After 15 years, my day in court with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the CIA

Barrett Prettyman Courthouse

Home of Morley v. CIA.

When I sued the CIA for certain JFK assassination files in December 2003, I knew any litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was sure to take a long time.

It sure has.

When I walked into courtroom 31 in the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington DC on the Monday morning March 19, 2018, Morley v. CIA was well into its fifteenth year.

It was humbling and amazing to sit in that cavernous room, with an oil painting of Ruth Bader Ginsburg beaming down on me. The odds were against me, I knew that. Against a half dozen government lawyers, all of them making six-figure salaries, I had a pro bono attorney, Jim Lesar. A specialist in FOIA law, Lesar had merely bested these natty barristers three straight times in the D.C. Court of Appeals. That’s why the case was in its fifteen year–because we just keep winning in the second highest court in the land.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Simmie Knox (DC Court of Appeals)

I was buoyed by the thought that three judges would be listening to what I had to say about JFK’s assassination. That was the amazing part. I was on equal footing with the CIA, if only for an hour.

I had little doubt my case was strong. Morley v. CIA has yielded findings of interest to editorially diverse publications including the New York Times, Fox News, Boston Globe, Politico, Daily Mail, and the Associated Press.  Several online news sites had published photographs that the CIA had only coughed up as a result of Morley v. CIA. 

Yet the government–my government!–was there to denounce, dismiss, and denigrate me. These words are not too strong. In the Justice Department’s briefs, attorney Benton Peterson had argued that there was literally no “public benefit” to what my lawsuit had revealed. District Court Judge Richard Leon was only slightly less parsimonious. He allowed the benefit of the lawsuit’s disclosures was “small.”

If some of the government’s finest legal minds were right, I had been wasting the court’s time–and the public’s money–for a decade with a frivolous lawsuit. When I saw  the passel of Justice Department and CIA types gathered in the waiting room, I realized dismally that my tax dollars had helped pay them to gather for the purposes of impugning my professional reputation.

George Joannides,

George Joannides, CIA officer

My only consolation was the facts, the truth forged in fifteen years of adversarial litigation. The briefs, motions, affidavits and exhibits had led to a series of court decisions which forced the CIA to release records it wanted to keep secret.

The lawsuit exposed the existence of a small body of previously unknown  U.S. government files related to the assassination of JFK. These records are found in the files of a deceased CIA psychological warfare officer named George Joannides.

In the course of the litigation, I had learned how desperately the U.S. government wants to keep these records secret–from me and you and Donald Trump and everybody else whom the CIA derides (in this 1967 memo) as “conspiracy theorists.”

My hope was my trust in the three judges hearing the case—also paid by me. They were there to listen to Lesar’s argument that we had found something of enduring public interest, even importance. The CIA had been trying to get rid of us for a decade, and they still hadn’t succeeded. The odds were against me, but I liked my chances.

The clerk called “Oye oye.” The courtroom rose. The judges entered. The hearing began.

In the days to come, I will write and post about what transpired in Courtroom 31. Stay tuned.

 

10 comments

  1. ed connor says:

    Don’t want to be nitpicky, Jeff, but the court hearing your case is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
    The “D.C. Court of Appeals” is the appellate court for local cases tried in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. They are both federal courts, owing to D.C.’s status as a federal enclave, but have different jurisdiction.
    I also am surprised that Judge Leon ruled so poorly. I spoke with a colleague last weekend, and we both commented that Leon is normally a very straight shooter, in our experience.
    Never trust a judge.

  2. PBR says:

    Best of luck Jeff!

  3. Kennedy63 says:

    If religion is “the refuge of scoundrels” where is the refuge for complicit government agencies? Jeff (and Jim), I applaud your persistence as absolutely necessary in a post-Constitutional Republic. “We the people” had this Trojan Horse (CIA) foisted upon us by the elitist Georgetown Set nearly 60 years ago. America remains tethered to their Orwellian Nightmare, propagated by Wisner, Dulles, Helms, Cabell, Harvey, and Angleton, to name a few protagonist. The first completed Orwellian task, by the Warren Commissioners, was to conduct the investigation/hearings in secrecy. The second Orwellian task was to seal the records of the Warren Commission. The third Orwellian task was to suppress evidence of a conspiracy to murder JFK. Now, the Orwellian task at hand is to silence, through endless bureaucratic caveats, those who unfalteringly seek the truth behind JFK’s assassination. “Now the trumpet summons us again–not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need–not as a call to battle, though embattled we are– but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out…” -JFK (Jan. 20, 1960, Wash.D.C).

  4. Ronnie Wayne says:

    Jeff, may thanks to you and Mr. Lesar for fighting the good fight for all of us. Ron

  5. Richard Turnbull, J.D. says:

    Yes, I can’t imagine what a “psychological warfare” CIA officer who had anything to do with the likes of Lee Harvey Oswald could possibly have been involved in doing vis-a-vis the assassination of President Kennedy that would be of historical importance. Oswald, as we all know, led a very placid existence and was never connected to any dubious characters or strange trips, no pun intended. Without even checking it out before typing this, I would bet “George Joannides and MKULTRA” or “George Joannides and LSD mind control experiments” turns up all kinds of interesting results. The fact is it’s laughable for the current official position to insist that, at least for purposes of this litigation, there are no profoundly troubling aspects to the role of the CIA in the JFK assassination and no important public interest served by this FOIA action in particular.

  6. Mark Valenti says:

    Was reading about a terrible thing Joannides did to a former CIA employee in the 70’s. Young William Kampiles, 23, got himself caught up in a blunder – interacting with the Soviets, being paid for information and then later attempting to spin his actions as that of a “double agent”. He went to his friend, Joannides, and admitted what he had done. Joannides suggested he write a letter to the CIA’s legal department, which Kampiles did. He gave the letter to Joannides, who then “forgot” he had the letter in his briefcase.

    For two months.

    Kampiles was arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

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