Archives for posts with tag: Avanguardia Nazionale

Puppetmaster: Federico Umberto D'Amato

When the Milan anarchists from the Ponte Della Ghisolfa circle accused the Interior Ministry of covering up for those guilty of the Piazza Fontana massacre at their press conference on 17 December 1969, the reporters present were incredulous and scoffed. They wrote about “youngsters reeling from the shock of recent days”. But the facts have shown that that accusation was not without foundation.

In fact, we need to take a much closer look at what was being done in the 1960s and 1970s by the Interior Ministry’s Bureau of Confidential Affairs, a powerful security-cum-espionage centre run by Federico Umberto D’Amato. Born in Marseilles in 1919 of a Piedmontese father and Neapolitan mother, D’Amato had risen to prominence in his youth when, in 1945, he had handled contacts with the intelligence services of the Salò Republic to recover the archives of the OVRA (Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism), Benito Mussolini’s secret service.  He joined the Viminale in 1957 as an ordinary official and rose through its ranks to head the Bureau of Confidential Affairs.

D’Amato was replaced on 30 May 1974, following the slaughter in Brescia, but he stayed on at the Viminale and in fact still controlled the bureau — just as he did when his formal superiors, Elvio Catenacci and Ariberto Vigevano were the directors.

D'Amato was replaced following the May 1974 Brescia outrage

He was obliged to retire in the mid-1980s, moving a lot of important secret files built up over decades abroad. These were tangible evidence of the power he had wielded over many Italian politicians, entrepreneurs, senior managers and intellectuals. But D’Amato was not just a super-spy — he was a man who appreciated the delights of the table and it was in that capacity he edited the weekly food column ‘La tavola’ in L’Espresso and the Guide to the Inns and Restaurants of Italy, published by the same paper.  His passion for wine and good food caused his cirrhosis of the liver, and he died in August 1996.

When the student revolts erupted in 1968, D’Amato — who described himself as a sbirro (a plod) but was in fact a skilled double- and even triple-dealer and never let an opportunity go a-begging — was not worried about “students playing at revolution”. His target was, as ever, the Communist Party.

Stefano Delle Chiaie (D'Amato's facilitator in Avanguardia Nazionale)

It was his idea to commission the publishing of thousands upon thousands of pro-Chinese leaflets, which he entrusted to Stefano Delle Chiaie for distribution through Avanguardia Nazionale and Ordine Nuovo members. The latter stuck them up on walls in nearly every town in Italy. By providing a helping hand to the PCI’s main competition on the left, D’Amato’s aim was to stir up problems for the largest Communist party in the western world.

But D’Amato’s activities did not stop there. Through his connections with Delle Chiaie and many other Nazi-fascist leaders, he was well placed to manipulate the far-right groups. In practice, D’Amato remotely controlled Delle Chiaie, the Avanguardia Nazionale leader.

The man from the Viminale was also Italy’s representative in the Atlantic Alliance Security Office — NATO’s espionage wing, and was therefore able to control the activities of men such as Carlo Digilio, the quartermaster of Ordine Nuovo’s Venice group and an agent of the CIA and NATO’s security service. It was Digilio who fed Delfo Zorzi with the explosives that were used in the bombs on 12 December 1969. Digilio, a conscientious fellow, reported back regularly to his superiors, as was his duty. D’Amato was, therefore, constantly informed as to the activities of Zorzi, Franco Freda and Giovanni Ventura — as well as being a sleeping partner in them.

So who was ultimately responsible for the Piazza Fontana massacre? And if D’Amato controlled Delle Chiaie, is it conceivable that he was unaware of the latter’s part in the bombings in Rome on 12 December 1969? The idea that D’Amato was implicated is anything but a fantasy, given that the Bureau of Confidential Affairs stepped in to protect the activities of the Freda-Ventura group.

An answer in the affirmative seems convincing. It was Catenacci, who posted flying squad boss Pasquale Juliano far from Padua just as he was about to arrest Freda, before Pasquale could complete his task. It was also Catenacci who immediately after Giuseppe Pinelli’s death — having been promoted to deputy chief of police — conducted a secret inquiry in Milan police headquarters and took evidence from the police officers present at Pinelli’s “flight”.

Then, having given them absolution, he prepared the groundwork for Judge Giovanni Caizzi’s dismissal of the charges against the police. Finally, it was D’Amato, the protector, who allowed Delle Chiaie to go on the run for 17 years.

D’Amato was one of the most powerful men in Italy and it may not have been a coincidence that the famous 150,000 files uncovered towards the end of 1996 came to light after his death.

In its strategy of chasing political wild geese and conjuring up false evidence or mounting provocations, the Bureau of Confidential Affairs had a sound ally, but one with whom it had serious differences, as happens in the world of espionage. That partner occupied the Palazzo Barachini, the headquarters of the SID.

General Vito Miceli (SID chief 1970)

General Vito Miceli held the top job at the SID on 18 October 1970, having taken over from Admiral Eugenio Henke who went on to become army chief of staff. In June 1971 General Gianadelio Maletti arrived to take over D Bureau at the SID — its most sensitive department — from Colonel Federico Gasca Queirazza. For top secret operations he established a base under the cover of the Turris Film Company at 235 Via Cecilia, a street off the famous Via Veneto, and it was from these offices that one of his men, Antonio Labruna, head of the NOD, the SID’s operational wing, operated.

General Gianadelio Maletti (head of SID's 'D' Bureau)

When a discernable fascist lead surfaced in connection with the Piazza Fontana massacre and it become increasingly less concealable, the new bosses of the Italian secret services played their role well as misleaders and provocateurs. First they came up with false documents, which they fed to the judges in dribs and drabs. They then cobbled together a larger-scale operation. The carabinieri in Camerino, under Maletti’s supervision, discovered a huge arms dump near that town on 10 November 1972.

SID Captain Antonio Labruna (left) with lawyer.

The dump contained three categories of weapon: World War Two matériel; a second category intended to give a left-wing signature to the dump — catapults, glass marbles, spray cans, bottles, cork stoppers, paraffin and sulphuric acid — the ingredients for making Molotov cocktails. The last category comprised 25 MK2 pineapple-style hand grenades (US-made), TNT, high-powered explosives (pentrite), an anti-tank mine and detonators, fuses and German-made timers. All accompanied by upwards of 600 blank identity cards and a coded card index.

The day after the discovery an article appeared in the daily Il Resto del Carlino — a newspaper belonging to the Attilio Monti group — over the by-line of Guido Paglia, an Avanguardia Nazionale member who had recently become a journalist. The article claimed that the coded card index discovered in the cache was “incontrovertible proof of the subversive and paramilitary activities of certain leftwing extremist groups”.

But Paglia did not stop there. Even although the coded documents had yet to be examined and deciphered, the reporter seemed to know already that the arsenal belonged to leftwing extremists from Rome, Perugia, Trento, Bolzano and Macerata. On 3 January 1973 four left-wingers from these places were charged. The only one missing was the terrorist from Rome.

What was it that led the Carabinieri to these four individuals? The answer was simple, if bewildering. The coded pages (every page was topped by an explanatory key) contained a list of 31 activists from the extra-parliamentary left. But Paglia, however, in a frantic hurry to get his scoop as well as complete his provocation, had jumped the gun somewhat. And knew about things that even the carabinieri were not yet in a position to disclose to him. Furthermore, the owner of the isolated house where the cache had been found had been there only a few days prior to the discovery — and there had been no weapons there at the time.

Briefly, this was the sort of set-up that would collapse even while the charges were being prepared. However, it took until 28 April 1976, three years later, for the matter to be brought to closure, with a postscript in the Macerata Court of Assizes when the Ancona prosecutor-general challenged the dropping of the charges. The accused’s dealings with the courts finally ended on 7 December 1977 when they were cleared on all counts.

Meanwhile, light was being shed on the roles of Labruna and especially of Captain Giancarlo D’Ovidio, commander of the Camerino carabinieri who was to move on to the SID’s D Bureau. They were put in the frame by secret service Colonel Antonio Viezzer, a P2 member, on trial for passing secret material to Licio Gelli.

The Labruna-D’Ovidio trail came to nothing, the examining magistrates having dropped the charges on the basis of legal arguments that many other jurists regarded as irrational.

But, in 1993 further significant evidence came to light regarding D’Ovidio’s role as the organiser of this provocation and the part played by Guelfo Osmani, an SID “asset”. The Camerino affair, while it failed to have the effect the secret services had been looking for, it at least generated serious differences and divisions within far left groups with, for example, Italian Maoists being accused of “adventurism”. General Maletti jotted down, in his own hand, in the margins of the report on Camerino the comment: “Good result”.

Soon afterwards, Maletti’s men faced even more taxing missions because their involvement in the 12 December 1969 bombings; lots of other terrorist activities were about to emerge into the harsh light of day.

