Revelation 19.63

For nearly four decades the CIA has kept secret the identity of a Miami agent who may have known too much too early about Lee Harvey Oswald

Joannides's career was only forced into the public record by the immense popularity of Stone's movie. In response to renewed interest in the JFK murder, open-government advocate Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat, secured unanimous passage of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act, intended to clarify public confusion about the Dealey Plaza tragedy. The law created an independent civilian panel with unique powers to declassify JFK files, even over the objections of federal agencies. Between 1994 and 1998, when its funding ran out, the panel, known as the Assassination Records Review Board, dislodged four million pages of classified documents. Among the new records were portions of George Joannides's personnel file. They confirmed he was the DRE's case officer.

During its existence the review board and its staff solicited help from the public in locating JFK records. In December 1997 I suggested that the board ask the CIA to review its files on the Revolutionary Student Directorate. An official in the CIA's Office of Historic Review, J. Barry Harrelson, responded with a memo stating that no agency employee had been in contact with the DRE in 1963. "Major policy differences between the agency and DRE developed ... because the DRE would not take directions or instructions about a number of operational matters, insisting on engaging in activities the agency did not sanction," Harrelson wrote. It was a mystifying response, especially since the CIA had already allowed publication of the name of Joannides's predecessor, Ross Crozier.

Then who, I asked, was Howard? Former members of the DRE had described him in detail to me. The Directorate's records corroborate their accounts of working closely with him in 1963.

Juan Manuel Salvat and José Basulto in 1962: "We wanted to put pressure on Castro"
Juan Manuel Salvat and José Basulto in 1962: "We wanted to put pressure on Castro"
As deputy chief of psychological warfare, CIA agent George Joannides ran the DRE undercover while working out of this South Dade office building
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Courtesy Gordon Winslow
As deputy chief of psychological warfare, CIA agent George Joannides ran the DRE undercover while working out of this South Dade office building

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Related Links:
Based on documents found in Foreign Relations of the United States of America, Vol. XI, "Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath." President Kennedy comments on the DRE's story about Soviet missiles in cave in Documents 154 and 170.

The best online chat group on the JFK assassination is alt.assassination.jfk

The JFK Collection and database at the National Archives

John F Kennedy Library and archives

The National Security Archive Cuba Documentation Project

OMB Watch report "A Presumption of Disclosure: Lessons from the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board"

Harrelson professed ignorance. "Knowledgeable case officers" had been consulted, he wrote, and no one knew of any officer using the name Howard who had dealt with the Cuban students. The CIA, he claimed, had no evidence that Howard was an "actual person."

At this the review board staff grew skeptical. Empowered by the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act, the board was able to conduct its own check of agency files, and in March 1998 Michelle Combs, an investigator who had once worked at the CIA, uncovered Joannides's personnel file. The board ruled that the file was an assassination-related record and ordered that it be made public.

The file seems unexceptional. It contains just four performance reviews, three of them written during Joannides's tenure at the South Dade JM/WAVE station and one from 1978. The reviews describe his day-to-day responsibilities, grade his performance, and include written comments from his supervisor. That much was fairly routine.

More intriguing was what the files did not contain. The CIA's archives contained no reports, receipts, memoranda, notes, or cables that accounted for how the Directorate spent U.S. funds in August 1963 (when Joannides's Cuban charges were in contact with Oswald) or for November 1963, when Kennedy was slain. In fact there are no reports in the file for the entire seventeen-month period he handled the DRE, from December 1962 to April 1964. Although Joannides's personnel file stated he was paying the Directorate for "intelligence collection" and "propaganda," the CIA's Office of Historic Review maintained that it had no reports from Joannides about the group's intelligence and propaganda activities.

Why is the absence of those documents significant? Because such reporting almost always was mandatory. Contrary to Hollywood images of espionage, operations officers spend a lot of time at their desks doing paperwork. As a bureaucracy that collects information systematically and processes it efficiently, the CIA expects and requires its employees to account for their efforts. Such written reports were filed monthly by Joannides's predecessor, Ross Crozier, and are found in declassified CIA files. Reports were filed monthly by Joannides's successor as well. (And Joannides himself received praise in a July 1963 performance evaluation for his "adherence to valid reporting techniques.")

From the public record, we know how the JM/WAVE station, located adjacent to what is now Metrozoo in South Miami-Dade, operated during Joannides's tenure in Miami. Case officers such as he were required to file reports with their "reporting officers." These rewrite men synthesized the information for station chief Ted Shackley, who reviewed the reports, edited them, added his own comments, and sent them on to Washington. In a brief telephone conversation in December 1998, Shackley confirmed that Joannides did report regularly on the DRE, if not monthly then at least quarterly. But when pressed to explain why no reports could be found in the files, he replied that he wouldn't want to speculate, then canceled a previously scheduled interview.

Six retired CIA operations officers interviewed for this article agree that after November 22, 1963, Joannides had a duty to report, in writing, whatever he knew about the relationship between the Directorate and Oswald. "He would have been completely remiss if he didn't," says Justin Gleichauf, a retired CIA official who worked in Miami in the early Sixties. "[The Directorate's members] were up to their eyes with this guy [Oswald], and they hadn't told him? He must've been hot about that. He undoubtedly reported it, and in writing."

John Pereira, retired chief of the CIA's Office of Historic Review, concurs. "On anything that important," he says, "the normal reporting would have gone in writing."

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My Voice Nation Help

What I do not, and cannot understand is how, after all these years, We The People, the soveriegn owners of these government records, cannot wrest control of them from our paid employees. Why he have to continually deal with redacted information, and how we are FORCED to allow all of the responsible actors to die off, with impugnity, after the greatest crime this country has ever known. Even now, as we watch actors of that time period waltz across the stage of the history of our nation.

Damnit, I want clear, concise, and unequivocal information.

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