Jefferson Morley’s struggle to find the truth about George Joannides and the CIA’s fight to hide it

maninmexicoFirst, a brief word of apology to Jefferson Morley, whose excellent and meticulously researched book, Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA was first mentioned here almost exactly one year ago, with the promise of a review to come…like so many other worthy projects, the review ended up on the back burner (the saltmine beckons and is unusually active at present), but it has not been forgotten.  In the meantime, Machetera will say this: the book is terrific – engagingly written, carefully corroborated, it is a must-read for anyone curious about the CIA’s long reach in Mexico, particularly during the period in the fall of 1963 when the CIA did and then didn’t know about Lee Harvey Oswald’s visit to Mexico City in his failed search for a Cuban visa.  So get the book, now.

Second, José Pertierra has just published an exclusive interview with Morley at Cubadebate Normally Machetera resists translating articles written by those with a perfect grasp of English, such as that possessed by Pertierra, not least because translation is invariably an imperfect art and she dislikes second-guessing an interview that undoubtedly transpired in English to begin with.  But this interview is exceptionally interesting and important, and as yet, no English version has appeared.  So in the meantime, with additional apologies to Morley, and to Pertierra, here it is.  A bit of a filmed interview with Morley follows the interview.

Jeff Morley: “I’m only asking that the CIA obey the law” Español

José Pertierra for Cubadebate

English translation: Machetera

Washington – The day that his brother was assassinated, the Attorney General of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy, spoke by telephone with one of the leaders of the terrorist campaign against Cuba, Enrique “Harry” Ruiz-Williams.  Kennedy said to him directly: “One of your men did it.” Bobby Kennedy didn’t ask him.  He told him.  It came from his gut, because he knew those people.  That’s how the journalist/researcher Jefferson Morley tells it in an interview he granted Cubadebate.

“The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 and the dirty war against Cuba organized by the Miami Cubans are intimately linked: they’re battles in the same war, “ said Morley.

“The anecdote about the conversation between Bobby Kennedy and Ruiz-Williams is well founded,” says Morley, “because the prestigious journalist Haynes Johnson was a witness.  He was with Ruiz-Williams during the conversation with Kennedy.”

Jefferson Morley has a long career as a well-known journalist in Washington.  He worked for 15 years for the Washington Post and has also been published in the New York Review of Books, the Nation, the New Republic, Slate, Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Times.  Recently, he published a biography of the CIA station chief in Mexico, Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA. Six years ago he filed suit (Morley v. CIA) against the CIA in order to force the Central Intelligence Agency to declassify documents dating from the period between 1962 and 1964, relative to George E. Joannides, a CIA official charged with many of the operations against Cuba in that period.  On November 16th, Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., will hold a hearing to listen to the arguments of both Morley and the CIA about the possible declassification of these documents.

José Pertierra: Why do you believe the CIA wishes to keep nearly 50 year old documents secret?

Jefferson Morley: Because they may contain something delicate or embarrassing for the CIA.  The story that we’re told about Joannides is a show.  A lie.  According to his own documents which I’ve gone over personally, the story that the CIA tells us now about Joannides doesn’t match reality.  The Agency tries to trivialize Joannides’ role in the operations that took place between 1962 and 1964, but history shows us the truth.  Furthermore, if the documents being hidden truly do not incriminate the CIA, why do they want them to be hidden?  Could it be because Kennedy was killed in 1963?  That conditioned reflex to keep this secret hides something.

JP: Who was George E. Joannides?

JM: He was a CIA man whose assignment was to control and direct the Miami Cubans who  were in charge of the operations against Cuba at the beginning of the 1960’s.  Specifically, he was charged with controlling the Directorio Revolucionario Esudiantil (DRE) [Revolutionary Student Directorate].  The CIA commended him in 1963 for his good work directing the DRE. After the missile crisis in October of 1962, Washington wanted to “reign in” the DRE’s activities, and the CIA put Joannides in charge of that assignment.  When the CIA gave him his evaluation in August of 1963, he was congratulated for having “controlled” the DRE.

JP: Who was the DRE?

JM: It was a Cuban organization headquartered in Miami.  A CIA analyst told me that the DRE came to be “the most militant of the Miami exile organizations at the beginning of the 1960’s.”

