What can science tell us about the assassination of President Kennedy assassination — and the investigations that followed?
NOVA, the PBS science show, will take a stab at answering that question with JFK Cold Case, a documentary scheduled to premier next November 13 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.
From the PBS press release:
“The 1963 murder, in broad daylight in front of hundreds of witnesses, was a homicide investigator’s best-case scenario. Yet somehow the JFK assassination became a forensic nightmare, plagued by mishandled evidence, a controversial autopsy and, incredibly, a Prime Suspect murdered while in police custody before he could be tried — all of it captured on film.”
This sounds like the show may tell us that comforting story that “November 22 1963 was a very simple crime made complicated by an incompetent government and irrational people.” I hope not because the evidence indicated that November 22 was not a very simple crime, not when the assassin, Lee Oswald, had been watched so carefully by senior CIA officers (named here) in the weeks and months before Kennedy was killed.
NOVA’s experts include private investigator Josiah Thompson, gunshot wound authority Larry Sturdivan, laser scanning specialist Tony Grissim, medical examiner and forensic neuropathologist Peter Cummings, and firearms experts Lucien and Michael Haag.
(I only know Thompson out of this group. As one of the first serious practitioners of assassination science, he certainly belongs on the show. I’m familiar with Sturdivan’s work. I don’t know anything about the others, so I’m curious what they have to say.)
That said, I’m skeptical of the notion that forensic science can enable us to make definitive statements about who killed JFK. Kennedy’s assassination was a “national security event,” and the senior U.S. intelligence officers who knew the most about the assassin Lee Oswald were empowered, by official secrecy, to conceal what they knew and when they knew it from investigators.
The operational files of some of the key CIA officers involved (all of them now deceased) remain classified — for reasons of “national security. I argue here that CIA director John Brennan should review and release these records before the 50th anniversary.
The persistence of secrecy around certain JFK files held by the CIA indicates that the Dallas crime still falls under the penumbra of national security secrecy.
So the best science on the crime scene evidence can clarify what happened when presidential security broke down in Dealey Plaza. But it cannot clarify the causes of the intelligence failure that culminated there.