Thomas Buchanan, Detective
By Leo Sauvage
The New Leader, 28 September 1964, pages 10–15
The assassination of President Kennedy last November 22 in
Dallas was followed by a macabre farce whose bewildering and revolting episodes
hardly need to be retold. But no theory is valid if it does not take apart and
analyze minutely the various elements of these episodes as they have been
related, imagined, evaded, deformed or plainly falsified by the investigators.
This is certainly not what Thomas Buchanan has done in his widely publicized L’Express
articles, which subsequently were published in expanded form by Editions
Julliard as Les Assassins de Kennedy (and will be brought out by
Putnam’s in January, under the title, Who Killed Kennedy?). On the
contrary, in relating, imagining, evading, deforming or openly falsifying the
facts of the case, Buchanan has accomplished the remarkable feat of constructing
an even more incredible farce than the one performed in Dallas. Indeed, what L’Express
pompously called Le Rapport Buchanan constitutes, in my opinion, exactly
the kind of “document” Dallas needs to prove the lack of seriousness of
those who attack its Police Department and District Attorney.
In presenting “The True Report on the Assassination” Mme. Françoise Giroud, co-editor of the French weekly, tells us that Buchanan is “a very quiet American, 44 years old, a sensitive novelist but also an artillery captain during the War, and a mathematician, now directing in Paris the programming of electronic computers in a large establishment.” Then, before quoting an anonymous American publisher who supposedly told Buchanan nobody could possibly contradict his “brilliant demonstration,” Mme. Giroud goes on to declare: “Thomas Buchanan, scientific by training and by inclination, has gathered the facts, and it is strictly from the facts that he has undertaken a concise presentation whose logical development is impressive.”
The impressive logical development which the mathematician of L’Express applies to the assassination of John F. Kennedy starts with a first gunman called “Assassin Number 2,” located on the railroad overpass ahead of the Presidential car. This “assassin” could have been Jack Ruby (a theory borrowed from the American journalist Richard Dudman without crediting the source), or someone Ruby could see from the windows of the Dallas Morning News (Buchanan’s own contribution, since journalists who commented on the view from the windows had seen only the Texas School Book Depository).
Buchanan states next that a second gunman, called “Assassin Number 1,” was on the sixth floor of the Depository, but he was not Lee Harvey Oswald. In fact, Oswald is only “Accomplice Number 1.” His role? According to Buchanan, who under the circumstances does not hesitate to replace his electronic brain with a crystal ball, “Oswald had let Assassin Number 1 into the Depository the night before the murder; he had led him to the room on the sixth floor, brought him the rifle, provided him with food and stood guard to make sure no one else came into the room.”
There follows a list of other accomplices, all members of the Dallas Police Department. “If we call Oswald Accomplice Number 1,” Buchanan observes knowingly, “we have no trouble finding Accomplice Number 2; he is the policeman who gave the order to let Oswald leave the building.” ‘Number 3” is “the policeman who issued the order to pick up Oswald before his 90 co-workers had been assembled and counted.” Buchanan, deducing that “this officer already knew Oswald’s role in the conspiracy,” emphasizes that the officer’s “role was more important than that of the other accomplices.” “Number 4” is a plain-clothes officer in an automobile, whose mission was to “follow Oswald to arrest him at the proper moment.” “Accomplice Number 5” is the famous J. D. Tippit, whose murder was attributed by the authorities to Oswald. At the “agreed signal” (with Accomplice Number 4), Tippit was supposed to arrest Oswald, induce him to pull out his pistol (the police, Buchanan reveals to us at this point, let Oswald go to his room first only to give him the chance to get his pistol), then kill him in “self-defense.” Instead, Tippit, an “inveterate bungler,” allowed himself to be outmaneuvered and slain by Oswald.
What was Assassin Number 1 (that is, Killer Number 2, the
man on the sixth floor) doing in the meantime, and who was he? The mathematician
truly proves here what an American artillery captain can do when a Parisian
weekly gives him the chance to deploy his gifts as a sensitive novelist. “On
November 22, 1963, Assassin Number 1 wore a police uniform,” he declares
dramatically. Then he continues with enormous subtlety: “Unless he has been
killed since, I believe he still wears it.” At first glance, this signifies
the chances are 50-50 the man was Tippit. But the chances mount close to 100 per
cent when Buchanan affirms next that Assassin Number 1 left the area of the
crime “in a patrol car, without doubt,” and adds “we will speak again of a
police car occupied by one man, contrary to the rules” (the case of Tippit).
