Jefferson Morley is a 25-year veteran of Washington journalism with proven record of breaking stories on the international media, U.S. foreign policy, and American history. His biography of Win Scott, the CIA station chief in Mexico City in the 1960s, will be published in 2007 by the University Press of Kansas.
Morley, a native of Minneapolis, attended Yale University. He worked as an editor at The New Republic, The Nation, and Spin Magazine before coming to the Washington Post in 1992. Morley has written extensively about the Central Intelligence Agency, the war on drugs, rock music, George H.W. Bush, Central American death squads and the Iran-contra affair.
His reporting has also appeared in The New York Review of Books, Readers Digest, The New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, The New Republic, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, and Salon. In 2000 he became the World News Editor of the online edition. In 2004 he became a columnist on the international media. World Opinion Roundup appeared every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Morley has taken a keen interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and is the author of several articles on the subject including Revelation 19.63 (April, 2001), What Jane Roman Said (January, 2002), Celebrated Authors Demand that the CIA Come Clean on the JFK Assassination (December, 2003) The Good Spy (December, 2003) an article about John M. Whitten, The JFK Murder: Can New Technology Finally Crack the Case? (March, 2005) and Conspiracy Theories (November, 2005). Jefferson Morley is currently writing a biography of Win Scott, a former CIA station chief in Mexico City.
Jefferson Morley is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the CIA, demanding the release of records pertaining to CIA officer George Joannides. Joannides was called out of retirement in the 1970s to serve as liaison with the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Unknown to the HSCA, Joannides had in 1963 been the case officer for the Student Revolutionary Directorate, the Cuban exile group with whom Lee Harvey Oswald had multiple interactions in New Orleans.
In October, 2006, Judge Richard Leon upheld the CIA's right to block disclosure of records about Joannides's operational activities in August 1963.
In 2007 Jefferson Morley left the Washington Post and joined the Center for Independent Media. His article, The Man Who Did Not Talk, about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, was published in Playboy Magazine in November, 2007.
When Fidel Castro's Revolutionary Armed Forces routed the U.S.-backed Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs fiasco 40 years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy took full responsibility for the defeat. But the contrition of the young commander in chief, while popular with the American people, played poorly among the tens of thousands of Cubans living here in Miami. Many believed the liberal chief executive's refusal to send planes to support the men scrambling for cover at Playa Girón was a failure of nerve, if not a betrayal. And to this day a certain embittered distrust of Washington, born four decades ago, runs deep in Cuban Miami, erupting whenever the federal government (in the person of Janet Reno or farm-belt Republicans in Congress) pursues policies contrary to the agenda of the first generation of el exilio. But the truth is that whatever the disappointment of the Bay of Pigs, Miami's Cuban exiles have never lacked for support at the highest levels of the U.S. government. From the beginning their anti-Castro cause was taken up by senior leaders of the CIA, who encouraged their ambitions to destroy the Cuban regime. For 38 years one of the most powerful of those leaders has guarded a secret about the events leading up to Kennedy's violent death, a secret potentially damaging to the exile cause as well as to the agency itself.
The man is Richard Helms, former director of the CIA. Now retired and living in the swank Foxhall section of Washington, D.C., the 89-year-old Helms declined interview requests for this story, the basic facts of which have emerged from recently declassified JFK files.
Through four intensive investigations of the Kennedy assassination, Helms withheld information about a loyal CIA officer in Miami - a dapper, multilingual lawyer and father of three - who guided and monitored the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (the Revolutionary Student Directorate, or DRE). His name was George Joannides, and his charges in the DRE were among the most notoriously outspoken and militant anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the early Sixties. For several weeks in the summer of 1963, those same exiles tailed, came to blows with, and harassed Lee Harvey Oswald, who just a few months later changed the course of U.S. history.
Helms never told the Warren Commission - the presidential panel set up after Kennedy's death to investigate the assassination - about his officer's relationship with the exile group. He never disclosed that the CIA was funding the DRE when it had contact with Oswald, who was agitating on Castro's behalf in New Orleans in August 1963. A skillful bureaucrat, Helms withheld files on Oswald's pro-Castro activities from an in-house investigation of the accused assassin (and when the veteran officer in charge of that probe protested, Helms relieved him of his duties).
Helms stonewalled again in 1978, when Congress created the House Select Committee on Assassinations to re-examine Kennedy's murder. Once more the CIA kept every detail of Joannides's mission in Miami under wraps. Worse still, in veiled contempt of that inquiry, the CIA assigned to Joannides himself the job of deflecting sensitive inquiries from the committee's investigators.
As recently as 1998, the agency still disavowed any knowledge of Joannides's actions in Miami. John Tunheim, now a federal judge in Minneapolis, chaired the federal Assassination Records Review Board, which between 1994 and 1998 opened more than four million pages of long-secret documents - including a thin file on Joannides. Yet even then the CIA was claiming that no one in the agency had had any contact with the DRE throughout 1963. The Joannides story, Tunheim says today, "shows that the CIA wasn't interested in the truth about the assassination."
Journalist and author Gerald Posner, whose 1993 best seller Case Closed argued that the DRE's harassment of Oswald was a "humiliation" that propelled him on his way to shoot the president, says he finds the Joannides piece of the JFK puzzle to be "obviously important" and suggests that the CIA is "covering up its own incompetence." In his view the agency's "intransigence, lying, and dissembling are once again contributing to suspicions of conspiracy."
