Morley v. CIA: Why I sued for JFK assassination records

Where a lawsuit about JFK assassination records will be heard on Feb. 25

In reporting on my February 25 federal court date with the CIA, I explained the goals of my Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking certain ancient JFK assassination records. But a friend noted that I hadn’t really explained my theory of the case.

I get these questions a lot. What the hell is Morley v. CIA all about? What are you saying happened in Dealey Plaza? What do you think was really going on? And, inevitably, what’s your theory?

I usually shy away from answering such questions because the lawsuit seeks to answer them. Until I have all the evidence, it is not really my job as a journalist to speculate or guess. And it is the CIA’s obligation under the law to release the records, if they are related to JFK’s assassination.

But with U.S. government officials impugning my professionalism, I realize I should explain in more detail why — and how — the documents I seek are related to JFK’s assassination.

My contention is that at least some of the files I seek are related to JFK’s assassination. If this claim is correct, then certain CIA officials are violating the law in 2013.

Let me explain. In 1992, after Oliver Stone’s movie stirred fierce debate about the origins of JFK’s death, Congress unanimously passed the JFK Records Act, which requires all government agencies, including the CIA, to “immediately” review and release any assassination-related records.

I have sought to clarify the issue through official channels without success. The staff of the National Archives is responsible for enforcing the JFK Records Act. At my request, interested Archives staffers asked the CIA for permission to review the Joannides files. The CIA refused, saying the matter is under litigation, referring to my case.

The audacity of the CIA is impressive, or appalling, depending on your politics. The agency cites my lawsuit seeking release of certain ancient JFK files as a way of preventing the National Archives from enforcing the JFK Records Act, which requires release of such documents.

But what, you may ask, is the CIA so worried about?

These files contain a story about JFK’s assassination that is embarrassing to the CIA in 2013, the 50th anniversary year of JFK’s death. The CIA does not want the government of Cuba talking about this story. They don’t want President Kennedy’s only surviving child, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, to know it. They don’t want JFK’s outspoken nephew, Bobby Kennedy Jr., talking about. And they certainly don’t want the general public to know about it.

The story does not reflect well on a leading figure in the annals of the CIA, former director Richard Helms, who was a colleague of President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1963.

Here’s the story:

George Joannides

George Joannides, chief of CIA “psychological warfare” operations against the government of Cuba in 1963.

In the summer of 1963, one of Helms’ subordinates, George Joannides, was running highly-classified “psychological warfare” operations aimed at discrediting Castro’s supporters in the United States. Using the alias “Howard,” he funded the Cuban Student DIrectorate, a prominent anti-Castro organization in Miami, under a covert CIA program called AMSPELL.

Joannides was not a rogue operator. He was a forerunner of those CIA officers who worked with the Iraqi National Congress (INC) in the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2002. During the Bush years, the INC was a U.S.-funded exile group that supported a U.S. policy of “regime change.” That is precisely what the Cuban Student DIrectorate/AMSPELL was in 1963.

In other words, Joannides was carrying out U.S. policy in 1963. Based in Miami with chapters all over the Americas, the Directorate/AMSPELL was a large organization effective in spreading the message that Castro should be overthrown. CIA records show that Joannides gave the group $51,000 a month in 1963 (the equivalent of $3.6 million annually in today’s dollars).  As I reported for Miami New TImes back in 2001, Joannides specialized in using the group to combat pro-Castro groups in the United States.

Richard Helms,

Richard Helms, deputy CIA director and boss of George Joannides in 1963

Helms, then the deputy director of the agency, had personally selected Joannides to handle contacts with the DRE, according to another CIA memo. With his well-deserved reputation as The Man Who Kept the Secrets, Helms is a large, if controversial, figure in the history of the CIA. He is the only CIA director ever convicted of a crime, having pled guilty to misleading Congress in 1977.

Like the Bill Hood story, the George Joannides story does not reflect well on the reputation of Helms, who died in 2002.

