On the tenth of April in 1953, newly appointed C.I.A. director Allen Dulles gave a speech to a gathering of alumni at Princeton University that paved the way for one of the most insidious projects of all time.
In this speech, Dulles claimed that the Soviets had been experimenting with mind control, or as he called it, “brain warfare”, and that the once patriotic veterans who returned from Korea as communists had been brainwashed.
According to Director Dulles, the “battle for men’s minds– the war of ideologies” had grown more direct on the communist side, with the Soviets employing “nefarious” methods of influencing people’s thoughts and actions. To Dulles, mind control was nothing short of antithetical to the American value of freedom of thought, a technique the superior nation would never stoop to even consider.
Three days later, he approved MK-Ultra, a series of more than a hundred programs that attempted to use meditation, hypnosis, electro-shock therapy, and psychedelic drugs for what they called “behavior modification”- an obvious euphemism for mind control.
It’s tough to say exactly how Mk-Ultra worked- much of the records were destroyed under order of its director in 1973- but much of what we do know comes from the memoir of James “Whitey” Bugler, a notorious crime boss imprisoned in the United States Penetentiary in Atlanta at the time. While in prison for armed robbery in 1957, Bugler claims a psychiatrist named Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, who was at the time working under a division of MK-Ultra known as MK-Search, recruited him in testing a supposed cure for schizophrenia.
In his memoir, Bugler described being taken into a room, far from anywhere else he had been permitted to go in the prison, and laying down on a table. He then recounted how “the men in suits would..hook me up to machines, asking questions like: Did you ever kill anyone? Would you kill someone?”
Bugler was eventually released from the program, but many subjects were not so lucky. The majority of subjects did not volunteer or give consent to be experimented on in any way. Another substantial portion of subjects were never found; the C.I.A. was careful to choose those they deemed expendable, mainly orphans, criminals and the homeless, and thus saw no reason to keep them around afterwards.
Mk-Ultra came to a close in the Spring of 1963 when John Vance, a member of the C.I.A. Inspector General’s staff, was informed of the program’s use of involuntary subjects. Despite numerous lawsuits from previous subjects and the families of those who disappeared, the C.I.A. never faced anything worse than a hand slap. In addition, most documents concerning the project were destroyed in 1973 under the order of its former director, stating that “it would be a good idea if they were destroyed.” As a result, the full extent of the project is unknown; we may never know exactly how many lives MK-Ultra destroyed. Years after its end, it remains a scar on America’s history, an insidious attempt to turn people into weapons using dangerous and harmful methods. Though its damage to subjects is lasting, the program has ended, at least on an official level. We can only hope that experimentation does not continue in secret.