These "stay-behind" networks originally were built up by recruiting fascists from the countries the U.S. and Britain occupied, meant to be a bulwark against a possible and feared Soviet invasion after World War II. When the invasion never occurred, the networks were not dismantled, but took on a different mission: to keep the left from gaining power in any of these states, from Sweden and Belgium to France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere.
The existence of secret "stay-behind" armies and groups, known today by the Italian name, Gladio, caused a sensation in the early 1990s, when they were revealed by then-Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Since then, Gladio-like operations, supposedly ran by the CIA and to some extent the British MI6, have been linked to a number of terrorist attacks, assassinations, and right-wing coups in Europe, e.g., the Bologna train station bombing in 1980, the 1967 generals coup in Greece, etc.
The sensationalistic charges have fed a number of conspiracy theories, particularly those around the existence of "false flag" government operations. Some have indicated they see the 9/11 attacks in this light, though I can't say I have the kind of evidence to make such an assertion. But one can understand how any individual might come to seriously mistrust the U.S. government after learning of the Gladio history, which is extensive and well-documented.
Among other canards the Gladio story can put to rest is the silly belief that no large scale conspiracies can exist, at least in a so-called open, democratic society such as ours. And yet, Gladio proves that is not true. In fact, since the revelations of the early 1990s, there has been practically no discussion of this crucial aspect of contemporary history by U.S. historians or policy makers. The existence of this huge conspiracy and intervention against sovereign European states is almost never even referred to by the vast majority of political commentators, left or right, in the United States. I don't see how anyone can intelligently discuss modern European politics without understanding the Gladio revelations and the fallout from them in the various European countries.
More Documentation on Gladio
The first academic examination of Gladio was published in 2005 by Swiss historian Daniele Ganser. Mr. Ganser is currently a Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. His book, NATO's Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, is available at last at not too outrageous a price at Amazon, and likely other book outlets.
(Caveat emptor! The paperback version was said to be unavailable, leaving only the $190 hardback edition! However, there is a Kindle version available for under $40. And moreover, clicking on a link on the latter page brings me to another Amazon page that lists the paperback as available, with new and used copies from $41 on down.)
Another excellent book that delivers a good deal of research on Gladio comes from British journalist Philip Willan, who writes for the UK Guardian and other papers: Puppetmasters: The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy.
I can't say that I have mastered the above material. Nor am I sure how exactly this aspect of American and European history is being played out even now. I do know that it much too large a story, with way too many ramifications to be ignored. In fact, from a historian's standpoint, or that of any commentator on the events of the past fifty or sixty years, it appears that many of the assumptions about the world we live in are seriously called into question.
At the end of this posting are some links to other online sites of interest, as we begin to assimilate this gigantic story, one which until recently, has been kept from the American people -- outside of small websites, chat rooms, or in the comments of blog readers who get labeled as "conspiracy nuts." Some of the latter are intemperate and have not really examined the proof for many of their statements. But Gladio is not one of those instances. It is a true conspiracy, by men and women at the highest levels of our society. It was kept secret for decades. By indifference and neglect, it is kept out of public consciousness even now.
Part One - ="The Ringmasters"
Part Two - "The Puppeteers"
Part Three - "The Foot Soldiers"
The Wikipedia entry on Gladio. Not bad, with lots of links.
Selections from Ganser's book
An article on Gladio by Arthur Rowse, formerly at the Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report.
Dr. John Prados, Senior Fellow at The National Security Archive, and who wrote the forward for Ganser's book, discusses Gladio in his book on William Colby, which one can read in part at Google Books.
The ongoing ramifications of Gladio in Turkey, where the "stay-behinds" or embedded secret organization (take your pick) is called Ergenekon.
US 'supported anti-left terror in Italy'
Report claims Washington used a strategy of tension in the cold war to stabilise the centre-right
Philip Willan, UK Guardian, 24 June 2000, page 19