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Warlike and Peaceful Societies

Agner Fog

6. Strategic Uses of Fear

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6.1. Terrorism conflicts

1Terrorism often leads to a significant regalization of the attacked society. This leads to further repression of the political interests that the terrorists are fighting for and therefore more terrorism. The current chapter explains this vicious circle.

  • 1 Richardson, L. (2006, p. 20), Ganor (2002), Reid (1997), Jackson, Breen-Smyth, Gunning and Jarvis (...)

2There is no common agreement on how to define terrorism or on deciding who should be called terrorists. It is often said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Some definitions of terrorism focus on the terrorization of people through shocking acts of violence. Other definitions point at political violence against civilians. And some definitions regard terrorism as a form of political communication where the intended audience is broader than the immediate victims of the violent acts. The word ‘terrorism’ was originally used about tyrannical leaders who terrorized their population, but today the word is mostly used about rebels fighting against a government—many definitions explicitly exclude government actors as terrorists.1

  • 2 Reid (1997), Jackson, Breen-Smyth, Gunning and Jarvis (2011)
  • 3 Foucault (1980, chapter 6)
  • 4 Rid and Hecker (2009, 45)

3All attempts to reach a common definition of terrorism have failed because the main use of the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ has been to delegitimize one’s enemies. Politicians and professionals have generally been careful to tailor their definition of terrorism so that it fits their enemies but not their friends.2 The power of words and definitions has long been recognized,3 and there is no neutral ground in this war on words.4 The one who succeeds in applying the label of ‘terrorists’ to his enemies has won the moral battle.

4The present book will not contribute to the futile attempts to reach a precise definition of terrorism. Instead, the word will be used in a more interpretive and historical meaning to describe any kind of political violence that is considered terrorism by the surrounding society.

  • 5 Richardson, L. (2006, p. 28)
  • 6 Speckhard (2012), Adams (1986, p. 48)
  • 7 Baudrillard (2001)
  • 8 Moghadam (2012)

5Today, terrorism is mostly seen in asymmetric conflicts. It makes no sense for a small group of rebels with few resources to use conventional weapons when fighting against an immensely more powerful state or government.5 Terrorism is used as a last resort when other strategies fail. For example, Palestinian terrorists say that they have tried everything else.6 This logic was explained with remarkable clarity by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard after the terror attacks against the USA on September 11, 2001: ‘It is the system itself that has created the objective conditions for this brutal retort. By taking all the cards to itself, it forces the other to change the rules of the game’.7 The playing cards that Baudrillard metaphorically refers to include the superior military and economic power of the USA, as well as the discursive power. Most of the international news media are US-owned, and the USA dominates the academic discussions as well. The much weaker group of Islamists has strong grievances against the USA, but they would get nowhere if they chose to fight by more conventional means. However, terrorism is difficult to justify morally or ideologically, and some terrorists have left their organizations when they realized how much they had hurt their innocent victims.8

  • 9 Speckhard (2012)

6There is a strange relationship between terrorists and the mass media. Fear is profitable for the media, as explained in chapter 5.1. The more shocking and scary the event, the more profitable it is for the media to report about it. Insurgents complain that the only time the media want to talk with them is when they have carried out a terror operation.9 Terrorism is a form of political communication, aided by the mass media, but terrorists pay a high price for this media attention.

  • 10 Weimann and Winn (1994)
  • 11 Paletz and Schmid (1992, pp. 41, 67), Cooke (2003)
  • 12 Brinson and Stohl (2009)
  • 13 Shinar and Bratic (2010)

7The mass media prefer a simple picture of good guys versus bad guys because moral ambiguity is bad for the media.10 The media tend to frame terrorism stories with a focus on current episodes of violence rather than on the underlying political conflicts; and terrorists do not always regard media coverage as beneficial to their cause.11 The media often rely heavily on government sources when reporting terrorism incidents, and they tend to support the government’s position on the conflict.12 In this way, the mass media amplify the asymmetry of the conflict and thereby block the road to peace. Peace negotiations have been more successful in situations where the media have diminished the asymmetry by representing the negotiators of the two parties as equals.13

  • 14 Jackson, Breen-Smyth, Gunning and Jarvis (2011), Rothe and Muzzatti (2004), Altheide (2009), Keen (...)

8The media coverage of terrorism since 9/11 shows all the signs of a moral panic described in chapter 3.10: the talk is highly emotional; the reaction is exaggerated, in the sense that other dangers with much higher death tolls get much less attention; a group of scapegoats is stigmatized (such as Muslims after 9/11); common standards of justice are undermined; the definition of terrorism is unclear and ever expanding (eco-terrorism, narco-terrorism, cyber-terrorism, etc.); and a large number of experts claim to know the motives and modus operandi of the terrorists without ever meeting a terrorist.14

  • 15 Woods (2011)
  • 16 Chowanietz (2010), Nacos, Bloch-Elkon and Shapiro (2011, chapters 1 and 2), Schmid and Muldoon (20 (...)
  • 17 Olivas-Luján, Harzing and McCoy (2004), Perrin (2005)
  • 18 Rothe and Muzzatti (2004), Huddy, Feldman and Weber (2007), Welch (2006, chapter 9), Human Rights (...)
  • 19 Simon (2002)
  • 20 Welch (2006, chapter 5)
  • 21 Huddy, Feldman and Weber (2007), Carnagey and Anderson (2007), Welch (2006, chapter 7), Mayer, J. (...)

9Social scientists have discovered that the threat of terrorism can have profound effects on public attitudes and sentiments towards a variety of issues.15 There is a general ‘rally around the flag’ effect, with increased trust in the government and support for the president, and increased social identification, nationalism, and patriotism.16 There is a tendency towards a more hierarchical orientation and authoritarianism in political debates.17 Democratic principles, civil liberties, and human rights are undermined,18 freedom of the press is limited,19 and there are more hate crimes and scapegoating.20 There is more war, militarism, and armament, and more state crimes after terrorism campaigns.21 All these effects are indicators of the strong regalizing effect of terrorism.

  • 22 Hirsch-Hoefler, Canetti, Rapaport and Hobfoll (2014)
  • 23 Oates, Kaid and Berry (2010)
  • 24 Lynch (2012), Douglas (2014), Carlile and Owen (2015)
  • 25 Donohue (2012)

10We may wonder why the psychological effect of terrorism is so strong compared to other dangers. A major reason is that terrorism lends itself to coverage in the mass media. It offers very dramatic and graphic images with opportunities for person-centered stories of victims, heroes, and villains. People pay attention to these stories because terrorism can hit anybody.22 Political entrepreneurs have worked effectively in many cases to boost the rallying effect by skillfully using the media to whip up public emotions and by organizing big mourning ceremonies for the victims.23 Terrorism events are often followed by tough legislation implemented hastily in the highly emotional atmosphere after the event, and this legislation is not always rolled back when the peaceful atmosphere returns.24 Common standards of justice are typically eroded by this process, which spills over into other areas of justice unrelated to terrorism.25

  • 26 Compare Dershowitz (2002) and Abrahms (2006)
  • 27 Pape (2003)
  • 28 Abrahms (2011)
  • 29 Krause (2013)
  • 30 Münkler (2005, p. 103)

11There is a long-standing debate about how effective terrorism is as a weapon.26 The political scientist Robert Pape has found that suicide terrorism may be successful in achieving at least some proximate goals,27 while his colleague Max Abrahms maintains that terrorism is generally a counterproductive strategy.28 The disagreement boils down to different definitions of terrorism and different criteria for measuring success. Terrorist groups have in some cases had success in the short-term goals of strengthening their organization and their political position, but rarely in their ultimate strategic goals of gaining national independence or expelling a foreign regime.29 Historically, terrorism has sometimes been successful in colonial wars.30

  • 31 Abrahms (2006), Abrahms and Lula (2012), Abrahms and Gottfried (2014), Fortna (2015)
  • 32 Abrahms and Lula (2012)
  • 33 Abrahms and Lula (2012), Cronin (2009)

12A considerable number of statistical studies have found that rebel groups who attack civilians practically never win a conflict, and only rarely are they able to obtain a negotiated settlement,31 while guerilla groups that attack only military targets have success in some cases.32 In the few cases where terrorists have had some success, this success may be due to factors other than their tactic of attacking civilians.33 The Madrid bombings have often been mentioned as an example of a successful terrorism action because they influenced an election result and political decisions. However, this success was mainly due to the fact that the Spanish government had lied about the terror incident and that the lie was exposed on the day of the election (see chapter 6.3).

