CARLOS THE JACKAL
Carlos the Jackal has been caged, the western media rejoices and in this celebratory fashion, the press has ushered in a new era of paranoia. The Venezuelan belongs to the old school who specialised in hi-jackings and assassinations. In his middle-age, Carlos is an anachronism and western spooks are now using this media icon to remind those who nominally employ them that their services are indispensable if the world is to be 'made safe for democracy'. It is highly convenient that, as the London Sunday Times so eloquently put it, 'no sooner had the world rejoiced at the capture of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the celebrity terrorist of the 1970s, than a new menace emerged: a nuclear market for backroom bomb makers.' In other words, at the very moment nineteen-seventies style 'revolutionary' mayhem is finally neutralised, the 'threat' of nuclear terrorism is to be exploited by the many journalists who work for the intelligence services to the mutual benefit of themselves and their paymasters.
Given this state of affairs, it's hardly surprising that the press has presented Carlos to its readers as being simultaneously villainous and comic, recasting his life as the tragic story of how a bumbling psychopath became known as the most dangerous man in the world. One of the more sordid aspects of the Jackal's arrest was its exploitation as an opportunity for under-the-line advertising of Johnny Walker whiskey. The media necessarily played a key role in these illicit promotions, with the fact that Carlos had a penchant for this brand of scotch being mentioned in many of the news reports about his capture. If the Jackal had been a 100 Pipers man, I might have a little more respect for him, but thanks in no small part to his consumption of Johnny Walker Red Label, Carlos comes across like a failed method actor angling for the lead role in a B movie about an ageing drug baron being edged out of business by younger and more vicious hoodlums. The Jackal possesses all the trappings of a sad old bastard, from the tendency to reminisce about his 'glory days' right the way through to a hernia and a girlfriend twenty years younger than himself.
While much of the media is busy portraying Carlos as evil, his small but vocal fan club within anarchist and left-wing circles persist in simplistically praising their hero's bold 'revolutionary' acts. Rather like the groupies who stalk the inmates of America's death row, innumerable Carlos freaks believe they are transgressing dominant values when all they are really doing is creating a mirror image of the world as it is. Topsy-turvy thinking of this type was long ago taken to its logical conclusion by an American neo-Nazi group called the Universal Order, who view Charles Manson as their 'Fuhrer'. However, there are more sophisticated responses to the activities of the Jackal and his associates. In its more populist guise, one of these can be summarised under the heading 'Terrorism Is Theatre', which is used as the title of the opening chapter of a book called The Carlos Complex by British journalists Christopher Dobson and Ronald Payne.
If, as Dobson and Payne suggest, 'terrorism' is 'planned for public effect, not for military targets' and has no real strategic aims, then rather than resembling 'theatre', its 'irrationality' is closer to the techniques employed by avant-garde movements such as Futurism, Dada and Fluxus. Indeed, the parallels are remarkable, not only is there the same focus on breaking down traditional narrative structures and instead emphasising individual and apparently isolated events, both 'Terror International' and the avant-garde consist of several tightly knit and overlapping groups operating under a variety of organisational names. Just as it is difficult to explain the activities of Carlos to the uninitiated without mentioning the Baader-Meinhof Gang or the Japanese Red Army, so when summarising the achievements of the Fluxus group, intelligent discussion requires reference to contemporary rivals and collaborators such as Auto-Destructive Art, Gutai, Actual, the Situationists and the Happenings movement. The supposition that there is a link between the avant-garde and the activities of urban guerrillas has become something of a cliche in the Anglo-American media over recent years. The more upmarket sections of the press have run endless features about 'art terrorism', which generally consist of little more than anecdotes about media pranks pulled by individuals working in what can loosely be described as the cultural tradition derived from Futurism and Dada.
It is therefore inevitable that fringe intellectuals will begin to consume the media spectacles orchestrated by the various groups associated with Carlos as works of performance art. Since the individuals being drawn into this discourse are well versed in the theoretical basis of avant-gardism, its course of development is utterly predictable. Carlos himself is suspect, over-exposure in the press and the recent 'capture' have completely eroded his mystique. The chief theorist of Fluxus, George Maciunas, drew a distinction between 'the monomorphic neo-haiku flux event' and 'the mixed media neo-baroque happening'; the career of the Jackal smacks suspiciously of the latter.
When divorced from its political context and viewed through the perspective of avant-garde aesthetics, the Lod airport massacre performed by the Japanese Red Army in May 1972 is without doubt the most sublime act of 'Terror International'. Three members of the JRA troupe who'd just arrived in Israel from Rome walked into the arrival lounge, removed submachine guns from their hand luggage and sprayed their fellow passengers with hot lead. Twenty-six people died and another eighty were wounded before two of the actors were killed and the third captured. Andre Breton had long ago insisted that the ultimate Surrealist act consisted of randomly firing a revolver into a crowd. The Lod airport 'happening' was simply the realisation of this dictum through the use of modern weaponry. However, it would be wrong to conclude from this that the JRA is not rooted in the past or that it entirely escaped the conventions of the particular culture from which it emerged. Like all avant-gardists, 'Terror International' established its 'modernity' through the double-bind of incorporating archaic elements into its activities. In the case of the JRA, the troupe's fame dates from the March 1970 hi-jack of a Japanese airliner using Samurai swords instead of more contemporary weapons such as guns. It is the tension established between this embrace of tradition and the use of genuine innovations which creates the illusion that the avant-garde is at the cutting edge of social change.
