The CIA and the American Psychological Association: Partners in crime
In a report released late Friday, conveniently timed to fall into the news cycle hole, the American Psychological Association was officially implicated as an accessory to Pentagon and CIA torture.
As the New York Times explained:
The 542-page report, which examines the involvement of the nation’s psychologists and their largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, with the harsh interrogation programs of the Bush era, raises repeated questions about the collaboration between psychologists and officials at both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.
The report implicates several top officials in the APA guild, including two presidents who served on a CIA advisory panel, and the guild’s “ethics director.”
In response to the findings, former APA president, Nadine Kaslow, issued a statement full of the most profound hand-wringing that a psychology professional could muster:
The actions, policies and lack of independence from government influence described in the Hoffman report represented a failure to live up to our core values. We profoundly regret and apologize for the behavior and the consequences that ensued.
Yesterday, three top APA officials — its CEO, deputy CEO and communications director — announced they were stepping down and taking an early “retirement.”
The whole episode seems shocking, and it is. But if you know your history, it’d actually be more of a shock if the APA was not involved in a project that combined their three favorites: government grants, military-intelligence collaboration, and sadism.
Half a century ago, the president of the American Psychiatric Association, Ewen Cameron, was paid by the CIA to conduct bizarre and brutal mind-control experiments on unwitting patients at McGill University who’d checked in for relatively minor psychological problems (anxiety, postpartum depression) and ended up near-vegetables.
The real purpose of these experiments was to test torture and interrogation techniques, many of which still survived into the Guantanamo Bay age: sensory deprivation, pumping patients full of barbiturates to induce comas for weeks or months at a time, only to be awoken to be subjected to extremely high doses of electric shock therapy and to be force-fed LSD and sernyl (Angel Dust), while tape loop recordings of either “positive” or “negative” messages were played nonstop on repeat in speakers underneath their pillows. If one of Dr Cameron’s unwitting victims hadn’t been the wife of a future Canadian MP, David Orlikow, those lawsuits might very well have been quashed and forgotten about, the victims’ complaints of having been subjected to terrifying experiments dismissed as mere symptoms of their mental illness. In the end, both the CIA and the Canadian governments have had to pay compensation to several of the victims of Dr. Cameron’s experiments.
Much of what I learned about the psychology guild’s long and twisted relationship with Cold War military-intelligence programs came from researching one of the great Cold War murder mysteries: The 1985 assassination of CIA banker Nicholas Deak in his Wall Street high-rise by a homeless paranoid-schizophrenic drifter from Seattle named Lois Lang who had been contracted to carry out her hit by jilted mobsters from Latin America. (For more on this bizarre murder story, see “James Bond and the Killer Bag Lady”.)
How was it possible to hire a profoundly mentally-ill bag lady to travel across the country and carry out a professional assassination of a CIA banker who’d been hailed by Time magazine as “the James Bond of money”? I managed to get hold of Lang’s court records (Lang is still doing time in an upstate New York prison for two counts of second degree murder—Deak and his receptionist, Frances Lauder), and discovered that in 1975, she was discovered in a Santa Clara motel, completely nude and in a “catatonic” state. Lang was taken to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, and put under the care of a CIA-connected Stanford psychiatry professor, Dr. Frederick T. Melges. Lang remained under Melges’ care for over a month that we know of, and seems to have gone completely over the deep end from that point on through her hit on Deak a decade later.
Dr. Melges was a psychiatry professor at Stanford Medical School. Melges also worked with the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), a major CIA and Pentagon contractor, on areas including brainwashing and mind control experiments during the Cold War. Again, the primary purpose being to study new technologies for interrogation and torture, secondary applications going towards studying the possibilities of exploiting highly “suggestible” subjects and getting them to do things — murders, couriers — they wouldn’t otherwise do, and of which they would have no memory in case they were caught.
The CIA, the Army Chemical Corps and other branches of the military were all deeply involved in studying LSD and other drugs to see if they could break down prisoners during interrogations. They explored other uses as well—dosing unwitting subjects, possibly including foreign leaders, in order to drive them crazy or cause them to publicly discredit themselves by acting unhinged, without ever knowing or suspecting what caused it. Nixon’s “plumbers,” including E. Howard Hunt, had at one time considered dosing Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Jack Anderson with CIA mind-altering drugs when he was publishing damaging leaks.
They also experimented with drugs and hypnosis on subjects both witting and unwitting to see if they could induce selective amnesia, and induce them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do—such as carry out assassinations or bombings, or courier contraband or important information—again without any memory of having been “programmed” to do so. Similar programs researched assassination poisons that left no trace, giving the appearance of a natural death; drugs and procedures that induced terror and pain, paralysis or nausea; and bizarre brain surgery and radiation experiments.
