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FOREIGN DESK

Sept. 11 as Right-Wing U.S. Plot: Conspiracy Theory Sells in France

By ALAN RIDING (NYT) 1316 words
Published: June 22, 2002

PARIS, June 21 - Even before the fires were extinguished at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, conspiracy theories began flooding the Internet. A few quickly spilled out of Web sites and were widely circulated by e-mail before fading into oblivion. One, however, has taken on a life of its own in France. It was turned into a book that has become the publishing sensation of the spring.

In the book, ''L'Effroyable Imposture,'' or ''The Horrifying Fraud,'' Thierry Meyssan challenges the entire official version of the Sept. 11 attacks.

 

He claims the Pentagon was not hit by a plane, but by a guided missile fired on orders of far right-wingers inside the United States government. Further, he says, the planes that struck the World Trade Center were not flown by associates of Osama bin Laden, but were programmed by the same government people to fly into the twin towers.

What really interests him, though, is what he sees as the conspiracy behind these actions. He contends that it was organized by right-wing elements inside the government who were planning a coup unless President Bush agreed to increase military spending and go to war against Afghanistan and Iraq to promote the conspirators' oil interests.

To achieve their goals, the theory goes, they blamed Osama bin Laden for Sept. 11 and later broadened their targets to include the ''axis of evil,'' centered on Iraq.

The 235-page book has been universally ridiculed by the French news media, while its arguments have been dismantled point by point in ''L'Effroyable Mensonge,'' or ''The Horrifying Lie,'' a new book by two French journalists.

A Pentagon spokesman said, ''There was no official reaction because we figured it was so stupid.''

Yet in the past three months, Mr. Meyssan's book has sold more than 200,000 copies in France, placing it at the top of best-seller lists for several weeks. Foreign rights have also been sold in 16 countries (a Spanish version is already on sale), and Mr. Meyssan traveled to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in April to present his arguments at a local university.

The book's French publisher, Éditions Carnot, said it would release an English version in the United States in July.

Mr. Meyssan said in an interview that he was surprised his book had so far provoked no major debate, but he was convinced that his message was being heard.

''Two-thirds of the hits on our Web site come from the United States,'' he said. ''I'm not saying all my readers agree with me, but they recognize that the official American version of the attacks is idiotic. If we can't believe the official version, where do we stand?''

It is nonetheless puzzling why so many of the French have been willing to pay the equivalent of $17 for ''The Horrifying Fraud.'' Is it a symptom of latent anti-Americanism? Is it a reflection of the French public's famous distrust of its own government and mainstream newspapers? Or has the French love of logic been tickled by the apparent Cartesian neatness of a conspiracy theory?

Certainly, after Sept. 11, some leftist intellectuals suggested that the United States had invited the attacks through its support for Israel. Others recalled that Islamic militants had been financed and armed by the United States to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's. Yet, in this case, Libération and Le Monde, left-of-center newspapers with no love for the Bush administration, have led the assault on Mr. Meyssan's book.

''The pseudotheories of 'The Horrifying Fraud' feed off the paranoid anti-Americanism that is one of the permanent components of the French political caldron,'' Gérard Dupuy wrote in an editorial in Libération. Edwy Plenel, news editor at Le Monde, wrote: ''It is very grave to encourage the idea that something which is real is in fact fictional. It is the beginning of totalitarianism.''

Guillaume Dasquié and Jean Guisnel, the authors of ''The Horrifying Lie,'' favor a different explanation for the book's success. They write of France's ''profound social and political sickness,'' which leads people to embrace the idea ''that they are victims of plots, that the truth is hidden from them, that they should not believe official versions, but rather that they should demystify all expressions of power, whatever they might be.''

Still, even if some French are susceptible to conspiracy theories, few had heard of the book until March 16, when Mr. Meyssan appeared on a popular Saturday evening television program on France 2, a government-owned but independently run channel. In the program, Mr. Meyssan was allowed to expound his theory without being challenged by the host. In the two weeks that followed, his book sold 100,000 copies.

