Aginter Press and the Strategy of Tension (Translated by Paul Sharkey)

Yves Guillou, aka Yves Guerin-Serac, Jean-Robert de Guernadec and “Ralph”.

It is 36 years now since I wrote ‘Stefano delle Chiaie. Portrait of a Black Terrorist”, an investigation into the so-called Strategy of Tension that led to the Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969, the subsequent murder by the Milan police of  Anarchist Black Cross secretary Giuseppe Pinelli, and the eleven years of indiscriminate terror that followed, up to and beyond the Bologna Rail Station massacre on August 1980. I haven’t written much about it since then, but I recently received the following ‘L’Europeo’ (November 1974) article by three journalists — Incerti, Ottolenghi and Raffaelli — on AGINTER PRESS (International News Agency). It was sent by long-time comrades of the Circolo Anarchici Ponte della Ghisolfa (the original meeting place of the Milan Anarchist Black Cross) who continue to publish relevant documents in the interest of historical memory, and as a means of understanding the historical and political context of the Strategy of Tension.

AGINTER PRESS was a Lisbon-based, neo-fascist-controlled, pseudo news agency that serviced the Cold War interests of various Western secret service agencies working to neutralise African and Asian anti-colonial liberation movements. At the time, a principal concern in western strategic thinking was the need to counter nascent national liberation movements in Africa and Asia in such a way that while it might not be possible to prevent the emergence into sovereign statehood of the old colonies and dependencies it should be possible to keep them within the western “sphere of influence” by securing the eclipse or demise of the more virulently nationalist or socialist leaders and their replacement by “friends of the west,” avowed champions of private enterprise and staunch anticommunists who would take whatever steps were necessary within their countries to prevent the colonialist interests being replaced by Russian and Chinese ones.

The principal vehicle used to this end was the “plausibly deniable” intelligence front, Aginter Press, whose declared aims were “to focus the attention of an anxious elite upon the perils of insidious subversion which slowly infiltrates through everyday reports, to denounce its methods and the mechanics of its manoeuvres…” It was not until many years later, however, following Portugal’s “Revolution of the Flowers” in May 1974, that investigators from the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement discovered Aginter Press’s true function.

Its founder and chief was ex French army officer Captain Yves Guillou, better known by his adopted name Yves Guerin-Serac, a veteran of the Korean war (1950-53) and the Indochina war (1945-54), in which he had served as French liaison officer with the newly formed CIA. In 1962, he commanded the 1st Battalion Parachutist de Choc (an elite parachute unit that worked with the French intelligence service, the SDECE) in Algeria. A founder member of the OAS (Organisation de l’Armée Secrète) in 1962 he fled to Lisbon following the defeat of the Generals’ putsch and the Évian Accords that ended the Algerian War. He later claimed, in a November 1974 interview with Paris Match, that he came to Portugal to offer his services to the last remaining colonial empire which could provide the final bulwark against communism and atheism: “The others have laid down their weapons, but not I. After the OAS I fled to Portugal to carry on the fight and expand it to its proper dimensions– which is to say, a planetary dimension.”

1953: Second Lieutenant Yves Guillou, Infantry, French Army receiving the US Bronze Star Medal with V Device for heroism in action against the enemy in the vicinity of Chorwon, Korea

According to a report by the post-1974 Portuguese intelligence service, SDCI, set up to replace the hated PIDE of the Salazar and Caetano regimes, Aginter Press provided:

1. An espionage bureau run by the Portuguese secret police and, through them, the CIA, the West German BND or “Gehlen Organisation,” the Spanish Direccion General de Seguridad, South Africa’s BOSS and, later, the Greek KYP.

2. A centre for the recruitment and training of mercenaries and terrorists specialising in sabotage and assassination.

3. A strategic centre for neo-fascist and right-wing political indoctrination operations in sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Europe in conjunction with a number of sub-fascist regimes, well-known rightwing figures and internationally active neo-fascist groups.

