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Properly Paranoid / Real Life

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Justified paranoia in real life.


  • Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is believed to have uttered the oft-quoted "Even a paranoid can have enemies" line to Henry Kissinger during the 1973 Sinai peace talks (in reference to her reluctance to give the Palestinians additional concessions). The line is sometimes attributed to Kissinger.
  • Fidel Castro. The CIA tried to assassinate him over six hundred times. He ultimately died of natural causes in 2016 at age ninety. Who else but a true paranoid would consider exploding seashells?
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  • Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi didn't have the foresight to prevent her own assassination by her bodyguards. Before that, however, she was widely derided in the U.S. press of being paranoid of American military intervention into Subcontinental Asia, particularly on Pakistan's behalf, leading her to formalize strategic cooperation with the USSR. Guess whose nuclear-armed carrier group showed up in the Bay of Bengal in 1971?
  • There was a court case in which one of the witnesses was another witness's shrink. When asked whether said other witness was paranoid, he answered that he thought so, until he heard the testimony of some of the other witnesses. note 
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  • When Conspiracy Theorist David Icke (of shapeshifting Lizard Folk fame) visited Canada, he was the subject of a conspiracy to sabotage his visit. This culminated in a television appearance in which a psychologist brought in to reveal him as crazy asked why he thought that people were trying to silence him, whereupon Icke cited the official harassment and multiple cancellations he had received aimed at just that.
  • One of Wild Bill Hickok's cardinal rules was to not sit with his back to the door to a room. John ("Broken Nose Jack") McCall ultimately demonstrated why this was a good idea, and why Hickok's violating that rule was terminally unwise, by shooting Hickok in the back of the head.
  • Malcolm X took many precautions because he feared someone was out to get him. He was right.
  • Some people can honestly claim that Communists and the government had them falsely declared insane for disagreeing with them. Indeed, if you are religious, and particularly if you are a priest in the USSR before the 1940s, China after Mao even now [2014], or 21st century North Korea, and so forth, could get you institutionalized, or just plain murdered. It is still pretty bad in large parts of the world and there are legions of people who have been locked up, or just plain killed, for 'subversive behavior'...
    • In China and North Korea, it is bad enough that the Catholic Church's cardinals for those areas have to be appointed in secret.
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    • Even peaceful and democratic Norway have (reportedly) a couple of cases where subversive behavior has been punished with asylum confinement... or so they say.
  • You can't be too careful with nuclear power.
    • When Switzerland started its nuclear program, one of their early prototype power-plants was Lucens. The head of the project assured the federal council that "everything is safe, and nothing can go wrong." On the same day, there was a reactor meltdown. Since they feared something like that might happen, the reactor had been built in a cave which was then simply sealed off for the next decade.
    • The UK had a problem with the "Windscale Piles", reactors built in a hurry right after the war that vented out into the air via huge chimneys. Sir John Cockcroft insisted that the buildings be modified to include scrubbers at the top of the chimney stacks, a very expensive decision which became known as "Cockcroft's Folly". When one of the piles caught fire, the filters stopped a disaster from becoming a catastrophe.
  • Adolf Hitler frequently altered his planned appearances and travel plans out of a sudden fear for possible attempts on his life. This allowed him to survive dozens of carefully calculated assassination attempts, most of them perpetrated by his own officers. When you look at how meticulously these murders were planned, it's clear that only paranoia or dumb luck could have saved him so many times.
  • Ernest Hemingway believed himself to be tailed by the FBI, a claim his friend dismissed as a delusion resulting from mental deterioration and depression. However, it was later revealed that he really was ordered to be monitored for his activities in Cuba by J Edgar Hoover.
  • Michael Drosnin using codes he claimed were hidden in the Bible predicted an assassination involving Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Then Rabin was assassinated.
  • During late July/early August of 2011, many members of the Bethesda forums expressed a suspicion that the Lonesome Road DLC for Fallout: New Vegas would be delayed. The senior producer, Jason Bergman, called people paranoid and said that Lonesome Road would come out in August. A week later, it was announced that Lonesome Road had been delayed and wouldn't come out in August.
  • During the 1920s, the Australian government ordered for Harry Bridges to be deported because he was a Communist, and therefore an agent of the Soviet Union, although he denied it all the way. Turns out, the Australian government was correct in their suspicions, and that Harry Bridges was one of the leaders of the Communist party, a fact that was discovered after the Berlin Wall fell.
  • Doubly happened on September 11, 2001:
    • Rick Rescorla, a former colonel in the US Army, became the chief of security for Morgan Stanley after he retired. First, he expressed his worry that the towers would be vulnerable to a truck bomb... which then happened in 1993. Later he said that terrorists would probably try again — using airplanes. He was last seen running up the stairs of the South Tower to aid in rescuing more people.
    • There was John O'Neill, who had become the head of WTC security 19 days before 9/11. His previous job: One of the main FBI counter-terrorism experts on Osama Bin Laden. When he took the job, he told his new boss he worried that they'd try to "finish the job".
