The grey area between legality and illegality

By Piero Ignazi (for Safe Democracy)

The difficult and troublesome relationship between politics and intelligence in Italy. The ruthless use of the police, the Army and intelligence agencies against domestic and foreign components. Politicians interpreting the government at will. Where should the line be drawn between legality and illegality?

Piero Ignazi is Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Bologna. He is graduated at the University of Bologna and attended graduated studies at the European University Institute in Florence, and at the MIT. He is the Director of the Master in International Relations, University of Bologna. His field of research concerns mainly the party and party system all over Europe with particular emphasis on the right-extremist parties.

POST-WAR ITALIAN POLITICS has been criss-crossed by many mysterious and even unbelievable events. Starting from the late-1940s saga of the Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano, whose epic was immortalized by international coverage (think to the famous cover by Life and the various movies devoted to him) and whose death (and even more, his fellow-and-traitor death in jail thanks to a poisoned coffee at the wake of the trail) raised open and unresolved questions; Italian politics has had to cope with a grey area between legality and illegality.

This area has been, inevitably, presided by the security forces and the secret services. The constant concern by the Italian government AND by the opposition forces, in a different respect, was how to deal with these apparatuses.

One line of action was the ruthless use of the most uninhibited members of the police, the Army or the intelligence, to press against domestic opponents (inside and outside government). A different approach was to stimulate competition among the different branches of these forces to keep them in stall; a third, residual approach, aimed to direct their activities to the prevention of foreign threats rather than melting them into domestic quarrels.

The different and diverging inputs by the politicians favoured an autonomous course of action by the services in many circumstances, also beyond the government directives. In some occasions they interpreted the government will, and in others they moved even against it.

The most recent case of an extra-legal action by the intelligence has been recently revealed during the investigation of the role the Italian services in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition of the mullah Abu Omar in Milan in 2003. The core of the new affair is not linked to the rendition (which the Prodi government still keeps classified to the scorn of the magistrates working on it) but to an extra-legal activity discovered during the investigations.

This activity concerned the control of magistrates, journalists and a couple of politicians during the Berlusconi government (2001-2006) by the assistant director of the domestic branch of the intelligence (SISMI), Mr. Pio Pompa. The archive discovered in Mr. Pompa’s headquarters revealed a constant activity of monitoring of a list of supposed opponents to Mr. Berlusconi, whose activity, according to the documents revealed, should have been inhibited even with traumatic initiatives (sic).

In other terms, an important official of the SISMI have used the state resources in order to collect information and promote actions against some government opponents, among which many magistrates involved in the trails concerning Mr Berlusconi and his mates. Apparently this activity has resulted in intoxication in the media and nothing more.

However, if no direct liability of Mr Berlusconi will not emerge, the mere fact that a high official has interpreted the desire of the head of the government (highlighted by an embarrassingly flattering and complaisant letter by Mr Pompa), and consequently has acted beyond the law, provides an illustration of the difficult and troublesome relationship between politics and intelligence in Italy.

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