Dancing With Jackals, Part 2: The Vanishing of Bruno Bréguet

Dancing With Jackals, Part 2: The Vanishing of Bruno Bréguet

It's the 1980s, and Bruno Breguet is one of international super-terrorist Carlos the Jackal's most trusted operatives. But in a paranoid world of violence and subterfuge, what is loyalty really worth? 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 2, the strength of Breguet's revolutionary ideals come up against the mercenary reality of the Jackal's world - and is found wanting. Gunplay in Paris, a lavish semi-retirement in Syria and an unlikely new paymaster pave the road to a final, deadly riddle.
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True Spies, Episode 174 - Dancing With Jackals, Part 2: The Vanishing of Bruno Bréguet

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: Bruno knows what Carlos does with people he considers traitors. After all, we know Carlos shot two members of the group in the 1980s that he suspected to have betrayed him.

NARRATOR: Dancing With Jackals, Part Two: The Vanishing of Bruno Bréguet. It’s February 21, 1981 and the Munich offices of Radio Free Europe are humming with quiet industry. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Radio Free Europe, the propaganda radio of the US, supported by the CIA in its early times, sent propaganda to the different Socialist dictatorships in Eastern Europe.

NARRATOR: It’s a Saturday morning, just before 10 am. As always, the station’s message of freedom and democracy is beaming through the Iron Curtain under the noses of some of Europe’s most repressive governments. In an instant, the blast reduces the eastern wall of the Radio Free Europe building to rubble. Twenty kilograms of plastic explosive unleash a shockwave that shatters windows across the neighborhood. Several people are injured. One woman is permanently disfigured.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Very fortunately [there were] no fatalities. No deaths to mourn. It's a horrible attack, nevertheless. And it becomes clear from now-accessible archival documents in Romania, in Hungary, in the former Stasi archives, it was Bruno Bréguet who set off the bomb.

NARRATOR: Bruno Bréguet, a committed Marxist, was once a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - a left-wing terror group responsible for a series of attacks on Israeli allies in Western Europe. In the last episode of True Spies, intelligence historian Adrian Hänni told the story of Bruno’s journey from the bucolic Swiss canton of Ticino to an Israeli prison cell. In 1970, at the age of 20, he was caught with explosives on his way to bomb a high-profile target in Tel Aviv on behalf of the PFLP. But after his release, seven years later, Bruno fell in with a new crowd: the Organization of International Revolutionaries.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The idea of the group is to work as a relay station and support logistically and with weapons, different left-wing terrorist groups all over the continent, all over Europe, and also in the Arab world. So to support the world revolution, so to speak.

NARRATOR: The organization is led by Ilich Ramírez Sánchez - the so-called ‘superterrorist’ known to most as ‘Carlos the Jackal’. Western governments believe that he’s a tool of the Communist KGB. His supporters believe that he’s a freedom fighter. Both, as Adrian Hänni will attest, are wrong.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Pretty soon the life of the so-called revolutionary becomes an end in itself.

NARRATOR: In this episode of True Spies, we’ll trace Bruno’s life alongside the Jackal - right up to the moment of his ultimate betrayal. By the start of the 1980s, the organization is becoming an altogether more cynical enterprise. Its members, including Bruno Bréguet, develop a taste for money, sex, [and] power. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Very far away from these ideals that Bruno Bréguet adhered to in the 1970s. 

NARRATOR: Expensive tastes require generous paychecks. And the Carlos Group, as the OIR is often dubbed, had the dangerous reputation that tends to lubricate business relationships. Most countries in the so-called Eastern Bloc tolerated the group without actively working with them. Their passive support - allowing Carlos to use bases on their territory, and facilitating transit into Western Europe - was invaluable to the Carlos Group. But there’s always someone willing to go that extra mile.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: There was only one country where there was an operational relationship.

NARRATOR: That country was Romania. In the early ‘80s, it was ruled with an iron fist by communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And these contacts started to develop relatively early 1979, 1980. 

NARRATOR: The Romanians furnished the Carlos Group with all the special things an international terrorist’s heart might desire. Rocket-propelled grenade launchers. High explosives. Firearms. Training.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Most importantly they gave them very professionally forged passports, Western passports, Austrian, Swiss, and West German. 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 doing some dirty jobs for the Romanians. 

NARRATOR: The Carlos Group essentially became killers for hire with a communist dictatorship as their most loyal client.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: One contract or one operation that they did was that they started sending parcel bombs to Romanian dissidents in Western Europe. One of them was fatally wounded by one of these parcel bombs.

