Archives for posts with tag: Ponte della Ghisolfa circle

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.


Inspector Luigi Calabresi (17 May 1972)

A shot from a pistol, then another, echoed through the Via Luigi Cherubini, near the corner of the Via Mario Pagano in Milan, then a man walked briskly from the scene, got into a car, and disappeared leaving Inspector Luigi Calabresi dead on the pavement. It was 17 May 1972.

Milan, Via Luigi Cherubini, 17 May 1972: Calabresi murder secene

So ended the life of the policeman that much of the left held responsible for Giuseppe Pinelli’s death. While many of the newspapers of the extra-parliamentary left, especially the weekly Lotta Continua, openly accused the inspector, the most often repeated slogans during protest marches were: “Calabresi — assassin” and “Pinelli, I will be avenged.”  The walls of many cities were covered with posters depicting Calabresi with blood on his hands.

The writing on the wall

As far as a substantial sector of public opinion was concerned, the inspector, born in Rome in 1937, was no longer a glittering and decorated public servant, always dapper with his designer jumpers and claiming to be a “liberal” who voted social democrat. He had become a protagonist in the strategy of tension.

Lotta Continua’s press campaign became even more outspoken when reporters monitoring developments at the Palace of Justice learned that the investigation into Pinelli’s death was about to be wound up, with the police found blameless.

Lotta Continua's anti-Calabresi campaign

In fact, acting prosecutor Giovanni Caizzi closed the file on 21 May 1970. The intention of the editors of Lotta Continua was to provoke Calabresi — who had been rechristened as “Inspector Window” — to get him to sue the paper in order to reopen the “Pinelli case” before the courts. On 15 April, Calabresi brought charges against Pio Baldelli, Lotta Continua’s editor-in-chief, for “ongoing and aggravated defamation through attribution of a specific act”, to wit, responsibility for Pinelli’s death.

But Milan’s prosecutor-general, Enrico De Peppo, delayed for over a month before assigning the case to a magistrate for investigation, and pressed Caizzi to finish his examination in the meantime. The trial was to begin once Caizzi had declared Pinelli’s death an accident.

The courtroom confrontation between Calabresi and Baldelli opened on 9 October 1970.  It was a trial heavy with expectations and was prefaced in September by an appeal published in the weekly L’Espresso and signed by Italian intellectuals, university lecturers and politicians (including Elvio Fachinelli, Lucio Gambi, Giulio Maccacaro, Cesare Musatti, Enzo Paci, Carlo Salinari and Mario Spinelli). Their public letter opened with a challenge: “Railway man Pino Pinelli died on the night of 15-16 December 1969 as a result of a fall from a window at Milan police headquarters. How, we do not know. All we know is that he was innocent.”

Marcello Guida

After criticising the closure of the file on his death and the application to have the suit brought by Pinelli’s loved ones against police chief Marcello Guida (who had libelled the anarchist) set aside, the signatories concluded: “We owe the magistrate our respect, but we cannot help but hold him jointly responsible for the death of Giuseppe Pinelli, a second time, by ascribing to him crimes not of his doing — and bearing the grave responsibility of murdering our faith in a justice that is no longer justice when it fails to reflect the conscience of its citizenry.”

But there was also a film that was enjoying great success — Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion — directed by Elio Petri and featuring Gian Maria Volonté, with a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. Audiences immediately identified the inspector played by Volonté as Inspector Calabresi.

In court, Michele Lener defended Calabresi, and Marcello Gentili and Bianca Guidetti Serra acted for Baldelli. The judge was Carlo Biotti and the prosecuting attorney was Emilio Guicciardi. The court was surrounded by an impressive deployment of police and carabinieri.

The opening session was packed to overflowing, with people shouting out “murderer” when Calabresi entered to give evidence.

Calabresi giving his evidence in court

The inspector spoke of Pinelli as a decent fellow with whom he had swapped views. He had even made the anarchist the gift of a book (Enrico Emanueli’s Un milione di uomini) and Pinelli had reciprocated with a gift of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology. He had handled Pinelli’s interrogation because he was under orders and inquiries were being made in every direction. In short, Pinelli’s questioning on 15 December had been relaxed, and only once did he utter the phrase: “Valpreda has talked.” But that was as far as it went. And when Pinelli jumped, Calabresi was in the office of his senior officer, Antonino Allegra.

Calabresi failed to mention the threats he had been making for months against Pinelli when he realised he could not count on him to collaborate.

During a picket mounted in San Vittore in September to demand the release of the anarchists arrested for the bombings on 25 April, Calabresi had approached Pinelli and — after an exchange of words — told him angrily: ‘I’m going to make you pay’ ” recalled Cesare Vurchio from the Ponte della Ghisolfa circle, an eye-witness to that exchange.

The other police officers trooped through the court during the succeeding sittings. The script never varied, down to use of the same phrases and terminology: ‘calm and relaxed”; “launched himself into the void”; “I received the news”. They gave the clear impression that they were all going through a lesson committed to memory.

Popular newspaper cartoon depicting requirement of visitors to Calabresi’s office to wear a parachute

But there were noticeable departures from what they had told Judge Caizzi previously. The times had altered. The interrogation had not ended at midnight but at 11.30 p.m. The window had not been wide open, but closed on one side. Savino Lo Grano, newly promoted carabinieri captain, originally said he had watched Pinelli throughout and saw him throw himself from the window. Now, in court, he claimed he had seen no such thing: he had been looking at the open window while two police officers, trapped behind the shutters, had been unable to stop the anarchist.

