30. Chemtrails - Chemtrail conspiracy theorists believe that some contrails, which consist of ice crystals or water vapor condensed behind aircraft, actually result from chemicals or biological agents being deliberately sprayed at high altitude for some undisclosed purpose. The staple of right-wing radio shows in the US, there is fevered speculation that the chemicals being sprayed are part of a wider plot that involves the so-called New World Order and is being directed by shadowy forces within the government. The existence of chemtrails has been repeatedly denied by federal agencies and scientist.
29. Global warming is a hoax - Some climate change doubters believe that man-made global warming is a conspiracy designed to soften up the world’s population to higher taxation, controls on lifestyle and more authoritarian government. These sceptics cite a fall in global temperatures since last year and a levelling off in the rise in temperature since 1998 as evidence.
28. The Aids virus was created in a laboratory - Based on the theories of Dr William Campbell Douglass, many believe that that HIV was genetically engineered in 1974 by the World Health Organisation. Dr Douglass believed that it was a cold-blooded attempt to create a killer virus which was then used in a successful experiment in Africa. Others have claimed that it was created by the CIA or the KGB as a means to reduce world population.
27. HAARP - More than 200 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska, is the Pentagon’s High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, officially an enormous experiment to heat the ionosphere with radio waves. But conspiracy theorists believe the project is a weapon to bring down aircraft and missiles by lifting sections of the atmosphere, cause earthquakes or even a huge weather modification machine.
26. Plastic coffins and concentration camps - Just outside Atlanta, Georgia, beside a major road are approximately 500,000 plastic coffins. Stacked neatly and in full view, the coffins are allegedly owned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema). Conspiracy theorists believe that Fema has also set up several concentration camps in the US in preparation for the imposition of a state of martial law and the killing of millions of Americans. They suggest that the financial crisis will be used to justify the imposition of a police state.
25. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami - A popular theory in the Muslim world is that the tsunami could have been caused by an Indian nuclear experiment in which Israeli and American nuclear experts participated. Several newspapers in Egypt and the Middle East alleged that India, in its heated nuclear race with Pakistan, has acquired sophisticated nuclear technology from the US and Israel, both of which “showed readiness to co-operate with India in experiments to exterminate humankind,” beginning with the heavily populated Muslim regions of southeast Asia, where the bulk of casualties took place.
24. Fluoridation - Fluoride is commonly added to drinking water as a way to reduce tooth decay. However, there has been some evidence that there could be some harmful side effects from fluoride and conspiracy theorists believe that this information is known and recognised by those responsible for adding the fluoride, but that they continue the practice regardless. Drug companies have been targeted as possible beneficiaries, as they will profit from a population with ill-health. Another motive is that fluoride lowers mental abilities thereby “dumbing down” the entire population.
23. Pan Am Flight 103 - Pan Am Flight 103 was Pan American’s third daily scheduled transatlantic flight from Heathrow to New York John F. Kennedy International Airport. On December 21, 1988, the aircraft flying this route – a Boeing 747 – was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. The remains landed around Lockerbie in southern Scotland. A popular theory for which no evidence has been produced suggests that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had set up a protected drug route from Europe to the United States – allegedly called Operation Corea – which allowed Syrian drug dealers to ship heroin to the US using Pan Am flights.
The CIA allegedly protected the suitcases containing the drugs and made sure they were not searched. On the day of the bombing, terrorists exchanged suitcases: one with drugs for one with a bomb. Another version of this theory is that the CIA knew in advance this exchange would take place, but let it happen anyway, because the protected drugs route was a rogue operation, and the American intelligence officers on the flight had found out about it, and were on their way to Washington to tell their superiors.
22. The Philadelphia Experiment - Popularised by the Charles Berlitz novel of the same name, conspiracy theorists believe that during an experiment at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in October 1943, the US Navy destroyer Eldridge was rendered invisible. According to some accounts, the scientists on the experiment found a way to bend light around an object but that the experiment went wrong and Eldridge was transported through space and time, reappearing at sea. Several sailors, it is said, were badly hurt when the experiment went wrong and some were melded into the ship’s superstructure. The US Navy has denied that the experiment ever took place.
