We were going to put together a list of “things the government could be hiding from you,” as a kind of sober take on some of the more plausible conspiracy theories. But, having already done a list of things they actually hid from us, it would have been an underwhelming follow-up.
And for no good reason! There are plenty more disturbing and/or bizarre secrets our governments would have preferred to keep quiet.
10. Project Horizon
Back in the late 1950s, the US was lagging behind in the space race. In 1957, for example, the Soviets launched Sputnik—the first manmade satellite—into orbit, and Eisenhower’s America was crestfallen. Of course, it didn’t help that many now saw the US as basically defenseless against a Russian nuclear strike.
Their response? They made plans to fire a nuke at the moon.
It’s easy to see this as a kind of geopolitical temper tantrum, a toddler throwing his toys at the wall, but for the Air Force it was a “P.R. device.” Above all, it was a way “to impress the world with the prowess of the United States.” The flash of the detonation would be visible from Earth, said the experts, and, because of the negligible lunar atmosphere, the dust would fly off in all directions (as opposed to the usual mushroom cloud shape). It would also leave a gaping lunar crater, forever changing the face of the Moon.
Ultimately, the plan was shelved. But only when they came up with a “better” one. Documents declassified in 2014 revealed plans to build a base on the Moon. Outpost Horizon was to be a permanent, nuclear-powered, and completely self-sustaining installation, constructed by its inhabitants beneath the lunar surface. It would have air locks, living quarters, dining and rec rooms, a hospital, science labs and storage for explosives. It was, in other words, dangerously ahead of its time.
The 12 men expected to live up there by 1965 were to drink their own urine, grow plants in their poop, and look after chickens and fish. And, if anyone lost their mind, there was a solitary confinement room “for the complete isolation of psychiatric patients.”
The plan was finally abandoned when NASA took over the space program.
9. Acoustic Kitty
From missile-guiding pigeons to mine-detecting dolphins, animals have long been co-opted for war. As retrograde as it sounds now, behavioral conditioning to this end was at the forefront of of military research back in the 1960s.
The I.Q. Zoo in Hot Springs, Arkansas was basically a front for such studies. On the one hand, it was a quirky visitor attraction—a place for the public to watch pigs playing the piano, chickens playing baseball, macaws riding bicycles, and reindeer operating a printing press (etc.). But on the other, it was a top secret facility for training animal spies—bug-planting ravens, mine-locating dogs, and the so-called Acoustic Kitty.
The idea for the latter was hatched while visually surveilling a target. Since cats could be seen freely wandering in and out of the target’s strategy sessions, the CIA thought of bugging one to listen in. But simply attaching a microphone wouldn’t do. Instead, researchers transformed a living cat into a $20 million radio transmitter. They ran a wire through the ear canal to instruments inside the rib cage and spiraled a super-thin antenna around the kitty’s tail. Using ultrasound cues, they could also direct the cat’s movements left, right, and straight on.
We don’t know if it was ever deployed. The fate of the project is murky. Some say the Acoustic Kitty was flattened by a taxi just seconds into its very first field test. Others say the implants were removed and the kitty lived a long and happy life. The CIA refuses to comment, although one declassified document does appear to suggest the impractical project was canceled.
Anyway, now that we can eavesdrop with lasers, it’s likely to be a thing of the past.
8. Mapimí Silent Zone
Usually when a country fires upon another, it’s considered an act of war. But America’s long-suffering neighbor to the south has been known to let it slide. On July 11, 1970, an ATHENA V-123-D rocket was fired at New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range, but it overshot the target and landed near old Mexico’s Bolsón de Mapimí instead—an important ecosystem 200 miles south of the border.
The clean-up operation (with the help of the Mexicans) was huge, requiring a brand new road just to get vehicles to the blast zone. Hundreds of tons of cobalt-57-contaminated soil were removed, the radioactive isotope having been added to the bomb to maximize fallout and civilian casualties.
