Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The LSD Chronicles: Origins Part III

Welcome to part three of this particular installment in my LSD Chronicles series. Here I've been examining the origins of the CIA's LSD research. In part one I noted that the CIA's interest in LSD stemmed from various projects concerning mind control that the Agency had been involved in since the early 1950s. In both part one and two I noted that the rationalization for the CIA's forays into mind control was the Communist practice of 'brainwashing,' a concept that captured the American mind (har har) shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War. But reports of 'brainwashing' were already being framed by the CIA as early as 1950. What's more, the Agency became obsessed with the notion that the Communist secret to brainwashing was some type of drug despite little to no evidence to support this assumption.

In reality, the CIA was simply continuing a long standing American obsession with discovering a type of drug capable of enabling mind control. This search began as early as World War II, and was greatly influenced thereafter by the Nazi regime upon the conclusion of that war. The Nazis hand conducted their own research and experiments using various drugs with an eye toward discovering an effective truth serum, and perhaps more. This 'research' was incorporated into American Cold War efforts to discover an effective truth drug.

The post-war search for an effective truth drug never ceased until the 1970s (allegedly) once Project CHATTER, a US Navy program begun in 1947, was initiated. The CIA would begin its own major drug testing programs by at least 1950. Surprisingly, it's hard to pinpoint when exactly the CIA latched on to LSD as the ultimate truth drug, or who was behind this revelation. Most sources simply leave it at the CIA embarking wholesale on LSD research in the early 1950s.
"An ARTICHOKE document dated October 21, 1951, indicates that acid was tested initially as part of a pilot study of the effects of various chemicals 'on the conscious suppression of experimental or non-threat secrets.' In addition to lysergic acid this particular survey covered a wide range of substances, including morphine, ether, Benzedrine, ethyl alcohol, and mescaline. 'There is no question,' noted the author of this report, 'that drugs are already on hand (and new ones are being produced) that can destroy integrity and make indiscreet the most dependable individual.' The report concluded by recommending that LSD be critically tested 'under threat conditions beyond the scope of civilian experimentation.' POWs, federal prisoners, and Security officers were mentioned as possible candidates for these field experiments... 
"Initial reports seemed promising. In one instance LSD was given to an officer who had been instructed not to reveal 'a significant military secret.' When questioned, however, 'he gave all the details of the secret... and after the effects of the LSD had worn off, the officer had no knowledge of revealing information (complete amnesia).' Favorable reports kept coming in, and when this phase of experimentation was completed, the CIA's Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) prepared a lengthy memorandum entitled 'Potential New Agent for Unconventional Warfare.' LSD was said to be useful 'for eliciting true and accurate statements from subjects under its influence during interrogation.' Moreover, the data on hand suggested that LSD might help in reviving memories of past experiences."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee &Bruce Shlain, pgs. 13-14)
the Potential New Agent for Unconventional Warfare document

All of this is compelling, though it doesn't really pinpoint the origins of the Agency's interest in LSD. Even the often reliable John Marks, a former State Department official, is rather vague on this account.
"Albert Hofmann's discovery of LSD in 1943 may have begun a new age in the exploration of the human mind, but it took six years for word to reach America. Even after Hofmann and his coworkers in Switzerland published their work in a 1947 article, no one in the United States seemed to notice. Then in 1949, a famous Viennese doctor named Otto Kauders traveled to the United States in search of research funds. He gave a conference at Boston Psychopathic Hospital, a pioneering mental -health institute affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and he spoke about a new experimental drug called d-lysergic acid diethylamide. Milton Greenblatt, the hospital's research director, vividly recalls Kauders' description of how an infinitesimally small dose had rendered Dr. Hofmann temporarily 'crazy....' If the drug really did induce psychosis for a short time, the Boston doctors reasoned, an antidote --which they hoped to find --might cure schizophrenia. It would take many years of research to show that LSD did not, in fact, produce a 'model psychosis,' but to the Boston doctors in 1949, the drug showed incredible promise. Max Rinkel, a neuropsychiatrist and refugee from Hitler's Germany, was so intrigued by Kauder's presentation that he quickly contacted Sandoz, the huge Swiss pharmaceutical firm where Albert Hofmann worked. Sandoz officials arranged to ship some LSD across the Atlantic... 
"For better or worse, LSD had come to America in 1949 and had embarked on a strange trip of its own. Academic researchers would study it in search of knowledge that would benefit all mankind. Intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, would subsidize and shape the form of much of this work to learn how the drug could be used to break the will of enemy agents, unlock secrets in the minds of trained spies, and otherwise manipulate human behavior. These two strains --of helping people and of controlling them --would coexist rather comfortably through the 1950s."
(The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate", pgs. 57-58)
The figure of Max Rinkel is rather curious. Some credit him as the first individual to bring LSD to America and he would remain a major supplier of the drug along the East Coast throughout the 1950s. While I've seen no indication that Rinkel officially worked for the CIA, he would remain in close contact with the Agency throughout his career. Rinkel had close ties to the after mentioned George Hunter White, who had been involved in various 'truth drug' projects since WWII, and Dr. Harold Abramson, a major CIA LSD researcher and a key player in the Frank Olson saga.
"White in turn would sometimes receive his supply of the drug from a Boston-based research psychiatrist, Dr. Max Rinkel, who is credited with first bringing LSD to the United States in 1949. Rinkel, who fled Germany when Hitler came to power, would often hand-carry LSD to New York for White, as well as for Drs. Paul Hoch and Harold Abramson."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pg. 284)
Rinkel was clearly a major influence of the CIA's embrace of LSD even though he is sparingly mentioned by most researchers. This is also true of another figure that would become a major proponent of LSD. He was in fact one of the first American doctors to be made aware of the substance.
"In November 1948, L. Wilson Greene, Scientific Director of the Army's Chemical and Radiological Laboratories at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland received a communication marked TOP SECRET from Dr. John P. Clay, a high-level Army consultant to the Chemical Division at the European Command Center in Heidelberg, Germany. Clay's purpose was to alert Greene to the existence of a 'powerful hallucinatory agent' that had been 'recently discovered' by scientists at the Sandoz pharmaceutical company in Basle, Switzerland. Experiments 'are actively underway on abnormal subjects at Swiss institutions,' Clay reported, 'and results appear very promising.' "
(ibid, pg. 362)
Dr. L. Wilson Greene, a major part of our story

By 1952 L. Wilson Greene had become convinced that LSD, along with psychedelics, were the key to a totally new concept of warfare. His notions would have an major influence on a young Sidney Gottlieb, among others. Gottlieb would go on to head the CIA's notorious MK-ULTRA project, which would commit some of the worst abuses of US Intelligence Community's LSD research, most notably the Cameron 'medical experiments.'
"...Dr. L. Wilson Greene, Chemical Corps Scientific Director, the man largely responsible, along with Stanley Lovell, for the creation of Camp Detrick's Special Operations Division. Dr. Greene, a civilian, was a strong advocate of the use of mind-altering drugs, including mescaline and LSD, covertly and in battlefield situations. Sidney Gottlieb found Greene's thoughts most impressive and worthy of pursuit. Much later, Gottlieb would admit: 
I was fascinated by the ideas Greene was advancing. He was convinced that it was possible to actually win a battle or larger engagement without killing anyone or destroying any property. While I found this to be a novel approach to war, I was somewhat skeptical about it, but I was intrigued by the potential applications of psychochemicals to much smaller conflicts and situations. There I saw tremendous promise."
 (ibid, pg. 61)
Greene would cause quite a stir in 1952 when he held a Chemical Corps conference at Camp Detrick (which was the center of the United States biological warfare program for many years), attended by Gottlieb and Frank Olson, among others. The subject was "the use of psychochemicals as a new concept of warfare." There Greene would site LSD specially as the future of warfare. Continuing with Albarelli:
"Dr. Greene's presentation about the potential uses of psychochemicals in warfare caused a real stir among conference attendees, generating animated discussion concerning the benefits of tactical and strategic uses of such drugs. 
"Attendees became even more excited when Dr. Greene shared top-secret information with them about a very recent and 'incredible discovery' of a previously unknown drug that 'causes hallucinations and suicidal tendencies in man.' The drug was quite effective and powerful in 'extremely small amounts,' Greene explained, with symptoms amounting to a cornucopia of disorders. They included 'uneasiness, vertigo, restlessness, hysteria, unsteady and uncertain movements of the arms and legs, and hallucinations,' Hallucinations ranged from the simple to the more complex, Dr. Greene said. His preliminary report quoted a researcher's description: 'Flicking, glimmering, glittering, scintillating, rapid and slow blotting of colors, sparks, whirling, traveling small dots, light flashes and sheet lightning...' 
"Dr. Greene's own excitement about the incredible drug was more than evident and he implied to attendees that LSD-25 could well be that much sought after magical psychochemical that would transform modern warfare. Greene... was already smitten with the potentials of LSD through top-secret information being generated from the very heart of activities around the drug's development."
(ibid, pg. 63)

Olson (top) and Gottlieb (bottom)

As noted above, Greene was already made aware of the drug as early as 1948 via top secret reports being given to him by the US Military. But his concept of a 'psychochemical' war stemmed from a much different source, one that he was made aware of shortly after discovering LSD. Once again, continuing with Albarelli:
"...Edgewood Arsenal scientific director, Dr. L. Wilson Greene, was developing his own thesis that LSD could well be a major advance toward 'non-violent war.' A significant step in reaching this conclusion was Dr. Greene's review of a massive amount of Nazi files and documents, many of which have never seen the light of day in America. Greene would later recount that... he first discovered the characteristics of psychochemicals during a routine scientific staff meeting in 1946 at Edgewood. A team of Chemical Corps physicians, including several from Camp Detrick, had just returned from Germany to report their findings and observations on the interrogation of captured Nazi scientists at Nuremburg's Landsberg Prison. One of the physicians 'remarked that he had been surprised to learn that the Germans [had] conducted what appeared to be elaborate human experiments [on concentration camp prisoners] using hallucinogenic drugs... including mescaline and various compounds drawn from ergot.' 
"Greene was intrigued with the report and became fascinated with the possibility of employing mind-altering drugs as a more 'humane' weapon of war. He spoke with members of the Chemical Corps team and learned that OSS and Office of Naval Intelligence officials, under the auspices of the U.S. Naval Technical Mission, had produced a number of studies, including one top-secret report detailing Nazi experiments, entitled German Aviation Medical Experiments at the Dachau Concentration Camp. After reviewing nearly three hundred pages of reports, Greene was disappointed to find fewer than two pages devoted to Nazi drug experiments. However, he noticed several unexplained references to an intriguing research institute called Das Ahnenerbe... It appeared that Das Ahnenerbe was the organization responsible for ordering and conducting the horrific drug experiments at Dachau and other locations.  
"L. Wilson Greene doggedly pursued the subject and, after subsequent meetings with Army G-2 intelligence officers and further review of a large cache of captured documents, he was able to learn a great deal more about the activities of the Ahnenerbe."
(ibid, pg. 371)
We examined the Ahnenerbe in much greater detail in part two of this series. In brief, it was a Nazi think tank co-founded by Heinrich Himmler himself. Superficially dedicated to the study of the ancient Aryan race, it delved into numerous occult topics. It has been described as "the new Knights Templar, defending the Nazi 'faithful.'" To this days, it remains one of the most mysterious organizations of Nazi Germany.

the Ahnenerbe seal

It's most interesting to note that the above quotation notes that ergot was also studied by Nazi scientists as part their hallucinogenic drug experiments. While Nazi studies of mescaline and cannabis are relatively well known, this is only the mention I've found to a Nazi interest in ergot, the psychedelic component of LSD. With this in mind, Greene made a fascinating connection between Nazi Germany and LSD.
"Soon after reading about the Dachau mescaline experiments, Greene's attention turned to the powerful drug about which he had been alerted months earlier through top-secret Army reports from Europe. Right away, Greene later said, he 'was struck by the physical proximity of the laboratory doing the most to refine ergot and the camp where most of the mescaline experiments was performed.' The Sandoz Laboratories in Basle, Switzerland were only about four hundred kilometers, or 248 miles, away from Dachau. Greene went back to his recently received reports from Army intelligence and refreshed himself with the amount of 'what we thought was the mostly-by-chance discovery of LSD-25 in 1942 or 1943 by Hofmann at Sandoz...' 
"Greene learned that Hofmann had actually worked under the direction of the highly respected physician Arthur Stoll, founder and director of Sandoz's aggressive drug research program. During World War I, Stoll had been an associate in Berlin to world famous chemist and Nobel Laureate, Dr. Richard Willstatter. Around the same time Hofmann was hired by Sandoz, according to Greene's findings, Stoll's laboratory was diligently working on ways to isolate and prepare in pure form 'the intact active principles of medicinal plants whose active principles are unstable or whose potency is subject to variation.' This objective was particularly attractive to Hofmann because of his deep interest in the development of natural chemical products. Said Greene, 'Stoll's laboratory was concentrating its efforts on such plants as foxglove, Mediterranean squill, and ergot.' 
"Beginning in 1946 through to mid-1949, Greene recounted, 'after three Sandoz researchers volunteered to self-administer LSD-25 in order to confirm, and possibly replicate, Hofmann's 'wondrous experience' with the drug to a very skeptical Arthur Stoll,' Stoll's son [Dr. Werner A. Stoll, a psychiatrist at the Bleuler Clinic in Zurich], undertook a number of human experiments on about twenty [it was twenty-two] people at the University of Zurich.' Greene found that documentation concerning these experiments was scant, and recalled what he later termed 'troubling rumors or gossip' that the experiments, or related tests, resulted in 'at least one death, possibly more,' involving one 'unwitting mental patient,' 'the suicide of one nurse,' and 'the death in Geneva of a woman physician who had been depressed' and had taken LSD-25 and became more depressed, 'killing herself three weeks later.'"
(ibid, pgs. 372-373)
Did Dr. Albert Hofmann discover LSD while inadvertently working for the Nazi regime?

While Albarelli doesn't come out and say it, he strongly indicates that LSD may have been developed under the auspices of the Nazis. That Sandoz was aggressively pursuing ergot research (whose hallucinogenic properties had been known for some time) at the same time that the Nazis were aggressively studying hallucinogenic substances at locations less than 250 miles from each seems a bit more than coincidence. As noted above, there was speculation that the Nazis were researching ergot, though I've never seen the substance mentioned in any official reports on the experiments conducted at Dachau. Could it be that Nazi ergot experiments were outsourced to Switzerland, a country that while officially neutral during the war harbored ample Nazi sympathizers?

While Nazi ties to LSD are tenuous at best, the ties of Nazi mind control experiments and the search for a truth drug clearly had an enormous influence on the post-war U.S. Intelligence community. Of course, the early U.S. Intelligence outfits such as the OSS were already trending in the direction of truth drugs and mind control even before the Dachau discoveries. The Nazi interest in such fields seemed to have reinforced the belief in certain intelligence circles that psychochemicals were the future of warfare.

And it is here that I shall finally wrap things up. As we have seen, US interest in LSD and mind control was publicly rationalized as a necessity against Communist 'brainwashing' ploys. Yet the national brainwashing debate was already being framed by the CIA even before Korea presented alleged victims of Communist brainwashing to the America public. What's more, there was no evidence that the Communists resorted to drugs (or other esoteric instruments such as hypnosis) to brainwash their victims. In fact, Communist 'enhanced interrogation methods' (to borrow a phrase from the War on Terror) more closely resemble re-education than brainwashing. The obsession with mind control and truth drugs was very much an American phenomenon, with heavy Nazi overtones.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The LSD Chronicles: Origins Part II

In part one of this series we began examining the origins of the CIA's various LSD testing programs. I noted that these experiments were an extension of various mind control projects the Agency was running by the mid-1950s. The rational for delving into such an arcane field had to do with fear of Communist brainwashing that had gradually been working its way into the popular consciousness since the late 1940s, in large part due to the peculiar behavior of defendants at various Soviet show trials, most notably Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty.