Its leaders were Alberto Muller, Ernesto Travieso and Juan Manual Salvat.  Salvat later started a bookstore on Miami’s Calle Ocho, called the Librería Universal [Universal Library].  One of its militants was the young Jorge Mas Canosa, who would later go on to found the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).  The DRE operated from Miami under the direction of a couple of important CIA officers: David Phillips and Howard Hunt.

One of their most well-known violent operations against Cuba took place in August of 1962, when Salvat and a group of DRE militants headed to Cuba from Miami in a small boat and attacked the Hotel Rosita de Hornedo, known after the revolution as the Hotel Sierra Maestra, in Miramar (Havana), at midnight.  They attacked the hotel with a cannon, terrorized the guests, and fled.  Among the DRE militants who attacked the hotel that night was José Basulto, who would go on to found the Brothers to the Rescue organization in 1995.  Basulto told me personally that he was the one who purchased and shot the cannon that was used to attack the Hotel Sierra Maestra that night.  He said that he’d bought it in a Miami pawnshop.

(Translator’s note: Morley repudiates the word “terrorized” as it is attributed to him.)

In August of 1963, members of the DRE in New Orleans had a series of encounters with Lee Harvey Oswald.  After the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the members of the DRE spread a publicity campaign to insinuate that Castro had assassinated Kennedy, because Oswald was supposedly affiliated with Cuba and the Soviet Union.

JP: George E. Joannides’ official assignment was “Head of psychological warfare for JMWAVE.”  What were his responsibilities?

JM: The plan was to affect the psychology of the enemy.  To change their perceptions of reality in order to bring about a change in government.  The best example is that of Guatemala in 1954, when the CIA orchestrated false news bulletins about an opposition to the Arbenz government, in the Guatemalan jungle.  In the end, Arbenz confused fiction for reality and panic set in.  Something that never happened to Fidel Castro or Che Guevara.  They understood very well the difference between the fiction of psychological war, and reality.

Joannides paid the members of the DRE.  He gave them a lot of money.  We know that they received $50,000 a month.  In today’s currency that’s more than $150,000.  It was a lot of money.  He was Washington’s man in Miami in charge of the DRE.

The DRE members at that time were the CIA’s favorite Cubans.  Under Joannides’ direction, the DRE had four specific tasks:

  1. Political action against Cuba.
  2. Acquisition of intelligence against Cuba.
  3. Distribution of propaganda against Cuba.
  4. Distribution of its actions and propaganda toward Latin America.

JP: What is the connection between Lee Harvey Oswald, the individual who is said to have assassinated President Kennedy in November of 1963, and the DRE?  What might the CIA documents tell us about that?

JM: Four months before President Kennedy’s assassination, Oswald and members of the DRE met several times in New Orleans.  They had an altercation with him in the street.  The DRE sent a member to his house, making him seem like a follower of Fidel.  They debated about this on the radio and sent the tape of the debate to Joannides; they even wrote to Congress asking for an investigation of Oswald who at that point in time was an innocuous person.  You have to remember that at that time, the DRE had specific instructions to ask for the CIA’s authorization before making any kind of public declaration.

Scarcely an hour after Oswald’s arrest on November 22nd, the DRE leaders published the documentation they’d accumulated against Oswald and in this way influenced the coverage of the assassination by insinuating that a Castro agent had killed the President of the United States.

The Warren Commission, who investigated the assassination, never realized the connection between Joannides’ employees in the DRE and Oswald.  Even in 1978, when the House of Representatives Committee on Assassinations hired Joannides as an advisor to its investigation, Joannides didn’t inform the Committee about his role in the events of 1963 and the DRE.

The attorney for the House Committee, Bob Blakey, says that Joannides obstructed the investigation by not divulging the role he played with the DRE.

JP: What are you asking of the CIA with this suit you filed in December of 2003?

