Mind Control & Propaganda

1977 Senate Hearing on MKUltra



1. The Rationale for the Testing Programs

The late 1910s and early 1950s were marked by concern over the threat posed by the activities of the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and other Communist bloc countries. United States concern over the use of chemical and biological agents by these powers was acute. The belief that hostile powers had used chemical and biological agents in interrogations, brainwashing, and in attacks designed to harass, disable, or kill Allied personnel created considerable pressure for a "defensive" program to investigate chemical and biological agents so that the intelligence community could understand the mechanisms by which these substances worked and how their effects could be defeated. [18]

Of particular concern was the drug LSD. The CIA had received reports that the Soviet Union was engaged in intensive efforts to produce LSD; and that the Soviet Union had attempted to purchase the world's supply of the chemical. As one CIA officer who was deeply involved in work with this drug described the climate of the times: "[It] is awfully hard in this day and age to reproduce how frightening all of this was to us at the time, particularly after the drug scene has become as widespread and as knowledgeable in this country as it did. But we were literally terrified, because this was the one material that we had ever been able to locate that really had potential fantastic possibilities if used wrongly." [19]

But the defensive orientation soon became secondary. Chemical and biological agents were to be studied in order "to perfect techniques... for the abstraction of information from individuals whether willing or not" and in order to "develop means for the control of the activities and mental capacities of individuals whether willing or not." [20] One Agency official noted that drugs would be useful in order to "gain control of bodies whether they were willing or not" in the process of removing personnel from Europe in the event of a Soviet attack. [21] In other programs, the CIA began to develop, produce, stockpile, and maintain in operational readiness materials which could be used to harass, disable, or kill specific targets. [22]

Reports of research and development in the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and the Communist Bloc countries provided the basis for the transmutation of American programs from a defensive to an offensive orientation. As the Chief of the Medical Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency wrote in 1952:

There is ample evidence in the reports of innumerable interrogations that the Communists were utilizing drugs, physical duress, electric shock, and possibly hypnosis against their enemies. With such evidence it is difficult not to keep from becoming rabid about our apparent laxity. We are forced by this mounting evidence to assume a more aggressive role in the development of these techniques, but must be cautious to maintain strict inviolable control because of the havoc that could be wrought by such techniques in unscrupulous hands. [23]

In order to meet the perceived threat to the national security, substantial programs for the testing and use of chemical and biological agents -- including projects involving the surreptitious administration of LSD to unwitting nonvolunteer subjects "at all social levels, high and low, native American and foreign" -- were conceived, and implemented. These programs resulted in substantial violations of the rights of individuals within the United States.

A memorandum for the Chief, TSD, Biological Branch to the Chief, TSD, 10/18/67, described two of the objectives of the CIA's Project MKNAOMI as: "to stockpile severely incapacitating and lethal materials for the specific use of TSD and "to maintain in operational readiness special and unique items for the dissemination of biological and chemical materials."

Although the CIA recognized these effects of LSD to unwitting individuals within the United States, the project continued. As the Deputy Director for Plans, Richard Helms, wrote the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence during discussions which led to tile cessation of unwitting testing:

While I share your uneasiness and distaste for any program which tends to intrude upon an individual's private and legal prerogatives, I believe it is necessary that the Agency maintain a central role in this activity, keep current on enemy capabilities the manipulation of human behavior, and maintain an offensive capability. [25]

There were no attempts to secure approval for the most controversial aspects of these programs from the executive branch or Congress. The nature and extent of the programs were closely held secrets; even DCI McCone was not briefed on all the details of the program involving the surreptitious administration of LSD until 1963. It was deemed imperative that these programs be concealed from the American people. As the CIA's Inspector General wrote in 1957:

Precautions must be taken not only to protect operations from exposure to enemy forces but also to conceal these activities from the American public in general. The knowledge that the Agency is engaging in unethical and illicit activities would have serious repercussions in political and diplomatic circles and would be detrimental to the accomplishment of its mission. [26]

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