The Technique of a Coup d’tat

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by John Laughland by John Laughland Recently by John Laughland: Solzhenitsyn and the Russian Question

In recent years, a number of "revolutions" have broken out all over the world.

1. Georgia

In November 2003, the president of Georgia Edward Shevardnadze was overthrown following demonstrations, marches and allegations that the parliamentary elections had been rigged.

2. Ukraine

In November 2004, the "Orange Revolution" of demonstrations started in Ukraine as the same allegations were made, that elections had been rigged.

The result was that country was ripped away from its previous geopolitical role as a bridge between East and West, and put it on the path to becoming a fully-fledged member of NATO and the EU. Considering that Kievan Rus is the first Russian state, and that Ukraine has now been turned against Russia, this is a historic achievement. But then, as George Bush said, "You are either with us or against us." Although Ukraine had sent troops to Iraq, it was evidently considered too friendly to Moscow.

3. Lebanon

Shortly after the US and the UN declared that Syrian troops had to be removed from Lebanon, and following the assassination of Rafik Hariri, demonstrations in Beirut were presented as "the Cedar Revolution." An enormous counter-demonstration by Hezbollah, which is the largest political party in Syria, was effectively ignored while the TV replayed endlessly the image of the anti-Syrian crowd. In one particularly egregious case of Orwellian double-think, the BBC explained to its viewers that "Hezbollah, the biggest political party in Lebanon, is so far the only dissenting voice which wants the Syrians to stay." How can the majority be "a dissenting voice"?

4. Kyrgyzstan

After the "revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine, many predicted that the same wave of "revolutions" would extend to the former Soviet states of Central Asia. So it was to be. Commentators seemed divided on what colour to label the uprising in Bishkek – was it a "lemon" revolution or a "tulip" revolution? They could not make up their minds. But on one thing, everyone was in agreement: revolutions are cool, even when they are violent. The Kyrgyz president, Askar Akayev, was overthrown on 24th March 2005 and protesters stormed and ransacked the presidential palace.

5. Uzbekistan

When armed rebels seized government buildings, sprung prisoners from gaol and took hostages on the night of 12th–13th May in the Uzbek city of Andijan (located in the Ferghana Valley, where the unrest had also started in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan) the police and army surrounded the rebels and a long standoff ensued. Negotiations were undertaken with the rebels, who kept increasing their demands. When government forces started to move on the rebels, the resulting fighting killed some 160 people including over 30 members of the police and army. Yet the Western media immediately misrepresented this violent confrontation, claiming that government forces had opened fire on unarmed protesters – "the people."

This constantly repeated myth of popular rebellion against a dictatorial government is popular on both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum. Previously, the myth of revolution was obviously the preserve of the Left. But when the violent putsch occurred in Kygyrzstan, The Times enthused about how the scenes in Bishkek reminded him of Eisenstein films about the Bolshevik revolution, The Daily Telegraph extolled the "power to the people," and the Financial Times used a well-known Maoist metaphor when it praised Kyrgyzstan’s "long march to freedom."

One of the key elements behind this myth is obviously that "the people" are behind the events, and that they are spontaneous. In fact, of course, they are often very highly organised operations, often deliberately staged for the media, and usually funded and controlled by transnational networks of so-called non-governmental organisations which are in turn instruments of Western power.

1. The literature on coups d’état

The survival of the myth of spontaneous popular revolution is depressing in view of the ample literature on the coup d’état, and on the main factors and tactics by which to bring one about.

It was, of course, Lenin who developed the organisational structure for overthrowing a regime which we now know as a political party. He differed from Marx in that he did not think that historical change was the result of ineluctable anonymous forces, but that it had to be worked for.

But it was probably Curzio Malaparte’s Technique of a Coup d’état which first gave very famous expression to these ideas. Published in 1931, this book presents regime change as just that – a technique. Malaparte explicitly took issue with those who thought that regime change happened on its own. In fact, he starts the book by recounting a discussion between diplomats in Warsaw in the summer of 1920: Poland had been invaded by Trostky’s Red Army (Poland having itself invaded the Soviet Union, capturing Kiev in April 1920) and the Bolsheviks were at the gates of Warsaw. The debate was between the British minister in Warsaw, Sir Horace Rumbold, and the Papal nuncio, Monsignor Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti – the man who was elected Pope as Pius XI two years later. The Englishman said that the internal political situation in Poland was so chaotic that a revolution was inevitable, and that the diplomatic corps therefore should flee the capital and go to Posen (Poznán). The Papal Nuncio disagreed, insisting that a revolution was just as possible in a civilised country like England, Holland or Switzerland as in a country in a state of anarchy. Naturally the Englishman was outraged at the idea that a revolution could ever break out in England. "Oh never!" he exclaimed – and was proved wrong because no revolution did break out in Poland, according to Malaparte because the revolutionary forces were simply not well organised enough.