  • It is the job of the CIA, KGB, Mossad, etc. to be Properly Paranoid. ANY intelligence group that uses secrecy as its M.O. causes this trope by mere existing, and that's just the KNOWN ones. The ones that are completely unknown are even worse. We presume.
  • Fans of the American Big Brother have feared that Russell Hantz or a member of his family will be cast for Big Brother, especially after seeing Network Pets from Big Brother appear on The Amazing Race, and Russell's nephew being cast for Survivor: South Pacific. Two years passed and no Hantz in sight. When the cast for the 2012 season was announced, Russell's brother Willie showed up on the list. Willie would ultimately be ejected early on after headbutting another contestant.
  • Motorcyclists are often told to ride as though everyone else is out to get you. Justified in that riding a motorbike is more dangerous than driving, and doing so is a way to minimize the risks involved. (Some people have no compunctions about trying to run bikers off the road.) Similarly for car drivers, if you treat everyone else on the road like an idiot, you'll be prepared for when they make a (stupid) mistake.
  • After what looked like an effortless Coalition victory in Operation Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein is reported to have developed a deathly fear of the United States; crediting it with an unrealistic ability to track his every movement. He reportedly employed several body doubles, and it is speculated that prior to the Second Gulf War, he hadn't appeared in public for several months (facial recognition software suggests that his doubles had filled in for him in every time he had supposedly appeared in public). He was right to be worried.
  • Any form of engineering where lives are at stake tends to operate like this, including civil, medical and aviation. The design needs to be prepared for any component to fail. The preparations need to be double-checked by an outside expert. Etcetera. This is why bridges so rarely collapse with people on them.
  • There is no one city whose complete destruction would result in loss of user data for Google services. There is no city whose total loss would cause more than a few minutes availability disruption for most services. These systems are tested periodically.
  • Joseph Stalin was initially cajoled for being too complacent about his personal security in the early years (1925-29) of his rule. A constant stream of false alarms from the NKVD and five genuine assassination attempts later, he became Properly Paranoid.
    • After the rise of Hitler, Stalin knew he had gotten himself a great adversary (Hitler had plans for attacks on the Soviet Union in 1924 already), and feared for Nazi undermining of his government (hence The Purge). After World War II, he understood the US government sent signals that were equally hostile, and then the Cold War was on, turning Stalin´s paranoia Up to Eleven.
  • Robert Hanssen was paranoid even beyond what one would expect from a high-ranking FBI intelligence officer. That's understandable because he had spent 22 years selling secrets to the Soviets and, later, the Russians. Hanssen was so careful that even after the FBI had identified Hanssen as the leak, it took them several months to find any hard evidence to build a case against him. He was so paranoid that it's unclear whether or not his Russian handlers even knew who he was (Hanssen had always insisted on communicating through blind dead-drops in a secluded park). Hanssen very quickly realized that he was under investigation. One of the clues that tipped him off was subtle FM interference he later claimed was indicative of electric bugs that were planted in his car. He was right, the FBI had bugged his car, but investigators have never been able to reproduce the interference that Hanssen claimed to have heard. As the biggest US intelligence leak in history up to that point, Hanssen is currently serving a life sentence in federal supermax at ADX Florence.
  • Ernest Hemingway spent his latter years believing that people were following him, bugging his phone, and opening his mail. His paranoia was part of the reason he was subjected to brutal electroshock and drugging that contributed to his infamous suicide. It wasn't until many years later that it was revealed, it was all true. Hemingway was spied on by the Hoover FBI on the "logic" that being an artist and having lived in Cuba, obviously he must be a Communist infiltrator.
  • The human immune system is, in many ways, a totalitarian police state, with many mechanisms of identifying anything potentially treasonous (cancer cells, virus-infected cells, etc.) or alien (bacteria, parasites, etc.) The standard procedure for anything that fits those categories that isn't a member of the commensal flora/slave underclass is to immediately kill it, and considering what allowing pathogens to fester in the body can result in, it's a pretty good mindset. As is also the case with totalitarian police states, it can get overzealous and attack healthy cells or things that are harmless. The former is called an autoimmune disease, and the latter is called an allergy. Sufficiently serious cases of either one can be fatal.
  • During World War I, Italian commander-in-chief Luigi Cadorna insisted on fortifying with a large chunk of the Italian artillery the Monte Grappa, a mountain away from the front lines and in an area where the mountain terrain was too bad for any meaningful offensive. This is because that mountain was on the way from Austria and to the valley where most of Italy's weapon factories were located. To be even more safe, he had a road built specifically to resupply that mountain, in case some enemies managed to bypass it and cut the normal supplies. Come the Battle of Caporetto, the Austro-Hungarians broke through in a completely different area of the front and suddenly, the Grappa is attacked by forces aiming specifically to reach that valley and that arrived there because the main offensive had cut off the supplies of the fortified mountains that were supposed to stop them, and only its immense artillery park prevented the Austrian mountain troops from effectively capturing Italy's means to fight the war.
  • The Austro-Hungarian admiralty became immensely paranoid after two MAS (basically, medium-large speedboats with a pair of torpedoes strapped on the sides employed by the Italians) penetrated the harbor of Trieste and torpedoed two coastal defense ships (sinking one and damaging the other) in it. It increased the surveillance of the harbor and deployed torpedo nets near any moored ship. The captains considered the torpedo nets a superfluous navigational annoyance... Until three MAS penetrated the apparently impenetrable bay of Bakar and fired torpedoes. Only the torpedo nets prevented the sinking of three warships. Before leaving, they left mocking messages daring them to come out and fight. The purpose was to bait the survivors into leaving the torpedo nets and getting torpedoed in the narrow exit by an ambush force of one scout cruiser, eight destroyers, three standard torpedo boats, and two submarines. The fleet, having learned their lesson, didn't leave until well after the ambush force decided to leave. After what is now appropriately known as the Bakar Mockery, the Austro-Hungarian fleet increased the surveillance, just to be safe... And it wasn't enough: the Italians were experimenting with the human torpedo, that simply couldn't be detected in time without sonar.
  • Windows Vista's User Account Control was incredibly annoying, forcing users to put in administrator passwords for things as mundane as changing the screen resolution. Windows, as the most popular operating system, is the biggest hacking target. Part of this was deliberate in an attempt to force software developers to get their act together. Many games in the XP era required users to be administrators, leaving the barn door wide open. It worked. Most games and programs generally only require admin access on installation only. Microsoft toned down UAC in later versions of Windows.
  • Apple's iTunes is also naggy about security, requiring you to put in your Apple ID to do just about anything. iTunes locks your account if you fat-finger your password even once, requiring you to prove that it's actually you trying to access it. It also forces you to have a different email address for recovery than the one you've used for your Apple ID to try to thwart the kind of social engineering hack that was perpetrated on Wired writer Mat Honan.
  • Misdiagnosing a witness to actual criminal activity as paranoid or delusional is apparently common enough to have gained its own label: the Martha Mitchell effect, named for the wife of then-Attorney General John Mitchell whose allegations that her husband and other government officials were involved in illegal activity were attributed to mental illness. While some of her claims remain unverified to this day, many of those officials (including her husband) would later be implicated in the Watergate scandal.
  • Among system administrators and other computer specialists, there is a saying that "adequate computer security is indistinguishable from paranoia". The Internet is definitely not a nice place, and even your corporate network may not be as safe as you think it is. Having good computer security is vital these days, and neglecting it can have costly and embarrassing results. As with intelligence agencies, it's the job of system administrators and security researchers to be paranoid.
  • Charles Manson gave an interview where he claimed that "total paranoia is total awareness", citing coyotes as good role models for this.
  • Many of Bernie Sanders' supporters for the 2016 election believed that the DNC was rigging the election in Hillary's favor, to which others would respond that they were being sore losers for crying out that the election was unfair. But as the Democratic Convention came to Philadelphia? It turns out that the DNC did have a preference for Hillary Clinton and had suggested making several moves to further help her, although all the documented cases of such came very late in the primary after Clinton's victory was already assured, and none of these suggestions seem to have ever been put into action. This controversy led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairperson of the DNC at the time, and is generally believed to be a deciding factor in Donald Trump winning the election.
  • Are you working on something important on your PC? Unless what you're using automatically saves for you (such as Google Docs), save after any significant change. Saving every, say, 30-60 seconds may feel like overkill, but it's better than a sudden power outage, application crash, or kernel error wiping out that 1,000-word term paper or personal art project that you haven't even saved to a file yet. While many modern applications will offer some form of emergency data recovery, it usually does not save to the file you're working on and is usually by default set to a comparatively low frequency (such as every 10 minutes); you're better off trusting trigger fingers that regularly reach for CTRL+S.
  • Internet password security is an area where there is no such thing as being too paranoid. There are countless numbers of pirates, hackers, crooks and scammers working hard every day on breaking into your accounts to steal any personal information they can use to resell, blackmail or drain your bank account. Never, ever reuse passwords between different accounts because whenever a hacker gets in one of your accounts, they will immediately test it on every other major service to see where else it may work. If you used your Yahoo mail password everywhere during the account password leak, your entire online persona got compromised.
    • Never use real names, birthdates or years, friend or pet names. Those are as obvious as password or guest.
    • Security questions with obvious answers are a favorite of those who social engineer their way in. If your security answers can be guessed by your friend or by gleaning your Facebook profile, pick a different answer. Preferably a nonsense answer no one would possibly think is a reasonable answer to anything.
  • Pretty much the only way to survive the internet or even your mobile device without getting the crap scammed out of you and your wallet emptied is to act as if pretty much everything is out to get you. Way more often than not you'll be right. No, you didn't get a refund from the IRS. No, that woman doesn't live near you and want to hook up (or exist, for that matter). No, you don't need to resecure your bank account as that email says. Yes, you SHOULD be concerned if your device is suddenly acting slow or doing unexpected things
  • Anyone who works in a hospital is going to be this trope, as the universal safety precaution is to assume that all bodily fluids are infectious at all times. This is because the alternative is placing oneself at risk of AIDS, drug-resistant bacteria, or worse.

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