“We have had religious revolutions, we have had political, industrial, economic, and nationalistic revolutions. All of them, as our descendants will discover, were but ripples in an ocean of conservatism—trivial by comparison with the psychological revolution toward which we are so rapidly moving. That will really be a revolution. When it is over, the human race will give no further trouble.”
—Aldous Huxley, quoted in ‘Requiem for Democracy? An Inquiry into the Limits of Behavioral Control’ (New York, 1971)
MKULTRA is the most famous and least understood subject of the conspiracy genre. The very phrase “psychological warfare” was itself constructed to conceal. Our view is further muddied by the many codenames and project titles: MKULTRA, MKOFTEN, MKSEARCH, MKNAOMI, MKDELTA, Project BLUEBIRD Project ARTICHOKE. Then all is buried under a landfill of degraded signal and noise by the ever expanding conspiritainment industry. For the purposes of this article , “MKULTRA” will be used as an umbrella term covering the various mind control projects connected to the CIA, from 1950-1975.
To make sense of the MKULTRA episode three points of clarification are necessary: 1) The CIA by no means “discovered” hypnotic/pharmacological control of the mind in the 1950s, there is a long enduring history of “truth serums”, hypnosis and other forms of tactical ensorcellment. 2) Most of what we know of MKULTRA itself is derived from ten boxes of leftover financial documents. The bulk of documentary evidence was purposefully destroyed by the CIA, leaving the true scope of the operation open to speculation. 3) Nearly all of the early researchers that “exposed” or helped to establish the narrative around MKULTRA-type programs have deep ties to the government or intelligence community. Thus, though the reality of MKULTRA has been “disclosed”, somehow our knowledge of it is limited and limiting.
In addressing the 1977 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, CIA Director Adm. Stansfield Turner observed that his testimony does “not tell the story; they tell pieces of it” (Senate Committee on Human Resources 1977). What can be gathered from such pieces is that MKULTRA was not some isolated program that only involved rogue elements within the CIA and a few scientists. It existed in the context of human experimentation and psychochemical research that involved every branch of the US armed forces and intelligence community, as well as 80 institutions, 44 Colleges, 15 research facilities or private companies, 12 hospitals or clinics and 3 penal institutions. In short, a great part of the military-scientific complex had a role to play in the US “mind control” tragicomedy, an involvement that continues unabated until the present day.
In a sense, the deliberately mystified framing of MKULTRA research—and its modern outsourcing or smokescreens—begin with the underlying problem of field testing experimental technology in an expeditious manner. We are dealing with a brass tacks logistics issue: the need for a steady flow of human test subjects in a reasonable time frame at an industrial scale. This has been an increasing requirement of medical science going back to the anatomists of the Ptolemaic era. However, it was not an issue that required theatric solutions in times where orphans, prisoners or enemy combatants could be readily captured, bought or kidnapped without ethical objections. Furthermore, the nature of clandestine work complicates testing on an “operational target”—
“The problem of testing in realistic pilot operations:
The subject has been discussed above, beginning with paragraph 10 . It should also be noted that testing on operational targets overseas is considered by some operations officers to be quite impracticable. Unilateral operations are imperative which substantially complicates the delivery problem. The possibilities of unexpected or critical reactions in test subjects and of ensuring compromise of the activity make most senior command personnel unwilling to take the risks involved.”
—Report of Inspection of MKULTRA (July 26, 1963) J.S. Earman
We begin with the establishment of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). Designed to quickly coordinate scientific research for military purposes, the OSRD was a direct outgrowth of the deficiencies of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), which had been created by President Franklin Roosevelt in June 1940, at the urging of Vannevar Bush, to organize American science for war. Bush, the architect of the military industrial complex, viewed the new Office as a necessary step to bridge the divide between the research overseen by the NDRC and the development and procurement of new technologies needed for war.
Essentially, the NDRC, had lacked sufficient grip strength to move new ideas from the shop floor to the battlefield. The new OSRD would have a direct line to the executive branch, be given the power to develop useful technologies and the oversight to direct research efforts to align with military planning. By the end of the war, the Office would enter into over 2,200 R&D contracts with industrial and academic contractors, with a cumulative value of nearly $9 billion current dollars— one to two orders of magnitude larger than previous research commitments.