Fortunately, the site had few if any humans. But the bomb could have hit just about anywhere. In a memo sent to Nixon, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger made it out to be an unforeseen blunder—attributable to the missile’s “abnormal re-entry into the atmosphere.” However, the ATHENA program had already been suspended in July 1968 following three consecutive flight failures. And funding had been slashed between 1966 and 1969, forcing the Air Force to cut corners with design. Although officials involved in the program expressed safety concerns, they presumptuously reasoned that “the public is willing to accept some risk if such tests appear necessary in the national interest.” Far from an unforeseen blunder, the military allowed for such incidents; it expected them.
Nowadays, the blast site is known as the Mapimí Silent Zone, or sometimes as the “Mexican Bermuda Triangle.” And it may be no coincidence that its renown as a UFO hotspot outweighs any memory of American hubris.
7. 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 crash
In our last list on this topic, we mentioned the 1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash, a potentially apocalyptic “nuclear mishap” that you would’ve thought America had learned from. Unfortunately not. Almost seven years later to the day, on January 21, 1968, another nuclear-armed bomber hit the dust (or snow, as it happens), this time on overseas territory.
The aircraft has been circling Thule Air Base in northern Greenland as part of Operation Chrome Dome. (These missions kept bombers on continuous airborne alert between 1960 and 1968, each of them on standby to go and annihilate Moscow.) When a fire broke out in the navigator’s compartment, however, the plane lost electrical power and slammed into the ground just seven miles away from the base. Actually, it slammed through the ground, blasting through the ice into North Star Bay at a speed of 500 knots. Six of the crew of seven ejected and the aircraft was destroyed upon impact. Whatever was left was consumed by the fires of 200,000 pounds of jet fuel. The casings of its four 1.1-megaton H-bombs were also destroyed, scattering tiny fragments of highly radioactive tritium and plutonium across the crash site.
A major clean-up operation followed, involving scientists from Denmark and more than 70 federal agencies. And, while the major general in charge downplayed the extent of contamination, framing the incident as an “exciting” and “classic example of international cooperation,” many of those involved suffered ailments later on. Over the subsequent decades, hundreds of them contracted cancers and, of 500 Danes studied, only 20 were able to have children—several of which were born with deformities.
But did the Air Force finally learn its lesson?
Kind of. Nuclear weapons were removed from all planes on airborne alert in the immediate aftermath of the incident. After all, it wasn’t just Goldsboro and Thule; there had been eight other nuclear-armed crashes. More recently, however, there has been talk of a return to Chrome Dome-style strategy.
6. 1953 Iranian coup d’état
Historically, the US and UK have controlled oil supplies in the Middle East. The Arabian-American Oil Company owned Saudi Arabia’s and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) owned Iran’s. But all that changed in 1950.
When the US finally gave in to pressure to start sharing revenue with the locals, Iran expected Britain to follow suit. And when it didn’t, the Iranian PM Mohammad Mossadegh simply nationalized his country’s oil industry—depriving the UK of any share and securing (or so he thought) crucial funding for his program of liberal reforms.
In response, Britain conspired with the US to overthrow Mossadegh—the closest Iran has ever come to a truly democratic and socialist leader, and one who intended to abolish the monarchy. Although he saw the first attack coming and arrested those involved, the coup against him was ultimately successful. The status quo was restored and BP got a share of the oil. But such blatant interference by the US and UK earned them the nickname “the Great Satan.” And their 1953 coup d’état paved the way for the 1979 Islamic Revolution—the devastating transformation of a once progressive nation into the fundamentalist nightmare we see today.
5. British establishment pedophiles
In November 2014, London’s Metropolitan Police finally agreed to investigate historical claims of child sex abuse at the highest levels of government (and, more famously, in the media). These claims are mostly concentrated on the 1970s and ’80s—at a time when senior police officers and politicians, including Margaret Thatcher, are alleged to have blocked all inquiries. But the evidence has piled up in the shadows.
According to a prominent Member of Parliament (MP) in 2012, there is “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10.” Indeed, one senior lawyer claims to have seen records of government funding for the Paedophile Information Exchange—a pro-pedophile activist group—during the 1970s.
