The Search for the Manchurian Candidate
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
Josef Cardinal Mindszenty, at which the Cardinal appeared zombie-like,
as though drugged or hypnotized. Other defendants at Soviet "show
trials" had displayed similar symptoms as they recited unbelievable
confessions in dull, cliché-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. 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 U.S. pilots, who "confessed"
to a variety of war crimes including the use of germ warfare.
The official American position on prisoner confessions was that
they were false and forced. As expressed in an Air Force Headquarters
document, "Confessions can be of truthful details.... For
purposes of this section, 'confessions' are considered as being
the forced admission to a lie." But if the military had understandable
reasons to gloss over the truth or falsity of the confessions,
this still did not address the fact that confessions had been
made at all. Nor did it lay to rest the fears of those like Edward
Hunter who saw the confessions as proof that the communists now
had techniques "to put a man's mind into a fog so that he
will mistake what is true for what is untrue, what is right for
what is wrong, and come to believe what did not happen actually
had happened, until he ultimately becomes a robot for the Communist
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 prisonersamong whom collaboration was rare, even though
studies showed they were treated about as badly as the Americans.
Worse, an alarming number of the 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 morale among the POWs, American
opinion leaders settled in on Edward Hunter's explanation: The
Chinese had somehow brainwashed our boys.
But how? At the height of the brainwashing furor, conservative
spokesmen often seized upon the very mystery of it all to give
a religious cast to the political debate. All communists have
been, by definition, brainwashed through satanic forces, they
arguedthereby making the enemy seem like robots completely
devoid of ordinary human feelings and motivation. Liberals favored
a more scientific view of the problem. Given the incontrovertible
evidence that the Russians and the Chinese could, in a very short
time and often under difficult circumstances, alter the basic
belief and behavior patterns of both domestic and foreign captives,
liberals argued that there must be a technique involved that would
yield its secrets under objective investigation.
CIA Director Allen Dulles favored the scientific approach, although
he naturally encouraged his propaganda experts to exploit the
more emotional interpretations of brainwashing. Dulles and the
heads of the other American security agencies became almost frantic
in their efforts to find out more about the Soviet and Chinese
successes in mind control. Under pressure for answers, Dulles
turned to Dr. Harold Wolff, a world-famous neurologist with whom
he had developed an intensely personal relationship. Wolff was
then treating Dulles' own son for brain damage suffered from a
Korean War head wound. Together they shared the trauma of the
younger Dulles' fits and mental lapses. Wolff, a skinny little
doctor with an overpowering personality, became fast friends with
the tall, patrician CIA Director. Dulles may have seen brainwashing
as an induced form of brain damage or mental illness. In any case,
in late 1953, he asked Wolff to conduct an official study of communist
brainwashing techniques for the CIA. Wolff, who had become fascinated
by the Director's tales of the clandestine world, eagerly accepted.
Harold Wolff was known primarily as an expert on migraine headaches
and pain, but he had served on enough military and intelligence
advisory panels that he knew how to pick up Dulles' mandate and
expand on it. He formed a working partnership with Lawrence Hinkle,
his colleague at Cornell University Medical College in New York
City. Hinkle handled the administrative part of the study and
shared in the substance. Before going ahead, the two doctors made
sure they had the approval of Cornell's president, Deane W. Malott
and other high university officials who checked with their contacts
in Washington to make sure the project did indeed have the great
importance that Allen Dulles stated. Hinkle recalls a key White
House aide urging Cornell to cooperate. The university administration
agreed, and soon Wolff and Hinkle were poring over the Agency's
classified files on brainwashing. CIA officials also helped arrange
interviews with former communist interrogators and prisoners alike.
"It was done with great secrecy," recalls Hinkle. "We
went through a great deal of hoop-de-do and signed secrecy agreements,
which everyone took very seriously."
The team of Wolff and Hinkle became the chief brainwashing studiers
for the U.S. government, although the Air Force and Army ran parallel
programs. Their secret
report to Allen Dulles, later published in a declassified version,
was considered the definitive U.S. Government work on the subject.
In fact, if allowances are made for the Cold War rhetoric of the
fifties, the Wolff-Hinkle report still remains one of the better
accounts of the massive political re-education programs in China
and the Soviet Union. It stated flatly that neither the Soviets
nor the Chinese had any magical weaponsno drugs, exotic mental
ray-guns, or other fanciful machines. Instead, the report pictured
communist interrogation methods resting on skillful, if brutal,
application of police methods. Its portrait of the Soviet system
anticipates, in dry and scholarly form, the work of novelist Alexander
Solzhenitzyn in The Gulag Archipelago. Hinkle and Wolff
showed that the Soviet technique rested on the cumulative weight
of intense psychological pressure and human weakness, and this
thesis alone earned the two Cornell doctors the enmity of the
more right-wing CIA officials such as Edward Hunter. Several of
his former acquaintances remember that Hunter was fond of saying
that the Soviets brainwashed people the way Pavlov had conditioned
In spite of some dissenters like Hunter, the Wolff-Hinkle model
became, with later refinements, the best available description
of extreme forms of political indoctrination. According to the
general consensus, the Soviets started a new prisoner off by putting
him in solitary confinement. A rotating corps of guards watched
him constantly, humiliating and demeaning him at every opportunity
and making it clear he was totally cut off from all outside support.
The guards ordered him to stand for long periods, let him sit,
told him exactly the position he could take to lie down, and woke
him if he moved in the slightest while sleeping. They banned all
outside stimulibooks, conversation, or news of the world.
