The Search for the Manchurian Candidate
9. Human Ecology
Well before Harold Wolff and Lawrence Hinkle finished their brainwashing
study for Allen Dulles in 1956, Wolff was trying to expand his
role in CIA research and operations. He offered Agency officials
the cooperation of his colleagues at Cornell University, where
he taught neurology and psychiatry in the Medical College. In
proposal after proposal, Wolff pressed upon the CIA his idea that
to understand human behaviorand how governments might manipulate
itone had to study man in relationship to his total environment.
Calling this field "human ecology," Wolff drew into
it the disciplines of psychology, medicine, sociology, and anthropology.
In the academic world of the early 1950s, this cross-disciplinary
approach was somewhat new, as was the word "ecology,"
but it made sense to CIA officials. Like Wolff, they were far
in advance of the trends in the behavioral sciences.
Wolff carved out vast tracts of human knowledge, some only freshly
discovered, and proposed a partnership with the Agency for the
task of mastering that knowledge for operational use. It was a
time when knowledge itself seemed bountiful and promising, and
Wolff was expansive about how the CIA could harness it. Once he
figured out how the human mind really worked, he wrote, he would
tell the Agency "how a man can be made to think, 'feel,'
and behave according to the wishes of other men, and, conversely,
how a man can avoid being influenced in this manner."
Such notions, which may now appear naive or perverse, did not
seem so unlikely at the height of the Cold War. And Wolff's professional
stature added weight to his ideas. Like D. Ewen Cameron, he was
no obscure academic. He had been President of the New York Neurological
Association and would become, in 1960, President of the American
Neurological Association. He served for several years as editor-in-chief
of the American Medical Association's Archives of Neurology
and Psychiatry. Both by credentials and force of personality,
Wolff was an impressive figure. CIA officials listened respectfully
to his grand vision of how spies and doctors could work symbiotically
to helpif not savethe world. Also, the Agency men never
forgot that Wolff had become close to Director Allen Dulles while
treating Dulles' son for brain damage.
Wolff's specialized neurological practice led him to believe that
brain maladies, like migraine headaches, occurred because of disharmony
between man and his environment. In this case, he wrote to the
Agency, "The problem faced by the physician is quite similar
to that faced by the Communist interrogator." Both would
be trying to put their subject back in harmony with his environment
whether the problem was headache or ideological dissent. Wolff
believed that the beneficial effects of any new interrogation
technique would naturally spill over into the treatment of his
patients, and vice versa. Following the Soviet model, he felt
he could help his patients by putting them into an isolated, disoriented
statefrom which it would be easier to create new behavior patterns.
Although Russian-style isolation cells were impractical at Cornell,
Wolff hoped to get the same effect more quickly through sensory
deprivation. He told the Agency that sensory-deprivation chambers
had "valid medical reason" as part of a treatment that
relieved migraine symptoms and made the patient "more receptive
to the suggestions of the psychotherapist." He proposed keeping
his patients in sensory deprivation until they "show an increased
desire to talk and to escape from the procedure." Then, he
said, doctors could "utilize material from their own past
experience in order to create psychological reactions within them."
This procedure drew heavily on the Stalinist method. It cannot
be said what success, if any, Wolff had with it to the benefit
of his patients at Cornell.
Wolff offered to devise ways to use the broadest cultural and
social processes in human ecology for covert operations. He understood
that every country had unique customs for child rearing, military
training, and nearly every other form of human intercourse. From
the CIA's point of view, he noted, this kind of sociological information
could be applied mainly to indoctrinating and motivating people.
He distinguished these motivating techniques from the "special
methods" that he felt were 'more relevant to subversion,
seduction, and interrogation." He offered to study those
methods, too, and asked the Agency to give him access to everything
in its files on "threats, coercion, imprisonment, isolation,
deprivation, humiliation, torture, 'brainwashing, "black
psychiatry,' hypnosis, and combinations of these with or without
chemical agents." Beyond mere study, Wolff volunteered the
unwitting use of Cornell patients for brainwashing experiments,
so long as no one got hurt. He added, however, that he would advise
the CIA on experiments that harmed their subjects if they were
performed elsewhere. He obviously felt that only the grandest
sweep of knowledge, flowing freely between scholar and spy, could
bring the best available techniques to bear on their respective
In 1955 Wolff incorporated his CIA-funded study group as the Society
for the Investigation of Human Ecology, with himself as president.
Through the Society, Wolff extended his efforts for the Agency,
and his organization turned into a CIA-controlled funding mechanism
for studies and experiments in the behavioral sciences.
