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The CIA Created the Label 'Conspiracy Theorist' To Combat Questions on its Role in the Kennedy Assassination — Here's the Memo

The CIA was concerned that not enough Americans were buying into the report on the assassination of president John F. Kennedy issued by the Warren Commission. So the CIA issued a memo on how to deal with the "conspiracy theories" (a term coined by the CIA) on JFK's murder. A close look at the 1967 memo suggests that pundits in mainstream media are still using talking points that come almost verbatim from that CIA memo. Here's one of the most overused CIA-provided talking points: "Claim that it would be impossible for so many people to keep quiet about such a big conspiracy." — Sound familiar?


Photo by Lucie Höhler.
Photo by Lucie Höhler.


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In 1967, the CIA Created the Label “Conspiracy Theorists” … to Attack Anyone Who Challenges the “Official” Narrative

Conspiracy Theorists USED TO Be Accepted As Normal

Democracy and free market capitalism were founded on conspiracy theories.

The Magna Carta, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and other founding Western documents were based on conspiracy theories. Greek democracy and free market capitalism were also based on conspiracy theories.

But those were the bad old days …Things have now changed.

The CIA Coined the Term Conspiracy Theorist In 1967

That all changed in the 1960s.

Specifically, in April 1967, the CIA wrote a dispatch which coined the term “conspiracy theories” … and recommended methods for discrediting such theories. The dispatch was marked “psych” – short for “psychological operations” or disinformation – and “CS” for the CIA’s “Clandestine Services” unit.

The dispatch was produced in responses to a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times in 1976.

The dispatch states:
2. This trend of opinion is a matter of concern to the U.S. government, including our organization.

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 [conspiracy] question be initiated where it is not already taking place. Where discussion is active addresses are requested:

a. To discuss the publicity problem with and friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors) , pointing out that the [official investigation of the relevant event] 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 … propagandists. Urge them to use their influence to discourage unfounded and irresponsible speculation.

b. To employ propaganda assets to 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, (II) politically interested, (III) financially interested, (IV) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (V) infatuated with their own theories.

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.

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) …

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.

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.

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

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.

Here are screenshots of part of the memo:








Summarizing the tactics which the CIA dispatch recommended:

  • Claim that it would be impossible for so many people to keep quiet about such a big conspiracy

  • Have people friendly to the CIA attack the claims, and point back to “official” reports

  • Claim that eyewitness testimony is unreliable

  • Claim that this is all old news, as “no significant new evidence has emerged”

  • Ignore conspiracy claims unless discussion about them is already too active

  • Claim that it’s irresponsible to speculate

  • Accuse theorists of being wedded to and infatuated with their theories

  • Accuse theorists of being politically motivated

  • Accuse theorists of having financial interests in promoting conspiracy theories

In other words, the CIA’s clandestine services unit created the arguments for attacking conspiracy theories as unreliable in the 1960s as part of its psychological warfare operations.

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