JFK files: 15-year lawsuit over mysterious CIA agent drags as final files await release
WASHINGTON — For 15 years, journalist, author and assassination expert Jefferson Morley has fought to compel the CIA to produce records about longtime spy George Joannides, who worked with a group associated with President John F. Kennedy’s acknowledged assassin and then aided the committee that tried to investigate that killing.
Morley returned to federal court again Monday, this time before a three-judge appeals court panel to get the government to pay legal fees that have climbed to more than $500,000, said Morley’s attorney, James Lesar.
Circumstances around Kennedy’s murder and the various theories over the decades that reject the idea that the lone assassin was Oswald — who himself was murdered during a jail transfer two days after Kennedy was killed — can get pretty complicated.
Morley, however, says his case is simple: The government needs to inform the public of its activities. Morley wants the appeals court in Washington to force the government to pay his legal fees and to get the CIA to reveal some of Joannides’ records.
“We’re talking about very specific things. We are not talking about a Chinese box,” he said in response to a question mentioning the term.
Bill Miller, public information officer of the Washington U.S. Attorney’s office, said the office had no comment on the case beyond its court motions and filings.
As more and more government files have been released under the JFK Records Act since October, various long-held CIA secrets have been revealed, many of them not related to the assassination, at least directly. But even with the court case and the Records Act — with its final production due in April — files on Joannides remain scarce.
In 1963, the year Kennedy was murdered, Joannides was the CIA case officer over students from Cuba eager to oust dictator Fidel Castro, who had seized power in 1959. In 1978, Joannides was named by the CIA as its contact with the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
The committee wanted to know more about the student group, which was called the DRE and code-named AMSPELL. It was part of the CIA efforts to undermine Castro. Another CIA operation on a separate track even aimed to assassinate Castro, using the Mafia and assets within Cuba.
Oswald had a bizarre interaction with a DRE member in New Orleans the summer leading up to Kennedy’s Nov. 22 murder, in Dallas — to which Oswald moved from New Orleans. And just after the assassination, the DRE publicized that encounter with Oswald, and Oswald’s avowed support of Castro.
Committee staffers wanted to know more about Oswald and the DRE, but they were stymied by Joannides and the CIA, who did not tell the committee that the agent handled the DRE in 1963 was … Joannides himself.
CIA trying to chill inquiry, lawyer says
Lesar, president of the Assassination Archives and Research Center, said the CIA is trying to chill further efforts to open more records by making the plaintiffs pay for the litigation even when there’s a public benefit.
So far, however, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has disagreed, ruling there is no public benefit in records relating to Joannides, who died in 1990. Other appeals court proceedings have sent the issue back to Leon to address finer legal points.
Monday’s appeals court appearance is the fifth time Morley’s case has been presented, Lesar said.
A ruling from the panel of three circuit judges — Karen Henderson, Brett Kavanaugh and Gergory Kalsas — could come anywhere from a month to one and a half years, Lesar said.
Most of the fees come from the years-long fight over who should pay, Lesar said.
Morley’s lawsuit began nearly 15 years ago, after the CIA refused to produce any records it had on Joannides that the National Archives didn’t already have. Five years after that 2003 filing, Morley prevailed. The CIA produced records showing among other things that Joannides had a residence available to him in New Orleans possibly around the time Oswald had a very public altercation there with a member of the student group.
The records also revealed that a then-retired Joannides got a “Career Intelligence Medal” in 1981. Morley said Monday that its reference to his work at headquarters is a pat on the back for stonewalling the House committee.
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