374. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (Burt) to Secretary of State Shultz 1

SUBJECT

  • Policy Implications of the Papal Assassination Case

I met with the CIA’s Bob Gates last Friday2 to exchange views on recent developments in the Papal assassination case. After an extensive analysis of the Italian State Prosecutor’s 77-page report [less than 1 line not declassified],3 overall the CIA remains agnostic regarding the evidence of a Bulgarian-Soviet conspiracy to assassinate the Pope. However, I should point out two things that emerged from the briefing:

As Hugh Montgomery’s piece (attached) points out, a truck left the Bulgarian Embassy under customs seal in unusual circumstances several hours after the assassination attempt. This is a potentially damning piece of evidence. It may have carried one conspirator and could have held Agca, had he escaped.
I asked Gates if his view had changed since he last briefed me some eight months ago. Gates said that while the evidence is still unclear, he thought there was a substantial shift at higher levels in the Agency toward a belief that the Bulgarians were involved. If that is true it seems inescapable that the Soviets were somehow aware and involved.

The Agency will, however, continue its quiet efforts to confirm the various elements of evidence presented in the report, as well as the facts which have merged from Judge Martella’s investigation.

The defense must now present its case to Judge Martella, after which he will decide whether to go to trial. (By all accounts, he is determined to do so.) We understand the trial is unlikely to begin much before the end of the year—and that it will be lengthy, perhaps as long as a year. In the meantime, Antonov has again been released from prison and placed under house arrest ostensibly for health reasons. Whatever the merits of the conspiracy case, the Bulgarian defendants are all known intelligence agents, and the proceedings are certain to produce [Page 1197] sensational stories of Bulgarian-Turkish drugs and arms smuggling, as well as intelligence activities. Despite recent Italian efforts to return to a more normal relationship with Bulgaria, this will probably be impossible in such a public atmosphere. Italian relations with the Soviet Union are also likely to suffer given Martella’s willingness to establish a logical link through Bulgaria to the USSR.

We will therefore continue to need an approach to the issue which preserves our policy options whatever the evidentiary and judicial outcome. If Bulgarian/Soviet complicity is proven, we must be in a position to defend our record vis-a-vis the case and to adjust our policies to these countries accordingly, i.e., downward. If, on the other hand, the evidence does not support such complicity, it will be important not to have boxed ourselves into prior condemnation. The Agency is also of this view. Throughout, we need to keep the U.S. Government from needlessly becoming a player in this involved case; both the Bulgarians and the Soviets—and probably some Italians—would be only too happy to see us in this role.

Therefore, we recommend that we continue to pursue the balanced and careful approach now in place:

That we make clear both by our actions and our public statements that we have confidence in the Italian judicial system;
That we avoid pre-judging the case for or against Bulgarian and Soviet complicity. There will be plenty of damning evidence produced of illegal Bulgarian activities. We should let the facts speak for themselves, and not hand the Bulgarians (and Soviets) a “victory” in the event the specific case of conspiracy cannot be proven. In this regard, your line with the Congress was exactly right.

Attachment

Information Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Montgomery) to Secretary of State Shultz 4

SUBJECT

  • Newest Evidence on Bulgarian Connection to Papal Shooting—Case Still Inconclusive
[Page 1198]

Last week we provided you a preliminary assessment5 of the June 10 New York Times article6 that summarized portions of Italian State Prosecutor Albano’s 77-page report on the Papal assassination case. Having now reviewed a translation of the full text of the report, we believe that the evidence for direct Bulgarian complicity—with all its implications for Soviet involvement—is still not conclusive.

Based on the evidence in Albano’s report, it seems reasonable to assert that:

between July 1980 and May 1981, when he shot Pope John Paul II, Mehmet Ali Agca was in frequent contact with three Bulgarian security officers (Antonov, Vasilev, and Ayvazov) and several other Turkish criminals and right-wing extremists named in the indictment; and that,
one plausible interpretation of the circumstantial evidence contained in the report is that Agca and those individuals established their relationship in a conspiracy to kill the Pope.

