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G'day! Cutting Edge special series Welcome to the third in our six-part preoccupying the world, terrorism. on the explosive topic currently of 'The Power of Nightmares' Tonight, the final part that the threat and its controversial argument terrorist network is an illusion. from a hidden, organised on SBS, 'The New al-Qaeda' series Next week for 3 consecutive nights a totally different perspective will dispute this and offer that leaves no doubt on global terrorism than many of us want to believe. the threat is more real 'The Power of Nightmares' episodes This week's first two

looked at the origins and Islamic radical extremists of both the neo-cons in the US opposed groups actually formed and how these two diametrically as an unholy alliance what can only be described in Afghanistan. to defeat the Soviets 'The Power of Nightmares' In tonight's concluding instalment, terrorist network is an illusion. controversially claims the global

if indeed that's what it is? And who benefits from this illusion, 'The New al-Qaeda' Next week, as we've been flagging,

with tonight's provocative claims. takes serious issue Watch on. to create a better world. In the past, politicians promised of achieving this, They had different ways but their power and authority they offered their people. came from the optimistic visions Those dreams failed, lost faith in ideologies. and today, people have simply as managers of public life. Increasingly, politicians are seen a new role that restores their power. But now, they have discovered Instead of delivering dreams, to protect us... from nightmares. politicians now promise GUNSHOTS from dreadful dangers we cannot see They say that they will rescue us and do not understand. is international terrorism, And the greatest danger of all with sleeper cells across the world. a powerful and sinister network by a war on terror. A threat that needs to be fought But much of this threat is a fantasy and distorted by politicians. which has been exaggerated that has spread unquestioned It's a dark illusion through governments around the world, and the international media. the security services how and why that fantasy was created, This is a series of films about and who it benefits. (Man pants and screams) are two groups... At the heart of the story the American neo-conservatives, and the radical Islamists. ended in the late '90s, Last episode and out of power. with both groups marginalised But with the attacks on September 11, dramatically changed. the fates of both MAN: HOLY FUCK! after their moment of triumph, The Islamists, within months, were virtually destroyed took power in Washington. while the neo-conservatives began to reconstruct the Islamists. But then the neo-conservatives They created a phantom enemy, began to spread, and as this nightmare fantasy

it gave them politicians realised the new power

in a deeply disillusioned age. became the most powerful. Those with the darkest nightmares Laden had returned to Afghanistan. At the end of the 1990s, Osama Bin by Ayman Zawahiri, He was accompanied

of the Islamist movement. the most influential ideologist

Zawahiri had struggled For 20 years, in the Arab world, to create revolutions in bloody failure. but all attempts had ended I was home. Everywhere, everywhere. Somewhere else? you are wanted everywhere. I am a Muslim. Being a Muslim,

to the superpowers, it's a crime. Just if you say no

You are wanted. Is it easy for you to move around? He is greater than a superpower. It's the grace of Allah. Egyptian revolutionary Sayyid Qutb, Zawahiri was a follower of the who'd been executed in 1966. of a new type of modern state. Qutb's vision had been of Western science and technology, It would contain all the benefits as a moral framework but it would use Islam the culture of Western liberalism. to protect people from infected the minds of Muslims, Qutb believed that this culture turning them into selfish creatures values that held society together. who threatened to destroy the shared Throughout the '80s and '90s, to persuade the masses Zawahiri had tried to rise up and topple the rulers to infect their countries. who had allowed this corruption GUNFIRE We want to speak to the whole world. became trapped But the revolutionaries in a horrific escalation of violence refused to follow them. because the masses Islamism failed as a mass movement, to the conclusion and Zawahiri now came that a new strategy was needed. They had failed in their takeover. They had no revolution at all.

that be. They had failed to topple the powers interested in this idea And they became more and more that only a small vanguard could... could be successful.

I mean, they had lost confidence of the masses to be mobilised. in the spontaneous capacity completely. Then they decided to change strategy they called the near enemy, Instead of striking at what i.e. the local regimes, at the far-away enemy, they decided they could strike i.e. at the West, at America. and the masses would be mobilised. And that would impress the masses,

began implementing this new strategy Zawahiri and Bin Laden in August 1998. were detonated Two huge suicide bombs in Kenya and Tanzania, outside American embassies killing more than 200 people. on the West. The bombings had a dramatic effect the name Bin Laden For the first time, as a terrorist mastermind. entered the public consciousness had been recruited by Bin Laden The suicide bombers from the Islamist training camps in Afghanistan. But his and Zawahiri's operation was very much on the fringes of the Islamist movement. The overwhelming majority of fighters in these camps