The OSRD’s primary job was to oversee the development of atomic energy and would later organize the start of the Manhattan project. The race to unlock the power of the atom had begun. It was this sense of urgency, ostensibly in response to Einstein’s letter, that informed the ethics and time horizons of the NSRD and its more effective successor, the OSRD. As Vannevar Bush reveals in his memoir:
“There were those who protested that the action of setting up NDRC was an end run, a grab by which a small company of scientists and engineers, acting outside established channels, got hold of the authority and money for the program of developing new weapons. That, in fact, is exactly what it was. Moreover, it was the only way in which a broad program could be launched rapidly and on an adequate scale. To operate through established channels would have involved delays-and the hazard that independence might have been lost, that independence which was the central feature of the organization's success.” (Bush 1970)
This “crisis policy” changed post-war innovation and medical decision making in the US forever, setting a precedent that would ultimately make possible the global gene & cell therapy experiment associated with COVID-19.
Within the OSRD, the Committee on Medical Research (CMR) was dedicated to wartime medical experimentation. The Committee distributed over $24 million (about half a billion in today’s dollars) to 137 institutions. That funding went to research projects investigating chemical warfare agents and infectious diseases such as malaria, influenza, dysentery, and sexually transmitted diseases. Many of the human subjects for research into new vaccines for these diseases were not military personnel but civilians. Participants in OSRD-sponsored research included children in orphanages, inmates of mental asylums, soldiers, conscientious objectors, and prisoners. It is self-evident that most of these people, especially the children, would not have been able to give uncoerced consent to be used as guinea pigs.
Also nestled within OSRD was the highly secretive Division 19, run by Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell (who would later be connected to “brainwashing” and the CIA’s role in UFO hijinks). Most of the documents concerning the work of Division 19 are still classified and the full scope of it activities may never be known. The bulk of the O.S.S. (direct precursor to the CIA) special weapons were developed by Division 19, such as the "Tree Spigot Gun," "Firefly," the "Panic Creator" which simulates the sound of falling bombs and explosions, the suppressed M3 “Grease Gun” and the ''Bushmaster" remote trigger mechanism to allow the M3 to be made into an autonomous booby trap, incendiary notebooks and briefcases, signet rings containing L-pill Zyankalium (“L” for lethal) and poison dart pens. It also dreamed up some of the more colorful ideas such as the ill fated ''Beano" baseball grenade, “Aunt Jemima” - a special pancake batter that could be used for baking or as an explosive, Operation Skatole - a kind of extreme stink-bomb used for demoralization and even played a part in the surreal “bat bomb” project.
According to Sidney Gottlieb, Division 19 would be the prototype for the Special Operations Division (SOD) at Camp Detrick that provided the infrastructure, skills and personnel to develop MKULTRA/MKNAOMI research into real world applications:
“CIA envisioned Detrick’s SO Division as a creation very much like the
earlier Division 19. It was similarly compartmentalized, with the strict
military security on top of ours. Needless layers of interplay and approvals
were eliminated. Little to nothing was reduced to writing, except essential
reports. The right hand never knew what the left was doing, unless we
wanted it otherwise. It worked nicely; things were accomplished
expeditiously.” (H. P. Albarelli · 2010)
The director of Division 19, Chadwell, would later be assigned as Assistant Director of the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) in February of 1950 to oversee the start of Project BLUEBIRD together with Colonel James H. Drum, deputy chief of the Technical Services Staff, and of course, the infamous MKULTRA director, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb.
Many of the clever spy weapons and dirty tricks devised by Division 19 are often said to be “developed by the OSS.” Indeed, mention of the ambiguously titled division, Miscellaneous Weapons, is hard to come by, leading one to rely on old Soldier of Fortune magazines and CIA archives. This is possibly done to suppress the existence of the division and the names of its personnel because of their connection to psychochemical research, and their hand in the development of a truth serum. Too much celebration of their efforts might shine a light on these “heroes”, leading to conflicts with the “limited hangout” that was constructed by US intelligence community associated researchers. The company line espoused at the 1977 Senate Committee hearings that the excesses of MKULTRA occurred in order to “defend ourselves against a foe who might not be as restrained in the use of these techniques as we are” is belied by the fact that the US military’s interest in the use of drugs for interrogation reaches back to at least 1941, when US Army General George V. Strong asked the NDRC to devise an effective way to use drugs for extracting information from captured German U‐boat officers.
The inception for research into a truth serum was authored by the innocuous sounding Committee for National Morale (CNM), “a patriotic confederation of scientists” which was chaired by Arthur Upham Pope, and consisted of Margaret Mead, Harold Abramson, Henry Murray, Ruth Benedict, Lawrence Kubie and Gregory Bateson— basically the entire Macy Conference which would give rise to cybernetics. The Committee, which stands “among one of the most significant of academic
social science’s war apparatus” (Sproule, 1997), was part of a network of loosely associated civil and military governmental agencies, civil society groups (what would now be called NGOs), and universities responsible for much of the psychological warfare efforts during WW2. This informal network structure would become the blueprint for the decentralized propaganda machine that would come to psychologically coerce Americans, and the world, for generations.
