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The Long Ides of March of Aldo Moro

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How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted o’er,
In states unborn, and accents yet unknown.

— William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

“Beware the Ides of March”—or even the day after. On the morning of 16 March 1978 in Rome’s central via Fani, the Red Brigades (BR) kidnapped Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro, head of the Christian Democratic Party (DC), killing five agents of his entourage. The fifty-five days of his detention in a secret “people’s prison” and eventual assassination by his captors on 9 May 1978 marked the climax of over thirty years of internal and external opposition to post-fascist Italy’s chartering its own political and economic course by “parallel convergences.” It is worth revisiting this long and twisted story as an early template for the bad faith with which the US Empire deals with the world today. It is not a story for conspiracy-phobes.

The plot of all plots: whodunnit?

Moro himself coined the phrase, “parallel convergences,” hinting at dark forces behind the facade of the legitimate state. The executors of Moro’s death are not in doubt. The BR condemned him to death on 29 April 1978 for “advancing counterrevolutionary programs in the service of bourgeois imperialism,” shooting eleven bullets into his body curled up in the trunk of a red Renault on 9 May. Moro’s phrase “parallel convergences” challenged translators at the time. Today, we understand it, in part, as the network of economic international elites, whose interest state intelligence structures serve—the CIA first among peers. I asked Douglas Valentine, author of The Phoenix Program and exhaustive histories of CIA, DEA, FBI, what the phrase meant as Moro used it. Valentine said, “A CIA/military intelligence guy I knew well, Col. Tully Acampora, told me that JFK’s station chief in Rome starting mid-1963, Bill Harvey, was sent there to help . . . General Giovanni di Lorenzo, head of Italy’s military intelligence and security services, subvert the government of Leftist Prime Minister, Aldo Moro.”

“Leftist”? Aldo Moro had toyed with the idea of joining the Socialist Party, but he was a devout Catholic and chose the DC instead. He was, however, interested in national sovereignty, the relief of emigration from the underdeveloped South, and an autonomous energy policy of trade with the Middle East. Only a year before the arrival in Rome of CIA station chief, Bill Harvey, the Mafia murdered Italian Energy Minister, Enrico Mattei, a close associate of Moro’s, after Mattei’s fruitful overtures for fair trade with oil-rich, Third World countries. Behind the Mafia lurked the “Seven Sisters,” as Mattei dubbed the cartel of the American oil companies—and the services of the CIA together with Italian secret services. The Italian director, Francesco Rosi, made a film about this dramatic event, titled, The Mattei Affair. The journalist who helped him with research disappeared, presumed killed by the Mafia.

Cold War: Italy’s “Stability” Must Be Secured

Italy’s vassalage to the US in the Cold War mattered tremendously—more than Americans know. One of the earliest directives by the then-recently established US National Security Council made no bones about Washington’s intentions should the Italian Communist Party win the parliamentary elections in 1948. The US, the directive punctuated, would intervene “even at the cost of a civil war.”

Throughout the Cold War, the US considered Italy a front-line state. The “iron curtain” ran vertically north south from Poland’s Stettin on the Baltic Sea to Italy’s Trieste on the northeast tip of the Adriatic Sea. Italy’s eastern neighbor was communist Yugoslavia (until 1948 allied with Moscow) and further south, across a narrow stretch of sea, communist Albania, also allied with Moscow until 1961. Indeed, as NATO and American military bases grew to dot Italy over the decades, their missiles pointed east, at Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Furthermore, Italy’s central Mediterranean location, especially Sicily’s, provided the US with a key asset location for control of the Middle East. US policymakers were determined to preserve this essential geopolitical asset in their sphere of influence. As they saw it, one thing only threatened American hegemony in Italy: the vastly popular and respected Italian Communist Party (PCI), the largest communist party in Western Europe, which had been one of the two “hero” parties of the Resistance against the Nazi-fascist occupation in WW II from 8 September 1943 to 25 April 1945. In 1948, the PCI, allied with all left parties as the Popular Front, would almost certainly have won the parliamentary elections without the funding of a red-scare campaign by the CIA and the fomented fatal incidents and violent clashes at party rallies that seemed to sound the thunder of a coming civil war. Intimidated, the people voted a majority to the he DC, 48% of the vote; close behind came the Popular Front with 30% of the vote. “Without the CIA. The Communist Party . . . would surely have won the elections in 1948,” writes Jack Devine, former CIA chief-of-station in Rome, in his book, Good Hunting.

In the early 1950s, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles and Ambassador to Italy, Claire Boothe Luce, insisted that the PCI be outlawed. All Italian political parties, from extreme right to left, refused. They, justifiably pointed out that, because the PCI had been one of the main forces of the Resistance, there would be civil war in Italy if such a measure were enacted. For the Americans, communists in power endangered the security of NATO and the policy of control of the Middle East. When in 1953 William Colby became director of the CIA in Italy his task was to direct clandestine political actions to contain the influence of the PCI. As he wrote in his memoirs, “My task was to prevent that Italy fall in communist hands at the next elections.” Keeping the PCI out of the executive was made a condition, agreed upon by President Harry Truman and Prime Minister Alcide de Gasperi (DC), for the distribution of funds through the Marshall Plan for post-war reconstruction of Italy. Still in the 50s, a secret accord, “Plan Demagnetize,” stipulated a close collaboration between the intelligence services of the US and Italy’s to set back the influence of communism on Italian society.

In the Pre-Dawn of the Cold War: Mustering Their Mafia and Fascist Battalions

This communist threat had been identified and organized against as early as the allied landing in Sicily, in July of 1943. The OSS (predecessor to the CIA), founded in 1941 with 13,000 agents by OSS chief “Wild Bill” Donovan, had assigned the “Italian Section” to James Jesus Angleton, who came from a masonic family and would head the CIA’s Israeli desk by 1950. Angleton recruited a “Mafia Circle”—so denominated in CIA documents—to help with the allied landing in Italy. The circle was made up of Mafiosi (including Michele Sindona, who would become notorious for the crack-up of the Franklin National Bank in 1979) suggested by the gangster, Lucky Luciano, whom American naval intelligence approached in prison in Clinton, New York. The “Mafia Circle,” however, was not dissolved after the Allies’ smooth landing; it widened. The circle rushed to liberate other Mafiosi long imprisoned by Mussolini’s regime. Officials of the American occupation put the “ liberated “Mafiosi in important positions of administrative, police, and military power throughout Sicily to function as an anti-communist network of collaborators. As mayors, for example, the appointees would eventually exert regional influence on the elections and policies of senators and deputies in the parliament in Rome throughout the life of the first Republic—and close ties with the Interior Ministry and its secret services.

Nor did Angleton’s anti-communist recruitment stop at the Mafia. He began to gather exponents of the fascist regime, storing them as future assets in allied-occupied Sicily. Chief among them, was Prince Junio Valerio Borghese, commander of a frogman flotilla unit in the Italian Royal Navy until 1943, expert marine saboteur, collaborator from 1943 to 1945 with the Nazi puppet regime of the Repubblica of Salo’, on on Lake Garda, in Northern Italy. After 1945, Borghese was convicted of Nazi-collaboration but not of war crimes, though it was certainly known that his quasi-private army participated with the SS in some of the most brutal massacres in central Italy—perhaps 10,000 victims in what is known as “the war against civilians.” When the partisans of Resistance leader, General Cadorna, arrested Borghese in Northern Italy on Liberation Day, 25 April 1945, Angleton drove up north in his jeep on 30 April, took charge of Borghese, dressed him in an American uniform, and took him safely to Rome. In a report to OSS, Angleton wrote that Borghese “represented a long-term interest at the heart of our work.” For good measure, Borghese and his loyal army were later absorbed into “Gladio,” NATO’s super-secret select group of paramilitary operatives –but that is another story.

In Sicily throughout the fifties, fascists, through the largesse of funding by the US, organized themselves into neo-fascist groups, with ties to the Italian secret services. The twinning of mafia and fascists, con-joined by the OSS in the 1940s, would prove a formidable force of destabilization in the 1970s, setting off an ideological war in the streets between provocateur neo-fascist groups and extra-parliamentary revolutionary communist formations—a “strategy of tension,” as the violence initiated by the right came to be known. That this “tension” broke out at a moment of increasing gains by the left, threatening a communist electoral victory or a share in the executive could not have been a coincidence, Italian public opinion maintains to this day. Italy’s strictly limited sovereignty as US client or asset state was being defied by gains in social democracy—and the expanding popular democracy was a threat to Italy’s “stability” as US vassal.

Italian Reds Are Winning

On the morning of 16 March, this threat was about to become a reality.

Aldo Moro was scheduled to call for a vote of confidence on the proposed new government of “national solidarity”—a power share with the Communist Party in the cabinet and the executive branch, a first in Italy, a first in Western Europe. This was the culmination of negotiations for the compromesso storico (“historic compromise”) between the DC and the PCI to make the government more representative of the electorate. Three agencies were not pleased: Moscow, because Enrico Berlinguer, leader of the PCI had recognized NATO in order to make power-sharing possible in a NATO-dominated Western European country; Washington, because from long date it had opposed the accession of the communists to the executive; and the Red Brigades, because 1) they thought the PCI should remain an opposition party 2) they regarded the compromesso as a further betrayal or weakening of the PCI’s commitment to class struggle initiated by the Resistance and subsequently thwarted by too many PCI “compromises” with the ruling bourgeois parties, and 3) because the compromesso would dent the drive toward the social and political revolution to which they aspired. This was the turbulent local and geopolitical climate on that fatal morning in March.

Killed as a symbol of the liberal state or its sacrificial gravedigger?

Did the BR kill Moro as a symbol of the “bourgeois, liberal-imperialist” state, as claimed? Franco Bonisoli, with Mario Moretti and Lauro Azzolini, a member of the executive command of the Red Brigades at the time of Moro’s sequestration, declared in 1998 that for the BR the state consisted of the Christian Democratic Party with Moro at its head. Since the BR by then was aiming at the heart of the state, Moro was the intended symbol. Mario Moretti, who alone among the brigatisti interrogated Moro in prison, said the assassination was the ultimate expression of their Marxist-Leninist line.

But in 1998, Aldo Moro’s son, Giovanni, who had been twenty-years old when his father was killed, gave an interview to La Repubblica, insisting that Moro could not have been killed as a mere symbol but to end his political project:

Our impression [in the family] was unanimous: we all felt that he wasn’t targeted as a symbol, as later maintained. What was done was a surgical intervention on Italian politics. Moro was the architect of the encounter with the communists. He was a subject at risk. And, anyway, it’s enough to look at the years of the bombs. When Moro is marginalized, the bombs, too, are marginalized. His political line is strictly connected to this piece of Italian history.

The “years of lead” and the “strategy of tension”: rightists and leftists target the state

To be sure, the year 1978 marked nearly a decade of assaults on members and symbols of state institutions, the media, and the judiciary, a campaign of the left. On the right, the targets were civilians massacred across Italy (“We will bury democracy under a mountain of corpses,” wrote a flyer, acknowledging a massacre by Ordine Nero–Black/Fascist Order, a neo-fascist group). Liberal and left public opinion in Italy then and now holds that this terror by the right was planned and carried out in order to destabilize the multi-party state and supplant it with a decidedly rightist, pro-American, and anti-communist one. The opinion was bolstered by the findings of interminable trials and countless judiciary and parliamentary investigations into subversive activities by the neo-fascists in collusion with organs of the state, operating as extensions of external actors. In this opinion, the “years of lead,” as the season of violence came to be dubbed in Italy, were the expression of a “strategy of tension,” intended also neutralize the Communist Party, which commanded over 34.4% of the popular vote in 1976. The massive support for the Communist Party and its representation in Parliament led, among other progressive measures, to the addition of a Workers’ Bill of Rights, enshrined in the constitution in 1970. For the Red Brigades, this wasn’t enough, but it was more than enough for anti-proletarian neo-fascists.

In fact, almost simultaneously with the pending enactment of the Workers’ Bill of Rights in 1970, the season of terrorism began in earnest in Milan with the bombing of the National Agricultural Bank in Piazza Fontana on12 December 1969, killing seventeen people and wounding 80. The anarchist railway worker, Giuseppe Pinelli, was detained on suspicion, committing suicide by defenestration during a break in interrogations. The absurdity of this reported account provoked the writer Dario Fo (Nobel Prize for Literature) to dramatize it as a farce in “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” (1970), the most famous and acclaimed of his plays. Movimento Ordine Nuovo, a far-right, neo-fascist organization, was suspected of planting the bomb, but in a series of chaotic trials lasting until 2005 no one was ever punished for the massacre, though a court identified two neo-fascists as the terrorists.

Only three days before the Piazza Fontana bombing, a secret neo-fascist coup, code-named “Tora, Tora,” had been called off for reasons never revealed, though three trials followed the disclosure in March 1971 of the plot by the left paper Paese Sera.

In the final trial in 1984, all the accused were found not guilty of conspiring against the state. The plot is known in Italy as the golpe Borghese (the Borghese coup) because Angleton’s “asset” Junio Valerio Borghese, the fascist aristocrat, known as “The Black Prince,” was central to it (the Spanish word golpe gained currency in Italy after the Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973). By the time of the failed golpe Borghese in 1969, Borghese’s fascist-era, quasi-private army had been being trained in the US since Angleton’s time in Sicily in 1943—at first twenty saboteurs; later many more. President Francesco Cossiga, who had been Interior Minister during Moro’s sequestration, declared in an interview years later that the “role of the CIA was to fund anti-communist neo-fascist groups.” However, in the midst of assaulting the Interior Ministry in Rome, Borghese called the operation off. Conjectures suggest that a neo-fascist coup in Italy was not exactly what Washington desired or needed at the time.

Nevertheless, the bombing in Piazza Fontana and the botched coup, with US and NATO warships allegedly waiting on the ready in the Mediterranean, were followed by a relentless frenzy of terrorist attacks. Here is a select list of the bloodiest, perpetrated by the neo-fascist groups:

1970 Gioia Tauro, Calabria: 6 dead; 27 wounded

1972 Peteano di Sagrado, Venezia Giulia: 3 dead, 1 wounded

1973 Via Fatebenefratelli, Milan: 4 dead; 46 wounded

1974 Piazza della Loggia, Brescis: 8 dead; 94 wounded

1974 Train Italicus (between Florence and Bologna): 12 dead; 48 wounded

1980 Bologna Train Station: 85 dead; 200 wounded

What role the “Parallel State”?

Something was really rotten in Italy. Traumatic attacks on civilians, subversions, coups, and false-flags prompted the writer, Pier Paolo Pasolini, to write, shortly before his own murder in 1976, a j’accuse in the pages of the Corriere della Sera: “I know the names, but I have no proof.” Justice was slow or reluctant to catch up with the neo-fascist killers (there was better success with the left). Moreover, members of the secret services, the Interior Ministry and military intelligence derailed pursuit, trials, and investigations—a practice that came to be known as depistaggio, or “throwing off course.” This was not all that surprising. Mussolini’s secret police, army brass, and intelligence, were seamlessly integrated into the Ministries of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, and the military of the new Republic, under the supervision of the American occupation and, after 1949, NATO (and NATO’s “stay behind,” secret program of communist containment). This virtual continuity of the fascist regime, now interlaced with the Mafia, unopposed by the Vatican, supported by shadowy secret societies and Masonic lodges, within the new organs of power popularized the phrase “parallel state” among the Italian public during the “years of lead”—one post-fascist, democratic government on show for unsuspecting citizens; another, neo-fascist, in the shadows undermining national sovereignty. Particularly the intelligence services were known to protect members of neo-fascist groups, thwarting the judiciary under the rubric of “state secret.”

Pasolini’s vatic words rebounded two years later over the fifty-five days of Moro’s captivity and murder, when the whole political class—from the Christian Democrats to the communists, from the socialists to the Vatican– his friends, partners, and allies throughout the life of the republic, ignored the written appeals from his cell to negotiate his release. The government took the hard line: no negotiating with terrorists. The Communist Party agreed, fearing to be lumped in the same terrorist bag with the BR if they did. Pope Paul VI, from a window on St Peter’s Square called for Moro’s release “without conditions.” The refusal to negotiate was as if Italy’s politicians understood that Moro’s fate was sealed—that he was already dead. The Red Brigades’ condition for freeing Moro required that the state release from prison a number of their group, a not unreasonable request in cases of political sequestration, Moro noted in his letters. However, the BR also insisted on the recognition by the state of the BR as a political counterpart, as an armed political party, as a fighting force. No state could legitimize the force that would overthrow it. It was a demand that could not be met. This both closes and opens the mystery: on the one hand, the BR made an offer which was refused, and they killed him; on the other hand, they made an offer so intractable that they knew it would be refused, so his death was pre-ordained–by whom?

Giovanni Moro accuses all parties of shielding the truth:

There is still no truth—historical, judiciary, or political . . .. Moro was killed for his political project. Even the brigatisti have not told the truth: why didn’t they make public all that my father revealed under interrogation? In the letters found in 1990—those never made public at the time—my father mentions Gladio for the first time. With the revelation of Gladio, the BR could have caused embarrassment to the DC, but they kept it secret. It could have destroyed the image of the state as integral and solid. Why didn’t the brigatisti use it? I am sure they are lying to this day. And why did they kill him precisely when a glimmer of hope opened within the DC [for negotiations]? And, finally, why did the state do nothing to save him? Giulio Andreotti {DC] was the political head of the state . . . Francesco Cossiga (DC) was the Minister of Interior. In any other country, a Minister of the Interior to whom such a disaster happened would have been sent to cultivate roses. Instead, he became twice Prime Minister and once President of the Republic.

Losers and Winners

Who, in fact, benefitted from Moro’s death? Not the BR, as the state came down hard and opportunistically on Italian leftists of all stripes, arresting 12,000, and inducing 600 to escape to foreign parts, virtually destroying the historic nucleus of the BR. Not Italy, which ditched the compromesso storico, its chance to form a coalition of national unity, representative of the whole spectrum of Italian voters. Not the two historic parties of the Resistance, the parents of the Republic, and the articulators of its progressive constitution, “founded on labor.” Morally compromised by their refusal to negotiate Moro’s release, both the Communist Party and the Christian Democrat Party lost the confidence and respect of the voters, plunging Italy gradually in its present-day political vacuum, a “failed state” in all but name, a virtual NATO/American military base. The right certainly benefitted, as Mussolini’s old party, Movimento Sociale Italiano, morphed into Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) to rule, in tandem with racist, anti-immigrant, separatist Lega Nord (Northern League), and with the party of opportunist media magnate, Silvio Berlusconi. The PCI became the Democratic Party of the Left and then plain Democratic Party (DP). This association of retrograde political forces together with a (counter-) reformist, neo-liberal, mutilated left rules in coalitions on and off as a virtual tributary state and logistical outpost in the American “War on Terror.”

Prime Suspect: “Et tu, Kissinger?”

We must recall that only five years before Moro’s assassination, Salvador Allende’s government was overthrown by a coup, overseen by the CIA. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger had justified the action in part by saying, “If we allow Chile to go communist, then Italy will follow.” Moro’s widow testified that “a high ranking United States political figure” had threatened her husband’s life, while on an official visit to Washington with the Italian delegation in 1976. She testified at the parliamentary inquest that the official said, “Either you stop your political line, or you will pay dearly.” Moro’s close friend and party associate, Minister Giovanni Galloni, identified the official as Henry Kissinger, at the time US Secretary of State. Textually, the words recorded in the documents of one of five trials, read like this:

“Onorevole, lei deve smettere di perseguire il suo piano politico per portare tutte le forze del suo Paese a collaborare direttamente. Qui, o lei smette di fare questa cosa, o lei la pagherà cara. Veda lei come la vuole intendere”

(“Your honor, you must stop pursuing your plan of getting all the political forces of your country to collaborate directly. Either you stop this thing, or you will pay dearly. It’s up to you how to interpret.”)

Giovanni Moro recalls his father’s theory of “parallel convergences” when he says:

I insist on repeating it: my father was the man who wanted to move Italy beyond the Cold War. There were oodles of people in Italy and outside Italy who considered him dangerous. This is the explanation that takes into account so many possible involvements.

Conclusion

What should resonate for readers in this old story is the similarity to aspects of present–day American “foreign policy.” Think of the “strategy of tension” implicit in “color revolutions,” planned, funded, and staged by US entities (including NGOs), aimed at effecting “regime change.” Think of the mustering, arming, training, and funding of reactionary forces—fundamentalist Islamists or Neo-Nazis—to “destabilize” a place by sowing terror. Think of how funding terrorist rightist groups in Italy evoked the terrorist response of the left—classic “divide and conquer” imperial strategy—and apply it to any place the US interventions have destroyed as integral states—Iraq, Libya, and now Ukraine, with ongoing attempts in Syria.

What do you see? Not only parallel stories but “parallel convergences” maybe?

Luciana Bohne is co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and teaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: lbohne@edinboro.edu 

Notes.

On Giulio Andreotti

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/08/the-death-of-il-divo/

On reopening the Moro case (2013)

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/17/aldo-moro-murder-mystery-italy

Giovanni Moro’s interview

http://www.repubblica.it/online/dossier/moro/moro/moro.html

Luciana Bohne is co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and teaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: lbohne@edinboro.edu

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