I attacked the conspiracy nuts last week -- these being the self-styled "Truthers" claiming the WTC and Pentagon attacks were organized by a list of suspects ranging from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to the Queen of England.

Yes, the finger of suspicion apparently points to the Queen because one nut faction believes the world is run by the Bilderberg group -- one of those annual get-togethers of businessmen and politicians who assemble from time to time to bore each other with long speeches and drink a great deal. Those who think the Bilderbergers control everything claim that the Queen of England and the British Secret Service are deeply involved in this supervision.

In the wake of my column last week, I got a torrent of angry mail from the nuts, plus some more interesting communications. Michael Neumann, a philosopher at the University of Trent, in Ontario, Canada, remarked in a note to me: "I think the problem of conspiracy nuttery has got worse, and is part of a general trend. There really were serious questions about the Kennedy assassination, an unusual number of them, and it wasn't too crazy to come to the wrong conclusion. There wasn't a single serious question about 9-11. But this is the age of angels, creationism, corpses all over Kosovo, Arabs suspiciously speaking Arabic, Satanic child abuse, 'nucular Eyraquees' and channeling. The main engine of the 9-11 conspiracy cult is nothing political; it's the death of any conception of evidence.

"This probably comes from the decline of Western power. Deep down, almost everyone, across the political spectrum, is locked in a bigotry that can only attribute that decline to some irrational or supernatural power. The result is the ascendancy of magic over common sense, let alone reason."

The 9-11 nuts proffer what they demurely call "disturbing questions," though they disdain all answers but their own. They seize on coincidences and force them into sequences they deem to be logical and significant. Like mad inquisitors, they pounce on imagined clues in documents and photos, torturing the data --- as the old joke goes about economists -- till the data confess. Their treatment of eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence is whimsical. Apparent anomalies that seem to nourish their theories are brandished excitedly; testimony that undermines their theories -- like witnesses of a large plane hitting the Pentagon -- is contemptuously brushed aside.

Anyone familiar with criminal, particularly death penalty, defense -- I had such an opportunity for a number of years -- will know that there are always anomalies the prosecution cannot account for and the defense teams can exploit, in hopes of swaying a jury either in the guilt or penalty phase of a trial. Contrary to prosecutorial claims, there is far less intrinsic certainty in forensic evaluation than is commonly supposed, as regards fingerprints, landing marks on bullets and so forth.

A seemingly "cut and dried case" is very rarely beyond challenge, even though in essence it actually may well be just that, "cut and dried." Of course, there are conspiracies. I think there is strong evidence that FDR did have knowledge that a Japanese naval force in the north Pacific was going to launch an attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt thought it would be a relatively mild assault and it would be the final green light to get the United States into the war.

Of course, it's very probable that the FBI or U.S. military intelligence, even the CIA, had penetrated the al-Qaida team planning the 9-11 attacks; that intelligence reports -- some are already known -- piled up in various Washington bureaucracies pointing to the impending onslaught and even the manner in which it might be carried out.

The history of intelligence operations is profuse with example of successful intelligence collection, but also fatal slowness to act on the intelligence, along with eagerness not to compromise the security and future usefulness of the informant, who has to prove his own credentials by even pressing for prompt action by the plotters. Sometime an undercover agent will actually propose an action, either to deflect efforts away from some graver threat, or to put the plotters in a position where they can be caught red-handed. In their penetrations of environmental groups, the FBI certainly did this.

The nuts make dizzying "deductive" leaps. There is a one particularly vigorous coven that has established to its own satisfaction that the original NASA moon landing was faked, and never took place. This "conspiracy" would have required the complicity of thousands of people, all of whom have kept their mouths shut. The proponents of the "fake moon landing" plot tend to overlap with the JFK and 9-11 nuts.

The "conspiracy" is always open-ended as to the number of conspirators, widening steadily to include all the people involved in the execution and cover-up of the demolition of the Towers and the onslaught on the Pentagon, from the teams acquiring the explosives and the missile, inserting the explosives in the relevant floors of three vast buildings, (moving day after day among the unsuspecting office workers), then on 9-11 activating the detonators.

Subsequently, the conspiracy includes the disposers of the steel and rubble, the waste recyclers in Staten Island and perhaps even the Chinese who took the salvaged incriminating metal for use in the Three Gorges dam, where it will be submerged in water and concrete forever. Tens of thousands of people, all silent as a tomb to this day.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.