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Being threatened with death can make most people keep a low profile

FREEDOM OF SPEECH / The opportunity to say something is always very limited, says MODERN TIMES's regular writer in this essay about different authorities' use of force. Away from today's mass media, an "underground" network of intellectuals has now emerged, including experienced journalists, intelligence officers, renowned professors and politicians.


Free speech has its limits in all countries. For security policy "sensitive issues", the limit is closest to the rule. This also applies to issues that affect the real power. It can make most of us keep a low profile in both the east and the west. To illustrate this, I will bring up some experiences from my time as a security policy researcher.

Admiral James Eberle 1927–2018

I wrote my doctoral dissertation in the 80's on the United States' maritime strategy. In 2007, I attended a Bodø conference on "US maritime strategy" with General Vigleik Eide, former Chief of Defense and Chief of the NATO Military Committee. We sat and talked to a British admiral, James Eberle, former commander of the British Navy and of NATO forces in the Eastern Atlantic (including the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and the Baltic Sea). After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he and former US Secretary of Defense Admiral William Crowe had been responsible for the Western powers' nuclear negotiations with Moscow. We were talking about British submarines operating in the Baltic Sea in the 80's. It was a "sensitive" topic, since submarines in Swedish waters were also used in psychological operations (PSYOP), to manipulate public opinion. I then said what a British submarine captain had told me. He had only been a "taxi driver", as he put it, for the Special Boat Service (British special forces), also in Swedish waters. Then the charming admiral suddenly became another human being. He said he had once had a conversation with a friend, a head of MI6, about a CIA agent, Philip Agee, who started talking.

Eberle had then said: "Doesn't it happen that he passes in front of a bus sometimes?" Then he turned to me and said, "I just tell you that story."

At the highest level, "death threats" are perhaps more common than most people dare to think.

Vigleik Eide came up to me afterwards and said that Eberle had done the same thing to him once. At the highest level, "death threats" are perhaps more common than most people dare to think.

Vigleik Eide 1933–2011 (Chief of Defense 1987–1989).

With regard to issues that are formally criminal or so sensitive that they are not documented on paper, there is no possibility of legal sanctions. Then there is only physical violence. I was also exposed to threats from other key people that night. I did not sleep well that night. Even in Western countries, it is difficult to talk about things that affect power: Being threatened with life can make most people keep a low profile. Free speech has its limits in all countries.

Foreign policy conferences

In these questions, there is probably not much difference between land in the east and the west. An example: I China as in Norway, you can talk fairly freely in private. It's not like during the Cultural Revolution, when everyone had to be careful about what one could say. But today there are still clearly defined boundaries for what can be said in public space. The Chinese space of expression is probably more limited than the Norwegian, but when it comes to issues that affect power, there is hardly much difference. I have organized conferences between the Chinese and Nordic foreign policy institutes and the peace research institutes. During dozens of military and foreign policy conferences in Beijing and Shanghai I have attended over a ten-year period, it has been possible to speak relatively freely. I have never been exposed to threats from the Chinese, but I have been exposed to serious threats from key figures from the United States. The Chinese side has, at least in the past, been careful to say something that could be perceived as a critique of the United States. They have long sought to avoid embarrassing Americans. The limits that exist for free speech are not always what one expects.

I have never been exposed to threats from the Chinese, but I have been exposed to serious threats from key figures from the United States.


There's also a lot we can not say in Sweden, but as we can actually say in Norway. An example: I recently published a book by the Swedish military history publisher Medströms. The book is about submarines and the Cold War, about American-British activity in Swedish waters in the 80s. Defense journalist and editor They are Olofson in Svenska Dagbladet (equivalent to Aftenposten) for 25 years, and three of Sweden's most respected ambassadors, Sven Hirdma, Mathias Mossberg and Pierre Schori, the latter then state secretaries in the Ministry of Defense and Foreign Affairs, respectively, published an article online in support of the book. The columnists had been among the highest responsible for Swedish defense and security policy in the 80s, and one of the ambassadors had later been responsible for the investigation of Swedish security policy for this period. I also received support from a former Minister of Defense. But none of the major Swedish newspapers dared to publish the article, since the case is still "sensitive" in Sweden, as some later put it. In Norway, my book was launched at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy (NUPI) with one of the institute's former directors and a former officer from Norwegian intelligence. In Sweden this had never been possible. Themes that are sensitive in Sweden are not always sensitive in Norway. There is still a lot to be said in both countries, and there is a common perception that our countries are freer than others, at least freer than countries like China and Turkey.


When I was at a couple of security policy conferences in Turkey In the early 2000s, I had to ask myself if Norway and Sweden are really that free. The conferences were organized by Ankara University and by the NATO Public Diplomacy Division. After 9/11 in 2001, terrorism was a topic for natural reasons. At the first conference, I talked about the "war on terror" and the Pax Americana. On the other, I gave a lecture with historical examples of how terrorism has been used against minorities, of secret services to bring an enemy into disrepute, as a game between these services and as a tool to start and legitimize a war. I also mentioned the Kurdish minority's demands for autonomy. After my lecture, three people immediately raised their hands: Turkey's former ambassador to the UN, one of the country's former defense and foreign ministers and a professor from Ankara, who all said the same thing: One cannot talk about autonomy for the Kurdish minority. However, these former ministers, diplomats and professors did not question what I had said about the terrorist activities of the secret services. All key figures in Turkey know that what they call the "deep state" has been directly involved in terrorism in several countries. For them, this is a matter of course. Both prime ministers and presidents have spoken out publicly. They all know that deep statess terrorism is something they can not ignore.


In Scandinavia, however, it is a matter of course that one should be able to talk about autonomy for minorities. It is a prerequisite for free speech, for any democracy, it is said. The minority has the same right to free speech as the majority. But in Norway and Sweden it is almost impossible to say that the secret services use terror and military operations to manipulate public opinion. This is something that has been confirmed by Americans at the highest level, such as the former head of the National Security Agency, Lieutenant General Bill Odom (who also attended the conference in Bodø).

Every critic is deprived of honor and glory. They are excluded from this public conversation.

But if you were to talk openly about it in Norway, someone would immediately put a label on them. He or she is stamped as conspiracy theorist and is humiliated with this label to thousands who can read about it in the media or on the internet. Every critic is deprived of honor and glory. They are excluded from this public conversation. Most people then dare not talk to such a critic. They are afraid to show that they know him or listen to him. It is the same as we experienced in China fifty years ago. It was one of the most cruel and shameful things of the 60's Chinese Cultural Revolution. Young people, so-called Red Guards, hung signs around the necks of politicians and teachers. They were described as "traitors" or "counter-revolutionaries", and they were displayed with their signs in front of thousands of people. In practice, they were excluded from any conversation. They became persona non grata, just like critics of PSYOP (psychological operations) and state terror being treated today.

The question we must ask is this: Why is it possible to talk quite openly about these things in Turkey, and by the way in several Arab countries and even in southern European countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece, but not in the Scandinavian countries? Why is it more sensitive to talk about the brutality of this power in Scandinavian countries than in Southern Europe and the Middle East?

"The good state" and the Norwegian way of life

Presumably, the notion of "the good state" plays a role. The Scandinavian the welfare state, as we know it from the years after the war, has given the state considerable legitimacy in both Norway and Sweden. Most people have a hard time imagining that government services in allied countries could be guilty of these atrocities. But the "state" does not have the same legitimacy in southern Europe and even less so in the Middle East, where the experience of the atrocities of fascism and security services is still alive. In Italy, we remember the "lead years" from the 60's, 70's and early 80's, when crowds of people were killed in bomb attacks. First, the terrorists were described as anarchistis. Years later, these were revealed as fascistare who had infiltrated anarchist groups. In the 90s, it turned out that these fascists worked for Allied intelligence services, and that they had been trained by these services, which was also confirmed by the head of the Italian counter-intelligence service, General Gianadelio Maletti, who referred to President Richard Nixon.

In Scandinavian countries, this is difficult to grasp. Our countries are small with a significant social control – like the village. We often see no other option but to agree on what we are told. Perhaps the Norwegian experiences from life in the village from decades ago may also have influenced the Norwegian way of life. One hypothesis could be that there is a parallel between the Norwegian adaptation and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which also had its roots in the strict norms of the countryside.

the campaign against Von Bülow was brutal. Where Spiegel made fun of him.


But the perception of "the good state" and the social control of the countryside is probably not the most important thing. The same mechanisms apply in Germany, which has both had a rather cruel history and which can hardly be accused of being characterized by a village mentality.

Andreas von Bulow

German Andreas von Bulow, Helmut Schmidt's State Secretary for the Ministry of Defense in 1976–80 and his Minister of Science and Technology in 1980–82, was described from the 2000s as a «conspiracy theorist». Why? He criticized Allies' involvement in terrorism and organized crime. During the latter half of the 80s, Von Bülow served as the Social Democratic Party's representative on the German parliamentary control committee for the secret services. After 1994 years as a parliamentarian, he wrote a book, In the name of the state (1998), which described how local secret services in collaboration with colleagues in, among others, the United States had carried out criminal acts, including terrorist operations. In a book about 9/11 with the subtitle International terror and the role of the secret services (2003) he continued on the same topic.

But the campaign against Von Bülow was brutal. There Spiegel made fun of him. Despite being one of the most trusted Social Democratic politicians for 20 years, one with the highest responsibility for military defense and secret services, he was now branded a "conspiracy theorist." Journalists hardly dared to interview him in the next decade. Journalists who then interviewed him were also described as "conspiracy theorists". They had been "infected" and contracted the same "disease."

The same was true of the Social Democrat Chancellors Willy Brandts and Helmut Schmidt's Chief of Planning, Albrecht Mueller. This also applies to Willy Wimmer, the Christian Democrats' defense policy spokesman in the German parliament in 1985-88. He was Chancellor Helmut Kohl's State Secretary for the Ministry of Defense in 1988-92 and a member of parliament for 33 years. What he had learned in the United States was cruel. After 2000, these men were all seen as "lepers", they became persona non grata – like politicians and professors who were labeled "counter-revolutionary" during the Cultural Revolution in China.


Seymour Hersh
Seymour Hersh

In the United States, the situation is the same. Leading figures in the CIA and in the military are concerned that several intelligence services have developed criminal networks, which use drug trafficking, insider trading and terrorism to manipulate public opinion.

Several of the most experienced journalists in The New York Times, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal have all had to resign. Journalists like Seymour Hersh in The New York Times and The New Yorker, which in the 70s, 80s and 90s revealed American criminal activity, have had to leave the newspapers.

Robert Parry

The same goes for Chris Hedges, who was head of the Middle East office of The New York Times. Those who were behind the big revelation of the Iran-Contras affair, who Robert Parry by the Associated Press and Newsweek, was forced out. The same goes for those who revealed much of the criminal planning ahead of the war in Iraq. Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, who exposed war crimes in Iraq, was imprisoned, and those who defend them are ridiculed.

Chris Hedges

Those who were previously the most recognized journalists and intelligence officers (who briefed presidents) can no longer say anything in traditional media. Several of these journalists have now developed their own networks together with critics from CIA and from military intelligence, which has previously revealed criminal activity. Many have been threatened with death. They post comments and analyzes on the internet, but they no longer have the opportunity to write in the major newspapers or be interviewed by the major TV channels. They are branded as "conspiracy theorists". According to a Gallup poll in 2019, only 10-15 percent of Americans have great confidence in TV and newspapers, while 25-30 percent have such appropriate confidence. 72 percent of Americans say they know the media reports fake news. Formerly renowned journalists have now gone underground.

Is it more difficult to speak openly in countries like Norway and Sweden because they are so small? Social control is significant.