When the Korean War broke out, the notion of brainwashing gained vast mainstream acceptance. The America public was now confronted with the specter of American POWs speaking in Marxist/Maoist rhetoric and admitting to deeds, such as the use of germ warfare, that the public knew simply could not be true (in reality, US use of biological weapons during Korea has never been conclusively disproven). The CIA (who had been actively studying various mind control techniques since 1950) and large chunks of the American public were convinced that the Communists had discovered some kind of magical formula for gaining total control of an individual's mind. Why else would red-blooded American boys be saying such things?

The CIA began to study Communist methods of interrogation in the hopes of learning what the special ingredient was, be it a drug, hypnosis, electroshock, or some other such technique, as early as 1949. It was not till 1953 that a thorough account would be produced. The man tapped to launch the CIA's most noted investigation into Communist mind control was the migraine specialist Dr. Harold Wolff, a close friend of then-CIA director Allen Dulles.
"Dr. Wolff, a veteran of numerous military and intelligence panels, had been briefed to begin work with his colleagues at Cornell University, Dr. Lawrence Hinkle, an equally brilliant neurologist. With the full consent of Cornell's president, Deane W. Molott, and the university's most senior administrators, the two doctors were given full access to Agency files on 7,190 American prisoners brainwashed during the Korean War. They also examined the extensive data the CIA had on Soviet methods of mind control. 
"For the first time, important distinctions were made by the doctors between the techniques used by the Russians and Chinese. Both systems began with a prisoner in solitary confinement, continually harassed by rotating shifts of guards telling him when to stand and sit, and disrupting his sleep if he made the slightest move during the short spells permitted; both systems excluded all outside contact, newspapers, letters from home, or listening to the radio. Time itself was denied the prisoner: his watch was taken away and he was kept in a cell with no windows and a constant overhead light. 
"However, the Russians rarely extended this initial period of sensory deprivation beyond six weeks. The Chinese maintained it far longer, often keeping a prisoner under these conditions for three months, and adding lengthy periods of total darkness to the incarceration. 
"The interrogation techniques were also different. The Soviet approach was to confront a victim with specific accusations, and to demand a full and immediate confession to these crimes. The method depended on telling a prisoner that he knew what wrong he had done and the interrogator was merely there to record any admission of guilt. In his Kafkaesque situation of not knowing what he was accused of, but being invited to admit to some crime, a prisoner invariably found himself struggling to prove his innocence. The Chinese interrogator would point out how manifestly absurd it was to make such a claim; the fact that he was a prisoner must surely suggest to him that he had committed some offense.
"While the prisoner continued to try to reason and plead, the interrogator would sit clearly bored with such unbelievable protestations. Abruptly, the mood would change. A prisoner would be invited to accept a last chance to recant by helping the interrogator to review the accused man's entire life. Confused, yet sensing there may yet be a way out, a prisoner would eagerly seize the opportunity. Captive and captor would move forward toward what the prisoner believed was a common goal, an end to this relentless probing. But ,as he was once more taken through the details of previous interrogations, the slightest departure from what from what he had said then would be seized upon. The Chinese interrogator would say, often with a sigh of regret, that the offender was not yet ready to tell the truth. Further weeks of isolation would follow. Then, once more, the questioning would resume.  
"The American neurologists suggested this was the point where the prisoner invariably felt something must be done to end this. He must find a way out.  
"In Soviet hands it meant signing a blanket confession of a list of itemized crimes for a show trial that was followed either by execution or exile to a labor camp. 
"But the Chinese went further. They wanted to reeducate their prisoners. This was done at special centers where the teachings of Marx and Mao were instilled, along with self-criticism and all the other trappings of conversion.  
"The Cornell doctors concluded that neither the Russians nor the Chinese depended totally on drugs, hypnosis, or any of the standard methods of behavioral control known in the West."
(Journey Into Madness, Gordon Thomas, pgs. 126-128)

Allen Dulles was unimpressed with the findings of his hand-picked committee. He remained convinced that drugs were the key, despite all evidence to the contrary.
"Their report to Dulles --so sensitive that it would never be fully declassified --led to a conclusion only remarkable to those unfamiliar with the director's thought process. In the years he had spent in wartime Europe --his daily life filled with spies and counterspies, secret police, emigres and exiles, saboteurs, professional assassins, agents provocateurs, Fascists and anti-Fascists, Nazis and anti-Nazis, Communists and anti-Communists, all being encouraged by him to intrigue against and, where need be, kill each other --Dulles had survived by following one rule: Nothing is what it seems. 
"The director was convinced that neither neurologist had fully understood what happened in North Korea. Accepting that the Communists did not depend on known behavioral methods of mind control, Dulles persuaded himself that the enemy must possess a method unknown in the West. It was therefore all that more urgent to move forward on that assumption."
(ibid, pg. 128)
Allen Dulles

Gordon Thomas would have use believe that Dulles embraced a 'scientific' method towards mind control off of a good old fashioned hunch. But in reality, the United States had been searching for a magical truth sermon (and mind control agent) since at least World War II. Dulles was simply continuing a long standing goal of the US Intelligence community.
"In the spring of 1942 General William 'Wild Bill' Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA's wartime predecessor, assembled a half-dozen prestgious American scientists and asked them to undertake a top-secret research program. Their mission, Donovan explained, was to develop a speech-inducing drug for use in intelligence interrogations. He insisted that the need for such a weapon was so acute as to warrant any and every attempt to find it. 
"The use of drugs by secret agents had long been a part of cloak-and-dagger folklore, but this would be the first concerted attempt on the part of an American espionage organization to modify human behavior through chemical means. 'We were not afraid to try things that had never been done before,' asserted Donovan, who was known for his freewheeling and unconventional approach to the spy trade. The OSS chief pressed his associates to come up with a substance that could break down the psychological defenses of enemy spies and POWs, thereby causing an uninhibited disclousure of classified information. Such a drug would also be useful for screening OSS personnel in order to identify German sympathizers, double agents, and potential misfits. 
"Dr. Windfred Overhulser, superintendent of Saint Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC, was appointed chairman of the research committee. Other members included Dr. Edward Stretcher, then president of the American Psychiatric Association, and Henry J. Aslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The committee surveyed and rejected numerous drugs, including alcohol, barbiturates, and caffeine. Peyote and scopolamine were also tested, but the visions produced by these substances interfered with the interrogation process. Eventually marijuana was chosen as the most likely candidate for a speech-inducing agent. 
"OSS scientists created a highly potent extract of cannabis, and through a process known as esterification a clear and viscous liquid was obtained. The final product had no color, odor, or taste. It would by nearly impossible to detect when administered surreptitiously, which is exactly what the spies intended to do. 'There is no reason to believe that any other nation or group is familiar with the preparation of this particular drug,' stated a once classified OSS document. Henceforth the OSS referred to the marijuana extract as 'TD' --a rather transparent cover for 'Truth Drug.' "
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pgs. 3-4)
Various field tests were performed during the war with this liquid marijuana substance, all of which proved inconclusive. Many of these tests were done in conjunction with the highly secretive Division 19.
"Division 19 had been a highly secret operation tucked away within the National Defense Research Committee's Office of Scientific Research and Development. Established on June 28, 1941 by Roosevelt's Executive Order, Division 19 was run by Dr. Marshall Chadwell... Most of the documents concerning the work of the Division 19 are still classified and may never be released for public scrutiny."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pg. 66) 
Division 19 was a kind of precursor to the CIA'S Technical Services Staff. It helped devise gadgets and weapons as well as the OSS's war time assassination program. It would also aid the OSS in developing a truth drug, of which they felt marijuana was the most promising. A joint Division 19 and OSS operator (who also worked for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and later, the CIA) named George Hunter White, who would eventually oversee the CIA's notorious Operation Midnight Climax, conducted much of the field research on the marijuana liquid. Hunter is a figure that already appeared briefly at the of the first installment of "The LSD Chronicles," and who will appear again and again. But I digress.

