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:
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.
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.
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.
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.