Thirtieth edition of the N&O column / Spooks newsletter

(Date: Wed, 01 Nov 2000 22:16:15 +0100)

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Intelligence profile: the Vatican

General info

Total area : 0.438 km2
Long-form name : State of the Vatican City
Type of state : Monarchical-sacerdotal state
Capital : Vatican City
Chief of state : The Pope
Note : Vatican City is the physical seat of the Holy See, which is the central government of the Roman Catholic Church


The Vatican has a number of well-organized police and guard services;

- Vigilanza [Papal Gendarmes]
The Vigilanza is the Vatican's police force. Its duties partly overlap with those of the Swiss Guards. Although the Vigilanza also carries out criminal investigations, the more serious cases such as murder investigations, etc. are handled by the Italian authorities. The chief of the Vigilanza reports to the Pope's general secretary's office.
- Guardia Svizzera [Swiss Guards]
The Guards are responsible for the guarding of the sacred person of the pope and the protection of the Apostolic Palaces. The religious privileges of the Guards are very extensive. In all public processions the Swiss Guards take their place immediately behind the Noble Guard. As guards they are subject to the prefect of the Apostolic Palaces. When the pope occupies the sedia gestatoria, he is surrounded by six of the Swiss Guards, who carry the large swords known as "double-handed".
The Guards possess a strength of exactly 100 men (including the six officers). The corps has its own chapel, SS Martino e Sebastiano, built by Pius V in 1568.
- Guardia d'Onore [Palatine Guard]
The Palatine Guard, as it exists today, extends back to Pius IX. In the Regolamento of 14 December, 1850, he decreed that the two bodies of militia, the civici scelti and the capotori, should be united into one body under the new name of the Guardia Palatina d'Onore. Before 1870 the services of this regiment were not confined to the palace. Watch-duties in the city and military operations in wars were also among their duties. The Palatine Guard perform various duties in the papal service.
- Guardia Nobile [Nobel Guard]
This most distinguished corps of the papal military service was formerly formed of the corps of cavalleggieri (light cavalry). Pius VII formed a new body-guard composed of the remainder of the cavalleggieri and the old cavaliers delle lancie spezzate. A Decree of 11 May, 1801, ordered the institution of the Noble Guard.
The Noble Guard makes its appearance in public only when the pope takes part in a public function; when the pope withdraws, he is followed by the Noble Guard. During a vacancy of the Holy See, the corps stands at the service of the College of Cardinals.
- Guardie dei Fuoco [Fire Brigade]
The Vatican fire-brigade, which is organized according to the most modern methods, is employed also for other duties, since they are rarely needed on their main duty.

The Vatican and espionage

The Vatican became a very interesting spot for spies from Eastern Europe because of the close co-operation of the Vatican with the CIA in the late 70's and 80's. The CIA provided the pope with classified information from the White House and gave him access to satellite and eavesdropping info. Vernon Walters, general and ex-CIA deputy director, visited the pope seven times between 1981 and 1988.

Because of the Pope's support for Solidarity and the ties with the CIA, virtually every Warsaw Pact intelligence agency was interested in the Vatican and tried to blackmail priests or to buy their services Priests from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Lithaunia and other countries were approached to spy in the Vatican. Colonel Estermann, the murdered guard commander, was a Stasi spy who spied for East Germany for two years. The Bulgarians were involved in a plot to kill the pope. The Rome offices of Eastern European airlines, travel agencies, and of course the embassies were excellent listening posts. It is said that airline personnell acted as contacts for the spies.

But what about the Vatican? Does the Vatican has a spy network of its own? In his book 'The Vatican Papers', Nino Lo Bello claims that the Vatican has the most efficient and widespread spy network in the whole world. He states this network is known as Sodalitium Pianum. I don't know if this is correct. Sodalitium Pianum does exist and was formed in 1909 by pope Pius XII and was established to monitor and report to the Holy Office any deviations from orthodoxy. They were not involved in regular espionage but were merely busy with the silencing of less orthodox theologians by prohibiting publications and by removing them from teaching positions. Stuff like that. It is however possible that they were secretly also involved in regular spy activities.

Another organization that stirred the interest of many, is Russicum. Russicum, the Pontifical Russian College, was established in 1927 to teach the Russian Catholics in the diaspora and priests who were going to work in Russia. Some say that Russicum is in fact a training center for priests who were sent to Russia to spy. Russian journalist Andrey Soldatov did some research and wrote an article for the Russian newspaper 'Version'. Andrey sent me a copy of his article, which you can find as attachment to the N&O newsletter. I also attached an English translation.

Please note the Russian version may not display correctly on some browsers depending on their configurations.


Andrey Soldatov, Roman Catholic Encyclopedia, and a wide variety of news media.

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