CIA to argue JFK lawsuit disclosures have no ‘public benefit’

Barrett Prettyman Courthouse

Washington DC courthouse where federal judges will hear oral arguments about the CIA’s JFK records.

On Monday March 19, a three-judge federal appellate court in Washington, D.C. will hear oral arguments about the “public benefit” of disclosure of CIA files related to the assassination of President Kennedy.

With the release of the last of the U.S. government’s JFK assassination files set for April 26, 2018, the judges have to pass judgement on a still-timely question: is there any public benefit from learning more about the events of November 1963?

I say yes. A lot of news organizations have agreed with me.

In the past 10 years, the New York Times, Fox News, Boston Globe, Politico, and Associated Press have all written about Morley v. CIA, and its revelations.

The Times and several others news sites published photographs of Joannides I obtained during the litigation. The AP story was picked up by two dozen newspapers nationwide. The public benefit, my attorney Jim Lesar will argue, can be found in the extensive press coverage.

Joannides medal

Retired CIA officer George Joannides (left) received the Career Intelligence Medal in 1981(Photo credit: CIA)

The lawsuit, Morley v. CIA, obtained several hundred pages from the files of deceased CIA officer George Joannides. The new material included:

–a photograph showing that Joannides received a CIA medal in July 1981. That was three years after he had stonewalled Dan Hardway and other congressional investigators about what he knew of contacts between accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and his agents in a CIA political action/propaganda program known by the code name AMSPELL.

While it was been known since 2001 that Joannides played a curious, if not suspicious, role in the JFK story, Morley v. CIA revealed he had received a CIA commendation for his actions.

–Two memos indicating that Joannides maintained a residence in New Orleans during his stint as the Miami-based chief of the agency’s psychological warfare operations in 1962-64.

Joannides’ role in funding the anti-Castro Cuban Student Directorate, (AMSPELL), at the time the group had contact with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was previously known. Morley v. CIA revealed that Joannides travelled at least twice to New Orleans  where the Oswald-AMSPELL encounters took place.

AMSPELL is still a very sensitive topic. The CIA partially released an 86 page AMSPELL file last fall; all but 24 pages were redacted.

–A CIA memo stated that when Joannides acted as CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978,  he served in an “undercover” role.

Until Morley v. CIA no one knew that the CIA had assigned an officer to  an “undercover” role in a JFK investigation.

–A so-called Vaughn Index listing scores of still-classified CIA records about Joannides’ actions, including a September 1978 evaluation of his job performance when he was stonewalling the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Dan Hardway, West Virginia attorney and former HSCA investigator, has explained how Joannides thwarted the HSCA investigation.

In sum, the lawsuit revealed that Joannides was rewarded for obstructing the investigation of the death of President Kennedy and that the CIA is still concealing information about his JFK-related activities in 1963 and 1978.

Benefits

A wide variety of experienced news editors and reporters independent came to the conclusion that their readers should know about the findings of Morley v. CIA. They thought what I discovered would benefit the public.

A Justice Department lawyer, on behalf of the CIA, will say there has been no public benefit from learning more about the Joannides story. Got that? The CIA is telling you, me and the world: there is nothing to be gained from investigating the story of George Joannides’ secret operations in the summer of 1963.

That argument is revealing in its detail and its defensiveness. Why is the CIA so adamant about the insignificance of this obscure officer? We’ll find out in court on March 19.

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