NEVER BEFORE has the threat of terrorism been so great. We bring our readers a fascinating interview, by Plain Truth senior writer John Ross Schroeder, with Christopher Dobson, British author and journalist, and one of the world's most knowledgeable authorities on the frightening spectre of terrorism. Mr. Dobson has authored or coauthored six books on terrorist groups, their weapons and philosophy.
How would you define terrorism? A very good definition of terrorism is in the United Kingdom's Prevention of Terrorism Act: Terrorism means the use of violence for political ends and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the community in fear. That's an excellent definition because if you use it then you know when you are dealing with a terrorist and when you're not dealing with a terrorist.
Terrorism has become an instrumentality not only of small groups taking revenge against society, but it has also become an instrumentality of states. Could you comment on this phenomenon? Yes, terrorism has become a surrogate form of waging war. The Soviet Union uses this form. I'm not for one moment suggesting that the Russians are behind every single act of terrorism. I wouldn't suggest that they manipulate every terrorist gang. But where a terrorist gang or terrorist situation suits their purpose, they will then support it, they will take advantage of it, they will finance it and they will give it arms, and it will be used. In some ways one may say that the Third World War is already being fought, and it is being fought by means of terrorism.
What role is terrorism presently playing, and what role will it continue to play in the struggle for power and influence between states and superstates? One act of terrorism actually began World War I. Yes, one remembers very well the assassination at Sarajevo, but of course that single act could not have sparked the Great War unless the conditions for that Great War were already present. The great danger is that where the conditions are right for war, a single act of terrorism can actually provide the detonator. All types of states use terrorism now. Look at Col. [Muammar] Kadafi, for example. Col. Kadafi sends out his hit teams, trained by the Venezuelan assassin, Carlos, to kill off his opponents in other countries. I interviewed Kadafi about two years ago, immediately after one of his hit teams had murdered one of his opponents here in Britain, and I said to him, "Colonel, when are your people going to stop killing your enemies in my country, in Britain?" He said, "I don't see why you are worried about this. We don't harm British people, it's nothing to do with the British government, and we are going to continue doing that." It is that sort of arrogant attitude by terrorists and the promoters of terrorists which can cause enormous problems, certainly for countries which themselves do not use terrorism as an instrument of state. One sees it, particularly in Beirut now, where terrorism is being used by just about every different faction in Lebanon. The Shias are using it, the Druzes are using it, the Phalangists are using it-they are all using terrorism as a weapon of war.
There seems to be a real fear of the possibility of nuclear war. How does this phenomenon affect the attitudes of terrorists who are desperate and become more desperate every day? I don't think that the threat of nuclear war actually affects the major terrorist groups, because if there is nuclear war, they will no longer be in business anyway. Their purpose in life and in death is to achieve their objectives in small-scale wars. There are two places where there is a linkage between nuclear warfare and terrorism: one is the danger of terrorist groups acquiring, nuclear weapons, or at least nuclear material which they can use to blackmail cities. A little while ago this was a fairly high concern among the antiterrorist organizations, but that seems to have slipped away now and people aren't nearly so worried. I know that in the United States there are very effective military units which make sure that nobody acquires nuclear materials illegitimately.
What are Western governments doing at the highest policy level to combat terrorism? The Western governments were very, very slow in doing anything united against terrorism. There is now an agreement under the EEC [European Economic Community] which enables all the countries of Europe to work together. Even before that agreement was made, there were various specialized units in European countries and in Israel and in the United States which cooperated on what we call in England, The Old Boy Network. The colonels knew each other and the captains knew each other. They exchanged visits and they compared notes. They tended to work together, but it was on an unofficial level. What we've got now officially is legal, military and police cooperation among those countries that are specifically fighting terrorism. One of the greatest assets in this fight is the German police computer at Wiesbaden, in which every known fact about every known terrorist is stored, and all the police forces of the Free World can draw on that computer's data banks. If people are picked up in London engaged in a form of terrorism, Wiesbaden is consulted and then the results come back in half an hour.
