Doug Horne

by John Kelin

Doug Horne, who served for more than three years as a military records analyst on the Assassination Records Review Board, is a man who speaks as if each uttered word is carefully weighed before spoken. As I listened to the audio tapes of his presentation, and concentrated only on the voice, I was reminded very much of the tone and speech patterns of actor Robert Redford.

Horne often used phrases like "we had a lot of fun" locating and analyzing certain records, many of which were "neat." This may reflect a boyish enthusiasm for his work; if so, it should be considered a virtue.

He spoke on Friday evening, rounding out the first full day of the Lancer conference. "The plan is for me to talk about the work I did at the Review Board, and then after that, to answer as many questions as I can..." This summary skips the question-and-answer period.

As Horne got underway, I found myself reflecting on a comment by E. Martin Schotz at the 1998 COPA conference, where he stated: "Not one member of the Board is capable of coming before you and stating the most simple and axiomatic truths of this case: there was a conspiracy without a doubt. The Warren Report was an obvious act of criminal fraud ... Can any member of that Board come before you and say that? Of course not. Because respected members of the legal and academic Establishment who can get the appropriate security clearances to serve on that Board, are incapable of speaking simple truths like this."

Of course, Doug Horne was not a Board member, but a staffer. And his conviction that there was a conspiracy seemed plain enough. And yet, I found myself listening cautiously to what Horne had to say. He seems like an honest man. (For what it's worth, in my view it is increasingly clear that, at this late date, the promotion of confusion and mystery in the JFK case is the key component of the coverup.)

"Now that it's all over," Horne said, referring to the ARRB's existence, "I must say that in spite of all the frustration of dealing with lethargic and uncaring bureaucracies, and the frustration of dealing with a Review Board charter that was very limited in scope, and the angst of knowing that future unemployment was a certainty, that I had no golden parachute, it was well worth it."

Why was it worth it? "I was able to work in several subject areas that I was personally interested in," Horne said. "In particular, the Zapruder film, looking for documents related to foreign policy on Cuba and Vietnam, and the medical evidence. Working in these evidentiary areas allowed me to clarify my own thinking about the assassination by eliminating some possiblities, while strengthening my tendency to endorse other hypotheses about the event...

"Our biggest disappointments --- I would list two things. We could not find the original Air Force One tapes, audio tapes, of conversations from the aircraft in flight on November 22, to other locations. The other locations, as many of you know, were ... the plane that Rusk and Orville Freeman, and Pierre Salinger were on, on their way from Hawaii to Japan, and of course, the White House Situation Room."

Copies of the tapes exist, Horne said, but they have been edited down. Potentially --- based on the length of the flight from Dallas to Washington, and the fact that there were three circuits in full time use --- there could be as many as seven hours of recorded conversation. "The length of time on the edited tapes that you can get from LBJ Library or from the Archives, is about 90 minutes, or 100 minutes. Something like that. Much shorter than six or seven hours. And some of the conversations on the tape seem to refer to other conversatons that are not on the tapes."

Board staffers tried with the Air Force and the White House Communications Agency to recover the original unedited tapes. "We didn't get anywhere," Horne said. "It's kind of a shame. We even tried the paper trail at the LBJ Library. We thought, Well, if we can go to the LBJ Library, and see how they got their edited copy of the tape, we might be able to track down the originals." But it was a dead end. Horne later stated his belief that the original unedited tapes no longer exist.

Another disappointment of Horne's was the failure of the ARRB to locate the minutes of the November 20, 1963 Vietnam Conference in Honolulu. "This is the conference at which the failure of the 'strategic hamlet' program was discussed; the failure of the war of the delta was discussed; the one thousand man withdrawl was gutted."

Horne turned next to what he termed "tremendous successes" of the Board's, to wit: Cuba and Vietnam documents they did get. These include a history of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Vietnam War, written by their own historians; the complete minutes of "the eighth Sec-Def Conference on Vietnam" in May 1963, at which Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told military brass to draw up Vietnam withdraw plans. This document was over 200 pages, Horne said, "and it confirmed everything that was in ... previous summaries [of the conference], so that we have more confidence now --- not that it had anything new in it --- but we had more confidence now, that the other documents that summarized that meeting were accurate."

As for Cuba, Horne said that a "gold mine" of material has been placed in the JFK Collection at the National Archives. "In early 1962, the Operations Officer for Mongoose, General Lansdale ... sent a request to the Joint Chiefs of Staff --- these are the records we're getting from the Joint Staff, Joint Staff Secretariat --- asking for pretexts for invasion of Cuba by US forces ... and let me tell you, the Pentagon responded with great gusto and enthusiasm."

Among the pretexts provided to Lansdale, according to Horne, were plans to:

Horne said these pretexts were approved by JCS and sent to Lansdale by March 1962. By April, "the Joint Chiefs were trying to make policy." They sent a memo to the Secretary of Defense "recommending that it should be our National policy to unilaterally invade Cuba, and to do it as soon as possible. Like immediately."

Horne asked his listeners to imagine what these people must have felt during the Missile Crisis the following fall. "I think this was probably one angry group of generals and admirals."

He also said it was revealed in 1993 that Cuban military officers had permission to use tactical nuclear weapons without direct approval from Moscow in the event of an emergency. "I'm personally glad we didn't invade, although you can bet these people were mad as hell later, because they would have been able to say, 'we told you so.'"

