Take a good look at this photo. It was taken at the OSCE meeting in Warsaw. This is a table where I sit every year. In the first row, from the left, the Scientology delegate, next to him Massimo Introvigne, the director of CESNUR and Bitter Winter, then Willy Fautrè of Human Rights Without Frontiers and finally Alessandro Amicarelli of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB). In the second row, behind the representative of Scientology, the delegate of the Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (CAP LC). This French association for the defense of "religious freedom" was founded in 2002 by Thierry Bécourt, a former member of the Omnium des Libertés association. Becourt was influenced by the esotericism of Alice Bailey and was the founder of the Institut de Psychanimie, dedicated to the dissemination of theosophy. Omnium del Libertès, which gave rise to the offshoot CAP LC, was founded in 1996 by singer-songwriter Joël Labruyère, a Scientology follower. CAP LC is currently run by Thierry Valle, a nice man with whom I often chat in the bar of the Sofitel Hotel in Warsaw. He makes fun of me and I make fun of him.
In 2015, French "ethical hackers" active against Scientology examined photos of a well-known follower of the church, Françoise Morel, taken outside a headquarters of the Citizens' Commission for Human Rights (CCHR), one of Scientology's organizations. They wondered who was the man they always saw next to her. The photos are the following. Yes, it was Thierry Valle.
The authors of the article in which the photo is quoted assume that Valle is a member of the OSA (Office for Special Affairs), Scientology's intelligence service. In fact, Valle's name appears on the staff list of the Guaranty Building, Scientology's Beaux Arts building in Hollywood, as early as 1994.
Let us return to the initial photo and recap the formation. We have Scientology, CESNUR-Bitter Winter, then HRWF, FOB and finally CAP LC. All entities that are somehow connected. The first thing the viewer notices is that, except for the Scientology representative who did not notice, they are all smiling into the same camera, even the CAP LC representative in the second row. They are a combo. A single group of activists conducting a coordinated lobbying effort with international bodies to oppose actions and policies that might impede a particular vision of defending 'religious freedom'. A vision that is indeed peculiar, as we have seen in examining the background of the protagonists.
Religion and intelligence
a) Catholic Intelligence Agency
The CIA has used religion as an instrument of espionage since before it existed. In fact, Allen Dalles, who headed the agency in its early years, had already used religious groups as cover for intelligence operations, even when he was in charge of the Office for Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to CIA. In the beginning, it was Catholicism. In his book Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors, Michael Graziano recalls the Office of Strategic Services in World War II and explains how Catholicism "became the model through which the intelligence community could understand and manipulate other world religions." Under the guise of the Church's profound persuasive power, the OSS mobilized European populations against their Nazi (and later Soviet) occupiers. Through the Belgian priest Felix Morlion, the OSS also collaborated with the Catholic international press in what became known as "Operation Pilgrim's Progress." Graziano writes that "American analysts often assumed that Catholic interests-and especially those of the Vatican-were perfectly aligned with U.S. goals." When the agency encountered other world religions during the Cold War - Shintoism in Japan, Buddhism in Southeast Asia, and especially Islam in Iran - it took it for granted that "the United States and world religions [were] natural allies" in the fight against atheistic communism. At the end of the war, former OSS agents joined the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), bringing with them the experience and networks needed to use the religious instrument in clandestine activities. CIA Officials such as Allen Dulles, Kermit Roosevelt, Miles Copeland, William Eddy, and James Jesus Angleton did not hesitate to use religion as a transactional tool. American clergy, missionaries, and evangelical Billy Graham secretly worked with the CIA. In 1975, a U.S. Senate report revealed the use of various American priests and missionaries for intelligence gathering in various countries. There is much evidence of U.S. funding of churches, both Christian and non-Christian. For example, the CIA funded churches in Kerala, India, and this interference in Indian politics came to light in 1978 when former Ambassador to India Daniel Patrick Moynihan published the information in his book A Dangerous Place. The American churches not only interfered in Kerala, but also provided substantial support to the Nagaland terrorists. These terrorists received blatant help from the American establishment in the form of so-called human rights reports and public statements of support from high-profile politicians like Jimmy Carter.
We are beginning to see how human rights reports are a weapon used at will for or against groups and institutions depending on whether they favor or hinder U.S. government interests (remember the 2020 USCIRF report?).
The use of the Mormons also seems to have been remarkable, as Alain Gillette points out in his book 'Les mormons. De la théocratie a Internet'. Indeed, the Mormons not only share moral goals with certain sectors of the US government, but also have missions in various countries around the world and speak the language of each of these countries correctly. In the early 1980s, the Nicaraguan government accused Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses of being involved in a CIA plot to overthrow the Sandinista government.