How is this possible in countries like Germany and the United States? We've got an underground network of intellectuale, including the most experienced journalists, intelligence officers and renowned professors and politicians, who can no longer appear in public – just as in the Soviet Union in the 60s and 70s. Several thousand scientists and engineers can also not comment openly on their conclusions. Academic qualifications are no longer worth anything. These people are now being treated as dissidents. The same principle applies in Scandinavian countries. Maybe it's even harder to talk openly in countries like Norway and Sweden because they are so small? Social control is significant. We must ask: What are the mechanisms that apply? How is it that many view with contempt those who have reported criminal acts, including terrorist acts, perpetrated by our allies?

The secret lies in the brutality of the actions themselves. By committing acts that are so brutal that no one can believe it to be true, one can put the blame on the person who reveals the act. For most people, the only way to endure these actions is to say that the culprits must be something "foreign," a "foreign evil." If someone says that it may have been done by one of us, by an ally, this is very difficult to accept psychologically. The conclusion is that one must get rid of the messenger. One must declare him sick just as one did below cultural revolution in China or in the Soviet Union. One follows the principle of shooting the messenger.

A total annihilation of both the Soviet Union and China

The mechanism is partly the same as during the 30s and 40s. There were reports of concentration camps and mass executions even then, but few believed them. One could read about some of it in the newspapers, but it was usually perceived as too cruel to be true. One would not think that anyone could be so cruel.

When our allies in the 60s made plans to kill more than 100 times more than the Nazis had killed in concentration camps, a total annihilation of both the Soviet Union and China with the killing of 285 million inhabitants in one night (well over 300 million if we includes those who would be killed by radiation and starvation) – we would not believe it either. Supreme responsible for the nuclear weapons plans, General thomas power, applied for the green light from President John F. Kennedy to eliminate the Soviet Union and China before these countries could threaten the United States.

ohn F. Kennedy and General Curtis LeMay (center) and General Thomas S. Power, 1962, photo: Wikipedia
John F. Kennedy and General Curtis LeMay (center) and General Thomas S. Power, 1962, photo: Wikipedia

In the United States in 1962, the officers in charge, the entire military leadership, also proposed brutal terrorist attacks, bombings against their own citizens, in order to blame Cuba in order to legitimize a war. The documents about these plans and attack proposals have now been downgraded and can be found at the National Security Archive in Washington.

President Kennedy stopped all these plans, but the central air force officers then turned to Adolf Hitler's most confidential SS officer, Otto Skorzeny, best known as the killer and from the 50's CIA man in Madrid. They wanted to get rid of Kennedy. They spoke with Skorzeny and thought that Kennedy was "squeamish" to the Soviets and did not understand the "superiority of the West". He was "a disaster", they said according to documents from the archives of the German intelligence service, BND, in Pullach. The following year, Kennedy was assassinated, and the following year the United States was able to carry out special operations along the coast of North Vietnam to provoke a Vietnamese attack on an American vessel – an attack that never materialized, but which nevertheless came to legitimize a war against the North. -Vietnam. We now know what happened.

But if the US military leaders of the 60s wanted to kill more than 300 million people in an attack on the Soviet Union and China and from the 70s were willing to accept their own losses of 200 million (according to the National Security Archive), how can the Americans then continue to be our closest ally? This is a moral issue.

We must believe that these leaders are good, as many in Sweden and Norway thought about Germany's leaders in the 30s. One could not believe that the great cultural nation Germany could be guilty of the atrocities that have later been duly documented.

The atrocities today are hardly less than in the 30s or 60s, but we can not talk about them. The seriousness of them can only be measured in the size of the underground network of intellectuals, journalists and intelligencesophists, by professors and politicians, scientists and engineers who can no longer stand out in mass medias public. We can talk to some friends in private, but also most friends would rather not have to listen to what the world looks like. They get scared. The opportunity to say something is always very limited.

ALSO READ: When you want to discipline research in silence

Ola Tunander
Ola Tunander
Tunander is Professor Emeritus of PRIO. See also wikipedia, at PRIO: , as well as a bibliography on Waterstone

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