The ghost of American CBS radio Middle East Bureau Chief George Polk lays uneasily at First Cemetery in Athens, Greece, 60 years after he was murdered in Salonika, found floating in the bay one week later and buried in late May 1948. Greece was then in the final round of a vicious civil war that pitted right wing Royalist forces – a British-backed king, the Greek army, and security, police, gendarmerie and extremist organisations – against the Greek Communist Party and its Democratic Army (DA) guerilla bands in the mountains. At that time, the government controlled virtually all of the major cities and towns in the country and the Communists held the rest, with safe haven and supplies available in Albania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. Albeit, the USSR lent little help to the insurgency, however, as Stalin had agreed at Yalta that Greece would remain within the British sphere of influence.
There was popular support for the DA based on its patriotic wartime fight against German and Italian occupiers; just as there was disaffection on the part of Greeks who saw their war-weary and devastated country under the thumb of the same discredited politicians who ushered in the Metaxas dictatorship of the 1930s. Letting the chips fall where they may, Polk's hard-hitting reports not only made him unpopular with the Greek government, but also with an American mission bent on all out support to Athens under the new Truman Doctrine of 1947 – a policy that had drawn a line against the Communists in order to prevent Greece from falling behind the Iron Curtain. Polk, a decorated US navy combat pilot in WWII whose work was looked on very favorably by Edward R. Murrow at CBS, was about to return to the US to accept a Nieman fellowship for a year at Harvard University.
His disappearance and death caused the doyen of American newsmen, Walter Lippmann, and others to mount an investigation into his murder: a US news reporter killed while doing his job. They chose prominent attorney William ("Wild Bill") Donovan and the legendary wartime head of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) flew to Athens with his hand picked investigator James Kellis, a Greek- American who had served with the Greek resistance. The facts were these: Polk had disappeared from his hotel room on the late evening of Saturday, May 8. He was fished out of the water not far from his hotel on Sunday morning May 16. He was clothed, hands and feet loosely bound, and blindfolded. He had been shot at close range in the back of his head and drowned. Hours before his death, he had eaten lobster and peas.
In the weeks before General Donovan's June 10 arrival in Athens, Polk's murder had been splashed daily across the front pages of the Greek press and had been reported on extensively by prominent commentators and newsmen in the US. The former was sensationalist and the latter angry, but guarded. His war correspondent's identity card and a Pan-Am airline pocket calendar had been mailed to Salonika's third police station on May 10 in a crudely- addressed envelope. Talk was rife that Polk had been murdered while trying to meet the DA's communist military commander "Markos" – for he'd asked almost everyone how he could get to "the other side" after he arrived Friday May 7 on a Greek military transport. Greek journalists somehow learned that Polk and his strikingly beautiful Greek wife Rea had a "lovers tiff" on the evening before he left Athens and turned his death into a crime passionale' involving an unknown third person. Others said Polk had committed suicide.
By then, however, the Greek side of the investigation had been turned over to Nicholas Mouscoundis, the tough head of Salonika's security police under the close supervision of the British Police and Prisons Mission to Greece. He had once broken the back of a Communist terrorist organisation in Salonika by threatening to roast a captured member on a spit while he was still alive. With the British taking the lead, in official circles the line was beginning to harden that Polk had likely been killed by the Communists. Donovan plunged into the investigation energetically and quickly let it be known that he and Washington wanted results. No doubt, Greek Minister of Public Order Constantine Rendis felt the pressure – knowing his country was surviving on massive US military and material assistance – even basic food.
Donovan met repeatedly with top officials and was assured that hundreds of police and security men were combing northern Greece searching for clues. Sir Charles Wickham, a tall, hardy, graduate of Harrow and Sandhurst, who had served in Siberia, Ulster, and elsewhere, and headed the police mission, told Donovan that they had information that a senior communist leading a team of 10 assassins and saboteurs were to have hit Salonika just about the time of Polk's disappearance. Not emphasised was the fact that the city was quiet that weekend and Polk's disappearance was the only incident of note. Kellis met frequently with Mouscoundis and several of Wickham's people who guided the investigation, specifically Colonels Martin and Stacy.
Kellis also located several old OSS agents and convinced them to help him conduct a unilateral investigation on the side. It took Kellis only weeks to become convinced that the Greeks were only going through the motions of a sham investigation. Mouscoundis told Kellis to back off and said that there were issues of Greek national importance at stake. By the end of June, Donovan was back in New York and Kellis was having difficulty convincing American charge d' affairs Karl Rankin and FBI special investigator Frederick Ayer (assigned by Secretary of State George Marshall) to press Greek authorities to broaden the investigation to include the political right.
Ayer insisted that Rea be interrogated as well as Polk's assistant Costas Hadjiargyris (the stepson of Prime Minister Themistocles Sophoulis) and a journalist for the US paper the Christian Science Monitor. He claimed that Rea had been a Greek Communist Party (KKE) courier when a stewardess for Greece's airline and Hadjiargyris was secretly a Communist.
A fledgling CIA Station under Robert Driscoll and Christian Freer had only begun to get its feet on the ground and were unable to match the reach and influence of the British. They too were inclined to go along with the theory of Communist guilt despite the fact that Kellis' sources were beginning to develop leads in other directions. Possibly out of respect for his wartime commander, Kellis seemed oblivious to Donovan's lack of interest into possible connections of the Greek right to the murder. He accepted Kellis's reports and filed them away. As Kellis's unilateral efforts were just beginning to bear fruit, on his next trip to Greece Donovan only warmed to a list of 10 names that Kellis had thought might possibly have connections with the murder.
For reasons that are unclear, he had even underlined the name of Gregory Staktopoulos – a young Salonika journalist for Macedonia and a Reuters stringer who had briefly met Polk on the first evening Polk was in town and had subsequently inquired about him to another journalist friend.
Before returning again to the states, Donovan passed the list to Mouscoundis and bore down on him with the instruction, "An arrest is desired!" But as summer wore on, it's also clear that Kellis and Donovan had become aware of the startling news that by August 24 was the subject of a classified telegram from the US embassy in Athens to the department: that the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Constantine Tsaldaris was concealing an illegal account at the Chase Bank in New York City that contained USD 25,000 – a very large sum in 1948 (Further information through embassy source indicates a lump deposit of USD 25,000 made to Chase Bank a relatively short time before Polk's murder.
This info previously was sent to the department in a personal letter to Baxter. Attempting to obtain information on (name is blanked out) financial status.) Tsaldaris, an ex-Prime Minister and head of the Populist Party (pro-Royalist) with a power base in the port of Piraeus, and ties to the right wing extremist "X" organisation was perhaps the most powerful man in Greece.
An undated message sent by the State Department to the FBI released to author Kati Marton in 1988 states: (Greek Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Populist Party who presented Greek case to the UN Security Council is reported to have a large sum of money on deposit in one or more banks in New York City.
George Polk is rumored to have had knowledge of these deposits. Will the Bureau please endeavor to verify this and inform the department.) According to Rea Polk, in April her husband had received an unsolicited letter from an employee at the Chase Bank in New York with the above information. He confided this information to only a few close friends, a Mr. M. Johnson of the CARE agency and Dr. Homer Davis, the head of the American College in Athens. She also relates how on May 3, a Monday, Polk confronted Tsaldaris at his foreign ministry office and told the outraged minister that when he returned to the states he (Polk) was going to expose him, that Tsaldaris' reputation would be finished, and then walked out of his office. Rea said that George's painful war wounds, his occasional bouts of malaria, the pressures of his CBS radio schedule that often required that he broadcast at one a.m. to be heard live at seven p.m. on the east coast had worn on him – and the ongoing violence, government inefficiency and corruption of the civil war had set him on edge. She said she was surprised that he lived for three more days after his fight with Tsaldaris. The following day, his long-awaited request to travel north was approved.
