Mind Control and MKULTRA Project
Mind Control and Project MKULTRA Exposed in New York Times
To order this August 2, 1977 article from the New York Times archives, click here
Mind-Control Studies Had Origins in Trial of Mindszenty
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1—In the summer of 1977, it may be
difficult for Americans to comprehend the frame of mind of the men who nearly 30
years earlier started the Central Intelligence Agency's effort to manipulate
As some of the former high-ranking
C.I.A. men recall now, they had looked into the vacant eyes of Joseph Cardinal
Mindszenty at his treason trial in Budapest in 1949 and had been
They had been convinced that his
confession had been wrung from him while he was either under the influence of
some mysterious mind-bending drug or that he was standing before the dock in a
post-hypnotic trance. The sight touched off memories of earlier "show trials" in
the Soviet Union.
The C.I.A. leaders were certain the
Communists had embarked on a campaign to control men's minds and they were
determined to find a defense, setting out in earnest the next year—1950—with
Project Bluebird, which evolved into Project Artichoke, then became MK-ULTRA -
MK-DELTA. With each code name change, they broadened their sweep, until there
remained virtually no avenue of human behavior control they were not
Fears Seemingly Confirmed
Subsequent developments seemed to confirm their
fears: The arrest in Germany of two Soviet agents armed with identical plastic
cylinders containing hypodermic needles, said to cause a victim "to become
amenable to the will of his captor." Then, the startling confessions of downed
American airmen to false charges of carrying out germ warfare against North
A short time later, however, in 1953, a high
level military study group determined that events had not been what they seemed.
Neither the Russians nor anyone else had devised a means of turning men into
robots and there was "little threat, if any, to national security," the study
The intelligence community rationalized: They
would go ahead anyway, against the chance that the Communists might some day
live up to their dread. Furthermore, they saw great potential in developing
these tools for their own offensive use.
There was an
"urgent need," the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies argued, to develop
"effective and practical techniques" to "render an individual subservient to an
imposed will or control."
The C.I.A. men, who led the
way, enlisting the support of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Departments
of Agriculture, Health, Education and Welfare and several other agencies,
acknowledged among themselves that much of what they were setting out to do was
"unethical," bordered on the illegal and would be repugnant to the American
people. So they made certain that these activities were tightly held, known only
to the director, Allen W. Dulles, and a handful of operatives and high-ranking
"Precautions must be taken," one agency
official wrote in an internal memo, "not only to protect the operation from
exposure to enemy forces, but also to conceal these activities from the American
public in general," adding that this information "would be detrimental to the
accomplishment [of the agency's]
Fragmentary accounts of the C.I.A.'s
efforts to control men's minds have been published in the past. But a far more
comprehensive picture has emerged from a study of more than 2,000 pages of
freshly released agency documents and an investigation by a team of New York
The behavior control, undertaken by
men who presumably saw themselves as sincere and patriotic, takes on in
retrospect the appearance of a bizarre grope into the world of science fiction.
The C.I.A. investigators let their imaginations run: Was there a way to dissolve
the Berlin Wall? What about a knockout drug that could incapacitate an entire
building full of people? A pill that would make a drunk man sober; a way to
manufacture food that looked and tasted normal but, when eaten, would create
Rubber From Mushrooms?
One long discussion focused on whether rubber could
be produced from mushrooms. Another on whether water witching could locate an
They worked on ways to achieve the
"controlled production" of headaches and earaches; twitches, jerks and staggers.
They wanted to reduce a man to a bewildered, self-doubting mass to "subvert his
principles," a C.I.A. document said. They wanted to direct him in ways that "may
vary from rationalizing a disloyal act to the construction of a new
One of their longest running goals was to
develop a way to induce amnesia. They wanted to be able to interrogate enemy
espionage agents in such a way that neither the agents nor their superiors would
know they had been compromised, and they wanted to be able to wipe clean the
memories of their own agents after certain missions and, especially, when they
were going into retirement.
They were interested in
simple destruction, too. As with the other business that made amnesia so
attractive, they wanted to be able to get away with murder without leaving a
An Expert's Suggestions
One apparent medical or scientific expert, whose
identity has been deleted from the documents, suggested that the agency might
kill a man by putting him in a small, air-tight room with a chunk of dry ice,
giving off suffocation carbon dioxide gas. He also proposed reducing a victim's
body temperature to below freezing or exposing him to a lethal dose of X-rays.
