by Patrick H. Moore and BJW Nashe
One by one, all of the old MKULTRA spooks and shrinks are dying off. A few months ago, we noticed that Gerald D. Klee had died at the age of 86. Dr. Klee was a retired psychiatrist and LSD expert who had participated in experiments with the hallucinogenic drug on volunteer servicemen at U.S. military installations in the 1950s. Dr. Klee studied at McGill University in Canada, which was a center for secret CIA-sponsored research during the Cold War. He then went on to work on various studies conducted as part of the MKULTRA program, now widely seen as one of the most controversial aspects of modern American history. News reports on Dr. Klee’s death have tended to focus on his willingness to speak publicly about his role in the government’s LSD experiments.
Yet LSD is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to MKULTRA. As details of the program began to emerge during the 1970s, Americans learned that their government had engaged in massive human rights violations, all in the name of top secret research undertaken in the fight against Communism.
MKULTRA was the sinister brainchild of some of our most clandestine cold war warriors, a peculiar group of extreme anti-Soviets who would stop at nothing in their maniacal desire to win the Cold War and expand U.S. power and influence globally. CIA Director Allen Dulles named the research project MKULTRA in 1953. It had existed under previous names such as Project Bluebird and Project Artichoke. One of the goals of MKULTRA Director Sydney Gottlieb was to develop a real-life “Manchurian Candidate,” a trained assassin programmed to kill with a fixity of purpose that would be the envy of any of our Special Forces. Brainwashed assassins trained using LSD sounds pretty far-fetched–which may be one reason why this particular feature of MKULTRA has received so much coverage over the years. Such schemes make the whole endeavor seem like a science fiction-inspired lark. After all, by the 1970s, LSD experimentation, however foolhardy, wasn’t all that horrifying anymore; to many Americans, it was simply part of the menu for any given Friday night. Drugs, however, were just one part of MKULTRA’s overall program designed to break down individual personalities and then supposedly rebuild them with new identities and behavior patterns. The breaking down part was handled with brutal effectiveness. As for the re-building, well, that was never very successful.
As much as we would like to think of MKULTRA as some aberration from the distant past, the truth is not so simple or reassuring. As Naomi Klein argues in her excellent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, at the height of the MKULTRA program in the 1950s, institutions such as McGill University in Montreal, Canada, became, in effect, torture laboratories where the most widely practiced modern techniques for breaking down prisoners were in large part pioneered. These techniques did not disappear when MKULTRA ceased as a program. In fact, we have seen them utilized all too often throughout the world, right up to the present day, and often under the auspices of U.S. agencies. The methods commonly used include sensory deprivation, induced sleep, isolation, sensory overload, use of electroshock, and a whole array of mind-altering drugs. Naomi Klein makes the case for a clear connection between McGill University in the 1950s to our contemporary Guantanamo Bay. Over the years, techniques “studied” at McGill have been used in Vietnam, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iran, Chile, and of course at numerous “black sites” maintained in support of the War on Terror.
* * * * *
Gerald Klee made no attempt to deny his involvement in the MKULTRA LSD research. He should be given credit for speaking out when he did. Of course, he might have figured he was better off coming clean about the acid, which was far less damaging, in a way, than much of the other activities going on in the torture laboratories. You can understand why he would prefer to leave that stuff in the dark, on the sidelines of the whole conversation. We can only assume, however, that Dr.Klee, as a graduate of McGill University, must have had some connection to the notorious uber-boss of McGill University’s MKULTRA activities, Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron. It’s hard to imagine that Dr. Klee was simply a mild-mannered “LSD researcher” in the midst of Dr. Cameron and his ilk. But who really knows, at this point?
A Los Angeles Times obituary published on March 8th of this year (via Frederick N. Rasmussen of the Baltimore Sun) puts the emphasis on the LSD trips, and clearly downplays the criminality of whole MKULTRA enterprise:
In 1975, Klee made headlines when he confirmed reports that the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Psychiatric Institute had been involved in secret research between 1956 and 1959, when hundreds of soldiers were given LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide.
He said that in addition to LSD, the Army was experimenting with other hallucinogens as part of its chemical weapons research program.
Klee said the Army had negotiated a contract in 1956 with the University of Maryland’s Psychiatric Institute to conduct physiological and psychological tests on the soldiers.
In his mea culpa, Klee couldn’t resist dissing on Timothy Leary for his so-called irresponsible use of LSD while defending the Army’s “sensible” usage.
“A large proportion of the people who have gotten involved in research in this area have been harebrained and irresponsible — Timothy Leary being the most notorious example — and a lot of the stuff that has been published reflects that,” Klee told the Baltimore Evening Sun in 1975.
“We didn’t have any axes to grind, and the university’s role was to conduct scientific experimentation,” he said. “The interests of the University of Maryland group were purely scientific, and the military was just there.”
Indeed, the military was just there.
Klee said soldiers from military posts around the country were brought to the Edgewood Arsenal and Aberdeen Proving Ground installations in Maryland to participate in experiments involving various drugs and chemical warfare agents, of which the hallucinogens were a small part.
