The following chapter has been reposted from the online version of the book at the Psychedelic Library. Not to be confused with the fictional account that was made into a motion picture, this is the real story; based primarily on 16,000 pages of CIA documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
On the outskirts of Basel, Switzerland, overlooking the Rhine, lies the worldwide headquarters of the Sandoz drug and chemical empire. There, on the afternoon of April 16, 1943, Dr. Albert Hofmann made an extraordinary discovery—by accident.
At 37, with close-cropped hair and rimless glasses, Hofmann headed the company’s research program to develop marketable drugs out of natural products. He was hard at work in his laboratory that warm April day when a wave of dizziness suddenly overcame him. The strange sensation was not unpleasant, and Hofmann felt almost as though he were drunk.
But he became quite restless. His nerves seemed to run off in different directions. The inebriation was unlike anything he had ever known before. Leaving work early, Hofmann managed a wobbly bicycle-ride home. He lay down and closed his eyes, still unable to shake the dizziness. Now the light of day was disagreeably bright. With the external world shut out, his mind raced along. He experienced what he would later describe as “an uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness. . . . accompanied by an intense, kaleidoscope-like play of colors.”
These visions subsided after a few hours, and Hofmann, ever the inquiring scientist, set out to find what caused them. He presumed he had somehow ingested one of the drugs with which he had been working that day, and his prime suspect was d-lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, a substance that he himself had first produced in the same lab five years earlier. As part of his search for a circulation stimulant, Hofmann had been examining derivatives of ergot, a fungus that attacks rye.
Ergot had a mysterious, contradictory reputation. In China and some Arab countries, it was thought to have medicinal powers, but in Europe it was associated with the horrible malady from the Middle Ages called St. Anthony’s Fire, which struck periodically like the plague. The disease turned fingers and toes into blackened stumps and led to madness and death.
Hofmann guessed that he had absorbed some ergot derivative through his skin, perhaps while changing the filter paper in a suction bottle. To test his theory, he spent three days making up a fresh batch of LSD. Cautiously he swallowed 250 micrograms (less than 1/100,000 of an ounce). Hofmann planned to take more gradually through the day to obtain a result, since no known drug had any effect on the human body in such infinitesimal amounts. He had no way of knowing that because of LSD’s potency, he had already taken several times what would later be termed an ordinary dose. Unexpectedly, this first speck of LSD took hold after about 40 minutes, and Hofmann was off on the first self-induced “trip” of modern times.
Hofmann recalls he felt “horrific . . . I was afraid. I feared I was becoming crazy. I had the idea I was out of my body. I thought I had died. I did not know how it would finish. If you know you will come back from this very strange world, only then can you enjoy it.” Of course, Hofmann had no way of knowing that he would return. While he had quickly recovered from his accidental trip three days earlier, he did not know how much LSD had caused it or whether the present dose was more than his body could detoxify. His mind kept veering off into an unknown dimension, but he was unable to appreciate much beyond his own terror.
Less than 200 miles from Hofmann’s laboratory, doctors connected to the S.S. and Gestapo were doing experiments that led to the testing of mescaline (a drug which has many of the mind-changing qualities of LSD) on prisoners at Dachau. Germany’s secret policemen had the notion, completely alien to Hofmann, that they could use drugs like mescaline to bring unwilling people under their control. According to research team member Walter Neff, the goal of the Dachau experiments was “to eliminate the will of the person examined.”
At Dachau, Nazis took the search for scientific knowledge of military value to its most awful extreme. 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 coagulants could be tested on their wounds.
The mescaline tests at Dachau run by Dr. Kurt Plötner were not nearly so lethal as the others in the “aviation” series, but the drug could still cause grave damage, particularly to anyone who already had some degree of mental instability. The danger was increased by the fact that the mescaline was administered covertly by S.S. men who spiked the prisoners’ drinks. Unlike Dr. Hofmann, the subjects had no idea that a drug was causing their extreme disorientation. Many must have feared they had gone stark mad all on their own. Always, the subjects of these experiments were Jews, gypsies, Russians, and other groups on whose lives the Nazis placed little or no value. In no way were any of them true volunteers, although some may have come forward under the delusion that they would receive better treatment.
