The bilateral relationship between Italy and the United States in the security sphere occurred within bounds established primarily by the United States. Italy was, politically, an important piece of the American strategy of reinforcing the anti-Soviet bloc. It was important that the country not “fall under communist domination” and, if this were to occur, it was necessary to already have measures in place that could be activated with urgency and effectiveness.Report on the Inquiry into Events Connected to Operation Gladio, 22 April 1992.
This is the first section of a report of the Italian Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into Operation Gladio, a clandestine military and intelligence network operating on European soil for forty years after WWII. The translation below is the first time the document has been available in English.
In a previous article I introduced Operation Gladio, its historical context, and the circumstances surrounding the publication of the Inquiry’s findings. I suggest reading it before approaching the report below.
The document, however, is mostly self-contained, and it can be read in isolation. I have made clickable superscript annotations explaining context. Aside from these annotations it is completely unedited, including bracketed comments.
For the original document in Italian from the Italian Senate, click here.
Gladio was not so much a hidden structure, but a ‘secret’ that the Italian state shared with other countries and which eventually became completely its own.1Evidence of the extent of Operation Gladio’s activities throughout Europe was uncovered after the publication of this report.
How this secret took shape at the beginning of the 1950s and continued to the present was the subject of an initial report of the Parliamentary Committee. It has been said – with satisfaction, even – that the fact that this secret was kept for so long in a country like Italy was something close to miraculous.
What was not said is that our laws and our institutions, had they been loyal to their purpose and correctly applied, would never have allowed for the rise of Gladio, nor for the extent of its duration. The laws and structures of the Republic in no way allow for the creation and operation of state organisms outside of the control of its institutions.
No one denies the right and duty of the State to defend its national territory from external aggression or, if lost, to regain it, and to make available human and material resources to do so even in times of peace. There is no need to make appeals to justify adopting indispensable measures to ensure the territorial integrity of the nation. Indeed, it would be irresponsible for these measures to be absent.
Even the planning and preparation of clandestine networks in areas of the country most vulnerable to invasion falls within the duties of the State. But the protection of the clandestine nature necessitated by these networks does not mean that they should be clandestine to the very same institutions within which they operate. The creation of these networks must always occur formally, respecting the law and the Constitution. To keep them covert is an entirely different question.
The State has the same right and duty to counter and repress all forms of internal subversion aimed at overthrowing the rightful Government and taking power by force. But this must also be conducted within the bounds of legality, using preexisting powers bestowed upon the State to ensure internal stability and security.
Legitimate powers include intelligence services, which are not structures outside of government control, only ones that operate with a high degree of anonymity and confidentiality. They should always remain under the eye of the State.
Their evasion from our system of checks and balances cannot be justified by ‘necessity’. The option to respect the law has always existed in our country after the fall of Fascism restored our fundamental freedoms.
Operation Gladio lasted for forty years. Over this period, the course of world history has changed many times over.
There have been profound shifts in international alliances, and the form of government of many countries has been recast. The Warsaw Pact has collapsed, Germany has reunified, there has been a marked transfer of state power to citizens, and technological advancements have resulted in an unprecedented convergence of customs and attitudes.
Italy moved from the centre to the centre-left,2From 1948 to 1962, Italy was ruled by Christian Democracy (DC), which formed coalitions with other right-wing or centrist parties until its – temporary – 1963 alliance with the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) . from there to a historical compromise,3The ‘Historical Compromise’ was a political accommodation between the DC and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) proposed in 1973 by PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer. The PCI eventually entered into government in 1978, though without being granted any cabinet ministers. and finally to the unravelling of consensus.4Berlinguer announced the end of the historical compromise in 1980, unsatisfied by the low level of decision-making power given to the PCI by the DC. The largest communist party in the West has met the same end as the ideology that guided it.5The PCI formally disbanded in 1991. It had been the West’s largest communist party, obtaining 34% of the vote in the 1976 national elections as well as regularly electing senators and mayors of Italy’s largest cities. In the European elections of 1984, it briefly overtook the DC (33,33% to 32.97%). In these forty years, Italy has seen a succession of forty governments, and there have been twenty different prime ministers.
