ROME: History remembers Benito Mussolini as a founder member of the original Axis of Evil, the Italian dictator who ruled his country with fear and forged a disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany. But now a previously unknown area of Il Duce’s CV has come to light: his brief career as a British agent during World War I.Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini was a 34-year-old journalist when he got his start in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from the British intelligence agency, also known as MI5.Mussolini’s payments were authorised by Sir Samuel Hoare, an MP and MI5’s man in Rome, who ran a staff of 100 British intelligence officers in Italy at the time.A Cambridge historian, Peter Martland, who discovered details of the deal struck with the future dictator, said: ”Britain’s least reliable ally in the war at the time was Italy after revolutionary Russia’s pull-out from the conflict. Mussolini was paid £100 a week from the autumn of 1917 for at least a year to keep up the pro-war campaigning – equivalent to about £6000 a week today.”As well as keeping the presses rolling at Il Popolo d’Italia, the newspaper he edited, Mussolini also told Hoare he would send Italian army veterans to beat up peace protesters in Milan, a dry run for his Fascist blackshirt units.”The last thing Britain wanted were pro-peace strikes bringing the factories in Milan to a halt. It was a lot of money to pay a man who was a journalist at the time, but compared to the £4 million Britain was spending on the war every day, it was petty cash,” said Mr Martland.”I have no evidence to prove it, but I suspect that Mussolini, who was a noted womaniser, also spent a good deal of the money on his mistresses.”After the armistice, Mussolini began his rise to power, assisted by electoral fraud and blackshirt violence, establishing a Fascist dictatorship by the mid-1920s.His colonial ambitions in Africa brought him into contact with his old paymaster again in 1935. Now the British foreign secretary, Hoare signed the Hoare-Laval pact, which gave Italy control over Abyssinia.Deposed following the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, Mussolini was killed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, two years later by Italian partisans while fleeing Italy in an attempt to reach Switzerland.Guardian News & Media
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