U.S. Research on Hypnosis and Mind Control Begins

They fought in the trenches of concealment and deception, across the lines of falsehood and betrayal....It is the same in any war. What is heroic in combat is criminal in peace. Just as combat sanctions physical violence, so espionage grants license to moral violence....It is trite but true to say that they did what they did for the good of their country. Unfortunately, it is also true that it frequently didn’t work out that way.
      David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors, pp. xii-xiv

The Personalities

At first, the persons involved in U.S. hypnoprogramming research were real and interesting. Later, they became anonymous, faceless operators and agents.

Donovan Organizes the OSS
In 1940, President Roosevelt asked a World War I General, William Donovan, to organize and head a U.S. intelligence gathering service—and a secret scientific research program. Between the two wars, General Donovan had become a very successful Wall Street lawyer. He knew everybody who mattered: politicians, tycoons, academics. They called him “Colonel” or “Wild Bill.” The new agency was called the OSS (Organization for Strategic Services). From the very beginning, bold and imaginative thinking was its rule.

“Every eccentric schemer with a harebrained plan for secret operations (from phosphorescent foxes to incendiary bats) would find a sympathetic ear in Donovan’s office.” Donovan’s comrade and close friend, later U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, David Bruce, has written about his colleague, “woe to the officer who turned down a project because, on its face, it seemed ridiculous, or at least unusual.” (Scheflin and Opton, The Mind Manipulators)

Donovan hired a crew of talented and daring young men, many of whom completed their careers with the CIA: Stanley Lovell, George White, Richard Helms, Frank Wisner, and Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. Donovan also recruited the nation’s best scientific researchers—anybody who had talent and an idea—to work for him, without leaving their particular institutions. And he rallied prominent industrialists, a Who’s Who of the nation.

Clark Hull

Clark Hull, a Yale hypnosis researcher, began a new way of researching hypnosis by collecting and analyzing biological statistics about trance subjects rather than pondering the trance itself. Like Pavlov, Hull viewed hypnotism as conditioned reflex (acquired unconscious habit). He claimed a skeptical view of hypnotic phenomena, but he hypnotized a lot of people:

A youth of eighteen or nineteen years is brought in by my assistant. He has consented to act as subject in a research project. I stand before him and look directly into his eyes. As he tilts his head backward to look into my eyes I observe as usual the sign of considerable emotional disturbance in the beating of his carotid artery...I direct him to look steadily into my eyes and to think of nothing but sleep, to relax his muscles all over, even so much that his knees bend a little and his legs scarcely hold him up. After three or four minutes his eyes close, his head nods forward, and his breathing becomes heavy. I say, ‘Now you are falling toward me, you can’t help yourself...I catch him when well off his balance. Upon inquiry he states, in a drowsy tone, that he could not help falling forward but that he isn’t sound asleep ‘because I know everything that is going on.’ I suspect that he is mistaken and employ the following objective test. I give him a posthypnotic suggestion that after waking he shall pick up and examine a book on my desk when I sit down in a chair, but that he won’t recall anything about why he did it. I wake him as usual with a snap of my finger...A few minutes later I sit down in the chair. He casually walks over to my desk, picks up the book, and after glancing at its title lays it down. I say, ‘Why did you look at the book?’ He answers that he just happened to notice it lying there and wondered what it was about.  (Hull, Hypnosis and Suggestibility, p. 32)

Hull’s subject obeyed the professor’s posthypnotic suggestion, and he was amnesic for the real reason he had picked up that book. He claimed, even believed, that Hull had not been able to hypnotize him. Actually, that young man had not only been hypnotized, but he had been to a somnambulist depth. 

In 1930, the Yale employment office informed Hull that he would no longer be allowed to hire students for his experiments. Some professors from Yale’s School of Medicine believed that hypnosis was dangerous and they had decided to stop him. Hull was restricted to nonhypnotic experiments for the rest of his career. He spent that time fitting an array of definitions, postulates, corollaries, and theorems into a complex mathematical model for predicting human or animal behavior (a concept of learned habits powered by biological drives).

Lovell Hires On
General Donovan recruited a biochemist, Dr. Stanley Lovell, to head the OSS’s “dirty tricks” Research and Development section. In Lovell’s biography, Of Spies and Stratagems, he recounted a private conversation with Donovan about this job proposal:

Without ado I opened up on my basic problem...”I’d relish your assignment, Colonel, but dirty tricks are simply not tolerated in the American code of ethics...Americans want to win within the rules of the game and devious, subtle devices and stratagems are, as the British say, ‘just not cricket.’”

