Sniffer Planes Swindle & Its Perpetrators

Author: Carter McLellan – Date: May 4, 2022


  1. Introduction
  2. How the sniffer planes story goes
  3. Motives of the Gigantic Swindle
  4. Opus Dei/AESP connections
  5. Appendix: Sniffer Planes Swindle characters list
  6. Notes


This article is Conspiracy Dossier’s first attempt at summarizing the Sniffer Planes Swindle. Most information was compiled from David Teacher’s Rogue Agents, the Bende van Nijvel forum, Wikipedia and Klaartjie Schrijvers’ book.

The method for producing this article was highly unorthodox. Utilizing english sources for the most part, significant amounts of already public info have been missed in the oversight.

How the sniffer planes story goes

The following is a summary timeline of the sniffer planes story. Some background information showing what led to the beginning of the sniffer devices has been included.

Only some information pertaining to the AESP has been included here, the rest left for the subsequent section.

  • 1965-1969: The Belgian Comte Alain de Villegas de Saint-Pierre-Jette became interested in a new type of desalination system developed by the Italian telephone-company electrician Aldo Bonassoli. The two at some point began to work together on this project. In 1965, the Belgians Baron Bernard de Marcken de Merken and his brother Jean de Marcken de Merken together bought a large holiday campsite in Ibiza, located in the Mediterranean Balearic Sea on an island east of mainland Spain. However, there was a serious shortage of fresh water. Thus, as a potential solution, de Villegas introduced the de Marcken brothers to Bonassoli. The brothers, apparently eager to solve this problem, spent up to 4-5 million Belgian francs in setting up SA La Grolle and SA La Scientic to allow de Villegas and Bonassoli to experiment in a lab, and test on the campsite in Ibiza. After the device proved not to work, the team began work on a related concept, a “water sniffer,” which would be able to locate water deposits underground through a gravity wave-based detection system. During the middle of this period, in 1968, Bonassoli announced he invented a “death ray,” which would fail to perform lethally before journalists. [1]
  • Late 1969: Meeting at the Westbury Hotel, in Brussels, Belgium, between de Villegas, Bernard de Marcken de Merken, soon-to-be former French intel. agent at the SDECE Jean-Eugene Violet, and the Belgian Florimond Damman. They had convened to discuss how to proceed with the sniffer planes project. These men were associated with the Paneuropa Union (PEU) and were core members of the AESP. The high-level conference group Le Cercle, as well as Opus Dei have been closely connected to these men. It was de Villegas who via these organizations brought these men together. Representing this clique, Violet wrote a letter appealing to Crosby Moyer Kelly, an American businessman involved in the aviation industry and Le Cercle.
  • December 1969-January 1970: In the context of French-American Middle Eastern policy, superclass elites Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller made correspondences regarding Violet’s letter to Kelly. These two were prominent Bilderbergers, who were allowed to attend Le Cercle. It was Kissinger who expressed skepticism over Violet’s claims of access to the new President of France, Georges Pompidou. Another challenge was a damning leak of information by an unidentified newspaper article, revealing details about a meeting between Kissinger, Rockefeller and other oil industry figures. All this, combined with Kelly’s need to see the sniffer device demonstrated to be legitimate, ultimately staved off any American participation. However, there was another option, the Italian financier Carlo Pesenti II. Violet made this contact through a “clandestine Catholic international organization” identified with Le Cercle, called Sint Unum. With funding from Pesenti, a new company would be registered in Panama and formed in Switzerland, called Fisalma, Inc., under direction of Swiss UBS President Philippe De Weck. The two, Pesenti and De Weck, were close collaborators and together staved off financial assaults from Michele Sindona.
  • April 6, 1970: To secure testing sites for the sniffer device, de Villegas met with Spanish Director-General of Information and Tourism Ernesto Laorden Miracle, at the Spanish embassy in Belgium. Through Miracle, de Villegas came into contact with Alfredo Sanchez Bella, the Minister of Tourism, who would promote the scheme. Miracle and Bella were members of Opus Dei. The contact to Bella would secure several test sites in Spain. These tests would prove unsuccessful.
  • December 1970: With a contract to locate underground sources of freshwater on a site owned by the Spanish Tourism Agency, Entursa, de Villegas flew out to the Canaries. This likely would preoccupy activity in 1971.
  • 1972: In another financial assault from Sindona against Pesenti, the latter was forced to withdraw funding for Violet and the Sniffer Planes project. Previously, in the 1969-1970 period while the Cercle complex was hit with a time of upheaval, during which time Violet was booted from the SDECE. An earlier attack from Sindona came in 1968, which had permanently weakened Pesenti’s funds. In the latter instance of’ 68, Pesenti had barrowed substantially from the Banco Ambrosiano of Roberto Calvi, while in the former he would reportedly obtain a significant loan from the IOR head Paul Marcinkus. During the time after the SDECE firings, in 1970, under its new head Alexandre de Marenches, many former French intelligence officers were employed at French bank Elf-Aquitaine‘s PSA. In 1972, Violet contacted Colonel Franck and informed him about the “incredible new technology. In turn, Franck put Violet in contact with Jean Tropel, who hired Violet as a lawyer to Elf.
  • 1973: Toward the end of 1973, in October, the Yom Kippur War broke out, which resulted in a quadruple in oil prices. De Villegas then made a big announcement, that his sniffer device was capable of subterranean oil detection. Pesenti was persuaded then to provide additional funding, which would eventually be the same reason for Elf’s interest.
  • 1974: In March of that year, the ISC of Brian Crozier published reports on the importance of oil in South Africa. Coincidentally, de Villegas managed to gain authorization, through contacts to Antoine Pinay and John Vorster, to conduct tests over Zululand for the state’s oil company Sasol. While in Pretoria for the tests, on August 7, de Villegas wrote a letter to Florimond Damman, Secretary-General of the AESP. Pesenti’s engineers fitted the device onto a Douglas DC-3 for the surveys. A site was identified and drilling immediately began.
  • October 7, 1974: Fisalma, S.A. registered in Panama. The company President was Philippe De Weck, alongside the directors and treasurer Hans Urs Lanzer and the secretary Ernest Kueng. One agent is listed as Arosemena, Noriega y Castro. Two “suscriptors” were Carlos Arosemena Arias and Gabriel Castro Suarez. The company was apparently run out of De Weck’s UBS office. The sole representative was “El Presidente” either meaning De Weck or the President of Panama Demetrio Lakas.
  • Late 1975: Overtime the costs became so high that Pesenti had to opt out. The bore eventually bottomed out at 6,000 meters with no oil. It was around this time that Violet was working to get Elf involved in the project.
  • 1976: At some point in early 1976, apparently through the contacts of Violet, De Villegas and Bonassoli were introduced to Elf officials. Bonassoli explained to them how he came upon the idea of the technology. He told how he developed two machines, “Delta” and “Omega”. The former detected oil from air and output a paper report, while the latter mapped out the resources from closer ranges and displayed on a TV screen. Bonassoli was willing to demonstrate the devices, but without any scientists present, claiming that they could steal his ideas. Information about the invention quickly spread in the French political hierarchy. There is no record of anyone having checked out or scrutinized the technology and it has been said that there was a kind of political chauvinism surrounding the deal. As explained in Wikipedia: “… Elf-Aquitaine, a petroleum company, was almost wholly controlled by the government, as were similar companies in other European nations and Canada. Unlike those companies, Elf had little crude oil supply of its own, and few known deposits for future commercialization. Elf was in danger of losing its status as a producer, at some point becoming nothing more than another refiner. If the devices could find new sources of oil practically anywhere, as was being claimed, Elf might remain among the small family of oil-producing European nations. This possibility was so attractive that the officials involved overlooked any doubts that were expressed, while also keeping the project completely secret.”
