Cognitive Infiltration

Adrian Vermeule
Adrian Vermeule
Cass Sunstein
Cass Sunstein

“Cognitive Infiltration” is a term coined by the University of Chicago and Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein in his 2008 article Conspiracy Theories co-authored by his colleague Adrian Vermeule. Sunstein and Vermeule called for the use of “cognitive infiltration” in order that groups espousing such theories “might be undermined.”[1] While even admitting that certain conspiracy theories have indeed been proven true (e.g. Watergate, Project MKULTRA, Operation Northwoods), they nonetheless proceeded to outline whereby such theorizing can and should be thwarted.

What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of
possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise,
on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy
theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal
communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and
benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in
cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5).[2] [emphasis original]

…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 those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.[3]

Subsequent to the publication of his paper, Sunstein was hired by Obama in 2009 to be the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs – a position he held until 2012. OIRA is ostensibly concerned with recommending and implementing government policy changes. Did Sunstein and his successors and like-thinkers pursue these “thoughtcrime” ideas (see Orwell’s 1984) expressed in his Conspiracy Theories paper? There is a historical precedent for just such a thing and it is known as COINTELPRO.


Sunstein’s described “infiltration” is not only wholly undemocratic and illegal, but is akin to (if not an outright continuation of) the well-documented FBI program known as COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program).

…[FBI] covert operations under the official COINTELPRO label took place between 1956 and 1971. COINTELPRO tactics have been alleged to include discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination. The FBI’s stated motivation was “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.”[4]

Many individuals and groups were targeted by COINTELPRO. John Lennon, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Poor People’s Campaign, and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) are just a few of those known to have been the subject of FBI infiltration and sabotage.

The Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), organized by Martin Luther King, Jr., intended to improve economic conditions for the underprivileged in the United States. Dr. King had been targeted by the FBI for years and accused of being a communist. By extension the PPC was likewise slandered as some sort of communistic plot. After King’s assassination, however, the PPC was additionally and falsely charged with instigating black violence. The FBI, through its Ghetto Informant Program (GIP), “recruited thousands of people to report on poor black communities. Through GIP, the FBI quickly established files on SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] recruiters in cities across the US. FBI agents posed as journalists, used wiretaps, and even recruited some of the recruiters as informants.”[5]

Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II said, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” The notion here is that you need your enemies to perceive you as a trusted friend and ally, so that their guard will be down when you stab them in the back. To get this close, you must infiltrate under the guise being of a friend. This is what Sunstein enumerates in his paper (point 4 and 5 above), and what is directly implied by “infiltration.”

What Sunstein and Vermeule don’t directly propose, but is still an oft-used, classic counter-intelligence method, is mimicry. This is a core characteristic of false flag operations. In its extreme form it is exemplified very well by British General Frank Kitson’s machinations during the 1950s conflict with the Kenyan native population known as the Mau Mau. In his book, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping[6], Kitson described how an alternate, fake version of the Mau Mau was created (mimicked), and was then directed to commit atrocities. The real Mau Mau were tarred with committing these heinous crimes, and then any retaliatory action against them was thus justified.

A less violent, but equally insidious method of mimicry is the infiltration of groups by individuals who disrupt from within by derailing any action that is the primary objective of the group. Their methods include duplicating the organizational structure, appearance and message of the targeted group — but the mimics won’t be true clones. There will be certain differences that will contradict the real group’s message, or will hurt it in other ways – perhaps something like diverting donations. The whole goal with this type of mimicry is to induce confusion amongst potential followers of the targeted group.

Conspiracy Theory

So, where did this term “conspiracy theory” come from, and how did it become such a pejorative term to describe something (i.e. conspiracy) which is so commonplace in society? It is even part of the U.S. criminal code.

U.S. Code § 371 – Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States
U.S. Code § 241 – Conspiracy against rights
U.S. Code § 1117 – Conspiracy to murder
U.S. Code § 956 – Conspiracy to injure property of foreign government

In Conspiracy Theory in America[7], Lance deHaven-Smith relates that in 1967 – after considerable public criticism of the Warren Commission on the JFK assassination had reached critical mass – the CIA released dispatch number 1035-960 to its local stations. This dispatch expressed the imperative to lean on CIA media contacts and agents and incite them to ridicule “conspiracy theorists” for aiding the communists in the Cold War, or for simply wanting to profit from the attention. According to the CIA, conspiracy theorists were mere attention-seeking, pinko commies threatening national security. This was the seed of the epithet “conspiracy theorist.” The CIA-controlled mainstream media has propagated this line ever since, and unknowing dupes everywhere have perpetuated it. It’s a dirty but clever hoax that forms a circular argument. There was in fact a conspiracy to manipulate the population into ridiculing those who point out potential conspiracies committed by people in powerful positions, but if you point this out to someone influenced by this preprogrammed, CIA abreaction, the result is that you are labeled a conspiracy theorist – a crazy conspiracy nut!

Sunstein and Vermeule write:

…a conspiracy theory can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.[8]

Currently, two related organizations, the Tax Wall Street Party (TWSP) and the United Front Against Austerity (UFAA), have come under attack on social media by a network of individuals who are using the aforementioned methodologies. These two organizations are comprised of like-minded, concerned people who propose to implement time-tested and proven governmental programs which would solve the current worldwide economic depression and stop progressive Anglo-American military aggression that could easily lead to a thermonuclear world war. These programs could shift humanity into a peace race, dramatically increase prosperity for everyone, and create a new Renaissance — but this scenario is anathema to the globalist, finance oligarchs. They want quite the opposite.

By Sunstein’s own definition, people involved with TWSP and UFAA would merely qualify as “conspiracy theorists” and warrant his infiltration. Never mind that these two grassroots movements are merely pointing out the objective reality that Wall Street pays NO TAXES, and that the finance oligarchs are globally shifting the burden of their casino-economy speculation onto the backs of the working people in the form of genocidal austerity – that apparently doesn’t matter. This to Sunstein is a “crippled epistemology”, or in other words, that type of thinking is just all wrong. Apparently, we should accept our fate as the lowly 99%, and welcome all of the depredations that the “powerful people” wish to lay at our feet.

Frederick Douglass would roll over in his grave at such acquiescence. He stated the truth that, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Understand what that really means and stand up and fight for your rights! Join with UFAA and TWSP and give voice to the demands for a return to the American System – a form of government in which something as unconstitutional as “cognitive infiltration” would be unthinkable.


1 Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, Conspiracy Theories, Social Science Research Network,, p.2, 15 Jan 2008
2 Ibid. p.15
3 Ibid. p.16
4 “COINTELPRO”, Wikipedia,
5 “Poor People’s Campaign”, Wikipedia,’s_Campaign
6 Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping, (Faber and Faber, London, 1971)
7 Lance deHaven-Smith, Conspiracy Theory in America, (University of Texas Press, Austin, 2013), Ch.4, pp. 106-131
8 Sunstein & Vermeule, Conspiracy Theories, p.5
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