George White, a former Division 19 man who is a reoccurring figure throughout this series

In addition to the OSS's research into a truth drug, another WWII-era organization would have an enormous influence on the CIA's Cold War era search for a mind control-inducing drug. It was an outfit known as the Ahnenerbe, a Nazi think tank attached to the SS and overseen by Heinrich Himmler. The nature of the Ahnenerbe is difficult to describe. Officially billed as study society focused on the anthropological and cultural history of the Aryan race, the Ahnenerbe more closely resembled an occult society with a budget the size of the Department of Defense.
"In short, Himmler --along with occultist Hermann Wirth and race-obsessed Richard Walter Darre, had founded the Ahnenerbe in 1935. It was set up as a Nazi think tank and 'research' institute dedicated to anything under the sun that could be seen as promoting the anthropological and cultural history and 'superiority' of the so-called Aryan race. The Ahnenerbe's founding papers state that its primary objective was 'to promote the science of ancient intellectual history.' Its guiding thought, as enunciated by Himmler, was 'A Volk lives happily in the present and the future as long as it is aware of its past and the greatness of its ancestors.' 
"The Ahnenerbe operated a vast number of branches and over thirty programs, including 'folk' research, religious history, astronomy, geophysics, biology, botany, expeditions, cave studies, natural history, and plant genetics and preparations. In April 1945, American troops stumbled across a massive cache of Ahnenerbe files hidden in a dark, dank cave called Kleines Tuefelsloch (the Little Devil's Hole) near the Bavarian village of Pottenstein. For the next four years, American intelligence officials closely studied the captured documents, eventually sending many to the Army's Edgewood Arsenal and Camp Detrick."
(ibid, pg. 371)

This is only scratching the surface of the Ahnenerbe's  scope of 'research.'
"Himmler gave the Ahnenerbe official status within the Reich in 19935 (thus protecting it and its members from the spate of new laws that were designed to ban occult-related activity); in 1940 it became a formal division of the SS. With over fifty separate sections devoted to a wide range of scientific and pseudoscientific research, the Ahnenerbe became a boondoggle for Nazi scholars of every description. There was a Celtic Studies group within the Ahnenerbe; a group to study the Teutonic cult center Externsteine (near Wewelsberg), which as we have seen was believed to be the site of the famous World-Tree, Ydragsil or Yggdrasil; a group devoted to Icelandic research (as the Eddas were sacred to the Teuton myth, and since Iceland was considered to be the location of Thule itself); a group that was formed around Ernst Schafer and his Tibet expeditions; a runic studies group; a 'World Ice Theory' division; an archaeological research group that scoured the earth for evidence of Aryan presence in lands as remote from Germany as the Far East and South America... the list goes on."
(Unholy Alliance, Peter Levenda, pg. 182)
the Ahnenerbe symbol

Probably the most well known of the Ahnenerbe's various projects was the organization's research into the Holy Grail. Himmler was obsessed with the Grail and eventually located a young scholar bent on proving the pagan origins of the legendary (but only nominally) Christian relic. This young scholar was a fellow named Otto Rahn, an SS officer and alleged homosexual who developed a thesis for the Grail that incorporated the Medieval troubadours, the Cathars, and of course, the Knights Templar, among others. In fact, Rahn's theories (devised in the 1930s) are remarkably similar to contemporary speculations concerning the Grail, troubadours, Cathars, and Templars put forth in such works as Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation, in addition to the fiction of Dan Brown.

Rahn would eventually fall out of favor (allegedly due to his blatant homosexuality) with the Nazi regime and resign his SS commission in 1939. Shortly thereafter he was found frozen to death in Austria, on the anniversary of the fall of Montsegur, the final Cathar stronghold. Over the years the mysterious figure of Otto Rahn has gradually worked his way into the popular consciousness, via Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first of the Indiana Jones films. Rahn's saga informed several of the plot lines in the first three Jones films, and may even have served as the basis for the Indiana character.

But it wasn't all dashing adventures in exotic lands in search of legendary relics at the Ahnenerbe. In fact, several of the most barbaric experiments of the Holocaust fell under the direction of the Ahnenerbe. One such experiment, conducted at the notorious Dachau concentration camp, was described as 'aviation medicine.'
"There, in a closely guarded, fenced-off part of the camp, S.S. doctors studied such questions as the amount of time a downed airman could survive in the North Atlantic in February. Information of this sort was considered important to German security, since skilled pilots were in relatively short supply. So, at Heinrich Himmler's personal order, the doctors at Dachau simply sat by huge tubs of ice water with stopwatches and timed how long it took immersed prisoners to die. In other experiments, under the cover of 'aviation medicine,' inmates were crushed to death in high-altitude pressure chambers (to learn how high pilots could safely fly), and prisoners were shot, so that special blood coagulation could be tested on their wounds."
(The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate," John Marks, pg. 5)

one of Dachau's 'high-altitude pressure chambers'

Another notorious medical experiment the Ahnenerbe participated in was the attempt to catalog and measure a collection of Jewish skulls from Auschwitz. For our purposes, the Ahnenerbe's most noteworthy experiments centered around the uses of cannabis and mescaline.
"As revealed by statements in Wolfram Sievers's diaries and by other records and Nuremberg testimony concerning medical experimentation at Dachau, the Ahnenerbe was actively involved in a program of experimentation on unwitting prisoners with the use of mescaline. Under SS-Sturmbanfuhrer Dr. Kurt Plotner and an inmate-assistant, Walter Neff, drinks given to concentration camp prisoners were spiked with mescaline and the prisoners observed for signs of altered human behavior. 
"This experimentation continued right up to the end of the war. An entry in Siever's official Ahnenerbe diary for February 1945 shows that discussions were being held with SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer August Hirt concerning the use of both mescaline and canabinol by the Soviets, and this being coordinated with RSHA Amt VI, in other words, with Schellenberg's own Foreign Intelligence Section."
(Unholy Alliance, Peter Levenda, pgs. 233-234)
Wolfram Sievers

The American Intelligence services were intrigued, to say the least, by the the Ahnenerbe records concerning these experiments. Naturally we, the American public, will never be allowed to know the extent that the Ahnenerbe influenced our own mind control experiments as little concerning the Nazi experimentation has ever been released.
"After the liberation of Dachau, US investigating teams read through the Ahnenerbe and Luftwaffe files on the concentration camp experiments, looking for anything that might be useful in a military application. Marks goes on to note that 'None of the German mind-control research was ever made public.' Other than the hints of it we can discover in Sievers's diary and similar memoranda, that pretty much remains the situation today."
(ibid, pg. 235)
We do know, however, that the records recovered from the Ahnenerbe would have an immediate influence upon post-WWII American mind control efforts.
"After the war, the CIA and the military picked up where the OSS had left off in the secret search for a truth serum. The navy took the lead when it initiated Project CHATTER in 1947, the same year the CIA was formed. Described as an 'offensive' program, CHATTER was supposed to devise means of obtaining information from people independent of their volition but without physical duress. Toward this end Dr. Charles Savage conducted experiments with mescaline... at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. But these studies, which involved animal as well as human subjects, did not yield an effective truth serum, and CHATTER was terminated in 1953. 
"The navy became interested in mescaline as an interrogation agent when American investigators learned of mind control experiments carried out by Nazi doctors at the Dachau concentration camp during World War II."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pg. 5) 
And it is here that we shall wrap things up for now. In part three we shall examine how the CIA became convinced that LSD was the ultimate tool of mind control. We'll also examine possible connections between LSD and the Nazi regime. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The LSD Chronicles: Origins Part I

This is the second installment in an on going series centered around the various LSD experiments conducted by the CIA. The first installment, a two-parter, can be found here and here. That installment focused upon the mysterious death of Frank Olson, a microbiologist working at Fort Detrick, the center of the United States' biological war program. In 1953 Olson was unwittingly dosed with LSD by employees of the CIA. Nearly two weeks later Olson allegedly committed suicide by jumping through a closed hotel window and plunging to his death. Over the years many, including Olson's family, have come to question the official explanation of Olson's death. Eventually the government acknowledged responsibility in Olson's death and awarded the Olson family a $750,000 out-of-court settlement, but questions still remained. 

