The 2016 election and the secret CIA memo targeting ‘conspiracy theorists’

Viewed dispassionately, “conspiracy theories” are controversial political messages about secret power. They purport to tell us how the world really works, as opposed to official accounts of government and experts. At a time when the credibility of federal government and news organizations is low, conspiracy theories flourish at the expense of public authority.

Credible or not, conspiracy theories have shaped the course of the 2016 presidential campaign. Conservative strategists Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone claim that Hillary Clinton has organized a conspiracy to conceal her own dire medical condition. Liberals Ezra Klein and Cass Sunstein warn that conspiracy theories distort our political discourse and endanger the political process. Who’s right?


CIA memo on 'conspiracy theorists.'

Excerpt from April 1967 CIA memo on ‘conspiracy theorists.’

Talking About Theories

The idea that “conspiracy theorists” harm the legitimacy, and thus the effectiveness of liberal government, is not new. The concept was crystallized in The Paranoid Style in

Cass Sunstein

Cass Sunstein

American Politics, an influential book by historian RIchard Hoftstadter, published in 1964. Hofstandter argued that irrational politics, exemplified by conspiracy theories about communists in government and flouride in the water supply, had influenced American political history much more than liberal historians admitted.

The idea that the government should take action to thwart the influence of “conspiracy theorists” originated three years later–at the Central Intelligence Agency. That may sound like a conspiracy theory to some. Alas, it is an indisputable fact.

In a top-secret 15-page memo, dated April 1, 1967, senior CIA officials laid out their strategy for discrediting and marginalizing critics of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Key to the CIA strategy was labelling the Warren Commission’s critics as “conspiracy theorists.” The CIA’s language was soon adopted by journalists and government officials.

The arguments of the CIA memo sounded reasonable to many people at the time. Entitled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Report,” the memo argued that the JFK investigation was led by eminent men who had all the relevant facts and who could be trusted to discern the truth. The memo also argued that the critics of the official story (such as Mark Lane, Josiah Thompson and Ed Epstein) didn’t have facts and couldn’t be trusted.

To indict the “conspiracy theorists” the CIA recommended a series of arguments that are still heard today. Employees and assets were instructed to argue that criticism of the official story of JFK’s murder was:

1) unsupported by facts; 2) motivated by politics; 3) motivated by money; 4) reliant on inaccurate information, and/or 5) intellectually vain. In any case, continuing investigation, described as “further speculative discussion,” would only helps America’s enemies.

The CIA strategy proved effective in discouraging investigation of JFK’s assassination, at least in the Washington press corps. It remains a template for those responding to controversial political messages about secret exercise of power.

The Problem

The problem with the CIA’s strategy, at least in the case of JFK, was that it was based on a tissue of falsehoods.

Jerome Corsi

Jerome Corsi

The eminent men of the Warren Commission did not possess all the facts. Only one of seven members knew about the CIA plots to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Warren Commission staffer Howard Willens admits he was “naive at best” about the CIA.

The Commission did not know that Dallas FBI agents had destroyed a note written by Oswald to the Bureau a week before JFK was killed. And so on.

Imputing political or financial motives to critics was clever because it delivered the dubious implication that defenders of the official story did not have political or financial motives, a rhetorical strategy still in use. Likewise with the association of government critics with foreign enemies.

What persists over the decades is the the rhetorical structure of the arguments of government officials against conspiracy theories that question their veracity.


Oswald unknown.

(Excerpt from April 1967 memo on ‘conspiracy theorists’)


The CIA memo asserted that Oswald was “unknown quantity to any professional intelligence agency,” a lie which the author of the memo, CIA director Richard Helms, knew was a lie.

In fact, Oswald, had been closely monitored by the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff, under the direction of Helms’ close friend, James Angleton, from December 1959 to November 1963.  In my forthcoming biography of Angleton, I will document how he obstructed justice and committed perjury in the case of the murdered president.

Conspiracy theories today

The April 1967 CIA document haunts the discussion about conspiracy theories in 2016 election. It is widely available on the Internet. Ezra Klein and Cass Sunstein find it irrelevant to their purposes. Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone have no hesitation to cite it while trashing liberal government in service of their reactionary goals.

The average voter is left with a series of astringent truths. The official version of great public events deserves the closest possible scrutiny. Conspiracy theories can be pernicious and dangerous. So can the government’s response to them.




CIA & JFKFrom a 5-Star Amazon review of Jefferson Morley’s new ebook, CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files.

The crown jewel of Mr. Morley’s work details his discovery that a retired CIA officer named George Joannides was called back to Washington to stall a re-investigation of the assassination by the House of Representatives in the late 1970s.

Morley’s latest investigationCIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files, available on Amazon, provides the fullest account of the role of CIA operations officers in the events leading to the death of JFK.




















On April 1, 1967, Richard Helms, the Director of Central Intelligence, sent out a worldwide “book message” to all CIA stations around the world laying down the agency’s strategy for discrediting critics of the Warren Commission’s report on the assassination of JFK>


  1. 31.The pejorative dimensions of the term “conspiracy theory” were introduced into the Western lexicon by CIA “media assets,” as evidenced in the design laid out by Document 1035-960 Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report, an Agency communiqué issued in early 1967 to Agency bureaus throughout the world at a time when attorney Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment was atop bestseller lists and New Orleans DA Garrison’s investigation of the Kennedy assassination began to gain traction.

