Have you ever wished you could control someone’s mind? Like, control the way they think and what they do? If so, you may want to keep that to yourself. Also, you share that in common with somebody else: The CIA.

And Luke Skywalker, in this scene

Yep, that’s right. The American government once had a program doing research into actually controlling people’s minds. It was pretty bizarre.


Let’s start from the beginning. It was the 1950s, the twist was all the rage, Elvis was the bees knees, and the Soviets threatened to nuke everything anyone held dear into oblivion. The US, not wanting this to happen, decided it was time to get some information about the Ruskies and just what this communism was all about. The problem was, how could anyone tell what is truth and what is damnable lies when interrogating a suspected commie using regular torture techniques? Those folks will say just about anything to stop the terrible, terrible pain.

“Boy, you just can’t trust a word this guy says”

So, the CIA cooked up Project MKUltra, which, when I write it that way, sounds like a delicious new menu option at McDonalds, but was actually a government sanctioned research project aimed at turning people into mind slaves.

Although that was Grimace’s master plan the whole time

Project MKUltra was officially started in 1953, and right away they started with the LSD. More specifically, government agents started covertly administering LSD to “people who could not fight back”, including mental patients, drug addicts, and prisoners. For some reason, the CIA also slipped acid to their own employees and military personnel. In one case, they secretly put some LSD in an operative’s morning coffee, and he ran across Washington screaming about monsters. Another guy got LSD for 174 days straight. The idea was supposed to be that dosing someone with LSD for a long time would be like some sort of truth serum. The original plan was to use it on Russian spies, but it kind of seems like the CIA got caught up in just watching their friends take bad acid trips.

“And then he freaked out and had a complete mental breakdown! Hahaha!”

Somehow, secretly slipping powerful hallucinogenics to American citizens didn’t stop the red scare, so the CIA took it a step further. One MKUltra sub-project involved learning how to wipe people’s minds. Also, they exported this one to Canada!

Canada: Helping America with their dumbest ideas since 1953

The CIA commissioned psychiatrist Ewen Cameron from McGill University to research how to literally brainwash a person. Like, erase their memories, etc. Cameron had been working on the concept of “psychic driving”, with the idea that he could erase someone’s bad memories and reprogram the psyche, which you may remember is how they got the T-800 to turn good in Terminator 2. He hoped to cure schizophrenia with this method. This was a real medical doctor, with a degree and everything.

“I know how memories work, I saw Blade Runner!”

Anyways, when the CIA came knocking, Dr. Cameron kind of forgot about the curing schizophrenia or whatever and turned his attention to just wrecking his patient’s brains. He put subjects into drug-induced comas and played taped statements on loop.

Starting a long tradition of drug-induced comas at McGill

The goal here is a little fuzzy, but the subjects came out of these experiments with amnesia, incontinence, forgetting how to talk, and sometimes thinking that the researchers were their parents. It’s worth noting these people didn’t really sign up for this, most of them were just there to get treated for minor anxiety and depressive disorders. One surmises that these experiments didn’t really help with that.

“And after we make you forget your parents, you can go down the hall and behead some rats. That should cure your anxiety”

It should again be reiterated that all of this was started to help the CIA fight the Russians, although how these experiments were supposed to accomplish that was never really made clear, either to the public, or presumably to the CIA.

Step 1: Brainwash mental patients. Step 2: Defeat communism

Anyways, none of the “research” under Project MKUltra found anything worthwhile, and the whole thing eventually sort of fizzled out. To this day, no one is quite sure of the full scope of MKUltra, because CIA Director Richard Helms had all files on the project destroyed during the Watergate scandal.

“Ol’ Dick Nixon wasn’t going let himself not be involved with this somehow. Harrumph!”

Well, all but a few. Somehow some 20 000 documents were misplaced back in the day and survived the purge, and were found in 1977. This led to the Church Committee, an official investigation into MKUltra, which basically revealed that it accidentally killed a bunch of subjects and didn’t actually discover anything.

Well, anything about mind control, anyways

Also, if none of this sounds like it makes any sense, either from a legal or a scientific standpoint, it’s because it doesn’t. Consider the following quote from Senator Ted Kennedy:


“The Deputy Director of the CIA revealed that over thirty universities and institutions were involved in an “extensive testing and experimentation” program which included covert drug tests on unwitting citizens “at all social levels, high and low, native Americans and foreign.” Several of these tests involved the administration of LSD to “unwitting subjects in social situations.”…The Agency itself acknowledged that these tests made little scientific sense. The agents doing the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers.”

“Also, what the hell, guys?”

So that’s the story of Project MKUltra. It was a government-run secret set of research studies that secretly fed people LSD and ruined people’s minds and lives for some vague goal of beating the Soviets. It didn’t make any scientific sense, and even the people running the show didn’t understand the purpose of it all, and they never figured out how control people’s minds.


Or at least, that’s what we think.

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Dan Re