In the first installment I noted that Frank Olson was an apt place to start this series because Olson was the first publicly acknowledged victim of the CIA's LSD experiments --He put a human face on what had previously been a topic dismissed as the delusions of conspiracy theorists and other fringe groups. Over the years Olson's death has gradually worked its way into the popular consciousness, eventually being referenced in the film The Good Shepherd. He has become a kind of Cold War martyr, an urban legend warning of the cult of intelligence the CIA was fostering.

But ultimately Frank Olson only scratches the surface of the US government's use of LSD. Future installments will hopefully paint a much broader picture. For this piece I would like to focus on the origins of the CIA's LSD fetish. As many already know, the rational for experimenting with LSD in the first place was mind control. The official party line for America's foray into mind control was the Cold War and the climate that it created. Paranoia was the name of the game in those days.
"The Soviet Union had subjugated most of Eastern Europe, and a Communist party had taken control over the world's most populous nation, China. War had broken out in Korea, and Senator Joseph McCarthy's anticommunist crusade was on the rise in the United States. In both foreign and domestic politics, the prevailing mood was one of fear --even paranoia...  
"In 1947 the National Security Act created not only the CIA but also the National Security Council --in sum, the command structure for the Cold War. Wartime OSS leaders like William Donovan and Allen Dulles lobbied feverishly for the Act. Officials within the new command structure soon put their fear and their grandiose notions to work. Reacting to the perceived threat, they adopted a ruthless and warlike posture toward anyone they considered an enemy --most especially the Soviet Union. They took it upon themselves to fight communism and things that might lead to communism everywhere in the world. Few citizens disagreed with them; they appeared to express the sentiments of most Americans in that era, but national security officials still preferred to act in secrecy. A secret commission under former President Hoover captured the spirit of their call to clandestine warfare: 
It is now clear we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable longstanding American concepts of 'fair play' must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us."
(The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate," John Marks, pgs. 29-30)
Joseph McCarthy

More fuel was added to the fire with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. As the war raged on, it began to produce a curious phenomenon: American POWs making confessions to all kinds of atrocities, talking Marxist/Maoist rhetoric, and keeping up this curious behavior even after returning home.
"The United States was once more at war, less than five years after its atomic might had finally brought to an end World War II. Then, Americans had felt invincible. But in that summer of 1950, they were faced with the greatest shock since Pearl Harbor. Within forty-eight hours of the first American troops being taken prisoner, some of them had made extraordinary broadcasts from behind Communist lines, bitterly attacking their government and their homeland in a language filled with the rhetoric of Moscow and Peking... 
"Further shocks followed. The enemy began to repatriate small groups of prisoners. Upon their return to the United States, the nation had been stunned to see that the veterans made it clear they had no wish to live again in America, but yearned to return to be among the Communists. Most frightening of all, they wanted others to come with them. Former POWs began to appear on the streets of the country's major cities, handing out leaflets urging people to support North Korea's efforts to win the war. There was uproar, violence, and a mounting sense of fear. Everybody agreed that what was happening was evil --that this could be the greatest threat the United States had faced. If somehow the enemy had managed to change the minds of the present generation, then if not checked it must lead to the corruption of future generations. People even predicted there would be no future unless the malignant mental enslavement could be countered."
(Journey Into Madness, Gordon Thomas, pgs. 94-95)
Former State Department official John Marks further elaborates:
"The brainwashing controversy intensified during the heavy 1952 fighting in Korea, when the Chinese government launched a propaganda offensive that featured recorded statements by captured US. pilots, who 'confessed' to a variety of war crimes including the use of germ warfare... 
"By the end of the Korean War, 70 percent of the 7,190 U.S. prisoners held in China had either made confessions or signed petitions calling for an end to the American war effort in Asia. Fifteen percent collaborated fully with the Chinese, and only 5 percent steadfastly resisted. The American performance contrasted poorly with that of the British, Australian, Turkish, and other United Nations prisoners --among whom collaboration was rare, even though studies showed they were treated about as badly as the Americans. Worse, an alarming number of prisoners stuck by their confessions after returning to the United States. They did not, as expected, recant as soon as they stepped on U.S. soil. Puzzled and dismayed by this wholesale collapse of moral among POWs, American opinion leaders settled in on Edward Hunter's explanation: The Chinese had somehow brainwashed our boys."
(The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate," pgs. 133-134)
American POWs taken during the Korean War

The top brass of the CIA and other US Intelligence Agencies became convinced that there was a 'mind-control gap' between the West and Communist nations. Generally, this gap was thought to exist in the form of a drug, despite little credible evidence to back up this belief (more on this will be found in part two). Increasingly, the mind control gap became an obsession with the CIA, even if no such threat existed. After all, how did we know that the Russians or the Chinese were not already working to make the gap a reality?
"Just because the Soviets and the Chinese had not invented a brainwashing machine, officials reasoned, there was no reason to assume that the task was impossible. If such a machine were even remotely feasible, one had to assume the communists might discover it. And in that case, national security required that the United States invent the machine first."
(ibid, pg. 139)
Anyway, this was the official party line for the CIA's adventures into mind control: the Korean War had brought to light a dangerous new Communist weapon that the United States had to confront at all costs. Few at the time, and surprisingly few ever since, have ever questioned the legitimacy of the CIA's case. And yet, the seeds for the whole brainwashing debate that the nation would find itself in by 1952 were already being laid in 1950 by a CIA contract employee.
"In September 1950, the Miami News published an article by Edward Hunter titled " 'Brain-Washing' Tactics Force Chinese into Ranks of Communist Party." It was the first printed use in any language of the term 'brainwashing,' which quickly became a stock phrase in Cold War headlines. Hunter, a CIA propaganda operator who worked under cover as a journalist, turned out a steady stream of books and articles on the subject. He made up his coined word from the Chinese hsi-nao --'to cleanse the mind' --which had no political meaning in Chinese.  
"American public opinion reacted strongly to Hunter's ideas, no doubt because of the hostility that prevailed toward communist foes, whose ways were perceived as mysterious and alien. Most Americans knew something about the famous trial of the Hungarian Cardinal Josef Mindszently, at which the Cardinal appeared zombielike, as though drugged or hypnotized. Other defendants at Soviet 'show trials' had displayed similar symptoms as they recited unbelievable confessions in dull, cliche-ridden monotones. Americans were familiar with the idea that the communists had ways to control hapless people, and Hunter's new word helped pull together the unsettling evidence into one sharp fear."
(ibid, pg. 133)