Some observers think that international terrorism may pose a greater threat to democratic societies than either external military aggression or, internal subversion. Do you think that is a fair evaluation of that situation? I don't think that's true at the moment. Terrorism is rather like the sea. There are great tides of terrorism and then the tide recedes. Some days the waves come crashing on the foreshore and frighten us all, and other days they are way out. A point to keep in mind about this question is that terrorism can never succeed in overthrowing a country unless the government itself is rotten and falls. And not so long ago, it was thought that the Red Brigades would overthrow the Italian government, but they haven't. They failed miserably. The Red Brigades are now in disorder, their leaders are in prison and they are no longer effective. This happened because the government was strong. The same thing happened in Germany where the Bader Meinhoff gang and the Red Army faction thought that they could overthrow the German government. But it wasn't possible, because the solid layer of government, riot only the central government, but also local government, was far, far stronger than the terrorists. Terrorism can never be completely stamped out-new countries will use it as they get into situations where they see terrorism as their way of waging warfare. This is state terrorism and not acts by gangs of antistate terrorists. There are a number of countries in the world who will use terrorism. The Libyans will use it, the Palestinians have always used it. The Palestinians have used it because the Arab states have no other way of striking at Israel. There are various bands in Africa supported by black African countries which will use terrorism against South Africa. It is essentially the weapon of the weak against the strong. But at the same time, it's a weapon which is being fostered by one or two major states. The Soviet Union will support acts of terrorism where it suits its purpose. The Cubans, of course, act as surrogate for the KGB and will carry out acts on behalf of the Soviet Union. I don't want to be complacent about this because one should never ever be complacent about terrorism, and, of course, we are seeing terrorism being used in a number of places. But in most places it's not terrorism which is going to vitally affect the course of the world unless people panic and allow terrorism to do exactly that. Strong governments are needed, strong will is needed, and in this way, terrorism can be contained. But it can never be entirely defeated because it only needs one man with a couple of sticks of explosives, which he can make from materials bought in the nearest hardware store, to hold a city to ransom. However, although this is very easy to do, it doesn't really affect the course of the world's history.
Specifically, why are nations of the world and individual groups within those nations turning to terrorism as an act to influence political events? There are two answers to this question. The first answer is that some nations are too powerful to wage war, and the second answer is that some nations are too weak to wage war. The Soviet Union can't wage war with the United States because it could result in a nuclear holocaust. So they don't do so but instead they use terrorist groups in other countries to wage their wars for them. It's like sending out a small boy to pick on the boy of another family when the father doesn't dare hit the father. With the smaller countries, those that don't have the power to wage war against big countries can use acts of terror-small hit squads, small bomb squads-to strike at those major countries which they would otherwise be frightened to attack.
The Third World press seems to focus on Israel as being the number one terrorist power in the world today. What is your opinion on this seeming phenomenon? Of course, the Third World would concentrate on it because of their support for the Arab cause. This is a perfectly natural political development. It is true that the Israelis themselves used terrorism against the British mandate forces to force the British army to leave Palestine. Their excuse, then, was that their people had suffered nearly six million dead from the holocaust and they needed the homeland of Israel. In fact, they committed various acts which are still regarded in Britain as acts of the most appalling terrorism. However, during the "War of Independence" in 1948, acts of terrorism were committed by both sides. The Arabs committed acts of terrorism against the Israelis and the Israelis committed acts of terrorism against the Palestinians. After they achieved independence, the Israelis forswore terrorism, until the Palestinians used it against them. And then, because Israelis couldn't strike back in any other way; they started to use their counterterrorist forces against the Palestinians operating in Europe. After the 1972 Munich massacre, when it seemed impossible that the people who planned it would ever be caught, the Israelis said, "We will deal with this ourselves." They believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. They sent out their hit teams, their assassination squads, to try to wipe out the people who were committing acts of terrorism against them, There was a war of kill and counterkill throughout Europe.
Would terrorist groups dare to undertake such a fanatical mission as kidnapping the British Queen? Could they really get past the security forces? Given the present level of security it would be a difficult task to kidnap the Queen. The security forces are well aware of the danger and have worked out contingency plans to cope with all foreseeable sets of circumstances. They have even made dummy kidnap runs on the Royal Family. This does not, of course, mean that it would be impossible to kidnap the Queen-anything is possible in the world of terrorism. It is the threat of assassination rather than kidnapping which is the constant nightmare for the Queen's security men. She is aware of the danger but persists in her walkabouts both at home and abroad during which she walks through crowded streets greeting people. It would seem that the terrorist groups have decided that the international outrage caused by such an attempt would be counterproductive to their cause. There is no doubt that if the IRA decided that such an attempt would benefit their cause then they would attempt it. But as we have seen recently, they prefer softer targets like the people doing their shopping at Harrods in London.
How many terrorist organizations are there in the world today? It is impossible to say precisely how many terrorist groups exist today, as they are like amoebae, constantly splitting, dying and regenerating. However, a nation by nation count of the groups now operating on a serious level gives us a figure of 45 to 50.
To what extent do these groups cooperate? There is no Terrorist International as such but there is a great deal of free-lance cooperation. Most of this stems from a meeting of international terrorists held in Lebanon in 1972 under the auspices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. There have been similar meetings, especially in Ireland, of so-called freedom movements which have been covers for terrorist cooperative planning. They seem to. work on a basis of doing favors for one another. German members of the Red Army faction-the successors to the Bader Meinhoff gang-helped the Popular Front for the Liberation of, Palestine (PFLP) in the Entebbe, Uganda, hijack for example. There is also extensive exchange of arms and expertise. It is known, for example, that the Irish bomb makers have passed on their techniques to the Arabs and the Basques in exchange for arms. More recently, the most desperate acts of terrorism have been carried out in the name of religion among the warring. factions in Lebanon. But in most cases the religious cause is used only to disguise the real purpose of the terrorism: the acquisition of political and therefore commercial power. One exception to this rule are the Shias who carry out bombings and killings on behalf of Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. They are convinced that they are acting on behalf of their version of Allah through the commands of the Ayatollah, and they are convinced that if they are killed they will become martyrs and go directly to, heaven. The only theme uniting all these elements is that they are prepared to kill to further their cause.
