The policy of 'debunking' was introduced in 1953 after UFO and similar sightings and investigations raised public interest. A Panel was established to investiate and recommend actions.
This was the Robertson Panel. The CIA report 'The Durant report of the Robertson Panel proceedings' (January 1953) (1, 2) recommended actions included a strategy of debunking, ridicule etc.
It is fascinating to note that the Report contains no suggestions of any awareness at all of the Roswell incident (1947), which did yield both real artifacts and apparently non-human beings. The lack of mention is interesting because it suggests that even as early as 1953 the usual strategy of isolating areas of knowledge was in use even at these high levels in these organisations, including in the CIA.
The Panel made sensible efforts to rationalise the available information, and concluded that although no immediate threat seemed apparent, there were possible dangers. One would possibly be enemy psyops: 'Subjectivity of public to mass hysteria and greater vulnerability to possible enemy psychological warfare'. The Cold War was ongoing.
When considering the 1953 suggestion about public vulnerability to 'mass hysteria', I look a little further back in time. In 1938 there was the infamous radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds".(3)
Radio was the popular mass media. The setting of the broadcast was as a Halloween episode and it used 'a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress.' And it ran without commercial breaks like real news. Although mass panic was reported by the newspapers and radio, in fact 'almost nobody was fooled by Welles’ broadcast'. (4)
So, there was a spooky setting, a news-realistic experience, and a content of war and danger. This would have been a classic soft psyop, (if that was the purpose), however, 'almost nobody was fooled by Welles’ broadcast'. If it was a psyop, to that extent, it failed, but it succeded well enough for the media of the day, whatever their motives.
It certainly did serve to establish a meme of mass panic re aliens. And in addition, a meme of aliens to be feared. A useful setting maybe, for possible later decisions? To somehow justify a strong culture of covert activity? Who knows?
Orson Welles' later film 'Citizen Kane' (1941) enacted the ruthless use of power in the newspaper industry. He was obviously well aware of such use. It hit a nerve and Newspaper magnate William R Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. (5)
The Robertson Panel conclusions included confirming the need for secrecy, and, with the still unexplained phenomena being visible to the public, the methods included 'debunking' to reduce and deflect public interest.
'Debunking' is alive and well today as can be seen in comments sections of publicly uploaded internet pages. Some comments can be energetic and vicious. Perhaps even, the most energetically ridiculed may turn out to be the most valuable. What a thought!
Another tactic of distraction which is most apparent on the modern internet is one of misinformation. Like finding a pebble on the beach, finding, and identifying, worthy, genuine information is (presumably) sometimes deliberately, obstructed by a mass of other pebbles. Some can be high quality scams. These can serve to discredit unwary popular movements.
To quote a phrase from Star Wars 'These aren't the droids you're looking for'.
Nonetheless, the internet does contain a wealth of information if only one has time to sift.
The term 'Conspiracy theory' has been traced back to a 'CIA propaganda campaign that was designed to discredit doubters of the Warren Commission’s fake search into who assassinated President Kennedy in Dallas. In this light, the use of this pejorative term is obviously a tactic to shame and humiliate those who saw through the ulterior motives of the commission, and thus effectively censor out or even banish anyone who questions official government accounts'.(6)
Currently for the UK, The Prime Minister David Cameron recently said in a speech at the UN in the context of terrorist action that the Government 'must defeat this ideology in all its forms'.
And, that questions about the 9/11 and the London 7/7 bombing being 'staged' were 'peddling of lies'.
What we see here is a policy where the Government does not welcome certain anti-Government opinion, right or wrong, and its discomfort is enough to invoke an anti-terrorism response. In almost the same breath the Prime Minister suggested that free speech was safe with him, in so many words, and again invoked extremism to justify an attack on free speech. (7)
In UK there are currently many websites which are blocked by Court action, mostly on business related copyright grounds. The technology is well proven and established (in existing oppressive regimes). Discomforting anti-Government opinion seems to be next in line.
1) US Department Of Defense. Restatement Of The Proceedings And Conclusions Of The Scientific Advisory Panel On Unidentified Flying Objects
2) The Durant Report of the Robertson Panel Proceedings. REPORT OF SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY PANEL ON UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS CONVENED BY OFFICE OF SCIENTIFIC INTELLIGENCE, CIA
3) The War of the Worlds(radio drama)
4) The Myth of the 'War of the Worlds' Panic. Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio program did not touch off nationwide hysteria. Why does the legend persist?
5) Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film directed, co-written, produced by, and starring Orson Welles.
6) The CIA’s Invention of the “Conspiracy Theorist”: Smear Campaign to Discredit Dissenters.
7) Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron Says “Non-Violent Conspiracy Theorists” Are Just As Dangerous As ISIS.