Another talking point of the conspiracy crow is that the CIA (or the FBI in some versions of the story) invented the term, “conspiracy theory” to make anyone who criticizes the “official story” look like they are nuts. Like so many things that conspiracists say, this simply isn’t true, and even some conspiracy true believers are willing to admit it, but they put a new spin on the lie and claim instead that the CIA popularized the term and/or made it into a negative one, where it had previously been positive.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When I first looked into this issue, I was focused on the text of the document and didn’t think at all about the number commonly associated with it. Conspiracy theorists call it Dispatch 1035-960 and so did I. Then I was looking at Lance DeHaven-Smith’s very dishonest book, Conspiracy Theory in America, and saw him repeatedly the false claim I address in my original post below. According to Smith, “CIA Dispatch 1035-960 appears to be a straightforward memo with clear language and reasonable motives, but it is actually a subtle document, conveying many of its messages by indirection and implication. To grasp the nuances in the text requires a very careful reading… Take, for example, the dispatch number. This is probably unimportant, but the number could have at least two meanings. Most people would assume “1035-960” is a number in a numbering and fi ling system. However, 1035-960 can also be read as, “1035 minus 960.” Who is to say the dash is just a dash and not a mathematical operator? Thus 1035-960 could mean “75,” which might refer to the seventy-fifth day of the year or something else.” Since making things up is Smith’s idea of a, “careful reading,” I thought I should look into that number and find out what it actually means. It wasn’t hard. 1035-960 has nothing to do with the CIA. That is the number stamped on the document when it was released under the Freedom of Information Act, nine years after the dispatch was originally sent out. It is a FOIA number, given to documents when they are released, and has nothing to do with the original document or its meaning. I suspect that if I talked with Smith, or an apologist for him, they would say something like, “Well, the book says this is, “This is probably unimportant,” so who cares?” But we should care, because the truth matters and you cannot trust people who put speculation before research. Who make arguments based on the story they want to tell and never bother to check the facts. Yes, anyone could mistake this number as part of the original document, as I did, but no actual researcher, investigator, historian, etc. who care about the truth would suggest that this number is mysterious simply for effect, without bothering to learn anything about the number. In academic circles, and apparently Smith is a professor, this is unconscionable behavior that speaks to the true nature of his work and the conspiracists mindset.
These tales derive from CIA Dispatch 1035-960, which became public in 1976 thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. The original dispatch was sent in 1967 to field offices abroad, advising them on how to deal with conspiracy theorists and baseless allegations against President Johnson, the Warren Commission, and the entire US Government, regarding the assassination of President Kennedy. The CIA rightly feared the danger that such fake history could do, and recognized that some of it was being fueled by the Soviets, so they wanted to do anything they could to counteract this propaganda. In retrospect, the dispatch is really fairly mild and probably did little to turn the tide of public opinion anywhere in the globe, but today’s conspiracy theorists want to believe that it was a significant action on the part of the Intelligence Community, with far reaching effects.
To quote the only passage that directly uses the words “conspiracy theories” or “conspiracy theorists” together: “Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for counter and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” A few things are clear from any fair reading of these sentences. 1) The CIA is by no means creating or introducing a new and unfamiliar term here; they are simply talking about, “conspiracy theories” and “conspiracy theorists,” who are already understood to be negative things. 2) The CIA is not calling for anyone to take any action that will popularize or weaponize these terms; they are simply using the terms correctly. 3) The CIA is not asking anyone to lie or push any false stories; they are simply asking their people to counter lies with facts.
The dispatch goes on to complain about conspiracy stories and theories that people want to believe in, despite the evidence, but it never does anything remotely sinister, and the mischaracterization of the dispatch by conspiracy theorists is yet another example of why you should not listen to them.
For the record, the terms conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists have always been used in a negative way, and they predate the creation of the CIA by many decades. The Oxford English Dictionary records the first usage in 1909, in an article from the American Historical Review, which stated: “The claim that Atchison was the originator of the repeal may be termed a recrudescence of the conspiracy theory first asserted by Colonel John A. Parker of Virginia in 1880.” Other sources have found even older uses off the concept, and it was never seen as a positive thing.
Some conspiracy theorists have given up on the phony CIA connection to these terms altogether and instead claimed that society, for some unknown reason, just doesn’t understand them.
To hear the poor, downtrodden conspiracy peddlers tell it, they are purveyors of truth, fighting the establishment and thinking for themselves. Sadly, as they see it, the rest of us are just to dumb or close-minded to understand and must needlessly disparage them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Selectively removing facts from their context, distorting, twisting, and even making up evidence to bolster a baseless position is not an act of critical thinking. Predetermining your conclusion and then focusing on those details that purport to prove it, is not how you find the truth. And reflexively attacking the, “official story,” simply because it is official (i.e. because government personnel, scientists, historians, and other professionals have concluded it to be true) is not the definition of open-mindedness.
