Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 16, 2006

New book: ‘Debunking 9/11 Myths’

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on August 16, 2006

A new book entitled “Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts” was released this week, a book that expands upon a lengthy article published last year in Popular Mechanics that analyzes the various 9/11 conspiracies, rigorously disproves them, and by doing so calls out the legion of conspiracies for the steaming heap of bullshit that they are.

This is an important and necessary book, in the face of the disturbing fact that a third of Americans now think there was some kind of government conspiracy behind 9/11. These conspiracy theories have had a free ride for too long, so I’m glad this book has come out to give them a smackdown.

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Comment by The Seeker

August 18, 2006 @ 1:23 am

Please type “Northwoods document” into Wikipedia. It plainly states the plan to stage fake terrorist attacks and blame it on foreign enemies as a pretext for war.

Comment by Philena

August 21, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

I’m still waiting for someone to explain how they were able to make phones calls from their cell phones though.

Comment by Craig

August 28, 2006 @ 3:29 am

Look, cell phones do work in the air, it is a known fact. Cell phone towers are omni-directional which means that they can send and receive signals from all directions. If the plane you are on happens to fly too high and too far away from a tower, then you will lose the signal. You can make cell phone calls from the plane but are not allowed to.

If you weren’t able to make cell phone calls from your cell phones, then why would the airlines have to tell you not to?

Comment by Craig

August 28, 2006 @ 3:34 am

March 13th, 1962 Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presents a proposal to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, named “Operation Northwoods.”
Lemnitzer may have been the most rabid anticommunist of anyone in a high position in the U.S. Throughout the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations he continually pushed for an invasion of Cuba. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, that idea was not welcome in the White House.

The document proposed staging terrorist attacks in and around Guantanamo Bay, to provide a pretext for military intervention in Cuba. The plans included:
Starting rumors about Cuba using clandestine radio.
Landing friendly Cubans inside the base to stage attacks.
Starting riots at the main gate.
Blowing up ammunition inside the base, starting fires.
Sabotaging aircrafts and ships on the base.
Bombing the base with mortar shells.
Sinking a ship outside the entrance, staging funerals for mock victims.
Staging a terror campaign in Miami, Florida and Washington, DC.
And finally, destroying a drone aircraft, over Cuban waters.

The passengers, federal agents in reality, would allegedly be college students on vacation.
A plane at Eglin Air Force Base would be painted and numbered as a duplicate of a registered civil aircraft belonging to a CIA front in Miami. The duplicate would be substituted for the real plane and loaded with the passengers. The real plane would be converted into a drone. The two planes would randezvous south of Florida. The passenger laden plane would land at Eglin Air Force Base to evacuate its passengers and return to its original status. The drone would pick up the scheduled flight plan and over Cuban waters transmit a “mayday signal” before being blown up by remote control.
Note that no one was to be killed in the fake plane scheme. (Thanks CurtC.) We know about this idea because the document has been declassified. The idea was rejected, of course.

The plan was rejected by McNamara, and President John F. Kennedy personally removes Lemnitzer as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Good move. But the suggestion that he was removed for submitting this plan is misleading. It certainly didn’t endear him to McNamara and Kennedy, though, and when his term ran out he was transferred to Europe to become the head of NATO.

While “Operation Northwoods” has provided the raw material for an entire cottage industry of 9/11 conspiracy theories, to my knowledge no one has demonstrated the slightest connection to 9/11 itself. I mentioned this to a conspiracy theorist recently, and he said “Well, the CIA killed JFK, and George W. Bush’s father was head of the CIA.” I had to remind him that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK, and George H.W. Bush was a Texas oilman who hadn’t even run for Congress yet in 1963.

I am astonished that CTists keep bringing up Operation Northwoods as a reminder that dangerous, deceptive schemes can be cooked up by the U.S. government, as if the fact that we are in Iraq isn’t reminder enough. Perspective, people, perspective!

Comment by Craig

August 28, 2006 @ 3:36 am

Vanity Fair Credits NewsMax for Clinton’s bin Laden Woes

The June edition of Vanity Fair is hitting newsstands and it credits NewsMax.com for most of Clinton’s post-9/11 woes.

While ex-President Clinton has managed to rise above most of the scandals that characterized his White House years, Vanity Fair magazine says that the episode that continues to damage his legacy most is a recording by NewsMax.com of Clinton’s admission that he turned down a deal for Osama bin Laden’s arrest in 1996.

