|Born||Gustav Lascaris Avrakotos
January 14, 1938
Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, USA
|Died||December 1, 2005
Inova Fairfax Hospital, Virginia
|Cause of death||Stroke|
|Alma mater||University of Pittsburgh|
|Occupation||Case officer, Task Force Chief|
|Employer||U.S. Central Intelligence Agency|
|Known for||Operation Cyclone|
|Awards||Intelligence Medal of Merit (1988)|
Avrakotos was little known to the public until the book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, by George Crile, was published in 2003. The book, which portrays U.S. involvement in the Afghan-Soviet War as a partnership between Avrakotos and Texas Congressman Charles Wilson, was the basis of the film Charlie Wilson's War, released in 2007.
Biography and career
Avrakotos was born in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, the son of a Greek American soft drink manufacturer, from the island of Lemnos. He briefly worked at Jones and Laughlin Steel mill in Aliquippa before graduating valedictorian from Aliquippa High School in 1955. Avrakotos attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics. He also attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology.
He joined the CIA in 1962 and his assignments included an anti-communist mission in Greece and duty in the CIA's Langley, Virginia, headquarters. It has been alleged that Avrakotos was the link between the CIA and Greek Secret Service (KYP) and that he met future dictator Georgios Papadopoulos and other military men who played a part in the Greek military junta of 1967–1974. It has been implied that Avrakotos played a role in approving the Greek Junta coup against Cyprus President Makarios and the subsequent Turkish invasion.
Avrakotos was the number four in the hierarchy of the CIA station in Athens in 1974 (Stacy Hulse was the chief and Ron Estes his deputy). Ron Estes and Avrakotos met with the "invisible dictator" Brigadier Demetrios Ioannidis, formally Chief of Military Police, and warned him against the escalation of tension with Makarios because of the danger of a Turkish reaction. These documented meetings happened on 7 and 20 June 1974. However Archbishop Makarios then President of Cyprus decided by the end of June to come to direct and public confrontation with Ioannidis deciding to expel all Greek military personnel from Cyprus. This would have meant the loss of military control of Cyprus on the part of Greece and the humiliation and probable downfall of Ioannides. Therefore Ioannidis had no choice in order to survive politically in Greece. Probably Avrakotos told him to do so believing that Turkey would not intervene in Cyprus but anyway Ioannides had no other option. In case of Turkish intervention Ioannidis would declare war on Turkey and he tried to do so after the Turkish invasion of July 20, yet the then military leaders of Greece and especially General Bonanos did not follow the wishes of Ioannides and instead they overthrew him on July 23, 1974 (The Tragic Duel and the Betrayal of Cyprus-2011-M. Adamides). Ioannides died in 2010 and Avrakotos in 2005. None of them revealed anything about their interaction in 1974. Neither did the other Greek-American CIA agent Peter Koromilas, who died in 2007.
In the 1980s while at Langley, Avrakotos led Operation Cyclone, the largest covert operation in the CIA's history. Through intermediaries, mostly Zia ul-Haq's ISI in Pakistan, the CIA armed Afghanistan's Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Avrakotos eventually met congressman Charlie Wilson of Texas's 2nd congressional district. Together they collaborated to massively increase funding for the rebels, and together helped persuade officials from Egypt, Pakistan, China, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere to increase support for the cause. Avrakotos also plucked Michael G. Vickers from obscurity in the CIA's paramilitary group to revamp the strategy for the Mujahideen. Vickers urged them to drop the Enfield Rifle in favor of a mix of weapons like the AK-47, and to introduce new tactics, training, and logistics.
Avrakotos' position in the agency meant that he was also responsible for Iran. In 1985 he witnessed a group within the government, including Oliver North, Bud McFarlane, certain members of the National Security Council, and others attempting to run the Iran arms-for-hostages trade using the CIA. He told his superior Clair George that the Iran Contra trade was a disaster in the making, as he did not trust Manucher Ghorbanifar or the Israelis pushing the scheme, and he viewed the people like North as the "lunatic fringe" who had earlier tried to bring bizarre ideas into the Afghan war. Avrakotos also warned George that the scheme was illegal and wrote a notable memo distributed within the CIA to that effect. According to author George Crile, the bureaucracy punished Avrakotos for his dissent and then banished him to a do-nothing job with little responsibility, just as his greatest success, the Afghan program, was showing results. Avrakotos was reassigned "just as the Stinger antiaircraft missile launchers downed the first Soviet gunships" and after a brief role in an African assignment, he retired from the CIA in 1989. Gust's predictions about Iran-Contra were accurate, as the Iran-Contra affair resulted in numerous prosecutions of government officials and years of congressional hearings and controversy.
Avrakotos then worked for TRW in Rome and for News Corp., for which he began a business intelligence newsletter, working in Rome and McLean, Virginia. He returned to the CIA as a contractor from 1997 until 2003.
In popular culture
Avrakotos was portrayed in the 2007 film Charlie Wilson's War by Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Avrakotos.
- A quotation from the film:"There's a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse... and everybody in the village says, "how wonderful. The boy got a horse" And the Zen master says, "we'll see." Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, "How terrible." And the Zen master says, "We'll see." Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight... except the boy can't, 'cause his leg's all messed up. And everybody in the village says, "How wonderful."
To this, Wilson, portrayed by Tom Hanks, responds: "And the Zen master said, 'We'll see.'"
- Sullivan, Patricia (2005-12-25). "CIA Agent Gust L. Avrakotos Dies at Age 67". Washington Post. p. C08. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
- Crile, George, Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, ISBN 0-87113-854-9
- Tady, Scott. "CIA agent and Aliquippa native helped down the Soviets," Beaver County Times, December 19, 2007
- "Behind the scenes of history".
- A conversation with George Crile, Friday, May 16, 2003, Charlie Rose, PBS, via charlierose.com
H Tragiki Anametrisi kai i Prodosia tis Kyprou (The Tragic Duel and the Betrayal of Cyprus)-Marios Adamides-2012