In today’s world, the phrase “conspiracy theory” is pejorative and has a negative connotation. To many people, a conspiracy theory is an irrational, over-imaginative idea endorsed by people looking for attention and not supported by the mainstream media or government.
History shows, though, that there have been many times when governments or individuals have participated in conspiracies. It would be naïve to think that intelligence agencies, militaries, government officials, and politicians don’t sometimes cooperate in covert, secretive ways.
Following are five instances when it’s been proven that the government engaged in a conspiracy.
THE GULF OF TONKIN RESOLUTION
On August 4, 1964, Captain John J. Herrick, the commander of the USS Maddox, a US Navy vessel that was on an intelligence-gathering mission in the Gulf of Tonkin, reported to the White House and Pentagon that North Vietnamese patrol boats had fired torpedoes at his ship, and, so, the Maddox had fired back.
Two days later, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara testified to the Congress that he was certain that the Maddox had been attacked. On August 7, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed, the Congressional act that allowed President Johnson free reign to commence war; Johnson immediately ordered air strikes on North Vietnam and the Vietnam War—which would eventually kill fifty-eight thousand Americans and two million Asians—was underway.
Since then, it has been shown and proven that no North Vietnamese boats ever fired on the Maddox, and that McNamara had been untruthful when he testified before Congress. According to the official publication of the Naval Institute,
…once-classified documents and tapes released in the past several years, combined with previously uncovered facts, make clear that high government officials distorted facts and deceived the American public about events that led to full US involvement in the Vietnam War.”
In the weeks prior to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, South Vietnamese ships had been attacking posts in North Vietnam in conjunction with the CIA’s Operation 34A. According to many inside sources, the Johnson administration wanted a full-scale war in Vietnam and through Operation 34A was trying to provoke North Vietnam into an attack that would give Johnson an excuse to go to war. But when McNamara was asked by the Congress on August 7 if these South Vietnam attacks had anything to do with the US military and CIA, McNamara lied and said no.
Within hours after reporting that the Maddox had been attacked, Captain Herrick was retracting his statements and reporting to the White House and Pentagon that “in all likelihood” an over-eager sonar man had been mistaken and that the sonar sounds and images that he originally thought were enemy torpedoes were actually just the beat of the Maddox’s own propellers.
Herrick reported that there was a good probability that there had been no attack on the Maddox, and suggested “complete reevaluation before any action is taken.”
McNamara saw these new, updated reports and discussed them with President Johnson early in the afternoon of August 4. Even though this was so, on the evening of August 4, President Johnson went on national television and announced to the American public that North Vietnam had engaged in “unprovoked aggression” and, so, the US military was retaliating.
A few days after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Johnson remarked, “Hell, those damn stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish.”
Recently, new documents related to the Gulf of Tonkin incident have been declassified and according to Robert Hanyok, a historian for the National Security Agency, these documents show that the NSA deliberately “distorted intelligence” andand “altered documents” to make it appear that an attack had occurred on August 4.
When President Lyndon Johnson misrepresented to the American public and said he knew that North Vietnam had attacked a US ship, and when Defense Secretary Robert McNamara lied to the Congress and said he was sure that the Maddox had been attacked and that the CIA had nothing to do with South Vietnam aggression, and when NSA officials falsified information to make it appear that there had been an attack on the Maddox, that was a government conspiracy.
In 1962, the most powerful and highest ranking military officials of the US government, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, felt strongly that the communist leader Fidel Castro had to be removed from power and, so, came up with a plan to justify an American invasion of Cuba.
The plan, entitled Operations Northwoods, was presented to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962, and was signed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lyman L. Lemnitzer.
Operations Northwoods was a proposal for a false flag operation, a plan in which a military organizes an attack against its own country and then frames and blames the attack on another country for the purpose of the purpose of initiating hostilities and declaring war on that country.
The proposal was originally labeled Top Secret but was made public on November 18, 1997, by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board. The complete Operation Northwoods paper was published online by the National Security Archive on April 30, 2001, and this once-secret government document can now be read by anyone.
The actions that General Lemnitzer and the other chiefs wanted to d to take under Operations Northwoods are shocking. According to the plan, CIA and military personnel and hired provocateurs would commit various violent acts and these acts would be blamed on Castro to “create the necessary impression of Cuban rashness and irresponsibility” and “put the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances.”
One of the most ambitious plans of Operation Northwoods was to blow up a plane in midflight. The strategy was to fill a civilian airplane with CIA and military personnel who were registered under fake ID’s; an exact duplicate plane—an empty military drone aircraft—would take off at the same exact time.
The plane of fake passengers would land at a military base but the empty drone plane would fly over Cuba and crash in the ocean, supposedly a victim of Cuban missiles. “Casualty lists in US newspapers” and conducting “fake funerals for mock-victims” would cause “a helpful wave of national indignation” in America.
The Operation Northwoods proposal also states: “We could blow up a US ship and blame Cuba.” Whether the ship was to be empty or full of US soldiers is unclear. The document also says: “Hijacking attempts against US civil air and surface craft should be encouraged.”
Some of the recommendations of Operation Northwoods would have surely led to serious injuries and even deaths of Cuban and American civilians. The plan suggests:
We could sink a boatload of Cubans on route to Florida (real or simulated).”
We could foster attempts on lives of anti-Castro Cubans in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized…We could explode a few bombs in carefully chosen spots.”
Lemnitzer and the chiefs wanted many of these staged terrorist attacks to be directed at the Guantanamo Bay United States Naval Base in Cuba. The plans were:
“Start riots near the entrance to the base”
“lob mortar shells from outside the base to inside the base”
“blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires”
“burn aircraft on airbase (sabotage)”
“sabotage ship in harbor; large fires—napalm.”
When Secretary of Defense McNamara was presented with the Operation Northwoods plan, he either stopped and rejected the plan himself or passed it on to President Kennedy and JFK then rejected it. But if Kennedy and McNamara had agreed with the plan, then the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to begin enacting Operation Northwoods “right away, within a few months.”
Even though Operation Northwoods was never initiated, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the other highest-ranking military officials of the United States Government planned to organize violent attacks on Americans and anti-Castro Cuban citizens, knowing those attacks could severely injure and kill those citizens, and when they planned to blame those attacks on Cuba and then use that as an excuse to invade Cuba, that was a government conspiracy.
FBI AND THE MAFIA
In March 1965, the FBI had the house of New England organized crime boss Raymond Patriarca wiretapped and overheard two mobsters, Joseph Barboza and Vincent Flemmi, asking Patriarca for permission to kill another gangster, Edward Deegan. Two days later, Deegan’s blood-soaked body was found dead in a Boston alley.
Within days, an official FBI report confirmed that Joseph Barboza and three other mobsters were the murderers. Instead of those men going to prison for murder, though, three years later a man named Joseph Salvati was brought to trial for the murder of Edward Deegan. At that trial Joseph Barboza testified and lied that Salvati was one of the murderers. On the basis of Barboza’s testimony, Joseph Salvati was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
At that time, in the mid 1960s, the FBI was being pressured more and more to do something to stop organized crime. The bureau began using members of the mafia—criminals and murderers—to inform against fellow mafia members. Joseph Barboza was one of these FBI-protected, paid informants. The FBI didn’t want Barboza to go to prison for the murder of Deegan because they wanted him to continue infiltrating the mafia and testifying against other mafia members.
The bureau, apparently, did want a conviction in the Deegan murder case, though, and, so, let Barboza lie under oath and let a man they knew to be innocent, Joseph Salvati, go to prison.
The Witness Protection Program was first created for Joseph Barboza, and Barboza was the first mafia informant to be protected under the program. After helping to convict a number of mobsters, Barboza was sent off to live in California. While under the Witness Protection Program, Barboza committed at least one more murder, and probably more.
On trial for a murder in California, FBI officials showed up for Joseph Barboza’s trial and testified on his behalf, helping Barboza to get a light sentence.
Joseph Salvati ended up serving thirty years in prison for a murder that he was innocent of. During that thirty-year period, lawyers for Salvati requested documents from the FBI that would have proved Salvati’s innocence, but the bureau refused to release them.
Finally, in 1997, other evidence came forth suggesting Salvati’s innocence and the governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, granted Salvati’s release. A few years later, the FBI was ordered to release all its reports on the case; hundreds of documents showed the FBI knew that Barboza was a murderer, that he had murdered Edward Deegan, and that Joseph Salvati had had nothing to do with the crime.
Salvati was exonerated in a court of law, and was eventually awarded millions of dollars in a civil lawsuit against the government. (Three other defendants were also exonerated. At the 1968 trial, Joseph Barboza had testified that three other men—men who were also not guilty—had participated in Deegan’s murder. These three innocent men were, with Salvati, also sent to prison.)