After four to six weeks of this mind-deadening routine, the prisoner
usually found the stress unbearable and broke down. "He weeps,
he mutters, and prays aloud in his cell," wrote Hinkle and
Wolff. When the prisoner reached this stage, the interrogation
began. Night after night, the guards brought him into a special
room to face the interrogator. Far from confronting his captive
with specific misdeeds, the interrogator told him that he knew
his own crimesall too well. In the most harrowing Kafkaesque
way, the prisoner tried to prove his innocence to he knew not
what. Together the interrogator and prisoner reviewed the prisoner's
life in detail. The interrogator seized on any inconsistencyno
matter how minuteas further evidence of guilt, and he laughed
at the prisoner's efforts to justify himself. But at least the
prisoner was getting a response of some sort. The long weeks of
isolation and uncertainty had made him grateful for human contact
even grateful that his case was moving toward resolution. True,
it moved only as fast as he was willing to incriminate himself,
but . . . Gradually, he came to see that he and his interrogator
were working toward the same goal of wrapping up his case. In
tandem, they ransacked his soul. The interrogator would periodically
let up the pressure. He offered a cigarette, had a friendly chat,
explained he had a job to domaking it all the more disappointing
the next time he had to tell the prisoner that his confession
was unsatisfactory .
As the charges against him began to take shape, the prisoner realized
that he could end his ordeal only with a full confession. Otherwise
the grueling sessions would go on forever. "The regimen of
pressure has created an overall discomfort which is well nigh
intolerable," wrote Hinkle and Wolff. "The prisoner
invariably feels that 'something must be done to end this.' He
must find a way out." A former KGB officer, one of many former
interrogators and prisoners interviewed for the CIA study, said
that more than 99 percent of all prisoners signed a confession
at this stage.
In the Soviet system under Stalin, these confessions were the
final step of the interrogation process, and the prisoners usually
were shot or sent to a labor camp after sentencing. Today, Russian
leaders seem much less insistent on exacting confessions before
jailing their foes, but they still use the penal (and mental health)
system to remove from the population classes of people hostile
to their rule.
The Chinese took on the more ambitious task of re-educating their
prisoners. For them, confession was only the beginning. Next,
the Chinese authorities moved the prisoner into a group cell where
his indoctrination began. From morning to night, he and his fellow
prisoners studied Marx and Mao, listened to lectures, and engaged
in self-criticism. Since the progress of each member depended
on that of his cellmates, the group pounced on the slightest misconduct
as an indication of backsliding. Prisoners demonstrated the zeal
of their commitment by ferociously attacking deviations. Constant
intimacy with people who reviled him pushed the resistant prisoner
to the limits of his emotional endurance. Hinkle and Wolff found
that "The prisoner must conform to the demands of the group
sooner or later." As the prisoner developed genuine changes
of attitude, pressure on him relaxed. His cellmates rewarded him
with increasing acceptance and esteem. Their acceptance, in turn,
reinforced his commitment to the Party, for he learned that only
this commitment allowed him to live successfully in the cell.
In many cases, this process produced an exultant sense of mission
in the prisonera feeling of having finally straightened out
his life and come to the truth. To be sure, this experience, which
was not so different from religious conversion, did not occur
in all cases or always last after the prisoner returned to a social
group that did not reinforce it.
From the first preliminary studies of Wolff and Hinkle, the U.S.
intelligence community moved toward the conclusion that neither
the Chinese nor the Russians made appreciable use of drugs or
hypnosis, and they certainly did not possess the brainwashing
equivalent of the atomic bomb (as many feared). Most of their
techniques were rooted in age-old methods, and CIA brainwashing
researchers like psychologist John Gittinger found themselves
poring over ancient documents on the Spanish Inquisition. Furthermore,
the communists used no psychiatrists or other behavioral scientists
to devise their interrogation system. The differences between
the Soviet and Chinese systems seemed to grow out of their respective
national cultures. The Soviet brainwashing system resembled a
heavy-handed cop whose job was to isolate, break, and then subdue
all the troublemakers in the neighborhood. The Chinese system
was more like thousands of skilled acupuncturists, working on
each other and relying on group pressure, ideology, and repetition.
To understand further the Soviet or Chinese control systems, one
had to plunge into the subtle mysteries of national and individual
While CIA researchers looked into those questions, the main thrust
of the Agency's brainwashing studies veered off in a different
direction. The logic behind the switch was familiar in the intelligence
business. 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. Therefore, the CIA
built up its own elaborate brainwashing program, which, like the
Soviet and Chinese versions, took its own special twist from our
national character. It was a tiny replica of the Manhattan Project,
grounded in the conviction that the keys to brainwashing lay in
technology. Agency officials hoped to use old-fashioned American
know-how to produce shortcuts and scientific breakthroughs. Instead
of turning to tough cops, whose methods repelled American sensibilities,
or the gurus of mass motivation, whose ideology Americans lacked,
the Agency's brainwashing experts gravitated to people more in
the mold of the brilliantand sometimes madscientist, obsessed
by the wonders of the brain.
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.
Call her Lauren G. For 19 years, her mind has been blank about
her experience. She remembers her husband's driving her up to
the old gray stone mansion that housed the hospital, Allan Memorial
Institute, and putting her in the care of its director, Dr. D.
Ewen Cameron. The next thing she recalls happened three weeks
They gave me a dressing gown. It was way too big, and I was tripping
all over it. I was mad. I asked why did I have to go round in
this sloppy thing. I could hardly move because I was pretty weak.
I remember trying to walk along the hall, and the walls were all
slanted. It was then that I said, "Holy Smokes, what a ghastly
thing." I remember running out the door and going up the
mountain in my long dressing gown.
The mountain, named Mont Royal, loomed high above Montreal.
She stumbled and staggered as she tried to climb higher and higher.
Hospital staff members had no trouble catching her and dragging
her back to the Institute. In short order, they shot her full
of sedatives, attached electrodes to her temples, and gave her
a dose of electroshock. Soon she slept like a baby.
