CointelPro Factor against Conspiracy Theorists
Cass R. Sunstein
Harvard University – Harvard Law School
Harvard University – Harvard Law School
January 15, 2008
Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-03
U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 199
U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 387
Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or some terrible event. A recent example is the belief, widespread in some parts of the world, that the attacks of 9/11 were carried out not by Al Qaeda, but by Israel or the United States. Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined. Such theories typically spread as a result of identifiable cognitive blunders, operating in conjunction with informational and reputational influences. A distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality. Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories; they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy. Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a crippled epistemology, in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are explored in this light.
Keywords: conspiracy theories, social networks, informational cascades, group polarization
Obama Information Czar Outlined Plan for Government to Infiltrate Conspiracy Groups
Sunstein called for Cointelpro style effort to silence truth using army of hired provocateurs
Paul Joseph Watson
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, Obama’s appointee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, outlined a plan for the government to infiltrate conspiracy groups in order to undermine them via postings on chat rooms and social networks, as well as real meetings, according to a recently uncovered article Sunstein wrote for the Journal of Political Philosophy.
As we have often warned, chat rooms, social networks and particularly article comment sections are routinely “gamed” by trolls, many of whom pose as numerous different people in order to create a fake consensus, who attempt to debunk whatever information is being discussed, no matter how credible and well documented. We have seen this on our own websites for years and although some of those individuals were acting of their own accord, a significant number appeared to be working in shifts, routinely posting the same talking points over and over again.
It is a firmly established fact that the military-industrial complex which also owns the corporate media networks in the United States has numerous programs aimed at infiltrating prominent Internet sites and spreading propaganda to counter the truth about the misdeeds of the government and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2006 CENTCOM, the United States Central Command, announced that a team of employees would be hired to engage “bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information,” about the so-called war on terror.
In May 2008, it was revealed that the Pentagon was expanding “Information Operations” on the Internet by setting up fake foreign news websites, designed to look like independent media sources but in reality carrying direct military propaganda.
Countries like Israel have also admitted to creating an army of online trolls whose job it is to infiltrate anti-war websites and act as apologists for the Zionist state’s war crimes.
In January last year, the US Air Force announced a “counter-blog” response plan aimed at fielding and reacting to material from bloggers who have “negative opinions about the US government and the Air Force.”
The plan, created by the public affairs arm of the Air Force, includes a detailed twelve-point “counter blogging” flow-chart that dictates how officers should tackle what are described as “trolls,” “ragers,” and “misguided” online writers.
New revelations highlight the fact that the Obama administration is deliberately targeting “conspiracy groups” as part of a Cointelpro style effort to silence what have become the government’s most vociferous and influential critics.
In a 2008 article published in the Journal of Political Philosophy, Obama information czar Cass Sunstein outlined a plan for the government to stealthily infiltrate groups that pose alternative theories on historical events via “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine” those groups.
The aim of the program would be to “(break) up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories,” wrote Sunstein, with particular reference to 9/11 truth organizations.
Sunstein pointed out that simply having people in government refute conspiracy theories wouldn’t work because they are inherently untrustworthy, making it necessary to “Enlist 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,” he wrote.
“Put into English, what Sunstein is proposing is government infiltration of groups opposing prevailing policy,” writes Marc Estrin.
“It’s easy to destroy groups with “cognitive diversity.” You just take up meeting time with arguments to the point where people don’t come back. You make protest signs which alienate 90% of colleagues. You demand revolutionary violence from pacifist groups.”
This is what Sunstein is advocating when he writes of the need to infiltrate conspiracy groups and sow seeds of distrust amongst members in order to stifle the number of new recruits. This is classic “provocateur” style infiltration that came to the fore during the Cointelpro years, an FBI program from 1956-1971 that was focused around disrupting, marginalizing and neutralizing political dissidents.
“Sunstein argued that “government might undertake (legal) tactics for breaking up the tight cognitive clusters of extremist theories.” He suggested that “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,” reports Raw Story.
Sunstein has also called for making websites liable for comments posted in response to articles. His book, On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done, was criticized by some as “a blueprint for online censorship.”
The Infowars office has been visited on numerous occasions by the FBI as a result of people posting violent comments in response to articles. Since the government now employs people to post such comments in an attempt to undermine conspiracy websites, if a law were passed making websites accountable, Sunstein’s program would allow the government to obliterate such sites from the web merely by having their own hired goons post threats against public figures.
The fact that the government is being forced to hire armies of trolls in an effort to silence the truth shows how worried they are about the effect we are having in waking up millions of people to their tyranny.
In a 2008 academic paper, President Barack Obama’s appointee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs advocated “cognitive infiltration” of groups that advocate “conspiracy theories” like the ones surrounding 9/11.
Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, co-wrote an academic article entitled “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures,” in which he argued that the government should stealthily infiltrate groups that pose alternative theories on historical events via “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine” those groups. As head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein is in charge of “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs.”
They claim 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.” By “crippled epistemology” Sunstein means that people who believe in conspiracy theories have a limited number of sources of information that they trust. Therefore, Sunstein argued in the article, it would not work to simply refute the conspiracy theories in public — the very sources that conspiracy theorists believe would have to be infiltrated.
Sunstein, whose article focuses largely on the 9/11 conspiracy theories, suggests that the government “enlist 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.” Download a PDF of the article here .
Sunstein argued that “government might undertake (legal) tactics for breaking up the tight cognitive clusters of extremist theories.” He suggested that “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.” “We expect such tactics from undercover cops, or FBI,” Estrin writes at the Rag Blog, expressing surprise that “a high-level presidential advisor” would support such a strategy.
Estrin notes that Sunstein advocates in his article for the infiltration of “extremist” groups so that it undermines the groups’ confidence to the extent that “new recruits will be suspect and participants in the group’s virtual networks will doubt each other’s bona fides.”
Sunstein has been the target of numerous “conspiracy theories” himself, mostly from the right wing political echo chamber, with conservative talking heads claiming he favors enacting “a second Bill of Rights ” that would do away with the Second Amendment. Sunstein’s recent book, On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done, was criticized by some on the right as “a blueprint for online censorship.”
Sunstein “wants to hold blogs and web hosting services accountable for the remarks of commenters on websites while altering libel laws to make it easier to sue for spreading ‘rumors,'” wrote Ed Lasky at American Thinker.