Assassination of CIA station chief in Athens by a Greek terrorist group – December 23, 1975

Leftist terrorist groups have been active in Greece for decades and achieved a coup in 1975 with the killing of a US spy.

Leftist terrorist groups have been active in Greece for decades and achieved a coup in 1975 with the killing of a US spy.

I do not imagine the CIA has a very good reputation among most people. The organisation set up after WWII to gather intelligence and proactively protect US interests, however those are to be defined, has been vilified in a lot of places, including Hollywood. For most the CIA is a band of cutthroats who act above the law and engage in some violent actions, like assassinations.

Nevertheless, the CIA is a necessary evil in a world where there are those who intend us harm (terrorists, drug lords, North Korea, etc.). If we did not have the CIA we would have to invent it. I kinda wish it were not so, even if that means I am undermining my own 32-year career in Canadian intelligence, but I prefer to be a realist.

One of the hallmarks of the Agency (as it is called) is the position of ‘head of station’. This is a CIA officer sent abroad, usually within the confines of a US Embassy, to coordinate the collection of intelligence, liaise with local officials and, if necessary, execute ‘action’. I met several heads of station during my time as a spook.

Given the enmity many feel towards the US, and I suppose the CIA, it is not surprising that there have been attempts to attack and kill officers. On December 23, 1975 members of a Greek terrorist group known as November 17 (17N) succeeded in killing Richard Welch, head of station in Athens, while he was walking home with his wife after a party.

The assassination of Mr. Welch was the first really violent act by 17N and the perpetrators were not punished until 28 years later! In 2003 a Greek court found 15 members guilty of a string of assassinations, car bombings and rocket attacks that stretched over nearly three decades, including a founder and the chief assassin of the group.

November 17 (17N)

17N was created in 1975, the same year Mr. Welch was killed, and was named for the student uprising in Greece in November 1973 that protested the ruling military junta and was against a whole laundry list of things. It was anti-Greek establishment, anti-US, anti-Turkey, anti-NATO group and sought the ouster of US Bases from Greece, the removal of Turkish military forces from Cyprus, and the severing of Greece’s ties to NATO and the European Union (EU).

Wow! That is an ambitious agenda.

The group has waned of late and is now so lame that even the US State Department de-listed it as a terrorist entity back in 2015, noting that “17N has ceased to exist as an organization with the capability and intent to commit terrorist activity.” Still, Washington “does not overlook or forget 17N’s past acts of terrorism, including its members’ involvement in murdering and injuring US citizens.”

Delisting? Ouch! That’s gotta hurt the ego of a bunch of leftist terrorists!

Greece has long been the home of Marxist-oriented violent groups, which should tell you a lot about their viability, what with Marxism relegated to the ash heap of history. Of late there has also been a rise in far right, anti-immigrant groups such as Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party of nasty characters that may also be losing steam (thankfully).

What all this shows is that terrorism is not the sole purview of jihadis. While Islamist extremists have tended to dominate our attention of late, they were not always our primary concern and may not be in the (near) future.

Terrorism is terrorism after all, irrespective of the nature of the underlying ideology.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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