Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Ten Worst Books on the JFK Assassination (Chronological)

1. The Warren Report (1964).

The first official whitewash, the Warren Report represents the U.S. government's first attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people. On the weekend of the assassination the new President, Lyndon Johnson, had recieved reports from the CIA's Mexico City station claiming that Lee Harvey Oswald had been seen conspiring with communist agents two months previously. Johnson, fearfull of a nuclear war with the Soviets, ordered Earl Warren to chair the Commission and "prevent the deaths of 40 million Americans." In other words: make sure the buck stops with Oswald.

2. Marina and Lee by Priscilla Johnson McMillan (1977).

Lee Oswald's murdered body barely had time to cool before Priscilla Johnson McMillan jumped on the scene to "befriend" his widow, Marina, and begin work on her official biography. As the only American jounalist to whom Lee Oswald granted an interview shortly after his "defection" to the Soviet Union, McMillan had a curious ability to be in the right place at the right time. Curious, that is, until the release of official documents revealed that the CIA considered her a "witting collaborator". The result was a book that even Marina would later dismiss as "full of lies."

3. Case Closed by Gerald Posner (1993). 

Oliver Stone's 1991 movie JFK sparked renewed and massive debate about the assassination and gave many people their first insight into the lies of the Warren Commission and the implausibility of the lone gunman theory. And then along came former Wall Street lawer Gerald Posner to save the day! The fact that Case Closed was brimming over with factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations did not stop the mainstream media from heaping unprecedented praise on the book and lauding Posner for "exposing" the critics. But as Flava Flav warned us, don't believe the hype.

4. The Kennedy Contract by John H. Davis (1993).

Behind Lee Oswald and Fidel Castro, the Mafia has long been the third most popular scapegoat in the murder of John Kennedy. In fact, the theory seems quite unbelievably to have gained in popularity over recent years despite the fact that there is absolutely zero evidence that Oswald had any connections to organized crime. Conversely, as former U.S. Senator Richard Schweiker said, Oswald did have the "fingerprints of intelligence" all over him. Sadly, this matters little to John H. Davis who appears to be intent on absolving the U.S. government of any complicity in the assassination.

5. Killing the Truth by Harrison Edward Livingstone (1993).

One of the most over-the-top, paranoid conspiracy theorists out there (and I do mean "out there"), Livingstone's third JFK book is a long-winded, badly written attack on those in the critical community he claims are "killing the truth" about the assassination. And by "killing the truth" he means not buying into his wacky nonsense. Those to whom Livingstone directs his delusionary ranting include Harold Weisberg, Oliver Stone, Mark Lane and Robert Groden. Hell, even the legendary Mary Ferrell is not spared Livingstone's misplaced wrath. A pathetic waste of time, effort and paper.

6. Oswald's Tale by Norman Mailer (1995).

Norman Mailer claimed that he began writing his biography of Oswald with no fixed opinion about his guilt but to anyone with even half a brain cell this is obvious bullshit. Not only does he rely heavily on three anti-Oswald sources—the Warren Report, Case Closed and Marina & Lee—but he consistently interprets Oswald's actions in ways that conform to the official portrait and makes no attempt to deal with Oswald's obvious intelligence connections. As Harold Weisberg once said, this is not so much Oswald's tale as it is Mailer's.

7. False Witness by Patrica Lambert (1998).  

This one-sided, broadside attack on Jim Garrison is truly one of the worst pieces of garbage I've ever had the misfortune to read. Patricia Lambert cobbles together every bad thing ever said about Garrison with no regard for its veracity and in true tabloid fashion she even accuses him of being child molester and compares him to cult leader, David Koresh. This is not only one of the worst ever books dealing with events related to the Kennedy case it's probably one of the worst books ever written.

