What’s the Difference Between a Whistleblower and a Mad Conspiracy Theorist?

Annie McMahon. Photo: Jakob Steinschaden (CC)

Annie McMahon. Photo: Jakob Steinschaden (CC)

Satirist Brendan O’Neill continues the theme of the day – whistleblowers – in this essay for the Telegraph:

What’s the difference between a whistleblower and a conspiracy theorist? Sometimes it can be very hard to tell.

This week, Annie Machon, former MI5 intelligence official, won praise for announcing that she is setting up a fund called Courage to help whistleblowers. According to Wired, the aim of the Courage Fund to Protect Journalistic Sources, to give it its full title, is to “encourage [more] whistleblowers to come forward” and spill the beans on the dastardly doings in the government or security department they work in. Ms Machon, who together with her then partner David Shayler left MI5 in 1996 and subsequently told the world about some of the dodgier things it was getting up to, was earlier this year included in a list of “brave whistleblowers” in the Guardian.

I know Ms Machon in a rather different capacity – not as an allegedly brave and level-headed revealer of truths about MI5, but as a spouter of utter bunkum about 9/11. In 2006, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I was sent by the New Statesman to interview Ms Machon and Mr Shayler at their home in Highgate. It wasn’t only their home but also the unofficial headquarters of the 9/11 Truth Movement, a conspiracy-theory outfit that believes America attacked itself on 11 September 2001. I described Machon and Shayler as “the Richard and Judy of the 9/11 conspiracy theory set”.

Machon told me that on 9/11 the Pentagon was attacked by a “missile fired by a US military plane”. I was also treated to claims that the World Trade Centre was brought down by a “controlled demolition” organised by the US government and that the 7/7 bombings were organised by British intelligence. Why? Because Western governments wanted an excuse to get stuck into wars in the Middle East in order to “make billions upon trillions of dollars”. It was one of the craziest afternoon chats I’ve ever had (though the tea was nice).

The fact that Ms Machon, believer in hidden puppeteers behind the worst-ever terrorist atrocity, has recently been rehabilitated to the extent that she is celebrated in the Guardian and by the whistleblower-cheering Twitterati is very interesting. I suppose it could simply show that people are willing to overlook her crankier claims, given that she is such a loud champion of that much-cheered modern trend of whistleblowing.

Or – and my money is on this one – it demonstrates that whistleblowers and conspiracy theorists are cut from the same cloth, are driven by the same dark view of the world as a sinister place controlled by tiny cliques hidden from the ignorant masses. I think the reason Ms Machon can successfully straddle the worlds of conspiracy theorising and whistleblowing is because these two worlds are becoming increasingly alike…

[continues at the Telegraph]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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32 Comments on "What’s the Difference Between a Whistleblower and a Mad Conspiracy Theorist?"

  1. heinrich6666 | Jan 2, 2014 at 2:17 pm |

    Threw up in my mouth. Spat and rinsed. Threw up again.

  2. This site sucks. I’m blocking your insanity.

  3. Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 3:46 pm |

    I’m pretty sure a very elementary answer to the question exists: one has proof, and hence is no longer a “theorist” in the field of conspiracies. Edward Snowden and Stephen Jones are not “cut from the same cloth”. An adult ought to be able to tell the difference.

    • Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm |

      to whit: one is on the run from a lengthy prison sentence, the other sells DVDs.

  4. I’ve suspected that pair of being disinformation agents for a long time. There is much disinformation on 9/11, and this helps discredit the entire truth movement. Case in point, this is the only type of article that gets published in the Telegraph or the Guardian.

    No one should post bullshit about the 9/11 attacks. If you cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, then shut the fuck up. Those who ramble on with flaky claims need to be ostracized and called out as frauds.

    • Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm |

      The problem with the “if you cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt” idea is the enormous grey area within the term “reasonable”. It can work in the scientific community where established boundaries keep people from abusing the term, but for the layman you either allow sloppy science or fall victim to the same fallacy that the Verificationists collapsed beneath: if you only accept explanations that can be verified as either true or false, your own motto becomes self-defeating.

      • You’re rambling off into semantics. Absurd gibberish dressed up as “9/11 Truth” hurts us all. There was no “missile” witnessed by anyone at the Pentagon, period. All witnesses saw a commercial sized plane. The claim is so outlandish that making it discredits the speaker. They should remain discredited and no longer humored, in my opinion. Same goes for the “space beam” directed energy weapons posited by people like Judy Wood, James Fetzer and Webster Tarpley. The idea is so ridiculous it should have discredited those people beyond repair a long time ago. People who repeat gibbereish under the all-purpose banner “9/11 Truth” are no allies of mine and should be called out as frauds. That’s disinformation at work. The MI5 pair mentioned above have similar credibility issues, not least of which is their longstanding relationship with British intelligence!

        • heinrich6666 | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:02 pm |

          Hysterical bullshit. But I salute you for its sheer mendacity!

          I suspect my wife is having an affair. She behaves differently. She has started to dress nicer, and her schedule has changed. She comes home at different times. The other day she bought new lingerie, and I discovered she got a new mobile phone that she’s been keeping from me.

          Your position is I should shut the fuck up until I can prove anything. Of course, you’re full of shit — but perhaps my use of the word ‘shit’ is just semantics. The fact is, when she tells me that her behavior *hasn’t* changed, and the phone isn’t new at all, that she’s had it for a year or two — and that the lingerie was something she found on a park bench — I should *accept* her official story.

          Same old story: members of the public don’t know how to reason. I can say the official story is false as it has been presented without any fucking idea what the true story is.

          • I think you misunderstood the context. You don’t go around claiming your wife is screwing the mechanic if you have no evidence of that. Do you see the difference?

            The 9/11 Truth Movement is full of bullshit, an outrageous amount of bullshit, all demonstrable. That’s not “truth,” which is the point of it all — for some of us, anyway. What you can prove is the truth. The rest is speculation. There is nothing “hysterical” in what I write, contrary to many I could name.

            If you’re going to accuse me of something, get your story straight.

          • heinrich6666 | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:10 pm |

            It’s not my job to infer your complete and precise position from your brief comments. But if what I suggested is not your view, then it isn’t. Here’s an idea though: don’t you think we need to separate out the two very different types of things being presented by the 9/11 Truth people you condemn — the problems with the evidence for the official story, on the one hand, and the theories they develop to account for that evidence on the other?

          • Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:22 pm |

            I would agree (even though you haven’t asked me). Claiming “lasers/holograms/conventional explosives that don’t make noise like conventional explosives/nukes/aliens/Tom Bombadil did it” is a vastly different discussion than “we’re not being told the whole story”. The latter is, I’ve been led to believe, a natural state of affairs.

          • heinrich6666 | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:45 pm |

            It’s straightforward as I see it. Certain anomalous things happen — for example, one day gigantic towers burst into flames and collapse. Without knowing anything more, you accept a theory based on that ‘evidence’ — that Al Qaeda flew planes into them, etc. Then other pieces of evidence or data points appear. The story must be stretched to account for them. Eventually, however, the official story no longer holds up, unless you’re lying to yourself. Still doesn’t mean you know what happened per se. You can try to connect the dots yourself — and certain people do. They want to rush right out there and be crusaders and be the FIRST ONE TO DISCOVER THE TRUTH!!!

            So in this, I’m fully with the commenter above. A lot of the ‘positive’ theories on 9/11 strike me as rubbish. For example, everyone points to Building 7. I accept the collapse of Building 7 as an obvious glaring physical anomaly. But how did it serve anyone’s purpose to bring it down? If, for example, 9/11 was done in order to take American imperialism into a higher gear, how did Bldg. 7 accomplish that? Nobody remembers WTC 7 except Truthers. What’s more, bringing the building down many hours after the impacts could only draw attention to the ‘conspirators’.

            Like any complex historical events, there are numerous angles that you simply cannot deduce from available evidence. Consider: even those who take 9/11 to be a hoax (shorthand here) often also believe that Flight 93 was shot down. Now, if you’re a 9/11 cabalist, and you took that plane off-course so you could fly it into a building (whether using hijackers, remote-control flight, etc.) — why then shoot it down?

