|From the November-December 1999 issue (Vol. 6 No. 1)|
Blakey told him, You guys are thinking too big. Youve got to get your conspiracy smaller. Sprague replied, Well, how small Bob? The professor replied, Five or six people. HSCA investigator Eddie Lopez vouched for this rendition of Blakeys view of how large a conspiracy could be.
In an interesting segment from Gaeton Fonzis wonderful 1993 book The Last Investigation, the author recalls his first meeting with and impressions of the man who replaced Richard Sprague as chief counsel and staff director of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. At that time, the summer of 1977, Deputy Counsel Robert Tanenbaum was supervising the JFK side of the House Select Committee while awaiting a replacement. Tanenbaum had called Fonzi and told him that he wanted him to meet the incoming chief counsel, Cornell law professor G. Robert Blakey. Fonzi describes his first thoughts about Blakey thusly:
Among my first impressions of Bob Blakey was that he was very knowledgeable in the ways of the Washington bureaucracy. It was obvious that he knew how to take over an operation because the first thing he did when he arrived was nothing. That, as they tell you in the military, is exactly what a new commander should do when he is assigned a unit: Do nothing but walk around, look around, listen carefully and ask questions. Then youll know how to move for control quickly and firmly.... Blakey turned out to be a very cunning intellectual strategist who seemed to take quiet pride in his ability to manipulate both people and situations. (pp. 208-209)
Clearly, during the brief transition period in July of 1977, Blakey had decided that the open-ended investigation that his predecessors had launched was, for his purposes, much too broad and also too reliant on the literature critical of the Warren Commission. When I talked to photoanalyst Richard E. Sprague in 1993, he related a personal conversation that he had with Blakey shortly after the professor had taken over. Blakey told him, "You guys are thinking too big. Youve got to get your conspiracy smaller." Sprague replied, "Well, how small Bob?" The professor replied, "Five or six people." HSCA investigator Eddie Lopez vouched for this rendition of Blakeys view of how large a conspiracy could be. He said that in his lecture classes on criminal conspiracy, Blakey would describe such an entity as spokes on a wheel. It was necessary to keep these human spokes small in number to minimize the possibility of one breaking i.e. talking.
To limit the conspiracy and deliberate cover-up in the John F. Kennedy case to five or six people is quite a tall order. But the cunning strategist Blakey knew where to strike first. Bob Tanenbaum had brought Michael Baden into the House Select Committee on Assassinations because he had worked with him many times in New York City where Tanenbaum worked homicide cases and Baden was Chief Medical Examiner. Tanenbaum had much admiration for Badens skills as a forensic pathologist, i.e. a doctor whose specialty is determining the cause of death in cases that need full autopsies. Tanenbaum told me that as long as he was there, Baden backed the basic idea that the Kennedy murder was the result of a conspiracy. In other words, the single bullet theory was not tenable. But something happened to Baden when Blakey took the helm, because shortly thereafter he switched positions. He became a vociferous backer of Oswald as the only assassin. In other words, the single bullet theory was now not only viable, it was the only way to go. And according to Jerry Policoff, people inside the committee have said Baden began to ride herd on the medical panel, actively encouraging the thesis on his cohorts
Once Baden had switched his position, Andy Purdy was the next to go. As I wrote in the first part of this piece, Purdy was a friend of Representative Tom Downings son at the University of Virginia. Purdy had seen Robert Grodens enhanced version of the Zapruder film and encouraged the son to have his father see it. Downing then wrote his bill authorizing congress to investigate the Kennedy case based on that viewing of the Z-film. Through his connections to Downing, Purdy secured a position on the committee. By all accounts, and like Baden, while Sprague and Tanenbaum were in command Purdy was all for finding the real conspirators in the Kennedy case. But Eddie Lopez said that one day shortly after the transition, young Purdy went into a meeting with Blakey and Baden. When he came out he announced, "Were going with the single bullet theory." Lopez was shocked. He began arguing with Purdy in a demonstrative way. He sat himself down in a chair to demonstrate the trajectory of the single bullet through Kennedys back. He then raised his arms over his head to show Purdy that it would be impossible for a bullet entering at the level shown in Kennedys shirt (about four inches below the collar) to exit at his throat. He raised his arms as high as they would go trying to show Purdy that no matter what he did, the bullet hole in the shirt would never rise up to neck level: "See, you cant do it Andy!" It was to no avail. As Gaeton Fonzi later said, it was like the epiphany of St. Paul. Purdy now had gotten religion.
What happened to Baden and Purdy? No one can know for sure. It would certainly seem that the facts of the case did not change. It would be very illuminating for all of us if Purdy would divulge what was discussed behind closed doors at the meeting which caused his conversion. But whatever was discussed, the 180 degree swerves of Baden and Purdy were very helpful in resuscitating the "Oswald as lone assassin" story. Because Baden would now lead the medical panel arranged by Blakey and Purdy would end up being the chief medical investigator for that panel. As long as both maintained the figleaf of the single bullet theory, it would be possible to posit a small conspiracy.
The problem with Purdy and Badens work though is that it does not hold up under scrutiny. In fact, it is not even consistent with its own assumptions. For a startling illustration of this, one only has to look at Badens own testimony in Volume 1 of the House Select Committee published set. On pages 186-192 Baden discusses the wound in Kennedys back with an illustration provided by medical artist Ida Dox. Her renditions are based on the actual autopsy photos. Baden and his panel moved the wound in Kennedys back lower than the Warren Commission had placed it. But even more importantly, he discusses something called an "abrasion collar". This is the ring made around a bullet hole in the skin that can sometimes reveal directionality i.e. the angle at which the bullet perforated the body. The Warren Commission drawing of this angle placed that bullet at a downward trajectory from the sixth floor and this HSCA volume has that drawing in it (p. 232). Yet the two drawings prepared by Dox for the HSCA do not maintain that angle. They depict, respectively, a flat trajectory of entrance and an upward trajectory. (pp. 190-191) Both Baden and his questioners danced all around this issue. Clearly it was not to be openly stated at the public hearings. Unfortunately, Cyril Wecht let the cat out of the bag right after Baden left. In discussing the horizontal and vertical trajectories of the new HSCA version of the single bullet theory he stated the following:
The panel, to the best of my recollection, was in unanimous agreement that there was a slight upward trajectory of the bullet through President John F. Kennedy, that is to say, that the bullet wound of entrance on the Presidents back, lined up with the bullet wound of exit in the front of the Presidents neck, drawing a straight line, showed that vertically the bullet had moved slightly upward. . . . (p. 344)
In other words, in this regard, the HSCA had actually outdone the Warren Commission. Not even the Commission could postulate that a bullet fired from above could enter Kennedys back at an upward angleand then actually reverse its trajectory inside the body without hitting bone. Yet by admitting one thing that was truethat the bullet did not hit Kennedy in the neck but in the backthey had to create an even larger fiction to cover an even greater deception. For as Wecht put it so vividly:
How in the world can a bullet be fired from the sixth floor window, strike the President in the back, and yet have a slightly upward direction? There was nothing there to cause it to change its course. And then with the slightly upward direction, outside the Presidents neck, that bullet then embarked upon a rollercoaster ride with a major dip, because it then proceeded; under the single bullet theory, through Gov. John Connally at a 25 degree angle of declination.. . . How does a bullet that is moving slightly upward in the President proceed then to move downward 25 degrees in John Connally? This is what I cannot understand. (Ibid)
Stated in those clear, stark terms no wonder Baden and the committee wanted to tap-dance around the issue.