Evidence shows that many Mormons in Finland have been associated with the CIA since the 1950s. In 1978, two journalists, Jorraa Lindfors and Jukka Rislakki, wrote in a book about the alleged CIA links to the Mormon Church. According to the authors, "many of the young missionaries in Finland had received training as military officers, and the head of Mormon international missionary work, Apostle Neal A. Maxwell, was a former CIA agent'.
That the world's religions are natural allies of the US also seems to be believed by a number of "libertarian" organisations and think tanks coordinated by the Atlas Network. As we will see in more detail in the next part, all of these non-governmental organisations (Acton Institute, Federalist Society, etc.) work as "agents of influence" promoting neoliberal policies that combine economic and religious freedom in one concept and act as a silent extension of US foreign policy. The think tanks associated with Atlas are funded by the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a key arm of US soft power. The links between these think tanks and the cult's apologists are close, as we will see.
Soft power is exercised in different ways and for different purposes. In the specific area of promoting religion, one of the motives for the global application of US religious policy is cited by Diane L. Knippers, who was director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). Knippers said:
Spirituality is a guarantor of civilisation because spirituality and faith create honest people. Without honesty there is no trade, and without trade there is no civilisation.
In short, we are talking about religion as an instrument of market globalisation. But of course it is not only that.
b) la bancada evangelica
The primacy of Catholicism, so great that the CIA was nicknamed the Catholic Intelligence Agency, has declined over time. In Latin America, the Catholic continent par excellence, the Church of Rome is increasingly losing ground to the various evangelical denominations. One of the reasons is that the position of the more conservative evangelicals was directly supported throughout the Cold War by the United States, which saw the religious group as a useful bulwark against communism in Latin America, an area where "liberation theology" had given Catholicism a dangerous taint. The Rockefeller Report of 1969 and the Santa Fe document of 1980, according to some authors (e.g. Bruno Focherau and Florence Lacroix), illustrate the use of religion by the North American services to defend American interests in South America.
The Rockefeller Report states that the US must strive to win the battle for conscience hegemony by exposing Latin America to the influence of the American way of life 'through the control of the traditional socialising apparatuses of civil society: the Family, the School and the Church'.
The Santa Fe document, prepared for the Council for Inter-American Security and presented to the Republican Platform Committee in 1980 by a team of ultra-conservative advisors, states that "US foreign policy must begin by countering (not reacting to) liberation theology as used in Latin America by liberation theology clergy". The document refers to the work already done in this direction:
The experience gained in Vietnam through planned population control work was exported by many A.I.D. agents and other U.S. services to Latin America and especially to Guatemala. Some cults were created by psychological warfare specialists charged with the control of political space and the hegemony of consciences. (emphasis mine)
Clearer than that!
Jesus Garzia Ruiz, in a text entitled 'La notion relative aux sectes en Amérique latine," writes that in Latin America 'all cults are the work of the United States and are financed from abroad'." A note from the Ministry of the Interior of Mexico states that
The cults carry out the most subtle part of the process of domination and North Americanization of underdeveloped societies, using religious preaching, which is part of the ideological struggle, within civil society.
In 1981, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a non-denominational organisation, was founded to gain support for this policy. It was funded by right-wing institutions, including the Smith Richardson and the Mellon Scaife Family Foundation, both of which acted as financial conduits for the CIA. The IRD launched a propaganda campaign against church activists who were in the forefront of fighting US aid to the government of El Salvador and other repressive regimes in Latin America.
The project was successful. Today, the influence of evangelicals on the society of these countries is enormous because of their voter potential. The spread of evangelical churches in Latin America, especially the neo-Pentecostal ones, which have enormous resources that make them more "competitive" than the Catholic Church, has contributed to the rise of "right-wing" personalities and political forces close to the interests of the economic and financial powers, especially those of the United States. Behind these phenomena there seems to be a very precise strategy to replace "left-wing Catholic" Christians (because they care about social issues) with "right-wing evangelical" Christians (who care a lot about moral issues but little about social ones).
The Church of the Word in Guatemala, as well as the Universal Divine Church in Argentina, are directly linked to North American structures such as the 700 Club, an authentic seminary for cult leaders run by CIA, the TPL Television Network (founded by the notorious Pat Robertson in Virginia), the Billy Graham Evangelist Association or World Vision International. All of these structures are under the control of the American radical right and are openly funded by CIA.
c) Instrumentum regni
All of this suggests to us that religion can be a useful tool for some governments for at least three purposes.
The first, attested and recognized, is that of espionage and disinformation. It need not be that the majority churches and religions are used. If you think about it, minority religions-especially if they have their own intelligence structures, such as Scientology-are perfect for this purpose, especially in countries where majority religions are difficult to infiltrate or are closely tied to governments. This is the case in Russia, where, in the chaos that followed the collapse of USSR, all sorts of spiritual and alternative groups flourished, largely funded by the U.S., but also in China, the land of the inexplicably wealthy Falun Gong and the Church of Almighty God (the former's relations with the U.S. government or parts of it were reported in part five).
When Congress cut off funds to the Reagan administration in 1985 to support the Nicaraguan 'Contras' terrorists against the Sandinista regime, Reverend Moon's Unification Church participated in supplying the guerrillas with food and money (see second episode).
When 48 followers of the knightly Order of the Solar Temple were found dead in the villages of Cheiry and Salvan in Switzerland in October 1994, a self-styled 'adviser on religious matters' of the Central Office of Defence (Swiss Military Department) collaborated with the
investigators by questioning the witnesses alone in defiance of all procedural rules.
He was Jean-François Mayer, a former activist of the extreme right in Lyon, former distribution manager of the denialist newspaper Défense de l'Occident, member of the Nouvel Ordre Social (a national-revolutionary movement based in Geneva), contributor to the esoteric journal Politica Hermetica and Panorama des ideesuelles, a journal of GRECE, the neo-pagan Groupement de recherche et d'études pour la civilisation européenne, but, more interestingly, a leading member of CESNUR. In her book Ordre du Temple Solaire, en quête de vérité, Rosemarie Jaton reports the content of an interview with J.F. Mayer in which he admits to having been in contact with Luc Jouret, one of the two leaders of the Order el Temple Solaire. Luc Jouret was a former Belgian far-right military officer associated with Gladio, the Italian branch of the secret anti-communist organisation known as Stay Behind from NATO.
After the discovery of the bodies of 16 other followers of the Temple of the Sun in December 1995 in Vercors, Jean-François Mayer was one of the 300 privileged people who received a file from the cult containing the posthumous writings of the victims. Bruno Fouchereau writes in La mafia des sectes that the Belgian 'Nazi-Maoist' group to which Jouret belonged in the 1970s was only the façade of an anti-communist organisation, SDRA-8, run by the NATO services in the context of the Cold War. While this does not explain the mystery of the alleged 'mass suicides' of the Solar Temple, on which many French journalists have focused (see the interesting analysis by Philip Coppens), it does point to a link between intelligence services, sects and the CESNUR.
A tiny example of how disinformation useful to a particular administration gets through controversial cults is provided by a recent discovery of mine. Newspapers and TV news around the world have spoken about the alleged undercover overseas police stations that China has opened in various countries such as Italy and Canada (for example, here). The report from which the media sourced the information came from a NGO called Safeguard Defenders, a human rights organisation that monitors disappearances in China and was founded by activist Peter Dahlin. It did not take much effort to find out what was openly available on the net, namely that Peter Dahlin is linked to The Epoch Times, the Falun Gong newspaper. Obviously, I ignore whether the report says things that are true or false, but the source opens doubts about it. What is certain is that this fact shows how cults also operate through NGOs that produce wide political effects.
The second use of religions as instrumentum regni lies in their ability to dilute the religious identity of certain populations, creating new forms of mutual recognition (in-groups) that become maneuverable constituencies when they are not useful for processes of social polarization that can lead to revolts or outright revolutions. We have seen the first case in Latin America with the promotion of the Pentecostal movement, based on the prosperity gospel, which permeates a large part of the religious right in the United States.
The core of this 'theology' is the conviction that God wants his believers to live prosperous lives, i.e. to be financially rich. This kind of Christianity places the believer's well-being at the centre of prayer and makes his Creator the one who realises his thoughts and desires, as if wealth and prosperity were the true sign of divine preference that can be magically 'conquered' through faith. This gospel is spread by a massive presence in the major media and is supported by its strong influence on political life.
There is, however, a third function of the comprehensive defense of minority cults by an environment that, as we have seen, is supposed to be hostile to them. Indian journalist Arvind Kumar sums it up very well when he notes that the intertwining of academia, CIA, and religion manifested itself in the 1990s during the process that led to the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act and then to the establishment of the Office for International Religious Freedom and the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). He also says that the vaunted "religious freedom" of these bodies is really "a euphemism for the propagation of Christianity using government resources" The problem is that he misses the central aspect of the matter, which is that the proclaimed defense of religious pluralism makes it possible to maintain pressure on some countries by denouncing their disregard for the right to religious freedom. Such denunciation, of course, does not apply to friendly countries that are equally illiberal and hostile to pluralism, such as Saudi Arabia, but it is an excellent tool to target countries that are less useful or competitors in the geopolitical scenario.
That these are not mere assertions becomes clear in the seventh part of this report, when the finger is pointed at Scientology's lobbying aimed precisely at "putting pressure on foreign countries" for not respecting "religious freedom."
In light of all this, we can begin to see with different eyes the strange tangle of government commissions, religious fundamentalists, "religious freedom" associations, Scientology, and other controversial cults, all connected by at most one link. See you in the next part.