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9 Huge Government Conspiracies That Actually Happened

Published: December 23, 2013
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We all know the conspiracy theories — the government's plan for 911, the second gunman who shot JFK, the evolution of the elite from a race of blood-drinking, shape-shifting lizards. 

But the people who spread these ideas usually can't prove them. 

As the years pass, however, secrets surface. Government documents become declassified. We now have evidence of certain elaborate government schemes right here in the U.S. of A. 

Prohibition Research Committee

AP Photo

The Prohibition Research Committee, pictured above, traveled the country trying to find one "drunk" reformed by the legislation.

1. The U.S. Department of the Treasury poisoned alcohol during Prohibition — and people died. 

The 18th Amendment, which took effect in January 1920, banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol — but not consumption. Despite the government's efforts, alcoholism actually skyrocketed during the era.

To keep up with America's thirst, bootleggers not only created their own alcohol but also stole industrial versions, rendered undrinkable by the inclusion of certain chemicals (namely methyl alcohol). Liquor syndicates then employed chemists to "re-nature" the alcohol once again, making it safe for consumption, according to Deborah Blum, author of "The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York."

By mid-1927, however, the U.S. government added much deadlier chemicals — kerosene, chloroform, and acetone among those most well known — which made alcohol more difficult to render consumable again. Adding 10% more methyl alcohol caused the worst efforts.

Although New York City's chief medical examiner, Charles Norris, tried to publicize the dangers, in 1926, poisonous alcohol killed 400 in the city. The next year, 700 died. 

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

Wikimedia Commons

A doctor administers an injection to one of the Tuskegee patients.

2. The U.S. Public Health Service lied about treating black men with syphilis for more than 40 years.

In 1932, the Public Health Service collaborated with the Tuskegee Institute to record the history of syphilis in the black male community, hoping to justify a treatment program. 

Called the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, the study initially included 600 black men — 399 with the disease and 201 without. While the men were told they would receive treatment, however, the researchers never provided adequate treatment for the disease. Even when penicillin became the preferred and available treatment for syphilis, researchers kept their subjects in the dark. 

Although originally planned to last only six months, the experiment continued for 40 years. Finally, in 1972, an Associated Press article prompted public outrage and a subsequent investigation. A government advisory panel deemed the study "ethically irresponsible" and research ended almost immediately. 

As a result, the government settled a class-action lawsuit out of court in 1974 for $10 million and lifetime health benefits for all participants, the last of whom died in 2004. 

Jonas Salk Polio Vaccine

Wikimedia Commons

Jonas Salk, who created the inactivated polio vaccine in 1955.

3. More than 100 million Americans received a polio vaccine contaminated with a potentially cancer-causing virus.

From 1954 to 1961, simian virus 40 (SV40) somehow showed up  in polio vaccines, according to the American Journal of Cancer. Researchers estimate 98 million people in the U.S. and even more worldwide received contaminated inoculations.

Jonas Salk, known creator of the inactivated polio vaccine, used cells from rhesus monkeys infected with SV40, according to president of the National Vaccine Information Center Barbara Fisher, who testified before the Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness in the U.S. House of Representatives on this matter in 2003, after researching the situation for 10 years.

The federal government changed oral vaccine stipulations in 1961 — which didn't include Salk's inactivated polio vaccine — specifically citing SV40. But medical professionals continued to administer tainted vaccines until 1963, according to Michael E. Horwin writing for the Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology in 2003. And even after 1961, the American Journal of Cancer found contaminated oral vaccines.

Although researchers know SV40 causes cancer in animals, opinions vary on a direct link between the virus and cancer in humans. Independent studies, however, have identified SV40 in brain and lung tumors of children and adults. 

The Centers for Disease Control did post a fact sheet acknowledging the presence of SV40 in polio vaccines but has since removed it, according to Medical Daily.

photo from Gulf of Tonkin

Wikimedia Commons

A photo of three Vietnamese boats taken from the USS Maddox (on Aug. 2).

4. Parts of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to U.S. intervention in Vietnam, never happened.

After evading a torpedo attack, the USS Maddox reportedly engaged three North Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of Tonkin on both Aug. 2 and 4, 1964, according to the Pentagon Papers. Although without U.S. casualties, the events prompted Congress to pass a resolution allowing President Lyndon John to intervene in the Southeast. 

Talk of Tonkin's status as a "false flag" for U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War has permeated public discourse almost since the time of the attacks, especially after the government admitted that the second incident may have involved false radar images.

But after resisting comment for decades, the National Security Agency finally declassified documents in 2005, admitting the incident on Aug. 4 never happened at all.

Those involved didn't necessarily intend to cover-up the incident to propagate a war. But the evidence does suggest "an active effort to make SIGINT fit the claim of what happened during the evening of 4 August in the Gulf of Tonkin,"according to NSA historian Robert J. Hanyok.

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