Document:Paul Wilkinson, extract from The "Terrorism" Industry

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Disclaimer (#3)Document.png book extract  by Edward S. Herman dated May 12, 1990
Subjects: Paul Wilkinson, terrorism
Source: The "Terrorism" Industry

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Wilkinson has been one of the leading figures in Western terrorology, serving as a terrorism consultant to CBS-TV and Britain's ITN (television) network and as a prime source on terrorism for Western media generally. A professor of international relations at Aberdeen University in Scotland since 1979, Wilkinson has written numerous books and articles on terrorism and has been a participant in many of the leading conferences and seminars on terrorism over the past decade. He is a member of the board of Yonah Alexander's journal,'Terrorism', and serves on the international advisory board for Alexander's microfilm project, described earlier. He also coedited a book on terrorism with Alexander. In addition, Wilkinson has close connections with the Canadian terrorologists David Charters and Maurice Tugwell and serves on the editorial advisory board of 'Conflict Quarterly' (edited by Charters).

Wilkinson's ties to the British state and corporate community are also close. He is chairman of the Research Foundation for the Study of Terrorism, an institution closely linked to British conservative and industrial interests and openly designed to serve their security and ideological needs. Wilkinson was a Royal Air Force regular officer for six years, and he was "for some years" involved in training the British police on terrorism.'[1] Given these connections it is perhaps understandable that his writings express effusive admiration for the British armed forces, wherever they may be and whatever they may be doing. They always strive to bring "stability" and "order" under difficult conditions, and they consistently display an amazing humanity and restraint under severe provocation.[2] Any abuses by the British armed forces are a result of "clumsiness," "mistakes," "errors of judgment," or "over-reaction."[3] Elsewhere he asserts that the media "must expose the propaganda of atrocities, defamations, and myths of the terrorists. They must call a murder a murder, not an 'act of revolutionary execution.'"[4] But for his own side, a murder may be called a "mistake" or "error in judgment."

His broader identification with the West yields the same dichotomous treatment. The Third World displays "sudden explosions of anti-Western fury and hate;' and an enemy state like Iran is a "barbaric tin-pot regime of mad mullahs, wading in the blood of their executions."[5]

The Soviets and their proxies "provoke international crises and wider conflagrations" to divert attention from aggression "or to 'soften up' our potential for resistance at the inception of a major military assault on NATO Europe."[6] The West, meanwhile, has no "proxies" who wade in the blood of their victims; it never engages in any paroxysms of fury in which large numbers are killed; on the contrary, it only strives for "stability" and to protect its legitimate strategic interests. British forces have been "sucked into the internecine conflict[s] in an effort to restore order and stability."[7] British soldiers "have given their lives in the fight against terrorism;' which emerges from the irrational furies of the Third World and Soviet conspiracies.

Wilkinson defines terrorism as the "systematic use of murder and destruction, and the threat of murder and destruction, to terrorize individuals, groups, communities or governments into conceding to [sic] the terrorists' political aims." [8] This definition clearly encompasses the "primary terrorism" of Argentina (1976-83), Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, South Africa, Israel, and the United States in Central America. Wilkinson, however, never addresses these cases. In his book Terrorism and the Liberal State, he refers to EI Salvador only once, noting that "the State Department's dossier on the tragic situation in El Salvador underlines the importance of Cuba as a Soviet proxy for the subversion of the vulnerable and unstable regimes in Central America."[9]

This sentence captures the essence of Wilkinson's work as de facto Western propaganda. The killing of 60,000 civilians by the Salvadoran state fits perfectly Wilkinson's definition of terrorism, but the killings were carried out under Western auspices. In consequence, four things happen. First, we use words like "tragic situation,' not plain murder, as he insisted the media use to describe enemy terror. Second, he does not designate this as a case of terrorism at all - nor does he stop to explain its exclusion. His listing of terrorist states never includes EI Salvador (or South Africa, Guatemala, or any other Western-affiliated state). Like Ronald Reagan, he selects terrorists strictly on the basis of political preference. Third, he does not mention that the Salvadoran death machine is funded and armed by the United States, which would make the latter a support base of terrorism if such facts were allowed to be applied to a Western state. He prefers talking about Cuba's alleged subversion.

A fourth and final consequence of a confrontation with Western sponsored terror is Wilkinson's corrupt use of sources. He cites a State Department document that claims Cuban and Soviet involvement in EI Salvador, but Wilkinson shows no concern over whether the claims were true. State Department white papers regularly exaggerate and falsify evidence - as do the official releases of all governments - but Wilkinson writes as if this is not an issue, although as we will see shortly he does contest official U.S. documents when they contradict his favored line. What makes this particular case egregious is that the white paper in question caused a virtual scandal in the United States, as it was harshly criticized in both the 'New York Times' and the 'Wall Street Journal' and acknowledged by the State Department itself as providing evidence that was flimsy at best. The principal State Department author of the white paper admitted that there were "mistakes" and "guessing," and that parts were possibly "misleading" and "over-embellished."[1] Jonathan Kwitny, the Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote up the case, stated that, as regards the white paper's claim of external communist involvement in and direction of the rebel efforts in EI Salvador,

"so far as one can rely on the documents at all, they show the opposite: a disorganized, ragtag rebellion. Some of its participants have gone around begging for help from the most likely sources, and have been consistently stalled off and sent home empty-handed, or with much less than they asked for. Not only do the documents not prove the thesis, the thesis simply isn't true."[2]

Concerning the Soviet Union's role, Kwitny noted that "the most interesting point in reference to the Soviet Union isn't cooperation, but lack of it."[3] It should be stressed that this controversy and the rebuttals to the white paper's claims were well publicized long before Wilkinson's book went to press. Finding the original State Department charges appealing, however, Wilkinson took an official release as gospel; he then ignored evidence of its refutation even by the establishment press.

Similarly, as regards Nicaragua, Wilkinson writes, "In September 1984 it was reported that Gaddafi boasted publicly of having sent troops and weapons to help the Sandinists [sic] in Nicaragua."[4] By his own definition, Nicaragua was a victim of state-sponsored terrorism by a U.S.-organized and U.S.-funded proxy army. But Wilkinson moves according to higher principles than logic, such as loyalty and solidarity. He notes in British Perspectives that "the Americans are Western Europeans' tried and trusted allies: they have saved Western Europe from tyranny twice in this century;' and he berates Western Europeans for not supporting without question any and all U.S. policy requests.[5] Wilkinson does not fail this trusted ally; when its leaders declare Nicaragua an enemy and terrorize that state, and are found by the International Court of Justice to be acting in violation of international law, Wilkinson not only refuses to call this terrorism, he reports Qaddafi's aid to the victim of terrorism as if this demonstrated Libya's terrorist proclivities!

South Africa appears in Wilkinson's work only as a victim of terrorism. He does not openly call the ANC a terrorist organization, but like Sterling he does this by indirection, by focusing exclusive attention on Soviet "penetration" and Soviet proxies - East Germany and Libya - "operating in Southern Africa" and "making a real contribution to world subversion and terrorist movements."[6] Wilkinson does concede that the disenfranchised majority in what he calls an "Athenian democracy" has a right to rebel, but he questions whether they should use it in the face of overwhelming state power. Nowhere in discussing South Africa in his Liberal State does he mention South Africa's cross-border murders and sabotage operations, nor does he use any invidious word or phrase to describe the internal policies of these Athenian democrats.

Wilkinson has one mention of Sabra-Shatila that is equally instructive. He says, "The September massacres of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the camps of Sabra and Chatilla [sic] by Phalangist militiamen was tragic evidence of their vulnerability and the inability of the Israelis, the U.N. or any other body, to protect them."[7] Note first the understated "hundreds" when the official Israeli estimate was seven to eight hundred and Lebanese and others ran well over one thousand. But the allegation that Sabra and Shatila demonstrate the "inability of the Israelis. . . to protect them" sets a new standard in apologetics for extreme but "allied" terror. It is well established that the Israelis introduced the Phalange into the camps, knowing full well that the Phalangists hated the Palestinians. The Israelis therefore had the "ability" to protect the victims simply by not allowing their armed enemies into the camps, just as a shepherd might be able to protect a Iamb by not pushing it into a hungry lion's cage. But Wilkinson's deception runs deeper, for the Kahan Commission acknowledged that 'Israeli officials watched or were informed about the slaughter and did nothing to stop it, even forcibly preventing the victims from leaving the slaughterhouse.'

