Author Larry Collins recently died (June 20th) of a brain haemorrhage and it reminded me that I had interviewed him in London back in October 1981 and written a piece which was published in Time Out magazine. Here it is with updates, revisions and links. It makes interesting reading. For Gaddafi read Saddam Hussein.
In the last month since Sadat’s assassination, world attention has once again focused on the Middle East in general and on the activities of Colonel Gaddafi in particular, whose volatile public statements and actions have once again confirmed his reputation in the West as a madman, a zealot and a troublemaker.
Coincidentally, he is also featured as the central character in ‘The Fifth Horseman’, a factional drama in which Gaddafi blackmails America with a nuclear device planted in New York City, threatening to explode it within 63 hours unless the U.S. forces Israel to return the Palestinian homelands.
It’s a remarkable work of ‘research fiction’, another product of a 15-year writing partnership between American Larry Collins (50) and Frenchman Dominique Lapierre (48), who already have a string of best-selling ‘faction’ books behind them - ‘Is Paris Burning?’ (1965),on the liberation of Paris in World War II, ‘Or I’ll Dress You in Morning’ (1967), about Spain and the bullfighter El Cordobes, ‘O, Jerusalem!’ (1972) about the rebirth of Israel as Jewish state and ‘Freedom at Midnight’ (1975) about the events surrounding India’s independence. [Ed: They subsequently wrote 'Mountbatten and the Partition of India' (1982) and 'Is New York Burning' (2004). Collins's first solo effort was a thriller, 'Fall From Grace" (1985) followed by 'Maze: A Novel' (1989) and 'Black Eagles' (1995).
They both live in St. Tropez and work by writing separate chapters in their own native languages and then passing it to the other to translate. Their books are published simultaneously in French and English in sixteen different countries.
They met at the HQ of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Paris in 1954 when they were both soldiers. Collins, a graduate of Yale, worked in the ad department of Proctor & Gamble before he joined United Press International and was assigned to its Paris bureau in 1956. He then reported from Rome and from Beirut before being named chief of the agency’s Middle East bureau in 1957. In 1959, he moved to Newsweek as Middle East editor in New York. He was Newsweek’s Paris bureau chief from 1961 to 1964, when he quit topical journalism to write full-time with Lapierre
Lapierre's first taste of fame came when he was 17 years old. He left Paris with US$30, worked aboard a ship, disembarked in the United States and managed a 30,000-mile jaunt around North America. This adventure led to Lapierre's first best-selling book 'A Dollar for a Thousand Miles'.
All their work is based on in-depth research using the techniques of journalists and historians. ‘The Fifth Horseman’ is a controversial departure from their previous work as it uses the techniques of journalism and historical research to recreate, with great exactitude, an event that has never taken place.
To write the book the authors spent £175,000 and three years of their time, travelling some 100,000 miles to get their facts. Written in absolute secrecy because of the controversial nature of the book, the manuscript was codenamed ‘Valentino’ and, out of the fifteen countries where the book was due to be published, only Michael Korda, their American editor at Simon & Schuster, knew the true subject of the book.
They visited Israel’s secret nuclear bases, interviewed Menachem Begin and reveal in the book that, in October 1973, Golda Meir almost used them to repel a Syrian attack. As a result the Soviets responded by rushing a shipload of nuclear warheads from their Black Sea base, the CIA detected this and Nixon put the US forces on global alert.
Lapierre interviewed the Japanese Red Army terrorist Kozo Okamoto in his prison cell in Israel [where he was imprisoned for his part in a terrorist attack at Lod airport on May 30th, 1972]. Leading him to the cell, Okamoto’s jailer warned him that the Japanese knew a karate chop that could kill a man with the flick of a hand.Then he proceeded to leave him alone with him while he went out for coffee.’
In the underground command centre of the National Warning System, buried far below a cow pasture in Olney, Maryland, they discovered the existence of a huge computer on which had been programmed a profile of Armageddon - an analysis of what would happen to every major population centre in the US in the event of a nuclear explosion. Controlled by the Department of Civil Preparedness at the Pentagon, they asked the computer for a read-out on what would happen to New York in the event of a nuclear blast.
They visited the emergency shelters built 20 years ago in New York, only to discover their rations had been looted and many had been sent to Managua to relieve earthquake victims in 1972. Those who ate them got sick.
They interviewed Frank Bolz, chief hostage negotiator for the New York City police and Henrick Jagerman, a Dutch psychiatrist who has earned the nickname Dr Terrorism for his theories on the subject.