Hunter's theories only gained more creditably in the eyes of countless Americans as the Korean War raged on, producing more and more shocking confessions from American POWs. That Hunter had already been conditioning the public towards the whole brainwash scenario would not be known for years later. What would also not be known for years later was the extent to which American POW brainwashing during the Korean War was over-exaggerated.
"According to Hunter, 'unlike other wars the United States had fought, a relatively high percentage of American troops defected to the enemy side after being captured.' The reason for this, in Hunter's view, was 'brainwashing.' Reports of intensive interviews conducted later with some of these POWs, led some American psychologists to conclude that sleep-deprivation, torture, and other psychological manipulations aimed at controlling the minds of POWs had effectively broken their 'autonomy as individuals' and 'allegiance to country,' rendering them 'puppets acting at the will of their Communist masters.' People in the United States were said to be flabbergasted and alarmed that American troops had apparently defected in large numbers. Countless articles about this new phenomenon appeared in newspapers across America, exacerbating the belief that something dreadful was occurring. After the word 'brainwashing' first appeared in articles in the Miami Daily News and New Leader in September and October 1950, suddenly hardly a day went by without a major news story devoted to the subject... 
"Recently completed 'authoritative' studies of the numbers of U.S. personnel captured or interned during the Korean War provide the total of 7,245 American POWs. Of this number, an astounding 2,806 died in captivity, mainly due to starvation and disease, with some beaten to death or shot, a mortality rate of forty-three percent; 4,418 were returned to U.S. military control, and 21 refused repatriation.  
"The number of American soldiers who refused repatriation was extremely low (about half of one-percent of American POWs in Korea). The number is further dwarfed when compared to the number of defectors from previous wars. Indeed, strong argument can be made that the more significant number was the total number of American POWs who died in captivity: 2,730 or 38%. 
"Moreover, the panic over brainwashing seems overblown, indeed, deliberately manufactured and spread. Looking back, it appears remarkable that the American government, as well as numerous social scientists and psychologists, reacted as they did, quickly assuming the veracity of claims about brainwashing in the absence of facts or evidence, while seemingly oblivious to the far greater phenomenon of mass manipulation by the Nazi propaganda machine. In reality, captured American troops in Korea were not brainwashed, but instead were subjected to extremely intense programs of education and re-education b their Chinese captors.  
"Meanwhile, brainwashing, as a practice or technique with the primary intent to influence, persuade, and indoctrinate was not unfamiliar to the United States and its institutions. The American techniques for consumer advertising and mass marketing had already taken on many of the principle characteristics of brainwashing. In many ways, the word 'brainwashing' arrived in the Western world's lexicon at a fortuitous time in the Cold War when words were needed to fuel, shape and structure attitudes about Communism. in the political arena, McCarthyism can be viewed, inm any ways, as a means of brainwashing American citizens about the dangers from 'reds' who were said to have infiltrated the U.S. government."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pgs. 190-191)
As we are beginning to see, the concept of 'brainwashing' was very much an American phenomenon (with ample Nazi influence, which will be addressed in part two). American accusations of Communist brainwashing during Korea are almost comical in this context, the US classically slandering their opponents with their own underhanded tricks. That America was so obsessed with having brainwashing dominate the national discussion during the Korean War was likely due to the accusations Soviet and Chinese officials made against America at the time: Namely, the use of biological warfare, as noted above. What's more, there may be more legitimacy to this claim than American accusations of brainwashing. Continuing with Albarelli:
"Greatly exacerbating the raging public fervor and concern in the 1950s about the brainwashing of American troops were the 'confessions' of a number of Air Force pilots who 'confessed' that they had dropped biological bombs on North Korea. In early May 1951, North Korea's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pak Hen Yen, charged that the United States was dropping biological bombs containing the small pox virus on his country. Months later, he claimed also that bacteria carrying insects had been spread by U.S. aircraft across sections of North Korea. In early March 1952, Zhou En-Lai, China's Minister of Foreign Affairs, indignantly charged that a number of American Air Force pilots shot down by the North Koreans would be treated as war criminals because they were dropping biological bombs. Days later, the Soviets brought similar charges against the United States before the United Nations General Assembly. On March 26, 1952, Zhou En-Lai sent an urgent telegram to the Secretariat of the United Nations in which he charged the U.S. Air Force aircraft flew over 400 sorties during which they spread large quantities of germ-infected insects over North Korea. 
"In May 1952, North Korea radio announced that two American pilots from the 3rd Bomber Wing had confessed to dropping bacteriological bombs on North Korea in January 1952. Lieutenant Kenneth Enoch and Lieutenant John Quinn had been shot down on January 13 near Anju. Their North Korean interrogators demanded that they confess to dropping biological bombs, and when the two refused, they were placed in solitary confinement for weeks, and tortured. After two months, Enoch broke. He later explained that, faced with horrible physical and mental pain, insanity, death, or a 'ridiculous confession,' he had chosen the latter. Quinn also eventually broke and both pilots were filmed reading their confessions concerning use of biological weapons. In all, eventually thirty-six American pilots signed confessions to using germ warfare. 
"The confessions captured worldwide attention, and convinced many that the charges against the United States were true. Many nations expressed their shock and condemnation over America's assumed acts. By summer 1952, biological warfare was a heated issue everywhere, resulting in large protests in several countries. Matters intensified after additional downed American pilots confessed to the use of biological weapons and the media worldwide had a field day with the confessions, never mentioning the much larger numbers of American pilots who were being severely tortured to make similar confessions, and who never did so. 
"An authoritative book on the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, published in 2000, by military historian John R. Bruning, states: 'Recent revelations by historians working in the archives of former Eastern Bloc countries reveal conclusively that the accusations against the USAF were a construct of communist propaganda, In fact, North Korea's secret police actually infected at least two North Korean prisoners with cholera to further give evidence of America's germ warfare campaign... Although epidemics ravaged North Korea during the war, no hard evidence was ever found that linked the United States to them.' 
"Other experts on the subject disagree strenuously with Bruning. Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, authors of the book The United States and Biological Warfare, have been consistent critics of those that discount allegations of germ warfare use in Korea, and argue that there is ample circumstantial evidence that biological weapons were used by the United States. Endicott and Hagerman were the first foreigners to be given access to classified documents in the Chinese Central Archives, documents that substantiate the claims of Zhou-En-Lai. The two were also able to interview multiple Chinese scientists who actually investigated, at the time of their occurrence, the outbreaks resulting from alleged germ warfare. The two authors also claim that American pilots only retracted their confessions because they were threatened with court martial and other harm. Especially troubling are Endicott and Hagerman's claims that they read 'interviews with American spies (Chinese defectors) who had been parachuted in to check on the effects of biological warfare,' and a large quantity of documents and reports generated by Chinese medical teams that painstakingly investigated the various outbreaks in North Korea, as well as 'reports of false alarms.' 
"Yet, the fact remains that nobody to date has definitively proven or disproven the charges of biological warfare."
(ibid, pgs. 196-198)

Naturally the accusations of brainwashing the United States made against the North Koreans, Chinese, and Soviets made it all the more easier to dismiss their claims of US biological warfare to the domestic public. What's more, it gave a public justification for the CIA and other US Intelligence agencies to begin investigating the 'mind control gap.' Of course, the CIA had already launched its first official attempt to combat Russian mind weapons, known as Project BLUEBIRD on April 20, 1950, two months before the Korean War even started. Five months later, the first use of the term 'brainwash' would be published in the Miami Daily News by a CIA employee. By the time allegations of American POWs being brainwashed by the communists emerged, the American public probably took such claims as inevitable. The CIA had been planting such memes well in advance of this consensus.

