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Operation Gladio: When NATO Supported Far-Right Te
送交者:  2022年06月23日12:30:36 于 [世界军事论坛] 发送悄悄话


Operation Gladio: When NATO Supported Far-Right Terrorism Across Europe

During the Cold War, the Western Bloc would do just about anything to prevent the spread of communism. Whether it was meddling in elections, supporting death squads or military coups, or even direct invasions, it was their primary goal. One of their most shocking anti-communist attempts was that of Operation Gladio, an operation finally confirmed in 1990 by Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, then followed by other European leaders. It was characterized by the formation of secret armies across countries mostly in Western Europe within NATO to fight in the instance of Soviet occupation, a “stay-behind” operation. This connected the United States, Britain, and NATO to a number of terrorist attacks, fascist paramilitaries, and even neo-Nazis. Gladio is just one in a long list of CIA operations that sound like conspiracy theories, but we now know actually happened…

The Plan

Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti admits to Operation Gladio’s existence

Operation Gladio began in 1949, initially involving the U.S., UK, and Belgium, but would eventually establish units in nearly every non-communist country in Europe, including Turkey and the “neutral” countries of Austria, Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland. The only exceptions were Ireland, Iceland, various microstates, and the UK (though it was heavily involved in organizing units in other countries). The word “Gladio” comes from the Italian word for “sword,” a country where the operations were especially prominent.¹ The chief organizers of the operation were the American and British intelligence agencies, the CIA and MI6, but security services in other European countries were involved as well. This was not exclusive to intelligence agencies, however, as the executives (Prime Ministers, Presidents, Interior and Defense Ministers) of the various European countries were also involved in the secret operation at some points. The “Allied Clandestine Committee” (ACC) and the “Clandestine Planning Committee” (CPC) of NATO oversaw the planning of Operation Gladio on an international level.²

The CIA and MI6 supplied the secret armies with machine guns, explosives, munitions, and communications equipment by hiding arms caches in various locations in Western Europe. Leading officers received training from Green Berets Special Forces in the U.S. and SAS Special Forces in England. Anti-communists were specifically recruited for the armies, with many being far-right extremists. While the paramilitaries were initially set up to fight against a Soviet invasion, that obviously never happened. Instead, they began fighting against the communists within their own countries in Western Europe, often carrying out terrorist attacks to wrongly blame leftist parties.² This played right into U.S. interests, with a 1950 State Department message saying, “Off-setting and reducing Communist influence is, of course, our number one target.” ³

Now to examine what Operation Gladio looked like in each country and which terrorist attacks the armies participated in if applicable. Note that the amount of information for each country (at least in English) varies and plenty is likely still unknown.

The Dictatorships of the Iberian Peninsula

Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain from 1939 to 1975

Spreading anti-communism was not very difficult in Portugal, as the country had been under the right-wing dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar since 1932. Being a founding member of NATO, the Estado Novo was involved in the operation nonetheless. The stay-behind army was revealed to be called “Aginter Press,” a rather misleading name since the group did not publish books or any material. Instead, it trained right-wing (often fascist) terrorists and carried out assassinations and other attacks within Portugal, but also in the Portuguese colonies in Africa that were fighting for independence. Aginter Press was more of a mercenary group if anything. The group was also involved in Italy, training some of the Italian far-right terrorists and having a sub-group that operated in the country (OAIC). It received support from the CIA and Portuguese military secret service and operated from 1966 to 1974.⁴

Portugal’s neighboring country of Spain was in a similar state. The fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco had been in power since 1939, though the country was not a NATO member until after his rule. Communists were persecuted extensively under the dictatorship, to the point where Operation Gladio seemed unnecessary in Spain. Regardless, it was revealed in 1990 (like most Gladio revelations) that a Spanish Gladio training base had operated in Las Palmas of the Spanish Canary Islands as early as 1948. The base was run by the CIA and Spanish secret services and the operation continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s.⁵

Severe Far-Right Terrorism

Gladio-linked bombing of Bologna Centrale railway station, 1980

After meddling in the 1948 election, the U.S. began Operation Gladio in Italy. The post-war Italian military secret service, SIFAR (later known as SID, then SISMI), was regulated by the CIA, and its branch “Office R” directed the anti-communist stay-behind army (the group itself was known as “Gladio”). 300 million Lira were provided by the CIA to build a new headquarters for the secret army.⁶ To ensure the group was sufficiently anti-communist, American and Italian intelligence agencies would recruit fighters from the neo-Nazi paramilitary Ordine Nuovo (ON).⁷ Vincenzo Vinciguerra, a former ON member, claimed that the group and another neo-fascist/neo-Nazi paramilitary, Avanguardia Nazionale, were supported as a part of Operation Gladio:

“Avanguardia Nazionale, like Ordine Nuovo, were being mobilized into the battle as part of an anti-Communist strategy originating not with organizations deviant from the institutions of power, but from the state itself, and specifically from within the ambit of the state’s relations within the Atlantic Alliance (NATO).” ²

Neo-fascists with the flag of Ordine Nuovo

Many far-right paramilitaries, such as these, would work in close collaboration with the Italian military secret service and the Gladio army. Between 1969 and 1987, 14,591 acts of political violence took place in Italy, many of which were perpetrated by the aforementioned groups, leaving 491 people dead.⁷ The operation and subsequent attacks helped delegitimize the popular Italian Communist Party and other left-wing movements, such as the Red Brigades. Multiple plans were made for an anti-communist coup, but they never materialized. An Italian government report released in 2000 found the United States responsible for inspiring this “strategy of tension.” It claimed the U.S. had known of many of the bombings listed below in advance, but allowed them to happen anyways, and gave direct funding to the ON through its embassy in Rome.⁸ General Gianadelio Maletti, a former head of the Italian military intelligence, claimed that the Americans may have helped supply far-right terrorists with explosives, saying,

“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… I believe this is what happened in other countries as well.”


  • Piazza Fontana massacre (1969): Public places in Rome and Milan bombed by ON with involvement from SID; 16 killed, 80 injured

  • Brescia massacre (1974): Large anti-fascist rally bombed by ON; 8 killed, 102 injured

  • Italicus Express massacre (1974): Train traveling from Rome to Munich bombed by ON; 12 killed, 48 injured

  • Bologna massacre (1980): Railway station waiting room bombed by the SISMI-linked neo-fascist group NAR; 85 killed, 200 injured¹⁰ ¹¹

Aftermath of the Piazza Fontana bombing

Both Greece and Belgium’s stay-behind armies also drew allegations of terrorism. In Belgium, former army intelligence official Andre Moyen claimed that members of the stay-behind army, SDRA8, were involved in the assassination of Julien Lahaut, leader of the Communist Party of Belgium.³ Similar to Portugal, the army was found to have operated in Belgian colonies in Africa, such as the Congo and Rwanda. Many of the Belgian army’s attacks, often blamed on the communists, were likely covered up by government officials. Belgian Defence Minister Guy Coeme made this observation and said, “In Belgium there have been a number of unexplained events… an armed band committed numerous murders in the mid-eighties and we still know nothing about this.” Some attacks that have been alleged to have ties to the Gladio army are the Brabant massacres, a series of unsolved shootings, often in grocery stores, that left 28 people dead and 22 injured.¹²

Brabant massacre memorial with a sign saying “Why, Gladio?”

Greece had one of the largest “communist threats” out of any non-communist country in Europe. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) had gained notable support after its resistance to the Nazi occupation during WWII and had waged a civil war against the Greek government in the 1940s. During the civil war, the U.S. gave millions of dollars in support to the Holy Bond of Greek Officers (IDEA), an organization made up of mostly Nazi collaborators. These collaborators had taken part in the Holocaust in Greece, leading to the deaths of 70,000 Greek Jews. This support was part of the plan to establish a sufficiently anti-communist “Secret Army Reserve” of Greek officers.¹³ The stay-behind army would be called LOK and would join the network of European armies with Greece’s entry into NATO in 1952. The army would participate in the Greek military coup of 1967, establishing a 7-year dictatorship, and allegedly had involvement in assassination attempts.¹⁴

The far-right Greek Junta takes power in April, 1967

Turkey would join NATO in 1952 and was one of the countries most impacted by Gladio. The stay-behind army, Counter-Guerrilla, was formed to fight Kurdish nationalism and a rising communist movement in Turkey. The paramilitary received training from CIA-NATO linked groups and was given psychological warfare manuals (similar to those used in Nicaragua) which described the violent acts they must carry out. This death squad would take part in torture, massacres, assassinations, pogroms, and multiple coup attempts.¹⁵ ¹⁶ Additionally, many reports have found that the CIA had supplied the neo-fascist terrorist group the Grey Wolves with weapons and explosives during the 1970s. The group has committed horrific attacks and often worked with Counter-Guerrilla. To get an idea of the Grey Wolves’ fascistic ideology, the following is a quote from a 1977 party leaflet:

“Those who destroyed (the Ottoman Empire) were Greek-Armenian-Jewish converts, Kurds, Circassians, Bosnians, and Albanians. As a Turk, how much longer will you tolerate these dirty minorities? Throw out the Circassian, that he may go to Caucasia, throw out the Armenian, throw out and kill the Kurd, purge from your midst the enemy of all Turkdom.” ¹⁵

Aftermath of 1955 Istanbul Pogrom


  • Istanbul Pogrom (1955): Turkish mobs attack primarily Greek (also Jewish and Armenian) districts of Istanbul. Turkish government encourages the pogrom and Counter-Guerilla forces participate; 37 Greek civilians killed, thousands injured, 200 Greek women raped, churches burned, massive Greek emigration¹⁶ ¹⁷

  • 1971 and 1980 Turkish coup d’état: Both successful military coups with involvement from the stay-behind army and Grey Wolves¹⁶

  • Taksim Square massacre (1977): Labor Day celebrations attacked by Counter-Guerilla; 36 killed⁷

  • Kahramanmaraş massacre (1978): The Grey Wolves and Counter-Guerilla mass murder over a hundred Alevi Kurdish civilians; 111 killed¹⁶

Arming Actual Nazis in Germany

For obvious reasons, anti-communism was not hard to come by in post-war Germany, and the U.S. was determined to take any means necessary to promote it. This meant the recruitment of dozens of former Nazi officers for the stay-behind armies. Sometime in 1950, two stay-behind armies were organized and armed by the CIA, KIBITZ and BDJ-TD, both of which were staffed with former SS, Waffen-SS, and Wehrmacht officers.¹⁸ Some examples in KIBITZ were Staff Sergeant Heinrich Hoffman, Lt. Colonel Hans Rues, and Lt. Colonel Walter Kopp. Kopp was referred to by the CIA as an “unreconstructed Nazi” and the paramilitary was described as “a group with Nazi tendencies.”¹⁹ The BDJ-TD was likely even worse in this regard, as its leading recruiter, Klaus Barbie, was responsible for war crimes during the Nazi invasion of France.

Walter Kopp was one of the leading members of the German stay-behind army

The German stay-behind networks were discovered in 1952 after testimony from Hans Otto (another former SS officer who was involved in the stay-behind network), resulting in a large scandal. A German police investigation found a list of over 40 top members of the Social Democratic Party that BDJ-TD had plans to assassinate. This caused the CIA to officially step away from the German Gladio armies and for KIBITZ to be dismantled. What was left of BDJ-TD, however, would fall under the supervision of the German secret service and NATO, meaning stay-behind operations would still continue in Germany in some capacity.¹⁸ ²⁰

Other NATO Countries

1991 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency document on Operation Gladio in Denmark

In France, the French Communist Party (PCF) experienced surprising amounts of success following the Second World War. As with similar cases in Western Europe, the United States responded by spending nearly $1 billion per year from 1945 to 1954 in support of the liberal parties in the French government. There is limited information surrounding the stay-behind army in France, but after Gladio was discovered in Italy, French Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement confirmed that a similar paramilitary existed in France during the 1950s. The French army was not nearly as active or violent as the others, dissolving in 1958, but is suspected to have the same far-right ties.²¹

Multiple stay-behind networks were established in the Netherlands following World War II, one under Colonel J. M. Somers and another under Henk Veeneklas. Norway’s stay-behind army, ROC, was planned to have up to 40 units of 5 men each in different parts of the country and utilized the cache system seen in other countries’ operations. The networks in both countries would work in close collaboration with Britain and MI6.

Information on the stay-behind army in Denmark, Absalon, remains very limited, but some evidence suggests U.S. involvement in its organization.²² The case in the neighboring Benelux country of Luxembourg is also mostly a mystery. During the 1980s, a series of 18 bombings occurred in public places in Luxembourg, miraculously killing nobody. The perpetrators remain unknown, but some, including Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, suspected the stay-behind army could have been involved.²³

Gladio Networks in “Neutral” Countries

P-26 operations room in an underground bunker in Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

As for the non-NATO countries involved, Austria did not discover its stay-behind army until 1996. It was revealed that the United States had hidden weapons caches in at least 79 sites in Austria for the Gladio army without the knowledge of the Austrian government.²⁴ Sweden and Finland were both able to work in collaboration with Norway, itself a NATO member, to set up stay-behind networks in their respective countries.²² In Switzerland, a 1990 government report revealed the secret army, P-26, and also a secret intelligence-gathering unit, P-27. The stay-behind armies in these non-NATO were not a part of the broader NATO-led operation, but some had ties to the U.S. or UK. These groups did not carry out any notable terrorist attacks, likely because communism was not as much of a threat in their respective countries.²⁵

