"...Lawyers for the Central Intelligence Agency faced pointed questions in a federal court hearing Monday morning about the agency's efforts to block disclosure of long-secret records about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Three appellate judges probed for explanations of the agency's rationale for withholding records concerning a deceased undercover CIA officer named George Joannides whose role in the events of 1963 remains unexplained.
For the past three and a half years, CIA has blocked the release of the Joannides files, denying my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and spurning scholarly appeals for full disclosure. At stake is the viability of the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Act, which mandates the immediate review, and release of all government records related to Kennedy's murder in Dallas on November 22, 1963. One of the strongest open government measures ever enacted, the future of the JFK Act is now in question as the CIA seeks judicial permission to defy its provisions.
The three-judge panel, chaired by Judge Karen Henderson, heard oral arguments in the federal courthouse here about whether the FOIA requires release of the records, most of which are more than 40 years old. These records were never shared with any JFK assassination investigation.
"Do you know where the records are located?" Henderson asked CIA lawyer John Truong in reference to a series of monthly reports that the Joannides was supposed to file in 1963. Truong said he did not know. Judge David Tatel questioned Truong's contention that Joannides was not the subject of congressional investigation in the late 1970s. "Aren't these key records?" asked Judge Judith Rogers.
Joannides served as the chief of psychological warfare operations in the Agency's Miami station at the time of Kennedy's assassination. Using the alias "Howard," he was the case officer for a Cuban exile group whose members had repeated contact with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in August 1963 -- rendering any records of Joannides' secret operations at that time potentially relevant to the JFK assassination story.
The JFK Records Act of 1992 was supposed to spur full disclosure on the much-debated subject. Approved unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, the law sought to quell public doubt and confusion raised by Oliver Stone's JFK.
"All Government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should carry a presumption of immediate disclosure," the Act declared, "and all records should be eventually disclosed to enable the public to become fully informed about the history surrounding the assassination."
To insure compliance, Congress created an independent civilian review panel, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) to determine what documents would be made public and to oversee the public release those records. The five-member board -- not federal agencies -- were given final say over what should be declassified. Between 1994 and 1998, the ARRB, chaired by federal judge John Tunheim, oversaw the release of four million pages of once-secret JFK records.
These new JFK files not only illuminate the events that led to the gunshots that took Kennedy's life; they also provide an unprecedented glimpse of U.S. covert operations against Cuba, CIA propaganda and surveillance techniques, U.S. law enforcement action against organized crime figures, and efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro. The JFK Records Act, according to the watchdog group OMB Watch, "is the best example in existence of a successful targeted declassification effort."
The CIA, however, now appears to be evading a signed memorandum of understanding that it gave to the ARRB about the release of JFK records. On September 30, 1998 the Agency committed itself to releasing any newly discovered JFK records under the criteria established by the board. Today the Agency is ignoring the ARRB criteria and blocking the disclosure of records that meet the legal definition of "assassination related" records.
The National Archives and Records Administration has responsibility for maintaining the JFK Records Collection but limited ability to compel the Agency to turn over sensitive documents. Even though the JFK Act states that all assassination records must be made public by 2017, a top CIA official noted in a court filing that the Agency has the right to keep as many as 1,100 still-secret JFK records out of public view beyond that date.
In my admittedly subjective view, the JFK Records Act is being slowly repealed by CIA fiat. In defiance of the law and common sense, the Agency continues to spend taxpayers' money for the suppression of history around JFK's assassination. In the post-9/11 era, you would think U.S. intelligence budget could be better spent..."