The Search for the
The CIA and Mind Control
New York: Times Books, 1979
World War II
On the outskirts of Basel, Switzerland, overlooking the Rhine, lies the worldwide headquarters of the Sandoz drug and chemical empire. There, on the afternoon of April 16, 1943, Dr. Albert Hofmann made an extraordinary discovery—by accident.
At 37, with close-cropped hair and rimless glasses, Hofmann headed the company’s research program to develop marketable drugs out of natural products. He was hard at work in his laboratory that warm April day when a wave of dizziness suddenly overcame him. The strange sensation was not unpleasant, and Hofmann felt almost as though he were drunk.
But he became quite restless. His nerves seemed to run off in different directions. The inebriation was unlike anything he had ever known before. Leaving work early, Hofmann managed a wobbly bicycle-ride home. He lay down and closed his eyes, still unable to shake the dizziness. Now the light of day was disagreeably bright. With the external world shut out, his mind raced along. He experienced what he would later describe as “an uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness. . . . accompanied by an intense, kaleidoscope-like play of colors.”
These visions subsided after a few hours, and Hofmann, ever the inquiring scientist, set out to find what caused them. He presumed he had somehow ingested one of the drugs with which he had been working that day, and his prime suspect was d-lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, a substance that he himself had first produced in the same lab five years earlier. As part of his search for a circulation stimulant, Hofmann had been examining derivatives of ergot, a fungus that attacks rye.
Ergot had a mysterious, contradictory reputation. In China and some Arab countries, it was thought to have medicinal powers, but in Europe it was associated with the horrible malady from the Middle Ages called St. Anthony’s Fire, which struck periodically like the plague. The disease turned fingers and toes into blackened stumps and led to madness and death.
Hofmann guessed that he had absorbed some ergot derivative through his skin, perhaps while changing the filter paper in a suction bottle. To test his theory, he spent three days making up a fresh batch of LSD. Cautiously he swallowed 250 micrograms (less than 1/100,000 of an ounce). Hofmann planned to take more gradually through the day to obtain a result, since no known drug had any effect on the human body in such infinitesimal amounts. He had no way of knowing that because of LSD’s potency, he had already taken several times what would later be termed an ordinary dose. Unexpectedly, this first speck of LSD took hold after about 40 minutes, and Hofmann was off on the first self-induced “trip” of modern times.
Hofmann recalls he felt “horrific . . . I was afraid. I feared I was becoming crazy. I had the idea I was out of my body. I thought I had died. I did not know how it would finish. If you know you will come back from this very strange world, only then can you enjoy it.” Of course, Hofmann had no way of knowing that he would return. While he had quickly recovered from his accidental trip three days earlier, he did not know how much LSD had caused it or whether the present dose was more than his body could detoxify. His mind kept veering off into an unknown dimension, but he was unable to appreciate much beyond his own terror.
Less than 200 miles from Hofmann’s laboratory, doctors connected to the S.S. and Gestapo were doing experiments that led to the testing of mescaline (a drug which has many of the mind-changing qualities of LSD) on prisoners at Dachau. Germany’s secret policemen had the notion, completely alien to Hofmann, that they could use drugs like mescaline to bring unwilling people under their control. According to research team member Walter Neff, the goal of the Dachau experiments was “to eliminate the will of the person examined.”
At Dachau, Nazis took the search for scientific knowledge of military value to its most awful extreme. There, in a closely guarded, fenced-off part of the camp, S.S. doctors studied such questions as the amount of time a downed airman could survive in the North Atlantic in February. Information of this sort was considered important to German security, since skilled pilots were in relatively short supply. So, at Heinrich Himmler’s personal order, the doctors at Dachau simply sat by huge tubs of ice water with stopwatches and timed how long it took immersed prisoners to die. In other experiments, under the cover of “aviation medicine,” inmates were crushed to death in high-altitude pressure chambers (to learn how high pilots could safely fly), and prisoners were shot, so that special blood coagulants could be tested on their wounds.
The mescaline tests at Dachau run by Dr. Kurt Plötner were not nearly so lethal as the others in the “aviation” series, but the drug could still cause grave damage, particularly to anyone who already had some degree of mental instability. The danger was increased by the fact that the mescaline was administered covertly by S.S. men who spiked the prisoners’ drinks. Unlike Dr. Hofmann, the subjects had no idea that a drug was causing their extreme disorientation. Many must have feared they had gone stark mad all on their own. Always, the subjects of these experiments were Jews, gypsies, Russians, and other groups on whose lives the Nazis placed little or no value. In no way were any of them true volunteers, although some may have come forward under the delusion that they would receive better treatment.
After the war, Neff told American investigators that the subjects showed a wide variety of reactions. Some became furious; others were melancholy or gay, as if they were drunk. Not surprisingly, “sentiments of hatred and revenge were exposed in every case.” Neff’ noted that the drug caused certain people to reveal their “most intimate secrets.” Still, the Germans were not ready to accept mescaline as a substitute for their more physical methods of interrogation. They went on to try hypnosis in combination with the drug, but they apparently never felt confident that they had found a way to assume command of their victim’s mind.
Even as the S.S. doctors were carrying on their experiments at Dachau, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America’s wartime intelligence agency, set up a “truth drug” committee under Dr. Winfred Overholser, head of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington. The committee quickly tried and rejected mescaline, several barbiturates, and scopolamine. Then, during the spring of 1943, the committee decided that cannabis indica—or marijuana—showed the most promise, and it started a testing program in cooperation with the Manhattan Project, the TOP SECRET effort to build an atomic bomb. It is not clear why OSS turned to the bomb makers for help, except that, as one former Project official puts it, “Our secret was so great, I guess we were safer than anyone else.” Apparently, top Project leaders, who went to incredible lengths to preserve security, saw no danger in trying out drugs on their personnel.
The Manhattan Project supplied the first dozen test subjects, who were asked to swallow a concentrated, liquid form of marijuana that an American pharmaceutical company furnished in small glass vials. A Project man who was present recalls: “It didn’t work the way we wanted. Apparently the human system would not take it all at once orally. The subjects would lean over and vomit.” What is more, they disclosed no secrets, and one subject wound up in the hospital.
Back to the drawing board went the OSS experts. They decided that the best way to administer the marijuana was inhalation of its fumes. Attempts were made to pour the solution on burning charcoal, and an OSS officer named George White (who had already succeeded in knocking himself out with an overdose of the relatively potent substance) tried out the vapor, without sufficient effect, at St. Elizabeth’s. Finally, the OSS group discovered a delivery system which had been known for years to jazz musicians and other users: the cigarette. OSS documents reported that smoking a mix of tobacco and the marijuana essence brought on a “state of irresponsibility, causing the subject to be loquacious and free in his impartation of information.”
The first field test of these marijuana-laced cigarettes took place on May 27, 1943. The subject was one August Del Gracio, who was described in OSS documents as a “notorious New York gangster.” George White, an Army captain who had come to OSS from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, administered the drug by inviting Del Gracio up to his apartment for a smoke and a chat. White had been talking to Del Gracio earlier about securing the Mafia’s cooperation to keep Axis agents out of the New York waterfront and to prepare the way for the invasion of Sicily.
Del Gracio had already made it clear to White that he personally had taken part in killing informers who had squealed to the Feds. The gangster was as tough as they came, and if he could be induced to talk under the influence of a truth drug, certainly German prisoners could—or so the reasoning went. White plied him with cigarettes until “subject became high and extremely garrulous.” Over the next two hours, Del Gracio told the Federal agent about the ins and outs of the drug trade (revealing information so sensitive that the CIA deleted it from the OSS documents it released 34 years later). At one point in the conversation, after Del Gracio had begun to talk, the gangster told White, “Whatever you do, don’t ever use any of the stuff I’m telling you.” In a subsequent session, White packed the cigarettes with so much marijuana that Del Gracio became unconscious for about an hour. Yet, on the whole the experiment was considered a success in “loosening the subject’s tongue.”
While members of the truth-drug committee never believed that the concentrated marijuana could compel a person to confess his deepest secrets, they authorized White to push ahead with the testing. On the next stage, he and a Manhattan Project counterintelligence man borrowed 15 to 18 thick dossiers from the FBI and went off to try the marijuana on suspected Communist soldiers stationed in military camps outside Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans. According to White’s Manhattan Project sidekick, a Harvard Law graduate and future judge, they worked out a standard interrogation technique:
Before we went in, George and I would buy cigarettes, remove them from the bottom of the pack, use a hypodermic needle to put in the fluid, and leave the cigarettes in a shot glass to dry. Then, we resealed the pack. . . . We sat down with a particular soldier and tried to win his confidence. We would say something like “This is better than being overseas and getting shot at,” and we would try to break them. We started asking questions from their [FBI] folder, and we would let them see that we had the folder on them . . . We had a pitcher of ice water on the table, and we knew the drug had taken effect when they reached for a glass. The stuff actually worked. . . . Everyone but one—and he didn’t smoke—gave us more information than we had before.
The Manhattan Project lawyer remembers this swing through the South with George White as a “good time.” The two men ate in the best restaurants and took in all the sights. “George was quite a guy,” he says. “At the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans after we had interviewed our men, we were lying on the beds when George took out his pistol and shot his initials into the molding that ran along the ceiling. He used his .22 automatic, equipped with a silencer, and he emptied several clips.” Asked if he tried out the truth drug himself, the lawyer says, “Yes. The cigarettes gave you a feeling of walking a couple of feet off the floor. I had a pleasant sensation of well-being. . . . The fellows from my office wouldn’t take a cigarette from me for the rest of the war.”
Since World War II, the United States government, led by the Central Intelligence Agency, has searched secretly for ways to control human behavior. This book is about that search, which had its origins in World War II. The CIA programs were not only an extension of the OSS quest for a truth drug, but they also echoed such events as the Nazi experiments at Dachau and Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD.
By probing the inner reaches of consciousness, Hofmann’s research took him to the very frontiers of knowledge. As never before in history, the warring powers sought ideas from scientists capable of reaching those frontiers—ideas that could make the difference between victory and defeat. While Hofmann himself remained aloof, in the Swiss tradition, other scientists, like Albert Einstein, helped turned the abstractions of the laboratory into incredibly destructive weapons. Jules Verne’s notions of spaceships touching the moon stopped being absurd when Wernher von Braun’s rockets started pounding London. With their creations, the scientists reached beyond the speculations of science fiction. Never before had their discoveries been so breathtaking and so frightening. Albert Hofmann’s work touched upon the fantasies of the mind—accessible, in ancient legends, to witches and wizards who used spells and potions to bring people under their sway. In the early scientific age, the dream of controlling the brain took on a modern form in Mary Shelley’s creation, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. The dream would be updated again during the Cold War era to become the Manchurian Candidate, the assassin whose mind was controlled by a hostile government. Who could say for certain that such a fantasy would not be turned into a reality like Verne’s rocket stories or Einstein’s calculations? And who should be surprised to learn that government agencies—specifically the CIA—would swoop down on Albert Hofmann’s lab in an effort to harness the power over the mind that LSD seemed to hold?
From the Dachau experiments came the cruelty that man was capable of heaping upon his fellows in the name of advancing science and helping his country gain advantage in war. To say that the Dachau experiments are object lessons of how far people can stretch ends to justify means is to belittle by cliché what occurred in the concentration camps. Nothing the CIA ever did in its postwar search for mind-control technology came close to the callous killing of the Nazi “aviation research.” Nevertheless, in their attempts to find ways to manipulate people, Agency officials and their agents crossed many of the same ethical barriers. They experimented with dangerous and unknown techniques on people who had no idea what was happening. They systematically violated the free will and mental dignity of their subjects, and, like the Germans, they chose to victimize special groups of people whose existence they considered, out of prejudice and convenience, less worthy than their own. Wherever their extreme experiments went, the CIA sponsors picked for subjects their own equivalents of the Nazis’ Jews and gypsies: mental patients, prostitutes, foreigners, drug addicts, and prisoners, often from minority ethnic groups.
In the postwar era, American officials straddled the ethical and the cutthroat approaches to scientific research. After an Allied tribunal had convicted the first echelon of surviving Nazi war criminals—the Görings and Speers—American prosecutors charged the Dachau doctors with “crimes against humanity” at a second Nuremberg trial. None of the German scientists expressed remorse. Most claimed that someone else had carried out the vilest experiments. All said that issues of moral and personal responsibility are moot in state-sponsored research. What is critical, testified Dr. Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician, is “whether the experiment is important or unimportant.” Asked his attitude toward killing human beings in the course of medical research, Brandt replied, “Do you think that one can obtain any worthwhile fundamental results without a definite toll of lives?” The judges at Nuremberg rejected such defenses and put forth what came to be known as the Nuremberg Code on scientific research. Its main points were simple: Researchers must obtain full voluntary consent from all subjects; experiments should yield fruitful results for the good of society that can be obtained in no other way; researchers should not conduct tests where death or serious injury might occur, “except, perhaps” when the supervising doctors also serve as subjects. The judges—all Americans—sentenced seven of the Germans, including Dr. Brandt, to death by hanging. Nine others received long prison sentences. Thus, the U.S. government put its full moral force behind the idea that there were limits on what scientists could do to human subjects, even when a country’s security was thought to hang in the balance.
The Nuremberg Code has remained official American policy ever since 1946, but, even before the verdicts were in, special U.S. investigating teams were sifting through the experimental records at Dachau for information of military value. The report of one such team found that while part of the data was “inaccurate,” some of the conclusions, if confirmed, would be “an important complement to existing knowledge.” Military authorities sent the records, including a description of the mescaline and hypnosis experiments, back to the United States. None of the German mind-control research was ever made public.
Immediately after the war, large political currents began to shift in the world, as they always do. Allies became enemies and enemies became allies. Other changes were fresh and yet old. In the United States, the new Cold War against communism carried with it a piercing sense of fear and a sweeping sense of mission—at least as far as American leaders were concerned. Out of these feelings and out of that overriding American faith in advancing technology came the CIA’s attempts to tame hostile minds and make spy fantasies real. Experiments went forward and the CIA’s scientists—bitten, sometimes obsessed—kept going back to their laboratories for one last adjustment. Some theories were crushed, while others emerged in unexpected ways that would have a greater impact outside the CIA than in the world of covert operations. Only one aspect remained constant during the quarter-century of active research: The CIA’s interest in controlling the human mind had to remain absolutely secret.
World War II provided more than the grand themes of the CIA’s behavioral programs. It also became the formative life experience of the principal CIA officials, and, indeed, of the CIA itself as an institution. The secret derring-do of the OSS was new to the United States, and the ways of the OSS would grow into the ways of the CIA. OSS leaders would have their counterparts later in the Agency. CIA officials tended to have known the OSS men, to think like them, to copy their methods, and even, in some cases, to be the same people. When Agency officials wanted to launch their massive effort for mind control, for instance, they got out the old OSS documents and went about their goal in many of the same ways the OSS had. OSS leaders enlisted outside scientists; Agency officials also went to the most prestigious ones in academia and industry, soliciting aid for the good of the country. They even approached the same George White who had shot his initials in the hotel ceiling while on OSS assignment.
Years later, White’s escapades with OSS and CIA would carry with them a humor clearly unintended at the time. To those directly involved, influencing human behavior was a deadly serious business, but qualities like bumbling and pure craziness shine through in hindsight. In the CIA’s campaign, some of America’s most distinguished behavioral scientists would stick all kinds of drugs and wires into their experimental subjects—often dismissing the obviously harmful effects with theories reminiscent of the learned nineteenth-century physicians who bled their patients with leeches and belittled the ignorance of anyone who questioned the technique. If the schemes of these scientists to control the mind had met with more success, they would be much less amusing. But so far, at least, the human spirit has apparently kept winning. That—if anything—is the saving grace of the mind-control campaign.
World War II signaled the end of American isolation and innocence, and the United States found it had a huge gap to close, with its enemies and allies alike, in applying underhanded tactics to war. Unlike Britain, which for hundreds of years had used covert operations to hold her empire together, the United States had no tradition of using subversion as a secret instrument of government policy. The Germans, the French, the Russians, and nearly everyone else had long been involved in this game, although no one seemed as good at it as the British.
Clandestine lobbying by British agents in the United States led directly to President Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of the organization that became OSS in 1942. This was the first American agency set up to wage secret, unlimited war. Roosevelt placed it under the command of a Wall Street lawyer and World War I military hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan. A burly, vigorous Republican millionaire with great intellectual curiosity, Donovan started as White House intelligence adviser even before Pearl Harbor, and he had direct access to the President.
Learning at the feet of the British who made available their expertise, if not all their secrets, Donovan put together an organization where nothing had existed before. A Columbia College and Columbia Law graduate himself, he tended to turn to the gentlemanly preserves of the Eastern establishment for recruits. (The initials OSS were said to stand for “Oh So Social.”) Friends—or friends of friends—could be trusted. “Old boys” were the stalwarts of the British secret service, and, as with most other aspects of OSS, the Americans followed suit.
One of Donovan’s new recruits was Richard Helms, a young newspaper executive then best known for having gained an interview with Adolf Hitler in 1936 while working for United Press. Having gone to Le Rosey, the same Swiss prep school as the Shah of Iran, and then on to clubby Williams College Helms moved easily among the young OSS men. He was already more taciturn than the jovial Donovan, but he was equally ambitious and skilled as a judge of character. For Helms, OSS spywork began a lifelong career. He would become the most important sponsor of mind-control research within the CIA, nurturing and promoting it throughout his steady climb to the top position in the Agency.
Like every major wartime official from President Roosevelt down, General Donovan believed that World War II was in large measure a battle of science and organization. The idea was to mobilize science for defense, and the Roosevelt administration set up a costly, intertwining network of research programs to deal with everything from splitting the atom to preventing mental breakdowns in combat. Donovan named Boston industrialist Stanley Lovell to head OSS Research and Development and to be the secret agency’s liaison with the government scientific community.
A Cornell graduate and a self-described “saucepan chemist,” Lovell was a confident energetic man with a particular knack for coming up with offbeat ideas and selling them to others. Like most of his generation, he was an outspoken patriot. He wrote in his diary shortly after Pearl Harbor: “As James Hilton said, ‘Once at war, to reason is treason.’ My job is clear—to do all that is in me to help America.”
General Donovan minced no words in laying out what he expected of Lovell: “I need every subtle device and every underhanded trick to use against the Germans and Japanese—by our own people—but especially by the underground resistance programs in all the occupied countries. You’ll have to invent them all, Lovell, because you’re going to be my man.” Thus Lovell recalled his marching orders from Donovan, which he instantly received on being introduced to the blustery, hyperactive OSS chief. Lovell had never met anyone with Donovan’s personal magnetism.
