New York City activist

October 26, 2007

Identifying disinformation agents?

The online 911 Truth movement seems to have gotten caught up in an orgy of agent-baiting, with people on both sides of various divides either outright calling each other “disinformation agents” or, at the very least, insinuating that the leaders of the other side are probably disinformation agents.

The main divide is between what I think of as the saner and wackier branches of the movement. Admittedly my terminology is far from objective and makes clear where I stand.

By the wackier branches, I mean advocates of things like no-planes theories (especially WTC no-planes theories), video fakery, Star Wars beams, etc,. Many (though not all) of these folks also advocate claims about some vast, generations-old conspiracy that controls and micromanages the entire world, usually “the Illuminati.” (See The recent growth of anti-Illuminism: Dreadful ideology about the dreaded Illuminati and More about anti-Illuminism.) Some of their claims are blatant physical impossibilities. For example, a “Star Wars beam” powerful enough to “dustify” the towers would probably also ionize the air, causing the beam itself to glow like a lightning bolt. Obviously we didn’t see anything like that on 9/11.

By the saner branches, I mean those who (at least for the most part) reject stuff like the above, and who recognize the need for critical thinking and careful research.

But even some people in the saner branches seem to me to be way, way, way too quick to think of people on the other side as “disinformation agents.”

Now, it is indeed likely that there are government agents of various kinds among us, given the past history of COINTELPRO, and given more recent legislation such as the PATRIOT act. But, it seems to me, some of the kinds of behaviors that have been identified as “agent-like” behaviors are very commonplace among other people too, with other, more commonplace motives. So, it seems to me, these behaviors are far from a reliable way to spot an agent, although many of them are bad behaviors in their own right.

Example: Name-calling. A person who engages in name-calling could be an infiltrator out to divide and conquer. Or the person could be just plain immature, or perhaps just very ticked off for whatever reason. I don’t, offhand, see an easy way to tell the difference. But, in either case, it’s a good idea for organizations and message boards to prohibit name-calling. The prohibition can be enforced without claiming that the specific people who engage in name-calling are agents.

Another, more extreme example: harassment. Recently I’ve heard that someone has been publishing certain other activists’ home addresses and calling them an “al Qaeda cell.” (I won’t name names, because I have not yet investigated this matter for myself enough to verify that the allegations are true.) Obviously such behavior should be considered completely unacceptable, regardless of whether the person doing it is a government agent.

And, of course, we should absolutely prohibit physical violence, or any advocacy thereof. Advocating violence is the most classic agent provocateur‘s ploy.

On 911Blogger, one of the administrators, with the screen name of GeorgeWashington, has quoted an anonymous “prominent 9/11 truth leader” (later indentified by Arabesque as Barrie Zwicker) as saying:

Allow me to suggest that we don’t need to choose between denunciation, on the one hand, and silence, on the other. That is an unnecessary choice, a false dichotomy.

Denunciation plays into their hands, which is unintended complicity.

Silence is also complicity, as Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out.

Instead of these two approaches, what’s needed is politically relevant education.

Education about agents of all kinds, especially agents provocateurs, their history, who employs them, their tactics.

There is a huge literature on this. We do not need to start at square one. Read about Operation Mockingbird. Read about COINTELPRO.

Agreed so far.

Apply what we learn to today’s situation.

Up to a point, yes, but that can be tricky, both for the reason I’ve already mentioned and also because we don’t yet know, for sure, what kinds of things government agents are actually doing in the 9/11 Truth movement in the first place. Their strategies might be a bit different now from what they did in the past. There have been many whistleblowers about the COINTELPRO operations of the past; but, as far as I am aware, there haven’t been any 9/11 Truth movement agent whistleblowers yet. So we probably won’t know for sure, until many years later, exactly what sorts of things government agents have been doing in the 9/11 Truth movement.

Nevertheless, I agree that it’s a good idea for 9/11 Truth groups to learn about the kinds of things that government agents have done to political activist groups in the past, and to make a point of prohibiting the relevant behaviors.

Keep digging, learning, discussing, educating.

This can be done without inflammatory language, without denunciation, without even mentioning names.


When names are mentioned, it should be in connection with observable facts, with evidence. There is a world of difference between saying “A claimed not to know about X, but on [date] he stated “[I know about X],” on the one hand, and saying “A is a liar,” on the other.

