Norman Vale's puppet masters

I don't usually buy paper editions of newspapers, or I would have covered this earlier: An American group headed by Normal Vale is running a political advertisement campaign in several European countries, including Norway. The anti-terror message is one American blog readers will be familiar with, and Norwegian newspaper readers won't. Here's today's ad, explaining the problem with madrassas, printed in VG and Aftenposten:

What kind of parents send their children to a martyr school?

Good parents, usually. They want the best for their children. All parents do.

So these unlucky parents who only have good intentions send their children to schools financed and run by terrorists.

Imagine their dilemma. Parents in helplessness and poverty have nothing to give their children than their own tragic existence.

By comparison, the terrorist financed schools seem like a way out of misery. Perhaps the only way.

The schools are free. Charity organizations - often financed by drug trade - are apparently behind.

It goes without saying that this is tempting for parents close to starvation.

To be more precise, these schools claim to focus on religious education. It's a strange form of religiousity. They teach and require vows about taking up weapons against a hated Enemy, and about the great honor it is to give ones life in a suicide attack.

In an absurd way, these schools for martyrs provide the poorest children in the poorest countries a unique opportunity for a career as martyrs.

It is of course not a rational choice. And it is not a way for these children to better the chances of their brothers and sisters. Nor to make it easier for the parents who send them to these schools.

But who says terrorism is rational?

European Security Advocacy Group

There is no future in terrorism.

Reactions have been amusing, indicative of how outlandish these ideas sound in the sheltered Norwegian media habitat. Dagsavisen set the conspiratorial tone two weeks ago, in Secret Sponsors Behind Anti-Terror Ad.

An unusual antiterror-ad recently appeared in Norwegian and European [sic] newspapers. The man behind is the American marketeer Norman Vale - and a group of anonymous multinational corporations.

Norman Vale at the European Security Advocacy Group denies that the American government is behind the antiterror-ad. [..] So who's paying for the extensive advertisement campaign? And why is it only aimed at Europe? Some may wonder if the campaign is a well-directed PR stunt to make the US war on terror more "edible" for skeptical European. That perhaps the American government is involved, or even multinational corporations like Coca-Cola and McDonald's.

Wow! Some may wonder if Dagsavisen's Bente Bakken is so unused to views conflicting with her own that she can only explain their existence with conspiracy theories. That perhaps she suspects involvement by Bush, Coca-Cola and McDonald's for no other reason than that those happen to be the first three associations triggered in her mind by the keyphrase "shady American puppet masters". But I'm only speculating, as is she.

Norman Vale is allowed to present his side of the story as well:

- I started the European Security Advocacy Group because I witnessed terrorism in its worst form on September 11, 2001. And because I have some experience with international marketing, I wished to use my contacts to communicate an anti-terror message to opinion leaders in different countries, Norman Vale explains to Dagsavisen. Vale, who has both government officials and politicians on his client list, confirms that the sponsors behind the campaign are primarily multinational corporations. But they remain anonymous, because of security concerns. He rejects any involvement by the US government in the project.

- Absolutely not. We represent no official organs whatsoever. And we're not trying to soften European opinion. The goal is simply to spread the message that there is no future in terrorism.

Sounds reasonable, and quite plausible. I have felt - and most readers of this blog have felt - the effect of September 11 on our worldviews. What Norman Vale is doing is similar to what I'm doing here, except with far more resources at hand. He's trying to counter the dominance of neo-pacifism, anti-Americanism and terror apologetism in the European media.

Dagsavisen borders ideologically on the wacky left, but the paranoia is spread more widely than that. Aftenposten follows in the same vein:

An American foundation is spending NOK 17 [$2.4] million on an advertisement campaign against terror, which is now being printed in major European newspapers, but it refuses to divulge who's paying the bill. [..] All the ads are signed by the European Security Advocacy Group (ESAG). Those who search for information about this group will find close to nothing. ESAG has no website on the internet, they're not listed in any registries, and they exist only as the sender of an advertisement campaign. [..]

- We print the ads on significant pages in significant newspapers, because we hope to reach significant people - decision makers. We're not telling them what to do, and we're not calling for any actions. But we hope this will have a public beneficial effect, says Norman Vale.

This strikes Anders G. Romarheim at the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs (NUPI) as strange.

- The price of the campaign tells us that there are wery resourceful actors behind. Why are strong capital interests carrying out charity and public education anonymously? I don't believe the anonymity is because they're scared. It's reasonable to assume that they hide because the signature of the real sender would weaken the credibility of the message, says Romarheim. At NUPI, he has propaganda analysis and American foreign policy as his fields of interest.

Interesting combination - propaganda analysis and American foreign policy. I wonder if he considers them separate areas, or two sides of the same thing. Romarheim expands on his views this week in Dagbladet, in an op-ed titled Veiled Propaganda Aimed at Norway:

These days Norway and nine other European countries are being exposed to an extensive propaganda campaign. A series of five advertisements attempt to modify our views about the phenomenon of international terrorism. [..]

The "European Security Advocacy Group" is the cryptic signature at the bottom of the ad. The American Norman Vale is the group's spokesman. He presents himself as a genuine "advertiser-idealist". In interviews, he explain that those who finance the campaign do not influence his message. Vale also claims that he has no political agenda, nor does he encourage any specific acts. Despite this, the ads appear as agitating political information which can not be traced back to a sender. They can hardly be called anything but propaganda.

I agree - this is propaganda. Romarheim also rightly points out that propaganda does not imply evil intentions, and that propaganda is not unknown in Norway. All political advertising is propaganda. Much of the activities of special interest groups such as Greenpeace takes the form of propaganda. Money is usually, but not always involved. AdBusters Norway carried out a successful propaganda stunt recently with something they called AdBible - supposedly a free Bible financed with advertising, (with a Coca Cola sign on the cover) - and got their anti-consumerist message out for free through gullible journalists.

As propaganda goes, the ESAG campaign is tempered, (and, at least in the example above, factually correct), but it seems fairly obvious that they're trying to establish a "the other point of view" in Europe which is more in line with the American view on terrorism. That such a view is needed is clear both by the number of strange ideas on foreign policy that have been voiced in Europe since 9/11, and by the dominance of those ideas in our media - in Norway almost unanimity. (This is thanks partly to Romarheim's own NUPI, which is the media's primary provider of foreign policy experts.) It would be better if our media had covered alternative foreign policy views by themselves, but as they haven't, propaganda is a good second choice.

End of story. Or perhaps not. Romarheim believes there's more to it than that. This can't be as simple as some wealthy idealistic Americans wanting to fight terrorism, it just can't. He frames his suspicions as four questions:

1. Why has an American created a foundation which through its choice of name gives the impression of being primarily concerned with the security of Europe?

Obvious. Because American security and European security is one and the same. We have cultural and financial conflicts of interest, but no reasonable basis for any conflict over security. America's enemies are our enemies. The failure to understand this is a tragic byproduct of anti-Americanism, and the main cause of the current US-European political split.

2. What kind of idealistic foundation buys advertisements for millions of kroner but is non-existent on the Internet which is practically free?

Obviously ESAG ought to have an Internet presence - a website with more information about terrorism, for instance, referenced in the ad. But this is strictly unnecessary. There is no lack of ideological diversity or of anti-terror information on the Internet. There is such a lack in much of the European media.

3. Why has the campaign been run in most Western European countries, but not among our closest neighbours England, Denmark or Sweden?

Romarheim's own explanation is that Denmark and Britain supported the war in Iraq. I agree - their media are also more diverse. He has no good explanation for why Sweden is off the list, while Germany and France is on it, and neither do I. Perhaps they forgot it, or thought it a lost case. (Or perhaps no Swedish newspaper would carry the ads - this is the country where it is against broadcasting regulations to show a pro-war episode of Oprah Winfrey, and nobody cares.)

4. Would the real signature of the sender weaken the effect and credibility of the message?

As quoted above, Romarheim believes this to be the case. He may have a point. If, as Dagsavisen speculates, Coca-Cola or other well-known brands are among the sponsors, Europe's ambivalence about American multinationals might get in the way of the anti-terror message. We buy from multinational corporations, but we don't like them. But Romarheim is naive to dismiss the security concerns of the sponsors. These ads are being read by European al-Qaeda members. Why would any multinational corporation with a presence in Muslim countries want to draw attention to their own stance on terrorism? There is another concern as well. The ads might reflect badly on the sponsor's image in Europe. "Ah I see, Coca-Cola supports those warmongers in the White House and are trying to tell us what to believe, eh? That's it, I'm switching to Pepsi." Telling the truth about terrorism is not a good way to improve your image in Europe. If we assume that the sponsor are motivated by idealism, (and I think they are), that stating their identities would add no credibility to the message, and that in fact this would carry a security risk in the Muslim world and a market risk in Europe, complete anonymity is the best option.

The only message here is the one that stares us right in the face - terrorism is evil - but Romarheim keeps looking for hidden motives:

We can conclude the following about the sender. The sender wants more European involvement in Iraq. The sender has an agenda that corresponds with the Bush administration as concerns the war on terrorism. The sender has a lot of money and probably fears that a genuine signature would weaken the message of the campaign.

"Undercover operations" is traditionally a trademark of terrorists. It is regrettable that anti-terrorist activities copy this strategy.

