Justice Dept. denies CIA officer was honored for JFK cover-up

A Justice Department official denied in a federal court filing last month that undercover officer George Joannides received a CIA medal for deceptive actions related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 49 years ago but the claim cannot be verified.

Joannides medal

Retired CIA officer George Joannides (left) received the Career Intelligence Medal from deputy CIA director Bobby Ray Inman on July 15, 1981.    (Photo credit: CIA)

“The CIA has consistently challenged the notion that a career award could be seen as explicit or tacit approval of any one assignment in Joannides’s 30-year career,” asserted Ronald Machen, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, in a brief filed on Nov. 21 in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Machen’s brief is the government’s latest legal salvo in my decade-old (today) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit over JFK assassination records. At issue are ancient but still-sensitive U.S. government documents related to the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

In recent years, the CIA has grudgingly acknowledged that Joannides served as the Miami-based handler of a Cuban exile group whose members who had a series of encounters with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald three months before JFK was killed.

The agency also acknowledges that Joannides served as the CIA’s principal coordinator with the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1978 but did not disclose his role in the events of 1963 to investigators.

“That concealment has fueled suspicion that Mr. Joannides’s real assignment was to limit what the House committee could learn about C.I.A. activities,” wrote reporter Scott Shane of the New York Times in 2009.

Documents and photos released under a 2007 court order  showed that Joannides received one of the agency’s highest honors, the Career Intelligence Medal in July 1981, less than three years after he stonewalled the congressional investigators.

According  to the agency’s Web site, the Career Intelligence medal is given to officers with a

cumulative record of service reflecting a pattern of increasing levels of responsibility or increasingly strategic impact and with distinctly exceptional achievements that constitute a major contribution to the mission of the Agency.

The CIA is refusing to pay approximately $150,000 in legal fees associated with my FOIA lawsuit. Supported by the Obama Justice Department, the agency insists that Joannides’ medal was not related to JFK’s assassination. The disclosure of the medal as a result of FOIA litigation does not “meaningfully” contribute “to the fund of information that citizens may use in making vital political choices,” Machen said.

The CIA declines to specify why Joannides was honored.

One of the documents in dispute in the lawsuit is a five-page memo, dated March 1981, that recounts why Joannides received the medal. Through ten years of litigation, the CIA has insisted the memo must be kept secret in its entirety “in the interest of national defense and foreign policy.” (See “Vaughn Index” document below.)

The 1981 medal citation, declassified by the court order, makes no mention of JFK’s assassination. It states only that Joannides was honored for

diverse assignments of responsibility at Headquarters, the domestic field, and overseas. His linguistic skills, area knowledge, expertise in a specialized operational activity and superb managerial techniques truly earned him the respect and admiration of superiors and colleagues.

The citation’s language does not rule out the possibility that Joannides was honored for his concealment of actions related to JFK’s  assassination.

Joannides’ two-year stint in the CIA’s Miami station in 1962-64 is his only assignment in “the domestic field” that the CIA has acknowledged.

Within hours of JFK’s assassination, the Miami-based Cuban Student Directorate, subsidized by CIA officer George Joannides, was the first organization to identify accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as a Castro supporter.

As the chief of the station’s psychological warfare operations, Joannides was responsible for secret activities to confuse and confound the Castro government. According to CIA records, he was also paying  $51,000 a month to the Cuban Student Directorate, an anti-Castro organization whose members publicized Oswald’ pro-Castro activities both before and after JFK was killed.

One of Joannides’s most important Headquarters assignments was his liasion work the HSCA in 1978. HIs failure to disclose the CIA’s financial support for the first group to identify Kennedy’s accused killer as a Castro supporter disturbed G. Robert Blakey, a former federal prosecutor who served as HSCA general counsel.

“[Joannides's] behavior was criminal,” Blakey, now a law professor at Notre Dame, told Salon in 2003. “He obstructed our investigation.”

Inside the CIA, however, Joannides won high marks for his no-disclosure stance toward the congressional investigators. He was, wrote one of his superiors in an annual job evaluation, “the perfect man for the job.”

With the CIA now disavowing that the medal conveys explicit or tacit approval of Joannides’ actions in 1963 and 1978, Machen argued in his Nov. 21 brief that my attorney James Lesar had failed demonstrate that Joannides’s medal

could be tied to the [JFK] assassination and thereby reflect sufficient value to the public to weigh in favor of an award of attorney’s fees. Consequently, it cannot be said that Morley’s ‘success’ in procuring any of these documents from CIA is likely to ‘add’ meaningfully to the fund of information that citizens may use in making vital political choices.

