Introduction to Terrorism: Theirs and Ours

Notes for Human Ecology class (GEOG 3020) by Dr. Eric T. Karlstrom, professor of Geography, CSUS (ca. 1999)

On Terrorism: Theirs and Ours

Epigraph Quotes:

John Stockwell estimates that since WWII, CIA-instigated wars have killed well over 6 million (including 2 million Vietnamese, 1 million Koreans, 1 million Indonesians, 1 million Cambodians, 1 million Laotians, 20,000 Angolans, and 22,000 Nicaraguans). Stockwell (“The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. Role in the New World Order and The United States in Search of Enemies”) calls this the “American Holocaust”.

ETK Introduction:

Information provided herein is a mere introduction to a vast subject. Even so, this information should be sufficient to dispel some of the fundamental lies by which our leaders (and their handlers) deceive and terrorize the American people.

1954 White House Commission Report:

It is now clear that we face an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of “fair play” must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counter-espionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy.

According to Noam Chomsky (“Chronicles of Dissent”):

“The word terrorism” came into general use at the end of the 18th century, and it was then used to refer to acts of violent states that suppress their own populations by violence. Terror was the action of a state against its own people. That concept is of no use whatever to people in power. So, predictably, the term has come to be changed. Now it’s the actions of citizens against states…. the terrorism of small, marginal groups, and not the terrorism of powerful states”.

Because of this awkward fact, official state documents virtually never define terrorism, but rather refer to it in terms designed to illicit an emotional response, such as Secretary of State George Schultz’ statement: “Terrorism is a menace to the moral values of Western civilization”. However, for a more objective definition we can refer to Webster’s dictionary:

Terrorism, n. Use of terror or violence to intimidate, subjugate, etc., especially as a political weapon or policy.

Hampshire College professor Eqbal Ahmad notes five kinds of terrorism (in order of descending impact: state, religious or “sacred”, criminal, pathological, and terrorism by private groups). In (Confronting Empire), he notes that the ratio of people killed by state-sponsored “terrorism” to those killed by terrorism of private groups is, conservatively, about 1000 to 1. He also notes, however, that state-sponsored terrorism is never called terrorism. It is called “counter-terrorism”, “counter-insurgency”, or “low-intensity conflict”. Interestingly, Chomsky notes that the definition of “low intensity conflict”, which is the official policy of the U.S., is nearly identical to that of terrorism. Thus, states may conduct their wars of terror against indigenous populations (as when, for instance, Turkey and Iraq, with U.S. weapons, exterminated thousands of Kurds within their own borders, or the U.S. funded ‘death squads’ in Guatemala and El Salvador killed hundreds of thousands of peasants), but this is never called terrorism. Often, the wars against these mostly civilian populations are justified on the basis of the fact that they are communist, when in fact, they usually are only poor peasants trying to preserve their lives, land, and way of life. However, when private groups such as those led by Osama bin Laden retaliate against state power, they are labeled as “terrorists”. According to Chomsky, this is because the state also owns the doctrinal system.

Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the CIA war in Afghanistan

Interestingly, Osama bin Laden was one of about 100,000 extremist Moslem mercenaries that the CIA recruited for the jihad (holy war) that they (the CIA) helped foment against the Soviet Union between 1979 and 1989. Osama bin Laden was a prize recruit: He was a multi-millionaire from Saudi Arabia willing to use his own money in the cause and to recruit Muslims from numerous other countries. Together these Islamic mercenaries from throughout the Muslim world comprised the mujahideen (holy warriors) who eventually chased the Soviets out of Afghanistan (with the assistance of many billions of CIA – U.S. money- no one knows how many, but it was the largest covert CIA operation ever). Osama bin Laden and the other mujahideen were certainly terrorists, but since they were fighting our enemies, the Soviets, our press and President Reagan called them “freedom fighters”. In 1985, Ronald Reagan welcomed a number of these “freedom fighters” to the White House, calling them, on television, “the moral equivalents of America’s Founding Fathers”. So you see, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. It depends on one’s perspective. Now that Osama is fighting the U.S. for essentially the same reasons as he was fighting the Soviets (to get us to remove our troops from his home, Saudi Arabia), he is considered the most evil of terrorists. Eqbal Ahmed explains some of the reasons Osama bin Laden might be angry with the U.S. in Confronting Empire:

U.S. forces were invited into (Saudi Arabia) by King Fahd, who insisted that the Americans withdraw all their military forces once the threat of Iraqi aggression had ended. The Americans did not keep their promise, and today thousands of U.S. military personnel are still based in Saudi Arabia, with key operatives inside the Saudi ministries of defense and interior, just as they were in Iran before the fall of the shah… Saudi oil is essentially controlled and marketed by American interests. Saudi wealth is invested in the United States and Europe. The Saudis went into the arms market early in the 1980’s. The United States has dumped something like 100 billion dollars’ worth of armaments in that place. The Saudi people are going to be discontented…. They have a wealth of oil and that wealth is not reaching them.