Marco Pozzan (Freda loyalist)

In January 1973, Freda loyalist Marco Pozzan fled to avoid an arrest warrant issued by the Treviso magistrates. Massimiliano Fachini, who had overseen so many operations on behalf of his comrade Freda, contacted D Bureau. Fachini was well known and Pozzan vouched for him and accompanied the fugitive to the offices of the Turris Film Company in Rome where he was met by Labruna and Guido Giannettini.

Labruna took Pozzan under his wing and had a false passport made out for him in the name of Mario Zanella (a name that turns up in the list of members of the P2 masonic lodge). On 15 January, Labruna escorted Pozzan to Fiumicino airport where he handed him over to maresciallo Mario Esposito and the pair travelled to Madrid. On arrival in the Spanish capital, Esposito took back the false passport and flew back to Italy.

Giovanni Ventura

In March 1973, Giovanni Ventura was in Monza prison being questioned by the Milan judges Gerardo D’Ambrosio and Emilio Alessandrini. Ventura was looking for a way out and was beginning to confess. The easiest solution was an escape, something Maletti left to Giannettini to organise. Delfo Zorzi told Carlo Digilio to help Giannettini arrange Ventura’s escape: “Arrange for him to escape. Otherwise Ventura is going to talk.”

Agent Zeta, Giannettini’s code name, contacted Ventura’s sister, Mariangela and his fiancée, Pierangela Baretto and persuaded them his escape plan would work. He gave them two keys that — as was later established in court — opened the prison doors. He also gave them two cans of spray, which the D Bureau had obtained from a firm in Berne to dope the guards.

Once out of prison, Ventura was to be smuggled out to Spain, but he did not trust Giannetini, fearing perhaps that his real destination was not Madrid but that he was to be eliminated once and for all during the breakout. But that was not the end of it; he would escape later, on 16 January 1979, during a stay in Catanzaro, when things were better organised.

Guido Giannettini (journalist and SID agent)

Giannettini’s turn came in April 1973.  Agent Zeta, a SID officer since 1966 who operated under the cover of journalist, was now firmly in the sights of Judge D’Ambrosio who had been pressing the SID, unsuccessfully, for information about Giannettini. The latter, a key contact between the secret services and the Freda-Ventura group could not afford the luxury of answering questions that would hold his role up to scrutiny, so he chose to go on the run.

Using the SID’s “travel bureau” he slept overnight in the Turris film company’s apartment and was escorted out of the country the following day by the ubiquitous maresciallo Esposito. But with one difference, on 9 April the pair stopped off in Paris where Giannettini was due to fly on to Madrid, and from there to Buenos Aires.

He escaped just in time. The Milan magistrates had Giannettini’s Rome apartment searched in May and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Agent Zeta in January 1974.

Before leaving France, Giannettini gave an interview to journalist Mario Scialoja from L’Espresso in the spring of 1974 to let his bosses know how loyal he was (in case they abandoned him to his fate). He stated: “The sole aim behind naming me as a SID agent is to implicate military circles, especially the SID, in the Freda case. I will have no truck with this gambit.”

But events were moving quickly. In an interview published in the 20 June edition of Il Mondo, Giulio Andreotti told journalist Massimo Caprara that Giannettini was an SID agent and that Corriere della Sera reporter Giorgio Zicari was an established informant. That was a direct signal to Giannettini that he should no longer feel safe — not even in Buenos Aires.

Giulio Andreotti giving evidence in the Piazza Fontana case

On 8 August Giuseppe Derege Thesauro was made Italy’s ambassador to Argentina. At the Catanzaro trial the diplomat declared: “Giannettini did not hide it from anybody at the embassy that he was running scared and required protection.” Brought back to Italy, Giannettini stuck to his tactics to the end and refused to talk. He made vague allusions by way of signals to his superiors that he would keep mum as long as they stood by him. Hence the statements and depositions from SID chiefs and ministers hell bent on playing down Agent Zeta’s record — the man who had kept them informed about the terrorist activities in which he participated along with Freda and Ventura.

The gamble paid off and the puppet-masters behind the outrages threw Giannettini a few crumbs to stop him talking.  He was rewarded for his silence when the Court of Cassation finally dropped proceedings against him in 1982. But he was not left unemployed for long, being taken on by the rightwing financier and publisher Giuseppe Ciarrapico.

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Inspector Luigi Calabresi of the Milan Special Branch

FASCISTS PLANTING BOMBS. Police arresting anarchists. That is the traditional view of this story. The orders came from above. The left had to be hit and the man in Milan to do it was Inspector Luigi Calabresi. Like his Roman political squad colleague, Umberto Improta, Calabresi carried out these orders with the utmost diligence. On the afternoon of the 12 December bombings, Calabresi was quick to zero in on “that criminal lunatic Valpreda”. After all, it had worked for him after the 25 April bombings when he had jailed anarchists for the bombs at the Fair and at Central Station in Milan. But he was not happy when, only a few days earlier, on 7 December, Antonio Amati, the head of the Milan investigation bureau, had been obliged to free two of them — Giovanni Corradini and Eliane Vincileone — for lack of evidence. Now, faced with carnage of the Piazza Fontana, Calabresi was not going to make do with youngsters like Paolo Braschi and his friends. He needed an adult and Valpreda, at 36, was the right age. He needed someone like Valpreda who had had dropped his characteristic irony and self-mockery and was now given to hotheaded talk.

Hanging out in bars in the Brera (once Milan’s artists’ quarter) Valpreda would launch into long, heated speeches, which were increasingly tainted with a flavour of “fire and brimstone”. The Brera was also teeming with police informers, and the value of an informant is determined by the “quality” of the intelligence he can pass to police headquarters. Valpreda’s speeches grew more exaggerated in the telling and re-telling. Was Valpreda all for confrontations during demonstrations? He was for urban guerrilla warfare. Did he ever talk about “exemplary actions” carried out by a handful of people, but capable of galvanising the masses? He wanted outrages carried out.

Valpreda laid himself wide open with his increasingly “purple” statements and when he joined forces with two young anarchists, Leonardo Claps, aka Steve, and Aniello D’Errico to launch the duplicated bulletin Terra e libertà, the organ of the I Iconoclasti group, group (that is, those three), he wrote a piece for the first (and only) issue in March 1969 entitled “Ravachol is back”.

The arrest of Ravachol at the Restaurant Very, Paris (Flavio Costantini)

This was seized upon by the police to substantiate their thesis that Valpreda was bomb-crazy. Ravachol was the pseudonym used by a French anarchist, François-Claudius Koenigstein, guillotined in 1892 and renowned in late 19th century Paris for his dynamite attacks on the high bourgeoisie. In the public’s collective imagination Ravachol was the very stereotype of the anarchist. Yet, in that article, after listing a succession of small attacks (nearly all of them using something reminiscent of a letter-bomb, or big fire-crackers rather than real explosives), Valpreda had closed his article with this comment: “Hundreds of youngsters are ready to organise in order to take their places as enemies of the State and to cry out ‘No God and No Master’, with Ravachol’s dynamite, Caserio’s dagger, Bresci’s pistol, Bonnot’s machine-gun, and the bombs of Filippi and Henry. Quake, bourgeois! Ravachol is back!

If such mind-boggling prose left the police in ecstasy, it infuriated Giuseppe Pinelli. “I booted that twat Valpreda out of the Ponte [della Ghisolfa]”, he told his comrades from the Bandiera Nera group. After that, from the beginning of 1969 on, relations between Pinelli and Valpreda had cooled. And when Pinelli attended the Gruppi di iniziativa anarchica (GIA) — one of the three strands which made up Italy’s organised anarchist movement alongside the Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI) and the Federated Anarchist Groups (GAF) (the Bandiera Nera group to which Pinelli belonged was linked to the GAF) — convention in Empoli on 2 November 1969, the friction between them worsened. After the convention the anarchists gathered in a trattoria. Valpreda said hello to Pinelli but got no response. Indeed Pinelli used this chance to tell him that he did not regard him as a friend and therefore had no reason to acknowledge his greeting. Valpreda, his dignity offended in front of everyone, flew off the handle and threw a salt-cellar at Pinelli. It was the last time they set eyes on each other.

In Rome, Valpreda fell out with the anarchists from the Circolo Bakunin whom he called too staid and only good for making speeches. He argued on more than one occasion that the students and workers were shrugging off the old regime so time to strike was now. And so, with a group of youngsters in tow — Roberto Mander, Roberto Gargamelli, Enrico Di Cola, and another, Emilio  — he set up the Circolo 22 Marzo. This was the group joined by Mario Merlino, officially formerly of the Avanguardia Nazionale, and by “comrade Andrea”, i.e. Salvatore Ippolito, a public security agent. These two ‘plants’ were to be complemented, on and off and from the outside, by Stefano Serpieri (one of the founders of Ordine Nuovo with Pino Rauti and since the mid-1960s a regular SID informant). Serpieri’s role was marginal but he wanted to ingratiate himself with his superiors. After all he still had to justify the retainer that he was paid by the SID.

Under such surveillance, the members of the Circolo 22 Marzo set about engaging in “politics”. To them this meant taking part in demonstrations which usually ended in clashes, carrying out token actions such as — under Merlino’s leadership — 7 October, throwing a petrol bomb at the door of the MSI branch in Colle Oppio). In short, raising their profile.

Circolo 22 Marzo

Valpreda was the oldest and could boast a sound command of anarchist thought. It was natural, therefore, that he became the most visible member of the Circolo 22 Marzo. The police of course knew this. After the 9 August bomb attacks Valpreda was picked up a dozen times. The police also tried to get him to crack by offering money (98,000 lire) and held out the prospect of his getting a contract with RAI TV. But Valpreda refused to bite and told the police to get stuffed. So surveillance on the group was stepped up, even though it was not doing any more than many other extreme leftwing groups. Why all the attention? The answer is simple: Valpreda was being targeted. He would make a good scapegoat, should the political situation require one. It was not important that he was not doing anything particularly serious: he — an anarchist and a member of a group which in practice had cut itself off from other Rome anarchists — regularly made inflammatory speeches and claimed to have thrown the odd Molotov cocktail. His image fitted the bill. That he was innocent did not matter.

Only by using that sort of reasoning can we comprehend how, in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, Calabresi came to pester every arrested anarchist for news about “that criminal lunatic Valpreda”. Calabresi knew about the falling-out between Pinelli and Valpreda, just as he knew that the Rome anarchist Aldo Rossi was not well disposed towards “that guy from Milan who makes a mess of things unaided.” Maybe he believed that levelling the massacre charges at Valpreda would not bring any response from the anarchists. The charges against him might not do their image any good, but after all the only people indicted would be Valpreda and one or two others from the Circolo 22 Marzo. But the inspector was mistaken.  In part because there was also the matter of our having lost Pinelli.

An unforeseen event occurred. A tiny movement numbering only a few thousand supporters across Italy mobilised with a speed and determination that almost defied belief. A counter-information campaign was launched that — while it found the anarchists out on their own to begin with — had, within a few weeks drawn in ever-widening sectors of the left until it even engaged the un-politicised. By the end of January 1970, tens of thousands of Milanese were taking to the streets to demonstrate opposition to the repression in the wake of the Piazza Fontana massacre.

But the phrase “State massacre” had yet to enter the vocabulary of the left. Indeed, on 24 March 1970, the Milanese anarchists were on their own when they demonstrated under that catch phrase. But over the succeeding months, other demonstrations, rallies, debates, public declarations by intellectuals and cultural figures set the seal on a profound change in the attitudes of many people. Valpreda turned from being a guilty party into an innocent and “the accidental death of an anarchist” became a Dario Fo farce that toured Italy and abroad, holding the police account up to ridicule. Virtually every Italian director signed up to a documentary on the various hypotheses that could have led to Pinelli’s demise. These all read like an indictment of the police — above all of Calabresi. In short, the massacre was becoming a burden upon police, magistrates and secret services.

After three years, on 15 December 1972, parliament got around to voting on law no 773 (which came to be known as the “Valpreda law”) that freed Valpreda from prison. Article 2 of this law allowed the granting of “temporary release to the accused who finds himself in preventive custody […] even in instances where binding arrest warrants have been issued.” Which are precisely the circumstances in which anarchists from the Circolo 22 Marzo found themselves. Acquitted with Valpreda on 30 December were Borghese, Gargamelli and Merlino. Mander had been freed several months earlier and Di Cola escaped to Sweden where he was welcomed as a political refugee.

Enrico di Cola of the Circolo XX Marzo (on the run in Switzerland)

The monthly A-rivista anarchica (which in those days was selling upwards of 10,000 copies) published an editorial in January 1973 entitled “Our Victory:” “Valpreda, Gargamelli and Borghesi are Free! […] The government has budged under pressure from ‘respectable’ segments of democratic public opinion. It would be crass triumphalism for us to argue that we, the anarchists, the revolutionaries, got it to shift. Yet we are convinced, without bragging, that it represents a victory for us, not the democrats. First of all because we shook that democratic public opinion out of its customary slumber, we forced it to feel scandalised, to feel indignation. Secondly, because, in spite of everything, the repressive structures of the ‘democratic’ State have, in the eyes of the public, emerged bruised from the affair, albeit given a fresh coat of democracy. The victory is ours, we say again, and we do not accept the defeatist pessimism of those who look upon the discharge from prison as merely a shrewd move by the authorities.  It is that as well, to be sure […] but the release of Valpreda, Gargamelli and Borghese remains substantially a defeat for the State and a victory for us.”

However, the progress of the trials arising out of the Piazza Fontana carnage, which would conclude in 1991, were to show that whoever it was, within the State, who had devised the strategy of tension — he had certainly not acknowledged defeat.


1975, Catanzaro: Franco Freda and Giovanni Ventura arrive to be tried for their role in the Piazza Fontana bombing

BACK TO THE BOMBING, that is, back to 1969. The Milan bombs on 25 April 1969 injured only a few people. The same was true of the train bombing on 9 August. These devices had all used the same sort of Ruhla brand timer. The same brand, which a strange fellow had bought in batches of, three and four from the Standa store in Treviso. But the first one put to the test had failed.

On 24 July a bomb in Milan’s Palace of Justice failed to explode so the terrorists called in an expert. Franco Freda had an electrician Tullio Fabris (who had installed some chandeliers for Freda in his studio in the Via San Biagio in Padua) explain to him how to connect up an alarm clock to a resistor that would then light storm lamps. Fabris gave Freda a technical run-down, which he tested out on the trains. The experiment worked: eight out of ten bombs exploded. The two, which failed to explode, had used Ruhla timepieces.

The next step was to switch to timers. Freda, through Fabris, ordered 50 60-minute timers from Elettrocontrolli in Bologna. On 19 September Freda travelled to the Bologna with Fabris to collect the Junghan-Diehl timers.

New gear, new trials. Lesson one: Fabris showed Freda (even prior to buying the timers) how to connect the battery, chromium-nickel wire and storm lamp to a timing device. Having seen the results for himself, Freda had Fabris buy a length of the wire. Lesson two: after collecting the timers, the electrician gave Freda and Ventura a quick run-down on timing devices and their use. Freda studiously took notes. Lesson three: Under Fabris’s supervision, Freda and Ventura twice assembled a device. The trial went perfectly. Everything was now ready for the big one. In fact the bag containing the unexploded bomb left at the Banca Commerciale Italiana in Milan’s Piazza della Scala was found to contain the dial from a Junghans-Diehl timing device. The bag was one of a batch made by the German firm of Mosbach-Gruber and imported into Italy. The bags used in the bombings were of two sorts: the brown City 2131 and the black Peraso 2131 models, and in Italy only three firms sold both sorts — Biagini in Milan, Protto in Cuneo and Al Duomo in Padua.

When the owner of the Al Duomo luggage shop, Fausto Giuriati, saw the photo of the bag in the newspapers and on television, he rang police headquarters. It took a few days before someone from the police called at his shop. Loretta Galeazzo, his shop assistant, said she had sold four bags of that sort to a well-dressed young man on the evening of 10 December. The Padua police forwarded a report to Milan police headquarters and to the confidential affairs bureau at the Interior Ministry, but it was three years before anyone called back to the Padua city centre shop. Even then it was not on any instructions from Milan or Rome. Who came to call? It was Carabinieri Alvise Munari, making inquiries on behalf of examining magistrate Giancarlo Stiz in Treviso.

Let us remain in Padua — the day before the bombings. Here is a reasonable reconstruction of events based on what we know so far. Freda, by now an expert thanks to Fabris’ training, put the explosive devices using the gelignite obtained by Delfo Zorzi, and wired them up to the Junghans-Diehl timers. He placed them in the bags bought from the Al Duomo shop in Padua and in another bag. He then passed the bags to the people whose job it was to transport them. Zorzi then left for Milan where members of Giancarlo Rognoni’s La Fenice were waiting for him. They were to provide the operational base, a flat near the Piazza Fontana. Ventura on the other hand travelled to Rome to deliver his device to comrades from the Avanguardia Nazionale, answerable to Stefano Delle Chiaie.

On the afternoon of 12 December 1969 two bags containing two gelignite bombs wired up to Junghans-Diehl timers were planted in the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura in the Piazza Fontana and the Banca Commerciale Italiana in the Piazza della Scala. A further device was planted in the underpass at the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in Rome and two more at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Piazza Venezia. The Ordine Nuovo and Avanguardia Nazionale members had carried out their mission almost to the point of perfection.

The only hitch was the failure of the device left at the Banca Commerciale in Milan, but lo and behold, along came expert Teonesto Cerri, as we have seen, who destroyed the incriminating evidence. But not completely. In the confusion he forgot to blow up the dial of the timer left behind in the bag.

It was that timer that would betray the Freda group and its partners. Only five were ever used, the others were passed to Cristiano De Eccher to hide them.

Cristiano De Eccher

De Eccher, a descendant of a noble family of the Holy Roman Empire, had a castle in Calavino near Trento. In 1969 he was 19 years old, a member of Avanguardia Nazionale, a Padua University student and in close contact with Freda.  He was one of the few people with whom the aristocratic Freda used the familiar form of address, perhaps because of De Eccher’s ancient aristocratic lineage. So De Eccher was a point of contact between the two Nazi groups. De Eccher hid the timers, but he was more loyal to Delle Chiaie than to Freda and was never to hand the timers over again. So much so that he provoked fury in the Paduan prosecution counsel who complained to a fascist colleague, Sergio Calore, “about being let down by a baron of the Holy Roman Empire”.

Since Freda could not deny having bought the timers, he claimed that he had passed them to a certain Captain Hamid from the Algerian secret services that supposedly asked for them to use in attacks on Zionist targets. Spectacularly, the judges believed this, not at all disturbed by the fact that the Israeli secret service, Mossad, stated that no Captain Hamid existed. The judges appeared to believe that it was perfectly plausible that an Algerian agent should have approached a law officer in Padua to obtain timing devices.

Meanwhile the electrician Fabris made only partial admissions to the court. Why? He had been threatened three times into keeping his mouth shut — twice by Massimiliano Fachini and again by Massimiliano Fachini in the presence of Pino Rauti.

In fact the timers had not gone to Algeria. They remained in the care of De Eccher who was under the protection of carabinieri Colonel Michele Santoro. Some ended up with the La Fenice group in Milan and some with Avanguardia Nazionale in Rome, which had used a few in the attacks on the Reggio Calabria express trains on the night of 21-22 October 1972.

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (1926-1972 - probably murdered!)

In 1973 La Fenice group militants prepared a plan to plant a few of these timers in a house belonging to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (found dead in Segrate in March 1972) The house — in fact it was a chateau in Villadeati in the Monferrato— was the property of the Feltrinelli family who scarcely ever used it. A few militants from Giancarlo Rognoni’s group were to break into the chateau and hide the timers before tipping off the carabinieri.  The purpose of all this was to steer the Piazza Fontana investigations back to the “red trail”, at a time when D’Ambrosio was zeroing in on the fascists. But the scheme had to be shelved because Rognoni found it too far-fetched.

Two years earlier, Martino Siciliano and Marco Foscari from the Venice Ordine Nuovo had turned their attentions to Feltrinelli. Foscari had a family home in Paternion in Carinthia (Austria), not far from a chalet belonging to Sibilla Melega. Feltrinelli, whose was on the run at the time, often hid out in the chalet and it occurred to the two Ordine Nuovo members that they might kidnap him, ferry him back to Italy and leave him for the police to find.

So, armed with hunting rifles, behind the wheel of an off-road vehicle and accompanied by Foscari’s gamekeeper, a former Waffen SS member, off they went to grab Feltrinelli. They also had a bottle of ether to help them subdue the publisher, rope to tie him and a trunk in which to ferry him over the border.

But their plan was improvised and they were out of luck: “We had no problems locating the property where the chalet was, but Feltrinelli was nowhere to be seen and, anyway, the chalet appeared locked up. So we abandoned the plan as readily as we conceived it”, Siciliano recalled.

So much for the timers. Now to the gelignite. The bombings on 12 December 1969 did not use all the explosives; some were used later by the Venice Ordine Nuovo group.

Mestre, 27 October 1970. Siciliano was putting together a time bomb, but unsure as to whether or not he had primed it correctly, it occurred to him to connect to a shared fuse wired to the gelignite.  Piero Andreatta planted the device, which exploded, outside the Coin store in the Piazza Barche.

But the gelignite was used also in more telling and more lethal bombings. Delfo Zorzi handed Marcello Soffiati from the Verona group a bomb assembled using some of the explosive which he took to Milan where he handed it over to members of the Milanese Squadre d’azione Mussolini (SAM) (Mussolini Action Squads) who, in turn, sent it on to Brescia.

Piazza della Loggia. Brescia, 8 May 1974: bomb explodes during a demonstration sponsored by the Brescia United Antifascist Committee and local trade unions

This bomb exploded at 10.20 am on 28 May 1974, during a demonstration sponsored by the Brescia United Antifascist Committee and the trade unions in the Piazza della Loggia in Brescia. It went off during a speech by Franco Castrezzati the provincial secretary of the FIM-CISL. Eight people died and nearly a hundred people were injured. This incident triggered a falling-out in Ordine Nuovo ranks and relations between Zorzi and Soffiati deteriorated to the point where they became enemies. Soffiati could not forgive his Venetian colleague for implicating him in an operation of such significance, especially one that departed from the strategy adopted hitherto — planting bombs that could be blamed on the left.


Francesco Restivo (1911-1976): Christian Democrat MP, President of the Regional Council of Sicily (1949-1955), and Minister of the Interior (1968 1972)

Two of the protagonists in our tale, Ordine Nuovo and Avanguardia Nazionale, were important and leading players.  Why? According to the most recent evidence it was members of these organisations that carried out the outrages in Milan and Rome on 12 December 1969. But they were not merely the operatives of terror. The relationship between the executors and the masterminds was more complicated than that. It was not a simple case of “Take this bomb and go and blow the thing to kingdom come”. There was a web of complicities, promptings, assistance and mutual blackmail that added up to some of the most poisonous pages in Italian history. A history that witnessed the Interior Ministry itself, in the shape of the man in charge at the ministry, Franco Restivo and many of his successors, especially Federico Umberto D’Amato, head of the Confidential Affairs Bureau (disbanded in 1978) as puppet-masters of the strategy of tension.

Federico Umberto D'Amato (Bureau of Reserved Affairs, Ministry of the Interior)

The bottom dropped out D’Amato’s world (who died on 1 August 1996) when, at the end of that year, 150,000 or so uncatalogued files (from which some of the most compromising documents may well have been removed) were discovered in a villa in the Via Appia on the outskirts of Rome — and not just documents either.  There was, for example, the dial of the timer used in the 9 August 1969 bombing of the Pescara-Rome train (the one carried out by Franco Freda himself).

Aldo Gianulli

This documentation, uncovered on 4 October 1996, after D’Amato’s demise, by Aldo Giannuli, an expert appointed by Judge Salvini, added up to an alternative record of the goings-on at the Viminale Palace. They contained information on many of the stories bound up with domestic espionage activity.  It was a secret archive that had never been shredded, simply deposited higgledy-piggledy in a dump— perhaps for possible future use.

At this point we need to go back forty years or so when, in 1956, Giuseppe Rauti, known as Pino, began to display signs of intolerance towards the “petit bourgeois and legalitarian” policy of Arturo Michelini, the secretary of his party, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI).  Michelini had been elected supreme leader of the Italian neofascists in 1954 and was regarded as too soft in the parliamentary confrontations between the Christian Democratic right and the “hard-liners” from Giorgio Almirante’s faction.

Giorgio Almirante (left) and Pino Rauti (right) in 1956

Rauti was one of the hardest of hard-liners. He broke away from the MSI to set up the Ordine Nuovo study centre with Clemente Graziani, Paolo Signorelli, Stefano Serpieri and Stefano Delle Chiaie. In the autumn of 1969, when Giorgio Almirante became secretary of the MSI, Rauti returned to the party and dissolved the study centre.  This was only a formality as the Ordine Nuovo groups and organisation continued operating for several more years.

In 1958 Delle Chiaie began to cut loose from Rauti’s apron strings and in 1960 this led to his launching Avanguardia Nazionale. This latter organisation was formally disbanded in 1966 to allow many of its members to rejoin the MSI, but in 1968 Delle Chiaie formally refloated the never disbanded organisation.

Julius Evola

Ordine Nuovo and Avanguardia Nazionale were substantially the same ideologically. Their main theoretical reference point was the philosopher Julius Evola, whom Rauti had known in the later 1940s. Their programmes were based on the struggle against communism and capitalism and in support of a corporatist State, following the model of the 28 August 1919 revolutionary nationalist programme of the Fasci di Combattimento established in the Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan on 23 March 1919. That programme had been refined (in its presentation at least) by the Salò Republic (the volunteers of which had included the then 17 year old Rauti). The fight was also directed against the parliamentary system and all forms of democracy, in order to bring about an aristocratic and organic State, borrowing the ideas of Nazi Germany. The ultimate goal was a New European Order.

In practice, both organisations shared Italian territory: Ordine Nuovo’s groups were located primarily in the North, whereas those of Avanguardia Nazionale were based mainly in Rome and the South.

Carlo Maria Maggi

By the spring of 1969 they began to operate jointly. The Venetian leadership of Ordine Nuovo met the Rome-based leaders of Avanguardia Nazionale on 18 April 1969 in Padua, in the home of Ivano Toniolo, one of Freda’s most loyal lieutenants. With the blessing of Carlo Maria Maggi, the boss of Ordine Nuovo in the Triveneto area and of the national leadership, Signorelli and Rauti. From then on the two organisations were to operate in concert with each other, at least in large-scale operations. On 25 April the bombs exploded in Milan (at the Fair and at Central Station).

An operational axis had been formed stretching from Venice through Padua to Milan, down to the capital and as far as Reggio Calabria. And the personnel? Venice was represented by Delfo Zorzi, Martino Siciliano, Giancarlo Vianello (who infiltrated Lotta Continua in 1970, fell in love with a member of that group and eventually parted company with his fascist colleagues), Paolo Molin and Piercarlo Montagner — with “technical” backup from Carlo Digilio.

In Padua, under Freda’s leadership, there were Giovanni Ventura, Massimiliano Fachini and Marco Pozzan. Giancarlo Rognoni was the acknowledged leader of the La Fenice group in Milan. In Rome, Delle Chiaie presided over Avanguardia Nazionale, while in Reggio Calabria its bulwark was the Marchese Felice Genoese Zerbi who could call on a sizable band of determined militants such as Carmine Dominici, Giuseppe Schirinzi and Aldo Pardo.

These were characters with chequered pasts. Freda and Ventura were eventually to be convicted of 17 attacks mounted between 15 April and 9 August 1969 (including the bombings in Milan on 25 April and the train bombings on 9 April). Rognoni was spared 23 years in prison by going on the run, primarily to Spain, and was in fact sentenced in his absence for an attack mounted by his lieutenant, Nico Azzi.

Nico Azzi (the Turin-Rome train bomber)

On 7 April 1973 a bomb exploded in a toilet on the Turin-Rome train, but the bomber, Azzi, however, did not get away unscathed. The device had exploded while he was handling it — or rather it went off between his legs. He was injured, arrested, tried and sentenced to 20 years. Two other La Fenice members — Mauro Marzorati and Francisco De Min — ended up in jail with him.

Paulo Signorelli

The attack, planned in the presence of Ordine Nuovo ideologue Paolo Signorelli, was intended to distract the Milan magistrates’ inquiries into the Piazza Fontana bombing — and as a focus for a maggioranza silenziosa (silent majority) demonstration planned for Milan on 12 April. Following the bombing someone was to have made a telephone call claiming responsibility on behalf of a leftwing organisation.

A strong character, tough, quick to use his fists, his face frequently marked by wounds, he was not impressed by the sight of blood and inflicted punishments personally on errant colleagues. But at the same time he was introverted and fascinated with both Buddhism and Evola’s ideas. This was how Siciliano described his leader, Zorzi. This was the man who would confess on at least two occasions that he had had a hand in the 12 December 1969 bombing in Milan.

On 31 December 1969, Zorzi, Siciliano and Vianello were celebrating New Year’s Eve with a visit to prostitutes in the Corso del Popolo in Mestre. “This was a cameratesca (comradely) practice linked to the fascist notion of virility”, Siciliano noted. They then went to Vianello’s home for a meal, a drink and to sing fascist songs.  The conversation then turned to the bombings of a few days earlier.

Delfo Zorzi (1969)

Siciliano told Judge Salvini on 8 June 1996: “Zorzi reminded us that according to our greatest theorists even blood can serve as a trigger for a national revolution which, launched in Italy, could be the salvation of Europe by rescuing it from communism. He picked up on the line that had already been given out in Padua — that the common people, stricken and defenceless, would clamour for a strong State, especially since the strategy anticipated that such serious incidents would be laid at the door of the far left.”

According to Siciliano, Zorzi’s closing remarks were: “He gave us clearly to understand that the anarchists had had no hand or part in anything and that they had been used as scapegoats simply because of their history — that sort of charge levelled against them was believable — and that in reality the Milan and Rome attacks had even thought up and commissioned at the highest levels and actually carried out by the Triveneto Ordine Nuovo.”

In January 1996 Digilio told Judge Salvini what Zorzi told him in Mestre in 1973: “Listen, I was personally involved in the operation to plant the bomb at the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura”. And, Digilio continued: “That was what he said, word for word and I remember it well, not least because of the seriousness of the words. Zorzi never mentioned those killed in the bombing but he did use the term ‘operation’ as if it had been a war-time operation.”

At this point Zorzi explained to Digilio: “I dealt with things personally and it was no easy undertaking. I had help from the son of a bank director.”

Delfo Zorzi (now)

Zorzi moved to Japan after Judges Giancarlo Stizin Treviso, Pietro Calogero in Padua, Gerardo D’Ambrosio and Emilio Alessandrini in Milan began chasing up the fascist trail in connection with the Piazza Fontana outrage.

In Tokyo, where he now lives, having married a Japanese woman by whom he has had a daughter, Zorzi runs an import-export firm which has made him a (lire) multi-millionaire; so much so that in 1993 he was able to make Maurizio Gucci a loan of 30,000 million lire — a fortune some suspect he amassed thanks to the protection of the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia, and of the Italian and US secret services.  His Italian defence counsel is Gaetano Pecorella who denies his client had any involvement in the Piazza Fontana carnage. This is the same Pecorella who in the 1970s concentrated on defending leftwing activists before switching in the 1990s to a mixture of clients ranging from Zorzi to Ovidio Bompressi, the former Lotta Continua member sentenced to 22 years for the murder of Inspector Luigi Calabresi.

“I was in Naples attending the oriental university, in which I enrolled in 1968”, Zorzi stated apropos of 12 December 1969 in an interview carried by Il Giornale on 14 November 1995. That alibi has yet to be confirmed.

Another name, another fugitive. At the time he was being questioned by Judge Salvini, Digilio already had one ten year sentenced passed against him in his absence. In 1983 while a clerk at the Venice firing range, Digilio had been arrested for unlawful possession of ammunition. Although he had been freed after a few days, he realised other more serious charges could follow so he fled to an isolated house in Villa d’Adda in Bergamo province, moving on to Santo Domingo in 1985, on forged papers. He was arrested by Interpol in the autumn of 1992 and returned to Italy to serve his sentence: for resurrecting Ordine Nuovo, possession of detonators, dealing in weapons, possession of machinery for repairing and converting weapons and for forging documents.

Then we have the most famous fugitive of all: Delle Chiaie, known in Rome as “il caccola” (“the little man”) before he was re-dubbed “the black primrose”. During questioning at the Palace of Justice in Rome, he asked to use the toilet and vanished. That was on 9 July 1970.

Even though he was seen in the capital for several months thereafter the police never managed to recapture him.

After the failure of the coup, Delle Chiaie moved to Madrid where he could count on protection from the leading lights of Francoism, but in February 1977, by which time the Franco regime was no more, Delle Chiaie moved to the greater safety of Latin America.

On his return to Italy he refused to discuss this, even though Giorgio Pisanò, publisher of the fascist weekly Il Candido, sent him a clear message through his newspaper column. In an open letter published on 9 January 1975, Pisanò wrote: “Stay where you are and keep silent. If you return there are many things you need to explain: the arms dealing; the disappearance of funds entrusted to your care, your connections with Mario Merlino, or indeed your dealings with the Ministry of the Interior’s Confidential Affairs Bureau.” Delle Chiaie kept on the run — through Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile.

He adopted a new identity, calling himself Alfredo Di Stefano, but in 1987 he was arrested in Caracas and his 17 years as a fugitive from justice was brought to an end.

An international warrant had been issued for his arrest. On what charges? The Italicus bombing, theft, conspiracy to subvert, aiding and abetting the Piazza Fontana massacre, membership of an armed gang. He went on trial in October 1987 with Massimiliano Fachini before the Court of Assizes in Catanzaro (the last trials relating to the Piazza Fontana incident). On 20 February 1989, both men were cleared on all counts after 90 court sittings, a finding that was confirmed on appeal on 5 July 1991.

Catanzaro Trial


Pino Rauti (Founder of Ordine Nuevo) - click for more information

THE FACT THAT from the mid-1960 onwards fascists and Nazis stepped up their efforts to obtain arms and explosives was no casual matter.  The strategy of tension theory was being elaborated— and elaborated openly. In Rome from 3 to 5 April 1965 leading exponents of the right gathered in the Parco dei Principi hotel for a symposium on “Revolutionary Warfare”, organised by the Alberto Pollio Institute of Military History.