Joannides was reporting to Helms (or someone working for him) in August 1963. That’s when his agents in the AMSPELL network had a series of encounters with a Castro supporter named Lee H. Oswald in New Orleans. The Cuban students confronted and publicized Oswald’s one-man chapter of the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee, resulting in newspaper, radio and TV coverage of his thoroughly obscure efforts.

Psychological warfare?: Joannides’ agents among the Cuban exiles shaped the first day news coverage of JFK’s assassination.

Three months later, Kennedy was killed in Dallas, and the self-same Oswald was arrested for the crime. Joannides’ agents in the AMSPELL program again publicized and denounced Oswald’s support for Castro, this time to much greater effect, generating news stories in the Miami Herald, the Washington Post, the New York Times and dozens of other newspapers.

In Havana, Fidel Castro denounced these news reports linking Oswald to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee as the work of the CIA — and the CIA’s own records now show that he was correct.

In Washington, Helms kept the CIA’s JFK secrets. He never told the Warren Commission that Kennedy’s alleged killer had tangled with some of the CIA’s favorite Cubans in New Orleans. He never disclosed that CIA agents in the pay of Joannides, a “psychological warfare” specialist, had helped spread the story of Oswald’s pro-Castro ways.

It wasn’t until 1998 that the CIA was forced to disclose Joannides’ support for Oswald’s antagonists among the exiles. The agency has been resisting further disclosure about the nature of his covert operations in 1963 ever since.

So 50 years later, we have to face two facts. 1) Joannides was running “psychological warfare” operations aimed at discrediting Castro supporters in the United States in the summer of 1963; and 2) members of his AMSPELL network played a leading role in publicizing Oswald’s pro-Castro ways both before and after JFK was killed

The question Morley v. CIA seeks to answer is very precise: Are these two facts related? I’m not looking to prove a conspiracy theory. I’m seeking to answer a simple empirical question: Was Joannides running a “psychological warfare” operation that targeted Oswald in the summer of 1963 in order to discredit Castro’s supporters in the United States?

The question can’t be answered because the CIA won’t release the 50-year-old records that contain the answer.

What’s my theory? I truly don’t know if the AMSPELL operation had anything to do with the gunfire in Dallas. Maybe someone at the CIA was trying to arrange the blame for Kennedy’s murder to fall on a Castro supporter. Maybe Oswald was a clever assassin who outwitted the best and the brightest of the CIA, including Joannides.

I prefer not to speculate about the question because if I did, I might make a mistake, which I would rather not do. In the course of ten years of litigation with me, the CIA has never disputed that Joannides was running undercover “psychological warfare” operations against pro-Castro Americans in the summer and fall of 1963.

So I await the results of the lawsuit, confident that everything I have reported so far is true and accurate.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask the CIA, via the agency’s “Contact Us” page. Ask the agency’s Public Affairs Office: Are there any specific factual errors in this post?

And please, let me know what you hear back.

29 comments

  1. Shane McBryde says:

    You know, Mr. Morely, I was pondering your suggestion to “ask the CIA” via their web-page, and it occurred to me how absolutely frightened I am of my own government. Perhaps you were only being rhetorical, but nonetheless it got me thinking; I would actually be too scared to do it. Am I paranoid? That may be so. Do I lack courage, sadly yes? I feel like the lion in the Land of Oz

    How sad a state of affairs when an entirely average citizen, such as me, is literally afraid to ask the government, ostensibly my government, a question like the one you posed? Granted, such a question is hardly innocuous, as the implications of the answer are tremendous. Still, a citizen shouldn’t cower in fear rather than being fearless in demanding simple accountability from their own government.

    Anyway, man, I really do think the world of what you’re doing. You exhibit fearlessness and a great deal of courage.

