One of the last major intelligence-related controversies of the Cold War, the shooting of Pope John Paul II in May of 1981 was widely and mistakenly blamed on the Soviet Union. The first in a series of programs about the attempt on the Pope’s life, AFA-17 chronicles the evolution of the fascist elements that appear to have perpetrated that act.
Terrified of communism, the Vatican actively supported European fascism prior to, during and after the Second World War. The Vatican/fascist association helped spawn institutions and networks which loom large in the investigation, such as the IOR (the Vatican Bank), the P-2 lodge of Mussolini supporter and former Nazi officer Licio Gelli and the Vatican’s historical association with reactionary American and European intelligence elements.
Much of the program focuses on Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius the XII), members of the Pacelli family and their role in the Vatican/fascist alliance. As the Papal representative to Munich, then Archbishop Pacelli reportedly channeled Vatican funds to Adolf Hitler as early as 1919. Pacelli and close family members were instrumental in forging the Lateran Treaty of 1929. In addition to making Roman Catholicism the official state religion of Mussolini’s Italy, the treaty established the Vatican as a sovereign state and led to the creation of the IOR (Institute for Religious Works), the Vatican Bank.
With the establishment of the Vatican as a financial power, the stage was set for events leading to the probable murder of one Pope and the shooting of another. It should be noted that the Pacelli family profited handsomely from the treaty. Eugenio Pacelli’s cozy relationships with fascists continued after he became Pope. With Pius XI having died before issuing a condemnation of Nazism, Pius XII (Pacelli) established a mutually beneficial relationship with the Fuehrer. The pope refrained from actively opposing Hitler and Hitler, in turn, established a “Church Tax,” which added significantly to the Church’s coffers in Germany. This tax was still part of the German tax structure in the mid 1980’s. (It should be noted that Catholic priests in Germany were being persecuted by the Nazis, even as Pius XII and Hitler cooperated.)
The broadcast highlights other areas of pre-war and wartime cooperation between fascists and the Vatican, including the unqualified support given by the Vatican to Franco’s forces in Spain. One of the most overt instances of Vatican support for fascism came in wartime Croatia, where Catholic clergy blessed the death squads of the murderous pro-Nazi Ustashe and served in the Croatian Parliament.
As defeat loomed for the Third Reich and its allies, the Vatican proved instrumental in helping to engineer the escape and survival of many notorious war criminals. This did much to ensure the perpetuation of fascism itself. Dubbed “the Rat Line” by U.S. intelligence officers, the Vatican escape route provided numerous Nazi fugitives with safe passage to political refuge in Latin America. (Many of them later went to work for U.S. and British intelligence, both of which actively aided the Vatican in arranging for the Nazis’ successful flight from Europe.)
In addition to Bishop Alois Hudal and Father Dragonovic (a Croatian priest), one of the most important figures in the operation of the Rat Line was Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini. Montini provided many of the most heinous war criminals with Vatican diplomatic papers, assuring their escape. Montini later became Pope Paul VI. It is worth noting that the Rat Line began as a wartime German intelligence operation and was perpetuated in the post-war period through cooperation between the Vatican and Western intelligence.
Program highlights include: the apparent clandestine cooperation between the Nazi foreign ministry, the Vatican and William Donovan (head of the OSS, America’s wartime intelligence service) to open up the Western Front to American and British armies, assuring their deep penetration into Germany ahead of the Soviets; the alleged role of eventual P-2 Lodge head Licio Gelli in the operations of the Ratline; “Operation Bernhard” (an SS counterfeiting operation designed to wreck the British economy while simultaneously financing the operations of the Ratline); the connections of the Opus Dei order to Franco’s Spain (John Paul II is close to Opus Dei); Pope John Paul II’s selection of Nazi financier Hermann Abs (chairman emeritus of the Deutsche Bank) to help straighten out the Vatican Bank scandals of the early 1980s.
The second program in this five-part series analyzes a series of banking scandals involving the Vatican, as well as their effect on international and Vatican political reality. Political relationships evolving from Vatican entanglements during the Second World War figure prominently in the discussion (see AFA-17 for information about Licio Gelli and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, later Pope Paul VI.)
In particular, the Vatican’s relationship with members of the P-2 lodge determined the course of events that precipitated the scandals. Founded by Mussolini ally and Nazi officer Licio Gelli, the P-2 lodge functioned as a de facto crypto-fascist government in the 1960’s, 70’s and early 80’s. Utilizing blackmail and, as called for, murder to enforce obedience and loyalty, Gelli recruited from among the Italian elite. Prominent military and intelligence officials, business and media figures, politicians and Mafiosi comprised the membership of the avowedly fascist organization, making it a center of consummate, occult political power in Italy.
P-2 members Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi served as successive financial consultants to the Vatican. In that capacity, they worked with the head of the Vatican Bank (the IOR.) Sindona was a Mafioso and Calvi the head of the Banco Ambrosiano, Italy’s largest bank at the time. The association between the fascist P-2 and the Vatican’s financial establishment bred corruption, scandal and murder, including what was almost certainly the killing of a Pope–the short-tenured John Paul I. Both Sindona and Calvi were among people associated with the Vatican banking scandals who were either murdered or became “apparent suicides.” Pope Paul VI (formerly Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini) midwived the relationship between the P-2 and the IOR.Under the stewardship of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the Vatican Bank became involved in numerous illegal transactions.
In addition to documenting many of the Vatican/P-2 illegalities, the program highlights the circumstances surrounding the untimely and suspicious death of Pope John Paul I. Known for his devout and populist attitude as a Cardinal, the new Pope was moving in the direction of severing the connection between the Vatican and the P-2 and disciplining Marcinkus and others. Had the truth emerged about these scandals, many of the participants would have gone to prison and the power politics of the Vatican (and much of the rest of the world) would have been fundamentally altered. The Pope’s sudden death eliminated an immediate threat. One of the most important parts of the program, the analysis of the facts concerning the Pope’s demise strongly suggests that he was poisoned.
When John Paul II took office, he perpetuated the relationship between the IOR and the P-2 and then called in Hermann Abs, formerly of the Deutsche Bank, to help straighten out the financial mess. Abs had been Nazi Germany’s most important banker and continued his career uninterrupted in the post-war years. In addition to Abs, the Pope selected Swiss financier Philippe de Weck to help advise the IOR. De Weck had previously been linked to a scandal involving a “petroleum-sniffing plane.” That scandal appears to have involved the World Anti-Communist League.
Program highlights include: discussion of the bad loans made by Banco Ambrosiano and guaranteed by the IOR (those loans brought about the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano); Roberto Calvi’s suspicious suicide in London following the collapse of Ambrosiano; Sindona’s charge that the bad loans were made to fund anti-communist activities in Latin America; Sindona’s involvement in the collapse of the Franklin National Bank; an attempted jailbreak by Sindona (serving time in the United States for the Franklin collapse); the murders of journalists and/or investigators into the shady financial activities of Sindona, Gelli & company; the alleged “suicide” of Sindona in an Italian prison; the alleged “suicides” of a Banco Ambrosiano colleague of Calvi and his personal secretary (both “jumped” from the window of the Ambrosiano’s Milan headquarters); a Sindona-Marcinkus-Mafia scheme involving stolen securities.
Although not well known, Licio Gelli’s P-2 Lodge has wielded a profound influence on the history of the second half of this century. This broadcast documents and analyzes some of the activities of the P-2 in Italy and around the world. Much of the discussion focuses on attempts by the P-2 milieu to destabilize Italian democracy and bring fascism back to Italy.
Aided by the CIA in this effort, the P-2 was instrumental in staging two unsuccessful coup attempts in the early 1970’s, followed by a program of terrorist incidents. According to information developed by the Pike Committee (a congressional committee investigating CIA misdeeds), P-2 member Michele Sindona was the conduit between the CIA and the architects of “the Strategy of Tension.”
Formalized by Italian fascist Stephano Delle Chiaie, the Strategy of Tension was a program of terror designed to discredit the Italian left and provoke a reduction of civil liberties and a broadening of police and surveillance powers. Its ultimate goal was a restoration of fascism in Italy. Epicenter of the Strategy of Tension and the coup attempts of the 70’s, the so-called “Super SISMI” group functioned as an intelligence service within an intelligence service. (SISMI is one of Italy’s intelligence services.) Composed of P-2 members and their allies within the SISMI, the “Super SISMI” cynically created and manipulated terrorism of both the left and the right.
One of the apparent victims of the Strategy of Tension was former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Having invited the Italian Communist Party into a ruling coalition, Moro was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades. (An Italian parliamentary commission investigating the activities of the P-2 lodge found that Licio Gelli had helped to found the ostensibly left-wing Red Brigades, whose program of terrorism discredited the Italian left and weakened Italian democracy.) The P-2 and its allies were very active elsewhere in the world as well.
With branches in Monaco, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, the P-2 significantly influenced the development of fascism in Latin America. The Argentine branch of P-2 was particularly influential, with P-2 members Jose Lopez Rega, Admiral Emilio Massera and General Carlos Suarez Mason playing key roles in the fascist junta that ran Argentina in the 70’s and early ’80’s. Noted for its brutal “dirty war” against political opponents, the junta influenced activities in other Latin American countries, including Bolivia, where it lent support to the so-called “Cocaine Coup” of 1980. That coup brought to power a group of major cocaine traffickers.
