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Diamonds (and Disinformation) Are Forever

October 1, 2014

My recent post What If Everything You Know About Terrorism is Wrong?, which explained the important (and neglected) role of intelligence services behind a lot of terrorism, got considerable feedback. I highlighted the fact that the Russians invented the dark art of provocation, what they term provokatsiya, and still today Moscow is rather adept as such tactics.

Inevitably this led to mentioning of “false flag” operations, a term which is used casually, and almost always incorrectly, by the tinfoil-hat crowd. False flag ops do exist, but they are little understood by those unfamiliar with real-world espionage. Predictably, I got questions about U.S. intelligence and terrorism. The truth is that American counterterrorism operations lack anything like the nefariously imaginative flair that the Russians bring to the table; this neglect may be good for our democracy but I think we can learn something from the Russians here.

Like clockwork, I got questions about the shadowy Operation GLADIO, which is especially beloved by those seeking to “prove” U.S. and NATO malfeasance. The GLADIO myth is based in certain facts, namely that in the early days of the Cold War, when a Soviet invasion of Western Europe seemed like a real possibility, many European NATO countries established stay-behind networks that would operate in the event their lands wound up under the Kremlin’s heel.

Such stay-behind programs were wanted by European NATO members that had suffered occupation by Nazi Germany: setting up networks that would operate after capitulation was a “lesson learned” from the Second World War. These secret efforts were run by these countries’ intelligence services with assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. Most of these stay-behind programs languished in the latter half of the Cold War, as the threat of Soviet invasion loomed less ominously, but many NATO countries maintained some sort of secret program along these lines through the 1980’s.

The mythical GLADIO, the existence of which was leaked as early as 1990, became an obsession for some with the publication of the book NATO’s Secret Armies in 2005 by the Swiss historian Daniele Ganser. Although it was published by an academic press and possesses the footnotes one expects from such a turgid tome, Ganser’s work was lacking in academic standards. However, it made headlines with its explosive claims, especially that NATO-linked intelligence networks were responsible for acts of terrorism, particularly in Italy.

Such claims were met with enthusiasm by many Italians, including those on the Left who tend to see the CIA lurking behind every tree. (Let it be said that Italians of all political stripes love conspiracies to explain complex things, so much so that they have a word, dietrologia — roughly “behindology” — for this tendency.) Here at last was an explanation for the admittedly murky “years of lead” from the late 1960’s through the early 1980’s, when Italy was plagued by terrorism, including mysterious bombings that have never been officially resolved. Leftists had long fingered Italy’s intelligence services for what they termed a “strategy of tension” hiding behind some of that terrorism, and here comes Ganser to prove they were right, and the CIA was really behind it all. Needless to say, to certain Europeans this was catnip.

The only problem was that it isn’t true. With few exceptions, specialists in the history of intelligence considered Ganser’s book to be a shoddy work of scholarship. In the first place, he made no effort to hide his biases, noting that he considered CIA covert action to be “terrorist in nature.” Then there was the problem that Ganser was making incendiary assertions he could not prove, as he himself admitted to “not being able to find any official sources to support his charges of the CIA’s or any Western European government’s involvement with GLADIO.

Peer reviews were harsh. One academic dismissed Ganser’s tome as “a journalistic book with a big spoonful of conspiracy theories,” while another concluded: “A detailed refutation of the many unfounded allegations that Ganser accepts as historical findings would fill an entire book.” Phil Davies, who is a bona fide expert on intelligence, expressed the book’s problem concisely:

marred by imagined conspiracies, exaggerated notions of the scale and impact of covert activities, misunderstandings of the management and coordination of operations within and between national governments, and… an almost complete failure to place the actions and decisions in question in the appropriate historical context…The underlying problem is that Ganser has not really undertaken the most basic necessary research to be able to discuss covert action and special operations effectively.

This is the polite British academic way of stating that Ganser is at best uninformed, at worst a charlatan. Lacking any grounding in this complex subject, Ganser leapt to conclusions for which he had no evidence, but for which presumably he knew there would be a hungry audience.

The CIA stated publicly that Ganser had no idea what he was talking about, and had seriously distorted facts, while the State Department took the unusual step of issuing a public statement attacking the book. The most serious matter it noted was Ganser’s use of a supposed U.S. Army Field Manual 30-31B that gave instructions on all sorts of nefarious activities. The problem is this document is a Soviet forgery, and has been known to be fake for decades. This “Field Manual” was cooked up by the KGB as a disinformation operation, and it became something of a sensation on the European Left in the 1970’s as “proof” of American malfeasance, being pushed by Kremlin mouthpieces like the CIA defector Phil Agee, the Edward Snowden of the polyester era.

