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Southeast European and Black Sea Studies

Vol. 6, No. 4, December 2006, pp. 427–443

The Foreign Factor and the Greek

Colonels’ Coming to Power on
21 April 1967
Konstantina Maragkou
and Black(online)
Ltd Sea Studies

This paper is offered as a contribution to the analysis of one of the most significant episodes
in Greece’s modern history, namely the Colonels’ Coup. The unexplored aspect on which
it intends to throw light involves the examination of the widespread hypotheses regarding
foreign complicity in the coming to power of the Greek Colonels. It seeks to account for the
extent to which foreign powers had any foreknowledge of the coup, and also aspires to
investigate the possibility of foreign involvement in the coup’s implementation.

The significance of the Colonels’ era (1967–1974) for Greece’s modern political history
is undisputed, and indeed goes well beyond the merely political; nonetheless, there are
several of its fundamental aspects whose historical objectivity is obscured by clouds of
confusion. One of the most perplexing controversies in effect is with regard to the
validity of allegations concerning the foreign, and most explicitly the West’s, anticipa-
tion of (or even participation in) their coming to power in April 1967. It is common-
place that certain parts of the Greek population subscribe to the allegation of foreign,
mostly American and also British, culpability for the coup. In fact, most accounts given
by eyewitnesses during or in the immediate aftermath of the Colonels’ era (Rousseas
1967; Papandreou 1970; Katris 1971) openly blamed the Americans, while the most
recent historic accounts (Papachellas 2000; Meynaud 2002; Rizas 2002), based on the
opening of archives, seem to distance themselves from such aphorisms.
In view of this conundrum, the current paper will be devoted to investigating the
extent to which the British and the American governments pre-empted the unconsti-
tutional overthrow of government in Greece in 1967. The second part will concern
itself with evaluating the claims regarding direct involvement on the part of foreign
intelligence services in the planning or/and the actual execution of the coup. In other
words, what follows is an attempt to piece together some of the mosaic of the political
demonology surrounding the coup.

Correspondence to: Konstantina Maragkou, Hellenic Observatory, European Institute, London School of Econom-
ics & Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK. Email:

ISSN 1468–3857 (print)/ISSN 1743–9639 (online) © 2006 Taylor & Francis

DOI: 10.1080/14683850601016283
428 K. Maragkou
It can easily be grasped, nonetheless, that opportunities for an inquiry of this sort are
scarce, if not completely non-existent, as intelligence operations remain largely
undercover for tactical reasons. As Richard Aldrich claims in his article on ‘Historians
of Secret Services and their Enemies’, ‘substantial cold war secret service archives have
been released, but much more remains closed, while further material has disappeared
in a whirl of organized destruction’, in an attempt to protect the role of the Secret
Services, which would otherwise be ‘worthless if they do not keep themselves hidden’
(Aldrich 2001: 7).
Britain in particular is extremely reserved about the release of sensitive material
involving intelligence information. Exhaustive examination of the Joint Intelligence
Committee archives from the pre-coup years yielded a host of documents relating to
all kinds of trivial (as well as several important) foreign policy issues of British concern,
but brought forth no significant germ of information on Greece. Even if we accept that
this is because British officials had no foreknowledge of the coup, it is even more
puzzling that there were only a few peripherally relevant documents commenting on
the coup even after it occurred.
In mitigation of this seemingly insuperable impediment stemming from the inher-
ent feebleness of the British Archives, under the conviction that the unavailability of
material is seriously incriminating, there started an assiduous quest through a more
promising channel. This was the examination of relevant Intelligence documents held
in various American files, mainly at the National Archives in Washington and
Johnson’s Presidential Library. Part of the reasoning behind the decision to examine
the American files relates to the fact that the Americans are far more liberal than the
British with the release of their national archives. Therefore, the chances of finding
declassified intelligence material in the American Archives loomed considerably
Besides, the American intelligence agencies had undisputed primacy in Greece in the
1960s. Consequently, they were in a better position to gather information or even
influence events in Greece. Furthermore, a substantial part of the files examined in the
American archives contain information regarding the thinking and decisions of other
countries too. Britain was the country most often cited, as it was the principal
intelligence collaborator of the US. According to a former British official, ‘there were
no secrets between Washington and London’ (interview, David Gorham). As one
memorandum to the President, drafted in 1964, succinctly states, ‘experience has
shown that the general Western interest as well as the particular British and American
interest are best served when British and American policies are in harmony’.1
The two countries’ wish to harmonize their policies over Greece in particular is easily
comprehended when taking into account the considerable importance they attached to
this eastern Mediterranean state. More specifically, both the US and Britain, being the
most powerful members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, had every interest
in ensuring that Greece, because of its geo-strategically important position in the
organization’s underbelly, remained non-communist and faithfully committed to the
alliance. Their mutual interest in safeguarding Greece’s stalwart cooperation necessi-
tated their close cooperation. The need for close collaboration also resulted from an
Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 429
array of other sensitive issues, the irredentist troubles over Cyprus being among the
most fundamental.
Finally, one of the most telling proofs regarding the strong intelligence liaisons
between Britain and the US with regard to Greece is that both countries’ intelligence
services in Athens were housed under the same roof. It has eventually become common
knowledge that British Intelligence agents in Athens were using the building of the
Metohikon Tameio Stratou (Joint Army Fund) on Panepistimiou Street as their central
station. Their American colleagues had similarly used this building. It is, therefore,
inexcusably naïve to assume that they did not cooperate by comparing notes and judge-
ments and exchanging views in order to successfully detect imminent threats to their
shared interests in Greece. This well-grounded evidence of ample coordination
between Britain and the US provides adequate justification for basing a substantial part
of the conclusions in this article upon findings traced largely in the American archives.

