The Most Shocking U.S. Government Conspiracies That Are Actually True

The American public still debates the true nature of John F. Kennedy’s death and whether or not they believe in the existence of Area 51. Conspiracy theories drive the plot of television shows, documentaries, and books alike.

While we may never know the verdict on the potential second JFK shooter or meet extraterrestrial lifeforms, there are a few United States government conspiracies that really happened, and you’ll be shocked to find out who was behind some of them.


A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency logo
The CIA used patients as guinea pigs. | SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

On April 13th, 1953, the then-Director of Central Intelligence officially approved project MKUltra. The project continued for over a decade with the purpose of developing drugs and procedures for use in interrogations and torture. These would ideally weaken the individual and force confessions through mind control.

The CIA library published a 60 Minutes interview from 1984 about MKUltra. Ed Bradley relayed that the CIA never denied MKUltra and the mind control project. The terrifying truth, however, is that Dr. Ewen Cameron, the researcher, never told his patients they were being used as guinea pigs. Many were left emotionally crippled for life.

Next: This real-life experiment knowingly killed hundreds of men.

Tuskegee syphilis experiment

Tuskegee University
Tuskegee University via Facebook

This study left the participants with plenty of bad blood; the opposite of what they thought they were being treated for. The infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 told the 600 black men they were being treated for “bad blood,” when actually they weren’t receiving proper treatment to cure their illnesses. While 201 of the men had no ailment, 399 tested positive for syphilis.

The researchers never told the men they weren’t being treated; instead, they were letting them and examining their bodies to see what the disease did. The study was conducted without the patients’ informed consent. Researchers promised the participants free health care from the U.S. government, including free medical exams and burial insurance.

Next: This Amendment for “safety” led to thousands of deaths.

Poisoned alcohol during Prohibition

The bootleg liquor turned out to be deadly. | Fox Photos/Getty Images

The glamour and intrigue of the 1920s was enhanced by the 18th Amendment; Prohibition banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol – but not the consumption. Alcoholism skyrocketed during the Prohibition era, much to the government’s dismay, and the bootlegged whiskies and other tainted liquors often made people sick.The deaths, investigators shortly realized, came courtesy of the U.S. government.

By the mid-1920s the U.S. government became frustrated with the elevated consumption. Federal officials ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols with chemicals like chloroform and acetone. New York City’s chief medical examiner, Charles Norris, tried to publicize the dangers to no avail. By the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

Next: The terrorist attacks that leaders wanted to rally support.

Operation Northwoods

President Kennedy shut down the plan once he caught wind of it. | National Archive/Newsmakers

In 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved planned terrorist attacks in the U.S. to rally support for a war against Cuba that would oust communist leader Fidel Castro. Operation Northwoods‘ declassified government documents show that the military leaders considered taking a number of actions including host funerals for “mock-victims,” “start rumors (many),” and “blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba.”

“There really was a worry at the time about the military going off crazy and they did, but they never succeeded, but it wasn’t for lack of trying,” James Bamford, author of Body of Secrets, told ABC News. The advisers presented the plan to Robert McNamara, President Kennedy’s secretary of defense. A few days later, Kennedy told U.S. Army Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer that the U.S. would never use overt force to take Cuba.

Next: This country’s freedom led to their leader’s execution.

CIA plot to murder Patrice Lumumba

Lumumba had been in jail on charges of inciting an anti-colonial riot
The U.S. had a hand in his execution. | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In June of 1960, Patrice Lumumba began serving as the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Six months later, he was killed by an execution squad by an inter-related assassination plot by the American and Belgian governments.

Patrice Lumumba was determined to achieve genuine independence for the DRC, including full control over Congo’s resources. The U.S. and its western allies were concerned with the DRC’s independent control over strategic raw materials, lest they fall to enemy hands in the Soviet camp. Lumumba was deemed a threat to western interests. The U.S. and Belgium conspired and bought the support of Lumumba’s Congolese rivals, hiring killers for his execution.
Next: The Pentagon Papers that aided a war.

