May 03, 2022 I Nick Redfern

MK-Ultra: A Controversial History

Within the annals of research into conspiracy theories, there is perhaps no more emotive term than that of “mind-control.” Indeed, mention those two words to anyone who is even remotely aware of the term and it will invariably and inevitably (and wholly justifiably, too) provoke imagery and comments pertaining to political assassinations, dark and disturbing CIA chicanery, sexual-slavery, secret government projects - and even alien abductions, and subliminal advertising on the part of the world’s media and advertising agencies. Yes: the specter of mind-control is one that has firmly worked its ominous way into numerous facets of modern-day society. And it has been doing so for years. Consider, for example, the following: “I can hypnotize a man, without his knowledge or consent, into committing treason against the United States,” asserted Dr George Estabrooks, PH.D, and chairman of the Department of Psychology at Colgate University, way back in 1942, and before a select group of personnel attached to the United States’ War Department. Estabrooks added: “Two hundred trained foreign operators, working in the United States, could develop a uniquely dangerous army of hypnotically controlled Sixth Columnists.”

Estabrooks’ piece-de-resistance, however, was to capitalize on an ingenious plan that had been postulated as far back as the First World War. As he explained: “During World War One, a leading psychologist made a startling proposal to the navy. He offered to take a submarine steered by a captured U-boat captain, placed under his hypnotic control, through enemy mine fields to attack the German fleet. Washington nixed the stratagem as too risky. First, because there was no disguised method by which the captain’s mind could be outflanked. Second, because today’s technique of day-by-day breaking down of ethical conflicts brainwashing was still unknown. “The indirect approach to hypnotism would, I believe, change the navy’s answer today. Personally, I am convinced that hypnosis is a bristling, dangerous armament which makes it doubly imperative to avoid the war of tomorrow.”

(Nick Redfern)

A perfect example of the way in which the will of a person could be completely controlled and manipulated was amply and graphically spelled out in an article that Dr. George Estabrooks wrote in April 1971 for the now--defunct publication Science Digest. Titled Hypnosis Comes of Age, it stated the following: “Communication in war is always a headache. Codes can be broken. A professional spy may or may not stay bought. Your own man may have unquestionable loyalty, but his judgment is always open to question. “The ‘hypnotic courier,’ on the other hand, provides a unique solution. I was involved in preparing many subjects for this work during World War II. One successful case involved an Army Service Corps Captain whom we’ll call George Smith. “Captain Smith had undergone months of training. He was an excellent subject but did not realize it. I had removed from him, by post-hypnotic suggestion, all recollection of ever having been hypnotized. “First I had the Service Corps call the captain to Washington and tell him they needed a report of the mechanical equipment of Division X headquartered in Tokyo. Smith was ordered to leave by jet next morning, pick up the report and return at once. Consciously, that was all he knew, and it was the story he gave to his wife and friends.

“Then I put him under deep hypnosis, and gave him - orally - a vital message to be delivered directly on his arrival in Japan to a certain colonel - let’s say his name was Brown - of military intelligence. “Outside of myself, Colonel Brown was the only person who could hypnotize Captain Smith. This is ‘locking.’ “I performed it by saying to the hypnotized Captain: ‘Until further orders from me, only Colonel Brown and I can hypnotize you. We will use a signal phrase the moon is clear. Whenever you hear this phrase from Brown or myself you will pass instantly into deep hypnosis.’ “When Captain Smith re-awakened, he had no conscious memory or what happened in trance. All that he was aware of was that he must head for Tokyo to pick up a division report. “On arrival there, Smith reported to Brown, who hypnotized him with the signal phrase. Under hypnosis, Smith delivered my message and received one to bring back. Awakened, he was given the division report and returned home by jet. There I hypnotized him once more with the signal phrase, and he spieled off Brown's answer that had been dutifully tucked away in his unconscious mind.” And with the early, ground-breaking work of George Estabrooks now concisely spelled out for one and all to read, digest and muse upon, let me acquaint you with a concise history of the world of mind-control, mind-manipulation, and what could accurately be termed mind-slavery. The picture is not a pretty one – not at all.