Mr. Meyssan himself seems an unlikely purveyor of tall stories. A 44-year-old former theology student, he dabbled in leftist politics before forming a political research company, Réseau Voltaire, or Voltaire Network, in 1994.

The company's Web site (www .reseauvoltaire.com) adopted specific causes, like fighting homophobia and opposing Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front. Its investigative methods seemed thorough and objective.

In person too, Mr. Meyssan, a slim, wiry man with short hair and penetrating eyes, comes over as both serious and rational.

French journalists who had given some credibility to his Web site were all the more surprised, then, to find him building a vast conspiracy theory around the fact that photographs of the Sept. 11 attack showed no airplane parts in or near the smoldering gap in the Pentagon. This became the departure point for his book.

The line of reasoning that follows is a case study in how a conspiracy theory can be built around contradictions in official statements, unnamed ''experts'' and ''professional pilots,'' unverified published facts, references to past United States policy in Cuba and Afghanistan, use of technical information, ''revelations'' about secret oil-industry maneuvers and, above all, rhetorical questions intended to sow doubts. At the end of each chapter, Mr. Meyssan presents his speculation as fact.

To gather his evidence, he worked mainly from articles, statements and speculation found on the Internet. He did not travel to the United States to interview any witnesses. Indeed, he dismisses the accounts of witnesses to the crash of the American Airlines Boeing 757 into the Pentagon.

''Far from believing their depositions, the quality of these witnesses only underlines the importance of the means deployed by the United States Army to pervert the truth,'' he said.

His ''truth'' is that no Muslims took part in the attacks ''because the Koran forbids suicide.'' To his original claim that the Pentagon was bombed from the inside, he has now added his conviction that the building was struck by an air-to-ground missile fired by the United States Air Force. ''This type of missile, seen from the side, would easily remind one of a small civilian airplane,'' he said.

In response, Mr. Dasquié and Mr. Guisnel said they traveled to Washington and interviewed 18 witnesses to the Pentagon crash.

They also have named experts explaining how the Boeing 757 could disappear inside the crater caused by the impact. Further, they identify several people mentioned only by their initials in Mr. Meyssan's acknowledgments, including a French Army officer currently on trial for treason and a middle-ranking intelligence officer.

The book has proved to be a windfall for Mr. Meyssan's publisher. More accustomed to publishing marginal books on subjects like the ''false'' American moon landing in 1969 and the latest ''truth'' about U.F.O.'s, Éditions Carnot can now boast of its first best seller.

Further, confident that this conspiracy theory will endure, Mr. Meyssan and Carnot have just published a 192-page annex, with new documents, photographs and theories. They call it ''Le Pentagate.''

 

 

 


 

 

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FOREIGN DESK

A NATION CHALLENGED: LIBYA; In Changed World, Qadaffi Is Changing, Too

By PATRICK E. TYLER (NYT) 1133 words
Published: December 20, 2001

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qadaffi has notified diplomats in the Netherlands that after two decades of building one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the Middle East he is ready to sign an international treaty banning them.

Colonel Qadaffi's decision -- which would open his extensive underground desert facilities to outside inspectors for the first time -- followed private consultations with intermediaries to the West. Among them were the former South African president, Nelson Mandela, who visited Colonel Qadaffi in October, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, who traveled to Tripoli this month after earlier talks in London with Libya's chief of intelligence.

 

Diplomats who have been in recent contact with Colonel Qadaffi said that in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks he has accelerated his efforts to improve his standing in the West.

He was among the Arab leaders who denounced the Sept. 11 attacks as ''horrible,'' and he publicly stated that the United States had a right to pursue the perpetrators. When anthrax attacks followed, Colonel Qadaffi said, ''It is a cowardly, evil and irresponsible action putting in danger the whole of humanity.''

With the lifting of United Nations sanctions against Libya in 1999 and a subsequent upsurge in European business, he seems eager to win the removal of the United States trade and arms embargo that has been in place for more than two decades.

