Ten Conspiracy Theories
Mike Ward, PopMatters January 2, 2003
about thirty minutes after his chief of staff told him that America
was under attack, George W. Bush continued to sit in an elementary
school classroom listening to a second-grader tell a story about
a pet goat. He did a marvelous job of looking completely unsurprised.
Meanwhile, four hijacked jumbo jets were able to fly off-course
across several states without encountering any opposition from
the most powerful and responsive air force in the world.
than a month later, on the pretext of pursuing terrorist mastermind
Osama bin Laden, the Bush administration began what it called
a "war" on the impoverished and already war-torn country
of Afghanistan. It turns out this assault had been in the works
well before September 11 took place.
after replacing the Taliban government with one more to its liking
(and, in what is surely a coincidence, resuscitating the world's
most bountiful opium fields), the administration began agitating
for a similar, but even more destructive, bombardment of the oil-rich
nation of Iraq. This, although Osama bin Laden was still at large
and no link between him and Saddam Hussein could be established.
these reasons and hundreds of others, the year following September
11 has seen probably the most staggering proliferation of "conspiracy
theories" in American history. Angry speculation focused
mainly on government dirty dealings, ulterior motives, and potential
complicity in the attacks has risen to a clamor that easily
rivals what followed the Kennedy assassination. Some of these
suppositions are patent balderdash. But many others are coherent
and well argued, and cite disconcerting reports from the U.S.
corporate media and respected overseas news desks to support their
claims. Providing grist for the mill are such odd episodes as
last year's partisan anthrax poisonings (using U.S. army microbes)
and the sniper attacks that recently plagued Washington, DC.
are the ten most alarming theories about September 11, the "war
on terror," and the future of the world. Feel free to accept
them as gospel, study them as symptoms of a traumatized culture,
or scoff at them as anti-American propaganda: I'm only the messenger.
Personally, though, at this point the only person I hold above
suspicion in the matter of September 11 is that poor kid with
1. Great Game in the Caspian Sea.
Among the theories about the administration's real reasons for
bombing and occupying Afghanistan, the one with the most traction
argues that Afghanistan provides the best real estate for an oil
and natural gas pipeline. Believers say that fossil fuels in the
Caspian Sea, once part of the Soviet empire, are now up for grabs
in a fierce contest between Russia and the West. To the winner
will go control of much of the energy supply for East Asia. Sources
cited in support of this idea which has gotten ink in England's
Guardian newspaper and the BBC, as well as offhand mention on
U.S. Sunday talk shows include Zbigniew Brzezinski's apology
for empire, The Grand Chessboard, and a 1998 Taliban-damning report
to Congress from the oil company Unocal. But the most telling
evidence of all: Now that Afghanistan is a satellite state of
the Bush administration, the pipeline is actually being built!.
2. The Afghanistan/Enron Connection.
Rumor has it that in the months before Enron's collapse, Bush,
Cheney, and the much-gossiped-about "energy task force"
convened daily, high-priority meetings to try and engineer a bailout
for Bush's most generous campaign contributor. At the peak of
the Enron scandal and in the aftermath of the attack on Afghanistan,
a fascinating document surfaced in conspiracy circles that told
of a bank-breaking Enron venture: A power plant the firm had partly
built in India. Plagued with cost overruns and accusations of
employee mistreatment that led to violent labor disputes, the
power plant became a cash sinkhole that threatened to send Enron
into insolvency unless the plant could tap into a pipeline
network to be spun off from the Caspian Sea venture and recover
some of its losses by operating on natural gas. A detailed and
intriguing read, this document explains why Dick Cheney would
sooner chug a quart of 10W-40 than surrender the minutes of those
3. The Magic Passport Theory.
We can now add Mohamed Atta's reality-defying passport to the
Arlen Specter Gallery of Improbable Projectiles. This incriminating
item was thrown intact from a cataclysmic fireball and miraculously
plucked from 1.6 million tons of debris in a matter of hours.