G. Robert Blakey , who served as general counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, says the agency's silence compromised that investigation. "If I had known then what Joannides was doing in 1963, I would have demanded that the agency take him off the job (of responding to committee inquiries)," he asserts. "I would have sat him down and interviewed him. Under oath."
In the summer of 1994 I became curious if a retired employee of the Central Intelligence Agency named Jane Roman was still alive and living in Washington.
I was curious because I had just seen Jane Roman’s name and handwriting on routing slips attached to newly declassified CIA documents about Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. This is what I found significant: these documents were dated before November 22, 1963. If this Jane Roman person at CIA headquarters had read the documents that she signed for on the routing slips, then she knew something of Oswald’s existence and activities before the itinerant, 24 year-old ex-Marine became world famous for allegedly shooting President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. In other words, Jane Roman was a CIA official in good standing who knew about the alleged assassin in advance of Kennedy’s violent death.
What self-respecting Washington journalist wouldn’t be interested?
Of course, I knew enough about the Kennedy assassination to know that many, many, many people knew something of Lee Oswald before he arrived in Dealey Plaza with a gun—a small family, an assortment of far-flung buddies from the Marines, family and acquaintances in New Orleans and Dallas, some attentive FBI agents, not to mention the occasional anti-Castro Cuban, and even some CIA officials.
But Jane Roman was not just any CIA official. In 1963 she was the senior liaison officer on the Counterintelligence Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. That set her apart. At the height of the Cold War, the counterintelligence staff was a very select operation within the agency, charged with detecting threats to the integrity of CIA operations and personnel from the Soviet Union and its allies. The CI staff, as it was known in bureaucratic lingo, was headed by James Jesus Angleton, a legendary Yale-educated spy, who was either a patriotic genius or a paranoid drunk or perhaps both. Jane Roman’s responsibilities in the fall of 1963 included handling communications between the CI staff and other federal agencies.
I was excited, perhaps foolishly, in June of 1994, when I learned that the CIA’s Jane Roman was living not far from me, on Newark Street in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington DC....
I was less interested in Jane Roman’s opinion about the conspiracy question than what she actually knew. That she knew about Oswald before Kennedy was killed was apparent from the records that the CIA released to the National Archives in the spring of 1994.Roman’s initials appeared on a routing slip attached to an FBI report about Lee Harvey Oswald dated September 10, 1963. That was ten weeks before that same Oswald allegedly shot Kennedy. By that date, anti-conspiracy writers such as Gus Russo and Gerald Posner say that Oswald was clearly on a path that would put him in the right place--and in the right state of mind--to kill the president. He had certainly tried to infiltrate one of the CIA’s favorite anti-Castro organizations. He had made himself a public spokesman for the leading pro-Castro group in the United States.
Even if you assumed Oswald was the lone assassin, the perspective of a CIA paper pusher such as Jane Roman on that moment in time was still interesting, and potentially newsworthy.
What did she make of this character Oswald? What did the CIA make of him as he made his way to Dealey Plaza? Did he raise any alarms?
It was 1:30 in the morning of Nov. 23, 1963, and John F. Kennedy had been dead for 12 hours. His corpse was being dressed at Bethesda Naval Hospital, touched and retouched to conceal the ugly bullet wounds. In Dallas, the F.B.I. had Lee Harvey Oswald in custody.
The lights were still on at the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Langley, Va. John Whitten, the agency's 43-year-old chief of covert operations for Mexico and Central America, hung up the phone with his Mexico City station chief. He had just learned something stunning: A C.I.A. surveillance team in Mexico City had photographed Oswald at the Cuban consulate in early October, an indication that the agency might be able to quickly uncover the suspect's background.
At 1:36 am, Whitten sent a cable to Mexico City: "Send staffer with all photos of Oswald to HQ on the next available flight. Call Mr. Whitten at 652-6827." Within 24 hours Whitten was leading the C.I.A. investigation into the assassination. After two weeks of reviewing classified cables, he had learned that Oswald's pro-Castro political activities needed closer examination, especially his attempt to shoot a right-wing JFK critic, a diary of his efforts to confront anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans, and his public support for the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. For this investigatory zeal, Whitten was taken off the case.
C.I.A. Deputy Director of Plans Richard Helms blocked Whitten's efforts, effectively ending any hope of a comprehensive agency investigation of the accused assassin, a 24-year-old ex-Marine, who had sojourned in the Soviet Union and spent time as a leftist activist in New Orleans. In particular, Oswald's Cuba-related political life, which Whitten wished to pursue, went unexplored by the C.I.A. The blue-ribbon Warren commission appointed by President Johnson concluded in September 1964 that Oswald alone and unaided had killed Kennedy. But over the years, as information which the commission's report had not accounted for leaked out, many would come to see the commission as a cover-up, in part because it failed to assign any motive to Oswald, in part because the government's pre-assassination surveillance of Oswald had been more intense than the government ever cared to disclose, and finally because its reconstruction of the crime sequence was flawed.