21. Pearl Harbor was allowed to happen - Theorists believe that President Franklin Roosevelt provoked the Japanese attack on the US naval base in Hawaii in December 1941, knew about it in advance and covered up his failure to warn his fleet commanders. He apparently needed the attack to provoke Hitler into declaring war on the US because the American public and Congress were overwhelmingly against entering the war in Europe.
Theorists believe that the US was warned by the governments of Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, Korea and the Soviet Union that a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was coming and that, furthermore, the Americans had intercepted and broken all the important Japanese codes in the run up to the attack.
20. The peak oil conspiracy - Peak oil (a theory in itself) is the supposed peak of oil production during and after which demand for oil outstrips supply sending prices through the roof. The peak oil conspiracy theorists believe that peak oil is a fraud concocted by the oil industries to increase prices amid concerns about future supplies. The oil industry is aware of vast reserves of untapped oil, but does not utilise them in order to maintain the illusion of scarcity, they claim.
19. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion - Despite being utterly discredited for at least 100 years, belief in this document has proved remarkably resilient on the internet. The text takes the form of an instruction manual to a new member of the “elders,” describing how they will run the world through control of the media and finance, and replace the traditional social order with one based on mass manipulation. Scholars generally agree that the Okhrana, the secret police of the Russian Empire, fabricated the text in the late 1890s or early 1900s but belief in it still persists – particularly in the Middle East.
18. Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent - Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn is thought to have claimed that Wilson was a KGB spy. He further claimed that Hugh Gaitskell was assassinated by the KGB so that he could be replaced as Labour leader by Harold Wilson. Furthermore, former MI5 officer Peter Wright claimed in his memoirs – Spycatcher – that he had been told that Wilson was a Soviet agent. MI5 repeatedly investigated Wilson over the course of several years before conclusively deciding that he had no relationship with the KGB.
On the BBC TV programme, The Plot Against Harold Wilson, broadcast in 2006, it was claimed that the military was on the point of launching a coup d’état against Wilson in 1974. Wilson himself told the BBC that he feared he was being undermined by MI5 in the late 1960s after devaluation of sterling and again in 1974 after he narrowly won an election against Edward Heath.
17. Black or unmarked helicopters - The concept became popular in the American militia movement, and in associated political circles, in the 1990s as an alleged symbol and warning sign of a military takeover of part or all of the United States. Rumours would circulate that, for instance, the United Nations patrolled the US with black helicopters, or that federal agents used black helicopters to enforce wildlife laws. In Britain, a similar conspiracy theory known as “phantom helicopters” has been reported since the mid 1970s. This concept relates phantom helicopters to UFOs and alien invasion rather than to martial law.
16. The Moscow apartment bombings - Former GRU officer Aleksey Galkin and former FSB officer the late Alexander Litvinenko (who was killed with Polonium-210 in London in November 2006) and other whistle-blowers from the Russian government and security services have asserted that the 1999 Russian apartment bombings were operations perpetrated by the FSB, the successor to the KGB, to justify the second Russian war against Chechnya.
15. The July 7, 2005 Tube bombings - One of the supposed mysteries surrounding the 7/7 attacks is this image, used by several news outlets, of the bombers entering Luton station on their way to London at around 7.20am on July 7. Theorists claim this image is fake because the man in the white hat – believed to be Mohammed Sidique Khan – has been electronically placed on the picture after it was taken. They claim that it shows his arm behind a railing while the rest of his body is in front and that the bar behind his head goes across and in front of his face. Theorists postulate, among other things, that the bombs which went off on the Tube trains were actually under the floors of the vehicles and not in the alleged plotters’ back packs.
