al-Qaeda: al-CIA-duh!

CIA, Pakistani, Saudi ties

BBC: The Power of Nightmares

Part I: Baby It's Cold Outside

Part II: The Phantom Victory

Part III: The Shadows in the Cave,12780,1327904,00.html
The making of the terror myth
Since September 11 Britain has been warned of the 'inevitability' of catastrophic terrorist attack. But has the danger been exaggerated? A major new TV documentary claims that the perceived threat is a politically driven fantasy - and al-Qaida a dark illusion. Andy Beckett reports Friday October 15, 2004 The Guardian

available for free viewing at

In the past our politicians offered us dreams of a better world. Now they promise to protect us from nightmares.
The most frightening of these is the threat of an international terror network. But just as the dreams were not true, neither are these nightmares.
In a new series, the Power of Nightmares explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion.
It is a myth that has spread unquestioned through politics, the security services and the international media.
At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists.
Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world.

“Throughout the world ... its agents, client states and satellites are on the defensive -- on the moral defensive, the intellectual defensive, and the political and economic defensive. Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They're doing so on almost every continent populated by man -- in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America ... [They are] freedom fighters.”
- President Ronald Reagan, March 8, 1985

"Bin Laden does not have the capabilities for an operation of this magnitude. When I hear Bush talking about al-Qaida as if it was Nazi Germany or the communist party of the Soviet Union, I laugh because I know what is there. Bin Laden has been under surveillance for years: every telephone call was monitored and al-Qaida has been penetrated by American intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, Saudi intelligence, Egyptian intelligence. They could not have kept secret an operation that required such a degree of organisation and sophistication."
`There isn't a target in Afghanistan worth a $1m missile' Mohamed Heikal 10 October 2001 The Guardian

this message was written on 9/11/2001 ... one of the more interesting early analyses

Peeling the Onion of 9/11

Dear Friends,

I have always reserved this email list for information related to low frequency active sonar. Today, however, is a very different day in so many ways that I have decided to share with you a message I received.
As some of you may know, I served as legal counsel at the Christic Institute during the 1980s. The major case we pursued was a racketeering case against the private, off-the-shelf, covert operators conducting the Iran-contra operation [orchestrated by George Bush].
During that litigation, I got a good look at the dark side of the U.S. democratic experiment. To summarize that perspective, the commitment to democracy unleashed great creative potential for innovation that in turn produced massive wealth. The commitment to democracy then got lost in the pursuit of materialism. The large corporations received recognition in the law as persons, their contributions polluted the democratic process, the government became an extension of their blind advocacy of an unlimited right to devour the Earth's resources, and the military-industrial-intelligence complex became a second government within the government holding more power than the publicly presented government.
To preserve and enhance the national security state, things were done supposedly in the interest of the American people that the people knew nothing about and not have approved had they known. Death squads, assassinations, subversion of indigenous movements, overthrow of democratically elected governments, and other manifestations of the national security state agenda took place out of sight. Only occasionally did these actions surface, such as Cointelpro conducted by the FBI to discredit and destroy dissenting groups.
A dream image captured the essence of what was happening. I was watching people sitting on the ground picnicking with their families while a band played happy music in a nearby bandstand. Behind the picnickers was a high, black wall that the people did not notice. Every now and then, a figure would slip out from under the wall, go out into the world and perform some abominable act, and then slip back again - all without anyone noticing. That is what U.S. history looks like when you step back and objectively observe what has been done.
Outside dreamtime, our investigation into the history of U.S. covert operations revealed the patterns of behavior that manifest in such events as Iran-contra.
During the Iran-contra involvement, I met various people inside the intelligence establishment who continued to struggle to prevent the abuses that were bringing the U.S. into disrepute throughout the world. This evening, I received a message from one of those people regarding the events unfolding today. I neither reject nor embrace the analysis set forth in the message. Ever since the Iran-contra investigation, I have kept an open mind regarding how to interpret unfolding events that are often very different from what they seem on the surface.
I send you this message to provide you with a perspective that you will not hear or see on CNN or any other major media outlet. In times like these, it is even more important to keep our wits about us and not be sucked into anyone else's script, even this one.

Lanny Sinkin
11:00 p.m.; 9/11/01


"Aloha to you my friend,

I know that the many discoveries and lessons we shared during the Christic investigation are still fresh in your memory. I have applied our analytical technique to the events unfolding today and thought you might enjoy the musings that resulted.

There is always the onion. You peel off one layer and there is another layer underneath. I think Warren Christopher sought to encourage such peeling on CNN today. He said that while we may rush to conclude the bin Laden is the author of the events, it is important to dig deeper than that surface analysis to find the true perpetrators. As with most of the liberal Democrats, Christopher is not going to come right out and say what he thinks he knows. After all, during Iran-contra, when Congressman Jack Brooks of Texas asked Oliver North about his plan to suspend the U.S. Constitution (hatched inside FEMA), it was liberal Democrat Daniel Inouye who cut off the question and shuffled that subject off into executive session.

Let's start with the Taliban. Russia invades Afghanistan. The CIA is loosed to fight them. Actually, as you know, the CIA is simply the visible agency for the much larger group of agencies that conduct U.S. covert policies and that are in turn part of an international network of covert organizations pursuing common policies in many instances. The CIA looks for a group that will meet certain criteria, such as fanatical enough to conduct a guerilla war, disciplined, hardy, and amenable to outside support to fulfill their perceived mission. Enter the Taliban, a relatively obscure group preaching a fanatical version of Islam that bears little resemblance to the actual religious teachings and is rejected by most Islamic movements. The value of their beliefs is that the Russians fit their model of the unbeliever, who must be destroyed. On the border near Pakistan, they are available. Kissinger had already put the "tilt toward Pakistan" in motion. So the onion now has three layers - U.S./CIA, Pakistan, Taliban. Arming, training, and supplying the Taliban through Pakistan, the CIA experiences a rare success. The Taliban and others inflict so much damage on the Russian forces that Russian public opinion (similar to U.S. public opinion during Vietnam) turns against the war and forces Russia to withdraw.

Now armed and dangerous, the Taliban turn their guns on competing groups within Afghanistan and rise to national dominance. Women, foreign missionaries, and other groups not holding a sufficiently holy place to be considered righteous become targets of Taliban fanaticism. Ben Laden is considered a true believer with the resources to do a lot of harm to the unrighteous and finds a home in Afghanistan.

To the onion now has four layers: U.S./CIA; Pakistan; Taliban; Ben Laden.