  • March 31, 1976: Violet sends cassette message to Damman critical due to financial constraints at the time, which was the primary concern for the AESP.
  • April 16, 1976: Violet sends another cassette to Damman, searching for backers, almost certainly referring to final negotiations going on with Elf and Fisalma. At this point, Elf had been testing the machine for some time and was now interested in acquiring exclusive rights over the invention. At meetings with Elf, De Villegas would be accompanied by the “inner circle” of Pinay, including Father Yves-Marc Dubois.
  • April 30-May 7, 1976: The sniffer devices were demonstrated to Elf officials, who obliged Bonassoli’s request for no scientists. The devices not much larger than a few photocopiers were installed in a transport plane behind curtains and flown over known oil fields. The reports came out and looked almost identical to previously published explorations reports. The Elf observers, including the company founder Pierre Guillaumat were supposedly completely convinced.
  • May 29, 1976: A 200 million Swiss franc deal between Elf and Fisalma was signed. Elf was to make four quarterly payments of 50 million Swiss francs, which gave them two-year exclusive use of the devices. A second 250 million Swiss franc deal was due to take over in 1978. This was apparently done without the knowledge of Elf’s civilian board. Elf used Ultrafin, a company owned by Roberto Calvi and linked to Ambrosiano Holdings Luxembourg, was used ad a conduit to make these initial payments. The first was scheduled for June 15, the second for October 15. In September 1976, the new Prime Minister became Raymond Barre, who succeeded Jacques Chirac and learned of the devices when he signed off on various currency restrictions in order to transfer funds abroad to Swiss bank accounts.
  • June 2, 1976: Meeting between the President of France Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Elf President Guillaumat and former Prime Minister of France Pinay. The Cercle complex’s financial situation would dramatically increase after this point.
  • June 15, 1976: Elf sends first payment to Fisalma, of 50 million Swiss francs.
  • October 8-13, 1976: Violet sent another cassette to Damman optimistic about AESP funding, saying “Good perspectives for 1977.” Damman’s response showed that he was happy about this and was ready to put the funds to use immediately.
  • October 15, 1976: Second payment by Elf to Fisalma, of 50 million Swiss francs. Presumably, these quarterly payments continued until the scheme unraveled.
  • 1977-1979: Damman’s diaries repeatedly mention large cash transfers from de Villegas, in this period, more than likely coming from Elf’s payments for the Sniffer planes technology. Evidence of this in letters/cassettes mentioned above; to be discussed below.
  • January 7-8, 1977: On the 7th, Damman received a payment of 1.2 million, likely in Swiss francs, from de Villegas. On the next day, Damman received 4,000 from Jacques Jonet, and 100,000 from Violet.
  • February 15, 1977: Presumed third 50 million Swiss franc payments to Fisalma from Elf.
  • June 15, 1977: Presumed fourth 50 million Swiss franc payments to Fisalma from Elf.
  • November 1977: Damman received 200,000 sent by de Villegas.
  • December 1977: Damman received 50,000 sent by de Villegas.
  • January 1978: Damman received 75,000 sent by de Villegas.
  • March, 1978: Damman received 20,000 sent by de Villegas. The unspecified currency was Swiss francs, according to Aldo-Michel Mungo.
  • March 29, 1978: The King of Morocco was informed by Elf about their technology having detected oil fields.
  • April-September 1978: De Villegas singlehandedly provided full funding for the short-lived Cercle Charlemagne, a sort of umbrella organization for the AESP and its affiliates.
  • June 21, 1978: Damman wrote that a dossier was provided for the Moroccan ambassador.
  • June 24, 1978: Elf signed a second contract with Fisalma, stipulating payment of a further 500 million Swiss francs, half of which (250 m.) was due upon signature. This contract gave Elf the right to inspect the internal workings of devices, which eventually allowed them to detect the fraud by May 1979.
  • August 19-30, 1978: De Villegas sniffer planes carried out program in Morocco. In spite of numerous “successful” attempts, every attempt to drill at indicated locations turned up empty. Bonassoli repeatedly claimed that it appeared to be “too accurate” to be used and required further development. The Elf contacts remained confident in the devices and would provide documentation of previous studies, which were put through the device.
  • September 1978: The Cercle Charlemagne goes defunct.
  • November 1978: Presumed 50 million Swiss franc payments to Fisalma from Elf.
  • March 1979: Presumed 50 million Swiss franc payments to Fisalma from Elf.
  • April 5, 1979: Demonstration carried out for d’Estaing.
  • May 1979: Following a warning from Alexandre de Marenches that the sniffer planes deal had been set up by an “international swindler,” Elf would finally manage to detect the fraud. The new Elf head Albin Chalandon arranged for Jules Horowitz to visit the lab and examine “Omega.” May 24, after all the equipment had been taken from de Villegas’ Brussels castle, an examination was prepared. This was done after suspicions of Elf Geologist Claude Royer, who relayed this feeling to Paul Alba. Instead of examining the device, Horowitz started asking questions about Omega’s capabilities to detect various common objects through a wall. Following two failures, Bonassoli claimed it would easily detect a ruler. Upon doing so, Horowitz had bent the ruler into an L shape, yet Omega only came out with a straight line. Bonassoli attempted to explain this away, by saying the movers of the equipment had missed a certain part, which caused the malfunction.
  • June 1979: Despite this expposure, work continued, but a further demonstration revealed the hoax, when it was shown that Omega had been outputting graphics projected within the box and contained a photocopier. Bonassoli attempted to deflect all criticism by stating that the entire secret of the device was one key component, which was locked in a box that he refused to open. But it was too late, Elf realized they had been fooled. Elf never finished the payments but spent over 150 million in total. Bonassoli successfully returned to Italy and the French government did little to address the problem. At the time Raymond Barre was still Prime Minister until 1981. After the exposures that would come in 1983-1984, Barre would be accused of involvement in the coverup.
  • 1979: With Franc’s audit of quasi-public corporations by the Cour des Comptes, in 1979 the magistrate in charge of Elf’s audit, François Giquel, asked about the sudden change in certain accounts. These had contained only small amounts of money for many years, around 3 million Francs, and then suddenly grew to hundreds of millions of Francs over the last three years. The President personally informed Giquel that it was a matter of military secret, and he was sworn to secrecy.
  • 1981: It is discovered that Elf had been concealing the payments to Fisalma, the report of which Barre ordered to be kept secret.
  • 1982: Before retirement, Chief Government Accountant Bernard Beck would discreetly shred three copies of the sniffer planes report in 1982. However, Barre and Giscard were known to have kept copies into their private lives.
  • June 1983: Pierre Pean first revealed information about the Sniffer Planes scandal.
  • December 1983: Pean revealed information about the scandal. The junior Secretary for the Treasury had also accused Beck of forfeiture. French Prime Minister Francois Mitterrand accused his predecessors of covering up the Sniffer Planes scandal. The scandal really broke out at this point. Michel Poniatowksi jumped to d’Estaing’s defense.
  • January 1984: Bonassoli reappeared in Italy, holding a conference where he claimed that he would hand over all data on his machine to the Italian National Research Center (CNR) and stated that the Soviets had expressed interest in it. When asked about the claims of fraud, he claimed the machine had been greatly improved since then. However, nothing came out of this announcement.
  • June 2, 1984: New Prime Minister of France Pierre Mauroy publicly released the sniffer planes report and sarcastically accused Valer Giscard d’Estaing and Raymond Barre of attempting to cover it up.
  • July 1984: Pean released his book ‘V…’, which caused a major scandal, in part by revealing the sniffer planes scandal to a wider audience.