There was another strange piece of alchemy done with the Warren Commission autopsy evidence on September 7, 1978, the second day of the HSCA public hearings. Sandwiched between Baden and Wecht was none other than Captain James J. Humes. Humes, of course, was the titular head of the autopsy team that examined President Kennedys body when it was shipped into Bethesda Maryland upon its return from Dallas. If one is discussing medical questions about perhaps the most important and dubious autopsy in contemporary American history, could there be a more important witness? Imagine the breadth and depth of questioning that could and should have been done with Humes. For instance, about any phone calls he may have received from the time he knew he was doing the autopsy until the time he entered the autopsy room. Or if he asked to look at the autopsy photos or x-rays before he wrote his report. Or if the doctors reconstructed the back of Kennedys skull with bones from Dallas to make the present photographs possible. One fine example the panel could have asked: Was there a probe done of the back wound to see if it penetrated all the way through the body? At the very least, the examination of Humes should have been as rigorous as that of his colleague Pierre Finck in 1969 at the trial of Clay Shaw. But if one examines the transcript of that September 9th hearing, a curious phenomenon is observed. Baden, who was not in Bethesda, talks on and on for about 53 pages. When he is finished, there are many questions. Wecht, who was not in Bethesda, goes on for about 39 pages. When he is finished, there are many questions. Humes talks for nine pages. Even more startling, when he is opened up for questioning to the committee, this is what appears in the transcript:
Chairman Stokes: Thank you counsel. Are there any members of the committee that would seek recognition?
[No response.] p. 331
At this point in the radio broadcast of the hearings, medical researcher Wallace Milamstarted to cry.
So what exactly was Humes called on stage to do? Under Tanenbaums replacement, Deputy Counsel Gary Cornwell, Humes was basically depicted as a bungling nincompoop who could not tell the top of the head from the bottom, a persons back from his neck, and someone so sensitive to the memory of JFK that he threw out his original autopsy notes because they "were stained with the blood of our late President". (Ibid. p.330) In other words, he got the location of the wounds wrong and burned the first draft of his autopsy notes. I will excerpt two parts of Humes comments to show what his Galileo-like recantation was like: "We made certain physical observations and measurements of these wounds. I state now those measurements we recorded then were accurate to the best of our ability to discern what we had before our eyes." (p. 327) Four pages later, this follows:
Having heard most of what Dr. Baden said, and the findings of his committee on forensic pathologists, I think the committee was very well advised to gather such a distinguished group. I wish I had had the availability of that many people and that much time to reach the conclusions that I and my associates were forced to reach in approximately 36 hours.
Humes played the good soldier and simulated the humble, bumbling dolt for the HSCA.
Unfortunately for the public, we were not allowed to see what had gone on behind the scenes leading up to this dog and pony show. At their private conference with select members of Badens medical panel, all three autopsy doctorsHumes, Pierre Finck, and J. Thornton Boswellmightily resisted this new location for the head wound: four inches up from where they had originally placed Kennedys fatal head shot. In the newly declassified HSCA files, Finck argues that he had the body right in front of him and that should be the strongest evidence. Humes also argues that what the HSCA is now calling a bullet hole does not even look like a wound to him. Humes said about the small red dot that the HSCA called an entrance wound, "I just dont know what it is, but it certainly was not any wound of entrance." This argument went on until one of the HSCA pathologists interjected. "We have no business recording this," said Dr. Loquvam. "This is for us to decide between ourselves; I dont think this belongs on this record. . . . You guys are nuts. You guys are nuts writing this stuff. It doesnt belong in that damn record." (Vol. 7 p. 255) ( Loquvam ended up writing the draft report of the medical panel.) But six pages later, Humes made an even more vigorous dissent and a telling point about the difference between the black and white vs. the color autopsy photos. Humes was being grilled about why, if the wound was in the lower part of the head, the photos depicting that "wound" are not centered on that particular part of the skull; the photographers camera lens is centered toward the middle of the head. Humes said that they were not trying to get just a picture of the wound in that shot. He then further replied with this: " I submit to you that, despite the fact that this upper point that has been the source of some discussion here this afternoon is excessively obvious in the color photograph, I almost defy you to find it in that magnification in the black and white." Baden did not directly respond to what was a not too subtle rejoinder that Humes himself could argue that there were signs of alteration in the photographs. (One has to wonder if this was the unspoken deal between the HSCA and Humes: He would take the fall as long as no questions were asked. If they were, he would bring up this weird discrepancy about the photos in public.) Suffice it to say, what the HSCA presented to the public was not an accurate portrayal of the dispute between Humes and the medical panel. Humes himself dramatized this years later when after Oliver Stones JFK came out, he reverted back to his original position for the head wound, four inches downward on the skull, for the publication Journal of the American Medical Association.
