Audio revelation surrounding JFK’s assassination
The revelation of a secret recording from Air Force One has reignited speculation surrounding the assassination of John F Kennedy. Hugh Robertson reports.
Nearly fifty years after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, the US National Archives has released never before heard audio of exchanges between officials in Air Force One. They had been held in the private belongings of Major General Chester Clifton, who was the President’s military aide at the time and who was in the presidential motorcade at the moment of the murder.
This new tape contains an extra 42 minutes of audio than were present on the Johnson Tapes which, released in 1968, were the White House’s official version of all communication with and by Air Force One as it was transporting the President’s body back to Washington DC.
However, instead of laying to rest the many conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination, the emergence of these tapes has instead caused more speculation and suspicion. Foremost among the questions to arise since the release of this tape concerns the Johnson Tapes: why were they 42 minutes shorter? Who ordered the edit and what was it they were trying to hide?
Remarkably, the existence of this tape has remained a secret despite the many investigations and commissions charged with ascertaining exactly what happened on that day. It now appears that the tapes were made by the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), but there remains great uncertainty about why they were given to Major General Clifton and why the WHCA had no record of their existence despite numerous subpoenas.
While the new audio answers some questions about the aftermath of the assassination, it presents many more. For many years there has been speculation surrounding the whereabouts of General Curtis Lemay, and some have theorised that he was somehow involved in Kennedy’s death.
General Lemay was Chief of the Air Force and an outspoken critic of President Kennedy’s foreign policy – particularly on the issue of Cuba, going so far as to denounce the peaceful resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis as “the greatest defeat in [America’s] history.” And while the new audio footage records General Lemay’s aide trying to contact the general, revealed as “in a C140 [aircraft]” at the time of the assassination, it does nothing to answer questions as to his possible involvement.
Indeed, much of what is newly revealed on this recording feed directly into theories that have existed since the release of the Warren Commission’s official report in 1964. Of particular note is the autopsy of the President’s body which was considered flawed in both technique and coordination even in 1964, and which the ensuing half-century of scientific advancement has only shown to be more so.
This new recording also captures a long discussion about where to take the body, with those voices heard reaching a consensus on Walter Reed Hospital. But the body was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital instead, a fact which has already inspired much speculation among the conspiracy theorists.
Regardless of what may be ‘proved’ or ‘disproved’ by this new recording, it is unlikely to greatly influence the way the majority of Americans think about the Kennedy assassination. In a 2009 poll conducted by CBS, 76% of those surveyed said they believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of the murder before he himself was murdered before he could be tried, did not act alone in the assassination of President Kennedy. The same poll recorded that 74% of those surveyed believe there was an official cover up, and 77% believe that we will never know the whole truth of what happened.
This reflects a long history of distrust towards the official story – the Warren Commission, set up by President Johnson to ascertain the truth of what occurred, saw public belief in its findings plummet almost as soon as it issued them: in 1964, after the Warren report was first released, 87% of Americans believed its findings that Oswald acted alone, but by 1966 that number had dropped to 36% after many of its findings were questioned.
The greatest problem facing the Warren Commission was that they relied heavily on highly classified intelligence to reach their conclusions, and thus were unable to defend their findings to a highly sceptical public.
But there can be no doubt that the Commission’s methodology was flawed, something that was highlighted by the revelation of Operation Mongoose, a covert scheme to assassinate Fidel Castro that contradicted the Warren report, concluding that no foreign government had sufficient motive to murder President Kennedy. The credibility of the Warren Commission has only eroded further since, particularly on the issue of the forensic science used in the autopsy and ballistics report.
For now, at least, it seems we must be content with the knowledge that we are one step closer to complete transparency, and that we are more informed following the discovery of this tape than we ever were.
Nathan Raab, Vice-President of the Raab Collection, obtained the tape from General Clifton’s family. “That this tape even exists will change the way we view this great event in history,” he says.
“It took decades to analyse the shorter, newer version and it will take years to do the same here.”