Most of the information dealing with the AESP has been left to be discussed below.

Motives of the Gigantic Swindle:

When it comes to the motives for this scheme, it would be appropriate to quote Comte Alexander de Marenches:

“The sniffer plane affair is a skillful fraud whose outcome is unknown … in the maze I had discovered in 1970, there were a certain number of parasites who were not serving the State or France but were involved in lobbies, organisations whose foreign ramifications at times gave rise to serious problems.”

– (2021, Teacher, ‘Rogue Agents’, page 60; Cites: 1986, Christine Ockrent et le Comte de Marenches, Livres de poche Stock, ‘Dans le secret des princes’, pgs 135-137. An English translation was published as 1988, London, Sidgwick & Jackson (Chapman Pincher’s publishers …), ‘The Evil Empire’)

The fundamental point about this quote in question here is that the outcome of the Sniffer Planes Swindle is unknown. However, he did mention elements he “discovered in 1970” within the SDECE, and he specifically focused on “lobbies,” one of which has been identified by Teacher as the “Cercle complex” around Le Cercle Pinay. We will be getting back to these figures.

From desalinator to detector

When searching for the motive, a number of conclusions can be made from the basic facts gathered in the above timeline. The whole thing started in the mid-1960s, with a new type of desalination system developed by the Italian Aldo Bonassoli. At this time, the Belgian Comte Alain de Villegas de Saint-Pierre-Jette became interested in this system. The two men began, at some point, working together and here we have our two primary first characters.

The history of desalination goes back to Aristotle and one of his observations recorded in the treatise Meteorology. Many other observations and experiments undoubtedly occurred throughout the Middle Ages. One example is the Italian Leonardo da Vinci, who developed a system to produce distilled water.

The first land-based water distillation plant may have been constructed on a small island off Tunisia (North Africa), by the Spanish under emergency conditions. But, details about the device have never emerged. Several prominent figures during the early 1600s, as Sir Francis Bacon and Walter Raleigh, wrote reports on water desalination. The first patent disputes over a desalination apparatus occurred in 1675 and 1683. Neither inventions were ever really put into service due to scale-up difficulties. In 1748, the Frenchman Jean-Antoine Nollet observed the phenomenon of osmosis. It would remain this way for the following two centuries. After this point, there was not much development until 1800.

At this point, late 1700s-early 1800s, the newly formed USA, with efforts of Thomas Jefferson, began looking into desalination methods, primarily for naval ships. Distilling systems for steam engines also began to be studied after 1800, concepts which would be applied to desalination. In 1952, Alphonse Rene le Mire de Normandy was issued a British patent for an easy seawater distilling unit, which was easily equipped on ships. In the 1860s, the US Army purchased three Normandy evaporators with large capacity and installed them on two islands in the Golf of Mexico off the state of Florida. The British also installed a large desalination plant in Suakin, Sudan, for their troops stationed there.

Significant research in the area of desalination occurred in the USA, after WWII. In 1950, the University of California at Los Angeles invesigated desalination of sea water with “semipermeable membranes.” In collaboration with the University of Florida, by the mid-‘50s, they had successfully produced fresh water from sea water, but which was too low in flux for commercial use. This issue would be solved by Sidney Loeb of UCLA and Srinivasa Sourirajan of the National Research Council of Canada, in Ottawa. John Cadotte at the FilmTec Corporation developed a commercially viable system, which became the subject of litigation. In 1955, within the US Department of the Interior, the Office of Saline Water was formed. In 1974, it would be merged with the Office of Water Resources.

In 1961, the first industrial desalination plant was created in Freeport, Texas. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was present at the opening, and President John F. Kennedy described the science highly as “a work that in many ways is more important than any other scientific enterprise in which this country is now engaged.”

DuPont, Dow Chemical Co. and state universities in California conducted research into desalination systems. By 1965, the first reverse osmosis desalination plant was inaugurated in California, specifically for brackish water, which is water less salty than sea water. For the latter a plant would be created ten years later by 1975.

That’s an interesting year though mentioned above, 1965. This is the year when our story really begins, around the time de Villegas began working with Bonassoli. Similar to JFK’s statements on the technology, de Villegas once said: “We can live without oil, but not without water.” Is it a coincidence that the above timeline begins in 1965, the same years the first reverse osmosis desalination plant was created in far western America? Possibly, even probably, but does this tell us that the technology Bonassoli had created was a legitimate system? Did de Villegas really become interested in his work because he believed it had merit?

The answer at this point seems to be: We don’t know. The original “technology” invented by Bonassoli was a desalination system, in which de Villegas became interested. As the above context shows, this was a hot field at the time, especially in America. However, when tests were done on the Ibiza site of the brothers Bernard & Jean de Marcken de Merken, the system proved not to work as “expected.” They decided to move on to a “water sniffer,” a related concept with greater potential.

So, what do we know about why this change was made in their efforts? Perhaps, some background information on the two principal characters may provide some possible answers.

The Italian Bonassoli had quite the odd background. He was a former spy, as well as a television repairman and a specialist in video effects. One book published in 1971 states that a certain Italian man named Aldo Bonassoli had made a pot, a doll and a roll of paper disappear in public. The book also stated that he had invented a “death ray,” which is now known to have failed to perform fatally in demonstrations. Perhaps the most curious allegation is that Bonassoli had the interesting occupation of an aerial UFO photographer.

The UFO phenomenon is really an interesting one, and certainly would have been known in Italy. Sightings had been occurring in other places since 1942, but in 1954, there was a citing of a “cigar” shaped UFO that stopped over Rome.

But does this tell us anything about the reason that Italian Bonassoli met with the Belgian de Villegas? Possible so, if we have a quick look at our second principal character’s background.

Comte Alain de Villegas was from a Belgian aristocratic family and was known to be “penniless.” He was known as a staunch believer in the reality of the UFO phenomenon, a clear similarity to the interest of “photographing” UFOs of Bonassoli. However, this is apparently not the the most probable reason the two men somehow first met. De Villegas was also known as a mystic, interested in the “strange,” including the occult practice of alchemy. It was this latter interest that appears to be at the center of the meeting and collaboration between the two men. The duo apparently had first gotten together to create process of synthesis that would extract gold from water, a concept that had likely been related to Bonassoli’s desalination process.

