By Chris Hall



I’m sure that we’ve all read a conspiracy theorist’s ramblings at some point, whether it is to do with the Earth being flat, the government being controlled by reptiles or the moon landing being faked. While we often dismiss these ideas as crazy (and with good reason to do so), not every conspiracy theory remains in the strangest forums of the Internet. Some become national headlines and are revealed to be true. The darkest example of this was MKUltra, a CIA project used to aid interrogation and torture techniques.

In 1953, the Korean War was coming to an end, and stories were coming back from veterans. Many of them had been tortured by Soviet, Chinese and North Korean intelligence agencies using experimental methods unknown to the US government. Given the tension during the Cold War at the time, US intelligence agencies saw this as an opportunity to develop their own techniques. In April that year, CIA Director Allen Dulles gave the order to start the MKUltra programme, beginning a new era of US foreign policy.

The primary methods of torture related to giving the subject drugs such as LSD before the interrogation. Vulnerable groups of people were scouted out to be participants in trials which put them under the influence of psychoactive substances. Drug addicts were promised more of their narcotic of choice in exchange for taking LSD. The mentally ill were force-fed the drugs. They picked out these groups as they were likely to have confessions they would want to hide, as well as the fact that there would be significant changes to the person if the CIA was able to wipe their memory, allowing them to be programmed as US agents. It should be noted that the vast majority of test subjects from these procedures never gave consent and weren’t aware of what was actually happening.

One famous example of the scouting mechanisms used was Operation Midnight Climax, in which brothels were fitted with a variety of mechanisms to spy on them, as well as provide sexual blackmail for the visitors. Another involved sedatives being injected into the arm of a subject. As soon as the subject began to fall asleep, they were injected with amphetamines, meaning that they woke up immediately. The effects of sleep deprivation took their toll on subjects, leading them to lose inhibition when answering sensitive questions.

Not all techniques were drug based. Subproject 54 involved giving the subjects blunt force trauma to induce concussions and amnesia, either using weapons which didn’t leave a mark or ultrasound waves. This was initially run by the Navy rather than the CIA, but it was still partially funded by the CIA and had several of the same aims as the MKUltra project. A separate series of experiments involved playing statements to unwilling test subjects (often with minor mental conditions such as anxiety) hundreds of thousands of times, as well as using electric shocks and paralytic drugs to ‘wipe’ someone’s personality.

While surviving interrogation was a target of the whole process, the CIA’s largest aim was to produce the ultimate assassin: someone with a split personality, allowing them to survive interrogation; someone with perfect precision and accuracy, having been brainwashed into perfection; and someone who was able to manipulate even the most stubborn world leaders. After the Watergate scandal was revealed to the public, then-CIA Director Richard Helms ordered the destruction of all documents related to the project and MKUltra was retired – if the aims and methods used were somehow leaked, the US public would be outraged.

As I’m sure you can tell, these files didn’t remain destroyed. Rumours spread about the CIA using mind control experiments to subdue the public, and soon newspapers reported these stories in the newspaper. What was at one point a mere whisper among communities of conspiracy theorists came to the forefront of national politics in 1977, when 20,000 documents which survived Helms’ purge were released. The distrust between the US government and population grew significantly as a result. Years of illegal experimentation had come to an end, yet the Cold War continued.

In doing research on this subject, it came to my attention that many still believe the project is ongoing and that celebrities are used by the government to brainwash us. While most of this discussion is confined to obscure message boards, the increasing acceptance of radical news sources such as InfoWars means that many of these conspiracy theories will spread and reach the same prominence as MKUltra (even if they aren’t true, e.g. the Birther Movement). While I am not convinced by most of such theories, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that similar experiments to MKUltra are taking place in Guantanamo Bay and other military prisons, especially with the intelligence threat from Russia looming over Western security forces.