John Newman, Judge Tunheim and Dr. Wecht
Dr. C. Wecht - Now I want to move ahead then with a wonderful panel of three people who have been deeply involved for many, many years with the JFK assassination and whose contributions have been extremely important in figuring out information and in trying to get things to disclosed, separate and apart, from which has been referred to.
Dr. John Newman is a former military Army analyst. He was for many years a professor at University of Maryland, he is now at James Madison University. He has written many books and three just came out quite recently. One on JFK and then one which he actually published before, he may tell you about that, that was held back and now republished by him. And two volumes on what's going to be a five volume set covering the entire span of JFK preceding assassination and then thereafter.
We have Jefferson Morley who is a reporter and litigant expert. He has written several books and has many articles on this matter too; and was for many years a very highly respected correspondent for The Washington Post.
James Lesar, interning here in Washington D.C. has been handling more FOIA requests, I don't know if Jim has the world record or not, gotta be pretty close to it. He is the president and founder of the Assassination Archives and Reserach Center - AARC. Jim continues to pursue these efforts to obtain that kind of information.
So these three gentleman have really been respected among the Warren Commission critic researcher community. So I'm gonna start off, I think Dr. Newman will be first and the gentlemen to keep their remarks to about 10 to 12 minutes and then we'll have a couple questions for each of you. I suggest that we do it that way and then we'll move right along. Okay? You want to come up here.
Dr. John Newman: Judge Tunheim, I want to thank you for your service and to CAPA for organizing this event. A couple of real quick amplifications – A needle in a haystack? A needle in a haystack?
Okay, for example, as an informant for the CIA in Cuba there was Emilio Emberto Rodrigues. There's about 500 pages in the national archives, but his name is redacted every single time, his name is redacted every single time, his identifying numbers are redacted every single time. His name is redacted every single time, except the one time the reviewer-redactor must have a big lunch and got tired, and this one time his name is there in the clear - and you can take that little needle and go through all 500 pages and put his name in each blank slot and get the full story. So that's a needle in a haystack, and I love needles in haystacks.
One thing the judge was talking about is cryptonyms and pseudonyms, and they are very important to me in my current book and I am anticipating three more, but I have to know who these people are and what operations he is working for. They're not all released by any stretch of the imagination, the two volumes that I've just completed in the last four years, I myself have broken about two hundred plus cryptonyms and over seventy to a hundred pseudonyms, and they're in the appendices in my books. I'm not the only one, there's a couple other real researchers - Bill Simpich out there on the west coast has been very helpful to me in this regard.
So we need cryptonyms and pseudonyms in order to understand the story. Pseudonyms are important because one person can have 2, 3, 4, 5 pseudonyms and the story gets broken apart into pieces and if you can reduce all those names into a single person then you can tell the story.
I really don't want to talk too much about my own work.
I really want to just amplify and agree with Judge Tunheim. The CIA has resisted and it’s been mentioned in some cases they’ve subverted investigations by our elected officials. Maybe Jefferson will tell you a little bit about that. And Jim (Lesar), - he's the one who handles litigation, but I'm not gonna talk about that.
The FBI is also resisted from the very start that I can remember where they began their work. I gave you guys a whole bunch of file numbers and that was sent over to the FBI and we didn't get anything and these were Oswald files. I think that, I'm very interested in what's in these files. They would be helpful to me in my work. But honestly It’s more important that what's in the files that we should get them. They belong to us, they belong to our elected officials and the idea that our current government is continuing to block this information is not going to help the public trust. So for that reason alone we need a full release.
In my experience of many years of dealing with these records, and I go back to 1992 and 1993 when the first records were released from what was then the National Archives One downtown, an awful place. I copied documents along with some of my friends that helped me and I have them today. Many of the most crucial ones no longer exist in the NARA. That’s not to say they're not at the CIA but they're no longer with the National Archives and Records Administration.
They're walking out with documents under peoples shirts. I'll give you one example, President Eisenhower instructed his subordinates to murder, not one person, not just Castro but three - Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in order to bring the Europeans on board to support our anti-Castro policy and Trujillo the Dominican Republican in order to bring the organization of American states to support our anti-Castro strategy. It was a triple play in terms of putting together a coalition that would help Eisenhower get what he wanted, - to overthrow Castro.