Lovell quickly turned to some of the leading lights in the academic and private sectors. A special group—called Division 19—within James Conant’s National Defense Research Committee was set up to produce “miscellaneous weapons” for OSS and British intelligence. Lovell’s strategy, he later wrote, was “to stimulate the Peck’s Bad Boy beneath the surface of every American scientist and to say to him, ‘Throw all your normal law-abiding concepts out the window. Here’s a chance to raise merry hell.’”
Dr. George Kistiakowsky, the Harvard chemist who worked on explosives research during the war (and who became science adviser to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy) remembers Stanley Lovell well: “Stan came to us and asked us to develop ways for camouflaging explosives which could be smuggled into enemy countries.” Kistiakowsky and an associate came up with a substance which was dubbed “Aunt Jemima” because it looked and tasted like pancake mix. Says Kistiakowsky: “You could bake bread or other things out of it. I personally took it to a high-level meeting at the War Department and ate cookies in front of all those characters to show them what a wonderful invention it was. All you had to do was attach a powerful detonator, and it exploded with the force of dynamite.” Thus disguised, “Aunt Jemima” could be slipped into occupied lands. It was credited with blowing up at least one major bridge in China.
Lovell encouraged OSS behavioral scientists to find something that would offend Japanese cultural sensibilities. His staff anthropologists reported back that nothing was so shameful to the Japanese soldier as his bowel movements. Lovell then had the chemists work up a skatole compound which duplicated the odor of diarrhea. It was loaded into collapsible tubes, flown to China, and distributed to children in enemy-occupied cities. When a Japanese officer appeared on a crowded street, the kids were encouraged to slip up behind him and squirt the liquid on the seat of his pants. Lovell named the product “Who? Me?” and he credited it with costing the Japanese “face.”
Unlike most weapons, “Who? Me?” was not designed to kill or maim. It was a “harassment substance” designed to lower the morale of individual Japanese. The inspiration came from academicians who tried to make a science of human behavior. During World War II, the behavioral sciences were still very much in their infancy, but OSS—well before most of the outside world—recognized their potential in warfare. Psychology and psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology all seemed to offer insights that could be exploited to manipulate the enemy.
General Donovan himself believed that the techniques of psychoanalysis might be turned on Adolf Hitler to get a better idea of “the things that made him tick,” as Donovan put it. Donovan gave the job of being the Fuhrer’s analyst to Walter Langer, a Cambridge, Massachusetts psychoanalyst whose older brother William had taken leave from a chair of history at Harvard to head OSS Research and Analysis. Langer protested that a study of Hitler based on available data would be highly uncertain and that conventional psychiatric and psychoanalytic methods could not be used without direct access to the patient. Donovan was not the sort to be deterred by such details. He told Langer to go ahead anyway.
With the help of a small research staff, Langer looked through everything he could find on Hitler and interviewed a number of people who had know the German leader. Aware of the severe limitations on his information, but left no choice by General Donovan, Langer plowed ahead and wrote up a final study. It pegged Hitler as a “neurotic psychopath” and proceeded to pick apart the Führer’s psyche. Langer, since retired to Florida, believes he came “pretty close” to describing the real Adolf Hitler. He is particularly proud of his predictions that the Nazi leader would become increasingly disturbed as Germany suffered more and more defeats and that he would commit suicide rather than face capture.
One reason for psychoanalyzing Hitler was to uncover vulnerabilities that could be covertly exploited. Stanley Lovell seized upon one of Langer’s ideas—that Hitler might have feminine tendencies—and got permission from the OSS hierarchy to see if he could push the Führer over the gender line. “The hope was that his moustache would fall off and his voice become soprano,” Lovell wrote. Lovell used OSS’s agent network to try to slip female sex hormones into Hitler’s food, but nothing apparently came of it. Nor was there ever any payoff to other Lovell schemes to blind Hitler permanently with mustard gas or to use a drug to exacerbate his suspected epilepsy. The main problem in these operations—all of which were tried—was to get Hitler to take the medicine. Failure of the delivery schemes also kept Hitler alive—OSS was simultaneously trying to poison him.
Without question, murdering a man was a decisive way to influence his behavior, and OSS scientists developed an arsenal of chemical and biological poisons that included the incredibly potent botulinus toxin, whose delivery system was a gelatin capsule smaller than the head of a pin. Lovell and his associates also realized there were less drastic ways to manipulate an enemy’s behavior, and they came up with a line of products to cause sickness, itching, baldness, diarrhea, and/or the odor thereof. They had less success finding a drug to compel truthtelling, but it was not for lack of trying.
Chemical and biological substances had been used in wartime long before OSS came on the scene. Both sides had used poison gas in World War I; during the early part of World War II, the Japanese had dropped deadly germs on China and caused epidemics; and throughout the war, the Allies and Axis powers alike had built up chemical and biological warfare (CBW) stockpiles, whose main function turned out, in the end, to be deterring the other side. Military men tended to look on CBW as a way of destroying whole armies and even populations. Like the world’s other secret services, OSS individualized CBW and made it into a way of selectively but secretly embarrassing, disorienting, incapacitating, injuring, or killing an enemy.
As diversified as were Lovell’s scientific duties for OSS, they were narrow in comparison with those of his main counterpart in the CIA’s postwar mind-control program, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. Gottlieb would preside over investigations that ranged from advanced research in amnesia by electroshock to dragnet searches through the jungles of Latin America for toxic leaves and barks. Fully in the tradition of making Hitler moustacheless, Gottlieb’s office would devise a scheme to make Fidel Castro’s beard fall out; like Lovell, Gottlieb would personally provide operators with deadly poisons to assassinate foreign leaders like the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, and he would be equally at ease discussing possible applications of new research in neurology. On a much greater scale than Lovell’s, Gottlieb would track down every conceivable gimmick that might give one person leverage over another’s mind. Gottlieb would preside over arcane fields from handwriting analysis to stress creation, and he would rise through the Agency along with his bureaucratic patron, Richard Helms.
Early in the war, General Donovan got another idea from the British, whose psychologists and psychiatrists had devised a testing program to predict the performance of military officers. Donovan thought such a program might help OSS sort through the masses of recruits who were being rushed through training. To create an assessment system for Americans, Donovan called in Harvard psychology professor Henry “Harry” Murray. In 1938 Murray had written Explorations of Personality, a notable book which laid out a whole battery of tests that could be used to size up the personalities of individuals. “Spying is attractive to loonies,” states Murray. “Psychopaths, who are people who spend their lives making up stories, revel in the field.” The program’s prime objective, according to Murray, was keeping out the crazies, as well as the “sloths, irritants, bad actors, and free talkers.”
Always in a hurry, Donovan gave Murray and a distinguished group of colleagues only 15 days until the first candidates arrived to be assessed. In the interim, they took over a spacious estate outside Washington as their headquarters. In a series of hurried meetings, they put together an assessment system that combined German and British methods with Murray’s earlier research. It tested a recruit’s ability to stand up under pressure, to be a leader, to hold liquor, to lie skillfully, and to read a person’s character by the nature of his clothing.
More than 30 years after the war, Murray remains modest in his claims for the assessment system, saying that it was only an aid in weeding out the “horrors” among OSS candidates. Nevertheless, the secret agency’s leaders believed in its results, and Murray’s system became a fixture in OSS, testing Americans and foreign agents alike. Some of Murray’s young behavioral scientists, like John Gardner, would go on to become prominent in public affairs, and, more importantly, the OSS assessment program would be recognized as a milestone in American psychology. It was the first systematic effort to evaluate an individual’s personality in order to predict his future behavior. After the war, personality assessment would become a new field in itself, and some of Murray’s assistants would go on to establish OSS-like systems at large corporations, starting with AT&T. They also would set up study programs at universities, beginning with the University of California at Berkeley. As would happen repeatedly with the CIA’s mind-control research, OSS was years ahead of public developments in behavioral theory and application.
In the postwar years, Murray would be superseded by a young Oklahoma psychologist John Gittinger, who would rise in the CIA on the strength of his ideas about how to make a hard science out of personality assessment and how to use it to manipulate people. Gittinger would build an office within CIA that refined both Murray’s assessment function and Walter Langer’s indirect analysis of foreign leaders. Gittinger’s methods would become an integral part of everyday Agency operations, and he would become Sid Gottlieb’s protégé.
Stanley Lovell reasoned that a good way to kill Hitler—and the OSS man was always looking for ideas—would be to hypnotically control a German prisoner to hate the Gestapo and the Nazi regime and then to give the subject a hypnotic suggestion to assassinate the Führer. The OSS candidate would be let loose in Germany where he would take the desired action, “being under a compulsion that might not be denied,” as Lovell wrote.
Lovell sought advice on whether this scheme would work from New York psychiatrist Lawrence Kubie and from the famed Menninger brothers, Karl and William. The Menningers reported that the weight of the evidence showed hypnotism to be incapable of making people do anything that they would not otherwise do. Equally negative, Dr. Kubie added that if a German prisoner had a logical reason to kill Hitler or anyone else, he would not need hypnotism to motivate him.
Lovell and his coworkers apparently accepted this skeptical view of hypnosis, as did the overwhelming majority of psychologists and psychiatrists in the country. At the time, hypnosis was considered a fringe activity, and there was little recognition of either its validity or its usefulness for any purpose—let alone covert operations. Yet there were a handful of serious experimenters in the field who believed in its military potential. The most vocal partisan of this view was the head of the Psychology Department at Colgate University, George “Esty” Estabrooks. Since the early 1930s, Estabrooks had periodically ventured out from his sleepy upstate campus to advise the military on applications of hypnotism.
Estabrooks acknowledged that hypnosis did not work on everyone and that only one person in five made a good enough subject to be placed in a deep trance, or state of somnambulism. He believed that only these subjects could be induced to such things against their apparent will as reveal secrets or commit crimes. He had watched respected members of the community make fools of themselves in the hands of stage hypnotists, and he had compelled his own students to reveal fraternity secrets and the details of private love affairs—all of which the subjects presumably did not want to do.
Still his experience was limited. Estabrooks realized that the only certain way to know whether a person would commit a crime like murder under hypnosis was to have the person kill someone. Unwilling to settle the issue on his own by trying the experiment, he felt that government sanction of the process would relieve the hypnotist of personal responsibility. “Any ‘accidents’ that might occur during the experiments will simply be charged to profit and loss,” he wrote, “a very trifling portion of that enormous wastage in human life which is part and parcel of war.”
After Pearl Harbor, Estabrooks offered his ideas to OSS, but they were not accepted by anyone in government willing to carry them to their logical conclusion. He was reduced to writing books about the potential use of hypnotism in warfare. Cassandra-like, he tried to warn America of the perils posed by hypnotic control. His 1945 novel, Death in the Mind, concerned a series of seemingly treasonable acts committed by Allied personnel: an American submarine captain torpedoes one of our own battleships, and the beautiful heroine starts acting in an irrational way which serves the enemy. After a perilous investigation, secret agent Johnny Evans learns that the Germans have been hypnotizing Allied personnel and conditioning them to obey Nazi commands. Evans and his cohorts, shaken by the many ways hypnotism can be used against them, set up elaborate countermeasures and then cannot resist going on the offensive. Objections are heard from the heroine, who by this time has been brutally and rather graphically tortured. She complains that “doing things to people’s minds” is “a loathsome way to fight.” Her qualms are brushed aside by Johnny Evans, her lover and boss. He sets off after the Germans—“to tamper with their minds; Make them traitors; Make them work for us.”
In the aftermath of the war, as the U.S. national security apparatus was being constructed, the leaders of the Central Intelligence Agency would adopt Johnny Evans’ mission—almost in those very words. Richard Helms, Sid Gottlieb, John Gittinger, George White, and many others would undertake a far-flung and complicated assault on the human mind. In hypnosis and many other fields, scientists even more eager than George Estabrooks would seek CIA approval for the kinds of experiments they would not dare perform on their own. Sometimes the Agency men concurred; on other occasions, they reserved such experiments for themselves. They would tamper with many minds and inevitably cause some to be damaged. In the end, they would minimize and hide their deeds, and they would live to see doubts raised about the health of their own minds.
Frank Olson’s death could have been a major setback for the Agency’s LSD testing, but the program, like Sid Gottlieb’s career, emerged essentially unscathed. High CIA officials did call a temporary halt to all experiments while they investigated the Olson case and re-examined the general policy. They cabled the two field stations that had supplies of the drug (Manila and Atsugi, Japan) not to use it for the time being, and they even took away Sid Gottlieb’s own private supply and had it locked up in his boss’ safe, to which no one else had the combination. In the end, however, Allen Dulles accepted the view Richard Helms put forth that the only “operationally realistic” way to test drugs was to try them on unwitting people. Helms noted that experiments which gave advance warning would be “pro forma at best and result in a false sense of accomplishment and readiness.” For Allen Dulles and his top aides, the possible importance of LSD clearly outweighed the risks and ethical problem of slipping the drug to involuntary subjects. They gave Gottlieb back his LSD.
Once the CIA’s top echelon had made its decision to continue unwitting testing, there remained, in Richard Helms’ words, “only then the question of how best to do it.” The Agency’s role in the Olson affair had come too perilously close to leaking out for the comfort of the security-minded, so TSS officials simply had to work out a testing system with better cover. That meant finding subjects who could not be so easily traced back to the Agency.
Well before Olson’s death, Gottlieb and the MKULTRA crew had started pondering how best to do unwitting testing. They considered using an American police force to test drugs on prisoners, informants, and suspects, but they knew that some local politicians would inevitably find out. In the Agency view, such people could not be trusted to keep sensitive secrets. TSS officials thought about trying Federal prisons or hospitals, but, when sounded out, the Bureau of Prisons refused to go along with true unwitting testing (as opposed to the voluntary, if coercive, form practiced on drug addicts in Kentucky). They contemplated moving the program overseas, where they and the ARTICHOKE teams were already performing operational experiments, but they decided if they tested on the scale they thought was necessary, so many foreigners would have to know that it would pose an unacceptable security risk.
Sid Gottlieb is remembered as the brainstorming genius of the MKULTRA group—and the one with a real talent for showing others, without hurting their feelings, why their schemes would not work. States an ex-colleague who admires him greatly, “In the final analysis, Sid was like a good soldier—if the job had to be done, he did it. Once the decision was made, he found the most effective way.”
In this case, Gottlieb came up with the solution after reading through old OSS files on Stanley Lovell’s search for a truth drug. Gottlieb noted that Lovell had used George White, a prewar employee of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to test concentrated marijuana. Besides trying the drug out on Manhattan Project volunteers and unknowing suspected Communists, White had slipped some to August Del Gracio, the Lucky Luciano lieutenant. White had called the experiment a great success. If it had not been—if Del Gracio had somehow caught on to the drugging—Gottlieb realized that the gangster would never have gone to the police or the press. His survival as a criminal required he remain quiet about even the worst indignities heaped upon him by government agents.
To Gottlieb, underworld types looked like ideal test subjects. Nevertheless, according to one TSS source, “We were not about to fool around with the Mafia.” Instead, this source says they chose “the borderline underworld”—prostitutes, drug addicts, and other small-timers who would be powerless to seek any sort of revenge if they ever found out what the CIA had done to them. In addition to their being unlikely whistle-blowers, such people lived in a world where an unwitting dose of some drug—usually knockout drops—was an occupational hazard anyway. They would therefore be better equipped to deal with—and recover from—a surprise LSD trip than the population as a whole. Or so TSS officials rationalized. “They could at least say to themselves, ‘Here I go again. I’ve been slipped a mickey,’” says a TSS veteran. Furthermore, this veteran remembers, his former colleagues reasoned that if they had to violate the civil rights of anyone, they might as well choose a group of marginal people.
George White himself had left OSS after the war and returned to the Narcotics Bureau. In 1952 he was working in the New York office. As a high-ranking narcotics agent, White had a perfect excuse to be around drugs and people who used them. He had proved during the war that he had a talent for clandestine work, and he certainly had no qualms when it came to unwitting testing. With his job, he had access to all the possible subjects the Agency would need, and if he could use LSD or any other drug to find out more about drug trafficking, so much the better. From a security viewpoint, CIA officials could easily deny any connection to anything White did, and he clearly was not the crybaby type. For Sid Gottlieb, George White was clearly the one. The MKULTRA chief decided to contact White directly to see if he might be interested in picking up with the CIA where he had left off with OSS.
Always careful to observe bureaucratic protocol, Gottlieb first approached Harry Anslinger, the longtime head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and got permission to use White on a part-time basis. Then Gottlieb traveled to New York and made his pitch to the narcotics agent, who stood 5’7”, weighed over 200 pounds, shaved his head, and looked something like an extremely menacing bowling ball. After an early-morning meeting, White scrawled in his sweat-stained, leather-bound diary for that day, June 9, 1952: “Gottlieb proposed I be a CIA consultant—I agree.” By writing down such a thing and using Gottlieb’s true name, White had broken CIA security regulations even before he started work. But then, White was never known as a man who followed rules.
Despite the high priority that TSS put on drug testing, White’s security approval did not come through until almost a year later. “It was only last month that I got cleared,” the outspoken narcotics agent wrote to a friend in 1953. “I then learned that a couple of crew-cut, pipe-smoking punks had either known me—or heard of me—during OSS days and had decided I was ‘too rough’ for their league and promptly blackballed me. It was only when my sponsors discovered the root of the trouble they were able to bypass the blockade. After all, fellas, I didn’t go to Princeton.”
People either loved or hated George White, and he had made some powerful enemies, including New York Governor Thomas Dewey and J. Edgar Hoover. Dewey would later help block White from becoming the head of the Narcotics Bureau in New York City, a job White sorely wanted. For some forgotten reason, Hoover had managed to stop White from being hired by the CIA in the Agency’s early days, at a time when he would have preferred to leave narcotics work altogether. These were two of the biggest disappointments of his life. White’s previous exclusion from the CIA may explain why he jumped so eagerly at Gottlieb’s offer and why at the same time he privately heaped contempt on those who worked for the Agency. A remarkably heavy drinker, who would sometimes finish off a bottle of gin in one sitting, White often mocked the CIA crowd over cocktails. “He thought they were a joke,” recalls one longtime crony. “They were too complicated, and they had other people do their heavy stuff.”
