Project MKUltra: An Investigation into the CIA's Mind Control Program, Part II
“Torture remains an essential instrument of many governments. They use psychiatrists, surgeons and the whole range of associated disciplines to pressure people to confess. There is no sign of it ending; there is ample evidence it will only get worse in the twenty-first century.”
— Albert Joyce, Professor of Ethics in Medicine, UCLA
Anyone beginning to look into MKULTRA will immediately encounter the commonly repeated story that mind control doesn’t work and brainwashing is a myth. The fact that the CIA poured billions of dollars over three decades into apparently useless research is explained by bureaucratic inefficiency. But this argument is not supported by the documentary evidence. For example, an official memorandum dated 25 January 1952 describes at least one case in which the possibility of reconditioning a subject in order to dispose of a problem is proposed:
“Kelly, (whose real name is Dimitrov), is a 29-year-old Bulgarian and was the head of a small political party based in Greece and ostensibly working for Bulgarian independence. Kelly was described by [REDACTED] as being young, ambitious, bright (elementary college education), a sort of a “man-on-a-horse” type but a typical Balkan politician. According to [REDACTED] our people discovered that French Intelligence Service was attempting to bribe Kelly and make him a double agent and Kelly was looking with favor upon the French offers. Accordingly, a plot was rigged in which Kelly was told he was going to be assassinated and as a “protection”, he was placed in custody of the Greek Police who threw Kelly into a Greek prison. Kelly was held in the Greek prison for six months until the Greek authorities decided that Kelly was a nuisance and they told our people to take him back. Since our people were unable to dispose of Kelly in Greece, they flew him to Panama where, through arrangement, he was placed in a U.S. Military Hospital as a psychopathic patient. Kelly now has been in the U.S. military hospital for several months and the hospital authorities now want to get him out since he is causing considerable trouble, bothering other patients, etc. Kelly is not a psychopathic personality.
[REDACTED] explained that they can dispose of Kelly by the simple process of sending him to a friend of his in Caracas, Venezuela, and as far as they are concerned, that type of disposal is perfectly O.K. However, because of his confinement in a Greek prison and his stay in a military hospital, Kelly has become very hostile toward the United States and our intelligence operations in particular. Hence, OPC is considering an “Artichoke” approach to Kelly to see if it would be possible to re-orient Kelly favorably toward us. This operation, which will necessarily involve the use of drugs is being; considered by OPC with a possibility that Dr [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] will carry out the operation presumably at the military hospital in Panama.”
Other documents also imply the effectiveness of ARTICHOKE-type hypnotic “mind control.” From the casual way in which these techniques are mentioned, it seems clear that their use on civilian operations was significant.
According to the Kelly memo “a reconditioning operation of this type” takes about 30-60 days. Because the operation consists of mentally reconditioning and “disposing” of victims in psychiatric facilities gathering reliable testimony on what happened is difficult. And experimental narco-hypnosis wasn’t even the only tool in their kit. In another CIA document, “disposal” is discussed in the context of “LOBOTOMY and Related Operations.” Lobotomy, the memo concludes, “might be the answer or at least a partial solution.”
With respect to the notorious project to create a “Manchurian candidate” through hypnosis researcher John Marks confirmed at least one instance where CIA hypnotist Morse Allen put a secretary into a trance and hypnotized another: “Miss… was then instructed (having previously expressed fear of firearms in any fashion) that she would use every method at her disposal to awaken Miss… (now in a deep hypnotic sleep) and failing this, she would pick up a pistol nearby and fire it at Miss… She was instructed that her rage would be so great that she would not hesitate to ‘kill’ for failing to awaken. Miss… carried out these suggestions to the letter including firing the (unloaded pneumatic pistol) at… and then proceeding to fall into deep sleep.” (CIA, 1954; Marks, 1979)
It would seem that MKULTRA-type research was more successful than has been claimed: this fact alone makes it unlikely that it was ever completely abandoned. Indeed, there is considerable evidence this research was still being pursued long after the official date of termination in the 1970s through different means. From what can be established from various leaks, scandals, and “limited hangouts”, the three main strands of MKULTRA research which evolved into practical applications are “enhanced interrogation” (psychological torture), electromagnetic “mind control” research (neuroweapons) and perhaps most significantly the campaign of “weaponized anthropology” known as the “counterculture movement” which began in the 1960s, and continues to make itself felt today.
