Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fanning wisps of smoke


We have been reading with much amusement the collective gnashing of teeth by the more vocal elements of the JFK research community in the wake of our article “Drums of Conspiracy.”

We all know that the conspirati love to hate anyone who disagrees with them about any aspect of the JFK assassination and since the members of the Warren Commission are all long dead, Dale and Gus will do just fine. Needless to say (or perhaps the obvious needs to be said), we’re not opposed to the idea that there might have been a conspiracy lurking in some aspect of the assassination story.

Co-author Russo, for instance, has concluded that, based on released documents and interviews, Cuban intelligence had a closer relationship with Oswald than we’ve been told, so much so that they were aware of his assassination plan in advance. Other than that, we’ve just not seen additional conspiratorial evidence for close to fifty-years, and we’ve been looking as hard as the next guy— and in some cases maybe even harder.

We took particular note of Jefferson Morley’s objections to our dissertation about the news media’s quick-to-embrace attitude toward conspiracy theories old, new, and old-as-new.

Mr. Morley apparently felt that the thrust of our article was aimed squarely at him and fired back on his own website, JFK Facts, which purports to offer “high-quality information and reasoned debate about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy” and is “dedicated to improving media coverage and public understanding of JFK's assassination, educating the young, and demanding the release of records still held in secret by U.S. government agencies.”

Rex Bradford, creator and webmaster of the Mary Ferrell Foundation (MFF) website, also serves as webmaster for Morley’s JFK Facts. The MFF website is not only an online repository of the vast and indispensable Mary Ferrell archive of official records on the assassination, but also publishes and distributes essays, journals, and hundreds of books (new ones and reprints of old ones) on the subject of the assassination and related political events—nearly all of them conspiracy oriented. If a conspiracy theory was ever published, you can find it there. Not so much from the other point of view, though.

Those crazy conspiracy theorists

Morley serves as moderator for the JFK Facts website which promises to “fact-check news stories, blogs, YouTube videos, books, and movies about the JFK assassination with the goal of dispelling confusion and establishing an accurate historical record.” With that in mind, Mr. Morley apparently decided to set the world straight about what we had to say. According to him, we hear drums of conspiracy in the recent coverage of JFK assassination news and seek to warn the public of impending danger.

“Those crazy conspiracy theorists are coming,” Morley writes. “Watch out, they say. And watch out especially for that Jefferson Morley. His purpose in reporting on the CIA’s role in the JFK story is, they insinuate, actually a ruse to promote a JFK conspiracy theory that is just about as crazy as the notion that JFK was shot by a Secret Service man.”

Obviously we said nothing of the kind, suggested or otherwise. What we said is that “[it] is clear from his own writings that Morley suspects that a link existed between Joannides and Oswald’s activities in New Orleans in the summer of 1963, though Morley acknowledges that he just doesn’t know—and won’t know until and if the CIA releases the Joannides files.” To that we added: “Fair enough.”

For those too busy counting how many times we used the word “conspiracy” in our article, “fair enough” means, “so far, so good.” In other words, we don’t have a problem with Mr. Morley (or anyone else for that matter) speculating about what might be in the withheld files on Joannides as long as they are willing to acknowledge that they don’t really know.

Possible implications

Morley tells us that he’s managed to write about the JFK case “without having a JFK conspiracy theory” although, he says, “I have commented occasionally on the possible implications of new JFK evidence but that is hardly the focus of my published work…” Perhaps not, but where we come from when you imply or suggest that two or more people may have worked with the accused presidential assassin and then covered up that connection, by definition you’re describing a conspiracy. And if those implications are unproven—as Mr. Morley has acknowledged—then the suggestion is a theory, a conspiracy theory. His writings are all available on-line, several of which we quoted in our article. We believe his work speaks for itself.

Morley also makes a point of reminding readers that his efforts to obtain the withheld files on Joannides have support from both sides of the aisle on the question of conspiracy. We know. We are among those who support his passion and his efforts. We wrote in “Drums of Conspiracy”: “What Morley does have is a passion for seeking the truth about what the CIA knew or did not know about Lee Harvey Oswald in the months leading up to the assassination. For that, we applaud his efforts.”

What Morley objects to, apparently, is our caveat that he should leave the insinuations about Joannides’ knowledge (or alleged orchestration) of Oswald’s activities out of his discussions until after the files are released. We’re old-school. We happen to think the story should lead the reporter, not the other way around.

