By Trowbridge H. Ford
Assassinations are like other murders except in one important regard – the motive of the assassin or assassins in doing so. While ordinary murders are committed because the killer wants the victim dead for some personal reason, assassins increasingly do it because it suits other persons’ reasons, especially officials involved in government, and for which they for benefit in return. Single assassins, despite convenient myths, are essentially a thing of the past, as assassinations have become a likely action for modern governments, facing problems that they cannot solve by legal means, and wanting to avoid more destructive means, especially regime-changing war.. For persons investigating such murders, it then becomes a question of how the victim was actually killed.
One must also remember that assassinations almost never work out as planned – what requires a more careful, long-range search if one ever hopes to discover for the truth. There are so many things that can go wrong, explaining why critics of alleged conspiracies often get their way because neither investigators nor the public have the resources, time, and effort to determine otherwise. Even if the actual killing goes according to plan – and more often it doesn’t – the perpetrators can have second thoughts about what they have done, can fall out with their employers for some reason, and commit unexpected actions which just complicate matter further, often resulting in more assassinations. The corrective for this is for the investigator to look for a string of such crimes, or attempted crimes, if one wants to get the whole story.
Just think about the JFK assassination. While it seemed to go according to plan since he was shot dead several times as his motorcade went by the Texas School Book Depository on the afternoon of November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. No killing seemed like a more open-and-shut case of assassination than this, but it wasn’t. The deliberate or accidental wounding of Texas Governor John B. Connally – especially because they proved not to be fatal, and he vowed to get those responsible – resulted in all the subsequent efforts, particularly blaming the communists for it, and taking out Castro’s regime, to be scrubbed. JFK’s actual killers, Richard Cain and Chuckie Nicoletti, ran into Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit while making their escape, and were required to kill him for fear that he would expose them as the assassins. Then the convenient capture of Lee Harvey Oswald, the communist patsy for the shooting, before he could go to Cuba was ruined because he had an alibi for the killing – what required assassination manager on the scene Jack Ruby to kill him as quickly as he could.
A similar sequence of events occurred when Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated in Stockholm on February 28, 1986 – what was planned to trigger a non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War with the Soviets at the expense of the Swedish troublemaker. While the assassination went off exactly as planned, the conspirators were unable to make the patsy this time, Soviet spy Stig Bergling who was on compassionate release from prison at the time to get married, escape to the USSR, leaving the assassination without any likely assassin. When the false leads failed, Admiral Carl-Fredrik, Sweden’s official responsible for approving arms transfers, was pushed, it seems, in front of a train six days before he was to testify the special prosecutor investigating the Iran-Contra shipments which led to Palme being targeted. Nine months later, disgraced Schleswick-Holstein politician Uwe Barschel was assassinated when he threatened to expose the scandal in making a comeback.
Then the context in which assassinations are placed change the longer they go on without a solution. The longer an individual lives, whether he be the intended victim or the perpetrator, the greater the chance of his being exonerated or overlooked for the tragedy. After the Dallas assassination, Connally, despite his alarming cry when he belatedly discovered that he too had been shot – crying out most shockingly, “Oh, no.no. no. My God, they are going to kill us all.” – went on to become Nixon’s Secretary of the Treasury, and would have become Spiro Agnew’s replacement as Vice President if it had not been for Watergate. Nixon, as we all well know, ultimately managed to arrange him own election after his attempt to shoot his way into the White House after LBJ surprisingly got himself elected after the Dallas tragedy.
Then time gives historians all kinds of reasons for revising assessments of deceased leaders. Events may turn out to see them in a more favorable light than originally thought. The opening of archives, both official and private, often provides a basis for seeing them in a different, usually more favorable way. Abe Lincoln and Jack Kennedy have both benefited in this way, explaining explain why they, of America’s four assassination Presidents, are honored by memorials in Washington. Then President Ronald, like Nixon, has a presidential library and museum supported by the federal government under the terms of the National Archives and Records Administration Act, and some still hope to see the Gipper’s face, smiling down from Mount Rushmore. Of course, the more revisionary history there is – the more arguments, one way or another, go on – the more it promotes everyone’s reputation who participated in the process.
In few cases do all the factors come more readily to mind than in the attempted assassination of Polish Archbishop and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. A most surprising victor in a bitterly fought election after the surprising death of his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, to the Pontificate, he was almost cut down by an assassin’s bullets before he had really gotten started, but, fortunately, he survived, and went on a make a name for himself as the world’s leading evangelist, the faithful’s staunchest pastor, and the poor’s greatest protector.
By the time he was finished, he was seen, after the UN’s Secretary General as the world’s leading politician, with heads of states recognizing him worldwide, and heads of governments constantly seeking audiences with him to gain approval for their policies, and legitimacy for their rule. All recent American Presidents sought audiences with him to boost their appeal with voters and fellow politicians, and Reagan even gave the Roman enclave diplomatic status in 1983. The Nordic states finally ended the Reformation by granting diplomatic relations with the Vatican during his tenure as Pontiff. Britain, that great bulwark against the so-called Anti-Christ, ultimately succumbed, with Queen Elizabeth even paying the Pope a visit.
Actually, this impression is quite removed from the much dirtier reality, as we have slowly learned. While Wojtyla was known for this piety, prose and poetry in first Nazi-occupied, and then in Soviet-occupied Poland – often prone to lapse into deep thought while involved in most mundane matters – he was a quick learner, and at no time was this better illustrated than when he became Pope. Not only did he prudently adopt the name of his fallen predecessor, but he also refused to support anything he actually stood for.
During the previous half-century, the Curia had completely made peace with the financial and political interests which had dominated Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime. The Curia itself was controlled by P2, a mysterious Masonic Lodge, which had converted the Vatican Bank – which was untaxed by the Italian government, thanks to its Concordat with El Duce – into a multi-national one which had all kinds of connections with Mafia and extreme right-wing interests worldwide for making illegal stock transactions and conducting similar money laundering.
P2’s founder was Licio Gelli who had the closest political friendships with politicians like former Nazi Klaus Barbie, Nixon Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi, the Bushes, and Ronald Reagan. It constituted a “shadow government” for all kinds of Axis war-criminals who were seeking to save their skins, and their skimmings of Nazi loot from the fallout of WWII. By the time Wojtyla became Pope, Gelli was coordinating Operation Glaudio, its plan to roll back the Iron Curtain with a network of 15,000 agents and informants if a shooting war erupted with the Soviets.
The bank itself was run by American Bishop (and later) Archbishop Paul Marcinkus who relied heavily upon P2 members Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi for arranging corrupt transactions with companies it owned, thanks to its vast war-profiteering under Pope Pius IX. It had been particularly successful in fleecing Serbs and Jews, an estimated 500,00 people, who had been rounded up by the Ustasha, the Croatian secret police, during WWII.
When Pope John Paul I aka Archbishop Alberto Luciani let the Curia’s Cardinal Villot know that he planned to rid the Papacy of its bank, and of many of its Masons on September 28, 1978 – only 33 days after he had been elected to the Holy See – he was dead within six hours from a massive heart attack. The new Pope had immediately indicated that he planned something like this when he addressed the Vatican press corps thus: “We have no temporal goods to offer, no economic interests to discuss.”
While a house physician claimed that death was the result of myocardial infarction, no autopsy was ever performed – the Curia claiming falsely that there was no precedent for such a procedure – and no death certificate was ever issued.
The Pope had been taking Effortil – a drug to correct low blood pressure – and conspiracy theorists, given the circumstances, seemed quite right in claiming that it was the result of an overdose – today’s favorite way of explaining way a convenient murder . Villot had immediately called the papal morgue rather than any physician when he first heard about the Pope’s incapacity. He added to suspicions by removing from the death scene without a trace all important evidence – the drug bottle, the Pope’s last writings in his dead hands, and the vomit which was lying on his night clothes – which could help determine its cause.
“When Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, won election as Luciano’s successor he received an immediate briefing on the radical plans of Pope John Paul I,” Jonathan Vankin and John Whelan have concluded in their account of the real story of the Godfather, Part III in The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time. “He implemented not a single one.” (p. 118)
Instead the new Pope established an iron-grip on the Church, reminiscent of how communists ran the Soviet Union from the Kremlin, and his Polish compatriots from Warsaw. In canon law, he strengthened the hand of the Curia in determining church doctrine, official promotion, and recognition of saintly deeds. John Paul II had little tolerance for debates and critics within the heirarchy about questions regarding social and economic conditions, celibacy among the priesthood, and the place of women in the church. Priests were instructed to sign the “mandatum” which upheld the magisterium of the Pope in such matters. John Paul II even expected bishops in diocese throughout the world to oversee the hiring of teachers in all Catholic colleges and universities.
And, of course, the Pope would brook no compromise when it came to questions of contraception, homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia – policies which seem to fly in the face of the dire conditions confronting today’s world. How anyone can maintain such stands with an overpopulated world being daily decimated by AIDS, other diseases, and a lack of basic needs, and people who contact them dying slow, hopeless deaths is beyond me. In fact, the Pope’s own death seems an ironic twist of the issues, with him finally succumbing despite all kinds of desperate measures – a tracheotomy to keep him breathing, food tubes through his nose and stomach to keep supplying nutrition, an electric shock which restarted his heart after he had suffered brain damage because of a stoppage, etc.
John Paul II did not simply lay down the law but saw to its implementation. “A consummate politician,” Kenneth L Woodward wrote in Newsweek, “he nonetheless forbade priests in Latin America from joining political movements and those in the United States from holding elective office.” The Pope hated everything about Jesuit “liberation politics” among America’s suppressed native peoples, and is well remembered for admonishing Father Ernesto Cardenal, the Sandinistas’ Culture Minister, for practicing it in Nicaragua.
People may have forgotten, though, that the prohibition against priests holding elected office in America was directed specifically against Father Robert Drinan, S.J., former Dean of the Boston College Law School, and a Congressman from Massachusetts when Watergate broke. Drinan introduced the first impeachment petition into the House against Nixon on July 31, 1973, claiming rightly that he ordered the secret bombing of Cambodia, and engaged in various “high crimes and misdemeanors”, especially the secret taping of Oval Office conversations, and ordering the illegal break-ins by E. Howard Hunt’s Plumbers. Drinan, in sum, was one of the very few real statesmen at the time, as Jimmy Breslin in How the Good Guys Finally Won wrote, and the Pope was certainly not among them when he prevented Drinan from continuing.
And this too might have come back to haunt the Pope. By the time that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan gained office, John Paul II had largely outlived his usefulness. He had changed the character of the Church, set its new agenda, and started carrying it out, and there was no need for him to continue. Someone else could certainly carry on in his footsteps. The nearly-successful assassination of the just inaugurated Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr., on March 30, 1981 almost made that a necessity as the new Pope had apparently taken the place of Lech Walesa as a Polish intelligence service spy after the CIA had gone to such lengths to woo the labor leader away from it. The assassination of John Paul II was a forerunner of the one which killed Palme, an independent player who gummed up the plots.
Reagan’s near assassination was the result of a plot, one to get rid of President Carter if he threatened to get re-elected, especially through some kind of ‘October Surprise’, and the plan was scrubbed when it no longer seemed necessary. And when this assumption apparently proved unfounded, the plotters settled for shooting Beatle John Lennon instead because Hinckley was no longer available. The Lennon assassination reactivated Hinckley, though, because he was so distressed by it, but by then, he knew how he had been used and abused earlier, and turned on the man responsible, Vice President George H. W. Bush, and then on the President when he proved available. It is a case of blowback without parallel.
This is well established if one takes the time to read Lou Cannon’s tome, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. There is no attempt to explain the assassination, just a brief discussion of what happened afterwards when Secretary of State Alexander Haig tried illegally to take command when Vice President Bush was returning to Washington from Texas (pp. 164-5), and Cannon’ noting that White House aide Edwin Meese gave the President the daily intelligence brief in writing rather than National Security Adviser Richard Allen in person while he was recovering from the assassination attempt. “For Reagan, his national security adviser was both out sight and out of mind.” (p. 156)
Cannon should have added that this was because Allen had activated Ted Shackley who got social psychiatrist Leilani Siegfried to do a quick hypnosis on Mark David Chapman which resulted ultimately in the Manchurian Candidate killing Beatle John Lennon – what resulted in Hinckley’s surprise blowback.
Former Governor John Connally had surprisingly not even made it to Washington in Reagan’s administration because of the false scare that he had made about Carter having pulled off the surprise – what resulted in the activation of Allen who got Shackley involved in the unnecessary killing of Lennon. While Nixon’s former Secretary of the Treasury had the highest recommendations from the former President, Reagan would have none of him, not even as Defense Secretary, stuck out in the Pentagon, as he had proven a most unnecessary “wheeler-dealer”. (Quoted from Cannon, p. 62.)
Pope John Paul II had proven a big disappointment in stoking up the conflagration that charismatic Lech Walesa and his Solidarity trade union movement was creating in Poland’s shipyards. The dramatic rise of food prices in the summer of 1980 caused such a wave of hidden discontent surfacing that the Kremlin feared that the Polish communist government in Warsaw would not survive unless it instituted a crackdown – what it consistently declined to do for fear of a bloodbath. On August 27th, the Pope – who Poles contended had burned his party card when he became Pontiff – persuaded Edward Gierek’s government to agree to their demands for independent unions, and organizations of self-government – what seemed to strike at the heart of continued communist rule in Eastern Europe.
It turned out to be hardly anything at all. Polish Primate Stefan Wysynski, who was the real Catholic leader behind the strikers, died, replaced by the much more conciliatory Cardinal Jóseph Glemp. Gierek was ultimately replaced by the much shrewder General Wojciech Jaruzelski who was finally willing to bite the bullet, and put down the dissidents by force. And all the while, the Pope, starting with his meeting in the Vatican on January 15th with Walesa, was stringing him along – to just sit tight, and let things work themselves out. Things did not work themselves out until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 when a Solidarity-led government finally came to power with the collapse of the communist one-party state.
The assassination of the Pope seemed like a replay of what Shackey had arranged at Lennon’s expense when The Gipper’s presidential hopes seemed to be going down the tubes, thanks to an ‘October Surprise’ that Carter’s people had arranged with Tehran’s mullahs. The Pope’s assassination – and Mehmet Ali Agca intended to kill him in no uncertain terms – would divert attention away from what most embarrassingly and surprisingly had happened to the President – what could lead to a constitutional crisis over a suspect coup.
The badly wounded Pope, though not intended, served an even better cover. Whether the President and the Pope would even recover, much less fully, kept all kinds of actions in a state of limbo which their perpetrators exploited further.
The most likely suspect of the assassination was Italy’s most corrupt Intelligence service, SISMI. Hardly had all the mess been cleaned up at St. Peter’s Square than it produced a document from a meeting of the Warsaw Pact which claimed that the assassin had been trained in the USSR – what proved to be a forgery. (Vankin and Whelan, p. 340) To back up the claim, it was then falsely contended that the Bulgarian secret service had recruited Agca to do the job to “…demoralize uppity Poland, the Holy Father’s communist-infested homeland.” (Quoted from ibid., p. 339.)
During the fallout from the assassination attempts, both Washington and John Paul II tried to hide from one another who they thought had really tried to kill them, why, and what they were doing about it. As soon as the Pope was truly fully recovered, Reagan paid a visit to the Vatican Library on June 7, 1982 during which they traded pleasantries and confidences about the ill-advised consequences of the Yalta agreement which confused everyone, and led nowhere. It seemed like just more stringing along which both leaders were noted for.
Then Casey’s CIA, Italy’s SISMI, and agents of the Curia tried to prove that Ali Agca was not a lone assassin, and certainly not one connected to the neofascist Grey Wolves but really one that Bulgarian intelligence had activated for the KGB. Just before the trial, Agca confessed, claiming that he had been recruited by a Bulgarian spy master, Colonel Sergei Antonov, whose apartment he described in great detail. “The strange thing was that he had described the Antonov suite to a T- with the exception of one salient architectural detail in every other apartment in the complex, but not Antonov’s. (p. 341)
The complex had an apartment which the Curia had access to, and it worked up Agca to make the case against the Bulgarians there, thanks to help supplied by an Italian-speaking CIA agent working in an American college. (Information withheld to protect source.)
Agca reminded one of James Earl Ray, MLK’s assassin, when he constantly changed his story, so much so that the Pope, like King’s survivors, finally agreed to meet with their nemeses, acknowledging that they were not really responsible for what happened.
It all provided good cover for the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, the largest private bank in Italy, when it was discovered to be missing $1,300,000,000 – what was finally traced to the Vatican Bank.It refused to allow any investigation of it, claiming successfully papal immunity, but it did agree to give creditors $241,000,000 in compensation for its “moral involvement” in its illegal deals – like supplying Solidarity with $12,000,000.
Calvi, whose life was depicted in the film God’s Bankers, was jailed for four years, and fined £8,200,000 for the illegal export of money from the bank. He was found hanging from Blackfriar’s Bridge in London on June 17, 1882 while out on appeal – what was originally judged a suicide but was changed to murder at a second inquest, caused by his survivors. Gelli received a 12-year sentence for the affair, and is currently living as an exile in America – at the retirement community of Sun City in Arizona. Sindona died in prison from a poisoned cup of coffee.
Given the rot surrounding Rome, it was hardly surprising that the Pope devoted his last years to travel, and reflection. His evangelical efforts, and supporting those of others – beatifying and canonizing more than all his predecessors combined – seem intended to compensate for the failings of his underlings, especially in the American child sex-abuse scandal – what Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law was obliged to cover up at great expense.
In the Pope’s later writing, he pretty much scrapped his earlier ideas about the dignity of labor (1983) and the evangelization of its culture for keeping up with the G8 in such matters when he wrote his 1991 pastoral letter, “One Hundred Years”, emphasizing the virtues of globalism and free markets in making an economically and socially more efficient capitalism.
Terry Eagleton, the cultural theorist at Manchester University, best summed up John Paul II for me when he wrote for The Guardian: “He was one of the greatest disasters for the Christian Church since Charles Darwin.”