A federal appellate court has again rejected the arguments of the Central Intelligence Agency in a long-running lawsuit over ancient but still-sensitive CIA files related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
On Thursday, a three-judge panel in Washington D.C. unanimously denied the CIA’s claim that there is no “public benefit” to the disclosure of long-suppressed records of a deceased CIA officer involved in the events that led to the death of the liberal president on November 22, 1963.
“Where that subject is the Kennedy assassination, an event with few rivals in national trauma and in the array of passionately held conflicting explanationsshowing potential public value is relatively easy,” wrote Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams.
The records were forced into public view by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that I brought against the CIA in 2003. The records revealed for the first time that the officer received a Career Intelligence Medal in 1981, two years after stonewalling congressional investigators about what he knew of contacts in 1963 between accused assassin Lee Oswald and CIA-funded anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans.
“Morley’s request had potential public value,” wrote Williams in the decision. “He has proffered—and the CIA has not disputed—that Joannides served as the CIA case officer for a Cuban group, the DRE, with whose officers Oswald was in contact prior to the assassination,”
Judges Douglas Ginsburg and Sri Srinavasan joined in the opinion.
The judges were not persuaded by Assistant U.S. Attorney Benton Peterson, who contended on behalf of the CIA that there was “no public benefit” to such disclosures.
Lesar welcomed the decision saying, via email, “The Court’s decision should make it far easier for public interest FOIA plaintiffs to obtain attorney fees without interminable litigation.”
Pro bono attorney prevails
It was third time the courts have upheld the arguments of Jim Lesar, a veteran Freedom of Information Act litigator, who has argued the case pro bono for more than twelve years.
In December 2007 an appellate court panel ordered the CIA to release hundreds of pages related to Joannides’ 28-year career at the CIA, including his 1981 medal and his secret operations in MIami in 1963.
In June 2013, the appellate court spurned the arguments of a cadre of highly-paid government lawyers who asserted that the Agency did not have to pay Lesar’s legal fees–even though the FOIA lawsuit forced the CIA to disclose of previously unknown JFK records.
“Where that subject is the Kennedy assassination, an event with few rivals in national trauma and in the array of passionately held conflicting explanationsshowing potential public value is relatively easy,”
On Thursday the three judges remanded the case to Judge Richard Leon, whose previously two rulings in the legal fees issue have been found faulty.
What Morley v. CIA revealed
On behalf of the three-judge panel, Williams wrote, “We agree that the released documents appear to reveal little, if anything, about President Kennedy’s assassination.”
Besides Joannides’ medal, the released documents reveal that:
–Joannides maintained a residence in New Orleans in 1963, when accused assassin Oswald tangled with members of the CIA-funded anti-Castro group.
–At the time, Joannides was giving the group’s leaders in Miami $51,000 a month (about $350,000 in 2016 dollars) for purposes of “psychological warfare,” a fact the CIA did not disclose to the Warren Commission which investigated JFK’s death.
–In 1978 Joannides stonewalled Congressional investigators by not disclosing his financial relationship with Oswald’s antagonists.
When an independent civilian review panel, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), sought the Joannides files in 1998, the agency responded with “Inaccurate representations,” said federal judge John Tunheim, chair of the ARRB.
What the CIA still hides
Morley v. CIA, sought to force disclosure of the Joannides files that the CIA continues to conceal from public view.
The CIA has admitted in court filings that it retains at least 50 records related to Joannides’s tenure as Chief of the Psychological Warfare branch of the CIA’s Miami station in 1962-64, and concering his actions as the agency’s chief liaison to the House Select on Assassinations in 1978.
One record that the CIA is still concealing in the case concerns Joannides’ employment at the U.S. Post Office in 1944, before the CIA even existed.
Agency lawyers says public release of this 72-year old document and other Joannides records would harm the foreign policy and national security of the United States in 2016.
The events in question happened fifty three years ago. George Joannides died twenty five years ago Morley v. CIA was filed thirteen years.
In 2016, the CIA retains more than 1,100 JFK files that it has never made public.
The JFK Records Act mandates the release of all of the government’s 3,600 JFK-related records by October 25, 2017.