    “A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him, parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that every single step of his is well-founded and absolutely flawless. Actually an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set out for him. Thus mediocrity triumphs with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard, June 8, 1978

  2. More than one JFK researcher believes that the CIA and/or military intelligence murdered John Kennedy. Expect the CIA bureacracy to lie and cover up all this crime for at least 100 years. Comments by the notorious CIA counterintelligence head James Angleton don’t help quell these (justified) suspicions:

    In December 1974, pursued by the dogged Seymour Hersh, who was then investigating the CIA’s illegal domestic operations for the New York Times, Angleton suddenly blurted to the reporter, “A mansion has many rooms … I’m not privy to who struck John.” What did the cryptic remark mean? I would be absolutely misleading you if I thought I had any f____g idea,” says Hersh today. “But my instinct about it is he basically was laying off [blame] on somebody else inside the CIA, and the whole purpose of the conversation was to convince me to go after somebody else and not him. And also that he was a completely crazy f____g old fart.” [David Talbot, Brothers, p. 274]

  3. Then in 1985 James Angleton made this comment:

    “Fundamentally, the founding fathers of U.S. intelligence were liars. The better you lied and the more you betrayed, the more likely you would be promoted. These people attracted and promoted each other. Outside of their duplicity, the o¬nly thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power. I did things that, in looking back o¬n my life, I regret. But I was part of it and I loved being in it. . . Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, Carmel Offie, and Frank Wisner were the grand masters. If you were in a room with them you were in a room full of people that you had to believe would deservedly end up in hell.” Angleton slowly sipped his tea and then said, “I guess I will see them there, soon.”

    —-JAMES ANGLETON, C.I.A. Counter Intelligence-Chief, 1985

    • jeffmorley says:

      What’s your source for this quote Robert?

      • Good question. I copied it off the internet which is always a dangerous thing to do. The quote may be embellished. Joseph J. Trento’s The Secret History of the CIA, 1946-1989 – http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKtrento.htm

        James Trento interview with James Angleton:

        “I realize now that I have wasted my existence, my professional life…. There was no accountability and without accountability everything turned to shit…. Fundamentally, the founders of U.S. intelligence (the CIA) were liars. The better you lied and the more you betrayed, the more likely you would be promoted. These people attracted and promoted each other. Outside of their duplicity, the only thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power…. You had to believe (they) would deservedly end up in hell.”

        • TJ Scully says:

          HELMS DISAVOWS ‘ILLEGAL’ SPYING BY THE CIA IN US; With Some…‎

          New York Times – Dec 25, 1974
          “…Asked about alleged wrongdoing, Mr Angleton said, “I’ve got problems.” He explained his domestic activities this way: ” A mansion has many rooms and there were many thing going on during the period of the [antiwar] bombings. I’m not privy to who struck John*99 Mr. Angleton, ….”

          The Assassinations: Dallas and beyond : a guide to cover-ups and … – Page 475
          Peter Dale Scott, Paul Hoch, Russell Stetler – 1976

          “…the CIA’s Counterintelligence Division, James Angleton was quoted as making the following remarks when Seymour Hersh asked about alleged CIA wrongdoing and his domestic activities: “A mansion has many rooms and there were many things going on during the period of the [anti-war (NYT addition)] bombings. I’m not privy to who struck John.”88 From the context of Angleton’s statement, it is impossible to decide what he may have been referring to. “Who struck John” may be a literary reference or clichd which is not familiar to me. 38 NYT, Dec. 25, 1974, p. I. It may have been a

          It may have been a reference to some other John — e.g., Mitchell. Also, it is conceivable that “Who Struck John” was some sort of code name for a CIA study of the Kennedy assassination. Angleton should be asked to explain that statement,… “

      • I bought Trento’s book and here is the Angleton passage:

        [Joseph Trento, “The Secret History of the CIA,” (2001) pp. 478-479]

        “You know how I got to be in charge of counterintelligence? I agreed not to polygraph or require detailed background checks on Allen Dulles and 60 of his closest friends.” His monologue would stop only for a sip of tea or a violent fit of coughing. “They were too arrogant to believe that the Russians would discover it all.” The real problem Angleton concluded, was that “there was no accountability. And without real accountability everything turned to shit.”

