Conspiracy theory is a term that originally was a neutral descriptor for any claim of civil, criminal or political conspiracy. However, it has come almost exclusively to refer to any fringe theory which explains a historical or current event as the result of a secret plot by conspirators of almost superhuman power and cunning. To conspire means “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end.” The term “conspiracy theory” is frequently used by scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at stealing power, money, or freedom, from “the people”. Here is some theories that turned out to be true.
The Dreyfus Affair: In the late 1800s in France, Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason based on false government documents, and sentenced to life in prison. The French government did attempt to cover this up, but Dreyfus was eventually pardoned after the affair was made public (an act that is credited to writer Émile Zola).
The Mafia: This secret crime society was virtually unknown until the 1960s, when member Joe Valachi first revealed the society’s secrets to law enforcement officials. What was known was that organized crime existed, but not that the extent of their control included working with the CIA, politicians and the biggest businesses in the world.
MK-ULTRA: In the 1950s to the 1970s, the CIA ran a mind-control project aimed at finding a “truth serum” to use on communist spies. Test subjects were given LSD and other drugs, often without consent, and some were tortured. At least one man, civilian biochemist Frank Olson, who was working for the government, died as a result of the experiments. The project was finally exposed after investigations by the Rockefeller Commission.
A short video about MK-ULTRA from a documentary called Secrets of the CIA:
Operation Mockingbird: Also in the 1950s to ’70s, the CIA paid a number of well-known domestic and foreign journalists (from big-name media outlets like Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CBS and others) to publish CIA propaganda. The CIA also reportedly funded at least one movie, the animated “Animal Farm,” by George Orwell. The Church Committee finally exposed the activities in 1975.
Manhattan Project: The Manhattan Project was the codename for a project conducted during World War II to develop the first atomic bomb. The project was led by the United States, and included participation from the United Kingdom and Canada. Formally designated as the Manhattan Engineer District (MED), it refers specifically to the period of the project from 1942–1946 under the control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under the administration of General Leslie R. Groves. The scientific research was directed by American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The project’s roots lay in scientists’ fears since the 1930s that Nazi Germany was also investigating nuclear weapons of its own. Born out of a small research program in 1939, the Manhattan Project eventually employed more than 130,000 people and cost nearly US$2 billion ($22 billion in current value). It resulted in the creation of multiple production and research sites that operated in secret. With the total involved, this makes it one of the largest conspiracies in history. Entire towns were built for short periods of time, employing people, all under secrecy and top national secrecy at that. The government never admitted to it, the media never reported on it, and people had no idea for over 25 years. Project research took place at over thirty sites across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The three primary research and production sites of the project were the plutonium-production facility at what is now the Hanford Site, the uranium-enrichment facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the weapons research and design laboratory now known as Los Alamos National Laboratory. The MED maintained control over U.S. weapons production until the formation of the Atomic Energy Commission in January 1947.
Asbestos: Between 1930 and 1960, manufacturers did all they could to prevent the link between asbestos and respiratory diseases, including cancer, becoming known, so they could avoid prosecution. American workers had in fact sued the Johns Manville company as far back as 1932, but it was not until 1962 that epidemiologists finally established beyond any doubt what company bosses had known for a long time – asbestos causes cancer.
Watergate: Republican officials spied on the Democratic National Headquarters from the Watergate Hotel in 1972. While conspiracy theories suggested underhanded dealings were taking place, it wasn’t until 1974 that White House tape recordings linked President Nixon to the break-in and forced him to resign.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study: The United States Public Health Service carried out this clinical study on 400 poor, African-American men with syphilis from 1932 to 1972. During the study the men were given false and sometimes dangerous treatments, and adequate treatment was intentionally withheld so the agency could learn more about the disease. While the study was initially supposed to last just six months, it continued for 40 years. Close to 200 of the men died from syphilis or related complications by the end of the study.
Operation Northwoods: In the early 1960s, American military leaders drafted plans to create public support for a war against Cuba, to oust Fidel Castro from power. The plans included committing acts of terrorism in U.S. cities, killing innocent people and U.S. soldiers, blowing up a U.S. ship, assassinating Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees, and hijacking planes. The plans were all approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but were reportedly rejected by the civilian leadership, then kept secret for nearly 40 years.
Author James Bamford, “A Pretext For War”, discusses the declassified “Operation Northwoods” documents revealing that in 1962 the CIA was planning to stage phony terrorist attacks on the US and blame it on Cuba to start a war:
1990 Testimony of Nayirah: A 15-year-old girl named “Nayirah” testified before the U.S. Congress that she had seen Iraqi soldiers pulling Kuwaiti babies from incubators, causing them to die. The testimony helped gain major public support for the 1991 Gulf War, but — despite protests that the dispute of this story was itself a conspiracy theory — it was later discovered that the testimony was false. The public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, which was in the employ of Citizens for a Free Kuwait, had arranged the testimony. It turned out that she had taken acting lessons on request of the CIA and was actually the niece of a major politician in Kuwait. Nayirah was later disclosed to be Nayirah al-Sabah, daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwaiti ambassador to the USA. The Congressional Human Rights Caucus, of which Congressman Tom Lantos was co-chairman, had been responsible for hosting Nurse Nayirah, and thereby popularizing her allegations. When the girl’s account was later challenged by independent human rights monitors, Lantos replied, “The notion that any of the witnesses brought to the caucus through the Kuwaiti Embassy would not be credible did not cross my mind… I have no basis for assuming that her story is not true, but the point goes beyond that. If one hypothesizes that the woman’s story is fictitious from A to Z, that in no way diminishes the avalanche of human rights violations.” Nevertheless, the senior Republican on the Human Rights Caucus, John Edward Porter, responded to the revelations “by saying that if he had known the girl was the ambassador’s daughter, he would not have allowed her to testify.”