4. An international fascist organisation called “Order and Tradition” with a clandestine paramilitary wing called OACI, “Organisation Armee contre le Communisme International. ”

Describing his organisation, Guerin-Serac wrote:

 Our number consists of two types of men:

1. Officers who have come to us from the fighting in Indochina and Algeria, and some who even enlisted with us after the battle for Korea.

2. Intellectuals who, during this same period turned their attention to the study of the techniques of Marxist subversion… Having formed study groups, they have shared experiences in an attempt to dissect the techniques of Marxist subversion and to lay the foundations of a counter-technique. During this period we have systematically established close contacts with like-minded groups emerging in Italy, Belgium, Germany, Spain or Portugal, for the purpose of forming the kernel of a truly Western league of Struggle against Marxism.

Aginter Press and the Strategy of Tension

WE ENTERED LISBON PRISON where we photographed the banned documents

Lisbon, November 1974

Inside Lisbon prison we photographed the secret archives of the Aginter-Press, the famous agency linked with [Guido] Giannettini [a neo-fascist secret agent working for SIFAR, Italian military intelligence]. We were the first reporters in the world to photograph hundreds upon hundreds of documents, files, dossiers and letters.

L’Europeo is now in possession of evidence that from 1962 up until the Portuguese revolution of 25 April last , Guérin-Sérac’s Aginter Press was operating:

  1. As a press and propaganda agency, peddling Nazi ideas an schemes around the world, especially in Europe and Africa. Proof of this is the thousands of pamphlets and confidential letters held in the recesses of the fortress-prison in Caxias.
  2. As a recruitment and professional training agency for mercenaries, terrorists and saboteurs, designed to create chaos everywhere, for the explicit purpose of undermining the foundations of democratic governments. With regard to this we have found recruitment records, texts and programmes containing overt instructions for sabotage, terrorism, counter-insurgency activity, ideological guidelines and practices for the implementation of clandestine missions and detailed reports (especially coded ones) on operations conducted;
  3. An espionage agency with formal ties to the Portuguese secret services and, through the latter, to those of other western countries. The archives hold receipts for monies received from Portugal’s PIDE, Salazar’s political police, and dense exchanges of correspondence and intelligence with numerous secret services, including our own [Italian] SID. The espionage was carried out by Aginter-Press agents who travelled regularly to European and African countries, establishing contacts and local assets.
  4. The master-mind and rendezvous point of those international organizations pulling the strings of subversion in recent years; the Aginter-Press documentation shows that there existed a Black International in receipt of regular funding, that it entered into agreements regarding “interventions” in this country or that, and that its connections reached the highest political levels (especially in France and Germany). In practice, that [Black] International employed Aginter-Press as its main executive arm, and was well protected and abetted by the Portuguese government.
  5. As the strategic centre for “political intoxication” operations and provocations and for the implementation of an out-and-out “revolutionary war”. For an understanding of such operations one need only, for the moment, cite the outlined 5-step phasing of “Tactics” set out for Aginter-Press’s agents: Step One, “laying the groundwork”, Step Two, “cleansing and propaganda”, Step Three, “guerrilla warfare and terrorism”, Step Four “partial liberation”, Step Five, “widespread insurgency”. Suffice to say that in the archives we discovered the names of many of the Italian agents.
  6. These names include Guido Giannettini (who has a file to himself), Pino Rauti and many other participants in the symposium held at the Parco dei Principi hotel in Rome in 1965 (a real mixed bag!) on the topic of “Revolutionary Warfare”. So much for Italy: as far as other countries are concerned we find the leaders of sundry ‘New Order’ and ‘Action Europe’ organizations, etc., all of them tied into the Aginter-Press.

