Hail to the Chief who in Triumph advances! Honor'd and bless'd be the evergreen pine . . ."
That same day, Curry held a meeting with his deputies, Batchelor and Fisher, Lawson, and Sorrels to study the problems raised by the President's visit. The meeting continued into the next day, November 15, with the participation of members of the local host committee. Sorrels and Lawson were preoccupied with security problems in and around the Trade Mart, and Curry promised massive reinforcements.
That weekend, or Monday morning at the latest, J. Edgar Hoover received a TWX (inter-office telegram) from special agent James W. Bookhout of the FBI's Dallas office. The Warren Commission was never informed of the existence of this message. On Monday, November 18, Lawson and Sorrels drove over the motorcade route from Love Field to the Trade Mart for the first time. Curry stressed the fact that it could be covered in 45 minutes, and even suggested that a short section along the Central Express- way be eliminated because of the security risks it offered. After they had driven through the center of the city and reached Dealey Plaza, Curry pointed down Main Street past the railroad overpass and said, "And afterwards there's only the freeway." But instead of turning right into Houston Street in the direction of Elm Street, as the motorcade did on November 22, Curry turned left in front of the Old Courthouse (see map), and neither Lawson nor Sorrels followed the parade route past that point, where they would have been obliged to make a 90 degree right turn into Houston Street, followed 70 yards later by a 120 degree turn to the left into Elm Street. Had they done so, it might have occurred to them that the big Presidential Lincoln would be obliged to slow down almost to a stop in order to make that second turn.(2) This type of double turn is contrary to Secret Service regulations, which specify that when a Presidential motorcade has to slow down to make a turn, "the entire intersection must be examined in advance, searched and inspected from top to bottom." Curry, however, brought the reconnaissance to an end at the very point where it became unacceptable (as well as unusual) from the point of view of security.(3)
On Tuesday, November 19, the Times Herald and the Morning News of Dallas ran stories about Friday's motorcade, but neither of these papers published a map, which would have brought the curious hairpin turn coming at the end of a long straight route to the attention of even a non-observant person like Lawson. That same day, Kennedy asked his secretary, "Where are those clowns?" The "clowns" were O'Donnell, O'Brien, and Powers, who were resting at home that morning after their trip to Florida with the President. At any rate, O'Donnell's presence at the White House that day wouldn't have made any difference. He was only interested in the political aspects of the motorcade -- how many people would be there, and where. On the other hand, Kennedy's perspicacious press secretary, Pierre Salinger, might have noticed the curious hairpin turn had he seen it in one of the newspapers, but it didn't appear in the Dallas papers, and Salinger left that same morning for Honolulu.
The hairpin turn was as ideal a set-up for an ambush as any potential assassin could hope for.(4) The Committee was not going to let a chance like this go by. The attack was to be carried out by a team of ten men, including four gunmen, each seconded by an assistant who would be responsible for their protection, evacuation, and radio liaison, and who would retrieve the shells. The ninth man would serve as a central radio operator, and the tenth was to create a last-minute diversion to enable the gunmen to get into position.(5)
The layout of the site (see map) determined an optimum firing zone within which the shots would have to be concentrated, but a target riding in a moving vehicle raised a number of special problems. The first concerned the speed of the vehicle. The Presidential car was watched and timed during Kennedy's trips in September, and its minimum speed was estimated at 10 miles an hour. The sharp turn into Elm Street was expected to slow it down even more, but as Dealey Plaza marked the end of the motorcade and the approach to the freeway, the driver would probably accelerate as he came out of the turn. The estimate was therefore cautiously revised to 15 miles an hour.(6)
Fifteen miles an hour is the equivalent of approximately 22 feet per second. That is extremely slow for a car, but extremely fast for a gunman, particularly if he placed in a perpendicular or even a lateral position. The positions of the gunmen were determined with this in mind. The best possible position for an ambush of this sort (when neither explosives nor bazookas or other powerful weapons are used) is in front of and perpendicular to the car. The layout of Dealey Plaza offered several possibilities. The gunman in position no. 1 would have the car coming straight towards him, on a level with him, as it came out of the turn 400 feet away. This position offered a wide firing angle and the possibility of shooting at the President up to a very close range (approximately 100 feet). It seemed so ideal that it was decided to station another gunman, no. 2, beyond no. 1 and close to the railroad overpass. Both would be firing from approximately the same angle. The other two gunmen, 3 and 4, occupied less favorable positions. They could not fire at the President and hope to hit him until a precise instant determined by a number of different factors.
The first was the obstacle presented by the two Secret Service men who habitually rode on the back bumper of the President's car.(7) The second was the fact that the shots of the four gunmen must be carefully synchronized. After studying these factors and others (distances and angles), the organizers delimited an exact firing zone 60 feet long which took into account the distance of each gunman from his target and the trajectory of his bullet, and which offered the maximum chances for success (see map).