JM: I’m only asking that the CIA obey the law.  The CIA has told me that it has more than 295 documents that it will not release for reasons of national security.  The documents I have show that Joannides traveled to New Orleans to complete tasks that the CIA charged him with in 1963 and 1964.  [They show] that the CIA entrusted him with delicate operations throughout 1962-64.  We don’t have any information about those operations.  Joannides can’t tell us, because he died in 2001.  Those are the only documents about what he did in that city with the DRE members.  The CIA has the legal obligation to declassify those documents, but it does not want to declassify them.  It’s locked them up.  I believe that the lockup sources from the CIA department in charge of Latin America.  They are hiding something.  The CIA tells us that Joannides had nothing to do with the DRE.  I know that’s not true.  The documents I have in my possession prove that indeed there was that relationship.  Why do they make these statements that are so openly false?  What are they hiding?

I hope that on November 16th, Judge Richard J. Leon will support my motion to have the CIA declassify these documents, so that they may be studied.  This is the only way for us to know what really happened in those two mysterious CIA operations in which Joannides worked in 1963 and 1964.

JP: The CIA says that if these documents are declassified, the national security of the United States will be endangered.  Do you know what the danger is?

JM: There’s no danger.  Washington has a mistaken perception about what is truly national security.  I’m told that they cannot declassify nearly 50 year old documents for reasons of national security.  That’s not true.

I don’t know who killed Kennedy, I don’t pretend to know.  What I’m asking is that these documents be declassified which have to do with George E. Joannides during 1962 and 1964, in order to clarify the facts.  This is not a threat to the country, and the Freedom of Information Act says that they must be declassified.  I am only asking that the CIA obey the law.

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

5 responses to “Jefferson Morley’s struggle to find the truth about George Joannides and the CIA’s fight to hide it

  1. Jose Pertierra is a friend of mine and he has correctly reported on many of my views about my lawsuit against the CIA but he–and Machetera–have made some major mistakes of fact. Jose has attributed things to me that I did not say and do not believe.

    I want to correct the record.

    First of all, neither George Joannides nor Gordon Campbell appear in the June 1968 photograph as you allege. Please take this photograph down or insert the words “Jefferson Morley says this photo is a hoax.” Gordon Campbell died in 1962; I am looking at his death certificate, so believe me he wasn’t on camera. And all the evidence indicates that George Joannides was elsewhere at the time.
    (David Talbot and I definitively punted this bogus conspiracy theory here: http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/Essay_-_The_BBCs_Flawed_RFK_Story)

    George Joannides did not get a medal for his work with DRE in 1963. He received a Career Intelligence Medal in 1981. The medal did not mention his work with the DRE.

    The DRE did not attack the Horneda de Rosita hotel in August 1962 with “cannons.” The DRE boat had only one gun.

    I never said that the DRE engaged in “terrorist” activities. The CIA engaged in very little military action. I do not believe that and I have never used such language to describe the actions of men whose Cuban patriotism I do not question.

    I did not say that Jorge Mas Canosa was a member of the DRE. Pertierra said that he was a member and I acknowledged the fact. I have never seen any evidence that Mas Canosa was a militant, in the sense of someone who took armed action on behalf of the DRE. I do not regard Mas Canosa’s limited involvement in the DRE to be particularly relevant to the Joannides story.

    Jose’s desire to bring Mas Canosa into this story is driven by his involvement in contemporary debates about U.S.-Cuba policy. More power to him. I am interested in those debates but I’m not party to them.

    I never said that the CIA has evidence of Joannides traveling to New Orleans “in 1963 and 1964.” We have evidence that Joannides traveled to New Orleans in 1964. There is no evidence he traveled to New Orleans in 1963.

    I did not say that the CIA’s declarations in my case are “openly false.” They are not. They are the work of professional and sincere people, even if I disagree with them. I said the CIA’s account of Joannides work in 1963 is so inaccurate as to be misleading.

    I hope that you will incorporate these corrections in the original text of the article.

    And correct the photo immediately. I repeat: it is a hoax.

    Thanks, Jeff

  2. at least two things have never been adequately explained regarding the assassination

    1) how did oswald ever get a job in a building overlooking Deally plaza of all places? I thought he was being monitored by the feds. How could he have known ahead of time to take that particular job?

    2) Is it even credible that a low level gangster, so upset because his hero JFK was dead, would murder the accused assassin? I remember reading the papers the following monday; that’s the reason he gave, he was upset.