And there’s more to the story. The Mujahideen were both warriors and drug smugglers. When they forced the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan (again, using U.S. arms, money, CIA training camps, etc.) the U.S. simply walked away, leaving about 10 different ethnic factions to fight amongst themselves for control of their now-decimated country. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union fell apart, creating six new independent predominantly Muslim republics in Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizstan, and Azerbaijan. Guess what? These republics happen to be rich in oil and gas. So at this point, American oil corporations (Texaco, Amoco, and Unocal) move in. It becomes clear that the best way to get the oil and gas out of these republics is through a pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan, thus avoiding our enemy Iran. This meant that U.S. corporate interests needed a government in Afghanistan amenable to the pipeline. Of the 10 warring Mujahideen factions, they chose the craziest of the Islamic fundamentalist groups, the Taliban, to ensure the safety of the pipeline. The reason is that the Taliban come from the Pashtun ethnic group which are a majority people with a large presence in Pakistan (15 million). Pakistan had already proven its loyalty to U.S. interests. Hence, better to have the pipeline under the control of people whom the Pakistan government could influence. So it was the U.S. that helped the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan in the first place! Eqbal Ahmad notes: “The U.S. concern is not who is fundamentalist and who is progressive, who treats women nicely and who treats them badly. That’s not the issue. The issue is who is more likely to ensure the safety of the oil resources that the United States or its corporations could control?”

But back to terrorism. Does the U.S. utilize terrorism to achieve it’s geopolitical, economic aims? Certainly it does, although it also commonly uses proxy client states, such as Israel, or mercenaries, such as the “contras” or mujahideen, to carry out its terror. In fact, after World War II, the U.S. recruited and employed Nazi war criminals such as Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie (the “butcher of Lyon”) to help write official manuals of torture and generally, to continue their activities on our behalf. Our own back yard, Central America, provides, vivid and quite recent examples of the “scientific” techniques used:

People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador- they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones, while parents are forced to watch.

Reverend Santiago, El Salvador

If this isn’t “terrorism”, what is? But what about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which the U.S. and all other states ratified in 1948? In fact, it is a wonderful and wise document which guarantee human rights of life, liberty, freedom from slavery, torture, etc. for all people that the U.S. and many other states blatantly ignore and/or subvert. Whereas all states give lip service to these kinds of ideals, nearly all states ignore them. (See The Umbrella of U.S. Power; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Contradictions of U.S. Policy, by Noam Chomsky).

Similarly, The 1985 U.N. Resolution in Geneva provides a statement of lofty, reasonable ideals that the world’s powerful ignore. This document states “indigenous nations and peoples may engage in self defense against state action in conflict with their right to self-determination.” It defines “genocide” as physical or cultural killing of a people”. Again, it is important to realize that genocide did not stop with the infamous Nazi Holocaust but has, in fact, continued all over the world- in China (Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria), Central America, S.E. Asia, Indonesia, the Middle East, and North America, etc. Again, since WWII, the nature of global warfare has changed and most have been guerrilla wars of independence from colonial powers. They are insurgencies by Fourth World nation peoples against the states created from “re-colonialization”, which is essentially a state invasion to take over and annex an external state or nation.


From a CIA manual: “Study of Assassination”, from the 1950’s:

For secret assassinations… the contrived accident is the most effective technique. When successfully executed, it causes little excitement and is only casually investigated. The most efficient accident is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface. Elevator shafts, stair wells, un-screened windows, and bridges will serve…. The act may be executed by sudden vigorous grabbing of the ankles, tipping the subject over the edge. If the assassin immediately sets up an outcry, playing the “horrified witness”, no alibi or surreptitious withdrawal is necessary.

Drugs can be very effective. If the assassin is trained as a doctor or nurse and the subject is under medical care, this is an easy and sure method. An overdose of morphine administered as a sedative will cause death without disturbance and is difficult to detect…. The manual goes on to describe the effectiveness of “edge weapons” and guns, etc.


One major impetus behind the ‘Third World’ wars is the arms industry. The world spends $800 billion on military each year. This figure equals the debt of the developing nations. The U.S. spends over a third of this- over $300 billion annually- officially to protect us against foreign enemies. (Meanwhile, a high proportion of U.S. citizens are afraid to go out alone at night and in 1990, 30 million suffered from malnutrition. And worldwide, 1.3 billion don’t have access to safe drinking water, 770 million are malnourished, 14 million children starve to death each year, 100 million don’t have adequate shelter, and 880 million can’t read or write). Arms imports and expenses take funds from people and into war-merchants pockets.

Every day, $3 billion in arms is bought and sold. The U.S. supplies more than one half of all arms worldwide, often to brutal dictators such as Saddam Hussein and “terrorists” such as Osama bin Laden. The “defense corporations” make a 20 to 25% profit. In the 1980’s, the U.S. spent $ 2.5 trillion (this is the announced figure, the real figure is probably higher) on the largest arms buildup in the history of the world. The countries’ debt increased by that amount.

The U.S.A. has fought 15 wars in 200 years, but has put its military’s in other countries about 200 times (an average of once a year). Recall Butler’s quote: “War is a racket”. Since World War II, the U.S. has been at war with- and bombed- China (1945-46, 1950-1953); Korea (1950-1953); Guatemala (1954, 1967-69); Indonesia (1958); Cuba (1959-60); the Belgian Congo (1964); Peru (1965); Laos (1964-73); Vietnam (1961-73); Cambodia (1969-70); Grenada (1983); Libya (1986); El Salvador (1980s); Nicaragua (1980s); Panama (1989); Iraq (1991-99); Bosnia (1995); Sudan (1998); Yugoslavia (1999) and now Afghanistan (2001-?). As noted, John Stockwell estimates that since WWII, CIA-instigated wars have killed well over 6 million (including 2 million Vietnamese, 1 million Koreans, 1 million Indonesians, 1 million Cambodians, 1 million Laotians, 20,000 Angolans, and 22,000 Nicaraguans). Stockwell (“The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. Role in the New World Order and The United States in Search of Enemies”) calls this the “American Holocaust”.