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Chemical Fingerprints: The Bullets at Dealey Plaza


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Livermore Scientists Reignite JFK Assassination Debate

August 21, 2006

KTVU TV

Oakland, California

LIVERMORE - It's been the subject of numerous arguments, books and a major Hollywood movie and now scientists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory have turned up the heat again on just who assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

The researchers say metallurgical chemical "fingerprints" on the bullets that killed the president and wounded then Texas Governor John Connally may have been misinterpreted and that the government's crucial "single gunman theory" has been thrown into doubt.

"It basically shatters what some people call the best physical evidence around," chemist Pat Grant, director of the lab's highly respected Forensic Science Center told the San Jose Mercury News.

Grant and Lab metallurgist Erik Randich found that the chemical "fingerprints" used to identify which bullets the fragments came from were not quite the "smoking gun" as thought pointing to Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman.

The FBI used five bullet fragments recovered from the limousine, Connally's body, the president's brain and from a stretcher for its initial tests using what is known as "neutron activation" analysis.

Those tests proved inconclusive, but later tests by chemist Vincent Guinn -- a renowned specialist in neutron activation -- on the bullet lead pointed directly at Oswald. Guinn said the fragments came from just two bullets -- both of which came from Oswald's Russian-manufactured rifle.

Randich said the Lawrence Livermore tests came to a different result.

"We don't know if there were two bullets," said Randich. "There could have been two bullets, but the lead composition data shows there could be anywhere from one to five bullets."

http://www.ktvu.com/news/9709821/detail.html

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Challenge to Lone Gunman theory

By Betsy Mason

CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Sunday, August 20, 2006

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/15321194.htm

LIVERMORE - More than four decades after his death, John F. Kennedy's assassination remains the hottest cold case in U.S. history, and the clues continue to trickle in. Now Lawrence Livermore Laboratory scientists say a key piece of evidence supporting the lone gunman theory should be thrown out.

A new look at clues gleaned from studies of crime-scene bullet fragments shows they may have been misinterpreted.

"It basically shatters what some people call the best physical evidence around," said chemist Pat Grant, director of the lab's Forensic Science Center.

Grant and Livermore Lab metallurgist Erik Randich found that the chemical "fingerprints" used to identify which bullets the fragments came from are actually more like run-of-the-mill tire tracks than one-of-a-kind fingerprints.

"I've spoken with people on both sides of the conspiracy divide and there's no question but that (Randich and Grant's) work is going to be very difficult, if not outright impossible, to refute," said Gary Aguilar, a San Francisco ophthalmologist and single-bullet skeptic who has studied the Kennedy assassination for more than a decade. "It looks impregnable."

The government's claim that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed Kennedy spawned a vitriolic debate between conspiracy theorists and lone gunman supporters that rages to this day.

In 1964, the Warren Commission, established by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the assassination, concluded that Oswald fired just three shots from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas: The first missed entirely. The second passed through the president's neck, into Texas Governor John Connally's body under his right arm, out through his chest and then splintered his wrist and wounded his left thigh. The third fatally hit Kennedy in the head.

Even though three bullets were involved, this scenario became known as the "single-bullet theory" because it requires the second bullet to account for all the nonfatal injuries to both Kennedy and Connally.

The injuries to Kennedy's neck and to Connally happened within a split second of each other. So either the injuries to both men came from a single bullet from Oswald or from at least two bullets from more than one shooter. Oswald's rifle couldn't have fired two shots in such rapid succession.

So in order for Oswald to be the lone gunman, it had to be a single bullet.

Skeptics and believers alike say the bullets amount to the most important piece of physical evidence for the single-bullet theory. Throwing it out is like removing a leg from a four-legged table.

"Warren Commission defenders consider this evidence central to the single-bullet theory," Aguilar said.

But Grant and Randich say the bullet lead analysis was faulty. Both Randich and Grant are forensic scientists at Livermore Lab but researched the JFK case on their own time. Their work is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga.

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, the FBI analyzed five bullet fragments recovered from the limousine, the governor's wrist, the president's brain and from a hospital stretcher.