Buchanan is anxious to maintain a little suspense here, and it certainly remains
possible that Tippit had been ordered only to pick up Assassin Number 1 at Elm
Street and take him elsewhere. But the reader, if he is sufficiently dazzled by
Thomas Buchanan’s logic, will reason that Assassin Number 1 and Accomplice
Number 5 were one and the same.
All this, one sees, is quite clear. Except, obviously, the reasons for which the author speaks so unjustly of officer Tippit as an “inveterate bungler.” For either Assassin Number 1 or as the unnumbered accomplice (and future Accomplice Number 5) in charge of helping Assassin Number 1 get away from the assassination scene, he had acquitted himself impeccably. Except also that one does not see at all how and why in the first instance Tippit needed Oswald to get into the Depository the night before, and why and how, in the second instance, the assassin needed Tippit to get out of the Depository. Why should Accomplice Number 2—who, one perhaps recalls, “gave the order to let Oswald leave”—have been unable to do the same for Assassin Number 1, who even “wore a police uniform?”
Let us return now to the thread of deductions which led this astonishing mathematician (he demonstrates all, said L’Express, “from the facts—and only the facts—with an extremely rigorous mind”) to accomplices 2, 3, 4 and their specific tasks.
At the start, there was one actual fact: Oswald was able to leave the Depository without being stopped, even though Police Chief Jesse Curry said he “immediately” gave the order to surround the building. But Buchanan’s peculiarly rigorous mind (which does not keep him from borrowing at will from these same Dallas police for all the roles he needs in his scenario) leads him to avoid, apparently as not scientific, any thought that Jesse Curry’s men—and Jesse Curry himself—could have done a bad job on Elm Street. Thus the actual fact turns, in Buchanan’s mathematics, into a series of postulates such as these: “Almost immediately after the last shot, the police blocked all the exists of the building…There was no panic among the police…They were immediately directed to the Depository”
I have not found anywhere in the writings of Buchanan—who, at the time he made these categorical statements, had not yet even set foot in Dallas—the least hint as to the unpublished information on which he bases his remarks. But once it is admitted that these statements must be recognized and respected, like incontrovertible postulates, on the faith of Thomas Buchanan’s word, there is obviously no difficulty in drawing from them theorems such as the one defining Accomplice Number 2 as “the policeman who gave the order to let Oswald leave the building.” We even have the converse, showing the geometric character of the reasoning: “This order did not only constitute a flagrant violation of the instructions which the police were supposed to observe in such circumstances; it also constituted an act of disobedience to the personal order of the Chief of Police.”
Here occurs a rather picturesque interlude in which the mathematician’s “rigorous mind,” advancing into unexplored regions of scientific suspicion, loses some of the ribbons from its Euclidean wrapping. Why, Buchanan asks himself imprudently, did Jesse Curry not “identify, arrest and prosecute the guilty officer?” Now although he asks the question, he does not answer it—which instantly places Jesse Curry in the realm of suspicion. But from the moment the slightest suspicion exists about Jesse Curry, his word—even when guaranteed by Thomas Buchanan—cannot easily continue to serve as a postulate. One can no longer state, with the same certainty involved in discussing the equality of triangles, that “immediately after the last shot, the police blocked all the exits of the building.” In brief, the captain of the Detective Artillery has so well ordered his fire that his readers see the most carefully reasoned logical hole of all opening at their feet: Athenians are all liars, says an Athenian…
As we know, Buchanan nevertheless had “no trouble in
finding Accomplice Number 2,” which permits us in measuring the force of his
logic to verify at the same time the nature of his documentation. Leaning,
despite his own evidence, on the postulate according to which Oswald could not
have left the Depository unless somebody gave the order to let him leave, he
begins by quoting for support a story which appeared in “all papers” saying
that Oswald had been stopped by the police at the moment he was leaving the
building. It is difficult to believe, but Buchanan was clearly unaware at the
time he wrote (March 5, 1964) that this “information,” issued November 22 by
the chief of the Dallas homicide bureau, Captain Will Fritz, was long since
recognized as part of the abundant harvest of false reports produced by the
Now we see in the same issue, on the same page, in the same column of L’Express in which he has just announced the definition of Accomplice Number 2, that Buchanan describes the act of this accomplice as “a mistake which is not only a very serious error of judgment, but an act of insubordination making its author suspect of complicity in the crime.” But if Accomplice Number 2 committed an error of judgment, even a very serious one, he did not commit an act of voluntary insubordination and he therefore cannot be described as an accomplice. And how can Buchanan announce that he has “found” this accomplice when he writes 16 lines below that the error-insubordination mentioned earlier makes its author only “suspect of complicity”?