A Whiff of Foreknowledge
As an introductory point, it can be claimed that the exhaustive examination of the pre-
1967 files shows that specific fears were expressed, on a number of occasions, over the
likelihood of an impending unconstitutional act. The conclusion of a Foreign Office
report, dated as early as July 1963, assessed that, ‘the prospects for future stability …
are not very encouraging’.2 In 1966, in a letter addressed to Sir Ralph Murray, the British
Ambassador in Athens, due consideration was given to the ‘strong likelihood of a right-
wing coup’. This was not considered to be a secret, as even the Greek people suspected
it. It is indicative that the same report later referred to ‘the surprising equanimity with
which the Greeks regarded the possibility of some extra-parliamentary solution’.3
A month later, the British Ambassador reported to the Foreign Office that ‘such
equilibrium as has been reached here is essentially unstable and sooner or later it is
bound to be upset’.4 The citation of the above comments from the immediate pre-coup
years is usefully complemented by the recent testimony of the British Consul in Athens,
the late Sir Derek Dodson, who related that ‘there was a period before the coup when
everybody thought that there was going to be a coup … and this did not come as a great
surprise’ (interview, Derek Dodson).
It is true that political processes in Greece were at the time experiencing a gradual
degeneration, which was especially marked in the 21-month period prior to the coup.
In fact, a closer examination of Greece’s sociopolitical situation before the coup
suggests that conditions were opportune for a deviation from democracy. The tempes-
tuous stalemate gradually led the country to an impasse due to a number of accentu-
ated political rifts, exacerbated by increasing social unrest. Between July 1965 and April
1967, Greece was governed by a kaleidoscope of political combinations. The position
of the premier was filled by five different politicians, all of whom failed to secure a
vote of confidence and therefore had to resign within months or even days of the incep-
tion of the premiership.
In light of the apparent signs of political decay, Philips Talbot, the American
Ambassador in Athens, related the following:
430 K. Maragkou
Strains in Greek political fabric are more severe today than at any time since recovery from
civil war and may not be containable. With far right and, more aggressively, far left
nibbling at edges, fractured centre is enmeshed in uncompromising power struggle
between foxy old Papandreou and those former colleagues who have dared oppose him
and son Andreas. As result, Greece is now weakly governed. Nor is any substantially
stronger government in prospect.5

These remarkably unstable pre-coup conditions imply that those knowledgeable about
Greek affairs must have been alarmed at the possible trouble they could generate.
General Kardamakis, the Chief of the Greek National Defence General Staff, had
reportedly confessed to the Americans that ‘the decision for a coup d’état has already
been taken, that it is no longer a question of whether, but when’.6
In fact, despite the widespread rumours of unconstitutional action, there is evidence
that Greek politicians, diplomats, a substantial part of the Greek Army and public and
at least certain key officials amongst the British and Americans in Greece at the time
were taken by surprise by the timing of the coup, if not also by the identity of its
perpetrators. In a number of documents there was uncertainty expressed regarding the
actual timing of any coup. The British Ambassador in July 1966 had pointed out in his
dispatch to the Foreign Secretary that ‘only a clairvoyant could say when it would be’,7
while the British Consul confirmed this view by saying that ‘people were wondering
when the coup would take place’ (interview, Derek Dodson ).
The first American official to learn of the coup may well have been Philips Talbot.
According to his personal account, he was informed about it when roused from sleep
just after two o’ clock in the morning by the nephew of Prime Minister Kanellopoulos
(interview, Philips Talbot). Furthermore, according to another interesting account,
cited in Laurence Stern’s (1977) informative book, even Jack Maury, the CIA Station
Chief in Athens, was ‘caught napping’ on the night of the coup. More specifically, on
the basis of his testimony, ‘at about five o’clock, on the morning of April 21, 1967’ he
‘was awakened by the screeching of the emergency radio in his second floor study
which served as direct link with the American Embassy communications centre’ (Stern
1977: 11).
It therefore becomes quite obvious that even some of the most senior officials were
‘caught off-guard’, as a State Department official put it. This conclusion coincides with
what Pattakos, one of the three pioneers of the coup, claimed. He specifically argued
that nobody knew that the Colonels were planning to stage a ‘revolution’. He opined
that such was the ill-prepared state of the foreign governments regarding the assump-
tion of power by the Colonels that the United States government shifted its intelligence
personnel in Athens after the coup, sending them to unpropitious locations (interview,
Stylianos Pattakos).
In view of the anticipation that an extralegal intervention in the political processes
was impending, it seems paradoxical that there was widely manifested surprise upon
the occurrence of the coup. It was in retrospect argued that the surprise was, rather,
associated with focusing on observing developments in relation to the longstanding
contingency plan developed under the aegis of the General Staff and the King to
prevent a communist takeover of the country. In fact, most of the forewarnings sent
Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 431
from Athens paid attention exclusively to the coup being commissioned under the
name Ierax (Hawk) by the Greek King, to be executed by General Spandidakis.
That both the Americans and the British were definitely aware of this plan can be
proved not only by the vast number of documents that clearly report it, but also by
the fact that the King had sought their advice. It is, for instance, recorded that
when the King visited the American Ambassador in early April 1967 in order to
investigate the possibility of securing American assistance, he was given a ‘five-part
answer [on] Saturday evening to his question of March 29, whether he could count
on United States support should he be forced to undertake a constitutional devia-
tion’.8 Furthermore, Ambassador Talbot recalls being given assurances by the
Generals that ‘he [the King] would not pull a coup before the elections’ (interview,
Philips Talbot).
The officials, therefore, appear to have been convinced that if a deviation from
democracy were to occur, it would be spearheaded by the King. In fact, a State
Department official, who had served in Athens and was there on the morning of the
coup, said ‘we were looking at the wrong coup’ (Stern 1977: 41). Another document
categorically put it this way: ‘If the idea of a coup was common talk, the identity of its
eventual perpetrators was not.’9 This is a position that was amply emphasized during
the course of interviews concluded for the purposes of this paper, and was even
recorded by The Economist’s special correspondent in Greece, who argued one week
after the Colonels’ coup that ‘what happened in Greece in the early hours of April 21st
turns out to have been the wrong coup d’état’ (International Report, The Economist,
29 April 1967: 445).
This conviction is in line with former military attaché to the American Embassy in
Athens Colonel Marshall’s statement in the House of Representatives:
We thought that the military was going to make some kind of overture to the King, who
might or might not give his blessing to some kind of state of siege—a state of military
control—if things kept going the way they were going. In that context there was much
reporting from the Embassy: much reporting from all agencies that this attitude, this
atmosphere prevailed, that something might happen of that sort. What did happen was a
mutiny by colonels against general officers to effect their own version of this plan, and this
we were not aware of.10