I don't believe I read that last sentence correctly. Or if I did, Romarheim certainly didn't write it correctly. It does not parse either way. What is the connection between an anonymous advertisement campaign against terrorism and blowing up a Red Cross building? That both are "anonymous"? Might as well write that "Creating groups for some purpose and giving them names is traditionally a trademark of terrorists. It is regrettable that anti-terrorist activities copy this strategy." Still does not parse.

Should Norwegian newspapers accept millions to print this sort of campaign? Is this about ethics or freedom of speech? Perhaps Norman Vale's campaign can raise our consciousness about Norway's role in relation to both terrorism and reasonable anti-terror measures? Terrorism is after all one of our time's greatest challenges. Veiled propaganda campaigns is not the right means in the fight against international terrorism.

That's right, a healthy combination of law & guns is the right way to fight terrorism, and democratic ideas and capitalist prosperity as a counterweight to wahhab fanaticism is the right way to finish it off. This campaign will not change the minds of any terrorists. But first things first. Before Europe fully joins the war on terror, it must become fully aware of the danger. It must stop apologizing for terrorists like Yassir Arafat, it must stop defending Arab dictators like ex-president Saddam Hussein, and it must stop blaming the Americans for attracting the hatred of al-Qaeda. Most Americans realized all of the above as the World Trade Center fell. Europeans apparently need more help, and that's what Norman Vale is providing.

The real story here is not Norman Vale's puppet masters, but a European media so conformed that the only way to get the American point of view through unfiltered is by paying for it, - and that a Norwegian's first instinct on exposure to different points of views is to look for a conspiracy.


That is a great post. I hope Norwegians will start looking at some facts. It took 9-11 to wake us Americans up. I hope Norwegians and others can wake up before some Islamofascist atrocity occurs in Europe.

Schadenfreude (sp.?) is understandable, which is why I understand the reasons behind so much of anti-Americanism. But continued ignorance of the madrassah and the hatred spewed by the Islamofascists is just plain stupid.

I forgot to mention that so many newspapers in the U.S. take strange positions because they are trying to sound clever. That many explain some of the silliness of the Norwegian newspapers referred to above.

Sometimes a simple explanation is the true one. This is hard for many so-called intellectuals to understand because they live in ivory towers, rather than the real world.

The temptation Norwegian commentators are falling prey to, is a rhetorical fallacy known as an ad hominem attack. It simply doesn't matter who wrote something if what was written is true, logical, and persuasive.

It might be worth looking at the flipside of the issue - perhaps it is precisely because so many Norwegian commentators accept ad hominem as valid that it is necessary to conceal the identity of the sponsors.

Another point: I suspect that a fair number of Europeans think "better the Jews than us" and "better the Americans than us" when it comes to terrorism. They are eager to disassociate themselves from an anti-terrorist policy that would provoke more terrorist attacks, at least in the short run. This is clearly France's strategy in this issue.

Brilliant piece, Bjørn! Just brilliant!

Bjorn, It is quite disturbing and sad to see such limited understanding on the part of the media. I recently had a European visitor who now resides in New Zealand come to LA. He got taken on a short but dramatic tour of the area. He was a little overwhelmed but one of the things that stood out was how his understanding of the world was really one sided and influenced by left-wing media. He left discombobulated which I think is good. I suspect that things in Europe will change significantly over the next three of four years. In the US this has been taking place for about the same amount of time (accelerated by 9/11) and, I think, is really starting to snowball now. The left in this country hates competing views and is really starting to unravel.

Thank you Bjørn,
for bringing this debate out to a wider audience and also for providing
a good translation of parts of my original text.
What the people who finance these ads should do is not to hide. Hiding is what terrorists do. Terrorism is illegitimate warfare. Legitimate opinion shapers should be out in the open. Regarding this, you omit one of the main points in my article. “How about rewriting the ads so that the financial contributors would feel comfortable with standing for them publicly?” The scoreboard says Terrorists vs Anti-terrorists 1-0, if anti-terrorists do not dare to allow transparency and openness around their activity. The just description of terrorists as cowards loses its sting if people do not dare to publicly stand for their anti-terrorist opinions. I strongly oppose terrorism and will not hesitate to say so publicly.
Another important thing is that good ends do not necessarily justify suspect means. I think that covert campaigns like this is going down the wrong track. There are other ways of combating terrorism. Personally, I have been involved in this initiative:

Bjørn should also have translated the worst of the ads into English. The one with the headline: “How brave is a terrorist who gets children to blow themselves and others up? This ad is not accurate. It claims that Al Qaeda frequently applies children as suicide bombers. No children were involved in the 9-11 attacks. No children attacked the USS Cole. No children were involved in the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Uganda. Mentioning pregnant suicide bombers is also just a propagandistic attempt at generalizing highly exceptional cases. This is called disinformation and propaganda.
Most of the people in this forum seem to be worried about the split between the USA and Europe regarding the war on terrorism. I am too. The only possible solution that is put forward here is that Europe adopts the US approach. This somewhat narrow and not very realistic. Unilateralism is not a good way of achieving constructive engagement and cooperation. (Could someone please tell that to the Bush administration?) Must Europe’s preferences be a blue-print of the preferences of the USA? Europe was whining when the US started the war in Iraq. Now the Bush administration is whining to get somebody else to clear up the mess they started. It truly is a farce. Good thing all those WMDs were removed at least...

