After revelations that the USA’s NSA has been spying on all and sundry, the news came out that the UK had also been watching Italy rather closely for a while too. What? The UK spying on Italy? Why ever would it want to do that?
In actual fact, there are quite a few reasons why the UK should be keeping more than a weather eye on Italy.
In this post, I’m going to take a look at a number of those reasons. The list may be a little longer than you might have expected.
Let’s start with a man who is always in the news in Italy. Yes, it is convict Silvio Berlusconi, as you probably guessed. Now why would the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service be interested in Italy’s billionaire politician and media magnate?
First of all, Berlusconi associates with a number of very powerful people of distinctly dubious character.
The late Muammar Gaddafi was one example, then there’s Berlusconi’s number one foreign chum, Vladimir Putin. There’s also dodgy Kazakhstan dictator, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is a close friend and, reportedly, a business associate of Berlusconi.
The UK’s secret services were probably rather keen to know just what Berlusconi and his despotic friends were cooking up at their meetings. Some spymasters and UK politicians may have wondered whether whatever it was could damage British overseas interests or national security.
Perhaps Berlusconi wasn’t the target of surveillance initially and then after the contents of a bugged conversation were reported to those higher up, Berlusconi became the subject of greater scrutiny. Then again, HM government 007s may have been bugging Berlusconi for much, much longer.
Berlusconi’s Suspected Links to Organised Crime
Berlusconi’s links to organised crime have been suspected for many years and a court case involving his close associate, Marcello Dell’Utri as good as confirmed that Berlusconi had been colluding with the Sicilian mafia. Indeed, the UK may have been observing mafia activities for a very long time, seeing as this Italian criminal organisation with tentacles all over the world also does some military arms trading.
The mafia cares very little, if at all, who ends up with what weapons-wise. The IRA is suspected of being a recipient of weapons ‘procured’ by the Sicilan mafia. That alone would have been enough to have had British secret agents snooping around in Italy back in the 1970s.
The money used to pay for IRA weapons would have been laundered too. Berlusconi is suspected of ‘assisting’ the mafia with money laundering, and has been suspected of doing so for around four decades. The MI6 folder on Silvio Berlusconi, one suspects, will be bulging and, by now, may even be filling a few filing cabinets or taking up terabytes of hard disk space.
The bunga bunga affair may have added more gigabytes to those classified files.
The Bunga Bunga National Security Risk
The infamous bunga bunga parties would have been another reason for the UK’s secret services to have taken an interest in Berlusconi. Why?
Well, as Prime Minister of Italy, Berlusconi would have had access to piles of sensitive information. And a man as allegedly corrupt as Berlusconi would probably have been happy to sell some of that information to nations which, er, don’t get on too well with the UK.
As I noted back in 2010, the bunga bunga parties constituted a security risk for Italy (see point 11) in that who knows who ended up entertaining Berlusconi and his cohorts. Latter day Mata Haris, maybe?
The UK may have wanted to identify a few of the girls who got themselves invited to the parties. Girls who might not have been at the parties solely for the entertainment of Italy’s aged Lothario. While the possibility that the bunga bunga parties constituted a national security risk for Italy was raised at the time in Italy, nothing was done.
Berlusconi’s antics and shady background were probably reason enough for the UK to spy on Italy, and there are a few other reasons too.
Dirty Bomb Material, Made in Italy
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
After Osama Bin Laden had staged attacks on the world Trade Centre, it was feared by some that Islamic extremists may attempt to make a dirty bomb. If you do not know, a dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to spread toxic radioactive material all over the area in which the bomb is detonated. These very nasty devices can render areas uninhabitable for years. The connection with Italy?
Twofold, at least. Firstly, Italy is the base of mafia procurement services who, for the right price, would have been more than happy to have supplied both the explosives and radioactive material. Secondly, Italy is actually a source of radioactive material, amounts of which are kept in about the least secure secure storage facilities one can imagine. A cellar in the centre of the town of Castelmauro in the Italian region of Molise was the store for highly toxic radioactive material, would you believe?
Italian TV documentary Report covered the Castelmauro situation and the dubious ways in which radioactive waste is managed in Italy way back in 2008.
After seeing the documentary, I wrote about it: Worrying Report. If the UK’s intelligence services did not know about the situation before, they would have sent a spy or two to various locations in Italy to ensure non of the nuclear waste disappeared.
The need for keeping an eye on this radioactive waste no longer exists seeing as it was finally removed in 2010. The Castelmauro saga stated no less than 34 years ago. Some in the area believe radioactive waste is still buried in the countryside around Castelmauro, though this has not been confirmed.
MI6 operatives in Castelmauro were probably rubbing shoulders with quite a number of other intelligence organisations from other nations concerned that radio active material in Italy could have fallen into the wrong hands. Italy’s politicians do have quite a reputation for being corrupt, so it is likely that some would have been happy to have taken large cash donations in return for looking the other way while someone or other loaded a few lorries with barrels of radioactive waste. The same politicians may then have fiddled official records to hide the missing items. This is pure speculation, of course, but Italy does have a serious problem with levels of corruption.
Seeing as a dirty bomb has not gone off so far, the Italian radio active waste management situation may be under control, but keeping an eye on things would have been a good reason to spy on Italy. There are further reasons too.
How about immigration?
While immigration appears relatively innocuous on the surface, Italy’s organised crime groups are reputedly involved in helping people reach Italy from Africa. Some of the people on the boats landing in Sicily or Lampedusa could have been terrorists trying to sneak into Europe in order to carry out an attack. Yet another reason to spy on Italy, is it not? Other reasons? There are a couple more, at the very least.
Disappearing EU Funds
For many years, Italy has been receiving generous handouts from Europe. Some of that money comes from the UK, albeit indirectly. Substantial sums of this money have disappeared into the ether.
It is suspected that the large globs of EU cash have ended up in the hands of the mafia via compromised or corrupt politicians. It is not too far fetched to suspect that the cash ended up in mafia arms procurement funds. Trying to prevent the mafia ending up with enough cash to acquire weapons which it could then sell on to heaven know who would be something which might well interest Her Majesty’s secret service, especially if the buyers are regarded as enemies of the United Kingdom. Or maybe the UK was simply unhappy with large amounts of its taxpayer’s money being stolen and wanted proof that Italy was on the fiddle.
The Vatican Bank
Last, maybe, but by no means least, is the mysterious Vatican bank which up until recently appeared to be prepared to host the cash for just about anyone. Few questions were asked and the identities of the people with cash in this bank were largely unknown.
Knowing who was keeping money in the Vatican Bank and monitoring cash movements – which may have been used to fund illegal arms deals, acts of terrorism and the like – would be yet another reason for UK spies to keep an eye on Italy.
OK, so the Vatican is not technically Italy, but it lies within Italian territory and the mafia may have used the Vatican Bank to store and launder its ill gotten gains. And so we come full circle to the mafia providing resources for terrorists which is definitely something which UK secret services would have been interested to know about.
More than a Few Reasons
There. As you have read, there are quite a few sound reasons for the UK secret service to spy on Italy. One suspects that the spies of other nations have been, and probably still are, keeping an eye on Italy to this day.
Italy is somewhat outraged that the UK and the USA have been spying on Italians, but really it shouldn’t be. Until Italy cleans up its act and clamps down hard on organised crime and corruption, the spying is likely to continue.
This list of reasons why the UK has been spying on Italians is not exhaustive and MI6 may well have other reasons for bugging Italy.
In some respects, and seeing as Italy is not too good at keeping its own house in order, perhaps we should be thankful that Italy is being spied upon. Who knows, the covert operations on Italian soil may even have saved a few Italian lives.