14. Paul is dead - “Paul is dead” is an urban legend alleging that Paul McCartney died in a car crash 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike and sound-alike. “Evidence” for McCartney’s death consists of “clues” found among the Beatles’ many recordings. Hundreds have been cited at various times by various people. They include statements allegedly heard when a song is played backwards, symbolism found in obscure lyrics, and ambiguous imagery on album covers. A few of them are well known, such as the fact that McCartney is the only barefooted Beatle and is out of step with the others on the cover of Abbey Road, pictured.
13. The disappearance of Shergar - On February 8, 1983, a group of men wearing balaclavas and armed with guns turned up at the Ballymany Stud Farm in Co Kildare, Ireland and took a hostage – Jim Fitzgerald, the stud’s head groom. “We’ve come for Shergar,” they said. “We want £2m for him.” Shergar was arguably the greatest racehorse to have ever lived. But 25 years after he was kidnapped from Ballymany the mystery of exactly what happened to him after he was snatched that night still lingers. The theories are numerous with the IRA, Colonel Gadaffi and the Mafia featuring among the most lurid. One story suggests that the IRA kidnapped the horse for Gadaffi in return for weapons. Another suggests that the New Orleans mafia took him.
12. Shakespeare was somebody else - Who really was the English language’s greatest writer? Among the numerous alternative candidates that have been proposed Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley (6th Earl of Derby) and Edward de Vere (17th Earl of Oxford), are the most popular. Theorists believe there is a lack of evidence proving that the actor and businessman sometimes known as Shaksper of Stratford was responsible for the body of works that bear his name. Very little biographical information exists about Shakespeare.
11. North American Union - The North American Union (NAU) is a theoretical regional union of Canada, Mexico and the United States similar in structure to the European Union, sometimes including a common currency called the amero. Theorists who believe that the three countries are planning for this believe that it is part of a global conspiracy to set up something called the New World Order (NWO).
Officials from all three nations have repeatedly denied that there are plans to create a NAU although the idea has been proposed in academic circles, either as a union or as a North American community as proposed by the Independent Task Force on North America. The amero received support in 1999 from Canadian economist Herbert Grubel, a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute think-tank, in a book entitled The Case for the Amero. Robert Pastor, vice-chairman of the Independent Task Force on North America, supported Grubel’s conclusions in his 2001 book Toward a North American Community, stating that: “In the long term, the amero is in the best interests of all three countries”.
10. MK-ULTRA - The code name for a covert mind-control and chemical interrogation research programme, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence. The programme began in the early 1950s, continuing at least through the late 1960s, using US citizens as test subjects. Project MK-ULTRA was brought first to wide public attention in 1975 by Congress and by the Rockefeller Commission. Investigative efforts were hampered by the fact that CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MK-ULTRA files destroyed in 1973.
Although the CIA insisted that MK-ULTRA-type experiments were abandoned, CIA veteran Victor Marchetti has stated in various interviews that the agency routinely conducts disinformation campaigns and that CIA mind control research continued. In a 1977 interview, Marchetti specifically called the CIA claim that MK-ULTRA was abandoned a “cover story”. Conspiracy theorists believe that MK-ULTRA was behind many so-called black-ops: Lawrence Teeter, the attorney for Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, pictured, believed Sirhan was operating under MK-ULTRA mind control techniques. Furthermore, Jonestown, the location in Guyana where members of the Jim Jones cult and Peoples Temple committed mass suicide, was thought to be a test site for MK-ULTRA medical experiments.
9. Operation Northwoods - A genuine conspiracy involving a plan by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to launch a fake Cuban terror campaign on American soil to persuade the US public to support an invasion against Castro. The plan involved bombings and the simultaneous hijacking and blowing up of American airliners. The operation was quashed by President Kennedy leading many to speculate that it was linked to his assassination a year later. The plan has also been linked by theorists who believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks were a so-called “inside job” because of the use of airliners.
