Beckett:- The New Netflix Conspiracy Thriller Everyone Is Talking About Is Not Just Fiction. It All Really Happened

Youssef El-Gingihy
7 min readAug 23, 2021

The reviews of Beckett have ranged across the spectrum from positive to negative. The Guardian described it as sturdy. Rolling Stone described it as a wild if unconvincing conspiracy thriller ride. Roger Ebert was damning. However, few seem to be aware that this is not just speculative fiction. And as far as the US national security state and its proxies are concerned, hopefully it will stay that way.

However, Beckett is not just a homage to the classic 1970s political conspiracy thrillers including All The President’s Men on Watergate, Robert Redford vehicle Three Days of the Condor, Warren Beatty’s assassination mystery The Parallax View and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation on surveillance.

The lens and filters used clearly emulate the look and feel of those classic 1970s movie. However, its closest antecedent is the oft forgotten Z directed by Costa-Gavras also set in Greece and centred on similar subject matter. The period setting of the movie could be almost any time in the past few decades were it not for the presence of mobiles as well as a picture of President Obama in the US Embassy and references to Greece’s austerity measures.

Warning this paragraph SPOILER ALERT! Its story involves everyman Beckett (John David Washington) — an American tourist on holiday in Greece who is in a tragic car accident in which his girlfriend (Alicia Vikander) is killed. He inadvertently stumbles across a vast political conspiracy in which a new charismatic leftist opposition leader Karras — presumably modelled on Alexis Tsipras — is standing for election and promising to lift the country’s austerity measures. He faces opposition in the form of Sunrise — a Neo-Nazi type outfit corresponding to the real-life Golden Dawn.

Without wishing to give away too many spoilers, Beckett gradually uncovers a deep state conspiracy attempting to undermine Karras and blame the deed on leftists. Inevitably, the movie climaxes in a car park. One of its final scenes, involving likely CIA man (under embassy cover) Tynan (Boyd Holbrook), is virtually a parodic send up of all the disinformation limited-hangout strategies deployed to cover up mysterious events.

In fact, much of the material in this story really did happen. Admittedly, not involving a man called Beckett or a politician by the name of Karras.

Operation Gladio is a neglected and dark episode in the history of the modern world exposed in 1990 and overtaken by the events of the first Gulf War. Gladio was set up as a continent-wide, clandestine stay-behind Cold War CIA/NATO operation to be activated in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe entailing the use of an underground resistance of unconventional, irregular forces — often including organised crime and fascists. It doubled as a secret resistance carrying out domestic subversion of the left.

Remarkably, Gladio was kept secret for 45 years until 1990 when Italian PM Giulio Andreotti finally admitted to its existence in front of his parliament sending shockwaves throughout Europe. Gladio networks existed across Western Europe including Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Scandinavian countries.

Awareness of its existence was only on a need-to-know basis and therefore successive governments and even leaders were not informed. Thus, Joseph Luns, NATO Secretary General from 1971 to 1984, was unaware of its existence as were two former Italian PMs (the only post-war PMs elected from outside the Christian Democrats).

Swiss historian Daniele Ganser has attracted much controversy over his suggestion that ‘false flag’ terrorism was manipulated by far-right elements to deflect blame on to leftists. Ganser amongst others argues that Gladio infiltrated and in some cases usurped leftist groups, such as the Red Brigades in Italy, instigating atrocities. In other instances, it is alleged that Gladio operatives carried out assassinations. The revelations of Gladio therefore resuscitated questions about unsolved terrorist acts and political assassinations in Italy, Belgium and Sweden.

In many cases, it does not appear that the operation went beyond its official remit even if it entailed unsavoury alliances with irregular groups. Semi-autonomous cadres were answerable to the CIA/NATO command but also able to initiate actions reliant only on sanction and funds. Fascist and hard-right candidates were occasionally selected in order to guarantee sufficient anti-communist sentiment. These included veteran mercenaries from the Spanish civil war and the fascist republic of Salo.

However, the German section allegedly drew up plans to liquidate leading members of the Social Democrats in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion. Whilst the Greek operation was involved in the 1967 Colonels’ military coup.

Notable episodes with suspected Gladio involvement in Italy include the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan, the 1972 Peteano bombing murdering three policemen and the 1980 Bologna train station bombing. These were blamed on leftists at the time but later investigations point to far-right terrorism.