While all the groups clustered around Carlos and the PFLP were absorbed by the cult of violence, the JRA were particularly mystical in their disregard for life, believing that death during the course of their 'revolutionary' happenings would result in union with the three stars of Orion. The use by 'Terror International' of this combination of myth and violence is reminiscent of the theoretical outlook of Georges Sorel, the scourge of social decadence and prophet of the general strike, whose writings were a huge influence on Marinetti and the Futurist movement. This conjunction of perspectives serves to illustrate one of the many ways in which the activities of Carlos and his associates could be absorbed into the history and practice of performance art.
Equally, the words of Group Zero's Otto Piene can be interpreted as a call to arms: 'We, the artists, with serious concerns, have to face reality, wake up, move out of the art world and embrace the void'. Likewise, the influence of the Situationist International on the Angry Brigade, an English urban guerrilla group of the early seventies, is well documented and this troupe's use of terminology such as 'spectacle' in communiques enabled the police to identify them as 'anarchist' inspired. However, there are innumerable other ways of understanding the significance of 'terrorism', many of which produce results that are considerably more sublime than those obtained from pure aesthetics.
The Carlos 'legend' is still being milked by western propagandists, the Jackal's stint as a student at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow being considered more than sufficient proof that he was a KGB agent. However, nothing in the world of spookery is straight forward and since his activities greatly benefited the CIA/MI6, it is just as likely that Carlos was working for the British and Americans. This scenario isn't nearly as bizarre as it may at first appear, thanks to the cell structure of para-military organisations, individuals joining groups of this type have no idea who is directing their actions.
Becoming an urban guerrilla has remarkable parallels with joining the Freemasons, it is a commitment made in blind faith, as the example of Italy demonstrates so well. While the majority of individuals who saw 'active service' with the Red Brigades genuinely adhered to left-wing ideals, their activities were ultimately directed by members of the security services and blended perfectly with right-wing atrocities such as the Bologna Station massacre, that had initially been blamed on communist elements. In Philip Willan's 1991 book Puppet Masters: The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy, the Red Brigades are described as having a three tier structure; the young fanatics, the Eastern Bloc agents and 'further in, in the most secret compartment, the infiltrators of the Interior Ministry and Western secret services'. The Red Brigades were, of course, part of the PFLP inner circle in Europe and while these and other groups claimed to be 'marxist revolutionaries', the fact that their activities were of such obvious benefit to the security services in both cold war camps, results in assertions of this type appearing suspicious.
Personally, I do not subscribe to conspiracy theories that suggest the destiny of the world is controlled by a cabal of thirteen men who meet in a darkened room. Obviously, various forces are competing for dominance within the world, and even the more successful of these ruling elites are riven by factionalism and rivalry. The success of the Anglo-American 'security' system established in the aftermath of the Second World War rested, at least partially, upon the fact that it remained unseen by the mass of those whose lives were circumscribed by it. While the role the British and Americans played in the establishment of the post-war intelligence services throughout Europe is most readily evident in Italy, their influence certainly wasn't confined to this single defeated Axis power. Likewise, there can be little doubt that this state of affairs gave London and particularly Washington, great power and political leverage across the whole of Western Europe.
In the latest issue of the maverick London based journal Perspectives, someone calling himself Peter Drew makes a number of observations about the security services and writes explicitly about a CIA inspired scheme code named Gladio which has received considerable coverage in the British 'quality' press in recent years. After repeating what was already widely known about the plan to use anti-communist far-right groups as a disownable guerrilla army against the cold war foe, Drew then says it 'is now believed that some of these, particularly in Germany, are being used to foment political and xenophobic violence and destabilise the USA's new enemy - a united Europe'. Drew also makes reference to the fact that Robin Ramsey, editor of the left-wing and generally reliable conspiracy journal Lobster, recently reprinted the one statement cut from an early eighties television programme on British intelligence. It was made by a former BOSS agent Gordon Winter and ran as follows: 'British intelligence has a saying that if there is a left-wing movement in Britain bigger than a football team our man is the captain or the vice captain, and if not, he is the referee and he can send any man off the field and call our man on at any time he likes.'
