- Bobby Kennedy’s assassin claimed he was hypnotised to carry out killing
- CIA investigated mind control between Fifties and Seventies as part of covert project known as MKUltra
By Damien Gayle
PUBLISHED:08:36 EST, 26 October 2012| UPDATED:08:59 EST, 26 October 2012
A television programme is out to test whether innocent people can be brainwashed in becoming unwitting assassins as in the plot of political thriller The Manchurian Candidate.
In the 1959 novel, a man is brainwashed into becoming an unwitting sleeper assassin as part of a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government.
The novel and its film adaptations have intrigued many, and related conspiracy theories have long-held that the U.S. government and others have tried to develop techniques to control the minds of individuals.
Programmed to kill: Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey in a scene from the 1962 cinema adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate, in which a man is brainwashed into becoming an assassin as part of a communist plot
In one famous case, the assassin who killed presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, Christian Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan, later claimed he was hypnotised into carrying out the killing.
Likewise, Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress kidnapped by the left-wing revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, claim the gang brainwashed her into taking part in a bank robbery.
There have been government-sponsored studies into the possibility of mind control.
Between the Fifties and Seventies, the CIA conducted controversial experiments to develop behavioural engineering that many believed aimed at brainwashing subjects.
CIA STUDIES INTO MIND CONTROL
MKUltra was the code name for a covert CIA human research program run by the CIA Office of Scientific Intelligence.
The program began in the early Fifties and continued at least through the late Sixties, using mainly U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects.
The published evidence indicates that Project MKUltra involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate individual mental states and alter brain function, including the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, sensory deprivation, isolation, and verbal and sexual abuse.
It was first brought to wide public attention in 1975 by Congress, through investigations by the Church Committee, and by a presidential commission known as the Rockefeller Commission.
However, investigative efforts were hampered by the fact that CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKULTRA files destroyed in 1973.
The Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission investigations relied on the sworn testimony of direct participants and on the relatively small number of documents that survived Helms’ destruction order.
In recent times most information regarding MKULTRA has been officially declassified. It was first made available through a FOIA request in 1977 that uncovered a cache of some 20,000 documents relating to project MKULTRA and led to Senate hearings.
In July of 2001 some surviving information regarding MKUltra was officially declassified.
Investigative efforts were hampered by the fact that Richard Helms, director of the CIA, ordered many files related to the programme – known as MKUltra – destroyed in 1973, years before any investigation into it began.
It was nevertheless found that the remit of the project was to develop mind-controlling drugs and techniques, with the CIA especially interested in being able to manipulate foreign leaders.
Now a Discovery Channel documentary aims to see if it is indeed possible to persuade unwitting, law-abiding subjects to become cold-blooded killers who will shoot someone to order, Today’s Clicker blog reports.
Experimental psychopathologist Cynthia Meyerburg, who oversaw the study, says in a trailer for the documentary: ‘Science has only begun to understand how the brain works, and one of the things we don’t yet understand is whether it’s possible to control someone else’s mind.’
The programme will show work with a group of test subjects who gave their consent to take part in a hypnosis study for television.
They were not told that the ultimate objective of the study, as described in its trailer, is ‘to take a mentally healthy, law-abiding individual and program them to shoot and kill a complete stranger’.
Not all experts are agreed on whether the goal is possible to achieve. Oxford University neuroscientist Matt Stokes, who also contributes to the film, said: ‘What we’re trying to do here is strip away someone’s sense of free will and see if they can carry out extreme acts.
‘Can it be done? Well, I’m not so sure that it can.’
Curiosity: Brainwashed will be broadcast on Sunday night at 9pm on the Discovery Channel.