Sunday, November 23, 2014

Top Ten Ways To Test Conspiracy Claims? (Howler Alert!)

A major section of the Skeptics Society pamphlet I referenced yesterday is headed  'Top 10 Ways to Test Conspiracy Theories’ – which like the dime store psychology content (on p. 4),   ends up as just useless  The authors could as well ask readers to use tea leaves.

Anyway, let’s look at what’s on offer:

1)Proof of conspiracy supposedly arises from connecting the dots. But if no evidence supports the connections the conspiracy is likely false.

In principle, this only works if the evidence is somehow manifest– either through some visual (film, photo) material, mathematical computations - such as Richard Charnin’s computations of  JFK assassination witness deaths, or securing once classified CIA files. But in many historical conspiracies either none of these were available  at the time the conspiracy was carried out (e.g. the bombing of Cubana Airliners flight CU-455 off the Barbados coast in Oct. 1976), or were only uncovered in the aftermath (e.g. Iran-Contra, Watergate, BCCI) so the investigator must indeed connect dots.

One of the best examples was Operation Northwoods. In Operation Northwoods the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military planned a campaign of terror, to include the sinking of refugee boats (carrying Cuban refugees) on the high seas, as well as the killing of innocent citizens on American cities’ streets, plus random bombings carried out in Washington, DC, Miami and other places. What was the  motivation? Author James Bamford shows it was to incite an invasion and war against Cuba and enable the U.S. to invade and overthrow Fidel Castro.[1]
But the documents to support suspicions of this (failed) conspiracy were only released years later – though many smelled a ‘rat’. When I first heard of Northwoods, I had trouble processing how any U.S. government agency or entity could remotely conceive of such foul deeds, far less carry them out. Then I quickly recalled the blowing up of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 over Barbados, on October 6. 1976 by Luis Posada, Freddie Lugo and other renegades sponsored in the extremist Alpha 66 enclave by the CIA. 73 innocent victims perished in that terrorist act, the worst one in the western hemisphere prior to 9/11. James Bamford, in his discussion of Northwoods (Body Of Secrets) , further notes that the extent of it included getting England (UK) to side with the U.S. against Castro by also launching attacks against Jamaica and Trinidad, both (then) Commonwealth members.  Does anyone seriously believe, given the vile extent of such plans, they’d have been the least  bit squeamish about assassinating a president who consistently thwarted and humiliated them? If so, the person isn’t paying attention.

 Bamford notes that around the same time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) issued a report on the problem of “right wing extremism in the military” and warned of “considerable danger in the education and propaganda activities of military personnel”[2]

Bamford (ibid.) stated that the SFRC Report went so far as to warn of a military takeover of the country not dissimilar to that portrayed in ‘Seven Days in May’ the excellent John Frankenheimer film. Meanwhile, James Douglass notes in his book JFK and the Unspeakable,  that on July 27, 1963 Lee Oswald was giving a talk at a Jesuit school in Mobile, Alabama concerning a possible “military coup” in the U.S.,[3] and that lax Americans wouldn’t see it coming until too late.

Bottom line: Many defunct or once active conspiracies like Northwoods can never be subject to the evidence criterion until long after they go forward or fail.

2) The agents behind the conspiracy would need nearly superhuman power to pull it off.

Another widely circulated canard. In fact, all it takes is sheer determination by the principals to see it through and in the process, ensure as many loose ends as possible are tied up before it is launched.  Even then, a certain phase may misfire but the architects can improvise via a ‘Plan B’. For example, by all accounts of most investigators the original plan was to kill Oswald in the Texas Theater to silence him forever. This wasn’t done because he had no gun, didn’t fire any, so provided no excuse to kill him. Then when he was trotted through the Dallas PD announcing “I am just a patsy!” the planners knew they needed a plan B so called on Jack Ruby to provide it – and had him kill Oswald who was being directed through the Dallas PD basement to a new venue.

The plan worked, because so many were stupid enough to buy Ruby’s excuse that he “merely intended to save Jackie from having to testify”. Yeah right! Years later, release of files under the JFK Records Act disclosed in return for offing Lee, Ruby’s back excise and other taxes – totaling over $40,000 – were paid off.

