Robert Katz’s History of Modern Italy
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The Unquiet American
etween March and June of this year , I conducted a series of interviews with Pieczenik in which, seeking what he called "closure," he broke a 16-year government-imposed and later self-imposed silence about his sojourn in Rome. In some ways the mystery deepens, but for the most part what he revealed casts new light on the darkest side of the Moro affair.
On March 16, 1978, within hours after the President of Christian Democracy was taken from the carnage of his five slain bodyguards in Via Fani, Interior Minister Francesco Cossiga gathered the ranking civilian, military and intelligence officials at the ministry palazzo, the Viminale, and constituted three "crisis committees." These task forces would form the operational nerve center of Rome's effort to rescue the prisoner. One of them, in which Cossiga would participate most directly, was called the "Select Group for Crisis Management," composed of a hand-picked team of behavioral scientists. The minister himself vaguely recalled that an American psychiatrist had been crucial in resolving a major terrorist incident in the United States. He asked the U.S. ambassador to look into the matter in absolute secrecy, and although no one in the embassy remembered the man's name, he was readily identified in Washington as Dr. Pieczenik. He was an official of the U.S. State Department, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, who had been appointed by Henry Kissinger and now served the Carter administration under Cyrus Vance.
As the American government's leading specialist in micromanaging hostage situations under fire, Pieczenik went to Rome in the flush of accomplishment. At thirty-four years old, the Harvard-trained psychiatrist who also held a doctorate in political science from MIT, had recently dealt successfully with a tense Muslim-fundamentalist hostage crisis in Washington and an equally dramatic Croatian-émigré TWA hijacking in New York. He viewed the Red Brigades kidnapping, however, as the strongest attempt yet to destabilize a Western democracy.
Arriving in the capital shortly after the first photograph of Moro in captivity was circulated by the Red Brigades, Pieczenik was issued a Beretta, a bullet-proof trench coat, and placed in a safe-house. His presence in Italy, at the request of Cossiga, was kept secret. He spent three weeks filled with 12hour workdays in consultation with the minister and the key figures of the crisis committees, particularly the think-tank group of behavioralists. Then, while the operations were still in progress, he returned to Washington, publicly declaring Rome's course of action "commendable." This, however, was a diplomatic courtesy, light-years from what his disturbing experience in Italy had told him.
Since his departure, Pieczenik, as Washington's man in Rome, has been woven into the fabric of the most sophisticated conspiracy theories of Moro's assassination. The American is believed by some, including members of the parliamentary commissions that have dealt with the case, to have godfathered the singular no-negotiations strategy, the linea di fermezza, or hard line, adopted so religiously by the government. Ex-Senator Sergio Flamigni, for example, a member of the Moro Commission (as well as the P-2 and Anti-Mafia Commissions) and a walking encyclopedia on the case, has consistently regarded Pieczenik as the long arm of Kissinger reaching out to bring about Moro's demise.
Only days after Pieczenik's arrival in the capital, Moro himself, trying to fathom why his party was behaving so uncharacteristically, questioned in his bitter prison letter to Taviani whether the hard line was somehow being imposed by the Americans. Later, he would speak of Kissinger's animosity toward him personally, hinting laconically at "decidedly disagreeable episodes." The overly informed journalist Mino Pecorelli, in one of his last threats to reveal the secrets about the Moro that he took to his grave when slain in 1979, suggested he knew something sinister about Pieczenik's activities at the Viminale. That was the same year I managed to briefly interview the then extremely reticent American for my book Days of Wrath. in which I reported on what seemed to be his authorship of what was being called Cossiga's "strategy of inactivity." Then, in 1981, when the P-2 list was seized in Villa Wanda and it was discovered that Cossiga's "crisis committees" were riddled from top to bottom with members of Licio Gelli's subversive Masonic lodge, it seemed more likely than ever that Pieczenik had come from afar to do harm to Aldo Moro. Finally, Giuseppe Ferrara's widely seen 1986 film, Il Caso Moro (The Moro Affair), which was based on my book, carried that notion even further, with the Pieczenik character coming closest to a full-blown, though decidedly humorless. Dr. Strangelove.
The American's long silence has itself contributed to his gray-eminence image, and Rome has never been forthcoming about his mission. Cossiga, testifying before the Moro Commission and much later the Commission on Terrorism, praised Pieczenik's contribution but went no further. Moreover, with scarce exception, the archives of all three "crisis committees" — in yet another mystery — vanished almost immediately after Moro's death with neither trace nor plausible explanation.
In 1992, however, at the request of the Commission on Terrorism, then Minister of Interior Vincenzo Scotti conducted a "careful search" of the papers in his office and a highly classified (riservatissimo) report attributed to Pieczenik was recovered. This 14-page document was one of five variously authored memorandums and notes — 57 pages in all — said to have been written at the time of the Moro crisis by "experts" identified along with Pieczenik as Professors Franco Ferracuti, Stefano Silvestri and Giulia Conte Micheli.
The Pieczenik Report, typewritten in Italian and apparently translated from English, is entitled "Ipotesi sulla Strategia e Tattica delle BR e Ipotesi sulla Gestione della Crisi." – “Reflections on the Strategies and Tactics of the Red Brigades and Crisis Management.” It tends to confirm the American psychiatrist's role as a callous mastermind, proffering cruel, diabolical schemes to counteract Moro's prodigious epistolary efforts to negotiate his own release.
Perhaps most heartless is the report's suggestion to Cossiga of how to promote the idea of Moro having "in effect undergone brainwashing." The report recommends: "Seek out statements from Moro's intimate friends and colleagues that demonstrate how he would have supported the current government and its resolute position." That someone, if not Cossiga himself, thought this a splendid piece of advice may be seen in the April 25th statement from Moro's self-styled truest and oldest friends (some 75 men and women) — which Leonardo Sciascia has called a "monstrous... uncivilized protest." "The Aldo Moro whom we know," they wrote, "...is not present in the letters directed to Zaccagnini and published as his." Moro, indignant but clearly wounded, replied on April 29th: "I must say how deeply saddened I was (I wouldn't have believed it possible) by the statement of some of my friends...who without either knowing or imagining what I am suffering...doubted the authenticity of what I was saying as if I were taking dictation from the Red Brigades. Why this stamp of approval on my supposed non-authenticity?"
n making my preparations to meet with Pieczenik in Washington, where he is today a private consultant on foreign policy issues at the United States Institute of Peace, I asked him about his report, wondering if he had a copy of the original. I did not discuss the substance, since I had not yet seen the actual document, which is unpublished, and at the time I had only a sketchy idea of its contents. His reaction to my question seemed one of astonishment and he replied, "I never wrote gornischt, " using a Yiddishism well-known in America that translates roughly as an emphatic "absolutely nothing."
"I have never made a written report about a crisis," he said when we met shortly afterward. "And I will tell you why very simply: a written report would reveal in detail the content of what I did, which would compromise me subsequently and run the risk of potential terrorists getting to look at it." Although he thought it would have been highly improper, he did not, however, dispute the possibility that someone else who had been present at the meetings in the Viminale had taken notes of what he had said and had later combined them in a single document in his name.
It was not until I had gone to Rome and acquired and read a complete copy of the Pieczenik Report that I realized that not only could he not have written it, neither could anyone have heard him speak it. Apart from numerous improbable statements in the document, a single line that leaped from one page, the seventh page of the erratically numbered set, was sufficient proof: "We are struck by the very latest developments," Pieczenik is imputed to have written, "...and that is [the Red Brigades'] ultimatum in which they are asking to exchange Moro for 13 prisoners of various kinds currently being held in Italian prisons..." This of course is an unmistakable reference to Communiqué number 8, which was released by the Red Brigades on April 24th. The trouble here is that the alleged author of the report had left Italy on the 15th, and there is incontrovertible documentary evidence that he was in fact in Washington.
When I showed this document to Pieczenik in a final interview back in the U.S., we went over it item by item. He found it filled with misrepresentations and in the end denounced it as a clumsy forgery. "If I had had 13 prisoners to negotiate," he said with some excitement at that most telling point, "I'd have gotten Moro out!" It would been an ideal situation for his purposes, he said, providing him with bargaining chips to use for give and take. He was particularly offended by the suggestion in which he is made to originate the idea of getting Moro's closest friends to discredit him. "I have gotten 500 hostages out of terrorists' hands," he said, "and I never did anything like that." Besides it is poor strategy, he went on. While it is useful to downplay the hostage's political importance, said Pieczenik, "I always try to build up his value on a humanitarian level."
hat then actually happened when Pieczenik went to Rome? Now a robust man of middle age, with a trim mustache and a glasses-on-glasses-off manner of speaking, Pieczenik, in the interviews, related in great detail and with no holds barred how his mission unfolded.
"A few days after the kidnapping," he began, "I was asked by then Undersecretary of State Ben Reid if I would go to Italy at the request of Cossiga to develop strategies and tactics in dealing with the crisis. I wasn't following that case. There were other concerns which were far greater to us and which I was involved in, like negotiations with the Soviet Union, so Italy was not exactly on my horizon. My assignment was basically to go over there, assist Cossiga to the degree that I could, and then come back. I wasn't even briefed by the [State Department's] Italian Desk or anybody who had any dealings with the Italian political scene. That in itself was revealing because I can tell how much importance a particular country has by the information I am given. In fact, the intelligence I received was quite poor, really nothing more than clip-outs from Time and Newsweek magazines, which was quite pathetic, and when I got briefed by the embassy in Rome, that too was not very informative."
In his initial meeting with Cossiga, he said, the minister was very succinct about the problem. What was at stake, he told Pieczenik, was Christian Democracy; depending on the outcome of the crisis, the party could collapse and the Communists would take over the country. Pieczenik reserved judgment. The meetings took place daily in a room adjoining Cossiga's. The two men spoke in a mixture of French and Spanish and what little Italian Pieczenik understood. Other members of the crisis-management expert group were often present, and one of them, Ferracuti, himself a psychiatrist as well as a criminologist, served as Pieczenik's translator from English.
Meetings were also held with the chiefs of the Secret Services and the other crisis committees, with Pieczenik being introduced to many more people than he could remember. "What I was not comfortable with," he said, "were the people who were coming in and out. Cossiga would say, this is a person from SISME or SISDE, this is General So-and-so and they would come in and out. They would ask me questions about hardware, like what weapons should we use, can we use tear gas — the paramilitary and military aspects — which was not my concern.
"What I assessed very quickly, and Cossiga agreed, was that there was no capability whatsoever to deal with terrorism, either on the hardware side or the software side — the software being negotiation — developing the strategies and tactics to get there — and understanding how to interpret and respond to the communiqués, the differences between their manifest content and what in fact lay behind them.
"My concern has always been to get the hostage back at a minimal cost to the state or the institution. I saw my job in Rome, as it had been in other cases, to maintain a strategic posture of no concessions while creating the kind of loophole we call tactical flexibility, which is another way of saying you get the hostage out on humanitarian grounds in exchange for which you give certain considerations. That saves face for everyone. The government can say, "No, we didn't make concessions, they were tactical considerations" and the Red Brigades can say, "We released him for humanitarian reasons." So, in a way, what you are doing is finding a solution for both sides.
"My basic suggestion in the Moro case was to develop the proper intermediary. What I told Cossiga and the others was, 'Get the proper intelligence as to who that intermediary is: the person or the group — like the Vatican or the International Red Cross — who represents legitimacy on both sides. And from that point on you have tactical flexibility.' You have the ability to really maneuver the terms of the deal because you've gained control. You can make the necessary concessions to get Aldo Moro out and you get to save face."
Closer to Moro's own advice than to the hard line, the American's counsel was greeted ambiguously. He went on: "I began to realize — when I was giving them strategies and tactics and looking for intermediaries — that there was a discontinuity between what I was saying and what in fact was being implemented. They said, 'Sure, we'll do it.' But nothing was ever done."
I reminded Pieczenik that of the two intermediaries he mentioned, Moro in his March 29th letter to Cossiga had suggested the Vatican and later the Moro family had pressed Andreotti to use the Red Cross. While the Vatican had expressed its availability, both avenues were in fact cut off, the Holy See by an intervention of the Christian Democrats and the Red Cross by Andreotti himself. To this, Pieczenik could only shrug and then relate an incident in the Viminale that had left him bewildered.
"One thing that came out very distinctly really stunned me," he said. "I didn't know Aldo Moro the man and I wanted to get a sense of what he was like and what his breaking point was. So I went around the room -there were generals, there were politicians. They were the people who knew Aldo Moro. To the man, including Cossiga, one had a clear impression that no one liked Aldo Moro personally. I felt that clearly I was not talking to people who were his allies."
He continued: "There was a lot of duplicity going on. It was a game that went far beyond the extrication of Aldo Moro. For one thing, I never had the impression that Moro was either drugged or that he had lost his marbles." This was a reference to the notion widely disseminated at the time that Moro was writing under the influence of mind-altering substances and that he was being morally and spiritually destroyed. On receipt of Moro's first letter, both Cossiga and Andreotti had decided that this and all future letters would be branded as extorted and "not morally imputable" to its author. The idea of Moro being drugged and ultimately brainwashed was put forward, according to his own, undisputed reports, by Ferracuti. (In his role as a government expert, Ferracuti, now deceased, had diagnosed Moro on the basis of his first five letters as having already been brainwashed by "techniques similar to those used by Chinese and North Korean operatives.") Pieczenik made his own assessment. "I had a very clear sense," he said, speaking of his analysis of Moro's writings, "that this was a man who was very very alert. He made certain references in the letters that .were very much on target, small details, the things you look for. My only concern was that he would not be compromised physically as a result of the stress all hostages suffer eventually. But I was told by intelligence that he had a doctor available to him."