In 1941, “[s]cientists affiliated with Pope’s committee met with COI [Coordinator of Intelligence] researchers, who were interested in the “truth drug” proposal and were most curious about the potential of scopolamine.” (Albarelli, 2011). The Committee members Henry Murray (the MKULTRA doctor that experimented on Ted Kaczynski), Lawrence Kubie (who helped develop truth drugs for the OSS and attended the Macy Conferences) and Harold Abramson (who would later play a significant role in MKULTRA and the death of Frank Olson) had already taken it upon themselves to conduct a thorough review of available literature on scopolamine. The COI (precursor to the OSS) accepted their proposal and the two groups of scientists decided to cooperate on testing a scopolamine-morphine mixture, leading to the horrific experiments on mental patients at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. and inmates at the Maryland House of Corrections. Some of their victims would fall into comas, or suffered hallucinations to the point of losing touch with reality. Finally, when one of their subjects died of a heart attack the research was shut down. These experiments should be considered the seed of MKULTRA, not spawned from Cold War paranoia or mission creep, but from this network of ghouls.
The OSS Truth Drug Committee was chaired by Winfried Overholser, head of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. Other OSS-affiliated psychiatrists involved in the project included Watson W. Eldridge, also of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital,
John Whitehorn, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Edward Strecker, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, and psychoanalyst Lawrence Kubie, Associate in neurology at the Neurological Institute in New York City. Most of these psychiatrists would go on to be involved, at least tangentially, in MKULTRA and to become prominent and influential figures in their fields.
In 1977, the Director of the CIA Admiral Stansfield Turner would attempt to explain away the CIA’s interest in behavioral drugs research during the Korean War period (1950-1953):
“[The CIA acted] out of a fear... that foreign powers might have had drugs which would allow them to alter the behavior of American citizens or agents or members of the Armed Forces who were taken into custody...I would point out that we had two CIA prisoners in China and one in the Soviet Union at this time, and we were concerned as to what kinds of things might be done to them.”
This eclipses the broad interest in psychological coercion present in America and Britain dating back to World War I. Experimental psychology and prototype methods for “brainwashing” were being studied by the Allies as early as 1936 at Oxford’s Institute for Experimental Psychology, whose director William Brown was connected to the “London Cage.” Furthermore, the Tavistock Clinic had been established in 1921 researching the effects of hypnotism on shell-shocked WW1 soldiers, and would later supply personnel for psychological warfare efforts during WW2. Walter Lippmann, who was also connected to the Committee for National Morale, had already based his two keystone texts, Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925) based on his experiences as editor of a propaganda unit with the American Expeditionary Forces, and as secretary of The Inquiry, a primordial U.S. intelligence agency.
George Hoben Estabrooks, 32nd degree Freemason, Rhodes scholar, and professor of psychology and chairman of the Department of Psychology at Colgate University in New York, revealed his work in hypnosis in an article that appeared in 1971 in Science Digest—
One of the most fascinating but dangerous applications of hypnosis is its
use in military intelligence. This is a field with which I am familiar through
formulating guidelines for the techniques used by the United States in two
world wars.... The ‘hypnotic courier’ ... provides a unique solution [to
communication in war]. I was involved in preparing many subjects for this
work during World War II.
Estabrooks early statistical experiments with telepathy in the 1920s laid the foundations for 20th century parasychology. As early as 1930, he was involved in advanced research on hypnotism. In 1939, he and Milton H. Erickson, another hypnotist who would later perform contract work for the CIA, had conducted an experiment for the FBI with reportedly impressive results. During the war, he worked as an advisor on the offensive uses of hypnosis and parapsychology to the War Department and tried to sell his ideas to the OSS and later the CIA, who would consult him to help incorporate hypnosis into Project Artichoke.
