The Paranoid Tendency in American Life

by Kieran Healy on April 12, 2007

Driving home today I saw a guy standing by a busy downtown intersection holding a large sign that read, “9-11 Was An Inside Job.” It doesn’t quite rise to seeing a giant muppet-like creature holding the same sort of sign, but maybe he’s working on it.

_Update_: Here’s a recent piece from the _Chronicle_ about 9-11 Conspiracy Theories in academia. (Hat tip: Evan Goldstein.)

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04.12.07 at 6:50 pm



harry b 04.12.07 at 3:14 am

It is striking how much more convincing the claim is when presented that way. I’d never given it much thought before.


bi 04.12.07 at 3:16 am

40. Alex Jones

Charges: A blustery schizoid moron who makes everyone near him look like an ass just for not punching him when they have the chance. […] politicians and world leaders who meet and perform secret satanic rituals, as if that would be worse than the things they really do in the light of day. […]

Exhibit A: The ultimate proof that Jones is full of shit is that he’s still alive.”


Kieran Healy 04.12.07 at 3:31 am

Obviously framing is everything, Harry.


justin 04.12.07 at 3:55 am

In Tucson? Par for the course.


Stuart 04.12.07 at 4:00 am

The thing that always makes me wonder is that why do people always seem keen to support/create conspiracy theories that don’t even stand up to cursory inspection – in this example if the theory was just that the president/CIA or whoever knew about the planned attack in detail and ignored it (or made the success slightly more likely with minor actions at most) to create their ‘new Pearl Harbor’ that would hard to refute comprehensively, and while I wouldn’t believe it myself, I also wouldn’t think of those proposing it as nutjobs.

When the theory seems to concentrate on things like planting demolitions charges in buildings for no clear reason, that no longer applies. What about bringing down the building after an hour or two of burning fits into any logical plan that multiple plane crashes, iconic buildings burning for days (if they didnt collapse) and so on wouldn’t have been able to achieve? Adding the demolitions (and equally the Pentagon missile stuff) adds a massive risk of discovery/leaks without giving a commensuate advantage to make it worth the risk.


blah 04.12.07 at 4:03 am


Timothy Scriven 04.12.07 at 6:11 am

“Adding the demolitions (and equally the Pentagon missile stuff) adds a massive risk of discovery/leaks without giving a commensuate advantage to make it worth the risk.”

That’s what they want you to think Stuart.


Timothy Scriven 04.12.07 at 6:13 am

Actually though some conspiracy theorists have been known to explain away absurdities in the plans they describe by suggesting that those absurdities were there to cover up the plan. Popperian philosophy of science is looking more enticing by the moment.


opit 04.12.07 at 6:17 am

Clinton said on Fox, at the time they were trying to nail him on Bin Ladin, that intel given bush clearly outlined the threat of al Qaeda. When an American diplomat quits flying on account of highjacking being predicted, you’d think a more alert defensive posture would have been ordered up. Regardless of any idea of American participation, the whole scenario was allowed by what, exactly ? It would seeem a good thing to know.


Matt McIrvin 04.12.07 at 6:43 am

The Bush administration has gotten so fond of trying to dismiss any attribution of malice to them as “conspiracy theory” that many sensible people have proposed that reasonable political thinkers ought to abandon their aversion to conspiracy theories. After all, there are real conspiracies all over the place. (Teresa Nielsen Hayden quote goes here.)

I think there’s a real line to be drawn, though. After all, the administration itself got way too much mileage out of Laurie Mylroie’s conspiracy theory about Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, not to mention the one popular right after the invasion about how Zarqawi was Saddam’s catspaw. The theory about how the climate scientists of the world are conspiring to gin up global warming fear to keep the research funds coming is a particularly dangerous one.

Matthew Yglesias proposed a criterion reminiscent of #8 a while back: if the theory explains away absence of evidence or obvious absurdities by enlarging the theorized conspiracy, that is a warning sign. I would add that theories that require secret laws of physics are likely to be bogus too (I used to encounter a lot of those; my favorite is Nick Cook’s nonsense about how the US Air Force is using flying saucers with Nazi-designed antigravity engines, which was received with a surprising amount of credulity in the press).


abb1 04.12.07 at 9:24 am

…if the theory was just that the president/CIA or whoever knew about the planned attack in detail and ignored it […] that would hard to refute comprehensively, and while I wouldn’t believe it myself, I also wouldn’t think of those proposing it as nutjobs.

Hey, how is this a “theory”, and what’s there not to believe? The fact is that they told Bush that Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. and he went bass fishing.

You’re right, of course, that their state of mind (negligence or malice) can’t be determined, but the facts are clear.


Katherine 04.12.07 at 9:46 am

The thing to remember when considering a conspiracy theory is the fuck up factor. As the number of people involved gets higher and the complexity of the tasks they are to carry out gets larger, the probability that someone will fuck up approaches 1.

There’s probably a vaguely amusing made-up mathematical notation in there somewhere.


John Quiggin 04.12.07 at 10:04 am

Then there’s the theory that Muslim schoolkids in New York were in on the plot. This theory was retailed by, among others, Mark Steyn in the Telegraph, reproduced here by Winds of Change.


Ben Alpers 04.12.07 at 10:57 am


Ginger Yellow 04.12.07 at 10:57 am

“The thing to remember when considering a conspiracy theory is the fuck up factor. As the number of people involved gets higher and the complexity of the tasks they are to carry out gets larger, the probability that someone will fuck up approaches 1.”

Also, as the number of people appointed by Bush involved in the conspiracy gets higher, the probability of a fuck up approaches 1.


jonst 04.12.07 at 11:13 am

Define “inside job” if you are of a mind to.


novakant 04.12.07 at 11:36 am

a healthy aversion to conspiracy theories sometimes leads to an uncritical adoption of the official version of events


Slocum 04.12.07 at 11:38 am

The theory about how the climate scientists of the world are conspiring to gin up global warming fear to keep the research funds coming is a particularly dangerous one.

That’s not a conspiracy theory — it’s simply the theory that people respond (independently, with no organization needed) to incentives. I know researchers (not in climate science) and I know perfectly well that they think carefully about how to apply for research grants they believe are likely to be funded (since grants are how they pay the bills and keep the lab going).

Whether or not the current incentives for climate scientists distort the results in any significant way is another question, but it’s not a conspiracy theory.


John Quiggin 04.12.07 at 11:46 am

The problem is that you need a conspiracy theory to explain why funding sources reward research on global warming. The standard one is that climate scientists collectively promote scary ideas because this gains more money for their field.

But, if so, why aren’t other scientists (apart from a few brave souls fortified by ExxonMobil cash or appointments at rightwing thinktanks) objecting to the money being diverted from their own fields. Compare how they came down on the cold fusion guys.


Michael Bérubé 04.12.07 at 11:49 am

The fact is that they told Bush that Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. and he went bass fishing.

And, let’s not forget, in an artificial lake specially stocked with extra special fish so that Dear Leader could catch one all by himself.

Things on that scale, the Bush Administration can manage. Katrina, Iraq, 9/11, not so much.


zdenek v 04.12.07 at 12:12 pm

“The problem is that you need a conspiracy theory to explain why funding sources reward research on global warming.”

Do conspiracy theories have real explanatory power ? ( is their explanans true or well confirmed and so on? ) if they don’t work as explanations why would you need them accept for bit of fun ?


Slocum 04.12.07 at 1:49 pm

The problem is that you need a conspiracy theory to explain why funding sources reward research on global warming.

Why would you need a conspiracy theory? The phenomenon of a dominant paradigm cutting off the oxygen supply to those outside (jobs, tenure, grants) is well known. Sometimes those outside the paradigm deserve their status (e.g. Intelligent Design ‘researchers’) but other cases, not. In any case, it’s not a conspiracy unless you think dominant paradigm=conspiracy.


Belle Waring 04.12.07 at 3:00 pm

god, mark steyn is such an unmitigated asshole. I had forgotten about that; thanks john.


Walt 04.12.07 at 3:13 pm

You know, the news of Bush Administration fuck-ups is so long, that I had completely forgotten the “Bin Laden determined to attack in the United States” memo.


tom brandt 04.12.07 at 4:33 pm

Your Chronicle link is broken.


Kieran Healy 04.12.07 at 4:39 pm

fixed, thanks.


Tom Hilton 04.12.07 at 4:54 pm

The thing that always makes me wonder is that why do people always seem keen to support/create conspiracy theories that don’t even stand up to cursory inspection…

They don’t have to; that’s the beauty of conspiracy theories. All they have to do is raise doubt about the ‘official’ version and keep the focus on those ‘inconsistencies’. And let’s face it: you can make anything sound implausible or sinister if you try hard enough.


Walt 04.12.07 at 5:06 pm

I’m surprised you’d say something like that, Tom. Who are you working for, really?


abb1 04.12.07 at 5:45 pm

But what about the Iran-Contra thing, does it stand up to a cursory inspection? I mean – selling weapons to the Islamic Republic with Israel being the intermediary? Are you nuts?


jim 04.12.07 at 6:28 pm

It should be pointed out that 9/11 was, in fact, the result of a conspiracy. The question being raised is merely the identity of (some of) the conspirators.


rea 04.12.07 at 6:35 pm

Well, I’m definitely a conspiracy theorist when it comes to 9/11: it was all a plot by al Qaeda members . . .


Stuart 04.12.07 at 7:05 pm

conspiracy theory
–noun 1. a theory that explains an event as being the result of a plot by a covert group or organization; a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a group.
2. the idea that many important political events or economic and social trends are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.

So at that point Al Qaeda send tapes out to all and sundry media organisations claiming to have done it (and this is confirmed/backed by US government etc), it stops being a conspiracy theory, and becomes simply something that was a conspiracy. It only becomes a conspiracy theory again if you add extra unknown plotters to the original conspiracy that aren’t well known.


Lee A. Arnold 04.12.07 at 7:17 pm

We still do not know what the Administration was doing on counterterror before 9/11, other than pushing Clarke out of the loop — read through statements in the 2002 Congressional hearings linked at and you’ll find a lot of yada-yada about how the intelligence community wasn’t coordinated, but nothing on what the Administration was doing. That is carefully circumscribed.

Now we know that when the Bush Administration came in, old Security Advisor Berger lectured new Security Advisor Rice that al Qaeda had become the number one counterterrorism priority. The Bushies promptly sidelined the main expert, Richard Clarke, as well as George Tenet on al Qaeda, and ignored repeated warnings throughout a huge threat-spike in that summer, (which caused government officials to alter their flight schedules,) and it was even reported that Senator Feinstein went into Cheney’s office on 9/10 (!) to complain about the Administration’s paltry efforts on counterterrorism, which by then worried the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Cheney wasn’t there and she was shown the door out by Scooter Libby.)

So explain this? Either (1) they are very nearly the stupidest people on Earth (in Clarke’s book, Wolfowitz showed up at the few briefings that Clarke was allowed to give, saying some things that might support that thesis,) or (2) they DIDN’T CARE if a hijacking happened, since the plan from the start, as we now know, was to invade Iraq, and anything else that happened could be forgotten in the confusion, or (3) they WANTED TO ALLOW a hijacking to happen, (and got more than they bargained for in the results,) for nearly the same reason: to incite the American people, as the Project for a New American Century suggested would be required.

Any other possibilities? –If not, if that’s it, then: you have a conspiracy of sorts to incite a war, OR merely the stupidest people on the planet, OR both. This should make anybody paranoid.

P.S. If you want to get angry, read Wolfowitz’ comments thoughout Clarke’s book, then Wolfowitz’ PDF to the joint hearing at

P.P.S. Speaking of that unbelievable character, the World Bank is dithering on the enforcement of a deal with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect the world’s 2nd-largest remaining rainforest, now being traded away for little sacks of sugar and a few cases of beer — I kid you not — to tribal peoples who don’t even get to see those payments. Do not miss:

NEW SCIENTIST April 11, 2007: “Protected Congo Forest is Logged Regardless”


GUARDIAN April 11, 2007 “Vast Forests With Trees Each Worth £4,000 Sold for a Few Bags of Sugar –Congo village chiefs not told value of concessions; World Bank blamed over deals causing ‘catastrophe'”,,2054203,00.html

(Found at Metafilter)


Michael Bérubé 04.12.07 at 7:37 pm

selling weapons to the Islamic Republic with Israel being the intermediary? Are you nuts?

Oh, that’s nothing. I once read somewhere that Reagan sent Oliver North to Tehran with a bible and a birthday cake for the Ayatollah. Real crackpot/ Thomas Pynchon stuff, I’m telling you.


abb1 04.12.07 at 7:39 pm

The ‘Al Qaeda’ in this case would have to represent what’s called “the official story”. Like “a third-rate burglary” in the Watergate incident. One can accept the official story or reject it, either completely or to some extent. Rejecting the official story makes one a conspiracy theorist.


peter ramus 04.12.07 at 7:59 pm

to Tehran with a bible and a birthday cake

I thought that was Robert McFarlane. But who’s counting?


John Emerson 04.12.07 at 8:46 pm

Hey, how about a Kennedy assassination thread?!!!

I just can’t believe the lone gunman theory. Too many loose ends with both Oswald and Ruby.


C. L. Ball 04.12.07 at 9:29 pm

No one remembers the viral email TWA 800 missile theory — a US navy vessel either test-fired or accidentally fired a SAM that took out the airliner.

A spark in a fuel-tank was just too mundane for some.


Tracy W 04.12.07 at 9:40 pm

“The problem is that you need a conspiracy theory to explain why funding sources reward research on global warming.”

No you don’t. People tend to pay more attention to perceived threats to find out if they are real or not and if they are what should be done about them.

Imagine that we have a government and a set of funding sources that are motivated only by the public good. Now take the situation back at the start of research into global warming, when this was being identified as a hypothesis with some support, and a hypothesis that if true would have significant impacts on human welfare. Wouldn’t you expect a government motivated by the public good to pay attention to this hypothesis and divert funding to further investigation?

Now take a real government. Perhaps not so motivated by high and mighty ideals, but more motivated by the media – which loves paying attention to threats and potential threats (because they’re what we all pay attention to). So the media reports, probably exaggerates, the threat of global warming, people write to the government and demand it does something, plus the government is made up of people too who probably pay more attention to the media and are equally alarmed by the implied threat, and diverts funding to global warming.

As for scientists objecting to money being diverted from their own fields, in my experience scientists are reasonably polite to each other and simply respond to reduced funding in their own area by arguing for greater funding for science in general. I say this as someone who has worked for government on funding issues on science – this is my observation of what actually happens. For another example, I don’t recall every coming across a scientist arguing that less money should go into AIDs research and more into cancer research – they just want more money for their research. I presume it’s much easier socially to say that taxpayers in general should pay more for science than to argue that your mate Dr Schfield’s funding should really go to you. Dr Schfield might take that personally while every taxpayer has so many hands reaching for our pockets that we just can’t get upset at all of them. In my experience, if you come across a scientist arguing there should be less research spending on AIDs or on global warming or any other topic you can think of, they’re an economist (and a few commentators here would argue that economists are not scientists anyway).

So to explain funding authorities diverting money to global warming, all we need is:
1. people pay more attention to threats and possible threats than neutral events.
2. scientists prefer to argue for increased funding for science overall rather than taking money away from their colleagues to give to them.

No conspiracy theory required.


Michael Bérubé 04.12.07 at 9:55 pm

I thought that was Robert McFarlane. But who’s counting?

I thought it was Bud McFarlane too, but the Interwebs told me I was crazy.


Martin Bento 04.12.07 at 11:02 pm


Taken seriously, your notion would mean that all complex social organization is beyond human competence. Yes, as size and complexity increase, so does the potential for error, but so also does the robustness. In a large organization like Coca-Cola, for example, one can be sure that thousands of errors are committed every day. Few are of consequence largely *because* of Coke’s size and complexity: it is rich in feedback loops and redundancy. People who want to make arguments like this have to demonstrate how human beings lose competence in organizing and executing conspiracies that they clearly possess in other areas.


Stewart Rowe 04.12.07 at 11:11 pm

Perhaps I am the only reader old enough to remember that a whole cottage industry thrived for a couple of decades, writing and publishing books which claimed to prove that President Roosevelt knew of Japan’s plans to attack Pearl Harbor and purposely let it happen in order to get the U.S. into the war against Nazi Germany.


Dan Simon 04.12.07 at 11:18 pm

Then there’s the theory that Muslim schoolkids in New York were in on the plot.

Well, the claim that a couple of Muslim schoolkids in New York said some very scary things (in retrospect) right before 9/11 is absolutely true. (Further investigations didn’t come up with anything, though. I guess kids really do say the darndest things, sometimes.) What Steyn was pointing out–quite legitimately, I think–was the extreme reluctance of the vast majority of the press (the “MSM”, as it were) to look into what seemed at first blush to be something very newsworthy.

A spark in a fuel-tank was just too mundane for some.

The missile stuff was thoroughly discredited, of course. But did anyone ever take a post-Richard Reid look at TWA 800, to consider whether a small “shoe bomb” could have achieved the effect investigators ultimately attributed to a spark of unknown origin?


peter ramus 04.12.07 at 11:18 pm

No, Michael, the interwebs are hiding things from you in places only the initiates can go, the secret places where the truth is finally revealed:


Laleh 04.12.07 at 11:31 pm

#42. What about the Israeli kids celebrating in NJ as they watched the towers fall? One could say “-quite legitimately, I think—” that the story there “was the extreme reluctance of the vast majority of the press (the “MSM”, as it were) to look into what seemed at first blush to be something very newsworthy.”


Barry 04.12.07 at 11:51 pm

Slocum, your theory doesn’t say that people respond, independently, to incentives. It says that these people have cooked up a conspiracy, and are secretely and successfully acting together, in large numbers. For money. Despite the oil companies having more money.


Dan Simon 04.13.07 at 12:00 am

What about the Israeli kids celebrating in NJ as they watched the towers fall?

It was a long time ago, and my memory could be playing tricks on me, but as I recall, the “celebrating Israelis” story was covered–and debunked–much more quickly and thoroughly than the “prescient Muslim schoolkids” story.


John Emerson 04.13.07 at 12:34 am

What a fucked place to try to get the truth out about JFK. You people are all fools!!


engels 04.13.07 at 12:41 am

You people are all fools!!

That’s what they want you to think.


eleanor 04.13.07 at 12:41 am

That’s no giant muppet. It’s my husband.


Lord Acton 04.13.07 at 1:31 am

And Henry had the audicity to call
ME a troll in another thread.

You nappy-haired Brits
are all a bunch of wankers.


Walt 04.13.07 at 1:54 am

Eleanor’s comment is a thing of beauty.


Matt McIrvin 04.13.07 at 2:26 am

The global-warming conspiracy theories I’m talking about don’t say that the climate scientists are just overemphasizing scary possibilities to ride a wave of media-generated sentiment. They often don’t even claim that climatologists are self-deluded. They say that the scientists are *lying*, flat-out faking studies and cooking fraudulent computer models to produce predetermined results, so they can get more research money–to fund even more fraud, I guess, since according to the theory it’s not as if they do any real research.

The claim is that the whole field of study of anthropogenic global warming is a hoax–often described as the greatest hoax in the history of science–google “global warming hoax” and maybe “Stephen Schneider” (who was quote-mined to support this claim in the early years) if you don’t believe me. If the claim were true, it would require massive collusion. The accusations are *extremely* serious, they are popular enough to pop up eventually in most web discussions of climate, and, as far as I can tell, they have no basis in evidence.

Stewart Rowe: The “FDR knew” theory was passed around as rumor and generally believed in my high-school history classroom as late as the 1980s. I think the kids were getting it from their (usually very conservative) parents.


John Emerson 04.13.07 at 2:46 am

Only unimportant people like Senator James Inhofe of the great state of Oklahoma (until recently chairman of the US Senate Environment Committee) believe that paranoid global warming conspiracy theories McIrvin mentioned.


Timothy Scriven 04.13.07 at 3:51 am

“Only unimportant people like Senator James Inhofe of the great state of Oklahoma (until recently chairman of the US Senate Environment Committee) believe that paranoid global warming conspiracy theories McIrvin mentioned.”

Well they would want you to think that wouldn’t they?


John Quiggin 04.13.07 at 6:15 am

Tracy, your account makes perfect sense, given the supporting assumption that the evidence favours the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, and that most scientists inside and outside the field can see this. Indeed, in this case, the one prevailing in the real world, no conspiracy theory is required.

It’s only if you think that the evidence goes the other way that a conspiracy theory is needed. As the example of cold fusion (referred to in the update link, as it happens) shows, scientists are not too polite to object vociferously to funding of bogus science.

