Jim Lesar - Assassination Archives Research Center (AARC) Panel II - Presentation
March 16, 2017 - National Press Club - CAPA Sunshine Week Press Conference
Jim Lesar at National Press Club CAPA Sunshine Week Press Conference on JFK Records
PANEL II -
Jim Lesar at National Press Club CAPA Sunshine Week Press Conference on JFK Records
Jim Lesar: Thank you. I've prepared some remarks but I have great difficulty in seeing. A great deal of what I have to say has been covered today by the speakers who already spoke.
I wanted to basically address a question that has been raised by Judge Tunheim and by the others about what we do. First of all we need to thank Judge Tunheim for his continuing and tireless efforts to deal with a difficult subject, far more than most people would do. He has served the public interest well. What I want to get into is, where do we go from here? Before I do it, I would follow the practice of responding to, somebody raised the question about Trump's position on the JFK act.
What I can add to that is that you need to place that in context and ask - why didn't Obama act to release these records? On the day that he took office he issued a profoundly inspiring statement on the importance of the freedom of information act that he directed his attorney general to instruct heads of all executive agencies in purtenance to take measures to fulfill that. In 2009 he issues a new executive order which profoundly changed the previous practice regarding secrecy and as part of that he also established the NDC – the national declassification center. Which was intended to declassify 400 million pages, records by 2013.
At a series of hearings in front of the NDC. I and others raised questions about what was going to happen to the JFK act records when they would be part of the 400 million pages to be disclosed and if so given the fact that requesters for JFK assassination related records far outnumber those in any other subject matter. Why should they not be placed at the head of review and processed first?
Initially the response from the acting director at that time was, acting director of the NDC, I'm sorry he was the acting director of the national archives. He responded that they would be. He indicated that they would be and that there was something on the order of 5 million pages and some 50,000 pages that he thought had been withheld. Unfortunately at a later conference, in which there was a new chairman, headed by a lady who had been an operations officer for the CIA, and she backtracked on that. At one of these meetings I was approached by a staff member of the NDC who told me in response to my question that the order not to process the JFK Act Records as part of the NDC project came directly from the White House.
That is part of the problem as the CIA began to assert control over the records and resisted in all kinds of ways, their disclosure. It took Morley's lawsuit, was the first to be able to try and pinpoint the number of documents that the CIA claimed were being withheld, entirely withheld until 2017. Initially that figure was about 700 million that was admitted by the CIA in Morley's lawsuit. That soon changed and the number then escalated to 774 million. More recently the number has gone to 3,346 records or there abouts according to national archives press releases. Those specify are entirely withheld records, withheld in their entirety until 2017.
There are, in fact, other persons who have more personal knowledge than I do about this, who have said that number maybe more like 5 thousand. We're talking about entirely withheld records and we're not talking about the number of pages. In addition, there are a huge amount of documents that have been withheld until, partially withheld, there are estimates here that I've seen in my personal estimated, that might be in the range of 30 to 50 thousand but we don't know. Because again we're faced with the problem of not having sufficient reliable information.
The judge and others have raised the question about what do we do with the fact that the experience of the past teaches us the things that we thought were not relevant and may turn out to be very significant and very worthy of consideration. The answer is that at present time, ironically, we've been put in a condition and in a situation, where filing a lawsuit is preferable to trying to proceed under the JFK Act because there is Obama's executive order put into effect a provision for automatic declassification of historically significant records and limited the number of documents, number of exemptions which could be claimed after 50 years to 2. One of which was information related to national defense or foreign policy and secondly intelligent sources in methods.
Jeff Morley eloquently described the process of dealing with the CIA and he suggested that one of the things that we need to do is to establish a new board, somewhat like the review board. That is one way to go but I think that there is a better way.
The JFK act has a provision in it for oversight by congress and I think we need to get the issues that have been raised here today before congress. That's it and my times about up but I do close by saying we need to get issues before congress that relate to the oversight hearings, the oversight hearings were last held under the JFK Act in 1993. There have been none since then, and it has been obvious that given what has happened over the course of time is there have been enormous important disclosure after disclosure after disclosure due to the review board’s work. There has been no assessment by congress of what were the pluses and minuses of the review board’s performance. I think that is one thing that needs to be done.
