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)
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."Former State Department official John Marks further elaborates:
(Journey Into Madness, Gordon Thomas, pgs. 94-95)
"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."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.
(ibid, pg. 139)
"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."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:
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pgs. 190-191)
"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.