The corporate media rarely mention the unlikelihood of this. Many
in the alternative press, though, are unafraid to draw an obvious,
albeit taboo, inference: that the Atta passport is planted evidence.
According to Washington, DC, peace activist John Judge, other
potential plants include the Arabic-language flight manuals left
in one of the hijackers' cars (with note: The discussion of the
flight manuals begins at around 13:30). These manuals could serve
no useful purpose at such a late stage unless the hijackers planned
to finish learning how to fly during a half-hour ride to the airport.
But as deliberately placed articles, they are as if a signed diary
called "My Plan to Kill the President" had been unearthed
in Lee Harvey Oswald's flat. Also high on the possible planted
evidence list is a spiritual manifesto for the Al Qaeda kamikaze
pilots, which, to journalist Robert Fisk, sounds an awful lot
like it was written by a God-fearing Christian.
4. Hijacker Oddities I.
Little-observed in the fine print of the FBI rap sheet on the
September 11 hijackers was a clumsily phrased disclaimer admitting
that the Bureau's document wasn't, ahem, necessarily a final draft
(with note: "It should be noted that attempts to confirm
the true identities of these individuals are still under way").
Mohamed Atta's identity was a slam-dunk, of course, owing to the
propitious recovery of his passport. But bear in mind how quickly
the FBI conjured its 19 Enemies of the State while you ponder
the strange case of Waleed Al Shehri. In an article for the BBC,
this Saudi Arabian national says that he turned up on the FBI
list and feels that rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated.
Not to be outdone, the British Daily Telegraph also ran an article
on the subject, claiming to have found no fewer than four of the
supposed September 11 attackers alive, well, and hopping
mad. Pending long overdue clarification from John Ashcroft's vaunted
Bureau, one can hardly blame the conspiracy-minded for crying
5. Hijacker Oddities II.
theory about the hijackers' real identities takes as its departure
an utterly bizarre and largely overlooked story on MSNBC.com,
which says that some of the hijackers may have trained at U.S.
Army bases. Yes, you read that right. Strange as it may seem,
providing terrorists-slash-"freedom fighters" with lethal
skills is a tradition in certain specialized arms of the American
military and U.S. intelligence. The infamous School of the Americas,
for example, helped to train the death squads that claimed so
many innocent lives in Central America. Even so, the idea that
the government might aid Osama's minions is completely beyond
the pale, right? Perhaps. But remember the CIA and the military's
record-breaking aid program to the Afghan Mujahedin movement,
as outlined, for example, in John Cooley's Unholy Wars. Questions
about hijacker links to U.S. intelligence got more complicated
when the spook watchdog magazine CovertAction Quarterly claimed
that many of the hijackers got into the country using CIA "snitch"
visas. (This article can be found in CovertAction Quarterly's
Winter 2001, 41-44; the BBC conducted an interview with the author,
Michael Springmann). As with many issues involving The Agency,
this promises to be shrouded in mystery for a long time.
6. Insider Trades.
Remember right after the attacks when you couldn't watch TV for
five minutes without hearing somebody say "put option"?
The 9/11 insider stock trades got endless airplay on the major
networks before Osama bin Laden became fixed in the popular imagination,
whereupon the media bent themselves to the task of establishing
his guilt. Still, even if Al Qaeda placed the 4,744 suspicious
transactions, wouldn't the story still be useful, if only to further
illuminate the terrorist network's money machine? Apparently not,
because the story didn't just fade away over time; it suddenly
vanished. Once in a while, a TV news anchorperson would assure
us there had been "nothing to" the rumors while failing
to explain, if this was true, where the story had come from or
why it had gotten so such attention.
conservative scandal-tracker Tom Flocco didn't give up on the
hinky stock trades. In a series of articles, he follows the money
back to a bigwig in the financial firm Deutsche Bank, who also
was once executive director of (surprise!) the CIA. Some might
question Flocco's credibility as an investigative reporter, I
suppose although credibility in the news business appears
to be a dead letter anyway, if CNN could accidentally fabricate
the 5,000 trades out of whole cloth to begin with.