There’s been ample evidence available for years about KGB Cold War dezinformatsiya, including forgeries like FM 30-31B. The so-called Mitrokhin Archive, compiled by a KGB archivist and brought to Britain after the fall of the Soviet Union, makes up two weighty volumes by the eminent intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, including considerable primary source documentation of KGB disinformation operations and how they worked.

Either Ganser has not bothered to read and understand these works, making him the least informed intelligence historian in all history, or he simply ignored evidence that did not suit his theories, for which he did not have any primary source evidence. Of course, this did nothing to tamp down enthusiasm for Ganser’s GLADIO theorizing by those who wanted such myths to be true.

To this day, almost any act of terrorism in Europe will be met with cries of “GLADIO!” in certain quarters, with implications — there is of course never any evidence — that the CIA is “really” behind the crime. Such is the cost of fiction masquerading as fact.

Daniele Ganser has gotten off the GLADIO beat, having milked the topic for all the fame and fortune it was worth, and unsurprisingly he has moved on to 9/11 Trutherism, another arena where the absence of evidence is no impediment to those who simply want to believe. His recent work has been in the field of — you knew this was coming — “peak oil.”

27 Comments
  1. Ganser is writing for the more religiously faithful of the European Left. In this country his book’s demographic would even miss the NPR drive time audience and appeal directly to the HufPo and Mother Jones ranks of the perpetually outraged…

  2. Blackshoe permalink

    XX, any comment on the amount of infiltration/exploitation of US/European media networks by the Soviets? I’ve always wondered on just how much ability to influence our media (and thus the perceptions of the), while we seem to have had little influence to do the same to them.

    • It was deep and serious, though I don’t think the full story has been revealed to the public.

  3. Aljaz Turk permalink

    Schindler, thanx for this great article! I am from Slovenia, one of the last Communist jamahiriyas in the world. The Soviet and Yugo marxist poodles here would bring this stupid Gladio up, whenever they’d be defeated by argument in any debate about anything or anybody concerning intelligence or information war against Communism. Like it was hardwired into their tin-foil protected brains. 😀

    The article puts some precise definiteness into as to what Gladio’s real source is, plus it really discredits the author (being cited as “somebody who knows history and intelligence”), about which we should not have much doubt as to whose interests he is serving, and by whose orders. I had a “hunch” about this for some years…

    I wouldn’t be surprised, if the Russkies were playing these sorts of tunes, funded by their oil + natgas money in a lot of other premises. Like for example, most of the conspiracy-theory panic-mongering hocus-pocus, chemtrails, green-aliens, AIDS-escape from US laboratories, Ebola-escape from US labs, fracking-is-a-myth, Illuminati and countless other “bullshit bombardments” we see everyday on the web and in the press. All this crap could be just Russky “dezinformatziya” (nice word: disinformation), trying its best to shake the foundations of the whole of the West. This has been going for at least since 1995, when I first connected to the Internet (20 yrs, LOL). This shit obviously precedes “little green men with guns”,… so we probably still have some time to put our act together.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback. I love Slovenia and have spent happy times there. My first book dealt with the the Isonzo front (Soska fronta) 1915-1917, so I know Kobarid, Tolmin, Gorica & Kras very well. 🙂

      • wpefendi08 permalink

        I see your first book has a Kindle Edition. Will read it.

        For your info: The first article (in this blog) on the centennial of the beginning of WW1 was extremely informative – I learned more on the subject of WW1 here, than in all of high shool, when Slovenia was still part of Yugo, 30-something yrs ago. All the emphasis in school was on WW2 and of course their favorite topic, Communism. The interesting thing now is that how little things have changed since WW1 as described in your article (and I assume the book), how much of our everyday lives here is influenced by Russky and Yugo/Serbo meddling and propaganda even today. Dangerous times, as we see in Ukraine and the Baltics, are not very far away…

      • No, not very far away at all. Enjoy the book, thanks for your feedback.