So those documents no longer exist particularly ones that relate to the order that Eisenhower gave for the assassination of Lumumba and then his national security advisor giving testimony on one day saying that, no Eisenhower didn't have idea of the assassination when five days earlier he told church committee staff members that he had. Well, I have those documents, both of them and I have the original RIF sheets, record identification forms. They no longer exist. And what the staff discussion has been now been briefed from 9 pages to just 3, with the pieces I just told you left out. It gets worse than that. The RIF record identification database itself for that document how has from zero, to zero, date zero, number of pages, everything is zeroed out. I have the RIF sheet, the original RIF sheet that has all the information. How does that stuff disappear?
Somebody has tinkered with the actual system, so one of the reasons I want full release is I want to see what's in there. I want full release because I think we deserve it but I also want full release because I think if we get it, it’s going to help make the case to go back to these agencies and find the stuff where it is and get it back into the archives where it belongs. This isn't unimportant information, it’s information relating to assassination of foreign leaders and the church committee investigation of that is critical, it’s crucial. That's the kind of stuff, not innocuous stuff, that's the kind of important stuff that's been gradually disappearing over the years. I want what's in the remaining files and I want what was originally released as well. I think if we get a full release it will help make the case.
While I'm not wild about our current president I'm really hoping that his relationship with the CIA continues like it is right now cause it's probably the best, most luck we're ever gonna have to get this. I think the judge made a good point in this post 9-11 atmosphere is gonna be a lot harder to get stuff released so maybe Trump will do us a favor.
C. Wecht: Just to add then, the relationship between the President and the CIA playing out to our favor. How about the relationship with the President and Putin and you've got access to every God damn thing that exists over there right now. Anybody have any questions?
J. Policoff: I'm not sure it's exactly relevant, well, it is relevant.
C. Wecht - Make it relevant please.
J. Policoff: Its just regarding the stuff you've been talking about. I've heard people talking about that and some suggestions that they might be at Gettysburg at the Eisenhower library.
C. Wecht - Abilene, the library is in Abilene.
J. Policoff: Okay, and I live near there. If I knew what I was looking for I'd love to go up there and look for it.
C. Wecht - …..national security advisor, lets focus on that.
B. Kelly: What about some of the records that are missing like the Air Force One tapes and the ONI records and the ONI investigative reports? These are not part of the collection. Is anyone looking for them?
J. Newman: Well, you are. I know that. Looking hard for them. I don't think that they were in the collection in the first place though. I don't know what to do about that. Do you judge?
J. Tunheim: Shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head no.
C. Wecht - These remarks from someone who was an Army intelligence officer, a professor and author and someone who devotes all his time should really, really give everybody pause. Okay. Our next presenter is Jefferson Morley. Jeff, please.
Jefferson Morley: I've been at this longer than I care to admit. I first met Judge Tunheim 25 years ago when he started this job and I have incredible admiration for him. I was in the Washington Post newsroom at the time the whole topic of the assassination of Kennedy was this polarizing thing that made people angry and all that. Which is why I was very impressed that some public official would come forward and treat it in this very forward manner that it deserved and that he showed up here tonight so thank you for that.
What I would like to say about the coming release and what's gonna happen in October 2017. First of all you can see between two very well informed people - John Tunheim and John Newman. We don't even know exactly what's in there. It’s not clear whether all cryptonyms have been released and all that so that's another thing in favor of full disclosure, the record itself is not transparent now. I think the most important thing when people say, what's in there, what's coming, what are you gonna find out in October 2017?
I then say that the first question you have to ask is what do we know now, that we didn't know then? When the law was passed. What do we know now that we didn't know in 1992? We know an incredible amount and the JFK records collection has transformed scholarship not only around the assassination but around the Kennedy presidency, Kennedy in Vietnam, the Cuban Missile crisis, in all of these areas, this very strong law of the JFK Records Act had this very positive effect on the understanding of our own history.
What do we know now that we didn't know in 1992? The thing that strikes me and I've written a book about this and have a biography of James Angleton coming out later this year, and as an author I would be remiss if not marketing at every opportunity, so I'm starting right now with you. In the book I tell the story that I think is really the most significant thing that we didn't know in 1992. Some of us, as we began, and I met John Newman at the time, was the question - what did the CIA know about Oswald before the assassination?
The official story was that there was this guy Oswald and they paid kind of routine attention to him and he did this and he did that and they knew this and that and then he shot the president. Boy, everybody was really surprised. How did this guy come out of nowhere and shoot the president? That was the story according to the Warren Commission, the CIA and by the FBI. That story was a lie. That story was concocted by Jim Angleton and Dick Helms and it was lie.
Oswald was watched closely from November 1959 when he defected to the Soviet Union, his time in the Soviet Union was examined closely, - a group of CIA officers anywhere from a minimum of six and probably as many as fifteen people were well acquainted with his file. His file was handled in a very unusual way. From the moment he defected all information about Oswald was not sent to the Soviet Russian Division but was sent to James Angleton's (Counter-Intelligence) office and Oswald's file was held very closely. None of this was known in 1992 and none of this was known to the Warren Commission.
This is the story that we are beginning to piece together now. I tell a part of it in my forthcoming book and John's telling the story in there somewhere, but this is what we know now that we didn't know then. The CIA surveillance of Oswald from 1959 to 1963, very close. These CIA officials and I can name them - Jane Roman, Bill Hood, Karen Sina, James Angleton, these officials knew Oswald. They were familiar with his biography. They knew his family. They knew about his crazy mother. They were opening her letters to the state department. They were getting the FBI reports on Oswald. They were getting the state department report. All of that information was filed into the CIA and landed in the counter intelligence staff in a very closely held office and the file was controlled by a woman named Ann Egerter, who was totally unknown to the warren commission. The story about how all of this information about Oswald was totally unknown and now we begin to have a little bit closer understanding in what that means.
I think that's the base line that we are now working on. What will the files that are now coming out tell us about that story? Which is a remarkable story, as if it had been known in 1963, the whole investigation would have been quite different. There's good reason to believe, in fact, the counter intelligence staff even knew that Oswald was inept and I'll tell that story in my book.
So the level of pre-assassination knowledge about Oswald was very great and the work of the review board enabled us to start investigating that story. Thanks to the records review release by the review board, we went out and I went out and was able to interview people who had extensive pre assassination knowledge of Oswald. Jane Roman who was a key aid to Angleton. I had two conversations with Bill Hood who is a lifetime counter intelligence officer associated with Angleton, Ann Goodpasture who worked for Win Scott in Mexico City, she had worked for Angleton in the headquarters. We've really began to understand the pre assassination monitoring of Oswald and that's the story that the releases later this year hopefully can amplify and tell us more about.
So one challenge is to understand what we already know and make that the foundation of what comes out in October. We are assuming that the agencies are gonna let this information be released because the law obliges them to, but given their behavior, I'm skeptical. I worry that we are gonna have continued obfuscation after or around the releases in October - but this is where the roll of the president is very important because if the agencies want to do that, if they want to do it lawfully the president has to sign off on it.
Will President Trump do that? We don't know, so there's a lot of uncertainty going forward. We do know a great deal about what's in those records. I think these are some of the records that shed some light on the counter intelligence staffs extraordinary and intense interest in Lee Harvey Oswald from 1959 to 1963.
I'll just name a few that we know exist and we know that they are supposed to be made public. First is the interrogation of Yuri Nosenko, who was a KGB defector who defected in 1964 and said falsely that KGB had no interest in Oswald at the time he was in the Soviet Union. Angleton didn't believe this, thought he was a phony defector and threw him in jail. It was one of the first examples of a CIA black site where somebody was detained beyond the law without due process. There's about 2,000 pages, as far as we can tell of the interrogation of Yuri Nosenko between 1964 and 1969. The interrogation of Nosenko about what he knew about the Oswald file could be potentially very interesting. It may also, there may be nothing about Oswald in there, it may be all about other matters. But Angleton's conspiracy theory was that the KGB was somehow behind Nosenko and somehow behind Oswald. The Nosenko interrogation transcripts will tell us more about Angleton's conspiracy theory of JFK.
The second category is the operational files of Bill Harvey who was in charge of the CIA assassination operation from 1960 to 1963 and who was also a bitter enemy of the Kennedy's. There's a couple hundred pages of material about Bill Harvey to go through. David Atlee Phillips was chief of Cuban operations in Mexico City then later when on to become chief of the western hemisphere division of the CIA who was an object of intense scrutiny by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. There's about 600 pages of material about David Phillips operations in the withheld material. That might have relevant information.
Before I tell the story of George Joannidess - he was a counter intelligence psychological warfare officer in Mami. He worked for David Phillips. My lawsuit identified probably about 50 records, we don't know how many pages of his operational activities in Miami in 1962 to 1964. One thing that we have learned over the years, in fact this was not disclosed through the review board, not only did Joannidess agents have contact with Oswald before the assassination but Joannidess himself had a residence in New Orleans in 1963 and 1964. This is a story that has never been explained by the CIA. Those records may be relevant.
