Security Blanket: Western Democracy and the Strategy of Tension
Thursday, Nov 27, 2008
The idea that a democratic government would deliberately create fake “extremist groups” then send them out to foment violence and terrorism — in order to discredit legitimate opposition to elite rule and to “justify” authoritarian powers — has long been derided in “serious” circles as that worst of modern heresies: “conspiracy theory.” Anyone advancing such a preposterous notion is instantly relegated to the ranks of the “lunatic fringe,” and dismissed with varying degrees of contempt and condescension.
And the woeful fact that millions of the ruminants out there in the vast public herd swallow these wild tales and believe that their betters are up to no good is also widely deplored in the higher circles of public discourse. As any fully-accredited, perk-laden, sinecured think-tanker can tell you, democratic governments are led by men and women devoted to public service. Sure, there can be fierce disputes over policies and approaches and outcomes and ideologies and competence. Sure, some people may step over a line here and there in their pursuit of what they believe is the nation’s best interests. But just as western democracies do not torture, do not launch aggressive wars, do not spy upon their own people or imprison them by the millions, they most assuredly do not create and support extremist groups and instigate acts of terror and chaos to advance authoritarian agendas.
It is indeed unfortunate that the general public is prey to these disturbing theories, which breed such a widespread distrust of the noble intentions and essential (if occasionally misguided or incompentently executed) goodness of our leading men and women. However, there is a very reasonable explanation for the credence given to these fringe beliefs:
They happen to be true.
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We’ve written often here of the Pentagon’s plan to foment terrorism where needed to achieve the goals of the “National Security State.” This is but one of a staggering array of examples of the use of “the strategy of tension” by the “advanced” Western democracies of the modern world. This week came yet another. As Robert Mancini reports in the Guardian, the former president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, let a great many cats out of the bag when he gave some sage advice to Italy’s current interior minister, Robert Maroni, on how to deal with the ongoing protests by students and professors over funding cuts for higher education. As Mancini notes, Cossiga — who had once been interior minister himself, as well as prime minister — told the Quotidiano Nazionale:
“Maroni should do what I did when I was secretary of the interior. He should withdraw the police from the streets and the universities, infiltrate the movement with secret (provacateurs) agents, ready to do anything, and, for about 10 days, let the demonstrators devastate shops, set fire to cars and lay waste the cities. After which, strengthened by popular consent, the sound of ambulance sirens should be louder than the police cars. The security forces should massacre the demonstrators without pity, and send them all to hospital. They shouldn’t arrest them, because the magistrates would release them immediately, but they should beat them up. And they should also beat up those teachers who stir them up. Especially the teachers. Not the elderly lecturers, of course, but the young women teachers.”
Mancini notes that Cossiga’s advice tracks closely with his own experience at the head of Italy’s security organs in the 1970s:
For students of Italian political history, the interview is fascinating for the light it sheds on Cossiga’s political views and in particular his activities between 1976 and 1978 when he too was interior minister, presiding over the police. In 1977, a demonstration by the Radical Party (partito radicale) was attacked by armed individuals who opened fire causing the death Giorgiana Masi, a 20 year-old girl.
Cossiga could not, or would not, explain what took place that day. More specifically, he was unable to shed light on whether the attackers came from within the police force….
Hence the interest in the recent interview, which sheds light on one of the most secretive periods of Italian history - the so-called “strategy of tension” that began with the 1969 bombing of Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura in Milan (carried out by the far-right and blamed on anarchists) through to the events at the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001 where the mysterious right-wing “black-blok” group created the mayhem and destruction which brought forth the police violence against thousands of anti-globalisation protestors.
Yes, the story of terrorist creation, chaos and murder by Western governments is an old one — especially in Italy, the epicenter of Operation Gladio, which I outlined in a Moscow Times column some years ago:
“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple: to force…the public to turn to the state to ask for greater security.”
This was the essence of Operation Gladio, a decades-long covert campaign of terrorism and deceit directed by the intelligence services of the West – against their own populations.
Hundreds of innocent people were killed or maimed in terrorist attacks – on train stations, supermarkets, cafes, offices – which were then blamed on “leftist subversives” or other political opponents. The purpose, as stated above in sworn testimony by Gladio agent Vincenzo Vinciguerra, was to demonize designated enemies and panic the public into supporting ever-increasing powers for government leaders – and their elitist cronies.