Prominent figures who attended included Ordine Nuovo founder, Pino Rauti; Guido Giannettini, journalist and SID agent; and Edgardo Beltrametti and Enrico De Boccard, two journalists who went on to set up the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato (State Defence Nuclei). Twenty or so students had also been invited. Among these were two whose names would crop up over and over again throughout those years: Stefano Delle Chiaie (the head of Avanguardia Nazionale) and his pupil, Mario Merlino. [See La Storia Siamo Noi – L’inchiesta su Ordine Nuovo – Piazza Fontana]

Guido Giannettini with Franco Freda (at the Catanzaro Piazza Fontana bomb trial)

While Rauti and Giannettini’s contributions drew applause, it was the university lecturer and Orientalist, Pio Filippani Ronconi, a cryptographer with the Defence Ministry and the SID who electrified the audience. The papers read at the symposium were published later that year as La guerra rivoluzionaria by the Gioacchino Volpe publishing house. The book enjoyed what was essentially a “militant” readership among the various far right groups. For instance, Paolo Molin from took a copy to show to Ordine Nuovo activists in Venice, including the members of the cell run by Delfo Zorzi.

Pio Filippani Ronconi

The topic of the Parco dei Principe symposium was the appropriate short-term strategy to be adopted in the face of perceived communist advances and to keep Italy within the western orbit. In his paper “Hypothesis for a Revolution”, Filippani Ronconi suggested a security organisation structured on various levels — operational as well as hierarchical. The grassroots would be professionals — teachers and small industrialists — people capable of carrying out only wholly passive and non-risky activities, but the sort of people in a position to boycott communist promoted initiatives.

The next level consisted of people capable of “bringing pressure to bear” through lawful demonstrations: these were people who would rally to the defence of the State and of the laws.

At the third, more skilled and professionally specialised level” Filippani Ronconi argued, “would be the very select and hand-picked units (set up anonymously and immediately) trained to carry out counter-terror and possible ‘upsets’ at times of crisis to bring about a different realignment of forces in power. These units, each unknown to each other, but coordinated by a leadership committee, could be recruited, partly, from among those youngsters who were currently squandering their energies to no effect in noble demonstrative ventures.”

With regard to the senior level of the organisation, Ronconi added: “A Council should be established above these levels on a ‘vertical’ basis to coordinate activities as part of an all-out war against subversion by communists and their allies. These represent the nightmare which looms over the modern world and prevents its natural development.”

Texts on the threat of communism were nothing new, but here was something that was qualitatively new — and it was not just a theoretical essay. The organisation outlined by Filippani Ronconi was already being set up and would shortly become operational.

In 1966 2,000 or so army officers received a leaflet through the post from the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato. Its authors aimed to play on the servicemen’s pride: “Officers! The perilous state of Italian politics demands your decisive intervention. The task of eliminating the infection before it becomes deadly is one for the Armed Forces. There is no time to lose: delay and inertia represents cowardice. To suffer the vulgar rabble who would govern us would be tantamount to kowtowing to subversion and a betrayal of the State. Loyal servicemen of considerable prestige have already formed the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato within the Armed Forces. You too should join the NDS. Either you join the victorious struggle against subversion or subversion will raise its gallows for you. In which case it will be the just deserts of traitors.”

Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato

The authors and distributors of this leaflet were Franco Freda and Giovanni Ventura, two of the main protagonists of the outrages.

Another individual of some note in this tale appeared on the scene at this time: Guido Lorenzon who was an officer on the establishment of the base in Aviano at the time and who was among those who received the leaflet. He mentioned it to his friend Ventura and — surprise, surprise — Ventura admitted that he was one of the authors of the document. He would eventually be convicted with Freda in 1987 of incitement to crime.

Gladio emblem

Along with the Freda and Ventura, someone else was working to set up the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato network — which shadowed the better known, but more dangerous ‘stay-behind’ secret army organisation, Gladio.

After a refresher course with the Third Army Corps in Milan in the autumn and winter of 1966-1967, Major (now colonel) Amos Spiazzi, in charge of the army’s I (Intelligence) Bureau in Verona was tasked by his superiors “individually and by word of mouth” to shadow Gladio’s structure in his home city. As Spiazza told Guido Salvini on 2 June 1994: “I was also informed that, on a region by region basis and province by province, personnel with similar characteristics needed to be recruited, in units as water-tight as possible and trained in three man teams […] using the services of instructors from the local units […] These Nuclei adopted the designation of Legions […]. In this way I set up the Fifth Legion with 50 hand-picked people “.

Spiazza, who had been front-page news in 1974 over his involvement with the Rosa dei Venti subversive network, continued: “At meetings […] there was pressure for ever closer collaboration with the Corps, with existing political associations such as the Friends of the Armed Forces, the Pollio Institute, Combattentismo attivo, in order to bind our efforts into active endeavour to defend, support and make propaganda on behalf of the Armed Forces and the values for which they stand.”

Spiazzi’s involvement was not limited to training: he organised conferences and debates, contributed to the journal of General Francesco Nardella‘s Movimento di Opinione Publica (Nardello was a member of Licio Gelli’s P2) and was in touch with Adamo Degli Occhi, a Milan lawyer who led the demonstrations of the alleged Maggioranza Silenziosa (Silent Majority), and with Junio Valerio Borghese’s National Front (Borghese had been commander of the Decima MAS and had defected to the Salò Republic in 1943).

He stated: “Every single thing I did outside the service within the context of these activities was known to my I Bureau superiors.”

From the Veneto region to Lombardy, and, more precisely, to the Valtellina, Carlo Fumagalli was a mythic figure as far as his men were concerned.  As a commander during the resistance, he had headed a non-aligned unit, I Gufi, made up of “white” partisans. His group had worked closely with the American wartime clandestine service, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, later the CIA), for which he received the Bronze Star at the end of the war. Fumagelli maintained his links with the American intelligence services and at the end of the 1960s he was ready to help influence the Italian political system towards a presidential structure with an even more emphatically pro-NATO stance.

Fumagalli had set up the Movimento di Azione Rivoluzionaria (MAR) and to provide cover for its illegal activities, he ran a garage, which specialised in off-the-road vehicles and associated activities. He wholeheartedly adopted the strategy of provocation through attacks intended to be blamed on the left, but the coup d’état for which he yearned had none of the pro-Nazi connotations of his “allies”. Not that this stopped him from mounting spectacular operations.

A fire started in the Pirelli-Bicocca tarpaulin depot in the Viale Sarca took ten hours to burn out. The damage was estimated at a thousand million lire at the time. During the fire a 30-year-old worker, Gianfranco Carminati, lost his life. Years later Gaetano Orlando, the man regarded as the MAR’s ideologue admitted: “The MAR group’s plan was that the attack should be put down to the Red Brigades which were on the rise at the time”.

I remember the Pirelli attacks at the beginning of 1971 and can confirm that our organisation had nothing to do with big fire at the Pirelli-Bicocca tarpaulin depot” was the claim made on 23 July 1991 by Roberto Franceschini, the then leader of the Red Brigades in Milan, who has since severed all ties with terrorism.

Exactly one month earlier, on 7 December 1970, a number of armed columns led by Prince Borghese from the Fronte Nazionale entered Rome. Among the main financial backers of the operation were Remo Orlandi, a Rome builder and Borghese’s right hand man, and Attilio Lercari, from Genoa, the administrator with Piaggio. The objective was to seize the main political headquarters, the RAI TV station and the airport, while Stefano Delle Chiaie’s men (Avanguardia Nazionale [AN] — personnel) were to seize control of the operations centre at the Interior Ministry.  The ministry would be handed over to the carabinieri while the AN people rounded up political opponents for internment on the Aeolian Islands. Ships provided by Genoa shipping magnate Cameli were on stand-by to transport them.

It was a classic coup d’état. But something went awry, or somebody backed out. After a frantic round of phone calls the would-be coup-makers pulled out of Rome.  Roberto Palotto and Saverio Ghiacci who, with other Avanguardia Nazionale militants, had succeeded in getting inside the Interior Ministry (with the help of Salvatore Drago, the duty physician at the ministry and P2 member), had to evacuate the building at speed. But the coup attempt was not confined to the capital.

The Major told us to wear civilian clothes and maintain a state of readiness”, remembered Enzo Ferro one of Spiazza’s junior officers doing his army service in the Montorio barracks in Verona in December 1970. “We were due to be brought to the Porta Bra district in Verona, to the premises of the Associazione mutilati e invalidi di guerra, where the Movimento di Opinione Pubblica bulletin was published. […] We were told that we were to step in and could not back out and that, on reaching the muster-point, we would be armed and taken into the area where we would be providing back up for the coup d’état. Every civilian and military cell would be involved. But Major Spiazzi told us in person around 1.30am that orders standing-down the operation had been received from Milan.”