Agreed. But I would also add that, if you notice an inconsistency (or a seeming inconsistency) in what someone has said, it is best to begin by asking politely for a clarification, rather than insinuating, right from the start, that the person is a liar. A seeming inconsistency like “A claimed not to know about X, but on [date] he stated “[I know about X]” could have an innocent explanation. For example, it might mean “A did not know enough about X for purpose 1, but did know enough about X for purpose 2.” Or it might mean, “A did not know much about topic X as a whole, but did know a lot about specific sub-topic Y.”

If we are to avoid being divided and conquered, it seems to me that we absolutely must keep in mind the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Note that by “innocent,” I don’t mean infallible. No one is above criticism, nor should we accept anything as established fact just because so-and-so said so. Any and all claims to authority should be subject to careful scrutiny, and we should encourage everyone to be receptive to constructive criticism. However, in my opinion, one of the most important things that we should never accept without lots of corroborating evidence is any allegation that any 9/11 Truth activist makes against any other 9/11 Truth activist (or any activist in related causes such as the antiwar movement). Also, we should be extremely cautious about drawing any possibly-defamatory conclusions about the motives of any of our fellow activists.

While educating ourselves and others we can simultaneously actively combat agents of the state by refraining from engaging in the types of behaviour they employ to sow dissention: name-calling, rumour-mongering, insinuation. Especially specific name-calling. Refraining from this does not stifle vigorous discussion and debate, based on observable facts, statements and patterns.

Agreed. However:

Education drains the swamp. Most of agents will stand out. It’s happening already.

I’m not sure about “most,” but some are indeed obvious. See, for example, Police Planted Provocateurs, Protesters Say by Joan Bryden, Globe & Mail (Canada), Thursday, August 23, 2007, and Quebec Police defend Rock-Wielding Undercover Officer by Max Harrold, Vancouver Sun/Canada, Saturday, August 25, 2007, on the Common Dreams site.

Other agents are deeper. Understanding their purposes and identifying them and dealing with them depends on more education yet.

I don’t think we should focus on trying to identify agents. Instead we should focus on identifying, discouraging, and where possible prohibiting destructive behaviors, regardless of whether the people engaged in those behaviors are agents. Studying the kinds of things government agents have done in the past is a good basis for making lists of unacceptable behaviors. Then, as additional disruptive things happen, more behaviors can be added to the list (as long as the list doesn’t grow so long that people feel stifled). Groups and forums can and should expel people who persist in the prohibited behaviors especially the more extreme behaviors, such as harassment whether or not those people are agents. On the other hand, if the focus is on “Who is an agent?”, then the resulting atmosphere of suspicion will both burn out the oldtimers and utterly repel newcomers and thus the agents, whoever they might be, will have won. Just as bad, a focus on “Who is an agent?” is likely to result in a lot of false accusations.

Believe me, I come from three generations of the spied-upon and harrassed.

I don’t like it when people say “believe me.” Nobody’s infallible. But Zwicker is certainly worth listening to.

Doing nothing plays into their hands. We can’t pretend they don’t exist. Ignoring them will not make them go away.

Agreed. The tricky question is how to pay attention to the issue without playing into their hands.

How will younger people learn about the Agents of Deception unless there’s an ongoing education effort?

“History is a race between education and catastrophe,” wrote H.G. Wells.

One of the aims of the 9/11Truth movement inevitably must be to expose, oppose and work to dismantle the grotesquely huge organizations of spies, agents provocateurs and covert agents of all kinds. They are an insult to democracy and honest discourse.

We cannot gain the peaceful world we want as long as billions are spent on spies and spying – many of those billions on disrupting the lawful activities of us, citizens striving for a safer, saner world. The standard New York Times figure for the budget of “America’s intelligence community” – how homey – is $44-billion. That’s on the books. Add the black budgets and you have a higher figure.

It’s been a long time since spies and spying were a political issue. The Church Committee of the 70’s was the last time the lid was lifted on the creepy crawlies that scuttle about whole countries tricking whole populations.

Agreed. Some good information can be found in the downloadable audio files on the following pages: Me and My Shadow and Visibility 9-11 Welcomes Dr. William F. Pepper.

Now for some thoughts on the more specific topic of disinformation agents.

