How America Created a Villain
Two young hackers in New York thought that Barlow was describing a fantasy world. They thought that his vision bore no relationship to what was really emerging online. They were cult figures in the early online scene and their fans would follow them around while recording them. They called themselves fiber optic and acid freak.
They spent their time exploring and breaking into giant computer networks that they knew where the source of modern digital power. In a notorious public debate they had online, the two hackers attacked Barlow. What infuriated them the most was Barlow’s insistence that there was no hierarchy or controlling powers within cyberspace.
The hackers set out to demonstrate that he was wrong. Acid freak first hacked into the computers of the mega corporation TRW (Thompson Ramo Wooldridge Inc.). TRW had originally built the systems that ran the cold war, and eventually the U.S. military. They had helped create the delicate balance of terror Kissinger had describes years before. But now, TRW had adapted those same computers to run a new system. That of credit and debt.
Their computers gathered up the credit data of millions of Americans and we’re being used by the banks to decide an individual’s credit rating.
The hackers broke into the TRW network, stole Barlow’s credit history and published it online. They were demonstrating the growing power of finance, of how the companies that ran the new systems of credit knew more and more about you. And increasingly use that information to control your destiny. The system that was allowing this to happen was a new, giant network of information connected through computers, built on the backbone of the newly growing internet.
Hackers were questioning whether Barlow’s utopian rhetoric about cyberspace were really a convenient camouflage, hiding the emergence of a new and growing power that was far beyond politics.
But cyberspace was not the only imaginary story being created. Faced with the humiliating defeat in the Lebanon, president Reagan’s government was desperate to shore up the vision of a moral world, where a good America struggled against evil. And to do this, they were going to create a simple villain. An imaginary enemy. One that would free them from the paralyzing complexity of real middle Eastern politics. And the perfect candidate was a Libyan colonel. Muammar Gaddafi, the ruler of Libya.
The Americans were going to ruthlessly use colonel Gaddafi to create a fake terrorist mastermind. And Gaddafi was going to happily play along, because it would turn him into a famous world figure.
Colonel Gaddafi would take power in a coup in the 1970s. But from the very start, he was convinced he was more than just a leader of one country. He believed that he was an international revolutionary, who’s destiny was to challenge the powers of the west. When he was a young officer, Gaddafi had been sent to England for training. But he had detested the patronizing racism that he claimed he had found within British society.
Once in power, Gaddafi had developed his own revolutionary theory, which he called the Third Universal Theory. It was an alternative, he said, to communism and capitalism. He published it in a green book, but practically no one read it. And while he was developing this new theory, he had sent money and weapons to the IRA in Ireland, to help them overthrow the British ruling class.
But all the other Arab leaders rejected him and his ideas. They thought that he was mad, and by the mid-1980s, Gaddafi was an isolated figure with no friends or no global impact.
Then that suddenly changed. In December, 1985, terrorists attacked Rome and Vienna simultaneously killing 19 people, including five Americans. There was great pressure on president Reagan to retaliate.
President Reagan immediately announced that Gaddafi was definitely behind the attacks. But the European security services who investigated the attacks were convinced that Libya was not involved at all. That the mastermind behind the attacks was in fact Syria, and that the terrorists were being directed by the Syrian intelligence agencies.
What made it even more confusing was that although there seemed to be no evidence that Gaddafi had been behind the attacks, he made no attempt to deny the allegation.
Instead, he went the other way and turned the crisis into a global drama.
Threatening suicide attacks against America, Gaddafi now started to play a role that was going to become very familiar with. He grabbed the publicity that had been given to him by the Americans and used it dramatically. He promoted himself as an international revolutionary who would help to liberate oppressed peoples around the world. Even the blacks in America.
Gaddafi arranged for a live satellite link to a mass meeting of the nation of Islam in Chicago.
Gaddafi told them that Libya was now their ally in their struggle against white America. He promised that he would supply weapons to create a black army in America, of 400,000 men. If white America refuses to accept blacks as U.S. citizens, it must therefore be destroyed.
Gaddafi also invited a group of German rocket scientists to come to Libya to help aid him in building a rocket. He insisted it had no military purpose and that Libya was now going to explore outer space.
But no one believed him. Journalists warned that Gaddafi was really preparing to attack Europe, vividly dramatizing the new danger. The Americans and Gaddafi now became locked together in a cycle of mutual reinforcement. In the process, a powerful new image was created that was going to capture the imagination of the west.
Gaddafi became a global superpower. The leader of what was dubbed a rogue state. A madman who threatened the stability of the world, and Gaddafi was loving every minute of it. Then, there was another terrorist attack, one at a disco in west Berlin.
The bomb killed an American soldier and injured hundreds. The Americans released what they said were intercepts by the national security agency which proved that Colonel Gaddafi was behind the bombing. And a dossier that they said prove that he was also the mastermind behind a whole range of other attacks.
President Reagan ordered the Pentagon to prepare to bomb Libya, but again, there were doubts, this time within the American government itself. There were concerns that analysts we’re being pressured to make a case that didn’t really exist. And to do it, they were taking Gaddafi’s rhetoric about himself, as a global revolutionary, and his manic ravings, and then representing them as fact. And in the process, together, the Americans and Gaddafi were constructing a new, fictional world.
The European intelligence agencies has told the Americans that they were wrong, that it was Syria which was behind the bombing, and not Libya.
But the Americans decided to attack Libya anyway, because they couldn’t face the dangerous consequences of attacking Syria. Instead they went for Gaddafi, a man without friends or allies.
In April 1986, the Americans attacked Libya. The targets included Colonel Gaddafi’s own house. Immediately after the attack, Gaddafi appeared in the ruins to describe what had happened.
But yet again Gaddafi might’ve been lying. Ever since then, there have been rumors that his adopted daughter might have actually survived. But many other children were killed in the raid because the American booming was so inaccurate.
Gaddafi realized that the attention of the whole world was now focused on him, and he grabbed the mood to promote his own revolutionary theory, the third way, as a global alternative to democracy.