    The CIA and the Media: 50 Facts the World Needs to Know

  2. Rick G. says:

    Strangely, just a few years ago, GHW Bush became almost a surrogate father to Bill Clinton. They pronounced their deep friendship and W. likened Bill to an adopted brother. Very recently, Old Man Bush announced his intention to vote for Hillary. Rewind to the 80s when VP Bush was overseeing various covert operations of the Reagan administration and then Governor Bill Clinton was looking the other way as Barry Seal and the CIA were running huge shipments of cocaine into a tiny airfield in Mena, Arkansas. Some of that coke ended up in Bill and Roger Clinton’s noses and in the hands of numerous very unsavory characters, Mafia and otherwise, who had been working hand-in-dirty-hand since the 1950’s and into 1963 and beyond. It also helped finance some of the CIA’s most sinister operations, here and abroad all while Governor Clinton and “family” lived high on the hog and found their way into the White House. Now the so-called Establishment Republicans, unable to put Jeb Bush in the driver’s seat are backing Hillary (and Bill) to get them back in the White House. Should those of us who have serious suspicions about “deep politics,” conspiracies, assassinations, sinister black ops, etc., feel a bit paranoid? I would hope so.

  3. Jake says:

    Perhaps if it is fair to say that all conspiracy theories are politically motivated, then it is also fair to say that, as with “the official version of great public events” (quoting Mr. Morley) all conspiracy theories must be given “the closest possible scrutiny”.
    So, both the “official version of great public events” and “conspiracy theories” do equally deserve “the closest possible scrutiny”. Public consumption of political discourse occurring in a democracy is done through the available media.
    Officialdom, whether liberal or conservative at a given time, has historically had the upper hand in utilizing the available media to argue their side of the official story and to fabricate as well. This is not to say the malcontents in opposition are not represented there. They are or there would not be the official reaction. These days the utilization of media is far more equal for utilization by the opposition side than it has been in the past. The discourse is more vigorous, and so are manipulations and fabrications part and parcel to that, in all quarters.
    So, conspiracy discourse appears to be a derivative form of governance integral to the existing institutions but occurring outside of traditional norms, but within the media. The volume of conspiracy discourse has risen in direct correlation with advancements from newspapers through the stages of radio, TV, telephonic data, and internet. The results feed back into the political battles that shape government. No wonder then that whenever possible, government shapes the discourse.
    The danger lies not in public discourse of all such matters, but in failure to provide the closest possible scrutiny in every case. If false official versions and false conspiracies are given the pathway to shape government, then we are governed through falsehood. If truth is provided with an equal opportunity to be recognized, then the natural bias is with the recognized truth as that is what will marshal the greatest consensus in shaping government.
    It appears that with the advancement of media the JFK assassination case is gaining consensus through recognized truth. How this may or may not shape government remains to be seen.

  4. Clarence Carlson says:

    The fact of the matter is, one does not need to subscribe to any particular conspiracy to question the “lone nut” explanation of the events. Our governments frantic rush to suppress the thought of conspiracy, at a time when all of the evidence had not been collected, let alone interpreted, raises concerns about official suppression of exculpatory information regarding Oswald’s involvement.

    Thus from a personal point of view, if there are reasonable doubts about Oswald acting alone (or at all) the case is incomplete and unresolved. No conspiracy “theory” is required to arrive at that conclusion. Lets remember what a senior police official said about the case:

    “We don’t have any proof that Oswald fired the rifle. No one has been able to put him in that building with a gun in his hand.” —Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, quoted by United Press International, November 5, 1969

  5. GM says:

    In fact, Oswald, had been closely monitored by the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff, under the direction of Helms’ close friend, James Angleton, from December 1959 to November 1963. In my forthcoming biography of Angleton, I will document how he obstructed justice and committed perjury in the case of the murdered president.

    This sounds very interesting. I am looking forward to seeing what you have uncovered on the mysterious James Angleton, Jeff. Lets hope it is a ‘bad boy’ to the MSM and the American state. They have a lot of explaining to do….

  6. Neutron says:

    Quoting: “The CIA memo asserted that Oswald was ‘unknown quantity to any professional intelligence agency,’ a lie which the author of the memo, CIA director Richard Helms, knew was a lie.”
    As DCI, Helms can be considered responsible for the memo, but he was not literally the author.
    In his book “Our Man in Mexico,” Jeff said that the memo was “written by Western Hemisphere division chief Bill Broe.”
    Edward (Ned) Bennett of CA/PROP/G was the originating officer:;
    A note by Art Dooley spelled out Bennett’s role. He pulled the material together “in close conjunction with CI/R+A”:
    Cord Meyer was the releasing officer.
    As distributed, the memo was from “Chief, WOVIEW” and signed by “Clayton P. Nurnad.”
    Jeff’s book asserted that in the memo authored by Broe, “the sentiments are clearly Helms’s.”

  7. Ronnie Wayne says:

    OMG. I’ve never forced myself to watch a full episode of the apprentice. Party affiliation aside though I don’t believe in the two party system anymore, I couldn’t vote for trump for dog catcher.

  8. Stephen Dale says:

    People who believe Stone and Corsica are missing some brain cells. Points to many uneducated people in our society. Also, racism and fear of progressive change attracts them to these nuts.

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