The CIA Programmed Killers
The Manchurian Candidate: CIA Assassins and the Nazi Roots of MK ULTRA
By Derek Rodriguez
CIA Programmed Killers
By definition, clandestine organizations have a need to keep their operations secret. So what better way than to compel an unwitting subject to act as an agent, commit unscrupulous acts and have no memory after the fact?
The CIA spent years and funneled massive amounts of resources into gaining this ability. CIA internal documents suggest that they succeeded. And if the agency developed the capability of taking a man or woman off the street and turning him or her into a remorseless killer or bloodthirsty saboteur, did they use it?
Some theorize that Sirhan Sirhan, who killed Robert F. Kennedy; Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon; and James Earl Ray, who assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr., are all examples of the CIA, or another entity, employing this tactic. These agents, if they exist, are known as Manchurian Candidates, after the movie of the same name.
The Manchurian Candidate Film
On October 24, 1962, John Frankenheimer's film The Manchurian Candidate opened. Starring Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury, it tells the story of an American platoon fighting in the Korean War, captured by enemy Communist forces and transported to Manchuria, China. The men are then hypnotized and brainwashed by a sinister cabal from various Communist countries. With their false memories in place, the platoon is then returned to the battlefield, believing that one of their own, Captain Raymond Shaw, heroically saved them all in combat.
Shaw is hailed as a war hero and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. When asked about him, his fellow soldiers all robotically recite, "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life," though Shaw is actually cold, distant and unfeeling. We then see that Shaw has become a brainwashed assassin whose "trigger" is the Queen of Diamonds playing card—upon seeing that, he snaps into a hypnotic state, ready to perform any task, no matter how dangerous or nefarious. He is the perfect assassin, primed to kill whomever he is pointed toward, as well as any witness to the act. He asks no questions, remembers nothing of the kill and can blend in with other Americans.
It is revealed that Shaw's mother is a Communist agent, as is his stepfather, Senator Iselin, who makes frequent harangues against Communist infiltration of the government. The Communists' plan is to install Senator Iselin in the White House and then control every facet of the United States through their puppet president. To this end, Shaw's mother activates him using the Queen of Diamonds and instructs him to murder Senator Iselin's rival to the vice-presidential nomination.
Shaw's next mission is to murder Iselin's running mate, so that Iselin can step right in to the presidential nomination. Once installed in the Oval Office, Iselin promises to whip up such an anti-Communist fervor to justify emergency powers that would, in Mrs. Iselin's words, "make martial law seem like anarchy." But with the help of one of his fellow soldiers, Shaw is able to momentarily shake off the brainwashing and, rather than assassinate the presidential nominee, train his sniper scope on his mother and stepfather and shoot them dead.
The movie was a hit and Angela Lansbury's portrayal of Mrs. Iselin—the cold, calculating power player—became an iconic film role. Lansbury was nominated for an Academy Award and Newsweek named Mrs. Iselin as one of the 10 greatest villains in cinematic history.
But is this idea of a mind-controlled assassin realistic or Hollywood hokum? The concept was exploited for laughs in the film comedies The Naked Gun and Zoolander, but is it really a laughing matter? Could the complete brainwashing of a trained American soldier to kill mindlessly at the turn of a card be possible? Is this something that our government knows about—or has attempted to perform on its own citizens? There is strong evidence that the answer is yes.
MK ULTRA and Mind Control
Despite being called what today sounds like a poor attempt to rebrand light beer, in the 1950s MK ULTRA was the code name for the CIA's secret, illegal, human-research program that investigated various methods of mind control, interrogation, behavior modification and other brainwashing techniques. MK ULTRA was implemented by CIA director Allen Dulles on April 13, 1953, and was also known as Project Bluebird and Project Artichoke. Headed by military psychiatrist and chemist Sidney Gottlieb, the program was a direct response to rumors of brainwashing performed on prisoners of war by the Chinese, North Korean and Soviet governments.
The MK ULTRA program ran until the late 1960s. In 1973, CIA director Richard Helms, fearing an investigation, ordered all records pertaining to MK ULTRA destroyed. This action hampered efforts by the congressional Church Committee and the presidential Rockefeller Commission to fully understand and investigate alleged abuses by the CIA.
Despite Helms' orders, some documentation of MK ULTRA survived. One memo describes the type of research into mood-altering chemicals and drugs the CIA pursued. MK ULTRA hoped to find:
1. Substances which will promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the point where the recipient would be discredited in public.