However, the fact that the British and Americans were receiving first-hand information
regarding the King’s coup does not necessarily mean that they were unaware of the
planning of another coup by junior army officers. Besides, Colonel Marshall also
admitted during the same testimony that the CIA kept his government advised
regularly and in depth as to the various alternatives which might come up regarding
possible future actions.
Crucially, there are American intelligence reports highlighting the underground
activities of the triumvirate of the eventual protagonists dating from one and a half to
five years beforehand. According to an early 1967 memorandum by Charilaos
Lagoudakis, a veteran analyst of the State Department’s Office of Intelligence and
Research, American officials had been warned that Papadopoulos and his entourage
were conspiring for a coup:
432 K. Maragkou
… since June 19, 1965, RNA [Near East Desk] has seen some 15 CIA reports from various
sources on the so-called ‘Rightist Greek Military Conspiratorial Group’ … [which] is ready
to stage a military coup, when, in its view, a dictatorship would become necessary as the
only alternative to Centre Union control of Parliament. (Stern 1977: 43)

In the following paragraph, ‘some twenty names of active and retired officers are
mentioned as key members of this military movement, prominent among whom are
Lt. Col. D. [sic] Papadopoulos and Lt Col. D. Stamatelopoulos [an original planner of
the conspiracy who fell out with Papadopoulos]’ (Stern 1977: 43).
Furthermore, as Phillip Deane, a mid-1960s senior palace official, related:
The plotters were already talking about their putsch when I took my duties at the Palace in
1964 … on two occasions in spring of 1965 I flew to Athens to give the Prime Minister
details of what was being plotted against him. I told him that Colonels Papadopoulos and
Pattakos (the leaders of the April putsch) had prepared a careful plan for a coup to
overturn democracy if Papandreou continued his ‘disruption’ of the Army.11

What is also very interesting is that in one cable drafted by US intelligence officers in
March 1967, the King’s would-be coup leader General Spandidakis is reported as
having stated that:
… within the past ten days various key officers have been on unofficial alert status, the first
step in implementing ‘Ierax (Hawk) Number Two’ (Field comment: According to Span-
didakis, ‘Ierax Number Two’ is a plan for the military takeover of Greece contingent upon
the occurrence of another political crisis. In the event such a crisis occurs, the plan outlines
the role of key military units which would be involved in the take-over. See [document
number not declassified] (TDCSDB-315/03301-66)—[not found] for additional details
on this contingency plan)…. Key officers on unofficial alert status are … GAGS G-3 Chief
Lieutenant Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos.12

The last reference found regarding the group’s activities reads as follows: ‘The leader-
ship of the rightist military conspiratorial group met secretly on December 13 1966 at
the home of one of its members’.13
Even Ambassador Philips Talbot stated that the American Embassy had ‘heard local
rumours early in April of that year 1967’ of an imminent coup but, as he nonetheless
confesses, they could not ‘trap them down’ (interview, Philips Talbot). Another
element which indicates that the Americans were informed of the triumvirate’s
impending putsch is that, according once again to Stern’s book, the US deputy chief of
mission, Norbert Anschuetz, was, early in April 1967, specifically alerted to a likely
coup by the Colonels by Nikos Farmakis, a right-wing member of the Greek Parliament
and a close friend of the Colonels (Stern 1977: 45–46). The fact that there are no official
reports of this event implies that either no one took this warning seriously or, albeit less
likely, the reports have been obliterated to cover up the Americans not having taken
action to foil the plot.
What is also worth recording is that the British officers had also failed to read the
signs and had been mistaken about the seriousness of the situation. The Embassy’s
chargé d’affaires related in 1964 that:
… periodically during the last year Embassy has noted talk and rumours re possibility of
military coup. In assessing chances of attempt by the military to take over, we estimate top
Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 433
Greek military leaders are not currently sufficiently aroused to provide leadership for such
a move. Others at lower level who might be toying with the idea would probably need far
more alarming signs of imminent communist takeover before they gambled.14

This alludes to more than an inkling by the British that officers lower than the top brass
were getting fidgety and seems to confirm the hypothesis that a coup was not regarded
as particularly imminent, though this commentary was made more than two and half
years before the coup eventually happened.
However, even in the summer of 1966, the Foreign Office department responsible
for Greece stated that: ‘We told the Secretary of State that we had no recent indication
that any right-wing coup was imminent’ and that they believed that ‘EDA had been
fostering such ideas in order to gain support for their own policy, but as long as the
King was resolutely opposed to such a coup, it seemed unlikely that the army leaders
could organize one with success’.15 It was just under a year later that the King indicated
that he was in favour of a coup, this being just weeks before one did happen.
Moreover, immediately after the coup, the British Ambassador confessed his
foreknowledge of ‘a group of extremist officers [who] decided in January to go under-
ground and organise military measures to solve the political problem’.16 According to
a further report, he had become aware ‘in January of a Colonel Papadopoulos plotting,
having declared that the time for military action had come’.17 However, he opined that
‘the plotters [were] unrepresentative and that their measures [were] inexpert’.18
The American Ambassador, less than one month before the coup occurred, similarly
assessed the situation as follows:

