Five decades after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and long after official inquiries ended, thousands of pages of investigative documents remain withheld from public view. The contents of these files are partly known and intriguing and conspiracy buffs are not the only ones seeking a closer look.Serious researchers believe the off-limits files could shed light on nagging mysteries, including what U.S. intelligence agencies knew about Lee Harvey Oswald before Nov. 22, 1963. It turns out that several hundred of the still-classified pages concern a deceased CIA agent, George Joannides, whose activities just before the assassination and, fascinatingly, during a government investigation years later, have tantalized researchers for years. This is not about conspiracy. This is about transparency, said Jefferson Morley, a former Washington Post reporter and author embroiled in a decade-long lawsuit against the CIA, seeking release of the documents. I think the CIA should obey the law. I dont think most people think thats a crazy idea.Morleys effort has been joined by others, including G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel for a House investigation into the assassination in the 1970s. But so far, the Joannides files and thousands more pages, primarily from the CIA, remain off-limits at a National Archives center in College Park, Md. Others say the continued sealing of 50-year-old documents raises needless questions in the publics mind and encourages conspiracy theories. There is no question that in various ways the CIA obfuscated, but it may be they were covering up operations that were justifiable, benign CIA operations that had absolutely nothing to do with the Kennedy assassination, said Anthony Summers, a British author who wrote the JFK book Not in Your Lifetime, a sequel to which will be released this year. But after 50 years, there is no reason that I can think of why such operations should still be concealed, Summers said. By withholding Joannides material, the agency continues to encourage the public to believe theyre covering up something more sinister. To understand the attention to the Joannides files, its necessary to go back to 1963 and to review whats known about Oswald that put him on the CIAs radar.Its also important to recall the different conclusions of the two official investigations of the JFK killing one denying any conspiracy, the other suspecting one and how much or how little cooperation investigators received from CIA officials, including Joannides. Oswald and Cuba Oswald was a loner and an enigma even to those closest to him. He was as difficult to understand as anyone Ive studied in 35 years as a professional historian, said David Kaiser, whose 2008 book The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy drew on tens of thousands of documents released in the 1990s. Still, plenty was learned about Oswald after the shooting in Dallas. And, its now clear, he was not unknown to the government before that. Assassination investigators learned that Oswald had formed a group in New Orleans in summer 1963 that ostensibly supported Cuban leader Fidel Castro (Oswald was the only local member) and had been involved in a street altercation with anti-Castro demonstrators that was captured by a local television station. Pamphlets in Oswalds possession bore the address of a local anti-Castro operation connected to a former FBI agent with ties to organized crime, investigators discovered. That and other information have led researchers to believe that Oswald may have been part of a counterintelligence operation to discredit the group he had joined, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and that the street scene was a setup. If so, who would have overseen such an operation? Declassified documents show that Joannides, while based in Miami, was the CIA case officer for the anti-Castro Student Revolutionary Directorate (DRE), the group involved in the street fracas with Oswald. What did all this add up to? Official investigations of the assassination did not provide complete answers. The Warren Commission, which concluded in 1964 that Oswald acted alone and was not part of a conspiracy, was never told about the CIAs possibly relevant anti-Castro activities, even though one of its members was Allen Dulles, the former CIA director. Warren Commission staff counsel Burt Griffin, now a retired judge, calls it an act of bad faith by the CIA. I think they had an obligation to tell the chief justice [Earl Warren, commission chairman] about that, and then that decision would have been his and the commissions to make, Griffin said. In separate interviews with The Associated Press, Griffin and fellow staff counsel David Slawson stood by the commissions conclusions. Each pointed to a series of personal rejections behind Oswalds deadly action: Weeks after he made an unsuccessful attempt in Mexico City to get a visa to Cuba, his wife, Marina, rejected his attempts to reconcile their marriage. It was during Oswalds visit, the night before the shooting, to the suburban Dallas home where his wife and two young daughters were staying that he packed up his disassembled Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to take to work the next day, the commission determined. That next morning, he removed his wedding ring, left his money with his wife and departed to carry out the assassination.If she had taken him back, Slawson said, he wouldnt have done it. More complex and sinister theories about his motivation have been offered, some flowing from the release in the 1990s of previously classified documents. Kaiser, the historian, has postulated that Oswald, long seen as a devout leftist, was being manipulated by right-wing and mob elements in his final months and that his visit to the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City