People in the wackier branches of the 9/11 Truth movement have alleged that various people in the saner branches are disinformation agents advocating “limited hangouts” and opposing or censoring the revelation of the government’s dirtiest of dirty laundry. The assumption here is that the use of video fakery and/or Star Wars beams if conceivably true is somehow an ever-so-much-darker secret than the mere murder of a few thousand innocent fellow Americans by more likely means. To justify this claim, some have argued that an attack via exceedingly exotic means would point more clearly to government involvement than an attack via more ordinary means; hence an alleged need by the government agents among us to discourage inquiry into the more exotic means. (Then again, from my point of view, this would also be a good reason for the perpetrators not to have used unnecessarily exotic means in the first place.)

On the other hand, people in the saner branches of the movement have alleged that the wackier branches are orchestrated by disinformation agents who deliberately promote nonsense in the name of 9/11 Truth, with the aim of discrediting the 9/11 Truth movement as a whole via association with the nonsense.

It is indeed likely that there are some disinformation agents among us. Some of them might indeed be deliberately promoting nonsense for the purpose of “discrediting by association,” as alleged by Jim Hoffman and others.

But I don’t think such agents would need to work very hard, or that there would need to be very many of them. In my opinion, all too many people, both in the 9/11 Truth movement and elsewhere, are more than capable of both generating and promulgating loads of nonsense entirely on their own, without any inducements from the CIA or whoever.

Many of the saner folks in the 9/11 Truth movement are, I suspect, not fully aware of the many long-established, well-organized markets for nonsense, the wackier the better, long pre-dating the 9/11 Truth movement. There are also long-established, well-organized business networks of people catering to these markets.

Long-established subcultures notorious for eating up nonsense include, among others:

  • The more fanatical branches of Christianity, including the wackier branches of Protestant fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, and traditionalist Catholicism.
  • The wackier branches of the New Age movement.
  • Various “cultish” groups, religious, psychotherapeutic, and political.

There is also a very large mainstream market for nonsense, as evidenced by the success of supermarket tabloids like the Weekly World News.

Spanning a wide variety of subcultures, including the ones I mentioned above, is a long-established market for wacky “conspiracy” claims, the wackier the better. Such claims, e.g. about the Illuminati, appear not only in overtly political media, but also in religious media and popular fiction.

Perhaps some of these subcultures have been either started or promoted by disinformation agents. But, even if that’s the case, these subecultures’ own momentum is more than enough to keep them going.

The deeper problem, in my opinion, is simply that most Americans are not well trained in critical thinking or scientific methology. Hence all the markets for nonsense. Personal paradigm shifts, such as beginning to question the official story of 9/11, can be an important first step in learning to think for oneself, but far from sufficient to confer critical thinking skills.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that many (though not all) of the wackier leading figures in the 9/11 Truth movement make a substantial part of their living from either the 9/11 Truth movement itself or the larger “alternative media.” On the other hand, as far as I can tell, most (though not necessarily all) of the saner leaders hold down normal day jobs. Some of the saner folks also sell 9/11-related books, videos, T-shirts, etc., usually in addition to their day jobs, but typically don’t promote their stuff as widely as the wackier folks promote theirs. Many of the wackier folks are able to promote their stuff more widely (widely enough, in some cases, to make a living from it) because they, unlike most of the saner folks, have connections with already-existing, well-established distribution networks.

More about the markets for nonsense, outside the context of the 9/11 Truth movement:

Among the kinds of people who cater to the markets for nonsense are what I will call “professional mythomaniacs.” Have you ever known someone who regaled you with endless hard-to-believe colorful tales? If so, that person may have been a mythomaniac (also known as a pathological liar). The main motive of most mythomaniacs seems to be to attract attention via the colorful tales they tell. Professional mythomaniacs are those who have figured out how to turn the attention into money.