The early use of pharmacological “alteration” agents is also probable. Though it was reported that early tests with scopolamine were unsuccessful, it has been established that during WW2 scopolamine was used in acts of sabotage by guerilla forces against German soldiers. From Vannevar Bush’s book on Division 19, Miscellaneous Weapons:
”Since the true nature of the work done by OSS has been well publicized,
it can be logically inferred that the developments produced by Division 19 under the ambiguous title Miscellaneous Weapons were connected with the
underground organizations established in Europe prior to D-day, with special attention given to sabotage and unorthodox warfare. The unusual handling of the division’s reports is thereby explained.”(Bush 1946)
There is also indication that the British were researching a truth serum at this early stage. In the summer of 1940, William Sargant, a real life mad scientist researching the treatment of shellshock on WW2 soldiers—including experimental methods such as electroconvulsive therapy, psychosurgery and admixtures of barbiturates like amytal sodium and Pentothal with amphetamines like Benzedrine or Methedrine—received a letter from the chief of the Tavistock Clinic, Brigadier J. Rees, telling him that his research on treatments for battle stress should not be published, since this might aid the enemy. However, it is likely that Sargant’s work was to be classified because the “abreaction” and divulgence of information reported in his paper overlapped with classified investigations into a truth serum. John Rawlings Rees was, after all, working for British intelligence at the time, and British Naval Intelligence had been trying out truth drugs on their own willing officers since at least 1939, well before any indication that the Germans were experimenting with mescaline-assisted interrogation methods.
We must understand that “truth drugs” aren’t simply making people more talkative, The reason people sometime become more candid under the effects of scopolamine and other drugs is because of an acceleration of transference. According to Lawrence Kubie, “under drugs the relationship of patient and therapist may contain in overt forms everything which in a veiled form occurs in what is known in psychoanalysis as the transference relationship. A full understanding of the dynamics of transference made the therapeutic utilization of this phenomenon possible.” By using truth serums and hypnosis as a means to speed up “transference processes” and ”circumvent resistances.” People in such as state are more open to interpretations and subsequent emerging emotions; new interpretations also become more emotionally weighted and are readily incorporated “into the subject’s intellectual and emotional process so as to use them in the resynthesis of the subject’s psychic functions” (emphasis mine). Of course, new interpretations can be guided by a skilled psychoanalyst, and the victim has little defense while intoxicated. In essence, the operation of the “truth serum” session is the foundation of “brain washing”, which is why it was ultimately rejected as an effective method of interrogation.
We are now approaching the edifice of the post-war moral economy— one of the most critical components of our religionspolitik was that they committed medical atrocities, and we did not. Perhaps this, at least in part, is the reason for the persistent mystification of MKULTRA. The OSS and British intelligence were deeply involved in securing testimony in the Nuremburg [Show] Trials, many of these groups were utilizing truth serums and their own unscrupulous doctors and scientists—such as the mad doctor William Sargant, who incidentally was an expert in planting false memories—would later be directly associated with MKULTRA research. The realization that the authorities enmeshed in the foundational mythos of the post-war global order were employing hypnosis, pharmaceutical torture and other illicit means of securing testimony is too much to bear, even for the men involved—
“British psychiatrists learn with horror of the shameful re-arrest and mistreatment of Vladimir Borisov in your hospital... Unless this ceases, your names will be linked in history with the Nazis, whose methods you have copied. Shame on you and your contemptible masters.”
—Henry Dicks, consultant psychiatrist to MI19, attendant psychiatrist at the interrogation of Rudolf Hess, advisor to SHAEF on psychological warfare (1944-1945), advisor to the Control Commission for Germany on de-Nazification.
Before and during the war, volunteering as a guinea pig was considered a patriotic duty or a brave act of “martyrdom”. It was commonly understood that researchers often tested unknown drugs or procedures on groups such as women, mental patients, conscientious objectors, malingerers, political dissidents, minorities, children, or prisoners due to their vulnerable status. However, the structure of human biomedical experimentation changed drastically directly after WW2. The specter of human “medical torture” invoked at the Nuremburg “doctor trials” were falsely portrayed as a function of exceptional Nazi evil and that it did not represent practices typical of the medical profession for hundreds of years. But the psychiatrists and social engineers who helped to create the Nuremburg spectacle, formulate the Nuremburg code and construct the post-war moral order had no intention of abiding by the standards they used to condemn their German counterparts.
Ultimately, the Nuremburg code is itself a piece of propaganda, “rules regarding human experimentation were already understood and adopted by medical researchers in America and, indeed, all over the world [at the time]” (Lederer and Moreno, 1996). The Nuremburg code is non-binding recommendation advocating for a standard of uncoerced consent. However, so-called “informed consent” is not educated consent, most people that participate in experiments rarely understand the full scope of risks involved. Human test subjects are still routinely drawn from uninformed, vulnerable and desperate populations. The abundance of risky and abusive behavior modification experiments on prisoners is astounding. At no point in the post-war period has the Nuremburg code been adhered to by the scientific community, from the Cold War mind control experiments and the War on Terror’s “enhanced interrogation” studies, to the medical terrorism of the current COVID-19 era.
Subscribe to continue—