Morley v. CIA: JFK at issue in federal court next week

The Washington DC courthouse where a long-running JFK FOIA lawsuit will be heard on February 25

Why are the CIA and the Justice Department bad-mouthing me?

In a federal court filing last November, U.S. Attorney Ron Machen sought to discredit my efforts to obtain CIA records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by saying that documents I obtained via litigation were of “no public benefit” and would not help U.S. citizens make “vital public choices.”

Why, I wondered, was the top law enforcement officer in the nation’s capital so determined to dismiss my efforts to shed new light on something that happened nearly 50 years ago?

The answer will be heard on Monday, February 25, in a federal courtroom in downtown Washington, D.C.That’s when a three-judge panel of the DC Court of Appeals is scheduled to listen to oral arguments in my long-running Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for certain ancient JFK assassination records that the U.S. government wants to keep from public view during the 50th anniversary year of JFK’s death.

It is not easy to sue the CIA. In the early years of the litigation, the government lawyers were at least polite. Now Justice Department attorneys with six-figure salaries routinely disparage my motives and rubbish my lawsuit, which is modest in scope and arcane in its details. I am seeking a CIA administrative file containing 295 documents about a long-dead officer. After spending a decade resisting my request for these government records, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia is now on the record as saying that I have obtained nothing of value.

“No public benefits derived from Morley’s lawsuit,” Machen declared.

I beg to differ. Despite a decade of obfuscation, the lawsuit forced the CIA to produce some very revealing documents. Represented by veteran FOIA litigator Jim Lesar, I will tell the judges the story that the CIA and the Justice Department are so determined to descredit: the CIA honored one of its employees for concealing from Congress what he knew about the murder of a sitting American president.

This day has been a long time coming. When I sued the CIA in December 2003 for certain documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I had three goals in mind:

The first was to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain new information about the role of certain CIA officers in the events that led to JFK’s murder.

I made progress toward this goal in August 2008 when the CIA, under orders of the DC Court of Appeals, gave me a set of photographs of a CIA officer named George Joannides. The photos showed Joannides had received one of the Agency’s highest honors, the Career Intelligence Medal, in 1981.

Lee Oswald came to the attention of Joannides’ anti-Castro informants in New Orleans in the summer of 1963.

The honor was significant because of Joannides’ recurring role in the JFK story. In the summer and fall of 1963, he was running “psychological warfare” operations against the Castro government out of Miami and New Orleans. At the same time, hIs Cuban exile agents got into a fight with a man named Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans. The CIA’s boys debated Oswald on a local radio program, and called attention to his one-man chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.

After JFK was killed three months later — allegedly by Oswald — Joannides’ agents immediately publicized the accused assassin’s pro-Castro activism in an effort to convince the public that Kennedy was killed by a communist. The CIA did not disclose Joannides’ financial support for Oswald’s antagonists to the Warren Commission, which concluded Oswald acted alone.

FIfteen years later, George Joannides resurfaced in the JFK story. When Congress reopened the assassination investigation in 1978, the CIA called him out of retirement to serve as the agency’s liaison to the investigators. He was supposed to facilitate the investigation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). But he never disclosed what he knew about Oswald’s contacts with his network in 1963, even when asked direct questions. “Joannides obstructed our investigation,” said HSCA general counsel, G. Robert Blakey, now a law professor at Notre Dame.

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)

What the CIA was forced to disclose by my lawsuit was that Joannides had received one of the agency’s highest honors, a Career Intelligence Medal, two years after he stonewalled Congress.

The medal, according to the CIA’s Web site, is given for “performance of outstanding services or for achievement of a distinctly exceptional nature in a duty or responsibility, the results of which constitute a major contribution to the mission of the Agency.”

The CIA argues that Joannides did not receive the medal specifically for his actions related to JFK’s assassination or its investigation.

A second goal of my lawsuit was to generate press coverage of new facts in the JFK assassination story. Over the years, Morley v. CIA succeeded in getting the attention of mainstream publications such as the New York Review of Books, Huffington Post,  New York TImes, Denver PostSalon, and St. Paul Legal Ledger, as well as numerous radio shows and blogs.

A third goal was more wishful. I hoped that at some point the adversarial nature of the legal process might enable me to put a substantive question about JFK’s assassination in front of a federal judge for independent review. In ten long years of litigation I have never had that opportunity.

Until now.

On February 25, the D.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Morley v. CIA. The judges will have to decide the public benefit of the information I have uncovered about the late George Joannides.

The legal matter before the court on Feb. 25 is narrow: whether the government should have to pay my legal fees, estimated at $150,000, because the Court of Appeals ruled in my favor and against the government in December 2007. Typically, but not always, in FOIA cases the government pays the court costs of a successful plaintiff.

The question before the court is whether my efforts have yielded any information of “general public benefit.” In laymen’s terms, has the lawsuit generated any significant information about JFK’s assassination?

The New York Times thought so, publishing a story about the lawsuit in 2009, including a picture of Joannides getting the medal. The Denver Post ran the same story. The case was written about on blogs like FOIA Blog and Machetera. In 2009, I received the PEN/Oakland Censorship Award in 2009 for pursuing the case.

According to the U.S. Attorney, I am wasting the court’s time at the taxpayer’s expense. In his brief last fall, Machen declared, “Morley is seeking to accomplish an unspecified financial benefit for himself by shifting the costs of obtaining publicly available documents from himself to the taxpayers.”

That hurt. According to Machen, I am freeloader using a FOIA lawsuit to fob off my photocopying charges on the general public. Since the government routinely exempts professional journalists from paying copying costs in FOIA litigation, the U.S. Attorney is basically on record as saying that I don’t deserve to be treated as a professional journalist.

Yet at the same time the government seeks to discredit me as a journalist, the CIA refuses to answer some basic journalistic questions. If Joannides did not receive the Career Intelligence Medal for his actions related to JFK’s assassination, what did he receive it for?

The CIA declines to answer the question. One of the documents in dispute in this case is a 5-page memo, dated March 1981, about the approval of the award for Joannides. The memo is classified in its entirety — for reasons of “national security.”

So the story of Joannides’ medal is not trivial. If the CIA is to be believed, it is a matter of U.S. national security in 2013.

The disclosure of Joannides’ medal provides a useful clue to understanding the CIA’s role in the events that lead to JFK’s murder and its confused investigatory aftermath.

No, it is not “smoking gun” proof of a conspiracy. It is a factual piece of history that can help people make the “vital public choice” of whether to believe the CIA’s account of JFK’s assassination as we approach the 50th anniversary of that tragic event in November 2013.

The medal suggests that the CIA honored one its employees for concealing the truth from the Warren Commission and Congress about what he knew of Oswald’s contacts with anti-Castro, anti-JFK Cuban exiles. There is no evidence Joannides was a co-conspirator in JFK’s death. More likely, he was an accessory after that fact. He did not conspire to kill the president. He may have aided and abetted those who did.

If I am wrong about this (and I concede that I might be), then the public release of his files will clear the air and his name. The notion that “national security” is at stake seems exaggerated. All of the documents I seek are more than 30 years old; a third of them are more than 50 years old. One document dates back to 1944. CIA Information Coordinator Michelle Meeks says no portion of any of these ancient records — not a single sentence — can be made public in 2013, for reasons of “national security.”

It is not pleasant to have your professional reputation trashed by career government officials working for multi-billion dollar government agencies. But I am actually looking forward to the Feb. 25 hearing

The federal courts are a great equalizer. How often does one get a chance to talk back to the government, to refute its overbearing claims and question its self-interested decisions?

