SpyCast 1.16.24
Ep 617 | 1.16.24

Rise of Devils: The Origins of Modern Terrorism with James Crossland


Andrew Hammond: Welcome to SpyCast, the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. My name is Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Each week we explore some aspects of the past, present or future of intelligence and espionage. Please support the show for free by leaving us a five-star review and recommending the show to a friend. Consider it a 60-second sacrificial offering to appease those hard-headed lofty gods of the algorithm. Coming up next on SpyCast.

James Crossland: It doesn't matter what they believe in, if they're of the socialist bent or the nationalist bent. They have a rethink about how they're going to do things. And this is what leads to the first attempts at terrorism.

Andrew Hammond: The great grandfather of our own century, the long 19th century, as it has been called, that is, an era from the French Revolution in 1789 through to the beginning of the First World War and 1914 was a time of tremendous social and political upheaval. States were formed, nations were awoken, and the Industrial Revolution rearranged the very fabric of society. It was an era of revolutionary thought, political violence, and assassination. There was also, as we explore in this week's episode, an age which ushered in the birth of modern terrorism and, in many ways, modern intelligence agencies. To discuss this, this week's guest is James Crossland, author of the book, The Rise of Devils, Fear and the Origins of Modern Terrorism. James is an expert on intelligence, terrorism, and propaganda and professor of international history at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. In this episode, James and I discuss the origins of modern terrorism, 19th century spymasters, covert action and assassinations, intelligence as a weapon, philosophy and ideology's effect on history, and the power of fear. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are SpyCast. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Well, I'm so glad that we got around to doing this, James. We've been trying to make this happen for a while, so I'm really glad I'm getting a chance to speak to you about the origins of modern terrorism. So thanks for joining me.

James Crossland: Thank you for having me. And I thought that a good place to start, I think it's quite interesting that, in your book, you have dug out this headline from the New York Times in 1881 calling for a war on terrorism. So, in the book, you connect this into the more recent war on terrorism. So I just wondered if you could start off, like, help us understand the war on terrorism that you came across, this described in that New York Times article. What were they talking about? What was the war on terrorism of 1881 as opposed to 2001? Well, not unlike the 2001 version, it was prompted by a terrorist spectacular. And, in this case, it was what was arguably the most significant terrorist attack in terms of publicity, in terms of global reach, and in terms of I guess generating fear of this generation, and that was the assassination of Alexander II, Tsar of Russia, in the streets of St. Petersburg in 1881. He was killed by a suicide bomber who was working for a group that was arguably the world's first proper terrorist organization in terms of having a structure of funding, bomb makers, etc., hierarchies. And that was a group by the name of Narodnaya Volya, or the People's Will. The death of the Tsar, this was after a campaign by People's Will of about -- I think it was maybe seven or eight attempts to kill him involving timed IEDs and various other forms of attacks that were quite innovative for their time. When they finally get their man, it grabs global headlines, as evidenced by the New York Times article. And the phrase, obviously, it catches the eye of a 21st century reader, the phrase war on terrorism. In this instance, it's -- it was just as opaque in that there was this response to there's this thing called terrorism. We're very scared of it. And we need to do something about it. Beyond that, there's not really specifics. It was just a newspaper headline, but to my mind when I was working on Rise of Devils it reflected a wider mood at the time where you have these various campaigns by intelligence chiefs, private detectives, private sector agencies, police, and, in some cases, quite energetic civilians who are all getting involved in this campaign to fight terrorism. And it's very fragmented. It's manifest in different ways, in different places. But, to me, it reflected the same driving force of the War on Terror we're familiar with, which was that -- that fear, that anxiety, that sense that there's something impending around the corner, and we must do something about it.

Andrew Hammond: And let's discuss that assassination before we broaden our thoughts a bit more. So what were the consequences of this assassination? So some assassinations lead to a revolution or to a significant change. What was the effect on Russia? What was the effect geopolitically? Help us understand that assassination and what it meant.

James Crossland: Bluntly, tactical success, strategic failure on a massive scale. The promise made by Narodnaya Volya was that the death of the Tsar would usher in a new age in Russia. They were nihilists. And the creative nihilism, broadly speaking, was, if you get rid of the Tsar, the church topples. The state topples. Russia becomes a tabula rasa, and you start again, which is what these people wanted. Cutting off the head of the snake thinking the body would die did not work. Instead, what happened was, when Tsar Alexander II was killed, Alexander III came to the throne. And he was far more repressive, far more married to the autocratic tradition. And he came down like a ton of bricks on not just not on Narodnaya Volya but on any and all subversives within the Russian Empire. It was quite brutal, the repercussions. Narodnaya Volya itself existed, depending on how you want to look at it as an organization, maybe lived on until about 1883. I mean, there's still people claiming membership into the 1890s. But, realistically, operationally, it's shut down within a couple of years. There is no revolution. There is an interesting epilogue to it in that Lenin's younger brother becomes a member of Narodnaya Volya, and his death at the hands of the Okhrana is something that obviously sticks with Lenin. So we do get a long tail. We do get an outcome. And both Lenin and Trotsky were big fans of Narodnaya Volya and lauded them as the pre -- the precursors whose -- whose legacy we must honor. So there is something there. But, in the immediate sense, no. They didn't achieve their aims.

