Moments in Time

23 DECEMBER 1975

The Assassination of CIA Man Richard Welch

The Central Intelligence Agency is an enormous organisation and one that closely monitors publications and features concerning its activities. It also has a dedicated unit which controls and edits books and reports published by its former staffers. However, like MI5 and MI6, some of its officers have, in the past, written books and disclosed facts about its operations with disastrous results. At best intelligence leaks can lead to the loss of vital information, at worst it can result in the loss of lives. And this indeed is what happened in 1975, when gunmen from the Greek terrorist group November 17 shot dead Richard Welch, the CIA's Station Chief in Athens on his own doorstep.

The CIA was furious when a book written by Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary was published with the clandestine help of the Cuban government. Agee, who had served with Langley in Cuba and Latin America in 1969, became sympathetic to Marxism. Cuban intelligence officers persuaded him to identify everyone he knew was associated with the CIA, agents, governments and companies. Washington moved quickly and banned the book, but Agee published the work in England outside the jurisdiction of US courts. Other names were published in a magazine called Counter Spy, an extreme anti-CIA newsletter published by far-left American journalists. In one edition of publication, the name and address of the CIA's Richard Welch was revealed. The data was reprinted in the English language version of Athens News on 25 November 1975. Four weeks later Mr Welch was shot and killed.

In the edition of Counter Spy which had published Welch's name and address, Agee had written: "The most effective and important systematic efforts to combat the CIA that can be taken right now are, I think, the identification, exposure and neutralisation of its people working abroad."

The CIA read this as an invitation by terrorists to take out its known officers.

Agee denied his revelations had anything to do with Mr Welch's death, and said that an East German publication had identified Welch as a CIA officer as early as 1967. He also pointed out that the CIA station house in Athens was well known.