‘Staying Behind’: NATO’s terror network and the ‘strategy of tension’

The Ukraine putsch in Kiev on February 23 reportedly involves the NATO Gladio, an international network of secret cells of the NATO member states to combat the worker’s movement and communism in Western Europe. It originated with the famous directive of Churchill to “fan the flames” of the partisan warfare during World War II through the SOE (Special Operations Executive); by this it was understood to penetrate and subvert the anti-fascist resistance movement, and make it a tool of the Anglo-American forces, as in Greece. The post-war Gladio network had its own intelligence structure, its own secret military training, a network of illegal arms and PSYOPS service. These actions are part of U.S. military theory called the “strategy of tension,” and were particularly used in Italy in the 70s. The Gladio network was neither more nor less than an organized terrorist network within NATO countries. This network is similar to that developed with Operation Condor in Latin America during the same period. – TS

– Fighting Talk, May 1995 –

In defiance of Anglo-American collusion with the fascist powers, Internationalist fighters came to support the Spanish Republic against Fascism. Photo is of the Lincoln Brigade, from the USA

In defiance of Anglo-American collusion with the fascist powers, Internationalist fighters came to support the Spanish Republic against Fascism. Photo is of the Lincoln Brigade, from the USA

As the 50th anniversary of the end of the war is celebrated, some unpleasant truths will become further buried beneath the myth of the “triumph of freedom and democracy” over fascism. For if fascism itself was the great evil that had to be stopped at any cost, how are we to explain the total failure of the British, French and American governments to do anything about the war in Spain from 1936 to 1939, when Franco’s fascist forces, openly supported with arms and troops by Hitler and Mussolini, destroyed the “democratically elected” republican government? The answer is not hard to find. For Western capitalism the real enemy was not fascism but the popular revolution inaugurated by the Spanish working class.

Whilst a great many of those actively engaged in the war against Hitler genuinely fought under an anti-fascist banner, whether in the various official armed forces or the guerilla networks, the war was essentially a diversion from the ongoing concern of the European and American elites. German expansion had to be stopped because it challenged the economic and political interests of those elites. Having been defeated, business as usual could be resumed, specifically the business of preventing any internal threat to the ruling classes in the form of popular revolution.

This may sound far fetched and, if it does, the reason is that following 1945 the so-called Cold War assumed a dominant position. The Soviet threat to Western “freedom” was to provide the necessary external focus whereby post-war governments could re-consolidate their position as part of the European Alliance.

An essential requirement of this consolidation was that the “left” should not come to power in Western Europe as a result of internal developments.

Greek resistance fighters

Greek resistance fighters

The reversion to business as usual began even before May 1945. Between 1943 and 1947 Britain and America were involved in a war against those who had fought the Nazi occupation in Greece.

By 1943 the Greek National Liberation Front (EAM), the main resistance grouping, and its armed wing ELAS were effectively in control of liberated zones in the country. This organization was certainly dominated by communists, but it had wide support from a populace that did not want a return to the pre-war days of monarchy and dictatorship. However, Churchill was determined that the left should not come to power and that monarchy should be reinstated, despite it being clear that this would lead to civil war.

Greek women, ELAS fighters

Greek women, ELAS fighters

From 1943, the British and Americans began infiltrating special units into Greece specifically in order to prevent a communist/republican government being established. They worked alongside a right wing resistance group known as EDES which collaborated with the Nazis. As the Germans withdrew from October 1944, EAM controlled 90 per cent of the country. But the British set about establishing an “interim government,” in which EAM were given only 1/3 representation and some insignificant ministerial positions. Meanwhile the Greek king (and his fascist-inclined wife) showed no intention of renouncing any claim to rule. In November 1944 the Allied forces ordered ELAS to disarm. On December 3rd the gloves came off: police fired on a mass demonstration in Athens and fighting broke out between British troops and ELAS.

1940s-GreeceResistanceFighters-01Under the “interim government” the army, police and civil service stayed firmly in right wing hands, with former collaborators often allowed to remain in position whilst left wingers were excluded. The British and Americans did everything they could to support the right wing and ensure its success in elections held in 1946. British interference subsided, but only because the Americans took virtual control of the country from 1947, pumping in massive economic and military aid. The extent of American control was such that the Greek prime minister’s documents had to be counter-signed by the American mission in order to become valid. Meanwhile, in the mountains, U.S. “military advisors” supervised campaigns against ELAS, involving mass arrests, court martials, imprisonments and executions. All leftist activity was banned, and activists who were not killed were sent into political “re-education” camps or exiled.

