This is the second 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 World War II. The translation below is the first time the document has been available in English.
In a first 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 second article of this series contains the translation of the Committee’s document describing the birth and first years of the organisation.
For the original document in Italian from the Italian Senate, click here.
This portion of the document describes the middle years of Gladio, and the connection between the organisation and NATO. It is hard to dispute the fact that there was a relationship between the two. Having said that, a hierarchy of shell organisations was created to give plausible deniability to the connection.
This was also the opinion of the EU Parliament, who issued the following words in a resolution from 1990:
B. Whereas for over 40 years this organization has eluded all democratic controls and has been
run by the secret services of the states concerned in collaboration with NATO.
C. Fearing the danger that such clandestine networks may have interfered illegally in the
internal political affairs of Member States or may still do so.
D. Whereas in certain Member States military secret services (or uncontrolled branches thereof)
were involved in serious cases of terrorism and crime as evidenced by various judicial
[The European Parliament ] condemns the clandestine creation of manipulative and operational networks and calls for a full investigation into the nature, structure, aims and all other aspects of these clandestine
organizations, any misuse thereof, their use for illegal interference in the internal political affairs
of the countries concerned, the problem of terrorism in Europe and the possible collusion of the
secret services of Member States or third countries.
Notes for the section below: SIFAR is a historical Italian Intelligence agency with more than a few scandals. The CPC and ACC are NATO offshoots, while SACEUR is the Supreme Allied Commander Europe – the military head of NATO, and always a U.S. national. He is also the head of SHAPE – the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.
3.2. 1959 to 1964: the ‘NATO question’
After the rejection of 1952, SIFAR faced the question of accession to the CPC again: a formal invite was extended on March 2, 1959, by Colonel Ramier, the representative of French Intelligence and rotating president of the CPC.
On the 27th of April of the same year, the director of SIFAR, General Giovanni De Lorenzo, decided to accept the invitation, nominating Colonel Fettarappa Sandri as the Italian representative to the CPC. On the 19th of May 1959, Italy participated in a CPC meeting as an associate member for the first time.
In the meantime, the committee had changed statute and name (becoming the Coordination and Planning Committee), and its tasks had been re-elaborated following the creation of a second body, the Allied Clandestine Committee (ACC), formed in 1958 under the initiative of SACEUR and the CPC itself, with the participation of the United States, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
The Italian accession to this second Allied agency only occurred on the 15th of April 1964, when the head of SIFAR, General Egidio Viggiani, accepted the invite sent to Italian intelligence by German General Wendland, the rotating president of the ACC. Italy’s accession followed shortly after that of West Germany.
The available documentation describes the ACC an offshoot of the CPC, established to manage collaboration between the various NATO members and the logistics of their respective evasion and escape networks, as well as questions relating to their shared command bases (the permanent centre in Idlewood, UK, and the mobile base, code named ‘Keylock’).
The necessity for the ACC was born at the moment when NATO military strategy began to contemplate the possibility of also operating within the European theatre through non-conventional forces and methods.
The doctrine of ‘unorthodox warfare’ arose within a scenario in which it was hypothesised, given the imbalance between the military contingents deployed on the two opposing fronts, that the armies of the Warsaw Pact could invade one or more European countries part of the Atlantic Alliance.
Facing this eventuality, NATO strategy envisioned that the road for a conventional military response would be paved through two coordinated types of action: unconventional military operations (UMO), and operations by clandestine services (OCS, themselves divided in OCI, ‘operations of clandestine intelligence’, and OCA, ‘operations of clandestine action’, or guerrilla warfare and sabotage).
While the first type of operation fell within the remit of military forces, albeit conducted by special departments, the second type of action (OCS) fell exclusively within the duties of individual national clandestine services, as they would operate within occupied national territory, and thus under the authority of their respective Commands.
Under this system, SHAPE planned for the operations conducted by ‘unorthodox’ military forces to follow directives handed down by SACEUR. This left the strategic direction of UMOs of military departments initially assigned by SHAPE to the Allied Command in Europe.
In the field of OCS, however, SHAPE reiterated the authority of the single countries to conduct operations, aside from, naturally, questions of coordination, so as to avoid conflicts of activities and waste of resources.
What had been blurry at the birth the CPC thus crystallised and branched out as the years went by, making coordinating bodies necessary.
