Evidence suggests Italian right directed Turk’s assault on pope
Convicted papal assailant Mehmet Ali Agca was never a consistent witness, but supporters of his claim that a “Bulgarian connection” links his 1981 assault on Pope John Paul II to the Soviet Union have generally found clever ways to dispel the effect of his numerous self-contradictions. The free-lance journalist Claire Sterling, for example, chief media champion of Agca’s claim that the Soviet Union is ultimately to blame for his deed, wrote of one of Agca’s about-faces that “in admitting to the cunning and deceitful use he has made of every source within reach,” he has “made his whole confession more believable.”
Nevertheless, Agca’s credibility suffered a major collapse last month in Rome as he testified in the trial of four of his Turkish countrymen and three Bulgarian officials, all accused of conspiring with him in the papal assassination attempt, when he announced that he was Christ and could raise the dead. Chief prosecutor Antonio Marini said wearily to the press, “If he wanted to destroy his credibility, he has succeeded magnificently.”
The prosecutor’s virtual repudiation of Agca as a credible witness is especially significant in that the state’s case against the three Bulgarians is based solely on Agca’s word. If Agca’s word is now worthless in court, then so is the theory of Bulgarian connection and Soviet guilt, which is based upon it.
This theory was not born full-blown, but by bits and pieces. Less than a week after the Saint Peter’s Square shooting, Italy’s military intelligence arm circulated a story to the media that the attempt had been inspired by Warsaw Pact powers under the specific instructions of the Soviet defense minister. The following October, an American named Paul Henze, former CIA chief of station in Turkey, suggested in a column in the Wall Street Journal that the Russians might be involved. The month later, Italy’s minister of defense for the first time suggested that the Bulgarian secret service had been in control of Agca.
But a full statement of the Bulgarian-connection theory was not made in public until late summer 1982, more than a year after the shooting, when the Reader’s Digest of September cover date carried Sterling’s first article on the subject. Sterling argued that Agca, then a supposed lone fanatic, in fact was part of a conspiracy tracing to the Kremlin, the motive of which was to intimidate Solidarity. Then, about two months later, in November 1982, Agca himself said for the first time to an official that he had been assisted by the three Bulgarians.
The American press showed some skepticism toward this theory (one Washington Post editorial was headlined “A Communist Plot to Kill the Pope – Or a Liar’s Fantasy”). But far stronger, as the Bulgarians went to trial this past May, was the sense that Soviet responsibility was solidly established. In fact, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, was so deeply persuaded of Soviet guilt that he told a radio interviewer last fall that those who challenged their theory might legitimately be suspected of being “witting tools” of the Soviet cause.
Agca’s courtroom irrationality may have taken the wind out of such a premature certainty about a Bulgarian-Soviet tie-in, but there remains, nonetheless, no doubt that Agca was a conspirator, not a loner, in the papal shooting. He has a long history as a militant of Turkey’s ultranationalist Gray Wolves, action arm of the fascist National Action Party. Gray Wolf comrades helped Agca assassinate the moderate Turkish editor, Abdi Ipekci, in 1979 and then assisted his escape from prison. They were all around him just before and after the attempt on the pope, and three of them are now on trial for conspiracy because the facts in the case, not Agca’s word, incriminated them.
This means that the big questions about this case are opening up again. If Agca’s conspiracy did not originate in the Kremlin or elsewhere in the Soviet bloc, then where did it come from? How did he learn so much about the Bulgarians he has apparently been trying to frame? And why have so many otherwise skeptical American journalists been so eager, on nothing but the word of a man such as Agca, to blame the Soviet Union for this crime, fully aware of the enormous political implications of such a charge?
As if to speak these very questions, even as Acga was disgracing himself again on the stand in Rome, another witness at another major trial in Italy, this one in Naples, proposed a radically different theory of Agca’s motive and connections.
The P-2 Connection
The witness was Giovanni Pandico, a confessed big-time racketeer who is the Italian government’s star witness in the current trial of the Neapolitan crime syndicate, the Camorra. Days before Pandico was to take the stand last month against his former partners in crime, a bomb blast killed his mother and maimed several other members of his family. Pandico retaliated by calling a L’Espresso reporter to his cell for an interview in which he spilled new crime-world secrets. Among these was the claim that Agca had been put up to blaming the Bulgarians, and coached on how to do so convincingly, by Pandico’s boss, the head man of the Camorra, Rafaelle Cutolo. Furthermore, said Pandico, Cutolo had been directed in this by General Pietro Musumeci, at that time the second highest ranking officer of the Italian military intelligence service with organized crime as part of a larger right-wing conspiracy, that of the spurious Masonic lodge called “Loggia Propaganda-2” or “P-2,” whose membership list was discovered by accident in March 1981, two months before Agca shot the pope.
As subsequently established by a parliamentary investigation, the “P-2” conspiracy extended throughout the Italian government. It included the heads of all three Italian intelligence services, the treasury and the joint chiefs of staff. It permeated all operating sectors of the governing bureaucracy. An entire shadow government had been installed within the legitimate government, a secret government with a secret purpose – to subvert the Italian state through control of its intelligence, military, police and bureaucratic arms, in order to forestall the threat of legal Communist takeover through the electoral system.
