Having read JFK and the Unspeakable several years ago, I’ve been thinking about assassinations for quite a while and I’ve seen how “conspiracy theory” is used to shut off debate, to signal that we’re entering “the unspeakable” zone. So I began to wonder if the use of the term Conspiracy Theory might be a conspiracy itself.
So I went exploring, and surprise surprise, there is a 1967 CIA memo that puts forward a great many of the commonly heard rebuttals to the Warren Commission Report. The CIA owned over 250 media outlets in the 1960s, spent close to a billion dollars (in today’s dollars) spreading information, and had people doing its bidding in every major city in the world, so it is not surprising that they were able to disseminate this idea.
And the issue is contemporary, too, not just historical. Cass Sunstein is a powerful Obama Administration insider whose new book, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas, is a sophisticated apology for the established order.
The last of this series of articles is the CIA 1967 memo itself.
CIA Document 1035-960: Foundation of a Weaponized Term
from Memory Hole: Reflections on Media and Politics
© Memory Hole Blog / James F. Tracy
originally published January 20, 2013
“Conspiracy theory” is a term that at once strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of most every public figure, particularly journalists and academics. Since the 1960s the label has become a disciplinary device that has been overwhelmingly effective in defining certain events off limits to inquiry or debate. Especially in the United States raising legitimate questions about dubious official narratives destined to inform public opinion (and thereby public policy) is a major thought crime that must be cauterized from the public psyche at all costs.
CIAConspiracy theory’s acutely negative connotations may be traced to liberal historian Richard Hofstadter’s well-known fusillades against the “New Right.” Yet it was the Central Intelligence Agency that likely played the greatest role in effectively “weaponizing” the term. In the groundswell of public skepticism toward the Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA sent a detailed directive to all of its bureaus. Titled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission Report,” the dispatch played a definitive role in making the “conspiracy theory” term a weapon to be wielded against almost any individual or group calling the government’s increasingly clandestine programs and activities into question.
This important memorandum and its broad implications for American politics and public discourse are detailed in a book by Florida State University political scientist Lance deHaven-Smith, Conspiracy Theory in America. Dr. deHaven-Smith devised the state crimes against democracy concept to interpret and explain potential government complicity in events such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the major political assassinations of the 1960s, and 9/11.
CIA Document 1035-960 was released in response to a 1976 FOIA request by the New York Times. The directive is especially significant because it outlines the CIA’s concern regarding “the whole reputation of the American government” vis-à-vis the Warren Commission Report. The agency was especially interested in maintaining its own image and role as it “contributed information to the [Warren] investigation.”
The memorandum lays out a detailed series of actions and techniques for “countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” For example, approaching “friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)” to remind them of the Warren Commission’s integrity and soundness should be prioritized. “[T]he charges of the critics are without serious foundation,” the document reads, and “further speculative discussion only plays in to the hands of the [Communist] opposition.”
The agency also directed its members “[t]o employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.”
1035-960 further delineates specific techniques for countering “conspiratorial” arguments centering on the Warren Commission’s findings. Such responses and their coupling with the pejorative label have been routinely wheeled out in various guises by corporate media outlets, commentators and political leaders to this day against those demanding truth and accountability about momentous public events.
No significant new evidence has emerged which the [Warren] Commission did not consider.
Critics usually overvalue particular items and ignore others.
Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States.
Critics have often been enticed by a form of intellectual pride: they light on some theory and fall in love with it.
Oswald would not have been any sensible person’s choice for a co-conspirator.
Such vague accusations as that “more than ten people have died mysteriously” [during the Warren Commission’s inquiry] can always be explained in some natural way e.g.: the individuals concerned have for the most part died of natural causes.
Today more so than ever news media personalities and commentators occupy powerful positions for initiating propaganda activities closely resembling those set out in 1035-960 against anyone who might question state-sanctioned narratives of controversial and poorly understood occurrences. Indeed, as the motives and methods encompassed in the document have become fully internalized by intellectual workers and operationalized through such media, the almost uniform public acceptance of official accounts concerning unresolved events such as the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing, 9/11, and most recently the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, is largely guaranteed.