In the early days of the Society, Agency officials trusted Wolff
and his untried ideas with a sensitive espionage assignment. In
effect, the new specialty of human ecology was going to telescope
the stages of research and application into one continuing process.
Speeding up the traditional academic method was required because
the CIA men faced an urgent problem. "What was bothering
them," Lawrence Hinkle explains, "was that the Chinese
had cleaned up their agents in China.... What they really wanted
to do was come up with some Chinese [in America], steer them to
us, and make them into agents." Wolff accepted the challenge
and suggested that the Cornell group hide its real purpose behind
the cover of investigating "the ecological aspects of disease"
among Chinese refugees. The Agency gave the project a budget of
$84,175 (about 30 percent of the money it put into Cornell in
1955) and supplied the study group with 100 Chinese refugees to
work with. Nearly all these subjects had been studying in the
United States when the communists took over the mainland in 1949,
so they tended to be dislocated people in their thirties.
On the Agency side, the main concern, as expressed by one ARTICHOKE
man, was the "security hazard" of bringing together
so many potential agents in one place. Nevertheless, CIA officials
decided to go ahead. Wolff promised to tell them about the inner
reaches of the Chinese character, and they recognized the operational
advantage that insight into Chinese behavior patterns could provide.
Moreover, Wolff said he would pick out the most useful possible
agents. The Human Ecology Society would then offer these candidates
"fellowships" and subject them to more intensive interviews
and "stress producing" situations. The idea was to find
out about their personalities, past conditioning, and present
motivations, in order to figure out how they might perform in
future predicamentssuch as finding themselves back in Mainland
China as American agents. In the process, Wolff hoped to mold
these Chinese into people willing to work for the CIA. Mindful
of leaving some cover for Cornell, he was adamant that Agency
operators not connected with the project make the actual recruitment
pitch to those Chinese whom the Agency men wanted as agents.
As a final twist, Wolff planned to provide each agent with techniques
to withstand the precise forms of hostile interrogation they could
expect upon returning to China. CIA officials wanted to "precondition"
the agents in order to create long lasting motivation "impervious
to lapse of time and direct psychological attacks by the enemy."
In other words, Agency men planned to brainwash their agents in
order to protect them against Chinese brainwashing.
Everything was coveredin theory, at least. Wolff was going
to take a crew of 100 refugees and turn as many of them as possible
into detection-proof, live agents inside China, and he planned
to do the job quickly through human ecology. It was a heady chore
for the Cornell professor to take on after classes.
Wolff hired a full complement of psychologists, psychiatrists,
and anthropologists to work on the project. He bulldozed his way
through his colleagues' qualms and government red tape alike.
Having hired an anthropologist before learning that the CIA security
office would not give her a clearance, Wolff simply lied to her
about where the money came from. "It was a function of Wolff's
imperious nature," says his partner Hinkle. "If a dog
came in and threw up on the rug during a lecture, he would continue."
Even the CIA men soon found that Harold Wolff was not to be trifled
with. "From the Agency side, I don't know anyone who wasn't
scared of him," recalls a longtime CIA associate. "He
was an autocratic man. I never knew him to chew anyone out. He
didn't have to. We were damned respectful. He moved in high places.
He was just a skinny little man but talk about mind control! He
was one of the controllers."
In the name of the Human Ecology Society, the CIA paid $1,200
a month to rent a fancy town house on Manhattan's East 78th Street
to house the Cornell group and its research projects Agency technicians
traveled to New York in December 1954 to install eavesdropping
microphones around the building. These and other more obvious
security devicessafes, guards, and the likemade the town
house look different from the academic center it was supposed
to be. CIA liaison personnel held meetings with Wolff and the
staff in the secure confines of the town house, and they all carefully
watched the 100 Chinese a few blocks away at the Cornell hospital.
The Society paid each subject $25 a day so the researchers could
test them, probe them, and generally learn all they could about
Chinese peopleor at least about middle-class, displaced, anti-Communist
It is doubtful that any of Wolff's Chinese ever returned to their
homeland as CIA agents, or that all of Wolff's proposals were
put into effect. In any case, the project was interrupted in midstream
by a major shake-up in the CIA's entire mind-control effort. Early
in 1955, Sid Gottlieb and his Ph.D. crew from TSS took over most
of the ARTICHOKE functions, including the Society, from Morse
Allen and the Pinkerton types in the Office of Security. The MKULTRA
men moved quickly to turn the Society into an entity that looked
and acted like a legitimate foundation. First they smoothed over
the ragged covert edges. Out came the bugs and safes so dear to
Morse Allen and company. The new crew even made some effort (largely
unsuccessful) to attract non-CIA funds. The biggest change, however,
was the Cornell professors now had to deal with Agency representatives
who were scientists and who had strong ideas of their own on research
questions. Up to this point, the Cornellians had been able to
keep the CIA's involvement within bounds acceptable to them. While
Harold Wolff never ceased wanting to explore the furthest reaches
of behavior control, his colleagues were wary of going on to the
outer limitsat least under Cornell cover.
