Assassination of Sweden’s Olof Palme: Most Dangerous Moment of Cold War
During Washington’s leadership of the war on socialism, the rollback of the Iron Curtain, and the dismantling of the Soviet Union took center stage, but there were other items on its agenda, both at home and abroad. While Moscow was being cornered, and subdued, its most dangerous sympathizers in leadership positions in certain countries, and within various electorates, especially Western ones, had at least to be kept track of, and reduced or eliminated if conditions required. While winning the Cold War was always in the forefront, steps had to be taken, usually behind the scenes, to make sure that the battle was not being lost or betrayed on some home front, particularly after the conflict became institutionalized.
The tactics in winning this struggle were much more sophisticated and secret than ones dealing with the Soviets. Here dangerous groups, especially organized labor, had to be isolated – unions discredited, their leaders corrupted, and their followers confused about their benefits. This process was best accomplished in an environment where the media, educational system, economic system, and society continually stressed the advantages of individual opportunity, responsibility, and reward. The traditional predatory nature of capitalism was very much being discounted in order to give the masses a sense of living in a most sensitive community.
Behind the scenes, though, Anglo-American covert government was willing to show its fangs if developments warranted it. When Fidel Castro took over Cuba, and moved to reduce vastly the profits of its foreign-owned oil facilities, the CIA, thanks particularly to the prodding of MI5’s Peter Wright (See Spycatcher, p. 146ff.), quickly attempted to kill him by the most subtle means in terms of agents and delivery systems, as the hearings of the Church Committee amply documented. When the scene had to be switched to Southeast Asia after the botched assassination of President Kennedy for similar reasons, the CIA led a comprehensive assault on the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese in order to prevent the whole region from allegedly falling to the communists The elimination of the Kennedy brothers, and Dr. Martin Luther King along the way indicated just how serious the process had become.
In this context, what went on in Britain, West Germany, Italy, and Sweden were of pivotal concern since their electorates, properly led, could potentially throw the whole Cold War off course, or the Soviets might want to take advantage of some weak link in the strategic defense. The United Kingdom having a non-communist government was essential if America hoped to have a ‘special relationship’ with Europe, as only Britain could provide the strategic military, intelligence, and capital capability for maintaining a foothold on the continent, no matter what happened in the Mediterranean, Central Europe, and Scandinavia. Making sure that West Germany remained free of an eastward-seeking, socialist government was of the highest priority, and keeping Italy and Sweden in the non-communist camp followed closely behind if Moscow was not to envelop Europe somehow.
If a left-wing Labour government in Britain, for example, were to gain power through the ballot box under the leadership of Aneurin Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson, Tony Benn, Anthony Crosland, and Neil Kinnock, the Atlantic Alliance and NATO might well have been put in jeopardy because of their calls for nuclear disarmament, nuclear-free zones, and non-entangling alliances. These leaders had not been co-opted by the comman front needed to defeat the Axis powers, and their more dangerous communist successors. They were willing, on various terms, to push ahead with the third way, a welfare state.
All these Labour leaders were rendered useless by untimely demise, suspicious death, conspiracy, new developments, and who knows what. Bevan, the father of the National Health Service, died in 1960 of cancer, but not before he had moved to a more pragmatic position in the party in the hope of making Labour Leader Gaitskell more left-wing. In 1957, Bevan defied the unions, and rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament in the hope that Britain would play a leading role, once Labour obtained power, in achieving multilateral nuclear disarmament, and a peaceful, fairer world. Hardly had Gaitskell gotten started in the process than he died suddenly from lupus disseminata. (Ibid., p.362ff.)
Gaitskell’s demise was followed by Wilson taking over as Leader, and then becoming Prime Minister – what Anglo-American intelligence were quick to attribute to the KGB’s Department of Wet Affairs. This was another trying time for counterspies because of the wake of Watergate, and the fall of Vietnam. They were most concerned about leaks regarding their involvement in Washington’s affairs, and left-wingers like Wilson taking advantage of them. Thanks to Wilson’s connections to Lithuanian émigré Joseph Kagan, MI5 was soon contending that the Prime Minister was a Soviet agent, but before the claims gained public attention, Labour had been voted out of office.