2. Substances which increase the efficiency of mentation and perception.
3. Materials which will prevent or counteract the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
4. Materials which will promote the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
5. Materials which will produce the signs and symptoms of recognized diseases in a reversible way so that they may be used for malingering, etc.
6. Materials which will render the induction of hypnosis easier or otherwise enhance its usefulness.
7. Substances which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion during interrogation and so-called 'brain-washing.'
8. Materials and physical methods which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use.
9. Physical methods of producing shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use.
10. Substances which produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.
11. Substances which will produce 'pure' euphoria with no subsequent let-down.
12. Substances which alter personality structure in such a way that the tendency of the recipient to become dependent upon another person is enhanced.
13. A material which will cause mental confusion of such a type that the individual under its influence will find it difficult to maintain a fabrication under questioning.
14. Substances which will lower the ambition and general working efficiency of men when administered in undetectable amounts.
15. Substances which promote weakness or distortion of the eyesight or hearing faculties, preferably without permanent effects.
16. A knockout pill which can surreptitiously be administered in drinks, food, cigarettes, as an aerosol, etc., which will be safe to use, provide a maximum of amnesia, and be suitable for use by agent types on an ad hoc basis.
17. A material which can be surreptitiously administered by the above routes and which in very small amounts will make it impossible for a person to perform physical activity.
MK ULTRA also utilized civilians, members of the armed forces and prisoners in testing their various pharmacological concoctions. Assorted human guinea pigs were drugged with a wide range of substances, including mescaline, heroin, marijuana, morphine, MDMA, alcohol, psilocybin, scopolamine, sodium pentothal and their drug of choice, lysergic acid diethylamide (also known as LSD or acid).
Nazi Roots of MK ULTRA
MK ULTRA has its roots in Nazi Germany. Third Reich scientists were consumed with experimenting to test the limits of human mental endurance. Once World War II ended, the United States raced the Soviet Union to see which could collect more of the Fatherland's brilliant scientists. Operation Paperclip was enacted to ensure that the scientists recruited by America would not be burdened by their Nazi pasts; indeed even the name of the operation referred to the new identities that were "paperclipped" to the scientists' dossiers. The U.S. spirited away more than 200 German scientists, many of them rocket experts like Wernher von Braun. But a sizable number had expertise in the fields of torture and brainwashing. They were a perfect fit for the MK ULTRA and its predecessors, Project Bluebird and Project Artichoke.
MK ULTRA was given a wide berth at the CIA and afforded six percent of the agency's operating budget, a large expenditure for such a new, untested program. One early memo summarized the project's goal: "Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?"
It's chilling to think that a nation founded on liberty and freedom from tyranny would be so interested in exploring such inimical concepts like total subjugation and abdication of an individual's free will—and that the government wanted this power so badly that it was willing to employ such reprehensible cohorts as Nazi Germans in its pursuit.
LSD and the CIA
One of MK ULTRA's early areas of concentration was the application of LSD to both willing volunteers and unaware civilians in order to study their reactions. LSD blotters (Getty Images)It was hoped that the right dose of acid would act as either a powerful truth serum or as a reactant to allow greater mental control of the test subjects. As one CIA agent involved with a secret mass-dosing experiment noted, "We thought about the possibility of putting some in a city water supply and having the citizens wander around in a more or less happy state, not terribly interested in defending themselves." The CIA even went so far as to set up government-run houses of prostitution where the women would dose their johns with LSD, and scientists would watch and record the reactions via two-way mirrors. The fear of exposure of their sexual habits would be enough to frighten the men into silence so that the CIA could collect their LSD data in peace.
The CIA would go on to dose prisoners at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, at a New Jersey reformatory in Bordentown and patients at Michigan's Ionia State Hospital. Unsuspecting partygoers unlucky enough to have befriended a CIA agent might find their drinks spiked with LSD. CIA agents began dosing one another as practical jokes, seeming not to care that acid was a powerful hallucinogenic that, taken under the wrong circumstances, could lead to a complete mental breakdown.
As noted, CIA Director Helms destroyed nearly all records of this program, so a full measure of how many innocent citizens were unknowingly drugged and used as human guinea pigs may never be known—but it may be in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. Some of the first unwitting test subjects were chosen because they were black and "of not too high mentality," according to CIA notes. Later, more than 7,000 soldiers in Maryland's Edgewood Chemical Arsenal were dosed without consent. Years after their experimentation, more than 1,000 of them reported serious psychological complications such as depression and epilepsy; many attempted suicide.
The Ultimate Method of Mind Control
The CIA wanted to use LSD to soften the mind in order to make it more receptive to suggestion and control. But if the use of hallucinogens was a lock pick to sneak in the mind's back door, hypnotism was a blistering bulldozer capable of causing serious damage.
Dr. Colin Ross, a psychiatrist and noted CIA mind-control expert, provides this definition of the Manchurian Candidates that the government longed to create: "Basically an artificially created multiple personality, where there's another identity inside, which is given the mission parameters, carries out the mission, and the idea is if they're caught and interrogated, the upfront person has no memory of the mission, so it keeps the information secure." Project Bluebird, MK ULTRA's predecessor, was specifically experimenting with hypnotism in order to create the perfect disposable assassin. Its agenda reads like a horrific wish list:
1. Can we "condition" by post-H [hypnotic] suggestion agency employees (or persons of interest to this agency) to prevent them from giving information to any unauthorized source or for committing any act on behalf of a foreign or domestic enemy?
2. Can we in a matter of an hour, two hours, one day, etc., induce an H condition in an unwilling subject to such an extent that he will perform an act for our benefit? (Long range)
3. Can we create by post-H control an action contrary to an individual's basic moral principles?
4. Could we seize a subject and in the space of an hour or two by post-H control have him crash an airplane, wreck a train, etc.?
5. Can we by SI [sleep induction] and H techniques force a subject (unwilling or otherwise) to travel long distances, commit specified acts and return to us or bring documents or materials? Can a person acting under post-H control successfully travel long distances?
6. Can we use SI and H to combat fatigue, produce extreme mental effort?
7. Can we guarantee total amnesia under any and all conditions?
8. Can we "alter" a person's personality? How long will it hold?
9. Can we design tests to determine whether or not an enemy agent has been conditioned by SI and H or any other method?
10. Can we detect SI and H by use of SI and H (regression)?
11. Can we make a "conditioned" subject reveal by SI and H specifically how they were conditioned (drugs, torture, fatigue, hostage pressure, techniques)?
12. Can we devise a system for making unwilling subjects into willing agents and then transfer that control to untrained agency agents in the field by use of codes or identifying signs or credentials?
13. How long can we sustain a post-H suggestion—unaided—with reinforcement?
This chilling Christmas list of terror—which came from a declassified CIA document that somehow survived the great purge—should send shivers of fright up the spine of anyone who reads it. This document is the smoking gun that proves the U.S. wanted to be in the "Manchurian Candidate" business; that it wanted to fight as dirty as the Nazis and the Soviets, regardless of how many innocent citizens became entangled in its filthy, unconscionable crimes against humanity.
It's clear from the Bluebird list that the CIA certainly aspired to have a brainwashed killer on its rolls, and there is evidence that the agency moved from the theoretical to the physical. Once again, a memorandum from MK ULTRA—with redactions—reveals just how malevolent the CIA's plans were:
Miss [deleted] was then instructed (having expressed a fear of firearms) that she would use every method at her disposal to awaken Miss [deleted] (now in a deep hypnotic sleep) and failing this, she would pick up a pistol and fire it at Miss [deleted]. She was instructed that she would not hesitate to "kill." Miss [deleted] carried out these suggestions including firing the (unloaded) gun at [deleted]. After proper suggestions were made, both were awakened. Miss [deleted] expressed absolute denial that the foregoing sequence had happened.
The CIA had the desire. It had the technology. It had the opportunity and, as we see here, it had every reason to think it could successfully introduce sleeper agents into the general population, their mangled minds a miasma of burbling post-hypnotic orders to kill without question. Given all this, why should we not think that the CIA implemented their own Manchurian Candidates? If the CIA can, the CIA typically does.
Sirhan, Chapman and Ray: Real-Life Manchurian Candidates
Sirhan Sirhan was born in Jerusalem, to a Palestinian Christian family, on March 19, 1944. The family moved to America in 1956, first to New York, then eventually settling in California.
On June 5, 1968, Sirhan attended a rally at Los Angeles's Ambassador Hotel for Robert F. Kennedy, who had just won the California primary for the Democratic nomination for president. Sirhan approached Kennedy and emptied his .22-caliber revolver—five bystanders were hit and Kennedy was shot three times. He was pronounced dead a day later.
Sirhan was an anti-Zionist, who fixated on Kennedy's promise to give Israel 20 military fighter jets. His mental state was called into question as investigators found Sirhan's journals, which had the phrase "RFK Must Die" written over and over, along with various nonsensical scribbling. Sirhan himself would veer wildly from admitting his guilt in the assassination, saying it was done "with 20 years of malice aforethought," to claiming he had absolutely no memory of the event. Sirhan was convicted in 1969 and sentenced to death in the gas chamber, a sentence later commuted to life in prison.
Was Sirhan Sirhan one of these unlucky patsies of the rich and powerful? That he claimed no memory of the assassination would certainly fit the pattern. In addition, years after his conviction, he was examined by the leading American authority on hypnotism, Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a New York psychologist and instructor of hypnotism at Columbia University Medical School. Dr. Spiegel's findings were remarkable. Based on the ease with which he was able to induce Sirhan into a hypnotic state, Dr. Spiegel stated that Sirhan had clearly been hypnotized countless times before and that his mental malleability put him in the rarefied 10% of human beings who are cataloged as "extraordinarily receptive" to hypnotic suggestion. Further, Dr. Spiegel found that, even under intense hypnosis, Sirhan had absolutely no recollection of his assassination of Kennedy. Indeed, his whole three months prior to RFK's death was a "white fog" that neither Sirhan nor the Los Angeles Police Task Force could penetrate in attempting to pinpoint his whereabouts or activities. Was it during these lost three months that Sirhan received his hypnotic training and orders to gun down RFK?
Then there was Mark David Chapman, an ideal "lone nut." Moving from Decatur, GA, to Chicago to Arkansas to Lebanon to Lookout Mountain, GA, to Hawaii in the span of a few years, Chapman became obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger's novel about teenage angst. Distraught over a messy break-up, Chapman attempted suicide and was hospitalized in a mental-health clinic. He became more withdrawn and violent, picking fights with coworkers and supervisors. Chapman also became fixated on John Lennon, incensed over the "blasphemy" that Lennon had declared The Beatles "bigger than Jesus." In a turn of phrase borrowed from The Catcher in the Rye, Chapman became convinced that Lennon was a "phony." Chapman allegedly would chant to himself over and over, "The phony must die, says the catcher in the rye," an eerie parallel to Sirhan's constantly rewritten mantra of "RFK Must Die!"
After shooting Lennon, rather than flee, Chapman sat calmly on the ground and read from The Catcher in the Rye, waiting for authorities to arrive. Is it possible that once the programmed Chapman completed his mission, his instruction were then to allow himself to be easily captured?
James Earl Ray was another drifter who moved from place to place, never really establishing roots and passing in and out of the criminal justice system. But this three-time convicted thief suddenly developed the skills to assassinate the preeminent civil-rights leader of the century and avoid capture in a worldwide manhunt, only to be ensnared in London over a simple passport snafu.
Ray first confessed to the murder, but recanted three days later, saying that he was only a pawn in a larger conspiracy. Ray had proven experiences with hypnotism—when captured, one of the three books in his bag was titled Self-Hypnotism: The Technique and Its Use in Daily Living. " Ray also spoke of being subdued by drugs and hypnotism during one of his previous stints in jail. Could it be that he was hypnotized into participating in the King assassination and then discarded to serve as a convenient scapegoat?
The CIA and the Manchurian Candidates Today
With the bulk of the documents related to MK ULTRA, Project Bluebird and Project Artichoke destroyed by a CIA director who was worried that the sins of the past were catching up to him, there is no way to get a full and complete catalog of the myriad horrors inflicted upon unsuspecting human guinea pigs—victims drugged and monitored, dosed and cataloged like laboratory rats all in the name of finding the perfect elixir to create a super-soldier. But the proof is indisputable that the government desired and designed to create secret assassins—who, though perhaps personally repulsed by violence and firearms, would have their will smashed in such spectacular fashion that they would have no resistance to the whims of their CIA masters.
MK ULTRA is believed to have been dismantled in the 1970s after being exposed to public scrutiny, thanks to the Church Commission and the Rockefeller Committee. But with so much money and effort expended to such a seemingly viable intelligence program, would the CIA let morality stand in its way? Wouldn't it be easier just to change the name of the program and let it continue to grow in the shadows once again?
For many in government, the ends always justify the means. It's for this reason that constant vigilance is needed from the voting public and its elected representatives to ensure that the specter of Manchurian Candidate super-soldiers stays on the silver screen rather than invade real life.