No one would ever confuse MKULTRA projects with ivory-tower research,
but Gottlieb's people did take a more academicand sophisticatedapproach
to behavioral research than their predecessors. The MKULTRA men
understood that not every project would have an immediate operational
benefit, and they believed less and less in the existence of that
one just-over-the-horizon technique that would turn men into puppets.
They favored increasing their knowledge of human behavior in relatively
small steps, and they concentrated on the reduced goal of influencing
and manipulating their subjects. "You're ahead of the game
if you can get people to do something ten percent more often than
they would otherwise," says an MKULTRA veteran.
Accordingly, in 1956, Sid Gottlieb approved a $74,000 project
to have the Human Ecology Society study the factors that caused
men to defect from their countries and cooperate with foreign
governments. MKULTRA officials reasoned that if they could understand
what made old turncoats tick, it might help them entice new ones.
While good case officers instinctively seemed to know how to handle
a potential agentor thought they didthe MKULTRA men hoped
to come up with systematic, even scientific improvements. Overtly,
Harold Wolff designed the program to look like a follow-up study
to the Society's earlier programs, noting to the Agency that it
was "feasible to study foreign nationals under the cover
of a medical-sociological study." (He told his CIA funders
that "while some information of general value to science
should be produced, this in itself will not be a sufficient justification
for carrying out a study of this nature.") Covertly, he declared
the purpose of the research was to assess defectors' social and
cultural background, their life experience, and their personality
structure, in order to understand their motivations, value systems,
and probable future reactions.
The 1956 Hungarian revolt occurred as the defector study was getting
underway, and the Human Ecology group, with CIA headquarters approval,
decided to turn the defector work into an investigation of 70
Hungarian refugees from that upheaval. By then, most of Harold
Wolff's team had been together through the brainwashing and Chinese
studies. While not all of them knew of the CIA's specific interests,
they had streamlined their procedures for answering the questions
that Agency officials found interesting. They ran the Hungarians
through the battery of tests and observations in six months, compared
to a year and a half for the Chinese project.
The Human Ecology Society reported that most of their Hungarian
subjects had fought against the Russians during the Revolution
and that they had lived through extraordinarily difficult circumstances,
including arrest, mistreatment, and indoctrination. The psychologists
and psychiatrists found that, often, those who had survived with
the fewest problems had been those with markedly aberrant personalities.
"This observation has added to the evidence that healthy
people are not necessarily 'normal,' but are people particularly
adapted to their special life situations," the group declared.
While CIA officials liked the idea that their Hungarian subjects
had not knuckled under communist influence, they recognized that
they were working with a skewed sample. American visa restrictions
kept most of the refugee left-wingers and former communist officials
out of the United States; so, as a later MKULTRA document would
state, the Society wound up studying "western-tied rightist
elements who had never been accepted completely" in postwar
Hungary. Agency researchers realized that these people would "contribute
little" toward increasing the CIA's knowledge of the processes
that made a communist official change his loyalties.
In order to broaden their data base, MKULTRA officials decided
in March 1957 to bring in some unwitting help. They gave a contract
to Rutgers University sociologists Richard Stephenson and Jay
Schulman "to throw as much light as possible on the sociology
of the communist system in the throes of revolution." The
Rutgers professors started out by interviewing the 70 Hungarians
at Cornell in New York, and Schulman went on to Europe to talk
to disillusioned Communists who had also fled their country. From
an operational point of view, these were the people the Agency
really cared about; but, as socialists, most of them probably
would have resisted sharing their experiences with the CIAif
they had known.
Jay Schulman would have resisted, too. After discovering almost
20 years later that the Agency had paid his way and seen his confidential
interviews, he feels misused. "In 1957 I was myself a quasi-Marxist
and if I had known that this study was sponsored by the CIA, there
is really, obviously, no way that I would have been associated
with it," says Schulman. "My view is that social scientists
have a deep personal responsibility for questioning the sources
of funding; and the fact that I didn't do it at the time was simply,
in my judgment, indication of my own naiveté and political
innocence, in spite of my ideological bent."
Deceiving Schulman and his Hungarian subjects did not bother the
men from MKULTRA in the slightest. According to a Gottlieb aide,
one of the strong arguments inside the CIA for the whole Human
Ecology program was that it gave the Agency a means of approaching
and using political mavericks who could not otherwise get security
clearances. "Sometimes," he chuckles, "these left-wing
social scientists were damned good." This MKULTRA veteran
scoffs at the displeasure Schulman expresses: "If we'd gone
to a guy and said, 'We're CIA,' he never would have done it. They
were glad to get the money in a world where damned few people
were willing to support them.... They can't complain about how
they were treated or that they were asked to do something they
wouldn't have normally done."
The Human Ecology Society soon became a conduit for CIA money
flowing to projects, like the Rutgers one, outside Cornell. For
these grants, the Society provided only cover and administrative
support behind the gold-plated names of Cornell and Harold Wolff.
From 1955 to 1958, Agency officials passed funds through the Society
for work on criminal sexual psychopaths at Ionia State Hospital,
a mental institution located on the banks of the Grand River in
the rolling farm country 120 miles northwest of Detroit. This
project had an interesting hypothesis: That child molesters and
rapists had ugly secrets buried deep within them and that their
stake in not admitting their perversions approached that of spies
not wanting to confess. The MKULTRA men reasoned that any technique
that would work on a sexual psychopath would surely have a similar
effect on a foreign agent. Using psychologists and psychiatrists
connected to the Michigan mental health and the Detroit court
systems, they set up a program to test LSD and marijuana, wittingly
and unwittingly, alone and in combination with hypnosis. Because
of administrative delays, the Michigan doctors managed to experiment
only on 26 inmates in three yearsall sexual offenders committed
by judges without a trial under a Michigan law, since declared
unconstitutional. The search for a truth drug went on, under the
auspices of the Human Ecology Society, as well as in other MKULTRA
The Ionia project was the kind of expansionist activity that made
Cornell administrators, if not Harold Wolff, uneasy. By 1957,
the Cornellians had had enough. At the same time, the Agency sponsors
decided that the Society had outgrown its dependence on Cornell
for academic credentialsthat in fact the close ties to Cornell
might inhibit the Society's future growth among academics notoriously
sensitive to institutional conflicts. One CIA official wrote that
the Society "must be given more established stature in the
research community to be effective as a cover organization."
Once the Society was cut loose in the foundation world, Agency
men felt they would be freer to go anywhere in academia to buy
research that might assist covert operations. So the CIA severed
the Society's formal connection to Cornell.
The Human Ecology group moved out of its East 78th Street town
house, which had always seem a little too plush for a university
program, and opened up a new headquarters in Forest Hills, Queens,
which was an inappropriate neighborhood for a well-connected foundation.
Agency officials hired a staff of four led by Lieutenant Colonel
James Monroe, who had worked closely with the CIA as head of the
Air Force's study of Korean War prisoners. Sid Gottlieb and the
TSS hierarchy in Washington still made the major decisions, but
Monroe and the Society staff, whose salaries the Agency paid,
took over the Society's dealings with the outside world and the
monitoring of several hundred thousand dollars a year in research
projects. Monroe personally supervised dozens of grants, including
Dr. Ewen Cameron's brainwashing work in Montreal. Soon the Society
was flourishing as an innovative foundation, attracting research
proposals from a wide variety of behavioral scientists, at a time
when these peopleparticularly the unorthodox oneswere still
the step-children of the fund-granting world.
After the Society's exit from Cornell, Wolff and Hinkle stayed
on as president and vice-president, respectively, of the Society's
board of directors. Dr. Joseph Hinsey, head of the New York Hospital-Cornell
Medical Center also remained on the board. Allen Dulles continued
his personal interest in the Society's work and came to one of
the first meetings of the new board, which, as was customary with
CIA fronts, included some big outside names. These luminaries
added worthiness to the enterprise while playing essentially figurehead
roles. In 1957 the other board members were John Whitehorn, chairman
of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University, Carl
Rogers, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University
of Wisconsin, and Adolf A. Berle, onetime Assistant Secretary
of State and chairman of the New York Liberal Party.
Berle had originally put his close friend Harold Wolff in touch
with the CIA, and at Wolff's request, he came on the Society board
despite some reservations. "I am frightened about this one,"
Berle wrote in his diary. "If the scientists do what they
have laid out for themselves, men will become manageable ants.
But I don't think it will happen."
