Dancing With Jackals, Part 1: The Idealist

Dancing With Jackals, Part 1: The Idealist

In June 1970, a young man is arrested at the Israeli port of Haifa. On his person, police officers discover pro-Palestine propaganda, a Super-8 video camera, and two kilograms of high explosive. His name is Bruno Breguet and his story only gets stranger from here. In this two-part True Spies story, intelligence historian Adrian Hänni joins Daisy Ridley to uncover the life of a little-known, but fascinating figure. In Part 1, you'll follow Bruno's journey from sleepy southern Switzerland to the frontlines of pro-Palestinian terror in the 1970s and the inner circle of one of the world's most notorious terrorists, Carlos the Jackal.
Read the transcript →

True Spies, Episode 173 - Dancing With Jackals, Part 1: The Idealist

NARRATOR: This is True Spies, the podcast that takes you deep inside the greatest secret missions of all time. Week by week, you’ll hear the true stories behind the operations that have shaped the world we live in. You’ll meet the people who live life undercover. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? I’m Daisy Ridley, and this is True Spies, from SPYSCAPE Studios.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The way he was arrested in Haifa very strongly suggests that he was expected, that he had been betrayed, and that the Israeli Security Services knew that someone with the name of Bruno Bréguet would be coming, and that he was up to no good. 

NARRATOR: Dancing With Jackals, Part 1: The Idealist. It’s December 15, 1970 in the Israeli city of Lod. A trial is underway. The defendant is a lean young man of 20, dark haired, and handsome. His name is Bruno Bréguet. He’s a student from Switzerland. He’s a long way from home and he won’t be going back any time soon.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: They're giving him a very harsh sentence to basically send the message: "Don't even think about it. You're going to be sentenced very, very harshly." 

NARRATOR: Because this is no ordinary student. He’s a member of the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - a militant group with a Marxist bent. It’s responsible for a recent series of deadly hijackings in Europe and the Middle East. Bruno is convicted of plotting a devastating attack on Tel Aviv, the nation’s largest city. To the Israelis, he’s a terrorist. But to the PFLP, he’s a soldier. And they’ll stop at nothing to free their comrade in arms. As the cell door closes on Bruno Bréguet, the gears of covert diplomacy begin to turn.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So the PFLP, pretty quickly after Bruno's convictions, demands very loudly in their own magazines and press communiques that they want Bréguet to be released, otherwise they might commit more terrorist attacks on Swiss targets. 

NARRATOR: As he stares down the barrel of 15 years behind bars, this could have been the end of Bruno’s story. It’s only the beginning.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He notes while in prison that the alienating conditions of his captivity are making him a different person. Captivity, especially the deprivation that he experiences, the humiliation he experienced, partly also the violence that he experiences in prison, are leading to growing feelings of revenge. And he himself recognizes and remarks that time wouldn't be able to heal some of these wounds. He notes that there is no more gray zone for him in his political and his personal views. There is no more gray, he writes one day; only black and white.

NARRATOR: This is a story about two kinds of politics. The first is the politics of compromise - the kind that carpets the corridors of power from D.C. to Dakar. The second is the politics of ideology. It’s pure, like a white flame, and just as dangerous in the wrong hands. Moving from one to the other, in either direction, is difficult. People tend to get hurt, one way or another. People like Bruno Bréguet. Because this is also the story of one man - a left-wing radical who became a political terrorist, a terrorist who turned spy for the so-called ‘imperialist powers’ he’d spent his life opposing. A man whose life - and death - is shrouded in mystery.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He was also involved in the 1980s, in certain questionable - and at times probably criminal - schemes which probably also made him some potentially powerful enemies.

NARRATOR: It’s time to meet your guide to an often-tragic tale of violence, betrayal, and myth-making in the dying embers of the Cold War.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: I'm Adrian Hänni. I'm a political historian researching the world of terrorist organizations and intelligence services.

NARRATOR: Swiss historian Adrian Hänni first encountered Bruno Bréguet while researching Ilich Ramírez  Sánchez, aka Carlos the Jackal. Carlos was a quasi-mythical terrorist-for-hire, supposedly in the pay of the KGB - he’ll play a big part in the story that’s about to unfold. Responsible for a spate of bombings, hostage situations and outright murders, the Jackal was the ultimate bad guy - an avenging phantom who world governments seemed powerless to stop. Adrian Hänni learned that, during the 1980s, Bruno was part of his entourage. Intrigued to find a fellow Swiss among this dangerous crowd, Adrian started digging. What he found was surprising, to say the least.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And with a lot of luck I pretty quickly stumbled over a dossier of CIA documents in the National Archives.

