1940 In England Prime Minister Winston Churchill creates the secret stay-behind army Special Operations Executive (SOE) to set Europe ablaze by assisting resistance movements and carrying out subversive operations in enemy held territory. After the end of World War Two the stay-behind armies are created on the experiences and strategies of SOE with the involvement of former SOE officers
The aim of British Prime minister Winston Churchill was to prevent the communist-led EAM resistance movement from taking power after the end of World War II. After the suppression of a pro-EAM uprising in April 1944 among the Greek forces in Egypt, a new and firmly reliable unit was formed, the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade, which excluded „almost all men with views ranging from moderately conservative to left wing.“1 After liberation in October 1944, EAM controlled most of the country. When it organized a demonstration in Athens on December 3, 1944 , members of rightist and pro-royalist paramilitary organizations, covered by „British troops and police with machine guns… posited on the rooftops“, suddenly shot on the crowd, killing 25 protesters (including a six-year-old boy) and wounding 148.2 This marked the outbreak of the Dekemvriana, which would lead to the Greek Civil War.
When Greece joined NATO in 1952, the country’s special forces, the LOK (Lochoi Oreinōn Katadromōn, i.e. „Mountain Raiding Companies“) were integrated into the European stay-behind network. The CIA and LOK reconfirmed on March 25, 1955 their mutual co-operation in a secret document signed by US General Trascott for the CIA, and [Konstantinos Dovas], chief of staff of the Greek military. In addition to preparing for a Soviet invasion, the CIA instructed LOK to prevent a leftist coup. Former CIA agent Philip Agee, who was sharply criticized in the US for having revealed sensitive information, insisted that „paramilitary groups, directed by CIA officers, operated in the sixties throughout Europe (and he stressed that) perhaps no activity of the CIA could be as clearly linked to the possibility of internal subversion.“3
The LOK was involved in the military coup d’état on April 21, 1967,4 which took place one month before the scheduled national elections for which opinion polls predicted an overwhelming victory of the centrist Center Union of George and Andreas Papandreou. Under the command of paratrooper Lieutenant Colonel Costas Aslanides, the LOK took control of the Greek Defence Ministry while Brigadier General Stylianos Pattakos gained control over communication centers, the parliament, the royal palace, and according to detailed lists, arrested over 10,000 people. Phillips Talbot, the US ambassador in Athens, disapproved of the military coup which established the „Regime of the Colonels“ (1967–1974), complaining that it represented „a rape of democracy“ – to which Jack Maury, the CIA chief of station in Athens, answered: „How can you rape a whore?“.5
Arrested and then exiled in Canada and Sweden, Andreas Papandreou later returned to Greece, where he won the 1981 election, forming the first socialist government of Greece’s post-war history. According to his own testimony, he discovered the existence of the secret NATO army, then codenamed „Red Sheepskin“, as acting prime minister in 1984 and had given orders to dissolve it.6
Following Giulio Andreotti’s revelations in 1990, the Greek defence minister confirmed that a branch of the network, known as Operation Sheepskin, operated in his country until 1988.7
In December 2005, journalist Kleanthis Grivas published an article in To Proto Thema, a Greek Sunday newspaper, in which he accused „Sheepskin“ for the assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Athens in 1975, as well as the assassination of British military attaché Stephen Saunders in 2000. This was denied by the US State Department, who responded that „the Greek terrorist organization ‚17 November‚ was responsible for both assassinations“, and that Grivas’s central piece of evidence had been the Westmoreland Field Manual which the State department, as well as an independent Congressional inquiry have alleged to be a Soviet forgery.8 The document in question, however, makes no specific mention of Greece, November 17, nor Welch. The State Department also highlighted the fact that, in the case of Richard Welch, „Grivas bizarrely accuses the CIA of playing a role in the assassination of one of its own senior officials“ while „Sheepskin“ couldn’t have assassinated Stephen Saunders for the simple reason that, according to the US government, „the Greek government stated it dismantled the „stay behind“ network in 1988.“8
- [Konstantinos Dovas]
- 1. Peter Murtagh, The Rape of Greece. The King, the Colonels, and the Resistance (London, Simon & Schuster, 1994), p.29, quoted by Daniele Ganser (2005), p.213
- 2. Ganser (2005), pp. 213–214 (his quote)
- 3. Philip Agee and Louis Wolf, Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe (Secaucus: Lyle Stuart Inc., 1978), p.154
- 4. „Due to the direct involvement of the Hellenic Raiding Force the Greek military coup has been labelled ‚a Gladio coup‘.“ (NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe by Daniele Ganser, p. 221.) „In Greece, where it was given the code-name, Sheepskin, a cell was set up by the CIA in the 1950s but was dismantled in 1988, according to the government. Officers in the underground unit were involved in the Colonels‘ coup in 1967.“ (Richard Norton-Taylor, „The Gladio File: did fear of communism throw West into the arms of terrorists?„, in The Guardian, December 5, 1990)
- 5. NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe by Daniele Ganser, p. 221.
- 6. NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe by Daniele Ganser, p. 223.
- 7. „NATO’s secret network ‚also operated in France„, The Guardian, November 14, 1990, p. 6
- 8. a. b. Misinformation about „Gladio/Stay Behind“ Networks Resurfaces“. United States Department of State.