When Wilson returned to power in 1974, the British security establishment was so sure of his subversive character, thanks to prodding by CIA Counter Intelligence Chief James Angleton, and Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, that it organized a plot to overthrow him. “Wright and Arthur Martin, the two leading mole-hunters,” Michael Smith wrote in New Cloak, Old Dagger, “had given considerable credence to a claim by the KGB defector Anatoly Golitsyn that Hugh Gaitskell, Wilson’s predecessor as Labour Party leader, had been murdered to allow Wilson to become Prime Minister.” (pp. 68-9) Far from the plot being the fantasy of an increasingly few MI5 officers, as Wright claimed, it was real enough to cause Wilson to suddenly resign.
Hardly had Britain recovered from Wilson’s depature from Downing Street than Anthony Crosland, the most persuasive spokesman of a more flexible, ambitious socialism in The Future of Socialism, died suddenly at the age of only 58, apparently from a stroke. Crosland’s version of socialism had taken precedence over Benn’s where state ownership of the means of production was given center stage in the creation of the welfare state. Western intelligence agencies had long been developing “a compound that could simulate a heart attack or a stroke in the targeted individual.” (John Marks, The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’, p. 227)
Crosland, the Foreign Secretary of James Callaghan’s new government, was growing so confident of the Foreign Office’s potential in spreading it that he was giving up on his hopes of becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer. His colleagues were sure, until suddently struck down, that he would become one of Britain’s greatest, followed probably by becoming Prime Minister. On the 25th anniversary of Crosland’s demise, British leftists were left wondering if the current Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, would be embarrassed over the course Labour has been pursuing since. Of course, embarrassment is less threatening than death.
The same pattern follows on the continent with left wing politicians in the wake of West’s failures to dislodge Castro from Cuba, and the North Vietnamese from South Vietnam. Sweden’s Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary General of the United Nations – another institution that the West’s right-wingers had a paranoid fear of – was killed in an airplane crash in September 1961 while trying to stop conflict between the UN’s Emergency Force and Congolese rebels. What had made Hammarskjöld’s death so suspicious was that the CIA had recently arranged the murder of the Congo’s independence leader, Patrice Lumumba, so that its stooge, General Joseph Mobutu, could take power.
Just after Crosland collapsed, in May 1978, Italy’s dangerous Christian Democrat Aldo Moro, who just arrranged for the Communists to join a new coalition government, and was on the way to become the country’s President, was kidnapped by 42 Stalinist members of the Italian Red Brigades after his five bodyguards had been gunned down, and 55 days later, his body, bearing 11 wounds, was found in the boot of a car in Rome. Mafia-connected Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti had persuaded the coalition not to deal with the terrorists’ demands. Six days before Palme was assassinated, economic advisor Antonio da Empoli of Socialist Bettino Craxi’s government barely escaped death at the hands of more splinter elements of the Red Brigades. Many investigators have traced the sources of such splinters to Abu Nidal’s organization which would shoot up the Rome and Vienna airports at the expense of El-Al passengers during the countdown of the Stockholm shooting.
Ost-politik seeking Willy Brandt, West Germany’s Social Democrat Chancellor, had a much more benign but not less sure end when its counter-intelligence agency BfV took advantage of claims that he too, like Wilson, was a Soviet spy by letting his office be infiltrated by a real one, Gunter Guillaume (codenamed HANSEN), causing Brandt’s permanent retirement. Still, Brandt’s undoing rested solely upon Guillaume’s free confession that he was an agent of the GDR’s Stasi.
