Welcome to the second installment in my examination of the origins of the shadowy network variously known as Le Cercle, the Pinay Circle and a host of other names. I've already examined the Cercle complex at length before here, but for those of you just tuning in: Le Cercle is somewhat akin to the far right's answer to the Bilderberg Group. Both organizations were founded in the early 1950s and forged a kind of alliance during the first few decades of their existence. But differences always existed.
Bilderberg chiefly drew its membership from the ranks of international capital and the emerging technocratic class and was heavily dominated by the Anglo-American Establishment. Le Cercle's early backers largely hailed from Continental Europe and were chiefly comprised of members of the old aristocracy and various far right Catholic organizations such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Opus Dei. What's more, while Bilderberg was chiefly a policy coordinating body, Le Cercle went far beyond that, effectively operating as a full blown private intelligence network. As such, it gained early support from the ranks of the Anglo-American intelligence services and by the 1970s a clique of British veterans of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) wielded enormous influence within the network
By the 1970s the Cercle complex became increasingly disillusioned with the Rockefeller-backed policy of detente. David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, one time affiliates, had formerly broken with the group by 1980. This was part of a broader break with the Bilderberg network. Le Cercle would throw its extensive intelligence resources behind Margaret Thatcher and later Ronald Reagan, the elections of which formerly reversed course from detente to full blown rollback against the Soviet Union.
Having covered some of the numerous outraged committed by the Cercle complex over the years in a prior series, my purpose here is to explore the possible origins Le Cercle had in what is commonly referred to as Operation Gladio. Gladio was only the name of the Italian component of what was a network spread across Western Europe that the Pentagon and CIA, along with their counterparts in the UK, established in the wake of the Second World War. "Gladio" was essentially a series of stay-behind armies that were set up to wage a guerrilla war against the Soviet Union in the event of an invasion of Western Europe.
Or at least that was the rationalization, anyway. Over the years, extensive evidence has emerged that these stay-behind armies were in fact used to wage campaigns of terrorism within Western Europe to ensure that said states remained within the NATO system. Italy and Belgium in particular faced especially intense terror campaigns in what is known as the Years of Lead and the Bloody Eighties in those respective nations.
There were essentially three organizations for which these stay-behind armies were modeled upon, two of which derived from the Anglo-American intelligence services. One was the above-mentioned SOE while the other was the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was largely based upon the SOE.
The third organization hailed from Nazi Germany and was known as the Reich Main Security Office (RHSA). The RHSA, a component of the SS, was a Byzantine organization that included the dreaded Gestapo, among others. For our purposes here, I am mainly concerned with two departments of the RHSA: Amt VI and Amt VII. Amt VI housed the foreign component of the SD, which was the SS's intelligence service. Within the SD was a detachment known as Amt VI-S, headed by the infamous Otto "Scarface" Skorzeny. Amt VI-S possessed the bulk of Nazi Germany's special operations forces and was used extensively to train stay-behind networks to harass the advancing Allies.
And then there was the mysterious Amt VII, which is often described as the RHSA's "research library." In reality, it appears to have conducted a lot of arcane research into the occult. As the war was winding down, the infamous Italian philosopher and occultist Julius Evola went to work for the RHSA, likely in either Amt VI or VII, but most likely the latter. Evola in turn appears to have became involved in efforts by the Reich to establish of a postwar stay-behind network, likely as an ideological architect.
On the one hand, plans for this network do appear to have been rather last minute and geared chiefly towards saving as many of the most notorious Nazis, especially as SS members, as possible. And on the whole, this network appears to have been rather decentralized. And yet, there appears to have been some type of formal hierarchy within this network that drew upon its resources. And as many of the longstanding ODESSA allegations have long maintained, this inner circle appears to have centered around Otto Skorzeny in the immediate decades following the Second World War. But rather than staging a revival of the Reich, Skorzeny and his associates appear to have been enlisted by the Anglo-American defense establishments in their Cold War against the Soviet Union.
The genesis of SOFINDUS can be traced to two prior holding companies:the Berlin-bases ROWAK and HISMA of Tetouan, Morocco. Both companies were headed by a German businessman known as Johannes Bernhardt. Bernhardt was not only close to the Nazi regime, but Franco as well. After the Nazi regime opted to support Franco during the Spanish Civil War, Bernhardt was tasked with funneling supplies to the generalissimo. Bernhardt effectively created ROWAK and HISMA for this purpose.
In 1938, ROWAK and HISMA were rolled into one operation, SOFINDUS. From the very beginning, SOFINDUS was close to Nazi intelligence. In The Skorzeny Papers, Ralph P. Ganis notes: "Bernhardt's SOFINDUS intelligence network was manged out of the Reich Main Security Office (RHSA) Section VI, or Foreign Intelligence Service, also known as Ausland-SD" (pg. 149).