If that’s a lot to take in, here’s what Operation Gladio looks like when plotted on a map:

Since this operation was so expansive and secretive, it was often difficult to find English-language sources. I’d like to give a huge thank you to Swiss historian Daniele Ganser. He has likely produced the most comprehensive work on the subject and his excellent book NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe was very helpful in my research (You can read it here). Some scholars have criticized some of Ganser’s conclusions as going too far, but I made sure not to include any unsubstantiated claims.²²

Operation Gladio was a far from the only time that the U.S. or NATO had direct ties to the far-right. Hans Speidel and Adolf Heusinger, both former lieutenant generals in the Wehrmacht, went on to be leading officials in NATO. Speidel was appointed commander in chief of Allied Land Forces in Central Europe, while Heusinger would become Chairman of the NATO Military Committee.²⁶ In 2006, the U.S. State Department released a pathetic statement on Operation Gladio, confirming the existence of the stay-behind networks, but claiming their involvement in terrorism was disinformation from “Soviet forgeries.”²⁷ This, of course, ignores all other evidence of these allegations, including testimonies from the perpetrators themselves. Thank you for reading and abolish NATO, of course!


  1. Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Zed Books, 2003, pp. 106.

  2. Ganser, Daniele. NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, Routledge, 2004, pp. 1–8.

  3. Gerand, Emmanuel. The Murder of Julien Lahaut (1950) and the Anti-Communist Campaign in Belgium, Dutch Crossing, 2016, pp. 62–64.

  4. Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies, pp. 114–115.

  5. Ibid., pp. 103–109.

  6. Ibid., pp. 63–67.

  7. Taş, Hakkı. On the Illegitimate Use of Force: The Neo-Jacobins of Europe, The European Legacy, 2014, pp. 561–564.

  8. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/jun/24/terrorism

  9. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/mar/26/terrorism

  10. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/the-terror-trail-that-won-t-grow-cold-dark-forces-bombed-bologna-station-in-1980-killing-85-at-a-retrial-tomorrow-the-victims-relatives-may-see-justice-done-1509705.html

  11. Ganser, Daniele. Fear as a Weapon: The Effects of Psychological Warfare on Domestic and International Politics, Kapur Surya Foundation, 2005, pp. 27–31.

  12. Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies, pp. 17, 134–138.

  13. Simpson, Christopher. Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988, pp. 81–82.

  14. Gkotzaridis, Evi. “Who Will Help Me to Get Rid of this Man?” Grigoris Lambrakis and the Non-Aligned Peace Movement in Post–Civil War Greece: 1951–1964, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 2012, pp. 325–326.

  15. https://romulusstudio.com/variant/12texts/Fernandes.html

  16. Arik, Can. Hidden Spoiler Issue in Conflict Analysis and Resolution: A Multiple-Case Study of Stay-behind Activities in Turkey, George Mason University, 2015, pp. 42–43

  17. De Zayas, Alfred. The Istanbul Pogrom of 6–7 September 1955 in the Light of International Law, Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 2007, pp. 138.

  18. Wala, Michael. Stay-behind operations, former members of SS and Wehrmacht, and American intelligence services in early Cold War Germany, Journal of Intelligence History, 2016.

  19. https://sgp.fas.org/eprint/naftali.pdf

  20. Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies, pp. 190, 196–202.

  21. Kisatsky, Deborah. The United States, the French Right, and American Power in Europe, 1946–1958, The Historian, 2003, pp. 622, 634–635.

  22. Riste, Olav. “Stay Behind”: A Clandestine Cold War Phenomenon, Journal of Cold War Studies, 2014, pp. 43–49.

  23. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/06/12/luxe-j12.html

  24. https://apnews.com/article/680309356e5bc9439cff69ecaa9e9cf9

  25. Ganser, Daniele. The British Secret Service in Neutral Switzerland: An Unfinished Debate on NATO’s Cold War Stay-behind Armies, Intelligence and National Security, 2005, pp. 557, 565–566.

  26. https://www.historynet.com/these-nato-generals-had-unusual-backgrounds-they-served-in-the-third-reich/

  27. https://web.archive.org/web/20080328042037/http://usinfo.state.gov/media/Archive/2006/Jan/20-127177.html


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