Hyping Terror For Fun, Profit And Power
What if there really was no need for much – or even most – of the Cold War? What if, in fact, the Cold War had been kept alive for two decades based on phony WMD threats?
What if, similarly, the War on Terror was largely a scam, and the administration was hyping it to seem larger-than-life? What if our "enemy" represented a real but relatively small threat posed by rogue and criminal groups well outside the mainstream of Islam? What if that hype was done largely to enhance the power, electability and stature of George W. Bush and Tony Blair?
And what if the world was to discover the most shocking dimensions of these twin deceits – that the same men promulgated them in the 1970's and today?
The myth-shattering event took place in England the first three weeks of October, when the BBC aired a three-hour documentary written and produced by Adam Curtis, titled "The Power of Nightmares." If the emails and phone calls many of us in the US received from friends in the UK, and debate in the pages of publications like The Guardian are any indicator, this was a seismic event, one that may have even provoked a hasty meeting between Blair and Bush a few weeks later.
According to this carefully researched and well-vetted BBC documentary, Richard Nixon, following in the steps of his mentor and former boss Dwight D. Eisenhower, believed it was possible to end the Cold War and eliminate fear from the national psyche. The nation need no longer be afraid of communism or the Soviet Union. Nixon worked out a truce with the Soviets, meeting their demands for safety as well as the US needs for security, and then announced to Americans that they need no longer be afraid.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon returned from the Soviet Union with a treaty worked out by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the beginning of a process Kissinger called "détente." On June 1, 1972, Nixon gave a speech in which he said, "Last Friday, in Moscow, we witnessed the beginning of the end of that era which began in 1945. With this step, we have enhanced the security of both nations. We have begun to reduce the level of fear, by reducing the causes of fear-for our two peoples, and for all peoples in the world."
But Nixon left amid scandal and Ford came in, and Ford's Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) and Chief of Staff (Dick Cheney) believed it was intolerable that Americans might no longer be bound by fear. Without fear, how could Americans be manipulated?
Rumsfeld and Cheney began a concerted effort – first secretly and then openly – to undermine Nixon's treaty for peace and to rebuild the state of fear and, thus, reinstate the Cold War. And these two men – 1974 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Ford Chief of Staff Dick Cheney – did this by claiming that the Soviets had secret weapons of mass destruction that the president didn't know about, that the CIA didn't know about, that nobody but them knew about. And, they said, because of those weapons, the US must redirect billions of dollars away from domestic programs and instead give the money to defense contractors for whom these two men would one day work.
"The Soviet Union has been busy," Defense Secretary Rumsfeld explained to America in 1976. "They've been busy in terms of their level of effort; they've been busy in terms of the actual weapons they've been producing; they've been busy in terms of expanding production rates; they've been busy in terms of expanding their institutional capability to produce additional weapons at additional rates; they've been busy in terms of expanding their capability to increasingly improve the sophistication of those weapons. Year after year after year, they've been demonstrating that they have steadiness of purpose. They're purposeful about what they're doing."
The CIA strongly disagreed, calling Rumsfeld's position a "complete fiction" and pointing out that the Soviet Union was disintegrating from within, could barely afford to feed their own people, and would collapse within a decade or two if simply left alone. But Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted Americans to believe there was something nefarious going on, something we should be very afraid of. To this end, they convinced President Ford to appoint a commission including their old friend Paul Wolfowitz to prove that the Soviets were up to no good.
According to Curtis' BBC documentary, Wolfowitz's group, known as "Team B," came to the conclusion that the Soviets had developed several terrifying new weapons of mass destruction, featuring a nuclear-armed submarine fleet that used a sonar system that didn't depend on sound and was, thus, undetectable with our current technology. The BBC's documentarians asked Dr. Anne Cahn of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during that time, her thoughts on Rumsfeld's, Cheney's, and Wolfowitz's 1976 story of the secret Soviet WMDs. Here's a clip from a transcript of that BBC documentary:
Dr Anne Cahn, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1977-80: "They couldn't say that the Soviets had acoustic means of picking up American submarines, because they couldn't find it. So they said, well maybe they have a non-acoustic means of making our submarine fleet vulnerable. But there was no evidence that they had a non-acoustic system. They're saying, 'we can't find evidence that they're doing it the way that everyone thinks they're doing it, so they must be doing it a different way. We don't know what that different way is, but they must be doing it.'"
Interviewer (off-camera): "Even though there was no evidence."
Cahn: "Even though there was no evidence."
Interviewer: "So they're saying there, that the fact that the weapon doesn't exist…"
Cahn: "Doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. It just means that we haven't found it."