  3. José Pertierra comments:

    I write in response to Jeff Morley´s comment in the posting above. First, I wish to apologize for the use of a photograph in the layout of the interview that apparently is a montage. The photograph was not part of the interview, and I authorized its use by CubaDebate because I mistakenly thought it accurate.

    As to the interview itself and Jeff’s comments that he was misquoted, I wish to make the following response.

    After we had concluded the interview, Jeff called me back to retract some of the statements he made to me in the course of our conversations, because he did not wish to go on record with those comments since he considered them to be “compromising and injecting himself into contemporary US-Cuba issues”. I respected his wish and asked the editors to delete those statements. I don’t know whether his same concerns lead him to now wish to “soften” the remarks that were left in the published interview, or whether it is a question of Jeff not properly understanding the meaning of certain words in Spanish.

    He is quite concerned that he may have been misquoted as saying that Jorge Más Canosa, the founder of the Cuban-American National Foundation, took up arms on behalf of the DRE. The interview does not quote him to say that. Jeff said that Más Canosa, as a young man, was a member of DRE. In Spanish, the text of the interview reads: “Uno de sus militantes fue Jorge Más Canosa.” A militante, as the word is used in Spanish, is a person who belongs to a particular group or organization. It does not necessarily connote violence or soldiering. Although all soldiers are militantes, not all militantes are soldiers. Even altar boys can be militantes. Perhaps Jeff is simply not familiar with the use of the word in Spanish. See the following link from the dictionary of the Real Academia de España: http://buscon.rae.es/draeI/SrvltConsulta?TIPO_BUS=3&LEMA=militante

    Jeff is also concerned that the topic of Más Canosa is one I raised during the interview. I did, of course, ask him about Más Canosa. I was asking the questions. Jeff complains that he does “not regard Mas Canosa’s limited involvement in the DRE to be particularly relevant to the Joannides story.” But the interview does not quote him as saying such. I asked him if it was true that Mas Canosa was a member of the DRE and Jeff confirmed it. Surely that is not an objectionable quote.

    Jeff now also says that he is not interested in contemporary debates about U.S.-Cuba policy. That was clear to me, when Jeff called to ask me to delete other statements he made during the course of the interview. Those statements I deleted and did not attribute to him. However, he did not ask me to delete the statements he made about Más Canosa, and I did not. He seems to object to me asking him questions about Màs Canosa, but as a reporter himself he should know that it is the interviewer’s prerogative to ask the questions.

    Jeff also says in his comments above that “the DRE did not attack the Horneda de Rosita hotel in August 1962 with cannons. The DRE boat had only one gun.” I stand corrected. Perhaps it was because of the number of rounds that were fired from the DRE´s cannon at a tourist hotel in Havana that I heard Jeff to say it in plural.

    According to my notes, Jeff told me that José Basulto (the founder of Brothers to the Rescue) purchased a cannon at a South Florida pawnshop, which he took aboard the boat and fired repeatedly. According to an FBI declassified document available online, Basulto admitted that it was a twenty-millimeter German cannon from which he personally fired 26 times at the Rosita de Hornado tourist hotel in the Miramar section of Havana. That same FBI document says that the leader of the expedition, Juan Manuel Salvat Roque, declared himself to have been in charge of the raid and that it involved two boats. The FBI quotes Salvat to say that the attackers fired “approximately thirty rounds of twenty-millimeter cannon shells, of which twenty-eight hit the hotel and two went wild and hit the Charley Chaplin (formerly known as the Blanquita) Theatre which is nearby.” According to the aforementioned FBI document, the operation “which consisted of two boats and about sixteen members of the DRE was organized, financed and planned by the DRE.” http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/belligerence/Directorio.pdf