NARRATOR: Those documents revealed that Bruno eventually betrayed Carlos by becoming an informant for the CIA. In his 2023 book, Bruno Bréguet: Terrorist and CIA Agent, Adrian made this information public for the first time.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: I got a lot of reactions from former associates, also from the left-wing milieu not just in Switzerland, also in Greece or in Italy, for example, where people found it extremely hard to believe that the Bruno Bréguet that they knew, the ideally driven, principled activist actually turned to the CIA of all organizations and became an American spy.

NARRATOR: In this two-part True Spies story, we’ll trace the corruption of Bruno Bréguet’s ideals - and count the bodies he left in his wake.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Nothing in his upbringing, nothing in his childhood would suggest that he would wind up being a violent terrorist or even eventually a secret agent for the CIA.

NARRATOR: Bruno’s story begins in Ticino. Stretching deep into Northern Italy, it’s Switzerland’s southernmost canton, pairing Alpine views with a Mediterranean climate. It is not the place that typically breeds pro-Palestinian terrorists.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Very idyllic. And his family had its own house in this very nice place. They weren't particularly rich, but they were certainly well off. 

NARRATOR: Bruno was born in 1950. A shy child, he spent long hours after school reading in his room but by 1968, revolution was in the air - and Bruno wanted a piece of it.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So he changed to high school exactly in the summer of 1968. He turned 18 at that time, so he was right in that age.

NARRATOR: All around the world, left-wing activists - many of whom were students - came out in force to protest against their governments. The first post-war generation had found their voice - and they weren’t shy about using it.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He was reading the writings of Che Guevara, for example, who had just been killed the year before. He read Mao. He also read Marx. He read a lot about the Global South. He was very in love with Cuba and the revolution there, but also with other Latin American countries such as Brazil, for example.

NARRATOR: All required reading for politically-engaged students at the time. But Bruno’s political awakening didn’t stop there. One shocking event put him on a different path - a path that led to Palestine.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So this is where his story starts to depart from the typical story of an 18-year-old Swiss in 1968, ‘69. 

NARRATOR: In February 1969, four armed members of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attempted to hijack an Israeli passenger plane. El Al Flight 432 was preparing to take off at Zurich International Airport when gunfire echoed across the tarmac.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The goal was to evacuate the plane by force and then blow it up and create a sensation, a media sensation with it. 

NARRATOR: The PFLP’s plan was foiled by an Israeli security officer who had been assigned to the flight. He returned fire, killing the leader of the cell. The three remaining terrorists were surrounded by Swiss police, arrested, and put on trial.

ADRIAN HANNI: It was basically the first big trial in Europe against Palestinian terrorists.

NARRATOR: At the time, Western countries played host to a number of leftist groups that pledged solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Public intellectuals and celebrities on the Left also lent their support. Many Western supporters agreed that non-violent action was insufficient, and that the actions of the PFLP, and other armed organizations, were justified. Many of these supportive groups were, to some degree, funded by the Palestinian leadership itself. They used the trial of the Flight 432 hijackers to amplify their voices in the public sphere.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And Bruno had had a very open ear for that propaganda. He felt he was seeing a large injustice playing out against the Palestinians, especially against the Palestinian refugees in the Middle East and started to radicalize and increasingly focus on this topic during the year of 1969. 

NARRATOR: That summer, Bruno Bréguet - already a committed leftist - took the next step in his journey to radicalization. He called the offices of the Arab League in Geneva, and informed a secretary that he would like to join an armed Palestinian organization. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: This is quite absurd, how he actually got in touch with the Palestinian cause. And basically, the secretary was probably quite surprised but she took his name and the phone number and promised to call back. And that was actually how things started to roll forward.

NARRATOR: A few months later, in December of 1969, a department store in Bruno’s hometown was set ablaze. The identity of the arsonist was a complete mystery.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And interestingly, if you speak with former left-wing radicals in Ticino and in southern Switzerland, they are convinced that Bruno was behind that department store fire. It's quite unusual that someone would go, basically, from zero militant experience right into being engaged in a major terrorist attack. So we are always looking for a missing gap, like the first violent action. I asked one of his very few friends whether Bruno ever mentioned that fire or whether they talked about it, and he said they had a brief discussion the day after the fire in school and Bruno would just say, “Well, the owner of the department store is a Jew.”