But Baden had to do what he did.. Why? Because he decided that he had to stay true to the most recent version of the autopsy, which was not the Humes version. On the eve of the Clay Shaw trial, Attorney General Ramsey Clark had appointed a panel headed by forensic pathologist Russell Fisher of Maryland to again look at the autopsy materials in the JFK case. They had raised this rear head wound themselves. The elevation was clearly based on the presence of a large 6.5 mm. fragment apparent on the x-rays very close to the rear of the skull. As Dr. David Mantik has pointed out, this fragment was not mentioned by the three original autopsy doctors, which is hard to believe since its dimensions exactly fit the bullet size of Oswalds alleged rifle. Mantik, not wed to the single bullet theory, went on to enact a tour-de-force demonstration of how this artifact was very likely inserted into the x-rays to cinch the case against Oswald. (See his long essay in the book Assassination Science, excerpted in Probe Vol. 5 No.. 2 .) Baden and Blakey would not touch this subject.. It could have indicated a larger conspiracy, at the very least, in the act of cover-up. So Humes did his temporary disappearing act. According to Jerry Policoff, it lasted until Humes left his microphone. As he left, he muttered, "They had their chance and they blew it."(Gallery, July 1979)
Did the HSCA "blow" its findings on the crucial aspect of the placement of the head wound? Or was something more sinister at work? In November of 1995, Gary Aguilar collated hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents of the HSCA by the Assassination Records Review Board. A crucial aspect of the medical evidence has always been whether or not a huge gaping hole existed in the back of Kennedys head after the murder. If this were so, it would give strong indication of a shot from the front since wounds of entrance generally make small puncture wounds while wounds of exit leave large, rough-edged holes. The doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas who had an opportunity to survey Kennedys head are almost uniform in their memories that just such an exit-type wound existed. To name just a few: Kemp Clark, Robert McClelland, Charles Carrico, Paul Peters, and Ronald C. Jones. Baden, basing his observations on the photos and x-rays, seemed to place this wound closer to the top of the head and nearer the right side, except that Baden called it a fracture caused by the entrance wound. The HSCA addressed this problem straight on in Volume 7 (pp. 37-39). The anonymous author of this section noted that Warren Commission critics had noted this discrepancy of the wound placement and had sided with the Parkland doctors believing that physicians who were accustomed to bullet wounds could hardly make such a mistake and all be so consistent in their recollections. The report then noted that, in opposition to the Parkland doctors, there were 26 people at Bethesda who watched the autopsy and they all corroborated the photos and x-rays. This statement is supported by a reference to "Staff interviews with persons present at the autopsy." If this were so, it would be one more blow against the critics and for the HSCAs strong belief in "scientific" evidence.
The problem, as Aguilar so ably pointed out, is that the statement is not only false, but the opposite is true. Rather than contradicting the Parkland doctors, the 26 witnesses at Bethesda corroborated them. The Bethesda witnesses not only described a wound in the right rear of Kennedys head, they also drew diagrams illustrating that location. Further, when Aguilar presented the witness interviews on slides so that Cyril Wecht and Baden (who were both on hand) could see them, he asked both men if the had seen these corroborating reports while on the HSCA. Both answered that they had not. And who had conducted most of the interviews and was in a position to know the truth? Andy Purdy was the HSCAs investigator whose name was on most of the documents. When Aguilar asked Purdy who wrote that (false) part of the report, Purdy said he did not recall. Aguilar wrote Blakey and got the same answer. Needless to say, when over forty witnesses in two different places describe the same type of wound in the same location and that wound does not show up on the photos or x-rays, it strongly suggests that something is wrong with those representations. And as I mentioned in the first part of this article, the fact that this uniformity of observation was not correctly noted by the HSCA seems to be at least part of the reason that David Liftons book Best Evidence seems a bit dated now. (See for example p. 172 and the drawings on p. 310).
After the HSCA September hearings, at a conference in December of 1978, Dr. Wecht reflected on what he felt to be some inherent bias in the composition of the medical panel. For instance, at the long interview with Humes (quoted above), Wecht was absent, and he was not made aware of that meeting until after the fact. Another one of the doctors on the panel, Dr. Weston, was a friend of Humes, who had worked for CBS on one of its JFK assassination documentaries. Wecht further added at that conference:
It was not a surprise to me, nor do I believe it was circumstantial, that many of the pathologists who were selected [to the HSCA panel] are from the forensic pathology clique of Russell Fisher who headed the 1967 Ramsey Clark Panel and has a vested interest in having the questionable work of that panel endorsed.
A perfect example of this was the choice of Werner Spitz, Chief Medical Examiner of Wayne County, which houses the city of Detroit. Prior to taking that position, Spitz served as assistant to Russell Fisher. Spitz was also a longtime friend of Humes and when Humes retired from the Navy, it was Spitz who threw a party for him. He then reportedly helped him find a job in the Detroit area. In 1975, Spitz was selected by the Rockefeller Commission and its Executive Director, former Warren Commission counsel David Belin, to examine the Kennedy autopsy photos and x-rays. Needless to say, that investigation ended up endorsing Russell Fishers findings.
Another expert employed by the Committee who would seem to have a less than objective attitude would be Vincent Guinn. Guinn was contracted to do the neutron activation analysis (NAA) on the one nearly intact bullet in evidence (the infamous Commission Exhibit 399), and for several other fragments recovered from either Kennedy or Connallys body or from parts of the presidential limousine. This test breaks down pieces of evidence in a nuclear reactor to compare their smallest parts in elemental composition. In this case, Guinn was trying to show that the trace elements in these bullets and fragments were close enough in composition as to come from the Mannlicher-Carcano bullets allegedly used by Oswald. (Where Oswald got these bullets is another story.) Before describing and discussing Guinns conclusions, it is important to note how Blakey introduced him at the September 8, 1978 public hearing. During his opening narration, Blakey described Guinn as a professor of chemistry at the University of California at Irvine who "had no relation to the Warren Commission" (Vol. 1 p. 490). When asked later about this himself, Guinn replied in those same terms (p. 556). Unfortunately, if the reader turns to pages 152-153 of Mark Lanes Rush to Judgment, he will see that this claim is apparently false. Lane wrote that although Guinn worked with the FBI on behalf of the Commission on the paraffin casts done for the nitrate tests about Oswald, and submitted a report on his findings, his name did not appear in the Warren Commission Report. Guinn himself admitted as much in a story in the New York World Telegram and Sun of August 28, 1964. At that time he worked for the big Pentagon contractor General Dynamics. In that story he is quoted as saying, "I cannot say what we found out about Oswald because it is secret until the publication of the Warren Report." If Guinn was working on the paraffin casts of Oswalds hands and cheeks in August of 1964, he had to have been in close contact with the FBI since they were the primary agent in these experiments for the Warren Commission. But yet Guinns direct quote on this subject was "...I never did anything for the Warren Commission, and although I know people in the FBI, I have never done any work for them." (p. 556) This is extraordinary on two counts. First, could Blakey really not have known about this association if it was reported in Lanes book? Could Guinn have forgotten he did work for the FBI on one of the biggest murder cases of the century? Secondly, the fact they both men appear to have been disingenuous about the subject shows another serious failing about the HSCA. Blakey and Gary Cornwell, Blakeys closest associate, knew that one of the reasons that the Warren Report had fallen into disrepute was that many of its analysts had concluded that its findings were false because the "experts" used, especially by the FBI, were highly biased in favor of Oswalds guilt. J. Edgar Hoover had essentially closed the investigation within about 72 hours after the crime. Since Hoovers authority at that time was unchallenged, his subordinates did what they could to go along with that verdict. Blakey and Cornwell had to have been aware of this failing of the first investigation. It would seem to any sensible and objective observer that they were obligated to find the most independent and objective experts possible to retest some of this evidence. If necessary they would have been wholly within their mandate to go outside the country for them. But to go with someone like Guinn who not only did work for the Commission, but was then associated with General Dynamics, was inexcusable. (Larry Sturdivan, Blakeys ballistics expert was also associated with the Warren Commission. See Vol. 1, p. 385; and his findings were just as dubious as those discussed here.)
