On This Day — CIA COS Richard Welch Is Assassinated in Athens (December 23 1975)

“The CIA and the Ford White House quickly saw Welch’s murder as a political windfall. At a time when the CIA was under assault from Congress and Bush’s nomination was in peril in the Senate, there was now a dead CIA hero to mourn.”

James Risen
The Intercept
(December 8 2018)

Richard Welch — CIA Chief of Station in Athens

December 23 2022 — On December 15, 1975, a Senate committee opened hearings on whether George H.W. Bush should be confirmed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was not going to be a slam dunk. When the CIA Chief of Station was assassinated on December 23 1975, Bush quickly rewrote the history of this tragedy for his own political advantage. And later, his lies became the “truth”.  Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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“They are also angry that another former colleague, CIA officer and turncoat Philip Agee, whom they believe has Welch’s blood on his hands, was eulogized and given prominent obituaries in the U.S. and international media. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post has ever published a proper obituary for Welch, and his friends believe it is time for the story behind this fallen hero to be told.”

Terror in Athens — Remembering CIA Station Chief Dick Welch
Samantha Randazzo Childress and Carol “Rollie” Flynn

Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies — Volume 26 • Winter-Spring 2021

UPDATE — Samantha Randazzo Childress and Carol “Rollie” Flynn have written a very interesting article published in The Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies.

The piece offers many details about the case that had not been published before. Ralph Mariani, a former CIA operations officer, who was assigned to Athens Station at the time of the tragic event, was probably a source for the article which ends with a list of unanswered questions.

First, could Welch’s death have been prevented if he had lived in a different residence, rather than the villa where U.S. diplomats had resided for decades? This is a fair question; living in a known diplomatic residence is inherently insecure. However, if it is true that Greek intelligence authorities leaked his name and address, it likely would not have mattered. KYP would have known where Welch lived even if he had a different residence, and they could have exposed that address just as easily.

The question of possible Greek obstruction is more complex. In Greece, all government positions, down to the level of the local police, were political to some degree. It was common practice for senior police officers to resign if their party was voted out of power, and they generally took their case files with them, making it difficult for their successors to continue with investigations. On the other hand, Estes and others believe it likely that someone affiliated with Greek intelligence had leaked Station officers’ names and addresses to the press. While there is no hard evidence of obstruction, there is considerable suspicion that the Greeks were less than rigorous in pursuing this investigation.

Perhaps the most compelling question is whether 17N received help in designing and carrying out this attack? They were a relatively new terrorist organization with little prior experience or operational track record. How could they so quickly have learned to plan, execute, and get away with such a high-profile attack?

There is also the matter of Philip Agee’s role in exposing Welch’s name and CIA affiliation, and the degree to which Agee’s activities contributed to Welch’s death remains an open question. Agee’s defenders would claim that Welch’s identity had already been published elsewhere in Europe before it appeared in Agee’s magazine CounterSpy.

The authors come to the conclusion that finding definitive answers to these questions is unlikely.

PS — Although Welch had never served in the military, President Ford approved the request for the funeral and burial at Arlington Cemetery.

The level of ceremony was unprecedented for a serving CIA officer. In addition to CIA Director William Colby, President Ford and then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also attended the funeral for Welch.


“Remember Phil Agee, who I consider a traitor to our country? The guy encouraged the publishing of names of those serving under cover, sacrificing their lives. And Counterspy magazine did publish names, including the name of Richard Welch, our station chief in Greece, who shortly thereafter was gunned down in Greece outside his residence.”

President George H. W. Bush
(September 17, 1997)

Then, on December 23, 1975 — eight days after his confirmation hearing — Richard Welch, the CIA’s station chief in Greece, was returning home from a Christmas party at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Athens when he was assassinated.

Bush, the CIA and the Ford White House quickly saw Welch’s murder as a political windfall. Fake News and playing dirty didn’t start yesterday.

On April 13 2017, CIA Director Mike Pompeo  delivered his first public speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

While mainstream media have mostly reported that Pompeo denounced WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence agency”, nobody pointed out that Pompeo clearly distorted historical facts to suit his narrative.

