Sunday, July 1, 2012

Info Czar's Cass Sunstein's Conspiracy Theories

The President with his Information Czar Cass Sunstein, who thinks Conspiracy Theories are a threat.

Cass Sunstein, the President's Information Czar, has written a dissertation on conspiracy theories in which he uses the Kennedy assassination as an example, says conspiracy theorists suffer from a faulty epistemology and calls for cognitive infiltration of conspiracy theory groups.

Sunstein, one of the targets of our petition calling for the release of the remaining withheld JFK assassination records, defines conspiracy theory as "a conspiracy theory can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role."

Well the conspiracy theory that we allege is not one to kill the President, but one to conceal the government records related to the assassination, a conspiracy that exists within the US government today and one whose 
 practitioners cannot conceal their roles, one of whom is Cass Sunstein himself. 

To read the full article go to:
Cass Sunstein’s Conspiracy Theory: Introduction


Conspiracy Theories
Preliminary draft 1/15/08
Cass R. Sunstein
Adrian Vermeule 


“Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or some terrible event…and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanics by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined. Such theories typically spread as a result of identifiable cognitive blunders, operating in conjunction with informational and reputational influences. A distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality. Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories; they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy. Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a ‘crippled epistemology,’ in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are explored in this light.”

“There has been much discussion of what, exactly, counts as a conspiracy theory, and about what, if anything is wrong with those who hold one. We…suggest more intuitively that a conspiracy theory can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role. The account seems to capture the essence of the most prominent and influential conspiracy theories. Consider, for example, the view that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy…” [Sunstein also mentions a half dozen others not relevant here]

“Of course some conspiracy theories, under our definition, have turned out to be true. The Watergate hotel room used by the Democratic National Committee was, in fact, bugged by the Republican officials, operating at the behest of the White House. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency did, in fact, administer LSD and related drugs under Project MKULTRA, in an effort to investigate the possibility of ‘mind control.’ Operations Northwoods, a rumored plan by the Department of Defense to simulate acts of terrorism and to blame them on Cuba, really was proposed by high-level officials (thought the plan never went into effet). In 1947, space aliens did, in fact, land in Roswell, New Mexico, and the government covered it up. (Well, maybe not) Our focus throughout is on false conspiracy theories, not true ones. Our ultimate goal is to explore how public officials might undermine such theories, and as a general rule, true accounts should not be undermined.”

“Conspiracy theories generally attribute extraordinary powers to certain agents – to plan, to control others, to maintain secrets, and so forth. Those who believe that those agents have such powers are especially unlikely to give respectful attention to debunkers, who may, after all, be agents or dupes of those who are responsible for the conspiracy in the first instance. It is comparatively easier for government to dispel false and dangerous beliefs that rest, not on a self-sealing conspiracy theory, but on simple misinformation or on a fragile social consensus. The simplest government technique for dispelling false (and also harmful) beliefs – providing credible public information – does not work, in any straightforward way, for conspiracy theories. This extra resistance to correction through simple techniques is what makes conspiracy theories distinctively worrisome.”

“A broader point is that conspiracy theories overestimate the competence and discretion of officials and bureaucracies, who are assumed to be able to make and carry out sophisticated secret plans, despite abundant evidence that in open societies government action does not usually remain secret for very long.”

“In a closed society, secrets are not difficult to keep, and distrust of official accounts makes a great deal of sense. In such societies, conspiracy theories are both more likely to be true and harder to show to be false in light of available information.  But when the press is free, and when checks and balances are in force, government cannot easily keep its conspiracies hidden for long. These points do not mean that it is logically impossible, even in free societies, that conspiracy theories are true. But it does mean that institutional checks make it unlikely, in such societies, that powerful groups can keep dark secrets for extended periods, at least if those secrets involve important events with major social salience.”

“This is not, and is not be intended to be, a general claim that conspiracy theories are unjustified or unwarranted. Much depends on the background state of knowledge-producing institutions. If those institutions are generally trustworthy, in part because they are embedded in an open society with a well-functioning marketplace of ideas and a free flow of information, then conspiracy theories will generally (which is not to say always) be unjustified. On the other hand, individuals in societies with systematically malfunctioning or skewed institutions of knowledge – say, individuals who live in an authoritarian regime lacking a free press – may have good reason to distrust all or most of the official denials they here. For these individuals, conspiracy theories will more often be warranted, whether true or not ture.”

