Controlling 9/11 "crippled epistemology" via fake 'CIA' Internet Conspiracy Theories, COINTELPRO & "cognitive infiltration of extremist groups": Huge jackass/Obama Info Czar Cass Sunstein favors infiltrating conspiracy groups, planting disinfo, diversions

140110top2.jpg"....we will suggest below that if the hard core arises for certain identifiable reasons, it can be broken up or at least muted by government action." .... "We suggest a role for government efforts, and agents, in introducing such diversity.  Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action."

SSRN-Conspiracy Theories by Cass Sunstein, Adrian Vermeule

This is one hell of a chestnut. It seems obvious, in retrospect, the best way to conceal the truth of establishment shady business and institutionalized crime is to mix in a ton of bullshit in order to turn all the skeptics and inquirers against each other. Only now it's Obama's dang 'information czar' pitching the strategy!

Interestingly, the more I broaden my sources, the more I appreciate the broad spectrum of people that have cancelled their subscriptions to Establishment Bollox and the Lies of the Mighty Wurlitzer. It's amazing how so many features of Establishment Reality are so widely loathed from within so many different worldviews.

This important fact is what people like Cass Sunstein don't understand. Like faux Establishment 'Centrists', they believe that ontological truth, or even the 'optimal' policy outcome, is like @ the 50% mark between where the dialectical left & right goalposts are placed.

It's like Howard Fineman - accurately dubbed the Weathervane because you only have to look which way he's pointing to determine what reassuring centrist reality is today's hot item. Howard Fineman is the precise opposite of a 'conspiracy theorist' in Sunstein's world.

The Establishment's Hegelian social control techniques are obvious: just set the left and right goalposts, stir and repeat. Problem-reaction-solution. If one can influence both the left and right goalposts in the great false dichotomy, it makes the product of "centrists" far more acceptable. Everything floating around outside this parlor game is the prima materia of 'conspiracy' that the State should attack professionally, Sunstein says!

Sunstein's tidy worldview brushes over the complex role of deceptive bullshit operatives around there, laying the groundwork for stupid establishment narratives. For example, what are we to make of the ever-shady Gerald Posner, spoonfed the FBI goodies on China? Or Adam Ciralski, helping Blackwater's Erik Prince perpetrate some classic exposure-threatening graymail about U.S. covert ops. Are these merely products of rotten epistomology? [PD Scott with a solid takedown of Posner - Scott's the real deal with The War Conspiracy and more here.]

*****

Anyhow Cass Sunstein was appointed by President Obama as some kind of info czar. Interestingly he wrote a paper about how to manipulate conspiracy theorists by attempting to throw their groups off the Hegelian deep end, thus opening an opportunity for defamatory information warfare. Fascinating stuff, and it's got Alex Jones incensed!!

More links, then some snippets: Obama Information Czar Calls For Banning Free Speech, Sunstein’s Paper Provides More Evidence COLINTELPRO Still Operational, etc.

This whole thing reminds me of how the JFK conspiracy scene is managed as "A Story/B Story" wherein there are two alternate, mutually irreconcilable narratives. Dribs and drabs of facts supporting A and B (roughly, CIA/Mafia and Lone Gunman, usually) can be offered and safely paddle around on the History Channel.

Let us share a few choice links about how the CIA type control system AKA the Intelligence Power controls the World of Conspiracy. This is good stuff -- this is exactly how Mama Cass wants the world of conspiracies organized.

For The Win: Fintan Dunne called the Sunstein approach years ago!

My favorite all-in-one shotgun approach comes from Fintan Dunne of BreakForNews.com: BreakForNews.com : The CIA's Internet Fakes


The CIA Fakes is a catchphrase term to describe a group which includes:

-- Covert Operatives of the CIA, NSA and DIA; of the U.S. Corporate/Military Industrial Complex; of the intelligence services of U.K. Spain, France Holland, Germany, and Russia.
-- Political Agents working within the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Democratic Black Caucus, Green Party, and Patriot Movement.
--
Politicians in the U.S., U.K. Spain, France, Germany and Russia --who pose as 9/11 skeptics.
-- Media, including
Mainstream, Alternative Media and Internet broadcasting media who either front for, cooperate with, or are directly employed by intelligence services mentioned above.