And as others have pointed out, there is no shortage of actual conspiracy theories. A heap of US rightwingers, including Ron Bailey and Claudia(?) Rosett have focused on Maurice Strong (I hadn’t heard of him either) as the alleged mastermind.


John Quiggin 04.13.07 at 6:17 am

Good to see Dan Simon backing up Steyn. I like having my priors confirmed.


ed 04.13.07 at 7:45 am

There actually are big, earthshaking events that happen due to conspiracies of a few high placed people. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon themselves, according to the official account, are an example. The conspiracy was made by a Saudi billionaire with connections to the Saudi royal family, combined with an Egyptian terrorist organization, and the part of the U.S. government report that concerned Saudi Arabia has been censored. This isn’t something I’m imagining while stocking canned goods in my cabin in Montana, this is the actual official account.

JFK was assasinated by a U.S. marine, who defected to the Soviet Union (!), was allowed to defect back, had ties to both Castro and the anti-Castro Cubans, wasn’t a particularly good shot, and he was killed by bar owner with ties to the mob in a police station afterwards, and the next U.S. President said that he thought Castro had something to do with the assasination, and a Congressional committee later reported that there was a second gunman…again, this is the official acount. Which is ridiculous because JFK was a fairly run of the mill hitman.

Another U.S. President was assasinated by an international terrorist movement, that in the same decade murdered a French President, the King of Italy, and the Queen of Hungary, and started a bloody riot in Chicago.

Don’t get me started on World War I.

The point is that conspiracies exist all the time, and have a major impact on world events (if not, why is so much money being spent on intelligence services?). The absurdity of conspiriacy theories is the notion that a few cranks, who by definition have no official connections, can unravel them.


Katherine 04.13.07 at 9:19 am

Well Martin, that is certainly true. My hypothesis relates more to whether or not a conspiracy theory will go beyond a theory and be actually found out.

The basic premise of a good old fashioned lunatic theory is that (a) many powerful people were involved, (b) those powerful people pulled many strings but no one on the ends of those strings either knew it, or messed up, or told anyone about it (c) there will never be any concrete evidence in favour of the theory because all of the people involved with either keep it secret or kill anyone who doesn’t keep it secret.

Given the plethora of tasks and requirements to both carry out the dastardly deed AND be never found out, I think that the probability of a fuck up (ie getting found out) approaches 1 the more people there are to either get things perfectly right and/or never tell anyone and/or execute anyone mysteriously efficiently should they display any signs of telling anyone.


abb1 04.13.07 at 10:04 am

But Katherine, don’t you think that you’ve created a bit of a catch22 here? ’cause, you see, when something indeed does come out you’re bound to ignore it because conspiracy is impossible because something certainly would come out. I’m not talking about the Alex Jones’ stuff here, just in general.


Katherine 04.13.07 at 10:25 am

Ah no, when something does come out, then I’ll be obliged to look at it as real evidence. The trouble is that most conspiracy theories define “something coming out” as, say, the death of one of the conspirators for trying to bring “something” out – the conspiracy therefore self-perpetuates.

What I am trying to get to is that any conspiracy theory that relies on the superhuman abilities of the conspirators simply cannot have any substance because human beings are not superhuman.

That’s where the fuck-up factor differs in a conspiracy theory to Martin’s example of Coca-Cola employees making mistakes. Coca-Cola employees make a mistake but they are not required to be superhuman in order to work for Coca-Cola and the success of their project does not requirement them to never ever make mistakes.

People do make mistakes – that is the whole point. A conspiracy theory that relies on people NOT making mistakes – because of the fuck up factor – cannot be realistic.


jay bee 04.13.07 at 11:06 am

I’m glad this didn’t turn out to be one of those prolonged threads where we all go over and over who we think is to blame…


abb1 04.13.07 at 11:23 am

I dunno, think of the Watergate story, for example. Security guard noticed a piece of tape and the whole thing unraveled – with its ‘plumbers units’, ‘slush funds’, the whole nine yards.

Now, on one hand this might look like something that supports your argument: way down the chain someone made a mistake and ruined a whole big project.

On the other hand, one could argue that it’s the unraveling itself that was a highly unlikely freaky one-off event that required a lot of energy and dedication and a number of lucky breaks.


abb1 04.13.07 at 11:45 am

I mean, the powerful people are – well – powerful. If they are up against other powerful people who want to uncover their machinations, then yes – there is a chance it’ll happen, but if the whole establishment wants to cover something up – there might be hundreds of mistakes made and still nothing definite will ever come out.


Michael Bérubé 04.13.07 at 12:38 pm

No, Michael, the interwebs are hiding things from you in places only the initiates can go, the secret places where the truth is finally revealed:

I notice that the link Peter Ramus tried to provide me was deliberately broken by the National Security Agency. Why? What was in there, Peter? Did someone finally tell the truth about the “mysterious” death of Warren G. Harding? (I love the line in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo: “They can’t use the lone psychopath emerging suddenly as the President’s party enters the train station. They used that with Garfield.”)


Donald Johnson 04.13.07 at 1:02 pm

Some conspiracy theories are true, others aren’t. Some are plausible and some aren’t. Some are uncovered and maybe some never are. (Ed’s last sentence in #59 seems dead on to me.) But the term “conspiracy theory” is a great rhetorical weapon to be used against anyone who proposes something outside the mainstream consensus. You just have to utter the phrase and everyone is supposed to retreat to the safety of conventional wisdom.

I don’t believe the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks because of the fuckup factor Katherine refers to, which puts that idea in the wildly implausible category. But as others pointed out, the two remaining plausible choices are “they were incredible morons” or “they knew something was up and let it happen” and that second idea shouldn’t be lumped in with explosive charges placed in building 7 (or whatever it was). Though I’d probably still go with the idea that they were incredible morons who just let it happen out of inertia unless there’s some really good evidence I haven’t heard about.


Bruce Baugh 04.13.07 at 2:06 pm

I continue to think that the truth with the Bush/Cheney administration and 9/11 is primarily of the “didn’t care” sort. We know they already had war with Iraq on the books, and that they have a more or less pathological hatred of Clinton’s legacy. I would guess that the more Clinton officials tried to get their attention, the more firmly they felt that this whole terrorism thing just couldn’t matter, with a few seconds’ worth of “y’know, if it did, we could probably use it for PR”. But mostly they simply didn’t think about it.


peter ramus 04.13.07 at 2:47 pm

Michael, it’s “birthday cake” related, of course.

But I’ll say no more. I’ve been given two envelopes


jonst 04.13.07 at 3:16 pm

No Dan Simon, the ‘celebrating Israelis’ story was not only not debunked, there is a new article about it by Cliff Ketchem in Counter-Punch (behind the firewall). Using, for the most part, public documents. See also the Israeli ‘art students’ DEA adventure that saw, curiously enough, said students living on the same block, or within close proximity to some of the hijackers, in the months prior to 9/11.

I am not claiming to be able to precisiely say what, if anything, all this smoke means. But it was by no means “debunked. Basically, calling someone a conspiracy theorist is the same thing as declaring that the conversation has ended. It casts a social pall, if you will. Over the person. And it is a favorite tactic of the coincidentalists.


Katherine 04.13.07 at 3:18 pm

Well, with respect to Watergate, I’d say that the way it unravelled once the initial mistake was made takes it out of the lunatic conspiracy theory into the real world. Because you see people DID talk about it, without dying mysteriously of cancer/car crash/other, killed by perfect assassins who never sought to tell anyone, ever of their strange mission to kill a journalist working on this story…

Of course, it is impossible to know what the alternative might have been had the initial information came to light. But my point was not that conspiracies never exist, or that they always come to light, merely that I always keep the fuck up factor in mind whenever trying to judge whether a conspiracy theory is in the realms of the real world.

If a theory requires large numbers of people, doing a large number of complicated things, and never ever talking about it, or becoming the victims of perfect murders, then I’m inclined to doubt the veracity of that theory.


Katherine 04.13.07 at 3:18 pm

Sorry, I mean “it is impossible to know what the alternative might have been had the initial information NOT COME to light..”


John Emerson 04.13.07 at 3:42 pm

Katherine’s refutation of some conspiracy theories should, but usually doesn’t, bring with it a realization that a conspiracy which is known by only a few people, and only requires the coordinated activities of a few people, is not implausible at all.

There already exist a considerable number of disciplined criminal conspiracies, and they often work quite effectively. The intelligence agencies of the various nations also operate conspiratorially. Most such groups also have efficient ways of sloughing off members or subgroups who, for one reason or another, have become inconvenient or embarrassing to the greater conspiracy.

To have a conspiracy all you need is two or more person operating in secret to do things harmful to someone. In some cases the harmful act doesn’t even have to be illegal; it could be that the conspiracy comes from the coordination of otherwise legal activities.

In Oswald’s case, the conspiracy doesn’t have to be elaborate or high level. There just has to be a second person involved. But that’s what the comforting official story denies, and the implausibility of the denial (too many loose ends) is what generates the paranoia.


swampcracker 04.13.07 at 3:44 pm

1. Go to
2. Click on Maps
3. Click on “Get directions”
4. From New York
5. To Paris
6. Read line # 23.


Martin Bento 04.13.07 at 5:05 pm


Your position implies among other things that conspiracies are extraordiarily vulnerable to internal betrayal, that if one person snitches, the jig is up. The fact is that putative snitches are often simply not believed. Take, for example, the most media-ridiculed conspiracy theory of the 1980’s: that the Reagan campaign cut a deal with Iran to keep the hostages and cost Carter the election. Several people claiming direct knowledge or involvement have attested to this or to significant particulars (such as the presence of Bush in Paris at the time the conspiracy theory alleges and the mainstream denies). These includes such figures as the former president of Iran, the former head of French intelligence, a person who claimed direct involvement in the meetings, and internal reports from Soviet intelligence (see for details). Conspiracy opponents have a simply retort: they disbelieve the snitches. Now, I not saying any self-proclaimed snitch should be believed, but given this skepticism the notion that any conspiracy would be utterly ruined if a snitch emerged does not stand up.

Or take the media’s favorite bashing boy of the 90’s: Gary Webb and his contra-cocaine connection. The CIA report that was eventually quietly released confirmed, mumblingly (the summaries tried to apply an opposite spin) most of what Webb said, but the story is still widely regarded as a paranoid fantasy, and Webb was ruined and driven to suicide in consequence. There is one remaining significant point that could be considered in dispute. Webb wrote that Blandon testified that Bermudez (head of the largest Contra group) knew about the cocaine dealing. Now, it is a matter of public record that Blandon did so testify, so what Webb said is incontrovertible. But it is still possible to believe Blandon was lying. The CIA report found no independent confirmation of Blandon’s charge. However, Blandon was testifying under oath for the prosecution (federal case, therefore the Justice Department) in his capacity as an informant for the DEA. Both Justice and the DEA were implicitly supporting his credibility as a witness, and it is difficult to see what motivation he would have to lie, at least to lie in this direction. However, “Dark Alliance” remains a paranoid myth in the public imagination.

The empirical evidence is that the threat to conspiracy from internal betrayal or even credible outside observation is quite limited given the general reluctance to accept accounts dramatically at odds with the official version of history.


Shelby 04.13.07 at 5:11 pm


jonst 04.13.07 at 5:26 pm

What I suggest the Katherine’s’ of the world mean when they speak of betrayal is someone showing up on The News Hour, or on the first page of the WAPO saying ‘they/we’ did it. It must be a test something like that because people are ALWAYS showing up to say, and document, “they/we did it”. And one group automatically believes the party. One group automatically dismissed said party as a ‘conspiracy theory nut’ and a third group ponders the ‘evidence’. And in the end figures even if it is true its too horrible to speak about in mixed crowds. Its liable to cost you in subtle, and not so subtle ways.


swampcracker 04.13.07 at 6:12 pm

Shelby, it would have been more logical to say *you should hang around more often* than *go away*
Nevertheless, thank you for the link. I was out of town visiting my daughter that day.


abb1 04.13.07 at 6:27 pm

Yeah, right – visiting your daughter. That’s what they all say. You got wasted and missed the important post, admit it. It happens again – you’re grounded, Swamp.


swampcracker 04.13.07 at 6:35 pm

abb1, truth is: I was visiting my daughter. She is a Captain in the military and has just received orders to go to Iraq, her third rotation. I spent the last two weeks visiting her before she leaves. In truth, this is not a happy time; I was merely looking for a little levity to bring myself out of the blahs.


Martin Bento 04.13.07 at 6:55 pm


This is effectively what Blandon did. He *was* a major conduit of cocaine from the Contras to the LA street gangs. He stated under oath that he did what he did with the knowledge of the contras. Only the Mercury News would even touch the story. The mainstream media ignored it until it created a sensation, then they ridiculed it using all the cliche anti-conspiracy tropes. Katherine was arguing that such betrayal was intrinsic to large conspiracies. If a necessary part of such betrayal is that the traitors must be given attention and respect by the MSM, Katherine’s theory has a very important point of failure that has nothing to do with the nature of conspiracy nor of evidence, but rather with the nature of the media.

At this point in the Bush administration, many people, especially in the blogosphere, have come to realize that the MSM is deeply dishonest in its coverage, particularly of accusations of serious wrongdoing among powerful Republicans. Few, however, have applied this insight retrospectively to wonder if perhaps the coverage of the last few decades has not also been substantially more unfair than they had believed. In the 80’s, we did not have a blogosphere dogging the media’s steps.


John Emerson 04.13.07 at 7:53 pm

Thank you Swampcracker and Martin Bento, and best wishes to SC’s daughter.

I should add that people who say “Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence” (or the like) are just plain idiots. It sounds so snappy and smart and worldly-wise, but it’s dumb, dumb, dumb. There’s really an enormous amount of malice and meanness out there.

The bad guys have all worked out little playing-dumb incompetence routines to get themselves off the hook, and stupid people swallow the bait automatically.


Shelby 04.13.07 at 8:04 pm


Sorry if I was surly. Your comment seemed so off-topic I took it as more trollish than I should have. Best wishes to you and your daughter in your trying circumstances.


swampcracker 04.13.07 at 8:20 pm

Thanks, Shelby. Finding myself to be in a confused state, I did not mean to be off topic.


swampcracker 04.13.07 at 8:24 pm

Actually, John, I think malice and incompetance may apply in equal measure, maybe even two sides of the same coin assuming, eventually, they all get found out.


Donald Johnson 04.13.07 at 8:54 pm

I think Katherine’s point about fuckups is valid, but martin bento and others are making me rethink it a bit.

The contra/cocaine/CIA story and the October Surprise story are examples of scandals that, if true, are probably too large for the MSM to want to touch. In fact, that’s my application of Chomskyan media criticism to the world of scandals. They’ll cover scandals up to a certain level of seriousness, but no higher. Iran/contra was about as high as they’ll go. That was portrayed as a noble effort to free American hostages or to fund the heroic Nicaraguan freedom fighters, so you could still put a noble motive to it (true or not) while pontificating about the unconstitutionality of it all. But if the CIA actually allowed drug smuggling into American ghettos or if the hostages were kept in Iran for longer than was necessary for political gain, that’s Benedict Arnold level treachery. Too big to touch. It casts the whole system into doubt, if people at the very top do those sorts of things.

I think some variant of the contra/cocaine story is true. I don’t know enough about the October Surprise theory to have a strong opinion.


Donald Johnson 04.13.07 at 8:55 pm

BTW, I don’t think supporting the contras was noble. They were terrorists. But the point is it could be portrayed that way, so Iran Contra could be spun as well-intentioned zealots going too far trying to bring freedom overseas. The media feels comfortable with that sort of thing.


Dan Simon 04.13.07 at 9:01 pm

No Dan Simon, the ‘celebrating Israelis’ story was not only not debunked, there is a new article about it by Cliff Ketchem in Counter-Punch (behind the firewall).

Well, I can’t respond to an article I have no access to, but I note that the Salon article to which you link says absolutely nothing about the five Israelis famously arrested in New Jersey for allegedly “celebrating” as they filmed the attack on the WTC. (Am I wrong in describing them as famous–far more so, anyway, than the Muslim schoolkids who allegedly predicted 9/11?)

I am not claiming to be able to precisiely say what, if anything, all this smoke means. But it was by no means “debunked.

It was “debunked” in the sense that no concrete evidence ever emerged of anything objectionable, beyond the well-known (pre-9/11) phenomenon of lots of young Israelis working illegally in the US. If that’s not a “debunking”, then the story of the Muslim schoolkids predicting 9/11 wasn’t “debunked”, either.

Basically, calling someone a conspiracy theorist is the same thing as declaring that the conversation has ended.

Ah, if only that were true….

Good to see Dan Simon backing up Steyn. I like having my priors confirmed.

Of course you do. That’s why there’s never any danger of it not happening.

(By the way, I consider Steyn’s main thesis these days–that Europe is doomed to be overrun by Islamist radicals–wildly implausible. But I’m sure you’ll have no trouble reconciling that with your “priors”.)


Functional 04.13.07 at 9:03 pm

13 and 23:

Mark Steyn isn’t the only one who pointed out that a Muslim schoolkid in NY, on September 6, 2001, stared out of the window and told his teacher: “See those two buildings? They won’t be standing there next week.”

Newsweek investigated the same story, and found that the kid admitted to the statement in question:

This week, I went to Brooklyn in search of an “urban myth” about the World Trade Center assault. Was word of the attack on the street before Sept. 11? What I found out was chilling—this story is no myth.

. . .

On Sept. 6—five days before the attack—Antoinette DiLorenzo, who teaches English as a second language to a class of Pakistani immigrants, led a class discussion about world events. She asked a freshman (his name has been withheld): “What are you looking at?” The youth was peering out the third-floor window toward lower Manhattan. After he made the remark about the World Trade Center not being there next week, the teacher didn’t immediately think much of it, though it stuck in her mind.

On Sept. 11, school was canceled after the attack and again the following day. On Thursday, Sept. 13, a clearly agitated DiLorenzo, saying she had been afraid to come forward, reported the incident to the principal’s office. “It scared the hell out of everyone,” according to a source at the school.

The police and FBI were alerted and 12 NYPD officers entered the school and secured DiLorenzo’s classroom for three hours, locking the doors with the students inside. While the students were brought lunch and a movie and told to be calm, the youth in question and his older brother, a sophomore, were taken to be interrogated by the FBI, stationed at the police precinct nearby.

. . .

Moreover, according to police, the youth confirmed having made the Sept. 6 statement about the towers. At the moment he did so, his older brother elbowed him, said he had been “kidding,” and the youth in question agreed.

. . .

There are only three possibilities. One, the youth was clairvoyant. Two, the youth, knowing about the 1993 bombing, was just venting anger in a particularly timely way. Three, word of the attack on the World Trade Center was rumored in his neighborhood and he heard about it.

Investigators don’t know what to believe. “It’s creepy,” one told me before I got on the subway to go back to the office. “But what the hell are we going to do about it now?”

So clearly, only an unmitigated asshole would refer to this story; Belle says so.


John Emerson 04.13.07 at 9:04 pm

“Am I wrong in describing them as famous—far more so, anyway, than the Muslim schoolkids who allegedly predicted 9/11?”

The stories seemed about equally noisy to me.


engels 04.13.07 at 10:04 pm

So clearly, only an unmitigated asshole would refer to this story; Belle says so.

Belle didn’t say that “only an unmitigated asshole would refer to this story”, functional, but the fact that you are now quoting it in extenso does not appear to be inconsistent with that hypothesis.


radek 04.13.07 at 10:17 pm

Re: 89

If you get a big enough sample, you’ll find at least one instance of a very low probability event. I mean this IS where superstions came from, lack of understanding of causality and what probability actually is.

Except for the thing about dogs eating grass and rain. That one’s for real.


Functional 04.13.07 at 10:18 pm

Belle didn’t say that “only an unmitigated asshole would refer to this story”,

Oh, right. She was just commenting, a propos of nothing, that Mark Steyn is an unmitigated asshole. Had nothing to do with his quotation of this story, which is the only reason anyone had mentioned him in the first place.


Martin Bento 04.13.07 at 10:34 pm

According to Katherine, humans are so incompetent that any conspiracy of significant size or complexity is bound to fail or be exposed. According to Ed, the elite is so competent and a slick move, David’s usual counter to Goliath. powerful that their conspiracies cannot be exposed by the hoi polloi and only come to light when one faction of the elite struggles against another, creating a clash of the titans situation.

Oddly, I find myself in the middle position.

As a counterexample to Ed, I would offer Gary Webb. He was clever enough to work with a defense lawyer to pose certain questions to Blandon while the latter was under oath. It was David’s usual counter to the Goliath, a slick move.

