Welcome to the long overdue forth installment in my examination of the origins of what is variously known as Le Cercle, Pinay Cercle, the Pesenti Group, and a host of other names. This mysterious network has its origins in the 1952-52 period, beginning as an auxiliary of the infamous Bilderberg group. Officially, it was created to seek Franco-German rapprochement as necessary first step towards a United Europe. However, the founding members were all linked two especially reactionary Catholic orders, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM, more commonly known as the Knights of Malta) and Opus Dei. What's more, Le Cercle has long enjoyed close relations with the old European aristocracy, a relationship that appears to continue to this day.
As such, Le Cercle would gradually drift from the more capitalistic, technocratic, and American-centric Bilderberg group, especially over the issue of detente, in the 1970s. By the 1980s, it had effectively become the international right's counterbalance to Bilderberg. Much more information can be found on Le Cercle in my series on the complex.
As was noted there, Le Cercle appears to have long enjoyed a close relationship with the various "stay-behind" networks spread across Europe and Turkey. These networks were established by the intelligence services of the US and UK in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. In the event of a Soviet invasion, these networks would be used to wage a guerrilla war against conventional Soviet forces with the aid of US and UK special operations forces.
It is the purpose of this series to illustrate how the Cercle complex may have grown out of these stay-behind networks as a kind of coordinating body. Part one of this series considered the origins of these stay-behind networks in the World War II-era organizations known as the UK's Special Operations Executive (SOE). the US's Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Nazi Germany's Amt VI-S of the Reich Main Security Office (RHSA). The second installment considered how the Amt VI-S assets were transferred to a conglomerate known as SOFINDUS as the war was winding down while the third and most recent installment considered the mysterious World Commerce Corporation (WCC).
The WCC had been set up by OSS founder and director William "Wild Bill" Donovan in the wake of the OSS's dissolution and appears to have been used to stash away assets of that intelligence service. In the UK, famed spy William Stephenson established the British American Canadian Corporation (BACC) to do the same for SOE assets after that agency was was also shuttered. The WCC would ultimately acquire both the BACC and SOFINDUS by the end of the 1940s, giving the corporation assess to various special operators from the finest covert operations services the West produced during the Second World War.
While the SOE, or more precisely Operation Jedburgh, served as the model for the various Cold War era stay-behind networks, inspiration was also drawn from the OSS (which was the SOE's partner in Jedburgh) and especially Amt VI- S, which was overseen by the legendary Otto "Scarface" Skorzeny. As such, the WCC was likely at the forefront of establishing the stay-behind networks during the early Cold War. It did, after all, have ample expertise for such things to draw upon from.
However, the waters of these stay-behind networks are quite murky. Much compelling evidence has emerged in recent decades indicating that not only were these networks designed to resist a potential Communist invasion, but also to suppress strong Communist parties and other left wing/anti-Atlanticist movements domestically. Both the stay-behind networks in Italy and Belgium in particular have been linked to extensive amounts of domestic terrorism during the "Years of Lead" and the "Bloody Eighties," respectively. More information on the Italian outrages can be found here, while Belgian atrocities were addressed here.
|the aftermath of the Bologna railway station bombing|
Below this level was another composed of regular units of the military and Carabinieri that would form either "stay-behind" or rapid response units in the event of invasion or an internal civil disturbance. Finally, the third level consisted of civilian stay-behind paramilitary groups. It was this level that was actually designated "Gladio." These civilian "Gladiators" were trained by special operations personnel and funded by the higher levels of this parallel apparatus. While many were law abiding anti-Communist, some were hard line fascists.
In addition to these three levels, there were also "mixed" civilian-military groups such as the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato and the "presidentialist" Rosa dei Venti groups. While external of the "official" stay-behind network, these groups certainly collaborated at various times with each of the three levels. What's more, all these organizations were involved in infiltrating extremist elements of both the right and left while also recruiting from various criminal organizations to carry out illegal actions or "dirty tricks."
