Conspiracy Theorist Entitled to FOIA Fees

     (CN) – A reporter who fought the CIA for over 10 years to force it to release documents related to the Kennedy assassination is entitled to attorney’s fees even if the records reveal little new information, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
     Former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley has spent years investigating a potential link between a deceased CIA officer and accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
     Morley asked for records on George Joannides, the chief of psychological warfare operations in the CIA’s Miami station at the time of the assassination.
     On the his website jfkfacts.com, Morley writes that Joannides controlled the Revolutionary Cuban Student Directorate, also known as the DRE, “one of the largest and most effective anti-Castro groups in the United States.”
     He claims Joannides gave the group up to $25,000 a month and insisted the members “submit to CIA discipline.”
     Members of the Directorate had an allegedly contentious relationship with Oswald, an ex-Marine who idolized Castro. They confronted Oswald on a street corner, “stared him down in a courtroom,” challenged him to a radio debate and called on Congress to investigate him, Morley claims.
     Unsure of what to make of Joannides-DRE-Oswald connection, Morley asked for Joannides’ personnel file. He says the CIA gave him 150 pages of “heavily redacted and obviously incomplete records.”
     The CIA claimed it withheld information on privacy grounds or because it couldn’t find the requested files.
     But in 2007, the D.C. Circuit ordered the CIA to look again.
     “Despite its burden to show that withholding is necessary, the CIA has failed even to articulate the privacy interests in the records, let alone demonstrate that such privacy interests meet the standard for an agency’s withholding” under the exemption, the court wrote. The agency has to show that disclosure would constitute a “clearly unwarranted” invasion of personal privacy.
     The CIA eventually turned over several hundred documents, including travel records and a photograph, the value of which is “at best unclear,” the D.C. Circuit said Friday.
     According to Morley, the records revealed that Joannides received a Career Intelligence Medal just two years after “stonewalling congressional investigators about what he knew of contacts in 1963 between accused assassin Lee Oswald and CIA-funded anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans.”
     Morley sought attorney’s fees as the prevailing party in the litigation, but a federal judge denied him, finding that Morley’s efforts “yield little, if any, public benefit.”
     On appeal, the D.C. Circuit agreed that “the released documents appear to reveal little, if anything, about President Kennedy’s assassination.”
     However, it said the court’s job was not to evaluate the public value of the information received, but the potential value of what documents Morley sought.
     “Morley’s request had potential public value. He has proffered – and the CIA has not disputed – that Joannides served as the CIA case officer for a Cuban group, the DRE, with whose officers Oswald was in contact prior to the assassination. Travel records showing a very close match between Joannides’s and Oswald’s times in New Orleans might, for example, have (marginally) supported one of the hypotheses swirling around the assassination,”U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Williams said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     It was therefore plausible that Morley’s documents request could have generated useful new information on Kennedy’s assassination, “an event with few rivals in national trauma in the array of passionately held conflicting explanations,” Williams said.

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