Nato’s Secret Armies (Operation Gladio)
NATO’s Secret Armies – by Stephen Lendman
OpEd News | September 15, 2010
In his book, “NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe,” Daniele Ganser described their clandestine Cold War operations, run by European secret services, collaborating with NATO, the CIA and Britain’s MI6 and Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) against a possible Soviet invasion, internal communist takeovers, or others on the political left gaining power.
The network included France, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Luxemburg, as well as politically neutral European countries – Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.
Named “Gladio” (Latin for double-edged sword), NATO’s armies remained secret until August 1990, when then Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti confirmed Italy’s participation in testimony before a Senate subcommittee investigating terrorism, General Vito Miceli, former Italian military secret service director, saying in protest:
“I have gone to prison because I did not want to reveal the existence of this super secret organization. And now Andreotti….tells….parliament!”
According to a 1959 Italian military secret service document, “these armies had a two-fold strategic purpose: firstly, to operate as a so-called ‘stay-behind’ group in the case of a Soviet invasion and to carry out a guerrilla war in occupied territories; secondly, to carry out domestic operations in case of ’emergency situations.’ ”
In Italy, against both communist and socialist parties, it was claimed they wanted to weaken NATO “from within,” Italian judge, Felice Casson, learning that right-wing terrorists carried out bombings against civilians, blamed them on the left, neo-fascist Vincenzo Vinciguerra explaining the scheme as follows:
“The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the state to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the state cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.”
In 2000, the Italian Senate was more explicit, saying:
“Those massacres, those bombs, those military actions had been organized or promoted or supported by men inside Italian state institutions and, as had been discovered more recently, by men linked to the structures of United States intelligence,” meaning CIA mainly.
Former director William Colby admitted in his memoirs that covert western armies were a major CIA initiative, begun post-WW II, and restricted “to the smallest possible coterie of the most reliable people, in Washington (and) NATO” to keep the initiative secret.
Yet once its existence was confirmed, the EU parliament drafted a sharply critical resolution saying:
“These organisations (sic) operated and continue to operate completely outside the law since they are not subject to any parliamentary control….call(ing) for a full investigation into the nature, structure, aims and all other aspects of these clandestine organisations.”
Only Italy, Belgium and Switzerland did them, the GHW Bush administration not commenting when it was preparing for war against Iraq, fearing it might harm its alliance.
Gladio, however, was real, designed like Winston Churchill’s British Special Operations Executive (SOE) – to help anti-Nazi resistance forces carry out insurgencies in occupied territories. After NATO’s 1949 creation, the so-called Clandestine Committee of the Western Union (CCWU) was secretly integrated into its operations, by 1951 called the Clandestine Planning Committee (CPC).
Then in 1957, a second secret army called Allied Clandestine Committee (ACC) was established by NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR), giving America overall command and control. It relyied heavily on dedicated anti-communists, largely from the political right, including former Nazis and like-minded terrorists, operatives to weaken the political left and neutralize and defeat Soviet Russia, ostensibly in case of invasion, the chance for which was practically nil.
Italy’s Secret Army
In researching right-wing terrorism, Judge Felice Casson discovered them, their link to the political right, and examples of their lawlessness. One instance was in 1972 when a car bomb killed three Carabinieri, Italy’s parliamentary police, wrongly blamed on the Red Brigades like for other attacks carried out by extremist anti-communist groups, blamed on the left.
Right wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra was later charged with the Carabinieri killings, explaining at his 1984 trial that Italy’s security apparatus supported his crimes, saying:
“There exists in Italy a secret force parallel to the armed forces, composed of civilians and military men, in an anti-Soviet capacity; that is, to organize a resistance on Italian soil against a Russian army.”
In fact, he revealed Gladio and its link to terrorism without naming it, calling it “a secret organization, a super-organization with a network of communications, arms, and explosives, and men trained to use them.”
A 2000 parliamentary investigation concluded that operatives “linked to the structures of United States intelligence” were involved in bombings, massacres, and other terrorist attacks as part of a campaign against the political left. In 2001, General Giandelio Maletti, former Italian counterintelligence head, confirmed CIA’s involvement to “do anything to stop Italy from sliding to the left.”
Turkey’s Secret Armies
During the Cold War, Turkey guarded a third of NATO’s borders with Warsaw Pact countries. Its “Counter-Guerrilla” secret army carried out some of the most sensitive missions, under the command of Turkish special forces to “organize resistance in case of a communist occupation.”
According to then Turkish army commander, General Semih Sancar, America financed it, committing terror attacks against the political left, one of many occurring in 1977 in Taskim Square, Istanbul. During a mass May 1 (May Day) trade union rally, snipers on surrounding buildings killed 38 attendees, injuring hundreds more during a 20 minute rampage. Several thousand police on hand did nothing to intervene.
