The creation of the myth of the global terrorist network

This is a long passage from an article on Adam Curtis’ blog, published on September 11, 2010. Curtis illustrates his piece with lots of photographs and video clips. Much of the video is integral to the narrative but unfortunately no embedding code is available. The passage I’ve selected includes a couple of videos and readers will need to go to the BBC website to view these.

In July 1979 a conference was held in Jerusalem to discuss the phenomenon of “International Terrorism”. It was organised by a young Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jonathan Institute, named after his brother who had been killed by terrorists at Entebbe.

All sorts of people were there, including George Bush Snr, many Neoconservatives who would become influential in Bush Jnr’s adminsitration, and Prime Minister Begin.

But the agenda of the conference was shaped by a new breed of what would become known as “terror experts”. And all of them were convinced by the new theory that the KGB were running almost all terrorism around the world.

They were also great, and sometimes very weird, characters.

One was an Australian journalist and novelist who wrote for the British Economist called Robert Moss.

Moss was one of the earliest promoters of the idea of hidden Soviet control. And in 1976 he helped write the speech for Mrs Thatcher that led the Soviets to call her the Iron Lady.

Later – in the mid 80s – Moss decided he had found a route to perceiving higher truths in the world. Truths hidden from ordinary mundane consciousness.

Through his dreams.

He developed a system he called Active Dreaming. You can find his theory here.

“When we act to bring the energy and imagery of dreams into physical reality, we become poets of consciousness and infuse our world with magic. Deep into multidimensional reality”

Another “terror expert” was a French historian called Annie Kriegel.

She had been a hardline Stalinist in the French Communist Party, but had turned violently against the Soviet Union.

Kriegel was convinced that all the terrorist acts in the Middle East were being co-ordinated from Moscow. This was music to the ears of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli leaders who were seeking further US support.

In 1982 Kriegel wrote a book that said that the massacres in the Sabra-Chatila camps were organised by the Soviets and carried out by German terrorists under KGB control.

But perhaps the most important expert was another ex-communist. An American called Claire Sterling.

Sterling was a journalist who lived in Italy. She took all the “evidence” of Soviet control that was produced a the conference and bundled it up together into a book called The Terror Network.

It had a dramatic thesis.

It said that there was a “Global Terror Network” underneath the surface of most Western societies and the Middle East.

That all of them – the Red Brigades, Baader-Meinhof gang, Provisional IRA, South Moluccans, Japanese Red Army, Iranian terrorists, Turkish People’s Liberation Army, Spain’s ETA, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Fatah, the military arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization were all part of a grand Soviet scheme.

The aim of the scheme was to force the police in a Western democracies to crack down on individual freedoms. Then a repressive police state would emerge and breed resentment – making the masses ripe for Communist revolution.

One of Sterling’s closest friends in Italy was a young American academic called Michael Ledeen. He was fascinated by the theory.

And then early in 1981 he became a special assistant to the new US Secretary of State in the first Reagan administration.

Who was General Alexander Haig.

Haig read The Terror Network and immediately bought Sterling’s theory – because it proved what he instinctively knew about the Soviet threat.

And few days later Haig went to Congress and publicly accused Moscow of “training, funding, and equipping” international terrorists. He announced that “international counterterrorism will take the place of human rights.”

William Casey, the new head of the CIA also read and believed Sterling’s book.

The only problem was the no-one else took it seriously.

Many of those running the Reagan administration knew that the Soviet Union was supporting and arming liberation movements in the developing world, but they didn’t believe in the Global Terror Network.

Casey met with his CIA analysts. He told them that the book – The Terror Network – “has told me more than you bastards whom I pay $50,000 a year.”

His analysts then patiently explained to him that much of Claire Sterling’s evidence was composed of Black Propaganda they themselves had invented and spread around Europe to discredit to Soviets.

Even Reagan – for all his anti-communism – didn’t take it seriously.

But then – on 13th of May 1981 – Mehmet Ali Agca tried to kill the Pope in Rome.

Agca was a member of an extreme right wing Turkish group called the Grey Wolves. But at first Agca said he had done it on his own – it was neither right or left, he said. He was tried and put in prison.

But then in May 1982 Agca suddenly changed his story.

But he didn’t say he had done it as a member of the extreme right. Instead he insisted he had been part of a communist conspiracy to kill the Pope that had been organised by the Bulgarian secret service – and was being controlled behind that by Moscow.
[…]
Claire Sterling seized on this and went into action. She talked to lots of “intelligence informants” in Italy and the rest of Europe and wrote an article for Readers Digest. It caused a worldwide sensation.

Sterling said that Agca showed the incredible spider’s web that Moscow had created to control terrorism throughout the world. It had been built in such a way that it was normally impossible to see the links. But, like a flash of lightning on a dark night, Agca had shown how web really worked.

In his case, the KGB controlled the Bulgarian Secret service, and they in turn controlled the Turkish criminal mafia.

The Bulgarians had told the Mafia to find someone who could never be suspected of being linked to Moscow, bring him to Rome and tell him to shoot the Pope.

He would be interpreted as a Muslim fanatic, while Moscow would be rid of a Polish Pope who was a supporting the Solidarity movement in Poland.

Claire Sterling became a media celebrity. She appeared on TV across America and the world.
[…]
Sterling’s theory caused consternation in the Reagan administration, and especially in the CIA.

Almost all CIA officers and analysts were united in a belief that what Sterling was saying was rubbish. They produced an internal report saying there was no evidence linking the KGB to the assassination attempt.

But the head of the CIA, William Casey, was convinced by Sterling.

A senior CIA analyst called Melvin Goodman testified in 1991 to a Senate Committee as to what Casey then did.

He forced CIA officers to alter the report’s main judgements and to “stack the deck” in favour of KGB complicity. The sections of the report that expressed doubts and had counter arguments were erased.

The altered report was then sent to the White House. And it became one of the underpinnings of President Reagan’s increasingly simplified view of the world – that there was an interconnected network of terror in the world.

Although a new puppet master had also appeared, along with the Soviet Union – Iran. [Continue reading…]

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