Covert means of the most sophisticated nature, and many of the counter-intelligence agents who had used them successfully against troublesome socialists and their supporters came to the fore when it became time to get rid of Sweden’s Social Democrat statsminister Olof Palme, the lone one still looming on the horizon. He still threatened to make a more vibrant welfare state in his own country while attempting to end the Cold War by peaceful, confidence-building measures. If détente was to be well, and truly buried, he had to be stopped, one way or another.
Palme had long been a thorn in the West’s side because of his opposition to America’s covert and counter-insurgency operations, especially in South Vietnam, and his support of a more reasonable approach to Moscow and the Soviet bloc. Ever since Palme had become Tage Erlander’s Minister without Portfolio to the Cabinet Office right after the JFK assassination, Anglo-American counter-intelligence had kept a very close eye on him – especially because he thought it was probably the result of another conspiracy.
During the 1970s, statsminister Palme continued to make noises against America’s actions while addressing wider audiences abroad, and in the streets of Sweden. On October 20, 1970, he addressed the UN’s General Assembly on its 25th anniversary in a way Dag Hammarskjöld would have approved of – calling for it to play a much greater role in promoting peace, and prosperity in the world. When the USA resumed its bombing of North Vietnam over Christmas 1972, Palme denounced it so strongly in Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå that the Nixon administration told the outgoing Ambassador, Hubert de Besche, that it was a gross insult. When Palme continued his denunciations of America, the CIA started following his travels, especially to countries in Africa – what had led to Dag’s demise.
The hung-parliament resulting from the 1973 general election, Palme’s loss of power three years later, and failure to regain power in 1979, though, reduced Anglo-American concern about his ability to make trouble. As insurance against his making a comeback – especially in light of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan – followers of MI5’s Peter Wright, and CIA’s James Angleton persuaded famous defector Anatoly Golitsyn in 1980 to put his latest thoughts about Soviet penetration of the West to paper, New Lies for Old. In the Editor’s Foreward, MI6’s Stephen De Mowbray, and Arthur Martin explained that the manuscript had been revised to take advantage of developments since 1968, and “…a substantial part of it has been held over for publication at a later date.” (p. xv) The leading editor from the CIA was former molehunter all the way back to the JFK assassination, Scott Miler, who was now calling for closer functional coordination between the Agency and the Bureau in the double-agent, counter-intelligence Operation Courtship. (Mark Riebling, Wedge: The Secret War between the FBI and CIA, p. 341)
Palme, according to Golitsyn, was a carbon copy of Willy Brandt who should be dealt with before he destroyed the West. Golitsyn claimed that just before he defected from the KGB in Helsinki in 1962, he had seen a circular about an agent one of its residencies had (p. 288), apparently the press service Novosti’s N. V. Nejland in Stockholm, who had recruited a friend in the prime minister’s office under the pretext that he was passing along information for the American and British ambassadors when it was actually going to the KGB – a classic ‘false-flag’ operation. To make this allusion to Palme clearer, Golitsyn had already written: “A KGB agent was planted on the leadership of the Swedish social democratic party.” (p. 55) As in the Brandt case, though, Golitsyn did not know if he had been ‘sucked in’, given a KGB handler. As for how to deal with problems like Palme – those intended to separate the United States from Europe – he recommended a strategic plan to end them.
When this warning to the West did not have the desired effect – Palme being elected statsminister with a parliamentary majority in the September 1982 election despite the campaign Dr. Alf Ennerström raised against the alleged republican and Moscow agent – Anglo-American covert government started immediately putting him to tests to see if, in fact, he was a Soviet stooge. As Ola Tunander has written extensively in Hårsfjärden, American and NATO attack and midget submarines apparently invaded the area right after an official US Navy visit to see if the Palme government would take appropriate counter measures. Though it most certainly did, damaging two of the intruding subs, Washington and London were still not satisfied.
