Making shit up
In my early days on social media, way back at the fag-end of the last decade, a couple of friends and I came up with an idea. We’d spent our time in the trenches, arguing with racist boneheads of various stripes (whose fixation, then as now, woz the Muzzies) and we’d become wearily and warily amused by their inability to discern fantasy from fact.
So there we were, blackly cynical and somewhat despairing, when one of us – I’d claim it as me, but I can’t be 100% – came up with the idea “let’s make up something to get them angry”. We decided to invent a ludicrous story – “COUNCILS BAN CHEWING GUM BECAUSE IT OFFENDS MUSLIMS”, mock up a few tabloid headlines in photoshop (“Wriggle Off! Hands off our gum say patriots!”), fill in a backstory using some concocted Hadith that x got from y that got from x that saw the Prophet exclaim ‘the idolator chews the cud like the calf’, set up a Facebook group advertising this outrage, sit back and wait. When it hit critical mass, and thousands of knuckle-draggers had joined to vent their rage at the demonic, chewing-gum-banning ‘other’, we’d change the name of the group to “I’m a gullible racist idiot”, and reveal loudly in every post that we made this shit up. Haha! Fooled you, RACISTS!
At some point in our brainstorming, one of us – not me, oh, not me, I was drunk on the heady grape of fabulising – gently pointed out that no matter how often we told these people that their treasured “fact” was made up, they never actually accepted it, so why would this instance be any different? We could, in essence, be creating a monster, in fact, they’d probably incorporate it into their victimology – the lefties are trying to hide the truth about the muslim plot against chewing gum!
That sobered us up quite quickly, and in the spirit of social responsibility, we dropped the idea – a little regretfully on my part, me always having had a slight wish to troll the world.
I guess, in that brief moment, I felt a little what it must be like to be Abosamir Albaidani.
You probably don’t know who he is. There’s no reason for you to. But if you’ve been surfing social media of any sort for the past 4 to 6 weeks, you’ve encountered what appears to be his work*
Yeah, you’ve probably seen it. “Hornet’s Nest” ring any bells? It’s been bouncing back and forth between social media and Middle Eastern news agencies, conspiracist sites and social media, in an ever growing feedback loop since around the beginning of July. Here’s a summary, from the marvellously un-woo Global Research (imagine my voice dripping with sarcasm as I say that last sentence):-
The former employee at US National Security Agency (NSA), Edward Snowden, has revealed that the British and American intelligence and the Mossad worked together to create the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Snowden said intelligence services of three countries created a terrorist organisation that is able to attract all extremists of the world to one place, using a strategy called “the hornet’s nest”.
NSA documents refer to recent implementation of the hornet’s nest to protect the Zionist entity by creating religious and Islamic slogans.
According to documents released by Snowden, “The only solution for the protection of the Jewish state “is to create an enemy near its borders”.
Leaks revealed that ISIS leader and cleric Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi took intensive military training for a whole year in the hands of Mossad, besides courses in theology and the art of speech.
It’s easy to make fun of conspiracy theories. I’ve done it a lot in my time, and I guess I will again, but to make fun of them is perhaps to gloss over the fact that we are all susceptible to a little bit of conspiracist thinking. One of the most rational men I have ever encountered, for instance, is a climate change skeptic, and I admit I find it baffling how he can on the one hand demolish woo-thinking and on the other hand subscribe to a belief system which has all the classic architecture of a conspiracy theory**.
And this one has it all, for everyone. You can be stupid, or you can be clever. You can be a cynic who mistrusts your governments intentions; a “Realist” who thinks “this is the way of the world”; Someone who feels superior at their incompetence; you can be a muslim who wants to wash away the shame of your religion being associated with such nutjobs, a leftist or a liberal who wants to lay all the blame of the world at the feet of the west; a howling mad anti-semitic right-winger; this conspiracy theory has it all. Boxes ticked left, right and centre.
The only problem is, I’ve never yet encountered a conspiracy theory so successful that renders itself implausible so damn quickly.
Let’s start at the top – Edward Snowden has revealed.
The only problem we have with this is, well…
Back when the Snowden story first broke I started following it. It was quite interesting, after the revelations, being told by someone “the conspiracy theorists had it right”, because, well, it wasn’t that shocking. His revelations were a mix of the “well, we’ve already been told that in some shape or other, but I’m slightly alarmed by the scope of it”, the “well, it isn’t as though I expected any different” and the “d’uh? What the hell do you think spies do?”. The former were mainly to do with domestic surveillance, and while elements of it had been explained in various news stories over the past decade, the context of the War on Terror and the Patriot Act and all our extraordinary measures over this side of the pond meant that there had never really been a proper societal debate around how much surveillance we think is acceptable, and where the parameters lie. The latter stuff? Shock horror, spies spy on other governments. We were meant to be surprised by this?