Andrew Hammond: And just to draw that tail a little bit further back into the past, is -- the people as well is this similar to the Petrashevsky or call the Dostoevsky is a part of and he goes through this mock execution, which is seriously going to affect your nerves for quite a significant time afterwards, I can imagine. But the pestle shifts gears circle if I remember when we say subversive, they're basically against tsars, the autocracy, and serfdom and things like that. So we're not talking, like, completely crazy stuff.

James Crossland: This is a rough line. So what you're talking about with the Petrashevsky Circle and Tarkovsky and various other sort of thinking and reading groups are these people who've got these ideas, socialism, Jacobinism comes in is important to an extent. And nihilism is a homegrown ideology. And it's really just thinking and -- and imagining what could be. The turn happens really in the 1860s with a nihilist group that's got the most unambiguous terrorist organization you've ever heard, Hell, called themselves Hell. And they established themselves with this idea to take these ideas and put them into practice. Now, they don't really do it. They're a bit of a -- bit of a joke as an organization, in fact. And they're rounded up very quickly because they're very easily infiltrated. But their legacy is honored. And Narodnaya Volya is very much the next iteration of that with a better organization, with dedicated chemists to build bombs, with a funding structure, as I say. And there is this evolution there where, because the reforms that they want are not happening or they're not happening fast enough, Tsar Alexander II does attempt reforms in the 1860s. But they are just enough to annoy the hardliners and not enough to please the true reformers. So he ends up putting himself in this pretty rotten situation. And the People's Will capitalized on that by taking the next step that they see being the logical and necessary step to actually force the pace of history in Russia.

Andrew Hammond: And just briefly, James, when we're talking about nihilism, what are we talking about here? When I think of nihilism, I think of Friedrich Nietzsche. I think of punk rock music and so forth. But, in this specific context, what are we talking about?

James Crossland: Well, they -- they don't believe in nothing. This is a Big Lebowski reference there for people of a certain age. But no. The nihilists start -- again, starts as a thought experiment, really, the 1840s, 1850s and this idea of what if the state, the church, and everything that we -- that holds Russia up, the autocracy, what if that's just gone, and we start again. As for what that was meant to look like, that's where nihilism sort of fell off a cliff a bit. There are different strands of thought, as there always are with revolutionary ideologies. But the main thing was that they saw the Tsar as being the linchpin of a system that was impossible to change, without something dramatic happening. And that's where the violence creeps in. But, initially, it's not a violent ideology. It becomes more violent as time goes on.

Andrew Hammond: And just to finish off looking at Russia before we fan out, so tell us the story of intelligence and all of this, the spy masters, the people that are sending penetration agents out and to groups in Russia or across Europe. And what's going on there? Because intelligence, formal intelligence, as we understand it now, is more of an MI5 and MI6 1909. People say this is the beginning. But there's things going on there as well, the Okhrana. And we come to the Cheka later on and the KGB and the FSB today. Like, what's the story of Russia in the second half of the 19th century with regards to what we now think of as intelligence?

James Crossland: Well, the intelligence apparatus is part of the system nihilists support because it is built in at this point to tsardom as part of what -- what keeps it going. And prior to the Okhrana, in the 1860s, what we're talking about is the Third Section who are the first to really come across the nihilists and to tackle them. And they do it by means that are very conventional to the age. They have infiltration agents. They open letters, they follow people. They have informers. It's the typical stuff that any nation's intelligence service of this period is practicing. They also can be quite brutal at times. And this is one thing that I highlighted in Rise of Devils is that the cycle of revenge and retribution from repression is very marked in Russia and in France in this period where the police come down very hard. They cast a wide net. They -- when a terrorist incident occurs, they unleash a dragnet. They bring everyone in. Some of these people end up in Siberia, who've got nothing to do with what's happened. And you get a process of radicalization that comes from that. And there's actually some examples of terrorists who are holding, thrown to the Peter and Paul Fortress. They come out far worse than when they went in, far more radicalized, far more angry. And that perpetuates the cycle. The Third Section are rolled up after or just prior to the assassination of the Tsar because they're doing a terrible job. They are a classic example of a intelligence service that grows moribund and doesn't adapt to new challenges, is very much stuck in the old ways whilst their enemies, People's Will, are -- are evolving. There are, as I mentioned, arguably the world's first terrorist organization. And terrorism at this time is pretty new. No one knows what counterterrorism is, let alone what terrorism is. So we can perhaps, you know, understand what -- why the Third Section fell down a bit. But it's in the wake of the intelligence failures of the Third Section that we get a restructure. And the Okhrana is born, which is very much a continuation of the Third Section, albeit a bit -- a bit more stringent, a bit more tightly monitored. And it has as its head the spymaster Peter Rachkovsky, who is a figure who looms very large over the nascent war on terrorism and really becomes a bogeyman of sorts for not just nihilists but anarchists and socialists and all manner of enemies of not just the Tsar but figures of authority across Europe. He cast his net very wide, and he becomes the Uber spymaster by the end of the 19th century.

Andrew Hammond: And the Okhrana, when is that? When does that come into being?

James Crossland: That's coming in, in the 1880s. And its evolution -- it really -- it really kicks up a notch and become something different to what Third Section was I'd say around about late 1880s into the early 1890s. Under Rachkovsky, who sees this as an intelligence service that shouldn't just operate beyond Russia's borders but has to. And he sets up a bureau in Paris. He forms connections with Scotland Yard. He conceives of the terrorist threat as an international threat. And he's not the only one. It's round about the 1890s that intelligence services start to tweak to the fact that this is an international issue. International problems require international policing, and that requires cooperation, coordination. So he is kind of at the crest of a wave of thinking about intelligence being something that is not just about national security but policing international problems. The way he goes about it, though, is very nefarious, to say the least.

Andrew Hammond: Like Interpol.

James Crossland: Well, no, no. It's not like Interpol. It's a one-man empire in many respects. He's a power broker. He is using a lot of the tried-and-true methods. He's very big on the agile provocateur. He loves deep penetration, like the infiltration into the actual organizations, entire webs of agents, some of whom don't even know that they're spying on each other. You get these kind of farcical scenarios where there's spies spying on spies because they think one spy or the other is actually a -- actually a radical. It all gets a bit out of control. And he's really at the forefront of pushing this very, very illegal, let's say, a form of overpolicing that casts an odor that gets to the public. I mean, this is the era where the fear is not just about terrorists but about the people who are tracking the terrorists, about the snoopers. Rachkovsky plays a big part in that. So he's a very important figure in the book.

Andrew Hammond: And Rachkovsky, he's one of the people who's reputed to have been involved in concocting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as -- does my memory serves me correctly there? And -- and why did -- why did he do this?

James Crossland: Well, he inherits a tradition -- the Okhrana was very anti-Semitic as an institution. And he himself, there's some really quite nasty stuff that he writes at this time where he's talking about some race theory, and he's talking about the idea that Jews and socialists share the same blood and things of that nature. So he's -- he's wired that way. And this is where the first accusations of impending protocols comes in. To the best of my knowledge, I -- I don't think that's necessarily true. I understand why he was -- perhaps had the finger pointed at him. But I don't think the evidence is necessarily there. He's a -- he's a good candidate. But he's part of that milieu of conspiratorial thinking, paranoia, anti-Semitism which blends into a paranoia about socialism, communism, and the rest of this type. He is the archetype of that sort of fear vortex.

Andrew Hammond: To help you digest this episode, here's a short and simplified primer on how the long 19th century -- remember this is the period between 1789 and 1914 -- fed into the first World War that took place between 1914 and 1918. People spend their entire professional life studying periods like this one or events like World War I. So what follows is a quick pass at 70,000 feet. If you want more granular detail, you're going to have to spend time on the ground. Some of the key things that would feed into World War I would be nationalism. The relatively modern phenomena of nationalism was unleashed during this period. It led to the creation of new states, such as Belgium in 1831, Italy in 1861, and Germany in 1871. This upended the prevailing balance of power in Europe and also fueled rivalries. For example, French and German notions of nationalism would clash repeatedly all the way up until the end of the Second World War. Imperialism. While nationalism was on the rise in Europe, these European powers were busy carving up the rest of the globe, building their empires and competing for colonies and resources. The so-called scramble for Africa was one example. And that continent would be an area where French, British, and German interests clashed. It was not only these countries that went to war in 1914, then. It was also their empires. For example, during World War I, nearly 200,000 Senegalese West African soldiers fought for France, while over a million Indians were mobilized for Great Britain. Industrialization. The Industrial Revolution upended many things during this period but especially the nature of warfare. In some ways, military commanders like Napoleon and Wellington were closer to Caesar and Alexander the Great 2000 years before them, riding on horseback, fighting with swords, forming open lines on open ground than they were to the kind of mechanized slaughter that the world witnessed on the battlefields of Europe during the Great War. For example, the British suffered almost 60,000 casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Yes. That's a 24-hour period, the first day. To put that in perspective, the entire British Army at the Battle of Waterloo 100 years beforehand was probably less than half that number at 30,000 souls. Communications. The 19th century was an era of profound change in the area of communications and transportation. Railways, telegraphs, the motor vehicle, warships that could function without sails, aircraft, that fed into nationalism. For example, people in France who had been relatively cut off from one another can now be transported from one end of the country to the other. In a day, the state can now expand its reach into the lives of peasants, and even the most remote communities, communicating in a common tongue, educating their children as was common in the rest of the country, mobilizing those children, and now grew up to see themselves not through the lens of the region first but as Frenchman. We can see these forces looking backwards, but imagine the disorientating vertigo of the modern that our ancestors experienced as forms of life that had been stable for centuries and sometimes millennia melted into air. Let's discuss some of the other people that are assassinated during this period. So we've spoke about Alexander II. Let's broaden it out before we go by to look at where some of the drivers of this come from. So, I mean, just a very short list, an attempt on Abraham Lincoln 1861, Alexander II 1881, The Empress of Austria 1898, the President of France 1894, McKinley 1901, an attempt on Teddy Roosevelt in 1812. Gavrilo Princip, 1914. Like, what's going on here?

James Crossland: Well, the attempt -- the attempt on Lincoln in 1861 is an interesting one because --

Andrew Hammond: As an outlier to some extent?