Gradually, over the next few weeks, Lauren G. began to function
like a normal person again. She took basket-weaving therapy and
played bridge with her fellow patients. The hospital released
her, and she returned to her husband in another Canadian city.
Before her mental collapse in 1959, Lauren G. seemed to have everything
going for her. A refined, glamorous horsewoman of 30, whom people
often said looked like Elizabeth Taylor, she had auditioned for
the lead in National Velvet at 13 and married the rich
boy next door at 20. But she had never loved her husband and had
let her domineering mother push her into his arms. He drank heavily.
"I was really unhappy," she recalls. "I had a horrible
marriage, and finally I had a nervous breakdown. It was a combination
of my trying to lose weight, sleep loss, and my nerves."
The family doctor recommended that her husband send her to Dr.
Cameron, which seemed like a logical thing to do, considering
his wide fame as a psychiatrist. He had headed Allan Memorial
since 1943, when the Rockefeller Foundation had donated funds
to set up a psychiatric facility at McGill University. With continuing
help from the Rockefellers, McGill had built a hospital known
far beyond Canada's borders as innovative and exciting. Cameron
was elected president of the American Psychiatric Association
in 1953, and he became the first president of the World Psychiatric
Association. His friends joked that they had run out of honors
to give him.
Cameron's passion lay in the more "objective" forms
of therapy, with which he could more easily and swiftly bring
about improvements in patients than with the notoriously slow
Freudian methods. An impatient man, he dreamed of finding a cure
for schizophrenia. No one could tell him he was not on the right
track. Cameron's supporter at the Rockefeller Foundation, Robert
Morrison, recorded in his private papers that he found the psychiatrist
tense and ill-at-ease, and Morrison ventured that this may account
for "his lack of interest and effectiveness in psychotherapy
and failure to establish warm personal relations with faculty
members, both of which were mentioned repeatedly when I visited
Montreal." Another Rockefeller observer noted that Cameron
"appears to suffer from deep insecurity and has a need for
power which he nourishes by maintaining an extraordinary aloofness
from his associates."
When Lauren G.'s husband delivered her to Cameron, the psychiatrist
told him she would receive some electroshock, a standard treatment
at the time. Besides that, states her husband, "Cameron was
not very communicative, but I didn't think she was getting anything
out of the ordinary." The husband had no way of knowing that
Cameron would use an unproved experimental technique on his wifemuch
less that the psychiatrist intended to "depattern" her.
Nor did he realize that the CIA was supporting this work with
about $19,000 a year in secret funds.
Cameron defined "depatterning" as breaking up existing
patterns of behavior, both the normal and the schizophrenic, by
means of particularly intensive electroshocks, usually combined
with prolonged, drug-induced sleep. Here was a psychiatrist willingindeed,
eagerto wipe the human mind totally clean. Back in 1951, ARTICHOKE's
Morse Allen had likened the process to "creation of a vegetable."
Cameron justified this tabula rasa approach because he
had a theory of "differential amnesia," for which he
provided no statistical evidence when he published it. He postulated
that after he produced "complete amnesia" in a subject,
the person would eventually recover memory of his normal but not
his schizophrenic behavior. Thus, Cameron claimed he could generate
"differential amnesia." Creating such a state in which
a man who knew too much could be made to forget had long been
a prime objective of the ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA programs.
Needless to say, Lauren G. does not recall a thing today about
those weeks when Cameron depatterned her. Afterward, unlike over
half of the psychiatrist's depatterning patients, Lauren G. gradually
recovered full recall of her life before the treatment, but then,
she remembered her mental problems, too.
Her husband says she came out of the hospital much improved. She
declares the treatment had no effect one way or another on her
mental condition, which she believes resulted directly from her
miserable marriage. She stopped seeing Cameron after about a month
of outpatient electroshock treatments, which she despised. Her
relationship with her husband further deteriorated, and two years
later she walked out on him. "I just got up on my own hind
legs," she states. "I said the hell with it. I'm going
to do what I want and take charge of my own life. I left and started
over." Now divorced and remarried, she feels she has been
happy ever since.
Cameron's depatterning, of which Lauren G. had a comparatively
mild version, normally started with 15 to 30 days of "sleep
therapy." As the name implies, the patient slept almost the
whole day and night. According to a doctor at the hospital who
used to administer what he calls the "sleep cocktail,"
a staff member woke up the patient three times a day for medication
that consisted of a combination of 100 mg. Thorazine, 100 mg.
Nembutal, 100 mg. Seconal, 150 mg. Veronal, and 10 mg. Phenergan.
Another staff doctor would also awaken the patient two or sometimes
three times daily for electroshock treatments.
This doctor and his assistant wheeled a portable machine into
the "sleep room" and gave the subject a local anesthetic
and muscle relaxant, so as not to cause damage with the convulsions
that were to come. After attaching electrodes soaked in saline
solution, the attendant held the patient down and the doctor turned
on the current. In standard, professional electroshock, doctors
gave the subject a single dose of 110 volts, lasting a fraction
of a second, once a day or every other day. By contrast, Cameron
used a form 20 to 40 times more intense, two or three times daily,
with the power turned up to 150 volts. Named the "Page-Russell"
method after its British originators, this technique featured
an initial one-second shock, which caused a major convulsion,
and then five to nine additional shocks in the middle of the primary
and follow-on convulsions. Even Drs. Page and Russell limited
their treatment to once a day, and they always stopped as soon
as their patient showed "pronounced confusion" and became
"faulty in habits." Cameron, however, welcomed this
kind of impairment as a sign the treatment was taking effect and
plowed ahead through his routine.
