Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ford 'Memoir' Fuels JFK Assassination Buffs

by PAT SHELLENBARGER / Chronicle News Service

Over the last four decades of his life, President Gerald Ford insisted there was no evidence anyone but Lee Harvey Oswald was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

That's why Ford's friends, family and biographers are casting doubt on a book publisher's claim that in his last days the president confided that Oswald did not act alone and that the CIA destroyed documents about Kennedy's murder.

Nashville publisher Tim Miller is touting the book as "President Gerald R. Ford's final memoir." That is feeding the conspiracy frenzy that has lingered since Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas in 1963, particularly because Ford was the last surviving member of the Warren Commission appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the assassination.

"Sounds like someone's trying to sell some books," Steven Ford, the late president's son, said during a recent visit to Grand Rapids. "I've sat around the dinner table with Dad many times, and he'd be the first to tell you they couldn't rule out a conspiracy, but there was no evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone." [Read the complete story here...]

* * * * *

[My Two Cents: Ford's final 'memoir' is a reprint of the 1964 Warren Commission Report, which includes a new foreword written by the late President. The new foreword contains Ford's thoughts on the assassination, the Commission investigation he was a part of, conspiracy theories, and some of the information that came to light in the wake of the Warren Commission Report's release. The foreword is 29 pages long.

There is nothing - I repeat, nothing - in the new foreword that constitutes Gerald Ford changing his long-standing opinion that Oswald acted alone. In fact, it seeks to underscore that which Ford has said all along - i.e., that which the Gerald Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, continues to send out in a letter under the President's name: "In 1964, the Warren Commission unanimously decided, 1) Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin, and, 2) The Commission found no evidence of a conspiracy, foreign or domestic. As a member of the Commission, I endorsed those conclusions in 1964 and fully agree now as the sole surviving Commission member."

Here are some excerpts from the foreword credited to President Gerald Ford for A Presidential Legacy and the Warren Commission:

"It is true that you can't ignore coincidences, but there are many reasons those coincidences occur. Conspiracies may or may not have existed or occurred somewhere, such as the government-sanctioned plot to kill Castro, but considering the meticulousness of our investigation, we were confident that we would have uncovered links from those to Oswald and to Kennedy's assassination had there been any. I have become increasingly adamant that we were correct as more and more experts have questioned and then verified our conclusions."

"The echoes of the assassin's shots had hardly died out before everyone began speculating 'whodunit.' The trouble was, given the kind of turbulence going on in the world at the time (not to mention covertly in the U.S.), there were plenty of groups with plausible motives to assassinate President Kennedy, which helped to encourage speculation. Notwithstanding that, our Commission's findings were that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin and that he worked alone -- there was no evidence of a conspiracy. The same went for Jack Ruby."

"I have been accused of changing some wording on the Warren Commission Report to favor the lone-assassin conclusion. That is absurd. Here is what the draft said: 'A bullet had entered his back at a point slightly above the shoulder and to the right of the spine.' To any reasonable person, 'above the shoulder and to the right' sounds very high and way off the side -- and that's what it sounded like to me. That would have given the totally wrong impression. Technically, from a medical perspective, the bullet entered just to the right at the base of the neck, so my recommendation to the other members was to change it to say, 'A bullet had entered the back of his neck, slightly to the right of the spine.' After further investigation, we then unanimously agreed that it should read, 'A bullet had entered the base of his neck slightly to the right of the spine.'"

"The reason some things appeared to be suspicious was possibly because there were people who apparently did have things to hide. It came out later there was a government-sanctioned plot to kill Fidel Castro. There seemed to also have been a scramble to cover that up which did interfere marginally with our investigation, as I testified to the HSCA (House Select Committee on Assassinations). It was really more of a problem for the CIA. JFK's assassination and our investigation into it put certain classified and potentially embarrassing operations in danger of being exposed. Their reaction was to hide or destroy some information, which can easily be misinterpreted as collusion in JFK's assassination."

The former president's remarks are being shamelessly marketed in a style reminicient of the Old West's classic snake-oil salesmen. Buyer beware! - DKM]

Saturday, March 1, 2008

More JFK Secrets in Sixty Days?


It looks like it will be at least another sixty days before we know if there are any "smoking guns" in the CIA's George Joannides file.

CIA lawyers promised Judge Richard Leon in a Washington federal court last Wednesday (Feb.27) that they would comply with an appellate court order to produce more information on Joannides at another court hearing, scheduled for April 30.

This is all part of journalist Jefferson Morley's attempt to pry documents out of CIA vaults related to the now-deceased Joannides.

In Morley's view, the sought after CIA records on Joannides could shed new light on the assassination because of Joannides’ position as the CIA case officer for the anti-Castro organization known as the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE) in 1963. Morley claims that the DRE had contact with Lee Harvey Oswald in the months before President Kennedy’s assassination. Disclosure of CIA records pursuant to his FOIA request will, Morley contends, help to “complete the historical record of Kennedy’s assassination, specifically CIA operations that might have collected intelligence on Oswald.”

