Azara Blog: The Power of Nightmares, Part 1

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Date published: 2005/01/19

The BBC is re-running a three-part series called the Power of Nightmares, in which Adam Curtis suggests that governments of the world have long since given up trying to promote a positive message for the future and instead try and promote a nightmarish view of the future so people will be scared into giving the politicians more and more power. Certainly the post-9/11 hysteria in the US promoted by the Bush administration is a good example, but of course the Americans have been crying wolf since World War II.

The BBC does not have a transcript of the program on their website but it is available elsewhere on the web, via a simple google search (for example here).

In Part 1 the scariest thing that came out is that the fantasists who cried wolf about the Soviet Union's military threat in the 1970s and 1980s still claim today that their fantasies were true, although there never was any evidence to support this. And even worse, they are in charge in Washington today, and so rule the US and the world.

A small sampling of the fantasies (VO = voiceover):

VO: To persuade the President, the neoconservatives set out to prove that the Soviet threat was far greater than anyone, even Team B, had previously shown. They would demonstrate that the majority of terrorism and revolutionary movements around the world were actually part of a secret network, coordinated by Moscow, to take over the world. The main proponent of this theory was a leading neoconservative who was the special adviser to the Secretary of State. His name was Michael Ledeen, and he had been influenced by a best-selling book called The Terror Network. It alleged that terrorism was not the fragmented phenomenon that it appeared to be. In reality, all terrorist groups, from the PLO to the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany, and the Provisional IRA, all of them were a part of a coordinated strategy of terror run by the Soviet Union. But the CIA completely disagreed. They said this was just another neoconservative fantasy.

MICHAEL LEDEEN, Special Adviser to the US Secretary of State 1981-1982: The CIA denied it. They tried to convince people that we were really crazy. I mean, they never believed that the Soviet Union was a driving force in the international terror network. They always wanted to believe that terrorist organizations were just what they said they were: local groups trying to avenge terrible evils done to them, or trying to rectify terrible social conditions, and things like that. And the CIA really did buy into the rhetoric. I don't know what their motive was. I mean, I don't know what people's motives are, hardly ever. And I don't much worry about motives.

VO: But the neoconservatives had a powerful ally. He was William Casey, and he was the new head of the CIA. Casey was sympathetic to the neoconservative view. And when he read the Terror Network book, he was convinced. He called a meeting of the CIA's Soviet analysts at their headquarters, and told them to produce a report for the President that proved this hidden network existed. But the analysts told him that this would be impossible, because much of the information in the book came from black propaganda the CIA themselves had invented to smear the Soviet Union. They knew that the terror network didn&';t exist, because they themselves had made it up.

MELVIN GOODMAN, Head of Soviet Affairs CIA, 1976-87: And when we looked through the book, we found very clear episodes where CIA black propaganda -- clandestine information that was designed under a covert action plan to be planted in European newspapers -- were picked up and put in this book. A lot of it was made up. It was made up out of whole cloth.

INTERVIEWER (off-camera): You told him this?

GOODMAN : We told him that, point blank. And we even had the operations people to tell Bill Casey this. I thought maybe this might have an impact, but all of us were dismissed. Casey had made up his mind. He knew the Soviets were involved in terrorism, so there was nothing we could tell him to disabuse him. Lies became reality.

VO: In the end, Casey found a university professor who described himself as a terror expert, and he produced a dossier that confirmed that the hidden terror network did, in fact, exist. Under such intense lobbying, Reagan agreed to give the neoconservatives what they wanted, and in 1983 he signed a secret document that fundamentally changed American foreign policy. The country would now fund covert wars to push back the hidden Soviet threat around the world.

As Kevin Drum would say, you couldn't make this stuff up.

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