I was recently alerted via a tweet by Dr. Jeffrey Kaye of a declassified CIA memo I found interesting. Kaye is a San Francisco Bay area psychologist and writer who focuses upon human rights issues, the intelligence community and related circumstances.
The 5 May 1955 memo is titled, Hypnotism and Covert Operations. Its author is not identified. The memo contains such ominous observations as the potential of hypnosis as a covert weapon would be more thoroughly understood if field experiments, that could not be conducted by what was termed a laboratory worker, were carried out.
Such CIA documents are unfortunately not unusual for the era. What caught my eye about this particular memo, however, was a reference to an unspecified legal case in which a hypnotist was apparently convicted for the actions of their hypnosis subject. After you take a moment to let that settle in, please consider, and I quote:
Currently there is a murder trial in [redacted] in which the murderer has been judged to have been under hypnosis at the time of the crime. He has been retried, released and the hypnotist tried and convicted. The case is now under appeal. The comment of the three knowledgeable informants was that the hypnotist must have been a rank amateur to have been found out since any experienced operator would have known how to suggest away the fact that he had arranged the crime.
Wow. Is that the voice of experience, or just speculation, one might be inclined to ask.
Initial research of such circumstances revealed an 1895 New York Times article titled, Hypnotism as a Defense. While the Kansas case explored is obviously not the case referenced in the 1955 CIA memo, it is indeed interesting.
Matters of money seemed to result in Anderson Gray's desire to murder a rival. He apparently used his study of hypnosis to persuade a subject to attempt, unsuccessfully, to carry out the crime. However, the greedy man's fate - and the fate of his rival - were sealed when he tried a second time!
The evil doer was accused of hypnotizing yet another subject and framing the circumstances in a manner that would justify the subject killing the target, which took place. Given the court's interpretation of the circumstances and the bizarre history, Gray was convicted of a murder committed by another man, his hypnosis subject.
A more likely candidate for the case mentioned in the CIA memo was a 1950's era chain of events occurring in Denmark involving Bjorn Nielsen and Palle Hardrup. Sources include The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X, among others. In a complex series of trials, retrials and reversals surrounding bank robbery and murder, hypnotist Nielsen was convicted for the actions of his hypnosis subject, Hardrup.
Key personnel during the CIA venture into hypnosis included a number of prominent professionals. Alden Sears conducted work in MKULTRA Subprojects 5, 25, 29 and 49. CIA consultant, New York psychologist and former president of the American Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis Milton Kline told groundbreaking writer/researcher John Marks that he could create a patsy in three months and an assassin in six.
Psychiatrist Martin Orne conducted hypnosis-related research within MKULTRA Subproject 84. He published many papers on the subject of hypnosis and was considered a leading expert. Orne explained to the Agency and on a number of occasions that persuading someone to do something while hypnotized was not entirely different from encouraging a person not hypnotized to carry out a desired action, in that the circumstances had to be framed in manners of which the subject would approve and agree. For instance, whether killing a person is atrocious or heroic is a matter of context, and possibly as understood by Anderson Gray in 1890's Kansas.
Edward F. Deshere, in his now declassified CIA report, Hypnosis in Interrogation, referenced the work of Orne several times. Deshere wrote:
Orne has shown that the demand characteristics of an experimental situation may greatly influence a subject's hypnotic behavior. It is clear that at some level any cooperative subject wishes an experiment to "work out," wishes to help fulfill the experimenter's expectations. If he grasps the purpose of the experiment or the bias of the experimenter, he is disposed toward producing behavior which will confirm the experimenter's hypothesis. This is particularly true in a hypnotic relationship.
Orne was featured in an article written by Dr. Patricia Greenfield, the sister of John Marks, published in the December 1977 edition of the American Psychological Association Monitor. Commenting on medical professionals acting as MKULTRA consultants and the liabilities inherent to conducting such research, Orne told Greenfield, "We are sufficiently ineffective so that our findings can be published."