Unlike his CIA counterparts, White loved the glare of publicity. A man who gloried in talking about himself and cultivating a hard-nosed image, White knew how to milk a drug bust for all it was worth—a skill that grew out of early years spent as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In search of a more financially secure profession, he had joined the Narcotics Bureau in 1934, but he continued to pal around with journalists, particularly those who wrote favorably about him. Not only did he come across in the press as a cop hero, but he helped to shape the picture of future Kojaks by serving as a consultant to one of the early-television detective series. To start a raid, he would dramatically tip his hat to signal his agents—and to let the photographers know that the time had come to snap his picture. “He was sort of vainglorious,” says another good friend, “the kind of guy who if he did something, didn’t mind having the world know about it.”
The scientists from TSS, with their Ph.D.s and lack of street experience, could not help admiring White for his swashbuckling image. Unlike the men from MKULTRA, who, for all their pretensions, had never worked as real-live spies, White had put his life on the line for OSS overseas and had supposedly killed a Japanese agent with his bare hands. The face of one ex-TSS man lit up, like a little boy’s on Christmas morning, as he told of racing around New York in George White’s car and parking illegally with no fear of the law. “We were Ivy League, white, middle-class,” notes another former TSSer. “We were naïve, totally naïve about this, and he felt pretty expert. He knew the whores, the pimps, the people who brought in the drugs. He’d purportedly been in a number of shootouts where he’d captured millions of dollars worth of heroin. . . . He was a pretty wild man. I know I was afraid of him. You couldn’t control this guy . . . I had a little trouble telling who was controlling who in those days.”
White lived with extreme personal contradictions. As could be expected of a narcotics agent, he violently opposed drugs. Yet he died largely because his beloved alcohol had destroyed his liver. He had tried everything else, from marijuana to LSD, and wrote an acquaintance, “I did feel at times I was having a ‘mind-expanding’ experience but this vanished like a dream immediately after the session.” He was a law-enforcement official who regularly violated the law. Indeed, the CIA turned to him because of his willingness to use the power of his office to ride roughshod over the rights of others—in the name of “national security,” when he tested LSD for the Agency, in the name of stamping out drug abuse, for the Narcotics Bureau. As yet another close associate summed up White’s attitude toward his job, “He really believed the ends justified the means.”
George White’s “pragmatic” approach meshed perfectly with Sid Gottlieb’s needs for drug testing. In May 1953 the two men, who wound up going folk dancing together several times, formally joined forces. In CIA jargon, White became MKULTRA subproject #3. Under this arrangement, White rented two adjacent Greenwich Village apartments, posing as the sometime artist and seaman “Morgan Hall.” White agreed to lure guinea pigs to the “safehouse”—as the Agency men called the apartments—slip them drugs, and report the results to Gottlieb and the others in TSS. For its part, the CIA let the Narcotics Bureau use the place for undercover activities (and often for personal pleasure) whenever no Agency work was scheduled, and the CIA paid all the bills, including the cost of keeping a well-stocked liquor cabinet—a substantial bonus for White. Gottlieb personally handed over the first $4,000 in cash, to cover the initial costs of furnishing the safehouse in the lavish style that White felt befitted him.
Gottlieb did not limit his interest to drugs. He and other TSS officials wanted to try out surveillance equipment. CIA technicians quickly installed see-through mirrors and microphones through which eavesdroppers could film, photograph, and record the action. “Things go wrong with listening devices and two-way mirrors, so you build these things to find out what works and what doesn’t,” says a TSS source. “If you are going to entrap, you’ve got to give the guy pictures [flagrante delicto] and voice recordings. Once you learn how to do it so that the whole thing looks comfortable, cozy, and safe, then you can transport the technology overseas and use it.” This TSS man notes that the Agency put to work in the bedrooms of Europe some of the techniques developed in the George White safehouse operation.
In the safehouse’s first months, White tested LSD, several kinds of knockout drops, and that old OSS standby, essence of marijuana. He served up the drugs in food, drink, and cigarettes and then tried to worm information—usually on narcotics matters—from his “guests.” Sometimes MKULTRA men came up from Washington to watch the action. A September 1953 entry in White’s diary noted: “Lashbrook at 81 Bedford Street—Owen Winkle and LSD surprise—can wash.” Sid Gottlieb’s deputy, Robert Lashbrook, served as “project monitor” for the New York safehouse.
White had only been running the safehouse six months when Olson died (in Lashbrook’s company), and Agency officials suspended the operation for re-evaluation. They soon allowed him to restart it, and then Gottlieb had to order White to slow down again. A New York State commissioner had summoned the narcotics agent to explain his role in the deal that wound up with Governor Dewey pardoning Lucky Luciano after the war. The commissioner was asking questions that touched on White’s use of marijuana on Del Gracio, and Gottlieb feared that word of the CIA’s current testing might somehow leak out. This storm also soon passed, but then, in early 1955, the Narcotics Bureau transferred White to San Francisco to become chief agent there. Happy with White’s performance, Gottlieb decided to let him take the entire safehouse operation with him to the Coast. White closed up the Greenwich Village apartments, leaving behind unreceipted “tips” for the landlord “to clear up any difficulties about the alterations and damages,” as a CIA document put it.
White soon rented a suitable “pad” (as he always called it) on Telegraph Hill, with a stunning view of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. To supplement the furniture he brought from the New York safehouse, he went out and bought items that gave the place the air of the brothel it was to become: Toulouse-Lautrec posters, a picture of a French cancan dancer, and photos of manacled women in black stockings. “It was supposed to look rich,” recalls a narcotics agent who regularly visited, “but it was furnished like crap.”
White hired a friend’s company to install bugging equipment, and William Hawkins, a 25-year-old electronics whiz then studying at Berkley put in four DD-4 microphones disguised as electrical wall outlets and hooked them up to two F-301 tape recorders, which agents monitored in an adjacent “listening post.” Hawkins remembers that White “kept a pitcher of martinis in the refrigerator, and he’d watch me for a while as I installed a microphone and then slip off.” For his own personal “observation post,” White had a portable toilet set up behind a two-way mirror, where he could watch the proceedings, usually with drink in hand.
The San Francisco safehouse specialized in prostitutes. “But this was before The Hite Report and before any hooker had written a book,” recalls a TSS man, “so first we had to go out and learn about their world. In the beginning, we didn’t know what a john was or what a pimp did.” Sid Gottlieb decided to send his top staff psychologist, John Gittinger, to San Francisco to probe the demimonde.
George White supplied the prostitutes for the study, although White, in turn, delegated much of the pimping function to one of his assistants, Ira “Ike” Feldman. A muscular but very short man, whom even the 5’7” White towered over, Feldman tried even harder than his boss to act tough. Dressed in suede shoes, a suit with flared trousers, a hat with a turned-up brim, and a huge zircon ring that was supposed to look like a diamond, Feldman first came to San Francisco on an undercover assignment posing as an East Coast mobster looking to make a big heroin buy. Using a drug-addicted prostitute name Janet Jones, whose common-law husband states that Feldman paid her off with heroin, the undercover man lured a number of suspected drug dealers to the “pad” and helped White make arrests.
As the chief Federal narcotics agent in San Francisco, White was in a position to reward or punish a prostitute. He set up a system whereby he and Feldman provided Gittinger with all the hookers the psychologist wanted. White paid off the women with a fixed number of “chits.” For each chit, White owed one favor. “So the next time the girl was arrested with a john,” says an MKULTRA veteran, “she would give the cop George White’s phone number. The police all knew White and cooperated with him without asking questions. They would release the girl if he said so. White would keep good records of how many chits each person had and how many she used. No money was exchanged, but five chits were worth $500 to $1,000.” Prostitutes were not the only beneficiaries of White’s largess. The narcotics agent worked out a similar system to forgive the transgressions of small time drug pushers when the MKULTRA men wanted to talk to them about “the rules of their game,” according to the source.
TSS officials wanted to find out everything they could about how to apply sex to spying, and the prostitute project became a general learning and then training ground for CIA carnal operations. After all, states one TSS official, “We did quite a study of prostitutes and their behavior. . . . At first nobody really knew how to use them. How do you train them? How do you work them? How do you take a woman who is willing to use her body to get money out of a guy to get things which are much more important, like state secrets. I don’t care how beautiful she is—educating the ordinary prostitute up to that level is not a simple task.”
The TSS men continually tried to refine their knowledge. They realized that prostitutes often wheedled extra money out of a customer by suggesting some additional service as male orgasm neared. They wondered if this might not also be a good time to seek sensitive information. “But no,” says the source, “we found the guy was focused solely on hormonal needs. He was not thinking of his career or anything else at that point.” The TSS experts discovered that the postsexual, light-up-a-cigarette period was much better suited to their ulterior motives. Says the source:
Most men who go to prostitutes are prepared for the fact that [after the act] she’s beginning to work to get herself out of there, so she can get back on the street to make some more money. . . . To find a prostitute who is willing to stay is a hell of a shock to anyone used to prostitutes. It has a tremendous effect on the guy. It’s a boost to his ego if she’s telling him he was really neat, and she wants to stay for a few more hours. . . . Most of the time, he gets pretty vulnerable. What the hell’s he going to talk about? Not the sex, so he starts talking about his business. It’s at this time she can lead him gently. But you have to train prostitutes to do that. Their natural inclination is to do exactly the opposite.
The men from MKULTRA learned a great deal about varying sexual preferences. One of them says:
We didn’t know in those days about hidden sadism and all that sort of stuff. We learned a lot about human nature in the bedroom. We began to understand that when people wanted sex, it wasn’t just what we had thought of—you know, the missionary position. . . . We started to pick up knowledge that could be used in operations, but with a lot of it we never figured out any way to use it operationally. We just learned. . . . All these ideas did not come to us at once. But evolving over three or four years in which these studies were going on, things emerged which we tried. Our knowledge of prostitutes’ behavior became pretty damn good. . . . This comes across now that somehow we were just playing around and we just found all these exotic ways to waste the taxpayers’ money on satisfying our hidden urges. I’m not saying that watching prostitutes was not exciting or something like that. But what I am saying was there was a purpose to the whole business.
In the best tradition of Mata Hari, the CIA did use sex as a clandestine weapon, although apparently not so frequently as the Russians. While many in the Agency believed that it simply did not work very well, others like CIA operators in Berlin during the mid-1960s felt prostitutes could be a prime source of intelligence. Agency men in that city used a network of hookers to good advantage—or so they told visitors from headquarters. Yet, with its high proportion of Catholics and Mormons—not to mention the Protestant ethic of many of its top leaders—the Agency definitely had limits beyond which prudery took over. For instance, a TSS veteran says that a good number of case officers wanted no part of homosexual entrapment operations. And to go a step further, he recalls one senior KGB man who told too many sexual jokes about young boys. “It didn’t take too long to recognize that he was more than a little fascinated by youths,” says the source. “I took the trouble to point out he was probably too good, too well-trained, to be either entrapped or to give away secrets. But he would have been tempted toward a compromising position by a preteen. I mentioned this, and they said, ‘As a psychological observer, you’re probably quite right. But what the hell are we going to do about it? Where are we going to get a twelve-year-old boy?’” The source believes that if the Russian had had a taste for older men, U.S. intelligence might have mounted an operation, “but the idea of a twelve-year-old boy was just more than anybody could stomach.”
As the TSS men learned more about the San Francisco hustlers, they ventured outside the safehouse to try out various clandestine-delivery gimmicks in public places like restaurants, bars, and beaches. They practiced ways to slip LSD to citizens of the demimonde while buying them a drink or lighting up a cigarette, and they then tried to observe the effects when the drug took hold. Because the MKULTRA scientists did not move smoothly among the very kinds of people they were testing, they occasionally lost an unwitting victim in a crowd—thereby sending a stranger off alone with a head full of LSD.
In a larger sense, all the test victims would become lost. As a matter of policy, Sid Gottlieb ordered that virtually no records be kept of the testing. In 1973, when Gottlieb retired from the Agency, he and Richard Helms agreed to destroy what they thought were the few existing documents on the program. Neither Gottlieb nor any other MKULTRA man has owned up to having given LSD to an unknowing subject, or even to observing such an experiment—except of course in the case of Frank Olson. Olson’s death left behind a paper trail outside of Gottlieb’s control and that hence could not be denied. Otherwise, Gottlieb and his colleagues have put all the blame for actual testing on George White, who is not alive to defend himself. One reason the MKULTRA veterans have gone to such lengths to conceal their role is obvious: fear of lawsuits from victims claiming damaged health.
At the time of the experiments, the subjects’ health did not cause undue concern. At the safehouse, where most of the testing took place, doctors were seldom present. Dr. James Hamilton, a Stanford Medical School psychiatrist and White’s OSS colleague, visited the place from time to time, apparently for studies connected to unwitting drug experiments and deviant sexual practices. Yet neither Hamilton nor any other doctor provided much medical supervision. From his perch atop the toilet seat, George White could do no more than make surface observations of his drugged victims. Even an experienced doctor would have had difficulty handling White’s role. In addition to LSD, which they knew could cause serious, if not fatal problems, TSS officials gave White even more exotic experimental drugs to test, drugs that other Agency contractors may or may not have already used on human subjects. “If we were scared enough of a drug not to try it out on ourselves, we sent it to San Francisco,” recalls a TSS source. According to a 1963 report by CIA Inspector General John Earman, “In a number of instances, however, the test subject has become ill for hours or days, including hospitalization in at least one case, and [White] could only follow up by guarded inquiry after the test subject’s return to normal life. Possible sickness and attendant economic loss are inherent contingent effects of the testing.”
The Inspector General noted that the whole program could be compromised if an outside doctor made a “correct diagnosis of an illness.” Thus, the MKULTRA team not only made some people sick but had a vested interest in keeping doctors from finding out what was really wrong. If that bothered the Inspector General, he did not report his qualms, but he did say he feared “serious damage to the Agency” in the event of public exposure. The Inspector General was only somewhat reassured by the fact that George White “maintain[ed] close working relations with local police authorities which could be utilized to protect the activity in critical situations.”
If TSS officials had been willing to stick with their original target group of marginal underworld types, they would have had little to fear from the police. After all, George White was the police. But increasingly they used the safehouse to test drugs, in the Inspector General’s words, “on individuals of all social levels, high and low, native American and foreign.” After all, they were looking for an operational payoff, and they knew people reacted differently to LSD according to everything from health and mood to personality structure. If TSS officials wanted to slip LSD to foreign leaders, as they contemplated doing to Fidel Castro, they would try to spring an unwitting dose on somebody as similar as possible. They used the safehouse for “dry runs” in the intermediate stage between the laboratory and actual operations.
For these dress rehearsals, George White and his staff procurer, Ike Feldman, enticed men to the apartment with prostitutes. An unsuspecting john would think he had bought a night of pleasure, go back to a strange apartment, and wind up zonked. A CIA document that survived Sid Gottlieb’s shredding recorded this process. Its author, Gottlieb himself, could not break a lifelong habit of using nondescriptive language. For the MKULTRA chief, the whores were “certain individuals who covertly administer this material to other people in accordance with [White’s] instructions.” White normally paid the women $100 in Agency funds for their night’s work, and Gottlieb’s prose reached new bureaucratic heights as he explained why the prostitutes did not sign for the money: “Due to the highly unorthodox nature of these activities and the considerable risk incurred by these individuals, it is impossible to require that they provide a receipt for these payments or that they indicate the precise manner in which the funds were spent.” The CIA’s auditors had to settle for canceled checks which White cashed himself and marked either “Stormy” or, just as appropriately, “Undercover Agent.” The program was also referred to as “Operation Midnight Climax.”
TSS officials found the San Francisco safehouse so successful that they opened a branch office, also under George White’s auspices, across the Golden Gate on the beach in Marin County. Unlike the downtown apartment, where an MKULTRA man says “you could bring people in for quickies after lunch,” the suburban Marin County outlet proved useful for experiments that required relative isolation. There, TSS scientists tested such MKULTRA specialties as stink bombs, itching and sneezing powders, and diarrhea inducers. TSS’s Ray Treichler, the Stanford chemist, sent these “harassment substances” out to California for testing by White, along with such delivery systems as a mechanical launcher that could throw a foul-smelling object 100 yards, glass ampules that could be stepped on in a crowd to release any of Treichler’s powders, a fine hypodermic needle to inject drugs through the cork in a wine bottle, and a drug-coated swizzle stick.
TSS men also planned to use the Marin County safehouse for an ill-fated experiment that began when staff psychologists David Rhodes and Walter Pasternak spent a week circulating in bars, inviting strangers to a party. They wanted to spray LSD from an aerosol can on their guests, but according to Rhodes’ Senate testimony, “the weather defeated us.” In the heat of the summer, they could not close the doors and windows long enough for the LSD to hang in the air and be inhaled. Sensing a botched operation, their MKULTRA colleague, John Gittinger (who brought the drug out from Washington) shut himself in the bathroom and let go with the spray. Still, Rhodes testified, Gittinger did not get high, and the CIA men apparently scrubbed the party.
The MKULTRA crew continued unwitting testing until the summer of 1963 when the Agency’s Inspector General stumbled across the safehouses during a regular inspection of TSS activities. This happened not long after Director John McCone had appointed John Earman to the Inspector General position. Much to the displeasure of Sid Gottlieb and Richard Helms, Earman questioned the propriety of the safehouses, and he insisted that Director McCone be given a full briefing. Although President Kennedy had put McCone in charge of the Agency the year before, Helms—the professional’s professional—had not bothered to tell his outsider boss about some of the CIA’s most sensitive activities, including the safehouses and the CIA-Mafia assassination plots. Faced with Earman’s demands, Helms—surely one of history’s most clever bureaucrats—volunteered to tell McCone himself about the safehouses (rather than have Earman present a negative view of the program). Sure enough, Helms told Earman afterward, McCone raised no objections to unwitting testing (as Helms described it). A determined man and a rather brave one, Earman countered with a full written report to McCone recommending that the safehouses be closed. The Inspector General cited the risks of exposure and pointed out that many people both inside and outside the Agency found “the concepts involved in manipulating human behavior . . . to be distasteful and unethical.” McCone reacted by putting off a final decision but suspending unwitting testing in the meantime. Over the next year, Helms, who then headed the Clandestine Services, wrote at least three memos urging resumption. He cited “indications . . . of an apparent Soviet aggressiveness in the field of covertly administered chemicals which are, to say the least, inexplicable and disturbing,” and he claimed the CIA’s “positive operational capacity to use drugs is diminishing owing to a lack of realistic testing.” To Richard Helms, the importance of the program exceeded the risks and the ethical questions, although he did admit, “We have no answer to the moral issue.” McCone simply did nothing for two years. The director’s indecision had the effect of killing the program, nevertheless. TSS officials closed the San Francisco safehouse in 1965 and the New York one in 1966.
