Monday, 16 July 2018 23:26

Through a Glass Darkly: An MK-ULTRA Primer

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Tracing the history of mind-control experimentation by the US and its allies from World War II onward, Michael Le Flem reveals the depth and extent of human behavioral programming undertaken for more than two decades by the CIA, which, as has come more and more to light, nearly certainly furnishes the backdrop against which we should understand Sirhan's actions on June 5, 1968.

mk ultra

“What is heroic in combat is criminal in peace. Just as combat sanctions physical violence, so espionage grants license to moral violence. It is trite but true to say that they did what they did for the good of their country. Unfortunately, it is also true that it frequently didn’t work out that way.”

~David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors


If I were to tell you that the United States government has performed—and is likely still performing—bizarre, mind-altering experiments on its own unwitting citizens, whose results are often catastrophically damaging and sometimes fatal, with the goal of creating pawns for its intelligence chess board, I would expect you to stop listening to me. That’s what most people do in any case. And yet the United States has a long and storied history of medical and scientific abuses against its own population which bear repeating to place its later mind-control experiments in context. Following is a cursory overview culled from a 2002 Health News Net post entitled “A History of Secret Human Experimentation”:

In 1931, Dr. Cornelius Rhoads, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Investigations, infected human subjects with cancer cells. He later established the U.S. Army Biological Warfare centers in Maryland, Utah, and Panama. Rhoads was also responsible for a battery of radiation exposure experiments perpetrated on American soldiers and civilian hospital patients.

In 1932, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study began in segregated Alabama. Two hundred black men diagnosed with syphilis were never told about their condition, were denied treatment, and were subjected to a covert longitudinal study on the effects of the disease that lasted forty years until a local newspaper broke the story. They all subsequently died from syphilis, and their wives and children, who also became infected, were never told that they could have been treated.

In 1935, after millions of individuals died from Pellagra over a span of two decades, the U.S. Public Health Service finally acts to stop the disease. The director of the agency admitted that researchers had known for at least twenty years that Pellagra was primarily caused by a niacin deficiency, but failed to address this since most of the deaths occurred in poverty-stricken black populations.

In 1940, 400 prisoners in Chicago were purposely infected with malaria in order to study the effects of new and experimental drugs to combat the disease. Ironically, Nazi doctors later on trial at Nuremberg cite this American study to defend their own actions during the Holocaust.

The United States of the late 1940s and 1950s was a product not only of unprecedented postwar power and security afforded the nation in the wake of the German and Japanese defeats, but also of the scientific proclivities of the time. We forget, I feel, just how jarringly different society was only seventy years ago. Much of the nation was still segregated, with anti-miscegenation laws firmly in place to prevent interracial couples from marrying; the sick and infirm, particularly those with mental deficiencies, were often viewed with disdain. Indeed, the words “moron” and “idiot” were both official psychiatric terms of mental competence from the postwar American eugenics movement, which remained a popular field of study among the psychological circles of the white elite. Books like B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two, published in 1948, were quite popular among America’s social planners. Preaching a rejection of any immanent extra-material element to consciousness and human emotion, Skinner believed that once certain environmental factors were correctly manipulated, human beings, and by extension, whole cultures, might be fundamentally changed. In this utopian novel, the characters behaved much the way Skinner’s rats did in his predictable laboratory experiments.

This reductionist worldview was a major contributing factor, in my opinion, to both the prevalence and the tacit acceptance of what amounts to decades of crimes perpetrated against both domestic and foreign target populations. Figures like Skinner, Aldous Huxley, and later Robert Shockley, the Stanford professor and Bell Labs inventor of the transistor—who as late as the early 1970s was calling for a concerted reduction of the African-American population due to their “dysgenic” makeup—held the imagination of policy planners and the power elite. As Hank Albarelli Jr. notes:

Here it should be emphasized that inevitably lurking within, near, and around all of the CIA’s early mind-control experiments was a strong element of racism that generally manifested itself through the Agency’s principle objective of establishing control over the perceived “weaker” and “less intelligent” segments of society. That the CIA’s initial mind control activities show a close kinship with many prominent characters within the racist and anti-immigration eugenics movement is no coincidence.

Iterations and Victims

From as early as WWII, “programmed operatives” had been an objective (though limited) of military and government intelligence agencies for a variety of reasons. Initially, from available evidence, much of which still remains redacted, we see that during the Allied struggle against Hitler’s Germany, the OSS and British intelligence were both interested in the potential to send “programmed” agents into occupied Europe. These agents, both witting and unwitting, would then deliver a predetermined message which could only be unlocked by their receiver upon the specifically encoded posthypnotic verbal or visual cue: I touch my right temple or say a phrase, and my subject divulges the message, only to then possess entirely no memory of the exchange. This ensured both that any intercepted agent placed under torture or interrogation would have no “real” memory of their intended communiqué or mission beyond their ostensible one. It also removed the threat of telegraphic or radio-transmitted communications being intercepted by Axis listening posts.

Clark Hull, a Yale hypnosis expert, described such a process in his 1933 book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility:

A youth of eighteen or nineteen years is brought in by my assistant. He has consented to act as subject in a research project. I stand before him and look directly into his eyes. As he tilts his head backward to look into my eyes I observe as usual the sign of considerable emotional disturbance in the beating of his carotid artery … I direct him to look steadily into my eyes and to think of nothing but sleep, to relax his muscles all over, even so much that his knees bend a little and his legs scarcely hold him up. After three or four minutes his eyes close, his head nods forward, and his breathing becomes heavy. I say, ‘Now you are falling toward me, you can’t help yourself … I catch him when well off his balance. Upon inquiry he states, in a drowsy tone, that he could not help falling forward but that he isn’t sound asleep ‘because I know everything that is going on.’

I suspect that he is mistaken and employ the following objective test. I give him a posthypnotic suggestion that after waking he shall pick up and examine a book on my desk when I sit down in a chair, but that he won’t recall anything about why he did it. I wake him as usual with a snap of my finger … A few minutes later I sit down in the chair. He casually walks over to my desk, picks up the book, and after glancing at its title lays it down. I say, ‘Why did you look at the book?’ He answers that he just happened to notice it lying there and wondered what it was about. (Hull, Hypnosis and Suggestibility, p. 32)

Early pioneers of this form of hypnosis included the esteemed Dr. George Estabrooks, chair of Colgate University’s department of psychology, whose 1943 book Hypnosis remains worth reading for anyone interested in the technical mechanisms whereby human beings can be unwittingly placed in a post-hypnotic suggestive state. As Estabrooks notes, there are five basic steps to the process:

  1. Covertly identify a specimen of the 20% of persons who are genetic somnambulists and easily can go to an amnesic depth of trance. Induct by a “disguised” method.
  2. While the subject is in trance, give a posthypnotic suggestion for him to become deeply hypnotized again whenever the hypnotist gives a certain cue (such as tugging the left ear lobe with the right hand).
  3. Also, give a posthypnotic suggestion which will deny the subject any conscious knowledge of this hypnosis, or any subsequent one. That causes an artificial, selective amnesia for all hypnosis events.
  4. Give a posthypnotic suggestion that nobody else can hypnotize this subject (called sealing).
  5. Give a suggestion under hypnosis that the subject will act in trance just as if awake (called waking hypnosis). (G.A. Estabrooks, Hypnosis, p. 200)

Dr. Estabrooks also devised a means by which an individual’s personality might be altered, going so far as to insist he could warp someone’s entire convictions and political leanings for a desired result:

We will use hypnotism to induce multiple personality. Hypnotism is the means to an end, though the technique would be impossible did we not have hypnotism at our disposal. In his normal waking state, which we will call Personality A, or PA, this individual will become a rabid communist. He will join the party, follow the party line and make himself as objectionable as possible to the authorities.

Then we develop Personality B (PB), the secondary personality, the unconscious personality … is rabidly American and anti-communist. It has all the information possessed by Personality A, the normal personality, whereas PA does not have this advantage. My super spy plays his role as a communist in the waking state, aggressively, consistently, fearlessly. But his PB is a loyal American, and PB has all the memories of PA. As a loyal American, he will not hesitate to divulge these memories. (Estabrooks, p. 200)

While these WWII dabblings proved interesting to those observing their curious results, it wasn’t until the early days of the Cold War that the United States government, and specifically the Central Intelligence Agency, became truly interested in the potential of harnessing the minds of both its assets and soldiers, and often its private citizenry. The United States Navy had already, as early as 1947, begun its own Project Chatter, which lasted for six years and which involved subjecting “volunteer” sailors, along with animals, to substances like the incredibly dangerous scopolamine, whose effects range from permanent dissociation and vivid recurring night terrors to complete submission to the commands and whims of a subject’s controller. As naval intelligence personnel got wind of the Nazi experiments on Jewish captives at places like the Dachau concentration camp, which involved heavy doses of mescaline and other mind-bending substances, they sought to both replicate the studies and push the investigations of their former enemies, who only two years earlier had surrendered to the Allies in the summer of 1945.

Headed by Dr. Charles Savage, a graduate of both Yale and the Pritzker Medical School of the University of Chicago, the team used LSD procured by Swiss manufacturer Sandoz in attempts to induce psychic transformations. As Prince Ray notes in his book, Project Chatter and the Betrayal of My Father, “In one experiment Savage used five “normal” persons and fifteen depressed patients. In his report, LSD-25 a Clinical-Psychological Study (1951), he provided detailed descriptions: Case II was a 20-year-old man who was admitted to the hospital with depression. He tearfully told psychologists that his mother was going to lose her home, his sister would lose her job, and he felt useless because he couldn’t help them. He was given LSD, the dosage increased to 100 mcg.; the end result was that the patients suffered from a “schizophrenic reaction.”

In late 1945, Operation Paperclip, the United States’ covert importation of Nazi war criminals, scientists, medical researchers, and intelligence operatives, provided a treasure trove of first-hand experience with such matters. Some were brought directly into the CIA’s payroll, like war-criminal Reinhard Gehlen, chief of the Wehrmacht’s Foreign Armies East (FHO) military intelligence unit, whose knowledge of Soviet intelligence services was sought by figures like Allen Dulles. Quite remarkable is the fact that Gehlen—who met with both President Truman and “Wild Bill” Donovan, the former head of the OSS during WWII—was instrumental in convincing the United States to pass the National Security Act of 1947, whose charter essentially laid the groundwork for the surveillance state we currently maintain. In its clauses, clandestine activities were allowed to begin without the approval of Congress or even the President, and reporting and evaluations were permitted to be indefinitely withheld if such disclosure could potentially compromise “national security.” In effect, it gave the newly christened CIA, and related agencies, almost unlimited freedom of action and partial legal immunity. And it gave Gehlen and his Nazi consorts access to millions of dollars, United States military support, and sustained their desperate hopes of finally destroying their dreaded Bolshevik nemesis, the Soviet Union. I would argue that the creation of the Cold War was in many ways as much an extension of unfulfilled Nazi aims, as it was a pragmatic Allied reaction to the realities of the postwar Manichean divide between capitalism and communism. We now know, for example, that Gehlen’s intelligence was almost entirely worthless; he vastly exaggerated Soviet intentions, underestimated their agents’ ability to penetrate West German intelligence, and personally helped escalate tensions between the burgeoning NATO countries and the Eastern bloc.

While Gehlen and others were smuggled across the Atlantic, both by the US intelligence agencies and the Vatican—who disguised many high-level Nazi party members as Catholic priests for safe exit to places like Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina—others remained in Europe, with many setting up shop in West Germany. At these early black sites, as author Annie Jacobsen notes:

… the CIA teamed up with Army, Air Force and Naval Intelligence to run one of the most nefarious, classified, enhanced interrogation programs of the Cold War. The work took place inside a clandestine facility in the American zone of occupied Germany, called Camp King. The facility’s chief medical doctor was … Dr. Walter Schreiber, the former Surgeon General of the Third Reich. The activities that went on at Camp King between 1946 and the late 1950s have never been fully accounted for by either the Department of Defense or the CIA. (Lazar Berman, “CIA techniques developed by ex-Nazi doctors, author claims,” Times of Israel, 3/12/2014)


The Central Intelligence Agency, which itself had only emerged as an autonomous organization in 1947 from the remains of the OSS, didn’t waste much time in getting on the mind-altering bandwagon. In an April, 1950 memo to Rear Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, then Director of the CIA, Sheffield Edwards, Chief of the Inspection and Security Staff Sheffield Edwards stressed, “In view of the extreme sensitivity of this project and its covert nature, it is deemed advisable to submit this document directly to you, rather than through the channel of the Projects Review Committee.” He continues:

The immediate purpose of the program (Project Bluebird) is to provide interrogation teams using the cover of polygraph interrogation to provide bona fides of high potential defectors and agents, and also for the collection of incidental intelligence from such projects. A team is to be composed of three persons consisting of a doctor/psychiatrist, a polygraph/hypnotist, and a technician. (Sheffield Edwards, “Office Memorandum, Subject: Project Bluebird,” CIA-RDP83-01042R000800010003)

Hearing rumors in the early 1950s that American prisoners of war who had returned to the United States from the Korean War were allegedly subjected to Chinese and Soviet brainwashing, the CIA was concerned that some of their nation’s military and strategic secrets could be revealed under interrogation. While much of this was anecdotal, and driven to near-hysterical levels in this height of the McCarthy Era and the Red Scare, a genuine curiosity about human nature and the limits of the mind seemed to drive some of the officers of the Central Intelligence Agency. It should be noted that later congressional probes determined this rationale was largely a cover should the program ever be exposed to the public. (“Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, U.S. Senate, April 1976”) Like the Navy’s Project Chatter, team members of Bluebird frequently subjected their human guinea pigs to acid trips, mescaline dosing, and amphetamine overloads to test the limits of the human will. One of their favorites was a combination of hallucinogens and amphetamines they nicknamed “Smasher.”

Morse Allen was one of these initial pioneers of the CIA’s exploits in psychic investigations. While pharmaceutical applications had their place, officers like Morse were interested in more esoteric means by which the human will could be bent. From 1951 onward, he took it upon himself to survey the OSS’s remaining files from the Second World War. Securing funding for a four-month crash course in the field from his superiors in the CIA’s SRS (Security Research Section). He began his apprenticeship with figures around New York like Milton Erickson, a famous stage hypnotist. Bluebird was renamed Artichoke (after the street-handle of New York gangster Ciro Terranova, the “Artichoke King”), and from August 1951 onward, this program’s controllers began testing their hypno-suggestive procedures on some of the CIA’s volunteer support staff. Walter Bedell-Smith, Eisenhower’s trusted Chief of Staff and aide de camp in WWII and now the Director of the CIA, signed off on it, along with Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell, the CIA’s Scientific Intelligence Director. Morse Allen remained in de facto control of day-by-day operations. Most, if not all, of his early test subjects were women. Hypnotizing secretaries and female aides, the architects of Artichoke were quick to extend their bizarre methods into sexually abusive favors, going so far in some cases as hypnotizing these women and post-hypnotically suggesting that they perform sexual acts on complete strangers in Washington D.C. hotel rooms and CIA office suites. (H. Albarelli Jr., A Secret Order, chapter 7) In one encounter, Morse Allen hypnotized his personal secretary and programmed her to pick up a pistol and shoot another secretary. When she came out of her hypnosis and Allen gave the post-hypnotic cue, she picked up his service pistol on his desk, turned to the other girl, without expression, and fired. The receiver slammed home with a sharp click; the gun was of course unloaded. Allen was thrilled with the potential for this exciting new technique.

Begun officially in 1953, while Artichoke was fully operational, the CIA’s MK-ULTRA/MK-DELTA was the brainchild of Richard Helms, and served as yet another tentacle of the mind-control octopus that had gripped the imaginations of our nation’s intelligence officers. Its ostensible goals were the harassment, intimidation, and coercion of domestic (ULTRA) and foreign (DELTA) populations through the use of sociology, anthropology, radiation exposure, graphology, chemical triggering, paramilitary means, and psychiatry. (Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, U.S. Senate, April 1976) Helms appointed the CIA’s notorious chief chemist, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, as head of field operations. Gottlieb was nicknamed the Black Sorcerer by colleagues because of his obsession with concocting a plethora of exotic poisons, delivery devices, and other murderous schemes to eliminate world leaders and rival military figures. Gottlieb crafted the tube of poisoned toothpaste sent to the CIA’s station chief Larry Devlin in Leopoldville when President Eisenhower ordered the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the progressive anti-colonial leader of the Congo. Instead, the CIA ended up kidnapping him, with the aid of Belgian intelligence and local rebels. He was later shot and dissolved in sulfuric acid. Gottlieb also designed the exploding cigars and explosive seashells which were unsuccessfully deployed—amid the dozens of other plots—to kill Fidel Castro as he partook in his two favorite leisure activities, puffing on Cohibas and free-diving on shallow reefs. As Castro once said, “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.” (Patrick Oppmann, “Fidel Castro survived 600 assassination attempts, officials say,” CNN, 11/26/2016)

Canada also played a tertiary role in the CIA’s burgeoning MK-ULTRA research. The CIA-sponsored and Rockefeller-funded Allen Memorial Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, was the home of one Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, and his Subproject-68. Cameron was the one-time President of both the American Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and eventually held the title of President of the World Psychiatric Association. He delivered addresses to a global audience, was a lecturer at numerous universities and medical schools, and was considered a preeminent authority on the human psyche. Cameron was present at the Nuremberg trials, and wrote a treatise which surmised that the inherent personality of the German people was incapable of submitting to defeat and incapable of living peacefully in a post-war environment. He called for a social reconditioning of their collective psyche in order to transform their next generation into a more docile group. In a strange twist, the anecdotal testimony of former CIA pilot and intelligence officer L. Fletcher Prouty notes that Cameron later became personally acquainted with numerous Nazi exiles, whose brains he picked for medical and psychiatric advice. (Marshall Thomas, Monarch: The New Phoenix Program, chapter 16)

Receiving personal funding from the CIA and Allen Dulles through their front organization, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, Cameron became infamous for his “psychic driving” sessions. These consisted of unwitting mentally distraught patients—many were innocent housewives and children sent in for treatment of depression—being sedated and strapped into isolated gurneys on a secure upper floor of the facility, where they were not told for how long they were being detained. Then the doctor went to work in earnest; Cameron describes the process in his essay, “The Effects Upon Human Behavior of the Repetition of Verbal Signals:”

  1. The breaking down of ongoing patterns of the patient’s behavior by means of particularly intensive electroshocks (depatterning).
  2. The intensive repetition (16 hours a day for 6-7 days) of the prearranged verbal signal.
  3. During this period of intensive repetition the patient is kept in partial sensory isolation.
  4. Repression of the driving period is carried out by putting the patient, after the conclusion of the period, into continuous sleep for 7-10 days

Cameron’s goal was to attempt a full swipe of a patient’s memory, resulting in a blank slate, which only in physical form bore any resemblance to the former person. Initially, “psychic driving” was intended to erase the memories of incurable schizophrenic patients, but the CIA saw its potential in the intelligence world and ended up paying Cameron $69,000 to further their ends from 1957-1964. In one especially severe case, a woman who was released had to be taught how to use the toilet and tie her shoes, even though she was a formerly accomplished thirty-something mother of three. She never regained her memory and only realized what had happened and who was responsible when she saw a picture of Dr. Cameron in a library book decades later, which triggered a post-traumatic breakdown and an eventual lawsuit.

In another “treatment,” Phyllis Goldberg, a charming, attractive young nurse of nineteen, who was admitted to the Allen Memorial and Dr. Cameron, suffered an irreversible trauma that friends and family say utterly destroyed her life:

“When she would be with us, on weekends and so on, she didn’t communicate. She laughed for no reason. Her gait was very different,” Levenson explained. “She couldn’t dress herself—she couldn’t do anything for herself.” Small moments of affection—a pat on the head between aunt and niece, for example—elicited painful reactions from Goldberg. “When you went to pat her, just as a gesture, she would cringe,” Levenson said. “That bewildered me—not realizing, or understanding, she had electric shock equipment put on her head so many times that it [remained] in her subconscious.” (Lindsay Richardson, “Their Lives were Ruined: Families of MK-ULTRA survivors planning class-action lawsuit,” Montreal CTV, 5/20/2018)

As things progressed and more funding was secured, even stranger experiments unfolded, some bordering on the absurd. From 1955 to the mid 1960s, the CIA, using its own agents as well as assets from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, dosed unknowing subjects in San Francisco brothels and clubs—notably in the Telegraph Hill area near North Beach—with LSD-laced cocktails. Codenamed Midnight Climax, the project was one of the dozens of subprojects under the MK-ULTRA umbrella. As part of this operation the CIA sent agent George White, who used the name “Morgan Hall” when interacting with neighbors, to San Francisco and set him up in a duplex near the bay, at 2250 Chestnut Street. They paid for him to furnish the apartment with French erotic art, lurid posters, and other enticing trinkets, and tasked him with finding a suitable accomplice to lure men in for observation. An alcoholic who kept a pitcher of martinis in his refrigerator, Hall then hired a local electronics firm to install audio bugs in the electrical outlets to complete his voyeuristic suite. “For hours Hall would sit perched on a portable toilet watching behind a two-way mirror while his employee, a drug-addicted prostitute, entertained unsuspecting visitors and slipped each one an exotic chemical or biological agent.” (John Jacobs and Bill Richards, “The Bizarre Tale of a CIA Operation,” Washington Post, 8/26/1977)

Another notable case was the 1951 “Pont St. Esprit Incident.” Here, in a quaint French country village near the Swiss border, hundreds of people went completely insane, with an onset that was both rapid and violent. One man tried to drown himself, screaming that snakes were eating his belly. An 11-year-old tried to strangle his grandmother. Another man shouted: “I am a plane”, before jumping out of a second-floor window, breaking his legs. He then got up and carried on for 50 yards. Another saw his heart escaping through his feet and begged a doctor to put it back. Many were taken to the local asylum in straight jackets. Time Magazine wrote at the time: “Among the stricken, delirium rose: patients thrashed wildly on their beds, screaming that red flowers were blossoming from their bodies, that their heads had turned to molten lead.” (Henry Samuel, “French bread spiked with LSD in CIA experiment,” Daily Telegraph, 3/11/2010)

Officially, the narrative involved a contaminated batch of baguettes from Roch Briand, the local bakery. Ergot, a hallucinogenic mold that develops when rye spoils—and which had been used as far back as the Eleusinian Mysteries ritual at Delphi in Ancient Greece—was blamed. Curiously, however, Pont St. Esprit was only a few miles from the world’s only manufacturing plant that produced high-grade LSD at the time: Sandoz. And also curious is a memorandum that was discovered, dating to 1975 during the Rockefeller Commission’s review of the CIA’s clandestine abuses, and which read, “Re: Pont-Saint-Esprit and F. Olson Files. SO Span/France Operation file, inclusive Olson. Intel files. Hand carry to Belin—tell him to see to it that these are buried.” (Mike Thomson, “Pont-Saint-Esprit poisoning: Did the CIA spread LSD?” BBC News, 8/23/2010)

Frank Olson headed the CIA’s overseas experiments involving mind-altering substances. And of course “Belin” refers to David Belin, the high-profile attorney who sat on both the Warren and Rockefeller Commissions. In 1953, a CIA agent dosed Olson’s cocktail at a local bar with LSD. Two days later, Olson “jumped or fell” out of a window on the thirteenth-floor of his Manhattan hotel suite. (David Remnick, “25 Years of Nightmares,” Washington Post, 7/28/1985) Author and former Canadian Liberal Party leader, Michael Ignatieff, among others, like Olson’s son, believe Allen Dulles and Richard Helms ordered his murder, since Olson had voiced reservations about and objections to the ethics of his missions.

Of no small concern is the fact that “since early 1954, following the death of Olson, a secret agreement between the CIA and the U.S. Department of Justice had been put in place whereby the violation of “criminal statutes” by CIA personnel would not result in Department of Justice prosecutions, if “highly classified and complex covert operations” were threatened with exposure. The agreement had been struck between CIA Chief Counsel Larry Houston and Deputy Attorney General William P. Rogers in February 1954, not long after Frank Olson’s death, and still remained solidly in place.” (H. Albarelli Jr., “Cries from the Past: Torture’s Ugly Echoes,”, 5/23/2010) With this agreement essentially sealing the agency from any remaining legal responsibilities following the creation and signing of the National Security Act of 1947, they were now totally exempt from oversight, and during the late 1950s and early 1960s, branched out into even weirder fields of inquiry and research. Their inquiries into the pure occult and spiritual realms of human consciousness were perhaps the most bizarre iteration of the mind-control explorations. MK-OFTEN, a still-secret and barely traceable sub-file buried in the MK-ULTRA files, mentions the Department of Defense’s use of mediums, clairvoyants, and even voodoo and Satanism. As researcher Peter Levenda notes:

Initially, Operation MK-OFTEN was a joint CIA/Army Chemical Corps drug project, based out of Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland and using inmates of the Holmesburg State Prison in Philadelphia as test subjects. It came under the aegis of the CIA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), which was concerned with parapsychology and the application of supernatural powers for military purposes. Later, OFTEN would become a kind of grab bag of CIA investigations into the paranormal, and would include everything from séances and witchcraft to remote viewing and exotic drugs. (Levenda, Sinister Forces, chapter 4)

MKNAOMI, the CIA’s joint venture with the Army’s biological warfare division at Fort Detrick, which ran roughly from 1958 to the early 1970s, was the MK-digram’s final major iteration. In this program, scientists and technicians honed their abilities to deliver exotic and untraceable toxins and biological agents to unknowing victims, with a focus on agricultural poisoning, some of which likely was intended for Operation Mongoose, the CIA’s terror campaign against Cuba.

The Agency was estimated to have spent over 3 million dollars. Items developed ranged from attaché cases rigged to disseminate an agent in the air, a cigarette rigged to disseminate an agent when lighted, a fountain pen dart launcher, an engine head bolt designed to release an agent when heated, a fluorescent light starter to activate the light and then release an agent, etc. (“Cryptonym: MKNAOMI,” Mary Ferrell Foundation)

While Richard Nixon banned biological testing in November 1969, it is purported that substantial amounts of stockpiled neurotoxins and aggressive nerve agents were stashed away in secure facilities for years after MKNAOMI was officially terminated. (AP, “US Continues Defensive Germ Warfare Research,” New York Times, 9/7/1982)

Revelations and Implications

The late 1970s saw the rise of more Congressional probing into the clandestine activities of American intelligence agencies in the wake of the tumultuous 60s and the Vietnam War. When Seymour Hersh broke the story to the nation in 1975 that James Angleton’s counterintelligence outfit at the CIA had been routinely mass-surveilling American citizens’ mail, people were outraged. In the context of such probes as the Church Committee (1975), the Rockefeller Commission (1975), the House Select Committee on Assassinations (1976) and other notable, if problematic and incomplete investigations, Americans finally got a peek at the dirty deeds of their flagship intelligence agency. As the New York Times noted:

There seemed to be nothing the Central Intelligence Agency had not considered: lobotomies, powerful drugs, hypnosis, mental telepathy, deprivation of sleep and food, subliminal suggestion, isolation, ultra-sonic sound, flashing stroboscopic lights. The agency even considered magicians and prostitutes.” (Joseph Treaster, “CIA Mind Probes Now More Benign,” New York Times, 8/71977)

Little came of these probes, besides sensational headlines and James Angleton’s forced “retirement.” No one, to my knowledge, was charged with anything appropriate to the crimes committed, and the nation, while briefly outraged, moved on, as if they were watching a dramatic but ultimately irrelevant soap opera. In many ways, the Watergate break-in overshadowed the decades of abuse the CIA had been accused of.

MK-ULTRA shut down “officially” in 1972. No one knows how many total victims were abused or killed, because in 1973, then-Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms ordered all files pertaining to MK-ULTRA shredded after getting tipped off of a coming congressional interest in the project. A few boxes were not located in time, and are the sole sources we have for review. Shortly thereafter, Helms was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to Iran, where he served for four years, only returning reluctantly in 1977 to further testify—and commit perjury—to the CIA’s role in overthrowing the government of Chile and installing the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. Sydney Gottlieb, MK-ULTRA’s field-coordinator, also left the United States; he took up a humanitarian position in rural India, studying leprosy among the destitute.

The relevance of these revelations should be clear to anyone seriously interested in the Robert Kennedy assassination—to name but one bizarre case that continues to puzzle those unfamiliar with the facts surrounding the mind-control saga. Indeed, with Robert Kennedy Jr.’s now-public admission that he does not endorse the official story surrounding his father’s murder, the Washington Post recently published a piece whose headline ran, “The assassination of Bobby Kennedy: Was Sirhan hypnotized to be the fall guy?” It only took the MSM fifty years to consider this, but I suppose any progress is a positive thing in cases this sensitive.