Italy has been a recruiting ground for the Portuguese agency since 1968. Here in Italy the Aginter-Press has:

  1. Established a network of agents (we have uncovered at least thirty names and a membership list covering a number of Italian cities), whose tasks ranged from straightforward political intelligence-gathering to a scientifically orchestrated campaign of subversion. The documentation suggests that, from the start of 1969, Italy’s first year of tragedy, one of Aginter-Press’s leaders, Guérin-Sérac’s right hand man, made numerous trips to Italy:
  2. Formed “collaborative” agreements with journalists, press agencies, organisations, political figures, Italian secret service agents, prominent financiers, as well as religious and diplomatic figures. All of which contacts have been painstakingly recorded with all of those figures sub-divided by name and in code to which we have found the key.
  3. Gathered secret information about Italian political, economic and financial figures and events, and compiled pertinent files in dossiers. Such information was fed to agents, partners and “friends”, depending on their “closeness” to the figures to whom the information was to be passed.
  4. Welcomed agents and right-wing political figures to Lisbon to agree common action programmes. There are letters paving the way for those visits and reports of meetings held.
  5. Enrolled young Italians for terrorist operations; we found letters from applicants  seeking to enrol and records of their particulars.
  6. Planted its personnel in far-left organizations and in student movements. Infiltration, the theory of which is set out in Aginter-Press’s instructions, is one of the agency’s specialties. In Africa it planted people inside the national liberation movements. There is a lengthy document setting out the attempt to spring from a Kinshasa jail one Aginter-Press agent arrested “for Maoist propaganda”. In the records held in Caxias prison there is documentation of an episode of acute interest to us. These are extraordinary archives, accessible thanks to the Portuguese revolution of April last: alongside the Aginter-Press archives in Caxias prison are the records of fifty years of PIDE [Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado, created October 1945) activity. Military from the Portuguese Armed Forces Movements are frantically working their way through papers (entire roomfuls of documents).

Major Costa Correia has been appointed by the government to scrutinise the Aginter-Press archives; he is the only person fully conversant with the history of that notorious agency, and he has spoken about it here for the very first time.

Major Costa Correia, let us draw up an Aginter-Press “profile”. It is a record of which we have seen thousands in the archives in Caxias fortress.

It hasn’t been easy to trace the history of this “press agency” whose reach stretched from Lisbon across the whole world for so long. It has not been easy because, being real pros, Aginter-Press’s personnel always covered their activities behind all sorts of fronts: codes that are often very hard to decipher and precautionary measures that are more than effective. But the bulk of the documentation with which I have had to work has allowed me to outline a historical and organisational profile of the agency, a profile I believe to be accurate but incomplete.

So let us start with the history.

Let us look back in history and see how Guérin-Sérac and his frends operated over those years. This Frenchman, a former OAS officer, cashiered by De Gaulle and a fanatical Nazi-fascist, arrived in Lisbon in 1962 looking for a publisher for his book, Principles. This was pretty much code for what would be the future actions not just of Aginter-Press but also of the ‘Order and Tradition’ movement, of which Guérin-Sérac was to become president and founder. The press agency came into being that same year following the Frenchman’s approach to the Lisbon government for backing. He didn’t receive any support at an official level, but he did get the help and “encouragement” he needed from the Portuguese Legion, the regime’s (Falange- and SS-type) paramilitary organisation who employed him, exploiting his military experience and his connections with the French OAS [Organisation Armée Secrète], laying on practical courses in sabotage and counter-sabotage, espionage and terrorism. He also published his book whose keynote idea underlied his credo: “Keep the borders open and we will go wherever and drive out the communist jackal.”

So, from the outset, Guérin-Sérac had direct connections with the Portuguese government?

Of course. He offered his services to the ministry of Foreign Affairs and later to the PIDE, the notorious political police who hired him. We have his regular signed and offficially endorsed contract in the archives. Guérin-Sérac’s job was to set up a ‘press agency’ that served as cover for planting its agents, especially in those African countries that had severed diplomatic links with Lisbon. The PIDE lavished him with funds and soon he was sending in his agents, including the notorious Robert Leroy (interviews in L’Europeo – editor’s note) into Africa. He also launched his propaganda effort, distributing Aginter-Press’s far-right bulletins and other publications across Europe. Guérin-Sérac’s agents did a lot of travelling between 1962 and 1965, setting up his networks of informants, collaborators and “delegates” that were later to prove so useful.