7. The New World Order Will Not Be Televised.
Assuming you haven't stopped reading yet either to start
digging a bomb shelter in your backyard or to flip on FOX News
for a much-needed dose of pro-war soma you have to be wondering
how these flabbergasting stories escaped the notice of America's
intrepid newshounds. Examine this question for even a minute and
you will stumble onto a proven, card-carrying evil conspiracy:
It's called the U.S. Congress, and conclusive evidence links them
to a truly terrifying document known as the Telecommunications
Act of 1996.
legislation is relevant post-9/11 because it allowed the megamergers
of media conglomerates to become ultra-monstermergers. As a result,
today a handful of multinationals control most of what is said
in the U.S. about military actions overseas and the reasons for
them. At least one of these companies General Electric
has financial stakes in the weapons racket as well, but
this blatant conflict of interest gets as much coverage as the
Telecommunications Act originally got when it was on the floor
of Congress: next to none. Some media observers and academics,
like MIT's Noam Chomsky and Norman Solomon of Fairness and Accuracy
in Reporting, have doggedly pointed out that the bloated media
emperor has no clothes. Too bad they stand little chance of appearing
regularly on Face the Nation.
many people noticed when the rules governing what gets said about
war and who gets to say it were exposed in Harper's Magazine,
which ran a Florida News Herald memo outlining some of the carefully
crafted talking points journalists must observe in discussing
U.S. bombing campaigns. Among them: Ignore or minimize innocent
death. "If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian
casualties" caused by U.S. bombings, the Herald's copy desk
decrees, "DO IT.... Failure to follow any of these or other
standing rules could put your job in jeopardy" (1). Lesson?
If you live in the U.S. and think you know what your government
is doing to other countries and why, just because you watch cable
or read a daily newspaper think again.
8. Iran/Contra Redux.
Near the end of 2002, a surprisingly lethargic debate was underway
in the U.S. concerning the "war on terror"'s erosion
of Americans' civil liberties which many felt were already
pretty meager anyhow, having been picked clean during two decades
of the "war on drugs." The debate took a turn toward
the paranormal when the corporate media briefly went agog over
the Bush administration's citizen-stalking Information Awareness
Office. By the time it got mentioned in the Washington Post, though,
the IAO was old news to flying saucer buffs: Art Bell rival Jeff
Rense had already run several articles scrutinizing the IAO's
logo, which with its all-seeing, Masonic pyramid-and-eyeball
seems meant to agitate the growing ranks of the understandably
takes only a few clicks on the IAO's homepage to learn that the
agency is presided over by Iran/Contra luminary John Poindexter,
just one weapons-running Reagan-era alumnus to find an honored
seat in Dubya's star chamber. Also plucked from political ignominy
is Elliot Abrams, who has gone from pleading no-contest to charges
of perjury before Congress to helping lead the Bush Administration's
Mid-East policy. These are only two of the administration's many
questionable appointments don't even get me started on
Henry Kissinger but Iran/Contra is a matter of special
note to conspiracy trackers. Take the late Mae Brussell, a minor
legend to some for her reflections on the Kennedy murder. She
once provided scathing alternative assessments of Iran/Contra
for her underground radio show, "World Watchers". Like
Tom Flocco, Mae Brussell should be taken with some healthy skepticism.
Even so, the rage behind her accusations she links the
Iran/Contra figures with wholesale drug dealing and the CIA with
the Jonestown massacre is a predictable result when bloody
official policies are conducted absent anything resembling consent
of the governed.