8. The Great Zapruder Film Hoax edited by Jim Fetzer (2003).

The authors of this silliness actually believe that the Zapruder film is a complete Mary Poppins-style fabrication! What more really needs to be said? It is this type of paranoid nonsense that makes it easy for Warren supporters to lump us critics in with UFO spotters and moon hoaxers. There can be no doubt that books like this do nothing but muddy the record, add to confusion about the case and hinder any progress we might otherwise be making.

9. Blood, Money & Power by Barr McClellan (2003).

Disbarred Texan lawyer, Barr McClellan, must have been in serious need of cash to write this dreadful piece of obvious fiction. The most sensational claim in Blood, Money & Power was that the fingerprint of convicted murderer and friend of Lyndon Johnson, Mac Wallace, was found on a book carton on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. But, as it turned out, this wasn't true.

10. Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi (2007).

Vincent Bugliosi's massive ego would never let him admit it, but Reclaiming History spectacularly fails to live up to its intention of settling the controversy. It fails because, despite Bugliosi's assurances that his only master and mistress "are the facts and objectivity," he commits the exact same sins of which he accuses the conspiracy theorists and adds a few more. He consistently fills his narrative with hypothetical instances in place of actual evidence and expects the reader to take his word for it. His book is practically brimming over with phrases such as "must have," "reason to believe," "most likely" and "probably." This over-use of the hypothetical may be standard practice in a court room, but it is not how history should be written. Far from sticking to the facts, Reclaiming History is far and away the most factually inept, theory driven and speculative book ever written on the Kennedy assassination.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Let There Be Sound!: The Acoustics Evidence in the JFK Assassination

[NOTE: This article is essentially an almagamation of material culled from my two recent CTKA book reviews, with minor changes and additions, compiled here as much as anything else for my own easy reference.]

On November 22, 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination, the microphone on a police motorcycle travelling in the Presidential motorcade had become stuck in the “on” position and the sounds had been recorded on a dictabelt machine at Dallas police headquarters. When the dictabelt was brought to the attention of the HSCA in 1978, it asked the top acoustics experts in the country to analyze the recording to see if it had captured the sounds of the assassination gunfire. James Barger and his colleagues at Bolt, Baranek & Newman (BBN) discovered six suspect impulses on the tape that occurred at approximately 12:30 p.m.—the time of the assassination—and reported that on-site testing needed to be conducted at Dealey Plaza. There, microphones were placed along the parade route on Houston and Elm Streets and test shots were fired from the two locations witnesses had reported hearing shots; the Texas School Book Depository and the grassy knoll. BBN found that five of the impulses on the dictabelt were found to acoustically match the echo patterns of test shots fired in Dealey Plaza. (8HSCA101) One of these, the fourth in sequence, matched to a shot fired from the grassy knoll. (8HSCA10) The fact that the suspect sounds had matched to some of the 423 test patterns is not, by itself, amazingly significant. However, the order and spacing of the matching microphone positions followed the same order as the sounds on the police tape.

If the sounds on the dictabelt were not truly the sounds of the assassination gunfire and instead represented some type of random static, a match would be as likely to occur at at the first microphone as the last and would most likely fall in some random order—there being, of course, 125 different ways to sequence five events. But far from being random, the matches fell in the exact same 1-2-3-4-5 topographic order as the impulses appear on the dictabelt recording.
  • The first impulse matched to a test shot recorded on a microphone on Houston Street near the intersection with Elm.
  • The second to a microphone 18 ft north on Houston.
  • The third to a microphone at the intersection.
  • The fourth to a microphone on Elm.
  • And the fifth to the next microphone to the west.
Additionally, the distance from the first matching microphone to the last was 143 feet and the time between the first and last suspect impulse on the tape was 8.3 seconds. In order for the motorcycle with the stuck microphone to cover 143 feet in 8.3 seconds it would need to be travelling at a speed of approximately 11.7 mph which fits almost perfectly with the FBI's conclusion that the Presidential limousine was averaging 11.3 mph on Elm Street. (Warren Report, p. 49)