In our view, a plan probably does exist for certain actions by military in event of dictator-
ship, but there is no evidence that army leadership is actually plotting to create conditions
leading to deviation from Constitution. On contrary, we hold to opinion that military
would not seek independently to impose a dictatorship: but it would support a dictator-
ship if King decided in favour of such a regime.19

Furthermore, the British government’s failure to predict the timing of the Colonels’
coup can also be verified by the following anecdote, narrated by the Head of Chancery
of the British Embassy in Athens. According to him, on 19 April 1967, a delegation of
British MPs from the House of Commons’ Committee on Foreign Affairs had arrived
in Athens in order to investigate how the Embassy functioned and how its diplomats
set about doing their duties (interview, Baron Bridges). In other words, had the British
government had the slightest suspicion concerning the occurrence of a coup at that
time, it would have postponed the MPs’ trip to Greece.
According to the aforementioned evidence, it becomes clear that both the Ameri-
cans and the British manifested surprise at the actual timing of the coup as well as its
protagonists, despite the fact that they were given several warnings. The Americans
particularly should not have been surprised, as they had been informed of coup plans
by a group that included Papadopoulos, and was different from the king’s own coup
plans. The puzzling question relates to the reasons for which this sporadically
scattered information was not treated seriously—particularly in view of the fact that
Papadopoulos was quoted as having stated in November that ‘if the political situation
434 K. Maragkou
continues to deteriorate at the present rate, drastic action, i.e. dictatorship, will be
By evaluating the events as well as the limited, albeit indicative, evidence retrospec-
tively, it seems highly probable that the information regarding the possibility of the
execution of a coup by the Colonels must have been released via official Greek intelli-
gence links to their foreign counterparts. This is likely as there is general awareness of
the fact that not only during those days, but even beforehand and afterwards, the
various intelligence agencies were acquainted with each other.
Two further factors should be taken into account. First, Colonel Papadopoulos,
since the beginning of the 1960s, had been high in the hierarchy of the Central Agency
of Information (KYP, the Greek equivalent of the CIA), as he was Director of Counter-
intelligence. Since 1952, he had operated as KYP’s liaison officer with the CIA, and ‘was
known to be the trusted man of CIA Chief of Station Maury’ (Ganser 2005: 221).
Second, the only apparent source of the US Government’s reporting on Papadopou-
los’s plans was almost exclusively the CIA and not the State Department’s intelligence
Hence, in all probability, Papadopoulos, whether intentionally (in order to assess the
CIA’s potential reaction to the likelihood of such a development) or unintentionally,
perhaps through a leak, must have released some information regarding his team’s
intentions to launch a coup in the event of a communist threat. It is true that he had
reasons to share his intentions with the US and Britain, as the maintenance of a non-
Communist Greece was high among the two countries’ foreign policy priorities. It is
also highly probable that Papadopoulos did not have ‘any more hesitation about
deceiving his American contacts than about deceiving his Greek military superiors’
(Clogg & Yannopoulos 1972: 241).
The fact that there was surprise manifested at the events of the night of 21 April does
not necessarily mean that their countries’ intelligence services were not aware of it. It
could equally mean that this information was not being widely communicated. In
many cases, intelligence information is not, for a variety of reasons, disclosed to
diplomats and politicians. Besides, it seems almost impossible to believe that the CIA’s
military liaison officers in Greece, with their close contacts with the Greek general staff,
did not notice any movements of troops and senior army personnel in the main army
headquarters between the late afternoon and midnight of 20 April.
However, it does seem more likely that the intelligence services, for unknown
reasons, did not correctly assess the information that they were receiving regarding the
Colonels’ activities. It is often the case that information gathered by various intelligence
officers does not necessarily make it to the top. There are many channels through which
it is processed that may discard it as irrelevant or insufficiently serious. This explana-
tion seems to be in accordance with the way the events in Greece were, in hindsight,
assessed by the Director of Intelligence and Research in the State Department, who
That a coup occurred in Greece was not surprising. It had been clear for many months that
the prospect of a Center Union victory in the elections scheduled for May 28 1967, very
likely would trigger a military takeover. It was expected that the initiative would come from
Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 435
the Palace and the senior military commanders, who had already formulated plans to fore-
stall or set aside a Center Union election victory, rather than from members of the so-
called ‘Conspiratorial Group’ (the Union of the Young Greek Officers). This group of
officers had been the subject of several reports from clandestine sources over the past ten
years, but it was considered unlikely that it would act independently of the Palace and the
upper levels of the military hierarchy.21

Another report accounts for the reasons to which the officials attributed their being
aghast at the Colonels’ coup. It specifically mentioned that:
The coup group of thirty to forty middle-grade military officers worked quietly over a
period of time to perfect a plan which paralleled roughly that of the General Staff’s long-
standing plan to prevent a Communist take-over. It was the plan of the General Staff, with
which some members of the coup group were plugged in at key posts, which provided the
middle-grade officers with natural cover. This circumstance, together with the impeccable
military records of the junior officers and their quiet, determined efficiency, afforded them
that element of surprise necessary for the coup’s implementation.22

Possibility of Complicity
Having established that some, even if few, American and hence British officials too had
been made aware of the possibility of a coup in Greece, the final task of this paper will
be to examine the more tempting claim, which is epigrammatically summarized in the
following statement:
Because the American opposition to the Centre Union had been so open in the preceding
two years, because the Greeks had come to attribute anything that happened in their coun-
try to American influence whatever the facts might be in any particular case, and because
the CIA had a well-earned reputation for arranging or seeking to arrange the overthrow of
inconvenient governments, most Greeks initially believed that the US was behind the
coup. (Clogg & Yannopoulos 1972: 240)
This investigation is worthwhile as the surprise manifested by the diplomatic and polit-
ical wings of the governments does not rule out the possibility that some intelligence
agents, mostly attached to the CIA and the US strategic missions, acted independently.
Besides, it is quite often the case that the American Ambassadors are not aware which
of their Embassy’s diplomatic attachés belong to the CIA (Meynaud 2002: 479). The
following comment makes this undertaking more worthwhile: ‘everyone takes for
granted that nothing happens in Greece’s political arena without the approval of the US
Embassy. The CIA and Pentagon, however, play a more decisive role than the State
Department’.23 In short, it is often true, especially on such delicate issues, that there is
often intentional lack of coordination between the State Department, the Pentagon and
the CIA.
It has to be pointed out from the start that as far as the claims made about possible
foreign involvement in the planning and execution of the coup are concerned, there
seems to be no proof that they are anything more than mythical. It should also be noted
with emphasis that the lack of evidence does not necessarily mean that there was no
involvement. Besides, it would clearly be at least naive to expect to find evidence of such
wrongdoing—not only because such documents are prevented from entering the
436 K. Maragkou
public domain for fear of provoking public obloquy, but perhaps because they were
never drafted. It is crucial to bear in mind that at the height of the cold war it was not
the norm to record such intentions, and still less plans. As a chief archivist at the
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library bluntly put it, during those times such things were
being organized at meetings during which minutes were not kept for obvious reasons.
It is also interesting to note that such allegations came from a number of different
sources, some of them even outside the boundaries of Greece. The possibility of
involvement by the West in the coup was voiced by most Balkan states, as well as the
Soviet Union, in the immediate aftermath of the coup. The Bulgarian Ambassador
Gerasimov was reported implying during a conversation with Department of State offi-
cials that his government ‘suspects US instigated coup’.24 These rumours were widely
reproduced in a number of Eastern Bloc newspapers. The Romanian press was
reported as having linked the US to the coup and ‘several times has quoted foreign
sources here and abroad, alleging US involvement’.25
Moreover, on the front page of the Observer the following headline appeared:
‘Charles Foley, investigating in Athens, Cyprus and Washington, finds evidence that
the CIA engineered the Colonels’ coup in Greece, with dictator Papadopoulos as its
front man’. According to his allegations, based on confidential reports he received from
a KYP agent, ‘a few key CIA agents in Greek uniforms backed up operations on the
night of the coup, their task being to see that it was bloodless’ (Observer, 1 July 1973:
1). In addition, The Times reported that Pravda alleged that the Colonels’ coup was
planned with the aid of the CIA (The Times, 27 November 1969).
In any case, it should be clarified yet again that the main reason for the frenzied talk
regarding the possibility of foreign complicity, particularly pointing the finger towards
the United States and Britain, in the planning and/or staging of the coup, does not
result from any hardcore evidence. Instead, the driving force behind the widely
accepted belief of foreign involvement in the coup relates to a number of peripherally
relevant well-evidenced facts that will be laid out next.
The most reliable fact that helps sustain the suspicions regarding the West’s role in
the coup was that certain, even if few, American and British officials were aware of the
underground activities of Colonel Papadopoulos as well as those comprising his imme-
diate entourage. This was made possible by the existence of strong ties between the
Greek intelligence community and its American and British counterparts. According
to a former senior CIA agent in Greece, the relationship with KYP was ‘very, very close’
(Murtagh 1994: 42).
It is undisputedly noteworthy that the Joint Army Fund building where, as already
mentioned, the British and American intelligence agencies were stationed, also housed
the KYP and its alleged financial and administrative appendage, which together with
the NSD (National Security Directorate) formed ‘the principal internal security organs,
with responsibility for all counter-intelligence and counter-subversion activities’.26
Moreover, in a Washington Post article, it was reported that since 1947 the Greek Army
and the American Military Aid group in Athens, numbering several hundred, had
worked as part of the same team, which had spent ‘something under $2 billion on the
guns, planes, tanks and ships of the Greek forces’.27 According to official US statistics,
Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 437
‘the total number of Greek military personnel trained in the United States, under the
Military Assistance Program between 1950 and 1969, amounted to 11,229’ (Couloum-
bis 2004: 41).
Since the end of the Second World War, Greece had been one of the most important
operational centres of the CIA. The Raiding Force or LOK, an elite British force created
in late 1944, had remained until those times in force as part of Operation Gladio, code-
named Operation Sheepskin, making it ‘the oldest of the secret stay-behind armies
active in Europe during the Cold War’ (Ganser 2005: 216). The Americans, having
taken over the control of this elite unit, had developed it into ‘a quick-response,
commando style unit designed to put down any internal challenge to the government
and harry an invader, always expected to [be] the Soviet’ (Murtagh 1994: 41).
The CIA, during the 1950s and 1960s. had recruited several Greeks to serve varyingly
the purpose of what it called the ‘nucleus for rallying a citizen army against the threat
of a leftist coup’ (Ganser 2005: 216) and had invested millions in this secret Greek
Army. According to evidence, ‘about 800 secret arms caches were erected all over the
country while the secret army allegedly counted as many as 1,500 officers, which were
in need to recruit immediately another 2,000 to give the Hellenic Raiding Force a
nucleus strength of 3,500 elite soldiers’ (Ganser 2005: 217).
During the same decade, ‘the CIA station chief in Athens presided over the activities
of more than 200 CIA officers and other employees’ (Roubatis & Wynn 1991: 147). On
1 October 1977, Maury, the CIA’s resident in Athens from 1962 to 1968, lecturing at
the American University in Washington, DC, publicly confirmed that Greece was used
as a base of operations by Central Intelligence. He stated that: ‘Greece was a convenient
and friendly homebase for activities going on in neighboring areas’ (Roubatis & Wynn
1991: 147). Philip Deane’s attestation regarding ‘how active the US Central Intelligence
Agency had been behind the scenes in Greek politics’28 comes as no surprise.
Moreover, the liaison officer between the CIA and KYP had, since 1952, been the
later principal orchestrator of the coup, Colonel Papadopoulos. According to several
unauthenticated reports, he even spent some time in the CIA training headquarters in
the US. In addition, a number of other Greek army officers focal to the instigation and
execution of the coup held senior posts within KYP’s network: Makarezos and
Roufogalis were Chief of KYP’s information unit and Head of KYP’s personnel unit
respectively, and thus were in close cooperation with the CIA agents in Athens.
One additional factor that is often used to back up the allegations of the West’s
involvement is associated with the plan code-named ‘Prometheus’, a modified NATO
plan which the perpetrators of the coup utilized in the planning of their coup.
Nevertheless, this cannot by itself prove incontrovertibly America’s involvement as
Papadopoulos, being a senior officer in the KYP, could have had access to NATO
material even without the consent of the CIA.
There exist, however, other reasons to suspect foreign complicity in the coup. The
one fact that has managed to raise serious suspicions was the West’s satisfaction at the
deferment of the scheduled elections in May, a direct result of the coup. This was an
extremely welcome development because, in mid-March 1967, a CIA pre-election poll
predicted a majority for Papandreou’s Centre Union Party bigger than the one attained
438 K. Maragkou
in the 1964 elections. Such a likelihood was despised by the West, due to the fear that
George Papandreou, the aged leader of the Centre Union, would, upon coming to
power, elevate his son Andreas, stigmatized as anti-American and pro-Left, to a
position of power.
Andreas Papandreou was perceived by the West as Greece’s ‘enfant terrible’29 and a
‘distinct threat’, due to ‘his percolating animosity to the United States’,30 his will grad-
ually to direct Greece away from NATO, his intention to reduce military spending
greatly and his distinctive gravitation to the Soviet block. To further illustrate the
‘Andreas-oriented’ fears, the Cabinet Meeting on 22 July 1965 concluded its talk on
Greece in the following way:

M. Papandreou might decide to campaign on an Anti-Royalist platform. If it became clear

that, in so doing, he had the support of the Communist party in Greece, the crisis could
develop on lines unfavourable to the West; and even Greek support for the North Atlantic
Treaty Organisation might be called in question.31

It was, therefore, believed that George Papandreou’s coming to power would see the
strengthening of the Left, a prospect that was thoroughly incompatible with the West’s
interests, and hence utterly unacceptable. The alarming development of the strength-
ening of the Left had already been reported in several intelligence reports since the early
1960s. According to a CIA report drafted in 1962, ‘the Communists, attempting to
recover from the smashing defeat suffered by their front party in the elections, appear
in a position to profit from the growing antagonisms between the major parties’.32
Consequently, it can be argued that a level of paranoia had developed regarding the
personality of Andreas Papandreou and the potential side effects of his father’s antici-
pated victory in the elections. As one 303 Committee (National Security Committee on
Covert Action) meeting put it, leaving thus no doubts about the West’s hostile
predisposition towards him, ‘Andreas Papandreou had been observed for a sufficient
period to realistically place him in a camp definitely hostile to US interests’.33
However, there is no hard evidence that the American and/or the British govern-
ments had any direct involvement. Not that they dogmatically adhered to a policy of
non-interference, an argument that the American Ambassador strove to make sound
credible. In fact, a plethora of records of meetings of various top State Department,
intelligence and national security officials allude to the fact that direct involvement was
indeed seriously deliberated. Such action was recommended in case conditions
deteriorated to such an extent that it became imperative to safeguard their vital
interests in Greece.
In July 1965 for instance, the Country Team in the US Department of State was
recommending the ‘revival of a police force for Greece … to renew the capabilities of
the local services to respond to and control any substantial insurgency or subversion
on the part of the extreme left groups in the country’.34 Furthermore, during the same
month, Anschuetz was reporting from the Embassy in Athens that although ‘until now
Embassy has been reasonably successful in avoiding active involvement’, ‘however we
[the American government] recognize [the] possibility that circumstances may develop
in such manner that direct US support for specific solution could be decisive’.35
Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 439
In addition, Philips Talbot reported the following:
After intensive review of all considerations that we can evaluate here, I have concurred in
[less than one line of source text not declassified] recommendation that authority be
sought for limited covert political action in connection with forthcoming Greek elections.
In contrast to earlier programs which focused on EDA, purpose would be to restrict
dimensions of power base being built by Andreas Papandreou, by encouraging support for
certain competitive elements [less than one1 line of source text not declassified]. Details of
action program will be presented to Department [less than one line of source text not

According to George Demopoulos’s attestation in his letter to Senator Fulbright,

Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, ‘there were contingency plans calling
for the landing of American Marines in Souda Bay (Crete) in case of an election of a left
wing Government in Greece and in Souda Bay and the Bay of Salonika simultaneously
in case of a coup by the communists’.37 In addition, as an editorial note in the sixteenth
volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States sums it up:
… during the period 1965–67, senior US policymakers, concerned that the return of
George and Andreas Papandreou could open the door to the radicalization of Greek
politics and permit the Communist Party to obtain influence in Greece, debated possible
courses of action within the 303 Committee.38

One possible response was described in an article in the Observer, according to which:
… the spectre was raised at a meeting of the National Security Council in Washington in
mid-February 1967, when CIA reports from Athens indicated that a right-wing coup was
imminent. The question was: Should the US be asked to stop it? The answer after some
agonizing was: no. (Observer, 1 July 1973: 2)

