At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Hollywood released a suspense thriller, “The Manchurian Candidate,” that centered on a Korean War veteran who had been captured and brainwashed by his North Korean captors. Following his release and discharge from the U.S. Army, the veteran becomes an unwitting assassin, a sleeper agent, involved in an international communist conspiracy to subvert and take over the U.S. government.
The Manchurian Candidate was originally a novel by Richard Condon that was first published in 1959. It is a political thriller about the son of a prominent U.S. political family who is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for a Communist conspiracy. The novel has been adapted twice into a feature film of the same title, in the aforementioned 1962 film and again in 2004. The 1962 film is faithful to the book; the 2004 remake updates the action and alters characters. After the assassination of JFK, the film was taken out of circulation for 25 years. Here’s a full summary:
Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. He served valiantly as a captain in the Korean war and his Sergeant, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), even won the Medal of Honor. Marco has a major problem however: he has a recurring nightmare, one where two members of his squad are killed by Shaw. He’s put on indefinite sick leave and visits Shaw in New York. Shaw for his part has established himself well, despite the misgivings of his domineering mother, Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury). She is a red-baiter, accusing anyone who disagrees with her right-wing reactionary views of being a Communist. Raymond hates her, not only for how she’s treated him but equally because of his step-father, the ineffectual U.S. Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), who is intent on seeking higher office. When Marco learns that others in his Korean War unit have nightmares similar to his own, he realizes that something happened to all of them in Korea and that…
These are some excerpts dealing with MKULTRA experiments using hypnosis to create so-called Manchurian Candidates. They are from the book Bluebird: Deliberate Creation of Multiple Personality by Psychiatrists, by Colin Ross, MD, 2000. Note the mention of the use of subliminal voices recorded into music to induce hypnosis in certain individuals. Note also the final conclusion based on BLUEBIRD/ARTICHOKE documents: that Manchurian Candidates were successfully created and tested by physicians working for the CIA.
It is not currently publicly documented whether children were used in such experiments, but the deliberate creation of multiple personalities in children was an explicitly stated plan in a 1961 MKULTRA Subproject Proposal. Many victims claim to have undergone precisely this sort of program as children. For more excerpts from Ross’ book, see MKULTRA Subprojects Involving Children — which also details the whitewashed nature of the surviving MKULTRA files.
I have included the introductory material referred to in the text at the end. Note that at least nominally it concerns an ESP project — which was approved by the Chief of the Technical Services Division of the CIA in 1961. I would interpret it as using ESP experiments as a cover deception for mind control experiments (such as the stated goal of creating multiple personalities). Even if the experimenter was something of a CIA-connected crackpot, any victims would still suffer just as much. There is also the discrediting potential for anyone who later reports it. This is still a possibility today, but I’ll assume that people are now much more savvy about cover stories planned for discrediting. People who really believe in such powers — and many people do have that potentially exploitable belief system — might make especially good subjects due to their mental acceptance of external suggestions as somehow “natural.” (Those who do believe in real ESP powers might interpret the experiment as the CIA investigating such abilities, along with how to control and exploit those who have that “gift” — but the previous concerns are still valid even in this case.)
MKULTRA Manchurian Candidate work on hypnotic couriers and hypnotic mind control was carried out by Alden Sears at the University of Denver and the University of Minnesota under Subprojects 5, 25, 29 and 49. Sears had TOP SECRET clearance and on September 8, 1954 he signed a CIA secrecy agreement. This document states that the legislation controlling the Agreement was the Espionage Act passed on June 15, 1917.
A MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD dated 28 May 1953 states that both Sears and the Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota are “cleared through TOP SECRET and are aware of the real purposes of the project.” The word “Minnesota” is redacted from the documents but Sidney Gottlieb’s name is not. The fact that the Subproject was conducted at the University of Minnesota is proven by the listing in the INSTITUTIONAL NOTIFICATIONS provided by the CIA through the Freedom of Information Act.
Dr. Gottlieb describes a visit to Sears’ office and laboratory on July 13, 1955 in a document dated July 15, 1955. In a MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD dated 20 April 1954 there is a description of direct observation by Dr. Gottlieb and a CIA officer with the rank of Major, of hypnosis experiments conducted by Sears in a hotel suite. On March 26, 1954 a demonstration of hypnosis was given by Sears for selected representatives of Senior Staffs and Area Divisions, according to the 20 April 1954 MEMORANDUM.
It appears that Alden Sears never created a full Manchurian Candidate under MKULTRA. However, in a proposal for work to be conducted from June 1, 1956 to May 31, 1957 under Subproject 49 Sears writes:
Since this research was started in September of 1952, work has been done on various projects which were outlined by the fund representative and myself. Some of these have been [whited out] (These two have been published), [whited out] and various pilot studies concerning subconscious retention of material and ability to deliver same without the subject’s knowing consciously that he had even had this material; i.e., and unwitting message carrier…
In order to investigate the possibilities of hypnotic induction of non-willing subjects who have only a knowledge of some other language than that of the hypnotist…
An investigation should be made into non-verbal induction techniques, such as long duration of monotonous audio or visual stimulation. A variation of this in which I am interested and in which I have done some work, a few pilot studies, is to use soft restful music in which my voice was also recorded at a subliminal level. With some subjects in the past this has been very effective…
Can auto-hypnosis be taught so as to be as effective as hetero-hypnosis in the canceling out of pain or other stress conditions; i.e., if this can be done a person could create his own world and be happy in it even though he were actually confined in a very small place which was extremely filthy…
There are a great many areas which need investigation in the field of hypnosis. However, some of these (especially those connected with the use of drugs) could not be handled in the University situation.
