On Monday morning March 19 my attorneys Jim Lesar and Dan Alcorn and I will appear at the Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington for oral arguments in my long-running lawsuit, Morley v. CIA.
The issue before the three-judge panel: has there been a “public benefit” from the lawsuit’s disclosure of long-secret documents about deceased CIA officer George Joannides?
Lesar will make the common sense case that widespread media interest in Morley v. CIA is proof of public benefit. The editors of the New York Times, Fox News, the San Diego Union, St. Paul Pioneer Press, CBS News in Dallas, and the New Yorker, among many other news organizations have seen fit to report on Morley v. CIA.
The Times, the Daily Mail, and a dozen other news sites published a photo of Joannides receiving a CIA medal after he stonewalled congressional investigators about what he knew about the Cuban contacts of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
Joannides’ curious, if not suspicious, role in the JFK story was utterly unknown before I filed my lawsuit. My argument: greater knowledge about the JFK story is benefits the public.
The CIA wants their day in court too: Benton Peterson, a Trump Justice Department attorney, representing the agency, will argue that there has been no “public benefit” from the information obtained under Morley v. CIA. The CIA, he will say, should not have to pay my court costs for 15 years of successful litigation.
The CIA’s argument is revealing. The agency has been fighting my request for Joannides’ files since I sued in December 2003, They want to say publicly: Pay no attention to the story of George Joannides. They also want to say: And pay no attention to this Morley character. He’s a schemer who filed this lawsuit to get the government to pay the copying costs of his research. (The Obama Justice Department actually made this argument at one point.)
The CIA needs their day in court for purposes of JFK damage control. They need to assure the public and the courts there is no benefit from studying the story of Joannides, a CIA official who funded the first JFK conspiracy theory, who stonewalled JFK investigators, and who received a medal for his career job performance.
What is telling is that the CIA couples the “no benefit” argument with the improbable claim that scores of Joannides’ files from 1963 and 1978 cannot be made public–for reasons of “national security.” The files are 54 years old; Joannides has been dead for 27 years. Which begs the question, why is the CIA so sensitive about his obscure story?
Oral arguments in Morley v. CIA will shed light on this question, just in time for the release of the last of the JFK files on April 2018.
The message from Langley and the Trump Justice Department could not be clearer. You will get no benefit from understanding the story of the late George Joannides–which is so secret we wouldn’t possibly tell you anything more about him or his actions in 1963 or 1978. In an argument about JFK records, the CIA’s claim is well worth understanding: You will not benefit from knowing something so secret.
I’m looking forward to my day in court.