The primary objectives of the CIA FAKES are:

-- To leverage the Fakes into position as the leadership/spokespersons
    for the 9/11 skeptics movement.
-- To splinter and divide that movement.
-- To promote lame, tame and/or booby-trapped questions about 9/11.
-- To be sufficiently over-the-top as to prevent the 9/11 issue getting
    any traction in the media or left-wing.
-- To ensure that the movement would not have a politically-active
    leadership capable of turning it into an effective political lobby campaign.

The questions about 9/11 were bound to be asked, the important
aspect for the perpetrators was and is ...by whom?

Bravo, Mr. Dunne, Bravo. You scored big on this one... A general roundup to be found @ The Next Level :: View topic - Uncovered: The Rat's Nest of 9/11 of effective gatekeepers -- and its true that his set of people, in aggregate, has the 9/11 conspiracy topic cornered and setup a certain way.
More along these lines: 9/11, 7/7 & the War on Freedom :: View topic - The Planned Demolition of Alex Jones, The COUP had foreknowledge of 9-11 (YES!), the criticism about Sibel Edmonds, Scheuer, Ray McGovern, etc: WagNews: Our Good Friends in the CIA - NOT !, (i.e "The alternative media is ridden with ex-FBI, ex-CIA, ex-NSA, ex-MI5 people who are on "our side". It's all total BS.") WagNews: Alex Jones, Hopsicker & the 9/11 CIA Fakes -Audio.

This one is suddenly salient: WagNews: Ellsberg, Sibel Edmonds & The Secret Team:

WHAT FLAVOR CONSPIRACY YOU WANT?

One big corner of that overall 9/11 picture is formed by four disparate-seeming individuals: a veteran whistleblower, an attractive novice whistleblower, a campaigning journalist and a reputed lingerie model; jigsaw peices called Ellsberg, Edmonds, Hopsicker and Keller. Ellsberg supports Edmonds, confirmed by Hopsicker --backed by eyewitness accounts from Keller. But they're all telling different flavors of the same story.

To specify which story that is, let's take a look at the popular tales of 9/11. The notorious main division is between LIHOP and MIHOP. But it's much more detailed than that. Explanations come in a full range of flavors --starting with the official story:

A. Official story:
CIA/FBI were incompetent; Bush and/or Clinton were complacent.
B. Official Lame Conspiracy:
CIA/FBI were incompetent; Bush/Cheney maybe let it happen; Israelis Knew.
C. Official LIHOP Conspiracy:
CIA/FBI were compromised; Bush/Cheney did let it happen; Israelis Helped.
D. Official LIHOP Wild Conspiracy:
CIA/FBI compromised; Bush/Cheney/Neocons let it happen; Israelis Did It.
E. Official LIHOP Tinfoil Conspiracy:
Israelis/Neocons/Bush/Cheney Did It; CIA/FBI looked the other way.
F. Official MIHOP 'Serious' Conspiracy:
Israelis/Neocons/CIA/FBI/Bush/Cheney/Military-Industrial-Complex Did It.
G. Official Loony Conspiracies:
Rothschilds and/or Rockefellers and/or CFR and/or Bildebergers did it.
Globalists who want to run everything in a World Government did it.
Jews and Jewish bankers -who already run everything- did it.
Satanists, Opus Dei or Reptilians did it.
It's a terrific variety of theories.
It plays out something like this:
  • The mainstream media push version A; hint at B; sneer at G.
  • The controlled right/intellectual media pushes version B.
  • The controlled left/intellectual media pushes version C.
  • The 'moderate' Fake internet sites push versions C and D.
  • The 'softcore' Fake internet sites push versions D and E.
  • The 'independent' Fake internet sites push version F.
  • The 'loony' Fake interent sites push variations of version G.
But every single one, from A to G are OFFICIAL versions, sanctioned and promoted by the 9/11 intelligence coverup operation and their CIA Fakes network. They have a flavor for every market.

