Closure for kin of slain official
Greece convicts 15 from November 17
9 December 2003
ATHENS, GREECE — Twenty-eight years ago, Tim Welch accompanied the body of his father, a prominent CIA officer, on a US military transport plane to Washington. Although a noncombatant, Richard Welch was buried, by order of President Ford, in Arlington National Cemetery.
Yesterday Tim Welch, a 51-year-old employee at Citibank in Chicago, heard a Greek court convict 15 people from the notorious Greek terror group November 17 in a string of murders of foreign diplomats and others over nearly three decades. The court found Alexandros Giotopoulos, the leader of the gang, guilty of morally instigating every murder, bomb attack, and robbery conducted by November 17 until its abrupt unraveling last year.
But the defendants escaped conviction for the first four of the group's 23 killings, including that of Richard Welch, because of a 20-year statute of limitations.
“My family is realistic that what we are getting is limited satisfaction,” said Welch, who flew to Athens for the end of a nine-month trial of 19 suspected members of the leftist organization. “At least, we know that the people who plotted my father's death will be put away for many years.”
Richard Welch, a brilliant Harvard-educated classicist, was the first of four US diplomats murdered by the radical leftist organization, in a time of terror that lasted nearly three decades. He had been stationed in Athens only a few months before he was murdered outside his home on Dec. 23, 1975.
Tim Welch, his brother, Nick, and sister, Molly, plan to plant a fig tree in the garden of the Athens villa where their father was assassinated.
“These people got away with the cold-blooded murder of our father,” Molly said. “There will never be justice for Richard Welch. None of our loved ones will ever come back — that is the price we have had to pay,” she said clutching photographs of her father taken during his tour of duty in Greece. “What did November 17 stand for? Nothing! The only thing it did was destroy families.”
Testimony from several defendants, who were rounded up after a bungled bomb attack in June 2002 led police to several November 17 hideouts, indicated that Giotopoulos shot Welch with a .45-caliber pistol. A prosecutor proposed that Giotopoulos, a French-born academic, and all 14 others convicted in the case be given multiple life terms. A sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin tomorrow.
Giotopoulos denied all 963 charges. As Michalis Margaritis, the presiding magistrate of the 8-member panel of judges, announced the convictions yesterday, Giotopoulos snickered. Before being led out of the crowded chamber, the white-haired economist told reporters, “Greece is a colony of the USA.”
The trial — the longest in modern Greek history — was held in a special bunker-style court, set up in the women's wing of Athens's main top-security prison. More than 500 witnesses testified.
The organization — named for the date of a student uprising at Athens Polytechnic against the military dictators who governed Greece from 1967 to 1974 — acted with ruthless precision. It's members carried out more than 80 attacks — killings, raids of military arsenals, and bank robberies.
The US State Department — tallying a string of attacks on US military and diplomatic personnel in Greece — frequently described November 17 as the most deadly terror organization operating in the West. It was only when the group began to unravel that authorities discovered the secret of its durability — it was run by two large families and their friends. Three of the 19 accused — four were acquitted yesterday because of insufficient evidence — were the sons of an Orthodox priest.
From a press report: December 2002:
Son of slain Navy officer wants suspect terrorists to stand trial for his father's killing
The son of a U.S. Navy Captain killed by Greek terrorists 20 years ago on Friday said he considers it a “tragedy” that no one will answer for his father's assassination.
Police have arrested 18 alleged members of the far-left November 17 group in the past 5 months, but none of them have so far been charged with the 1983 shooting of Captain George Tsantes and his Greek driver. The case could soon close because of a 20-year statute of limitations on murder.
November 17 has been blamed for 23 killings and dozens of bomb and rocket attacks since it first appeared with the 1975 slaying of CIA station chief Richard Welch. It claimed responsibility for killing Tsantes.
Nearly all the suspects, 17 men and a woman, have been charged with murder in most of the killings and will go on trial in early March. They are also charged with numerous bank robberies, explosions and bomb attacks.
“Certainly, whether it was good police work or luck, I am very happy that these guys are behind bars and that the Greek system is proceedings with their trial,” George ‘Chip' Tsantes, from Great Falls, Virginia, told The Associated Press.
Tsantes' 53-year-old father was killed while driving to work on November 15, 1983, and buried a week later at Arlington National Cemetery. He was the second of four American officials killed by the group, which eluded arrest for 28 years.
Other victims include two Turkish diplomats and prominent Greek political and business figures. The group's most recent victim, British defense attache Brig. Stephen Saunders, was killed in 2000.
“We talked to all authorities and there is nothing that can be done about this case, and I really feel bad,” said Tsantes, a 43-year-old partner at a management consulting organization. “People can say that they pulled the trigger and nothing can happen to them. It is a tragedy.”
November 17 is named for the day in 1973 when Greek military rulers crushed a student-led uprising. The group espoused an often confusing mix of Marxist and nationalist ideologies.
Tsantes returned to Athens for the first time since his father's death to attend a vigil for terrorist victims.
“Particularly as a Greek American it really hurt,” said Tsantes. “This still doesn't make any sense … and this makes it even worse, because these people were murdered for no reason. It was a complete waste.”
According to Tsantes, his father was one year away from retirement, while his driver, Nikos Veloutsos, was only a couple of months away from his own.
He will return to Greece for the trial as he is among family members of American victims who have filed civil suits against the suspect terrorists.
“I plan to be here for part of the trial and the rest of my family will be making trips to Greece as things progress,” he said.
Also involved in the civil suit are U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Judd, who was shot and wounded in a 1984 shooting; the widow of U.S. Embassy defense attache Captain William Nordeen, killed by a bomb in 1988, and the daughter of U.S. Air Force Sergeant Ronald O. Stewart, who died in a 1991 bomb attack.
“As you may be aware, after 27 years of nothing, members of the 17 November terror group were arrested this summer and are in jail pending trial.
Unfortunately, for our family, Greece has a statute of limitations for murder of 20 years. This means that even though the Greek authorities have caught the man responsible for killing my father – Alexandros Yiotopoulos – he will not be prosecuted for this crime. It was murder and also a crime against democracy. The irony is that he his hiding behind the very democratic laws that he was trying to obliterate.
“Thank you for you assistance. My father was a true patriot. A brilliant man who gave his life because he represented the U.S. Government and now, it looks like his murder will go unpunished. We miss him.”
Then, two days before Christmas in 1975, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Chief in Athens, Greece, Richard Welch, was gunned down in front of his home by masked assassins as he returned home with his wife from a Christmas party. A group calling itself the “November 17 Organization” later claimed credit for the killing.
Certain networks immediately began to use the Welch assassination as a bludgeon against the Church and Pike Committees. An example came from columnist Charles Bartlett, writing in the now-defunct “Washington Star”:
“The assassination of the CIA Station Chief, Richard Welch, in Athens is a direct consequence of the stagy hearings of the Church Committee. Spies traditionally function in a gray world of immunity from such crudities. But the Committee's prolonged focus on CIA activities in Greece left agents there exposed to random vengeance.”
Staffers of the Church Committee point ed out that the Church Committee had never said a word about Greece or mentioned the name of Welch.
CIA Director Colby first blamed the death of Welch on “Counterspy” Magazine, which had published the name of Welch some months before. The next day, Colby backed off, blaming a more general climate of hysteria regarding the CIA which had led to the assassination of Richard Welch. In his book, “Honorable Men”, published some years later, Colby continued to attribute the killing to the “sensational and hysterical way the CIA investigations had been handled and trumpeted around the world.”
The Ford White House resolved to exploit this tragic incident to the limit. Liberals raised a hue and cry in response. Les Aspin later recalled that “the air transport plane carrying [Welch's] body circled Andrews Air Force Base for three-quarters of an hour in order to land live on the “Today Show.”” Ford waived restrictions in order to allow interment at Arlington Cemetery. The funeral on January 7, 1976, was described by the “Washington Post” as “a show of pomp usually reserved for the nation's most renowned military heroes.” Anthony Lewis of the “New York Times” described the funeral as “a political device” with ceremonies “being manipulated in order to arouse a political backlash against legitimate criticism.” Norman Kempster in the “Washington Star” found that “only a few hours after the CIA's Athens station chief was gunned down in front of his home, the agency began a subtle campaign intended to persuade Americans that his death was the indirect result of congressional investigations and the direct result of an article in an obscure magazine.” Here, in the words of a “Washington Star” headline, was “one CIA effort that worked.”
On December 23, 1975, as Richard Welch and his wife were returning home from a Christmas party here, three masked men blocked their car. One of the men shot Mr. Welch, the Central Intelligence Agency station chief, three times, killing him.
Several American officials have actually been murdered by these terrorists, Richard Welch, CIA bureau chief Athens being the most notorious killing. His identity was passed on to N-17 by Philip Agee, a former CIA agent who went over to the KGB. (Agee now lives in Havana under the protection of Fidel Castro). Despite Washington passing on evidence to the Greek government that would have identified Welch’s murderers the Greeks refused to act.
