January 12, 2003
Special 'Conspiracy Theory' Edition
"My name is Dave, and I am a conspiracy theorist."
There. I did it. I finally took the first step on the long road to recovery. And it feels good. It will feel even better when I complete the program, at which time I will be able to (or so I'm told) read the morning newspaper and watch the evening news secure in the knowledge that I am being told the unvarnished truth. I will even, if I'm one of the lucky ones, be able to listen to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and marvel at their intellectually rigorous arguments.
Although I haven't yet been filled in on all the details of the program, I'm pretty sure that it involves the consumption of mass quantities of Prozac.
Which reminds me ... I have great news to report this week! The FDA has apparently approved Prozac for use on children as young as seven. Some talking-head on the evening news claimed that millions of depressed kids could benefit from this decision. But are there really millions of depressed kids out there in the 'land of the free'? And if so, then why are there millions of depressed kids out there?
What am I talking about? Who cares why they're depressed? Just drug them! Who cares if they're depressed? Drug them all! I foresee Toddler Prozac on the horizon. And then Infant Prozac, possibly to remedy Crying Baby Syndrome: "Does your newborn suffer from Crying Baby Syndrome? Symptoms include crying when hungry, wet, tired, or neglected. Talk to your doctor about new Infant Prozac ..."
And then ... the final frontier ... Pre-Natal Prozac: "Hello. Thank you for calling Clonaid. How may I help you? ... Yes, certainly we can create a clone for you. Would you like that with or without Prozac? ... Most people prefer the Prozac model. They're much easier to train."
Ooops ... sorry ... that's not really what I want to talk about this week. I just happened to catch the Prozac story on the news and, next thing you know, I was off on a rant. That happens sometimes.
I also will not be talking about incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (who, to give credit where credit is due, sports a somewhat more life-like rug than his predecessor) and his Dahmeresque habit of adopting cats from animal shelters to stock his home dissection lab.
I think I'll also pass on commenting on Rumsfeld's recent impersonation of a schoolyard bully: "I'll take on both Saddam and Kim Jong at the same time! I'll kick both their asses with one hand tied behind my back! Let me at 'em ... huh? ... what's that? ... you say we didn't actually beat North Korea the first time around? When we were only fighting one war at a time? Oh. Well, never mind then."
I'm also not going to comment on Bush's preposterous habit of posing as a good-old-boy rancher, or on various other members of the Bush clan slumming with the commoners aboard a Disney cruise ship. Has anyone considered, by the way, that a cruise ship, with a captive, physically isolated population, would be an ideal place to conduct biowarfare experiments -- with, for example, something like the "Norwalk Virus"? Just wondering ...
But forget about all of that. What I really want to talk about are conspiracy theories. As I have whined about repeatedly in these newsletters, conspiracy theory bashing is quite fashionable these days. According to the anti-conspiracists, conspiracy theories are silly, paranoid, unproven, counter-productive, irrational, simplistic, and just plain loony.
But what exactly is a 'conspiracy theory'? How do we determine if any given theory is a 'conspiracy theory'? Because everyone, after all, has only a theoretical view of how the world we all live in really functions.
Conservatives have a theory, as do liberals. Neo-conservatives have a different theory than do 'old school' conservatives. Republicans subscribe to one theory, while Democrats subscribe to another. Libertarians have a theory, as do Greens and Independents. Socialists have one theory, and capitalists have quite another. Communists, white supremacists, anarchists, skinheads -- they all have theories. Catholics have a different theory than do Protestants. Jews have their own theory, as do Muslims, Wiccans, Buddhists, Atheists, Mormons, Episcopalians, Baptists, Scientologists, Fundamentalist Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Agnostics.
There are as many theories out there as there are people to formulate them. Everyone, in the final analysis, has their own personal theories that explain the world as they perceive it to be, and through which they filter incoming information about significant national and world events.
As far as I know, none of these theories has ever been proven. None of them can legitimately claim to be the objective truth, because none of us can say with 100% certainty where the truth lies. We all have only our own personal theories, based on our own life experiences and on how the world has been presented to us by family, friends, politicians, educators, clergy, and the all-powerful media.
So what is it that distinguishes a 'conspiracy theory' from any other theory? Is it that the theory posits that two or more actors have worked together, usually secretively, to achieve a common goal? That, after all, is all that a 'conspiracy' really is. Or is it that the theory is unproven?
Actually, neither of those factors are unique to what are labeled 'conspiracy theories.'
A bunch of Islamic extremists secretly plotted and carried out the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon? Saddam Hussein and others are colluding to hide Iraq's 'weapons of mass destruction'? Saddam and others secretly conspired to hatch an assassination plot against Poppy Bush? Those are certainly all conspiracy theories, if a conspiracy theory is simply a theory that postulates that there was some conspiring going on.
And what of the theories advanced by conspiracy-bashing lefties? The U.S. is going into Iraq for the oil, not out of concern for alleged weapons of mass destruction? The Bush regime has cynically exploited the September 11 tragedy to advance an exceedingly reactionary agenda? The September 11 attacks were retaliation for the genocidal sanctions on Iraq and the deplorable treatment of the Palestinians by Israel? Conspiracy theories, one and all.
Readily apparent to just about anyone with measurable brain-wave activity is that conspiracies do exist -- that actors do work together, frequently secretively and often illegally, to achieve an outcome that is mutually beneficial. Even the mainstream media and political establishment recognize that fact; they just usually claim that it is those other guys - such as the evil-doing terrorists, or, before them, the dreaded Communists - who are doing the conspiring -- and only on rare occasions the fine group of honest statesmen assembled in Washington.
Right-wing media voices will sometimes acknowledge conspiratorial behavior involving 'Democrats' (i.e. Whitewater, Travelgate, etc.), while what passes for voices of the 'left' will admit to conspiratorial behavior by 'Republicans' (i.e. Iran/Contra, Watergate, etc.).
So the 'conspiracy theory' label obviously has nothing to do with whether or not the theory posits that there was any conspiring going on. The media never demeans their own or the government's fairy tales by tarring them with the 'conspiracy theory' label, no matter how conspiratorial in nature those fables are.
And the 'conspiracy theory' label also has nothing to do with whether or not the theory has been proven. Rarely is any compelling proof of one of Washington's far-fetched theories ever offered, and yet these theories are presented not as conspiracy theories, but as the gospel truth.
It has never been proven that Osama bin Laden masterminded the September 11 attacks. It has never been proven that the simultaneous hijacking of four commercial airliners was accomplished by nineteen Islamic fundamentalists wielding box-cutters. It has never been proven that the purported pilots had the training or the ability to perform complex aeronautic maneuvers in unwieldy passenger jets. It has never been proven that it was a passenger jet that struck the Pentagon. It has never been proven that the total collapse of the Twin Towers was due solely to the airplane crashes and resulting fires. It has never been proven that the failure to act on numerous warnings of the coming attacks was due simply to bureaucratic incompetence. It has never been proven that there is any innocent explanation for the stand-down of U.S. air defenses on that day. It has never been proven or revealed who exactly it was that placed heavy bets on Wall Street that United Airlines and American Airlines stocks were about to take a dump. It has never been proven that there is a perfectly benign explanation for why the commander-in-chief of U.S. armed forces chose to continue reading with schoolchildren well after live television coverage had informed the entire world that the U.S. was under attack. It has never been proven that there is any precedent for the actions taken by the Secret Service, who - tasked with protecting the president at all costs - allowed him to continue reading with schoolchildren at a known location that had been announced by the media in advance and that was entirely vulnerable to attack. It has never been proven that Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan at any time during the (continuing) assault on that country. It has never been proven that Osama bin Laden is estranged from his family, which, of course, has longtime financial ties to the Bush family.
