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The 9 Most Shocking Conspiracy Theories
That Turned Out to be True

Most people can't resist getting the details on the latest conspiracy theories, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. At the same time, many people quickly denounce any conspiracy theory as untrue ... and sometimes as unpatriotic or just plain ridiculous.

While intelligent cynicism certainly can be healthy, though, some of the greatest discoveries of all time were initially received (often with great vitriol) as blasphemous conspiracy theories -- think of the revelation that the earth was not the center of the universe, or that the world was not flat but actually round.

conspiracy theories

Have you heard? About five decades ago the CIA gave LSD and other drugs to people, without their consent, in an attempt to develop a truth serum.

What follows are some of these most shocking modern conspiracy theories that were apparently right all along.

(Of course, the counter-claims of conspiracy theory regarding some remain open ... and who knows?)

  1. The Dreyfus Affair: In the late 1800s in France, Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason based on false government documents, and sentenced to life in prison. The French government did attempt to cover this up, but Dreyfus was eventually pardoned after the affair was made public (an act that is credited to writer Émile Zola).

  2. The Mafia: This secret crime society was virtually unknown until the 1960s, when member Joe Valachi first revealed the society's secrets to law enforcement officials.

  3. MK-ULTRA: In the 1950s to the 1970s, the CIA ran a mind-control project aimed at finding a "truth serum" to use on communist spies. Test subjects were given LSD and other drugs, often without consent, and some were tortured. At least one man, civilian biochemist Frank Olson, who was working for the government, died as a result of the experiments. The project was finally exposed after investigations by the Rockefeller Commission.

  4. Operation Mockingbird: Also in the 1950s to '70s, the CIA paid a number of well-known domestic and foreign journalists (from big-name media outlets like Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CBS and others) to publish CIA propaganda. The CIA also reportedly funded at least one movie, the animated "Animal Farm," by George Orwell. The Church Committee finally exposed the activities in 1975.

  5. Watergate: Republican officials spied on the Democratic National Headquarters from the Watergate Hotel in 1972. While conspiracy theories suggested underhanded dealings were taking place, it wasn't until 1974 that White House tape recordings linked President Nixon to the break-in and forced him to resign.

  6. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study: The United States Public Health Service carried out this clinical study on 400 poor, African-American men with syphilis from 1932 to 1972. During the study the men were given false and sometimes dangerous treatments, and adequate treatment was intentionally withheld so the agency could learn more about the disease. While the study was initially supposed to last just six months, it continued for 40 years. Close to 200 of the men died from syphilis or related complications by the end of the study.

Operation Northwoods conspiracy

Operation Northwoods was a well-orchestrated plan by top U.S. military leaders to create public support for a war against Cuba -- by carrying out acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, hijacking planes, sinking Cuban refugee boats and more.

  1. Operation Northwoods: In the early 1960s, American military leaders drafted plans to create public support for a war against Cuba, to oust Fidel Castro from power. The plans included committing acts of terrorism in U.S. cities, killing innocent people and U.S. soldiers, blowing up a U.S. ship, assassinating Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees, and hijacking planes. The plans were all approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but were reportedly rejected by the civilian leadership, then kept secret for nearly 40 years.

  2. The Iran-Contra Affair: In 1985 and '86, the White House authorized government officials to secretly trade weapons with the Israeli government in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages in Iran. The plot was uncovered by Congress in 1987.

  3. 1990 Testimony of Nayirah: A 15-year-old girl named "Nayirah" testified before the U.S. Congress that she had seen Iraqi soldiers pulling Kuwaiti babies from incubators, causing them to die. The testimony helped gain major public support for the 1991 Gulf War, but -- despite protests that the dispute of this story was itself a conspiracy theory -- it was later discovered that the testimony was false. It was actually the creation of public relations firm Hill & Knowlton for the purpose of promoting the Gulf War.

Recommended Reading

Your Old Cell Phone Can Betray ALL of Your Secrets -- Be Careful

How Many Lawsuits are There in the U.S. & What are They For? An Amazing Overview


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

ABC News

BBC News

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