In Greece, terrorists usually follow assassinations with explanations. The country's deadliest group, the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, is religious about ringing 929-6001 and notifying the Eleftherotypia, an Athens daily, of the whereabouts of its proclamations. But on the night of June 8, that decades-old practice took an unconventional twist. Fourteen hours after gunmen pumped four bullets into Brigadier Stephen Saunders, Britain's top military envoy to Athens, 17 November rang the cell phone of an Eleftherotypia staff writer. Apparently the terrorists were aware that police had, for the first time ever, tapped the newspaper's telephones. "If this leak isn't proof of collusion between state-run authorities and members of 17 November," says an intelligence expert too scared to be named, "then I don't know what is."
Law-enforcement authorities and the government did not respond to repeated requests for a comment on the apparent leak. But the incident follows reports from the State Department and Congress criticizing Greece for failure to act against 17 November, a Marxist-Leninist group that has operated with impunity since 1975. Some former U.S. officials now allege that past high-ranking members of the country's ruling Socialists have had links with the terrorist group. Since then, the group has killed an additional 22 Greek and foreign nationals, including four American officials. Saunders, 53 and the father of two, was the first British envoy to be slain by the notorious terrorists, who are occasionally portrayed by Greek media as latter-day Robin Hood ideologues, battling Western overlords and NATO in pursuit of Greek interests, and in defense of Greece's onetime close allies the Serbs. When NATO launched its 1999 bombing blitz of Yugoslavia, 17 November, plus a sideshow of some 80 extremist groups, retaliated in Greece with a spate of bomb and rocket attacks that led the U.S. State Department to rank Greece, a NATO ally, second only to Colombia in worldwide stings against U.S. interests last year. A congressionally mandated commission followed, recommending that the U.S. consider sanctions against Athens for its "disturbingly passive response" to terrorism. R. James Woolsey, former CIA chief and a member of the terror commission, testified after the report's release that though Greece had been given "substantial information" on 17 November, and had gathered much of its own, it had failed to act. Woolsey even broached a taboo topic in Greece--the fate of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. "As long as 17 November is still potentially a greeting committee for Americans and others," he said, "people should at least begin to rethink the location of the Olympics."
What most infuriates the U.S. is that 17 November operates with a free hand. "It's not that Greece has the world's worst terrorist problem," says Wayne Merry, a former U.S. embassy official. "It's that Greece has the world's worst counterterrorism problem." What are Greek police doing? "Zilch, zip, zero," huffs a U.S. official. Not one arrest. Not one conviction.