Guinns findings were very important to Blakey. He leaked them to the press early in 1978 as the final nail in the HSCAs verdict against Oswald. It was the rigorous scientific analysis that he so much admired and enthroned. And it showed that the single bullet theory was not just possible but that it actually happened. Unfortunately for Blakey, Guinns vaunted scientific rigor, like Badens, does not stand up to scrutiny. Guinn made two spectacularly erroneous general statements about the Mannlicher-Carcano bullets to the HSCA. First that, "[Y]ou simply do not find a wide variation in composition within individual WCC [Western Cartridge Company] Mannlicher-Carcano bullets. . . "(Vol. 1, p. 505). Yet Guinns own analysis in his report in the same volume undercuts this statement. Guinn performed tests on these WCC bullets from 1973-1975 for Dr. John Nichols of the University of Kansas, who was greatly interested in the Kennedy assassination. He took bullets from three production runs from WCC and then cut each bullet into four fragments. He then did NAA tests to find trace element compositions e.g. of antimony, silver, and copper in the bullet. Wallace Milam in his paper "The Testimony of Dr. Guinn: Some Troubling Questions" examined the results which appear in the HSCA (Vol. 1, p. 549). The four fragments from one bullet showed wildly varying amounts of antimony ranging from 358 PPM (parts per million) to 983 PPM. That is a variation of about 250% in one bullet. The four fragments from a different lot run varied to a lesser degree, but the PPM of antimony fell right within the same range of the bullet from the first lot! This means that by Guinns own matching standard, he could have concluded that a Carcano bullet from a completely different production run than CE 399 could have had the same amount of antimony as CE 399. And antimony was the trace element Guinn considered most important. (Guinns chart and this criticism of it is also exhibited on p. 43 of Stewart Galanors new book Cover-Up excerpted in this edition of Probe.)
Guinn also seems to have been wrong in his interpretation of the copper content linking CE 399 to some wrist fragments taken from Connally. The PPM in copper from the bullet was 58. Milam notes the PPM for the fragments was 994. Yet these fragments had to have come from the copper base of the same bullet and therefore were in close proximity to each other. In fact, going through all of Guinns findings in this regard, Milam concluded, ". . the stretcher bullet [CE 399] matches the wrist fragments most closely in only one of seven elements."
Researcher Ed Tatro also examined Guinns work with help from John Nichols. Tatro found some very disturbing discrepancies between the samples tested by Guinn for the HSCA and those tested by the FBI in 1964. Of the samples received by Guinn from the FBI, one turned out to be only a copper jacket, one was devoid of any testable metal and was only cement particles. Further, Tatro wrote in The Continuing Inquiry, Guinns tested fragments in 1978 do not match the tested fragments of 1964 in either weight, size or number. And as Milam notes, Guinn testified that the FBI tests would not have destroyed or altered the samples. (Vol. 1, pp. 561-562)
As Milam further notes in his important paper delivered at the 1994 COPA Conference in Washington, in taped comments to several people after his testimony (one of whom was George Lardner of the Washington Post), Guinn made some of the following startling statements:
1. It was not until he received the evidence from the National Archives that he discovered he was testing fragments different from those previously tested by the FBI.
2. None of the specimen weights matched those of the 1964 test fragments. Some of the fragments given to Guinn actually weighed more in 1978.
3. Guinn himself admitted that it would be easy to deliberately falsify evidence to be tested: "Possibly they would take a bullet, take out a few pieces and put it in the container, and say, This is what came out of Connallys wrist. And, naturally, if you compare it with 399, it will look alike. . . . I have no control over such things."
Concerning the last sinister implication, we dont really have to seriously consider it since, as shown, above, Guinns tests for Mannlicher-Carcano bullets, to put it kindly, are not probative. But one more comment on Guinns tests is in order. As early researchers like Ray Marcus have shown, the chain of evidence for CE 399 is very questionable. It is not probable, in fact is highly doubtful, that the bullet came from Kennedys stretcher. In a court of law, a defense lawyer for Oswald would have argued vehemently against admitting it into evidence, and he would have probably prevailed. Blakey and Cornwell were lawyers. Were they not cognizant of this? Would they not be aware that since the chain of possession of their most important exhibit in this regard was dubious, it would legally eliminate all of Guinns vaunted findings? In light of this, why go through Guinns tests at all? In the final analysis, they prove nothing.
On September 12, 1978, Thomas Canning was called to testify before the HSCA. Canning was another government employee, this time the agency was NASA. Canning had worked on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space missions during his 23 years there. Canning seemed an odd choice for the assignment he was given, namely testing the flight paths of the two bullets that hit Kennedy. In figuring out bullet trajectories, one would naturally think first of hiring a surveyor to figure out the angle in degrees from the so-called snipers nest to the point where the first shot hit. But, incredibly, in the nearly fifty pages of testimony given by Canning, there is never any expression of that angle in degrees! ( Volume 2, pp. 154-203) Canning took a rather unique and unexpected track in this assignment. Instead of plotting an angle from the sixth floor window through Kennedys body, and then Connallys back, wrist, and left thigh, he did the reverse. He found a point on Kennedy and then plotted backwards into space to see where he would end up. One would think that this would have spelled the end of Oswald as the lone assassin since, as described before by Dr. Wecht, Badens forensic panel had said Kennedys back wound went through the body at an upward angle. But Canning found a way around that difficulty. If one looks at his schematic tracing the wound from back to front in Kennedy, that point of entry is now elevated back into the neck i.e. where the Warren Commission placed it in 1964. (Vol. 2, p. 170) And in tracing the line connecting the entry with the exit point, the reader can see that the angle is now flattened with no slope either up or down. When Canning was asked how he plotted these points he gave differing answers. Some of the time he said he relied on the HSCAs medical panel for the entrance and exit points. But once he replied with this: "It was determined from photographs that were taken during the autopsy and by measurements and notes that were taken at that time." (p. 170) If Canning actually saw the autopsy photos then he saw something different than Ida Dox or Baden saw as anyone can see from his placement of the non-fatal wound.
Amazingly, no one mentioned this rather glaring and serious discrepancy until near the end of Cannings comments. Representative Floyd Fithian said, ". . . someone . . . has made the statement that when the bullet exited the Presidents throat it was rising." (p. 200) When Canning answered this question he tried to explain away one part of this problem by saying JFKs head was tilted forward. But he then added that he based this on a photo which was timed with frame 161 of the Zapruder film. The problem with this, as we shall see, is that the HSCA placed the first hit of Kennedy at frame 189! (Vol. 6 pp. 27-28)
Further, in backing the single-bullet theory, Canning stopped his tracing of the flight path at Connallys back. In his public testimony at least, he never got to the myriad problems with the rest of the flight path i.e. out Connallys chest and to his wrist, and then off the wrist and over to his thigh. Also, Canning revealed in a colloquy with Fithian that if his calculations were off on points of entry and exit by as little as one inch, he would miss the originating firing point by anywhere from thirty to forty feet. (Vol. 2, p. 196) In other words by as many as four floors in the Texas School Book Depository building, where Oswald was supposed to be firing from the sixth floor. This is very important for in calculating the entrance point in Kennedys skull, he did use Badens positioning of that wound. In other words, he placed it up high in the cowlick area. But if Humes was telling the truth on this point, Canning would be off by about 160 feet! That would mean not only a sniper on a different floor, but in an entirely different building on another block.
What is amazing about Cannings work is that, even without plotting angles at which bullets entered or exited, or using such integrals as degrees, and even using Badens positioning of the head wound, when asked to pinpoint a firing point for the fatal head shot by drawing a circle on the TSBD, this is what Canning came up with:
Michael Goldsmith: Essentially that circle covers the top four floors of that building, is that correct?
Mr. Canning: Yes; it includes one, two, three, four floors and the roof of the building. It extends slightly beyond the building at the southeast corner and extends over to the edge of the photograph here. (Vol. 2, p. 169)
The photo accompanying this "pinpointing" of the firing point depicts an area about forty feet high and fifty feet wide or about 2,000 square feet. To top it off, when Canning was asked which of the two Kennedy wounds he had the best photographic evidence to assist him, he replied it was the head wound. (p. 157) Further, when Wecht described the general firing angle from the sixth floor, he described it as going from right to left. (Vol. 1, p. 344) In Cannings skull diagram, he depicts the bullet direction inside the brain as going from left to right. (Vol. 2, p. 159)
Canning was another witness whose performance was apparently arranged, perhaps even choreographed. In recently declassified documents we learn from a contact report by HSCA staffer Mark Flanagan that there were "two schools of thought" on the location of the exit wound in Kennedys headBadens and Cannings. (Report of 7/24/78) Not only that, in a report by Jane Downey of May 2, 1978, she revealed that Canning disagreed with the entrance wound placement as well. What was an aerospace engineer doing arguing with a forensic pathologist about wound placement? Further revealing this back stage disagreement, Andy Purdy wrote on May 23, 1978 that Canning and Baden so disagreed that the trajectory analyst opened up a back channel to two other doctors on the forensic panel, Dr. Loquvam and Dr. Weston. This is notable because as described above, Weston had worked previously for CBS, and Loquvam wanted to keep the dispute over the placement of the rear head wound off the record.
In spite of all this maneuvering, the apparently desired end result was not achieved. Important in this regard, is a letter Canning wrote to Blakey in January of 1978 revealing his unhappiness with his work:
When I was asked to participate in analysis of the physical evidence regarding the assassination of John Kennedy, I welcomed the opportunity to help set the record straight. I did not anticipate that study of the photographic record of itself would reveal major discrepancies in the Warren Commission findings. Such has turned out to be the case.
I have not set out to write this note to comment on results; my report does that. What I do wish to convey is my judgment of how the parts of the overall investigation which I could observe were conducted. The compartmentalization which you either fostered or permitted to develop in the technical investigations made it nearly impossible to do good work in reasonable time and at reasonable cost.
The staff lawyers clearly were working in the tradition of adversaries; this would be acceptable if the adversary were ignorance or deception. The adversaries I perceived were the staff lawyers themselves. Each seemed to "protect" his own assigned group at the expense of getting to the heart of the matter by encouragingor even demanding cooperation with the other participants. The most frustrating problem for me was to get quantitative dataand even consistent descriptionsfrom the forensic pathologists.
Canning ended this letter to Blakey with a comment that never got into his public testimony:
Permit me to end my not altogether complimentary letter by saying that it was for me the most part an interesting and enjoyable experience. On balance, the entire effort would be justified solely by the strong indication of conspiracy at the Plaza.
Despite all of the above, Blakey was determined to go with Oswald as the lone gunman until he got tripped up by the acoustics evidence. Although Blakey and Chairman Louis Stokes (incorrectly called Carl Stokes in the first part of this article) deny this today and say they were already leaning toward conspiracy before, this is not consistent with the record. As Josiah Thompson points out in the galley proofs of Beyond Conspiracy, the draft report of the HSCA dated 12/12/78 states; "The Committee finds that the available scientific evidence is insufficient to find there was a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy." (Thompson et. al., p. 11) When the two sound technicians conducted experiments on a dictabelt police tape allegedly recorded during the assassination, they concluded there was a 95% chance of a second gunman from the front of JFK in the grassy knoll area. This was submitted two weeks later and the report was changed. The HSCA decided to go with this analysis by Mark Weiss and Ernest Aschkenasy. But they still tried to limit the damage as much as possible i.e. keep the conspiracy small. Since Baden had ruled that there were only two hits and both came from behind, Blakey could now say that if there was a second gunman in front, he took one shot and missed.