“The hardest charge to dismiss is the most devastating,” reports Vanity Fair in its June issue. “Five years before 9/11, it was said, Osama bin Laden had been presented to Bill Clinton on a silver platter, and he refused to take him.”

Before NewsMax released its smoking-gun tape, Vanity Fair says, Clinton officials such as former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger denied up and down that Sudan had any intention of extraditing bin Laden.

Others, such as U.S. Ambassador to Sudan Tim Carney, however, claimed otherwise.

“Who was right hadn’t been resolved when Clinton addressed a businessman’s group on Long Island on February 15, 2002,” the magazine said. “A tape recording obtained by the right wing Web site NewsMax.com captured Clinton saying the following:

“‘Mr. bin Laden used to live in Sudan. He was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991, then he went to Sudan. And we’d been hearing that the Sudanese wanted America to start meeting with them again.

“‘They released him. At the time, 1996, he had committed no crime against America, so I did not bring him here, because we had no basis on which to hold him, though we knew he wanted to commit crimes against America.

“‘So I pleaded with the Saudis to take take him, ’cause they could have. But they thought it was a hot potato.'”

Though there was ample intelligence and evidence that bin Laden indeed had been behind attacks against Americans, contradicting Clinton’s claim, Vanity Fair noted, “Although the [Clinton] admission passed without notice in most of the mainstream media, the damage was done.

“According to a January 2002 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who thought history would rate Clinton’s presidency as ‘poor’ was more than half again what it had been the year before.”

Two years later, the infamous tape continues to haunt the Democratic Party’s most popular figure.

Vanity Fair notes that when Clinton was grilled about his bin Laden admission by the 9/11 Commission last month, he called it “a misquote,” apparently hoping the commissioners didn’t know it was on tape.

As NewsMax noted at the time, after 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey compared Clinton’s testimony to his February 2002 remarks, he told a radio interviewer, “[This is] much different from what we heard.”

Kudos to Vanity Fair for covering the bombshell the mainstream press has tried to bury for more than two years.

We think it’s an important part of the historical backdrop to America’s darkest day ever – and we trust Vanity Fair’s readers will think so too.

Clinton Denies Taped bin Laden Admission, Blames ‘Misquote’

During his private interview with the 9/11 Commission on Thursday, ex-President Bill Clinton denied that he told a New York business group in 2002 that he turned down an offer from Sudan for Osama bin Laden’s extradition to the U.S., according to 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey.

“Bill Clinton said yesterday that that was a misquote,” Kerrey told WDAY Fargo, N.D., radio host Scott Hennen, in an interview set for broadcast on Monday.

A transcript of the exchange between Hennen and Kerrey was read on the air by national radio host Sean Hannity late Friday. It shows that the 9/11 Commission was unaware that Clinton’s bombshell admission that he spurned the bin Laden offer had been recorded by NewsMax.

After Kerrey said Clinton had denied the quote, Hennen said: “But wait a minute – I heard it in his own voice. I’ve heard him say it. I have the tape of him saying just that.”

“Really?” said a perplexed Kerrey. “Well, then – ship it to me, because Clinton said yesterday [in private 9/11 testimony] that he didn’t have a recollection of that.”

Clinton made the bombshell admission to the Long Island Association on Feb. 15, 2002. Though the LIA videotaped his appearance, the group has refused requests for copies from NBC News, Fox News and NewsMax.

Though NewsMax has the only publicly available recording of Clinton’s remarks that day, they were also reported by Newsday the next day.

Transcript of Clinton’s admission:

We’d been hearing that the Sudanese wanted America to start dealing with them again.

They released him. At the time, 1996, he had committed no crime against America so I did not bring him here because we had no basis on which to hold him, though we knew he wanted to commit crimes against America.

So I pleaded with the Saudis to take him, ’cause they could have. But they thought it was a hot potato and they didn’t and that’s how he wound up in Afghanistan. [End of Excerpt]

To hear ex-President Clinton make the admission that he denied making to the 9/11 Commission, Click Here:http://www.newsmax.com/audio/BILLVH.mp3

Comment by Craig

August 28, 2006 @ 3:38 am

A conspiracy theory attempts to explain the ultimate cause of an event (usually a political, social, or historical event) as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance of powerful people or organizations rather than as an overt activity or as natural occurrence.

History has shown that crimes carried out by a group of people (a “conspiracy”) are not uncommon. Researchers who advocate the conspiratorial view such as G. Edward Griffin, claim that most major events in history have been dominated by conspirators who manipulate political happenings from behind the scenes. The term “conspiracy theory” is usually used by mainstream scholars and in popular culture to identify a type of folklore similar to an urban legend, especially an explanatory narrative which is constructed with methodological flaws.[1]

The term is also used pejoratively to dismiss allegedly misconceived, paranoid or outlandish rumors. Most people who have their theory or speculation labeled a “conspiracy theory” reject the term as prejudicial. Richard Hofstadter said that his use of the terminology is “pejorative”.[2]

Critical Overview
The term “conspiracy theory” may be a neutral descriptor for a conspiracy claim. However, conspiracy theory is also used to indicate a narrative genre that includes a broad selection of (not necessarily related) arguments for the existence of grand conspiracies, any of which might have far-reaching social and political implications if true.

Critics say that most conspiracy theories are likely false, and lack enough verifiable evidence to be taken seriously. They raise the question of what mechanisms might exist in popular culture that lead to their invention and subsequent uptake. In pursuit of answers to that question, conspiracy theory has been a topic of interest for sociologists, psychologists and experts in folklore since at least the 1960s, when the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy provoked an unprecedented level of speculation.

Whether or not a particular conspiracy allegation may be impartially or neutrally labelled a conspiracy theory is subject to some controversy.

When conspiracy theories combine logical fallacies with lack of evidence, the result is a world view known as conspiracism. Conspiracism is a world view that sees major historic events and trends as the result of secret conspiracies. The term was popularized by academic Frank P. Mintz in the 1980s. Academic interest in conspiracy theories and conspiracism has presented a range of hypotheses on the basis of studying the genre. Among the leading scholars of conspiracism are: Hofstadter, Popper, Barkun, Goldberg, Pipes, Fenster, Mintz, Sagan, Johnson, and Posner, from whom the following list is synthesized.

According to Mintz, conspiracism denotes: “belief in the primacy of conspiracies in the unfolding of history” [3]:

“Conspiracism serves the needs of diverse political and social groups in America and elsewhere. It identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power. As such, conspiracy theories do not typify a particular epoch or ideology” [4].

Throughout human history, political and economic leaders genuinely have been the cause of enormous amounts of death and misery, and they sometimes have engaged in conspiracies while at the same time promoting conspiracy theories about their targets. Hitler and Stalin would be merely the most prominent examples; there have been numerous others [5]. In some cases there have been claims dismissed as conspiracy theories that later proved to have some basis in facts [6] [7]. But the idea that history is controlled by grandiose or long-standing conspiracies is dubious. As historian Bruce Cumings has put it:

“But if conspiracies exist, they rarely move history; they make a difference at the margins from time to time, but with the unforeseen consequences of a logic outside the control of their authors: and this is what is wrong with ‘conspiracy theory.’ History is moved by the broad forces and large structures of human collectivities.” [8]

The term has also been used by other authors including Michael Kelly, Chip Berlet, and Matthew N. Lyons, among others.

According to Berlet and Lyons, “Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm” [9].

“Conspiracy nut” is a pejorative term sometimes used to describe a conspiracist. It is based upon the perception that such beliefs are unfounded, outlandish, or irrational, or are otherwise unworthy of serious consideration.

Proposed origins of conspiracy theories
Humans naturally respond to events or situations which have had an emotional impact upon them by trying to make sense of those events, typically in spiritual, moral, political, or scientific terms.

Events which seem to resist such interpretation—for example, because they are, in fact, unexplainable—may provoke the inquirer to look harder for a meaning, until one is reached that is capable of offering the inquirer the required emotional satisfaction. As sociological historian Holger Herwig found in studying German explanations for the origins of World War I:

Those events that are most important are hardest to understand, because they attract the greatest attention from mythmakers and charlatans.
This normal process could be diverted by a number of influences. At the level of the individual, pressing psychological needs may influence the process, and certain of our universal mental tools may impose epistemic ‘blind spots’. At the group or sociological level, historic factors may make the process of assigning satisfactory meanings more or less problematic.