In his attempt to build a parallel between Philip Agee and Julian Assange, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said:

“That man was Philip Agee, one of the founding members of the magazine Counterspy, which in its first issue in 1973 called for the exposure of CIA undercover operatives overseas.

In its September 1974 issue, Counterspy publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA Chief of Station in Athens.

Later, Richard’s home address and phone number were outed in the press in Greece.

In December 1975, Richard and his wife were returning home from a Christmas party in Athens.

When he got out of his car to open the gate in front of his house, Richard Welch was assassinated by a Greek terrorist cell.

At the time of his death, Richard was the highest-ranking CIA officer killed in the line of duty.”

The story as told by Mike Pompeo is incorrect, not just for one, but for a series of reasons.

First, let us point out the obvious. Counterspy could not have publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA Chief of Station in Athens in September 1974 since Welch arrived in Greece in July 1975!

Secondly, while it is true that Agee wrote the lead article in CounterSpy’s Winter 1975 edition, it was a separate article in that edition that named Welch. Agee had no knowledge of this article on Welch until after its publication.

Thirdly,  Agee was not a co-founder of the magazine.

Fourthly, the CounterSpy story was hardly ‘news’ as the identity of Richard Welch had been revealed to the public since 1968.

And finally, N17 – the group that assassinated Welch — did not need any of this information as the CIA Chiefs of Station in Athens had been living in the same house for the last 25 years.

The story told by Pompeo is simply a lie. N17 did not rely on anything Agee did in order to identify Richard Welch.

William Colby — the then CIA Director — admitted as much in a piece published by the Los Angeles Times on December 28 1977.

Actually, Pompeo is not the first Director to propagate this FAKE NEWS.

George H. W. Bush — CIA Director from 1976 to 1977 — had also  accused Agee of being responsible for the death of Richard Welch.

Barbara Bush repeated the claim in her 1994 memoir.  The accusation was removed from its paperback edition after Agee sued her for libel.

Instead of admitting gross negligence for the death of Richard Welch, the CIA — under Bush — re-wrote the circumstances of his death in order to turn the political tide back in favor of the CIA after the damning revelations made by the Church Committee earlier in 1975.

Eventually, Welch’s murder was used politically to help the passage of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, making it illegal to reveal the name of an agent who has a covert relationship with an American intelligence organization.

RELATED POST: CIA “Roger”: Mike D’Andrea and the “Intelligence Identities Protection Act”

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“Today, there are still plenty of Philip Agees in the world, and the harm they inflict on U.S. institutions and personnel is just as serious today as it was back then. They don’t all come from the Intelligence Community, share the same background, or use precisely the same tactics as Agee, but they are certainly his soulmates.”

CIA Director Mike Pompeo
(April 13 2017)

CounterSpy is now online by GIZMODO

On March 12 2018, GIZMODO published a story —Thanks to the CIA, Issues of the Agency’s Most-Hated Magazine Are Now Online — which independently confirmed my own findings on the subject.

Long before Wikileaks was promoting “radical transparency” in the digital age, CounterSpy was publishing a magazine that named CIA station chiefs and exposed covert operations.

Now, 23 issues from its 32-issue run have been pulled from the CIA’s own archives and digitized for your perusal. We can neither confirm nor deny that the agency is happy about this.


The article that made CounterSpy infamous ran in the Winter 1975 issue. “Chiefs of Station: Who They Are & What They Do” advocated for revealing the names and assignments of CIA station chiefs. It also named about 100 chiefs in the process, including Richard Welch, who was later murdered by Marxist terrorists in Athens in December of 1975.

The article became a touch point for CIA officials to criticize Philip Agee, a former agent who wrote another piece in that same issue.

Both Agee and Counterspy were blamed for Welch’s death, despite the fact that Agee didn’t write the article and Welch was already exposed as an agent in 1968. Long after he stepped down as director of the CIA, George H.W. Bush continued to hold Agee responsible for Welch’s murder.

Barbara Bush did the same in her 1994 memoir—until Agee sued her for libel. The claim was removed from later printings of the book.

More recently, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo repeated this account while denouncing WikiLeaks and comparing their practices to Agee’s. In the process, Pompeo incorrectly claimed that Welch was named by CounterSpy as the CIA’s Athens station chief (the magazine listed him as Lima station chief).