But this new acoustical evidence left Blakey with another problem. The shots on the tape appeared to be bunched too close together. The timing of the first two shots left only 1.6 seconds between them. The interval between the third and fourth was only .6 of a second. But that could be handled by the assassin in front. Oswald had to be firing from behind. And when the FBI had tested the rifle for the Warren Commission, they had concluded that it took 2.3 seconds to complete the firing of one round with the manual bolt action rifle. This timing problem between the 1.6 and 2.3 seconds was called inside the committee "Blakeys Problem". He and Cornwell wanted to preserve both Oswald as the sole killer and the single bullet theory. They both finally found a way to get around the FBI tests. On March 22, 1979 Blakey, Cornwell and four marksmen from the Washington D. C. Police Department went to a rifle range to find a way to beat the earlier times. The solution was not to use the scope on the rifle. They aimed by using only the iron sights on the barrel. No magnification of the target; no crosshairs to line it up. Recall that the alleged rifle used by Oswald did have a scope that was not easily retractable. It had to be screwed off to remove it. Also, are we now to believe that Oswald, a rather poor shot, would not even need a scope to hit a target over 200 feet away? But still, the policemen could not get their times down fast enough and still maintain accuracy. Finally, two inexperienced riflemen, namely Blakey and Cornwell, fired two consecutive shots within 1.5 and 1.2 seconds respectively. How did they do what no one else in history did before? By something called "point aiming". I assume this means not even using the iron sights to line up the target and just pointing the barrel in its direction. The accuracy of the results were not specified. Needless to say, in no way did the HSCA try to simulate Oswalds feat. Shades of the Warren Commission, they fired at stationary targets from 20 feet up instead of a moving one at sixty feet up. (The episode is recorded in Vol. 8, pp. 183-185)
It is especially painful to read the memorandum of this "experiment". Early on, these two sentences appear:
From knowledge of the difficulty involved in so shooting, it may be possible indirectly to infer something about the probability, as opposed to the possibility that Oswald did so. Nevertheless even the most improbable event may have occurred."
This is the science the HSCA was devoted to? This is proof? Two pages later, this is topped:
It is apparently difficult, but not impossible. . . to fire 3 shots, at least two of which score "kills", with an elapsed time of 1.7 seconds or less between any two shots, even though in the limited testing conducted, no shooter achieved this degree of proficiency.
In other words, because they could not do it, does not mean Oswald couldnt have if he would have practiced more. Unfortunately for the HSCA, no one saw Oswald firing from the 6th floor at moving targets in front of any building in preparation for the assassination.
As the reader can see, the HSCA has descended into the hazy nonsensical netherworld previously mapped out by the Warren Commission. Their reconstruction of the single bullet theory and the shooting sequence strongly reminds one of their discredited predecessors. The Committee placed the first shot at around frames 157-161. This is earlier than almost anyone previous. No one had tried this because there were virtually no visible reactions to either a hit or a sound at that time. But the Committee says Oswald fired and missed here. If so, this had to be the hit on James Tague, since Oswald hit his next two shots and they allow for only four bullets. Yet, if so, Oswald missed when the car was closest to him, when he was tracking it unobstructed by any foliage, and when there was no recoil from his rifle since it was the first shot. In spite of all these advantages, he missed the whole car by 200 feet hitting somewhere near another street. Oswald fires again in the vicinity of frames 188-191. This is the shot that composes the single bullet theory, passing through Kennedy and Connally. Now, with the car further away, obscured by the foliage of an oak tree, and after the rifle has been fired and therefore is vibrating in his hands, Oswald worked the bolt faster than any FBI agent could, did not use the scope, and "point-aimed" at Kennedy scoring a clean hit through both men. At around frame 297, whoever was firing from the front, with the car coming toward him on a front plane, with an unobstructed view, at a range much closer than Oswald, this other assassin missed the entire car. Less than a second after this, Oswald scored his second hit at a range of over 200 feet, the fatal shot in the rear of Kennedys head. And as with the Warren Commission, this is a direct hit in the skull from behind. A medium to high speed bullet smashes Kennedy toward the shooter, lifting him up and back out of his seat. (For a different, intricate critique of this version of the single bullet theory and the firing sequence, see Ray Marcus monograph, The HSCA, the Zapruder Film and the Single Bullet Theory, available through the Last Hurrah Bookstore.)
Once Blakey gave in to the acoustics evidence (which has also since been brought into question), he went to work attempting to put in place the small conspiracy he had mentioned to Richard E. Sprague. In the March 29, 1979 HSCA Report, the main authors, presumably Blakey and Richard Billings, admitted they could not identify who the second sniper was. But clearly, the authors are out to attack any notion of a broad, sophisticated governmental role in either the conspiracy itself or the cover-up. Consider just one chapter heading: "The Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Central Intelligence Agency were not involved in the assassination of President Kennedy." (p. 181) This report hints cautiously at some kind of kitchen conspiracy between a mobster or two and a renegade Cuban exile. Caution was tossed to the wind when Blakey and Billings left the HSCA and wrote their book, The Plot to Kill the President. There, the authors are clearly of the opinion that the Mafia killed Kennedy. The HSCA Report and Blakeys book and appearances had a strong effect on much of the literature published in that time period and since. David Scheim and John Davis based both of their books on much of the material and findings of Blakeys HSCA. Tony Summers book Conspiracy proposes a triangular conspiracy between the CIA, the Mafia and the Cuban exiles. Noel Twymans recent Bloody Treason also gives the Mafia role considerable attention. Twyman expresses surprise that many other researchers do not.