A prime example of a professional mythomaniac, in my opinion, is Mike Warnke, who claimed to be a “former Satanic high priest,” and who, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, was widely regarded by evangelical Christians as an “expert” on “Satanism.” (His book The Satan-Seller contained, among other things, some claims about the Illuminati, to whom his own alleged coven was alleged to be subordinate.) Eventually his claims were debunked by saner evangelical Christians, in The Cornerstone series on Mike Warnke, which, along with the book Selling Satan by Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott, I highly recommend as an enlightening glimpse into the world of professional mythomaniacs and one of their markets. Also very revealing is the following comment by relatively sane Christian apologists Bob and Gretchen Passantino (who also played a key role in debunking the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” scare):

It is unethical for Christians to cover up for leaders who have achieved their position through false qualifications or stories, or who are living immorally. Can the Church claim a higher ethical standard than the world when we adopt a “code of silence” worthy of the most pernicious organized crime conspiracy or even some suspected invisible satanic ring?

Indeed it’s likely that such a “code of silence” would exist within a business network of professional mythomaniacs, even when their stories differ enough that one would expect them to be in sharp disagreement. Ditto for a business network including both professional mythomaniacs and a much larger set of sincerely misinformed people who lack critical thinking skills, and who therefore are incapable of either giving or receiving constructive criticism.

For that matter, I’ve noticed a similar “code of silence” among many ordinary, everyday people. American society does not, as a general rule, train people in the art of giving and receiving constructive criticism. Therefore, to a lot of people, especially those who are emotionally insecure for whatever reason, the slightest criticism whatsoever is no better than a schoolyard taunt. Hence most people in general, not just the people in the 9/11 Truth movement, tend not to appreciate even the most constructive critique.

Also outside the context of political movements, I’ve even seen a number of incidents in which two or more very immature people, previously at each other’s throats, would suddenly put aside their differences and gang up on a more-reasonable person who was probably seen, by the less-mature folks, as a creature of a different species, hence more of a threat.

I mention the latter because, in the online speculation I’ve seen about who is an agent, one kind of “evidence” I’ve often seen cited is a suspected agent’s association with other suspected agents, including other people whom the person might otherwise have reason to be in sharp disagreement with.

All the tendencies I mentioned above are very convenient for any actual agents hiding among us, making it very difficult to sniff them out. But they are also reasons why any concerted attempt to ferret out “agents” is likely to result in a lot of false accusations. So, we should be exceedingly cautious about drawing conclusions about who is an agent.

P.S., 11/16/2003: This post was reprinted, with my permission, on Visibility 9/11 with Michael Wolsey and then discussed in the Truth Action forum.



  1. “But even some people in the saner branches seem to me to be way, way, way too quick to think of people on the other side as “disinformation agents.”
    …But, it seems to me, some of the kinds of behaviors that have been identified as “agent-like” behaviors are very commonplace among other people too, with other, more commonplace motives…All the tendencies I mentioned above are very convenient for any actual agents hiding among us, making it very difficult to sniff them out. But they are also reasons why any concerted attempt to ferret out “agents” is likely to result in a lot of false accusations.”

    And they are also the reason that the whole movement is regarded as wacky, including many of the ones you consider “sane.” The behaviors you describe are all rooted in paranoia, and most normal people do not want associate with paranoids or their ideas.

    Comment by anonanonanon — October 28, 2007 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

  2. Diane, thank you for this analysis, as well as for your earlier response to Chip Berlet. I was really bothered by Mr. Berlet’s article in the latest issue of ZMag, smearing all people that question 9/11 as anti-Semites and homophobes, without addressing any of the obvious problems with the official story. I think it is hugely irresponsible of him to do this, given the seriousness of the event itself, the much greater death and destruction of the wars that followed using 9/11 as justification, and the profound effects 9/11 has had on laws, policy, and political discourse. Even a new investigation to which he gives lip service is less likely because of his smear.

    His article ruined my reading of ZMag, which was otherwise full of great articles. By the way, I found the magazine on the bus on my way to an antiwar march, where I carried an antiwar sign, not a “9/11 Truth” sign. I have long been and continue to be involved in a variety of social justice activies that would meet the approval of Berlet, Mombiot, etc., thought I guess they would instruct me to forget about 9/11 and spend more time on approved activities.

    My take on Cointelpro is that the primary goal is to create division, not to discredit with “wacky” theories. Accusations are counterproductive, even if true, which is very hard to know. I should know, as I am a proponent of one of the “wacky” theories, and have reached my conclusions and make my arguments without pay or ulterior motive.

