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10 Unlikely But Unnerving Conspiracy Theories Of The 2000s

by David Tormsen
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The 2000s didn’t end all that long ago, but it’s easy to forget details and aspects of that time, back before there was Oculus Rift pornography, ISIS Twitter feeds, and Donald Trump as a serious Republican candidate. This is particularly noticeable with conspiracy theories. Neither as fresh as current wild speculations nor as settled as historical conspiratorial lore, they have an odd edge about them, like swishing old wine in your mouth and trying to figure out whether or not it has turned to vinegar.

10Israel Attacked The USS Cole


Photo credit: USN

The USS Cole was attacked in Aden Harbor, Yemen, in October 2000 in a terrorist bombing linked to Al-Qaeda. The official story is that the ship was attacked when a small boat pretended to help the Cole to moor then exploded an onboard bomb. However, according to supposed former CIA agent John O’Neill, the attack on the USS Cole was actually a cover-up for a false flag operation by the CIA and Mossad. Instead of an explosive-laden boat, he claims, the ship was attacked by a Dolphin-class missile launched from an Israeli submarine.

The main motivation behind the attack, he claims, was to push public opinion against both Al-Qaeda and the Democrats in the lead-up to the 2000 election. He also makes a coy occult allusion to the date of the attack, which happened on the birthday of Aleister Crowley.

The FBI and US Navy investigated the bombing and determined it could not have been prevented. The Israel attack theory loses some credence because Osama bin Laden read a poem praising the attack broadcast on Al Jazeera and then sang about it in a later video. Over the course of investigations, Yemeni citizens would be arrested in connection with the bombing, and the Sudanese government ordered to pay compensation for their facilitation of the attack.

9BAe Systems And The Columbia Disaster


Photo credit: NASA

One day before the shuttle Columbia disaster occurred in the United States, British defense contractor BAe Systems sold its 25 percent stake in the space joint venture Astrium to its rival company European Aeronautic Defence and Space (Eads). It also sold control of Paradigm Secure Communications, which had just concluded a £2 billion communications contract with the Ministry of Defense.

One conspiracy theorist saw that as too much of a coincidence and has suggested that NASA and the US government knew there was going to be a disaster with Columbia, which would put the global aerospace industry into jeopardy. The theory says the US gave BAe that information, which prompted a sale so the UK defense industry could dodge a bullet and allow the liability to be instead adopted by those unreliable, cheese-eating Europeans.

The theory further claimed that heat-resistant tiles on Columbia’s left wing were damaged by foam insulation just after launch. They suggest this means that NASA mission control might have known that the Columbia was doomed, and they tried to get the silver lining to the cloud by tipping off BAe Systems that the space industry was about to take a massive hit. Alternatively, British Intelligence assets could have found out about the problem and passed on the information themselves. Regardless, while the narrative is unlikely, it is true that Eads was in financial trouble only a few weeks after the Columbia disaster.

8Occult Taipei 101


Photo credit: peellden/Wikimedia

When Taipei 101 opened on December 31, 2004, it was the tallest building in the world, and some were soon pointing out the occult significance behind it. One blog pointed out the new skyscraper was opening exactly 333 days after the collapse of an 11-story apartment building in Konya, Turkey. This suggested a human sacrifice by occult forces, at least to those inclined to both conspiratorial thinking and complicated numerology.

Another theorist pointed out that Taipei 101 was exactly 1,671 feet tall, while the Eiffel Tower has exactly 1,671 steps, which apparently means something. At the same time, Taipei 101 is 1441 feet high, pi is approximately 22/7, a stone is a unit of measure, and 6.227 stone equals 1441.51655 kilograms. One blogger asks “COINCIDENCE? . . . Can these connections be by accident or part of an ancient occult science based on numbers? The reader must decide.”

Still others argued that earthquakes said to have been exacerbated by the construction of the skyscraper were evidence the building was a form of architectural tectonic warfare, possibly at the hands of China or the CIA. Finally, there are those that say Taipei 101 is yet another example of “illuminated obelisks” built by the Illuminati to show their global dominance, along with others built around the globe.

Or, it’s just a big building.

7Anthrax Deception


Photo via Wikimedia

The anthrax attacks occurring in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001 reinforced Americans’ feeling of paranoia and imminent danger. While trutherism regarding the 9/11 attacks is well known, there are also many who believe the anthrax attacks were a false flag or hoax altogether. Professor Graeme MacQueen of McMaster University believes that the anthrax attacks were carried out by conspirators within the US government, who also perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. Their goal was to ensure a Global War on Terror to extend American power abroad while reducing civil liberties domestically.

The FBI have largely determined the anthrax attacks were carried out by Bruce E. Ivins, a Fort Detrick scientist who appeared to suffer from paranoid delusions and had the means and the motive. Detrick also sent emails filled with fears of losing his mind and references to a sorority he encountered as an undergraduate that he said put out a fatwa against him. For the anthrax truthers, he is a lone gunman fall guy who conveniently committed suicide. Traces of tin were found in the anthrax sent out, believed to have been added to make it easier to inhale, a skill conspiracy theorists claim Ivins did not possess.

