How to quell JFK conspiracy theories

Cass Sunstein fears disclosure

Professor Cass Sunstein writes from his perch at Bloomberg.

“Pick your topic: Ukraine, the National Security Agency, assassinations of national leaders [emphasis added] … it’s child’s play to assemble a host of apparent clues, and to connect a bunch of dots, to support a relevant conspiracy theory.”

Sunstein is surely correct that It is easy to concoct an implausible theory about who killed JFK.

What is rather harder is understanding why, in the year 2014, the CIA won’t release all of its records related to a tragedy that happened in 1963.

What JFK information does the public lack?

According to Professor Sunstein, people who believe in JFK conspiracy theories are people who lack information.

I can agree with that to this extent: The fact that the CIA will not release these 50,000 pages of JFK material means that we — the American people— lack information about Kennedy’s departure from life.

As JFK Facts revealed last June 14, the CIA retains more than 1,100 assassination-related records, that the public has never seen.

The Associated Press, Fox News and dozens of news sites picked up on the story.

Joesph Lazzaro of the International Business Times has also written about these secret files. (See his articles: “Four JFK FIles the CIA Must Make Public,” ”The CIA and Lee Harvey Oswald–Questions Remain,” and “Just Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald.”)

Why does the public lack JFK information?

CIA officials say they will not make these records public until October 2017, at the earliest.

The CIA contends that the release of a single word of this material before October 2017 will harm the national security or foreign relations of the U.S. government.

Sounds like this information is pretty important.

Indeed, there are good reasons to believe some of these files are quite relevant to the JFK story. (See: Top 7 JFK files the CIA still keeps secret.)

Can FOIA dispel conspiracy theories?

So the lack of information — created and maintained by the CIA for 50 years — makes some of us more inclined to think that the agency has something to hide. Other reasonable people disagree.

George Joannides
George Joannides

Rather than concoct a JFK theory, I sought to obtain some of these missing JFK records via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. I didn’t have a theory about deceased CIA officer George Joannides. I just wanted to know the nature of his his secret operations in the summer of 1963.

After ten years of litigation, the CIA will neither confirm nor deny that Joannides participated in such operations.

So the FOIA provided no clarity for conspiracy theorists or anti-conspiracy theorists.

As Professor Sunstein wrote in a 2008 Harvard Law school paper about conspiracy theories

FOIA becomes relevant when the government holds, and declines to disclose, information that might rebut a circulating conspiracy theory.

The notion CIA officers were involved JFK’s assassination has been in circulation for years. Yet these 50,000 pages are beyond the reach of FOIA and beyond view of anyone, including Professor Sunstein.

What is to be done?

If Professor Sunstein is serious about quelling unwarranted speculation about JFK’s assassination, he will join the hundreds of people signing the petition to National Archivist David Ferreiro to review and release the last JFK files immediately.

As the former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein’s support for full and prompt JFK disclosure would be a favor to the cause of open government.

Sunstein’s sometimes condescending tone toward the vast majority who suspect JFK was killed by his political enemies does not exactly encourage dialog, but I don’t want to prejudge him.

I just want to see: Top 7 JFK files the CIA still keeps secret.









via Pssst! Everything’s a Conspiracy – Bloomberg View.

18 thoughts on “How to quell JFK conspiracy theories”

  1. You’re developing a perplexing and unjustified fixation with Sunstein.

    “If Professor Sunstein is serious about quelling unwarranted speculation about JFK’s assassination…”

    That’s a misrepresentation of what Sunstein actually wrote in his paper. You’re setting up Sunstein as a straw man and relying on the fact that your readers in all likelihood won’t investigate Sunstein’s 30 page academic paper beyond your description and a few quotes out of context about “cognitive infiltration” for example.

    You quote his point regarding FOIA and then several lines later suggest Sunstein is attempting to “quell” JFK conspiracy theories. In doing so you’re extracting a snippet from his paper that suits your point of view, neglecting to indicate the broader context in which that point was made, and then misrepresenting the central arguments of his paper. If I recall correctly, in the entireity of Sunstein’s 30 page paper the JFK assassination is mentioned 5 or 6 times. It’s not some kind of anti-JFK conspiracy theory manifesto. At no point does Sunstein specifically say or suggest JFK theories should be “quelled.”

