MKULTRA: The CIA’s Obsession With ‘Brain Warfare’ Human Experiments


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Allen Dulles, the then newly appointed CIA director, delivered a speech on 10 April 1953 to people who had gathered at the Princeton alumni. The event was rather mundane, despite the fact that global tensions had been running high. The war in Korea was reaching its end and the New York Times had run a story that said that POWs of America who were returning home might have been converted thanks to Communist brainwashers.

Some of the GIs that were coming back had been confessing to war crimes, such as carrying out germ warfare against communists. This, of course, was something that the US denied vehemently. Others were said to have been so brainwashed that they had refused to go home to the US. Along with this, the United States was only weeks away from sponsoring, in secret, the overthrow of the leader of Iran who had been democratically elected.

A New Type Of Brain Warfare Is Revealed

The CIA was growing even more powerful day by day, and Dulles was the first civilian director, with his speech giving people an insight into what his priorities were for the CIA. He had said that over the last few years people have become used to hearing about the battle for the minds of men, the war of ideologies, has he put it. He said that he had to wonder if people clearly saw the magnitude of the problem and whether or not they realized just how sinister the battle for mind control had been when in the hands of the Soviets. He went on to say that it might be a new form and it might be called brain warfare.

Dulles then went on to talk about the brain perversion techniques of the Soviets and described them as being nefarious, abhorrent but effective. He pointed out the American prisoners of war that were returning from Korea and said that they were now only shells of the men they had once been, copying the propaganda of the Communists that they had heard for so long. He also talked about uncertainty and fears about them using chemical agents, hypnosis or something else. The director finished by saying that in the west they were handicapped in regards to brain warfare. The non-consensual experimentation, even on enemies, was not ethical with the values of America. Dulles insisted that they were also not ethical to human values.

The American public had been fascinated with a fear of a new type of brain warfare through all of the 1950s and this had been brought about by the words of the CIA along with the stories told about the GIs that were making their way back from Korea, the Soviet Union and China and who had been brainwashed.

New Technologies That No Man Could Resist

The newspaper headlines gave accounts that were sensationalized about the new techniques for mind control along with the technologies used that no man was said to be able to resist. The American culture was paranoid and books such as The Manchurian Candidate and Naked Lunch all played on political conspiracies and scientists that were unhinged.

The thought of brainwashing gave many Americans a compelling and in a way, comforting, the explanation for the swift rise of communism, that the Soviets had used brainwashing as a tool not only for enemies but also on some of their own people. This was the only explanation as to why so many countries might embrace an ideology that was so backward. It was a case of Soviet mind control vs the freedom of the American mind and this became a line that divided.

MK-Ultra Program Gets CIA Approval

Only three days after giving the speech, Dulles went ahead and approved the start of the top-secret CIA program with the name of MK-Ultra. This was said to be for the covert use of chemical and biological materials. However, Dulles had even greater plans for the Cold War agenda of the CIA.

The mind control experiments of MK-Ultra were centered on a modification to behavior by way of electric shock therapy, radiation, polygraphs, toxins, chemicals, and hypnosis. A range of test subjects was used, some of which volunteered and others who simply had no idea that they were taking part in a sweeping defense research program.

Program Used US Soldiers, Mentally Impaired And Sexual Psychopaths

The MK-Ultra program involved boys from a state school who were mentally impaired, US soldiers and sexual psychopaths from a state hospital. The programs were used on some of the most vulnerable people in society. Consent was given by prisoners in exchange for sentences that were commuted or more recreation time.

Former organized crime boss, Whitey Bulger, wrote about his experiences as a test subject in MK-Ultra. He said that eight convicts who were in a state of paranoia and panic had taken part. He went on to say that tests were carried out at an Atlanta Penitentiary and people began to hallucinate, lost their appetite, the room would alter in shape and inmates would feel violent. They had nightmares in which they would see such as blood coming from the walls. Bulger said that men turned into skeletons with weight loss and he felt as though he was losing his mind.

Bulger said that he had been given LSD or acid and that he had been one of the CIAs key interests in the brain warfare program. It had been said that in the 1940s the CIA had got reports that the Soviet Union had been engaged in producing LSD and they had tried to buy the supply of the world. The agency was said to be terrified of the LSD program of the Soviet Union.

With the MK-Ultra program, the interest in LSD of the CIA changed from defensive to offensive as they found it could be useful to help control bodies regardless of whether they were willing or not. The CIA thought about using it in a range of situations, from getting people from Europe in the event a Soviet attack took place to enable the assassination of leaders of their enemies.

In 1953 ten scientists met up in a cabin that was in the forest of Maryland and participants agreed to understand the value of the drug. Of course, the CIA knew how the public would react if they found out about MK-Ultra and so it was said that it must be kept secret.

CIA Experiments Were Simple, Unethical And Sometimes Elaborate

The first experiments of the CIA were relatively simple but unethical. They gave doses to single targets, sometimes using volunteers and other times putting drugs into drinks of employees at the CIA. On other occasions, the experiments with LSD were more elaborate, with the most notorious of them being Operation Midnight Climax.

George White was involved with interior renovations, and he decorated a room with pictures of can-can dancers from France, red curtains to the bedroom windows, black mats made of silk and other things, and to the middle-aged drug bureaucrat, each of these things brought feelings of glamor and sex. The room was not just any normal room, it was a trap.

Bugging equipment along with two-way mirrors was installed and prostitute’s lured men in and they were given LSD and their reactions studied by White behind the mirror. White also began to work more closely alongside prostitutes, finding out how they might be trained and deal with secrets. It was said that during a sexual encounter people were more likely to have information extracted from them. A lot of the actions of White were said to have been due to nothing more than voyeurism.

MK-Ultra Program Ceases And Files Destroyed

The experiments continued on until 1962 and then stopped when one member of the staff of the CIA Inspector General found out about non-volunteers taking part. While the directors tried to get the program to continue it was said that the CIA should follow new ethics.

Senator Edward Kennedy oversaw the congressional hearings in 1977, looking into the effects of MK-Ultra and the hearings led to the revelation of many details that were disturbing. Throughout the hearings, the staff of the CIA kept saying that they did not remember any details and the director behind MK-Ultra told workers that it would be better if the files associated with the program were destroyed.

The MK-Ultra program was one that was born in secrecy and it has managed to hold onto the many secrets associated with it and will do forever.

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