The More Things Change: Read a Secret Counter-Terrorism Briefing From 30 Years Ago

(Photo credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

(Photo credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Iran and Syria. Yemen and Libya. North Korea and Cuba. And... Greece?

In the final weeks of a contentious presidential election, the leading candidates were given a Secret U.S. intelligence briefing that listed those countries as the ones with the most concerning links to global terrorism. Most counter-terrorism analysts today would nod along at the list until the end there, when the inclusion of Greece might ruffle some eyebrows.

Why Greece? Though the country has been a way station for some terrorists in Europe and has recently suffered some minor incidents, the Mediterranean tourism hot spot wasn't even mentioned in this year's Worldwide Threat Assessment [PDF], unlike all the others. 

That's because this intelligence report wasn't written in 2018, but 30 years ago in 1988.

The now-declassified document [PDF], prepared for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and sent to then-White House National Security Advisor Colin Powell, shows that, with the exception of Greece, not much has changed in the intervening three decades when it comes to what worries the American intelligence community.


In an especially chilling coincidence, at the time South Korea was preparing to host the Olympic Games and U.S. security officials were concerned North Korea may try to interfere. At the time, the U.S. had worked "through the Chinese and Soviets" to "pressure[] the DPRK to refrain from terrorism during the Olympics."

"Despite recent slight warming in North-South Korea relations, the potential for DPRK-directed terrorism before and during the Olympics remains high," the document says.

But why was Greece on the list back then? The document was prepared following the car-bombing assassination of U.S. military attache Capt. William Nordeen by what the report calls a "left-wing terrorist group." The group had killed two other Americans at that point, and the U.S. didn't think the Greek government was doing nearly enough to deal with the threat.

"In view of the frequent targeting of Americans by this group, we place very high priority on actions to put it out of business," the report says. "We are cooperating with the Greek Government on the Nordeen investigation, but this cooperation must be expanded... A key goal our policy is to keep Greece's feet to the fire..."

Primary Source: Secret 1988 Presidential Candidate Counter-Terrorism Briefing (PDF,

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