“Stranger” & the Missing Code Books on 11/22/63

May 22, 2012

“Stranger” & the Missing Code Books on 11/22/63
JFK Countercoup
Bill Kelly

“Stranger” and the Missing Code Books – Coup or Faux Paux?

“’We have to know who Stranger is,’” Secretary Rusk said. ‘We don’t know what is happening in Dallas. Who is the government now?’”

“The messages kept coming off the wire service machine and finally one started grinding out the story of Lee Harvey Oswald and his previous life in Russia and his membership in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. This went against all the preconceived theories we had established.”

“ ‘If this is true,’ Secretary Rusk said, ‘this is going to have repercussions around the world for years to come.’”

On November 22, 1963, most of President John F. Kennedy’s cabinet were in an airplane over the Pacific on their way to Japan for a regional conference, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon, Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges, Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz and Press Secretary Pierre Salinger.

The existing Air Force One tapes begin, not with radio communications with Air Force One, but with riveting conversations between the Cabinet plane and the White House Situation Room.

Air Force One and a similar plane nominally referred to as Air Force Two were both in Texas with the President and the Vice President, while the Cabinet was aboard SAM 86972, all planes operated by the Special Air Mission, a detachment of the 89th Military Air Wing out of Andrews Air Force base, Maryland, near Washington D.C.

SAM 86972 was a VC-137C modified version of the Boeing 707-120 commercial airliner, but with different interior furnishings and electronic equipment. Its primary mission was to provide first class, worldwide transportation for the Vice-President of the United States, Cabinet members and international dignitaries.

According to official descriptions, “The interior of SAM 86972 was divided into three sections: Forward (crew area), center (stateroom) and aft (passenger). The forward section had a communications center, a galley, lavatory and 13-seat compartment with one table and two overhead bunks. The center section was designed for VIP, with conference tables, swivel chairs, projection screen, two convertible sofa-bunks and a lavatory. The aft section was a combination staff and passenger areas, and contained a Xerox machine, reclining seats, overhead bunks, tables, galley two lavatories. The VC-137B was usually operated by an augmented crew of about twenty, including three pilots (two were qualified aircraft commanders), two navigators, two flight engineers, one crew chief, two communication systems operators, six flight attendants and four security guards.”

Press Secretary Pierre Salinger had just sat down with a book when the wire service machine bell rang five times and then began to clatter text on paper.

Robert Manning, the assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, a former newsman, knew that the bells meant breaking news, so he went over and began reading the jumbled text as it came over the wire, tapped out by an automatic typewriter:


Manning immediately took the disjointed report to Dean Rusk, the senior cabinet member on board in the state room, and Rusk read it, and told Manning to get Salinger.

In his book “With Kennedy,” Pierre Salinger wrote: “By 7 A.M., our sleek blue and white presidential Boeing 707 jet was lifting off Hickam Field, headed for Wake Island and Tokyo. I was immersed in my reading sometime later when I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up. It was Robert Manning, ‘The Secretary wants to see you up forward,’ he said. Up forward was the private cabin reserved for the President, but used on this trip by the Secretary of State as the senior officer aboard.”

“I found the Secretary, grave-faced, holding a yellow piece of paper in his hand. I recognized it instantly as coming from the plane’s teletype machine. Because this plane was used a great deal by the President, it carried sophisticated communications equipment not usually carried on commercial airliners. One of these extra communications items was a newspaper teletype. The other members of the Cabinet on the trip were already in the cabin. As we waited for Myer Feldman of the White House staff and Walter Heller, the chairman of the President’s Council on Economic Advisor’s, I looked over Secretary Rusk’s shoulder, the words on the page were badly scrambled – but what I managed to read was unbelievable.”

“I kept reading it over and over again as Feldman and Heller pushed their way into the cabin. The words stayed on the paper. They would not go away. Secretary Rusk read us the last brief bulletin.”

“‘My God!’ gasped Orville Freeman…..Then there was an interminable silence as each man became lost in his private sorrow.”

“‘We’ve got to turn back right now,’” I said to Secretary Rusk.”

“That’s right, but we have to verify this somehow. Get us in communication with the White House and see if you can get Admiral Felt at CINCPAC…”

“I pushed my way through the forward door of the cabin into the communications section of the plane. ‘Get the White House and Admiral Felt,’ I ordered the communicators, Sergeants Walter C. Baughman and Darrell Skinner. In less than a minute, from almost 6000 miles away, I was talking to the White House Situation Room, the operating nerve center of the nation.”

In the basement of the White House, the Situation Room was set up in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s first crisis, the Bay of Pigs, in early 1961. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, in his book “A Thousand Day,” notes that JFK thought that one reason the Bay of Pigs failed was because he received secondhand updates on the situation.

