So, I was watching Truth, the docudrama about CBS chasing the Bush Air Guard records. I’m not really going to get into the politics of it because I’m sure that we’ll all disagree with one another about that in some way. Instead, I was struck by the investigation into the records and the vetting process, or lack thereof and the story’s similarity to MJ-12.
As most of you know, CBS, on 60 Minutes II, aired a report that President George W. Bush had been given preferential treatment to enter the Air National Guard and had not properly completed his Guard duties once he was clear of the Vietnam War… and I’m sure that many of you know that service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War practically guaranteed a man would not find himself involuntarily in Vietnam so that many of the wealthy and the connected used their influence to ensure their sons would not find themselves on active duty being trained for combat.
According to the story, documents surfaced that suggested that Bush had not properly fulfilled his obligations and that no one had really called him on it. CBS had copies of documents that looked authentic and provided them to a number of questioned document experts who seemed to be divided about their authenticity. CBS talked to the officers whose names surfaced in the documents, or rather some of them, and the talked to others who had some sort of knowledge about them. CBS talked to a general, on the telephone, and read him the documents. His rather lukewarm response was that they sounded right to him.
CBS then went on the air, in a Wednesday 60 Minutes II broadcast, saying they had proof that George Bush had skated out of his military assignment (for those of you without a military background, skated in this context means avoided). Not long after the broadcast it began to look as if the documents might not have been real. Bloggers suggested the fonts were wrong; there was proportional spacing in the documents which wasn’t done on typewriters from the 1970s, and that the superscript in some of the unit names was inaccurate because typewriters couldn’t do that. Enough questions were raised that CBS began to review the whole process that lead to the story.
Here’s where the UFO connection comes in and for those of you who have been following the great MJ-12 debate, you’ll recognize some of this. One of the first things discussed was that they didn’t have the originals. They were dealing with copies so that it was difficult, if not impossible to properly analyze the documents. Questioned documents experts said they needed the originals so that they could analyze the ink and paper and study other aspects for their examination and two of them suggested that CBS contact Peter Tytell, who, as you all might remember, did the original work on MJ-12. The experts couldn’t validate the copies. As I have heard many times in the past, all forgeries have some mechanism to explain why the original is not available. Examination of the original often reveals the fraudulent nature of a document.
CBS went back to the man (Bill Burkett) who had given them the package in the first place, and in a tale that might have been written by Bill Moore, Burkett said that he had received a telephone call about this, telling him to call a hotel between certain hours and ask for a specific room. This apparently set up some sort of clandestine meeting. While in Houston at a livestock auction, Burkett was handed a package by some unidentified, “dark-skinned” person. Instructions in that package said to copy the documents and then burn the originals… to remove the possibility of tracing the leak through DNA. The originals no longer exist and to be fair to CBS, it seems that the person who gave them the documents had lied about how he came into possession of them prior to the broadcast and only told this cockamamie story after it, when questioned again about how he had obtained the documents.
As all this unraveled, CBS began an internal investigation. While it seems that there was nothing nefarious about the investigation prior to the story, some red flags were ignored, and it does seem that there were misunderstandings and leads that weren’t followed… or, to my way of thinking, the documents were taking them to a place they wanted to go so they were less than enthusiastic in following the leads that might go somewhere else. For example, from this docudrama, there was no evidence that they FOIAed any of the records from St. Louis which might have provided them with another source and a much better provenance than they had. Nor did they seem to attempt to get copies of the documents from the Texas Air Guard, but by the time of the CBS investigation, those documents might have been destroyed, lost, or in some other way unavailable. Some of the documents that they had copies of might have been found in Texas Air Guard records which would have been a nice verification from an official organization that the documents were pristine.
At the end of the CBS investigation, Mary Mapes, the producer of the story and apparently the only one fired over it (others, such as Dan Rather, resigned), made a statement to the men investigating the fiasco. In words that seem to mirror some of the arguments about MJ-12, she said that the forger would have had to know the lingo of the time, the jargon used by the Texas Air Guard, the names of the various, and often obscure officers (she didn’t use the term obscure, but I believe that is what was meant), would have to know the format of the letters, memos, reports, and other documents so that they would appear authentic. To her, it was just impossible for the forger to have had the access needed, the time to investigate the history of the Air Guard, to get the relationships between the officers correct, and know many other, subtle details…
And she would have been right if not for something we all have learned from the MJ-12 boondoggle. All the forger actually needed was access to documents, which, given the way these things work, might well have been in the hands of a single, retired officer (in this case a man named Jerry Killian). Once those documents were in hand, it was just a matter of retyping them, inserting a line or two that contained the critical information, and he now had a document that seemed to verify the accusations against Bush that contained the jargon, contained the proper names, and contained the relationships among the various officers and organizations mentioned. The only way to break this would be to locate the originals that might have been stuck in some dusty file somewhere, but that more than likely had been thrown out long ago.
It didn’t seem as if they attempted to find originals… they talked to people who were there at the time, and whose stories seemed to change. The retired general, Robert Hodges, who had been read the documents during a telephone conversation, said after the program aired and he had a chance to actually see them, that the documents were faked. And he had talked to the family of the man (Killian) who had supposedly signed them. The family said they were fakes.
But the real red flag should have been the source that handed the documents to them. They could trace them no farther. He was retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett who claimed the documents had come from Bush’s commanding officer, the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian. That meant that Killian was not available to attest to the validity of the documents, and as mentioned, Barnes admitted to lying to CBS and burning the original documents. Burkett, who seemed to be bitter about his Guard service and treatment in retirement, had also asked to be put in touch with someone in the Kerry presidential campaign, which should have also raised a red flag. Not to mention that Burkett had been shopping around the story about Bush’s failure to meet his obligations since 2000.
And, in a very telling statement in the docudrama, which I don’t know was made by any of those at CBS for real, one of those involved in the research for CBS said that had Mary Mapes’ mother not died in 2000, when she first began to investigate the story, then Gore might have been president… or in other words, CBS News would have influenced the election with a tale that they could not prove was accurate when push came to shove.
As I say, I don’t want to get into the politics of this thing but I find the parallels between the research into MJ-12 and the investigation of these documents to have the same problems. MJ-12 is traceable only to Bill Moore and the Bush documents only to Burkett. Those who could verify them are all conveniently dead and both sets of documents suffer from the same lack of provenance. I would suggest that anyone interested in MJ-12 and how that whole sorry mess has evolved, watch Truth and see the same sorts of errors being made by those who are supposed to be the best at what they do. In both cases, those wanting the documents to be real should have taken a step back and asked some very basic questions. Both are examples of how not to investigate questioned documents.
PS: I haven’t compared this to the Not Roswell Slides, but there certainly is a parallel there as well. For those interested in reading more Burkett and the documents, see: