209. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Italy (Martin) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

1405. 1. In other messages through normal channels, the Embassy has reported the public reaction to the Borghese affair—the revelation some four months after the fact of the activities of the night of last December 7–8.2 The present public attitude is one of amused disbelief that such a childish operation presented a real threat to the state. This was certainly a disappointment to the Communists, both in the fact that their cries of alarm were not credible, and also in encouraging government investigation of the activities of the para-military left.

2. The Borghese affair has had another by-product. Two of the five individuals taken into custody had been in touch with some senior mil[Page 706]itary officers who are uncertain whether the extent of their involvement in alleged coup plotting, not directly but peripherally connected with Borghese, may now come to light. This has led to consideration of accelerating their planning for a military take-over of the government.

3. From a source outside our normal [less than 1 line not declassified] and DAO channels, I have received a memorandum giving the essential parts of this plan. Except for the prefatory paragraphs which are summarized, the full text is transmitted in the immediately following telegram.3 Its dissemination in Washington I leave to your judgement. I have held it very closely in Rome.

4. It is a rather fascinating document, more in what it omits rather than in what is included, although its content fills in quite a few gaps in our jig-saw puzzle. From other bits and pieces we have enough corroborating evidence to permit me to conclude that the plan does exist.

5. I do not believe this plan can succeed. The estimates of 70 percent chances of success are considerably inflated. No such plan can possibly succeed without overwhelming support from both the army and the Carabinieri. Without General Marchesi, Chief of Defense Staff, neither will be available. And, for the time being, at least, Marchesi seems committed to work on getting some unity in the Christian Democrats for an orderly evolution. Marchesi realizes that no such plan could really succeed unless the necessity for such action was crystal clear to the public and had the backing of at least some principal political figure to provide an aura of legitimacy. Without this, and neither pre-condition exists now, Marchesi knows much blood would be likely to flow.

6. Obviously aware of at least the general outline of this plan, General Marchesi spoke at Gaeta yesterday, ostensibly to welcome return of fleet from winter training exercise. In presence of Defense Minister Tanassi and chiefs of army, navy and air force, Marchesi said that Chief of State, Parliament, the government and the Italian people can be sure that the armed forces will never be “corrupted by any anti-democratic current, open or occult, which may intend to divert them from their institutional duties, or by destructive forces of whatever nature which may aim, having recourse to violence, to subvert the established order.”

7. In any event, the political evolution we have helped set in motion is moving along. The reiteration by the President and the Vice President of the necessity to achieve some unity within the Christian [Page 707]Democrats is sinking in.4 I am lunching separately next week with Colombo and with DC Secretary General Forlani. Moro has also said that he wishes to see me privately. I intend to quietly increase the pressure.

[8.] I conclude, therefore, that under these circumstances, the last thing we need is a half-baked coup attempt motivated in its timing largely by the fact that General Fanali is facing retirement this summer and his time is short. I do not believe I will have any difficulty in conveying, quietly and indirectly, but very clearly, that I think any such attempt at the present time would be undesirable and we would not support it.

9. I am having dinner tonight with Admiral Roselli-Lorenzini as a courtesy before his departure on his visit to the United States. You will note from the memorandum quoted above he allegedly is going to inform Admiral Moorer and Admiral Zumwalt that they are going ahead. I will report after the dinner if anything significant comes up and will indicate the line I would want Admiral Moorer to take. I am also having lunch with General Fanali next week at his request.

10. Since this is such a long message, I might add one more observation. I was once regarded as one of our better intelligence types, so much so that General “Beetle” Smith and General Lucian Truscott asked me two decades ago to take over control of all U.S. intelligence activities in Berlin where we had some 27 different U.S. intelligence organs getting in each other’s way. I refused the offer because I enjoyed so much working with David Bruce in Paris. I mention this only to underscore the point that I am a reasonably patient individual and I almost always find out what I want to know. Al Haig indicated awareness of air force and navy restiveness when I last talked with him and SID Chief General Miceli has made veiled references to White House representatives.5 The President has told me not to let this country drift further to the left. I don’t intend to, but it just mught make the job a bit easier if some better way could be devised to keep me personally informed of the bits and pieces which come to your attention there.6

Best regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 65, Country Files—Europe, Martin, Ambassador (Italy). Secret; Sensitive. It was received at the White House and subsequently transmitted from the Situation Room to Haig at the Western White House in San Clemente at 1305Z, April 2, with the instruction “Deliver in sealed eyes only envelope.” Martin forwarded a more detailed assessment of the factors, political and personal, motivating unrest in the military high command to the Department of State in telegram 2114 from Rome, April 4. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 695, Country Files—Europe, Italy, Vol. III)
  2. Reference to an attempt by right-wing extremists led by Junio Valerio Borghese to stage a coup d’état on December 7, 1970. The “affair” was a plot involving a few hundred neofascists who were supposed to occupy government offices in Rome. Borghese called off the venture at the last moment after his collaborators had already gathered at the pre-assigned locations. According to press accounts, the conspirators improvised a spaghetti dinner together instead and then went home. Several of Borghese’s lieutenants served four years in jail for their activities. Borghese himself fled the country and died in Spain several years later. See also Document 196.
  3. Backchannel messasge 1406 from Rome, April 2, 1105Z, was retransmitted to the Western White House for Kissinger at 1527Z, April 2. A note on the message reads: “received at San Clemente ComCen, 8:05 a.m. PST 02 April 1971.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 65, Country Files—Europe, Martin, Ambassador (Italy))
  4. See footnote 6, Document 206.
  5. No records of these discussions was found.
  6. In an April 2 backchannel response to Martin, Kissinger responded that he would be interested in hearing the results of Martin’s talk with Marchesi and added: “We of course will keep you aware of anything we may learn. The reference to restiveness which you noted in par. 10 of 1405 came to us from military channels distinct from the attaché system and based on high-level contacts between U.S. and Italian military counterparts. Haig was also informed of the military’s restiveness by Pierre [Pier] Talenti during the latter’s recent visit to the U.S. You may be sure that no one in the White House has, to my knowledge, done more than listen to these reports.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 65, Country Files—Europe, Martin, Ambassador (Italy)) On the Talenti visit, see footnote 2, Document 202.