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Adventures in Truss
March 16th, 2006
09:21 am
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Germany's Weakness for Conspiracy Theories

By Charles Hawley (reprinted from Speigel Online)

This week's news that German agents handed over sensitive documents detailing Saddam Hussein's defense strategy to the Americans has Berlin in turmoil. And conspiracy theories abound. Is someone trying to tarnish ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder's image? Hardly.

Germany has once again found an excuse to indulge its penchant for conspiracy theories.
It's been like a Journalism 101 course in Germany this week. Big story breaks on Monday, journalists get on the horn and start calling all the German politicians they can find in their Rolodexes who might have something to say. Editorialists sharpen their pencils and experts start giving interviews.

But in this case -- stemming from a Monday New York Times article alleging that German agents in Baghdad had obtained Saddam Hussein's plans for the defense of Baghdad and handed them over to the Americans -- facts have been hard to come by. The Times, citing a US military report, says one thing. The German government categorically denies the allegations.

With no further information emerging but readers hungry for more, German journalists have little alternative but to create news where there isn't any. Enter the conspiracy theories. After all, the timing of the allegation certainly seems suspect, coming as it does just a week after a parliamentary committee finished its look into German intelligence activities in Iraq during the war. The Times report must be an American conspiracy to get back at Germany for not supporting the Iraq war and to definitively destroy the last shreds of credibility enjoyed by that evil former chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his dastardly sidekick, ex-foreign minister Joschka Fischer, right?

Politically motivated disclosures?

Consider this: On Tuesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Tageszeitung, and Der Tagesspiegel -- all major German dailies -- ran editorials wondering aloud whether the US government was behind the recent rash of US media reports on German intelligence activity in Iraq. Die Tageszeitung packaged them helpfully into a little box on Monday -- entitled "Politically Motivated Disclosures?" -- and included the November reports in the Washington Post alleging that the German government was aware of secret CIA flights in its country and a January German public television report claiming that two German intelligence agents in Baghdad helped supply the US with bombing targets in the Iraqi capital. Each of these news reports mysteriously coincided with visits of German diplomats to the US. A conspiracy could hardly be clearer.

For their part, German politicians have done much to fuel the conspiracy theories. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE on Monday, Green Party bigwig Fritz Kuhn said: "If there's something to the allegations, they must be investigated. If not, one has to ask the question why such stories are systematically coming out of the US at sensitive points in time." A conservative member of the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee told the Süddeutsche that he considers the report "disinformation." Renate Künast, of the Greens, told the New York Times: "We also have to ask who gains from the reports coming out of Washington. What are their interests? They might be very conservative people who maybe want to discredit the former German government. It is hard to say."

It is indeed hard to say. Just as it's hard to say whether the US actually landed on the moon in 1969. Or what, exactly, goes on at Area 51 in Nevada. And then there's the Kennedy assassination.

Many countries have their pet conspiracy theories. But the Germans seem to have a special place in their heart for them. All through 2003, one of the best-selling books in the country was "The CIA and the 11th of September," written by former government minister Andreas von Bülow. The basic premise of the book is that the US government engineered the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. An astounding one-third of all Germans under the age of 30 surveyed in 2003, believed that the US government had something to do with the attack, according to the Forsa social research group.

"I can really imagine that Bush had something to do with the attacks," a German ninth-grader told this reporter at the crest of the 9/11 conspiracy theory wave. "It could, of course, be a coincidence -- but a really good one for Bush; it is too good an excuse for his wars. The Americans needed a good reason to attack so that they could exploit other countries for oil or whatever."

The center of the geo-political universe

In other words, a good German conspiracy theory requires an assumption that America is up to no good -- and it needs a credible motive. And the new theory making the Berlin rounds has all that. America, according to this newest suspicion of US trickery, wants to avenge the anti-war stance of the Schröderites.

The plan of Baghdad's defenses allegedly handed to the Americans by German spooks.
The new theory is perfect in many other ways, too. For those promoting it, the conspiracy theory makes Germany seem like the center of the geo-political universe. In their minds, those stalking the halls of power in Washington clearly have nothing better to do than to plot how best to orchestrate a Waterloo in Berlin. By that reading, Germany's grappling with the activities of its intelligence services in Baghdad must be front page news around the world.

The reality is much more mundane, of course. Few outside Berlin and CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia care much about the German intelligence controversy. And Michael R. Gordon, the Times reporter who broke the latest story, based his allegations on a 2005 Joint Forces Command study he obtained long ago. The US government didn't just suddenly hand it to him over the weekend. It's also highly doubtful that some government hack phoned up Gordon to request that he please run the report on Monday.

In any case, why would the US be interested in harming Chancellor Merkel at a time when US-German relations finally seem to be on the up and up again? Oh, but the timing of the reports! Always hitting the headlines just when Chancellor Merkel or Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier were meeting with their American counterparts! Right.

Germany these days is interested in playing a larger role on the international stage. It has troops in a number of hotspots around the world and Congo may soon be next. Post-war Germany, the message seems to be, has matured -- it has grown up. But has it? Believing the worst of the ultra-powerful United States is, of course, an amusing pastime enjoyed by many countries {and people -Bill}. But politicians and the media know better. Germany, it seems, still has some growing up to do.

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(3 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:March 16th, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
How very interesting!

Very, very interesting.
[User Picture]
Date:March 16th, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC)
In what way?

(Just saw your new icon! How Dabs-like! Hahaha!)
[User Picture]
Date:March 16th, 2006 08:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, just the prevalence of conspiracy theories -- the kinds, the varying levels of plausibility, and the sorts of people who find them interesting for one reason or another.

That's all!

And yes. Yes, it is a very Dabs-like icon, isn't it?
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