Secret Gladio Network Planted Weapons Caches in NATO Countries
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Stockpiles of arms and explosives for hundreds of resistance fighters trained to counter a Soviet invasion were hidden in Western European countries from the 1950s until recently, officials said Tuesday.
News of the network raised concerns about whether some operatives with access to the weapons caches may have been involved in terrorist acts.
A former Belgian army intelligence official and former network member, Andre Moyen, said on Tuesday at least six arms caches were spread over the countryside until two months ago.
In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers told Parliament on Tuesday that the government is running a secret guerrilla organization similar to the groups whose existence was recently discovered in Italy and Belgium.
He said in a letter that successive prime ministers and defense chiefs always preferred not to inform other Cabinet members or Parliament on the secret organization.
Former Dutch Defense Minister Henk Vredeling said the group set up arms caches around the Netherlands for sabotage purposes.
Speculation spread in Italy whether the local network was connected to right-wing terrorist attacks in the early 1970s to keep Communists out of power.
Belgium is investigating any links between its local branch and indiscriminate killings in supermarkets in the early 1980s, which killed at least 28 people. Authorities have linked the murders to right-wing terrorism.
Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti brought the clandestine organization, known under the codename Gladio (Italian for ″sword″) in Italy, to light last month.
The operation, set up in the early 1950s during the Cold War, was designed to be an underground resistance network in case of a Soviet invasion in Western Europe. It mostly prepared communication networks, escape routes and sabotage plans, officials said this month.
Recent disclosures expand the scope of the network that operated in many countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Many European politicians were caught off guard, saying they knew nothing about it. This raised questions whether the network played by democratic rules.
The German newspaper Die Welt said pistols, grenade launchers, explosives and radios were stored in secret caches for German resistance fighters. It said U.S. agents masterminded the network in cooperation with intelligence agencies of various European lands in setting up what it called ″Operation Gehlen.″
″The operation was expanded to all of Western Europe by 1959,″ including neutral Sweden and Switzerland, it said. Die Welt telexed copies of its report in advance of Wednesday’s publication.
Die Welt said the network’s controlling body still exists in Belgium but only as a ″shell.″
Germany’s opposition Social Democrats on Tuesday called revelations about the guerrilla network ″the biggest scandal″ in NATO history.
President Francois Mitterrand of France confirmed Tuesday that he dissolved the French arm of the project, joking, ″I didn’t have much left to dissolve.″ He told reporters only ″a few remnants″ remained, and he was surprised to discover they existed ″because everyone had forgotten about them.″
Mitterrand did not say when he dissolved the remnants. The Paris newspaper Liberation said Tuesday it happened only after the Italian disclosures created a political controversy, but said the French network had long been moribund.
In Greece, where the anti-Communist network was known as Sheepskin, caches of arms, ammunition and equipment were dug up between 1985 and 1988, when the network was dismantled.
Lubbers said the Dutch group was responsible jointly to Defense Minister Relus ter Beek and himself and added ″there has never been any foreign or NATO supervision of the organization.″ He said ″contacts with other organizations in NATO countries ... have been limited to the question how the objectives mentioned above could be realized.″
Die Welt, which did not reveal its sources, said that ″there is no government in Western Europe that did not have full responsibility for the paramilitary activities″ of the network.
The newspaper said the network began ″systematic cooperation″ with NATO’s commanding body inn Brussels in the 1950s, but was independent of NATO control.
It said training centers for network members were set up in German forests.
At the centers, it said, ″former prisoners of war, men who had done civilian work for the (American) occupying powers, and young men acquired by chance were trained in pistol-shooting, radio operations and tactics.″
-A Dutch source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group would have evacuated most of the government, Queen Beatrix and her family in case of an invasion, presumably by Warsaw Pact forces.
Lubbers said in his letter to Parliament the Dutch group was modeled on the nation’s World War II experience, when Queen Wilhelmina and her government fled the German-occupied Netherlands and set up a government-in-exile in London.
-Former Belgian defense minister, Francois-Xavier de Donnea, said, Gladio ″exercises were scrapped, perhaps as long as one or two years ago.″ During his 1985-1988 tenure, he said he was briefed on Gladio operations.
-Italian reports said weapons and explosives caches were spread throughout Italy, and some stockpiles could not be retrieved when authorities tried to recover the caches.
-In 1983, strollers in an eastern Dutch forest found a weapons dump containing dozens of hand grenades, semiautomatic rifles, automatic pistols, munitions and explosives. Five hand grenades were missing.
The government said at the time the weaponry belonged to the Defense Ministry and was destined ″for possible use in a certain phase of a ... war.″