Although the U.S. intelligence community, military and government has undertaken countless official (and off-the-record, too) projects pertaining to both mind-control and mind-manipulation, without any doubt whatsoever, the most notorious of all was Project MKUltra: a clandestine operation that operated out of the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence, and that had its beginnings in the Cold War era of the early 1950s. The date of the project’s actual termination is a somewhat hazy one; however, it is known that it was definitely in operation as late as the latter part of the 1960s – and, not surprisingly and regretfully, has since been replaced by far more controversial and deeply hidden projects. To demonstrate the level of secrecy that surrounded Project MKUltra, even though it had kicked off at the dawn of the fifties, its existence was largely unknown outside of the intelligence world until 1975 – when the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission began making their own investigations of the CIA’s mind-control-related activities – in part to determine if (a) the CIA had engaged in illegal activity, (b) the personal rights of citizens had been violated, and (c) if the projects at issue had resulted in fatalities – which they most assuredly and unfortunately did.

 Rather conveniently, and highly suspiciously, too, it was asserted at the height of the inquires in 1975 that two years earlier, in 1973, CIA Director, Richard Helms had ordered the destruction of the Agency’s MKUltra files. Fortunately, this did not stop the Church Committee or the Rockefeller Commission – both of whom had the courage and tenacity to forge ahead with their investigations, relying on sworn testimony from players in MKUltra, where documentation was no longer available for scrutiny, study and evaluation. The story that unfolded was both dark and disturbing –in equal degrees. Indeed, the scope of the project – and allied operations, too – was spelled out in an August 1977 document titled The Senate MK-Ultra Hearings that was prepared by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Human Resources, as a result of its probing into the secret world of the CIA. As the document explained:

“Research and development programs to find materials which could be used to alter human behavior were initiated in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These experimental programs originally included testing of drugs involving witting human subjects, and culminated in tests using unwitting, non-volunteer human subjects. These tests were designed to determine the potential effects of chemical or biological agents when used operationally against individuals unaware that they had received a drug.” The Committee then turned its attention to the overwhelming secrecy that surrounded these early 1940s/1950s projects: “The testing programs were considered highly sensitive by the intelligence agencies administering them. Few people, even within the agencies, knew of the programs and there is no evidence that either the Executive Branch or Congress were ever informed of them. “The highly compartmented nature of these programs may be explained in part by an observation made by the CIA Inspector General that, ‘the knowledge that the Agency is engaging in unethical and illicit activities would have serious repercussions in political and diplomatic circles and would be detrimental to the accomplishment of its missions.’”

An example of a CIA MK-Ultra document

The research and development programs, and particularly the covert testing programs, resulted in massive abridgments of the rights of American citizens, and sometimes with tragic consequences, too. As prime evidence of this, the Committee uncovered details on the deaths of two Americans that were firmly attributed to the programs at issue; while other participants in the testing programs were said to still be suffering from the residual effects of the tests as late as the mid-1970s. And as the Committee starkly noted: “While some controlled testing of these substances might be defended, the nature of the tests, their scale, and the fact that they were continued for years after the danger of surreptitious administration of LSD to unwitting individuals was known, demonstrate a fundamental disregard for the value of human life.” There was far more to come: The Select Committee’s investigation of the testing and use of chemical and biological agents also raised serious questions about the adequacy of command and control procedures within the Central Intelligence Agency and military intelligence, and also about the nature of the relationships among the intelligence agencies, other governmental agencies, and private institutions and individuals that were also allied to the early mind-control studies. 

For example, the Committee was highly disturbed to learn that with respect to the mind-control and mind-manipulation projects, the CIA’s normal administrative controls were controversially – and completely - waived for programs involving chemical and biological agents – supposedly to protect their security; but more likely to protect those CIA personnel who knew they were verging upon (if not outright surpassing) breaking the law. But it is perhaps the following statement from the Committee that demonstrates the level of controversy that surrounded – and that still surrounds – the issue of mind-control-based projects: “The decision to institute one of the Army’s LSD field testing projects had been based, at least in part, on the finding that no long-term residual effects had ever resulted from the drug’s administration. The CIA’s failure to inform the Army of a death which resulted from the surreptitious administration of LSD to unwitting Americans, may well have resulted in the institution of an unnecessary and potentially lethal program.” The Committee added:

“The development, testing, and use of chemical and biological agents by intelligence agencies raises serious questions about the relationship between the intelligence community and foreign governments, other agencies of the Federal Government, and other institutions and individuals. “The questions raised range from the legitimacy of American complicity in actions abroad which violate American and foreign laws to the possible compromise of the integrity of public and private institutions used as cover by intelligence agencies.” Controversial, indeed.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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