Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Central Intelligence Agency is refusing to release classified documents in CIA Officer George Joannides’ file that could perhaps determine what really happened in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Moreover, if you think the CIA's recent secret searches of computers and its deletion of documents that were used by Senate committee members in their investigation of a controversial interrogation program, as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., charges, is appalling, if not unconstitutional and a perversion of justice, consider what the CIA has done regarding congressional JFK assassination inquiries.
In court filings, the CIA contends that at least 295 documents in Joannides’ administrative file can never be released in any form, due to “national security.” However, the CIA’s national security claim has never been independently verified.
Joannides’ files are drawing the attention of assassination researchers due to the CIA’s repeated failure to disclose Joannides’ connections to an anti-Castro Cuban exile group that had an August 1963 public fight with Kennedy’s accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Oswald never stood trial because he was shot dead by Dallas strip-club owner Jack Ruby two days after Kennedy’s assassination, on Nov. 24, 1963, as Oswald was being transferred by police from a Dallas police station cell to a nearby county jail.
The release of the Warren Commission Report on the JFK assassination -- which concluded that Oswald had acted alone in killing Kennedy with three rifle shots, and that Ruby had acted alone in killing Oswald -- did little to dispel public doubts that a lone gunman had killed the president. In the months and immediate years that followed, assassination researchers would rebuke the Warren Commission for its grossly slipshod investigative procedures -- notably for failing to collect 100 percent of the evidence, and for failing to analyze what evidence it had -- and for other serious violations of basic criminal investigation protocols.
The CIA And Lee Harvey Oswald
As the CIA’s Miami-based chief of psychological warfare operations, Joannides, using his alias “Howard,” funded the Cuban Student Directorate, or as it was known in Spanish, “Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil” (DRE). It was a major anti-Castro organization, part of a larger covert CIA program called AMSPELL. The CIA provided $51,000 per month to the DRE, which in 2014 dollars would be about $389,000 per month, or roughly $4.8 million per year. The DRE publicized Oswald’s pro-Castro activities both before and after President Kennedy was killed.
The DRE’s New Orleans chapter members also had a series of encounters with Oswald in August 1963, with DRE activists challenging Oswald’s support for Cuban President Fidel Castro. The activists also publicized and denounced Oswald’s activities on a local radio program.
In addition, less than one day after JFK’s assassination occurred in Dallas, the DRE published a special edition of its monthly magazine, “Trenches,” or as it’s called in Spanish, “Trinchera.” In that issue, it linked the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, to Castro.
Moreover, the CIA propaganda effort in Trinchera remains exactly that -- conjecture/speculation and an attempt to spread a conspiracy theory -- because there has never been a preponderance of evidence -- let alone incontrovertible evidence -- that Castro or Castro-backed groups organized or implemented a plot to murder Kennedy.
The Joannides File: Essential To The JFK Assassination Investigation?
The CIA’s interactions via the DRE with Oswald may appear to be those of a government organization confronting, or interacting, with a political activist.
The problem is the CIA never mentioned its interactions with Oswald to the Warren Commission or to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) -- two boards that investigated the JFK assassination -- nor did it mention them to the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) -- a body established to release JFK assassination investigation files.
The CIA’s latest refusal in the Morley vs. CIA case is the fourth time the Agency has blocked a public interest effort to obtain the full truth on the assassination of President Kennedy. A summary of those incidences:
1) Warren Commission: Delay And Obstruct
In 1964, CIA Deputy Director Richard Helms, “the man who kept the secrets” and was Joannides’ boss, never told the Warren Commission that Kennedy’s alleged assassin had scuffled with CIA-backed Cubans in New Orleans. Helms also never disclosed that Joannides -- and other CIA agents who were under his supervision and received funding from him -- had helped communicate the story of Oswald’s pro-Castro activities. It wasn’t until 1998 -- when the CIA was forced to disclose Joannides’ support for Oswald’s antagonists among the anti-Castro DRE group -- that the public learned of this psychological warfare operation. The Agency has resisted further disclosure about the nature, focus and objective of Joannides’ operations in 1963 ever since.
2) HSCA: Lie, Deflect, Delay And Obstruct
In 1978, Joannides served as CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which re-investigated the JFK assassination, but he did not disclose the obvious conflict of interest to the HSCA in regard to his role in the events of 1963.
House Select Committee on Assassinations Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey said that had he known who Joannides was at that time, Joannides would not have continued as CIA liaison. Instead, he would have become a witness who would have been interrogated under oath by the HSCA staff or by the committee. In addition, Joannides’ failure to disclose his role occurred despite Blakey and the CIA’s pre-investigation agreement between the HSCA and the CIA, which allowed CIA personnel who were operational after 1963 to avoid being involved in the committee’s investigation.
Many would consider the acts of deception by the CIA listed above as audacious, to put it diplomatically.
“If I’d known his [Joannides’] role in 1963, I would have put Joannides under oath -- he would have been a witness, not a facilitator,” Blakey, now a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, told the New York Times. “How do we know what he didn’t give us?”