This policy kept the Right in power until the 60s, when there was a resurgence of popular dissent and industrial unrest.

The response of the establishment was the military coup of April 21, 1967, leading to seven years of right-wing military dictatorship. This coup was organised by the CIA, and is believed to have involved members of an armed and trained paramilitary unit, run by the CIA from some time in the 50s and only “officially” disbanded in 1988. This long-term operation was codenamed “Operation Sheepskin.” It has been suggested that the period immediately prior to the coup they were involved in applying the tactics of “state of emergency creation”: black propaganda, terrorist bombings and other provocations to be blamed on the Left.

The British and Americans learnt much from the Greek experience about effective ways to combat popular anti-capitalist movements and preserve the free market interests of business in their own backyard. This involved bankrolling the right wing parties, particularly the Christian Democrats; smearing Left candidates and other more unpleasant tactics. Whilst the Christian Democrat governments might have been lukewarm about American domination of Europe, they were desperate to prevent the Left coming to power.

“As part of this effort the Americans and British helped recreate the internal security machines of most European countries. The most willing and experienced people they found were ex-Nazis, Fascists and collaborators. Highly-trained and fervent anti-communists, these were the people who would use the brutality it was necessary to deploy against the Left … The Americans in effect planted an intelligence network into the heart of the European countries to ensure the ‘deal’ (the anti-Left/pro-American and pro-capitalist deal) was kept. These forces would ensure that attempts to renege on the deal would be militarily challenged.” (Open Eye)

In fact, the Greek-based “Operation Sheepskin” mentioned in relation to the 1967 coup was but one part of a European wide “Stay Behind” network, established by the British and Americans.

Ostensibly this network existed to provide the nucleus of a guerilla army to fight on after any Soviet invasion, using arms and explosives which had already been planted.

However, the evidence leaves little doubt that this network also had the intention of resisting “internal subversion.”

The Stay Behind network was conceived by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and put into operation in 1948 by the National Security Council which set up the Office of Policy Co-ordination to run it, staffed and funded by the CIA. Ultimately, coordination of the network took place under the auspices of NATO. It involved personnel from the “official” security services in each country and received covert funding from industry and the state. Indeed funding and support of such groups was one of the main tasks of the newly-formed CIA. However, members of the network were mainly recruited from the civilian population, notably “ex-fascists” and others whose “anti-communist” credentials were unimpeachable, no matter what they’d been up to during the war years.

Gladio emblem of the Italian branch of the NATO paramilitary terror organizations. The emblem means “In  silence I preserve freedom.”

Gladio emblem of the Italian branch of the NATO paramilitary terror organizations. The emblem means “In silence I preserve freedom.”

The existence of the Stay Behind network was not a matter for public knowledge. However, the activities of the Italian branch — codenamed Operation Gladio — was exposed in a series of judicial investigations, particularly between 1990 and 1992.

Operation Gladio was set up in 1958 with help from British Intelligence and the CIA, with funding from the latter. This assistance continued, with Gladio units being trained in Britain in the early 1970s and by U.S. instructors at a military base in the Canary Islands from 1966 to the mid-70s. Gladio was controlled by the Italian secret services from “Office R.” It had strong links with P2, a fascist Masonic Lodge composed of most of the top military officers, political leaders, industrialists, bankers and diplomats in Italy. P2 has been described as effectively constituting a right wing parallel government in Italy. In addition, Gladio became a focal point for fascist members of “Marine Star” a veteran’s group set up after the Second World War, and was to make use of other fascist groups in the 70s and 80s.

From the outset, Gladio’s concern was wider than the official anti-Soviet justification. A briefing minute of June 1st, 1959 reveals Gladio’s concern with “internal subversion and that it was to play a determining role … not only in the general policy levels of warfare, but also in the politics of emergency.” The “emergency” as far as they were concerned was to come with the growth during the 60s and 70s of the popular anti-capitalist movement, industrial unrest and an apparent shift from centre to left by the ruling Christian Democratic Party.

