The end of “spy-games”: Draghi ends the Conte’s era with Belloni


The call of Ambassador Elisabetta Belloni [1] to head the Security Information Department that coordinates the Italian intelligence activity in the Palazzo Chigi apparatus, marks a definitive turning point in the Draghi government's approach to the services sector [2]. The premier chose a long-time professional specialized in the management of diplomatic and security crises and hardened by a long experience in administering the apparatus of the Farnesina [3] under different governments to succeed Gennaro Vecchione, general of the Guardia di Finanza [4] who had played the role of director of DIS from 2018 onwards.

We are talking about a change in method, because with Belloni, after the choice of Franco Gabrielli for the position of delegated authority for the security of the Republic, the season of spy-games that had characterized the terminal phase of the Conte II government [5] is definitively archived as it had subjected the intelligence sector to shocks and excessive political pressure that had jeopardized its security and operations.

The figure of Vecchione, from a political point of view, was in this sense considered too intrinsic to the previous experience of government and close to the figure of the same Conte, who has long maintained prerogatives and authority over the intelligence, renouncing to appoint a delegated authority until the choice of ambassador Pietro Benassi in the terminal stages of his government. Without detracting from Vecchione's professionalism, Draghi wanted to launch multiple messages with the call of Belloni.

Draghi's messages to politics

In the first place, the need to manage the nominations season was combined with the imposition of a brake on the takeover by political parties and pressure groups in the intelligence sector and an internal balance was re-established. Initially the most quoted name to replace Vecchione was that of Mario Parente, currently in command of the Information and Internal Security Agency [AISI - 6], and that the bond of professional knowledge and mutual esteem that Gabrielli has for years with the Carabinieri general was considered, in this sense, as an asset. But a promotion of Parente at the time of the removal of Vecchione from the leadership of the DIS would have appeared to many as a change of the guard between two rivals that would have risked creating further destabilization in Piazza Dante. The choice of Belloni, called by a third party in the world of [Italian] intelligence, therefore represented a relaxing solution that was accompanied by the extension of Parente's mandate to AISI until 2022.

Secondly, after Gabrielli's choice, Belloni's call to DIS recalls the need to consider intelligence as a common heritage of the Republic, a central point of definition of the national interest of primary and crucial importance in the era of globalization and in the times of COVID-19, characterized by constantly evolving threats. A bipartisan heritage of the institutions comparable to the operational centers of foreign policy that Elisabetta Belloni has been able to manage with professionalism. Appointed to lead the Crisis Unit in 2004 by Franco Frattini, Foreign Minister of the Berlusconi II government, in January 2013, a few weeks after the end of the Monti government, she was chosen as general director for resources and innovation and, in later, she was chosen first as head of the cabinet and general secretary of the Farnesina by Paolo Gentiloni at the time of the Renzi government. Finally, with Luigi Di Maio as Foreign Minister, she suggested to the former M5S leader the appointment of Ambassador Ettore Sequi, a person of his absolute trust and future successor at the head of the general secretariat, as head of the cabinet. Mediation with politics and strategic coordination are qualified, in this sense, as a necessity and as a priority of the new phase in the intelligence [community]. Well interpreted by a "technical" figure like Gabrielli and by an expert in safety culture like Belloni.

A move to strengthen ties with the US

Finally, compared to the Conte era, the current phase opened by the Draghi government also has a precise geopolitical center of gravity. Vecchione was associated with a phase of the ties between Italy and the United States that Conte, believed to be close to Donald Trump, embodied and which took the form of the famous visits of Attorney General William Barr to Rome and in meetings with the heads of [Italian] intelligence and the government as part of the Russiagate counter-investigation. Il Foglio [7] argues that the appointment of Belloni contributes “to reaffirm the indispensability of the Atlantic axis of our intelligence” declined according to the strategic priorities of the Biden era, inaugurated with the choice of a female colleague (Avril Haines) for the stars and stripes intelligence. Belloni, a profound connoisseur of Mediterranean dynamics and hotspots “boasts an uncommon confidence with the diplomats of Via Veneto, reaffirmed also in the recent case of the Russian spy Walter Biot”.

Serenity seems to be close to returning to Piazza Dante. The intelligence sector will now need a phase of relaxation and normalization of internal tensions functional to allow it to operate with due serenity and discretion in the scrutiny of threats to the country system. Draghi, first with Gabrielli and then with Belloni, proposed a seamless discontinuity on the issue of services that aims to bring serenity and restore transversality to Italian intelligence. Like Caesar's wife, the services must be kept above any suspicion of the presence of personal or political conspiracies within them and the current compromise can help. To complete the work, the majority and opposition forces will have to find a squaring of the circle on the issue of supervision of services, given that COPASIR [8] operates today without the representatives of the opposition of “Fratelli d’Italia” [9] who are demanding the presidency by law. Two out of three pieces are in place: the last step missing is to end definitively the era of spy-games.







[7] Italian only:




Original column by Andrea Muratore:

Translation by Costantino Ceoldo