Book Review: Understanding Shadows: The Corrupt Use of Intelligence. Michael Quilligan, Clarity Press. $21.95
A convenient narrative of our times, prevalent in news media, entertainment channels such as TV and movies, and across a wide range of literature, is that the ‘intel’-led security state began in 2002 just months after a tight and cheaply funded operation by a previously little-known group brought down New York’s twin towers and killed almost 3,000 people.
This narrative, which has developed multiple strands and threads, by now woven into a fabric which goes virtually unquestioned, is false, as this book demonstrates.
Michael Quilligan’s focus is on the weapons of mass deception which elites and states use to keep us ignorant. His book is a meticulously researched and corroborated survey of how ‘intelligence’ is used to hide, distort, and bury the truth of great events, and instead implant a ‘version’, a narrative, which reflects the requirements of the rulers of the world and serves to conceal reality.
Intelligence services and their linked military, criminal, and undercover ‘assets’, do a lot of things, of which spying is perceived as the most exciting and glamorous. But they do more.
For example, they murder. The French secret service’s assassination of a Greenpeace photographer in New Zealand is an egregious example, another the almost incessant stream of doorstep killings and public executions by Israel’s Mossad. And now we have daily murder by drone and missile on the orders of a former law professor who became President of the United States, carried out from secret bunkers by agents of one or other of the plethora of intelligence agencies which have been so expanded since 9/11 as to constitute a state, an unanswerable state, within a state.
They torture. And they manipulate. Without scruple, they use corruption and the already corrupt to further their aims and objectives. The result, inevitably, is more corruption.
Ranging across seven crucial periods and events, Quilligan reveals an elaborate tapestry of mystification, manipulation and false consciousness, carefully crafted to ensure our continued ignorance or bewilderment.
Perhaps the best-known example of the corrupt and perverted use of intelligence is to the fore. The infamous ‘September Dossier’ used by Tony Blair to trick the House of Commons into voting for the invasion of Iraq, and the less familiar but equally fake February Dossier, combine to give a textbook example, in ‘Seeing Things Invisible’, of how ‘intel’ aimed at pleasing political masters, the desires of those masters, and the established mechanisms of deniability and distance, all combined to deceive both the people and their representatives and to sanction a murderous, illegal and destructive act of aggression which served the interests only of a neo-con elite.
But Quilligan does more. He shows how London, derided by the French as ‘Londonistan’ for harbouring Islamic militants wanted for French crimes, hidden in a sea of over 500,000 devout Muslims, ignored all the signs of home-grown jihad until that fateful day in July 2005 when three bombs ripped through trains and buses in the city. He shows how the reaction, or over-reaction, far from containing jihadi militancy, served only as a recruiting sergeant to press more Muslims into the arms of the militant preachers.
And he shows how the roots of Londonistan can be traced to Algeria, to an anti-Islamic civil war launched against the National Salvation Front, swept to office with an overwhelming landslide but immediately denied power by a military coup. Democratic Islam died in 1991, says Quilligan, and the subsequent conflict, in which 200,000 Algerians were killed, most by the state, provided the raw material for a different Islam, fired by refugees from both Algeria and coup-master France, whose ‘intel’ agencies had such a big hand in it.
In ‘Slouching Towards Jerusalem’, he dissects the moral corruption at the centre of the Israeli state, the curious Israeli relationship with the United States epitomised by the refusal of the latter to publicly investigate the deadly June 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, and the savage consequences, for Palestinians, for Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians and other Arabs, and for Israelis too, which have flowed from it.
And central to all that is the ferocious Mossad, whose assassination squads and proven techniques became a model for the USA, and the internal security service, Shin Bet, whose surveillance and repression remains a keystone in maintaining supremacy over Palestinians and Israeli Arabs alike. And dissident Israelis.
Quilligan travels the globe: South Africa, Iraq, the Vatican State, Russia to America in the recapitulated and strange journey of Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife Marina, by train and boat from Moscow to Florida — and Ireland.
The looting of South Africa by a corrupted African National Congress and by NATO corporations since 1994 forms the theme of ‘The Itching Palm’, with some very apt lessons for Ireland about what happens when accumulating personal wealth gets in the way, as it always does, of using national resources and economic policy to relieve poverty and inequality and generalise the benefits of economic expansion.
The Vatican, and the Catholic Church in general, comes under scrutiny both for its historic involvement in and cover-up of endemic and widespread sexual abuse of children and its intimate and corrupt relationships with politicians, governments and dictatorships, the Mafia, and money-laundering banks, several of which it still owns or does business with. The verdict, not surprisingly, is harsh.
For those who see Francis I as a reforming breath of fresh air, the fate of Pope John Paul I may bring pause, but what will certainly become clear is that Francis has done little or nothing to root out the subterranean corruption which underlies hundreds of years of abuse of the innocents, and of innocence, which the Roman Church has practised and the Vatican has concealed. Nor is there much sign of a new financial regime shorn of the blatant criminality typical of the IOR (the Vatican Bank) and its collaboration with Mafia, Nazis, right-wing terror gangs, drug cartels, military regimes — and other crooked bankers.
Quilligan has a remarkable knack of presenting a comprehensive survey, packed with spellbinding detail and stretching across lengthy periods — decades, in some cases — in a very short space. He manages always to remain fully aware of the overview, situating his voluminous material entirely in context while buttressing his conclusions with a forensic inevitability.
It’s a specialist interest, but this book can be taken either as a first-class introduction to the field or, for the already familiar, as an absolutely essential summary of the seven areas covered.
His final chapter, ‘The Butcher’s Apron’, is a masterly survey of the Troubles in Northern Ireland — or, to be more accurate, the island of Ireland, from 1969 right up to the present day. And if you pause, thinking ‘but the war ended almost 20 years ago’, just reflect on the fact that the Smithwick Tribunal took two and a half years to report on allegations of collusion by gardai in the deaths of two RUC officers, largely due to deliberate obstruction by the British government and its — yes, indeed — security services and officials. It had been expected to last six months. Or that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 remain to be fully explained, for the same reasons.
The British called their ‘mission’ in Northern Ireland Operation Banner. They like to claim it as a textbook success, but in a mere 74 pages Quilligan gets beneath the surface to show just how great a failure it was, not only in terms of not winning the war, but in exacerbating and prolonging a crisis situation that need not have lasted 25 years nor caused so many deaths and so much economic and societal damage.
From this survey, it is impossible to avoid one simple and depressing conclusion. The use of ‘intelligence’ as it has been practised by ‘the West’ — primarily by US, British, French and Israeli agencies, with a supporting cast of bit players including Irish (both Garda intelligence based in its Harcourt Street ‘Puzzle Palace’ and the Army’s G2) in addition to Polish, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and a host of Mid-East and Asian outfits — has brought only disaster.
Not only has it prolonged conflicts, it has deepened them. In some cases, it has created conflict where none existed. It has provided false ‘evidence’ to justify new wars. It has multiplied the misery of millions by exacerbating conflicts, as in Syria now or the largely unreported murderous brush wars in Libya since the murder of Gadhafi. This shadow world is called ‘intelligence’, but in Quilligan’s account it emerges as a monster of myopia and stupidity.
One thing is abundantly clear when you put down this book. If none of these acronymic entities existed, the world would be a fairer, more peaceful, and a better place.
In solidarity with the exploited ‘Amazon elves’ in Britain who are seeking an end to zero hours contracts, the right to join unions, and a minimum wage of £7.95 per hour, the reviewer and the author both ask readers NOT to purchase this book via Amazon. Please order it from your local independent bookshop or find it elsewhere online.