Finally, the gunshots on the dictabelt synchronize perfectly with the visual evidence of the other all-important record of the shooting, the Zapruder film. There are two visible reactions to gunshots on the Zapruder film. One of these occurs at Z-frame 313 with the blatantly obvious explosion of President Kennedy's head. The other occurs between frames 225 and 230 when the Stetson hat in Connally's hand flips up and down, most likely as a result of the missile passing through his wrist. When the fourth shot on the dictabelt, the grassy knoll shot, is aligned with Z-frame 313, the third shot falls at —yes, you guessed it—frame Z-225. This means that the exact same 4.8 second gap between shots is found on both the audio and visual evidence. These perfect correlations between the acoustics and all other known data provide the most convincing reasons to believe that the dictabelt is a genuine recording of the assassination gunfire. Unfortunately, this remarkable concordance was hidden from the public when HSCA chief counsel, Robert Blakey, in a “socially constructive” move, convinced the experts to label the third shot as a “false alarm.”
To understand Blakey's decision it is necessary to understand Blakey. Former HSCA staff investigator, Gaeton Fonzi, wrote in his brilliant book The Last Investigation, that, “Chief Counsel Blakey was an experienced Capitol Hill man. He had worked not only at Justice but on previous Congressional committees as well. So he knew exactly what the priorities of his job were by Washington standards, even before he stepped in.” (Fonzi, p. 8) Blakey, who later admitted that before he took the job he had found the idea of a conspiracy in the JFK case “highly unlikely,” (ibid. p. 259) was destined not to stray too far from the Warren Commission's conclusion that only three shots were fired and all were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. As such, the acoustics evidence presented him with a big problem. As Dr. Donald Thomas puts it, “The acoustical evidence simply did not mesh well with the Warren Report...Blakey's problem was not just that a total of five putative gunshots were detected by BBN's test procedures, but that these shots came too close together.” (Hear No Evil, p. 584) In 1964, the FBI established that “Oswald's” rifle required 2.3 seconds between shots and, as Special Agent Robert Frazier testified, this was “firing [the] weapon as fast as the bolt could be operated.” (3H407) But the first three shots on the dictabelt had all come from the general vicinity of the book depository and came only 1.65 and 1.1 seconds apart. To “solve” the problem, Blakey acquired a Mannlicher Carcano similar to the one found on the sixth floor and, together with a group of Washington police officers, practised firing the rifle as fast as possible. Apparently, by “point aiming” - which means not really aiming at all - Blakey and HSCA counsel Gary Cornwell were able to squeeze off two rounds in 1.5 and 1.2 seconds respectively. (8HSCA185) This farcical display was enough to satisfy Blakey about the “probability” that Oswald fired the first two shots on the tape. He then told the acoustics experts that the third shot, coming only 1.1 seconds after the second, could not be what their analysis told them it was. And in another socially constructive move, the scientists played along.
The truth is that all three matches were as valid as each other and what the acoustics evidence actually showed was that there may have been a second rearward assassin and a triangulation of crossfire—just as critics like Josiah Thompson had been saying since 1967. But a Washington man like Blakey was not about to admit that the “buffs” had been right all along. In a conversation with Thomas in 1999, “Blakey confided that he knew he would take a lot of heat for the grassy knoll shot and he didn't want to dilute his case with the weak evidence for a fifth shot.” (Thomas, p. 590) By putting political considerations before the evidence, Robert Blakey did history a huge disservice and helped obscure the truth about the assassination. By cutting out the crucial third shot, he had essentially hidden the perfect synchronization between the dictabelt and the Zapruder film and it was for this very reason that many JFK researchers rejected the validity of the acoustics evidence. One can only wonder what reception the Dallas police dictabelt would have received had Blakey had the courage to stand up for the truth.
