Document:Claire Sterling, extract from The "Terrorism" Industry

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Disclaimer (#3)Document.png book extract  by Edward S. Herman dated 1990
Subjects: Claire Sterling
Source: The "Terrorism" Industry

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Claire Sterling is a veteran journalist based in Italy, who worked for the The Reporter magazine, and after its demise, for other publications. The Reporter was a committed Cold War journal, and Sterling fitted in well during her years there and in the cold war struggles of the 1970s, as we indicated earlier. In fact, in testimony before the Italian Parliamentary Commission looking into the P-2 scandal, the conservative Italian academician Franco Ferracuti stated that in the course of soliciting him for research service in 1979, Michael Ledeen told him that Sterling functioned as a "courier" between the Italian intelligence agency SISDE and CSIS (which, as we have seen, has had extensive links to the CIA and other branches of the US government). [1] Sterling rose to fame and a new outreach in the 1980s, first with the publication of The Terror Network in 1981, and then with a Reader's Digest article, "The Plot to Kill the Pope" (September 1982), and a book, The Time of the Assassins (1983), the last two of which proclaimed Soviet-Bulgarian responsibility for the May 1981 assassination attempt against the pope.

The Terror Network pursued in detail the central theme of the Jonathan Institute conference of 1979 and the official Israeli line. It also fitted extremely well the new Reagan administration effort to portray the Soviet Union as a villain and backer of "international terrorism." Important high officials of the new administration loved Sterling; Alexander Haig had copies distributed within the State Department, and William Casey flaunted Sterling's achievement before his subordinates. Both Haig and Casey were perturbed to discover that the State Department and CIA experts found Sterling's book not only highly unreliable but based in large part on CIA disinformation "blown back" via Sterling.

In books and interviews, Sterling castigated the US government and especially the CIA for its cowardice in rejecting the Soviet network theory and its expressions of doubt about Soviet involvement in the assassination attempt against the pope. Despite these denunciations, the CIA went to special pains to help her out when she was sued under French law for slander. [2] Her denunciations of the CIA made it appear "moderate", so that debates on these issues could be limited to the balanced offering of the slightly exuberant Sterling and the CIA (or other "moderates" like Jenkins or Kupperman).

Sterling's message had several components. Fundamental was the view that the West is under attack and is the victim of something called terrorism, which she does not define. The attacker is the Soviet Union, aiming to "destabilize" the "democracies". While the Soviet Union does not absolutely control all of the terrorist movements, it supports and encourages them, and they all "come to see themselves as elite battalions in a worldwide Army of Communist Combat". [3] Claire Sterling does not talk much about the underlying conditions that make for guerrilla movements, nor does she ever refer to South African actions as terrorist. Any brutalities that might be designated state terrorism are explained away as reactions to retail and guerrilla terrorists who have brought state violence (never "terror") on themselves. Right-wing terror is entirely outside her province, and guerrilla movements like the ANC are transformed into antagonists of the West by exclusive attention to Soviet support, no matter how marginal, belated, and irrelevant to any real issue.

In brief, Sterling expounds the right-wing version of the Western establishment model of terrorism. Her policy pronouncements have tended to be on the moderate side, in contrast with those of Alexander, Cline, Livingstone, and Moss, but this may be to give her more credibility in getting over her hard-line views on the terrorist threat and its clear locus in the Soviet Union. She has left it to others to draw the appropriately "forward" policy conclusions.

Sterling's book The Terror Network failed to provide definitions of or quantitative evidence on terrorism, relying instead upon selective and highly dramatized stories, and its claims are, for the most part, supported by citations to unverifiable intelligence sources. [4] Many of these claims are ludicrous and reflect a gullibility and willingness to believe anything that supports strongly held preconceptions. Sterling accepts stories from the South African police, the military regime of Argentina, and Israeli intelligence at face value. [5] She also selects and suppresses evidence to the convenience of her argument.[6] The heart of her proof of a Soviet conspiracy in The Terror Network is the testimony of Jan Sejna, a Czech defector, who left "a jump ahead of the invading Soviet army" in 1968. [7] In fact, Sejna was a Stalinist, closely associated with the pre-Czech "spring" dictator Novotny, and he fled long before the Soviet army came to Czechoslovakia. His evidence of a Soviet network was taken from a document prepared by the CIA years before to test Sejna's honesty; he failed the test, but the "evidence" in the forged test document turned up as the heart of Sterling's work. [8]

The underlying lack of judgment and the fanatical quality of Sterling's world-view may also be seen in her claims that Western intelligence had erected a "Western intelligence" shield to conceal from its public the actual extent of Soviet involvement in terrorism. The reason for this was that it would disturb "detente", which the Reagan administration was allegedly pursuing in 1983-84.[9] She also contended that it was hard to get over the truth in the West on the shooting of the pope because of the force of Soviet propaganda, most notably in their issuance of a pamphlet on the case by Iona Andronov. To our knowledge, this pamphlet has never been cited in the Western media except in derogatory references by Sterling and Henze, and its claims have never been acknowledged as worthy of discussion.

Sterling's dependence on Sejna and its significance, and the vast array of other evidence of her deficiencies as an analyst of terrorism, are not discussed in the Western mass media and have absolutely no impact on her perceived qualifications and credibility. She is authenticated by her message and the approval of the terrorism establishment. Even the industry "scholar", Walter Laqueur, reviewing her Terror Network in the Wall Street Journal, explains that while she perhaps overrates the importance of terrorism and its inexorable advance, her book is "enlightening", presents a "mind boggling mass of details" (which Laqueur does not question in any way), and "should be warmly welcomed". [10]


  1. See Pietro Calderoni, "E Cosi CIA", L'Expresso, 1 June 1986, p.23, We are indebted to Jeffrey M. Bale for this reference
  2. See Herman and Brodhead, Bulgarian Connection, p.146, n. 63
  3. Sterling, Terror Network, p.16
  4. Philip Paull, International Terrorism, p.73
  5. On her swallowing of the "Tucuman Plan", offered to her through Argentine intelligence, see Diana Johnstone, "The 'Fright Story' of Claire Sterling's Tales of Terrorism", In These Times, May 20-26, 1981.
  6. For example, See Herman and Brodhead, Bulgarian Connection, pp.136-41
  7. Sterling, Terror Network, p. 290
  8. Herman and Brodhead, Bulgarian Connection, pp. 135-36
  9. See the interview with Sterling entitled "Why Is the West Covering Up for Agca?" in Human Events, 21 April 1984
  10. Walter Laqueur, "Documenting the Ties That Bind Terrorists", Wall Street Journal, April 9, 1981. Laqueur even accepts Sterling's assertion that Western authorities contested her claims for fear of upsetting the Soviets and detente!