United States House Select Committee on Assassinations

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Meeting of the House Select Committee on Assassinations

The United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Committee investigated until 1978 and issued its final report, and concluded that Kennedy was very likely assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. However, the Committee noted that it believed that the conspiracy did not include the governments of the Soviet Union or Cuba. The Committee also stated it did not believe the conspiracy was organized by any organized crime group, nor any anti-Castro group, but that it could not rule out individual members of any of these two groups acting together.

The HSCA suffered from being conducted mostly in secret, and then issued a public report with much of its evidence sealed for 50 years under Congressional rules.[1] In 1992, Congress passed legislation to collect and open up all the evidence relating to Kennedy's death, and created the Assassination Records Review Board to further that goal.


The House authorized the investigation by a vote of 280 to 65.[2]

The HSCA was a followup to the Hart-Schweiker and Church Committee hearings that had revealed CIA ties to other assassinations and assassination attempts. The HSCA resulted from public demands following hundreds of books, magazine articles, and video documentaries completed by private citizens and professional investigators since 1963. It was also spurred by public outcry after a copy of the Zapruder film was first shown in motion on TV in March 1975, after having been stored by Life magazine out of view of the public for almost twelve years.


Committee staff[edit]


General conclusions[edit]

In particular, the various investigations performed by the U.S. government were faulted for insufficient consideration of the possibility of a conspiracy in each case. The Committee in its report also made recommendations for legislative and administrative improvements, including making some assassinations Federal crimes.

The Chief Counsel of the Committee later changed his views that the CIA was being cooperative and forthcoming with the investigation when he learned that the CIA's special liaison to the Committee researchers, George Joannides, was actually involved with some of the organizations that Lee Harvey Oswald was involved with in the months leading up to the assassination, including an anti-Castro group, the DRE, which was linked to the CIA, where the liaison, Joannides, worked in 1963. Chief Counsel Blakey later stated that Joannides, instead, should have been interviewed by the Committee, rather than serving as a gatekeeper to the CIA's evidence and files regarding the assassination. He further disregarded and suspected all the CIA's statements and representations to the Committee, accusing it of obstruction of justice. [4]

Conclusions regarding the King assassination[edit]

On the King assassination, the Committee concluded in its report that while King was killed by one rifle shot from James Earl Ray, "there is a likelihood" that it was the result of a conspiracy, and that no U.S. government agency was part of this conspiracy probably between Ray and his brothers.

Conclusions regarding the Kennedy assassination[edit]

On the Kennedy assassination, the HSCA concluded in its 1979 report that:

  1. Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at Kennedy. The second and third shots Oswald fired struck the President. The third shot he fired killed the President.
  2. Scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that at least two gunmen fired at the President. Other scientific evidence does not preclude the possibility of two gunmen firing at the President. Scientific evidence negates some specific conspiracy allegations.
  3. The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy.
    • The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the Soviet Government was not involved in the assassination of Kennedy.
    • The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the Cuban Government was not involved in the assassination of Kennedy.
    • The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that anti-Castro Cuban groups, as groups, were not involved in the assassination of Kennedy, but that the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual members may have been involved.
    • The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the national syndicate of organized crime, as a group, was not involved in the assassination of Kennedy, but that the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual members may have been involved.
    • The Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Central Intelligence Agency were not involved in the assassination of Kennedy.[5]
  4. Agencies and departments of the U.S. Government performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of their duties. President Kennedy did not receive adequate protection. A thorough and reliable investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination was conducted. The investigation into the possibility of conspiracy in the assassination was inadequate. The conclusions of the investigations were arrived at in good faith, but presented in a fashion that was too definitive.

The Committee further concluded that it was probable that:

  • four shots were fired
  • the fourth shot came from a second assassin located on the grassy knoll, but missed. The HSCA concluded the existence and location of this alleged fourth shot based on a Dallas Police Department Dictabelt recording that was later discredited, because it was recorded after the assassination, and therefore invalid.[6]

The HSCA agreed with the single bullet theory, but concluded that it occurred at a time point during the assassination that differed from any of the several time points the Warren Commission theorized it occurred.

The Department of Justice, FBI, CIA, and the Warren Commission were all criticized for not revealing to the Warren Commission information available in 1964, and the Secret Service was deemed deficient in their protection of the President.

The HSCA made several accusations of deficiency against the FBI and CIA.[7] The accusations encompassed organizational failures, miscommunication, and a desire to keep certain parts of their operations secret. Furthermore, the Warren Commission expected these agencies to be forthcoming with any information that would aid their investigation. But the FBI and CIA only saw it as their duty to respond to specific requests for information from the commission. However, the HSCA found the FBI and CIA were deficient in performing even that limited role.