3) ARRB: Lie Again, Delay And Obstruct
After Oliver Stone’s seminal 1991 film “JFK” increased the level of the debate about who was behind Kennedy’s murder, the public pressured Congress to declassify more files related to the JFK assassination. As a result, Congress created the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) to oversee the release of more documents. However, incredibly, the CIA once again failed to tell the ARRB about Joannides’ 1963 work, and the board was blinded to a legitimate and germane investigation area.
U.S. Judge Jack Tunheim, ARRB chairman from 1994-1995, said that had the board known about Joannides’ activities in 1963, it would have been a no-brainer to investigate him:
“If we’d known of his role in Miami in 1963, we would have pressed for all of his records,” Judge Tunheim said, the New York Times reported.
4) Morley vs. CIA: Agency Again Seeks To Keep Joannides’ File Classified
Fast-forward to the smartphone / Facebook / Twitter / Internet age, and the CIA’s stance remains the same: The agency contends that at least 295 documents in Joannides’ operational file cannot be released in any form for reasons of “national security.”
What’s more, the classified files of CIA officers David Atlee Philips, who was involved in pre-assassination surveillance of Oswald; Birch D O’Neal, who as counter-intelligence head of the CIA opened a file on defector Oswald; and the files of officers E. Howard Hunt; William King Harvey; Anne Goodpasture; and David Sanchez Morales -- when made public, their files will help the nation determine what really happened in Dallas, who Oswald was, and how the CIA treated and handled his file.
But as with Joannides’ file, the CIA said these files -- 1,100 files in all, which the Morley vs. CIA suit also seeks to make public -- must remain classified until at least 2017, and perhaps longer, due to U.S. national security.
The Morley vs. CIA suit is now in the hands of U.S. Judge Richard Leon, and a decision is expected later this year.
The CIA’s stance versus Morley looks all the more problematic because it has been 50 years since the assassination of President Kennedy. The Cold War is over: The United States won. There is no existential threat to the United States. Russia, the world's second strongest military power, while not a U.S. ally, is not an enemy, either, but a rival. Cuba’s centrally planned communist economic model has been discredited for decades, and it will likely become a market-oriented economy in the decade ahead. Cuba also poses no threat to the U.S. or its interests in the region. In other words, don’t expect Cuba to invade Florida or export its centrally planned economic system to Brazil or Mexico anytime soon. Even so, the CIA argues that making public the classified JFK assassination files would cause “extremely grave damage” to U.S. national security.
The State Of The Investigation
It must be underscored that, to date, there is no smoking gun or incontrovertible evidence of a plot or conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, but there is a pattern of suspicious activity, along with a series of anomalies and a commonality of interests among key parties, that compel additional research and the release of non-public documents.
Further, meticulous research by assassination researchers, including Morley, Bill Simpich, the author of “State Secret,” and John Newman, author of “Oswald and the CIA,” has demonstrated that the American people do not have the full truth about Lee Harvey Oswald. Here’s a summary of the post-November 1963 research that has rendered the Warren Commission’s profile of Oswald incomplete at best, and grossly inaccurate at worst:
- Far from the CIA’s stated claim that the Agency had only “routine contact” with the re-defector Oswald when he returned to the United States from the Soviet Union, an anti-Castro group funded by the CIA, the DRE, had a series of encounters with him, and the purpose and content of these encounters have never been fully delineated by the CIA.
- The CIA refused to tell three public boards about these encounters -- had those committees known that information, it would most likely have sent those investigations onto different trajectories than the ones they took -- including a systematic, comprehensive investigation of the CIA, possibly.
- The CIA also not only failed to tell the HSCA about its encounters with Oswald, but it also failed to mention that its liaison to the HSCA, George Joannides, was operational during November 1963, which should have disqualified him from that role. Joannides oversaw the CIA’s DRE program -- an egregious conflict of interest, that, as the HSCA’s Blakey noted, had it been known about during the HSCA’s investigation, it would have prevented Joannides from being a liaison to the committee, and instead he would have been a witness.
- Author John Newman’s analysis of records released by the 1994 JFK Records Act, which set up the ARRB and forced the CIA to make public additional assassination-related records, proved that the staff of CIA Counterintelligence Chief James Angleton had indeed monitored Oswald’s travels, politics and contacts closely between 1959 and 1963.
- The ARRB-released records also showed that the CIA’s SIG had controlled access to Oswald’s file from his date of defection to the Soviet Union in October 1959 to when he moved to Dallas in 1963. Angleton’s staff watched Oswald closely as he traveled from Moscow to New Orleans to Mexico City and then to Dallas.
Just Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?
In the modern era, speculation about what really happened in Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, has to rank with speculation of the worst sort. To solve the most shocking crime in modern U.S. history, it is vital to stick to the known, corroborated facts in the case. And at this stage of the investigation, this is certain: We do not have all of the facts about who Lee Harvey Oswald was, about how the CIA treated and handled his file, and whether the CIA’s relationship to Oswald was more than just monitoring an individual. Equally significant, the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that the American people do not know the full truth regarding the assassination of President Kennedy, and that the Agency is hiding something.