The final layer of the onion is the semi-independent cells with the Laden network. Even better would be to have sent recruits in to Laden to form such cells that would actually operate under control external to Laden.

Enter Bush and Company. With practically all the judges on the federal bench now appointees of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush (the elder), stealing an election through the Supreme Court is a piece of cake. The Iran-contra gang comes storming back into power. The appointment of Richard Armitage as Deputy Secretary of State is like a rooster crowing in terms of announcing who is in charge. Colin Powell is window dressing.

The old gang sets about doing what they always wanted to do (loot and pillage) and undoing what they always wanted undone (environmental protection, civil rights, etc.) They follow the old axiom of do everything controversial you can in the first months of office to give people time to forget. Withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty, leaving arsenic in the water, violating and then withdrawing from the ABM treaty, promulgating a "reward your friends" energy policy, etc. all will predictably lead to an alienation of the electorate.

Sure enough, the opposition begins to strengthen. Your campaign to stop deployment of low frequency active sonar is only one of many campaigns that have mobilized people, fattened the coffers of opposition organizations, and produced a greater willingness to challenge the actions of the government.

The next step is to powerfully impact the emotional body of the electorate and cause the nation to rally behind the President and the military. The Gulf War model is not readily available. You remember how U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie told Hussein that the dispute between Kuwait and Iraq was a local matter and how Hussein swallowed that fly like a hungry trout. Then Bush (the elder) got to unite the world to drive Hussein out of Kuwait. Those types of manipulation are not so easy to find. So back to the onion.

The terrorist bin Laden or elements of his network are available as a surrogate. Only this time the purpose of the surrogate is not to fight someone else. The purpose is to terrorize the U.S. population into embracing Bush and Company.

Laden's big actions to date have generally involved getting a bomb into some place where it can cause harm, such as a truck aimed at an embassy gate or a small boat aimed at a large ship. This time, however, he will make a great leap forward into being able to recruit four teams that are capable of hijacking four different airplanes from three different airports, conducting the hijacking with such swiftness that none of the legitimate crew can punch in the hijack code, flying those airplanes without the crew in place, navigating those airplanes to separate targets with high impact potential (Trade Center innocents, military hq, and presidential retreat plus the passengers), and impacting three of the four targets in a very short period of time, thereby inflicting the damage in such a way as to have the most emotional impact on the population.

The onion provides plausible deniability. Assistance will be provided through cooperating elements of Pakistani intelligence and then through cooperating elements in the Taliban to bin Laden and perhaps on to elements of Laden's network operating without his direct control. The network cell conducting the operation will be suicide squads, perhaps recruited from the Palestinian population. Deniability for everyone and obliteration for the perpetrators. Pretty clean all around.

Laden will never know that he is a pawn of the U.S. national security state. He will believe that Allah has suddenly blessed him with resources and capability that previously eluded him. He will be the trout. Once he takes the bait, he will be the new demon, the country will rally behind the President and the military to exorcise their fears, and everyone will forget all the terrible things Bush and Company did since January. I would assume that you will have a very hard time getting anyone to pay any attention to low frequency active sonar, particularly as your position can be painted as impeding military preparedness at a time when terrorists and rogue nations are on a rampage. Sorry about the whales.

As you may have noted, President Bush (the younger) appointed his campaign manager head of FEMA. While being given charge of an agency that provides financial and other assistance in time of flood and other natural disaster may not seem like much of a reward for returning the White House to the national security state, there are still all those pesky little executive orders that essentially turn the country over to FEMA in times of national instability. As events unfolded today, FEMA took charge.

Once the deed is done, tracks are to be covered. An amusing CNN story today was the "leak" from law enforcement that the FBI intended to execute search warrants tomorrow in Hollywood and Daytona Beach, Florida. Of course, law enforcement, particularly in highly sensitive cases, always broadcasts in advance to potential suspects their intent to conduct a search the next day. CNN, which would almost certainly withhold a story about a planned military action during wartime, somehow cannot contain itself and breaks the news to the perpetrators that a trail needs to be covered. Alternatively, the search sites need to be sown with the necessary evidence to continue pointing the finger in the "right" direction. Perhaps they will find a diary of one of the perpetrators detailing their service to Allah against the U.S. Satan and their allegiance to bin Laden. The FBI will find whatever it is that others want them to find.

It will be interesting to watch as the cover up continues. Will evidence be lost? Will evidence be fabricated? Witnesses die mysteriously? Stay tuned if you can stomach it all.

Well color me cynical if you will. I have seen enough of how these guys operate to find this entire episode simply too useful politically and too perfect in execution. I hope you enjoy these musings. No need to reply."

the propaganda preparation for 9/11

an insightful article that starts with the death of the FBI's chief counter-terrorist (John O'Neill) in the WTC attack. O'Neill had recently quit the FBI in frustration that his investigations into al-Qaeda were being blocked by the administration, and had just started a new job as Security Director for the WTC complex. Recommended reading for an insight into how "intelligence" operations work, and a probable explanation of what actually happened.

Monday, December 06, 2004
'Reality Is a Construction...': Sander Hicks and the 9/11 Truth Movement

Look closer at 9/11 and it seems likely Mohamed Atta was a double agent, playing both sides. Look at Daniel Hopsicker’s work in Florida, that tracks Atta’s moves in strip clubs and cocaine bars. How did Atta get in this country twice without a visa? The guy had juice. Or look at Professor Peter Dale Scott’s excellent excoriation of the 9/11 Commission Report, called “How to Stop Terrorism.” Al Qaeda chieftain Ali Mohamed was “almost certainly an out-of-control informant for the FBI.” Scott backs this up with sources and the paper trail. Ali Mohamed is the guy who photographed the Kenyan embassy that Al Qaeda then bombed. He’s an Al Qaeda mastermind, and like, Atta, is also Egyptian. I wonder which one of these guys was that “mole” that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was referring to when in Fall, 2001 he told newspapers Egyptian intelligence and Mubarak himself warned the US about 9/11.
So, I think the question is a little bit off, because you’re suggesting this country (USA) may have been foiled by its own arrogance and its racist assumption that the terrorists couldn’t have pulled this off, right? Well, what I’m saying is that the $400 billion a year war machine and the $40 billion a year intelligence machine had its paw prints all over these guys. They didn’t underestimate them. They allowed these guys to get riled up for a cause, and then do something that would in the end, hurt that cause greatly. Because it would justify a US military expansion.
The real racist tragedy is when you have 9/11 people who know nothing about history or foreign policy or politics who advance theories that completely ignore smoking guns, like the CIA/ISI connection. Their theories tend to veer into the esoteric. Really imaginative territory, like the “In Plane Sight” video. I’m not sure who they blame, they seem to think that the attack originated deep inside the war machine itself. But Arab anger is real. The real trick is to not only see it, but to understand it, and then to understand how it could have been manipulated. In the end, double agent Atta swore allegiance to Bin Laden, and that’s who he died for. He cared very deeply about the Palestinian “homeland” as he called it. If he did have US intel connections, as the evidence shows, he was probably thinking he could play both sides and then have it blow up in our face. What he didn’t figure is his handlers were one step ahead of him.

