The French, who know much about intrigue, have a very useful expression, “an Italian scandal.” This means a scandal or plot that is so complex or tangled it defies understanding, and never gets solved.
The death of 96-year old Masonic Grand Master Licio Gelli this week reopened the mystery of Italy’s greatest and most murky political scandals. I’ve been following this wonderful case since the 1980’s. Gelli, a lifelong Fascist, was what was known in the US as “one of our SOB’s.”
As US Republicans hysterically warn of “terrorism,” it’s useful to look back to the Cold War years and see who really had – and has – clean hands.
Gelli first appeared as an 18-year old volunteer Black Shirt fascist sent by Mussolini to Spain to fight the Communists.
Soon after World War II, Gelli was recruited by CIA to help build “Gladio,” a top secret underground organized in 14 Western European nations of former fascists and other right-wingers designed to combat an expected Soviet invasion.
The Soviet threat eventually subsided, but Gladio, its far right members and its arms caches remained. In the 1980’s and early 90’s, Gladio and Gelli would be involved in numerous plots and intrigues known as “the years of lead” aimed at blocking Communists from power and paving the way for fascist coups. CIA and Britain’s MI6 were implicated.
Gelli teamed up with a notorious Sicilian banker, Michele ‘the Shark’ Sindona, to boost the influence of his P2 Masonic Lodge. Its members were known as ‘frati neri,’ or black friars. Sindona was later poisoned while in jail. Gelli recruited a cabal of 1,000 influential bankers, Christian Democratic politicians, intelligence and military officials, churchmen, and businessmen who sat at the top of Italian society. Included was future prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
Among them was also Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, chief of the Vatican’s Bank. He and shady banker Roberto Calvi of Banco Ambrosiano worked with the Vatican, P2, and CIA to fund Poland’s rising Solidarity movement via cut-out banks in Central and South America.
Marcinkus and Calvi also embezzled large amounts from the Vatican bank. Soon after, Calvi was found hanged, dressed in monks clothing, under London’s Blackfriars Bridge. The message was clear. The film “the Godfather” touches on some of these events.
P2 was linked to the 1978 kidnapping and death of Italy’s former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro. Italy’s extremist Red Brigades were blamed amid calls for a crackdown on civil liberties that sounded quite similar to the hysterical tone of today’s rightwing American Republicans. Rumors of coups were rampant. Israel was accused of involvement with the Red Brigades in an effort to overthrow Italy’s pro-Arab government.
In a notorious false flag operation, in 1980 Gelli’s agents detonated a bomb in Bologna’s train station that killed 85 people. As P2 hoped, the Communist Red Brigades were again blamed for this crime. Italy’s intelligence services, SISDE and SISMI, came under strong P2 influence. SISMI, which was close to CIA and Israel’s Mossad, later played a key role with American neocons in getting phony data about supposed sales of uranium to Iraq to the credulous US president, George W. Bush.
SISMI and the paramilitary Carabinieri were involved with P2 and the Mafia in various plots to overthrow Italy’s wobbly democratic government. Aircraft were shot down or bombed, politicians and newspapermen murdered, and businesses extorted. Meanwhile, CIA was bankrolling Italy’s Christian Democrats and many newspapers – including, it was claimed, the P2 lodge. Today, P2’s murderers and criminals might be called “government contractors.”
A late 19th century French president, Jean Casimir-Perrier, put it pithily: “all political power is permanent conspiracy.” So it was in spades during the era of Licio Gelli, a condottiere, intriguer, and adventurer who should have been born during the Renaissance.