Colonel Albert Bachmann: Swiss spymaster whose paranoid fantasies embarrassed his government
Tuesday 19 July 2011
Colonel Albert Bachmann was Switzerland's colourful but controversial spymaster, who single-handedly made his country's intelligence service a laughing stock. Through his fantasies and paranoia he brought humiliation upon the Swiss government when he was exposed. Loyalists regarded him as a fearless visionary; others agreed with the intelligence agent who dismissed his former boss as "a glorified Boy Scout who saw evil everywhere and believed that he alone possessed the absolute truth about national defence."
Bachmann, who headed Switzerland's military intelligence force, the UNA, waged a one-man crusade against Communism and a possible Soviet-bloc invasion. He bought property in Ireland for use by a government in exile and set up a secret army, Projekt-26 (P-26) – 2,000 male and female fighters trained in guerrilla tactics, intended as a "stay-behind" army to repel Soviet forces.
Albert Bachmann, known as Bert, was born in a suburb of Zurich in 1929. He entered the printing trade and joined Freie Jugend, the youth organisation of the communist-leaning Swiss Party of Labour. But in 1948, following the Communist coup d'état in Prague, Bachmann renounced his left-wing sympathies, became staunchly pro-West and began national service with the grenadiers. Despite his lack of education and polish, he secured a place at officer training academy, where he specialised in intelligence gathering.
The 1968 Soviet taming of Czechoslovakia confirmed him as a Cold War hardliner. In 1969 he created a stir as the principal author of Civil Defence; 2.6 million copies were distributed. Its red cover, and its identification of leftists, pacifists and intellectuals as internal enemies, earned contempt-uous comparisons to Mao's Little Red Book.
In order to escape the fall-out, Bachmann went to Biafra, then struggling to secede from Nigeria. There, he operated undercover as an upper-class Englishman named Henry Peel, one of several code names he favoured. On his return in 1976 he was promoted to colonel and named as chief of Military Intelligence. This gave him control over three departments including Bureau Ha, an unofficial intelligence service created during the Second World War, and Special Service D, a resistance force trained to harass an occupying army. This inspired P-26.
Using government funds, Bachmann purchased Liss Ard, a 200-acre estate outside Skibbereen in Cork to serve as a refuge for the government-in-exile and a store for Swiss gold reserves. Neither this nor the secret anti-Soviet army had been officially sanctioned.
His career was only halted following an investigation into another operation, which deeply embarrassed Switzerland and Austria – friends with few, if any, secrets from one another.
In November 1979, 32,000 Austrian troops were on exercises on a stretch of the Danube valley in what was billed as the country's biggest military exercise since the Second World War. Although the Austrians invited Eastern bloc observers to watch the manoeuvres in St Pölten, they were surprised to see a middle-aged man in a rental car carrying the classic impedimenta of espionage: camera, binoculars, maps and a notebook. The police shadowed him for a few days before arresting him on charges of spying (for information freely available to all observers).
He was Kurt Schilling, a 57-year old Swiss time and motion expert, working, he insisted, in the interests of Swiss defence. At first the Austrians thought he was an Eastern bloc spy. Then Swiss officials discovered Bachmann had sent him. Austrians were astonished; the Vienna daily Die Presse described him as "the spy who came in from the Emmentaler," referring to the Swiss cheese. At Schilling's trial it emerged that his brief had been to gauge how long Austria could hold out in the event of a Soviet invasion. As Schilling was clearly inept, the judge was lenient and sentenced him to a suspended five-month sentence and deportation.
Bachmann was suspended; further investigation exposed P-26 and related initiatives. The Defence Minister, Georges-André Chevallaz, found the discoveries so outlandish that their architect was suspected of being a double agent. Bachmann resigned in 1980 and retired to Ireland, though the project continued under different names until the Swiss government dissolved it in 1990.
Albert Bachmann, intelligence official: born Zurich 26 November 1929; married; died Cork 12 April 2011.
- 1 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
Eleven members of same family hospitalised after eating deadly pufferfish
Phone-hacking: The Piers Morgan connection - Mirror admits some stories during Morgan's tenure may have been obtained by illegal means
Tony Blair 'says Ed Miliband will lose 2015 general election'
Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Tony Blair 'says Ed Miliband will lose 2015 general election'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Putin: The US is to blame for almost all the world's major conflicts
£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...
£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...