The Search for the Manchurian Candidate
1. World War II
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 discoveryby 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
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
The mescaline tests at Dachau run by Dr. Kurt Plotner 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 indicaor
marijuanashowed 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
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 couldor 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 oneand he didn't
smokegave 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
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 frontiersideas 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 mindaccessible,
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 agenciesspecifically
the CIAwould 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
criminalsthe Görings and SpeersAmerican 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 judgesall 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 missionat 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 scientistsbitten,
sometimes obsessedkept 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
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 subjectsoften 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. Thatif anythingis 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.") Friendsor friends
of friendscould 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 clearto 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 Japaneseby our own peoplebut
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 groupcalled Division 19within
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 OSSwell before most of the outside worldrecognized
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 ideasthat Hitler might have feminine tendenciesand
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 operationsall of which were triedwas to get Hitler
to take the medicine. Failure of the delivery schemes also kept
Hitler aliveOSS 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
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
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,
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
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
Stanley Lovell reasoned that a good way to kill Hitlerand the
OSS man was always looking for ideaswould 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
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 purposelet 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
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 affairsall of which the subjects presumably did not want
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
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' missionalmost 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.
The information on Albert Hofmann's first LSD trip and background
on LSD came from an interview by the author with Hofmann, a paper
by Hofmann called "The Discovery of LSD and Subsequent Investigations
on Naturally Occurring Hallucinogens," another interview
with Hofmann by Michael Horowitz printed in the June 1976 High
Times magazine, and from a CIA document on LSD produced by the
Office of Scientific Intelligence, August 30, 1955, titled "The
Strategic Medical Significance of LSD-25."
Information on the German mescaline and hypnosis experiments at
Dachau came from "Technical Report no. 331-45, German Aviation
Research at the Dachau Concentration Camp," October, 1945,
US Naval Technical Mission in Europe, found in the papers of Dr.
Henry Beecher. Additional information came from Trials of War
Criminals Before the Nuremberg Tribunal, the book Doctors
of Infamy by Alexander Mitscherlich and Fred Mielke (New York:
H. Schuman, 1949), interviews with prosecution team members Telford
Taylor, Leo Alexander, and James McHaney, and an article by Dr.
Leo Alexander, "Sociopsychologic Structure of the SS,"
Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, May, 1948, Vol. 59,
The OSS experience in testing marijuana was described in interviews
with several former Manhattan Project counterintelligence men,
an OSS document dated June 21, 1943, Subject: Development of "truth
drug," given the CIA identification number A/B, I, 12/1;
from document A/B, I, 64/34, undated, Subject: Memorandum Relative
to the use of truth drug in interrogation; document dated June
2, 1943, Subject: Memorandum on T. D. A "confidential memorandum,"
April 4, 1954, found in the papers of George White, also was helpful.
The quote on US prisoners passing through Manchuria came from
document 19, 18 June 1953, Subject: ARTICHOKE Conference.
The information on Stanley Lovell came from his book, Of Spies
and Strategems (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963),
from interviews with his son Richard, a perusal of his remaining
papers, interviews with George Kistiakowsky and several OSS veterans,
and from "Science in World War II, the Office of Scientific
Research and Development" in Chemistry: A History of the
Chemistry Components of the National Defense Research Committee,
edited by W. A. Noyes, Jr. (Boston: Little, Brown & Company,
Dr. Walter Langer provided information about his psychoanalytic
portrait of Hitler, as did his book, The Mind of Adolf Hitler
(New York: Basic Books, 1972). Dr. Henry Murray also gave an interview,
as did several OSS men who had been through his assessment course.
Murray's work is described at length in a book published after
the war by the OSS Assessment staff, Assessment of Men
(New York: Rinehart & Company, 1948).
Material on George Estabrooks came from his books, Hypnotism
(New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1945) and Death in the Mind,
co-authored with Richard Lockridge (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1945),
and interviews with his daughter, Doreen Estabrooks Michl, former
colleagues, and Dr. Milton Kline.
1. While Hofmann specifically used the word
"trip" in a 1977 interview to describe his consciousness-altering
experience, the word obviously had no such meaning in 1943 and
is used here anachronistically. (back)
2. Del Gracio's name was deleted by the CIA
from the OSS document that described the incident, but his identity
was learned from the papers of George White, whose widow donated
them to Foothills College in Los Altos, California. CIA officials
cut virtually all the names from the roughly 16,000 pages of its
own papers and the few score pages from OSS that it released to
me under the Freedom of Information Act. However, as in this case,
many of the names could be found through collateral sources. (back)
3. Naval intelligence officers eventually
made a deal in which mob leaders promised to cooperate, and as
a direct result, New York Governor Thomas Dewey ordered Del Gracio's
chief, boss of bosses, Charles "Lucky" Luciano freed
from jail in 1946. (back)
4. The term "Manchurian Candidate"
came into the language in 1959 when author Richard Condon made
it the title of his best-selling novel that later became a popular
movie starring Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra. The story was
about a joint Soviet-Chinese plot to take an American soldier
captured in Korea, condition him at a special brainwashing center
located in Manchuria, and create a remote-controlled assassin
who was supposed to kill the President of the United States. Condon
consulted with a wide variety of experts while researching the
book, and some inside sources may well have filled him in on the
gist of a discussion that took place at a 1953 meeting at the
CIA on behavior control. Said one participant, "... individuals
who had come out of North Korea across the Soviet Union to freedom
recently apparently had a blank period of disorientation while
passing through a special zone in Manchuria." The CIA and
military men at this session promised to seek more information,
but the matter never came up again in either the documents released
by the Agency or in the interviews done for this book. (back)
5. The Code was suggested in essentially its
final form by prosecution team consultant, Dr. Leo Alexander,
a Boston psychiatrist. (back)
6. Four months before Pearl Harbor, Donovan
had enlisted Walter Langer to put together a nationwide network
of analysts to study the morale of the country's young men, who,
it was widely feared, were not enthusiastic about fighting a foreign
war. Pearl Harbor seemed to solve this morale problem, but Langer
stayed with Donovan as a part-time psychoanalytic consultant.
7. Langer wrote that Hitler was "masochistic
in the extreme inasmuch as he derives sexual pleasure from punishment
inflicted on his own body. There is every reason to suppose that
during his early years, instead of identifying himself with his
father as most boys do, he identified with his mother. This was
perhaps easier for him than for most boys since, as we have seen,
there is a large feminine component in his physical makeup....
His extreme sentimentality, his emotionality, his occasional softness,
and his weeping, even after he became Chancellor, may be regarded
as manifestations of a fundamental pattern that undoubtedly had
its origin in his relationship to his mother." (back)
8. Although historians have long known that
OSS men had been in touch with the German officers who tried to
assassinate Hitler in 1944, the fact that OSS independently was
trying to murder him has eluded scholars of the period. Stanley
Lovell gave away the secret in his 1963 book, Of Spies and
Strategems, but he used such casual and obscure words that
the researchers apparently did not notice. Lovell wrote: "I
supplied now and then a carbamate or other quietus medication,
all to be injected into der Führer's carrots, beets,
or whatever." A "quietus medicine" is a generic
term for a lethal poison, of which carbamates are one type. (back)
9. Gardner, a psychologist teaching at Mount
Holyoke College, helped Murray set up the original program and
went on to open the West Coast OSS assessment site at a converted
beach club in San Juan Capistrano. After the war, he would become
Secretary of HEW in the Johnson administration and founder of
Common Cause. (back)
10. Murray is not at all enthusiastic with
the spinoffs. "Some of the things done with it turn your
stomach," he declares. (back)
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