Ten years ago I filed a lawsuit seeking the records of a deceased CIA officer involved in the events leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy and its confusing investigatory aftermath.
On July 23 a federal judge ruled that the CIA did not have pay court costs associated with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation because the lawsuit had created “little, if any public benefit.”
The decision, by Judge Richard Leon, exemplifies the extraordinary deference that the CIA enjoys in the federal courts. Leon dismissed extensive newspaper coverage of the lawsuit and ignored the coverage of a key document it uncovered. He affirmed that the CIA’s conduct in keeping JFK assassination-related records secrets in 2014 was “reasonable.”
HIs narrow decision studiously avoids grappling with the wider story that my FOIA lawsuit sought to clarify: the untold story of CIA operations around accused presidential assassin Lee Oswald in the summer of 1963 and the agency’s subsequent obstruction of a congressional investigation in 1978.
The story of the late George Joannides is obviously relevant to the JFK story. In the course of my FOIA lawsuit, journalists and scholars and interested citizens learned that Joannides, a previously unknown CIA undercover operations officer, had not one, but two connections, to the JFK story that were unknown to the two official investigations of the murder of the liberal president in downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963.
In the summer of 1963, Joannides, operating under the alias of “Howard,” guided and monitored a group of the anti-Castro, anti-JFK Cuban exiles who had a series of contacts with Lee Oswald a few months before JFK was killed.
As chief of covert operations in the CIA’s Miami station, Joannides had the responsibility for mounting secret propaganda and disinformation operations without revealing the CIA’s hand.
Fifteen years later, Joannides was called out retirement to serve as the CIA’s liaison with the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). Joannides did not disclose his actions in the summer of 1963 to the congressional investigators.
One fact revealed in the course of the litigation was that the CIA acknowledged that Joannides served in an “undercover” role when dealing with the HSCA. Judge Leon’s decision makes no mention of the misleading Congress. The abundant documentation I provided to his court on this point was not mentioned.
One of the documents that the CIA continues to conceal, I pointed out, is a job evaluation of Joannides’ job performance in 1978 when he stonewalling the congressional investigators. Earlier in the litigation, Judge Leon upheld the CIA insistence that this 36-year old document about a dead man’s most admirable activities had to be kept secret in the 21st century. The CIA said “national security” requires it. Judge Leon agreed.
In response to such extreme secrecy claims, my lawsuit to sought to clarify the nature of Joannides’ actions in 1963 and 1978. The New York Times, Associated Press, Fox News, the Boston Globe and dozens of other news organizations gave it respectful coverage.
Morley v. CIA revealed something the CIA had failed to disclose to the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA): that a CIA undercover operations officer was funding a Cuban exile group, which had contact with Oswald before he allegedly killed Kennedy.
When, in the course of the lawsuit, I asked for the CIA’s files on Joannides’ operations in New Orleans in the summer of 1963, the agency carefully replied that it would neither confirm nor deny the existence of such records. In an earlier decision, Judge Leon upheld this position.
The CIA’s position, of course, is a dodge. The records most likely exist because it is a documented fact that Joannides was running operations in the summer of 1963. A declassified job evaluation states that his activities in late 1963 included “printed propaganda, white and black radio operations, and political action operations which were implemented via labor, student, and professional groups.”
So why not make them public? The claim that “national security” of the American people in 2014 requires secrecy on such ordinary government records is bizarre.
My lawsuit also forced disclosure of documents that revealed for the first time that Joannides had received a CIA medal after deceiving Congress about his actions in 1963. In a footnote Leon acknowledged the news coverage of my lawsuit, but stated, inaccurately, that I had failed “to tie that coverage to any of the newly-released documents rather than those that were already available to the public”
In fact, I pointed out in a court brief, at least eight news organizations, including the New York Times had, published the photos obtained in the lawsuit along with their stories.
As Judge Leon stated the significance of the Joannides records is “fiercely contested.”
On one side are a broad spectrum of JFK historians who wrote two open letters in the New York Review of Books, one of the country’s leading intellectual publications, in 2003 and in 2005 which they called for the release of the Joannides files that I am seeking.
In the course of the litigation I also submitted affidavits of support from the Judge John Tunheim, the former chair of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB); Anna Nelson, an ARRB board member; and Jeremy Gunn, the ARRB counsel. They all said that the Joannides files qualified under “assassination-related” records under the law and should be made public.
On the other side was the CIA, which asserts it has fully complied with the law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.
Judge Leon did not equivocate in choosing. He spurned the consensus of historians and the ARRB, and sided with the government. He ruled that records uncovered by the lawsuit were not “likely to add to the fund of information that citizens may use in making vital political choices.”
For Judge Leon’s decision, click here.
CIA admits undercover officer lived in New Orleans (Nov. 11, 2013)
5 Decades Later Some JFK FIles Still Sealed (Associated Press, Aus. 18. 2013)
Justice Dept. denies CIA officer was honored for coverup (JFK Facts,Dec. 17, 2012)
Court upholds public benefit of disclsoure about CIA officer in JFK story (JFK Facts, June 19, 2013)
CIA Still Cagey About Oswald Mystery (New York Times, October 17, 2009)
Morley v. CIA: Why I sued the CIA for JFK assassination records (JFK Facts, Feb. 23, 2013)