5 August 2017

Felice Casson - politician and magistrate

His investigations revealed existence of Operation Gladio

Felice Casson identified the bomber behind the Peteano killings
Felice Casson identified the bomber
behind the Peteano killings
Felice Casson, the magistrate whose investigations exposed the existence of the NATO-backed secret army codenamed Gladio, was born on this day in 1953 in Chioggia, near Venice.

A former mayor of Venice and a representative of the Democratic Party in the Italian Senate, Casson devoted much of his career in the judiciary to fighting corruption and rooting out terrorists.

In 1984, his interest in terrorism led him to examine the unsolved mystery of the Peteano bombing in 1972, in which three Carabinieri officers were killed by a car bomb placed under an abandoned Fiat 500 in a tiny hamlet close to the border with Yugoslavia in the province of Gorizia.

Casson discovered flaws in the original investigation into the bombing, which at the time was blamed on the left-wing extremist group the Red Brigades, who would later be responsible for the kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro, a former prime minister. 

Afterwards, Italy launched a nationwide crackdown on left-wing organisations and made more than 200 arrests.

Vincenzo Vinciguerra confessed to planting bomb that killed Carabinieri officers
Vincenzo Vinciguerra confessed to planting
bomb that killed Carabinieri officers
But Casson found no record of any investigation of the scene of the bombing and discovered that a report claiming the explosives used in the bomb was the same as previously used in Red Brigades activity was a forgery.

He reopened the case and his new investigation established that the explosive used was called C4, a very powerful agent of which large stocks were kept by NATO.

At around the same time he found details of the chance discovery earlier in 1972 by other Carabinieri officers of a hidden arms cache near Trieste, which had been mysteriously hushed up at the time.  Among the weapons and munitions stored there was C4.

Ultimately the investigation led Casson to order the arrest of Vincenzo Vinciguerra, a member of the right-wing extremist group Ordine Nuovo – New Order – who confessed that he had planted the car bomb and confirmed a connection Casson had already made between Ordine Nuovo and the Italian secret services.

Marco Morin, the police explosives expert who had provided false evidence about the explosives used at Peteano, was also a member.

Under questioning from judges, Vinciguerra went further, linking a series of atrocities in Italy during the so-called Years of Lead, beginning with the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan in 1969, which killed 17 people, and culminating in the massacre of 85 people at Bologna railway station in 1980, to a secret organisation working on behalf of the Italian government and its allies.

Giuliano Andreotti admitted in 1990 that the Gladio operation existed
Giuliano Andreotti admitted in 1990 that
the Gladio operation existed
He said that the Peteano outrage, after which the secret services helped him flee to a place of refuge in Spain, had made it clear to him that there existed “a structure, occult and hidden, with the capacity of giving a strategic direction to the outrages” and that it lay “within the state itself.”

Vinciguerra said that it was “composed of civilians and military men, in an anti-Soviet capacity, to organise a resistance on Italian soil against a Russian army...and which, lacking a Soviet military invasion which might not happen, took up the task, on NATO's behalf, of preventing a slip to the left in the political balance of the country (Italy). This they did, with the assistance of the official secret services and the political and military forces.”

The explosives used at Peteano actually came from another hidden arms cache near Verona, which Casson concluded was part of a network of more than 100 such caches belonging to NATO.

Naturally, the revelations of a convicted criminal could easily be dismissed, yet the existence of Operation Gladio was confirmed in 1990 by the Italian Christian Democrat prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, who in 1990 told a parliamentary commission looking into the Years of Lead that Gladio had been set up in 1953 as one of several “stay-behind” armies put in place across Europe as NATO sought to be aware of any potential Soviet military action but also to monitor any signs of Soviet-sponsored political activity.

Italy was a particular concern in the 1960s and 1970s because of the rise in popularity of the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Socialist Party. 

Andreotti admitted that there was “a structure of information, response and safeguard” in place, in which he and the Italian president, Francesco Cossiga, had both been involved.

However, he said that 127 weapons caches had been dismantled and that Gladio had not been involved in any of the bombings committed between the 1960s and the 1980s.

Nonetheless, political historians note that each outrage, whether judged to be committed by left-wing extremists or aimed at them - as in the case of Bologna, a Communist stronghold -  tended to weaken the appetite for change and to strengthen the position of the conservative Christian Democrats.

Parts of Chioggia have the look of Venice
Parts of Chioggia have the look of Venice
Travel tip:

Chioggia, where Felice Casson was born, is a historic fishing port at the southern limit of the Venetian lagoon, accessible by boat direct from Venice. It is actually a small island, linked by a causeway to the resort of Sottomarina.  Like Venice, it has a number of canals but, unlike Venice, it is not closed to cars. The main street, Corso del Popolo has a number of churches and some fine fish restaurants.

The Piazza della Vittoria in the centre of Gorizia
The Piazza della Vittoria in the centre of Gorizia
Travel tip:

Gorizia has the appearance of an historic Italian town but it has changed hands several times during its history, which is not surprising given its geographical location.  It sits literally on the border with Slovenia and, in fact, is part of a metropolitan area shared by the two countries, the section on the Slovenian side being now known as Nova Gorica. It has German, Slovenian, Friulian and Venetian influences, which can be experienced in particular in the local cuisine.

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