            The answers I’ve heard to these issues from 9/11 truth so far are a little too pat. I don’t accept that WTC 7 had to come down because it was the command center for the conspiracy! I don’t accept that Flight 93 was going to be flown into Building 7, but when it ‘crashed’, the bombs went off anyway.

            At the same time, and it goes without saying, I don’t accept the official story as true. What if the Air Force shot down Flight 93 to save lives and to prevent another crash? What if Al-Qaeda was a front for a foreign intelligence service (say Saudi Arabia) and that the US Military itself had been infiltrated? The Gov’t could never let that story get out to the public for a thousand reasons. Perhaps it simply couldn’t invade Saudi Arabia for all sorts of geopolitical reasons. Perhaps it decided to hit Iraq and Afghanistan instead, thinking four or five moves ahead like a chess player in order to hit Saudi Arabia later?

            I’m not sold on any of these speculations. But the point is: there’s a difference between taking a negative view on the official story and a positive view on some alternate theory.

          • Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:08 pm |

            well I think “hysterical” is a bit of a hyperbole.

          • heinrich6666 | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:10 pm |

            A hysterical hyperbole.

        • Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:04 pm |

          I agree with everything you’ve said regarding 9/11. These people have nothing near plausible proof, and shouldn’t be taken seriously (and, in fact, are not taken seriously by the scientific community). My comment was directed at the dangers of both half-assed empiricism and extreme empiricism — one allows too much bullshit, the and the other is self-defeating. “The only claims that have meaning are claims that can be verified as either true or false” is a claim that cannot be verified as either true or false.

        • Where was the plane wreckage?

          • Tuna Ghost | Jan 3, 2014 at 4:05 am |

            If you’re talking about the Pentagon, it was scattered around the crash site where several people took pictures of it. Later, when shown the pictures of the wreckage, Truthers posited that it was brought in after the fact to give the appearance of a plane crash, which is a pretty perfect example of a cognitive bias.

  5. Craig Bickford | Jan 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm |

    There are several non-crazy hypotheticals about 9/11 and 7/7 that I think are workable. One is that 9/11 was a controlled opposition operation, ala Red Brigades and or RAF style manipulation (see Richard Cotrell’s book Galdio for a very good run down of how all these strategy of tension operations functioned under NATO auspices, and how it is actually old hat for the CIA/NATO power structure to use false flags, and controlled opposition to manipulate the citizenry). As far as secret missiles and holographic planes and that shit, that is craziness. I know someone who’s father has worked in the Pentagon system for years, doing black bag operations all the way back to the 70’s. He saw the plane coming in that day when it hit the Pentagon, he was in the parking lot, so yeah it’s hard to argue against eye witnesses, but we have such a history of doing with US backed war atrocities that I guess we are conditioned to disbelieve eye witnesses too. Any way, Cotrell him self and others have pointed out the eye witnesses to some pretty clear manipulation with 7/7 as well, like the incredibly coincidental that a training exercise was running on the same day, at the same time, for the same situation, and was all video taped as the Press rep for the company was live o BBC trying to make sense of it himself. Then there is the doctored photographs of the suspects, the fact that train goers saw bright blue flashes from the sides of the train through the windows, a few seconds before the explosions took place, and a couple other weird things about the subway details. Another incident involved a man who ran from authorities after the bombing, who is been one of the only or few survivors of the bus bombing, who stated there were military personnel on scene right after the bombing, and men in plain clothes who were not on the bus show appeared out of no where with fake blood and bandages already in place. Then the families could nto get autopsy results for year afterward, or causes of death form the MoD/Scotland Yard. So the point is there is a history of these things happening, and we can see the hallmarks of the previous historical episodes echoes in these fairly recent Gladio style operations (I’m talking decades when I say that a terror attack was 8 years ago), like bothers up conspiracies, mistakes, odd coincidences that repeat in separate episodes etc. Not really a stretch, although I think people get too lost in the details, when there are in fact many ways to execute strategy of tension style operations that don’t always need hands on activity by the government involved necessarily.