Two days after Pandico’s bombshell, Agca himself seemed to flirt with this new explanation of the “Bulgarian connection” in an odd exchange that occurred when the presiding judge, trying to clam the Bulgarians’ defense attorneys, spoke the word “pazienza,” Italian for “patience,” and Agca, all unbidden, responded, “Yes, Dr. Francesco Pazienza.” This startled the courtroom, since Pazienza’s name is synonymous with intrigue in today’s Italy. In June 1982, for example, Pazienza put together a billion-dollar bail-out of the financial empire of Roberto Calvi, just before the P-2 banker was found hanging from a bridge in London. In August 1983, Pazienza’s yacht whisked away the head of the P-2 following his escape from a Swiss prison.
From Vatican II to P-2
At the time Agca claims to have met him in prison in 1982, Pazienza was a top aide to Italy’s then military intelligence chief, Gen. Giuseppe Santovito. Both Pazienza and Santovito, along with Musumeci, have been facing conspiracy charges tracing back to P-2. When the judge at last quieted the courtroom and could ask Agca what he meant, Agca answered, “I met Francesco Pazienza. He asked me to collaborate.”
The tale of the P-2 conspiracy, in which all these men – and now possibly Agca – were linked, would seem a brilliant but wild fantasy in the hands of a spy novelist. It was found out four years ago through a fluke and is still in the process of courtroom disentanglement, although in outline the story is quite simple.
In the early 1960s, the Vatican II movement associated with Pope John XXIII, after strenuous and long debate, decided to substitute “dialogue” for confrontation in the Catholic Church’s relationship with communism, in particular with the Italian Communist Party. The birth of what the Italian right denounces as “clerico-communism,” this move created the possibility of a new governing coalition of the center-left and the legal taking of power by Italian Communists. Exactly such a fear has been constant in the politics of the Italian right since the end of World War II.
Thus, Vatican II’s new policy of dialogue with the radical left motivated ultraright elements of Italy’s highest ruling elites to circle the wagons. Large numbers of top-ranking military officers such as Musumeci and Santovito, as well as international businessmen, Godfather-level mobsters and men, like Pazienza, whose careers spanned all three arenas, started drawing together under the cloak of the false Masonic lodge called P-2. Set up in 1971 under the leadership of World War II fascist Licio Gelli, P-2 developed quickly into a widespread network not only for antileft intelligence and political action, but also for illegal business activities such as bank fraud and narcotics smuggling.
In 1974, Milan’s Banca Privata Italiano suddenly collapsed. It had fallen foul of the sophisticated financial depradations [sic] of one of P-2’s most sinister chieftains, Michele Sindona, sometimes called “St. Peter’s Banker” for his intimate relationship with the Vatican’s bank system. The Milan bank, thanks to Sindona, had lost a fatal $225 million. The next year, the same fate overtook Franklin National Bank in New York, which collapsed after Sindona-induced losses of $45 million. About this same time, the Vatican Bank absorbed losses of nearly $250 million as Sindona’s empire came down. Sindona was captured and sentenced to 15 years in the Milan case and 25 years (a record for a white-collar felony) in the New York case.
In 1979, while awaiting trial, Sindona vanished, seemingly “kidnapped.” His abductors, however, proved to be Mafia associates of his who were later convicted for heroin trafficking. In March 1981, while searching for clues in this false kidnapping, Italian police followed the trail to the home of Gelli, Sindona’s comrade and the Grand Master and main organizer of the P-2 lodge now believed to be hiding in South America. A World War II vintage fascist, Gelli was a partner in arms deals with Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, now awaiting trial in France. Gelli is wanted by Italian police in connection with the August 1980 Bologna train station bombing that claimed 85 lives. This act was the work of Gelli’s fascist terrorists; but, in line with contemporary fascism’s “strategy of tension,” it was staged so as to seem the work of radical leftists.
In Gelli’s villa, the police discovered a list of 953 names from Italian public life that included two Cabinet ministers, 36 members of parliament, the police chiefs of the four principal cities and the mayors of two others, and the heads of all three secret services. A total of 422 were in government, and the others were of the business world, both the legal (banking and finance) and illegal (narcotics smuggling and high embezzlement) spheres. This was the membership list of P-2.
Revelation of the P-2 conspiracy came just after the pope was shot (though it was discovered two months before). The ensuing public outcry brought down the Forlani government. More than three years later, the Italian Parliament published a 170-page report on its investigation of P-2, showing that this group had nearly achieved “surreptitious and complete control” of the Italian state apparatus. Some of the principal P-2 conspirators, such as Musumeci, are only now standing trial, and new information is sure to develop.
But if mobster Pandico knew what he was talking about when he said that Agca was coached to blame the Communists by Musumeci and Cutolo, then it would appear that Agca’s alleged Bulgarian connection is in fact a P-2 connection. In this event, the whole story of the papal assassination attempt and its exploitation by conspiratorial Italian fascism is still a long way from being known.