Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
[We have a copy of this buried somewhere in our archives but found it more easily elsewhere on the net. The result of this case was that Barbara Bush removed her allegations about Agee in the 2nd edition of her book.]
NY Transfer News Collective Sat, 9 Sep 1995 14:20:48 -0400 (EDT)
Libel Suit: Philip Agee vs Barbara Bush
[Some context, first, from the mainstream Reuters news agency, followed by Daniel Brandt's analysis -- NY Transfer]
WASHINGTON (Reuter) - Philip Agee, a former CIA operative who turned against the spy agency, announced Wednesday he had filed a $4 million libel suit against Barbara Bush, saying she had wrongly linked him to the assassination of a senior CIA officer.
Agee, who led a worldwide campaign in the late 1970s to unmask Central Intelligence Agency officers, accused the former first lady of making false and defamatory statements about him in her 1994 autobiography, ``A Memoir.''
Agee claims he has been unfairly tarred by the CIA and U.S. officials in connection with the December 23, 1975, assassination of Richard Welch, CIA station chief in Athens.
Mrs. Bush wrote in her book that Agee disclosed Welch's identity in a ``traitorous, tell-all'' book published shortly before Welsh's assassination by a Greek extremist group.
Agee asserts in his suit, however, that nowhere in his 1975 book, ``Inside the Company: A CIA Diary'', did he mention Welch. Nor, he says, did he ever mention Welch in any publication or communication before Welch's death.
Agee said he was suing Mrs Bush because her claim that he exposed Welch was ``particularly egregious'' since her husband, former president George Bush, became CIA director 38 days after the killing.
``The man's name was not in my book,'' Agee said in a telephone interview from his home in Hamburg, Germany. ``She's just repeating what her husband and others have been saying ... This just cannot stand.''
Agee had his passport revoked in 1979 for allegedly having damaged U.S. national security.
Lynne Bernabei, Agee's Washington lawyer, told a press conference that Agee, 60, had suffered serious damage to his reputation ``as a result of the CIA's concerted efforts -- this time through the baseless allegations in Mrs. Bush's autobiography -- to malign him and falsely ascribe blame to him for a death that was caused by its own ineptitude.''
In addition to compensatory and punitive damages of at least $4 million, the suits seeks a full retraction by Barbara Bush and her publisher, Charles Scribner's Sons and Simon & Schuster, that Agee caused or contributed to Welch's killing.
A spokesman for the Bush family in Houston, Jim McGrath, declined comment on the suit.]
Philip Agee v. Barbara Bush: An Analysis of the Case by Daniel Brandt
Richard Welch was killed in December, 1975 in Athens. A Greek urban guerrilla group calling itself "November 17" took credit for the killing.
Richard Welch's name was first published in "Who's Who in CIA" by Julius Mader (East Berlin, 1968), along with 2500 other names.
It was also published in early 1975 by Counterspy Magazine (Winter 1975 issue, page 26), along with about 100 other names. This issue of Counterspy listed Welch as residing in Lima, Peru -- which was his previous posting. In the next issue, Summer 1975, Counterspy again listed Welch as a CIA officer, under cover as an attache at the U.S. embassy in Lima.
Welch was listed in the 1969 State Department Biographic Register and the 1973 State Department Biographic Register, and no doubt others as well (these are the two I have handy). In both the 1969 and 1973 listings, the biographic details peg him as an obvious CIA officer for those who know how to read the Register.
Counterspy could have gotten its information from the Biographic Register. Beginning in 1975, the Biographic Register was given a "Limited Official Use" classification, but before 1975 it was available to the public. In the Washington Monthly, November 1974, an article by former State Department official John Marks, titled "How to Spot a Spook," described how to read the Biographic Register.