There was a lot of old-fashioned backscratching among the CIA
people and the academics as they settled into the work of accommodating
each other. Even Harold Wolff, the first and the most enthusiastic
of the scholar-spies, had made it clear from the beginning that
he expected some practical rewards for his service. According
to colleague Hinkle, who appreciated Wolff as one the great grantsman
of his time, Wolff expected that the Agency "would support
our research and we would be their consultants." Wolff bluntly
informed the CIA that some of his work would have no direct use
"except that it vastly enhances our value . . . as consultants
and advisers." In other words, Wolff felt that his worth
to the CIA increased in proportion to his professional accomplishments
and importancewhich in turn depended partly on the resources
he commanded. The Agency men understood, and over the last half
of the 1950s, they were happy to contribute almost $300,000 to
Wolff's own research on the brain and central nervous system.
In turn, Wolff and his reputation helped them gain access to other
leading lights in the academic world.
Another person who benefited from Human Ecology funds was Carl
Rogers, whom Wolff had also asked to serve on the board. Rogers,
who later would become famous for his nondirective, nonauthoritarian
approach to psychotherapy, respected Wolff's work, and he had
no objection to helping the CIA. Although he says he would have
nothing to do with secret Agency activities today, he asks for
understanding in light of the climate of the 1950s. "We really
did regard Russia as the enemy," declares Rogers, "and
we were trying to do various things to make sure the Russians
did not get the upper hand." Rogers received an important
professional reward for joining the Society board. Executive Director
James Monroe had let him know that, once he agreed to serve, he
could expect to receive a Society grant. "That appealed to
me because I was having trouble getting funded," says Rogers.
"Having gotten that grant [about $30,000 over three years],
it made it possible to get other grants from Rockefeller and NIMH."
Rogers still feels grateful to the Society for helping him establish
a funding "track record," but he emphasizes that the
Agency never had any effect on his research.
Although MKULTRA psychologist John Gittinger suspected that Rogers'
work on psychotherapy might provide insight into interrogation
methods, the Society did not give Rogers money because of the
content of his work. The grant ensured his services as a consultant,
if desired, and, according to a CIA document, "free access"
to his project. But above all, the grant allowed the Agency to
use Rogers' name. His standing in the academic community contributed
to the layer of cover around the Society that Agency officials
felt was crucial to mask their involvement.
Professor Charles Osgood's status in psychology also improved
the Society's cover, but his research was more directly useful
to the Agency, and the MKULTRA men paid much more to get it. In
1959 Osgood, who four years later became president of the American
Psychological Association, wanted to push forward his work on
how people in different societies express the same feelings, even
when using different words and concepts. Osgood wrote in "an
abstract conceptual framework," but Agency officials saw
his research as "directly relevant" to covert activities.
They believed they could transfer Osgood's knowledge of "hidden
values and cues" in the way people communicate into more
effective overseas propaganda. Osgood's work gave them a toolcalled
the "semantic differential"to choose the right words
in a foreign language to convey a particular meaning.
Like Carl Rogers, Osgood got his first outside funding for what
became the most important work of his career from the Human Ecology
Society. Osgood had written directly to the CIA for support, and
the Society soon contacted him and furnished $192,975 for research
over five years. The money allowed him to travel widely and to
expand his work into 30 different cultures. Also like Rogers,
Osgood eventually received NIMH money to finish his research,
but he acknowledges that the Human Ecology grants played an important
part in the progress of his work. He stresses that "there
was none of the feeling then about the CIA that there is now,
in terms of subversive activities," and he states that the
Society had no influence on anything he produced. Yet Society
men could and did talk to him about his findings. They asked questions
that reflected their own covert interests, not his academic pursuits,
and they drew him out, according to one of them, "at great
length." Osgood had started studying cross-cultural meaning
well before he received the Human Ecology money, but the Society's
support ensured that he would continue his work on a scale that
suited the Agency's purposes, as well as his own.
A whole category of Society funding, called "cover grants,"
served no other purpose than to build the Society's false front.
These included a sociological study of Levittown, Long Island
(about $4,500), an analysis of the Central Mongoloid skull ($700),
and a look at the foreign-policy attitudes of people who owned
fallout shelters, as opposed to people who did not ($2,500). A
$500 Human Ecology grant went to Istanbul University for a study
of the effects of circumcision on Turkish boys. The researcher
found that young Turks, usually circumcised between the ages of
five and seven, felt "severe emotional impact with attending
symptoms of withdrawal." The children saw the painful operations
as "an act of aggression" that brought out previously
hidden fearsor so the Human Ecology Society reported.
In other instances, the Society put money into projects whose
covert application was so unlikely that only an expert could see
the possibilities. Nonetheless, in 1958 the Society gave $5,570
to social psychologists Muzafer and Carolyn Wood Sherif of the
University of Oklahoma for work on the behavior of teen-age boys
in gangs. The Sherifs, both ignorant of the CIA connection,
studied the group structures and attitudes in the gangs and tried
to devise ways to channel antisocial behavior into more constructive
paths. Their results were filtered through clandestine minds at
the Agency. "With gang warfare," says an MKULTRA source,
"you tried to get some defectors-in-place who would like
to modify some of the group behavior and cool it. Now, getting
a juvenile delinquent defector was motivationally not all that
much different from getting a Soviet one."
MKULTRA officials were clearly interested in using their grants
to build contacts and associations with prestigious academics.
The Society put $1,500 a year into the Research in Mental Health
Newsletter published jointly at McGill University by the sociology
and psychiatric departments. Anthropologist Margaret Mead, an
international culture heroine, sat on the newsletter's advisory
board (with, among others, D. Ewen Cameron), and the Society used
her name in its biennial report. Similarly, the Society gave grants
of $26,000 to the well-known University of London psychologist,
H. J. Eysenck, for his work on motivation. An MKULTRA document
acknowledged that this research would have "no immediate
relevance for Agency needs," but that it would "lend
prestige" to the Society. The grants to Eysenck also allowed
the Society to take funding credit for no less than nine of his
publications in its 1963 report. The following year, the Society
managed to purchase a piece of the work of the most famous behaviorist
of all, Harvard's B. F. Skinner. Skinner, who had tried to train
pigeons to guide bombs for the military during World War II, received
a $5,000 Human Ecology grant to pay the costs of a secretary and
supplies for the research that led to his book, Freedom and
Dignity. Skinner has no memory of the grant or its origins
but says, "I don't like secret involvement of any kind. I
can't see why it couldn't have been open and aboveboard."
A TSS source explains that grants like these "bought legitimacy"
for the Society and made the recipients "grateful."
He says that the money gave Agency employees at Human Ecology
a reason to phone Skinneror any of the other recipientsto
pick his brain about a particular problem. In a similar vein,
another MKULTRA man, psychologist John Gittinger mentions the
Society's relationship with Erwin Goffman of the University of
Pennsylvania, whom many consider today's leading sociological
theorist. The Society gave him a small grant to help finish a
book that would have been published anyway. As a result, Gittinger
was able to spend hours talking with him about, among other things,
an article he had written earlier on confidence men. These hucksters
were experts at manipulating behavior, according to Gittinger,
and Goffman unwittingly "gave us a better understanding of
the techniques people use to establish phony relationships"a
subject of interest to the CIA.
To keep track of new developments in the behavioral sciences,
Society representatives regularly visited grant recipients and
found out what they and their colleagues were doing. Some of the
knowing professors became conscious spies. Most simply relayed
the latest professional gossip to their visitors and sent along
unpublished papers. The prestige of the Human Ecology grantees
also helped give the Agency access to behavioral scientists who
had no connection to the Society. "You could walk into someone's
office and say you were just talking to Skinner," says an
MKULTRA veteran. "We didn't hesitate to do this. It was a
way to name-drop."
The Society did not limit its intelligence gathering to the United
States. As one Agency source puts it, "The Society gave us
a legitimate basis to approach anyone in the academic community
anywhere in the world." CIA officials regularly used it as
cover when they traveled abroad to study the behavior of foreigners
of interest to the Agency, including such leaders as Nikita Khrushchev.
The Society funded foreign researchers and also gave money to
American professors to collect information abroad. In 1960, for
instance, the Society sponsored a survey of Soviet psychology
through the simple device of putting up $15,000 through the official
auspices of the American Psychological Association to send ten
prominent psychologists on a tour of the Soviet Union. Nine of
the ten had no idea of the Agency involvement, but CIA officials
were apparently able to debrief everyone when the group returned.
Then the Society sponsored a conference and book for which each
psychologist contributed a chapter. The book added another $5,000
to the CIA's cost, but $20,000 all told seemed like a small price
to pay for the information gathered. The psychologistsexcept
perhaps the knowledgeable onedid nothing they would not ordinarily
have done during their trip, and the scholarly community benefited
from increased knowledge on an important subject. The only thing
violated was the openness and trust normally associated with academic
pursuits. By turning scholars into spieseven unknowing onesCIA
officials risked the reputation of American research work and
contributed potential ammunition toward the belief in many countries
that the U.S. notion of academic freedom and independence from
the state is self-serving and hypocritical.
