“There isn't one great division between mainstream and fringe science, but rather, degrees of variation that blur, and sometimes overlap with one another. But the starting point for all of this, and the gateway into the scientific underworld, is a certain willingness to believe the impossible, and to be sympathetic to those who try.”
Sharon Weinberger, Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific UnderworldThose familiar with The UFO Trail and Orlando Paranormal Examiner are well aware of my interest in the intelligence community. Part of that interest was inspired by the extents I consistently find people within ufology to be largely uninformed of the histories of intelligence agencies. Such people are subsequently ill equipped to identify potential correlations between the intelligence community and ufology.
More than one well educated contact in the UFO community has told me that the vast majority of what they knew about Project MKULTRA they learned as a result of our interactions. Other contacts, well versed in matters of alleged aliens and their methods of operation, have often demonstrated comparatively very little knowledge of the intelligence community. Obviously, an accurate and comprehensive history of American intelligence matters is not included in either typical US college curriculum or popular UFO lore. It is for such reasons that I offer a bit of history on how the public gained access to what is known of Central Intelligence Agency ventures into behavior modification projects such as MKULTRA.
The family jewels
James Schlesinger was appointed director of the CIA in 1973. He abruptly ordered all personnel to advise his office of any circumstances in which Agency employees conducted illegal or improper activities. Just a few months and several hundred pages of reported misdeeds later, Schlesinger was transferred while the reports became known within the Agency as the “family jewels.”
Some of the jewels were leaked to journalist Seymour Hersh of The New York Times, resulting in a 1974 article about CIA illegal spying on domestic dissidents. A Presidential committee was formed and led by then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to investigate misconduct.
The subsequent Rockefeller Report referenced an unnamed man who fell to his death from a New York hotel window after the CIA slipped him LSD. The press jumped on the story with both feet.
The family of the unnamed man, who was actually Frank Olson, read one of the resulting newspaper articles and recognized it to be about their deceased loved one. While the family was aware of some of the circumstances of the mysterious death, they had not been previously informed Olson was drugged or the subject of experiments.
Enter writer/researcher John Marks. He took interest in the Rockefeller Report and would later explain that he found the following two lines, otherwise virtually unnoticed and buried within the text, particularly intriguing, "The drug program was part of a much larger CIA program to study possible means for controlling human behavior. Other studies explored the effects of radiation, electric-shock, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and harassment substances."
Frank Church and Senate committees
Marks submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act for all documents presented by the CIA to the Rockefeller Commission. It took more than a year for the Agency to disingenuously produce just 50 pages Marks described as “heavily censored.”
Meanwhile, Senator Frank Church conducted a probe into CIA activities. Key CIA personnel were interviewed but information was not easily obtained.
In 1975, hearings into CIA misconduct continued and were held by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research. Similarly to the probe conducted by the Church Committee, progress was again hampered by a combination of Agency personnel with supposedly poor memories and the lack of available documents. However, it had come to light by that point that Olson's death was part of some very questionable project activities conducted under Schlesinger's predecessors.
MKULTRA project director Sidney Gottlieb stated during inquiries that he ordered the destruction of all project files in 1973 with the agreement of then-Director Helms. Gottlieb further stated that he could not recall most of the project details.
Explaining why the documents were destroyed - in direct contradiction to standard policy guidelines - Gottlieb said there was a “burgeoning paper problem” within the CIA and that the files might be “misunderstood.” He added that he wanted to protect the reputations of collaborating researchers who had been assured secrecy.
The Search for the Manchurian Candidate
Unsatisfied with previous responses from the Agency, Marks obtained legal counsel to assist with his FOIA requests for relevant documents. His persistence paid off in 1977 when his attorneys were notified that seven boxes of MKULTRA files had been located. The CIA was then under the direction of Admiral Stansfield Turner, four years and three directors removed from James Schlesinger and his 1973 initial inquiry. The located documents were apparently originally misfiled and subsequently overlooked when all others were destroyed under the direction of Gottlieb and Helms.
The CIA informed attorneys for Marks that select documents would be available after proper protocol was followed, which included advising the office of then-President Jimmy Carter and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The files released eventually became known as the MKULTRA collection. They may be viewed on certain websites such as The Black Vault and may be obtained on disk directly from the CIA.
Marks soon conducted a press conference. He presented documents establishing the reality of behavior modification research conducted on involuntary human subjects. The conference gained wide media attention and the news resulted in another Senate hearing.
The covert experiments were again explored by the Select Committee on Intelligence, which was chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy and included Claiborne Pell. Also involved again was the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research, which featured notables Gary Hart and eventual Vice President Joseph Biden. The hearing transcript is available on a variety of websites.