After the war, Neff told American investigators that the subjects showed a wide variety of reactions. Some became furious; others were melancholy or gay, as if they were drunk. Not surprisingly, “sentiments of hatred and revenge were exposed in every case.” Neff’ noted that the drug caused certain people to reveal their “most intimate secrets.” Still, the Germans were not ready to accept mescaline as a substitute for their more physical methods of interrogation. They went on to try hypnosis in combination with the drug, but they apparently never felt confident that they had found a way to assume command of their victim’s mind.
Even as the S.S. doctors were carrying on their experiments at Dachau, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America’s wartime intelligence agency, set up a “truth drug” committee under Dr. Winfred Overholser, head of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington. The committee quickly tried and rejected mescaline, several barbiturates, and scopolamine. Then, during the spring of 1943, the committee decided that cannabis indica—or marijuana—showed the most promise, and it started a testing program in cooperation with the Manhattan Project, the TOP SECRET effort to build an atomic bomb. It is not clear why OSS turned to the bomb makers for help, except that, as one former Project official puts it, “Our secret was so great, I guess we were safer than anyone else.” Apparently, top Project leaders, who went to incredible lengths to preserve security, saw no danger in trying out drugs on their personnel.
The Manhattan Project supplied the first dozen test subjects, who were asked to swallow a concentrated, liquid form of marijuana that an American pharmaceutical company furnished in small glass vials. A Project man who was present recalls: “It didn’t work the way we wanted. Apparently the human system would not take it all at once orally. The subjects would lean over and vomit.” What is more, they disclosed no secrets, and one subject wound up in the hospital.
Back to the drawing board went the OSS experts. They decided that the best way to administer the marijuana was inhalation of its fumes. Attempts were made to pour the solution on burning charcoal, and an OSS officer named George White (who had already succeeded in knocking himself out with an overdose of the relatively potent substance) tried out the vapor, without sufficient effect, at St. Elizabeth’s. Finally, the OSS group discovered a delivery system which had been known for years to jazz musicians and other users: the cigarette. OSS documents reported that smoking a mix of tobacco and the marijuana essence brought on a “state of irresponsibility, causing the subject to be loquacious and free in his impartation of information.”
The first field test of these marijuana-laced cigarettes took place on May 27, 1943. The subject was one August Del Gracio, who was described in OSS documents as a “notorious New York gangster.” George White, an Army captain who had come to OSS from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, administered the drug by inviting Del Gracio up to his apartment for a smoke and a chat. White had been talking to Del Gracio earlier about securing the Mafia’s cooperation to keep Axis agents out of the New York waterfront and to prepare the way for the invasion of Sicily.
Del Gracio had already made it clear to White that he personally had taken part in killing informers who had squealed to the Feds. The gangster was as tough as they came, and if he could be induced to talk under the influence of a truth drug, certainly German prisoners could—or so the reasoning went. White plied him with cigarettes until “subject became high and extremely garrulous.” Over the next two hours, Del Gracio told the Federal agent about the ins and outs of the drug trade (revealing information so sensitive that the CIA deleted it from the OSS documents it released 34 years later). At one point in the conversation, after Del Gracio had begun to talk, the gangster told White, “Whatever you do, don’t ever use any of the stuff I’m telling you.” In a subsequent session, White packed the cigarettes with so much marijuana that Del Gracio became unconscious for about an hour. Yet, on the whole the experiment was considered a success in “loosening the subject’s tongue.”
