Secret agents, freemasons, fascists... and a top-level campaign of political 'destabilisation'

Ed Vulliamy, Guardian, 5 December 1990, page 12

Ed Vulliamy in Rome on the 'strategy of tension' that brought carnage and cover-up

'I CAN say that the head of the secret services has repeatedly and unequivocally excluded the existence of a hidden organisation of any type or size," the Italian Minister of Defence, Giulio Andreotti, told a judicial inquiry in 1974 into the alleged existence of a secret state army.

Four years later, the scene repeated itself in front of judges investigating a fascist bombing in Milan.

Last month, however, Andreotti - now Prime Minister - confirmed the now infamous Gladio organisation had indeed existed since 1958, with the sanction of the political authorities, as a paramilitary "clandestine network" prepared to fight a Warsaw Pact invading army.

The Gladio saga resulted from two sources unhappy with Andreotti's 1974 explanation. The first was a group of judges examining letters uncovered in Milan during October in which the murdered Christian Democrat leader, Aldo Moro, said he feared a shadow organisation, alongside "other secret services of the West ... might be implicated in the destabilisation of our country".

His words were taken to point to the "Strategy of Tension" in the 1970s, violent and usually fascist-inspired outrages designed to justify increased state power and isolate the Left.

Meanwhile, two judges in Venice were investigating one such outrage - the murder of three policemen by a fascist car bomb in Peteano in 1972. Felice Casson and Carlo Mastelloni had stumbled across Gladio.

Testimonies collected by the two men and by the Commission on Terrorism in Rome, and inquiries by the Guardian, indicate Gladio was involved in activities which do not square with Andreotti's account.

Links between Gladio, Italian secret service bosses and the notorious P2 masonic lodge are manifold. The chiefs of all three secret services - Generals Santovito (SISMI), Grassini (SISDE) and Cellosi (CESSIS) - were members of the lodge. In the year that Andreotti denied Gladio's existence, the P2 treasurer, General Siro Rosetti, gave a generous account of "a secret security structure made up of civilians, parallel to the armed forces".

There are also overlaps between senior Gladio personnel and the committee of military men, Rosa dei Vent, which tried to stage a coup in 1970.

A briefing minute of June 1, 1959, reveals Gladio was built around "internal subversion". It was to play "a determining role...not only on the general policy level of warfare, but also in the politics of emergency".

In the 1970s, with communist electoral support growing and other leftists looking menacing, the establishment turned to the "Strategy of Tension" - with Gladio eager to be involved.

General Gerardo Serravalle, a former head of "Office R", told the terrorism commission that at a crucial Gladio meeting in 1972, at least half of the upper echelons "had the idea of attacking the communists before an invasion. They were preparing for civil war."

Later he put it more bluntly: "They were saying this: 'Why wait for the invaders when we can make a pre-emptive attack now on the communists who would support the invader?'"

The idea is now emerging of a Gladio web made up of semi-autonomous cadres which - although answerable to their secret service masters and ultimately to the Nato-CIA command - could initiate what they regarded as anti-communist operations by themselves, needing only sanction and funds from the existing "official" Gladio column.

General Pietro Corona, head of the "R" office from 1969-70, told the Venice inquiry about "an alternative clandestine network, parallel to Gladio, which knew about the arms and explosives dumps and who had access to them". General Nino Lugarese, head of SISMI from 1981-84 testified on the existence of a "Super Gladio" of 800 men responsible for "internal intervention" against domestic political targets.

The Venetian judges identifed two arms dumps referred to by Andreotti. One, hidden beneath a cemetery near Verona, contains 18 453-gram bundles of the potent C4 plastic explosive officially confirmed last week as used at Peteano.

Gen Serravalle testified to irregularities at another dump, near Trieste. There, he says, Gladio had logged seven containers of C4. When the Carabinieri dug up the arsenal in February 1972 - two months before the Peteano attack near by - there were only four containers left; three had been inexplicably removed.

An extraordinary testimony remains in the labyrinth of paperwork surrounding the "Strategy of Tension", Vincenzo Vinciguerra, a member of the fascist group Avanguardia Nazionale, is serving life for his part in the Peteano bombing.

In 1984, questioned by Judges examining the 1980 Bologna station bomb in which 82 people were killed and for which two secret service agents were convicted, he said: "With the massacre of Peteano, and with all those that have followed, the knowledge should by now be clear that there existed a real live structure, occult and hidden, with the capacity of giving a strategic direction to the outrages." The structure, he said, "lies within the state itself".

"There exists in Italy a secret force parallel to the armed forces, composed of civilians and military men, in an anti-Soviet capacity - that is, to organise a resistance on Italian soil against a Russian army... A secret organisation, a super-organisation with a network of communications, arms and explosives, and men trained to use them... "A super-organisation which, lacking a Soviet military invasion which might not happen, took up the task, on Nato's behalf, of preventing a slip to the left in the political balance of the country. This they did, with the assistance of the official secret services and the political and military forces..."

Vinciguerra has now made this statement to the Guardian: "The terrorist line was followed by camouflaged people, people belonging to the security apparatus, or those linked to the state apparatus through rapport or collaboration. I say that every single outrage that followed from 1969 fitted into a single, organised matrix... Avanguardia Nazionale, like Ordine Nuovo (the main right-wing terrorist group active during the 1970s), were being mobilised into the battle as part of an anti-communist strategy originating not with organisations deviant from the institutions of power, but from within the state itself, and specifically from within the ambit of the state's relations within the Atlantic Alliance."

Late last Thursday, the current head of the Secret Services, General Paolo Inzerilli, announced that Gladio had been disbanded two days earlier. The official closing of the Gladio book, however, is unlikely to abort the plot.