This anecdote allows Malaparte to discuss the differences between Lenin and Trotsky, two practitioners of the coup d’état/revolution. Malaparte shows that the future Pope was right and that it was wrong to say that pre-conditions were necessary for a revolution to occur. For Malaparte, as for Trotsky, regime change could be promoted in any country, including the stable democracies of Western Europe, providing that there was a sufficiently determined body of men determined to achieve it.

2. Manufacturing consent

This brings us onto a second body of literature, concerning the manipulation of the media. Malaparte himself does not discuss this aspect but it is (a) of huge importance and (b) clearly a subset of the technique of a coup d’état in the way regime change is practised today. So important, indeed, is the control of the media during regime change that one of the main characteristics of these revolutions is the creation of a virtual reality. Control of this reality is itself an instrument of power, which is why in classic coups in a banana republic the first thing that the revolutionaries seize is the radio station.

People experience a strong psychological reluctance to accept that political events today are deliberately manipulated. This reluctance is itself a product of the ideology of the information age, which flatters people’s vanity and encourages them to believe that they have access to huge amounts of information. In fact, the apparent multifarious nature of modern media information hides an extreme paucity of original sources, rather as a street of restaurants on a Greek waterfront can hide the reality of a single kitchen at the back. News reports of major events very often come from a single source, usually a wire agency, and even authoritative news outlets like the BBC simply recycle information which they have received from these agencies, presenting it as their own. BBC correspondents are often sitting in their hotel rooms when they send despatches, very often simply reading back to the studio in London information they have been given by their colleagues back home off the wire. A second factor which explains the reluctance to believe in media manipulation is connected with the feeling of omniscience which the mass media age likes to flatter: to rubbish news reports as manipulated is to tell people that they are gullible, and this is not a pleasant message to receive.

There are many elements to media manipulation. One of the most important is political iconography. This is a very important instrument for promoting the legitimacy of regimes which have seized power through revolution. One only need think of such iconic events as the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789, the storming of the Winter Palace during the October revolution in 1917, or Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, to see that events can be elevated into almost eternal sources of legitimacy.

However, the importance of political imagery goes far beyond the invention of a simple emblem for each revolution. It involves a far deeper control of the media, and generally this control needs to be exercised over a long period of time, not just at the moment of regime change itself. It is essential indeed, for the official party line to be repeated ad nauseam. A feature of today’s mass media culture which many dissidents lazily and wrongly denounce as "totalitarian" is precisely that dissenting views may be expressed and published, but this is precisely because, being mere drops in the ocean, they are never a threat to the tide of propaganda.

2a. Willi Münzenberg

One of the modern masters of such media control was the German Communist from whom Joseph Goebbels learned his trade, Willi Münzenberg. Münzenberg was not only the inventor of spin, he was also the first person who perfected the art of creating a network of opinion-forming journalists who propagated views which were germane to the needs of the Communist Party in Germany and to the Soviet Union. He also made a huge fortune in the process, since he amassed a considerable media empire from which he creamed off the profits.

Münzenberg was intimately involved with the Communist project from the very beginning. He belonged to Lenin’s circle in Zurich, and in 1917 accompanied the future leader of the Bolshevik revolution to the Zurich Hauptbahnhof, from whence Lenin was transported in a sealed train, and with the help of the German imperial authorities, to the Finland Station in St. Petersburg. Lenin then called on Münzenberg to combat the appalling publicity generated in 1921 when 25 million peasants in the Volga region started to suffer from the famine which swept across the newly created Soviet state. Münzenberg, who had by then returned to Berlin, where he was later elected to the Reichstag as a Communist deputy, was charged with setting up a bogus workers’ charity, the Foreign Committee for the Organisation of Worker Relief for the Hungry in Soviet Russia, whose purpose was to pretend to the world that humanitarian relief was coming from sources other than Herbert Hoover’s American Relief Administration. Lenin feared not only that Hoover would use his humanitarian aid project to send spies into the USSR (which he did) but also, perhaps even more importantly, that the world’s first Communist state would be fatally damaged by the negative publicity of seeing capitalist America come to its aid within a few years of the revolution.

After having cut his teeth on "selling" the death of millions of people at the hands of the Bolsheviks, Münzenberg turned his attention to more general propaganda activities. He amassed a large media empire, known as "the Münzenberg trust," which owned two mass circulation dailies in Germany, a mass circulation weekly, and which had interests in scores of other publications around the world. His greatest coups were to mobilise world opinion against America over the Sacco-Vanzetti trial (that of two anarchist Italian immigrants who were sentenced to death for murder in Massachusetts in 1921) and to counteract the Nazis’ claim in 1933 that the Reichstag fire was the result of a Communist conspiracy. The Nazis, it will be remembered, used the fire to justify mass arrests and executions against Communists, even though it now appears that the fire genuinely was started on his own by the man arrested in the building at the time, the lone arsonist Martinus van der Lubbe. Münzenberg actually managed to convince large sections of public opinion of the equal but opposite untruth to that peddled by the Nazis, namely that the Nazis had started the fire themselves in order to have a pretext for removing their main enemies.

The key relevance of Münzenberg for our own day is this: he understood the key importance of influencing opinion-formers. He targeted especially intellectuals, taking the view that intellectuals were especially easy to influence because they were so vain. His contacts included many of the great literary figures of the 1930s, a large number of whom were encouraged by him to support the Republicans in the Spanish civil war and to make that into a cause-célèbre of Communist anti-fascism. Münzenberg’s tactics are of primary importance to the manipulation of opinion in today’s New World Order. More then ever before, so-called "experts" constantly pop up on our TV screens to explain what is happening, and they are always vehicles for the official party line. They are controlled in various ways, usually by money or by flattery.

2b. Psychology and the manipulation of opinion

There is a second body of literature, which makes a slightly different point from the specific technique which Münzenberg perfected. This concerns the way in which people can be made to react in certain collective ways by psychological stimuli. Perhaps the first major theoretician of this was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, whose book Propaganda in 1928 said that it was entirely natural and right for governments to organise public opinion for political purposes. The opening chapter of his book has the revealing title – "Organising chaos" – and Bernays writes,

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised opinions and habits of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. [my italics]

(The text continues: "We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. … In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons … who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.")

Bernays says that, very often, the members of this invisible government do not even know who the other members are. Propaganda, he says, is the only way to prevent public opinion descending into dissonant chaos. Bernays continued to work on this theme after the war, editing "Engineering consent" in 1955, a title to which Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky alluded when they published their seminal Manufacturing Consent in 1988. The connection with Freud is important because, as we shall see later, psychology is an extremely important tool in influencing public opinion. Two of the contributors to "Engineering consent" make the point that every leader must play on basic human emotions in order to manipulate public opinion. For instance, Doris E. Fleischmann and Howard Walden Cutler write,

Self-preservation, ambition, pride, hunger, love of family and children, patriotism, imitativeness, the desire to be a leader, love of play – these and other drives are the psychological raw materials which every leader must take into account in his endeavour to win the public to his point of view … To maintain their self-assurance, most people need to feel certain that whatever they believe about anything is true.

This was what Willi Münzenberg understood – the basic human urge for people to believe what they want to believe. Thomas Mann alluded to it when he attributed the rise of Hitler to the collective desire of the German people for "a fairy tale" over the ugly truths of reality.

Other books worth mentioning in this regard concern not so much modern electronic propaganda but the more general psychology of crowds. The classics in this regard are Gustave Le Bon’s work The Psychology of Crowds (1895), Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power (Masse und Macht) (1980); and Serge Tchakhotine’s Le viol des foules par la propagande politique (1939). All these books draw heavily on psychology and anthropology. There is also the magnificent oeuvre of one of my favourite writers, the anthropologist René Girard, whose writings on the logic of imitation (mimesis), and on collective acts of violence, are excellent tools for understanding why it is that public opinion is so easily motivated to support war and other forms of political violence.

2c. The technique of opinion-forming

After the war, many of the techniques perfected by the Communist Münzenberg were adopted by the Americans, as has been magnificently documented by Frances Stonor Saunders’ excellent work, Who Paid the Piper?, published in America under the title The Cultural Cold War.

In minute detail, Stonor Saunders explains how, as the Cold War started, the Americans and the British started up a massive covert operation to fund anti-communist intellectuals. The key point is that much of their attention and activity was directed at left-wingers, in many cases Trotskyites who had abandoned their support for the Soviet Union only in 1939, when Stalin signed his non-aggression pact with Hitler, and in many cases people who had previously worked for Münzenberg. Many of the figures who were at this juncture between Communism and the CIA at the beginning of the cold war were future neo-conservatives luminaries, especially Irving Kristol, James Burnham, Sidney Hook and Lionel Trilling.

The left-wing and even Trotskyite origins of neo-conservatism are well-known – even if I still continue to be astonished by new details I discover, such as that Lionel and Diana Trilling were married by a rabbi for whom Felix Dzherzhinsky – the founder of the Bolshevik secret police, the Cheka (forerunner of the KGB), and the Communist equivalent of Heinrich Himmler – represented a heroic paragon. These left-wing origins are particularly relevant to the covert operations discussed by Stonor Saunders, because the CIA’s goal was precisely to influence left-wing opponents of Communism, i.e. Trotskyites. The CIA’s view was simply that right-wing anti-communists did not need to be influenced, much less paid. Stonor Saunders quotes Michael Warner when she writes,

For the CIA, the strategy of promoting the Non-Communist Left was to become "the theoretical foundation of the Agency’s political operations against Communism over the next two decades."

