The drums of conspiracy and the fear of transparency

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.

Not quite.

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.

(See “Top 5 JFK files Brennan should make public,” and “Two more JFK files for Brennan to review.”)

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.”)

Excerpt from the personnel file of George Joannides detailing what the CIA paid to anti-Castro DRE to do in the summer of 1963.

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?

The DRE sent a tape of a radio debate with Lee Harvey Oswald to their CIA handler, “Howard,” aka George Joannides. In his performance evaluation for 1963, Joannides was praised for running “black and white radio operations.”

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 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.

A medal for cover-up: the CIA honors George Joannides

“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. [7] 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.

14 thoughts on “The drums of conspiracy and the fear of transparency”

  1. I have been interested in knowing the truth about that day since I was 10-12 right around the HSC hearings ..I have always believed that more than 1 person was involved in this …. just last yr I was doing my own digging and just in watching the videos and news reels I came up with these 3 questions : (1, why was Jackie given Red Roses and not Yellow .. (2, all along the parade route there are thousands of people up and down the street and hanging out of building windows but when they turn into Dealy Plaza there’s people there but nowhere near the amount just a hundred feet away … (3 this one bothers me more than anything .. it’s clear that JFK and Connolly are hit .. the driver of the limo slows down and only after the fatal shot happens does the limo take off .. are we to believe he didnt hear the gunshots ?? if your job is to protect the Pres. you would’ve sped off at anything going wrong not slow down to a crawl ??

  2. “How could everybody have missed this?”

    Actually, if you read the WC you will find that several of the surgeons who worked on John Connolly thought he was shot by three different bullets.

    And it’s John Connolly, not John Connally

  3. Meyers I have not had interaction with, but I think he is the guy who set up the video of Dealey Plaza with cooked data to pretend that the single bullet theory is possible? He is not worth taking seriously, but the media, as always is quick to put up any nut who says the lone assassin theory is valid.
    Russo, on the other hand is someone I have had lots of contact with and even interviewed him in his Baltimore home in approx 1994 or so. He is a conspiracy theorist and don’t let him claim otherwise. He is pushing in his book the track 1 conspiracy which was offered first by CIA assets connected to the Cuban ops. Russo is of the belief (or so he says) that Oswald was a tool of Castro and the Soviets!

    CIA wanted to kill 2 birds with one stone. They killed JFK and blamed it on Oswald, with the purpose of starting a war over it and re-taking Cuba. That hare-brained scheme could have resulted in WW3 and a nuclear exchange, which was not needed in retaliation since it was our internal secret police who killed JFK! Russo is echoing the propaganda that originated from the killers who would have been in Counterintelligence under Angleton and/or in the Plans dept under Helms. Atlee Phillips sure was involved, and Joannides was another guy who would have known plenty about Oswald before the assassination. What is incredible about this is we know from documents that high officials in CIA were VERY interested in Oswald just before he was set up to take the fall for murdering JFK! Release these files already and stop giving Russo and other persons the ability to plant false info in the mainstream media? Oh; I forgot that media is compromised! Well, for now at least we have some alternative internet media… lets use that while we can to counter absurd lies like this!

    1. You think Meyers and others who believe in a lone gunman are dodo birds, even though all you have are shadowy photos, conjecture, paranoia and a distrust of government to fuel your delusional fantasies. You’re as crazy and as you think they are.

      1. There is a way to PROVE that a conspiracy killed JFK.

        There are TWO INDEPENDENT ways to determine the timing of the shots that killed JFK. If the time between the shots are the same, that means that statistically both are valid. I’ll show you what that means:

        In the Zapruder film, there are two instances that are almost universally accepted as indications shots were fired.

        Z313 JFK’s head is struck by a bullet
        Z224 Connally begins a series of movements that continues all the way up to the time that Connally is bent over violently forward which is several seconds later. The FBI measured the film speed as 18.3 frames/second. A simple calculation shows that the time between Z313 and Z224 is about 4.8 seconds. Remember that number as you look at this figure:

        You might notice that the time between shots #3 and #4 is also 4.8 seconds. Obviously if the time between shots is the same, that means statistically that both are valid. You’ll notice that 0.7 seconds AFTER JFK was shot in the head by shot #4 that the last shot was fired. A simple calculation using 18.3 frames per second shows that the Z film at Z325 should show a reaction to a shot.

        Looking at the Z film at Z325 we see from just before to just after, we see that John Connally moved violently forward. What happened? John Connally said repeatedly over many years and interviews that the bullet to his back BENT HIM OVER.

        We don’t see John Connally bent over until a split second AFTER JFK is shot in the head.

        The acoustical evidence shows that John Connally was wounded TWICE, once 4.8 secs before the JFK head shot and 0.7 seconds AFTER!

        The probability that the JFK acoustical experts guessed 4.8 seconds for the time between two of the shots is nil but the fact they guessed TWO shot intervals couldn’t have happened. It means the sounds of the shots were recorded. That proves that the US government not only lied, they forged, altered, destroyed and harassed witnesses to hide the truth.

        If you are like most Americans, you will not think nor question until the government controlled media tells you what to think. After all, they have looked at this “mystery” in depth, the press and independent researchers couldn’t have missed this, could they?

        The JFK assassination is not a question of missing facts or confusion anymore, it is a psychological question: Can Americans THINK without the US government and the press telling them what to think?

        How could everybody have missed this? One of the factors is that every JFK researcher believes that all of Connally’s wounds were caused by ONE bullet. That is NOT true as Connally violently reacted when the acoustical evidence shows shows #3 and #5 were fired. IF you accept invalid assumptions, you will reach invalid conclusions.

  4. Conspiracy theories are denigrated unless they are used by people in power to manipulate others. We invaded Iraq based on a conspiracy theory that there were weapons of mass destruction there.