Similarly in the Iran-Contra conspiracy the agents didn’t need superhuman powers only the sheer determination to get those Hawk and TOW missiles to the Iranians any which way they could- devil take the hindmost. The fact the conspiracy was later exposed and the agents brought up on charges doesn’t mean it never existed – only that it didn’t fully succeed.

3) The conspiracy is complex and successful completion demands a large number of elements.

Another canard. In fact, a conspiracy only demands enough complexity or elements to make it work – if even partially. And if it works, as the JFK conspiracy clearly did, who’s to say the elements were excessive? Also, let's bear in mind as long time JFK researcher Peter Dale Scott has pointed out, in the Kennedy case we are actually looking at THREE separate conspiracies but which are often conflated by the media or careless critics. These were: 1) The pre-assassination framing of Lee Harvey Oswald, 2) the actual killing of JFK on Nov. 22, 1963 and 3) the extended cover-up of the facts starting with the Warren Report itself and extending to "Operation Mockingbird" assets preventing subsequent revelations, insights in the media. Oh, and let's not forget the latter day disinformationists like Gerald Posner and Vince Bugliosi - serving the mandate of CIA doc. 1035-960.

Who is also to say that over 100 components –say  to make the BCCI banking conspiracy work, was too much or “too complex”? This is a totally subjective take that need not be vindicated objectively.  In the case of the BCCI banking conspiracy, since it entailed moving money to thousands of "dummy accounts" all over the world, the complexity was implicit. In fact, reams of evidence were culled from that criminal bank's operations in 73 countries and exposed. But whether anyone could comprehend all aspects of its workings - which were deliberately rendered complex- is another matter. (What we do know is thousands of Barbadians lost their savings when BCCI was shut down in that island state more than 30 years ago.)

Surely, if reason is a guide, complexity will plausibly be proportionate to the magnitude of the effects of the conspiracy. Thus, murdering a president or "executive action", would likely tally a number of complex aspects and certainly if success was paramount, exposure of the perps unacceptable. To carry it out effectively, and not do it half-assed, the architects would have to take the time to plan for any and all contingencies and have manpower at every phase to deal with them. This could surely be expedited if key personnel in one or more government agencies were also involved, for example, in eliminating key evidence. (Thus, Hoover dispatching 5-8 FBI agents to collect film from those nearest the JFK assassination site on Elm Street. Recall here that Hoover had a visceral hatred for the Kennedys.)

In the Iran-Contra conspiracy too, WHO is to say that 65-75 agents to effectively carry it out, from securing the hush money, to falsifying manifests to actual delivery was “too much”?  In fact the whole concept of “too much”  is entirely in the mind of the beholder.

4) The conspiracy involves large numbers of people  who would all need to keep quiet about their secrets.

Dispensed easily, along the lines of dispensing (3). Again, who is to say what constitutes “large numbers of people” ? If 75 was enough to make Iran –Contra work to the extent it did was that too much? Hardly! Was 94-95 too much to make the Kennedy assassination work – as it has for over 50 years now – thanks to the many useful idiots in the media and beyond who make up rationalizations to try to explain it away?

As for keeping secrets, killing witnesses is an excellent way to achieve that end which is why Richard Charnin’s book (analyzing JFK witness deaths) and website material is so important to disabuse those who opt to don the pseudo-skeptic robe. In other words, learn before bloviating about what limits you believe attend to the claim!

5) The conspiracy encompasses some grandiose ambition for control of a nation, economy or political system.

Another epistemological misfire.  That’s exactly what the JFK assassination achieved! Control of our national direction and even political system by an entrenched national security state. And besides, the definition of "grandiose" is also subjective and relative. Were the objectives of Operation Northwoods "grandiose"?  That is, setting off bombs in the U.S. - on streets in Miami, Washington D.C. etc. and blowing up planes, ships in order to trigger a war against Castro for the purpose of takeover of Cuba? It sounds "grandiose" but when the actual files were released to do with the nascent plan, there it was in all its grotesque aspect:

This is why it's stupid and non-productive to try to assert what is or isn't a "grandiose" ambition in a conspiracy, other than in a common sense context (i.e. the claim of the UN taking over the U.S. via black helicopters and storm troops clearly violates common sense so one needn't posit (5) to expunge it. All (5) succeeds in doing is impeding the exposure of actual, real world conspiracies - perhaps by keeping people silent (out of fear of looking foolish) when they know something. 

6) The conspiracy ratchets up from small events that might be true to large events that have much lower probability of being true.

Again, WHO is to make this determination?  WHO is to reckon what is a "small event" in relation to what is a "large event" in the context of the conspiracy? In principle the occurrence of  "slush fund" withdrawals by Oliver North, John Poindexter at all ca. 1985-86 might have seemed inconsequential in the scheme of things. Only later was it learned these were used to fund the purchase of Israeli Hawk and TOW missiles to ship to Iran, and then that purchase money used to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.  The import was uncovered only by connecting the dots which the Skeptic authors seem to be hyper--concerned about.  But if no one ever does that, the warp and woof of a given conspiracy never becomes visible! 

In the Kennedy assassination, likewise, assorted cables sent from the CIA station in Mexico City might have seemed like 'small potatoes'. But only in retrospect, as Peter Dale Scott observes, did it become apparent those cables were part of what was used to frame Lee Harvey Oswald - Part One of the conspiracy leading to the assassination and the installation of a national security state.

In a similar vein, it might have appeared a "small event" when in September, 1963, JFK confronted David Bell of AID (a CIA cover organization) about the funds from the Commodity Import Aid Program having “already been cut off”,  essentially assuring a coup would ensue with the Diem government in South Vietnam.   No one at the time would have recognized the implications, and also that JFK had been set up for assassination on the the same date (Nov. 2) the Diems were murdered (see James Douglass' book, JFK and Unspeakable). 

Kennedy was evidently livid and directly asked Bell: " Who told you to do that?"  to which Bell replied, “No one(op. cit). The will to power disclosed here indicated the CIA felt it more powerful than Kennedy himself or his decision-making authority.  If they felt that way, there is nothing that they wouldn’t do to prevent the President from getting in their way.  The incident was confirmed by New York Times journalist Arthur Krock  in his piece  ‘The Inter-Administration War in Vietnam’, The New York Times, Oct. 3, 1963). wherein he wrote:

"If the United States ever experiences an attempt at a coup to overthrow the government, it will come from the CIA

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, JFK assassination conspiracy skeptics!

7) The conspiracy theory assigns portentous and sinister meanings to what are most likely random and insignificant events.

Right, like Kennedy's argument with David Bell (see above) was most likely an "insignificant event" and the beatings of Sylvia Duran (by Mexican police) was just a "random event" - delivered if she didn't recant her account that the Oswald seen at the Cuban Consulate was not Lee Oswald. 

Or, I guess it was an "insignificant event"  when Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo deplaned in Barbados Sewell's Airport on October 6, 1976 and got a taxi, all the while laughing about the bombs they planted - which later went off killing all on board. Later, it was uncovered the CIA paid the two, along with Luis Carriles Posada, to blow up the plane.

Once again, the generalization in (7) is too wide, cuts too wide a track, to be useful in distinguishing the signal from the noise in detecting genuine conspiracies.

8) The theory tends to commingle facts and speculations without distinguishing between the two and without assigning degrees of probability and factuality.

Totally ludicrous! First, in the case of revealed conspiracies and investigations to do with them - the best place to start in examining (8)), we find there is little agreement.  For example, if one accepts the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) finding that a conspiracy occurred in the case of JFK's assassination (with 95% probability) then one must reject many of the "facts" trotted out in the Warren Report. (Which again, was LBJ's creation, not a genuine federal government investigation). 

Further, the HSCA itself is deficient in the presentation of all the facts. In examining the actual autopsy photos it's clear the HSCA conclusion of a rear shot  (from the Book depository) is absurd, no matter who said what on what panel (i.e. Clark Panel).  A mere examination of the bogus Warren autopsy photo (below left) and the real one sets the record straight, and exposes the HSCA's own brand of cowardice: you simply cannot physically have the rear of a skull blown out by a rear shot! Rather the linear momentum of a bullet fired from the FRONT will blow out the rear of a skull!

For reference, the Warren Commissioners used the fake photo without a blown out rear skull, to try to make people believe the shot came from behind, i.e. the Texas School Book Depository. The HSCA - rather than accepting the evidence of the actual autopsy photos, opted to stick with the earlier ones from the WC, and hence arrived at a contradictory conclusion to the evidence.  Note also, the actual rear shot hit Kennedy in the middle of the upper back. (Bullet hole in suit coat to prove it, but the suit coat was destroyed). It thus seems the HSCA was trying to "square the circle" by finding for conspiracy on the one hand yet unwilling to diverge from the Warrenites' misbegotten fake evidence for the head shot on the other!