Accuracy was, of course, essential. The gunmen were chosen for their marksmanship, and they were provided with excellent weapons.(8) But they had to aim at the President's head, and they had to be sure to kill him.(9) No plans were made for a second round of fire. It was assumed that the first shots would set off instantaneous reactions. Roy Kellerman, in the front seat of the President's car, would throw himself over Kennedy. The President himself might collapse or drop to the floor of the car. In a fraction of a second the driver could accelerate and the car would roar out of sight.
But the reaction on November 22 was one of total surprise. Not only did Kellerman and the driver fail to move (they turned to look at the President), but when agent John Ready wanted to jump off the running board of the backup car,(10) agent Emory Roberts ordered him back. It would seem, then, that some Secret Service agents did have the impulse to jump, but that they felt obliged to ask permission!
What had been planned as a salvo wasn't really a salvo. The first shot was clearly distinct, and the second narrowly preceded the third and fourth, which blended into one. The four shots thus formed three distinct detonations, but the acoustical phenomena at Dealey Plaza led many witnesses to believe that they had heard only two shots.(11) The first shot, fired in the open, was muffled, and the second and third, separated by only 2 seconds, had the effect of an echo.
The first bullet came from no. 1 and struck the President in the throat. The second apparently came from no. 4 and hit the President in the back. No. 3 hit Connally, and no. 2's bullet went through a traffic sign between him and the car. Then, as Young blood covered Johnson and spectators began to scream, there was a pause. Four seconds after they opened fire, the gunmen must have been dumbfounded. When the first shot strangled the President, no one moved. At the sound of the second, Governor Connally turned around and was wounded, but the driver still didn't budge, and Kellerman barely turned his head. The final shots awakened the agents in the back-up car, but Kellerman was still lost in his dreams, and Greer failed to react even to the whine of Halfback's siren. Four shots had been fired, and the car was still moving at the same speed. Despite the careful preparations and the skillful marksmanship, not only was the President alive, but he was not mortally wounded. His life depended literally on Greer's reflexes, but the old driver was drugged by 35 years on the job.
The gunmen weren't dreaming, however. They were professionals. The car continued towards 1 and 2. It was 2 who hit the President, and from very close range (see photo, pp. 356-357).(12) John Fitzgerald Kennedy, strangled by the first shot and knocked forward by the second, was thrust backwards. The bullet pierced his temple and penetrated his brain, and his skull literally exploded.(13)
It would never have happened if the bubbletop had been used that day.(14) The Plexiglas would not have stopped the bullets, but it would have deflected them, interfering with the gunmen's aim. But on the morning of November 22, Ken O'Donnell glanced up at the sky at Fort Worth and noted with satisfaction that "It was going to be a day with a halo around it, a glittering lacuna of a day. There would be no bubbletop."(15) He was right. The sun was shining in Dallas.
In 30 years on the job, J. Edgar Hoover has developed an intelligence system which nothing -- no racket, and certainly no conspiracy -- can escape. Through its extensive network of informers, the FBI knows everything worth knowing that goes on in the United States, even in areas that lie outside its legal jurisdiction.(16) The Dallas conspiracy was born and took root in places where the FBI was well represented. Its informers included former FBI agent James Rowley, chief of the Secret Service, Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade, CIA agent Guy Banister, also a member of the Minutemen, and Lee Harvey Oswald. H. L. Hunt used former FBI agents as bodyguards, and Dallas Police Chief Curry was in contact with several FBI men and was under surveillance by the FBI, which had no fewer than 75 agents in Dallas.
By mid-October, Hoover had been informed of the existence of a plot and was familiar with many of the details. The FBI often launches an investigation on the strength of a rumor, and the information it received that fall from Boston, Chicago and Dallas was based on far more than hearsay, These reports were checked out and verified. The week before the President's departure for Texas, Hoover knew exactly what was going to happen. Why did the FBI fail to intervene?
It is true that the FBI bore no responsibility for the security of the President. It is also true that every year dozens of investigations are made of threats against the life of the President. Moreover, the FBI is an investigative agency, not a national police force. Nevertheless, a section of the FBI Manual issued to each agent stipulates that:
Investigation of threats against the President of the United States, members of his immediate family, the President-Elect, and the Vice-President is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the US Secret Service. Any information indicating the possibility of an attempt against the person or safety of the President, members of the immediate family of the President, the President-Elect or the Vice-President must be referred immediately by the most expeditious means of communication to the nearest office of the US Secret Service. Advise the Bureau at the same time of the information so furnished to the Secret Service and the fact that it has been so disseminated. The above action should be taken without delay in order to attempt to verify the information, and no evaluation of the information should be attempted. When the threat is in the form of a written communication, give a copy to the local Secret Service and forward the original to the Bureau where it will be made available to the Secret Service headquarters in Washington. The referral of the copy to local Secret Service should not delay the immediate referral of the information by the fastest available means of communication to Secret Service locally.The regulations, however, were ignored.