Upon arrival, he was told that he had been booked into the Astoria Hotel, a nondescript establishment favored by Greek military personnel. After a day in town, he sent several telegrams to Rea asking her to join him. She quickly agreed. When she arrived in Salonika at the hotel, he was gone of course, not seen since Saturday. His pajamas were missing, but not his shaving kit. Rea found an unfinished letter to George's mother in his portable typewriter and a letter to CBS's Murrow close by. She inquired as to his whereabouts at the nearby American Consulate and hid her concern and worry by agreeing with acquaintances that he was likely working on a big story and would soon show up. The discovery of his body the following Sunday began a nightmare of loss, innuendo and events that the 20 year-old bride of only nine months found unbearable. She refused to make statements for the police and the press that she believed that Communists had killed her husband.
And, following his request that he be buried in Greece if something happened to him, she planned a private burial at her family tomb. What happened instead was an elaborate Greek government and American embassy arranged affair of limousines, ministers and officials in dark suits, wreaths of flowers, and carefullycalculated speeches of how George Polk would be deeply missed. Following the funeral, events and persons closed in around Rea Polk. Greek journalist Mary Barber, a stringer for Time magazine, was now constantly by her side.
She seemed full of compassion and offered to help Rea in any way possible. Barber and her British husband Steve were close to Nigel Clive, an MI-6 man in Athens, and Sir Wickham. She offered to help a distraught Rea get her personal papers in order upon Rea's unexpected, but firm decision to leave Greece for America. There were forms to fill at the embassy. The day before, Barber went through George Polk's office files; the Greek police had arrived and had inventoried Polk's papers. Shortly after Barber's visit, Rea discovered that George's CBS files for March, April, and May were missing, including the all-important letter from the Chase Bank employee. Upset, Rea asked Hadjiargyris if he had taken them.
Costas adamantly denied it and said he considered George's office off-limits. The incident was soon submerged beneath the questioning of Greek authorities, probing by American officials, threats by FBI agent Ayer that he would prevent Rea from going to America, and constant visits by journalists looking for a story.
~ New Europe ~
Who Killed George Polk?, by Elias Vlanton with Zak Mettger. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. (322 pages, no price listed)
This is the third book that appeared in English since 1989 on the 1948 murder of George Polk. The first book was by Princeton University professor Edmund Keeley, The Salonica Bay Murder: Cold War Politics and the Polk Affair (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). Keeley's book was followed by that of Kati Marton in the fall of 1990. Her book, The Polk Conspiracy (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990), received wide press coverage. CBS's "60 Minutes" devoted a segment to Marton's theory on the Polk assassination in November 1990. Vlanton's book presents a new theory about this mysterious assassination which is based on his extensive research in Greek and American archives.
[ ... ]
Vlanton convincingly shows that the governments of Greece and the United States allowed an innocent man to be framed for Polk's murder and that some of the most respected names in American journalism "stood by and let it happen." At the height of the Cold War, the murder investigation was "tailored from the outset to fit political exigencies," while the American press became an instrument of American Cold War policy. Those journalists who disagreed and failed to cooperate destroyed their careers.
Vlanton's book is meticulously documented. Detailed notes make up a third of the manuscript. The book also contains an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, as well as lists of interviews and correspondence conducted by the author.
Keeley's book makes a convincing case that Staktopoulos was framed and that the murder was not committed either by the communists or by the British as some have claimed. Available evidence suggests that the Greek right wing was responsible for the murder. Keeley, however, is unable to identify who might have been responsible for the actual murder. Kati Marton, in turn, takes her story one step further. While she agrees with the essentials of Keeley's explanation, she concludes that right-wing extremists, acting on orders by Constantine Tsaldaris, killed Polk. The motive, according to Marton, was to prevent disclosure that Tsaldaris had violated Greek currency regulations by diverting a small amount of U.S. currency to a New York bank account.
The George Polk Case
CIA Has Lost Records on CBS Reporter Murdered in Greece in 1948,
And Destroyed FOIA File on Case
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 226
Edited by William Burr
Posted - August 10, 2007
Washington D.C., August 10, 2007 - The Central Intelligence Agency has lost documents concerning its investigation of the mysterious 1948 murder of CBS reporter George Polk, and destroyed its file on FOIA requests for Polk documents, according to a letter from Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein. In June 2006, the Archive asked the CIA and the National Archives to investigate the possibility that the CIA had lost or destroyed records on the Polk case.
