Fifty one years later, federal judge upholds the CIA’s right to keep JFK secrets

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.”

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon,

Judge Richard Leon

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.

The backstory

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.

Revelations

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.

Significance

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.

Background:

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 comments

  1. Sandy K. says:

    And what, Your Dis-Honor, is of “any public benefit” by hiding half-century-old documents that rightfully belong to all American citizens?

    • Mball says:

      He’s a D.C. judge. Agencies shop for judges they like in D.C., and usually get favorable treatment. That’s why they shop. A federal judge outside of Disneyland East might have ruled differently.

  2. bogman says:

    That’s a ridiculous ruling.

    You really need good and consistent PR, Jeff. Gotta think the American public would be outraged if more knew about the information the CIA is hiding.

  3. James says:

    I have come to the conclusion that after 50 years the CIA is trying to hide its involvement in the assasination. We know more about CIA operation in Russia in 70’s and 80’s then we do about CIA projects/operations associated with the history changing day in 1963.

  4. Robert Harper says:

    This is so depressing. It is getting harder and harder to believe that the military-industrial-(financial)-complex that Eisenhower warned against, will ever subside. Scare phrases like “national security” dominate the landscape. Coming at the same time all 100 US Senators voted to support the razing of Gaza adds to the depressing feel.

  5. His Dis-Honor the “Judge” disgraces the American flag he puts on his lapel.

  6. George Simmons says:

    “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”
    The most shocking part of the whole Joannides saga is the fact that Joannides was made CIA liason to the HSCA without the CIA or himself disclosing his role in 1963 to them.
    This was a shocking act of deception and a felony, and shows that the WC and HSCA were fatally flawed from the outset, with the CIA ( a potential suspect) deciding which documents these investigations could or could not see. Its a bit like letting the murderer take control of the crime scene. And don’t forget neither the WC or HSCA knew the DRE were CIA assetts because the CIA did not tell them.
    Is it acceptable that a President is murdered and a thorough investigation does not take place?
    Mr Morley deserves our gratitude and respect for his brave efforts to bring these files into the open. Keep fighting Jeff.

  7. Ronnie Wayne says:

    A total sham for U.S. Citizens. Of course ignored by the MSM.
    Thank you for exposing it Jeff, and others.
    This really should piss off all of US, left, right or even the indifferent.

  8. Bob Truitt says:

    As George Simmons notes above (almost) Judge Leon response reads like the sidestepping WC and HSCA reports. Maybe Judges side with the CIA a lot is they are simply afraid of crossing them. I mean National Security on 51 year old files and they are fighting this hard. Maybe Judges think maybe the CIA did have something to do with the assassination so they better rule the way they want them to. If I were a Judge, it would at least cross my mind. As we know from nationally recognized surveys, 75% of Americans do not believe the Warren Commission. Mr Morley’s arguments to the Court seem to be direct and to the very points of law that are appropriate. God help us. Please…

  9. Gerry Simone says:

    So sorry to hear about this bad news. I was optimistic.

    Readers here might want to make contributions to defray your costs Jeff.

    It may apt to quote the late Jim Garrison, who said:

    I’m afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security. – Jim Garrison

    • Richard McColman says:

      CIA Director Brennan should be fired. Yes, it’s true that he admitted the CIA did indeed spy on the Senate intelligence committee, but only after backed into a corner by the Inspector General such that he had no real choice. He previously made incredibly arrogant denials to Feinstein’s accusations. As many of us are aware, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to CIA wrongdoing and coverups. We’ll have to wait and see, but I’d be very surprised if Obama does anything substantive about this. Despite bold statements about open government, he’s unfortunately gotten co-opted but the intelligence community, as have so many presidents after JFK. On another note, it’s interesting that this revelation came out just days after Judge Leon ruled against Jeff in his lawsuit. I seriously doubt that Judge Leon will experience a change of heart about the CIA in the wake of this recent revelation, but if he has any impartiality about him, he should re-examine his ruling.

  10. Paulf says:

    The latest news about the CIA’s brazen spying on US Senators, and then lying to them about it, is further confirmation that the agency has absolutely no regard for the truth or the “American” way.

    That’s not to say the agency serves no purpose or never does any good, but it should put an end to the shameless arguments put forth by single-gunman proponents, for whom the honesty of the intelligence agencies serves as a lynchpin argument. LN theorists pretend to be outraged the the idea that the likes of Allen Dulles, James Angleton and Hoover would ever dissemble to the public or have their own agenda that might not be legal.

    There is no doubt that some elements within the CIA were aware of — or facilitated or planned — the plot against JFK. Such acts have been part of the agency’s DNA since it was conceived.

    • Gerry Simone says:

      Such acts have been part of the agency’s DNA since it was conceived.

      According to President Truman, such acts were NOT what the CIA was supposed to be about when it was formed during his administration. (There is a link or thread on this in JFKfacts.org)

  11. President Kennedy was absolutely right in his desire to “split the CIA into a thousand pieces”. The sad truth is, members of that group got to him first. When President Truman got the CIA started, his goal was for them to do exactly the opposite of what happened to JFK on November 22, 1963.

  12. Dave says:

    Judge Leon is either an unusually incurious jurist, or an intellectually dishonest one.
    The Circuit asking him to reapply the four factors test to his previous decision to deny Morley’s costs is like asking the fox to return to the chicken coop to see if the rest of the chickens are doing OK. The outcome is not surprising.
    If this decision of Judge Leon can be appealed on the grounds which Jeff has argued (and which were largely ignored in the decision) I encourage Jeff to appeal. Case law precedent is being set with every such decision and appeal, and once this matter leaves the conflicted hands of Judge Leon, hopefully it will find its proper place in those of more curious, intellectually honest judges.

    • I agree that an appeal is the only route. But on this matter the judges will likely side with the CIA. I’d be curious how the Supreme Court would rule, if it would even take this matter. Which it probably would not.

      Garrison was correct about fascism coming to America.

      Dawn

  13. John says:

    Completely, biased Judgement. The people should be able to decide for themselves and given the information to do so without someone squelching evidence and making that decision for us, and on a side note this description seemed a little odd to me as well, as quoted above “as 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.”

    DID you get that? THE MURDER OF THE LIBERAL PRESIDENT. It is almost like they worded that as a slap in the face. Why bother to label JFK as a Liberal president? Why did they have to add that to the statement, as if it were some kind of crime to be liberal. Our government treats us like chumps, and they are supposed to be working for us. We need to get our own Judge in there. Locking away evidence for 75 years is insane.It shouldn’t be permitted. There should be full disclosure. The American people need to know what they are dealing with.

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