    This leads me to the next point that Jeff makes in his comments above. Wanting to now distance himself from the comments he made during the interview, Jeff now says that he “never said that Joannides controlled the DRE’s terrorist activities. The CIA engaged in very little military action. I do not believe that and I have never (sic) used such language to describe the actions of men whose Cuban patriotism I do not question.” The text of the interview says: “después de la Crisis de los Misiles en octubre de 1962, Washington quiso “controlar” las actividades terroristas del DRE, y la CIA encargó a Joannides con esa tarea.” In English, that means “after the Missile Crisis in October of 1962, Washington wanted to reign in the terrorist activities of the DRE and the CIA put Joannides in charge of that task.” The text does not attribute to Jeff statements that Joannides was directing the terrorist activities of the DRE, but that he was tasked by the CIA with reigning them in, since (as Jeff pointed out during my conversations with him) after the missile crisis it was not politically expedient to have such loose assets around during a particularly delicate and dangerous time. That is what Jeff told me and that is what I wrote. He described the purpose of the DRE attack on the hotel as to terrorize the guests inside. Firing, as Mr. Basulto says he did, 26 cannon shots at a tourist hotel, is consistent with Jeff’s original characterization of the DRE expedition as a terrorist act. Moreover, during the raid 15 other armed men who also fired weapons at the hotel accompanied Mr. Basulto. It is puzzling that Jeff would now want to insist that the DRE raid on the hotel was a patriotic, rather than a terrorist, act.

    Surprisingly, Jeff also takes issue with the quote: “Los documentos que tengo muestran que Joannides viajó a New Orleans, cumpliendo tareas que le encargó la CIA en 1963 y 1964.” Jeff says he was misquoted, because he never said that Joannides traveled to New Orleans in 1963, but only in 1964. But Jeff is misreading his own quote. He told me that Joannides traveled to New Orleans “to complete tasks that the CIA charged him with in 1963 and 1964.” In other words, the tasks Joannides was given by the CIA were in 1963 and 1964: not necessarily the trip to New Orleans. The date of Joannides´ trip to New Orleans is not specified by the quote.

    Jeff also takes issue with the quote that the CIA´s declarations are “openly false”. He claims now that the CIA declarations “are the work of professional and sincere people” who made statements about Joannides´ work that were “so inaccurate as to be misleading.” I stand by the quotes in the interview. Indeed, during my conversations with him in the preparation of the interview, Jeff told me categorically that the stonewalling of the release of documents and what he now calls “inaccurate and misleading” statements by the CIA about Joannides are deliberate and that they come from a specific department within the CIA: the Latin American division. I suppose that it is more palatable to claim that the “professional and sincere people” at the CIA to whom Jeff refers are deliberately making inaccurate and misleading statements, rather than “openly false” statements. Fine.

    In summary, the photograph of Joannides included in the layout of the interview is not a factual photograph and should not have been included. However, I stand by the correctness of the interview itself.

    Machetera’s note:
    As explained by Pertierra, the Spanish word “militante” does not necessarily connote violence or soldiering, but neither does “militant” in English. According to the OED, it also connotes a political activist or someone who is “combative; aggressively active esp. in support of a (usu. political) cause. I doubt even the DRE members would dispute this, so I have left this translation intact.

    I have slightly altered the sentence which formerly read: “After the missile crisis in October of 1962, Washington wanted to ‘control’ the DRE’s terrorist activities…” replacing “control” with “reign in” as suggested by Pertierra.

    My original translation of “Los documentos que tengo muestran que Joannides viajó a New Orleans, cumpliendo tareas que le encargó la CIA en 1963 y 1964” read “The documents I have show that Joannides traveled to New Orleans, carrying out assignments he was given by the CIA in 1963 and 1964.” I have changed this to reflect the original quote offered by Pertierra, exchanging “charged with” for “carrying out,” which is a better match with the Spanish anyway.

    Because Pertierra stands by the quotes in the interview, I have restored the quote about openly false declarations from the CIA, exchanging “statement” for “declaration.”

    I regard it as unfortunate that Morley would consider the shelling of a Cuban hotel as the act of unquestionable “patriots” rather than the terrorism it so plainly is, but I suppose I can understand it in the context of a U.S. journalist’s desire to protect his access to those sources, not to mention his ability to be published in the publications mentioned at the beginning of the article.

  4. Jeff,

    Learn some freakin’ spanish!!

  5. What is the latest on the suit.. Are there any members of the DRE still around? What is there level of cooperation, How can anyone get involved to assist.. I feel this is as significant as Daniel Ellsberg, and the break ins.
    It establishes the long absent conformation of a like between LHO and CIA prior to Dallas. This again is a major layer of the onion. Thanks Jefferson for your courage and work..

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