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by Colin A. Ross
Manitou Communications, 2000
Review by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Ph.D. on Feb 2nd 2002

Bluebird

Once upon a time there was a theory about powerful technologies of mind control, or “brainwashing”, which enabled those possessing them to change and dictate beliefs, experiences, and actions to their apparent victims. This technology was supposedly much stronger than any technologies of persuasion known to used-car salesmen and shrewd politicians everywhere. To understand the historical context and the historical reasons for the appearance of such a theory we have to go back to the Moscow show trials of 1936-1938, which shocked all and every non-communist observer, and challenged them to explain how great Bolshevik revolutionaries admitted to terrible crimes they could not have committed. These show trials were followed by similar ones in Communist Eastern Europe after 1945, and by reports of cooperation between US POWs and their captors during the Korean War. When an ideology seems to us peculiar and unacceptable, successful indoctrination into that ideology seems puzzling or shocking. How could anybody you believe in communism, or become a Jehovah’s Witness, a Moslem, or a Christian? (You can fill in your own choice of a belief system).

The belief in “brainwashing” led to several kinds of reactions. One was horror at the diabolical nature of Communism, which only added to existing aversion. Another was the desire to uncover the secrets of this technology and then use it for our side, so that we can win the war against Communism. This desire is behind the story that this book tries to tell us.

The 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, based on the 1959 novel by the same name authored by Richard Condon, faithfully captures the paranoia of those long-forgotten times. It’s a great film, designed to make the viewers skeptical, but some of them miss the whole point. Unfortunately, one such viewer is the author of the book before us.

What did happen was that the United States Government, through its Central Intelligence Agency, did invest many millions of dollars in experiments designed to develop techniques of mind control. These were then to be used to create torture-proof couriers and agents, committed and brave, whose psyches have been engineered to fit the specifications. To achieve that, a variety of drugs, including LSD, were tried, as well as hypnosis. Ideas about “ESP” and “multiple personality” were also floated. In addition, the CIA, through a front using the name The Fund for Human Ecology, financed work by reputable psychologists. Among them were George Kelly at Ohio State University, Carl Rogers at the University of Wisconsin, Muzafer Sherif at the University of Oklahoma, and Charles Osgood at the University of Illinois. What these researchers did was perfectly legitimate, and they had no knowledge of the CIA connection. What those in charge of the project did was to invest in basic psychological research, in the hope that some basic knowledge would later lead to relevant behavior-modification technology. What should be mentioned is that the idea of “mind control” had very few adherents within academic psychology.

In many other cases, however, psychologists and psychiatrists, under contract to the CIA or as its employees, engaged in real crimes, subjecting their unwitting victims to horrifying experiments developed by sadistic minds. Some victims died or suffered irreparable damage. We should be shocked not only by the cruelty and inhumanity involved, but by stupidity of any theoretical notions.

The CIA mind-control projects were not only evidence of total immorality, but also of a total lack of serious thinking about the behavioral issues involved. The documents presented in this book provide some evidence for that. The researchers involved, if we might use this term, never discovered any “brainwashing” technology, as there was nothing to be discovered. The many projects involved were gradually stopped, and not for any ethical reasons.

This travesty ended in 1977, when Project MK-Ultra became public knowledge. Some of those involved were officially demoted and punished. I know that the American Psychological Association expelled some CIA employees who had been members. The Canadian government apologized and established a fund to compensate victims. The story became material for historians, and clearly had many lessons in it for all those connected with the behavioral sciences.

After the flashback to the 1950s, we now flash forward to the 1980s, when a major epidemic was diagnosed in North American psychiatry. Within a few years, the marginal diagnostic category of multiple personality disorder (MPD), until then extremely rare and reported in less than 100 cases, became, according to some prominent psychiatrists (e.g. Frank W. Putnam, of NIMH), the psychiatric equivalent of AIDS. Thousands of cases were being diagnosed and treated, and this was not the end of the story. Some psychiatrists then claimed that MPD, later called DID (dissociative identity disorder) was the result of childhood experiences of “satanic ritual abuse” (SRA), carried out by a secret religion dedicated to the sacrifice of babies, preferably by their own parents. The MPD-SRA phenomenon had its heyday in the early 1990s. Since then it has been in decline (one of its leaders, Bennett Braun, lost his license to practice medicine in 1999). Colin A. Ross has been an active proponent of the MPD-SRA epidemic and over the years published several books dealing with DID and SRA.

While the CIA realized a long time ago that its various “mind control” programs were a failure, Ross does not. He believes that Manchurian candidates, programmed with the required multiple personalities, are roaming the earth ready to carry out their secret missions. The technology utilized to create these agents remains just as much a secret (or a fantasy) as it ever was. Actually, Ross believes that “In the interest of national security, it is important that the CIA and military intelligence agencies have mind control programs in place. This is true, for one reason, because mind control methods are being used by leaders of destructive cults, dictators and terrorists… The problem is the conflict between the National Security Act and the Hippocratic Oath” (p. 266). The book’s aim is not only to expose CIA conspiracies, but to promote a theoretical claim. Against those doubting the reality of tens of thousands of MPD (or DID) cases, all identified since 1980, Ross suggests that these cases cannot be iatrogenic, because “the creation of iatrogenic multiple personality requires much more control and influence than is possible in one or two hours of outpatient therapy per week” (p. 267). This sounds reasonable enough, but Ross does not consider a more parsimonious explanation of the MPD-DID epidemic, i.e. that those diagnosed with MPD do not have a “iatrogenic MPD” because they may be suffering from a whole variety of problems, none helped by the MPD diagnosis, which is simply spurious.

This book is in a sense a replay of the problems it exposes. Ross criticizes the American Psychiatric Association for its unwillingness to censure its members who were involved in the MK-Ultra scandal. The same question may be raised about the MPD-SRA epidemic of the past two decades. The American Psychiatric Association (as well as the American Psychological Association) usually keeps silent when its members promote claims about Satanism and alien abductions. It will probably keep silent about other conspiracy theories promoted by members. Those who think that psychiatry is a weird kind of business have no idea what is really going on. The Spokane Spokesman Review reported on January 14, 2001 that a jury in the state of Washington awarded $2.1M to a patient who was harmed by the hidden agenda of the late psychiatrist Donald Dudley. Dudley, according to his own notes, was trying, via drugs, to erase part of the patient’s brain and turn him into a trained killer. Later on, the psychiatrist was himself diagnosed as suffering from a bipolar disorder, and lost his license to practice. Colin A. Ross demonstrates in this book once again that the fringes of psychiatry, where ideas about “mind control” and Satanism proliferate, are actually quite wide, and sometimes reach pretty close to its center.

 

© 2002 Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi

 

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Department of Psychology, University of Haifa, Israel, is the author of several books, including The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience (Routledge, 1997).