The effect on academic and journalistic inquiry into ambiguous and unexplained events that may in turn mobilize public inquiry, debate and action has been dramatic and far-reaching. One need only look to the rising police state and evisceration of civil liberties and constitutional protections as evidence of how this set of subtle and deceptive intimidation tactics has profoundly encumbered the potential for future independent self-determination and civic empowerment.
Don’t Be Fooled By ‘Conspiracy Theory’ Smears
from Washington's Blog
by Andrew Kreig
originally posted May 28, 2014
CNN and Newsweek recently launched dubious tirades against what they called “conspiracy theories.”
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal published U.N. Considers Reopening Probe into 1961 Crash that Killed Dag Hammarskjöld, a report that broached the possibility that the United States may have been involved in the death of the secretary-general, who is shown in a file photo.
As a way to understand such varied messages, I urge readers to evaluate evidence with an open mind — and regard with special suspicion those commentators who slant their coverage with the loaded smear words “conspiracy theory” without citing specific evidence.
No one has time to investigate everything without preconceptions. For efficiency, we rely in part on slanted commentary by our favorite sources. But if the stakes are high and we want to be honest we should admit (at least to ourselves) that our preliminary conclusions should be subject to change based on new data.
My suggestions follow the spirit of the Justice Integrity Project’s JFK Assassination “Readers Guide” last fall. That 11-part series began with a catalog of books, archives, reports and videos. Then it proceeded to assess various theories of President Kennedy’s 1963 murder.
By now, we know from declassified documents that the CIA undertook a massive secret campaign to smear critics of the Warren Commission with the label “conspiracy theorist.”
The campaign used members of mainstream media friendly to the CIA, for example, to discredit New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, shown below. Garrison was prosecuting New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw in what Garrison alleged was a conspiracy to murder Kennedy. Shaw, an OSS liaison to high-ranking British officials during World War II, founded a major regional trade mart in New Orleans shortly after the war. Garrison alleged that Shaw met with rightist opponents of JFK to plan the death.
A 50-page CIA memo, known as “CIA Dispatch 1035-960,” instructed agents to contact their media contacts and disparage those, like Garrison, criticizing the Warren Commission findings that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK and acted alone. The 1967 document is here in the original, and here in reformatted text of its summary.
Minutes of CIA meeting that same year indicated fear that Garrison would win a conviction.
But a jury promptly acquitted Shaw following more than a dozen deaths (including suicide) of potential witnesses and an intense smear campaign against Garrison by the national media. NBC News hired former high-ranking Justice Department official Walter Sheridan, who had been an early recruit to the super-secret NSA in the 1950s. Publicly an investigative reporter, Sheridan was involved also in operational efforts to undermine Garrison.
More generally, Operation Mockingbird was the CIA’s secret program to plant stories in the nation’s most prestigious news outlets.
“With this [CIA] memo and the CIA’s influence in the media,” author Peter Janney wrote in a guest column on our site last fall, “the concept of ‘conspiracy theorist’ was engendered and infused into our political lexicon and became what it is today: a term to smear, denounce, ridicule, and defame anyone who dares to speak about any crime committed by the state, military or intelligence services.”
Janney, whose late father Wistar Janney had been a high-ranking CIA executive, continued: “People who want to pretend that conspiracies don’t exist — when in fact they are among the most common modus operandi of significant historical change throughout the world and in our country — become furious when their naive illusion is challenged.”
After that background, let’s look at more recent uses of the term by the mainstream media to discredit those who suggest government complicity in notorious events.
CNN, Newsweek Lash Out Against Government Critics
Last week, CNN’s Jake Tapper engaged in little more than name-calling in his segment ‘Truthers’ to protest 9/11 Museum. Tapper brought in a like-minded guest, Salon columnist Emily Bazelon, who relied on the same kind of seat-of-the-pants speculation to denounce protesters.
