The writer Stefan Zweig rightly called the French politician Joseph Fouché the “dark genius” in his biography of this character, who achieved unusual power under the Jacobin terror of revolutionary France and the Empire. On Napoleon’s orders, he orchestrated an operation that inspired Balzac’s novel A dark affair and about which the great French novelist wrote that “he had produced an unusual scandal in Europe.” Luis Antonio Enrique de Borbón-Condé, Duke of Enghien, who was accused of participating in a plot against the future emperor, ended up being kidnapped in Germany, taken to France and shot in 1804. The uproar was so great that Fouche is attributed the next sentence: “It was worse than a crime, it was a mistake.”
That remote kidnapping finds echoes today with the order of the Belarusian dictator Alexandr Lukashenko to divert and force the landing of a Ryanair plane in the country’s capital, Minsk, last Sunday, to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, another crime and surely another mistake. “It is a chilling act, which includes multiple crimes: illegally seizing a plane, hijacking, terrorism, possibly torture …”, explains from London the lawyer Philippe Sands, expert on human rights and author of East-West Street (Anagram), on the birth of international justice. Asked if there are precedents, he replies: “I think it has always happened, especially in the 20th century, only in our time in a different way. Technology and social media are transformative of this too, right? ”.
Protasevich wrote on an opposition Telegram channel with two million followers, while the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated and dismembered at his country’s consulate in Istanbul, has not only criticized the Saudi monarchy since The Washington Post or CNN, but had 1.6 million followers on Twitter. Before the age of social media, one of the great obsessions of tyrants and gangsters has been to hunt down their opponents to the end of the world. The phrase that the repentant Tommaso Buscetta snapped at Judge Giovanni Falcone before questioning him is famous: “Don’t forget that the account you have opened with Cosa Nostra will only be closed with your death.” Many powerful people would subscribe to it and, unfortunately, not only the satraps: it must not be forgotten that the US, under Democrat Barack Obama, promoted the policy of selective assassinations using drones and ordered the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. He did not even try to capture him as Israel had done in the sixties with Adolf Eichmann, one of the most responsible for the Holocaust, whom he subjected to a process that was also essential to know how the Shoah was carried out.
The very word “murderer” comes from the will to assassinate enemies from a distance, to search for them until the end of the world. It is a derivation of hashish and refers to a 13th century Persian sect led by Hasan-i Sabbah, who sent from the mythical mountain of Alamut to their Ashishin, as Marco Polo called them, hunting those he condemned. Legend holds that through hashish the will of the deadly messengers dominated. But the golden age of targeted assassinations was not the Middle Ages, not even the era of Fouche when police surveillance systems were forged, but the twentieth century and had a great protagonist: Stalin. He did not limit himself to ordering the killing of Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, but sent assassins wherever a possible opponent was hiding.
The journalist Enrique Bocanegra relates in his book A spy in the trench (Tusquets) the adventures in the 1930s of many of these henchmen of the Soviet dictator, effective assassins, “especially Ukrainian nationalists and generals of the White Army,” he explains. The most famous were Alexander Orlov – an agent of the Soviet political police, probably responsible for the murder in Spain of the leader of the Marxist Unification Workers Party Andreu Nin and the republican José Robles Pazos – and the leader of the Soviet espionage Pável Sudoplátov, involved in the recruitment of Ramón Mercader, Trostki’s murderer. The biggest international scandal, similar to the one that caused the kidnapping of the Duke of Enghien, was caused by the capture in Paris in 1937 of General Yevgueni Miller, transferred to Moscow, tortured and assassinated.
During the Cold War, the CIA joined these crimes from a distance, as did the Latin American dictatorships: the Chilean Augusto Pinochet ordered in 1976 the assassination in Washington of Orlando Letelier, former foreign minister of Salvador Allende. In Legacy of Ashes. The history of the CIA (Debate), Tim Weiner recounts not only the murders of communist leaders who organized the American espionage, but the bizarre attempts to kill Fidel Castro, for example, by sending him pure explosives. “Apart from these covert actions being morally deplorable,” wrote spy expert Steve Coll, “Its results as a national security strategy are not encouraging. At times, interventions have brought Washington short-term benefits, but in the long term they tend to cause deeper problems. Neither democracies nor dictatorships seem to have learned their lesson.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.