The moderator of the BBC documentary then notes: "What Team B accused the CIA of missing was a hidden and sinister reality in the Soviet Union. Not only were there many secret weapons the CIA hadn't found, but they were wrong about many of those they could observe, such as the Soviet air defenses. The CIA were convinced that these were in a state of collapse, reflecting the growing economic chaos in the Soviet Union. Team B said that this was actually a cunning deception by the Soviet régime. The air-defense system worked perfectly. But the only evidence they produced to prove this was the official Soviet training manual, which proudly asserted that their air-defense system was fully integrated and functioned flawlessly. The CIA accused Team B of moving into a fantasy world."
Nonetheless, as Melvin Goodman, head of the CIA's Office of Soviet Affairs, 1976-87, noted in the BBC documentary, "Rumsfeld won that very intense, intense political battle that was waged in Washington in 1975 and 1976. Now, as part of that battle, Rumsfeld and others, people such as Paul Wolfowitz, wanted to get into the CIA. And their mission was to create a much more severe view of the Soviet Union, Soviet intentions, Soviet views about fighting and winning a nuclear war."
Although Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld's assertions of powerful new Soviet WMDs were unproven – they said the lack of proof proved that undetectable weapons existed – they nonetheless used their charges to push for dramatic escalations in military spending to selected defense contractors, a process that continued through the Reagan administration.
But trillions of dollars and years later it was proven that they had been wrong all along, and the CIA had been right. Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz lied to America in the 1970s about Soviet WMDs. Not only do we now know that the Soviets didn't have any new and impressive WMDs, but we also now know that they were, in fact, decaying from within, ripe for collapse any time, regardless of what the US did, just as the CIA (and anybody who visited Soviet states – as I had – during that time could easily predict). The Soviet economic and political system wasn't working, and their military was disintegrating.
As arms-control expert Cahn noted in the documentary of those 1970s claims by Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld:
Cahn: "I would say that all of it was fantasy. I mean, they looked at radars out in Krasnoyarsk and said, 'This is a laser beam weapon,' when in fact it was nothing of the sort….And if you go through most of Team B's specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong."
Interviewer: "All of them?"
Cahn: "All of them."
Interviewer: "Nothing true?"
Cahn: "I don't believe anything in [Wolfowitz's 1977] Team B was really true."
But the neocons said it was true, and organized a group – The Committee on the Present Danger – to promote their worldview. The Committee produced documentaries, publications, and provided guests for national talk shows and news reports. They worked hard to whip up fear and encourage increases in defense spending, particularly for sophisticated weapons systems offered by the defense contractors for whom neocons would later become lobbyists. And they succeeded in recreating an atmosphere of fear in the United States, and making themselves and their defense contractor friends richer than most of the kingdoms of the world. The Cold War was good for business, and good for the political power of its advocates, from Rumsfeld to Reagan.
Similarly, according to this documentary, the War on Terror is the same sort of scam, run for many of the same reasons, by the same people. And by hyping it – and then invading Iraq – we may well be bringing into reality terrors and forces that previously existed only on the margins and with very little power to harm us. Curtis' documentary suggests that the War on Terror is just as much a fiction as were the super-WMDs this same group of neocons said the Soviets had in the 70s. He suggests we've done more to create terror than to fight it. That the risk was really quite minimal (at least until we invaded Iraq), and the terrorists are – like most terrorist groups – simply people on the fringes, rather easily dispatched by their own people. He even points out that Al Qaeda itself was a brand we invented, later adopted by bin Laden because we'd put so many millions into creating worldwide name recognition for it.
Watching "The Power of Nightmares" is like taking the Red Pill in the movie The Matrix. It's the story of idealism gone wrong, of ideologies promoted in the US by Leo Strauss and his followers (principally Wolfowitz, Feith, and Pearle), and in the Muslim world by bin Laden's mentor, Ayman Zawahiri. Both sought to create a utopian world through world domination; both believe that the ends justify the means; both are convinced that "the people" must be frightened into embracing religion and nationalism for the greater good of morality and a stable state. Each needs the other in order to hold power.
Whatever your plans are for tonight or tomorrow, clip three hours out of them and take the Red Pill. Get a pair of headphones (the audio is faint), plug them into your computer, and visit an unofficial archive of the Curtis' BBC documentary at http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/video1037.htm. But be forewarned: You'll never see political reality – and certainly never hear the words of the Bush or Blair administrations – the same again.
Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show. His most recent books are The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, and What Would Jefferson Do?: A Return To Democracy. For more information visit http://www.thomhartmann.com. This essay originally appeared on CommonDreams.org December 7, 2004.