Predictably, the conclusions of the HSCA scientists have been attacked by numerous individuals and organizations seeking to uphold the conclusions of the Warren Report; usually on non-ballistic acoustic grounds. For example, a National Research Council panel commissioned by the Justice Department claimed that an instance of “cross-talk” on the dictabelt recording placed the suspect impulses a full minute after the assassination. What the panel chose not to report is that there are five instances of cross-talk on the dictabelt, none of which even synchronize with one another. Therefore, it is not possible using cross-talk alone to prove that the gunshots on the tape are not synchronous with the assassination. A more recent challenge came from Dale Myers (the Walt Disney of JFK research) who claimed that his analysis of the available assassination films and photographs “proved” that police officer H.B. McClain's motorcycle was not where it needed to be. This despite the fact that there is no film or photograph currently known to exist that shows the acoustically required position at the time the shots were fired.
In his recent book, Head Shot: The Science Behind the JFK Assassination, Dr. G. Paul Chambers, an experimental physicist for the US Navy and a contractor with the NASA Goddard Optics Branch, has calculated the odds against the impulses on the dictabelt being caused by random static. As mentioned above, the order in the data is by itself hugely compelling. The last in the sequence of test shot matches occurred at a microphone 143 feet from the first, and the time between the first and last suspected shots on the dictabelt was 8.3 seconds. In order for the Police motorcycle officer whose stuck microphone was suspected of recording the gunfire to travel 143 feet in 8.3 seconds he would need to be traveling at approximately 11 mph—almost the exact speed at which the FBI estimated the Presidential limousine was moving on Elm street. As Chambers asks, “What are the odds of that happening randomly?...One could certainly insert a big number for the total number of possibilities, leaving a very small probability that this would happen randomly. But it isn't necessary.” (Chambers, p. 142) On top of this, we have the fact that the timing of the shots fits so perfectly with the reactions seen on the Zapruder film. “Syncing the final head shot from the grassy knoll to frame 312...” Chambers explains, “the probability of finding the shot that hit Connally to within five about one in a hundred...Matching up the first shot to the frames before Kennedy reaches the Stemmons Freeway sign and the second shot to a strike of Kennedy behind the sign is another one chance in a hundred times one chance in a hundred for a one-in-ten-thousand chance for an accidental match.” Multiplying all this by the probability of all shot origins falling in the correct order is another one chance in sixteen, “yielding a one-in-sixteen-million chance that the acoustic analysis could match up the timing and shot sequence in the Zapruder film by chance.” Multiplying the probability of both the order in the data and the synchronization of the audio film being random together, “it is readily established that there is only one chance in eleven billion that both correlations could occur as the result of random noise.” (ibid pgs. 142-143)
Is Chambers math correct? I'll leave that to those better qualified than me to test. What I do know is that Dr. Don Thomas, who is a widely published expert statistician, has calculated the odds of a random impulse having the acoustic fingerprint of a rifle shot from the grassy knoll as 100,000 to one against. (Thomas, p. 632) And anyone with an even vaguely scientific mind can see that this calculation alone is enough to establish the validity of the acoustics evidence beyond any real reasonable doubt.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Top 10 Books on the JFK Assassination (In chronological order)

