The questions and issues pertaining to the AF1 tape previously discussed are actually a subset of a number of interesting points about what did or did not happen in response the the murder of a US President on November 22, 1963 – a murder in which the motive and nature of the attackers was totally unknown for some hours and unclear for much longer than that (OK, so we all think its still unclear but the history books don’t).
Here’s a quick “official” overview based on records and remarks from individuals involved, times are Eastern Standard:
1:45 Defense Secretary McNamara after meeting with the Joint Chiefs orders a flash alert to be issued to all commands; the Defense Condition is not raised with that message.
2:15 The Defcon level is raised to Defcon 3 for all commands although at least one command officially goes to higher alert (and other may have…see below).
….Joint Chiefs head Maxwell Taylor told William Manchester that around that time he personally alerted all Army units in the DC area, with his first thoughts being to a coup (Manchester provides no elaboration; it would be nice to know why Taylor felt that was a high probability)
2:55 LBJ makes his first communication from AF1 – supposedly he was unaware that communications were possible from the plane until he observed a Secret Service agent on a telephone. No one has communicated or has LBJ asked about atomic weapons release codes although it has been widely commented that Johnson early on expressed concern about Soviet or communist involvement in the attack.
……General Taylor told Manchester he wondered if the bomb bag officer was with Johnson but apparently he never actually ordered anyone to check?
………General Clifton will later tell William Manchester there was no secure communication with AF1 (more about that below)
During the afternoon, CIA Director McCone did not go to CIA headquarters but rather to Bobby Kennedy’s home for private talks with Bobby.
circa 4:00 pm General Clifton calls from AF1 and talks to Natl Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy in the White House situation room…he mentions thought of an international conspiracy but Bundy tells him that the Pentagon is “handling it.”
…..reportedly FBI Director Hoover leaves the office at the regular time and returns home, to listen to television news for updates.
5:20 PM McNamara and Taylor leave the Pentagon for Andrews AFB to meet LBJ’s flight from Dallas.
……there is no National Security meeting for some days nor indication of any organized response by the national intelligence coordinating committee – whose records show that it never conducted its own study of the assassination.
So, that’s supposedly how it all came down in terms of the American National Security response to the murder of an American President at the height of the cold war. Given the amount of endemic paranoia of the period, it seem amazingly calm and restrained. On the other hand, there are a number of suggestions that it might have been taken a bit more seriously.
For example, we have a historical statement from Col. Patton, stationed with an Armored Brigade at Fort Hood Texas, that on that afternoon he was pulled out of Church services to load his entire light tank unit for tansport to Dallas and they were virtually ready to pull out that night when the order was canceled. We have anocdotal reports of SAC and TAC bombers scrambled onto the ends of runways with full bomb loads and missile crews alerted to go to full launch readiness – neither of which is consistent with a Defcon 3 alert.
All in all, it seems that perhaps the “official history” of such very limited national security response may deserve some exploration.
In addition, I’d like to learn a lot more about security communications with AF1, especially the total lack of secure voice communications (the attack release codes were exactly that and could have been ordered by coded verbal messages or secure data circuits from the plane). But no secure voice…hmmm…well we know they had worldwide secure voice communications with John Glenn over a special Collins radio network….you would think AF1 would have at least that capability, but maybe not. In any event, my personal Air Force communications experience is no help on that so if anyone reading this has any knowledge of secure communicaitions circa 1963 or knows anyone that does, please drop me a note at email@example.com