Please find below:

(1) US Ambassador to Greece Nicholas Burns' letter to American Hellenic Media Project Executive Director Phillip Spyropoulos; and

(2) Mr. Spyropoulos' personal response to Mr. Burns.


June 12, 2000

Dear Mr. Spyropoulos,

As American Ambassador to Greece, I have consistently argued for fair American press and public commentary concerning our ally in Athens. You may have noticed, in fact, that I was the first person to object publicly last week when the Congressional Commission on Terrorism called for consideration of sanctions against Greece for its failure to stop the 17 November terrorist group. I am a friend of Greece and will always stand up for Greeks when they are unjustly criticized. In this sense, I have admired your own efforts to speak up when Greece and Greeks are not accorded ethical and historically just treatment in the United States.

I must tell you, however, that I was genuinely shocked to read your article, Phantom Terror, in which you allege that "British Brigadier Stephen Saunders may have been as much a victim in the State Department's misleading hype regarding Greece's terrorism problem, as of an ineffective counter-terrorism effort itself."

To state baldly that we in the United States Government bears any blame for our friend and colleague's brutal murder at the hands of a Marxist-Leninist terror group is grotesque and immoral. I am appalled that you would make such a charge publicly, especially against your own government. It is the terrorists who are at fault. I would hope that you would issue a clear and immediate apology to the victims and all of us who represent the United States overseas.

You charge that our public discussion of terrorism, in essence, provoked 17 November to murder Brigadier Saunders, but the 17 November proclamation itself refutes this fallacy: It claims 17 November followed Saunders since March, before the two terrorism reports were issued. The group's modus operandi is to plan attacks for months ahead of time, not to respond immediately to what is said by governments.

Unlike you, my colleagues and I live in Athens as targets of 17 November. Five officials of our embassy have been murdered by this group during the last 25 years, and 30 have been wounded. We had a rocket-propelled grenade fired at our chancery building four years ago. During the past two and a half years, 24 American businesses have been bombed. Many of those bombings were claimed by 17 November. These are the cruel and irrefutable, not imagined, facts.

You insinuate that the State Department has exaggerated the past year's bombings. Try telling that to my colleagues in our Consulate General in Thessaloniki, who were told by our experts that they could have been killed by a 20-canister gas bomb had it not been defused by our own guards in the spring of 1999. Try telling that to the employees of the Fulbright Commission, all of whom would have been killed at their office had brave Greek police not defused a powerful bomb in the same month. Your attempt to downplay these incidents simply does not square with the objective facts.

Terrorism is a deadly matter in Greece. The people responsible for the attacks are the terrorists themselves, and no one else. Terrorism has been unchecked in Greece for too long. Far too many people, including your own countrymen, have been killed. I suggest you turn your logic and sense of moral purpose to the task which we are engaged in with the Greek Government: to defeat the terrorists, and not to provide excuses for their deadly attacks. Greece's true friends will help it turn its undivided attention and full energy to arrest these murderers. Greece does not need apologists, but encouragement and support, to do the right thing.

Greece's history is replete with examples of individuals acting on the courage of their convictions to uphold the rule of law and human decency. I would hope you could add your voice to those ranks.

Sincerely yours,

R. Nicholas Burns

cc: Andy Athens
Andy Manatos
Eugene Rossides
John Sitilides
George Savidis
Angelos Tsacopoulos
Art Diamantouras-National Herald
Nancy Agris Savage-Hellenic Chronicle
Greg Maniatis
Greg Pappas
George Georgopoulos


June 15, 2000

To The Hon. R. Nicholas Burns:

I was very saddened to read your June 12th letter, as much for the distress that our editorial has caused you and your colleagues as for your evident misreading of it.

Although you ask for an apology, nothing written in our editorial warrants one. Our editorial was a response to a media environment that is incomplete, selective and one-sided on the issue. Worse yet, much of our press and many in our foreign policy establishment have been using Stephen Saunder's death as a pretext to demonize all Greeks following our worst tradition of ethnic-bating.

Hence perhaps the most troubling aspect of the terrorism reports is that there appears to be an intimate nexus between misograecist bigotry and those banging the loudest on the "Greece is a terrorist state" drum. One need only look to E. Wayne Merry's ethnic slurs, his demonstrated anti-Hellenism, and his close involvement with the manufacturing of the Greek terrorist threat hysteria as evidence.

Your focus on the fact that Greece does indeed have a terrorist problem that has resulted in loss of life, personal injury and property damage -- or your emphasis on the terrible effects such violence has on its victims and their families -- does not detract from the fact that the portrayal of Greece as among the most dangerous anti-American terrorist countries in the world was highly misleading and, quite simply, untrue.

Speaking out against this falsehood -- one that will have profound repercussions for both the U.S. and Greece as well as for the entire Balkan and Mideast region -- does not imply support of or indifference to terrorism, or the depreciation of the suffering visited upon its victims, and I am at a loss as to how you gleaned this impression from our editorial. I both hope and expect that all precautions will be taken by my government to protect the lives of Americans serving abroad.