This was when Sweden was increasingly convinced that the Soviets were violating its waters because a Russian Whisky-class submarine had run aground in Skåne the previous year. It was an accident, though the conservative media continually claimed that it was part of a concerted effort to undermine Sweden’s independence. When Palme’s Foreign Minister, Lennart Bodström, made light of the possibility that the intrusions were Soviet subs, he was transferred to a less important department.
While this was going on, the Thatcher and Reagan governments were slowly getting their act back together on an East-West axis against the Soviets – what the North-South struggles over the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, and Washington’s invasion of Grenada merely postponed. The covert government in the White House, and in Whitehall had to be reorganized so that their political leaderships, intelligence communities, and armed services were integrated into making a crushing, preemptive strike against Moscow’s nuclear capability, especially its underwater nuclear deterrent. Washington and London were finally being run by hard-line anti-communists who had suffered too long Moscow’s indignities, particularly because of its spying, and thought it was time to settle scores in a drastic, definitive way.
In the political sphere, this meant getting rid of traditional types who would be alarmed with such an agenda. In Britain, once the Falklands were retaken, Francis Pym, the dovish Foreign Secretary, was replaced by Thatcher loyalist Geoffrey Howe. John Nott, the cost-cutting SOD, left the MoD, and Michael Heseltine followed him for the time-being, until he proved too European-oriented in dealing with the rescue plan of Westland Helicopters in December 1985. Thatcher loyalist George Younger followed Heseltine at the MoD. The growing convergence of British and American policy was demonstrated when the Prime Minister, who had just escaped assassination at the hands of the IRA, was given the rare honor of addressing a joint session of Congress on February 20, 1985.
In Washington, there was a reshufffle at the White House after Reagan was re-elected in November 1984. James Baker was replaced as chief of staff by the political novice Donald Reagan, Navy Secretary John Lehman, Jr. took control of the operational use of the fleet worldwide at the expense of SOD Caspar Weinberger, and NSA Robert McFarlane delegated covert authority to NSC underling Oliver North, the leader of the Iran-Contra operation against leftists in Latin America, to carry the fight to their alleged Moscow sponsors – now headed by the untested Mikhail Gorbachev.
The increasing coordination of Anglo-American intelligence was demonstrated when like-minded, pre-emptive oriented chiefs took over the various services, and coordinated their operations, especially Operation Courtship with the two countries’ double agents in the USSR. Christopher Curwen, MI6’s Director, and Tony Duff, another Thatcher loyalist who took over the Security Service, were ideally suited to work with the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the hard-line Percy Craddock, who was connected to Group 13, the shadowy paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, headed by former MI6 Director Colin Figures, that was now carrying out wet affairs worldwide. It was pulling all the covert strings to get back at Moscow for all the spying done for the KGB by Kim Philby, and shoootings by its own assassination group, Department 13.
The American intelligence effort was much more decentralized with CIA and FBI personnel working with individual double agents in order to set up Moscow for a big hit. Gone were the early days of Operation Courtship in which individual agents just set up KGB agents trying to purchase some secret. Now the two agencies were working together to see that Moscow was completely surprised by some showdown – e. g., a sleeper would confirm that the Red Banner Fleet, especially its nuclear submarines, had been taken completely unawares by some event; another agent would call his girl friend back in the States to acknowledge that the Soviets had done some terrible act; various American signal intelligence gathering equipment, surreptitiously introduced into the USSR, was in place and working; the USSR’s ham-radio network was up and running to transmit on the ground reports about Soviet reactions to any surprise; and the like.
All the while, Palme continued to arouse Western suspicions, and concerns. His suggestion for a nuclear-free corridor in Central Europe, part of his ‘peace initiative’, in the hope of promoting détente was, of course, met with outrage by London and Washington because they no longer favored it. They wanted the adoption by the FGR of the installation of Pershing II and cruise missiles to counter the Soviet SS-20s – what the Bundestag agreed to after Moscow shot down KAL Flight 007 when it intruded deep into Soviet airspace in the Far East while it was conducting a ICBM missile test.