And yet there appears to have been another stay-behind network, more secretive than any of these, that actually carried out many of the outrages attributed to Gladio. This network predated US/UK efforts in Italy, and was variously known as "Anello" ("Ring" or "Link") or Il Noto Servizio ("the Known Service").
"... This civilian organization, composed of ex-military personnel, ex-RSI operatives, entrepreneurs, journalist, and right-wing activists, had originally been created – with a different name – by General Mario Roatta... in 1944. Later, apparently in exchange for assistance and taking refuge inside the Vatican and thence fleeing Franco's Spain in March 1945 so as to escape prosecution for war crimes, Roatta transferred control of the secret organization to the new postwar Italian state (or perhaps, according to some observers, to its American backers), and was thence headed for time by a Polish officer in General Wladyslaw Ander's Army named Solomon Hotimsky. The organization, which was headquartered in a palace in central Milan very near to the Carabinieri barracks on Via Moscova, thereafter intersected with many of the other secret structures... and it continued to operate until the mid-1980s. According to a member of the group... the name "Anello" was chosen for the organization by Andreotti himself after the SIFAR scandal erupted in the late 1960s.
"Throughout much of its history, 'Anello' was informally dependent upon the prime minister, most often Andreotti during the 1970s, but its 'dirty' operations to impede the left (perhaps including kidnappings and/or murders of 'troublemakers' made to look like 'accidents') were also reportedly 'aided' by personnel from the Defense and Interior Ministries, especially by Carabinieri seconded to SID and SISMI.... the 'Anello' entity was involved in a number of important covert activities, including both 'Plan Solo' and the Borghese Coup. In connection with the latter operation, 'Anello' operatives reportedly arranged for Borghese's flight to escape judicial punishment... The same organization was also implicated in facilitating the August 1977 flight and exfiltration from Italy of wanted Nazi war criminal Herbert Kappler; identifying (perhaps with the help of Brigate Rosse informants) the location of Aldo Moro's secret BR prison, which certain higher government officials intentionally did not act upon; and negotiating (with the help of mafiosi) the release of DC politician Ciro Cirillo (who had been kidnapped by the BR on 27 April 1981). Some have speculated that the apparent Mafia-sponsored assassinations of well-informed OP journalist Mino Pecorelli and General Carlo Dalla Chiesa may have been linked, at least in part, to the worrisome discovery of the existence of 'Anello.' "
(The Darkest Sides of Politics, I, Jeffrey Bale, pgs. 290-292)
|Mario Roatta, the alleged founder of "Anello"|
In addition to these "official" stay-behind networks, there appears to have been an unofficial network that had been organized by Paul Vanden Boeynants (VdB) and Baron Benoit de Bonvoisin. VdB was a political institution in Belgium, having served as prime minister twice ('66-'68 and '78-'79) in addition to having been the defense minister for much of the 1970s. De Bonvoisin was an extremely well-connected aristocrat whose father had helped set up the Bilderberg group.
Formal coordination was applied to this fascist underground in 1974 with the establishment of the Public Information Office (PIO). The PIO was headed by Major Jean Marie Bougerol, a member of SDRA8. The PIO was not a full blown government agency, however, but a public-private partnership sponsored by VdB and Baron de Bonvoisin. As such, the PIO was used from early on to carry out controversial actions against the left.
"... PIO had two official missions, the first of which was to expose Soviet disinformation in the media, largely through the publication of a press review called Inforep. PIO's second task was to act as a clearing-house for information on subversion, distributing information to the Army, the Gendarmerie, the Sûreté de l'Etat - Belgium's internal security agency, and the Foreign Ministry Security Division. Unofficially, Bougerol used PIO to mount the same kind of aggressive counterintelligence programmes that the FBI had been conducting in America under COINTELPRO against the Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement from 1969 until at least 1976 (254)."
(Rogue Agents, David Teacher, pg. 124)The PIO appears to have become the meta group behind militant right wing organizations such as the above-mentioned Front de la Jeunesse and the NEW Clubs, both of which had been created with the assistance of VdB and de Bonvoisin. By the mid-1970s, the PIO appears to have laid the foundation for an even more militant group.
