Swords, Cyclones, Services Offices

The site title "Parallel History Project on Cooperative Security" sounds stranger than it actually is - you will find all kinds of interesting Cold War time documents from PHP.

The information on Operation Gladio is especially interesting: it dealt (deals?) with NATO plans to install secret paramilitary groups into various countries, so that if the Warsaw Pact countries (=Soviet Union) had attacked those countries, the previously installed groups would have "stayed behind" and conducted all sorts of guerrilla operations against the invaders.

The problem with the creation of secret stay-behind armies is their very nature; they are secret armies. Operating a paramilitary organization in secrecy should raise the following questions: who controls them? To whom are they accountable? Who do they intend to fight against, when the original bogeyman, Soviet Union, no longer exists?

Those secret paramilitary forces have been used for strategy of tension. Simply put, this involves the execution of "terror attacks" (such as bombings) against the own population, while attributing the attack to some unwanted group. The purpose, of course, is to manipulate public opinion and to create fear (to be better able to control the population). Examples of these operations are the Piazza Fontana bombing in 1969 in Italy, and the Bologna massacre in 1980 in Italy.

The collapse of Soviet Union left behind a big empty bogeyman-space to be filled by some new scary outside enemy. Conveniently, an organization later dubbed Al Qaeda stepped in to fill this hole. In contrast to what the Soviet Union was in its glory days, this new threat has evolved to be decentralized, not limited by geography, harder to describe, harder to detect, and more "embedded" to our environments. The concept of Al Qaeda and a secret paramilitary organization in the spirit of Operation Gladio seem very similar, do they not?

This is not so surprising, really, considering the long history of intelligence services (like CIA) involvement with the birth of what is now known as Al Qaeda. The original "proto-Al Qaeda" was called Maktab al-Khadamat, an organization of religiously motivated people who were funded and armed by CIA (under Project Cyclone, through Pakistan's ISI as an intermediary) to organize fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Although not strictly a secret stay-behind army, I would say working within a similar framework nevertheless.

We have seen what evolved out of Maktab al-Khadamat. Could those other secret stay-behind armies in various NATO (and non-NATO?) countries give birth to similar out-of-control groups? By trying to understand what we can about Operation Gladio, we can perhaps gain enough insight to stop the creation of new problems.