In 1977, Mary Ferrell, a Dallas legal secretary and tireless JFK researcher, told the newly created House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) that she'd heard an audiotape of Dallas police radio traffic around the time Kennedy died. That led the panel to retrieve the Dictabelts in May 1978. By then, the science of acoustic analysis had come a long way. The HSCA's general counsel, ex-federal prosecutor G. Robert Blakey, chose James Barger, a prominent audio scientist, to assess the recordings' value as evidence.
Barger decided to compare the sound impulses on the recordings with the sound of real gunfire. In August 1978, he led a team to Dallas for a series of elaborate ballistics tests. Setting up 36 microphones along the Dealey Plaza motorcade route, he recorded shots fired from the sixth-floor book depository window where Oswald was said to have fired, and from the grassy knoll. Barger compared the resulting sound patterns with the impulses on the Dictabelt. His findings contrasted with those of the Warren Commission, which ruled that Oswald fired three shots at Kennedy's limousine.
Barger identified at least four sound-wave patterns that he said closely resembled the muzzle blasts of gunshots in his test firing. Three of them closely resembled shots fired from the sixth-floor window. One resembled a shot from the grassy knoll, he said. Two other acoustic experts retained by the HSCA supported Barger's conclusion. The acoustic evidence became the keystone of the House panel's finding in January 1979 that Kennedy had "probably" been killed by conspirators who, besides Oswald, couldn't be identified.
Other experts disputed the findings. In 1980, the Justice Department turned to the National Research Council, a government think tank. In May 1982, a 12-scientist NRC panel unanimously ruled that Barger's supposed gunshots were something else and "came too late to be attributed to assassination shots." ( A Court TV analysis last year found essentially the same thing.)
Dictabelt No. 10 then went back to a file cabinet at the Justice Department. It was subsequently transferred to the National Archives. Then, in early 2001, Donald Thomas, a government scientist interested in the Kennedy assassination, published in a British forensics journal an article based on a mathematical review of all the acoustic evidence. Thomas's conclusion: Five shots had been fired at Kennedy's motorcade from two different directions.
People interested in the JFK story will be interested to know that the CIA is due to file papers in court tomorrorow, May 20, to block release of certain JFK assassination-related documents.
The records in question concern a deceased CIA officer named George Joannides. At the time of Kennedy's death, Joannides was the Chief of Psychological Warfare branch of the Agency's JM/WAVE station in Miami.
Among his primary responsibilities were guiding, monitoring and financing the Revolutionary Cuban Student Directorate or DRE, one of the largest and most effective anti-Castro groups in the United States. CIA records show, and the group's former leaders confirm, that Joannides provided them with up $18-25,000 per month while insisting they submit to CIA discipline. Joannides, in his job evaluation of 31 July 1963, was credited with having established control over the group.
Five day later, Lee Harvey Oswald wandered into the DRE's New Orleans delegation, setting off a string of encounters between the pro-Castro ex-Marine and the anti-Castro exiles. Members of the DRE confronted Oswald on a street corner. They stared him down in a courtroom. They sent a DRE member to Oswald's house posing a Castro supporter. They challenged him to a debate on the radio. They made a tape of the debate which was later sent to Joannides. And they issued a press release calling for a congressional investigation of the thoroughly obscure Oswald. This, at a time, when the DRE had been warned to clear its public statements with the Agency.
What, if anything, Joannides made of the encounters between his assets in the DRE and the future accused assassin is unknown. Former leaders of the DRE are divided on the question.
Within an hour of Oswald's arrest on Nov. 22, 1963, the DRE leaders in Miami went public with their documentation of Oswald's pro-Castro ways, thus shaping early press coverage of the accused assasssin. Joannides told the group to take their information to the FBI.
Joannides connection to Oswald's antagonists was not disclosed to the Warren Commission.
In 1978, Joannides was called out of retirement to serve as CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Joanndides did not disclose his role in the events of 1963 to investigators. HSCA general counsel Bob Blakey says that Joannides's actions constituted obstruction of Congress, a felony. Joannides's support for the DRE was uncovered by the Assassination Records Review Board in 1998. Joannides died in 1991.
I filed suit against the CIA in December 2003 seeking records of Joannides's activities in 1963 and 1978. In December 2004, the CIA gave me about 150 pages of heavily redacted and obviously incomplete records from Joannides's personnel file. The Agency informed me that it retains an unspecified number of records about Joannides actions that it will not release IN ANY FORM.
Thus JFK assassination records are kept secret in 2005 in the name of "national security."
The records that CIA gave me are not reassuring. They show that Joannides travelled to New Orleans in connection with his CIA duties in 1963-64. They also show that he was cleared for two highly sensitive operations in December 1962 and June 1963. The nature of these operations is unknown.
It would be premature and foolish to speculate on what George Joannnides was doing in New Orleans in 1963. What is certain is that he had a professional obligation to report on the activities of the DRE in August and November 1963, especially as they related to Oswald. The CIA is legally obliged to make such records public.
Instead, they are stonewalling in court. This is a disappointing, if not disturbing.
I am interested in hearing from JFK researchers willing to publicly support a call to Congress to enforce the JFK Records Act. I know that the Joannides records are not the only assassination-related material that is being illicitly withheld so I am also interested in hearing from researchers about specific groups of records, known to exist, that have not been released.
Whatever one's interpretation of November 22, 1963, I think we can all agree that these records should be made public immediately.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy remains the great unsolved mystery of American politics. With dozens of books in print on the subject, the case of the murdered commander in chief now seems to attract more interest from the publishing industry than from journalists or historians.
