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15.17 21 Oct 2015


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One of the most enduring conspiracy theories in the assassination of JFK may well, at last, have been finally put to rest, after a photograph of shooter Lee Harvey Oswald holding the type of rifle used to kill the president has been confirmed as authentic.

In the decades since President Kennedy was shot while travelling in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, multiple theories have claimed that the photo was a fake, and was used to draw attention away from the possibility of a second shooter.

Oswald, who was shot dead before he could stand trial, started the conspiracy ball rolling by himself claiming the photo was doctored when shown it by Dallas police officers. Its authenticity was examined by The Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

But now, almost 52 years later, researchers at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire have applied the most cutting-edge digital forensic techniques to the image, in order to create a 3D model of Oswald to address a number of concerns.

“Our detailed analysis of Oswald's pose, the lighting and shadows and the rifle in his hands refutes the argument of photo tampering,” said senior author Hany Farid, a professor of computer science and a pioneering researcher in digital forensics. Farid leads a team that works out mathematical and computational techniques to detect tampering in photos, videos, audio files, and documents.

The original, the 3D model, and the analysis [Dartmouth College/Hany Farid]

The image of Lee Harvey Oswald holding the supposed murder weapon, shot by his wife Marina, was released by Dallas police officials the day after the murder.

Upon being presented with it, Oswald claimed that his face had been pasted on the body of someone else, and that he’d never seen the photo before. It was among a number of images that were never listed on the inventory sheets of Oswald’s possession, and the black shirt and trousers he wears in the image were never found by police investigators, fuelling decades of speculation.

Much of the claims of the photo’s doctoring revolve around the lighting and shadowing, which is said to be inconsistent. Proponents of the conspiracy theory claim the shooter’s facial features look different to other images of  Oswald, and that the size of the rifle is not consistent with the known length of the one used to shoot the President. Others point to Oswald’s pose, saying that he is stood off balance, in a stance that is physically implausible.

Examining the photo in 2009 and 2010, Farid rebuffed the claims concerning the lighting and shadowing, but that did not close the case on Oswald’s so-called implausible stance. But the new study, published in the Journal of Digital Forensics, carries out a detailed 3D stability analysis to answer the questions.

President John F Kennedy and his wife Jackie, moments before Oswald fired at the motorcade [Wiki Commons]

In rendering the 3D model, the researchers added the appropriate mass to each part of Oswald’s stance. Then, using balance analysis, the team concluded that even though Oswald might appear to be standing off-balance, his pose is entirely stable. The team also re-examined the lighting and shadowing, as well as the rifle size, and concluded that these are all consistent with being authentic.

“Our analysis refutes purported evidence of manipulation in the Oswald photo, but more generally we believe that the type of detailed 3D modeling performed here can be a powerful forensic tool in reasoning about the physical plausibility of an image,” Farid said.

“With a simple adjustment to the height and weight, the 3-D human model that we created can be used to forensically analyse the pose, stability and shadows in any image of people.”

Or is that just what they want you to believe?!

For more technology news on Newstalk.com, please click here.


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