NARRATOR: There’s no solid evidence that puts Bruno at the scene. But could the blaze have been a rite of passage for a newly enlisted member of the PFLP? We’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that in February 1970, a year on from the attempted hijack at Zurich Airport, Bruno Bréguet was on the move. Destination: Lebanon.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He actually goes first to Milan and then flies from Milan to Rome and from Rome to Beirut in mid-February, 1970.

NARRATOR: In Beirut, Bruno made a beeline for the offices of Al-Hadaf, the PFLP’s Arabic-language magazine. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So that was a common way to get in touch for wannabe fighters, militants, to go through Al-Hadaf. 

NARRATOR: There, he asked for a meeting with Wadie Haddad, the leader of the PFLP’s military wing.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Today we know that he was the strategic mastermind behind the spectacular hijackings that the Palestinians and particularly the PFLP were orchestrating in Europe between the late ‘60s and the early to mid-1970s. 

NARRATOR: But Haddad was out of town. In his absence, the PFLP gave him a tour of the Lebanese refugee camps where displaced Palestinians lived under terrible conditions.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: A typical strategy, propaganda strategy, to show these Western volunteers the plight of the Palestinian refugees in the camps in Lebanon.

NARRATOR: Bruno was moved by their suffering but he also saw their political potential.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Those are the people that could start the revolutionary spark, the socialist revolution much more than the complacent workers in Western Europe. So he looked at them, hopefully as a revolutionary subject, but he also felt deep anger over what he perceived as a historical injustice. 

NARRATOR: Now more dedicated than ever to his adopted cause, Bruno was ready for the next step.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He was brought to a typical terrorist training camp where he was taught the necessary skills for attacks, like how to handle explosives, how to build the timers, how to put everything together.

NARRATOR: After this deadly crash course, Bruno was assigned his first mission - the bombing of a target in the heart of Israel. At the time the Shalom Tower was the tallest building in the Middle East - nearly 500 feet of concrete, steel, and symbolism.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The idea of the PFLP was to bring a bomb to a department store within the Shalom Tower and Bréguet was supposed to be the person to bring the explosives to Israel. 

NARRATOR: As a westerner, Bruno would be unlikely to have any difficulty entering Israel. But on his return to Ticino from Lebanon, he discovered that he might have problems closer to home. On February 21, 1970, the same day that Bruno had left for Beirut, another Palestinian group had blown up a plane in mid-air just outside Zurich. There had been no survivors. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So it's the most deadly violent attack in the history of modern Switzerland.

NARRATOR: Bruno’s sister was aware of Bruno’s politics, and found the timing of his disappearance suspicious. She called the police.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And the police actually search his room while he's in Lebanon and they're finding sketches of airplanes, sketches that suggest attacks on airplanes.

NARRATOR: According to Adrian, it’s extremely unlikely that Bruno had anything to do with the attack in question. But understandably, the police are keen to speak to him when he comes back from Lebanon.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He's able to wish away the suspicions of the local police officers and his preparations go on. 

NARRATOR: After all, Bruno is a nice, quiet Swiss boy. Boys like him don’t plot atrocities. Sometimes, a sketch is just a sketch - isn’t it?

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He was able to also hide the fact that he was in Lebanon. 

NARRATOR: Bruno claims that he was holidaying in Rome and Naples. Lebanon? Never. Even with the police off his back, Bruno isn’t out of the woods. He still needs to secure a clean passport for his trip to Israel - a Lebanese stamp would raise alarm bells - so another preparatory trip is on the cards.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He's using a ruse. He's making a trip to Milan, is coming back, going to the local passport office and claiming that he lost his passport in Italy. 

NARRATOR: The new passport takes forever to arrive. Bruno is sure that he’s been caught. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He's getting in touch with his contacts in Beirut, with his PFLP contacts, he's telling them that he has doubts about the whole mission.

NARRATOR: But the passport arrives. His handlers calm his nerves. And Bruno Bréguet sets out on one of many fateful journeys. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: On June 23, 1970, he disembarks from there from the ferry that brought him from Italy to Haifa to the big Harbor City in Israel.

