by David Guyatt
When on the morning of 17 June 1982, the body of Roberto Calvi was found hanging beneath London's Blackfriars bridge, it was to speed a process that prised open a series of events spanning four decades. The circumstances of Calvi's death led knowledgeable observers to darkly whisper of a Masonic ritual slaying. With his hands tied behind his back and a brick thrust into his coat pocket, Calvi had been strangled, apparently by the rope that had been noosed around his neck. Moreover, the location itself was believed to be symbolic. Blackfriars bridge sits astride the border that connects the Masonically named "Square Mile" of the City of London to the rest of the Capital city.
The initial inquest into his death returned a verdict of suicide. Appealing against what they believed to be prejudice on the part of the Coroner - and suspicious of the Masonic affiliations of the City police - Calvi's family called for a second, more thorough inquest, which belatedly returned an open verdict. Meanwhile, Banco Ambrosiano, Calvi's massive, privately-owned bank, collapsed on the news of his death, revealing a huge "black hole" in the balance sheet amounting to $1.3 billion. A large proportion of the missing money was later located in accounts owned by the Vatican bank. The connections that unfolded in the wake of the Calvi "affair" were to link Masons with Mafiosi, Monks with Murder and Spies with wanted Nazi war criminals.
World War Two had barely ground to a final halt when, in 1947, Allied strategists set about planning for World War Three. Even as British and U.S. intelligence officials scoured Europe seeking to apprehend Nazis wanted on war crimes charges, other more secretive U.S. and British intelligence units were actively engaged in helping those same Nazi's to escape.
The means of escape were the Vatican run "Ratlines." Operated with the knowledge and blessing of highly placed U.S. and British government officials, the Ratlines guided 30,000 wanted Nazis to sanctuary. Safe haven locations included the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the favourite bolt hole of them all: South America.
Those who reached safety in this manner read like a "Who's Who" of the most wanted Nazi war criminals. Klaus Barbie, the cruel Gestapo officer known as the "Butcher of Lyons;" Franz Stangl, Commandant of the notorious Treblinka extermination camp; Gustav Wagner, Commandant of Sorbibor extermination camp; Alois Brunner, a brutal official in the Jewish deportation programme. Of the most famous to escape along the ratlines were Adolf Eichmann, the chief architect of the "Holocaust" and Dr Joseph Mengele, the "White Angel" of Auschwitz concentration camp. Not least was Deputy Fuhrer Martin Bormann. Incredibly, an entire Waffen SS division - the notorious "Galician Division" - consisting of 8000 men were smuggled to England and given "free settler" status.
Secretly granted immunity, these and thousands of other battle hardened Nazi soldiers were to form the fighting nucleus of a top secret Allied contingency group conceived by the first Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles. Loosely known as operation "Stay Behind," the idea was to build a Europe-wide secret network of anti-communist guerrillas who would fight behind the lines in the event of a Soviet invasion. The plan was later codified under the umbrella of the Clandestine Coordinating Committee of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the military arm of NATO.
U.S. planners worried over the growing influence of Italy's large and popular communist party, established Operation "Gladio" in 1956. The name derived from the short sword used by Roman legionnaires 2000 years earlier, and was almost certainly drawn from the crest of SHAPE which features two swords arranged in an "A" shape. The Gladio network was operated by the secret services and initially funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. 622 people were recruited and trained by U.S. and British specialists in Sardinia. It is believed that up to 15,000 members were ultimately recruited to the Gladio network.
By 1972, with the prospect of a Soviet invasion receding, a decision was taken to "make a pre-emptive attack" on the Italian communist party - who had polled 27% in that year's election - and who would go on to increase their vote to 35% just four years later. There immediately followed a series of bomb outrages signaling the beginning of a "strategy of tension," designed to shift Italian politics sharply to the right. In April 1972 a Fascist bomb attack killed three carabinieri. In November 1973, an Argo 16 aircraft was destroyed in a mid-air explosion.
But if the Gladio network was the armed force, the secret Masonic lodge "Propaganda Due" (P2) was the Elitist "shadow government" tasked with directing them. Adhering to a right wing ideology bordering on fascism, P2 was headed by Licio Gelli - known as the "Puppet-master." During the war, Gelli had been a member of Mussolini's notorious "Black shirts," and later acted as liaison officer to the Hermann Goering SS division. By 1974 P2 had in excess of 1000 members comprising a "who's who" of Italian political, military and economic power. Members included four Cabinet ministers, three intelligence chiefs, 160 senior military officers, 48 MPs, the Army Chief of Staff, as well as top diplomats, bankers, industrialists and media publishers.
It was also during 1974 that Gelli met secretly with Alexander Haig. Formerly, the NATO Supreme Commander, Haig had meanwhile become President Nixon's White House Chief of Staff. The secret meeting was held in the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Receiving the blessing of Henry Kissinger, the U.S. National Security Adviser, Gelli left the meeting with a promise of continued financial support for the Gladio network and it's plan for the "internal subversion" of Italian political life. As welcome as this was, Gelli required additional funds to support P2 and operation Gladio.
He turned to P2 member Roberto Calvi, Chairman of Banco Ambrosiano - the largest non-state owned bank in Italy. Calvi began to illegally siphon money from his bank, using the Vatican bank - the Istituto per de Religione (IOR) - to launder it. Almost certainly, Gelli had a hold over Calvi. Earlier, in 1967, the former head of the Italian Secret Service had joined P2 and brought with him 150,000 sensitive dossiers that had been compiled on highly placed individuals of Italian society.
Whether as a result of blackmail or political ideology, Calvi continued to funnel a vast amount of funds to Gelli and P2, bankrupting his bank in the process. Meanwhile, other events were to occur that shocked not only Italy but the entire world. In early 1978, Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped and later assassinated by the so called "Red brigades" - a revolutionary pro Soviet group. Evidence now exists that shows Moro's murder was orchestrated by P2, and that both the "Red" and "Black" brigades were heavily penetrated by US intelligence - who are credited with "running" them.
Four years earlier, in 1974, Moro - then Foreign Minister - visited the U.S. Aware of the popular, democratic support the Italian Communist Party (PCI) was receiving from Italian voters, Moro wished to reach an accommodation with the PCI, and offer their leaders Cabinet rank in a new centrist ruling party. His Washington visit did not go well. During a meeting with then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, Moro was told that such a move was viewed in the U.S. as "profoundly dangerous and mistaken." A later meeting with an unnamed intelligence official left Moro fearful for his life. The official told Moro he must abandon any idea to incorporate the communists "or you will pay dearly for it." The official continued by warning Moro that "groups on the fringes of the official secret services might be brought into operation" if he didn't modify his position. It was a clear reference to P2 and the Gladio network. Moro cut short his visit and returned home in fear of his life, his wife later revealed.
Within months of Moro's assassination, the world awoke to hear the glad news that Albino Luciani had been elected Pope, taking the title Pope John Paul I. Revered as an honest, gentle and insightful man, Luciani's election caused anguish in many areas of the Vatican curia. Not least, Bishop Paul Marcinkus, the American head of the Vatican bank, felt his days were numbered. Marcinkus' removal from office would open a hornet's nest of financial sleaze. Via the Vatican bank, Marcinkus had engaged in a vast amount of financial skulduggery. In addition to his financial shenanigans with Banco Ambrosiano, the IOR was also using known Mafia figures to invest some of its vast wealth. Not least, Luciani was viewed by some on the far right of Italian politics to be soft on communism; his father being a committed Socialist and having once stood for political office.
Taken as a whole it was more than enough. Thirty three days after his election, the "Smiling Pope," as he was popularly known, was found dead. Replaced by Karol Wojtyla, who took the title of John Paul II, Bishop Marcinkus was not only reprieved but became a close confidant of the new Polish pope. Under the new, safer regime, Marcinkus went on to provide large sums to the Polish ship-workers union, Solidarity - which is largely credited with bringing an end to communism in Poland. Clearly, staunch anti communism was to be a continuing feature of Vatican life, as it had been under Luciani's predecessor, Pope Paul VI - who as the young Monsignor Giovanni Montini, the Under Secretary of State since 1937 - was heavily involved in the post war Ratlines.
In an additional "twist" it was revealed in 1992, by Mafia defector Francesco Mannino Mannoia, that Roberto Calvi had been strangled by Francesco Di Carlo, the Mafia's London based Heroin traffic manager. The order for the murder came from Pippo Calo, the Mafia treasurer and ambassador to Rome. Desperate to plug an increasingly large hole in his banks books, Calvi had agreed to launder large quantities of drugs money for the Corleone Mafia empire. Instead of laundering Mafia money, Calvi began skimming the profits to keep his bank afloat.
Faced with certain discovery and even more certain consequences, Calvi rushed to London to negotiate a loan from Opus Dei - a highly secretive and fabulously wealthy Catholic faction described by one authority as "sinister, secretive and Orwellian." A highly credible and knowledgeable source told this writer that Calvi met with the Treasurer of Opus Dei who had agreed to purchase a minority stake in Calvi's Banco Ambrosiano. The deal, had it proceeded, would have provided the essential funds needed to repay the Mafia, and stave-off an imminent investigation into his affairs by Italy's Central bank.
Opus Dei - which translates as "God's work" - had long sought to take effective control of the Vatican. Their cause had been advanced by the sudden death of Pope John Paul I and the election of a keen supporter: Pope John Paul II. With Machiavellian insight, senior figures of Opus Dei reasoned that with Calvi dead, the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano would surely follow. This, in turn, would shake loose powerful enemies inside the Curia, opening the way for them to gain total dominance of the Vatican. Consequently, Roberto Calvi was thrown to the Wolves.
According to critics, Opus Dei is aggressively right wing in its teachings, and operates a form of thought control. Disciples undergo bouts of agonising self inflicted torture, allegedly designed to clarify thought and cleanse the spirit. They are also taught to avoid natural human feelings, being admonished instead to have a "reticent and guarded heart." Likewise, disciples are not permitted to read certain books, including those authored by communist ideologist Karl Marx.
Detractors believe it a religious faction that shares numerous values similar to the neo-nazis that people the Masonic P2 lodge. Until recently - and for hundreds of years previously - any member of the Catholic church who was found to be a Freemason was automatically ex-communicated. Despite this, many members of the Curia were discovered to be covert members of P2. Subsequently, in 1983, a new Canon Law announced that this would cease. Thereafter, any member of the Roman Church was free to become a Freemason.
Following the Calvi affair, the Vatican sought to diminish increasingly poor publicity by establishing a commission of enquiry. One of the so called "Four Wise Men" who sat on this enquiry was Dr. Herman Abs, a senior German banker. During the war years Abs headed Deutsche Bank and was one of the principal financiers of Adolf Hitler. He also sat on the board of I.G. Farben, the massive Nazi conglomerate that used slave labour until they dropped. Farben also manufactured Zyklon B - the poisonous gas used with such devastating effect in the extermination camps. Arrested for war crimes at the end of WWII, Abs was quietly released following the intervention of the Bank of England.