The fascination with a shocking crime is not hard to understand. On Nov. 22, 1963, the president was shot in the head during a motorcade through Dallas. Police arrested an ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald, who proclaimed himself a "patsy." Two days later, a Dallas strip-club owner, Jack Ruby, shot Oswald dead on national TV. Not until the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, would the American people experience such a bewildering, sudden and painful loss.
Why official Washington has seemingly lost interest in the story in recent years is harder, though not impossible, to figure out. The JFK story remains an enduring symbol of popular mistrust. Public confidence in the federal government was somewhere near its high-water mark in 1964, the year the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald, for no discernible motive, killed Kennedy alone and unaided. Confidence declined steadily over the next three decades. Rejection of the Warren report was not the only or even primary cause of that decline (think of Vietnam and Watergate), merely a vivid indicator.
So while a new crop of JFK assassination books blooms every November, the Washington press corps, confident in its own ability to uncover wrongdoing, tends to see the JFK story as a black hole of misinformation and irrationality. That viewpoint has gotten plenty of support over the years from ludicrous conspiracy theories positing that Kennedy was killed by a gunman lurking in a sewer, by a bystander wielding a dart-shooting umbrella or (my favorite) by an accidental gunshot from a Secret Service agent. After the fierce debate over Oliver Stone's controversial 1991 hit movie "JFK," which portrayed the assassination as the work of a sinister CIA-Pentagon cabal determined to kill Kennedy lest he pull out of Vietnam, much of the Washington press corps never rejoined the discussion of his murder. Most (but not all) historians and journalists scorned Stone's scenario as unfounded, wild-eyed and destructive. But a CBS News poll taken two years later found that far more respondents thought the CIA was involved with JFK's murder (49 percent) than thought that Oswald acted alone (11 percent). This impasse fuels the industry of new assassination books.
The case that Oswald acted alone was most persuasively restated by the investigative reporter Gerald Posner in his 1993 bestseller Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK . His success prompted furious rebuttals of his reading of the evidence.
Beginning in 1994, the Assassination Records Review Board declassified thousands of once-secret JFK records. They generated yet more JFK books but also (mercifully) eliminated some of the least plausible theories. First to go was the claim that Oswald had acted on behalf of the Soviet Union, a claim effectively debunked by the new U.S. records and records from the former communist spy agencies.
The Board also dispatched the far-fetched claim that the U.S. government had altered Abraham Zapruder's famous home movie of the assassination to hide evidence of a conspiracy. David R. Wrone, a historian, refuted this bogus theory in his 2003 book The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination . The unaltered film, Wrone concluded, shows that Kennedy was hit by gunfire from two different directions.
Another leading theory -- that the Mafia killed Kennedy -- has endured in the memoirs of people close to top organized-crime figures. But reams of recently released FBI surveillance records do not provide any corroboration. Nor has Oliver Stone's malign vision of murder-by-military-industrial-complex found any substantiation.
The new records have bolstered other scenarios, however. Gus Russo's 1998 book Live by the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK resuscitated the lone-gunman theory by giving it what it had long lacked: a motive. Russo, an investigative reporter, argued that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's secret efforts to overthrow Castro in 1963 were much more extensive than had previously been known. He suggested that Oswald, acting out of leftist conviction, killed JFK in defense of Castro's revolution, perhaps with Havana's help.
The Board's documents arguably enhanced another popular scenario -- that CIA operatives manipulated or framed the pro-Castro Oswald. In his 1995 book Oswald and the CIA , John Newman, a former military intelligence officer, demonstrated that senior CIA officials gave pre-assassination reporting on the itinerant ex-Marine far more attention than they ever admitted. Newman refrained from passing judgment on whether Oswald was involved in an authorized, still-classified CIA operation with a legitimate purpose and no apparent connection to Kennedy's assassination. He noted that the agency had not released all of its JFK records, which remains true in 2005.
The rational reader is confronted by the paradox that while plenty of wacko theories circulate on the Internet, a good-faith parsing of the evidence can still yield reasonable doubt. After all, many people in high places concluded that JFK had been ambushed by his enemies. Lyndon B. Johnson, for one, never believed that Oswald acted alone; he suspected Cuba's Fidel Castro had retaliated for CIA efforts to kill him. House Speaker Tip O'Neill said that JFK aide Kenneth O'Donnell had told him in 1968 that "he had heard two shots" from the "grassy knoll." Conspiratorial fears found support in 1979 when the House Select Committee on Assassinations, led by former federal prosecutor G. Robert Blakey, concluded that JFK had been killed by unidentifiable conspirators. Former cabinet secretary Joseph Califano, intimately involved in JFK's Cuba policy, wrote in his autobiography that he had "come to share LBJ's view" that Oswald was not a loner.