It was engineered by former Gestapo officer (and U.S. intelligence agent) Klaus Barbie and his “Bridegrooms of Death” mercenaries. That group included the aforementioned Stephano Delle Chiaie and P-2 member Pierluigi Pagliai. Barbie, Delle Chiaie & company were, in turn, active with a Nazi emigre community in South America that included former SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny (who, like Barbie, worked for the CIA after the war) and Friedrich Schwend, the architect of Operation Bernhard (see AFA-17.)
In addition to discussion of Skorzeny’s weapons deals, the program highlights Skorzeny’s creation of an “International Fascista.” Joining together European and Latin American fascists, this Fascist International is the milieu within which Gelli, Delle Chiaie and their ilk existed and operated. Particular emphasis is on “Operation Condor,” an international assassination consortium among Latin American fascist dictatorships. Aided by elements of U.S. intelligence, Operation Condor claimed, among other victims, Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier, assassinated in Washington D.C. with the apparent connivance of George Bush’s CIA. Operation Condor was distinguished by attempts at blaming the killings on the left, much like the provocations of the Strategy of Tension.
Program highlights include: Gelli’s attendance at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration; involvement of the P-2 milieu in the “Billygate” scandal that tarnished the Carter administration; the CIA-assisted Borghese coup attempt of 1970; the Rosa Dei Venti coup attempt of 1973; Skorzeny’s supplying of weapons to the Borghese and Rosa Dei Venti coup attempts; the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing; the 1980 Bologna railway station bombing; Barbie lieutenant Joachim Fiebelkorn’s links to the DEA; the Anonima Sequestri group — a kidnapping consortium connected to the P-2 and organized crime; P-2 members and Italian intelligence officers Vito Miceli, Giuseppe Santovito, Pietro Musumeci and Massimo Pugliese; P-2 links to Nixon and Reagan cabinet member Alexander Haig; links between the Skorzeny-linked Merex weapons firm to the BND (Germany’s intelligence service); Skorzeny’s Paladin Mercenary Group (co-financed by Libyan dictator Mohammar Khadafy); Abscam stingman Mel Weinberg’s connections to the Red Brigades; “Ex” CIA agents Ed Wilson and Frank Terpil’s training of the Red Brigades; assassinations committed as part of the Strategy of Tension.
Comparatively few know the name “Stibam.” Obscure, even in the annals of the guns-for-drugs business, this arms and drug-smuggling outfit figured prominently in the world of 1980’s covert operations.
With connections to intelligence agencies of many countries (including the United States) and overlapping the P-2 lodge, Stibam was reportedly involved with the attempt on the Pope’s life. Run by Syrian-born Henri Arsan (a DEA informant), Stibam was connected to many prominent individuals, and was implicated in numerous scandals, including the Iran-Contra and Iraqgate affairs.
One of the principal figures in Stibam was a Turkish national named Bekir Celenk, described as being very close to the fascist Grey Wolves and heavily involved with Stibam’s narcotics business. (For more about the Grey Wolves, see AFA #‘s 14, 21.) Mehmet Ali Agca identified Celenk as the paymaster of the plot to shoot Pope John Paul II. This program examines the operations of Stibam, its component elements and its political connections.
Masquerading as a “construction company,” the Milan-based firm was headquartered right above the Banco Ambrosiano’s headquarters. (For more on Banco Ambrosiano and its P-2 chairman, Roberto Calvi, see AFA-18.) Elements associated with the P-2 figure prominently in Stibam’s affairs. Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and actor Rossano Brazzi were involved with Stibam deals, in the company of veteran intelligence officer and P-2 member Giuseppe Santovito.
Another Stibam operation involved the sale of AK-47 rifles for the Nicaraguan Contras. Other gambits involved the sale of American arms to the Khomeini regime in Iran, to use against the Iraqis in the Iran-Iraq war. Other Stibam programs constituted part of what has popularly-termed “Iraqgate,” the arming of Saddam Hussein by the West.
One of the most spectacular and dangerous of the Stibam undertakings involved the sale of thermonuclear weapons to an Arab nation (believed to have been either Syria or Saudi Arabia.) This operation involved an individual named Glauco Partel, described in the Italian press as being a “missile expert” and working for “the NSA.” One of Partel’s companions was a U.S. intelligence veteran named Eugene Bartholomeus, whose curriculum included work with the much-traveled “ex-” CIA agent Ed Wilson, as well as for the Nugan Hand Bank in Australia. (For more on Ed Wilson, see AFA-4, and for information about the Nugan Hand, see AFA-25.)
