ICYMI: Court upholds ‘public benefit’ of JFK disclosure

[This story was published in JFK Facts on June 19, 2013.]

George Joannides, chief of CIA covert operations in Miami in 1963


A federal court ruled Tuesday that my lawsuit for the records of deceased CIA officer George Joannides “serves a public benefit” and ordered a lower court judge to reconsider his decision to deny the award of legal fees.

A three-judge appellate panel declared that Judge Richard Leon had erred in his September 2012 decision that the governnrnent did not have to pay my court costs for 10 years of litigation. In 2007 the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of arguments made by my attorney, James Lesar, who contended that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) obligated the CIA to release more records about Joannides.

Plaintiffs who prevail in FOIA and civil rights cases are often awarded legal fees to discourage the government from resisting meritorious claims.

In its unanimous decision, the court cited its ruling in a recent FOIA case, Davy v. CIA (also argued by Lesar), that disclosure of records “about individuals allegedly involved in President Kennedy’s assassination serve a public benefit.”

The court’s ruling is a moral victory that awaits substantive fulfillment.

My lawsuit, Morley v. CIAhas shed new light on events the CIA has long sought to conceal: Joannides’s shadowy role in the JFK assassination story. The CIA did not disclose his actions in 1963 to the Warren Commission or to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). His story did not come to light until the Assassination Records Review Board declassified a handful of records from his personnel file in 1998, and I wrote a story about him for the Miami New Times in 2001.

At the time of JFK’s assassination, Joannides served as the chief of CIA covert operations in Miami. A career undercover officer with a specialty in “psychological warfare,” he funded a Cuban exile student group whose leaders publicized the pro-Castro activities of accused presidential assassin Lee H. Oswald three months before Oswald allegedly killed JFK. After JFK was dead, Joannides’s agents used CIA funds to link Oswald to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

In 1978, Joannides resurfaced as the CIA’s chief liaison to the HSCA but never disclosed his knowledge of the events of 1963. “The CIA set me up,” HSCA general counsel G. Robert Blakey told the Washington Post in 2005.

Joannides medal
Retired CIA officer George Joannides (left) received the Career Intelligence Medal from deputy CIA director Bobby Ray Inman on July 15, 1981.
(Photo credit: CIA)

The litigation has forced the agency to acknowledge  previously undisclosed facts about Joannides, including that he

— served in an “undercover” capacity while funding Oswald’s antagonists among Cuban exiles in the summer of 1963.

— travelled to New Orleans twice in the spring of 1964 when the Warren Commission was taking testimony from members of the anti-Castro group he guided and monitored;

— served in an “undercover” capacity when he stonewalled congressional investigators in 1978.

— received one of the agency’s highest honors, the Career Intelligence Medal, for his “cumulative record of service reflecting a pattern of increasing levels of responsibility” and his “distinctly exceptional achievements.”

In the course of the litigation, the CIA was also forced to acknowledge that it retains at least 295 additional documents about Joannides that it has never made public in any form. In sworn court filings, Agency officials said that the release of the records — many of them more than 50 years old — would harm U.S. “national security” today.

In their ruling Judges Harry Edwards, Stephen Williams, and Brett Kavanaugh emphasized that the standard for entitlement to legal fees established by the Davy case does not “disqualify plaintiffs who obtain information that, while not arguably of immediate public interest, nevertheless enables further research ultimately of great value and interest such as the understanding of a Presidential assassination.”

The court ordered Judge Leon to revisit the question of legal fees “in a manner consistent with Davy.” But the court took no position on whether Leon should actually award the fees, now estimated at $150,000. When Leon will decide that question remains to be seen.

The U.S. government and the CIA still have not paid any price for concealing from the public a key batch of JFK assassination records that will shed light on CIA operations involving Lee Harvey Oswald while President Kennedy was still alive. Much of the story remains out of public view.

See also:

“Why I sued the CIA for JFK records” (JFK Facts, Feb. 23, 2013)

“Justice Dept. denies CIA officer was honored for JFK cover-up” (JFK Facts, Dec. 19, 2012)












25 thoughts on “ICYMI: Court upholds ‘public benefit’ of JFK disclosure”

  1. Let me join in the huzzahs…congrats Jeff and Jim Lesar for your perseverence and dedication. Judge Leon was trying to play goalkeeper for the establishment and he got called on it. Bravo!

  2. Arnaldo M Fernandez

    I didn´t find the original history in the June 2013 archive, and the warning seems to tell us that´s the old story, since the rule came on Tuesday and June 19, 2013, fell on Wednesday. However, I read people congratulating as if the rule actually came past Tuesday, given the date of their comments. It´s a confusion, isn´t?