James Crossland: Yeah. Because it may have been -- it may not have -- it may not have actually been real. Again, it's one of these where you -- you sort of have to look at it in different ways. Was this something that was put up by the infamous Allan Pinkerton who is handling Lincoln's security at this time or is or is getting to the point where he can handle Lincoln's security? Was this something he put up, this idea that Lincoln was going to be assassinated in Baltimore, put the -- put the idea in Lincoln's head and, on that basis, is able to pull off this operation where they basically smuggled Lincoln through on this train ride to his inauguration. And, on that basis, he gets Lincoln's respect and ingratiates himself with him. That's one example of, again, what I was talking about before where you have these spies of the era who it's hard to tell exactly if they are responding to true threats or creating their own. Another great example, just a fantastic story from a really interesting character, and the guy who was kind of the inspiration in some ways for Rachkovsky, the man who preceded him, Prussian spymaster by the name of Wilhelm Stieber who in many ways sets the bar for paranoid, almost pathological thinking regarding revolutionary conspiracies. And he's active in the 1850s, trailing Karl Marx. He despises Karl Marx. And he believes that Marx is about to unleash this violent revolution. So, in the process, he made himself into this very, very big figure in terms of law enforcement. He becomes iconic in some ways. And he has a fall from grace when it's discovered that he's actually doing things in a very illegal way, falsifying evidence, using agile provocateurs, that sort of thing. He gets back into the good graces of Otto von Bismarck in 1863. When he comes back to Prussia, and it looks like he stages not even a mock assassination. He basically puts a dummy of Bismarck in a horse and cart, has it rolled up the Wilhelmstrasse. And then, when an anarchist or a revolutionary of some kind who may well have been a plant paid by Strieber, he comes out. He shoots the dummy. Strieber is able to claim, well, Your Highness, your life is in danger, so you need me. And that's one of the many little tricks that he plays to bring himself in. He's also front and center at various other attempts on the life of Bismarck and the Kaiser during this period who were both shot at and, indeed, shot properly on a few occasions. So you have dignitaries in Prussia who have attempts of their life. And, in Russia, you have probably I think one of the most significant assassinations of this period is the assassination of Empress Elisabeth of Austria in 1898. So her assassination, she is murdered on the shores of Lake Geneva. She's stabbed. And she's very much a darling. She's beloved in many ways amongst -- amongst the monarchs of Europe. So her death has this resonance that perhaps the assassination of, say, Tsar Alexander II does not. She's a more sympathetic figure. And her death has real consequences, because, a few months later, the first real effort to police terrorism internationally is launched in Rome at an anti anarchist Congress, which is attended by I think about 50 delegates from 20-odd countries. Police chiefs, politicians, they come together and decide that this is the straw that breaks the camel's back. We need to do something. We need to cooperate and coordinate because the heads of state are dropping like flies. And not just that. Anarchists are setting off bombs all over the place during this period. So her death is very significant, others that occur, not so much. I mean, McKinley's being shot in 1901 by -- by an anarchist. It does have a knock-on effect of in many ways it gives birth to the Secret Service as it is today and what it does for presidents. There is an upping of security around presidents from there on out, not to the level that we expect today. But there is at least a thought. The way in which McKinley is shot, he's -- an event in Buffalo. He's shaking hands. This guy just walks up to him with a gun under a handkerchief and just shoots him in the stomach. So that kind of breach of security is something that gets on the radar after that. So some of these do have repercussions in terms of how the counterterrorism side of the equation is evaluated. Definitely.

Andrew Hammond: Let's go back to the Lincoln assassination for a minute because I find Allan Pinkerton really fascinating figure and not just because he was born in Glasgow. Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about him. Why is he significant as a name that you hear a lot for people that look at American intelligence or counterterrorism and so forth. So just who was he? Why was he significant?

James Crossland: I think Pinkerton's significance lies in the fact that he very much wrote his own history. And a lot of that history is generous with -- with what is real and what is not. He seems to have been a guy who he loved the game. He loved working in shadows. He loved the underbelly of his work. He comes to the United States with a mind to set up. Sets himself up in Chicago and develops what becomes the Pinkerton Detective Agency. And it's always very hazy exactly what is meant by the Pinkerton Detective Agency because, on the one hand, yes, it's a private detective agency. But during its -- during Allan Pinkerton's lifetime, it goes from being -- trying to provide presidential security to the supposedly -- and Pinkerton's claim was that it was the foundation of the US intelligence service during the Civil War, which isn't really true. But, I mean, it sounds good. And then there's rumors in 1859 when John Brown, after the raid on Harpers Ferry when he's waiting for his execution, there's rumors that Pinkerton is going to spring him. He's going to use his heavies to, you know, bust him out of jail. And then later on, of course, this -- this all takes a pretty horrendous turn, and the Pinkertons become associated with what I think they're most infamous for, which is strike breaking and the suppression of worker agitation, usually with -- in very violent ways of being hired guns for capital. So he edges his name in many ways into this era as someone who is both an exemplar of the shaver and Rachkovsky type in that he seems to thrive off the nefariousness of what he does. That leads him to perhaps falsify what he does for purposes of fame, money, power, perhaps combination of all three. At the same time, he writes his own history. He's able to make himself an iconic figure. But when you actually look at what the Pinkertons get up to, he's not really carrying out counterterrorism. He's going around kicking people's heads in if they're demanding an eight-hour working day. So he's a very different beast. But, at the same time, I think he reflects the same -- I mean, the Baltimore plot, if it was real, was born of a paranoid mindset on his part. He was thinking he was seeing conspiracies everywhere, and then perhaps rightly so. I mean, this was a fissile time, obviously, in American politics, and you've got a lot of anti Lincoln agitation at this time. So, again, it's about taking things too far. Just as Stieber -- he was right. You know, Marx was a revolutionary. And there were conspiracies of various radical groups during his lifetime. But it didn't mean that they were all working together to launch some massive, you know, global revolution to destroy God, kings, and capital. But that's where this thinking took these men most of the time.

Andrew Hammond: Is that not a -- not an inevitable consequence of the job. If you're trying to protect an important person or you're trying to make sure they don't get hurt, then, I mean, you have to see monsters everywhere, to some extent?

James Crossland: Oh, yes. And the problem in this period is that there were a lot of monsters. It's the way in which they were -- well, there's two things at play. The first is that these men didn't really have restraints, which is an important fact. There's no real checks and balances on these guys. And -- and, in part, that's because they're dealing with an innovative threat. And so no one really knows exactly the scope of terrorism. In the 1860s, 1870s, no one really knows what it looks like. The term isn't really being used. We only apply that retrospectively to these acts of political violence. By the time you get to the 1880s, 1890s, terrorism is understood as this -- this form of political violence that often takes the form of targeted killings, public bombings, perhaps agitation on a wider scale. But, by and large, there's an understanding of the non-state actor using violence or threat of same to try and further a political and, more often than not, a radical political agenda. That at least is understood. But how you attack the cause of that action, how you actually find these people, what these people look like, that -- that's where it comes off the rails. And that's where the paranoia kicks in because they are -- they're chasing ghosts a lot of the time. And one of the things that I follow the thread of through Rise of Devils and it starts with Stieber and it mutates over time, and it -- there's various bogeymen who assume the role of being at the head of this, but there is this theory that goes right through this period of all these different groups, be they nihilists, anarchists, socialists, Irish Republicans, doesn't matter if their ideologies aren't compatible. There is this theory that they are all somehow connected, that they are all coordinated, that this is all part of one mass conspiracy. And that, I think, is something that a lot of the police chiefs and spymasters of this period are hardwired to believe. That informs the way that they -- they develop their CT approaches.

Andrew Hammond: Almost when you are talking there it's almost a little bit like in Batman when the forces of the night all collaborate together to, you know, bring -- make Gotham City theirs.

James Crossland: A special episode where all the supervillains got together. Yeah, yeah. I mean, that's how they're conceiving of this is that there is some sort of -- and this that, you know, this -- the classic sort of amicus literature of the 1890s is where it talks about these, you know, secret cabals of anarchists meeting in Geneva. And there's the classic tale of Hartmann, the anarchist, who goes and gets himself an airship, and he's able to -- and he staffs it with all these radicals. And they attack London from the sky. And all this, I mean, this is -- this is the mindset of the time. There's so much anxiety. There's so much fear. And the police are just as susceptible if not more so than the average person on the street reading this stuff in the newspaper.

Andrew Hammond: What similarities and differences are there between them, like, these nascent spymasters? Are they -- are they all kind of like playing a similar kind of chin? Or are they completely different, and they just can't be put in the same bag together? Are they -- it seems to me from what you've said and from what I read in the book that they're all there operating in this space where there are real threats and the propaganda of the deed done assassination, but then there's -- they're also using information. They're manipulating information, what we more conventionally think of as propaganda, whether it be, you know, the protocols or whether it be Pinkerton embellishing his own, you know, role in the American Civil War and so forth. So, yeah. Just help us understand as someone that's looked at these figures, three proto former spymasters. What's going on with them?

James Crossland: They all, I think, inflate -- inflate their importance. That is a key feature that they all share. And, again, it's whether --

Andrew Hammond: So they could have -- they could have been academics, basically.

James Crossland: Boom-sshh. Very good. Yeah. They do very much inflate their importance and their centrality. I mean, Stieber loves this idea that he is this anti radical crusader. Absolutely loves it. Rachkovsky for his part is not nearly as much of a glory hound. I think there's only two photographs that exist of Peter Rachkovsky. And Pinkerton is obviously more of a glory hound. And, if I recall, he's somewhat of an anomaly in that respect, in that he seemed to enjoy being in the shadows and kind of the puppet master behind the scenes. Another figure who warrants attention here to kind of bring it all together who embodies all of these qualities is William Melville. He works for Special Branch when that's founded in 1883 to combat the Fenian threat in Britain. He then goes on to work for MI5 when that was created. And he's -- he's a good continuity between those two periods, really, because he's there in these kind of ad hoc days of the 1880s during the Fenian dynamite war, which was the first real terrorist campaign on British soil in the 1880s, about 15 bombings by Irish Republicans. And he's in the thick of that, and he sees that through until the anarchist threat in the 1890s. He does that. And then, as I say, he goes on to work for MI5. So he sees a lot in his career. And particularly during the anarchist period, he really becomes a glory hound. And he understands that you can use the media. He invites journalists along when he's raiding anarchists' clubs. And he wants these reports of him, you know, dashing into these dens of, you know, villainy and kicking down the door and finding bombs that his men have probably planted because, again, Melville works with Rachkovsky. And this is where he's -- he's similar to the others in that he's very big on agile provocateurs. He's very big on setting people up. He pays informers. He does stuff that's very under the table. But his public-facing image is of -- is of this crusader for good and this guy who is keeping the anarchists at bay in Britain. So he kind of represents the amalgamation of all of these. He grandstands. He boasts. He inflates his importance. He works nefariously in how he goes about his business. But he also -- and this is an important point, as well, because, you know, he criticizes these men all day. But he does come up with some innovations and things that stick.