The creation of this multiplicity of explanations is a core element of the coverup. Left to their own devices, people on the Internet might have figured out the truth themselves. But with this circus in action, there is always plenty of distraction and lots of division in opinion.

The intelligence coverup is not trying to stop 9/11 conspiracy theories on the internet. It's creating them. Then playing off supporters of the different theories against each other. That's a classic Cointelpro-style tactic.

***********More from good Ol L Fletcher Prouty on CIA / Ellsberg limited hangout type conspiracy control!
Let's get to the brand-new material from the White House info czar, it's wild!!...... Conspiracy Theories by Cass Sunstein & Adrian Vermeule:

Our main though far from exclusive focus – our running example – involves

conspiracy theories relating to terrorism, especially theories that arise from and post-date

the 9/11 attacks. These theories exist within the United States and, even more virulently,

in foreign countries, especially Muslim countries. The existence of both domestic and

foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the

government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be. Terrorism-related

theories are thus a crucial testing ground for the significance, causes, and policy

implications of widespread conspiracy theorizing. As we shall see, an understanding of

conspiracy theories has broad implications for the spread of information and beliefs;

many erroneous judgments are a product of the same forces that produce conspiracy

theories, and if we are able to see how to counteract such theories, we will have some

clues about how to correct widespread errors more generally.

Part I explores some definitional issues and lays out some of the mechanisms that

produce conspiracy theories and theorists. We begin by discussing different

understandings of the nature of conspiracy theories and different accounts of the kinds of

errors made by those who hold them. Our primary claim is that conspiracy theories

typically stem not from irrationality or mental illness of any kind but from a “crippled

epistemology,” in the form of a sharply limited number of (relevant) informational

sources. Those who hold conspiracy theories do so because of what they read and hear. In

that sense, acceptance of such theories is not irrational from the standpoint of those who

adhere to them. There is a close connection, we suggest, between our claim on this count

and the empirical association between terrorist behavior and an absence of civil rights

and civil liberties.10 When civil rights and civil liberties are absent, people lack multiple

information sources, and they are more likely to accept conspiracy theories.

Part II discusses government responses and legal issues, in light of the discussion

in Part I. We address several dilemmas of governmental response to conspiracy theories,

such as the question whether it is better to rebut such theories, at the risk of legitimating

them, or to ignore them, at the risk of leaving them unrebutted. Conspiracy theories turn

out to be especially hard to undermine or dislodge; they have a self-sealing quality,

rendering them particularly immune to challenge. We suggest several policy responses

that can dampen the supply of conspiracy theorizing, in part by introducing diverse

viewpoints and new factual assumptions into the hard-core groups that produce such

theories. Our principal claim here involves the potential value of cognitive infiltration of

extremist groups, designed to introduce informational diversity into such groups and to

expose indefensible conspiracy theories as such.

Tell me this, Sunstein: how does all that drug money get through the Federal Reserve System? Everyone has been so eager to confront that 'conspiracy theory,' haven't they?

Blah blah blah... let's get to the good stuff: [Below the fold - favorite chunks of much of the crazy essay]

Members of informationally and socially isolated groups tend to display a kind of

paranoid cognition46 and become increasingly distrustful or suspicious of the motives of

others or of the larger society, falling into a “sinister attribution error.”47 This error

occurs when people feel that they are under pervasive scrutiny, and hence they attribute

personalistic motives to outsiders and overestimate the amount of attention they receive.

Benign actions that happen to disadvantage the group are taken as purposeful plots,

intended to harm.48 Although these conditions resemble individual-level pathologies,

they arise from the social and informational structure of the group, especially those

operating in enclosed or closely knit networks, and are not usefully understood as a form

of mental illness. The social etiology of such conditions suggests that the appropriate

remedy is not individual treatment, but the introduction of cognitive, informational, and

social diversity into the isolated networks that supply extremist theories. We take up the

resulting policy problems in the next Part.

II. Governmental Responses

What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do,

what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1)

Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind

of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government

might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy

theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in

counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such

parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential

effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions.

However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration

of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5).

