JFK Lawsuit Tests Washington’s Culture of Secrecy

By
Monday, December 08, 2008 at 9:10 am

Last month dozens of public interest groups welcomed the election of Barack Obama with a call to reverse eight years of secrecy and restore openness in the executive branch.

It won’t be easy. While the non-profit National Security Archive and other groups are seeking an executive order to revitalize the Freedom of Information Act, the culture of secrecy in Washington runs deep, thwarting even the most powerful open government laws.

For example, lawyers for the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Justice Department are expected to file a motion in federal court in Washington Tuesday seeking to block release of CIA records related to the assassination of President Kennedy. These 45-year-old records have been deemed too sensitive to share with the American people.

With the support of a diverse group of JFK authors, I sued the CIA for these records in December 2003. Five years later, the CIA is still spending taxpayer money to block their release, saying dozens of documents cannot be released in any form–for reasons of national security.

Such extreme claims have proven the norm since September 11. A month after the terror attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memorandum that greatly weakened FOIA. In 2002 federal agencies went so far as to seek re-classification of records at the JFK Presidential Library that had already been publicly released.

The public interest groups are calling on Obama to issue a new executive order on FOIA creating a presumption of disclosure and a policy of releasing information without litigation.

But FOIA enforcement ultimately depends on political will as much as regulatory language and that can be difficult to summon even in a case like the JFK story where public interest endures and

The CIA records I seek are supposed to be governed by the JFK Records Act, which was approved unanimously by Congress in 1992, in response to Oliver Stone’s hit movie “JFK.” The law, one of the strongest open government laws ever enacted, mandates in no uncertain terms that all government records related to JFK’s assassination must be released “immediately.” That word, as interpreted by the CIA means, “not just yet and maybe never.”

The records concern a decorated, now-deceased undercover CIA officer, named George Joannides. As I wrote for Playboy.com last year, Joannides’ assets in the Cuban exile movement had contact with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas on November 22, 1963. At the time, Joannides served in Miami as the chief of the agency’s so-called “psychological warfare” operations aimed to bring about Castro’s overthrow.

In 1978, Joannides resurfaced out of retirement to serve as the CIA’s liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He did not disclose his activities in 1963 to investigators, prompting the committee’s general counsel G. Robert Blakey to tell the Washington Post in 2005, “the CIA set me up.”

Joannides, who died in 1990, received the CIA’s Career Intelligence Medal in 1981, according to citation declassified earlier this year. He was lauded for “exceptional achievement” in his 28-year career.

Federal judge John Tunheim, who chaired a civilian review board that declassified thousands of long secret JFK records in the 1990s, says the CIA denied the panel’s staff and members full access to the records. “There is no question we were mislead on Joannides for a long time,” Tunheim told The Washington Independent last spring. Tunheim said all the disputed records should be made public as soon as possible.

“I think the JFK story is still incomplete,” said Anna Nelson, another former member of the JFK review board who is now the historian in residence at American University. “While we may never get all the answers, we ought to do all we can to complete it. That means opening documents. The CIA is being foolishly recalcitrant.”

The CIA has spurned requests from the National Archives to review the Joannides files. A spokeswoman for Archivist Allen Weinstein said, “The National Archives has not been given an opportunity to review any CIA records related to this issue because of the pending litigation.”

Last December, a three-judge appellate court panel ordered the CIA to explain why 17 monthly reports that Joannides was supposed to file about his secret operations in 1962-64 are missing from CIA archives. A year later, the Agency has yet to comply with the court’s directive.

The CIA will file its latest motion in the lawsuit with Judge Richard Leon. A ruling in the case is expected next year.

Comments

6 Comments

Tim Fleming
Comment posted December 8, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

Isn't the murder of a sitting U.S. president the most egregious of national security compromises? What could be more damaging to national security than that? That's why the CIA's argument for withholding assassination documents, for fear of compromising national security, is ludicrous and maddening. What is so awful and security threatening that it exceeds the cataclysm of an assassinated president?

The only logical answer, of course, is that those documents contain evidence as to who really killed the president.

Tim Fleming
author, “Murder Of An American Nazi”
http://www.eloquentbooks.com/MurderOfAnAmericanNazi
http://leftlooking.blogspot.com


john
Comment posted December 9, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

The fact that we, the people, have secrets kept from us by the government which is supposed to be for and by the people, indicates the concept has changed to for and by the government. The government took over the country and the corporations run the government. People are consumers and like sheep and cattle, are fleeced and milked.


Hugh Jarce
Comment posted December 11, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

Keep going Mr. Morley, the truth will out. Bill Clinton was a huge disappointment in this regard, despite exploiting JFK's image in his campaign ads. Hopefully BHO will exhibit more courage and integrity.


Tom Lyons
Comment posted December 11, 2008 @ 11:37 pm

In spite of what I believe to be their constitutional rights, reporters are jailed when they do not reveal their sources. The CIA violates the law when its members fail to release files whose release is legally mandated. Given the harsh treatment inflicted on reporters, I must ask why CIA personnel are treated so gently. Hopefully they too will be threatened with jail and fines if they do not comply with the law. Or are CIA personnel above the law? Tom Wallace Lyons


PHOTOGUY
Comment posted December 12, 2008 @ 9:13 am

Volume five of the Warren Commission Hearings; Jack Ruby, “MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, A WHOLE NEW
FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS GOING TO TAKE OVER THE COUNTRY
AND UNLESS YOU GET ME OUT OF DALLAS, I WILL NOT LIVE TO SEE
YOU AGAIN”
Hello Mr. and Mrs. America, Did you read and listen ? Did you pay attention when J. Edgar loaned the
Zapruda Film to the CIA for “(notice Hoover quotation marks)
“TRAINING PURPOSES”
Did you pay attention when Fletcher Prouty (Pentigon) and Wm Turner (FBI)
told the inside storly of where the power in America really is ?
Do you have any understanding of what the June 1963 Executive Order 11110
signed by President Kennedy would mean to the Bankers of the World and
why it was reason enough to remove him and his brother from the World Scene ?
POLITICS BE DAMMED — FOLLOW THE MONEY !!!


PHOTOGUY
Comment posted December 12, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

Volume five of the Warren Commission Hearings; Jack Ruby, “MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, A WHOLE NEW
FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS GOING TO TAKE OVER THE COUNTRY
AND UNLESS YOU GET ME OUT OF DALLAS, I WILL NOT LIVE TO SEE
YOU AGAIN”
Hello Mr. and Mrs. America, Did you read and listen ? Did you pay attention when J. Edgar loaned the
Zapruda Film to the CIA for “(notice Hoover quotation marks)
“TRAINING PURPOSES”
Did you pay attention when Fletcher Prouty (Pentigon) and Wm Turner (FBI)
told the inside storly of where the power in America really is ?
Do you have any understanding of what the June 1963 Executive Order 11110
signed by President Kennedy would mean to the Bankers of the World and
why it was reason enough to remove him and his brother from the World Scene ?
POLITICS BE DAMMED — FOLLOW THE MONEY !!!


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