The frequent screams of patients that echoed through the hospital
did not deter Cameron or most of his associates in their attempts
to "depattern" their subjects completely. Other hospital
patients report being petrified by the "sleep rooms,"
where the treatment took place, and they would usually creep down
the opposite side of the hall.
Cameron described this combined sleep-electroshock treatment as
lasting between 15 to 30 days, with some subjects staying in up
to 65 days (in which case, he reported, he awakened them for three
days in the middle). Sometimes, as in the case of Lauren G., patients
would try to escape when the sedatives wore thin, and the staff
would have to chase after them. "It was a tremendous nursing
job just to keep these people going during the treatment,"
recalls a doctor intimately familiar with Cameron's operation.
This doctor paints a picture of dazed patients, incapable of taking
care of themselves, often groping their way around the hospital
and urinating on the floor.
Cameron wrote that his typical depatterning patientusually
a womanmoved through three distinct stages. In the first, the
subject lost much of her memory. Yet she still knew where she
was, why she was there, and who the people were who treated her.
In the second phase, she lost her "space-time image,"
but still wanted to remember. In fact, not being able to answer
questions like, "Where am I?" and "How did I get
here?" caused her considerable anxiety. In the third stage,
all that anxiety disappeared. Cameron described the state as "an
extremely interesting constriction of the range of recollections
which one ordinarily brings in to modify and enrich one's statements.
Hence, what the patient talks about are only his sensations of
the moment, and he talks about them almost exclusively in highly
concrete terms. His remarks are entirely uninfluenced by previous
recollectionsnor are they governed in any way by his forward
anticipations. He lives in the immediate present. All schizophrenic
symptoms have disappeared. There is complete amnesia for all events
in his life."
Lauren G. and 52 other subjects at Allan Memorial received this
level of depatterning in 1958 and 1959. Cameron had already developed
the technique when the CIA funding started. The Agency sent the
psychiatrist research money to take the treatment beyond
this point. Agency officials wanted to know if, once Cameron had
produced the blank mind, he could then program in new patterns
of behavior, as he claimed he could. As early as 1953the year
he headed the American Psychiatric AssociationCameron conceived
a technique he called "psychic driving," by which he
would bombard the subject with repeated verbal messages. From
tape recordings based on interviews with the patient, he selected
emotionally loaded "cue statements"first negative
ones to get rid of unwanted behavior and then positive to condition
in desired personality traits. On the negative side, for example,
the patient would hear this message as she lay in a stupor:
Madeleine, you let your mother and father treat you as a child
all through your single life. You let your mother check you up
sexually after every date you had with a boy. You hadn't enough
determination to tell her to stop it. You never stood up for yourself
against your mother or father but would run away from trouble....
They used to call you "crying Madeleine." Now that you
have two children, you don't seem to be able to manage them and
keep a good relationship with your husband. You are drifting apart.
You don't go out together. You have not been able to keep him
Leonard Rubenstein, Cameron's principal assistant, whose entire
salary was paid from CIA-front funds, put the message on a continuous
tape loop and played it for 16 hours every day for several weeks.
An electronics technician, with no medical or psychological background,
Rubenstein, an electrical whiz, designed a giant tape recorder
that could play 8 loops for 8 patients at the same time. Cameron
had the speakers installed literally under the pillows in the
"sleep rooms." "We made sure they heard it,"
says a doctor who worked with Cameron. With some patients, Cameron
intensified the negative effect by running wires to their legs
and shocking them at the end of the message.
When Cameron thought the negative "psychic driving"
had gone far enough, he switched the patient over to 2 to 5 weeks
of positive tapes:
You mean to get well. To do this you must let your feelings come
out. It is all right to express your anger.... You want to stop
your mother bossing you around. Begin to assert yourself first
in little things and soon you will be able to meet her on an equal
basis. You will then be free to be a wife and mother just like
Cameron wrote that psychic driving provided a way to make "direct,
controlled changes in personality," without having to resolve
the subject's conflicts or make her relive past experiences. As
far as is known, no present-day psychologist or psychiatrist accepts
this view. Dr. Donald Hebb, who headed McGill's psychology department
at the time Cameron was in charge of psychiatry, minces no words
when asked specifically about psychic driving: "That was
an awful set of ideas Cameron was working with. It called for
no intellectual respect. If you actually look at what he was doing
and what he wrote, it would make you laugh. If I had a graduate
student who talked like that, I'd throw him out." Warming
to his subject, Hebb continues: "Look, Cameron was no good
as a researcher.... He was eminent because of politics."
Nobody said such things at the time, however. Cameron was a very
The Scottish-born psychiatrist, who never lost the burr in his
voice, kept searching for ways to perfect depatterning and psychic
driving. He held out to the CIA frontthe Society for the Investigation
of Human Ecologythat he could find more rapid and less damaging
ways to break down behavior. He sent the Society a proposal that
combined his two techniques with sensory deprivation and strong
drugs. His smorgasbord approach brought together virtually all
possible techniques of mind control, which he tested individually
and together. When his Agency grant came through in 1957, Cameron
began work on sensory deprivation.
For several years, Agency officials had been interested in the
interrogation possibilities of this technique that Hebb himself
had pioneered at McGill with Canadian defense and Rockefeller
money. It consisted of putting a subject in a sealed environmenta
small room or even a large boxand depriving him of all sensory
input: eyes covered with goggles, ears either covered with muffs
or exposed to a constant, monotonous sound, padding to prevent
touching, no smellswith this empty regime interrupted only
by meal and bathroom breaks. In 1955 Morse Allen of ARTICHOKE
made contact at the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Maitland
Baldwin who had done a rather gruesome experiment in which an
Army volunteer had stayed in the "box" for 40 hours
until he kicked his way out after, in Baldwin's words, "an
hour of crying loudly and sobbing in a most heartrending fashion."
