Conspiracy theories can be intriguing, outlandish or even downright looney, but are they ever true? As it turns out, they can be. Let’s take a look at a handful of examples of conspiracy theories that are rooted in truth.
1. The CIA developed a heart attack gun.
As the theory goes, the CIA built a secret weapon in the ’60s and ’70s that could cause fatal heart attacks. The weapon shot a small poison dart that could penetrate clothing, and left behind nothing but a tiny red dot on the skin. The dart disintegrated on impact, and the target would only feel a small prick, similar to a bug bite. Since the poison denatured quickly, it could not be detected in an autopsy.
2. The CIA spied on, and controlled, the American media.
CIA project Operation Mockingbird spied on members of the Washington press corps in 1963, 1972 and 1973. They also paid journalists to publish CIA propaganda, wiretapped their phones and monitored their offices to keep tabs on their activities and visitors.
3. The government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition.
When the government banned alcohol in 1920, bootleggers would steal industrial alcohol — used in paints, fuels, solvents and medical supplies — and redistill it for sale. Some of this alcohol contained heavy metals, and led to illness or blindness. In an attempt to stop people from drinking alcohol, the government changed the formulas of industrial alcohol to make it completely undrinkable. At least 10% of industrial alcohol formulas had to contain methyl alcohol, a poisonous substance, in addition to other noxious ingredients such as kerosene, gasoline, chloroform, formaldehyde and acetone. The plan backfired. People still drank the poisonous alcohol, and more than 10,000 people died.
4. A U.S. Air Force laboratory researched the possibility of using pheromones as a weapon.
Theoretical research conducted by a U.S. Air Force laboratory in 1994 explored the use of a non-lethal chemical weapon called the “gay bomb.” They speculated on the effects of troops doused in female pheromones. The objective was to make the soldiers sexually irresistible to one another and negatively impact their effectiveness in combat.
5. The U.S. government stole dead bodies for radioactive testing.
After dropping nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the U.S. government stole parts of dead bodies to measure the effects of nuclear fallout on the human body. Researchers needed young tissue, but the agents who were recruited to find recently deceased babies and children took samples — including full limbs — without the consent of the grieving families. More than 1,500 families were affected.
6. President Woodrow Wilson’s wife ran the country after he suffered a stroke.
After President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, Edith Wilson made most of the executive decisions in his stead. She effectively ran the country for well over a year, but the government kept it quiet, for fear that it would cause a stir.
7. The CIA tested LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs on Americans.
As part of a top-secret experiment on behavior modification called MK-ULTRA, the CIA tested volunteers for a time. Eventually, they began testing people without their knowledge, let alone consent, and left many of the test subjects with permanent mental disabilities as a result of the testing.
8. The Dalai Lama was a CIA agent.
According to declassified intelligence documents, in the 1960s, the CIA provided the Tibetan Resistance with $1.7 million a year to aid guerilla operations against China, including an annual subsidy of $180,000 for the Dalai Lama.
9. The FBI spied on Beatles band member John Lennon.
A vocal advocate of the ’60s and ’70s anti-war counterculture, John Lennon was put under surveillance by the FBI in 1971. A year later, the Immigration and Naturalization Service attempted to deport him, but he was ultimately deemed to be too influenced by narcotics to act as an effective revolutionary.
10. Canada developed a "gaydar" machine in the 1960s.
Paranoid about sexual orientation, the Canadian government hired a university professor to develop a machine that detected orientation in federal employees. The resulting machine measured pupil dilation, perspiration, and pulse in response to same-sex pornography. Those tested were told that the machine’s purpose was to rate their stress levels, but the truth was that the government wanted to remove its gay employees. Subsequently, more than 400 men were excluded or fired from civil service, the military, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. More than 9,000 people were investigated.
Conspiracy Theories is a Parcast podcast where we tell the complicated stories behind the world’s most controversial events and possible cover-ups. Conspiracy? Maybe. Coincidence? Maybe. Complicated? Absolutely. The truth is rarely the best story. And when it’s not the only story, the truth deserves another look. New episodes are released every Wednesday, so be sure to subscribe!