        All the trappings of Angleton’s legend were gone by this time, except for his love of exotic tea. But now, this man who had struck fear into most of his colleagues- this man who had been able to end a CIA career with a nod or a phone call- unassuming house in Arlington seemed empty. “You know, the CIA got tens of thousands of brave people killed… We played with lives as if we owned them. We gave false hope. We – I – so misjudged what happened.”
        I asked the dying old man how it all went so wrong.
        With no emotion in his voice, but with his hand trembling, Angleton replied: “Fundamentally, the founding fathers of U.S. intelligence were liars. The better you lied and the more you betrayed, the more likely you would be promoted. These people attracted and promoted each other. Outside of their duplicity, the only thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power. I did things that, in looking back on my life, I regret. But I was part of it and loved being in it …. Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, Carmel Offie, and Frank Wisner were the grand masters. If you were in a room with them you were in a room full of people that you had to believe would deservedly end up in hell.” Angleton slowly sippled his tea and then said, “I guess I will see them there soon.”

        [Joseph Trento, “The Secret History of the CIA,” (2001) pp. 478-479]

    • greg parker says:

      The problem is Robert, that Trento is apparently the only witness to it. The fact that it has been propagated around the web – largely without source noted – shows the parlous position we are in, in trying to extract all the facts, because we are continually portrayed as dwelling in the same house as that occupied by the outer fringe and the chronically paranoid.

      Personally, I would not use this quote as evidence of anything because Trento has his own agenda and there is no known corroboration.

      • That is true. But sometimes ONE source can be dead on the money. And sometimes anonymous sources can be dead on the money. Sometimes ONE anonymous source can be dead on the money.

        I think I need to check the quote; see if Trento wrote that and qualify that everytime I use it. Let the reader decide.

        I do know this: James Angleton literally carried Allen Dulles’ ashes at his funeral & Angleton was a key player on the CIA side of the JFK assassination coverup/ non-investigation.

        • larry wheels says:

          “there are many rooms -I’m not privy to who shot John.”- Jesus Angleton. The context of the anti-castro psychological operations show the hidden hand of both the cia and pentagon intelligence operating in many cases against Kennedy’s own orders after the Cuban missile crises. Dark forces of power emanating out of the cia and JCS were not going to accept a communist beachhead 90 miles of the coast. The China lobby went into the anti-Castro lobby and the cia and mafia alliance were able to act as “free agents” getting financing from LBJ’s oil sponsors who also were extreme Kennedy haters. Kennedy’s enemies were not on the left and the linking of Oswald to Castro basically exposed the hand of the assassinations sponsors.

  4. John Kirsch says:

    I tried several times today, on 2 different computers, to submit the question you ask — has the CIA found any factual errors in this post? After typing the question in the message field, I got a red error message saying “There must be an entry in the message field for this form to be accepted.” Catch 22, apparently.

  5. And there is this quote by William Colby, who himself died under very suspicious circumstances in spring, 1996. There is a possibility Colby himself could have been murdered. (Why? I don’t know.)

    New York Times editor Rosenthal asked CIA Director William Colby if the CIA ever killed anybody in this country. Colby replied, “Not in this country.” When asked who the CIA had killed Colby said, “I can’t talk about it.” Colby said, “Sometimes intelligence operations are high-risk, and sometimes they fail. Then, the question is not whether the CIA is some rogue elephant, which it never has been, but rather that we Americans made a mistake through out constitutional system.”

    [John Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee," p. 968]

    What Colby is implying, imho, is that the Americans made a “mistake” by electing John Kennedy, so the CIA corrected it by murdering him. The CIA & intelligence agencies have often been rogue elephants.

    • Damn! what a quote. And how arrogant of Colby to make that decision for us. I don’t ever recall electing a CIA director. Nevertheless, it looks like he was a victim of his own system. Funny how life works. Right now, I am seeking information on a John D. Sullivan, a private detective who worked for Guy Banister in New Orleans, and who later died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in the fall of 1966, while cleaning his hunting rifle. Former FBI agent in Chicago.

