Too many confidants not a problem even for large-scale conspiracies?

Symbolic picture: Numerous employees around Wernher von Braun in the NASA control center Apollo 8 mission. 
Copyright: NASA

Edingen-Neckarhausen (Germany) – A new technical paper questions a popular argument that large-scale conspiracies are doomed to failure in advance and, sooner or later, would have to fly up as the number of co-perpetrators directly and indirectly involved increases.


In discussions between conspiracy theorists and their critics regarding the correct interpretation of historical events, critics often claim that the great conspiracy theories – such as the Apollo moon landings allegedly staged in terrestrial movie studios or the attacks of 9/11 – are wrong for that very reason because the supposed conspiracy would eventually have had hundreds, if not thousands, of confidants. With such a large number (the total number of people involved in the Apollo program is estimated at around 400,000 people), the critics say that at least one confidant would sooner or later publicize his secret knowledge and so fly the conspiracy.

04548Cover illustration of the current issue of “Zeitschrift für Anomalistik” (Volume 16, 2016). 

As Schlotmann currently points out in the most recent edition of the ” Zeitschrift für Anomalistik” (Volume 16 (2016), No. 3, pp. 419-428), this is described by him as a “leakage problem argument” (eg: ” Argument from the problem of leaks “) argued argument based on a historical case study with reference to the comments of historian Alex Roland, professor of history at Duke University.

This article was published in an article from 1992 (Secrecy, Technology, and War: Greek Fire and the Defense of Byzantium, 678-1204, in Technology and Culture, Vol 33, No. 4 (Oct. 1992), pp. 655- 679) retraced the history of the so-called Greek Fire, a secret chemical firearm that served the Byzantines to successfully repel the attacks of enemy Arab armies on the high seas during the siege of Constantinople (674-678 AD), in which they, the Byzantines, the “Greek Fire” sprayed from their battleships on the fleet of the Arabs.


Roseland refers to the fire as something that should not be thought of as “simply a firebomb” but rather as an extensive weapon system that included not only the actual chemical fuel but also the remaining weapon components necessary for the actual mixture (including the siphons that were Spray drums, which served for spraying the Greek fire, the dromones, Byzantine warships of about 50 meters long and containing a maximum of 300 men, cauldrons, etc.) Although in 814 the Bulgarians even received 36 siphons and a considerable amount of the mixture, they could not do anything with it – the overall system was too complex and the knowledge of mere single components was not enough to be able to successfully use the captured objects also militarily.

Greek fire in the only known contemporary depiction from the 12th century. 

Copyright: Public domain

Like Roseland, Schlotmann sees the reason for the ignorance of the Bulgarians and thus for the success of the secrecy in two common procedures in intelligence circles: the so-called “compartmentalization” (Compartmentalization) and the “Need to know”.

“The former means an intelligence division of labor, in which a few principal conspirators assign the tasks to be fulfilled for conspiracy to independently acting co-conspirators, who in turn only have to ensure the execution of their duties and, moreover, are ‘not allowed to ask questions’. explains Schlotmann and continues to “” (GreWi): “These co-conspirators, who can certainly go into the hundreds and act only as a small ‘gears in the big picture’, yes, often do not even know what sense that Fulfillment of their task at all, act largely without knowledge of the overall picture of the conspiracy. You really only get those (but no more and no less!) Information they need to really be able to carry out their specially tailored work task. This information shortage is called ‘need to know’

On the subject

Both intelligence principles were used in the construction of the entire Greek firing system: “Roseland points out, for example, that workers with knowledge of the individual components have never been in the same place at the same time,” explains Schlotmann. “The shipbuilders built the dromons in shipyards in Constantinople and other ports, while, for example, the blacksmiths who installed the boilers and probably also the siphons worked in different parts of the same shipyard. The bronze workers the siphons made were very different workers from the ironworkers who took care of the cauldrons. But no representative of these professions had come into contact with the chemists of the main weapons camp in Constantinople, where the actual substance mixture was brewed. This results in the probability that none of these workers ever met a siphonator – someone who was trained to operate this weapon system on the high seas by means of the Siphons. All this suggests, then, that the Byzantines compartmentalized knowledge of their weapons system so that someone who fell into the hands of the enemy could never have betrayed more than a fraction of the secret (see Roseland, pp. 663f ). ”

“In fact, the Byzantine conspiracy to keep the Greek fire secret was so successful that it lasted for a full 500 years (!),” Concludes Schlotmann. “Afterwards, the secrets lost their knowledge of the exact composition of the fire. Even today’s chemists are incapable of completely reconstructing the Greek fire – which fact makes the Byzantines secrecy the most successful conspiracy of all time. ”

Thus, Schlotmann also contradicts the calculations made last year by the Oxford physicist and cancer researcher David Robert Grimes, with which he wants to show mathematically that and when any conspiracy inevitably fails with increasing co-knowledge and duration

Schlotmann, who already stated in the introduction that he himself is not a follower of conspiracy-theoretical interpretations, finally concludes his essay with a devastating judgment regarding the ubiquitous leakage-issue argument among critics and skeptics: “There are many very good arguments against such Conspiracy theories such as the 9/11 controlled demolition theory, the moon landing counterfeit claim, or the false flag hypotheses raised in relation to terrorist attacks and assassinations. However, the issue of leakage issue is not one of the arguments that can credibly counter the conspiracy theories. ”

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