First revealed by Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti in 1991, Gladio (from the Latin for “sword”) is still protected to this day by its founding patrons, the CIA and MI6. Yet parliamentary investigations in Italy, Switzerland and Belgium have shaken out a few fragments of the truth over the years. These have been gathered in a new book, NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, by Daniele Ganser, as Lila Rajiva reports on CommonDreams.org.
Originally set up as a network of clandestine cells to be activated behind the lines in case of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, Gladio quickly expanded into a tool for political repression and manipulation, controlled and funded by NATO and Washington. Using right-wing militias, underworld figures, government provocateurs and secret military units, Gladio not only carried out widespread terrorism, assassinations and electoral subversion in democratic states like Italy, France and West Germany, but also bolstered fascist tyrannies in Spain and Portugal, abetted the military coup in Greece, and aided Turkey’s ferocious repression of the Kurds. All of this in the name of “preserving democracy” and “defending civilization.”
Among the “smoking guns” unearthed by Ganser is a Pentagon document, Field Manual FM 30-31B, which detailed the methodology for launching terrorist attacks in nations that “do not react with sufficient effectiveness” against “communist subversion.” Ironically, the manual states that the most dangerous moment comes when leftist groups “renounce the use of force” and embrace the democratic process. It is then that “US army intelligence must have the means of launching special operations which will convince Host Country Governments and public opinion of the reality of the insurgent danger.” Naturally, these peace-throttling “special operations must remain strictly secret,” the document warns.
Indeed, it would not do for, say, the families of the 85 people ripped apart by the August 2, 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station to know that their loved ones had been murdered by “men inside Italian state institutions and…by men linked to the structures of United States intelligence,” as the Italian Senate concluded after its investigation in 2000.
The Bologna atrocity is an example of what Gladio’s masters called “the strategy of tension” – fomenting fear to keep populations in thrall to “strong leaders” who will protect the nation from the ever-present terrorist threat. And as Rajiva notes, this strategy wasn’t limited to Western Europe. It was applied – with gruesome effectiveness – in Central America by the Reagan-Bush administrations. During the 1980s, rightwing death squads, guerrilla armies and state security forces – armed, trained and supplied by the United States – murdered tens of thousands of people throughout the region, often acting with particular savagery at those times when peaceful solutions to the conflicts seemed about to take hold….
And as we have often noted here, similar operations — the “El Salvador option,” death squads, “High-Value Targeting,” etc. — have been an integral part of the Anglo-American subjegation of Iraq. Indeed, they are a pillar of the “counterinsurgency doctrine” proclaimed by the other president-in-waiting, David Petraeus, and now avidly embraced by the War Machine. As Tara McElvey reports in The American Prospect, the Pentagon is eager to apply “High-Value Targeting” and refinements of the “Phoenix Program” — in which U.S. forces and local proxies murdered more than 20,000 people — and the whole panoply of “psy-ops” to imperial imbroglios around the world, applying them “to Afghanistan, then Pakistan, the Philippines, Colombia, Somalia, and elsewhere.”
It’s true, of course, that the American people — and Europeans, as well — are showing signs of growing weariness and wariness of the heavy-handed security regimes their governments have imposed upon them. There also seems to be little enthusiasm for plowing ahead in the various killing fields opened up by their elites to reap the enormously profitable blood fruits of war. Public toleration for this extravagant adventurism will be even more diminished as the cratering of the global economy — caused by the greed and deceit of those same elites — continues to deepen.
But more war is exactly what we’ve been promised by our agents of change. More war, an even bigger War Machine, “tougher” security measures, national ID cards packed with personal data and tracking devices, more surveillance cameras, new “preventive detention” laws — and more unbounded authority to use public money to bail out the elite. Yet how to make this happen in the current atmosphere of exhaustion and anxiety? How to catalyze the public into continuing to support the Security State? How to discredit the rising chorus of opposition to neocolonialism, elite cronyism, rampant militarism and growing authoritarianism?
Elite elders like Francesco Cossiga know the answer: the strategy of tension. The Gladio way. Was this the kind of thing Joe Biden was talking about, when he said the “young president” would be tested by a crisis, and forced to take unpopular measures in response?
It seems our “interesting times” are going to continue unabated in this bold new era.