The hearing will illuminate the significance of the Joannides story in one of the highest courts in the land. It will shed light on what the CIA prefers to keep secret about its Cuban operations and JFK’s assassination 50 years after the fact. It will give the public a chance to hear the CIA’s extraordinary, extreme and, some would say, suspicious claims for secrecy around the events of November 1963.

Ultimately, the hearing creates the possibility of accountability. The CIA says there’s no story in Joannides’ medal. Pay no attention to it, says the U.S. Attorney. It will not benefit you it any way. I will have the opportunity to say, no, there is a story of public benefit here, a sad story about JFK’s death and its consequences, and a troubling story about secrecy in America today.

Three eminent judges will decide the issue: They are: Harry Edwards, a liberal appointed by President Carter; Stephen WIlliams, a conservative appointed by President Reagan; and Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush.


47 thoughts on “Morley v. CIA: JFK at issue in federal court next week”

  1. I am an average guy from England not an academic of any kind,(aged 56). When President Kennedy was murdered I was 5 . My parents (Catholics) blacked out all the windows and curtains in the house for two weeks we lived in the dark (true)…very much as the American people have and the rest of the world since the presidents murder.

    Regardless of the misinformation, so called Conspiracy theorists, a branding manufactured to the point where expressing any doubts about the official version is derided … even in the UK., If the CIA did not do it or cover it up … Why don’t they prove it ??? Oswald was guilty before trial… there is enough ‘doubt’ such that the CIA should be desperate to inform and prove its innocence or are they simply above the law…the sort of power above a President (?)…but not an elected one.

    50 years in control of this murder isn’t it about time the American people got the truth or at least dissolved the CIA for incompetence (?) ergo guilt by ‘cover up’ top marks! it is insulting to the common man’s intelligence! Eisenhower (?spelling) warning of the Military Industrial complex…a reality since Vietnam…why not admit the truth and allow people to regain the confidence and trust it deserves in its government, (government of the people by the people for the people).

    …looking at what we now know about the Cuban Missile crisis, ironically it’s likely the CIA, the government or any of us would even be here today. It is a distant enough event for the CIA to now be honest and fear of international reprisals long gone…I guess the only reason not to be honest and release the full unexpurgated truth for the murder is that those responsible involved or covering it up are still in high places and still alive…why not just admit it and allow America to be free and represent what it once did… why does it mistrust its own public so much? Why not allow the dreams and freedom America once stood for a fresh start?

    Mr Morley every good fortune in your battle in finding out the truth and for standing up to a ‘Machine’ that does little more than represent its own ambition and stonewall its own people. Be strong and stay safe for truths sake…as for awarding Mr. Joannides for his service to your country, how readily your government dishonours the thousands of American who sacrificed their lives during world war 2, for me and millions of other unknown people like me generations down the line…your government disgraces its own fallen…sickening and disgraceful… For you Mr. Morley my admiration and deepest respect…what you are doing is what used to be admired by the world as Hero standing up for what is right, truth and integrity… may your god bless you!

    Terence Anthony Nolan

  2. Hope to meet you in Dallas this year.
    I became aware of both yourself and your efforts through the Mary Ferrel site.
    I can’t express enough my appreciation of you courage and work in this area.
    I then began more less a an effort to get anyone I encounter on the matter to see your interview for their thoughts.
    This is the closest we are to confirming a working relationship in New Orleans with LHO and CIA
    This is critical thus the stonewalling by CIA.. Please keep up the fight

  3. An Operational Readiness Inspection of F104 Fighter Interceptor Base at Big Springs, Texas was active on Nov. 23, 1963. I was temporally assigned to be Armament System Inspector. An armed F104 was airborne over Dallas and exploded during the Kennedy event. The base inspection was terminated at that instant. No person ever brought up that airborne explosion; however, an investigation of that explosion had to occur. Your FOI might be the trick to open that door.

  4. Stay with it, Jefferson, keep assembling those puzzle pieces. They are fighting this so hard — I wonder what else might be in those files?