Psychological origins
According to many psychologists, a person who believes in one conspiracy theory is often a believer in other conspiracy theories and conversely for a person who does not believe in one conspiracy theory there is a lower probability that he, or she, will believe in another one. [citation needed]

Psychologists believe that the search for meaningfulness features largely in conspiracism and the development of conspiracy theories. That desire alone may be powerful enough to lead to the initial formulation of the idea[citation needed]. Once cognized, confirmation bias and avoidance of cognitive dissonance may reinforce the belief. In a context where a conspiracy theory has become popular within a social group, communal reinforcement may equally play a part.

Evolutionary psychology may also play a significant role. Paranoid tendencies are associated with an animal’s ability to recognize danger. Higher animals attempt to construct mental models of the thought processes of both rivals and predators in order to read their hidden intentions and to predict their future behavior. Such an ability is extremely valuable in sensing and avoiding danger in an animal community. If this danger-sensing ability should begin making false predictions, or be triggered by benign evidence, or otherwise become pathological, the result is paranoid delusions.

Epistemic bias?
It is possible that certain basic human epistemic biases are projected onto the material under scrutiny. According to one study humans apply a ‘rule of thumb’ by which we expect a significant event to have a significant cause.[10] The study offered subjects four versions of events, in which a foreign president was (a) successfully assassinated, (b) wounded but survived, (c) survived with wounds but died of a heart attack at a later date, and (d) was unharmed. Subjects were significantly more likely to suspect conspiracy in the case of the ‘major events’—in which the president died—than in the other cases, despite all other evidence available to them being equal.

Another epistemic ‘rule of thumb’ that can be misapplied to a mystery involving other humans is cui bono? (who stands to gain?). This sensitivity to the hidden motives of other people might be either an evolved or an encultured feature of human consciousness, but either way it appears to be universal. If the inquirer lacks access to the relevant facts of the case, or if there are structural interests rather than personal motives involved, this method of inquiry will tend to produce a falsely conspiratorial account of an impersonal event[citation needed]. The direct corollary of this epistemic bias in pre-scientific cultures is the tendency to imagine the world in terms of animism. Inanimate objects or substances of significance to humans are fetishised and supposed to harbor benign or malignant spirits.

Clinical psychology
For relatively rare individuals, an obsessive compulsion to believe, prove or re-tell a conspiracy theory may indicate one or more of several well-understood psychological conditions, and other hypothetical ones: paranoia, denial, schizophrenia, mean world syndrome[11].

Socio-political origins
Christopher Hitchens represents conspiracy theories as the ‘exhaust fumes of democracy’, the unavoidable result of a large amount of information circulating among a large number of people. Other social commentators and sociologists argue that conspiracy theories are produced according to variables that may change within a democratic (or other type of) society.

Conspiratorial accounts can be emotionally satisfying when they place events in a readily-understandable, moral context. The subscriber to the theory is able to assign moral responsibility for an emotionally troubling event or situation to a clearly-conceived group of individuals. Crucially, that group does not include the believer. The believer may then feel excused of any moral or political responsibility for remedying whatever institutional or societal flaw might be the actual source of the dissonance.[12]

Where responsible behavior is prevented by social conditions, or is simply beyond the ability of an individual, the conspiracy theory facilitates the emotional discharge or closure that such emotional challenges (after Erving Goffman) require. Like moral panics, conspiracy theories thus occur more frequently within communities that are experiencing social isolation or political dis-empowerment.

Comment by Craig

August 28, 2006 @ 3:40 am

Conspiracy Theories – 1: The Basics
According to a recent poll in the German newspaper Die Zeit, one in five Germans believes that the U.S. government may have sponsored the 9-11 attacks. Among those under 30, the proportion is one in three. Conspiracy theories as insane as that one, or worse, currently corrupt the political thinking of the great majority of people in the world, including a substantial and influential minority in the West.

A conspiracy theory is an explanation of observed events in current affairs and history … which
alleges that those events were planned and caused in secret by powerful (or allegedly powerful) conspirators, who thereby…
benefit at the expense of others, and who therefore…
lie, and suppress evidence, about their secret actions, and…
lie about the motives for their public actions.
Conspiracy theories are widely regarded as characteristic of irrational modes of thinking. The very term ‘conspiracy theory’ is usually reserved for irrational explanations meeting the above criteria. For conspiracies do happen. Criminal conspiracies are proved every day in courts. Political conspiracies are discovered from time to time. If we can rationally explain a bank robbery as being the consequence of a conspiracy, why not a war? Or the world economic system? What distinguishes a conspiracy theory (irrational, by definition) from a sane opinion that a particular group of people worked in secret to bring about certain observed events for their own immoral purposes?

