How MI6 and SAS joined in

David Pallister, Guardian 5 December 1990, page 12

David Pallister on 'stay behind' strategy

The stay-behind groups in Europe had their origins in the fear of communism that concentrated the minds of British and US politicians and military planners after the second world war.

The plan, spearheaded by the infant CIA as part of a huge covert action programme to assist anti-communist organisations, had been conceived by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the 1976 Senate report on the CIA by Frank Church which first revealed its existence.

It was put into operation in 1948 by the National Security Council, which set up the Office of Policy Co-ordination, a covert operations unit created on the recommendation of a senior state department Soviet expert, George Keenan, the man who formulated the Marshall Plan of economic aid to Western Europe.

Staffed and funded by the CIA, OPC's central mission, according to Church, was to set up "stay behind nets in the event of future war" and support Nato forces against Soviet attack.

It was also to recruit emigré groups to carry out sabotage behind the Iron Curtain.

The British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and the SAS played their part. In the British sector of Germany, the SAS dug secret hides with stores of weapons. MI6 helped the CIA to recruit agents who invaded Albania in 1949 in an operation betrayed by the double agent Kim Philby.

In Britain, a guerrilla network with arms caches was already in place following the fall of France in 1940, according to senior military sources who say it was disbanded after the war. Its members, including the legendary Brigadier "Mad Mike" Calvert, were drawn from a special forces ski battalion of the Scots Guards which was originally intended to fight in Nazi-occupied Finland.

Germany was the OPC's principal centre of operations and, as in Italy, it co-operated with some unsavoury characters.

Under the direction of Allen Dulles as deputy director for plans and then CIA director in 1953, secret armies were set up across Europe, although, according to the Italian Prime Minister last month, they did not come under broad Nato supervision until 1959.

As in Germany, one of their tasks was to counter internal left-wing subversion. In Greece, the existence of a CIA-armed and trained paramilitary group, which had helped in the 1967 Colonels' coup, was reported in the Athens press in 1978. In Scandinavia, the stay-behind groups were organised from 1951 by William Colby, who became CIA director in 1973.

A former deputy director of intelligence at the CIA, Ray Cline, who was station chief in Bonn in the mid-sixties, said last month that he had recommended the phasing out of the groups when he discovered they were a bunch of old men without organisation. Like many people, he was surprised to find they still existed.