Gladio networks meshed with military and intelligence circles as well as the notorious P2 masonic lodge, which was revealed to include over a thousand members drawn from Italian elites. Assassinated Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro wrote in letters that he feared a shadow organisation alongside “other secret services of the West…might be implicated in the destabilisation of our country”.

Gladio had a pre-eminent role in Italian post war politics ensuring that the large Italian Communist Party (PCI) and for that matter Socialist Party (PSI) never attained power partly through the threat of aborted coups such as the failed neo-fascist coups in 1964 and 1970. General Nino Lugarese, head of SISMI [military intelligence agency] from 1981–84 testified on the existence of a “Super Gladio” of 800 men responsible for “internal intervention” against domestic political targets.

The neo-fascist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, imprisoned for life for his role in the Peteano bombing, informed judges, “With the massacre of Peteano, and with all those that have followed, the knowledge should by now be clear that there existed a real live structure, occult and hidden, with the capacity of giving a strategic direction to the outrages.” The structure, he said, “lies within the state itself…There exists in Italy a secret force parallel to the armed forces, composed of civilians and military men, in an anti-Soviet capacity — that is, to organise a resistance on Italian soil against a Russian army… A secret organisation, a super-organisation with a network of communications, arms and explosives, and men trained to use them… A super-organisation which, lacking a Soviet military invasion which might not happen, took up the task, on NATO’s behalf, of preventing a slip to the left in the political balance of the country. This they did, with the assistance of the official secret services and the political and military forces…”.

Vinciguerra also told The Observer that, “You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game…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”.

Evidently, the testimony of a convicted terrorist might be unreliable but it is backed by military officials. General Maletti (commander of counter-intelligence of military intelligence 1971–75) informed a Milan court, “The CIA, following the directives of its government, wanted to create an Italian nationalism capable of halting what it saw as a slide to the left and, for this purpose, it may have made use of right-wing terrorism…I believe this is what happened in other countries as well”.

William Colby, involved in the 1950s set up and later Director of the CIA, stated that ‘Our aim was the creation of an Italian nationalism capable of halting the slide to the left,’. A second Italian report produced by the formerly communist Left Democrat Party for a parliamentary commission on terrorism, stated, ‘that the United States was responsible for inspiring a “strategy of tension” in which indiscriminate bombing of the public and the threat of a right-wing coup were used to stabilise centre-right political control of the country’ in order to prevent democratic communist attainment of power. The report posits that “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”.

Gladio appears to have therefore been utilised as a covert vehicle for subverting domestic leftist political organisations, justifying amassing of state power and manipulating public opinion towards nationalism in order to stabilise right-wing political support. Gladio started as unexceptional forward planning and appears to have evolved into unauthorised surveillance, infiltration and finally instigation of terrorism. Senator Gualtiero, head of the Italian parliamentary inquiry, informed The Observer, that ‘When Gladio was started, the Americans would often insist in their briefings, their meetings, that the organisation also had to be used to counter any insurgencies’.

A US military field manual stated, ‘There may be times when host-country governments fall into passivity or indecision in face of Communist or Communist-inspired subversion and react with inadequate vigor to intelligence estimates transmitted by US agencies…In such cases US army intelligence must have the means of launching special operations which will convince host-country governments and public opinion of the reality of insurgent action and assess the counter-action.’ The US dismissed this manual as a KGB forgery but Ray Cline, a former deputy director of the CIA, confirmed its authenticity for a 1992 BBC Timewatch documentary. Intriguingly, similar strategic positions around unconventional and irregular warfare are replicated in 21st century US military manuals.

In Belgium, atrocities such as supermarket shootings during the 1980s — collectively known as the Brabant-Walloon massacres — may have also been linked to Gladio. Senator Roger Lallemand, head of the Belgian parliamentary inquiry, has linked these killings to ‘the work of foreign governments or of intelligence services working for foreigners, a terrorism aimed at destabilising democratic society’.

Gladio illustrates the existence of covert, parallel structures with an apparatus of arms, personnel and communications networks able to bypass democratic mechanisms and public mandate. It also demonstrates that such operations are at times capable or suspected of being harnessed for illegal activities in order to subvert or destabilise political movements deemed inimical to national security interests under the sphere of influence of the United States.

Gladio supposedly ended with the Cold War. Some authorities have controversially argued that it continues as Gladio B. Seeing as unconventional warfare has been used in various theatres under the rubric of the war on terror, it is hardly inconceivable that Gladio — through the covert arming, funding, infiltration, manipulation and direction of various groups — still lives on.