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The A-Z of Conspiracy

The A-Z of Conspiracy As everyone knows, we are never allowed to know who is really controlling our lives/the country/the world. But is this knowledge a dangerous thing? To clear up this question beyond reasonable doubt Life provides a comprehensive guide to the theoretical corridors and sinister back offices in which true power (and general paranoia) may (or may not) lie

Conspiracy theories are the will-o’-the-wisps of the modern world. They provide an alternative history to the authorized version of events, a coherent demonology in a godless, devil-less age. Conspiracy theories fill a human need. They make some sense of the cruel narrative that is the 20th century. They turn the random violence of a lone madman into an act of orchestrated malice. In this way the loss of a figure like Kennedy becomes somehow more comprehensible. To be angry is more bearable than to be uncertain. This soothing function can be at odds with truth, however.

Alternative conspiracist history is as flawed as the ‘authorised’ version. Worse, a conspiracist view can suppress awkward pieces of information by toying with the notion that events have been covered up by the authorities to suit their own ends: encounters with alien space ships, the real makers of the Lockerbie bomb and the truth about Rudolf Hess have all been hidden from the public but the higher officers of the state are in the know.

Some of the conspiracy theories which date from earlier this century have more ignoble, murkier origins. Anti-semites were behind the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Jewish Conspiracy and countless others. Their modern equivalents are put about by neo-Nazi cliques. Again, these conspiracy theories have a human function. Failure in life is more bearable if ‘the truth’ is that the Jews/the blacks/the Illuminati have conspired against you, it allows you to ignore the fact that you are a spotty social inadequate with bad breath and too-tight lederhosen

The conspiracy theorist is the bane of the working journalist. The need for some sliver of evidence to support assertions is secondary to the spell of the theory: that, for the conspiracy theorist, is its charm. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that not all conspiracy theories are untrue. Those in power across the world do prefer to keep embarrassing truths secret; they do cover up; they do, from time to time, kill people who get in the way.

True or not, a rattling good conspiracy theory requires the following qualities:
  1. it must be difficult, better still, impossible, to understand at first glance.
  2. it must contain a spaghetti-heap of leads, all of which cannot be followed up. There must always be one more lead left to chase.
  3. The story should speak to a ‘wider’ truth about our society, through a series of disconnected or unconnected or unfalsifiable propositions.
  4. There should be no easy way of verifying it.

The theories below demonstrate all of these qualities to a greater or lesser degree. To savour our A-Z properly, we suggest readers mull over it with deadpan credulousness in the small hours of the morning listening to the theme music from The X-Files and drinking black coffee.


that are being covered up by the authorities. Perhaps the best-documented close encounter of the third kind took place on 27 December 1980, when airmen at two RAF stations in East Anglia witnessed something extraordinary. First radar operators at RAF Watton in Norfolk picked up an oddity on their screens. Then RAF Phantom pilots reported seeing intense bright lights in the sky. Former radar operator Mal Scurrah said:

‘As the Phantoms got close the hovering object shot upwards at phenomenal speed ” monitored at more than 1,000 mph.’ Later, airmen stationed at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk investigated a mystery fire in Rendlesham Forest. Sergeant Jim Penniston witnessed the encounter with airman John Burroughs. Penniston said: ‘The air was filled with electricity and we saw an object about the size of a tank. It was triangular, moulded of black glass and had symbols on it. Suddenly it shot off faster than any aircraft I have ever observed.’ The next day the object returned. Base commander Lt Col Charles Halt saw the flying saucer himself: ‘I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It looked like the rising sun with a black pulsating centre. It appeared to be dripping molten metal.’ Hall acted coolly, taping and photographing the object engineered by ‘an intelligence which didn’t originate on Earth’. His tape and film were confiscated by visiting US defence officials. Former British Chief of Defence Staff Lord Hill-Norton has claimed: ‘Someone is sitting on information that should be in the public domain.’