Fifteen years ago, Colonel Qadaffi was at the center of America's campaign against terror. His intelligence organization was accused of planting the bomb that killed two American servicemen and a Turkish woman at a Berlin nightclub on April 5, 1986. Ten days later, President Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya, reportedly killing one of the colonel's daughters.

Then, in December 1988, a bomb aboard a Boeing 747 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bombing killed 270 people and Libyan agents were suspected.

Now, as part of his consultations with intermediaries, Colonel Qadaffi was said to have offered intelligence information on members of Osama bin Laden's Qaeda terrorist organization, including a number of Libyans who are said to have served on Mr. bin Laden's personal protection force.

Another possible reason for his willingness to cooperate with the campaign against Al Qaeda is that Colonel Qadaffi sees Mr. bin Laden as a threat, intelligence officials and diplomats say. A new French book, ''Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth,'' by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié, cites plots to kill Colonel Qadaffi by members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has been linked to Mr. bin Laden and listed by the Bush administration as a terrorist group whose assets should be frozen worldwide.

The diplomats who related Colonel Qadaffi's conversations said that he had seen the benefit in cooperating. An earlier decision to provide Britain with intelligence information about members of the Irish Republican Army who had trained in Libyan camps and purchased Libyan weapons and explosives became a critical factor in Britain's decision to normalize relations with Libya.

That occurred in July 1999 after Libya accepted responsibility for the 1984 killing of a British policewoman by shots fired from the Libyan Embassy in London.

Britain restored full diplomatic relations without waiting for the outcome of the complex efforts to bring the suspected perpetrators of the Lockerbie bombing to trial.

The United States appears to be awaiting the final outcome of appeals in that prosecution.

Last January, a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands convicted a Libyan intelligence operative, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, for his role in planting the bomb. Another defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.

An appeal is due to be heard in late January. The disposition of the case is expected to clear the way for a final compensation offer from Libya to the families of the passengers, crew and Lockerbie residents who died in the crash.

José M. Bustani, the Brazilian diplomat charged with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, said today from his headquarters at The Hague that he had received a private commitment from Libya that it would sign the accord in coming weeks.

''I can confirm that this process has been cleared by Qadaffi, so it is a matter of time,'' Mr. Bustani said. ''I believe the Libya development is very important, because by acceding to the convention and opening its chemical industry for inspection, that will have an impact all over the Middle East.''

Mr. Bustani said that he had been trying to bring Libya ''into the fold'' for several years, if only to weaken the resistance of Arab states that say they will only join the 145 nations who have signed the chemical weapons pact once Israel signs the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Sudan and Jordan have recently signed the chemical weapons convention, but Egypt, Syria and Lebanon continue to hold out.

Last month at the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, the Libyan envoy, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalghem, caught delegates by surprise when he said, ''My country is a party to most international agreements in the field of disarmament, and is in the process of acceding to the rest, including the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.''

As recently as 1996, the United States publicly threatened to attack a chemical weapons production facility at Tarhuna, about 60 miles southeast of Tripoli, where Colonel Qadaffi had constructed a huge underground complex.

In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in February of that year, the director of Central Intelligence at the time, John M. Deutch, called Libya's facility ''the world's largest underground chemical weapons plant.''

The secretary of defense at the time, William J. Perry, said Washington would not allow the plant to become operational, thus putting Mr. Qaddafi on notice that the facility would become subject to military strikes.

Still, Libya is reported to have stockpiled 100 tons of chemical weapons agents at the Tarhuna facility and at a sister facility constructed with German assistance during the 1980's in Rabta, about 75 miles southwest of the Libyan capital.

''Libya's chemical weapons program is considered to be its most successful effort in weapons of mass destruction,'' said Joshua Sinai, a specialist on Libya with the Analytic Services consulting firm. He said that Libya's accession to the treaty would be a ''significant and welcome development,'' but that Washington would have to insist on ''complete access'' to what he said was a complex system of underground tunnels big enough to accommodate vehicles and modeled after similar tunnels in North Korea.

The United States and Russia have the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, about 70,000 tons in total, and both have committed to destroying them over the next decade.

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