  5. Hi Jeff, I think it would be good to appeal to Judges sense of them losing power to the executive in most cases. Let them know that most of the world does not believe in the “Lone nut theories” of JFK MLK and RFK and let them know that RFK Jr. is now with us on that.

    Let them know that they should decide what records are important and if the public can handle the truth for what is democracy without the truth that is hidden.

    Also they should know that anything “Sensitive” and “Human source” records are held back from the public and that i jim Glover was told about the JFK assassination before it happened and am an eyewitness to many things hidden and have reported it over the years to Justice, FBI, Presidents including Obama. And let them know that the CIA has admitted that they have no way to find anything that they do that is considered illegal and ask them, the Judges to be the Judge!

    Transparency for democracy is up to them while the executive punishes investigative Journalists, researchers, Whistle blowers. Searchers of the truth are the ones who can find and report crimes and misdeeds of the Executive Branch while the Judiciary Branch has been expected to go along with this state of affairs.

    Best of Luck, Jim

    1. The hearing will take place at 9:00 am Monday Feb. 25 in the fifth floor courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse on 3rd St NW in Washington DC>

      1. David McCampbell


        I will do my best to be there! You have our full support. Thank you for all of your efforts and outstanding work.



  6. I thank you for your efforts to finally get us the truth. Yes, it is time and I think we are all more than ready to hear it, also to know what the government is really capable of keeping from us.
    Best wishes for the 25th! Also, stay safe and keep your head down.

    1. Good on you! I really like it when students of the assassination can put differences aside to demand the release of the files. I think this year should be about all of us getting the records and not CT vs LN (to use popular terms).

      1. Thanks Frankie:

        Although I don’t know you personally, I agree with your post.

        I’ve been researching the assassination for years and have written a book (as yet unpublished) which includes an intro by Dr. John K. Lattimer, Author of “Kennedy and Lincoln.”

        I’ve read the CIA’s drivel about “logistical reasons” for not complying with the JFK Records Act and it rings hollow.

        The CIA’s dealings with the HSCA also leave much to be desired.

        Even though I am not a fan of Blakey’s I agree with him on this one.

  7. The part of US History (the assassination of President John F. Kennedy) that most of Americans born at the time, still grapple with today.

    Napoleon said “History is written by the winners”

    Almost five decades later, some documents still classified and the whole truth never told to the American public. Why ?

  8. Proof of Jack Ruby’s U. S. Government Secret Security Clearance is contained in my book FOUR WARS. On September 1, 1961 Jack Ruby produced a secret clearance and was an observer on two secret flights that I was conducting for a CIA test bed. No one was allowed to observe these flights without a ‘need to know’ and a U. S. Security Clearance. The flights were demonstrations of automatic flight at a 200 foot altitude. At this altitude the intruding aircraft was ‘invisible to intercepting radars’. I recognized Ruby from visits to his Carousel Club. for more information visit, or email.

    1. Alan, some good questions for you. Did Hemming ever say how he got back to LA after the Big Event?

      Phil also said the guy dressed like him on the Shadow bus that day was Felix Rodriquez. Did you ever come across any info about that?

      Do you think Phil and me were being set up or to learn the inside of the operation or both?

  9. Best of luck Jeff. And Jim who has been at this forever.
    Thank you for your many years at this and the success you have already attained. Hey you got Blakey to change his attitude. Miracles do happen. This IS the year for that.

    (Attorney) Dawn Meredith
    Austin Tx.

  10. Jeff, you’ve got three errors in your article.

    1.) The answer will [ BE ] heard on Monday, February 25, in a federal courtroom in downtown Washington, D.C.

    2. According to Machen, I am freeloader using a FOIA lawsuit to fob [ OFF] my photocopying charges on the general public.

    3.) It is a factual piece of history that can help people make the “vital public choice” of whether to believe the CIA’s account of [ JFK’s] assassination as we approach the 50th anniversary of that tragic event in November 2013.