  • 34 Thies (Thies 2001)
  • 35 Fortna (2015)
  • 36 Richardson, L. (2006)

13Asymmetric conflicts tend to be long-lasting,34 and conflicts that involve terrorism often become intractable. Statistical studies show that conflicts where civilians are attacked can be very long-lasting.35 There are several reasons why terrorism is such an unsuccessful strategy. Government negotiators are mostly unwilling to negotiate with terrorists for fear that their concessions might inspire more terrorism.36 The rebels have no chance of winning by means of conventional warfare, yet their motive for fighting persists as long as their grievances are not resolved.

  • 37 Abrahms (2006)

14The political scientist Max Abrahms uses attribution theory to show that people very often misinterpret the intentions of terrorists by confusing the consequences of their actions with the motives behind them. The targeted population believes that the terrorists want to destroy their society and their values and create chaos, while the real goal of the terrorists may be, for example, to gain independence, or to end occupation of their land. This misinterpretation leads to hardline and uncompromising responses. The negotiators of the targeted country assume that concessions will lead to more terrorism not less.37

  • 38 Abrahms and Lula (2012)
  • 39 Canetti et al. (2013), Chowanietz (2010)
  • 40 Richardson, L. (2006, p. 188)
  • 41 Brand (1995), Peretz (1996)

15The rebels may use violence in order to get media attention, but the media coverage they get is almost completely negative, with a focus on the violence and not on the grievances of the terrorists. This does not lead to more sympathy for the terrorists or understanding of their grievances.38 Instead, we see a spiral of hate, violence, and political extremism where the attacked country implements draconian countermeasures that lead to new violent reactions.39 This spiral of violence makes both parties more regal and less willing to make concessions or to negotiate a compromise. Ethnic, religious, or cultural differences between the two conflicting parties are amplified by this process and used strategically by the leaders.40 If the conflicting parties have no important cultural identities to hinge their conflict on, they will invent them. For example, both the Palestinians and the Israelis have strengthened their nationalism and sense of identity as a consequence of the conflict between them. Before the conflict, the inhabitants of present Palestine were likely to idenfity as Jordanians or Arabs, while ‘Palestinian’ was not a strong or important identity.41

16We may ask why terrorism is used at all as a political strategy when it is so clearly counterproductive. We would expect rebel groups to learn from history and realize that the strategy of violence against random civilians only benefits their enemy. Analyzing the situation, we may suggest several hypotheses for explaining why terrorism exists at all:

  • Some terrorists are simply bad strategists. Their minds are occupied with other things, such as political, ideological, or theological discussions, internal hierarchy, organizational matters, security, rallying ceremonies, fundraising, recruiting new members, and propaganda.42
  • Terrorists are generally driven by strong grievances. They become radicalized by seeing great injustice being committed against a group that they identify with, and they want revenge. Influenced by a supportive group and a legitimizing ideology, they may resort to terrorism when other strategies seem useless. They see themselves as altruists fighting for a just cause, while their enemies see them as evil psychopaths.43
  • Rebel groups are generally unable to cause any significant damage to their enemy if they fight with conventional weapons against a superior military power. Attacking civilian targets is perceived as a last resort.44
  • Rebel groups are unable to get media attention unless they commit shocking acts of violence. They are encouraged by the intense media coverage they get when they commit acts of terrorism.45
  • Rebel groups are inspired by similar groups in other countries. They imitate the groups that get the most coverage in the international news media rather than the groups that are most successful.
  • Terrorists overestimate their chances of victory, because they draw a false analogy with guerrilla successes.46
  • Usually, the ultimate goal of a rebel group is to win a strategic victory over their enemy, but at the same time they are pursuing the more proximate goals of strengthening their own organization, recruiting new members, gaining adherents and supporters, fundraising, and strengthening their position vis-àvis rival groups within the same movement. While the strategy of terrorism does not help them reach the ultimate goal, it may be effective in reaching the other proximate goals. In several cases, more radical and violent groups have outcompeted relatively moderate groups fighting for the same cause.47
  • The conflict may have side effects that are beneficial to certain stakeholders on one or both sides of the conflict. Leading members of the rebel groups, government officials of the attacked country, and, of course, weapons dealers may have little incentive to end the conflict because of the political, economic, and psychological payoffs it provides for them. These payoffs include cover for suppression and abuse of the population, exploitation of natural resources, protection for the drugs trade and other criminal economic activity, profit for the weapons industry, profit for the mass media, uniting a population around the psychological need for a strong leader, warding off democracy, and the opportunity for the military to interfere in politics.48
  • In some cases, rebel groups are manipulated by their enemies into using counterproductive tactics. This is explained in the next chapter.
  • Spiraling violence causes both parties in a conflict to become more regal. This causes people to act more emotionally, to use a more radical and uncompromising rhetoric, and to become more violent or to support the more violent groups.
  • 49 O’Day (1993), Soule (1989)
  • 50 Speckhard (2012, chapter 8)

17The strong psychological impact of terrorism makes the attacked population more regal and more likely to react with draconian countermeasures. The rebel group feels that the counter-attacks against them are disproportionate and unfair, and this is ground for further radicalization. Their civil rights and access to a fair system of justice are often undermined. This gives the rebel group still more grievances and reasons to fight. For example, during the conflict in Northern Ireland, the republican rebels were often more focused on fighting against the lack of due process and other injustices against them than on fighting for their original cause.49 In Palestine, many people feel that their life conditions in the conflict zone are so intolerable that they would rather die an honorable death as martyrs or suicide bombers than continue their hopeless lives.50

  • 51 Richardson, L. (2006)

18This vicious circle is further aggravated by the widespread policy of never negotiating with terrorists. The rebels may conclude that their only option is to use more violence when they experience that their enemies are unwilling to negotiate with them or make any concessions.51

  • 52 Cronin (2009), Clarke (2015)

19Such a vicious circle is not easily ended. An escalating conflict may end with complete victory for the strongest party when no third party intervenes. This was the normal outcome of asymmetric conflicts in ancient times. Today, however, the international community will not accept the genocide that such an outcome would entail. The intervention of third parties or international organizations has often been strong enough to prevent a genocide but not strong enough to stop the conflict and enforce a negotiated solution. Conflicts that involve terrorism may end if the rebels lose their support and funding,52 but the conflicts may flare up again unless the grievances are resolved.

