.- Speaking frankly about âthe known al-Qaida antipathy to the Pope,â American embassy officials in 2008 asked the U.S. State Department to consider an effort to help Vatican security forces deal with terrorist threats.
The WikiLeaks website recently published a Dec. 19, 2008 State Department cable reputedly from the U.S. Embassy in Rome. The cable, classified as âsecret,â documented a request from the U.S. Vatican Embassy to plan and fund a âcrisis management tabletop exerciseâ with Vatican security services.
The stated purpose of this effort was to enhance the Vaticanâs crisis response abilities and to âfoster a dialogue with the Vatican on counter-terrorism.â
âAl-Qaida has publicly identified the Pope and the Catholic Church as an enemy (âCrusadersâ), and Vatican City attracts hundreds of thousands of American citizen visitors each year, both tourists and pilgrims,â the cable continued.
According to the cable, the head of the Vatican Gendarme Corps Domenico Giani had sought specific security training from the FBI, including explosives ordinance training for Vatican Gendarmerie members at the Quantico Marine Corps base in Virginia. However, the cable reported, Giani has been âreluctant to engage in a comprehensive dialogue with the United States about Vatican capabilities and preparedness to respond to a terrorist attack.â
While the famous Swiss Guard provides security for the Pope and visiting dignitaries, the Gendarme Corps is responsible for general security and law enforcement at the Vatican.
During a November 2008 conversation about al-Qaidaâs threat to the Vatican, U.S. Vatican Embassy official Julieta Valls Noyes proposed to Giani a joint tabletop exercise on crisis management, to which he reportedly responded âpositively.â
The Rome Embassy cable noted the Holy Seeâs sensitivity about appearing to be too close to any one state, which the embassy described as a challenge to fostering dialogue about security. Another challenge was âthe Vaticanâs conviction that its facilities must be easily accessible to all Catholics.â
According to the cableâs analysis, Gianiâs interest in a crisis management exercise was an opportunity to better position the U.S. to help the Vatican prepare to respond to terrorist threats.
The cable appears to be WikiLeaksâ first release of a Vatican-related document that did not originate with the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. The cableâs authorship is attributed to U.S. Ambassador to Italy Ronald Spogli.
More than 700 WikiLeaks cables originate at the U.S. Vatican Embassy, while about 100 others originate at other American embassies and consulates.
In a Dec. 3 response to CNA inquiries, the U.S. Vatican Embassy said it could not address the authenticity of any documents provided to the press. The embassy also condemned âin the strongest termsâ the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
For their part, Vatican officials have also advised âgreat prudenceâ in examining the WikiLeaks cables. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said the reports reflect âthe perceptions and opinions of those who wrote themâ and cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See or as exact quotations of its officials.