in fall 1963 was part of an attempt to reach Cuba and kill Castro. Release of documents held by those governments could be revealing, Kaiser said.By the time the House Select Committee on Assassinations convened in the mid-1970s to investigate the Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. killings, other congressional investigations had exposed the CIAs activities in the early 1960s, including plots to assassinate Castro. Those revelations would be overshadowed by the House committees JFK conclusion: That sound impulses recorded on the microphone of a Dallas police officer amounted to evidence of a shot from the infamous grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza, and thus of an additional gunman firing from a building window. Kennedy, the committees final report said in carefully tempered language, was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy. Subsequent analyses have cast doubt on the acoustic evidence, and the issue is considered unresolved. That evidence was only part of the mountains of material considered by the committee, some of it from the CIA. And the CIAs liaison to the committee was none other than George Joannides, by then retired. Blakey, the committees chief counsel, recalled how the CIA brought in Joannides to act as a middleman to help fill requests for documents made by committee researchers. He was put in a position to edit everything we were given before it was given to us, Blakey said. But Blakey didnt learn about Joannides past until Morley unearthed it in files declassified years later. If Id known Joannides was the case officer for the DRE, he couldnt have been liaison; he would have been a witness, Blakey told The Associated Press.Blakey added: Do I think I was snookered, precisely like the Warren Commission was? Yes. Guarding something bigWhich brings us back to the still-secret investigative files about 300 pages of which relate to Joannides. First, some background: Certain files held by the Warren Commission and House Select Committee were originally ordered sealed, for privacy, security and other considerations, well into the 21st century. Decades passed before public pressure spurred by Oliver Stones 1991 film JFK changed that. Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which established the Assassination Records Review Board to carry out the release of records related to the assassination. As a result, about 5 million pages of documents have been released and are available for review at the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland. But the review board agreed to withhold about 1,100 records each record comprises one to 20 pages that are considered to contain information about confidential sources or methods or to have national security implications. The JFK Act required all records to be released by 2017, but it left some wiggle room for agencies to petition to have records withheld if disclosure would compromise military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations. It is unknown whether the CIA will try to keep some documents classified past 2017. If it does, that may only increase Morleys resolve. You have to wonder: What is so important in a 50-year-old document? he said. Ive come to the conclusion that theyre guarding something big, and that has stiffened my determination. CIA spokesman Ned Price said that the agency has complied with the law in releasing documents and that the archives center has all of the agencys documents and files on the Kennedy assassination. Price didnt comment on the Joannides material specifically, citing Morleys lawsuit. The classified information contained in the files remains subject to the declassification provisions of the act, he said. Meanwhile, the documents sit in metal boxes on shelves in a big room thats temperature- and humidity-controlled, said Martha Murphy, the archives chief of special access and Freedom of Information Act requests. Among those are the Joannides files. An index created by the CIA and provided to The Associated Press by Morley describes many of the files as containing information on Joannides travel, training and personnel evaluations, as well as memos pertaining to the CIAs interactions with the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Morleys interest dates to the 1990s, when he covered the newly formed Assassination Records Review Board. He sued for the Joannides documents in 2003 and has pried loose several hundred pages since then. A federal judge dismissed the case in 2010. But in June, an appeals court overruled a lower court that had denied Morleys request to be reimbursed for attorneys fees. Records about individuals allegedly involved in President Kennedys assassination serve a public benefit, the decision said. Morley does not suggest that the Joannides files point to agency involvement in the assassination itself but more likely that their release would show the CIA trying to keep secret its own flawed performance before the assassination. The idea that Lee Harvey Oswald was some unknown quantity to CIA officers was false, Morley said. There was this incredible high-level attention to Oswald on the eve of the assassination. Assuming that Oswald fired the fatal shot, he said, These top CIA case officers are guilty of negligence. Blakey isnt optimistic about getting all the documents from the intelligence agency. They held stuff back from the Warren Commission. They held stuff back from us. They held stuff back from the ARRB, he said. Thats three agencies that they were supposed to be fully candid with. And now theyre taking the position that some of these documents cant be released even today. Why are they continuing to fight tooth and nail to avoid doing something theyd promised to do?
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