Polk, a CBS reporter based in Greece at the height of its left-right civil war, was murdered by unknown assailants in 1948. At the request of members of the Polk family, the National Security Archive had asked the CIA to re-review CIA documents on the Polk case that had been released during the 1990s. The CIA found a number of documents for re-review but in December 2005 informed the Archive that nine of the documents, including memoranda to the Agency's director, had been destroyed. According to CIA Information and Privacy Coordinator Scott Koch's letter, "The original documents had been destroyed in accordance with approved National Archives and Records Administration records schedules." It was the CIA's response that prompted National Security Archive director Thomas S. Blanton to write letters to the Archivist of the United States and the Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency asking them to investigate the destruction of documents on the Polk case.
Last week, Dr. Weinstein informed the National Security Archive that the CIA is "unable to locate the original documents or information about their disposition." As the letter explains, the CIA FOIA case file had been destroyed in accordance with the records schedule; what has gone missing are the original file copies of the Polk-related documents (and whatever collection to which they belonged). That the CIA has determined that the documents cannot be found (and may well have been destroyed) raises troubling questions about CIA's historical records preservation policies. Why is the CIA losing what should have been permanent records? If the Polk documents were part of a larger system of records that was destroyed, what other historically significant records no longer exist? That the FOIA file which contained copies of the now-missing documents had also been destroyed also raises questions about this standard practice at federal agencies.
The National Security Archive won the George Polk Award in April 2000 for "piercing the self-serving veils of government secrecy."
One CBS correspondent* who had been particularly outspoken in his criticism of the Truman government's unqualified support for the rightist authoritarian regime in Greece was tortured, murdered, and dumped into Salonika Bay. In the late 1970s, the story emerged as to how AMAG authorities helped the Greek police frame two young communists for his death.
Numerous paramilitary and parastate organizations with memberships drawn from the criminal underworld were created for dirty work and became a lasting feature of the Greek government for the next thirty years. Working in conjunction with US and British intelligence agents, Greek security services accumulated files on 80 to 90 percent of the population; in the US, the FBI spied on Greek-American communities and compiled reports on possible subversive sympathies. The permanent CIA station established in Athens after 1947 became one of the preeminent US intelligence outposts in Europe for the next forty years.
By November 1947, a joint US-Greek army staff was established, and the government's US masters demanded that freedom of the press, freedom-of assembly, and the right to strike against one's employer all be outlawed. Martial law was declared by the US proxies in the Greek government, meaning the incarceration of thousands of people as threats to national security, as well as the immediate execution of dozens of soldiers in the National Army "who showed negligence or faintheartedness" in the opinion of the commanding officer.
Guide to the Newsmen's Commission to Investigate the Murder of George Polk Records
Guide to the John Poulos & Constantine Poulos Papers : Greek and Greek-American radicalism collection
From the Wikipedia entry
George Polk (17 October 1913, Fort Worth, Texas - May 1948) was an American journalist for CBS who disappeared in Greece and was found dead a few days later on Sunday May 16, 1948, shot at point-blank range in the back of the head, and with hands and feet tied. Polk was covering the civil war in Greece between the right wing government and communists and had been critical of both sides. He alleged that a few officials in the Greek government had embezzled up to $250,000 in aid (or $2.2 million in 2007 dollars) from the Truman Administration, a charge that was never proved.
He had been particularly outspoken in his criticism of the Truman government's unqualified support for the rightist authoritarian regime in Greece. In the late 1970s, the story emerged as to how AMAG (American Mission for Aid to Greece) authorities helped the Greek police frame two young communists for his death.