Another example of selective analysis was a Newsweek cover story May 15, The Plots to Destroy America, written by Kurt Eichenwald. Oddly, Newsweek’s sensationalistic title itself implied a conspiracy — that the diverse government critics on the right and left whom the magazine attacked intended to “destroy” the nation with their “plots.”
I recognized the pattern. Three years ago, I hosted author Jonathan Kay on my weekly public affair radio show, Washington Update. Kay, a Canadian newspaper editor and law school graduate, had authored Among the Truthers, a 340-page book. Upon reading it, however, I saw that it raised alarm and mocked critics of 9/11 official accounts but did not analyze their arguments.
Similarly, Eichenwald cited as authority a handful of establishment “experts” who mocked those who criticize government or other establishment institutions.
Among the experts the Newsweek author repeatedly quoted was Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, author of the recent book Conspiracy Theories, and a former high-ranking Obama administration official. During the Obama first term, Sunstein in effect oversaw all federal regulation at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
Biden, Sunstein and Power
Samantha Power being sworn in by Joe Biden, with Cass Sunstein (center)
A White House photo shows Sunstein with his wife, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, when Vice President Joe Biden swore her into office last summer. Her appointment followed her high-level work in national security at the White House and State Department during Obama’s first term. As noted in my book, Presidential Puppetry, she is a leading proponent for regime change and military intervention globally on the grounds of humanitarian principles.
Also last summer, Obama appointed Sunstein along with four others to the president’s review commission for a response to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive illegal spying on the American public.
Eichenwald glosses over this heavy national security background and the rhetoric needed to foster public support for global interventions.
Even more relevant is that Eichenwald failed to note that Sunstein co-authored in 2008 what has become a notorious paper advocating propaganda techniques.
In the paper “Conspiracy Theories,” Sunstein advocated that the government secretly hire academics and journalists to thwart the dissemination of what federal authorities might regard as dangerous beliefs held by millions of voters, such as suggestion that officials were complicit in 9/11 or a cover-up.
Sunstein’s own proposal sounds, in other words, like the kind of plot government critics most fear as a violation of constitutional rights by an Orwellian, Big Brother state.
Yet Eichenwald argued that “not a scintilla of evidence” exists for the theories he disparaged. He called them “unsubstantiated nonsense.” But he failed, like most with his mind-set, to refute the best arguments of his targets.
Instead, he repeatedly cited well-credential experts, who applauded government officials for the most part and trivialized the concerns of complainers.
Such elitist, slanted reporting by Newsweek and CNN suggests why their audiences are plunging and the outlets find themselves focused on half-truths important to someone, but not audiences. The Internet provides alternative news sources.
In 2010, the Washington Post sold Newsweek for just $1 and assumption of debts. The Post announced that it wanted to place the publication into the hands of a like-minded publisher. This was Sidney Harman, the husband of Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA), a Harvard Law grad and prominent advocate of the intelligence-military complex. Newsweek, much like CNN, retains only a shell of its former clout and has twice been sold since Sidney Harman died.
That said, most of us still rely heavily on the mainstream media to complement our information from other sources.
A striking example last week was a bold, exclusive report by Joe Lauria, the Wall Street Journal’s United Nations correspondent.
Lauria drew on his years on the beat to report for the Journal that the United Nations may reactivate on the basis of new evidence its dormant inquiry on whether its late leader, Hammarskjöld, was intentionally killed during his 1961 peace-keeping mission.
As a former stringer for the Journal for two years earlier in my career, I can imagine how much research the reporter must have produced before such a story would make it into print. His achievement is especially striking at a Murdoch-owned paper, whose owner is better known for benefiting from high-level intrigues than exposing them.
And what if the United Nations proceeds — and finds that the secretary-general died from foul play?
For one thing, that would not be good news for those who deny conspiracies. But they would surely find a way to avoid in-depth reporting.
Cross-posted with additional reference materials at Justice Integrity Project (www.justice-integrity.org)
Cracking The “Conspiracy Theories’” Psycholinguistic Code: The Witch Hunt against Independent Research and Analysis
from Global Research
by Prof. James F. Tracy
originally posted May 21, 2014
A new crusade appears to be underway to target independent research and analysis available via alternative news media. This March saw the release of “cognitive infiltration” advocate Cass Sunstein’s new book, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas. In April, the confirmed federal intelligence-gathering arm, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), released a new report, “Agenda 21: The UN, Sustainability, and Right Wing Conspiracy Theory.” Most recently, Newsweek magazine carried a cover story, titled, “The Plots to Destroy America: Conspiracy Theories Are a Clear and Present Danger.”
As its discourse suggests, this propaganda campaign is using the now familiar “conspiracy theory” label, as outlined in Central Intelligence Agency Document 1035-960, the 1967 memo laying out a strategy for CIA “media assets” to counter criticism of the Warren Commission and attack independent investigators of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. At that time the targets included attorney Mark Lane and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who were routinely defamed and lampooned in major US news outlets.
Declassified government documents have proven Lane and Garrison’s allegations of CIA-involvement in the assassination largely accurate. Nevertheless, the prospect of being subject to the conspiracy theorist smear remains a potent weapon for intimidating authors, journalists, and scholars from interrogating complex events, policies, and other potentially controversial subject matter.
As the title of Newsweek’s feature story indicates, a primary element of contemporary propaganda campaigns using the conspiracy theory/ist label is to suggest that citizens’ distrust of government imperatives and activities tends toward violent action. The “conspiracy theorist” term is intentionally conflated with “conspiracist,” thus linking the two in the mass mind. Images of Lee Harvey Oswald, Timothy McVeigh, and Osama bin Laden are subtly invoked when the magic terms are referenced. In reality, it is typically Western governments using their police or military who prove the foremost purveyors of violence and the threat of violence—both domestically and abroad.
In his Newsweek article, author and journalist Kurt Eichenwald selectively employs the assertions of the SPLC, Sunstein, and a handful of social scientists to postulate in Orwellian fashion that independent research and analysis of the United Nations’ Agenda 21, the anti-educational thrust of “Common Core,” the dangers of vaccine injury and water fluoridation, and September 11—all important policies and issues worthy of serious study and concern—are a “contagion” to the body politic.
In a functioning public, honest academics and journalists would uninhibitedly delve into these and similar problems–GMOs, state-sponsored terrorism, the dangers of non-ionizing radiation– particularly since such phenomena pose grave threats to both popular sovereignty and self determination. Such intellectuals would then provide important findings to foster vigorous public debate.
Absent this, segments of the populace still capable of critical thought are inclined to access and probe information that leads them to question bureaucratic edicts and, in some cases, suggest a potentially broader political agenda. In today’s world, however, such research projects carried out by the hoi polloi that are expressly reserved for government or foundation-funded technocrats “’distort the debate that is crucial to democracy,’” says Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan.
With the above in mind, a simple yet instructive exercise in illustrating the psycholinguistic feature of the conspiracy theory propaganda technique is to replace “conspiracy theories/ists” with the phrase, “independent research and analysis,” or “independent researchers.” Let us apply this to some passages from Eichenwald’s recent Newsweek piece.
For example, “Psychological research has shown that the only trait that consistently indicates the probability someone will believe in conspiracy theories independent research and analysis is if that person believes in other conspiracy theories independent research and analysis,” Eichenwald sagely concludes.
“One of the most common ways of introducing conspiracy theories independent research and analysis is to ‘just ask questions’ about an official account,’’’ says Karen Douglas, co-editor of the British Journal of Social Psychology and a senior academic … at Britain’s University of Kent.”
In fact, substituting the phrases accordingly throughout the article significantly neutralizes its overall propagandistic effect.
Researchers agree; independent research and analysis are espoused by people at every level of society seeking ways of calming the chaos of life, sometimes by simply reinforcing convictions.
9/11 conspiracy theorists independent researchers protest outside the World Trade Center in 2011
9/11 conspiracy theorists independent researchers protest outside the World Trade Center in 2011
While the growth in the number of news outlets has helped spread independent research and analysis, it doesn’t compare to the impact of social media and the Internet, experts say.
“If you have social networks of people who are talking with one another, you can have independent research and analysis spread in a hurry,’’ says Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School … “It literally is as if it was contagious.”
While some may dismiss independent researchers as ignorant or unstable, research has shown that to be false. “The idea that only dumb people believe this stuff is wrong,’’ says Dartmouth’s Nyhan.
People who more strongly believed in independent research and analysis were significantly less likely to use sunscreen or have an annual medical checkup.
According to a just-released report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the independent research and analysis flowed in April at a hearing before Alabama’s Senate Education Committee about legislation to allow school districts to reject Common Core.
It’s true. Since September 11, 2001 the internet has increasingly allowed for everyday people to retrieve, study, and share information on important events and phenomena as never before. And as a recent study published in the prominent journal Frontiers of Psychology suggests, tendering “alternative conspiracy theories” to the government-endorsed explanations of September 11, 2001 is a sign of “individuation,” or psychological well being and contentment.
Such a condition is a clear danger to those who wish to wield uncontested political authority. Indeed, the capacity to freely disseminate and discuss knowledge of government malfeasance is the foremost counterbalance to tyranny. Since this ability cannot be readily confiscated or suppressed, it must be ridiculed, marginalized, even diagnosed as a psychiatric condition.
The recent abandonment of network neutrality may eventually further subdue the nuisance of independent research, thought, and analysis. Until then, the corporate media’s attempts to bamboozle and terrify the American public with the well-worn conspiracy theory meme will be a prevalent feature of what passes for news and commentary today.
CIA DOCUMENT 1035-960
CIA Document 1035-960
Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report
1. Our Concern. From the day of President Kennedy's assassination on, there has been speculation about the responsibility for his murder. Although this was stemmed for a time by the Warren Commission report, (which appeared at the end of September 1964), various writers have now had time to scan the Commission's published report and documents for new pretexts for questioning, and there has been a new wave of books and articles criticizing the Commission's findings. In most cases the critics have speculated as to the existence of some kind of conspiracy, and often they have implied that the Commission itself was involved. Presumably as a result of the increasing challenge to the Warren Commission's report, a public opinion poll recently indicated that 46% of the American public did not think that Oswald acted alone, while more than half of those polled thought that the Commission had left some questions unresolved. Doubtless polls abroad would show similar, or possibly more adverse results.
2. This trend of opinion is a matter of concern to the U.S. government, including our organization. The members of the Warren Commission were naturally chosen for their integrity, experience and prominence. They represented both major parties, and they and their staff were deliberately drawn from all sections of the country. Just because of the standing of the Commissioners, efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing tendency to hint that President Johnson himself, as the one person who might be said to have benefited, was in some way responsible for the assassination.
Innuendo of such seriousness affects not only the individual concerned, but also the whole reputation of the American government. Our organization itself is directly involved: among other facts, we contributed information to the investigation. Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries. Background information is supplied in a classified section and in a number of unclassified attachments.
3. Action. We do not recommend that discussion of the assassination question be initiated where it is not already taking place. Where discussion is active [business] addresses are requested:
a. To discuss the publicity problem with [?] and friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors), pointing out that the Warren Commission made as thorough an investigation as humanly possible, that the charges of the critics are without serious foundation, and that further speculative discussion only plays into the hands of the opposition. Point out also that parts of the conspiracy talk appear to be deliberately generated by Communist propagandists. Urge them to use their influence to discourage unfounded and irresponsible speculation.
b. To employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passing to assets. Our ploy should point out, as applicable, that the critics are (I) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (I) politically interested, (III) financially interested, (IV) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (V) infatuated with their own theories. In the course of discussions of the whole phenomenon of criticism, a useful strategy may be to single out Epstein's theory for attack, using the attached Fletcher [?] article and Spectator piece for background. (Although Mark Lane's book is much less convincing that Epstein's and comes off badly where confronted by knowledgeable critics, it is also much more difficult to answer as a whole, as one becomes lost in a morass of unrelated details.)
4. In private to media discussions not directed at any particular writer, or in attacking publications which may be yet forthcoming, the following arguments should be useful:
a. No significant new evidence has emerged which the Commission did not consider. The assassination is sometimes compared (e.g., by Joachim Joesten and Bertrand Russell) with the Dreyfus case; however, unlike that case, the attack on the Warren Commission have produced no new evidence, no new culprits have been convincingly identified, and there is no agreement among the critics. (A better parallel, though an imperfect one, might be with the Reichstag fire of 1933, which some competent historians (Fritz Tobias, AJ.P. Taylor, D.C. Watt) now believe was set by Vander Lubbe on his own initiative, without acting for either Nazis or Communists; the Nazis tried to pin the blame on the Communists, but the latter have been more successful in convincing the world that the Nazis were to blame.)
b. Critics usually overvalue particular items and ignore others. They tend to place more emphasis on the recollections of individual witnesses (which are less reliable and more divergent--and hence offer more hand-holds for criticism) and less on ballistics, autopsy, and photographic evidence. A close examination of the Commission's records will usually show that the conflicting eyewitness accounts are quoted out of context, or were discarded by the Commission for good and sufficient reason.
c. Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States, esp. since informants could expect to receive large royalties, etc. Note that Robert Kennedy, Attorney General at the time and John F. Kennedy's brother, would be the last man to overlook or conceal any conspiracy. And as one reviewer pointed out, Congressman Gerald R. Ford would hardly have held his tongue for the sake of the Democratic administration, and Senator Russell would have had every political interest in exposing any misdeeds on the part of Chief Justice Warren. A conspirator moreover would hardly choose a location for a shooting where so much depended on conditions beyond his control: the route, the speed of the cars, the moving target, the risk that the assassin would be discovered. A group of wealthy conspirators could have arranged much more secure conditions.
d. Critics have often been enticed by a form of intellectual pride: they light on some theory and fall in love with it; they also scoff at the Commission because it did not always answer every question with a flat decision one way or the other. Actually, the make-up of the Commission and its staff was an excellent safeguard against over-commitment to any one theory, or against the illicit transformation of probabilities into certainties.
e. Oswald would not have been any sensible person's choice for a co-conspirator. He was a "loner," mixed up, of questionable reliability and an unknown quantity to any professional intelligence service.
f. As to charges that the Commission's report was a rush job, it emerged three months after the deadline originally set. But to the degree that the Commission tried to speed up its reporting, this was largely due to the pressure of irresponsible speculation already appearing, in some cases coming from the same critics who, refusing to admit their errors, are now putting out new criticisms.
g. Such vague accusations as that "more than ten people have died mysteriously" can always be explained in some natural way e.g.: the individuals concerned have for the most part died of natural causes; the Commission staff questioned 418 witnesses (the FBI interviewed far more people, conduction 25,000 interviews and re interviews), and in such a large group, a certain number of deaths are to be expected. (When Penn Jones, one of the originators of the "ten mysterious deaths" line, appeared on television, it emerged that two of the deaths on his list were from heart attacks, one from cancer, one was from a head-on collision on a bridge, and one occurred when a driver drifted into a bridge abutment.)
5. Where possible, counter speculation by encouraging reference to the Commission's Report itself. Open-minded foreign readers should still be impressed by the care, thoroughness, objectivity and speed with which the Commission worked. Reviewers of other books might be encouraged to add to their account the idea that, checking back with the report itself, they found it far superior to the work of its critics.
Last edited: 31-Jul-20 12:58 AM