Hoover, "the man who is almost a legend" (in the words of Rep. Gerald Ford) would probably not have agreed to cooperate with the Committee, but he did absolutely nothing to stop it. He "may not have approved of the assassination, but he didn't disapprove of it either. Hoover preferred to stay out of other people's fights, especially when they involved business circles over which he exercised little control. Faced with a choice between his professional duty and his abhorrence of everything that President Kennedy represented, he chose the latter alternative. He also hoped that the affair would tarnish the reputation of the CIA and shatter his Attorney General.
After the assassination, the FBI pulled out its files and submitted its report. It laid the blame and designated the culprits. Texas got back at Hoover by declaring, on January 24, 1964, that Lee Oswald had been on the FBI payroll as an informer since 1962. Neither the FBI nor the CIA were ever called upon to clear themselves. The assassination was bigger than both of them. It was rooted in a system that had produced a Senator named Lyndon Johnson, and it was suppressed by the same system, now presided over by the same Lyndon Johnson. In the belief that he was acting for the good of the country, Chief Justice Warren agreed to perjure himself.
Regardless of the cost to the country, the FBI's maneuverings paid off. Since 1963 it has been steadily shortening the CIA 's lead in the intelligence race. It has reinforced its control in the field of counter-espionage and branched out into the overseas activities that were once the CIA's private preserve.(17)
But although he recognizes its technical competence, President Johnson apparently doesn't trust the FBI with his life. On November 22, 1964, a board presided by Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon and including Attorney General Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, White House assistant McGeorge Bundy, and CIA Director John McCone examined ways of strengthening Presidential security .It rejected the suggestion that the FBI be given overall responsibility for the protection of the President, including prevention and investigation, leaving the Secret Service with the limited responsibility for his physical protection.
Exactly one year earlier, the stern and hard-working Mr. Hoover had already had his lunch and been back at work for more than 30 minutes when the first news flash clattered over the UPI wires at 1:34 pm EST. But does Mr. Hoover ever learn anything from the wire services?
The following day, November 23, the White House received a package sent over by his remarkable bureau. In it was a piece of President Kennedy's skull.
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1. There were five possible locations for the Dallas luncheon, but the Sheraton-Dallas Hotel and Memorial Auditorium refused on various pretenses to play host to the President, the Market Hall was occupied by a bottlers' convention, and the Womens' Building was vetoed by local authorities as being too drab and impractical for serving a luncheon. That left the Trade Mart.
At Curry's urging, Sorrels approved the choice of the Trade Mart on November 4 and advised Behn at the White House.
2. The Warren commission claimed that all motorists are obliged to make this inconvenient detour in order to reach Stemmons Freeway (which leads to the Trade Mart), but the Commission acknowledged that it would have been possible for the motorcade to continue straight down Main Street through the underpass and make a 100 degree turn around a concrete barrier onto the freeway approach. The Commission declared, however, that "a sign located on this barrier instructs Main Street traffic not to make any turns." We do not mean to criticize the Dallas traffic laws, but on November 22 all the streets had been cleared to make way for the motorcade, and it would have been normal to follow the easiest, the quickest, and the safest (because it involved only one turn) route onto the freeway.
3. The route followed by the motorcade that day surprised even Senator Yarborough, a Texan, who may have remembered continuing straight down Main Street onto Stemmons Freeway despite the no turn sign on some other occasion.
4. Reinhard Heydrich, head of the SS Security Service and deputy chief of the Gestapo, was ambushed in similar circumstances on May 29, 1942. Heydrich was driving his open Mercedes towards Prague when, in a hairpin turn, two members of the free Czechoslovak army who had been parachuted by the R.A.F. tossed a bomb into his car and fled under the cover of a smoke screen. The Gestapo executed 1,331 Czechs (including 201 women) and 3,000 Jews in reprisal.
5. A few minutes before the arrival of the motorcade, a man wearing green army fatigues had a sudden fit of epilepsy in Elm Street. The attack lasted less than a minute and was over as suddenly as it had begun, but it drew the attention of the people standing around him. The police took the "epileptic" away.
6. The Warren Commission estimated the speed of the car at 11 miles per hour.
7. The President himself had ordered them off week before at Tampa. The person in charge of the ambush noted in Miami, and later at San Antonio and Houston, that the "human shield" had not been reinstated, but he preferred to take it into account just in case, and the original plan was maintained.
8. Robert Kennedy was killed with an Iver Johnson .22 pistol, one of the best weapons that exists for close-range firing in a crowd.
