In the analysis of the post-war period in Europe, an intricate picture emerges of divided loyalties between the nation and international alignments. In 1989, Franco De Felice coined the term “dual loyalty”, reflecting on how, during the Cold War, leading groups were embedded in a dynamic of national loyalty contrasted by that towards broader political-military blocks. In Italy, adherence to the Atlantic alignment and the conflict between anti-fascism and anti-communism outlined a constant tension, a sort of “material constitution” that accompanied the formal one.
Positions of power, especially in intelligence, required a NATO security clearance and, in effect, tacit U.S. consent, outlining a conduct of intelligence services and security forces characterized by this “dual loyalty”. Thus, defense of the homeland was often preferred over constitutional loyalty, a reality bitterly confirmed by testimonies of officers in judicial inquiries into massacres and plots.
General Gian Adelio Maletti highlighted the harsh reality of this unwritten law during his statements to the Stragi Commission, revealing a fundamental ambiguity in constitutional defense. Recent historiography has interpreted acts of terrorism as part of a strategy of tension with anti-communist purposes, an attempt to counter a hypothetical leftist drift in Italian society.
Journalism has sometimes simplified Italy’s strategic position in the bipolar confrontation as a tangle of backroom dealings and hidden dimensions, describing the country as one with “limited sovereignty”. It has been insinuated that behind the massacres lay the shadow of the CIA and the “Americans”. However, the reality is more nuanced: the USA, described as a democratic polyarchy, were not monolithic in their approach to European communism, leaving wide margins of autonomy to the peripheries, especially in dirty operations that guaranteed “plausible denial”.
The CIA recognized Italy as a major laboratory of clandestine political manipulation. The doctrines of unconventional warfare, publicly discussed in Italy since the 60s, had their own center of development in the Italian military secret service, Sifar, and were connected to international anti-communist networks.
Investigations have revealed a network of contacts between right-wing paramilitary groups and personnel from American military bases in Italy, especially in the Rosa dei venti, an alleged state defense organization. Freemasonry, including NATO lodges and the Grand Orient of Italy, played a role in these intrigues, with key figures like Gianfranco Alliata di Montereale having internal and external connections.
In conclusion, national political responsibility in terrorism remains obscure. Internal elites often hid behind the blame of international forces, slowing the assignment of responsibility. Italian government figures from 1969 onwards played an ambiguous role, participating only marginally and sometimes covering up the actions of the secret services.
Declassified documentation reveals a complex picture of covert operations and hidden funding, with links between secret services and extreme right-wing subversive groups. The strategy of tension seems to fit into a broader plan of destabilization to stabilize the system in a neo-centrist and conservative direction, within the context of anti-communism and Atlantic loyalty that does not exhaust the entire spectrum of Italian internal dynamics.
The conduct of the secret services, according to documents, seems to have been influenced more by internal political logic, with anti-communism serving as an alibi to cover particular interests. In this context, Italian politics used the secret services as a tool to manage power struggles and preserve favorable status quos.
The Cold War provided the ideal context to justify illegal actions in the name of the state, and the link between intelligence and politics revealed pathological aspects, including misleading practices and illegal dossiers. These actions have come to light in an attempt to preserve a certain social and political conservation, a “deep right” that went beyond its parliamentary manifestation and included crucial sectors of the Italian leadership, economic, and military world.
The declassification of U.S. documents has allowed for a better understanding of the USA’s role, which, despite occasional contacts with coup plotters, never fully supported scenarios of coups in Italy, considering such prospects too destabilizing for a country deemed strategic in the Mediterranean.
The search for the truth behind the massacres and the involvement of the secret services continues to be a complex process, with many questions still unanswered. The challenge for historiography and Italian society remains to fully understand national and international responsibilities to ensure that collective memory and historical understanding are as complete and accurate as possible.