Secret police forces have existed since time immemorial, from the Frumentarii of Ancient Rome to the mass digital surveillance of today. And while they’re more commonly associated with some of the most nefarious dictatorships on the planet, these unaccountable, state-funded heavies with a license to snoop have become increasingly and unnervingly banal—perhaps even cynically expected—all over the world.
More than a hundred secret police forces were set up in the last century alone—not least in the US and Europe—with many more following today. And with so many examples to choose from, here are ten of the absolute worst.
10. OVRA (1927-1945)
Largely dependent on civilian tip-offs, the Italian OVRA (Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism) even had informants with informants of their own—including Bice Pupeschi (Informer Number 35) and her private network of almost 40 subordinate spies.
Between 1926 and 1943, 17,000 citizens—mostly anti-fascist thinkers and intellectuals—were confined to rural “surveillance enclaves” where their lives were tightly controlled. 160,000 others, including Jews, were subject to ammonizione (restrictions on their activities and movements). Some of those grassed up and arrested were guilty of nothing more than telling jokes about Mussolini.
OVRA was also notorious for enforcing a kind of sexual fascism, actively preventing abortions and demonizing homosexuality. The goal, apparently, was to strengthen the Italian “race.”
Throughout his time in power, though, Mussolini had a powerful rival: the Roman Catholic Church. Despite agreeing on a great many issues—including the “problem” of Jews (and also despite attempts to forge a Vatican-Fascist alliance)—there remained a mutual distrust between them. For this reason, OVRA set about gathering intelligence on senior Catholic pederasts, planning to blackmail them into submission.
Mussolini himself is said to have enjoyed reading reports on some of the saucier priests’ sex lives—including that of Pope Pius XI’s close personal friend Monsignor Camillo Caccia Dominioni, a cardinal who lured young boys to his apartment for sex.