The President's (Warren) Commission Executive Sessions reveal a starkly divided group with conflicting ideas about the evidence, mistrust of some public officials, the media influencing the case, and reasonable doubts that were absent from its final pronouncements. Most Commissioners and staff sought to find a resolution based on facts. Unfortunately, some officials deprived the inquiry of the substantial conflicting evidence necessary to do so.
Despite the later claims of conspiracy being impossible, that very situation was officially among the reasonable possibilities. Using pseudonyms Agency Deputy Director of Plans Richard Helms sent a cable to Mexico City Chief of Station Winston Scott stating, "We have by no means excluded the possibility that other as yet unknown person may have been involved or even that other powers may have played a role."i However, this open-minded assessment was feasibly reliant on the type of conspiracy, several Agency employees and related Cuban exiles desired a Soviet plot. Evidence of a Communist plot would serve inciting the United States to seek vengeance against the Castro regime and this would enable them to seize Cuba. When substantial evidence to support that agenda did not materialize other reasonable leads beyond Communism faced suppression.
The Agency's summary report quickly assumed Oswald's guilt two days following the assassination of President Kennedy. CIA officials "...adopted the position that Oswald probably was a lone assassin who had no visible ties to Soviet or Cuban intelligence though such ties could not be excluded from consideration." Yet some leading officials largely derided and excluded such ideas repeatedly during public consideration.ii A day earlier one unidentified CIA Chief of Station sent a memo to everyone under his command. The memo states "This is to advise all employees of this office that the above subject, who killed Kennedy, and who and what countries might have been involved, is a very sensitive matter...It is hereby ordered that no person connected with this Station engage in any conversation or any speculation concerning these subjects. Anyone who is found violating this order by talking to friends, relatives (including wives), etc. , will be returned to Washington PCS by me within 24 hours; and I will recommend to Headquarters that person be summarily dismissed."iii Thus, it was not just members of the public targeted for mentioning anything regarding this matter, some in the CIA believed the matter was too sensitive for discussion. At least one Chief of Station would seek to destroy the career of his own employees if they did not remain silent.
Former President's (Warren) Commission staff attorney David Belin offered, "At no time did the CIA disclose to the Warren Commission any facts which pertained to alleged assassination plans to kill Fidel Castro...The CIA withheld from the Warren Commission information which might have been relevant..." Belin discussed the matter with CIA Counterintelligence Staff Chief of Research and Analysis Raymond Rocca. Rocca was the "point of record" between the CIA and Commission; he is unaware of the plotting until over a decade later and reasonably was concerned. Another former President's Commission staff member Burt Griffin "...expressed his feelings that assassination plots against Castro might have a significant effect on the Warren Commission findings." Not just public critics, but the prior multiple Commission staff had serious questions and noted the suppression of facts.iv Clearly some in the Agency were unable to aid the Commission investigation because others were unwilling to support it.
While the CIA served in a support role for the Commission, its direct investigative arm was the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Commission tasks J. Edgar Hoover and his network of Bureau agents with presenting all promising leads, yet that did not always occur. Unknown to the public was the contempt of J. Edgar Hoover for some members of the Commission and those serving it. According to Bureau Assistant Director William Sullivan, Hoover hated the Warren Commission because it was rechecking what the FBI had already investigated. Hoover feared that the Warren Commission would discover something the Bureau missed. In December of nineteen sixty-three, Hoover sought to "...deliberately preempt the President's Commission findings." Thus, a man charged with undertaking the Commission's asserted neutral inquiry was actively seeking to disrupt it.v
The FBI prejudgment of guilt regarding Oswald largely occurred in five days. While the memo notes a week is definitely not enough time to arrive at informed judgment, it states, "From the facts disclosed in our investigation, there is no question but that we can report convincing evidence beyond any doubt showing Oswald was the man who killed President Kennedy."vi FBI allegations relied upon the facts they chose to reveal, not all the related facts. It supports any investigation that did not conform to the Bureau's declarations would not occur. The Bureau's leader did not intend to abide the Commission's legal mandates.