      • Aljaz Turk permalink

        (Sorry, wrong user name on the above post)

  4. Airwalk permalink

    Thanks for this one, yet again, John. Indeed the CIA and the western IC can learn from the KGB a great deal in terms of false flag and dezinformatsiya. The good news is that the US intelligence is way ahead in terms of SIGINT and the like. I might be wrong, a please do correct me if I am, when I say that the Russians will not be able to catch up technologically with the US in this field. Every party has its strong and weak points.
    I would even go as far as to assume that the Snowden case (operation) emerged because the Russians know their weaknesses and can’t do much about it. What they can do though is to slow down US SIGINT advancement by making it public. In so doing they might have tried to foment and create tensions between the US and its allies. But these are only my assumptions.

  5. Gus permalink

    The problem is that people believe in the wrong conspiracies.

  6. jorge permalink

    “As a result, critical questions about which governments are secretly collaborating with AQ and Salafi jihadists, and to what degree, tend to never even get asked, much less answered. To even bring them up is to invite ridicule, amid whispers of “conspiracy theories.”” – What If Everything You Know About Terrorism Is Wrong?

    “Inevitably this led to mentioning of “false flag” operations, a term which is used casually, and almost always incorrectly, by the tinfoil-hat crowd.” – Diamonds (and Disinformation) Are Forever

    In my humble opinion, you contradicting yourself here. If someone ask any question about CIA envolvement in “fake terrorism” is automatically conspiracy theorist or an evil communist, for example. This isn´t intellectually honest.

    I´m no expert but I believe History Commons is a good example of an open source website to investigate the topic of “fake terrorism” by Intelligence Agencies, including CIA, FSB and others. (see: http://www.historycommons.org/project.jsp?project=western_support_for_islamic_militancy).
    What´s your opinion about former FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds depoiment about the so called “Gladio B” network (here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLN6xa7kD9dZ_qXHAmm4dx-Bqqy10mSVDZ). You probably may be interested in Sibel’s new book “The Lone Gladio” (see here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Lone-Gladio-Volume-1/dp/0692213295). Excuse my English.

    • You are putting words in my mouth. I am willing to discuss any theory as long as there is verifiable evidence to support it. You have not provided any. The book you cite is a work of FICTION!

    • jorge permalink

      I know it’s a work of “FICTION”, but it´s based on real events/experiences… I didn´t mean to put words on your mouth. I’ll try to rephrase it. Edmonds told:

      “For the past 11 years I have been emphasizing that my State Secrets Privilege & Gag Orders had to do with the FBI files (covering period 1996-2002 February) on covert-terrorist operations in Caucasus and Central Asia backed, managed and armed by US actors. These US-NATO directed operations in the region involved Bin-Laden and mainly Zawahiri …..

      The FBI documents contained damning evidence (audio and written) collected between 1996-2002 tying these terror operations directly to the U.S. persons in the State Department/CIA and Pentagon. Also, how the State Department got Congress to grant huge amounts of funds to “front’ NGOs and businesses (mainly Turkish companies in US-listed/members of ATC) to funnel money to the terrorist cells in this region.”

      You said:

      “To even bring them [questions about which governments are secretly collaborating with AQ and Salafi jihadists] up is to invite ridicule, amid whispers of “conspiracy theories.” – Seems fair enough.

      My question is very simple: What´s your opinion about this ? Is she credible ?

      • Sibel Edmonds worked as a Turkish translator for the FBI, specifically WFO, for about 6 months after 9/11; this is a low-level position, and while I think she has made interesting claims about things, which may very well be true, she had no exposure to high-level IC anything and cannot be considered a reliable source on things like IC/USG strategy.

        Moreover, saying Turkey gives money to NGOs to influence US policy is only shocking if you have no idea how Washington, DC, works, neither is it proof of ANYTHING to do with terrorism, GLADIO, etc.

        Fiction is fiction. Get over it.

      • Blackshoe permalink

        Heck, the ROK (aka South Korea) has an entire NGO of its own to influence US policy. Some of them aren’t even really NGOs but separate government institutions.

        http://freekorea.us/2014/09/13/on-think-tanks-propaganda-the-foreign-agents-registration-act-and-korea/

  7. Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    Definitely worth reading !!

