By Poly Pantelides
AS THE armed EOKA struggle against British colonial authorities started drawing to an end in the late fifties, authorities increasingly questioned the effectiveness of their intelligence services in light of EOKA’s resilience to defeat, newly-released files have shown.
The latest release of colonial archives at the London-based National Archives, part of thousands of documents that were secretly returned to the UK when former colonies became independent, included dozens of files on Cyprus seen by the Cyprus News Agency (CNA).
“The most obvious lesson of our Emergency has been that almost everything depends on intelligence. Our failure to destroy EOKA was largely a failure of intelligence,” the last governor of Cyprus, Sir Hugh Foot said in response to a late-fifties report by Brigadier George Baker.
The files show a deteriorating confidence in the ability of the colonial authorities to deal with the 1955-59 EOKA conflict that paved the way for the island’s independence in 1960.
In one document, Major General Kenneth T. Darling, head of operations in Cyprus after 1958, asked why EOKA managed “to stage such a spectacular recovery despite the fact that large forces and formidable apparatus of Emergency Powers were at the disposal of Government”.
Darling said EOKA was on the brink of defeat in March 1957, some two years into the insurgency. He suggested later that EOKA military leader Georgios Grivas “in effect changed his tactics quicker that we were able to appreciate.”
“[The intelligence machine] was not geared, technically or organically, to defeat the highly organised underground movement before its activities had taken root during the summer of 1958,” Darling said.
Trying to identify the reasons behind EOKA’s resilience, Brigadier George Baker spoke of the difficulties and delays in setting up an efficient system to prevent and detect arms’ smuggling into Cyprus, and the lack of coordination among specialist units, including the army and civil intelligence.
“It was not reasonable to expect to defeat an underground movement by conventional means,” Baker said urging authorities to prioritise “perfecting the intelligence machine” so they could devise “a strategy and tactics suited to defeating such a movement”.
The local press also constituted “an important part of the ‘terrorist’ machine,” Baker said.
Previously released files have shown that British authorities secretly monitored the activities of Greek Cypriots in the UK during the independence struggle. Others showed officials considering producing adventure comic books and running an essay competition in order to distract young Greek Cypriots who would throw petrol bombs, go on strike from school and disturb authorities in affiliation with EOKA.
But the files have also reported on violence and torture, describing alleged claims of torture and abuse during the insurgency. The discovery of the colonial files has paved the way for legal action against the UK by torture victims by EOKA veterans.