What Was The Secret Cold War CIA Program 'MKUltra' Really About?

Brainwashing in the way you think almost certainly isn't real, but coersion and torture certainly produce some grim effects in their subjects. lolloj/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 20 Sep 2018, 20:54

When you hear the phrase “MKUltra”, what do you think of? I’m going to hazard a guess here and say that mind control crops up immediately, along with the CIA. Brainwashing. Hypnotizing people to carry out orders, even assassinations. Secretive experiments all kept behind closed doors during the Cold War – right?

As with any incognito research effort undertaken by the government, it’s generated quite the extravagant and often unsubstantiated headlines over the years, as well as providing some inspiration for plot points of various shows, the latest featuring in Stranger Things’ sophomore season.

In fact, as pointed out by Rolling Stone, MKUltra is often associated with experiments that looked into pseudoscience, like telepathy, remote viewing (seeing things at a great distance), and psychokinesis (moving things with your mind). Although not associated with MKUltra, these experiments were genuinely carried out by the US Army in the 1970s-80s under the moniker Project Stargate.

That’s a story for another time, though. As for MKULtra, it turns out that the truth of the matter is more sobering and viscerally grim than any rumor or fanciful tale could ever be.

Through The Looking Glass

So – what actually was MKUltra? It certainly wasn’t merely a rumor or a myth, but a bona fide program designed to investigate a phenomenon that some in the US government hoped would give them an advantage over the Soviet Union and China.

No, we’re not talking about psychic powers or transdimensional beings here, but psychological, biological, and chemical warfare. Yes, brainwashing and reprogramming were part of it.

As explained by Today I Found Out, a 1977 hearing report given to the Select Committee On Intelligence at the US Senate – the first public admission of the program’s existence – described the project as one that involved “behavioral modification”. The parameters for the original project, authorized in 1953, were designed to – according to proponents of it – “defend ourselves against a foe who might not be as restrained in the use of these techniques as we are.

These quickly became open to interpretation and expansion, however, and within a couple of years, hypnosis, intoxication through alcohol, protection against “brainwashing” during interrogation, memory loss, acute anemia, inducing shock and confusion, and more were being investigated. Clearly, things got a little out of hand, based on the 1977 report to the Senate.

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