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New Air Force One Tapes


The early response of the government to the JFK assassination has been of longstanding interest, particularly given the speed at which the federal government moved to "close the case" on Oswald following his own murder two days after Kennedy's.

In the 1970s the LBJ Library produced tapes, created by the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), of the recorded traffic on 11-22-63 between the White House Situation Room and other sites, most importantly Air Force One during its journey from Dallas to Washington. These tapes were shorter than would be expected and showed internal signs of having been "edited down" from a longer version. See this ARRB memo for more information.

In November 2011 the Raab Collection announced that the estate of General Ted Clifton contained a more complete version of this audio traffic, longer by some 30 minutes or so, and put it up for sale for $500,000. In January 2012 a copy was donated to the National Archives. Clifton was Kennedy's military aide.

Digital copies of the tapes are available for listening on the Mary Ferrell Foundation website, and excerpts with discussion may be heard on the website of the Raab Collection.

The tapes include much discussion of arrangements for President Kennedy's autopsy, as well as the new President Johnson's phone conversations with Rose Kennedy and the wife of wounded Texas Governor John Connally.

What is new on the expanded Clifton version of the tapes? One addition is the frantic attempt by General Curtis LeMay's aide, Colonel Dorman, to reach LeMay. Dorman gives LeMay's location as "in a C140".

Of interest to some is expanded discussion of whether Kennedy's body would be going to Walter Reed or Bethesda for autopsy and the arrangement of ambulances. For more see Best Evidence, Inside the AARB, this page, and the amazing audio interview with General Wehle's aide Richard Lipsey, who told the HSCA that he had arranged for a decoy ambulence.

Bill Kelley has made a transcript at JFKCountercoup which notes which conversations are on which versions.

But most notably still absent from this new version is what author T.H. White, who listened to an earlier more complete tape, wrote about in The Making of the President 1964:

On the flight the party learned that there was no conspiracy, learned of the identity of Oswald and his arrest; and the President's mind turned to the duties of consoling the stricken and guiding the quick.

Vincent Salandria wrote about this amazing revelation and its implications, its disappearance from the public version of the WHCA tapes, in an essay entitled The Tale of the Tapes. Salandria's essay is worth reading and reflecting upon.

Where did the original recording go; who precisely makes the decisions to edit and re-edit? Why was the Assassination Records Review Board, which was never made aware of the new Clifton version, unable to penetrate this mystery? Whose history is this?

3-11-2012 Update:

Douglas P. Horne, former senior staff member of the Assassination Records and Review Board and author of Inside the ARRB, has produced an annotated transcript of the new tapes. Read the transcript online here at the MFF, and see his blog for more information.

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