Recruited by MI5: the name's Mussolini. Benito Mussolini
Documents reveal Italian dictator got start in politics in 1917 
with help of 100 weekly wage from MI5

Tom Kington in Rome 
The Guardian, Tuesday 13 October 2009

Benito Mussolini was paid 100 a week by MI5 to keep Italy 
in the first world war. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis 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 a previously unknown area of Il Duce's CV has come to l
ight: his brief career as a British agent.

Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini got his start 
in politics in 1917 with the help of a 100 weekly wage from MI5.

For the British intelligence agency, it must have seemed like a 
good investment. Mussolini, then a 34-year-old journalist, was 
not just willing to ensure Italy continued to fight alongside the 
allies in the first world war by publishing propaganda in his paper. 
He was also willing to send in the boys to "persuade'' peace 
protesters to stay at home.

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.

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 pullout 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 6,000 a week 

Hoare, later to become Lord Templewood, mentioned the 
recruitment in memoirs in 1954, but Martland stumbled on 
details of the payments for the first time while scouring 
Hoare's papers.

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 
4m Britain was spending on the war every day, it was petty 
cash," said 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 
dictorship 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 

"There is no reason to believe the two men were friends, although 
Hoare did have an enduring love affair with Italy," said Martland, 
whose research is included in Christopher Andrew's history of 
MI5, Defence of the Realm, which was published last week.

The unpopularity of the Hoare-Laval pact in Britain forced Hoare 
to resign. Mussolini, meanwhile, built on his new colonial clout to 
ally with Hitler, entering the second world war in 1940, this time 
to fight against the allies.

Deposed following the allied invasion of Italy in 1943, Mussolini 
was killed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, by Italian partisans while 
fleeing Italy in an attempt to reach Switzerland two years later.

Martland said: "Mussolini ended his life hung upside down in Milan, 
but history has not been kind to Hoare either, condemned as an 
appeaser of fascism alongside Neville Chamberlain."