Sunlight For America’s Great Unhealed Wound
Popular support for official transparency in the assassination of our 35th president is overwhelming and bipartisan.
In 1964, a reporter asked Chief Justice Earl Warren whether the records of the blue-ribbon panel he chaired, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, would ever be made public. Warren responded, “Yes, there will come a time. But it might not be in your lifetime.”
The curiousness of Warren’s statement comes into stark relief against the simple conclusion of Lyndon Johnson’s “President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy,” better known as the “Warren Commission”: Kennedy was killed by a lone nut, an early-Sixties version of Mark Chapman or John Hinckley with no “special relationship” to any government or criminal organization. End of story.
Why would anything need to be kept secret about an open-and-shut case of murder by an ostensibly attention-seeking misfit?
As America approaches another deadline next week for release of documents relevant to the assassination, the question resonates more than ever. The JFK Records Act, a law Congress passed unanimously in 1992, mandated publication of all assassination-related files and documents held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) within twenty-five years. In October 2017, President Trump caved last-minute to the demands of the U.S. national-security establishment—most notably the CIA—to keep most remaining files obscured from public view for another four years. Why?
A legal loophole in the Act allows the president to delay release on grounds of “national security.” We can’t know how Trump interpreted this, but an article published by the Ron Paul Institute quotes Judge Andrew Napolitano recounting a phone call with Trump in December 2020, when Napolitano asked Trump why he hadn’t released the JFK files. Trump’s answer, if true, was cryptic: “Judge, if you saw what I saw, you would know why I can’t release them.”
In 2021, President Biden delayed release for another year, to 15 December 2022.
Now, however, litigation has entered the picture. A non-profit entity, the Mary Ferrell Foundation (MFF), is suing Biden and NARA for release of the remaining documents on the grounds that MFF cannot educate the public about American history properly without access to all official documentation. Among the complaints of MFF v. Biden is that the “national security” exception is being abused. Under the 1992 statute, if the government wishes to retain any redactions, it must explain all of them, record by record. Neither Trump nor Biden has done so, and the law is clear. Anything kept from public eyes must be legally justified as a bare minimum of open and transparent government.
“It’s time to stop kicking this can down the road,” said Rex Bradford, president of MFF, at a press conference on December 6 in Washington.
While the vast majority of unreleased pages are covered with redactions allowing at least some identification of the file in question, forty-four documents relating to a psychological warfare officer based in the CIA’s Miami station (known as JM-WAVE) from 1962-64 are withheld in full. That officer, George Joannides, was evidently tasked with supervising anti-Castro Cuban exiles operating in the United States, and he reportedly maintained a residence in New Orleans. There, in August 1963, activists of the CIA-financed Revolutionary Students Directorate (DRE) had a street altercation with Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President Kennedy.
Jefferson Morley, an assassination historian and MFF vice president, says that although it is unlikely the 41-year-old Joannides was wittingly involved in any conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, the government is probably concealing something that is at best embarrassing, at worst incriminating. The idea of a longstanding CIA goal to conceal a “special relationship” to the accused assassin—perhaps exemplified by Joannides’ activities—is compelling.
When the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) reopened the investigation into Kennedy’s murder in the late 1970s, the CIA assigned none other than Joannides as its liaison with the HSCA. It did not inform the Committee of its liaison’s activities in 1963, and it was not supposed to delegate a CIA officer active in anti-Cuban “psyops” at the time of the assassination. Supposedly, Joannides was just a disinterested lawyer trying to help. In fact, his old employer had pulled him out of retirement to mislead and stonewall investigators on its behalf.
The Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), formed by the JFK Records Act, collected and classified tens of thousands of files from government agencies in the mid-1990s, but it operated under the impression that files related to Joannides were irrelevant and could therefore be ignored. Only after the turn of the millennium did both the ARRB’s chairman, John Tunheim, and the HSCA’s general counsel, G. Robert Blakey, learn that the CIA had deceived them. Both condemned the Agency’s duplicity in this regard, and Judge Tunheim stepped up calls for release of the files. Even surviving members of the Warren Commission’s legal staff have admitted for years that the CIA was not forthcoming about its knowledge of the accused during the 1964 investigation.
The MFF’s Morley has identified key CIA officers whose files from the relevant period remain substantially redacted. One is David Atlee Phillips, chief of Cuban operations in the CIA’s Mexico City station in late September 1963, when Oswald supposedly visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico. Phillips was Joannides’s superior at the time of the DRE’s run-in with Oswald in New Orleans. “When called to testify before Congress,” writes Morley in his Substack site, JFK Facts, “Phillips changed his story about Oswald so often that HSCA counsel Richard Sprague called him ‘slithery.’”
In a bit of CIA public relations work, the Cuban DRE published the first “conspiracy theory” of the assassination. Within twenty-four hours of Kennedy’s death, the DRE—financed by the CIA to the tune of tens of thousands of (1963) dollars a month—was busy putting out a press release declaring that Oswald had killed Kennedy on Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s orders. It also rushed out a special edition of its newspaper detailing the accusation. Given that Phillips had been recruited by the CIA in the 1950s after launching his own newspaper in Chile, one might be forgiven for sensing that the DRE’s post-assassination “media and communications” blitz was his handiwork.
Another CIA officer with a conspicuously redacted personnel file is J. Walton Moore, head of the Agency’s Domestic Contacts Service (DCS) in Dallas for decades from 1948. When the accused assassin returned from the Soviet Union in June 1962, Moore brought him to the attention of aristocratic, Dallas-based, Russian-émigré businessman George de Mohrenschildt, with whom Oswald remained in close contact until he moved to New Orleans from April to September 1963.
That period formed the basis of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s prosecution of local businessman Clay Shaw as a co-conspirator in the assassination, using eyewitness testimony that Shaw had consorted with Oswald in New Orleans. Shaw was acquitted and denied ever having any professional relationship to the CIA, both in court and to the end of his life. But years after both Shaw and Garrison were dead, declassified records revealed that Shaw had been on the DCS list of human resources. Though government and mainstream media badly maligned Garrison for persecuting an upstanding member of the community, once it was established that Shaw had been a CIA asset, it looked as though he had perjured himself, and his public image as Oswald’s New Orleans “babysitter” (perhaps taking over duties from de Mohrenschildt in Dallas) became indelible.
The Warren Report states that the Commission found no U.S. intelligence agency had any contacts with the accused outside “the regular exercise of their different responsibilities.” Lee “Lone Nut” Oswald had simply “come out of nowhere” to take the entire world by surprise. The tireless efforts of researchers over decades have rendered this conclusion hopelessly flimsy to anyone who has paid serious attention to the way knowledge of the assassination has evolved, and a majority of Americans still mistrust the Warren Commission’s conclusion.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
However, that conclusion endures mysteriously as the predominant view propagated by our government, and it remains the prevalent editorial line of our establishment media. The question naturally arises: If the official, prevailing (minority) view reflects the truth, why not release the files?
The term “cancer on the body politic” connotes a surface-level malignant growth. The government’s ongoing stealth over documentation related to one of the most tragic and momentous events in U.S. history is more like an “internal tumor.” The withheld JFK files might now be compared to a festering polyp, eating away at the republic from the inside. Thousands of files remain suppressed. The CIA and other Deep-State denizens still want secrecy while expecting the American public to give them the benefit of the doubt, all in the interests of “national security.”
Nearly sixty years after President Kennedy’s death, that benefit long ago expired, and the idea that “national security” could be harmed by transparency over a six-decade-old event is preposterous. With trust in government at a nadir in America, it is high time we had an answer to a mantric question of increasing volume on both left and right: What are they hiding?