It has been shown that extremely small amounts of gold are suspended in seawater and the ocean floor, but no process of mining the precious metal to any significant degree has ever been developed. In fact, in the 1890s, after the British chemist Edward Sonstadt discovered that gold was in seawater in 1872, the New England pastor Prescott Ford Jernegan claimed to have invented a “Gold Accumulator” that could suck gold from seawater via a process involving specially treated mercury and electricity. The whole thing turned out to be a massive hoax, and the way that story goes sounds awfully familiar to the modus operandi of the Sniffer Planes Swindle. Perhaps that was just a coincidence though. Or perhaps this tells us more about de Villegas and Bonassoli’s common interest in UFOs.

In 1900, London inventor Henry Clay Bull filed a patent on a method of extracting gold from sea water, but it apparently was never put into use. In the 1920s, during WWII, Fritz Huber attempted in vain at the process. In 1934, 1941 and 1942, reports were made about attempts at this process, but the “secret” to extraction was apparently never discovered. A profitable system has never been feasible. So, were Bonassoli and de Villegas approaching these matters in good faith? I think the evidence is clear: Absolutely not. That might be why they went from a faulty desalination system, to a faulty “water sniffer.” Perhaps it was never even intended for these “new technologies” to work as they portrayed them but were designed from the start as a con.

Before moving on, the two early supporters of Bonassoli and de Villegas should be briefly checked out. The two were the Belgian brothers Barons Bernard & Jean de Marcken de Merken, who in 1965 together bought a large holiday campsite in Ibiza, which severely lacked any freshwater source, sense it was on an island east of Spain in the Mediterranean.

Somehow, de Villegas knew the de Marcken de Merken brothers and then as a possible “solution” introduced Bonassoli and his desalination technology to the brothers. One possible clue, as to potentially how the two nobles met, is that de Villegas was a Count, one of the highest-ranked titles bestowed by the Belgian monarchy. Likewise, the brothers Bernard and Jean were Barons, two ranks below, a title passed down paternally, who were also Belgian.

Another clue, which is very clear, is the involvement by early 1966 of de Villegas and the de Marcken brothers in the Conseil Belge de l’Union Paneuropenne (CBUP), the Belgian branch of the Paneuropa Union (PEU) affiliated with the original Belgian branch, Action pour l’Europe Nouvelle et l’Expansion Atlantique (AENA). The PEU was based out of Belgium since 1965. At the CBUP, Bernard sat on the Central Council, while his brother Jean and de Villegas sat on the Directory.

The brothers would spend up to 4-5 million Belgian francs in setting up SA La Grolle and SA La Scientic to allow de Villegas and Bonassoli to experiment in a lab, and test on the campsite in Ibiza. After the device proved not to work, the team then began work on a related concept, a “water sniffer,” which would be able to locate water deposits underground through a gravity wave-based detection system. That’s the essential origin of the sniffer concept.

What’s not clear is whether or not the brothers knew that de Villeges-Bonassoli had apparently been working on a fraud or were convinced that they were working to develop a legitimate system. Whatever the case, the Belgian nobles maintained relationships going forward. If it says anything at all, in 1968, Bonassoli announced that he had invented a “death-ray,” which failed to perform fatally before journalists.

It is possible from the above evidence to conclude that de Villegas and Bonassoli were quite possibly con-artists, who crafted their deceptions around something with a potentially legitimate basis. The support of the de Marcken de Merken brothers then raises more questions. It is certain that both the brothers and de Villegas were involved in the Paneuropean Movement, specifically in Belgium. The events of 1969 will perhaps shed light on the involvement of the de Marcken brothers. It is also clear that they had been involved the de Villegas-Bonassoli team before they came up with the sniffer concept.

Water sniffer device turns to oil

So it appears that in the late 1960s, the de Villegas-Bonassoli team had abandoned the desalination concept for a “water sniffer” device. One wonders what the 4-5 million francs provided by the de Marcken brothers for La Grolle and Scientic went to? Were the brothers the first victims of de Villegas and Bonassoli? Or was there something more to these early developments? Why would Bonassoli announce in the middle of this the invention of a death-ray, which he failed to demonstrate was actually deadly? These are questions we are unfortunately unable to answer. One thing is for sure, Bonassoli claims he came upon the gravity wave detector while tinkering with electronics as part of his day job fixing televisions. In theory the device would be able to detect anything!

Having thus abandoned the desalination system, the de Villegas-Bonassoli team pursued the water sniffer concept further into 1969, a pivotal year for this story. In that year, a number of key organizations were established in Belgium around de Villegas-de Marcken de Merken orbit. Groups as the Cercle des Nations, AESP and the planned CREC, the CPUB renamed Mouvement d’Action pour l’Union Européenne (MAUE), and the LIL was apparently at this point the Belgian branch of WACL. These organizations will be discussed further in the following section.

As for the history of gravity wave detection, there isn’t much in the use of gravity waves for detection. There is an interesting story as to the history of the detection of gravity waves. Gravitational waves as a possibility were discussed in 1893 by Oliver Heaviside, followed by Henri Poincaré in 1905. Albert Einstein discussed them in 1915, in his general theory of relativity. Hermann Weyl was able to expand some on Einstein’s theories. Arthur Eddington, in 1922, challenged Einstein’s approximations. In 1936, Einstein and Nathan Rosen intended to submit a paper rejecting gravitation waves in his theory, but after Howard Robertson’s anonymous review, Einstein’s assistant Leopold Infeld convinced him to come to the opposite conclusion. In 1956, Felix Pirani made some adjustment to the understanding of gravitational waves. At Chapel Hill, in 1957, Richard Feynman discussed the sticky bead argument. Which would be expanded upon by Hermann Bondi in the following decades. The idea of using a laser interferometer for detection seems to have been floated independently by various people, including M. E. Gertsenshtein and V. I. Pustovoit in 1962 and Vladimir B. Braginskiĭ in 1966. The first prototypes were developed in the 1970s by Robert L. Forward and Rainer Weiss. A man named Joseph Weber was at the Chapel Hill meeting in 1957 and by 1969 claimed to have detected the first gravitational waves. By the following year, Weber claimed to be detecting signals from the Galactic Center.

These developments around the time may have been of interest to Bonassoli, but as we already know, he was likely looking for another and more broad way to formulate the grand con. Nevertheless, this is what was going on at the time Bonassoli and de Villegas partnered to pursue the sniffer concept. It certainly appears that Bonassoli was into this stream of thought, and that de Villegas was going to take full advantage of that.

Serious about the potential for this sniffer concept, a series of advancements occurred, but not without some setback, for the de Villegas-Bonassoli team. The man with the connections was de Villegas, who again pulled on contacts from the Paneuropean environment. Through this channel he came into contact with the fourth principal character: Jean-Eugene Violet.

This author is not exactly sure how Belgian de Villegas made contact with the french Violet. It would make sense, however, if it could have been through Le Cercle, or the Cercle complex. De Villegas was certainly a CPUB member, the Belgian PEU branch in control by Comte Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi and Archduke Otto von Habsburg. This fact has been established by 1966. It is also very possible that the pair met via Baron Bernard de Marcken de Merken. De Villegas, de Marcken and Violet are known to have attended the Grand Dîner Charlemagne, which began in the early 1960s. They have also been connected to Opus Dei, which officially began activity in Belgium by 1965. It is not clear when these men first met.