Allegations from the victims are even more harrowing. Survivors claim to have been trafficked via care homes into violent orgies with high-ranking defense and intelligence officials, MPs, and others within the British establishment. Even former Prime Minister Ted Heath has been implicated. Allegedly a number of children were killed. One twelve-year-old boy was raped and strangled by a Conservative MP, says a witness, and another boy, a ten-year-old, was deliberately run over by a car. This was apparently a display of his rapist’s legal immunity.
Of course, much of this has yet to be proven. But declassified documents do suggest that investigations were blocked. And, while the Metropolitan Police have attempted to dismiss the claims, the Crown Prosecution Service admitted in 2015 there was enough evidence to prosecute at least one of the accused: Lord Greville Janner. But they refused to do so. Citing his “severe dementia” and advanced age of 86, they argued that it wouldn’t be “in the public interest.” This is ironic given that Janner himself had, back in 1997, criticized the British justice system for letting a similarly demented 86-year-old Nazi war criminal off the hook, fuming “I don’t care what bloody age they are.”
In August 2013, Brazilian journalist David Miranda was detained in the UK “under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.” But he wasn’t suspected of terrorism. What security officials really wanted to know was how much he knew about British surveillance programs, as well as those of the NSA. Furthermore, by imposing the full nine hours’ detention afforded them under the Terrorism Act, they hoped to send a warning to his husband, the American journalist Glenn Greenwald.
It didn’t work. Hours later, Greenwald released a statement of outraged defiance via the Guardian’s website, knowing that GCHQ (Britain’s state surveillance agency) would probably see it within minutes. The following year, he won the Public Service Pulitzer for bringing Edward Snowden’s NSA/Five Eyes (FVEY) revelations to light.
Thanks to Greenwald, Miranda, and of course Snowden among others, most of us are by now at least dimly aware that our governments are spying on us all. But their fear of the internet, and hence their need to control it, goes deeper than mass surveillance.
The Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) is a unit within GCHQ whose aim it is to sow discord and disinfo online. It seeks to influence or “game” online interactions (e.g. forums, comments sections) by applying theories of compliance and trust. In other words, it employs an army of trolls. Its partner-in-crime is the Human Science Operations Cell (HSOC), whose agents apparently refer to themselves as “magicians of persuasion.”
Unnervingly, JTRIG also targets individuals. But these targets needn’t be criminals or “terrorists.” Investigative journalists, political activists, and other inconvenient civilian subtypes—who, by virtue of their legal innocence, are rightly out of reach for law enforcement—can find their reputations and livelihoods suddenly destroyed by vicious rumors spread online or sent to their smartphone contacts.
As far as we know this happens all the time. And not just in Britain. These tactics are shared between each of the Five Eyes surveillance states: the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
3. Project MKUltra
During the 1950s and ’60s, LSD was revolutionizing psychotherapy (just as it probably will again). Hollywood stars like Cary Grant and Esther Williams attributed life-changing revelations, the overcoming of addictions, and the processing of childhood trauma to LSD-assisted therapy. Breakthroughs expected to take years were happening within a few hours. As Grant put it in an interview with Look magazine in 1959: “At last, I am close to happiness.”
But the CIA was more interested in weaponizing the psychedelic. Documents declassified in 1975 revealed a 20-year-long (1953-1973) human experimentation project, exploring, among other things, whether LSD could be used for mind control. Specifically, they wanted to be able to program people to carry out missions—or, as the CIA put it, “do our bidding”—against their will and without any regard for survival. Only rarely did participants consent, and even then they weren’t fully informed.
Electroshocks, sensory deprivation, and neurosurgery were also explored, and those subjected to the tests included prisoners, medical professionals, cancer patients, prostitutes, children, and animals. In the 1960s, for instance, the CIA “successfully” made remote-controlled dogs.
Of course, it’s hardly possible to go into much detail here—not least because CIA Director Richard Helms burned most of the records back in 1973. And the fact that “only” 20,000 documents remain, as a fraction of the original archive, gives a sense of its overall scale. But what’s interesting is that MKUltra began the very same year that America adopted the Nuremberg Code. This international standard for research ethics emphasized the necessity for informed consent and was expressly worded to prevent any repeat of Nazi-style human experimentation.