NARRATOR: This parcel-bombing campaign took place in early February 1981. Later that same month, the Carlos Group and Bruno Bréguet would strike in Munich.

NARRATOR: Radio Free Europe had been a constant thorn in the side of the Romanian dictatorship.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: It was one of the very few sources of information the Romanians couldn't control, which had a big audience in Romania at the time and was perceived as quite a threat by the Romanian government.

NARRATOR: Before the dust has settled at the radio station, the Carlos Group are on their way out of Munich. Bruno Bréguet, the man with his finger on the button, travels first from Munich to Nuremberg, Bavaria’s second city. At Nuremberg, he boards a train that began its journey in Zurich and is on its way to West Berlin. On that train, another Carlos operative hands Bréguet a new ticket bought in Switzerland.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So after that, he's in possession of a ticket proving that he boarded the train in Zurich and came from there to Berlin and accordingly couldn't have been in Munich at the time of the attack.

NARRATOR: In Berlin, Bruno is given a forged passport courtesy of the Romanian forgers. And he’s on his way back to base. Operation Munich Tango, as it’s referred to internally, has been a success. While the injured begin their long recoveries, the Carlos Group has already moved on. When Bruno Bréguet became a father a year later, in 1981, he was still attached to the notion that he was serving a higher purpose - revolution. The attack on Radio Free Europe had, to his mind, been a strike against an American imperialist mouthpiece. Fully justifiable. But their next operation shows us how thin that pretense of morality was wearing.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: This brings us to early 1982 when Bruno is sent to Paris by Carlos, together with Carlos' then-girlfriend and later wife, Magdalena Kopp. And that mission is, I think, emblematic of the Carlos Group degenerating into something very self-serving and cynical, far removed from the ideals they set out to reach.

NARRATOR: Paris was familiar territory for the Carlos Group. In the mid-’70s, Carlos himself had caused an uproar when he killed two policemen who were attempting to arrest him on the Rue Toullier. He’d escaped, but the French government was still itching for an opportunity to bring him in. Perhaps this is why it was Bruno Bréguet and Magdalena Kopp who were deployed to the French capital in the early months of 1982, while Carlos remained safely behind the Iron Curtain. Their mission?

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

NARRATOR: Extort how? You might ask. Step 1: Bomb the embassy of a rich Arab country - either the UAE or Kuwait. Step 2: Claim responsibility. Step 3: Promise that you won’t do it again - as long you keep getting paid.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So it's a simple money extortion scheme.

NARRATOR: In other words, a protection racket. The open venality of the operation - on an Arab target no less - raised eyebrows even among Carlos’ camp. Remember, most of the Carlos Group come from a leftist, pro-Arab background. Nonetheless, the mission went ahead with assistance from operatives of ETA - a Basque separatist group who had also played a role in the Radio Free Europe bombing - the stage was set for a show-stopping act of terror.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: They’re having everything in place in Paris. There's a car for the car bomb. The explosives are there. But briefly, before the attack is supposed to happen, they're raising suspicion when they're taking the car out of a garage in the middle of Paris, just off the Champs Elysees

NARRATOR: On February 16, 1982 - the day before the planned attack - Bruno and Magdalena are loading explosives into a green Peugeot 504. Their contacts have provided them with the car keys, the car itself, and nothing else. Nothing non-lethal, anyway. So when two parking attendants ask to see their papers - or even a parking ticket - they’re unable to produce anything. The pair are marched into an office, where the attendants threaten to call the police if they don't identify themselves. Arrest is not an option. They run.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The police are coming in. They're trying to flee. Bruno is running away just off the Champs Elysees. 

NARRATOR: Magdalena is the first to go down, tackled to the floor by police. But Bruno’s still on his feet, racing down the Avenue des Champs Elysees. But he’s just one man, and the gendarmes are hot on his heels. He’s desperate.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Eventually, police are closing in and he turns around; he draws his gun. He wants to shoot the police officer who’s closest to him.

NARRATOR: In moments like this, time slows down. Bruno can see the whites of the policeman’s eyes as he brings his pistol level. The gendarmes eyes widened. Bruno pulls the trigger.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: But fortunately, his gun is not working, and the next time he knows he's being on the ground and arrested. 

NARRATOR: For Bruno, the operation is over. Five years after the end of his incarceration in Israel, he’s jailed again, awaiting trial. Just as in Munich, a year earlier, only blind luck - or the lack of it, from his perspective - has prevented him from committing a direct act of murder. It’s certainly not for lack of trying. Bruno Bréguet was sentenced in April 1982.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He gets a relatively mild sentence this time, it's the opposite experience from Israel. 

NARRATOR: Bruno gets five years, Magdalena four. Pretty easygoing, considering the carnage the pair were ready to unleash on behalf of Carlos. And if you’re wondering why the sentences were so light, then you’ll need to look no further than the Jackal himself.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The reason the French justice system is relatively mild on Bruno Bréguet this time is that after his arrest and before the trial, Carlos the Jackal becomes active. 

NARRATOR: Shortly after the pair are arrested, Carlos writes to the French Minister of the Interior demanding their release within 30 days. The letter reads: We are not at war with Socialist France. I ask you, with all sincerity, not to force us to carry one out. And that might have been that. Carlos’s deadly reputation could have swung it for the imprisoned terrorists.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Unfortunately for him, the letter gets leaked by some figures within the French government who are not happy with any secret understanding with Carlos the Jackal. 

NARRATOR: Now that word of the secret communique was out, the French government couldn’t be seen to be negotiating with terrorists. And so, the trial went ahead. By keeping the sentences light, the French government hoped to appease Carlos to some degree. It didn’t work. Carlos went to war.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The Carlos organization tries everything to get their two soldiers out of the French jail. They're setting different lines of action into motion. On one hand, they're unleashing a string of brutal and increasingly random terrorist attacks in France on trains, but also on diplomatic missions in the Middle East, and other French targets in Europe, for example, the French cultural center in West Berlin in summer 1983. So a large wave of brutal random terrorist attacks that are largely targeting civilians.

NARRATOR: In his self-righteous fury, Carlos the Jackal fails to recognize that his actions are having a degenerative effect on his organization.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: At this point, they are creating violence just to get their operatives out of prison. It's just a vendetta of the Jackal who wants revenge against France, who had the audacity to imprison his girlfriend and his soldier.

NARRATOR: It had not taken long for the Carlos Group to become cynical. Now, the last flakes of revolutionary artifice were falling away, and many of the group’s supporters began to see it for what it was. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: They start to turn away because they're no longer supporting this random violence against civilians with no clear political purpose. 

NARRATOR: By anyone’s measure, these were the actions of a mafioso, not a freedom fighter. And the violence is having little effect.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So the actions don't lead to the liberation of the operatives. They're trying other ways as well. They're still having some indirect contact with certain members of the French government who are seemingly more open to finding a compromise before there are too many French civilians dead. But these negotiations also lead to nowhere before they're even getting serious.

NARRATOR: A number of break-out attempts are also floated, including one in which a bribed guard would smuggle Bruno out of the prison through a sewer. But the Swiss terrorist refused. He saw himself as a hostage of the French government and when he got out, he intended to take his bloody revenge on France.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He wants to serve his time and then present the French state with the bill afterward. 

NARRATOR: And while public support for Carlos is waning, so too is his sway with the repressive governments of Eastern Europe - with the exception of the Romanians, with whom the group enjoys an especially close relationship - the Eastern Bloc is becoming a decidedly chilly place for the international superterrorists.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The other Eastern European countries, they were from the beginning actually not really warm and not happy with the presence of Carlos, but they tolerated him. And now when Carlos is doing these random, violent, bloody attacks in France and also in West Berlin, it becomes all too much and they're starting to have to tell Carlos, these people, to leave.

NARRATOR: First, in 1982, the Group relocates from their base in Hungary to Bucharest, the Romanian capital - their last safe haven. But the changing attitude of the Eastern Bloc isn’t the only pressure being placed on the group. Around 1983, the American CIA begins to take a serious interest in the Organization of International Revolutionaries.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The Americans learn a great deal about the Carlos Group presence in Eastern Europe in 1983 and 1984 because there is a defector from the Carlos Group who gets arrested in Switzerland, of all countries, for some immigration offenses and then reveals that he has been a member of the Carlos Group and makes a deal with the Swiss authorities to tell them everything he knows about the Carlos Group in return for the right to get asylum in Switzerland. 

NARRATOR: The Swiss government shares the defector’s intel with the CIA. The Americans put pressure on the Eastern Bloc to get rid of the Carlos Group. As it turns out, this is the headache that these relatively weak European countries don’t need.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: As a result, in the middle of the 1980s, Carlos is being driven out of Eastern Europe. One country after the other closes the doors for good. Now they kick him out. And in 1985, he has to retreat out of Europe and into Damascus, into Syria.