While members of the truth-drug committee never believed that the concentrated marijuana could compel a person to confess his deepest secrets, they authorized White to push ahead with the testing. On the next stage, he and a Manhattan Project counterintelligence man borrowed 15 to 18 thick dossiers from the FBI and went off to try the marijuana on suspected Communist soldiers stationed in military camps outside Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans. According to White’s Manhattan Project sidekick, a Harvard Law graduate and future judge, they worked out a standard interrogation technique:
Before we went in, George and I would buy cigarettes, remove them from the bottom of the pack, use a hypodermic needle to put in the fluid, and leave the cigarettes in a shot glass to dry. Then, we resealed the pack. . . . We sat down with a particular soldier and tried to win his confidence. We would say something like “This is better than being overseas and getting shot at,” and we would try to break them. We started asking questions from their [FBI] folder, and we would let them see that we had the folder on them . . . We had a pitcher of ice water on the table, and we knew the drug had taken effect when they reached for a glass. The stuff actually worked. . . . Everyone but one—and he didn’t smoke—gave us more information than we had before.
The Manhattan Project lawyer remembers this swing through the South with George White as a “good time.” The two men ate in the best restaurants and took in all the sights. “George was quite a guy,” he says. “At the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans after we had interviewed our men, we were lying on the beds when George took out his pistol and shot his initials into the molding that ran along the ceiling. He used his .22 automatic, equipped with a silencer, and he emptied several clips.” Asked if he tried out the truth drug himself, the lawyer says, “Yes. The cigarettes gave you a feeling of walking a couple of feet off the floor. I had a pleasant sensation of well-being. . . . The fellows from my office wouldn’t take a cigarette from me for the rest of the war.”
Since World War II, the United States government, led by the Central Intelligence Agency, has searched secretly for ways to control human behavior. This book is about that search, which had its origins in World War II. The CIA programs were not only an extension of the OSS quest for a truth drug, but they also echoed such events as the Nazi experiments at Dachau and Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD.
By probing the inner reaches of consciousness, Hofmann’s research took him to the very frontiers of knowledge. As never before in history, the warring powers sought ideas from scientists capable of reaching those frontiers—ideas that could make the difference between victory and defeat. While Hofmann himself remained aloof, in the Swiss tradition, other scientists, like Albert Einstein, helped turned the abstractions of the laboratory into incredibly destructive weapons. Jules Verne’s notions of spaceships touching the moon stopped being absurd when Wernher von Braun’s rockets started pounding London. With their creations, the scientists reached beyond the speculations of science fiction. Never before had their discoveries been so breathtaking and so frightening. Albert Hofmann’s work touched upon the fantasies of the mind—accessible, in ancient legends, to witches and wizards who used spells and potions to bring people under their sway. In the early scientific age, the dream of controlling the brain took on a modern form in Mary Shelley’s creation, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. The dream would be updated again during the Cold War era to become the Manchurian Candidate, the assassin whose mind was controlled by a hostile government. Who could say for certain that such a fantasy would not be turned into a reality like Verne’s rocket stories or Einstein’s calculations? And who should be surprised to learn that government agencies—specifically the CIA—would swoop down on Albert Hofmann’s lab in an effort to harness the power over the mind that LSD seemed to hold?
From the Dachau experiments came the cruelty that man was capable of heaping upon his fellows in the name of advancing science and helping his country gain advantage in war. To say that the Dachau experiments are object lessons of how far people can stretch ends to justify means is to belittle by cliché what occurred in the concentration camps. Nothing the CIA ever did in its postwar search for mind-control technology came close to the callous killing of the Nazi “aviation research.” Nevertheless, in their attempts to find ways to manipulate people, Agency officials and their agents crossed many of the same ethical barriers. They experimented with dangerous and unknown techniques on people who had no idea what was happening. They systematically violated the free will and mental dignity of their subjects, and, like the Germans, they chose to victimize special groups of people whose existence they considered, out of prejudice and convenience, less worthy than their own. Wherever their extreme experiments went, the CIA sponsors picked for subjects their own equivalents of the Nazis’ Jews and gypsies: mental patients, prostitutes, foreigners, drug addicts, and prisoners, often from minority ethnic groups.