But unlike ROWAK and HISMA, which were chiefly concerned with Spain, SOFINDUS had dealings across the world. Ganis goes on to note:
"The SOFINDUS business networks were expansive. In addition to operations in Spain and Morocco, Johannes Bernhardt also oversaw operations in South America (particularly Argentina) and France. One of the most important roles of SOFINDUS was the delivery of vital mineral resources from Spain, Morocco, and Portugal to the Third Reich. Foremost in this operation was wolframite (tungsten), a mineral that was vital in the production of armor-piercing ammunition. The SOFINDUS delivery of wolframite had to be protected by Germany at all costs. The war could not be fought without this critical mineral.
"Through the SOFINDUS network, Nazi intelligence services carried out espionage, sabotage, and even assassinations. SOFINDUS assassination operations are referenced in declassified documentation involving SS Lt. Col. Walter Mosig..."
(The Skorzeny Papers, Ralph P. Ganis, pgs. 149-150)The above-mentioned Mosig is himself quite an interesting figure. He left SOFINDUS in 1945 as the Reich was coming to an end and would fall into the hands of US authorities in 1946. In February of 1947 Mosig was "interrogated" US Army Counterintelligence (CIC) Officer Arnold M. Silver. Silver, who would sign on with the CIA in 1948, had also interrogated Otto Skorzeny and is widely believed to have been the man who recommended his use to the US intelligence community. It is likely Silver did the same for Mosig, as both "former" SD men managed to escape from US custody after being interrogated by Silver. In 1948, Mosig would turn up in Argentina, working for the successor of SOFINDUS. But more on that in a moment.
On the topic of Arnold Silver, it is also interesting to note that after he was drummed out of the CIA in 1977, he signed on with Brian Crozier's 6I intelligence network. As was noted in the prior installment, Crozier was very close to many of the former SOE men who signed on with Le Cercle in the 1970s. His 6I network would become a key intelligence network for Le Cercle by the late 1970s. According to David Teacher in his long suppressed Rogue Agents, Silver is known to have attended Le Cercle meetings in 1982 but it is unknown if he became a member. The significance of Silver's connection to SOFINDUS via Skorzeny and Mosig will be more evident in a future installment.
Before moving along, a note should be made concerning SOFINDUS's resources: they appear to have been quite extensive, to put it mildly. Indeed, SOFINDUS appears to have been one of the key institutions used to launder gold out of Nazi Germany:
"... It is worthwhile to note that the Allies had computed the amount of gold coming into Spain from Nazi Germany during the period of the war as more than 122 tons (conservatively; other estimates put it at more than 200 tons). These calculations were based on records obtained from Sofindus and from trucking manifests out of Germany to Spain. The final disposition of this gold is unknown, but it would be worth more than US$100 million in 1945 dollars."
(Ratline, Peter Levenda, pg. 60)Today, this gold would be worth in the billions. Clearly then it was no insignificant amount of funding SOFINDUS had its disposal by 1945, when these shipments were at there peak. SOFINDUS would seemingly put these resources to good use in one particular project the conglomerate became deeply involved in as the war was drawing to a close.
"The group often gathered at the exclusive Horcher restaurant on Alfonso XII Street, installed there in 1943 by Berlin restaurateur Otto Horcher with the help, according to American intelligence, of Walter Schellenberg. To open his Madrid branch Horcher allegedly transferred 250,000 Swiss francs out of Germany to Nazi diplomats in Lisbon and later converted the Swiss notes to pesetas on the black market, an exercise in money-laundering allegedly organized by another Schellenberg agent who ended up in Argentina, Walter Eugen Mosig. Schellenberg reportedly also helped Horcher transfer furnishings and silverware from Germany. The original Horcher restaurant on Berlin's Kurfurstendamn had been a regular meeting place for the Third Reich's hierarchy from Goring to Himmler. Unknown to most clients, it was planted the secret microphones to capture the conversations of foreign visitors..."
(The Real ODESSA, Uki Goni, pg. 74)
Walter Schellenberg was the head of the RHSA VI, the foreign intelligence branch of the SD. As was noted above, this was same branch of the RHSA that oversaw the SOFINDUS network, which Mosig was an agent of by 1942. As such, SOFINDUS likely played a role in establishing Horcher's in Spain, which in turn was clearly used as a cover for intelligence operations, most notably the first Ratline to Argentina. That it was established by French collaborators is most significant, as we shall see.
Before moving along, its also interesting to note that Lesca first arrived in Spain (1944) around the same time Skorzeny was training French collaborators there in sabotage and assassinations operations with eye towards infiltrating them back into France in the wake of the liberation. This was noted in the first installment of this series.
A much more tangible connection between SOFINDUS and the Ratlines comes in the form of Carlos Fuldner, another Argentina-born SD asset. Fuldner was born to German immigrants in Buenos Aires, but he and his family returned to Germany in 1922, just as the Nazi Party was starting to take off. Fuldner would join the SS in 1932 at the age of 21. Bizarrely, he was then booted out of the SS in 1936 as allegations of fraud and disloyalty hoovered around him. The charges were cleared up in 1937 and by '38 he attempted to reenlist in the SS. The next seven years of his life are shrouded in mystery.