In late 1969, the Belgians de Villegas and de Marcken de Mercken were joined by our fifth principal character, Florimond Damman, at the Brussels Westbury hotel to meet with Violet and discuss how to proceed with the sniffer planes project. This meeting appears to have led to Violet reaching out in a letter of appeal to American industrialist Crosby Moyer Kelly as a potential financial backer for a first big contract. Kelly was the American promoter of Interdoc and he was involved in the aviation industry. This attempt utterly failed, because Kelly would have told Violet that “he would not invest a penny until satisfied that the invention was capable of finding water.”

One observation that can immediately be identified, is the common association between the three Belgians. Damman had been involved in the Paneuropean movement at the latest by 1962. By 1965, Damman can be found in a high-level position within the AENA, the early PEU Belgian branch. Also in 1965, Baron Bernard de Marcken de Merken was President of the AENA youth section. It is clear that as Secretary General of the CPUB, Damman was the key organizer of the Grand Diner Charlemagne, which held its ninth dinner in 1966. The event was held under the auspices of this Paneuropean movement and timed around the Charlemagne Prize. By 1966, Baron Jean de Marcken was head of the CPUB youth section, while Bernard went up to be Vice International Secretary in the PEU Central Council, alongside Damman, President of the International Events Council. Damman, still Sec.-Gen. of the CPUB, was joined by Comte Alain de Villegas, who was the CPUB President of the Events Committee. In 1967-1968, Damman and Bernard remained on the PEU Belgian International Council, at the CPUB Damman still Sec.-Gen., the de Marcken brothers head of the youth section and de Villegas head of events. Bernard was President of the Europe Meeting Club. The question then arises, how did these three Belgians come into contact with the Frenchman Jean Violet?

One thing is for sure, all these men could be found in attendance at the 15th Grand Diner Charlemagne, in 1972, at the Cercle des Nations. By 1970, the Belgians were all AESP members, which was overseen by Damman, and directed from behind the scenes by Violet. At the Cercle des Nations itself could be found, Damman, de Marcken and Violet, one of the few foreign (non-Belgian) members.

Damman has been identified as a “Cercle Pinay” member, Pinay meaning the French Prime Minister Antoine Pinay, around whom Le Cercle was established. It has been stated that Le Cercle was founded in 1952-1953 by Jean Violet, and the Germans Konrad Adenauer and Franz-Josef Strauss. As far as this author knows, de Villegas and the de Marcken brothers have not been named as Le Cercle members. However, Crosby M. Kelly, a self-proclaimed rightist and anti-communist and alleged sometime CIA operative, has been named as a Le Cercle visitor in 1970.

On August 18, 1958, a photograph was taken of an early Le Cercle meeting, Violet, Pinay and Adenauer were present at a table with 4 women and an empty chair, perhaps for a fifth lady. Exact dates however are uncertain. In October 1967, the Italian Carlo Pesenti II invited David Rockefeller to attend Le Cercle. At the time, David’s brother Nelson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were competing for the Republican presidential nomination, which Nixon succeeded by November. Nearly ten years after the last known meeting, in May 1968, David Rockefeller attended the first known Le Cercle meeting in Rome, Italy. On December 6, 1968, Rockefeller hosted the first Le Cercle meeting in America, at the Rockefeller Center, in New York, USA. This is evidence of the Cercle complex’s outreach into the USA. In the Spring of 1969, Rockefeller first suggested Henry Kissinger attend Le Cercle.

An important note here is that on April 25, 1969, Stefano Delle Chiaie and the AA launched the strategy of tension in Milan. On July 2, 1969, a Le Cercle meeting was held in Bavaria, Germany, attended by Strauss and Rockefeller, who was accompanied by Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security advisor and staple Bilderberg Conference attendee alongside Rockefeller. Other possible attendees would have been Kelly, Father Dubois, Carlo Pesenti and Giulio Andreotti. By late 1969, Violet made his appeal in vain to Kelly, in representation of the principal three Belgians involved in the Sniffer Planes project. In December 1969, Kissinger made a telephone call to Rockefeller, in which the letter of Violet to Kelly was mentioned. It was Rockefeller who forwarded Violet’s letter to Kissinger, via Crosby’s son-in-law Dave Young, which apparently dealt with the context of French and American Middle East policy. Violet had written to some extent claiming knowledge of Georges Pompidou’s position in the Middle East. Kissinger would be skeptical of this claim, accurately believing that Violet was misleading. Additionally, a damning leak of information about Kissinger and Rockefeller’s meeting with heads of several oil companies would upset the Jews.

An important note for later, on 12 December 1969, the stragi had apparently been launched in Italy with the Piazza Fontana bombing. On January 12, 1970, Kissinger and Rockefeller spoke once again, where they mentioned Violet’s letter to Kelly. Kissinger had also received a letter of Violet, which reiterated the same points.

In late January or early February 1970, Kissinger produced an undated personal memorandum, which was sent to President Nixon, with an accompanying CIA report on “Sint Unum,” identifiable with Le Cercle. This underground Catholic organization had drafted a dossier in French, which was translated by the CIA into English. The document dealt with the fight against Communist subversion within the Catholic Church. By April, the Nixon administration had given up the attempt to appoint an ambassador to the Vatican, instead forming ties unofficially. David Teacher elegantly summarizes the situation below:

“In early 1970, Sint Unum gave David Rockefeller a funding proposal for the creation of three publications in Rome, Paris and Montreal as well as “ten editorial and document centers throughout the world”. Rockefeller passed the proposal on to Kissinger, who then immediately transmitted the document and a memorandum giving his views to President Nixon, recommending that “it is too risky for the US to become involved in financing a counter-movement within the Church”. Apart from the Kissinger memorandum and its annexed CIA report, no other primary source on Sint Unum has yet emerged, and nothing else is known of its history or any action it may have undertaken.”

A certain Eric Lebec alleges that the campaigns run by Violet through the Cercle and AESP were actually actions of this Sint Unum. The German author Grossmann concluded that “Sint Unum was nothing more than a cover name for the international “system” of personal contacts, discussion circles and action groups set up by Violet since the late 1940s whose threads coalesced in the Cercle from the mid-1960s on.”

Grossmann also indicated that the motivation for seeking American funding for Violet’s activities within the Catholic Church was the halving of the German BND subsidies for “Operation Pax” and replacement of Reinhard Gehlen with Gerhard Wessel. Willy Brandt terminated the BND after becoming Premier Chancellor in September 1969. Violet was identified as the organizer and executive officer of Sint Unum, with Carlo Pesenti being president and principal financier of the group. French prime minister Robert Schumann and German Chancellor Adenauer were named as key founders. The German Strauss and the Spanish Alfredo Sanchez Bella, who “may be invited to join in the future,” had close ties to the group. Others said to be involved included Pinay, General Grossin and Gehlen. Important Sint Unum contacts in the US were George Meany and General Gruenther. The group also hoped that West German press magnate Axel Springer would agree to participate in its campaign. Violet, a close friend of Pinay, was also in contact with French and German intelligence heads, from whom he hoped to secure financial aid to carry out certain anti-communist programs of Sint Unum. The members were generally involved with a Christian Democratic party. It played an important role in Franco-German reconciliation when Charles De Gaule came to power. Above all, it was the creator of the “third basket” of the Helsinki Accords, with support of Kissinger. It is said to have disappeared along with Violet.

