Psychologist discusses covert CIA mind experiments

By Tucker Merrick, Collegian Staff

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Mind control, assassins, radioactive tests on civilians, subliminal activation codes, espionage, biological warfare, chemical warfare and the C.I.A. These far-fetched and fantastical plot devices that seem to belong only in spy movies, found there way onto University of Massachusetts campus on Thursday through the words of Dr. Colin A. Ross.

From recovering thousands of pages of classified documents followed by extensive years of research, Dr. Ross wrote a book, and presented a shocking lecture of its contents in an electricity-filled room of Herter Hall, yesterday evening.

In his lecture, put on by UMass Amherst Chapter of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society for Psychology Students, Dr. Ross discussed the actions taken by United States intelligence services in the apprehensive times following the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. In this time, life-altering experimentation and tortuous techniques were developed by some of the world’s leading psychologists and psychiatrists. These actions have an impact today not only because of the victims who still continuously suffer, but because this formerly ground-breaking research is “relevant to what’s going on in the world today” regarding situations in Iraq.

Dr. Ross began his research into this subject in 1992. After performing clinical work in psychology for some years, Dr. Ross became intrigued by the number of claims by his patients of being involved in secret C.I.A experimentation. He had narratives stating “I was taken on a military base” and that “there was lab equipment.” Though at first these stories seemed comparable to UFO abductions, Dr. Ross soon found himself looking into the claims – eventually requesting a disclosure of documents from the C.I.A under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 15,000 pages of text that he was eventually delivered became the backbone of his research – research into attempts of the last century to develop a real-life “Manchurian Candidate.”

For those who have not seen the movie, the “Manchurian Candidate” is a classic flick about a squad of soldiers who are abducted on a patrol and forced to undergo brain-washing at the hands of a communist cadre of scientists and generals. One of the soldiers, played by Frank Sinatra, can’t seem to stop nightmares of what really happened during the squad’s kidnapping. Another soldier, the titular Manchurian Candidate, is poised to kill a presidential candidate – an unaware sleeper assassin with a subliminal activation command.

Dr. Ross, after describing and acknowledging the seemingly outlandish plot, declared the idea behind the Manchurian Candidate assassin as “absolutely a documented fact.”

In an attempt to counter assumed Communist mind-control technology, leading American Psychiatrists and Psychologists actively participated in a long and terrible list of human rights violations over the second half of the 20th century. According to Dr. Ross’ research, they experimented on unwitting civilians and volunteers using methods like sleep deprivation, electroshock therapy, and isolation. Compounding this cruelty was their work with LSD, along with biological and chemical weapon research.

The permission for these violations was granted under a string of progressing C.I.A projects. First known as “Bluebird,” then “Artichoke,” these documented crimes in the name of science and national security are best known by the codename MK-ULTRA.

Some may have heard the name MK-ULTRA before. It was featured prominently in the movie “Conspiracy Theory” and acknowledged in books like Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” The idea of MK-ULTRA, in Dr. Ross’ words, was to “create a multiple personality disorder.” A sleeper assassin or spy would lay dormant within the subconscious until a preprogrammed activation code – verbal, visual, or audible – was presented. In attempts to accomplish this ultimate end, atrocities were committed.

Experiments ranged in variety from comical to horrific. In one instance, a C.I.A operative recruited prostitutes in San Francisco and constructed a brothel. Prostitutes would go out at night to bring back male test subjects. These males were then slipped acid right before sexual intercourse and observed through a one-way window. As reasoning behind these experiments, as Dr. Ross put it, were to “test the effects of LSD in situations that mimic an interrogation.”

In a much more severe experiment, Dr. Ross alleges that retarded school children were fed plutonium in their meals and “deceived by telling their parents they were subjects of a dietary study.”

To Dr. Ross, these and other experiments are “stories of massive systematic malpractice and human rights violations.” He went on to say that though MK-ULTRA was exposed in the 1970s, much of its experiments and finding are still being utilized today.

He related much of this to the War in Iraq. Taking the example of Guantanamo Bay, Dr. Ross charged that the prison is “using the techniques and methods that have been developed since Bluebird.” He cited practices such as “water-boarding,” where an individual is tied to a board and forced to experience a simulation of drowning. Dr. Ross also noted black head-bags and mock-killings as other examples.

Toward the end of the lecture, Dr. Ross began expanding out of the realm of documented evidence, and discussed various theories and assumptions. One example is the notion of Al Qaeda utilizing similar techniques of mind control on the perpetrators of September 11 and suicide bombers in general. He also espoused the theory that facilities like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graib were areas set up for further covert experimentation. Mind control with brain electrodes, very similar to the “Manchurian Candidate” remake starring Denzel Washington was also discussed.

Though MK-ULTRA was discontinued in 1972, Dr. Ross remains open to the idea that past experiments were a success, and future experimentation is continuing. “Go back and look in the documents. The experiments were not a failure, people were functioning seamlessly in real-life simulations. There’s a body of evidence that shows the experiments were successful.”

Tucker Merrick is a Collegian Editor.