“Counter-Guerrilla” also engaged in torture, survivors later explaining their ordeal. Some became outspoken critics, but never got authorities to investigate their ordeal or expose other crimes.
Spain’s Secret Armies
From his Spanish Civil War victory until his 1975 death, Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship ruled Spain, his government the embodiment of Gladio, according to early 1980s prime minister Calvo Sotelo.
In his book titled, “Gladio,” its 1971 – 74 Italian commander, Gerardo Serravalle, explained that Franco tried to establish contacts with NATO’s secret army long before Spain became an official NATO member in 1982. However, its secret service wasn’t interested in a stay-behind function, but wanted a tool for internal control to neutralizes leftist elements.
Portugal’s Secret Armies
Gladio was active in Portugal, the nation’s press telling a national audience in 1990 about “a secret network, erected at the bosom of NATO….financed by the CIA” in the 1960s and 1970s. It was called ‘Aginter Press,’ ” involved in assassinations and other terrorist acts, internally and in Portugal’s African colonies.
A later Italian Senate inquiry learned that Yves Guerin-Serac, a French secret warfare specialist, directed Aginter Press. In November 1990, Portuguese defense minister Fernando Nogueira insisted he knew nothing about it, saying no “information whatsoever (existed) concerning (any form of) Gladio structure in Portugal.”
Italians had to confirm it, including Judge Guido Salvini saying it conducted secret military operations during the Cold War to defend “the Western world against a probable and imminent invasion of Europe by the troops of the Soviet Union and the other communist countries.”
In fact, like other Gladio operations, it waged global war against the political left, killing thousands to defend privilege against beneficial social change, what remains ongoing today, America its leading exponent.
Greece’s Secret Armies
In late 1944, Winston Churchill ordered a secret Greek army created to prevent leftists from gaining power, called by various names, including the Greek Mountain Brigade, the Hellenic Raiding Force, or Lochos Oreinon Katadromon (LOK). Field Marshall Alexander Papagos excluded “almost all men with views ranging from moderately conservative to left wing,” assuring its members would be exclusively hard right anti-communists.
In 1952, Greece joined NATO and was fully integrated into its stay-behind network, the CIA and LOK reconfirming their mutual cooperation in a secret March 25, 1955 document, British journalist, Peter Murtagh, later learning that:
“The Raiding Force doubled as the Greek arm of the clandestine pan-European guerrilla network set up in the 1950s by NATO and the CIA which was controlled (in) Brussels by the Allied Coordination Committee.” It was a stay-behind force against a possible “Soviet invasion of Europe. It would co-ordinate guerrilla activities between Soviet occupied countries and liaise with governments in exile.”
According to former CIA agent Philip Agee, it also served as “a nucleus for rallying a citizen army against the threat of a leftist coup,” each of several groups “capable of mobilizing and carrying on guerrilla warfare with minimal or no outside direction.”
Agee also explained that “Paramilitary groups, directed by CIA officers, operated in the sixties throughout Europe,” stressing that “perhaps no activity of the CIA could be as clearly linked to the possibility of internal subversion.”
Evidence points to LOK’s involvement in the Greek April 20, 1967 coup, one month before national elections likely to have overwhelmingly elected the left-leaning George and Andreas Papandreou’s Center Union. Under NATO’s Prometheus plan, LOK took over the Defense Ministry. Tanks rolled through Athens, and rightist forces took control of communications centers, parliament, and the royal palace, arresting over 10,000. Many were later tortured and killed.
In 1990, the socialist opposition wanted a parliamentary investigation, denied by public order minister Yannis Vassiliadis, saying there was no need to examine such “fantasies,” meaning what happened was justified.
France’s Secret Armies
“Toward the end of 1946, we got to know of the existence of a black resistance network (a secret army), made up of resistance fighters of the extreme right, Vichy collaborators and monarchists. They had a secret attack plan called ‘Plan Bleu,’ which should have come into action either towards the end of July or on August 6, (1947).”
Though public outrage closed it down, the military secret service (Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionnage – SDECE) under Henri Alexis Ribiere set up another, again fearing a Soviet invasion, more likely to prevent leftists from gaining power.
In the early 1960s, it saw the de Gaulle government as a threat like the communists, inciting some in the stay-behind network to initiate “terrorist actions” against his Algerian peace plan, later confirmed in 1990 by then French military secret service Admiral Pierre Lacoste. Even so, he felt the stay-behind network was justified, no matter its hard right militancy.
During his presidency (from 1981 – 1995), President Francois Mitterrand distanced himself from the initiative, saying in 1990:
“When I arrived, I didn’t have much left to dissolve. There only remained a few remnants, of which I learned the existence with some surprise because everyone had forgotten about them.”