    • heinrich6666 | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:29 pm |

      I agree with this in the main. But it depends on what type of analysis you’re doing. If you’re restricting your scope to the mechanics used to carry out these types of operations, then what’s described in this note strikes me as closer to the truth than any cartoonish, top-down orchestration of certain big events. However, those who still hold the government of their respective countries 100% responsible are not altogether wrong. If the government deceives the public by knowingly presenting a false history of a given event, or even if it fails to do a proper investigation, the ‘Government’ as a monolithic entity can still be held to account as a target of public outrage. The ‘Government’ has a responsibility to protect its citizens, to tell the truth, etc. I guess it comes down to a distinction between responsibility and causality.

  6. Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:12 pm |

    I would very much like this to not turn into a discussion about the events of 9/11. That discussion has been done to death already here on Disinfo, and it doesn’t address the topic of the article. Anyways, I think both sides of that debate can agree this article is pretty half-assed, so let’s join together and mock it.

    • heinrich6666 | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:19 pm |

      You have to ask, though, how it is the author gets from conspiracy theorists to whistleblowers. All they have in common really is that they are enemies of the State, i.e. they allege criminality at the highest levels of the State. The article is just a veiled plea to idiots among the public that they should hate and despise whistleblowers as they do conspiracy theorists. But it has an odd reverse kind of logic: by linking the two together, it’s like a case of the lady who doth protest too much. A Glenn Greenwald, for example, tries to maintain a sanitized separation between whistleblowing a la Snowden and conspiracy theory a la 9/11 Truth. Without meaning to do so, this idiotic article rather validates conspiracy theories by making the link a Greenwald refuses to make.

      • Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:24 pm |

        I’ve been drinking a lot tonight, but that still sounds like a valid point. The author may have inadvertently shared Snowden’s credibility with the Truther’s.

      • Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:26 pm |

        I’m unwilling to comment on the motivations, though. Incompetence is usually my prime suspect. He’s a repeat offender, you see.

        • heinrich6666 | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:32 pm |

          I think the picture of the ‘Government’ presented to the public is one of incompetence. But this is really rather more a picture of the legislative branch of government. The stories of sex-crazed, incompetent, buffoonish — even mentally ill — politicians stick in the public mind. But at least in the US, there’s a whole vast and mostly unseen territory of government that is full of people who know how to get things done. They have billions of dollars, power, and training. Of course, they’re all warring against one another, and often the left hand doesn’t know what the right’s doing. In fact, in intelligence, this is the rule. I view events like 9/11 not as miraculous at all. They’re like magic tricks. They seem impossible — until you know the trick.

          • Tuna Ghost | Jan 2, 2014 at 5:42 pm |

            I agree to a point, since I know very competent people that have been recruited by the State Department likely for the very fact that they are capable of actually getting things done. I believe, however, that the thing they’re getting done is clinging by their fingernails to the edge of a goddam disaster that is only barely kept in containment. They’re the left hand frantically trying to prevent the right hand from sticking a fork in the electrical socket. But then, I’m an optimist.

  7. Every week now Dininfo has an article attacking “conspiracy theorists.” What is going on here? I first read Disinfo books because of the interesting alternative reporting, much of it conspiratorial in nature. Has this publication been taking over by the Neocons? They hate any discussion that questions establishment mythologies. What exactly are you afraid of?

  8. DrDavidKelly | Jan 3, 2014 at 3:14 am |

    Yup this article is very kindergarten. It simplifies a much more complex issue then makes sweeping comparisons – well if Assange is like Icke then all whistleblowers must be conspiracy theory nut bags duh huh ho ho I’m not wearing any underwear. There’s nothing crazy about questioning the official 9/11 story – governments have pulled shit like this before why the hell would you think they’re not doing it again? What they’ve all become nicer? It’s a perfectly sane proposition to suggest that the official story isn’t true and given that all the evidence was summarily removed, the apparent mastermind apparently murdered and his body dumped at sea, no autopsy, no trial, no nothing. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to think something is amiss, just mildly inquisitive will get you there.