  • 53 Kingston (1995), Cooke (2003)
  • 54 Alonso (2001), Phayal (2011)

20The international community may facilitate a more lasting solution to an asymmetric conflict by putting enough pressure on the stronger party to deal with the grievances of the weaker party. This is what happened in South Africa when apartheid was abolished. However, many rebel groups lack sufficient resources to influence international opinion in their favor. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland did indeed have a strong propaganda strategy, but they had little luck in bypassing British censorship and the self-censorship of the British media.53 News media in other countries simply relayed reports from the British news agencies without informing their audience that they were purveying censored news. The impetus for any kind of third party intervention that might have facilitated the negotiation of a compromise solution was therefore missing. The IRA eventually changed their strategy and ended the violence when they realized that they lacked public support and that the strategy of terrorism was futile.54

  • 55 Altheide (2006), Mueller, J. (2006)
  • 56 Amnesty International (2004), Simon (2002), Carlile and Owen (2015), Norris, J. (2016)
  • 57 De Graaf (2011)

21While the tactics of terrorism are mostly counterproductive, so are attempts to combat terrorism. Politicians often respond with extreme measures and rhetoric, fueled by media hysteria in the aftermath of a terrorism event.55 The regal reaction to terrorism events often includes infringements on civil liberties and lowered standards of justice.56 This is fuel for the ideology of the terrorist organizations and their claims that they are victims of oppression and injustice. In this way, counterterrorism measures work against their purpose; they contribute to radicalization of terrorist organizations and help them to recruit new members. The Dutch historian Beatrice de Graaf has shown that there is a positive correlation between the amount of dramatic counterterrorism measures and the radicalization of rebels.57

  • 58 Keen (2006, chapter 2)

22Those who fight against terrorism often ignore the more fundamental but less visible causes of terrorism and focus on something tangible such as specific persons and organizations.58 Much of the counterterrorism literature ignores the importance of grievances. Rebels will still be motivated to fight as long as they have strong grievances. Any attempt to suppress them by brute force will only add to their grievances. The strong asymmetry of power makes it unlikely that negotiations can lead to a compromise that is acceptable to the rebels. The politicians of the attacked country face a serious dilemma. If they make concessions to the terrorists they may be encouraging more terrorism. But if, on the other hand, they employ a hard-line policy, they may exacerbate the grievances and contribute to further radicalization of the terrorists. Even the most dovish politician of a country struck by terrorists would refrain from making concessions to terrorists for fear that he or she might be accused of being ‘soft on terrorism’ and rewarding terrorists when the population is panicked by the attacks.

  • 59 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 297), Richardson, L. (2006, p. 12)
  • 60 Keen (2006, chapter 11)
  • 61 Adams (1986), Clarke (2015)

23Attempts to combat terrorist organizations are often focused on eliminating specific leaders, who are portrayed as evil. Arresting the leader of a terrorist group may be an effective strategy only if the group depends on a single charismatic leader. In other cases, it will lead to further radicalization, especially if the leader is killed under dramatic circumstances.59 Attempts to eliminate specific terrorist organizations with militaristic means have only contributed to escalation of the conflict and radicalization of the terrorists, while the defeated terror cells are continually replaced by new ones.60 It may be an efficient strategy to target the funding sources of the terrorists, but this does not remove the grievances.61 In most cases, the grievances can be dealt with in a way that the weaker party perceives as fair only when a third party mediates in the conflict and puts pressure on the stronger party to make concessions.

24While terrorism is not a winning strategy for the rebels, it may be quite useful for the government of the country that is being attacked. Terrorism often produces a strong sense of patriotism, rallying around the flag, support for the incumbent government, and tolerance of quite repressive measures of justice. These effects are so strong that the governments of terror-ridden countries may have an interest in letting an ongoing terrorism campaign continue. They may even provoke terror attacks against their own countries. It has happened many times in modern history that governments have instigated, or deliberately failed to prevent, terror attacks against their own countries. Whether this is intended or not, terror attacks give the government the advantage of a regal climate that strengthens the power of the leaders. The paradoxical phenomenon that political leaders may somehow be complicit in terror attacks against their own population is described in the next two chapters.

6.2. The strategy of tension in Italy and elsewhere

  • 62 Bull, M. (1992), Weinberg (1995)

25Italy was hit by a large wave of terror attacks in the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s—the so-called Years of Lead (named so after bullets made of lead). The situation in Italy in those years was very complicated but also very interesting from a theoretical point of view. The political landscape was chaotic, and political violence was widespread. There were frequent clashes between neofascists and leftwing activists in the streets, and the violence escalated into political assassinations, kidnappings, terrorism, and attempted coups.62

  • 63 Ferraresi (1996, p. 9)

26A particularly notorious series of terror events occurred on 12 December 1969. A terror bomb exploded in front of a bank on Piazza Fontana in Milan, killing sixteen people and wounding eighty-eight. Three bombs exploded in other Italian cities on the same day, and one more bomb was left unexploded. The bombings were initially blamed on a small anarchist group, and twenty-seven left-wing activists were arrested under intense media coverage. After several years of investigation, it was found that among the approximately ten members of the anarchist group were two infiltrators: a neofascist activist and a police agent. They had produced false evidence against the group. New evidence pointed to the neofascist organization Ordine Nuovo, which was also responsible for several other terror bombings.63

  • 64 Cento Bull (2007, p. 24), Willan (1991, chapter 7), Bale (1996), Ferraresi (1996)

27There were hundreds of terror bombings committed by various neofascist groups in these years, and quite often they were blamed on left-wing groups. Sometimes, right-wing terrorists left false leads to implicate left-wing groups. Corruption at all levels of the state apparatus was evident. The police would often follow the so-called ‘red track’ (left-wing suspects) and ignore the more likely ‘black track’ (right-wing suspects). Police investigations were obstructed, evidence disappeared, false evidence was fabricated, witnesses were murdered, and processes at one court were interrupted and moved to another court with another judge. A general pattern was that suspects were convicted only to be later acquitted at a higher court. This happened to both right-wing and left-wing suspects. Thirty-three years of trials, re-trials, and appeals ended with acquittals for most of the suspects.64

  • 65 Amara (2006)

28Some left-wing groups became radicalized as a response to the neofascist violence, the political situation, and the illegitimate behavior of the state apparatus. A particularly militant left-wing group was Brigate Rosse (the Red Brigades), who committed a series of assassinations and political kidnappings. The former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by Brigate Rosse in 1978 and killed after fifty-five days in captivity. The kidnapping happened at a time when Moro, as president of the Christian Democrats, was negotiating a historical compromise to include the Italian Communist Party in a coalition government. Those plans died with Moro. Preventing the communists from entering the government was perhaps not the most logical thing for a left-wing group to do, but it appears that they were against the revisionist, or compromising policy of the Communist Party.65

  • 66 Hajek (2010)
  • 67 Ferraresi (1996, p. 86), Cento Bull (2007, chapter 4)

29The population was confused over whether left-wing or right-wing groups were behind the many terror attacks, and there was much suspicion that the secret service, clandestine paramilitary groups, the CIA, and other foreign agencies were involved.66 Research has confirmed many of these suspicions as more and more evidence has been uncovered through the following decades. It is now evident that the terrorism in Italy in these years was instrumental in the so-called strategy of tension, with the purpose of preventing a communist takeover of power in Italy.67

  • 68 Weinberg (1995), Ferraresi (1996, p. 71), Cento Bull (2007, p. 57), Willan (1991, p. 40)

30The strategy of tension can be traced back to a symposium on the topic of revolutionary warfare in 1965, organized by the obscure Alberto Pollio Institute of Military History. The Pollio Institute was set up by an agent of the secret service with money from companies interested in winning defense contracts. Present at the meeting were leading members of various neofascist organizations and future terrorists, as well as high-ranking members of the secret service and the armed forces.68

  • 69 Bull, M. (1992), Cento Bull (2007, chapter 4), Willan (1991), Bale (1996), De Lutiis (1998, chapte (...)

31There are many different interpretations of the strategy of tension, and each of the involved groups and organizations had their own agenda. Italy had the strongest Communist party in Western Europe at the time, and many were afraid of a communist takeover of power in Italy. The supporters of the strategy of tension deliberately fueled political violence in order to create psychological tension in the population. They wanted to ‘destabilize in order to stabilize’. By creating insecurity, they hoped that people would seek security in a strong government and that this would pave the way for a more authoritarian government or a neofascist coup.69

32The groups that were most active in the strategy of tension were Ordine Nuovo, Avanguardia Nazionale, and the masonic lodge Propaganda Due, all with a neofascist ideology and with links to the secret service.