    I think if members of the public show up for you it may help. I’ll try to be there.

  11. Mr. Morley and Mr. Lesar are being frustrated in their long pursuit of transparency because it could result in accountability and embarrass stenographers enough to transform them into journalists who ask questions and challenge the answers. Mr. Machen views his mission as one of keeping the lid on. If he fails, ugly consequences could result. Senator Jay Rockefeller and former POTUS George HW Bush need to be spared from questions such as whether it is only coincidence that Rockefeller’s grandfather, Elon H. Hooker, was the first cousin of Louise Wolcott Hooker Dodge, the maternal grandmother of Thomas J. Devine, and that Devine met in May, 1963, with George Bush’s close friend Edward G Hooker’s business partner, George DeMohrenschildt, the man described as Lee Harvey Oswald’s closest companion? Imagine if former CIA agent and George Bush petroleum partner Thomas J. Devine was asked about such coincidences by a bevy of news reporters, and even about the coincidence of Thomas J. Devine residing in a small M.I.T. fraternity house for four years with Garry Coit, the CIA agent who informed the HSCA that he was Priscilla Johnson’s CIA contact? I submit that U.S. Attorney Machen is probably just doing the bidding of his superiors, Mr. Holder and Mr. Obama.

    1. I actually doubt that. Yes, government officials and CIA officers have intersecting social graphs. That is not evidence, much less proof of a conspiracy.

      In fact, I dont’ think Ron Machen knows much about this case. He has been misinformed and misled by his colleagues at the CIA about the JFK assassination relevance of the documents I seek. I hope the Court of Appeals decision will prove educational for him.

    2. TJ Scully’s research is invaluable in identifying those with the overriding imperative to order the execution of a sitting president, those with the leverage to manipulate events in Dallas, and those with sufficient influence to cover up the truth behind the assassination. The combination of all three is critical when considering the conspiracy and could only exist outside of elected government even while government officials were involved.

      Many in the JFK research community recognize the significance of the area of study to which researchers like Peter Dale Scott, TJ Scully and Linda Minor have brought intense focus upon. While it does not rise to the level of evidence, it establishes the context in which all concrete proof will finally rest. Without it, there is the risk of only exposing the middlemen.

      If all goes as it should on Monday and additional evidence surfaces through the tireless efforts of Morley and Lesar, and providing those documents that are under pursuit reveal further links up the chain of command, then that evidence may very well directly intersect with the body of facts collected by the Scullys of the research community.

  12. Jeff,

    Are those hearings open to the public, ie. as a spectator? Please continue to do what you are doing. Even when you use the rules that THEY (OR CONGRESS) MADE FOR THESE SITUATIONS, they have done everything but call you names. Have Jim tell the Judges about the 2003 Wecht conference when almost 1000 teachers, students, lawyers, physicians and the public were there to find out some of the truths that OUR government wouldn’t tell us. And how hundreds go to Dealey Plaza each 22 November for a moment of silence. You tell those Judges this and tell them that Bob Truitt said it. Keep it UP!

    1. Yes, the courtroom is open to the public, Bob. Anyone can come. I will be posting the exact time and room number shortly. Come on down!

  13. If you win the case, it will benefit even those Americans who are uninterested in the assassination.

    Good luck, Jeff!

  14. This year is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. If this point is called to the attention of the judges, it may cause them to rule that it is about time the truth comes out from the files of the CIA of its involvment in the murder of a president.

  15. Can anyone comment on the amount, and type of media coverage Morley v. CIA is getting, or has gotten? I watch very little television, so I wouldn’t know too much about TV news coverage.

    Of course, I think it should be on the front page of the New York Times!

