Don't write off conspiracies

In October last year, I wrote that "the anthrax scare looks suspiciously convenient. Just as the hawks in Washington were losing the public argument about extending the war to other countries, journalists start receiving envelopes full of bacteria, which might as well have been labelled 'a gift from Iraq'."

As Johann Hari notes in his article on conspiracy theories ("Who really downed the twin towers?", 22 April), this claim "caused outrage". But now it seems almost certain that the attacks were indeed the work of "ruthless operators" within the US defence establishment. As the New Scientist magazine has observed, the perpetrator or perpetrators were likely to have been seeking either "to scale up US military action against Iraq" or "to make the US pour billions into biodefence".

As shown by Mark Almond's compelling essay in the same issue, we should be careful not to dismiss everyone who challenges the official version of events as a conspiracy theorist.

George Monbiot
Oxford

Johann Hari fails to mention the most important point that leads rational people to doubt the official line: that no hard evidence linking the bombers of 11 September to al-Qaeda has been presented to the public or the parliament of any country.

Indeed, all the evidence that has been shown could lead an independent-minded observer to believe that the US security forces are just as likely to be the perpetrators. That al-Qaeda and the Taliban had links to the US State Department and parts of the CIA until at least February last year further suggests that both theories could be equally true.

Hari further muddies the waters by listing the CIA as being involved in Waco and Ruby Ridge, operations carried out by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Tom Barnes
London NW6

Noam Chomsky has an interesting perspective on conspiracy theories: for people who feel a need to believe in conspiracies, here's one sitting waiting for them. Just imagine the CIA asking: "How can we undermine and destroy all these popular movements? Let's send them off on some crazy wild-goose chase that will involve them in extremely detailed microanalysis and discussion of things that don't matter. That'll shut them up."

Though Uncle Noam stresses: "In case anybody misunderstands, I don't believe this for one moment."

Richard Smith
Brighton

This article first appeared in the 29 April 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Le Pen is mightier . . .