Conspiracy Theories

Conspiring to Make People Paranoid



Alternet has published an excerpt from my book The United States of Paranoia. Here's how it opens:

There are parts of this book that have not been posted anywhere as an excerpt yet. No, really, I swear.

The special agent in charge of the FBI's San Diego office had a plan. An antidraft activist in the area was convinced that the Bureau was watching him—he kept telling people that his phone was tapped, his home bugged, his every move observed. With "a small push in the right direction," the agent believed, the activist would start exhibiting "obvious paranoid tendencies," and that would "completely neutralize him in his several leadership capacities."

So let's make a big show of spying on the man, the investigator suggested. Maybe we could build a spooky-looking mechanism from a bicycle part and an old transistor radio, then drop it off near his front steps one night. "In the event he displayed the contraption to anyone," the officer argued, "its crude construction would ultimately neutralize any allegation that it originated or is being utilized by the FBI." And if the target tried to tell people it was a bugging device, they'd ridicule him.

Headquarters wasn't convinced. The problem wasn't that the plan was unethical, unconstitutional, or absurd. It was that the activist might not be important enough to be "a suitable target for counter-intelligence action." The agent was told to investigate the fellow further, then "resubmit your request if his importance to the New Left movement warrants such attention." In other words, the Bureau should spend more time spying on the man before it tried to convince the man he was being spied on.

In related news:

The Wall Street Journal has reviewed the book.

• I'll be talking about the book on Sean Moncrieff's radio show in Ireland today at 10 a.m. Eastern time, 3 p.m. Irish time.

• Back in the States, I'll be on Alan Colmes' radio show tonight at approximately 7:06 p.m. Eastern time.

• Sam Tanenhaus and I will discuss the book in a program at the Cato Institute on September 11.

• On Tuesday I did a reading at the D.C. bookstore Politics & Prose. They have now posted a video of the talk: