Kathryn Olmsted – The CIA and Conspiracy Theories

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Event Date: 29 April – 1 May 2011
East Midlands Conference Centre
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RJ



Landscapes of Secrecy: The CIA in History, Fiction and Memory


Professor Kathryn Olmsted (UC Davis) – The CIA and Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracists accuse the CIA of participating in every imaginable conspiracy, from assassination plots and mind control to alien medical experiments and reptilian shape-shifting.  The most prevalent conspiracy theories are variations on Senator Frank Church’s famous 1975 description of the CIA as a “rogue elephant on a rampage,” bent on destruction and completely beyond the control of democratically elected leaders. However, it is not entirely fair to accuse the CIA of masterminding these conspiracies.  A careful study of the most notorious examples of CIA conspiracies since the 1960s reveals that the CIA has more often been the president’s lapdog than a rogue elephant. The conspiracies most dangerous to American democracy have been plotted not in CIA headquarters but in the oval office.

Kathryn Olmsted is a professor of history at the University of California, Davis.  She is the author of three books on citizen challenges to government secrecy: Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (North Carolina, 1996); Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley (North Carolina, 2002); and Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford, 2009).  She specializes in the political and cultural history of twentieth-century America.

Contact information: History Department, One Shields Avenue, University of California, Davis, CA  95616 USA.

Email: ksolmsted@ucdavis.edu

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