NARRATOR: Ever since Carlos the Jackal formed the Organization of International Revolutionaries in the late 1970s, the Syrian government had been a key ally. In Damascus, the group lives a life of luxury.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: In my interpretation at least - some people might disagree and Carlos probably would disagree - the group loses every political purpose whatsoever they still had at all. They're a mix of terrorists in retirement, living the good life in the Syrian capital in the nicest hotels and restaurants. They're trying to do a lot of business. They're brokering deals. But it's very difficult to see anything political at this point. It's self-serving. It's to generate the money to maintain the lifestyle in Damascus. They're more or less criminal actions that they're engaged in.

NARRATOR: When Bruno is released from French prison in 1985, he resumes contact with the Carlos Group. Although he legally lives in Switzerland, he often travels to Damascus for months at a time.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He brings logistical support. He brings equipment for a passport forgery room in Damascus. He brings Western equipment for break-ins to Damascus. It's at this point, it's largely a criminal enterprise. It would fall more into organized crime than into anything political or terrorist.

NARRATOR: But, as the saying goes, more money, more problems. And by 1990, a rift was forming between Bruno Bréguet and Carlos the Jackal. It all began with what was supposed to be one last job.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The last business of the Carlos Group, they extort some ransom from a very, very rich Arab businessman, a Syrian-born Saudi weapons dealer.

NARRATOR: The mission had started life as a hit. An elderly, terminally-ill arms dealer was married to the daughter of a Syrian defense minister. But under Syrian law, when the old man died, his vast riches would go to his eldest son - not his widow. For a healthy fee, the Carlos Group had been tasked, by the defense minister, with killing the son of the arms dealer, ensuring that his massive inheritance would fall instead to the widow-in-waiting. But the defense minister got cold feet. The operation was downgraded to a kidnap and ransom job. In the end, the Carlos Group barely had to lift a finger. A threatening letter from the Jackal himself was enough to make the arms dealer’s son part with an enormous sum of money. The group received a healthy commission of 10m Swiss francs - around $12m at the time. Bruno Bréguet had played a crucial role in the initial phases of the operation’s aftermath; Carlos the Jackal believed he had reason to mistrust the Swiss radical.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He allegedly hides from Carlos that some of the other people that he involved in the scheme have an Israeli passport. Of course for Carlos, that is an absolute no-go. 

NARRATOR: Carlos is a pro-Palestine extremist. He will never willingly work with an Israeli.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Carlos then apparently starts to mistrust Bruno. It's unclear whether that's actually the case or how much he mistrusts him, but the perception is there. And Bruno knows what Carlos does with people he considers traitors. After all, we know Carlos shot two members of the group, or at least affiliates, people who were supporters of the group in the 1980s that he suspected to have betrayed him.

NARRATOR: And so, fearful for his safety - and possibly motivated by other factors - Bruno Bréguet begins the process of quietly cutting ties with Carlos the Jackal. By now, it’s 1991 - and the world is changing around them. Changing in ways that will lead both men to their ultimate fates. In 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled an end to the Cold War order. The USSR, which had sponsored a number of progressive Arab states, was crumbling. Syria looked for new alliances. It found one in the US, even going so far as to support the Americans in the first Gulf War.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So there's a change in Syrian foreign policy. Apparently, the Americans also ask the Syrian government to get rid of Carlos. 

NARRATOR: The Syrians oblige. In September of ‘91, the Carlos Group was ejected from Syria. Despite the mistrust between them, the Jackal calls on Bruno Bréguet, his man in Switzerland.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: They're asking him to help them plan their departure from Syria, to help them find new hideouts. Bréguet at that time refuses to go back to Damascus but he agrees to stay in touch with them and help them from Europe. 

NARRATOR: It’s touching, really, that Bruno still felt enough comradeship with the Jackal to help him in his time of need. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And at the same time, he obviously works for the CIA and he's telling the CIA everything he knows. 

NARRATOR: Or not, then. So, how does Bruno Bréguet, of all people, wind up working for the CIA?

ADRIAN HÄNNI: What we know for sure is he walks into an American Embassy and offers himself up to work as an agent for the CIA. 

NARRATOR: The discovery of Bruno Bréguet’s relationship with the CIA is recent. Adrian Hänni, our guide for these episodes, is the first researcher to go public with his findings with the connection. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: It's not entirely clear when he starts working, when he becomes a CIA agent, but we know that at least in early 1991, he's acting as an agent for American foreign intelligence. 

