The Fall or Dive of Sydney Gottlieb and Company

“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

– from The Manchurian Candidate (1959), by Richard Condon

When you think about it, after 9/11, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush did Americans a favor by “taking off the gloves,” so that we could wring our hands to the toll for freedom in the upcoming dark battle against Terror and Reality-based thinking. Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls, we thought, it tolls for Us. The torture trills and flourishes that followed, poor Abu rolling over in his shallow Ghraib, and the mad scientists brought in to offer up new, frightful concepts in torture, such as waterboarding, were the American equivalent of Chinese drip-drip-driven insanity, but, in our shock and aweful style, we wrung out the entire black cloud — the whole inshallalah — on one tormented “terrorist” after another.

We video-taped the “enhanced interrogations techniques” (EIT), but later destroyed the tapes, much to Congress’s quiet chagrin, because they would have shown that the methods were excessive and the results meaningless. Later, much later, in 2014, Senator Diane Feinstein’s intelligence committee found that EIT were ineffective — and consequently illegal. (See the Senate’s The Report and the recent film, for more details on the committee findings, and CIA head John Brennan’s illegal attempts to quash the report by spying on the Senate.) In effect, her committee found, we tortured some terrorists who provided no valuable information, and tortured many, many others who turned out to be not terrorists at all. We rang dem bells some more.

The only CIA officer who ever went to jail for revealing the excesses of EIT, John Kirikaou, admitted, in a 2007 interview (pages 15-18 especially) with ABC’s Brian Ross, that enhanced interrogation “amounted to” torture, and that he and colleagues thought it “necessary at the time,” and that “it worked,” leading, he said, to countless heads-up details that led to Jack Bauer-like last minute interventions in new al Qaeda plots. It almost sounded like an apologist’s gambit.

Kirikaou went to jail, became dubbed a whistleblower (by the likes of Glenn Greenwald), and was in jail when the Torture Report came out — and contradicted his assertions about the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation. (He’d known about its ineffectiveness a year or so before his 2007 ABC News interview. In February 2015, he told Amy Goodman, “It wasn’t until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasn’t true—he wasn’t producing any information—and that these techniques were horrific.” So, he knew a year or so before the Ross interview). Despite this apparent contradiction, and its implications, the MSM were supportive of his ‘conversation starter’ about EIT — especially waterboarding.

Reading Stephen Kinzer’s new book, Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control, you could find yourself believing that there were parallel Americas. The list of grisly murders, lethal cover-ups, assassination mindedness, and graphic details of super-enhanced interrogation techniques that made up the CIA’s approach to handling the Fifties demonstrate unequivocally that the gloves were off way before Dick Cheney publicly stated the Bush administration’s intended approach to those that done us harm on 9/11. If anything, Kinzer shows in Poisoner in Chief, that, by comparison, Cheney may have put the gloves back on to fight al Qaeda. The stuff Kinzer details about CIA operations, especially in the Sydney Gottlieb era, is so depraved you wonder if you’ve been conned by Bush and company.

Americans have been in a cold war with Russians since 1949, the year they successfully exploded an atom bomb of their own and the nuclear arms race began. It has been a relationship powered by fear, paranoia, and not a little madness, as America sees her ambition to be an empire partially checked by Russia and her potent missiles. If Kinzer’s read of the Fifties was accurate, it was an era marked, for Americans (and maybe the Soviets) by the terror of instant nuclear annihilation. There were fall-out shelters, procedures for hiding under your desk, and the occasional TV and radio transmission interruptions by the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). Kinzer repeatedly emphasizes that this fear of annihilation was so often proffered as the motivation for the actions early covert operators.

George Orwell’s 1948 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was not only a look to the future but a pulse-taking of his zeit geist. The Spanish Civil War and the Great Depression sandwiched between two world wars crushed the spirits of millions. The kind of nihilistic impulses described by Erich Fromm in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness or even in The Waste Land poetry of T.S. Eliot seemed manifest everywhere. Ideologies duked it out: Capitalism, Communism, and Fascism. Out of one nation fearing another’s impulses, weapons of mass destruction had evolved — from brute force to chemical weapons to biological weapons to LSD and other psychoactives to nuclear weapons. This is what was on the minds of writers, politicians, soldiers, and the CIA, back in the day.

So when the Soviets exploded their first atomic weapon in 1949 and then followed that up with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, American spies felt that they were dealing with a race against time. They started gathering German scientists, Nazi eugenecists, Japanese torturers, and others of twisted scientific persuasion who could lead military programs — especially in mind control. Kinzer cites CIA director Allen Dulles’ mission statement as the basis for what the agency did:

By the early 1950s he had concluded that mind control could be the decisive weapon of the coming age…Any nation that discovered ways to manipulate the human psyche, he believed, could rule the world.

The CIA has always wanted to rule the world in the name of ‘national security’.

