After World War II, the U.S. had some problems: lots of dead folks, countries and borders torn apart, most of Europe ground into a very civilized kind of pudding and the USSR knocking on the door to come raid the fridge. So the U.S. came up with a plan they called Operation Gladio: It basically installed a secret military that would unofficially operate all across Europe, with the singular goal of combating communism. Because it wouldn't be a very good secret army if we knew all about them, facts are pretty limited, but it's not a whackjob theory: Their existence has been confirmed, and the network has been associated with such high-stakes super-evil as attempted pope assassination, large scale bombings and kidnappings of several high-level government officials. They were willing to do anything to fight communism -- murder, extortion, even becoming communists, if that's what it took.
"I'll shoot myself in the head, then in the dick. I don't even goddamn care."
Again, it turns out that the Italian branch was a particularly active group (the folks did produce Machiavelli and Assassin's Creed; we all shouldn't act so surprised). An entirely different president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, was involved in this ominous anti-communism secret society -- hey, all the cool presidents were doing it, what was he supposed to say? "No, but thanks so much for asking, nutbar shadow military group?"
It probably wouldn't have been a smart move. See, the reason we don't know more about them, even years after the end of the Cold War, is simple: crazy, crazy murders.
When another Italian president, Aldo Moro, wanted to allow communists to run for office, he was suddenly kidnapped and eventually executed. His body was found in the trunk of a car parked next to an ancient gladiatorial site. A "gladio" is a type of ancient Roman short sword, often used by participants in arena combat. When a former colonel of Gladio operations in Switzerland wrote a letter to the government stating that he was ready to "reveal the whole truth," he was found dead in his home a month later. He was stabbed to death with his own bayonet, a series of mysterious characters written on his chest that couldn't be deciphered.
Hulton Archive / Getty
Dead president in the back of a van? Bond villains are more subtle.
Now, admittedly, that's not concrete evidence of Gladio's direct involvement or anything. It's just a few brutal, worrying events that spin a web of mystery and fear that keeps further investigations at bay.
Who on Earth could benefit from something like that?
For more reasons we're fortunate we survived the Cold War, check out Nuke the Moon: 5 Certifiably Insane Cold War Projects. Or learn about 6 Real World Spy Gadgets Straight Out of the Movies.
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