Claire Sterling

An Update on “The Terror Network”

VTR Date: April 7, 1982

Guest: Sterling, Claire


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Claire Sterling
Title: “An Update on ‘The Terror Network’”
VTR: 4/7/1982

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. My guest today joined me here just a year ago with a book about the secret war on international terrorism. She entitled it The Terror Network and it had just been published. Now Berkeley Books is putting out its paperback edition and I’ve asked Claire Sterling to join me here again. An American foreign correspondent based in Italy for three decades now, Claire Sterling has reported on European, African, Mid-Eastern and Southeast Asian affairs for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Harper’s and many other publications. Her book, with its specific references to the supporting relationship between the Soviet Union and terrorists in many parts of the world has been the source of much controversy; though it would seem that within the year since she first joined me here on THE OPEN MIND Claire Sterling’s insights, concerns and alarms have come to be shared by many more in the American press and other American officialdom than earlier cared to face up to the harsh facts about terrorism that she has placed before us.

Claire Sterling, thanks for joining me again here on THE OPEN MIND.

STERLING: Thanks for that introduction.

HEFFNER: You know, I’d like to begin, in a sense, where we left off just…almost 365 days ago. I listened…watched the video cassette of what we did that day, and my last question a year ago had to do…if and when full-blown terrorism were to reach the United States, what indications there are that we would become a prime target. Now, I want to go on and say that at that time you said that our vulnerability to terrorism was minimized by what a year ago, was an absence of a major source of agitation, such as Viet Nam. So one question is whether concerns about El Salvador in your estimation, and what seems to some Americans an adventurism, might not fuel that fire. And further, you said, if we are going into a period of economic pressure there may develop vulnerability to terrorist agitation. Much depends on what happens economically in this country. And in the year since we spoke here, in both areas, things have happened of significance.


HEFFNER: Any indication that they have led to a larger window of vulnerability, vis a vis, terrorist?

STERLING: I think that there are very limited indications of…I think it’s a bit early still. Certainly I think that the Salvadorian situation has that kind of capability of arousing the kind of sentiment that could be…that is in good part perfectly authentic, but that can be exploited and manipulated for purposes having little, if anything, to do with Salvador. And I think there is a connection between that and the emergence now of the unilateral nuclear disarmament movement here, connected…confronting and connected with the phenomenon we’ve seen in Europe since last fall…in Western Europe. These two issues are very closely connected in the minds of a great many people, and I think that there is here the kind of situation that could, indeed, lend itself, of be used by the same kind of forces that tried to exploit the Viet Nam situation again, for reasons having very little, if any, reasons to do with Viet Nam. As far as the economic pressure and strains are concerned, I certainly feel that the situation is much more dangerous now than it was a year ago because of worsening problems of unemployment, serious problems of social welfare, budget cuts that we’re all so familiar with here; which are surely creating strains in various areas; different ethnic communities, Black and White communities, Poor versus less poor communities and so on. And yes, from both points of view, therefore we are now more vulnerable than we were a year ago.

HEFFNER: Terrorism seems to feed on disaffection.


HEFFNER: And we’re more disaffected now.

STERLING: Yes. I should make clear that I don’t think disaffection…that resolving the problems of disaffection eliminates the threat of terrorism. It’s very easy to draw that conclusion, but it’s mistaken. We have evidence that over and over again solving the problems, or coming close to solving the problems used as a pretense by organized terrorist groups does not stop the terrorist assault.

HEFFNER: So we’re dealing with a problem now that isn’t just a product of our own imaginings or our own real problems.


HEFFNER: What’s that a function of?

STERLING: Well, take Spain. We talked a good deal about Spain last year. To me it was the most moving example and distressing example of the objectives of organized terrorism over the seventies; that is, in that in Spain the terrorist killing didn’t begin until Franco was dead. Under 40 years of dictatorship, the Basque Etat were heroes of anti-fascism. My hero, and yours, I’m sure, and of many, many other people…but they did not kill more than 4 or 5 people and only began to kill after Franco died, when democracy emerged in a very fragile state, and miraculously to those of us who knew that situation so soon and so well. Now they have continued to kill every step that was made to solve the Basque problem itself. They have accelerated the kill rate, the effort to negotiate a statute of autonomy, the referendum to establish a statute of autonomy for the Basque provinces, the election of a Basque government, broad powers of autonomy; all those points…They doubled and tripled the rate of bombing, explosions, shootings, murders, kidnappings, and so on. Now what, for what reason? They say that they want nothing short of a separate Basque state. And they now say openly what they had already been saying to each other, and not to the broad public before, and that is that they want not just a separate Basque state, but a Marxist/Leninist communist Basque state. They have now been absorbed openly and formally into the network of which The Red Brigades of Italy are the avant-garde, together with the Provisional IRA and the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany. At least now that they say this themselves and is being said for them by the Red Brigades, who have officially referred to this in their first communiqué following the kidnapping of General Dozier in Italy. At least now we can face this question and make more intelligent choices if they say to themselves those who want to opt for that solution can, of course, accept that that strategy is part of the solution. But those who do not want that solution and have alluded themselves into believing that all that these Basques separatists wanted is to have an independent state for ethnic reasons must now understand that that was not the case. Solving that problem has not eliminated the phenomenon.

HEFFNER: You mean efforts of ameliorism that in a sense only lead to more terrorism.

STERLING: Yes, I don’t mean by that to exclude the (???) for ameliorating conditions that made such grievances. Clearly we must, but it’s our duty as a society to do that anyway. We shouldn’t have to be reminded of this by terrorists to cope with it.

HEFFNER: The function of terrorism, then, is simply to destroy, to tear down…


HEFFNER: …and is this what you suggest when you comment on the support that the Soviet Union has given to terrorists, the Basques?

STERLINE: Yes. What I say, and what I think and what has been confirmed by any number of confessions of terrorists who have been arrested in the last year or so is that the Soviet Union…I don’t believe that the Soviet Union has provided this logistic training, sanctuary, support, to the terrorist groups in order to create communist revolutions in the countries of Western Europe. I think that when and if the Soviet Union feels that a country in the western world is ready for a communist revolution it is not going to rely on a bunch of nutcases and crazies with perhaps a few ideological heads among them. It will rely on orthodox communist forces in such a situation. In the meanwhile, the usefulness of the these groups is one starting from a minimum level that moves its value…in that every act of theirs which tends to undermine the authority of a democratically governed state therefore weakens the side they’re interlocked into bargaining power; to the degree that the terrorists are efficient in mobilizing these democratic states, and thoroughly discrediting the authority of these states; to one degree it is a gain in the international bargaining position of the Soviet Union. Whereupon, if a country has reached the stage that Turkey has reached, for example, where it was reduced by right and left-wing terrorism to…it was a basket case by the time the army took over. The army was obliged to take over. And now the army has been given an image abroad as a Pinochet army by the terrorists who forced the army to take over in the first place. When you reach that point in destabilization you have, or the Soviet Union has, a genuine possibility of affecting the international balance of power in a very serious way, by detaching Turkey from the Atlantic Alliance.

HEFFNER: Claire, why had it been…and I guess it’s only fair to say why has it continued to be considerately difficult…more than I can understand, at least…to make this point, to get it understood and accepted and made use of in official circles? Why…why has it been so difficult for us to deal with this supportive relationship between the Soviets and terrorists?

STERLING: You know I’ve thought…as you can well imagine I’ve asked myself this question over and over again. While I was writing the book, and since its publication I’ve had to reply constantly to critical comment refusing to accept what seems to be by now a really well established reality. And I, even now, can’t really explain it. For example, Italy, in the last two months, since the liberation of General Dozier…We have had statements in court, in the courtroom, by those Red Brigade leaders who were holding General Dozier prisoner, in which they have said…Antonio Sevasta, who was leading that group, has testified in court to the fact that the Bulgarian secret services during the period of captivity of General Dozier, put the Red Brigade money and weapons with no strings attached in order to keep up the work of destabilizing Italy. He testified to this in court. There are four or five other confirming stories provided by other members of the Red Brigade. In fact, it has been widely published in Italy, although I think not very much outside of Italy. President Pertini has referred to…in a general way many times over in Italy. And yet after this revelation by the Red Brigade leaders themselves we have the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Rognoni, publicly stating: “Well, it may be true that the Soviet secret services have been involved in some way with these terrorist groups in Italy, with our terrorist groups, but this is not to say that the Soviet government is involved”. Now, of course, you don’t have to go past grammar school to know that that Brigade is incapable of making a move without the approval of the Soviet government. But the Minister of the Interior in Italy carefully made the distinction. He said that if it’s a secret service matter then our secret service deals with their secret service. We can’t allow that to affect our relations on a government level. How do you explain it? I can’t explain it. (Laughter)

HEFFNER: The question, though, that I raise has more to do with how do we explain it here at home. Now, you’ve been away for many years, but you’ve come back, and you came back a year ago to…should I call it a hostile or a rather cool reception…to the book and to the idea. Is it our problem, dealing with the unthinkable?