January 2021, 2006 -- What's not right about the Osama Bin Laden audio tape. One thing that the Bush administration does well is manage perceptions of the public. Amid protests over the NSA wiretapping, the extension of the Patriot Act, and the nomination of neo-Fascist Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, an audio tape on Osama Bin Laden is sent to Al Jazzera. On the tape, Bin Laden suddenly veers from being a traditional right-wing Wahhabi fanatic to the right of the House of Saud to a leftist progressive. The tape by Bin Laden was quickly verified as "authentic" by a CIA that is now firmly in the grasp of neo-cons under Porter Goss.
However, the tape is an obvious fake being used by the Bush administration to scare Americans into believing "Al Qaeda" is making plans for another attack and an attempt to link Bin Laden to Democrats.
The reason the tape is as phony as Niger yellowcake documents and Saddam's weapons of mass destruction is as plain as day. "Bin Laden" allegedly quotes from the introduction of a book written by long-time Washington, DC progressive author and journalist and a friend of mine, Bill Blum. Bill was once an editor and contributor to Covert Action Quarterly, a magazine devoted to exposing CIA operations like the arming, funding, and training of Bin Laden and his mujaheddin guerrillas during the Afghan-Soviet war.
The Bush perception managers are either incredibly stupid or are trying to ensnare liberal journalists as aiders and abettors of Al Qaeda, something that is certainly within their scope. Bin Laden allegedly quotes the following passage from Blum's book, Rogue State: "If you (Americans) are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you. And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it would be useful for you to read the book Rogue State, which states in its introduction: 'If I were president, I would stop the attacks on the United States: First I would give an apology to all the widows and orphans and those who were tortured. Then I would announce that American interference in the nations of the world has ended once and for all.'" However, this quote is not from Rogue State, again, pointing to a very bad forgery of the Bin Laden audiotape. No sooner had the alleged Bin Laden tape been released, neo-con activist Cliff Kincaid was already spinning nonsense about Blum and his publisher, Common Courage Press of Monroe, Maine, being part of some sort of pro-Bin Laden progressive and liberal "Fifth Columnist" grouping in the United States.
Bin Laden might not be so eager to quote Blum if he was aware of his other work, Killing Hope, an expose of the CIA's covert wars. In it, Blum defends to Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as self-defense against the CIA-backed Islamist guerrillas, including Bin Laden's forces, that were backed by the CIA. Now, why would Bin Laden plug an author like Blum who backed Bin Laden's hated enemies, the Soviet Communists and their Afghan allies? Because the Bin Laden tape and his purported oratory are frauds. In Killing Hope, this is what Blum wrote about Bin Laden and his CIA masters' war in Afghanistan:
"The new government under President Taraki declared a commitment to Islam within a secular state, and to non-alignment in foreign affairs. It said the coup was not foreign inspired and that they were not Communists but rather nationalists and revolutionaries. They pushed radical reforms, they talked about class struggle, they used anti-imperialist rhetoric, they supported Cuba, they signed a friendship treaty and other cooperative agreements with the Soviets and they increased the number of Soviet civilian and military advisers in Afghanistan.... In May 1979, British political scientist Fred Halliday said 'probably more has changed in the countryside over the last year than in the two centuries since the state was established.'
In March 1979, Afghan President Taraki visited Moscow to request Soviet help to fight the mujahideen. The Soviets did promise some military aid, but they would not commit ground troops. As Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin told Taraki: 'The entry of our troops into Afghanistan would outrage the international community, triggering a string of extremely negative consequences. Our common enemies are just waiting for the moment when Soviet troops appear in Afghanistan. This will give them the excuse they need to send armed bands into the country.'
. . . prior to the Soviet invasion, the CIA had been beaming radio propaganda into Afghanistan and cultivating alliances with exiled Afghan guerrilla leaders by donating medicine and communications equipment. U.S. foreign service officers had been meeting with Mujahideen leaders to determine their needs at least as early as April 1979. And, in July, President Carter had signed a 'finding' to aid the rebels covertly, which led to the U.S. providing them with cash, weapons, equipment and supplies, and engaging in propaganda and other psychological operations in Afghanistan on their behalf."
So, we're now supposed to believe that Bin Laden has come around to plug the book written by an author who demonstrated that the Soviet cause in Afghanistan was for self-defense and in furtherance of the well-being of the Afghan people and that Bin Laden's and his mujaheddin compatriots' cause was anti-progressive and destabilizing to the central Asian region? This would be laughable if it were not for the fact that the neo-cons are once again using the Big Lie to further their ambitions of global domination and worldwide fascism. The 911 attacks are beginning to look more and more like the Reichstag Fire, both engineered to bring about fascist control.

Chaos and Fractals in Financial Markets
Part 5
by J. Orlin Grabbe

Louis Bachelier Visits the New York Stock Exchange
Louis Bachelier, resurrected for the moment, recently visited the New York Stock Exchange at the end of May 1999. He was somewhat puzzled by all the hideous concrete barriers around the building at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets. For a moment he thought he was in Washington, D.C., on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Bachelier was accompanied by an angelic guide named Pete. "The concrete blocks are there because of Osama bin Ladin," Pete explained. "He’s a terrorist." Pete didn’t bother to mention the blocks had been there for years. He knew Bachelier wouldn’t know the difference.
"You know, a ruffian, a scoundrel."
"Oh," Bachelier mused. "Bin Ladin. The son of Ladin."
"Yes, and before that, there was Abu Nidal."
"Abu Nidal. The father of Nidal. Hey! Ladin is just Nidal spelled backwards. So we’ve gone from the father of Nidal to the son of backwards-Nidal?"
"Yes," Pete said cryptically. "The spooks are never too creative when they are manufacturing the boogeyman of the moment. If you want to understand all this, read about ‘Goldstein’ and the daily scheduled ‘Two Minutes Hate’ in George Orwell’s book 1984.
"1984? Let’s see, that was fifteen years ago," Bachelier said. "A historical work?"
"Actually, it’s futuristic. But he who controls the present controls the past, and he who controls the past controls the future."