Criticisms and further research[edit]

The sole acoustic evidence relied on by the committee's experts to support its theory of a fourth gunshot (and a gunman on the grassy knoll) in the JFK assassination, was a Dictabelt recording alleged to be from a stuck transmitter on a police motorcycle in Dealey Plaza during the assassination. After the committee finished its work, however, an amateur researcher listened to the recording and discovered faint crosstalk of transmissions from another police radio channel known to have been made a minute after the assassination. This was supported by the National Academy of Science article.[citation needed]

Further, the Dallas motorcycle policeman thought to be the source of the sounds followed the motorcade to the hospital at high speed, his siren blaring, immediately after the shots were fired. Yet the recording is of a mostly idling motorcycle, eventually determined to have been at JFK's destination, the Trade Mart, miles from Dealey Plaza.[citation needed]

In 1992, author Bonar Menninger dismissed the committee report as Blakey's $5 Million Folly. [8]

In 2001, this criticism of the Committee's acoustic evidence was rebutted in a Science & Justice article written by D.B. Thomas, a government scientist and JFK assassination researcher. He concluded the HSCA finding of a second shooter was correct and that the NAS panel's study was flawed. Thomas surmises that the Dictaphone needle jumped and created an overdub on Channel One.[9]

The 1981 Committee on Ballistic Acoustics was charged with reviewing the HSCA’s acoustic evidence. They concluded that the acoustic evidence of conspiracy was invalid. Donald Thomas who reportedly performed the first independent peer review of the HSCA’s work and who people think was “an expert on acoustic testing” never read Thomas’ own report on his work with the acoustic evidence in which he acknowledges that "he is not an acoustic expert." [10]

In 2003, computer animator Dale Myers used various films from the day of the shooting to plot the locations and speeds of the motorcycle police officers during the assassination, and concluded that no police motorcycles were anywhere near the precise microphone location on Houston Street required by the Committee's acoustic experts.[11] Myers' study confirmed the same misgivings voiced by HSCA photographic consultant Richard E. Sprague in 1978.

A majority of witnesses who testified on the source of the shots said they came from the direction of the Depository. However, many witnesses thought the shots came from the direction of the Knoll. Only five witnesses, from a total of over one hundred, thought the shots came from two directions simultaneously.[12]

The Mitrokhin Archive--The KGB in Europe and the West, by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, documents extensive manipulation by the KGB in creating and fostering conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination.[13] The origin of the infamous forged letter, purported to be from Oswald to E. Howard Hunt, remained inconclusive in the final opinion of the Committee,[14] leaving, in the words of Hunt, "an article of faith that I had some role in the Kennedy assassination."[15]

In 2003, Robert Blakey, staff director and chief counsel for the Committee, issued a statement on the Central Intelligence Agency:

...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.[16]


  1. ^ "1. The Problem of Secrecy and the Solution of the JFK Act". Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board. September 1998. 
  2. ^ Kilpatrick, James J. (October 12, 1976). "New assassination probe is overdue". The Day (New London, Connecticut). p. 10. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  3. ^ Rummana Hussain and Dave McKinney, "Anti-Gang Racketeeing Bill Will Fight the 'Disease,'" Chicago Sun-Times, June 6, 2012
  4. ^ G. Robert Blakey's 2003 Addendum to this Interview: from PBS's program Frontline
  5. ^ "Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives". U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  6. ^ O'Dell, Michael. "The acoustic evidence in the Kennedy assassination". John McAdams. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  7. ^ [1] pg.239-256
  8. ^ Blakey's $5 Million Folly is the title of Chapter 13 of Mortal Error. G. Robert Blakey was the Chief Counsel and staff director.
  9. ^ Study Backs Theory of 'Grassy Knoll' from the Washington Post
  10. ^ Dr. Donald B. Thomas, “Hear No Evil : The Acoustical Evidence in the Kennedy Assassination,” November 17, 2001, p.1
  11. ^ "Epipolar Geometric Analysis of Amateur Films Related to Acoustics Evidence in the John F. Kennedy Assassination". Jfkfiles.com. 2003-11-20. Retrieved 2010-09-17. 
  12. ^ "Dealy Plaza Earwitnesses". Mcadams.posc.mu.edu. 2006-04-24. Retrieved 2010-09-17. 
  13. ^ The Mitrokhin Archive--The KGB in Europe and the West, Pp. 293-299
  14. ^ The Mitrokhin Archive--The KGB in Europe and the West, Page 299
  15. ^ Mark Lane, Plausible Denial, Page 187
  16. ^ PBS Frontline "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? -- Interview: G. Robert Blakey -- 2003 Addendum"

External links[edit]