Saturday, October 24, 2009

The truth about George Joannides and the CIA’s fight to hide it

First, 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.