How to Unseat the War Criminals and Reverse the Tide of War?
Expose the Links between Al Qaeda and the Bush Administration

by Michel Chossudovsky, author of international best seller War and Globalization, The Truth behind September 11

When people across the US find out that Al Qaeda is not linked to Saddam but is in fact a creation of the CIA and that the terrorist warnings are fabricated, the legitimacy of the Bush Administration will tumble like a deck of cards. The perceived enemy will no longer be Saddam, it will be Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, et al. Why is this important for the antiwar movement? This relationship of the Bush Administration to international terrorism, which is a matter of public record, indelibly points to the criminalisation of the upper echelons of US State apparatus.

Let's use this information to dismantle the Bush Administration's war plans. Sensitize our fellow citizens. Expose the "dubious links." Because when the truth trickles down, the leaders' war plans will not have a shred of legitimacy in the eyes of millions of Americans who believe that Al Qaeda is "A Threat to America" and that their president is committed to their security.

At this crucial juncture in our history, we must understand that antiwar sentiment in itself does not undermine the war agenda. The same applies to the diplomatic deadlock at the UN Security Council: The Bush Administration is intent upon waging war with or without UN approval. The only way to prevent this war from happening in the weeks ahead is to unseat the rulers, who are war criminals. A precondition for breaking the legitimacy of the Bush Administration is to fully reveal its links to international terrorism and its complicity in the tragic event of 9/11. This objective can only be achieved by effectively curbing its propaganda campaign and spreading the truth through a grassroots citizen's information campaign.

Moreover, while mobilizing millions of people around the World, the antiwar protest movement remains profoundly divided. Many of the civil society and trade union organizations which have taken a stance against the invasion of Iraq, were nonetheless supportive of the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation to the September 11 attacks. While integrating the anti-war movement, they remain convinced that Al Qaeda is "a threat to America" and global security. They firmly believe in the so-called "war on terrorism’ against the alleged perpetrators of 9/11 and are broadly supportive of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist agenda: "We are against the invasion of Iraq, but we should go after Al Qaeda." "We believe that Iraq is not a threat against World peace, but we support the Administration’s "war on terrorism". In turn, many prominent progressive intellectuals and foreign policy analysts have not only dismissed the links of the Bush Administration to Al Qaeda, they have upheld the Administration's "War on terrorism".....

This ambivalence weakens the antiwar movement because it ultimately serves to uphold the legitimacy of "the anti-terrorist" agenda at home and around the world. Under an anti-terrorist banner, the Administration launched "Operation Enduring Freedom" which consists in sending US Special Forces to collaborate with foreign governments in the "war on terrorism". In the US, it launched the Patriot Act, which repeals fundamental civil rights in the name of the "war on terrorism".

The war on terrorism is an integral part of Bush’s National Security Doctrine . It is is being used as a pretext for waging war on Iraq. Many antiwar activists are unaware that successive US administrations have over the last 20 years supported Islamic terrorism including Al Qaeda. The latter is a creation of the CIA. It is a key instrument of US foreign policy.

Al-Qaeda, the Mythic Enemy
     By Richard Labeviere
     Le Figaro
     Monday 24 November 2003
     *Editor-in-Chief and Editorialist at Radio France Internationale (RFI). His latest book to come out: Les Coulisses de la terreur (Behind the Scenes of Terror), Grasset, 2003.

the demonization of al-Qaeda is very practical.  A superb media invention, security haute couture label, consensual poster for the bounty-hunters of another age, a crude, but effective, propaganda: if al-Qaeda didn't exist, it would have to be invented.  Since September 11, 2001 the al-Qaeda label has surreptitiously slid from designating a criminal band with Bin Laden at their head, to specifying a high-tech organization, to finally qualifying a planetary network: al-Qaeda has "CNNized" itself, like the al-Jezira channel which serves its communications. Al-Qaeda is everywhere, therefore, nowhere. Just as the hidden Imam, Bin Laden, simultaneously dead and alive, is behind every unexplained bomb explosion.  Fortunately, his organization is there to give sense to all the world's disorders.
The phantasm of a planetary, pyramidal al-Qaeda, that of a new orchestration or of an International similar in all respects to Comintern's, is in the process of justifying the biggest American military-strategic redeployment effected since the end of the Second World War.  The endless war against terror has replaced the war against the Communist monster.  Consequently, it's not surprising to see old U.S.S.R. experts redeploying their old scholasticism on the pretext of an Islamist violence about which they know nothing, applying anachronistic Kremlinology schemas to it.  These American neo-conservative ideological go-betweens stand guard on the old continent.  For the American Empire, it's important that the al-Qaeda mythology persist.  To survive, the empire needs an enemy to its measure and to make war on: endless war.

According to this 1998 interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the CIA's intervention in Afghanistan preceded the 1979 Soviet invasion. This decision of the Carter Administration in 1979 to intervene and destabilise Afghanistan is the root cause of Afghanistan's destruction as a nation.

A couple of thoughts about the Brzezinski interview below. First, it flatly contradicts the common justification for U.S. actions in Afghanistan during the 1980s: that the U.S. simply aided forces resisting Soviet imperialism. Brzezinski makes clear that the Soviets were baited into sending forces to Afghanistan; thus their actions were defensive. Moreover, the U.S. used the violent Wahhabi (Saudi Arabian) form of Islam to create a monster-movement which plagues the world today. or more on this, see 'Articles Documenting U.S. Creation of Taliban and bin Laden's Terrorist Network' at
A reader wrote: "Similarly just because Brzezinski (among others) likes to claim that he personally overthrew the Soviet Union doesn't mean that you or the rest of us have to take him seriously. Nobody in 1979 had any reason to think that the Afghan war would bring down the USSR. Nor have we any real reason to think that it did bring it down."
The point is well taken at least as regards Brzezinski's claim that his Afghan strategy destroyed the Soviet Union. But the issue here is a different one: what role did the U.S. government play in the creation of Islamist terrorism? In that regard, Brzezinski's assertion that the U.S. provoked Soviet actions and that Islamism was deliberately fostered is backed up by sources on all sides of the Afghan issue.

Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski about how the US provoked the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan and starting the whole mess

Le Nouvel Observateur (France), Jan 15-21, 1998, p. 76*

Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [From the Shadows], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Question: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

Brzezinski: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Question: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?

Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, in substance: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Question: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalists, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?**

Question: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

Brzezinski: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn't a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries.*


There are at least two editions of this magazine; with the perhaps sole exception of the Library of Congress, the version sent to the United States is shorter than the French version, and the Brzezinski interview was not included in the shorter version.
** It should be noted that there is no demonstrable connection between the Afghanistan war and the breakup of the Soviet Union and its satellites.

This interview was translated from the French by William Blum, Author of "Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II" and "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower". Portions of the books can be read at: (with a link to Killing Hope)

US intelligence agencies determine Arab states' security agendas
by M. A. Shaikh July 21, 2003

US intelligence agencies, whose operatives now maintain a strong presence in Arab capitals and rural areas, play a decisive role in determining what organisations, or individuals, are to be classified as terrorists or financiers of terrorism, and therefore prosecuted or banned. The result is that Arab leaders are devoting most of their time to the ‘pursuit of terrorists’, to the neglect of more pressing social and economic issues. Laws relating to security and human rights have been drastically amended, as have fiscal laws, to facilitate the persecution of ‘suspected terrorists’ and ‘al-Qa’ida sympathisers’, and to block the flow of funds to Islamic organisations (even charities) labelled as such. Arab governments are mobilizing Arab Muslim scholars and ‘intellectuals’ to hold meetings to "reinterpret" the Qur’an andahadith and depict ‘Islamic extremists’ and their backers as ‘terrorists’.
Arab rulers, who openly back the ‘war on terror’, do not feel it necessary to deny the presence of CIA and FBI agents in their countries. Yemeni president Ali Saleh Abdullah, for instance, admits that the FBI and CIA have offices in his country, as they do in other Arab countries. In an interview with ash-Sharq al-Awsat, an Arabic daily, on June 29, he denied that he had given permission to the US to set up a "regional FBI office", adding that "the agency has only a local office similar to that of the CIA". He made it clear that many Arab states have allowed similar ones to be established in their territories.
Yemen not only has a regional FBI office butalso hosts US troops helping it pursue "terrorist groups" in the south. The FBI office is regional in the sense that its agents, are active in the pursuit of ‘al-Qa’ida terrorists’ in the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti.
But FBI and CIA agents are also active in other Arab countries, especially Morocco and Saudi Arabia, where attacks on May 16 and May 12 provided a pretext for Washington to establish a strong presence, and take over the running of the security machinery. Washington accused Moroccan and Saudi officials of ignoring warnings that the attacks were imminent, and of failing to take pre-emptive action. Both governments gave in to pressure, agreed to receive FBI and CIA agents, and began unprecedented action against Islamic organisations and activists. This tendency to give in to the Americans has grown since September 2001.

.... The idea of ‘sleeping terror cells’ is very attractive to American officials. The idea justifies not only security measures already being taken against Muslims in the US and Europe but also those being planned. Action against terrorists also enables European officials to kerb immigration and to deport Muslim immigrants already in their territories. Already legislation is being drafted to withdraw citizenship from Muslims and deport them. Muslim dictators are only too happy to receive Islamic activists, and to see Western countries seize the assets of Islamic activists, who finance many charities in the Muslim world that the dictators prefer to have shut down.
Arab governments also supply information (almost invariably false) that US and European authorities then use against Islamic activists, or against Muslim immigrants generally. They even supply the UN with reports on ‘terrorists’ and on the al-Qa’ida network, as a report issued June 26 shows. According to this disgraceful report, a new generation of al-Qa’ida-trained terrorists, as well as veterans, continues to threaten the "global community". The report also mentions al-Qa’ida’s potential access to nuclear and chemical weapons, saying that "there is evidence from the network’s training manuals and other intelligence" that al-Qa’ida has investigated "the ways and means of developing weapons of mass destruction". The continued overplaying of al-Qa’ida’s "threat to world peace" helps to justify the US’s unilateralist imperial policy and programme of ‘regime-change’.


Discover Dialogue: Anthropologist Scott Atran
The Surprises of Suicide Terrorism
It's not a new phenomenon, and natural selection may play
a role in producing it
By Josie Glausiusz
DISCOVER Vol. 24 No. 10 | October 2003 This is an extended version, exclusive to the Discover Web
site, of the article that appears in Discover Magazine