    • VaudeVillain | Jan 4, 2014 at 6:47 pm |

      You also need not be a complete moron to believe that a government-run conspiracy necessitating the knowing complicity of literally hundreds or thousands of people who have never managed to come forward nor disappear into the abyss is even less likely than the official story being less-than-fully-honest.

      I have no doubt that there are people in positions of power and information who coldly exploited 9/11, I strongly suspect some of them had prior knowledge of the event, and I can even believe that a few played an active part in creating it. What I cannot possibly believe is that anyone remotely capable of pulling off a hoax that elaborate would even consider doing so… especially given that they already had a *huge* network of cutouts and opposition assets in place and active who could do it just as easily and far more convincingly.

      Let me put it this way: if 9/11 really *was* an “inside job” falsified with controlled demolitions and missiles and whatever-the-fuck, then the people who perpetrated it are highly capable and intelligent. They would have to be, because otherwise they never could have pulled that shit off. Try organizing a picnic for 20 people sometime, witness the amount of shit that goes wrong with even a simple, straightforward, benign plan like that, then tell me that anyone who is not a fucking genius could have pulled that shit off, in one take, without a hitch big enough for fucking everyone to see it in, like, 5 seconds.

      So, anyway, highly intelligent and capable. Also, clearly, evil sons-of-bitches. None of this is mutually exclusive, all of it is necessary for this hypothetical train to not completely fall apart before it even leaves the station.

      Those highly capable and intelligent people *also* spent nearly 50 years, not to mention a SHITLOAD of money, building and fostering a network of international agents and assets specifically for the purpose executing false-flag operations, guerrilla warfare, insurgency, propaganda, and the wonderful catchall “terrorism” in virtually any location you can think of.

      So, ask yourself, what the fuck were these highly intelligent and capable people thinking when they decided not to use their big, elaborate, effective, expensive network of psychopaths who everyone believes absolutely would do something like this and would provide immediate excuse to do everything these geniuses wanted to do with minimal explanation or contortion, and instead decided to do some other dumb shit? Seriously, how fucking stupid do you think these people would have to be?

      • DrDavidKelly | Jan 4, 2014 at 7:59 pm |

        Welcome to the CIA. I too have difficultly in grasping the logistics behind the organisation of such an event as 9/11 but what the fuck do I know and what the fuck do you know (respectfully)? Maybe something like this is easier to pull off than you would think. Also, as you mentioned, there are conspiracies surrounding 9/11, some plausible, some wacko. Like yourself I think prior knowledge of the event is pretty much assured but I’ll go a little further and contend that the towers were bought down by controlled demolition. The upshot of this is a whole other kettle of fish. I think Heinrich6666 makes an interesting point when he says:

        “I think the picture of the ‘Government’ presented to the public is one
        of incompetence. But this is really rather more a picture of the
        legislative branch of government. The stories of sex-crazed,
        incompetent, buffoonish — even mentally ill — politicians stick in the
        public mind. But at least in the US, there’s a whole vast and mostly
        unseen territory of government that is full of people who know how to
        get things done. They have billions of dollars, power, and training. Of
        course, they’re all warring against one another, and often the left hand
        doesn’t know what the right’s doing. In fact, in intelligence, this is
        the rule. I view events like 9/11 not as miraculous at all. They’re like
        magic tricks. They seem impossible — until you know the trick.”

        As for evil well I think the powers that be have proven themselves time and time again that they really are a bunch of evil cunts. I have no problem believing that such an act could be committed by these people. Depending on the depth of your suspicion also depends on the number of people who might actually be needed to pull this thing off. I guess my other problem is the lack of evidence. If 9/11 did go the way the official story says it did then why was the evidence so quickly disposed of? And now that there is such a large number of people calling for a second investigation why won’t the government heed these calls and put this thing to bed instead of continually dismissing the whole issue. If there wasn’t a cover-up why are they covering it up?

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