The greatest absurdity, however, came in the statement of brigadiere Vito Panessa. He contradicted himself and allowed his mouth run away with him, first admitting things, then denying them. Finally he issued a denial that had the ring of an unwitting confession: “I have said that I am not in a position to provide details but, broadly speaking, bear in mind that there was no agreed story and it was, therefore, a matter for investigation … Each of us went before Judge Caizzi and gave out the story that.”

Judge Biotti suddenly interjected: “Signor Panessa, you are rambling!” before asking Panessa: “What is this business about an agreed story?”  Panessa answered: “It is not the case that there was an exchange of views between those of us who had been present: the following day we each went before the judge and told him what we could remember.”

The case dragged on along similar lines for five more months, but in the end Baldelli’s defence lawyers scored their first victory. Pinelli’s body was to be exhumed and undergo fresh forensic examination.

What were Gentili and Guidetti getting at? They wanted to check if Pinelli’s body still carried any sign of a karate chop delivered while under interrogation, the sort of blow that might have left Pinelli irretrievably disoriented and leading to the fall from the window.  And that was precisely what Lener did not want to hear.

Change of scene.

Lener moved that Judge Biotti be removed from the case and, on 7 June 1971, the Appeal Court dismissed him. On what grounds? The judge had spoken with Calabresi’s defence counsel on 21 November 1970 when he allegedly said something about pressure from upstairs to ensure the case ended with Baldelli’s acquittal, and he had supposedly told him that “both he and the other two judges were convinced that the famous karate chop had broken Pinelli’s spinal column.”

The removal of Biotti was the ace card played by Calabresi’s defence at a point when it was perhaps still possible to establish — in spite of a year and a half’s having passed — how Pinelli died. The trial quickly became bogged down.

A further investigation was launched into Licia Pinelli’s — Guiseppe’s widow — complaint to examining magistrate Gerardo D’Ambrosio which led to manslaughter charges being brought on 4 October 1971 against the police team which had interrogated Pinelli: Calabresi, Lo Grano, Panessa, Giuseppe Caracuta, Carlo Mainardi and Pietro Mucilli. D’Ambrosio had the anarchist’s body exhumed on 21 October. But, as lots of scientists and physicians had argued, given the advanced state of decomposition, it was by then hard to discover anything.

Licia Pinelli during a legal hearing

Things moved on to the verdict passed on 27 October 1975. Calabresi — no longer a deputy inspector but now a full inspector — was by then three years dead. The verdict focused on “active misfortune” as the cause of Pinelli’s death. D’Ambrosio cleared all the accused on the grounds that “the total lack of evidence that something happened is, under our procedural system, as well as under the system of other more progressive states, tantamount to evidence that a thing has not happened.”

But the “Calabresi case” refused to go away. On 17 May 1973 a monument to the inspector was unveiled in the courtyard of Milan police headquarters to mark the first anniversary of his death. The ceremony was attended by Interior minister Mariano Rumor.

Gianfranco Bertoli, having recently returned to Italy from Israel, threw a bomb at the entrance to the headquarters. His intention — as he declared after his arrest — was to get the authorities paying tribute to Calabresi, but a police officer had kicked the device away and it had ended up among the crowd. Carnage ensued: four lives were lost and nearly 40 people were injured.

Gianfranco Bertoli

Bertoli claimed he was an individualist anarchist. But nearly all the press described him as a fascist and cited a series of previous actions (attacks on leftwing party premises and others) that were to fall through during the trial.

Born in Venice in 1933, Bertoli — a member of the PCI’s Youth Federation up until 1952 — had a record as a petty criminal and had been in and out of jail for years. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on 9 March 1976.

From 1993 Bertoli enjoyed an open prison regime. But his case still held a few surprises in store. It would seem (the conditional tense is de rigueur in this tale) that fresh information has since surfaced regarding those who had somehow incited him to carry out his deed — protagonists of the strategy of tension, perhaps.

So who killed Calabresi? There was silence on that front up until 2 July 1988 when Leonardo Marino, a former FIAT worker and ex-member of Lotta Continua, gave himself up to the carabinieri in La Spezia (he sold crepes from a kiosk in nearby Bocca di Magra). He wanted to come clean about his and his colleagues’ part in the Calabresi murder.

But 17 days were to elapse before he signed a statement. Why? That remains a mystery.  He was taken to Milan, and it was a further seven days before he made a full confession. Another mystery. On 28 July, in addition to Marino, Adriano Sofri, Ovidio Bompressi and Giorgio Pietrostefani were arrested. Sofri had been the unchallenged national leader of Lotta Continua and Pietrostefani was the movement’s leader in Milan.

Calabresi's assassins: (top l/r) Leonardo Marino, Adriano Sofri, Ovidio Bompressi and Giorgio Pietrostefani

A lengthy procession through the courts began. The charges were based exclusively on Marino’s confession that he had driven the getaway car, Bompressi actually committed the murder.  Sofri and Pietrostefani had given the go-ahead. The initial verdict was handed down in July 1991. They were all found guilty as charged. The conspirators and perpetrator received 22 year sentences, Marino 11 years. On 23 October 1992, the Court of Cassation dismissed the verdict on the basis of insufficient motive. So, on 21 December 1993 the Appeal Court of Assizes cleared them all. The verdict was thrown out again on 27 October 1994, and a third Appeal Court confirmed the 22-year sentences passed on Sofri, Bompressi and Pietrostefani, while Marino, thanks to extenuating considerations, saw his case dismissed. On 22 January the Court of Cassation had the final word and confirmed the convictions.