Anders: "I strongly oppose terrorism and will not hesitate to say so publicly." Nor do I, but there is a difference between corporations and individuals. There's a limit to how idealistic a corporation can allow itself to be, or, rather, how idealistic the share holders of a corporation will allow it to be. I do not find it difficult to imagine a well-known multinational corporation - perhaps one affected by 9/11 or geographically close to WTC - deciding at a board meeting to donate a small sum to such a campaign, at the request of a someone they know well and have worked with for years. I do find it difficult to imagine such a company coming out publicly behind an unpopular - even dangerous - point of view. A $100 000 donation is small cash compared to even the possibility of bad publicity for a multi-billion dollar company, not to mention the (admittedly miniscule) risk of a terrorist attack. There's nothing in it for them, and - because of European suspicion with multionationals - there's nothing in it for the campaign. So anonymity is in my view an acceptable choice. I would _like_ to know, but it is not very important.

As for the other ads, I only had the text for this one available when I wrote this, and I haven't read them all. I'm working on getting the others, and will publish them later. You may be right that some are sensationalist and inaccurate. I'll get back to that.

The solution to the US-Europe split is not for everyone to adopt my own views, though that would be preferable. This is not about different views as much as a basic feeling of estrangement. Vietnam-era anti-Americanism have made Europeans deeply suspicious, bordering on the paranoid, about US foreign policy, and particularly that of the American right. This fear is deeply irrational, and only rarely is it not also deeply ignorant. Whatever you believe about the politics of Bush Jr, Bush Sr, or Reagan, they're not demons, they're not evil. They're not even Nixon! There may be many good arguments against neo-conservative foreign policy, or Bush's war on terror, but none of them are _simple_ or obvious.

The Americans had a major wake-up on 9/11, leading to a strengthened sensitivity to European anti-Americanism. There's a lot of posturing in the US about how they don't care what the Europeans think. I'm skeptical. They do care, they do want to be loved, they just don't want to be loved at the cost Europe's demanding. There's a sense of betrayal, I think, (a sign that they care), which again has led to a revival of anti-European rhetoric. The Europeans are degenerate and decadent, they're weasels and backstabbers. They're untrustworthy. But show a bit of respect for the American position - like Eastern Europe has done - and suddenly they're the best people in the world.

So it's not just that Europe has some ideas ans the US others, but that Europe and the US don't trust each other. That trust can only be restored by Europe removing the anti-American taint off its views. It can also be solved by the US wholeheartedly adopting European policies, but I do not think that is a good idea.

As for unilateral vs multilateral, I agree that the US ought to have had more international support for the war in Iraq. Bush thought so too. He did not believe, and nor did I, that this support was _necessary_ for going to war. The war has damaged US relations with other countries, but this cost must be weighed against the cost of leaving Saddam Hussein in power, similarly the benefits of nicer headlines in European newspapers vs the benefits of fighting terrorism with democracy in terror's own back yard. And diplomatic relations can be restored, but Saddam's threat would only have increased with time. It is, btw, incorrect to call the war unilateral. Britain contributed significantly, so did several of Iraq's neighbours, and other countries contributed more symbolically. It was, however, without UNSC support. But if you define multilateral as "approved by the UN", you in practice define it as "approved by France, Russia and China" - not the same thing.

One thing that has emerged since the U.S. tried to get the UN to enforce its previous resolutions against Iraq is that many Americans, myself included, took a close look at the UN. The UN doesn't look so good (thanks, especially to France). So you can expect a lot more dissension between Europe and America over the role of the UN in the next few decades. For example, I used to think it was terrible that the U.S. didn't support more UN programs. Now I'm glad. Our tax money can be put to better use in the war against terrorism.


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TerraTaco: Elsewhere: Norman Vale's puppet masters, November 5, 2003 02:08 PM

Bjørn Stærk on the shock in the Norwegian media after being confronted with an unfiltered, American view on terrorism in their own yard.

Bjørn Stærk blog: Norman Vale - more ads, November 10, 2003 10:32 PM

I wrote Norman Vale and asked for the other ads in the anti-terror campaign the European Security Advocacy Group has

Sebastian Holsclaw: How Should We Convince Europe, November 20, 2003 08:07 AM

One of the major sub-themes on the war against terrorism is the idea that the US hasn't done what it takes to enlist the aid of Europe--most especially France and Germany. In the same vein, there is often much talk...

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