* * *

From Cuba, Horne turned his attention to the medical records. "The medical work we did was a lot of fun, because what we did was create a lot of new records." This included new interviews with many principal participants in JFK's autopsy, even though a re-investigaton of the assassination was beyond the Board's mandate. "We had to justify each step we took in the medical arena by relating it to records."

Horne said that conflicts in the record allowed that. "So if somebody had been deposed previously, and there were things they said in their deposition that were contradicted by someone else's, that was a good reason for us to propose, 'Well, let's depose him again.'" And if there was someone who had never been deposed, Horne went on, "that was the perfect reason to get them."

Subjects of new, unsworn interviews include autopsy photographer John Stringer, his assisstant Floyd Riebe, Dr. Robert Karnei, Vince Medonia, Saundra K. Spencer, and family members of the late Robert Knudsen. Several of these interviews had unusual elements. Horne referred to Riebe's, for example, as "a very strange deposition which I'm still trying to come to terms with."

The case of Robert Knudsen is interesting. Horne discovered that Knudsen, a White House photographer, was deposed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in August of 1978. But the interview was not mentioned by the Committee in either its Report, of twelve volumes of supporting material.

The HSCA material contained what Horne called "very controversial information." But the Board could not depose Knudsen, as he is dead. They did learn, however, that he had been interviewed for a photography magazine in 1977 in which he said that photographing JFK's autopsy was the hardest thing he had ever done. "That was really interesting to us, because John Stringer was supposed to have been the photographer. And yet we know that many [autopsy] photographs are missing that the doctors are sure were taken ... so we thought that this might be a really good avenue to pursue."

Family members confirmed to the Board that "he had always told them that yes, he had photographed the autopsy, and number two, that it was tough emotionally, and wouldn't talk about it much. Except that one of his two children, the son, said that his dad had told him that in his opinion, some of the the photographs were faked, and didn't represent what he had taken. That doesn't mean they are fake. It's just what the father told the son."

Horne also said that Knudsen was called before a government panel in 1988 and was asked his opinion of the autopsy photographs. He later told family members, angrily, that some of the photos looked genuine --- that is, what he saw --- but that others looked fake. The family members questioned by the ARRB "were sure that he had sone this," and that it was in 1988, Horne said. "The problem is, I don't know of any government body that met in 1988 to discuss the Kennedy assassination. So if one met, it met in secret."

Also giving depositions to the Board were the three autopsy doctors, Pierre Finck, J. Thornton Boswell, and James Humes. "We had to subpoena Humes and Boswell," Horne said. "They didn't want to play."

Their interviews were held separately and two weeks apart. "So for the first time, the Bobsey twins weren't together. And they gave very different answers ... to many of the same questions."

Horne gave what he called the best illustration of that. "We showed the actual autopsy photograph of this view [above photo] to Dr. Humes in February of '96. And we said, 'Was there any bone missing behind the right ear?' And he says, 'Absolutely not! It was a solid plate of bone. The entry wound was in a solid plate of bone. There was no bone missing back there.'

"And we asked Dr. Boswell the same question two weeks later. And he says, 'Oh yeah.' He says, 'All of this bone here was completely missing. That's my hand pulling up the scalp.' That's what Dr. Boswell said.

"So those were the kinds of experiences we had with them."

Unlike the two doctors, former FBI agents James Sibert and Francis X. O'Neill "could not wait to come to Washington. They were so enthusiastic. They wanted to testify. They were --- they still felt badly wronged that the Warren Commission had not deposed them."

Both believe Lee Oswald killed the President, and both remain loyal to J. Edgar Hoover, Horne said. Yet "they both said the single bullet theory is utter nonsense, because they were in the morgue, and they know it's just impossible.

"They both despise Arlen Specter..." When Horne said this, the silence in the room gave way to a mix of laughter and applause. "And I mean, despise," Horne said, raising his voice over the din of hundreds of clapping hands. "Especially Frank O'Neill. If you want to be entertained, get the audio tape from the National Archives of O'Neill's deposition."

Specter interviewed both men for the Warren Commission and filed a report stating, in effect, that neither of them took notes during the autopsy. "And when we showed that to Jim Sibert --- this calm, mild-mannered southern gentleman, who never gets excited --- just about ripped his shirt off. He says, 'What do you mean, I didn't take any notes? We had a notebook full of notes!'

"They both confirmed to us," Horne continued, "that they did hear Dr. Humes discuss surgery of the heard area, on the top of the skull. They both want to believe now, that he was just a bad pathologist, and he made a mistake, and interpreted major fragmentation of the skull as surgery. But they both confirmed that he said it."

* * *

Turning to his final subject area, Horne said: "Kodak did something very good for the American people, and it's just too bad you all can't see it right now, because you don't have a 'need to know.' Burke Marshall doesn't think you have a need to know." 51 original autopsy images were digitized by Kodak, Horne said. Of these, he personally chose 19 that he said were the most representative and of the best quality to be enhanced, so that details could be brought out for closer study.

Unfortunately, Horne said, "the deed of gift by which these materials were placed in the Archives requires that in order to see them you must get the approval of the Kennedy family representative, which is still Burke Marshall.

Kodak also did an authenticity study of the Zapruder film, the so-called Zavada Report. "In my view, the report is inconclusive," Horne said, "because there's no blanket statement in it that says it is authentic, or it isn't authentic. Now, the personal conclusions of the guy who wrote it, Rollie Zavada, very much lean toward authenticity."

Return to November in Dallas Page

Return to Main Page

* * *