This strategy was outlined in Arthur Schlesinger’s The Vital Center (1949), a book which represents one of the cornerstones of what was later to become the neo-conservative movement. Stonor Saunders writes,

The purpose of supporting leftist groups was not to destroy or even dominate, but rather to maintain a discreet proximity to and monitor the thinking of such groups; to provide them with a mouthpiece so that they could blow off steam; and, in extremis, to exercise a final veto over their actions, if they ever got too "radical."

Many and varied were the ways in which this left-wing influence was felt. The USA was determined to fashion for itself a progressive image, in contrast to the "reactionary" Soviet Union. In other words, it wanted to do precisely what the Soviets were doing. In music, for instance, Nicholas Nabokov (the cousin of the author of Lolita) was one of the Congress’ main agents. In 1954, the CIA funded a music festival in Rome in which Stalin’s "authoritarian" love of composers like Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky was "countered" by unorthodox modern music inspired by Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system.

For Nabokov, there was a clear political message to be imparted by promoting music which announced itself as doing away with natural hierarchies …

Support for other progressives came when Jackson Pollock, himself a former Communist, was also promoted by the CIA. His daubs were supposed to represent the American ideology of "freedom" over the authoritarianism of socialist realist painting. (This alliance with Communists pre-dates the Cold War: the Mexican Communist muralist, Diego Rivera, was supported by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, but their collaboration ended abruptly when Rivera refused to remove a portrait of Lenin from a crowd scene painted on the walls of the Rockefeller Center in 1933.)

This cross-over between culture and politics was explicitly promoted by a CIA body which went under an Orwellian name, the Psychological Strategy Board. In 1956, it covertly promoted a European tour by the Metropolitan Opera, the political purpose of which was to encourage multiculturalism. Junkie Fleischmann, the organiser, said,

We, in the United States, are a melting-pot and, by being so, we have demonstrated that peoples can get along together irrespective of race, colour or creed. Using the "melting-pot" or some such catch phrase for a theme we might be able to use the Met as an example of how Europeans can get along together in the United States and that, therefore, some sort of European Federation is entirely practicable.

This, by the way, is exactly the same argument employed by, among other people, Ben Wattenberg, whose book The First Universal Nation argues that America has a special right to world hegemony because she embodies all the nations and races of the planet. The same view has also been expressed by Newt Gingrich and other neo-cons.

Other themes promoted include some which are at the forefront of neo-conservative thinking today. First among these is the eminently liberal belief in moral and political universalism. Today, this is at the very heart of George W. Bush’s own foreign policy philosophy: he has stated on numerous occasions that political values are the same all over the world, and he has used this assumption to justify US military intervention in favour of "democracy." Back in the early 1950s, the director of the PSB (the Psychological Strategy Board was quickly referred to only by its initials, no doubt in order to hide its real name), Raymond Allen, had already arrived at this conclusion.

The principles and ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are for export and … are the heritage of men everywhere. We should appeal to the fundamental urges of all men which I believe are the same for the farmer in Kansas as for the farmer in Punjab.

To be sure, it would be wrong to attribute the spread of ideas only to covert manipulation. They have their force in large-scale cultural currents, whose causes are multiple. But there is no doubt that the dominance of such ideas can be substantially facilitated by covert operations, especially since people in mass-information societies are curiously suggestible. Not only do they believe what they have read in the papers, they also think they have arrived at these conclusions themselves. The trick of manipulating public opinion, therefore, lies precisely in that which Bernays theorised, Münzenberg initiated, and which the CIA raised to a high art. According to CIA agent Donald Jameson,

As far as the attitudes that the Agency wanted to inspire through these activities are concerned, clearly what they would like to have been able to produce were people who, of their own reasoning and conviction, were persuaded that everything the United States government did was right.

To put it another way, what the CIA and other US agencies were doing during this period was to adopt the strategy which we associate with the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, who argued that "cultural hegemony" was essential for socialist revolution.

2d. Disinformation

Finally, there is a huge body of literature on the technique of disinformation. I have already referred to the important fact, originally formulated by Tchakotine (Chakotin), that the role of journalists and the media is key in ensuring that propaganda is constant: "Propaganda cannot take time off," he writes, thereby formulating one of the key rules of modern disinformation, which is that the required message must be repeated very frequently indeed if it is to pass. Above all, Tchakotine (Chakotin) says that propaganda campaigns must be centrally directed and highly organised, something which has become the norm in the age of modern political "spin": British Labour Members of Parliament, for instance, are not allowed to speak to the media without first asking permission from the Director of Communications in 10, Downing Street.

Sefton Delmer was both a practician and theoretician of such "black propaganda." Delmer created a bogus radio station which broadcasted from Britain to Germany during the Second World War, and which created the myth that there were "good" patriotic Germans who opposed Hitler. The fiction was sustained that the station was actually an underground German one, and was put on frequencies close to those of official stations. Such black propaganda has now become part of the US government’s armoury of ‘spin’: the New York Times revealed that the US government makes news reports favourable to its policies which are then carried on normal channels and presented as if they were the broadcast company’s own reports.

There are many other such authors, some of whom I have discussed in my column, All News is Lies. But perhaps the most relevant to today’s discussion is Roger Mucchielli’s book, Subversion, published in French in 1971, which shows how disinformation had moved from being an auxiliary tactic in war to a principal one. The strategy had developed so far, he said, that the goal was now to conquer a state without even attacking physically, especially through the use of agents of influence inside it. This is essentially what Robert Kaplan proposed and discussed in his essay for The Atlantic Monthly in July/August 2003, "Supremacy by Stealth." One of the most sinister theoreticians of the New World Order and the American empire, Robert Kaplan, explicitly advocates the use of immoral and illegal power to promote US control of the whole world. His essay deals with the use of covert operations, military power, dirty tricks, black propaganda, hidden influence and control, opinion-forming and other things like political assassination, all subject to his overall call for "a pagan ethic," as the means to ensuring American domination.

The other key point about Mucchielli is that he was one of the first theoreticians of the use of bogus non-governmental organisations – or "front organisations" as they used to be known – for effecting internal political change in another state. Like Malaparte and Trotsky, Mucchielli also understood that it was not "objective" circumstances which determined the success or failure of a revolution, but instead the perception created of those circumstances by disinformation. He also understood that historical revolutions, which invariably presented themselves as the product of mass movements, were in fact the work of a tiny number of highly organised conspirators. In fact, again like Trotsky, Mucchielli emphasised that the silent majority must be rigorously excluded from the mechanics of political change, precisely because coups d’état are the work of the few and not the many.

Public opinion was the "forum" in which subversion was practised, and Mucchielli showed the different ways in which the mass media could be used to create a collective psychosis. Psychological factors were extremely important in this regard, he said, especially in the pursuit of important strategies such as the demoralisation of a society. The enemy must be made to lose confidence in the rightness of his own cause, while all effort must be made to convince him that his adversary is invincible.

2e. The role of the military

One final historical point before we move onto a discussion of the present: the role of the military in conducting covert operations and influencing political change. This is something which some contemporary analysts are happy to admit is deployed today: Robert Kaplan writes approvingly of how the American military is and should be used to "promote democracy." Kaplan says deliciously that a phone call from a US general is often a better way of promoting political change in a third country than a phone call from the local US ambassador. And he approvingly quotes an Army Special Operations officer saying, "Whoever the President of Kenya is, the same group of guys run their special forces and the President’s bodyguards. We’ve trained them. That translates into diplomatic leverage."

The historical background to this has recently been discussed by a Swiss academic, Daniele Glaser, in his book, Nato’s Secret Army. His account begins with the admission made on 3rd August 1990 by Giulio Andreotti, the then Italian Prime Minister, that a secret army had existed in his country since the end of the Second World War, known as "Gladio"; that it had been created by the CIA and MI6; and that it was coordinated by the unorthodox warfare section of NATO.

He thereby confirmed one of the most long-running rumours in post-war Italy. Many people, including investigating magistrates, had long suspected that Gladio was not only party of a network of secret armies created by the Americans across Western Europe to fight in the resistance to a putative Soviet occupation, but also that these networks had become involved in influencing the outcome of elections, even to the extent of forming sinister alliances with terrorist organisations. Italy was a particular target because the Communist Party was so strong there.

Originally, this secret army was constructed with the aim of providing for the eventuality of an invasion. But it seems that they soon moved to covert operations aimed at influencing the political process itself, in the absence of an invasion. There is ample evidence that the Americans did indeed interfere massively, especially in Italian elections, in order to prevent the PCI from ever winning power. Tens of billions of dollars were funded to the Italian Christian Democrats by the US for this very reason.

Glaser even argues that there is evidence that Gladio cells carried out terrorist attacks in order to blame Communists, and to frighten the population into demanding extra state powers to "protect" them from terrorism. Ganser quotes the man convicted of planting one of these bombs, Vincenzo Vinciguerra, who duly explained the nature of the network of which he was a foot soldier. He said that it was part of a strategy "to destabilise in order to stabilise."

You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the state to ask for greater security. This is the political logic which remains behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the state cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.

There is an obvious relevance to the conspiracy theories swirling around 9/11. Ganser presents a host of good evidence that this is indeed what Gladio did, and his arguments shed light on the intriguing possibility that there might also have been an alliance with extreme left-wing groups like the Red Brigades. After all, when Aldo Moro was kidnapped, shortly after which he was assassinated, he was physically on the way to the Italian parliament to present a programme for a coalition government between the Socialists and the Communists – precisely the thing the Americans were determined to prevent.

3. Today’s revolutionary tacticians

These historical works help us to understand what is going on today. My colleagues and I from the British Helsinki Human Rights Group have personally witnessed how the same techniques are used today.