“They were mostly enlisted men — there were a few commissioned officers — but they were mostly unlettered and rather naive,” Klee said. “Now the people knew they were volunteering, the bonus was leave time — seeing their girlfriends and mothers and that kind of thing. They had a lot of free time, and most of them enjoyed it.”
Dr. Klee was apparently not impressed with the intelligence of the guinea pigs.
Klee said he and his colleagues from the university tried to explain to the volunteers what to expect.
“They were told it was very important to national security,” he said in the Evening Sun interview.
Before the experiments commenced, Klee experimented with LSD.
“I figured that if I was going to study this stuff, then I’ve got to experience it myself,” he told the newspaper. “I felt obliged to take it for experimental reasons and also because I didn’t think it would be fair to administer a drug to someone else that I hadn’t taken myself.”
The doctor is all heart.
The LSD was slipped into cocktails at a party in the soldiers’ honor. While this approach garnered criticism, Klee said the Army and civilian researchers acted responsibly.
“I was there and I didn’t like it, but thought I might be of help to the victims,” Klee told the Washington Postin the 1975 interview.
If he didn’t like it, why did he do it?
The civilian team quickly learned about those who had experienced “bad trips.” He said he did not know of any lasting ill effects on the soldiers but added that university researchers followed the cases only during their month stay at Edgewood.
“What the Army did after that, I don’t know. I’ve given many hours thought to that. I wish I did know,” he said in the interview.
“I think he felt unease about this,” said a son, Kenneth A. Klee, an editor and writer.
In an email, the younger Klee wrote that his father and his colleagues accepted the military money because they thought it was “important science.” He added that because they were World War IIveterans and the nation was mired in the Cold War, it “didn’t seem unreasonable.”
“I do know my dad did his best to do right (and conduct real science — the two were closely linked for him) and that he disapproved of the unethical acts he witnessed. Hence his willingness to be vocal on the subject a few years later,” his son wrote.
In 1975, the Army admitted that it had administered LSD to nearly 1,500 people between 1956 and 1967.
Klee later led an unsuccessful effort to persuade President Nixon to renounce the use of LSD as a chemical weapon.
Dr. Klee’s story might appear to be no more than a ridiculous and unintentionally comic attempt at disinformation. Sure, LSD trips in the Army are odd, to say the least. But we know too much at this point. The true story of MKULTRA is far more sinister and damaging than Dr. Klee probably wanted to admit.
* * * * *
According to Stephen Lendman of the Philadelphia Independent Media Center, the general purpose of the MKULTRA experiments was to learn new and better techniques to control human behavior. Mr. Lendman writes:
It aimed to control human behavior through psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs, electroshock, radiation, graphology, paramilitary techniques, and psychological/sociological/anthropological methods, among others – a vast open-field of mind experimentation trying anything that might work, legal or otherwise on willing and unwitting subjects.
Ongoing at different times were 149 sub-projects in 80 US and Canadian universities, medical centers and three prisons, involving 185 researchers, 15 foundations and numerous drug companies. Everything was top secret, and most records later destroyed, yet FOIA suits salvaged thousands of pages with documented evidence of the horrific experiments and their effects on human subjects.
Most were unwitting guinea pigs, and those consenting were misinformed of the dangers. James Stanley was a career soldier when given LSD in 1958 along with 1,000 other military “volunteers.” They suffered hallucinations, memory loss, incoherence, and severe personality changes. Stanley exhibited uncontrollable violence. It destroyed his family, impeded his working ability, and he never knew why until the Army asked him to participate in a follow-up study.
He sued for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), his case reaching the Supreme Court in United States v. Stanley. Argued and decided in 1987, the Court dismissed his claim (5 – 4), ruling his injuries occurred during military service. Justices Thurgood Marshall, William Brennan and Sandra Day O’Conner wrote dissenting opinions, saying the Nuremberg Code applies to soldiers as well as civilians. In 1996, Stanley got $400,000 in compensation, but no apology from the government.
Perhaps the true horror of MKULTRA cannot be adequately conveyed through a figure such as Dr. Klee, who, for all we know, may have been the pleasantest, most well-intentioned man in the world. Instead consider one of his higher-ups and a leading luminary in the MKULTRA hierarchy: Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron, big-league world psychologist and head honcho at McGill University, where Dr. Klee did his undergraduate work. When McGill was a top research site for the CIA during the 1950s, Dr. Cameron was the man in charge of the secretly funded activities. The fact that Cameron, who had been President of the American Psychiatric Association, President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and President of the World Psychiatric Association, would become so deeply involved in MKULTRA human rights violations and outright torture, is shocking and reprehensible. Cameron’s experimental procedures on helpless mental patients is a monumentally dark chapter in the history of Western medicine.
