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Context of 'October 1980: ’Billygate’-Based Disinformation Campaign Erupts near Election; Orchestrated by American Neoconservative and Italian Intelligence Agencies'

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Billy Carter.Billy Carter. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]An Italian-American disinformation campaign has a profound effect on the US presidential election of 1980. With the assistance of Italian intelligence (SISMI) and the shadowy right-wing organization called “Propaganda Due,” or P-2 (see 1981), American neoconservative Michael Ledeen organizes a smear campaign against Billy Carter, the brother of US President Jimmy Carter. (Billy Carter is a self-proclaimed alcoholic whose escapades have provoked much hilarity among the US press and an equal amount of embarrassment in the White House.) In the weeks before the election, Ledeen publishes articles in the British and American press accusing Billy Carter of having untoward and perhaps illegal financial dealings with Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Billy Carter is forced to admit that he did accept a $200,000 loan from al-Qadhafi’s regime. The ensuing scandal becomes known as “Billygate.” It is not known for sure what impact the scandal will eventually have on the race between President Carter and his Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan; what is known is that “Billygate” erupted in 1979, was investigated, and had died down. Then, less than a month before the November 1980 election, Ledeen and Arnaud de Borchgrave write an article for the US’s New Republic and Britain’s Now magazine that falsely alleges Billy Carter took an additional $50,000 from al-Qadhafi, and worse, met secretly with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The articles reignite the scandal in time to affect the election. In 1985, a Wall Street Journal investigation will find that “Billygate” is an orchestrated attempt by Ledeen and SISMI to throw the election to Reagan. Ledeen, who used SISMI sources to unearth financial information on Billy Carter, was himself paid $120,000 by SISMI for “Billygate” and other projects. Ledeen has a code name, Z-3, and is paid through a Bermuda bank account. Ledeen will later admit that his consulting firm, ISI, may have accepted SISMI money, and will claim he can’t remember if he has a coded identity. P-2 operative Francesco Pazienza will be convicted in absentia on multiple charges stemming from the “Billygate” disinformation campaign, including extortion and fraud. Ledeen will not be charged in the Italian court that convicts Pazienza, but prosecutors will cite his participation in their arguments against Pazienza. Ledeen will deny any involvement with either Pazienza or P-2, and deny any connection to any disinformation schemes. In fact, Ledeen will say he doesn’t even believe P-2 exists. After Reagan takes office, Ledeen will be made a special assistant to chief of staff Alexander Haig, and later will become a staff member of Reagan’s National Security Council, where he will play a key role in setting up the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. [Unger, 2007, pp. 233-234, 388]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Billy Carter, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Carter administration, Francesco Pazienza, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Michael Ledeen, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Wall Street Journal, Yasser Arafat, SISMI, Propaganda Due

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

Licio Gelli.Licio Gelli. [Source: Reformation (.org)]“Propaganda Due,” or P-2, an informal, parallel Secret Service in Italy led by neofascist and Freemason Licio Gelli, is banned by the Italian Parliament, though the organization continues to function. (Gelli is expelled from the Masons the same year as P-2 is banned.) It had a penchant for secret rituals and exotic covert ops against what it considered Communist-based threats. P-2 members swear to have their throats slit and tongues cut out rather than break their oaths of secrecy and loyalty. Author Craig Unger characterizes the organization as “subversive, authoritarian, and right-wing.” It was sometimes called the “P-2 Masonic Lodge” because of its ties to the Freemasons. It served as a covert intelligence agency for militant anticommunists. It was also linked to Operation Gladio, a secret paramilitary wing of NATO that supported far-right military coups in Greece and Turkey during the Cold War. P-2 is banned by the Italian Parliament after an investigation found that it had infiltrated the highest levels of Italy’s judiciary, parliament, military, and press, and was linked to assassinations, kidnappings, and illicit arms deals around the world. The critical event was the murder of Freemason and bank president Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging from a bridge in London; the investigation found that P-2 may have been involved in Calvi’s murder. American neoconservative Michael Ledeen, who has long if murky connections with both US and Italian intelligence agencies, was a part of two major international disinformation operations in conjunction with P-2 and SISMI, the Italian military intelligence agency (see October 1980 and Mid-1981 through Late 1981). [BBC, 10/16/1998; Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, 12/14/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 232-233]

Entity Tags: Propaganda Due, Craig Unger, Licio Gelli, Michael Ledeen, Operation Gladio, SISMI, Roberto Calvi

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Pope John Paul II visits his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in prison, in 1983.Pope John Paul II visits his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in prison, in 1983. [Source: CBS News]Columnist and Reagan foreign policy adviser Michael Ledeen, an American neoconservative with murky ties to both US and Italian intelligence (see October 1980), plays a key role in a disinformation campaign that attempts to blame Eastern European Communists for an attempt on Pope John Paul II’s life. A Turkish fascist, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot and nearly killed the Pope in May 1981. Shortly thereafter, Acga claimed to have taken his orders from the Soviet KGB through Bulgaria’s Secret Service. The story makes for fine Cold War propaganda, and Ledeen is one of its most relentless proponents, promoting it in news articles and television interviews around the world. But the story is most likely not true. “It just doesn’t pass the giggle test,” recalls Frank Brodhead, author of a book on the subject. Agca was a member of a far-right Turkish terrorist group called the Gray Wolves, Brodhead later says. “[I]t seemed illogical that a Turkish fascist would work with Bulgarian Communists.” Although Agca himself originated the claim, he is anything but reliable, widely considered a pathological liar by most involved in his case, and suffering from delusions of grandeur. (He often claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.) Eight men will be tried in Italian courts for their connections to the Bulgarian allegations, and all eight will be acquitted for lack of evidence. Agca will damage the case by constantly changing his story. At one point, Agca will say he made the Bulgarian accusation at the behest of Francesco Pazienza, a member of Propaganda Due (P-2), the shadowy right-wing organization. Agca says Pazienza offered him freedom in exchange for the claim. Agca will change that story as well. Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs, who originally believes the Bulgarian story, will later come to believe that Agca’s tale “was invented by Agca with the hope of winning his release from prison… He was aided and abetted in this scheme by right-wing conspiracy theorists in the United States and William Casey’s Central Intelligence Agency, which became a victim of its own disinformation campaign.” Pazienza will later claim that the entire idea of a “Bulgarian connection” originated with Ledeen, a charge that Ledeen will angrily deny. [Unger, 2007, pp. 388]

Entity Tags: Propaganda Due, KGB, William Casey, Gray Wolves, Frank Brodhead, Francesco Pazienza, Mehmet Ali Agca, Michael Ledeen, Michael Dobbs, Central Intelligence Agency, John Paul II

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reportedly puts pressure on Nicolo Pollari, chief of SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, to provide the US with intelligence in an effort to please the Bush administration and make Italy a top US ally. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005] Berlusconi was a member of the Italian neofascist organization “Propaganda Due” (P-2—see 1981). The organization was banned in 1981 and charged with an array of crimes. The organization also had murky ties with some American neoconservatives (see October 1980). [Unger, 2007, pp. 234]

Entity Tags: Silvio Berlusconi, Bush administration (43), Nicolo Pollari

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Nicolo Pollari.Nicolo Pollari. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italian intelligence (SISMI), is reportedly disappointed with his attempts to communicate with US intelligence. (It is not clear from the reporting what exactly Pollari is dissappointed about. It has been interpreted to have meant that Pollari is disappointed about US intelligence’s refusal to take SISMI’s October 15 report seriously) Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had reportedly asked Pollari to establish closer relations with Washington (see Shortly after September 11, 2001). According to La Repubblica, the prime minister’s diplomatic advisor, Gianni Castellaneta, advises Pollari to look in “other directions.” The Italian minister of defense, Antonio Martino, invites Pollari to meet with American neoconservative Michael Ledeen, which he does in December (see December 9, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Gianni Castellaneta, Michael Ledeen, Antonio Martino

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

President Bush, speaking with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), rebuffs Berlusconi’s attempts to persuade him not to invade Iraq. (Publicly, Berlusconi supports the invasion plans, but he worries about public opinion in Italy, which is heavily opposed to any such invasion.) Of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Bush says: “We have put together a lethal military and we will kick his _ss.… This is going to change. You watch—public opinion will change. We lead our publics. We cannot follow our publics.” The statement to Berlusconi will be quoted in Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack. [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 12]

Entity Tags: Silvio Berlusconi, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Author and Vanity Fair reporter Craig Unger interviews Michael Ledeen regarding the false claims that Iraq attempted to purchase massive amounts of uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Ledeen, a prominent neoconservative who holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, is well known to have extensive ties to the Italian intelligence community and for his relationship with discredited Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar (see 1981 and December 9, 2001). Ledeen denies any involvement in promulgating the fraudulent uranium allegations. “I’m tired of being described as someone who likes fascism and is a warmonger,” he says. (Ledeen has written books and articles praising Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and wrote numerous articles in the run-up to the Iraq invasion calling for the US to forcibly overthrow numerous Middle Eastern governments along with Iraq’s—see September 20, 2001, December 7, 2001, and August 6, 2002.) “I think it’s obvious I have no clout in the administration. I haven’t had a role. I don’t have a role.” He barely knows White House political adviser Karl Rove, he says, and has “no professional relationship with any agency of the federal government during the Bush administration. That includes the Pentagon.” The facts contradict Ledeen’s assertions. Since before Bush’s inauguration, Rove has invited Ledeen to funnel ideas to the White House (see After November 2000). Former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski says Ledeen “was in and out of [the Pentagon] all the time.” Ledeen is very close to David Wurmser, who held key posts in the Pentagon and State Department before becoming the chief Middle East adviser for Vice President Dick Cheney. Ledeen also has close ties to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Of course, none of this proves or disproves his connections, if any, to the Iraq-Niger fabrications. [Unger, 2007, pp. 231]

Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, Bush administration (43), American Enterprise Institute, Craig Unger, David Wurmser, Karen Kwiatkowski, Karl C. Rove, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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