In fact, there are precious few, if any, aspects of the official story that have ever been, or will ever be, proven. It is just another theory that posits a conspiracy among certain individuals to commit horrendous crimes -- a conspiracy theory, by any reasonable interpretation.
But it, of course, isn't labeled a conspiracy theory. The media reserves that label for those theories that pose a serious challenge to the status quo -- although those theories aren't necessarily any more theoretical nor any less documentable than the government's theories, and they don't necessarily place any more emphasis on actors conspiring to achieve a common goal.
So what exactly is a conspiracy theory? It is simply a theory put forth that is so at odds with our own theories that it poses a fundamental challenge to how we perceive the world. Everyone, in other words, has their own definition of what a conspiracy theory is; it all depends on where your own views fall on the ideological spectrum.
To many right-wingers, anyone whose views fall too far to the left is a conspiracy theorist -- including people like David Corn, Marc Cooper, Matthew Rothschild, Norman Solomon and Michael Albert, who have been at the forefront of conspiracy theory bashing, even as large swaths of America look upon them as conspiracy theorists. Writers such as these (and others, some of whom should know better) seek to portray themselves as being somehow 'above' the conspiracy fray, simply because they are advancing a different conspiracy theory than are those whom they cast aspersions on.
One man's 'conspiracy theorist,' alas, is another man's investigative journalist. There is no hard and fast dividing line that separates a conspiracy theory from a - for lack of a better term - non-conspiracy theory. That line is different for everyone, and is subject to change over the course of a person's life as attitudes and opinions change.
The term 'conspiracy theory' is, therefore, an entirely arbitrary and meaningless label. I have corresponded with people who eschew the sorts of political theories found in my writings as the ravings of a crazed conspiracy theorist, but who steadfastly maintain that UFOs routinely sweep through their fields at night because their alien pilots have an insatiable appetite for cattle rectums.
So who is the conspiracy theorist? The truth is that neither of us are. There are no conspiracy theories; there are only theories. Not all theories though are created equal. Some are decidedly better than others. The question then is how we separate the good theories from the bad ones -- for that is the only relevant classification of theories.
There are two basic criteria that a good theory must meet. First, the theory must reasonably explain as much of the available evidence as possible, and it must do so by answering more questions than it raises. Washington's theories, of course, rarely measure up in this regard, which is why official theories are - as a general rule - very bad theories.
The second criteria for a good theory is that it provide some historical context, and not treat the event under consideration as though it had occurred in a vacuum. This is, alas, a major shortcoming with many 'conspiracy theories': they fail to take into account that every significant occurrence is not a separate and unique 'conspiracy' for which blame can be assigned to specific individuals, but is a small piece in a much larger puzzle -- a puzzle in which the problems run far too deep to be remedied by removing a few bad apples.
Some 9-11 skeptics, for example, seem to think that everything was fine and dandy in this country until evil George W came along, stole the election, and then proceeded to plunge the nation headlong into overt fascism. This is, alas, a dangerous delusion.
This is not, contrary to what some visitors seem to think, a "9-11 Skeptics" site or a "September 11 Conspiracy" site. This is a site that attempts to present a comprehensive look at this bizarre world of ours -- sometimes by focusing on individual events in an effort to convey patterns, and sometimes by trying to stand back to take in the 'big picture.'
The events of September 11 have, of course, received a considerable amount of attention -- as they should, given their significance in advancing a specific agenda. But the attacks on the WTC were really just an extreme example of the types of provocations that have long been used to advance that agenda.
The point here is that the September 11 attacks, and everything that has followed in their wake, can never be properly understood if viewed as historical aberrations. They can only be understood within the framework of a theory that takes into account that where we are now is where we were headed long before Team Bush took the reins, and long before any airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center.
So what theories have we been offered to explain the events of that day?
The most popular theory, at least among Americans, is the one offered by the Washington gang -- and it is, I must say, one that would have been met with riotous laughter and ridicule had it first been offered up by a 'conspiracy theorist.' It goes something like this: a loosely-knit gang of Islamic fundamentalists, living in caves and brimming with hatred of "our freedom" and "our democracy," secretly put together an elaborate plan, presumably sketching most of it out with sticks in the dirt, whereby nineteen guys armed with toothbrushes and razor blades would board four different commercial airline flights, commandeer them, radically alter their flight paths so that they would be aimed towards the East Coast's two most densely-packed and politically and economically significant targets, and then fly them masterfully into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, unimpeded by the fact that the country under attack has the most sophisticated air force and air defense system in the world, and spends more on 'defense' than the rest of the world combined.
The plotters apparently knew that everyone would be caught completely off guard by the assault, due to the fact that probably lass than a dozen countries had warned of the coming attacks, as had various agents of our own government, and because everyone knows that the Pentagon, even when on the highest state of alert, as it would be after both WTC towers had been attacked, is a sitting duck that is completely incapable of defending itself, because no one ever thought of allotting any of those hundreds of billions of dollars in 'defense' money that we spend every year to designing any sort of defenses for the Defense Department itself.
In a major breach of terrorist etiquette, the terrorist group fingered for the attacks declined to take credit. But not to worry. We had evidence. And it was good evidence too. It wasn't manufactured and/or planted evidence, or anything of that nature. So don't go thinking that it was.
Take, for example, hijacker/pilot Mohammad Atta's passport -- intact and deposited like a calling card atop a literal mountain of debris, as though it had hung in suspended animation for an hour or so - while the building burned and then imploded - before settling down atop the crumbled remains. That's solid evidence.
And those flight manuals and copies of the Koran left behind in the rental car? You can hardly argue with evidence like that. And those Osama bin Laden videotapes? Why, it's clearly an open-and-shut case.
Speaking of the bin Laden tapes, by the way, the one I want to see goes something like this:
Osama speaking to assembled followers: "We're the number 1 terrorist organization in the world ... (loud applause) ... We've masterminded every significant act of terrorism around the world for years now ... (more loud applause) ... We receive countless millions of dollars in funding ... (applause) ... Can't we get a decent videocamera around here? ... (silence) ... Look at these tapes! Have you seen these? I'm grainy, I'm out of focus, the sound quality is horrible. In this one I'm thin, in this one I'm heavy. And where are my close-ups? Can someone get my agent on the phone?"
There are other theories out there to explain what happened on September 11. Lots of other theories. These can be roughly separated into six categories: "Incompetence" theories; "Let It Happen, But Didn't Realize What the Extent of the Damage Would Be" theories; "Did Know and Still Let It Happen" theories; "Aided and Abetted" theories; "Made It Happen" theories; and "Other Actors" theories.
"Incompetence" theories accept most of the official story as fact, but question whether the attacks could have been prevented had incompetence and bureaucratic snafus not prevented credible tips from being acted upon. If the lack of any defense measures taken once the attacks were in progress is addressed at all by such theories, it is attributed to incompetence as well. In fact, incompetence is pretty much of an all-purpose answer for any aspect of the official story that doesn't add up.
Incompetence theories are an age-old form of disinformation. They are the first line of defense for 'the powers that be.' It's always better to be perceived as incompetent than as a ruthless criminal of the worst kind. And incompetence, of course, can always be remedied by pouring more money into the military and intelligence services, and by vastly expanding their reach and power.
But incompetence theories are just one form of disinformation. They are just one level of deceit among many that surround an event of the magnitude of September 11.
What many people fail to take into consideration is that our fearless leaders know that there will always be a certain percentage of the population that refuses to accept the official story -- no matter how often, or by how many voices of authority, that story is told. And they also know that there will always be those who will make sincere efforts to provide skeptics with alternative explanations.
That is why our illustrious leaders, in their infinite wisdom, long ago decided that the best thing for them to do would be to make sure that they were the ones providing the skeptics in the crowd with alternative explanations. It is Big Brother's way of saying: "You don't like the official story? Then try this on for size."
Most of these alternative explanations consist of a mixture of "limited hang-outs" and red herrings. The limited hang-outs are tantalizing bits and pieces of information that were omitted from the official story, and that are revealed by the fake dissidents to gain the trust of the reader. And the red herrings are there to confuse and misdirect the reader after gaining that trust.
The sad reality is that the overwhelming majority of dissenting voices in this country are part of what could be called "the controlled dissent." For the only way to really control public opinion, and to control a population, while still maintaining the illusion of tolerating varying points of view, is by controlling all of those points of view.
It is observations such as that, by the way, that so endear me to the rest of the 'progressive' community.
I find it rather interesting that any number of allegedly dissident writers will readily acknowledge that the CIA (and various other intelligence entities) have worked relentlessly for decades, spending vast sums of money, for the express purpose of placing assets in strategic positions within the media. But if someone points out how those efforts have been manifest in the real world, he or she is immediately attacked and/or ostracized by the majority of 'dissident' writers.
I guess we are supposed to believe that while such efforts have undeniably been made, they have met with nothing but failure -- due, no doubt, to 'incompetence.'
Anyway, the point that I started to make is that there are varying levels of disinformation floating around in various avenues of the media, with something to please almost everyone -- no matter how far off the beaten path you may choose to venture in search of answers. But here I have digressed from the previous discussion of the various theories advanced to explain September 11.
"Other Actors" theories are another time-honored method of employing disinformation. They work something like this: acknowledge that the official story is a cover, acknowledge that the attacks weren't likely planned and executed by some shadowy Islamic network, but point the finger at someone, anyone, other than our own elected (and appointed) leaders.
The most frequently fingered suspect is, of course, a favorite whipping-boy of conspiracy theorists far and wide: Israel. And it must be granted that there are a few clues scattered along the evidence trail pointing in that direction -- such as the so-called 'Israeli art student spy ring.'
I believe, however, that such clues were purposefully left behind precisely to misdirect the 'conspiracy' crowd -- to encourage fingers to be pointed towards Israel, rather than towards Washington. These 'clues' are, in other words, deliberately planted disinformation intended to create a false evidence trail. More obvious as disinformation are the theories that attempt to point the finger at, rather preposterously, China.
Some "Other Actors" theories posit that it was a 'rogue' element within our own government that was responsible for the attacks. Some even argue that the attacks were essentially a coup attempt directed against the current administration -- an attempt that apparently failed rather miserably since the attacks rather predictably allowed the current officeholders to assume unprecedented power.
These 'bad apples' theories are fatally flawed, as previously indicated, by a failure to recognize that just as one demagogic leader - whether named George or Adolf - does not radically alter the course of history, neither does some 'rogue' group operating outside the bounds of official Washington.
The complicity of all of Washington's institutions is required to pull off something of the magnitude of the September 11 attacks. The complicity of both political parties is required to ensure that there will be 'bipartisan' agreement as to what happened and what the response should be. A complicit Congress is required to unquestioningly accept the administration's conclusions, and to stonewall any and all attempts at a meaningful investigation. A complicit court system is required to pretend not to notice the blatantly unconstitutional nature of much of the post-September 11 legislation that has been passed. A complicit mainstream media apparatus is required to ensure that no facts that directly challenge the administration's positions make it into print, and to ensure that the administration's war plans and attacks on civil liberties will be given the proper spin. A complicit 'alternative' media is required to ensure that distrust and unease within certain segments of society will be allayed by the most non-threatening of 'dissident' voices (with events of the significance of September 11, however, it's usually necessary to call in the big guns -- those pillars of the 'progressive' community that are so revered that few dare question their wisdom; these are the voices that will, on most occasions, speak freely and accurately about the lies and criminality of the U.S. government, establishing unassailable credentials by doing so, but when called upon to address the issue of the Kennedy assassination, will answer that "Oswald did it," or when called upon to address the September 11 attacks, will respond that "Osama did it").
"Let It Happen" theories go much further than "Incompetence" theories, by positing (or, to be more accurate, acknowledging) that the administration did indeed have enough intelligence to know of the coming attacks, but let the plans proceed so that the attacks could be crassly exploited to advance an agenda -- an agenda usually said to be oil-driven.
Most "Let It Happen" theories are tempered through the addition of claims that, while the Bush gang knew in advance that an attack was coming, they did not foresee the magnitude of the damage. This is, apparently, supposed to make the criminality of the administration more palatable to readers: "Well, yes, the actions of the administration were criminal, murderous, even treasonous, but they really only thought they were putting hundreds at risk, not thousands. So let's not be too hard on them."
Going further yet are the "Aiding and Abetting" theories, which claim that not only did the administration know the attacks were coming, they actively worked to assure that the plans would succeed. The degree to which U.S. agents were complicit in the planning and execution, and the level of involvement within the U.S. government, varies within this classification of theories -- which also includes theories that the administration deliberately provoked the attacks.
The last category of theories is the "Made It Happen" theories, which hypothesize that the attacks were an entirely self-inflicted wound -- conceived, planned and executed by U.S. assets working at various levels behind the scenes. In other words, they were fully orchestrated affairs, with thoroughly scripted responses and repercussions.
So which of these theories is most consistent with historical patterns? And which of them best explains the available evidence? And which of them takes into account that everything that has transpired since September 11 is a continuation of forces and undercurrents that were in existence long before George Bush stepped up to the plate?
If we look at the alleged triggers for every major war that the U.S. embarked upon in the century prior to September 11, it becomes quite clear that every one of them was either staged or provoked to justify America's entry into a war that had nothing to do with the alleged triggering event: the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in February of 1898, the sinking of the Lusitania in May of 1915 (which, by the way, did not 'trigger' America's entry into World War I, but was retroactively cited as justification when the U.S. went to war two years after the incident occurred), the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the provoked attack on South Korea in June of 1950, and the fictional attack on the U.S.S. Maddox in August of 1964.
If viewed as a trigger for war, which the September 11 attacks certainly were, then it can be safely concluded that if they were in fact unprovoked, surprise attacks perpetrated by foreign actors, then they clearly represented a break from a deeply ingrained historical pattern.
But the attacks were clearly much more than just a trigger for war. They were also a trigger for a vastly accelerated attack on civil rights, privacy rights, and due process rights. They were, in other words, a trigger for war on the home front.
As such, they are also in a line of succession with other events that provided the pretext for the passing of Draconian anti-terrorism/anti-crime bills, such as the first attack on the World Trade Center, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, and the mass murder at Columbine High School.
Each of those crime scenes, dare I say, bore the fingerprints of actors other than, or in addition to, those who officially took the fall. As with September 11, it is virtually impossible to say with certainty what exactly transpired on any of those fateful days, but there is certainly no shortage of evidence that challenges the official stories.
Psycho-dramas played out in the theater of our collective conscious? Stage-managed acts in the long-running production of The Politics of Fear? I tend to think that they were, but then again, as we all know, I'm a recovering conspiracy theorist -- which means that I have all kinds of crazy thoughts.
I believe, for example, that the Nazi Party torched their own Reichstag. Crazier yet, I believe that one of the families that helped finance the assent to power of that very same Nazi Party is the family that now occupies the White House. And I believe (and this is really crazy) that history repeats itself when its lessons have been misrepresented and misunderstood.
There are some things that I don't believe, however. I don't believe in the old adage that "it can't happen here." And I don't believe that if we still have football on Sundays and a choice between "Friends" and "Survivor" on Thursdays, then nothing has really changed in the last two years. And I don't believe that I've really managed to maintain much of a focus in this newsletter.
Have you noticed that? I just seem to keep rambling off in different directions. Why is that? Have you been wondering exactly where it is that I am headed with this? Strangely enough, I have too. And to be honest, I'm not really sure yet.
But we've come much too far to turn back now. We have little choice but to ride this wave out and see where it takes us.
(to be continued ...)