Secrecy allowed the Agency a measure of freedom from normal academic
restrictions and red tape, and the men from MKULTRA used that
freedom to make their projects more attractive. The Society demanded
"no stupid progress reports," recalls psychologist and
psychiatrist Martin Orne, who received a grant to support his
Harvard research on hypnotism. As a further sign of generosity
and trust, the Society gave Orne a follow-on $30,000 grant with
no specified purpose.
Orne could use it as he wished. He believes the money was "a
contingency investment" in his work, and MKULTRA officials
agree. "We could go to Orne anytime," says one of them,
"and say, 'Okay, here is a situation and here is a kind of
guy. What would you expect we might be able to achieve if we could
hypnotize him?' Through his massive knowledge, he could speculate
and advise." A handful of other Society grantees also served
in similar roles as covert Agency consultants in the field of
In general, the Human Ecology Society served as the CIA's window
on the world of behavioral research. No phenomenon was too arcane
to escape a careful look from the Society, whether extrasensory
perception or African witch doctors. "There were some unbelievable
schemes," recalls an MKULTRA veteran, "but you also
knew Einstein was considered crazy. You couldn't be so biased
that you wouldn't leave open the possibility that some crazy idea
might work." MKULTRA men realized, according to the veteran,
that "ninety percent of what we were doing would fail"
to be of any use to the Agency. Yet, with a spirit of inquiry
much freer than that usually found in the academic world, the
Society took early stabs at cracking the genetic code with computers
and finding out whether animals could be controlled through electrodes
placed in their brains.
The Society's unrestrained, scattershot approach to behavioral
research went against the prevailing wisdom in American universitiesboth
as to methods and to subjects of interest. During the 1950s one
school of thoughtso-called "behaviorism,"was accepted
on campus, virtually to the exclusion of all others. The "behaviorists,"
led by Harvard's B. F. Skinner, looked at psychology as the study
of learned observable responses to outside stimulation. To oversimplify,
they championed the approach in which psychologists gave rewards
to rats scurrying through mazes, and they tended to dismiss matters
of great interest to the Agency: e.g., the effect of drugs on
the psyche, subjective phenomena like hypnosis, the inner workings
of the mind, and personality theories that took genetic differences
By investing up to $400,000 a year into the early, innovative
work of men like Carl Rogers, Charles Osgood, and Martin Orne,
the CIA's Human Ecology Society helped liberate the behavioral
sciences from the world of rats and cheese. With a push from the
Agency as well as other forces, the field opened up. Former iconoclasts
became eminent, and, for better or worse, the Skinnerian near-monopoly
gave way to a multiplication of contending schools. Eventually,
a reputable behavioral scientist could be doing almost anything:
holding hands with his students in sensitivity sessions, collecting
survey data on spanking habits, or subjectively exploring new
modes of consciousness. The CIA's money undoubtedly changed the
academic world to some degree, though no one can say how much.
As usual, the CIA men were ahead of their time and had started
to move on before the new approaches became established. In 1963,
having sampled everything from palm reading to subliminal perception,
Sid Gottlieb and his colleagues satisfied themselves that they
had overlooked no area of knowledgehowever esotericthat
might be promising for CIA operations. The Society had served
its purpose; now the money could be better spent elsewhere. Agency
officials transferred the still-useful projects to other covert
channels and allowed the rest to die quietly. By the end of 1965,
when the remaining research was completed, the Society for the
Investigation of Human Ecology was gone.
MKULTRA subprojects 48 and 60 provided the basic documents on
the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology. These were
supplemented by the three biennial reports of the Society that
could be found: 1957, 1961, and 1961-1963. Wolff's own research
work is MKULTRA subproject 61. Wolfs proposals to the Agency are
in #A/B, II, 10/68, undated "Proposed Plan for Implementing
[deleted]" in two documents included in 48-29, March 5, 1956,
"General Principles Upon Which these Proposals Are Based."
The Agency's plans for the Chinese Project are described in #A/B,
II, 10/48, undated, Subject: Cryptonym [deleted] A/B, II 10/72,9
December,1954, Subject: Letter of Instructions, and #A/B, II,
10/110, undated, untitled.
Details of the logistics of renting the Human Ecology headquarters
and bugging it are in #A/B, II, 10/23, 30 August, 1954, Subject:
Meeting of Working Committee of [deleted], No. 5 and #A/B, II,
10/92, 8 December, 1954, Subject: Technical Installation.
The Hungarian project, as well as being described in the 1957
biennial report, was dealt with in MKULTRA subprojects 65 and
82, especially 65-12, 28 June 1956, Subject: MKULTRA subproject
65; 65-11, undated, Subject: Dr. [deleted]'s ProjectPlans for
the Coming Year, July,1957-June,1958; and 82-15,11 April 1958,
Subject: Project MKULTRA, Subproject 82.