8. Elvis Presley faked his own death - What can we say? A persistent belief is that “the King” did not die in 1977. Many fans persist in claiming he is still alive, that he went into hiding for various reasons. This claim is allegedly backed up by thousands of so-called sightings. The main reason given in support of the belief that Presley faked his death is that, on his grave, his middle name Aron is spelt as Aaron. But “Aaron” is actually the genuine middle name for Presley. Apparently, either Presley or his parents tried to change the name to “Aron” to make it more similar to Presley’s stillborn twin, Jesse Garon Presley. Two tabloid newspapers ran articles covering the continuing “life” of Presley after his death, in great detail, including a broken leg from a motorcycle accident, all the way up to his purported “real death” in the mid 1990s.
7. Diana, Princess of Wales, was murdered - Why won’t this one go away? Despite an official inquiry that found no evidence of a plot by MI6 or any other entity to murder the princess and Dodi Fayed in 1997, fevered speculation continues. The theory is that rogue elements in the British secret service decided that Diana’s relationship with Fayed was a threat to the monarchy and, therefore, to the British state. A plot was hatched in which a white Fiat Uno carrying agents was sent to blind and disorientate driver Henri Paul as he sped through the Paris underpass pursued by photographers. Later, Paul’s blood was switched with a sample of somebody who had drunk a lot of alcohol. The trouble with the theory? Not a shred of evidence exists to support it.
6. The Jesus conspiracy - The theory that launched a blockbusting novel (The Da Vinci Code), a film of the same name and a plagiarism battle in the courts (with the authors of the Holy Blood and holy grail). Those who believe in this – and they seem to number in their millions – think that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had one or more children, and that those children or their descendants emigrated to southern France. Once there, they intermarried with the noble families that would eventually become the Merovingian dynasty, whose special claim to the throne of France is championed today by a secret society called the Priory of Sion
5. The Illuminati and the New World Order - A conspiracy in which powerful and secretive groups (the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group and other shadowy cabals) are plotting to rule mankind with a single world government. Many historical events are said to have been engineered by these groups with one goal – the New World Order (NWO). The groups use political finance, social engineering, mind control, and fear-based propaganda to achieve their aims. Signs of the NWO are said to be the pyramid on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, inset, strange and disturbing murals at Denver International Airport, pictured, and pentagrams in city plans. International organisations such as the World Bank, the IMF, the European Union, the United Nations, and Nato are listed as founding organisations of the New World Order.
4. Nasa faked the moon landings - People who think that the Apollo moon landings were not all that they seemed at the time believe that Nasa faked some or all of the landings. Some of the theories surrounding this subject are that the Apollo astronauts did not land on the Moon; Nasa and possibly others intentionally deceived the public into believing the landings did occur by manufacturing, destroying, or tampering with evidence, including photos, telemetry tapes, transmissions, and rock samples; and that Nasa and possibly others continue to actively participate in the conspiracy to this day.
Those who think that Nasa faked some or all of the landings base their theories on photographs from the lunar surface which they claim show camera crosshairs partially behind rocks, a flag planted by Buzz Aldrin moving in a strange way, the lack of stars over the lunar landscape and shadows falling in different direction. Many commentators have published detailed rebuttals to the hoax claims, and these theories have been generally discounted but belief in them – particularly on the web – persists.
3. A flying saucer crashed at Roswell in 1947 - The event that kick-started more than a half century of conspiracy theories surrounding unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Something did crash at Roswell, New Mexico, sometime before July 7, 1947 and – at first – the US authorities stated explicitly that this was a flying saucer or disk – as shown by the splash story on that day’s Roswell Daily Record, pictured. Numerous witnesses reported seeing metallic debris scattered over a wide area and at least one reported seeing a blazing craft crossing the sky shortly before it crashed. In recent years, witnesses have added significant new details, including claims of a large military operation dedicated to recovering alien craft and aliens themselves, at as many as 11 crash sites, and alleged witness intimidation. In 1989, former mortician Glenn Dennis claimed that he was involved in alien autopsies which were carried out at the Roswell air force base.