Gulf of Tonkin Incident

A McDonnell, Phantom Jet ready for take off
The fake attack gave President Johnson an excuse to strike back. | Terry Fincher/Getty Images

The Pentagon Papers reported that the USS Maddox engaged three North Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of Tonkin on both August 2 and August 4, 1964. NSA historian Robert J. Hanyok argued that while SIGINT confirms that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer, the USS Maddox, on August 2, 1964, it was under questionable circumstances.

However, the SIGINT shows that the second attack on August 4 did not occur despite claims made by the Johnson administration. President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara used the claim to support retaliatory air strikes and White House freedom of action in Vietnam. The NSA resisted commenting for decades and finally released declassified documents in 2005, admitting the incident on August 4 never happened.

Next: The contaminated vaccine that could kill.

The tainted Polio vaccine cover-up

Dr Jonas Salk studying slides in his laboratory
Medical professionals continued to give out the tainted vaccines. | Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many of the patients seeking their polio vaccination in the late 1950s unknowingly acquired cancer, according to the American Journal of Cancer. Researchers estimate that 98 million U.S. citizens received vaccines contaminated with simian virus 40 (SV40).

Researchers know SV40 causes cancer in animals, however they’re torn on the possibility that the virus can cause cancer in humans. Independent studies have identified SV40 in brain and lung tumors found in both children and adults. While the federal government changed oral-vaccine stipulations in 1961, medical professionals allegedly continued to administer tainted vaccines until 1963.

Next: The conspiracy to cover a conspiracy theory.

Project Azorian

Russian submarine in Hamburg
The mission might have had other goals as well. | Nellmac/Getty Images

What the CIA describes as a “highly secret six-year effort to retrieve a sunken Soviet submarine from the Pacific Ocean floor during the Cold War,” may have actually been much more. The likely reasons the project was undertaken include the recovery of an intact nuclear missile and cryptological documents and equipment.

A few publications and people have presented conspiracy theories that suggest the project goal of raising a Soviet submarine was itself a coverup for an even more secretive mission. Time magazine and a court filing on behalf of the Military Audit Project are among them. The possible motivations for a secret mission included tapping of undersea communication cables and the installation of an underwater equivalent of a missile silo.

Next: The complicated controversy that may have involved a U.S. President.

Iran-Contra affair

Lt. Col. Oliver North (L), accompanied by his lawyer
Despite an act of Congress to prohibit contras, Reagan continued to fund them. | Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images

The Iran-Contra affair, a U.S. political scandal that took place during President Ronald Reagan’s second term, was illegal under the Boland Agreement. Congress prohibited further funding of the “contras,” who were fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, under the agreement, while Reagan instructed the National Security Council (NSC) to “keep the Contras together ‘body and soul,'” regardless of Congress’ vote.

What began as an effort to free American hostages held in Lebanon transpired into a complicated network of controversy. The plan entailed Israel shipping weapons to Iran that the U.S. would then replace while receiving the Israeli payment. In return, the Iranian recipients promised to do everything they could to release the hostages. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the NSC made modifications to the plan in 1985 that diverted a portion of the money from the weapon sales to fund the contras.

Next: The landowners the government stole from.

The U.S. government stole from the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Native Indian Laguna Pueblo |
The U.S. government was taking even more from the Native Americans. | Ivanastar/Getty Images
When the U.S. government took control of Native Americans’ property rights in 1887, Indians were assured they would receive all the income from their land, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). Each year, families would await the arrival of a U.S. Treasury check, noticing that the amount inexplicably varied from year to year.
The FCNL stated that according to whistleblowers, “… money belonging to individual Indians was pilfered, skimmed, redirected, or thrown in with general government funds by the U.S. Department of the Interior or its appointed representatives.” While Judge James Robertson, the judge in charge of the class action lawsuit, found the government responsible for about $455 million of missing Native American money, the government and plaintiffs settled on a payout of $1.4 billion to be shared among the plaintiffs.
Next: This congress Representative collaborated with a PR firm with sources surrounding a war.

