The FBI and the House Select Committee on Assassinations are embroiled in a dispute over the custody of bullets used in ballistics test on Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle.
The confrontation began two weeks ago, when the FBI first asked for the bullets from the National Archives and Records Service, which has possession of all documents and evidence used by the Warren Commission in investigating the assissination of John F. Kennedy.
The purpose of the FBI request, an FBI spokesman said yesterday, was to compare the bullets test-fired from Oswald's rifle with a bullet found by a citizen in the vicinity of the assassination in Dallas. The spokesman said the FBI wants to determine if the mangled bullet, allegedly found two years ago and turned over to the FBI last month, was fired from Oswald's weapon.
James E. O'Neill, acting chief archivist, said yesterday that the FBI's request - made by Director Clarence M. Kelley after O'Neill asked for it in writing - will be rejected.
He said he informed the House committee of the request, and the committee asked the archives to retain custody of the bullets, which may be viewed by the public thourgh a hard plastic case.
"We have not turned them over to the FBI," O'Neill said. "We'll delay it until any dispute between the committee and the FBI is resolved."
Richard A. Sprague, chief counsel and staff director of the House committee, said the archives has assured the committee that no material will be turned over.
"It is kind of surprising, in view of the fact that there is this congresional investigation, which will in part go into the FBI's own conduct and throughness, the FBI would not have taken it up with us and done it jointly," Sprague said.
Sprague said the committee has investigate jurisdiction and subpoena power in the area of the Keneddy assassination. "It is important that no evidence be taken out of the possession of the people who have proper custody," he said. He said this does not mean he is suggesting the FBI would tamper with the evidence.
Asked waht steps the FBI will take in light of the Archives' refusal to turn over the bullets, the FBI spokesman said, "We're going to pursue it because we'd like to make a comparison," Such a comparison, the said, is the only way to derermine if the bullet found by the citizens was connected with the Kennedy assassination.
The spokesman said it was too early to say whether the FBI would attempt to have the Justice Department sunpoena the bullets. "We're all working, I hope, for the same ends - to gather as much information as possible on the assassination of John F. Kennedy," he said.
Asked to comment on Spargue's charge that the FBI had infringed on an area where the House committee has jurisdiction, the spokesman said, We are part of the executive branch, and we do have certain obligations under certain statues, and we are exercising them." He added, "If we compare it, and no way is it comparable, then it's of no significance."
The Dallas Times Herald reported last month that the bullet allegedly found near the assassination scene had been given to the FBI by a man who said he had been searching the area with a metal detector in an effort to find a missing a bullet. The man was not named in the article.
Marion M. Johnson, the archivist in charge of the Warren Commission materal, said yesterday the FBI told him the bullet allegedly had been found on the railroad tracks, near the Texas School Book Depository.
Johnson said the FBI's request was the first time the bureau had asked for the bullets - which originally were test-fired by the FBI - since they were given to the archives in 1966.
By comparing minute scratches imparted to the surface of a bullet when it is forced under pressure through the barrel of a gun, ballistics experts can determine if a particular gun, providing the bullet is intact. This is possible, the experts say, because no two guns impart the same pattern of scratches called striations.
The FBI had nothing to say about what significance the.
The FBI had nothing to say about what significance thebullet might have to Kennedy assassination.