According to the author of the article the incident had the ring of authenticity as it was
confirmed to him by a senior civilian present at the deliberations.
A further considered possibility was found described in another National Security
File. More specifically, on 8 and 13 March 1967, the 303 Committee considered a
proposal to pour US$200–300,000 into the Greek elections in order to back candi-
dates who would be anti-Andreas. However, it should be mentioned that in the file
there is evidence corroborating the fact that the State Department ‘came down nega-
tive’ on this suggestion on the grounds that ‘the possible political gains are
outweighed by the security risks’ and that there was scepticism that ‘the outcome in
Greece would be much affected by this kind of money’. In the same memorandum,
there is one important point made revealing that ‘it was becoming less and less
appropriate for us [the US government] to try to influence elections in places like
Italy and Greece’.39
Nonetheless, it should be noted with emphasis that the citation of the above extracts,
which undeniably prove the US proneness to intervene in Greece in a number of differ-
ent ways if they sensed their interests to be in jeopardy, does not suffice to prove their
complicity too. Besides, it was repeatedly stated on many occasions that the CIA did not
engineer the coup in Greece and that George Papadopoulos was not affiliated with the
CIA in any way.
440 K. Maragkou
Colby, President Nixon’s nominee for the position of Director of the Intelligence
agency, further stated in July 1973 that ‘The CIA never paid Mr. Papadopoulos any
money. The only association the Agency ever had with Mr. Papadopoulos of any kind
was in his capacity as an officer of the Greek Intelligence Service.’40 It can, nevertheless,
be argued that had Colby’s testimony been different, it would most probably not have
been declassified. Besides, had the CIA intervened in any way, it is not certain that he
wished the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee before
which he testified to know about it.
The US had on a number of occasions expressed reservations about all forms of
unconstitutional action. Even when talk of forcible intervention had indeed reached a
high pitch in early April, the American ambassador was reporting as having:

… pointed out to the King the extreme difficulty the United States would have in living
with the coup. That remained the US position; and, whatever inherent risks the electoral
processes held for internal order in the spring of 1967, the elections, scheduled for May
1967, remained the US preference.41

Two weeks before the coup, they had described the country’s ‘brutal choice between
dictatorship and Andreas Papandreou-led attacks on monarchy and probably Greece’s
foreign alignment’ as ‘Scylla and Charybdis’,42 which clearly connotes their disapproval
of the imposition of a dictatorship.
In fact, what looks like a convincing argument in favour of the West’s non-involve-
ment in the coup relates to the initial discomfort the Western governments had
experienced following the unconstitutional change of government in Greece. In other
words, had the West contributed to the Colonels’ rise to power, they would not have
found it so difficult to come to terms with the new rulers. The West’s discontent is also
suggested by the Colonels’ attempt to win their sympathy upon coming to power. One
CIA report mentioned the Colonels’ complaint regarding the ‘cool’ American response
to the regime. Their complaint was obviously formed following the immediate suspen-
sion of certain military items amounting to approximately one quarter of the American
military aid to Greece, which was regarded as ‘a direct slap to them’.43 The West’s initial
reaction was of surprise and the official stance, when faced with the fait accompli, was
of ambivalence and even contempt for the Colonels’ regime. Such an action clearly
contradicts, for instance, the White House’s cordial congratulating of the Brazilian
anti-Communist perpetrators on the day of their US-assisted coup against the
democratically elected, left-leaning President Joao Goulart in April 1964.
There is always the counter-argument, which claims that the West’s initial coolness
towards the Colonels was purposely exercised in an attempt to put a whitewash on
suspicions about its complicity. This is a possibility that, although it cannot be ruled
out theoretically, is highly improbable. Finally, it could also be argued that had Papa-
dopoulos acted following American orders, then he probably would not have ended up
spending the rest of his life in prison, in sharp juxtaposition to other US-backed dicta-
tors, such as Marcos of the Philippines and Duvalier of Haiti, who following their fall
from power in the 1970s were assisted by the Americans in fleeing the country and
being transported to far-away secure places (Zournatzes & Michalopoulos 1998: 63).
Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 441
All the aforementioned evidence, although quite controversial at times, does none-
theless point to some definite facts regarding the West’s role in the Greek coup of 1967.
The West’s apparent non-involvement frees them from the charge of wrongdoing.
This, however, does not mean that they did everything that was possible to help avert
the derogation of democracy in Greece. Besides, the fact that ‘the Americans may not
have wanted the coup’ does not mean that they did not ‘help create the conditions that
brought it about’;44 American involvement in postwar Greek politics certainly creates
a solid precedent for such a belief. Moreover, in the light of the evidence that proves
their awareness of the eventuality of the coup, they should be considered liable for fail-
ing to alarm senior Greek army officers and the King himself about the impending
threat. It could certainly be claimed that it was not their responsibility to do so;
although this is a viable argument, their choosing to do otherwise would have managed
to prove unassailably that they were indeed opposed to the Colonels’ rise to power.

[1] Alec-Douglas Home via the British Embassy in Washington to the US President, Secret,

10 April 1964, NSF, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. 3, Lyndon Baines
Johnson Library, Austin, TX (LBJ hereafter).
[2] Brief for Greek State Visit, July 9–12, 1963, Political Situation in Greece, A. M. Wood to Mr.

Smart, Confidential, FO 953/2121, British National Archives, Kew, London, (NA hereafter).
[3] Letter, H. A. F. Hohler to Sir R. Murray, Confidential, 27 June 1966, FO 371/185677, NA.

[4] Sir Ralph Murray to Michael Stewart, Dispatch No. 31, Confidential, 25 July 1966, FO 371/

185666, NA.
[5] Telegram 645, Philips Talbot to State Department, Secret, Limdis, 19 October 1965,

Department of State, Central Files, POL 2 Greece, American National Archives, College Park,
Maryland, (NARA hereafter).
[6] Letter, Henry Labouisse to Dean Rusk, Top Secret, 5 April 1963, Department of State, RG 59

[7] Foreign Office Dispatch No. 31, Sir Ralph Murray to Michael Stewart, Confidential, 25 July

1966, FO 371/185666, NA.

