Jul 11, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Mind-Control: A Controversial and Long History

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was definitely in operation as late as the latter part of the 1960s – and, not surprisingly and regretfully, has since been replaced by far more controversial and deeply hidden projects.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.

The documents reads as follows, in part: “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.’”

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.” While MKUltra was certainly the most infamous of all the CIA-initiated mind-control programs, it was very far from being an isolated one. Indeed, numerous sub-projects, post-projects and operations initiated by other agencies were brought to the Committee’s attention. One was Project Chatter, which the Committee described thus:

Project Chatter was a Navy program that began in the fall of 1947. Responding to reports of amazing results achieved by the Soviets in using truth drugs, the program focused on the identification and the testing of such drugs for use in interrogations and in the recruitment of agents. The research included laboratory experiments on animals and human subjects involving Anabasis aphylla, scopolamine, and mescaline in order to determine their speech-inducing qualities. Overseas experiments were conducted as part of the project. The project expanded substantially during the Korean War, and ended shortly after the war, in 1953.” Then there was Projects Bluebird and Artichoke. Again, the Committee dug deep and uncovered some controversial and eye-opening data and testimony: “The earliest of the CIA’s major programs involving the use of chemical and biological agents, Project Bluebird, was approved by the Director in 1950. Its objectives were: (a) discovering means of conditioning personnel to prevent unauthorized extraction of information from them by known means, (b) investigating the possibility of control of an individual by application of special interrogation techniques, (c) memory enhancement, and (d) establishing defensive means for preventing hostile control of Agency personnel.”

The Committee added with respect to Bluebird: “As a result of interrogations conducted overseas during the project, another goal was added - the evaluation of offensive uses of unconventional interrogation techniques, including hypnosis and drugs. In August 1951, the project was renamed Artichoke. Project Artichoke included in-house experiments on interrogation techniques, conducted ‘under medical and security controls which would ensure that no damage was done to individuals who volunteer for the experiments. Overseas interrogations utilizing a combination of sodium pentothal and hypnosis after physical and psychiatric examinations of the subjects were also part of Artichoke.” Interestingly, the Committee noted that: “Information about Project Artichoke after the fall of 1953 is scarce. The CIA maintains that the project ended in 1956, but evidence suggests that Office of Security and Office of Medical Services use of ‘special interrogation’ techniques continued for several years thereafter.” 

MKNaomi was another major CIA program in this area. In 1967, the CIA summarized the purposes of MKNaomi thus: “(a) To provide for a covert support base to meet clandestine operational requirements. (b) To stockpile severely incapacitating and lethal materials for the specific use of TSD [Technical Services Division]. (c) To maintain in operational readiness special and unique items for the dissemination of biological and chemical materials. (d) To provide for the required surveillance, testing, upgrading, and evaluation of materials and items in order to assure absence of defects and complete predictability of results to be expected under operational conditions.”

Under an agreement reached with the Army in 1952, the Special Operations Division (SOD) at Fort Detrick was to assist CIA in developing, testing, and maintaining biological agents and delivery systems – some of which were directly related to mind-control experimentation. By this agreement, the CIA finally acquired the knowledge, skill, and facilities of the Army to develop biological weapons specifically suited for CIA use. The Committee also noted: “SOD developed darts coated with biological agents and pills containing several different biological agents which could remain potent for weeks or months. SOD developed a special gun for firing darts coated with a chemical which could allow CIA agents to incapacitate a guard dog, enter an installation secretly, and return the dog to consciousness when leaving. SOD scientists were unable to develop a similar incapacitant [sic] for humans. SOD also physically transferred to CIA personnel biological agents in ‘bulk’ form, and delivery devices, including some containing biological agents.”

In addition to the CIA’s interest in using biological weapons and mind-control against humans, it also asked SOD to study use of biological agents against crops and animals. In its 1967 memorandum, the CIA stated: “Three methods and systems for carrying out a covert attack against crops and causing severe crop loss have been developed and evaluated under field conditions. This was accomplished in anticipation of a requirement which was later developed but was subsequently scrubbed just prior to putting into action.”

The Committee concluded with respect to MKNaomi that the project was “…terminated in 1970. On November 25, 1969, President Nixon renounced the use of any form of biological weapons that kill or incapacitate and ordered the disposal of existing stocks of bacteriological weapons. On February 14, 1970, the President clarified the extent of his earlier order and indicated that toxins - chemicals that are not living organisms but are produced by living organisms - were considered biological weapons subject to his previous directive and were to be destroyed. Although instructed to relinquish control of material held for the CIA by SOD, a CIA scientist acquired approximately 11 grams of shellfish toxin from SOD personnel at Fort Detrick which were stored in a little-used CIA laboratory where it went undetected for five years.” Recognizing, however, that when it came to mind-control and manipulation, MKUltra was the one project that more than any other was worth pursuing as part of its efforts to determine the extent to which the CIA had bent and broken the law and flouted the rights of citizens, the Committee had far more to say on the operation:

Time and again the Committee returned to Project MKUltra. Not surprising, as it was, after all, the principal CIA program involving the research and development of chemical and biological agents, and was, in the words of the Committee: “…concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.” The Inspector General’s survey of MKUltra, in 1963, noted the following reasons for the profound level of sensitivity that surrounded the program: “A. Research in the manipulation of human behavior is considered by many authorities in medicine and related fields to be professionally unethical, therefore the reputation of professional participants in the MKUltra program are on occasion in jeopardy. B. Some MKUltra activities raise questions of legality implicit in the, original charter. C. A final phase of the testing of MKUltra products places the rights and interests of U.S. citizens in jeopardy. D. Public disclosure of some aspects of MKUltra activity could induce serious adverse reaction in U.S. public opinion. as well as stimulate offensive and defensive action in this field on the part of foreign intelligence services.” 

Over the at least ten-year life-span of the program, many “additional avenues to the control of human behavior” were designated as being wholly appropriate for investigation under the MKUltra charter. These included “radiation, electroshock, various fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology, graphology, harassment substances, and paramilitary devices and materials.” Needless to say, this was a grim list. No wonder the project - that was ultimately shut doqwn - became notorious.

NOTE: The two documents displayed in this article were created by the U. S. Government and were released under the terms of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. That places the documentation in the public domain.

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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