Believability: 9/10

(Possible explanation: what the airmen saw may not have been a UFO, but a prototype of the Stealth bomber, which has a black triangular shape, a strange radar print and was, in 1980, ultra-secret. Project Aurora, a new ultra-ultra-secret Pentagon Black Budget reconnaissance aircraft, is probably responsible for all subsequent UFO sightings.)


which organises semi-secret annual three-day meetings of the European-Atlantic great and good from the worlds of business, diplomacy and politics. The first meetings were organised in 1954 by eminence grise Joseph Retinger, the then secretary general of the newly fledged, CIA-funded European Movement. Karl Otto Pohl, then president of Deutsche Bundesbank, David Rockefeller, Lord Carrington and Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansaswere among recent delegates. Denis Healey was at that first meeting and, having retired, discusses Bilderberg in his autobiography, The Time Of My Life. Bilderberg is one of the transnational groups suspected by the European-American far Right of being part of the secret elite power structure. Even the Financial Times column ‘Lombard’ has noted: ‘If the Bilderberg group is not a conspiracy of some sort, it is conducted in such a way as to give a remarkably good imitation of one.’

Believability: 8/10


who was tried and executed on Christmas Day to hush up the complicity of Romania’s new leaders in his crimes. The videotape of the Christmas Day show trial of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu is an absorbing spectacle. Time and again, Ceausescu and his wife turn on their interrogators and accuse them of knowing the answers to the questions they have posed. Prosecutor: ‘What do you know about the Securitate?’ Elena: ‘They are sitting across from us here.’ The old witch was right, of course, because sitting in the courtroom were secret police chiefs like Colonel Magureanu, who had been party to the attack on civilians in Timisoara which had triggered the revolution. He was later promoted by the leader of the conspirators, Ion Iliescu ” a former Ceausescu crony ” to head the renamed secret police, the ‘Romanian Information Service’. Iliescu became and remains president, the tainted hero of a tainted revolution.

Believability: 10/10


, the mole in the Nixon administration guiding the Washington Post journalists, Woodward and Bernstein, to the Watergate story. ‘Throat’ remains unidentified. In his book Hidden Agenda (1984) Jim Hougan nominated both Nixon’s chief of staff, Alexander Haig, and National Security Agency boss, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, as candidates; Colodny and Gettlin also fingered Haig in their book Silent Coup (1991). Barbara Newman, for Channel 4’s Dispatches, came up with the head of the FBI field office in Washington, the late Bob Kunkle. He was allegedly leaking for the FBI, which was disgruntled by the Nixon cover-up.

Believability: 10/10 (Cynics suspect ‘Deep Throat’ was merely a dramatic device or a ploy to keep newspaper lawyers quiet.)


which fry our brains. A number of protesters have complained that electro-magnetic waves in overhead electricity pylons have led to depression, headaches, mental and physical ill-health. No government ministry has placed much credence on these complaints. The epidemiology of environmental effect is notoriously hard to prove, but all good conspiracists believe there is no smoke without a secret ray.

Believability: 7/10


who club together to better themselves in the world. The majority of active freemasons have sworn not to divulge the secrets of the craft, on pain of having their tongues ‘cut out by the root and buried in the sand below low-water mark’. Other masons who have tried to break ranks have come to sticky ends, like ‘God’s Banker’ Roberto Calvi, found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in 1982. So it is hard to determine just how much influence is wielded by the grown men who like to dress in black suits, wear aprons, bare their breasts and roll up their trouser legs. Not very much, say some sceptics, who suspect that the masons have more control over, say, haberdashery in Herefordshire than the British state. But freemasons still hold some sway in the corridors of power. The Rt Hon the Lord Templeman and Rt Hon Lord Justice Balcombe, both freemasons, are two of the most senior judges in the land; junior Foreign Office minister Tony Baldry, former Tory MP David Trippier and back bench MPs Sir Peter Emery and Sir Gerard Vaughan are all on the square.

Many police officers, too, remain true to their masonic oaths of secrecy. In 1993 at a Police Federation conference a motion urging police officers to reveal membership of the masonic brotherhood was debated. An officer from Merseyside said it did not matter if officers ‘wore a goatskin or rolled up their trouser leg’. Another said that freemasonry was ‘not all mumbo-jumbo’.