The conspiracy theory has been fanned by the US military repeatedly changing its story. Within hours of the army telling reporters that it had recovered a crashed saucer, senior officers insisted that the only thing that had fallen from the sky had been a weather balloon. A report by the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force released in 1995, concluded that the reported recovered material in 1947 was likely debris from a secret government program called Project Mogul, which involved high altitude balloons meant to detect sound waves generated by Soviet atom bomb tests and ballistic missiles. A second report, released in 1997, concluded that reports of alien bodies were likely a combination of innocently transformed memories of military accidents involving injured or killed personnel, and the recovery of anthropomorphic dummies in military programs like Project High Dive conducted in the 1950s.
Since the late 1990s the debate about Roswell has polarised with several former pro-UFO researchers concluding that the craft was, indeed, part of a US military project and that it was, most likely, some sort of weather balloon. But further evidence has emerged – notably a signed affidavit by Walter Haut, the Roswell Army Air Field public affairs officer who had drafted the initial press release on July 8, 1947. Haut says in the affidavit -signed in 2002 – that he saw alien corpses and a craft and that he had been involved in a military cover up. Haut died in 2005.
2. The assassination of John F Kennedy - The 35th President of the United States was shot on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas at 12.30pm . He was fatally wounded by gunshots while riding with his wife – Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy – in a motorcade. The ten-month investigation of the Warren Commission of 1963 to 1964, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) of 1976 to 1979, and other government investigations concluded that the President had been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald – who was himself shot dead by Jack Ruby while in police custody.
But doubts about the official explanation and the conclusion that Oswald was the lone gunman firing from the Texas Book Depository overlooking Dealey Plaza where Kennedy was hit surfaced soon after the commission report. Footage of the motorcade taken by Abraham Zapruder on 8mm film supported the growing belief that at least four shots were fired – not the three that the Warren Commission claimed. The moments of impact recorded on the film also suggested that at least one of the shots came from a completely different direction to those supposedly fired by Oswald – evidence backed up by testimony of several eye witnesses. Many believed that several shots were fired by gunmen hiding behind a picket fence on a grassy knoll overlooking the plaza.
The assassination is still the subject of widespread speculation and has spawned numerous conspiracy theories, though none of these has been proven. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) found both the original FBI investigation and the Warren Commission Report to be seriously flawed. The HSCA also concluded that there were at least four shots fired and that it was probable that a conspiracy existed. However, later studies, including one by the National Academy of Sciences, have called into question the accuracy of the evidence used by the HSCA to support its finding of four shots.
1. September 11, 2001 - Thanks to the power of the web and live broadcasts on television, the conspiracy theories surrounding the events of 9/11 – when terrorists attacked the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington – have surpassed those of Roswell and JFK in traction. Despite repeated claims by al-Qaeda that it planned, organised and orchestrated the attacks, several official and unofficial investigations into the collapse of the Twin Towers which concluded that structural failure was responsible and footage of the events themselves, the conspiracy theories continue to grow in strength.
At the milder end of the spectrum are the theorists who believe that the US government had prior warning of the attacks but did not do enough to stop them. Others believe that the Bush administration deliberately turned a blind eye to those warnings because it wanted a pretext to launch wars in the Middle East to usher in another century of American hegemony. A large group of people – collectively called the 9/11 Truth Movement – cite evidence that an airliner did not hit the Pentagon and that the World Trade Centre could not have been brought down by airliner impacts and burning aviation fuel alone. This final group points to video evidence which they claim shows puffs of smoke – so-called demoliton squibs – emerging from the Twin Towers at levels far below the aircraft impact zones and prior to the collapses. They also believe that, on the day itself, the US air force was deliberately stood down or sent on exercises to prevent intervention that could have saved the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
Many witnesses – including firemen, policemen and people who were inside the towers at the time – claim to have heard explosions below the aircraft impacts (including in basement levels) and before both the collapses and the attacks themselves. As with the assassination of JFK, the official inquiry into the events – the 9/11 Commission Report – is widely derided by the conspiracy community and held up as further evidence that 9/11 was an “inside job”. Scientific journals have consistently rejected these hypotheses.