Book Review

Seeds of Fire
China and the Story Behind the Attack on America

Gordon Thomas
Dandelion Books, 2001, 523 pages


F or the past several years, mainland China has adopted an increasingly adversarial role to the United States. After 9/11, some Chinese disgraced themselves to the world by celebrating the deaths in New York and Washington, D.C., calling the very future of China's relationship with the rest of the civilized world into question. Thus there is a great need for background information on China and their reasons for attempting to reignite the Cold War.

Gordon Thomas, the author of Gideon's Spies, a shallow and sensationalistic book about Israel's Mossad, goes completely off the deep end in this book, presenting a variety of improbable conspiracy theories along with everything he can find that relates in any way to China. Unfortunately, it's not enough to make a coherent case and the book comes perilously close to sinking into the muck of sleazy sensationalism.

The first few chapters discuss the PROMIS information-gathering software fiasco, in which Israeli programmers inserted a back door into software used by intelligence agencies around the world, including the United States, enabling Israel to access some of America's most closely-held secrets. He also discusses the Wen Ho Lee nuclear spying case, for which the author invents a conspiracy theory that is so bizarre that it is not worth repeating.

The author then returns to his favorite subject, the Mossad, claiming that Mossad secretly buys plutonium from the Russian mafia, stolen from the Russian labs Chelyabinsk-70 and Arzamas-16, in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of terrorists, and that Israel built its nuclear arsenal using fissionable material stolen from America. This section and the section on PROMIS, although interesting, have little to do with China.

The largest part of the book is a rehash of well-known information about the Chinese democracy movement and Tiananmen. Remember Wu`er Kaixi and Chai Ling? This section appears to have been written a number of years ago, suggesting that this was originally intended to be a book about the Tiananmen massacre. As such, it evidently must have been unpublishable, but now is dressed up as a book on terrorism by enclosing it between new chapters about Bush, Iraq, and Mossad. It contains no new information about Tiananmen, and does not even discuss the memoirs of a Chinese government official that were released a few years back. The author then attempts to integrate Tiananmen into his main theme, that China, in collusion with Israel, is spying on America. Toward this end, he claims, unconvincingly, that the U.S. government under George Bush the Elder made a deal to "forget" the Tiananmen massacre in order to prevent China from vetoing the anti-Iraq U.N. resolution that preceded the Persian Gulf War, and to acquire intelligence on Chinese Silkworm missile locations in Iraq.

Despite its lack of organization, the book is highly readable and does contain some accurate information, which mixes seamlessly with factual errors, exaggerations, misspellings of Russian place names, and a certain amount of sheer fantasy rampant throughout the book.

As for the title, it is unclear which "attack on America" the author might be referring to. Tiananmen? The PROMIS cyberattacks? The 9/11 terrorist attacks? The description on the back cover of the recent CIA prediction that China is targeting the U.S. with land- and sea-based nuclear missiles and building short-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to use against its neighbors is only covered in the last few pages of this book, while the discordance between its contents and the title and back cover make the book appear to be a craven attempt by the author, the publisher, or both, to capitalize on the anti-terrorist sentiment that developed following 9/11. No evidence of China's involvement in 9/11 is presented, and there is no information in this book on China's intelligence agencies, no discussion of their global strategy or their plans to engage in "asymmetric warfare", and no explanation of why their government is trying to brainwash its population with a brand of virulent anti-American hysteria not seen since the 1970s.

Also, although the subtitle of the book is "China and the Story Behind the Attack on America", the header on each page says "Seeds of Fire: China's Voices of Conscience", confirming that this was indeed originally a book about the Tiananmen massacre. It must have been difficult to think of a good title for this book. How about "Seeds of Fire: Tiananmen, Mossad, Bush, and the story of America's Secret Interdimensional Transporter"? I'd buy it.

In the last chapter, the author bypasses the eight Clinton years entirely and skips from Bush the Elder to events occurring during the presidency of George 'Dubya' Bush. On page 462, the book finally gets to the famous top-secret CIA predictions regarding China mentioned on the back cover, and discusses new revelations from defectors from the Chinese CSIS. Excerpts of the CIA paper are given in an appendix.

If only I had finished reading the author's book on the Mossad instead of tossing it aside and reading Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services, which although published in 1991, is the best book on the subject, I would have known better than to get Seeds of Fire. When will I ever learn.

February 2, 2002 Back