Those involved in Gladio/P2 began planning a coup 1964, drawing up lists of thousands of politicians, trade unionists and activists to be rounded up. An actual coup attempt was made in 1970 led by the navy commander Prince Valerio Borghese, a supporter of the main Italian fascist party MSI. The plot came to nothing and Borghese was tried.

US-NATO’s Italian “strategy of tension”

In fact Gladio was deeply involved in the so-called “strategy of tension” in the late 60s and 70s. The aim of the strategy, of which the principle tactic was “terrorist outrages” carried out by fascists, was to spread panic and unrest and to directly attack the Left and provoke them into an armed response, which would both justify increased state power under the pretext of a “national emergency” and isolate the Left from popular support. General Gerardo Serravalle, head of “Office R” from 1971-1974, revealed that at a Gladio meeting in 1972 at least half of the upper echelons “had the idea of attacking the communists before an invasion. They were preparing for civil war.”

In an early but well known incident, a bomb was exploded in December 1969 in the Banca Nazionale dell’ Agricoltura in Milan.

Police immediately blamed and arrested anarchists, but the real perpetrators were the fascists Franco Freda and Giovanni Ventura.

Ventura was in close contact with Colonel Guido Giannettinni of the SID (part of the secret services), who was a fervent supporter of the MSI. The subsequent trial of the two fascists was obstructed and delayed until 1981, when they were given life sentences, only to be cleared on appeal.

As the fascists embarked on a wave of bombings and shootings, civil rights in Italy began to be severely curtailed, with a 1975 law restricting popular campaigning and radical political discussion. Many people were locked up under “anti-terrorist” legislation or expelled from the country. As expected, the Left, in the shape of the Red Brigades, resorted to armed struggle to defend themselves against this assault. This simply strengthened Gladio/P2’s hand — the Red Brigades were blamed for fascist outrages, systematically infiltrated by the secret services and used to carry out actions which supported the hidden agenda.

The Italian far right claimed responsibility for many of its actions and its members were actively pursued by the Italian police. Some fled to Britain in the aftermath of the August 1980 bomb at the Bologna railway station and were provided with safe-housing by British fascists in the League of St. George.

Massacre that struck the Italian city of Bologna on August 2nd, 1980

Massacre that struck the Italian city of Bologna on August 2nd, 1980

However, it was the Bologna bomb that led to the unravelling of the link between Italian fascist paramilitaries; P2; the secret services and Gladio. The 1982 testimony of a P2 member in prison in Switzerland, revealed that the outrage was instigated by that organization and involved elements of the secret services. Subsequent investigators revealed that the explosive used probably came from Gladio arsenals.

In effect Gladio had both “official” and “unofficial” wings, with the latter initiating its own “anti-communist” operations but receiving both sanction and funding from the “official” wing.

On August 2nd, as every year since 1980, citizens, political organizations, and various institutional representatives marched through the streets of Bologna to remember the massacre that struck the city during the terrible years of US and NATO-organized terrorism.

On August 2nd, as every year since 1980, citizens, political organizations, and various institutional representatives marched through the streets of Bologna to remember the massacre that struck the city during the terrible years of US and NATO-organized terrorism.

General Pietro Corona head of “Office R” in 1969/70 told a Venice enquiry into a bombing in Peteano that there was an “alternative clandestine network, parallel to Gladio, which knew about the arms and explosives dumps and had access to them.” General Nino Lugarese, head of SIMSI (a branch of the Italian secret service) from 1981-1984, revealed the existence of a “Super Gladio” of 800 members responsible for internal intervention against domestic political targets.

Gladio was “officially disbanded” by the Italian government in December 1990 after the story broke. On January 29th, 1992 it was officially declared to have been a clandestine and illegal “armed band” involved in subversion, by an Italian parliamentary commission on terrorism.

The 1990 revelations in Italy had a wider impact. After all, Gladio was simply the Italian branch of a European wide network.

The Belgian, French, Dutch, Greek and German governments all officially acknowledged that they took part in the covert NATO network, with the Belgian prime minister revealing that a Europe wide meeting of the network had been held as recently as October 1990. Of course the respective governments were at pains to deny that the network had been intended for anything other than to enable post-invasion guerilla warfare. Intervention in domestic politics could only be the work of “uncontrollables” following their own agenda.