According to Daniel Schorr’s journal of those days (“My 17 Months on the CIA Watch,” Rolling Stone, the plane carrying Welch’s body was timed to touch down
at Andrews Air Force Base for live TV coverage on the morning news shows; the funeral and civilian Welch’s special burial in Arlington National Cemetery — with full military honors and the same caisson that carried the body of President Kennedy — was elaborately orchestrated to impress upon Congress and the press the dire consequences of their reckless probes and leaks. Blaming Welch’s death on the press was grossly unfair; and there are several good reasons to believe that Welch’s “cover” may already have worn dangerously thin before his name was published. For one, his residence had been the home of the former Athens CIA chief; for another, counterspies could find good clues of our agents’ identities in the State Department’s own Foreign Service List (which ceased publication in March) and its Biographic Register (now published only on a restricted basis in order to protect State’s employees abroad, according to the department’s policy statement — which mentioned Welch’s death).
Just before Christmas 1975, Kristina Welch noticed a suspicious gray car outside her Athens home. She and her husband Richard, the CIA's station chief in the Greek capital, had received a stream of hang-up telephone calls. On December 23, three masked men ambushed Richard Welch's car. One whipped out a .45 cal. pistol and pumped three bullets into the intelligence officer's body as his wife watched in horror.
The Welch assassination was a tragic and rude introduction to the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, a previously unknown Marxist-Leninist group that takes its name from the date of a bloody student revolt in 1973. The terrorist band
has since killed 21 other people, including diplomats, judges and businessmen.
Astonishingly, there have been no arrests, few firm leads and scant response to
multimillion-dollar reward offers.
The Agent Identities Protection Act
The law was inspired by the murder of Rhode Island native Richard Welch, gunned down near his home in Athens after a periodical named him as CIA station chief there. It criminalized such publication of agents' identities.
“Mr. Welch?” a man asked in Greek. The CIA station chief opened the car door. He stood for a second and squinted at the figure in the shadows. Then came three shots from a .45-caliber pistol, one of which tore into Richard Welch's heart.
It was the bloody birth of the November 17 terrorist group.
“He got out of the car because he thought it was a friend,” said Welch's widow, Cristina. “I rushed to him. But he was gone.”
The masked killer and two accomplices, who blocked Welch's car on the way home from a Christmas party the night of December 23, 1975, sped away without a trace.
And that's how it remains, a quarter of a century later.
In the early 1970s, in part as a result of the radicalization of individuals and groups over the Vietnam War, a former CIA employee named Philip Agee wrote a book revealing the identities of several dozen CIA employees, many under deep cover and some including agency station chiefs in foreign capitals.
Many of the countries in which those CIA employees were working themselves had extremely radical and violent elements stirred to hatred over their opposition to America's conduct in the Vietnam War. So, by revealing their identities, Agee had knowingly and willingly placed these American citizens at risk. Violent consequences were predictable.
Richard Welch, a brilliant Harvard-educated classicist, had been stationed in Greece as CIA station chief only a few months before he was murdered, by a radical Greek terrorist organization called the 17th of November, in the doorway of his house in Athens on December 23, 1975. Had Agee not divulged his name, there is every reason to believe that Welch would be alive today after decades of loyal service to his country.
There is one final irony to this story. On Christmas Eve in 1975, I got a call at my home from the director of the CIA, William Colby. He asked if I would intervene with the White House to obtain presidential approval to have Welch buried at Arlington National Cemetery, a hero fallen in service to his country. I quickly called President Ford's chief of staff on Colby's behalf and made the request. Within two hours, the President had agreed to sign the order permitting Welch to be buried at Arlington.
The chief of staff's name was Richard Cheney.
SLAIN C.I.A. MAN HONORED
WASHINGTON, December 30, 1975 – The body of Richard S. Welch, the slain Central Intelligence Agency representative in Athens, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near here today aboard a special military transport.
A military honor guard was on hand as were William E. Colby, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; his Deputy, Lieutenant General Vernon Walters, other CIA personnel and Arthur Harriman, an Assistant Secretary of State
Mr. Welsh was shot to death outside his Athens home by unknown gunmen a week ago. A Washington quarterly called Counterspy recently said he had been the CIA representative in Peru and a few weeks ago an Athens newspaper named him as one of a number of CIA officials operating in Greece.
The aluminum casket, draped with the Stars and Stripes, was taken off the plane and driven to a funeral home. The burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, an honor specially ordered by President Ford.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard