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The Origins of MK-Ultra and Other Mind-Manipulation Operations

Although the collective U.S. intelligence community, military and government has undertaken countless official (and off-the-record, too) projects pertaining to both mind-control and mind-manipulation, without any doubt whatsoever, the most notorious of all was Project MK-Ultra: a clandestine operation that operated out of the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence, and that had its beginnings in the Cold War era of the early 1950s. To demonstrate the level of secrecy that surrounded Project MK-Ultra, even though it had kicked off at the dawn of the fifties, its existence was largely unknown outside of the intelligence world until 1975.That’s when the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission began making their own investigations of the CIA’s mind-control-related activities – in part to determine if (A) the CIA had engaged in illegal activity, (B) the personal rights of citizens had been violated, and (C) if the projects at issue had resulted in fatalities – which they most assuredly and unfortunately did. Rather conveniently, and highly suspiciously, too, it was asserted at the height of the inquires in 1975 that two years earlier, in 1973, CIA Director, Richard Helms had ordered the destruction of the Agency’s MK-Ultra files. Fortunately, this did not stop the Church Committee or the Rockefeller Commission – both of whom had the courage and tenacity to forge ahead with their investigations, relying on sworn testimony from players in MK-Ultra, where documentation was no longer available for scrutiny, study and evaluation.

The story that unfolded was both dark and disturbing –in equal degrees. Indeed, the scope of the project – and allied operations, too – was spelled out in an August 1977 document titled The Senate MK-Ultra Hearings that was prepared by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Human Resources, as a result of its probing into the secret world of the CIA. We’ll learn a great deal about the 1977 revelations later on. But, first, let’s stay in the post-Second World War era. As one of the now-declassified documents on MK-Ultra states: “Research and development programs to find materials which could be used to alter human behavior were initiated in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These experimental programs originally included testing of drugs involving witting human subjects, and culminated in tests using unwitting, non-volunteer human subjects. These tests were designed to determine the potential effects of chemical or biological agents when used operationally against individuals unaware that they had received a drug.”

(Nick Redfern) For years mind-control operations were put into place, mostly during the Cold War.

The Committee then turned its attention to the overwhelming secrecy that surrounded these early 1940s/1950s projects: “The testing programs were considered highly sensitive by the intelligence agencies administering them. Few people, even within the agencies, knew of the programs and there is no evidence that either the Executive Branch or Congress were ever informed of them. The highly compartmented nature of these programs may be explained in part by an observation made by the CIA Inspector General that, ‘the knowledge that the Agency is engaging in unethical and illicit activities would have serious repercussions in political and diplomatic circles and would be detrimental to the accomplishment of its missions.’” The research and development programs, and particularly the covert testing programs, resulted in massive abridgments of the rights of American citizens, and sometimes with tragic consequences, too. As prime evidence of this, the Committee uncovered details on the deaths of two Americans that were firmly attributed to the programs at issue; while other participants in the testing programs were said to still be suffering from the residual effects of the tests as late as the mid-1970s. And as the Committee starkly noted: “While some controlled testing of these substances might be defended, the nature of the tests, their scale, and the fact that they were continued for years after the danger of surreptitious administration of LSD to unwitting individuals was known, demonstrate a fundamental disregard for the value of human life .And there was far more to come:

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The Select Committee’s investigation of the testing and use of chemical and biological agents also raised serious questions about the adequacy of command and control procedures within the Central Intelligence Agency and military intelligence, and also about the nature of the relationships among the intelligence agencies, other governmental agencies, and private institutions and individuals that were also allied to the early mind-control studies. For example, the Committee was highly disturbed to learn that with respect to the mind-control and mind-manipulation projects, the CIA’s normal administrative controls were controversially – and completely – waived for programs involving chemical and biological agents – supposedly to protect their security; but more likely to protect those CIA personnel who knew they were verging upon (if not outright surpassing) breaking the law. And it had going on for decades. According to the head of the Audit Branch of the CIA, these waivers produced “gross administrative failures.” They prevented the CIA’s internal review mechanisms (the Office of General Counsel, the Inspector General, and the Audit Staff) from adequately supervising the programs. And, in general, the waivers had the paradoxical effect of providing less restrictive administrative controls and less effective internal review for controversial and highly sensitive projects than those governing normal Agency activities.

(Nick Redfern) Some have suggested that Marilyn Monroe was an MK-Ultra target.

The security of the mind-control programs was protected not only by waivers of normal administrative controls, but also by a high degree of compartmentalization within the CIA. This compartmentalization excluded the CIA’s Medical Staff from the principal research and testing program employing chemical and biological agents. It also may have led to agency policymakers receiving differing and inconsistent responses when they posed questions to the CIA component involved. Interestingly, the Committee learned further that the spirit of cooperation and reciprocal exchanges of information (specifically between the CIA and the military) which initially characterized the programs disappeared very quickly. Military testers withheld information from the CIA, ignoring suggestions for coordination from their superiors. And in a similar fashion, the CIA summarily failed to provide information to the military on the CIA’s testing program. This failure to cooperate was conspicuously manifested in an attempt by the Army to conceal their overseas testing program, which included surreptitious administration of LSD, from the CIA. Learning of the Army’s program, the Agency surreptitiously attempted to gain details of it. But it is perhaps the following statement from the Committee that demonstrates the level of controversy that surrounded – and that still surrounds – the issue of mind-control-based projects:

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“The decision to institute one of the Army’s LSD field testing projects had been based, at least in part, on the finding that no long-term residual effects had ever resulted from the drug’s administration. The CIA’s failure to inform the Army of a death which resulted from the surreptitious administration of LSD to unwitting Americans, may well have resulted in the institution of an unnecessary and potentially lethal program.” The Committee added: “The development, testing, and use of chemical and biological agents by intelligence agencies raises serious questions about the relationship between the intelligence community and foreign governments, other agencies of the Federal Government, and other institutions and individuals. “The questions raised range from the legitimacy of American complicity in actions abroad which violate American and foreign laws to the possible compromise of the integrity of public and private institutions used as cover by intelligence agencies.” While MK-Ultra was certainly the most infamous of all the CIA-initiated mind-control programs, it was very far from being an isolated one. Indeed, numerous sub-projects, post-projects and operations initiated by totally separate agencies were brought to the Committee’s attention. One was Project Chatter. It ran almost in tandem with MK-Ultra which the Committee described thus:

Project Chatter was a Navy program that began in the fall of 1947. Responding to reports of amazing results achieved by the Soviets in using truth drugs, the program focused on the identification and the testing of such drugs for use in interrogations and in the recruitment of agents. The research included laboratory experiments on animals and human subjects involving Anabasis aphylla, scopolamine, and mescaline in order to determine their speech-inducing qualities. Overseas experiments were conducted as part of the project. The project expanded substantially during the Korean War, and ended shortly after the war, in 1953.” Then there was Projects Bluebird and Artichoke. Again, the Committee dug deep and uncovered some controversial and eye-opening data and testimony: “The earliest of the CIA’s major programs involving the use of chemical and biological agents, Project Bluebird, was approved by the Director in 1950. Its objectives were: (a) discovering means of conditioning personnel to prevent unauthorized extraction of information from them by known means, (b) investigating the possibility of control of an individual [Note from Nick Redfern: italics mine] by application of special interrogation techniques, (c) memory enhancement, and (d) establishing defensive means for preventing hostile control of Agency personnel.”

The Committee added with respect to Bluebird: “As a result of interrogations conducted overseas during the project, another goal was added – the evaluation of offensive uses of unconventional interrogation techniques, including hypnosis and drugs. In August 1951, the project was renamed Artichoke. Project Artichoke included in-house experiments on interrogation techniques, conducted ‘under medical and security controls which would ensure that no damage was done to individuals who volunteer for the experiments. Overseas interrogations utilizing a combination of sodium pentothal and hypnosis after physical and psychiatric examinations of the subjects were also part of Artichoke.” The CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), which studied scientific advances by potentially hostile foreign powers, initially led the Bluebird and Artichoke efforts. In 1952, however, overall responsibility for Artichoke was transferred from OSI to the Inspection and Security Office (I&SO), the predecessor to the latter-day Office of Security.

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(Nick Redfern) Who knows what’s held in government files?

The CIA’s Technical Services and Medical Staffs were to be called upon as needed; while OSI would retain liaison function with other government agencies. The change in leadership from an intelligence unit to an operating unit apparently reflected a change in emphasis; from the study of actions by hostile powers to the use, both for offensive and defensive purposes, of special interrogation techniques – primarily hypnosis and truth serums. Representatives from each Agency unit involved in Artichoke met almost monthly to discuss their progress. These discussions included the planning of overseas interrogations as well as further, controversial experimentation within the continental United States of America. Interestingly, the Committee noted that: “Information about Project Artichoke after the fall of 1953 is scarce. The CIA maintains that the project ended in 1956, but evidence suggests that Office of Security and Office of Medical Services use of ‘special interrogation’ techniques continued for several years thereafter.” And why am I not surprised?

MK-Naomi was another major CIA program in this area. In 1967, the CIA summarized the purposes of MK-Naomi thus: “(a) To provide for a covert support base to meet clandestine operational requirements. (b) To stockpile severely incapacitating and lethal materials for the specific use of TSD [Technical Services Division]. (c) To maintain in operational readiness special and unique items for the dissemination of biological and chemical materials. (d) To provide for the required surveillance, testing, upgrading, and evaluation of materials and items in order to assure absence of defects and complete predictability of results to be expected under operational conditions.” Under an agreement reached with the Army in 1952, the Special Operations Division (SOD) at Fort Detrick was to assist CIA in developing, testing, and maintaining biological agents and delivery systems – some of which were directly related to mind-control experimentation. By this agreement, the CIA finally acquired the knowledge, skill, and facilities of the Army to develop biological weapons specifically suited for CIA use.The Committee also noted:

“SOD developed darts coated with biological agents and pills containing several different biological agents which could remain potent for weeks or months. SOD developed a special gun for firing darts coated with a chemical which could allow CIA agents to incapacitate a guard dog, enter an installation secretly, and return the dog to consciousness when leaving. SOD scientists were unable to develop a similar incapacitant [sic] for humans. SOD also physically transferred to CIA personnel biological agents in ‘bulk’ form, and delivery devices, including some containing biological agents.” And that’s how the programs began.

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