Unlike public officials, who are accountable to one another and the general public, conspiracy theorists are accountable to no one, and they live up to that low standard. Anything they can successfully sell, to make a buck, or push, to advance a political or persona agenda, is fair game. And when you call them out on the crap they have thrown into the public discourse, they try to say they are being persecuted for their public service. Don’t fall for it, and don’t let them get away with it. If they were as great as they believe themselves to be, they wouldn’t fall for, or repeat, lies like, “The CIA coined the term ‘conspiracy theory’ to discredit critical thinkers.”
U P D A T E
Since first writing this piece, I have rejoined Twitter with a @nomagicbullets account, to promote this blog and my other work. As part of that effort, I created a meme, adapted from the popular conspiracy theorist meme above.
I have also began searching Twitter several times a day for the words “conspiracy” and “cia” together. What I have found is that this lie – that the CIA created, popularized or weaponized the term conspiracy theory – is repeated more than a dozen times a day, everyday. There are variations on the details, with some people saying it happened in the 1950s, others the 60s, and others the 70s; with some saying it was part of Project Mockingbird and others saying it was part of Project MKUltra, but all seem to agree that this is an unquestionable part of conspiracy theorist dogma and many are very arrogant to us non-believers who deny it.
Every time I see one of these tweets, I have been replying to them: “Not true. Try learning some actual history so you don’t fall for all these conspiracy theories and phony talking points,” with a link to my post on the subject. After the first couple days I also started retweeting their tweets, with the same explanation on each one: “It’s troubling how willfully ignorant conspiracy theorists are. They repeat easily disproved lies, like this one, & typically dismiss others as “sheep” or similarly childish insults. 🤦♂️ Stop pretending you are a hero for spreading false information.” Again, I also provide a link to my post on the subject (the one you are reading, right now).
As you might have guessed, most of these people ignore me, but a few have replied with some pushback. Besides calling me names, cursing at me, and telling me how stupid I am to accept everything the government and media tells me, a typical response is for them to show me CIA Despatch 1035-960, as if I had denied its existence.
When I point out that this dispatch doesn’t say what they want it to say, I frequently get nothing in return, expect maybe more insults. A couple of people have complained about the wording in this document, particularly the fact that it uses the term, “propaganda,” and they try to make this out to be very evil or highly questionable. But, 1) They are simply avoiding the fact that the document doesn’t say what they originally claimed, and 2) They are ignoring the context, which is hardly as sinister as they imagine it to be. Here is the full passage where it recommends using propaganda assets to counteract false information being spread by conspiracy theorists:
“To employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passing to assets.”
Wow, right? The CIA was asking their people to get reporters and others to write book reviews and articles that provide factual information about what the Warren Commission actually found in their investigation. That hardly seems inappropriate, let alone devious or illegal.
A couple individuals have also linked me to some web pieces on the subject. @FlyingColumn8 directed me to, “Are You a Mind-Controlled CIA Stooge?” which he claimed to be a “peer reviewed” article about a “peer reviewed” book, but I could find no peer review criteria on the site and it looks to me like they are open to submissions from anyone, so long as they (he actually, it is a personal website) approves the topic first. From what I read of this and other pieces on the subject that were thrown at me, they all tend to ignore the fact that this was a dispatch only sent overseas, with no scientifically measurable impact on the usage of the term conspiracy theory. They also tended to ignore the age of the term (at least 38 years older than the CIA) and the fact that it has always been used in a negative way, according to reliable sources like the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
Funniest of all, are the conspiracy theorists who complain about my credentials, like @itnilo.
When I explained to her that obviously I wrote it, and that I cite factual sources, like the OED and the original CIA document that conspiracy theorists lie about, she only grew more insulting.
To be clear, she offered no history or empirical research anywhere in our exchange. Like her conspiracy theorist comrades, who are quick to tweet the “fact” that the CIA coined the term conspiracy theory, and so many other lies, with little or no (almost always no) evidence or citations, she is fine taking disinformation on faith; as long has it lines up with what she wants to believe.
I’m not sure how long I will continue highlighting this lie on Twitter and confronting those who spread it, but I think it is a very useful lesson in how conspiracy theorists opperate. They are right because they have done, “research” or “homework” of their own, regardless of whether or not they can actually refute anything I have said, or even bother to look at anything I have said. I, on the other hand, do not know what I am talking about, because I’m just a guy (or something worse) with a [expletive deleted] blog, who mindlessly accepts whatever I am told. Can you say, “Psychological projection, boys and girls?”
U P D A T E
Ok, I had to share one more set of tweets.
When I tried to reply to one of these, I found that they had all been deleted and the author had already blocked me. I wonder if they bothered to look as this article and see how misplaced their arrogance was? But why block me? Why not admit they were wrong and move on with life? It amazes me, and saddens me, that so few people care about the truth. They would rather be wrong and pretend they are right then be corrected and actually learn what is right. I just don’t get the mentality?
Return to the complete list of 55 reasons to accept that Oswald acted alone.