Here, the irrefutability of conspiracy theories is usually cited: to a conspiracy theorist, everything that happens, or could possibly happen, constitutes evidence for the conspiracy. If the alleged conspirators seem to benefit, then that is evidence against them. If they do not, then that is just evidence that the media and/or other conspirators are concealing the facts, or that something much more valuable is secretly at stake.

But there is more to it than irrefutability. There is more to it even than the tendency to invent (rather than merely reinterpret) evidence to conform to the conspiracy theory. For it is no coincidence that every (irrational) conspiracy theory is in fact false. Underlying their invalid arguments and mishandling of evidence in judging explanations, there is a pathological mistake in the conspiracy theorists’ conception of what constitutes an explanation in the first place.

Part 2

Conspiracy Theories – 2: Lying About Motives
Here’s a fairly classic conspiracy theory. It is that the Bush Administration’s foreign policy is part of a plot to impose Fascism on America. We don’t especially recommend reading it (unless you are entertained by that sort of thing) but look at this passage:

I will examine exactly what the Bush Administration in fact stands for, which is in stark contrast to the claims of Bush’s mindless chorus of fawning acolytes.
This “stark contrast” between the conspirators’ purported motives and their real motives is at the heart of every political conspiracy theory. For if a conspiracy theory is to explain observed events in current affairs and history, the conspirators’ hidden actions must somehow be translated into something significant and visible – a war, a major change in the law, the enrichment of some group and the impoverishment of another – which requires visible actions and efforts by large numbers of people. If, for whatever reason, the real objective of those efforts cannot be acknowledged openly, then many of those people must believe that they are furthering some different objective.

Now, consider a person who favors that ostensible objective and works towards it, but opposes the conspirators’ true objective. Such a person is a dupe of the conspirators. Conspiracy theorists always believe in the existence of dupes because they see themselves as desperately warning them to open their eyes and see what would be “blinding … in its clarity” if they did; but also, the alleged conspiracy itself usually depends on the cooperation of many dupes, such as journalists and political commentators (“Bush’s mindless chorus of fawning acolytes”) and soldiers and civil servants and of course ordinary voters.

It is in the interests of the conspirators to enlist as many dupes as possible. Every lie the conspirators tell, every secret meeting they hold, every secret decision they take and every secret message they share, incurs a risk of exposure. Therefore, the more dupes are willing to further the aims of the conspiracy without having to participate in the secret planning and without having to conceal their real reasons for supporting the plans, the safer the secret is. Also, the more dupes spontaneously work hard on the conspirators’ behalf without wanting a payoff, the fewer real conspirators are needed to achieve the objective. And if there are spoils (there usually are!) the larger the share each conspirator will receive.

So there are lots of dupes. But the question arises: are there any politicians among them?

It is in the nature of conspiracy theories that there is no immediate way of telling. Since the conspiracy depends on the conspirators behaving, in public, exactly as if they were dupes, it must be true that any duped politicians would be behaving in public exactly as if they were conspirators: arguing for the policy, voting for it, trying to discredit its opponents, cutting deals to promote it and so on.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? How high are the dupes allowed to rise? For all we know, even some of the highest-ranking Neo-Cons are dupes. Even some members of the Cabinet might be outside the Conspiracy and genuinely be motivated by the arguments and objectives they advance in public.
Could the President himself be a dupe? If he was lying about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction then he was a Conspirator, and of course nothing could ever prove that he wasn’t. But there again, there is no evidence that he was lying.

The fact is, all supporters of the Administration’s policy could be ‘dupes’ – or rather, honest holders of the opinions they purport to hold – and still behave exactly as we see them behave. In other words, if there were no conspiracy there at all, we’d never know.

Well, obviously.

And therefore, the conspiracy theory explains exactly nothing. Yet it appends layers of weirdness and complexity to the commonsense picture of the world. There is an unlimited supply of such (non‑)explanations, all postulating invisible complexity and all contradicting each other. Even if one of them were true, it would be vanishingly unlikely that anyone would happen to hit on it by a method that was impervious to evidence.

That is one reason why, in practice, conspiracy theories are always false.

But there is also another, more important reason.

