September 14, 2004

Did the 147th Air Wing Have the Typewriter?

****My Pet Jawa Exclusive, must credit Rusty Shackleford****

Many apologists for Dan Rather have asserted that the Killian memo *could* have been produced by certain high-end IBM typewriters available in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Possibly. But isn't it empirically verifiable whether or not the Air Force (through which the Air National Guard is funded) bought such typewriters?

I did a search of prime military contracts to see if the US Air Force bought any expensive typewriters in Texas from 1965-1972. The answer? Yes, they did. But the records only show a single procurement from IBM of typewriters during this period. If I am reading the page correctly, the US Air Force did pay IBM between $25-49 thousand for "TYPEWRITERS AND OFFICE TYPE C" in 1966. This is the only large contract between the US Air Force and IBM in Texas for typewriters during a period of time prior to the date of the memo in question.

Unfortunately for Rather apologists, that contract was executed in San Antonio, TX. San Antonio is home to Kelly AFB where the typewriters probably went. Could the typewriters have gone to a Guard unit? Possibly. There is a TANG unit at Kelly, the 149th Fighter Wing. The problem, of course, is that Bush served in the 111th Fighter Wing, located in Houston.

What are the odds:

a) the Air Force bought high-end typewriters from IBM. If you look at what procurement documents are online, they only give a general range for the contract, 25-49k. How expensive were the models in question? Is the IBM Selectric the only model that would produce anything near to this document? How many of these high-end typewriters could be bought with that amount?

b) after procuring the high-end typewriters, they are shipped from San Antonio to Houston. Does anybody out there know the chain of command? Would Killian report to someone in San Antonio? Maybe, but this is a real question that I just don't know.

c) after getting this high-end typewriter, Killian takes the time and effort how to use it. He then begins using it to keep personal notes on. Killians family says he could barely type.

Update: The price for an IBM Selectric Composer was $4,400 in 1966. It was the first year the model was produced. Given that the Air Force spent no more than $49k buying typewriters in Texas from IBM, how many Selectric Composers might have been bought? Eleven. The entire Air Force in Texas could have no more than eleven of these things! To put that into perspective, $4,400 in 1966 was equivalent to $24,535.58 in 2003. So, what are the odds that the Air Force would send a $25k machine to a TANG unit? Especially since there were only (no more than) eleven of them in the state? Sure, we could always come up with a more and more elaborate explanation of how the improbable could have happened--but this is getting ridiculous.

UPDATE II: My bad. IBM did sell the Air Force in Texas "TYPEWRITERS AND OFFICE TYPE Composing Machines" in subsequent years after 1966. None in 1967, but in 1968 they contracted with IBM for between $40 - $120 k for typewriters and other related equipment (presumably dictation machines). In 1968 they spent even more. Again, though, none of this is going to Houston Texas in 1968. A lot of the equipment is for Texarkana (??? no idea what base is even near here), Travis County which is home of the now closed Bergstrom Air Force Base (defunct SAC base), and San Antonio. Similarly, in 1969 several bases bought typewriting equipment, including whatever base is near El Paso--but none near Houston. 1970 produces no results for the Houston area either, but get's specific enough to say the Air Force contracted with IBM to supply typewriters to Borger, TX. You ever hear of 'Borger'? Me either. Fiscal year 1971 (which ends mid 1972) produces no results for Harris County, where Bush's wing was stationed either. So, it is possible that the TANG had a high end IBM Selectric, but still improbable.

So what does the archive search mean?

First, the military keeps pretty detailed records of the equipment they buy. A more thorough search of the archival data reveals that the military keeps records of equipment purchases, even when such purchases are for relatively unimportant Air Force offices (such as the ones in Texarkana or in Borger). There is no record of the Air Force, or any of it's subsidiaries, buying expensive typewriting equipment from IBM for any base near Houston between the years 1965-1972. Is this proof that the Killian documents aren't real? No. This is evidence that simply suggests Killian didn't have the right equipment to superscript th or kernal the lettering.

Second, Ace makes an important observations when speaking of this post:

I don't think his findings are anywhere near conclusive, but if an amateur one-man blogging operation is able to call up and read military procurement contracts, why isn't CBS News able to do so, and thereby actually prove their allegations?

What the hell is going on? Is the legitimate media now claiming for itself a lesser standard of evidence and fact-checking than they demand for one-man amateur internet bloggers?

If that's the case, they might as well come straight out and admit that bloggers are generally more reliable than they are.

I saved the onlined procurement page here for the 1966 fiscal year. The original online procurement acquisition page can be found here. For a description of the database universe, you can download the PDF file here.

Update, again: Allah, the all-knowing, tells me that Killian's secretery had a Selectric, but that she didn't type these memos. So I just wasted the last two hours of my life trying to find out if Killian had a Selectric for nought? I demand those two hours back!! *sigh* I probably would have wasted them anyway.

Another UPDATE, 9/14:Reader MrGrumpyDrawers notes that while Killian's secretary might have had a Selectric " Selectric and a Selectric Composer are (were) two different beasts. The Selectric was a fixed pitch machine - i.e. did not have proportional spacing. The main reason Selectrics were so popular is they did not have a moving carriage that used up a lot of desk space and made a terrible racket at every carriage return. The type ball made them much quieter than a standard typewriter, they were less prone to jam and they made good-looking fixed-pitch documents. The odds that Killian's secretary had access to a high-end Selectric Composer with proportional spacing would have been next to nil." Also, long time blog friend Rum Crook says "I was in the guard after I got out of the regular army, it is beyond credibility to me that they had anything other than a pretty standard ribbon typewriter. hell I left the guard around 92 and they were still using a regular typewriter." So, could Killian's secretary have had a Selectric by 1972? Possibly. The Air Force first started buying them in 1966, so she might have got a hand-me-down by that time. But, did she have the Selectric Composer? Look, if the regular Selectric was priced at near $25k in inflation adjusted dollars then how much did the top of the line model cost? And then what are the odds that in 5 years the Air Force would decide to replace a $25k piece of equipment and then send the 'old junk' down the line to the TANG?

More updates: From a reader Dave:

The TANG should have had a property division which assigned responsibility for all gov’t equipment to an individual, usually an NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge). The Property division should have had a “property book” which was a log of all government equipment. The NCOIC would have a ‘hand receipt’ which would be the list, monetary value, serial number and national stock number of each item the NCOIC was responsible for. There were probably several property books depending on the type of equipment – airplane parts would be accounted for separately from office equipment, I would assume.
Excellent idea. Why doesn't Dan Rather send one of his Columbia educated interns down to check this out? Sorry, my bad. That assumes Rather cared.


The evidence just keeps piling up. Higher. And higher. And even higher. Now were just swimming in it. And it's pretty deep in there.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 02:13 PM | Comments |