The FBI used a technique known as "neutron activation" analysis to find the precise composition of the fragments. By determining the exact amounts of impurities in the lead, such as antimony and silver, they hoped to be able to tell which fragments came from the same bullet. But the FBI decided it couldn't draw any conclusions from the results.

In 1976, the U.S. House of Representatives formed an assassination committee to investigate the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. The move was largely a response to hundreds of books, documentaries and magazine pieces questioning the government's version of the JFK assassination, as well as public outcry following the first airing of Abraham Zapruder's home movie of the assassination on the television show, "Good Night America."

The committee called in nuclear chemist Vincent Guinn, one of the world's foremost experts on neutron activation, to reanalyze the bits of bullet lead.

Unlike the FBI, Guinn drew a very clear conclusion. He said the antimony in the fragments clearly showed they all came from two, and only two, bullets of the type used by Oswald's gun, which supports the Warren Commission's lone gunman theory.

According to Guinn, one set of fragments from the president's brain and the limousine in front of the president had around .06 percent antimony, and all came from the bullet that killed JFK. The other set of fragments from the governor's wrist and a nearly intact bullet found on a stretcher at the hospital had closer to .08 percent antimony and were pieces of the infamous "single bullet."

Based on evidence including the bullet lead, the committee concluded in 1979 that both shots had come from Oswald's gun.

They did not, however, rule out the possibility of a conspiracy. In fact, they strongly suspected a second shooter was present that day, but based on Guinn's data, any second shooter had missed the target.

Or maybe not.

"It turns out that if you really analyze the results correctly, then the results are wrong," said Grant.

Fatal flaw

Randich and Grant's study grew out of work Randich did in 2002 that exposed a fatal flaw in the FBI's use of bullet-lead evidence to connect suspects with crime scenes in thousands of criminal cases during the past three decades.

The FBI claimed that like a fingerprint, each batch of lead has a unique chemical signature, so the specific amounts of impurities in a lead bullet could match it with other bullets from the same batch. For example, if bullets at a suspect's house were found to have the same impurity signature as a bullet or fragment found at a murder scene, it was treated as evidence tying the suspect to the crime.

Randich's training as a metallurgist told him there was something wrong with this reasoning. "I realized these people could put my sons in jail with bogus science," he said. "I thought I ought to do something about it."

By analyzing years of data kept by lead smelters, Randich found that batches are not unique, and bullets from different batches of bullets poured months or years apart could have the same chemical signature. And bullets poured from the start of a batch could differ slightly, but measurably, from those at the end.

He has testified in about a dozen cases. Because of his work, courts now reject bullet-lead analysis and the

FBI no longer uses it as evidence.

According to Guinn, the type of bullets used by Oswald happened to have highly variable amounts of antimony.

Guinn said the variation between bullets of this type was so great that he could use it to tell individual bullets apart, even from the same batch of lead.

Randich and Grant say that assumption is dead wrong. They analyzed the same type of bullets and showed that within a single bullet, there is a significant variation in impurities on a microscopic scale. The range of concentrations of impurities in each bullet is large enough to make small fragments from different parts of the same bullet have very different chemical fingerprints.

Some of the fragments in the JFK case are so small that the differences in antimony could be explained entirely by this microscopic variation, instead of by differences between bullets, they said. Randich and Grant's study was published in July in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

"We don't know if there were two bullets," said Randich. "There could have been two bullets, but the lead composition data shows there could be anywhere from one to five bullets."

The bullet found on the stretcher is missing some lead, but not enough to account for all the other fragments. So there had to be more than one bullet. But Grant and Randich say there is no way to tell how many more, at least from the bullet lead.

That evidence "knits together the core physical evidence into an airtight case against Lee Oswald," according to a 2004 paper by Larry Sturdivan and Ken Rahn in an issue of Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry that celebrated Vincent Guinn after his death. "It is, thus, the key to resolving the major controversies in the JFK assassination and putting the matter to rest," the paper said.

Rahn, an atmospheric chemist recently retired from the University of Rhode Island, stands by this statement and Guinn's research despite Randich and Grant's study.

He says he believes it is possible that microscopic variation occurs within bullets of this type, but Grant and Randich can't say for sure whether it happened in the JFK bullets because they didn't analyze those particular fragments.

