches were not secure. They could be bugged. Bundy replied crisply that the Pentagon was taking its own steps.) But the bulk of the verbal traffic was about President Kennedy...” (p. 341) - Death of a President, Manchester. (Footnote 9 - p. 371). “That Friday Lyndon Johnson did not know that John Kennedy had ordered the taping of all Angel conversations while the plane was in flight. On April 21, 1964, this writer learned that the Love-to-Andrews tape still existed. Since security was not involved, it was first thought that a complete transcript of it would serve as a useful appendix to this book. Presidential consent was withheld, however. On May 5, 1965, the author was permitted to read an edited transcript at the White House. Doubtless the tape will be available to future historians.”
4) William Manchester, Death of the President.

Pierre Salinger, the President’s Press Secretary, also obtained a transcript that contained information not on the existing tapes. Salinger was on the cabinet plane (tail #86972) over the Pacific with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and a half dozen other to members of the administration, on their way to Japan for a summit. Salinger begins his memoirs, On Instructions of My Government by relating the story of how he first learned the President had been shot and what occurred over the ensuring next few hours while they were in the air.
5) Pierre Salinger, On Instructions of My Government.

All three say that they were permitted to read a transcript of the radio communications, but not permitted to hear the actual tapes, and all three relate information that isn’t on the existing tapes we have today, which of course should raise many questions.

In his book Pierre Salinger wrote:

By 7 A.M., our sleek blue and white presidential Boeing 707 jet was lifting off Hickam Field, headed for Wake Island and Tokyo…I was immersed in my reading sometime later when I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up. It was Robert Manning, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. “The Secretary wants to see you up forward,” he said. Up forward was the private cabin reserved for the President, but used on this trip by the Secretary of State as the senior officer aboard.

In an oral history of Kennedy administration, Manning later recalled that he had heard the wire service machine bells sound, which meant there was in important bulletin forthcoming, and he read the first news reports of the President being shot in Dallas and gave it to Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State.
6) Oral History of JFK Administration, Manning, Robert


I found the Secretary, grave-faced, holding a yellow piece of paper in his hand. I recognized it instantly as coming from the plane’s teletype machine. Because this plane was used a great deal by the President, it carried sophisticated communications equipment not usually carried on commercial airliners. One of these extra communications items was a newspaper teletype. The other members of the Cabinet on the trip were already in the cabin. There was Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon, Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges, Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, and Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz.

As we waited for Myer Feldman of the White House staff and Walter Heller, the chairman of the President’s Council on Economic Adivisor’s, I looked over Secretary Rusk’s shoulder.

The words on the page were badly scrambled – but what I managed to read was unbelievable.



I kept reading it over and over again as Feldman and Heller pushed their way into the cabin. The words stayed on the paper. They would not go away.

Secretary Rusk read us the last brief bulletin.

“My God!” gasped Orville Freeman...Then there was an interminable silence as each man became lost in his private sorrow.

“We’ve got to turn back right now,” I said to Secretary Rusk.

“That’s right, but we have to verify this somehow. Get us in communication with the White House and see if you can get Admiral Felt at CINCPAC...”

I pushed my way through the forward door of the cabin into the communications section of the plane. “Get the White House and Admiral Felt,” I ordered the communicators, Sergeants Walter C. Baughman and Darrell Skinner.

In less than a minute, from almost 6000 miles away, I was talking to the White House Situation Room, the operating nerve center of the nation.

“Situation Room, this is Wayside [my code name]. Can you give me latest situation on Lancer [the President’s code name’?

The answer came right back: “He and Governor Connally have been hit in car in which they were riding.”

I replied: “Please keep us advised. Secretary Rusk is on this plane headed for Japan. We are returning to Honolulu. Will be there in about two hours. We will need to be advised to determine whether some members should go direct to Dallas.”

I put the microphone down and told Sergeant Baughman to keep the line open and working on our call to Admiral Felt and stepped back into the cabin to report to Secretary Rusk. He promptly ordered the plane to turn around.

The radio operator called me forward almost immediately to take a call from the Situation Room:

“AP bulletin is just coming in. President hit in the head. That just came in.”

“Understand. President hit in the head,” I replied, heading back to Secretary Rusk’s cabin.

We were then 1200 miles from Wake Island and 800 miles from Hawaii. Secretary Rusk had swiftly taken control of the situation. If the President lived, he felt it was essential that certain members of the party on the plane go immediately to Dallas, to his side. Others should get back to Washington as soon as possible. The Secretary decided that he, Bob Manning, and I should go to Dallas, and that the others on the plane should go back to the Capital.

Communications were established with Admiral Harry D. Felt…..The plane roared through the early morning skies. We were informed that a jet had been set up for a trip to Dallas, if necessary. I got two more messages. The first was from “Stranger.” He said our plane was to turn around and go back to Washington...
7) Salinger, Pierre

On the Clifton/Raab Tape Patch #2b

Radio Operator - Go ahead, please
White House Sit Room - Wayside? Wayside? This is Stranger. Do you read me? Over.
Salinger - This is Wayside. Go ahead.
WH - Kilduff asked that all cabinet members return to Washington immediately. Over.
Salinger - We are enroute to Honolulu, where we have ah....Washington. Over
WH - Roger Roger, will they notifiy us of time of arrival and location? Over [15:21]
Salinger - Roger, Roger, we do not have any to the exact status...go...Dallas...Wayside....go ahead.
WH - Wayside this is Stranger, I'll get that information...over….
8) Kelly Transcript of AF1 Radio Communications



My report of these messages seriously troubled Secretary Rusk. He wanted to know who Stranger was.

Aboard every presidential jet there is usually a White House codebook. We searched for it for about five minutes, but there was none aboard this plane.