Nevertheless, we disagree with the Prosecutor’s conclusion that there can be absolutely no other explanation for Agca’s contacts with these men and their contacts with him. Aside from employing a highly polemic tone—unusual for this type of document—the Prosecutor has made several leaps in logic and engaged in a priori reasoning. For example, he concludes that Agca must be telling the truth concerning Bulgarian complicity in the assassination because Agca, a young man facing life in prison, surely realizes that honesty is the only route to a reduced sentence. We believe it equally plausible, however, that Agca’s desperation could have driven him to construct a false scenario which he might believe would result in a reduced prison sentence.

Albano’s thesis rests upon Agca’s credibility, which he goes to great lengths to establish, both with verified facts and with assumptions. Some of the assumptions are weak. At one point, Albano asserts that Agca’s credibility is enhanced because two of the Bulgarians (Ayvazov and Vasilev) deny Agca’s claim that they know English. Albano then assumes, without any evidence, that the Bulgarians must know English because it is the language of diplomacy and commerce. Thus, they must be lying and Agca telling the truth.

Using Albano’s own rules of logic, we believe it possible to read the same evidence and conclude that the Bulgarians and Turks established their relationship with Agca for black market smuggling activities in which his talent as a cold-blooded killer could be useful. Agca, of course, appears to have viewed the relationship quite differently—primarily as a vehicle to help him fulfill his November 1979 threat to [Page 1199] kill the Pope. Thus, Agca is able to recount dates and places of actual meetings with the Bulgarians and Turks, but may be lying about the topics of discussion.

That the triangular relationship among Agca, the Bulgarians, and the Turks might have been for smuggling-related ventures is suggested by the following:

Several of the Turks mentioned in the indictment are known drug and arms smugglers;
Several other Turks named in Albano’s report are members of the right-wing Idealist Federation, or “Grey Wolves,” who are reliably reported to be engaged in lucrative narcotics smuggling activities in Europe.
We have convincing evidence that the Bulgarian intelligence services assist the Turkish underworld in a host of smuggling and narcotics activities. In return, the smugglers apparently provide hard currency to the Bulgarians and also may undertake various low-level intelligence-related activities.

Based on evidence in Albano’s report, it is possible to view Agca’s many phone calls, trips, and meetings as part of his involvement in black marketeering, rather than a conspiracy to kill the Pope. A low-level intelligence collection function is suggested by Albano himself. Although glossing over it, he reports that shortly before the Papal shooting, Agca and an accomplice, Oral Celik, traveled to Switzerland where Celik obtained secret documents on military installations and other matters pertaining to Switzerland and Austria. Agca says he delivered these documents to Vasilev in Rome in April 1981.

Involvement in smuggling and/or intelligence activities with the Bulgarians could explain how Agca knew that a special customs-exempt truck was scheduled to leave the Bulgarian Embassy in Rome the very day of the Papal shooting, May 13. Agca claims that this truck was to provide his escape from Italy. The fact that the truck departed that particular day is remarkable and there is no question that it is the strongest fact supporting Albano. Yet, we know from Agca’s own records that he was considering several other days—May 17 and 20—as possible times for assassinating the Pope. He may have chosen May 13 because he was confident the Bulgarians would allow him on the truck without asking questions.

In our view, no single scenario adequately explains the available evidence surrounding the Papal assassination case. Albano’s analysis was made by taking selected facts out of the approximately 25,000 pages of painstaking investigation by Italian Magistrate Martella over a period of almost two years. Defense counsel for the indicted conspirators are now working over the same material and are expected to present their report to the court around mid-July. The [Page 1200] court will decide then whether to proceed to trial. For a final decision on Bulgarian complicity in the attempt on the Pope’s life, it seems prudent to wait for the evidence produced in court.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Secretary George Shultz Papers, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (06/23/1984–06/25/1984). Secret; Sensitive. Sent through Armacost, who initialed the memorandum on June 26. Drafted by Robert Peck (EUR/WE) and Kuchel; cleared by Combs, Simons, Montgomery, and Palmer. Kuchel initialed for Combs. Covey also initialed and wrote “6/25” on the first page of the memorandum.
  2. June 22.
  3. Not found.
  4. Secret; Noforn; Nocontract; Orcon. Drafted by Mark Steinitz (INR/GI); approved by Robert DuBose (INR/GI) and C. Thomas Thorne (INR/AR).
  5. Not found.
  6. See Claire Sterling, “Bulgaria Hired Agca to Kill Pope, Report of Italian Prosecutor Says,” New York Times, June 10, 1984, p. 1.