Conspiracies: Theories and hypotheses

By Johan Galtung

Conspiracies exist. They are a part of social reality, have always been, and will always be; as confirmed conspiracy theories, as unconfirmed conspiracy hypotheses, as suspicions, as allegations.

As usually conceived of, conspiracies involve several persons or actors; the plan of action is kept secret or at least not made public, except afterwards if it is successful. Conspiracies are about power[i] – economic-cultural-political-military — and are usually negative for somebody.

Let us start by criticizing this definition.

Does a conspiracy have to be negative? If some friends come together to prepare a pleasant surprise for somebody who turns, say, 80; there are several persons involved; a gift is also some kind of power (gift and return gift, don et contre-don); but this is positive, pleasant, beautiful, warm, human in the best sense. Could it be that we are so influenced by negativism, the news media’s staple food, being pushed down our throats and blinding us to positive possibilities?

Yet, such possibilities are sources of delight and may be much more numerous. But there is always some kind of power involved, at the very least the power of surprise, catching the object of the conspiracy unprepared. The numerous secret agencies and services are the staple food of military power and its associates in modern and post-modern societies. No doubt military power has a model character, spreading the conspiracy approach to the other three forms of power.

Thus, political parties in a parliament come together, “you vote with me on issue X and I with you on issue Y, keeping it secret” lest other parties concoct counter-conspiracies. Or: “I agree with you that there is something to salvation through faith only if you agree with us about salvation through good deeds only; but let us not be too explicit lest we alienate millions of faithful”. Or two companies: “let us join beating that upstart and then business as usual”.

We are left with the numbers. Minimum 2. Really?

There is a reason. One of the surprises may be in who have joined in the conspiracy, like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany once upon a time, or the P2 Free Mason Lodge and Gladio for the Bologna massacre blaming communists[ii]. A single actor is predictable by the goals announced; two or more may come up with some surprises.

But one actor alone is also capable of springing pleasant or unpleasant surprises on someone; do not demand collective action.

More interesting is the person-free conspiracy, the structural conspiracy. Zero-0-actors. The economic power exercise associated with the global financial crisis of Sep/2008 came as a highly unpleasant surprise to many, to most, to almost all; just think of the retired people who lost much/all of their savings. But constituted a highly pleasant surprise to the famous 0.1, 1, 10% getting richer and richer by “taking risks” (with other peoples’ money).

But, was it intended, a subjective intent, in some “actor”? Maybe in some but mainly not; maybe half-intended, -guessed, -intuited? In the deeper crevice of the mind known as the subconscious the actor vanishes, and we have parties performing their structural roles, swapping credits. Open for the structural, unintended, conspiracies.

But then enters a genuine conspiracy hypothesis related to this. Strong rumors in the media about a high-powered lobby to promote the interests of the finance economy–one interest evidently being no regulation, “free market”. The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, is supposed to be a party to the lobby. A conspiracy theory? No, a conspiracy hypothesis, right now being investigated by the EU; the result to be made public in October. Mario Draghi once worked for the icon of the finance economy, Goldman-Sachs, like many others in top political roles. We sense a hectic activity behind the scenes. But the basic point is simple: conspiracy is a hypothesis, to be confirmed or disconfirmed.

Recently, journalists and politicians–often right wing–have learnt to issue “conspiracy theory” certificates to those who have such hypotheses about politics at high levels. This itself smacks of a conspiracy, to move the spotlight of investigative journalism away from high level politics; they themselves having no qualms against seeing conspiracies (communist, terrorist, anti-semitic, to mention some) in anything not mainstream. The conspiracy-labeling carries all the characteristics of a conspiracy, using the cultural power of the media to steer the discourse away from important issues. Unacceptable.

A democracy – rule by rulers with the consent of the ruled – is meaningless unless hypotheses, even suspicions, of something secret can be aired. Democracy is preventive, not only punitive afterwards. Nipping in the bud. Here comes a Norwegian (me) about the Breivik case; am I simply paranoid, or is the hypothesis worth looking into?


– Breivik was not identified as a threat in spite of having license to carry guns, known to important assault guns, helmet, bullet proof vest, stabilizer and chemicals for bombs (McVeigh Oklahoma), and being a blogger with extreme views. Capability and intention;
– The Report on what happened on 22 Jul, 2011 is scathing in its critique of the police, all levels, all sections – including not blocking roads after the attack on the government and letting warnings go unattended;
– A 43-day court case gave him access to international media (800 foreign journalists) for his atrocious message, almost unimpeded;
– He is reported to send from the prison uncensored mail all over Europe (and the world, presumably).

Each one may be due to sheer incompetence or else intended to give him free play. The Report reveals incompetence at unheard of levels, probability, say, .9; for four .66. For intention .0001; negligible. (If we assume that the probability of incompetence is 90% in each case, the probability that all of the cases were due to incompetence is (.9)(.9)(.9)(.9) = .66. The probability that all four cases of incompetence were intended is then (.1)(.1)(.1)(.1) = .0001, negligible).

A mastermind behind it all–guiding the incompetencies? Keep it open until further notice. Secret services have the capability, but with what intention? Using Breivik to stop immigration? Impossible?

But improbable. It is better to land on structural unintended conspiracy, a safe but also quite useful landing. Until further notice.

[i]. Two statements from Norwegian Labor Party politicians: “Noen av oss har snakket sammen” (some of us have been talking together) and “Makta rår” (power is what rules). A good summary of a conspiracy’s essence.

[ii] Under the guise of ‘left wing insurgency’, Operation Gladio embarked on a reign of terrorist bombings across Italy that left at least 300 dead. The bombings were blamed on the extreme left as part of a strategy to mould public opinion to the idea of an alternative government taking power by force. The Gladio personnel created a parallel government called P2 (Propaganda Duo), a neo-fascist Masonic Lodge composed of most of the country’s top military officers, political leaders, industrialists, bankers, and diplomats.
P2 had close connections with the CIA and carried out drug smuggling missions and assassinations for them. They infiltrated the Red Brigades and carried out the murder of Aldo Moro in 1978. Colonel Oswald Le Winter of the CIA, who served as U.S. liaison officer with Gladio, has stated that the planning staff of the Red Brigades was made up of CIA intelligence agents: “Gladio also carried out the bomb attack on Bologna Railway station in 1980 in which 85 people were killed and hundreds injured. The outcry over this led to the exposure of much of the conspiracy and the CIA arranged for P2′s Grandmaster, fascist Lucio Gelli to escape to Argentina.”

In short: The Free Mason Lodge P2 and Gladio bombed the Bologna railway station, with 85 dead, on 2 August 1980, and blamed it on the communists.

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