Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Open Conspiracy

In response to the increasing promulgation of conspiracy theories through the general public, co-authors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule propose a government conspiracy in order to dispel theories about government conspiracies.

One might ask, is this paper, Conspiracy Theories, serious? The authors acknowledge that any government effort to dispel conspiracy theories only has the effect of reinforcing those theories; regardless, they suggest the following measures:

...the 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 networks. (Pg. 30)

And they published the paper for all to see, so that these conspiracy-minded groups would know that "independents" offering rebuttals might not be so independent, that indeed their own ranks may be compromised by agents of "cognitive infiltration" - an academic jargon term for mind control. Simply by publishing this paper then, the seeds of suspicion have been planted into conspiracy theory networks, thus induced into Cartesian realms of conspiratorial speculation... the Evil Genius is among US. The effect, then, is not to break up "crippled epistemology," but rather to further compromise it - to make rational agents question their own epistemological foundations... But, where the logical measure for repairing "crippled epistemology" would be to present false conspiracy theorists with verifiable information in order to clear up their empirical lacuna, such as could be done through FOIA disclosures, the authors spend several unconvincing pages explaining why this approach should not be taken.

Seeing that one of the authors, Cass Sunstein, now heads President Obama's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and is regarded as a candidate nominee for the next Supreme Court Justice position to open up, the conspiratorial speculation is only ramping up and expanding even into usually non-conspiracy theory outlets, like

Glenn Greenwald: Obama confidant's spine-chilling proposal

Update, January 19

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News posts the PDF of a Jan. 7 Department of Defense Joint Cheifs of Staff Publication, Psychological Operations, along with a brief synopsis...

DoD "Clarifies" Doctrine on Psychological Operations

As Aftergood notes, the term "propaganda" is redefined (GL-5 in the publication) to apply specifically to adversaries, to replace the traditional, neutral sense of information propagation...

Propaganda: Any form of adversary communication, especially of a biased or misleading nature, designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponser, either directly or indirectly...

The definition retains generality with the operative word "any" used twice: "Any form of adversary communication..." directed against "any group..." Moreover, anything that is "biased or misleading" may thus be regarded as propaganda. This would then appear to open doors for the sorts of operations Sunstein and Vermuele are proposing.

As for the restriction against deploying PSYOPS on domestic targets, there are exceptions, stated in section VI-6:

In the same manner that infrantry units with a primary mission to find, fix, and kill the enemy can be used to provide humanitarian relief to US citizens following natural disasters or other crises, PSYOP forces can provide CAISE [civil authority information support element] within the United States and its territories.

The wide open door here would be "other crises..."

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