Some 16,000 pages of formerly classified material was initially released to Marks. He studied the documents and wrote about them in his 1979 book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, which remains a valuable resource.
The title was selected due to Richard Condon's 1959 best-selling book, The Manchurian Candidate, which was made into a popular film. The plot revolved around an American soldier captured in Korea and brainwashed into an unassuming assassin while held at an installation located in Manchuria.
Marks specifically selected the title due to his discovery via the released docs of a CIA meeting conducted in 1953, curiously predating Condon's novel by some six years, in which just such a Manchurian scenario was discussed. Manchuria was even specifically named. Officials were apparently concerned about multiple reports received from released American prisoners of war who experienced blank periods of disorientation they associated with a particular section of Manchuria.
Such circumstances added to concerns held by CIA researchers in both the Office of Security and the Office of Scientific Intelligence that the US might have been lagging behind Communist achievements in mind control techniques. It was reasoned, sincerely or otherwise, that an effective defense against mind control would be gained by first accurately understanding offensive capabilities. The eventual result was a long and intensive effort to perfect mind control methods, including attempts to manipulate behavior while inducing amnesia that would prevent the subject from recalling their programming.
“Nearly every Agency document,” Marks wrote, “stressed goals like 'controlling an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against such fundamental laws of nature as self preservation.' On reading one such memo, an Agency officer wrote to his boss: 'If this is supposed to be covered up as a defensive feasibility study, it's pretty damn transparent.'"
The search was on
Marks learned that the CIA exploration into mind control began in the late 1940's, was officially named BLUEBIRD in 1950 and was renamed ARTICHOKE in 1952. In 1953 Project MKULTRA was approved by CIA Director Allen Dulles.
MKULTRA consisted of some 149 known subprojects, contracting out work to over 80 locations. Such locations included 44 colleges or universities, 15 research facilities or private companies, 12 hospitals or clinics, three penal institutions and a number of 'safehouses,' in which operations ranged from interrogations to experiments involving prostitution. Military installations were also used.
MKULTRA was discontinued in June of 1964. Some MKULTRA subprojects were eliminated, while some were transferred into regular Agency funding channels. Yet others of particular interest were continued under Project MKSEARCH until at least 1972.
The known CIA mind control initiative included many operations and projects in addition to MKULTRA, such as QKHILLTOP, OFTEN and THIRD CHANCE. The search for the Manchurian Candidate admittedly spanned some 25 years, winding all the way from McGill University in Montreal to villages in the jungles of Mexico; from safehouses in Europe to the Army's Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland; from prison camps in Southeast Asia to prisons in the Southeast United States; from a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland to American nonprofit foundations, from Harvard to UCLA and from a New York City brothel to another in San Francisco.
What did the search find? It depends on who you ask.
Some CIA officials contended nothing of substance was learned in the decades of research. “That proposition,” Marks wrote, “is, on its face, ridiculous.”
Milton Kline, a New York psychologist who provided free consultation services to the Agency on such topics as hypnosis, agreed to speak with Marks about the possibility of achieving a Manchurian Candidate. It cannot be done by everyone or consistently, he told Marks, but it can be done.
Would researchers of alleged alien abduction be wise to consider the toll the search might have taken on those in its wake? Some think so, suggesting correlations might be worth considering, comparing certain dates, locations and circumstances contained in accounts of abduction to those of known operations involving involuntary human research subjects.
The man who navigated the intelligence community and gained release of the MKULTRA collection is a 1965 graduate of Cornell University. Majoring in government, John Marks analyzed and reported on the Vietnam War while a member of the Foreign Service.
After returning stateside from Southeast Asia, Marks took a position in his home state of New Jersey as executive assistant for foreign policy to Senator Clifford Chase, an anti-war Republican. Marks subsequently played a key role in the drafting of an amendment that brought an end to direct US military involvement in Vietnam.
In 1974 he co-wrote the controversial book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, with Victor Marchetti, a former assistant to the deputy director of the CIA. Marks was published in such magazines as Rolling Stone prior to the 1979 release of The Search for the Manchurian Candidate.
In 1982 Marks founded Search for Common Ground, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the way the world deals with conflict. “I didn’t want to throw monkey wrenches into the old system my whole life,” he told Cornell Alumni Magazine in 2012. “I wanted to build a new system.”
Search for Common Ground began with just two employees and a handful of supporters, Marks recently wrote. The corporation now has a staff of over 400, directly serving thousands of program participants in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States. It is the largest non-governmental conflict transformation organization in the world.