Years later in a personal letter to Sid Gottlieb, George White wrote an epitaph for his role with the CIA: “I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape, and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?”
* * *
After 10 years of unwitting testing, the men from MKULTRA apparently scored no major breakthroughs with LSD or other drugs. They found no effective truth drug, recruitment pill, or aphrodisiac. LSD had not opened up the mind to CIA control. “We had thought at first that this was the secret that was going to unlock the universe,” says a TSS veteran. “We found that human beings had resources far greater than imagined.”
Yet despite the lack of precision and uncertainty, the CIA still made field use of LSD and other drugs that had worked their way through the MKULTRA testing progression. A 1957 report showed that TSS had already moved 6 drugs out of the experimental stage and into active use. Up to that time, CIA operators had utilized LSD and other psychochemicals against 33 targets in 6 different operations. Agency officials hoped in these cases either to discredit the subject by making him seem insane or to “create within the individual a mental and emotional situation which will release him from the restraint of self-control and induce him to reveal information willingly under adroit manipulation.” The Agency has consistently refused to release details of these operations, and TSS sources who talk rather freely about other matters seem to develop amnesia when the subject of field use comes up. Nevertheless, it can be said that the CIA did establish a relationship with an unnamed foreign secret service to interrogate prisoners with LSD-like drugs. CIA operators participated directly in these interrogations, which continued at least until 1966. Often the Agency showed more concern for the safety of its operational targets abroad than it did for its unwitting victims in San Francisco, since some of the foreign subjects were given medical examinations before being slipped the drug.
In these operations, CIA men sometimes brought in local doctors for reasons that had nothing to do with the welfare of the patient. Instead, the doctor’s role was to certify the apparent insanity of a victim who had been unwittingly dosed with LSD or an even more durable psychochemical like BZ (which causes trips lasting a week or more and which tends to induce violent behavior). If a doctor were to prescribe hospitalization or other severe treatment, the effect on the subject could be devastating. He would suffer not only the experience itself, including possible confinement in a mental institution, but also social stigma. In most countries, even the suggestion of mental problems severely damages an individual’s professional and personal standing (as Thomas Eagleton, the recipient of some shock therapy, can testify). “It’s an old technique,” says an MKULTRA veteran. “You neutralize someone by having their constituency doubt them.” The Church committee confirms that the Agency used this technique at least several times to assassinate a target’s character.
Still, the Clandestine Services did not frequently call on TSS for LSD or other drugs. Many operators had practical and ethical objections. In part to overcome such objections and also to find better ways to use chemical and biological substances in covert operations, Sid Gottlieb moved up in 1959 to become Assistant for Scientific Matters to the Clandestine Services chief. Gottlieb found that TSS had kept the MKULTRA programs so secret that many field people did not even know what techniques were available. He wrote that tight controls over field use in MKDELTA operations “may have generated a general defeatism among case officers,” who feared they would not receive permission or that the procedure was not worth the effort. Gottlieb tried to correct these shortcomings by providing more information on the drug arsenal to senior operators and by streamlining the approval process. He had less luck in overcoming views that drugs do not work or are not reliable, and that their operational use leads to laziness and poor tradecraft.
If the MKULTRA program had ever found that LSD or any other drug really did turn a man into a puppet, Sid Gottlieb would have had no trouble surmounting all those biases. Instead, Gottlieb and his fellow searchers came frustratingly close but always fell short of finding a reliable control mechanism. LSD certainly penetrated to the innermost regions of the mind. It could spring loose a whole gamut of feelings, from terror to insight. But in the end, the human psyche proved so complex that even the most skilled manipulator could not anticipate all the variables. He could use LSD and other drugs to chip away at free will. He could score temporary victories, and he could alter moods, perception—sometimes even beliefs. He had the power to cause great harm, but ultimately he could not conquer the human spirit.
In September 1950, the Miami News published an article by Edward Hunter titled “‘Brain-Washing’ Tactics Force Chinese into Ranks of Communist Party.” It was the first printed use in any language of the term “brainwashing,” which quickly became a stock phrase in Cold War headlines. Hunter, a CIA propaganda operator who worked under cover as a journalist, turned out a steady stream of books and articles on the subject. He made up his coined word from the Chinese hsi-nao—“to cleanse the mind”—which had no political meaning in Chinese.
American public opinion reacted strongly to Hunter’s ideas, no doubt because of the hostility that prevailed toward communist foes, whose ways were perceived as mysterious and alien. Most Americans knew something about the famous trial of the Hungarian Josef Cardinal Mindszenty, at which the Cardinal appeared zombie-like, as though drugged or hypnotized. Other defendants at Soviet “show trials” had displayed similar symptoms as they recited unbelievable confessions in dull, cliché-ridden monotones. Americans were familiar with the idea that the communists had ways to control hapless people, and Hunter’s new word helped pull together the unsettling evidence into one sharp fear. The brainwashing controversy intensified during the heavy 1952 fighting in Korea, when the Chinese government launched a propaganda offensive that featured recorded statements by captured U.S. pilots, who “confessed” to a variety of war crimes including the use of germ warfare.
The official American position on prisoner confessions was that they were false and forced. As expressed in an Air Force Headquarters document, “Confessions can be of truthful details. . . . For purposes of this section, ‘confessions’ are considered as being the forced admission to a lie.” But if the military had understandable reasons to gloss over the truth or falsity of the confessions, this still did not address the fact that confessions had been made at all. Nor did it lay to rest the fears of those like Edward Hunter who saw the confessions as proof that the communists now had techniques “to put a man’s mind into a fog so that he will mistake what is true for what is untrue, what is right for what is wrong, and come to believe what did not happen actually had happened, until he ultimately becomes a robot for the Communist manipulator.”
By the end of the Korean War, 70 percent of the 7,190 U.S. prisoners held in China had either made confessions or signed petitions calling for an end to the American war effort in Asia. Fifteen percent collaborated fully with the Chinese, and only 5 percent steadfastly resisted. The American performance contrasted poorly with that of the British, Australian, Turkish, and other United Nations prisoners—among whom collaboration was rare, even though studies showed they were treated about as badly as the Americans. Worse, an alarming number of the prisoners stuck by their confessions after returning to the United States. They did not, as expected, recant as soon as they stepped on U.S. soil. Puzzled and dismayed by this wholesale collapse of morale among the POWs, American opinion leaders settled in on Edward Hunter’s explanation: The Chinese had somehow brainwashed our boys.
But how? At the height of the brainwashing furor, conservative spokesmen often seized upon the very mystery of it all to give a religious cast to the political debate. All communists have been, by definition, brainwashed through satanic forces, they argued—thereby making the enemy seem like robots completely devoid of ordinary human feelings and motivation. Liberals favored a more scientific view of the problem. Given the incontrovertible evidence that the Russians and the Chinese could, in a very short time and often under difficult circumstances, alter the basic belief and behavior patterns of both domestic and foreign captives, liberals argued that there must be a technique involved that would yield its secrets under objective investigation.
CIA Director Allen Dulles favored the scientific approach, although he naturally encouraged his propaganda experts to exploit the more emotional interpretations of brainwashing. Dulles and the heads of the other American security agencies became almost frantic in their efforts to find out more about the Soviet and Chinese successes in mind control. Under pressure for answers, Dulles turned to Dr. Harold Wolff, a world-famous neurologist with whom he had developed an intensely personal relationship. Wolff was then treating Dulles’ own son for brain damage suffered from a Korean War head wound. Together they shared the trauma of the younger Dulles’ fits and mental lapses. Wolff, a skinny little doctor with an overpowering personality, became fast friends with the tall, patrician CIA Director. Dulles may have seen brainwashing as an induced form of brain damage or mental illness. In any case, in late 1953, he asked Wolff to conduct an official study of communist brainwashing techniques for the CIA. Wolff, who had become fascinated by the Director’s tales of the clandestine world, eagerly accepted.
Harold Wolff was known primarily as an expert on migraine headaches and pain, but he had served on enough military and intelligence advisory panels that he knew how to pick up Dulles’ mandate and expand on it. He formed a working partnership with Lawrence Hinkle, his colleague at Cornell University Medical College in New York City. Hinkle handled the administrative part of the study and shared in the substance. Before going ahead, the two doctors made sure they had the approval of Cornell’s president, Deane W. Malott and other high university officials who checked with their contacts in Washington to make sure the project did indeed have the great importance that Allen Dulles stated. Hinkle recalls a key White House aide urging Cornell to cooperate. The university administration agreed, and soon Wolff and Hinkle were poring over the Agency’s classified files on brainwashing. CIA officials also helped arrange interviews with former communist interrogators and prisoners alike. “It was done with great secrecy,” recalls Hinkle. “We went through a great deal of hoop-de-do and signed secrecy agreements, which everyone took very seriously.”
The team of Wolff and Hinkle became the chief brainwashing studiers for the U.S. government, although the Air Force and Army ran parallel programs. Their secret report to Allen Dulles, later published in a declassified version, was considered the definitive U.S. Government work on the subject. In fact, if allowances are made for the Cold War rhetoric of the fifties, the Wolff-Hinkle report still remains one of the better accounts of the massive political re-education programs in China and the Soviet Union. It stated flatly that neither the Soviets nor the Chinese had any magical weapons—no drugs, exotic mental ray-guns, or other fanciful machines. Instead, the report pictured communist interrogation methods resting on skillful, if brutal, application of police methods. Its portrait of the Soviet system anticipates, in dry and scholarly form, the work of novelist Alexander Solzhenitzyn in The Gulag Archipelago. Hinkle and Wolff showed that the Soviet technique rested on the cumulative weight of intense psychological pressure and human weakness, and this thesis alone earned the two Cornell doctors the enmity of the more right-wing CIA officials such as Edward Hunter. Several of his former acquaintances remember that Hunter was fond of saying that the Soviets brainwashed people the way Pavlov had conditioned dogs.
In spite of some dissenters like Hunter, the Wolff-Hinkle model became, with later refinements, the best available description of extreme forms of political indoctrination. According to the general consensus, the Soviets started a new prisoner off by putting him in solitary confinement. A rotating corps of guards watched him constantly, humiliating and demeaning him at every opportunity and making it clear he was totally cut off from all outside support. The guards ordered him to stand for long periods, let him sit, told him exactly the position he could take to lie down, and woke him if he moved in the slightest while sleeping. They banned all outside stimuli—books, conversation, or news of the world.
After four to six weeks of this mind-deadening routine, the prisoner usually found the stress unbearable and broke down. “He weeps, he mutters, and prays aloud in his cell,” wrote Hinkle and Wolff. When the prisoner reached this stage, the interrogation began. Night after night, the guards brought him into a special room to face the interrogator. Far from confronting his captive with specific misdeeds, the interrogator told him that he knew his own crimes—all too well. In the most harrowing Kafkaesque way, the prisoner tried to prove his innocence to he knew not what. Together the interrogator and prisoner reviewed the prisoner’s life in detail. The interrogator seized on any inconsistency—no matter how minute—as further evidence of guilt, and he laughed at the prisoner’s efforts to justify himself. But at least the prisoner was getting a response of some sort. The long weeks of isolation and uncertainty had made him grateful for human contact even grateful that his case was moving toward resolution. True, it moved only as fast as he was willing to incriminate himself, but . . . Gradually, he came to see that he and his interrogator were working toward the same goal of wrapping up his case. In tandem, they ransacked his soul. The interrogator would periodically let up the pressure. He offered a cigarette, had a friendly chat, explained he had a job to do—making it all the more disappointing the next time he had to tell the prisoner that his confession was unsatisfactory .
As the charges against him began to take shape, the prisoner realized that he could end his ordeal only with a full confession. Otherwise the grueling sessions would go on forever. “The regimen of pressure has created an overall discomfort which is well nigh intolerable,” wrote Hinkle and Wolff. “The prisoner invariably feels that ‘something must be done to end this.’ He must find a way out.” A former KGB officer, one of many former interrogators and prisoners interviewed for the CIA study, said that more than 99 percent of all prisoners signed a confession at this stage.
In the Soviet system under Stalin, these confessions were the final step of the interrogation process, and the prisoners usually were shot or sent to a labor camp after sentencing. Today, Russian leaders seem much less insistent on exacting confessions before jailing their foes, but they still use the penal (and mental health) system to remove from the population classes of people hostile to their rule.
The Chinese took on the more ambitious task of re-educating their prisoners. For them, confession was only the beginning. Next, the Chinese authorities moved the prisoner into a group cell where his indoctrination began. From morning to night, he and his fellow prisoners studied Marx and Mao, listened to lectures, and engaged in self-criticism. Since the progress of each member depended on that of his cellmates, the group pounced on the slightest misconduct as an indication of backsliding. Prisoners demonstrated the zeal of their commitment by ferociously attacking deviations. Constant intimacy with people who reviled him pushed the resistant prisoner to the limits of his emotional endurance. Hinkle and Wolff found that “The prisoner must conform to the demands of the group sooner or later.” As the prisoner developed genuine changes of attitude, pressure on him relaxed. His cellmates rewarded him with increasing acceptance and esteem. Their acceptance, in turn, reinforced his commitment to the Party, for he learned that only this commitment allowed him to live successfully in the cell. In many cases, this process produced an exultant sense of mission in the prisoner—a feeling of having finally straightened out his life and come to the truth. To be sure, this experience, which was not so different from religious conversion, did not occur in all cases or always last after the prisoner returned to a social group that did not reinforce it.
From the first preliminary studies of Wolff and Hinkle, the U.S. intelligence community moved toward the conclusion that neither the Chinese nor the Russians made appreciable use of drugs or hypnosis, and they certainly did not possess the brainwashing equivalent of the atomic bomb (as many feared). Most of their techniques were rooted in age-old methods, and CIA brainwashing researchers like psychologist John Gittinger found themselves poring over ancient documents on the Spanish Inquisition. Furthermore, the communists used no psychiatrists or other behavioral scientists to devise their interrogation system. The differences between the Soviet and Chinese systems seemed to grow out of their respective national cultures. The Soviet brainwashing system resembled a heavy-handed cop whose job was to isolate, break, and then subdue all the troublemakers in the neighborhood. The Chinese system was more like thousands of skilled acupuncturists, working on each other and relying on group pressure, ideology, and repetition. To understand further the Soviet or Chinese control systems, one had to plunge into the subtle mysteries of national and individual character.
While CIA researchers looked into those questions, the main thrust of the Agency’s brainwashing studies veered off in a different direction. The logic behind the switch was familiar in the intelligence business. Just because the Soviets and the Chinese had not invented a brainwashing machine, officials reasoned, there was no reason to assume that the task was impossible. If such a machine were even remotely feasible, one had to assume the communists might discover it. And in that case, national security required that the United States invent the machine first. Therefore, the CIA built up its own elaborate brainwashing program, which, like the Soviet and Chinese versions, took its own special twist from our national character. It was a tiny replica of the Manhattan Project, grounded in the conviction that the keys to brainwashing lay in technology. Agency officials hoped to use old-fashioned American know-how to produce shortcuts and scientific breakthroughs. Instead of turning to tough cops, whose methods repelled American sensibilities, or the gurus of mass motivation, whose ideology Americans lacked, the Agency’s brainwashing experts gravitated to people more in the mold of the brilliant—and sometimes mad—scientist, obsessed by the wonders of the brain.
In 1953 CIA Director Allen Dulles made a rare public statement on communist brainwashing: “We in the West are somewhat handicapped in getting all the details,” Dulles declared. “There are few survivors, and we have no human guinea pigs to try these extraordinary techniques.” Even as Dulles spoke, however, CIA officials acting under his orders had begun to find the scientists and the guinea pigs. Some of their experiments would wander so far across the ethical borders of experimental psychiatry (which are hazy in their own right) that Agency officials thought it prudent to have much of the work done outside the United States.
Call her Lauren G. For 19 years, her mind has been blank about her experience. She remembers her husband’s driving her up to the old gray stone mansion that housed the hospital, Allan Memorial Institute, and putting her in the care of its director, Dr. D. Ewen Cameron. The next thing she recalls happened three weeks later:
They gave me a dressing gown. It was way too big, and I was tripping all over it. I was mad. I asked why did I have to go round in this sloppy thing. I could hardly move because I was pretty weak. I remember trying to walk along the hall, and the walls were all slanted. It was then that I said, “Holy Smokes, what a ghastly thing.” I remember running out the door and going up the mountain in my long dressing gown.
The mountain, named Mont Royal, loomed high above Montreal. She stumbled and staggered as she tried to climb higher and higher. Hospital staff members had no trouble catching her and dragging her back to the Institute. In short order, they shot her full of sedatives, attached electrodes to her temples, and gave her a dose of electroshock. Soon she slept like a baby.
Gradually, over the next few weeks, Lauren G. began to function like a normal person again. She took basket-weaving therapy and played bridge with her fellow patients. The hospital released her, and she returned to her husband in another Canadian city.
Before her mental collapse in 1959, Lauren G. seemed to have everything going for her. A refined, glamorous horsewoman of 30, whom people often said looked like Elizabeth Taylor, she had auditioned for the lead in National Velvet at 13 and married the rich boy next door at 20. But she had never loved her husband and had let her domineering mother push her into his arms. He drank heavily. “I was really unhappy,” she recalls. “I had a horrible marriage, and finally I had a nervous breakdown. It was a combination of my trying to lose weight, sleep loss, and my nerves.”
The family doctor recommended that her husband send her to Dr. Cameron, which seemed like a logical thing to do, considering his wide fame as a psychiatrist. He had headed Allan Memorial since 1943, when the Rockefeller Foundation had donated funds to set up a psychiatric facility at McGill University. With continuing help from the Rockefellers, McGill had built a hospital known far beyond Canada’s borders as innovative and exciting. Cameron was elected president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1953, and he became the first president of the World Psychiatric Association. His friends joked that they had run out of honors to give him.
Cameron’s passion lay in the more “objective” forms of therapy, with which he could more easily and swiftly bring about improvements in patients than with the notoriously slow Freudian methods. An impatient man, he dreamed of finding a cure for schizophrenia. No one could tell him he was not on the right track. Cameron’s supporter at the Rockefeller Foundation, Robert Morrison, recorded in his private papers that he found the psychiatrist tense and ill-at-ease, and Morrison ventured that this may account for “his lack of interest and effectiveness in psychotherapy and failure to establish warm personal relations with faculty members, both of which were mentioned repeatedly when I visited Montreal.” Another Rockefeller observer noted that Cameron “appears to suffer from deep insecurity and has a need for power which he nourishes by maintaining an extraordinary aloofness from his associates.”