Certainly, Joannides’s actions as they related to JFK’s assassination remains shrouded in official secrecy. Virtually all information about Joannides and his psychological warfare operations in 1963 remains top-secret, even a half century after the fact. The agency has acknowledged possessing 295 records about Joannides’s career that it says cannot be released in any form. At least a third of the documents are more than 50 years old.

The question remains whether Joannides’s “distinctly exceptional achievements” included concealment of information about JFK’s assassination. The top law enforcement officer in the District of Columbia asserts there is no evidence of that but the CIA is withholding the records that could confirm (or refute) his claim.

Absent full disclosure, I will continue to litigate. Lesar will file a response to Machen’s motion in the D.C. Appeals Court on Monday, December 17. Oral arguments are scheduled for February 25, 2013.

——

“Denied in Full:” In this document filed in federal court in Washington, the CIA explains why it will not release any information about Joannides’ Career Intelligence medal.

“Denied in Full;” This court record shows the CIA”s justification for keeping details about George Joannides’ Career Intelligence Medal out of public view.

38 comments

  1. Jim Finamore says:

    Re: Joannides, check out the addendum at the end of the PBS interview of House Assassinations Committee staff director Robert Blakey at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/oswald/interviews/blakey.html

  2. Bill emmons says:

    It is a bit hard to imagine what “secrets” could possibly still need protecting 50 years after the fact. Even harder to imagine that a very limited amount of white out could not protect anything that really could, five decades later, damage our national interest.

    Hardest still to imagine that all this quacking doesn’t come from something that will look very much like ducks . . .

  3. Ramon F Herrera says:

    I have a question for Mr.Morley. I have seen his notable public letter, co-signed by well known LN and CT authors. IIRC, in one of the press releases professor John McAdams was included, but not elsewhere. Was he part of this initiative at all?

    Comments?

    TIA.

    • jeffmorley says:

      John signed a letter of support calling for release of the records, and I was glad to have his support but he is not involved in any way in the litigation.
      BTW Ramon, I’m not familiar with IIRC and TIA references. What do they mean?

      • Ramon F Herrera says:

        IIRC: If I Recall Correctly
        TIA: Thanks in Advance

        I am an Internet pioneer, co-founder of Usenet newsgroups while at MIT. Been participating for some 25 years. I guess those initials become 2nd. nature after a while…

    • John McAdams says:

      There were two letters. I signed on to the first one, since it was a “clean” request for information.

      Jeff wrote a second, but I declined to sign it since it made some assertions that represented his *theories* about what happened, which I thought were speculative and poorly supported.

      • jeffmorley says:

        The first letter, “JFK’s Assassination,” appeared in the New York Review of Books in December 2003.

        The second letter, “Blocked,” appeared in the New York Review of Books in August 2005.

        Contrary to John’s insinuations there is nothing speculative or poorly sourced about the second letter.

        • Jordan says:

          In regards to the matter of releasing documents, there are also records being held by Canadian authorities in the Canadian National Archives relating to Dr. Louis Bloomfield of Montreal.
          Dr. Bloomfield was involved in the international intelligence and the financial world, CMC and Permindex, Division 5, et al..

          While these documents may or may not constitute proof and/or evidence, they should certainly be scrutinized for leads or indications of the machinations of the Dallas Trade Mart, Clay Shaw, Division 5 etc..

          Barry Seal had offices in the Dallas Trade Mart, was a buddy of David Ferrie, and was the CIA’s number 1 pilot.

          • Gerry Simone says:

            Why doesn’t someone make a FOI request in Canada for these?

            I think it would be very interesting what can be revealed.

  4. steven yurik says:

    I am a recently retired police lt. from Newark n.j. and as you could expect have been investigating this mystery for over 30 years.I find it so dam frustrating that this government does not think that we are smart enough to handle the true story of what really happened and continue to lie,cover up,and spread disinformation,so as to confuse the average uninformed person.Could you please tell me the date of when the files are to be released as agreed to by our lovely government.how much more time do we have to wait? Keep fighting for all of us! THANKS

  5. John McAdams says:

    Jeff, you have been called out on this before. You have no evidence that this guy was honored for any “coverup.”

    He had a long career with the CIA, and did lots of things.

