Saturday, May 3, 2008

CIA Still Stonewalls on JFK Mystery Man


Flouting a federal court order, the CIA refused Wednesday to make public long-secret records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

At a federal court hearing in Washington, CIA attorneys declined to provide any records related to the secret operations of a deceased undercover officer named George Joannides whose role in the JFK story has never been explained by the agency.

A three-judge appellate court panel ruled in December that the agency had to search its files for records of Joannides' secret operations in 1963, when he served undercover in Miami running "psychological warfare" operations against the government of Fidel Castro. The court also ordered the CIA to explain why 17 reports on Joannides' secret operations in 1962-1964 are missing from the National Archives.

The CIA provided no written explanation of its actions during a hearing before Judge Richard Leon. Afterwords, agency attorney John Truong claimed orally that a search of files on Joannides operations found no records responsive to my 2003 Freedom of Information Act request.

Truong offered no explanation, written or oral of the missing records, In December, Judge Judith Rogers ruled that the CIA's previous explanation of the 17 missing reports was inadequate. "On remand the CIA must supplement its explanation," she wrote. That has yet to happen, despite the agency promising to comply with the appellate court order by April 30.

John Tunheim, a federal judge who chaired the Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s, said the Joannides files should be made public.

"Had the Review Board known the truth about George Joannides everything bearing his name would have been made public," Tunheim said in an interview. The ARRB, a civilian review panel created by Congress in the wake of the controversy over Oliver Stone's "JFK," declassified thousands of assassination records between 1994 and 1998

Joannides, who died in 1991, is the most curious figure to emerge in the vast JFK literature in recent years. Unbeknownst to investigators, Joannides' propaganda network proved influential in the media reaction to JFK's murder. Declassified CIA records show that he gave $25,000 a month to the leaders of a Cuban student group whose members had a series of encounters with Lee Harvey Oswald in August 1963. When Kennedy was shot dead on a Dallas street three months later, the CIA-funded group made headlines around the world by publicizing Oswald's pro-Castro activities and linking him to the Cuban leader.

Joannides' role in enabling that story remained secret for 38 years. His financial support for Oswald's Cuban antagonists was not disclosed to the Warren Commission which investigated Kennedys' death and concluded that Oswald acted alone. In 1978 Joannides was called out of retirement to serve as the Agency's liaison to a congressional committee that reopened the JFK investigation. The Agency did not disclose his role in the events of 1963 to Congress. The story of Joannides' actions did not begin to emerge until 2001 when I published a story in a Miami newspaper.

Tunheim said the JFK Records Act of 1992 requires an independent evaluation of the Joannides files. "He was central to the time period, and central to the [JFK] story. There is no question we were mislead on Joannides for a long time," he said.

Officials of the National Archives have also sought access to the Joannides files in recent years but have been rebuffed by the Agency.

The CIA must explain its actions in writing to Judge Leon by June 11.

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