"To return to PIO, from the outset, Bougerol used his earlier contacts with the extreme Right for PIO operations. As part of his counter-subversion work, Bougerol gave lectures to reserve officers, many of whom were recruited as PIO agents. One of the reserve officers' clubs at which Bougerol lectured was the Brabant Reserve Officers' Club (BROC), which in 1975 was given the task of bolstering the patriotism of other reserve officers' clubs. BROC's members included not only AESP member Baron Bernard de Marcken de Merken and Colonel Paul Detrembleur, who helped set up the DSD and would later head the SDRA from 1981 to 1984 at the height of the strategy of tension in Belgium, but also Paul Latinus, the Belgian Delle Chiaie, protégé of de Bonvoisin. A former leader of the Front de la Jeunesse financed by de Bonvoisin, Latinus would later emerge as commander of the fascist parallel intelligence service Westland New Post (WNP), a key component in Belgian parapolitics in the 1980s covered in detail in a later chapter. According to Sûreté sources, Latinus was recruited into PIO by Bougerol in 1977; in his limited testimony to the Belgian Parliament's Gladio Inquiry, Bougerol at least admitted having met Latinus (266). "
(Rogue Agents, David Teacher, pg. 127)Westland New Post (WNP) would be a the forefront of right wing terrorism in Belgium during the so-called "Bloody Eighties." The founder and director of the WNP, the above-mentioned Paul Latinus, had been recruited into the American DIA while still seventeen. As such, it is highly probable the actions of the WNP were being sanctioned and even directed from a very senior level in the Belgian state.
The PIO network then appears to have served the same function as "Anello" in Italy, namely to perform "duties" that were too controversial for the official stay-behind networks. Frequently, these duties involved blatantly criminal actions. As such, these networks frequently leaned on right wing extremists and organized crime elements to accomplish its tasks.
At this point, it is also interesting to note the close links these "unofficial" stay-behind networks have to Le Cercle. While this researcher is unclear as to when famed Italian statesman Giulio Andreotti became involved with "Anello," it appears to have been under his control by at least the 1970s, if not sooner. This is most interesting, for Andreotti was a founding Cercle member in the 1952-1953 period.
But this series is about the origins of the Cercle complex, which dates back to the 1950s. What's more, the French partners appear to have been at the forefront of establishing and sustaining the Cercle during the early years. As such, it behooves us to briefly consider the stay-behind networks that existed in France at the onset of the Cold War.
"On the initiative of the US and the British Special Forces SAS a secret army was set up in France under the codename 'Plan Bleu' (Blue Plan) whose task was to secretly prevent the powerful PCF from coming to power. The Blue Plan, in other words, aimed to prevent France from turning red. Victor Vergnes, one of the French secret soldiers who were recruited for the Plan Bleu army, recalled that in the immediate post-war years the stimulus had come from the British. 'At the time I lived in Sete in the house of commander Benet, a DGER officer formally active in missions in India. Numerous meetings took place during that time in his house.' The SAS, specialised in secret warfare, contacted the newly created French secret service Direction Generale des Etudes et Recherches (DGER) and agreed with them to set up a secret army in northern France across the Channel in the Bretagne. 'One day,' Vergnes recalled, 'after he had been visited by lieutenant Earl Jellicoe of the SAS, he said to me: "We are setting up a secret Army, especially in the Bretagne area".'
"The cells of the secret army soon spread across all of France. Involved were numerous agents and officers of the DGER. It was noteworthy that the DGER under Director Andre Devawrin included also members of the Communist resistance. Conservative agents and above all the United States considered the presence of Communists in the DGER to represent a security risk. This applied above all to top-secret operations targeting the French Communist such as Plan Bleu. Therefore the DGER was closed down in 1946 and replaced by a staunch anti-Communists new military secret service SDECE under Henri Alexis Ribiere. With the replacement of the DGER by the SDECE, the Communist lost an important battle in the secret war in France as the SDECE became its most dangerous opponent. Trained anti-Communists from the civil war in Greece were recruited as the SDECE shifted to the right..."