Frederick Melges, Lois Lang’s Stanford psychiatrist for an extended period in the summer of 1975, was an expert on dosing subjects with psychedelic drugs and using hypnosis to test ways of inducing artificial schizophrenia. A few years before he got ahold of Lois Lang’s mind, newspapers reported that Megles and another Stanford professor, Leo Hollister, had co-published research based on testing psychedelic drugs and hypnosis on students “to blur both the past and future.” Hollister, whose most famous student LSD subject was young Ken Kesey, later admitted in the 1970s that he conducted drug and behavior modification research for the CIA.
According to a June 1971 article in the UPI headlined “Drugs Said to Blur Time”:
Drs. Frederick T. Melges, Jared R. Tinklenberg, Leo E. Hollister and Hemp K. Gillespie experimented at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.
Rather than hippies and other drop-out marijuana smokers, they used graduate students “goal directed” toward earning doctorates and beginning careers in science. Marijuana was swallowed as extracts rather than smoked, to permit precise control of dosages.
Hypnosis and meditation can also intensify the present by making both past and future remote, they said in their report to the American Medical Association. So can intoxication with mescaline and lysergic acid diethlyamide (LSD).
Melges and Hollister both studied drug-induced states of schizophrenia as well as “natural” schizophrenia. A 1961 New York Times article on Hollister’s experiments while under CIA contract, “DRUG ‘PSYCHOSIS’ CALLED INVALID,” details some frightening experiments Hollister conducted at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital, in which he claimed (wrongly, I can vouch from personal terrified experience) that the non-schizophrenic is fully aware that his hallucinations are unreal, whereas the schizophrenic experiences a very real-seeming terror:
When the patient is given such drugs as mescaline, lysergic acid diethylamide, or psilocybin, a Mexican mushroom compound, hallucinations are generally visual and the subject knows they are unreal, Dr. Hollister said. Paranoid and grandiose delusions are uncommon and rarely have such common schizophrenic themes as sex, religion, communism, external control or omnipotence, he said.
The schizophrenic...may attribute his nausea [from drugs] to possession by the devil who is “shoving a hot poker into his vitals.” This, said Dr. Hollister, is “unreasonable in any frame of reference.”
Indeed, “unreasonable” is a word that comes to mind here.
Lois Lang’s doctor, Melges, was also an expert on the Army’s chemical weapon version of LSD: a superhallucinogen known as “BZ” which the Army tested on thousands of unwitting grunts, weaponized in BZ gas grenades and 750-lb cluster bombs, and reportedly tested on Viet Cong enemies in the battlefield. Described as a “superhallucinogen” in the book “Acid Dreams,” a BZ-induced high lasted at least three days, “knocked you on the floor,” and left many of the test subjects destroyed for much longer. The Army Chemical Corps tested BZ on close to 3000 “volunteers” between 1959 and 1975. According to Acid Dreams:
A number of military personnel have since come forward claiming that they were never the same after their encounter with BZ. Robert Bowen, a former air force enlisted man, felt disoriented for several weeks after his exposure. Bowen said the drug produced a temporary feeling of insanity but that he reacted less severely than other test subjects. One paratrooper lost all muscle control for a time and later seemed totally divorced from reality. “The last time I saw him,” said Bowen, “he was taking a shower in his uniform and smoking a cigar.”
There were few reports of BZ deployed in the battlefield in Nam, but apparently it wasn’t quite the game-changer counterinsurgency strategists were looking for. Although BZ worked fine as an aerosolized chemical (unlike LSD), dosages couldn’t be controlled. So some affected VC guerrillas reportedly became “maniacal” while others were permanently incapacitated, in the way that death from overdose incapacitates. Despite poor results on the battlefield, the US Army wound up stockpiling 50 tons of BZ at three military installations in the US—“enough to turn everyone in the world into a stark raving lunatic.”
A 1979 New York Times profile of a US Army soldier accidentally dosed with BZ quotes him describing how he was “talking to intravenous machines, thinking they were my wife. . . . I attacked a nurse and sucked on her neck. I talked to U.F.O.’s outside my window because they were asking me how I was.”
Never one to let a good thing go to waste, the Pentagon and CIA both explored ways of deploying BZ domestically against hippie protesters in the 1970s, using miniature drones brandishing drug-injecting needles, according to Acid Dreams:
One scheme involved the use of tiny remote controlled model airplanes nicknamed "mechanical bees." The bees, mounted with hypodermic syringes, would be aimed at selected protesters during a demonstration to render them senseless. Another plan called for spraying BZ gas to incapacitate an unruly mob. A CIA memo dated September 4, 1970, reaffirmed the importance of BZ-type weapons: "Trends in modem police action and warfare indicate the desire to incapacitate reversibly and demoralize, rather than kill, the enemy. . . . With the advent of highly potent natural products, psychotropic and immobilizing drugs, a new era of law enforcement . . . is being ushered in.”