A third police officer, mocking the calls for more openness about freemasonry in the ranks, put a paper bag over his head. Finally a member of the Metropolitan branch came to the rostrum to announce the vote. ‘I’m not telling,’ he said to laughter. ‘It’s a secret.’ The opponents of freemasonry lost the vote.

Believability: 8/10


the conspiracy theory which first surfaced in 1975. Originally a precis by American journalist Stephania Caruana of allegations made in letters by American chemist Bruce Roberts, now deceased, Gemstone attributes much of post-war America’s ills to the power of Aristotle Onassis, who had the Kennedys and Dr King assassinated, seized the Howard Hughes empire, did a deal with the Mafia, etc. The subject of a couple of book-length studies to date, Gemstone has appeared in five or six different versions, each one containing new material. Most striking is the ‘Kiwi Gemstone’ in which specifically New Zealand incidents have been embedded in the original American narrative. Authorless, floating round the world in samizdat form, Gemstone is a perfect, small-scale disinformation vehicle for anyone who cares to use it.

Believability: 0/10


locked up in Spandau prison because he knew all about the secret 1941 negotiations between Britain and Nazi Germany. Rudolf Hess’s flight in May 1941 remains one of the most bizarre episodes of the Second World War. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, son of the Duke of Hamilton, the Scottish landowner to whom Hess presented his plans, said: ‘Hess’s proposals consisted of a limited peace deal under which Germany would have allowed Britain a free hand in her empire in return for Britain allowing Germany a free hand in Europe and Russia. His so-called peace plans would have meant the enslavement of Europe.’ Hess was arrested, tried to commit suicide, went mad, was sentenced to life imprisonment and, at the age of 93, hanged himself in Spandau prison. Or not, as the case may be.

One theory has it that the Churchill government, in a hideously clever propaganda campaign against the Nazis, ran a double, ‘Hess Two’. Evidence supporting the double theory emerged when a Dutch TV journalist, Karel Hille, disclosed that he had got the Most Secret file on Hess via an unnamed British historian who had been given it by the late MI6 spymaster Sir Maurice Oldfield. Oldfield had, allegedly, stolen the file from the MI6 archive. That the man, ‘Hess Two’, who killed himself in prison was not the real Hess is backed by Hugh Thomas, a Welsh surgeon, who, in the early 1970s, was consultant to the British Military Hospital in West Berlin. Thomas examined ‘Hess Two’ and found him to lack the scars the real Hess should have had after a wound he received in 1917. MI6 had ‘Hess Two’ hanged because they didn’t want the truth to come out. Then the killers burnt the evidence, including an electrical flex, with which he was murdered.

Believability: 5/10 (Hess was mad. His 1917 wound was pea-sized.)


the secret society controlling all the other secret societies. An 18th-century masonic splinter group begun by Adam Weishaupt, the Illimunati were said to be the hidden force behind the French Revolution. After the First World War they were re-launched into the English-speaking world by one Nesta Webster who credited them with organising the Russian October Revolution too. In 1921 the Spectator described Weishaupt as a ‘Prussian with criminal instincts and lunatic perversions . . . {who} shunted continental freemasonry on to Antinomian and revolutionary lines.’ In the demonology of the Anglo-American far Right, the Illuminati largely replaced the Jews as the spider at the centre of the web. These theories were brilliantly parodied in the Illuminatus! trilogy (1976) by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea.

Believability: 0/10


the orchid-growing, poetry-writing, paranoid head of CIA counter intelligence throughout much of the Cold War. Angleton believed the CIA and all other spy networks to be so much gorgonzola, riddled with KGB moles. In his search for these moles Angleton paralysed large chunks of the CIA for years at a stretch and blighted the careers of many senior officers.