Part 3

Conspiracy Theories – 3: Unseen Events
When George Mikes (the humorist and author of How to be an Alien) was very young and not yet able to read, he formulated a theory to explain his experiences. It was that no one can read: older people were merely pretending to see meaning in random squiggles of ink on paper, and were secretly laughing at his gullibility.

This had all the formal attributes of a conspiracy theory: it alleged that significant events in Mikes’ life (adults reading to him, and trying to teach him to read) were part of a secret plan that involved the conspirators’ lying to him about facts and about their own motives, in order to benefit at his expense (in this case merely by being amused). It also explained away his own relative ineffectiveness (his inability to read, compared with other people’s apparent ability to), in terms of his powerlessness and their power over him. This is another very common theme of conspiracy theories. His theory differed from a standard conspiracy theory mainly in the way he held it: in particular, in the way he abandoned it.

He did not say how he first came to doubt it, but we can guess what must have been involved: simply taking it seriously as an explanation of reality. Perhaps at some point he noticed that different adults were able to read the same story out of a given book. Such observations would not have proved anything, but they would have multiplied the invisible events that must have been happening if the no-one-can-read theory was true: now, instead of merely laughing at him behind his back, the adults must have been learning stories by heart, and coordinating which ones they were going to pretend were contained in which book. They must have been pretending to find their way to unfamiliar places by reading road signs, feigning frustration when they left the shopping list at home, pretending that mail contained information from distant relatives, and so on. To maintain all those pretences would have involved hidden processes of great complexity, centering on the young Mikes, and laboriously hidden from him.

So what? Nature is full of hidden processes of great complexity; people do often hide things laboriously from other people – not least from children. Mikes was not wrong to be skeptical: initially, he could not have distinguished what he was told about reading from what he was told about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. What was essential, though, was that he be just as skeptical of his own alternative explanation. And more: he needed to be seeking a true explanation, to care whether reality did or did not conform, even in unseen ways, to whatever explanation he adopted. Though his no-one-can-read explanation could never have been proved false, he was not looking for proof. He had not proposed it in order to create an unassailable dogma, but simply because he had a problem imagining a reality in which all those squiggles meant something. But then, given the role that he could see that alleged meaning playing in the lives of the people around him, he would soon have realized that postulating a further slew of apparently meaningless behavior (the conspiracy) in the reality beyond his immediate perceptions did nothing to solve that problem. In effect it merely raised it again, but all the worse for being projected off the page and out into the wider world.

So, when he thought about the evidence available to him, though he would never have faced disproof, he would have faced a choice: try again to understand the hidden meanings in the squiggles – which might be difficult and, for all he knew, might never work – or attribute everything he saw to the hidden conspiracy. The latter option was guaranteed always to be available. Yet, at some point, he must have realized that the world could not be understood in those terms.

This is the choice which conspiracy theorists make differently and irrationally. They do care about some invisible events: the relatively small number that they love to think about, such as President Bush and his inner circle discussing their evil plan to seize the Iraqi oil fields. But they don’t care enough to follow through the implications for the host of other invisible events that would also have to be happening if those were – such as how the conspiracy would recruit its members and how it would agree upon a new plan, and what exactly the conspirators’ reward is and how it gets to them. We shall say more about this in the next installment, but in general terms: conspiracy theorists chronically fail to form a serious model of what reality would be like if their theory of it were true. They paint on a large canvas with only a tiny area of detail, always preferring the security of familiar patterns of thought that are guaranteed to provide the semblance of an explanation, to the uncertainty and difficulty of trying to understand what the facts really are.

Part 4

Conspiracy Theories – 4: Collectivism
[For the first three installments of this series, see here.]

Have you heard the one about light bulbs? The secret of everlasting light bulbs has been known for decades but is being suppressed by the manufacturers of electrical goods because they would be ruined if people did not continually have to buy new bulbs. But how do they enforce this policy among themselves, and how do they prevent researchers (including their own, who are presumably dupes wasting their lives tinkering with an obsolete technology) from rediscovering the principle?