For Accomplice Number 3, L’Express offers us two columns of “concise reasoning” concerning the fact that the police had not had time to call in the 91 employes in the building on Elm Street at the moment they started the search for Oswald. “One thing is thus certain,” Buchanan concludes. “The policeman who issued the order to bring in Oswald, before his 90 colleagues had been assembled and counted, already knew the role of Oswald in the conspiracy, and he could only know if he himself was implicated in the plot.”
Between the actual fact and this conclusion, the distance is covered by an exhibition of Buchananian logic so impressive that I feel compelled to quote it as it appears:
“We are asked to believe that these 90 persons could have assembled in one minute; that their boss, who was on the sixth floor of the building, could have been called down to have them pass in review; that he called the role of these 90 people (undoubtedly from memory?) whose names he did not always know, that none of them had made use of the lunch hour to take care of personal affairs; that none had gone to telephone friends about the assassination; that none had gone to a place where they could listen to the radio; that none had gone down to the street to see if there were any wounded. No, all 90 employes were there except Oswald; and they were brought together in one minute! Such is the official version. If the reader believes this will not stand up the conclusion is evident: Someone gave the order to arrest Oswald when there was nothing as yet to implicate him in the attack…”
I would appreciate the eloquence (true, somewhat feverish)
of this diatribe if the author were intending simply to treat ironically the
incoherent sputtering of the Dallas authorities. The shocking thing is that
Buchanan is not attempting irony but building a theory.
In Dallas we were indeed asked to believe many things, and not only this story of the “roll call.” But after all, we did not believe them, and some of us said so well before Mme. Françoise Giroud discovered Thomas Buchanan. In addition, it turns out that contrary to his explicit statement, this tirade absolutely does not reflect the “official version.” Even less persistent than the false report according to which Oswald had been stopped by the police when leaving the Depository, this one attributing the discovery of Oswald’s absence to a rapid review of all the personnel had been abandoned the day after the crime—in other words, three-and-one-half months before Buchanan’s reconstruction. The only version that can be considered official since November 23 states that the description of Oswald was transmitted to police cars after Roy Truly, head of the Depository, had noticed—and had informed one of the detectives—that the employe seen in the second-floor lunchroom a few moments after the attack had disappeared. Buchanan mentions this version elsewhere in charging against his windmill, but without stopping and without telling us why he does not pause there. To me, the Truly explanation appears completely plausible, and I thus have no need of Buchanan’s accomplice Number 3.
Only a person completely ignorant of all that happened in Dallas could have need of Accomplice Number 4. He was, according to Buchanan, a plainclothes officer under orders to “shadow” Oswald; and his existence, says our mathematician, “is indicated by the speed with which the police were informed of the itinerary followed by Oswald.” As the whole world—except Buchanan—knows today, Oswald’s route was reconstructed with the help of the transfer ticket he had in his pocket which carried the distinctive punch mark of a particular bus driver. This was one instance, furthermore, where reporters were able to question the main witnesses (the bus driver McWatters, notably, and the taxi driver Bill Whaley) and publicly correct the errors and inventions of District Attorney Wade at his press conference on Sunday night, November 24. But it does not prevent Buchanan from coolly stating that “the witnesses vanished mysteriously when the journalists tried to question them.”
There is too little space to take up one by one the pearls
that decorate the improbable jumble accumulated by Buchanan, but it is necessary
to consider one argument which is his true crowning touch. The argument
undertakes to prove—still “strictly from the facts”—that Lee Oswald
acted under the protection or for the benefit of the fbi.