  • 70 Ferraresi (1996, p. 89), Cento Bull (2007, chapters 3 and 4), Willan (1991, chapters 2 and 3), Ama (...)
  • 71 Ferraresi (1996, pp. 63, 77)

33Propaganda Due included high-ranking and influential members of the police, military, and secret services, as well as industry leaders and politicians. The secret services were dominated by neofascists and anticommunists, and the connections between all these groups made coverups and the systematic obstruction of justice possible.70 Secret documents from the Italian military intelligence service SIFAR reveal that they were very afraid that the communists would win elections and that the SIFAR was actively working against the socialists and communists.71

  • 72 Weinberg (1995), Willan (1991, chapter 10), Bale (1996)
  • 73 Amara (2006)
  • 74 Willan (1991, chapter 10)
  • 75 Pellegrino (1997), Amara (2006, chapter 1)

34The Brigate Rosse and other radical left-wing groups in Europe were infiltrated by right-wing activists and secret service agents, who manipulated them and made them more radical and more violent in order to use them as tools in the strategy of tension.72 The kidnapping of Moro was carried out with the highest degree of military professionalism—far beyond the capabilities of a small group of political activists. It is unknown whether they were helped by undercover agents from the secret services or by some paramilitary group.73 However, we can be certain that the secret services could have stopped the Brigate Rosse at any time if they wanted to, given the information available to them from infiltrators.74 During the period of Moro’s captivity, the police messed up or failed to follow obvious leads that could have taken them to the hiding places of the Brigate Rosse.75

  • 76 Feldbauer (2000), Rowse (1994), Ganser (2005)
  • 77 Davies (2005), Nuti (2007)

35Historians have been debating for years about who were the masters pulling the strings in the strategy of tension. Were the various groups acting autonomously, were they controlled by some powerful elite in the country, and did they receive support from abroad? Some historians believe that the CIA and NATO played a major role76 while other historians disagree.77

  • 78 De Jesus (2012, chapter 2), Ferraresi (1996, p. 61)

36There is evidence of strong connections with Aginter Press in Portugal, a press agency that served as a cover for an anti-communist mercenary organization that trained its members in covert action techniques including infiltration and counterinsurgency. Members of the Aginter Press participated in the Pollio Institute meeting, and there are close similarities between the strategy promoted by Aginter Press and the Italian strategy of tension.78

  • 79 Agee (1975)
  • 80 De Lutiis (1998, chapter 4), Cento Bull (2007, chapter 4), Willan (1991), Pellegrino (1997)
  • 81 Corson (1977)

37The possible involvement of the CIA is difficult to prove because that organization routinely hides covert actions behind other organizations so that its involvement can plausibly be denied.79 Nevertheless, there are many indications that the CIA and NATO supported the strategy of tension because they wanted to limit communist influence in Western Europe and because of the strategic importance of US and NATO military airbases in Italy.80 It is well documented that the CIA had secretly been interfering in Italian elections since 1948 in order to keep the Italian Communist Party from power.81

  • 82 Cento Bull (2007, chapter 4), Willan (1991, p. 27), Ferraresi (1996, p. 76), De Lutiis (1998, p. 1 (...)
  • 83 Willan (1991, chapter 11)
  • 84 Coco (2015)
  • 85 Fasanella, Pellegrino and Sestieri (2000)

38The CIA, the National Security Council (NSC), and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were involved in a plan called Operation Demagnetize, whose purpose was to reduce the strength of the Communist Party, according to secret documents that have since been declassified.82 The US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger strongly criticized Moro’s policy, and a US intelligence official warned Moro of serious consequences if he continued his policy of dialogue with the communists. Moro was so shocked by this direct threat that he feared for his life.83 However, there is no direct proof of active support from the CIA for the violent actions, and some historians argue that the terrorism was determined mainly by internal forces within Italy.84 Still other theories suggest that KGB, Mossad, and other foreign secret services were also involved.85

  • 86 Ferraresi (1996, pp. 156, 194)

39If we want to analyze the motivations of the terrorists, it is clear that the right-wing and left-wing terrorists had very different motivations. The right-wing, or neofascist, terrorists followed a carefully planned strategy, the strategy of tension. The neofascist groups were anti-intellectual, and their members were not very concerned with strategy. They were more moved by feelings, group spirit, rituals, marches, group loyalty, and orders from their leaders.86 The organizational culture and hierarchy of these neofascist groups clearly matched their regal ideology. We can assume that the actions of the low-ranking members were more determined by authoritarian or regal sentiments and orders from above than by individual rationality. The higher-ranking decision makers, on the other hand, had clearly thought out a strategy.

  • 87 Willan (1991)

40The strategy of tension definitely makes sense in the light of regality theory. Evidently, those who devised this strategy had a theory that people would support a more authoritarian government if random violence and terror created psychological tension. The plan was that this should pave the way for a neofascist coup. However, the strategy of tension was not very successful. The Italians still remembered the cruel fascist rule under Benito Mussolini and there was no general support for returning to a fascist dictatorship. The only success of the strategy of tension was that the murder of Aldo Moro thwarted plans to include the Communist Party in the government. Such a coalition government would probably have been quite unstable anyway.87

41The failure of the strategy of tension can be explained by the fact that the chaos and political violence was blamed on internal rather than external factors. A threat from external powers would have increased the support for a more authoritarian government, according to our theory, but the main cause of the chaos and violence was the obvious corruption, which of course did not increase people’s trust in the government.

  • 88 Ferraresi (1996, p. 193), Amara (2006)

42The motivation for the left-wing activists was quite different. They had long discussions about theory and ideology, and their motivation for using violence was defense against the violent fascists and the corrupt state apparatus.88 Their strategy was, of course, even more unsuccessful, as they were manipulated to serve interests opposite to their own. We cannot predict what Italy would have looked like without the political violence, but it appears that the political climate in the country was more influenced by economic progress and by the democratic developments in the neighboring countries than by the strategy of tension.

Figure 11. Aldo Moro in captivity, 1978. The kidnappers published this photo, which made sure that everybody associated the action with the left-wing group Brigate Rosse.89

  • 90 Mayer, A. (1971, chapter 3)
  • 91 De Jesus (2012)
  • 92 Willan (1991, chapter 10), Feldbauer (2000, p. 66)
  • 93 Fasanella, Pellegrino and Sestieri (2000, part 3), Igel (2012, p. 136ff)

43The strategy of tension in Italy was extreme in its range and magnitude, but far from unique. In a classic study of counterrevolution, Arno Mayer describes the deliberate fabrication of violence and chaos as a common counterrevolutionary strategy.90 The Aginter Press was not only active in Italy and Portugal, but also in Algeria, Congo, Biafra (part of current Nigeria), and other African countries. It is uncertain whether it used similar strategies in those countries.91 A mysterious organization, the Hyperion language school in Paris, delivered weapons to Brigate Rosse, making it appear that the weapons originated from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). There were claims that Hyperion also delivered weapons to the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany, to the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) in Spain, and to the IRA in Ireland,92 but this has not been verified. The Italian investigators initially believed that the Hyperion school was a cover organization for the CIA, but it might have been more than that. Later investigations have led to the theory that Hyperion was a networking point for Eastern and Western secret service organizations, with the purpose of maintaining world stability by preserving the balance of powers that was established in the Yalta agreement of 1945. Therefore, the Hyperion people fought against anybody who threatened to sway this balance of powers, including the new left, Aldo Moro, Olof Palme, and many others.93

  • 94 Amara (2006, p. 22)
  • 95 Jenkins (1990)
  • 96 Çelik (1999)

44Heads of police from European countries decided at a meeting in Cologne in the early 1970s to implement a common strategy of infiltrating terrorist groups at the leadership level. Their undercover agents had to be the bravest and cruellest members of the groups.94 In Belgium, undercover intelligence agents were heavily involved in a series of false flag terrorism attacks that claimed more than thirty lives in the 1980s.95 Turkey had a particularly powerful secret service that infiltrated leftwing groups with agents provocateurs, massacred whole villages and blamed it on the Kurdistan Workers’Party (PKK), and created general chaos before a coup.96