Now give the story a more sinister turn. The myth relies on conspiracy. Even if an individual firm would seize avidly the opportunity created by the everlasting light bulb, the manufacturers would establish a cartel to see that our inventor was assassinated or otherwise removed from the scene.
This urban myth is one of a class of conspiracy theories about evil capitalists. They are widely believed. And yet the people who believe them – and make real-life decisions on the assumption that they are true – nevertheless fail to wonder about even the most elementary implications of their own theory. For instance, how does the conspiracy get transmitted to the next generation? There must come a point at which a conspirator’s child, or a talented young executive about to be promoted from Dupe to Conspirator, is taken aside and told the dirty secret: “until now you have believed that we make our living by making a positive contribution to society, but in fact we are secretly parasites and murderers”. What happens to those who are appalled by the revelation and want nothing to do with the conspiracy? Can all light bulb manufacturers be relied upon to murder their own children if they suspect they may be about to flirt with environmentalism, or with integrity? What happens to manufacturers who are going bankrupt anyway and so have nothing more to gain from the conspiracy, but could be saved by capitalizing on the secret? If the conspiracy theory is true, we cannot directly observe how the conspirators deal with such dramatic problems, but we do know that they must be doing so: the logic of the situation dictates that a long-lasting conspiracy must include some method of converting dupes to conspirators. And this method must be extremely reliable despite the fact that it involves people suddenly and radically altering the moral values on which they base their lives.

But the believers in such theories just don’t care. We have remarked that one characteristic of conspiracy theories is that their holders apply them very selectively to explain away some aspects of the world that they do not like. They are uninterested in any wider consequences that their theory would have if it were true. In other words, they fail to take their own theory seriously as an account of what is happening in the world.

It is therefore no accident that conspiracy-theoretic ways of thinking are always associated with collectivist fantasies of one sort or another. For Marxists, the ‘ruling class’ has many of the attributes of a person – a devious, dangerous person capable of having inherent ‘interests’ and secret motives and taking coherent actions to further them. Likewise, Nazis and other anti-Semites conceive of The Jews (or often, tellingly, ‘The Jew’) as being such an entity, while for many Libertarians The State plays this role. If the conspiracy theorists can manage to think entirely in terms of this monstrous Person and its evil agenda, then they never have to think about the issues which make all conspiracy theories ludicrously flawed when taken seriously – issues such as how the conspirators are supposed to communicate, agree upon their evil plans, deal with dissenters, launder the funds needed to pay the assassins, groom a new generation to take over in due course, fool and control the dupes, distribute the spoils and so on, all while plausibly pretending that all their overt actions have some entirely different purpose.

Some ideologies have become notorious for the conspiracy theories that they contain. So when we find people who earnestly believe the light bulb myth, we may well enquire whether they are (say) socialists, and if so, we may guess that this explains their gullibility in regard to the economics of electrical technology. Given our analysis here, though, it is possible that the true explanation goes in the other direction. It may be that people are attracted to collectivist ideologies (including Libertarian versions of statism) because they want to believe a conspiracy theory and because the collectivist ideology allows them to disregard its flaws, rather than vice versa.

Part 5

Conspiracy Theories – 5: Paranoia As Faith
[For the first four installments of this series, see here.]

The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was notorious for his all-encompassing paranoia. And yet, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn pointed out in his novel The First Circle, even Stalin was not entirely lacking in the capacity to trust:

Distrust of people was the dominating characteristic of Joseph Djugashvili [Stalin]; it was his only philosophy of life. He had not trusted his own mother; neither had he trusted God, before whom as a young man he had bowed down in His temple. He had not trusted his fellow Party members, especially those with the gift of eloquence. He had not trusted his comrades in exile. He did not trust the peasants to sow their grain or harvest their wheat unless he forced them to do it and watched over them. He did not trust the workers to work unless he laid down their production targets. He did not trust the intellectuals to help the cause rather than to harm it. He did not trust the soldiers and the generals to fight without penal battalions and field security squads. He had never trusted his relatives, his wives or his mistresses. He had not even trusted his children. And how right he had been!

In all his long, suspicion-ridden life he had only trusted one man. That man had shown the whole world that he knew his own mind, knew whom it was expedient to like and whom to hate; and he had always known when to turn round and offer the hand of friendship to those who had been his enemies.

This man, whom Stalin had trusted, was Adolf Hitler.

And so, when Hitler suddenly invaded the Soviet Union, betraying Stalin’s trust and their non-aggression treaty (including all the nasty little secret clauses under which they had plotted jointly to enslave Eastern Europe), Stalin

blindly and fanatically refused to believe Hitler was going to attack and even after the Nazi assault began still refused to believe that Hitler had ordered the offensive. [Harrison E. Salisbury, emphases in original.]

Stalin also refused to believe his own spies, such as the astonishing Richard Sorge, who had sent specific and timely warnings of Hitler’s plans, complete with smoking-gun evidence in the form of photographs of diplomatic telegrams.

