The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories


Crazy as these theories are, those propagating them are not—they’re quite normal, in fact. But recent scientific research tells us this much: if you think one of the theories above is plausible, you probably feel the same way about the others, even though they contradict one another. And it’s very likely that this isn’t the only news story that makes you feel as if shadowy forces are behind major world events.

“The best predictor of belief in a conspiracy theory is belief in other conspiracy theories,” says Viren Swami, a psychology professor who studies conspiracy belief at the University of Westminster in England. Psychologists say that’s because a conspiracy theory isn’t so much a response to a single event as it is an expression of an overarching worldview.


Our access to high-quality information has not, unfortunately, ushered in an age in which disagreements of this sort can easily be solved with a quick Google search. In fact, the Internet has made things worse. Confirmation bias—the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports what you already believe—is a well-documented and common human failing. People have been writing about it for centuries. In recent years, though, researchers have found that confirmation bias is not easy to overcome. You can’t just drown it in facts.

Posted on June 11, 2013 at 12:30 PM37 Comments


Dilbert June 11, 2013 12:44 PM

Funny… not too long ago the thought of our Govt spying on all our phone and internet communications was “just another whacky conspiracy theory” 🙂

Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you!

BlueSkyOfLove June 11, 2013 1:30 PM

My answer to this article can be summarized with 3 words: John Taylor Gatto.

I urge anyone to try and disprove his research into the roots of the education system in the US (and around the world), which can easily be seen by people as “conspiracy theory”.

So the claim that “the best predictor of belief in a conspiracy theory is belief in other conspiracy theories” is like claiming that nothing is connected in this world. Actions follow other actions, and there is a running theme along this thread of humanity and that is the quest for power.

If you think I’m a conspiracy theorist, just watch “The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto”. As JTG said – don’t take my word, I urge you to go and investigate for yourself.

I do admit that many of the people I met along the way believe in some darn strange things, but like David Eagleman I’m a possibilian – I refuse to discharge something I don’t feel good with just because I think it’s wrong. I ask for people to bring me the evidence they claim they have and I spend time trying to understand their view.

up until a few days ago, the idea that the NSA is spying on American citizens was considered by most people as “conspiracy theory”, and now people think differently. What’s changed? it’s the same world, same surveillance system – people now believe they are being watched.

To finalize my thoughts – the way I see it, being anti-conspiracy theorist is the same as being conspiracy theorist – both just accept a story and will refuse to truly investigate it with critical thinking that takes into consideration the inherent biases we all have.

paldubee June 11, 2013 1:51 PM

There are no conspiracies. All conspiracies reduce down to the battle of evil trying to overthrow good.

Evil likes to put a name on it, to call it a conspiracy. It tries to get us to focus on it as something that we as individuals think we can somehow overcome. Evil likes us to think it’s a goverment, a religous group, a certain race of people.

When I can look beyond the conspiracy mirage and see the true battle, then I can see where my true need for protection comes from. It’s not protection from the conspiracy, it’s protection from evil.

Marcos June 11, 2013 2:19 PM

Your timing couldn’t be better Schneier.

People belive in conspiracies because conspiracies happen all the time. Of course, there are more theoretical conspiracies than real ones out there, but labeling any theory that involves one crazy is either very dumb or dishonest.

Jack June 11, 2013 2:27 PM

“if you think one of the theories above is plausible, you probably feel the same way about the others,

even though they contradict one another.”

Not being people who have to get their theories right, they are still performing the same action: they are

juggling multiple theories together. They are not truly convinced on any one of them. And there may be a

common denominator between the theories which they are grasping at, but not quite reaching.

“And it’s very likely that this isn’t the only news story that makes you feel as if shadowy forces are

behind major world events.”

That would be the common denominator.

Step back some, make it more fuzzy, faraway, more vague and you often find the truth.

People often end up speaking in what is effectively metaphor because of this. This is because they are

seeing something faraway. High above them. And to them, it is very difficult to make out.
It is easy to say, “It is a bird, it is a plane….”