Secondly, we know the result of Jeff Morley's work in the case that the CIA has turned out to be admitted during the course of the litigation that an undercover agent who was supposed to investigate the CIAs activities regarding the DRE was a Cuban organization that had been in contact with Lee Harvey Oswald. He didn't do that, we need oversight by congress and why the CIA subverted the accountability function of the house select committee on assassinations. There is no democratic accountability unless you have review by congress of executive agency actions. We don't have it, we need it.
This in a way relates, we had the same thing come up with regard to the church committee and with the senate select committee on intelligence acts on terrorism on the CIA's torture practices.
Lastly I want to call your attention to the kind of information that comes out that puts a new focus on things. There is a story that I have copies of here that ran on January 25th, reporting a new lawsuit that my organization filed. It is seeking records relating to the September 25, 1963 memorandum at a meeting chaired by General Curtis LeMay - if it ever, an opponent of president Kennedy and that meeting had detailed report by Desmond Fitzgerald who was involved in the AMLASH business. He referred to the CIA study of the Hitler plot, as a means to use against the Fidel Castro and his regime.
J. Lesar: The fact is that this memo would have been released by the review board but apparently there was no investigation of this alligation that the CIA was studying plots to, studying the Hitler plot as a means of conducting operations against Castro. So we have asked for that information and the CIA initially denied having any, then it said, oh wait a minute we do have some and then it later reversed. I filed that lawsuit to see what happens with the CIA.
PANEL II -
Dr. Wecht: So with that I'll turn out to one of the most historic figures in the legal sector of the JFK assassinations. Mr. Jim Lesar.
Jim Lesar: Now, historic, I don't know about that. My claim to fame with regard to the JFK Act was that I testified before something like three different congressional committees. That they should pass the JFK Act because I had lost all my cases. I think that it's probably true that zero ... Someone remarked earlier about whether or not I had handled more cases related to assassination cases than anyone else, and I think the answer is that I've both won more, and lost more than anyone else. I've handled over 200 Freedom of Information Act cases in my career, a large number of them representing very dedicated scholars and researchers.
My organization – the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC) for example is comprised of lawyers, doctors, professional historians, and all of them have devoted decades of their lives, spending huge amounts of their own time and money, because they perceive the issue to be extraordinarily important as to what happened not only in the JFK assassination case, but in other assassinations such as the RFK and Martin Luther King cases. The official version of what happened in all of those cases is a very great departure from established facts.
I want to go back, briefly to the Morley Case for a minute. First of all, you have to understand the way the assassination research really has worked is that, as a result of the JFK Act in particular, because of the immense deluge of documents that was released, it has taken a long time to compile and assimilate the information to piece together the parts of the puzzle. As a result of that, relatively quickly, very soon after the review board went out of existence in September of 1998. A stunningly successful conference that was held by Dr. Cyril Wecht at the Wecht Institute, at Duquesne University. In subsequent years my organization, the Assassination Archives and Research Center, held additional conferences. Dr. Wecht held additional conferences including one in 2013 again at Duquesne and in 2014 the AARC held a conference on the 50th anniversary of the Warren Report out in Bethesda Maryland. We lost a great deal of money putting on that conference, but it was, I think, extraordinarily successful, we elected to provide over 41 hours of lectures given by scholars and researchers on different subjects and we decided to make those available to the public free of charge. You can go on our website and watch. You can watch on our website, the 41 hours of lectures. There were, again, extraordinary disclosures that were made during the course of those lectures.
Antonio Veciana came and testified. He testified that ... If you're familiar with Veciana at all, it has been a huge controversy through the years as to whether or not he had identified David Phillips as a person in the presence of Lee Harvey Oswald. Antonio Veciana declared that indeed, he knew that he saw Phillips and Oswald together and that he had worked very closely with David Phillips and that while he believed that the United States had enemies, and he was passionately against Fidel Castro, he felt that a line had been crossed when the CIA murdered the President of the United States. He was quite unequivocal of it and he says, "I am an authority on conspiracies. I am a conspiracist, I know what I am talking about."
