An article has been making its way around the Internet, and followers of the United States Constitution are gasping for breath at the thought of the message. According to a political Internet blog, we need to be a bit concerned with one of Obama's advisors and what he has in store for the dissenting American population. But, are the "threats" posed by big brother elitists really "new" or are they echoes from the past whispering softly of the nightmares to come.
The offensive news is centered around a paper written by Cass Sunstein entitled "Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures." Sunstein suggests that in order to silence the escalation of conspiracy theories in America the federal government should train operatives to infiltrate neighborhood groups and Internet chat rooms for the purpose of spreading disinformation, undermining the groups efforts, and planting doubts in the minds of concerned Americans.
In Cass Sunstein's own words, "We suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of believers."
At this point, I think it only right to learn a bit about Cass Sunstein. Sunstein, first of all, is the current administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. According to a Glenn Greenwald article, in his current position, one of the areas Sunstein will be responsible for is "overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality and statistical programs." Secondly, he teaches/has taught Constitutional, Administrative and Environmental law at places like Harvard, Columbia and the University of Chicago. Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, Sunstein is a long time friend of President Obama.
Why, you ask, is this important? Greenwald made it rather clear, "This isn't an instance where some government official wrote a bizarre paper in college 30 years ago about matters unrelated to his official powers; this was written 18 months ago, at a time when the ascendancy of Sunstein's close friend to the Presidency looked likely, in exactly the area he now oversees."
Sunstein's "conspiracy theory" paper, written in 2008, deals with the infiltration of chat rooms as well as social and other group meetings, whether online or in person. Their definition of "false conspiracy theories" is those theories that suggest that powerful people have been directly involved in certain affairs and have managed to keep their role in these affairs "secret" from the public's eye.
Interestingly enough, in his The Power of Dissent article from 2003, Sunstein, while talking about the failures at NASA with regard to the Columbia crash, seizes the opportunity to "speak" to all organizations about the good that comes from dissent. In the very first sentence he says we "need dissenting opinions" stating later in the article that, without them, people generally end up "believing a more extreme version" of what they believed before.
In September 2003, Sunstein was the guest speaker at a Carnegie Council Meeting"the topic? Why Societies Need Dissent. Program coordinator Joanne Myers, in her introduction of Sunstein, pointed out that in his latest work of the same title he "casts new light on the fundamental importance of freedom of speech and shows us that nations are far more likely to prosper if they allow their citizens the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and dare to challenge the unchallengeable."
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