My interest was first piqued in conspiracies when I heard a news bulletin on the radio in 1991 about the death by suicide of Danny Casolaro. If you aren't familiar with the case, here's a blurb about it the case from a sympathetic website:
Danny Casolaro died in August 1991 in Martinsberg, West Virginia, of
what appeared to be a suicide. He was investigating the theft of a
super-surveillance software called PROMIS involving Justice Department
officials and a shadowy international group he called the Octopus. Two
congressional investigations of the PROMIS case (also known as the
Inslaw case, after the name of the company that created PROMIS)
recommened that Casolaro's death be investigated as a homicide. Keith
and Thomas obtained the notes that Casolaro let behind and made them the
basis of their book, The Octopus, published by Feral House in 1997.
"This rumor may be nonsense," Thomas said. "Casolaro may have committed
suicide. It is the way of the Octopus. It exists but it doesn't exist.
These are suicides or non-suspicious homicides or real accidents. They
just happen to cluster coincidentally around a certain set of facts or a
certain perception of an organized conspiracy. Keith himself would
certainly have been suspicious of the circumstances of his own death,
I became engrossed in them even more after reading The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. Wilson, who died relatively recently was a protege of Timothy Leary, to give you an idea of the mindset involved in the book.
I then read Umberto Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum, which also involved itself with conspiracies.
Then, I went back and read what I could find on the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the ties between Nixon and the mob, between Reagan and the mob, and, of course, the ever-present literature on UFOs.
The X-Files was a dream come true for a fan of conspiracy theories. Here we had it - a visual, dramatic representation of the world-view of conspiracy theorists. I was a fan from early on in the third season, although once David Duchovny left, I have to admit my interest waned a bit. Robert Patrick is a good actor, and did his level best, but for the purposes of this series, Duchovny was irreplaceable.
When I say I am a fan of conspiracy theories, I want to be clear - they are all nonsense. Bunk. Hogwash. I enjoy them the way I enjoy a good novel, or a beautiful symphony, or a painting. They are a wonder to behold, but are quite obviously false. They are marvels of human ingenuity, straining after links and ties and causes, attempting to deal rationally with a world that is most certainly irrational. It may not have begun with the Kennedy assassination (one can read all sorts of things on Cecil Rhodes, the Freemasons, the Council on Foreign Relations in early Bircher literature), but I believe that, for a generation believing in the goodness of America and Americans, the sanity of the world under American hegemony, and the power and might of the Kennedy Administration, his death at the hands of a disturbed Marine vet with communist sympathies was a blow that was, to say the least, difficult to take. It was irrational to assume that Oswald acted alone. It was irrational to assume that, being a communist sympathizer, Oswald did not act on direct orders from someone. It was irrational to believe the report of the Warren Commission.
Actually, it was quite rational to accept the fact that one deranged man could take the life of the President of the United States. It had been done before (in 1865, 1881, and 1901) and would be attempted again in 1981. As one of the few who not only has read the Warren Commission Report, but actually owns a copy, I can vouch for two facts - it is incomplete in parts (hardly a shocker); its conclusion, based upon evidence (rather than suspicion) is pretty solid.
All of this is a long way round to my main point. There are real conspiracies out there. Obviously. Organized crime is a conspiracy - a collusion of business men on various levels. The Nixon Administration was a gigantic criminal conspiracy; indeed, one could argue that it began during the Nixon campaign as Henry Kissinger pulled double duty as a negotiator for the Johnson Administration and fed information to the Nixon campaign (he also, according the Seymour Hirsch's book, The Price of Power, undermined the American negotiating position at the Paris Peace talks by arguing in private with the North Vietnamese that they would get a better deal under Nixon than a Democratic President).
Real conspiracies are not shadowy. They are, in fact, pretty bright. They are easily penetrated, if not always easy to bring down (the feds have been working against the mob for years, most recently in Chicago in a trial that involved murders going back to the late-1970's). They are porous, with information easily accessible as more and more people become involved (Watergate unraveled the Nixon Administration precisely because the number of people involved, and their level of knowledge, was all quite high).