It was Angleton who insisted in the 1960s that MI5 investigate Harold Wilson, a task taken up enthusiastically by Peter Wright and his circle in MI5. Angleton’s overarching idiocy was to believe the KGB defector Golitsyn, who claimed that the friction between the Soviet Union and Mao’s China in the late 1960s was a fake to deceive the West. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Golitsyn remains convinced that it is all a black propaganda ploy. However, the confession of top CIA man Aldrich Ames that he was a KGB mole have proved some of Angleton’s fears correct.

Believability: 6/10


killed by almost anyone you care to mention. According to Captain James T Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, the ‘first rule of assassination is kill the assassins’. The killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby set a hare running that has never stopped. Instead of Oswald’s courtroom confession or denial of guilt providing some explanation of the killing of the president, the assassination of the assassin let conjecture reign.

So many had a hand in his murder it is too tedious to name them all. Oliver Stone argued in his film JFK that Lyndon Baines Johnson was the man behind the conspiracy. The KGB, the Mafia, the Cubans, the FBI and the masons are all contenders. Perhaps the best JFK conspiracy theory is that he is, after all, still alive, but kept a permanent prisoner by the National Security Council.

Believability: 1/10


On 21 December 1988, 270 people were murdered when Pan Am 103 exploded over Scotland.

Six years later no one has been convicted of the crime, although investigators on both sides of the Atlantic have consistently pointed the finger at two Libyan intelligence officers who they believe planted the bomb on a plane from Malta before it was transferred at Frankfurt on to the fatal flight. UN sanctions are enforced against Tripoli until Colonel Gadaffi agrees to hand over the two for trial.

Others are not convinced by the official line. Tales of suitcases of heroin recovered at the crash site by mysterious American intelligence officers point to a joint CIA/Drug Enforcement Administration operation that was fatally compromised by Syrian and Iranian-backed Palestinian terrorists. American spooks were running ‘controlled’ deliveries of Lebanese heroin through Frankfurt airport in return for information about the whereabouts of the hostages in Beirut. The terrorists were aware of this and switched the dope-filled Samsonite case with one containing the bomb. Among those killed were Matthew Gannon, the CIA’s deputy head of station in Beirut, and Major Charles McKee, a Defence Intelligence Agency officer allegedly in charge of a hostage rescue team. Some students of the tragedy have gone so far as to suggest that McKee was flying home to blow the whistle, disgusted that deals were being struck with dope dealers in order to gain intelligence on the kidnap victims.

Believability: 8/10


got at by Mossad after his pro-Palestinian outburst in 1988 on the West Bank. The Israelis were out to topple Mellor after he became the most prominent critic in the British Government of their conduct in the Occupied Territories.

First, they managed to secure his removal as junior Foreign Office minister, threatening to stop passing on intelligence information about the hostages in Beirut unless Mellor was moved.

Second, they arranged for the clandestine phone-tapping operation which led to the highly embarrassing ‘toe-sucking’ allegations.

The result: Mellor was forced to quit the Cabinet.

Believability: 5/10


the 16th- century psychic seer who predicted Napoleon, Hitler and the killing of John Kennedy. The seer’s muddily-written quatrains have spawned more than 200 books, a propaganda war between the Nazis and the Allies during the Second World War, a movie, an American TV spin-off show, Monopoly-style board games, a virtual reality game and even a watch, which ticks down the seconds from 1 January 1995 to the millennium.

Whitstable housewife Valerie Hewitt, author of Nostradamus: His Key To The Centuries (Heinemann, 1994), predicts that Prince Charles will be crowned this year. ‘It will be something sudden that will affect the Queen, an illness ” whether it is political or genuine it doesn’t matter. And Diana will be offered the chance to become Queen. But Charles’s reign will be short and William could be king before he’s 18.’ In 1993 she predicted that George Bush would stay as president

Rival Nostradamus buff John Hogue is more apocalyptic. He plumps for nuclear disaster or terrorism in 1996, World War III before the millennium and Aids ” ‘a very great plague . . . with a great scab’ ” and the ozone hole killing off two-thirds of the world population.