9. The Committee was worried less about killing John Connally, who was in almost the same line of fire as the President, than about accidentally killing a federal agent, which would have transformed the assassination into a federal rather than a state crime.
This was one of the reasons why a plan for killing driver Bill Greer was dropped, the others being that a dead or wounded driver might press down on the accelerator and send the car hurtling forward, and third that they didn't want to waste their bullets on a secondary target.
10. Manchester, Death of a President, p. 191.
11. People who knew guns, however, and those in the rear of the motorcade who had not yet reached Dealey Plaza, were not fooled. UPI correspondent Merriman Smith reported a "burst" of gunfire, and in Main Street General Clifton and General McHugh mistook the three distinct reports for a salute.
12. Apparently 3 and 4 also took second shots, but missed. They may have been shaken by the general inertia; at any rate, their shots were much more difficult.
13. A study of ballistics makes it clear why, despite the fact that he is so poorly protected, it takes a highly-organized plot and expert gunmen (except on the off-chance) to kill the President of the United States when he is riding in a moving car. Gunmen 3 and 4, stationed in the rear, had difficult shots. They hit the President only once (in the back), and one of their shots also struck Connally. Their other shots probably bounced off the car or hit the ground.
There were two principal reasons why they missed. In the first place, the average spread of an accurate rifle is about 2 inches to either side for every 100 yards. In the second place, in the instant between the time the gunman presses the trigger and the impact of the bullet, a moving target shifts position. For the fastest rifles, such as the Winchester 284 or the Colt AR 15 223, this interval is approximately 1/11th of a second at a distance of 100 yards. In 1/11th of a second, a car moving 10 or II miles an hour advances about a foot and a half. The angle at which they were placed (15 or 20 degrees) reduced this displacement somewhat, but it still amounted to several inches, which was easily doubled by their reflex time. A few inches is enough to miss a target the size of a head. Moreover, it is one thing to shoot on a firing range and quite another to fire from a rooftop or a window overlooking a public park amidst the noises of the crowd.
The feat attributed to Oswald at Dallas was impossible for any but a world champion marksman using a high-precision semi-automatic rifle mounted on a carriage and equipped with an aim corrector, and who had practiced on moving targets in similar set-ups. The rifles used for the assassination were Mausers without scopes. An optical scope has the advantage of bringing the target 3 or 4 times closer, but it needs frequent adjustment and must be handled with care. Furthermore, it is unnecessary for a target 300 feet away. There was some question as to whether heavy rifles with large-caliber bullets or lighter weapons making it easier to follow a moving target should be used. An example of the latter-type weapon is the Colt AR 15.223 mentioned by Manchester, who notes (p. 167) that there was one on the back seat of Halfback, the back-up car, between Secret Service agents George Hickey and Glen Bennett. Manchester states that this rifle has a muzzle velocity so powerful that should a bullet strike a man's chest, it would blow his head off (sic), thereby showing (though elsewhere in the book he describes himself as an expert marksman who, "like Oswald," was trained in the Marine Corps at Parris Island) how little he knows about firearms, The .223 caliber 21 barrel Colt AR 15 Sporter is a powerful weapon, with the same shock power as the NATO 7.62 at a distance of 300 feet, but it has never been known to strike a man's chest and knock his head off. The principal advantages of the AR 15 (known to the military as the M 16) are its light weight (8 lbs.), rate of fire (900 to 1,000 shots per minute), initial speed (3,000 feet per second), range (8,000 yards) and flat trajectory at close range.
The bullets used were frangible bullets specially cast from a lead and silver alloy with no jacket, so that they would disintegrate on impact. The bullet that killed Robert Kennedy was also a frangible bullet.
14. If it had rained that day, the Lincoln would have been covered with its Plexiglas "bubbletop," which according to V. E. Baughman, former chief of the Secret Service, is not bulletproof. The British and the French, however, not to speak of the Russians, use transparent plastic tops that, while heavier, are capable of deflecting even large-caliber bullets fired at point-blank range.
15. Manchester, Death of a President, p. 154.
16. After the assassination, the FBI submitted 25,000 investigative reports. It went so far as to describe the dreams of some of the witnesses.
17. Hoover has always denied this, claiming that the agency's activities abroad are confined to domestic law enforcement and related duties. He is not telling the truth. Since 1963, the FBI has expanded its overseas operations. (It already had offices in London, Tokyo, Paris, Bonn, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico, and even Moscow.) It still has a long way to go to catch up with the CIA, but it is trying hard. It is firmly ensconced in the Dominican Republic, where its intelligence reports were so highly regarded by the White House that it was given the green light to operate in other countries. This does not mean that the CIA has abdicated or been relieved of its responsibilities, but that the FBI is concerning itself more and more with overseas intelligence.
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