In his response to our suggestion to refrain from continued speculation about what the CIA knew or didn’t know about Oswald, Morley claims that we “insist that there is nothing in the 1,100 still secret JFK records held in the National Archives that is relevant to the assassination.” Again, we never said or wrote any such thing. We don’t have a clue what’s in the files currently being withheld, nor are we willing to speculate what might be in them or why they’re being withheld. Are we eager to see them? Of course! Who wouldn’t be? But what is the point of speculating about what unseen files may or may not contain? For what it’s worth, we’re equally interested in seeing what the KGB (Soviet Intelligence), DGI (Cuban Intelligence) and Mexican Secret Police have on Oswald and his visit to Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City shortly before the assassination.

An acute case

Morley also writes that we “ignored the single most important finding” of his JFK research—that Joannides served as the CIA’s principal liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) and that neither Joannides nor the CIA disclosed that he was the case officer who ran the Miami-based anti-Castro Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRE) in 1963. “If, as Myers and Russo insist, Joannides knew nothing about the DRE’s encounters with Oswald in 1963, he could have–and should have–disclosed the fact to the HSCA in 1978. Yet he chose not to do so. Why? Why would he conceal exculpatory information? Like the CIA, Myers and Russo offer no explanation. They pretend it never happened.”

Apparently, Morley suffers from an acute case of pareidolia, the natural human tendency to see patterns in everything, even where none exists. Apparently, in this pareidolian world, not mentioning something means you’re pretending it never happened.

Let’s talk turkey. First, we never “insisted” anything about what Joannides knew or didn’t know about Oswald prior to the assassination. We don’t know and neither does Morley. In his 2008 book, Our Man in Mexico City: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA, Morley wrote that Isidro “Chilo” Borja, an engineer who ran the Miami-based DRE’s clandestine military section in 1963 “said he was certain that Joannides learned about Oswald’s [Fair Play for Cuba Committee] antics at the time that they happened.” [1] Morley later reported that another DRE leader, secretary-general Luis Fernandez-Rocha, said he had “no specific recollection” of telling Joannides about Oswald. [2] In his recent response, Morley said that yet another DRE leader denied that Joannides knew about Oswald in New Orleans and still another refused to be interviewed.

Morley further acknowledged that all of the former DRE leaders emphasized that they did not take orders from the CIA. “…They did not need a CIA man from Washington to tell them to take action against a public supporter of Castro like Oswald.” [3] 

In Our Man in Mexico, Morley wrote about the fact that the ARRB was unable to locate any monthly operational records relating to Joannides activities during the period he handled the DRE: “As a result, it is hard to draw any firm conclusions about the contacts between the DRE and Oswald, other than that the CIA has never explained them. Deep-sixing the AMSPELL [CIA code name for the DRE project] file was the kind of work for which Joannides won a Career Intelligence Medal.” [4]

Is Morley insinuating that Joannides destroyed the files linking Oswald and the CIA? How can anyone read that and not come to that conclusion? Despite being unable to draw any firm conclusions himself about the alleged Joannides-Oswald connection, Morley apparently expects us to explain what Joannides was doing serving as a liaison between the Agency and the HSCA in 1978, likening us to the CIA, as if we somehow know the answer. Surely he is not suggesting that we are Agency operatives seeking to obfuscate the truth about Joannides and Oswald.

Hiding something big

Morley claims that we scoffed at the possibility that Joannides was hiding “something big.” Again, we don’t scoff at any “possibility”— hell, anything’s possible. What we object to is Morley’s predication for suggestion and innuendo in lieu of fact, a favorite pastime of conspiracy buffs for five decades. For instance, Morley reports that the CIA was funding the DRE in Miami at the time of New Orleans DRE member Carlos Bringuier’s 1963 encounter with Oswald and that a CIA evaluation report from that same period states that Joannides had established a degree of control over the DRE. From this, he suggests that Bringuier’s Oswald encounters were the result of “functions that the CIA paid for.” This suggestion, however, ignores three other key facts:
  1. DRE leaders disagree about whether or not Joannides even knew about Oswald in New Orleans prior to the assassination;
  2. DRE members didn’t need the CIA to tell or pay them to confront pro-Castro activists carrying on activities within their midst; and
  3. Carlos Bringuier denies that he was paid by the CIA to take part in “political action, propaganda, intelligence collection and a hemisphere wide apparatus.”
 In a 2008 email, Bringuier wrote: “In regard to my relationship with the headquarters of the DRE in Miami, I was the Delegate in New Orleans. I never received any money from the CIA or the DRE. On the contrary my Delegation was sending money (little, never high amounts) to Miami. I was an anti-Communist Cuban not an employee of the DRE. If they were receiving money from the USA government, which it is possible, I was never informed of that. I was working very hard as a salesman to provide for my family.” [5]

Morley writes that “Myers and Russo defend the CIA’s extreme claims of secrecy” regarding the Joannides files “and disparage me for challenging them.” No, we applaud him for challenging them. We’re just not sure why an unbiased journalist with no conspiracy theory to grind insists on fanning wisps of smoke into a wildfire.

Case in point, Morley writes, “…I have long said: there is no evidence in the available record that shows Joannides traveled to New Orleans in 1963 [where Oswald was located]…” and that “interviews with members of the DRE who knew Joannides do not settle the issue [of whether Joannides knew about Oswald in New Orleans prior to the assassination]…”

He then charges that rather than question the CIA’s refusal to release operational records that could answer the questions regarding Joannides, “[Myers and Russo] object to my careful, factual statements about a body of records hidden by unnecessary secrecy. They claim that my observations raise the possibility of ‘conspiracy.’ That is a fair and unsettling conclusion, and they have every right to reach it. But I did not [say] so. My offense seems to be that my JFK journalism lets readers make up their own minds.”

Please. Sell that to someone who just fell off the turnip truck. We challenge anyone to read Morley’s writings on this subject and not come to the conclusion that he believes that something sinister was going on between Joannides and Oswald in the summer of 1963. Apparently Morley’s skill as a writer had nothing to do with the conclusions we reached. It was all part of our own “conspiratorial” mindset.

Morley further charges that “It is worth noting that the CIA itself does not corroborate Myers and Russo’s fervent denials that Joannides could have been running an operation that involved Oswald and the DRE. The CIA is more careful than its self-appointed bodyguards.” Again—and apparently this needs repetition for the extremely thickheaded—we have never denied the possibility of a Joannides-Oswald connection. We just haven’t seen anything that comes close to proving that such a connection actually existed and neither has Mr. Morley. And that’s what’s really chaffing his posterior, isn’t it?

Morley claims that he does not “rule out the possibility that Joannides participated in a covert operation involving Oswald and the DRE: because the CIA does not rule it out.” But then, the CIA doesn’t rule it in either. As Morley has pointed out, the CIA neither confirms nor denies the existence of any operation that Joannides worked on during his career with the Agency, which of course must have included many operations that had nothing to do with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Singling out years of service

The big boner in Morley’s rebuttal to our article is his insistence that we were flat out wrong to say that he didn’t know whether the CIA singled out the years 1963 and 1978 for praise when Joannides received a Career Intelligence Medal.

“I do know, in fact,” Morley writes, “because the CIA has said as much. Unbeknownst to Myers and Russo, the CIA released the language of the medal citation to me in 2008. (View it here.) It states that Joannides was honored for 28 years of service ‘in diverse assignments of increasing responsibility at Headquarters, the domestic field, and overseas.’ That statement covers his work in 1963 and 1978. His HSCA assignment occurred while he was serving at CIA headquarters. His tenure in Miami was in the domestic field. The citation does not exempt any periods of his career from approbation. Rather, the citation stresses the entirety of his performance including his assignments in 1963 and 1978 when his actions related directly to JFK’s assassination…”

Seriously? We had asked Morley how he knew that 1963 and 1978 were singled out for commendation. As it turns out, the citation Joannides received, and which Morley posted in defense of his claim, doesn’t single out any years in which he served with the Agency. 

Finally, Morley writes, “I have thought all along and still think that it is premature to reach definitive conclusions on the conspiracy question. I reserve judgment until the CIA shares all the evidence.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Morley then adds, “By contrast, Myers and Russo are determined to support the CIA in its efforts to block release of this evidence. Their method is to pound the drums of conspiracy so as to drown out discussion of the unnecessary and unjustifiable CIA secrecy around JFK’s assassination records. Will it work? Possibly, but I hope not. After fifty years, people are tired of polemics and secrecy. We want new information that will clarify the causes of JFK’s death. We want transparency.”

Newsflash! We’re not the enemy. We just have no idea whether the restricted Joannides file has anything to do with the assassination! And, believe it or not, neither does Morley.

We know it’s popular among the conspirati to demonize anyone who disagrees with them by calling them “Warren [Commission] Loyalists,” “Lone-Nutters,” “CIA-assets,” and a few unprintables. This isn’t the first—or last time, no doubt—that we, and others who fancy that antiquated notion of evidence, will be singled out for such honors.

It’s very disappointing to see Morley reaching so far to connect our article with CIA efforts to block release of the Joannides files. Pandering to the fringe elements of the conspiracy community may help inflame their passions—as evidenced by the reactionary comments posted online in the wake of our article and his response—but it hardly helps his case.