The main tactics were perfected in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, many of the operatives of regime change under Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. have happily plied their trade in the former Soviet bloc under Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr. For instance, General Manuel Noriega reports in his memoirs that the two CIA-State Department operatives who were sent to negotiate and then engineer his downfall from power in Panama in 1989 were called William Walker and Michael Kozak: William Walker resurfaced in Kosovo in January 1999 when, as head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, he oversaw the artificial creation of a bogus atrocity which proved to be the casus belli for the Kosovo war, while Michael Kozak became US ambassador to Belarus, where in 2001 he mounted "Operation White Stork" designed to overthrow the incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko. During an exchange of letters to The Guardian in 2001, Kozak brazenly admitted that he was doing in Belarus exactly what he had been doing in Nicaragua and Panama, namely "promoting democracy."

There are essentially three branches to the modern technique of a coup d’état. They are non-governmental organisations, control of the media, and covert operatives. Their activities are effectively interchangeable so I will not deal with them separately.

3a. Serbia 2000

The overthrow of Slobodan Miloševic was obviously not the first time the West used covert influence to effect regime change. The overthrow of Sali Berisha in Albania in 1997 and of Vladimir Meciar in Slovakia in 1998 were heavily influenced by the West and, in the case of Berisha, an extremely violent uprising was presented as a spontaneous and welcome example of people power. I personally observed how the international community, and especially the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), fiddled its election observation results in order to ensure political change. However, the overthrow of Slobodan Miloševic in Belgrade on 5th October 2000 is important because he is such a well-known figure, and because the "revolution" which unseated him involved a very ostentatious use of "people power."

The background to the putsch against Miloševic has been brilliantly described by Tim Marshall, a reporter for Sky TV. His account is valuable because he writes approvingly of the events he describes; it is also interesting because this journalist boasts of his extensive contacts with the secret services, especially those of Britain and America.

At every turn, Marshall seems to know who the main intelligence players are. His account is thick with references to "an MI6 officer in Priština," "sources in Yugoslav military intelligence," "a CIA man who was helping to put together the coup," an "officer in US naval intelligence," and so on. He quotes secret surveillance reports from the Serbian secret police; he knows who the Ministry of Defence desk officer is in London who draws up the strategy for getting rid of Miloševic; he knows that the British Foreign Secretary’s telephone conversations are being listened to; he knows who are the Russian intelligence officers who accompany Yevgeni Primakov, the Russian prime minister, to Belgrade during the Nato bombing; he knows which rooms are bugged in the British embassy, and where the Yugoslav spies are who listen in to the diplomats’ conversations; he knows that a staffer on the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee is, in fact, an officer in US naval intelligence; he seems to know that secret service decisions are often taken with the very minimal ministerial approval; he describes how the CIA physically escorted the KLA delegation from Kosovo to Paris for the pre-war talks at Rambouillet, where Nato issued Yugoslavia with an ultimatum it knew it could only reject; and he refers to "a British journalist" acting as a go-between between London and Belgrade for hugely important high-level secret negotiations, as people sought to betray one another as Miloševic’s power collapsed. (My suspicion is that he may be talking about himself at this point.)

One of the themes which inadvertently runs through his book is that there is a thin dividing line between journalists and spooks. Early on in the book, Marshall refers casually to "the inevitable connections between officers, journalists and politicians," saying that people in all three categories "work in the same area." He then goes on jokingly to say that "a combination of ‘spooks’, ‘journo’s’ and ‘politicos’, added to ‘the people’" were what had caused the overthrow of Slobodan Miloševic. Marshall clings to the myth that "the people" were involved, but the rest of his book shows that in fact the overthrow of the Yugoslav president occurred only because of political strategies deliberately conceived in London and Washington to get rid of him.

Above all, Marshall makes it clear that, in 1998, the US State Department and intelligence agencies decided to use the Kosovo Liberation Army to get rid of Slobodan Miloševic. He quotes one source saying, "The US agenda was clear. When the time was right they were going to use the KLA to provide the solution to the political problem" – the "problem" being, as Marshall explains earlier, Miloševic’s continued political survival. This meant supporting the KLA’s terrorist secessionism, and later fighting a war against Yugoslavia on its side. Marshall quotes Mark Kirk, a US naval intelligence officer, saying that, "Eventually we opened up a huge operation against Miloševic, both secret and open." The secret part of the operation involved not only things like stuffing the various observer missions which were sent into Kosovo with officers from the British and American intelligence services, but also – crucially – giving military, technical, financial, logistical and political support to the KLA, which, as Marshall himself admits, "smuggled drugs, ran prostitution rackets and murdered civilians."