NARRATOR: It’s a warm summer’s day in Haifa, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Bruno Bréguet is dressed for the heat, blending in with the throng of tourists streaming down the gangplank to the Holy Land. A Super-8 film camera is slung around his neck. All the better to do some sightseeing.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So the Super-8camera also had a certain double function. On one hand, it was part of his disguise as a Swiss tourist visiting the Holy Land, but it also had beyond that the very concrete tool for him to actually produce or do some espionage for the PFLP as well. He was supposed to film certain facilities in Haifa. For example, the security measures at the harbor in Haifa, but also some other targets with his camera and then basically bring this material to Lebanon after the completion of his mission.

NARRATOR: Of course, this snooping was only a side-show to the main event - a dramatic explosion inside one of Tel Aviv’s most iconic landmarks, the Shalom Tower. But first, he has to get through passport control.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And when it's his turn to show the passport, things seem to be off. The officer looks at his passport, seems to note his name, makes a phone call, makes another phone call, and then he's actually - there's three three police officers who appear.

NARRATOR: The policemen take Bruno to a separate room, where they begin to search him. At first, it seems like they might be wasting their time.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: They're looking into everything. They can't find anything suspicious in his bag. They take they're looking at his camera. They can't find anything suspicious with his camera. 

NARRATOR: All clear. Unless…

ADRIAN HÄNNI: But eventually they start a body search and they find on his body a white belt in which two kilograms of explosives are hidden tightly around his upper body.

NARRATOR: Bruno’s own mother had sewn the white canvas bomb belt - he’d told her that he’d use it to carry books. But make no mistake, he had no intention of dying in the blast. Once in Tel Aviv, the explosives would be set and detonated by a timer disguised on Bruno’s person as a luxury Swiss watch.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: They find various batteries and cables that would be part of the whole bombing equipment.

NARRATOR: There’s some debate as to where Bruno actually got the equipment. Had he received it at the training camp in Lebanon? Or had he collected them in Milan, where he ‘lost’ his passport, before traveling to Haifa? Either way, it’s certainly feasible that he was able to transport them over long distances without being detected.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: There were barely any security checks in airports. Taking a plane was more like taking a train today. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The attackers that did the big attack on the El Al plane in Zurich in February 1969 also flew in their explosives and all their materials by airplane from North Africa.

NARRATOR: Explosives aside, the Israeli police officers also discover PFLP propaganda material on the young Swiss. Now, there can be no doubt in their minds about who he’s working for.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And they find all this equipment on him. And obviously he's quickly surrounded by machine guns and gets arrested.

NARRATOR: The next few days will be unpleasant for Bruno Bréguet. He’s about to learn the true cost of his radical politics.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The first couple of days after his arrest, before he's formally put into the legal system, he says that the Shin Bet, the domestic arm of the Israeli intelligence community, that they were bringing him to some prison facilities outside of Haifa where he was interrogated. Dick Cheney would say, ‘interrogated with enhanced interrogation techniques’. I guess others would use the word torture.

NARRATOR: He’s then removed to a remand prison, pre-trial, where he languishes in the cell previously occupied by Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. You can learn about his sordid history in our two-part True Spies story, Extracting Eichmann. Bruno Bréguet would not receive a civilian trial. As a foreign fighter - the first Westerner to be designated as such - he would be brought before a military court in the city of Lod, which is where this episode began. He’s sentenced to 15 years behind bars. Bruno was 20. By the time he left prison, he’d be on the cusp of middle age - and this is the good outcome. When Bruno was first brought in front of the judge, the prosecution were pushing for the death penalty. In the wake of his incarceration, a propaganda war erupts. The Israelis want to keep him in prison. He’s a useful deterrent to any other Western firebrands with big ideas about Palestine. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And the PFLP isn't any better in this regard. They're maybe not even so unhappy that Bruno gets caught there. They're having a Westerner in an Israeli prison now, and they can use this to really highlight the internationality of their struggle.

NARRATOR: The Swiss government is torn between the rights of its incarcerated citizen and the demands of the Israelis. Meanwhile, the PFLP are making their own diplomatic overtures. Bruno’s imprisonment might be good PR for now, but the headlines will, eventually, fade away. Any change in his circumstances, including his release, would breathe new life into the story. So they pick up the phone.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And then this blows up the relations between Switzerland and the Palestinians in that it leads to some secret negotiations behind the scenes that would have been almost inconceivable one or two years before. 