  8. There is ample proof that the CIA was involved in Gladio and other stay-behind projects

    In Germany alone there were over a handful stay-behind operations supported by the agency:

    – CADROWN
    http://www.foia.cia.gov/search-results?search_api_views_fulltext=CADRown&field_collection=

    – KMHITHER-C
    http://www.foia.cia.gov/search-results?search_api_views_fulltext=viktor+ziegler&field_collection=

    – LCPROWL

    http://www.foia.cia.gov/search-results?search_api_views_fulltext=LCPROWL&field_collection=

    – PASTIME
    http://www.foia.cia.gov/search-results?search_api_views_fulltext=pastime&field_collection=

    – KIBITZ
    http://www.foia.cia.gov/search-results?search_api_views_fulltext=Kibitz&field_collection=

    – SATURN
    http://www.foia.cia.gov/search-results?search_api_views_fulltext=saturn&f%5B0%5D=field_collection:1705143

    Important other sources:

    Research Aid: Cryptonyms and Terms in Declassified CIA Files – Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Disclosure Acts (IWG, June 2007)

    Naftali, Timothy – New Information on Cold War Stay-Behind Operations in Germany and on the Adolf Eichmann Case

    • I wrote:

      “Such stay-behind programs were wanted by European NATO members that had suffered occupation by Nazi Germany: setting up networks that would operate after capitulation was a “lesson learned” from the Second World War. These secret efforts were run by these countries’ intelligence services with assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.”

      It’s good to actually READ something before critiquing it. Second, with a handle like that your tinfoil membership is clear.

      Looking at your website — “GLADIO in Ukraine” etc — you’re a conduit for Kremlin propaganda, just like Ganser.

  9. I am not endorsing any of the Cold War superpowers, believe me. And I have read your article carefully in which you state “there is of course never any evidence — that the CIA is “really” behind the crime”, which is false.

    That no one was persecuted of the crimes that were committed in the name of Gladio, is an ugly truth to face.

    Just take the Aginter Press case. The parliamentary inquire into Gladio in Italy (Stragi Commision) states:

    “Aginter Press was in reality, according to the last obtained documents acquired by the criminal investigation, an information centre directly linked to the CIA and the Portuguese secret service, that specialized in provocative operations.”

    Senato della Repubblica. Commissione parlamentare d’inchiesta sul terrorismo in Italia e sulle cause della mancata individuazione dei responsabili delle stragi: Il terrorismo, le stragi ed il contesto storico politico, Redatta dal presidente della Commissione, Senatore Giovanni Pellegrino, Rome 1995, pp.204 et 241

    “We found unambiguous reports and evidence that reveal a collaboration of Giannettini and delle Chaie with several Italian secret services and reveal their joint responsibility for the attack in Milan.” –
    Massimo Theodori, Congressional Investigation Committee, quoted in Kennzeichen D Report: False Flag Terrorism in Italy (ZDF, 2000)

    One last comment about the “legitimation” of stay-behind operations, if there could be any:

    The CIA (the OPC und Frank Wisner to be precise) set up stay-behind networks employing Nazis and mass-murderers in anti-communist warfare.

    To name a few: Klaus Barbie, Paul Dickopf, Hans Globke, Otto Skorzeny, Otto von Bolschwing, Walter Kopp, Wilhelm Höttl, Theodor Oberländer, Mykola Lebed, Radoslaw Ostrowsky, Yaroslav Stetsko etc.

    Is that a tendency you could also concur with?

    Further reading:

    – GAO report on Nazi war criminals in the United States (October 17, 1985)
    https://archive.org/details/gaoreportonnaziw00unit

    – Breitman, Richard & Goda, Norman G.W. – HITLER’S SHADOW – Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War

    – Breitman, Richard & Goda, Norman G.W. – U.S Intelligence and the Nazis

    – Naftali, Timothy – New Information on Cold War Stay-Behind Operations in Germany and on the Adolf Eichmann Cas

    – Critchfield, James H., Partners at the Creation: The Men Behind Postwar Gemrany’s Defense and Intelligence Establishments. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 2003

    • First, you are co-mingling unrelated issues. No USG agency has ever been responsible for the messy state of Italian politics. The CIA isn’t that powerful, I hate to break it to you. Second, the issue of WWII war criminals being in the pay of US (and UK, and French, et al) intelligence services is very old news. You seem not to get the irony that you’re citing released USG documents. Perhaps you could direct me to the declassified & released documents on how the KGB & East Bloc agencies employed Nazi war criminals after 1945 in vastly greater numbers that anybody in the West did.

    • Gus permalink

      I hate to ‘poison the well’ but the only one of your quotes that mentions the CIA is by a senator Giovanni Pellegrino who was a member of the Italian communist party (according to wikipedia). Does not mean it’s not true as such, but I think you will have to come up with something better than that.

  10. Robert Marchenoir permalink

    Very interesting, thank you. Especially the background about Gladio.

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