Associated with numerous intelligence services (including and especially American) Stibam had, as Mr. Emory says “more connections than a switch-board.” When investigations into the operation produced a massive series of arrests in November of 1982, people involved with the investigation began to die.
Program higlights include: Details about Sutas, Stibam’s Los Angeles Branch; the story of the Broggi Izzar arms operation of Renato Gamba, partly financed by the Banco Ambrosiano; analysis of the Stibam network as an extension of the “Balkan Route” heroin connection of Corsican gangster Auguste Ricord; Ricord’s World War II Nazi collaboration, including the beginning of his life-long associate with Gestapo officer and Gehlen agent Klaus Barbie; Stibam deals involving arms captured by Israel in numerous conflicts; the untimely deaths of Stibam-connected figures Henry Arsan, Giuseppe Santovito and Bekir Celenk (among others); the bomb attack on Judge Carlo Parlermo, whose investigation of Stibam on behalf of the Italian authorities has yielded devastating disclosures; connections between Palermo’s investigation and Nazi Gold from World II; evidentiary tributaries running in the direction of Colonia Dignidad, an emigre Nazi conclave in Chile.
The program sets forth abundant evidence suggesting the involvement of elements of Western intelligence agencies in the formulation and dissemination of the so-called “Bulgarian Connection” to the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. (This “Connection” comprised an alleged conspiracy between the KGB and their Bulgarian allies designed to kill the Pope, presumably because of his support for the Solidarity movement in Poland.) In addition, the broadcast highlights a number of important facts that indicate how some of these same Western intelligence elements may have arranged the crime themselves.
The Bulgarian connection first surfaced in a 1983 magazine article authored by Paul Henze, a former CIA station chief in Turkey. As noted in the Italian press, the attempt on the Pope took place as the Vatican and the Soviet Union were moving toward diplomatic rapprochement on several key issues: the need for nuclear disarmament, diplomatic recognition for the PLO and a de-fusing of the Solidarity crisis in Poland. (In late 1980 and early 1981, Lech Walesa’s pro-Western Solidarity movement had precipitated a declaration of martial law in Poland and the threat of military invasion by the Soviet Union.) The attempt on the Pope’s life pre-empted this rapprochement and heightened Cold War tensions, promoting discord between the Vatican and the former U.S.S.R.
Significantly, former CIA official Theodore Shackley was reported to be in Italy at around this time, working with elements of the P-2 Lodge and the Italian secret services. One of the agency’s most important operatives, Shackley had numerous connections to the milieu of the Iran-Contra scandal and the Stibam arms-for-drugs ring. (The Stibam operation and the Iran-Contra machinations overlap the circumstances surrounding the shooting of the Pope.)
Italian intelligence elements close to the Shackley/P-2 milieu reported the alleged KGB/Bulgarian connection at the same time that they knew about the Vatican-Kremlin rapprochement! The possibility that the shooting of the Pope may have been a provocation intended to disrupt the Vatican-Kremlin relationship should not be too readily discounted. (It should be noted that the P-2 milieu involved with Shackley & company was deeply involved in the “Strategy of Tension” provocations described in AFA 19.)
The Grey Wolves (the fascist/pan-Turkist party to which convicted would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca belonged) had strong connections to the CIA and was used by the Agency against the Turkish left in the 1960’s and 1970’s. (For more on this relationship, see FTR-59.) As CIA station chief, Paul Henze was involved with the CIA/Grey Wolf axis. Turkish journalist Ugur Mumcu (assassinated in a 1992 car bombing) reported that the CIA had a man inside the National Action Party at the time of the assassination attempt on the Pope. (The National Action Party was the parent organization of the Grey Wolves. For more on the NAP and the pan-Turkist movement, see AFA-14.)
The alleged CIA liaison with the NAP was Ruzy Nazar (nee Nazaroff), a former Waffen SS man. Nazar served as an ABN delegate to the 1984 conference of the former World Anti-Communist League.
Program Highlights Include: possible connections of the CIA-connected Father Felix Andre Morlion to the development of the Bulgarian thesis; Agca’s assertion that he did not want to kill the Pope; alleged links between the U.S. embassy in Italy and Agca’s “confession;” possible connections of the “Super-Sismi” milieu described in AFA-19 to the attempt on the Pope; connections between the P-2 and the Knights of Malta (see M-6); links between former Secretary of State Alexander Haig and the source for allegations that the KGB tried to kill the Pope; the suspicious deaths of figures involved with the Western intelligence milieu implicated in the attempt on the Pope.