Friday, April 2, 2010

Of mind control, paranoia, and secret government...

...I can't even finish the title. Are you still reading this, or have I already driven you away?

Beginning in the 1950s, something strange began in the US. It involved experimentation with powerful chemical compounds that had the ability to alter behavior and brain function. Documentation shows it lasted through the 1960s and may continue to this day.

No, it's not the hippie era, but that's a good guess. I'm referring to MK-ULTRA, the covert CIA program that studied how people responded to LSD and other drugs, presumably to determine how the agency could make use of the chemicals in other secret CIA settings.

The implications are far-reaching, the fodder of conspiracy theorists and mind control authorities (nearly all of whom seem to have their own blog, book, and following).

It's a lot to weed through, but here's what is certain:

  • There really was a project named MK-ULTRA, and they really did do experimentation with dangerous drugs on unconsenting subjects.

To be honest, I was prepared to debunk the whole thing as ridiculous conjecture, but it isn't possible. Most of the documentation was destroyed in the 70s, but some it remains, and what it says doesn't bode well for the non-paranoid.

At least some of the research was applied to "unwitting subjects in normal life settings. It was noted earlier that the capabilities of MKULTRA substances to produce disabling or discrediting effects or to increase the effectiveness of interrogation of hostile subjects cannot be established solely through testing on volunteer populations." They freely admit that, regarding this controversial aspect, "No effective cover story appears to be available."

They weren't unaware of what might happen, but in paired sentences say that "possible sickness and attendant economic loss are inherent contingent effects of the testing" AND "that the program is not intended to harm test individuals." I guess hiding under the shelter of "intentions" is a fine justification.

At least one death is attributed to this program, that of Frank Olson, who was a specialist in biological warfare and had LSD slipped into his drink during a meeting with CIA personnel. Reading about that incident begins to sound like a Tom Clancy plot point, and the exact circumstances are difficult to find; so much of it is tangled up with speculation and wild leaps to bleak conclusions. That the CIA gave him LSD without his knowledge is documented. Under what circumstances he then fell from the 13th story window is not as clear.

Many people think that the program never ended. Its scope was certainly larger than the available papers describe.

In March 2010, the effects uncovered in this understated article give a better picture of the involuntary research. This is where I started to think that there are perhaps far more implications than I had considered.

What does it all mean? It's hard to add up all the facts, hard even to separate what we actually know from the ridiculous notions people are quick to invent.

On the other hand, knowing that something like this certainly existed, and that there is much we don't know, doesn't add to my confidence that government programs like this probably don't exist now, and that if they do they're tame little experiments that don't do anyone any harm.

It's nearly impossible to be a naive optimist anymore. But how much paranoia is appropriate?