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28 June, 2010

Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation

The official U.S. government anti-conspiracy theories page.

This is hiliarious! This website appears to have been created for school children.

There are also several videos and links to official disinformation sites.

Under Resources for Misinformation:

Urban Legend Reference Pages: Links to the completely asinine webpage:

The 9/11 link links to the officially asinine CIA disinfo page:

There is also an associated officially asinine blog by Todd Leventhal, here:

"Todd Leventhal is the head of the Counter Misinformation Team, of the United States Department of State's International Information Programs Bureau. The team responds to misinformation and disinformation about the United States government."

“Conspiracy theories exist in the realm of myth, where imaginations run wild, fears trump facts, and evidence is ignored. As a superpower, the United States is often cast as a villain in these dramas. Click on the text boxes below to learn about popular conspiracy theories.”

Health is a critically important issue for everyone. When new, life-threatening diseases emerge, such as AIDS, the H1N1 flu, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), people are alarmed and can seize on conspiracy theories to explain their sudden appearance.

Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov has admitted the Soviet KGB concocted the false story that the AIDS virus was created in a U.S. military laboratory. Scientists now believe that AIDS most likely spread to humans from a West African chimpanzee in about 1930, long before genetic engineering existed.

When new, immune-suppression drugs made life-saving organ transplants much more feasible in the 1980s, false organ theft rumors began to appear, reflecting deep-seated fears about body integrity. Illegal organ transplants for payment do occur, however, and coercion can happen in this black market.

September 11
Dramatic, polarizing events often give rise to conspiracy theories, and the September 11 attacks were the most dramatic terrorist attacks in history. Nonsense about them abounds, especially in the popular video “Loose Change.”

See “The Top September 11 Conspiracy Theories” for an overview. There was no “controlled demolition” of the World Trade Center towers. Instead, the unprecedented attack by hijacked airliners full of jet fuel destroyed support pillars, loosened fireproofing insulation, and ignited fires that destroyed the twin towers. The collapse of the north tower heavily damaged World Trade Center 7, igniting fires and causing its collapse.

A hijacked plane, not a cruise missile, hit the Pentagon, as detailed in a photo gallery. Four thousand Jews did not miss work at the World Trade Center on September 11. And al-Qaida has admitted, many times, that it carried out the attacks.

As a powerful force in society, the military is naturally feared, and fear plays a major role in conspiracy theories.

Uranium evokes very powerful fears. It is associated with atomic weapons, mass annihilation, radiation sickness, cancer and birth defects. Depleted uranium evokes these same fears, despite the fact that it has been depleted of much of its radioactivity. Fear-based associations can be more powerful than logic and facts. Compare how you feel about tungsten to how you feel about depleted uranium. Both are heavy metals, but "depleted uranium" might sound scarier to you.

North Korea has waged a nearly-60-year disinformation campaign to try to convince the world that the United States used biological weapons during the Korean War. Such claims are false.

Biological weapons evoke the nightmare fear of uncontrolled, deadly mass epidemics. The United States eliminated all of its biological weapons in the early 1970s. Those who falsely claim otherwise rely on the extraordinary power of this fear to overwhelm facts.

Outer Space
Outer space is the realm of the unimaginable. An encounter with intelligent alien life would be the most extraordinary moment in human history, which is precisely why it would be absolutely impossible to keep such an encounter secret if it were to occur.

As space travel began to become a real possibility in the 20th century, aliens in “flying saucers“ became a focus of fears and anxiety, replacing earthbound spirits. We project onto imaginary aliens some of our deepest fears — that we could be victimized, enslaved or exterminated by a technologically superior civilization. Typically conceived as highly intelligent, imaginary aliens represent the ultimate unknowable, feared “other.”

In addition to conspiracy theories about aliens, other conspiracy theories surround real space exploration. The first heavier-than-air craft flew in 1903; only 66 years later, men landed on the moon. This rapid technological progress can be difficult to comprehend, which may make it easier for some people to mistakenly believe the moon landing was a hoax.

Economic conspiracy theories are often based on the false, but popular, idea that powerful individuals are motivated overwhelmingly by their desire for wealth, rather than the wide variety of human motivations we all experience. (This one-dimensional, cartoonish view of human nature is at the heart of Marxist ideology, which once held hundreds of millions under its sway.)

One fantasy, reflecting this simplistic, unimaginative way of interpreting human events, falsely claims that U.S. national security agencies employ “economic hit men” to entrap countries with huge amounts of debt.

Within the United States, those who fear international influences may believe false stories that, with Canada and Mexico, the United States is replacing the dollar with a new “Amero” currency, patterned after the Euro, or that the United States is sacrificing its sovereignty to an imaginary “North American Union.”

U.S. Domestic
Perhaps more conspiracy theories surround Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated President John Kennedy in 1963, than anyone in American history. The Soviet KGB, Cuba, the mafia, the CIA, and others have been blamed for killing Kennedy, but all evidence indicates that Oswald acted alone.

Today, some conspiracy theorists falsely claim President Obama was not born in the United States, making him ineligible to be president. However, there is no doubt that he was born in Hawaii.

The so-called “Franklin Prophecy,” which continues to appear in various countries, is an anti-Jewish forgery that first appeared in the United States in 1934. It falsely claims that American founding father Benjamin Franklin warned against Jewish influence in America and proposed that Jews be expelled from the United States.

U.S. and Islam
The false notion that the United States is engaged in a “war on Islam” has all the elements of a classic conspiracy theory: exaggerated, irrational fears; no evidence for the charges; and yet widespread belief they are true.

As President Obama said, “The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.” He noted that “America and Islam … share common principles — principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

Another false charge is that the United States has created an American Quran. A third is that a grandfather or ancestor of President George Bush wrote a book harshly critical of Mohammed.

Latin America
There are a number of false conspiracy theories about U.S. actions or intentions in Latin America.

One totally untrue claim is that the United States plans to establish a military base in Paraguay.

Another, a forgery with many misspellings (apparently crafted by a Portuguese speaker), falsely claims the United States and the United Nations have assumed control of the Amazon rainforest in order to safeguard its treasures for all mankind.

A third false charge is that the United States is planning to invade Venezuela in an operation called “Plan Balboa.”

Finally, the so-called “Cuban Five“ are agents and officers of Cuba’s foreign intelligence service convicted of committing crimes in the United States as part of a Cuban intelligence spy group, not victims of American injustice as Cuban propaganda claims.

After the December 2004 South Asian tsunami, a conspiracy theory arose that the United States allegedly had “foreknowledge” of the tsunami, but withheld it from South Asian countries while warning the U.S. base at Diego Garcia. Others falsely claimed the tsunami was caused by underground nuclear tests.

Perhaps the world’s most famous, widely believed forgery is the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a more-than-100-year-old document that purported to detail how the Jews allegedly planned to take over the world. Articles in The Times of London in 1921 definitively showed the “Protocols” to be a fake, with large sections copied from a book published in Geneva in 1864, Dialogues in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu by Maurice Joly.

See this overview on how to identify conspiracy theories, urban legends and misinformation.

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