The experiment convinced Baldwin that the isolation technique
could break any man, no matter how intelligent or strong-willed.
Hebb, who unlike Baldwin released his subjects when they wanted,
had never left anyone in "the box" for more than six
days. Baldwin told Morse Allen that beyond that sensory deprivation
would almost certainly cause irreparable damage. Nevertheless,
Baldwin agreed that if the Agency could provide the cover and
the subjects, he would do, according to Allen's report, "terminal
type" experiments. After numerous meetings inside the CIA
on how and where to fund Baldwin, an Agency medical officer finally
shot down the project as being "immoral and inhuman,"
suggesting that those pushing the experiments might want to "volunteer
their heads for use in Dr. Baldwin's 'noble' project."
With Cameron, Agency officials not only had a doctor willing to
perform terminal experiments in sensory deprivation, but one with
his own source of subjects. As part of his CIA-funded research,
he had a "box" built in the converted stables behind
the hospital that housed Leonard Rubenstein and his behavioral
laboratory. Undaunted by the limits set in Hebb's work, Cameron
left one woman in for 35 days, although he had so scrambled her
mind with his other techniques that one cannot say, as Baldwin
predicted to the Agency, if the prolonged deprivation did specific
damage. This subject's name was Mary C., and, try as he might,
Cameron could not get through to her. As the aloof psychiatrist
wrote in his notes: "Although the patient was prepared by
both prolonged sensory isolation (35 days) and by repeated depatterning,
and although she received 101 days of positive driving, no favorable
results were obtained."
Before prescribing this treatment, Cameron had diagnosed the 52-year-old
Mary C.: "Conversion reaction in a woman of the involutional
age with mental anxiety; hypochondriatic." In other words,
Mary C. was going through menopause.
In his proposal to the CIA front, Cameron also said he would test
curare, the South American arrow poison which, when liberally
applied, kills by paralyzing internal body functions. In nonlethal
doses, curare causes a limited paralysis which blocks but does
not stop these functions. According to his papers, some of which
wound up in the archives of the American Psychiatric Association,
Cameron injected subjects with curare in conjunction with sensory
deprivation, presumably to immobilize them further.
Cameron also tested LSD in combination with psychic driving and
other techniques. In late 1956 and early 1957, one of his subjects
was Val Orlikow, whose husband David has become a member of the
Canadian parliament. Suffering from what she calls a "character
neurosis that started with postpartum depression," she entered
Allan Memorial as one of Cameron's personal patients. He soon
put her under his version of LSD therapy. One to four times a
week, he or another doctor would come into her room and give her
a shot of LSD, mixed with either a stimulant or a depressant and
then leave her alone with a tape recorder that played excerpts
from her last session with him. As far as is known, no other LSD
researcher ever subjected his patients to unsupervised tripscertainly
not over the course of two months when her hospital records show
she was given LSD 14 times. "It was terrifying," Mrs.
Orlikow recalls. "You're afraid you've gone off somewhere
and can't come back." She was supposed to write down on a
pad whatever came into her head while listening to the tapes,
but often she became so frightened that she could not write at
all. "You become very small," she says, as her voice
quickens and starts to reflect some of her horror. "You're
going to fall off the step, and God, you're going down into hell
because it's so far, and you are so little. Like Alice, where
is the pill that makes you big, and you're a squirrel, and you
can't get out of the cage, and somebody's going to kill you."
Then, suddenly, Mrs. Orlikow pulls out of it and lucidly states,
"Some very weird things happened."
Mrs. Orlikow hated the LSD treatment. Several times she told Cameron
she would take no more, and the psychiatrist would put his arm
around her and ask, "Lassie," which he called all his
women patients, "don't you want to get well, so you can go
home and see your husband?" She remembers feeling guilty
about not following the doctor's orders, and the thought of disappointing
Cameron, whom she idolized, crushed her. Finally, after Cameron
talked her out of quitting the treatment several times, she had
to end it. She left the hospital but stayed under his private
care. In 1963 he put her back in the hospital for more intensive
psychic driving. "I thought he was God," she states.
"I don't know how I could have been so stupid.... A lot of
us were naive. We thought psychiatrists had the answers. Here
was the greatest in the world, with all these titles."
In defense of Cameron, a former associate says the man truly cared
about the welfare of his patients. He wanted to make them well.
As his former staff psychologist wrote:
He abhorred the waste of human potential, seen most dramatically
in the young people whose minds were distorted by what was then
considered to be schizophrenia. He felt equally strongly about
the loss of wisdom in the aged through memory malfunction. For
him, the end justified the means, and when one is dealing with
the waste of human potential, it is easy to adopt this stance.
Cameron retired abruptly in 1964, for unexplained reasons. His
successor, Dr. Robert Cleghorn, made a virtually unprecedented
move in the academic world of mutual back-scratching and praise.
He commissioned a psychiatrist and a psychologist, unconnected
to Cameron, to study his electroshock work. They found that 60
percent of Cameron's depatterned patients complained they still
had amnesia for the period 6 months to 10 years before the therapy.
They could find no clinical proof that showed the treatment to
be any more or less effective than other approaches. They concluded
that "the incidence of physical complications and the anxiety
generated in the patient because of real or imagined memory difficulty
argue against" future use of the technique.
The study-team members couched their report in densely academic
jargon, but one of them speaks more clearly now. He talks bitterly
of one of Cameron's former patients who needs to keep a list of
her simplest household chores to remember how to do them. Then
he repeats several times how powerful a man Cameron was, how he
was "the godfather of Canadian psychiatry." He continues,
"I probably shouldn't talk about this, but Cameronfor
him to do what he didhe was a very schizophrenic guy, who totally
detached himself from the human implications of his work . . .