Additionally, Bureau Assistant Director Courtney Evans makes a revealing statement in the same document that reads, "The problem is to show motive and this, of course, is a condition of Oswald's mind and can be, at best, a speculative conclusion predicated upon circumstantial evidence." Thus, with so little time and many facts unavailable Evans admits it was presumptuous for officials to declare a motive based on their short investigation. A definite motive with substantial evidence for Oswald's actions eluded the Commission's investigation as well. This decided flaw is a gaping hole in the official case.
Yet the flaws did not just exist in manner and breadth of the investigation but also in some of the physical evidence the Commission used to support its later findings. American law calls for using the most reliable evidence that is verifiable. To assess guilt a conservative legal view will not accept novel scientific techniques, experiments, impressive credentials, or unreliable claims lacking reproducible and verifiable results. "When scientific tests purport to identify the defendant as the guilty party, courts must screen out those techniques that do not invariably point to the guilty party." Yet without a legal adversarial process, this could not occur during the Commission.vii This legal standard is a requirement that all evidence should reach but some of the evidence relied upon failed to do so. The Commission was not a complete investigation but merely a prosecutorial attempt at one.
Among the largest problems with certain scientific evidence used by the Commission was the lack of objective and unbiased methods employed. Additionally, officials doubted the provenance of the evidence itself repeatedly. Three firearms experts consulted by the Commission who conducted separate examinations of the Walker bullet found it too mutilated for identification. They also disregard multiple crime scene witnesses, Oswald's lack of Russian writing skill, a second Walker threat letter delivered after Oswald's arrest, and Walker's prior claim to the European press that Oswald was responsible before Dallas Police charge him days later. Officials fail to match this bullet to the Carcano, yet Commission officials still blame Oswald for the attempt.viii
The Tippit bullets and casing present another issue for investigating experts. Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit was according to officials killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Three FBI experts and Commission expert Joseph Nicol identified all four casings recovered at the scene were from Oswald's revolver. However, all FBI experts concerned could not definitely link the mutilated bullets recovered to Oswald's revolver. Commission expert Nicol claimed that one of the bullets was fired by Oswald's weapon. The FBI in evaluating Nicol's alleged speculation explains "...he was influenced by circumstances surrounding the case in arriving at his decision. In evaluating the evidence concerning the Tippit murder...the Commission completely ignored the identification made by Nicol."ix Thus, either the Commission's expert was incorrect based on most related experts or the Commission ignored additional corroborative evidence.
Other ballistics questions include identification of the bullet fragments recovered from Governor Connally's arm, President Kennedy's head, and the Presidential limousine. An FBI memorandum states, "While minor variations in composition were found by this method, these were not considered sufficient to permit positively differentiating among the bullet fragments and thus positively determining from which of the large bullet fragments any given small lead fragment may have come." Officials separated fragments into two general categories, one for those presumed to come from President Kennedy and the limousine and others from the nearly intact bullet and Governor Connally. "While there is a probability that the fragment from the Governor's arm came from the whole bullet rather then (sic) from the mutilated bullet and that the fragments from the President's head and the from the floor of the car could have come from the mutilated bullet fragment from the front seat cushion it remains a probability and does not permit a positive finding or statement that any given fragment did in fact come from one of the bullets to the exclusion of the others." Essentially, the FBI confirms officials were not relying wholly on verified scientific assessment; some aspects were a matter of investigative presumption. Other scientific testing feasibly reduced the mass of some fragments due to cleaning and this might affect the results of future ballistic inquiries.
Commission Lead Counsel J. Lee Rankin submitted questions regarding another problem in the evidence, the fingerprints attributed to Lee Harvey Oswald on the other alleged murder weapon. Dallas Police officer J.C. Day alleged he found and lifted Oswald's fingerprints off the barrel of the Carcano on November 22, 1963. However, the Dallas Police "...made no mention of this latent print for a number of days following the assassination." Dallas Police Chief Curry told the press the fingerprints were sent with other material to the FBI's lab.
The day Oswald is murdered District Attorney Wade stated to the press a palm print had been found. Mr. Rankin then notes the Dallas Police did not present this evidence to the Bureau "...until a specific request was made of the Dallas Police Department." Rankin also states "...because of the circumstances that now exist there was a serious question in the minds of the Commission as to whether or not the palm impression that has been obtained from the Dallas Police Department is a legitimate latent palm impression removed from the rifle barrel or whether it was obtained from some other source and that for this reason this matter needs to be resolved."x The Dallas Police do not offer a photograph of the Carcano palm print until November twenty-ninth. FBI expert Sebastian F. Latona's subsequent inability to find any prints of value on the rifle affirms this valid question.