As for Katherine, I find no basis for your assertion that conspiracy theories necessarily attribute superhuman abilities to the conspirators. It doesn’t help that you speak only in vague generalities. I have discussed some of the most prominent conspiracy theories of recent decades in terms of specific facts. You blithely generalize about “most” conspiracy theories while showing no specific knowledge of any of them. Your argument reeks of straw. I’m sure you could cherry-pick something to support your position if pressed, but we all know what cherry-picking proves.

Why would it be true that conspiracies cannot survive mistakes? If we do accept the conventional narrative of 9/11, al queda made mistakes. They had no superhuman abilities, and far less resources at their disposal than agencies of the US government would. They nonetheless were able to achieve, or largely achieve, their objectives. If you think such things require superhuman abilities, you have too low an estimation of human competence, which is what I was getting at with the Coke example.

Murder is not beyond human abilities either, by the way. Anyone posting here is competent enough to do it. Psychological capability is another question, of course, but there are obviously those who have that too.


martin bento 04.13.07 at 11:03 pm

Editing mistake. The first paragraph above should read:

According to Katherine, humans are so incompetent that any conspiracy of significant size or complexity is bound to fail or be exposed. According to Ed, the elite is so competent powerful that their conspiracies cannot be exposed by the hoi polloi and only come to light when one faction of the elite struggles against another, creating a clash of the titans situation.


Martin Bento 04.13.07 at 11:41 pm

Donald, here’s a URL to more on the October Surprise. Robert Parry is the journalist who broke the Iran/Contra story back when he wrote for associated press:

I think you make a good point about there being an implicit and deep resistance to scandals that threaten the legitimacy of the system itself. I don’t think it’s just the media, though. I think many liberals share this bias, which is why there is so much resistance to conspiracy theory in liberal quarters. Someone who is committed to government as partly a solution to problems is in a difficult situation if the government’s legitimacy is seriously undermined, and will be biased against accounts that do that.


BillCinSD 04.14.07 at 12:56 am

wrt FDR and Pearl Harbor, Robert Stinnett wrote about this conspiracy theory in 2001 in his book “Day of Deceit”. Robert Morrock has critically reviewed the book in Skeptic Magazine


Donald Johnson 04.14.07 at 1:35 am

Thanks for the link, martin.

Katherine (if this is the same person I see at other places) has done very good work on human rights issues (torture in particular), so it’s a little painful to see her dissed here. I think she’s thinking of the 9/11 conspiracy theory, with explosives in the buildings and no plane hitting the Pentagon and probably hundreds of people in on the conspiracy, not one of them a patriotic American horrified at what was being planned. It’s totally whacky.

The contra/cocaine/CIA thing, on the other hand, is entirely plausible because the CIA has a history of dealing with very unsavory groups. And the October Surprise thing, from what I remember (haven’t read the link yet) is really a natural extension backwards from the Iran Contra scandal. Just juicier, because if true it can’t be spun as a well-intentioned endeavor.

The interesting thing about the arms to Iran business via Israel is that Chomsky was writing about it in 1983 in “The Fateful Triangle”, a few years before the Iran Contra scandal broke. He in turn was only citing a Boston Globe interview with Moshe Arens, where Arens said that Israel had provided arms to the Khomenei regime with the approval of the US government at the highest levels. There was also a 1982 BBC documentary about this-Israel’s goal was to link up with elements in the Iranian military in hopes of staging a coup. So there’s all this known activity involving Israel and Iran with US approval (though denied at the time) and yet we were all supposed to be shocked in 1986 when it came out. But it was already out. (Well, not the contra link, which presumably came later.)


John Emerson 04.14.07 at 2:38 am

I suggest that CT institute an asshole-mitigation program.


Roy Belmont 04.14.07 at 3:12 am

When Donald johnson says
“I don’t believe the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks, because of the fuckup factor Katherine refers to, which puts that idea in the wildly implausible category.”
I have an immediate surge of empathy – go team, yeah. It takes a lot of strength to maintain a rational view of all this nightmare junk. Endurance. Faith. Hope.
But my next thought is, what’s he mean by “the US government”?
Bush? Cheney? Rove? Did they put themselves into those powerful positions? That’s the default view, right? Arrogance, ambition, and a ruthlessness that will spin its own lies into gold, carrying these little men with their tiny hearts into the hive’s central chamber.
Yet Bush is so obviously a puppet for something, and Rove for all his maggoty demi-humanity doesn’t seem like genius enough to have done it solo. Cheney? The whole thing? I don’t think so. But even so, even if George Bush – a man who couldn’t even run a baseball team, somehow ditty-bopped his way through all the obstructions and sidetracks, and ended up babbling at the top of the heap – it was still a conspiracy. He didn’t get there fair and square, and certainly not on his own. Feith and Wolfowitz are long gone, and Perle’s off the radar, so we’re not supposed to link them to anything. But somebody’s got to have been driving that train. Some eminences grises, non?
What I mean is, you have to admit there’s something behind the US government, so that when you say “the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks” what you’re really saying is “Whatever’s behind the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks”.
Whether that means they engineered it, or just did some tricky matador moves and stepped out of the way of its inevitability, doesn’t matter as much as finally having to admit there’s no moral reason they wouldn’t have done it, because they’ve proved that a thousand times since.
They’ll obviously stop at nothing, morally, to get what they want – so the question is, what do they want?
The answer is this. This locked-down locked-up scared-to-mumble terrified-of-getting-out-of-line nation of irritable overfed sheep. Somebody wanted this, and 9/11 helped them get it.
The rationalist faith says there’s a wide bright line between volition and happenstance. Maybe not, though. Maybe this is sitting right in the middle between choice and coincidence, not one nor the other, but both and neither. And it just happens to work to the interest of the evilest men in the world.


abb1 04.14.07 at 8:43 am

I don’t understand the significance of the Pakistani kid story in #89. Assuming he wasn’t clowning to impress girls in the class, that he really did know something about the attack – what is the shoking revelation here? That Muslims were involved in the 9/11 incident? Doh.

The ‘celebrating Israelis’ story is different. According to Ketcham, there’s no doubt that those 5 Israelis were celebrating and little doubt that at least 2 of them were Mossad agents. The only question is whether they had foreknowledge of the attack. And if they did, then indeed it would contradict the official story.


jonst 04.14.07 at 11:21 am

Dan Simon,

My original point stands….the story has not been debunked. Nor, has it been fully explained. You don’t have the article…you don’t have it. What can I say? Other, than, perhaps, knowing that an article exists out there you my throw a caveat or two into your conversations on the matter.

As to the the article I did send you I noticed you offered no comment on the substance. Which may be a comment in a passive manner I suppose. Yes, Dan, yes, another coincidence. That’s all folks, step along, nothing to see here.


abb1 04.14.07 at 2:21 pm

Here’s a pdf copy of it.


Lee A. Arnold 04.14.07 at 2:36 pm

In a correction to #34 way up there, a commenter to Brad DeLong’s site argues that Greenpeace’s allegation against the World Bank is misplaced. The last forests are in jeopardy certainly.


Donald Johnson 04.14.07 at 2:52 pm

Roy (I think I recognize you, btw), you don’t really have an answer to the fuckup criticism, just a motive for why the unnamed forces behind Bush might benefit from what happened. It’s obvious the Bush Administration (and presumably your unnamed forces who pull their puppet strings) benefited, but what your theory lacks is any way the Bush Administration could have pulled off a gigantic conspiracy (and it probably would need to be gigantic) without some of it leaking out. Too many people would have to be involved and at least some of them would have come forward, even if their claims would be dismissed.


Sebastian Holsclaw 04.14.07 at 5:15 pm

The Bush administration is famously competent at pulling of big jobs after all.


J Thomas 04.14.07 at 5:15 pm

Conspiracy theories gain momentum when people make reasonable assumptions.

Like, we’re supposed to have air interceptors that can herd or shoot down suspicious airplanes. They didn’t show up until very very late. Why not? The official answer appears to be that they were all off on a training mission/simulation exercise. The conspiracy theory is that somebody arranged for them not to be ready that particular day when they’d been ready every other day. But the reality is probably that they were mostly not ready ever, and usually there’s no emergency to catch them not being ready.

Similarly, there’s the idea that the towers had explosives so they’d fall and fall just right. But to create a 9/11 conspiracy, it would have been perfectly adequate if the airliners had just made big holes in the WTC. Kill a bunch of people at or above the crash levels, and leave the ruined towers on the skyline for the indefinite future. Quite likely the conspirators (al qaeda or whoever it was) didn’t expect the towers to fall and didn’t particularly want them to. The engineering reports said they wouldn’t. Probably everybody who knew about the attack was surprised when they fell. And it was likewise an accident that they fell straight. If somebody had the mission of putting explosives on every floor of the WTC so they’d fall and fall straight, there was a strong chance they’d get caught. There were people in WTC security who knew they were betting their lives on finding such things. Why make a complex failure-prone conspiracy when a simpler one works better?

We’re already accepting that a simple al qaeda conspiracy worked. Afterward, either Bin Ladin explained his part in it or somebody faked him doing that and he didn’t deny it — because he was embarrassed to be imitated? Because he was dead, and impersonated ever since? Because it was really him?

“Bin Ladin” said they didn’t expect the towers to fall. He said they had planned a strike with 80 planes.

That makes sense. They’d only get one chance, after that we’d roll up their cells and keep them from hijacking more planes. Why not plan a massive strike? If one of 300+ conspirators revealed it to the FBI or whoever months or years before it happened, what difference would that make? Without a specific date it would go into the files.

They’d keep an 80-plane strike in reserve, to use in retaliation for some terrible thing we did. And it makes sense they’d hesitate to launch a smaller strike because that would prevent the larger one.

Suppose all that’s true. Then all it takes for a non-al-qaeda conspiracy is for someone to break into their communications and learn how to send the signal for the attack. It doesn’t take a big conspiracy to do this. It might take a big operation to find out how to do it, but once the information how to is in the files, possibly anybody who has access to that data can do it.

Like, it might take an expert to take over a website and change a typo if that’s the signal to attack, but it hardly takes an expert to send the right piece of spam to start the attack. Beyond that US conspirators might do things to prevent us from stopping the attack — or they might time the attack for just the moment when we couldn’t stop it — but they wouldn’t have to do much. Provided the al qaeda plan was likely to succeed without US government cooperation.

It wasn’t done for 80 planes, only for 4 planes. The other agents were wasted.


I think this conspiracy theory is reasonably plausible. I have no idea how it could be verified or disproved. The obvious candidates to do it are some US entity that had access to the data about how to trigger the attack, and Mossad. China is a less-obvious candidate. Anybody who could get the data who wanted the USA distracted about arabs might have done it, I’d like to think that would be a short list.

