State Terrorism

excerpted from the book

The No-Nonsense guide to


by Jonathan Barker

New Internationalist / Verso, 2002, paper


Sometime in their history most states have conquered new territory and imposed their rule on new populations. In so doing they were using violence against people they aimed to claim as citizens.

State terrorism has an ancient history, but its modern expression is tied to the projection of European state power in acquiring empires in America, Asia and Africa. Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan all used force with frightening moral certainty when they established empires. So did the US in its westward expansion and Russia in its eastward extension. These wars of expansion often included attacks on civilians. One of the first examples of biological terrorism was the deliberate distribution of smallpox-infected blankets to North American Indians.'

In places of European settlement, as in the Americas and southern Africa, the indigenous people who resisted the invaders also attacked the new homesteads and settlements. The new settlers, who considered themselves ordinary citizens, appeared to indigenous people as armed thieves threatening their land and game. Fear of such attacks reinforced the military and political drive to clear indigenous people from ancestral lands and either exterminate them or confine them to officially-designated reservations.

The colonial powers continued to use violence to maintain their domination, to recruit labor and soldiers and to seize additional territory for settler farms mines and other uses. In opening new lands to commercial exploitation colonial governments often ceded political control to private companies. Some of the worst episodes of terror were carried out under the direction of such companies to further their collection of natural resources. The forced gathering of wild rubber in King Leopold's Congo rivalled in its destructiveness the depredations of the slave trade. Profits from wild rubber were also the incentive for the systematic use of terror to recruit and discipline labor in the forests of the Amazon basin.

Once colonial governments were in place and colonial armies had put down most rebellions, the use of terror decreased, but it did not disappear. Senegalese movie director Ousmane Sembene's film Emitai (1971) depicts a historical incident in the French campaign to recruit soldiers and confiscate grain in West African villages for the French war effort in Europe during the Second World War. The women hide the rice and the young men hide in the backlands. The drama descends inevitably into the massacre by colonial police of villagers trying to keep their freedom and conserve their food supply. A few conscience-stricken colonial officials have no way to interrupt the train of events; they are anguished, but implicated. Violence and the threat of violence against civilians who resisted or just inconvenienced colonial governments were a constant theme under colonial rule. New economic and educational opportunities, better-organized government bureaucracies and expanding political rights were arguably positive features of colonialism, but the colonial regimes remained fundamentally despotic, discriminatory and tainted with violence.

Colonial autocracy was not simply the reflex of military expansionists, it was heartily approved by democratic thinkers. John Stuart Mill, England's leading advocate of political liberties, supported colonial autocracy as a kind of benevolent despotism that would bring backward people to the level of education and enlightenment he saw as preconditions for democratic citizenship. His French friend, Alexis de Tocqueville, shortly after publishing the second volume of his famous Democracy in America, turned into a vociferous supporter of terrorist tactics in the French conquest and 'pacification' of Algeria. In the 1840s as Deputy in the National Assembly he gave personal backing to General Thomas Bugeaud whose brutal methods in Algeria were receiving criticism at the time. Returning from a visit there in October 1841, de Tocqueville wrote: 'In France I have often heard people I respect, but do not approve, deplore burning harvests, emptying granaries and seizing unarmed men, women and children. As I see it, these are unfortunate necessities that any people wishing to make war on the Arabs must accept... I believe the laws of war entitle us to ravage the country and that we must do this, either by destroying crops at harvest time, or all the time by making rapid incursions, known as raids, the aim of which is to carry off men and flocks."'

Other European liberals and democrats were, like de Tocqueville, motivated to defend national honor and the military virtues of discipline and loyalty and to give political expression to their belief in the cultural or racial superiority of Europeans. Few were as frank as de Tocqueville in supporting state terrorism in the colonial projects that implemented their beliefs, perhaps because the argument so blatantly contradicts the principle of human equality. Later architects of state terrorism found other ways to justify their actions.

Perfecting state terrorism

The most notorious cases of terrorism by governments against their own citizens are those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Special police pursued groups deemed unreliable or unwanted with unprecedented efficiency and ruthlessness. These regimes made political conformity a central ideological tenet to be accomplished by any means necessary, including terror. They targeted particular categories of their citizens for physical elimination. They made terrorism a core method for enforcing control over the minds and actions of their subjects.

They were successful for many years in keeping citizens frightened and off-balance, and eliminating individuals and groups that might have organized an opposition.

One local study gives a striking portrait of how Nazi terror worked. In the town of Thalburg the Nazi party seized local power in a series of steps over a period of about six months after Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Under Nazi control, the police, with the support of locally organized gangs of Brownshirts, used unpredictable arrests, house searches and intimidation to spread fear and uncertainty among the population. Once the local Nazi party gained control of the local government its leadership could remove all opposition party members from government roles and government jobs. Nazi party loyalists took control of every sports club and civic association in the town, not all at once, but one at a time.

According to a theory popular today such associations play a vital role supporting democratic beliefs and practices.' On that view the numerous associations in Thalburg should have been centers of resistance to the Nazi takeover. That they were not attests to the efficacy of well-orchestrated state terror. There was no point at which organized opponents could gather their strength and say 'now we must resist.' Instead they were isolated and left not only disorganized, but lonely and fearful. Potential organizers were neutralized, sent to concentration camps or driven into exile.

The Nazis took control of all the newspapers and shaped the news coverage to their liking. They turned the schools to the teaching of national socialist doctrines, including anti-semitism. Ceremony, ritual and the media outlets kept up a drumbeat of support for Hitler, the local Nazis and Nazi doctrine. After several months the system of terror became routinized and the open use of brutal violence was no longer necessary. On the larger canvas ugly and open violence did not cease; terrorism, war and exterminism marked the evolution of the Third Reich.

The Soviet Union under Stalin systematized the use of terror even before Hitler did in Germany. Stalin met the widespread resistance to collectivization of agriculture in the early 1930s with arrests, torture and forced labor. The network of forced labor camps received another wave of prisoners in the late 1930s as officials forced the pace of collectivization. The great purges of the leadership of the Communist Party and the military officer corps visited terrorism upon holders of power and influence who might have stood in the way of Stalin and his policies of centralization and crash industrialization. The famous show trials with the dramatic confessions of former heroes were only the most publicized part of a system of terror that targeted political and industrial managers, artists, intellectuals and academics who could be removed from their jobs, sent to prison camps or simply killed.

Estimates vary widely, but it seems that at least 10 million citizens were sent to forced labor camps in the 1930s and 1940s. Prisoners were forced to live and to work under atrocious conditions. After Stalin's death in 1953 the population of the labor camps declined and most were disbanded in 1956. Over the whole course of the camps' existence millions died, many of them executed. The terror was calculated to keep all possible critics off-balance, fearful, isolated and helpless. As in the town of Thalburg in Hitler's Germany the active use of terror in the USSR gradually declined and became an institutionalized feature of the dictatorship.

The national security state

In the 1970s several Latin American countries adopted a model of government that came to be called the national security state. The military rulers focused all the powers of the state against the forces of 'communism' and social reformism which they believed were destabilizing influences that threatened the geopolitical integrity of the nation. Their key instruments were police and military forces which, together with semiautonomous right-wing death squads, used terror against the population at large and groups they regarded as politically suspect. After the military coup against Salvador Allende in 1973 in Chile that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, the Government rounded up a wide spectrum of possible opponents and killed over 3,000 people. In Argentina the campaign of mothers to find out what happened to their sons and daughters, among the 13,000 to 15,000 people who were 'disappeared' under the military government that ruled from 1976 to 1983, has continued for two decades.