Again, to be as clear as we can be: we hope Morley’s decade-long efforts to gain access to the Joannides files receive a fair hearing. And should he prevail, maybe then we can all have an intelligent discussion about what they mean, whether they were actually withheld unnecessarily and unjustifiably, and how they impact what we know about the JFK assassination. Further, should the CIA win the case, we hope those interested will have the cojones to admit that the withholding still doesn’t mean the file has anything to do with the Kennedy assassination. There are an infinite variety of reasons why CIA personnel files might be deemed unwise to splatter on the Internet.

Wasting a wolf

Lastly, there are downsides to releasing non-stories to the media. Look at what Morley’s lawsuit has done so far: it convinced the Associated Press (among others) to write a large article about Morley’s Joannides lawsuit that stated, among other things: “Five decades after President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot and long after official inquiries ended, thousands of pages of investigative documents remain withheld from public view.” This invites the reader to improperly infer that the Joannides file has something to do with the assassination, when there is actually not a scintilla of evidence that it does.

We wonder how many times the JFK research community can cry “Wolf!” before the press decides to ignore us altogether. One day, researchers might come up with concrete evidence of conspiracy to disseminate and debate. Where will the press be then? To paraphrase author David Lifton: “You just wasted a wolf.” [END]


1. Morley, Jefferson, Our Man In Mexico City: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA, University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.175

2. Morley, Jefferson, “Revelation 19:63,” April 12, 2001

3. Morley, Our Man in Mexico City, p.175

4. Ibid, p.177

5. Email, Carlos Bringuier to Gus Russo, April 13, 2008 


Paul C. said...

Glad to see you're holding the conspiracist's tales to a high standard of evidence - the press certainly won't.

Yankee Cowboy said...

Morley has said:
"You have to wonder what is so important in a 50-year-old document,"..."I've come to the conclusion that they're guarding something big, and that has stiffened my determination."

Two years ago the CIA finally declassified the final WWI era documents. Makes you wonder why they kept those documents secret for over 90 years. They must have been guarding "something big."
Only if you consider invisible ink and how to open sealed envelopes without getting caught "something big."

Wonder how determined Morley had been over the years in getting those ancient CIA documents released.

Dale K. Myers said...

In a response to this article posted on his website, Jeff Morley writes in "Anti-conspiracists endorse JFK disclosure" that we finally "take pains to agree the [CIA] records should be released. Their position wasn’t apparent in their first post so I am glad they have clarified the need for transparency. This is progress."

Obviously, we are reiterating in the above article what we had said the first time. Apparently, some people can't admit when they're wrong.

Even more enlightening, according to Morley in his post entitled "My three JFK theories", not only does he have a conspiracy theory (he insisted that he did not in our exchange), he actually has three of them! Enough said.

Yankee Cowboy said...

It appears from the post that Morley basically only has one conspiracy theory- the boring but currently extremely popular "The CIA/US government did it."
More specifically, Morley theorizes it was "enemies of [JFK'S] policies" who did it and arranged for the blame to fall on patsy Oswald. To paraphrase Bugliosi, if some people in the government (National security agencies in this case) intensely dislike a President's policies, they simply decide to kill him.

Morley's lone nut theory "hypothesizes that President Kennedy was killed by one man for no reason who was then killed by another man for no reason."
No reason? Of course Oswald & Ruby had reasons, regardless of what they were. This "no reason" phrase seems juvenile & nonsensical and is more apt to come from an internet buff than a serious journalist.

Morley's third theory is CIA negligence, specifically that of "up to a dozen senior CIA undercover operations officers." What the CIA and these dozen officers were negligent of in causing the assassination Morley doesn't say. Or were they like Oswald & Ruby who didn't have any reason for committing their crimes.

Btw, what the heck is an "anti-conspiracist?" I assume Morley consider himself a pro-conspiracist???

Paul C. said...

While Morley has certainly done a spinout on this topic, let's not be completey dismissive of the historical interest of Joannides's complete files, and keeping the pressure on CIA to release them is not totally bad. Joannide's role with the Cuban exiles during the early 60's and his later HSCA liason work both touch on the important marginal aspects of the assassination and the HSCA investigation. But available info on Joannides's CIA career forces anyone with a half a brain to admit that this is certainly a minor footnote to the case.

Dale K. Myers said...

Paul C., I'm not sure who's being totally dismissive of the historic interest in the Joannides files or suggesting that putting pressure on the CIA to release them is a bad thing. One could argue that releasing all CIA files on everything could also prove to be of historical significance - although that surely wouldn't be a smart thing to do. Determining what is historically significant (as it relates to the JFK assassination) is, I think, a lot like beauty - it's in the eye of the beholder.