It also would elevate Mr. Morley to the stature of superstar among the conspiracy elite, especially if Morley can connect the CIA to Oswald - something the conspirati have been licking their chops over for the passed four decades. So far, Morley has nothing more than suspicion and speculation fueling his quest.

Here's what's gone on so far:

On July 4, 2003, Morley submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the CIA for “all records pertaining to CIA operations officer George Efythron Joannides (also known as ‘Howard,’ ‘Mr. Howard’ or ‘Walter Newby’).”

The CIA sent a preliminary responded to Morley's request on November 5, 2003, informing him that “CIA records on the assassination of President Kennedy have been re-reviewed under the classification guidelines for assassination-related records of the [JFK Act]” and that such records “have been transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in compliance with this Act.”

On December 16, 2003, Morley filed a complaint for injunctive relief, requesting the district court to order the CIA to make available all documents responsive to his FOIA request.

The CIA filed a motion to stay the proceedings pending its further processing of Morley’s FOIA request, which the district court granted on September 2, 2004.

On December 22, 2004, the CIA responded to Morley’s FOIA request via letter, enclosing three documents in their entirety and 112 documents with redactions pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7(C), and 7(E). The CIA noted that it had located additional responsive material that it was withholding in its entirety under FOIA Exemptions 1, 3, and 6. It also explained that two documents required consultation with another agency and that 78 documents previously released under the JFK Act were on file with NARA. The CIA asserted that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of records responsive” to Morley’s request pertaining to Joannides’ participation in any covert operation.

The CIA later released the two documents requiring consultation with another agency in segregable form.

Three months later, on May 9, 2005, the CIA sent Morley a partially redacted document that it had “inadvertently failed to include” in its earlier response and identified additional material that was withheld in its entirety under Exemptions 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7(C), 7(D), and 7(E).

Morley challenged the CIA's compliance with his FOIPA request claiming that relevant records were still being withheld and that the CIA had failed to perform an adequate search for such records.

The courts disagreed, concluding that the CIA properly processed Morley’s request under the traditional standards of the FOIA, rather than the less restrictive standards of the JFK Act, which states that “all Government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should carry a presumption of immediate disclosure,” in part because the FOIA, “as implemented by the executive branch, has prevented the timely public disclosure” of these records.

In Assassination Archives & Research Center v. Department of Justice, 43 F.3d 1542, 1544 (D.C. Cir. 1995)(“AARC I”), the court determined that “[t]he JFK Act and the FOIA are separate statutory schemes with separate sets of standards and separate (and markedly different) enforcement mechanisms. There is no evidence that Congress intended that the JFK Act standards be applied to FOIA review of documents involving the Kennedy assassination.” The court stated that FOIA requesters could not skirt the JFK Act’s procedures in order to capitalize on its substance.

Morley subsequently claimed that the termination of Review Board operations and the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which provides that all JFK records discovered after the termination of the Review Board be turned over the the National Archives, distinguished his case from AARC I because there the court rejected efforts to “secure immediate judicial application of the substantive standards of the JFK Act without having to wait for the Act’s procedures to run their course.” Now that they had, Morley asserted that the MOU should govern his request for documents.

However, the court pointed out that the MOU provided its own enforcement mechanism for procuring relevant documents from the CIA and that Morley could no more sidestep those procedures than he could those of the JFK Act.

The court further ruled that the CIA's search for records pertaining to George Joannides was adequate.

The CIA admits that it did not search its operational files for records responsive to Morley’s request because operational files are exempt from FOIA disclosure under the CIA Act, and generally include records “which document the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence operations.”

The court held that Morley’s FOIA request met the criteria for mandating the search of the CIA’s operational files under the FOIA and because the CIA did not search these files, the court remanded the case to the district court so that the CIA could be ordered to do so. The district court was also ordered to direct the CIA to search all documents previously turned over to the National Archives for records related to Morley's FOIPA request.

The court was less persuaded by Morley's contention that the CIA's search of their records was inadequate because there were certain documents that he "suspected" the CIA had in its possession but withheld.

The next court appearance is scheduled for April 30, when CIA lawyers are supposed to produce "more information" on Joannides.

As I pointed out in "The CIA vs. Jefferson Morley," Morley claims that "the DRE had contact with Lee Harvey Oswald in the months before President Kennedy’s assassination," and that CIA files related to George Joannides, who ran the Miami-based DRE could shed light on the assassination.

Of course, it wasn't the Miami-based DRE that had contact with Oswald in the summer of 1963, as Mr. Morley suggests, but rather it was New Orleans delegate (i.e., member) Carlos Bringuier who was approached by Oswald.

Bringuier maintains that his one-man operation never had contact with Joannides and received no monies from the Miami-based organization to run or further its operations.

While I support any effort to uncover new information about he death of President Kennedy, Mr. Morley's search for CIA documents that might show a link between George Joannides and Lee Harvey Oswald (significant or otherwise) amounts to a "fishing expedition," and if the available record is any indication, he's fishing a dry hole.