had nothing to do with Bin Laden or international terrorism. They were trained to fight regimes in their own countries,

such as Uzbekistan, Kashmir and Chechnya. Their aim was to establish Islamist societies in the Muslim world, and they had no interest in attacking America. Bin Laden helped fund some of the camps, and in return was allowed to look for volunteers for his operations. But a number of senior Islamists were against his new strategy, including members of Zawahiri's own group, Islamic Jihad. Even Bin Laden's displays of strength to the Western media were faked. The fighters in this video had been hired for the day and told to bring their own weapons. For beyond his own small group, Bin Laden had no formal organisation,

until the Americans invented one for him. In January 2001, a trial began in a Manhattan courtroom of four men accused of the embassy bombings in East Africa. But the Americans had also decided to prosecute Bin Laden in his absence.

But to do this under American law, the prosecutors needed evidence of a criminal organisation, because, as with the Mafia, that allowed them to prosecute the head of the organisation even if he could not be linked directly to the crime. The evidence for that organisation was provided for them

by an ex-associate of Bin Laden's called Jamal Al-Fadl. During the investigation of the 1998 bombings, there is a walk-in source, Jamal Al-Fadl, a Sudanese militant, who was with Bin Laden in the early '90s, who's been passed around a series of Middle Eastern secret services, none of whom want much to do with him, who ends up in America and is taken on by the American government as a key prosecution witness, and given a huge amount of American taxpayers' money at the same time. His account is... uses raw material to build up a picture of Al-Qaeda. The picture the FBI want to build up is one that will fit the existing laws that they will have to use to prosecute those responsible for the bombing. Those laws were drawn up to counteract organised crime, the Mafia, drugs crime, crimes where people being a member of an organisation is important. You have to have an organisation to get a prosecution. And you have Al-Fadl and a number of other witnesses who are happy to feed into this, who've got material that, looked at in a certain way, can be seen to show this organisation's existence. You put the two together, and you get what is the first Bin Laden myth, the first Al-Qaeda myth. Because it's one of the first, it's extremely influential. The picture Al-Fadl drew for the Americans of Bin Laden was of an all-powerful figure

at the head of a large terrorist network that had an organised hierarchy of control. He also said that Bin Laden had given this network a name, Al-Qaeda. It was a dramatic and powerful picture of Bin Laden, but it bore little relationship to the truth. The reality was that Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri had become the focus of a loose association of disillusioned Islamist militants who were attracted by the new strategy. But there was no organisation. These were militants who mostly planned their own operations and looked to Bin Laden for funding and assistance. He was not their commander. There is also no evidence that Bin Laden used the term Al-Qaeda to refer to the name of a group until after September 11th,

when he realised that this was the term the Americans had given him. In reality, Jamal Al-Fadl was on the run from Bin Laden, having stolen money from him. In return for his evidence, the Americans gave him witness protection in America and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many lawyers at the trial believed that Al-Fadl exaggerated and lied to give the Americans the picture of a terrorist organisation that they needed to prosecute Bin Laden. And there were selective portions of Al-Fadl's testimony that I believe were false, to help support the picture that... he helped the Americans... join together.

I think he lied in a number of specific testimonies about a unified image of what this organisation was. It made Al-Qaeda... the new Mafia... or the new Communists. It made them identifiable, as a group,

and therefore made it easier to prosecute any person associated with Al-Qaeda for any acts or statements made by Bin Laden, who talked a lot. The idea which is critical to the FBI's prosecution, that Bin Laden ran a coherent organisation with operatives and cells all around the world of which you could be a member, is a myth. There is no Al-Qaeda organisation. There is no international network with a leader, with cadres who will unquestioningly obey orders, with tentacles that stretch out to sleeper cells in America, in Africa, in Europe. That idea of a coherent, structured, terrorist network with an organised capability simply does not exist. What did exist was a powerful idea that was about to inspire a single, devastating act that would lead the whole world into believing the myth that had begun to be constructed in the Manhattan courtroom. MAN: What's this other jet doing? WOMAN: What the hell is that? HOLY FUCK! Oh my God! Oh my God! JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! Don't touch it. (Sobs) Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh, no! Oh my God! Oh my God! WOMEN SCREAM AND WAIL The attack on America by 19 hijackers shocked the world. It was Ayman Zawahiri's new strategy, implemented in a brutal and spectacular way. But neither he nor Bin Laden were the originators of what was called "the planes operation". It was the brainchild of an Islamist militant, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, who came to Bin Laden for funding and help in finding volunteers. But in the wake of the panic created by the attacks, the politicians reached for the model which had been created by the trial earlier that year. The hijackers were just the tip of a vast international terrorist network

which was called Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is to terror what the Mafia is to crime. There are thousands of these terrorists in over 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighbourhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror. This one network, Al-Qaeda, that's receiving so much publicity, may have activities in 50 to 60 countries, including the US. Our war is against networks, and groups, people who coddle them, people who try to hide them, people who fund them - this is our calling. And the attacks had another dramatic effect. They brought the neo-conservatives back to power in America. When George Bush first became President, he'd appointed neo-conservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and their allies, like Donald Rumsfeld, to his administration. But their grand vision of America's role in the world was largely ignored by this new regime.

It's not the role of the US to walk into a country and say,

"We do it this way. So should you." We're gonna find those who, er, who, er... those evildoers. But now the neo-conservatives became all powerful, because this terror network proved that what they had been predicting throughout the 1990s was correct, that America was at risk from terrifying new forces in a hostile world. A small group formed that began to shape America's response to the attacks. At its heart were Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, along with the vice-president Dick Cheney and Richard Perle, a senior adviser to the Pentagon. The last time these men had been in power together was 20 years before, under President Reagan. Back then, they had taken on, and as they saw it, defeated, a source of evil that wanted to take over America, the Soviet Union. And now, they saw this new war on terror in the same epic terms. The struggle against Soviet totalitarianism was a struggle between fundamental value questions. Good and evil is about as effective a shorthand as I can imagine in this regard. And there's something rather similar going on in the war on terror.

It isn't a war on terror, it's a war on terrorists who want to impose an intolerant tyranny on all mankind, an Islamic universe in which we are all compelled to accept their beliefs and live by their lights. In that sense, this is a battle between good and evil. But as previous episodes have shown, the neo-conservatives distorted and exaggerated the Soviet threat. They created the image of a hidden, international web of evil run from Moscow, that planned to dominate the world, when in reality, the Soviet Union was on its last legs, collapsing from within. Now they did the same with the Islamists. They took a failing movement that had lost mass support and began to reconstruct it into the image of a powerful network of evil controlled from the centre by Bin Laden in his lair in Afghanistan. They did this because it fitted with their vision of America's destiny -

to fight an epic battle against the forces of evil throughout the world. What the neo-conservatives are doing is taking a concept that they developed

during the competition with the Soviet Union, i.e. Soviet communism was evil. They wanted to take over our country, wanted to take over our people, our classrooms, our society. It was that concept of evil that they took, an exaggerated one, and then applied it to a new threat where it didn't apply at all, yet it was layered with the same cultural baggage. The policy says there's a network, it says that network is evil,

they want to infiltrate our classrooms and take our society, they want all our women to wear veils, this is what we're dealing with, and since we know it's evil,

let's just kill it and make it go away. And so the Americans set off to invade Afghanistan, to find and destroy the heart of this network. GUNFIRE To do this, the Americans allied themselves with a group called the Northern Alliance. They were a collection of warlords fighting against the Taliban, the Islamists who controlled Afghanistan. The Taliban's best troops were the foreign fighters from training camps, who the Northern Alliance hated. Pakistan! Pakistan. Pakistan.

And now, they took their revenge on the foreign fighters. The Americans believed that these men were Al-Qaeda terrorists and the Northern Alliance did nothing to disabuse them of this because they were paid by the Americans for each prisoner. But the majority of these fighters had never had anything to do with Bin Laden or international terrorism.

Both they and the Taliban were radical nationalists who wanted to create Islamist societies in their own countries. But now, they were either killed or taken off to Guantanamo Bay. And Islamism, as an organised movement for changing the Muslim world, was obliterated in Afghanistan. But as it disappeared it was replaced by ever more extravagant fantasies

about the power and reach of the Al-Qaeda network. In December, the Northern Alliance told the Americans that Bin Laden was hiding in the mountains of Tora Bora. They were convinced they'd found the heart of his organisation. The search for Osama Bin Laden... There is constant discussion about him hiding in caves... Americans have a perception it's a hole dug out of a mountain... Oh, no. This is it, this is a fortress, a complex, multi-tiered. Bedrooms and offices on the top, secret exits on the side. Cut deep to avoid thermal detection, a ventilation system to allow people to breathe. The entrances large enough to drive trucks and even tanks, even computer systems and telephone systems. It's a very sophisticated operation. You bet. This is serious business. And there's not one of those, there are many. For days, the Americans bombed the mountains of Tora Bora with the most powerful weapons they had. The Northern Alliance had been paid over $1 million for their help. Now, their fighters set off up the mountains to storm Bin Laden's fortress and bring back the Al-Qaeda terrorists and their leader. But all they found were a few small caves which were either empty or had been used to store ammunition. There was no underground bunker system, no secret tunnels. The fortress didn't exist. The Northern Alliance did produce some prisoners they claimed were Al-Qaeda fighters, but there was no proof. One rumour was that the Northern simply kidnapped anyone who looked remotely Arab and sold them to the Americans for yet more money. The Americans now began to search all the caves in all the mountains of eastern Afghanistan for the hidden Al-Qaeda network.

We've found a cave... The rest of it is open. If nobody went up to look into that cave,

people could've been hiding up there for days, watching. EXPLOSION But wherever they looked, there was nothing there. Al-Qaeda seemed to have completely disappeared. But then, the British arrived to help. They were convinced they could hunt down Al-Qaeda because of their unique experience in fighting terrorism in Northern Ireland. They could succeed where others had failed. The hunt for Al-Qaeda and Taliban goes on.

And we stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States and our other coalition allies in the global war of terrorism. How many Al-Qaeda have you captured? We haven't captured any but... How many have you managed to kill here? We haven't killed any. ROUSING MUSIC

The terrible truth was there was nothing there because Al-Qaeda as an organisation did not exist. The attacks on America had been planned by a small group that had come together around Bin Laden in the late '90s. What had united them was an idea, an extreme interpretation of Islamism, developed by Ayman Zawahiri. With the American invasion, that group had been destroyed, killed or scattered. What was left was the idea and the real danger was the way this idea could inspire groups and individuals around the world who had no relationship to each other. In looking for an organisation, the Americans and the British were chasing a phantom enemy and missing the real threat. I was with the Royal Marines as they trooped around eastern Afghanistan. Every time they got a location for a supposed Al-Qaeda or Taliban base, they'd turn up and there was no one there, or a few startled shepherds. That struck me as being a wonderful image for the war on terror because people are looking for something that isn't there. There is no organisation with its terrorist operative cells, sleeper cells and so on. What there is is an idea, prevalent among young, angry Muslim males throughout the Islamic world.

That idea is what poses the threat. But the neo-conservatives were now increasingly locked into this fantasy. Next, they set out to uncover the network in America itself. This is a network that has penetrated into some 60 countries, including very definitely our own and it's gotta be rooted out. Our intelligence priority is getting after the network here in the United States. We will do whatever we need to do to dismantle these networks. The American government set out to search for the Al-Qaeda organisation inside its own country.

Thousands were detained as all branches of the law and the military were told to look for terrorists. We don't know what a terrorist looks like, what car they drive, so it's everything and everybody out here. And bit by bit, the government found the network - a series of hidden cells in cities across the country, from Buffalo to Portland.

We've thwarted terrorists in Buffalo and Seattle and Portland, Detroit, North Carolina, and Tampa, Florida. We're determined to stop the enemy before it can strike our people. The Americans called them sleeper cells and asserted that they had just been waiting to strike. But in reality, there is little evidence that any of those arrested had anything at all to do with terrorist plots. From Portland to the suburb of Buffalo called Lackawanna, yet again the Americans were chasing a phantom enemy. They say "terrorist sleeper cell". They call the Lackawanna people a terrorist sleeper cell, the Detroit people a terrorist cell, the Portland people. But the facts just don't support that. They have not proved that any group has plotted to engage in terrorist activity within the United States in all of the cases that they've brought since 9/11. The evidence behind all of the sleeper cell cases is flimsy and often bizarre. This tape was a central piece of evidence in the first of the cases. It was found in a raid on this house in Detroit. Four Arab men were arrested on suspicion of being an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell. They'd been accused by another immigrant called Mr Hmimssa. But Mr Hmimssa was, in reality, an international conman with 12 aliases and wanted for fraud across America. Despite this, the FBI offered to reduce his sentence for fraud if he testified against the men. To back up Mr Hmimssa's allegations, the FBI turned to the videotape. On the surface, it was the innocent record of a trip to Disneyland by a group of teenagers who had nothing to do with the accused. But the government had discovered a hidden and sinister purpose to the tape. The government expert who has looked into surveillance tapes,

casing tapes as he referred to them, said that one of the objectives of making these kinds of tapes

is to disguise the nature, the real purpose of the tape. And he explained it that the tape is made to look benign, made to look like a tourist tape to obscure its real purpose as a tape to case Disneyland, and the very appearance of it as being just a tourist tape is actually evidence that it's not a tourist tape.

(Speaks Arabic) I could never get past the fact that the tape just looked like a tourist tape. The Disneyland ride, for example, was a lengthy queue - people just making their way to the ride. The camera occasionally pans to look at the rocks on the wall, made to look like an Indiana Jones movie, and after several minutes, the camera pans across and shows a trash can momentarily and then continues off to look into the crowd. The expert said that by flashing on that trash can for a moment, the people who are part of this conspiracy to conduct these terrorist operations,

they would understand what this is all about, how to locate a bomb in Disneyland, California. Hello! All the talking and bantering were intended to disguise the hidden message contained within the tape. The government was convinced the tape was full of hidden messages. A brief shot of a tree outside their hotel room was there, they said, to show where to place a sniper to attack the cars on the freeway. And what looked like a camera which had accidentally been left running was, in reality, a terrorist secretly counting out the distances to show others where to place a bomb. And the government also said that the Detroit cell was planning to attack US military bases around the world. And, yet again, they found hidden evidence for this - in a day-planner they found under the sofa in the house in Detroit. What looked like doodles were, in reality, they said, a plan to attack a US base in Turkey.

The government brought in its security officer from the base to testify that she interpreted this as being the main runways. She identified these as being AWACS airplanes, and these as being fighter jets. She said that these solid lines were lines of fire. She also said that this down here was a hardened bunker. But the drawings in the day-planner were discovered to have actually been the work of a madman. They were the fantasies of a Yemeni who believed he was the Minister of Defence for the Middle East. He'd committed suicide a year before the accused had arrived in Detroit, leaving the day-planner lying under the sofa in the house. Despite this, two of the accused were found guilty. But then the government's only witness, Mr Hmimssa, told two of his cell mates that he had made the whole thing up to get his fraud charges reduced. The terrorism convictions have now been overturned by the judge, but it was acclaimed by the President as the first success in the war on terror at home.

We have the terrorists on the run. We're keeping them on the run. One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice. Another case in the city of Buffalo in New York seemed, on the surface, to be more substantial. Six young Yemeni Americans had gone to an Islamist training camp in Afghanistan. They'd travelled there in early 2001, and spent between two and six weeks training and being taught Islamist revolutionary theory. Two of them even met Bin Laden on one of his tours of the camp. They then returned to the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna where they lived but they did nothing. The FBI heard about their trip, and watched the men around the clock for nearly a year, but there was no suspicious behaviour. But then one of the men, Mr al-Bakri, went to Bahrain and sent his friends an e-mail. It said he was getting married and wouldn't be seeing them for a while. The CIA, who had been monitoring their e-mails, understood this to be a coded message. The cell was about to launch a suicide attack on the US 5th Fleet. The FBI, the government, took that phrase to mean something sinister. They believed that the word "wedding" was a code. They believed that the phrase "not seeing you any more" indicated that Mukhtar al-Bakri was a suicide bomber. The reality is that Mr al-Bakri was in Bahrain to get married. And the reality of him getting married is he wouldn't be around with his friends any more. Good afternoon. In the past 24 hours the US Law Enforcement has identified and disrupted an Al-Qaeda-trained terrorist cell on American soil. The arrests were announced proudly by Washington as another sleeper cell plotting an attack. But it soon became clear that there was no evidence for this at all, other than the e-mail. And the best the government can point to as a sleeper cell are these young men in Lackawanna, New York who, yes, went to Afghanistan and trained in an Al-Qaeda training camp,

but, from all appearances, had no intention to ever take any action. On that basis, one of them faked an injury to get out early. They came back to the US. We had them under intensive surveillance. We found not one shred of evidence that they ever planned or intended to engage in any criminal, much less terrorist act. That's the best they can show. Faced with the fact that there was no evidence, the government dropped any charges of there being a terrorist cell. Instead, they were prosecuted simply for having gone to the training camp and for having bought uniforms there. And all the other cases were even flimsier. A group of students who supported the liberation of Kashmir were found paint-balling in Virginia. They were convicted of training to attack America. A group of African-Americans from Oregon tried to go to Afghanistan to support the Taliban, but got lost in China. All these groups, the government said,

were part of a hidden and terrifying Al-Qaeda network.

The government had a legitimate concern at the beginning,

but they let that concern... they took it and they made it a panic. They had reasonable questions,

and took them and made a complete fantasy out of them. They started out with a conclusion, and then filled in all the blanks to the questions. So this was totally driven by the need - or the desire - to have terrorists. You build this conclusion based on this assumption, and this assumption, and this assumption, and, sure, if you build assumptions upon assumptions, you can go anywhere. It's a work of imagination? It is. It's a fantasy. And it's a fantasy that it was politically expedient to sell.