Michael Bohn, who once worked in the White Situation Room and wrote it’s history in his book “Nerve Center” (2003), reported that, “Kennedy and national security adviser McGeorge Bundy wanted a place where they could get the same real-time info the Pentagon and the CIA got, and where the chief executive and his closest advisers could weigh this data in confidence and come to their own conclusions. In retrospect, lack of timely updates may have played a minor role in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. But in the weeks between the Bay of Pigs and May 15, Kennedy’s naval aide Tazewell Shepard enlisted a bunch of Seabees and turned part of the West Wing basement ‘into a facility that some political scientists say changed the fundamental nature of the presidency.’”

As the Air Force One radio transmission reveal, Salinger was put through to “Crown,” the code name for the White House, and when he asked for the latest situation on the President, the operator asked if he wanted the Situation Room.

Note: This patch on the Air Force One tapes can be found at (6:30) on the LBJ Library Tape at [03:57] on the Clifton Tape.

Salinger uses his code name, “Wayside.”

1 – White House, White House, this is Wayside, do you read me?
2 – This is White House. I read you loud and clear Wayside. Over.
3 – Can you give me the latest situation on President? Over.
4 – You want Situation Room? Is that a Roger?
5 – Repeat that transmission please?
6 – This is Crown, This is Crown. Do you want Situation Room?
7 – I want the Situation Room That’s affirmative.
8 – Roger, Roger getting them now.
9 – Stand by Please.
10- Wayside, Wayside, this is Crown. Situation Room is on. Go ahead.
11- Situation Room. This is Wayside, do you read me? Over.
12- This is the Situation Room. I read you. Go ahead.

In the Situation Room, Navy aide Oliver Hallett answers the radio call. He is getting his information over the same news wires that put out the first reports on the assassination – Associated Press and UPI, that they call the “tickers.”

13- [Salinger] – Give me all available information on President Over.
14- [Hallett] – All available information on President follows. Ah, Connally. He and Governor Connally of Texas have been hit in the car in which they were riding. We do not know how serious the situation is, we have no information. Mr. Bromley Smith is back here in the Situation Room now. We are getting our information over the tickers. Over.
15- [Salinger] – That is affirmative, affirmative. Please be advised that this is the plane on which the cabinet is on the way to Japan. Those heading to (Japan) are turning around and returning to Honolulu and will be there in about two hours. Over
16 [Hallett] – I understand. Those heading to Japan are turning around and heading to Honolulu and will be back there in two hours. Is that correct? Over.
17- That’s Affirmative. Affirmative. Will need all information to decide whether some of this party should go directly to Dallas. Over.
18- This is Situation Room. Say again your last please?
19- Will need to be advised to determine whether some members of this party should go directly to Dallas? Over.
20- Roger, you wish information as to whether some members of that party should go to Dallas.
21- Affirmative. Affirmative.
22- Do you have anything else, Wayside?
23- Any information you can give me as quickly as possible.
24- The Associated Press is coming out now with a bulletin that the President was hit in the head. That just came in. Over.
25- Roger. Will get any new information to you.
26- Where are you Wayside?
27 – Wayside is off the line. This is the radio operator. We are returning to Honolulu and should be back in Honolulu in about two hours. Will be in the air for about two hours and in to Honolulu and you can contact us on the ground there later.
28- I understand. This is….Hold, hold on the line there Wayside, we have some more information coming up.
29-…right back.

1- Ah, Wayside, Wayside, this is Situation Room. I read from the AP bulletin. Kennedy apparently shot in head, he fell face down on the backseat of his car. Blood was on his head. Mrs. Kennedy cried “Oh no,” and tried to hold up his head. Connally remained half seated slumped to the left. There was blood on his face and forehead. The President and Governor were rushed to Parkland Hospital near the Dallas Trade Mart where Kennedy was to have made a speech. Over
2 – I read that, over.
3 – This is Situation Room. I have nothing further for you now. I will contact you if we get more.
4 – Wayside, Roger and out
5 – Situation Room out.

The Navy aide in the Situation Room, Oliver Hallet, within the hour, would also learn from the wire service reports that the accused assassin was former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald, who Hallett had known from his stint as a Navy attaché at the US Embassy in Moscow. Hallett was in the room when Oswald turned his passport over to the embassy officer (Snyder).

Note 2 : When Salinger was writing his book, the White House Communications Agency gave him a copy of a transcript of the Air Force One radio communications that included his conversations with the White House Situation Room. Salinger said that he gave his copy of the transcript to the JFK Library in Boston, but when Vincent Salandria requested this document, it could not be located.

As Salinger reported in his book, he said, “Situation Room, this is Wayside [my code name]. Can you give me latest situation on Lancer [the President’s code name]?