HEFFNER: We can’t think about it because we can’t do anything about it? Or…

STERLING: Oh, I think there is a good deal we can do about it. But before we are in a position to do anything about it we have first to face it publicly. I think that we have tried the other route now for over…for a good deal more than ten years…We have tried the route of…the secret services know, the people in the government know, it’s not the public’s business. We have to handle this in a discreet, diplomatic way because…otherwise we will destroy détente. Or we will rock the boat in some fashion…whatever the reasons may be, situations political and diplomatic. All right, we tried that since the late sixties and through the seventies and see where we’ve gone. By now, I think the first step toward a different approach that could lead to solutions has been to begin to discuss this in public, and although there is still tremendous reluctance in Washington among people in the State Department, the CIA and other government agencies to discuss this question firmly, and confirm it publicly and confirm the sort of things that are now being said by the terrorists themselves about the Soviet responsibility. That…after that first step can come the association. I mean, up until now the government’s refusal…not just our own, but the West German government, the Italian government, the French government, the Spanish and so on…all these governments have more or less taken this position on (???).

Now there’s beginning to become, in the public domain, a matter of public knowledge and public discussion…It should be possible for our government to take the lead, and to form the negotiation, which I think would be very helpful to cope with the problem. One is to negotiate with other friendly governments, western governments primarily for a consensus (???) on your attack, so that no terrorist attack on any one country can ever be treated again as the American hostages were treated, as solely…as strictly an American problem, when it was clearly a problem for every civilized country in the world, and particularly a problem for every western country in the world. So we must negotiate an agreement, an understanding whereby any comparable attack, or any serious attack involving the nationals or embassies of any one country must be met with a common stance. I know that’s very difficult to do. It’s been very difficult to reach agreement on the most elementary of issues involving international terrorism. But there have been agreements, for example, on the subject of hijacking, which have more or less worked. They’ve been very effective in cutting to an absolute minimum effective hijacking operations. And this could be done in other fields as well.

Second, and I think a very important area, is to make a matter of negotiation, diplomatic negotiation, economic and financial negotiation with the parties involved (???) the whole issue in a very specific way. I don’t mean just to storm into a room and say “You, Mr. Romico, have been providing X dollars and this number of guns to finance and support international terrorism”. I mean to say, “You, in South Yemen, under the total direction of the Soviet Union, have been by now a military colony of the Soviet Union, have the following training camps by name and location…attended by names and numbers…because these are now known”…Irish, Spanish, Italian, German, Greek, and so on…with so many and so many instructors from Cuba, so many others from East Germany, so many others from North Korea, so many others from the Soviet Union…will you close these camps? The same thing to the Soviet Union, to Czechoslovakia, to East Germany, to Bulgaria, to the Soviet Union itself…we know the names of the camps. Fifty-seven courses were given to the Palestinians in just one year a few years ago and has continued. We know where the camps are. We know where people go, or we have a good idea. “Will you stop? Will you close down access to these camps by people operating in western democratic societies?”

HEFFNER: But Claire, I naturally then raise the question “and if not?”

STERLING: “And if not”, then we must discuss punishment. Now I don’t mean by that, war. But this is an issue of enormous…this is a form of warfare that’s being waged against us. Therefore we must say, right, economically, in trade terms, in credit terms we have things you want. We will give you what you want if you will give us what we want.

HEFFNER: But we seem to be terribly afraid of what has been called leakage.

STERLING: Oh, I know. I know. But how can we survive in the modern world without recognizing…


STERLING: …the importance…

HEFFNER: …as I read The Terror Network, I…you know…last year and again this year, that’s the question that occurs to me. But now I go back to something you said in the very beginning of this program. You said something about the, ah, the nuclear freeze movement. And you made a kind of a bleak reference to a kind of a parallelism to the attitudes about nuclear freeze, and the attitudes about what we do about the terrorists, the connection…

STERLING: Well, we have seen in Europe, and this is now becoming documented, how a clearly, deeply felt sentiment about…anti-nuclear sentiment in Western Europe, which took the form of massive demonstrations starting last Autumn…has been quite cynically, and by now, more and more openly exploited by not disinterested forces, which are not spontaneous. We have seen, for example, that the East German Communist Party has been involved in attempts to dominate, to finance resolutions of the Green Party group alliances being formed on a much broader basis…of a genuine pacifist, genuine anti-nuclear forces, genuine ecological forces in the Green Party…who are now beginning to walk out on these meetings because the manipulation is getting so obvious in West Germany. The same thing is happening with the Salvador movement in Europe. Now, I came back here. I just got back here a couple of days ago so I haven’t really seen what’s going on in this country about (???) except what I see in the European press. But already what one sees in Europe is the kind of…the effort being made by local communist parties for example, by the terrorist groups also, the left-wing terrorist groups, of Germany, Italy, Spain and so on, to latch onto the Salvador issue and blow it out of all proportion in an attempt to polarize sentiment…to encapsulate all sentiment…genuine sentiment for a better and freer society in Salvador into a totally hostile anti-U.S. sentiment.