I don’t understand people who say it can’t be a conspiracy because we’d hear about it. We have lots of plausible-sounding stories about it, mixed in with tons of obvious garbage. For a long time the Bush administration managed to keep a very secretive government in place. If the Bush administration got suggestive evidence and didn’t reveal it, is that because they were trying to hide it or just because they were responsibly collecting data and not prematurely announcing what they had? Who would expect the Bush administration to announce a conspiracy by their supporters or by zionists, if there was such a thing?

Saying there’s been no leak when there’s more conspiracy information (and garbage) available than you could track down in a lifetime, is silly. When you don’t know, it means you don’t know. It doesn’t mean you know it’s *this* way because if it was *that* way you’d know about it. Because there’s no evidence that you would.


Ed 04.15.07 at 1:42 am

Some 9-11 conspiracy theorists explain the need for the demolition charges. Apparently the World Trade Center was a financial liability, but couldn’t be demolished legally to make way for another development, because of asbestos issues. The theory is that the attacks were staged as a diversion from the demolition, allowing Silverstein to collect the insurance money, and for new development on the site.

I have to say I find it more plausible that New York real estate interests would be able to organize something like this than the Bush administration.

The real reason for the focus on the demolition is that the conspiracy theorists badly want real, uncontradictable proof of their theories, that would be admitted as evidence in a court of law. Of course, no such thing exists. So its a necessary part of the theory to have forensic evidence, because of course everyone believes forensic evidence. I blame too many crime shows. The same phenomena is behind the “magic bullet” in the JFK conspiracy theories


Roy Belmont 04.15.07 at 5:53 am

Donald Johnson-
What you recognize is that voice from the other side of where you’re comfortable, it’s a little more than a stretch to say you recognize me.
It may have been a little opaque and sloppy, but what I said had no theory in it. I don’t know what happened on 9/11, not in any kind of strategic or organizational way. What I’m saying is the Bush administration as thing has demonstrated every necessary component of the conspiratoid scenario – motive, amorality, arcane delusion, etc whatever. So all you, the rational sensible folks, have to put in the place of “they did it” is “they couldn’t have, because they aren’t competent enough and it would have taken too many of them”. This presupposes an inability to manage information dispersal that may or may not be the case anymore. But I’m not arguing that.
What I’m saying is they would have if they could. So what difference does it make? And that bit with the matador – there’s your third way through. Just don’t stop the other actors, who have motives of their own.
Crop circles mean there never was any CIA weirdness.
Chaff. Tinfoil bits strewn in the flight path to confound the radar.
Nice rational folks enabled this, and you can make all the sense you want about anything else, the fact is this – this panopticon kafkaland we’re now inescapably living in – is reality. What’s moderately irritating about the rationalist viewpoint is the refusal to see that insisting on a little too much common sense is just as derailing and obstructionist as too much credulity.
Maybe there was no significance to the “dancing Israelis”, I don’t really care. But Netanyahu is in the public record with his “It’s very good.” then “Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.” Well yeah.
The argument that a conspiracy of the necessary size would have inevitably sprung leaks is a very good one but it rests on an accurate knowing of who can do what. This seems a little jejeune under the circumstances.
The reality is the sophistication of image-control and disinformation has outstripped anyone’s ability to keep up. I rely on faith to cut through the b.s., and I think you do as well. I think your faith is misplaced, or mis-calibrated. I’m sure you think that about mine. A laborious viewing of the last four years’ worth of our respective positions would be illuminating in that regard, maybe even decisive. But who has the time for it?
You do understand that if we’re right, those of us out here in the wilderness who think Bush was intentionally placed before the public as a cathartic sock puppet, if we’re right then fixating on his culpability to the exclusion of whoever placed him there would be complicity, and considering the damage already done, not to mention where this thing is almost certainly headed, that complicity should be an awful burden.


Martin Bento 04.15.07 at 10:42 am

j thomas wrote:

“The official answer appears to be that they were all off on a training mission/simulation exercise.”

Oh, that’s the alibi now? That used to be part of the conspiracy theory. There is, at this point, a history of accounts of 9/11, both mainstream and conspiratorial, and it is useful to look at the evolution, rather than simply the current snapshot. The original mainstream theory of the failure of air defense was something like what you later suggest – just pure incompetence, heavily laced with the Repub talking point of “of course, we screwed up. We’re the government”. Frankly, that level of incompetence is absurd. How on Earth did the US ever win the Cold War? Unsurprisingly, the government has been forced to abandon this line.

The training exercises were first uncovered by the conspiracy theorists, specifically by Mike Ruppert, who dug out passing reference to them in obscure sources like the military press. According to Ruppert,it was not “some kind of training exercise”; it was at least five separate exercises simulating terrorist attack or war involving multiple government agencies, all scheduled for September 11th. One of these involved sending a huge portion of America’s fleet to Canada to simulate air defense against a Soviet, er, Russian bomber attack. In this day and age. Another involved similation of an attack on America using, yes, hijacked jets. Ruppert looked at the kind of exercise the latter was – this exercise involved the FAA and, I believe, NORAD – and concluded that it would involve the use of “implants” – false images implanted on radar screens as part of the simulation. Ruppert speculated that the air traffic controllers were confused by not knowing which were real jets and which were implants. When partial FAA tapes were later released, they did indeed show that there were such implants, as Ruppert had predicted, and that the controllers were confused by them. Shortly before the first impact, one controller looked at the jet on his radar and said “I hope that’s an implant”. If it were not so tragic, it would be hilarious.

Now, for all the noise that has been made about how the Bush administration did not take terrorism seriously before 9/11, there were an awful lot of exercises scheduled, and there was a major reorganization of terrorist response the May before 9/11. The administration decided to centralize training and simulation of terrorist attacks in one point in the government. What point would that be? Why our newly-discovered fourth branch, of course: the Office of the Vice_President. Cheney was in charge of four of the five exercises, mediated through the secret service. The fifth was an NYC exercise being conducted in World Trade Center 7 under the auspices of Rudy Giuliani (Note: I don’t have my copy of Crossing the Rubicon handy to check that I got all the particulars right in the preceding. If not, it’s pretty damn close).

It is worth noting that this scenario is fairly immune to “fuck ups”. Cheney’s job in this situation would be to spread chaos. It is hard to “fuck up” chaos.

Roy, there is nothing “rational” about the refusal to acknowledge the role of conspiracy in the world; it is just dogmatic and, I would say, autistic, though I’m not going to take the time to unpack that now.

Ed, If you’re going to talk about this stuff, you should at least get the nomenclature straight. There is no “magic bullet” in JFK conspiracy theories. The “magic bullet” is a derisive term conspiracists use for the accepted theory, which requires multiple wounds to two people from a single, relatively undamaged, bullet. The main support for the magic bullet theory – that is to say, the official version – had been that forensic analysis showed that various bullet fragments had come from the same bullet batch and therefore, through some fairly reasonable inferences, from the same bullet. However, the type of forensic analysis done has since been shown to be entirely invalid – a number of criminal convictions have been reversed in consequence – and a retesting of the fragments found no support for the assertion that they necessarily came from the same batch.

But the JFK assasination is not one of the conspiracy areas I know much about. Probably better to talk to John.


Martin Bento 04.15.07 at 6:11 pm


The review you cite doesn’t seem to be available online. What was the upshot? Stinnett is pro Pearl Harbor Conspiracy Theory. Does The Skeptic agree, disagree, or hedge?


Donald Johnson 04.15.07 at 10:17 pm

Speaking of coverups.



Martin Bento 04.15.07 at 10:58 pm

Interesting example. The “fact” that No Gun Ri was a fraud has, of course, been used as an example to discredit other conspiracy theories, as here:

And the arguments against the massacre were the familiar “how could such a large conspiracy be covered up” sort, as here:


Donald Johnson 04.15.07 at 11:53 pm

One of the things that is interesting to me about No Gun Ri is what we consider an atrocity that needs to be covered up. It’s not controversial among historians that American bombing in the Korean War killed somewhere between “hundreds of thousands” and 2 million civilians. I’ve seen the smaller number in, I believe, Max Hastings’s book. Curtis LeMay claimed we killed over a million people. This is one of those historical facts that is out in the open, yet at the same time there is sufficient unease about it so that it isn’t well-known. On those few occasions when the Korean War comes up in discussions I virtually never see this mentioned in the mainstream press.

That said, I don’t think Americans would get too upset if they did hear it, because in our culture strategic bombing is a semi-respectable civilized way to kill inocent people. One does it and then mournfully admits that war is hell or else one has yearly ritualized discussions about whether Hiroshima was justified.

However, in our culture for an infantryman to take aim at civilians with a rifle or machinegun and kill them in that fashion–well, ithat’s supposed to be worse for some reason. So you’ve got this Bateman (in your salon link) doing his best to scale down the likely death toll (35, not 350) and trying to argue that there were no orders from on high to do this. Though the same high-ranking people were apparently just fine with bombing North Korea (and much of South Korea) into rubble.

We live in a very weird morally twisted culture, one that presumes to lecture Muslims on their hypocrisy, but anyway, I have one other point.

I don’t doubt the US government is perfectly capable of morally depraved actions. They’ve shown this on countless occasions. But because of the culture in which we live, some forms of depravity are easier to excuse than others. It’s sort of a joke with many Americans that we supported both sides of the Iran/Iraq war. It”s okay to kill foreigners by supporting dictators or terrorists–we have no choice, ya know, because it’s a tough world out there. T It’s also okay to bomb them. It’s less okay to shoot them, and there you have coverups. Torture is also a borderline case, but as it turns out, so long as you do it to people you claim are terrorists a great many Americans will excuse it, or even applaud.

Deliberately targeting ordinary Americans, though, is a big no-no. There might be people in the government depraved enough to do it, but they know they are a tiny minority in this culture. It’s an enormous risk they’d be taking, not at all like ordering an assassination overseas or supporting some genocidal thug or starting up a torture program for Muslim prisoners or starting a war on trumped up evidence of WMD’s. People would get, you know, really upset if it turned out Cheney planned 9/11 and Cheney knows that. So I find it’s intrinsically harder to believe 9/11 conspiracy theories than it is to believe that the US government has tortured or murdered 10 to the Nth power foreigners.


Martin Bento 04.16.07 at 12:50 am

Donald, now we’re in the murky realm of psychology, but there are still some things we can say. Studies have shown that powerful people are considerably less risk-adverse than most; it is part of the psychology of power. And we have direct evidence that the US is willing to take such risks. Operation Northwoods was an operation to stage terrorist attacks against Americans and blame it on Cuba to justify a war – very similar to what is alleged about 9/11. The Joint chiefs were all for it. McNamara balked, but would Rumsfeld or Cheney? If “anyone” would have balked, why did the Joint Cheifs not? This was a plan that had to have gone through a lot of high-level evaluation, and everyone signed off but the Ford executive who came from outside the elite Washington culture.


Katherine 04.16.07 at 9:20 am

Lordy lordy lordy – I look away from the computer for two days and I appear to have kicked of a general boxing match on the veracity of various conspiracy theories.

Well, I don’t know who said I said something about “most” conspiracy theories, or where it was that someone thought that I must think that people are entirely incompetent and unable to sustain a conspiracy, but you have misunderstood me. Or alternatively, I explained by semi-flippant opening theory badly. The latter is at least as likely. Martin, in particular, seems to think that I despise all conspiracies and think that none exist – no such thing. It is you that has created a strawman out of what you think I said.

I don’t think that humanity as a whole is incompetent, particularly. I just think that perfect competency is preposterous. And I don’t think that “most” conspiracies are bunk. What I said was that when considering (ie assessing) a conspiracy theory I keep the fuck up factor in mind.

Simply, if a particular theory requires overall competency, superhuman levels of influence and a large, complex network of perfectly and secretly executed tasks, I tend to look on it askance. And further, if the theorists then insist that members of the conspiracy who have tried to reveal “the truth” have died because of perfectly executed murder, then that bumps the theory further down into the realms of “tin foil hat”.

For the record, I think that the idea that 9/11 was the direct responsibility of Bush et al is preposterous, because of all the above. I’ve heard the so-called “evidence” and it doesn’t even deserve the name. The others mentioned, I actually have no opinion because I have no knowledge.

PS Thanks for sticking up for me Donald. I hope I’m the Katherine you think I am.


abb1 04.16.07 at 10:58 am

I agree that the idea that 9/11 was planned and carried out the Bushies is preposterous.

However, there are examples of very large and complex conspiracies. One example is cointelpro, which started, according to wikipedia, in 1956 and was discovered only 1971, when “an FBI field office in Media, PA was burglarized by a group of left-wing radicals calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI“.

Over the years, there were probably thousands or tens of thousands of agents involved, various crimes committed, including political assassinations. Again, when no part of the establishment is interested in uncovering it – chances are it won’t be, that’s just the way it is.


jonst 04.16.07 at 12:14 pm


I think you put your finger on my specific area of disagreement with you. While I consider it highly unlikely that the Bush et al ACTIVELY planned, and executed, the events of 9/11, I do not consider the possibility “preposterous’ given that I believe they would do whatever they believe they have to do to advance their agenda.

Therefore, I certainly would not rule their accomplice status, if only in a passive sense. IOW….they knew something was coming. Specifically knew, and yet allowed, and in some cases, perhaps, facilitated it coming about. And for the sake of intellectual consistency, if not, some may argue, accuracy, I think this was the same dynamic behind Pearl Harbor.

My point here is less about 9//11 than about the state of mind of the people ruling America right now. And what they are capable of. And for the record I think fear, professional and/or physical,and very short attention spans, in a world where lots of ‘images’ and ‘sounds’ are constantly bombarding the general population, are much more effective at covering up things than “competence” is.


Katherine 04.16.07 at 12:48 pm

Jonst – I don’t consider it inconceivable that the Bush administration were shockingly negligent in their handling of 9/11 (or rather, the events leading up to it). You could count that as knowing “something was coming”, if you like. Unlike some, though, I don’t think it is fair to say that a competent handling of it would necessarily have resulted in the thwarting of the plot.

Anyhow, to get back to the subject of theoretical other conspiracy theories, I think abb1 that you are now just being contrary, my dear. Nowhere have I written above that very large and complex conspiracies are impossible, merely unlikely (probability approaching 1, I think I said, reading back).

I hesitate to say, for fearing of starting the whole think off again, that the fact that you know about cointelpro tends to support my theory. I have no shadow of a doubt that there may well exist out there conspiracies of a scary nature, possibly never to see the light of day. nature, we can’t possibly know how many.

But until the world of perfect information comes to be, I reserve the right to be sceptical of people who tell me about shadowy groups of mysterious power-wielders who secretly control the world without slipping up, except to reveal their presence to networks of dedicated foil hat wearers by means of disguising murders as heart attacks.


SG 04.16.07 at 2:00 pm

Katherine, I think Abb1 was making the point that that conspiracy lasted for 12 years before it was found out, and it was only found out by a group of radicals. When I first heard of cointelpro I didn’t believe it, and I have had conversations with others who poo poo the idea out of hand. Usually on the basis of the incompetence of government agencies. But it did happen. I think hiding a program of destabilisation of political activity (which, you recall, included some assassinations) for 12 years could indicate a fairly great degree of competence. The organisation which could blow up those Earth First activists and get away with it would generally be considered competent, right? Although, that said, it’s pretty easy to get away with government sanctioned murder in the US (eg McCarthyism), so maybe the bar is lower there.

If one of your reasons for not believing conspiracy theories is that they are hard to hold together, then Abb1 pointing out a conspiracy which was held together for 12 years and is still very poorly publicized would seem to me to constitute a reasonable argument against your position, as opposed to mere contrarity.


Katherine 04.16.07 at 3:01 pm

Well, sg, I don’t recall much about deep conspiracies from 1971 because I didn’t in fact exist at that time, but I take your point. No doubt the cointelpro sounded deeply unlikely when it first emerged, but if what emerged initially was actual evidence, not “they killed Bubba cos he tried to talk” and “well, this guy is the second-cousin-twice-removed of that guy who was in town at the same time as Bubba” kind of “evidence” then I’d like to think I’d have had an open mind about it.

Again, I take issue with the “not believing” part of your characterisation of my view point on this. I’ll make the point again, I do not think it impossible for conspiracies to exist, merely unlikely. And I reserve the right to be sceptical about a conspiracy that complies with the general characteristics I outlined above.


roy belmont 04.16.07 at 3:50 pm

“to be sceptical of people who tell me about shadowy groups of mysterious power-wielders who secretly control the world without slipping up, except to reveal their presence to networks of dedicated foil hat wearers by means of disguising murders as heart attacks”
Or, put another way, to maintain my comfort levels come what may. Because there’s obviously no bright line between “tinfoil hat wearers” and people with scary inside info and nowhere safe to deliver it. And that, in anyone with a functioning conscience, requires you to get involved, emotionally if nothing else once you hear the news. Or get rid of your conscience.
As Donald Johnson said it:
“It casts the whole system into doubt, if people at the very top do those sorts of things.”
and Martin Bento reiterated:
“I think you make a good point about there being an implicit and deep resistance to scandals that threaten the legitimacy of the system itself.”
And, if there’s any truth in all the crazy conjecture, that there were and are levels of treachery and guile far more complex than just these little piles of incompetence and venality, then they’re very likely still in place, aren’t they?
And that would be the most disturbing aspect wouldn’t it?
Everything from, taking an arbitrary kickoff date out of the hat, Arbenz to Kennedy to Letelier to El Mozote to Gary Webb to…now let’s go back through the timeline and talk about Fred Hampton and a whole bunch of other less visible but equally threatening figures in that crucial period between ’65 and ’73.
If there’s a scoreboard somewhere the bad guys are getting away with everything pretty much – and the good guys have what?
Plame? Did we win that? Not yet? What else? Iran-Contra? Did we win that? Oliver North is in jail still, right?
The two operant pressures on sensible people are the aforementioned “casting the whole system into doubt”, and the awful chaos on the other side of acceptance of the strange.
Because once the weirdness erodes that comforting selective vision, you can all too easily end up in a nightmare of predatory shadows, where there’s no gravity and no direction home, and no authority to turn to for protection.


Katherine 04.16.07 at 4:32 pm

“Or, put another way, to maintain my comfort levels come what may. Because there’s obviously no bright line between “tinfoil hat wearers” and people with scary inside info and nowhere safe to deliver it. ”

Oh honestly, what are you on about? Please get serious. My comment seems to have become the candle around which a debate is flickering that actually doesn’t have anything to do with me and about things I have never actually said.

Where have I ever said, please, that there are no conspiracies? Where have I said, please, that I would refuse to believe whistleblowers? Where have I said, please, that there no difference between tinfoil hat wearers and people with scary inside info, or in fact that people will scary inside info are all tin foil hat wearers? Nowhere, that’s where.

I think that you may have just accused me of “not getting involved” and, effectively, getting rid of my conscience. Well, pal, you really don’t know anything about me. Much of this comment conversation has been playful and polite and interesting, but that is offensive and ignorant.


Donald Johnson 04.16.07 at 6:57 pm


Roy talks that way to everyone.

What’s missing around here is some barely left of center type who laughs at the notion that high-ranking American officials could be war criminals and dismisses any radical critique of American foreign policy as “conspiracy theorizing”. There aren’t any such folks left in this thread (if there were any) and so you’ve been drafted by a couple of people to serve as strawman.


Martin Bento 04.16.07 at 6:58 pm

sg, quite so and abb1 made a good point. After all, Katherine seems to want to argue that “I hesitate to say, for fearing of starting the whole think off again, that the fact that you know about cointelpro tends to support my theory.” She doesn’t hesistate to say this because it is ill-supported, but just because she, for some reason, does not like the debate. But in fact if Katherine were to take this position, she would have to argue that it is somehow inevitable that a bunch of hippie radicals are going to always breakI agree that any conspiracy theory that relies on a po into the FBI office, steal all the files, and publish the good bits – that’s the only reason we know about Cointelpro. And, of course, *this* conspiracy will have no fuck-ups. Good luck with that argument.

And it’s not like Cointelpro is the only example. MK Ultra was comparable to Cointelpro in size, duration, and illegality, and is even less “credible” by far. At least Cointepro had well-defined and rational objectives; it is still not entirely clear what the government thought it was up to with MK Ultra.

Katherine, you started out make very general objections to conspiracy theories and did state them as applying to “most” conspiracy theories. Indeed, you specifically said that “most” conspiracy theories rely on the deaths of alleged witnesses as primary evidence. I agree that perfect competency is preposterous, but you have not even argued, much less established, that any conspiracy theory, much less the bulk of them, requires perfect competence. You simply assert that conspiracy theories generally require everyone to get everything right and no one to betray. In the very conspiracy theory that initiated this discussion, the 9/11 theory, the most-widely accepted explanation of Flight 93 is that it was a fuck-up. The passengers were going to take over the flight, so the government had to shoot it down. You’re attacking conspiracy theorists for postulating plans that require perfect execution, when, in fact, imperfect execution is, quite often, part of the conspiratorial narrative.

Now, I’m all in favor of respectful discourse, and I have not attacked you personally; I have only attacked your arguments. I will note in passing that conspiracy theorists are seldom treated to respectful discourse, though your condenscension was comparatively mild.


Martin Bento 04.16.07 at 7:02 pm

Ah, I’m having mouse problems. First paragraph again:

sg, quite so and abb1 made a good point. After all, Katherine seems to want to argue that “I hesitate to say, for fearing of starting the whole think off again, that the fact that you know about cointelpro tends to support my theory.” She doesn’t hesistate to say this because it is ill-supported, but just because she, for some reason, does not like the debate. But in fact if Katherine were to take this position, she would have to argue that it is somehow inevitable that a bunch of hippie radicals are going to always break into the FBI office, steal all the files, and publish the good bits – that’s the only reason we know about Cointelpro. And, of course, this conspiracy will have no fuck-ups. Good luck with that argument.


Martin Bento 04.16.07 at 7:40 pm

Donald, what have I said in response to Katherine that you consider a straw man? Or were you just not talking about me?


Martin Bento 04.16.07 at 8:26 pm

Katherine, Agreed that you never said you would disbelieve whistleblowers. You did, though, point to the likelihood of whistleblowers as a reason large or complex conspiracies would be unlikely to remain secret. My response was that even when whistleblowers emerge, if what they report is something people are disinclined to accept, they are simply disbelieved, even if they themselves the are highly credible, and I offered examples of this.

This gets to a point about how people maintain world views. Donald said that he simply does not believe the necessary portion of the American elite is morally capable and bold enough to do something like 9/11. I pointed to Northwoods as an example of exactly that, and I frankly consider it a strong refutation. Though I don’t know, my guess would be that Donald already knew about Northwoods, at least in a general way, but had not integrated that knowledge into his general world view. It is a sort of cognitive dissonance. There is this general view about the government elite, and then there is this specific fact that contradicts it. Why is the general view not revised in light of the fact? After all, Northwoods dates from a time when the military and government were not full of the types who actively pray for Armageddon and may therefore be more inclined to extreme actions. If the elite were capable of such a thing then, it seems it would be even more capable now.


J Thomas 04.17.07 at 2:39 am

Katherine, you have pointed out that giant conspiracies are unlikely to remain completely secret indefinitely because someone tells. And also, there are a lot of stupid conspiracy theories circulating, to the point that if you pick a conspiracy theory at random and investigate it, it will likely be based on essentially no actual facts. I think you’re right about both of these.

However, you then go from there to say “I’ll make the point again, I do not think it impossible for conspiracies to exist, merely unlikely.”. This is what gets other people upset.

Your first point is that *giant* conspiracies are unlikely to stay completely secret. And a series of giant conspiracies have been exposed, sometimes after many years. This is not an argument that there are unlikely to be giant conspiracies now, it’s an argument that giant conspiracies happening now might get exposed later. We don’t have any adequate statistics about how often giant conspiracies get exposed because we don’t know about the ones that don’t get exposed. If we were in a position to know about all the conspiracies and see how many of them get exposed then we could do statistics on it. But without that we simply don’t know.

Your second point, that there are lots of stupid conspiracy theories, says nothing about how many conspiracies there are. If I ran a government agency with a budget to pay people to make stupid conservative arguments online, then I would certainly consider paying people to make stupid conspiracy theories to help drown out the less-stupid ones. But I have no evidence that the various brilliant trolls who make such beautifully derailing stupid arguments (even here, but no names) are professionals. There may be no one with such a budget. The important thing is that the presence of a whole lot of stupid conspiracy theories says *nothing* about the number of actual conspiracies.

I’ve heard about a couple of minor conspiracies myself. A man I trusted who had spent a long time in the navy told me that at one time during the vietnam war his aircraft carrier spent some time inside chinese territorial waters, as part of an operation that was “mapping the continental shelf”. They ran with minimal electricity and pretended they weren’t there, and if the chinese had challenged them it would have been some kind of international incident. He said we’d never admitted to it, but it happened. I believe him. It wasn’t really any big deal since we got away with it. Of course we want the information, and it would be impolite to the chinese to talk about how we took it. There’s no particular reason for it to ever get publicly admitted.

Late in the iraq/iran war I talked with a man who claimed he had planned artillery strikes for the army. He was one of 90 men who planned poison gas strikes for the iraqis. He said we didn’t admit that we were doing it, but we were. He mentioned various details that later became public, and — years later, when they almost all matched up — I believed him. Before that I’d kept an open mind. At least after that I believed he was involved in the operation to the point he knew a lot about it.

His story made a lot more sense than the official version, which said we gave the iraqis satellite data about iranian troop movements, and then we planned conventional artillery strikes to disrupt the iranian attacks, and the iraqis planned their own chemical attacks entirely without our aid, and afterward we gave the iraqis satellite data with an analysis that assumed they had followed our conventional attack plan and showing them how well it worked. That just doesn’t make sense. My acquaintance said that we used the data to improve our own chemical warfare knowledge, which makes very good sense as we just don’t have a lot of real data about it — the WWI guys didn’t collect a lot of the things we need to know.

I read Colonel Patrick Lang’s blog for awhile. Colonel Lang’s current big interest is the possibility that our transport into iraq is vulnerable and our supplies could get cut off. He did happen to mention at one point that he had been the senior theatre intelligence guy when that poison gas operation was going on, and we had nothing whatsoever to do with the iraqi gas attacks, we gave them strictly conventional artillery advice. I told him the story I’d heard, and the reasons I believed the guy had been there. I suggested that perhaps Lang had been too high in the chain of command to know the details, or maybe the guy was lying for no particular gain. Within two hours Lang banned me and deleted all my comments. There’s no particular reason to believe the official version, but it’s slightly scandalous for us to participate in chemical weapons war crimes. So we tell just enough of a cover story to avoid embarrassment and try to forget the whole thing. Ninety targetters plus a bunch of support people is a lot for the story not to leak, but of course it did leak repeatedly — and nobody really wants to follow up on it.

The US public accepts a lot of hypocrisy in our government, and when it involves US interests pitted against foreign interests we generally think a degree of lying is a good thing. Lots of times leaks can get the immediate result, “Thanks for telling me that secret! You did the right thing when you did that secret mission and I’m proud of you! Of course we can’t admit what happened to them furriners but just among ourselves I gotta say you did great.”

Given the number of conspiracies that have been exposed, I think it’s plausible that there are probably a number of continuing conspiracies now that will be exposed in coming years.

And sure, there are a lot of goofy conspiracy theories. But if somebody who’s seemed knowledgeable and level-headed before suggests you look into a particular conspiracy theory, I hope you’ll consider that one with an open mind. There are more nutty theories circulating than you could check on in a lifetime, if you wanted to try them all. But if somebody you generally trust suggests a few that are better than usual, those are worth checking aren’t they?


Katherine 04.17.07 at 3:14 pm

Sigh. I seem to have become a totem for some kind of credulous, conspiracy-denying paradigm. I don’t recognise it, but then I’ve rather lost track of the various assumptions, inferences and innuendoes that people have assigned to me. I’m not even going to bother to track where people have quoted me and expanded what they think is my point beyond all original context. I rather think that they’ve stopped talking to me, or whoever they think “me” is, and have just started yelling into the echo-chamber of their own certainties.

So here we go – my last attempt. Feel free to have the last word after me boys, I won’t feel that my manhood has been inpugned if the very last syllable is not mine.

At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t doubt that conpiracies exist, or that they can be wide ranging and dangerous. I also know that some conspiracies don’t exist, except in the fevered brains of people who want desperately to see a pattern because otherwise all there is is randomness and chaos that is too frightening to deal with. Frankly, most of the shit that goes on the world is somewhere between the two.

And here is something that I do object to (more than having my words manipulated and misinterpreted) – where crazy theories mask an underlying wrong doing. I will point over to Rachel in North London (, the blog of a woman who was on a tube train on 7 July 2005 and got blown up. She has been campaigning for a proper inquiry into that day and the events leading up to it. She is being seriously hindered (and harrassed) by tin foil hat conspiracy theorists, who try to persuade her that because the forensics teams looked under the trains, that must mean that “they” know something “we” don’t know about the position of the bomb. Her attempt to get something sensible and necessary is being pulled down by the ramblings of those who really really want the world to be run by sinister cabals of power-weilding maniacs, because they really couldn’t handle the truth.


Martin Bento 04.17.07 at 4:20 pm

Which of the following is the more frightening belief: a) that the London subway attacks were executed by a bunch of Islamic radicals who managed to sneak around the generally-effective British public safety system, or b) that the English government itself was complicit in the attacks. Under b, you really have little hope of being safe from terrorist attacks because your main defense against them, other than luck, is abetting them. Also, under b, it is hard to accept the legitimacy of your government, but there is no clear alternative in sight. If b were generally accepted, could the government remain in power? If not, would that mean anarchy? If so, would it only be through the establishment of dictatorial powers? It is hard to see such a government – by which I mean the institution itself, not just the current elected officeholders – continuing as a liberal democracy operating with the general consent of the governed. I think it is clear that b is a much more frightening position than a, which is frankly why it is so resisted. b encompasses all the dangers a does, eliminates all the contrary sources of safety, and introduces wholly new dangers.


roy belmont 04.18.07 at 12:22 am

Martin Bento-
Cheers for speaking the language of the greater audience so fluently.
Katherine says-
“by tin foil hat conspiracy theorists, who try to persuade her ”
And never pauses to consider that the tinfoil may actually be chaff, not hats. Absurdities scattered in the wake of egregious covert wrong. So that sensible people turn away in disgust at the time-wasting nonsense they have to fight through, to get nowhere.
It goes without argument, or should, that if there is an official cover-up concerning the London train bombings, that a barrage of gibberish-spouting paranoids would be effective and useful. Much more effective than official denials alone.
Any weirdness around 9/11 will be protected from exposure by frantic and hysterical obsession with unprovable minutiae. But any weirdness there will still be weird, and knee-jerk scorn for any “conspiracy theory” plays right into that.

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