One group of theorists believe the FBI simply identified the wrong man, much as Steven Hatfill, a weapons expert, was initially a person of interest but was then exonerated. Meanwhile, Richard Spertzel, a former bioweapons inspector in Iraq, believes the anthrax was made in Syria using a “spray dryer” and silica particles supplied by Iraqi intelligence. Others, more in line with the thinking of Graeme MacQueen, pointed out that before the anthrax attacks happened, the White House distributed to staffers the antibiotic Cipro, which protects against anthrax. The staffers included those working with Dick Cheney, but considering the White House was a known target in a time of high alert, it doesn’t seem so strange that precautions were taken.

6Bali Bombing


Photo credit: Jonathan Liem

After the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia, there was the usual run of false flag conspiracy theories that seem to float around any major tragic event. Perhaps the most wildly implausible theory about the bombing in Bali is the idea the explosion was simply too powerful to have been mere gas canisters and must have been some kind of “micro-nuke.” According to the one group, the Friends of Liberty: “At the very minimum the damage caused in the Kuta Beach area would require an 8,000 pound HE blast-bomb of the sort used on London during the Second World War. Problem! How on earth do you squeeze 8,000 pounds of very bulky low-specific-gravity HE into a 12-inch diameter sewage pipe, located nearly five feet underground?”

Within Indonesia itself, there was no shortage of conspiracy theorists. Most of the blame was placed on the CIA, the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), or an anonymous group of foreigners. The tabloid Rakyat Merdeka ran a front-page story entitled “Scenario, America behind Bali attack” in which a supposed weapons expert claimed “In the World Trade Center, no Jew died; In Bali, no American died,” which was incorrect. He also claimed in an oddly self-deprecating way, “It’s simply impossible for Indonesians to make such a big plan. Only a superpower country is capable of making such a plan.”

Prominent figures even got involved, including Vice President Hamzah Haz, who assured his countrymen: “The Bali bomb blast I’m sure was not an act of Muslims.” However, when suspected organizer of the attack Imam Samudra was arrested by police, he stood in chains before television cameras and yelled “Allahu akbar,” and public opinion quickly shifted. As the police accumulated more and more evidence and more people came out with eyewitness accounts, the skepticism over whether a group of Indonesian Muslims was capable of such an act of terror slowly began to subside.

5Y2K Hoax


For many, it was a relief when the lights didn’t go out and civilization didn’t come to a crushing halt when the clocks ticked over to January 1, 2000. Doubters surely cackled, but true believers could sometimes feel foolish that they had got so worked up over what turned out to be a near-complete nonissue. Indeed, some claim that the Y2K bug scare was the greatest and last hoax of the 20th century.

One site dedicated to celebrating the hoax detailed why it was such a fabulous scam. It could be easily summarized in a digestible fashion: “Computers won’t know what Year 00 is.”

In January 2000, Computer World speculated the entire hoax was “a complicated plot dreamed up by IT companies to revive dying mainframe programming languages and Hoover cash by the truckload from gullible corporate IS managers scared of system failure.” They also speculated conspirators could simulate Y2K-related glitches through clever hacks and trojans.

More likely, the Y2K situation was just one in which a known technical problem was dealt with before it could cause any problems. However, the low rate of problems even for supposedly vulnerable small businesses seems rather suspicious.

4Hurricane Katrina


Photo credit: Jeff Schmaltz

A dubious article making its way around conspiracy sites in 2005 quoted a supposed meteorologist named Scott Stevens from Pocatello, Idaho, as saying Hurricane Katrina was almost certainly caused by KGB weather modification technology in the hands of the Japanese Yakuza. In 1976, the Russians supposedly developed electromagnetic generators using ground-based microwave transmitters to emit a 3-30 megahertz sound wave and cause storms. Stevens gave as evidence odd rectilinear shapes in satellite photos of the hurricane. The Russians were said to have started to sell the technology to other groups in the 1980s, and the Yakuza used the technology against New Orleans to make a fortune on the futures market and get revenge for the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Scott Stevens would expand upon his thesis: “A battle in the skies is waged daily. Some battles are won and others lost. We yet know not which. For years this massive global project has been under way, but only now is it making it to the forefront of the consciousness of those with curious minds. [ . . . ] I just got sick to my stomach because these clouds were unnatural and that meant they had (the machine) on all the time. I was left trying to forecast the intent of some organization, rather than the weather of this planet.”

He also blamed Hurricane Ivan on dastardly Russian weather modification. Robert S. Young at Western Carolina University was unconvinced: “I have been doing hurricane research for the better part of 20 years now, and there was nothing unusual to me about any of the satellite imagery of Katrina. It’s laughable to think it could have been man-made.”

3Avian Flu And Swine Flu


Photo credit: Cybercobra/Wikimedia

In 2008, Indonesian health minister Siti Fadilah Supari published a book entitled Time for the World to Change: God is Behind the Avian Influenza Virus. It alleged that the United States produced the H5N1 virus to create a biological weapon and that the World Health Organization (WHO) was in on the scam to get vaccine profits from poorer countries. Supari told a crowd at a book discussion, “The conspiracy between superpower nations and global organizations isn’t a theory, isn’t rhetoric, but it’s something I’ve experienced myself.”

This was allegedly the reason Indonesian health authorities would not share H5N1 virus samples with the WHO nor promptly report human cases or fatalities. However, according to the head of the avian flu community Amin Subandrio, the government was not allowing Indonesian researchers access to samples either: “The minister of health is keeping the virus in the laboratories but they are giving no access to Indonesian scientists at the moment.”

In 2009, Chilean newspaper El Ciudadano published an article asking who benefits from the outbreak of H1N1 or swine flu in Mexico. Much was made of US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s connection with Gilead Laboratories, the company producing Tamiflu, an avian influenza treatment. At the same time, xenophobes in the US were accusing Mexicans of deliberately carrying the virus across the border to infect and weaken the United States.

2Saddam’s WMD Exports


The absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has been called the greatest intelligence failure in American history by some and proof that the Bush administration deliberately lied to the American people by others. Many were so unwilling to believe that the Coalition of the Willing could get things so badly wrong that they grasped at conspiracy theories with varying levels of plausibility.

The most common theory, dating from the mid-2000s, is that the weapons were smuggled into Syria. Former Iraqi general George Sada is one proponent of this view, telling Fox News in 2006 that in March 2003, “(the WMDs) were moved by air and by ground, 56 sorties by jumbo 747, and 27 were moved, after they were converted to cargo aircraft, they were moved to Syria.”

There are a few problems with this theory. It is unlikely Saddam would have given up his best weapon to resist a US invasion or to threaten his own people as a bargaining chip, the Baathists in Iraq hate the Baathists in Syria (and the country is full of Allawites allied with Iran), and it would be almost impossible to hide such an operation from US surveillance.

According to US Army officer Kris Alexander, “The region was blanketed by US military assets. Operation Enduring Freedom was in full swing in Afghanistan, and Operations Northern and Southern Watch were still in place over Iraq. If something moved—like, say, a convoy of Winnebagos of Death heading for Syria—it could be detected and killed.”

Another variant on the WMD smuggling theory claims the Russians provided the necessary assistance to pull it off. Several conspiracy groups cite the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, John Shaw, who supposedly said, “I am absolutely sure that Russian [Spetsnaz] units moved WMD out of Iraq before the war.” Russian special forces supposedly destroyed all traces of the Iraqi WMDs then Saddam’s arsenal inside Syria and Lebanon’s Bekka valley. Their motive was allegedly to cover up their involvement in the development of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons program. However, while there is evidence the Russians indeed engaged in a cover-up and arms smuggling in the lead-up to the 2003 war, it was more along the lines of conventional weapons and explosives.

Other variations on these theories suggested the weapons may have been transported to Pakistan by A.Q. Khan. The Jerusalem Post suggested the weapons might be aboard three cargo ships based out of Egypt cruising around the Indian Ocean under radio silence.

1Pentagon Missile


Photo credit: Cedric Rudsil

The 9/11 truther conspiracy is well known, well debunked, and still widely believed by many. There are just as many theories regarding the hijacked Boeing 757 that attacked the Pentagon, mostly based on discrepancies between the sizes of the hole in the building exterior, the hole in the middle ring, and the plane’s wingspan. French author Thierry Meyssan, among others, insists the attack must have been a missile attack by the US military.

These theories suffer from a failure of imagination. Structural engineering professor Mete Sozen, a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers who went over the blast site, explained in Popular Mechanics: “A crashing jet doesn’t punch a cartoon-like outline of itself into a reinforced concrete building. In this case, one wing hit the ground; the other was sheared off by the force of the impact with the Pentagon’s load-bearing columns. [ . . . ] What was left of the plane flowed into the structure in a state closer to a liquid than a solid mass. If you expected the entire wing to cut into the building, it didn’t happen.”

Other questions revolved around the intact windows seen in photographs and the supposed lack of plane wreckage. For the former, it was because they were blast-resistant, designed to resist force significantly stronger than a hurricane. As for the wreckage, there are photos available. According to Allyn E. Kilsheimer, who arrived early at the scene: “It was absolutely a plane, and I’ll tell you why. I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with the airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms from crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?”

Several other claims have also been debunked. Security camera footage supposedly proves an object too small to be a 757 hit the building, but that was because the ultra-wide angle was designed to see as much of a vehicle driveway as possible—the image was not rectilinear and thus was distorted. A Dulles air traffic controller, Danielle O’Brien, said, “You don’t fly a 757 in that manner. It’s unsafe,” which was used by conspiracy theorists as proof of their claims. However, O’Brien continued, saying “It was never the intent of the hijacker to safely land American flight 77 anywhere.” Many have said the Pentagon’s missile defense system should have shot the plane down. No such defense system exists, and given that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is less than a mile away, one would be highly impractical anyway.

David Tormsen isn’t sure how much of the 2000s he actually remembers. Remind him at [email protected].

fact checked by Jamie Frater