“We have to know who Stranger is,” Secretary Rusk said. “We don’t know what is happening in Dallas. Who is the government now?”

And certainly this was a question running through everybody’s mind. We had no further word on President Kennedy. Was his shooting an isolated event or part of a national or international conspiracy? Certainly, if the latter were true, our own plane was not immune to attack because any foreign power which had planned the shooting of the President would certainly not be unaware of the fact that six of his ten Cabinet members were in an airplane high over the Pacific.

The decision was made that I was to break the code and find out the identity of Stranger...
9) Salinger.

- Liberty?
- Go ahead.
- 86972, 86972 Andrews.
- 86972 You are loud and clear.
- Roger. Give me the name, the real name of Stranger please...from the White House.
- Roger. Say again the name. What is the name sir? Stranger.
- Stranger – S-T-R-A-N-G-E-R
- SAM Command Post is on will you give them a call?
- ....Mr. Jackson from the state department.
- We are returning to Hickham field...three zero Zulu...We are standing by for more information...
- Stand by for just a moment sir.
- Roger, Roger Seven two, Let us know when you are going to leave Hickham and what your destination is.
- Okay we will keep you advised, have Wayside give them a call.
- That's a Roger 72.
- 86972 – Andrews.
- Andrews.
- Roger. In reference to request. A Major Harold R. Patterson, Major Harold R. Paterson. (is the identity of Stranger.)
10) Kelly Transcript of Air Force One radio communications.

In a minute, I got the answer back. Stranger was Major Harold R. Patterson, a high-ranking officer in the White House Communications Agency. He was, at the time of his transmission to our plane, in Washington D.C. I knew Patterson well. He was one of the most trusted members of the White House staff and he would not have sent us the message without very clear instructions….11)

Today, Major Harold “Pat” Patterson recalls the situation well, [and in a telephone conversation], confirmed what is related in Salinger’s account, except Patterson also recalls, when asked his identity, telling Salinger to check the code book in the safe on the plane, and then only identifying himself when the code book was found missing. That only one exchange that is not on the existing tape. 12) Kelly.

The oddest thing about all of this is White, Manchester and Salinger have the highest, almost impeccable credentials as respected journalists, but none of the most significant things they say are actually on the existing radio tapes.

White – “They learned the identity of Oswald, there was no conspiracy, ,”
Manchester – Bundy to Clifton – ‘the military were taking their own steps.’”
Patterson – “I told them to check the code book in the safe on the plane.”

Salinger also says that it was while they were in the air enroute to Washington they learned Oswald was a suspect and there was no conspiracy.


The messages kept coming off the wire service machine and finally one started grinding out the story of Lee Harvey Oswald and his previous life in Russia and his membership in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. This went against all the preconceived theories we had established.

“If this is true,” Secretary Rusk said, “this is going to have repercussions around the world for years to come.” His words were prophetic because even today, only in the United States is the report of the Warren Commission, fixing the sole responsibility on Oswald, widely believed…..It took us only eight hours and thirty-one minutes to make the non-stop flight from Honolulu to Andrews Air Force Base. We arrived there at 12:31 A.M., Washington time, and stepped out of the plane into a barrage of lights from television cameras… [End Salinger]
13) Salinger.

And all three journalists – White, Manchester and Salinger said they were provided official transcripts of the Air Force One radio communications that they read and accurately quoted or paraphrased. White and Manchester said that they were permitted to read the transcripts while visiting the LBJ White House, and Salinger said while writing his book he was given a copy of the transcript by the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), and when he was finished with it he passed it on to the JFK Library, where it subsequently had disappeared when Salandria asked for it.
14) Salandria.

And unfortunately, there is no longer "a tape recording in the archives of the government," other than an officially released edited tape that does not contain any of the significant information referred to by White, Manchester, Salinger or Patterson.

The original, unedited tape recordings of the Air Force One radio transmissions, which President Kennedy personally ordered to be recorded for posterity, cannot be located among the “archives of government” despite an Act of Congress, a Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) subpoena and numerous Freedom of Information Act requests. Our government seems to have simply lost the recordings, with no records being kept of their whereabouts or destruction, if in fact they were destroyed.
15) See: ARRB Final Report (p. 116) WHCA.

The recent discovery of an unofficial, though still severely edited, but longer copy of the Air Force One radio transmission tapes, changes all that. The new tapes, found among the effects of the President’s military aide, the late Gen. Chester Clifton, is a better quality recording, longer, and contains “patches” of conversations not on the officially released recording.
16) LBJ Library Tape 1 1975; Clifton/Raab Tapes 2/3, 2012

So we now have two edited versions of the tape recordings that the transcripts (read by White, Manchester and Salinger) were ostensibly based on. Since much of what they say are not on the existing tapes, they must have been intentionally edited out from the tape released to the public and from the copies given to Gen. Clifton, which also contained conversations not on the official tapes released by the LBJ Library.

1) Salandria, Vincent. Tale of the Tapes.
2) White, T. H.. Making of the President 1964.
3) Scholtz, E. M. History Will Not Absolve Us
4) Manchester , William. The Death of a President.
5) Salinger, Pierre. On Instructions of my Government
6) Manning, Robert. Oral History of the Kennedy Administration
7) Salinger.
8) Kelly, William. Transcript of LBJ/Clifton Air Force One Radio Transmission Tapes
9) Salinger.
10) Kelly, Wm. Transcript of LBJ/Clifton AF1 Radio Transmission Tapes
11) Salinger.
12) Kelly. Wm. Phone interview with Pat Patterson. February, 2012
13) Salinger.
14) Salandria, Vincent. Tale of the Tapes
15) ARRB Final Report (P. 115) WHCA See below.
16) LBJ Library Tape 1 1975; Clifton/Raab Tape 2/3 2012

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