While ignoring U.S. worldwide support of "freedom fighters" Wilkinson lines up firmly with Claire Sterling and the extreme right on Soviet responsibility for world terrorism: sponsored terrorism is the "cost-effective" mode of political warfare employed by the Soviet Union on a global basis. It initiates or comes to control national liberation movements, all in the interest of injuring the West and expanding "Moscow-style communism." [8] In his Liberal State, he notes:

"There are only two real surprises about the fierce and confused debate that has raged since the Reagan Administration, in its first week in office, bluntly accused the Soviets of complicity in terrorism around the world, and the State Department released a dossier to prove Soviet and Cuban involvement in terrorism in Central America. The first is that some usually well-informed people expressed genuine surprise at these 'revelations'. The second is that a C.I.A. analysis, either through incompetence and naivete or for more devious political reasons, sought to deny the link. One had become aware that, since Vietnam and Watergate, the C.I.A. had become dangerously run-down and inadequate as the intelligence arm of the leading Western power; but most people did not expect it to start operating as an agency of disinformation!"[9]

The context of this statement is the struggle between Haig and Casey, on the one hand, and the State Department and CIA professionals and specialists on terrorism on the other. Haig, as we noted earlier, had blustered onto the stage using Sterling's book to announce Soviet and Cuban involvement in terrorism, supplemented by the 1981 white paper. Haig was upset that the government's own experts didn't think too much of Sterling and pointed out that her chief source, Jan Sejna, was a fraud who had unwittingly used a CIA forgery to make his case. Casey, as we saw earlier, also liked the Sterling thesis, but was unable to sell it to the specialists and experts within the CIA. He did succeed, however, in forcing an upward revision in the terrorist incident numbers and inserting some flamboyant language to meet the exigencies of policy.[10] The controversy was widely recognized at the time to have involved a gross politicization of CIA data collection and analysis.[11] Wilkinson, however, aligns himself with the "know-nothings," and without any reference or citation to the 1980-81 documents, and obfuscating the stakes involved in 1981, suggests that the failure of the CIA to arrive at the proper conclusions reflected a decline in CIA competency, in process of rectification by William Casey! We may note, further, that the CIA never denied a Soviet "link" to terrorism; its experts contested the existence of a Soviet overall plan and coordinated effort to destabilize the West through the medium of terrorists everywhere. Wilkinson obscures this by using the word "link" and by failing to examine and analyze exactly what the CIA said in its objectionable report.

One of the critical manifestations of right-wing extremism in the West, shown clearly by Ledeen, Sterling, and de Borchgrave, is the notion that Soviet propaganda and disinformation has a strong effect in the West. Wilkinson suggests this also in his statement that "it is often not appreciated just how much effort goes into the propaganda for subversion and violence in the Western world. Throughout the non-Communist world, the Soviet Politburo deploys a vast apparatus for promoting subversion and violence in the interests of Soviet power and the expansion of Moscow-style communism."[12] Symmetrical statements about Western propaganda, support for subversion, and aid to death squads and repressive governments are never made by Wilkinson.

Wilkinson conveys an aura of reasonableness by regularly stressing that liberal states should not "overreact" or sacrifice their free institutions under provocations by "terrorists." This is deceptive in its pretense that the liberal states are always the victims. But beyond this, despite his pious warnings about overreaction, Wilkinson has been for a number of years an apologist for low-intensity warfare in Northern Ireland, which includes the use of outright torture and murder, and he works in the counterinsurgency tradition of Sir Robert Thompson, Richard Clutterbuck, Frank Kitson, and Maurice Tugwell.[13] This is applied state terrorism, in which force and violence are used as the means of inducing a satisfactory "political" solution. Wilkinson also lines up consistently with the state and police in their ongoing attempts to turn the media into agencies of state propaganda. The media, he says, "should avoid pillorying officials and agencies of law and order," without any hint that there might be some level of illegal and murderous action by the police and army that might justify "pillorying."[14] And Thatcher's policies of media coercion find a warm supporter in Wilkinson.[15] Thus his concern for overreaction and for the preservation of the values of the liberal state bends liberally, in accord with the needs of the police and state.