As Bill Davy pointed out in his important article on John Davis, one of the things that both Davis and Blakey placed a lot of weight on was the so-called BRILAB tapes, the secret tape recording the FBI had on Carlos Marcello in the late seventies that helped convict him. As Davy wrote, "Davis and others have implied that Marcello incriminates himself in these tapes and the government is covering it up." (Probe Vol. 5 No. 1) As long as we had only leaks from Blakey, Davis, and people like Gus Russo (who also trumpeted these tapes as evidence), the imputation of some role to Marcello had some hazy, mysterious efficacy. The Assassination Records Review Board has now declassified the pertinent parts of these ballyhooed tapes. They found 13 instances of conversations in which Marcello discussed the Kennedy assassination. They transcribed all 13 instances. There is not one scintilla of evidence to incriminate Marcello in the crime. In fact, virtually every instance in which the topic is brought up is in direct relation to the accusations made against Marcello in the HSCA Report, which was leaked in advance of its publication. In other words, if Blakey and Billings had not hinted at him in their own work, there would be no mention of the Kennedy assassination at all in the BRILAB tapes. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. Which leaves us the question: Who started the phony BRILAB rumors in the first place? And why?
According to staffers, Blakey spent an enormous amount of time, money and effort trying to develop leads and evidence to connect Oswald to the Mob. The most viable area of investigation in that regard was New Orleans. The HSCA Report admits that some kind of association existed between David Ferrie and Oswald. There was so much evidence developed on this point that it could not be denied. But yet, since for them Oswald is still an anti-social Marxist, there is little shape or direction given to this relationship. In this aspectsetting up some nexus point for a Ferrie-Oswald friendshipthe HSCA Report on Ferrie himself is also a curious document to read. With footnotes, it runs to 14 pages. It traces Ferrie from his birth in Cleveland, Ohio up until the assassination. Yet there is not one mention in the entire report of the Central Intelligence Agency. This is quite a feat since Ferrie was involved in Operation MONGOOSE, the preparations for the Bay of Pigs, and myriad other operations against Cuba. The report even mentions the miniature submarine Ferrie had built for a possible attack against the island. (Vol. 10, p. 109) Yet not only does this report not mention Ferries own admitted association with the CIA, which the HSCA files contain in abundance, it actually states the opposite: ". . . there is no evidence. . . that Ferrie was connected in any way with the U. S. Government." (Ibid) This is pure fiction.
When Peter Vea and myself interviewed L. J. Delsa in New Orleans in 1993, he helped explain how this all came about. One of the last things Bob Tanenbaum did before leaving was to authorize a new investigation of New Orleans. Delsa lived in the area and had worked with Tanenbaum on a previous murder case. Delsa and his partner, Bob Buras, discovered a witness who knew Ferrie well and had been in Guy Banisters offices at 544 Camp Street. Further, he connected Clay Shaw with Jack Ruby. Delsa wanted to test his veracity with a polygraph examination. It turned out that the polygraph results indicated he was telling the truth. When Blakey found out about this, he completely altered the shape and individuals involved in the New Orleans phase of the HSCA. Supervising attorney, Jonathan Blackmer was pulled off that assignment. Buras and Delsa were informally suspended. New people, who had little familiarity with the milieu were brought in. In fact, Blakey even assigned staffers from the King side of the HSCA to interview witnesses. On one of these reports, MLK staffer Joseph Thomas writes, that he "is not familiar with the JFK investigation" but he does not feel the witness he is talking to is telling the truth. (Report of 3/18/78) The revealed archival record bears out an indelible comment Delsa made to me over lunch in New Orleans. I asked him how productive Garrisons leads were. He replied to me, "Garrisons leads were so productive that Blakey shut down the New Orleans investigation."
As we have seen with its report on David Ferrie, the HSCA did all it could to exonerate the CIA of any involvement in the Kennedy killing. There are many other strong indications of this throughout the report and volumes. But perhaps the best example can be indicated by looking at the item in the report entitled "Oswald in Mexico City" which is on p. 225. The actual HSCA work on this aspect of Oswalds last few weeks on earth is dealt with at voluminous and detailed length in the report of over 300 pages by Dan Hardway and Eddie Lopez. That volume brings up the most provocative questions possible about Oswalds alleged trip and activities in Mexico just seven weeks before the assassination. For some authors, like Mark Lane and John Newman, Oswalds alleged activities there, and the CIAs reaction to them, are strong indications of a scenario attempting to ensnare Oswald in a trap in advance of the murder. How does the HSCA report deal with the 300 pages of compelling and documented findings by Hardway and Lopez? In three sentences. Need I add that those 3 sentences are completely exculpatory of any Agency involvement with Oswald in Mexico.
One of Blakeys most controversial statements was leaked to the media and reported by Jerry Policoff, among others. When some of the staffers felt that the new Chief Counsel was being too accommodating and trusting of some of the intelligence agencies, Blakey reportedly said, "You dont think theyd lie to me do you? Ive been working with these people for twenty years." Blakeys bond to the intelligence community was never more amply demonstrated than in the Regis Blahut incident. Blahut was a CIA liaison with the Committee. In late June of 1978, one of the security officers for the Committee discovered that some of the autopsy materials stored in the safe had been taken out, looked at, and one of the color photos had been removed from its plastic sleeve. The Committee conducted an internal inquiry and found through fingerprint matches on the safe that the culprit was Blahut. Blakey conducted three separate interviews with him. The first two were taped. Blakey concluded that in both interviews, Blahuts responses conflicted with the facts. Yet both times, according to declassified CIA documents, Blahut consulted with the Agency after the interviews. For the third interview, Blahut refused to be taped. Blahuts story was that the photos had been left out on a window sill, he had just happened to wander in, and he browsed through them. Yet, the facts appear to be these:
1. Blahuts prints were on the photos themselves, so he could not have just been leafing through the notebook they were bound in.
2. The access entry log showed that the notebook had not been removed prior to the time Blahut was in the room looking at the photos.
3. Blahuts prints were inside the safe indicating he himself had removed the notebook.
4. One version of the story had Blahut fleeing the room when he heard someone approaching, not bothering to replace the notebook in the safe.
Blakey had the CIA in a tough corner. If this story, in all its suspicious detail, had been leaked to the media at the time, imagine the firestorm it could have caused. Blakeys meeting at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia reflected the gravity with which the Agency viewed the situation. At one meeting, he and Gary Cornwell met with Stansfield Turner himself, CIA Director at the time. But when Blakey demanded Blahuts Office of Security file, the Director of Security, Robert Gambino handed him his personnel file instead. This was a crucial distinction. As Jim Hougan has explained in Secret Agenda, one of the functions of the Office of Security (OS), is to keep tabs on potential enemies of the Agency. It tracks potential threats by surveillance and other means and does its best to neutralize them. If Blahut had an OS file, it could reveal if his function was to monitor the HSCA and ward off any destabilizing acts the Committee would take against the CIA. The fact that Gambino refused to give Blakey that file suggested the worst (as would evidence revealed later).