PR firm organized testimony from Kuwaiti

Lantos was on hand to show his support for the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation
Rep. Tom Lantos tried to strengthen his case by hiding his witnesses true identity. | Jon Levy/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s plainly wrong for a member of Congress to collaborate with a public relations firm to produce knowingly deceptive testimony on an important issue. Yet Representative Tom Lantos of California has been caught doing exactly that,” the New York Times wrote in 1992.

Lantos concealed the identity of the ambassador’s daughter that helped garner support for Persian Gulf War from both the public and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus co-chairman, Representative John E. Porter. While Lantos claimed the fact that “Nayirah” was the Ambassador’s daughter didn’t alter her credibility, the NYT stated that had her identity been known, her accusations surely would have faced greater skepticism and been questioned more closely.

Next: The money that vanished into thin air.

The missing $2 billion of Iraq War Money

Billions promised to the Iraqi government were missing. | Haidar Mohammad Ali/AFP/Getty Images

In 2003 the Bush administration sent money to, “provide a quick financial infusion for Iraq’s new government and the country’s battered economy,” according to the New York Times. While somewhere between $12 and $14 was sent to Iraq by airlift and $5 billion by electronic transfer over the next year and a half, what happened to the money remained a mystery.

Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general appointed to investigate corruption and waste in Iraq, was determined to find where the money went. Bowen said that the investigation began when Wael el-Zein, a Lebanese-American member of his staff, received a tip about stolen money hidden in a Lebanon bunker. Mr. Bowen thinks at least some of the money has been moved, and said it is impossible to say whether any of it is still in the bunker.

Next: The firearm controversy with recent developments.

Operation Fast and Furious

Guns on wall
The illegal gunsales ended up coming back to bite them. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The Phoenix Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and their partners allowed illegal gun sales in order to trace the weapons of the purchasers, who they believed were acquiring them illegally for Mexican drug cartels. Nearly 2,000 firearms from the program went missing and some turned up at killing scenes in Mexico. One in particular turned up on the scene of the December 2010 gunbattle in Arizona that killed U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry.
In 2014, under court order, the Justice Department turned over nearly 65,000 pages of Fast and Furious-related documents that were previously held under the Obama Administration’s claim of executive privilege. The DOJ released additional documents in 2016, and a year later Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes, a fugitive cartel member wanted in connection with Terry’s death, was arrested in Mexico, according to a CNN timeline.
Next: The government legislation that unfairly affected millions of Americans.


A map of Redlining in Philadelphia
This map of Philadelphia was used to determine redlining of neighborhoods. | United States Federal Government/Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. government passed the Federal Housing Act in 1934. For the next 30 plus years, the FHA mortgage insurance requirements utilized redlining to segregate neighborhoods by denying loans to African Americans.

If a black family could afford to buy into a white neighborhood without government help, the FHA would refuse to insure future mortgages even to whites in that neighborhood, because it was now threatened with integration, according to The American Prospect. The federal government was able to prevent school integration as through The Underwriting Manual that established the FHA’s mortgage lending requirements.

Next: The coup that’s still in question.

The overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende

Allende was the first Marxist ever elected president in free elections in 1970
The CIA claims they didn’t instigate the coup. but they did try to damage the government. | AFP/Getty Images

The 1973 Chilean coup d’état that overthrew Chile’s legally elected president, Salvador Allende, is still shrouded in unconfirmed details. The U.S. Senate opened an investigation into possible U.S. interference in Chile following an incriminating New York Times article. The United States Intelligence Committee report stated that the CIA didn’t instigate the coup but was aware of coup-plotting by the military.

Robert Dallek, author of Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, reviewed recordings of phone conversations between President Nixon and Henry Kissinger and concluded that they used the CIA to purposefully damage the Allende government. Kissinger complained about the lack of recognition of the American role in the overthrow of a “communist” government, upon which Nixon remarked, “Well, we didn’t – as you know – our hand doesn’t show on this one.”

Read more: The Most Disturbing Ways President Trump Governs Like a Dictator

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