The secret services to which Gladio was anchored were profoundly reformed three times in these years: SIFAR became the SID in 1966, and in 1977 SISDE and SISMI were created.6Italian intelligence agencies have had to be reshuffled multiple times because of their overreach. For example, General Vito Miceli, the ex-head of the SID (Servizio Informazioni di Difesa) was arrested in 1974 for his involvement a botched right-wing coup in 1970 (the Golpe Borghese).
The strategic framework of Europe has also shifted radically over the last four decades. NATO faced the problem of nuclear weapons. Italy was posed the question of placing strategic missiles within its borders and saw a gradual decrease in the importance of the north-eastern frontier and the rise of that of the south.7In the early 1980s, there was fierce debate about placing American ‘Perishing II’ missiles in Sicily.
With the 1948 elections, the country was given the tools to fight internal conflicts with the weapons of democracy and within the institutions of parliament. The only true subversive and destabilising phenomena were terrorism, which blighted the so-called ‘Years of Lead’,8Between the late 1960s and the late 1980s, Italy experienced a wave of far-right and far-left terrorism, including the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Aldo Moro and, for example, the bombing of the Bologna train station in 1980 that killed 85 people. and organised crime. Recently, the mafia complex was unearthed from its Sicilian sanctuary, and the extent of its infiltration into significant parts of the country was revealed.9Beginning in 1986, an attempt to dismantle the entire power structure of the Sicilian Mafia (Cosa Nostra) began with the indictment of 475 mafiosi. Over the course of investigations, the depth of Mafia influence on the Italian political system and business infrastructure was made public.
Over these forty years, Gladio was always kept alive and constantly operational.
However, when the veil of secrecy that masked the organisation was lifted in 1990 by Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, it seemed as though it referred to something almost forgotten, a Cold War relic composed of few people – a little over 600 – obstinately waiting for an invasion from the East that had become increasingly improbable, people who should be commended for their patriotism, and who must now be judged with a historian’s eye.
Given this, the debate about its legitimacy was focused almost exclusively on its foundational purpose, one to be understood within the historical context that necessitated its creation: and thus, it was forgivable.
The true situation, however, was very different.
Within its secrecy, Gladio wore many masks and profoundly modified its social purpose. It conducted activities not envisioned at its birth, and expanded its areas of intervention.
There were at least four mutations within Gladio over the years, and the problem of identifying and understanding these changes not only relates to historical analysis. The ‘contextualisation’ of Gladio’s evolution is relevant to establish its legitimacy, and this must be assessed at each moment of its history, not simply at its origin.
The History of Gladio
3.1 From 1951 to 1966: birth and first years.
The first initiatives were taken in 1951. On the 8th of October 1951, the head of SIFAR, General Umberto Broccoli, sent a memo to the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Efisio Marras, marked as “Informative-operative organisation on national territory vulnerable to enemy occupation.”
According to the head of SIFAR, there was the need to ensure that in the case of enemy occupation, a resistance network could immediately be activated to sabotage and provide information about the infrastructure of the occupying forces, and to create escape routes and give assistance to military left behind enemy lines.
With the breakout of the Korean War in the early 1950s, the relationship between the two blocs had become tense, close to rupture. The question of creating a resistance network to ‘leave behind’ if Western Europe was overrun by the Warsaw Pact was seen as a concrete and compelling one.
The United Kingdom had already organised similar structures, not only on its on soil but also in the Netherlands and Belgium. France had done the same on German and Austrian territory, with tendrils extending through East Germany and Poland. As for the United States, there was the perception that American intelligence services were planning to create a web of clandestine groups in Northern Italy, under the direction of the U.S. National Security Council, to prevent Italy falling to communism.
General Broccoli wrote, “We are talking about costly, long, and complex arrangements – and thus urgent ones.” The urgency, in the Italian case, was accentuated by the necessity to anticipate American action and establish the post-invasion network under Italian control. For this reason, the head of SIFAR asked for authorisation to select four officials to send immediately to the Training Division of the British intelligence service.
