NATO’s “secret armies”: Gladio in western Europe

by Daniele Ganser

Daniele Ganser’s book NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio & Terrorism in western Europe documents the bizarre history of Gladio, and should be required reading for anyone who still believes everything they read in the news papers. The question we all need to be asking is – are there Gladios happening today? And if so, how can we hope to identify state sponsored pseudo terror from the real thing? There is a pdf available for download HERE, and the book is also available through Amazon. Here is a brief extract…

In a forest near the Italian village Peteano a car bomb exploded on May 31, 1972. The bomb gravely wounded one and killed three members of the Carabinieri, Italy’s paramilitary police force. The Carabinieri had been lured to the spot by an anonymous phone call. Inspecting the abandoned Fiat 500, one of the Carabinieri had opened the hood of the car that triggered the bomb.

An anonymous call to the police two days later implicated the Red Brigades, a Communist terrorist group attempting to change the balance of power in Italy at the time through hostage- takings and cold-blooded assassinations of exponents of the state.

The police immediately cracked down on the Italian left and rounded up some 200 Communists. For more than a decade the Italian population believed that the Red Brigades had committed the Peteano terrorist attack.

Then, in 1984, young Italian Judge Felice Casson reopened the long dormant case after having discovered with surprise an entire series of blunders and fabrications surrounding the Peteano atrocity. Judge Casson found that there had been no police investigation on the scene. He also discovered that the report which at the time claimed that the explosive used in Peteano had been the one traditionally used by the Red Brigades was a forgery.

Marco Morin, an expert for explosives of the Italian police, had deliberately provided fake expertise. He was a member of the Italian right-wing organisation ‘Ordine Nuovo’ and within the Cold War context contributed his part to what he thought was a legitimate way of combating the influence of the Italian Communists.

Judge Casson was able to prove that the explosive used in Peteano contrary to Morin’s expertise was C4, the most powerful explosive available at the time, used also by NATO.

‘I wanted that new light should be shed on these years of lies and mysteries, that’s all’, Casson years later told journalists in his tiny office in an eighteenth-century courthouse on the banks of Venice’s lagoon. ‘I wanted that Italy should for once know the truth.’

On February 24, 1972, a group of Carabinieri had by chance discovered an underground arms cache near Trieste containing arms, munitions and C4 explosive identical to the one used in Peteano. The Carabinieri believed that they had unveiled the arsenal of a criminal network. Years later, the investigation of Judge Casson was able to reconstruct that they had stumbled across one of more than hundred underground arsenals of the NATO-linked stay-behind secret army that in Italy was code-named Gladio, the sword.

Casso found that the Italian mililary secret service and the government at the time had gone to great lengths in order to keep the Trieste discovery and above all its larger strategic context a secret.

As Casson continued to investigate the mysterious cases of Peteano and Trieste, he discovered with surprise that not the Italian left but Italian right-wing groups and the military secret service had been involved in the Peteano terror. Casson’s investigation revealed that the right-wing organisation Ordine Nuovo had collaborated very closely with the Italian Military Secret Service, SID (Servizio Informazioni Difesa).

Together they had engineered the Peteano terror and then wrongly blamed the militant extreme Italian left, the Red Brigades. Judge Casson identified Ordine Nuovo member Vincenzo Vinciguerra as the man who had planted the Peteano bomb. Being the last man in a long chain of command, Vinciguerra was arrested years after the crime. He confessed and testified that he had been covered by an entire network of sympathisers in Italy and abroad who had ensured that after the attack he could escape.

‘A whole mechanism came into action’, Vinciguerra recalled, ‘that is, the Carabinieri, the Minister of the Interior, the customs services and the military and civilian intelligence services accepted the ideological reasoning behind the attack’.

Vinciguerra was right to point out that the Peteano terror had occurred during a particularly agitated historical period. With the beginning of the flower power revolution, the mass student protests against violence in general and the war in Vietnam in particular, the ideological battle between the political left and the political right had intensified in Western Europe and the United States in the late 1960s.