Which countries in the world provide safe havens for terrorists and give substantial financial support to terrorist groups and military training and equipment? Libya, Cuba and South Yemen are the three main havens for the terrorists. The various Arab nations also give shelter, training facilities, arms and money to the various groups which attach themselves to the government of the day. Russia's satellites also give succor to the terrorists, but quietly. The Irish community in the United States also acts as a rear base for the Irish terrorists, providing money through NORAID, which buys arms in sporting goods shops and smuggles them across the Atlantic, as well as providing protection for terrorists on the run and a center for propaganda.
Does the Soviet Union play a major role in supporting terrorist groups? The Soviet Union has tried most successfully to present a pure image to the world over its support of terrorism. A pamphlet published by the Jonathan Institute in Jerusalem has exposed this facade. The Russians pick likely recruits from among Third World students and train them at Lumumba University as terrorist leaders. There are terrorist training camps maintained in East Germany and Czechoslovakia. A number of Arab terrorists who have been captured by the Israelis and have told their stories reveal the extent of Soviet involvement. Most terrorist weapons are Soviet designed but made in and supplied from Czechoslovakia. Terrorists are also allowed to use the satellite countries as havens after carrying out operations in Europe. It is significant that not a single act of terrorism has been carried out against the Soviet Union by these terrorist groups. Their [Soviet] sensitivity about being blamed for sponsoring terrorism is illustrated by their intense reaction to accusations that the Bulgarian secret service was behind the attempted assassination of the Pope by the Turkish gunman Ali Agca.
Would the financial support the IRA receives from Irish-Americans compare with the backing such nations as Cuba and Libya give the PLQ? No. These are two different phenomena. The Irish-Americans give money and political support out of love for an ancient cause. Many of them feel guilty that they are leading a soft life in America while their cousins are fighting and dying in the old country. This type of emotionalism obscures the truths of the situation in Ireland and hides the fact that the men they are supporting tend to be ruthless thugs. The support given by Cuba and especially Libya is of a different quality. These countries provide training camps, weapons, finances, logistic support through the "diplomatic bag" and, in fact, behave like countries at war.
How sophisticated is the weaponry of these groups, and just how well organized and capable of pulling off major coups are they? Weaponry is growing increasingly sophisticated. The Irish in particular have become expert in bomb making, using mercury trembler fuses and remote controlled bombs triggered by radio devices similar to those used in controlling the flight of model aircraft. There are about 10 groups-who are organized enough to pull off major coups. But such coups have become more difficult with the formation and success of specialized antiterrorist groups such as the British SAS and the German GSG9. Hijacking seems to have gone out of fashion because of the Mogadishu and Entebbe incidents, when hijackers were dealt with ruthlessly by German and Israeli commando raiders and it was made clear to the terrorists that the world was prepared to fight against aerial hijacking, even at the price of some innocent lives. Once that fact was established the terrorists realized that their blackmail would no longer payoff.
Do the Arab terrorist groups have as an ultimate ideal a resurgent Islamic empire uniting all Arab states? Most terrorist groups which have been operating throughout the world in the Palestinian cause are not religious. In fact, the most ruthless of the groups was founded and controlled by two Christian Arabs. It is the aim of most of these groups first to reoccupy Palestine and then to spread a leftist movement of various degrees throughout Arabia. The overthrow of the Shah by the Shia Moslems has, however, introduced a new factor, because this movement and the general resurgence of Islam must sooner or later clash with the secular aims of the terrorists. Islam can never live with communism.
Would you say that urban terrorists are initially dedicated to anarchy to bring about their aims? Most of the urban groups in Europe see anarchy as a prerequisite to the overthrow of the present system of government and the emergence of their new utopia. The formula is well known. Cause chaos. The government will be forced to introduce repressive measures. The populace will rise. Anarchy will ensue. The system will collapse. Paradise will be created out of the ruins. This has so far not worked because the ordinary people have come to hate terrorism so much they are prepared to put up with repressive measures in order to get rid of the terrorists. The danger lies in the fact that unless these repressive measures are removed from the statute books, once the terrorists have been destroyed, they could provide a framework for a dictatorship-so the terrorists will have succeeded only in creating what they hate the most.
Are most terrorists perfectly willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause? A great number of terrorists are perfectly willing to die for the cause, principally because once having become a terrorist there can be no going back. They must either triumph or die. Death becomes commonplace. This is what makes them so dangerous. They will kill because they are prepared to die.
Which terrorist group has the most military clout today? I doubt if a European urban group has any real political power now. The only ones that have are the various Arab groups. And their threat lies in their position as a fuse to the powder keg of the Middle East and the oil fields on which the Western world relies for its survival.