Speculation as to what the government might be hiding from us is an easy way to bring a conversation to an end. But very often the truth is stranger than fiction.
Here are ten declassified secrets—things our governments actually did then went out of their way to cover up–that make many conspiracy theories look tame.
10. Operation PBSUCCESS
In 1997, the CIA finally declassified proof of their grubby involvement in the Guatemalan coup of 1954. But the 1,400 self-incriminating documents were just a fraction of the 100,000+ thought to be in secret archives. Even the CIA’s own historical review panel described their release–part of a wider dump of Cold War era documents–as “a brilliant public relations snow job.”
The coup had been nothing short of evil, violently reasserting capitalist oppression in a nation just beginning to recover from years of tyrannical rule. By the mid-20th century, governmental corruption had led to an obscene concentration of land ownership among a tiny minority of people–many of whom weren’t even Guatemalan. The US-based United Fruit Company, for instance, had acquired 42% of the land while paying zero tax and duty.
Things began to change in 1944 when the country’s first democratically elected president, Juan José Arévalo, took office. Introducing a series of progressive reforms–in health care, social security, and the protection of indigenous (Maya) rights–Arévalo was for most a light at the end of the tunnel. In 1951, the second democratically elected president, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, continued this progressive reformist agenda by reclaiming land for the people.
At this point, despite receiving compensation for the land they had to give back, the United Fruit Company went crying to President Eisenhower. And in response the US government (covertly) went to war, arming and training paramilitary thugs to overthrow the peaceful, democratically elected government. Although Árbenz actually offered to meet with the US president to discuss a peaceful resolution, he looks to have been ignored. Ultimately, he was overthrown and replaced with yet another American-controlled dictator.
9. Compulsory sterilization
It’s a little-known fact that Sweden forcibly sterilized Romani women as part of its ethnic cleansing program. But they didn’t stop there. From 1934 to 1976, female Swedes as young as 15 were forcibly sterilized for having “no obvious concept of ethics.” Rebelliousness, promiscuity, “low intelligence,” and mixed race heritage were all grounds for sterilization. One young woman was sterilized simply because she couldn’t read a blackboard and was therefore assumed to be stupid. As it turned out, however, she only needed glasses.
Although Sweden may have had the most extensive program of this type, neighboring Norway and Denmark had similar programs of their own, sterilizing 40,000 and 6,000 women respectively. Canada and the United States were also into eugenics; North Carolina alone sterilized as many as 7,700 women before 1973—and most of them were black.
It wasn’t until 1999 that Sweden finally began compensating some of its victims. Many, having
“internalized the establishment view of themselves as useless,” had remained silent for years. Yet the same politicians who publicly denounced the program when it came to light continued to support compulsory sterilization of transgender women until as recently as 2013.
8. 1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash
Barely 15 years after the US nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two nuclear bombs–each one hundreds of times more powerful than those dropped on Japan–were dropped on American soil. Who was to blame? Who else? The usual culprits when it comes to dropping nukes on civilian targets: The US military itself.
Apparently, the B-52 aircraft carrying them had broken up mid-flight due to a right wing failure and released the two Mark 39 bombs into freefall over North Carolina. One of them landed with the aid of an emergency parachute; the other hit the ground at terminal velocity. But the force of the crash had initiated the fuzing sequence–a mechanical procedure usually requiring human action–on both.
Of the seven steps needed to detonate them, the first bomb was down to the last. Specifically, the arm/safe switch was still in the “safe” position. However, on the other bomb, the arm/safe switch was in the “armed” position. By rights it should have exploded—killing tens of thousands of people immediately—and nobody seems to know why it didn’t.
Unnervingly, documents declassified in 2014 include a 1959 report from Sandia National Laboratories stating that “absolute” safety when transporting nuclear weapons is an illusion–a necessary sacrifice for designing effective nukes. The report also noted the likelihood that accidental detonations like this one would trigger a worldwide nuclear war. In other words, the United States would probably have interpreted their own mistake as an enemy attack and launched nuclear missiles on other nations.
7. Operation Northwoods
That the 9/11 terror attacks were evidently planned by the US government is often mocked by the establishment media for being unthinkably absurd. However, this politically correct position is essentially just one of faith–a rather desperate assumption that Uncle Sam would never plot to harm American citizens, no matter how much he stood to gain.