One Army Chemical Corps scientist-turned-Burning Man guru, Col. James Ketchum, wrote a book called “Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten,” in which he describes a scene at a Stanford seminar in 1966 with Dr. Melges, Lois Lang’s doctor. Ketchum and Melges were arguing over which drug was more potent, LSD or BZ—Melges insisted BZ was far more potent, as does just about everyone else on this planet. Ketchum writes,
I almost came to blows about this misconception with Dr. Fred Melges, a staff psychiatrist. . . . he insisted I just didn’t know what I was talking about when I said that LSD was actually more potent than BZ. Telling him I was the one who did the studies with BZ seemed to have no effect.
A couple of years ago, Ketchum—a Santa Rosa resident—was the subject of an incredible New Yorker feature, “Operation Delirium,” by Raffi Khatchandourian. The entire article is worth reading, but I have to quote one section on BZ, because it ties back to this whole idea of artificially-induced schizophrenia and the complete immunity given to scientists and psychologists in the service of the military-intelligence complex:
One night, Ketchum rushed into a padded room to reassure a young African-American volunteer wrestling with the ebbing effects of BZ. The soldier, agitated, found the air-conditioner gravely threatening. After calming him down, Ketchum sat beside him. Attempting to see if he could hold a conversation, Ketchum asked, “Why do they have taxes, income taxes, things like that?”
The soldier thought for a minute. “You see, that would be difficult for me to answer, because I don’t like rice,” he said.
“Yeah,” Ketchum said.
Today, a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of US Army veterans who were victims of these bizarre mind-altering experiments is still grinding on in court.
* * * *
Before Lois Lang was discovered naked and comatose in a Santa Clara motel, she’d spent several years living in Mountain View, doing what, exactly, no one could figure out. Lang grew up in southern Washington state; she was a homecoming queen in high school, and a star athlete in college. She got her Master’s in physical education at the University of Illinois, studying under Tom Cureton, “the father of physical fitness” and the man responsible for setting fitness standards for the US Army during World War 2.
Another U Illinois professor testing CIA mind control drugs when Lois Lang was getting her MA was Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, shown at the top of this article opening his mouth for a squirt of LSD.
Dr Pfeiffer ran a series of CIA experiments conducted on prisoners at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta in the 1950s and 60s. One of those prisoners who agreed to be experimented on by Dr. Pfeiffer, in exchange for a lighter sentence, was mob killer/FBI informant Whitey Bulger, who was recently caught and sent back to prison for the murders of at least 11 people. Bulger (the Jack Nicholson character in “The Departed”) had been a victim of Dr. Pfeiffer’s experiments, which he had been led to believe was to test drugs to cure schizophrenia—not CIA experiments to artificially induce schizophrenia-like symptoms and madness. For 15 straight months back in the 1960s, Bulger was injected with daily doses of LSD, which scarred him for life with insomnia, violent nightmares, and severe headaches. His prison notebooks described a “horrible LSD experiences followed by thoughts of suicide and deep depression.”
When Bulger learned in the late 1970s that he’d been dosed as part of the CIA MK-ULTRA program, he told his mob associates he planned to track down Dr. Pfeiffer and murder him.
Other prisoners in Dr. Pfeiffer’s acid lab rat program fared even worse—according to lawsuits reviewed by Jack Anderson in the early 1980s, inmate Ferrell Kirk, who was already mentally unstable, was driven crazy from the experiments, and after being dosed with a “chemical mixing bowl” tried committing suicide by hanging and burning himself, and once tried gnawing his own arm off; inmate Don Roderick Scott suffered permanent brain damage; and two other inmates were transferred to mental institutions “because of mental problems” resulting from CIA drug tests “intended to duplicate psychosis.”
Lois Lang left U Illinois with her Master’s and a military husband in 1966 for a job at UC Santa Barbara as the school’s women’s tennis and fencing coach. As soon as that, things started to get weird. By 1971, she became convinced that her husband had been replaced by a “fake” pretending to be her husband, and they divorced. (Manhattan prosecutors were never able to track him down.) According to testimony, her husband’s best friend moved Lang up north to an apartment in Mountain View, where, she testified in her trial, she took “flying lessons” and “washed gold coins.” We tend to forget this now, but in the 1970s, Silicon Valley’s economy was almost entirely driven by federal military-intelligence contractors—it was a company town, that company being Lockheed. And a military town, anchored by the massive Moffett Field base and NASA Research Center, with Stanford acting as a major military-intelligence contractor.