The vast majority of people engaged in the left-wing social movements relied on non-violent forms of protest including demonstrations, civil disobedience and above all heated debates.

In the Italian parliament the strong Communist Party (Partito Communisto Italiano, PCI), and to a lesser degree the Italian Socialist Party (Partito Socialisto Italiano, PSI), sympathised with the movement. They criticised the United States, the Vietnam War and above all the distribution of power in Italy, for despite their numerical strength in parliament the PCI was not assigned ministerial positions and hence was deliberately kept outside the government. Also the Italian right knew that this was a blatant discrimination and a violation of basic democratic principles.

It was in this Cold War context and the battle for power in Western Europe that the extreme left and the extreme right resorted to terror. On the extreme left the Italian Communist Red Brigades and Germany’s Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) were the two most prominent terrorist groups in Western Europe.

Founded by students of the University of Trento with little to no military training, the Red Brigades included Margherita Cagol, Alberto Franceschini and Alberto Curcio. Like the RAF, they were convinced that violence had to be employed in order to change the existing power structure that they perceived as unjust and corrupt. Like the RAF the terror of the Red Brigades did not attack mass gatherings of the population, but very selectively targeted individuals whom they thought repre- sented the ‘state apparatus’, such as bankers, generals and ministers whom they kidnapped and often assassinated.

Operating above all in the 1970s the death toll of the Red Brigades in Italy reached 75 people. Then, due to their limited military and strategic skills and experience they were rounded up, arrested, tried and imprisoned.

On the other side of the Cold War spectrum also the extreme right resorted to violence. In Italy the network included secret Gladio soldiers, the military secret services and fascist organisations such as Ordine Nuovo. Contrary to the terror of the left, the terror of the right aimed to strike fear to the bones of the entire society and hence secretly planted its bombs among the population to kill large numbers indiscriminately in order to wrongly blame the Communists.

The Peteano terror, as judge Casson found, belonged to this sort of crime and continued a sequence that had started in 1969. In that year, shortly before Christmas four bombs had exploded in public places in Rome and Milan. The bombs killed 16 and maimed and wounded 80, most of which were farmers who after a day on the market had deposited their modest earnings in the Farmer’s Bank on the Piazza Fontana in Milan.

According to an evil strategy the terror was wrongly blamed on the Com- munists and the extreme left, traces were covered up and arrests followed imme- diately. The population at large had little chances to find out the truth, as the military secret service went to great lengths to cover up the crime. In Milan one of the deadly bombs had not gone off due to timer failure, but in an immediate cover-up the bomb was destroyed on the scene by the secret service, while parts of a bomb were planted in the villa of well-known leftist editor Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.

The official figures say that alone in the period between January 1, 1969 and December 31, 1987, there have been in Italy 14591 acts of violence with a political motivation’, Italian Senator Giovanni Pellegrino, president of Italy’s parliamentary commission investigating Gladio and the massacres, recalled the very violent period of Italy’s most recent history. It is maybe worth remembering that these “acts” have left behind 491 dead and 1181 injured and maimed. Figures of a war, with no parallel in any other European country.

Following the Piazza Fontana massacre of 1969 and the Peteano terrorist attack of 1972, prominent massacres in Italy included a bomb which on May 28,1974 exploded in Brescia in the midst of an anti-Fascist demonstration, killing eight and injuring and maiming 102. On August 4, 1974 another bomb exploded on the Rome-to-Munich train Ttalicus Express’, killing 12 and injuring and maiming.

The atrocities culminated on a sunny afternoon during the Italian national holiday when on August 2, 1980 a massive explosion ripped through the waiting room of the second class at the Bologna railway station, killing 85 people in the blast and seriously injuring and maiming a further 200. The Bologna massacre ever since ranges amongst the largest terrorist onslaughts that Europe had seen in the twentieth century.

