Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, there are lingering doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald – the man arrested for the murder and killed two days later in a Dallas police station by Jack Ruby – acted alone.
The burning question remains: if Oswald did not in fact act alone, who was behind Kennedy’s killing? Although he died 24 years ago, in the thick of one of the most perplexing mysteries in American history remains a Greek-American who worked for the National Herald, and later for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), George Joannides.
WHO KILLED JFK?
Conspiracy theories have flourished over the past half century, placing culpability for JFK’s murder on an array of suspects, including the Soviet Union, Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro, a number of leading organized crime figures, and even Kennedy’s own vice president – who was sworn in as president on the airplane carrying Kennedy’s dead body back to Washington – Lyndon Johnson.
Another culprit high on conspiracy theorists’ radars is the CIA. What sets the CIA apart from the other list of non-Oswald suspects, however, is that while – like the rest – there is no plausible evidence to implicate it, there has been and continues to be reason believe that the CIA has not been open, forthright, and fully cooperative with Congress about all it knows about Kennedy’s assassination.
CIA was thrust back into the media spotlight over the past few weeks, not because of the Kennedy assassination but in light of new revelations about the agency’s methods, including spying on the United States Congress.
FEINSTEIN V. CIA
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently accused the CIA of sabotaging the Committee’s efforts to – as directed by Congress – investigate the agency’s interrogation program. CIA Director John Brennan strongly denied the accusations, insisting that when the facts are clarified it will become evident that the CIA did nothing wrong.
Feinstein, speaking from the Senate floor, described a Committee staff report of the CIA’s interrogation methods as “chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detentions sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.”
Feinstein described the CIA’s interrogation program as “brutal and un-American,” and alleged that the CIA has attempted to involve the Justice Department to intimidate the Senate Committee.
Though that matter remains unresolved and has no direct connection to the Kennedy assassination, there is a nexus insofar as to an implication of CIA interference in and attempted obfuscation of a Congressional investigation.
CIA AND JFK
Joseph Lazzaro posited that nexus in a recent International Business Times article titled: “George Joannides’ CIA Files – Can They Help Determine Who Killed President Kennedy?” Lazzaro wrote: “if you think the CIA’s recent secret searches of computers and its deletion of documents that were used by Senate committee members in their investigation of a controversial interrogation program, as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., charges, is appalling, if not unconstitutional and a perversion of justice, consider what the CIA has done regarding congressional JFK assassination inquiries.”
Lazzaro pointed to the Jefferson Morley, a former Washington Post reporter who has written extensively about the Kennedy assassination and is the plaintiff in an ongoing federal lawsuit against the CIA, from whom Morley requests 295 documents in Joannides administrative file, which the agency refuses to disclose, explaining they are classified for national security purposes, though Lazzaro added that has not been verified independently. Morley told TNH that the lawsuit is essentially resolved, with the courts agreeing that the limited information the CIA has produced is sufficient. That the CIA will not pay attorneys’ fees, he says, is less about saving money than about standing by their original claim that there is nothing pertinent to disclose and that Morley’s requests did not benefit the public’s knowledge in any way.
JOANNIDES AND OSWALD
So, who was Joannides and what makes him so critical to the JFK assassination? As the New York Times reported in 2009, in a March 17 article by Scott Shane titled “C.I.A. Is Still Cagey About Oswald Mystery,” Joannides was a CIA officer based in Miami. He had ties to the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE), an anti-Castro group of rebels that publicly opposed Oswald in August 1963, three months before Kennedy was assassinated and Oswald’s name emerged from public obscurity.
The DRE – which received about $51,000 per month in 1963 (almost $4.8 million per year in today’s dollars), Lazzaro wrote, publicly criticized Oswald’s pro-Castro support. Hours after Kennedy was killed, wrote Lazzaro, DRE published a magazine called “Trenches,”linking Oswald to Castro.
Did Joannides, via the DRE, interact with Oswald, thereby establishing a link between the CIA and Kennedy’s “official” killer (as established by the Warren Commission’s report in 1964)? Morley acknowledges that he does not know for sure, but reiterates that public disclosure of the files might provide the necessary closure the public deserves.
The Commission’s report has been widely criticized over the years for concluding that Oswald was the lone gunman involved in President Kennedy’s death, and that he took Kennedy’s life without having been directed or encouraged by anyone else to do so. That the CIA continues to withhold the Joannides files from public access, Shane wrote, fuels conspiracy theorists’ suspicions. But the plot thickens…Because 15 years later, Joannides was recruited by the CIA to play an active role in the continuing investigation into Kennedy’s death.
The CIA coaxed Joannides out of retirement in 1978 to serve as its liaison on a House of Representatives committee investigating the assassinations of both Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. What Joannides and the CIA did not tell the panel, however, was about Joannides connection to the DRE and, in turn, to Oswald.
That committee’s chief counsel, Robert Blakey, described in a PBS documentary that committee researchers complained to him that Joannides by his presence “was not facilitating but obstructing our obtaining of documents. Blakey stated that at that point he no longer believed anything the CIA said to the committee about the investigation.
WHY STILL A SECRET?
Morley points out on his website, jfkfacts.org, that some of the documents in the Joannides file are over 50 years old, and wonders what national security purpose they would still serve.
Did Joannides really know who killed Kennedy, was there really a conspiracy, and was he involved in it? “Probably not,” Shane wrote. “But you would not know it from the CIA’s behavior.” Perhaps the agency was too embarrassed to reveal that it had brushes with Oswald and did not investigate and monitor him thoroughly enough, Shane wondered. Maybe if the CIA had kept a closer watch on Oswald, the assassination could have been thwarted.
Or maybe the CIA is simply trying to protect its documents, on principle. “If you start going through the files of every C.I.A. officer who had anything to do with anything that touched the assassination, that would have no end,” said Max Holland, a writer on the Kennedy assassination, Shane reported.
Max Posner, an anti-conspiracy theorist, said “most conspiracy theorists don’t understand this, but if there really were a CIA plot, no documents would exist,” Shane reported.
Morley told TNH that Shane’s theories are “plausible.” That it is certainly possible the CIA didn’t want to be embarrassed by how closely they were watching Oswald and let him slip through their fingers. “And it is certainly true,” he said, that the CIA is interested in continuing to guard their work product closely. “It’s their mission,” he said. Their purpose is not to inform the public. Morley is not sure, however, whether the CIA’s guarding the documents on principle rather than substance is the controlling factor motivating them. But it is certainly a factor, he says.
Ultimately, Morley doubts that there is any “smoking gun” in the still-classified Joannides files, and does not contend that either Joannides or the CIA was necessarily involved in any plot to kill Kennedy. “He was more an accessory after the fact,” Morley believes, obfuscating indicators linking the CIA to Oswald.
JOANNIDES AND TNH
Joannides died in a Houston, TX hospital on March 9,1990 after undergoing heart surgery, wrote the Washington Post in an obituary published five days later. His CIA status was apparently still a secret at the time, as the Post made no reference to his work with that agency, and referred to him as retired attorney for the Department of Defense.
The Post also mentioned that Joannides was born in Athens and with his family moved to the United States at age 1, in 1924. Prior to moving to Washington, DC in 1949, the Post reported, he worked for the National Herald. Morley, who has done extensive research about Joannides, told TNH that Joannides’ father, Efythron and mother, Mena, both worked for the National Herald in the 1930s and 1940s, and perhaps even earlier, as a news editor and advice columnist, respectively. Joannides himself, during his college and law school years, Morley said, wrote a society column for an English Sunday version of the National Herald, approximately between 1944 and 1947. “He had a very chatty, conversational writing style,” Morley said.