In 1997 it was revealed that Bobby and Jacqueline Kennedy believed there was a conspiracy in Dallas. In their book on the Cuban missile crisis, "One Hell of a Gamble": Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964, historians Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali reported that the president's widow and brother sent an envoy to Moscow in late 1963 to tell a Soviet intelligence officer that they believed JFK had been killed by what the authors called a "large political conspiracy" originating in the United States. The grief-stricken widow and brother wanted the Kremlin to know that RFK would resume his brother's policy toward the Soviet Union as soon as he became president himself. This rather startling revelation deserved more attention in Washington than it got at the time. Inside the Beltway, the idea that serious political players believed that JFK's murderer got away with it was somehow inadmissible. Elsewhere, the strange circumstances of the Dallas tragedy make Jackie and Bobby's suspicions seem almost commonsensical. Conspiracy theories endure. Yet, as two new JFK assassination books illustrate, there is still no compelling case to explain who the alleged conspirators were, if they existed at all.
Oct 2, 2006: Jefferson Morley's lawsuit to obtain CIA records of officer George Joannides was dismissed last Friday by Judge Richard Leon (see judge's opinion). Joannides was the former chief of anti-Castro psychological warfare operations in Miami in 1963, which included oversight of the DRE, the Cuban exile group whose members knew Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans. For background on the Joannides story, see our Unredacted interview with journalist Jeff Morley (pictured at left) and AARC President Jim Lesar.
Judge Leon upheld the CIA's right to block disclosure of records about Joannides's operational activities in August 1963. That's when Joannides' agents in a Cuban exile student group had a series of encounters with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and used U.S. government funds to call attention to his pro-Castro activities.
At the time, CIA records show that Joannides was guiding and monitoring the Cuban Student Directorate and providing it with up to $25,000 a month. When JFK investigators later questioned Joannides about his knowledge of Oswald and the events of 1963, he stonewalled. In fact, the CIA had placed him in a position as liaison with the House Select Committee on Assassinations, without informing them of Joannides' prior role. When G. Robert Blakey, the House Committee's Chief Counsel, learned of this recently, he wrote a scathing response which begins: "I am no longer confident that the Central Intelligence Agency co-operated with the committee."
The dismissal of the Morley lawsuit shows that, with the demise of the Assassination Records Review Board, there is a problematic lack of enforcement of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act.
Bryan Burrough’s laudatory review of Vincent Bugliosi’s book on the Kennedy assassination (May 20) is superficial and gratuitously insulting. “Conspiracy theorists” — blithe generalization — should according to Burroughs be “ridiculed, even shunned ... marginalized the way we’ve marginalized smokers.” Let’s see now. The following people to one degree or another suspected that President Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy, and said so either publicly or privately: Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon; Attorney General Robert Kennedy; John Kennedy’s widow, Jackie; his special adviser dealing with Cuba at the United Nations, William Attwood; F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover (!); Senators Richard Russell (a Warren Commission member), and Richard Schweiker and Gary Hart (both of the Senate Intelligence Committee); seven of the eight congressmen on the House Assassinations Committee and its chief counsel, G. Robert Blakey; the Kennedy associates Joe Dolan, Fred Dutton, Richard Goodwin, Pete Hamill, Frank Mankiewicz, Larry O’Brien, Kenneth O’Donnell and Walter Sheridan; the Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman, who rode with the president in the limousine; the presidential physician, Dr. George Burkley; Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago; Frank Sinatra; and the “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt. All of the above, à la Burrough, were idiots.
Not so, of course. Most of them were close to the events and people concerned, and some had privileged access to evidence and intelligence that threw doubt on the “lone assassin” version. That doubt remains today. Bugliosi himself this year joined us, Don DeLillo, Gerald Posner, Robert Blakey and two dozen other writers on the assassination in signing an open letter that appeared in the March 15 issue of The New York Review of Books. The letter focused on a specific unresolved lead, the discovery that a highly regarded C.I.A. officer named George Joannides was in 1963 running an anti-Castro exile group that had a series of encounters with Oswald shortly before the assassination.
This is obviously pertinent, yet the C.I.A. hid the fact from four J.F.K. investigations. Since 1998, when the agency did reluctantly disclose the merest outline of what Joannides was up to, it has energetically stonewalled a Freedom of Information suit to obtain the details of its officer’s activities. Here we are in 2007, 15 years after Congress unanimously approved the J.F.K. Assassination Records Act mandating the “immediate” release of all assassination-related records, and the C.I.A. is claiming in federal court that it has the right not to do so.
And now your reviewer, Burrough, seems to lump together all those who question the official story as marginal fools. Burrough’s close-minded stance should be unacceptable to every historian and journalist worthy of the name — especially at a time when a federal agency is striving vigorously to suppress very relevant information.
In the 44 years since the assassination, there have been three critical milestones in the effort to explain this devastating crime. The first story was the report of the Warren Commission, the official government body assigned to investigate the shooting. In September 1964, the Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, described as a pro-Castro Marxist, fired three shots at the presidential motorcade and killed Kennedy for reasons known only to him. They held that Oswald acted alone and unaided, and did not pay attention to the protests raised upon his arrest that he was "a patsy." He was shot to death, while in police custody, two days after his arrest by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner who had ties to organized crime that the Commission chose not to share with the American people.
Within a week, 62 percent of respondents to a University of Chicago poll rejected the notion that Oswald had acted alone. Contrary to mainstream media mythology JFK conspiratorial suspicions were not whipped up years after the fact by cranks and fantasists. Those suspicions arose immediately, they spanned the political spectrum and they percolated in the Washington political elite. Both Robert Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy believed that JFK was the victim of a major domestic conspiracy. JFK's successor, Lyndon Johnson, suspected that the assassination resulted from the struggle for power in Cuba. Richard Nixon hounded the CIA for files on "the whole Bay of Pigs thing," which his aides understood to mean Kennedy's assassination.
