The Tactical Operations Center
The Truth is Not Out There
Debunking Conspiracy Theory

The intelligence community, perhaps more than any other field, is devoted to keeping secrets. Unfortunately, in American culture, this practice is seen as having subversive designs: There is a secret government that controls everything, from the weather, to the stock market, to hiding the ‘truth’ about the Kennedy assassination and extraterrestrials at Area 51. Countless movies and television series have been devoted to the subject, all of which has had the cumulative effect of pouring accelerant on the cultural fire. The truth is much more mundane. The issue is that so long as the citizenry continues to distrust government because of alleged conspiracies and cover-ups, the less legitimacy government has. However, the citizenry would be better informed if they were more cynical and better informed in their own opinion making.

First concept in debunking: No one can keep a secret. This may seem like a misnomer, but witness a few examples: An American president has an illicit affair with an intern: The information goes public and no witnesses disappear. An American president is aware of and tacitly approves of illegal arms sales to a foreign power. The result: Publicly televised hearings and no witnesses disappear. An American president authorizes wiretapping of the opposition party’s headquarters; the ensuing illumination ensures his resignation from the office.

What does all of this say? It says that even the American president, nominally the most powerful man in the world with vast resources and loyal aides all around, cannot keep a secret from becoming public knowledge. There is also an additional undercurrent: If someone engages in illegal or unethical activity, there are enough federal employees around who do possess the moral courage to blow the whistle on such activities. This theme is often ignored in most conspiracy theories because it is an inconvenient fact.

Imagine the government or private scientist, investigative reporter or federal employee dying to write a best selling book (aren’t we all) who has access to the fact that she has incontrovertible proof of reverse engineering of alien spacecraft or the identity of the second shooter on the grassy knoll. Such a story would automatically mean Pulitzer prizes, movie rights, television interviews entailing a cottage industry in one subject.

In addition, if one person knows, everyone knows. Remember the cigarette smoker in the X-files? The truth is that the federal bureaucracy is like any organization: People get transferred, promoted, fired and retire. Thus, with turnover, there is no one person in charge of everything.

Having said this, it does not mean that people cannot keep a legitimate secret, well, secret. After all, the existence of the Stealth fighter was a well kept secret, so to speak, even though Revell came out with a model of it for sale a couple of years before it made its debut.

Second concept in debunking: Where does all of the money come from? A conspiracy requires money to keep it secret, no matter if it is hush money or to keep the operation running. The public is generally unaware of the oversight committees in both Houses of Congress and the fact that intelligence budgets, while classified, are subject to Congressional oversight and scrutiny. But again, these are inconvenient facts. As a history professor at the University of Maryland is fond of saying, “If you want to know why someone decided to do things the way they did, follow the money trail.”

Third concept in debunking: Towards what end? Also known as “Cui prodest?” Who benefits from keeping the secret? This is perhaps the most complex answer and best framed against the popular theories:

The ET theory: Pick one or more of the following: We are holding wrecked spacecraft(s) in Area 51 and conducting reverse engineering on it in order to build our own. We also have aliens in custody. We have proof of alien visits and abductions.

Okay, follow along: If this is true, and we have figured out that aliens intend doing us harm, wouldn’t it follow that we publicize the fact in order to defend not just the US but the world? The “Contact” theory is that people’s world view would collapse into panic and chaos knowing that we are not alone. Well, in case anyone missed it, most people think that we are not alone already!! Additionally, almost every week there are reports from the scientific community about new extra solar system planets being discovered. There is now even evidence that some form of life may have existed on Mars and could exist on Europa. Again, such proof would be the biggest scientific scoop in history.

The bottom line is that if people were better informed of how government operates, they would not need to rely on conspiracy theories in order to make things fit their misconceptions. A challenge for all of us then, is gathering real information from legitimate sources, not television, movies or fringe web sites.