  • 97 Rosenfeld (2014), Winkler (1997), Peters, B. (2004)
  • 98 Gössner (1991, pp. 183–215)

45The situation in West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany) and the later united Germany was particularly complex. The undercover agent Peter Urbach infiltrated several left-wing groups. He delivered Molotov cocktails to an otherwise peaceful demonstration, he delivered bombs to a Marxist organization, and he supplied weapons to the infamous RAF.97 Other undercover agents failed to infiltrate the RAF but delivered weapons to other radical groups and even attempted to create a new terrorist organization.98

  • 99 Igel (2012, p. 214), Müller and Kanonenberg (1992), Schmeidel (1993)
  • 100 Bale (2012), Igel (2012, p. 288), Müller and Kanonenberg (1992)

46The RAF had three generations of militant activists. The first generation received some support from the Stasi, the secret service of East Germany (the German Democratic Republic), but they did not want to be controlled by the Stasi. The second generation received paramilitary training from the Stasi, and many RAF members fled to East Germany, where they became involved in international terrorism as paid agents of the Stasi.99 However, the relationship between the Stasi and the RAF appeared to be ambivalent, and western agents and double agents were also involved.100

  • 101 Wisnewski, Landgraeber and Sieker (2008)
  • 102 Igel (2012, p. 159)
  • 103 Schmeidel (1993), Wisnewski, Landgraeber and Sieker (2008)

47The third generation of the RAF showed hardly any signs of being an autonomous organization. Some researchers claim that the third generation was nothing more than a phantom organization created by Western security forces,101 while later research reveals a heavy involvement of the Stasi.102 But if we assume that the third generation of the RAF was controlled by the Stasi, then we have a problem explaining why the RAF continued its activities for almost a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Stasi no longer existed. Regardless of who was behind the later generations of the RAF, it was able to carry out bombings and assassinations with military professionalism, and most of its crimes remained unsolved.103 The similarity with Italy is obvious, but there is so far no evidence of involvement of western secret services.

  • 104 Igel (2012, p. 173)

48There is evidence of cooperation between the RAF in Germany and Brigate Rosse in Italy. The German industry leader Hanns Martin Schleyer was attacked by the second generation RAF. Schleyer and his safety escort were stopped on a road in September 1977. His chauffeur and three bodyguards were shot while he was abducted alive. He was killed after forty-three days in captivity. Six months later, exactly the same happened to Moro in Italy. There is evidence that some of the RAF militants traveled to Italy and assisted in Moro’s abduction.104 If the RAF was controlled by the Stasi, then why did they cooperate with Brigate Rosse, which was almost completely controlled by right-wing and Western security forces at that time? On the other hand, if the RAF was controlled by right-wing or Western forces in the same way as Brigate Rosse, then why did they kill Schleyer? There were obvious right-wing and Western motives for killing Moro but not for killing Schleyer. Was he killed in order to delegitimize left-wing movements in a strategy of tension?

  • 105 Schmeidel (1993)

49There are many unanswered questions. What we know so far is that both Eastern and Western security services and paramilitary forces were heavily involved in terrorism in Western Europe in those years. It seems that the Western security forces relied on the theory that terrorism can incite authoritarianism and harm the apparent supporter, as evidenced by the strategy of tension. The Stasi, on the other hand, appeared to be more concerned with ideology and prestige.105 Perhaps the Eastern security forces simply relied on the belief that terrorism would harm its victim.

6.3. Fabrication of threats and conflicts

  • 106 Keen (2012; 2006, chapter 11)

50The economist and conflict researcher David Keen has studied many violent conflicts around the world and made the surprising observation that, in many cases, the fighting parties appear to prolong the conflict rather than trying to win and end it. For example, they often use tactics known to be counterproductive, or they provoke an enemy to attack, and in some cases they even sell weapons to their enemy. Keen suggests that some participants deliberately engage in endless conflicts because it gives them certain advantages. Economic advantages include the weapons trade, but also the extraction of valuable resources such as oil in Iraq, minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or opium in Afghanistan. The advantages can also be of a political nature. A violent conflict can justify the suppression and exploitation of people, sabotage an emerging democracy, create national unity, and create the need for a strong leader. Keen suggests that such conflicts can be self-sustaining—intentionally or not—because certain key players benefit from the continued conflict.106

51Regality theory can contribute to the explanation of the paradoxical behavior of deliberately protracting a violent conflict. Continuous fighting is not in the interests of the general population, of course, but it may be in the interests of the leaders because it helps them sustain a regal culture. We saw in chapters 2.4 and 2.5 how a regal culture increases the biological fitness of the leader. Let us look further at this phenomenon.

  • 107 Balaresque et al. (2015)

52Throughout history, we have seen that many of the leaders of great empires had large numbers of children and provided luxury and advantages for themselves and for their relatives. In other words, the leaders of regal societies had a huge advantage in terms of reproductive fitness. The more regal the society, the greater the fitness of the leader at the expense of his followers. DNA evidence shows that a large fraction of the modern human population is descended from a few successful emperors. Genghis Khan is the record holder with millions of descendants.107 It is therefore obvious that any behavior that makes a leader more powerful could be promoted by natural selection.

53The diversionary theory of war, mentioned in chapter 4.3, suggests that leaders may wage unnecessary wars for the sake of creating a ‘rally around the flag’ effect that will consolidate their own status. The extreme fitness advantage of powerful leaders leads us to the prediction that leaders could be inclined to deceive their followers and make their society more regal than necessary, for example by fighting unnecessary wars, or by exaggerating or fabricating dangers to their own society. We can expect this strategy to be employed when leaders, or prospective leaders, see a chance to expand their power, but also when leaders see their power threatened by subversive or rebellious movements.

54In this chapter, we will search for historical examples of such deceptions in order to find out how far leaders are willing to go in terms of spreading fear and fabricating unnecessary threats and conflicts against their own group.

55In chapters 3.10 and 5.1 we saw how leaders and the mass media can benefit from witch hunts and moral panics. Terrorism threats are particularly efficacious for boosting regality, because, as we have seen, they produce strong emotional effects while causing much less damage than regular intergroup wars. There are many ways in which a leader and his government can consolidate their position by manipulating terrorism threats and other dangers, possibly in collusion with the mass media, including the following:

  • opportunistic exploitation of an unpredicted attack by creating maximum publicity around the event, showing leadership in fighting the attackers, showing empathy for the victims, and implementing stricter legislation
  • exaggerating an existing threat by massive media coverage, by overstating the capabilities of potential enemies, by excessive security measures, or by setting national alert levels higher than necessary
  • blaming actual terrorism attacks on the wrong culprits
  • making false or exaggerated reports about terrorism plots that have been thwarted
  • exaggerating the danger of a relatively weak adversary and fighting it with dramatic means
  • using undercover operations to lure somebody into planning an attack and arresting them when they are about to carry out these plans (entrapment)108
  • fabricating and staging a victory over an insignificant or imaginary adversary
  • provoking a potential enemy to attack, or deliberately escalating a low-level conflict
  • infiltrating peaceful protest groups with violent agents
  • selectively eliminating moderate leaders of rebel groups while more radical leaders remain at large
  • deliberately failing to avert known terrorism plots
  • paving the way for known terrorists by removing obstacles to their plans, disabling surveillance, alarm, and rescue systems, or actively increasing the damage they are causing
  • infiltrating potential terrorist groups with undercover agents who help them with advice, intelligence, logistics, training, weapons, money, and so on, and induce them to attack a particular target or use particularly dramatic tactics
  • fabricating a violent attack and blaming it on a convenient enemy (false flag attack).

56Manipulations at the beginning of this list are very common, while the more serious deceptions at the end of the list are probably less common but also more difficult to document. Let us look at some notable historical examples.

