Monday, November 05, 2001

A "COLONEL" OF TRUTH

Like most Internet-based urban legends, this one sounded convincing -- and there is a kernel of truth at the core of this story. But first, here's the original text, as it came in this morning's e-mail:

[From the Oliver North Senate Hearings, fifteen years ago.]

There was Ollie - before God and country - being grilled by a senator who asked him, "Did you not recently spend close to $60,000 for a home security system?"

Oliver replied, "Yes I did, Sir."

The senator continued, trying (successfully) to get a laugh out of the audience, "Isn't this just a little excessive?"

"No sir," continued Oliver.

"No. And why not?"

"Because the life of my family and I were threatened."

"Threatened? By who."

"By a terrorist, sir." [peals of laughter from the floor of the Chamber.]

"Terrorist? What terrorist could possibly scare you that much?"

"His name is Osama bin Laden."

At this point the senator tried to repeat the name, but couldn't pronounce it. A couple of people laughed at the attempt. Then the senator continued, "Why are you so afraid of this man?"

"Because sir, he is the most evil person alive that I know of."

"And what do you recommend we do about him?"

"If it were up to me I would recommend a team of assassins be formed to eliminate him and his men from the face of the earth."

The senator disagreed with this approach.

This story not only sounded good, it even came in from a trusted source -- a friend who swears he got it directly from someone in the CIA, honest to god. But something about the chronology stunk. In 1986, when North was putting up that security fence, Osama bin Laden was still just a rich Saudi expatriot punk, who was providing only logistical and "humanitarian aid" to the Afghan resistance from the Pakistani border. Al Qaeda was not yet even in a gleam in his eye, and bin Laden represented about as much of a terrorist threat to Oliver North as did my Aunt Gilda and her local chapter of Hadassah.

Sure enough -- a quick check of the record, and it turns out that the terrorist who struck such fear into Oliver North's heart was none other than Abu Nidal, the mastermind behind, among other crimes, the Munich massacre of Israelís Olympic athletes. Here is a Google cache copy of Time Magazine's narrative record of the incident. An excerpt follows:

A committee counsel came to ask North about the nearly $14,000 security system he had installed at his suburban Virginia house, a setup that was paid for by Major General Richard Secord. North delivered a magnificent aria in which he described how the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal had targeted him for assassination. He told how Nidal's group had brutally murdered Natasha Simpson, 11, daughter of an American journalist, in the Christmas 1985 massacre at the Rome airport. "I have an eleven-year-old daughter," said North, melodramatically. He offered a challenge. "I'll be glad to meet Abu Nidal on equal terms anywhere in the world, O.K.? But I am not willing to have my wife and my four children meet Abu Nidal or his organization on his terms."

After that performance, the committee for the moment dared not ask about the snow tires that North was said to have purchased using some of the money from the Iranian arms sales.

Note that, while the author of the e-mail hoax was spinning his yarn, he also overstated the value of the security system fourfold. Here is further documentation of the North hearings by the Federation of American Scientists. If I can find an actual record of the transcript online, I'll post a link later.


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