Docs Detail CIA’s Cold War Hypnosis Push
By Spencer Ackerman Email Author
December 28, 2010
It was an innocent time, the mid-1950s. America wasn’t yet cynical about its geopolitical games in the Cold War. Case in point: In order to maintain its spying edge over the Russkies, the CIA considered the benefits of hypnosis.
Two memos from 1954 and 1955 dredged up by Cryptome show the CIA thinking through post-hypnotic suggestion in extensive, credulous detail. How, for instance, to pass a secret message to a field operative without danger of interception?
Encode it in a messenger’s brain, an undisclosed author wrote in 1954, so he’ll have “no memory whatsoever in the waking state as to the nature and contents of the message.” Even if a Soviet agent gets word of the messenger’s importance, “no amount of third-party tactics” can pry the message loose, “for he simply does not have it in his conscious mind.” Pity the poor waterboarded captive.
But the counterintelligence benefits of hypnosis are even greater.
Picture this course of action, the memo’s author proposes: Hypnotize a group of “loyal Americans” to the point of inducing a “split personality.” Outwardly, they’d appear to be “ardent Communists,” who will “associate with the Communists and learn all the plans of the organization.” Every month, CIA agents will contact them, induce a counter-hypnosis, and these Manchurian Candidates will spill. (Meanwhile, Communist Party meetings on the Lower East Side of Manhattan were open to the public.) While admittedly “more complicated and more difficult,” the agency’s hypno-enthusiast wrote, “I assure you, it will work.”
The Military Application of Hypnotism
In closing, may I make one very significant point. The Russian literature is hard to get and carefully avoids any mention of the topic in question. Those Russian articles which I have been able to get leave no doubt about the fact that the Russian is just as conversive about the field of hypnotism as are we.
Hypnotism and Covert Operations 1955
Frankly, I now distrust much of what is written by academic experts on hypnotism. Partly this is because many of them appear to have generalized from a very few cases; partly because much of their cautious pessimism is contradicted by agency experimenters; but more particularly because I personally have witnessed behavior responses which respected experts have said are impossible to obtain. In no other field have I been so conscious of the mental claustrophobia of book and lecture hall knowledge. I don’t think we have enough evidence to say positively that hypnosis is a practicable covert weapon, but I do say that we’ll never know whether it is or not unless we experiment in the flied where we can learn what is practicable (materially and psychologically) in a way that no laboratory worker could possibly prove.
The possibilities are not only interesting, they are frightening. A kind of double-think Orwellian world of hypnosis, while unlikely, is not utterly fantastic. One thing is clear: we really do not know within what limits of “belief” may be changed by hypnosis.
Based on what I have read, I judge that the [redacted] use an elaborate conditioned-reflex procedure in their “brain-washing”.