HEFFNER: You know that, that, that makes me raise this question: Isn’t there a difference in terms of what you write about here about Soviet support for the rise of terrorism, the training of terrorists, and what you call the exploitation…


HEFFNER: …of what you consider to be, I gather, an understandable concern about what may be our adventurism, etc.


HEFFNER: Aren’t you in a very peculiar, and a very difficult position now?

STERLING: Sure, I am. It’s the situation that’s difficult. I mean it’s not my situation, it’s the situation. It’s the objective situation that requires the making of many careful distinctions. I can’t help that. I would like to be able to make it simple, but I think there’s a tremendous danger in simplifying issues like these. For example, with the terrorists themselves, and now we’re talking…I must remind you, we’re talking about the terrorists operating in a free society; we’re not talking about Third World situations…the terrorists operating in Europe. Over the last six months we have seen in Germany, in West Germany and in Italy by far the clearest indications of where their strategy, their terrorist strategy coincides with Soviet interest in foreign policy, than we had ever seen in the preceding ten years. For example, in that first, number one communiqué in that issue about The Red Brigade after they kidnapped General Dozier, when they were still holding him captive…they said clearly…the question is that people don’t want to hear about this so they’re not told about it…but they said “The reason why we have kidnapped General Dozier is that we are launching a Europe-wide anti-NATO campaign. We, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, leaped with the Provisional IRA and the Spanish Basques in Etat, to form, or to accelerate the formation of a Europe-wide army of Communist combat to resist the United States particularly, because they said the United States had already started the Third World War and is attempting to fight it by building Cruise and Pershing missiles, bigger nuclear missiles, in Western Europe. They went on to say…they did not mention the SS-20 missiles…


STERLING: …They talked only about the war-mongering efforts of the United States to already launch the Third World War, compelling our allies to install the Pershing and Cruise missiles in Europe. Then they went on to say “We must block that effort at all costs.” I’m quoting. “And particularly must do so in Germany” I quote, “The ideal place for a land-based attack on the Soviet Union”. Now The Red Brigades have long said that they are hostile to the Soviet Union, that’s not their model; and I believe that many of them do not consider the Soviet Union to be their model. Nevertheless, over the years an increasing dependency, a chain of interlocks that have brought them to the point of strength they have reached by this time, I think has just inevitably carried them along to where they are increasingly, more and more openly carrying out a strategy which coincides with Soviet interest in foreign policy; just as Colonel Gaddafi does, although he’s certainly not a satellite…

HEFFNER: So you do see an increasing linkage between a general foreign policy protest and the terrorist movement.

STERLING: Yes, the clear effort both in Italy and in West Germany to attach, in fact, part of its own process…the attack, the kidnapping of General Dozier followed on the attempt to assassinate General Kroesen in West Germany a few months before…and he would be even higher in rank as commander of all American land forces in Western Europe…and that, in turn, had been preceded by eleven bombing attacks on American military installations in West Germany by the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a re-insurgence of the Baader-Meinhof Gang after a period of inactivity of seven years…And in both cases, the communiqué…(???) they were trying desperately to hook onto the Unilateral Disarmament Movement and the Anti-Nuclear Movement all over Europe.

HEFFNER: Claire, we end up again, two minutes left, when I want to bring us back not to terrorists attacking against United States interest outside the United States. You come back a year from now, and we go back over the message that you deliver here. Do you have any evidence now that the likelihood is we’re going to have more to talk about in terms of terrorism, not only against the United States, but in the United States?

STERLING: In a year from now?

HEFFNER: Mm hmm.

STERLING: I think it’s more likely than not that we will, yes. We almost did at the time the Weather Underground people and the Black Liberation people were caught last autumn. If not for that badly run stick-up of theirs we might already have something more serious to talk about, because clearly those were the plans that had been in the making for a long time.

HEFFNER: Is there a broader base for that?

STERLING: Well, I don’t know how broad the base is. Certainly when these people were arrested the indication…the documentary evidence found by the police indicated that very carefully they planned a good deal more elaborate preparation for re-launching an underground terrorist movement than people at all know. We also know that there are ongoing contact between tiny nuclei of this kind in the United States and in the groups in Europe. And I think that we have to consider that now…there has been a very serious check for this effort in the United States after the arrest of those people. They were the experienced, top people, Kathy Bodine and these others, who had clearly been working for a long time, and have helped, certainly from Cuba, to catch a new spirit, perhaps, emerging in the United States. I think we must expect that other efforts will be made.

HEFFNER: Claire Sterling, you’ll join me again next year, and we’ll talk about what has happened…

STERLING: You’re going to throw my words back at me. (Laughter)

HEFFNER: I really don’t know. We’ll see. Thanks for joining me today. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you will join me here again on THE OPEN MIND. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.

This is Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. We would like to know your ideas and your opinions about the subject we discussed. Please send your comments to me in care of this station.