Dr. Susan Maret, an academic and intelligence researcher, combed through that mess [the CIA’s CREST archive for CounterSpy] for everyone and found 23 issues which she provided to AltGov2.

They’ve all been digitized for searchability and are almost entirely intact, although that most infamous issue from 1975 has been heavily redacted. Check them out here.

How George H.W. Bush Rode a Fake National Security Scandal to the Top of the CIA by James Risen (December 8 2018)

But the CIA and the Ford White House quickly saw Welch’s murder as a political windfall. At a time when the CIA was under assault from Congress and Bush’s nomination was in peril in the Senate, there was now a dead CIA hero to mourn.

Ford, waiving restrictions, announced that Welch could be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The plane carrying his body back home in early January “circled Andrews Air Force Base for three quarters of an hour in order to land live during the Today Show,” according to Johnson’s book.

The CIA and the White House began to exploit Welch’s death to discredit Church and his committee’s work. William Colby, the outgoing CIA director, lashed out at Congress, blaming Welch’s killing on the “sensational and hysterical way the CIA investigations had been handled and trumpeted around the world,” Johnson writes.

There was not a shred of evidence that anything the Church Committee had done had led to Welch’s murder. But the truth didn’t matter to the CIA and the Ford White House, and the campaign to discredit Church and his committee’s investigation worked. After Welch’s murder, public support for the Church Committee waned.

The changed climate proved helpful to Bush. On January 27, 1976, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond argued for his confirmation by claiming that the public was more concerned by disclosures that “are tearing down the CIA” than by the “selection of this highly competent man to repair the damage of this over-exposure,” according to Johnson’s book. Later that day, Bush was confirmed by a vote of 64-27.


Bush’s political career owes much to the misuse of Welch’s murder. Above all, it helped start a Republican tradition of generating fake national security scandals to discredit Democrats and win political battles.

In the wake of Bush’s death, many in the mainstream press and political elite have pinned him to a bygone era of civility, when partisanship was held in check out of concern for some greater good.

But playing dirty didn’t start yesterday. There is a straight line from Welch to pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Benghazi, and Nunes’s farcical midnight search for evidence that Trump was wiretapped.

UPDATE (December 23 2019) — This past summer, the CIA has urged lawmakers to pass a bill that will make it a criminal offence to reveal the identity of CIA operatives working in the US. [Currently, only those who work, or have recently worked, under cover are protected.]

RELATED POST: Two Years Ago — New York Times vs. CIA : “An Old Debate Wrapped in New Clothes”

RELATED POST: CIA “Roger”: Mike D’Andrea and the “Intelligence Identities Protection Act”

Critics of the law warned it will hobble free speech and discourage whistleblowers from revealing crimes committed by the CIA.

As Trevor Timm — the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation — wrote,

“Under the proposed law, any journalist who, say, revealed the names of ‘covert’ CIA officers that had engaged in torture or ordered drone strikes on civilians would now be subject to prosecution — even if the newsworthy actions occurred years or decades prior or the officer in question has always been located in the United States.”

According to an analysis posted by Mary Wheeler, even Linked In could be charged under a newly expanded Intelligence Identities Protection Act [IIPA].

Although, the proposal has been reported by several MSM, not a single journalist seems to remember that the IIPA was born out of a fictional account of CIA Athens station chief Richard Welch’s assassination (1975) in Greece.

According to former CIA officer John Kiriakou, the CIA managed to get a pass on crimes even before they are committed.


How George H.W. Bush Rode a Fake National Security Scandal to the Top of the CIA by James Risen — The Intercept

Director Pompeo Delivers Remarks at CSIS — CIA Website

Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Richard S. Welch — CIA Website

Philip Agees Sues Barbara Bush for Libel — D.Brandt Analysis

The murder that sparked Identities Protection Act — Chicago Tribune

Turning Against the CIA: Whistleblowers During the ‘Time of Troubles’ — Christopher Moran


On This Day — CIA COS Richard Welch Is Assassinated in Athens (December 23 1975)

On This Day — CIA COS Richard Welch Is Assassinated in Athens (December 23 1975) [2019]

On This Day — CIA COS Richard Welch Is Assassinated in Athens (December 23 1975) [2020]

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