HSCA at 40: Validating the Warren Commission

As the credits to his wildly-conspiratorial JFK (1991) rolled, Oliver Stone, to buttress his argument that Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy and not Lee Harvey Oswald, listed the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations’ conclusion that the president was indeed the victim of some group.

But in reality, this Congressional investigation did not exonerate Oswald; indeed, the Committee validated the Warren Commission’s conclusion but with one caveat: that, in addition to Oswald’s shots from the School Book Depository, someone might have fired from the Grassy Knoll. But this addition was last-minute, and today, the evidence for a fourth shot is rejected.

The Committee, formed in 1976, in response to an atmosphere of government corruption fostered by Watergate, did the bulk of their investigative work on the JFK Assassination forty years ago in 1977.

And one by one the HSCA demolished, by use of physical evidence, every cherished theory of the Grassy Knoll Crowd. The passage of time has not challenged the Committee’s conclusions regarding Oswald.

Against the conspiracy theory that none of the shots came from the infamous Mannlicher Carcano rifle Oswald owned, ballistics experts tasked by the Committee concluded that bullet fragments found in the limousine where Kennedy rode as well as the shells found on the Sixth Floor of the School Book Depository matched the Oswald rifle and no other.

Additional confirmation that the bullets came from the Sixth Floor was established by the same ballistic experts following the trajectory of the bullets from the presidential limousine.

Also harmful to the Grassy Knoll school was the infamous backyard photos of Oswald brandishing both the sniper rifle and Communist literature. For years, conspiracy theorists asserted that the photos were faked by grafting Oswald’s head onto another figure’s body. But photography experts concluded that the picture was not faked or tampered with and that it indeed was of Oswald (an actual photo was recovered with Oswald’s partially written on the back). In addition, the rifle in the photo matched the bullets found on the Sixth Floor.

To those who, based on the Zapruder film that showed Kennedy’s head jerking back from the fatal shot assert that the president was hit from the front, forensic pathologists working for the Committee agreed with the Warren Commission’s conclusions that JFK was hit by two bullets coming from above and behind.

Another cherished “fact” of the Conspiracy school was that Oswald’s prints weren’t even on the Carcano. But fingerprint experts determined that Oswald’s prints were on the trigger guard of the weapon. In addition, his prints were found on the cardboard boxes that he moved to provide room for a sniper’s nest on the Sixth floor as well on the form he ordered the rifle with.

The Committee conclusion of a second shooter that Stone and the Grassy Knoll crowd rests on was the discovery of a dictabelt recording on a motorcycle policeman’s radio who rode behind the Kennedy entourage. Analysis of the recording by some argued that there was a fourth shot recorded on the dictabelt. Hence, there was a hasty addition to the Committee’s conclusion of Oswald acting alone; now their three shot conclusion was amended to read four. Thus, the Committee stated, there was a second shooter and thus a conspiracy.

But the dictabelt recording has since been discredited by the National Academy of Science. The “shot” has been identified as the “backfire” from a car, and this was recorded well before Kennedy was shot.

As to any accomplices, the Committee concluded that the Soviets or Castro was not involved (this frustrates the conservative version of the Grassy Knoll group). And as for the more politically satisfying list of suspects for the Stone school, the Committee also concluded that the CIA or FBI or anti-Castro groups were not involved in the Assassination.

Even those who wanted there to be a conspiracy, such as Robert Blakey, The Chief Counsel of the Committee, who worked on Bobby Kennedy’s anti-Mafia task force, evidence was lacking. Blakey always believed that organized crime was behind the Kennedy “hit,” but was unable to connect them to the Assassination. He even retracted his earlier support for the dictabelt recording.

To his credit, Stone was instrumental in getting more documents pertaining to the Assassination released in 1992. But the material released by the newly-formed Assassinations Records Review Board did not contradict the HSCA or even the Warren Commission’s findings.

Nor does a feature of our 21st century help the Conspiracy School. The rash of school shootings and terrorist attacks by one armed punk today don’t disqualify Oswald, a hill-billy Marxist, from wreaking such havoc.

So knowing what the HSCA actually did conclude and what the conspiracy amendment was based on, leaves the Grassy Knoll group only two conclusions:

1. That everyone involved in the HSCA was either covering up for the real assassins and those that hired them; or was involved with them.


2. That Oswald, even though he acted alone, was tasked by a group–hopefully rightist–to kill Kennedy.

Knowing the bi-partisan composition of the HSCA, (1) can be ruled out.

But there is a glimmer of hope for the Grassy Knoll crowd. The aforementioned Blakey later changed his initial view that the CIA had cooperated with the HSCA and presented all relevant information. It was later revealed that a researcher for the CIA, George Joannides, who worked with the Committee was involved in anti-Castro groups (one of whom Oswald tried to join, or infiltrate) in 1963. Because of this, Blakey regarded that all CIA material and statements to the Committee were false:

“…I no longer believe that we were able to conduct an appropriate investigation of the [Central Intelligence] Agency and its relationship to Oswald…. We now know that the Agency withheld from the Warren Commission the CIA–Mafia plots to kill Castro. Had the commission known of the plots, it would have followed a different path in its investigation. The Agency unilaterally deprived the commission of a chance to obtain the full truth, which will now never be known. Significantly, the Warren Commission’s conclusion that the agencies of the government co-operated with it is, in retrospect, not the truth. We also now know that the Agency set up a process that could only have been designed to frustrate the ability of the committee in 1976–79 to obtain any information that might adversely affect the Agency. Many have told me that the culture of the Agency is one of prevarication and dissimulation and that you cannot trust it or its people. Period. End of story. I am now in that camp.”

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.

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