Nato's secret network 'also operated in France'

Guardian, 14 November 1990, page 6

Our Foreign Staff

A BRANCH of the Nato-linked European anti-communist resistance network, which Italian investigators fear may have been involved in neo-fascist atrocities in Italy, also operated in France, the former defence minister, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, has disclosed.

Mr Chevènement told the newspaper Liberation that the French branch of the network was dissolved recently by presidential order, but he declined to say when. He maintained that for most of its existence the network was "dormant".

In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers said yesterday that a secret organisation had also been set up in his country in the 1950s to organise resistance and gather information in the event of a foreign invasion. But he denied that the group was supervised directly by Nato.

He said a reduction in the size of the group had been considered several months ago. He did not indicate the result of that review. Speculation that the Netherlands was involved in Gladio arose from the accidental discovery of large arms caches in 1980 and 1983.

Former branches have also already been confirmed in Greece and reported in Portugal. Yesterday a former member of the Belgian branch said it kept an arms cache and a sabotage network intact until it was disbanded recently.

In London, the Ministry of Defence refused to discuss whether a branch of the network existed in Britain. "I'm afraid we wouldn't discuss security matters," a spokeswoman said.

According to Liberation, the French branch of the network - which the paper said was called the Allied Co-ordination Committee - included several dozen people. They were not known to each other and were recruited by the intelligence service to liaise between local authorities and exiled leaders in the event of a takeover.

The network was set up in the 1950s, partly funded by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency and operated by the secret services and defence forces of member countries.

Its alleged aim was to establish guerrilla resistance groups in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe which would hit back and co-ordinate communications between the governments under attack.

According to the German newspaper Die Welt yesterday members of the network trained in German forests. The newspaper said the network's controlling body still exists in Belgium but only as a "shell."

In Italy the network's anti-communist resistance brief may have been overreached by the local branch, known as Operation Gladio. It is now under judicial investigation for suspicion of involvement in neo-fascist activities, including the Bologna railway station bombing in 1980 in which 80 people died.

The Greek defence minister has confirmed that a branch of the network, known as Operation Sheepskin, operated in his country until 1988 and Lisbon radio has claimed a branch existed in Portugal to defend the late dictator Dr Salazar.

A former Belgian defence minister François-Xavier de Donnea, said he was unaware of any arms caches. But Mr De Donnea confirmed the existance of a Branch in Belgium.

He said the 17 members in Belgium went on survival training courses, adding that there was also a network of "sleeping" members. He said that his predecessor gave the branch some $4.6 million to buy radio equipment.

The former member of the branch, André Moyen, an ex-member of the Belgium military security service, said the branch was not just anti-communist but was fighting subversion in general.

"There were at least six hiding places for arms in Belgium until two months ago," work." he told Belgian radio.

The secretary-general of Nato Manfred Wörner, has refused to comment.