MK-ULTRA was a secret CIA “mind control” research program involving illegal experiments on US and Canadian people. It followed precursor research projects which were born out of Project Paperclip, under which the US government brought Nazi scientists to the USA after World War 2 to continue research in America. The Nazis had committed war crimes by undertaking human experimentation on prisoners in concentration camps. Soon human experimentation was also taking place in North America, namely “mind control” research for military purposes on human subjects. MK-ULTRA officially began in the early 1950s, and officially ended in 1973. The CIA coordinated the project in conjunction with the US Army’s Chemical Corps. Many experiments were done on people without their consent. In some cases, random members of the public were surreptitiously exposed to drugs to study the effects on behaviour. In other cases, prisoners and patients in mental health care were used as guinea pigs for abusive medical experiments that amounted to torture, involving forced isolation, the forced administration of mind-altering drugs and chemicals, electroshock therapy, hypnotherapy, “psychic driving” and, it is alleged in some cases, sexual abuse. In many cases the CIA funnelled funding for these experiments through front organisations or medical institutes, with the macabre experiments carried out by civilian psychiatrists, who were sometimes unaware the funding originated with the CIA. The aim of some experiments was to see if it was possible to break down and directly control a person’s mind and behaviour. Some experiments resulted in death or permanent brain damage in the subjects, or extreme psychological problems.
It has long been posited that the research was aimed at developing “Manchurian candidates” – programmed assassins who could be triggered to kill a target without conscious control. MK-ULTRA has figured into conspiracy theories explaining the spate of political assassinations that took place in the 1960s while MK-ULTRA was active. As it came under scrutiny, the CIA destroyed most of the files on MK-ULTRA and claimed it was no longer running, although many believe its research into mind control continued. Because of this cover-up, the full extent of the program will never be known. It remains shrouded in mystery.
COINTELPRO was another illegal covert operation carried out on US citizens, in this case by the FBI. Under directions from J Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO sought to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate” people and organisations deemed a threat to the “social and political order”. These threats included anti-war protestors and civil rights activists, like Martin Luther King, or any political organisation considered subversive.