Sears did some of his experiments at a CIA safe house that had to be “reasonably unobtrusive from public surveillance, and yet be capable of accommodating an increased number of people without causing suspicion or comment” (MEMORANDUM FOR Safehouse Procurement Officer, 3 June 1954).
Another MEMORANDUM dated 30 October 1956 is a request for a safe house under Subproject 49 for use from November 13 to December 12, 1956. The safe house was “so situated that both sides of the building are not easily subjected to eavesdropping This safe site is to be used in connection with a conference pertaining to various aspects of MKULTRA.” Sidney Gottlieb’s name is at the bottom of the MEMORANDUM.
A list of equipment purchased under MKULTRA Subproject 49 includes “1 shock stimulator.” Whether the shock stimulator was used as a conditioning tool, to check for hypnotic resistance to pain, or to determine whether a hypnotic subject can perform under stress, is unknown. The MKULTRA work conducted by Alden Sears demonstrates that hypnotic courier and Manchurian Candidate experiments and training were done by the CIA under a number of different programs, and were contracted out to a number of different institutions and investigators.
In his MEMORANDUM of 11 May 1953 Sidney Gottlieb lists seven separate experiments conducted by Alden Sears, and gives the number of subjects for five of them, totaling 196 subjects. Experiments were concerned with:
Experiment 1 – N – 18 Hypnotically induced anxieties to be completed by September 1.
Experiment 2 – N – 24 Hypnotically increasing ability to learn and recall complex written matter, to be completed by September 1.
Experiment 3 – N – 30 Polygraph response under Hypnosis to be completed by June 15.
Experiment 4 – N – 24 Hypnotically increasing ability to observe and recall a complex arrangement of physical objects.
Experiment 5 – N – 100 Relationship of personality to susceptibility to hypnosis.
Experiment 6 – The Morse Code problem with emphasis on relatively lower IQ subjects than found on University volunteers.
Experiment 7 – Recall of hypnotically acquired information by very specific signals.
Manchurian Candidate work was done under MKULTRA Subproject 136, which was approved for funding on August 23, 1961. The deliberate creation of multiple personality in children is an explicitly stated plan in the MKULTRA Subproject Proposal submitted for funding on May 30, 1961. TOP SECRET clearance status for the Principal Investigator on Subproject 136 had been initiated by the Technical Services Division of the CIA at the time the Subproject was approved. Quotations from the Subproject 136 documents appear immediately before the Introduction to Bluebird: Deliberate Creation of Multiple Personality by Psychiatrists.
Although MKULTRA has received the most public attention of any of the CIA and military mind control programs, most of its Subprojects were relatively benign compared to experiments carried out in PROJECT OFTEN and MKNAOMI. The declassified MKULTRA and MKSEARCH documents prove that systematic mind control experimentation involving physicians was ongoing at least until 1972. Like BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, MKULTRA involved the creation of Manchurian Candidates. Most of the MKULTRA Subprojects involved study of subcomponents of the Manchurian Candidate construction process – without the BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE documents, it would be unclear if the mind control doctors ever built a full Manchurian Candidate. The BLUEBIRD/ARTICHOKE materials establish conclusively that full Manchurian Candidates were created and tested successfully by physicians with TOP SECRET clearance from the CIA.
[Quote from the Introduction]
In working with individual subjects, special attention will be given to disassociative states, which tend to accompany spontaneous ESP experiences. Such states can be induced or controlled to some extent with hypnosis and drugs… The data used in this study will be obtained from group ESP experiments which have yielded significant results, high scoring subjects from special groups such as psychotics, children and mediums, and from psychological tests in which answers are of the multiple choice type…
But the main consideration will be the attitude and general disposition of the subject. Wherever possible, every attempt will be made to tailor the tasks required to his preferences and his estimate of good working conditions. In one case the experimental procedure will be designed to achieve favorable motivation by such devices as instructing him that he is participating in a study of subception. In other cases drugs and psychological tricks will be used to modify his attitudes. The experimenters will be particularly interested in disassociative states, from the abaissment de niveau mental to multiple personality in so-called mediums, and an attempt will be made to induce a number of states of this kind, using hypnosis.
MKULTRA Subproject 136 Proposal, 30 May 1961, Experimental Analysis of Extrasensory Perception, approved by the Chief, Technical Services Division/Research Branch, Central Intelligence Agency, 23 August 1961, $8,579.00.
Here is a definition of the term “subception” used above. It is from a page on the work of psychiatrist Richard Lazarus, who introduced the term (with McCleary, referenced to their 1951 paper). In other contexts it might be called “trauma conditioning”:
Lazarus’s strong convictions about the importance of cognition for understanding human behavior led to his investigating topics such as consciousness and unconsciousness, and to extending cognition into fields such as stress and coping. Early in his career, he studied a phenomenon he called “subception,” whereby a person reacts emotionally but with no conscious awareness to stimuli that had been paired with electric shock, but does not react emotionally to stimuli not followed by a shock. This work documenting the sometimes unconscious nature of emotions was subsequently rediscovered in the 1980s when neurophysiologists found that certain brain-injured patients show strong emotional reactions to stimuli of which they are totally unaware – a phenomenon called “blindsight.”
This definition of “abaissment de niveau mental” — a term introduced by psychiatrist and hypnotist Pierre Janet to describe a hypnotic state he induced — comes from a page on Carl Jung’s thinking about schizophrenia:
In the way it had been defined, the “Abaissement du niveau mental” bore several characteristics:: the damage of the logical connection of thoughts; loss of the control of whole regions of mental contents with the production of split fragments of the personality; the invasion of the consciousness on the part of contents usually inhibited conscious functioning and, in consequence, caused inadequate or inappropriate emotional reactions.