    Further, you really haven’t shown that anything was “covered up” about the CIA and Oswald. You have a theory that something sinister in New Orleans was, but you have no proof of that.

    • Neil Hodges says:

      “He had a long career with the CIA, and did lots of things.”

      Which included but was not limited to:

      - funding the DRE operations in Miami and New Orleans in 1963
      - spying on and stonewalling Congress during the HSCA hearings

      On the first issue, more declassification of relevant documents is needed before we can truly know the extent of Joannides’ awareness of Oswald in the Summer of 1963.

      The second issue is a major one. This was a guy who was involved in domestic operations against Congress.

      The public has the right to know more about Mr. Joannides’ career.

      • John McAdams says:

        spying on and stonewalling Congress during the HSCA hearings

        But you have no evidence of that. No doubt he reported back to the CIA what the HSCA was doing, but that’s hardly “spying” when the HSCA knew perfectly well he was representing the CIA.

        As for “stonewalling:” he failed to tell the HSCA about his role with the DRE, but that’s only stonewalling if that was relevant. I know conspiracists think it was, but that’s an assumption, not a fact.

        • Neil says:

          Bob Blakey certainly disagrees with you and I wouldn’t consider him a Conspiracist.

          I respect your view that Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy. I disagree but understand that it’s a plausible explanation for how JFK was killed.

          What I don’t understand, is the extent in which you and others will go to defend the strange behavior of he CIA in relation to the Kennedy assassination investigations.

          Unless you’ve seen what’s in the related classified documents, I don’t see how you could be so confident that Joannides and the CIA had nothing to hide and were not obstructing the HSCA’s investigation.

          • John McAdams says:

            I don’t see how you could be so confident that Joannides and the CIA had nothing to hide and were not obstructing the HSCA’s investigation.

            I’m not confident of that, I’m saying you can’t be confident that Joannides was “hiding” anything significant about the DRE and Oswald. You are convinced he was, but you have to make a few unproven assumptions to believe that.

          • Neil says:

            Whether what’s being hidden is related to Oswald or not, the CIA should come clean after 50 years. Can we agree on that?

            The Cold War is over. Joannides is dead. US relations with Cuba are thawing. They’re running out of excuses for keeping this kind of stuff from the public…

        • Gerry Simone says:

          What’s relevant is that he may very well have known about Oswald who confronted Carlo Bringuier of the DRE.

          http://22november1963.org.uk/who-was-george-joannides

          Perhaps there’s nothing sinister here but possible ineptitude or negligence in knowing about the alleged assassin before November 22, 1963 and not doing anything about it.

          Perhaps the sealed documents are simply about CYA by the CIA and not about information about the assassination itself.

          However, as they say, perception is sometimes everything, and any degree of truth might suggest tacit collusion.

          • Thomas says:

            “As for “stonewalling:” he failed to tell the HSCA about his role with the DRE, but that’s only stonewalling if that was relevant.”

            If that was relevant?

            This statement proves that Mr. McAdams is not an objective researcher trying to arrive at truth in this matter.

    • Jonathan says:

      The principal job of an intelligence operative is to LIE. His or her cover story is a lie. His or her name is often an alias. He or she often works for a front company, the ostensible purpose of which is benign, the real purpose of which is clandestine.

      Joannides got his award for serving the CIA well. That means he was a skilled liar.

      One of his most important lies was failing to reveal his prior CIA role to the HSCA. This was a big and devious lie; a lie meant to deceive and undermine; without any doubt, it was a very important lie from the CIA’a standpoint.

      Joannides got awarded for lying. It’s fair to assume his lifetime achievement of lying was capped off by misleading the HSCA. Putting two and two together is simple here: He didn’t get his award until he’d been called out of retirement and had pulled off his HSCA deception. The award was for his final, most important lie.

      • Gerry Simone says:

        No Jonathan.

        To quote General Spaulding (played by Chad Everett) of the alien TV movie Offical Denial (1994),

        “We don’t lie son. We deny.”

        (I’m being facetious but there’s some truth in the way non-disclosure is justified).

        I think the obfuscation by Joannides is to avoid the *perception* of criminal or gross negligence (if not worse).

      • Gerry Simone says:

        It is interesting to note that David Atlee Phillips was ‘one of a handful of people to receive the Career Intelligence Medal’.