Perhaps the most shocking thing that the FBI documents showed, though, was that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself knew Salvati was innocent and that Barboza had killed Deegan.
Hoover was working closely, almost daily, with the agents handling Joseph Barboza, and it was probably Hoover directing the operation. The congressional committee that investigated the case was the House Committee on Government Reform and Congressman Dan Burton was the chairman.
When asked by CBS’s 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace “Did J. Edgar Hoover know all this?” Burton replied:
“Yes . . . It’s one of the greatest failures in the history of American justice…J. Edgar Hoover knew Salvati was innocent. He knew it and his name should not be emblazoned on the FBI headquarters. We should change the name of that building.”
Congressman Burton claimed there was evidence that there were more cases when the FBI did the same sorts of things they did in the Joseph Salvati case; when Burton and his committee requested the files on these cases, the Attorney General and the White House refused to release them.
When FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and top FBI officials let a known murderer lie and perjure himself in a courtroom, when they let four men they knew to be innocent suffer in the hell of a prison cell for thirty years, and when they deliberately covered that up for decades, that was a government conspiracy.
THE MANHATTAN PROJECT
In 1939, Albert Einstein and two other European physicists sent a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt informing Roosevelt that the German government was working on developing the science that could lead to the creation of a nuclear bomb. FDR immediately formed a committee to look into the idea of the US government making an atomic bomb.
In 1942, the Manhattan Project, the United States program to build a nuclear bomb, headed by General Leslie R. Groves of the US Army Corps of Engineers, was formed.
The program existed from 1942–1946, spent two billion dollars, had plants and factories in thirty cities, and employed 130,000 workers. But virtually no one knew about it. The Manhattan Project is considered the “Greatest Secret Ever Kept.”
The US government wanted to keep the Project a secret lest Germany or one of America’s other enemies found out about it and built—more quickly—a larger, better bomb. In the early 1940s, when American scientists began working on splitting atoms and nuclear fission, US government officials asked the scientists to not publish any reports on the work in scientific journals. The work was kept quiet.
In 1943, when newspapers began reporting on the large Manhattan Project construction going on in a few states, the newly formed United States Government Office of Censorship asked newspapers and broadcasters to avoid discussing “atom smashing, atomic energy, atomic fission . . . the use for military purposes of radium or radioactive materials” or anything else that could expose the project. The press kept mum. The government didn’t talk about the Manhattan Project, the press didn’t report on it, and the public knew nothing about it.
Not even the 130,000 Manhattan Project laborers knew they were building an atom bomb.
In 1945, a Life magazine article wrote that before Japan was attacked with a-bombs, “probably no more than a few dozen men in the entire country knew the full meaning of the Manhattan Project, and perhaps only a thousand others even were aware that work on atoms was involved.”
The workers were told they were doing an important job for the government, but weren’t told what the job was, and didn’t understand the full import of the mysterious, daily tasks they were doing. The laborers were warned that disclosing the Project’s secrets was punishable by ten years in prison, and a hefty financial fine.
Whole towns and cities were built where thousands of Manhattan Project workers lived and worked but these thousands didn’t know they were helping to build nuclear bombs.
The Manhattan Project finally became known to the public on August 6, 1945, when President Harry Truman announced that America had dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
Truman, himself, had not been informed of the Manhattan Project until late April 1945.
When the government kept the purpose of the Manhattan Project a secret from the press, from the public, from America’s enemies, from Harry Truman, and even from the 130,000 laborers who worked for the Manhattan Project, that was a government conspiracy.
THE CHURCH COMMITTEE INVESTIGATION
In the early 1970s, after the Watergate affair and investigative reports by the New York Times, it became apparent that the CIA and other US intelligence agencies might be engaging in inappropriate and illegal activities. In 1975, the Church Committee, named after the Committee’s chairman Senator Frank Church, was formed to investigate abuses by the CIA, NSA, FBI, and IRS.
The Church Committee reports are said to constitute the most extensive investigations of intelligence activities ever made available to the public. Many disturbing facts were revealed. According to the final report of the Committee, US intelligence agencies had been engaging in “unlawful or improper conduct” and “intelligence excesses, at home and abroad” since the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.
The report added that “intelligence agencies have undermined the Constitutional rights of citizens” and “checks and balances designed by the framers of the Constitution to assure accountability have not been applied.”
One of the most well-known revelations of the Committee was the CIA’s so-called “Family Jewels,” a report that detailed the CIA’s misdeeds dating back to Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. The committee also reported on the NSA’s SHAMROCK and MINARET programs; under these programs the NSA had been intercepting, opening, and reading the telegrams and mail of thousands of private citizens.