“Perhaps conspiracy theories are a product of mental illness, such as paranoia or narcissism. And indeed, there can be no doubt that some people who accept conspiracy theories are mentally ill and subject to delusions. But we have seen that in many communities and even nations, such theories are widely held. It is not plausible to suggest that all or most members of those communities are afflicted by mental illness. The most important conspiracy theories are hardly limited to those who suffer from any kind of pathology.”

“Terrible events produce outrage, and when people are outraged, they are all the more likely to attribute those events to intentional action…Some people would find it impossibly jarring to think that the CIA was responsible for the assassination of a civil rights leader; that thought would unsettle too many of their other judgments. Others would find those other judgments strongly supported, even confirmed, by the suggestion that the CIA was responsible for such an assassination.”

“There are points about individual judgments, bracketing social influences. But after some bad event has occurred, those influences are crucial, for most people have no direct information about its cause. How many people know, directly or on the basis of personal investigation, whether…Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy on his own? Inevitably people must rely on the beliefs of other people. Some people require a great deal of evidence in order to accept a conspiracy theory; others will require much less. People will therefore have different ‘thresholds’ for accepting or rejecting such a theory and for acting on the basis of the theory. One way to meet a relevant threshold is to supply direct or indirect evidence. Another way is simply to show that some, many, or most (trusted) people accept or reject the theory. These are the appropriate circumstances for social cascades, in particular information cascades, whose dynamics help explain the pervasive acceptance of conspiracy theories.”

“What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might engage in counterspeech, marshalling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5).”

“…We suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories; congnitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They o so by planning doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.”

“We will ask whether judges do more good than harm by invoking statutes such as the Freedom of Information Act to force government to disclose facts that would rebut conspiracy theories. Our conclusions are generally skeptical; there is little reason to believe that judges can improve on administrative choices in these situations.”

“One promising tactic is cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. By this we do not mean the 1960s-style infiltration with a view to surveillance and collecting information, possibly for use in future prosecutions. Rather, we mean that government efforts might succeed in weakening or even breaking up the ideological and epistemological complexes that constitute these networks and groups.”

“We suggest a role for government efforts, and agents, in introducing such activity. Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, casual logic or implications for political action.”

“The principal point of contact between the legal system and the issues discussed here is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which creates a presumption of transparency for documents held by administrative agencies and executive institutions. Unless the government can show that the requested information falls within one of a designated list of exceptions, there is a legal right to disclosure, and the Supreme Court has created a broad concept of ‘information standing’ to permit interested groups and citizens to enforce that right.”

“FOIA become relevant when the government holds, and declines to disclose, information that might rebut a circulating conspiracy theory…Should courts, and law, force the executive to disclose information that a litigant claims would help rebut conspiracy theories? If the answer is yes, then control over the timing and nature of the executive’s response strategy will be partially transferred to litigating groups and judges. If the answer is no, the executive will retain full control.”

“…The benchmark is not optimal disclosure, but the disclosure that actually results from adding litigation-based oversight to executive branch decisions.”


“Our goal here has been to understand the sources of conspiracy theories and to examine potential government responses…Some conspiracy theories create serious risks. They do not merely undermine democratic debate; in extreme cases, they create or fuel violence. If government can dispel such theories, it should do so. One problem is that its efforts might be counterproductive, because efforts to rebut conspiracy theories also legitimate them. We have suggested, however, that government can minimize this effort 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 social networks.” 


Joseph Kinder said...

New evidence found on Dallas Dictabelt recordings... found signals and maybe the voice of a member of the assassination team...shots as well..

Jim said...

Note the extreme contract with JFK's Conspiracy Theories Speech of November 18, 1961

Dennis Bartholomew said...

To give Mr. Sunstein the benefit of the doubt, he is quoted as saying:

Some "conspiracy theories" recommended for ban by Sunstein include:

"The theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud."
"The view that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy."
"The 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 was caused by a U.S. military missile."
"The Trilateral Commission is responsible for important movements of the international economy."
"That Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by federal agents."
"The moon landing was staged and never actually occurred."

Sunstein allowed that "some conspiracy theories, under our definition, have turned out to be true."

In this blog article, Sunstein states that "theories" that turned out to be true includwe:
burglarizing of Watergate hotel;
Operation Northwoods'

I think there is a good chance Sunstein has an open mind and can be convinced that Oswald had associates in the anti-Castro world, that Oswald was impersonated in Mexico City, and that the JFK assassination was not the work of a lone gunman.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how Mr. Sunstein can be contacted and perhaps persuraded of these issues?