The second official story came in 1979. After lengthy hearings, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded Kennedy had been killed by Oswald and co-conspirators who could not be identified. By then popular skepticism about the government's "lone nut" scenario was souring into cynicism. When the HSCA's final report declared that Kennedy had been killed in a conspiracy, TV talk show host Johnny Carson said he was shocked. "Next thing you know," Carson gibed, "they'll be telling us Hitler started World War II."
Then came Oliver Stone. His box office smash JFK, released in 1991, offered an all-too-persuasive depiction of the murder of America's liberal 35th president as a virtual coup d'etat orchestrated at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the CIA. Stone endured much abuse at the hands of the Washington press corps for taking liberties with the historical record in his well-researched screenplay. The director delivered an incisive retort: If the government had nothing to hide on JFK's assassination, why was it hiding so many millions of pages of documents on the subject?
Congress was shamed into approving the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act. The 1992 law mandated the "immediate" release of all government documents related to Kennedy's murder. Between 1994 and 1998, a civilian review panel oversaw the declassification of millions of pages of classified JFK records. Stone's cinematic agitation shook loose a library of records that conventional journalism never would have captured. Many of the most important new documents can be seen on the best JFK website, www.maryferrell.org.
Neither individually nor together do these documents dramatically change our understanding of November 22, 1963. But they do enlighten the evidence, and pose important questions. First, the documents show that a handful of top CIA officials had far greater knowledge of Oswald in the weeks before Kennedy was killed than they ever let on, and at least one of these operatives remained quiet about what he knew to perhaps a criminal extent. Second, the scientific evidence supporting the lone gunman theory has weakened.
Now let us put the crime scene in a larger context, the context of CIA intelligence gathering and psychological warfare operations in late 1963. Let us return now to the man who didn't talk.
What was George Joannides's reaction to Oswald's appearance at the Dallas scene?
"We called him right away," says Tony Lanuza, a Miami businessman who was active in Cuban politics in 1963. He served as the coordinator for the far-flung delegations of the Cuban Student Directorate. When he and his friends heard that a man named Oswald had been arrested for killing Kennedy, Lanuza immediately recalled the confrontations between Carlos Bringuier and the obnoxious interloper from the Fair Play for Cuba Committee the previous August. They rushed to the Directorate's headquarters in South Miami, where someone called their CIA contact to inform him the group had evidence about the communistic ways of Kennedy's killer.
Joannides's first impulse was to consult with his superiors, two months before the DRE was recruiting assassins to kill Castro. What did they know about Oswald was one question that an intelligence officer might want answered.
"He told us to wait an hour," Lanuza recalls. "He had to consult with Washington."
The DRE started calling reporters anyway with the scoop on Kennedy's killer. He was a communist and a Castro supporter. A headline in the DRE's newspaper the next day described Oswald and Castro as "the presumed assassins." When Joannides called back, he told them to take their evidence to the FBI.
The CIA man apparently did not investigate Oswald's Cuban contacts. No former DRE leader can recall any conversations with Joannides about the accused assassin. Joannides did not account for the contacts between the AMSPELL network and the accused assassin, at least not according to the available CIA records. His role as sponsor of Oswald's Cuban antagonists was not disclosed to the Warren Commission. He preserved the U.S. government's ability to "plausibly deny" any connection to the Cuban students who publicized Oswald's pro-Castro ways.
All the while, the DRE leaders continued to feed JFK information to Joannides. The group's records from early 1964 include several memos to CIA contact "Howard" about Jack Ruby's Cuban connections. From New Orleans, Carlos Bringuier sent a report about the ongoing Warren Commission investigation there. That too was passed to Joannides.
On April 1, 1964, the Warren Commission sent Carlos Bringuier a letter informing him that a commission staff would be contacting him soon about taking his testimony about the DRE and Oswald. According to a CIA travel form made public in 2004, Joannides, the DRE's case officer and an attorney, traveled from Miami to New Orleans that same day for unknown reasons.
For the rest of his career, Joannides would be commended for his actions around events related to the Kennedy assassination.
In May 1964, his bosses praised him as a "hard-working, dedicated and effective officer" with a flair for political action operations. His annual job evaluation made no mention of the fact that his AMSPELL assets had tried and failed to call attention to the man who apparently killed Kennedy or that his young friends in the DRE were using agency funds to allege that Oswald acted at Castro's behest. Joannides received the highest possible marks for his service in 1963.
He went on to serve in Athens, Saigon and CIA headquarters. In 1979, after Joannides stonewalled congressional investigators about his knowledge of Oswald he received praise from CIA director Stansfield Turner and other top agency officials. "He was the perfect man for the job," said one.
Two years ago, the CIA acknowledged in a court filing that Joannides had received an even greater honor upon retirement. In March 1981, he received the Career Intelligence Medal, bestowed for "career contributions" to the Agency.
Why Joannides was honored after his Oswald cover-up remains a secret -- for reasons of "national security." In September 2006 federal judge Richard Leon upheld the CIA's arguments in a Freedom of Information lawsuit that it did not have to release the JFK material in Joannides's file. The National Archives then requested the Joannides files from the Agency earlier this year. As of late October 2007, the CIA was still resisting disclosure.
So what can one safely and reliably conclude about the JFK story today?
On the crime scene evidence, reasonable people will differ. To me, the single bullet theory, the forensic linchpin of all arguments for Oswald's sole guilt, has lost scientific validity in the past decade via both Pat Grant and Erik Randich's ballistics analysis and via the sworn testimony of FBI agents Sibert and O'Neill.
The JFK medical evidence is much less trustworthy than was known a decade ago. Photographs have been culled from the collection. Multiple new witnesses say independently and under oath that Kennedy's body and wounds were cleaned up before being photographed for the record. Any indictment of Oswald based on the medical evidence of Kennedy's wounds has been undermined.
The acoustic evidence remains in dispute. In my view, it has not been disqualified until an alternative explanation for the order in the data is confirmed.
The new JFK forensic science, in short, has narrowed the limits of plausible conjecture by eliminating the single bullet theory as an explanation of Kennedy and Connally's wounds and by not eliminating the possibility that the fatal shot was fired from the grassy knoll.
The best minds in forensic science might be able to clarify things, Pat Grant told me in an e-mail following our interview. Grant admitted that he and probably most other experts in the most advanced forensic techniques are not up to date on the acoustic evidence and other JFK evidentiary specimens.
"The evidence should be viewed and examined by a select group of forensic scientists, by invitation only, that best represents the most advanced forensic methods possible today," Grant wrote, adding, "These cannot be encompassed solely by the practices of today's criminalistics labs." He proposed these scientists prepare "a summary report detailing prioritized recommendations for ensuing analyses, their estimations for success of each recommended analysis and the anticipated information to be gained from each."
As for the new JFK evidence from CIA archives, that too awaits clarification. Some of the most basic questions about George Joannides -- what did he know about Oswald and when did he know it? -- cannot be answered as long as the Agency withholds his files from public view. The CIA's insistence, 44 years later, that it cannot declassify those files for reasons of "national security," not only encourages the notion the Agency is still hiding something significant, it also reminds us of the infuriating truth. When it comes to the JFK story we know a lot more than we did a decade ago: We know we still don't have the full story.
Birch O'Neal, head of Angleton's Special Investigations Group, weighed in, via cable, with a suggestion. He told Win that it was "important you review all LIENVOY tapes and transcripts since Sept 27 to locate all materials possibly pertinent." O'Neal thought correctly that such material would date to September 27, the day Oswald first contacted the Cuban consulate in Mexico City. But how did he know that? It was either a lucky guess or, more likely, SIG knew of Oswald's Cuban contacts in advance of Kennedy's assassination.
Another key question: Where were the surveillance tapes of Oswald, aside from those of his October 1 call to the Soviet embassy? Headquarters demanded an answer from Win, and David Phillips came up with one. They had been erased. More than a decade later, Phillips told the Church Committee exactly when it happened. "It was not until after 5 pm on November 23, 1963 that Agency headquarters cabled its station in Mexico City as to whether the original tapes were available," the committee stated in its final report. "David Phillips recalls that this inquiry precipitated CIA station's search for the tapes which confirmed that they had been erased."
Phillips's recollection was technically accurate. It was true that the originals had been erased. Phillips did not know or did not say that Anne Goodpasture had a duplicate of at least one of the Oswald conversations. Win said the same thing. He relayed three of the transcripts of Oswald's phone calls to Helms in Washington. He did not send the transcript of the call about Oswald's travel plans made by Cuban consulate employee Sylvia Duran on September 27. About the Saturday, September 28, conversation, he wrote, "Subject is probably OSWALD. Station unable compare voice as first tape erased prior to receipt of 2nd call." With that dubious claim, the CIAs false story that there were no LIENVOY tapes of Oswald's conversations came into being.
The issue of Oswald's visit to the Cuban consulate was, as always, handled with the utmost discretion. One pressing question for Win was, what did Sylvia Duran know about Oswald? The station already had a "substantial interest" in her before the assassination, Phillips later admitted, not the least because surveillance had revealed that she had had an affair with Carlos Lechuga, the former Cuban ambassador in Mexico City, who was now serving as Castro's ambassador to the United Nations. At least one Mexican source on the CIA payroll had told his case officer that "all that would have to be done to recruit Ms. Duran was to get a blonde, blue-eyed American in bed with her."
Win called Luis Echeverria, the trim, self-effacing sub secretary to Diaz Ordaz, the minister of government, whom Win had recruited into the LITEMPO network. Echeverria, as LITEMPO-8, had shown the ability to get things done. Win asked him to have his men arrest Sylvia Duran. Then he called Diaz Ordaz, expecting full cooperation from the Gobernacion minister. He asked that Duran be held incommunicado until she gave all details of her contacts with Oswald. Diaz Ordaz agreed. Within an hour, President Lopez Mateos himself called. Win was expecting condolences for Kennedy's death, but his friend wanted to share some intelligence. His people working in the LIENVOY joint operations center had located the transcript of Oswald's September 28 call.
But when Win reported his aggressive police work to CIA headquarters, he was rebuked. Mexico desk chief John Whitten called on a nonsecure phone line with urgent orders from Helms's top deputy, Tom Karamessines: call off the Mexicans. Don't arrest Sylvia Duran. Win told him it was too late, but not to worry. The Mexican government would keep the arrest secret and make sure no information leaked.