Operation Paperclip was the means by which totally unpalatable scientists — mostly from Nazi Germany — were allowed to escape post-war justice at Nuremberg, in order to help the Cold War effort against the Soviets. So, what was supposed to be a patriotic fervor to keep Mama America safe for baking apple pies, soon led to the recruitment of war criminals.

Most prominently, from Nazi Germany, came Kurt Blome, who had been director of the Nazi biological warfare program. Kinzer writes,

They had learned how long it takes for human beings to die after exposure to various germs and chemicals,and which toxins kill most efficiently. Just as intriguing, they had fed mescaline and other psychoactive drugs to concentration camp [especially Dachau] in experiments aimed at finding ways to control minds or shatter the human psyche.

He fit right in with Dulles’s vision. Their thinking was, writes Kinzer, “instead of hanging Blome, let’s hire him.”

But the most important decision Dulles made regarding his desire to find a way to reach his Mission Accomplished goal was to hire Sydney Gottlieb to run his research and development umbrella program in mind control. As head of the Technical Services Staff headquartered at Fort Detrick in Maryland, Gottlieb coordinated the hundreds of myriad sub-projects and experiments that made up the notorious MK-ULTRA program. Though many twisted details would eventually be disseminated about the doings of these experiments, Gottlieb himself was regarded as a quiet and unassuming man. Kinzer describes him: “[He was] a psychic voyager, far from anyone’s stereotype of the career civil servant. His home was an eco-lodge in the woods with outdoor toilets and a vegetable garden. He meditated, wrote poetry, and raised goats.”

Nevertheless, one of the first things that Gottlieb did was to not only hire Nazi scientists, but head East, to Japan, to confer (and hire) General Shiro Ishii, a possibly criminally insane Japanese army surgeon who had headed Unit 731, a horror camp in Manchuria, where Ishii went to work on internees. Kinzer describes prisoners

slowly roasted by electricity…hung upside down…locked into high-pressure chambers until their eyes popped out; spun in centrifuges infected with anthrax, syphilis, plague, cholera, and other diseases; forcibly impregnated to provide infants for vivisection; bound to stakes to be incinerated by soldiers testing flamethrowers; and slowly frozen to observe the progress of hypothermia.

Blome and Ishii were model types of the vision the CIA sought in order to gain an edge on similar Russian experimenters looking to create ‘Manchurian candidates’.

Black sites, East and West, were set up, where “expendables” were brought to be mercilessly and brutally tortured, sometimes in such ways that they could not be identified as humans any more. These sites were intentionally beyond US accountability, not set up to interrogate terrorists but to experiment on the mind. Such experiments were not carried out only overseas, but, also, stateside people were unknowing participants in CIA miscreance.

Project Bluebird, for instance, called for an ‘experiment’ on everyone in San Francisco. Kinzer describes how a psychiatric team performed Operation Sea Spray:

scientists from Camp Detrick directed the spraying of a bacterium called Serratia marcescens into the coastal mist. According to samples taken afterward at forty-three sites, the spraying reached all of San Francisco’s 800,000 residents and also affected people in Oakland, Berkeley, Sausalito,and five other cities.

Scores of people had to seek help at a hospital, a few people died from toxic reactions, but these psychiatric scientists proved that the Bay Area was vulnerable to germ warfare. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Gottlieb kept adding shadier characters to perform more and more outrageous tasks, in his effort to nail down how humans tick, deep down inside. But nobody was shadier than ex-cop George Hunter White, who, writes KInzer, stood out “even in the dazzling MK-ULTRA cast of obsessed chemists, coldhearted spymasters, grim torturers, hypnotists, electroshockers, and Nazi doctors.” Gottlieb had him open up a “safe house” in Greenwich Village where he lured unsuspecting expendables and others to parties where they could be doused with LSD for study (think: the psychedelic scene from Midnight Cowboy). In 1949, he arrested Billie Holiday for opium possession, which she claimed was “planted” and which put her through an “ordeal” that Kinzer says led to “her decline toward early death.” He later worked for Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Later, White was transferred back to his hometown of San Francisco, where he expanded on his doings in Greenwich Village, starting up a safe house that added the full gamut of sex acts to LSD studies, including Operation Midnight Climax. He leaned toward fascist leathers and stilettos, and provided prostitutes with “get out of jail free” assurances for assisting in the experiments. There were kundalini-driven orgies, whips and chains, acid trips, and gentle Gottieb with White’s wife, “humping her brains out,” while he recovered from tripping.

Gottlieb was originally employed as a master chemist. But the mild-mannered meditator also had a covert killer side to him. Kinzer describes the Poisoner-in-Chief’s hand in the assassination of world leaders. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai escaped one of Gottlieb’s plots with a last minute change of plans. Gottlieb was put in charge of killing Cuban leader Fidel Castro with poison, both directly (cigars) and indirectly (causing his beard to fall out so he’s ‘lose face’ with his people). He was involved in the takedown of Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, personally concocting a poison that “ if it didn’t kill Lumumba outright,” writes Kinzer, “would leave him so so disfigured that he couldn’t possibly be a leader“ (again with the ‘losing face’ theme).