But it wouldn’t have been the first time.
In 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, tired of American corruption, he booted out the oligarchs for good. In response, having lost their favorite brothel and casino paradise, the US wanted revenge. Specifically, they wanted to invade; they wanted some reason–any reason–to remove Castro as head of state. (Sound familiar?) But even the arrival of Soviet missiles on the island could only be seen as a reasonably justified response to America placing its own missiles on the Soviets’ borders first.
By 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had had enough. If Cuba wasn’t going to do anything wrong, then America would just have to frame them. Ideas actually committed to paper as part of their proposal to the Secretary of Defense included (in their own words):
- “We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba.”
- “Exploding a few plastic bombs [in Florida and Washington]”
- “Casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.”
When he saw them, President John F. Kennedy was reportedly appalled and rejected the plans outright–which may have been among the reasons for his assassination the following year. Meanwhile, Castro “got to thumb his nose at the US for four more decades, a constant reminder … of the limits of US power.”
6. The Nazino affair
In the spring of 1933, 3,000 prisoners (some of whom had died en route) were dumped on Siberia’s remote Nazino (or Nazinsky) Island–a narrow, flood-prone strip of land in the frigid river Ob. They were given next to nothing–no tools, no shelter, and only a couple of handfuls of rye flour each once every 4-5 days. This they tended to consume right away, either dry as a powder or mixed with river water in their hats. Needless to say, the malnourished prisoners had little strength for anything, let alone building a self-sufficient community from scratch–the official reason for them being there. Some became so sick and numb that they slept too close to fires and burned to death in their sleep. But those who tried to escape were shot on the spot by the guards.
It wasn’t long before cannibalism took hold. Women, in particular, appear to have been targeted, many having been tied to trees so the flesh could be stripped from their breasts, calves, and other body parts. It was “just like shashlik [kebab meat],” said one of the surviving cannibals; “we made skewers from willow branches, cut [the meat] into pieces … and roasted it over the campfire.”
Tragically, many of these “settlers” had been sent to the island for little more than failing to produce identifying documents when asked by the secret police. And despite this sadistic “social experiment” being doomed from the start, officials continued to supply thousands more “settlers” until the project was exposed in the summer. By this time, of the 6,700 sent there, only 2,200 remained alive—and only 300 were fit for further work.
Based on the crusading, investigative reports of local Communist Party head Vasily Velichko, the island was evacuated within months. But it wasn’t until 1993 that Velichko’s reports were finally declassified for the public.
5. Vietnam war crimes
The My Lai Massacre is one of the ugliest, most unforgivable stains on the conscience of the US Army. On March 16, 1968, American soldiers raped, mutilated, and slaughtered more than 500 innocent civilians, including 173 young children, in a village in South Vietnam. Army officials tried to hide the war crime from the public, but it was exposed the following year. Before taking his story to the press, the soldier who blew the whistle, Ron Ridenhour, had attempted to raise the issue with President Richard Nixon, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several congressmen–all to no avail.
Crucially, the massacre was not committed by rogue soldiers. They had actually been ordered to wipe out the village–despite meeting with no resistance and finding no military-age males therein. Only one of the American soldiers was imprisoned, but he was released three years later; his commanding officer was never tried for the crime. Thankfully, the massacre contributed to anti-war sentiment not only among the American public but among other US soldiers as well.
However, it was far from the “isolated incident” that officials claimed it to be.
According to an archive of more than 9,000 declassified documents, hundreds of similar attacks took place–again on orders from above (such as “kill anything that moves”). Slaughters of ordinary Vietnamese families were commonplace and included the rape and torture of men, women, and children. Very few of those responsible were court-martialed or convicted, but not for a lack of evidence. And those who were sent to prison were generally acquitted before serving their full sentence. An interrogator who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl, for instance, served just six months of his 20-year jail term.
But the cover-up continues. After The LA Times reported on the archive in 2006, the government reclassified and closed it to the public. It’s not entirely clear why. But perhaps it’s because such war crimes continue to this day (including the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl by American soldiers in Baghdad before she, her 5-year-old sister, and the rest of her family were shot to death), exposing something twisted and dark at the very heart of US foreign policy.
