In his new article here at Mysterious Universe (“Black Magic, the Occult, and the CIA“) Brent Swancer says: “There is no doubt that governments get up to some strange dealings, research, and experiments, and top secret programs have always drawn to them tales of suspense, mystery, and conspiracies. One of the stranger stories concerns an offshoot of a mind control program run by the United States, which by some accounts branched off into the real of the supernatural and the occult.”
As you’ll see from Brent’s article, that “offshoot” was a CIA program called Operation Often. As Brent notes, the project focused its attention on such issues as black magic, the occult, witchcraft, and more. Brent adds: “The accusation was first put forth by British investigative journalist and author Gordon Thomas, who wrote the 2007 book Secrets and Lies, and who claims that a Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, chief of the CIA’s Technical Services Branch and also known as the ‘Black Sorcerer’ due to his expertise with poisons, used the program to ‘explore the world of black magic and harness the forces of darkness and challenge the concept that the inner reaches of the mind are beyond reach.'”
It’s worth noting that while, yes, Thomas did indeed reveal interesting and relevant data in his 2007 book, he was actually looking into the Often controversy years before that. For example, back in 1988 Thomas’ Journey Into Madness was published by Bantam Press. Its subtitle: Medical Torture and the Mind Controllers. The book contains 5 pages on Operation Often. It also includes a quote taken from an Often memo. So, it would appear that Thomas’ knowledge of the operation probably dated back to at least the mid-’80s. Maybe even earlier than that.
Brent adds: “It is unclear just how much of this is true and how much of it is pure conspiracy theory. Although it is known that the U.S. did in fact pursue mind control experiments with its MKUltra program, the real extent of how deep the rabbit hole goes is still rather a mystery. Did any of the offshoots and subprograms actually look into the occult and utilizing magic to any extent, and if so what results did they achieve, if any?”
I think it’s highly likely that there is a great deal of truth to all this. Why do I think that? Well, because when we go looking we find other examples that seem to suggest a more-than-passing interest in the occult on the part of government agencies. In 1994, Dr. Nelson Pacheco – a Principle Scientist with the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers, Europe (SHAPE), Technical Center – and Tommy Blann wrote a book titled Unmasking the Enemy. It was a look at the “aliens are really demons” controversy. The pair noted something that may interest those of you who might want to try and uncover more on Operation Often.
Pacheco and Blann stated in their book: “The CIA began infiltrating seances and occult gatherings during the 50s…A memo dated April 9, 1953, refers to a domestic – and therefore illegal – operation that required the planting of a very specialized observer at a seance in order to obtain a broad surveillance of all individuals attending the meetings.”
Victor Marchetti, the author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, stated that on occasion the agency used mediums to try and contact the souls of dead agents – of both the United States and the former Soviet Union. Marchetti was careful to note that he never came across anything which suggested such experiments worked. But, the important thing in all this is that Marchetti confirmed a link between the CIA operations and what we might term paranormal activity. There’s also the matter of Aleister Crowley.
We don’t have much in the way of solid answers on what I’m about to share with you. But, we do know that the U.K.’s MI5 (the Brits’ equivalent of the United States’ FBI) had at least some degree of interest in the “Great Beast.” It’s all very much thanks to the research of Richard B. Spence, of the International Spy Museum, that we know this. Spence has said of Crowley: “He was such a disreputable and even evil character in the public mind that arguably no responsible official would think of employing him. But the very fact that he seemed such an improbable spy was perhaps the best recommendation for using him.”
While knocking on the doors of MI5 (so to speak) Spence learned, in 2003, that MI5 had a file on Crowley which had been destroyed back in the 1950s. Spence continued to investigate and found references to additional papers on Crowley. Those records were said to have been destroyed too. In other words, we know there was an MI5-Crowley connection, but we don’t know how extensive (or not) it was. On the one hand, maybe Crowley was secretly employed by MI5 as a spy. On the other hand, perhaps, the files were opened because MI5 considered Crowley to be a subversive. Or, at the absolute extreme end of theorizing, just possibly someone in MI5 wanted to know if occult phenomena could be weaponized – which is, basically, what Operation Often’s staff were trying to determine.
Whatever the full story of Operation Often and the far-less-than-clear saga of Aleister Crowley and MI5, when we add all of that to the revelations of Pacheco and Marchetti, what we see is a definite interest in the world of the occult on the part of intelligence agencies. How far that interest has gone, though, is anyone’s guess.