After Lois Lang was released from Dr. Melges’ care at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in 1975, she became a drifter —a “bingo clerk” at a mobbed-up casino in Nevada, arrested in 1978 for bringing a loaded weapon into a northern California court house and demanding to see “Chief Justice Warren Burger.” (The real Warren Burger, as irony should have it, had once helped the Eisenhower Administration cover up the death of an unwitting victim of a CIA mind-control experiment in the 1950s, Harold Blauer, who died after being been pumped full of drugs “to produce symptoms similar to those that you see in schizophrenia,” according to an ABC-TV News investigation).
After a couple more stints in psychiatric hospitals, Lang ended up in the early 1980s on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, a homeless eccentric in a feathered green felt Robin Hood cap, occasionally arrested by police (who later said they were puzzled by all the hundred dollar bills she always had on her) and recommitted to local psychiatric wards.
In the early-mid 1980s, shortly before Lang was hired to kill the CIA banker Nicholas Deak, she was committed to one of the Seattle-area psychiatric wards where another creepy military-connected psychiatrist, U. Washington professor Donald Dudley, harvested some of his patients for what he later described as an “army of assassins.”.
Dudley had long been one of the leading names in psychiatry and behavioral study, and we may not have known what he was up to but for the fact that one of his patient-victims happened to have parents who were lawyers, very tenacious lawyers, who wound up winning the largest psychotherapy negligence lawsuit in history.
It began in 1989, when an autistic 19-year-old boy from Spokane, Stephen Drummond, was brought to Dr. Dudley to treat his seizure episodes. Instead, Dr. Dudley started pumping the boy full of powerful drugs—a synthetic morphine derivative called dextromethorphan, and a powerful sedative, sodium amytal, which leaves patients “suggestible,” and coupled it with hypnosis, which over the course of a few years eventually turned the boy into a near-comatose vegetable, screaming in fear about being part of a global team of assassins. Dr. Dudley’s files later revealed that his purpose was “to erase part of Drummond’s brain and implant new behavioral characteristics”—that characteristic being an “assassin” answering to Dudley’s orders.
By early 1992, the patient, Stephen Drummond, was found hiding in his bedroom, and underneath his bed, afraid of the thoughts that had been planted in his head that he was now an “assassin” who would have to kill “children and police officers.” The boy’s mother, Janet Drummond, confronted Dr. Dudley later that year—who responded by telling her he worked for the CIA and he would have her killed if she so much as spoke another word about his experiments or her vegetative son.
Then in early 1993, Dr. Dudley was arrested for his, er, unorthodox treatment of a 15-year-old suicidal boy put under his care. Dudley brought the boy to a hotel in Bellevue — where Lang had been committed shortly before killing Deak — pumped him full of sodium amytal, gave him liquor, and hypnotized him into believing he was a trained CIA assassin. Dudley had brought firearms with him to the hotel, and police were called when the boy took a .44 caliber pistol and threatened hotel employees. Soon, other former patients came forward saying they too had been brainwashed by Dudley with drugs and hypnotic suggestion into believing they were assassins, including one patient from Arizona who came to Dr. Dudley to be treated for chronic fatigue syndrome, and who instead wound up getting trained in firearms and told by Dudley that he was from “another planet” and that he “has known” that patient’s brain since 1970.
As the plaintiffs’ attorney in the Dudley lawsuit told reporters, “I know it sounds like a bizarre episode of the X-Files.” That, or standard stuff when it comes to the world of psychiatry/psychology collaborating with US military-intelligence...
Dudley had been a highly respected professor and widely published expert from the early 1960s through 1991. He was the author of the incredibly named book, “How To Survive Being Alive” — and as late as 1992, even as he was threatening to murder his comatose patient’s mother, he was giving speeches before the Well Mind Association on “Brain Mapping the Chemically Sensitive.”
One of the family’s lawyers I spoke to told me that during the trial, Dudley’s military connections were brought up, and that it was believed he’d mistreated perhaps hundreds of patients to similar brainwashing experiments to make them believe they too were assassins.
In 2001, a Pierce County jury awarded the Drummonds $2.1 million, the largest negligence payout of its kind. Dr. Dudley by then had taken the easy way out—death—so the money came from his estate.
All this I learned just by tracking the thread of the paranoid-schizophrenic bag lady assassin Lois Lang. We were never able to say for sure that she was specifically a victim of one of the CIA mind control programs, we were only able to confirm that she’d been treated by at least one doctor closely associated with those programs, and that her life seemed to put her into close contact with some of the worst Mengele-like figures in the CIA brain-wiping programs.
But despite some hopeful talk that at least a few of the psychology guild’s most obvious offenders will get sanctioned (beyond easy retirement), even the 500-plus page report makes clear, in its sections on MK-ULTRA and other collaborative efforts with the military-intelligence complex, that the torture and interrogation programs at Guantanamo Bay, overseen by psychiatric professionals, was just the latest chapter in an open horror book that won’t be ending anytime soon.