strategia della tensione

Strategy of tension is a theory that Western governments during the Cold war used tactics that aimed to divide, manipulate, and control public opinion using fear, propaganda, disinformation, psychological warfare, agents provocateurs, and false flag terrorist actions in order to achieve their strategic aims.

[The following is substantially a redaction of that which is available at the Covert Book Report (Northwest Research) supplemented with a thought here and a quote there.]

Rather than wait for a society to gradually alter its behavior, subject the society to great stress so that immense and overreaching changes can be engineered much more rapidly: so, the theory suggests, is the tinkering  and manipulating of our psychology through fear by the elite.

The targets are the political opponents, who are discredited through the attack, and those who remain unharmed but learn of the attack, thereby coming to fear for their lives and those of their loved ones.

This psychological warfare or operations (psyops) may have played a central role since the time of World War II, but its machinations lie anywhere from Sun Tzu to Genghis Khan, Tokyo Rose to the BBC,  Afghanistan’s Taliban to 911, and everywhere in between. “Psyops” encapsulate more than just propaganda — acting as force-multipliers rather than force itself — as the Department of Defense will concede:

The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives.

Judge Felice Casson rediscovered the strategy [of tension] while investigating a number of terrorist attacks Italy had suffered in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. The most notorious case occurred in 1972, in Peteano. Three Carabinieri (paramilitary officers) were killed on lifting the hood of an abandoned Fiat 500,  detonating an explosive.

Peteano bombing [Image: Wikispooks]
They were tipped off by an anonymous phone call from a Catholic neo-fascist. It was not the Red Brigades who were behind it after all. He was, what’s more, acting under the protection of the Italian military intelligence, Servizio Informazioni Difesa (SID) — also known as Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI).

Casson’s investigations revealed that Marco Morin, an explosives expert who worked for the Italian police and a member of Ordine Nuovo far-right group, had deliberately provided a fake expertise, claiming that the explosives used were the same that the Red Brigades used. However, Casson demonstrated that the explosives were in fact C4, which was used by NATO. A group of Carabinieri had accidentally discovered on February 24, 1972, an arms dump near Trieste, containing arms, munitions and C4 identical to the one used in Peteano the same year.

Blaming this and other attacks on their primary political enemy — the leftwing Red Brigades — the directors of the military intelligence service could (and did) discredit the Italian Communist Party and publicly argued that the “Communist danger” justified increased military spending and a reduction of civil liberties in the interest of state security — the tension created served to promote conservative, reactionary social and political tendencies.

Vinciguerra later explained the  thinking behind the attack:

A whole mechanism came into action, that is, the Carabinieri, the Minister of the Interior, the customs services and the military and civilian intelligence services accepted the ideological reasoning behind the attack. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.

Intrigued by the covert operations and very acts of treason, in 1990 Judge Casson requested permission from then Italian Prime Minister Andreotti to search through the SISMI archives in Rome. Permission granted, Casson made a startling discovery. In the years after World War II, SISMI had set up a secret guerilla army to collaborate with the CIA in the event of a Soviet occupation of Italy. This mysterious Gladio army was linked to NATO. When the Soviet invasion failed to materialise, Gladio was subsumed into covert action operations, during the Cold War, in which to weaken the Italian Communists.


Casson privately informed the Italian parliamentarian commission which wasted no time in ordering Prime Minister Andreotti:

to inform the parliament within sixty days with respect to the existence, characteristics and purpose of a parallel and occult structure that is said to have operated within our secret service of the military with the aim to condition the political life of the country.

Andreotti’s ten-page report entitled The So-called ‘Parallel SID’ — The Gladio Case not only confirmed that a secret army existed within the military intelligence service under the code name Gladio, but that it was still active and operational.

Those massacres, those bombs, those military actions had been organised or promoted or supported by men inside Italian state institutions and, as has been discovered more recently, by men linked to the structures of United States intelligence.

some Other examples of Stratagem of Tension (there are many)

This line of thinking has led to all manner of conspiracy theory, some likely to be true and others perhaps less so:

  • 9/11
  • Boston bombings
  • Oklahoma bombings
  • Operation Northwoods
  • Afghanistan

Nine-eleven (9/11) may be considered an example, whether or not you side with one of many conspiracy theories (see here and here) that have been suggested to explain all manner of perceived inconsistency with the incomprehensible calamity that played out. Other’s refute the likelihood of such a conspiracy.

Following the CIA’s failed Bay of Pigs, Operation Northwoods was a plan of covert acts designed to shock the U.S. public and discredit President Castro. The plan was blocked by President Kennedy and Secretary of Defence McNamara. This was exposed in Body of Secrets: An Anatomy of the Ultra Secret National Security Agency, by James Bamford, published in April of 2011. Bumford declared that:

It is clear that deceiving the public and trumping up wars for Americans to fight and die in was standard approved policy at the highest levels of the Pentagon.

Most recently, some have argued that the Strategy of Tension is a Pro-Trump agenda in the United States as the nation heads to a general election in a few weeks. Healthy skepticism says that one should be alert to the possibility, but in the current domestic and political climate that we live — one in which terror attacks are going off like pop-corn — one ought not be quick to brand events merely on a cui bono proposition.


Psychological Warfare


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