Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator and founder of the original Axis of Evil, worked as a British agent for MI5 at the start of his career, it has emerged.
14 Oct 2009
Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini, who ruled his country with fear and forged a disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany, got his start in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5.
Mussolini, then a 34-year-old journalist, worked to ensure that Italy continued to fight alongside the allies in the First World War by publishing propaganda in his paper, the Guardian reports. He was also willing to send Italian army veterans to beat up peace protesters in Milan.
Mussolini's payments were authorised by Sir Samuel Hoare, an MP and MI5's man in Rome, who ran a staff of 100 British intelligence officers in Italy at the time.
Cambridge historian Peter Martland, who discovered details of the deal struck with the future dictator, told the Guardian: "Britain's least reliable ally in the war at the time was Italy after revolutionary Russia's pull out from the conflict. Mussolini was paid £100 a week from the autumn of 1917 for at least a year to keep up the pro-war campaigning – equivalent to about £6,000 a week today."
Mr Hoare, later to become Lord Templewood, mentioned the recruitment in memoirs in 1954, but Mr Martland stumbled on details of the payments for the first time while scouring Mr Hoare's papers.
Mussolini also told Hoare he would send in the boys to keep a lid on pro-peace protests.
"The last thing Britain wanted were pro-peace strikes bringing the factories in Milan to a halt. It was a lot of money to pay a man who was a journalist at the time, but compared to the £4m Britain was spending on the war every day, it was petty cash," said Mr Martland.
"I have no evidence to prove it, but I suspect that Mussolini, who was a noted womaniser, also spent a good deal of the money on his mistresses."
After the armistice, Mussolini began his rise to power, assisted by electoral fraud and blackshirt violence, establishing a fascist dictatorship by the mid-1920s.