Conversely, besides believing mankind effectively lies to themselves on a daily basis about their
very nature of reality, you could believe that there is just something basically wrong with people.

That is different.

From lying to their selves.

How they complete the picture, mentally, as a function of their brain. And sometimes, that
ends up in an effective optical illusion.

“Consider this: 63 percent of registered American voters believe in at least one political conspiracy theory, according to a recent poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University.”

Politics involves groups of people together… if they do something together which would not be
popularly accepted — it is a conspiracy.

I would not say they are nuts, as there really is evidence some conspiracy theories may be true.

Problem is: why believe a theory? Entertain it, consider it may be true. But, if it is a theory,
you know it is just one possibility out of many.

I think it is more likely 63% of Americans simply consider some conspiracy theories as possibly
true and have failed to make a distinction between stating “they are just considering it as
a possibility” versus “I believe it”. That is, they are inaccurate in their classification of
what they do and do not really believe.

Bob T June 11, 2013 4:18 PM

But recent scientific research tells us this much: if you think one of the theories above is plausible, you probably feel the same way about the others…

So basically, if you have grave concerns about the government recording your emails and conversations, you are a believer of all crazy conspiracy theories and must be marginalized.

And it’s very likely that this isn’t the only news story that makes you feel as if shadowy forces are behind major world events.

Yes because, government entities that spy on the whole society with warrants from Star Chamber courts and without your being informed that your communications are being recorded even though you haven’t done anything wrong isn’t shadowy. That’s why they keep it secret…

I can’t believe the people aren’t totally outraged at what’s been going on. This will pass and become accepted behavior so the domestic spying won’t have to be shadowy anymore.

Nick P June 11, 2013 4:25 PM

@ Bruce Schneier

On Legitimacy of Conspiracy Theory

I said I’d write a paper on the opposite of that article. I guess a draft of points will have to suffice for now. I remember discussing on your blog with others the totally neglected polar opposite: there is no established methodology into identifying a potential conspiracy except in the easiest, usually criminal, cases. If anything, the status quo is to dismiss any such exploration as paranoid thinking or conspiracy nut. Only after one is totally in the spotlight are those dots allowed to be connected or negative explorations into the case socially permitted. That’s unscientific, unbalanced and irrational in light of humans real tendency to conspire against one another.

So, I counter with this huge claim: conspiracy is one of the most pervasive and natural aspects of human behavior.

Supporting evidence follows.

Basic components of a conspiracy:

  1. Two or more people are involved
  2. Common goal that benefits them
  3. Their goal or partnership is secret
  4. Optional, but usually true: Achieving their goal benefits them while causing harm or a loss to others.
  5. Optional: will result in negative consequences for group members if discovered. (e.g criminal, social ostracism, financial loss)

Interesting enough, many things people do every day have most or all of these components. And are considered legal, ethical, etc. Here’s a few examples.

  1. Marketing and executives at a business work on a strategy to benefit them, yet put competitors (and their jobs) out of business. Their plan is secret. On occasion, even the talent they contract might be secret so they keep a leg up.
  2. LEO’s or intelligence agencies want to catch an opponent. They plan in secret. They might have secret cooperation from informants, civilians or other groups. When their goal is achieved, they benefit and the target they hunted suffers.
  3. Sports. Yes, why not? 😉 The football team usually has their gameplans. The MMA people have their fight tactics and systems. The partnership is public in these cases, yet all other aspects of a conspiracy remain.
  4. Entertainment, popularity, or celebrity. Usually one person or a group trying to get a leg up on everyone else. They have their plan, many scheme plenty to execute it, can’t give away details too soon and so on.
  5. Lawyers and courts. Need I say more?

  6. Shady, but legal, businesses. The most public might be patent trolls or health insurance companies with many loopholes to avoid paying (eg UGA). They try to maintain secrecy of their operations for longevity and protection of themselves from attacks. Their operations usually benefit them while causing others loss. (Death or immense suffering in health insurance case.)

