Brainwash – the secret history of mind control by Dominic Streatfield
Following the Soviet show trials of the 1940s and early 1950s, during which prisoners had apparently become powerless to resist interrogation, American and British intelligence embarked on a remarkable search to harness, for their own ends, the powers of psychotropic drugs and disorientating interrogation techniques. They hoped the use of their discoveries on their own and enemy operatives would gain them advantage in a psychological arms war.
Dominic Streatfield’s book on the subject is amusing and tragic in equal measures. Unburdened by consideration of the moral and ethical morass into which they were casting themselves, and in the name of security, agents drugged the unwitting with sodium amytal, killed an elephant with a dart containing a massive dose of LSD and tried out violent hypnosis techniques on unwilling subjects.
Psychiatry doesn’t emerge well and many of the techniques are referred to as belonging to ‘Black Psychiatry’. In the USA psychiatrist Dr Ewen Cameron formed the opinion that his psychiatric patients would fare best if their personalities were wiped clean by ECT and sensory depravation; an objective shared for different reasons by the CIA, who funded his research. In the UK Dr William Sargent, who work for MI6, believed that modified narcosis, where patients were put to sleep with barbiturates for months at a time, was an effective treatment for mental disorder.
Streatfield himself should be shot if he failed to make an interesting book out of such rich material and he guides us through events entertainingly. Curiously he devotes little space to our current preoccupation with recruitment to fanaticism, but does give space to the coercion techniques used to recruit and perpetuate membership of religious cults.
In the end the effectiveness of ‘Brainwashing’, is illustrated by the fate of Yuri Nosenko, who died last week. A would be Soviet defector, he was imprisoned whilst his American interrogators threw every mind-warping technique they had at him in order to extract any information he might have possessed concerning the suspected Soviet involvement with JFK’s murder. Three years later they were still no closer to the truth.