George Joannides, the son of a journalist, was born in Athens, Greece, on 5th July, 1922. His family arrived in New York in 1923. After graduating from the City College he received a law degree from St. John's University. He worked for the Greek language National Herald before moving to Washington in 1949 to work for the Greek Embassy Information Service.
He joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1951 and later became chief of the Psychological Warfare branch of the CIA's JM/WAVE station in Miami. In this role he worked closely with the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE), a militant right-wing, anti-Communist, anti-Castro, anti-Kennedy, group. This was a group that Lee Harvey Oswald was in contact with in New Orleans in August 1963. Journalist Jefferson Morley says he knows of no evidence that Joannides was in contact with Oswald during this period.
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Richard Helms appointed John M. Whitten to undertake the agency's in-house investigation. After talking to Winston Scott, the CIA station chief in Mexico City, Whitten discovered that Lee Harvey Oswald had been photographed at the Cuban consulate in early October, 1963. Nor had Scott told Whitten, his boss, that Oswald had also visited the Soviet Embassy in Mexico. In fact, Whitten had not been informed of the existence of Oswald, even though there was a 201 pre-assassination file on him that had been maintained by the Counterintelligence/Special Investigative Group.
John M. Whitten and his staff of 30 officers, were sent a large amount of information from the FBI. According to Gerald D. McKnight "the FBI deluged his branch with thousands of reports containing bits and fragments of witness testimony that required laborious and time-consuming name checks." Whitten later described most of this FBI material as "weirdo stuff". As a result of this initial investigation, Whitten told Richard Helms that he believed that Oswald had acted alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
On 6th December, Nicholas Katzenbach invited Whitten and Birch O'Neal, Angleton's trusted deputy and senior Special Investigative Group (SIG) officer to read Commission Document 1 (CD1), the report that the FBI had written on Lee Harvey Oswald. Whitten now realized that the FBI had been withholding important information on Oswald from him. He also discovered that Richard Helms had not been providing him all of the agency's available files on Oswald. This included Oswald's political activities in the months preceding the assassination and the relationship Joannides had with the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil.
John M. Whitten had a meeting where he argued that Oswald's pro-Castro political activities needed closer examination, especially his attempt to shoot the right-wing General Edwin Walker, his relationship with anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans, and his public support for the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Whitten added that has he had been denied this information, his initial conclusions on the assassination were "completely irrelevant."
Richard Helms responded by taking Whitten off the case. James Jesus Angleton, chief of the CIA's Counterintelligence Branch, was now put in charge of the investigation. According to Gerald D. McKnight (Breach of Trust) Angleton "wrested the CIA's in-house investigation away from John Whitten because he either was convinced or pretended to believe that the purpose of Oswald's trip to Mexico City had been to meet with his KGB handlers to finalize plans to assassinate Kennedy."
In 1976 Thomas N. Downing began campaigning for a new investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Downing said he was certain that Kennedy had been killed as a result of a conspiracy. He believed that the recent deaths of Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli were highly significant. He also believed that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had withheld important information from the Warren Commission. Downing was not alone in taking this view. In 1976, a Detroit News poll indicated that 87% of the American population did not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who killed Kennedy.
Coretta Scott King, was also calling for her husband's murder to be looked at by a Senate Committee. It was suggested that there was more chance of success if these two investigations could be combined. Henry Gonzalez and Walter E. Fauntroy joined Downing in his campaign and in 1976 Congress voted to create a 12-member House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to investigate the deaths of Kennedy and King.
Joannides was appointed as the agency's liaison to the HSCA. The CIA did not reveal to the committee that Joannides had played an important role in the events of 1963. Some critics believe that Joannides was involved in a conspiracy to link Lee Harvey Oswald with the government of Fidel Castro.
On 16th May, 1978, John M. Whitten appeared before the HSCA. He criticised Richard Helms for not making a full disclosure about the Rolando Cubela plot to the Warren Commission. He added " I think that was a morally highly reprehensible act, which he cannot possibly justify under his oath of office or any other standard of professional service."
Whitten also said that if he had been allowed to continue with the investigation he would have sought out what was going on at JM/WAVE. This would have involved the questioning of Ted Shackley, David Sanchez Morales, Carl E. Jenkins, Rip Robertson, George Joannides, Gordon Campbell and Thomas G. Clines. As Jefferson Morley has pointed out in The Good Spy: "Had Whitten been permitted to follow these leads to their logical conclusions, and had that information been included in the Warren Commission report, that report would have enjoyed more credibility with the public. Instead, Whitten's secret testimony strengthened the HSCA's scathing critique of the C.I.A.'s half-hearted investigation of Oswald. The HSCA concluded that Kennedy had been killed by Oswald and unidentifiable co-conspirators."
John M. Whitten also told the HSCA that James Jesus Angleton involvement in the investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy was "improper". Although he was placed in charge of the investigation by Richard Helms, Angleton "immediately went into action to do all the investigating". When Whitten complained to Helms about this he refused to act.
Whitten believes that Angleton's attempts to sabotage the investigation was linked to his relationship with the Mafia. Whitten claims that Angleton also prevented a CIA plan to trace mob money to numbered accounts in Panama. Angleton told Whitten that this investigation should be left to the FBI. When Whitten mentioned this to a senior CIA official, he replied: "Well, that's Angleton's excuse. The real reason is that Angleton himself has ties to the Mafia and he would not want to double-cross them."
Whitten also pointed out that as soon as Angleton took control of the investigation he concluded that Cuba was unimportant and focused his internal investigation on Oswald's life in the Soviet Union. If Whitten had remained in charge he would have "concentrated his attention on CIA's JM/WAVE station in Miami, Florida, to uncover what George Joannides, the station chief, and operatives from the SIG and SAS knew about Oswald."
It was only after his death that it was revealed that Joannides was in contact with Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE) in 1963. G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, was furious when he discovered this information. He issued a statement where he said: "I am no longer confident that the Central Intelligence Agency co-operated with the committee.... I was not told of Joannides' background with the DRE, a focal point of the investigation. Had I known who he was, he would have been a witness who would have been interrogated under oath by the staff or by the committee. He would never have been acceptable as a point of contact with us to retrieve documents. In fact, I have now learned, as I note above, that Joannides was the point of contact between the Agency and DRE during the period Oswald was in contact with DRE. That the Agency would put a 'material witness' in as a 'filter' between the committee and its quests for documents was a flat out breach of the understanding the committee had with the Agency that it would co-operate with the investigation."
In recent years investigators into the assassination of John F. Kennedy such as G. Robert Blakey, Jefferson Morley, Anthony Summers, John McAdams, John M. Newman, David Kaiser, Michael Kurtz, Oliver Stone, David Talbot, Cyril H. Wecht, David R. Wrone and Gerald Posner have campaigned for the CIA to release the files concerning the activities of Joannides in 1963.
In October, 2006, Judge Richard Leon upheld the CIA's right to block disclosure of records about Joannides's operational activities in August 1963. As Rex Bradford pointed out: "Judge Leon upheld the CIA's right to block disclosure of records about Joannides's operational activities in August 1963. That's when Joannides' agents in a Cuban exile student group had a series of encounters with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and used U.S. government funds to call attention to his pro-Castro activities."
While researching a documentary, Shane O'Sullivan discovered a news film of the Ambassador Hotel on the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Bradley Ayers and other people who knew them, identified David Sanchez Morales, Gordon Campbell and George Joannides as being three men in the hotel that day. An article about this story appeared in The Guardian and on BBC Newsnight on 20th November, 2006.
Journalist Jefferson Morley who uncovered the Joannides story - and the only known autheticated photos of Joannides - asserts emphatically and unequivocally that neither Gordon Campbell nor George Joannides are the men depicted in this photograph. Morley notes that Campbell died in 1962 and that there is no corroborated evidence that Joannides was in Los Angeles in June 1968.