  3. Eric P. Strzepek

    This is huge!
    Had Joaniddes not witheld, obstructed, and misdirected the HSCA, who know what they would have discovered?
    Thank you for all of this amazing work.

  4. Casey J. Quinlan

    Jeff and Jim congratulations! Your efforts are an outstanding act to help ordinary people come to terms with the death of JFK. You are the standard bearers for truth and justice in our nation.

  5. Marcus Hanson


    Your persistence is admirable.I have no doubt this will continue and I hope that you will,eventually, achieve your goal.

    Did you risk having to pay the legal fees from your own funds,or did you have backers who would assist in the event of an unfavourable judgment?

    Tuesday’s ruling seems to be exclusively about your legal fees. Some of the commenters here seem,IMO, to infer that the ruling compels the CIA to release files , but that is not the case , is it?

    I do not want to belittle your efforts – quite the opposite, in fact-but a sober sense of perspective must prevail over hasty,misplaced enthusiasm.

    Thank you

    1. Marcus,
      It’s probably not my place to jump in here, but I’m surprised that you aren’t aware that Jeff Morley has been transparent about the specifics of the case, up to and including his right to seek reimbursement for legal fees.

      Symbolic victories in this 50 year old drama are significant and worthy of celebration, even if at the expense of a less than sober sense of perspective. I also hope this ruling is more than symbolic, not only for Messers. Morley and Lesar, but for our nation.


    Congratulations, to both you and Jim Lesar.

    I am glad to see alone thing’s are still working within the system. AMKW

  7. Congratulations Jeff and Jim. It’s good to see Judge Leon taken to the woodshed for ignoring the basic rules of fair play. Even more important, it enables people like Jim Lesar to take on these cases. A small and significant victory for democracy.

  8. Congrats are in order. I guess it couldn’t be better news. I hope for Mr. Lesar & Jeff Morley’s sake the check doesn’t bounce. It may take another 10 years to collect the $25. bounce check fee.

  9. Many thanks, Jeff. Please set up some sort of fund, if need be, to continue pursuing these miscreants. I’ve got my checkbook ready.

    The Davy case (550 F.3d 1155) lays out a four-point test for determining whether attorney fees should be awarded in an FOIA case:

    “With this understanding, the court has directed the district court to consider at least four criteria in determining whether a substantially prevailing FOIA litigant is entitled to attorney’s fees: (1) the public benefit derived from the case; (2) the commercial benefit to the plaintiff; (3) the nature of the plaintiff’s interest in the records; and (4) the reasonableness of the agency’s withholding of the requested documents.”

    Damn right information relevant to understanding the JFK assassination is a “public benefit.”

  10. Congratulations, Jeff. This is an important victory. You have really given new life to the push for transparency, in the Kennedy case and more broadly.

  11. Excellent! The man awarding Joannides the CIA’s Career Intelligence Medal is Bobby Ray Inman, a neighbor of mine here in Austin, TX. In an April 2, 2009 interview Inman told me, “I will go to my grave believing Fidel Castro killed John Kennedy.”

    Inman did not seem to be knowledgeable about the JFK assassination but he sure seemed comfortable with that thought, which is the same line Lyndon Johnson spent a lot of time feeding insiders and opinion makers in the immediate aftermath of the JFK assassination.

    I asked Inman if he thought Oswald was US intelligence. Inman replied that at every stop along the way of his long intelligence career he had looked for information on that but could not find anything to support it.

    When I suggested to Inman that Allen Dulles was tending to the CIA’s interests on the Warren Report, Inman gave me the look of a kid with his arm halfway down a cookie jar when mom comes into the kitchen.

  12. George Simmons

    Congratulations Jeff, and thank you for your efforts.

    I have always found it staggering how blatantly the CIA lied to us when they claimed they had no relationship with the DRE in 1963.

    Also staggering is the fact that George Joannides served as the CIA principal co-ordinator with the HSCA in 1978 but did not disclose his role in 1963 to investigators.
    In my opinion, this shows that when it comes to the JFK assassination the CIA are prepared to lie to and deliberately mislead official investigations.
    G Blakey, Chief Counsel of the HSCA stated that “the process lacked integrity precisely because of Joannides”

    I have a couple of questions :
    1) I understand that in Dec 2007 the US court of appeal ruled that the CIA must explain the absence of monthly reports on the DRE from Joannides tenure with them. What was the CIA response?

    2) Have the CIA ever released the document which shows why Joannides recieved the Career Intelligence Medal in 1981?

  13. Congratulations, Mr. Morley & Mr. Bradford. Yours is a victory for a free society vs. a censored one. I admire you patience & fortitude. I look forward to learning more about George Joannides & what he was all about back in the day.

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