So, contrary to the presumptions of (8) there is no clear delineation of accepted facts to go by. What we who are serious researchers do is therefore do our own investigations, often using established principles of physics (as I have done- see my assorted FAQs from November last year) to arrive at our own conclusions. That the majority of us agree on the basic facts is a remarkable sign that we have reached a level of objective truth which LBJ's fraud and then later the only government investigation haven't. (Again, as to the reasons they haven't see my FAQ Parts 4a, 4b on the Warren Commission, and Part 7 on the HSCA). 

As for the claim that probabilities are to be assigned, don't make me laugh. In the standard theory of probability we are looking at computing the frequency of occurrence of an event. Hence, if it occurs 49 times out of 1,000 the probability of occurrence is 0.049. But in many conspiracies (e.g. Iran-Contra) it is a one off, so how are you going to compute probability? (This, of course, includes each component, such as the probability of preparing the first manifest for shipping Hawk and TOW missiles to Iran, or in the JFK case, the probability that the CIA cables were forged.)

What we can do is what investigator D.B. Thomas did in his 2001 acoustic analysis. He found that for a given configuration for 2 motorcycles at designated locations in Dealey Plaza, 1 for the grassy knoll  shooter location and one for alignment of muzzle blasts with one pair of echoes, the p -value is 0.000012 or about 1 in 100,000 against the null hypothesis, i.e. that the impulses were from random noise. An alternative way to put this is that the odds were 100.000 to 1 in favor of the impulses comprising actual rifle shots and not motorcycle backfires or other noise.

9) The theorist is extremely and indiscriminately suspicious of any and all government agencies or organizations.

Again, laughable as a useful generalization or principle - to ferret out the real from the unreal. By this cartoonish criterion, The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein ought to never have been suspicious of the Watergate break-in and the role of Nixon's government.  Had that been the case, the Watergate conspiracy would never have been exposed, and Nixon would never have been forced from office! So much for that one!

Similarly, had no serious investigators been suspicious of the slush funds that came to light in 1986, and the mysterious manifests with Israeli Hawk and TOW missiles bound for Iran, we might never have uncovered the Iran-Contra conspiracy. 

Likewise, had no one been suspicious of David Bell's confrontation with JFK, or David Atlee Phillips' fake cables implicating Oswald in October, 1963, we might never have learned of the NSA-CIA Staff D assassinations program under the oversight of William Harvey. And how it later mutated from taking out Castro (as part of ZR/Rifle) to taking out Kennedy.

The takeaway on (9) then, is that it's actually a perverse way for real n'er do wells in government agencies to get away with literal murder. It's also a way to justify useful idiots like the skeptic authors ensuring they do.

10) The conspiracy theorist refuses to consider alternative explanations, rejecting all disconfirming evidence for his theory and blatantly seeking only confirmatory evidence.

Again, this is only partly applicable - and mainly to the loopy mode of pseudo-conspiracies like the faked Apollo Moon landing,  UN hegemony over the U.S. and aliens kept in vaults at Area 51.  For the real, serious, historical conspiracies, like Watergate, the Kennedy assassination, BCCI, and Iran-Contra it is woefully inapplicable. 

In fact, in the case of the Kennedy assassination, all the "disconfirming evidence" is that which inveighs against the validity of the Warren Commission Report, as I showed in Part 5 of my FAQ from November, 2013. Other disconfirming evidence exists in the HSCA Report, on account of the original head (Richard Sprague ) being released and the CIA being given presumptive control of the investigation - deciding what evidence to admit and what to leave out.  

The moral of the story is simple: For false or pseudo-conspiracies (which I refer to as rubbish conspiracy claims) no special "top ten" analytic principles or criteria are required to expose the gibberish. Common sense, in most cases, is sufficient.  In the case of genuine conspiracies, such criteria more often obstruct than advance the cause of exposing the events.  I showed above how that works.

[1] James Bamford:2001,  Body of Secrets,  Doubleday Books, p. 82.
[2] Bamford, op. cit., p. 80.
[3] James Douglass: 2006, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, Orbis Books, p. 331.

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