Or, he said, there were two "techniques" that required no special equipment:
smothering the victim with a pillow case or strangling him with a bath
In attempts to develop ways to administer
lethal and mind-altering drugs surreptitiously through clothing as thick as a
leather jacket, they tried out small spray guns and pencil-like
They conducted interviews with scientists
and doctors and members of other intelligence agencies around the world. They
studied the writing of the psychologist who worked with Adolf Hitler, wondered
about the use of the "occult" and of "black psychiatry," and of course pored
over their own stream of intelligence data.
an agent's report of a "confession gang" that had arrived in Shang-hai, and,
without the use of "old-fashioned torture or drugs," could obtain "any
confession they desire." In one case, the report from China went, "the prisoner
was not allowed to close his eyes for 26 days."
of the ideas the C.I.A. considered never got off the drawing board. For a few
years in the early 1950s, though, the agency had one or two "special
interrogation" teams that went on operational missions in Europe and Asia. A
team was supposed to consist of a psychiatrist, a hypnotist and an interrogator
and was to elicit information through the use of drugs and
In actual practice, the size of the teams
and the procedure they followed varied. In one series of interrogations in
Europe, for example, they employed neither hypnotism nor a combination of drugs
and hypnotism—the very essence "of special interrogation" at the time—because
the psychiatrist was in a hurry to resume an interrupted vacation and no
hypnotist was available.
11 Days of Questioning
Working in the basement of a suburban home, guarded
at times by armed military police in civilian clothes, the team questioned three
European espionage agents who had been working for the C.I.A. "behind the Iron
Curtain" and whose loyalty had become suspect.
11 days, the three agents were individually given intravenous injections of an
unidentified drug—possibly sodium pentothal—then engaged by the interrogator and
the psychiatrist in fantasies.
The team decided that
all three agents had responded to questions truthfully and should be continued
in operational use. But they reported in the document that one of the agents who
had resisted the effects of the drugs and later disappointed his interrogators
by making reference to the "solution" that was injected, thus giving no
indication of "amnesia," seemed a "poor operational
They said they felt that "if ever taken into
custody by the Soviets he would also tell them the truth as he knew it under the
slightest duress" and should not be trusted with important
A former senior intelligence official
told of another "special interrogation" effort in Europe in which the C.I.A.
tried to determine whether a Viennese count who had been promising information
on Soviet cipher codes was telling the truth. The count was given sodium
pentothal and hypnotized, the official said, but "it was a complete bust; he
just laughed at us." Some time later the count was subjected to the C.I.A.'s
"old reliable," the lie detector, and the agency concluded he had been
The C.I.A. was fascinated by LSD and other
psychochemicals that they thought might be useful in getting people to talk or
in temporarily putting them out of action. They were aware that it was
considered unethical to experiment on people with drugs without their knowledge,
but they decided that "unwitting" testing was essential if accurate information
on LSD and other substances was to be obtained.
Fatal LSD Experiment
In the C.I.A.'s very first experiment with LSD on a
group of unwitting men, one of them, Dr. Frank Olson, a civilian working on top
secret germ warfare in a unit at Fort Detrick, Md., which provided data for both
the Army and the C.I.A., went into a depression that ended in his leap from a
10th-story hotel room window in Manhattan in the fall of
Earlier in the same year, in the first
experiment with psychochemicals that the Army had sponsored at a civilian
facility, Harold Blauer, a professional tennis player, had been given a fatal
dose of mescaline derivative at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in
The fact that both men died in Government
experiments was kept secret from their families and the general public for more
than 20 years. Two years after the deaths the C.I.A. made an arrangement with
the agents of the Bureau of Narcotics to test LSD surreptitiously on unwitting
patrons of bars in New York and San Francisco, some of whom became violently ill
and were hospitalized, never knowing exactly what had happened to
Some of the C.I.A. officials—past and
present—and former military men who worked on the behavior control project, look
back at their endeavors with a measure of disappointment that they had
accomplished so little, but they had no regrets.
think it was certainly worthwhile," said one former agency official who agreed
to speak only with the promise of anonymity. "People had quite a lot of fears,
and if nothing had been done, people's imaginations could have gone most
anywhere. I think what we did helped. It proved that things weren't as bad as
people might have thought."
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