In the postwar era, American officials straddled the ethical and the cutthroat approaches to scientific research. After an Allied tribunal had convicted the first echelon of surviving Nazi war criminals—the Görings and Speers—American prosecutors charged the Dachau doctors with “crimes against humanity” at a second Nuremberg trial. None of the German scientists expressed remorse. Most claimed that someone else had carried out the vilest experiments. All said that issues of moral and personal responsibility are moot in state-sponsored research. What is critical, testified Dr. Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician, is “whether the experiment is important or unimportant.” Asked his attitude toward killing human beings in the course of medical research, Brandt replied, “Do you think that one can obtain any worthwhile fundamental results without a definite toll of lives?” The judges at Nuremberg rejected such defenses and put forth what came to be known as the Nuremberg Code on scientific research. Its main points were simple: Researchers must obtain full voluntary consent from all subjects; experiments should yield fruitful results for the good of society that can be obtained in no other way; researchers should not conduct tests where death or serious injury might occur, “except, perhaps” when the supervising doctors also serve as subjects. The judges—all Americans—sentenced seven of the Germans, including Dr. Brandt, to death by hanging. Nine others received long prison sentences. Thus, the U.S. government put its full moral force behind the idea that there were limits on what scientists could do to human subjects, even when a country’s security was thought to hang in the balance.
The Nuremberg Code has remained official American policy ever since 1946, but, even before the verdicts were in, special U.S. investigating teams were sifting through the experimental records at Dachau for information of military value. The report of one such team found that while part of the data was “inaccurate,” some of the conclusions, if confirmed, would be “an important complement to existing knowledge.” Military authorities sent the records, including a description of the mescaline and hypnosis experiments, back to the United States. None of the German mind-control research was ever made public.
Immediately after the war, large political currents began to shift in the world, as they always do. Allies became enemies and enemies became allies. Other changes were fresh and yet old. In the United States, the new Cold War against communism carried with it a piercing sense of fear and a sweeping sense of mission—at least as far as American leaders were concerned. Out of these feelings and out of that overriding American faith in advancing technology came the CIA’s attempts to tame hostile minds and make spy fantasies real. Experiments went forward and the CIA’s scientists—bitten, sometimes obsessed—kept going back to their laboratories for one last adjustment. Some theories were crushed, while others emerged in unexpected ways that would have a greater impact outside the CIA than in the world of covert operations. Only one aspect remained constant during the quarter-century of active research: The CIA’s interest in controlling the human mind had to remain absolutely secret.
World War II provided more than the grand themes of the CIA’s behavioral programs. It also became the formative life experience of the principal CIA officials, and, indeed, of the CIA itself as an institution. The secret derring-do of the OSS was new to the United States, and the ways of the OSS would grow into the ways of the CIA. OSS leaders would have their counterparts later in the Agency. CIA officials tended to have known the OSS men, to think like them, to copy their methods, and even, in some cases, to be the same people. When Agency officials wanted to launch their massive effort for mind control, for instance, they got out the old OSS documents and went about their goal in many of the same ways the OSS had. OSS leaders enlisted outside scientists; Agency officials also went to the most prestigious ones in academia and industry, soliciting aid for the good of the country. They even approached the same George White who had shot his initials in the hotel ceiling while on OSS assignment.
Years later, White’s escapades with OSS and CIA would carry with them a humor clearly unintended at the time. To those directly involved, influencing human behavior was a deadly serious business, but qualities like bumbling and pure craziness shine through in hindsight. In the CIA’s campaign, some of America’s most distinguished behavioral scientists would stick all kinds of drugs and wires into their experimental subjects—often dismissing the obviously harmful effects with theories reminiscent of the learned nineteenth-century physicians who bled their patients with leeches and belittled the ignorance of anyone who questioned the technique. If the schemes of these scientists to control the mind had met with more success, they would be much less amusing. But so far, at least, the human spirit has apparently kept winning. That—if anything—is the saving grace of the mind-control campaign.