And the craziest characters kept joining his subprojects. At McGill University in Montreal, Dr. James Hebb studied “the isolation technique [that] could break any man, no matter how intelligent or strong-willed.” In another subproject he brought Ira Feldman, a master of “old-fashioned” interrogation techniques who observed, “If it was a girl, you put her tits in a drawer and slammed the drawer [and if] it was a guy, you took his cock and you hit it with a hammer. And they would talk to you. Now, with these drugs, you could get information without having to abuse people.”

In New York, John Mulholland, a professional magician who’d worked with Houdini, joined MK-Ultra subproject 4, taught sleight of hand and misdirection to the CIA, and even developed a manual for them, The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception. The crazies and subprojects of MK-ULTRA just kept piling up. Under Subprojects 9 and 26, Gottlieb studied ways that “various depressant drugs” can shake a person’s psyche…Subproject 28 was to test “depressants” ..Subproject 47 would “screen and evaluate hallucinogens,” Subproject 124 tested whether inhaling carbon dioxide could lead people into a trance-like state, and Subproject 140 tested the psychoactive effects of “thyroid-related hormones.”

It wasn’t until Dr. Harold Wollf came along in 1954 that CIA methods took a turn toward the ‘ways and means’ we wring our hands over today. “Wolff shared Dulles’s fascination with the idea of mind control,” writes Kinzer. Wollf headed up the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology. He proposed placing subjects in inescapable situations that eroded their psyches to the point where, desperate to escape,

doctors could “create psychological reactions within them.”…to test “special methods of interrogation, including “threats, coercion, imprisonment, isolation, deprivation, humiliation, torture, ‘brainwashing,’ ‘black psychiatry,’hypnosis, and combinations of these with or without chemical agents.

Hello, Gitmo. Hello, Abu Ghraib.

Gottlieb’s reputation for dark arts intrigues was at its height when in 1953 CIA operative, Frank Olson, suffering from acute anxiety and having reportedly confided to a colleague that “he’d made a big mistake” being part of MK-ULTRA, either fell or dove from the 10th floor of the Statler Hotel in New York. MK-ULTRA almost went down with Olson. Was he heave-hoed out the window or did he somehow stumble through closed curtain and plate glass? It was a mystery that investigative journalist Sy Hersh looked into and opined that, based upon uncorroborated information he’s been made privy to, Olson was murdered. A whole 2017 six-part Netflix series — Wormwood — was produced and does an excellent job of recreating the vibe of the 50s and the somewhat hallucinogenic event.

In the end, as unfriendly changes and unwanted scrutiny took place at the CIA in the wake of changing times, Gottlieb retired. And he and his wife travelled by freighter to India where they volunteered at a leper’s colony. Did he spend much time in retirement recalling his Jewish roots? Thinking, there but for the grace of God (his name suggests ‘love of God’) might my Hunagrian Jewish parents have gone — and me with them — into some death camp, where I might have been ‘done’ by Nazis in ways very similar to the methods I employed? He was essentially a Holocaust Denying Jew. Netanyahu would have called him “a self-loathing Jew,” then hired to mow lawns in new ways on the West Bank, returning at night to his kibbutz.

So, what’s the future of mind control? Kinzer doesn’t speculate much. But it’s clear, without a lot of thinking, that the more we humans become addicted to the honey of the Internet’s hive mindedness, we become more vulnerable. Edward Snowden has already warned about the mere collection of dossiers (Permanent Records) on every person connected. But there is also the risk of ‘contagions’ brought on by manipulations of algorithms and newsfeeds. Think of the online white blood cell mobbing of Joseph Kony back in 2012 that created a fever to capture the black cancer, only for the fervor to die suddenly, when it was discovered he hadn’t been in the country of capture for years.

Gottlieb is said to have abandoned his pursuit of the Grail for mind control in the end. But there is no question that the dark Quest to control minds is still active, as there are still Rove-Cheney-Bush type people out there who believe, as Allen Dull did, that “Any nation that discovered ways to manipulate the human psyche…could rule the world.”

We are in the middle of a new brain warfare, as Kinzer puts it, without knowing it, because these manipulations and brain hacks are kept from us. As Kinzer suggests,

The target of this warfare is the minds of men on a collective and on an individual basis. Its aim is to condition the mind so that it no longer reacts on a free will or rational basis, but a response to impulses implanted from outside …it is proving malleable in the hands of sinister men.

We are the “black sites” of future interrogations, by machine-like men, who, if they have their way, will not be out make AI androids of the future more human, but humans more machine-like. It might be as simple as a gizmo implanted in the brain to take the free will away and leave us open to the programming of remote sinister forces.

Think about it.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.