When Lauren G.’s husband delivered her to Cameron, the psychiatrist told him she would receive some electroshock, a standard treatment at the time. Besides that, states her husband, “Cameron was not very communicative, but I didn’t think she was getting anything out of the ordinary.” The husband had no way of knowing that Cameron would use an unproved experimental technique on his wife—much less that the psychiatrist intended to “depattern” her. Nor did he realize that the CIA was supporting this work with about $19,000 a year in secret funds. 
Cameron defined “depatterning” as breaking up existing patterns of behavior, both the normal and the schizophrenic, by means of particularly intensive electroshocks, usually combined with prolonged, drug-induced sleep. Here was a psychiatrist willing—indeed, eager—to wipe the human mind totally clean. Back in 1951, ARTICHOKE’s Morse Allen had likened the process to “creation of a vegetable.” Cameron justified this tabula rasa approach because he had a theory of “differential amnesia,” for which he provided no statistical evidence when he published it. He postulated that after he produced “complete amnesia” in a subject, the person would eventually recover memory of his normal but not his schizophrenic behavior. Thus, Cameron claimed he could generate “differential amnesia.” Creating such a state in which a man who knew too much could be made to forget had long been a prime objective of the ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA programs.
Needless to say, Lauren G. does not recall a thing today about those weeks when Cameron depatterned her. Afterward, unlike over half of the psychiatrist’s depatterning patients, Lauren G. gradually recovered full recall of her life before the treatment, but then, she remembered her mental problems, too. Her husband says she came out of the hospital much improved. She declares the treatment had no effect one way or another on her mental condition, which she believes resulted directly from her miserable marriage. She stopped seeing Cameron after about a month of outpatient electroshock treatments, which she despised. Her relationship with her husband further deteriorated, and two years later she walked out on him. “I just got up on my own hind legs,” she states. “I said the hell with it. I’m going to do what I want and take charge of my own life. I left and started over.” Now divorced and remarried, she feels she has been happy ever since.
Cameron’s depatterning, of which Lauren G. had a comparatively mild version, normally started with 15 to 30 days of “sleep therapy.” As the name implies, the patient slept almost the whole day and night. According to a doctor at the hospital who used to administer what he calls the “sleep cocktail,” a staff member woke up the patient three times a day for medication that consisted of a combination of 100 mg. Thorazine, 100 mg. Nembutal, 100 mg. Seconal, 150 mg. Veronal, and 10 mg. Phenergan. Another staff doctor would also awaken the patient two or sometimes three times daily for electroshock treatments. This doctor and his assistant wheeled a portable machine into the “sleep room” and gave the subject a local anesthetic and muscle relaxant, so as not to cause damage with the convulsions that were to come. After attaching electrodes soaked in saline solution, the attendant held the patient down and the doctor turned on the current. In standard, professional electroshock, doctors gave the subject a single dose of 110 volts, lasting a fraction of a second, once a day or every other day. By contrast, Cameron used a form 20 to 40 times more intense, two or three times daily, with the power turned up to 150 volts. Named the “Page-Russell” method after its British originators, this technique featured an initial one-second shock, which caused a major convulsion, and then five to nine additional shocks in the middle of the primary and follow-on convulsions. Even Drs. Page and Russell limited their treatment to once a day, and they always stopped as soon as their patient showed “pronounced confusion” and became “faulty in habits.” Cameron, however, welcomed this kind of impairment as a sign the treatment was taking effect and plowed ahead through his routine.
The frequent screams of patients that echoed through the hospital did not deter Cameron or most of his associates in their attempts to “depattern” their subjects completely. Other hospital patients report being petrified by the “sleep rooms,” where the treatment took place, and they would usually creep down the opposite side of the hall.
Cameron described this combined sleep-electroshock treatment as lasting between 15 to 30 days, with some subjects staying in up to 65 days (in which case, he reported, he awakened them for three days in the middle). Sometimes, as in the case of Lauren G., patients would try to escape when the sedatives wore thin, and the staff would have to chase after them. “It was a tremendous nursing job just to keep these people going during the treatment,” recalls a doctor intimately familiar with Cameron’s operation. This doctor paints a picture of dazed patients, incapable of taking care of themselves, often groping their way around the hospital and urinating on the floor.
Cameron wrote that his typical depatterning patient—usually a woman—moved through three distinct stages. In the first, the subject lost much of her memory. Yet she still knew where she was, why she was there, and who the people were who treated her. In the second phase, she lost her “space-time image,” but still wanted to remember. In fact, not being able to answer questions like, “Where am I?” and “How did I get here?” caused her considerable anxiety. In the third stage, all that anxiety disappeared. Cameron described the state as “an extremely interesting constriction of the range of recollections which one ordinarily brings in to modify and enrich one’s statements. Hence, what the patient talks about are only his sensations of the moment, and he talks about them almost exclusively in highly concrete terms. His remarks are entirely uninfluenced by previous recollections—nor are they governed in any way by his forward anticipations. He lives in the immediate present. All schizophrenic symptoms have disappeared. There is complete amnesia for all events in his life.”
Lauren G. and 52 other subjects at Allan Memorial received this level of depatterning in 1958 and 1959. Cameron had already developed the technique when the CIA funding started. The Agency sent the psychiatrist research money to take the treatment beyond this point. Agency officials wanted to know if, once Cameron had produced the blank mind, he could then program in new patterns of behavior, as he claimed he could. As early as 1953—the year he headed the American Psychiatric Association—Cameron conceived a technique he called “psychic driving,” by which he would bombard the subject with repeated verbal messages. From tape recordings based on interviews with the patient, he selected emotionally loaded “cue statements”—first negative ones to get rid of unwanted behavior and then positive to condition in desired personality traits. On the negative side, for example, the patient would hear this message as she lay in a stupor:
Madeleine, you let your mother and father treat you as a child all through your single life. You let your mother check you up sexually after every date you had with a boy. You hadn’t enough determination to tell her to stop it. You never stood up for yourself against your mother or father but would run away from trouble. . . . They used to call you “crying Madeleine.” Now that you have two children, you don’t seem to be able to manage them and keep a good relationship with your husband. You are drifting apart. You don’t go out together. You have not been able to keep him interested sexually.
Leonard Rubenstein, Cameron’s principal assistant, whose entire salary was paid from CIA-front funds, put the message on a continuous tape loop and played it for 16 hours every day for several weeks. An electronics technician, with no medical or psychological background, Rubenstein, an electrical whiz, designed a giant tape recorder that could play 8 loops for 8 patients at the same time. Cameron had the speakers installed literally under the pillows in the “sleep rooms.” “We made sure they heard it,” says a doctor who worked with Cameron. With some patients, Cameron intensified the negative effect by running wires to their legs and shocking them at the end of the message.
When Cameron thought the negative “psychic driving” had gone far enough, he switched the patient over to 2 to 5 weeks of positive tapes:
You mean to get well. To do this you must let your feelings come out. It is all right to express your anger. . . . You want to stop your mother bossing you around. Begin to assert yourself first in little things and soon you will be able to meet her on an equal basis. You will then be free to be a wife and mother just like other women.
Cameron wrote that psychic driving provided a way to make “direct, controlled changes in personality,” without having to resolve the subject’s conflicts or make her relive past experiences. As far as is known, no present-day psychologist or psychiatrist accepts this view. Dr. Donald Hebb, who headed McGill’s psychology department at the time Cameron was in charge of psychiatry, minces no words when asked specifically about psychic driving: “That was an awful set of ideas Cameron was working with. It called for no intellectual respect. If you actually look at what he was doing and what he wrote, it would make you laugh. If I had a graduate student who talked like that, I’d throw him out.” Warming to his subject, Hebb continues: “Look, Cameron was no good as a researcher. . . . He was eminent because of politics.” Nobody said such things at the time, however. Cameron was a very powerful man.
The Scottish-born psychiatrist, who never lost the burr in his voice, kept searching for ways to perfect depatterning and psychic driving. He held out to the CIA front—the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology—that he could find more rapid and less damaging ways to break down behavior. He sent the Society a proposal that combined his two techniques with sensory deprivation and strong drugs. His smorgasbord approach brought together virtually all possible techniques of mind control, which he tested individually and together. When his Agency grant came through in 1957, Cameron began work on sensory deprivation.
For several years, Agency officials had been interested in the interrogation possibilities of this technique that Hebb himself had pioneered at McGill with Canadian defense and Rockefeller money. It consisted of putting a subject in a sealed environment—a small room or even a large box—and depriving him of all sensory input: eyes covered with goggles, ears either covered with muffs or exposed to a constant, monotonous sound, padding to prevent touching, no smells—with this empty regime interrupted only by meal and bathroom breaks. In 1955 Morse Allen of ARTICHOKE made contact at the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Maitland Baldwin who had done a rather gruesome experiment in which an Army volunteer had stayed in the “box” for 40 hours until he kicked his way out after, in Baldwin’s words, “an hour of crying loudly and sobbing in a most heartrending fashion.” The experiment convinced Baldwin that the isolation technique could break any man, no matter how intelligent or strong-willed. Hebb, who unlike Baldwin released his subjects when they wanted, had never left anyone in “the box” for more than six days. Baldwin told Morse Allen that beyond that sensory deprivation would almost certainly cause irreparable damage. Nevertheless, Baldwin agreed that if the Agency could provide the cover and the subjects, he would do, according to Allen’s report, “terminal type” experiments. After numerous meetings inside the CIA on how and where to fund Baldwin, an Agency medical officer finally shot down the project as being “immoral and inhuman,” suggesting that those pushing the experiments might want to “volunteer their heads for use in Dr. Baldwin’s ‘noble’ project.”
With Cameron, Agency officials not only had a doctor willing to perform terminal experiments in sensory deprivation, but one with his own source of subjects. As part of his CIA-funded research, he had a “box” built in the converted stables behind the hospital that housed Leonard Rubenstein and his behavioral laboratory. Undaunted by the limits set in Hebb’s work, Cameron left one woman in for 35 days, although he had so scrambled her mind with his other techniques that one cannot say, as Baldwin predicted to the Agency, if the prolonged deprivation did specific damage. This subject’s name was Mary C., and, try as he might, Cameron could not get through to her. As the aloof psychiatrist wrote in his notes: “Although the patient was prepared by both prolonged sensory isolation (35 days) and by repeated depatterning, and although she received 101 days of positive driving, no favorable results were obtained.” Before prescribing this treatment, Cameron had diagnosed the 52-year-old Mary C.: “Conversion reaction in a woman of the involutional age with mental anxiety; hypochondriatic.” In other words, Mary C. was going through menopause.
In his proposal to the CIA front, Cameron also said he would test curare, the South American arrow poison which, when liberally applied, kills by paralyzing internal body functions. In nonlethal doses, curare causes a limited paralysis which blocks but does not stop these functions. According to his papers, some of which wound up in the archives of the American Psychiatric Association, Cameron injected subjects with curare in conjunction with sensory deprivation, presumably to immobilize them further.
Cameron also tested LSD in combination with psychic driving and other techniques. In late 1956 and early 1957, one of his subjects was Val Orlikow, whose husband David has become a member of the Canadian parliament. Suffering from what she calls a “character neurosis that started with postpartum depression,” she entered Allan Memorial as one of Cameron’s personal patients. He soon put her under his version of LSD therapy. One to four times a week, he or another doctor would come into her room and give her a shot of LSD, mixed with either a stimulant or a depressant and then leave her alone with a tape recorder that played excerpts from her last session with him. As far as is known, no other LSD researcher ever subjected his patients to unsupervised trips—certainly not over the course of two months when her hospital records show she was given LSD 14 times. “It was terrifying,” Mrs. Orlikow recalls. “You’re afraid you’ve gone off somewhere and can’t come back.” She was supposed to write down on a pad whatever came into her head while listening to the tapes, but often she became so frightened that she could not write at all. “You become very small,” she says, as her voice quickens and starts to reflect some of her horror. “You’re going to fall off the step, and God, you’re going down into hell because it’s so far, and you are so little. Like Alice, where is the pill that makes you big, and you’re a squirrel, and you can’t get out of the cage, and somebody’s going to kill you.” Then, suddenly, Mrs. Orlikow pulls out of it and lucidly states, “Some very weird things happened.”
Mrs. Orlikow hated the LSD treatment. Several times she told Cameron she would take no more, and the psychiatrist would put his arm around her and ask, “Lassie,” which he called all his women patients, “don’t you want to get well, so you can go home and see your husband?” She remembers feeling guilty about not following the doctor’s orders, and the thought of disappointing Cameron, whom she idolized, crushed her. Finally, after Cameron talked her out of quitting the treatment several times, she had to end it. She left the hospital but stayed under his private care. In 1963 he put her back in the hospital for more intensive psychic driving. “I thought he was God,” she states. “I don’t know how I could have been so stupid. . . . A lot of us were naive. We thought psychiatrists had the answers. Here was the greatest in the world, with all these titles.”
In defense of Cameron, a former associate says the man truly cared about the welfare of his patients. He wanted to make them well. As his former staff psychologist wrote:
He abhorred the waste of human potential, seen most dramatically in the young people whose minds were distorted by what was then considered to be schizophrenia. He felt equally strongly about the loss of wisdom in the aged through memory malfunction. For him, the end justified the means, and when one is dealing with the waste of human potential, it is easy to adopt this stance.
Cameron retired abruptly in 1964, for unexplained reasons. His successor, Dr. Robert Cleghorn, made a virtually unprecedented move in the academic world of mutual back-scratching and praise. He commissioned a psychiatrist and a psychologist, unconnected to Cameron, to study his electroshock work. They found that 60 percent of Cameron’s depatterned patients complained they still had amnesia for the period 6 months to 10 years before the therapy. They could find no clinical proof that showed the treatment to be any more or less effective than other approaches. They concluded that “the incidence of physical complications and the anxiety generated in the patient because of real or imagined memory difficulty argue against” future use of the technique.
The study-team members couched their report in densely academic jargon, but one of them speaks more clearly now. He talks bitterly of one of Cameron’s former patients who needs to keep a list of her simplest household chores to remember how to do them. Then he repeats several times how powerful a man Cameron was, how he was “the godfather of Canadian psychiatry.” He continues, “I probably shouldn’t talk about this, but Cameron—for him to do what he did—he was a very schizophrenic guy, who totally detached himself from the human implications of his work . . . God, we talk about concentration camps. I don’t want to make this comparison, but God, you talk about ‘we didn’t know it was happening,’ and it was—right in our back yard.”
Cameron died in 1967, at age 66, while climbing a mountain. The American Journal of Psychiatry published a long and glowing obituary with a full-page picture of his not-unpleasant face.
D. Ewen Cameron did not need the CIA to corrupt him. He clearly had his mind set on doing unorthodox research long before the Agency front started to fund him. With his own hospital and source of subjects, he could have found elsewhere encouragement and money to replace the CIA’s contribution which never exceeded $20,000 a year. However, Agency officials knew exactly what they were paying for. They traveled periodically to Montreal to observe his work, and his proposal was chillingly explicit. In Cameron, they had a doctor, conveniently outside the United States, willing to do terminal experiments in electroshock, sensory deprivation, drug testing, and all of the above combined. By literally wiping the minds of his subjects clean by depatterning and then trying to program in new behavior, Cameron carried the process known as “brainwashing” to its logical extreme.
It cannot be said how many—if any—other Agency brainwashing projects reached the extremes of Cameron’s work. Details are scarce, since many of the principal witnesses have died, will not talk about what went on, or lie about it. In what ways the CIA applied work like Cameron’s is not known. What is known, however, is that the intelligence community, including the CIA, changed the face of the scientific community during the 1950s and early 1960s by its interest in such experiments. Nearly every scientist on the frontiers of brain research found men from the secret agencies looking over his shoulders, impinging on the research. The experience of Dr. John Lilly illustrates how this intrusion came about.
In 1953 Lilly worked at the National Institutes of Health, outside Washington, doing experimental studies in an effort to “map” the body functions controlled from various locations in the brain. He devised a method of pounding up to 600 tiny sections of hypodermic tubing into the skulls of monkeys, through which he could insert electrodes “into the brain to any desired distance and at any desired location from the cortex down to the bottom of the skull,” he later wrote. Using electric stimulation, Lilly discovered precise centers of the monkeys’ brains that caused pain, fear, anxiety, and anger. He also discovered precise, separate parts of the brain that controlled erection, ejaculation, and orgasm in male monkeys. Lilly found that a monkey, given access to a switch operating a correctly planted electrode, would reward himself with nearly continuous orgasms—at least once every 3 minutes—for up to 16 hours a day.
As Lilly refined his brain “maps,” officials of the CIA and other agencies descended upon him with a request for a briefing. Having a phobia against secrecy, Lilly agreed to the briefing only under the condition that it and his work remain unclassified, completely open to outsiders. The intelligence officials submitted to the conditions most reluctantly, since they knew that Lilly’s openness would not only ruin the spy value of anything they learned but could also reveal the identities and the interests of the intelligence officials to enemy agents. They considered Lilly annoying, uncooperative—possibly even suspicious.
Soon Lilly began to have trouble going to meetings and conferences with his colleagues. As part of the cooperation with the intelligence agencies, most of them had agreed to have their projects officially classified as SECRET, which meant that access to the information required a security clearance. Lilly’s security clearance was withdrawn for review, then tangled up and misplaced—all of which he took as pressure to cooperate with the CIA. Lilly, whose imagination needed no stimulation to conjure up pictures of CIA agents on deadly missions with remote-controlled electrodes strategically implanted in their brains, decided to withdraw from that field of research. He says he had decided that the physical intrusion of the electrodes did too much brain damage for him to tolerate.
In 1954 Lilly began trying to isolate the operations of the brain, free of outside stimulation, through sensory deprivation. He worked in an office next to Dr. Maitland Baldwin, who the following year agreed to perform terminal sensory deprivation experiments for ARTICHOKE’s Morse Allen but who never told Lilly he was working in the field. While Baldwin experimented with his sensory-deprivation “box,” Lilly invented a special “tank.” Subjects floated in a tank of body-temperature water wearing a face mask that provided air but cut off sight and sound. Inevitably, intelligence officials swooped down on Lilly again, interested in the use of his tank as an interrogation tool. Could involuntary subjects be placed in the tank and broken down to the point where their belief systems or personalities could be altered?
It was central to Lilly’s ethic that he himself be the first subject of any experiment, and, in the case of the consciousness-exploring tank work, he and one colleague were the only ones. Lilly realized that the intelligence agencies were not interested in sensory deprivation because of its positive benefits, and he finally concluded that it was impossible for him to work at the National Institutes of Health without compromising his principles. He quit in 1958.
Contrary to most people’s intuitive expectations, Lilly found sensory deprivation to be a profoundly integrating experience for himself personally. He considered himself to be a scientist who subjectively explored the far wanderings of the brain. In a series of private experiments, he pushed himself into the complete unknown by injecting pure Sandoz LSD into his thigh before climbing into the sensory-deprivation tank. When the counterculture sprang up, Lilly became something of a cult figure, with his unique approach to scientific inquiry—though he was considered more of an outcast by many in the professional research community.
For most of the outside world, Lilly became famous with the release of the popular film, The Day of the Dolphin, which the filmmakers acknowledged was based on Lilly’s work with dolphins after he left NIH. Actor George C. Scott portrayed a scientist, who, like Lilly, loved dolphins, did pioneering experiments on their intelligence, and tried to find ways to communicate with them. In the movie, Scott became dismayed when the government pounced on his breakthrough in talking to dolphins and turned it immediately to the service of war. In real life, Lilly was similarly dismayed when Navy and CIA scientists trained dolphins for special warfare in the waters off Vietnam.
* * *
A few scientists like Lilly made up their minds not to cross certain ethical lines in their experimental work, while others were prepared to go further even than their sponsors from ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA. Within the Agency itself, there was only one final question: Will a technique work? CIA officials zealously tracked every lead, sparing no expense to check each angle many times over.
By the time the MKULTRA program ended in 1963, Agency researchers had found no foolproof way to brainwash another person. “All experiments beyond a certain point always failed,” says the MKULTRA veteran, “because the subject jerked himself back for some reason or the subject got amnesiac or catatonic.” Agency officials found through work like Cameron’s that they could create “vegetables,” but such people served no operational use. People could be tortured into saying anything, but no science could guarantee that they would tell the truth.
The impotency of brainwashing techniques left the Agency in a difficult spot when Yuri Nosenko defected to the United States in February 1964. A ranking official of the Soviet KGB, Nosenko brought with him stunning information. He said the Russians had bugged the American embassy in Moscow, which turned out to be true. He named some Russian agents in the West. And he said that he had personally inspected the KGB file of Lee Harvey Oswald, who only a few months earlier had been murdered before he could be brought to trial for the assassination of President Kennedy. Nosenko said he learned that the KGB had had no interest in Oswald.
Was Nosenko telling the truth, or was he a KGB “plant” sent to throw the United States off track about Oswald? Was his information about penetration correct, or was Nosenko himself the penetration? Was he acting in good faith? Were the men within the CIA who believed he was acting in good faith themselves acting in good faith? These and a thousand other questions made up the classical trick deck for spies—each card having “true” on one side and “false” on the other.
Top CIA officials felt a desperate need to resolve the issue of Nosenko’s legitimacy. With numerous Agency counterintelligence operations hanging in the balance, Richard Helms, first as Deputy Director and then as Director, allowed CIA operators to work Nosenko over with the interrogation method in which Helms apparently had the most faith. It turned out to be not any truth serum or electroshock depatterning program or anything else from the Agency’s brainwashing search. Helms had Nosenko put through the tried-and-true Soviet method: isolate the prisoner, deaden his senses, break him. For more than three years—1,277 days, to be exact—Agency officers kept Nosenko in solitary confinement. As if they were using the Hinkle-Wolff study as their instruction manual and the Cardinal Mindszenty case as their success story, the CIA men had guards watch over Nosenko day and night, giving him not a moment of privacy. A light bulb burned continuously in his cell. He was allowed nothing to read—not even the labels on toothpaste boxes. When he tried to distract himself by making a chess set from pieces of lint in his cell, the guards discovered his game and swept the area clean. Nosenko had no window, and he was eventually put in a specially built 12’ X 12’ steel bank vault.
Nosenko broke down. He hallucinated. He talked his head off to his interrogators, who questioned him for 292 days, often while they had him strapped into a lie detector. If he told the truth, they did not believe him. While the Soviets and Chinese had shown that they could make a man admit anything, the CIA interrogators apparently lacked a clear idea of exactly what they wanted Nosenko to confess. When it was all over and Richard Helms ordered Nosenko freed after three and a half years of illegal detention, some key Agency officers still believed he was a KGB plant. Others thought he was on the level. Thus the big questions remained unresolved, and to this day, CIA men—past and present—are bitterly split over who Nosenko really is.
With the Nosenko case, the CIA’s brainwashing programs had come full circle. Spurred by the widespread alarm over communist tactics, Agency officials had investigated the field, started their own projects, and looked to the latest technology to make improvements. After 10 years of research, with some rather gruesome results, CIA officials had come up with no techniques on which they felt they could rely. Thus, when the operational crunch came, they fell back on the basic brutality of the Soviet system.
No mind-control technique has more captured popular imagination—and kindled fears—than hypnosis. Men have long dreamed they could use overwhelming hypnotic powers to compel others to do their bidding. And when CIA officials institutionalized that dream in the early Cold War Days, they tried, like modern-day Svengalis, to use hypnosis to force their favors on unwitting victims.
One group of professional experts, as well as popular novelists, argued that hypnosis would lead to major breakthroughs in spying. Another body of experts believed the opposite. The Agency men, who did not fully trust the academics anyway, listened to both points of view and kept looking for applications which fit their own special needs. To them, hypnosis offered too much promise not to be pursued, but finding the answers was such an elusive and dangerous process that 10 years after the program started CIA officials were still searching for practical uses.
The CIA’s first behavioral research czar, Morse Allen of ARTICHOKE, was intrigued by hypnosis. He read everything he could get his hands on, and in 1951 he went to New York for a four-day course from a well-known stage hypnotist. This hypnotist had taken the Svengali legend to heart, and he bombarded Allen with tales of how he used hypnosis to seduce young women. He told the ARTICHOKE chief that he had convinced one mesmerized lady that he was her husband and that she desperately wanted him. That kind of deception has a place in covert operations, and Morse Allen was sufficiently impressed to report back to his bosses the hypnotist’s claim that “he spent approximately five nights a week away from home engaging in sexual intercourse.”
Apart from the bragging, the stage hypnotist did give Morse Allen a short education in how to capture a subject’s attention and induce a trance. Allen returned to Washington more convinced than ever of the benefits of working hypnosis into the ARTICHOKE repertory and of the need to build a defense against it. With permission from above, he decided to take his hypnosis studies further, right in his own office. He asked young CIA secretaries to stay after work and ran them through the hypnotic paces—proving to his own satisfaction that he could make them do whatever he wanted. He had secretaries steal SECRET files and pass them on to total strangers, thus violating the most basic CIA security rules. He got them to steal from each other and to start fires. He made one of them report to the bedroom of a strange man and then go into a deep sleep. “This activity clearly indicates that individuals under hypnosis might be compromised and blackmailed,” Allen wrote.
On February 19, 1954, Morse Allen simulated the ultimate experiment in hypnosis: the creation of a “Manchurian Candidate,” or programmed assassin. Allen’s “victim” was a secretary whom he put into a deep trance and told to keep sleeping until he ordered otherwise. He then hypnotized a second secretary and told her that if she could not wake up her friend, “her rage would be so great that she would not hesitate to ‘kill.’” Allen left a pistol nearby, which the secretary had no way of knowing was unloaded. Even though she had earlier expressed a fear of firearms of any kind, she picked up the gun and “shot” her sleeping friend. After Allen brought the “killer” out of her trance, she had apparent amnesia for the event, denying she would ever shoot anyone.
With this experiment, Morse Allen took the testing as far as he could on a make- believe basis, but he was neither satisfied nor convinced that hypnosis would produce such spectacular results in an operational setting. All he felt he had proved was that an impressionable young volunteer would accept a command from a legitimate authority figure to take an action she may have sensed would not end in tragedy. She presumably trusted the CIA enough as an institution and Morse Allen as an individual to believe he would not let her do anything wrong. The experimental setting, in effect, legitimated her behavior and prevented it from being truly antisocial.
Early in 1954, Allen almost got his chance to try the crucial test. According to a CIA document, the subject was to be a 35-year-old, well-educated foreigner who had once worked for a friendly secret service, probably the CIA itself. He had now shifted his loyalty to another government, and the CIA was quite upset with him. The Agency plan was to hypnotize him and program him into making an assassination attempt. He would then be arrested at the least for attempted murder and “thereby disposed of.” The scenario had several holes in it, as the operators presented it to the ARTICHOKE team. First, the subject was to be involuntary and unwitting, and as yet no one had come up with a consistently effective way of hypnotizing such people. Second, the ARTICHOKE team would have only limited custody of the subject, who was to be snatched from a social event. Allen understood that it would probably take months of painstaking work to prepare the man for a sophisticated covert operation. The subject was highly unlikely to perform after just one command. Yet, so anxious were the ARTICHOKE men to try the experiment that they were willing to go ahead even under these unfavorable conditions: “The final answer was that in view of the fact that successful completion of this proposed act of attempted assassination was insignificant to the overall project; to wit, whether it was even carried out or not, that under ‘crash conditions’ and appropriate authority from Headquarters, the ARTICHOKE team would undertake the problem in spite of the operational limitations.”
This operation never took place. Eager to be unleashed, Morse Allen kept requesting prolonged access to operational subjects, such as the double agents and defectors on whom he was allowed to work a day or two. Not every double agent would do. The candidate had to be among the one person in five who made a good hypnotic subject, and he needed to have a dissociative tendency to separate part of his personality from the main body of his consciousness. The hope was to take an existing ego state—such as an imaginary childhood playmate—and build it into a separate personality, unknown to the first. The hypnotist would communicate directly with this schizophrenic offshoot and command it to carry out specific deeds about which the main personality would know nothing. There would be inevitable leakage between the two personalities, particularly in dreams; but if the hypnotists were clever enough, he could build in cover stories and safety valves which would prevent the subject from acting inconsistently.
All during the spring and summer of 1954, Morse Allen lobbied for permission to try what he called “terminal experiments” in hypnosis, including one along the following scenario:
CIA officials would recruit an agent in a friendly foreign country where the Agency could count on the cooperation of the local police force. CIA case officers would train the agent to pose as a leftist and report on the local communist party. During training, a skilled hypnotist would hypnotize him under the guise of giving him medical treatment (the favorite ARTICHOKE cover for hypnosis). The hypnotist would then provide the agent with information and tell him to forget it all when he snapped out of the trance. Once the agent had been properly conditioned and prepared, he would be sent into action as a CIA spy. Then Agency officials would tip off the local police that the man was a dangerous communist agent, and he would be arrested. Through their liaison arrangement with the police, Agency case officers would be able to watch and even guide the course of the interrogation. In this way, they could answer many of their questions about hypnosis on a live guinea pig who believed his life was in danger. Specifically, the men from ARTICHOKE wanted to know how well hypnotic amnesia held up against torture. Could the amnesia be broken with drugs? One document noted that the Agency could even send in a new hypnotist to try his hand at cracking through the commands of the first one. Perhaps the most cynical part of the whole scheme came at the end of the proposal: “In the event that the agent should break down and admit his connection with US intelligence, we a) deny this absolutely and advise the agent’s disposal, or b) indicate that the agent may have been dispatched by some other organ of US intelligence and that we should thereafter run the agent jointly with [the local intelligence service].”
An ARTICHOKE team was scheduled to carry out field tests along these lines in the summer of 1954. The planning got to an advanced stage, with the ARTICHOKE command center in Washington cabling overseas for the “time, place, and bodies available for terminal experiments.” Then another cable complained of the “diminishing numbers” of subjects available for these tests. At this point, the available record becomes very fuzzy. The minutes of an ARTICHOKE working group meeting indicate that a key Agency official—probably the station chief in the country where the experiments were going to take place—had second thoughts. One participant at the meeting, obviously rankled by the obstructionism, said if this nay-sayer did not change his attitude, ARTICHOKE officials would have the Director himself order the official to go along.
Although short-term interrogations of unwitting subjects with drugs and hypnosis (the “A” treatment) continued, the more complicated tests apparently never did get going under the ARTICHOKE banner. By the end of the year, 1954, Allen Dulles took the behavioral-research function away from Morse Allen and gave it to Sid Gottlieb and the men from MKULTRA. Allen had directly pursued the goal of creating a Manchurian Candidate, which he clearly believed was possible. MKULTRA officials were just as interested in finding ways to assert control over people, but they had much less faith in the frontal-assault approach pushed by Allen. For them, finding the Manchurian Candidate became a figurative exercise. They did not give up the dream. They simply pursued it in smaller steps, always hoping to increase the percentages in their favor. John Gittinger, the MKULTRA case officer on hypnosis, states, “Predictable absolute control is not possible on a particular individual. Any psychologist, psychiatrist, or preacher can get control over certain kinds of individuals, but that’s not a predictable, definite thing.” Gittinger adds that despite his belief to this effect, he felt he had to give “a fair shake” to people who wanted to try out ideas to the contrary.
Gottlieb and his colleagues had already been doing hypnosis research for two years. They did a few basic experiments in the office, as Morse Allen did, but they farmed out most of the work to a young Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota, Alden Sears. Sears, who later moved his CIA study project to the University of Denver, worked with student subjects to define the nature of hypnosis. Among many other things, he looked into several of the areas that would be building blocks in the creation of a Manchurian Candidate. Could a hypnotist induce a totally separate personality? Could a subject be sent on missions he would not remember unless cued by the hypnotist? Sears, who has since become a Methodist minister, refused to talk about methods he experimented with to build second identities. By 1957, he wrote that the experiments that needed to be done “could not be handled in the University situation.” Unlike Morse Allen, he did not want to perform the terminal experiments.
Milton Kline, a New York psychologist who says he also did not want to cross the ethical line but is sure the intelligence agencies have, served as an unpaid consultant to Sears and other CIA hypnosis research. Nothing Sears or others found disabused him of the idea that the Manchurian Candidate is possible. “It cannot be done by everyone,” says Kline, “It cannot be done consistently, but it can be done.”
A onetime president of the American Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Kline was one of many outside experts to whom Gittinger and his colleagues talked. Other consultants, with equally impressive credentials, rejected Kline’s views. In no other area of the behavioral sciences was there so little accord on basic questions. “You could find an expert who would agree with everything,” says Gittinger. “Therefore, we tried to get everybody.”
The MKULTRA men state that they got too many unsolicited suggestions on how to use hypnosis in covert operations. “The operators would ask us for easy solutions,” recalls a veteran. “We therefore kept a laundry list of why they couldn’t have what they wanted. We spent a lot of time telling some young kid whose idea we had heard a hundred times why it wouldn’t work. We would wind up explaining why you couldn’t have a free lunch.” This veteran mentions an example: CIA operators put a great deal of time and money into servicing “dead drops” (covert mail pickup points, such as a hollow tree) in the Soviet Union. If a collector was captured, he was likely to give away the locations. Therefore Agency men suggested that TSS find a way to hypnotize these secret mailmen, so they could withstand interrogation and even torture if arrested.
Morse Allen had wanted to perform the “terminal experiment” to see if a hypnotically induced amnesia would stand up to torture. Gittinger says that as far as he knows, this experiment was never carried out. “I still like to think we were human beings enough that this was not something we played with,” says Gittinger. Such an experiment could have been performed, as Allen suggested, by friendly police in a country like Taiwan or Paraguay. CIA men did at least discuss joint work in hypnosis with a foreign secret service in 1962. Whether they went further simply cannot be said.
Assuming the amnesia would hold, the MKULTRA veteran says the problem was how to trigger it. Perhaps the Russian phrase meaning “You’re under arrest” could be used as a preprogrammed cue, but what if the police did not use these words as they captured the collector? Perhaps the physical sensation of handcuffs being snapped on could do it, but a metal watchband could have the same effect. According to the veteran, in the abstract, the scheme sounded fine, but in practicality, a foolproof way of triggering the amnesia could not be found. “You had to accept that when someone is caught, they’re going to tell some things,” he says.
MKULTRA officials, including Gittinger, did recommend the use of hypnosis in operational experiments on at least one occasion. In 1959 an important double agent, operating outside his homeland, told his Agency case officer that he was afraid to go home again because he did not think he could withstand the tough interrogation that his government used on returning overseas agents. In Washington, the operators approached the TSS men about using hypnosis, backed up with drugs, to change the agent’s attitude. They hoped they could instill in him the “ability or the necessary will” to hold up under questioning.
An MKULTRA official—almost certainly Gittinger—held a series of meetings over a two-week period with the operators and wrote that the agent was “a better than average” hypnotic subject, but that his goal was to get out of intelligence work: The agent “probably can be motivated to make at least one return visit to his homeland by application of any one of a number of techniques, including hypnosis, but he may redefect in the process.” The MKULTRA official continued that hypnosis probably could not produce an “operationally useful” degree of amnesia for the events of the recent past or for the hypnotic treatment itself that the agent “probably has the native ability to withstand ordinary interrogation . . . provided it is to his advantage to do so.”
The MKULTRA office recommended that despite the relatively negative outlook for the hypnosis, the Agency should proceed anyway. The operation had the advantage of having a “fail-safe” mechanism because the level of hypnosis could be tested out before the agent actually had to return. Moreover, the MKULTRA men felt “that a considerable amount of useful experience can be gained from this operation which could be used to improve Agency capability in future applications.” In effect, they would be using hypnosis not as the linchpin of the operation, but as an adjunct to help motivate the agent.
Since the proposed operation involved the use of hypnosis and drugs, final approval could only be given by the high-level Clandestine Services committee set up for this purpose and chaired by Richard Helms. Permission was not forthcoming
In June 1960 TSS officials launched an expanded program of operational experiments in hypnosis in cooperation with the Agency’s Counterintelligence Staff. The legendary James Angleton—the prototype for the title character Saxonton in Aaron Latham’s Orchids for Mother and for Wellington in Victor Marchetti’s The Rope Dancer—headed Counterintelligence, which took on some of the CIA’s most sensitive missions (including the illegal Agency spying against domestic dissidents). Counterintelligence officials wrote that the hypnosis program could provide a “potential breakthrough in clandestine technology.” Their arrangement with TSS was that the MKULTRA men would develop the technique in the laboratory, while they took care of “field experimentation.”
The Counterintelligence program had three goals: (1) to induce hypnosis very rapidly in unwitting subjects; (2) to create durable amnesia; and (3) to implant durable and operationally useful posthypnotic suggestion. The Agency released no information on any “field experimentation” of the latter two goals, which of course are the building blocks of the Manchurian Candidate. Agency officials provided only one heavily censored document on the first goal, rapid induction.