Photograph by Charles Fréger
Scott Atran fell in love with anthropology in 1970 when he
went to work with Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History in
New York and found himself surrounded by a collection of thousands of
skulls. He has spent the intervening years studying human cultures all over
the world, dwelling among the secretive Druze sect in Israel, documenting
conservation customs among the Maya of Guatemala, and analyzing the
evolution of religion everywhere, a topic he explores in his book In Gods We
Trust (Oxford University Press, 2002). He is based both at the National
Center for Scientific Research in Paris and at the University of Michigan.
His recent work has focused on suicide terrorism. He has marshaled evidence
that indicates suicide bombers are not poor and crazed as depicted in the
press but well-educated and often economically stable individuals with no
significant psychological pathology.
You recently chose to write about the genesis of suicide
terrorism in the journal Science. Why should suicide terrorism be the object
of a scientific investigation?
A: Within a few days of the terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001, I started listening to the stuff that was in the media and from
the administration--for example, President Bush's speech on September 11th
and the next he gave on September 20th before Congress. I thought, "What
utter nonsense"--this idea that these people were crazed or they're doing it
out of despair or hopelessness. The whole history of these kinds of acts
goes against this. I decided to write an article and get it into the
scientific press, because governments, I believe, would take up what their
scientists tell them, since there is a huge respect for science.
Why do you regard the popular stereotype of the suicide
terrorist as nonsense?
A: The CIA released a report in 2001 on the psychology and
sociology of terrorism, and they basically said these people are perfectly
sane. If you look at the history of these kinds of extreme acts, they're
pretty much directed by middle-class or higher-middle-class intellectuals.
They always have been. Never have they been directed by wacky, crazed,
homicidal nuts. The Japanese kamikaze of World War II were, by the way,
extremely intelligent guys. If you read their diaries, they were German
romantics, reading Goethe and Schiller, and quite conscious of the efforts
of the state to manipulate them.
What sort of scientific research indicates that suicide
bombers are sane?
A: Some of the earlier research was by Ariel Merari, who
is a psychologist at Tel Aviv University and also a terrorism expert. He
interviewed suicide bombers--survivors who were wounded and didn't die or
whose bombs didn't go off--as well as their families or recruiters. Like
most psychologists in the 1980s, he thought that this was individual
pathology, like the idea that racists come from fatherless families or have
a history of family trouble. He made a 180-degree turn and found out that
no, the bombers span the normal distribution and were slightly above it in
terms of education and in income.
Nasra Hassan, who is a Pakistani relief worker working in
Gaza for a number of years, interviewed about 250 family members,
recruiters, and survivors, completely independently. She was not aware of
Merari's work, and she found exactly the same thing. Alan Krueger, an
economist at Princeton University, has done long-term studies with Hezbollah
and Hamas. His research shows that not only are suicide terrorists
significantly more educated than their peers, they are also significantly
better off. According to Krueger, although one-third of Palestinians live in
poverty, only 13 percent of Palestinian suicide bombers do; 57 percent of
bombers have education beyond high school versus 15 percent of the
population of comparable age.
The Defense Intelligence Agency also gave me profiles of
all these people they were interrogating at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. They
divide them into Yemenis and Saudis. The Yemenis are sort of the foot
soldiers. And they found that the Saudis, their leaders especially, are from
high-status families. A surprising number have graduate degrees. And they
are willing to give up everything. They give up well-paying jobs, they give
up their families, whom they really adore, to sacrifice themselves because
they really believe that it's the only way they're going to change the
So what's the root cause of suicide terrorism?
A: As a tactical weapon, it emerges when an ideologically
devoted people find that they cannot possibly obtain their ends in a sort of
fair fight, and when they know they're in a very weak position, and they
have to use these kinds of extreme methods.
What's the typical profile of a suicide terrorist?
A: Generally, it's not someone who is off the wall. They
can't be effective killers. Usually it is someone who is smart, who shows a
willingness to give up something, who is patient, who is quiet. Competent
people who don't draw attention to themselves, and who are perfectly willing
and able to meld into society.
How on earth does anyone sane work up the gumption to blow
himself up, together with what is often hundreds of bystanders?
A: Exactly the same way that you get soldiers on the front
line of an army to sacrifice themselves for their buddies. What these cells
do is very similar to what our military, or any modern military, does. They
form small groups of intimately involved "brothers" who literally sacrifice
themselves for one another, the way a mother would do for her child. They do
it by manipulating universal heartfelt human sentiments that I think are
probably innate and part of biological evolution. In fact, I think most
culture is a manipulation of innate desires. It's the same way that our
fast-food industry manipulates our desires for sugars and fats, or the way
the pornography industry manipulates people to get all hot about pixels on a
screen or on wood pulp.
Wood pulp?
A: Yeah, paper in a pornography journal. I mean, it has no
adaptive value. In the case of something like Al Qaeda, you've got these
people in groups of three to eight people, for 18 months, isolated from
their family, getting this intense and deep ego-stroking propaganda. You do
that to anyone, and you'll get him to do what you want. There are all these
studies that psychologists have done of torturers on all sides of the
political divide. A very famous one is on ordinary Greeks who became
torturers during the military junta of 1967 to 1974. They found they were
perfectly ordinary--in fact, above-average intelligence. They'd get them to
be torturers by indoctrinating them, by showing them how necessary they were
for their societies, and getting these people to believe it.
You seem to be suggesting that natural selection may be
playing a role in generating the feelings that enable people to become
suicide terrorists, but blowing yourself up is hardly a good strategy for
propelling your genes into the next generation.
A: Natural selection gives us all sorts of dispositions
and desires that were adaptive in ancestral environments. Now, our cultural
milieu picks certain of these adaptations or their by-products and is able
to trigger them to produce behaviors that have nothing to do with what they
originally evolved for. Kin altruism (the theory that individuals are
willing to sacrifice their lives to save closely related kin) evolved
through natural selection. If you listen to most political and religious
discourse in societies, it's always done for a brotherhood--brothers and
sisters. So you create a fictive family. How else are you going to get
people to die for one another when they're non-kin-related? You've got to
trick them into believing they are kin-related somehow.
Why does it matter whether we understand the making of a
suicide terrorist?
A: Huge amounts of money were being offered, at least on
the horizon, for science-related defense research, most of it going to
things like bioterrorism prevention. There were all these harebrained
schemes--they're still around--to have a Radio Free Arabia. They're going to
bombard these people with information about how good our society is, our
goals, and that's supposed to win the war on terrorism. If you look at the
February 2003 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, you'll see they
plan to introduce programs against poverty and illiteracy. These ideas seem
to me just completely wrong. First, the people who carry out terrorist acts
are already educated. Second, they're not poor, so reducing poverty isn't
going to do a thing.
So what's your strategy for combating suicide terrorism?
A: I think it has to be a multilayered strategy. You've
got to be able to--and this I'm all for--go after the guys who operate the
cells. Take them out. Get rid of them. Jail them or kill them, because they
are not willing to compromise. What do you do with somebody who says, "All
Americans and Jews have got to die"? The point of talking to such people has
passed. Whatever the grievances were that caused such people to have such
ideas, if they show that they're willing to implement them, then you've just
got to make a decision whether you want to see this guy survive or you and
your people survive.
What else?
A: Another thing is, yes, protect some of the vulnerable
targets, but I think that actually is less important than trying to stop
this phenomenon from becoming adopted, like a sort of virus, by these
populations. How do you prevent the ideology of suicide terrorism from
attaching itself to the populations that support it? How do you get the
people themselves to stop harboring the suicide terrorists? You've got to
talk with them. You've got to address their grievances. Not the grievances
of Al Qaeda, but the grievances of these people. Then there's got to be
support for moderate groups. Alan Krueger in his last study looked at
poverty and civil liberties as two factors in suicide terrorism. He found
that poverty is not an appreciable selection factor but that the lack of
civil liberties is a predictor of where you'll find suicide terrorism. When
you don't give these people any political space to express themselves, they
become radicalized.
Have you ever met a potential or surviving suicide
A: Yes. It's someone whose father was humiliated in front
of him when he was sixteen. He was kicked and spit on by Israeli soldiers at
a checkpoint. In an Arab family, the father is a figure of respect and even
awe. That was a big factor in this guy's decision. And a cousin was killed.
He also had a number of brothers and sisters, so he knew that by going he
wouldn't cause the family any great sacrifice. So he decided to be a suicide
And did he?
A: No. In the end he didn't, because he was sent on a
mission to Syria, a political mission, and decided to devote himself to
political activity. But I'm sure he would have if he had been asked to.
Smart guy. Not many friends, but a few friends. Got along well with his
family as far as I could see. I knew him for a number of years.
In your book In Gods We Trust, you call religion an
evolutionary riddle. Why?
A: Think about it. All religions require costly sacrifices
that have no material rewards. Look at the Egyptian pyramids. Millions of
man-hours. For what? To house dead bones? Or the Cambodian pyramids. Or the
Mayan pyramids. Or cathedrals. Or just going to church every Sunday and
gesticulating. Or saying a Latin or Hebrew prayer, mumbling what are to many
people incoherent words. Stopping whatever you're doing to bow and scrape.
Then think about the cognitive aspects of it. For example, to take alive for
dead and weak for strong. I mean, what creature could possibly survive if it
did these kinds of things systematically?
Look at the things that religion is said to do. It is said
to relieve people's anxieties, but it's also said to increase their
anxieties so that elites can use them for political purposes. It's supposed
to be liberating. It's supposed to encourage creativity. It's supposed to
stop creativity. It's supposed to explain events that can't be explained.
It's supposed to prevent people from explaining them. You can find
functional explanations, and their contraries, and they're all true.
Why then has religion survived in so many cultures?
A: Because humans are faced with problems they can't
solve. Think about death. Because we have these cognitive abilities to
travel in time and to track memory, we are automatically aware of death
everywhere. That is a cognitive problem. Death is something that our
organism tells us to avoid. So now we seek some kind of a long-term
solution. And there is none. Lucretius and Epicurus thought they could solve
this through reason. They said, "Look, what does it matter? We weren't alive
for infinite generations before we were born. It doesn't bother us. Why
should we be worried about the infinite generations that will be after us
when we're gone?" Well, nobody bought that. The reason that line of
reasoning didn't work is because once you're alive, you've got something
that you're going to lose.
Another problem is deception. Look at society. If you've
got rocks and stones and pieces of glass and metal before you, and you say,
"Oh, that doesn't exist," or "That's not really a piece of metal," or
"That's not really a tree," someone will come along and say, "Look, you're
crazy; I can touch it; there's a piece of metal there; I can show you it's a
piece of metal." For commonsense physical events, we have ways of verifying
what's real or not.For moral judgments, we have nothing. If someone says,
"Oh, he should be a beggar and he should be a king," what is there in the
world that's going to convince me this is true? There is nothing. If there
is nothing, how are people ever going to get on with one another? Especially
non-kin. How are they ever going to build societies, and how are they ever
going to trust one another so they won't defect? One way that humans seem to
have come up with is to invent this minimally counterintuitive world
developed by these deities, who are like big brothers who watch over and
make sure that there will be no defectors.
Do you think science will ever replace religion?
A: Never. Because it doesn't solve any of the problems
that religion solves, like death or deception. There is no society that
survives more than a generation or two that isn't religiously based--even
the Soviet Union, where half the people were religious. Thomas Jefferson's
unitarian God fell by the wayside. The French Revolution's neutral deity
also fell by the wayside. People want a personal God, for obvious reasons,
to solve personal problems.
What have you learned about conservation from studying the
Maya people of the Petén?
A: We took three groups that live in the same
place--native lowland Maya, the Itza'; highland Maya, the Q'eqchi' that are
forced down into the lowlands; and ladino immigrants that come up from all
over Guatemala. We found that the group that actually preserves the forest,
the Itza', is the one that has no institutions to speak of. The people don't
monitor anything. They fight with one another constantly. They're extremely
individualistic. And yet they protect the forest. The people with the
strongest communal institutions, the Q'eqchi', who monitor one another in
the forest and punish violators, they're destroying it at five times the
rate of the others. They see the forest as a commodity, and they think it's
open-ended. They don't think it needs protection. They don't see it as a
threatened system. For them, it's relatively open jungle.
What do the Itza' do differently?
A: They don't treat the forest as a commodity. They treat
it as a relational item, like a friend or an enemy. There is no objective
utility metric, like money value, that can be attached to it. We also found
that the men who go out into the forest have this notion of what the spirits
are doing, and they are scared to death of violating the spirit preference.
They're real believers. Then we found that what the spirits prefer--not what
the people think is important but what they think the spirits think is
important--actually predicts species distributions.
What do you mean?
A: Those trees most valued by the spirits--the Brosimum
alicastrum, or "breadnut," and the chicazapote, the tree that yields the
resin that is the natural base for chewing gum--are actually those trees
with the widest distribution, which produce fruit all year round and which
have the largest number of ecological relations with other animals. We're
able to predict, just on the basis of the Itza' spirit preferences, all
sorts of ecological things happening on the ground. What I think is going on
is that these spirits represent human preferences built up over generations.
What lessons can we take away from this?
A: Don't treat everything in the world like an item in a
shopping mall-which is what we do.