Make no mistake about it - we got a war here, just like we got a war abroad. In Britain too, the government and most of the media have created an overwhelming impression there is a hidden network of Al-Qaeda sleeper cells waiting to attack. But, yet again, there is very little evidence for this. Of the 664 people arrested under the Terrorism Act since September 11th, none of them have been convicted of belonging to Al-Qaeda. Only three people have so far been convicted of having any association with any Islamist groups. And none of those convictions were for being involved with a terror plot. They were for fundraising or possessing Islamist literature. The majority of people convicted under the Terrorism Act since 9/11 have actually been members of Irish terrorist groups, like the UVF or the Real IRA.

And many of the arrests that were dramatically announced as being part of a hidden Al-Qaeda network were, in reality, as absurd as the cases in America. For example, the London Police swooped on a Mr Zainulabidin, who they said ran an international network for terrorist training. It turned out to be a self-defence course for bodyguards he called Ultimate Jihad Challenge. His only client was a security guard from a supermarket who wanted to learn how to defend himself against shoplifters. Mr Zainulabidin was cleared of all charges. Then there was the Hogmanay terror cell, who, it was alleged, were planning to attack Edinburgh. All charges against them were quietly dropped when it was revealed that the key evidence - a map which showed the targets they were going to attack - turned out to have been left in their flat by an Australian backpacker who had ringed the tourist sights he wanted to see. And even the most frightening and high-profile of the plots uncovered turned out to be without foundation. No one was ever arrested for planning gas attacks on the London Tubes. It was a fantasy that swept through the media. Just as in America, there is no evidence yet of the powerful and organised network lurking under the surface of our society, that the government says threatens the life of the nation. So there was no network? No. Never? Probably not. We invented it? "Invention" is too strong a term. I think we projected it, we projected our own worst fears,

and that what we see is a fantasy that's been created. Al-Qaeda is a global network with global reach. ..To target a deadly web of terror. I'm not saying an atrocity might not happen on the British mainland, but we have an exaggerated perception of the possibility of terrorism that is quite disabling. If we look at the evidence, we see the figures don't bear out

the way we've responded as a society. What the British and American governments have done is both distort and exaggerate the real nature of the threat. There are dangerous and fanatical groups around the world who've been inspired by the extreme Islamist theories, and they are prepared to use the techniques of mass terror on civilians. The bombings in Madrid showed this only too clearly. But this is not a new phenomenon. What IS new is the way the American and other governments have transformed this complex and disparate threat into a simplistic fantasy

of an organised web of uniquely powerful terrorists who may strike anywhere and at any moment. But no one questioned this fantasy, because, increasingly, it was serving the interests of so many people. Open, oh sesame! For the press, television and hundreds of terror experts,

the fact that it seemed so like fiction made it irresistible to their audiences. The Islamists, too, began to realise that by feeding this media fantasy, they could become a powerful organisation again, if only in people's imaginations. The prime mover in this was one of Bin Laden's associates, who'd been captured by the Americans. He was called Abu Zubaydah. He began to tell his interrogators of terrifying plots that Al-Qaeda was preparing, some of which, he said, they'd copied from Hollywood movies like Godzilla, which they had watched in Afghanistan. Zubaydah told the interrogators a set of stories based on what he thought would alarm us. He told us, for example, coming out of a movie that had been recent at that time - Godzilla, in which the Brooklyn Bridge was destroyed by the monster - he told us Al-Qaeda was interested in destroying the Brooklyn Bridge. He told us of attacks on mass transit sources, like subway trains.

He told us there were intentions of attacking apartment buildings and shopping centres, the Statue of Liberty, all manner of things... Recent Intelligence reports suggest that Al-Qaeda leaders have emphasised planning for attacks on apartment buildings, hotels and other soft or lightly secured targets in the US. Terrorists are considering physical attacks against US financial institutions. Zubaydah also told his interrogators of a terrifying new weapon the Islamists intended to use - an explosive device that could spray radiation through cities, the dirty bomb. First, a CBS News exclusive about a captured Al-Qaeda leader who says his fellow terrorists have the know-how to build a very dangerous weapon and get it to the United States. And the media took the bait. They portrayed the dirty bomb as an extraordinary weapon that would kill thousands of people, and, in the process, they made the hidden enemy even more terrifying. But, in reality, the threat of a dirty bomb is yet another illusion. Its aim is to spread radioactive material through a conventional explosion. But almost all studies of such a possible weapon have concluded that radiation spread in this way would not kill anybody because the radioactive material would be so dispersed, and providing the area was cleaned promptly,

the long-term effects would be negligible. In the past, both the US army and Iraqi military tested such devices, and both concluded that they were completely ineffectual weapons for this very reason. How dangerous would a dirty bomb be? The deaths would be few, if any. The answer is probably none. Really? Yes. And that's been said over and over again, but then people immediately say, "But people won't believe that, and they'll panic." And then all the people working on this project, the defence and so on, breathe a big sigh of relief to have their problem back - we'll panic! I don't think it would kill anybody.

You'd have trouble finding a serious report that would claim otherwise.

The Department of Energy set up such a test, and measured what happened. And... and the measurements were extremely low. They calculated the most exposed individual would get a high dose, not life-threatening, but fairly high, and I checked into how the calculation was done, and they assume that after the attack, no one moves for one year. One year! Now, that's ridiculous. The dirty bomb, the danger from radioactivity, is basically next to nothing. The danger from panic, however, is horrendous.

That's where the irony comes. Instead of the government saying, "Look, this is NOT a serious weapon. "The serious danger of this is the panic that would ensue. "And there's no reason for panic. Don't panic!" Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the end of our film. However, something very much like this could happen at any moment. We just thought we should prepare you and put you in the mood. Thank you. And now back to our story. The scale of this fantasy just kept growing, as more and more groups realised the power it gave them. Above all, the group who had been instrumental in first spreading the idea, the neo-conservatives. They now found they could use it to help them realise their vision - that America had a special destiny to overcome evil in the world. And this epic mission would give meaning and purpose to the American people. To do this, they were going to start with Iraq, and just as they had discovered a hidden reality of terror beneath the surface in America, they now found hidden links that previously no one had suspected

between the Al-Qaeda network and Saddam Hussein. Evidence from Intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists... ..including members of Al-Qaeda. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. I continue to be amazed at people who say there are no links. It simply isn't true. What hasn't been established is a direct link between Saddam's intelligence and the 9/11 plotters, although even there, there is evidence that suggests very possibly facilitation and assistance to the 9/11 hijackers. There really is evidence? There really is evidence. So when people say there's no association between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, they're wrong? They're flatly wrong. Really? Absolutely wrong. Okay, okay. Stand by. The driving force behind these new global policies in the war on terror was the power of a dark fantasy. A sinister web of hidden and interlinked threats that stretched around the world.

And such was the power of that fantasy that it also began to transform the very nature of politics because, increasingly, politicians were discovering that their ability to imagine the future and the terrible dangers it held, gave them a new and heroic role in the world. In the post-war years, politicians had also used their imaginations, but to project optimistic visions of a better future that they could create for their people. And it was these visions that gave them power and authority. But those dreams collapsed. Politicians like Tony Blair became more like managers of public life, their policies determined often by focus groups. But now the war on terror allowed politicians like Blair to portray a new, grand vision of the future. But this vision was a dark one of imagined threats, and a new force began to drive politics - the fear of an imagined future. Not a conventional fear about a conventional threat...

but the fear that, one day, these new threats of weapons of mass destruction, rogue states and global terrorism combine to deliver a catastrophe to our world. And then the shame of knowing that I saw that threat day after day and did nothing to stop it. It may not erupt and engulf us this month or next, perhaps not even this year or next. I just think these dangers are there,

it's difficult sometimes for people to see how they all come together. It's my duty to tell you if I really believe it. I may be wrong, but I do believe it. Blair argued that faced by the new threat of a global terror network, the politician's role was now to look into the future and imagine the worst that might happen, and then act ahead of time to prevent it. In doing this, Blair was embracing an idea that had actually been developed by the Green movement.

It was called the precautionary principle. In the 1980s, thinkers within the ecology movement believed the world was threatened by global warming but, at the time, there was little scientific evidence to prove this. So they put forward the radical idea that governments had a higher duty. They couldn't wait for the evidence because, by then, it would be too late. They had to act imaginatively, on intuition, in order to save the world from a looming catastrophe. In essence, the precautionary principle says that NOT having the evidence that something might be a problem is NOT a reason for NOT taking action as if it were a problem. That's a very famous triple negative phrase that effectively says that action without evidence is justified. It requires imagining what the worst might be, and applying that imagination upon the worst evidence that currently exists. Would Al-Qaeda buy weapons of mass destruction if it could? Certainly. Does it have the financial resources?

Probably. Would it use such weapons? Definitely. But once you start imagining what could happen, then there's no limit. What if they had access to it? What if they could effectively deploy it? What if we weren't prepared?

What it is, is a shift from the scientific, what-is, evidence-based decision-making

to this speculative, imaginary, what-if-based worst-case scenario. And it was this principle that now began to shape government policy in the war on terror. In both America and Britain, individuals were detained in high security prisons, not for crimes they had committed, but because the politicians believed, or imagined, that they might commit an atrocity in future, even though there was no evidence they intended to do this. The American Attorney General explained this shift to what he called "the paradigm of prevention". We made a shift in the way we thought about things, so being reactive, waiting for a crime to be committed, or waiting for evidence of a crime, didn't seem to be an appropriate way to protect the American people. Under the preventive paradigm, instead of holding people accountable for what you can prove they have done in the past,

you lock them up based on what you think they might do in the future. How can a person who's locked up based on what you think they might do, disprove your speculation? It's impossible. So the government short-circuits all the processes designed to distinguish the innocent from the guilty because they simply don't fit this mode of locking people up for what they might do in future. The supporters of the precautionary principle argue that this loss of rights is the price that society has to pay

when faced by the unique and terrifying threat of the Al-Qaeda network. But as this series has shown, the idea of a hidden, organised web of terror is largely a fantasy,

and by embracing the precautionary principle, the politicians have become trapped in a vicious circle. They imagine the worst about an organisation that doesn't even exist.

But no one questions this,

because the very basis of the precautionary principle is to imagine the worst without supporting evidence, and instead, those with the darkest imaginations become the most influential. You'll hear about meetings where terrorist matters are discussed in the Intelligence community, and always the person with the most dire assessment, the person who has the strongest sense that something should be done, will frequently carry the day at meetings. We thus believe the most dire estimate of what could happen. The sense of disbelief has vanished. So the person with the most vivid imagination becomes most powerful?

In a sense that's correct. But now there are growing questions about the British government's precautionary measures and about whether the threat is really as great as they claim. In December last year, the Law Lords ruled by a majority of eight to one

that the government's detention of foreign nationals without trial was illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Senior judges ruled that foreign terrorist suspects

cannot be locked up without trial...

And one Law Lord, Lord Hoffman, went further. He publicly challenged the very basis of the government's war on terror, that radical Islamism was a threat to the life of the nation. "I do not underestimate," Lord Hoffman said, "the ability of fanatical groups of terrorists to kill and destroy "but they do not threaten the life of the nation. "Whether we would survive Hitler hung in the balance "but there is no doubt we shall survive Al-Qaeda. "The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, "hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of their nation. "Terrorist violence, serious as it is,

"does not threaten our existence as a civil community." It's the way we live today. We're living on a knife edge. This story began over 30 years ago, as the dream that politics could create a better world began to fall apart. Out of that collapse came two groups - the Islamists and the neo-conservatives.

Looking back, we can now see that these groups were the last political idealists,

who, in an age of growing disillusion, tried to reassert the inspirational power of political visions that would give meaning to people's lives. But both have failed in their attempts to transform the world. Instead, together, they have created today's strange fantasy of fear, which politicians have seized on, because in an age when all the grand ideas have lost credibility, fear of a phantom enemy is all the politicians have left to maintain their power. And we have seen Americans in uniform storming mountain strongholds and charging through sandstorms... We have fought terrorists across the earth

because the lives of our citizens are at stake. And America and the world are safer. In a society that believes in nothing, fear becomes the only agenda. Whilst the 20th century was dominated by a conflict between a free-market right and a socialist left, even though both of those outlooks had their limitations and problems, at least they believed in something, whereas what we are seeing now is a society that believes in nothing. And a society that believes in nothing is particularly frightened by people who believe in anything, and therefore we label those people as fundamentalists or fanatics, and they have much greater purchase in terms of the fear they instil in society than they truly deserve,

but that's a measure of how much we've become isolated and atomised, rather than of their inherent strength. But the fear will not last. And just as the dreams that politicians once promised turned out to be illusions, so too will the nightmares. And then our politicians will have to face the fact that they have no visions - either good or bad - to offer us any longer. # Rain drops keep falling on my head # But that doesn't mean # My eyes will soon be turning red # Crying's not for me # Cos I'm never gonna stop the rain # By complaining # Because I'm free # Nothing's worrying me # Because I'm free-ee-ee # Nothing's worrying me... # Captions (c) SBS Australia 2005 But if you think the story ends there, think again. Next week our special Cutting Edge series continues with another three-parter, 'The New al-Qaeda'. Produced by reporter Peter Taylor, who's spent 30 years covering the issue of terrorism, 'The New al-Qaeda' was actually conceived, in part, to directly challenge the provocative 'illusion' argument advanced in 'The Power of Nightmares'. The two series largely agree on the causes of the terrorist phenomenon, but the conclusions they draw are hugely different. 'The New al-Qaeda' makes a compelling case that international terrorism is no illusion

and poses a threat that we ignore at our peril. Don't miss it.

It starts next Tuesday at 8.30 p.m. See you then.

Yes, Christmas is upon us, but there's no need to panic.