The official story has Senator Kennedy giving his June 5th, 1968 primary victory speech in the Embassy Room of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He was then escorted through a hallway offstage and hurried into a large kitchen pantry to make his way into an adjacent room for a press conference. As he finished shaking hands with a busboy, 24-year old Jordanian national, Sirhan Sirhan, emerged from beside a steam-table in a crowded corner and fired a .22 caliber pistol at the senator, mortally wounding him before being restrained and arrested. He was sentenced to death, but because California overturned the death penalty, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

The problem with the story, of course, is that when Thomas Noguchi, the chief coroner for L.A. county, performed his autopsy, he determined that all four shots that struck Kennedy (one passed through his suit jacket without hitting him) came from behind, at sharp upward angles. None came from the front, which is where every single witness places Sirhan. Similarly, the fatal shot, which entered just below and behind his right ear—due to tell-tale powder burn patterns—could only have been fired from between one to a maximum three inches from the senator. This is demonstrably provable and incontrovertibly invalidates the eventual verdict of the court, which of course was based on the fact that Sirhan’s hapless defense attorney—perhaps compromised by the CIA—chose to avoid an actual examination and stipulated to the prosecution’s deeply flawed evidence. Sirhan was never closer to RFK than three feet. When he was detained, LAPD officers noted his strange calm, his glassy, placid eyes, and inability to recall anything that had just transpired. Later, during his prison visits by psychiatrists who attempted to hypnotize him, they noticed that he ranked with the most extreme strata of persons susceptible to both auto-suggestive and trance states, and would immediately become hypnotized. In one instance, he was given the posthypnotic command to climb the prison bars like a monkey once the cue was given. When awoken, and cued, he did just that, to the astonishment of his psychiatrist.

Sirhan is not alone in the short but fascinating cases involving wrongfully accused, post-hypnotically activated victims. I will conclude with the notorious, sensational, but factually proven case involving one Palle Hardrup. Hardrup was a thirty-year old Danish man who walked into a bank in Copenhagen, robbed the teller at gunpoint, shot him when he refused to hand over the money, shot the bank manager, then:

stood staring at his victims for a few moments as if trying to puzzle out what he had done. After putting his gun into his raincoat pocket, he unhurriedly sauntered out of the bank and rode his bicycle to his aunt’s house where he sat waiting for the police. (Perrot Phillips, “Now Go Out and Kill,” from Out of This World, vol. 6, 1978, pp. 74-5)

The author then notes that, “The case would have ended there—if it had not been for police psychiatrist Dr. Max Schmidt. Hardrup, in his opinion, did not really fit into the accepted pattern of a murder-mad gunman. He was a weak man, certainly, and a man who could easily be led. But he did not have a strong enough killer instinct to have murdered the two men at the bank—not unless he had been influenced by some other, unknown, factor.” Dr. Schmidt pursued his investigation and discovered that Hardrup had robbed another bank for $2,000 that he had given to a man by the name of Bjorn Nielsen, who Hardrup referred to as his “guiding spirit”. Nielsen had told Hardrup that he needed the money to fund a new Danish Nazi Party.

Nielsen was a ruthless confidence trickster who was known to have dabbled in hypnotism and the occult. He denied knowledge of Hardrup’s bank raids. But Schmidt was suspicious. Dr. Schmidt eventually administered a truth serum to Hardrup and an amazing story began to unfold. Suddenly Hardrup was describing in great detail how Nielsen had taken possession of him by hypnosis and had then manipulated him into murder. It happened that Nielsen and Hardrup had shared a cell together sometime after the end of WWII. In the spartan privacy of their cell he [Nielsen] subjected Hardrup to hypnosis and so started turning him into a robot.

But without a confession by Nielsen it would be difficult to prove in court. Dr. Paul Rieter, chief of the psychiatric department of Copenhagen City Hospital, eventually told investigators that, in his view, Hardrup had behaved in “an abnormal, insane-like condition while deprived of his own free will by hypnotic suggestive influence.” He added, “The impulse of the criminal acts came from without.”

To prove to the jury that this could actually happen, Dr. Rieter set up an amazing demonstration. He selected “a perfectly ordinary and gentle married woman—one of the last people who could be suspected of being capable of any crime of violence. Then, with permission from her and from the court, Rieter hypnotized her and showed the jury how it was possible to turn her into a “killer”. He kept his voice soothingly soft as he told her that her marriage was being destroyed because her husband was having an affair with another woman. But he kept repeating that her husband was in no way to blame, that he had been tricked and seduced by a viciously perverted woman.

Dr. Rieter continued to suggest to the hypnotized woman that she would be doing a great service to the world if she eliminated this evil woman and that it would not be considered a crime at all. Rieter even suggested that the hypnotized woman would be helping to protect other innocent people from the harm done by this evil woman. Also in the courtroom was another volunteer—a woman who had agreed to act as the “evil seductress”. Rieter told his guinea pig where to find her, and he handed her a gun loaded with blanks. “You know what to do and why you have to do it,” he said. “So now wake up …”

When the woman awoke from the trance she was obviously bewildered. She immediately stood up and searched the rows of people until she spotted the woman she had been told was the “evil seductress”. She walked over to the woman, raised the gun and fired. If the gun had been loaded with real bullets the “seductress” would have been dead.