In Venice too […] on the night of 7 December, arrangements had been made for people to muster at specific points. Muster they did, but shortly after that the stand-down orders arrived, much to the disappointment of all those present […] The rendezvous point was the Naval Dockyard — that is the area outside the Naval Command. In connection with these initiatives I reported regularly to Verona (to the FTASE NATO Intelligence Service), which I then briefed on various developments” explained Carlo Digilio, who was linked with the Venice Ordine Nuovo group and had been a CIA asset since 1967. The agent to whom Digilio reported was Sergio Minetto, head of the CIA network in the Triveneto area. Minetto, of course, denied his part in the affair. The FTASE to which Digilio alludes was the general command of the Atlantic Alliance in Southern Europe.

In Reggio Calabria,” recalled Carmine Dominici, a member of Avanguardia Nazionale — led in that city by the Marchese Felice Genoese Zerbi — “we were all mobilised and ready to do our bit. Zerbi said he had been given carabinieri uniforms and that we would be going on patrol with them, also in connection with the drive to arrest political opponents named on certain lists which had been drawn up. We remained in a state of readiness almost until 2.00 am. but then we were all told to go home.”

Other evidence, again collected by Judge Salvini, revealed that in many places around Italy, servicemen, civilians and carabinieri were on stand-by to act in support of the coup d’état in Rome.

The man who called a halt to the operation was in fact its mastermind, Licio Gelli who was also to have supervised the kidnapping of Giuseppe Saragat, Italy’s president. Gelli was later to exploit the involvement in the coup of a number of high-ranking officers for his own blackmail purposes and long-term intrigues.

[NB – Borghese’s plot was closely modelled on the 1964 Plan Solo coup — which was to conclude with the assasination of prime minister Aldo Moro — planned by carabinieri general Giovanni De Lorenzo]

But the verdicts handed down in November 1978, November 1984 and finally by the Court of Cassation in March 1986 cleared the conspirators of all charges. As for Gelli and the conspiratorial activity of the members of lodge P2 over many years, a definitive ruling from the Court of Cassation on 21 November 1996 found that Gelli should be sentenced to — but not serve— 8 years, solely for the offence of procuring sensitive intelligence, thereby closing the case begun in 1981, when the Guardia di Finanza discovered a list of 962 names of P2 lodge members in Gelli’s home, the Villa Wanda, in Castiglion Fibocchi.

That investigation had been taken from Milan magistrates Gherardo Colombo and Giuliano Turone and transferred to Rome.  The prosecutors in the capital had done their duty and stymied the investigation.

The Night of the Republic


Mourners, Piazza Duomo, December 15, 1969

THE PIAZZA DUOMO was packed. The trade unions had supported this rally. Thousands of Milanese huddled in the cathedral square. The Duomo was overflowing with people. The archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, officiated at the funerals of the 14 victims. Prime minister Mariano Rumor represented the State, while mayor Aldo Aniasi represented the city. Absent from the Piazza del Duomo on the morning of 15 December was a figure of some importance in this affair — not only important but crucial: the unwilling protagonist, Pietro Valpreda.

Pietro Valpreda

Valpreda was a 36 year old Milanese anarchist who, in his younger days, had lived in the Via Civitale in the San Siro district, a few hundred metres from the first marital home of Pinelli and his wife Licia Rognoni. Valpreda lived the typical life of a suburban kid. He had a couple of convictions: in 1956 he had been sentenced to four years in prison by the Milan court of assizes for armed robbery and a second conviction, for smuggling, dating from 1958.

He began taking an interest in political and social issues after his release and devoted himself to reading the works of anarchist thinkers: Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta. He also studied modern dance and toured with a few cabaret acts. He had also had the occasional television booking.

In the early 1960s poor circulation forced him to undergo an operation on his legs His involvement with the Milan groups was fitful, but when he was in Milan he usually sought out the anarchists from the Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti at 1, Viale Murillo near the Piazzale Brescia. From May 1968 onwards, he began calling in at the Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa, the Milanese anarchists’ new premises.

Pietro Valpreda

Valpreda was of average height, agile, ever ready with a witticism spoken in a typical Milanese accent with its slightly rolled ‘r’. Early in 1969, he moved to Rome where he began to frequent the Circolo Bakunin, groups affiliated to the FAI (Italian Anarchist Federation). After falling out with them, he broke away, with Mario Merlino, Roberto Mander, Emilio Borghese, Roberto Gargamelli and Enrico Di Cola to set up the Circolo 22 Marzo at 22, Via del Governo Vecchio. By now his theatre work had dried up and he was to all intents unemployed, so he joined with Ivo Della Savia (who was replaced by Giorgio Spano when Della Savia left the country in mid-October) to open a retail workshop in the Via del Boschetto where he made liberty lamps, jewellery and necklaces. Among the materials he used were coloured glass settings. Curiously, one very similar to them turned up in the bag containing the bomb at the Banca Commerciale. Valpreda had also been in Milan from 7 to 12 December, having left Rome the previous evening to answer a summons from judge Antonio Amati.

Pietro Valpreda

At eight o’clock on 15 December, Valpreda, accompanied by his grandmother Olimpia Torri, went to the chambers of his lawyer Luigi Mariani at 39 Via San Barbara. He was due to report to Amati, the investigating magistrate handling inquiries into the 25 April bomb attacks at the Fair and at Milan’s Central Station. Amati considered himself an expert on anarchists and attentats. Shortly after the Piazza Fontana explosion, he ‘knew’ immediately that it had been a bomb and that that nobody but anarchists could have planted it — and said as much in a telephone call to the investigating officers at Milan police headquarters.

Valpreda made his way to the Palace of Justice with Mariani and Luca Boneschi, another of his lawyers. The two lawyers left him there, arranging to meet after the questioning. Valpreda left his grandmother to wait for him and knocked on the door of Amati’s chambers. This was at 10.35 am. In he went to be greeted by the judge with an exclamation of: “Ah, there you are!” “Yes, I was in Rome so couldn’t come any earlier. You know, I’m a dancer and actor and I have to move around for reasons of work”, Valpreda replied.

Judge Amati cut him off with a flurry of questions: “But who are you anarchists? What do you want? Why this great fondness of yours for blood?” This exchange (real or imagined?) took place in the judge’s chambers, but somebody got wind of it and it was to turn up in the columns of the following day’s Corriere della Sera.

It was Giorgio Zicari, a very particular brand of reporter. At the time, in 1969, he was a secret service informant, but he was not so much an inform-ant as an inform-ee, someone through whom the secret services funnelled news or — rather — confidential whispers.

It was then then minister of Defence, Giulio Andreotti, who lifted the veil on Zicari’s role. In an interview with journalist and erstwhile secretary of PCI leader Palmiro Togliatti Massimo Caprara, published in the weekly Il Mondo on 20 June 1974, Andreotti admitted that Zicari was ‘an unpaid informant for the SID’ and that later he ‘shifted across to the Confidential Affairs Bureau of Public Security.’ (Ufficio Affari Riservati)

Zicari had been in the right place at the right time — as he would be on many subsequent occasions: he had apparently exclusive access to confidential information from police headquarters and the courts.

From his privileged vantage-point, Zicari watched as Valpreda left after being interrogated by Amati at 11.30 am. He watched as Valpreda was led away by two police officers who held him, forcibly, under the arms and took him to a side-room of the court where he was handcuffed and taken to police headquarters.

Valpreda’s grandmother, Olimpia could not understand what was going on. She called out to ‘my Pietro’ but the policemen marched him off to the Via Fatebenefratelli where, after a brief interrogation, he was left on his own in a room. He was then taken to Rome’s police headquarters in the Via San Vitale there where Umberto Improta, a Special Branch inspector (who later went on to become police chief of Milan) was waiting for him, Alfonso Noce, another police officer, police brigadieri Remo Marcelli and Vincenzo Santilli who took the first official statement at 3.30 am. on 16 December.

Prior to that, however, between 2.00 and 3.00 am., Valpreda had gone with the officers to a field adjacent to the Via Tiburtina to search for an explosives dump, but nothing was found.

Valpreda allegedly made the following statement: “As we were going down the Via Tiburtina, before leaving for Rome that last time, we were just about level with the Siderurgia Romana foundry and the Decama works, about two or three hundred metres from the Silver cinema […] when Ivo Della Savia, pointed out a clump of bushes and said : ‘ I have some gear stashed there, not too far from the street at the foot of a shrub that is not too tall’” And he added: “He was not specific as to what he was talking about, but we took the reference to ‘gear’ to mean explosives, detonators and fuses .”

Mario Merlino (then and more recently)

Why did Valpreda make that admission? Simple. Mario Merlino had been the first of the 22 March group to be questioned by the Rome police, but as a witness not as a suspect.

