Italian politics haunted by the ghosts of its past
By Eric Margolis
May 21, 2000
SINALUNGA, ITALY - Italy's never-ending mysteries continue to haunt its present. Last week, the Vatican finally unveiled the so-called "Third Secret of Fatima," one of a trio of prophecies revealed to three Portuguese children in 1917. Long held secret, and the subject of fevered speculation, the third prophecy warned of impending persecution of Catholics by an evil totalitarian force and an assassination attempt against a pope.
Some 10 million Catholics in Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and Poland were slaughtered from 1920-1950 by the Soviet communists. In 1981, a Turkish gunman attempted to murder Pope John Paul II. While Soviet involvement could not be proven in court, the chief Italian prosecutor in the case still insists the evidence led directly to Moscow. My own research fully supports his accusation.
This week, Italian police revealed the Red Brigades, a violent marxist terrorist organization believed defunct, was behind the 1999 assassination of a government official. The Brigades, which murdered prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978 and imposed a region of terror on Italy from the 1970-1980's "years of lead" has reactivated with younger members.
Interwoven with these bizarre affairs is a third intrigue that remains one of the most fascinating Cold War mysteries - Operation "Stay Behind," or "Gladio (sword)" as it is known in Italy.
According to still fragmentary evidence, CIA chief Allen Dulles, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and a number of European leaders, created a top secret organization from 1947-1952 called "Stay Behind" as the nucleus of a guerrilla army in the event of a Soviet invasion. "Stay Behind" personnel were recruited in all major European nations from anti-communist groups. Some, inevitably, such as Germany's Gehlen organization, had former Nazi ties. The cadres were covertly trained in sabotage and guerrilla warfare in Britain and at US bases in Germany. "Stay Behind" forces generally numbered from 5,000 to 15,000 per nation and included formations in neutral Sweden, Austria,
Finland, and Switzerland, as well as Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Greece and Turkey. Secret caches of arms and explosives were secreted across western Europe. Many remain to this day - as do arms caches set up by the Soviet KGB and GRU.
At the time, Stalin was threatening to invade Europe with 120 divisions. The danger was so great that France began refurbishing and upgunning the forts of its Maginot Line to resist an expected Soviet offensive. NATO estimated the Red Army's tanks could reach the Channel in eleven days.
Powerful communist and socialist parties in Italy, France, Belgium, and Germany, deeply penetrated and often guided by Soviet agents, were a dangerous fifth column. One of "Stay Behind's" prime missions was to assassinate leftwing leaders, particularly in Italy, West Germany, and France, who would aid a Soviet invasion and form Quisling communist regimes.
In Britain, a secret group named "Clockwork Orange" purportedly planned to eliminate pro-Soviet Labour Party leaders. CIA poured $200 million into the coffers of Italy's anti-communist Christian Democrats and coordinated efforts with the Vatican and the Mafia to prevent the communists from gaining control of Italy's impoverished south. In the 1980's, CIA and the Vatican again collaborated to covertly fund the Solidarity anti-communist uprising in Poland through financial networks in Latin America set up by the Vatican's banker, Roberto Calvi, and his ally, Licio Gelli, grand master of the highly influential P2 Freemason lodge that, it's claimed, included current opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi.
As the Soviet threat subsided, "Stay Behind" faded away by the 1980's, but not in Italy. There, some of the 15,000 members of "Gladio," including senior officers of the army, paramilitary police and intelligence services, were involved in a series of murky intrigues aimed at destabilizing the Italian state and two abortive military coups in 1970 and 1974. Explosives from "Gladio" caches and "Gladio" members were implicated in a wave of terrorist attacks, including the 1980 Bologna's train station bombing that killed 85 people.
Roberto Calvi was murdered in 1982. His body was found hanging under London's Blackfriar's Bridge, an obvious reference to the P2 Masonic Lodge, of which he was a senior member. Calvi's body was exhumed in 1998, but the case is still unsolved, though a Mafia boss has been indicted. Licio Gelli remains at large.
Sources here maintain "Gladio's" elderly veterans have been succeeded by a younger generation of shadow warriors dedicated to combating the still powerful communist influence in Italy. Rome's last coalition government was headed by the 'reformed' Communist Party, and is now led by the Socialists. Charges are flying that "Gladio" may somehow be behind the resurgence of the Red Brigades in a baroque plot to destabilize Italy's current leftwing governments.
From afar, such melodramas and truly strange bedfellows may sound preposterous, but Italy thrives on sinister and serpentine intrigues. Many Italians believe that deep in the shadows behind the official government in Rome operates what is known as the "secret government," a Dantesque cabal of industrialists and bankers, Mafia, the Vatican, assorted security services, "Gladio," Freemasons and who knows who else.
Italy is the nation of Giotto and DaVinci, but it remains just as much the land of Borgia poisons and assassins in dark alleyways.