Confidential

Operation Gladio: An Introduction

Operation Gladio

This Grey Dynamics article explores the creation myth of the anti-communist NATO-allied project known as Operation Gladio, and the context behind why it was created – to prevent the post-World War II spread of communism across Europe using clandestine proxy forces.

Communism. The red and yellow colored, hammer and sickle stamped, bourgeoisie smashing elephant in the room. Some violently hate it, others view it as the only true system of liberation. And then some, who live under it, have no choice in the matter. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that as long as communist uprisings and governments have existed, its opponents have done everything they can to prevent its spread. And when I say, “everything they can”, I mean that in a literal sense.

Joseph Stalin’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) played a vital role in the Second World War (WWII), but not without its internal tensions within the Allies as a result of its Marxist state. The conclusion of the war shifted the West’s attention towards the potential of communist infiltration and expansion into Europe. This was not ideal, and as the Cold War approached, the West sought out ways to thwart the Communists as they spread across the globe. Some were unconventional, to say the least.

In essence, Operation Gladio was the convergence between the concept of a “stay-behind resistance force” and the Western/NATO-led attempted prevention of a Communist Europe. In the words of Colonel Kevin D. Stringer of the Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), “Hybrid warfare is an effective mix of military and nonmilitary activities with conventional and irregular components ranging from diplomatic and legal campaigns to clandestine transfers of armed personnel and weapons. These activities fall short of actual armed conflict and can destabilize and subvert a target nation’s stability and sovereignty but not trigger North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or bilateral treaty commitments. To mitigate this risk, a targeted state’s society must be ready to conduct resistance should all or parts of its territory be occupied or subverted by a foreign invader or its proxies.

In typical unconventional fashion, such a resistance force did exist in Europe during Operation Gladio, and it managed to stay in the shadows until October 1990 in which case Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, for the first time, publicly acknowledged its existence in front of the Italian national senate.

The October 1990 acknowledgment of Operation Gladio was not the first time it had been mentioned within Italy, nor was Prime Minister Andreotti the first to mention it, although his caliber and governmental role gave credibility to his claim. In 1972, an Italian neo-fascist terrorist named Vincenzo Vinciguerra carried out a car bombing attack in the Sagrado municipality in the Gorizia province. During his trial in 1984, Italian investigators tracked down the origins of the explosives Vinciguerra used which ultimately led them to Gladio. The C4 in the bomb was from an arms dump located in a cemetery in the city of Verona, and that dump was a Gladio site. This revelation, alongside Prime Minister Andreotti’s, started an international conversation about the extent of Gladio’s reach, and the NATO countries involved.

The early creation of Gladio traces back to the end of WWII when the North Atlantic Treaty was signed. The treaty, signed on the 4th of April 1949, was signed at first by 12 countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The countries under the NATO treaty agreed to a mutual defense that according to the official website “was to create a pact of mutual assistance to counter the risk that the Soviet Union would seek to extend its control of Eastern Europe to other parts of the continent.” Following the signing of the treaty, and the formation of the NATO organization, various internal committees were formed to handle different aspects of the NATO mission.

The “Clandestine Planning Committee” (CPC) was the NATO element that developed the early implementation of Operation Gladio, which included the formation of domestic paramilitary forces, planned escape and logistical routes within involved countries, and the establishment of various weapons and equipment cache sites strategically placed as a contingency plan against Soviet invasion (like the one in the Verona, Italy cemetery).

Since Operation Gladio was brought to light, and the 1990 recognition by Prime Minister Andreotti, there has been a decent amount of controversy about the reported involvement of foreign intelligence agencies, such as the CIA. Critics of Western foreign policy outside of the intelligence community have attributed the CIA to using Operation Gladio as a way to bolster right-wing and fascist groups within Europe. Those claims have not been corroborated, and the true extent of CIA involvement remains outside of the public sphere.  

Image: Libcom (link)

Author

Michael Ellmer

Michael served as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the Corps, he completed his undergraduate studies at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in communications. He is currently a graduate candidate at Brunel University, where he is pursing a master’s degree in Strategic Intelligence Analysis.

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