    Sunstein’s paper is clearly centred around far more recent events, 911 for example, and responses to an entirely different set of social outcomes resulting from conspiracy theories than a group of private researchers seeking, with ample justification, the long overdue release of decades old government documents.

    “… I don’t want to prejudge him.”

    How about portraying Sunstein’s viewpoint accurately then? If you’re seeking his support that might be a good starting point.

    These points aside, I remain supportive of your efforts to obtain the release of the remaining records. There’s many good arguments that can and are being made for those records to be released. This just isn’t one of them.

    1. “That’s a misrepresentation of what Sunstein actually wrote in his paper. You’re setting up Sunstein as a straw man and relying on the fact that your readers in all likelihood won’t investigate Sunstein’s 30 page academic paper beyond your description and a few quotes out of context about “cognitive infiltration” for example.”~D. Olmens

      I have read Sunstein and Vermeule’s “Conspiracy Theories” from beginning to end several times, and I will say quite frankly that those quotes are not taken out of contexts at all.

      The authors did indeed recommend infiltration of social media, and blogs such as this to use the strategy of “cognitive dissonance” to disrupt rational conversations with emotionally disruptive language combined with scurrilous rhetorical gamesmanship.

      It was proposed as a strategy to be financed by both “the government” and private corporations. The fact is that your commentary fits the profile of such tactics as those described in the paper.

      David Ray Griffin has written a brilliant critic of Sunstein’s paper that is outlined here:

    2. Now D. Olmens, If you yourself have actually read Sunstein and Vermeule’s paper, let me ask you this: In the section on “Conspiracy Cascades”; do you actually think this has more bearing on simply “conspiracy theorists” than the mass psychology of the population in general? I would assert that every point made in this section applies to the larger mass of the population even more, as there is a larger group, backed by an appeal to authority that would influence such cascades of agreement – simply stated “going along to get along”.

      Now, all of this needs to be put in the perspective of Bernaysian Public Relations as put forth in his book (pamphlet) titled PROPAGANDA. Have you ever read this? Or Walter Lippmanns PUBLIC OPINION?

      Another two pieces of “context” that should be applied to this discussion is, CIA Document 1035-960, and a recognition of the FBI’s *COINTELPRO operations. They are both historically significant in putting the Sunstein paper into perspective.


  2. “A conspiracy theory is only born because evidence exists to disprove their explanation, or at least call it into question”. Enter Mark Lane. His work in Rush to Judgment was very significant in assembling additional “facts” that the Warren Commission chose to ignore. Also enter Mary Farrell, Josiah Thompson, Harold Weisberg, and many others. They did more than “connect a few dots”. They uncovered numerous facts that could not be ignored in solving the murder of the 35th president of the United States. Unfortunately, the skeptics view these facts as “clues” because they have not read or been told of their existence by the mainstream media. That is why the movie JFK was and is so powerful. It is an alternative set of facts to the work of the Warren Commission. People can come to their own conclusions, and most Americans do believe there was a conspiracy to kill JFK.

    1. I think the easiest way to prove a conspiracy is to ask yourself, “Did LHO get off two shots in 1.5 seconds?” Many witnesses describe the shots as “pow……pow-pow”. LHO couldn’t have done the “pow-pow”, unless he was using a machine gun, which he wasn;t. You don’t need the names of the conspirators, you just need to know that LHO didn’t fire shots 2 and 3. Maybe 2, OR 3, but not both. Therefore, someone else fired the other one.

  3. Sunstein focuses on conspiracy theories, an easy target. He surely knows many so-called conspiracy theorists simply want openness in government, answers to screaming questions, and an end to cover-up.

    I don’t have any theory as to JFK’s murder. I could easily buy the official story if it it weren’t so riddled with voids, lies, preposterous assumptions, failures to investigate, tampered materials, and suspicious behaviors on the part of government officials. Those who come here to defend the official story have done NOTHING to inspire my confidence in it.

