On the eve of a major Whistleblower Summit in the nation’s capital, a federal judge issued a shocking pro-CIA ruling that has the effect of discouraging disclosure about the 1963 murder of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, shown at right in a file photo, denied attorneys fees under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to truth-seekers whose decade-long litigation against the CIA unearthed one of the most important disclosures during recent years in the murder investigation.
One revelation from the litigation was that a CIA psychological warfare expert, George Joannides, apparently met accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before the killing — and then failed to disclose that fact in the 1970s to congressional investigators reexamining the case. Joannides was the CIA’s official liaison to the congressional investigators for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), which in 1979 issued a re-evaluation of 1960s official accounts of the assassinations of President Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The agency honored Joannides with a career service medal in 1981 recognizing his 28 years, the litigation disclosed.
Leon has issued thee previous pro-CIA rulings, all reversed by the federal appellate court. His pattern of pro-agency rulings helps underscore the importance of the annual Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights, which begins Monday for three days at several locations in Washington, DC. Details are here.
At the Summit, I plan to examine Leon’s role during my 3 p.m. panel discussion on FOIA litigation July 28 and also during an 11:40 a.m. (EDT) radio interview by Gloria Minott of WPFW-FM, syndicated nationally by the Pacifica Network and locally at 89.3 FM.
She is a moderator of the Summit, which features also U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio, who was imprisoned on dubious financial fraud charges after he refused a Bush-Cheney administration demand before 9/11 to help the NSA undertake illegal surveillance of Qwest customers. He and Warren are receiving awards.
My information from expert sources is that Nacchio was deliberately targeted by prosecutors as reprisal for being the only major telco CEO to refuse the government’s then-illegal spying orders.
More generally, my advice to whistleblowers during my panel and radio interview is that Leon’s decision helps illustrate how whistleblowers can face hidden obstacles that motivate judges and other supposedly independent watchdogs to fight disclosure at all costs.
Truth-seekers should nonetheless press forward with litigation and other tactics, but should be prepared also to fight in the court of public opinion.
In the JFK case:
CIA reluctantly disclosed during the litigation that Joannides had secretly met accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before the killing — and then Joannides served (without disclosing that relationship) as the CIA’s liaison to the 1970s House Select Committee on Assassinations committee re-examining the Warren Commission’s finding that Oswald killed Kennedy, acting alone. The CIA later awarded a medal to Joannides, shown in a file photo.
The judge, a Harvard Law School graduate who earned his prominence in part via the bitter partisan investigative of years past, decided that the decade of litigation work of non-profit groups disclosing the scandal was not important enough to merit fees under the law.
Unless overturned, Leon’s ruling represents a harsh blow to two small non-profit public service organizations and their leaders. They have helped lead the fight to uncover the facts of one the most important murder mysteries in American history, and in this instance achieved major discoveries.
JFKFacts.org founder Jefferson Morley and his attorney, James Lesar, brought FOIA lawsuit Morley v. CIA seeking release of long-secret JFK records. Lesar is a longtime specialist in FOIA law who also leads the Assassination Archive and Records Center (AARC).
Morley is a former Washington Post reporter who left the paper after it proved reluctant in his view to pursue leads in the JFK murder case.
He published his view of Leon’s decision in a July 25 column, Fifty one years later, federal judge upholds the CIA’s right to keep JFK secrets.
“The decision,” Morley wrote, “exemplifies the extraordinary deference that the CIA enjoys in the federal courts. Leon dismissed extensive newspaper coverage of the lawsuit and ignored the coverage of a key document it uncovered. He affirmed that the CIA’s conduct in keeping JFK assassination-related records secrets in 2014 was “reasonable.” Morley continued regarding Leon:
His narrow decision studiously avoids grappling with the untold story of CIA operations around accused presidential assassin Lee Oswald in the summer of 1963 and the agency’s subsequent obstruction of a congressional investigation in 1978. The story of the late George Joannides [a CIA liaison to congressional investigators who failed to disclose that he had worked with Oswald prior to the assassination] is obviously relevant to the JFK story.