World War II signaled the end of American isolation and innocence, and the United States found it had a huge gap to close, with its enemies and allies alike, in applying underhanded tactics to war. Unlike Britain, which for hundreds of years had used covert operations to hold her empire together, the United States had no tradition of using subversion as a secret instrument of government policy. The Germans, the French, the Russians, and nearly everyone else had long been involved in this game, although no one seemed as good at it as the British.
Clandestine lobbying by British agents in the United States led directly to President Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of the organization that became OSS in 1942. This was the first American agency set up to wage secret, unlimited war. Roosevelt placed it under the command of a Wall Street lawyer and World War I military hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan. A burly, vigorous Republican millionaire with great intellectual curiosity, Donovan started as White House intelligence adviser even before Pearl Harbor, and he had direct access to the President.
Learning at the feet of the British who made available their expertise, if not all their secrets, Donovan put together an organization where nothing had existed before. A Columbia College and Columbia Law graduate himself, he tended to turn to the gentlemanly preserves of the Eastern establishment for recruits. (The initials OSS were said to stand for “Oh So Social.”) Friends—or friends of friends—could be trusted. “Old boys” were the stalwarts of the British secret service, and, as with most other aspects of OSS, the Americans followed suit.
One of Donovan’s new recruits was Richard Helms, a young newspaper executive then best known for having gained an interview with Adolf Hitler in 1936 while working for United Press. Having gone to Le Rosey, the same Swiss prep school as the Shah of Iran, and then on to clubby Williams College Helms moved easily among the young OSS men. He was already more taciturn than the jovial Donovan, but he was equally ambitious and skilled as a judge of character. For Helms, OSS spywork began a lifelong career. He would become the most important sponsor of mind-control research within the CIA, nurturing and promoting it throughout his steady climb to the top position in the Agency.
Like every major wartime official from President Roosevelt down, General Donovan believed that World War II was in large measure a battle of science and organization. The idea was to mobilize science for defense, and the Roosevelt administration set up a costly, intertwining network of research programs to deal with everything from splitting the atom to preventing mental breakdowns in combat. Donovan named Boston industrialist Stanley Lovell to head OSS Research and Development and to be the secret agency’s liaison with the government scientific community.
A Cornell graduate and a self-described “saucepan chemist,” Lovell was a confident energetic man with a particular knack for coming up with offbeat ideas and selling them to others. Like most of his generation, he was an outspoken patriot. He wrote in his diary shortly after Pearl Harbor: “As James Hilton said, ‘Once at war, to reason is treason.’ My job is clear—to do all that is in me to help America.”
General Donovan minced no words in laying out what he expected of Lovell: “I need every subtle device and every underhanded trick to use against the Germans and Japanese—by our own people—but especially by the underground resistance programs in all the occupied countries. You’ll have to invent them all, Lovell, because you’re going to be my man.” Thus Lovell recalled his marching orders from Donovan, which he instantly received on being introduced to the blustery, hyperactive OSS chief. Lovell had never met anyone with Donovan’s personal magnetism.
Lovell quickly turned to some of the leading lights in the academic and private sectors. A special group—called Division 19—within James Conant’s National Defense Research Committee was set up to produce “miscellaneous weapons” for OSS and British intelligence. Lovell’s strategy, he later wrote, was “to stimulate the Peck’s Bad Boy beneath the surface of every American scientist and to say to him, ‘Throw all your normal law-abiding concepts out the window. Here’s a chance to raise merry hell.’”
Dr. George Kistiakowsky, the Harvard chemist who worked on explosives research during the war (and who became science adviser to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy) remembers Stanley Lovell well: “Stan came to us and asked us to develop ways for camouflaging explosives which could be smuggled into enemy countries.” Kistiakowsky and an associate came up with a substance which was dubbed “Aunt Jemima” because it looked and tasted like pancake mix. Says Kistiakowsky: “You could bake bread or other things out of it. I personally took it to a high-level meeting at the War Department and ate cookies in front of all those characters to show them what a wonderful invention it was. All you had to do was attach a powerful detonator, and it exploded with the force of dynamite.” Thus disguised, “Aunt Jemima” could be slipped into occupied lands. It was credited with blowing up at least one major bridge in China.