The “facts” that Buchanan offers here are summed up by this sentence: “From a building belonging to the city government and administered by it, a municipal employe shoots at the President of the United States…” In order that no one shall miss the importance of what he is holding up on the needle, he comes back to it seven, eight times in the same article: “municipal employe…municipal book depository…municipal administration…functionary of the Dallas city government…” In short, Oswald, known for his subversive opinions, obtained a city job in Dallas, “a clue that would not strike a European, but that every American citizen must register with amazement, since this is an impossible thing in the United States.” (The italics are Buchanan’s.)
Unfortunately for the rigorous mind of this mathematician, it happens that his entire beautiful construction rests on a presumption totally opposed to the truth: Despite its name, which could trick a Frenchman but would not so easily mislead an American (who knows the place that private enterprise occupies in his country), the “Depot de livres scolaires du Texas” is a strictly private commercial affair, not connected in any way with the city or state government.
Thus, when Buchanan writes that Lee Oswald was hired by the “municipal administration” October 15, 1963, he is saying something absolutely false. When he insists that “as soon as he was hired, Oswald fell under the jurisdiction of the government of Dallas,” the mistake becomes so plain that one begins to wonder about its purpose. The purpose appears on the next page. It is to make possible, after having piled one untruth upon another, the contention that Lee Oswald could not have obtained “a job as a civil servant in the municipality of Dallas” without the “intervention of a governmental organism which had taken him under its protection.” For those who may not yet have understood, the mathematician of L’Express goes on to draw the picture: “From all evidence, a man as conspicuous as Oswald could not have worked a month for the city unless a fairly high-placed authority came to the employer, showed his badge and official identification, and said to him: ‘This Oswald you have hired is all right. Don’t believe the stories they tell about him. We cannot give you any explanation, but we would like him to work here…’” (This time the italics are mine.)
It seems like a dream, and there is little place in this dream for the good faith of Thomas Buchanan. He recognizes, indeed, that it was “the easiest thing in the world” for Oswald to get his job. In view of the “temporary and subordinate” nature of this work, he condescends even to admit that at the time of his employment “an intensive investigation could have seemed unnecessary.” But he nevertheless proclaims that Oswald “obtained a job as a civil servant of the municipality of Dallas” without having undergone the “investigation required by Texas law for the control of subversion.” Roy Truly, who is co-owner with his wife and Jack Cason of the Texas School Book Depository (three-fourths of which, by the way, is composed of local offices of various publishing houses, all of them equally private), will be surprised to learn that this “order filler” hired at $50 a week to haul books until the Christmas holidays was a civil servant whose employment broke the laws of Texas!
When at last we discover that Buchanan, after his fourth installment on Dallas, decided it might be useful to go to the scene—but did not find it necessary to verify the basis of his most sensational conclusion—the margin we can allow for his good faith approaches zero. It would have taken him two minutes to learn that the Texas School Book Depository is a private establishment and that no one, in the municipality or elsewhere, has the slightest desire to ask Truly the names of his warehouse workers. Yet on March 26, on his return from Dallas (and from Washington, where, he brags, the Department of Justice and the Warren Commission received him with the greatest respect), he proclaims once more, with an unexplained variation definitely eliminating any possibility of good faith: “No one would have been able to obtain a municipal job for Oswald and keep him there without the approval of the city government or, moreover, without the desire of the Dallas officials to make use of Oswald later on.”
I have read nothing since then from the pen of Mme. Françoise Giroud indicating that she asked her mathematician why, on March 26, it is the “Dallas officials” who wished to “make use of Oswald.” On March 12, these same officials had kept Oswald in his job only because a “high-placed authority” armed with a badge and official identification (read fbi) expressed this wish. True, the mathematician of L’Express had not explained either how the proud Texans, jealous of their rights, were able to agree to violate their own laws to please a Federal agent; nor why, having done so, they said nothing—and thereby offered themselves as scapegoats for the Washington plotters—when they discovered at the moment of the assassination the reason the “high-placed authority” wished so much to have Oswald keep his job at the Depository.
In a way, the lucubrations of
Thomas Buchanan are so shameless they have a sort of surrealist fascination. I
know of nothing comparable, even in the abundant anthology of District Attorney
Wade’s statements, to the passage in L’Express in which Buchanan,
discussing the “mission” of officer Tippit, writes in the matter-of-fact
tone suited to a mathematician of rigorous mind: “The neighborhood had been
emptied of police in order that Accomplice Number 5 could operate in peace.”