US-NATO’s British “strategy of tension”

The British authorities have refused to comment officially on any similar network in this country. However, General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley revealed in November 1990 that a secret arms network had in fact been set up. In the same article other (anonymous) sources also claimed that the organization had a further aim — “combatting the takeover of civil government by militant left wing groups.” Yet is there any evidence of destabilisation activities similar to those carried out on the continent?

During the 70s, the same time as the Italian “strategy of tension” was escalating, elements of the right wing establishment in this country perceived a genuine threat to their vested interests. In the midst of economic collapse trade unions seemed to be unstoppable, indeed the miners had effectively destroyed the Tory government, and Labour under Wilson came to power in 1974. Edward Heath was seen as having betrayed the Tory party, not just by the upper echelons but by the thousands of ordinary supporters defecting to the far right.

Colin Wallace (left) attending a parade with Field Marshal Lord Alexander of Tunis in 1972. Wallace was a British soldier and psychological warfare specialist who was one of the members of the Intelligence-led 'Clockwork Orange' project, which is alleged to have been an attempt to smear various individuals including a number of British politicians in the early 1970s. Evidence from Wallace was used by the Barron Report, an Irish government inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in May, 1974.

Colin Wallace (left) attending a parade with Field Marshal Lord Alexander of Tunis in 1972. Wallace was a British soldier and psychological warfare specialist who was one of the members of the Intelligence-led ‘Clockwork Orange’ project, which is alleged to have been an attempt to smear various individuals including a number of British politicians in the early 1970s. Evidence from Wallace was used by the Barron Report, an Irish government inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in May, 1974.

Thanks to the testimony of Colin Wallace, an army officer engaged in black propaganda in Northern Ireland, we now know that elements in the security services (specifically MI5) deliberately set out to destabilise the Wilson government. Moreover, leading figures in the military, industrial and political sphere began to talk in terms of a state emergency and the desirability or need to establish a civilian volunteer force or patriotic groups to help the “maintenance of public order.” Thus in 1972-1973 the Tory MPs Winston Churchill; John Biggs Davison and Patrick Wall were all calling for increased military involvement in the growing industrial conflict and even for the creation of a “special anti-terrorist force and mobile squad of motorised troops to counter the forces of red fascism” (Davison). All three were Monday Club members and on the extreme right of the Tory Party.

At the same time George K. Young, deputy head of MI6 until 1961, was working in conjunction with General George Walker to set up a network “to meet the contingency of a total political break down.” This network, called the Unison Committee for Action (Unison), was set up in early 1973 and its existence announced to the press in July 1974. This seems to have dissolved into another organization fronted by Walker, known as Civil Assistance. Ross McWhirter was very involved in Walker’s activities, and subsequently went on to play a key role in the National Association for Freedom (or Freedom Association as it is now known). At around the same time (May 1974), SAS founder David Stirling, who described Unison as “apparently highly militaristic and very right wing nature,” was proposing a broadly similar group to be called GB75 and was consulting with contacts in the armed forces, industry and the Tory Party.

Colin Wallace says British Intelligence provided covert assistance to Unison; Civil Assistance and GB75. However, the extent and even existence of such “patriotic groups,” other than on paper, is a matter of debate. Wallace and others have described them as psychological operations. By this we understand that talk of such measures channelled through the media was intended to heighten the sense of social breakdown and of the “red” threat, particularly in 1974.

The full story of such concerns in the British establishment during this period has probably yet to emerge. Whether the use of overtly fascist groups in a “strategy of tension” was contemplated is unknown. But clearly, in a period when the Tory Party was in disarray, under a “weak” leader; with mass industrial unrest and a so-called socialist party coming to power, the extreme right of the Tory Party, together with elements in industry, the military and the secret services, were looking to a non-parliamentary solution to preserve their interests. In the end, however, the election of Mrs. Thatcher to leadership of the Tory Party and the 1979 election victory ensured the success of their aims, probably beyond their expectations, by a different and “legitimate” route.

The most important lesson to be learnt from the Gladio story; the whole Stay Behind network and the situation in Britain during the 70s is that the right-wing establishment will, quite literally, stop at nothing to prevent a popular anti-capitalist movement (or one perceived as such) displacing it from power. In such a context the establishment will happily make use of fascist groups, whether as unwitting dupes (via the secret services), or as direct allies — after all, if the choice is stark enough, classical fascist ideology has more than enough in common with that of the right-wing establishment.

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