In peacetime, the CPC had the general responsibility of planning the operative needs for unorthodox warfare. It would also network with national militaries concerning requests from the Allied Command for non-conventional support for their military activities. In wartime, the CPC was to yield to four ‘allied coordination and consultation groups’ (ACCG) which, along with the highest NATO commands (SHAPE, AFNORTH, AFCENT, AFSOUTH), formed the connective tissue between military and clandestine services.
The ACC took control of all the tasks relating to the planning and coordination of clandestine operations made by intelligence services exclusively under national Commands, both in peacetime and in war.
Following the guiding principle of non-interference into activities of national clandestine services, this subdivision of tasks resulted in a geographical separation of the bodies’ respective roles: the CPC was recognised as responsible for activities requested by SHAPE regarding Warsaw Pact countries, while the ACC would prepare the national defences of single NATO states (within which each country, although acting in consultation with other members, kept its autonomy and control of its stay-behind resources).
This complex articulation, which the CPC directly contributed to, had the ‘SACEUR directives for unorthodox warfare’ as its guide, which was circulated in 1968 to national clandestine services and to NATO High Command.
The weight afforded to these directives varied, of course, according to their interlocutor. While for NATO military Command they represented binding prescriptions, they were instead seen by clandestine services as guiding indications at the discretion of national authorities at best.
This state of affairs brings us back, then, to the where we began: the CPC and ACC were both created as organisations to facilitate NATO Command’s interaction with bodies which, while remaining under the control of national authorities, formed a central part of its ‘unorthodox’ military response strategy.
Both these committees, while undertaking duties conceived exclusively within a strategy elaborated by NATO Command, could not call themselves integrally part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. German authorities also reached this conclusion in the document sent in 1990 to the President of the Republic of Italy concerning the stay-behind network active in Federal Germany.
Italian Intelligence had always been aware of the fact that the CPC and ACC were not tout court NATO, but were agencies which served as a ‘link’ between NATO and national organisations.
When Chief of Defence Staff was replaced on the 20th of January 1970, the SID Command, in informing the new Director of the existence of the clandestine networks, expressed itself in these words: “usually termed ‘behind enemy lines’ organisations, they have taken the generic moniker of stay-behind, and their coordination and strategic planning has been organised through the creation of various international ‘committees’ which, while not being an integral part of NATO, maintain contacts of collaboration both with SHAPE and with the major subordinate Commands (AFSOUTH, in the Italian case)”.
This condition of being ‘unofficially NATO’ caused not few perplexities when, in 1990, Operation Gladio came to light. These perplexities were renewed when the Prime Minister chose to deny access to CPC-ACC documentation, declaring them inviolable according to Article 7 of the Ottawa Convention. Again, these perplexities were not resolved when, on the 19th of December 1991, the same Prime Minister decided to only ‘free’ the ACC documents, insisting on the inviolability of the CPC files.
The alleged subordinate relationship of Gladio to NATO, in reality, seems to have been too blurry and indirect to be able to justify the legitimacy of the Italian anti-invasion network in those terms. Indeed, the dates of Italy’s accession to the two committees (1959 for the CPC; 1964 for the ACC), as already noted, occurred many years after SIFAR set Operation Gladio in motion.
3.3. From 1972 to 1976: Restructuring
The year of 1972 was ripe with events for Gladio.
In terms of the relationship with American Intelligence, the US revoked the accord signed in 1956. In a December 15th 1972 meeting, which had been convened to review the Italo-American agreement, American Intelligence representatives reported that they did not believe the terms of the 16-year-old restatement were still valid, and proposed to replace it with a less-onerous ‘memorandum of understanding’ to be renegotiated annually.
In terms of East-West military relations, the consolidation of a strategy founded on nuclear weapons as a ‘flexible response’ made the long-term invasion of Atlantic Pact Allies’ territory improbable and, thus, there was a sharp decrease in the importance of ‘unorthodox warfare’. The very foundations of the stay-behind plan had been shaken, opening the way for a severe downsizing of plans.
American Intelligence policy during this phase followed two lines: on one hand, the retreat from direct management (also in financial terms) of the stay-behind network, with the transfer of control to NATO Commands. On the other, the renegotiation of the privileged position afforded to Italy on the basis of a conversion of the network towards domestic counterinsurgency operations and activities. One must remember that those were the initial years of widespread terrorism and the electoral gains of the PCI. They were also the years in which the responsibility of Italian Intelligence in the darkest events of the Republic were emerging.
