With the Olympics slated for Athens this summer, Greece has become one of the most attractive terrorist targets in the world. Law enforcement authorities have been working for years to ensure that the Games will be safe, and much of the media’s attention has been focused on the threat posed by Al Qaeda and similar groups. But while global terror networks are clearly a major concern, the most immediate threat faced by local authorities was Greece’s own “November 17” group, which was Europe’s most notorious and elusive terror group of the past two decades. But thanks to the efforts of FBI Special Agent Robert Clifford, November 17 was dealt a crushing blow and now poses a greatly reduced risk to the Olympics this summer and to the Greek public in the future.
For years, the State Department spent more on security at the U.S. Embassy in Greece than anywhere else in the world, largely due to the threat posed by November 17. Since it first struck in 1975, November 17 has carried out more than 100 attacks, killing nearly two dozen people, including five employees of the U.S. Embassy, wounding dozens more Americans, and causing millions of dollars in property damage. Remarkably, in all that time, not a single member of November 17 was ever identified, much less arrested. After Robert Clifford’s arrival in Athens, that all changed.
In November 2000, Clifford took over the leadership of what was then a faltering joint Greek-U.S. effort to combat November 17, reorganized the outfit, initiated productive investigative leads, and provided a good deal of technical assistance and prosecutorial advice to get the Greek authorities up to speed. Thanks to these efforts, when a major break in the case came in June 2002, they were ready to pounce.
That summer, a bomb unexpectedly went off in the Greek port of Piraeus, injuring the terrorist who was planting it. The bomber confessed to being a part of November 17, and working with Greek authorities, Clifford was able to capitalize on this break to deliver unbelievable results. Within months, 19 key members of the organization had been arrested, and by the end of December 2003, 15 of the 19 had been convicted, with the main perpetrators receiving multiple life sentences.
During the prosecution of the case, Clifford worked closely with Greek authorities to ensure that their DNA evidence was irrefutable. He assisted the Greek prosecutor in developing the line of questioning of key witnesses. And he learned and utilized Greek law to help achieve U.S. objectives in this case. All the while, Clifford always maintained the human touch, as he became the principal point of contact for the victims’ families throughout the investigation and prosecution process.
Robert Clifford has made it far more likely that the major news coming from the Olympics this summer will come from the pool, court or track—not from a terror attack. But the benefits of his efforts will be felt for years to come and beyond Greece’s borders. They will help decrease America’s security costs in the long run in Greece and ease the tension that employees and family members have felt at this post during the past three decades. And perhaps more important, they send a powerful message to would-be terrorists: even if it takes three decades, the United States does not forget those who endanger, threaten and attack our citizens, and in the end, justice will be served.