Dallas Police officer J. C. Day also recounts further problems and official mistakes in the chain of custody and crime scene contamination. Day recounts obtaining a palm print after dusting four cardboard boxes he assumed the sniper used to shield them. Yet instead of transferring the whole box or all the boxes for continued testing, Day cut out the palm print and left, he did not believe any other prints were present. This immediately blurs the chain of custody by not securing all the evidence at the crime scene, no full accounting occurred. Someone had rearranged the boxes when he returned and many unknown persons had visited and taken photographs of the crime scene. Day ascertained this from the empty film cartons left at the scene. He also noted many unknown reporters were present the day prior as well.xi
The other present official with Day at the scene was Detective Robert L. Studebaker. He states being so concerned with his own duties at the scene he "...paid very little attention to other people who were on the sixth floor...there were literally dozens of news media representatives from radio and television stations, newspapers, and magazines. Studebaker related that he did not pay enough attention to any of these individuals to recognize them, and, as far as he knew, there were no restriction on newsmen...from moving freely about the sixth floor. He stated any one of these individuals may have possibly handled the four cardboard boxes..."xii Thus, the area was never secure from outside interference and this allowed for contamination of the crime scene evidence.
Now consider that Oswald's job was to handle boxes and while his prints on the Carcano support ownership of the weapon, they do not prove he fired it. If Oswald could quickly assemble the Carcano without tools as official allege, he too could quickly disassemble it as well, even break it into parts and hide them in one of hundreds of boxes. Would he not at least wipe down the weapon? Marina Oswald prior claimed he buried the Carcano after firing at Walker, why should his normal pattern deviate in this instance. If someone designs a plot, it is reasonable to assume one would seek to get away with it.
Substantial mistakes, deceptions, and flaws marked the President's Commission investigation, and far more additional problems still presently exist. The reliability of any inquiry relies upon it undertaking a neutral investigation of the facts without internal manipulation or allowing external pressures to prevent full disclosure of the evidence. Just a short review of the prior evidence should offer while some verifiable facts are present in the Commission investigation, so too are critical flaws if the evidence is considered without prejudice.
i. Central Intelligence Agency, Russ Holmes Work File, Cable: To supplement our position in ref, we wish to stress there should be no let down, November 28, 1963, National Archives and Records Administration Identification Number: 104-10422-10278
ii. House Select Committee on Assassinations, Segregated CIA file, Staff Notes, 180-10147-10179, (n.d.), p. 14
iii. HSCA, Seg. CIA file, President Kennedy's Assassination, Box 26, November 27, 1963, NARA ID: 1993.08.11.09:53:23:250006
iv. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operation with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Church Committee boxed file, Preliminary Report of Investigation into the Assassination of President Kennedy, The CIA's Role in the Investigation, February 20, 1976, NARA ID: 157-10014-10141
v. Senate Select Comm., Church Committee boxed file, Interview and meeting summary with William Sullivan, April 21, 1976, p. 18, NARA ID: 157-10014-10061
vi. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ruby Headquarters file (44-24016), Memorandum to Mr. Belmont, November 27, 1963
vii. Andre A Moenssens, Admissibility of Scientific Evidence- An Alternative to the Frye Rule, William and Mary Law Review, Volume 25, Issue 4, p. 546
viii. FBI, Ruby HQ file (44-24016), Memorandum to Mr. Tolson Re: Report of the President's Commission, September 20, 1964, p. 6
ix. Ibid, pp. 6-7
x. FBI, House Select Committee Administrative Folder V8, Lee Harvey Oswald Volume IX, Memo to Belmont, August 28, 1964, NARA ID: 124-10369-10009
xi. FBI, Oswald HQ File (105-82555), Statement of J. Carl Day, September 3, 1964
xii. President's Commission Document 1507, FBI Letterhead Memorandum of 14 Sep 1964 re: ID Fingerprints TSBD, Statement of Robert Lee Studebaker, September 9, 1964
Edited: December 2017