Finally, we come to the Bush Administration. They have taken steps to insulate themselves from scrutiny - revising the Presidential Records Act by illegal fiat; increasing the number of restricted documents and reducing access to them (even the Vice-President's staff, what should be a routine matter of public information, is classified); rarely telling the truth even when doing so does them little harm and might actually do them good. The release a few years back of the so-called Downing Street memo, a summary of a meeting between President Bush and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which Bush made it quite clear that the hand-wringing he did in public was for PR purposes only, and that the decision for war had been made months before regardless of the decisions of others, hardly made a splash in the US press. A recently released report in the Spanish paper El Pais in which similar comments were made by Bush to the then-governing Spanish PM, reveal what is quite clearly a conspiracy to lie to the American people about the oncoming war with Iraq.
Like all real conspiracies, this is thinly veiled, suspected by those who may not be in the know but have access to people who are, and pretty clearly illegal from beginning to end. The problem, of course, is that when the word "conspiracy" comes up, people do not think of real criminal conspiracies but rather the ravings of mentally unbalanced people about implants in their skin and alien invaders. Alas for us, the conspiracy mongers have given conspiracies a bad name, and prevented us from seeing what is quite clearly before all our eyes:
George W. Bush and his Administration engaged in a calculated conspiracy to lie to the American people, to engage in aggressive war which is illegal under the United Nations Charter and therefore, as a ratified signatory of the treaty, under US law under the Constitution of the United States. Having committed this original war crime, they continue with the illegal occupation of Iraq, against the express will of the American people. Under the UN Charter, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and others should be indicted on war crimes and tried by an international tribunal at the World Court in The Hague, under the legal auspices of the United Nations. It should be the duty of the United States government and its citizens to assist in the investigation of these allegations, including the drawing up of the indictments against them.
I blocked that off so no one would miss it. My fondest wish is to see the whole lot of them in orange jump suits, at The Hague. The outcome of such a trial I leave to the judge and jurors.
Should I be found dead somewhere under mysterious circumstances, you might want to change your mind about conspiracies.
UPDATE: I had heard about this story a day or two ago, but now have a full-fledged story at the British paper The Independent with much more detail. It seems that PM Aznar was trying to talk Bush down from war, pointing out that he had information Hussein was looking to go in to exile.
"Yes, it's possible," Mr Bush told the Spanish leader. "The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein ... He seems to have indicated he would be open to exile if they would let him take one billion dollars and all the information he wants on weapons of mass destruction."
But Mr Bush seems to shrug off the idea, saying "it's also possible he could be assassinated", and he makes made clear that the US would in any case give "no guarantee" for Hussein. "He's a thief, a terrorist and a war criminal. Compared to Saddam, Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa."
The conversation, recorded by Spain's ambassador to the US, Javier Ruperez, and published this week in El Pais, offers a unique insight into Mr Bush's brusque interaction with one of the few foreign leaders he trusted. Here was a leader already on the march towards war, expressing impatience and anger at those that disagreed with him.
Mr Bush does admit that averting war would be "the best solution for us" and "would also save us $50bn," greatly underestimating the cost to the US treasury of nearly five years of warfare. But he also talks of how he planned to exact revenge on countries, that did not back the US in its drive to war.
"We have to get rid of Saddam. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we'll be ready militarily," Mr Bush told Mr Aznar.
Along with lying to the American people, it seems an almost gross negligence of the nation's fiscal health - $1,000,000,000 is nothing; even the $50 billion Bush claims as a rough cost of the up-coming conflict is about six-months worth at the current and on-going supplementals the Administration keeps asking Congress for - as well as somewhat criminally negligent in regards to the lives of thousands lost or otherwise destroyed in the war itself and its aftermath.
There is good precedent for allowing exile. At the end of WWI, the Allies did not pursue the deposed Kaiser to his "hideout" in The Netherlands (although Bitish PM David Lloyd George wanted him hung; then-Minister of State for War and Air Winston Churchill talked him out of it; as a curious aside, during WWII, it would be Churchill who would ask the deposed Kaiser if he wished for asylum in Britain in the face of the Nazi invasion of Holland; thankfully for Churchill, Wilhelm declined). The Emperor of Japan was to be tried as a war criminal along with the various members of successive Japanese governments; it was through the suasion of Douglas MacArthur, among others, that he was spared, he and his descendants left as figurehead constitutional monarchs, much as the British throne is now pretty much irrelevant to the lives of the British people.
Be all that as it may, Bush "shrugged off" an attempt to avoid war and its horrors. Another piece falls into place? Or another bit of evidence for prosecutors?