Towards a Paradigm of Total Psychological Torture
The CIA and its partners and predecessors have been studying the psychology of interrogation since their initial formation. Descriptions of “human resource exploitation”, “personality disruption,” “physical and psychological pressures,” “[c]onditioning [t]echniques,” “corrective or coercive techniques,” “non-standard interrogation methodologies,” and other euphemisms for torture have also appeared on the pages of agency memos and manuals from the 1970s to the present. Throughout this time, the CIA has maintained a detachment of military psychiatrists and medical torturers to experiment on the minds of prisoners and asylum inmates and break down the resistance of combatants. There’s no reason to think that this practice has ever stopped, or even slowed.
In 1950, Camp Detrick’s top secret Special Operations Division entered into contracts with the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) for the “psychological investigation of potential chemical warfare agents on human beings.” According to declassified files, SOD was concerned with obtaining “new technical data… which would provide a firmer basis for the utilization of psychochemical agents both for offensive use as sabotage weapons and for protection against them.” The Army selected NYSPI because its researchers had already been experimenting with the effects of psychoactive substances on mental patients beginning in 1944. Here again we see military intelligence agencies channeling funds into existing scientific programs.
Project ARTICHOKE started in 1952. Marking the point of transition from early theoretical experimentation to application the project also marked the beginning of the institutional centralization of all US military interrogation research under the auspices of the CIA. ARTICHOKE focused on isolation, sleep deprivation, temporal disorientation, sensory manipulation/deprivation, hypnosis, narco-hypnosis, and a grimoire of techniques that were later incorporated into the early 1960s CIA torture manual known as KUBARK. This manual defined the psychological torture paradigm that the agency applied in its decade-long war against communism. The same paradigm would reappear in the 2000s Bush-era Guantanamo Bay leaks almost wholly unchanged.
In 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to declassify 700 heavily redacted pages of their 6700-page report detailing an official account of the abuses enacted by CIA torturers on “black site” detainees in the War on Terror. Techniques used ranged from “rectal hydration” and “rectal feeding” to intensive use of solitary confinement, waterboarding, threats to kill prisoners’ families and sleep deprivation, driving prisoners into hallucinatory states.
The picture that emerges is menticide by a thousand cuts. Incessant, unpredictable operations create a nightmarish atmosphere. Where individual tactics are sometimes almost harmless, their cumulative effect is total psychic demolition. Detainees would be subjected to a random succession of cold water dousing; stripped of clothing and forced to wear diapers; shackled with arms overhead; blasted with loud sounds; chilled with an air conditioner; held in continuous light or complete darkness; rough and unexpected rectal exams by medical personnel; isolated in near-solitary confinement; placed in a strictly confined “black out box”; subsisting on short rations; stress positions; interrogated around the clock; threatened while hooded; “insult slaps”; waterboarded; and various forms of sexual abuse. This regimen would stretch on for years, with every abuse amplified by the greatest torture of all: the soul-warping realization that it might never end.
These techniques were developed by psychologists on the CIA payroll, drawing from nearly eight decades of institutional knowledge. Detainees were monitored closely to ensure that excessive physical harm would not come to them. As former CIA contractor James Mitchell put it, describing the best way to beat hooded prisoners, “if it’s painful, you’re doing it wrong.” The aim is to break the mind, not the body. MKULTRA researchers long ago discovered physical torture is an ineffective means of inducing the desired “regression” because it often hardens the subject’s resistance.
In the Report of Inspection of MKULTRA (July 26, 1963) J.S. Earman, the CIA observer on Operation Bloodstone and Inspector General, describes MKULTRA as a project of CIA Technical Support Staff, later renamed Technical Services Division, and ultimately the Office of Technical Services (OTS). The institutional knowledge of senior CIA psychologists developed during MKULTRA was refined, codified in interrogation manuals like KUBARK and transferred to military interrogator-torturers in South Vietnam (1970s), Singapore (1970s), the Philippines (1976), Taiwan (1980), South Africa (1980s), Israel (1990s) and elsewhere, up to the present day. Along the way it has developed into a “total psychological theory of interrogation, in which the use of drugs has been relegated to a support role.” (Earman 1963).
Many Bush-era abuses were reported in the media, but one detail was conspicuously overlooked: the men responsible for implementing the interrogation program came from the same division of the CIA which had organized the MKULTRA program. As the Summary and Reflections of Chief of Medical Services on OMS Participation in the RDI Program noted: “SERE psychologists Mitchell and Jessen were tasked with devising a more aggressive approach to interrogation. Their solution was to employ the full range of SERE techniques. They, together with other OTS psychologists, researched these techniques, soliciting information on effectiveness and harmful after effects [sic] from various psychologists, psychiatrists, academics, and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which oversaw military SERE programs.”
Psychotronic Boogaloo, Revisited
Supplementing the interrogation-torture programs was MKULTRA research concerned with neuroweapons and neurowarfare. Though glossed over by many treatments of the subject copious evidence and public discussion supports the existence of research into psycho-neurobiological weapons of war. The field has progressed to the point that books have been written on the “neuroethics” of neuroweapons and alarmist articles have appeared on military blogs.
The earliest systematic public discussions of “psychotronics” appeared in The Military Review, (October 1980), a professional journal of the U.S. Army, under the title “The New Mental Battlefield.” Written by Lieutenant Colonel John B. Alexander, the article claims that “[m]ind altering techniques designed to impact on an opponent are well advanced. The procedures employed included manipulation of human behavior through use of psychological weapons effecting sight, sound, smell, temperature, electromagnetic energy or sensory deprivation.” Alexander cites a declassified Stargate Project document from 1972, and the research of SRI’s Russel Targ. He also references “bioenergetics” and Kirlian photography, research which first took place under MKULTRA subproject 119, an integrative study that summarized existing information on “techniques of activation of the human organism by remote electronic means.”
Around the same time as MKULTRA interrogation research was becoming operational in the mid-sixties, Project Pandora was launched to investigate the biological effects of the targeted use of electromagnetic frequencies on human brains. Pandora spawned multiple sub-projects, including Project Bizarre, a monkey microwave exposure investigation exploring “[t]he potential of exerting a degree of control on human behavior by low level selectively modulated microwave radiation … for potential weapons applications.” Project Bizarre found that certain frequencies seemed to disrupt the primate’s time perception: the finding was replicated at three different military laboratories. It was also observed that schizophrenia deficits in temporal perception are similar to animal response studies under microwave exposure.
Some of the infamous MKULTRA doctor Ewen Cameron’s experiments also involved the use of microwaves on patients in his specially created Radio Telemetry Laboratory, where patients were exposed to a wide range of extremely low frequency (ELF) to monitor behavioral changes. Pandora researcher Robert O. Becker, who was twice nominated for a Nobel Prize, stated in a 1984 BBC broadcast: “I believe that there is very little question in that you do produce central nervous system disturbances by microwave exposure. I don’t believe that you could at the present level of technology put someone to sleep instantaneously like that. But one could interfere with decision making capacity. One could do, produce, say, a situation of chronic stress in which your embassy personnel do not operate quite as efficiently as they should. This would obviously lead to the Soviets’ advantage.”
Since Project Pandora and related experiments with low-energy EMF in the 1960s, there has been a lot of science fiction written about ‘psychotronic’ or electromagnetic mind control weapons. After the Berlin Wall fell, rumors circulated that the Stasi used x-ray weapons on dissidents to induce cancer and slowly kill them as part of its Zersetzung harassment protocol. Although the contemporary use of these weapons remains hard to prove, by design, mainstream researchers are increasingly confident that electromagnetic-based mind control will be possible at some point in the near future.
If the account of Nepalese dissident Tek Nath Rizal is to be believed, EM mind control is currently capable of producing, “subliminal hypnotic commands”, “breathing difficulties”, “headaches”, “high blood pressure”, “nose-bleeding” , “unbearable burning sensation” as well as vivid hallucinations. When Amy Goodman interviewed ousted Honduran President Manual Zelaya on DemocracyNow! he claimed that an “electronic device that issues microwaves” was used against his government, inducing severe headaches. In his exposé Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans historian Jonathan Moreno argues that “[e]lectromagnetic waves may be used to disrupt an enemy soldier’s central nervous system, to cause epileptic seizures, or to warm their body fluids as though they were inside a microwave oven. Low-frequency electromagnetic radiation has been shown to put animals into a stupor by signalling the brain to release natural substances that act like opiates (opioids).”
Since the nature of psychotronics is such that any knowledge about them reduces their efficacy it is likely that there will never be full disclosure about the current state of the technology. Nevertheless a 2006 FOIA request led to the release of a declassified US Army paper titled “Bioeffects of Selected Nonlethal Weapons.” The document is a state-of-research report which details the various methods of “RF incapacitation,” including heating the body to mimic fever and inducing brain damage. The document also admits the microwave auditory effect “could be developed to the point where words could be transmitted to be heard like the spoken word, except that it could only be heard within a person’s head.” The document contains no explicit mention of MKULTRA per se, but obliquely refers to “40 years of research” throughout.
According to Dr. James Giordano, psychotronic technology is set to go from the drawing board to testing by 2025 in the shape of DARPA’s “Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology” program which will test brain-machine interfaces on soldiers. According to DARPA, they are “working to develop solutions that address challenges such as the physics of scattering and weakening of signals as they pass through skin, skull, and brain tissue.” No surgical implant is needed. Remote “brain hacking” is the next logical step. Robert McCreight suggests that we harden our neurodefences in the face of psychotronic proliferation, “[t]he global battlespace will be dramatically altered and in light of this, it will be necessary to design and implement systems to protect humans from neural interference.”
The official seal of the CIA in 1974
Esalen and the Eupsychian Network
Among the mangle of movements jostling for prominence in 1960s counterculture we must be careful to separate illusion from substance. For example, the view that “Eastern Mysticism” influenced American teenagers is widely believed. But the chain of custody of ideas is just as important as their origins. If you enter Xanadu through the sewer, don’t be surprised at the stench of it wonders.
Esalen was established in 1962 in Big Sur, California with the influential assistance of Aldous Huxley, Frederic Spiegelberg and Gregory Bateson. Esalen was a cradle for New Age mysticism and cybernetics, a test bed for cutting-edge spirituality. Its two nominal founders, Michael Murphy and Richard Price, have been transcendental meditation students at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Aurobindo himself was a former terrorist closely monitored by British intelligence, and a self-identified psychic warrior of the WWII era. “Sri Aurobindo put all his [e.g., astral] Force behind the Allies and especially Churchill” (Huchzermeyer, 1998). Aurobindo believed himself to be the reincarnation of Napoleon, and claimed to have single-handedly turned the tide of WWII, with the help of his spiritual partner “the Mother”. The ashram in which Murphy spent month acquiring his siddhis, or powers, was established and organized by The Mother, an occultist named Mirra Alfassa, who would later go on to found the UNESCO funded anarcho-communist cult, Auroville. Aurobindo’s great work which so deeply influenced Murphy, The Life Divine, was a metaphysical fusion of Indian spiritual philosophy and Western thought, especially Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman. His philosophy can be described as a Tantric Darwinism, an evolution of the Supermind through yogic practice.
The ideal of the Superman breaking free of human bounds is the same Faustian drive that animated the group of scientists and cyberneticians involved with MKULTRA. Indeed, many of the people integral to Esalen and its “Human Potential Movement” were directly connected to the CIA mind control program. Carl Rogers, Gordon Wasson, B.F. Skinner and Harold A. Abramson were among its leading lights and many CIA-affiliated doctors with a history of gruesome (or “groovy”) research were later featured or employed by the institute, including Humphry Osmond, J.B. Rhine, John Lilly, Paul Hoch, Max Fink, Harris Isbell, Lauretta Bender, Louis Jolyon West and the infamous Ewan Cameron.
Beyond direct connections, however, Abraham Maslow’s Eupsychian Network, the Human Potential Movement and the agenda to create an astroturfed “counterculture” extended beyond formal institutional structures. Perhaps the most illuminating figures in this story is Alfred M. Hubbard, a former OSS officer also known as Captain Trips or “the Johnny Appleseed of LSD.” One of the most influential individuals involved in spreading LSD among top intelligence officials and counter-cultural celebrities, Hubbard existed outside and above formal bureaucracies. Though he worked for several government agencies, he reportedly refused a job from the CIA because they “crooked” him over backpay from his OSS days, and practiced “bad technique.” An amateur inventor who first came to public attention with an atmospheric energy motor, his career also included working with the mafia, conviction as a rumrunner, dosing Aldous Huxley with LSD and working as a “security guard” for the Stanford Research Institute during their period of involvement with the STARGATE project. While people like Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary were probably either unwitting jester-popularizers or CIA funded “lifetime actors”, Hubbard, who claimed he had been visited by an angel who gave him a mission to be a “catalyzer,” seems to have been operating under his own Faustian convictions.
The Esalen Institute was part of a network of Human Potential organizations largely funded by Laurence Rockefeller, the main bankroller behind noetic mysticism. These included the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), California Institute for Integral Studies, Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) program and noetic priestess Barbara Marx Hubbard’s Foundation for Conscious Evolution. This “dark, green religion” is integrated both in terms of funding and leadership with futurist-catastrophist currents in the World Future Society, the Club of Rome and the World Economic Forum. According to researcher John Klyczeck, “[t]here have always been integral connections between the Esalen Institute, the Human Potential Movement, hi-tech transhumanism, and noetic Gnosticism.”
The network has had a huge influence extending significantly beyond 60s counterculture and climate catastrophism. For many years, the de facto religion of Silicon Valley has been transhumanism, with Esalen as their mecca. Some researchers believe that our fascination with superheroes arose out of the human potential movement. Indeed, we can see Abraham Maslow’s vision of self-actualization grooved into our most significant cultural edifices. Every feminist film narrative and a majority of recent Disney films, “feature a story in which the heroine needs to break through patriarchal expectations to attain self-actualization.” The darker side of self-actualization is also explored in less popular but impactful films such as Beyond the Black Rainbow, with its blatant references to Esalen and David Kronenberg’s The Brood. Is social media as a whole not in fact a gamified, virtual “self” immanentization process, gathering each individual participant into a eusocial hive towards the collective gestation of a global super-organism. According to Francis Heylighen of the Global Brain Institute, “the G[lobal] B[rain] would provide the ideal environment for personal growth, self-actualization.” The secret destiny of self-actualization is to be remade into a hollow “desiring-machine”, a homo modulus which can be made to desire anything and is therefore infinitely reconfigurable within the cradle of the noetic leviathan.
The noetic Gnosticism and transhumanist vision of Esalen, a religion of no religion, and divinity without the Divine, is the ultimate extrapolation of “self-actualization” as the actualization of desire. A virtual world of enthusiasm, artificially created and synthetically satisfied, shaping the body and mind into a deathless desiring-machine, transforming the image of man from a reflection of God, into the brood of the abyss.