“The answer came right back: ‘He and Governor Connally have been hit in car in which they were riding.’”

“I replied: ‘Please keep us advised. Secretary Rusk is on this plane headed for Japan. We are returning to Honolulu. Will be there in a bout two hours. We will need to be advised to determine whether some members should go direct to Dallas.’”

“I put the microphone down and told Sergeant Baughman to keep the line open and working on our call to Admiral Felt and stepped back into the cabin to report to Secretary Rusk. He promptly ordered the plane to turn around.”

“The radio operator called me forward almost immediately to take a call from the Situation Room: ‘AP bulletin is just coming in. President hit in the head. That just came in.’”

“‘Understand. President hit in the head,’ I replied, heading back to Secretary Rusk’s cabin. We were then 1200 miles from Wake Island and 800 miles from Hawaii. Secretary Rusk had swiftly taken control of the situation. If the President lived, he felt it was essential that certain members of the party on the plane go immediately to Dallas, to his side. Others should get back to Washington as soon as possible. The Secretary decided that he, Bob Manning, and I should go to Dallas, and that the others on the plane should go back to the Capital….Communications were established with Admiral Harry D. Felt.”

Admiral Harry D. Felt, the commander of the Pacific Command – CINPAC, as we later learned, was the only theater commander to raise the military alert status as a result of the assassination, increasing it from Defcon 5 to Defcon 4, a state of increased readiness over an area that included all the US forces in the Pacific, including Vietnam.

Salinger: “The plane roared through the early morning skies. We were informed that a jet had been set up for a trip to Dallas, if necessary. I got two more messages. The first was from ‘Stranger.’ He said our plane was to turn around and go back to Washington.

– Go ahead, please
– Wayside? Wayside? This is Stranger. Do you read me? Over.
– This is Wayside. Go ahead.
– Kilduff asked that all cabinet members return to Washington immediately. Over.
– We are enroute to Honolulu, where we have ah….Washington. Over
– Roger Roger, will they notifiy us of time of arrival and location? Over
– Roger, Roger, we do not have any firm….as to the exact status…go…Dallas…Wayside….go ahead.
– Wayside this is Stranger, I’ll get that information…over.

Salinger: “My report of these messages seriously troubled Secretary Rusk. He wanted to know who Stranger was. Aboard every presidential jet there is usually a White House codebook. We searched for it for about five minutes, but there was none aboard this plane.”

“’We have to know who Stranger is,’” Secretary Rusk said. ‘We don’t know what is happening in Dallas. Who is the government now?’”

“And certainly this was a question running through everybody’s mind. We had no further word on President Kennedy. Was his shooting an isolated event or part of a national or international conspiracy? Certainly, if the latter were true, our own plane was not immune to attack because any foreign power which had planned the shooting of the President would certainly not be unaware of the fact that six of his ten Cabinet members were in an airplane high over the Pacific.”

Salinger says, and as the tapes confirm, “The decision was made that I was to break the code and find out the identity of Stranger.”

– Liberty?
– Go ahead.
– 86972, 86972 Andrews.
– 86972 You are loud and clear.
– Roger. Give me the name, the real name of Stranger please…from the White House
– Roger. Say again the name. What is the name sir? Stranger.
– Stranger – S-T-R-A-N-G-E-R

“In a minute, I got the answer back.”

– SAM Command Post is on will you give them a call?
– ….Mr. Jackson from the state department.
– We are returning to Hickham field…three zero Zulu…We are standing by for more information.
– Stand by for just a moment sir.
– Roger, Roger Seven two, Let us know when you are going to leave Hickam and what your destination is.
– Okay we will keep you advised, have Wayside give them a call.
– That’s a Roger 72.
– 86972 – Andrews.
– Andrews.
– Roger. In reference to request. A Major Harold R. Patterson, Major Harold R. Paterson.

Salinger: “Stranger was Major Harold R. Patterson, a high-ranking officer in the White House Communications Agency. He was, at the time of his transmission to our plane, in Washington D.C. I knew Paterson well. He was one of the most trusted members of the White House staff and he would not have sent us the message without very clear instructions….”

“The messages kept coming off the wire service machine and finally one started grinding out the story of Lee Harvey Oswald and his previous life in Russia and his membership in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. This went against all the preconceived theories we had established.”