In October 1960 the MKULTRA program invested $9,000 in an outside consultant to develop a way of quickly hypnotizing an unwitting subject. John Gittinger says the process consisted of surprising “somebody sitting in a chair, putting your hands on his forehead, and telling the guy to go to sleep.” The method worked “fantastically” on certain people, including some on whom no other technique was effective, and not on others. “It wasn’t that predictable,” notes Gittinger, who states he knows nothing about the field testing.
The test, noted in that one released document, did not take place until July 1963—a full three years after the Counterintelligence experimental program began, during which interval the Agency is claiming that no other field experiments took place. According to a CIA man who participated in this test, the Counterintelligence Staff in Washington asked the CIA station in Mexico City to find a suitable candidate for a rapid induction experiment. The station proposed a low-level agent, whom the Soviets had apparently doubled. A Counterintelligence man flew in from Washington and a hypnotic consultant arrived from California. Our source and a fellow case officer brought the agent to a motel room on a pretext. “I puffed him up with his importance,” says the Agency man. “I said the bosses wanted to see him and of course give him more money.” Waiting in an adjoining room was the hypnotic consultant. At a prearranged time, the two case officers gently grabbed hold of the agent and tipped his chair over until the back was touching the floor. The consultant was supposed to rush in at that precise moment and apply the technique. Nothing happened. The consultant froze, unable to do the deed. “You can imagine what we had to do to cover-up,” says the official, who was literally left holding the agent. “We explained we had heard a noise, got excited, and tipped him down to protect him. He was so grubby for money he would have believed any excuse.”
There certainly is a huge difference between the limited aim of this bungled operation and one aimed at building a Manchurian Candidate. The MKULTRA veteran maintains that he and his colleagues were not interested in a programmed assassin because they knew in general it would not work and, specifically, that they could not exert total control. “If you have one hundred percent control, you have one hundred percent dependency,” he says. “If something happens and you haven’t programmed it in, you’ve got a problem. If you try to put flexibility in, you lose control. To the extent you let the agent choose, you don’t have control.” He admits that he and his colleagues spent hours running the arguments on the Manchurian Candidate back and forth. “Castro was naturally our discussion point,” he declares. “Could you get somebody gung-ho enough that they would go in and get him?” In the end, he states, they decided there were more reliable ways to kill people. “You can get exactly the same thing from people who are hypnotizable by many other ways, and you can’t get anything out of people who are not hypnotizable, so it has no use,” says Gittinger.
The only real gain in employing a hypnotized killer would be, in theory, that he would not remember who ordered him to pull the trigger. Yet, at least in the Castro case, the Cuban leader already knew who was after him. Moreover, there were plenty of people around willing to take on the Castro contract. “A well-trained person could do it without all this mumbo-jumbo,” says the MKULTRA veteran. By going to the Mafia for hitmen, CIA officials in any case found killers who had a built-in amnesia mechanism that had nothing to do with hypnosis.
The MKULTRA veteran gives many reasons why he believes the CIA never actually tried a Manchurian Candidate operation, but he acknowledges that he does not know. If the ultimate experiments were performed, they would have been handled with incredible secrecy. It would seem, however, that the same kind of reasoning that impelled Sid Gottlieb to recommend testing powerful drugs on unwitting subjects would have led to experimentation along such lines, if not to create the Manchurian Candidate itself, on some of the building blocks, or lesser antisocial acts. Even if the MKULTRA men did not think hypnosis would work operationally, they had not let that consideration prevent them from trying out numerous other techniques. The MKULTRA chief could even have used a defensive rationale: He had to find out if the Russians could plant a “sleeper” killer in our midst, just as Richard Condon’s novel discussed.
If the assassin scenario seemed exaggerated, Gottlieb still would have wanted to know what other uses the Russians might try. Certainly, he could have found relatively “expendable” subjects, as he and Morse Allen had for other behavior control experiments. And even if the MKULTRA men really did restrain themselves, it is unlikely that James Angleton and his counterintelligence crew would have acted in such a limited fashion when they felt they were on the verge of a “breakthrough in clandestine technology.”
For The Truth
Sid Gottlieb was one of many CIA officials who tried to find a way to assassinate Fidel Castro. Castro survived, of course, and his victory over the Agency in April 1961 at the Bay of Pigs put the Agency in the headlines for the first time, in a very unfavorable light. Among the fiasco’s many consequences was Gottlieb’s loss of the research part of the CIA’s behavior-control programs. Still, he and the others kept trying to kill Castro.
In the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy reportedly vowed to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces. In the end, he settled for firing Allen Dulles and his top deputies. To head the Agency, which lost none of its power, Kennedy brought in John McCone, a defense contractor and former head of the Atomic Energy Commission. With no operational background, McCone had a different notion than Dulles of how to manage the CIA, particularly in the scientific area. “McCone never felt akin to the covert way of doing things,” recalls Ray Cline, whom the new Director made his Deputy for Intelligence. McCone apparently believed that science should be in the hands of the scientists, not the clandestine operators, and he brought in a fellow Californian, an aerospace “whiz kid” named Albert “Bud” Wheelon to head a new Agency Directorate for Science and Technology.
Before then, the Technical Services Staff (TSS), although located in the Clandestine Services, had been the Agency’s largest scientific component. McCone decided to strip TSS of its main research functions—including the behavioral one—and let it concentrate solely on providing operational support. In 1962 he approved a reorganization of TSS that brought in Seymour Russell, a tough covert operator, as the new chief. “The idea was to get a close interface with operations,” recalls an ex-CIA man. Experienced TSS technicians remained as deputies to the incoming field men, and the highest deputyship in all TSS went to Sid Gottlieb, who became number-two man under Russell. For Gottlieb, this was another significant promotion helped along by his old friend Richard Helms, whom McCone had elevated to be head of the Clandestine Services.
In his new job, Gottlieb kept control of MKULTRA. Yet, in order to comply with McCone’s command on research programs, Gottlieb had to preside over the partial dismantling of his own program. The loss was not as difficult as it might have been, because, after 10 years of exploring the frontiers of the mind, Gottlieb had a clear idea of what worked and what did not in the behavioral field. Those areas that still were in the research stage tended to be extremely esoteric and technical, and Gottlieb must have known that if the Science Directorate scored any breakthroughs, he would be brought back into the picture immediately to apply the advances to covert operations.
“Sid was not the kind of bureaucrat who wanted to hold on to everything at all costs,” recalls an admiring colleague. Gottlieb carefully pruned the MKULTRA lists, turning over to the Science Directorate the exotic subjects that showed no short-term operational promise and keeping for himself those psychological, chemical, and biological programs that had already passed the research stage. As previously stated, he moved John Gittinger and the personality-assessment staff out of the Human Ecology Society and kept them under TSS control in their own proprietary company.
While Gottlieb was effecting these changes, his programs were coming under attack from another quarter. In 1963 the CIA Inspector General did the study that led to the suspension of unwitting drug testing in the San Francisco and New York safehouses. This was a blow to Gottlieb, who clearly intended to hold on to this kind of research. At the same time, the Inspector General also recommended that Agency officials draft a new charter for the whole MKULTRA program, which still was exempt from most internal CIA controls. He found that many of the MKULTRA subprojects were of “insufficient sensitivity” to justify bypassing the Agency’s normal procedures for approving and storing records of highly classified programs. Richard Helms, still the protector of unfettered behavioral research, responded by agreeing that there should be a new charter—on the condition that it be almost the same as the old one. “The basic reasons for requesting waiver of standardized administrative controls over these sensitive activities are as valid today as they were in April, 1953,” Helms wrote. Helms agreed to such changes as having the CIA Director briefed on the programs twice a year, but he kept the approval process within his control and made sure that all the files would be retained inside TSS. And as government officials so often do when they do not wish to alter anything of substance, he proposed a new name for the activity. In June 1964 MKULTRA became MKSEARCH.
Gottlieb acknowledged that security did not require transferring all the surviving MKULTRA subprojects over to MKSEARCH. He moved 18 subprojects back into regular Agency funding channels, including ones dealing with the sneezing powders, stink bombs, and other “harassment substances.” TSS officials had encouraged the development of these as a way to make a target physically uncomfortable and hence to cause short-range changes in his behavior.
Other MKULTRA subprojects dealt with ways to maximize stress on whole societies. Just as Gittinger’s Personality Assessment System provided a psychological road map for exploiting an individual’s weaknesses, CIA “destabilization” plans provided guidelines for destroying the internal integrity of target countries like Castro’s Cuba or Allende’s Chile. Control—whether of individuals or nations—has been the Agency’s main business, and TSS officials supplied tools for the “macro” as well as the “micro” attacks.
For example, under MKULTRA Subproject #143, the Agency gave Dr. Edward Bennett of the University of Houston about $20,000 a year to develop bacteria to sabotage petroleum products. Bennett found a substance that, when added to oil, fouled or destroyed any engine into which it was poured. CIA operators used exactly this kind of product in 1967 when they sent a sabotage team made up of Cuban exiles into France to pollute a shipment of lubricants bound for Cuba. The idea was that the tainted oil would “grind out motors and cause breakdowns,” says an Agency man directly involved. This operation, which succeeded, was part of a worldwide CIA effort that lasted through the 1960s into the 1970s to destroy the Cuban economy. Agency officials reasoned, at least in the first years, that it would be easier to overthrow Castro if Cubans could be made unhappy with their standard of living. “We wanted to keep bread out of the stores so people were hungry,” says the CIA man who was assigned to anti-Castro operations. “We wanted to keep rationing in effect and keep leather out, so people got only one pair of shoes every 18 months.”
Leaving this broader sort of program out of the new structure, Gottlieb regrouped the most sensitive behavioral activities under the MKSEARCH umbrella. He chose to continue seven projects, and the ones he picked give a good indication of those parts of MKULTRA that Gottlieb considered important enough to save. These included none of the sociological studies, nor the search for a truth drug. Gottlieb put the emphasis on chemical and biological substances—not because he thought these could be used to turn men into robots, but because he valued them for their predictable ability to disorient, discredit, injure, or kill people. He kept active two private labs to produce such substances, funded consultants who had secure ways to test them and ready access to subjects, and maintained a funding conduit to pass money on to these other contractors. Here are the seven surviving MKSEARCH subprojects:
· First on the TSS list was the safehouse program for drug testing run by George White and others in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Even in 1964, Gottlieb and Helms had not given up hope that unwitting experiments could be resumed, and the Agency paid out $30,000 that year to keep the safehouses open. In the meantime, something was going on at the “pad”—or at least George White kept on sending the CIA vouchers for unorthodox expenses—$1,100 worth in February 1965 alone under the old euphemism for prostitutes, “undercover agents for operations.” What White was doing with or to these agents cannot be said, but he kept the San Francisco operation active right up until the time it finally closed in June. Gottlieb did not give up on the New York safehouse until the following year.
· MKSEARCH Subproject #2 involved continuing a $150,000-a-year contract with a Baltimore biological laboratory. This lab, run by at least one former CIA germ expert, gave TSS “a quick-delivery capability to meet anticipated future operational needs,” according to an Agency document. Among other things, it provided a private place for “large-scale production of microorganisms.” The Agency was paying the Army Biological Laboratory at Fort Detrick about $100,000 a year for the same services. With its more complete facilities, Fort Detrick could be used to create and package more esoteric bacteria, but Gottlieb seems to have kept the Baltimore facility going in order to have a way of producing biological weapons without the Army’s germ warriors knowing about it. This secrecy-within-secrecy was not unusual when TSS men were dealing with subjects as sensitive as infecting targets with diseases. Except on the most general level, no written records were kept on the subject. Whenever an operational unit in the Agency asked TSS about obtaining a biological weapon, Gottlieb or his aides automatically turned down the request unless the head of the Clandestine Services had given his prior approval. Gottlieb handled these operational needs personally, and during the early 1960s (when CIA assassination attempts probably were at their peak) even Gottlieb’s boss, the TSS chief, was not told what was happening.
· With his biological arsenal assured, Gottlieb also secured his chemical flank in MKSEARCH. Another subproject continued a relationship set up in 1959 with a prominent industrialist who headed a complex of companies, including one that custom- manufactured rare chemicals for pharmaceutical producers. This man, whom on several occasions CIA officials gave $100 bills to pay for his products, was able to perform specific lab jobs for the Agency without consulting with his board of directors. In 1960 he supplied the Agency with 3 kilos (6.6 pounds) of a deadly carbamate—the same poison OSS’s Stanley Lovell tried to use against Hitler. This company president also was useful to the Agency because he was a ready source of information on what was going on in the chemical world. The chemical services he offered, coupled with his biological counterpart, gave the CIA the means to wage “instant” chemical and biological attacks—a capability that was frequently used, judging by the large numbers of receipts and invoices that the CIA released under the Freedom of Information Act.
· With new chemicals and drugs constantly coming to their attention through their continuing relations with the major pharmaceutical companies, TSS officials needed places to test them, particularly after the safehouses closed. Dr. James Hamilton, the San Francisco psychiatrist who worked with George White in the original OSS marijuana days, provided a way. He became MKSEARCH Subproject #3.
Hamilton had joined MKULTRA in its earliest days and had been used as a West Coast supervisor for Gottlieb and company. Hamilton was one of the renaissance men of the program, working on everything from psychochemicals to kinky sex to carbon-dioxide inhalation. By the early 1960s, he had arranged to get access to prisoners at the California Medical Facility at Vacaville. Hamilton worked through a nonprofit research institute connected to the Facility to carry out, as a document puts it, “clinical testing of behavioral control materials” on inmates. Hamilton’s job was to provide “answers to specific questions and solutions to specific problems of direct interest to the Agency.” In a six-month span in 1967 and 1968, the psychiatrist spent over $10,000 in CIA funds simply to pay volunteers—which at normal rates meant he experimented on between 400 to 1,000 inmates in that time period alone.
· Another MKSEARCH subproject provided $20,000 to $25,000 a year to Dr. Carl Pfeiffer. Pfeiflfer’s Agency connection went back to 1951, when he headed the Pharmacology Department at the University of Illinois Medical School. He then moved to Emory University and tested LSD and other drugs on inmates of the Federal penitentiary in Atlanta. From there, he moved to New Jersey, where he continued drug experiments on the prisoners at the Bordentown reformatory. An internationally known pharmacologist, Pfeiffer provided the MKSEARCH program with data on the preparation, use, and effect of drugs. He was readily available if Gottlieb or a colleague wanted a study made of the properties of a particular substance, and like most of TSS’s contractors, he also was an intelligence source. Pfeiffer was useful in this last capacity during the latter part of the 1960s because he sat on the Food and Drug Administration committee that allocated LSD for scientific research in the United States. By this time, LSD was so widely available on the black market that the Federal Government had replaced the CIA’s informal controls of the 1950s with laws and procedures forbidding all but the most strictly regulated research. With Pfeiffer on the governing committee, the CIA could keep up its traditional role of monitoring above-ground LSD experimentation around the United States.
· To cover some of the more exotic behavioral fields, another MKSEARCH program continued TSS’s relationship with Dr. Maitland Baldwin, the brain surgeon at the National Institutes of Health who had been so willing in 1955 to perform “terminal experiments” in sensory deprivation for Morse Allen and the ARTICHOKE program. After Allen was pushed aside by the men from MKULTRA, the new TSS team hired Baldwin as a consultant According to one of them, he was full of bright ideas on how to control behavior, but they were wary of him because he was such an “eager beaver” with an obvious streak of “craziness.” Under TSS auspices, Baldwin performed lobotomies on apes and then put these simian subjects into sensory deprivation—presumably in the same “box” he had built himself at NIH and then had to repair after a desperate soldier kicked his way out. There is no information available on whether Baldwin extended this work to humans, although he did discuss with an outside consultant how lobotomized patients reacted to prolonged isolation. Like Hamilton, Baldwin was a jack-of-all trades who in one experiment beamed radio frequency energy directly at the brain of a chimpanzee and in another cut off one monkey’s head and tried to transplant it to the decapitated body of another monkey. Baldwin used $250 in Agency money to buy his own electroshock machine, and he did some kind of unspecified work at a TSS safehouse that caused the CIA to shell out $1450 to renovate and repair the place.
· The last MKSEARCH subproject covered the work of Dr. Charles Geschickter, who served TSS both as researcher and funding conduit. CIA documents show that Geschickter tested powerful drugs on mental defectives and terminal cancer patients, apparently at the Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. In all, the Agency put $655,000 into Geschickter’s research on knockout drugs, stress-producing chemicals, and mind-altering substances. Nevertheless, the doctor’s principal service to TSS officials seems to have been putting his family foundation at the disposal of the CIA—both to channel funds and to serve as a source of cover to Agency operators. About $2.1 million flowed through this tightly controlled foundation to other researchers. Under MKSEARCH, Geschickter continued to provide TSS with a means to assess drugs rapidly, and he branched out into trying to knock out monkeys with radar waves to the head (a technique which worked but risked frying vital parts of the brain). The Geschickter Fund for Medical Research remained available as a conduit until 1967.
As part of the effort to keep finding new substances to test within MKSEARCH, Agency officials continued their search for magic mushrooms, leaves, roots, and barks. In 1966, with considerable CIA backing, J. C. King, the former head of the Agency’s Western Hemisphere Division who was eased out after the Bay of Pigs, formed an ostensibly private firm called Amazon Natural Drug Company. King, who loved to float down jungle rivers on the deck of his houseboat with a glass of scotch in hand, searched the backwaters of South America for plants of interest to the Agency and/or medical science. To do the work, he hired Amazon men and women, plus at least two CIA paramilitary operators who worked out of Amazon offices in Iquitos, Peru. They shipped back to the United States finds that included Chondodendron toxicoferum, a paralytic agent which is “absolutely lethal in high doses,” according to Dr. Timothy Plowman, a Harvard botanist who like most of the staff was unwitting of the CIA involvement. Another plant that was collected and grown by Amazon employees was the hallucinogen known as yage, which author William Burroughs has described as “the final fix.”
