Walter Laqueur, extract from The "Terrorism" Industry

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Laqueur is one of the "heavies" of the terrorism industry, a prolific writer, and a professor at Georgetown University, who brings an aura of scholarship to the defense of the truths embodied in the Western model. Laqueur has long-standing connections to many of the governments and institutes with a major stake in the terrorism issue. Born in Israel, he has a number of affiliations with that country and its institutional supporters and has served on the editorial board of the Jaffee Center in Tel Aviv and on the advisory board of JINSA. In the 1950s, Laqueur was founding editor of the British journal 'Survey', which was one of the numerous intellectual vehicles of the CIA funded through the Congress for Cultural Freedom. He has long been affiliated with CSIS as research director and one of their terrorism experts.

In his book The Age of Terrorism,[1] Laqueur develops all the themes of his fellow terrorism-industry experts without significant deviation: the West is the victim of terrorism, the media are "the terrorists' best friend";[2] the Soviet Union and its friends are the major sponsors of terrorism, never its victims; the terrorists are often middle-class brats with personal hangups, and so forth. No cliche is omitted. A reliable test of the integrity of a full-length study of terrorism is the way in which it treats friendly and enemy terror. Thus, if we take Carlos the jackal, Orlando Bosch, Luis Posada Carriles, and Stefano delle Chiaie, only Carlos falls into the class of enemy terrorist. A biased work will, therefore, attend to Carlos and ignore the other three. Laqueur has seven index references to Carlos; the others do not appear at all. An even more important comparison is the relative attention paid to Libya and South Africa. Even according to his restricted definition of terrorist, South Africa fills the bill as the backer of RENAMO and sustainer of Savimbi and UNITA, along with numerous cross-border acts of violence. Libya gets entire sections devoted to it in Laqueur's book. South Africa is never cited as a terrorist state, and RENAMO does not appear in the index.[3]

An original feature of Laqueur's writing is his method of excluding state terrorism, which involves arbitrarily limiting his universe of terrorists to those who are members of "movements" from below. He acknowledges that state terror is far more serious in its human consequences than the terrorism he confines his attention to, but for reasons he never clarifies, he sticks to movements. Criticisms of this choice as "political" he dismisses without explanation. [4]

In Laqueur's analysis, movements from below are terrorist when political violence is used as a primary means of attaining their ends. States obviously can sponsor terrorist movements and engage in terrorist acts, even if states are ruled out as terrorists by definition. But Laqueur uses "terrorist act" as well as "terrorist" with blatant political discrimination. Although, for example, he acknowledges that the NLF in South Vietnam was not a terrorist organization, as it did not rely primarily on terrorism to achieve its ends, he repeatedly mentions its use of terrorist acts. [5] But terrorist acts of Western states are never designated terrorist � the word is reserved for the acts of groups and states that are not protected by the Western imprimatur.

Toward the end of his book, on page 296, Laqueur briefly discusses Western-sponsored terrorism, and explains why it is not terribly important or in a class with Soviet-sponsored and non-Western terrorism. This apologetic is worthy of close attention, and we will examine it point by point.

(One) He states that "the difference between Western and Soviet as well as Libyan, Syrian and Iranian involvement was both quantitative and qualitative in character." But while claiming a "quantitative" difference, Laqueur scrupulously avoids any comparative numbers. He also selects his cases carefully. Apart from the U.S.-supported state terrorists in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, East Timor, and elsewhere, ruled out by Laqueur's definitional system, he fails to mention South Africa's support of RENAMO in Mozambique, which makes Libya's support of Abu Nidal pale into relative insignificance. Have Libya and its proxies killed more civilians than the U .S. sponsored contras in Nicaragua or the Israeli-supported Christian Phalange in Lebanon? The answers will not found in Laqueur's book, and a glance at tables 2-1 and 3-1 tells us why he selects carefully and avoids numbers.

(Two) "The Western countries are status-quo orientated. They want to prevent insurgencies and other forms of destabilization. . . ." This is a false generalization. Western governments want stability only when this will serve their interests; otherwise, they frequently subsidize "freedom fighters" or destabilize countries in other ways in order to bring about strongly desired change. Cuba was stable when Operation Mongoose and other counterrevolutionary attacks were launched against it by the United States. There was no Nicaraguan civil war before the CIA organized the impotent remnants of Somoza's National Guard and funded an enlarged mercenary army. The United States did not like the Nicaraguan status quo under the Sandinistas, and a proxy army was created to fight them. Israel's proxy army in Lebanon was put in place before open civil war occurred and was a tool of destabilization. The United States helped destabilize Chile, Iran, Brazil, and Guatemala under conditions where there were neither insurgencies nor civil wars. For years after 1949 the United States tried to destabilize China via proxy armies in Burma and Taiwan. China was very stable, but under the wrong auspices.