[8] Telegram, Athens 4574, Talbot to Department of State, Secret, Priority, Exdis, 9 April 1967,

Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 Greece, NARA.

[9] Greece in political crisis, Administrative History of the Department of State, Volume 1,

Chapter 4, Section J, LBJ Library.

[10] Hearings before the Sub-Committee on Europe of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House

of Representatives, Greece, Spain and the Southern NATO Strategy, 30 June 1971, p. 118.
[11] CIA-RPD69B00369R000200290032-8, Philip Deane, Why the Army took over my country,

MACLEAN’S, July 1967, NARA.

[12] Intelligence Information Cable, Country Greece, Subject: Increased Activity of Group

Advocating Dictatorship, CIA, DDI Files, Intelligence Information Cables, Secret; No Foreign
Dissem/Controlled Dissem, 9 March 1967, LBJ Library.
[13] Field Information Report, Country Greece, Subject: Leadership of rightist military conspira-

torial group, Athens, Secret; No Foreign Dissem/Controlled Dissem, 20 December 1966,

Department of State, Post Files: LOT 71A2420, NARA.
[14] Airgram A-31, H. Daniel Brewster to Department of State, Secret, Limdis, 9 July 1964,

Department of State, Central Files, POL 23-9 Greece, NARA.

[15] H. A. F. Hohler to Sir Ralph Murray, Confidential, 27 June 1966, FO 371/185677, NA

[16] Telegram, Sir Ralph Murray to FO, 21 April 1967, FCO 9/124, NA.
442 K. Maragkou
[17] Memorandum on Coup in Greece, Sir Ralph Murray to Mr Brown, 23 May 1967, FCO 9/126,

[18] Telegram, Sir Ralph Murray to FO, 21 April 1967, FCO 9/124, NA.

[19] Telegram, Athens 4335, Talbot to State Department, Secret, Priority, 24 March 1967,

Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 Greece, NARA.

[20] Foreign Relations of the US (FRUS), VOL. XVI, 245, Field Information Report, Greece,

Leadership of Greek military conspirational group, 20 December 1966, p. 520, footnote 2.

[21] Research Memorandum, RNA-40, Subject: Short-term prospects for Greece, Department of

State, Director of Intelligence and Research, Secret, No Foreign Dissemination, 19 September

1967, Department of State, Central Files, POL15 Greece, NARA.
[22] Greece in political crisis, Administrative History of the Department of State, Volume 1,

Chapter 4, Section J, LBJ Library.

[23] Department of State, LOT 68 D 91, Entry 5256, POL 15 Government, 27 July 1965.

[24] Telegram, State 190986, Department of State to American Embassy Sofia, Confidential, 9 May

1967, Department of State Central Files, POL 23-9, NARA.

[25] Telegram, Bucharest 1432, American Embassy Bucharest to Secretary of State, 3 May 1967,

Department of State, Central Files, POL 23-9 Greece, NARA.

[26] Airgram No A-883, American Embassy Athens to Dept of State, Country Policy Appraisal—

Greece—1968, Confidential, 1 November 1968, State Department, Central Files, POL Greece-
[27] CIA-RPD69B00369R000200290055-3, ‘A coup in Greece; a bit of blackmail’ in Washington

Post, 15 May 1967, NARA.

[28] CIA-RPD69B00369R000200290032-8, Philip Deane, Why the Army took over my country,

MACLEAN’S, July 1967, NARA.

[29] CIA Intelligence Memorandum, Directorate of Intelligence, The situation in Greece, No 1255/

67, Secret, 6 July 1967, NSF, Country File Middle East, LBJ Library.
[30] Memorandum for the Record, drafted by Jessup, Subject: Minutes of the Meeting of the 303

Committee, 13 March 1967, Covert Political Action re May 1967 Greek National Elections,
Greek Coup, 1967, Secret, 13 March 1967, NSF, Intelligence File, LBJ Library.
[31] Cabinet Conclusions (65) 40th meeting, Secret, 22 July 1965, CAB 128/39, NA.

[32] CIA-RPD79T00975A006200480001-0, Central Intelligence Bulletin, Top Secret, 16 March


1962, NARA.
[33] Extract from Minutes of Meeting of the 303 Committee, Greek coup, 1967, Covert Political

Action re May 1967 Greek National Elections, 8 March 1967, NSF, Intelligence File, LBJ
[34] Airgram, Nobert Anschuetz to Department of State, Secret, Country Team Message, 10 July

1965, Department of State, Central Files, POL 23-Greece, NARA.

[35] Telegram, Anschuetz to Secretary of State, Confidential, Priority Athens 122, 24 July 1965,

Department of State, POL 15 Greece, NARA.

[36] Telegram, Athens 3805, Talbot American Embassy in Athens to the Department of State, 11

February 1967, Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 Greece, NARA.

[37] Letter, George Demopoulos to Senator J. W. Fulbright, 29 October 1971, Mitsotakis Files,

Constantine Mitsotakis Foundation, Athens.

[38] FRUS, Volume XVI, 203, Editorial Note, p. 430.

[39] Memorandum for the President, Subject: Greek Coup—1967, Sensitive, W. W. Rostow,

15 May 1967, NSF, Intelligence File, LBJ Library.

[40] CIA-RDP75B00380R000200010054-4, Outgoing Message, Secret, Eyes only, NARA.

[41] Telegram, Athens 4651, Talbot to Department of State, Personal, Secret, Priority, 14 April

1967, Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 Greece, NARA.

[42] Ibid.

[43] CIA Intelligence Memorandum, Directorate of Intelligence, The situation in Greece, No 1255/

67, Secret, 6 July 1967, NSF, Country File Middle East, LBJ Library.
Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 443
[44] CIA-RPD69B00369R000200290032-8, Philip Deane, Why the Army took over my country,

MACLEAN’S, July 1967, NARA.

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