Lovell encouraged OSS behavioral scientists to find something that would offend Japanese cultural sensibilities. His staff anthropologists reported back that nothing was so shameful to the Japanese soldier as his bowel movements. Lovell then had the chemists work up a skatole compound which duplicated the odor of diarrhea. It was loaded into collapsible tubes, flown to China, and distributed to children in enemy-occupied cities. When a Japanese officer appeared on a crowded street, the kids were encouraged to slip up behind him and squirt the liquid on the seat of his pants. Lovell named the product “Who? Me?” and he credited it with costing the Japanese “face.”
Unlike most weapons, “Who? Me?” was not designed to kill or maim. It was a “harassment substance” designed to lower the morale of individual Japanese. The inspiration came from academicians who tried to make a science of human behavior. During World War II, the behavioral sciences were still very much in their infancy, but OSS—well before most of the outside world—recognized their potential in warfare. Psychology and psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology all seemed to offer insights that could be exploited to manipulate the enemy.
General Donovan himself believed that the techniques of psychoanalysis might be turned on Adolf Hitler to get a better idea of “the things that made him tick,” as Donovan put it. Donovan gave the job of being the Fuhrer’s analyst to Walter Langer, a Cambridge, Massachusetts psychoanalyst whose older brother William had taken leave from a chair of history at Harvard to head OSS Research and Analysis. Langer protested that a study of Hitler based on available data would be highly uncertain and that conventional psychiatric and psychoanalytic methods could not be used without direct access to the patient. Donovan was not the sort to be deterred by such details. He told Langer to go ahead anyway.
With the help of a small research staff, Langer looked through everything he could find on Hitler and interviewed a number of people who had know the German leader. Aware of the severe limitations on his information, but left no choice by General Donovan, Langer plowed ahead and wrote up a final study. It pegged Hitler as a “neurotic psychopath” and proceeded to pick apart the Führer’s psyche. Langer, since retired to Florida, believes he came “pretty close” to describing the real Adolf Hitler. He is particularly proud of his predictions that the Nazi leader would become increasingly disturbed as Germany suffered more and more defeats and that he would commit suicide rather than face capture.
One reason for psychoanalyzing Hitler was to uncover vulnerabilities that could be covertly exploited. Stanley Lovell seized upon one of Langer’s ideas—that Hitler might have feminine tendencies—and got permission from the OSS hierarchy to see if he could push the Führer over the gender line. “The hope was that his moustache would fall off and his voice become soprano,” Lovell wrote. Lovell used OSS’s agent network to try to slip female sex hormones into Hitler’s food, but nothing apparently came of it. Nor was there ever any payoff to other Lovell schemes to blind Hitler permanently with mustard gas or to use a drug to exacerbate his suspected epilepsy. The main problem in these operations—all of which were tried—was to get Hitler to take the medicine. Failure of the delivery schemes also kept Hitler alive—OSS was simultaneously trying to poison him.
Without question, murdering a man was a decisive way to influence his behavior, and OSS scientists developed an arsenal of chemical and biological poisons that included the incredibly potent botulinus toxin, whose delivery system was a gelatin capsule smaller than the head of a pin. Lovell and his associates also realized there were less drastic ways to manipulate an enemy’s behavior, and they came up with a line of products to cause sickness, itching, baldness, diarrhea, and/or the odor thereof. They had less success finding a drug to compel truthtelling, but it was not for lack of trying.
