Longform

Revelation 19.63

Page 9 of 10

Several months later, in April 1964, Joannides left Miami. He was transferred to Athens with a job evaluation that praised his performance as "exemplary." Fernandez-Rocha quit the anti-Castro cause and enrolled in the University of Miami's School of Medicine the following September. In October 1964 the Warren Commission issued its final report, concluding that Oswald "alone and unaided" had killed Kennedy. The commission, of course, knew nothing about Joannides.


If George Joannides's activities in 1963 were the whole of the story, it would be possible, though difficult, to dismiss Oswald's encounters with the DRE as a freakish twist of fate, an awkward convergence of agendas and individuals in New Orleans that was best laid to rest for fear of unleashing myriad conspiracy theories.

But fifteen years after the tragedy, Joannides resurfaced in the Kennedy assassination story. During the intervening time, he had enjoyed continued success in the CIA. When Ted Shackley became CIA station chief in Saigon, Joannides followed him there and ran covert operations against the Vietcong in 1970 and 1971. He next returned to CIA headquarters to work in the general counsel's office until he left the agency in 1976 to start an immigration-law practice in Washington, D.C.

The CIA called him out of retirement two years later. In 1978 Congress created the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in response to a revival of JFK assassination-conspiracy speculation, and the committee's aggressive young investigators began to request sensitive files from the CIA. Officials at the agency grew concerned. How could they filter the questions? Deputy Counsel Scott Breckinridge thought Joannides would be just the man to handle requests for records. Breckinridge, who is now retired, said in a 1999 interview that he couldn't recall if he knew about Joannides's 1963 mission in Miami when he made the offer. "He was a man who had a good reputation," Breckinridge recalled. "He knew his way around and knew the [Operations Directorate, the division in charge of mounting covert actions]." Breckinridge remembered that Joannides was especially adept at tracking down information. "He could find things in a hurry," he said.

In June 1978 Joannides began his new assignment back at the office of the CIA's general counsel. Although he'd suffered health problems, his wit remained intact. He even joked with colleagues about the noise made by a mechanical valve doctors had installed in his heart a few years earlier. As he worked with congressional investigators, he betrayed nothing about his own participation in or knowledge of the events of 1963 -- nothing about the Directorate's well-documented hostility toward Kennedy, nothing to suggest he knew of the DRE's contacts with Oswald.

"I worked closely with Joannides," says G. Robert Blakey, former general counsel for the HSCA who is now a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. "None of us knew that he had been a contact agent for the DRE in 1963. That was one of the groups we had targeted for investigation."

Gaeton Fonzi, the investigator who'd questioned former DRE members in Miami for the committee, recalls his own efforts to get answers from the CIA. When he had asked who'd handled contacts with the Directorate in 1963, the committee was informed -- via the CIA general counsel's office -- that the agency did not know. "We got the runaround from day one on the DRE," says Fonzi, who now lives in North Bay Village and who eventually wrote a book blaming the assassination on the DRE's original patron, David Atlee Phillips, and assorted Cuban exiles. (Phillips denied the charge until his death in 1987.) The Joannides revelation, Fonzi adds, just reconfirms that the CIA deceived the American people about who really was responsible for Kennedy's death.

The HSCA issued its final report in February 1979, chillingly concluding that "in all probability" there had been a conspiracy perpetrated by Oswald and persons whom the committee could not identify. Blakey believed the CIA had cooperated fully with the committee, a claim he no longer cares to defend. Joannides fooled him, Blakey admits. "He was a witness," he marvels. "The assassination happened on his watch."

In November 1978 George Joannides retired permanently. He was not a man to talk about his work. He once told one of his children he was skeptical of JFK conspiracy theories but did not explain why. His heart problems worsened in his later years, and he moved to Houston to receive treatment from renowned surgeon Michael DeBakey. He died on March 9, 1990, at the age of 67.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jefferson Morley