In response to this purported communist subversion of the Catholic Church, Sint Unum called for the creation of information and propaganda. Alice Arduini’s document states:

“The document called for the same kind of publications being circulated by the opposition: a monthly letter with the title “Religious news from Rome” that targeted Bishops; a bimonthly bulletin to be printed in Paris which was to play a similar role to “Informations Catholiques Internationales” [ICI]; and a scientific magazine to be published in Montreal. [It also proposes the establishment of ten editorial and document centers throughout the world and eight information/action centers in Latin America to spread teaching of ideas.] A third section of the dossier displayed the cost of putting out each publication and the projected budget over a five-year span. The plan would cost nearly 74 million French Franks equivalent to approximately 13.4 million American Dollars.”

Arduini poses two questions, was the plan actually put into place? What was the involvement of the United States? Sint Unum was composed principally by French and German lay Catholics. An affiliated group was also called La Commission pour l’Eglise Persecutee. The document translated by the CIA was supposed to be about Communist subversion within the Catholic Church in Latin America but was really about the Catholic Church as a whole. The $13.4 million over five years was part of a proposal to the USA for a finance of the campaign to combat the Communist subversion. This plan was a mirror image of the subversive campaign.

The two types of subversion mentioned were “progressist” and “modernist,” stating that the former was an instrument of the latter, supposed to be equivalent to Communist subversion. The dossier stated that Communists utilized more liberal trends to favor their own ends, willing to introduce themselves without leaving. The subversion was introduced as a purely religious activity. It was set to be sympathetic to socialism, the economic doctrines of which some religious leaders were sympathetic. It was also set to align with violence and revolution, so that priests and bishops would agitate for change.

This communist subversion was said to have begun in Poland, with a movement called “Pax,” which conducted undercover activities revolving around a Warsaw-Paris-Mexico axis. Its main propaganda outlet was the ICI. The second movement, which aimed at democratizing the Roman Catholic Church, came about in the Netherlands among the ecclesiastical hierarchy and had grown with the IDOC information center, operating on an Utrecht-Paris-Mexico axis.

Much of the stigma around communist infiltration of the Vatican through liberalism came about in the 1960s when the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was said to have become more liberal oriented. While there is apparently a significant amount of propaganda around this controversy, it appears related to 1963, when Paul VI became Pope. This was said to be a success of a plot to install a Masonic pope. That plot reportedly goes back to the 1800s with Guiseppe Mazzini, the Carbonari and the Alta Vendita; as well as the reported Masonic plot to instal Cardinal Rampolla as Pope.

Pope Paul VI gave speeches before the UN and was a supporter of the Temple of Understanding. He met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and rumors had it that he was planning to establish diplomatic ties to the Soviet Union. It was under Paul VI that Vatican II was concluded in 1965. It reportedly had eased the Church’s stance on Freemasonry. According to Alexis Bugnolo, Paul VI belonged to a network of consecrations that could be traced back to Cardinal Rampolla. Both attended the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. Paul VI reportedly surrounded himself with Freemasons and was homosexual. However, he was also said to have been a supporter of Opus Dei and strongly devoted to Mariology. He was also very interested in the Fatima Secrets.

At a UN speech he mentioned the construction of a “New World Order.” He had also tasked Archbishop Bugnini to come up with the new liturgy, Novus Ordo Missae. He had also succeeded in getting the Nostra aetate approved, which was influenced by Jacques Maritain.

Despite these above facts, the curious Malachi Martin and his claim that Paul VI was a Freemason is perceived to be disinformation.

Martin outlined the following scenario:

“Most frighteningly for [Pope] John Paul [II], he had come up against the irremovable presence of a malign strength in his own Vatican and in certain bishops’ chanceries. It was what knowledgeable Churchmen called the ‘superforce.’ Rumors, always difficult to verify, tied its installation to the beginning of Pope Paul VI’s reign in 1963. Indeed Paul had alluded somberly to ‘the smoke of Satan which has entered the Sanctuary’… an oblique reference to an enthronement ceremony by Satanists in the Vatican. Besides, the incidence of Satanic pedophilia—rites and practices—was already documented among certain bishops and priests as widely dispersed as Turin, in Italy, and South Carolina, in the United States. The cultic acts of Satanic pedophilia are considered by professionals to be the culmination of the Fallen Archangel’s rites.”

In another instance, Martin described a ceremony called “The Enthronement of the Fallen Archangel Lucifer” supposedly held in St. Paul’s Chapel in the Vatican, but linked with concurrent satanic rites in the US, on June 29, 1963, barely a week after the election of Paul VI. The ceremony was supposedly linked with concurrent satanic rites in South Carolina, in evident reference to Albert Pike’s Scottish Rite of the Southern Jurisdiction, and who supposedly created the Palladium Rite with Giuseppe Mazzini. According to The New American, Martin confirmed that the ceremony did indeed occur as he had described. Martin expanded:

“Suddenly it became unarguable that now during this papacy, the Roman Catholic organization carried a permanent presence of clerics who worshipped Satan and liked it; of bishops and priests who sodomized boys and each other; of nuns who performed the “Black Rites” of Wicca, and who lived in lesbian relationships… every day, including Sundays and Holy Days, acts of heresy and blasphemy and outrage and indifference were committed and permitted at holy Altars by men who had been called to be priests. Sacrilegious actions and rites were not only performed on Christ’s Altars, but had the connivance or at least the tacit permission of certain Cardinals, archbishops, and bishops… In total number they were a minority—anything from one to ten percent of Church personnel. But of that minority, many occupied astoundingly high positions or rank… The facts that brought the Pope to a new level of suffering were mainly two: The systematic organizational links—the network, in other words that had been established between certain clerical homosexual groups and Satanist covens. And the inordinate power and influence of that network.”

Monsignor Emmanuel Milingo from Zambia supported Martin’s claims, saying the Vatican was subject to an international satanic network headed by “Anthony Levy” (Anton LaVey, head of the Church of Satan in California), and homosexuality, pedophilia and illicit sex have riddled the priesthood. Yet, Milingo was close to Sun Myung Moon and supported to Unification Church. So we have a recurring problem here with these monstrous allegations.

Is this the result of the Communist subversion described in the Sint Unum’s agenda? Hard to say, with the organization’s close connection to Opus Dei and the Conservative establishment, not to mention this milieux’s ties to child abuse networks. Martin himself was an Opus Dei supporter with New Left and Zionist establishment ties, so it would seem he had his own propaganda angle as well. And Milingo was tied to the Moonies. What a strange angle this digression has gone. It was Paul VI who chose Michele Sindona as financial advisor to the Vatican, who apparently had a rocky relationship with Pesenti. Even more strange is that Paul VI apparently gave Martin the authority to represent the church for the media and Paul VI’s personal emissary was Philip Corso, who claims to have been involved in Operation Paperclip. Additionally, Paul VI was reportedly friends with James Jesus Angleton.

