A conspiracy theory, by definition, is not something that can be completely verified and is a hypothesis that relies mostly on the beliefs of those who propose them. Most of the time, these theories are far-fetched and are nothing more than speculation. However, there are times when rumors and doubts do not belie what actually happened. Many whistleblowers, in the form of disillusioned employees, and investigative journalists have managed to expose a number of wrong doings and illegal activities about which the public would otherwise have remained ignorant. Here are some such conspiracy theories and scandals that were later proved true.
1. Katyn Massacre
These were a series of mass executions of an estimated 22,000 Polish nationals approved by Stalin and committed by the Soviet secret police which the USSR claimed to be the work of Nazis until 1990.
On September 17, 1939, just 16 days after Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west, the Soviet military invaded from the east without any prior formal declaration of war. After a battle that lasted 20 days, the territory of Poland was divided in half by these two invaders. The Soviet secret police organization, the NKVD, and the Nazi secret state police, the Gestapo, formed an alliance which ended in 1941, to suppress Polish resistance. Over 500,000 Polish nationals, including civic officials, military personnel, and other enemies such as the clergy and educators, were imprisoned before June 1941 by the Soviets.
On March 5, 1940, the NKVD Chief, Lavretiy Beria, proposed the execution of the 22,000 captive Polish officer corps, and the proposal was approved by the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union led by Joseph Stalin. Though the Poles were killed in various locations, the massacre was named after the Katyn Forest where mass graves were discovered by the government of Nazi Germany in 1943.(source)
2. Operation Snow White
This was the single largest infiltration of the Church of Scientology. It involved 5,000 covert agents deployed to get rid of unfavorable records from 136 government and private organizations.
The founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, proposed an infiltration of government departments as early as 1960. In 1973, with increased scrutiny from the US federal agencies and fearful of losing reputation, one of the Church’s branches known as the Guardian’s Office began massive infiltration in more than 30 different countries, the US being the primary target. The objective was to obtain documents related to the church and Hubbard’s criminal activity from 136 government agencies, foreign embassies, consulates, and private organizations that are disapproving of church’s activities.
Operation Snow White is considered one of the largest infiltrations of the US government in history. Between 1977 and 1980, 11 church executives, including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, pleaded guilty and were convicted of obstructing justice, burglary, and theft of documents and government property.(source)
3. Gulf of Tonkin Incident
This refers to either one or two separate incidents involving the forces of North Vietnam and the United States for which the original American report blamed North Vietnam and provided legal justification for the Vietnam War.
On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox fired three warning shots after being pursued by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. In response, the torpedo boats fired at the Maddox resulting in a confrontation injuring six and killing four North Vietnamese soldiers. The second Gulf of Tonkin incident happened two days later and was a sea battle involving false radar images but no actual torpedo boats. This incident is now considered to have never happened in the first place. The original American report, claiming it to be the work of North Vietnam, was widely deemed controversial.
Nevertheless, in light of the incidents, President Lyndon B. Johnson was granted the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government could be in trouble because of “communist aggression.” This act effectively led to the Vietnam War. Years later, in 2005, an NSA historical study was declassified. It was revealed that no North Vietnamese vessels were present during the second incident. During the first incident, the captain of the Maddox gave orders to fire if any boats approached within ten thousand yards, a fact which was not included in the original report that insisted the Vietnamese boats fired first.(source)
4. Iran–Contra Affair
This incident involved the secret sale of weapons to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua to circumvent an arms embargo while negotiating the release of several US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The scandal started in 1985 as an operation to free seven American hostages held by a paramilitary group with Iranian ties. It was planned that Israel would ship weapons to Iran which would later be resupplied by the US for a payment, and Iran would help release the hostages. The plan was later modified and a portion of the payment went to Contras in Nicaragua, whose cause President Ronald Reagan supported.
According to the notes taken by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on December 7, 1985, it was noted that Reagan was aware of the hostage transfer and weapons sales. Further investigation, however, was obstructed as several volumes of related documents were destroyed or withheld. In the end, the weapons sales were not considered as a criminal offense, but several US government officials were convicted of supporting the Contras.(source)
5. Atari Video Game Burial
This was the mass burial of unsold video game cartridges, consoles, and computers by Atari Inc. in 1983.
Until 2014, the reports of mass burials were thought to be urban legends, and those who believed Atari buried unsold copies of E.T. the Extraterrestrial and the Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man were deemed deluded. It was considered the result of a financially disastrous year for Atari that led to its demise. Though millions of copies were thought to have been buried, Atari officials later confirmed the number to be 700,000. The cartridges were of various titles including E.T. In 2014, Fuel Industries, Microsoft, and others worked with the government of New Mexico to excavate the site to confirm the contents of the landfill. The excavation revealed various discarded games and hardware, of which 1,300 cartridges were retrieved for curation and auction.(source)
This was a global surveillance program that was established to monitor communications to and from the Soviet Union and now is capable of intercepting private and commercial communications.
“Echelon” was one of the secret government codenames used for a global surveillance program operated by five nations under a UKUSA Security Agreement: United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. As of 2000, as assessed by European Parliament, it includes signals intelligence agencies from these five nations. The program was first created in the late 1960s to monitor military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its allies during the Cold War. It was formally established in 1971, and until 1975, was the codename “Shamrock” was used.
In 1972, a former NSA analyst, Perry Fellwock, revealed to the magazine Ramparts information about the project and its activities. His whistleblowing included information that the Israeli attack on USS Liberty had been deliberate and known to both parties, and revealed the involvement of CIA and NSA personnel in drugs and human smuggling. In July 2000, the European Parliament established the Temporary Committee on the Echelon Interception System to investigate the surveillance network. In May 2001, it issued the final report saying that the program was capable of monitoring communications by intercepting satellites, telephone networks, and microwave links.(source)
7. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
From 1932 to 1972, the US Public Health Service carried out free health care for syphilis for 600 poor African-America men when, in fact, they were given false treatment to study the progression of the disease.
The Public Health Service collaborated with Tuskegee University, a historically Black college in Alabama, with the investigators enrolling 600 for the study. Among them, only 399 were already infected with the disease. By 1947, when penicillin became the standard treatment for syphilis, the study was conducted without treating the participants with it. Even worse, they weren’t informed about its existence and were told they were being treated for “bad blood.” The participants were also actively prevented from seeking treatment which was available elsewhere.
Because of the lack of treatment, 40 wives of the participants contracted the disease and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis. On July 25, 1972, Peter Buxtun, a Public Health Service investigator, went to the press when expressing his concern to the national director gave no results. The incident led to the establishment of laws and regulations regarding consent and protection of human subjects in medical studies.(source)
8. Watergate Scandal
This involved the spying on political opponents and activist groups by President Richard Nixon’s administration and their subsequent attempts at covering-up their activities following the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in 1972.
The Watergate scandal was a series of major political, clandestine and often illegal operations undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. It started on June 17, 1972, with a break-in by five men at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. The burglars were arrested, and FBI found a connection between the cash found on them and the slush fund of Nixon’s official reelection campaign organization.
The scandal led to the discovery of many other activities including bugging the offices of political opponents and individuals that Nixon or his officials considered suspicious. The FBI, CIA, and IRS were used to conduct investigations on activist groups and political figures. Following the burglary investigation, it was revealed that Nixon had many of his conversations in his offices recorded on tapes which the US Supreme Court demanded to be released to government investigators.
The tapes revealed Nixon’s many attempts at covering up the activities that took place after the Watergate burglary. The scandal led to the impeachment and subsequent resignation of Nixon, and 69 people were indicted among whom, 48, including Nixon’s top officials, were found guilty after trials and negotiated pleas.(source)
These were a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the FBI to surveil, infiltrate, discredit, and disrupt political organizations, including those in the Civil Rights Movement.
Operations under COINTELPRO started in August 1956 with directives issued by the first FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover. The organizations that were targeted include those that were involved in anti-Vietnam War activities, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, Puerto Rican Independence Movement, women’s rights movements, the Ku Klux Klan, American Indian Movement, Cuban Nationalist Movement, and a broad range of “new left” organizations.
After the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Hoover singled out Martin Luther King Jr. as a major target, systematically bugging his home and hotel rooms. The FBI even went as far as sending King a “suicide package” containing audio recordings of his sexual indiscretions and a letter telling him to commit suicide. The program was kept secret until 1971 when the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI burgled several documents from an FBI office and passed them to news agencies.(source)
10. Project MKUltra
This was the CIA’s mind control program which experimented on human subjects to manipulate mental states and alter brain functions through torture and drugs.
The project was first started on April 13, 1953, on the orders of the then CIA director, Allen Welsh Dulles. The research was undertaken at 80 institutions which included 44 colleges and universities, hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical companies. The objective of the project was to develop mind-controlling drugs to use on their captives in response to the alleged mind control techniques used by the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.
The project also tried to create a “truth drug” to use during interrogations and to use sub-aural frequencies to erase memories. Often illegally, and sometimes on unaware US and Canadian citizens, several methods including administration of drugs, especially LSD, and hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal abuse, and other forms of torture were used in order to manipulate the subject’s mental state and brain function.
In 1975, the Church Committee of the US Congress and a commission to investigate CIA activities first brought the MKUltra to public attention. Though all the project’s files were ordered to be destroyed in 1973, a cache of 20,000 related documents was uncovered after a Freedom of Information Act request in 1977.(source)