The strategy began in late 1998 when "a huge CIA mission (got) underway in Kosovo." President Miloševic had allowed the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission to enter Kosovo to monitor the situation in the province. This ad hoc group was immediately stuffed with British and American intelligence agents and special forces – men from the CIA, US naval intelligence, the British SAS and something called "14th intelligence," a body within the British army which operates side by side with the SAS "to provide what is known as ‘deep surveillance’." The immediate purpose of this operation was "Intelligence Preparation of Battlefield" – a modern version of what the Duke of Wellington used to do, riding up and down the battlefield to get the lie of the land before engaging the enemy. So as Marshall puts it, "Officially, the KDOM was run by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe … unofficially, the CIA ran (it) … The organisation was just packed with them … It was a CIA front." Many of the officers in fact worked for another CIA front, DynCorp, the Virginia-based company which employs mainly "members of US military elite units, or the CIA," as Marshall says. They used the KDOM, which later became the Kosovo Verification Mission, for espionage. Instead of doing the monitoring tasks assigned to them, officers would go off and use their global positioning devices to locate and identify targets which would be later bombed by Nato. Quite how the Yugoslavs could allow 2,000 highly trained secret service agents to roam around their territory is difficult to understand, especially since, as Marshall shows, they knew perfectly well what was going on.

The head of the Kosovo Verification Mission was William Walker, the man deputed to oust Manuel Noriega from power in Panama, and a former ambassador to El Salvador whose US-supported government ran death squads. Walker "discovered" the "massacre" at Racak in January 1999, the event which was used as a pretext for starting the process which led to the bombing which began on 24th March. There is much evidence to suggest that Racak was staged, and that the bodies found were in fact those of KLA fighters, not civilians as was alleged. What is certain is that Walker’s role was so key that the country road in Kosovo which leads to Racak has now been renamed after him. Marshall writes that the date for the war – spring 1999 – was not only decided in late December 1998, but also that the date was communicated to the KLA at the time. This means that when the "massacre" occurred and when Madeleine Albright declared, "Spring has come early," she was behaving rather like Joseph Goebbels who, on hearing the news of the Reichstag fire in 1933, is supposed to have remarked, "What, already?"

At any rate, when the KVM was withdrawn on the eve of the Nato bombing, Marshall says that the CIA officers in it gave all their satellite phones and GPS equipment to the KLA. "The KLA were being trained by the Americans, partially equipped by them, and virtually given territory," Marshall writes – even though he, like all other reporters, helped propagate the myth of systematic Serb atrocities committed against a totally passive Albanian civilian population.

The war went ahead, of course, and Yugoslavia was ferociously bombed. But Miloševic stayed in power. So London and Washington started what Marshall happily calls "political warfare" to remove him. This involved giving very large sums of money, as well as technical, logistical and strategic support, and including arms, to various "democratic opposition" groups and "non-governmental organisations" in Serbia. The Americans were by then operating principally through the International Republican Institute, which had opened offices in neighbouring Hungary for the purpose of getting rid of Slobodan Miloševic. "It was agreed" at one of their meetings, Marshall explains, "that the ideological arguments of pro-democracy, civil rights and a humanitarian approach would be far more forceful if accompanied, if necessary, by large bags full of money." These, and much else besides, were duly shipped into Serbia through the diplomatic bags – in many cases of apparently neutral countries like Sweden who, by not participating formally in the NATO war, were able to maintain full embassies in Belgrade. As Marshall helpfully adds, "Bags of money had been brought in for years." Indeed they had. As he earlier explains, "independent" media outlets like the Radio Station B92 (who is Marshall’s own publisher) were, in fact, very largely funded by the USA. Organisations controlled by George Soros also played a crucial role, as they were later to do, in 2003–4, in Georgia. The so-called "democrats" were, in reality, nothing but foreign agents – just as the Yugoslav government stolidly maintained at the time.

Marshall also explains something which is now a matter of public record that it was also the Americans who conceived the strategy of pushing forward one candidate, Vojislav Koštunica, to unite the opposition. Koštunica had the main advantage of being largely unknown by the general public. Marshall then describes how the strategy also involved a carefully planned coup d’état, which duly took place after the first round of the presidential elections. He shows in minute detail how the principal actors in what was presented on Western TV screens as a spontaneous uprising of "the people" were, in fact, a bunch of extremely violent and very heavily armed thugs under the command of the Mayor of the town of Cacak, Velimir Ilic. It was Ilic’s 22 kilometre-long convoy carrying "weapons, paratroopers and a team of kick boxers" to the federal parliament building in Belgrade. As Marshall admits, the events of 5th October 2000 "looked more like a coup d’état" than the people’s revolution of which the world’s media so navely gushed at the time.