The Italian reaction is known only in relation to the first aspect of the American policy, namely, the acknowledgement of Operation Gladio’s move from the bilateral Italo-American agreement orbit to the broader inter-Allied concert. The necessity to enter the ‘NATO sphere’, while coming at a late stage, became all the more salient when the relationship with the United States began to fracture.
When commenting on the outcome of the December 15 1972 meeting, the then Lieutenant-Colonel Gerardo Serravalle (head of the SAD section at the time) wrote, in a note on the 22nd of December, that “the bilateral Italo-American agreement no longer holds any validity because it fails to address current events. As with what is happening with other Intelligence Services, the Gladio arrangements will have to be formulated autonomously and financed by our Intelligence, within the framework of cooperation with other ACC Intelligence services. The USA, consequently, will terminate funding for Gladio (this, in fact, has already taken place)”.
Regarding the request for ‘anti-subversion’ support, only one relevant note can be found in the archives, from the 4th of December 1972, in which Colonel Fausto Fortunato (head of the ‘R’ Office) stated that the issue, which had already been raised by American intelligence, “had no results in terms of logistical arrangements.”
However, the termination of American support was not the only problem that beset Gladio that year.
On the 24th of February 1972, one of the ‘Nasco’ arms caches hidden by the organisation was unexpectedly found by the carabinieri of Aurusina. The SID’s immediate preoccupation was to avoid that the found materiel could be connected to the department. By influencing the carabinieri, SID men were able to block investigations and to archive the inquiry conducted by judicial authorities.
The finding of the ‘Nasco’ caches of Auristina was one of the events that convinced the director of SAD, Serravalle, of the necessity and urgency to dismantle the entire network of caches. The other reason was after holding in-person meetings with the leaders of the various nuclei of the clandestine network, the newly-appointed head of Gladio, Serravalle, realised that a high percentage of Gladio operators held a distorted and highly dangerous concept of the structure, as they understood the network more as an internal anti-communist structure rather than an anti-invasion one.
So when the Auristina incident took place only a few months later, he took the occasion to order, with the assent of SID Director, General Vito Miceli, the immediate retrieval of the hidden materiel and to demobilise a portion of the recruited members (around a hundred). The operation was completed in June 1973 (and took place without the knowledge of the Americans, who where more than irritated when they learnt of the decision).
After the events of 1972 Gladio thus found itself disarmed, lacking the financial support of the United States, and considerably reduced in number of active members. The result of this new environment would soon show itself in terms of worsening problems with recruitment, training, and equipment.
During this period, the annual reports written by SAD on the state of the operation express preoccupations about the logistical inadequacies of the network. From the ‘Report on the situation of the Organisation S/B to 31st December 1975’, signed by the then-Colonel Paolo Inzerilli, head of the 5th Section – ‘R’ Office, it emerges that manpower and recruitment were below their true exigencies; after the definitive recall of the ‘special stockpiles’, the situation around armaments was precarious due to the lack of a new operative and logistical plan; the radio machinery was considered obsolete and completely inadequate to guarantee effective communication with external agents. The situation was so critical as to lead to the conclusion that, in the case of an emergency, Gladio would not have been able to activate.
In the years between 1972 and 1976 the organisation thus operated at a reduced capacity: activities were limited to the occasional training of recruits and participation only in the most important international military exercises. In contemporary reports, the morale of Gladio personnel was described as harshly tested by the uncertain position of the organisation and the lack of future prospects.
What came to pass after 1972 leads us to the contradictions between the statement made by Prime Minister Andreotti to the Commission on the 3rd of August 1990, in which it was said that the organisation had been demobilised in 1972, and the information contained in the document sent to the Commission on the 18th of October 1990, in which it was admitted that the structure was still active and operational in 1990.
In all probability, in the documentation that Prime Minister Andreotti requested from the Chief of Defence Staff on that occasion (and not to the heads of Intelligence or CESIS – Executive Committee of Security and Information Services), there were elements that lent themselves to a reductive reading of Gladio after 1972.
It is nevertheless a proven fact that in 1972 a transformation of Gladio occurred. It morphed from a structure created to face an invasion from our northeastern border to a surveillance agency which operated across the country.
This transformation occurred over a rather extended period of time. But this is the trend that took hold especially after 1974-76, when the network was restructured. The UPI, those units that were created to operate at ‘surface’ level through guerrilla action, were eliminated while the nuclei were strengthened, those ‘underground’ units specialised in exfiltration and surveillance activities.
That was the moment, in substance, when the theory of an external invasion broke down, and the internal ‘sensors’ and ‘antennae’ were enhanced.