Numero zero

  “My heart sometimes goes out to that poor man,” said Braggadocio. “Imagine him still waiting patiently . . . assuming he was in Argentina, where even if he couldn’t eat the great beefsteaks because of his ulcer, he could at least look out over the boundless pampas (even so, what bliss—just think—for twenty-five years). It would have been worse if he’d been shut up in the Vatican, with no more than an evening walk in a small garden, and vegetable broth served by a nun with hairs on her chin, and the idea of having lost not only Italy but his lover, unable to hug his children, and perhaps going slightly soft in the head, spending day after day in an armchair brooding over past glories, only able to see what was going on in the world through the television, black and white, while he thought back—his mind now clouding with age but roused by syphilis—to triumphant moments on the balcony of Palazzo Venezia, to summers when he harvested the corn bare-chested, smothered children with kisses while their aroused mothers slavered over his hands, or the afternoons in the Sala del Mappamondo, where his manservant, Navarra, would bring women in for him and, unbuttoning his fly in cavalry fashion, he would flip them over on his desk and, wham, inseminate them in seconds while they made simpering groans like bitches in heat, murmuring, ‘Oh, my Duce, my Duce’ . . . And as he thought back, salivating, his cock now flaccid, someone was hammering away in his head about the idea of resurrection close at hand—like the joke about Hitler, who’s also in Argentina, and the neo-Nazis want him to come back and conquer the world, and he hems and haws, since he too is getting old, and finally he says, ‘Okay, but this time as baddies, right?’

  “Anyhow,” continued Braggadocio, “in 1970 everything seemed to suggest a military coup might work. The head of the Italian secret services was General Miceli, who was also a member of the P2 Masonic lodge and would later become a politician and member of the Neofascist Party—note that he was suspected and investigated for involvement in the Borghese affair, though he got through it unscathed and died peacefully two years ago. I’ve learned from a reliable source that Miceli, two years after the Borghese coup, still received eight hundred thousand dollars from the American embassy, no one knows why. Borghese could therefore rely on excellent support from the top, and on Gladio, on the Falangist veterans of the Spanish Civil War, on Masonic contacts, and it has been implied that the Mafia played a part—which, as you know, it always does. And in the shadows, the ubiquitous Licio Gelli stirring up the police and the top military command, which already swarmed with Freemasons. Just listen to the story of Licio Gelli, because it’s central to my theory.

  “So Gelli, he’s never denied it, fought in the Spanish Civil War with Franco. And he was in the Italian Social Republic and worked as a liaison officer with the SS, but at the same time he had contacts with the partisans, and after the war he links up with the CIA. Someone like that could hardly fail to be mixed up with Gladio. But hear this: in July 1942, as an inspector of the National Fascist Party, he was given the task of transporting the treasury of King Peter II of Yugoslavia into Italy: sixty tons of gold ingots, two tons of old coinage, six million U.S. dollars, and two million pounds sterling that the Military Intelligence Service had requisitioned. The treasury was finally returned in 1947, twenty tons of ingots light, and it is rumored that Gelli had moved them to Argentina. Argentina, you understand? In Argentina, Gelli is on friendly terms with Perón, and not just with Perón but with generals such as Videla, and from Argentina he receives a diplomatic passport. Who else is mixed up with Argentina? His right-hand man, Umberto Ortolani, who is also the link between Gelli and Monsignor Marcinkus. And so? So everything points us to Argentina, where the Duce is living and preparing for his return, and there’s obviously a need for money and good organization and local support. Which is why Gelli is essential to the Borghese plan.”

  “It sounds convincing, doesn’t it.”

  “And it is. This doesn’t alter the fact that Borghese was putting together a comic Brancaleone army, where alongside diehard Fascist granddads (Borghese himself was over sixty) were representatives of the state and even divisions of the Forestry Rangers—don’t ask why the Forestry Rangers, perhaps with all the deforestation that had gone on after the war, they had nothing better to do. But this motley crew was capable of some nasty things. From later judicial proceedings it emerges that Licio Gelli’s role was to capture the president of the republic, at that time Giuseppe Saragat. A ship owner from Civitavecchia had offered the use of his merchant ships to transport those captured by the conspirators to the Lipari Islands. You won’t believe who else was involved in the operation. Otto Skorzeny, the man who had freed Mussolini from his brief imprisonment on the Gran Sasso mountain in 1943! He was still around, someone else who had survived the bloody postwar purges unscathed, with links to the CIA. He could ensure that the United States would not oppose the coup so long as a ‘moderate democratic’ military regime took power. Just think of the hypocrisy there. But what the later investigations never brought to light was that Skorzeny had evidently remained in contact with Mussolini, who owed him a lot—perhaps he would take care of the Duce’s return from exile to provide the heroic vision the conspirators needed. In short, the coup depended entirely on Mussolini’s triumphal return.

  “Just listen to this. The coup had been carefully planned since 1969, the year of the bombing in Piazza Fontana, which was arranged so all suspicion would fall on the Left and to psychologically prepare public opinion for a return to law and order. Borghese planned to occupy the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the state television studios, and the communication networks (radio and telephone), and to deport all parliamentary opponents. This isn’t some fantasy on my part: a proclamation was later found that Borghese was going to read out on the radio, and which said more or less that the long-awaited time for political change had arrived, that the clique that had governed for twenty-five years had brought Italy to the brink of economic and moral disaster, and that the army and police supported the takeover of political power. Borghese would have ended by saying, ‘Italians, in delivering the glorious tricolor back into your hands, we urge you to cry out proudly our hymn of love, Viva l’Italia.’ Language typical of Mussolini.”

  On December 7 and 8, 1970, Braggadocio reminded me, several hundred conspirators assembled in Rome, arms and ammunition were distributed, two generals had taken up position at the Ministry of Defense, a group of armed Forestry Rangers were posted at the state television headquarters, and preparations were made in Milan for the occupation of the Sesto San Giovanni quarter, a traditional Communist stronghold.

  “Then, all of a sudden, what happens? While the plan seemed to be proceeding smoothly, and we might say the conspirators had Rome within their grasp, Borghese announced that the operation had been called off. Later it was implied that forces loyal to the state were opposed to the conspiracy, but then why not arrest Borghese the day before, rather than wait for uniformed lumberjacks to make their way to Rome? In any event, the whole business is more or less hushed up, those behind the coup slip discreetly away, Borghese takes refuge in Spain, a few idiots get themselves arrested, all of them ‘detained’ in private clinics, and some visited by General Miceli in their new quarters and promised protection in exchange for silence. Parliamentary inquiries are hardly mentioned by the press, in fact the public is fed vague news about it only three months later. I’m not interested in what actually happened, what I want to know is why a coup so carefully prepared was called off in a matter of a few hours, transforming an extremely serious business into a farce. Why?”

  “You tell me.”

  “I think I’m the only person to have asked the question and certainly the only one to have worked out the answer, which is as plain as day: that very night, news arrives that Mussolini, who is now in Italy ready to resurface, has suddenly died—which, at his age, and having been shuttled around, is hardly improbable. The coup is called off because its charismatic symbol is gone, and this time for real, twenty-five years after his su
pposed death.”

  Braggadocio’s eyes gleamed, appearing to illuminate the lines of skulls that surrounded us, his hands shook, his lips were covered with whitish saliva. He grasped me by the shoulders: “You understand, Colonna, this is my reconstruction of the facts!”

  “But if I remember correctly, there was also a trial—”

  “A charade, with Andreotti, the then prime minister, helping to cover it all up, and those who ended in jail were minor players. The point is, everything we heard was false or distorted, and for twenty years we’ve been living a lie. I’ve always said: never believe what they tell you . . .”

  “And your story ends there . . .”

  “Eh, no, this is the beginning of another one, and perhaps I only became interested through what happened next, which was the direct consequence of Mussolini’s death. Without the figure of the Duce, Gladio could no longer hope to seize power, and meanwhile the prospect of Soviet invasion seemed increasingly remote, since there was now a gradual move toward détente. But Gladio was not disbanded. On the contrary, it became truly active from then on.”

  “And how was that?”

  “Well, since it’s no longer a question of establishing a new power by overthrowing the government, Gladio joins up with all the hidden forces trying to destabilize Italy in an effort to prevent the rise of the Left and to prepare the way for new forms of repression, to be carried out in full accordance with the law. Before the Borghese plot, you realize, don’t you, that there were very few bomb attacks like Piazza Fontana? Only then do the Red Brigades get going. And the bombings start in the years immediately following, one after another: 1973, a bomb at the police headquarters in Milan; 1974, a massacre in Piazza della Loggia in Brescia; that same year, a high-explosive bomb goes off on the train from Rome to Munich, with twelve dead and forty-eight injured. But remember, Aldo Moro, foreign minister at the time and soon to be prime minister, was to have been on board, but had missed the train because some ministry officials had made him get off at the last moment to sign some urgent documents. Ten years later, another bomb on the Naples–Milan express. Not to mention the killing of Moro in 1978, and we still don’t know what really happened. As if that weren’t enough, in that same year, a month after his election, the new pope, John Paul I, died mysteriously. Heart attack or stroke, they said, but why did the pope’s personal effects disappear: his glasses, his slippers, his notes, and the bottle of Effortil he apparently had to take for low blood pressure? Why did these things disappear into thin air? Perhaps because it wasn’t credible that someone with hypotension would have a stroke? Why was Cardinal Villot the first important person to enter the room immediately after? It’s obvious, you’ll say—he was the Vatican secretary of state. But a book by a certain David Yallop exposes a number of facts: the pope is rumored to have been interested in the existence of an ecclesiastical-Masonic cabal that included Cardinal Villot, Monsignor Agostino Casaroli, deputy director of the Osservatore Romano newspaper and director of Vatican Radio, and of course the ever-present Monsignor Marcinkus, who ruled the roost at the Istituto per le Opere di Religione, better known as the Vatican Bank, and who was later discovered to have been involved in tax evasion and money laundering, and who covered up other dark dealings by such characters as Roberto Calvi and Michele Sindona—both of whom, surprise surprise, would come to a sticky end over the next few years, one hanged under Blackfriars Bridge in London, the other poisoned in prison. A copy of the weekly magazine Il Mondo was found on the pope’s desk, open to a report on the operations of the Vatican Bank. Yallop suspects six people of the murder: Villot, Cardinal John Cody of Chicago, Marcinkus, Sindona, Calvi, and once again Licio Gelli, the venerable master of the P2 Masonic lodge. You’ll tell me this has nothing to do with Gladio, but by sheer coincidence, many of these characters play some part in the other conspiracies, and the Vatican was involved in rescuing and sheltering Mussolini. Perhaps this was what the pope had discovered, though several years had passed since the death of the real Duce, and he wanted to get rid of the gang that had been preparing to overthrow the state since the end of the Second World War. And I should add that with Pope John Paul I dead, the business must have ended up in the hands of John Paul II, shot three years later by the Turkish Grey Wolves, the same Grey Wolves, as I’ve said, who were a part of the Turkish stay-behind . . . The pope then grants a pardon, his contrite attacker repents in prison, but all in all, the pontiff is frightened off and no longer gets involved in that business, not least because he has no overwhelming interest in Italy and seems preoccupied with fighting Protestant sects in the Third World. And so they leave him be. Aren’t all these coincidences proof enough?”

  “Or perhaps it’s just your tendency to see conspiracies everywhere, so you put two and two together to make five.”

  “Me? Look at the court cases, it is all there, provided you’re able to find your way around the archives. The trouble is, facts get lost between one piece of news and another. Take the story about Peteano. In May 1972, near Gorizia, the police are informed that a Fiat Five Hundred with two bullet holes in the windshield has been abandoned on a certain road. Three policemen arrive; they try to open the hood and are blown up. For some time it’s thought to be the work of the Red Brigades, but years later someone by the name of Vincenzo Vinciguerra appears on the scene. And listen to this: after his involvement in other mysterious affairs, he manages to avoid arrest and escapes to Spain, where he is sheltered by the international anticommunist network Aginter Press. Here he makes contact with another right-wing terrorist, Stefano Delle Chiaie, joins the Avanguardia Nazionale, then disappears to Chile and Argentina, but in 1978 he decides, magnanimously, that all this struggle against the state made no sense and he gives himself up in Italy. Note that he didn’t repent, he still thought he’d been right to do what he had done up until then, and so, I ask you, why did he give himself up? I’d say out of a need for publicity. There are murderers who return to the scene of the crime, serial killers who send evidence to the police because they want to be caught, otherwise they will not end up on the front page, and so Vinciguerra starts spewing out confession after confession. He accepts responsibility for the explosion at Peteano and points his finger at the security forces who had protected him. Only in 1984 does an investigating judge, Felice Casson, discover that the explosive used at Peteano came from a Gladio arms depot, and most intriguing of all, the existence of that depot was revealed to him—I’ll give you a thousand guesses—by Andreotti, who therefore knew and had kept his mouth shut. A police expert (who also happened to be a member of the far-right Ordine Nuovo) had reported that the explosive was identical to that used by the Red Brigades, but Casson established that the explosive was C-4 supplied to NATO forces. In short, a fine web of intrigue, but as you can see, regardless of whether it was NATO or the Red Brigades, Gladio was implicated. Except that the investigations also show that Ordine Nuovo had been working with the Italian military secret service. And you understand that if a military secret service has three policemen blown up, it won’t be out of any dislike for the police but to direct the blame at far-left extremists. To make a long story short, after investigations and counterinvestigations, Vinciguerra is sentenced to life in prison, from where he continues to make revelations over the strategy of tension they were conducting. He talks about the bombing of the Bologna railway station (you see how there are links between one bombing and another, it’s not just my imagination), and he says that the massacre at Piazza Fontana in 1969 had been planned to force the then prime minister, Mariano Rumor, to declare a state of emergency. He also adds, and I’ll read it to you: ‘You can’t go into hiding without money. You can’t go into hiding without support. I could choose the path that others followed, of finding support elsewhere, perhaps in Argentina through the secret services. I could also choose the path of crime. But I have no wish to work with the secret services nor to play the criminal. So to regain my freedom I had only one choice. To give myself up. And this is what I’ve do
ne.’ Obviously it’s the logic of an exhibitionist lunatic, but a lunatic who has reliable information. And so this is my story, reconstructed almost in its entirety: the shadow of Mussolini, who is taken for dead, wholly dominates Italian events from 1945 until, I’d say, now. And his real death unleashes the most terrible period in this country’s history, involving stay-behind, the CIA, NATO, Gladio, the P2, the Mafia, the secret services, the military top command, prime ministers such as Andreotti and presidents like Cossiga, and naturally a good part of the far-left terrorist organizations, duly infiltrated and manipulated. Not to mention that Moro was kidnapped and assassinated because he knew something and would have talked. And if you want to, you can add lesser criminal cases that have no apparent political relevance . . .”

  “Yes, the Beast of Via San Gregorio, the Soap Maker of Correggio, the Monster of the Via Salaria . . .”

  “Ah, well, don’t be sarcastic. Perhaps not the cases immediately after the war, but for the rest it’s more convenient, as they say, to see just one story dominated by a single virtual figure who seemed to direct the traffic from the balcony of Palazzo Venezia, even though no one could see him. Skeletons can always appear at night,” he said, pointing to the silent hosts around us, “and perform their danse macabre. You know, there are more things in heaven and earth, etc. etc. But it’s clear, once the Soviet threat was over, that Gladio was officially consigned to the attic, and both Cossiga and Andreotti talked about it to exorcise its ghost, to present it as something normal that happened with the approval of the authorities, of a community made up of patriots, like the Carbonari in bygone times. But is it really all over, or are certain diehard groups still working away in the shadows? I think there is more to come.”

  He looked around, frowned: “But we’d better leave now, I don’t like the look of that Japanese group coming in. Oriental spies are everywhere, and now that China’s at it, they can understand all languages.”

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