Anyway, as I said, the former stuff needed airing, and discussing. I did tend to notice then, though, that Snowden, and especially his minder Glenn Greenwald, rather over-egged the pudding on a number of occasions – for example, there was one story about how the NSA allowed agents to act without a warrant, which was shocking, until you read the document Glenn was extrapolating from, which said something along the lines of “in the case of a life or death, absolute emergency situation, you can act without a warrant, but you better be ready to justify it to a disciplinary committee afterwards” (I paraphrase). Glenn, of course, read that “the NSA will always act without a warrant”.
The above point made, it remains a mystery to me why Glenn never trumpeted, shouted from the rooftops, even mildly declaimed, at any point, an interview where he revealed that ED HAD EVIDENCE THAT THE CIA AND MOSSAD WERE BEHIND ISIS!!! No. He hasn’t. In fact, if you head over to Twitter, where Glenn does most of his public pronouncing, when asked on the subject, Glenn has said the exact opposite – that no such interview ever happened, and that Snowden never told him any such thing.
Even more puzzling is part II of my query. Why precisely Ed Snowden is revealing this to us? You see, the thing is, Ed worked for the NSA. The NSA, well, they bug. They listen in. They intercept. They monitor. They don’t at any point recruit Iraqis to become deep-cover insurgents pretending to be jihadists but in actualite acting on behalf of their zionist paymasters. That’s more CIA territory, I would guess. So, unless Ed was listening in on the CIA or Mossad (again, a subject for Glenn to trumpet from the rooftops. He hasn’t, by the way, just to fill you in), then how precisely would a guy whose job it is to monitor email know about this fiendish plot?
And then comes the kicker. You see, back when I was telling the story about our imaginary Muslim OUTRAGE, you will notice we built into it some little details. These curlicues on the tale would be what made the hoax plausible – a mocked up tabloid headline, a Hadith or Koranic verse, maybe a quote from a fictitious PC councillor. They didn’t have to be water-tight, but they did have to be, well, believable.
I’ll hold my hand up here and say I’m not a great expert on the inner workings of the intelligence world – I’ve read the official history of MI5, as well as a book on the CIA (“Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner, highly recommended) and the odd spy novel – but the one thing I do know is that when intelligence agencies plan an operation, they give it a codename (as with the military) that doesn’t really mean anything, or relate to the action in hand. Think D-Day and Overlord? Or, indeed, think of the overthrow of the Mossadegh in Iran (Operation Ajax in the US, Operation Boot in the UK). And so forth. What they don’t tend to do – in my, admittedly, limited understanding – is codename a mission so it sounds exactly like the thing they are planning to do. HEY WE WANT TO STIR UP A HORNET’S NEST? LET’S CALL IT “OPERATION HORNET’S NEST”! That’ll be covert!
I don’t want to be particularly pious about this – I get that we all have that urge to mistrust our governments and leaders. I do it regularly myself. But when something medieval, straight out of the dark ages, combines with the nihilistic urges of the Khmer Rouge, adds the media savvy of people raised in Internet 2.0 era and goes ravaging around the Middle East, beheading and raping, murdering and defiling, perhaps now isn’t the best time to be indulging in the fantasies you picked up watching the Bourne movies, or heading off to websites that suspiciously never link to any of the evidence they claim to have. Perhaps, maybe, a bit of attention on the real matter in hand may be an idea?
*I say appears, we can’t definitively say he was Hoaxer Zero, as the sterling detective behind this blog points out, but we can at least say he’s the first one we can track down:- http://snowdenhoax.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/andreasept.html?m=1
**Said gentleman is of the right, who, back in the day, were the repository of conspiracism, as pointed out in the magnificent essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. Such halcyon days are gone now, though, and you are as likely to find wibble on the left as the right. I’ve gnawed over why the left currently seem so likely to fall for such nonsense, this is my tribe after all, and the answer I can come up with is something to do with the whole stuff about the grand movements of societies and class is all well and good, but people simplify it in their mind. It’s all well and good Marx thundering on about “class struggle”, in a sense he’s talking in the abstract – the struggle is there but it isn’t conscious – classes pursue their interests because, well, classes pursue their interests. Grand, but the human mind needs to simplify. It has to become a “they”. And they have to be working consciously.