Finally Ann Goodpasture who worked for Angleton and who worked for Win Scott, and who wrote the CIA history of Mexico City station, there's a couple hundred pages on her in the unreleased material. So you have this nexus of counter intelligence officers, people who knew about Oswald and were interested in Oswald before the assassination and people who were interested in assassination activities. In this nexus is where I believe we will find the information that will tell us more about the causes of the president’s death.
C. Wecht: Thank you, thank you Jeff. Just think of where we would be with regard to the JFK assassination if Jefferson Morley had been the editor of the Washington Post instead of Ben Bradley? He had a tough row to hoe, I don't know any details but I know the Washington Post has not been the forefront of ferreting out all the information about this. So questions please for a few minutes, yes sir?
Speaker: I was wondering if you could discuss for a minute the CIA, which you mentioned Richard Helms lied about the Oswald investigation. He was also convinced or charged with perjury for lying to the church committee about CIA involvement in Chile. His lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, remarked at the time that would wear that conviction as a badge of honor. Its worth noting, they negotiated a plea bargain and was fined $2,000 and said some very defining things about congress after that. It’s also worth noting that Edward Bennett Williams also represented John Hinkley, and the judge that negotiated that plea bargain was the same judge that presided over the Hinkley trial. Can you discuss at all this attitude by these very well known men at the time blatantly lying to the public, proud of it and how that plays into this situation.
J. Morley: Lets put the best possible face on, which is what I think Helms or his admirers would do and there were many in Washington, he was the CIA director for 7 years and I talked to many people in the CIA who thought he was one of the best directors ever. The favorable way to look at that would be - it was the cold war, these men were assigned to do clandestine work, they worked for the president with the expectation that the work would remain secret as one CIA officer said "their operations would remain secret from conception to eternity."
J. Morley: That's the world that these men lived in so that gave them a certain arrogance to do that. The striking thing now, looking back, to me on it what we've learned since the review board, Helms and Angleton both obstructed justice in a homicide case and they committed perjury. Why, if the homicide case was so cut and dry, why would these men obstruct justice and commit perjury? We still don't have a good answer to that question. Maybe some of these records will begin to tell us what were these operations were.
To get to your point, even if we accept that the most charitable interpretation of their actions that this was just the cold war and they were engaged in deadly business and the government approved, now the cold war is over and national security considerations that were in play there are totally irrelevant today, the threats the country faces now are nothing like those threats, and so we need not have excessive secrecy around this topic whatever the justification of it once was, there is no justification now.
Speaker 4: Jeff, in fact, at the first meeting of the warren commission didn't Dulles tell the rest of the commissioners, when they asked that they would lie, even to the president if asked?
J. Morley: That’s Dulles, yeah.
Speaker 4: It seems to me somewhat problematic that you have a review board that goes out of business before the time for compliance with the law. I'm curious as to why nobody is proposing the calling back the ARBD into existence to finish the job which obviously it did not finish.
J. Morley: What I alluded to before, I think we need something or some measure like that. An Independent board that can review these records, who have the security clearances and can decide does this meet the statutory data, is it assassination related or not? Because I expect some confiscation, that's why I think we do need an independent board mechanism, it doesn't have to be as big the review board, the remaining job is not huge, this is not a huge batch or records that remains. Not like the original batch of records that the ARBD dealt with. But there could be three people with the requisite of security clearance or some familiarity with the subject who would review these records and who would be independent of the agencies. Without an enforcement mechanism we can expect them to confiscate and delay and conceal.
Speaker 3: One more, many times there are….. even in the recent Paris attacks, the recent events in Brussels and those people are. Why in this case that they feel that there is something beyond...?
J. Morley: That's quite possible. And when we unseal the records we'll be able to decide that but until we have all the records we can't decide whether, for example, Angleton could have been manipulating Oswald, he and his people could have been manipulating Oswald over the course of those years. That's what they did, they ran secret operations involving agents and they kept it secret. When we have all the records then we can address the question of conspiracy. I'm not interested in questions of conspiracy, I'm only interested in full disclosure. If we have that, then we can talk about the theories.
C. Wecht - The news media can help us a great deal in getting full disclosure something that they seek and dig something which is representative by the affirmation of this week, national sunshine week. Which reminds me of a wonderful comment made, by one of the most distinguished supreme court justices of all times, Louis Brandeis, who said "the sunlight is best disinfectant." Keep that in mind as we were looking for this in the sunlight.
Okay, Jim Lesar. Jim, please.
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.
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.