In the memo sent to Marras, Broccoli stated that he had spoken about creating a covert resistance network since July 1951 with the heads of three military intelligence divisions (SIOS – Operative Intelligence and Security Services) and with the Chiefs of Staff of the Italian Air Force and Navy, and added that he had asked them to provide him officials capable of handling the planned tasks.
The training courses in the United Kingdom had already been scheduled; they were to begin on the 15th of November 1951 and conclude on February 12th, 1952. This collaboration was nevertheless to be considered as a “limited contribution in time and scope,” having instead to privilege more stable and solid ties with American intelligence.
After the training course with British intelligence – which, however, seems not to have taken place – one of the chosen officials (Felice Santini, Colonel of the Italian Air Force) would assume his duties as the general coordinator of the new network, while the other six would take control of its operative branches: intelligence, sabotage, propaganda, communications, cipher, and exfiltration.
Each branch leader had the responsibility to recruit their respective ‘network-heads’ and ‘agents’ with the help of SIFAR’s peripheral organs, reaching a maximum of 200 members. The age, gender, and employment status of recruits was considered so they could have a “good possibility of escaping internment or deportation by the enemy.” The 200 members were to complete training within a year. In substance, the network should have been operational by early 1953.
On the 7th of April 1952 a member of British intelligence, Peter Frazier, sent a letter to the head of SIFAR informing him of the creation of a planning committee formed by the representatives of the French, British, and American secret services, encouraged by and under the auspices of SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe).10SACEUR is the commander of NATO’s Allied Command Operations and the director of its headquarters, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). The position has always been held by a U.S. military officer.
The task of the committee, approved by the Standing Group of SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe)11The military headquarters of NATO that directs engagements worldwide. and officially established in August 1951 with the name of Clandestine Planning Committee (CPC), consisted in providing SACEUR with support in the field of special operations and intelligence services.
When recommending the formal establishment of the CPC to the Standing Group, SACEUR had indicated the necessity to add representatives of the other NATO countries to the three founding members. To this end, the presidency of the CPC (assumed in turn by General Haydon for the U.K., Colonel Betts for the U.S., and Colonel Barlier for France) had extended an invitation to the representative of Italian intelligence to a meeting on May 7th, 1952 in Paris, the then headquarters of SHAPE, to discuss Italy’s stance regarding the new committee. This invite was contained in a letter forwarded under Frazier’s signature, the temporary Secretary of the CPC.
News of the creation of the CPC irritated the Italian military hierarchy, given that the eventual inclusion of Italy in the new committee would not have occurred on equal terms with the three permanent members. The Chief of the Defence Staff authorised the head of SIFAR, Broccoli, to participate in the Paris meeting. He was under orders, however, not to recognise nor make any commitments regarding the new structure.
On May 7, 1952, General Broccoli traveled to Paris in the company of Colonel Santini, mentioned earlier. The decision not to join the CPC was relayed to allies. Confirming the judgment that had already been formed on the occasion of British offers of collaboration, SIFAR thus began a long road of exclusive ties with American intelligence services, refusing any type of multilateral agreement with other NATO powers.
In 1953, land was purchased near Alghero, Sardinia, to build the Capo Marargiu military base. Construction began in 1954, financed by the CIA and under the direction of Colonel Santini. The project came within the framework of a bilateral agreement between the Italian and American intelligence services, but this was only made official in November 1956, when the construction of the base was already in its final stages.
On October 1st 1956, in preparation for the immediate mobilisation of the stay-behind program, the SAD section was created (Studies and Training) within the ‘R’ Office of SIFAR (the Foreign Research Office, with espionage duties). It was subdivided into four groups, one of which was specifically tasked with maintaining contact with American intelligence. The agreement of the 28th of November 1956 thus occurred two years after the two intelligence services had settled upon the broad strokes of the operation and the first organisational structures had been created.
The name ‘Operation Gladio’ first emerged in a meeting on 19 October 1956 between representatives of SIFAR (Colonel Giuliu Fettarappa Sandri, Major Mario Accasto) and representatives of the CIA (Bob Porter, John Edwards). From the very first meeting, particular procedures were adopted relating to the drafting and transmission of documentation regarding Gladio. Each official document (records of agreements, minutes of meetings, memoranda) was to be drafted both in English and Italian, with a maximum of four hard copies produced. The documents were filed under the ‘Gladio’ moniker, followed by progressive numbers.
