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The ordeal of former agent Steven Lalas

The first time I saw Steven Lalas was in 1993, in a courtroom in Virginia, not far from Washington. He looked like a hunted animal caught in the headlights, fearfully awaiting his punishment. Shackled hand and foot, in a room full of agents from the FBI, CIA and Pentagon, he seemed at a loss, unable to understand what had happened to him. At that time no Greek stood by him. A leading member of the Greek-American community literally threw out of his office someone who dared to suggest they help pay the steep fees for Lalas’s defense. Only his family and a few Greeks abroad helped. By contrast, the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was embraced by the Jewish community and no Israel-US summit took place without mention of his case. I remember the day Lalas was sentenced to 168 months in a maximum-security prison. He stared blankly at the judge who read out the sentence. At the back of the courtroom, CIA agents were handing out souvenirs of glasses, pens and other gifts with their logo to prosecutors, FBI agents and others who had collaborated in the operation to arrest Lalas. From 1993 to 2005, I spoke regularly with Lalas in prison, always aware that the conversation was being taped. He asked for books and newspapers. I’m no fervent nationalist but I was impressed that, thousands of miles from his family, and knowing that Greece was 99 percent responsible for his situation, at the end of every meeting he would shout: «Long live Greece; long live the homeland!» I saw Lalas again in the summer of 2005, when he was released from prison to live under house arrest with his brother. I remember how eagerly he snatched at his food. It was only when he used a steak knife as a toothpick that I realized how brutal prison life had been. Later, at a hotel, he told me his story.