4. Human radiation experiments
Between 1944 and 1974, the Atomic Energy Commission, Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies deliberately exposed millions of US citizens to nuclear fallout and other dangerous radiation without their informed consent. The purpose of these experiments was to evaluate the risk faced by nuclear scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Naturally, they were shrouded in secrecy–often to the point where those administering the radiation to subjects were not even aware they were doing so.
When Eileen Welsome, a journalist for The Albuquerque Tribune broke the story in late 1993, it caused public outcry and forced the Clinton administration to release 1.6 million classified documents pertaining to the tests. The details were extremely disturbing:
In Tennessee after the Second World War, hundreds of pregnant women were fed radioactive iron, resulting in the early deaths of their children from conditions such as synovial sarcoma and acute lymphatic leukemia. In Massachusetts, MIT scientists fed radioactive iron and calcium to students with learning disabilities. In New York, terminally ill patients were fed radioactive calcium and strontium. Highly regarded hospitals throughout the country injected patients with plutonium during otherwise routine check-ups. Orphanages gave radioactive material to children. And the corpses of the victims were secretly snatched from cemeteries for testing.
Most subjects were disadvantaged in some way, whether that meant physically or socioeconomically. It was, for example, common to prey on the elderly and sick, as well as prison inmates (although many of those deemed terminally ill had in fact been misdiagnosed). However, some weren’t even American citizens. One subject, codenamed CAL-2, was a four-year-old Australian boy flown in to UC San Francisco to receive “special treatment” for bone cancer, only to be injected with plutonium that killed him eight months later.
Whatever justification might be offered for these tests–such as the stresses of the Cold War era, or the ends (scientific knowledge) justifying the means–they were in clear violation of the 1949 Nuremberg Code. This set of research ethics principles had been laid out to ensure that no-one ever repeated the atrocities of Nazi “doctors of death” like Josef Mengele and Aribert Heim. If their scientific contributions failed to justify the means, there’s absolutely no reason (besides American exceptionalism) to forgive the US its directly comparable crimes.
3. Operation Sea-Spray
In addition to dropping nukes on, irradiating, compulsively lying to, and terrorizing their own citizens, the United States government has also–repeatedly–used germ warfare against them.
From September 26, 1950, a US Navy minesweeper ship spent just under a week spraying Serratia marcescens—a bacteria with a bright red, easily detectable pigment—into the air two miles off the coast of Northern California. The aim was to simulate and measure the effects of a bioweapons attack, and in particular the susceptibility of big cities like San Francisco. After the bacteria had been sprayed, the military covertly collected samples at 43 sites to track its spread. And they found that most, if not all, of the city’s 800,000 residents had been infected. And the virus had also made its way out to the suburbs.
Naturally, the military hadn’t bothered to ascertain the safety of S. marcescens before using it so indiscriminately. Although the scientific literature hadn’t linked the bacteria to disease, neither had it conclusively found it to be harmless. One week after the test, 11 San Franciscans were hospitalized with urinary tract infections, and one man actually died. Furthermore, the test apparently left a permanent scar on the region’s microbial ecology. And since the military didn’t own up to their blunder, civilian scientists wasted a great deal of time trying to figure out the cause of the outbreak—the first of its kind on record.
Even so, it wasn’t until 1969 that President Nixon finally brought a halt to such testing (although Operation Sea-Spray wasn’t declassified until 1976). In the intervening years, the military conducted hundreds of similar tests in cities across the country. They sprayed bacteria and chemicals from trucks in Minneapolis, from airplanes over the Midwest, and released germs into the New York City subway system—exposing millions to potentially deadly viruses without their permission or even their knowledge. As The New York Times has noted, such tests weren’t even scientifically justified; the results were blatantly obvious. And, since the Army didn’t monitor its victims long-term, it’s unclear whether anyone else was harmed.
Interestingly, the British did the same to their own citizens—not only with S. marcescens, but with other bacteria to simulate anthrax—leading to birth defects and miscarriages throughout the UK.