US support was instrumental in fostering the rise to power of the national security regimes in Latin America. From Brazil in 1964 to Central America in the 1980s the US gave more than general diplomatic support; it contributed to the nuts and bolts of the security agenda by training soldiers and police. Some 60,000 Latin American soldiers attended courses at the most prominent of several training facilities, the School of the Americas (in Panama from 1946 to l954 and at Fort Benning, Georgia since then). Training manuals used in courses covered methods of political control and interrogation that included assassination and torture.

The School gained notoriety when a US Congressional investigation of the murder in El Salvador of six priests, their housekeeper and her daughters discovered that 19 of the 26 soldiers held responsible for the killings had been trained at the School. Under pressure from protests the US Government declassified key documents that brought to light a roll call of senior alumni which read like a who's who of the most brutal military dictators and human-rights violators in Latin America over the past five decades: Manuel Noriega \ and Omar Torrijos of Panama; Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua; Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina; Generals Hector Gramajo and Manuel Antonio Callejas of Guatemala; Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia; the El Salvador death-squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson. A more detailed examination of the declassified lists reveals that more than 500 soldiers who had received training at the academy have since been held responsible for some of the most hideous atrocities carried out in countries in the region during the years they were racked by civil wars and since.

In response to congressional criticism and efforts to close the School its name was changed in 2001 to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC).

Arsenals of repression

The communist, Nazi and national security states that have adopted terrorism against their own citizens as a routine instrument of rule put forward elaborate ideological justifications for their use of violence and fear. Terrorism was not an unconscious reflex. The ideology generally claimed that evil, deceitful and violent enemies of the volk, the party or the state were secretly working to undermine and destroy what the government was dedicated to defending. Whether the enemies were Jews, capitalist roaders, communists, kulaks, subversives or urban guerrillas they deserved to be treated with contempt, coercion and liquidation.

Each ideology had its own specific mix of terrorist measures. Invasive and unpredictable searches, arbitrary arrests, torture, imprisonment in special camps, threats to family and deprivation of employment - all seem to be common elements in the arsenal of state terrorist methods. Other methods were more specific to particular ideologies: extermination of Jews, Romas and homosexuals in purpose-designed death camps with gas chambers were a Nazi invention; show trials, land seizures and deliberate starvation were specialities of Stalinism; death squads, torture cells and dropping victims from aircraft into the sea were prominent features of the national security states of Latin America.

Several governments in recent years have used terrorist action against particular ethnic groups. The military government of Myanmar (Burma) has since 1962 used violence against ethnic minorities, particularly the Shan, Karen, Karenni and Rohingya groups. In his report for the year 2000 UN special investigator Rajsoomer Lallah cited summary executions as well as 'extortion, rape, torture, forced labor and portering' (forced carrying of heavy loads). He reported that women were often the victims of these violations. This ongoing use of state terrorism has continued for decades alongside the repression of the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi - the party never allowed to take office after it won the 1990 elections. Under President Suharto, Indonesia's murderous 25-year repression in East Timor killed an estimated 200,000 people, one quarter of the population. The terror was reignited after the East Timorese voted for independence in August 1999 and thousands more were killed in well-planned massacres.

The most notorious recent cases of state terrorism aimed at exterminating a section of a country's population are those of Cambodia and Rwanda. The Cambodian Communist Party or Khmer Rouge, a revolutionary movement led by Pol Pot, gained power in Cambodia after the terrible destruction and disorganization brought about by the US destabilization campaign in Cambodia from 1969 to 1973 with its intensive, secret and illegal bombing. Between 1975 and 1978 the Pol Pot regime turned all its efforts to constructing a purified Khmer rural society. It forced the urban population to move to the countryside and executed at least 200,000 people, many of them deemed to be contaminated with imperialism or Vietnamese blood or culture. Intellectuals, professionals, civil servants and cultural leaders were systematically eliminated. Forced labor on construction and agricultural schemes, starvation and disease killed another 1.5 million Cambodians. About one Cambodian in five was exterminated. The Government's ruthless hold on power continued until it was driven from office by the Vietnamese invasion of 1979.

The genocidal state terrorism in Rwanda in 1994 was another case of the 'deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power' and, it must be added, to fulfill a political program. While the program of the Khmer Rouge was influenced by Marxism-Leninism and Maoism as well as by Khmer racism, the program of the group that gained control of the interim government of Rwanda was simply to kill as many of the Tutsi minority as they could and to reconfigure the country according to mythical ideas of an ancient and pure Hutu society. The Hutu-dominated government was faced with a growing guerrilla opposition led by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RF), whose core leadership came from the Tutsis who had become refugees in Uganda. In 1993 Hutu leaders around President Juvenal Habyarimana, including some intellectuals and military officers, began to plan for the systematic killing of Tutsis. One important instrument was to be a youth militia, the Interahamwe., that already existed and had begun to attack Tutsis. Another scheme was to form a 'civilian defense force' separate from government that could act rapidly when the signal to start killing came.

The opportunity to unleash the plan arrived on 6 April 1994 when persons still unknown shot down the plane in which President Habyarimana was returning from peace negotiations. The group around the President who had planned the extermination decided to act. The first step was to kill government and opposition leaders, mainly Hutu, who were not part of the plan in order to create a power vacuum. Colonel Bagosora and his Presidential Guard took the lead in this operation. He became the leader of the interim government that directed the rapidly-expanding waves of killing. The guns and grenades of the militia and the army were crucial, but the leaders found the killing could be speeded up by enlisting popular groups using machetes and other hand-powered weapons. Gangs moving house to house were less effective than forcing or tricking targeted people to gather in a church or school where they could be burned, shot or slashed to death. Radio was used to orchestrate the process and participation was encouraged with promises of access to the land and houses of the victims and by threats of punishment. There are well-documented reports that those leading the operations gave orders to the killers to degrade, mutilate and rape the women they were about to murder.

Over time the genocide planners were able to enlist much of the state apparatus in the killing. Resistors were eliminated. As remarkable as the collaboration of military officers and professional administrators was the absence of any effective international action to halt the killings. In thirteen weeks about 500,000 people, three-quarters of the Tutsi population, were killed. Over time the genocide ceased to give the interim government internal cohesion or win popular support. International disapproval finally began to hurt it, but it was the military success of the RPF that brought the regime and its program of genocide to an end.

Episodes of state terrorism

Many governments have made less wholehearted use of terrorism. The organizational chart of most existing governments hides some agency with a terrorism brief and the state's history conceals some episode in which state terrorism became a prominent feature of politics. In France long before the revolutionary state's Great Terror in which successive leaders of the revolution sent one another to the guillotine, the Roman Catholic establishment waged a campaign in the 11th century against the Cathars in south-western France who stood against the Roman church and the corruption of the clergy. Northern French nobility backed the church in a crusade against the resisting heretics. The Treaty of Paris confirmed the subordination of the southern nobility that had harbored the Cathars, but it failed to root out the movement, despite the massacre of many of its followers. It took the systematic terrorism of the Inquisition in the 13th and 14th centuries with its reliance on informants, searches of homes, harsh questioning and torture to extinguish the 'heresy'.

In the United States the defeated plantocracy after the civil war used terror to re-establish its dominance and to disempower former slaves. Under the slave system the private property privileges of slave owners had kept the essential violence of the slave system largely in the private realm. After the civil war former slave owners founded the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to resist the changes in the social hierarchy pursued in Reconstruction. In North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, the KKK played a large part in restoring the political dominance of the white elite. The white elite kept the newly enfranchised African-American ex-slaves from entering the public sphere of politics through a combination of terrorism and restrictive legislation. The Ku Klux Klan was the main terrorist instrument of the local interests that controlled state governments. Its secret meetings, rituals and cross burnings were designed to frighten, but it was murder, violence and direct intimidation that made it effective. The intimidation backed up the Jim Crow legislation (segregation in public places, poll taxes, literacy tests for voting) that disenfranchised and disempowered African-Americans.

States often use Klan-like proxy organizations to carry out terrorism against the state's own citizens. The apartheid government in South Africa, for example, in one of many state terrorist operations ordered 'hit squads' associated with Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha party to attack members of the African National Congress. Frequently parts of the government do not support such actions and may not know about them. In the US the federal government focussed enough opposition to the terrorism of the KKK to legislate restrictions that reduced its effectiveness.

Behind the exclusionary ideology and the attraction to terrorist violence expressed in all these examples of state terrorism lies a profound cynicism about popular politics. Hitler put it most concisely: 'Cruelty impresses. Cruelty and raw force. The simple man in the street is impressed only by brute force and ruthlessness. Terror is the most effective political means.' It is a political means that poisons the normal politics of debate, negotiation and confrontation.

Transnational state terrorism

Another variety of state terrorism is government-sponsored acts of violence across borders to harm, kill and intimidate civilians of another country. The term 'terrorist state' as it is used in the press and by governments usually refers to this kind of terrorism. Although governments bent on troubling other states or movements in other countries sometimes act through official government agencies, they usually prefer to act through proxy organizations, sometimes called 'cutouts', and to keep their own role invisible.

The aim of transnational state terrorism may be to destabilize and weaken a government that is perceived to be hostile and perhaps a supporter of groups regarded as terrorist opponents. The accusations, and at times the reality, of terrorism are flung in both directions. Apartheid South Africa went to great lengths to counter the popular movements for decolonization in southern Africa. As Angola and Mozambique moved toward independence, apartheid South Africa made extensive use of terror (as well as outright warfare) to keep the newly independent governments weak and disorganized. Their 'total strategy' of defense was similar to the pattern of the national security states of South America. In 1976 their armed forces took over support for Renamo (Resistenfia Nacional Mocambicana), the terrorist opposition to the new government in Mozambique formed by Frelimo (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique). Renamo had been nurtured by the Rhodesian security forces, who had recruited dissident Frelimo fighters to destabilize the new Frelimo government. Renamo became infamous for the brutality of its attacks on civilians and for its targeting of schools and health clinics as well as economic installations like roads, electric lines and pipelines.

A pattern of reciprocal violence that includes terrorism sometimes repeats itself in the relations between hostile neighboring countries. Each government supports terrorist or guerrilla operations inside its rival. India and Pakistan repeatedly accuse each other of terrorism in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

In the Middle East, support for Palestinian groups that engage in terrorism in Israel comes from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Government of Israel claims that the Palestinian Authority, a quasi-state, is responsible for many of the suicide bombings of civilian gatherings in Israel claimed by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade. On its side the Israeli Government has sent its defense forces to assassinate people it claims are responsible for terrorism and it has militarized its occupation of Palestinian settlements and refugee camps in the West Bank. In these operations its forces have killed many civilians.

The Cold War and containment

The Cold War generated widely spread reciprocal support for rival terrorisms from the United States and the Soviet Union. The two superpowers were drawn to almost every conflict in the world if only to ensure that the other side did not gain some advantage from it. In all the conflicts mentioned above one can find US or Soviet fingerprints somewhere along the way. The superpowers gave important direct and indirect support to organizations that made extensive use of terrorism, including training them in terrorist techniques. The scale of superpower involvement in terrorism gives the lie to the common view that terrorism is exclusively 'the weapon of the weak'. Often it is the weapon with which the strong get the weak to do their dirty work for them.

In its preoccupation with containing communism, the US saw danger in the decolonizing world and in many other places besides. President John Kennedy's government initiated a long-running effort to bring down the Castro regime. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, US-trained anti-Castro Cubans repeatedly committed acts of violence against Cuba. As recently as the mid 1990s they planted bombs designed to cripple the growing Cuban tourist industry;"' (The same groups have been convicted of attacks in Miami against Cubans doing business with Cuba.'') In the 1980s the Reagan administration sounded the alarm about a 'terror network' orchestrated by the Soviet Union threatening US and Western interests around the globe and especially in southern Africa, Central America, the Middle East and Central Asia. Fear of instability and distrust of nationalist regimes and movements drew the US to embrace governments that abused human rights, to support agencies that engaged in terrorism and to sponsor certain terrorist activities of its own. In Angola, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Kampuchea (Cambodia) the US supported, and sometimes created, insurgencies that they tried to present as democratic and freedom-seeking. Often these groups practiced terrorism.

The Soviet Union was not squeamish about supporting violence, but most anti-colonial movements were largely peaceful and those that engaged in violence, even those professing Marxism and receiving Soviet support gravitated to guerrilla warfare and directed their arms at military and police targets. Some, like the African National Congress in South Africa committed occasional acts of terrorism.

The Soviets did support governments that engaged in state terrorism including those of Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya and Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia. Other communist governments, including those in Cuba, Cambodia, North Vietnam, Eastern Europe and China made use of terrorism in consolidating and retaining political control. No doubt the example of Stalinism played a part in choosing purges, assassinations and imprisonment over negotiation and accommodation.


In 1953 and 1954 the US Government through the CIA engineered the overthrow of nationalist and reformist governments in Iran and Guatemala and the installation of regimes that used terrorism to weaken and control political opposition and drive local communist parties underground. In preparation for these operations of 'regime change' the CIA gathered detailed intelligence about potential friends and foes, disseminated propaganda in the form of leaflets, manipulated news reports to encourage opposition and concocted evidence of Soviet involvement. The agency also identified alternative rulers and induced them to take action, promising financial and diplomatic backing to a new government. In 1953 the CIA with Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) spearheaded the coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran to counter his nationalization of the British Petroleum Company and to move against the communist Tudeh party whose influence they feared was growing. They readily identified General Fazlollah Zahedi as a replacement leader. After several false moves they induced the Shah to abandon his original indifference to politics and to support the change in government. To foment street demonstrations CIA agents posing as communists threatened Muslim clerics with 'savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh' and bombed the home of a prominent Muslim. These were two measures of direct terrorism committed by US agencies.

In 1954 the US followed a similar plan in Guatemala. After an intense public relations campaign financed by the United Fruit Company (in which Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Dulles had personal financial interest) President Eisenhower approved another project of regime change. The CIA took the lead in organizing a dissident army to invade from neighboring Honduras to overthrow the government of Jacabo Arbenz whose policies of land reform, higher corporate taxes and university education for lower-class youth troubled the United Fruit Company and the established elite. The two groups also worried that the influence of communism in Guatemala would grow. The US provided air cover for the invasion and the CIA mounted a large disinformation campaign exaggerating the size and effectiveness of the invasion. There was some US-sponsored violence in Guatemala: boarding peaceful vessels off the coast and bombing a few targets inside the country.

In both these cases the real link to terror came after the coup when the replacement regimes arrested, tortured and killed opponents and dissidents. The CIA helped train the security forces of the new governments and maintained close ongoing relations with them. Iran's State Intelligence and Security Organization, known as SAVAK, became famous for the long reach of its agents who hunted down regime opponents around the world. In the US alone it used 13 case-officers to keep track of some 30,000 Iranian students. SAVAK was established in 1957 with the guidance of US and Israeli intelligence services. It first sought to arrest members of the Tudeh party, but it grew into a full-scale secret police operation with high tech equipment from the US to monitor and collate information on all aspects of political and civic activity. It kept newspapers, journalists, labor unions, peasants' organizations and other civic associations under tight surveillance. It established its own prisons and made extensive use of brutal methods of torture. Observers estimate that in response to the demonstrations of 1978, SAVAK killed 13,000 to 15,000 Iranian citizens and seriously injured another 50,000.'; Throughout its existence the CIA remained its close collaborator.