When the commission appointed to investigate the Hånsfjärden incidents reported that two ‘hitherto unknown’ types of Soviet midget submarines had penetrated Swedish waters, the Prime Minister called upon the Soviets to stop the practice, but someone continued to do it – most likely British attack subs which went around the Baltic, and came down the Swedish coast, indicating that they might be Soviet ones carrying Spetsnaz special forces. Palme, nonetheless, continued to maintain Sweden’s neutrality, and ability to defend itself, even addressing a meeting of NATO ministers in Copenhagen on the matter.
When Palme visited the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in 1984, the first European government leader to do so, Anglo-American covert government started focusing its actions on him more. By now, the Contra effort that Oliver North was leading was in dire straits, thanks to the Bolland amendments in the House cutting off increasingly all funds to the insurgents, and he had turned to the friend of Navy Secretary Lehman, former SAS Major David Walker’s firms, KMS Ltd. and Saladin, to turn the guerrilla operation around. They were noted for training mercenaries in all sorts of dirty tactics, while still providing bodyguard service and assessment for all kinds of officials the British Crown wanted protected. The connection between North’s people and Whitehall became solidified when he tried unsuccessfully to purchase British ‘blowpipe’ missiles for his Contras.
By 1985, Washington and London were still hoping that the September 1985 election would still finish off Palme. As it would soon be followed by one in Denmark, the hope was that Social Democracy in a nuclear-free Scandinavia would finally be rejected by the voters. The European Workers Party, a right-wing organization built up by America’s Lyndon LaRouche, and having close ties to the CIA, started exploiting the claims that Palme was a Soviet stooge by putting up posters around Sweden, comparing him most subversively to his former boss, Tage Erlander. Mysterious intrusions of Swedish territory, what rebellious elements in the Swedish Navy, particularly Vice Admiral Bror Stefenson and Captain Hans von Hofsten, continued to exploit at the statsminister’s expense, and Palme tried to defuse by various indirect means, were stressed by the conservative press during its final stages – a process not hurt by a real Soviet fighter intrusion of Swedish airspace over Gotland.
When Palme still maintained a majority, with the help of the Swedish Communist Party, after the election, Washington and London finally moved into high gear to dispose of Palme someway. Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet defector who had just made his escape from the USSR, and was now leading Operation Courtship against Moscow, apparently came to Stockholm to warn Commander-in-Chief General Lennart Ljung, still unpersuaded about all the Soviet threats against Sweden, that the statsminister was indeed a traitor. Faced with a growing naval officers’ and police revolt – led by von Hofsten – Palme still said that he would be going to Moscow in April with the intention of normalizing relations with Moscow. Then an MI6 officer operating out of Oslo claimed to have stolen the Prime Minister’s agenda for his discussions with the new Soviet leader, the first item of business being the establishment of a Nordic Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone – what, if adopted, would mean the end of NAT0 in Scandinavia.
Then two events happened to American efforts which provided Washington with the means, and justification of assassinating Palme. In catching the killers of Jewish invalid Leon Klinghofer in the Achille Lauro affair, North, Lehman, and CNO James Watkins put together a rapid-response team of air, surface, and underwater forces operating out of all normal channels which provided a convincing preview of what could be accomplished with a much larger force, using the new Maritime Strategy in a first strike, against Moscow. At the same time, Palme provided the trigger for the new operation, his own assassination, by stopping, as he should have since he was mediating an end of the Iran-Iraq war for the UN, an illegal shipment of 80 HAWK missiles through Sweden from Israel to Teheran on November 17, 1985 – what required Reagan to act illegally to justify, and risked his impeachment if discovered.