For an instant, while reading this sentence, I wondered if the “Buchanan
Report,” in the final analysis, amounted to one of those gigantic hoaxes by
which even serious journals sometimes allow themselves to be taken in. I
rejected this idea after reading four times on the same page of L’Express
that someone came from “chez Irving” or went to “chez
Irving” or returned to “chez Irving.”
Irving, about 10 miles from Dallas, had 45,985 residents according to the 1960 census, that is to say well before Marina Oswald went to live there—and Lee Oswald went to pass his weekends—in the house of Ruth Paine. La Fontaine’s monkey thought Piraeus was a man. Thomas Buchanan takes Irving for a given name, and this is not the kind of thing one does on purpose.
Finally, who are the assassins of Kennedy, according to Buchanan? L’Express initially offered its readers the choice between two versions: the one of March 12 implicating the fbi and that of March 26 aimed at the “Dallas officials.” To judge from the conclusion published in the issue of April 9, modestly titled “J’accuse,” Buchanan ultimately opted for the second theory. In the interim our mathematician had read an article in U.S. News and World Report, as well as a book by a local sociologist named Carol Estes Thometz concerning the “structure of power in Dallas.” Thinking he discovered, between the lines, that which was neither in the book nor in the article, Buchanan obtained the revelation of the existence in Dallas of a “council of citizens” which holds the true levers of municipal power, but which in addition he imagines to be secret, mysterious, spiderlike, expansionist and imperialist, dedicated to the ultra-reactionary principles of the celebrated H. L. Hunt and subservient to the worldwide interests of Texas oil magnates.
Amid Buchanan’s ramblings it is difficult to grasp the guiding principle of his theory. But once again, nothing is easier than to show the inanity of his point of departure.
The Dallas Citizens’ Council is dominated principally by the local aristocracy of the banks and insurance companies (the city prides itself on having 22 large banks with total capital of $2.5 billion, and it serves as headquarters of more insurance companies than any other city in the world, including London, according to its publicity agents). H. L. Hunt, the multi-millionaire oilman, does not belong to the Council, whose directors are discreet but in no way anonymous as Buchanan claims. The situation became even more clear recently when the president of the Citizens’ Council, J. Erik Jonsson, immensely rich head of a precision instrument firm, succeeded Earle Cabell as Mayor of the city.
Several of us French journalists were able to determine personally, at a charming Thanksgiving Dinner in an elegant home in University Park, to what point the local high society is anxious to prevent the world from accepting the idea that Dallas is the capital of the “lunatic fringe” of the extreme Right, and to develop on the contrary the image of a great modern metropolis, a center of business and culture. The most influential man in Dallas for a long time was a banker named Robert L. Thornton, whose death in February at the age of 83 brought the postponement of the first session of Ruby’s trial as a mark of mourning. Founder of the Citizens’ Council, Thornton even succeeded in getting some desegregation measures passed in Dallas without major incident, simply because racial conflicts harm business. Let us note further that among the active members of this group that Buchanan practically accuses of having organized the assassination of John F. Kennedy for the benefit of H. L. Hunt, there is also the liberal Stanley Marcus, president of the famous department store, Neiman-Marcus.
Although the late Senator Joseph McCarthy is generally considered to have been a demagogue rather than a model for mathematicians, Buchanan never hesitates to borrow the method of suggesting a cause-effect relationship between completely disconnected issues by dramatic juxtaposition of circumstances. He expounds at length, for example, on the fantastic reactionary idea developed by H. L. Hunt in 1960, in a novel entitled Alpaca. Except for the fact that Hunt lives in Dallas, one would look in vain in Buchanan’s writings for the slightest indication of how the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 was connected to the publication of Alpaca in 1960. But if the reader of Thomas Buchanan is sufficiently McCarthyized, he will have had in one flash two intuitions and three associations of ideas, the complete revelation of the ideological bases of the plot.