9. The Reichstag Fire and Operation Northwoods.
Now things get really weird. To those who scoff at the idea that
the government could have had foreknowledge of or complicity in
the September 11 attacks, conspiracy researchers respond that
attacks have been faked or manufactured plenty of times before,
usually to maneuver the public into supporting a war they would
otherwise oppose. The Nazi party, for instance, most likely set
fire to the Reichstag building in order to pin the crime on the
communists and galvanize the people behind their police-state
tactics. They also forged a fake battle to justify their invasion
of Poland (2). Sure, you say, but the Nazis were like that. Unfortunately,
similar incidents pop up in the U.S.'s recent past, as well. Frequently
mentioned examples include Pearl Harbor which many, such
as Day of Deceit author Robert Stinnett, feel was allowed to happen
to prompt America's entry into World War II and the weird
Gulf of Tonkin incident.
discussing this issue often cite an interesting find: an internal
Pentagon document from the early 1960s, which appears in James
Bamford's book on military subterfuge, Body of Secrets, and puts
the lie to the contention that the government would never manufacture
incidents or attack its own people to lead the country to war.
The Operation Northwoods memo is the result of a brainstorming
session on ways to help sell military action in Cuba by fabricating
or committing acts of violence and blaming them on Fidel Castro.
Among its suggestions: shoot down a plane full of college students,
sink an American ship ("casualty lists in U.S. newspapers
would cause a helpful wave of national indignation"), or
rig astronaut John Glenn's rocket to explode. The Northwoods memo
invites us to rethink what some in the government might be capable
of not only in terms of September 11 but also the Kennedy assassination.
After all, if spectacular murders of people like John Glenn are
conceivable, is it so fantastic to plot the assassination of a
10. Things to Come.
For many writers like www.rense.com's Diane Harvey
the corruption of American empire is relevant, but only as a sidebar.
The real problem stems from two incontrovertible facts: that reserves
of oil and other non-renewable resources will someday run out,
and that on its current course, the Earth is soon to become overloaded
with people. If these twin problems go unaddressed, our species
faces a gloomy fate. As the situation gets worse, governance in
the traditional mode, based around at least the pretense of liberal
democracy, will become impossible. Instead, naked power grabs
will become the norm for wealthy elites capable of mounting them.
"The people"'s job will be simply to provide money and
labor for the war machines that make these imperial conquests
possible; those who aspire to a role in their own governance beyond
subsidizing imperial expansion will be brutally repressed.
and others feel that such a global transformation has already
begun, and episodes like September 11 and the U.S. government's
bizarre obsession with oil-laden Iraq are among its harbingers.
But, you say, oil supplies look fine from where you sit. According
to hard-on-the-eyes website, www.dieoff.org, the problem won't
manifest itself all at once, when the world's oil wells suddenly
dry up. It is instead happening incrementally, because the rate
of production has started to lag behind the world's increasing
demand. Among numerous cases in point, www.dieoff.org cites "The
Coming Anarchy," an Atlantic Monthly article describing intolerable
government repression in the long-neglected region of sub-Saharan
Africa. Such will be the harvest of empire for our overextended
world: warlordism, brutal dictatorships that verge on chaos
death, and in vast quantities. I don't know whether these predictions
will come to pass. But after this past year, I find the possibility
an awful lot easier to imagine (29).
The top 10 conspiracy theories, speculations, and plain odd things
I didn't have space to discuss here:
Mel Carnahan and Paul Wellstone plane crashes. Jeb Bush's 7 September
2001 martial law declaration in Florida (Executive Order 01-261).
The Flight 93 debris patterns and the ease with which the Flight
93 story that circulated in the major media fits into an archetypal
"hero" narrative. Warren Buffett, who among with
several other World Trade Center executives went to Offutt
AFB before the attacks on the morning of September 11. This is
where Bush went after the attacks began. Potential CIA links to
the coup in Venezuela. Cynthia McKinney's insinuation of possible
government complicity in September 11 on the floor of Congress.
Phoenix memo and the curious case of the FBI whistleblowers. The
idea that the anti-aircraft missiles used when Bush visited Genoa,
Italy, we intended to thwart a kamikaze attack. The Bin Laden
family's clandestine flight out of the United States in the days
after September 11. Bush's 6 August 2001, comprehensive briefing,
"Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."
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