        David Atlee Phillips lied to the HSCA according to Robert K. Tanenbaum who served as Deputy Chief Counsel of the HSCA (read the forward by RKT to Last Word by Mark Lane).

        • Jonathan says:

          Gerry,

          I was trained as a counter-intelligence officer at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in 1971. I assure you collection officers (case officers) and counter-intelligence officers were well trained in how to lie.

          Ironically, as an intelligence officer you aren’t trained how to lie until a deep background check has established that you are honest and utterly trustworthy.

        • John McAdams says:

          I heard Tannenbaum say this at Wechtfest.

          The context was that Tannenbaum thought that “tapes” of Oswald had been flown to Dallas from Mexico City.

          But Tannenbaum was wrong, and he was being an ass calling Phillips a liar.

          http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/clueless3.htm

    • British Nut says:

      This is a bizarre reply. This isn’t a quest for proof, its a quest for information to glean proof. Joannides’s non-disclosure to the HSCA and the CIA’s non-dislosure of his involvement in Miami encourages the quest for information.

  6. Thomas Joseph says:

    A high level award like Joannides received can be interpreted many ways because of the unclear intentions of the unknown supervisors involved in justifying & creating the award. It may have been meant to help Joannides in career advancement inside or outside the Agency. It may have involved a cash award or led to a promotion. It could have been the result of affirmative action requirements at the time. It could have been an incentive to entice Joannides to retire. What percentage of Agency employees receive this award & how many are minorities?

    The obvious question for those seeking an education on this man is ‘what distinguished Joannides from his co-workers competing for the same award?’ An unrestricted education on any subject cannot be achieved by anyone when history is censored.

  7. Arnaldo M. Fernandez says:

    A career award is not the point. The point is that the CIA appointed Joannides to facilitate the finding and reviewing of materials to HSCA, and he did not disclose his role in the first conspiracy theory (Castro did it)that reached the printed media by the CIA-funded Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil or DRE.
    Joannides´role was fully disclosed by Jeff Morley in “Revelation 19.63″ (Miami New Times, April 2001). HSCA staff director Robert Blakey publicly stated: “I am no longer confident that the Central Intelligence Agency co-operated,” since the crucial issues of Oswald in New Orleans, particularly his attempt to infiltrate DRE, was concealed by the CIA before both WC and HSCA. It amounts to willful obstruction of justice.
    Joannides should have never been a CIA liaison with HSCA to retrieve documents, but a key witness ready to be interrogated under oath. No wonder the HSCA researchers complained that Joannides was not facilitating, but obstructing.
    As everyone else who goes deeper into the facts for inferring to the best explanation, Blakey finally admitted: “I now no longer believe anything the Agency told the committee (…) Many have told me that the culture of the Agency is one of prevarication and dissimulation (…) I am now in that camp”.

  8. Ronnie Wayne says:

    Jeff, congratulations to you and Mr. Lesar on keeping up the good fight for a decade. That’s perseverance in the name of truth and justice for us all in the face of adversity. Thanks.
    Jmc, “and did lots of things”, pay the DRE $51K a month (in today’s $$$ = ?) with our tax dollars, pay for the very first Oswald did it for Castro newspaper article less than 24 hours after the horrendous public murder of our President with our tax dollars, while living and working in Florida maintained a house in New Orleans (a safe house?) on a CIA officers salary, or with our taxes (we don’t know because that same CIA is still illegally withholding the relating to the issue). But worse, stonewalling the HSCA and not being forthright about his position and function in 1963 constitute obstruction of justice.
    As John Judge said they are OUR files.
    FREETHEFILES.

  9. Bob Truitt says:

    John McAdams, I do wish you would have spoken up at the 2013 JFK conference held Duquesne University and straightened out Bob Tannenbaum and Dan Hardaway. They were ON the HSCA and knew Joannides. But you would rather throw stones at these researchers seeking the truth from behind a computer than speak up at a conference because you can’t win against truth.

  10. John McAdams says:

    But you would rather throw stones at these researchers seeking the truth from behind a computer than speak up at a conference because you can’t win against truth.

    I’m fighting falsity.

    Do you really believe that “tapes” were flown from Mexico City to Dallas?

    Have you read my web page on the subject? (linked above)

    Can you refute it?

  11. I live 9 houses down from Bobbie Ray Inman here in Austin, TX.

    Inman told me in a 2009 interview that he will believe until the day he dies that Fidel Castro murdered John Kennedy.

    Inman is the one giving the award to Joannides.

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