Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts about a club of intelligence services representing small countries.
During one of my briefings with Prince Albert of Monaco as his intelligence chief, I proposed my vision to engage the intelligence services of micro-Europe — Monaco, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Andorra, San Marino, and Malta — into an intelligence club, an association of services that would share information on bad actors and create a cooperative/ combined shield.
The prince already held a soft spot in his heart for micro-European countries evidenced by the high regard and courtesy he extended them during his investiture in July 2005. They were treated with the same dignity as large powerful countries. So it was no surprise that Albert gave this idea his full backing and authorized me to proceed.
I brought this up with senior Italian intelligence officials because I hoped they would help organize introductions to their counterparts in San Marino and the Vatican. Foreign intelligence chief Albert Manenti was not only supportive but offered to personally introduce me to the director of the Vatican’s intelligence unit. He thought Liechtenstein would be the most difficult to crack, but I’d already made a breakthrough with that principality tucked between Switzerland and Austria.
Indeed, when I had the opportunity to meet Rene Brulhart, director of Liechtenstein’s Financial Intelligence Unit, Rene wholeheartedly welcomed this idea. Liechtenstein, he told me, had no meaningful contact with Monaco so he was happy just to be in contact with us. It would be amazing, he agreed, if we could extend this concept to the other microstates.
In Washington D.C., soon after I met with recently retired CIA senior officers (including Tyler Drumheller, formerly European division chief) and broached with them my micro-Europe intelligence club concept. They thought it was brilliant and provided me with a senior contact in Luxembourg’s intelligence service.
Enter Frank Schneider, Luxembourg’s foreign intelligence chief, who traveled to Monaco and described his service to me. I immediately grasped that Luxembourg was the model to which we in Monaco should aspire — a streamlined, non-bureaucratic old-fashioned spy service that truly operated under the radar screen.
Over steak and frites in Le Beefbar, Frank showed great enthusiasm for an association of micro-Europe intelligence services and vowed to get the ball rolling with his counterpart in Malta. The Luxembourg service, he added, had no contact with Liechtenstein, Andorra and San Marino yet would relish establishing such relationships.
A couple weeks later Mr. Schneider greeted me at Luxembourg airport and checked me into Hotel Parc Beaux Arts in the old town around which we toured on foot.
Over mugs of the world’s finest hot chocolate in Oberweis, Frank told me that his chief had already discussed with Malta my idea of a micro-Europe intelligence association and the Maltese were receptive. We also talked about including Iceland, whose police intelligence unit had no club of their own and had been excluded from the Club of Berne, Europe’s intelligence association.
That evening Frank and his chief Marco Mille hosted me at Cercle Munster, a private bankers dining club. He too was highly enthusiastic about a micro-Europe association.
“We thought of this,” said Marco, “but didn’t have the contacts.” Marco and Frank made an excellent team, Marco a sophisticate to Frank’s everyman.
Through dinner — asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and smoked ham followed by filet of sole on a bed of peppers followed by a selection of gooey French cheese — we enjoyed a substantive discussion on how to proceed.
Luxembourg was extremely gracious in their willingness to open doors for us into other intelligence services for liaison partnerships. Though after retiring to the library for single malt whisky and cigars, I wasn’t sure my heart and liver would survive many more liaison relationships.
Marco offered to introduce me to anyone in the world of intelligence whom we needed to know. This was significant as he was extremely well liked within Europe’s intelligence community and, significantly, the Club of Berne’s current chairman.
“Talk to everyone,” he counseled.
I knew I had created a very special relationship, perhaps our most important, not least because this impressive service had offered us their country as an operational playground for sensitive meetings and logistical support.
MICRO VERSUS MACRO
A month later I flew to Rome. A SISMI officer met me at the airport and whisked me to lunch with Alberto Manenti after which Alberto accompanied me to the Vatican to meet Dr. Domenico Giani, director of Gendarmeria Vigilanti di Vatican, which he described as the Pope’s “intelligence group.”
Dr. Giani told me he had been appointed by the pope one month earlier to oversee all security and intelligence and to brief His Holiness personally.
I made my pitch for the Vatican to join the micro-Europe intelligence association that we in Monaco and Luxembourg had created. Dr. Giani was quick to give us his blessing for our club but could not understand why I thought the Vatican (the world’s smallest country at 0.2 square miles) was a microstate. As far as Dr. Giani was concerned, the Vatican was a macro-state with global reach. (Later, Alberto joked all priests are case officers, all parishioners are agents; all confessions noted, cross-indexed and filed away…)
Nonetheless, Dr. Giani asked that I send him an invitation when we had a date for our first meeting.
A UNITED SHIELD
Our first ad-hoc meeting of the Micro-Europe Intelligence Association took place in July, lunch in the open air at Quai des Artistes with representatives from Monaco, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. Over a bottle of cold Pouilly Fume we agreed some basic club rules:
— Nobody wears ties.
— We eat gourmet food and drink fine wine.
— At the earliest opportunity, we purchase a yacht as association headquarters with funds confiscated from arms-dealing money launderers (and when threatened by fire bombers, we pull anchor and cruise away).
Jocularity aside, we had good reason to band together. First, there was cooperation and a united shield against shady characters wanting to park dirty money in our neighborhoods.
As a collective, we could alert one another so that when a dirty client got turned away from Monaco and aimed himself toward Luxembourg or Liechtenstein, they’d be watching for him.
Luxembourg offered to host our first formal meeting to which we would invite Malta’s intelligence service. Marco, as its host, would follow up on my contact with Domenico Giani at the Vatican and invite him too. And I would drive to Andorra presently and determine the disposition of that microstate’s representatives for attending an October confab.
