In the early 1980s suspicions that the Maltese group Front Freedom Fighters was being funded by anti-Communist entities close to the CIA were covertly communicated to the British Foreign Office, recently declassified documents reveal.
The documents show how the British High Commission in Malta was keeping the Thatcher government informed through restricted communication about the political situation in Malta after the 1981 election.
One batch of documents gives inside details on the British High Commission’s take on the FFF, its workings, and the likelihood of political tensions coming to a head.
“The FFF is believed to have about 500 supporters. It is neo-Fascist in character and its apparent aim is violence, similar to that used by underground organisations in other countries,” say the documents, seen by The Sunday Times of Malta.
The FFF had originally been set up as Friends of Josie Muscat; a campaign aimed at securing his seat in the third district on the Nationalist ticket.
The organisation, however, had moved on to become a political movement complete with its own publication, Ir-Rieda, “full of right-wing language, which is unacceptable to the Nationalist Party”.
The documents explained how the Front “distracts [then PN leader] Eddie Fenech Adami and the more responsible of the Nationalist Party leaders from their main task of opposition at a time when they should be concentrating on that”.
The conflict between the FFF and the PN came to a head and a motion proposed by then general secretary Louis Galea declaring the FFF had “political tendencies against those of the PN” was eventually approved by the party’s executive committee on July 15, 1983. The party distanced itself from the FFF’s publication Ir-Rieda, and even barred party members from any association with the Front.
Shortly after this the British High Commission reported that it considered the “FFF episode closed”, especially after Dr Muscat had agreed to abandon the Front; even if this was because he knew “it stood little chance of becoming a recognised political movement”.
The UK documents, however, had raised concerns prior to the organisation’s disbanding, particularly about its “right-wing tendencies”.
It describes how the Front’s administrator, “a man named Fava”, was, among other things, believed to have the island’s largest collection of books on Nazism and fascism.
It is unclear whether the documents are referring to Joe Fava, one of Dr Muscat’s closest collaborators at the time and a self-declared anti-Communist. The two eventually fell out in later years.
If this is the intelligence the British had on Malta, then there wasn’t much intelligence- Josie Muscat
A “rumour” that the PN suspected the group was possibly behind a number of local bomb explosions and threats, “not only against Malta Labour Party but also against Nationalists”, was reported by the British High Commission.
Contacted for his reaction, Dr Muscat laughed off the claims.
“I haven’t had such a good laugh in ages. If we were linked to bombings and this kind of stuff do you think we would have been able to roam the streets?” he said.
Dr Muscat said the organisation was mostly limited to political debating and had never even come close to any form of violence.
“If this is the intelligence the British had on Malta, then there wasn’t much intelligence,” he said.
His denial is mirrored by Dr Fenech Adami, who in his autobiography Eddie, My Journey, writes: “Though a number of bombs were planted during this period, I would not ascribe responsibility for any of them to those who supported Muscat. Quite the contrary, if one takes a close look at the incidents it is not too difficult to see that they were political moves aimed at casting us in a bad light.”
Dr Muscat also denied having any links to any anti-Communist organisations, and of having travelled to meet the CIA.
In his autobiography Dr Fenech Adami takes a hard stand against the FFF.
“My first serious confrontation with him [Josie Muscat] came when he formed a movement called Front Freedom Fighters. He started publishing a newspaper, Ir-Rieda, which actually mentioned the use of violence as a solution to our political problems.
“This was completely unacceptable to me and ran contrary to everything we stood for... I did not wish to see Muscat expelled, but this was our only option if he refused to toe the line.”
The recently declassified documents also detail how Dr Muscat had been summoned by Dr Fenech Adami to answer about an alleged trip he had taken to meet anti-Communist organisations funded by the CIA.
The British High Commissioner refers to Nationalist Party sources as having said that although Dr Fenech Adami put several questions to Dr Muscat about this alleged trip, he disclosed nothing.