So if you go on our website which is aarclibrary.org you can hear that. You can also hear the lectures by Professor G. Robert Blakey and Dan Hardway and Eddie Lopez, all of whom were involved in the House Select Committee investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy. They provided a very revealing portrait of how the investigation into the House Elect Committee's inquiry was undermined by both the CIA and the FBI, severely, from its purpose of trying to get at the facts concerning those events.
The result of these various conferences over the years, as I say, has provided stunning disclosure after stunning disclosure, and it has resulted in the publication of books by very well respected authors, for example one of the revelations that came from the reviewable disclosure was Operation North Woods, which was an attempt to use, what today we would call a terrorist act, it’s a false flag operations by Americans against Cuba in an effort to provoke Castro into military action and get rid of him having proceeded with that kind of operation. There have been a series of these disclosures over the years and ... So it takes time to digest, and it takes time to put things together, but the purpose of my organization is simply to gather the information and to make it available to the public, so the public can determine what the case is. This is precisely what Congress unanimously found when it did pass the JFK Act. One of the several strong reasons for immediate full disclosure ... One of them is simply the fact the congress made a promise to the American people that is was going to disclose all of this information promptly and instead we have had a series of delay, after delay, after delay.
The additional thing ... Oh I meant to get back to ... As a consequence of researchers beginning to explore what was made available by the review board, one of the most important consequences was that Morley's law suit which requested all of the records on George E. Joannides and the CIA initially claimed that they had provided everything, it refused to confirm or deny whether it had operational records related to George Joannides.
So that took several years of litigation, but ultimately we established that there are operational records on George Joannides, and we got a few of them released that were very significant including a photograph of George Joannides and a career citation and some travel records. What we did not get is, the CIA withheld in its entirety 295 pages of operational records. That ultimately was sustained by the court, but those records, are records that need to be released as a result of the current review, or need to be released under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to get that, a new one, because the circumstances have changed now and are on better grounds for going after those records than existed before.
Another lawsuit that is important for you to understand is the lawsuit brought by Carl Oglesby in 1987, Carl Oglesby, you may remember, I hope, was the leader of the Vietnam war effort, he was a president of the students for democratic society. Early on, he wrote an article in 1989 or so called "The Secret Treaty of Fort Hunt", and in that he laid out the case that in a series of meetings at the end of World War II and thereafter, top American officials made a deal with General Reinhart Gehlen and the Gehlen organization to put Gehlen in charge of intelligence in Eastern Europe, in fact in all of Europe it turned out. Until such time that Germany regained its independence as a state, and then he would become head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst the equivalent of our CIA. The result of that, we have learned, as a result of the lawsuit which is now in its 28th or 29th year, was that we found after almost three decades of litigation when the CIA, which had been supposed to release all the records related to Oglesby's request including ... The CIA said that they had been forced to release as a result of the anti-war crime disclosure act, anti-Nazi war crimes disclosure act.
Jim Lesar: So, the key finding is that we found out in 2013 that, because we forced out another 113,000 pages of documents. One of them was on OSS report, which reported that Werner von Alvensleben, Jr. according to the OSS report, was a former Nazi assassin, but in 1933 he headed, on behalf of Hitler, an off string official had then been traded back to Germany, allegedly became a known agent at that point, and went to work for the OSS. It turns out that immediately after, near the time of JFK assassination in Dallas, Werner von Alvensleben, Jr. was in Dallas, it further turns out that he was a long time close buddy of D. Harold Byrd, the owner of the Texas School Book Depository Building. Byrd was allegedly not in Dallas at the time of the assassination, allegedly he was on a hunting safari in Mozambique. The owner of the safari the hunting expedition and the enormous expedition site in Mozambique was Werner von Alvensleben, Jr.
The story is much more complicated, we have put these facts before the court, in our case, and asked the court to investigate. Again information on this can be found on our website: aarclibrary.org, particularly with the case of October with some essays that have been written by Daniel Alcorn who was done some really splendid research investigating this lead. I regard this as the best lead that we have ever had on the Kennedy assassination as to who may have been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.
Thank you very much.