Greek journalist Elias P. Demetracopoulos relocated to Washington, D.C. after the Greek military junta took power; from there he waged a campaign against them, with the pen and his investigative reporting skills as his sword.
NEW YORK - Greek journalist Elias Demetracopoulos, who has been based in the Washington, D.C. since 1967, was on both former president Richard Nixon's and the Greek military junta's enemies list. Today, at 82, he has outlived both. Nonetheless his struggle against them continues - evidenced by the stacks of photocopies that fill his assisted living center suite, where he has resided since an injury a few years ago, still pushing a quest for justice. When reviewing nuggets of the past, he is prone to a thinly concealed cynical delivery, punctuated by the occasional good-hearted belly laugh. He prides himself on past scoops related to Watergate, Konstantinos G. Karamanlis and disgraced banker George Koskotas. "No other Greek journalist has been mentioned so often in the American and British mass media," wrote the Greek newspaper Apogevmatini in 2009. Demetracopoulos' kudos include an honorable Phoenix award from the Greek President.
The reporter's biggest claim to fame is uncovering the Greek Watergate connection. He discovered that, in 1968, the Greek military junta's intelligence agency (KYP) made a $549,000 donation to Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign - via Greek American supporter Tom Pappas. This, Demetracopoulos says (in an interview this journalist videotaped for a forthcoming Greek documentary) made him "a press target of destruction by the Nixon administration and (Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry) Kissinger," the then US secretary of state Demetracopoulos said wanted him dead. It wasn't that personal for the journalist. As he wrote in a 2001 Naval Review Proceedings article: "I did not have a political ax to grind. I got my kicks from scooping other reporters. It is often hard for people in public life to understand that this is what drives most reporters. Few reporters want to beat to death an office-holder or an institution so much as they want to beat the reporter next to them."
Demetracopoulos, who was born in Athens in 1928, and imprisoned when just a teen in 1943 by the Nazi occupiers, began his reporting career in Greece, with political writing and editing at the leading newspaper Kathimerini. By the early 1950's, he had a formidable cache of key international and diplomatic contacts. It was on his first assignment in the U.S. in 1951 that he had the first of many run-ins with the Central Intelligence Agency. He recalls a CIA agent named John Zimmerman coming to his room at the National Hotel and inviting him to work for the agency. "I was angry," he recalls, repeating again, "I was angry, but I told him off and that was the end of it." He maintains that after he interviewed several top U.S. admirals, the CIA pressured the International Herald Tribune to stop working with him (he also wrote for Macedonia, Athens Daily Post, Ethnos and Thessaloniki.) A few years later he proved the agency unlawfully tapped his phone in the U.S.
A series of interviews in the U.S. in 1966, with political figures such as Eugene McCarthy and Edward Kennedy led him to publish a prophetic book The Threat of Dictatorship, in which he revealed an impending military solution being concocted against Greece. Demetracopoulos says he briefed both Greek Center Union Party leader George Papandreou and Prime Minister Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, "who were really upset." Shortly afterward, however, the junta took over and the book was banned. Demetracopoulos similarly later tried to warn the U.S. and world into action against the invasion of Cyprus, to no avail.
From the start of the junta, Demetracopoulos was determined to leave Greece. Though his passport was taken by the Greek junta, Danish authorities helped him slip out of a United Nations conference in Warsaw, Poland to escape to Copenhagen and, finally, the U.S. on October 1, 1967. Sound like a movie? There are at least two plans for documentaries about Demetracopoulos in the works. Greek filmmaker Angelos Kovotsos is working on a production with company Portolan Films, while U.S. writer James Barron, who is currently writing a biography on Demetracopoulos, also plans for a States-side film project. The Massachusetts-based Barron, who has interviewed the journalist extensively, and promises to reveal previously unpublished information, calls Demetracopoulos "a fiercely independent person." He adds: "Because of his independence, he paid a very heavy price."
After his arrival in the U.S., the savvy journalist made no secret of his opposition to the Greek junta. Before long, he established himself in D.C., and constantly fed meaty information from Washington to Athens and vice versa. He also worked for many years as a consultant at financial company Brimberg & Company. When Nixon announced that his running mate would be the Greek American governor Spiro Agnew, Demetracopoulos recalls feeling a false sense of optimism. After all Agnew, who Demetracopoulos met in 1966, and even considered a "good friend," said he'd stay neutral regarding the junta. But then at Agnew's first major public appearance, as a vice presidential candidate, at the National Press Club, "something funny happened." Demetracopoulos recalls - as if it were yesterday - that when asked about his position on the dictatorship, in his first big public address, vice presidential candidate Agnew "picked up a piece of paper from his pocket" and read a response "1,000% in support of the dictatorship."
The significance of the event, he explains - with a characteristic low, bitter laugh - is that just two days later, coup leader George Papadopoulos held his first plebiscite in Greece. From then on, says Demetracopoulos, referring to himself and Agnew, it was "one Greek against another Greek." He adds: "From then on, it was war all the way."
Fueled by the question of why Agnew so abruptly changed his mind, the journalist put "the Demetracopoulos Method" into action and discovered the Greek junta's funds for Nixon. The important thing was to feed the news to the right people. Finally, Democratic National Committee Chairman Lawrence O'Brian of California - "an old friend" - issued a press statement asking Nixon and Agnew to come clean on the matter "and this led to the '72 break in," at the Watergate complex, says Demetracopoulos. In July 1971, he appeared as a witness in a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee investigation of the U.S. role in the Greek junta. Noted authors Seymour Hersch, Stanley I. Kutler and Christopher Hitchens are among those who have written about the Greek journalist's sleuthing. In the mid 1980's, Demetracopoulos' discovery set the groundwork for the revelation that Greek cash, via Pappas, paid directly for the Watergate burglars. Later, Demetracopoulos also revealed the shocker that past and future prime minister of Greece Constantine G. Karamanlis had also backed a U.S.-led junta.
In an ominous side note, Kissinger, in whose honor Demetracopoulos had held a luncheon two decades earlier at the Grand Bretagne in Athens, seems to have wanted the journalist's head. In 1977, Demetracopoulos was able to obtain a document from Kissinger's files that read: "Mr. Demetracopoulos Death in Athens Prison." Fixing a steady gaze on his interviewer, Demetracopoulos speaks of himself in the third person: "First, Mr. Demetracopoulos is still alive. And second, he has not died in an Athens prison. Can you explain? We never got an explanation yet." Demetracopoulos is not in the habit of letting such injuries drop. He successfully sued both the C.I.A. and F.B.I., who revealed they had been unlawfully tapping his lines during the junta years. He also sued the CIA for circulating false information - most notably to the New York Times - that he was "associated with the Yugoslav and Israeli intelligence sources." His name was cleared by the FBI in 1984 and Washington Bank Riggs National Bank apologized in 1985 for unlawfully giving the FBI access to his accounts. "He won," says biographer Barron, pointing out that where others may have crumbled, Demetracopoulos triumphed. Demetracopoulos' most recent attempt to take action against Kissinger in the Greek Supreme Court in 2003 did not lead anywhere, however. "It was a pity so much time and money was wasted," Demetracopoulos says, sadly, of his countless court battles.
Each name and story in Demetracopoulos' thick files leads to others. His work in the 1960's and 1970's has given way to more recent political revelations. It was Demetracopoulos who first uncovered the Greek business magnate Koskotas' tax problems in the U.S; the Koskotas scandal would topple Andreas Papandreou's PASOK government in 1989. Demetracopoulos' name even appears in the 2001 book The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. It turns out that Lucianne Goldberg, a literary agent linked to the Monica Lewinsky affair, started her career by circulating - back in the Nixon days - Georgia politician John P. Rousakis' slanderous statement that Demetracopoulos was "an obscure Greek Communist journalist." Looking back, Demetracopoulos says, "It has been an interesting life," though many of his enemies may have faded away, and a few may cringe at the knowledge that more scoops are to come. The journalist keeps adding clippings to his rich paper trail, while new works about him promise to air dark corners of history that others would prefer remain hidden. That's the Demetracopolos list.
August 28th, 2010