Sunday, July 21, 2013

Press Reports on Discovery of Clifton Air Force One Tapes

Found: The secret Air Force One tapes that capture dramatic exchanges between White House staff after JFK's assassination 

15th November 2011

A long-lost version of the Air Force One recordings made in the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, with more than 30 minutes of additional material not in the official version in the government's archives, has been found and is for sale.

There are incidents and code names described on the newly discovered two-plus hour recording, which predates the shorter and newer recording currently housed in the National Archives outside Washington and the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Texas

The shorter recording was thought to be the only surviving version of the tape.

The asking price is $500,000 for the reel-to-reel tape, which is inside its original box with a typewritten label showing it was made by the White House Communications Agency for Army Gen Chester 'Ted' Clifton Jr.

It is titled 'Radio Traffic involving AF-1 in flight from Dallas, Texas to Andrews AFB on November 22, 1963.'

Nathan Raab, vice president of The Raab Collection, a Philadelphia historic documents dealer that put the tape up for sale Tuesday, said: 'As Americans have looked to the history of the Kennedy assassination in search of answers, somewhere in an attic there existed a tape made years before the only known surviving version, of the conversations on Air Force One on that fateful day.'

The recording is the highlight of the personal effects from the estate of Clifton, who was Kennedy's senior military aide and was in the Dallas motorcade when the president was assassinated.

Clifton, who died in 1991, had kept a collection of audio tapes, documents, photographs and video stemming from his years in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

For sale: The asking price is $500,000 for the reel-to-reel tape, which is inside its original box with a typewritten label showing it was made by the White House Communications Agency for Army Gen Chester 'Ted' Clifton Jr

The Raab Collection, which is selling the tape and the rest of the archive, acquired the items at a public sale from Clifton's heirs after the death of Clifton's wife in 2009.
'At a time when there really wasn't what we consider today a chief of staff, Clifton carried on many of those functions,' Mr Raab said. 'He retires in 1965, this goes with him.'

The recording consists of in-flight radio calls between the aircraft, the White House Situation Room, Andrews Air Force Base, and a plane that was carrying Kennedy press secretary Pierre Salinger and six Cabinet members from Hawaii to Tokyo when the president was assassinated.

The Clifton tapes include additional debate about whether Kennedy's body would be brought to Bethesda Naval Hospital or Walter Reed Hospital for autopsy and if first lady Jackie Kennedy would accompany the fallen president, as well as expanded discussions about arranging for ambulances and limousines to meet the plane.

No references to Kennedy nemesis Air Force Gen Curtis LeMay occur in the shorter version, but the Clifton tape contains an urgent attempt by an aide to contact him. 

The aide, seeking to interrupt Air Force transmissions to reach LeMay, is heard saying the general 'is in a C140. Last three numbers are 497. His code name is Grandson. And I want to talk to him.'

The whereabouts of LeMay, whose enmity for the president makes him a central figure for Kennedy assassination researchers, have long been disputed. 

The newly discovered recording can finally end the speculation and pinpoint his location immediately after the president's murder, Mr Raab said.

Other conversations on the tape refer to 'Monument' and 'W.T.E.' - code names for people as yet unknown - and someone only called 'John.'

Parts of the audio are difficult to discern because several conversations from the different patches are going on simultaneously.

Mr Raab said their digital recording was made as a straightforward recording, not as a forensic analysis, and current or future technology may be able to tease out and enhance the conversations.

The edited recording in the National Archives and the LBJ Library, available to the public since 1971, begins with an announcer stating it has been 'edited and condensed' but not explaining how much was cut or by whom.

A more complete version of the Air Force One tapes were long sought but never found, adding fuel to decades-old suspicions that there is more to Kennedy's assassination than the official account naming Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman.

The Assassination Records Review Board, created by an act of Congress in 1992 after the Oliver Stone film 'JFK' caused public uproar to re-examine Kennedy's killing, unsuccessfully sought the unedited Air Force One tapes for its probe. 

Its final report in 1998, the board said the LBJ Library version was filled with crude breaks and chopped conversations.

'That this tape even exists will change the way we view this great event in history,' Mr Raab said. 'It took decades to analyze the shorter, newer version and it will take years to do the same here.'

The Clifton tape has been professionally digitized and a copy is being donated by the Raab Collection to the National Archives and the John F. Kennedy Library so the public will have access to the material even if the original tape is sold to a private collector.
The wholly unedited 'raw' recording of the entirety of the trip, which also would have included periods of silence and static, has never been located. It would have been roughly 4 and a half hours long.

US Archives releases longer audio tape from Air Force One after Kennedy assassination

01/30/2012 – January 30

By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff

WASHINGTON -- The Kennedy assassination was one of the most heart-wrenching and chaotic events in modern American history -- and one still replete with mysteries.
But now a little more light has been shed on one of them: What was edited out of the flight deck recording from Air Force One as it carried John F. Kennedy’s body and the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, from Dallas to Washington.

The National Archives and Records Administration today released a newly discovered recording – running about 2 hours and 20 minutes -- that is nearly 40 minutes longer than the only version previously known to exist.

The more complete recording was discovered last year by the Raab Collection, a manuscript collector in Pennsylvania, after one of its agents purchased at auction a box of personal effects from the estate of General Chester Clifton, who was Kennedy’s military aide.

The whereabouts of the complete Air Force One radio transmissions from Nov. 22, 1963, still remain a mystery. But what makes this a historically significant find is that it is an earlier version of the raw transmissions than the one housed at the LBJ Library, which was more heavily edited and runs only about an hour and 40 minutes.

Clifton, who died in 1991, left the White House in 1965, while the LBJ Library version was made public in 1971.

“This is the earliest that likely exists,” said Nathan Raab, vice president of the Raab Collection in Ardmore, Pa.

The newly found tape, a copy of which was donated to the Archives, includes never-before-heard transmissions between the White House Situation Room and another plane taking Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other Cabinet members to Tokyo at the time of Kennedy’s shooting and was turned back. It also contains an urgent request to locate the head of the Air Force, General Curtis LeMay, whose whereabouts in the immediate aftermath of the assassination have remained an obsession for generations of conspiracy theorists.

Some of the newly discovered radio traffic is raw and uncensored, such as when Rusk and his party are informed of the shooting while flying over the Pacific.
“Kennedy apparently shot in head,” the male radio operator in the Situation Room reports. “He fell face down in back seat of his car, blood was on his head, Mrs. Kennedy cried ‘oh, no’ and tried to hold up his head.”

Also heard are more mundane things, such as the pilots of Air Force One discussing how to avoid tornados in Arkansas and Mississippi along the flight path from Dallas to Washington, D.C.

Raab said he was most intrigued by the portion involving LeMay. Kennedy and the hawkish Air Force chief were widely known to mistrust each other and all references to LeMay were deleted in the Johnson Library version of the recording.

In the longer version, one of LeMay’s aides, a Colonel Dorman, contacts the White House Situation Room seeking to reach the general, who he tells them is flying in a C-140 aircraft with the last three numbers 497 and whose code name is “Grandson.”
“And I want to talk to him,” the colonel says. Any delay, he adds, “would be too late.”
But he is told they will have to interrupt transmissions with Air Force One to do so. The Situation Room reports that they are using both frequencies available to communicate with the presidential aircraft.

Summarizing the portions of the tape not made public before, the National Archives cited “references to new code names and incidents; a private conversation between Jerry Behn, the head of the Secret Service, and an unidentified individual about the disposition of the president’s body; an urgent effort by an aide to Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay to reach [him]; and attempts to locate various members of Congress from the Texas delegation.”

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said the recording “provides additional documentation concerning the immediate response of the US Government on the day of President Kennedy’s assassination.”

The tape, added, Raab, “will allow the public a more complete view of the chaotic circumstances following the assassination of President Kennedy.”

But the recording only goes so far. Several hours of raw tape are still missing. The transmissions heard on Air Force One that day should cover more than four hours -- from before 2 p.m. Eastern time to after 6 p.m., when the new president and the casket bearing JFK arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland.

“The raw tapes never resurfaced after 1965-66, and the very existence of the first Air Force One assassination tape [found among Clifton’s papers] was forgotten,” said the Raab Collection. “Over the years all the efforts to find the raw tapes or any other original version proved fruitless. They are no longer with the White House Communications Agency, where they were created.”
The Raab Collection is selling the original copy of the reel-to-reel recording for $500,000, along with other items found among Clifton’s estate, including an autographed photograph of President Kennedy.

Bryan Bender can be reached at

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