The Ionia State sexual psychopath research was MKULTRA Subproject
39, especially 39-4, 9 April 1958, Subject: Trip Report, Visit
to [deleted], 7 April 1958. Paul Magnusson of the Detroit Free
Press and David Pearl of the Detroit ACLU office both furnished
Carl Rogers' MKULTRA subproject was # 97. He also received funds
under Subproject 74. See especially 74-256, 7 October 1958, Supplement
to Individual Grant under MKULTRA, Subproject No. 74 and 97-21,
6 August 1959, Subject: MKULTRA Subproject 97.
H. J. Eysenck's MKULTRA subproject was #111. See especially 111-3,
3 April 1961, Subject: Continuation of MKULTRA Subproject 111.
The American Psychological Association-sponsored trip to the Soviet
Union was described in Subproject 107. The book that came out
of the trip was called Some Views on Soviet Psychology,
Raymond Bauer (editor), (Washington: American Psychological Association;
The Sherifs' research on teenage gangs was described in Subproject
# 102 and the 1961 Human Ecology biennial report. Dr. Carolyn
Sherif also wrote a letter to the American Psychological Association
Monitor, February 1978. Dr. Sherif talked about her work when
she and I appeared on an August 1978 panel at the American Psychological
Association's convention in Toronto.
Martin Orne's work for the Agency was described in Subproject
84. He contributed a chapter to the Society-funded book, The
Manipulation of Human Behavior, edited by Albert Biderman
and Herbert Zimmer-(New York: John Wiley & Sons; 1961), pp.
169-215. Financial data on Orne's Institute for Experimental Psychiatry
came from a filing with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Attachment
to Form 1023.
The quote from John Gittinger came from an interview with him
conducted by Dr. Patricia Greenfield. Dr. Greenfield also interviewed
Jay Schulman, Carl Rogers, and Charles Osgood for an article in
the December 1977 issue of the American Psychological Association
Monitor, from which my quotes of Schulman's comments are taken.
She discussed Erving Goffman's role in a presentation to a panel
of the American Psychological Association convention in Toronto
in August 1978. The talk was titled "CIA Support of Basic
Research in Psychology: Policy Implications."
1. In 1961 the Society changed its name to
the Human Ecology Fund, but for convenience sake it will be called
the Society throughout the book. (back)
2. Also to gain access to this same group
of leftist Hungarian refugees in Europe, the Human Ecology Society
put $15,000 in 1958 into an unwitting study by Dr. A. H. M. Struik
of the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. An Agency document
extolled this arrangement not only as a useful way of studying
Hungarians but because it provided "entree" into a leading
European university and psychological research center, adding
"such a connection has manifold cover and testing possibilities
as well as providing a base from which to take advantage of developments
in that area of the world." (back)
3. Professor Laurence Hinkle states that it
was never his or Cornell's intention that the Society would be
used as a CIA funding conduit. When told that he himself had written
letters on the Ionia project, he replied that the Society's CIA-supplied
bookkeeper was always putting papers in front of him and that
he must have signed without realizing the implications. (back)
4. By 1961 the CIA staff had tired of Queens
and moved the Society back into Manhattan to 201 East 57th Street.
In 1965 as the Agency was closing down the front, it switched
its headquarters to 183i Connecticut Avenue N.W. in Washington,
the same building owned by Dr. Charles Geschickter that housed
another MKULTRA conduit, the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research.
5. Other establishment figures who would grace
the Human Ecology board over the years included Leonard Carmichael,
head of the Smithsonian Institution, Barnaby Keeney, president
of Brown University, and George A. Kelly, psychology professor
and Society fund recipient at Ohio State University. (back)
6. According to Dr. Carolyn Sherif, who says
she and her husband did not share the Cold War consensus and would
never have knowingly taken CIA funds Human Ecology executive director
James Monroe lied directly about the source of the Society's money,
claiming it came from rich New York doctors and Texas millionaires
who gave it for tax purposes. Monroe used this standard cover
story with other grantees. (back)
7. A 1962 report of Orne's laboratory, the
Institute for Experimental Psychiatry, showed that it received
two sizable grants before the end of that year: $30,000 from Human
Ecology and $30,000 from Scientific Engineering Institute, another
CIA front organization. Orne says he was not aware of the latter
group's Agency connection at the time, but learned of it later.
He used its grant to study new ways of using the polygraph. (back)
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