If one believes that conspiracy theories are in some sense inconsequential, the

best answer will be for government to ignore them. If children believe in Santa Claus or

the Easter Bunny, there is no problem for government to solve; and the belief that the

government covered up the landing of space aliens in Roswell does not seem to be

causing discernible harm, with the possible exception of bad television shows. (This does

not imply that government should ignore conspiracy theories only if they are

inconsequential. As we will see, under certain conditions government may do best to

ignore conspiracy theories and theorists even if it justifiably fears that they will have

harmful effects, because government action may make things worse.) In Section A,

however, we give some reasons to think that some conspiracy theories are consequential

indeed.

In Section B, we address several dilemmas of governmental response to

conspiracy theories and theorists. Is it best to ignore them, creating a risk that the theory

will spread unrebutted, or to address them, with the risk that addressing the theory will

legitimate and even be taken to confirm it? Assuming budget constraints and limited

resources, should government efforts focus on debiasing the conspiracy theorists

themselves, or solely on preventing the spread of conspiracy theories among the larger

population? How can government get behind or around the distinctive feature of

conspiracy theories -- their self-sealing quality, which tends to fold government’s denials

into the theory itself as further evidence of the conspiracy?

An obvious answer is to maintain an open society, in which those who are

tempted to subscribe to conspiracy theories do not distrust all knowledge-creating

institutions, and are exposed to corrections. But we have seen that even in open societies,

conspiracy theories have some traction; and open societies have a strong interest in

debunking such theories when they arise, and threaten to cause harm, in closed societies.

Here we suggest two concrete ideas for government officials attempting to fashion a

response to such theories. First, responding to more rather than fewer conspiracy theories

has a kind of synergy benefit: it reduces the legitimating effect of responding to any one

of them, because it dilutes the contrast with unrebutted theories. Second, we suggest a

distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy

theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their

allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will

undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so

by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups,

thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.49

In Section C, we examine the role of law and judges in fashioning the

government’s response. We will ask whether judges do more good than harm by

invoking statutes such as the Freedom of Information Act to force government to disclose

facts that would rebut conspiracy theories. Our conclusions are generally skeptical: there

is little reason to believe that judges can improve on administrative choices in these

situations. Section D concludes with some brief notes on government efforts to dispel

conspiracy theories held by foreign audiences, especially in Muslim countries.

Throughout, we assume a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate

conspiracy theories, or draw their poison, if and only if social welfare is improved by

doing so. (We do not offer a particular account of social welfare, taking the term instead

as a placeholder for the right account.) This is a standard assumption in policy analysis,

and is useful for clarifying the policy questions, but we note that real-world governments

can instead be purveyors of conspiracy theories. In Egypt, newspapers effectively

controlled by the governing regime regularly spread conspiracy theories about Jews.50

Some believe that the Bush administration deliberately spread a kind of false and

unwarranted conspiracy theory – that Saddam Hussein conspired with Al Qaeda to

support the 9/11 attacks.51 Suppose for discussion’s sake that this is so; then a future

administration motivated to improve social welfare would need to consider whether this

theory is false and harmful, and if it is what can and should be done about it. But this

would just be another case of a conspiracy theory circulating in the population, which

might or might not be worth responding to, in light of the considerations we adduce

below. Nothing of theoretical interest follows from this case for the questions we address

here, which strictly involve optimal responses to conspiracy theories on the part of a (real

or imagined) well-motivated government.

.........

B. Dilemmas and Responses

Imagine a government facing a population in which a particular conspiracy theory

is becoming widespread. We will identify two basic dilemmas that recur, and consider

how government should respond. The first dilemma is whether to ignore or rebut the

theory; the second is whether to address the supply side of conspiracy theorizing by

attempting to debias or disable its purveyors, to address the demand side by attempting to

immunize third-party audiences from the theory’s effects, or to do both (if resource

constraints permit).