God, we talk about concentration camps. I don't want to make this
comparison, but God, you talk about 'we didn't know it was happening,'
and it wasright in our back yard."
Cameron died in 1967, at age 66, while climbing a mountain. The
American Journal of Psychiatry published a long and glowing
obituary with a full-page picture of his not-unpleasant face.
D. Ewen Cameron did not need the CIA to corrupt him. He clearly
had his mind set on doing unorthodox research long before the
Agency front started to fund him. With his own hospital and source
of subjects, he could have found elsewhere encouragement and money
to replace the CIA's contribution which never exceeded $20,000
a year. However, Agency officials knew exactly what they were
paying for. They traveled periodically to Montreal to observe
his work, and his proposal was chillingly explicit. In Cameron,
they had a doctor, conveniently outside the United States, willing
to do terminal experiments in electroshock, sensory deprivation,
drug testing, and all of the above combined. By literally wiping
the minds of his subjects clean by depatterning and then trying
to program in new behavior, Cameron carried the process known
as "brainwashing" to its logical extreme.
It cannot be said how manyif anyother Agency brainwashing
projects reached the extremes of Cameron's work. Details are scarce,
since many of the principal witnesses have died, will not talk
about what went on, or lie about it. In what ways the CIA applied
work like Cameron's is not known. What is known, however, is that
the intelligence community, including the CIA, changed the face
of the scientific community during the 1950s and early 1960s by
its interest in such experiments. Nearly every scientist on the
frontiers of brain research found men from the secret agencies
looking over his shoulders, impinging on the research. The experience
of Dr. John Lilly illustrates how this intrusion came about.
In 1953 Lilly worked at the National Institutes of Health, outside
Washington, doing experimental studies in an effort to "map"
the body functions controlled from various locations in the brain.
He devised a method of pounding up to 600 tiny sections of hypodermic
tubing into the skulls of monkeys, through which he could insert
electrodes "into the brain to any desired distance and at
any desired location from the cortex down to the bottom of the
skull," he later wrote. Using electric stimulation, Lilly
discovered precise centers of the monkeys' brains that caused
pain, fear, anxiety, and anger. He also discovered precise, separate
parts of the brain that controlled erection, ejaculation, and
orgasm in male monkeys. Lilly found that a monkey, given access
to a switch operating a correctly planted electrode, would reward
himself with nearly continuous orgasmsat least once every 3
minutesfor up to 16 hours a day.
As Lilly refined his brain "maps," officials of the
CIA and other agencies descended upon him with a request for a
briefing. Having a phobia against secrecy, Lilly agreed to the
briefing only under the condition that it and his work remain
unclassified, completely open to outsiders. The intelligence officials
submitted to the conditions most reluctantly, since they knew
that Lilly's openness would not only ruin the spy value of anything
they learned but could also reveal the identities and the interests
of the intelligence officials to enemy agents. They considered
Lilly annoying, uncooperativepossibly even suspicious.
Soon Lilly began to have trouble going to meetings and conferences
with his colleagues. As part of the cooperation with the intelligence
agencies, most of them had agreed to have their projects officially
classified as SECRET, which meant that access to the information
required a security clearance.
Lilly's security clearance was withdrawn for review, then tangled
up and misplacedall of which he took as pressure to cooperate
with the CIA. Lilly, whose imagination needed no stimulation to
conjure up pictures of CIA agents on deadly missions with remote-controlled
electrodes strategically implanted in their brains, decided to
withdraw from that field of research. He says he had decided that
the physical intrusion of the electrodes did too much brain damage
for him to tolerate.
In 1954 Lilly began trying to isolate the operations of the brain,
free of outside stimulation, through sensory deprivation. He worked
in an office next to Dr. Maitland Baldwin, who the following year
agreed to perform terminal sensory deprivation experiments for
ARTICHOKE's Morse Allen but who never told Lilly he was working
in the field. While Baldwin experimented with his sensory-deprivation
"box," Lilly invented a special "tank." Subjects
floated in a tank of body-temperature water wearing a face mask
that provided air but cut off sight and sound. Inevitably, intelligence
officials swooped down on Lilly again, interested in the use of
his tank as an interrogation tool. Could involuntary subjects
be placed in the tank and broken down to the point where their
belief systems or personalities could be altered?
It was central to Lilly's ethic that he himself be the first subject
of any experiment, and, in the case of the consciousness-exploring
tank work, he and one colleague were the only ones. Lilly
realized that the intelligence agencies were not interested in
sensory deprivation because of its positive benefits, and he finally
concluded that it was impossible for him to work at the National
Institutes of Health without compromising his principles. He quit
Contrary to most people's intuitive expectations, Lilly found
sensory deprivation to be a profoundly integrating experience
for himself personally. He considered himself to be a scientist
who subjectively explored the far wanderings of the brain. In
a series of private experiments, he pushed himself into the complete
unknown by injecting pure Sandoz LSD into his thigh before climbing
into the sensory-deprivation tank.
When the counterculture sprang up, Lilly became something of a
cult figure, with his unique approach to scientific inquirythough
he was considered more of an outcast by many in the professional
For most of the outside world, Lilly became famous with the release
of the popular film, The Day of the Dolphin, which the
filmmakers acknowledged was based on Lilly's work with dolphins
after he left NIH. Actor George C. Scott portrayed a scientist,
who, like Lilly, loved dolphins, did pioneering experiments on
their intelligence, and tried to find ways to communicate with
them. In the movie, Scott became dismayed when the government
pounced on his breakthrough in talking to dolphins and turned
it immediately to the service of war. In real life, Lilly was
similarly dismayed when Navy and CIA scientists trained dolphins
for special warfare in the waters off Vietnam.