Rahn thinks it is far more likely the fragments fell into two distinct groups, one with .06 percent antimony and the other with .08 percent, because they came from two distinct bullets.

This fits the Warren Commission's conclusion that Oswald was the lone shooter, and two of the three bullets he shot hit the occupants of the president's limousine, Rahn said.

Grant counters that the two groups of bullet fragments might not actually be that distinct. The margin of error associated with the antimony analysis means that, statistically, the concentrations are too close to separate into groups.

Although Randich and Grant's research doesn't solve the Kennedy assassination, it certainly does weaken the case for a lone gunman.

"In recent years, the (bullet) fragment evidence has become one of the key struts supporting the single-bullet theory," Aguilar said. "Randich and Grant have knocked this slat out from under the theory."

Betsy Mason covers science and the national laboratories. Reach her at bmason@cctimes.com or 925-847-

2158.

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/15321194.htm

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LIVERMORE - More than four decades after his death, John F. Kennedy's assassination remains the hottest cold case in U.S. history, and the clues continue to trickle in. Now Lawrence Livermore Laboratory scientists say a key piece of evidence supporting the lone gunman theory should be thrown out.

A new look at clues gleaned from studies of crime-scene bullet fragments shows they may have been misinterpreted.

"It basically shatters what some people call the best physical evidence around," said chemist Pat Grant, director of the lab's Forensic Science Center.

Grant and Livermore Lab metallurgist Erik Randich found that the chemical "fingerprints" used to identify which bullets the fragments came from are actually more like run-of-the-mill tire tracks than one-of-a-kind fingerprints.

"I've spoken with people on both sides of the conspiracy divide and there's no question but that (Randich and Grant's) work is going to be very difficult, if not outright impossible, to refute," said Gary Aguilar, a San Francisco ophthalmologist and single-bullet skeptic who has studied the Kennedy assassination for more than a decade. "It looks impregnable."

Thank you for posting this (you beat me to it). It is good to see that Forum member Gary Aguilar was quoted in the article.

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Pittsburgh Tribune

Friday, August 25, 2006

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory studying the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have done what many thought impossible - their research suggests that the single-bullet theory is even less credible than it seems.

And by extension, it further casts doubt on the credibility of Arlen Specter, the U.S. senator who, in another career, invented the magic bullet scenario - a tumbling, direction-changing projectile that long has defied the laws of physics and common sense.

The Pennsylvania Republicrat, who at the time was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, was an assistant counsel for the Warren Commission, charged by President Lyndon Johnson with investigating the crime.

Pat Grant, director of Livermore's Forensic Science Center, and metallurgist Erik Randich say that key evidence such as the crime scene bullet fragments might have been misinterpreted. They contend the so-called chemical fingerprints that supposedly identified which bullets the fragments came from are anything but conclusive. Those "chemical fingerprints" are not the equivalent to the one-of-a-kind human fingerprints; they're more like generic tire tracks.

And because of that, the scientists say there could have been one to five bullets instead of the three supposedly fired by alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Mr. Specter's lone-gunman theory is that much closer to being disproved.

Librarians always should be prepared to move "Passion for Truth," Specter's ironically titled book about finding JFK's single bullet, to where many believe it always should have been:

The fiction section.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburgh...d/s_467580.html

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Rumor has it, Ken Rahn has taken to writing a book. After all, he did decline to defend his NAA theory during Gary Ag's get-to-gether... Damage control by the ton is flooding the 2 USNET, JFK boards. Ken Rahn is quiet as a mouse...

Edited by David G. Healy
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If we get really lucky maybe darlin Arlin will join us here. I missed the conference in Pittsburg in 03 put on by Dr Wecht and son Ben, but I understand Arlin did show up and made a total fool of himself. I think it's the first time he's ever appeared at a conference of LN critics and was in way over his head.

Thanks for this article Doug.

Dawn

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Peter,

One of the more interesting aspects of the recent report by Randich and Grant is the backpeddaling by Warren Commission loyalists about the importance of NAA to loyalists. I've heard of several who are distancing themselves from what was recentlywritten in the scientific literature.