MKSEARCH went on through the 1960s and into the early 1970s, but with a steadily decreasing budget. In 1964 it cost the Agency about $250,000. In 1972 it was down to four subprojects and $110,000. Gottlieb was a very busy man by then, having taken over all TSS in 1967 when his patron, Richard Helms finally made it to the top of the Agency. In June 1972 Gottlieb decided to end MKSEARCH, thus bringing down the curtain on the quest he himself had started two decades before. He wrote this epitaph for the program:
As a final commentary, I would like to point out that, by means of Project MKSEARCH, the Clandestine Service has been able to maintain contact with the leading edge of developments in the field of biological and chemical control of human behavior. It has become increasingly obvious over the last several years that this general area had less and less relevance to current clandestine operations. The reasons for this are many and complex, but two of them are perhaps worth mentioning briefly. On the scientific side, it has become very clear that these materials and techniques are too unpredictable in their effect on individual human beings, under specific circumstances, to be operationally useful. Our operations officers, particularly the emerging group of new senior operations officers, have shown a discerning and perhaps commendable distaste for utilizing these materials and techniques. They seem to realize that, in addition to moral and ethical considerations, the extreme sensitivity and security constraints of such operations effectively rule them out.
About the time Gottlieb wrote these words, the Watergate break-in occurred, setting in train forces that would alter his life and that of Richard Helms. A few months later, Richard Nixon was reselected. Soon after the election, Nixon, for reasons that have never been explained, decided to purge Helms. Before leaving to become Ambassador to Iran, Helms presided over a wholesale destruction of documents and tapes—presumably to minimize information that might later be used against him. Sid Gottlieb decided to follow Helms into retirement, and the two men mutually agreed to get rid of all the documentary traces of MKULTRA. They had never kept files on the safehouse testing or similarly sensitive operations in the first place, but they were determined to erase the existing records of their search to control human behavior. Gottlieb later told a Senate committee that he wanted to get rid of the material because of a “burgeoning paper problem” within the Agency, because the files were of “no constructive use” and might be “misunderstood,” and because he wanted to protect the reputations of the researchers with whom he had collaborated on the assurance of secrecy. Gottlieb got in touch with the men who had physical custody of the records, the Agency’s archivists, who proceeded to destroy what he and Helms thought were the only traces of the program. They made a mistake, however—or the archivists did. Seven boxes of substantive records and reports were incinerated, but seven more containing invoices and financial records survived—apparently due to misfiling.
Nixon named James Schlesinger to be the new head of the Agency, a post in which he stayed only a few months before the increasingly beleaguered President moved him over to be Secretary of Defense at the height of Watergate. During his short stop at CIA, Schlesinger sent an order to all Agency employees asking them to let his office know about any instances where Agency officials might have carried out any improper or illegal actions. Somebody mentioned Frank Olson’s suicide, and it was duly included in the many hundreds of pages of misdeeds reported which became known within the CIA as the “family jewels.”
Schlesinger, an outsider to the career CIA operators, had opened a Pandora’s box that the professionals never managed to shut again. Samples of the “family jewels” were slipped out to New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh, who created a national furor in December 1974 when he wrote about the CIA’s illegal spying on domestic dissidents during the Johnson and Nixon years. President Gerald Ford appointed a commission headed by Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller to investigate the past CIA abuses—and to limit the damage. Included in the final Rockefeller report was a section on how an unnamed Department of the Army employee had jumped out of a New York hotel window after Agency men had slipped him LSD. That revelation made headlines around the country. The press seized upon the sensational details and virtually ignored two even more revealing sentences buried in the Rockefeller text: “The drug program was part of a much larger CIA program to study possible means for controlling human behavior. Other studies explored the effects of radiation, electric-shock, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and harassment substances.”
At this point, I entered the story. I was intrigued by those two sentences, and I filed a Freedom of Information request with the CIA to obtain all the documents the Agency had furnished the Rockefeller Commission on behavior control. Although the law requires a government agency to respond within 10 days, it took the Agency more than a year to send me the first 50 documents on the subject, which turned out to be heavily censored.
In the meantime, the committee headed by Senator Frank Church was looking into the CIA, and it called in Sid Gottlieb, who was then spending his retirement working as a volunteer in a hospital in India. Gottlieb secretly testified about CIA assassination programs. (In describing his role in its final report, the Church Committee used a false name, “Victor Scheider.”) Asked about the behavioral-control programs, Gottlieb apparently could not—or would not—remember most of the details. The committee had almost no documents to work with, since the main records had been destroyed in 1973 and the financial files had not yet been found.
The issue lay dormant until 1977, when, about June 1, CIA officials notified my lawyers that they had found the 7 boxes of MKULTRA financial records and that they would send me the releasable portions over the following months. As I waited, CIA Director Stansfield Turner notified President Carter and then the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that an Agency official had located the 7 boxes. Admiral Turner publicly described MKULTRA as only a program of drug experimentation and not one aimed at behavior control. On July 20 I held a press conference at which I criticized Admiral Turner for his several distortions in describing the MKULTRA program. To prove my various points, I released to the reporters a score of the CIA documents that had already come to me and that gave the flavor of the behavioral efforts. Perhaps it was a slow news day, or perhaps people simply were interested in government attempts to tamper with the mind. In any event, the documents set off a media bandwagon that had the story reported on all three network television news shows and practically everywhere else.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Senator Edward Kennedy’s Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research soon announced they would hold public hearings on the subject. Both panels had looked into the secret research in 1975 but had been hampered by the lack of documents and forthcoming witnesses. At first the two committees agreed to work together, and they held one joint hearing. Then, Senator Barry Goldwater brought behind-the-scenes pressure to get the Intelligence panel, of which he was vice-chairman, to drop out of the proceedings. He claimed, among other things, that the committee was just rehashing old programs and that the time had come to stop dumping on the CIA. Senator Kennedy plowed ahead anyway. He was limited, however, by the small size of the staff he assigned to the investigation, and his people were literally buried in paper by CIA officials, who released 8,000 pages of documents in the weeks before the hearings. As the hearings started, the staff still not had read everything—let alone put it all in context.
As Kennedy’s staff prepared for the public sessions, the former men from MKULTRA also got ready. According to one of them, they agreed among themselves to “keep the inquiry within bounds that would satisfy the committee.” Specifically, he says that meant volunteering no more information than the Kennedy panel already had. Charles Siragusa, the narcotics agent who ran the New York safehouse, reports he got a telephone call during this period from Ray Treichler, the Stanford Ph.D. who specialized in chemical warfare for the MKULTRA program. “He wanted me to deny knowing about the safehouse,” says Siragusa. “He didn’t want me to admit that he was the guy. . . . I said there was no way I could do that.” Whether any other ex-TSS men also suborned perjury cannot be said, but several of them appear to have committed perjury at the hearings. As previously noted, Robert Lashbrook denied firsthand knowledge of the safehouse operation when, in fact, he had supervised one of the “pads” and been present, according to George White’s diary, at the time of an “LSD surprise” experiment. Dr. Charles Geschickter testified he had not tested stress-producing drugs on human subjects while both his own 1960 proposal to the Agency and the CIA’s documents indicate the opposite.
Despite the presence of a key aide who constantly cued him during the hearings, Senator Kennedy was not prepared to deal with these and other inconsistencies. He took no action to follow up obviously perjured testimony, and he seemed content to win headlines with reports of “The Gang That Couldn’t Spray Straight.” Although that particular testimony had been set up in advance by a Kennedy staffer, the Senator still managed to act surprised when ex-MKULTRA official David Rhodes told of the ill-fated LSD experiment at the Marin County safehouse.
The Kennedy hearings added little to the general state of knowledge on the CIA’s behavior-control programs. CIA officials, both past and present, took the position that basically nothing of substance was learned during the 25-odd years of research, the bulk of which had ended in 1963, and they were not challenged. That proposition is, on its face, ridiculous, but neither Senator Kennedy nor any other investigator has yet put any real pressure on the Agency to reveal the content of the research—what was actually learned—as opposed to the experimental means of carrying it out. In this book, I have tried to get at some of the substantive questions, but I have had access to neither the scientific records, which Gottlieb and Helms destroyed, nor the principal people involved. Gottlieb, for instance, who moved from India to Santa Cruz, California and then to parts unknown, turned down repeated requests to be interviewed. “I am interested in very different matters than the subject of your book these days,” he wrote, “and do not have either the time or the inclination to reprocess matters that happened a long time ago.”
Faced with these obstacles, I have tried to weave together a representative sample of what went on, but having dealt with a group of people who regularly incorporated lying into their daily work, I cannot be sure. I cannot be positive that they never found a technique to control people, despite my definite bias in favor of the idea that the human spirit defeated the manipulators. Only a congressional committee could compel truthful testimony from people who have so far refused to be forthcoming, and even Congress’ record has not been good so far. A determined investigative committee at least could make sure that the people being probed do not determine the “bounds” of the inquiry.
A new investigation would probably not be worth the effort just to take another stab at MKULTRA and ARTICHOKE. Despite my belief that there are some skeletons hidden—literally—the public probably now knows the basic parameters of these programs. The fact is, however, that CIA officials actively experimented with behavior-control methods for another decade after Sid Gottlieb and company lost the research action. The Directorate of Science and Technology—specifically its Office of Research and Development (ORD)—did not remain idle after Director McCone transferred the behavioral research function in 1962.
In ORD, Dr. Stephen Aldrich, a graduate of Amherst and Northwestern Medical School, took over the role that Morse Allen and then Sid Gottlieb had played before him. Aldrich had been the medical director of the Office of Scientific Intelligence back in the days when that office was jockeying with Morse Allen for control of ARTICHOKE, so he was no stranger to the programs. Under his leadership, ORD officials kept probing for ways to control human behavior, and they were doing so with space-age technology that made the days of MKULTRA look like the horse-and-buggy era. If man could get to the moon by the end of the 1960s, certainly the well-financed scientists of ORD could make a good shot at conquering inner space.
They brought their technology to bear on subjects like the electric stimulation of the brain. John Lilly had done extensive work in this field a decade earlier, before concluding that to maintain his integrity he must find another field. CIA men had no such qualms, however. They actively experimented with placing electrodes in the brain of animals and—probably—men. Then they used electric and radio signals to move their subjects around. The field went far beyond giving monkeys orgasms, as Lilly had done. In the CIA itself, Sid Gottlieb and the MKULTRA crew had made some preliminary studies of it. They started in 1960 by having a contractor search all the available literature, and then they had mapped out the parts of animals’ brains that produced reactions when stimulated. By April 1961 the head of TSS was able to report “we now have a ‘production capability’” in brain stimulation and “we are close to having debugged a prototype system whereby dogs can be guided along specific courses.” Six months later, a CIA document noted, “The feasibility of remote control of activities in several species of animals has been demonstrated. . . . Special investigations and evaluations will be conducted toward the application of selected elements of these techniques to man.” Another six months later, TSS officials had found a use for electric stimulation: this time putting electrodes in the brains of cold-blooded animals—presumably reptiles. While much of the experimentation with dogs and cats was to find a way of wiring the animal and then directing it by remote control into, say, the office of the Soviet ambassador, this cold-blooded project was designed instead for the delivery of chemical and biological agents or for “executive action-type operations,” according to a document. “Executive action” was the CIA’s euphemism for assassination.
With the brain electrode technology at this level, Steve Aldrich and ORD took over the research function from TSS. What the ORD men found cannot be said, but the open literature would indicate that the field progressed considerably during the 1960s. Can the human brain be wired and controlled by a big enough computer? Aldrich certainly tried to find out.
Creating amnesia remained a “big goal” for the ORD researcher, states an ex-CIA man. Advances in brain surgery, such as the development of three-dimensional, “stereotaxic” techniques, made psychosurgery a much simpler matter and created the possibility that a precisely placed electrode probe could be used to cut the link between past memory and present recall. As for subjects to be used in behavioral experiments of this sort, the ex-CIA man states that ORD had access to prisoners in at least one American penal institution. A former Army doctor stationed at the Edgewood chemical laboratory states that the lab worked with CIA men to develop a drug that could be used to help program in new memories into the mind of an amnesic subject. How far did the Agency take this research? I don’t know.
The men from ORD tried to create their own latter-day version of the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology. Located outside Boston, it was called the Scientific Engineering Institute, and Agency officials had set it up originally in 1956 as a proprietary company to do research on radar and other technical matters that had nothing to do with human behavior. Its president, who says he was a “figurehead,” was Dr. Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid. In the early 1960s, ORD officials decided to bring it into the behavioral field and built a new wing to the Institute’s modernistic building for the “life sciences.” They hired a group of behavioral and medical scientists who were allowed to carry on their own independent research as long as it met Institute standards. These scientists were available to consult with frequent visitors from Washington, and they were encouraged to take long lunches in the Institute’s dining room where they mixed with the physical scientists and brainstormed about virtually everything. One veteran recalls a colleague joking, “If you could find the natural radio frequency of a person’s sphincter, you could make him run out of the room real fast.” Turning serious, the veteran states the technique was “plausible,” and he notes that many of the crazy ideas bandied about at lunch developed into concrete projects.
Some of these projects may have been worked on at the Institute’s own several hundred-acre farm located in the Massachusetts countryside. But of the several dozen people contacted in an effort to find out what the Institute did, the most anyone would say about experiments at the farm was that one involved stimulating the pleasure centers of crows’ brains in order to control their behavior. Presumably, ORD men did other things at their isolated rural lab.
Just as the MKULTRA program had been years ahead of the scientific community, ORD activities were similarly advanced. “We looked at the manipulation of genes,” states one of the researchers. “We were interested in gene splintering. The rest of the world didn’t ask until 1976 the type of questions we were facing in 1965. . . . Everybody was afraid of building the supersoldier who would take orders without questioning, like the kamikaze pilot. Creating a subservient society was not out of sight.” Another Institute man describes the work of a colleague who bombarded bacteria with ultraviolet radiation in order to create deviant strains. ORD also sponsored work in parapsychology. Along with the military services, Agency officials wanted to know whether psychics could read minds or control them from afar (telepathy), if they could gain information about distant places or people (clairvoyance or remote viewing), if they could predict the future (precognition), or influence the movement of physical objects or even the human mind (photokinesis). The last could have incredibly destructive applications, if it worked. For instance, switches setting off nuclear bombs would have to be moved only a few inches to launch a holocaust. Or, enemy psychics, with minds honed to laser-beam sharpness, could launch attacks to burn out the brains of American nuclear scientists. Any or all of these techniques have numerous applications to the spy trade.
While ORD officials apparently left much of the drug work to Gottlieb, they could not keep their hands totally out of this field. In 1968 they set up a joint program, called Project OFTEN, with the Army Chemical Corps at Edgewood, Maryland to study the effects of various drugs on animals and humans. The Army helped the Agency put together a computerized data base for drug testing and supplied military volunteers for some of the experiments. In one case, with a particularly effective incapacitiating agent, the Army arranged for inmate volunteers at the Holmesburg State Prison in Philadelphia. Project OFTEN had both offensive and defensive sides, according to an ORD man who described it in a memorandum. He cited as an example of what he and his coworkers hoped to find “a compound that could simulate a heart attack or a stroke in the targeted individual.” In January 1973, just as Richard Helms was leaving the Agency and James Schlesinger was coming in, Project OFTEN was abruptly canceled.
What—if any—success the ORD men had in creating heart attacks or in any of their other behavioral experiments simply cannot be said. Like Sid Gottlieb, Steve Aldrich is not saying, and his colleagues seem even more closemouthed than Gottlieb’s. In December 1977, having gotten wind of the ORD programs, I filed a Freedom of Information request for access to ORD files “on behavioral research, including but not limited to any research or operational activities related to bio-electrics, electric or radio stimulation of the brain, electronic destruction of memory, stereotaxic surgery, psychosurgery, hypnotism, parapsychology, radiation, microwaves, and ultrasonics.” I also asked for documentation on behavioral testing in U.S. penal institutions, and I later added a request for all available files on amnesia. The Agency wrote back six months later that ORD had “identified 130 boxes (approximately 130 cubic feet) of material that are reasonably expected to contain behavioral research documents.”
Considering that Admiral Turner and other CIA officials had tried to leave the impression with Congress and the public that behavioral research had almost all ended in 1963 with the phaseout of MKULTRA, this was an amazing admission. The sheer volume of material was staggering. This book is based on the 7 boxes of heavily censored MKULTRA financial records plus another 3 or so of ARTICHOKE documents, supplemented by interviews. It has taken me over a year, with significant research help, to digest this much smaller bulk. Clearly, greater resources than an individual writer can bring to bear will be needed to get to the bottom of the ORD programs.
A free society’s best defense against unethical behavior modification is public disclosure and awareness. The more people understand consciousness-altering technology, the more likely they are to recognize its application, and the less likely it will be used. When behavioral research is carried out in secret, it can be turned against the government’s enemies, both foreign and domestic. No matter how pure or defense-oriented the motives of the researchers, once the technology exists, the decision to use it is out of their hands. Who can doubt that if the Nixon administration or J. Edgar Hoover had had some foolproof way to control people, they would not have used the technique against their political foes, just as the CIA for years tried to use similar tactics overseas?
As with the Agency’s secrets, it is now too late to put behavioral technology back in the box. Researchers are bound to keep making advances. The technology has already spread to our schools, prisons, and mental hospitals, not to mention the advertising community, and it has also been picked up by police forces around the world. Placing hoods over the heads of political prisoners—a modified form of sensory deprivation—has become a standard tactic around the world, from Northern Ireland to Chile. The Soviet Union has consistently used psychiatric treatment as an instrument of repression. Such methods violate basic human rights just as much as physical abuse, even if they leave no marks on the body.
Totalitarian regimes will probably continue, as they have in the past, to search secretly for ways to manipulate the mind, no matter what the United States does. The prospect of being able to control people seems too enticing for most tyrants to give up. Yet, we as a country can defend ourselves without sending our own scientists—mad or otherwise—into a hidden war that violates our basic ethical and constitutional principles. After all, we created the Nuremberg Code to show there were limits on scientific research and its application. Admittedly, American intelligence officials have violated our own standard, but the U.S. Government has now officially declared violations will no longer be permitted. The time has come for the United States to lead by example in voluntarily renouncing secret government behavioral research. Other countries might even follow suit, particularly if we were to propose an international agreement which provides them with a framework to do so.
Tampering with the mind is much too dangerous to be left to the spies. Nor should it be the exclusive province of the behavioral scientists, who have given us cause for suspicion. Take this statement by their most famous member, B. F. Skinner: “My image in some places is of a monster of some kind who wants to pull a string and manipulate people. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are manipulated; I just want them to be manipulated more effectively.” Such notions are much more acceptable in prestigious circles than people tend to think: D. Ewen Cameron read papers about “depatterning” with electroshock before meetings of his fellow psychiatrists, and they elected him their president. Human behavior is so important that it must concern us all. The more vigilant we and our representatives are, the less chance we will be unwitting victims.