(Three) "Western nations have become involved in civil wars and insurgencies, supporting various guerrilla-type organizations. Such operations are now an accepted mode of conflict in some Third World countries in the absence of regular warfare." Who says that the contras are engaged in an "accepted mode of conflict" in the Third World? The Nicaraguans? The International Court of justice? Or apologists for Western low-intensity warfare? As this form of terrorist attack is now employed by the West on a large scale, Laqueur asserts that this mode is "acceptable," whereas the forms used by those attacking the West are "terrorism."

(Four) "However, there has been no Western equivalent of terrorism of the kind practised by the various Abu Nidals and Carlos, the Red Brigades and the RAF." This is another falsehood. The Cuban terror networks that emerged from CIA training have attacked Cuba incessantly over the years, shot down a Cuban airliner, and carried out numerous bombings and assassinations.[6] Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles are in the Carlos class, but are ignored by Laqueur. Also ignored by him is Operation Condor, a cross-border murder operation of the 1970s that used CIA-trained operatives to kill many dissidents. He also neglects the Italian rightists like Stefano delle Chiaie, who were close to the security services of Italy. Even more important are the death squads of Latin America, regularly affiliated with the police and intelligence services, and killing on a scale far beyond the capabilities of Carlos. We may also note that Abu Nidal never duplicated the scale of murder of the Christian Phalange - Israel's "militia" - in its mass murder of civilians at Sabra and Shatila. This incident is, of course, blacked out in Laqueur's book.

(Five) "There has been counter-terrorism such as the Israeli efforts to eliminate the leaders of Black September responsible for the Munich massacre." In accord with standard Western semantics, Israel only engages in counterterror. Time after time Laqueur mentions incidents where the PLO killed people and Israel then killed in "retaliation," suppressing evidence of prior equal or larger numbers of Israeli killings that might have justified referring to the PLO acts as "retaliation."

(Six) "There have been no attempts on the part of the Western powers to assassinate political emigres." This is certainly not true for U.S. client states. Orlando Letelier was murdered by Chilean assassins on the streets of Washington. Under Operation Condor, hundreds of emigres were murdered in a systematic program. Laqueur's statement is also deceptively selective, as he fails to mention the abundant evidence of U.S. attempts to murder foreign heads of state. This would surely seem like a form of terrorism as serious as the murder of emigres. The Senate Committee report Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders documented multiple U.S. efforts to murder Castro, and other assassination attempts.[7] Laqueur doesn't mention this work. He does say that democratic countries don't "normally" kill enemy leaders: "In the United States there is an absolute prohibition by presidential order."[8] He doesn't explain that this order was in response to evidence that the United States had been killing and trying to kill enemy leaders. He also fails to ask whether this presidential order is sure proof that covert killing has ceased. As a spokesman for the West, he just takes the nominal claim as established truth - suppressing the background, and even neglecting to mention that the 1986 bombing of Tripoli, for example, was clearly intended to kill Qaddafi, in violation of the presidential order.[9]

(Seven) "The Russians and their allies. . . do not have to render account to their Parliaments, and their media do not report the support given to terrorist allies." The Western media often do not report aid to state and insurgent terrorists, and when they do, it is usually low-key and in a matrix of apologetics about needing to stop communist aggression. It does not follow in the least that Western states do not support terrorism on a large scale.

(Eight) "While the Soviet Union has its proxies such as Cuba or Bulgaria, America has no such substitutes." This is another fabrication. The United States had the shah, Somoza, and Argentina under the fascist generals, and it currently has Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, South Africa, and numerous other clients and mercenaries, such as the affiliates of WACL, to do its dirty work abroad. Laqueur is clearly an apologist for Western terror. He never departs from the Western model. His scholarship is derisory. Nevertheless, he fits the category of establishment moderate, as he recognizes the legitimacy of liberation movements in some cases, does not accept in its entirety the Soviet network theory, and does not call for instant retaliation and an eye-for-an-eye policy in the face of terrorism. This tells us a lot about the quality of the other members of the set of terrorism experts.


  1. Walter Laqueur, The Age of Terrorism (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987).
  2. Ibid.. p, 121.
  3. A more complete tabulation of the bias in Laqueur's coverage is given in table 7-3 below.
  4. Laqueur, Age of Terrorism, pp. 3, pp. 145-47.
  5. Ibid.. pp. 22, 141, 143, 275.
  6. Herman, Real Terror Network, pp. 65-69.
  7. Report No. 94-465, Select Committee to Study Government Intelligence Activities. U.S. Senate, 84th Cong., 1st sess., November 1975, Further material on CIA-backed assassinations and assassination plans is given in Blum, CIA.
  8. Laqueur, Age of Terrorism, p. 311.
  9. Seymour Hersh, "Target Qaddafi," New York Times Magazine, 22 February 1987.