In the Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, atmosphere chemist, Ken Rahn, Ph.D. and an associate, Mr. Larry Sturdivan, wrote that a review of Guinn’s NAA work, as well as NAA studies done before that by the FBI, lead them to conclude that, “The NAA results …were the most important new physical evidence that surfaced as a result of the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation.” The significance, they said, was that, “The NAA proved that none of the fragments were planted, that (Oswald’s) rifle was fired that day (not planted) (sic) … (NAA) supported the single-bullet theory and … it knits together the core physical evidence into an airtight case against Lee Oswald. It is, thus, the key to resolving the major controversies in the JFK assassination and putting the matter to rest.”

Strong stuff, no? And how did they arrive at such a position?

It was NAA’s remarkable capacity to measure the amount of a trace element used to harden lead, antimony (Sb), that gave the technique its power. While NAA also disclosed the amounts of other trace elements, Guinn found that it was the level of antimony that was the key to the Kennedy case. Bits with near-identical Sb quantities were judged to have come from a single bullet; those with different quantities, from different bullets. But as useful as it was here, Guinn reported that the technique does not work with all types of ammunition.

It was a peculiar feature of the lead used in Oswald’s Mannlicher Carcano (MC) shells that made the technique applicable in the Kennedy case. MC bullet lead “was found to differ sharply from typical bullet leads,” Guinn reported. “Although individual (MC) bullets were found to be fairly homogenous in their Sb and Ag (silver) concentrations, they differed greatly from bullet to bullet amongst samples taken from the same box.” “If you take most boxes of ammunition,” Guinn testified, “you can’t tell one from the other. They all look like little carbon copies even to activation analysis … not so with the Mannlicher-Carcano.”

In other words, Guinn’s tests proved that fragments from most bullets can’t be matched using antimony because the levels are so similar among bullets that they all appear to match. But with MC shells, the amount of Sb in samples taken from different parts of one bullet is much the same while samples from different bullets have differing amounts of Sb. It was on that basis that Guinn testified that it was “extremely unlikely or very improbable” that fragments from the Governor’s wrist had come from anywhere but the near-pristine bullet that had been discovered on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

But in the early 1990s, independent analysts began questioning the reliability of the bullet lead analysis used by the FBI in prosecutions. A 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times detailed cases in which murder convictions gained in part by FBI bullet lead evidence were later reversed on appeal. Testifying for the defense in one such case was Erik Randich, Ph.D., a Lawrence Livermore Lab scientist. Randich told the court that the FBI’s claim that the Bureau had matched bullets from the crime scene to the defendant “had no scientific foundation.” Alerted to the fact that a similar analysis using bullet lead had been used in the Kennedy case, Randich and a Lab associate, Pat Grant, began examining the NAA work Guinn had done on the Kennedy case.

Randich and Grant soon realized that it was a fundamental misunderstanding of basic metallurgy – the smelting and manufacturing practices used in the production of standard bullet lead – that underlay the errors made by both the FBI in criminal cases and by Guinn, Rahn and Sturdivan in the Kennedy case.

In addition, Randich and Grant also identified problems in Guinn's statistical analysis, problems that had first been noted by Michael Kurtz in his 1982 book, Crime of the Century,” and again in Skeptic Magazine by Arthur and Margaret Snyder from Stanford Linear Accelerator. Using Guinn's own data, both Kurtz and the Snyders concluded that the levels of antimony in samples within a given bullet varied so much that, as the Snyders put it, "it is impossible to falsify (Guinn's) contention that fragments match." Nevertheless, the Snyders accepted that "Guinn's data are consistent with only (Mannlicher Carcano) ammunition being used.” Surprisingly, according to their article in the July 2006 issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences, Randich and Grant maintain that the relevant metallurgy doesn't even support that key finding.

MC bullets do not differ sharply from typical bullet leads, Randich and Grant reported. The varying amounts of antimony (and copper) that Guinn found in “MC bullets are quite similar to other commercial FMJ rifle ammunition.” MC lead had seemed different to Guinn because he had compared the lead in these jacketed rounds with that found in mostly unjacketed, handgun rounds, in which Sb levels are precisely controlled to maintain a particular degree of hardness in the bullets. But MC rounds, like many types of jacketed ammunition, have varying amounts of Sb because the “hardness” of jacketed rounds is determined not by the amount of antimony used in the lead that fills the jackets, but by the jackets themselves. Thus, Guinn’s conclusion that the fragments were solely from the kind of bullets in Oswald’s rifle no longer tenable. The beauty of Randich and Grant’s proof is in the elegance of their demonstration.

