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The U.S. and La Cosa Nostra: Partners in Organized Crime

Chances are excellent that if the United States of America had refrained from entering World War II, all of Western Europe would have fallen to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.  The Soviet Union, which had lost twenty million citizens because of the war through 1945, may well have surrendered to Nazi Germany and been transformed from a Stalinist nightmare into a Hitlerian one.  Who knows what might have happened next?  Fortunately, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States did join the Allied Powers and the preceding question is purely rhetorical.

The United States emerged from World War II as the literal savior of “The Free World.”  The post-war Harry S Truman-led American government then did something equally remarkable to the U.S.’s war-waging feats:  A united Presidency and Congress created the Marshall Plan, which helped Western Europe to rebuild after a second horrific devastation.

But there was a parallel track at play within the United States Government.  Many American military leaders and politicians believed that Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, though war-weakened, posed as great an immediate danger to “The Free World” as had the just-vanquished Nazi Germany.  Acting at first unilaterally, and always covertly, members of the U.S. military intelligence gradually coerced the American government to recruit Nazi Germans and Eastern European Fascists to the American anti-Soviet Union cause.  The CIA would quickly up the ante even further by reaching out to organized crime networks.

The Americans who were willing to subvert the cause of democracy in the name of anti-communism needed money to begin their machinations.  The resources that Nazi Germans had seized from their victims and had been captured by the U.S. during the war became their seed money.  It is a fitting irony that these antidemocratic domestic forces used blood money taken by the Nazis to fund their own fascist activities.

In 1941, the United States Congress approved the War Powers Act in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  One of the measures contained within the Act authorized the Treasury Department to create The Exchange Stabilization Fund.  The Fund was established to serve as a holding account for captured Nazi German and other Axis government valuables.  The captured wealth included currency, gold, precious metals and stocks and bonds taken by force from Axis Powers victims.

The official purpose of the Fund was to serve as a hedge against inflation, and to act as a bankers’ tool to dampen the effects of currency speculation in postwar Europe and Latin America.  In fact, the wealth became a secret source of financing for U.S. clandestine operations in the early days of the Central Intelligence Agency.

According to Christopher Simpson’s research on the fund, published in his book Blowback:  America’s Recruitment of Nazis, and Its Effect on the Cold War:

The first known payments from the Exchange Stabilization accounts for covert work were made during the hotly contested Italian election.  The CIA withdrew about $10 million from the fund in late 1947, laundered it through a myriad of bank accounts, and then used the money to finance sensitive Italian operations. . . .

Much of the CIA’s $10 million war chest was delivered through clandestine campaign contributions to Christian Democratic candidates.  The agency, it is true, refused to fund openly Fascist candidates.  “A conscious policy was made both in Washington and in Rome,” former CIA Director William Colby writes,” that no help of any kind was to go to the Neo-Fascists or Monarchists.”  . . .

What (the CIA’s support) fails to reveal, however, is that many of the remnants of the Fascists’ wartime ruling apparatus, as well as most of the police, had joined the Christian Democratic ranks after 1945.  The CIA’s “black currency” in Italy may not have gone to the discredited die-hard Fascist groups, but it did go to clerics and other leaders who were themselves closely tied to Fascist rule.

[The CIA] provided . . . Monsignor [Don Giuseppi] Bicchierai with enough money to buy Jeeps, bedding and guns for an underground squadron of some 300 anti-Communist Italian youths for use during the 1948 elections.  The job of this band was beating of left-wing candidates and activists, breaking up political meetings and intimidating voters.  Bicchierai’s troops became the forerunners of a number of other similar paramilitary gangs funded by the CIA in Germany, Greece, Turkey and several other countries over the next decade. . . .

The utility of the new covert operations apparatus was clear at the time:  It permitted the White House to circumvent the cumbersome bureaucracy of Congress and the Department of State in the field of foreign affairs; it extended the reach of the United States with what appeared to be little risk; and it permitted the president secretly to carry out actions that would discredit the United States if they were taken openly. . . .

One of the CIA’s next dances with Fascists occurred in France.  As John Paton Davies, a top State Department aide put the American “dilemma” in retrospect, “During (World War II), a number of (U.S.) military operators had come over to the civilian side [i.e., to the CIA and State Department] . . . .  The job couldn’t be done using formal warfare . . . . We had the problem of the Communist-led labor unions in France, for example.  We couldn’t just send in the Eighty-Second Airborne, you know, [to help them], nor could we do it with diplomatic means.  So we did what worked at the time.”

What worked in the port of Marseilles was to enlist the services of the Corsican mob to “clean out” the Communist element in the dockworkers’ union.

In 1947, Marseilles’ dock workers’ wages were lower than what was paid to them during the worst of the Great Depression.  The workers went on strike and were soon joined by other beleaguered French laborers.  The French Communist Party supported the strikes, which brought France to an economic standstill.

Despite contrary analysis, the CIA interpreted the nationwide strikes to mean that French Communists were about to stage a coup in order to take control of the government.  The CIA tried to break the strike first by paying socialist leaders to abandon their alliance with communist-led unions.  The CIA also asked the socialists to remove communists from the ranks of a special police unit focused on curbing organized crime and smuggling, and to direct the police unit to instead intimidate striking workers.

But the Marseilles strike continued.  CIA operatives then “supplied arms and money to the Corsican gangs for assaults on communist picket lines and harassment of important union officials.”  The gangs the CIA turned to were led by notorious organized crime figure Paul Carbone.  Carbone’s gangs had been involved for years in the illegal heroin trade, which included transporting the drug into the United States.  As in Italy, American anti-Communism trumped all other concerns.

Thanks to the Corsican mob, the Marseilles dockworkers’ strike was quickly broken.  In addition, the Corsican syndicate also neutralized the special police unit’s anti-organized crime effort.  After the Corsican gang busted another strike by hungry dockworkers in 1950, the Genrini brothers, two other Corsican crime bosses enlisted by the CIA, consolidated their power over the docks in Marseilles.

Thanks to the Genrini brothers’ tie to American organized crime boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Marseilles became one of the United States’ main heroin distribution points.  The infamous “French Connection” was born.  The French Connection dominated the world heroin trade into the 1970s.

The CIA’s role in helping the Corsican Mob to consolidate its stranglehold on Marseilles dock activity would have devastating consequences to American society beyond the effect French heroin would have on it.  The French Connection would consolidate the power of American Drug Lords who would oversee not just their own illegal  enterprises, but would also become heavily involved in covert U.S. government efforts to overthrow Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.  In the 1960s, these CIA-favored American  mobsters would use their influence over the United States Government to aid in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, knowing that U.S. offices would be paralyzed to retaliate against them due to the Mephistophelean history of U.S.-Organized Crime cooperation–which began with the use of Nazi blood money.

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