There are 9/11 conspiracy nuts who are nuts and then there’s German politician Andreas von Bülow, a member of the center-left Social Democrats who spent 25 years in the Bundestag and was Helmut Schmidt’s Minister for Research and Technology for a few years in the ’80s.
Von Bülow’s The CIA and September 11 (Die CIA und der 11.September) blames the CIA for directly causing the 9/11 deaths and destruction. Der Spiegel‘s Christian Stöcker has a good piece on the guy — the excellent German news magazine has notably debunked him time and again, especially one of his claims that the 9/11 hijackers are in fact still alive. But like those “zombie terrorists,” as Der Spiegel derisively called them, von Bülow’s ideas won’t stay dead, and his book still sells. He remains reasonable-sounding and may in fact be the only mainstream-type guy who is greatly admired by both left-wing and right-wing radicals.
His theory is at least interesting, considering that he rightly points out that the U.S. government has pathologically lied about so much stuff, so why not this? In his view, the CIA didn’t screw up and allow 9/11 to happen. The spy agency actually did the bad deeds. As if the CIA could get it together enough to pull something like that off.
Stöcker sums up von Bülow’s scenario, which is fit for a Hollywood movie that will never get made:
In the official version, as outlined in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, the United States’ intelligence services failed on all counts, ignoring information, failing to follow up on clues and generally displaying incompetence.
In Bülow’s version of events, though, the intelligence services, particularly the CIA, display an almost inhuman degree of precision and competence. Not only did they allegedly control the terrorist planes remotely using special technology, but they also supposedly placed explosives on multiple floors of the World Trade Center towers in advance, to facilitate the buildings’ peculiar controlled, vertical collapse. In the case of the Pentagon, they possibly directed a cruise missile into the building, while at the same time making the crew and passengers of Flight AA77, the plane officially believed to have hit the Pentagon, disappear without a trace. Along the way, they invented the story about the 19 terrorists, substantiating it with false witness testimony and strategically placed documents and evidence.
Does he know something about the stumbling, bumbling CIA that we don’t know? As Stöcker puts it:
In Bülow’s world view, the CIA is an organization of nearly limitless power and fearsome efficiency, an organization capable of forcing an enormous number of people — the many accomplices and participants such an operation would have required — to keep quiet for 10 years and more, all for the sake of national interests.
Oh, yeah, fearsome efficiency. How in the world do intelligent people come to believe such a conspiracy theory? Actually, it’s not surprising. Stöcker smartly notes:
Over the past decades, successive US administrations have themselves certainly provided ample fodder for the formation of such views: the fable of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; the fact that it was American help that turned Afghanistan’s mujahideen into the powerful force that later gave rise to the Taliban and al-Qaida; the Iran-Contra affair; the country’s unscrupulous cooperation with dictators and coups; the Vietnam War. The US government and its intelligence services have been caught lying, deceiving and breaking international treaties so often that many people now believe anything is possible. This is the fertile soil that allows an interest in authors such as Bülow … to thrive.
Stöcker’s characterization of von Bülow as a “mainstream conspiracy theorist” fits:
Ten years after the attacks in New York and Washington, Bülow is now 74, but he looks closer to 60. He and his wife have a charming home south of Bonn, with climbing roses outside and hardwood floors, Oriental rugs and antiques inside. Bülow’s haircut is neat and he wears a button-down shirt with cotton pants. The couple serve their coffee in blue and white porcelain cups.
A grand piano, meant for his wife and the grandchildren, stands in the living room in front of the bookshelf. There are oil paintings and a Picasso engraving on the walls. Bülow himself plays cello in an orchestra and in a string quartet. He provides a mainstream counterpoint to Germany’s other major 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Mathias Bröckers, a former editor at the left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung.
Again, though, why is this cello-playing guy still purveying such an outlandish theory? He’s not like one of our know-nothing, brain-dead teabaggers, some of whom are running for U.S. president.
Stöcker himself offers a sound theory, one that’s grounded in von Bülow’s own role as a high official in a major Western government who had to sort through and investigate the aftermath of the Strangelovian ’50s and ’60s:
Bülow himself experienced perhaps a little too much of the real messes the West allowed to occur during the Cold War. He would have had plenty of chances to do so during his time as a senior official in the German Defense Ministry from 1974 to 1980, as a member of the parliamentary control committee for intelligence services and, in particular, as part of an investigative committee which addressed the machinations of Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, a politician who had been in charge of East Germany’s trade with capitalist countries.
That period informed the bleak outlook Bülow still takes as a given in day-to-day life, an outlook shaped by shady dealings in back rooms, by geopolitical strategy deliberations carried out with no consideration for their human victims and by a firm belief in invulnerable powers that work in secret.
At its core, this is a trait typical of older men: a tendency to combine one’s own life experiences with a good measure of distance and supposed realism to form a kind of comfortable cynicism. The only difference in this case is the extreme to which the cynicism has been taken.
Der Spiegel notes that he says he’s not bitter, though his former pals high up in the German government won’t discuss “that subject” with him.
One of von Bülow’s many critics argues that there’s more than just a whiff of antisemitism wafting through his theory — he puts the Mossad in the conspiracy, too. From Emerson Vermaat’s “9/11 Conspiracy Theories, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism”:
A German academic study on anti-Semitism in Germany finds that von Bülow is an author who is very much favored by both the radical left and the radical right (neo-Nazis). The same study quotes from a 2003 poll according to which one-third of the Germans under the age of 30 believe that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks. The same poll showed that twenty percent of all the Germans hold this view.
Well, Americans aren’t so smart either. A recent Newsweek ploy of asking 1,000 official U.S. citizens to take the official U.S. citizenship test showed that 29 percent couldn’t even name the vice president. You know, whatisname.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 9, 2011