Did the CIA try to thwart the nation's last investigation of President Kennedy's assassination?

G. Robert Blakey by University of Notre Dame

Did the CIA try to thwart the nation's last investigation of President Kennedy's assassination? "The CIA not only lied, it actively subverted the investigation," says G. Robert Blakey, the former general counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), which issued its report in 1979.


Excerpted from Justice Integrity Project version

Did the CIA try to thwart the nation's last investigation of President Kennedy's assassination?

"The CIA not only lied, it actively subverted the investigation," says G. Robert Blakey, the former general counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), which issued its report in 1979.

"It is time that either Congress or the Justice Department conducts a real investigation of the CIA," Blakey said at a conference last month. "Indeed, in my opinion, it is long past time."

Blakey, shown above, urged the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to comply promptly with a federal law unanimously passed by congress in 1992 requiring release of JFK records.

Archives leadership refuses to release the documents until 2017 without CIA or presidential approval. The CIA has said it lacks the personnel to process the documents sooner in ways that protect national security.

But at what point does refusal to cooperate with a murder investigation signify a broken system?

As part of an ongoing OEN series on the JFK murder and Warren Report, today's column examines Blakey's allegations. They exemplify the intelligence community's ongoing resistance to congressional oversight.

Blakey and others especially focused on the late CIA officer George Joannides, the agency's liaison to Blakey's congressional staff as they re-examined the validity of the 1964 Warren Commission report on JFK's murder.

Blakey's written statement here attacked Joannides for obstructing the congressional probe under the guise of help. Blakey announced his views Sept. 26, 2014 at a three-day conference in Bethesda, MD organized by the non-profit Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC).

The AARC conference title was "The Warren Report and the JFK Assassination: Five Decades of Significant Disclosures." Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren had led the seven-member commission, which included former CIA Director Allen Dulles among its membership of high-ranking federal officials and former officials.

The commission announced that Lee Harvey Oswald, 24, had acted alone in killing Kennedy with three shots from behind.

Looking ahead, Blakey and two fellow congressional researchers, Edwin Lopez and Dan Hardway, said at the AARC conference they will seek missing CIA records about JFK later this fall -- unless the Archives complies with their recent request.

Critics have long attacked the Warren report as a whitewash. The CIA had the motive and opportunity for a cover-up and a killing, critics have alleged in multiple books, including JFK and the Unspeakable by peace activist James Douglass and Breach of Trust by historian Gerald McKnight.

Some in the Cuban exile community, CIA and elsewhere regarded JFK "as a traitor," as former Cuban militant leader Antonio Veciana told the AARC gathering last month in a piece reported by OEN. Veciana, now 86, described how he saw his CIA handler, David Atlee Phillips, meet Oswald in the lobby of a Dallas office building six weeks before the JFK shooting.

Phillips, a former actor and master of false identities, had nurtured the growth of the DRE, the acronym in Spanish for the Student Revolutionary Directorate, one of the most popular and important CIA-funded anti-Castro groups in the United States.

Phillips then handed over the assignment to his successor Joannides, according to historian John Newman, author of Oswald and the CIA.

Newman, who told the AARC audience of the many false identities Phillips used in his work, is among the experts who have explored the mysteries surrounding Oswald's Cuba-related activities in New Orleans and Mexico City.

Phillips was the CIA's chief of Cuban operations in the CIA's Mexico City office in 1963, and after retirement founded the influential Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

In August 1963, New Orleans police arrested Oswald and three DRE members who scuffled with Oswald when he handed out pro-Castro literature in their neighborhood.

Such Cuba-related incidents are vital to understanding JFK's death. Some experts argue that the ex-Marine Oswald was acting under government instructions for the most part as a low-level operative or patsy. But the Warren Commission ascribed his activities as those of a leftist misfit in a pattern that led him to kill JFK.

Blakey's Background As Congressional Investigator

In June 1977, HSCA Committee Chairman Louis Stokes (D-OH) hired Blakey as chief counsel. Blakey was a Cornell University law professor after an illustrious career as a congressional staffer helping devise legal strategies against the mob, as reported in, "Learning from Heroes Who Fought the Mafia."

