Monday, April 29, 2013

The CIA and the Search for the Manchurian Candidate, Part One of Two

"Instead of turning to tough cops, whose methods repelled American sensibilities, or the gurus of mass motivation, whose ideology Americans lacked, the Agency's brainwashing experts gravitated to people more in the mold of the brilliant - and sometimes mad - scientist, obsessed by the wonders of the brain."

John Marks, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate
During the early 1950's, the Central Intelligence Agency allocated significant resources to furthering its understandings of chemical and biological weapons. Projects MKDELTA and MKNAOMI explored such applications, including the production of germ weapons. The projects culminated, along with such behavior modification operations as BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, into MKULTRA in 1953.

Controversial alleged
contactee Howard Menger
Nick Redfern and the late Philip Coppens are among the researchers who explored the possibilities that so called alien contactees may have been related to such psychological operations. There is reasonable evidence suggesting at least some of the higher profile contactees were significantly involved with – if not acting directly on behalf of - the CIA while publicly narrating their elaborate tales of interplanetary diplomacy. Much has also been made of the case of Antonio Vila Boas and its possible origins in quite terrestrial chemical and behavioral covert research.

Whether or not such theories are entirely accurate, exploring what is known of intelligence operations of the era provides insight into the related possibilities. A review of CIA activities reveals that if the 'company' was not conducting experiments involving the manufacture of alien story lines, it would certainly not have been due to a lack of willingness to try such things on for size. The Agency was neck deep in seemingly every other unconventional weapons and intelligence concept its personnel could conceive.

The 20th century Central Intelligence Agency prioritized interests in hallucinogens, esoteric subject matter and mind control. One questionable idea and subsequent compromise at a time, it evolved to not only rationalize invasive experiments on involuntary human research subjects, but its leaders managed to conclude how and why it made sense for them to slip one another LSD without warning. Key personnel at the CIA were tripping, and when they weren't getting killed, as in the case of Frank Olson, they were developing the following brainchildren.

The quest for God's flesh

When American spies and their researchers first embarked upon using hallucinogens as a tool, the 'magical' properties of mushrooms were little more than myth, at least in the States. Committed to leaving no stone unturned, the Agency dispatched a scout to Mexico to learn more about such substances. The young CIA man returned with various materials and substances, as well as tales of extremely potent mushrooms which Aztec priests called teonanactl, or God's flesh.

In 1953 the Agency consulted with mushroom growers of Pennsylvania on its way to recruiting Dr. James Moore, a Detroit chemist entrusted with the classified operation. Moore would later tell John Marks, published in Marks' 1979 work, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, "If I had thought I was participating in a scheme run by a small band of mad individuals, I would have demurred."

Nonetheless, the quest for God's flesh, also known as MKULTRA Subproject 58, was financed through a grant provided by the Geshickter Fund, a nonprofit foundation acting as an undercover extension of the Agency, and Moore was soon on his way from Michigan to Mexico. He and some fellow travelers located and sampled the coveted mushrooms in a remote jungle, and before long Moore delivered a stash to his silent employer.

One of the roughly 190 types of
mushrooms containing psilocybin.
The active property of the fungus was eventually isolated, chemically reproduced and called psilocybin. Its fascinating qualities continue today to intellectually seduce and peak the interests of inquisitive professional researchers.

Within a few short years of its discovery by the CIA, psilocybin was being extensively tested, along with numerous other drugs, under the direction of Dr. Harris Isbell at the Addiction Research Center in Louisville, Kentucky (see MKULTRA document #151875, Comparison of the Reactions Induced by Psilocybin and LSD-25 in Man by Harris Isbell, which was also a 1959 published paper). Isbell was fascinated with the effects hallucinogens and various chemicals had on inmates, a literally captive group of subjects. A most eager and cooperative project manager, Isbell documented how at one point he kept seven inmates on LSD for a mind scorching 77 days straight.

Isbell administered psilocybin to exploited incarcerated subjects who reported experiencing anxiety and fear that something evil was about to happen. They also described perceptions of fantastic visions, including trips to the moon. Some subjects, Isbell wrote, reported thinking the experiences were caused by the experimenters controlling their minds.


While no conclusive evidence has been presented to date that the Agency was responsible for any specific reports of alien abduction, nowhere do we find the cultures of the intelligence community and ufology to mirror one another more than in their explorations and uses of hypnosis. The resemblance is profound, actually, it has been for a long time now, and differentiating between the two communities at times becomes difficult, if even possible.

Hypnosis was extensively explored within MKULTRA Subproject 84, in which John Marks identified Boston psychologist and hypnosis expert Dr. Martin Orne as the lead researcher. A long time consultant for the Agency, the Austrian born Orne conducted research for the CIA at Harvard and his Institute for Experimental Psychiatry. The work was funded through grants provided by the Human Ecology Society and the Scientific Engineering Institute, both of which acted as fronts for the distribution of CIA funds.

MKULTRA document #17486_0001 stated Subproject 84 was designed “to study the nature of the hypnosis process as it may relate to induction of a changed motivational state,” while document #17486_0023 indicated that “an investigation of socially induced special states of consciousness” was prioritized and conducted. A May, 1960 memo (doc #17486_0040) qualified that hypnosis was “an area of direct use to the Sponsor,” or CIA, and was continually suggested “as the panacea to all the Sponsor's problems and needs to be examined exhaustively.”

Additional documents, such as a 1954 memo (doc #147025), explained manners a subject could be hypnotically led to carry out certain activities and have no recollection of doing so. The memo went on to describe (doc #147025_0004) what was termed the “quite practical” administration of split personality through hypnotism.

Orne's work and Subproject 84 were funded by the CIA during the first half of the 1960's. Alien abduction aficionados will easily recognize the time frame as that of the Hill era. A Subproject 84 report, viewable in doc #17486_0041, stated that the "essence of hypnosis" was believed to be "uniquely related to a variety of psychological experiences, such as mystical experiences, sensory deprivation effects, placebo effects, and, of course, hypnosis.”

The report went on to state (doc #17486_0042) that “a major investigation was undertaken on the suppression of pain by hypnosis.” Three major findings were said to have emerged, including circumstances in which “subjects showed far less signs of stress in this experimental situation than in other experiments at [redacted] using comparable amounts of electric shock.” It was declared that a very interesting point would be to determine “whether hypnosis as a process or state protects the individual experiencing intense anxiety or whether the hypnotic situation, regardless of the subjective experience, serves this function.”

Hypnosis and many drugs, including hallucinogens, were combined and the effects were studied at length. Pilot studies were undertaken that included the administration of direct suggestions to subjects.

The referenced report further stated “a rigorous study of the phenomenon” took place. Such rigorous study included a year-and-a-half long (and at the time continuing) investigation into what was labeled “the trance phenomena,” which the Agency identified as occurring among people attending Pentecostal churches. Considerable observational data was claimed to be in hand and in the process of being analyzed, which included comparisons between the personal experiences reported by Pentecostal church members and those described by what were termed “good hypnotic subjects.”

Former president of the American Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis Milton Kline acted as a consultant during such CIA studies. The New York psychologist agreed to speak with Marks.

Kline stated that he thought some research subjects could be directed by experienced hypnotists to execute specific Manchurian Candidate types of behavior and as described in referenced document #147025. He and other qualified consultants also stated that a lack of recollection of the related circumstances, or amnesia, could most certainly be hypnotically induced some of the time. Kline confidently claimed to Marks that he could create a patsy in three months and an assassin in six.

The much discussed Hill incident took place in 1961. According to Stanton Friedman in his book, Captured!: The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience, US Air Force Captain Ben Swett gave a public lecture on hypnosis attended by the Hills on September 7, 1963. The venue was the Unitarian Church of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and afterward the captain referred the couple to Dr. Benjamin Simon, a Boston psychiatrist. Simon taught at Harvard, was a hypnotist and conducted the Hill's now famous hypnosis sessions of 1964.

Betty and Barney Hill
Many are confident the most likely explanation for the Hill case, given the lack of conclusive evidence, is that the couple was simply confused, ultimately resulting in the epic – even if largely inaccurate – popular legend. If, however, we are willing to suspend judgment and entertain some less conventional possibilities, it is not difficult to understand why some researchers suspect that, rather than alien abduction, the Hills may have been the target of covert research. After all, we now know the CIA prioritized and funded exhaustive examination of hypnosis during the specific time the couple was encouraged to be hypnotized.

We also know the Hills were introduced to hypnosis by an Air Force captain while curiously lecturing on the topic at a church, just as described to be of interest to the Agency in the MKULTRA documents. Additionally, the couple was referred to a hypnotist who not only shared the same city, Boston, as MKULTRA Subproject 84 lead researcher Martin Orne, but also shared Orne's employer, Harvard, for a time, where CIA-sponsored drug, hypnosis and mind control research was taking place. It is understandable why some researchers would find such circumstances of interest, particularly as compared to otherworldly explanations.

Such circumstances might indeed deserve their fair share of attention, or at the least should not be completely omitted from discussion of the Hill saga as is typically the case. If nothing more, it would appear that, based on the actions of Captain Swett and Dr. Simon, the Agency significantly influenced the prevailing military interests and psychiatric practices of the era, whether or not the influence was intentional.

It is also reasonably clear that, during the early 1960's and in the circumstances of hypnosis and the Hills, the interests and experimental methods of interrogation practiced by the Agency became virtually indistinguishable from activities undertaken by individuals researching alleged UFO-related circumstances, for whatever reasons. While such blurring of roles and objectives may have initially been somewhat limited to Boston social circles traveled by Air Force captains, the dynamics spread and rather inexplicably continue today to be staples among numerous researchers of alleged alien abduction. This is of course in complete contradiction to well established fact that hypnosis is not a reliable memory retrieval tool.

Orne published segments of his work and went on to sit on the board of directors of the controversial False Memory Syndrome Foundation. He was featured in an article written by Dr. Patricia Greenfield, the sister of John Marks, appearing in the December 1977 edition of the American Psychological Association Monitor. Commenting on medical professionals acting as MKULTRA consultants and the search for the Manchurian Candidate, Orne told Greenfield, “We are sufficiently ineffective so that our findings can be published.”


The CIA and the Search for the Manchurian Candidate, Part Two of Two

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