    The best way to counter disinformation is by rational argument. I’ve tried to do that, and was rewarded with constant accusations and eventual banning from 9/11 Blogger. This left me unable to continue my debate with Greg Jenkins and Steven Jones, though I invited them, along with Eric Salter and others, to continue the debate at Progressive Independent. That invitation is still open.

    No matter – I continue to write about my “wacky” theory at my blog, and make arguments (ones which would be approved by the 9/11 Blogger crowd) on a listserv read by law professors and lawyers in private and government practice around the world.

    The response there has largely been polite silence when I bring up 9/11, which is great compared to the attacks and banning of Daily Kos and 9/11 Blogger. Recently, I was surprised and gratified to get some agreement from a well-known law professor on my views about torture and military commissions in relation to the question of why alleged 9/11 perps are not being brought to trial. In my view, a major purpose of the Military Commissions Act is to create a safe forum for show trials of people like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and torture is being used as an excuse for not bringing them to trial in a real court where their “confessions” would be inadmissible. (Until I see these people on trial in a real court, I can’t be sure that they made such confessions, were tortured, or even are who they are said to be.)

    The Washington Post recently published an article stating that senior Pentagon officials want to bring high-level detainees to trial, or I should write, “trial,” before the 2008 elections, and view such “trials” as having “strategic political value.”

    My local paper headlined this article “Colonel: Pentagon playing politics with Gitmo trials,” and the article beings “Politically motivated officials at the Pentagon,” but this I put the emphasis on “strategic,” not “political.” Like 9/11 itself, this is information warfare, directed at the American people.

    Time for my meds. Thanks again, Diane.

    Actually, maybe I’ll hold off on the meds and go write some more on my blog. But thanks, really — you have some great ideas and writing here.

    Comment by dwightvw — October 29, 2007 @ 3:43 am | Reply

  3. dwightvw wrote, regarding Chip Berlet:

    Even a new investigation to which he gives lip service is less likely because of his smear.

    Indeed so, unless he has also written other pieces strongly urging a new investigation on other grounds.

    To Chip Berlet, if you’re reading this: Have you written such pieces? If not, please do, if indeed your call for a new investigation is sincere.

    To dwightvw: Glad you like my blog. Thanks for your feedback.

    (P.S., 11/16/2007: dwightvw referred to an earlier post of mine about Chip Berlet. That post is Chip Berlet and “Conspiracism”.)

    Anyhow, on another topic, on the more general subject of disinformation agents:

    I just now had occasion to look at the Wikipedia article on Milton William Cooper, which says:

    In later years, Cooper recanted his UFO-oriented beliefs, asserting that they were in fact part of the Illuminati plot to subjugate the United States.

    No source is given for this particular statement. However, if indeed the above is true, it’s interesting that Cooper has admitted to promulgating disinformation. Of course, when someone confesses to telling a lie, the confession might well be at least partly a lie too, so there’s no particular reason to believe that his disinfo was on behalf of “the Illuminati.”

    The Wikipedia article also says that “Cooper had been a member of the US Naval Intelligence Briefing Team of the Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet.” If indeed that’s true, then perhaps he might have been promulgating disinfo on behalf of some intelligence agency.

    On the other hand, I’m also wondering whether his career is as claimed. For example, did he really even serve in the military at all? Or might he be just a professional mythomaniac, perhaps? I don’t know. I have yet to do any real research on Cooper.

    P.S.: The Wikipedia article does document the above-mentioned claim after all, though without a direct annotation of the above-quoted paragraph. It contains an external link to a document called “MAJESTYTWELVE,” said to outline Cooper’s beliefs at the time of his death. However, in the linked document, Cooper claims to have been honestly fooled about UFO’s, whereas the wording in the Wikipedia article itself came across (at least to me) as suggesting that he had confessed to deliberately lying.

    Comment by Diane — November 1, 2007 @ 12:31 pm | Reply

  4. […] Alas, Max Photon has also written an entire page devoted to the accusation that STJ911 is NIST’s Cloaking Device. I have to wonder: Is he serious about this accusation, or did he intend it as a satire on the tendency of too many people in the 9/11 Truth movement to jump to the conclusion that other folks in the movement are “disinformation agents”? I hope the latter. Max, if you were serious about that accusation, please read my post Identifying disinformation agents?. […]

    Pingback by “The Adventures of Max Photon” - a review « New York City activist — December 17, 2007 @ 5:24 am | Reply

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