Stephen Lendman of the Philadelphia Independent Media Center states in his article:
CIA became interested in Montreal Dr. Ewen Cameron’s work at McGill University’s Allan Memorial Institute. With full knowledge of the Canadian government, he was funded to perform bizarre experiments on his psychiatric patients, including keeping them asleep and isolated for weeks, then administering large doses of electroshock and experimental drug cocktails, LSD and PCP angel dust among them.
Though clearly unethical, Cameron believed by blasting the human brain with an array of shocks, he could unmake impaired minds, rebuilding them with new personalities cleansed of their previous state. It was voodoo science and it failed, but CIA gained a wealth of knowledge it’s used to this day.
In 1951, the Agency engaged McGill’s director of psychology, Dr. Donald Hebb, and others to conduct sensory-deprivation experiments on volunteer students. They showed intense isolation disrupts clear thinking enough to make subjects receptive to suggestion. They were also formidable interrogation techniques amounting to torture when forcibly administered.
These early experiments laid the foundation for CIA’s two-stage torture process – sensory deprivation followed by overload. University of Wisconsin historian Alfred McCoy documented them in his book, “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror,” calling them “the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain in more than three centuries.”
CIA developed and codified them in manuals, used extensively in Southeast Asia, Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and at secret black sites globally. McCoy referred to an offshore information extraction mini-gulag during the Cold War and War on Terror. Out of sight, nothing is banned, including physical harshness and psychologically crippling mind control methods that turn human beings into mush.
MK Ultra Subproject 68 was one of Cameron’s ongoing “attempts to establish lasting effects in a patient’s behavior” using a combination of particularly intensive electroshock, intensive repetition of prearranged verbal signals, partial sensory isolation, and repression of the driving period carried out by inducing continuous sleep for seven to ten days at the end of the treatment period. During research on sensory deprivation, Cameron used curare to immobilise his patients. After one test he noted: “Although the patient was prepared by both prolonged sensory isolation (35 days) and by repeated depatterning, and although she received 101 days of positive driving, no favorable results were obtained.” Patients were regularly treated with hallucinogenic drugs, long periods in the “sleep room”, and testing in the Radio Telemetry Laboratory, which was built under Cameron’s direction. Here, patients were exposed to a range of RFand electromagnetic signals and monitored for changes in behavior. It was later stated by staff members who had worked at the Institute during this time that not one patient sent to the Radio Telemetry Lab showed any signs of improvement afterwards.
In light of this information, Gerald Klee’s account of LSD trips as a kind of quirky, misguided Cold War research falls short of the mark in terms of full disclosure. Since we know that Dr. Klee studied at McGill University and then was tasked with overseeing LSD experiments on U.S. servicemen, it seems highly unlikely that he did not have at least some knowledge of the extent of Dr. Cameron’s diabolical assault of human rights and freedom.
MKULTRA abuses first came to light during the Church Committee Congressional investigations in the 1970s. The Rockefeller Commission, under vice president Nelson Rockefeller, also examined the domestic activities of the CIA, FBI, and military intelligence agencies. By 1975, Americans had learned that the CIA and Department of Defense had conducted illegal experiments on willing and unwitting subjects as part of an exhaustive program to influence human behavior through psychoactive drugs (including LSD and mescaline) and other chemical, biological, and psychological methods.
Several of the victims of the McGill University atrocities received settlements from the Canadian government many years after the damage was done. But no amount of money can ever make up for the torture these individuals endured, or the torture that was subsequently endured by people all around the world. Because the same kind of techniques pioneered and perfected in the torture lab at McGill University were then sent out into the global arena. When Dick Cheney infamously stated, following 9-11, that we would need to “work the dark side” in fighting the War on Terror, he knew that he had plenty of prior research to draw on. He wouldn’t need to make anything up from scratch.
In The Shock Doctrine, as well as in a February 2007 piece for The Guardian, Naomi Klein has examined in detail the tragic case of Jose Padilla. His treatment as a captive “enemy combatant” closely mirrors the horrors endured by the earlier patients of Dr. Cameron at McGill University. Klein writes:
Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an “enemy combatant” and taken to a navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a cell 9ft by 7ft, with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a “truth serum”, a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.
“According to his lawyers and two mental health specialists who examined him, Padilla has been so shattered that he lacks the ability to assist in his own defense. He is convinced that his lawyers are “part of a continuing interrogation program” and sees his captors as protectors. In order to prove that “the extended torture visited upon Mr Padilla has left him damaged,” his lawyers want to tell the court what happened during those years in the navy brig. The prosecution strenuously objects, maintaining that “Padilla is competent” and that his treatment is irrelevant.”
MKULTRA as a federally funded program has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Dr. Cameron is long dead, as well as most of his associates. Dr. Klee is perhaps in LSD heaven, sharing psychedelic anecdotes with Timothy Leary or Ken Kesey or Jerry Garcia. The torture practices that formed the core of the MKULTRA “research,” however, have continued to play an ugly role in recent history, and remain as a dark stain upon our national character. One wonders whether President Eisenhower understood the full extent of the problem when he warned us, on leaving office, that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
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