Now, if British intelligence is in the habit of providing leadership to 'subversive elements' within the United Kingdom, it would make sense for the CIA to control from above the activities of its foreign 'enemies'. I am not suggesting that control of Carlos and his Commando Boudia, or interlocking groups such as the JRA, was necessarily as direct as that exerted on the Italian Red Brigades. However, since it was the Anglo-American security establishment who reaped the major propaganda benefits from the media 'happenings' of 'Terror International', it would not be surprising to discover that they pulled at least some of the strings animating the PFLP puppet. It was in the spooks interest to perpetuate the cold war and they quickly created a minor cultural industry in the form of books and articles linking 'international terrorism' to Moscow. That they were well placed to maximise the propaganda potential of 'terrorism' is made readily evident by works such as Stephen Dorril's The Silent Conspiracy: Inside the Intelligence Services in the 1990s: 'Journalism has been a natural recruiting ground for the security services. John le Carre, who worked for M16 between 1960 and 1964, has made the astonishing statement that 'the British Secret Service controlled large sections of the press, just as they may do today'. In 1975, following Senate hearings on the CIA which had revealed the extent of agency recruitment of both American and British journalists, sources let it be known that half the foreign staff of a British daily were on the MI6 payroll. In the mid-eighties, the present author was given, by a senior Observer journalist, a list of five foreign affairs journalists on a Sunday newspaper who had acted as correspondents for the intelligent services. No doubt the practice continues to this day.' Certainly, as recently as this month, the British journalist Patrick Seale felt it necessary to issue a statement denying that he ran MI6's Beirut bureau when he was the Observers Middle East correspondent.
However, intelligence influence in the publishing industry extents well beyond the employment of journalists to gather data and spread disinformation through the press. A Sunday Times feature of 19/9/93 by Nigel West entitled 'Literary Agents', revealed that a good many novelists, particularly those working in the thriller genre, were security service employees. This article appeared to be partially inspired by a more detailed account of the phenomena given in a 1987 book by Anthony Masters called Literary Agents: The Novelist as Spy. Many spy thrillers are little more than Anglo-American intelligence propaganda, and a pertinent example is the 1976 publication Carlos Terror International by Dennis Eisenberg and Eli Landau, promoted with the blurb: 'the novel that is closer to the truth than anyone dares to believe!' The book name checks urban guerrilla groups from across the world: 'As for West Germany, there have been indications that the Baader-Meinhof murder-gang are again gaining in strength'. The inevitable conclusion is the 'same we would reach if we had an interest in weakening the West and fostering anarchy - unite all these factors under one umbrella - an umbrella known as Terror International'.
However, whether or not it was directly controlled by the CIA, 'Terror International' was more than simply a vehicle for cold war propaganda which sought to justify increased surveillance and other repressive measures in the western 'democracies', while simultaneously helping to secure those all important increases in 'defence' and espionage budgets. The Jackal's greatest personal triumph was the raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna in December 1975. Once the building had been stormed, the hostages were divided into four categories; Friends, Enemies, Neutrals and Austrians. The 'Friends' were the Libyans, Algerians, Iraqis and Kuwaitis. The enemies were the officials representing Saudi Arabia, Iran, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. In this way, the activities of 'Terror International' were perfectly suited to protecting the interests of the Anglo-American establishment. The PFLP and their inner circle in Europe were a not unimportant factor in reinforcing those divisions that already existed between a number of middle eastern states. In this way, Carlos and his associates assisted in minimising the chances of OPEC functioning as an effective oil cartel.
I do not wish to suggest that the PFLP was simply an arm of the CIA. Certainly, many of the politically naive urban guerrillas who saw active service with 'Terror International' initially committed themselves to para-military tactics because they adhered to a political programme that was at complete variance with the aims and interests of the Anglo-American establishment. At certain times, these 'revolutionaries' may even have been able to act in accord with their 'marxist' principles. However, the clandestine nature of the organisations to which they belonged provided ample opportunity for manipulation by both Washington and Moscow. If 'Terror International' was a political football, it's logical to conclude that the Anglo-American establishment supplied the referee, because this side scored the vast majority of goals during the course of a long and toughly contested game. Since we now know that the CIA was able to exercise at least some control over the Red Brigades, there is a distinct possibility that they succeeded in directing the activities of the other urban guerrilla organisations co-ordinated by Carlos.
Dobson and Payne are therefore wrong to suggest that the activities of 'Terror International' had no real strategic aims. From the perspective of the Anglo-American establishment, they were a perfect covert compliment to official policy. In middle-age, Carlos isn't much use to anyone as an urban guerrilla. Now is a particularly convenient time to haul him before the courts and thereby demonstrate that the western 'democracies' are still vigilantly guarding themselves against the many 'enemies' who threaten their very existence. And the successful persecution of a spent force immediately after the Aldrich Ames spy-scandal can't do any harm. In their different ways, these two events provide justification for spiralling intelligence budgets in our increasingly insecure world.
To nobody's surprise, the Anglo-American establishment continues to perfect its own unique technology of repression, with vast amounts of money being poured into the development of frequency weapons and methods of electronic control. In the final analysis, it doesn't matter who Carlos worked for or what motivated his activities, he served the cause of reaction by playing the role of an urban guerrilla on a pitch marked out by the Anglo-American establishment and according to the rules they'd instituted for the 'strategy of tension' game. Little that is good is likely to emerge from the capture of the Jackal. The most we can hope for is the rehabilitation of that classic fashion item, the white trenchcoat, as worn by Carlos during the OPEC raid of December 1975. As a celebrity 'terrorist', the Jackal is the perfect hook on which to sell ideologies, whiskey and clothes.
First published by the German magazine Konkret, October 1994
Stewart Home tells it how it is...