Why you should be so outraged by our raising concerns in the Saunders murder regarding the symbiotic relationship between terrorists and their public exposure, particularly where such publicity was generated by government reports that single-handedly managed to manufacture and publicize the perception of an exaggerated terrorist threat in Greece, is difficult to understand. In their landmark book on terrorism, Terror and Taboo, Professors Joseba Zulaika and William Douglas explored how publicity and press coverage undoubtedly empower terrorists and encourage future terrorist acts, and how such publicity is in fact the vehicle through which terrorists' objectives are often achieved (Routledge, 1996).

In Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century, Professor Cindy Combs argues that sensational media coverage of terrorist acts "has raised questions about the media's complicity in today's terrorism" (p.143, Prentice Hall, 1997).

Thus this argument is hardly a new one, and rather than taking such deep offense to our raising of the issue, a more sober response would be to study and consider its impact on the prevention of terrorism.

November 17's own self-serving statement that Saunders' murder was planned far in advance should not preclude the very real possibility that the attack was an ad hoc response by the terrorists -- who had in any case a month to plan for the killing subsequent to the State Department report -- to reinforce the perception of their effectiveness as well as the impression, damaging to both the Greek government and to Greco-American relations, that Greece is a dangerous terrorist country.

This concern was echoed in an article published in The Independent that was otherwise critical of Greece's response to terrorism:

"The real reason Brigadier Saunders died, leaving his wife, Heather, a widow and depriving his two daughters of their father, was probably the absence of vulnerable Americans. . . His death came four days after a U.S. congressional committee announced in its annual report on world terrorism that `Greece remained one of the weakest links.'" ("Gunned down by the Athens Untouchables", Colin Smith, 6/11/00).

Given the sophistication, professionalism and resourcefulness of the terrorist group, if November 17 is receiving help from foreign interests whose purpose is to destabilize Greece or damage its relationship with the U.S. and the rest of Europe, inflammatory and exaggerated reports such as those issued by the State Department and the Congressional commission can only serve to further such agendas, and can only make November 17 appear more successful than it would otherwise be to its backers.

Your assertion that you were "appalled that [I] would make such a charge publicly, especially against [my] own government" indicates a misunderstanding not only of the relationship of our government to its citizens, but of what good citizenship entails.

Our government exists to serve its citizens, not the other way around. And it is not only our right but our duty as citizens to voice our dissent to policies that we believe are immoral or detrimental to our interests.

Your statement that "[t]he people responsible for terror attacks are the terrorists themselves and no one else" appears to be a sharp departure from the State Department's and the Congressional commission's position that the Greek government's inaction is also responsible for terrorism in Greece. Query, is this the Department's new position?

I was most troubled by the question I asked myself after reading your letter: why is a U.S. diplomat to a foreign country writing a highly critical letter (and disseminating it widely and publicly) to the director of an American media watchdog group?

As my representative abroad, I would hope that in the future, rather than discourage dissent and constructive free speech, you would keep an open mind to credible alternative viewpoints even if they are critical of the foreign policies to which you are committed.

That the terrorist killing of Stephen Saunders was an illegal and immoral act is so obvious that it should need no further clarification. The horror experienced by Brig. Saunders on the last day of his life, and the devastation it has brought upon his wife, his children and those who loved him, should not be dismissed or downplayed but should be mourned and contemplated upon.

Why? Not because he was a military attache or a British government official, but because he was a father, a son, a husband, a friend . . . In short, because he was a human being that was killed violently and intentionally by the hand of another. The same respect for life should be accorded all who are victims of violence, not because they are Americans or Greeks or diplomats or businessmen, but because they are human beings.

The problem with our foreign policy is that it only selectively recognizes this fact. This is at the heart not only of our problem with anti-American terrorism, but of our entire foreign policy mindset in the Balkans, the Middle East and beyond.

Our bombing campaign against Iraq, purportedly in response to Hussein's invasion of Kuwait which killed 200, caused the death of up to two million human beings like Stephen Saunders.

NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia killed up to 2,000 Serbs and Albanians, more people than were killed in Kosovo by Yugoslav troops fighting the KLA prior to our bombing campaign. These victims of our own violence were not unavoidable deaths resulting from proportional military necessity, but victims of what a Newsweek article correctly characterized as the "terror-bombing [of] civilians" ("The Kosovo Cover-Up", 5/15/00).

This, Mr. Burns, is what is "grotesque", "immoral" and "shocking".

Our government's support of what is in sum and substance an extension of the KLA -- a violent group that even our own State Department officials have described as a terrorist organization that is now busying itself ethnically cleansing Kosovo's Serb minority -- undermines our own position against terrorism, as does our consent to what has been characterized as Europe's largest and most dangerous state-sanctioned terrorist organization, Turkey's Grey Wolves.

Finally, you raise the point that, unlike myself, you and your colleagues "live life in Athens as targets of November 17". I sympathize with you as I too have received credible death threats from Turkish extremists. Which brings the point home that we are all losers to terrorism and to actions and policies that encourage it.

The surest way to deter terrorism and to advance American interests abroad is to pursue a foreign policy that promotes peace and justice, and not one that serves short-sighted political, ethnic, business or other parochial interests.


Phillip Spyropoulos

Posted: June 17, 2000

Click here to view the original "Phantom Terror" editorial

Click here to view coverage by The Washington Times of this exchange of letters

Click here to view an excerpt from a June 28, 2000 State Department briefing regarding this exchange of letters

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