Shortly after this, Captain Simon Hayward aka Captain James Rennie, Operations Officer of the 14 Intelligence Company’s South Detachment in Northern Ireland, went from a defensive role of protecting undermanned police stations in Armagh from IRA attack to training to kill someone at close range. Hayward was Britain’s leading hitman, having directed the Shoot-to-Kill campaign against IRA volunteers in the fall of 1982 in revenge for the nail bomb killings in Hyde Park the previous July. In preparing for the Stockhom shooting – what he would have an ideal alibi for by helping conduct the KMS reassessment of Swedish bodyguard protection at the end of February 1986 – Rennie led a team which killed Francis Bradley, after a most extensive surveillance, ten days before the Palme shooting. (See Raymond Murray, The SAS in Ireland, p. 343ff.)
To connect the shooting to the Soviets, Jennone Walker, the CIA station chief in the Stockholm Embassy, was so concerned about Palme’s alleged treachery, thanks to the agenda MI6 had supplied her, that she encouraged the rebellious naval officers to take action against the statsminister at the annual Christmas Party. Then CIA’s ‘Rod’ Carlson, Miler’s successor, tried to recruit Soviet spy Stig Bergling, still serving time for his spying, to flee to the Soviet Union while he was on compassionate leave on February 28th – obviously a set up for the shooting. By the time it occurred, Walker had so worked her away into the Swedish Security Service’s (Säpo’s) confidence that it bugged the phones and office of the KGB residency in anticipation that Bergling would be calling for help on the night. Säpo had been responsible for the recruitment of bodyguards to protect the leading public officials, and to see that their performance was periodically reassessed by British experts.
To punish Moscow when the assassination occurred, Navy Secretary Lehman sent a massive wave of attack submarines towards the Barents Sea to degrade the Soviet “boomers” so devastatingly by the surprise that the Soviets would be forced to capitulate. (For details of the movement, see Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man’s Bluff, esp. pp. 426-7.) This would be the ideal solution to the conflict as it would not cause a nuclear exchange, resulting in massive losses of innocent life and useful property. As soon as attack submarines had done the essential kills, NATO’s Anchor Express Exercise, backed up by the American Atlantic Fleet’s Operation Eagle, would sweep across Finnmark in northern Norway to destroy whatever Soviet resistance was left on the Kola Peninsula.
Fortunately, the plans to blame the assassination on the Soviets failed miserably, thanks to the spying for Moscow by the Agency’s Aldrich ‘Rick’ Ames, the Bureau’s Robert Hanssen, and others.There would be no flight by Bergling, no calls to the KGB residency on the fatal night, and all the double agents in USSR completely under control because Moscow was on full alert for any surprise. If it had not been, and the shooting had started, the West would have been reduced to nuclear rubble because the Soviets had 82, nuclear-armed SS-23 missiles in East Germany and the USSR, unknown to Western intelligence, and ready to go under the command of its biggest hawk, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov.
During the countdown to the assassination in Stockholm, it seems, US and British representatives to NATO’s Special Operations Planning Staff (SOPS) had persuaded other members during its deliberations that the arms consortium YGGDRASIL was in the process of arranging its own assassination, so there were all kinds of lookouts, decoys, and the like running around the Swedish capital during Palme’s last days while a KMS reassessment team, including Hayward apparently, and using walkie-talkies, checked on the performance of his bodyguards. This new group of decoys, largely consisting of Nazis and police officers, was just to provide more confusion and suspects when the murder occurred. It had largely been organized by Viktor Gunnarsson, thanks to the prodding by leading Contra Felipe Vidal aka Charles Morgan after he had failed to recruit mercenaries either in Sweden or England to do the job.
Despite the unprecedented announcement by KGB Chief Viktor Chebrikov on the morning of the assassination that the West’s whole double agent operation against the USSR had been rounded up (See, e. g., Christopher Walker’s front page story in “The Times on the day after.), Washington and London went ahead with Operation Tree, Rennie apparently cutting down the statsminister easily “after he returned “unprotected from the “ci”nema with his wife. Even the feared Danish general election had passed without left-wing gains a few days before. “If the assassination “had not happened then, there would be other opportunities. Palme was a doomed man. Fortunately, the rest of us did not start to “join him after February 28th.
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