The jury was convinced. Nielsen was sentenced to life in prison and Hardrup was sent to a “home for psychopaths.” After a few years he was released.” (Phillips, vol. 6)

As Lisa Pease notes in her masterful essay, “Sirhan and the RFK Assassination, Part I: The Grand Illusion”:

Have you ever seen a master magician? Have you found yourself gasping in amazement asking half-aloud, “How did he do that?” You see a man step into a box on a hollow platform immediately hoisted into the air. Within seconds, the man you saw get into a box that still hangs in front of you appears from behind you in the audience, walking down the aisle. Your eyes have convinced you this is not possible, because you saw the man get into the box. Yet there he is, the impossible made real. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy is also a carefully constructed illusion, designed to confuse and obfuscate. Imagine what the eyewitnesses in the crowded pantry saw. Robert Kennedy had obviously been shot, and Sirhan was firing a weapon. Sirhan must have killed Kennedy. And yet, the physical evidence does not support this conclusion. Sirhan cannot have killed Kennedy any more than the magician could be both in the box and in the audience.

Without belaboring the point and reiterating what many have surmised, it seems almost beyond argument at this juncture in the research that Sirhan was programmed to serve as a distraction for the real assassin(s) of Senator Kennedy. Multiple eyewitnesses saw him throughout the night with the suspicious girl in the polka-dot dress, who lured him into the pantry just moments before Kennedy arrived. She was also sighted with him on numerous occasions at local gun ranges, and famously fled the scene in a hysterical giddy state with another man, shouting, “We shot him! We shot Senator Kennedy!” To this day, Sirhan continues to state he has no memory of the act, with his last conscious recollection being following the woman into the pantry and her pinching him sharply before he entered “range mode”. There, he claims, individual faces and bodies morphed into paper targets. Then he goes blank. As Pease notes, it’s possible Sirhan was firing blanks, since numerous witnesses observed burnt wads of paper being expelled from his gun and hanging in the still air.

Thane Eugene Cesar, a young employee for Lockheed who had ties to Robert Maheu—Howard Hughes’ CIA liaison and Vegas manager—was hired only weeks before the event by Ace Security, and left in January of 1969, a month before Sirhan’s trial began. Cesar was an avowed racist and George Wallace supporter who believed Kennedy was “giving the country over to the blacks”, to paraphrase his eerie interview with Ted Charach in the 1970s. He also owned a nine-shot .22 caliber Harrington and Richardson revolver, which he falsely claimed he sold before the assassination, but which was recovered in a muddy Arkansas pond years later and matched to his receipt of sale dated after the RFK murder. (Bill Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, p. 166) What is remarkable about this piece of evidence is that the man who purchased the gun, Jim Yoder, told the LA police this exact story, namely that Cesar had the .22 model after the Kennedy murder, during a re-inquiry by the LAPD in 1974. In other words, the security guard following the senator into the pantry, and positioned to his right and rear, holding his arm, owned a gun almost identical to Sirhan’s. And he had misrepresented that fact. (ibid, p. 167)

As to the other assassins, or perhaps a third gun, it is anyone’s guess. Twenty-one year old “memorabilia collector” Michael Wayne, who possessed ultra-right wing California Minuteman Keith Gilbert’s business card when later interrogated, is a person of interest. (An already-incarcerated Gilbert coincidentally had Wayne’s business card when his prison effects were examined.) As are a few other individuals who lurked in the Ambassador that day. But it’s irrelevant to the main revelation that one of the CIA’s dirty tricks from its MK-ULTRA days very likely changed the course of world history that fateful night. And the people truly behind Robert Kennedy’s death were never identified, let alone prosecuted.

Most of the American population has never considered that night as a transformative and disturbing episode in U.S. political history. They are content to believe that, well, only crazy people who’ve watched silly movies like Conspiracy Theory and The Manchurian Candidate and even Zoolander (“Kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia Derek!”) believe in hypno-programmed assassins and mind control. If that really took place, we’d hear about it on CNN or the Rachel Maddow Show. Which truly goes to show that in the end, the nation’s own self-reinforcing ignorance has been the CIA’s supreme accomplishment. No one really needs to be implanted with electrodes or “psychically driven” these days, so complete is the deception, so smooth and without discernible facets or seams. Today, the wholesale vertical integration of the military-industrial-psychosocial control apparatus has become as polished as a diamond. In a way, the pioneers in social engineering gave the American public far too much credit; it turns out that if you give the average citizen a cell phone that lights up and beeps every half hour, a Facebook feed, and an endless stream of sensational headlines and celebrity drama, you can get away with anything, up to and including the complete and utter erosion of our democracy.

Last modified on Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:16
Michael Le Flem

Michael Le Flem is an independent researcher, author, and musician. He was a professor of history and philosophy in Chicago for ten years and holds a Master's Degree in Western Intellectual History from Florida State University. He currently lives in Mexico.

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