(NATO's Secret Armies, Daniele Ganser, pg. 87)
|the above-mentioned Earl Jellicoe, a British aristocrat and military officer who traveled in many of the same circles as the future British Cercle members|
As such, the Socialists tried to counter both factions. In May of 1947, Socialist Prime Minister Paul Ramadier ousted the Communist ministers from his cabinet, denying the PCF access to any crucial post in the national government. While this move no doubt pleased the Americans, a month later Edouard Depreux, the Socialist Minister of the Interior, outed Plan Bleu and alleged that it was being used for the purpose of a coup that would take place later that year.
|Paul Ramadier (top) and Edouard Depreux (bottom), both of whom played a key role in preventing a stealth take over of France by either the Soviet Union or the Anglo-Americans|
This one was dubbed Rose des Vents (Rose of the Winds, i.e. Compass Rose). Curiously, Italy also had a Compass Rose, the above-mentioned Rosa dei Venti.
"While Rome magistrates were investigating the Borghese coup a parallel investigation in northern Italy was uncovering the activities of the Rosa dei Venti (Compass Rose) conspiracy. According to some accounts, the organization took its name from the compass rose, the star-like shape which marks the four points of the compass and which has been adopted as the symbol of NATO. Others suggested that it was a loosely knit association linking twenty, and later more, right-wing subversive organizations. What is certain is that the Rosa dei Venti was involved in coup-plotting in the early Seventies and was financed by a number of wealthy northern industrialists. It also appears to have enjoyed the usual support of the NATO security establishment..."
(Puppetmasters, Philip Willan, pg. 99)
"... According to the overall CIA and NATO planning for anti-Communist secret warfare in Western Europe the Rose des Vents army within the SDECE had the task to locate and fight subversive communist elements within the French Fourth Republic. Furthermore it had to undertake evacuation preparations and provide for a suitable exile based abroad. The Rose des Vents secret army was trained to undertake sabotage, guerrilla and intelligence-gathering operations under enemy occupation. France was divided into numerous geographical stay-behind zones, to which secret cells were allocated, with each zone being supervised by an SDECE officer. An exile base for the French government was installed in Morocco in northern Africa, and the SDECE sent some of its microfilm archives to Dakar in Senegal."
(NATO's Secret Armies, Daniele Ganser, pg. 90)As with Plan Bleu, Rose des Vents nominally fell under the purview of the SDECE (though it has been alleged that a secretive Gaullist group working through the SDECE is whom actually set up Rose des Vents). However, it appears that much of the training and support was provided by the infamous 11th bataillon parachutiste de choc (11th Shock Parachute Battalion), more commonly known as the 11th Choc (11th Shock). This was the paramilitary arm of the SDECE, often compared to the British Special Air Services (SAS), though it drew as much inspiration from the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Indeed, two 11th Shock commanders, Paul Aussaresses and Jean Sassi, were veterans of the SOE's Operation Jedburgh.
The 11th Shock was at the forefront of French efforts to maintain their colonial holdings in the aftermath of the Second World War. The unit saw heavy fighting in the French-Indochina War and Africa, most notably during the Suez Crisis and the Algerian War. After the disastrous defeats in Indochina and Suez, elements of the 11th Shock became increasingly radicalized. In 1958, as public support for the Algerian War began to waver, elements of the unit began to plan a coup to restore de Gaulle to power while other members remained loyal to the government. When word of the coup got out, the SDECE headquarters in Paris was surrounded by elements of the 11th Shock loyal to the Fourth Republic.
|the insignia of the 11th Shock|
Several noteworthy members of the 11th Shock would join the OAS, including Yves Godard (a former commander of the unit), and Yves-Felix Marie Guillou, more commonly know as Yves Guerin-Serac. Guillou would go on to found Aginter Press, which was linked to right wing terrorism in three separate continents. More information Aginter can be found here. Guillou would alter forge ties with Le Cercle's Belgian partners as well (noted here).