They say: ‘We spent hours with him discussing the techniques which he has developed over the years. We brought to him all the material that we had gathered on Gaddafi himself then, together with him, constructed line by line, play by play,.an analysis of how we would counsel the President of the US to deal with Gadaffi in this situation.’
They spoke to nuclear scientists at Los Alamos and agents from the CIA, the Israel secret service Mossad, and the French secret service SDECE.
I spoke to Larry Collins, in London to promote the book, a tall, wiry energetic expatriate American who has picked up the French habit of gesticulating to emphasise his points. He wears fashionable wide-rimmed glasses, wears a red-ribbed sweater, yellow shirt, black shoes and short socks. He puts his feet up on the desk and sips coffee while we talk.
One of the most interesting features of the book is that most of the characters are real people. Why was this ?
“Because we wanted this book to be absolutely credible. We wanted the reader to believe that he is witnessing something happen. We wanted to show how real people would respond.” There are exceptions – the Mayor of New York is fictional, based on their super-agent Swifty Lazar.
The identity of the President also went through major changes in the course of writing the book. It began as Jimmy Carter but in August 1979, Collins spent some time with his friend Teddy Kennedy on a little island off Maine and the President suddenly acquired “blue eyes and a lilt of Irish laughter.” Later, Carter was rescued from the wastepaper basket only to be replaced in the paperback of the book by the jelly beans and western gear of the Reagan White House.
So why had they chosen Gaddafi for their central character?
“Gaddafi appealed to us for a very simple reason. He had never disguised the fact that he wanted to be the first Arab to get nuclear weapons. He sent his Prime Minister out to Peking on his first State visit to Chou En Lai and he said ‘We’d like to buy a few atomic bombs.’ Chou En Lai, the old wise man, sort of smiled and said ‘They happen to be items that are not for sale in general commerce.’
“Gaddafi has what he sincerely and deeply and intently believes to be a real grudge against civilisation in general, that is the society of nations at large, who have ignored the injustice he feels has been done to his Palestinian brothers.
The authors did a lot of research to make their character accurate. “We read every scrap of paper we could find on Gaddafi. Everything that he’d written, all of his press conferences, press interviews, some of his famous Green Book. We found at least a dozen people, ten of them Libyans and two Europeans, who had been at one time or other, intimately close to him, and we interviewed them in depth.
The book reveals that, in December 1976, Gaddafi flew to Moscow and met with Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat, the largest industrial concern in Italy. The story goes that Gadffi had already bought 10% of the company’s shares for $415 million and he proposed to buy more and make large funds available to Fiat, if Agnelli would convert part of his company, with Soviet help, into an advanced weapons industry, including nuclear research and development.”
How had Collins found out about that ? “I got it originally from a journalist friend of mine at The Economist, who publish an Intelligence Newsletter. They had some glimmerings of it. I had a friend, since dead, an American who had once worked for the United Press and had become a very, very successful business man inside the Soviet Union. He had a friend on his board who was also on the board of Fiat. My friend told me some things that we didn’t use finally, like the fact that Agnelli went on someone else’s passport.
“Gaddafi still owns a substantial holding in Fiat for which he paid something like three times what was then the market price for the shares. Normally if you buy a big block of shares you would pay ten per cent under the market.”
The book also reveals the existence of CIA psychiatric studies on world leaders, a tactic pioneered by the British on Hitler in World War II. Collins met the ex-CIA psychiatrist who had set it all up.
“It was a boiling hot day and his office was just frigid with air conditioning. Glaring Washingtonian light outside but everything is dark inside, with all the double curtains pulled down. Except for this kind of spotlight halo thing under which he was sitting.
“He was not only bald but I think he probably shaved his head. He had these thin horn-rimmed glasses and he sat there under this light. He said what was extraordinary for a psychiatrist was that you had all the vast resources of this agency at your disposal. The ordinary psychiatrist, sitting in his office, really had to improvise, become a bit player.
“For example, it’s very important to know how a man behaves sexually in certain circumstances. They had actually sent an agent to Cuba to find a whore who had been a rather constant companion of Castro in his days at Havana University. Amazing and apparently of some value.
“He said that he had also done the profile on Kruschev and he claimed that it had played a very important role in the Kennedy/Kruschev negotiations during the Cuban Missile crisis but what he wouldn’t tell me was the character thing he played on.
“What was interesting in the case of the Gaddafi profile was that the initial report had come to the conclusion that he was a paranoiac. One psychiatrist prepared the material and then it was submitted to a board of three or four who evaluated it. It was rejected and then given to someone else who did another one. Their conclusion was that Gaddafi was perfectly sane and, indeed, very clever and very shrewd but he should be judged very carefully in the context of his own society’s values.”