The Church Committee also discovered and exposed the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, the bureau’s program to covertly destroy and disrupt any groups or individuals that J. Edgar Hoover felt were bad for America. Some of the movements and groups that the FBI tried to discredit and destroy were the Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr.
The most alarming thing that the Church Committee found, though, was that the CIA had an assassination program. It was revealed that the CIA assassinated or had tried to assassinate Dinh Diem of Vietnam, Raphael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, General Rene Schneider of Chile, Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, and other political leaders throughout the world.
The Committee learned about the different ways the CIA had developed to kill and assassinate people: inflicting cancer, inflicting heart attacks, making murders look like suicides, car accidents, boating accidents, and shootings. At one point, CIA Director William Colby presented to the Committee a special “heart attack gun” that the CIA had created. The gun was able to shoot a small poison-laden dart into its victim. The dart was so small as to be undetectable; the victim’s death from the poison would appear to be a heart attack, so no foul play would be suspected.
In response to the Church Committee report, in 1976 President Gerald Ford signed Executive Order 11,905, which forbade employees of the US government from engaging in or conspiring to engage in political assassinations.
In that same year, the Senate approved Senate Resolution 400, which established the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the committee responsible for providing vigilant oversight over the intelligence agencies.
Many former CIA employee-whistleblowers and other people, though, claim that US intelligence agencies are still acting in improper ways. In 2008, it was revealed that the CIA had hired Blackwater, a private company made up of ex-Navy Seals, to track down and assassinate suspected terrorists.
Later in the 2000s, when the Congress formed a committee to investigate if CIA waterboarding and other methods of interrogation constituted torture, congressmen complained that they couldn’t get to the bottom of the matter because CIA officials and the CIA director were lying to the congressional committee.
Forty-five years after the revelations of the Church Committee, it seems US intelligence agencies are still engaging in covert and improper conduct.
When US intelligence agencies and the CIA plot to influence the affairs of foreign nations, when the CIA plots assassinations and assassinates foreign leaders and political dissidents, when the CIA develops new ways to kill and assassinate and interrogate and torture, and when the CIA keeps all that from Congress, the press, and the public, that’s a government conspiracy.
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If these five instances of government engaging in conspiracies have been proven to be true—and they have been—isn’t it logical to assume that government agencies may have engaged in other conspiracies? It is the very nature of intelligence agencies and militaries to act in secretive, conspiratorial ways.
The phrase “conspiracy theory” shouldn’t have a negative connotation. Politics always plays out with backroom handshakes. It is the suggestion of American Conspiracies and Cover-Ups that government agencies and officials and the special interests that influence them are often engaging in conspiratorial actions, and that conspiracies have been behind some of the most iconic and important events of American history.
A conspiracy theorist was regaling a friend with one conspiracy theory after another. Finally, the friend interrupted and said, “I bet I know what would happen if God Himself appeared out of the sky right now, looked down at us, and said, ‘There is no conspiracy.’ I bet you would look up and say, ‘So the conspiracy goes higher than we thought.’”
Perhaps if the Almighty appeared to inform us that politicians and governments and government officials don’t act in secretive, covert, conspiratorial ways, then we could accept that.
But when the evidence indicates otherwise….
Theories questioning if multiple people might have shot at JFK, or if interior bombs brought down the World Trade Center, or if somebody was able to rig the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections can make for dramatic, sensational storytelling.
But it is not the purpose of American Conspiracies and Cover-Ups to be sensational; the purpose of this book is to talk about “conspiracy realities” that can hopefully give us a deeper and more meaningful understanding of politics.
If elements in the intelligence agencies participated in assassinating President Kennedy, then how can the intelligence agencies be better controlled? If elements in the government allowed or caused 9/11 to happen to give us an excuse to go to war in the Middle East, then how much of the War on Terror is disinformation and propaganda?
If presidential elections can be rigged, then how can we have fairer, uncorrupted elections? If secretive influences behind the scenes, a Deep State, are controlling our social, political, and financial systems for their own selfish purposes, then it would benefit us to expose who and what these secretive influences are.
American Conspiracies and Cover-Ups may give us a glimpse into the way that government and politics work.
Or don’t work.
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This is an extract from American Conspiracies and Cover-Ups, by Douglas Cirignano published by Simon&Schuster. It can be purchased in hard copy, digital and audio-book form through Amazon and other booksellers.