It went downhill from there. Blakey asked for an investigation to find out if Blahut was part of an operation against the Committee and/or if he was reporting back to control agents at CIA as part of that operation. The Agency offered four alternatives for a probe. Blakey could use the local D.C. police, the FBI, the HSCA itself, or the CIA. Blakey chose the CIA. The Agency did three polygraph examinations of Blahut. He flunked aspects of all three. Yet according to a CIA memo on this, about ten days after looking at the polygraph results, Blakey told the Agency that the matter was not a "high priority" with him. (Memo of 7/28/78) There is another notable aspect of Blakeys dealings with the Agency about this affair. When he was offered the four alternatives for the investigation, a CIA officer on hand, Haviland Smith, actually encouraged him not to pick the CIA to investigate itself. He wanted Blakey to chose a "more objective investigating body." (Memo of 7/17/78) Smith then predicted that if Blakey picked the CIA probe, the Agency would give itself a "clean bill of health." Smith then asked Blakey if he was willing to accept that verdict if the Agency found no other accomplices in Blahuts violations. Blakey said yes. Smith concluded his 7/17/78 memo with the only deduction he could make from these responses:
My interpretation of what Mr. Blakey said was that he wishes CIA to go ahead with the investigation of Blahut and that he expects us to come up with a clean bill of health for the CIA.
And they did. By August 21st, CIA was circulating an internal memorandum which read, "I believe Mr. Blakeys original concerns have been laid to rest."
The Blahut incident was not revealed to the public until nearly one year after it happened. Inside the Committee, Blakey told the Agency, only he, Louis Stokes, Cornwell and two security officers knew about it. When it was leaked to George Lardner of the Washington Post in May of 1979, Richardson Preyer, who ran the JFK side of the Committee, told the press that he was not aware of it, "Blakey and Lou Stokes were handling the CIA stuff. . . . . Talk to Lou." (Washington Post 6/18/79) Lardners story provoked a flurry of media attention and a House Intelligence Committee inquiry. This body discovered that Blahut was part of a CIA program which was code-named MH/Child. ( Ibid 6/28/79) But even more interesting are the CIA documents generated by Lardners inquiry one year later. Blakey called the CIA after Lardners first calls to him, presumably after the reporter learned of it from one of the security officers. The CIA memo of this calls records the following message: "Blakey and Cornwell. . . will "no comment" all inquiries but they could not speak for Chairman Stokes." Another memo on the same day, 5/10/79 states that, Blakeys "observation is that Lardner has only pieces of the full story. He allowed as how the full story is known by DCI, DDCI, Chairman Stokes, Gary Cornwell. . .and himself." In other words, Blakey had become a CIA informant helping to control the media for the Agency.
But Lardners story generated some other activity at CIA HQ in Langley. As did the House inquiry and other press stories. It turns out that Blahut actually left the room with at least one photo and then returned. (Washington Post 6/28/79) A CIA memo in response to these stories at the time admits that the Inspector General did not do the internal investigation of Blahut. It was done by Gambinos Office of Security, the man who refused to give Blakey Blahuts OS file. In previous CIA memos of 1978, Scott Breckinridge, another CIA liaison with the HSCA had said that when he encountered Blahut at the HSCA offices when his violation first surfaced, he was waiting for a call from the Office of Security. (Memo of 7/17/78)
The sad results achieved by the second big federal investigation of the murder of President Kennedy is really a parable that is quite relevant to our present day. It is a morality tale about leadership and values. If one talks to Bob Tanenbaum, one of his favorite words is integrity. One of the frequent phrases he reiterates when speaking about criminal investigations is "the truth-telling process." One of the frequent words used to describe Richard A. Sprague is professionalism. When one talks to his colleagues, they describe the man as someone who has no qualms about putting in 12-14 hour days at the job. In investigating the Kennedy case, these two men were leading by example and they set a standard of devotion without compromise for those around them. That included Andy Purdy and Michael Baden. When they left, a vacuum was created, never to be filled. The House Select Committee on Assassinations was then sucked into the same whirlpool that engulfed the Warren Commission. The only difference being, the boat they went down in was a bit more decoratively disguised. In reflecting back on those days, Gary Shaw once told me that his impression was that Blakey looked into the deep abyss of the Kennedy assassination and decided to rear his head back. He then recalled the Sprague-Tanenbaum days and said, "Tanenbaum really wanted to know the truth. Hed be in that office until ten or eleven oclock at night. Then hed offer anyone still around a ride home."
How soon did Blakey rear his head from the abyss? We can only speculate. But the following letters, given to me by Ed Tatro, give us indications that it wasnt very long. About the time that Blakey was telling Ed Lopez that their function was not to do a real investigation but to only write a report, he had already been in contact with Larry Strawderman who controlled access to files at CIA. In a letter to Blakey dated July 27, 1977, Strawderman wrote to the new Chief Counsel:
In response to your letter of inquiry dated July 24, 1977, it is the Agencys considered opinion that the areas of inquiry relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy which were pursued by your predecessor, Richard A. Sprague . . . should be entirely disregarded based upon our contention that they are without any merit or corroboration.
Please feel free to consult the Agency at any time should you feel indecisive regarding anything that will come into your possession during your investigation. The Agency will be only too happy to correctly advise you on "substance and procedure" of your probe.
On October 10, 1978, in reply to a long series of objections to an interrogation of Richard Helms the man who, as revealed in part one, Sprague wanted to "go at"Blakey assured the main CIA liaison to the HSCA, Scott Breckinridge, that his fears should be allayed:
As I have assured the Agency on many occasions, you will be given an opportunity to review, prior to public disclosure, those aspects of the Committees report which pertain to the CIA. If, at that time, you feel that the report is based upon an improper or misleading construction of the evidence, it would then be appropriate to discuss such problems. [Emphasis added.]
Can anyone imagine Dick Sprague giving a prime suspect in a homicide case the opportunity to discuss rearranging the evidence in his prosecutors brief on the eve of trial?
In the wee hours of April 1, 1977, when Dick Sprague left Washington to return to Philadelphia, the sounds of corks popping from champagne bottles must have echoed throughout the halls of Langley. The celebration hasnt stopped since. ±
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