2. Operation Cauldron
During the Cold War, the British were taught to fear the Soviets. But their own government was more of a threat. Between 1953 and 1964, the UK’s chemical/biological warfare research unit, Porton Down, released 4,600 kilos of zinc cadmium sulphide—a potential carcinogen—from aircraft, ships, and trucks onto civilian populations in Wiltshire, Bedfordshire, and Norfolk. Then in 1964 they released Bacillus globigii—linked to food poisoning, eye infections, and sepsis—into the London Underground. They wanted to see how rapidly it spread through the Tube network.
Some might say the scientists weren’t aware of the risks, that in those days the research was lacking. But a number of them had “grave misgivings” about conducting the field trials. And none of them could have been in any doubt whatsoever as to the toxicity of Pasteurella [Yersinia] pestis (the Black Death or bubonic plague), which they released off the coast of Scotland in 1952. This test staked the lives of thousands of Hebridean islanders on the plague being blown out to sea, and on the wind not simply changing direction. That was irresponsible enough. But when a fishing vessel unexpectedly appeared and passed through the cloud of live bacteria, the government’s response was even more disturbing. Instead of alerting and quarantining the trawler, they allowed it to dock on the mainland. In other words, Churchill’s post-war government was more prepared to risk an outbreak of plague than to come clean about having released it.
As it turned out, the fishermen hadn’t caught the Black Death. But they had been affected by a number of other agents leaking from the tanker that spread it. This led to hair loss for at least one of them.
The government didn’t learn from the test. After burning all but one of the documents pertaining to it, they simply relocated their research overseas. Churchill personally approved a plan to test bioweapons in the colonies instead. Bahamians were subjected to encephalomyelitis (a cause of fever, fatigue, and even death) and Nigerians were subjected to nerve gas. More than 14,000 British troops were also experimented on between 1945 and 1989.
The British military is now thought to have carried out more than 30,000 secret tests—and largely done away with the evidence.
1. Operation Gladio
After WWII, with the threat of Soviet expansion looming, the US/UK-led NATO set up a network of secret armies throughout Europe. Modeled on the guerilla resistance movements of the war years, these groups were totally unaccountable to citizens and often unknown to governments. In fact, it wasn’t until 1990 that European Parliament formally exposed and objected to their existence.
Their job was to undermine the Communists at all costs—and to keep doing so even if the Communists won. However, the Communists weren’t all that disliked. The Italian Communist Party, for instance, was a valued part of the mainstream—despite US efforts to destroy it. If Operation Gladio was to uphold Capitalism in Europe, therefore, it had to make people hate Communism. And it had to recruit the only people who hated it enough in the first place: Nazis.
NATO’s illegal foot soldiers carried out terrorist attacks across the continent and blamed them on the USSR. Civilians, including children, were brutally murdered at random, including at the 1980 Oktoberfest in Munich. It had to be at random and it had to involve children so that nobody nowhere felt safe. Eventually, NATO assumed, everyone would be so afraid of the Commies they would eagerly support previously unthinkable infringements of their hard-won civil liberties (such as mass surveillance).
It was unusual for the perpetrators to survive these attacks, or if they did they’d be unavailable for questioning. However, in 1984, the neo-Fascist Gladio operative Vincenzo Vinciguerra was brought to trial for a car bomb 12 years earlier. He freely admitted his guilt but said he was under the protection of NATO, and furthermore that he was one of many operatives. Among the few people to actually believe him was the Italian judge Felice Casson, whose subsequent digging around revealed NATO’s “strategy of tension.” This involved the execution of false-flag terror attacks to blame on fabricated enemies, paralyzing the masses with fear to manufacture consent for just about anything: mass surveillance, foreign wars, whatever.
This “strategy of tension” was also behind Operation Northwoods (mentioned in the previous list). And there’s absolutely no reason to believe it’s been taken off the table today. The “enemies” have simply changed.