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When American soldiers captured in the Korean war denounced their homeland on television top ranking 'spooks' at the CIA were spooked themselves. They imagined the specter of a frightful new era of mind warfare populated with programmed assassins, Manchurian candidates, crowd control, and subversion of individuals or states beneath their awareness.

While America publicly challenged the Soviets to a space and an arms race, the CIA embarked on a clandestine inner space race against their Soviet KGB counterparts for control of the human mind. 

Circa 1950, the Central Intelligence Agency began funding a fissiparous array of mind altering experiments under the umbrella “MK Ultra”, a project that included remote viewing, extrasensory perception, truth serums, remote mind control, and other "emerging" technologies that today might seem fantastical, naïve, or ludicrous.


The holy grail amongst all of these disparate fragments was the ability to "brainwash" any person of interest: to wipe away select memories, and insert ideas, beliefs, values, or actionable commands - the ability that is, to turn anyone into a soldier, assassin, or informant.  


The CIA enlisted the then eminent psychiatrist, Dr Donald Cameron to assist them. The son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister, Donald received his medical degree from the University of Glasgow before emigrating to Canada.


He was a man who believed that to make an omelet, you had to crack some eggs and was unafraid to try new approaches to therapy. This radical disposition had served him well. He was president of both the American, Canadian, and World Psychiatric associations. Ironically he was also one of the psychiatrists that assessed Rudolf Hess as fit to stand trial for Nazi war crimes at the Nuremberg hearings. 

In spite of his already lofty academic standing, Cameron wanted to be enduringly famous by creating a breakthrough in the treatment of schizophrenia. He accepted funding from the CIA and using his position at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal Canada, began culling unwitting patients into his experimental therapies. Most of them were mildly mentally ill e.g. bereft or with postpartum depression, yet were subjected to extreme therapies.


His first brainwashing technique he called "de-patterning". Test subjects were given a concoction of powerful mind altering drugs including LSD combined with electroshock therapy at 30 to 40 times standard protocol three to four times daily, summating to hundreds of times over the course of "treatment". This left many subjects with profound memory loss and vegetative states in which they had to be taught basic things like how to feed themselves and use the bathroom again.


Step two Dr Cameron called "psychic driving". In this phase conducted in a "sleep room" he used insulin infusions to push subjects into comas lasting for weeks, and as long as three months, while audible suggestions were played on an endless loop.  

Most of the patients, numbering in the hundreds, were left permanently impaired by the treatment. Many suffered permanent amnesia, loss of employability, marital breakdown, and evolution of their mental illness to far worse than they began with. Many could not recall the medical tortures they had endured until their hospital records were later declassified permitting them to read of their "treatment" (or torture). Some returned home unable to recognize their spouses or children.  

The experiments were concluded in 1964 and officially deemed a failure. But others aren't so sure. His fingerprints tenuously turn up on the files of the JFK and Robert Kennedy shooters. Were Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan brainwashed assassins?

Donald Cameron died in 1967 of a heart attack while hiking taking his answers with him. His is a cautionary tale of how our best motives can be corrupted by ambition. 

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