The insistence placed by the artilleryman-mathematician-novelist on evoking the death of Italian industrialist Enrico Mattei in connection with the Dallas crime, and again—let us not forget—under the title “J’accuse,” seems to indicate at last that the guiding principle is here. Enrico Mattei, he notes at the start, died in Italy in a plane accident whose “cause has never been determined.” Now Enrico Mattei “would without a doubt have been lynched if he had set foot in Texas.” Is this to say that the two crimes are connected? Of course, replies Buchanan with all the eloquence of Joseph McCarthy: “Before Kennedy, there had been Enrico Mattei.” Let us be specific: “There is some reason to believe, in fact, that they [the assassins of Kennedy] are not at their first crime.” There is no need, apparently, to tell us what the “some reason” consists of. It is easier to continue and state: “I believe that l’homme H who prepared the crime against Kennedy could provide some clarification of the causes of this mysterious explosion” (the Mattei plane accident). What is jarring amid so much clarity is that the first paragraph of the article, “J’accuse,” starts in these words: “Shortly before his assassination, President Kennedy and Khrushchev had signed a treaty putting an end to nuclear tests.” Must the search for the “instigators of the assassination” nevertheless be limited only to the “Texas oil circles”? Apparently yes, since the sixth article in L’Express was titled “Battle to the Death Between Wall Street and Texas,” which suggests that the “kings of finance” (apparently “thirsty for peace”) were against sabotaging the détente by having John F. Kennedy assassinated.
Buchanan’s book, which
follows almost the same geometrical progression as the articles in L’Express,
at first seems to conclude in a more general sense: “I believe the
assassination of the President was essentially provoked by the fear of the
internal and international consequences which the Moscow treaty might touch off;
disarmament which would dismember the industries on which the conspirators
depend; an international détente which, according to them, would threaten
nationalization of their oil investments abroad.” No, the sentence was not
more general after all; we come back to H. L. Hunt. What I fail to understand,
in any case, is why the dangers of the “détente”—which brings the risk,
Buchanan tells us again, of causing a reduction of $50 billion in the national
defense budget of the United States—should have set off the homicidal reaction
of H. L. Hunt and his oil colleagues in Texas, while they apparently did not
trouble the huge aeronautical firms of California, the missile makers and other
Nothing obliges me, happily, to find any significance whatever in Buchanan’s theory. He himself summed up as follows the objectives of l’homme H, chief of the plot: “Of the three principal enemies of l’homme H: Mattei, Kennedy and Khrushchev, the first was already eliminated. L’homme H undoubtedly thought he could get rid of the other two at the same time: The assassination of Kennedy by the ‘Communist’ Oswald would be a double blow; it would discredit Khrushchev and reduce to nothing his efforts toward obtaining a détente.”
I am sorry that Buchanan decided this was a good place to stop. He was so prettily demonstrating collusion between l’homme H and l’homme M, between H. L. Hunt and Mao Tse-tung…
In reviewing the mathematical deductions of Thomas Buchanan, I have kept mainly to the articles in L’Express, whose sensational presentation—or straight-faced joking—passed off the delirious lucubrations of this sensitive artilleryman as the product of a scientific brain. The best-seller that Editions Julliard has had the shrewdness to compile from these articles under the title Les Assassins de Kennedy tones down some of the most grotesque aspects—and Thomas Buchanan, interestingly, no longer takes Irving to be a man. But the whole remains faithful to his grand mystification and the principal change involves the number of accomplices. Accomplice Number 5, officer Tippit, has become Accomplice Number 7, all having been downgraded two notches, including Lee Oswald, who drops from Accomplice Number 1 to Accomplice Number 3. But this is only a matter of interior reorganization; instead of having two different rankings, one for assassins and the other for accomplices, Buchanan has unified the system by reclassifying assassins number 1 and 2 and accomplices 1 and 2.
For the short history of the French edition, it can be noted that the Julliard firm was not afraid of shaking up the certainties of the “unchallengable analysis” of Thomas Buchanan by bringing out almost simultaneously, under the title Les Roses rouges de Dallas, a frankly fictionalized story by Nerin E. Gun. If Gun, who has no less imagination than Buchanan, presents us with such “discoveries” as a secret trip of Oswald to Havana, he allows a certain number of facts and truths to remain (along with an avalanche of material errors). We thus have Thomas Buchanan continuing to affirm (Les Assassins de Kennedy, page 126) that “it is undeniable that the police succeeded in blocking all the exits of the building”; and Nerin E. Gun writing (Les Roses rouges de Dallas, page 152) that “The police never thought of surrounding the building…”
All this would be quite funny if one could forget that the starting point of it all is the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
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