Two days later, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the agency to search for long-suppressed files related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The judges said the CIA had to search the files of a deceased Miami-based intelligence who hid what he knew about accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald from investigators.
"The CIA has not changed its ways since JFK," said author Gerald Posner, a Huffington Post contributor, who has written about the Abu Zubadayah case. He is also the author of a book on Kennedy's assassination.
The appellate court ruling marked an unusual setback for the agency. "FOIA decisions against the CIA are relatively rare," notes Secrecy News.
"To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo," said the FOIA Blog, "it looks like the CA has "lot's of 'xplaining to do."
That was the gist of Judge Judith Rogers' 31-page decision in my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking records of George Joannides, a career undercover officer. At the time of Kennedy's murder, Joannides served as chief of psychological warfare operations in south Florida. He also served as the CIA's liaison to congressional JFK investigators in 1978. He died in 1990.
Rogers, joined by two colleagues, rejected the CIA's argument that it had no obligation to search for documents about Joannides in the files of its secret operations in 1963. During oral arguments in October, the judges had grilled Agency lawyer about this claim. In their decision, the judges ruled that the law required a search of sensitive operational files, something the agency almost always resists.
The judges also said that the Agency had not adequately explained the whereabouts of monthly reports filed by Joannides in 1963.
In August 1963, Joannides was secretly funding a Cuban exile group whose members clashed repeatedly with Oswald, an ex-Marine and supporter of Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro. When Kennedy was killed in Dallas, apparently by Oswald, three months later, the group used CIA funds to publicize these contacts and blame the assassination on Castro.
The CIA did not reveal Joannides' financial relationship to the accused assassin's antagonists to the Warren Commission, which investigated the crime and concluded Oswald acted alone. Joannides' reports on his actions in 1963 have never surfaced.
"On remand the CIA must supplement its explanation" of why the reports cannot be found, the court ruled.
The judges ordered lower court Judge Richard Leon to supervise the implementation of its order, a process that is expected to take several months.
"The CIA has constantly been an active leader in hiding, distorting, and sometimes destroying evidence on key issues affecting our history and lives," Posner said in an email.
That's a harsh judgment but it is more plausible today than it was before the Abu Zubadayah revelations and the Rogers decision.