U.S. intelligence recruited hundreds of guerrillas and laid weapons caches across Western Europe during the early days of the Cold War as part of preparations for a feared Soviet invasion, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
Only recently was the would-be resistance network disbanded, and several former high-ranking European officials say some of its hidden stockpiles of arms and explosives still existed just two months ago.The top-secret organization, brought to light last month in Italy and code-named "Gladio" after the swords used by Roman gladiators, is now under investigation for possible links to right-wing terrorism.
The network is said to have had branches in Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Spain, Greece and Portugal. The respected German newspaper Die Welt said that even neutral Sweden and Switzerland took part.
Sweden's TT news agency Wednesday quoted former CIA Director William Colby as saying that he organized an armed anti-Communist movement in a Scandinavian country during the 1950s, when he was based in Sweden.
"It cannot surprise anyone that such movements, networks, were organized in Western Europe to attack communist occupation forces," Colby was quoted as saying.
He was interviewed by phone at his Pebble Beach, Calif. home. He refused to name the Scandinavian country in which he organized a resistance movement.
Die Welt said that soon after World War II, U.S. agents worked with intelligence agencies of "various European countries" in setting up the network and training natives as guerrilla fighters. The newspaper did not name its sources.
"Training centers sprang up" in forests in the U.S.-occupied part of Germany, said Die Welt.
At the centers, said the newspaper, "former prisoners of war, men who had done civilian work for the occupying powers, and young men acquired by chance were trained in pistol-shooting, radio operations and tactics."
Pistols, grenade launchers, explosives and radios were stored in secret caches to be used by the guerrillas, said Die Welt.
"The network was expanded to all of Western Europe by 1959," said Die Welt. "Money was provided by intelligence agencies."
The operation 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 have said.
Die Welt said the network's controlling body still exists in Belgium, thought only as a "shell."
In 1951, said Die Welt, allied intelligence agencies and each participating nation - Germany, Italy and France being among the first - agreed to set up a Clandestine Committee for Planning to oversee the network. Headquarters were initially in France, said the newspaper.
The controlling body's name was changed to Allied Clandestine Committee in 1964, said Die Welt.
The newspaper said that in the 1950s the network began "systematic cooperation" with the Brussels-based Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, which worked with the group in maneuvers.
The network was independent of NATO's control, said Die Welt.
German officials were not immediately available for comment.
In Paris, French President Francois Mitterrand on Tuesday confirmed that he had dissolved the French arm of the group but did not say when.
Henk Vredeling, the Dutch defense minister from 1973-77, said he had been told about the existence of Gladio weapons caches on Dutch soil.
One dump discovered in 1980 could supply a force of up to 150 men and enough explosives to destroy buildings and bridges, reports said.
In Belgium, a former Gladio member and former Belgian army intelligence official, Andre Moyen, told the leftist newspaper Le Drapeau Rouge he knew of "at least six arms caches" hidden in Belgium up to two months ago.
Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti last month revealed the existence of Gladio, which he said had more than 600 members in his country.