Last week, Swedish authorities held a press conference to announce that they had finally identified the real killer of controversial Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, gunned down outside of a theater more than 30 years ago. The third man accused of murdering the head of state since the shocking incident took place more than thirty years ago.
Stig Engström, a Swedish graphic designer who had “not advanced at his job” and had no “family [or] prospects in sight” is the third man accused of murdering the head of state since the shocking incident occurred on a cold night in Stockholm in 1986; ostensibly putting an end to numerous “conspiracy theories” surrounding his death, which included ties to Chilean fascists, Kurdish rebels, Apartheid South Africa and Operation Gladio – a secret post war alliance between the CIA, the Vatican and the Mafia, which recruited former Nazi officials to form so-called “stay behind units” all over Europe in order to sabotage and destroy left-wing movements and governments throughout the continent.
A resolution passed by the European Parliament in 1990 condemning Gladio and demanding a full investigation was ignored by the NATO secretary general at the time, Manfred Wörner, and then U.S. president, George H.W. Bush.
But, recent inquiries into the Palme affair have revived suspicions about the role covert intelligence operations may have played in the death of the Swedish PM who was known as a left-wing idealist that supported many third world liberation movements and was a strong critic of the United States, as well as other superpowers.
Palme’s position on issues like nuclear disarmament and his attempts to normalize relations with Soviet Russia have been raised as the possible motives for his assassination. He opposed the war in Vietnam and was the first head of state to visit Cuba after the revolution; he had collected many enemies on the opposite side of the political spectrum at a time when the climate was “significantly polarized”, according to Carl Bildt, also a former Swedish PM who served after Palme between 1991 and 1994.
Bildt, himself, has been shown to have had extensive links to a covert intelligence operation which collected information on left-wing sympathizers, called the Information Bureau (IB), as well as to Operation Gladio’s stay-behind units in the country. These links have been confirmed by Lars Christiansson, Bildt’s press manager while in office, who was interrogated by Palme investigators about his contacts and sources in 2018.
Christiansson admitted that he had regular meetings with members of the stay behind units and counted several people inside IB as his contacts while part of Bildt’s inner circle, whom he had been closely acquainted with since the 1960s. Investigators have long tried to find a link between Palme’s accused killer and these covert networks, but Christiansson has denied Engström’s presence among them.
The evidence against Mr. Engström is largely circumstantial and relies on the “lone gunman” theory, which so often arises in Gladio and CIA-related assassinations. Engström had “the right timing, the right clothing”, according to the journalist who posited the theory and “had close access to guns of the right type”. The prosecutor in the case, nevertheless, left open the possibility that Engström – who committed suicide in 2000 – was part of a larger conspiracy. His wife vehemently rejects the idea, stating that her late husband was “too much of a coward” to do such a thing.
Olof Palme led Sweden’s Social Democratic party from 1969 until his murder. During that time, he had accumulated a number of powerful enemies both in and out of his native country. He criticized the United States and the USSR in equal measure and was a vocal opponent of South Africa’s apartheid regime, which was at one point blamed for his murder by a South African police colonel who claimed in a court proceeding that one of its most notorious spies, Craig Williamson, had been sent to kill Palme.
Palme compared the U.S.’ bombing of Hanoi to Nazi massacres and supported nuclear disarmament at the height of the Cold War. But he also backed labor over big business interests, which drew the ire of Swedish industrialists like the Wallenberg family. He called Margaret Thatcher “a true extremist” and warned of the “crazy monetarists” on the horizon. He has been compared to John F. Kennedy in posthumous retellings of his life, but also had an odd affinity with Henry Kissinger.
His friendship with a figure like Kissinger, architect of the very policy in Vietnam he abhorred, may also point to Palme’s own complexities as a scion of wealthy Swedish elites, himself, and tacit complicity in the Iran-Contra affair during his tenure as a UN mediator in the Iran-Iraq war when Swedish/British arms manufacturer Bofors was sending explosives and gunpowder to Iran.
Palme’s outward stance as a champion of social justice and an advocate of national self-determination may have been more than mere political posturing, but men who reach his position are rarely able to avoid rubbing elbows with the most ruthless agents of political power.
The Gladio Nexus
Operation Gladio remains one of the least examined – or even acknowledged – long-term, covert ops of modern times. The sheer breadth and scope of the secret plot to subvert any inkling of left-leaning ideologies the world over makes most people balk when first hearing of it. After all, a joint multi-decade subversive project involving the Sicilian and Turkish mafias along with the Vatican and the CIA sounds like a reach, even for a Bond film.
It was, however, exactly this “unholy alliance” as Paul Williams describes it in his seminal book on the matter, which hovered over Europe and Latin America for the better part of forty years maintaining a covert army of former Nazis with hidden weapons caches to call upon should the need arise, as it did in Italy’s so-called “days of lead” when Italian business men were kidnapped and Prime Minister Aldo Moro was assassinated by Gladio operatives, but blamed on the communists to discredit them.
Similar, if less flamboyant, ops were carried out in other European countries, like Sweden. Lars Christiansson, Bildt’s press manager questioned by Swedish officials regarding links of the Swedish leadership with Gladio’s “stay behind units” and a secret police tasked with surveilling left-wing groups was unapologetic about the government’s role, saying that “there was a political agreement [on the stay behind units]”, and that it was “good” that such covert operations were standing at the ready to “intervene if there was a crisis”.
Among the many theories that circle around Olof Palme’s murder is one about Chilean fascists taking the Swedish Prime Minister out over his opposition to the dictator’s brutal regime and the thousands of Chilean refugees who were given asylum there throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Given the direct role played by Gladio operatives in the rise of Pinochet and other extreme right-wing dictators in Latin America of that era, it is no wonder that Swedish investigators have been following those leads for years.
A German investigative journalist and a former Pentagon advisor have claimed that Palme was murdered by a “former Iranian agent with CIA training” sent by NATO over his attempts to normalize relations with the Soviet Union and his stance against nuclear weapons. The authors of “In the Spider Web of the Secret Services” make a case that the assassinations of Uwe Barschel, William Colby (one of the creators of Gladio) and Olof Palme were all linked together by the same rouge network.
Feature photo | Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme during his visit to Cuba in 1975. Here together with Fidel Castro in cheerfully conversation. Lars Astrom | AP
Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.