Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On the Balance of Probabilities

I was driving to Pittsburgh one evening last week, listening to NPR as I tooled along the PA Turnpike and then I-79 South from Cranberry.  They had some interview/call-in show with a guy on discussing a 50-year-old unsolved murder. 

The guy was forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, long-time coroner in Allegheny County, PA (which is where Pittsburgh is) and one of the leading lights of the Oswald-couldn't-have-killed-Kennedy-by-himself school of Warren Commission debunkers.  And, of course, we're coming up on the 50th anniversary of the assassination which is naturally all over the media.

As the program was ending, the host/interviewer asked the question that it seems to me always haunts the assassination conspiracy theorists.
How'd all those people keep the secret this long?
I mean, really, is anything really a secret?  Everyone blabs.  And this would be one hell of a tale to tell over a few snorts (or sniffs).

Wecht's answer, for whatever it's worth, was that NSA managed to keep from Obama for five years that they were tapping Angela Merkel's cell phone.  Frankly, that's not much of an answer.  First, it's far from clear that it's true. Second, that's just the NSA not passing on a piece of information for a few years.  Hardly the same thing as a wide-ranging conspiracy involving numerous government agencies and individuals and maybe the mafia or Fidel Castro.  

Frankly, I don't know.  And what's ultimately interesting about it isn't whether there was a cover-up but the fact that so many people continue to think there was.  It's not altogether fanciful to say that the Kennedy assassination begat, albeit after several generations, the Tea Party.  The heritage being in the distrust of government.  They lie.  They all lie.  Especially when they say their telling the truth.
* * * * *

Consider that background for a trip across the Pond to drop in on MI6, the British spy agency, and in particular on the death of Gareth Williams.  (That's him to the right.) From the BBC.
He had been on a secondment with MI6 from his job as a communications officer at the GCHQ "listening post" in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
So Williams was a spy, specifically a code breaker, which by itself mightn't be of much interest and surely wouldn't be to me.  His death, on the other hand. . . . 

They found his body on August 23, 2010 after he'd apparently been missing for a week.  He was in his apartment, naked.  That happens, of course.  Lots of folks sleep in the nude.  Few of them, however, sleep in the nude inside a zipped-up sports bag, padlocked, in the bathtub.

Aha, you say, channeling Sherlock Holmes, 
Foul play.
The game's afoot.
So said the coroner's inquest after two years of studying on it.
During a seven-day inquest in May 2012, the question of whether Mr Williams could have padlocked himself into a bag in a bath was central.

Pathologists said he would have suffocated within three minutes if he had been alive when he got inside it.

None of his DNA was found on the lock attached to the bag and his palm prints were not found on the rim of the bath.

Coroner Fiona Wilcox concluded that "most of the fundamental questions in relation to how Gareth died remain unanswered".

But she said he was, "on the balance of probabilities", unlawfully killed.

Enter the constabulary.  The Metropolitan Police have been working on the case for three years, and their extra year of labor gives them a special insight in concluding . . . (wait for it)
Because, after all, they can't locate a bad guy.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said he was satisfied it was "theoretically possible" Mr Williams could have padlocked the bag from the inside, although "many questions remain unanswered" as to the circumstances of his death.

But he said there was no evidence that the MI6 officer had intended to take his own life or that his death was connected to his work.

And he insisted it was "beyond credibility" that he had been misled.

"I do not believe that I have had the wool pulled over my eyes. I believe that what we are dealing with is a tragic unexplained death," he said.
Because of that "theoretically possible" thing.
Back to Holmes who, in one of the stupider things commonly thought brilliant, said
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true.
Of course there is no elimination of the impossible here.  But if it's hypothetically imagineable that he might have chosen to take a nap, naked, zipped into a sports bag that he also padlocked shut, why then, that's surely more likely than that someone killed him and the killer remains at large.  Killed him, perhaps, because of his work as a spy.

You'll be shocked to know that his family thinks the coroner got it right.  You'll be shocked to know that there's some thought that folks might imagine a cover-up by MI6.  You know, because it's "theoretically possible."  Even if "beyond credibility."
 * * * * *
I was in my high school physics class that day in 1963 when I heard that Kennedy had been shot.  By the time we'd left school a couple of hours later, it was confirmed that he had died.  I don't know whether Oswald acted alone.  I don't know if there was a massive conspiracy.  I don't know if Lyndon Johnson was involved or the CIA or the mafia or Fidel or some random guy on the grassy knoll.  It was an interesting parlor game for a bit, but . . . . Ah, what's the point.

There's an old joke about lawyers:
How do you know when a lawyer is lying?
His lips are moving.
They tell the same joke about politicians.

I don't much trust the government to tell me the truth.  I don't think I really did before Kennedy was killed.  But since then we know they do on a regular basis.  Democrats, Republicans, politicians of all stripes.  Officials of every sort.  And it's not just government.  Pretty much all institutions.  It's what they do.  It's what we expect of them.

The cops do it in their reports.  They do it so often on the witness stand there's even a special term for it, testilying.  (Actually, almost everyone does it on the witness stand, but we save testilying for the police.)  Ken Anderson did it in Texas.  Your local prosecutors do it, too, at least some of the time.

And just in case you were wondering, they do it across the Pond, too.


  1. Tiny point from across the pond, Mr Gamso. It's MI6 not M16 -- or even more correctly the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service). Unless you meant the M16 on purpose (in reference to the rifle) in which case I apologise.

  2. Consistent typo (a function of not proofing these things). Thanks. I'll fix it.

  3. I wasn't sure if you were referring to MI6 (SIS) as M16 (the rifle) ironically; an oblique reference to certain MI6 "wet team" operations, e.g. Group 13 in Northern Ireland. Regardless, an interesting post as ever. You're right about Hamlet, my G-d it's a good play.

  4. My apologies Mr Gamso, you don't mention Hamlet in this post. It was another post in which you quoted the play, I was reading some of your posts from a while ago that were linked to in some of your recent posts.