A Very British Gladio: Nick Griffin, Roberto Fiore and the London Nail Bombing

In 1980, Italian fascist Roberto Fiore relocated to the United Kingdom, where he developed a close relationship with Nick Griffin of the National Front. Back in Italy, Fiore was a wanted man, with the authorities looking to question him about his involvement with a train bombing in Bologna earlier that year. The terror attack, which killed 85 people and left hundreds more wounded, was a particularly deadly incident in the ‘Years of Lead’ period of political violence. By the time it happened, questions were already being asked about the role of the security services in the violence, which was largely attributed to extremists on the right and left.

During the 1990s, the existence of an ‘Operation Gladio’ came to light in Italy. Although much of what exactly this covert operation did remains hotly disputed, it is generally agreed that Gladio, and similar ‘stay-behind networks’ in other countries, were set up by the Western Allies after World War Two. In theory, they were to serve as secret networks which could be activated in case of Soviet takeover. In practice, it appears they turned into much more than that, with the stay-behind networks attracting all sorts of reactionaries, fascists and criminals, who had their own overlapping agendas.

Since the existence of these networks came to light, there have been allegations that they did more than just prepare for Soviet takeover, engaging in active measures against a range of targets that ranged from Communist parties to centre-left figures such as Italy’s Aldo Moro. Analyzing these claims can often be a difficult task, in part due to the unreliability of many sources about Gladio and related stay-behind operations. It should also be noted that it appears the various factions involved were not always in agreement, or even aware of what their fellow members of these clandestine networks were doing.

For example, in 1958, Charles de Gaulle became President of the Fifth French Republic through a coup engineered by right-wing elements in the military. Three years later however, these same elements would attempt to topple de Gaulle, carrying out a series of bombings and assassinations as the Organisation Armée Secrète. At an international level, there was also the natural hostility which arises from grouping together ultra-nationalists from across Europe. Moreover, the involvement of the Americans adds another confusing dimension, especially as it became apparent that the Central Intelligence Agency was generally unwilling to back the full restoration of fascism in Europe.

Playing what appears to have been a more secondary role was MI6, the United Kingdom’s equivalent of the CIA. Although the British government refused to comment on the revelations of the 1990s, Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley, who served as a senior NATO commander from 1979 to 1982, confirmed that there had indeed been a British version of Operation Gladio. It was also reported that, around the time that Farrar-Hockley had been serving with NATO, former MI6 Deputy Director George Kennedy Young had pushed for the activation of this network, for reasons which remain unclear.

Returning to Roberto Fiore, it has been alleged that he had been an MI6 asset, with the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major refusing to extradite him back to Italy. As a fugitive, Fiore started up a language school along with the parents of Nick Griffin, whose rise to prominence in the far-right was likely aided by this seemingly legitimate business. Griffin, who has been forced to deny accusations of also working for MI6, would later become head of the British National Party, securing a degree of mainstream success which laid the groundwork for the United Kingdom Independence Party.

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