A few scientists like Lilly made up their minds not to cross certain
ethical lines in their experimental work, while others were prepared
to go further even than their sponsors from ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA.
Within the Agency itself, there was only one final question: Will
a technique work? CIA officials zealously tracked every lead,
sparing no expense to check each angle many times over.
By the time the MKULTRA program ended in 1963, Agency researchers
had found no foolproof way to brainwash another person.
"All experiments beyond a certain point always failed,"
says the MKULTRA veteran, "because the subject jerked himself
back for some reason or the subject got amnesiac or catatonic."
Agency officials found through work like Cameron's that they could
create "vegetables," but such people served no operational
use. People could be tortured into saying anything, but no science
could guarantee that they would tell the truth.
The impotency of brainwashing techniques left the Agency in a
difficult spot when Yuri Nosenko defected to the United States
in February 1964. A ranking official of the Soviet KGB, Nosenko
brought with him stunning information. He said the Russians had
bugged the American embassy in Moscow, which turned out to be
true. He named some Russian agents in the West. And he said that
he had personally inspected the KGB file of Lee Harvey Oswald,
who only a few months earlier had been murdered before he could
be brought to trial for the assassination of President Kennedy.
Nosenko said he learned that the KGB had had no interest in Oswald.
Was Nosenko telling the truth, or was he a KGB "plant"
sent to throw the United States off track about Oswald? Was his
information about penetration correct, or was Nosenko himself
the penetration? Was he acting in good faith? Were the men within
the CIA who believed he was acting in good faith themselves acting
in good faith? These and a thousand other questions made up the
classical trick deck for spieseach card having "true"
on one side and "false" on the other.
Top CIA officials felt a desperate need to resolve the issue of
Nosenko's legitimacy. With numerous Agency counterintelligence
operations hanging in the balance, Richard Helms, first as Deputy
Director and then as Director, allowed CIA operators to work Nosenko
over with the interrogation method in which Helms apparently had
the most faith. It turned out to be not any truth serum or electroshock
depatterning program or anything else from the Agency's brainwashing
search. Helms had Nosenko put through the tried-and-true Soviet
method: isolate the prisoner, deaden his senses, break him. For
more than three years1,277 days, to be exactAgency officers
kept Nosenko in solitary confinement. As if they were using the
Hinkle-Wolff study as their instruction manual and the Cardinal
Mindszenty case as their success story, the CIA men had guards
watch over Nosenko day and night, giving him not a moment of privacy.
A light bulb burned continuously in his cell. He was allowed nothing
to readnot even the labels on toothpaste boxes. When he tried
to distract himself by making a chess set from pieces of lint
in his cell, the guards discovered his game and swept the area
clean. Nosenko had no window, and he was eventually put in a specially
built 12' X 12' steel bank vault.
Nosenko broke down. He hallucinated. He talked his head off to
his interrogators, who questioned him for 292 days, often while
they had him strapped into a lie detector. If he told the truth,
they did not believe him. While the Soviets and Chinese had shown
that they could make a man admit anything, the CIA interrogators
apparently lacked a clear idea of exactly what they wanted Nosenko
to confess. When it was all over and Richard Helms ordered Nosenko
freed after three and a half years of illegal detention, some
key Agency officers still believed he was a KGB plant. Others
thought he was on the level. Thus the big questions remained unresolved,
and to this day, CIA menpast and presentare bitterly split
over who Nosenko really is.
With the Nosenko case, the CIA's brainwashing programs had come
full circle. Spurred by the widespread alarm over communist tactics,
Agency officials had investigated the field, started their own
projects, and looked to the latest technology to make improvements.
After 10 years of research, with some rather gruesome results,
CIA officials had come up with no techniques on which they felt
they could rely. Thus, when the operational crunch came, they
fell back on the basic brutality of the Soviet system.
Edward Hunter's article " 'Brain-Washing' Tactics Force Chinese
into Ranks of Communist Party" appeared in the Miami News
on September 24, 1950. His book was Brainwashing in Red China
(New York: Vanguard Press, 1951). Other material came from several
interviews with Hunter just before he died in June 1978.
The Air Force document cited on brainwashing was called "Air
Force Headquarters Panel Convened to Record Air Force Position
Regarding Conduct of Personnel in Event of Capture," December
14, 1953. Researcher Sam Zuckerman found it and showed it to me.
The figures on American prisoners in Korea and the quote from
Edward Hunter came from hearings before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee
on Investigations,84th Congress, June 19,20,26, and 27, 1956.
The material on the setting up of the Cornell-Hinkle-Wolff study
came from interviews with Hinkle, Helen Goodell, and several CIA
sources. Hinkle's and Wolff's study on brainwashing appeared in
classified form on 2 April 1956 as a Technical Services Division
publication called Communist Control Techniques and in
substantially the same form but unclassified as "Communist
Interrogation and Indoctrination of 'Enemies of the State'An
Analysis of Methods Used by the Communist State Police."
AMA Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, August, 1956,
Allen Dulles spoke on "Brain Warfare" before the Alumni
Conference of Princeton University, Hot Springs, Virginia on April
10, 1953, and the quote on guinea pigs came from that speech.
The comments of Rockefeller Foundation officials about D. Ewen
Cameron and the record of Rockefeller funding were found in Robert
S. Morrison's diary, located in the Rockefeller Foundation Archives,
Pocantico Hills, New York.
The key articles on Cameron's work on depatterning and psychic
driving were "Production of Differential Amnesia as a Factor
in the Treatment of Schizophrenia," Comprehensive Psychiatry,
1960, 1, p. 26 and "Effects of Repetition of Verbal Signals
upon the Behavior of Chronic Psychoneurotic Patients" by
Cameron, Leonard Levy, and Leonard Rubenstein, Journal of Mental
Science, 1960, 106, 742. The background on Page-Russell electroshocks
came from "Intensified Electrical Convulsive Therapy in the
Treatment of Mental Disorders" by L. G. M. Page and R. J.