  7. Politics. Groups of people looking out for a particular politcian, special interest group or so on. Although it’s a public role, many key negotiations or justification happen in secret before the vote occurs. They often take payouts from corporations to promote their agenda, while deceiving the public. Let’s say min number of actual conspiracies = sum of all corrupt deals where a corrupt deal involves a lawmaker or contract issuer + a company/interest-group bribing them for it. Joking aside, this happens so much in practice that why wouldn’t more than have of Americans think of politicians as conspirators and over do it on the details? 😉

I’ll stop there. So, these examples tell us these things about conspiratorial-like behavior:

  1. A tremendous amount of activity occurs every day with most or all elements of a conspiracy theory.
  2. People of all types of morality are participating in these.

  3. The existence of the activity and often people’s collusion is provable.

Conclusion 1: These together show that almost everyone engages in conspiratorial-like behavior in day to day life as part of their groups and institution. Almost all do it at least once. Many do it daily for most of their lifetime.

Implied Premise: conspiratorial actions are pervasive among Americans day in and day out.

Next step: extrapolating the quantity of selfish, possibly harmful ones.

  1. Conspiracy is very prevalent in America.
  2. Selfish actions benefiting one person or a group, optionally harming others, are very prevalent in America.
  3. Naturally, there will be a large number of groups conspiring against other for their own benefit. It’s close to a mathematical certainty.

(I say close because I’m not a mathematician. 😉 )

Next step: properties of those that we should worry about.

  1. Cause unwarranted harm to a person’s health, finances, or liberty.
  2. The conspirators will benefit. This might be money, status,
    control and sometimes just ego. Sometimes it’s the harm itself: destruction, ethnic cleansing, sterilization of feebleminded, etc.

  3. Private communication channels between members.
    -> Assange noted that covert communication is the lifeblood of a conspiracy. A suitably disguised operation can do almost everything in public, yet some actions and messages must stay secret within the group. Hence, such a communications mechanism absolutely has to exist. Of course, most conspiracies can get by with face-to-face talks, couriers, USPS letters, phone calls and even private email accounts. You really have to be looking these days to see the communication networks.

Next step: detection of conspiracies that concern us.

  1. A confession from one or more group members.
  2. Compromise of private plans or messages, in transit or at rest.

  3. Direct evidence of intent gleaned through their statements or actions.

  4. Indirect, often circumstantial, evidence of their intent gleaned through statements, actions or partial leaks.

To be honest, even a half-way competent conspiracy can often manage to avoid 1 and 2. Lack of them is often treated as proof that no conspiracy existed, especially if they don’t show up over time. Yet, there are still many known conspiracies whose details people took to the grave and now public government secrets that stayed buried until declassification kicked in (often 40+ years). So, there’s plenty of evidence for my claim that dedicated individuals or organizations can prevent 1 and 2 from being a practical issue.

So, that leaves 3 and 4. Three is for more simple cases. I’ll illustrate it with a very simple example. A mass murder of an opposing ethnic group in a third world country is an example. The hostile ethnic group is up in arms about the other one, the dictator gets an army together, the army has few from the other ethnic group, they get weapons, they start surrounding areas with the weapons, their members begin isolated acts of violence that are unpunished, and they eventually put lead into the people. At each step there is a piece of evidence of the attackers’ intent. It get more direct and concrete over time. Some conspiracies are like that.

Most that are well-managed fall under 4. Here, the best evidence you get is indirect evidence. Are they cooperating or privately communicating? Is there evidence of this? Do they deny the connection? (An indicator, imho.) Do their actions reveal they’re taking steps that lead in a certain direction? Does this direction benefit them at others expense? What is the weight of the evidence? How much secrecy surrounds whatever arrangement they have?

And, a BIG ONE for government or private organizations, are they suddenly loosing/destroying loads of documents relevant to an investigation just as the investigation is trying to get a hold of them? Or do they selectively provide evidence of their innocent while hiding portions that investigators think are relevant? Selective release of data to prove innocene is pretty easy to accomplish. That or destruction of evidence should always be punished severely. Yet, it often isn’t, so it’s an important tool in powerful conspirator’s arsenal.

Naturally, every indicator about 4 (besides evidence destruction) is imprecise, circumstantial and full of theorizing. It can’t be any other way. Even intelligence work often has plenty of those traits. I think investigators, academics and self-described skeptics/experts should do more than dismiss conspiratorial thinking: they should produce standards of investigating conspiracies in my fourth group that they’d consider rational and acceptable. That way we can (1) maybe root out some conspiracies and at least (2) get past the “oh my god, he’s looking into THAT stuff” reaction which benefits nobody but conspirators.


  1. Almost everyone is involved in something similar to a conspiracy.
  2. Real conspiracies that we’d be concerned about happen all the time.
  3. There are probably a large number of them going at any time.
  4. Many will manage their communication and operations so as to avoid direct evidence of their existence, intent or level of success.
  5. Certain tendencies anti-conspiracy writers criticize are the very types of thinking that can detect these, albeit with high false positives.
  6. Concealment of collusion, concealment/denial of benefit, and destruction of evidence are common threads in real conpsiracies. Although not proof of guilt, they justify further and maybe intense scrutiny.


We need to stop acting childish about people looking into conspiracies as they’re happening all the time.

People trying to validate conspiracy theories should take care to avoid paranoia and distrust polluting their general thinking. We don’t stop driving b/c of rampant accidents. Likewise, the existence of conspiracies must be accepted as part of life, ignored most of the time, and inspire caution when evaluating risks, potential power grabs, etc. In other words, use the security mindset (i call it practical paranoia) where it benefits most, drop it otherwise.

Skeptics have put plenty of effort into justifying why people looking into conspiracy possibilities are irrational or wasting time. Yet, history is littered with real conspiracies that deceived such types of people and were later uncovered. How about they take some time off all the debunking and establish standards for rational people evaluating possible conpsiracies? After all, the high potential cost and damage of some do warrant at least trying to prevent their success.

Conspiracy investigators need to stop pushing their weakest theories, carefully check their facts, and try to keep from chasing the mice in their head to be taken seriously by more conventional investigators. (the majority, that is)

Relevant to the recent article, I might add that we need to factor human weakness into this. We know what behaviors make people go toward dead ends. It might help to simply put in a review process to conspiracy research that prunes off dead ends or forces clarity in other areas. So, instead of dismissing outright, we simply use knowledge of human weakness to eliminate weakness from the research or arguments.

I hope readers have fun contemplating all of this.

Nosey Parker June 11, 2013 4:54 PM

Bruce, back during the Reagan era, I remember reading a story published some time after the fact that the US had hacked into a Russian gas pipeline or storage facility and caused a large explosion. A HUGE explosion if I remember the story correctly.

Why should we surprised if people from that part of the world wants to do us harm?

Does anyone remember any more details about that story. My memory isn’t what it used to be but I do know something like that did happen.

Jordan Brown June 11, 2013 5:25 PM

There’s nothing wrong with believing that two contradictory theories are plausible, as long as you understand that they can’t both be true.

“Plausible” doesn’t mean “true”. It means, more or less, “could be true”.

MingoV June 11, 2013 5:48 PM

I believe in a number of collaborationist theories but almost no conspiracy theories. The best current example of a collaborationist theory is anthropogenic global warming. Hundreds of scientists and dozens of environmental groups actively tout this theory based on selective evidence, incredibly poor computer models, biased studies, fraudulent data, etc. There is no evidence of a conspiracy, but there definitely was active and passive collaboration.

There are three good examples of collaborationism in the medical world: 1. Chemical toxicology (researchers continue to use incorrect models of toxicity and they select genetically modified mice know to be highly affected by a particular class of chemicals), 2. Chemical carcinogenesis (similar to toxicology), and 3. The relationship between cholesterol and atherosclerosis (which actually is minimal; cholesterol is a secondary risk factor behind age, male sex, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and sedentary life style). These three examples have continued for decades because the outcries from the skeptics are lost among the shouts of the special interest groups.