He quotes the prophet’s vision of the future: ‘So many {die} that no one will know the true owners of fields and houses. The weeds in the city streets will rise higher than the knees, and there shall be a total desolation of the clergy.’

Believability: 0/10 (The verses of Nostradamus clearly refer to events and places in the 16th century. For example, nowhere does he mention ‘Hitler’, only ‘Hister’, the contemporary name for the Lower Danube.)


stolen from a Washington law firm. In 1982 a Washington DC computer firm, Inslaw, developed a programme called Promis (Prosecutors’ Management Information System) which it supplied to the US Justice Department for $10 million. A year later, Justice stopped all payments and Inslaw went bankrupt. A ruling in 1987 at a bankruptcy court concluded that the Justice Department ‘took, converted and stole Promis software through trickery, fraud and deceit’, which is a little embarrassing for the department charged with upholding the rule of law.

So far, so what? It is only when people started to probe into why Justice had acted in such a way that it gets interesting, prompting one investigator to claim that the case ‘was a lot dirtier for the department than Watergate had been, both in its breadth and depth’.

It turns out that (allegedly) the men behind the theft of the software were all Reagan appointees who helped engineer the 1980 ‘October Surprise’, whereby the Republicans struck a deal with the Iranians not to release American Embassy hostages from Tehran until after Reagan was safely in the White House. The software was then sold on to foreign intelligence agencies across the globe, (a) to generate revenue for covert operations not authorised by Congress; and (b) to make it easier for US operatives to hack into the software.

The story was chased by US freelance Danny Casolaro. A year after making himself known to the Inslaw people he was found dead in a motel room in West Virginia. The official verdict was suicide, but Elliott Richardson, the Attorney General under Nixon, hired by Inslaw to investigate the case, concluded: ‘It’s hard to come up with any reason for Casolaro’s death other than he was deliberately murdered because he was so close to uncovering sinister elements in what he called ‘the Octopus’.’

Believability: 7/10


the granddaddy of all modern American conspiracists. Quigley’s 1,340-page volume Tragedy And Hope ” History Of The World In Our Time (1966) included a dozen pages on the existence of a hitherto unknown secret society, run by Alfred, Lord Milner, Lloyd George’s Chef de Cabinet, funded by Cecil Rhodes’s estate. The group, said Quigley, who claimed to have access to its papers, organised the Round Table groups in the Commonwealth, the Royal Institute For International Affairs in London and its counterpart in the US betwen the wars.

For far-Right groups such as the John Birch Society these pages were proof, from an ‘insider’, of the great conspiracy they had always suspected. Not the communists, not the Jews, not even the Illuminati, but the Perpetual Hidden Government ” the PHG! Quigley’s revelations are behind much of the recent talk of One Worlders and New World Orders and are part of Republican presidential hopeful Pat Robertson’s world view. Among Quigley’s students at Georgetown University was Bill Clinton, and the conspiracists got quite excited when President Clinton referred to the impact Quigley made on him in his inauguration speech.

Believability: 4/10


killed and framed as a sex pervert by MI5. Rusbridger was a tremendous irritant to the security services. His letters to newspapers poured scorn on the Official Secrets Act; his books, such as The Intelligence Game, cast doubt on the official version of events. But where Rusbridger, aged 65 at the time of his death, really annoyed the spooks was when he unearthed Britain’s code-cracking secrets, in particular the story that the British had cracked Japanese naval codes in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbour.

He was bright, hale and hearty for his age when he was discovered in February 1994 at his home, dressed in a green protective suit for use in nuclear, biological or chemical warfare, green overalls, a black plastic mackintosh and thick rubber gloves. His face was covered by a gas mask and he was also wearing a sou’wester. His body was suspended from two ropes, attached to shackles fastened to a piece of wood across the open loft hatch, and was surrounded by pictures of men and mainly black women in bondage. Consultant pathologist Dr Yasai Sivathondan said he died from asphyxia due to hanging ‘in keeping with a form of sexual strangulation’.