"... He apparently had a close connection with Spain, serving as a lieutenant and German-Spanish interpreter in the Blue Division, the corps of 20,000 soldiers sent by dictator Francisco Franco to fight alongside the Nazis on the Russian front. He returned frequently to Berlin. At some point he joined the huge Nazi corporation Sofindus, which controlled widespread German business interests and provided cover and financing for the Nazi agents in Spain. True to character, Fuldner created trouble for himself even there and was dismissed for embezzlement. In the last months of war he traveled back and forth between Madrid and Berlin. An arrival by plane in Madrid was registered in 26 November 1944, then a return to Berlin in late December.
"But by that crucial Monday in March 1945 when he climbed down the German plane's stepladder in Madrid, Fuldner seems to have been restored to his former rank. He was now on a 'special mission' for Himmler's secret service for which he carried both his German and Argentine passports, and to which he would add the particular brand of financial chicanery which had distinguished his career. In the coming years, many former Reich officials and some of the worst Nazi criminals, including Adolf Eichmann, would owe their lives to the Argentine SS captain. Was Fuldner's mission the result of a plan laid by Schellenberg and Himmler? There is precious little documentation available even today about Fuldner's activities in Madrid in the immediate postwar period, but his later activity suggests high-level Nazi involvement."
(The Real ODESSA, Uki Goni, pg. 69)It was Fuldner more than anyone else who managed to enlist Juan Peron, the Argentine dictator, to turn his country into a haven for Nazi war criminals. As was noted above, Eichmann and many of the most notorious Nazis who fled to South America were aided by Fuldner.
As was noted above, the conglomerate was effectively a front for the SD and was used to smuggle tremendous amounts of gold from Nazi Germany to Spain. And here is Fuldner, allegedly booted out of SOFINDUS for "embezzlement" shortly before he was brought back into the SS and SD in 1945, apparently with high level support amongst the Nazi hierarchy.
And that brings us to Scarface. Skorzeny does not appear to have had direct involvement with SOFINDUS during the war, but likely made use of its assets. After all, both SOFINDUS and Skorzeny's commandos were the control of Amt VI and SOFINDUS would have provided the kind of cover necessary for covert operations.
It was not until after the war the Skorzeny officially began to take an active role in SOFINDUS. In The Skorzeny Papers, Ralph Ganis notes that Skorzeny partnered with SOFINDUS founder and "former" SD agent Johannes Bernhardt in business venture in Spain shortly after Scarface arrived in Madrid in 1950. At the time, Bernhardt was still involved with the SOFINDUS network as an 'adviser.'
Around the same time, Skorzeny would emerge as a key figure in the Ratlines. H. Keith Thompson, an American recruited into the SD while allegedly still a teenager who later aided the escape routes in the postwar years, emphasized Skorzeny's importance to journalist Martin A. Lee: "Skorzeny was not an intellectual. He was a get-it-done type, a soldier. Very daring. He would take on anything. He played a significant role after the war in the escape routes" (The Beast Reawakens, Martin A. Lee, pg. 86).
With its ties to Skorzeny, Mosig, Fuldner and likely Lesca, it seems clear that SOFINDUS was crucial in establishing the Ratlines in Spain immediately after the war. Other organizations, most notably the Vatican, would later pick up the slack, but SOFINDUS appears to have been the trailblazer. But smuggling Nazi war criminals does not appear to be the extent of SOFINDUS network's intelligence efforts in the postwar years.
But to put these activities into context, we must first consider who gained control of SOFINDUS after the war:
"...Several months before the end of the war Johannes Bernhardt had secretly contacted British Intelligence in an attempt to strike a deal with the Allies to turn over the SOFINDUS network. The Spanish government, which had investments in the company and had worked closely with German Intelligence, was also involved in this secret arrangement.
"As a result of these clandestine negotiations, SOFINDUS assets were eventually taken over by the Allied Control Commission (ACC) as soon as the war ended. This was a joint operation in which an American corporate president was placed in charge of SOFINDUS assets, with a British vice-president. Also involved in the transfer of assets was the Spanish government, which negotiated control in Spanish industry tied to SOFINDUS. Under the agreement, the former SOFINDUS network was rolled up into a government-controlled organization called Instituto Nacional de Industria (National Institute of Industry) or INI, under Juan Antonio Suanzes.
"The acquisition was announced publicly but details were not given, and the takeover of SOFINDUS was conducted in great secrecy. In one clever move, U.S. and British Intelligence had acquired the entire former SS intelligence network embedded in SOFINDUS. Subsequently, SOFINDUS companies were revamped and incorporated into the World Commerce Corporation (WCC) formed by General William Donovan and operated by Frank Ryan and Ricardo Sicre..."
(The Skorzeny Papers, Ralph P. Ganis, pgs. 147-148)Ah yes, the good old WCC. That organization is quite a story unto itself, one that I will take up in the next installment. Until then dear readers, stay tuned.