Chemical and biological substances had been used in wartime long before OSS came on the scene. Both sides had used poison gas in World War I; during the early part of World War II, the Japanese had dropped deadly germs on China and caused epidemics; and throughout the war, the Allies and Axis powers alike had built up chemical and biological warfare (CBW) stockpiles, whose main function turned out, in the end, to be deterring the other side. Military men tended to look on CBW as a way of destroying whole armies and even populations. Like the world’s other secret services, OSS individualized CBW and made it into a way of selectively but secretly embarrassing, disorienting, incapacitating, injuring, or killing an enemy.
As diversified as were Lovell’s scientific duties for OSS, they were narrow in comparison with those of his main counterpart in the CIA’s postwar mind-control program, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. Gottlieb would preside over investigations that ranged from advanced research in amnesia by electroshock to dragnet searches through the jungles of Latin America for toxic leaves and barks. Fully in the tradition of making Hitler moustacheless, Gottlieb’s office would devise a scheme to make Fidel Castro’s beard fall out; like Lovell, Gottlieb would personally provide operators with deadly poisons to assassinate foreign leaders like the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, and he would be equally at ease discussing possible applications of new research in neurology. On a much greater scale than Lovell’s, Gottlieb would track down every conceivable gimmick that might give one person leverage over another’s mind. Gottlieb would preside over arcane fields from handwriting analysis to stress creation, and he would rise through the Agency along with his bureaucratic patron, Richard Helms.
Early in the war, General Donovan got another idea from the British, whose psychologists and psychiatrists had devised a testing program to predict the performance of military officers. Donovan thought such a program might help OSS sort through the masses of recruits who were being rushed through training. To create an assessment system for Americans, Donovan called in Harvard psychology professor Henry “Harry” Murray. In 1938 Murray had written Explorations of Personality, a notable book which laid out a whole battery of tests that could be used to size up the personalities of individuals. “Spying is attractive to loonies,” states Murray. “Psychopaths, who are people who spend their lives making up stories, revel in the field.” The program’s prime objective, according to Murray, was keeping out the crazies, as well as the “sloths, irritants, bad actors, and free talkers.”
Always in a hurry, Donovan gave Murray and a distinguished group of colleagues only 15 days until the first candidates arrived to be assessed. In the interim, they took over a spacious estate outside Washington as their headquarters. In a series of hurried meetings, they put together an assessment system that combined German and British methods with Murray’s earlier research. It tested a recruit’s ability to stand up under pressure, to be a leader, to hold liquor, to lie skillfully, and to read a person’s character by the nature of his clothing.
More than 30 years after the war, Murray remains modest in his claims for the assessment system, saying that it was only an aid in weeding out the “horrors” among OSS candidates. Nevertheless, the secret agency’s leaders believed in its results, and Murray’s system became a fixture in OSS, testing Americans and foreign agents alike. Some of Murray’s young behavioral scientists, like John Gardner, would go on to become prominent in public affairs, and, more importantly, the OSS assessment program would be recognized as a milestone in American psychology. It was the first systematic effort to evaluate an individual’s personality in order to predict his future behavior. After the war, personality assessment would become a new field in itself, and some of Murray’s assistants would go on to establish OSS-like systems at large corporations, starting with AT&T. They also would set up study programs at universities, beginning with the University of California at Berkeley. As would happen repeatedly with the CIA’s mind-control research, OSS was years ahead of public developments in behavioral theory and application.
In the postwar years, Murray would be superseded by a young Oklahoma psychologist John Gittinger, who would rise in the CIA on the strength of his ideas about how to make a hard science out of personality assessment and how to use it to manipulate people. Gittinger would build an office within CIA that refined both Murray’s assessment function and Walter Langer’s indirect analysis of foreign leaders. Gittinger’s methods would become an integral part of everyday Agency operations, and he would become Sid Gottlieb’s protégé.
Stanley Lovell reasoned that a good way to kill Hitler—and the OSS man was always looking for ideas—would be to hypnotically control a German prisoner to hate the Gestapo and the Nazi regime and then to give the subject a hypnotic suggestion to assassinate the Führer. The OSS candidate would be let loose in Germany where he would take the desired action, “being under a compulsion that might not be denied,” as Lovell wrote.