Russell, Lancet, Volume 254, Jan.June, 1948. Dr. John
Cavanagh of Washington, D.C. provided background on
the use of electroshock and sedatives in psychiatry.
Cameron's MKULTRA subproject was #68. See especially document
68-37, "Application for Grant to Study the Effects upon Human
Behavior of the Repetition of Verbal Signals," January 21,
Part of Cameron's papers are in the archives of the American Psychiatric
Association in Washington, and they provided considerable information
on the treatment of Mary C., as well as a general look at his
work. Interviews with at least a dozen of his former colleagues
also provided considerable information.
Interviews Yvith John Lilly and Donald Hebb provided background
on sensory deprivation. Maitland Baldwin's work in the field was
discussed in a whole series of ARTICHOKE documents including #A/B,
I,76/4, 21 March 1955, Subject: Total Isolation; #A/B,1, 76/12,
19 May 1955, Subject: Total IsolationAdditional Comments; and
#A/B, I, 76/17,27 April 1955, Subject: Total Isolation, Supplemental
Report #2. The quote from Aldous Huxley on sensory deprivation
is taken from the book of his writings, Moksha: Writings on
Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience (1931-1963), edited
by Michael Horowitz and Cynthia Palmer (New York: Stonehill, 1978).
The material on Val Orlikow's experiences with Dr. Cameron came
from interviews with her and her husband David and from portions
of her hospital records, which she furnished.
Cameron's staff psychologist Barbara Winrib's comments on him
were found in a letter to the Montreal Star, August 11,
The study of Cameron's electroshock work ordered by Dr. Cleghorn
was published as "Intensive Electroconvulsive Therapy: A
Follow-up Study," by A. E. Schwartzman and P. E. Termansen,
Canadian Psychiatric Association, Volume 12, 1967.
In addition to several interviews, much material on John Lilly
came from his autobiography, The Scientist (Philadelphia:
J. B. Lippincott Company, 1978).
The CIA's handling of Yuri Nosenko was discussed at length in
hearings before the House Assassinations Committee on September
15, 1978. The best press account of this testimony was written
by Jeremiah O'Leary of the Washington Star on September
16, 1978: "How CIA Tried to Break Defector in Oswald Case."
1. Among the Air Force and Army project leaders
were Dr. Fred Williams of the Air Force Psychological Warfare
Division, Robert Jay Lifton, Edgar Schein, Albert Biderman, and
Lieutenant Colonel James Monroe (an Air Force officer who would
later go to work full time in CIA behavioral programs). (back)
2. Cameron himself may not have known that
the Agency was the ultimate source of these funds which came through
a conduit, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology.
A CIA document stated he was unwitting when the grants started
in 1957, and it cannot be said whether he ever found out. (back)
3. Cameron wrote that when a patient remembered
his schizophrenic symptoms, the schizophrenic behavior usually
returned. If the amnesia held for these symptoms, as Cameron claimed
it often did, the subject usually did not have a relapse. Even
in his "cured" patients, Cameron found that Rorschach
tests continued to show schizophrenic thinking despite the improvement
in overt behavior. To a layman, this would seem to indicate that
Cameron's approach got only at the symptoms, not the causes of
mental problems. Not deterred, however, Cameron dismissed this
inconsistency as a "persistent enigma." (back)
4. Cameron wrote in a professional journal
that he gave only two electroshocks a day, but a doctor who actually
administered the treatment for him says that three were common
at the beginning of the therapy. (back)
5. In his proposal to the Human Ecology group,
Cameron wrote that his subjects would be spending only 16 hours
a day in sensory deprivation, while they listened to psychic driving
tapes (thus providing some outside stimuli). Nevertheless, one
of Cameron's colleagues states that some patients, including Mary
C. were in continuously. Always looking for a better way, Cameron
almost certainly tried both variations. (back)
6. Cleghorn's team found little loss of memory
on objective tests, like the Wechsler Memory Scale but speculated
that these tests measured a different memory functionshort-term
recallthan that the subjects claimed to be missing. (back)
7. Lilly and other veterans of government-supported
research note that there is a practical advantage for the scientist
who allows his work to be classified: it gives him an added claim
on government funds. He is then in a position to argue that if
his work is important enough to be SECRET, it deserves money.
8. As was the case with LSD work, sensory
deprivation research had both a mind control and a transcendental
side. Aldous Huxley wrote thusly about the two pioneers in the
field: "What men like Hebb and Lilly are doing in the laboratory
was done by the Christian hermits in the Thebaid and elsewhere,
and by Hindu and Tibetan hermits in the remote fastness of the
Himalayas. My own belief is that these experiences really tell
us something about the nature of the universe, that they are valuable
in themselves and, above all, valuable when incorporated into
our world-picture and acted upon [in] normal life." (back)
9. In a program called "swimmer nullification,"
government scientists trained dolphins to attack enemy frogmen
with huge needles attached to their snouts. The dolphins carried
tanks of compressed air, which when jabbed into a deepdiver caused
him to pop dead to the surface. A scientist who worked in this
CIA-Navy program states that some of the dolphins sent to Vietnam
during the late 1960s got out of their pens and disappearedunheard
of behavior for trained dolphins. John Lilly confirms that a group
of the marine mammals stationed at Cam Ranh Bay did go AWOL, and
he adds that he heard that some eventually returned with their
bodies and fins covered with attack marks made by other dolphins.
10. After 1963 the Agency's Science and Technology
Directorate continued brain research with unknown results. See
Chapter 12. (back)
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