Upon figuring Sint Unum was Le Cercle, ISGP wondered, “to what extent this “communist” infiltration was simply used as an excuse to keep any kind of political wealth distribution programs at bay. Whatever the case, these communist fears were certainly being exploited.

Regardless of these issues, with the failed attempt to gain Kelly’s backing, initial funding for the sniffer planes project was secured by Carlo Pesenti II in the Spring of 1970. Pesenti could be considered the sixth principal character. Pesenti has already been discussed somewhat above. Besides, Pesenti, de Villegas worked on getting support for a testing site.

On April 6, 1970, in Belgium, de Villegas met with the Spanish Director-General of Information and Tourism, Ernesto Laorden Miracle, a former Spanish ambassador. Miracle worked under the Minister of Tourism, Alfredo Sanchez Bella, who would be able to promote de Villegas’ water sniffer scheme and provide several testing sites in Francoist Spain. In this way, Bella is our seventh principal character. By December 1970, de Villegas flew out to the Canaries with a contract to locate underground sources of freshwater on a site owned by Entursa, the Spanish Tourism Agency. Tests conducted on these sites proved the device unsuccessful, and likely preoccupied the year 1971. In late 1970, Violet was booted out of the SDECE by its new head Alexandre de Marenches, appointed by Pompidou.

On December 2, 1970, Le Cercle held its first meeting in Washington DC, second in the USA, at the Rockefeller family mansion. The Americans present were David Rockefeller and his Chase deputy Joseph Verner Reed, Henry Kissinger and his closest advisor Winston Lord, as well as Crosby Moyer Kelly. Nelson Rockefeller also joined the group towards the end. The European core of Le Cercle was represented by Pinay, Violet, Pesenti, Andreotti, Otto von Habsburg and Strauss. Also present were Argentinian financier Luis Maria Otero Monsegur and the Brazilian Antonio Sanchez de Larragoiti. A summary of the meeting was prepared in English.

The evening meeting began with a half-hour presentation by Violet on the growing threat of the Soviet Union and Marxism to the West. The dinner conversation was much the same, but after Nelson Rockefeller joined, Kissinger sparked a conversation with the Latin Americans present on the situation in Allende’s Chile. Five days later, Prince Borghese launched the aborted coup, Operation Tora Tora in Italy.

During 1972, Pesenti was hit with another financial assault from Sindona, permanently weakening his funds. Pesenti was able to beat back Sindona with help from Philippe De Weck. Pesenti had also secured a substantial loan from the IOR of Paul Marcinkus. Pesenti was forced to reduce funding for Violet. Despite this obstacle, Violet was active already in searching for backers. In 1972, after contacting Colonel Franck, whom he would inform of the “incredible new technology,” Violet was hired as a lawyer to the French state petroleum company Elf-Aquitaine by Jean Tropel. After the purge of the SDECE in 1970, many of the cut intel. agents were hired at Elf’s PSA.

In 1973, the price of oil had quadrupled following the breakout of the Yom Kippur War. De Villegas announced that the sniffer device could also detect oil. Pesenti was then persuaded to provide additional funding. Through contacts to Pinay and John Vorster, in 1974, de Villegas gained authorization to conduct tests over Zululand, for South Africa’s state oil company Sasol. While in Pretoria, de Villegas wrote to Damman, on August 7. Pesenti’s engineers would fit the device onto a Douglas DC-3 for the surveys. A site was identified and digging began immediately. One month later, a company called Fisalma, Inc. was registered in Panama and set up in Switzerland, presided over by De Weck at the UBS. By late 1975, the costs of digging got so high, with no oil struck, that Pesenti was forced to opt out.

Elf buys into the Sniffer Planes Project

Elf was ensnared by the Great Swindle after Pesenti was forced to back out ultimately in late 1975. As far as we know, Pesenti had no intention on warning Elf, nor did his close relationship with the Cercle complex come to an end.

Apparently through contacts of Violet, who was a lawyer employed by Elf in 1972, de Villegas and Bonassoli were introduced to Elf officials. The investor Bonassoli was willing to demonstrate the device, but with no scientists present.

In March 1976, Violet sent a message to Damman, primarily concerned with the necessity for funding to AESP, which at this point had expanded significantly. The following month in April, Violet sent another message, in which he stated that he was searching for backers, almost certainly a reference to negotiations with Elf.

In fact, Elf had been testing the machine for some time and were getting ready to obtain exclusive rights. At meetings with Elf, de Villegas would be accompanied by the “inner circle” of Pinay, including among them the mysterious Father Dubois.

From late April to early May, the sniffer device was demonstrated, without any scientists present. It was flown over and looked identical to previous exploration reports. Elf founder Pierre Guillaumat was present and supposedly completely convinced.

By the end of May, Elf signed the 200 million Swiss franc contract with Fisalma, with the first transaction taking placing in October 1976. Tropel helped oversee the transfer, which was done through Ultrafin of Roberto Calvi’s Banco Ambrasiano. In June a meeting between the President of France Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Elf President Guillaumat and former Prime Minister of France Pinay took place. After October the Cercle complex’s financial situation would dramatically increase after this point. Tellingly, in October, Violet sent a taped message to Damman, optimistic about prospects for 1977.

The second Elf-Fisalma contract was signed in June 1978, not very long after which the fraud was exposed. In 1978, de Villegas had provided the full funding for the short lived Cercle Charlemagne, which was essentially an umbrella organization for the AESP. De Villegas also attempted to gain a contract in Morocco.

Meanwhile, in 1979, Albin Chalandon took over Elf and de Marenches warned that the Sniffer Planes project had been set up by an “international swindler,” undoubtedly a reference to Violet. Soon thereafter the swindle was exposed and thus came the end of the deal. The year 1979 was very unstable for the Cercle complex. Damman and Dubois died in 1979, and with the former also the AESP. In Francs and audit would eventually publicly expose the Sniffer Planes swindle.

De Weck was able to recover 50 million of Elf’s last payment, but the other 50 million had been spent on “catholic charities and other good causes.” In France, Barre and d’Estaing were faced with accusations of coverup.

Opus Dei/AESP connections

A method employed by CD has been reexamination of information, thus there is a significant amount of repetition. There will likely be a great deal of that in this section. In the case of the Sniffer Planes, the main characters involved had a certain set of common organizations. These organizations appear to be at the center of the motive of this swindle. The organizations named in this title speak for themselves. How the unsolved Gang of Nijvel case fits into the picture will also be examined.

It has been observed that there existed a significant Belgian connection to the Sniffer Planes Swindle. Two important figures early on in this investigation were Belgians. Not just any Belgians, but nobles. There was Comte Alain de Villegas de Saint-Pierre-Jette, the mystic ufologist, and Baron Bernard De Marcken de Merken, the financier.

The two held positions within common NGOs of interest to this investigation. The organization we should first take a look at would be the Paneuropa Union (PEU) and more specifically it’s Belgian branch, which went through a number of transformations.