2. Stargate Project
Stargate was one of a number of projects set up to investigate whether psychics could be used by the military. Evidently, the CIA, DIA, and other government agencies took telekinesis, telepathy, and especially clairvoyance or “remote viewing” seriously enough to continue funding the research for at least 23 years (1972-1995). By the (official) end of the project, the CIA concluded that psychics had no military value; but that didn’t mean their powers had been debunked—far from it. All it meant was that psychic abilities were too unconventional for use in military or intelligence operations.
In fact, the research strongly supported the reality of psychic phenomena and convinced many of the researchers involved. From describing hidden objects in detail and the interiors of enemy bases to spying through space and time, remote viewers’ observations were often surprisingly accurate. Two psychics even detailed the appearance of Jupiter, independently describing the same thick, rolling gas clouds and “tremendous winds” all before Pioneer 10’s 1973 fly-by returned the first ever close-ups of the planet.
Such accuracy makes some of the psychics’ other, at-present unverifiable observations all the more compelling. In 1984, for instance, one of the psychics—Joe McMoneagle—described the surface of Mars circa 1,000,000 BC. Among his observations were vast pyramids and other structures at a time of geological upheaval—severe dust storms, climate change, and the extinction of organized life. At first, he saw only the “shadow” or vague perception of beings that had ceased to exist. As he regressed to an earlier time, however, he saw the beings solidify; they were tall, thin, and dressed in light, close-fitting, silk-like garments. The researcher instructing McMoneagle also gave him a series of oddly precise coordinates to investigate and wrote down what he saw at each: warren-like caverns; an enormous obelisk; reflective squares; channels cut into valleys; and shelters for hibernation. McMongeagle was also instructed to approach one of the beings and ask them what was going on. “They’re ancient people,” he related, “They’re … dying … they’re looking for … a way to survive and they just can’t.” According to the being he spoke to (who considered McMoneagle’s astral form to be a hallucination), they were waiting for the return of some kind of scout ship sent to find another habitable planet to move to. When McMoneagle turned his attention to where that scout ship had actually gone, he described a “really crazy place with volcanos and gas pockets and strange plants.”
Of course, it’s easy to dismiss such an unverifiable account as mere fantasy—or it would be were it not for one important detail: McMoneagle wasn’t told to go to Mars. The target and time period (“The planet Mars. Time of interest approximately 1 million years B.C.”) were written on a small card in a sealed envelope that remained unopened until after the session was complete. McMoneagle later told a journalist that he thought he’d been looking at Earth and was deeply confused about what he was seeing. In fact, had he known the actual target beforehand, he probably would have refused to view it—just as he had done when asked to mentally examine a UFO. Apparently, he deemed such unverifiable targets useless for the purposes of the Stargate Project. As for the precise coordinates, and the interest in prehistoric Mars in the first place, they had come from an unnamed official in the Army. The session had been especially requested by this individual and sprung upon McMoneagle while he was napping in the “black box” containment room at Virginia’s Monroe Institute.
1. Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP)
For many, the holy grail of declassified secrets would be the disclosure of extraterrestrial life. Hence a lot of people were excited when, in July this year, the British government finally released the (alleged) last of its files on UFOs. Unfortunately, there was no proof of aliens—but the reports do show how seriously these unidentified aerial phenomena were taken. In fact, the UK operated two dedicated desks for decades—one to receive calls from the public, and the other to investigate sightings. They were both (officially) closed in 2000, despite there being no let-up in convincing reports from the region—such as this one from just last month.
The US government, meanwhile, apparently continues to investigate. As it turns out, they have been secretly funding the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program to the tune of $22 million a year—despite having officially claimed to have shut the project down in 2012. And Luis Elizondo, the official in charge of the department, found the evidence so compelling that he became frustrated with the government for not allocating more resources to its study.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who helped to set up the program, agreed—even going so far as to request heightened security to protect what he considered extraordinary discoveries. These have included strange metal alloys and other materials recovered from UFOs (and stored at Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas). Researchers studying these items claim to have experienced certain “physical effects” from their encounters. One likened their bewildered approach to the materials to “what would happen if you gave Leonardo da Vinci a garage-door opener … He wouldn’t know anything about the electromagnetic signals involved or its function.”
Another official declared that “what was considered science fiction is now science fact.” And, alarmingly for some perhaps, he went on to admit that the United States is completely incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies found.