Conspiracy #1: The government is watching me and ruining my reputation.
The Truth: The FBI's COINTELPRO did it for 15 years.
The FBI has never been a fan of critics. During the second Red Scare, the Bureau fought dissenters, launching a covert program called COINTELPRO. Its mission? To u201Cexpose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralizeu201D rebellious people and groups.
Under COINTELPRO, the FBI oversaw 2000 subversive smear operations. Agents bugged phones, forged documents, and planted false reports to create a negative public image of dissenters. COINTELPRO targeted hate groups like the KKK, but it also kept close watch on the u201CNew Left,u201D like civil rights marchers and women's rights activists. It tracked Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, John Lennon, and Ernest Hemingway.
Few, however, were watched as closely as Martin Luther King Jr. After MLK gave his famous u201CI Have a Dreamu201D speech, this memo floated through FBI offices:
u201CIn the light of King's powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.u201D
King became an unofficial Enemy of State. Agents tracked his every move, performing a u201Ccomplete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader.” When a wiretap revealed King's extramarital affair, the FBI sent him an anonymous letter, predicting that blackmail was in his future. u201CYou are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that,u201D the letter said. A month later, MLK accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
Conspiracy #2: The government is trying to control my mind.
The Truth: The government has invested millions in mind control technologies.
Who doesn't want a telepathic ray gun? The U.S. Army sure does. It's already researched a device that could beam words into your skull, according to the 1998 report “Bioeffects of Selected Nonlethal Weapons.” The report says that, with the help of special microwaves, u201Cthis technology could be developed to the point where words could be transmitted to be heard like the spoken word, except that it could only be heard within a person's head.u201D The device could u201Ccommunicate with hostagesu201D and could u201Cfacilitate a private message transmission.u201D
In 2002, the Air Force Research laboratory patented a similar microwave device. Rep. Dennis Kucinich seemed concerned, because one year earlier, he proposed the Space Preservation Act, which called for a ban of all u201CPsychotronic weapons.u201D It didn't pass.
The mind games don't stop there. The CIA's massive mind control experiment, Project MKUltra, remains the pet project of paranoid people everywhere. Beginning in the early 1950s, the CIA started asking strange questions in memos, like:
u201CCan we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?u201D
In April 1953, the CIA decided to find out. The Agency wanted to develop drugs that could manipulate Soviet spies and foreign leaders – essentially, a truth serum. The CIA brimmed with other ideas, too, but Director Allen Dulles complained that there weren't enough u201Chuman guinea pigs to try these extraordinary techniques.u201D
That lack of test subjects drove the CIA to wander off the ethical deep-end, leading the Agency to experiment on unwitting Americans.
About 80 institutions – 44 of them colleges – housed MKUltra labs. There, the CIA toyed with drugs like LSD and heroin, testing if the substances u201Ccould potentially aid in discrediting individuals, eliciting information, and implanting suggestions and other forms of mental control.u201D The CIA tested LSD and barbiturates on mental patients, prisoners, and addicts. It also injected LSD in over 7000 military personnel without their knowledge. Many suffered psychotic episodes.
The CIA tried its hand at erasing people's memories, too. Project ARTICHOKE tested how well hypnosis and morphine could induce amnesia. And when the CIA wasn't trying to develop a memory-killing equivalent of the neurolyzer from Men in Black, it studied Chinese brainwashing techniques: Project QKHILLTOP examined ancient mind-scrambling methods to make interrogations easier.
In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the CIA destroyed hundreds of thousands of MKUltra documents. Only 20,000 escaped the shredder, and the CIA shifted its efforts from mind control to clairvoyance. In the mid 1970s, it launched the Stargate Project, which studied the shadowy phenomenon of u201Cremote viewing.u201D (That is, the CIA investigated if it were possible to see through walls – with your mind.) The project closed in 1995. A final memo concluded:
u201CEven though a statistically significant effect has been observed in the laboratory, it remains unclear whether the existence of a paranormal phenomenon, remote viewing, has been demonstrated.u201D
Conspiracy #3: The government is poisoning me.
The Truth: It poisoned alcohol supplies to curb drinking during prohibition.
Library of Congress
As the ’20s roared, alcoholism soared. Booze was banned, but speakeasies were everywhere. Few people followed the law, so the Treasury Department started enforcing it differently – by poisoning the watering hole.
Most liquor in the 1920s was made from industrial alcohol, used in paints, solvents, and fuel. Bootleggers stole about 60 million gallons a year, redistilling the swill to make it drinkable. To drive rumrunners away, the Treasury Department started poisoning industrial hooch with methyl alcohol. But bootleggers kept stealing it, and people started getting sick.
When dealers noticed something wrong, they hired chemists to renature the alcohol, making it drinkable again. Dismayed, the government threw a counterpunch and added more poison – kerosene, gasoline, chloroform, and higher concentrations of methyl alcohol. Again, it didn't deter drinking; the booze business carried on as usual.
By 1928, most of the liquor circulating in New York City was toxic. Despite increased illness and death, the Treasury didn't stop tainting industrial supplies until the 18th amendment was repealed in 1933.
Conspiracy #4: The government is germ-bombing its own people.
The Truth: It was a common practice during the Cold War.
From 1940 to 1970, America was a giant germ laboratory. The U.S. Army wanted to assess how vulnerable America was to a biological attack, so it spread clouds of microbes and chemicals over populated areas everywhere.
In 1949, the Army Special Operations released bacteria into the Pentagon's air conditioning system to observe how the microbes spread (the bacteria were reportedly harmless). In 1950, a U.S. Navy ship sprayed Serratia Marcescens – a common bacteria capable of minor infection – from San Francisco Bay. The bacteria floated over 30 miles, spread through the city, and may have caused one death.
A year later, during Operation DEW, the U.S. Army released 250 pounds of cadmium sulfide off the Carolina coast, which spread over 60,000 square miles. The military didn't know that cadmium sulfide was carcinogenic, nor did it know that it could cause kidney, lung, and liver damage. In the 1960s, during Project 112 and Project SHAD, military personnel were exposed to nerve agents like VX and sarin and bacteria like E. coli without their knowledge. At least 134 similar experiments were performed.
President Nixon ended offensive tests of the US biological weapons program in 1969.