Iceland and Cyprus would be kept in abeyance for when we were better organized. SISMI had already offered to help with San Marino. I’d wait to see how that played out.
Following lunch, we boarded the boat belonging to my deputy and cruised Villefranche and Cap-Ferrat.
Clair George, the former CIA spymaster, phoned me late afternoon checking to see if I was still alive.
It was a fair question considering when I had visited Rome four months earlier Alberto Manenti told me his service had been taking bets NOT on whether I’d make it through the year but on WHO would eliminate me.
These were their odds:
Russian government: 20-1.
Corsican terrorists (my ASM football enquiries): 15-1.
French Freemasons: 10-1.
Italian organized crime (“The Organization”): 5-1.
Russian organized crime: 4-1.
French government: 3-1.
Monegasque establishment (“The Clan”): 2-1.
THROUGH UNITY COMES STRENGTH
The day after our micro-Europe luncheon, I briefed Prince Albert on our progress, recounting my experience at the Vatican, where I’d discovered they were a macro-state, and I informed the prince I would visit Andorra that week and try to enlist into our club that principality tucked into the Pyrenees between France and Spain.
Andorra, I soon discovered, was an odd little place, more of a duty-free shopping center than a country — a consumer paradise staffed by dark and ugly misshapen natives. Even the hotel — said to be Andorra’s finest — was creepy and surreal and its employees scarce and unfriendly. But I needed to see these microstates up close.
At 10 o’clock the next morning, I appeared at a small office in Prat de la Creu, Unit No. 402. Jordi Pons Lluelles, their one-man Financial Intelligence Unit, greeted me, and I made my pitch. Mr. Lluelles seemed to grasp my position — chief of the unofficial Monaco intelligence service, responsible to the prince — and seemed to grasp the concept — micro-European states band together to fight money laundering as a united group. I used Andorra’s own motto — “Through unity comes strength” — to clarify and justify what we were attempting to achieve.
Andorra’s banking business, Mr. Lluelles explained, derived from Spain and South America — the safe haven in Europe where Spanish speakers (read: drug cartels from Colombia) launder and/or park their revenues. Russians, said Mr. Lluelles, had not yet discovered Andorra. He smiled a lot and pronounced this a good idea and agreed to attend our kick-off con-fab in Luxembourg come October.
But Andorra’s presence was not to be.
Monaco Police Chief Andre Muhlberger soon provided me with a fascinating tidbit on Andorra that helped explain this: Andorra was not interested in cleaning up their money-laundering problem because for them it was NOT a problem. Because, according to Chief Muhlberger, the sister of Andorra’s interior minister was connected to a big-time Andorra-based money launderer.
Andorra was simply not interested in an association that might cramp the style of a money spinner from which higher circles had been profiting for decades.
CLUB OF LUXEMBOURG
When my Luxair flight landed at 4:40 p.m., Frank Schneider stood on the tarmac to greet me, grab my luggage directly from the hold and speed me through the VIP lounge to the Hotel Beaux Arts.
That evening the Club of Luxembourg (named as such for the purposes of our first meeting) kicked off to a flying start over a long sumptuous dinner in Le Bouquet Garni-St. Michel hosted by Lux intel chief Marco Mille.
Godfrey S, chief of Malta’s intelligence service, graced us with his presence despite a disdain for foreign travel and brought with him his operations chief. Godfrey listened to everything, spoke little and observed everyone with eyes black as oil. Of all the intelligence chiefs I’d met, Godfrey won the award for the longest eye-grip. He could go a full minute before turning his gaze away from my own eyes.
Rene Brulhart of Liechtenstein completed the circle.
Our club meeting that morning took place at a government conference center called Chateau de Senningen. (“Once we get people to Senningen,” joked Marco, “no one is allowed to leave until the problem is solved.”)
We began — around a large conference table — with presentations of our services.
Luxembourg put on a slide show the first image of which was a donkey in the air and the cart it led overturned.
“This is the problem,” intoned Marco Mille, keeping a straight face.
After my own presentation on the genesis of Monaco’s intelligence service, Marco provided words of support, adding that our joint operations had been working out very well.
Iceland: We all agreed Iceland should be invited and that perhaps we should be a club of Europe’s “small countries” rather than microstates. “The Misfits.”
San Marino: All agreed that San Marino should be contacted, cultivated and invited. I offered to handle this myself, expecting SISMI to provide an introduction even though they kept putting me off by saying the time was not yet right.
We agreed our club should meet three times a year; that Monaco would host the next meeting in five months hence and call it the Club of Monaco on that occasion with a view to creating a permanent name thereafter.
One participant felt that when the services of large countries learned about our club they would ridicule it, “but then they’ll become curious.”
The point we would make to them, said another participant, is that we stand together against criticism about money laundering from the large countries and turn it around on them: “We’re all working together effectively. What are YOU doing about money laundering?” (We already knew that most dirty money was laundered through London and New York City.)
We agreed that our association should be based upon human chemistry; that though we would cultivate the “misfit” countries to join, we must like the service chiefs involved as a pre-condition of inclusion and same for their successors.
The key to our success we all agreed was to be asymmetrical and quirky. If anyone from other services should ask about our club, we would tongue-in-cheek explain it as a wine appreciation society. And, in fact, that evening we drove en masse to Ehnen, a village in Luxembourg’s wine-producing region, for wine tasting at the Linden-Heinisch vineyard: Riesling, pino gris and pinot noir. This — the enjoyment of fine wine— would become a running theme as our club evolved.
NEXT WEEK: More on the club.
Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.