His death occasioned a piece by Sunday Times reporter James Adams, whose own books boast of contacts with British intelligence. Adams quoted senior intelligence officials as saying Rusbridger never had any connection with any branch of British intelligence: “His death was as much a fantasy as his life,’ said one source . . .

Rusbridger’s interest in intelligence seems to have coincided with his conviction for theft in 1977.’ Such an extensive posthumous demolition job by intelligence officials would perhaps only be merited by someone who had been a serious thorn in their side.

Believability: 7/10


In 1988 a host of brilliant researchers working for the defence giant killed themselves in a variety of ways: one drove his petrol-laden car into a disused Little Chef, another jumped off the Clifton suspension bridge, a third electrocuted himself.

The deaths appeared to be a case of life imitating art ” in this case, an episode of the 1960s Avengers series which features a number of brilliant scientists killing themselves. The first problem is that there was no linkage between the deaths. Second, suicide is 10 times more common than murder in Britain. Third, men kill themselves more violently than women. Fourth, scientists are more ingenious than the rest of the population, so one would expect them to kill themselves violently and bizarrely. Fifth, the defence business employs huge numbers of scientists, and Marconi is a big employer.

When the numbers are crunched, there is no statistical aberration in the number of suicides by Marconi scientists. It is too good a story for a newspaper to kill, however.

Believability: 0/10


or the Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory, which knits all the other conspiracy theories into a coherent tapestry.

Believability: 1/10


which knocks off the popes it doesn’t like. The markedly short reign of John Paul I has given rise to this particular crock of conjecture.

Old men can die quite quickly, even if they are popes. However, rumours persist in the Vatican than John Paul I was going to clean out the Augean stables of the pontiff’s finances and expose the scandalous links between the Mafia, the freemasons and senior cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church.

Believability: 2/10


who was forced to resign from the Ministry of Defence in 1975 when he leaked information about a covert MI5 operation, ‘Clockwork Orange’. Wallace, an Ulsterman, claimed he had been involved in the operation, which had been designed to destabilise paramilitary organisations in the Province through disinformation. Wallace alleged that the scope of the operation had been extended to include mainland politicians viewed as ‘politically soft or leftist’, a list which included Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Jeremy Thorpe. Wallace claims it was in his remit to discredit these ‘targets’ using unfounded smear stories about sexual impropriety

He also alleged, in a memo to army chiefs, that a Belfast boys’ home named Kincora was being used as a homosexual trap for intelligence gathering against prominent Unionist politicians. In 1990 an inquiry conducted by James Calcutt QC found Wallace’s dismissal to be unsafe and ordered the Ministry to award him pounds 30,000 in compensation. The inquiry was not, however, empowered to make any judgment on Wallace’s allegations.

Believability: 7/10


the third man who allegedly went to bed with two senior Conservative politicians, now in the Cabinet, all at the same time. This is a conspiracy theory never to be told.

Believability: 10/10


the Japanese mafia who run the world. The Yakuza are the world’s richest and most powerful gangsters. They control many of the big-name Japanese corporations that now have huge leverage in the major western economies. Nothing can be done to loosen the grip of the Yakuza on the world economy.

Believability: 8/10


when the NKVD inducted Robert Maxwell as a Soviet double agent. Maxwell was never clear about how he escaped from Nazi-occupied Germany. In fact, he was given secret passage through Nazi-allied Croatia by Communist partisans, then loyal to the Soviet Union, in return for a lifetime as a spy.

While passing through Zagreb Maxwell was recruited by an officer of the NKVD ” the forerunner to the KGB ” and was told to travel to Britain and ingratiate himself with the British Establishment. Maxwell did brilliantly, becoming first a war hero then a respected publisher. The NKVD and KGB helped Maxwell out from time to time, smoothing his path in arranging deals with Eastern Bloc scientific publishers and the like. Maxwell prospered.

It was only in 1991 that the Israeli secret service, Mossad, came across the truth when they bought up a senior KGB archivist who sold them the Operation Zagreb file. Maxwell ” who Mossad thought had been working for them ” was terminated by a crack unit of Israeli frogmen.

Believability: 6/10

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