Contrary to the Red Brigades who ended up in jail, the terrorists of the right mysteriously escaped after each massacre because, as Vinciguerra correctly pointed out, the security apparatus of the Italian state and the military secret services protected them. As the Piazza Fontana terror was years later traced back to the Italian right, Ordine Nuovo member Franco Freda was questioned whether in retrospect he feels that powerful people higher up in the hierarchy including Generals and Ministers had manipulated him. Freda, a declared admirer of Hitler who had published ‘Mein Kampf‘ in Italian in his own small publishing house, replied that according to his understanding nobody can escape manipulation:

‘The life of every one is manipulated by those with more power’, right-wing terrorist Freda declared. ‘In my case I accept that I have been a puppet in the hands of ideas, but not in the hands of men from the secret services here [in Italy] or abroad. That is to say that I have voluntarily fought my own war, following the strategic design that came from my own ideas. That is all.’

In March 2001 General Giandelio Maletti, former head of Italian counter- intelligence, suggested that next to the Gladio secret army, the Italian secret service and a group of Italian right-wing terrorists, the massacres which had discredited the Italian Communists had also been supported by the White House in Washington and the US secret service CIA. At a trial of right-wing extremists accused to have been involved in the Piazza Fontana massacre, Maletti testified:

‘The CIA, following the directives of its government, wanted to create an Italian nationalism capable of halting what it saw as a slide to the left, and, for this purpose, it may have made use of right-wing terrorism.’ ‘The impression was that the Americans would do anything to stop Italy from sliding to the left’, the General explained and added: ‘Don’t forget that Nixon was in charge and Nixon was a strange man, a very intelligent politician, but a man of rather unorthodox initiatives.’

In retrospect the 79-year-old Maletti offered criticism and regret:

‘Italy has been dealt with as a sort of protectorate’ of the United States. ‘I am ashamed to think that we are still subject to special supervision.’

Already in the 1970s and 1980s the Italian parliament, within which the Communist and Socialist parties controlled a large share of the power, had become increasingly alarmed by the fact that a seemingly endless chain of mysterious massacres shocked the country without that the terrorists nor the people behind them could be identified. Although rumours among the Italian left already at the time had it that the mysterious acts of violence represented a form of undeclared secret warfare of the United States against the Italian Communists, the far-fetched theory could not be proven.

Then, in 1988 the Italian Senate established a special investigative parliamentary commission presided by Senator Libera Gualtieri under the telling name of ‘Parliamentary Commission of the Italian Senate for the Investigation of terrorism in Italy and the reasons why the individuals responsible for the massacres could not be identified: Terrorism, the massacres and the political-historical contest.’

The work of the parliamentary investigation proved to be extremely difficult. Witnesses withheld testimony. Documents were destroyed. And the commission itself, made up of the competing political parties from the Italian left and the Italian right, was split on what exactly the historical truth in Italy was, and disagreed on how many of its sensitive findings should be presented to the public.

Judge Casson, meanwhile from the testimonies of Peteano terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra and the documents he had discovered, started to understand the complex secret military strategy that had been employed. He gradually started to understand that he was dealing not with private, but with state terrorism, paid by tax money. Under the name ‘strategy of tension’ the massacres aimed to create tension among the entire population…

Daniele Ganzer’s book is available through Amazon, Amazon UK and is also obtainable


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Feb 25, 2017 3:06 AM

[…] Hence, the flagrant and criminal lies that served as the pretext for war against Iraq were mostly overlooked during the commensurate push for regime change in Libya less than a decade on. And while nearly every schoolboy can repeat the name of Watergate (even if they don’t know the details) very few people know much, if anything at all, about the terroristic activities of ‘informants’ such as Stakeknife during “the troubles” in Ireland, or can name the clandestine and ‘stay-back’ operation ‘Gladio’ and its involvement throughout the 1970s and into the early ’80s in a Europewide “Strategy of Tension”. […]

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