  6. George Simmons says:

    I think it quite extraordinary that the CIA told us that they had no contact with the DRE in 1963, until the documents revealed the role of George Joannides.

    Equally amazing is the fact that the CIA claim to have no reports for the period that Joannides handled the DRE.

    The CIA deliberately misled the Warren Commission and the HSCA. All documents relating to George Joannides needs to be released so we can find out why.

  7. John Kirsch says:

    Colby’s quote seems opaque to me and I don’t see any way to interpret it as saying or suggesting or implying that the CIA killed Kennedy. Maybe he was saying there was something wrong with the way the CIA was set up.

    • leslie sharp says:

      I too had difficulty reading any suggestion that Colby was confessing, even in some oblique fashion, that the CIA murdered President Kennedy.

      I read it as a suggestion that certain aspects of the very foundation of the agency were contrary to the Constitution. Without checks and balances the agency is free to abuse its powers. Even if strict oversight might sometimes render it less effective, there is a trade off.

      Certainly the CIA should not enjoy more consideration – as if it is a stand alone entity operating outside of the Constitution – than the three branches of our government.

      Maybe Colby was asking why the American electorate had been willing to accept that potential for abuse?

      Hopefully Morley v. CIA and similar efforts will reignite and hasten the debate.

    • steve cearfoss says:

      ‘Maybe he was saying there was something wrong with the way the CIA was set up.’ This was my first interpretation also.’

  8. greg parker says:

    “Maybe Oswald was a clever assassin who outwitted the best and the brightest of the CIA, including Joannides.”

    You don’t have to speculate about this. And I agree, though I think it can be done. that it is not our job to nail the real plotters.

    Myself and others have proven beyond reasonable doubt that Oswald was not on the 6th floor at the time of the shots.

    If this was just a local case, I’m sure I could attract local media attention to the gaping holes in the police case, as well as the evidence supporting the accused’s alibi and apply enough pressure that way to get the case reopened.

    It should be no different here. But it is. Why? Because the big lies about what went on that building during that lunch hour were bought without question – even by the critics. Those lies have become so ingrained in the public percepts that most are impervious to the first day evidence when presented with it and which otherwise shoots down the narrative that was built over the next few days.

    And then every man and his dog went on a conspiracy hunt, searching for the theory they could live with.

    That was the final nail in this case being taken seriously.

    But if you can pare it back, you can’t make it more basic and straightforward. The guy had an alibi. When you examine ALL the evidence – instead of just that which was spoon-fed to us – Oswald is shown to be innocent. Nothing else should be needed to prize the rest of the files out.

    That is not to denigrate your efforts – which should be – and are appreciated.

    Just saying.

  9. Michael Lee says:

    I recently found this page because I recently purchased a book by Richard Belzer and David Wayne entitled, Hit List. It is an anthology of the mysterious deaths of witnesses to the JFK assassination. I am not very far into it, but it appears to be solid. Craig Roberts and John Armstrong put out a book back in 1995 entitled, JFK: The Dead Witnesses. I don’t know how these books compare as I have not read the latter, but I intend on doing so.

    At any rate, keep up the good work. I hope the lawsuit works out.

  10. The polygraph in “The Captain’s Polygraph” contains facts on high ranking military officers after a military wide treasonous effort beginning with the Operation Northwoods in 1962 which was rejected by Jfk. All of theses high ranking officers belonged to the same non military organization as did every member of the Warren Commission. Capt Clyde H. Stagner,US Army, Ret.

  11. S.R.Rohde says:

    Mr. Morley, allow me an introduction. I am a researcher or Historiographer, if more correctly stated. This particular thread interests me greatly, and I possess new information which might bolster your lawsuit in regards to the CIA involvement of the JFK assassination. To anyone familiar with the assassination, this CIA related evidence is both jaw dropping and damning. I am intending to release the culmination of my research near the 50th Anniversary of JFK’s Assassination, (format currently undecided).