In both cases, the underlying structure of the problem is that conspiracy theorizing

is a multi-party game. Government is faced with suppliers of conspiracy theories, and

might aim at least in part to persuade, debias, or silence those suppliers. However, those

two players are competing for the hearts and minds of third parties, especially the mass

audience of the uncommitted.58 Expanding the cast further, one may see the game as

involving four players: government officials, conspiracy theorists, mass audiences, and

independent experts – such as mainstream scientists or the editors of Popular Mechanics

– whom government attempts to enlist to give credibility to its rebuttal efforts. The

discussion that follows generally assumes the three-party structure, but we will refer to

the four-party structure when relevant.

1. Ignore or rebut?

The first dilemma is that either ignoring or rebutting a conspiracy theory has

distinctive costs. Ignoring the theory allows its proponents to draw ominous inferences

from the government’s silence. If the theory stands unrebutted, one possibility is that it is

too ludicrous to need rebuttal, but another is that the government cannot offer relevant

evidence to the contrary; the suppliers of the conspiracy theories will propose the second

inference. On this view, all misinformation (the initial conspiracy theory) should be met

with countermisinformation.

On the other hand, to rebut the theory may be to legitimate it, moving the theory

from the zone of claims too ludicrous to be discussed to the zone of claims that, whether

or not true, are in some sense worth discussing. This legitimation effect can arise in one

of two ways. First, third-party audiences may infer from the government’s rebuttal

efforts that the government estimates the conspiracy theory to be plausible, and fears that

the third parties will themselves be persuaded. Second, some members of the audience

may infer that many other members of the audience must believe the theory, or

government would not be taking the trouble to rebut it. Consider circumstances of

“pluralistic ignorance,” in which citizens are unsure what other citizens believe.59

Citizens may take the fact of rebuttal itself as supplying information about the beliefs of

other citizens, and may even use this information in forming their own beliefs. The

government’s rebuttal may be a signal that other citizens believe in the conspiracy theory

– and may therefore make the theory more plausible. If the number who follow this

cognitive strategy and thus adopt a belief in the theory exceeds the number who are

persuaded by the rebuttal, the perverse result of the rebuttal may then be to increase the

number of believers.

..........

2. Which audience?

Another dilemma is whether to target the supply side of the conspiracy theory or

the demand side. Should governmental responses be addressed to the suppliers, with a

view to persuading or silencing them, or rather be addressed to the mass audience, with a

view to inoculating them from pernicious theories? Of course these two strategies are not

mutually exclusive as a logical matter; perhaps the best approach is to straddle the two

audiences with a single response or simply to provide multiple responses. However, if

there are resource constraints, government may face a choice about where to place its

emphases. The question will be what mix of second-party responses (pitched to the

suppliers) and third-party responses (pitched to the mass audience) is best. Moreover,

apart from resource constraints, there are intrinsic tradeoffs across these strategies. The

 

very arguments that are most convincing to the mass audience may be least convincing to

the conspiracists, and vice-versa.

We will begin with some remarks about responses addressed to the supply side.

The basic problem with pitching governmental responses to the suppliers of conspiracy

theories is that those theories, by their nature, have a self-sealing quality. They are (1)

resistant and in extreme cases invulnerable to contrary evidence,61 and (2) especially

resistant to contrary evidence offered by the government, because the government

rebuttal is folded into the conspiracy theory itself. If conspiracy theorists are responding

to the informational signals given by those whom they trust, then the government’s effort

at rebuttal seems unlikely to be effective, and might serve to fortify rather than to

undermine the original belief. (A possible solution is for government to enlist private

rebuttals; we return to this point shortly.) The most direct response to a dangerous

conspiracy theories is censorship. That response is unavailable in an open society,

because it is inconsistent with principles of freedom of expression. We could imagine

circumstances in which a conspiracy theory became so pervasive, and so dangerous, that

censorship would be thinkable. But in an open society, the need for censorship would be

correspondingly reduced. In any case censorship may well turn out to be self-defeating.

The effort to censor the theory might well be taken as evidence that the theory is true, and

censorship of speech is notoriously difficult.

