Dale Myers and Gus Russo are obsessed about conspiracy.
In recent media coverage of JFK assassination news, these two veteran JFK experts hear “Drums of Conspiracy” and seek to warn the public of impending danger: Those crazy conspiracy theorists are coming. Watch out, they say. And watch out especially for that Jefferson Morley. His purpose in reporting on the CIA’s role in the JFK story is, they insinuate, actually a ruse to promote a JFK conspiracy theory that is just about as crazy as the notion that JFK was shot by a Secret Service man.
Myers and Russo use the word “conspiracy” no less than 28 times in their piece. They especially take exception to what I told Associated Press reporter David Porter: that my legal battles for JFK files were “about transparency, not conspiracy.” Not so, they insist.
“It’s about conspiracy,” they declare, “and everybody knows it.
As Myers and Russo know I’ve managed to write about the JFK story for national publications for 30 years without having a JFK conspiracy theory. I’ve debunked one or two that I know to be false and I have commented occasionally on the possible implications of new JFK evidence but that is hardly the focus of my published work — or the point of the widely-reprinted AP story about my lawsuit against the CIA. As they know, my efforts to obtain the still-withheld files of George Joannides have been have been supported by a wide range of the JFK authors on both sides of the conspiracy question.
Their gambit seems to be to conflate demands for transparency with conspiracy mongering with the goal of discrediting both. Confronted with a body of new JFK evidence whose implications unsettle them, they defend the CIA’s extreme claims of secrecy and attempt to label me as a “conspiracy theorist,” using a combination of denial, defensiveness, and innuendo that does them no credit.
They insist that there is nothing in the 1,100 still secret JFK records held in the National Archives that is relevant to the assassination. Yet, as JFK Facts has reported, these files include hundreds of pages of material on the operations of David Phillips and William Harvey, both of whom were CIA assassination specialists. They include material on David Morales and Howard Hunt, Miami-based officers known to loathe JFK’s Cuba policy; and on Birch D. O’Neil, head of the counterintelligence office that tracked accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald from 1959 to 1963. This material would surely add to our understanding of the JFK story.
They report Judge John Tunheim’s claim that this material was reviewed by at least one member of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). But that review occurred in the spring of 1998 when the ARRB had no idea of the role of George Joannides in the events of 1963; before the CIA disclosed that David Phillips had orchestrated a political assassination in Chile in 1970; and before Howard Hunt made murky comments about the possibility of a conspiracy against JFK.
They call the still-unexplained actions of Joannides in 1963 a “shadow of a story” while ignoring the single most important finding of my JFK journalism, reported in the New York TImes, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press: that Joannides served as the Agency’s principal liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) and that neither he nor the agency ever disclosed their knowledge of the events of 1963 to investigators,
The reason for their denial seems clear. Joannides’s agents in the anti-Castro Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRE) had a series of encounters with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the summer of 1963. If, as Myers and Russo insist, Joannides knew nothing about the DRE’s encounters with Oswald in 1963, he could have — and should have — disclosed the fact to the HSCA in 1978. Yet he chose not to do so.
Why? Why would he conceal exculpatory information? Like the CIA, Myers and Russo offer no explanation. They pretend it never happened.
The people who were deceived by the CIA have been more forthright.
Former HSCA general counsel Robert Blakey said Joannides was a material witness who should have been deposed himself.
“Had I known who he was, he would have been a witness who would have been interrogated under oath by the staff or by the committee,” Blakey told PBS Frontline. “He would never have been acceptable as a point of contact with us to retrieve documents.” The CIA’s failure to disclose Joannides’s role amounted to “willful obstruction of justice.”
Burt Griffin, Warren Commission staffer, told the AP the CIA’s failure to disclose Joannides’s relationship with the DRE at the time of the group’s encounters with Oswald to the Warren Commission was an act of “bad faith.”
Judge Tunheim, the former ARRB chairman, said the CIA’s reliance on Joannides in 1978 and its failure to disclose his 1963 assignment showed “the agency was not interested in the truth about JFK’s assassination.”
Was Joannides hiding “something big?” as I suggested to the AP. Myers and Russo scoff at that possibility while avoiding mention of the evidence that suggests he might have been hiding his knowledge of a still-undisclosed CIA operation involving the DRE and Oswald (which I think would qualify as “big.”)
First of all, Joannides was funding the DRE at the time of the group’s encounters with Oswald. According to his July 31, 1963, job evaluation, Joannides was funding the DRE for the purposes of “political action, propaganda, intelligence collection and a hemisphere wide apparatus.” The evaluation also states that Joannides had established a degree of control over the DRE.
Within three weeks of that assessment, the DRE delegation in New Orleans had collected intelligence on Oswald, engaged in political action against Oswald’s one-man chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba and generated propaganda about him.
In other words, when it came to Oswald, the DRE carried out the functions that the CIA paid for.
There are two possibilities. Either Joannides knew about Oswald in New Orleans, or he didn’t.