The CIA's full contempt for the American public was put on full display on April 10, 1953 when Dulles made one of his rare public statements on mind control.
"In 1953 CIA Director Allen Dulles made a rare public statement on communist brainwashing: 'We in the West are somewhat handicapped in getting all the details,' Dulles declared. 'There are few survivors, and we have no human guinea pigs to try these extraordinary techniques.' Even as Dulles spoke, however, CIA officials acting under his orders had begun to find the scientists and the guinea pigs. Some of their experiments would wander so far across the ethical borders of experimental psychiatry (which are hazy in their own right) that Agency officials thought it prudent to have much of the work done outside the United States."
(The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate," John Marks, pgs. 139-140)

Ample human guinea pigs were found within the United States as well, as we saw in the first installment of this series --Frank Olson would be dead just a little over eight months after Dulles lamented the handicaps the high moral standards of the West were having on the CIA's mind control efforts. In part two of this series we'll examine the origins of America's quest for a drug that could control the human mind and how the CIA became convinced that LSD was that drug.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Latin American High Weirdness: 49 Headless Bodies Along a Highway

Just when you think the so-called 'War on Drugs' couldn't get much more out of hand reports out of Mexico brings us yet another outrage. It comes in the form of 49 headless corpses found along a federal highway near the industrial mecca that is Monterrey. This is truly grizzly even for a country that's suffered over 50,000 deaths since President Felipe Calderon set out to eradicate the notorious cartels that have plagued the country for decades. Calderon totally militarized Mexico's battle against the cartels, much to the delight of the United States. The 49 headless bodies recently discovered near Monterrey is as fine a testament to the effectiveness of Calderon's efforts, and the overall War on Drugs, as one is likely to find. MSNBC reports:
"Suspected drug gang killers dumped 49 headless bodies on a highway near Mexico's northern city of Monterrey in one of the country's worst atrocities in recent years. 
"The mutilated corpses of 43 men and 6 women, whose hands and feet had also been cut off, were found in a pile on a highway in the municipality of Cadereyta Jimenez in the early hours of Sunday, officials from the state of Nuevo Leon said... 
"Domene said the brutal Zetas drug gang claimed responsibility for the murders in a message found at the scene. 
"The massacre was the latest in a string of mass slayings that have convulsed Mexico in recent months, many of them in the north of the country, where the Zetas have waged a war against rival groups for control of smuggling routes." 
I've already covered the notorious Los Zetas outfit a bit before here, so I shall be brief. This 'gang' or cartel was founded by an elite Mexican military unit that was likely trained at Fort Bragg, home of the US Army's Psychological Warfare Center, by US Special Forces. Al Jazeera reports:
"Some of the cartel's initial members were elite Mexican troops, trained in the early 1990s by America's 7th Special Forces Group or 'snake eaters' at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, a former US special operations commander has told Al Jazeera...
Their US training was designed to prepare them for counter-insurgency and, ironically, counter-narcotics operations, although Deare says they were not taught the most advanced commando techniques available at Ft. Bragg. 
"Military forces from around the world train at Ft. Bragg, so there is nothing unique about Mexican operatives learning counter-insurgency tactics at the facility. However, critics say the specific skills learned by the Zetas primed them for careers as contract killers and drug dealers."

In this case the decapitations were likely done to hinder the process of identification (the hands of most victims were also removed) but the trend of decapitating victims has become more and more regular among Mexican drug cartels of late. Regular readers of this blog know that I've written of the occult significance of decapitation on numerous occasions, most notably here. In brief, skull cults comprise the oldest religions as yet discovered --they even predate human beings, as the Neanderthals even displaying elements of skull worship. The act of decapitation is closely related to the traditions of these skull cults, and a tradition that continued to thrive as late as Roman times.
"In various primitive religions, decapitation derived from ritual and belief. Since the head as the home of the spirit, it needed to be preserved or destroyed, according to whether it belonged to a friend or to an enemy.  
"The Celts in the British Isles as well as on the continent used to cut off the heads of the enemies whom they had killed in single combat. This custom had a religious basis for, if the god of medicine, Dian Cecht, were to be believed, restoration to life or cure were possible so long as the essential organs --brain, spinal marrow and cerebral membrane --were intact. The heads thus cut off were kept as battle trophies and, whole or in part, treated for this purpose. One Irish literary source mentions tongues and another brains mixed with clay and rolled into balls for games. Livy records that after the Cisalpine Gauls defeated the consul Postumius, his skull was carried with high ceremony to their chief temple, mounted in precious metal and used as a ritual chalice.  
"Similar customs are recorded all over the world, from the celebrated shrunken skulls of the Jivaro Indians of Ecuador to the skull-sculptures of the Pacific. The Bamum of Cameroon, it may be observed, cut off the heads of enemies killed in battle, but only preserved the lower jaws of these trophies. Among various uses to which they were put was to decorate the rims of the Calabashes used ceremonially to serve palm-wine at the court of Fumban."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 281)
Decapitation was also used heavily by the Aztecs in various fashions. Decapitation also plays a major role in the Sirius tradition. In occult circles Sirius is sometimes referred to as the 'Headless One.' For more on Sirius' links to decapitation, check here.

Another curious aspect of the headless bodies recently discovered near Monterrey are the tattoos some of the corpses displayed. MSNBC notes:
"Domene said some had tattoos of Santa Muerte, or 'Holy Death' a female skeletal grim reaper venerated by both gangs and some broader, non-criminal sections of Mexican society. The corpses were taken to Monterrey and authorities said they would perform DNA tests. Thousands of Mexico's drug war victims have never been identified."

Santa Muerte is in fact one of the fastest growing cults in Mexico. The Times states:
"The personage is Mexico's idolatrous form of the Grim Reaper: a skeleton — sometimes male, sometimes female — covered in a white, black or red cape, carrying a scythe, or a globe. For decades, thousands in some of Mexico's poorest neighborhoods have prayed to Santa Muerte for life-saving miracles. Or death to enemies. Mexican authorities have linked Santa Muerte's devotees to prostitution, drugs, kidnappings and homicides. The country's Catholic church has deemed Santa Muerte's followers devil-worshiping cultists. Now Santa Muerte has followed the thousands of Mexicans who've come to the U.S., where it is presenting a new challenge for American Catholic officials struggling with an increasingly multicultural population. 

"Santa Muerte's precise origins are a matter of debate. Some experts say its roots lie with Aztec spiritual rituals that mixed with Catholicism during Spanish colonial rule. What is clear, however, is that Santa Muerte developed a large following only in the last quarter century among Mexicans who had become disillusioned with the dominant Church and, in particular, the ability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty. Residents of crime-tossed neighborhoods like Mexico City's Tepito began revering Santa Muerte more than Jesus Christ, experts say. Some of its devotees eventually split from the Catholic church and began vying for control of Catholic buildings. That's when Mexico's Catholic church declared it a cult."
Naturally Santa Muerte has a saint's day. Unsurprisingly, it falls on November first, the date of the Mexican Day of the Dead. In fact, numerous cultures the world over have traditions of a day of the dead on November first. In Christian Europe it is currently celebrated as All Souls on November second, but the date was likely changed by the Catholic Church.
"Perhaps we may go a step further and explain in like manner the origin of the feast of All Saints on the first of November. For the analogy of similar customs elsewhere would lead us to suppose that the old Celtic festival of the dead was held on the Celtic New Year's Day, that is, on the first, not the second, of November. May not then the institution of the feast of All Saints on that day have been the first attempt of the Church to give a colour of Christianity to the ancient heathen rite by substituting the saints for the souls of the dead as the true objects of worship?"
(The Golden Bough, James Frazer, pg. 385)
the modern Day of the Dead
Eventually the Church gave in and instituted All Souls Day for the worship of the dead, but placed it on the second of November to distance it from the ancient pagan customs upon which it was based. And yet the ancient tradition of the Day of the Dead on the first of November still prevails. In fact, it's seemingly stronger than ever.

The figure of Santa Muerte is clearly influenced by the European Grim Reaper figure. In some traditions, such as in Poland, death is even portrayed as a skeletal female figure. The association of a skeletal figure with the afterlife likely stretches back to antiquity.
"In Classical antiquity, if we are to believe Apuleius, impressions or statues of skeletons were commonly used in magical practices. These skeletons were regarded as images of Mercury (Hermes), the god who was the conductor of souls and enjoyed the privilege of being able to go down to and return from the Underworld. This use may be seen as an attempt symbolically to identify the god with death, so that the practitioner might share the same privilege of escaping from the Underworld as did the god; or, in an opposite sense, of dooming a given individual to death and leading him or her to the Underworld."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 887)
This association of Mercury, who was also the god of magic, with a skeletal figure seems to have been merged with the figure of Death from the Book of Revelation and the Jewish tradition of the Angel of Death, Samael, in the Middle Ages. Samael, which literally means 'blind idiot,' was also the name of the Demiurge in some Gnostic traditions.