Aginter Press has long been linked to the stay-behind networks of Italy and Portugal as well. As such, there has been much speculation as to the role the stay-behind network played the general's putsch.
"The OAS coup came on April 22, 1961 when four French Generals under the leadership of General Challe seized power in Algeria in an attempt to maintain the country's union with France. Allegedly, secret soldiers of the CIA-supported NATO stay-behind army who had joined the OAS were directly involved. The secret soldiers 'supported a group of generals who were resisting, sometimes violently, de Gaulle's attempts to negotiate Algerian independence and end the war'..."
(NATO's Secret Armies, Daniele Gander, pg. 95)But the OAS wasn't the only faction in the 11th Shock or the stay-behind network. In the aftermath of the Second World War, a curious organization was founded known as the Service d'Order du RPF. This outfit was essentially meant to be the dirty trick and paramilitary arm of de Gaulle's Rassemblement du Peuple Francais (RPF) party, but would soon turn into the general's personal Praetorian guard and an unofficial French intelligence service. Unsurprisingly, it had ample supporters in both the SDECE and the 11th Shock. Jacques Foccart, the director and "spiritual father" of the successor organization to Service d'Order, Service d'Action Civique (SAC), was a reserve officer in the 11th Shock. He was not alone.
"... After the war Foccart entered de Gaulle's inner circle and set up the SAC. The secret warfare school that he established at Cercottes near Orleans 'became a place of pilgrimage for SAC members in the 1950s.' SAC in the post-war years had a membership of nearly 8,000 'reservists', including active members of the SDECE covert action department Service Action, and the SDECE elite combat unit the 11th du Choc. Together they all trained in Cercottes, and in the wake of the 1990 Gladio discoveries the secret warfare centre was revealed as one of the places where the French Gladiators had received their training."
(NATO's Secret Armies, Daniele Ganser, pg. 100)
After the defeat of the 1961 putsch, it was the SAC that took the lead role in combating the OAS.
"... SAC... executed ruthless counterterror operations against the OAS. Recruited into the ranks of the SAC where the barbouzes, or 'bearded ones,' including criminal elements and Vietnamese experts in torture. This description appears to match the French news reporting on the 'Yatagan Commando,' composed of French veterans and Vietnamese targeting the OAS..."
(The Skorzeny Papers, Ralph P. Ganis, pg. 243)Ganser alleges that after the 1961 general's putsch, de Gaulle crippled the Rose des Vents network and then effectively transformed the SAC into France's stay-behind network. Of course, the SAC may well have been the organization directing the Rose des Vents network in the early years, so this transfer probably consisted of locating the Gaullist loyalists while drumming out the pro-NATO faction. The SAC would become a powerful body within the French deep state --future President Jacques Chirac had directed the SAC during the mid-1970s while serving as prime minister, for instance.
As for the OAS, it had been fairly soundly defeated by the SAC and other Gaullist allies by 1962, but the organization was not formally dissolved until 1965. Remnants would continue to soldier on in Aginter Press and like organizations until 1968. The May of '68 student revolt forced de Gaulle into declaring an amnesty for the OAS. For here on out, elements of SAC and what was left of the OAS would begin collaborating again. As such, it is possible the Rose des Vents network was revived in some form at this point, though the details of French stay-behind networks are hazy beyond the 1960s.
The Service d'Order appears then to have played a role in similar to the "Anello" network in Italy during the early years of the French stay-behind network. However unlike "Anello", which was controlled by a reliably Atlanticist politician, de Gaulle had always been weary of his US and UK partners. As such, when the Service d'Order was reactivated as the SAC, it appears to have been used to form an anti-NATO stay-behind network. It is of course quite possible that the Rose des Vents network served the foundation for the new SAC, but by the early 1960s there appear to have been two parallel stay-behind networks, one loyal to de Gaulle and the other to NATO (the OAS). As such, the waters were quite murky indeed in France by this time.
At this point I will sign off for now. With the next installment we'll consider one particular anti-Communist organization the Socialists set up in the early days of the Cold War and its overlap with the Cercle complex. Until then, stay tuned dear readers.