Mike Rose June 11, 2013 8:32 PM


When you say you ‘believe’ in a particular theory, I take it to mean that you believe a particular theory is substantially true (as opposed to something abstract like believing in a higher being).

If this is the case, what evidence do you base your beliefs on and what evidence can you show that you have critically analysed evidence to the contrary?

I don’t mean to try and cut down your ego here, but it’s not at all interesting what you believe unless you can show your beliefs are well founded.

It seems that this requirement serves as a convenient dividing line between conspiracy theorisation and investigative citizen journalism. The latter is more or less impartial, or at least attempts to be, whereas the former is strongly biased (usually as a result of a lack of awareness of our own inherent confirmation bias).

NobodySpecial June 11, 2013 9:55 PM

Although 98% of governments think there is a conspiracy of communists/ environmentalists/ muslim fundementalists/ hackers etc trying to overthrow them.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro June 11, 2013 10:31 PM

I love playing games with conspiracy theorists all the time.

For example, one was a firm believer in the idea of getting boundless “free energy” from plain old water. Yet at the same time, he was convinced that the jet fuel on board the WTC aircraft was nowhere near enough to cause the conflagration and the destruction of the buildings. So I suggested that the shortfall could have come from “free energy”.

You should have heard the spluttering and the backpedalling…

delphi_ote June 11, 2013 10:47 PM

“I urge anyone to try and disprove his research into the roots of the education system…”

That’s not how research (or even argumentation for that matter) works. The burden of proof is on the person making a claim. It’s not my job to disprove any wild assertion someone makes.

alizardx June 12, 2013 1:10 AM

Nick P’s comment reminds me of what Robert Anton Wilson said about conspiracy theory in several of his books.

Of course, Robert Anton Wilson himself, now only known as a Futurist for his most techno-capitalist friendly ideas, was also considered a “conspiracy theorist” by his mainstream contemporaries.

Aristotle June 12, 2013 4:49 AM

To be fair, a lot of conspiracy theories turn out to be true. Gladio, Echelon, Northwoods…

Bad things ARE done on purpose by the great and the good, ROUTINELY. So a lot of conspiracy theories aren’t true, or aren’t wholly true. So what? Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Joerie June 12, 2013 5:12 AM

“up until a few days ago, the idea that the NSA is spying on American citizens was considered by most people as “conspiracy theory”, …” no not by most people. The vast minority. Most people already considered it fact. Most people live outside the USofA, and had no illusions.

Dirk Praet June 12, 2013 6:57 AM

Ah, frivolous research, my favorite ever since someone presented me with a paper on the influence of northeasterly trade winds on the masturbation habits of elephants.

To me, a “conspiracy theory” simply is any persistent theory or belief that cannot be conclusively proven or rebutted and proponents of which are generally ridiculed by its opponents. Under that definition, religion is probably the most widespread conspiracy theory af all times, making huge parts of the planet’s population conspiracy theorists.

Jack June 12, 2013 8:05 AM

Other thoughts — I agree with what Nick P said, and that is my view of conspiracies.

Also “NobodySpecial” pointed out governments are hard core pushers of conspiracy theories. And this is what the American people believe – or so the polls say – enough to be okay with the government listening to all of their data.

Truly, if someone says there are no conspiracies, or “all conspiracy theories are idiotic”, they are clearly lying and simply using the worst case – extreme cases – for the function of a strawman argument.

And they themselves are deep believers in conspiracy theories. Everyone is. Maybe it is the conspiracy of your local PTA, or country club. Or the conspiracies of your opposing political party. And so on.

Detectives & journalists are the best at handling conspiracy theories. They have a reward for success and a clear cost for failure when working out mysteries of conspiracies. Without that cost or reward, people just end up on the wide path that many follow. They do not go out into the wilderness to find the very narrow, and so hard to find path. Which is the right one. They have given up.

Or they never tried at all.