The book also claims that Gaddafi had tried to assassinate Sadat twice in the 1970s and that he is behind a large number of the terrorist groups in Europe,. Wasn’t that overstating it a bit ?
“I’ve got no doubt that Gaddafi is behind an enormous amount of international terrorism and has chosen this an as an effective vehicle for expressing his sentiments. We have the famous story, documented by Cy Hersh of the New York Times, of the CIA man who has gone to work for him and who was using his old CIA contacts and CIA suppliers to get detonating devices which are only effective for terrorist kind of bombs. This all came out after we did the book.”
But perhaps the most disturbing fact of all that ‘The Fourth Horseman’ touches on, is the fact that there have been fifty threats of nuclear blackmail in the US during the 1970s. The first was in Boston in 1974. It recieves a brief mention in the book. Here, for the first time in the British press, is a fuller version of the story.
“I met a guy who was on the National Security Council (NSC) and we were talking one day in the Hilton Hotel. You know how it is when you’re a journalist. You pretend you know more than you do and that’s how you get more.
“We were talking about what mechanisms do we have to respond to the threat of a nuclear attack. He said: ‘Well, you know when we had that goddam Boston incident in 1974, we found out that we were very badly prepared.’ I indicated that I knew something but wanted to flesh it out so then he described the whole thing.
“The details are this. The police chief of Boston received a threat from a very small splinter group of Palestinians and they took it to the FBI. They asked for a fairly large sum of money – a quarter of a million dollars, I think – airplane tickets and the release of some of their people who were in jail in Jerusalem. They asked to have this planted at a certain place in a suburb of Boston near MIT and they accompanied this threat with a design.
“What really got people shook up was that they sent the design out to Los Alamos and the people out there said this is viable. If this machine exists it will detonate and it would yield something in the order of two or three kilotons, which is not a huge explosion but you wouldn’t want to be near it.
“There had been some initial work on what became the Nuclear Explosive Search Teams (NEST) so they called the guy who had been doing the work and said go to Rome Air Force base, which is near Yudock in New York State, so they could keep it a secret
“He rounded up the people he knew and whatever equipment he could get, which was flown by military transport while they went commercial. There was an absolute cock-up because United Airlines lost all their baggage and there was a plane standing by to fly them up to Boston and they didn’t know it. So the thirty of them arrived at JFK and they chartered a bus in the middle of the night. It’s a long drive – four or five hours
“Eventually they got up, got a briefing and got some postal vans which they were gonna use to put their equipment in and of course they found all kinds of problems. Inevitably they’d forgotten things that they needed. When they began to map out how they were going to do it, they realised that, out there in the real world, it is so much different from the theory.
“In the meantime, the police went through the drill that had been set out for them in the ransom note. Of course people were going absolutely ape-shit at the White House because they said ‘Maybe we should think about trying to evacuate.’ But they didn’t know where in Boston it was. There was a lot of anger, agony and anguish.
Finally, they put the money up, nobody showed and thy concluded it was a hoax, which no doubt it was, and it was swept under the table. Ford was so furious that the response hade been so ad hoc, so chaotic and so confused that he said ‘We’ve got to get together and do some serious planning. That’s how a lot of things evolved.
Collins, who is a Middle East expert, has this view on the current situation. “In the book – this also corresponds to my personal feelings – Begin is a kind of counterweight to Gaddafi. They’re both fanatics, each in his own way, and the world is caught between the poles of these two fanaticisms which are incapable of compromising.”
Gaddafi was asked by a Time magazine reporter whether he had read the book. He said “Yes, but I mock such ridiculous fiction.”
Current-day nuclear terrorism
Nuclear Terrorism: How to Prevent It
U.S.-Russia Pact Aimed at Nuclear Terrorism: Bush, Putin to Announce Plan to Counter Threat
By Peter Baker and Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writers ( February 24, 2005)
U.S. Called Unprepared for Nuclear Terrorism by John Mintz
[Washington Post. May 5th, 2005)
Nuclear terrorism realities
In NUCLEAR TERRORISM: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (Times Books / an imprint of Henry Holt & Co.; August 9, 2004), Graham Allison, founding dean of Harvard’s modern John F. Kennedy School of Government, a former top Pentagon official, and one of America’s leading scholars of nuclear strategy and national security, gives us an urgent call to action. He makes the case that nuclear terrorism is inevitable—if we continue on our present course—and he sets out an ambitious but achievable plan for preventing a catastrophic attack before it’s too late.
Nuclear Plant Terrorism: Securing Reactors from Sabotage and Terrorism
Three Mile Island Alert