The 1980’s witnessed the twilight years of the Cold War. Beneath the surface, centers of power were being consolidated, strange bed fellows met in secret, and intelligence officers dug in their heels following a type of sunk cost fallacy which would lead them to believe that the Cold War would continue forever. One of the darkest chapters of this era involves so-called stay-behind networks in Europe trained by the CIA, and allegedly, by 10th Special Forces Group on the island of Sardinia.
During this timeframe, there existed both so-called black and red terrorism. Bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations were carried out by urban guerrillas on both extremes of the political spectrum. However, the most controversial thesis is that both black and red terrorists were manipulated by the same puppet masters. Enter Gladio, a covert stay-behind network of anti-communist saboteurs in Italy. While the entire European stay-behind network is often called by the Italian code-name Gladio, each country had its own code name, some of which remain unknown to this day.
A new clue has emerged from the tiny country of Belgium, confirming what has long been suspected by some researchers. In the early ’80s the Nivelles Gang terrorized Brussels, committing a string of robberies and murders. The crimes were bizarre to say the least. The three killers were dubbed by the media as The Giant, The Killer, and The Old Man. They only stole small sums of money from grocery stores and the like, wore strange face paint and disguises, the murdered civilians (including children) without remorse. All told, 28 people were murdered in low-level robberies. Why risk a murder charge for petty cash? It was as if the medium was the message, the crimes themselves were the point, not the money. They wanted to gain the public’s attention, just as communist and fascist terrorists did in Italy. This was not crime, but political terrorism.
Without any clues as to the identity of the killers of the motive, there was left a void. Upon that void, a political agenda could be grafted onto the consciousness of the public.
The killers vanished without a trace after each robbery. Their weapons handling and ability to slip past law enforcement led some to speculate that they were policemen themselves. Others speculated that they belonged to the Diana Group, an elite police commando unit. The crime spree justified the Belgian government’s push to create a single federal police force. Just recently, VTM television broadcast a local citizen claiming that his brother gave a death-bed confession several years prior, that he was in fact The Giant. The man’s brother had been a police officer.
What does it all mean? To this day, the full story behind the stay-behind networks has never been told. Very little credible research has been done in this field. We do know that the networks existed, that they were stood up under the auspices of General Lyman Lemnitzer at NATO, with some oversight by the CIA, and some involvement from the U.S. military. Some of those stay-behind networks were then hijacked by political-criminal elements in their countries for purposes of political terrorism. Accusations remain that the CIA orchestrated the attacks as a part of a strategy of tension that pitted the left and right against each other, in what America saw as an existential war against communism.
As usual, the ultimate question is what is the truth? What do you believe? Are you choosing to believe, or do you know where the facts stop and where the lies begin? There is so much disinformation and conspiracy theory around Gladio that we have to conclude that the truth has been intentionally lost to history. Researching Gladio is going down a rabbit hole that involves the assassination of several prime ministers, high finance, the Vatican, pedophile blackmail networks, political corruption, and the creation of the modern world itself. Not easy knowing how the sausage gets made, huh?
From a SOFREP perspective, there is another and perhaps more pragmatic lesson that can be derived from the Gladio experience and Italy’s years of lead. Compartmentalized sabotage missions are best left to American soldiers, not shady foreign intelligence services. For decades the 10th Special Forces Group ran Detachment A out of Berlin. Their mission was to activate in the event of a Soviet invasion as stay-behind teams. Year after year, Det A conducted their mission with quiet professionalism. They towed the line, did not engage in illegal activities, and awaited the green light from their commanding officers.
For those interested in further research, a Google search will most likely yield hundreds of webpages filled with gibbering conspiracy nonsense. Aside from the BBC documentary linked in this story, there are two books that provide start points for further reading. Puppetmasters: The political use of terrorism in Italy by Philip Wallan and NATO’s Secret Armies by Daniele Ganser are both recommended. For more information about Detachment A, we have a four-part series on that particular unit.
Featured image of Belgian DSU or Diana Group, courtesy of Wikipedia