At 1.45 pm. on 13 December Merlino made a statement to this effect: “Concerning the bombings […] I am in a position to state that my friends Emilio Borghese, Roberto Mander and Giorgio Spano spoke to me on separate occasions of the existence in Rome of their cache of weapons and explosives […] Nearly six weeks ago, at the premises of the Circolo Bakunin in the Via  Baccina Spano, talked about attacks in general and told me he had knowledge of facts and details concerning the attacks mounted in Rome …”

When questioned, again as a witness, Merlino (who would later be indicted with Valpreda and the other anarchists from the 22 March Group) said other things that were to condemn his comrades.

He declared: “On 28 November, on the occasion of the national ironworkers’ rally in the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, at about 11.00 am., while the  students  who later joined the workers’ march were assembling, Roberto Mander told me he needed explosives as the political situation was developing so quickly and it was time to act. Furthermore, on the 10th or 11th of this month, at around 8,00 pm., in the Via Cavour, after I had mentioned a few things that I had been told by Emilio Borghese, Roberto told me that they did indeed have a dump on the Via Casilina.” A moveable dump, then, that had moved from the Via Tiburtina to the Via Casilina.  Having more to do with bragadaccio than with dynamiting activity, perhaps, Merlino continued: “One or two evenings prior to the encounter with Mander […] at the premises of the anarchist Circolo 22 Marzo, Emilio Borghese told me he had a cache of explosives, detonators and arms in the Via Casilina.  He specifically stated that he had […] a substantial amount of detonators and a smaller quantity of explosives […] I remember he went on to say that he had gone to the dump several days previously in the company of Roberto Mander and Pietro Valpreda, in the latter’s car, and had removed or left […] a quantity of explosives.”

Here is the first contradiction. If Mander had ready access to the famous dump, why did he need explosives? And why had he turned to Mario Merlino? It is a mystery, one that Mander himself, a 17 year old high-school student, the son of an orchestra leader, tried to dispel in a 15 December interview with the police: “On 28 November, the day of the foundry workers’ strike,  I mentioned to Merlino the possibility of bombs being set off to create incidents. That is to say, we discussed if it might help the foundry workers in the event of clashes with the police.

The following week Merlino asked me if it was true that I and Valpreda had an explosives dump in the Via Casilina. I asked Merlino to check where these rumours originated. On that occasion I asked him if there was any chance of his getting hold of explosives for the purposes of carrying out some sort of symbolic action. Over the next few days I put the same request about explosives to Borghese who had told me he did not have any to hand.”

Mander then stated: “I ought to stipulate that when I visited the Via Tiburtina with Ivo Della Savia, where I had been told there was a dump of materials — fuses and detonators I seem to recall —  there were no explosives.”

In a later statement, Mander added: “I believe Valpreda is more an expert in the handling of explosives than I am. For years he has been active in anarchist groups — and he was also implicated in the Milan Fair attacks.  I believe he was involved in other attacks as well.”

The Circolo 22 Marzo members then began pointing the finger at each other. Merlino insisted: “Let me add that today at police headquarters, after I said that the detective had queried the existence of an anarchist explosives cache in the Via Casilina, Mander replied: ‘They know about that then?’ […] Borghese also told me that he had access to other explosives but I don’t know where they were kept.”

Roberto Gargamelli, the 20 year old son of a Banca Nazionale del Lavoro official, refused to be sucked into this police-orchestrated game and at 5.00 am. on 15 December made the following statement:

“During meetings with Valpreda, whether singly or with other comrades, I never heard him speak of explosives. I mean that I never heard Valpreda, Mander or Borghese mention acquiring explosives, nor did I ever hear talk of there being an explosives dump or arsenal in the Via Casilina or the Via Tiburtina where Mander or Borghese supposedly had a cache of such material.”

Mario Merlino posing as an anarchist (1969)

But who was this Merlino character who was so determined to throw suspicion on to his comrades? He was a 25 year-old philosophy graduate, son of a Vatican employee (employed by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith department).  In 1962, at the age of 18, Merlino had been active in far right groups, especially Stefano Delle Chiaie’s Avanguardia Nazionale. He also had connections with Pino Rauti, the Ordine Nuovo founder who now leads the Movimento Sociale Fiamma Tricolore and with the MSI deputy Giulio Caradonna.

Caradonna, a prominent hard-line Italian fascist, led the 200-odd Giovane Italia (Young Italy) activists (Mario Merlino among them) in the 17 March 1968 fighting with the leftist students squatting in the Faculty of Letters at La Sapienza university in Rome.

Stefano Delle Chiaie

Stefano Delle Chiaie

In April that year Merlino had gone to Greece on a trip sponsored by the ESESI, the league of Greek fascist students in Italy — organised by Pino Rauti and Stefano Delle Chiaie. On his return, Merlino underwent a political conversion. He adopted the dress of the more radical left, grew a beard and moustache and began frequenting groups from the extra-parliamentary left. He launched the Circolo XXII Marzo, which led to the later Circolo 22 Marzo. He distributed leaflets singing the praises of the student revolt in Paris and carried a black flag emblazoned “XXII MARZO” at a demonstration outside the French embassy. By September 1969 he was a member of the Circolo Bakunin in the Via Baccina, where he made no secret of his fascist past, claiming he was an ex-camerata — as well as being an anarchist sympathiser. Within the Circolo Bakunin he associated with those militants who complained the most about its political line and by the end of October he joined with these to launch the Circolo 22 Marzo.

Merlino remains to this day a figure who defies description. Even after they had been arrested and jailed, Valpreda persisted in defending Merlino, arguing that even a fascist had a right to a change of mind and that the climate created by contestation had shattered many of the certainties of members of the far right.

The fact remains that links with the camerati (fascist network) and above all with Delle Chiaie survived his alleged conversion to anarchism. Thus, when he saw the police had him cornered — when his status switched from witness-informant to suspect-under-investigation — Merlino had only one person to turn to for an alibi for the afternoon of 12 December — Stefano Delle Chiaie, a man who would eventually be indicted for perjury.  So much so that in January 1981, in an interview with the weekly L’Europeo, Merlino acknowledged his debt of gratitude to Delle Chiaie:

“He told the truth and even now, 11 years on, he continues to do so […] But that is not the only reason why I hold him in such high regard. In relation to the Bologna bombing, for example, he was the only one with courage enough to say certain things, to own up to his own responsibilities in regard to terrorism, be it red or black. Unlike certain people, like Rauti or Almirante, who engaged in the splitting of hairs, if not trotting along to police headquarters to hand in the membership lists of Terza Posizione.”

Whereas Valpreda showed solidarity with Merlino, he had misgivings about someone that he could not quite identify:

“There was a spy in our ranks […] The police knew our every move and whatever was said at the Circolo”, Valpreda wrote to his lawyer Boneschi on 27 November 1969.

His intuition was correct, but Valpreda did not yet know the identity of the spy who so diligently briefed the police on everything being done by the young anarchists from the ‘22 Marzo’.

Who was it? It was “comrade Andrea”. That was the name by which the anarchists from the Via Governo Vecchio knew him. His real name was Salvatore Ippolito, he was a public security agent given the task of infiltrating the Roman anarchists. Two people — Merlino and Ippolito — therefore were monitoring the tiny group. The former reporting to Delle Chiaie, the latter to his superior officer at police headquarters, commissario Domenico Spinella.

Cornelio Rolandi (the taxi driver who identified Valpreda)

Cornelio Rolandi (the taxi driver who identified Valpreda)

But the ace up the police’s sleeve was neither of them. It was “super-witness” Cornelio Rolandi, a Milan taxi-driver. Rolandi approached the carabinieri and then the police to make a statement. He claimed to have driven the man who planted the bomb in the Piazza Fontana.

Rolandi was taken to Rome, where he arrived at 5.00 pm. on 16 December, and an identification parade was hastily organised. Valpreda was lined up with four policemen (Vincenzo Graziano, Marcello Pucci, Antonino Serrao and Giuseppe Rizzitello). Also present were: Rome prosecutor Vittorio Occorsio (who was to perish on 10 July 1976 at the hands of an Ordine Nuovo commando led by Pierluigi Concutelli and Gianfranco Ferro) and Guido Calvi, Valpreda’s defence counsel.

Judge Vittorio Occorsio (1976)

Prior to the ID parade, Rolandi declared: “The man I am speaking about is 1.70 to 1.75 metres tall, aged about 40, normal build, dark hair, dark eyes, without moustache or beard. I have been shown a photograph by the carabinieri in Milan that I was told must be the person I  should recognise. I was also shown photographs of other people. I have never had this experience before.” Rolandi then picked out Valpreda. Valpreda asked him to look more closely, but Rolandi responded with: “That’s him. And if that isn’t him, then he’s not here.”

It was on the basis of this evidence — the absurdity of which would later be exposed — a monster was created. The press could now crow success: “The terror machine has been cracked.”