In fact, Counterspy told Agee that a Maryknoll priest who worked as a missionary in Peru had visited their office a year earlier, and brought with him a copy of a Peruvian journal with Welch's name in it as the CIA chief in Lima. ("On the Run," p. 133)
In late November, 1975 the Athens News named ten CIA people in Greece, and included Welch's name and address. It is said that even the local tour buses would point out the home of the CIA station chief as they drove by.
Agee's book came out in 1975, which blew the cover on dozens of CIA officers. By the Summer 1975 issue of Counterspy, Agee was listed on the advisory board of Counterspy, along with 15 other prominent activists.
By the time Agee's book came out, the CIA's Ted Shackley was running a major operation to control the damage to the CIA and discredit Agee (see David Corn's "Blond Ghost," 1994). The Welch assassination was also seen a convenient "hook" for stopping the Congressional investigations of the CIA, by changing the focus from "what is the CIA doing around the world," to the issue of "endangering the lives of officers by naming names." The media, which the CIA can manipulate by planting stories and calling in chits from friendly reporters, pretty much fell for this. The CIA had every reason to play up the Welch assassination, and nothing to lose.
The "November 17" group, according to Agee's autobiography "On the Run" (1987), had been stalking Welch's predecessor in Athens, Stacy Hulse, until Welch replaced him in mid-1975. They knew what Welch ate, what cars he drove, and the hours he came and left his residence. ("On the Run," page 134).
It's apparent that "November 17" did not rely on anything Agee did in order to identify Richard Welch. Even William Colby admitted as much:
>From the Los Angeles Times, 12/28/77, part I, page 8: ..
"[William] Colby said 'bad cover' contributed to the assassination two years ago of Richard Welch, CIA station chief in Athens. This was partly a result of administrative practices that made it easy to identify CIA employes from embassy lists, he said.
"Besides, Colby said, Welch 'accepted the bad cover' by living in the same house as his predecessor and by making only minimal efforts to disguise his identity.
"Although an Athens newspaper published a story naming Welch as a CIA official shortly before his death, Colby said this had only the indirect effect of inflaming potential killers to strike at CIA employes. He said Welch's cover was not adequate to hide him, even without the newspaper account.
"Subcommittee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) reminded Colby that CIA spokesmen called a number of newspapers the morning after Welch's death to suggest that the assassination was a direct result of the newspaper's printing his name.
"'I have pretty specifically avoided saying that,' Colby said. 'Maybe you are right about the first few telephone calls.'"
As Colby suggests in the above quotations, elements within the CIA seized on the Welch assassination as a convenient way to discredit Agee. But the details of what happened don't support their propaganda that Agee was responsible for Welch's death. The media, however, didn't worry about the details and tended to repeat the CIA's line. By 1982 the CIA's campaign was successful: the investigations had stopped and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was signed by Ronald Reagan.
Barbara Bush and her fact-checkers were careless, and forgot to make allowances for the fact that George Bush has always been willing to believe the worst about Agee. George inherited the weak cover problems during his tenure as CIA director immediately following Welch's assassination.
Agee's lawsuit, if it goes to trial, hinges on whether the judge will limit the evidence to the facts of the Welch death specifically. If the judge limits the testimony, Barbara had better reach for her pocketbook. However, if the judge allows the issue of "naming names" in general to be admitted into evidence, then Agee might not even get an apology. Barbara's defense will be that although she got the "letter" of the facts wrong, she had the "spirit" of the general situation correct.
Needless to say, if the judge is interested in his own career, he won't go against the CIA and Barbara and George. Nevertheless, Agee's lawsuit is a good idea, because it might stop some of the sloppy history, disinformation, and shoot-from-the-hip impressionism that has plagued the issue of Welch, Agee, and "naming names." If you are going to pump out disinformation, you should at least be held accountable for getting the facts right.
[Daniel Brandt is President of Public Information Research in San Antonio and non-profit publisher of Namebase http://www.namebase.org as well as several other very interesting websites including Google-watch at http://www.google-watch.org and has also developed the alternative search-engine Scroogle.]