NARRATOR: Through their mouthpieces in the press, the PFLP makes it known that, if Bruno is not released, there will be more attacks mounted against Swiss targets. It’s no idle threat.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Switzerland was one of the first countries to be really hit hard by these Palestinian terrorist attacks. I'd mentioned two already; the one on the El Al plane on the airport of Zurich and the blow up of the Swissair plane in February 1970 near Zurich. And then in September 1970, just two months before Bruno's trial, there was another hijacking of a Swissair plane which was hijacked into the Jordanian desert and blown up there.

NARRATOR: Fearful of further carnage, the Swiss open up a diplomatic back-channel to speak to the PFLP - one of the first Western governments to do so. The talks make progress. In return for a cessation of Palestinian violence on their territory, the Swiss promise to do everything in their power to have Bruno released. It’s not an empty promise.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: When you go through the diplomatic documents in the National Archives in Bern, the Swiss diplomats were ferociously trying to get the Israelis to release Bruno from prison as quickly as possible, to find any means that he would get released. And it's also very clear, it's explicitly stated time and again in these internal documents, that the reason they're pushing the Israelis to do that is the fear of further Palestinian attacks on Switzerland. 

NARRATOR: It takes seven years for their efforts to pay off. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And when Bruno actually gets released in June 1977, exactly seven years and one day after he got arrested in the harbor of Haifa, the Swiss diplomats are clapping on the shoulder and are fully convinced that it's their intervention that secured the relatively early release compared to the sentence of Bréguet. 

NARRATOR: But perhaps there’s credit due elsewhere. Bruno’s brother, Ernesto Bréguet, had been hard at work too. He’d assembled a committee that drafted an international appeal for Bruno’s release. It was signed by a variety of heavyweight public intellectuals on the Left. The likes of Jean Paul Sartre, Noam Chomsky, Umberto Eco and Simone de Beauvoir put their heft behind the release of the man dubbed ‘the last European political prisoner in Israel’. The power of a good PR machine should never be understated.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Probably both factors were important and they reinforced each other and created a situation where Israel eventually decided that it was worth just to get rid of Bréguet at the time. 

NARRATOR: Bruno’s release, authorized by an outgoing Israeli administration with nothing much to lose in the way of bad press, brought him back to Switzerland in 1977. He’d spent his time in prison reading, debating - becoming even more deeply radicalized. He was ready to continue the fight, and enjoyed hero status among the various Leftist organizations in Zurich. But in reality, he was something of a lame duck. His name, and his face, have been widely publicized. As a clandestine operative, he’s well and truly burned.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Apparently, he was offered a position at the PLO Research Center in Beirut, which he declined because for him the only way forward is the armed clandestine struggle.

NARRATOR: While he waited for his next opportunity, Bruno kept reading, starting a degree in Arabic studies at the Free University in Berlin. And Berlin is where we’ll leave Bruno Bréguet - just for a moment. Because in reality, this is a story with two protagonists. It’s time to get to know Ilich Ramirez  Sánchez - aka Carlos the Jackal.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Carlos the Jackal was at that time in the late 1970s, already a very well known and notorious terrorist who had the similar start, so to speak, as Bréguet had.

NARRATOR: We heard that name toward the beginning of this episode. Adrian Hänni first encountered the lesser-known Bruno Bréguet while researching Carlos the Jackal - a world-famous, so-called ‘super-terrorist’. Bruno had first made contact with the PFLP by walking into the offices of Al-Hadaf magazine. A few months later, Carlos had walked the same path. But while Bruno rotted in an Israeli prison cell, Carlos had been busy.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Carlos becomes an increasingly more important figure in Wadie Haddad's European network of the PFLP.

NARRATOR: It’s June, 1975. Carlos the Jackal is in Paris, at his apartment on Rue Toullier. He’s wanted by French police for a deadly bombing in 1974, and this is where he’s lying low. For now.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: French police officers appear at the apartment where Carlos is hiding out.

NARRATOR: The officers are accompanied by a former accomplice of Carlos’s - Michel Moukharbal. The Jackal has been betrayed. He doesn’t take it well.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Carlos shoots two of these police officers, shoots his way out of the apartment and flees out of France. A very spectacular event that the French would never forget.

NARRATOR: On Rue Toullier, three men - two officers and Michel Moukharbal - lay dead. Carlos is on the run.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He's all over the European media as the so-called Superterrorist. He also gets his name. He already had the nom de guerre Carlos, which was given to him probably by the PFLP.

NARRATOR: In London, a journalist gains access to one of Carlos’ former safe houses. There, he finds a copy of Day of the Jackal, a book by Frederick Forsyth about a hitman for hire.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And from that day forward, he became known in the press as Carlos the Jackal. He becomes increasingly a larger than life figure, a mythical figure.

NARRATOR: The seeds of a 20th century myth have been sown. That reputation is cemented in December 1975. OPEC - the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries - is holding its semi-annual conference in Vienna, Austria. The Jackal storms the venue with a six-man team, taking 60 hostages. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He takes several oil ministers as hostages. He makes the Austrian government bow to his demands. He's allowed to fly out with an airplane to Algeria. They're releasing a statement on the radio that he wants to have read out. 

NARRATOR: By the time Bruno Bréguet leaves prison in 1977, Carlos the Jackal is a full-fledged terrorist boogeyman. He’s the scourge of Western nations - the Osama bin Laden of his day.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Whenever there's a terrorist attack in Europe or somewhere else that cannot be attributed to a particular group, there's rumors popping up that it must have been Carlos the Jackal. A couple of years later, Ronald Reagan would even claim that Carlos the Jackal is trying to kill him in the streets of Washington. 

NARRATOR: At some point in the late ‘70s, Carlos split with the PFLP. He formed his own far-left terror group - the Organization of International Revolutionaries, or the OIR. It was also known as ‘The Carlos Group’ after its fearsome leader.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And that group is composed of mainly people Carlos has already worked with in his years with the PFLP, but mainly also West German militants with whom he had worked on terrorist operations during his time in Paris and London.

NARRATOR: How Bruno Bréguet came to be a part of the Carlos Group is a matter for debate. But by 1980, European intelligence services were linking his name to that of the Jackal. Shortly afterward, Bruno was helping the group smuggle weapons and other materials across the Berlin Wall. It’s clear that if the PFLP no longer required his services, he was determined to fulfill his purpose elsewhere. But the Carlos Group is not the PFLP. By the 1980s, its principled veneer was already starting to wear thin. On paper, it exists to provide logistical and weapons support to left-wing terror groups in Europe and the Arab world.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So to support the world revolution, so to speak, to fight against the imperialist powers, against the US, against Israel.

NARRATOR: But the group quickly morphs into a criminal gang with revolutionary pretensions. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: It's about money and it's about sex. It's about power. Pretty soon the life of the so-called revolutionary becomes an end in itself. This flashy life and fancy hotel bars and deluxe luxury hotels in Eastern Europe, with lots of alcohol, with lots of women, always armed, always playing the cowboy and the revolutionary. 

NARRATOR: Money. Sex. Power. They’re powerful forces - powerful enough to erode the will of the most dedicated activist.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: This is really one of the big puzzles of the story of Bruno Bréguet, which really makes his story so unique as well. He would have had plenty of opportunities to be selfish and cut a deal for himself when he was in prison in Israel. Israeli security services offered him a deal repeatedly. Basically, if he would work for them, he could get out of prison fast. He never succumbed to any of these temptations. He was really the textbook case of an extremely principled, strongly principled, ideologically driven, militant or terrorist, so to speak. And he then joins - of all the groups - this group of Carlos the Jackal, which pretty quickly turns into a quite cynical enterprise. To a large degree, the story of Bruno Bréguet is a story of lost ideals. 

NARRATOR: At the start of the 1980s, Bruno Bréguet finds himself on the path toward the ultimate betrayal of his younger self. Toward the CIA. But that’s another story. Next time on True Spies, we enter the world of ‘wet work’ behind the Iron Curtain.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So there were a couple of forms of very active support that Romania was willing to give to the Carlos Group. And as a quid pro quo, the Carlos group committed to do some dirty jobs for the Romanians.

NARRATOR: The Carlos Group returns to Paris.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The goal of the operation is simply to extort money off an Arab country.

NARRATOR: And Bruno Bréguet’s loyalty is tested once more.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Bruno is running away, just off the Champs Elysee and eventually, police are closing in and he turns around. He draws his gun. He wants to shoot the police officer who is closest to him.

NARRATOR: That’s next time, on True Spies.

Guest Bio

Dr. Adrian Hänni is a political historian who focuses on the contemporary history of intelligence, propaganda, and political violence. With an academic background in history, economics, and philosophy, as well as capabilities in seven languages, Hänni brings a global, interdisciplinary perspective to his body of work that connects the recent past with the present.

No items found.
No items found.