Andrew Hammond: -- And just briefly for our listeners, could you just give them two sentences on -- on the Fenians. You spoke about the Fenian threat.

James Crossland: So Fenians are starting from the 1840s, really, campaigning for home rule in Ireland, broadly speaking. And they use the word Fenians to encapsulate a wider group that encompasses several groups and some of whom do not all get along. But, by and large, the idea is to emancipate Ireland from British rule using violence. And, as I say, they laid down the first terrorist campaign on British soil in the 1880s. This comes on the heels of Narodnaya Volya as well. So this is all happening at the same time, these two really important dynamite campaigns in Russia and in Britain, which are our prototypes for the kind of terrorist campaigns that we see in the 20th century, these kind of strategic bombing campaigns. So they're very integral to the story.

Andrew Hammond: During the long 19th century, there are several important developments in Irish history independence and the role of terrorism to advance that cause. In 1798, there is a rebellion against British rule by the Society of United Irishmen. They are supported by the revolutionary French, but ultimately defeated. Nevertheless, the uprising inspires a new generation of revolutionaries, and the genie of nationalism unleashed by the French Revolution will prove very difficult to put back into the bottle. In 1801, Ireland becomes formally a part of the United Kingdom, in part because of the 1798 uprising and the French that a large percentage of the British Army in the 19th century would be Irish, hovering around 40% at times. In line with other revolutions that took place across Europe that year, in 1848, there was another uprising, this time by a group of Irish nationalists called the Young Islanders. It is again suppressed. In 1858, the Fenian movement to overthrow British rule takes shape. It was named after warriors in Irish mythology, the Fionn. 1881 to '85, there are a series of Fenian bombings by a militant faction of the movement in England and Scotland. The Fenian movement dissipates, but the so-called Irish question doesn't go away. As someone once said, Ireland was like Banqua's ghost at the feast of the British Empire. And hearing you talk about the late 19th century, early 20th century, this is a period that always reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes novels. You know, they're all set around about then. And there's the fear of the rise of Germany, and there's assassins and all of this kind of stuff. Did you look at any fiction when you were -- when you were researching your book?

James Crossland: Well, yes. I looked quite a bit at the anarchists fiction because it's hard to ignore it, there was so much of it. And it was fascinating looking at some of the stories about anarchists during this period and the idea that this is all connected, that there's some vast conspiracy. That idea that police had been stewing on for decades, that is a recurring motif of the literature.

Andrew Hammond: What is anarchism? When does it become an issue? That's very prevalent throughout this whole period. It's not the Sex Pistols. It's something else, right?

James Crossland: No. More's the pity. Yeah. So anarchism is -- is, again, a bit like nihilism born out of the same period, roughly the 1840s. And it's the idea, broadly speaking, of disassembling the state and -- and empowering the individual. Now, there are different forms of advocates and where you get anarchism about empowering small groups rather than individuals and anarchism that bleeds over into almost like communist thinking. So it does evolve over time. But, broadly speaking, it is razzled there is to get rid of the existing understandings of the state, of society and to try something different in which the individual and the capacity to self-govern is more recognized. Now, where that turns violent, is -- well, there's a couple of -- it's a process by which it becomes violent. Much like the nihilists, it doesn't happen overnight. One of the stories I look at in Rise of Devils is this period that I think is really important where a nihilist terrorist from Russia by the name of Sergey Nechayev, he travels to Geneva. And he meets with Mikhail Bakunin, who's a famous anarchist thinker who is nearing the end of his career at this point. Bakunin has had a life spent doing old school revolutionary stuff, take to the streets, man the barricades, storm the Bastille, that sort of thing. And Nechayev represents the different generation. He is looking at it and saying, Well, actually, you know, what -- what about targeted killings? What about killing police officers? What about Bobbies? He represents a new generation of thought. And when these two get together, it does, I think, form this really important point of confluence between the development of terrorism as a tactic, which is something that I think Nechayev makes quite a contribution to. In 1869 he writes a treaty. It's called the Catechism of a Revolutionist, which is basically a primer for how to self-radicalize. And if you substitute the word revolutionist from the text and you put terrorist in there, you've got something that you could find online today. It's a really a terrifying document. And, again, it's 1869. As far back as then he's talking about how you have to cut yourself off from all humanity. You have to sit yourself in a room and sort of meditate on things you hate and how you can gain retribution and all this sort of stuff. It's really sinister stuff. And so -- and so you get this meeting of old school anarchists, their thought with this new, more malevolent form of political violence. And, from there, I think anarchism starts to take more of a turn towards violence. But when it really kicks off in terms of being terroristic is I'd say the late 1880s. And part of it is because it is a self-radicalizing ideology. It's very easy at this time to pick up an anarchist magazine because of censorship laws not being necessarily that tight. And even if they are, because there's so many underground printing presses, there's every chance you pick up one of these anarchist magazines. And in addition to finding these wonderful, you know, ideological passages about how the world can be made better in an anarchist utopia, you might find something there about, well, we have to -- we have to kill the kings. We have to build bombs. There are some magazines of this period actually had recipes for bombs in the back of them. Anyone can pick this up. And, in the 1880s, 1890s, we're coming off the back of a -- of the long depression of the 1870s or in the midst of it. We've got people being laid off work. We've got worker agitation. This is a really fissile period. This is the second industrial revolution. You've got a lot of angry young men. They're reading this stuff, and they're self-radicalizing. And it's not a coincidence that it's the 1890s, really, the late 1880s, early 1890s that the anarchists wave really kicks off.

Andrew Hammond: And -- but one of the things that I was thinking about, as well, was, you know, France, I think France plays quite an important and interesting role here. And you mentioned that earlier. So Rachkovsky spends a lot of time in Paris, Errol here in the century, Marx is in Paris. Paris is this hotbed does for men of ideas and so forth. And in 1848, we have the Communist Manifesto, the revolution, the 1851 coup by Napoleon, Napoleon, the first nephew. Then we have the Paris Commune going later on. So what's going on in France at this time? Like, why does it play such a kind of interesting and pivotal role in all of this?

James Crossland: Part of it is the revolutionary tradition. You have the earlier generation in the 1850s who are really looking back to the French Revolution and wanting to be the heirs to that. And even at the time that the Paris Commune in 1871, you've got people who are looking back to the original commune of the 1790s and saying, well, we know we're going to do this again. So that's a part of it. The other part is the politics and the governing politics of it. Rise of Devils starts with the what -- what for my money is the first modern terrorist attack which occurs on the streets of Paris in 1858 when an Italian nationalist by the name of Felice Orsini throws three percussion detonated hand grenades at the carriage of Emperor Napoleon III.

Andrew Hammond: And -- and by percussion detonated, you just mean when it hits, like, the ground and explodes, there's no timer?

James Crossland: Precisely. Yeah. So you don't you don't need a fuse. And this is a -- this is an innovative idea because I suppose percussion detonated, with means it's very easy to detonate. It's idiot proof, basically. You just throw it. It's also a shrapnel grenade. And the reason this is a terroristic attack is because it's not just an attempt at regicide. And, if it were, it'd be a rubbish way to try to pull off a regicide because he's throwing a relatively weak explosive shrapnel grenade at a very solid wooden carriage. And -- and the results speak for themselves. Napoleon is relatively unharmed. His hat gets damaged. That's the extent. But the real damage occurs outside the carriage because Orsini and his compatriots, he has a team of bombers, throw these bombs into the crowd that is packed around Napoleon's carriage. And they know that, knowing damn well that, when these shrapnel grenades go off, these innocent people are going to be hurt. And eight, indeed, die; and about 150 are wounded. So it's a significant terrorist attack, and it gets global media coverage.

Andrew Hammond: Because it's about the spectacle.

James Crossland: It's the spectacle, yes. And this was something that I -- Orsini definitely wanted because Napoleon III was not just this increasingly autocratic ruler of France, draconian and despised by radicals. But he represented to radicals across Europe, people like Orsini, he represented a conservative order. He was the same as the Tsar. He was the same as the Emperor of Austria. He was a representative of a feeling that -- and a symbol. And so that was very much the essence of the attack. If we can attack this one guy, if three -- three people you've never heard of with bombs they made in their basement can terrorize Paris, can -- can make -- bring an emperor to his knees, then who needs a revolution.

Andrew Hammond: And just a couple of sentences on the -- on the Paris Commune, James, just tell our listeners what that was if they're not familiar with it.

James Crossland: So the Paris Commune is a collection of revolutionists who rise up at the end of the Franco Prussian War of 1870 to '71. And they take Paris, in the wake of that -- that war, manage to hold it, not for very long, though. A matter of weeks. And then they are brutally suppressed by the French Army. The significance of the Paris Commune in the story is that it represents to my mind this last real attempt at an old school revolution, at least the last one of note. And its -- and there's a reason why after the failure of the Paris Commune, you get Communards, some of whom were there participating in this revolution start thinking about terrorism afterwards. They started thinking about a tactical rethink. We can't seize a city and expect to hold it, but we can detonate bombs in public spaces and further our political aims that way. We can get into a long war, basically, rather than an acute uprising.