Italian Prime Minister Giulo Andreotti, however, wasn’t pleased by how Mitterrand dismissed France’s involvement, saying that far from being shut down, France’s secret army participated in a secret October 24, 1990 ACC meeting in Brussels. Mitterrand refused to comment.
Germany’s Secret Armies
In 1990, when learning about Germany’s secret army, socialist parliamentarian Hermann Scheer called for an investigation at the highest levels saying:
“….the existence of an armed military secret organization outside all governmental or parliamentary control is incompatible with the constitutional legality, and therefore must be prosecuted (under) criminal law.”
Later he stepped back after learning that socialists knew and suppressed it. At the same time, press reports claimed right-wing extremists, including former Nazis, were part of a secret army called Organisation Gehlen (ORG, later changed to BND), named for WW II General Reinhard Gehlen, head of Eastern Front intelligence. He was later recruited by America to establish an anti-Soviet spy ring, and by West Germany to head its intelligence.
According to a former NATO intelligence official, “Gehlen was the spiritual father of Stay Behind in Germany….his role known to the West German leader Konrad Adenauer from the outset.”
On September 9, 1952, former SS officer Hans Otto told Frankfort police that he “belong(ed) to a political resistance group, the task of which was to carry out sabotage activities and blow up bridges in case of a Soviet invasion,” adding that while “neo-fascist tendencies were not required, most members” had them. In addition, financing was “provided by an American citizen (named) Sterling Garwood.”
Otto said the initiative was code-named Technischer Dienst des Bundes Deutscher Jugend (TD BDJ), commanded by Erhard Peters, and financed by the CIA. It had a blacklist of leftists to be assassinated in case of an emergency, perhaps manufactured ones to do it anyway.
Though officials like August Zinn, Hessen state Prime Minister, were outraged and wanted members investigated, the highest Karlsruhe court, Bundesgerichshof (BGH), ordered all TD BDJ members released, Zinn believing “The only legal (reason was that) they acted (in response to) America(‘s) direction.”
Austria’s Secret Armies
In 1947, Austria’s first secret army became known when a right-wing stay-behind network was discovered. The so-called Soucek-Rossner conspiracy resulted in a number of arrests, Soucek and Rossner testifying that they had recruited and trained right-wing partisans to prepare for a Soviet invasion, insisting Washington and Britain had full knowledge and approved. Nonetheless, both men were convicted and sentenced to death in 1949, yet were mysteriously pardoned by Chancellor Theodor Korner, perhaps following CIA orders.
Thereafter, senior Austrian officials approved of a stay-behind army and began cooperating with the CIA and MI6. Franz Olah set one up, code-named Osterreichischer Wander-Sport-und Geselligkeitsverein (OWSGV), later saying “special units were trained in the use of weapons and plastic explosives.” His prime motive was to prevent a leftist takeover, explaining:
“It wasn’t our intention to fight communism in the Soviet Union but to fight against” internal leftist elements. “We took weapons. We also had modern plastic explosives that were easy to handle. I had a small arsenal of weapons in my office. There must have been a couple of thousand people working for us…. Only very, very highly positioned politicians and some members of the union knew about it.”
In 1996, the Boston Globe revealed the existence of secret CIA arms caches in Austria, President Thomas Klestil and Chancellor Franz Vranistzky insisting they knew nothing about it or the existence of a secret army.
Clinton’s State Department spokesman, Nicholas Burns, called their aim “noble,” admitting that similar networks operated in other European countries. In August 2001, GW Bush appointed Burns US Permanent Representative to NATO, where he headed the combined State-Defense Department US Mission and coordinated NATO’s response to the 9/11 attacks.
Switzerland’s Secret Armies
Despite its neutrality, a 1990 parliamentary investigation revealed a secret stay-behind army, code-named Special Service, then P26, operating within the Swiss military secret service Untergruppe Nachrichtendienst und Abwehr (UNA), during most of the Cold War.
Yet Switzerland experienced no terrorist attacks or coup threats throughout the period, so why the need for extremism. Parliamentary commission Senator Carlo Schmid said he “was shocked that something like this” went on, calling it “conspiratorial….like a black shadow.”
A judicial investigation, headed by Judge Pierre Cornu, was charged to learn if Swiss neutrality was violated. Evidence confirmed that P26 cooperated closely with Britain’s MI6 and other UK intelligence, concluding, however, that no Swiss laws were broken, whether or not true.
Belgium’s Secret Armies
On November 7, 1990, socialist defense minister Guy Coeme told a national TV audience that a NATO-linked secret army operated covertly throughout the Cold War, adding:
“I want to know whether there exists a link between the activities of this secret network, and the wave of crime and terror which our country suffered from during the past years.”