Lovell sought advice on whether this scheme would work from New York psychiatrist Lawrence Kubie and from the famed Menninger brothers, Karl and William. The Menningers reported that the weight of the evidence showed hypnotism to be incapable of making people do anything that they would not otherwise do. Equally negative, Dr. Kubie added that if a German prisoner had a logical reason to kill Hitler or anyone else, he would not need hypnotism to motivate him.
Lovell and his coworkers apparently accepted this skeptical view of hypnosis, as did the overwhelming majority of psychologists and psychiatrists in the country. At the time, hypnosis was considered a fringe activity, and there was little recognition of either its validity or its usefulness for any purpose—let alone covert operations. Yet there were a handful of serious experimenters in the field who believed in its military potential. The most vocal partisan of this view was the head of the Psychology Department at Colgate University, George “Esty” Estabrooks. Since the early 1930s, Estabrooks had periodically ventured out from his sleepy upstate campus to advise the military on applications of hypnotism.
Estabrooks acknowledged that hypnosis did not work on everyone and that only one person in five made a good enough subject to be placed in a deep trance, or state of somnambulism. He believed that only these subjects could be induced to such things against their apparent will as reveal secrets or commit crimes. He had watched respected members of the community make fools of themselves in the hands of stage hypnotists, and he had compelled his own students to reveal fraternity secrets and the details of private love affairs—all of which the subjects presumably did not want to do.
Still his experience was limited. Estabrooks realized that the only certain way to know whether a person would commit a crime like murder under hypnosis was to have the person kill someone. Unwilling to settle the issue on his own by trying the experiment, he felt that government sanction of the process would relieve the hypnotist of personal responsibility. “Any ‘accidents’ that might occur during the experiments will simply be charged to profit and loss,” he wrote, “a very trifling portion of that enormous wastage in human life which is part and parcel of war.”
After Pearl Harbor, Estabrooks offered his ideas to OSS, but they were not accepted by anyone in government willing to carry them to their logical conclusion. He was reduced to writing books about the potential use of hypnotism in warfare. Cassandra-like, he tried to warn America of the perils posed by hypnotic control. His 1945 novel, Death in the Mind, concerned a series of seemingly treasonable acts committed by Allied personnel: an American submarine captain torpedoes one of our own battleships, and the beautiful heroine starts acting in an irrational way which serves the enemy. After a perilous investigation, secret agent Johnny Evans learns that the Germans have been hypnotizing Allied personnel and conditioning them to obey Nazi commands. Evans and his cohorts, shaken by the many ways hypnotism can be used against them, set up elaborate countermeasures and then cannot resist going on the offensive. Objections are heard from the heroine, who by this time has been brutally and rather graphically tortured. She complains that “doing things to people’s minds” is “a loathsome way to fight.” Her qualms are brushed aside by Johnny Evans, her lover and boss. He sets off after the Germans—“to tamper with their minds; Make them traitors; Make them work for us.”
In the aftermath of the war, as the U.S. national security apparatus was being constructed, the leaders of the Central Intelligence Agency would adopt Johnny Evans’ mission—almost in those very words. Richard Helms, Sid Gottlieb, John Gittinger, George White, and many others would undertake a far-flung and complicated assault on the human mind. In hypnosis and many other fields, scientists even more eager than George Estabrooks would seek CIA approval for the kinds of experiments they would not dare perform on their own. Sometimes the Agency men concurred; on other occasions, they reserved such experiments for themselves. They would tamper with many minds and inevitably cause some to be damaged. In the end, they would minimize and hide their deeds, and they would live to see doubts raised about the health of their own minds.
PERFECTIBILISTS: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati, by Terry Melanson
The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship, by Paul & Phillip Collins
Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, by Abbe Barruel
Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith, by James H. Billington
America's Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull & Bones, by Antony C. Sutton