After 9/11, one complex of conspiracy theories involved American Airlines Flight

77, which hijackers crashed into the Pentagon. Some theorists claimed that no plane had

hit the Pentagon; even after the Department of Defense released video frames showing

Flight 77 approaching the building and a later explosion cloud, theorists pointed out that

the actual moment of impact was absent from the video, in order to keep alive their claim

that the plane had never hit the building. (In reality the moment of impact was not

captured because the video had a low number of frames per second.62) Moreover, even

those conspiracists who were persuaded that the Flight 77 conspiracy theories were

wrong folded that view into a larger conspiracy theory. The problem with the theory that

no plane hit the Pentagon, they said, is that the theory was too transparently false,

disproved by multiple witnesses and much physical evidence. Thus the theory must have

been a straw man initially planted by the government, in order to discredit other

conspiracy theories and theorists by association.63

Government can partially circumvent these problems if it enlists nongovernmental

officials in the effort to rebut the theories. It might ensure that credible independent

experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a

tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that

government cannot be seen to control the independent experts. Although government can

supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action

from behind the scenes, too close a connection will prove self-defeating if it is exposed --

as witness the humiliating disclosures showing that apparently independent opinions on

scientific and regulatory questions were in fact paid for by think-tanks with ties to the

Bush administration.64 Even apart from this tradeoff, conspiracy theorists may still fold

independent third-party rebuttals into their theory by making conspiratorial claims of

connection between the third party and the government. When Popular Mechanics

offered its rebuttal of 9/11 conspiracy theories, conspiracists claimed that one of the

magazine’s reporters, Ben Chertoff, was the cousin of Homeland Security Secretary

Michael Chertoff and was spreading disinformation at the latter’s behest.65

Because of these difficulties, many officials dismiss direct responses to the

suppliers of conspiracy theorists as an exercise in futility. Rather, they implicitly frame

their responses to the third-party mass audience, hoping to stem the spread of conspiracy

theories by dampening the demand rather than by reducing the supply. Philip Zelikow,

the executive director of the 9/11 commission, says that “[t]he hardcore conspiracy

theorists are totally committed. They’d have to repudiate much of their life identity in

order not to accept some of that stuff. That’s not our worry. Our worry is when things

become infectious . . . . [t]hen this stuff can be deeply corrosive to public understanding.

You can get where the bacteria can sicken the larger body.”66 Likewise, when the

National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a fact sheet to disprove the theory

that the World Trade Center was brought down by a controlled demolition, the

spokesman stated that “[w]e realize this fact sheet won’t convince those who hold to the

alternative theories that our findings are sound. In fact, the fact sheet was never intended

for them. It is for the masses who have seen or heard the alternative theory claims and

want balance.”67

The problem with this line of argument, however, is that it takes the existence of a

hard core as a given. This is premature; we will suggest below that if the hard core arises

for certain identifiable reasons, it can be broken up or at least muted by government

action. Furthermore, there are intrinsic costs to the strategy of giving up on the hard core

and directing government efforts solely towards inoculating the mass audience. For one

thing, the hard core may itself provide the most serious threat. For another, a response

geared to a mass audience (whether or not nominally pitched as a response to the

conspiracy theorists) will lead some to embrace rather than reject the conspiracy theory

the government is trying to rebut. This is the legitimation dilemma again: to begin a

program of inoculation is to signal that the disease is already widespread and threatening.

Under pluralistic ignorance, the perverse result may actually be to spread the conspiracy

theory further.

3. Cognitive infiltration

Rather than taking the continued existence of the hard core as a constraint, and

addressing itself solely to the third-party mass audience, government might undertake

(legal) tactics for breaking up the tight cognitive clusters of extremist theories, arguments

and rhetoric that are produced by the hard core and reinforce it in turn. One promising

tactic is cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. By this we do not mean 1960s-style

infiltration with a view to surveillance and collecting information, possibly for use in

future prosecutions. Rather, we mean that government efforts might succeed in

weakening or even breaking up the ideological and epistemological complexes that

constitute these networks and groups.

How might this tactic work? Recall that extremist networks and groups,

including the groups that purvey conspiracy theories, typically suffer from a kind of

crippled epistemology. Hearing only conspiratorial accounts of government behavior,

their members become ever more prone to believe and generate such accounts.

