Alex Constantine - April 11, 2023
Editor's note - The Guardian identifies Bruno Bréguet (left), the subject of the article below, as a "left-winger." The label is arguable for several reasons, among them the fact that infamous Nazi collaborator François Genoud - crony of Otto Skorzeny, Karl Wolff, and Klaus Barbie, financier of ODESSA (international postwar underground organization of fugitive SS officers) - was a close friend. Does this make sense? Imagine Noam Chomsky carousing with Alex Jones or the Proud Boys. Ideological enemies do not hang out. That is, unless one of them is a poseur or, more likely, provocateur.
Another connection that makes no sense at all is the CIA's recruitment of the "left-wing" terrorist after the February 21, 1981 (a month after Reagan was inaugurated) bombing of the Munich headquarters of Radio Free Europe - a CIA front.
The RFE website describes the carnage: "The concussion caused extensive damage in the neighborhood. Windows were broken more than one kilometer from RFE/RL headquarters, and the noise of the bomb was heard throughout Munich. Two persons in the neighborhood and four RFE/RL employees were injured, one seriously." The resulting property damage amounted to two million dollars. It's a miracle that no one was killed. Bréguet was arrested, convicted and released from prison a few years later. Compare his sentence to the fate of Muslims incarcerated at Guantanamo, some tortured into confessing to crimes they did not commit.
After the bombing in Munich, the Agency thought it proper to hire him, stuff his pockets with tens of thousands of dollars, to do work that the CIA, with its formidable resources, couldn't do itself? All right, but the Agency has some serious explaining to do.
Genoud and Bréguet had only one thing in common: they were both in favor of killing Jews. Anti-Semitism may explain their friendship. This, and his bizarre tie to the CIA - Klaus Barbie's postwar benefactor, bringing Genoud into the intelligence circle of friends again - do not add up to a "leftist" profile, so the Guardian's labelling in the opening paragraph has been edited out to avoid feeding black-and-white partisan biases. (Note also the advocacy of author Gunter Grass, a Nazi sympathizer.) But the tag remains elsewhere in the story to be weighed against this caveat. - AC
According to a new book, the Swiss extremist Bruno Bréguet was hired by the US intelligence agency to spy on his infamous boss – and contributed to his capture
Jason Burke, Guardian, April 9, 2023
It is the stuff of an airport thriller: a story of a man radicalised in his teens, who goes on to spend two decades as a bomb-maker, arms dealer, prisoner, clandestine organiser and terrorist facilitator before disappearing on a dark night from a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean in a final unresolved mystery.
Now the story of Bruno Bréguet, one the most enigmatic figures of the shadowy battle between western security services and international violent extremists during the so-called “golden age of terrorism” in the 1970s and 1980s, has been given a new twist.
A new book has revealed that in his later years Bréguet served not only the infamous Illich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, but the US government too. Bréguet’s spying for the CIA earned him tens of thousands of dollars, and contributed to the capture of his erstwhile boss by French secret services in 1994.
“Bréguet was there at all the important moments. His story tells us a huge amount about the violence and extremism of the time, but also really helps [us] understand the process of radicalisation both then and today,” said Adrian Hänni, a respected Swiss historian and expert on political violence who spent years sifting newly declassified archives and interviewing key witnesses to tell Bréguet’s story in a new book.
The news that the CIA was prepared to hire as an agent a man like Bréguet, who had been twice convicted by Israel and France for his terrorist activities and is believed to have bombed a pro-democracy radio station in Munich funded by the US government, underlines the moral and ethical questions facing intelligence services when it comes to recruiting such individuals.
Tim Weiner, a US-based journalist and prizewinning author of a history of the CIA, said the agency rarely showed many scruples.
“A CIA officer overseas exists to identify, recruit and run agents. That’s the only thing they are charged with doing, and during the cold war and its immediate aftermath there wasn’t much of a smell test involved. More than one CIA officer has said to me: you don’t get information on a terrorist organisation by recruiting the sisters of mercy,” Weiner told the Observer.
But Bréguet had an especially chequered history. Born in 1950 in a picturesque Alpine town in Italian-speaking Switzerland, he was swept up in the radical atmosphere of the late 1960s and started missing school to go on protests.
He read the work of Che Guevara, the insurgent icon killed in 1967 in Bolivia, and Mao Zedong. Like many other young people in the west, he was appalled at the war in Vietnam and saw groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) as the vanguard of a global socialist revolution.
In 1968, the PFLP launched a campaign of attacks on international aviation that would win them global notoriety. The trial of three members of the group who attempted to destroy an Israeli passenger jet at Zurich airport in 1969 was a key moment in Bréguet’s journey into extremism.
Shortly afterwards, Bréguet contacted Arab organisations in Switzerland asking to join the PFLP, then travelled to Lebanon for training. But his first mission went awry when he was arrested in June 1970 on arrival at the port of Haifa with explosives he was to use to plant a bomb in a department store in Tel Aviv.
Having been sentenced to 15 years in prison, Bréguet spent the next seven years behind bars, refusing to cooperate in exchange for a shorter sentence but then was pardoned following a campaign by western leftist thinkers, writers and activists including Jean-Paul Sartre and Günter Grass.
“It is astonishing how stubborn he was then, given that he betrayed so much to the CIA 25 years later. He remained absolutely loyal to the PFLP … It shows how he changed over time,” said Hänni.
When released in 1977, Bréguet published a book but soon had returned to more clandestine operations, accepting an invitation from Carlos the Jackal who was then at the peak of his international celebrity after a series of high-profile attacks and shootings.
Four years later, Bréguet detonated a bomb in the offices of Radio Free Europe, a pro-democracy network set up after the second world war as part of the cold war contest for hearts and minds. The attack, which injured six and caused huge damage, was commissioned by the spy services of Nikolai Ceaușescu, the Romanian dictator, who had given Carlos and his new organisation a base, weapons and passports.
There was worse to come. Carlos sent his young German girlfriend with Bréguet to Paris to bomb embassies in order to extort protection money from the rich Gulf states. When they were caught by police with explosives in their car near the Champs-Élysées and sent to prison, Carlos mounted a campaign of attacks to free them, killing 11 people and injuring many more.
After his release in 1985, Bréguet, now a father, continued working for Carlos, travelling across western Europe and the Middle East to meet contacts from other extremist groups or to broker arms deals. Then, Hänni’s new book reveals, he walked into the US embassy in Berne and offered to spy for the CIA.
“He needed the money, but most of all wanted a steady income and some stability. His disenchantment was mainly about his status within the group and how he was being treated. Also, this was at the latest spring 1991 and the whole world that had allowed the Carlos group to flourish was falling apart and he needed an out before it’s too late,” Hänni said.
But if anyone in the CIA balked at employing Bréguet as an agent, there is no record of their concerns in documents consulted by Hänni. The CIA was under pressure in the early 1990s and had a new mission: fighting new threats such as those posed by Bréguet’s erstwhile comrades in arms.
“The collapse of the Soviet empire had an effect on the CIA analogous to the meteor strike on the dinosaurs. Lots of people were asking: what is the point of the CIA? And the answer was: it’s counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics … The bear is dead but there’s a jungle that’s full of snakes,” said Weiner.
The agency enthusiastically accepted, putting Bréguet on a monthly salary of $3,000 and giving him the codename FDBONUS/1. After weeks of meetings in hotels, Bréguet had told the agency all he knew about Carlos and his organisation, as well as many extreme leftist groups too.
For the next four years, Bréguet appears to have supplied information to the CIA, possibly indirectly contributing key elements to the French intelligence operation that successfully grabbed Carlos from a clinic in Khartoum in 1994.
Breguet’s final mystery remains unresolved however. In 1995, the veteran extremist turned CIA agent disappeared definitively after boarding a ferry from a Greece to Italy. Quite what happened next is unclear. Did he commit suicide? Was he murdered? Or did he commence a new life under a false identity provided by his former employers?
Hänni said his suspicion is that the consequences of his misdeeds finally caught up with him.
“I personally think it was one of his many enemies. I don’t believe he is still alive, though it’s technically possible. His life was an extraordnary personal journey … but I think it ended then,” said Hänni.