Interviews with members of the DRE who knew Joannides do not settle the issue. One former DRE leader says Joannides knew about Oswald in New Orleans. One says he did not. One says he did not remember. One refuses to be interviewed. Of course, if the DRE’s contacts with Oswald were part of a still-classsified CIA operation, it would be illegal for these witnesses to answer the question truthfully.
The CIA, which does know the answer to the question, refuses to provide any records of Joannides’s actions in August 1963. Indeed the agency refuses to answer any questions about it. In my comments describing this state of affairs — accurately — Myers and Russo defend the CIA’s extreme claims of secrecy and disparage me for challenging them. It is an odd agenda.
They note what I have long said: there is no evidence in the available record that shows Joannides traveled to New Orleans in 1963. They avoid, however, saying what I was the first to report: that Joannides, as chief of the psychological warfare or covert action branch of the Miami station, ran covert operations using the DRE in late 1963.
Joannides’s job evaluation for the period August 1963 to May 1964 shows that he spent his $2.4 million annual covert action budget “on printed propaganda, black and white radio operations implemented by labor, student, and professional groups.” (Read it here).
We know that the DRE generated printed propaganda about Oswald both before and after the assassination. We know that DRE delegate Carlos Bringuier debated Oswald on the radio. We know the DRE shared a tape of the debate with Joannides after the assassination and used it in their propaganda efforts.
So it is fair to ask: Were the DRE’s actions related to Oswald part of Joannides’s operational accomplishments cited in the performance review?
Again, the CIA obfuscations make the question impossible to answer. Rather than question the agency’s obtuseness, they object to my careful, factual statements about a body of records hidden by unnecessary secrecy. They claim that my observations raise the possibility of “conspiracy.” That is a fair and unsettling conclusion, and they have every right to reach it. But I did not so. My offense seems to be that my JFK journalism lets readers make up their own minds.
It is worth noting that the CIA itself does not corroborate Myers and Russo’s fervent denials that Joannides could have been running an operation that involved Oswald and the DRE.
The CIA is more careful than its self-appointed bodyguards. In the course of my lawsuit, the agency acknowledged in court filings that Joannides had served undercover in Miami in 1963 but specifically refused to say if he participated in any other undercover operation.
So if Myers and Russo ever dare to ask the CIA the question, “Was George Joannides running a covert operation involving the DRE and Oswald in the summer of 1963?” the agency will reply that it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any operation Joannides worked on at that time.
That is why I do not rule out the possibility that Joannides participated in an covert operation involving Oswald and the DRE: because the CIA does not rule it out.
Myers and Russo cite my 2006 article in Playboy.com on recent developments in the forensic evidence of JFK’s assassination — which I said undermined confidence in the lone gunman theory. They don’t dispute the accuracy of any of my reporting yet they label my findings “conspiracy-speak.” Once again, when the facts of the case unsettle their conclusions, they charge me of reaching conspiratorial conclusions — which I was careful not to do, again because I prefer to let readers make up their own minds. For this I am accused of being a conspiracy-monger. Like I said, it is odd.
The defensiveness reaches a revealing peak when they chide me for suggesting that Joannides received the Career Intelligence Medal for his JFK-related actions. Not so, they say.
“What makes [Morley] think that the award singles out anything that Joannides specifically did in the years 1963 and 1978?” they write. “Morley acknowledged in 2006 that a five-page citation that accompanied the Joannides medal was being withheld in full.  So, apparently Morley doesn’t know whether 1963 or 1978 was singled out for praise or not.”
I do know, in fact, because the CIA has said as much. Unbeknownst to Myers and Russo, the CIA released the language of the medal citation to me in 2008. (View it here.) It states that Joannides was honored for 28 years of service “in diverse assignments of increasing responsibility at Headquarters, the domestic field, and overseas.”
That statement covers his work in 1963 and 1978. His HSCA assignment occurred while he was serving at CIA headquarters. His tenure in Miami was in the domestic field. The citation does not exempt any periods of his career from approbation. Rather, the citation stresses the entirety of his performance including his assignments in 1963 and 1978 when his actions related directly to JFK’s assassination. Transparency clarifies the issue.
Which seems to be what Myers and Russo fear: new information that contradicts their deeply held views. Their defensiveness is telling. I reported the unknown stories of CIA officers George Joannides, John Whitten, Jane Roman and Win Scott to enhance and clarify the record of the CIA’s role in the events that led to JFK’s assassination. None of these stories have a conspiratorial ax to grind. People are free to cite my reporting in service of their favorite conspiracy theory or anti-conspiracy theory. As for myself, I have thought all along and still think that it is premature to reach definitive conclusions on the conspiracy question. I reserve judgment until the CIA shares all the evidence.
By contrast, Myers and Russo are determined to support the CIA in its efforts to block release of this evidence. Their method is to pound the drums of conspiracy so as to drown out discussion of the unnecessary and unjustifiable CIA secrecy around JFK’s assassination records.
Will it work? Possibly, but I hope not. After 50 years, people are tired of polemics and secrecy. We want new information that will clarify the causes of JFK’s death. We want transparency.