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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Canaris Plot

       " The election of Pope Pius XII saw a new arrival in the marketing of real or spurious Vatican intelligence.  Dressed in a velvet jacket and black trousers an chain smoking through a slim holder like one of the characters in the film's he reviewed for L'Osservatore Romano , Virgilio Scattolini was also a novelist and playwright;  his talents had made him a popular figure at Rome's society dinner parties.  His visits to the newspaper gave him access to a confidential document:  the papal audience schedule.  It contained the time and length of each meeting and who had been present.  Secretary of State Cardinal Maglione always attended those meetings with foreign ministers and members of the Holy See diplomatic corps.  Each schedule also contained a concise summary of what was discussed.
       Scattolini immediately saw how the document could improve his income.  Melding the summaries with dinner party gossip, he began to provide the papal audiences with a life of their own.  With the same skill with which he gave his stage actors persuasive dialogue he provided Pope Pius XII with imaginary views on such diverse subjects as how he intended to use international law to shape his policies or how Britain's empire was so vast and expensive to rule it could never afford to enter European war.  Eamon de Valera, Ireland's prime minister, was said to have described Winston Churchill as having 'a warlike attitude.'  In another summary, Count Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law, was credited with telling Pius Italy would never go to war to support German aspirations.
      Scattolini's Notiziario, news bulletins, were immediately seen as the work of a Vatican insider.  Diego von Bergen, the German ambassador to the Holy See, became one of the first subscribers to Scattolini's concoctions.
      Soon his version of papal audiences had a growing subscription list of diplomats, journalists, and intelligence officers, all eager for any information on the pope's views as the war clouds darkened over Europe.  The Rome offices of the Associated Press and United Press, engaged in intense rivalry, rushed to circulate Scattolini's fantasies.  The New York Times and The Times of London published accounts from Notiziario.  The very authority of those newspapers gave creditability to the bogus reports.  Soon every embassy in Rome subscribed.  Messengers would arrive at Scattolini's apartment with an envelope of money to collect a copy of the latest bulletin.  In the United States the Bank of America ordered its traders to read Notiziaro before trading.  In London it was studied in the Bank of England as carefully as the market.
      In Berlin, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had formed a Buero Ribbentrop, a highly secret office designed to check on usually rather pedestrian diplomatic reports from Reich embassies.  The Buero was staffed by handpicked analysts from the foreign ministry intelligence department and its political office.
       Pope Pius XII, with his years spent in Germany, his admiration for its culture, who spoke its language fluently and had surrounded himself with German staff, had become a target for the Buero.  Von Ribbentrop ordered it to find out more about papal policies.  He appointed an old classmate, Rudolf Likus, to do so.  Given the rank of an SS major, the moon-faced Likus had a habit of finger snapping to show his delight and did so when he read a copy of Scattolini's work.  He flew to Rome and offered Scattolini double what he was charging if he would send his reports to Berlin before they were published.
       Scattolini continued to excel himself with fictitious summaries of papal audiences.  Likus presented them to von Ribbentrop with confidence and authority, pointing out he had personally met Scattolini in his apartment and concluded he was 'der am Vatikan taetige Gewahrsmann'--'our man in the Vatican.'
       Reassured, the foreign minister began to send the reports to Hitler. On his next visit to Rome Likus informed Scattolini who was reading his work.  The forger told Likus that, for a further substantial increase in his fee, he would arrange for material to be passed on exclusively to Berlin and never published elsewhere.  An elated Likus agreed.  Hitler's fantasist in the Vatican continued to allow his imagination to flow freely.

         In July 1939, {Stewart} Menzies learned from an MI6 officer in Munich that two Abwehr officers had travelled to Rome.  They were Colonel Hans Oster, the head of the Abwehr's central division and his deputy Major Hans von Dohnanyi, a lawyer who was responsible for gathering intelligence about foreign diplomats in Berlin.  On MI6 files both men were described as 'very possibly anti-Hitler.'
       The MI6 Rome station established that both men had come to see Father Robert Lieber, the pope's German secretary.  The meeting was to see if Pius XII would become involved in a plot to remove Hitler.
       The plan was the creation of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, Germany's foreign intelligence service.  He had come to see that Hitler was leading Germany to both physical and moral destruction.  Imbued with courage and nerve Canaris was determined the fuhrer must be stopped. 
        Canaris had met Pius XII during his time as a nuncio in Berlin and had found common ground in discussing history.  Traditionally popes as temporal leaders down the centuries had often performed the role of adjudicator in disputes between states;  the treaties which divided the borders between Spain and Portugal were an example.  Now, a decade after their Berlin meeting, Canaris had pondered whether Pope Pius XII would be prepared to help depose Hitler.  While it could expose Pius XII to danger for himself, like every spy chief, Canaris was long used to putting aside such matters as the safety of an asset.
       Canaris had sent the two Abwehr officers to Rome to explore his idea with Father Leiber, another contact the spymaster had made in Germany.  Oster explained to the pope's secretary how a growing underground opposition to Hitler--members of the German high command--were committed to returning Germany to democracy by dismantling the Third Reich and creating a federation which would include Austria.  But before doing anything the opposition wanted an assurance from the British and French governments that neither would exploit what would undoubtedly be Germany's vulnerability at the time.  They had come to Rome to see if the pope would be ready to obtain that guarantee.  It called for D'Arcy Osborne to act as the intermediary between Pius and Britain's prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, to obtain it.
       Von Dohnanyi added that to show they believed the pope was the ideal person to help and be ready to challege Hitler, they were aware that on April 4, 1933, only days after the new Nazi government had taken office, the then Secretary of State Pacelli had ordered the apostolic nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, to warn the fuhrer against persecuting the Jews after his government had announced a national boycott of all Jewish businesses.  The two envoys said it was proof to Canaris that the pope had shown courage in his first initiative to intervene on behalf of the Jews.
       Father Leiber had thanked them but made no other comment.  It was not until 1962 that he chose to reveal this early aspect of the pope's determination to defend Hitler's Jews."   The Pope's Jews by Gordon Thomas (pgs.39-41and 42-43)

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