Thursday, September 16, 2004

Oliver Hammond and the Case of the AWOL Selectric

I've been holding out on the topic of the recently "discovered" memos regarding GWB's National Guard service, mainly because I'd really like for everyone to stop talking about a war from 35 years ago and start talking about the war we're in today.

However, the typewriter-collecting geek in me couldn't leave it alone. It's exciting when people are suddenly talking about typewriters and document forensics. (Okay, it's exciting to me.) So I located the new memos, as well as samples of documents known to be authentic. (USA Today has made them all available.)

Now, as much as I know about typewriters, most of my knowlege is constrained to pre-WW2 manuals, and I'm really no expert on typefaces. There are plenty of others studying the memos' typeface, so I decided to focus on the less-minute clues to be found in the documents' writing style.

--The first thing I noticed is that the "new" memos have been photocopied repeatedly. These are probably fifth-generation copies. Small distortions, magnified in each successive copy, have made the typeface so fuzzy that IMO we'll probably never be able to accurately identify what model typewriter created it. I believe this to be done on purpose to make positive identification more difficult. Photocopies of papers known to be authentic are much clearer and have obviously been copied fewer times, despite by their nature having been disseminated among far more people. (It's also worth noting that the authentic memos show consistent dark areas in the lefthand margin where they were hole-punched for storage in binders. The new memos have no punch-holes.)

--Authentic memos use abbreviated months and years, with no leading "0" before single digits, ie: "5 Sep 73". This usage is consistent across different types of documents and different authors. The new memos do not abbreviate, ie "01 August 1972". Likewise, titles such as "Lt Col" (authentic) are spelled "Lt. Colonel" (new). (Only on official reviews did Killian spell out the word "colonel"; even then, he omitted the "." follwing "Lt".) The questioned documents abbreviate "Fighter Interceptor Group" as "Ftr Intrcp Gp" (and once as "Grp") whereas Killian and other officers (including Bush) consistently used "Ftr Intcp Gp". Nowhere is "Group" abbreviated "Grp".

--Killian's signature is indented almost to the right-hand margin in the questioned documents. In the authentic documents it is left-justified. Why would he change the layout for these particular memos? Funny, but that layout does match MS Word's "modified block" letter template...

--Although blurred, the typeface of the questioned document dated "18 August 1973" appears to be different than that of an authentic document dated "5 Sep 73". In turn, the "5 Sep 73" typeface matches that of authentic documents dated prior to August, 1973. The typeface across all of the questioned documents appears to conform. Likewise, documents from the offices of Col Killian, Col Bobby Hodges, and Major William Harris use a uniform typeface. In the case of these papers, the copies are clear enough to tell that the documents were typed on different specimens of identical model typewriters, suggesting a basewide standard for typewriters. This casts further suspicion upon the new memos. The typeface in question may be reproducable using a certain typewriter of the era, and the Army may have had that typewriter in use, but whatever it was does not appear to have been in use on that base. (This whole part is a matter of conjecture, as again the quality of the questioned documents is too poor to judge their typeface with certainty.)

All of these clues, combined with what some of the other folks have uncovered, lead me to believe that the newly-discovered memos are fakes--bad fakes. Whoever made them didn't even bother to make sure that they matched publicly-available Killian memos. The news networks seem to have become so dependant upon ratings-grabbing stories that they don't bother to fact-check anymore. This is why I'm getting more and more of my news from the BBC and the Guardian.

Perhaps Don Foster can run the papers through his analyzing engine and submit his opinion for public consumption.

Also of note:
Expert Cited by CBS Says He Can't Authenticate Papers

Typist Says Memos are Accurate but Fake


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