Atran, Scott. "Genesis of Suicide Terrorism." Science 299
(March 7, 2003): 1534-1539. Supporting online material is at

Does al-Qaeda exist?

by Brendan O'Neill

'Al-Qaeda bombing foiled' says the front page of today's UK Sun, reporting the arrest yesterday of 24-year-old student Sajid Badat in Gloucester, England, on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. Other reports have referred to Badat as 'having links with al-Qaeda' and being a potential 'suicide bomber' (1).

Also this week, media reports claim that al-Qaeda may have developed 'car-bomb capability' in the USA, and that al-Qaeda has compiled a 'kidnappers' manual' and is plotting to snatch American troops from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Every day since the 9/11 attacks of 2001 there have been media reports about al-Qaeda - its leaders, members, capabilities, bank accounts, reach and threat. What is this al-Qaeda? Does such a group even exist?

Some terrorism experts doubt it. Adam Dolnik and Kimberly McCloud reckon it's time we 'defused the widespread image of al-Qaeda as a ubiquitous, super-organised terror network and call it as it is: a loose collection of groups and individuals that doesn't even refer to itself as al-Qaeda'. Dolnik and McCloud - who first started studying terrorism at the prestigious Monterey Institute of International Studies in California - claim it was Western officials who imposed the name 'al-Qaeda' on to disparate radical Islamic groups and who blew Osama bin Laden's power and reach 'out of proportion'. Both are concerned about the threat of terror, but argue that we should 'debunk the myth of al-Qaeda' (2).

There is a 'rooted public perception of what al-Qaeda is', says Dolnik, who is currently carrying out research on the Terrorism and Political Violence Programme at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore; but, he says, such perceptions are far from accurate. Dolnik argues that where many imagine that al-Qaeda is 'a super organisation of thousands of super-trained and super-secret members who can be activated any minute', in fact it is better understood as something like a 'global ideology that has not only attracted many smaller regional groups, but has also facilitated the boom of new organisations that embrace this sort of radical and violent thinking'. Dolnik and others believe that, in many ways, the thing we refer to as 'al-Qaeda' is largely a creation of Western officials.