Stalin nevertheless preferred to believe Hitler.

Stalin’s island of gullibility in his ocean of paranoia is not exceptional – in fact, it is the rule. For instance, conspiracy theorists today prefer to believe that the likes of Saddam and Osama and Arafat tell the truth while Blair and Bush and Sharon lie. For, despite Solzhenitsyn’s understandable mockery, what Stalin trusted uncritically was not Hitler, it was his own explanation (or rather, his own conspiracy-theoretic non-explanation) of what makes the world tick. Hitler was a natural beneficiary though, because he shared the same explanation. And it was Stalin’s blind faith in this false world view, his inability to modify it in response to new information, that betrayed him. That is why it is not really very surprising that a person for whose “only philosophy of life” was distrust, came to lay himself wide open to the biggest betrayal of all time.

Paranoids, cynics and conspiracy theorists think of themselves as the most skeptical, the least gullible of the human race, and hence also as the most secure against disappointment. “If you’re a pessimist,” the saying goes, “at least you’ll never be disappointed”. But that could hardly be more false. Just look at the world of disappointment that Hitler let himself in for when he deduced, from the depths of his cynicism, that Britain was all talk and would never fight. Just look how heartbroken all the cynics and pessimists on today’s political scene are whenever things go well in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In reality, such people are not the least gullible in the world but the most. For their approach to understanding the complex and frightening world of human affairs is not characterized by the countless possible explanations that they have vowed to reject, but by the single conspiracy-theoretic mode of explanation that they have vowed to believe regardless of all evidence or experience or argument to the contrary. This is not skepticism in the rational sense of the word, it is faith. They have chosen to put blind faith in their conspiracy theories. But the world punishes blind faith. Tyrants in general tend to be paranoid, yet nevertheless, they nearly always end up disappointed as well. Stalin was relatively lucky in his disappointment: most of them die of it.

Part 6

Conspiracy Theories – 6: Theories That Are Merely False
When Yasser Arafat died, the world’s conspiracy theorists predictably went into a frenzy of accusing Israel of having poisoned him.

This was not a conspiracy theory.

Although it fits well into the conspiracy-theoretic world view because it shares some of the attributes of conspiracy theories, it lacks a key attribute by which we recognize conspiracy theories as irrational and as false. As we have said in the first post in this series, a conspiracy theory is:

an explanation of observed events in current affairs and history (✓) … which
alleges that those events were planned and caused in secret by powerful (or allegedly powerful) conspirators (✓), who thereby…
benefit at the expense of others (✓, sort of), and who therefore…
lie, and suppress evidence, about their secret actions (✓), and…
lie about the motives for their public actions (x).
For the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to have had Arafat poisoned, he would not have needed to lie about his motives, only his actions. Sharon and his government had said many times that Arafat was a mass murderer and actively engaged in terrorism, so their publicly announced and defended policy of targeting such people would in principle apply. It was only out of expediency that they had decided not to kill him. This means that the operation, had it existed, would have required no dupes: the active cooperation of only a few senior officers, politicians, undercover agents, and possibly a military scientist or two would have been needed, and all of them could have been informed of the operation’s real nature and its real purpose. Hence there would have been no need for the impossible task of promoting dupes to conspirators, which is an archetypal flaw of conspiracy theories.

Lest any readers misunderstand our example here, we must stress that it is not even remotely plausible that Sharon had Arafat killed. But that is because of the specific political, military and moral circumstances, and not, as in the case of conspiracy theories, because the idea is irrational in its form.

Comment by Doug

September 17, 2006 @ 3:54 pm

I wonder why the cover of this book subliminally portrays the tower as a matchstick?

Are we meant to think that tower was as fragile and combustable as a matchstick?

The official story of 9/11 and the actual facts just simply do not add up. Anyone with a rational, critically thinking mind is able to see that. Anyone not willing to let go of their fear and ego, will see it otherwise. As the collective grip of fear and ego weakens, more people are coming to realize 9/11 is a sham, and that there are forces within bent on bringing America to its knees (and on both sides of the aisle, no less).

Comment by Doug

September 17, 2006 @ 3:56 pm

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

-James Madison

Comment by stinker

January 28, 2007 @ 11:54 pm

Be sure to check out the book “Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory” due out in March by Dr. David Ray Griffin.



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