3b. Georgia 2003

Many of the tactics perfected in Belgrade were used in Georgia in November 2003 to overthrow President Edward Shevardadze. The same allegations were made, and repeated ad nauseam, that the elections had been rigged. (In the Georgian case, they were parliamentary elections, in the Yugoslav case presidential.) Western media uncritically took up these allegations, which were made long before the actual voting took place. A propaganda war was unleashed against both presidents, in Shevardnadze’s case after a long period in which he had been lionised as a great reformer and democrat. Both "revolutions" occurred after a similar "storming of the parliament," broadcast live on TV. Both transfers of power were brokered by the Russian minister, Igor Ivanov, who flew to Belgrade and Tbilisi to engineer the exit from power of the incumbent president. Last but not least, the US ambassador was the same man in both cases: Richard Miles.

The most visible similarity, however, came in the use of a student movement known as Otpor (Resistance) in Serbia and Kmara (It’s enough!) in Georgia. Both movements had the same symbol, a black-on-white stencil of a clenched fist. Otpor trained people from Kmara, and both were supported by the US. And both organisations were ostensibly structured along communist lines – combining the appearance of a diffuse structure of autonomous cells with the reality of highly centralised Leninist discipline.

As in Georgia, the role played by US money and covert operations has been revealed – but only after the event. During the events, the television was full of wall-to-wall propaganda about how "the people" rose up against Shevardnadze. All images which counteracted the optimistic view were suppressed, or glossed over, such as the fact that the "march on Tbilisi" led by Mihkail Saakashvili started off in Gori, Stalin’s birthplace, beneath a statue of the former Soviet tyrant who remains a hero to many Georgians. The media was equally unconcerned when the new president, Saakashvili, was confirmed in office by elections which awarded him the Stalinist score of 96%.

3c. Ukraine 2004

In the case of Ukraine, we observe the same combination of work by Western-backed non-governmental organisations, the media and the secret services. The non-governmental organisations played a huge role in de-legitimising the elections before they occurred. Allegations of widespread fraud were constantly repeated. In other words, the street protests which broke out after the second round, which Yanukovich won, were based on allegations which had been flying around before the beginning of the first round. The main NGO behind these allegations, the Committee of Ukrainian Voters, receives not one penny from Ukrainian voters, being instead fully funded by Western governments. Its office was decorated with pictures of Madeleine Albright and indeed the National Democratic Institute was one of its main affiliates. It pumped out constant propaganda against Yanukovich.

During the events themselves, I was able to document some of the propaganda abuses. They involved mainly the endless repetition of electoral fraud practised by the government; the constant cover-up of fraud practised by the opposition; the frenetic selling of Viktor Yushchenko, one of the most boring men in the world, as a charismatic politician; and the ridiculously unlikely story that he had been deliberately poisoned by his enemies. (No prosecutions have been brought to date on this.) The fullest account of the propaganda and fraud is given by the British Helsinki Human Rights Group’s report, "Ukraine’ Clockwork Orange Revolution." An interesting explanation of the role played by the secret services was also given in The New York Times by C. J. Chivers who explained that the Ukrainian KGB had been working for Yushchenko all along – in collaboration with the Americans of course. Other important articles on the same subject include Jonathan Mowat’s "The New Gladio in Action: Washington’s New World Order ‘Democratization’ Template," which details how military doctrine has been adapted to effect political change, and how various instruments, from psychology to bogus opinion polls, are used in it. Mowat is particularly interesting on the theories of Dr. Peter Ackermann, the author of Strategic Non-Violent Conflict (Praeger, 1994) and of a speech entitled "Between Hard and Soft Power: the Rise of Civilian-Based Struggle and Democratic Change," delivered at the State Department in June 2004. Mowat is also excellent on the psychology of crowds and its use in these putsches: he draws attention to the role of "swarming adolescents" and "rebellious hysteria" and traces the origins of the use of this for political purposes to the Tavistock Institute in the 1960s: that institute was created by the British Army as its psychological warfare arm after World War I and its illustrious alumni include Dr. David Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary and Dr. Radovan Karadžic, the former President of the Bosnian Serb Republic. Mowat recounts how the ideas formulated there by Fred Emery were taken up by one

Dr. Howard Perlmutter, a professor of "Social Architecture” at the Wharton School, and a follower of Dr. Emery, (who) stressed that "rock video in Katmandu," was an appropriate image of how states with traditional cultures could be destabilized, thereby creating the possibility of a "global civilization." There are two requirements for such a transformation, he added, "building internationally committed networks of international and locally committed organizations,” and "creating global events" through "the transformation of a local event into one having virtually instantaneous international implications through mass-media.

Conclusion.

None of this is conspiracy theory – it is conspiracy fact. The United States considers as a matter of official policy that the promotion of democracy is an important element of its overall national security strategy. Large sections of the State Department, the CIA, para-governmental agencies like the National Endowment for Democracy, and government-funded NGOs like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which publishes several works on "democracy promotion." All these operations have one thing in common: they involve the interference, sometimes violent, of Western powers, especially the US, in the political processes of other states, and that interference is very often used to promote the quintessential revolutionary goal, regime change.

John Laughland’s [send him mail] latest book is A History of Political Trials: From Charles I to Saddam Hussein.

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