'Bin Laden never used the term al-Qaeda prior to 9/11', Dolnik tells me. 'Nor am I aware of the name being used by operatives on trial. The closest they came were in statements such as, "Yes, I am a member of what you call al-Qaeda". The only name used by al-Qaeda themselves was the World Islamic Front for the Struggle Against Jews and Crusaders - but I guess that's too long to really stick.'

So where did 'al-Qaeda' come from? Dolink says there are a number of theories - that the term was first used by bin Laden's spiritual mentor Abdullah Azzam, who wrote of al Qaeda al Sulbah, meaning the 'solid base', in 1988; or that it derives from a bin Laden-sponsored safehouse in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when he was part of the mujahideen fighting against the Soviet invasion, again referring to a physical 'base' rather than to a distinct organisation. But in terms of 'al-Qaeda' then being used to define a group of operatives around bin Laden - that, says Dolnik, originated in the West.

Al-Qaeda was used as a 'convenient label for a group that had no formal name'

'The US intelligence community used the term "al-Qaeda" for the first time only after the 1998 embassy bombings', he says, when suspected bin Laden followers detonated bombs at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people. Dolnik says al-Qaeda was used as a 'convenient label for a group that had no formal name'. Prior to the 1998 bombings, US officials were concerned about Osama bin Laden and the financial backing he appeared to provide to Islamic terror groups - but they rarely, if ever, mentioned anything called 'al-Qaeda'.

According to British journalist Jason Burke, in his authoritative Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, 'Al-Qaeda is a messy and rough designation, often applied carelessly in the absence of a more useful term' (3). Burke points out that while many think al-Qaeda is 'a terrorist organisation founded more than a decade ago by a hugely wealthy Saudi Arabian religious fanatic', in fact the term 'al-Qaeda' has only entered political and mainstream discussion fairly recently:

'American intelligence reports in the early 1990s talk about "Middle Eastern extremists…working together to further the cause of radical Islam", but do not use the term "al-Qaeda". After the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, FBI investigators were aware of bin Laden but only "as one name among thousands". In the summer of 1995, during the trials of Islamic terrorists who had tried to blow up a series of targets in New York two years earlier, "Osam ben Laden" (sic) was mentioned by prosecutors once; "al-Qaeda" was not.'

Like Dolnik, Burke points out that the name al-Qaeda entered the popular imagination only after US officials used it to describe those who attacked the embassies in Africa. 'In the immediate aftermath of the double bombings, President Clinton merely described a "network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Usama (sic) bin Laden"', writes Burke. 'Clinton talks of "the bin Laden network", not of "al-Qaeda". In fact, it is only during the FBI-led investigation into those bombings that the term first starts to be used to describe a traditionally structured terrorist organisation' (4). According to some experts, it was this naming of al-Qaeda by US officials that kickstarted the public's misunderstanding of Islamic terror groups. Dolnik points out that, while US officials talked up a structured group, this so-called al-Qaeda did not even have 'any sort of insignia - a phenomenon quite rare in the realm of terrorism'.

Having given bin Laden and his henchmen a name, Western officials then proceeded to exaggerate their threat. 'In the quest to define the enemy, the US and its allies have helped to blow it out of proportion', wrote Dolnik and Kimberly McCloud of the Monterey Institute in 2002. They pointed out that after 1998, US officials began distributing posters and matchboxes featuring bin Laden's face and a reward for his capture around the Middle East and Central Asia - a process that 'transformed this little-known jihadist into a household name and, in some places, a symbol of heroic defiance' (5).Now, Dolnik says that Western officials have helped to blow al-Qaeda out of proportion in other ways, too - by 'the automatic attribution of credit to the group for disparate attacks; by making unintelligent and unqualified statements about the group's very basic "weapons of mass destruction" programme; by treating al-Qaeda as a super-organisation; by creating the impression that al-Qaeda can do just about anything'. As a result, al-Qaeda has been turned into something it is not. In the mid-1990s intelligence officials saw bin Laden as 'one name among thousands'; within a few years they had transformed him into a global threat who heads a ruthless, structured organisation that is capable of doing anything, anytime, anywhere.

Anybody can make an impact by claiming a link to the largely mythical al-Qaeda

This invention, or certainly exaggeration, of al-Qaeda is not only inaccurate; it also has a potentially destabilising effect, encouraging regional groups to act in the name of al-Qaeda in the knowledge that such actions will have a massive impact on our al-Qaeda-obsessed world. The talking up of al-Qaeda has created a kind of brand name, which can be invoked by small, isolated groups wishing to strike a blow beyond their means.

Consider the recent suicide bombings in Istanbul. Predictably, many in the West instantly attributed the attacks to al-Qaeda, though it has since emerged that the bombs were most likely made and detonated by local Turkish groups. However, at least three Turkish groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks in the name of al-Qaeda. The West's obsession with al-Qaeda has given terrorist outfits a convenient shortcut to grabbing the world's attention and scaring us senseless.

According to Dolnik: 'In a world where one email sent to a news agency translates into a headline stating that al-Qaeda was behind even the blackouts in Italy and the USA, anyone can claim to be al-Qaeda - not only groups but also individuals'.

Sajid Badat, the 24-year-old student arrested by British police in Gloucester yesterday, on suspicion of planning to carry out a terrorist attack, was immediately referred to in media reports as a 'suicide bomber' and 'al-Qaeda terrorist' - after it was revealed that he had boasted to college mates and neighbours: 'I'm in al-Qaeda.' Whatever the truth of the allegations against him, however, it is clear that anybody can make an impact today by claiming a link to the largely mythical al-Qaeda. The script for such claims has already been written, by fearful Western officials who have made 'al-Qaeda', whatever that might be, into an instantly recognisable, frightening, global phenomenon.

How can we challenge the widespread but warped understanding of what 'al-Qaeda' is? Dolnik worries that it might be 'too late', but he has some ideas: 'We could have a balanced assessment of the group's capabilities, including its embarrassing failures - some al-Qaeda plots were flat-out ridiculous. We could emphasise al-Qaeda's heretical nature within Islam, in order to decrease the overt support for the group among fellow Muslims who are forced to align "with us or against us". We could stop calling everything al-Qaeda does "new" or "unprecedented" - I am aware of at least 10 concrete plans to use aeroplanes to crash them into buildings and one actual successful attempt as far back as 1976. And we could stop calling small amounts of recovered chemicals "chemical weapons" - without effective weaponisation, these are about as dangerous as bullets without a gun.'