ITALY

Above all, it was very effective, Major.

There is no doubt an intensive study of the agency’s archives may produce rather interesting findings about the activities of those “delegates”, scattered right around the world. For instance, from its earliest years, one of the aims of Aginter-Press was to plant its men inside left-wing and far left movements in Europe, or inside liberation movements in Africa. As far as Aginter-Press was concerned, the “golden years” in Africa started in 1965 when the agency received a huge subsidy from the PIDE – thirty million lire a year, no less. We have hard proof of this and it prompts us to wonder about Aginter-Press’s ties to other police agencies and services through the PIDE. A typical operation of that time was the one called “East Zone”, in Angola; there was also “Operation Robinson” to free an agent from an African jail. That was carried out by Guérin-Sérac’s “operatives”. They were also active in Senegal, in Gabon, in the Congo and in Guinea, sending back reports and intelligence to Lisbon that we have found intact, and which we are using today to reconstruct the real activities of the PIDE, in addition to those of Aginter-Press in Europe.

What were Aginter-Press’s activities in Europe?

Guérin-Sérac’s men were considerably more active in Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland than in the African countries. This continued until 1968 when, with regard to Africa, the PIDE cut off Guérin-Sérac’s funding and he decided to fall back on the individuals and right-wing movements with whom he had been in contact from the very start of his activities. It was child’s play. His ideas were welcomed by many, especially in certain countries like Italy. Guérin-Sérac has a particular penchant for your country and has devoted bulletins and reports to it. Using the “Voice of the West”, a Radio Portugal foreign service station, Aginter-Press began making broadcasts in Italian. The contents were news or maybe also coded messages to its Italian agents. The fact is that between ’68 and ’69, Aginter-Press personnel travelled regularly and often to Italy. Good old Leroy [Robert Henry Leroy, ex-Waffen SS] stood out on account of his activism, courting lots of leading figures from your political scene, journalist and financial circles. This is probably the period of the agency’s activities which is the hardest to decipher. All the reports and bulletins are encoded and involve very famous names and carry news we are still checking out. And some of that news is sensational.

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE BOMBINGS

Maybe it’s a coincidence, Major, but ’69 was the years of bombings in Italy. And then there was that notorious SID report citing Guérin-Sérac as being behind the campaign of subversion.

I know. Which is why we are painstakingly looking into that period. Scrutiny of the documentation shows that, as mentioned, while at that time Aginter-Press was experiencing a funding crisis there was an upsurge in its recruitment of foreign personnel: confidants, informants and agents. They set up a second Aginter-Press, again in Lisbon, but at a separate location. This was to be an agency dedicated, seemingly, to industrial or commercial espionage. This new activity seems to have provided cover for the actions we mentioned: we have discovered hundreds of invoices, payment chits and financial transactions. There is also talk of arms smuggling.

Involving Italy, Major Costa Correia?

Italy and elsewhere. Guérin-Sérac had very close connections to your country or so I understand from the documents

He had dealings with the MSI [Italian Social Movement, whose name derived from Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic] and with the CISNAL [Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Nazionali Lavoratori], albeit more at a local and personal level than with the central leadership. Let me say also that in all likelihood the persons contacted by the Aginter-Press were simultaneously party officers and informants for Lisbon-based agency. In all, we have been looking into around thirty Italian individuals (some very well-known ones among them) and into some Italians who received training in sabotage and terrorism. The confession made by one leading PIDE agent, Mario Franco who also worked for the Aginter-Press and made frequent trips to Italy has proved useful here. Franco is detained here in Caxias prison.

And what about the bombs, Major?

We will get to the bombs as well. By scrutinizing the modus operandi of the agency, monitoring the cash flow and travels of the agents, we may well stumble upon some significant surprises. Yes, I do believe that we will get there.