    • Dave says:

      Mr. Rohde, I’m curious as to when, and how, will your “new information” and research on CIA’s involvement in the JFK assassination, be released to the public? It’s now less than two days until the 50th anniversary ….. should I hold my breath? Hoping for something truly earth-shattering.

  12. Douglas Roemelt says:

    I am not an expert; more of an interested hobbiest. I don’t have the time or resources to be more. Kudos to the dedicated Americans past, present, and future who continue in their attempts to expose the ugly underbelly of this conspiracy. I only post to thank them and provide a short comment on why I believe this cover-up continues.

    Americans by and large want to believe in a healthy functioning constitution and government. One where their opinions drive votes and votes drive government decision making. Honesty, honor, integrity, freedom of speech, open debate, free enterprize with compassion for others. They do not want to believe in a system where a small group of people, driven by their own self serving interests could hijack and take control of the system with ensuing large scale consequences

    Now obviously we all make self-serving decisions. So I do thinks with age we let go of the childhood belief of ‘we the people’ and mature to appreciate that right or wrong America is not a democracy but is rather a meritocracy where wealth drives power and influence. And where abuse of power is (hopefully) caught and corrected.

    But for Americans to accept the ‘shock’, the political reality of a coup d’état executed by a select view of their leaders (presumedly) on the basis of their own political, geopolitical, or military agendas against a president with (potentially) world changing views (towards the worlds future at that point in time) would clearly create outrage (or at least it should).

    The cover-up is perpetuated because the people in power have a lot of it, because they want to keep it, and because they know that there is a big difference between people saying ‘politics is a dirty business’ and it’s quite another for them to discuss how the CIA killed their president because he wanted to make peace with the rest of the world. It’s not just the shock that a select few could make such a choice, but it opens up all sorts of questions regarding power and consequence. Unsettling questions. people start asking ‘what else could this or some other small group do? how much does my vote really matter? How much does the opinion of the majority matter?

    We are like a dysfunctional family where the husband beats the wife but nobody wants to talk about it? Not all of us, but some, would prefer that the public in general ignored the realities that this conspiracy places before us. Because they’d prefer we ignored the truth. And perhaps this is the meaning of Colby’s quote. an attempt to justify, the CIA involvement to protect the people. Not something I’d agree with, but certainly plausible. I think it was a whole lot darker than that, but either way, the truth would wake a whole lot of people up from their slumber as they digest the carefully edited evening news.

    Would we hate Edward Snowden if he leaked info on the conspiracy to kill JFK?

  13. Concerned Citizen says:

    One more disturbing piece regarding Joannides – This was just on foxnews.com:

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/11/22/whats-in-cias-secret-jfk-files/?cmpid=NL_fntop

    “…And when the HSCA reopened the Kennedy case in the late 1970s, Joannides was brought out of retirement to serve as the agency’s liaison to the committee. Researchers tend to agree that Joannides should more properly have appeared as a witness before HSCA.”

    • Ramon F Herrera says:

      In future similar inquiries (if there is any), the first question I would ask to an Agency’s liaison is:

      “Sooooo, what do YOU have to hide????”

      NB: It was not only Joannides. Some similar monkey business happened earlier with John Whitten and James Angleton.

  14. Ramon F Herrera says:

    [Morley:] “And it is the CIA’s obligation under the law to release the records, if they are related to JFK’s assassination.”

    Even if they are not!! Because the only way to determine whether they are JFK-related or not is by disclosing them.

    Unless of course, some *trusted* representative of We The People sees them and says:

    – “Document #1234 is NOT JFK-related”
    – “Document #1235 IS JFK-related”

    At this point I am afraid I have lost trust on my government, in THIS matter (and only in this matter).

    Therefore, only full disclosure will do, AFAIAC.

  15. John Carriero says:

    Small point: I think $51,000 in 1963 dollars works out to $380,000 in current dollars, not $3.6 million.

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