NARRATOR: From declassified CIA documents, we know that Bruno was given a codename: FDBONUS/1. He was paid $3,000 a month - a little over $7,000 in today’s money. In return, from a hotel room in the Swiss capital of Bern, he gave the Agency reams of information on the Carlos Group - names, safehouses, weapons caches - details that would have taken hundreds of man-hours to unearth without him. And most importantly…

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He tries to find out where they are. He tries to trace them and helps the CIA to trace them.

NARRATOR: So, we know the ‘how’ of Bruno’s betrayal but what about the ‘why’? Only a decade earlier, Bruno Bréguet had blown a hole in Radio Free Europe - considered by many to be a CIA mouthpiece. In all his years in prison, in Israel, and France, he’d never talked - even when it might have saved his skin. So what possessed him to switch sides?

ADRIAN HÄNNI: To a large degree, the story of Bruno Bréguet is a story of lost ideals. 

NARRATOR: Like so many things about Bruno Bréguet, the exact cause for his defection is unclear. It’s most likely a combination of factors. At 40 years old, it’s quite possible that Bruno was tired of the revolutionary lifestyle. He wouldn’t be the first young idealist to find that money and stability become more appealing than radical politics as they approach middle age. It’s also possible that, as one of the only senior Carlos Group members to live outside the fast-living Damascus bubble, he had a greater awareness of the way the world was changing - and that the Organization of International Revolutionaries was on borrowed time. And that was at least partly down to Bruno himself.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So in late 1993, early 1994, the CIA ramps up its efforts to capture Carlos once and for all. They're trying to locate him and figure out his whereabouts.

NARRATOR: Thanks to Bruno, the CIA knows that Carlos the Jackal uses couriers to stay in contact with his remaining associates in Europe and the Arab world. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So he's not traveling himself. He doesn't have the people come to him. This is considered way too dangerous. He keeps it a very close kept secret to only one or two other people what his whereabouts are. You may remember that also with the location of Osama bin Laden, the tracking of one of his couriers played an important role. 

NARRATOR: For more on that story, you can check out our three-part True Spies mini-series on the rise and fall of bin Laden - The Bin Laden Files. In the case of Carlos the Jackal, the CIA needs a high-quality photograph of one of the infamous terrorist’s main couriers - codenamed ‘Roger’. Roger’s existence is well-known, but nobody in the CIA knows what he looks like. Once they do, they’ll be able to follow him to Carlos - wherever he’s hiding.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: So this photo can be distributed to the different CIA teams, CIA stations in the Middle East and beyond, and hopefully allow them to spot Carlos.

NARRATOR: The Agency decides to use Bruno to get Roger ready for his close-up.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Bruno is regularly meeting that courier in Switzerland to extract as much intelligence as possible from him. And this time in early 1994, they're supposed to lure him to Zurich. He's supposed to meet him right off the Zurich railway station in a nice restaurant on the main square, outside of the train station. He's supposed to inform his CIA contacts if that meeting happens with some previously discussed code words. 

NARRATOR: The meeting goes ahead as planned. Bruno is with the courier. Now a meticulously choreographed operation springs into action. The two men leave the first restaurant, and walk down Bahnhofstrasse - one of the world’s most exclusive shopping avenues. After their stroll, they duck into another fancy eaterie. Bruno maneuvers Roger to a seat near the window.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Because that's exactly the place where they have identified that the light situation would be best for a great photo. 

NARRATOR: The CIA has done its homework. Discreetly, another operative stationed in the restaurant takes the shot. It’s unclear exactly how things progress from here. But we do know this: the CIA’s station in Sudan uses a photo to identify and trace the courier. They follow him to Carlos the Jackal’s base in the North African nation.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: It's unclear whether that is the photo that has been done in Zurich or whether it's a photo that perhaps has been made in another effort somewhere else. It's obviously conceivable that the CIA didn't put all eggs in one basket and also was shooting photos or trying to shoot photos elsewhere as well. But it seems to have been one of these photos at least that was the decisive link to tracing the Jackal in Sudan.

NARRATOR: In 1970, just a few months after Bruno Bréguet, Carlos the Jackal had traveled to Lebanon and joined the armed Palestinian cause. Now, after 24 years, his reign of terror was at an end - possibly at the hands of one of his most trusted lieutenants.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Eventually the CIA informs the French about the locations, about the whereabouts of Carlos, and he is eventually put into French hands by the Sudanese regime in August 1994 and delivered back to Paris by plane.

NARRATOR: Today, Carlos the Jackal is still in prison, where he’s serving three life sentences for his crimes against France. He still sees himself as a revolutionary. In reality, he probably has more in common with his namesake - the titular hitman of Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal. But Bruno Bréguet’s story has no neat ending. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The circumstances of his disappearance are very mysterious. And of course, the story is so full of mysteries and riddles, it has to end with one.

NARRATOR: By the summer of 1995, there are still hints that Bruno was collaborating with the CIA but something had changed.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He is back in Switzerland for a final time in the summer. He meets some of his long-time friends and associates in southern Switzerland in the summer of 1995. [With] one of his very close friends, he takes on a long walk. He tells him that he has made a fateful decision and that he doesn't know whom he can turn to anymore and that he's afraid that there might be consequences.

NARRATOR: Could this ‘fateful decision’ have been to cut ties with the Agency? A few weeks earlier, in May ‘95, John Deutch was appointed as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He starts cleaning up the house a little bit from the Cold War days. He orders some of the old agents to be let off that have a dubious past. 

NARRATOR: At this point, the CIA is reeling from the revelation of a high-ranking mole in their midst - Aldrich Ames. The Agency has an image problem - a problem that employing people like Bruno Bréguet will do nothing to improve.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Some people in Congress demand the dissolution or the end or the reorganization of the CIA. Bruno may have been considered a liability as an agent at that point. But it's also conceivable that Bruno no longer wanted to play the game with the CIA, that he wanted to retreat.

NARRATOR: Bruno had recently acquired a house in Greece on the Ionian coast, a place to put the past behind him and to spend time with his young family. But whatever his standing with the CIA, there are other threats to this peaceful new existence. In the wake of the German reunification, the archives of the Stasi - the feared East German intelligence agency - are finally cracked open. New evidence from those archives implicates Bruno Bréguet in the Radio Free Europe bombing in Munich back in ‘81.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: The German and the Swiss authorities discuss [at] great lengths in summer 1995 how they want to close in on him, whether they want to arrest him or just question him, who should do it, how it should be done. 

NARRATOR: But in Greece, Bruno is out of their reach. For now. On November 10, 1995, Bruno Bréguet and his family boarded a ferry from the Greek port of Igoumenitsa bound for Italy. They’re planning to visit family in Ticino. After arriving at the port of Ancona, his family was allowed to disembark. 

ADRIAN HÄNNI: And when they want to disembark, the Italian police tell them that Bréguet's persona non grata that he cannot enter Italy. They decide that the girlfriend and the daughter are moving on to Switzerland.

NARRATOR: The ferry turns around, and heads back to Greece with Bruno on board.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He's being seen on board. He has to give his passport to the captain. And the passport is locked away. Several passengers see him requesting his passport back the next night from some steward. He's not being granted that. And the next morning the captain claims to have seen him on board as well. 

NARRATOR: When the ferry arrives in Igoumenitsa, Bruno is gone.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: He disappeared and he has never been seen since.

NARRATOR: What became of Bruno Bréguet? There are several theories. Perhaps, fearing his imminent arrest, he escaped and started a new life elsewhere. In the epilogue of a movie, we might catch a glimpse of him many years later, aged, but still handsome, drinking a strong black coffee by the ocean. Or perhaps we’d find him in the bowels of some remote Greek prison - destined to languish there forever, lest he embarrass the CIA. But this is real life. And the simplest answer is often the most likely to be true.

ADRIAN HÄNNI: Unfortunately, I think that he became the victim of a revenge killing. He obviously had betrayed not just the Carlos Group, but he had also spied on Greek terrorists and potentially some others. He was also involved in the 1980s, seen in certain questionable and at times probably criminal schemes as well, which probably also made him some potentially powerful enemies.

NARRATOR: We may never know what happened to Bruno Bréguet. What truly motivated him during his time with the Carlos Group or in those final days by the Ionian Sea? Unlike the frenzied mythmaking of Carlos the Jackal, his story is a patchwork of assumption, conjecture, and mystery. And all the more compelling for it. I’m Daisy Ridley. This was a heavily condensed version of Bruno Bréguet’s extraordinary story. For the full account of what we know - and a full cast of intriguing characters - pick up a copy of Bruno Bréguet: Terrorist and CIA Agent by Adrian Hänni. Soon to be available in English. Next time on True Spies, we’ll meet the Nazi who worked with the CIA to establish West Germany’s post-war intelligence service.

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.

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