Blakely succeeded Philadelphia prosecutor Richard Sprague, whom the committee had forced out after Sprague and his deputy Robert Tanenbaum aggressively pursued conspiracy leads involving Phillips. Sprague and Tanenbaum wanted to follow evidence wherever it led.

Blakey deferred to the CIA, according to committee investigator Gaeton Fonzi, an independent-minded former magazine writer who authored The Last Investigation. "Yet, in the end, Blakey was suckered."

Fonzi's book and many articles reported also how pressure by congress blocked a thorough investigation.

As Blakey's team tried to explore suspected relationships between Oswald, Cuban exiles and the CIA, investigators asked Joannides the name of the CIA case officer for the DRE.

Joannides denied the CIA was working in 1963 with the anti-Castro group. That, of course, frustrated document requests on the topic as the committee's two-year existence sputtered to an end.

In fact, Joannides had been the CIA's liaison for the DRE's still-vibrant relationship in 1963 with the agency. Joannides, who died in 1990, had led the CIA's anti-Castro psychological warfare operations among South Florida Cuban exiles.

The deception came to light because JFKFacts.org founder Jefferson Morley and his attorney James Lesar obtained CIA records during more than a decade of litigation in the federal civil case Morley v. CIA.

Lesar is a longtime specialist in federal Freedom of Information Act law who also leads the AARC as president.

One secret CIA document even described the Joannides work with congress in the late 1970s as an "undercover" assignment -- a remarkable description for the CIA in its work with elected officials who are supposed to supervise the agency.

A vivid perspective comes from two of Blakey's researchers, his former Cornell law students Dan Hardway and Edwin Lopez.

Their assignment was to investigate CIA awareness of Oswald's activities in Mexico City during a seven-day trip Oswald took in late September 1963.

Hardway has described in two recent speeches and memos, available on the AARC website, how the CIA sought to control his part of the committee's investigation.

In March 1979, the committee issued a 686-page report concluding Kennedy was probably killed in a conspiracy by Oswald and other unknown persons.

Why Care About What's Next?

Blakey's criticism of the CIA for lying to congressional investigators is significant regardless of what the still-hidden evidence might show.

Blakey made his allegations most formally in an eight-page letter, which is now on the AARC website, which contains also a link to his former researcher Hardway's recollections.

Regarding ultimate guilt, Hardway wrote in 2013 after remaining away from research for many years, "I still believe it is more probable than not that there was an intelligence operational involvement in the assassination. We may never know how closely Phillips worked with Joannides."

Morley and Lesar have identified 1,171 CIA documents that the CIA and Archives have refused to release on national security grounds until 2017. Morley fears the agency will stall again on delivery in 2017. In addition to that possibility, witnesses in the JFK murder continue to die off.

In response, National Archives Public Affairs and Communications Director Miriam Kleiman told me, "We are on track to release the remaining withheld information by 2017, as the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 requires." She directed me to a 2012 letter from National Archives General Counsel Gary Stern to Lesar explaining the delay.

More generally, Hardway recalled an incident that summarized his observations during his year of work from 1977 to 1978. He said he and Fonzi showed their credentials to a retired CIA officer in Florida prior to an interview.

"So you represent congress," the officer said. "What the f*** is that to the CIA? You'll be gone in a few years, and the CIA will still be here."

"That," Hardway wrote, "really sums up a lot of the problems that we had."

No News Is Good News?

In last month's conference, Blakey said the CIA's misconduct hurt the Assassination Records Review Board (AARB), which congress created to administer the 1992 JFK Act following public outrage triggered by Oliver Stone's movie, "JFK."

"I believe," Blakey continued, "that this rises to the level of probable violation of the law that prohibits impeding the due and proper inquiry of a committee of Congress....I no longer trust anything that the Agency [the CIA] has told us in regard to the assassination."

Official Washington mostly ignores these disputes, or treats them as trivia that will vanish in good time.

Neither President Obama, nor congress, nor the media have paid much attention. A rare exception in the mainstream media has been Boston Globe reporter Bryan Bender, who attended the AARC conference and published a column Oct. 15, "Answers sought on CIA role in '78 JFK probe."

To date, the CIA has not explained why it misled Robert Blakey, congress, the Warren Commission and the public.

At this point, only an informed public can assess whether the congressional probe was "The Last Investigation" -- or was a stepping stone to a new commitment to the truth about a president's murder that continues to taint American public life.