January 18

1977: Senate Committee Hearings: CIA’s covert research in behavioral modification

The joint Senate hearings were led by Sen. Edward Kennedy; the focus was Project MK-ULTRA. But the hearings, as John Marks concluded, added little information about CIA’s behavior-control programs. CIA officials (both past and present) who testified adopted the pattern of lying to Congress as they had lied to the press after the first revelations about MK-ULTRA came out. They took the position that basically nothing of substance was learned during the 25-odd years of research; the bulk of which, they claimed, had ended in 1963. That proposition was, on its face, absurd; “CIA officials actively experimented with behavior control methods for another decade after Sid Gottlieb and company lost the research action.”

Among the veteran CIA witnesses who committed outright perjury, Marks cites Robert Lashbrook — who was likely the agent who pushed Frank Olson out the window to his death — who had supervised one of CIA’s “safehouses” and, according to George White’s diary, Lashbrook was present at the time of an “LSD surprise” experiment . Nevertheless, Lashrook denied firsthand knowledge of the safehouse operations. Dr. Charles Geschickter testified that he had not tested stress-producing drugs on human subjects while both his own 1960 proposal to the Agency and the CIA’s documents indicate the opposite. (Marks. Ch 12) Senator Kennedy was not prepared to deal with such inconsistencies. He took no action to follow up obviously perjured testimony. Marks notes that although only a congressional committee could compel truthful testimony, neither Kennedy nor any other investigator put any real pressure on the Agency to reveal the content of the research — what was actually learned — as opposed to the experimental means of carrying it out.

The Joint Senate Committee Report (1977) revealed that CIA’s MKULTRA project had subjected 7,000 servicemen and women had been used as guinea pigs along with many thousands of unsuspecting, civilians, including children, and prisoners. In some cases the diabolical experiments resulted in permanently disabling its subjects. The salvaged documents that had been overlooked by Gottlieb and Helms were known within the agency as the “Family Jewels.” They provided a glimpse into the horrific — even depraved — nature of the experiments and the devastating effect on the (mostly) unwitting human victims. They proved to be a treasure trove for investigative reporters and historians. John Marks, whose Freedom of Information request was a three year struggle with the CIA, finally obtained 16,000 pages; they were the primary source for his award winning book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate (1979) and for several other books, including:

Mind Manipulators (1978) by Alan Scheflin and Edward Opton; Operation Mind Control: The CIA’s Plot Against America (1978; 2nd ed. 1994) by Walter Bowart; The Mind Stealers, Psychosurgery and Mind Control (1978) by Samuel Chavkin; BLUEBIRD: Deliberate Creation of Multiple Personality by Psychiatrists (2000) by Dr. Colin A. Ross; Secrets & Lies: A History of CIA Mind Control & Germ Warfare (2007) by Gordon Thomas.

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