Hypnosis Comes of Age
George H. Estabrooks, Ph.D.
Science Digest, April, 1971, 44-50
One of the most fascinating but dangerous applications of hypnosis is its use in military intelligence. This is a field with which I am familiar through formulating guidelines for the techniques used by the United States in two world wars.
Communication in war is always a headache. Codes can be broken. A professional spy may or may not stay bought. Your own man may have unquestionable loyalty but his judgment is always open to question.
The “hypnotic courier,” on the other hand, provides a unique solution. I was involved in preparing many subjects for this work during World War II. One successful case involved an Army Service Corps Captain whom we’ll call George Smith. Captain Smith had undergone months of training. He was an excellent subject but did not realize it. I had removed from him, by post hypnotic suggestion, all recollection of ever having been hypnotized.
First I had the Service Corps call the captain to Washington and tell him they needed a report on the mechanical equipment of Division X headquartered in Tokyo. Smith was ordered to leave by jet next morning, pick up the report and return at once. These orders were given him in the waking state. Consciously, that was all he knew, and it was the story he gave his wife and friends.
Then I put him under deep hypnosis, and gave him—orally—a vital message to be delivered directly on his arrival in Japan to a certain colonel—let’s say his name was Brown—of military intelligence. Outside of myself, Colonel Brown was the only person who could hypnotize Captain Smith. This is “locking.” I performed it by saying to the hypnotized Captain: “Until further orders from me, only Colonel Brown and I can hypnotize you. We will use the signal phrase ‘the moon is clear.’ Whenever you hear this phrase from Brown or myself you will pass instantly into deep hypnosis.” When Captain Smith re-awakened, he had no conscious memory of what happened in trance. All that he was aware of was that he must head for Tokyo to pick up the division report.
On arrival there, Smith reported to Brown, who hypnotized him with the signal phrase. Under hypnosis, Smith delivered my message and received one to bring back. Awakened, he was given the division report and returned home by jet. There I hypnotized him once more with the signal phrase, and he spieled off Brown’s answer that had been dutifully tucked away in his unconscious mind.
The system is virtually foolproof. As exemplified by the case, the information literally was “locked” in Smith’s unconscious for retrieval by the only two people who knew the combination. The subject had no conscious memory of what happened, so couldn’t spill the beans. No one else could hypnotize him even if they might know the signal phrase.
Not all applications of hypnotism to military intelligence are as tidy as that. Perhaps you have read The Dissociation of Personality.[Note:1] The book was based on a case reported in 1905 by Dr. Morton Prince of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard. He startled everyone in the field by announcing that he had cured a woman named Beauchamp of a split personality problem. Using post-hypnotic suggestion to submerge an incompatible, childlike facet of the patient, he’d been able to make two other sides of Mrs. Beauchamp compatible, and lump them together in a single cohesive personality. Clinical hypnotists throughout the world jumped on the multiple personality bandwagon as a fascinating frontier. By the 1920’s not only had they learned to apply posthypnotic suggestion to deal with this weird problem, but also had learned how to split certain complex individuals into multiple personalities like Jeckyl-Hydes.
The potential for military intelligence has been nightmarish. During World War II, I worked this technique with a vulnerable Marine lieutenant I’ll call Jones. Under the watchful eye of Marine intelligence I split his personality into Jones A and Jones B. Jones A, once a “normal” working Marine, became entirely different. He talked communist doctrine and meant it. He was welcomed enthusiastically by communist cells, and was deliberately given a dishonorable discharge by the Corps (which was in on the plot) and became a card-carrying party member.
The joker was Jones B, the second personality, formerly apparent in the conscious Marine. Under hypnosis, this Jones had been carefully coached by suggestion. Jones B was the deeper personality, knew all the thoughts of Jones A, was a loyal American and was “imprinted” to say nothing during conscious phases.
All I had to do was hypnotize the whole man, get in touch with Jones B, the loyal American, and I had a pipeline straight into the Communist camp. It worked beautifully for months with this subject, but the technique backfired. While there was no way for an enemy to expose Jones’ dual personality, they suspected it and played the same trick on us later.
The use of “waking hypnosis” in counter intelligence during World War II occasionally became so involved that it taxed even my credibility. Among the most complicated ploys used was the practice of sending a perfectly normal, wide-awake agent into enemy camp, after he’d been carefully coached in waking hypnosis to act the part of a potential hypnotism subject. Trained in auto-suggestion, or self-hypnosis, such a subject can pass every test used to spot a hypnotized person. Using it, he can control the rate of his heartbeat, anesthetize himself to a degree against pain of electric shock or other torture.
In the case of an officer we’ll call Cox, this carefully prepared counter spy was given a title to indicate he had access to top priority information. He was planted in an international café in a border country where it was certain there would be enemy agents. He talked too much, drank a lot, made friends with local girls, and pretended a childish interest in hypnotism. The hope was that he would blunder into a situation in which enemy agents would kidnap and try to hypnotize him, in order to extract information from him.
Cox worked so well that they fell for the trick. He never allowed himself to be hypnotized during séances. While pretending to be a hypnotized subject of the foe, he was gathering and feeding back information.
Eventually Cox did get caught, when he was followed to an information “drop.” And this international group plays rough. The enemy offered him a “ride” at gunpoint. There were four men in the vehicle. Cox watched for a chance and found it when the car skirted a ravine. He leaped for the wheel, twisted it, and over the ledge they went. Two of his guards were killed in the crash. In the ensuing scramble, he got hold of another man’s gun, liquidated the remaining two, then hobbled across the border with nothing worse than a broken leg. So much for the darker side.