The two De Marcken de Merken brothers, Barons Bernard and Jean, appeared in a 1965 document ascribed to the “Journées Européennes” organized by the Action pour l’Europe Nouvelle et l’Expansion Atlantique (AENA) of the PEU, the Belgian CEDI branch, dealing with cultural diffusion in Europe and having to do with the “Europe Meeting Club.” Bernard and Jean sat on the AENA Organization Committee. Bernard was the President of the Europe Meeting Club, while Baron Jean was President for the youth section of the AENA. Alongside them on the committee was Florimond Damman, Secretary General of the AENA. There was also Jack de Spirlet, Secretary General of CEDI Belgium. Another familiar name on the committee was Henri Wynants, director of European study seminars. Presiding over the whole operation was Archduke Otto von Habsburg, who sat on the AENA Honorary Committee, was Honorary President and founder of the CEDI, and was Vice President of the PEU. Alongside von Habsburg on the AENA Honorary Committee were the following familiar names: Comte Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi (PEU President), Baron Pierre Nothomb (Honorary President of the AENA), Jacques Van Offelen (President of the AENA) and Chevalier de Rover (President of CEDI Belgium). We will likely be revisiting these persons.

The situation had shifted within the PEU somewhat by 1966. On the PEU Central Council there were the mainstays from last year, President Kalergi, then Vice President von Habsburg. There were more Vice Presidents though by this time alongside AENA/CPUB Honorary President Baron Nothomb, such as John Biggs-Davison. The PEU International Secretary was Vittorio Pons, whose immediate subordinate as Vice International Secretary was now Bernard de Marcken de Merken. President of the Committee for International Events was Florimond Damman.

By 1966, the AENA was transformed into the Conseil Belge de l’Union Paneuropeenne (CBUP). The positions held within this Belgian branch of the PEU were recorded in a document regarding the 9th Grand Diner Charlemagne, on January 24, a tradition said to have been started in the early 1960s and organized by Damman. At the CPUB, Baron Nothomb was Honorary President, while Van Offelen was President. The President of the Political Commission was Comte Jacques Pirenne. Florimond Damman was Secretary General. Presiding over European studies was Wynants. President of the Economic Committee was Spirlet. Remaining as head of the CPUB youth section was Baron Jean de Marcken de Merken. President of the Events Committee was Comte Alain de Villegas, an equivalent position to that held by Damman, his brother-in-law, in the PEU.

These positions within the AENA/CPUB and PEU were for the most part held by the same persons into 1967-1968. An AENA/CPUB document shows this, as well as some expansion in the PEU. However, Nothomb had departed his position of Honorary President of the AENA. Van Offelen was succeeded as AENA President by Adelin van Ypersele de Strihou. Radbot von Habsburg-Lorraine became President of International Relations. Committee.

It was of course around this time in the 1960s that the first developments in the Gigantic Swindle began. De Villegas and his Italian acquaintance Aldo Bonassoli were in cooperation to come up with a desalination system. De Villegas evidently through his connection in the Belgian Paneuropa milieux contacted the De Marcken de Merken brothers, who had bought an estate lacking fresh water. The brothers provided up to 3-4 million Belgian francs in setting up two entities to allow de Villegas and Bonassoli to experiment, in vain. One has to wonder, were the de Marcken brothers swindled out of this money, or was the Villegas-Bonassoli duo genuinely attempting to create this technology? As we’ve determined, it was likely a fraud from the start, the only question remaining then is of the brothers.

In any case, at the end of the 1960s, Villegas and Bonassoli switched to the Sniffer device concept. De Villegas would then pull on more contacts from this Paneuropa milieux.

The year of 1969 was critical for this environment in Belgium. Two organizations were established, the AESP and the Cercle des Nations. In late 1969, a meeting took place at the Westbury Hotel, 6 rue Cardinal Mercier, Brussels, which had been constructed in 1963 on top the land were the Hotel d’Ursel had been located. Present at the meeting was de Villegas, accompanied by Bernard de Marcken. However, the new characters involved at this point were Florimond Damman and most importantly Jean-Eugene Violet. They had convened with Violet to discuss how to proceed with the sniffer plane project. All of these men were core members of the AESP and attendees of the Grand Diner Charlemagne. Except for de Villegas, they were all confirmed members of the Cercle des Nations. Most of these men were identified as attendees of Le Cercle.

After the meeting Westbury Hotel, Violet wrote a letter to the conservative American industrialist Crosby Moyer Kelly, asking for his financial backing of the project. Kelly responded that he would not invest a penny unless satisfied that the sniffer device was capable of detecting water. The appeal from Violet made its way to the highest levels in American politics, then under the Richard Nixon administration. Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller had discussed the Violet letter, but expressed a degree of skepticism, which ultimately staved off American participation in the sniffer plane project.

The last option then became Carlo Pesenti II, the President and Principal financier of Violet’s Sint Unum. Funding from Pesenti was secured by the spring of 1970.

With initial funding secured, it was then a matter of scoring a first contract. De Villegas then went to the Paneuropean milieux, seeking the Spanish Tourism Minister Alfredo Sanchez Bella. To get in touch with Bella, on April 6, 1970, at a Spanish embassy he contacted La Orden, Ernesto Laorden Miracle, the Spanish Director-General of Information and Tourism. By the end of 1970, de Villegas had a contract in the Canaries for Entursa, the Spanish Tourism Agency.

Laorden Miracle happened to be an Opus Dei member. According to a 1986 Belgian Gendarme dossier on Opus Dei, many of the players and organizations discussed here were reported to be members of or linked to Opus Dei. Bella’s brother Florencia was a Spanish leader of Opus Dei. Alfredo Sanchez Bella was named in the dossier for this reason. Furthermore, an organization founded in 1969 called the AESP, was listed in the dossier.

The AESP was founded by Florimond Damman, brother-in-law of de Villegas, both of whom were involved in the Belgian branch of the PEU, alongside the de Marcken de Merken brothers. All linked to Opus Dei in the ‘86 dossier. Pesenti was also a member. Violet the guiding hand was also a member. The relationship between the AESP and the Sniffer Planes swindle is essentially undisputable.

Another key group was the Cercle Pinay which involved many of the key players. The head of Fisalma, Philippe De Weck was an attendee and mentioned in the Opus Dei dossier.

Violet, whom was hired by Colonel Franck at Elf as a lawyer, was a key organizer of Le Cercle and the AESP, as well as the mysterious “Sint Unum.”

One thing can be concluded about the Sniffer Planes perpetrators; that they came from the AESP, Le Cercle environment.

Appendix: Sniffer Planes Swindle characters list

Top players:

  • Comte Alain de Villegas de Saint-Pierre-Jette
  • Aldo Bonassoli
  • Baron Bernard de Marcken de Merken
  • Jean-Eugene Violet
  • Florimond Damman
  • Carlo Pesenti II
  • Philippe De Weck
  • Ernesto Laorden Miracle
  • Alfredo Sanchez Bella
  • Antoine Pinay
  • Jean Tropel
  • Colonel Franck
  • John Vorster
  • Valery Giscard d’Estaing
  • Raymond Barre
  • Yves Dubois

Other names connected:

  • Crosby Moyer Kelly
  • Henry Kissinger
  • David Rockefeller
  • Pierre Guillaumat
  • Alexander de Maranches


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