The ‘Gladio/1’ header was reserved for a document dated the 28th of November 1956, titled “A re-elaboration of the agreements between Italian intelligence services and American intelligence services relating to the organisation and the mobilisation of the Italo-American post-occupation clandestine network.”
The Italian endorsement of this document drafted by American services was communicated by the representative of SIFAR in a meeting on November 29th, 1956, during which it was also agreed to establish the effective date of the document from the day before, the 28th of November 1956.
Amongst the papers of the 7th Division of SISMI acquired by the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry are two versions of the “Gladio/1” document, which differ only in their title. One version (which is commonly referred to in the field of official Gladio documentation and which appears to have been the same sent to the Committee by the Prime Minister on March 1, 1991) translates the English expression “restatement of agreements” as “re-elaboration of agreements”; in the other version the title was simply (and unfaithfully) translated as “agreement”.
Aside from ‘Gladio/1’, another 111 documents belonging to official Gladio documentation were found. Amongst these we note the minutes of the Gladio Committee meetings, the Italo-American structure created to plan the development of the Italian branch of the stay-behind network.
The ‘Gladio Committee’ (or ‘Gladio Commission’) was initially composed of 11 members (eight Italians and three Americans) and met at irregular intervals between 1956 and 1973. Most of these meetings occurred in the first two years, while from 1964 (the year of the integration of SIFAR into the Allied Clandestine Committee [ACC]), official Committee sittings ceased, replaced by more sporadic and informal encounters.
The topics covered during these meetings changed according to the phases of development of the organisation. In the three years 1956-1958, these mostly related to establishing and mobilising the training centres of Capo Marargiu (CAG) and Olmedo (a communications base). The issues most frequently involved financial concerns and the transmission of documentation and training materials.
Questions relating to the general structure of the organisation and recruiting external personnel were also discussed, though with less urgency (particularly on the Italian side). Above all else, SIFAR was concerned with questions regarding the use of training centres for its own aims.
Aside from the lack of urgency in recruiting external personnel, the Italian tendency of taking its time to conform Operation Gladio to its own specific operative needs can also be seen by the proposal to anticipate the creation of guerrilla units before the larger recruitment program.
SIFAR needed to ensure that a pre-existing clandestine unit, ‘Alpine Star’, created in the Northern region of Friuli after the ‘O’ Organisation12The O’ Organisation (1946-1956) was a secret military group created by the ‘Osoppo’ partisans after WWII to protect north-eastern Italy from perceived future threats by the newly-created Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. was abolished, was integrated into the new stay-behind structure. The further ‘necessity’, mentioned multiple times, to nominate a head organiser for the northern regions can be said to have been tailored to Aldo Specogna, the head of Alpine Star and a member of ‘O’ before that.
Despite the protestations of the ‘connected’ services, as illustrated by their frequent appeals to use Gladio structures primarily for joint planning, SIFAR defended the necessity of integrating pre-existing guerrillas into the clandestine network by reminding the Americans that the tasks entrusted to them were entirely in line with the stay-behind program, given that they were for the “control and neutralisation of communist activities” (‘Gladio/41’, 3 December 1958).
Despite, then, American entreaties, questions relating to enlisting external personnel for the post-occupation network only began to be addressed at the end of 1958. Until that moment, only internal personnel had been selected, enough to be able to fulfill training duties. To this end, from 9 October to 15 November 1957, six SAD members had traveled to the United States to take part in training on stay-behind activities, accompanied by the CIA representative of the Gladio Committee, Bob Porter.
It was only in the summer of 1959, three years after the “re-elaboration of agreements”, that the search and selection of stay-behind personnel began. By 1961, excluding two pre-existing units, ‘Alpine Star’ and ‘Marine Star’, only 35 external recruits had been trained.
It was only then, in June 1959, and in concert with American services that SIFAR (‘R’ Office – SAD section) released their first organic report on the progress made to that point. This was sent to the new Chief of the Defence Staff, General Aldo Rossi. Primarily, the report summarised the goals of the structure: Gladio was created in the eventuality that NATO declared an emergency “caused by internal subversion or military invasion.”
