Secret Italian unit 'trained in Britain'

Richard Norton-Taylor/David Gow, Guardian, 17 November 1990, page 10

Richard Norton-Taylor and David Gow in Bonn

BRITAIN hosted a unit responsible for organising Operation Gladio - the name given to the Italian section of a secret West European underground network set up to combat communism, it was disclosed yesterday.

Their counterparts in Britain, where the plan was give the name Operation Stay Behind, visited Italy soon afterwards, in 1974, according to a senior Italian military intelligence official.

General Gerardo Serravalle, who said the Italians trained at a military base in Britain, was giving evidence yesterday in Rome to a parliamentary committee of inquiry into allegations that Gladio was linked to a series of rightwing terrorist attacks in Italy between 1969 and the early 1980s.

Documents shown to the committee revealed that in the 1970s British and French officials involved in the network visited a training base in Germany built with US money.

A number of West European governments have acknowledged the existence of the network over the past few days and in some countries national sections are still in place. However, the British government has repeatedly refused to comment. "It is a security matter.We are not speaking about," a Ministry of Defence spokesman said last night.

However, General Sir John Hackett, a former commander-in-chief of the British Army on the Rhine, said yesterday that a contingency plan involving "stay behind and resistance in depth" was drawn up after the second world war.

Earlier this week, Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley,a former Nato commander in northern Europe, told the Guardian that a secret arms network was established in Britain after the war but he would not say whether it still existed.

The German government is to disband its part of Gladio, the secret resistance network, Bonn officials said yesterday.

According to a German television report, the section consisted of former SS and Waffen-SS officers as well as members of an extreme rightwing group, the Federation of German Youth, and drew up plans to assassinate leading figures of the opposition Social Democratic Party in the event of a Soviet-led invasion.

AP adds: The Defence Secretary, Tom King, said yesterday that he had never heard of Gladio. "I'm not sure what particular hot potato you're chasing after. It sounds wonderfully exciting, but I'm afraid I'm quite ignorant about it. I'm better informed about the Gulf," Mr King said.