Shelling of Mainila

  • 109 Edwards (2006, p. 105)
  • 110 Sokolov (2000), Aptekar (2001), Leino (2009)

57On 26 November 1939, the Russian village of Mainila, near the Finnish border, was hit by seven explosions. The Russians claimed that Finland had attacked Russia with artillery, killing four and wounding nine. A Finnish border guard who had watched the incident from a distance of 800 meters reported that the shots were fired from the Russian side. He did not see any bodies being carried away from the scene.109 Russian and Finnish historians later found documents confirming that there were no casualties and that the Russians had staged the incident as a pretext for attacking Finland.110 The Soviet Union renounced the non-aggression pact with Finland and started the Winter War between the two nations four days later.

Gulf of Tonkin incident

  • 111 Moïse (1996), Hanyok (2001)

58On 2 August 1964, the US destroyer USS Maddox was on a secret intelligence gathering mission in the Gulf of Tonkin near the North Vietnamese coast when it was approached by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Fire was exchanged and there were losses on the North Vietnamese side but only minor damage on Maddox. The United States Congress was misinformed about the incident and told that Maddox was on a routine patrol in international waters when it was attacked by the torpedo boats. The truth is that Maddox fired first and pursued the torpedo boats. Two days later, two US destroyers misinterpreted radar signals and reported that they were being attacked by torpedo boats, when in fact there were no other boats in the vicinity. Congress was informed that boats had been attacked again, which was not true. This led Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed the US military to engage armed forces in Vietnam and escalate the Vietnam War. While some of the misinformation was due to human error rather than deliberate deception, the mistakes were covered up and the false information was used as a pretext for attacking North Vietnam.111

Sendero Luminoso

  • 112 Burt (2008)

59During the 1990s, President Alberto Fujimori of Peru gained popularity through his uncompromising fight against violent insurgent groups such as the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path. Even at a time when the insurgents were effectively defeated, Fujimori kept fighting them in dramatic military actions without completely eradicating them. These highly publicized actions helped Fujimori and his increasingly autocratic government to stay in power. When the opposition protested the inauguration of Fujimori for his third term in 2000, the regime infiltrated a group of peaceful protesters with violent agents who set fire to the National Bank. The attack, which took the life of four bank guards, was blamed on the protesters in order to discredit the opposition.112

Madrid bombing

  • 113 Jordan and Horsburgh (2008)

60The Spanish Partido Popular lost the election in 2004 when it was revealed that it had deliberately deceived the population and blamed a terror bombing on the separatist group ETA, when in fact the Islamicist group al-Qaeda was responsible. The Partido Popular would probably have won a landslide victory had the deception not been revealed on the early morning of the election day.113

Operation Mongoose and Operation Northwoods

61During the Cold War, the US government tried to destabilize and overturn Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba in many ways. A campaign of psychological warfare, known as Operation Mongoose, tried to build an opposition within Cuba.

62In the 1960s, the CIA covertly funded private radio stations inside and outside of Cuba, including Radio Swan on the Swan Islands, which sent propaganda messages from anti-Castro Cubans into Cuba. A radio station in Mexico City promoted a press campaign about epidemics of hoof and mouth disease and smallpox in Cuba. A CIA radio station in Zambia was spreading misinformation about the conduct of Cuban troops in neighboring Angola in the 1970s. Among the false stories was a fictitious scene in which Cuban soldiers raped fifteen-year-old girls. The station even disseminated faked photographs of the trial and executions of the Cuban soldiers.

  • 114 Elliston (1999)

63In 1961, CIA planes bombed targets in Cuba and pretended that the pilots were Cuban defectors. Many other operations of misinformation and sabotage were proposed or planned, some of them quite bizarre, but most of these plans were never carried out.114

  • 115 National Security Archive (2001)

64One set of plans, known as Operation Northwoods, included false flag attacks on US and Cuban soil. For example, it was proposed to blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba. Other plans were to blow up an unmanned vessel in Cuban waters, or a civil airplane, and to conduct funerals for the non-existing victims. False evidence would be fabricated to blame those terror attacks on Cuba. There were also plans of false flag terror attacks in Florida and Washington, or attacks on Cuban refugees blamed on Cuba. The intention was that such actions should strengthen the opposition in Cuba and serve as justification for a US military intervention there.115

The strategy of tension in Italy and elsewhere

65The period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s brought a sharp increase in terrorism to Italy. Both right-wing and left-wing terrorists were involved. This story is told in chapter 6.2 above.

  • 116 Ravndal (2015, p. 21)
  • 117 Pellegrino (1997)

66The Italian terrorists are classified as elite-sponsored terror groups, according to a typology developed by Jacob Ravndal.116 However, if we try to identify the elite that controlled or masterminded the strategy of tension, we get a very confusing picture of freemasons, various neofascist and paramilitary groups that were supported or even created by the secret services, and high-ranking persons within the military, possibly with international support. These were powerful people within the state apparatus but not within the official government. A government commission to investigate the corruption even saw this as a dual government or dual loyalty.117 Whoever orchestrated the strategy of tension, it certainly included the most serious kinds of deception on our list.

67The strategy of tension, in our interpretation, might look like this: powerful actors wanted to create political violence, indiscriminate terror, and chaos, in the hope that this would create public support for a more authoritarian government and a neofascist coup. In particular, they wanted to make their opponents look more violent in order to delegitimize them. This was done by deliberately failing to stop left-wing violence, by infiltrating and manipulating left-wing groups to make them more radical and violent, and by staging false flag terror attacks. However, as discussed above, this plan did not really achieve its goal.

Russian apartment bombings and other terror attacks in Russia

  • 118 Litvinenko and Felshtinsky (2007, chapters 5 and 6)
  • 119 Dunlop (2012, p. 248)

68A series of explosions hit four apartment buildings in the Russian towns of Moscow, Buynaksk, and Volgodonsk from 4 to 13 September 1999, killing 293 people and injuring 651. Quite remarkably, foreknowledge of these attacks was apparent in a document that was leaked in Moscow a few months before the incidents. This document talked about terror attacks that would be blamed on the mafia and Chechen criminals.118 In another leak of plans, a speaker at the Duma announced that a building in Volgodonsk had been blown up, three days before it actually happened.119

  • 120 Dunlop (2012)

69The attacks were in fact blamed on Chechen terrorists, but the evidence against the suspected terrorists was nebulous. Historians and independent investigators have presented a strong case supporting their theory that the Federal Security Service (FSB, formerly KGB) was behind the attacks.120 A fifth attack against an apartment building in the town of Ryazan was averted by vigilant residents who reported suspicious behavior to the police. The police found a bomb consisting of 150 kg of the advanced explosive RDX (called hexogen in Russia), a detonator, and a timer. Two suspects were apprehended when they tried to leave the town. They were not Chechen terrorists but FSB agents. An intercepted telephone call was also traced to the FSB, and identical explosives were discovered in a military depot 30 km from the town.

  • 121 Litvinenko and Felshtinsky (2007, chapter 5), Dunlop (2012)
  • 122 Litvinenko and Felshtinsky (2007), Dunlop (2012, p. 184ff), Satter (2003, chapter 2)
  • 123 Litvinenko and Felshtinsky (2007, chapter 6), Dunlop (2012)

70The incident in Ryazan was also initially blamed on Chechen terrorists, but after the media had published the leads pointing to the FSB, the FSB claimed that it was an exercise and that the bomb was only a dummy containing sugar. This explanation has been convincingly refuted.121 The police, who had analyzed the contents, maintained that it was RDX. The investigations of all five incidents were characterized by massive coverups, perversion of justice, coerced confessions, intimidation of witnesses and journalists, and assassination of independent investigators.122 The FSB was also behind the other four apartment bombings, according to a confession by FSB major Vladimir Kondratiev as well as large amounts of circumstantial evidence.123

  • 124 Dunlop (2012), Satter (2003, p. 46)

71The terror attacks in September 1999 helped a previously unknown former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, attain the presidency. The attacks also served to justify the invasion of Chechnya on 1 October 1999 in the Second Chechen War. Historians believe that an independent investigation of the attacks will not take place as long as Putin is in power.124

