Judge Richard Leon, who yesterday challenged the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program, has been hearing my FOIA lawsuit, Morley v. CIA, for the last ten years.
The Times says Judge Leon has a record of wrestling with the government — but not so much when it comes to secrecy claims for ancient JFK assassination records held by the CIA.
I filed my lawsuit ten years ago today, on December 17th, 2003. In the decade since, Judge Leon has almost never done what he did yesterday: question the government’s rationale of “national security” as a justification for secrecy.
In September 2006 Judge Leon dismissed my case saying I had not produced “a scintilla of evidence” to support one of my claims. In December 2007, the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed his decision.
While hearing my many arguments that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compels release of the files of deceased CIA officer George Joannides, Judge Leon has mostly deferred to the counterarguments of the Justice Department lawyers who repeat the CIA’s far-fetched claim that releasing the details of Joannides’s actions in New Orleans in 1963 will damage U.S. national security in 2013.
One last decision
Now Judge Leon faces one last decision in Morley v. CIA: should the government be compelled to pay the costs of the litigation, estimated by my attorney Jim Lesar to run in excess of $200,000?
The CIA and the Justice Department say no, that the litigation has produced no information of public benefit and that I should not be compensated for legal fees. The government’s attorneys have argued that my motive in filing the lawsuit was financial — to obtain the Joannides files directly from the government so that I wouldn’t have to paying photocopying charges at the National Archives.
In response, I have said that the litigation has produced information about the JFK assassination story that benefits the public, such as:
— The revelation that Joannides maintained a residence in New Orleans around the time his network of Cuban students were publicizing the pro-Castro activities of Lee Harvey Oswald
— A photograph, displayed here, showing that Joannides received a CIA medal in 1981, three years after he misled the House Select Committee on Assassinations about what he knew of Oswald’s Cuban contacts in the months before JFK was killed
The CIA denies the Career Intelligence Medal was bestowed for Joannides’s JFK-related duties but won’t release a 1981 memo that explains why Joannides was honored.
As for the notion that Jim Lesar and I spent ten years in court with the CIA in order to save ourselves copying costs, well, that can only be described as a comical conspiracy theory. I would laugh except that the lawyers who composed that nonsense are paid by the U.S. taxpayers, i.e., you and me. I hope Judge Leon will not be swayed by such a bogus argument.
Judge Leon’s decision in the NSA case, which I think was correct and courageous, gives me hope about my case.
In our recent motion in the case, Lesar called the judge’s attention to the widespread news coverage of the Joannides story ranging from Fox News and the New York Times to the San Angelo Times in south Texas and the Daily Mail in London. If the judge needs evidence of public benefit of the litigation he has it.
I look forward his decision.