There definitely are, as well, genuine conspiracies. Fully functioning, very powerful social systems which operate over very long periods of time in secrecy. Systems which deal with the unbelievable. In fact, they can exist because of people’s weakness in their capacity to be unable to believe what they can not see.

The wide road is all about chasing down what you can see: it is popular, so must be right. Business success & family. Houses & children. Sex & money. Peer acclaim & honor. Material security & success. Food & shelter.

They do not care about what is happening behind the scenes. They do not have any motive to seek it out.

And when they come across it, they do not see it, because they can not comprehend it.

Jack June 12, 2013 8:12 AM

Lawrence D’Oliveiro • June 11, 2013 10:31 PM
I love playing games with conspiracy theorists all the time.
For example, one was a firm believer in the idea of getting boundless “free energy” from plain old water. Yet at the same time, he was convinced that the jet fuel on board the WTC aircraft was nowhere near enough to cause the conflagration and the destruction of the buildings. So I suggested that the shortfall could have come from “free energy”.
You should have heard the spluttering and the backpedalling…

Great, what are your conspiracy theories?

I can tell you, if you do not know, if you tell us what your political party or religious (or non-religious) beliefs are.

Homeopathy and bigfoot, you can find people believing all sorts of conspiracy theories without appropriate facts.

Actually, they are not genuinely theorists. They believe their theories are facts, but they are simply theories.

The bigger problem about pretending you have no theories on potential conspiracies is that – because there really are conspiracies – you are extremely vulnerable to extraordinary gullibility.

Basically, you would end up believing everything everyone says.

logic June 12, 2013 10:31 AM

“Conspiracy Theorist” is a red herring, and a obstacle to logical thought. It is an emotional label to end a conversation.

Whether the Boston bombings were orchestrated by the Tsarnaeva brothers or others, or if the 9/11 official story was factual, they remain a conspiracy. A conspiracy is simply 2 or more people agreeing to something in secret.

The question is:

Are the official stories factual? If you answer that question in the negative you must logically entertain other possibilities.

Prof. Daniele Ganser from the University of Basel gave an excellent lecture on the logical evaluation of some of the recent disagreements around these major events:

Sky June 12, 2013 11:47 AM

@Nick P

I do agree that a standard practice to prove/disprove a theory would be nice, but the problem I see is the access to information. To make a point substantiated by facts, you will need unlimited access to all the documentation available (and the time and knowledge to actually analyze it). If the government is part of a theory, documents are probably classified, so it will be difficult to both prove and disprove the theory itself. What do you suggest in these cases?

Nick P June 12, 2013 6:21 PM

@ Sky on dealing with Government/Classified Conspiracies

“Nick P,I do agree that a standard practice to prove/disprove a theory would be nice, but the problem I see is the access to information. To make a point substantiated by facts, you will need unlimited access to all the documentation available (and the time and knowledge to actually analyze it). If the government is part of a theory, documents are probably classified, so it will be difficult to both prove and disprove the theory itself. What do you suggest in these cases?”

Yes, access to information is the key. I’d start with looking for traits of conspiracies, esp. that involve government, that would be tell tell signs justifying an investigation with legal power behind it. Here’s a relevant quote from my post:

“Concealment of collusion, concealment/denial of benefit, and destruction of evidence are common threads in real conpsiracies. Although not proof of guilt, they justify further and maybe intense scrutiny.”

  1. They will be more secretive than normal.
  2. They will fight the revelation with more effort.
  3. They may lie during Congressional or legal hearings.
  4. They may change their story in ways to conceal wrongdoing.
  5. They may try to silence people getting near the truth.
  6. They will try to delete evidence that exposes their conspiracy.

Criminals already, no more proof needed 😉

Note that destruction of evidence, lying under oath, and threatening potential whistleblowers are illegal or punishable in court to varying degrees. The violators are usually just not punished. If they were held strongly accountable, then investigations would be able to explore potential criminal action with higher chance of detecting the conpsiracy and obtaining evidence. I’d say mandatory life in prison for anyone who did it, mandatory full access investigation into what happen, strong sentences for anyone that doesn’t cooperate fully, and seizure of all such individuals private assets. The deterrent must be incredibly strong for corrupt military and intelligence types to comply.

Biggest, Actionable Signs

As for detection, I’d watch out especially for destruction of records before an investigation, in a group that usually keeps records for a long time. It’s often a huge red flag that they’re hiding unethical or criminal activity. Destruction of key evidence that may undermine an official stance and playing word games with stated facts both were present in the MKULTRA, Watergate, Iran Contra, Vietnam record keeping, RFK case, MLK case, detainee/rendition torture cases, 9/11 and War in Iraq. That is not an exhaustive list and I’m not getting into which side I believe on these. Except to say, a few have solid evidence of conspiratorial, criminal, deceptive or illegal activity. And are in our historical record as such.

Excessive secrecy, destruction of records, and stalling investigations is something that ALL had in common. Hence, those are things I’d say justify strong investigation. They were also present in the more debatable examples I named to varying degrees, which is why I looked into them. And I repeat that destroying evidence in an investigation is a crime in itself. It should be enough to warrant putting them under a microscope and in prison.

What about classified information?

Well, the main groundwork for our classification goes all the way back to Atomic Energy Act and Executive Orders by presidents like Truman. I think we could modify them for accountability. We already have decent models for accountability: accounting and auditing standards for corporations; Government Accounting Office has served American people well identifying issues in many agencies; Internal Affairs offices keeping many police in check. Those are just a few groups that regularly review sensitive, legally protected data to find different forms of fraud, corruption or non-compliance with laws/regs.

So, we need that to keep Military-Industrial Complex in check. I think using GAO, or a similar organization, to do it would be a good idea. The people doing the reviews would be cleared for whatever they’re reviewing, including auditing SAP’s and USAP’s. People at highest levels would be chosen for their character and paid well just in case. They’d have total access to what they needed during an investigation. They’d also sign off on what they access and protected records would be kept to keep them in check. A framework would be created for side-by-side operation of our defense operations and people that hold them accountable, much like QA or audit in large organizations.

Oh, one more thing: fraud, waste, and hard to justify actions this group identified would be dealt with. The law must provide Congress the power to, upon receiving actionable intelligence from the auditors, to order corrective action be taken. They will have their own inhouse experts to help them understand varios courses of action. Congress used to have a non-partisan research service that always had bright ideas and good analyses. Same kind of thing, but for defense. Defense would not be allowed to spend money on any program unless it could be justified and the “revolving door” between Pentagon & contractors would swing open less.


The outlook is grim. The safeguards, prevention and detection mechanisms can be implemented. The problem is the M.I.C. is very powerful and politicians usually go along with them. It would take very brave politicians and Presidents to put them in their place. The laws, auditors, and framework would be gradually evolved piece by piece. The laws would gradually expand. Eventually, if it’s successful enough, a form of it should be amended into the Constitution. Yet, it can’t happen so long as this democracy stays largely asleep or distracted. People can’t win an uphill battle that way.

Arlen Williams June 13, 2013 3:05 AM

“Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories”

Does title appear unbiased? Or, does one’s impression of the title alone indicate presumption — perhaps even a kind of smug eliteness?

“Conspiracy” means of course, breathing together (to do bad things). The history of the world is the history of conspiracies. Over 100M people were politically murdered, last century, due to conspiracies.

“Stay tuned,” and watch them continue to be uncovered over the next few weeks, months and years.

Theories, the scientific method and sound forensics overall tells us, are key to interpreting facts, which either serve to refute or confirm, or refine. Let’s all be in the refining business.

And hey… feel free to follow someone in Twitter. ;-`

Icicle June 13, 2013 10:37 AM

Here’s a “Chicken or the Egg” question:
What came first? Mass surveillance or paranoia?

Icicle June 14, 2013 11:19 AM

Entertaining conflicting theories is called cognitive dissonance, which can be a source of problem for some people on a personal level or be a source of real strength for some others.
As Jack and Jordan Brown said [you do not need to hold any theory to be true], but instead just wait before making your mind up one way or the other until more empiric evidence surfaces. This is just a sign of a healthy sceptic individual.

