That can only fuel the apprehension, especially among journalists. Given this background, it is easy to see how Michael Hastings could have thought someone was out to get him. But fear itself can be a weapon, and the very panic engendered by the NSA revelations can be more disruptive than the agency’s actual activities themselves. The Chinese call this “killing the chicken to scare the monkey.” Voltaire’s name for it was pour encourager les autres. For example, the Taliban have become so afraid of the Apache helicopter that they have come to call it the Monster:

“The Monster is here!” a Taliban lookout shrieked over the radio to fighters in a valley below a few months ago as an Apache arrived on the scene to help U.S. troops battle the insurgents. “The Monster is above my head now! Do not move or you will die!” The lookout’s breathless alarm — intercepted and translated by U.S. forces during the battle — was reported to Boeing by the commander of the 1st Battalion of the 101st Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division during a recent visit to the company’s Apache plant in Mesa, Ariz., company marketer Mike Burke told Breaking Defense during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

Whether or not the Monster is even tasked to seek them out, the fear of being turned into hamburger by it is so great that it will shut down all the Taliban within hail. The net result in politics may be similar. Many people — the AP’s sources for example — are convinced the NSA or the FBI are listening on the other end of the line. The paralyzing psychological effect of fear was memorably depicted in the 1944 film Gaslight, where the caddish Charles Boyer terrorizes Ingrid Bergman into submission. The film’s title has come to describe an entire process of psychological warfare not unsurprisingly named gaslighting:

Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term “gaslighting” comes from the play Gas Light and its film adaptations. The term is now also used in clinical and research literature.

And that’s exactly what’s happened to sections of the press. Perhaps Hastings began to doubt his own sanity, just as Attkisson did. And that may have made them paranoid. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that nobody is really out to get you.

What’s your opinion? Comment at the  WikiLeaks/Michael Hastings Conspiracy Theory Open Thread

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