Not reassured, Karamessines followed up with a cable to make sure Win understood his instructions.
ARREST OF SYLVIA DURAN IS EXTREMELY SERIOUS MATTER WHICH COULD PREJUDICE [U.S. ] FREEDOM OF ACTION ON ENTIRE QUESTION OF [CUBAN] RESPONSIBILITY. WITH FULL REGARD FOR MEXICAN INTEREST, REQUEST YOU ENSURE THAT HER ARREST IS KEPT ABSOLUTELY SECRET, THAT NO INFORMATION FROM HER IS PUBLISHED OR LEAKED, THAT ALL SUCH INFO IS CABLED TO US, AND THAT FACT OF HER ARREST AND HER STATEMENTS ARE NOT SPREAD TO LEFTIST OR DISLOYAL CIRCLES IN THE MEXICAN GOVERNMENT
A decade later, when investigators discovered this cable and asked for an explanation, Karamessines said he had no recollection of it. When pressed on why he might have issued such an order, he said that the CIA might have "feared that the Cubans were responsible [for the assassination] and that Duran might reveal this during an interrogation." He further ventured that "if Duran did possess such information, the CIA and the U.S. government would need time to react before it came to public attention." But Karamessines could not explain why he sought to prevent Win from using his Mexican contacts to learn what Duran knew.
John Whitten, chief of the Mexico desk, wrote a rare memorandum for the record stating that he opposed Karamessines's order. When Senate investigators asked him about his objections in 1976, he too said he had no recollection of the memo he had initialed. But he did attempt an explanation. "We were concerned about blowing the revealing our telephone taps, prematurely revealing our knowledge that Oswald had been in the Cuban consulate at all," he told investigators. "Of course, that all came out later in the papers and so on but at this juncture... the 23rd, the next day. We were keeping a lid on everything because we didn't know which way the thing was going to go." Might the United States attack Cuba in retaliation for the murder of the president? That question did not need to be asked at CIA headquarters, Whitten said. "It was just in the air."
Two years later, Whitten came up with a more incisive explanation. At the time we were not sure that Oswald might not have been a Cuban agent, and the arrest of a foreign consular person was quite a serious matter under international law. Although Sylvia Duran was a Mexican.... Karamessines may not have known at the time and simply felt that this breach of international law, violation of her immunity, might have made it awkward for the United States, if we wanted to let out a roar of outrage if we discovered that Castro had been behind the assassination. In other words, Karamessines feared that this whole thing [the arrest of Duran] might be laid at the United States doorstep."
But why wouldn't American officials want to question a communist who had contact with the man who had apparently killed the president?
Jim Angleton did not want to answer that question. He told congressional investigators he had a "vague recollection" of Karamessines's order. 'All I would say is that usually if Tom intervened it was for good reason ... because he had superior information."
Karamessines's order to Win showed that within twenty-four hours of Kennedy's assassination, top CIA officials were maneuvering to preserve their "freedom of action" to blame the crime on Castro an option that would have generated the U.S. invasion of the island that Cuba hawks had long favored. The command evoked the mind-set that generated Operation Northwoods, the Pentagon pretext operations conceived and rejected by JFK in 1962 and 1963: if Castro could be blamed for a horrible crime against American interests, then the U.S. government might be able to justify an invasion to overthrow him. The Karamessines order also illuminated the difference between Win and his superiors in Washington.
Jefferson Morley’s Our Man in Mexico sets the scene and the tone of the times for one of the puzzling and mysterious jaunts south of the border by any American.
The book is a biography of CIA officer Winston Scott, Mexico City is the scene and the American is Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO), the accused assassin of President Kennedy.
It was Oswald’s September 24 to October 2 1963 sojourn to Mexico City, six weeks before Kennedy was killed that cuts right to the heart of the question of whether the President was killed by a deranged lone nut or a covert pawn in a much more serious and complex scenario.
Morley really wants to address the issue of who was manipulating the accused assassin of the president as well as the group of anti-Castro Cuban students (Student Revolutionary Directorate DRE) Oswald associated with in New Orleans before going to Mexico.
Morley approaches this issue by way of the biography and career of Win Scott, Our CIA Man in Mexico at the time, and through the perspective of Win Scott’s son Michael, who wants to come to understand the secret side of his father’s life.
Michael Scott, whose name is listed on the credits of the popular TV series Unsolved Mysteries, has been seeking the historic truth about his father, much like the sons and daughters of other peripheral figures in the assassination – E. Howard Hunt’s son, Oswald’s daughters and Frank Olson’s son, who were children at the time and have now grown up wondering what really happened.
As much as they can, Morley and Scott have been piecing together their respective stories from what’s in the official files. Michael Scott has been privately seeking the CIA records of his father, especially an autobiographical novel "Foul Foe," while Morley has been seeking the CIA records of George Joannides, the CIA case officer responsible for the DRE students who associated with Oswald in New Orleans in the summer of 1963.
While both Michael Scott and Jeff Morley have been thwarted by CIA lawyers in their pursuit of these records, both have won small victories, Scott obtaining a much redacted version of his father’s autobio novel, and Morley in court, obtaining a judgment to which the CIA must respond (by late April).