“’If this is true,’ Secretary Rusk said, ‘this is going to have repercussions around the world for years to come.’ His words were prophetic because even today, only in the United States is the report of the Warren Commission, fixing the sole responsibility on Oswald, widely believed…”

“It took us only eight hours and thirty-one minutes to make the non-stop flight from Honolulu to Andrews Air Force Base. We arrived there at 12:31 A.M., Washington time, and stepped out of the plane into a barrage of lights from television cameras…”

In an article, “The Tokyo Flight – Coincidence or Conspiracy?” Ronald L. Ecker considers the idea that if the assassination was a high level coup, the presence of the cabinet on the plane over the Pacific was possibly part of the plot. He reviewed these same facts and concluded, “And that was the extent of the missing code book crisis. The code book should not have been missing, but its absence, which proved to be of no real consequence, does not by itself mean something sinister. Still, Rusk’s concern over ‘Stranger’ illustrates the fact that conspirators would certainly have been able to take advantage of there being no code book on board under a worst-case scenario.”

Just as Col. Fletcher Prouty suspected he was sent to Antartica to get him out of the way at the time of the assassination, there is the suggestion that it wasn’t a coincidence that most of the cabinet were on a plane on the other side of the world, and additional evidence of chichainery is the fact that the code book was missing.

While one such incident may be happenstance, and two might be a coincidence, three such incidences stretches credulity, and John Judge presents just such a case.

Judge recalls meeting a SAC pilot who told him that the code books aboard SAC planes were also missing on the day of the assassination.

John Judge, the director of COPA – the Coalition on Political Assassinations, attended the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, also the home of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. While there in the 1970s, Judge was a guest at the Wright-Pat Officers Club, where he talked with a pilot who said he was a Strategic Air Command pilot of a nuclear armed B-52 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and when President Kennedy was killed. This pilot told Judge that he came to within 30 seconds of reaching the Fail Safe point during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Then on the day JFK was assassinated, they were in the air on their regular shift that maintained a fleet of armed bombers in the air on a 24 hour basis. When they learned that the President had been shot, over civilian commercial radio, they thought they would receive new orders and in preparation for that they opened the plane’s safe to get the code books that are needed to translate and confirm any orders, and it was missing. While they didn’t get any orders while airborne, when they returned to their base, they compared notes with other pilots, and they too said their code books were missing.

John Judge also recalls reading an early batch of records released under the JFK Act from the Segregated Section, possibly an NSA document which was labeled “Defcon Status.”

Judge requested that file and a box of records were brought out. One of the items in the box included a false press report that Air Force Gen. LeMay was killed in an airplane crash that morning.

Other files in the box included reports for each continental – theater commands, indicating that the Defcon status for all of the commands remained unchanged except for one – Southeast Asia and the Pacific Command – CINPAC, which went from 5 to 4.

Larry Hancock, in “Someone Would Have Talked” (Lancer 2006, p. 304) wrote: “But Johnson himself shows no indication of seriously fearing Soviet involvement. In the hours following the assassination he ordered absolutely no actions pertaining to military preparedness or national security. Nor did he direct any special intelligence activities against either the Soviets or Cubans. This lack of action on Johnson’s part is confirmed by a White House memorandum written on December 4, 1963, by Bromley Smith in regard to ‘Changes in Defense Readiness Conditions as a Result of the Assassination of President Kennedy.’ This memo summarizes the authority granted to the Joint Chiefs and documents their ‘Defcon’ actions following the assassination. According to the memo, the Joint Chiefs, acting on their own initiative, increased the defense readiness condition from Defcon 5 (the lowest peace time condition) to Defcon 4 at 2:50 EST on November 22 and returned to Defcon 5 at 12:30 on Sunday November 24. The Commander in Chief Pacific (CINPAC) on his own initiative had directed his forces to Defcon 3 at 3:13 PM on November 22, something he was fully authorized to do. This memo provides solid proof that the US military did not move overall to a major elevation of defense readiness, suggesting any fear of foreign involvement or that the assassination was a precursor to an attack.”

Bromley Smith, author of this report, was also present in the White House Situation Room shortly after the assassination and is specifically mentioned on the Air Force One tapes.

Larry Hancock: “Beyond that there is no evidence that the Joint Chiefs or the Secretary of Defense took any other than very limited precautions. When the Chiefs were informed of the assassination, they remained in a meeting together, not even dispensing to their respective operational or command centers. Given that the assassination occurred at the height of the cold war (only a year after the Cuban missile crisis), and that certain defense scenarios anticipated elimination of US leaders as part of any Soviet attack, this apparent lack of a stronger reaction seems rather amazing.”

The commander of CINPAC, the only command to change its alert status, was Admiral Felt, the person Secretary Rusk tried to contact as soon as he learned that President Kennedy had been shot.

“Stranger,” – Major Harold Patterson, recalls the incident and says that when Salinger requested to know his identity, Salinger was told to check the code book on the plane, but this part of the conversation is not on the existing Air Force One radio transmission tapes, further proof that many of the relevant recorded conversations have been eliminated from the edited tapes that exist today.

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