Informational and reputational cascades, group polarization, and selection effects suggest

that the generation of ever-more-extreme views within these groups can be dampened or

reversed by the introduction of cognitive diversity. We suggest a role for government

efforts, and agents, in introducing such diversity. Government agents (and their allies)

might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to

undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises,

causal logic or implications for political action.

In one variant, government agents would openly proclaim, or at least make no

effort to conceal, their institutional affiliations. A recent newspaper story recounts that

Arabic-speaking Muslim officials from the State Department have participated in

dialogues at radical Islamist chat rooms and websites in order to ventilate arguments not

usually heard among the groups that cluster around those sites, with some success.68 In

another variant, government officials would participate anonymously or even with false

identities. Each approach has distinct costs and benefits; the second is riskier but

potentially brings higher returns. In the former case, where government officials

participate openly as such, hard-core members of the relevant networks, communities and

conspiracy-minded organizations may entirely discount what the officials say, right from

the beginning. The risk with tactics of anonymous participation, conversely, is that if the

tactic becomes known, any true member of the relevant groups who raises doubts may be

suspected of government connections. Despite these difficulties, the two forms of

cognitive infiltration offer different risk-reward mixes and are both potentially useful

instruments.

There is a similar tradeoff along another dimension: whether the infiltration

should occur in the real world, through physical penetration of conspiracist groups by

undercover agents, or instead should occur strictly in cyberspace. The latter is safer, but

potentially less productive. The former will sometimes be indispensable, where the

groups that purvey conspiracy theories (and perhaps themselves formulate conspiracies)

formulate their views through real-space informational networks rather than virtual

networks. Infiltration of any kind poses well-known risks: perhaps agents will be asked

to perform criminal acts to prove their bona fides, or (less plausibly) will themselves

become persuaded by the conspiratorial views they are supposed to be undermining;

perhaps agents will be unmasked and harmed by the infiltrated group. But the risks are

generally greater for real-world infiltration, where the agent is exposed to more serious

harms.

All these risk-reward tradeoffs deserve careful consideration. Particular tactics

may or may not be cost-justified under particular circumstances. Our main suggestion is

just that, whatever the tactical details, there would seem to be ample reason for

government efforts to introduce some cognitive diversity into the groups that generate

conspiracy theories. Social cascades are sometimes quite fragile, precisely because they

are based on small slivers of information. Once corrective information is introduced,

large numbers of people can be shifted to different views. If government is able to have

credibility, or to act through credible agents, it might well be successful in dislodging

beliefs that are held only because no one contradicts them. Likewise, polarization tends

to decrease when divergent views are voiced within the group.69 Introducing a measure

of cognitive diversity can break up the epistemological networks and clusters that supply

conspiracy theories.

C. A Role for Law, and Courts?

So far we have detailed some dilemmas facing government officials and have

suggested some policy responses. What if anything is the role of law, and courts, in these

matters? The principal point of contact between the legal system and the issues discussed

here is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which creates a presumption of

transparency for documents held by administrative agencies and executive institutions.

Unless the government can show that the requested information falls within one of a

designated list of exceptions, there is a legal right to disclosure, and the Supreme Court

has created a broad concept of “informational standing”70 to permit interested groups and

citizens to enforce that right.

FOIA becomes relevant when the government holds, and declines to disclose,

information that might rebut a circulating conspiracy theory. An example involves the

disclosure of the Department of Defense video involving Flight 77’s crash into the

Pentagon on 9/11. A pro-transparency group, Judicial Watch, filed a FOIA request to

obtain the video, but the Defense Department declined, saying that the video was to be

used in the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui. Judicial Watch filed suit to force disclosure,

with the avowed objective of using the video to rebut the conspiracy theories surrounding

Flight 77. However, when the Moussaoui trial ended the government released the video

before the lawsuit could be decided.71

The details of the case only suggest the larger question that it poses: should

courts, and law, force the executive to disclose information that a litigant claims would

help to rebut conspiracy theories? If the answer is yes, then control over the timing and

nature of the executive’s responsive strategy will be partially transferred to litigating

groups and judges. If the answer is no, the executive will retain full control.