Using images of bullets cut in cross section and chemically etched to highlight grains of antimony, Randich and Grant demonstrated visually why antimony levels from MC lead samples tend to vary so much. The images show “microcrystals” of lead that are surrounded by microscopic clumps of antimony. They explained that as the molten material cools during smelting, the lead, because it is heavier, stays in the center while the lighter Sb “floats” to the edges. At the margins of the “microcrystals,” Sb is in high concentration; in the middle it is low. Thus, depending on the size of the sample taken, and from precisely where in the bullet it comes, varying quantities of Sb may be found in the same bullet just as similar levels of Sb may be found in different bullets. Chance can play a big role.

“We therefore assert,” Randich and Grant concluded, “that from perspectives of standard metallurgical practice and statistical assessment of the fundamental NAA measurements (and despite the opinion of Rahn and Sturdivan that their assessment is definitive and puts the matter to rest) (sic), a conclusion of material evidence for only two bullets in the questioned JFK assassination specimens has no forensic basis.”

To be sure, this new report does not invalidate all of JFK’s bullet evidence. It does not, for example, alter the fact there are markings on the “magic bullet” that show it was fired from Oswald’s rifle. But unfortunately files declassified during the 1990s have put CE 399’s chain of possession under a cloud and so it is not entirely clear that the bullet currently in evidence is really the same bullet that was originally picked up off the stretcher in Dallas where the Governor may or may not have lain.

Thus, far from it being the ‘key to resolving the major controversies in the JFK assassination and putting the matter to rest,’ as per Rahn, NAA now appears unable to even tell us whether the recovered bullet fragments came from a Mannlicher Carcano.

As George Lardner put it in The Washington Post after hearing Randich and Grant present their work in Washington, D.C., “the Livermore scientists said the fragments could have come from one or as many as five bullets and could have been fired by a Remington or some other rifle. The neutron tests, they said, were inconclusive and new technology has shown them to be unreliable.”

Gary

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Ken Rahn is quiet as a mouse...

Rahn's post at Lancer 8/27/06:

Debra,

I'm sorry to tell you that cheering won't make Rahn and Sturdivan go away. If you read the Randich-Grant article carefully, you will find that it is flawed from beginning to end, to the point that it probably should be withdrawn from the journal. Rather than being truly scentific, it represents a leap of faith that among other things ignores bullet data directly contrary to their assertions. I am preparing a full-length rebuttal to it now. I trust that you will keep an open mind when it appears and give it as much play as you have their article.

Best regards, Ken Rahn

Edited by Richard J. Smith
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Ken Rahn is quiet as a mouse...

Rahn's post at Lancer 8/27/06:

Debra,

I'm sorry to tell you that cheering won't make Rahn and Sturdivan go away. If you read the Randich-Grant article carefully, you will find that it is flawed from beginning to end, to the point that it probably should be withdrawn from the journal. Rather than being truly scentific, it represents a leap of faith that among other things ignores bullet data directly contrary to their assertions. I am preparing a full-length rebuttal to it now. I trust that you will keep an open mind when it appears and give it as much play as you have their article.

Best regards, Ken Rahn

Rahn and Sturdivan and other LNers should hope that the article stands. In my presentation, in the Neutron Activation Analysis Analysis slide of the Single Bullet Theory section, I have a common sense argument demonstrating that IF NAA is to be trusted in this case, it SHOWS CE 399 and the wrist fragment to be UNRELATED. There were 8 elements tested. When one overlooks antimony, the wrist fragments had more in common with the brain fragment and limo fragments than with CE 399. The brain fragments and limo fragments, moreover, were far more similar to each other than the wrist frag was to CE 399, even though there were four frags in the first group and only two in the second. Rahn, Sturdivan, and Guinn all fail to account for this. Why should 4 fragments from all over a bullet be a closer match than 2 fragments right next to each other? They shouldn't.

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