WASHINGTON – Former President Ford secretly advised the FBI that two of his fellow members on the Warren Commission doubted the FBI's conclusion that John F. Kennedy was shot from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository in Dallas, according to newly released records from Ford's FBI files.
Ford, still a congressman at the time, also told a senior FBI official about internal panel disputes over hiring staff, Chief Justice Earl Warren's timetable for completing the final report on the assassination and what panel members said about the FBI.
In turn, Assistant FBI Director Cartha "Deke" DeLoach confidentially advised Ford of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's position on panel disputes; discussed where leaks were coming from; and, with Hoover's personal approval, loaned him a bureau briefcase with a lock so he could securely take the FBI report on the 1963 assassination with him on a ski trip.
The new details were included in 500 pages of the FBI's large file on Ford, released in part this past week in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act that The Associated Press and others made on the day Ford died in December 2006. The FBI intends to release additional documents about Ford in several batches, all with parts censored for law enforcement and privacy reasons.
That Ford served as the FBI's eyes and ears inside the commission has been known for years. Long ago, the government released a 1963 FBI memo that said Ford, then a Republican congressman from Michigan, had volunteered to keep the FBI informed about the panel's private deliberations, but only if that relationship remained confidential. The bureau agreed.
It was also well-known Ford was an outspoken proponent of the bureau's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy acting alone.
A newly released memorandum provides more details about Ford's role as the FBI's informant. DeLoach wrote on Dec. 17, 1963, to outline what Ford told him in the congressman's office about the commission meeting the day before.
"Two members of the commission brought up the fact that they still were not convinced that the President had been shot from the sixth floor window of the Texas Book Depository," DeLoach wrote. "These members failed to understand the trajectory of the slugs that killed the President. He stated he felt this point would be discussed further but, of course, would represent no problem."
There was no explanation of what Ford meant by "no problem."
Warren Commission records released in 1997 revealed that in the final report Ford changed the staff's original description of one of Kennedy's wounds. Ford said then he only made the description more precise. Skeptics said Ford's wording falsely made the wound seem higher on the body to make the panel's conclusion that one bullet hit both Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally more plausible.
DeLoach also wrote that Ford wanted to take the FBI's confidential assassination report on a ski vacation but had no way to do so "in complete safety." DeLoach recommended lending Ford a bureau briefcase with a lock. The bottom of the memo contains a handwritten "OK" over Hoover's distinctive initial "H," which he regularly used in commenting on memos.
Most of the newly disclosed documents describe the relationship between the FBI under Hoover and influential members of Congress or the judiciary once Hoover was convinced that they were allies.
Hoover rewarded Ford with personal notes that congratulated him on re-election and on awards, thanked Ford for publicly defending the bureau and expressed sympathy over the death of Ford's mother. In turn, Ford responded with private and public praise for Hoover and the FBI.
Like other friendly officials, Ford was granted favors. Some Ford sought: a photo of Hoover, background checks on a maid the Fords wanted to hire and on a man with a Swedish accent seeking public office in Ford's district but who had not answered all his neighbors' questions about his personal background. Others were surprise gifts, such as a signed copy of Hoover's book on communism.
Ford was elected to Congress in 1948. Hoover first congratulated him on his re-election in 1952 and thereafter. An internal FBI memo in 1965 said that, "though we did experience some difficulty with all the members of the Warren Commission, Ford was of considerable help to the Bureau."
Many of the newly released records describe the bureau's controversial surveillance of anti-war and civil rights protesters as the FBI reported on plans for protest demonstrations at Ford's public appearances as a congressman, vice president and president.
Two documents provide a rare glimpse of the depth of security fears during the Cold War:
—A memo from Nov. 9, 1965, said the FBI performed a security check at Ford's request of telephones at his home in Virginia, his line at the phone company's central office and all points between. The FBI found no bugs, but a foreman said installation of new touch-tone dialing equipment in the area may have caused "some inadvertent noise on Mr. Ford's line."
—A memo from Dec. 2, 1959, showed the Navy was considering inviting Ford to a strategy conference at the Naval War College and asked the FBI — fully 11 years after Ford was first elected to Congress — whether Ford had any "subversive nature." The famously tightlipped FBI had amassed a large file on Ford, but replied only that when Ford had applied to work for the FBI in 1942 its background investigation "revealed no pertinent derogatory information."