.............. [More stuff about the mechanics of FOIA coverups - moving on to crushing Iraq......]

So far we have discussed the distinctive difficulties of the foreign setting. On

other dimensions, however, the foreign setting loosens various legal and political

constraints, allowing the U.S. government greater freedom in responding to conspiracy

theories. In 2004, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, ordered troops to shut

down a weekly newspaper in Baghdad that had propounded false conspiracy theories

damaging to the U.S., such as a story that “an American missile, not a terrorist car bomb,

had caused an explosion that killed more than 50 Iraqi police recruits.”84 Whether this

sort of action does more harm than good, in similar environments, is a complicated

question, depending on difficult judgments about the etiology of conspiracy theories, the

consequences of censorship, and the efficacy of U.S. counterspeech. On the one hand,

there are the familiar arguments that censorship attracts attention to the censored speech

or publication and fuels further conspiracy theorizing; perhaps, the inference might run,

the U.S. is moving against a particular rumor because it is true, or is moving against a

particular paper because it is exposing actual U.S. conspiracies. Furthermore, censorship

might just drive the conspiracy theories underground, to be spread and mutated by

personal rumor-mongering that is less susceptible to focused rebuttal.

On the other hand, the peculiar environment in which Bremer acted may weigh in

favor of a policy of censoring publication of conspiracy theories. One editorial argued

that “[t]he occupation authorities have plenty of means, including their own television

station, to get out a more favorable message.”85 However, this ignores the effect

discussed above, that the antecedent skepticism of the Iraqi audience is so strong that any

U.S. statements, even if true, credible and important, will be ignored altogether. With an

audience already thoroughly in the grip of conspiracy theories, open counterspeech may

simply be more grist for the conspiratorial mill. Consider that when Al-Hurra began its

operations, a conspiracy theory quickly circulated, claiming that the short-term contracts

given to Al-Hurra personnel showed that the station was set up only to bolster George W.

Bush’s reelection campaign, and would presumably be shut down after the election.86

Given the extremely low efficacy of U.S. counterspeech in this sort of environment, the

realistic options may be limited to censorship and anonymous or quasi-anonymous

counterspeech in the style of the Lincoln Group. Whatever the merits of these pragmatic

and tactical questions, the availability of censorship gives U.S. officials operating in

foreign countries an extra instrument for coping with conspiracy theories, one that is not

available in the domestic arena due to both legal and political constraints.

Conclusion

Our goal here has been to understand the sources of conspiracy theories and to

examine potential government responses. Most people lack direct or personal information

about the explanations for terrible events, and they are often tempted to attribute such

events to some nefarious actor. The temptation is least likely to be resisted if others are

making the same attributions. Conspiracy cascades arise through the same processes that

fuel many kinds of social errors. What makes such cascades most distinctive, and

relevantly different from other cascades involving beliefs that are both false and harmful,

is their self-insulating quality. The very statements and facts that might dissolve

conspiracy cascades can be taken as further evidence on their behalf. These points make

it especially difficult for outsiders, including governments, to debunk them.

Some conspiracy theories create serious risks. They do not merely undermine

democratic debate; in extreme cases, they create or fuel violence. If government can

dispel such theories, it should do so. One problem is that its efforts might be

counterproductive, because efforts to rebut conspiracy theories also legitimate them. We

have suggested, however, that government can minimize this effect by rebutting more

rather than fewer theories, by enlisting independent groups to supply rebuttals, and by

cognitive infiltration designed to break up the crippled epistemology of conspiracy-

minded groups and informationally isolated social networks.

OMG WOWZ - I'll leave it there.

On the other hand, I think I may have a rejoinder to his whole worldview in the works. Dang this crappy epistomology :-P

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Tags for Controlling 9/11 "crippled epistemology" via fake 'CIA' Internet Conspiracy Theories, COINTELPRO & "cognitive infiltration of extremist groups": Huge jackass/Obama Info Czar Cass Sunstein favors infiltrating conspiracy groups, planting disinfo, diversions