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The Search for the Manchurian Candidate
2. Cold War on the Mind
CIA officials started preliminary work on drugs and hypnosis shortly after the Agency's creation in 1947, but the behavior-control program did not really get going until the Hungarian government put Josef Cardinal Mindszenty on trial in 1949. With a glazed look in his eyes, Mindszenty confessed to crimes of treason he apparently did not commit. His performance recalled the Moscow purge trials of 1937 and 1938 at which tough and dedicated party apparatchiks had meekly pleaded guilty to long series of improbable offenses. These and a string of postwar trials in other Eastern European countries seemed staged, eerie, and unreal. CIA men felt they had to know how the Communists had rendered the defendants zombielike. In the Mindszenty case, a CIA Security Memorandum declared that "some unknown force" had controlled the Cardinal, and the memo speculated that the communist authorities had used hypnosis on him.
In the summer of 1949, the Agency's head of Scientific Intelligence made a special trip to Western Europe to find out more about what the Soviets were doing and "to apply special methods of interrogation for the purpose of evaluation of Russian practices." In other words, fearful that the communists might have used drugs and hypnosis on prisoners, a senior CIA official used exactly the same techniques on refugees and returned prisoners from Eastern Europe. On returning to the United States, this official recommended two courses of action: first, that the Agency consider setting up an escape operation to free Mindszenty; and second, that the CIA train and send to Europe a team skilled in "special" interrogation methods of the type he had tried out in Europe.
By the spring of 1950, several other CIA branches were contemplating the operational use of hypnosis. The Office of Security, whose main job was to protect Agency personnel and facilities from enemy penetration, moved to centralize all activity in this and other behavioral fields. The Security chief, Sheffield Edwards, a former Army colonel who a decade later would personally handle joint CIA-Mafia operations, took the initiative by calling a meeting of all interested Agency parties and proposing that interrogation teams be formed under Security's command. Security would use the teams to check out agents and defectors for the whole CIA. Each team would consist of a psychiatrist, a polygraph (lie detector) expert trained in hypnosis, and a technician. Edwards agreed not to use the teams operationally without the permission of a high-level committee. He called the project BLUEBIRD, a code name which, like all Agency names, had no significance except perhaps to the person who chose it. Edwards classified the program TOP SECRET and stressed the extraordinary need for secrecy. On April 20, 1950, CIA Director Roscoe Hillenkoetter approved BLUEBIRD and authorized the use of unvouchered funds to pay for its most sensitive areas. The CIA's behavior-control program now had a bureaucratic structure.
The chief of Scientific Intelligence attended the original BLUEBIRD meeting in Sheffield Edwards' office and assured those present that his office would keep trying to gather all possible data on foreignparticularly Russianefforts in the behavioral field. Not long afterward, his representative arranged to inspect the Nuremberg Tribunal records to see if they contained anything useful to BLUEBIRD. According to a CIA psychologist who looked over the German research, the Agency did not find much of specific help. "It was a real horror story, but we learned what human beings were capable of," he recalls. "There were someexperiments on pain, but they were so mixed up with sadism as not to be useful.... How the victim coped was very interesting."
At the beginning, at least, there was cooperation between the scientists and the interrogators in the CIA. Researchers from Security (who had no special expertise but who were experienced in police work) and researchers from Scientific Intelligence (who lacked operational background but who had academic training) pored jointly over all the open literature and secret reports. They quickly realized that the only way to build an effective defense against mind control was to understand its offensive possibilities. The line between offense and defenseif it ever existedsoon became so blurred as to be meaningless. Nearly every Agency document stressed goals like "controlling an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against such fundamental laws of nature as self-preservation." On reading one such memo, an Agency officer wrote to his boss: "If this is supposed to be covered up as a defensive feasibility study, it's pretty damn transparent."
Three months after the Director approved BLUEBIRD, the first team traveled to Japan to try out behavioral techniques on human subjectsprobably suspected double agents. The three men arrived in Tokyo in July 1950, about a month after the start of the Korean War. No one needed to impress upon them the importance of their mission. The Security Office ordered them to conceal their true purpose from even the U.S. military authorities with whom they worked in Japan, using the cover that they would be performing "intensive polygraph" work. In stifling, debilitating heat and humidity, they tried out combinations of the depressant sodium amytal with the stimulant benzedrine on each of four subjects, the last two of whom also received a second stimulant, picrotoxin. They also tried to induce amnesia. The team considered the tests successful, but the CIA documents available on the trip give only the sketchiest outline of what happened. Then around October 1950, the BLUEBIRD team used "advanced" techniques on 25 subjects, apparently North Korean prisoners of war.
By the end of that year, a Security operator, Morse Allen, had become the head of the BLUEBIRD program. Forty years old at the time, Allen had spent most of his earlier career rooting out the domestic communist threat, starting in the late 1930s when he had joined the Civil Service Commision and set up its first security files on communists. ("He knows their methods," wrote a CIA colleague.) During World War II, Allen had served with Naval intelligence, first pursuing leftists in New York and then landing with the Marines on Okinawa. After the war, he went to the State Department, only to leave in the late 1940s because he felt the Department was whitewashing certain communist cases. He soon joined the CIA's Office of Security. A suspicious man by inclination and training, Allen took nothing at face value. Like all counterintelligence or security operators, his job was to show why things are not what they seem to be. He was always thinking ahead and behind, punching holes in surface realities. Allen had no academic training for behavioral research (although he did take a short course in hypnotism, a subject that fascinated him). He saw the BLUEBIRD job as one that called for studying every last method the communists might use against the United States and figuring out ways to counter them.
The CIA had schooled Morse Allen in one field which in the CIA's early days became an important part of covert operations: the use of the polygraph. Probably more than any intelligence service in the world, the Agency developed the habit of strapping its foreign agentsand eventually, its own employees into the "box." The polygraph measures physiological changes that might show lyingheartbeat, blood pressure, perspiration, and the like. It has never been foolproof. In 1949 the Office of Security estimated that it worked successfully on seven out of eight cases, a very high fraction but not one high enough for those in search of certainty. A psychopathic liar, a hypnotized person, or a specially trained professional can "beat" the machine. Moreover, the skill of the person running the polygraph and asking the questions determines how well the device will work. "A good operator can make brilliant use of the polygraph without plugging it in," claims one veteran CIA case officer. Others maintain only somewhat less extravagantly that its chief value is to deter agents tempted to switch loyalties or reveal secrets. The power of the machinereal and imaginedto detect infidelity and dishonesty can be an intimidating factor. Nevertheless, the polygraph cannot compel truth. Like Pinocchio's nose, it only indicates lying. In addition, the machine requires enough physical control over the subject to strap him in. For years, the CIA tried to overcome this limitation by developing a "super" polygraph that could be aimed from afar or concealed in a chair. In this field, as in many others, no behavior control scheme was too farfetched to investigate, and Agency scientists did make some progress.
In December 1950, Morse Allen told his boss, Paul Gaynor, a retired brigadier general with a long background in counterintelligence and interrogation, that he had heard of experiments with an "electro-sleep" machine in a Richmond, Virginia hospital. Such an invention appealed to Allen because it supposedly put people to sleep without shock or convulsions. The BLUEBIRD team had been using drugs to bring on a state similar to a hypnotic trance, and Allen hoped this machine would allow an operator to put people into deep sleep without having to resort to chemicals. In theory, all an operator had to do was to attach the electrode-tipped wires to the subject's head and let the machine do the rest. It cost about $250 and was about twice the size of a table-model dictating machine. "Although it would not be feasible to use it on any of our own people because there is at least a theoretical danger of temporary brain damage," Morse Allen wrote, "it would possibly be of value in certain areas in connection with POW interrogation or on individuals of interest to this Agency." The machine never worked well enough to get into the testing stage for the CIA.
At the end of 1951, Allen talked to a famed psychiatrist (whose name, like most of the others, the CIA has deleted from the documents released) about a gruesome but more practical technique. This psychiatrist, a cleared Agency consultant, reported that electroshock treatments could produce amnesia for varying lengths of time and that he had been able to obtain information from patients as they came out of the stupor that followed shock treatments. He also reported that a lower setting of the Reiter electroshock machine produced an "excruciating pain" that, while nontherapeutic, could be effective as "a third degree method" to make someone talk. Morse Allen asked if the psychiatrist had ever taken advantage of the "groggy" period that followed normal electroshock to gain hypnotic control of his patients. No, replied the psychiatrist, but he would try it in the near future and report back to the Agency. The psychiatrist also mentioned that continued electroshock treatments could gradually reduce a subject to the "vegetable level," and that these treatments could not be detected unless the subject was given EEG tests within two weeks. At the end of a memo laying out this information, Allen noted that portable, battery-driven electroshock machines had come on the market.
Shortly after this Morse Allen report, the Office of Scientific Intelligence recommended that this same psychiatrist be given $100,000 in research funds "to develop electric shock and hypnotic techniques." While Allen thought this subject worth pursuing, he had some qualms about the ultimate application of the shock treatments: "The objections would, of course, apply to the use of electroshock if the end result was creation of a 'vegetable.' [I] believe that these techniques should not be considered except in gravest emergencies, and neutralization by confinement and/or removal from the area would be far more appropriate and certainly safer."
In 1952 the Office of Scientific Intelligence proposed giving another private doctor $100,000 to develop BLUEBIRD-related "neurosurgical techniques"presumably lobotomy-connected. Similarly, the Security office planned to use outside consultants to find out about such techniques as ultrasonics, vibrations, concussions, high and low pressure, the uses of various gases in airtight chambers, diet variations, caffeine, fatigue, radiation, heat and cold, and changing light. Agency officials looked into all these areas and many others. Some they studied intensively; others they merely discussed with consultants.
The BLUEBIRD mind-control program began when Stalin was still alive, when the memory of Hitler was fresh, and the terrifying prospect of global nuclear war was just sinking into popular consciousness. The Soviet Union had subjugated most of Eastern Europe, and a Communist party had taken control over the world's most populous nation, China. War had broken out in Korea, and Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade was on the rise in the United States. In both foreign and domestic politics, the prevailing mood was one of fear even paranoia.
American officials have pointed to the Cold War atmosphere ever since as an excuse for crimes and excesses committed then and afterward. One recurring litany in national security investigations has been the testimony of the exposed official citing Cold War hysteria to justify an act that he or she would not otherwise defend. The apprehensions of the Cold War do not provide a moral or legal shield for such acts, but they do help explain them. Even when the apprehensions were not well founded, they were no less real to the people involved.
It was also a time when the United States had achieved a new preeminence in the world. After World War II, American officials wielded the kind of power that diplomats frequently dream of. They established new alliances, new rulers, and even new nations to suit their purposes. They dispensed guns, favors, and aid to scores of nations. Consequently, American officials were noticed, respected, and pampered wherever they wentas never before. Their new sense of importance and their Cold War fears often made a dangerous combinationit is a fact of human nature that anyone who is both puffed up and afraid is someone to watch out for.
In 1947 the National Security Act created not only the CIA but also the National Security Councilin sum, the command structure for the Cold War. Wartime OSS leaders like William Donovan and Allen Dulles lobbied feverishly for the Act. Officials within the new command structure soon put their fear and their grandiose notions to work. Reacting to the perceived threat, they adopted a ruthless and warlike posture toward anyone they considered an enemymost especially the Soviet Union. They took it upon themselves to fight communism and things that might lead to communism everywhere in the world. Few citizens disagreed with them; they appeared to express the sentiments of most Americans in that era, but national security officials still preferred to act in secrecy. A secret study commision under former President Hoover captured the spirit of their call to clandestine warfare:
It is now clear we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable long-standing American concepts of "fair play" must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us.
The men in the new CIA took this job quite seriously. "We felt we were the first line of defense in the anti-Communist crusade," recalls Harry Rositzke, an early head of the Agency's Soviet Division. "There was a clear and heady sense of missiona sense of what a huge job this was." Michael Burke, who was chief of CIA covert operations in Germany before going on to head the New York Yankees and Madison Square Garden, agrees: "It was riveting.... One was totally absorbed in something that has become misunderstood now, but the Cold War in those days was a very real thing with hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops, tanks, and planes poised on the East German border, capable of moving to the English Channel in forty-eight hours." Hugh Cunningham, an Agency official who stayed on for many years, remembers that survival itself was at stake, "What you were made to feel was that the country was in desperate peril and we had to do whatever it took to save it."
BLUEBIRD and the CIA's later mind-control programs sprang from such alarm. As a matter of course, the CIA was also required to learn the methods and intentions of all possible foes. "If the CIA had not tried to find out what the Russians were doing with mind-altering drugs in the early 1950s, I think the then-Director should have been fired," says Ray Cline, a former Deputy Director of the Agency.
High Agency officials felt they had to know what the Russians were up to. Nevertheless, a careful reading of the contemporaneous CIA documents almost three decades later indicates that if the Russians were scoring breakthroughs in the behavior-control fieldwhose author they almost certainly were notthe CIA lacked intelligence to prove that. For example, a 1952 Security document, which admittedly had an ax to grind with the Office of Scientific Intelligence, called the data gathered on the Soviet programs "extremely poor." The author noted that the Agency's information was based on "second- or third-hand rumors, unsupported statements and non-factual data." Apparently, the fears and fantasies aroused by the Mindszenty trial and the subsequent Korean War "brainwashing" furor outstripped the facts on hand. The prevalent CIA notion of a "mind-control gap" was as much of a myth as the later bomber and missile "gaps." In any case, beyond the defensive curiosity, mind control took on a momentum of its own.
As unique and frightening as the Cold War was, it did not cause people working for the government to react much differently to each other or power than at other times in American history. Bureaucratic squabbling went on right through the most chilling years of the behavior-control program. No matter how alarmed CIA officials became over the Russian peril, they still managed to quarrel with their internal rivals over control of Agency funds and manpower. Between 1950 and 1952, responsibility for mind control went from the Office of Security to the Scientific Intelligence unit back to Security again. In the process, BLUEBIRD was rechristened ARTICHOKE. The bureaucratic wars were drawn-out affairs, baffling to outsiders; yet many of the crucial turns in behavioral research came out of essentially bureaucratic considerations on the part of the contending officials. In general, the Office of Security was full of pragmatists who were anxious to weed out communists (and homosexuals) everywhere. They believed the intellectuals from Scientific Intelligence had failed to produce "one new, usable paper, suggestion, drug, instrument, name of an individual, etc., etc.," as one document puts it. The learned gentlemen from Scientific Intelligence felt that the former cops, military men, and investigators in Security lacked the technical background to handle so awesome a task as controlling the human mind.
"Jurisdictional conflict was constant in this area," a Senate committee would state in 1976. A 1952 report to the chief of the CIA's Medical Staff (itself a participant in the infighting) drew a harsher conclusion: "There exists a glaring lack of cooperation among the various intra-Agency groups fostered by petty jealousies and personality differences that result in the retardation of the enhancing and advancing of the Agency as a body." When Security took ARTICHOKE back from Scientific Intelligence in 1952, the victory lasted only two and one-half years before most of the behavioral work went to yet another CIA outfit, full of Ph.D.s with operational experiencethe Technical Services Staff (TSS).
There was bureaucratic warfare outside the CIA as well, although there were early gestures toward interagency cooperation. In April 1951 the CIA Director approved liaison with Army, Navy, and Air Force intelligence to avoid duplication of effort. The Army and Navy were both looking for truth drugs, while the prime concern of the Air Force was interrogation techniques used on downed pilots. Representatives of each service attended regular meetings to discuss ARTICHOKE matters. The Agency also invited the FBI, but J. Edgar Hoover's men stayed away.
During their brief period of cooperation, the military and the CIA also exchanged information with the British and Canadian governments. At the first session in June 1951, the British representative announced at the outset that there had been nothing new in the interrogation business since the days of the Inquisition and that there was little hope of achieving valuable results through research. He wanted to concentrate on propaganda and political warfare as they applied to such threats as communist penetration of trade unions. The CIA's minutes of the session record that this skeptical Englishman finally agreed to the importance of behavioral research, but one doubts the sincerity of this conversion. The minutes also record a consensus of "no conclusive evidence" that either Western countries or the Soviets had made any "revolutionary progress" in the field, and describe Soviet methods as "remarkably similar . . . to the age-old methods." Nonetheless, the representatives of the three countries agreed to continue investigating behavior-control methods because of their importance to "cold war operations." To what extent the British and Canadians continued cannot be told. The CIA did not stop until the 1970s.
Bureaucratic conflict was not the only aspect of ordinary government life that persisted through the Cold War. Officials also maintained their normal awareness of the ethical and legal consequences of their decisions. Often they went through contorted rationalizations and took steps to protect themselves, but at least they recognized and paused over the various ethical lines before crossing them. It would be unfair to say that all moral awareness evaporated. Officials agonized over the consequences of their acts, and much of the bureaucratic record of behavior control is the history of officials dealing with moral conflicts as they arose.
The Security office barely managed to recruit the team psychiatrist in time for the first mission to Japan, and for years, Agency officials had trouble attracting qualified medical men to the project. Speculating why, one Agency memo listed such reasons as the CIA's comparatively low salaries for doctors and ARTICHOKE's narrow professional scope, adding that a candidate's "ethics might be such that he might not care to cooperate in certain more revolutionary phases of our project." This consideration became explicit in Agency recruiting. During the talent search, another CIA memo stated why another doctor seemed suitable: "His ethics are such that he would be completely cooperative in any phase of our program, regardless of how revolutionary it may be."
The matter was even more troublesome in the task of obtaining guinea pigs for mind-control experiments. "Our biggest current problem," noted one CIA memo, "is to find suitable subjects." The men from ARTICHOKE found their most convenient source among the flotsam and jetsam of the international spy trade: "individuals of dubious loyalty, suspected agents or plants, subjects having known reason for deception, etc." as one Agency document described them. ARTICHOKE officials looked on these people as "unique research material," from whom meaningful secrets might be extracted while the experiments went on.
It is fair to say that the CIA operators tended to put less value on the lives of these subjects than they did on those of American college students, upon whom preliminary, more benign testing was done. They tailored the subjects to suit the ethical sensitivity of the experiment. A psychiatrist who worked on an ARTICHOKE team stresses that no one from the Agency wanted subjects to be hurt. Yet he and his colleagues were willing to treat dubious defectors and agents in a way which not only would be professionally unethical in the United States but also an indictable crime. In short, these subjects were, if not expendable, at least not particularly prized as human beings. As a CIA psychologist who worked for a decade in the behavior-control program, puts it, "One did not put a high premium on the civil rights of a person who was treasonable to his own country or who was operating effectively to destroy us." Another ex-Agency psychologist observes that CIA operators did not have "a universal concept of mankind" and thus were willing to do things to foreigners that they would have been reluctant to try on Americans. "It was strictly a patriotic vision," he says.
ARTICHOKE officials never seemed to be able to find enough subjects. The professional operatorsparticularly the traditionalistswere reluctant to turn over agents to the Security men with their unproved methods. The field men did not particularly want outsiders, such as the ARTICHOKE crew, getting mixed up in their operations. In the spy business, agents are very valuable property indeed, and operators tend to be very protective of them. Thus the ARTICHOKE teams were given mostly the dregs of the clandestine underworld to work on.
Inexorably, the ARTICHOKE men crossed the clear ethical lines. Morse Allen believed it proved little or nothing to experiment on volunteers who gave their informed consent. For all their efforts to act naturally, volunteers still knew they were playing in a make-believe game. Consciously or intuitively, they understood that no one would allow them to be harmed. Allen felt that only by testing subjects "for whom much is at stake (perhaps life and death)," as he wrote, could he get reliable results relevant to operations. In documents and conversation, Allen and his coworkers called such realistic tests "terminal experiments"terminal in the sense that the experiment would be carried through to completion. It would not end when the subject felt like going home or when he or his best interest was about to be harmed. Indeed, the subject usually had no idea that he had ever been part of an experiment.
In every field of behavior control, academic researchers took the work only so far. From Morse Allen's perspective, somebody then had to do the terminal experiment to find out how well the technique worked in the real world: how drugs affected unwitting subjects, how massive electroshock influenced memory, how prolonged sensory deprivation disturbed the mind. By definition, terminal experiments went beyond conventional ethical and legal limits. The ultimate terminal experiments caused death, but ARTICHOKE sources state that those were forbidden.
For career CIA officials, exceeding these limits in the name of national security became part of the job, although individual operators usually had personal lines they would not cross. Most academics wanted no part of the game at this stagenor did Agency men always like having these outsiders around. If academic and medical consultants were brought along for the terminal phase, they usually did the work overseas, in secret. As Cornell Medical School's famed neurologist Harold Wolff explained in a research proposal he made to the CIA, when any of the tests involved doing harm to the subjects, "We expect the Agency to make available suitable subjects and a proper place for the performance of the necessary experiments." Any professional caught trying the kinds of things the Agency came to sponsorholding subjects prisoner, shooting them full of unwanted drugsprobably would have been arrested for kidnapping or aggravated assault. Certainly such a researcher would have been disgraced among his peers. Yet, by performing the same experiment under the CIA's banner, he had no worry from the law. His colleagues could not censure him because they had no idea what he was doing. And he could take pride in helping his country.
Without having been there in person, no one can know exactly what it felt like to take part in a terminal experiment. In any case, the subjects probably do not have fond memories of the experience. While the researchers sometimes resembled Alphonse and Gastone, they took themselves and their work very seriously. Now they are either dead, or, for their own reasons, they do not want to talk about the tests. Only in the following case have I been able to piece together anything approaching a firsthand account of a terminal experiment, and this one is quite mild compared to the others the ARTICHOKE men planned.
NotesThe origins of the CIA's ARTICHOKE program and accounts of the early testing came from the following Agency Documents # 192, 15 January 1953; #3,17 May 1949; A/B, I,8/1,24 February 1949; February 10, 1951 memo on Special Interrogations (no document #); A/B, II, 30/2, 28 September 1949; #5, 15 August 1949; #8, 27 September 1949; #6, 23 August 1949; #13, 5 April 1950; #18, 9 May 1950; #142 (transmittal slip), 19 May 1952; #124, 25 January 1952; A/B, IV, 23/32, 3 March 1952; #23, 21 June 1950; #10, 27 February 1950; #37, 27 October 1950; A/B, I, 39/1, 12 December 1950; A/B, II, 2/2, 5 March 1952; A/B, II, 2/1, 15 February 1952; A/B, V, 134/3, 3 December 1951; A/B, I, 38/5, 1 June 1951; and #400, undated, "Specific Cases of Overseas Testing and Applications of Behavioral Drugs."
The documents were supplemented by interviews with Ray Cline, Harry Rositzke, Michael Burke, Hugh Cunningham, and several other ex-CIA men who asked to remain anonymous. The Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence (henceforth called the Church Committee Report) provided useful background.
Documents giving background on terminal experiments include #A/B, II, 10/57; #A/B, II, 10/58, 31 August, 1954; #A/B, II, 10/ 17, 27 September 1954; and #A/B, I, 76/4, 21 March 1955.
Footnotes1. For a better-documented case of narcotherapy and narcohypnosis, see Chapter 3. (back)
2.While the regular polygraphing of CIA career employees apparently never has turned up a penetration agent in the ranks, it almost certainly has a deterrent effect on those considering coming out of the homosexual closet or on those considering dipping into the large sums of cash dispensed from proverbial black bags. (back)
3. Whether the Agency ultimately funded this or the electric-shock proposal cited above cannot be determined from the documents. (back)
4. The CIA refused to supply either a briefing or additional material when I asked for more background on Soviet behavior-control programs. (back)
5. This Agency component, responsible for providing the supporting gadgets disguises, forgeries, secret writing, and weapons, has been called during its history the Technical Services Division and the Office of Technical Services as well as TSS, the name which will be used throughout this book. (back)
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