A communist journalist, Gregorios Staκtopoulos, was tried and convicted of helping Vaggelis Vasvanas and Adam Mouzenidis, members of the illegal communist army, commit the murder. Staktopoulos himself maintained that the confession that led to his conviction was obtained through torture, and in fact it was later revealed that Adam Mouzenidis arrived at Salonica, where he was allegedly introduced to Polk, two days after Polk's murder, and Vasvanas was not in Greece at the time. An investigation by James G.M. Kellis (also known as Killis), a former OSS officer with knowledge of Greek political circles and power brokers, concluded that Greek communist circles lacked the power and influence to commit the murder and cover it up. Kellis worked on contract for the Wall Street law firm of William 'Wild Bill' Donovan, the former head of OSS, who was hired by journalist Walter Lippman to investigate the case. Following Kellis' conclusion that it was more likely Polk had been murdered by right-wing groups within or affiliated to the Greek government, the investigation was halted and Kellis recalled to Washington. At the time the US government was financially supporting the Greek government mainly to prevent a communist take-over of the country. The Greek government had been supported by the British Government throughout 1941-1945 but this became an impossibility after the war.
According to journalists for mainstream US and British newspapers in the mid-1940s, the US-installed Fascist Greek government routinely used mass arrests, torture, and the forced expulsion and "re-education" of political undesirables.
In fact, the government's foreign minister had resigned in disgust in early 1946 because of rampant "terrorism by state organs."
US reporters who pursued these stories were often pressured by US government officials and their editors to examine their "unpatriotic" views. People sent for "re-education" had to endure abhorrent conditions of lack of water and lack of hygienic conditions.
This Truman Doctrine policy became a cornerstone of Cold War neo-colonialism; as Truman explained it, the US government and military would brazenly intervene in the internal affairs of any nation that did not comply with the global political and economic objectives of the US.
Polk had married Rea (also known as Rhea) Coccins, a Greek national and ex-stewardess, seven months prior to his death. They had no children. After being allegedly harassed and threatened by the Greek government, Rea fled to the U.S. where she was debriefed by Donovan's law firm. She became friendly with Barbara Colby, the wife of William Colby, a former OSS officer attached to Donovan's firm, who later would become director of the CIA.
Reporters in New York city started a fundraising project to send an independent investigation committee to Greece, and from this effort the newsmen's commission was formed. Members included Ernest Hemingway, William Polk (Polk's brother), William Price (his cousin) and Homer Bigart. This was soon however eclipsed in media coverage by the Lippman Committee, comprised mostly of Washington journalists with Walter Lippman as chairman and James Reston of the New York Times.
Within months of his death, a group of American journalists instigated the George Polk Awards for outstanding radio or television journalism. These awards were modeled after the Pulitzer Prize which is awarded for outstanding print journalism in newspapers.
The roles of the US government, William Donovan's law firm (at the time already a front for some CIA operations), and the Lippman committee in rubberstamping and acknowledging the Greek government's whitewash and show-trial are strongly criticized.
In February 2007, Polk's "status as a symbol of journalistic integrity" was called into question by historian Richard Frank, who provided evidence that Polk made false claims about his service record in World War II. In particular, Frank draws "the inescapable conclusion is that George Polk did not simply verbally recount false tales of his wartime exploits to his family and to his journalist colleagues, he actually forged documents to buttress his stories." http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/013/313fgojr.asp
George Polk's brother, William, replied to this attack, which he called slanderous, in a letter to the Guardian Monday March 19, 2007. http://media.guardian.co.uk/mediaguardian/story/0,,2036930,00.html He pointed out that Frank did not discuss a single article Polk ever wrote and that his military record is amply substantiated in a range of military documents, including a picture of Polk being decorated by Vice-Admiral John McCain on November 30, 1943, on behalf of the "Airplane Cruiser Detachment for their heroic role during the Battle for the Solomons." A more detailed reply can be found at http://www.williampolk.com/pdf/2007/open%20letter%20to%20winners%20of%20the%20geo%20polk.pdf
In April 2007, Frank responded to William Polk's letters and to what he considered a baffling silence from journalists that greeted his charges: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/013/506hdoal.asp
On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five journalists of the 20th century times with first-class rate postage stamps, to be issued on Tuesday, April 22, 2008: Martha Gellhorn, John Hersey, George Polk, Ruben Salazar, and Eric Sevareid. Postmaster General Jack Potter announced the stamp series at the Associated Press Managing Editors Meeting in Washington.