    1. The US did NOT invade Iraq based on a conspiracy theory about weapons of mass destruction. That is the story the US government told the public, it is not the truth.

      Before you can understand the truth about the Iraq invasions, you have to understand what happened in the JFK assassination and who was behind the brutal murder. Although that might sound silly at first, there is a progression of facts you must understand before you can comprehend the truth.

  5. This is a good piece in response to Myers and Russo. In my view, no-one on any side of this debate should have an objection to an attempt to get additional classified documents released. I don’t really see how the question of motivation is all that relevant and it strikes me as nitpicking. Everyone with an interest in this case would like to see full disclosure, whatever information those documents might contain. The 50th anniversary would be a perfect time (albeit long overdue) to make them available to the public.

    1. The gubermint cannot and will not release documents that prove what happened during the JFK shooting.

      They can’t. The US gov’t insiders will tell any lie to hide the truth, it is too ugly even a half century later to let the public in on their dirty secrets. The insiders probably reason, it’s worked so far, let’s continue to lie.

      Americans are not born the biggest fools in history, they have been trained to not reach conclusions that are different from what the gubermint tells them. The presstitutes tell the public over and over and over the right answers and viciously attack anybody who questions their wisdom. The presstitutes rarely differ from the gubermint versions. They too have been trained to believe big brother.

  6. ‘Conspiracy Theory’ is a weaponized propaganda term consciously deployed by the state since the Kennedy assassination in order to marginalize suspicions about the assassination and its authors. Since then, it has been used constantly to dismiss suspicions of high crimes and to place the critics in the same category as people who believe in alien abductions or Bigfoot. The best work on this is professor Lance deHaven-Smith’s book Conspiracy Theory in America. He was interviewed by Abby Martin here:

    1. That’s a puzzling claim.

      If the government has been attempting to actively marginalize conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination (continuing to the current day?), they’re doing a pretty poor job of it.

      You’re asking me to believe that there has been some kind of systematic, organized program in place to marginalize conspiracy theories, yet at the same time there have been untold numbers of books published on the topic, countless television shows and documentaries, and a feature film which was pro-conspiracy? Is that’s marginalization or any form of suppression, it’s remarkably ineffective. What was the HSCA finding? Probable conspiracy? The government said that. How is that marginalizing conspiracy theories?

      In my view, there is what might be described as self-reinforcing logic at work here: “The government doesn’t say anything = they’re obviously lying, we’re onto something”. In other words, the continuing absence of confirmation from the government for the theories actually reinforces the idea that they’re correct. “No-one is taking us seriously = the government is trying to suppress our ideas”. The less validation there is, the more some conspiracy theorists will believe they are right.

      The reason that conspiracy theories, generally speaking, are consigned to the margins of political and historical debate is that to really believe in them requires a leap in imagination and interpretation that is quite foreign to most people. For people who look at the world a certain way and have very carefully calibrated ideas about the nature of government, what it does and how it works, I’m sure they make complete sense.

      If you feel like you’re being lumped in with Bigfoot I’d argue it has a lot to do with what you’re saying, how you arrived at those conclusions and the way you’re saying it.

      1. It’s too simplistic to lump ‘the government’ into one group, whether you’re a Tea Partier railing against ‘Big Government’ or a Radical Left protester, or someone in between.

        The reason that the JFK assassination has been lumped in with Bigfoot and UFOs is because of intellectual laziness, the same kind that sees all of Europe as one entity or that thinks that all of the Muslim World is united in one big group. The fact is, most people in the federal government and the military were NOT involved in any way with the removal of President Kennedy. I think the assassination, like Lincoln’s, was hatched as a secret plot, but unlike Lincoln’s, had more powerful players involved, and I’m talking about Allen Dulles, Dick Helms, others at CIA, perhaps the Joint Chiefs, Lyndon Johnson, and J. Edgar Hoover, at FBI. When you have players like this on your team, you’ve got a powerful group capable of compartmentalizing the operation and closing doors, keeping lower level participants on a ‘need to know’ basis with a ‘plausible denial’ capability based on their limited role and knowledge of only a small portion of the job. Certainly this was the way the very secret Manhattan Project was run, as any competent historian can tell you. And while I seriously doubt that any kind of “massive government conspiracy” is still in place to cover up the 50 year old crime, I do think that as an agency, one that wants to protect it’s collective ass, CIA is determined to stonewall and try to muddy the waters for anyone trying to get at certain documents they still have secret, and to keep anyone from finding out too much about CIA’s involvement in the murder. That’s rule #1 for a bureaucracy: Keep yourself alive. Rule #2 is related: Keep funding coming in. CIA (and for that matter, FBI) would look pretty ugly if their JFK assassination dirty laundry was hung out for everyone to see, especially murder and domestic coup laundry. Most people in the US government have moved on. They don’t think that much about JFK or his assassination. It’s the institutional guard at our intelligence arm that still cares, takes the JFK assassination VERY seriously to this day, and doesn’t want the facts to all come to light. That’s what is blocking the truth.

        HSCA, I might add, came very close to getting a lot of the facts, but the gatekeeper assigned to that subcommittee, George Joannides from CIA, made sure that they wouldn’t dig too deeply. He wasn’t going to let another Frank Church happen to the Agency.

      2. You write – “The reason that conspiracy theories, generally speaking, are consigned to the margins of political and historical debate is that to really believe in them requires a leap in imagination and interpretation that is quite foreign to most people”

        However, is it not the case that polls show that the majority of Americans believe in a conspiracy?
        I remember a post on here, in May of this year, which highlighted a poll commissioned by the Associated Press which found that 59% of Americans think multiple people were involved in a conspiracy to kill the president.

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