By Julio Godoy
It remains a matter of debate when terrorism was invented. For modern political purposes, fake terrorism was most probably invented in Cuba, in February 1898. The U.S. government was at the time seeking a justification to wage war against the decaying colonial power Spain, in order to gain control not only of the Caribbean island, but also of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, a territory also under the colonial rule of Madrid.
Spain was an atrocious imperial power, and Cuban patriots around José Martí had been fighting for independence for several years. It was an ideal constellation for a conspiracy, concocted in Washington.
On February 15, 1898, an explosion sank the U.S. warship Maine, stationed at the Havana harbour, killing numerous members of the crew. Although an investigation found no evidence as to the causes of the explosion, the U.S. government and the U.S. public opinion decided that the Spanish enemy was the culprit. Washington had also the alibi it had been seeking to attack Spain. It followed a “splendid little war” – for the U.S.A. anyway – at which end the government in Washington controlled Cuba and the Philippines.
Ever since, similar plans have been put in practice numerous times. In the early 1960s, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff conceived the so-called Operation Northwoods, a plan to covertly engineer numerous “terror attacks” to be falsely attributed to the revolutionary Cuban government of Fidel Castro, and then have a justification for launching war against the regime in Havana.
These false terrorist attacks included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” including “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban air force attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage.
Evidence of the Operation Northwoods can be found at the online site of the independent National Security Archive. In his book Body of Secrets, author James Bamford describes how the U.S. National Security Agency operates, and calls Operation Northwoods “may be the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.”
Indeed: In the official documents proposing Operation Northwoods, the U.S. army leadership says that a military intervention against Cuba “will result from a period of heightened U.S.-Cuban tensions which place the United States in the position of suffering justifiable grievances. World opinion, and the United Nations forum should be favourably affected by developing the international image of the Cuban government as rash and irresponsible, and as an alarming and unpredictable threat to the peace of the Western hemisphere.”
The memoranda give a long list of “incidents” to be fabricated by U.S. forces or its allies, within and without Cuba, going as far as to propose to orchestrate a fake attack against the Dominican Republic, and attribute it to the Cuban government.
Although Operation Northwoods was never fully applied, the U.S. government did indeed try to overthrow the Cuban regime using schemes conceived in the plan.
Similar fake terrorism or justifications to legitimise war have been used on many other occasions: for instance, the Argentine military dictatorship occupied the Malvinas Islands under British rule in 1982 in an attempt to galvanise local public opinion and to reunite society around the army. The plan failed because Margaret Thatcher in London also needed a war to force the country to rally behind her leadership – and the British had better armed soldiers.
In other words: The Argentine military scheme literally backfired: One year after the war, the dictatorship was over, and a democratic elected government in Buenos Aires started to investigate the atrocities committed by the Argentine army against its own people – by the way, the Argentinian army had been a faithful U.S. ally in its dirty war in Latin America.
In all those cases, one question may indicate the possible real criminal behind faked terrorism: The old Latin adage cui bono – who actually benefits from the crime?
In view of such examples and experiences, it is no surprise that many people continue to dismiss the official version of the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, as another, perverse case of fake terrorism, conceived to justify new U.S. military interventions abroad, which otherwise would have been impossible to carry out – first, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and, worse still, the second war against Iraq.
That ten years later the U.S. is scrambling to get out of both countries, after having invested billions of dollars and sacrificed tens of thousands of their own youth in useless wars, may well be an irony of history. But there can be no doubt that the wars benefitted those who controlled the government of George W. Bush.
In a way, fake terrorism is thus the reversal of the so called “propaganda by the deeds” preached by European, mostly Russian, Italian, and French, anarchists in the second half of the 19th century. Propaganda by the deeds aimed at provoking the people’s rebellions and even revolutions through isolated acts of violence against governments and elites.
Fake terrorism aims precisely the contrary – to appease public opinion, to force it to support a weak government, at a moment when this has lost legitimacy, may be facing collective punishment, as in an election, or when it is planning a perverse action against the interests of its own people.
An additional perversity of fake terrorism is that it can be perfect crime. On the one hand, those who are supposed to investigate the crime were the ones who conceived it and carried it out in the first place. After the experience of Operation Northwoods, it is unlikely that the evildoers of our times leave written evidence of their malefic plans.
For the same reason, it is all but impossible to prove that the official narrative of the deed is false – at best, you can gather circumstantial evidence suggesting that the official theory is flawed and incongruous. The inconceivable errors of judgement committed by numerous high ranking security officers in Washington and New York in the eve of the September 11 attacks and the legends that surround the acts are good examples of this circumstantial evidence.
On the other hand, as argued in the memoranda of Operation Northwoods, fake terrorism and the ensuing collective psychosis most likely will galvanise public opinion around those in power, believe in them, and help them to stay in there.
Because terrorists in general and fake terrorists in particular are per se invisible, they also constitute the perfect enemy – you may capture one or two, but you cannot actually exterminate terrorism, thus helping to eternize the fear and justify calls for more security and controls, in the form of tougher laws and less civil liberties.
Fake terrorism usually happens amid important political events – during civil crisis, or towards the end of difficult electoral campaigns, just ahead of military decisions which otherwise would have appeared as illegitimate or at least unpopular, or in the eve of security operations that can be easily turned into authoritarian crusades.
At those moments, and with little help of fake terrorists, the dark little men in office can stylise themselves both as commendable, caring leaders, as well as vigorous guarantors of security, as the toughest heroes who will keep the beneficial barbarians at bay.