Istanbul synagogue massacre, the devastating series of bombingsrnin Paris, and attempts to blow up Israeli and other Westernrnairliners. That April, President Reagan decided to take a lealoutrnof the Israeli book, and sent aircraft against Libyan targets:rnhe thus followed the “stand tough” strategy advocated by upand-rncoming Israeli diplomat Benjamin Netanyahu. Thoughrnthe Libyans were the most conspicuous international villains,rnWestern politicians and media also sustained intense propagandarncampaigns against other perceived bandit states, includingrnSyria and Iran.rnA case can be made for dismissing “international thugs” likernSyria, Libya, and Iran as deeply corrupt and violent despotisms,rnand there is no question that at some point each governmentrndid indeed indulge in terrorist activity. However, in each of therncases in which they were most directly blamed for sponsoringrnterrorism, we now know that they were, if not innocent, then atrnleast not guilty of the specific charges leveled against them.rnMoreover, Western governments knew this at the time. When,rnfor instance, Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya, this was inrnresponse to the reported interception of messages which cleariyrnimplicated Libya and Syria in an attack on American servicemen.rnAnd Syria? So why exactly were the bombs not falling onrnDamascus? One perennial answer is that Libya is a convenientrncountry to bomb: it has weak air defenses, a paltry military, andrnvirtually no friends and sympathizers. In every way, it is thernmirror image of well-armed and well-connected Syria. Thernquestion for international law, order, and justice thus proceedsrnon the familiar law-enforcement maxim of “leave the powerfulrnguy alone, and arrest the street thugs.”rnAt other times, however, the Syrians did become the primernsuspects, a role greatly enhanced by the visceral enmity betweenrnthat nation and Israel. One still-baffling case involvesrnthe 1986 attempt by a Jordanian man to blow up an El Al airlinerrnby persuading his unsuspecting pregnant girlfriend torntravel on the plane with a suitcase full of explosives. The plotrnwas detected, the airliner saved, and international sanctions descendedrnupon the Syrians. It was all very black and white, untilrna journalist some weeks later succeeded in eavesdropping on arnconversation between the German Chancellor and FrenchrnPrime Minister, who were chortling over the brilliance of Israelirnintelligence in setting up such a bogus plot, which had producedrnsuch wonderful diplomatic results. The taped conversationrnmight have been mere gossip, but one would think thatrntwo such powerful leaders would have very good access to intelligencernsources of their own.rnThe overarching interpretation of blame sometimes affectsrnboth the direct investigation of the act and its treatmentrnin the media. Consider, for example, the heinous attack on anrnIstanbul synagogue in 1986, in which 21 worshipers were killed,rnalong with two terrorists. The New York Times published arnmodel investigation of this crime by correspondent JudithrnMiller, who has since emerged as an influential expert on MiddlernEastern terrorism (see, for example, her recent book GodrnHas Ninety-Nine Names). Despite the author’s credentials, thernTimes story is a fascinating example of the selective and ultimatelyrnmisleading presentation of evidence.rnThe specifics of the incident are crucial to establishing a politicalrncontext. According to Miller, two terrorists carried outrnthe attack prior to locking the synagogue doors and committingrnsuicide with grenades, a violent exit they had planned from thernbeginning. This tactic is highly informative for attributingrnblame for the act, as it virtual^ proves that the culprits mustrnhave been Muslims of fundamentalist disposition, probablyrnconnected with a Shiite group (Christian terrorists, Arab or Armenian,rnare far less likely to engage in suicide attacks). Thisrnleads Miller to a trail of evidence that indicts the usual threernsuspects for sponsoring the act: Libya, Iran, and Syria, workingrnthrough the notorious “Abu Nidal” group. The problem in allrnthis is that we have other accounts of the deed, which are quiterndifferent from the Times story. According to Turkish police reports,rnseveral men entered the synagogue, and some ran offrnwhen the police arrived. Two others blockaded themselves inrnthe building, and probably blew themselves up by mistake.rnThe difference in the stories may seem trivial, but it radicallyrnchanges our ideas of the groups likely to have been responsible.rnIt also illustrates the fact that reports of terrorist incidentsrnare often conditioned by self-interest. The Turkish police didrnnot want to admit having lost major terrorists, and were anxiousrnto portray the violence as having come from outside their ownrncountry. Moreover, Turkey desperately needed to establish itsrncredentials as a worthy partner in the European Community,rnand being a “victim” of Arab terrorists would have certainlyrnhelped its case. Better still, the Israeli sources (on which mostrnterrorism reports rely) were quite delighted to fuel the ongoingrneffort to discredit the Damascus regime.rnTo think of a recent American parallel to such politicalrnconsiderations, think of the furious debate over the investigationrnof TWA Elight 800, in which the airline, the engine-makers,rnand the victims’ families all had massive financial and politicalrnstakes in the question of whether the incident resultedrnfrom a bomb, a missile, or a mechanical disaster, and how eachrngroup has tried to emphasize evidence beneficial to its ownrnperspective. But perhaps the most notorious example of a selfinterestedrninvestigation concerned the horrifying bomb attackrnin 1988, which brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie,rnScotland. Anyone wishing to observe Orwellian principlesrnat work can do no better than to trace the attribution of blamernfor this crime, which within a few months had been unequivocallyrnlaid at the door of two nations, Iran and (who else?) Syria.rnFrom mid-1989 through mid-1990, we knew precisely whichrnPalestinian group had done this, and for what motive (revengernfor the accidental downing of an Iranian airliner by an Americanrnwarship). Books, documentaries, and television movies allrnpresented the same account, naming names and even depictingrnin fictionalized form the scene in which an Iranian ministerrngave a terrorist leader the multimillion-dollar payment for carryingrnout the deed. The whole framework was as cleady part ofrnthe historical record as the events of the Battle of Gettysburg:rnthe only difference is that the Pan Am 103 story has since beenrnchanged, with the leading characters thoroughly altered. Today,rnnot only are Syrians and Iranians not blamed for this crimernbut it appears from some texts that they never were serious suspects.rnThe reason for this universal volte face can succinctly berndescribed as Saddam Hussein, whose invasion of Kuwait inrnAugust 1990 set off a huge international crisis, following whichrnGeorge Bush cobbled together a large but fragile global coalition.rnThe most delicate negotiations involved the Arab states,rnwho had to be prevented from supporting their brother dictator,rnand above all, the Syrians were to be bought off at all costs.rnBut how could the Americans possibly treat with the butchersrnof Pan Am 103? Just as the diplomatic process was becomingrnhopelessly entangled, rescue came in the form of “new forensicrn28/CHRONICLESrnrnrn