This, as he would later find out, was untrue, and in any event Pieczenik was to grow distrustful of Ferracuti and before long of everyone around him: "After a while, I began to realize whatever was happening within that conference room was clearly leaking out. I knew because there were statements being made by the Red Brigades and others that really belonged within the room. This was leakage at a very serious level and I knew that the whole thing was infiltrated. I told this to Cossiga very clearly. 'We've been penetrated from very high up.' His reaction was, 'Yes, I know we are. Very high up.' But he couldn't say exactly how high, or he wouldn't say. I restricted the meetings but I saw the leakage get larger and larger and the meetings smaller and smaller so that eventually it ended up to be only Cossiga and me and even then there was leakage.
"Clearly there was a multiplicity of the agendas, and I came to the point where I even asked Cossiga quite frankly. 'You know, I have a feeling Moro was set up.' He said, "What do you mean" and I said, "I have to really start from ground zero and say who would have benefited from having had him in a kidnapping.'
"So we looked at all the elements. And I said, 'I'm going to be very crass but very objective: What about you, Cossiga? Why would you not be a candidate?' And he laughed and he said, 'No, he was my mentor, I was very close to him.' And I said, "All right, not that I necessarily buy that,' and then we went through various other possibilities but got nowhere."
The situation continued to deteriorate, Pieczenik recalled. "I was getting conflicting information. It was said that Moro was in Rome, then elsewhere in Italy. It was harder and harder for me to believe — given the extensiveness of the paramilitary operations — that they couldn't find this gentleman, that after all this time they had no leads as to where he was. That, on top of the leakage, convinced me that this entire situation was compromised. What I suspected, and why I left earlier, was that they weren't interested in getting this man out. At that point I understood that the only purpose of my being there was to legitimize what they were doing; it was self-serving for those who were there. So I realized that something was going on far beyond what I was supposed to know and far beyond what my access was. That was it. I said, 'Thank you, gentlemen,' and I left."
Pieczenik's story, however, does not end there. A coup de grace awaited him when he returned to Washington. "Literally within 24 hours after I came back from Rome, a political counselor in the Argentine embassy called on me. He began to talk about roe helping Buenos Aires deal with their 'terrorist' problems. This was the time of the military junta, when there were 6,000 people on preventive detention in a sports arena and I categorically stated that there was no way in the world I would help them." The "counselor" (Pieczenik believes he was an intelligence agent in counterterrorism) apparently would not take no for an answer. "He threatened me," Pieczenik went on. "He said he would go to the secretary of state," who would order him to obey. Pieczenik insisted he would never cooperate and the Argentine left his office angrily, never to return, but Pieczenik found the episode disconcerting.
"What absolutely astounded me," he said, "was that he knew everything that had transpired in Cossiga's offices in Rome, all the things I had done there over the past three weeks, which of course nobody was supposed to know, but he knew. He didn't tell me how he knew and all I could do was surmise that the leakage was clearly going to Argentina to the degree that that relationship between Italy and Argentina was very tight."
What was particularly disturbing to Pieczenik was the man's imperious attitude, as if the American's cooperation was somehow an obligation. "There was a sense of entitlement underneath what he was saying to me, as if we were all part of a brotherhood."
It only made sense to him three years later, he said, when he learned about P-2's deep infiltration of the Viminale's "crisis committees" and the Licio Gelli connection to Argentina. "That was the missing link."
ho wrote the bogus Pieczenik Report? And what purpose could it have had having being kept secret until 1992? Pieczenik himself finds echoes of P-2 member Ferracuti in several of its recommendations. One, for example, would have had the government spreading rumors in the Turin prison holding Red Brigades leader Renato Curcio and others of the so-called capi storici, or founding fathers, to frighten them into thinking they might be killed by the authorities (as was then widely believed to have happened to Baader-Meinhof gang members in Stuttgart's Stammheim prison). This would help set a trap, the report states, in which the Brigatisti on the outside would "launch an attack against the prison in an attempt to free the prisoners." "That sounds just like Ferracuti the criminologist," Pieczenik said. "He was always coming up with things like that, one more bizarre than the other."
On the other hand, Pieczenik recognizes that at least some of the report's content is not inconsistent with what he actually said, and he is quick to recall that when he lost trust in Ferracuti he barred him from his meetings with Cossiga, which eventually became one-on-one encounters. In his testimony before the Commission on Terrorism last December, Cossiga, who by then had gone on to serve a term as President of Italy, vouched for the Pieczenik Report and went even further. He identified the anonymous participants in the question-and-answer format of the last five pages: it is Cossiga himself asking the questions and Pieczenik is the respondent. In Rome, I made several attempts to interview Cossiga, specifying my having spoken to Pieczenik about these matters, but to no avail.2
While the search for the phantom report writer has only just begun, removing Dr. Pieczenik as the Dr. Strangelove in the case, would seem to require new perspectives on the Moro affair.
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