    If Sunstein really believes “conspiracy theorists” all suffer from a lack of information, let him step up to the plate and work to FREE THE FILES.

    1. I concur Jonathan.

      Here’s a quote from an article about Conspiracy Theorists:

      “Conspiracy theories arise from evidence. After the government releases an explanation of a particular event, a conspiracy theory is only born because evidence exists to disprove their explanation, or at least call it into question. There’s nothing insane about it, unless you define sanity as believing whatever the government tells you. In light of the fact that our government lies to us regularly, I would define believing everything they tell you as utter stupidity.”

  4. Arnaldo M. Fernandez

    Transparency and justice are the key issues in the JFK assassination. All the information must be released for solving the case, since the problem are not the conspiracy theories due to lack of information, but the proven conspiracy facts that turn the official account nonsensical.

  5. Jeff,
    I am watching the recent theory publicized online that JFK’s guards participated in removing his body from his coffin onboard AF-1 & hid it in the cargo bay with much interest in how the public is going to respond to it. This theory follows on the heels of last year’s revived theory that SS agent George Hickey accidentally shot JFK to death & its originator (Doug Horne)is a former ARRB official. I am assuming the theory is being publicized at this time to ‘test the waters’ for public reaction before it is put into a book for sale. The insinuation is quite clear: it wasn’t the CIA or mafia or KGB or LBJ, it was the SS. Some among us might wonder if this is yet another effort to steer attention away from the Agency or if it’s the real deal. I will follow your progress on it & the public’s reaction to it as time moves on. This one is going to make a big shock wave because a former ARRB government official has set the explosion off. If the public buys it I expect the next PBS Cold Case JFK to include tests on transporting a human body from Dallas to Washington in an jet airliner’s cargo bay without completely destroying the corpse.

    1. I’m slowly picking up what you are saying. If this recent reincarnation of the ‘George Hickey did it’ theory ties in with the public release of Doug Horne’s recent online analysis of the Zapruder film allegedly being altered with his bizarre new theory SS agents hid JFK’s body onboard AF-1 somewhere for the flight out of Dallas with the phantom C-130 crew & flight along with the lack of spectators and media coverage of AF-1’s departure from Love Field then I want to be the 1st to ask the obvious question: why isn’t Clint Hill in prison instead of promoting books & enjoying TV interviews? Does the recent death of SS agent John Ready tie into this as well? If the cat’s out of the bag, then all that 50 year old public deception has finally begun to come unraveled. Like you, I’m curious to see how the global public responds.

    2. I say there’s every reason to believe the Secret Service facilitated JFK’s murder, even if one believes Oswald did it.

      There were so many deficits in the SS’s protection of JFK in Dallas. They don’t need repeating here. What is astonishing and noteworthy is the difference in the way LBJ’s and JFK’s SS agents behaved. Rufus Youngblood moved to cover LBJ immediately upon the first shot. Not one agent moved to protect JFK.

      1. Jonathan, I fully agree with the fact that SS protection was severely deficient, most likely on purpose by a few agents. This is supported by facts. I’ve read though that Youngblood did not jump on lbj. Senator Ralph Yarborough, riding across the seat from him with Ladybird in between said they were crouched down between the front and back seats listening to a radio turned down where he couldn’t hear it.

  6. The proper democratic approach to questions about the JFK assassination is full disclosure of what is in government files. Mr. Sunstein, as the government’s top information officer, was given the opportunity to make such a full disclosure in time for the 50th anniversary of the assassination. He did not attempt to do so, and thus has become part of the problem. His support for full disclosure now would be welcome, but what would have been more welcome would have been official action when he was in office.

  7. The problem is, who gets to define the ‘reality’ that everyone else is supposed to accept? It should be a simple matter, but of course it isn’t. Humans have never been able to agree on much.

    Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said people can have their own opinions, but not their own facts. Trouble is, who decides what is a “fact”? The government? Big business? Big Science? The self-protecting academic elite? The media? The so-called “experts” who are often wrong and frequently lie?

    Conspiracy theories are just competing views of reality, different ideas about how the world and the universe work. And humans have been arguing about that stuff since they began to communicate.

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