How to decide for yourself if Princess Diana was murdered in a covered up conspiracy
The press all around the world reported dramatic claims from a sniper (in jail for illegally keeping guns at home), that British special forces covered up their murder of Princess Diana. While the media dismissed this latest ‘conspiracy theory’ as lunatic, perennial fascination with conspiracies was revealed as the story went global.
Psychologists argue that ‘conspiracy theories’ thrive when authorities are distrusted. ‘Official’ versions of events become viewed with more suspicion. Also, our minds psychologically refuse to accept major events, such as deaths of celebrities, or assassinations of Presidents, can really be put down to accidental or trivial causes. Our brains equate that an important event requires a major cause. Therefore a President can’t just have been killed by something as diminutive as a lone gunman.
Psychologically, we struggle to accept that sometimes, it’s just that, “shit happens”.
The very label ‘conspiracy theory’ now appears to dismiss an allegation. However, not only did the ‘Watergate’ scandal lead to the downfall of President Nixon, but German generals during World War II tried to assassinate Hitler, and the Reagan Administration funded Nicaraguan guerrilla fighters while selling arms to Iran.
These are all perfectly legitimate conspiracies. Therefore, according to a new academic analysis of conspiracy theories, not all ‘conspiracies’ should be dismissed out of hand.
Given sometimes ‘conspiracy theories’ turn out to be true, despite being initially dismissed as ‘paranoid’ or ‘mad’, two academics based at the University of Alberta in Canada have proposed how conspiracy theories, such as the ‘assassination of Princess Diana’, for example, can be tested, to investigate which conspiracies might have some basis in reality.
Joel Buenting and Jason Taylor point out in their recent paper entitled ‘Conspiracy Theories and Fortuitous Data’, that it’s events such as the Watergate scandal and ‘9/11’ which provide clues as to how to tell whether a conspiracy theory might have something going for it.
A conspiracy theory is a proposed explanation of an historical event involving conspiracy (agents acting secretly in concert), which conflicts with an “official” account. It’s in the opposition to the official story, where a conspiracy theory can be tested. Does the conspiracy theory account for key aspects of a major event, which the authorities cannot explain?
Joel Buenting and Jason Taylor, in their paper published in the academic journal ‘Philosophy of the Social Sciences’, point out that the official version of events explains why American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, but the authorities don’t account for why Flight 77 crashed into the only section of the Pentagon reinforced to withstand the impact of just such an attack.
The plane hitting the Pentagon where it did—rather than anywhere else—is highly fortuitous— given that the Pentagon was reinforced only in that section, suggesting that the pilots intended to hit just that spot.
Buenting and Taylor argue that the authorized U.S. version of 9/11 explains why a plane travelling east/northeast into Arlington County crashed into the Pentagon, but does not account for why the plane circled, descended, and crashed travelling south/southwest. The change in direction, altitude, and choice of impact zone remains unexplained by the official story. Indeed, such a dramatic change in flight pattern suggests an alternative account: the pilot wanted to impact the building nowhere else except where the plane actually hit.
Buenting and Taylor also point out that after the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex were struck, but before they collapsed, a passerby discovered the passport of Satam al-Sugami, one of the (alleged) hijackers. This is highly fortuitous. That al-Sugami’s passport survived the impact, ensuing fireball, and was found eighty floors below in (surprisingly) pristine condition is very lucky indeed.
Moreover, that a passer by should have noticed the passport, attached significance to it, and reported the finding is especially providential, particularly given the panic.
All of these ‘lucky chance’ events suggest alternative explanations, they open the door to legitimate conspiracy theories, according to Bunting and Taylor, besides the official story.
Defenders of official versions of events will complain that sometimes the role of sheer chance is being neglected by conspiracy theorists. Bunting and Taylor retort that we cannot explain an event by appealing to chance if a good description, other than mere chance suggests itself.
For example, that the pilot engaged in a series of aerodynamically complex manoeuvres to hit the Pentagon in the only section refurbished to withstand just such an impact, suggests an explanation besides chance. Is it possible the plane was deliberately flown into that specific area because it was the reinforced section?
Buenting and Taylor remind us that on June 17, 1971, five people later identified as members of the Committee to Re-elect the President (President Nixon), were caught in the Democratic national headquarters with sophisticated bugging equipment and thousands of dollars in sequential 100 dollar bills.
After announcing that he had no prior knowledge of the Watergate bugging attempts, Nixon met with his closest advisors numerous times in the oval office. When it was later revealed recordings of all the conversations in the oval office existed, there was pressure on Nixon to release the tapes; these should be the proof that the President was above the scandal. Subpoenas were drafted, and reluctantly Nixon turned them over. Once relinquished, the recordings gave no indication that Nixon knew about Watergate prior to the arrests. Yet, one tape had a gap in recording that was approximately 18 and a half minutes long. Nixon would later to try to explain this gap away as a “secretarial recording error.”
The tapes support Nixon’s denial of involvement in Watergate, given that they lack any indication that he knew of the incident prior to the arrests. Yet, the 18-andhalf-minute gap in recordings suggests another interpretation of the evidence. A cover-up and/or a conspiracy.
It hints that Nixon knew about Watergate before it occurred, and that he hid his complicity by erasing the parts of the tapes proving so.
The official version is that ‘chance’ explains the missing recording – conspiracy theorists allege otherwise – it was no ‘accident’.
Buenting and Taylor argue that officials need to be put under pressure to explain supposedly chance events – such as the discovery of a pristine passport of a 9/11 hijacker at the site, or the crashing of a plane into the precise spot where the Pentagon was reinforced.
If official versions cannot account for major events without relying overly heavily on implausible chance, then conspiracies should be considered seriously, but only in the light of a rigorous analysis of the evidence.
In 2006, Buenting and Taylor report that Tony Blair dismissed the suggestion that the Bush administration considered bombing the headquarters of the Al-Jazeera news agency as “just a conspiracy theory”. This is also how the media largely handled the Princess Diana allegations this week.
Rather than dismissing challenges to official versions as mere ‘conspiracy theories’, it’s better to decide which conspiracies are likely to be more rational, based on gaps in the tapes.