A person who is not open to listening and considering a theory that conflicts with their existing beliefs will create more problems for him or herself, and will wreck havoc if put in office or in a position of power.

As Aaron Sorkin said in The Newsroom, season 1, episode 10 “The Greater Fool”:
The Tea Party is United States real talibans
after enumerating their similarities.
(Although this is a problem both parties share.)

And obviously the NSA believes in their own conspiracy theories to justify their existence and extort money from taxpayers, whithout listening to conflicting arguments or even the Constitution!

I would say that fear is a common denominator behind conspiracy theories. Fear fuels irrational behaviour. Media peddles fear and the public becomes fear junkies.

When fear is added into the discussion of risks of “X” happening, the discussion will be biased and all rational risk analysis will be derailed.

@ Nick P: Good writeup, and a good job on sketching a rational methodology for proving/disproving theories.

Nick P June 14, 2013 12:18 PM

@ Icicle

“Good writeup, and a good job on sketching a rational methodology for proving/disproving theories.”

Thank you. It’s been percolating in my mind the whole year. I had to get it out there so it wouldn’t be wasted mental effort. 😉

Lester June 16, 2013 7:44 PM

When I was a kid, our preacher kept sayin’ that evolution weren’t real. I finally figgered out that all them jokers in the church was in on one o’ them big conspiracy thangs when I seen a pitcher of a kangaroo, an’ I figgered out where all them T-rexes DID go. They started humpin’ deer.

Commuted June 17, 2013 3:05 PM

I wonder what it means if you want to create conspiracy theories and what the correlation is between creating them and believing in them. The possible benefit must be limited to, 1. It’s true. That’s all I got. More as a by-means expedient. Bad effects, it’s an information noise source masking valid signals. It modifies the scale of what society perceives as valid thresholds for action and inquiry which could permit a wider range of offensive behavior. It’s basically offensive to the record… Yet in my comments I have proposed three out of whole cloth (late at night). That Bush was fed some kind of stupid juice in China, same stuff they feed North Korean leaders to “chop the head off the snake”. That China wants a strategic port on the Sea of Japan and is behind NK erratic behavior toward the end of making everyone grateful when they move in to secure NK using ethnic Han. That China wants a strategic port on the Indian ocean and has a hand in the issues in Myanmar.

Nick P July 16, 2013 9:36 PM

@ Bruce and others

Another counterpoint. What makes this one interesting is it makes many of the SAME types of claims against anti-conspiracy people.

I’m going to have to check into the claim that CIA originated conspiracy theorist label to discredit people looking into JFK. That sounds like something they’d do back then, but I’d like to see evidence. Anyway, the best takeaway of the article as this is how it’s often worked in practice:

“If I call you a conspiracy theorist, it matters little whether you have actually claimed that a conspiracy exists or whether you have simply raised an issue that I would rather avoid… By labeling you, I strategically exclude you from the sphere where public speech, debate, and conflict occur.”

Harpo August 29, 2013 9:42 AM

So the entire law profession and our justice system, is a hoax for wackos? They have a process for vetting conspiracy theories

William Bentley October 28, 2016 6:46 PM

Your article has been proven by a few commenters who claim the government records our emails and phone calls…They do not record our emails or our phone calls. They keep track of whom we call and how many times we called them, they record the technical parts of your call and email but it is still illegal for them to record your conversations and email writings. Second of all years prior to the NSA being able to do this after 9/11 and the Homeland security Act passed by George Bush, corporations have been keeping records and private information much more invasive than keeping track of where you are calling and how long you talk for and yet no one had a problem with that. I am much less trusting of the private sector who has almost 100% ambiguity compared to our government who has millions of American citizens working for them and is about 80% transparent…No other entity in this country is as transparent as the government. The private sector can do almost anything it wants until it gets caught or someone goes through the legal process to get a court order just to ask them a question about invasions of privacy.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.