Various arrangements emerged, “some at the NATO level, some at the national level.” At the national level, a network began to be created following a double structure:
A first level, formed by elements that would remain in occupied territory. They were to be difficult to detect, “unsuspectable”, gathered in cell structures, and subdivided by operational specialisation;
A second level, formed by a rapid response guerrilla unit which was to be immediately activated behind enemy lines, recalling the partisan forces of WWII.
The clandestine structure was divided into 40 operative cells: six espionage, 10 sabotage, six propaganda, six evasion and escape, and 12 guerrilla units. The rapid response cell was further subdivided into five units, each of which was identified by a code name: Alpine Star, Marine Star, Rhododendron, Azalea, Broom flower.
Aside from being the principal training centre, Capo Marargiu was also the ‘final’ operative base of the network, to be kept even if the Italian peninsula was lost. If Sardinia was also taken, the Command would be transferred to a base in Idlewood, England, which had already been established.
The stated goal of the network was to protect Italian territory and citizens if they “came to know occupation and subversion”. A ‘long-armed’ mechanism with great reach was envisaged to encourage the liberation of territory and to “reestablish legal control and legitimate institutions.”
A June 1st document is significant because it unmasks the ultimate goals sought by the structure: to keep Italy within the NATO defence system guaranteed by the United States, through a structure depending on SIFAR. This dependence was justified by the necessity to avoid that “other uncontrolled organisations, or at the interest of other parties” could themselves create analogous initiatives.
During the 1960s, official meetings between Italian and American representatives became more rare and mostly dealt with updates on operations. The project appears to have progressed along pre-established lines: the selection, recruitment, and training of external personnel (also using a training centre in Cerveteri, which was enhanced in those same years in view of using it as a supplementary base), the creation of peripheral structures (cells and rapid response units), participation in international military exercises, and the preparation and concealment of arms and materiel caches in combat zones.
It is in this period that the clandestine network took concrete form. Over the course of the decade, around 300 external members were recruited, subdivided between clandestine cells and rapid response units. The arms and materiel were dispersed in strategic zones of Northern Italy by way of buried caches (the 139 ‘Nasco’, stockpiled with what was sent by the United States between 1963 and 1969) and provisions within military and police barracks (the so-called ‘special stockpiles’, already existing since 1957 and stashed with weaponry passed down from the defunct ‘O’ Organisation within the Publications Office of the V Comiliter13The ‘Territorial Military Command’. To keep its operations covert, the ‘O’ Organisation was slotted within the ‘publications’ department, despite its operations and ambitions being far from literary. under Colonel Aldo Specogna). The training program thus began to be systematically mobilised.
Nevertheless, at the precise moment that the structure began to operate with some regularity, the American side began to feel the need to reconsider Gladio’s goals and direction. The turning point was made explicit during a meeting on January 26th, 1966. At the end of the meeting, the redacted minutes record the following:
“With the current international situation in mind, [the representative of American intelligence] proposes that the joint Gladio project, though reaffirming its preservation and the efficiency of the organisation reached to this point, reorient its activities towards a program that could bear fruit from peacetime and that may offer immediate results, and which could be inspired by the doctrine of ‘insurgency and counter-insurgency’.”
To this end, the American intelligence services suggested that some elements of Italian intelligence take part in a training course on counter-insurgency operations organised by the U.S. Army Special Warfare School in Fort Bragg (North Carolina). The response of the Italian intelligence services is not known. In the documents, nevertheless, we can at least find records of training activities dedicated to the planning of insurgency and counter-insurgency operations, which occurred in Trieste between the 15th and 24th of April 1966 and code named ‘Operation Dolphin’.
The January 26 meeting is the last for which there is evidence in official Gladio documentation. In 1971 and 1973 there are records of exchanges of documents, but these relate to communications about plans for radio transmissions. We can thus say that the activities of the bilateral committee charged with programming the development of Gladio concluded in 1966, 10 years after its birth, with an American proposal to reorient the organisation’s activities.