The other side of the story can be found in the CIA-funded Macy Foundation and the Human Ecology Institute. Cybernetics evolved out of the intersection of mathematics and engineering in Division 19 in World War II: the goal of the Cybernetics Group was to develop tools to predict and control human behavior. Conceived by Warren Sturgis McCulloch, from 1946 to 1953 the ten Macy Conferences brought together a summit of Manhattan Project luminaries, former OSS operatives and future MKULTRA scientists including Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Lawrence Kubie, Harold Abramson (who was responsible for dosing Macy Conference attendees with LSD), Humphrey Osmond and John von Neuman. The official “aim of the conferences was to promote meaningful communication across scientific disciplines,” but the general idea was to develop a trans-disciplinary approach to the “human use of human beings” or more succinctly, “psycho-engineering.”
A declassified 1963 CIA report highlights the similarly trans-disciplinary spirit of MKULTRA: “over the ten-year life of the program many additional avenues to the control of human behavior have been designed by the [CIA’s Technical Services Division] management as appropriate to investigation under the MKULTRA charter, including radiation, electro-shock, various fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology, graphology, harassment substances, and paramilitary devices and materials.” (CIA, 1963) Fundamentally the cybernetic approach amounts to treating humans and society like “self-regulating automata” and implementing “weaponized anthropology”, psychiatry and psychopharmacology to “steer” them.
According to Dr. David Harold Price, “[t]he OSS recruited the best and brightest from elite academic and social circles for its ranks. Gregory Bateson was a natural candidate. Since 1940, he and his then-wife Margaret Mead had been developing and refining the methods used in their studies of “culture at a distance” (Yans-McLaughlin 1986a: 196). These were the [same kinds] of techniques that the OSS was interested in using to understand and subvert the enemy.” Bateson, who played a significant role in MKULTRA, and even the creation of the CIA itself, also influenced Esalen founder Mike Murphy personally. The very first seminar at Esalen was offered by Murphy, the second by Bateson. He, along with fellow cyberneticians such as John C. Lilly and Stafford Beer, would become resident teachers at the New Age academy and spa.
By 1947, as many as three-fourths of professional anthropologists were “working in some war-related governmental capacity”. What we call “applied” anthropology was invented by the OSS and for many decades in countries throughout the world American anthropologists were assumed to be CIA agents. Bateson, the preeminent militarized anthropologist, studied “schismogenesis”, by which he meant a breaking down of social norms due to cumulative feedback loops. He later presented his findings to the Cybernetic Group, including the curious case of the Iatmul culture “in which a transvestite ceremony (emphasis mine) served as a homeostatic mechanism whenever a characteristic pattern of aggressive actions within the tribe threatened to divide them.” (Heims, 1991)
The Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology (SIHE) was a CIA front which funnelled money to social scientists and medical researchers working on areas relevant to the MKULTRA project, chiefly brainwashing and interrogation. As Price has found in his nearly two decades of research, SIHE, similar organizations, and their cumulative influence utterly transformed the social sciences. It wasn’t in underground military bases that this research came to fruition, but in hundreds of universities and research institutions. According to Alfred W. McCoy, by using results from these outsourced research initiatives, “the CIA distilled its findings in its seminal Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation handbook… [s]ynthesizing the behavioral research done by contract academics, the manual spelled out a revolutionary two-phase form of torture that relied on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain for an effect that, for the first time in the two millennia of their cruel science, was more psychological than physical.” (McCoy, 2006)
Many commentators still continue to downplay the influence of MKULTRA, Esalen and the power of weaponized social science. This dismissal is performed so automatically that one can legitimately wonder if it is not itself the result of operant conditioning. The essence of the matter is that America’s mind control saga is not confined to the annals of CIA history, or even CIA torture rooms. In psychiatry, in social science, in the entertainment business and in social media, MKULTRA is the fabric of our lives.