Operation Gladio

from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


The CIA was created by the National Security Act of 1947. The ink was barely dry on it before an army of spooks began marching through the law's major loophole: the CIA could "perform such other functions and duties...as the National Security Council may from time to time direct." This deliberately vague clause opened the door to a half-century of criminal activity in the name of "national security."

One of the first duties the NSC deemed necessary was the subversion of Italian democracy...in the name of democracy, of course. Italy seemed likely to elect a leftist government in the 1948 election. To make sure Italians voted instead for the candidates Washington favored-leftover brownshirt thugs from Mussolini's party and other Nazi collaborators-millions of dollars were spent on propaganda and payoffs. It was also intimated that food aid would be cut off if the election results were inconsistent with US desires.

The US got its way in 1948 without having to resort to violence but-as was discovered in 1990- the CIA had organized a secret paramilitary army in postwar Italy, with hidden stockpiles of weapons and explosives dotting the map. Called Operation Gladio (gladius is Latin for sword), the ostensible excuse for it was laughable-the threat of a Soviet invasion. But the real purpose wasn't so funny-Operation Gladio's 15,000 troops were trained to overthrow the Italian government should it stray from the straight and narrow.

Similar secret armies were formed in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and West Germany- often directed, quite naturally, by former SS officers. They didn't just wait around for the Russians to come marching in; they assembled huge arms caches (many of which remain unaccounted for), compiled blacklists of leftists and, in France, participated in plots to assassinate President DeGaulle.

Many members of Operation Gladio were also in a shadowy organization known as P-2; it too was financed by the CIA. P-2 had connections with the Vatican and the Mafia, and eventually with an international fascist umbrella organization called the World Anti-Communist League.

One of P-2's specialties was the art of provocation. Leftist organizations like the Red Brigades were infiltrated, financed and / or created, and the resulting acts of terrorism, like the assassination of Italy's premier in 1978 and the bombing of the railway station in Bologna in 1980, were blamed on the left. The goal of this "strategy of tension" was to convince Italian voters that the left was violent and dangerous-by helping make it so.

CIAs Greatest Hits

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