Andrew Hammond: I just wonder, James, could you help our listeners just understand this in a broader historical context? So you know you're the -- you're the expert here. I'm just pulling on a few threads that I can think of. So we've got the American Revolution. We've got the French Revolution, rates of man in the citizen. This is quite a revolutionary challenge to the existing order in Europe. How should people be governed? What rate should the average person on the street have? And, you know, we have the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. And, after Napoleon's defeat, what allure the genies back in the bottle? And you have Castlerea and Metternich and Talleyrand and all of these people who are arch conservatives, they want to make sure that there's not going to be any more agitation. But across these societies in general, there is a move, like in the UK, to spread the franchise. More and more people should have the right to vote. And how much are communism and nihilism are the pathologies of this broader effort to change political systems and the way the individual citizens relate to the power structures? And -- and I'm also thinking of the rise of nationalism until 1861. There's no such thing as Italy as we -- as a formal state, 1871, I think, for Germany, and this is part of it. So -- so I guess I'm asking you to summarize this period within the context of the long 19th century, 1789 to 1914, like, what -- where does all of this stuff come from? What are the deeper historical processes that are driving all of this stuff?

James Crossland: Well, this is a period of exceptional political and societal change. And, as you mentioned, when the French Revolution unleashes these -- these quite dangerous ideas of what becomes socialism, nationalism, liberalism, they manifest in different ways. But there's too many attempts to suppress them after Napoleon's defeat in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna, which was this attempt to try and put the genie back in the bottle and pretend, basically, like the French Revolution never happened. These ideas were never unleashed. Arguably, it's the attempts by states in Europe to ignore the interest in these new ideas, and particularly national self-determination that underpins what happens in 1848 when you get this outburst of revolutions across Europe, most of which fail, in fact, almost all of which fail. But, nonetheless, they're symptomatic of this pent-up frustration, this desire for change, which pours onto the streets of Berlin and Paris and other cities besides. And what I argue in the book is that, when that revolution fails in 1848, the revolutionaries -- and it doesn't matter what they believe in, if they're of the socialist bent or the nationalist bent -- they have a rethink about how they're going to do things. And this is what leads to the first attempts at terrorism. Orsini was an Italian nationalist. He wanted Italian unification. Conversely, you've got German nationalists who are trying to pull off assassinations at this time. Because they're angry, the German unification project isn't going fast enough. So they tried to shoot Otto von Bismarck. In Russia, it's slightly different, whereas it's a restlessness against a system that seems to be mired in almost medieval traditions. So Russia is a bit unique. It's not going through exactly the same things as Europe. But the manifestations are still the same. And, ultimately, it's about the movement of knowledge. The Russians are able to know what -- because of the dissemination of literature and so forth, newspapers, they're able to figure out what radical thinkers in France and Italy are thinking and to share ideas. And this is an underpinning part of Rise of Devils and, indeed, of this whole period is that it's the ideas that are driving all of this and the fact that we're -- during this period, the capacity to share these ideas, the way in which knowledge can be transferred around the world. This is the era where telegraph is being developed, and you're able to have global communications. Newspapers are being published on a scale never before seen. It's getting cheaper and easier to publish your own stuff. People are becoming more literate. And, when that happens, ideas are going to get out there. It's comparable to our own age with the internet. You have the -- you have the technology catches up with ideas, and all sudden you have this explosion. And it doesn't necessarily end well because a lot of ideas floating around leads to a lot of -- a lot of action, not always well thought -- thought through. And that's really what's driving this wave during this period. And also the fact that reforms themselves are quite sluggish. France goes through all kinds of convulsions during this period where there are attempts to liberalize, and then they are shut down. Napoleon is -- Napoleon III is very much like that. He kind of waxes and wanes about whether or not he wants to suppress or whether or not he wants to embrace. After the Paris Commune, there's a reactionary swing in France which engenders a whole new generation of revolutionaries, the ones who in the 1890s become the anarchists, basically. So these waves of repression that feed into discontent and create more radical strains of discontent, that is a process that's really observable during this period. And it's one that I think -- I think you -- the reason why this is the age of the first real age of terrorism is because you have all this stuff coming together, communications that you need to promote terrorist activities to gain the attention. You need societal discontent, dangerous ideas. And it's all moving around in the -- together as part of the same process. >> Andrew Hammond:, Just to close off, James so your book, Rise of Devils, Fear and the Origins of Modern Terrorism. I think, just as a -- just put it in summary, I think that anyone who wants to understand the broad strokes of terrorism, how it functions, how it works, and to understand something about the mechanics of fear and the news cycle and how that feeds into societal anxieties. And something that struck me when I was writing this book is how so much of this feels like today. The resonances hit me over the head repeatedly, everything from fake news and the dangers of that to self-radicalization to the fears about the extent of police powers to the development of intelligence and international policing, there is so much that -- that resonates. And that, to me, is one of the reasons why the book works so well is because it is both a history book but it's -- also feels in many ways like a history of our own times.

Andrew Hammond: Well, congratulations on the book. And I have to say it's very well written as well. I think that you're a good writer --

James Crossland: Thank you very much.

Andrew Hammond: -- which isn't necessarily always the case, right.

James Crossland: Good history is always a good story. It's my mantra.

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Well, thanks ever so much for your time. It's been a pleasure speaking to you.

James Crossland: Thank you very much, Andrew.

Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at spycast@spymuseum.org or on Twitter @intlspycast. Coming up on next week's show.

John Blaxland: They said, guys, we're going to have to cut off the Australians. And what's cut off; we were downgraded. Our access after the Second World War, we were trusted intimately was wound right back.

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