A detailed CIA study of the Iran coup draws as one lesson that the ClA's military planners have political arrest lists ready. In Guatemala they certainly had such a list for what the CIA planning document called 'the roll-up of Communists and collaborators'. After the coup the police rounded up and killed hundreds of people. A system of deadly repression making extensive use of death squads dressed as civilians, but taking orders from security. forces, was put in place. The resistance, weak as it was, of indigenous peoples and the obligation to fight communism were the repeated excuses for a reign of terror that killed some 100,000 Guatemalans over the next four decades. The US remained a close and supportive partner of the government of Guatemala through most of these years, giving assistance in designing and setting up an urban counter-terrorist task force and in supplying military advisers and equipment.'

Government terror

The record shows that government terror and killing of Mayan villagers in Guatemala peaked in the early 1980s just when the US was pumping up its overt and clandestine campaign to overthrow the Nicaraguan government of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion National (FSLN or Sandinistas) that had gained power in 1979 when the US-supported military apparatus of dictator Anastasio Somoza collapsed. President Ronald Reagan's government was fearful of what they considered to be expanding communist influence in Central America and the Caribbean and especially vexed by the successful guerrilla war of the left-wing Sandinista movement. Policy planners centered in the National Security Agency and the CIA put into practice the doctrine of 'low intensity warfare' to force the replacement of the Sandinistas by a conservative and pliant set of rulers.

At the heart of the method was the creation of a guerrilla army out of members of Somoza's National Guard and several other splinter groups revolving around Eden Pastora, a dissident former Sandinista. Documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Contras, as the grouping was known, were wholly created and controlled by the US. The Contras were instructed to hit 'soft targets' like agricultural cooperatives and some of them were advised by US experts and manuals about 'how to use selective violence' and 'coercive counterintelligence interrogation of resistant sources'. The Contras often attacked civilians, even rounded them up and shot them.

In order to make the Contras look more effective than they were and to cripple the economy of Nicaragua the US conducted direct military operations, attacking economic targets like oil depots and allowing the Contras to take the credit. To back up the impression that the Contras were an indigenous reality the US mounted a sophisticated public relations and newsgenerating effort. President Reagan uttered his famous

comparison: the Contras are 'the moral equivalent of our founding fathers'. The Atlantic and Caribbean ports of Nicaragua were mined by the US with the goal of raising the costs of marine insurance high enough to strangle Nicaragua's vital seaborne trade.

The US has had a role in overthrowing several other governments on the grounds of their unreliability in the Cold War alignment. The assassination of Patrice L.umumba in the Congo in 1961 and the installation of Joseph Mobutu as President, inaugurated a cycle of corrupt and tyrannical government. The change from Sukarno to Suharto in Indonesia in 1965 precipitated mass killings of 500,000 to 1,000,000 people. To clear the way for the coup d'etat against Salvador Allende's government in Chile in 1973 the CIA worked actively with members of the Chilean military to 'neutralize' General Rene Schneider, Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army. Schneider was a strong constitutionalist known to oppose a coup against the legally elected President. When a group of officers with whom the CIA had been collaborating killed General Schneider in 1970, the US assisted in protecting the assassins. It was the first political assassination in Chile since 1837.

Changes of government are usually complex events and the interventions are clandestine and may come from more than one country. The interveners try to make use of local social and military forces that have a life of their own.. The terrorist element in the US role in these coups seems often to have been that of an accomplice - supplying encouragement, money and weapons, assurance of future support and a list of dangerous individuals and organizations.

More telling is the continued involvement of the US military and security specialists, assisting the design and organization of a security apparatus and the training of people in the skills of interrogation and 'counter-insurgency' operations. US officials know full well that such an apparatus and the skills learned are often turned to the systematic and long-term employment of terror to keep a government in power.