  16. I don’t think this is a liberal v. conservative issue any more than the assassination itself. I attended the oral arguments Dan Alcorn made before a three judge panel in COPA v. DOD to release the Army After Action Reports from Memphis for the week of the assassination of MLK. Dan too was up against the government’s heavy hitters and while he lost that case, the DOD reluctantly released a summary document that shows how much the military was keeping an eye on King and watched as he was murdered. I believe the court is open to the public and if you live nearby you should witness what transpires as I think public support will help the case.

    1. Was it Dylan who said there is no left wing, no right wing only up wing and down wing? So maybe it is an up wing and down wing thing, Bill?

      National Security sometimes = protecting secrets that would expose even minutely, the very thin veneer of democracy the general populace is allotted and is brainwashed into believing has any real depth and meaning.

      Symbols, slogans, ubernationalism, a 24 hour news cycle bereft of actual investigative reportage, buzz words, sound bytes, bread and circuses are pretty much all that keeps the veneer in place.

      The judiciary should be the place that such exposure can happen – has a chance of happening. But two out three judges being up wingers doesn’t auger well because it is likely they have a vested interest in the status quo.

    2. I agree, Bill. One of the most interesting observations on the JFK assassination, is the degree to which those who doubt the “lone-gunman” theory span the political spectrum, from the extreme left to the extreme right.

      Maybe there are differing ideas about the who and the why, but there is general agreement that something bad happened that day which held ill portent for this country far beyond the events of 1963.

      The consensus I’ve gathered, especially from those who were alive then, is that something changed in America when Kennedy was killed, and not for the better.

    3. Ramon F Herrera

      Hi Bill…

      [Bill Kelly wrote:] “I don’t think this is a liberal v. conservative issue any more than the assassination itself.”

      So you think that the polar transformation undergone by Bill O’Reilly as soon as he was made the main spokesperson for the Far Right was a simple coincidence?

      How about the components of the WC (not ONE friend of the Kennedys, not ONE liberal present)? A few years later, after being badly defeated, the Democrats regrouped (thanks to Watergate) and decided it was time to grab the bull by the horns. Have you noticed the composition of the HSCA?

      I have a more complete explanation which involves 2 dimensions/axes, but my writings in this regard are routinely -shall we say- “moderated out”?

      1. I would ask that people not impugn the integrity of the judges hearing my case in this forum.

        I may not agree with Brett Kavanaugh’s politics or his past but I go into the courtroom presuming that he is honest person who will judge the case according to the law and the facts as he understands them.

        1. “Kavanaugh himself was nominated to the D.C. Appeals Court by Bush in 2003. His confirmation hearings were contentious and stalled for three years over charges of partisanship.”

          “In July 2007 Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin accused Kavanaugh of “misleading” the Senate committee during his nomination stemming from the Bush White House detention policy.”

          No one here needs disparage him. The facts do that all on there own.

          It has always puzzled me how a country which says it believes in the separation of powers, nevertheless has politicized the judiciary by virtue of the selection process.

          How often are court decisions by a panel of judges been split down party political lines? All too often, I’d wager.

          Good luck. It may be worth it, if only for the publicity it (hopefully) generates. Sometimes victory comes in different guises.

  17. I wish you luck, but with the two conservative judges, and one, Kavanaugh, appointed by Bush (!!) I have to be skeptical of the judicial outcome working out in your favor. However, maybe miracles do happen and you will win. I am rooting for you!

  18. Good luck brother! I, and I’m sure many, many others are pulling for you, and will be following the outcome closely. You really are heroic, even though I suspect you don’t like to hear that sort of thing. But, what you’re doing is of the most profound importance.

    I honest to God believe it will contribute to a better world for my children. And, I don’t think I’m over stating the case one bit.

    1. Good luck on Feb 25th.

      I agree with Shane that this is incredibly important.

      What you have uncovered so far shows how the CIA misled the Warren Commission and the HSCA in a most breathtaking and outrageous way.

      The fact they are attacking you shows that you are on the right track.
      Good luck, and don’t forget that many support you.

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