But back to the 49 headless bodies. Of course one can't consider occult overtones in Mexican murders without coming back to legendary cult leader, drug dealer, and serial killer Adolfo Constanzo, of whom I've written much more herehere, and here. Constanzo, whose birthday was November first, operated out of Matamoros, located in the state of Tamaulipas. Tamaulipas is right next to the state of Nuevo Leon, where the 49 headless bodies were recently discovered.

By the late 1980s Constanzo had built up a fiercely devoted cult spread across Mexico that frequently overlapped with his drug trafficking activities. Upon Constanzo's death in 1989 and the capture and/or death of many key members of Constasnzo's cult, Mexican authorities believed that the following built around Constanzo had been eliminated. Constanzo's followers seemed far less certain of this claim.
"The first hint that the cult might not have died with Constanzo came from Martin Quintana's sister, Teresa, as she babbled to the Mexican police three weeks before the shootout. 
"She told them that Mara, Constanzo's first madrina, was not dead after all, but had moved to Guadalajara. Martin had said Mara ran boutiques for Constanzo there, but Mara confided to Teresa that she really was a witch, in the same religion as Constanzo. 
"According to Teresa Quintana, Mara originally came from Veracruz, Mexico's center for witchcraft, with magical roots as deep as those in Salem, Massachusetts. Every year, a witch convention is held in Veracruz, where spells are traded and magic is compared in dark and private ceremonies... 
"Mara is not accused of any crimes, but police wanted to question her. They could not find her. Nor could police locate Damian the transvestite or Francisco the real estate speculator. 
"Weeks later, when Omar was arrested, he too would speak of others who practiced black magic and sacrifice --sister groups of Constanzo's. He knew no details, though. Then Sara said something very similar at one of the big press conferences. 'I don't think that the religion will end with us, because it has a lot of people in it,' she said. 'They have found a temple in Monterrey that isn't even related to us. It will continue.'"
(Buried Secrets, Edward Humes, pgs. 403-404)
Thus, evidence of occult activity was already present around Monterrey in Constanzo's era. What's more, the former employers (and now rivals) of Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, have been the primary criminal syndicate in the Matamoros area since the late 1970s. In an earlier blog I speculated that the Gulf Cartel and Constanzo had to have at least been aware of each other. Now I'm relatively certain that Constanzo was an employee of this outfit.

Constanzo would break into the Matamoros drug scene with the aid of a corrupt law enforcement officer, one Salvador Garcia, who was a member of Constanzo's cult. Garcia would put Constanzo in contact with the Hernandez family, a vassal of the Gulf Cartel, which at the time was led by Juan Nepomuceno Guerra and his nephew Juan Garcia Abrego.
"Salvador worked for the corrupt comandante of the federal police in Matamoros, Guillermo Perez --who, in 1989, would become a fugitive, with five million dollars of dirty money left behind in his desk. In 1988, however, Perez was still making a fortune on drugs, with no one to challenge him. 
"Perez, in turn, was a hireling of the notorious Juan Garcia Abrego Mexican drug-trafficking organization, the largest criminal gang in the Rio Grande Valley, the de facto government of Matamoros. Perez had grown rich stealing millions of dollars' worth of drugs seized from small-time traffickers, locking them up, then reselling the dope for the gang. Only members of the mob organization and those who paid protection money to it were safe from Perez. This same ruthless crime organization Perez worked for --and by extension, Salvador worked for --also had employed Elio's murdered brother Saul Hernandez..."
(ibid, pg. 171)

Saul, the head of the Hernandez family before Constanzo had signed up, was gunned down outside of a Matamoros nightclub called Piedras Negras, which was owned by Juan N. Guerra, the actual godfather of Matamoros (a title that would later be applied to Constanzo) and founder of the Gulf Cartel. The individual Saul Hernadez was with when he was murdered, Tomas Morlet, is an interesting figure as well.
"Saul's companion on the evening of January 7, Tomas Morlet, had been a comandante in the Federal Security Directorate, a Mexican police agency so corrupt the government eliminated it in 1985 for routinely giving police badges to drug traffickers, among other illegalities. It had been created with the assistance of the CIA. As part of that organization, Morlet had been a powerful figure in Mexican law enforcement, once assigned to maintain security for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and, later, the exiled Shah of Iran. Morlet's official downfall came in 1986, when Mexican prosecutors accused him of murdering Kiki Camarena, the DEA agent tortured and killed in Guadalajara in 1985. Morlet was released a few days after his arrest 'fr lack of evidence,' and began a new career as a drug trafficker, feared and hated by many, yet still largely untouchable."
(ibid, pgs. 172-173)
With these kinds of credentials, it's likely Morlet had rubbed shoulders with the CIA or another branch of the US Intelligence community at some point in his career. His death would be consistent with how CIA asset are 'retired.' The 'Kiki' Camarena killing likely sealed his fate. This is but once instance where the CIA has popped in the Constanzo killings. More on the CIA connections can be found here. But I digress.


Anyway, the Gulf Cartel was quite excited by the addition of Constanzo to the Hernandez family, as leadership skills had been badly lacking since Saul went down in a hail of bullets.
"At the same time, the Matamoros mob had its own use for Constanzo. It had lost a valuable and reliable trafficker in Saul Hernandez and a vacuum had been created, an enticing avenue for rival smugglers with none of Saul's loyalty. Constanzo was ready to fill the void, too. He let it be known via Salvador that he would provide the brains the Hernandez gang sorely lacked, while at the same time pushing out the rival traffickers who had settled like carrion birds around Saul Hernandez's corpse."
(ibid, pg. 174)
Now that I've established Constanzo's links to the Gulf Cartel, the question becomes did the gang adopt Constanzo's religious practices to some extent or other? Could the veneration that Los Zetas, former employees of the Gulf Cartel, has for the Santa Muerte be evidence of this? Did they possibly pick it up from the Gulf Cartel, who the after-mentioned MSNBC article implies also venerate that Santa Muerte? And if so, does the worship of Santa Muerte go back to Constanzo?

In my books on ole Adolfo I have no mention of Santa Muerte among the deities his cult worshiped, but the books were written at a time when Santeria and Palo Mayombe were just beginning to gain mainstream exposure. Very little was known about the Santa Muerte cult, which has only rose to prominence in the past decade or so. However, amongst the pictures appearing in Edward Humes' Buried Secrets book, there is are images of occult paraphernalia seized from the homes of Constanzo's followers after the arrests. One object is clearly a statue of the Santa Muerte, indicating it was used in the rituals of Constanzo's cult. How important the Santa Muerte was to Constanzo's religion is impossible to say, however. The Santa Muerte could have been adopted by Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel from a different branch of Mexican occult circles.

religious paraphernalia found among Constanzo's followers

What then are we to make of the seeming reemergence of a death/skull cult in twenty-first century Mexico? If anything, it seems as those the barbaric US War on Drugs, which has spurred over 50,000 deaths in Mexico since authorities embraced the drug war mantle, is gradually reducing human beings to their most primitive instincts. Mexico, as well as several other Latin American countries, is now being destabilized by paramilitary-like crime syndicate made rich by misguided (some would say barbaric) US drug laws. That the US likely gave military training to some of these outfits is just another end result of militarizing the national drug policy.

I can't help but be reminded of the film Apocalypse Now, which I've chronicled before here. In the film the character of Willard, a US. soldier, travels up river to assassinate an AWOL colonel named Kurtz during the backdrop of the Vietnam War. As Willard travels further and further up river he seems to also be traveling back in time. By the time he reaches Kurtz's compound in Cambodia he has seemingly reached the dawn of civilization itself, with Kurtz in the role of the priest-king offering human sacrifices to replenish the land. For years I took the devolution of Now's final chapter as a metaphor for the effects US imperialism has had on the Third World, yet here we see such events actually playing out in modern Mexico, including Kurtz's obsession with decapitation.

This is truly chilling.