'Blowback' and instability

From the standpoint of the US strategists there are two big dangers: 'blowback' and instability. Blowback is the CIA term for the unintended, unforeseen and unwanted consequences of secret operations. It is used frequently to describe the actions of organizations that the US created and strengthened that later turn against US-related targets. One kind of blowback is terrorism against US interests. The US invested money, training and equipment to make the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan effective fighters against Soviet domination of Afghanistan. The Soviets were driven out and the Soviet regime was weakened. Regime change in favor of the Taliban brought stability to a chronically unstable land. But when men trained at the Taliban's schools planted bombs in Saudi Arabia and Egypt critics saw blowback. In targeting governments allied with the US the fighters formerly serving Western interests in the Cold War re-emerged as anti-Western terrorists. With Taliban support for al-Qaeda the blowback continued.

The possibility of instability can also promote terrorism. The strategy of inducing regime change by intervening covertly to support a coup usually assumes that a freshly-formed military government willing to use well-structured security methods can control political forces and stay in power. Factional fights, inexperience and regional tensions make stability a rare commodity. The support for Lon Nol's coup against the mercurial Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia in 1970 is a good example - a search for stability contributing to repression and backlash. The US interest in stability pushes it to give increasing support to those who control the repressive apparatus in the new government and to condone, if not deliberately enhance, its reliance on state terror.

State terrorism after the Cold War

For the four decades after the Second World War, US state terrorism and support for states that engaged in state terrorism was tied to the Cold War and the strategy of containment. Since the end of the Cold War many dictatorships have been replaced by elected governments (Southern Cone of South America, Central America, South Africa, Indonesia). The reasons for these changes include the strength and skill of popular movements and the reduction of US support for repressive governments. Similarly on the other side of the Cold War the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of Soviet control over Eastern Europe removed a pattern of Soviet-supported state terrorism in some 20 countries from East Germany to Kyrgyzstan.

Yet state terrorism remains a reality and a potential. The genocide in Rwanda, the violence of Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe against the legal opposition and the actions of Russia in Chechnya show that state terrorism has causes beyond the Cold War. The US may be less prone to support terrorist states than in the days of the Cold War, but the attacks in New York and Washington raise a new possibility. Under the influence of the war on terrorism and the idea that 'those not with us are against us' the US may support 'friendly' governments that engage in state terrorist campaigns against their own or the citizens of neighboring countries. Russia (Chechnya), Pakistan (Kashmir), Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan all seem to fit this pattern.

The possibility that the US is still willing to give support to governments and groups that make extensive use of terrorism raises a deeper question. Was it a Cold War dynamic, no longer operative, that drew the US and the West into supporting terrorist regimes or was it defense of the West's global economic and resource interests? Anti-communism or imperialism? And could the new global manicheanism of good democrats vs evil terrorists be a conscious effort to reconstruct a doctrinal defense of support for governments and policies that favor the corporate global economic agenda even if they repress genuinely popular movements? Will other governments such as Russia use a similar logic and support governments within their historic sphere of influence that engage in terrorism?

The amount of state terrorist activity and its continuing appeal is not surprising given the huge concentration of control over weapons that governments enjoy. Criminal gangs, terrorist organizations, guerrilla armies, private businesses and individuals may own many guns and a lot of explosives. Yet their arms are dwarfed by the firepower at the disposal of governments. Furthermore, governments have a huge stake in protecting their political power from rivals and enemies. It is little wonder that government leaders can be tempted to use terrorism to translate the money, arms and intelligence at their disposal into enhancement of their grip on power and their capacity to pursue other political aims.

Perhaps the surprising thing is that governments are not more prone to terrorism than they are. The frequency of deleterious 'blowback' may deter some leaders. Certainly political action in defense of civil liberties and in favor of full disclosure of government action can help discourage government leaders from terrorist temptation and strengthen the hold of a culture of open political encounter.

No-Nonsense guide to Terrorism

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