1. Rush to Judgement by Mark Lane (1966).

New York lawyer Mark Lane was asked by Lee Harvey Oswald's mother to represent him before the Warren Commission but the Commission denied the request. Instead, Lane wrote what is essentially a defense brief for Oswald based largely on the evidence published in the Commission's 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits. Of all the early critiques of the Warren report, Rush to Judgement is far and away the most readable and accessible and Lane himself remains the critic that Warren apologists love to hate. Gerald Posner, Jim Moore and Vincent Bugliosi have all dedicated large sections of their respective books to shooting Lane down but in their rantings and ravings none have managed to point out any factual errors in his work. Which speaks volumes really.

2. Six Seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson (1967).

Described as "A micro-study of the assassination" Six Seconds in Dallas was the first book to postulate that President Kennedy was felled by a triangulation of gunfire. A graduate of Yale and, at the time, a professor of philosophy, Josiah Thompson was given unique and unprecedented access to the Zapruder film that the Time-Life Corporation had thus far kept safely locked away from public view. The result was a brilliant, meticulously documented book that exposed the fallacies and contradictions in the Warren Com-mission's reconstruction of the crime and introduced readers to the likelihood that the fatal head shot came from the direction of the grassy knoll.

3. Conspiracy (retitled Not in Your Lifetime) by Anthony Summers (1980).

British journalist Anthony Summers' book came hot on the heels of the House Select Committee on Assassinations' verdict of a "probable" conspiracy in the murder of JFK but did a much better job of fingering the likely forces behind it. Surprisingly objective and always informative, Conspiracy adds many valuable pieces to a complex puzzle.

4. The Last Investigation by Gaeton Fonzi (1993).

Award-winning journalist Gaeton Fonzi tells the story of his time as staff investigator for the HSCA with the responsibility of following leads that pointed to the involvement of anti-Casto Cuban exiles and their CIA handlers. The Last Investigation presents a remarkable first-hand account of the inner-workings of the HSCA, explores numerous links between Lee Oswald and US intelligence, and exposes the Cuban exile/CIA/mafia figures that may have had a hand in the assassination.

5. Let Justice Be Done by William Davy (1999).

Far and away the best book dealing with Jim Garrison's investigation and failed prosecution of Clay Shaw, Let Justice Be Done is a remarkable account of how the government purposely obstructed justice in the Kennedy case. Utilizing thousands of newly declassified documents, Bill Davy lays out the proof that the very minute his probe hit the headlines, Garrison entered into battle with a federal government determined to uphold the conclusions of the Warren Commission by any means necessary.

6. Breach of Trust by Gerald D. McKnight (2005).

Subtitled "How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why" this book does exactly what it says on the tin. It explores the inner-workings and motivations of the Commission and explains why it arrived at the conclusions it did. Gerald McKnight uses his skills as professor of history to place the assassination and its cover-up in its proper historical context and in the process crafts the most authoritative Commission critique to date.

7. Prasie from a Future Generation by John Kelin (2007).

John Kelin tells the fascinating and almost-forgotten tale of a how a small handfull of private citizens managed to cut through the bullshit and bring the facts of the assassination to the attention of the world. A poultry farmer, a housewife and the publisher of a small Midlothian newspaper were among the first-generation critics to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude.

8. Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot (2007).

A pioneer of online journalism, David Talbot shows us President Kennedy's assassination through the eyes of his brother, Robert. He shows that not only did the Attorney General immediately suspect conspiracy, he knew in which direction to look. Brothers is the tale of how Robert Kennedy's commitment to solving his brother's assassination would ultimately end with his own shocking murder.

9. JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass (2008).

A masterpiece; JFK and the unspeakable tells us why John Kennedy died and why it matters. Kennedy was killed because he learned from the mistakes of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis and became a threat to the cold war establishment. He came to see that the inevitable loss of innocent life that would follow a nuclear war was unacceptable and that despite the differences between the American and Russian ways of life, they all must breathe the same air. Kennedy had negotiated a nuclear test ban treaty and began to look at the possibility of total disarmament. He had organised secret back channels for communication with both Castro and Khrushchev because he wanted to end the cold war. And, just as Oliver Stone claimed, President Kennedy was pulling American military advisors out of Vietnam. Kennedy was becoming a man for peace and to the CIA and the Pentagon, whose very livelihood was dependant on prolonging the cold war, this was wholly unacceptable.

10. Hear No Evil by Donald Byron Thomas (2010)

Six Seconds in Dallas author Josiah Thompson said recently, "In my opinion, Don Thomas has produced the best book on the Kennedy assassination published within the last thirty years. Unfailingly fair-minded, Thomas lays out with devastating clarity the way science has bent itself to support an unsupportable official truth. More than this, his discussion of the evidence is a model of sober clarity. In a field crowded with sensation mongers and conspiracy wackos, Thomas’ voice is that of the sober scholar-scientist. His book sets the table for all future discussions of what happened in Dealey Plaza."

'Nuff said.