A parliamentary investigation followed, Belgium’s Senate confirming that its secret army consisted of two branches, called SDRA8 and STC/Mob, the former a military unit within Belgium’s military secret Service General du Renseignement (SGR) under the Defense Ministry. Its members were trained in unorthodox warfare, combat, sabotage, parachute jumping, and maritime operations.
STC/Mob was part of the civilian secret service – Surete de L’Etat (Surete), under the ministry of justice. Its members were technicians, trained in radio operations and intelligence gathering under enemy occupation conditions.
While senators obtained good information on the stay-behind armies’ structure, they learned little about their involvement in terrorist operations, including so-called Brabant massacres from 1983 – 85, killing 28 and injuring many more. Despite exerting enormous pressure, they never got names of key operatives or who carried out the Brabant terror.
Netherlands’ Secret Armies
Like Belgium, it had two branches, one called Operations (O for short), directed by Louis Einthoven, a staunch anti-communist, to carry out sabotage, guerrilla operations, and building a local resistance. The other was called Intelligence (or I), established post-WW II by JM Somer, but led by JJL Baron van Lynden, responsible for intelligence gathering and dissemination to those with a need to know.
Dutch parliamentarians weren’t happy about keeping them out of the loop, but never ordered investigations into what clearly was an abuse of power.
Luxemburg’s Secret Armies
On November 14, 1990, Luxemburg’s Prime Minister Jacaques Santer told his parliament:
“all NATO countries in central Europe have taken part in these preparations, and Luxemburg could not have escaped this international solidarity,” explaining that the Service de Renseignements (its secret service) ran the network in peacetime, but wasn’t linked to terrorism or other abuses of power.
Denmark’s Secret Armies
Code-named Absalon, EJ Harder led it, an unnamed network member explaining:
“There were twelve districts, structured according to the cell principle, but not as tightly organized as during the War.”
Also, there were no alleged terrorist links, yet another member said its mission was to act in case of a Soviet invasion as well as prevent leftists from gaining power, both called “a clear and present danger.”
As in other countries, operations were secret. Its members were “ninety-five per cent….military, conservative, and staunchly anti-communist.
Norway’s Secret Armies
After European secret armies became known in 1990, journalists asked Norway’s Defense Ministry for an explanation, its spokesman, Erik Senstad, saying only that they were essential to the country’s security.
Code-named Rocambole (ROC), it was run by Norway’s secret service (NIS), its “philosophy….based on the lessons learned during the German occupation,” to prepare for a potential future one, and like elsewhere to prevent leftists from gaining power. “Cooperation with the CIA, MI6, and NATO was intense,” but not without controversy, one example being NATO ordering intelligence conducted on anti-NATO Norwegians with strong pacifist convictions.
Clearly, Norway’s sovereignty was breached, enough to get Brigadier Simon, chief of NATO’s Special Projects Branch, to apologize and promise to end to these type operations.
Sweden’s Secret Armies
Sweden’s Sakerhetspolis (SAPO), its security police, helped recruit it, working with Britain’s MI6 “to learn how to use dead letter box techniques to receive and send secret messages,” as well as intelligence gathering and ways to deal with emergency situations.
Swedish officials never provided details, denied any link to NATO or CIA, but the Agency’s operative, Paul Garbler, explained that Sweden was a “direct participant” in the network, adding: “I’m not able to talk about it without causing the Swedes a good deal of heartburn,” clearly suggesting disturbing abuses of power, possibly including the 1986 assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme, a staunch anti-nuclear proponent, wanting Scandinavia freed from nuclear weapons.
Finland’s Secret Armies
As the only Western European country invaded by the Soviet Union during the so-called Winter War (November 30, 1939 – March 13, 1940), Finland lost 20% of its forces and 16,000 square miles of territory. It’s why Finns sided with the Nazis, to regain its land and prevent this happening again.
During the Cold War, Finland’s border with Soviet Russia was guarded by fences, land mines, and regular patrols. Also, a secret Western-linked resistance organization existed, made up largely of retired Finnish army officers – armed, trained, CIA-funded and equipped, and ready to respond in case history repeated. “Secrecy was extremely tight,” no one talking about what they did or why. Even Finland’s government was kept out of the loop.
A Final Comment
Until made public in 1990, Western Europe’s secret armies remained a closely held secret – to defend capitalism against communism and the political left, individual countries having discretion on their operations, some mainly or entirely stay-behind, others involved with terrorism.
The former group included Denmark, Finland, Norway, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands. In contrast, Italy, Turkey, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Sweden actively engaged in terrorism, including against their own citizens to hype fear.
America, to this day, is the world’s leading state-sponsored terrorism exponent, at home and abroad. CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security operatives are in the lead, putting a myth to their abiding by the rule of law or a nation espousing democratic freedoms, human rights, civil liberties, and equal justice, what only an aroused public can stop if awakened to the danger and acts.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Author’s Bio: I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.