Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Doubt in My Mind

I am always wary of the institutions of power in the U.S. It matters not whether these institutions are corporate, military, or governmental, including and maybe especially, law enforcement, agencies. Power has but one aim, self-perpetuation, and part of that impulse is its imperative to grow. There never was an agency of power that was satisfied with its allotment of power. It always wants more. This is why the massive enlargement of domestic surveillance and monitoring capabilities bestowed upon agencies such as the FBI and CIA in the wake of the attacks of 9/11 is so dangerous. These were not benign agencies to begin with, and especially in the case of the CIA, which was an out-of-control agency from its inception. The CIA has always been involved in sinister activities.

Do you think the adjective "sinister" a bit to strong? Well, consider this narrative which appeared today in the Writer's Almanac. It will give you the creeps.
On this day in 1977, the Central Intelligence Agency released 20,000 documents revealing that they had engaged in mind-control experiments. They released the documents after a request under the Freedom of Information Act, and the revelation triggered a Congressional hearing in August. The program was named MK-ULTRA; it began in the early 1950s and ran at least through the late 1960s. 
MK-ULTRA had its roots in Operation Paperclip, a program to recruit former Nazi scientists who had conducted studies on torture and brainwashing. Operation Paperclip spawned several secret government programs involving mind control, behavior modification, hypnosis, and the like. It's not clear whether the CIA's real aim was to produce a "Manchurian candidate" who could be brainwashed to carry out various tasks, or whether these off-the-wall "operations" were a smoke screen to keep attention away from their real mission: to come up with better torture and interrogation techniques. The program received 6 percent of the CIA's operating budget without oversight or accounting. 
Since then-director Richard Helms ordered all the MK-ULTRA documents destroyed in 1973, the investigation had to rely on sworn testimony and the 20,000 remaining documents, which had escaped destruction because they were stored in a different warehouse. The limited information that was available at the Congressional hearings revealed that "chemical, biological, and radiological" methods to achieve mind control were studied. This involved, among other things, administering drugs like LSD, heroin, amphetamines, and mescaline to people without their knowledge or consent; they also used, according to the Congressional report, "aspects of magicians' art." In one project, called Operation Midnight Climax, the CIA set up brothels in San Francisco, gave patrons LSD, and filmed their responses through hidden cameras. They figured that even if subjects got suspicious, they would be too embarrassed to report anything to the authorities. In other experiments conducted at McGill University in Montreal, subjects — who had come to the institute thinking they were to be treated for anxiety or post-partum depression — were put into drug-induced comas and exposed to tape loops for weeks at a time; others were given electroconvulsive therapy at 30 to 40 times the normal dose. Many subjects suffered lasting damage. 
The CIA had the assistance of nearly a hundred colleges and universities, pharmaceutical companies, research foundations, hospitals, and prisons in conducting the MK-ULTRA project. Some evidence suggests that Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was one of the subjects; Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, volunteered for the LSD tests at a Veterans Administration hospital when he was a student at Stanford. The official CIA position is that they no longer conduct mind-control experiments, although at least one veteran of the agency has said that the tests continue.
The whole story is appalling. But certain aspect of it are positively chilling. First, there's the fact that the agency effectively has no oversight. The citizenry of this country, which pays who knows how many billions every year for the operations of this agency don't know what it's doing. The fact that it can destroy records of its activities at whim should give us pause immediately. Second, the cooperation of "nearly a hundred colleges and universities, pharmaceutical companies, research foundations, hospitals, and prisons" in conducting the experiments is disheartening, to say the least. It's appalling actually.

Proving once again that there is no limit to what people will do under the impetus of fear. From the late 1940s to the fall of the Soviet Union, our government kept us terrified of the godless communist conspiracy that threatened our existence. Now of course, it's the Muslim terrorist conspiracy. Note that in either case, opposing the conspiracy demands extraordinary governmental powers. And the threat is constant, never-ending. (Who knew the Soviet Union was going to collapse? The CIA, NSA, and all the other intelligence apparatus of the U.S. didn't have a clue.)

Keeping us afraid is the primary tool that the government employs in also keeping us docile. Why else would we put up with the TSA and cameras everywhere and the powers we have handed over to the government under the so-called Patriot Act? There's no doubt in my mind that these same agencies are carrying out any number of illegal activities even as I type this. We will never know.

(The Wikipedia article on MKULTRA has many more details about this horrible program.)
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