Wilkinson's service to a repressive state was carried to a new level in his attempt to discredit Colin Wallace, formerly of MI5 (British intelligence) and the Army Information Department. Wallace had exposed the workings of an MI5-backed "dirty tricks" campaign designed to discredit Labour MPs by linking their names, prior to elections, with the Irish Republican Army, as well as an MI5 campaign to smear Harold Wilson in 1976. Wallace also went on record in exposing abuses of psychological operations undertaken against the Irish by British intelligence.[16]

In response to Wallace's charges, Wilkinson passed along a letter of dubious origin to ITN Television, which accused Wallace of all manner of wrongdoing. Wilkinson's accompanying letter (on University of Aberdeen stationery and dated July 21, 1987) to a representative of ITN began, "Herewith the interesting letter I received from one of our researchers on the Colin Wallace affair. . . . It certainly raises major question marks about the extent to which one can rely on his version of events in Northern Ireland and elsewhere."[17]

The letter in question, a rather crude piece of disinformation, wrongfully accused Wallace of attempting to have the husband of a woman he was allegedly having an affair with killed by the Ulster Defence Association, and attributed his claims regarding Wilson and MI5 to 'James Bond fantasies.' Subsequently, in a letter to Wallace himself dated June 9, 1988, Wilkinson apologized for having caused him any undue "discomfort or embarrassment." A letter of retraction was simultaneously sent to various news agencies calling the allegations against Wallace (which he had, in essence, provided as fact) "totally untrue."[18]


  1. Paul Wilkinson, ed., British Perspectives on Terrorism (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981), p. 9.
  2. "It is doubtful whether any other army in the world could have performed the internal security role in Northern Ireland with such humanity, restraint and effectiveness," Paul Wilkinson, Terrorism and the Liberal State, 2nd ed, (New York: New York University Press, 1986). p. 159.
  3. Ibid., pp. 161, 163.
  4. Paul Wilkinson, "Real World Problems of the Terrorist Organization," in Merari. On Terrorism and Combatting Terrorism, p. 78.
  5. Wilkinson, British Perspectives, pp. 8. 185.
  6. Ibid.. p. 8.
  7. Ibid" p, 2.
  8. Wilkinson, Liberal State, p. 56.
  9. Ibid., p, 190.

  1. ^ . Quoted in Jonathan Kwitny's article on the white paper in the Wall Street journal, June 8, 1981.
  2. ^ . Jonathan Kwitny, Endless Enemies (New York: Congdon & Weed. 1984), p. 369.
  3. ^ , Ibid p, 364.
  4. ^ . Wilkinson, Liberal State, p, 215.
  5. ^ . Wilkinson, British Persputives, p. 185.
  6. ^ . Wilkinson, "Real World Problems," p. 74.
  7. ^ . Wilkinson, Liberal State. p. 203.
  8. ^ , Wilkinson, "Real World Problems," pp. 74-76.
  9. ^ , Wilkinson. Liberal State, p. 187.
  10. ^ . See chapter 4, pp, 62-63.
  11. ^ , See the discussion in Schmid, Political Terrorism, pp. 260-61.
  12. ^ . Wilkinson, "Real World Problems. . . " p. 74.
  13. ^ . In his introduction in British Perspectives on Terrorism, Wilkinson gives an accolade to Frank Kitson and Richard Clutterbuck, counterinsurgency theorists and practitioners, who have provided "some of the best recent British writing on terrorism" (p. 3).
  14. ^ , Wilkinson, "Real World Problems. . . ," p, 79.
  15. ^ . Paul Wilkinson, "Northern Ireland: Freedom vs. Law and Order," Op-Ed, New York Times, Nov. 19, 1988.
  16. ^ . For an account of Wallace's work in Ireland, in collaboration with Tugwell, see Liz Curtis, Propaganda War, pp. 118-24,229-74: on some of Wallace's admissions of abuse, See "Wilson, MI5 and the Rise of Thatcher."
  17. ^ . This correspondence, along with an analysis by Robin Ramsay of the letter that Wilkinson passed along as "interesting," is given in Lobster, no. 16 (Spring 1988).
  18. ^ . See ibid.