FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Radioactive Agents: the CIA and the Problem of Identity

by

shutterstock_255304384

Like other agencies of the U.S. government back in the 1950s, the CIA saw rich promise in the idea of injecting radioactive materials into humans. But whereas documents recently released by the Department of Energy show radioactivated recipients usually to have been either unwitting (schoolchildren told they were getting “vitamin supplements”) or in unfortunate circumstances (lifers in prison, terminally ill patients), the Agency planned to inject radioactive matter into the bodies of its own agents, or personnel.

The CIA took the prudent course of destroying almost all its files on biological and chemical research back in 1973, on the orders of Richard Helms. The Agency now says piously it can find no record of any such activities. But researchers in the 1970s managed to unearth some bizarre and revealing documents, including one—never to our knowledge published—on “Establishing and substantiating the ‘bona fides’ of agent and/or staff personnel through techniques and methods other than interrogation.”

The three-page Memorandum for the Record, with signatory deleted, shows the CIA to have been deeply influenced by the Fifties SF obsession with alien invaders of the human form assuming the exact lineaments of the host. Of course the SF writers were in their turn reacting to Cold War obsessions about the Enemy Within, fostered by propagandists backed by the CIA.

From the days of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond who wrote the mission statement for the CIA and later sugested to the Kennedy brothers ways to poison Castro, show business and secret intelligence have always cross-fertilized each other vigorously.

The CIA officer authoring the memorandum opens with a discussion of the methodological problems caused by the need for secrecy—”problems which are so tough as to be almost insolvable and in their unsolved state are a perpetual source of inefficiency.” The author correctly pointed out that methodological obsession with secrecy, if unchecked, “destroys its own reason for existence.”

“How can the ‘bona fides’ of an agent or staff individual be established?” the author asks. “Today, because of rapid changes and reassignments of our overseas case officers and the continuing operation of agents…[words redacted by CIA censor] for long periods of time, the paramount question arises upon the exfiltration of the agent(s). Is the agent ‘bona fide’; is he the same person we started with?”

The deleted words clearly refer to an agent planted in hostile territory or under deep cover. Hence the CIA’s nightmare. Is our agent really and truly the genuine article, or some clone fixed up by the plastic surgeons of the KGB?

The CIA author then reviews existing technology and techniques. Polygraphing (“now used extensively in attempts to establish ‘bona fides’), needs to be refined, with miniaturizing of equipment and improvements of “ruggedness”; present methods of “psychological measurements” need to be modified and refined, “e.g. utilizing a small strain gage in lieu of the cumbersome pneumatic tube, utilizing an optical or impedance type plethysmograph in place of the sphygmograph” (these were types of pulse-takers); better ways of detecting emotional stress through voice harmonics or a myclograph.

Other ways of establishing identity are then reviewed: “dactylography or finger printing” is regarded as reliable but “in clandestine operations it is at times impossible to obtain finger print specimens for future reference”; “anthropometry or Bertillon’s system of identification—exact physical measurements” has the disadvantage of being liable to human error.

Blood grouping is also discussed, but such groupings “can only positively exclude, but cannot positively identify.”- The same is alleged of specific substances in the organs, body fluids and saliva.

“Mendelian Law of inheritance and derivation of off- spring,” the CIA man continues with a scholarly harrumph, “holds true for group specific substances [blood, fluids etc]. On this basis then, screening and identification of displaced persons, immigrants and line crossers claiming familial relationships and direct linage [sic] can be greatly expedited.”

With existing methods for positively establishing identity thus laid open to question, the CIA man arrives at “artificial means of establishing positive identification.”

“1. Radioisotopes, with predetermined half lives, selectively implanted and/or injected.

“2. Radiologically opaque foreign bodies selectively implanted and/or injected into predetermined sites in the human body.

“3. Specific circulating antibodies artificially produced by selective antigen sensitization that are alien to the habitat in question.”

Aside from the health implications, the whole scheme was mad and illogical even on its own premises. How would it be easier to implant isotopes in the agent, when earlier fingerprinting had been rejected as sometimes impossible to obtain in clandestine operations?

Radioisotopes are used in medicine, under sophisticated constraints that can easily go awry, but the Russians could have copied the radioisotope signature in their own substitute for America’s man. The idea of a “radiologically opaque” ID card lodged internally could similarly be copied. The antibody idea was more interesting, in the sense that an agent with antibodies, say from the Ozarks, would be harder to match.

But then, the CIA author, plainly entranced by his own learning and literary style—perhaps he was James Angleton, the Yale literary man—was not so much concerned with realism, as with the aesthetics of harnessing radioactive materials to the oldest conundrum in espionage—how can you be sure the messenger is the right man?

The memorandum called for “a definitive program of research,” with what consequences we do not know.

This article is excerpted from “An Orgy of Thieves: Scenes from the Counter-Revolution” by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, forthcoming this spring from CounterPunch Books.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail