The CIA recruited numerous former Nazi leaders and Italian fascists as agents for their worldwide operations against communism. Of these men, Italian Stefano delle Chiaie must surely be the most notorious. In his homeland he was a central activist in numerous fascist organizations, coup attempts and terrorist attacks that shocked the world. In his long years of exile, he organized torture, death squads and intelligence services in the US installed military dictatorships in South America. He died on September 10, 2019, age 82.
To adequately describe Delle Chiaie’s career, it is necessary to give a fair bit of background on the dramatic events that happened partially behind the scenes in Italy during his lifetime.
For the United States, Italy was always regarded as a weak link. During the Cold War, the Communist Party (PCI) always enjoyed extensive popular support, and over a period of 50 years again and again was close to winning the national elections, outright or as part of coalitions. Starting with a massive intervention in the 1948 parliamentary elections to stop this from ever happening, the CIA with its local partners from then on had a heavy hand in the Italian political system.
The Italian Communist party have always had an fiercely independent streak, and would probably never have fallen under Moscow’s hegemonic control. But these ideas of ‘Euro-communism’ or a ‘Third Way’ was nevertheless a direct challenge to US hegemony, as many have found out to their cost. A left wing government might have left NATO, kicked out the huge presence of US bases and nuclear weapons, or begun a progressive and independent foreign and economic policy.
At age 14, Delle Chiaie joined the youth section of the fascist party MSI. He was later active in Avanguardia Nazionale (‘National Vanguard» and founder of Ordine Nuovo (‘New Order), banned by the Italian government in 1973.
Chiaie’s known cooperation with the political police began with CIA’s Operation Chaos, a continuation of the effort to keep the left out of power. In the 1960’s, under direction of the Interior Ministry, his fascist movement Avanguardia Nazionale was used to impersonate «Maoists”, in an attempt to split the support base of the main communist party, the PCI.
Gladio – NATO’s secret armies
After WW2, the Western allies (US/UK) decided to form Stay Behind organizations in Western Europe. Their purpose was commit espionage, sabotage, assassinations and spread propaganda in case a Soviet invasion. Since they were anti-communist, they were generally recruited from bourgeois right wing circles. But in fascist Italy (like in West Germany), this recruitment base created a special situation. The men who both had military experience and an extra hard-line anti-communist attitude, were the most fanatic parts of the former regime, like Junio Borghese’s (see below) elite special forces. In reality this meant that heavily armed extreme right wing networks, designed to commit terrorist acts, were created as part of a shadow government. The leaders of this network worked in all parts of Italian life, but often had powerful daytime jobs in the intelligence/military apparatus, government, the big media or the corporate sector.
A coup is prepared
In the late 60s, the country, as much of Western Europe, experienced a wave of left wing student protests and labour unrest, and the popular mood was increasingly progressive. The fear of losing control was so great that right wing fractions in the armed forces, allying with like-minded groups in society, started planning a coup d’etat.
As a prelude, it was necessary to harden public opinion against the left. A series of terrorist attacks took place during autumn of 1969, like the attacks of April 25, 1969 at railway station in Milan, wounding 5; and on August 8. and 9, when bombs exploded on trains, injuring twelve people.
The terror campaign culminated with a series of attacks in December, with the most serious one being the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan, killing 17 people and wounding 88.
It is generally accepted that fascist groups with participation of Delle Chiaie were responsible, but at the time, they were wrongly blamed on communists and the extreme left. The Italian military intelligence service SID quickly concluded that these attacks had been carried out by the political right with support of the CIA, but went to great lengths to cover up this fact. Clues on the crime scenes were hidden and arrests of alleged leftist perpetrators followed immediately. In Milan, one of the bombs had not gone off due to timer failure, but in an immediate cover-up the bomb was destroyed on the scene by the secret service. Parts of a bomb were planted in the villa of the well-known leftist publisher Feltrinelli. (Ganser)
The general public had little chance to find out what was true.
In a later trial, the right-wing terrorist and Ordine Nuovo member Vincenzo Vinciguerra testified that he and his fellow right-wingers had been recruited to cooperate with the Gladio secret army to carry out the most bloody operations.
13 years later after the Piazza Fontana, in 1982, a warrant for Delle Chiaie’s arrest in connection with case was issued.
The Borghese coup attempt
A year later, the coup conspirators were ready to strike, organized and led by Junio Valerio Borghese. Borghese, also known as ‘the Black Prince’, was a previous the commander of an Italian elite special forces unit, (X Flottiglia MAS), that had chosen to fight on with the Germans to the very end during WW2. Borghese himself was only saved from being lynched by the resistance in 1945 by US forces.
The coup started to move on December 7, 1970. Assault columns, consisting of soldiers and fascist volunteers, prepared to take over strategic places in the capital. Delle Chiaie led the storm troopers that were to take over the Interior Ministry. In fact, he was the only one who actually did his part of the plan, since he was able to seize the Ministry fast and without resistance.
But the coup was canceled by Borghese himself at the very last minute, for reasons never clarified, possibly because there were uncertainty of sufficient support from key actors. To avoid arrest, Borghese took refuge in Francisco Franco’s fascist Spain, where he died some years later.
In 1978, Delle Chiaie was convicted in absentia to 5 years jail for his part in the coup attempt.
The American connection
The Swiss historian Daniele Ganser, in his seminal book NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe, writes (1,p6): In March 2001 General Giandelio Maletti, former head of Italian counterintelligence, suggested that next to the Gladio secret army, the Italian secret service and a group of Italian right-wing terrorists, the massacres which had discredited the Italian Communists had also been supported by the White House in Washington and the US secret service CIA. At a trial of right-wing extremists accused to have been involved in the Piazza Fontana massacre, Maletti testified: ‘The CIA, following the directives of its government, wanted to create an Italian nationalism capable of halting what it saw as a slide to the left, and, for this purpose, it may have made use of right-wing terrorism.’ ‘The impression was that the Americans would do anything to stop Italy from sliding to the left’, the General explained and added: ‘Don’t forget that Nixon was in charge and Nixon was a strange man, a very intelligent politician, but a man of rather unorthodox initiatives.’
Delle Chiaie’s Connections with the power elite through the P2 freemasonry lodge
While the Gladio secret army was more of a military network, the P2 lodge was Delle Chiaie’s direct connection to the power elite. There, he mingled with the most powerful men in Italy. Formally P2 was a Freemason lodge, and had as its membership several hundred of country’s elite, from politics (prominently grey eminence Giulio Andreotti), leaders of the military and police, media owners and chief editors, and CEOs (like Silvio Berlusconi) and figures from organized crime.
The leader of the P2 lodge was another of these infamous men wielding power behind the scenes, Licio Gelli. A military intelligence (SID) dossier made public in 1991, states that Gelli and several members of P2 took part in the Borghese coup. We only know of Delle Chiese’s membership in the lodge because in 1994, Gelli was convicted for fraud in connection with the big bankruptcy scandal of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982. In connection with the case, some of Gelli’s papers were confiscated, revealing a partial list of the lodge members, where also Delle Chiaie’s name was mentioned.
Spreading death in exile
After it got too hot for him in Italy, Delle Chiaie decided to move abroad. He lived in exile from 1970 until March 1997, from where he continued his relationship and contacts with Italian and international neo-fascist networks and intelligence services.
He move to Franco’s Spanish dictatorship in 1971. Spain was then a central node in all sorts of right wing networks, where fascists and Nazis, both of the old and new kind, enjoyed a safe haven. Delle Chiaie quickly established connections to both French and German ultra right networks.
The move did not stop him from again doing what he was best at. He was involved in the organization paramilitary death squads (LAGs) on behalf of the Spanish government, to counter ETA separatists; these squads committed several hundred bloody attacks and extra-judicially executions of at least 50 people, both in Spain and abroad.
Moving on to South America
During a trip in 1974 with Junio Borghese to Chile, Delle Chiaie met Augusto Pinochet, the freshly installed dictator, whom he met again in 1975 in Madrid on the occasion of Franco’s funeral. Given the changed political situation in Spain, with a political liberalization, he decided to move on to Chile in 1976.
There he established a press (propaganda) office in Santiago de Chile, working together with French right wing extremists in Aginter Press, a CIA front. He was also directly involved working for the Pinochet regime, as an advisor for the Chilean intelligence service Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia (DINA).
Delle Chiaie took an active part in Operation Condor, organizing death squads and extraordinary renditions between the various South American dictatorships to exterminate the Latin American left. The program took particular aim at political refugees, and killed some 60.000 people, another 30.000 ‘disappeared’ and 400.000 imprisoned and tortured. A small minority of the victims were guerilla activists, but most were just people with a wish for a better society; students, writers, musicians, journalists, priests and nuns, teachers, indigenous leaders, union members.
In 2019, newly declassified CIA-documents revealed a close level of contact between European and South American secret services. «Representatives of the intelligence services of West Germany, France and the United Kingdom visited the coordination secretariat of Operation Condor in Buenos Aires during the month of September 1977 to discuss methods to establish an antisubversive organization similar to Operation Condor,» described as “a cooperative effort by the intelligence/security services of several South American countries to combat terrorism and subversion”.
Delle Chiaie spent some time briefly in Argentina in 1977, before he in 1978 moved to Bolivia. There he, along with fellow comrades from his Spanish years, took part in the building of a paramilitary squadron employed by the Bolivian Ministry of the Interior. Delle Chiaie worked under the leadership of Klaus Barbie, “the Butcher of Lyon”, an escaped German war criminal, for the security services of the Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer. A few years later, this group also helped Luis García Meza Tejada to take power in a coup in 1980, nicknamed ‘the cocaine coup’ because of the coup-makers close connection to the drug world. Delle Chiaie became «political advisor» for Tejada, then his successor dictator Celso Torrelio Villa. The new regime became internationally infamous for its extreme brutality.
More actions in Italy?
While busy murdering left wing activist in South America, there are few direct links between him and the ‘Years of Lead’ in 1970s Italy, a decade of heavy political violence from both left and right-wing groups.
As opposed to the Red Brigades who ended up in jail, the terrorists of the right in general escaped punishment, like Chiaia and Borghese, because, as the convicted (one of the few) right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra pointed out: «every single outrage that followed from 1969 fitted into a single, organised matrix… Avanguardia Nazionale, like Ordine Nuovo, were being mobilised into the battle as part of an anti-communist strategy originating not with organisations deviant from the institutions of power, but from within the state itself, and specifically from within the ambit of the state’s relations within the Atlantic Alliance.» (quoted in Ganser)
The tensions thus created in society suited the ones who ruled the country perfectly. The left wing parties got discredited by all this bloodshed, Third Way politics got pushed to the side, while the population demanded or acquiesced to heavier security measures and a strengthening of the state’s apparatus of repression, like the police and the military.
From the Borghese coup onwards, Delle Chiaie was probably a part, even if only as ‘guardian angel’, in almost every subversive project and in every massacre in Italy, Since then 1969-70 cases, there has been no investigation into Italian neo-fascism that has not mentioned him.
Return to Italy
In the end, he managed to escape justice. In 1985, he was acquitted in absentia on appeal by the Italian High Court for any part in the Borghese coup. In 1987, he was arrested by Venezuelan police and extradited to Italy, where he was acquitted in court trials for his part in the Piazza Fontana bombing in 1969 and other cases.
He later founded several fascists movements, without any great success, and a TV-station, but became a grand old man for the now mainstream neofascist wave in Italy.
That the hospital he died in was not a prison hospital, is a testimony to the powerful networks of old collaborators that still hold a protective hand over their own people.
This article is Creative Commons 4.0