  • 125 Goldfarb (2007), Dunlop (2006)
  • 126 Goldfarb (2007), Dunlop (2006, p. 29ff), Kesayeva (2008)
  • 127 Keen (2006, p. 63), Dunlop (2006, p. 104)

72The FSB is suspected of being involved in several other terror attacks that were blamed on Chechen terrorists, including a railway bombing in Moscow in 1994 before the First Chechen War, the Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002, and the Beslan school siege in 2004.125 One of the worst terrorist acts in modern Russian history was the siege of a school in Beslan in 2004, in which more than a thousand people were held hostage, most of them children. Many of the terrorists were Ingush criminals who had been released from prison a few months prior to the incident or who had mysteriously escaped imprisonment. At least some of these terrorists had to carry out certain operations for the FSB as a condition of their release. One of the terrorists was a double agent. Weapons had been brought into the school before the attack, and it appears that the FSB had prior knowledge of the attack but did not prevent it. Rather than negotiating with the hostage takers, the police stormed the school and killed most of the terrorists. Several hundred hostages died as well.126 Some historians have argued that there was collusion between the Russian government and the Chechen rebels to stage the terrorism incidents and to keep the civil war going.127

Terror attacks of September 11, 2001

  • 128 National Institute of Standards and Technology (2005, 2008)
  • 129 Harrit et al. (2009), Jones et al. (2008)

73The topic of 9/11 is difficult to avoid in this context, even though we do not really know what happened. The official account says that Islamic terrorists led by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan flew hijacked airplanes into the Pentagon and the two towers of the World Trade Center, and that the towers collapsed because of the ensuing fire.128 Important parts of this explanation are contradicted by large amounts of technical evidence. Independent investigations have found evidence that the collapse of the towers was induced by explosives and thermite which was placed inside the buildings.129 We do not know who placed it there or why. Theories range from insurance fraud to the involvement of the CIA or foreign intelligence agencies. A large number of publications of varying quality, too many to review here, have tried to prove or disprove various accounts of what happened on 9/11. In the present situation, neither the official account nor any of the alternative theories are supported by convincing evidence.

74It may seem odd to write about an incident here when we do not know what happened. The point is, however, that the regalizing effect does not depend on what happened, only on what people believe happened.

75Initially, most people believed the official account, but later many people doubted it. In one opinion poll in 2006, 16% of US respondents found it very likely and a further 20% found it somewhat likely that ‘People in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to prevent the attacks because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East’.130 Many other polls show widespread disbelief of the official account. In some polls, the majority of respondents believed that the Bush administration was not telling the whole truth about the event. (These poll publications are no longer available, but the results are summarized with archive references on Wikipedia.)131

76There can be no doubt that the US government took advantage of the psychological tension after 9/11 to get support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many people believe that the US government did more than that and used some of the more severe forms of deception further down the list on page 146 (chapter 6.3), but this remains a matter of speculation.

Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

  • 132 Blix (2004), Eisner and Royce (2007), Pillar (2011, chapter 2)
  • 133 Pillar (2011, chapter 3), Wilkie, A. (2010, p. 95), Calabrese (2005)
  • 134 Ritter and Pitt (2002)
  • 135 Ritter (2005, p. 288)
  • 136 Risen (2006, p. 563)

77Prior to the Iraq War in 2003, the US government claimed that it had evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (that is, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons) in violation of a UN resolution, and accused the Iraqi government, led by Saddam Hussein, of involvement with the militant organization al-Qaeda and in the terror attacks of 9/11. The US administration had put strong pressure on the CIA to produce intelligence reports that supported these claims. Much of the purported evidence relied on misinterpretations, some was knowingly false, and some was even fabricated by an Italian agent.132 The media and populations in the USA and its allied countries mostly believed the propaganda, and this was the basis for going to war in Iraq.133 The former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, had already asserted before the war that the weapons had been destroyed in 1991 and that the production facilities had also been destroyed.134 Ritter later revealed that the UN-sanctioned weapons inspection programme was manipulated and compromised by the CIA to create the illusion that Iraq was resisting disarmament, when in fact Iraq had already disarmed.135 The award-winning journalist James Risen claims that the CIA deliberately ignored reports from some thirty spies in Iraq who all said the same thing: that the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programmes had all been abandoned in 1991.136

  • 137 Wilkie, A. (2010), Aagaard (2005, p. 75, 90), “Profile: Dr David Kelly”. BBC News, January 27, 200 (...)
  • 138 Blix (2004)
  • 139 Pillar (2011, p. 43), Ritter and Pitt (2002, p. 45)

78Whistleblowers in three other countries later confirmed that there was no conclusive evidence of any banned weapons.137 Iraq claimed that the weapons had been destroyed in 1991, and for all that we know following intensive searches before, during, and after the war, this claim appears to be basically true.138 The purported alliance with al-Qaeda did not exist. On the contrary, the Iraqi government was an enemy of al-Qaeda.139

  • 140 Ritter (2005, p. 161), Woodward (2004)
  • 141 Woodward (2004, p. 38)
  • 142 Pillar (2011, chapters 2 and 3), Wilkie, A. (2010, p. 62), Woodward (2004)
  • 143 Pillar (2011, chapters 2 and 3), Wilkie, A. (2010)

79The US government supported coup attempts against Saddam Hussein in 1992 and 1996.140 The decision to wage war against Iraq was made by US President George W. Bush and his staff in 2001.141 This decision was not based on any rational evaluation of available information and options but, according to several analysts, on motives relating to oil supply, geopolitics, revenge for Hussein’s attempt to assassinate Bush’s father, and a naive belief that it was possible to spread democracy in this way.142 The accusations of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist connections served mainly as pretexts for justifying the war. While the decision to attack Iraq lacked in rationality, the deception that was used to justify the war was definitely the result of deliberate planning, although an element of self-deception was also present.143


80Fabrication of dangers and unnecessary conflicts has occurred repeatedly throughout modern history, and many leaders and contenders for leadership have deceived their own populations into believing that their society was more endangered than it actually was. The above accounts are just examples. These examples show that the fabrication of dangers towards one’s own population has occurred primarily in the following situations:

  • Before a war, in order to justify the war and create psychological support for the war. There are many examples of this, including World War II (see below), the Russian-Finnish Winter War, the Vietnam War, the Chechen Wars, the Iraq War, and possibly the Afghanistan War.
  • Before an undemocratic coup or in general to facilitate a transition to a less democratic form of government. This strategy achieved its goal in Germany (under Hitler, see next chapter) and Russia (under Yeltsin and Putin), and was attempted without success in Italy.
  • To strengthen a government when its power is dwindling. This strategy was used in Peru and attempted in Spain.
  • To defame an enemy, as in the case of Cuba.
  • 144 Hirsch-Hoefler, Canetti, Rapaport and Hobfoll (2014)
  • 145 Willer (2004)

81Terrorism provokes strong psychological reactions because it makes civilians feel threatened, even though the casualties are much lower than in conventional war.144 In other words, terrorism is a cheap way of creating regality. Even warnings about possible terror attacks have a regal effect. For example, it has been found that terror warnings have increased the approval ratings for the incumbent US president.145

  • 146 Stempel, Hargrove and Stempel (2007)

82Beliefs in ‘conspiracy theories’ are quite common.146 After almost every major terror attack in recent years, especially since 9/11, there have been rumors and suspicions in the social media that it was a false flag attack. It is quite logical to entertain such suspicions when it is observed that terror attacks are almost always counterproductive. The suspicions and rumors of false flag attacks are quite often false, of course, but they can in fact be true, as we have seen in this chapter. The often-used term ‘false flag attack’ is actually somewhat misleading. The leaders do not want to use their own forces to make the deceptive attacks, but prefer to manipulate others to do it. In many cases, such as the Red Brigades in Italy, some of the terrorists involved were actually ‘true flag’ militants, who honestly believed that they were fighting against the political system, unaware that they were being manipulated by infiltrators to work against their own interests.

83Deceptions like these are obviously difficult to study and document, and many cases may have gone undetected. Objective and reliable information is hard to get, and many information sources are tainted by deception, propaganda, and political bias. We must keep this caveat in mind and consider that there is often more than one interpretation of a situation, and that the above accounts may be inaccurate.

84The deceptive fabrication of threats to one’s own population is predicted by regality theory, as discussed at the beginning of this chapter. The leader simply gets a personal fitness advantage by boosting the regality of his society. Some of the great emperors in history have fathered hundreds of children, but such extreme levels of fecundity belong to the past. Powerful leaders today do not in general have many children, due to the widespread norm of monogamy. Many leaders have mistresses, but they rarely get their mistresses pregnant because of the use of birth control. It is hard to demonstrate that the powerful leaders who live in modern society today have any fitness advantage. If there is any raise in the fertility of powerful leaders at all, it is probably offset by the risk of being killed in a violent overthrow. One of the most powerful evolutionary forces that has driven political leaders to strive for grandeur, majesty, and power has disappeared, but the psychological predisposition for this behavior remains. The behavior of strong leaders and warlords today is a strange mixture of rationality and irrationality. Military strategies, as well as strategies of psychological warfare, are often carefully planned with the use of the best available experts, while the ultimate motive behind the wars and imperialism is hidden in psychological predispositions that evolved in a distant past, driven by fitness advantages that no longer exist today.

6.4. Example: Why World War II started

85A war generally depends on a spiral of increasing regality, and we have to look at the factors that contribute to this spiral of regality in order to explain a war. This chapter will not review or explain the whole history of World War II but will focus on only a few key factors that started the spiral of regality that drove the war.

  • 147 Redlich (1998, pp. 255, 333)

86Many psychologists have tried to explain World War II by analyzing the peculiar psychology of Adolf Hitler, and a long list of diagnoses have been postulated.147 Such an approach gives only a very limited understanding of the causes of the war. I will venture the theory that all countries have a potential Hitler, and that—under different circumstances—Hitler could have remained a painter, as he once was, rather than a warmaker.

87Regality theory allows us to go beyond the explanation of the war as a consequence of Hitler’s postulated psychopathology and try to answer some more basic questions such as: why was Hitler bellicose? Why did the Germans vote for him? Why did they not replace him with someone more peaceful and agreeable? Why did they allow him to abandon democracy and make himself a dictator? How did he manipulate his people to make them support his war?

  • 148 Redlich (1998, p. 5)

88If we want to know why Hitler was bellicose, we may try to start with the same focus as psychologists habitually employ. Psychologists like to analyze people’s childhoods, and it cannot be denied that childhood experiences have a strong influence on people’s personalities. Hitler lost his father and a brother while he was a child, and later lost his mother. Three older siblings had died before Adolf was born.148 These and other traumatic events may have had an influence, but other people with similarly traumatic childhoods have grown up to become peaceful adults. Hitler played war games when he was a child, but this is something that most normal boys do.

  • 149 Redlich (1998, p. 36)

89At the age of twenty-five, Hitler volunteered for a Bavarian regiment to fight in World War I. He was a brave soldier and was promoted to the rank of corporal. He was wounded twice, but survived many dangerous episodes. Thousands of men in his regiment were, however, killed.149

90These experiences during World War I are sufficient to explain Hitler’s regal disposition, although childhood experiences may have laid the foundation. This regal disposition can explain his passion for war and his disdain for democracy. It also explains why he was so receptive to anti-Semitic ideas, which were common in Germany at the time.

91A study of Hitler’s personality may explain the behavior of one person, but it does not answer the more important question of why the German people supported him and his ideas. We have to look at the general political, social, and psychological climate of the time.

92The first half of the twentieth century was a period with many wars in Europe. The Ottoman Empire was in decline, and other countries with imperial ambitions were eager to fill the power vacuum. Shifting alliances, contests of power, and arms races led to World War I, which ended with total humiliation of Germany.

93Europe was not a peaceful place after World War I. There were many wars and violent uprisings all over Europe that contributed to a general insecure and warlike climate.

  • 150 Heinsohn (2003, p. 23), Weber (2013), Moller (1968)

94The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Germany particularly hard, with unemployment rates over 30%. The population was relatively young due to a high rate of population growth. The combination of a youth bulge and a high unemployment rate is a dangerous cocktail. It was easy to mobilize the large surplus of unemployed and frustrated young people by means of a violent ideology.150 The psychological consequences of economic crises were discussed in chapter 5.2.

  • 151 Padgett and Jorgenson (1982)

95The aftermath of World War I and the economic crisis provided fertile breeding ground for the nationalist and racist ideology called National Socialism, or Nazism. This ideology was promoted by the National Socialist German Workers’Party, led by Hitler. There is general agreement among historians that the economic crisis contributed to the rise of Nazism. A study of Germany in the interwar years has found significant correlations between economic indicators and various measures of authoritarianism. The strongest correlation was between the unemployment rate and the votes for Hitler.151

  • 152 Von Saldern (2004), Zimmermann (2007)

96The Nazi ideology was promoted by massive propaganda, organized by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, headed by Joseph Goebbels. The most powerful mass media at the time were radio and cinema films. The Nazis promoted the distribution of radios and the sale of cheap radios so that, by 1938, 60% of all households owned a radio receiver. Radio broadcasting in Germany was initially intended to be an apolitical cultural institution with the purpose of educating the population. Nationalist sentiments were common on radio programmes in Weimar Germany, but this was not perceived as controversial. When the Nazis came to power, they used the radio for propaganda purposes and broadcast political speeches. The radio propaganda must have had a strong influence on the German population, since they were unaccustomed to organized propaganda at this scale, while counterpropaganda was only available from foreign media. The Nazi propaganda promoted an ideology of racial superiority and territorial expansion (Lebensraum) and blamed the economic crisis on Jews and other foreigners.152

  • 153 Hett (2014)

97Fabrication of threats, as discussed in chapter 6.3, was used both for suspending democracy and as a pretext for starting the war. In February 1933, the Parliament building (Reichstag) in Berlin was set on fire. A young, homeless, visually impaired Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe, was arrested inside the burning building. Van der Lubbe, a communist, readily confessed that he had set the fire for political reasons, and he was sentenced to death.153

Figure 12. Burning German Parliament, 1933. Bundesarchiv.154

98The German government, led by Hitler, blamed the attack on the Communist Party and arrested a large number of communists including all of the communist members of the parliament. The Nazi party now had an absolute majority in the parliament, which allowed them to suspend democracy and civil liberties under the pretext of preventing a communist uprising. This key event made Germany a dictatorship until the end of the war and allowed Hitler to rule without opposition.

  • 155 Hett (2014), Shirer (1960, p. 191)

99However, technical evidence indicates that van der Lubbe could not have started the fire alone, and Nazi leader Hermann Göring admitted that he was responsible for the fire, according to one witness testimony.155

  • 156 Whitehead (2008)

100In 1939, the Germans made a propaganda campaign to justify an invasion of Poland. This campaign, known as Operation Himmler, involved various false flag operations that simulated Polish attacks on Germany. On 31 August that year, German soldiers dressed in Polish uniforms attacked a number of buildings in Germany, including a radio station, and left behind dead bodies, most of them in Polish uniforms to make it appear that Polish attackers had been shot down. The dead bodies were in fact not Polish soldiers but prisoners from concentration camps that had been killed for this purpose. Hitler made a public speech the next day, claiming twenty-one alleged attacks as justification for military invasion of Poland. This was the start of World War II.156


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156 Whitehead (2008)

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 11. Aldo Moro in captivity, 1978. The kidnappers published this photo, which made sure that everybody associated the action with the left-wing group Brigate Rosse.89
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Légende Figure 12. Burning German Parliament, 1933. Bundesarchiv.154
Fichier image/jpeg, 205k


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