“Don’t be so...naive, Lovell,” said Donovan. “The American public may profess to think as you say they do, but the one thing they expect of their leaders is that we will be smart...Outside the orthodox warfare system is a great area of schemes, weapons and plans which no one who knows America really expects us to originate because they are so un-American, but once it’s done, an American will vicariously glory in it...”

I pondered, then replied: “What I have to do is to stimulate the ‘Peck’s Bad Boy’ beneath the surface of every American scientist and to say to him, ‘Throw all your normal law-abiding concepts out the window. Here’s a chance to raise merry hell. Come, help me raise it.’”

“Stanley,” he responded, using my first name as a sort of password, I felt, to his inner circle, “go to it.”

...with hardly an exception, they [U.S. scientists working on these programs] did outstanding service to their country...every one risked his future identifying himself with illegality and unorthodoxy. (Lovell, pp. 21-22)

In his book, Lovell briefly, but scathingly, denied any OSS use of hypnosis. He said that hypnosis was not real, and was simply tawdry play acting on the part of operator and subject. But British Intelligence used hypnoprogrammed agents almost from the war’s beginning.1 And Dr. George Estabrooks divulged in 1971, in a magazine interview, that he personally had hypnoprogrammed numerous U.S. agents and couriers for the U.S. government during World War II. ("Hypnosis Comes of Age," Science Digest, April, 1971).

So Lovell was just following Company policy when he lied in his book, saying that hypnosis was not real. His profession hinged on keeping secrets—on the job, off the job, and when writing a book after the job. In that book, Lovell also reported overhearing a conversation between Donovan, who worked with European agents, and a Mr. Van Bush, who was involved with the secret atom bomb research. Lovell knew the inside scoop on both projects.

I recall Van Bush, with his typical Will Rogers smile, asking General Donovan, “Have you succeeded in getting any of your people really inside Germany?”

“A few,” said General Donovan rather casually.

I knew we had perhaps eight hundred in Germany and occupied countries that minute, but I also knew that Dr. Bush would be even more evasive if General Donovan had asked him, “What, Dr. Bush, is this Manhattan Project all about?” (Lovell, p. 60)

Lovell considered it appropriate for Donovan and Van Bush to lie about their projects. He did the same when talking about hypnosis.

A melding of amorality and secret scientific research and operations had been made the foundation values of a new agency of government. It seemed excusable at the time. Agencies of that type, however, have proliferated and thrived in the fifty years since Donovan accepted Roosevelt’s commission to organize the OSS. They seem to operate with no moral guidelines except the Machiavellian goal of winning by any means. They endlessly pursue scientific inquiry, protected by the rule of Secret, Don’t Tell from public oversight, yet financed by the cornucopia of public funding. They have grown in size, wealth, technological weaponry, propaganda abilities, and covert political power. This nation stands on the brink of reaping the sad fruit of secret government agencies functioning with neither moral foundation nor public oversight and control.

Sometimes, the best way to understand a big picture is to study closely one small piece of it, assuming that it will be representative of the whole. Here follows a study of secret government research into mind-control technologies from before World War II up to the present.

Estabrooks Promotes the “Super-Spy”
As soon the OSS began, George Estabrooks (b. 1885, d. 1973) started traveling to Washington, D.C.. Estabrooks was a Canadian who spent three years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He received a doctorate, in 1926, from Harvard. He was a prominent figure in the American hypnosis scene for fifty years--from the 1920s to the 1970s. Most of those years he was head of Colgate University’s Department of Psychology. Estabrooks produced the first recorded induction (a Victrola record). He published over sixty articles and several books, the most interesting of which is titled simply Hypnotism.

Estabrooks promoted the use of hypnoprogrammed spies by both the military and police. He suggested that police agents could gather information from “the criminal class.”

...If allowed a free hand, the authorities could proceed to plant such prepared subjects... always with the idea of obtaining information which might, sooner or later, be of real use to the police. (Hypnotism, p. 191)

He described a method for programming a double agent, whose unconscious mind would be loyal to his country (or his secret agency, or military unit), but whose conscious mind would be loyal to whatever country (organization, religion, or relationship) that was being infiltrated and reported on.

...we will use hypnotism to induce multiple personality. Hypnotism is the means to an end, though the technique would be impossible did we not have hypnotism at our disposal....

In his normal waking state, which we will call Personality A, or PA, this individual will become a rabid communist. He will join the party, follow the party line and make himself as objectionable as possible to the authorities.

Then we develop Personality B (PB), the secondary personality, the unconscious rabidly American and anticommunist. It has all the information possessed by Personality A, the normal personality, whereas PA does not have this advantage.

My super spy plays his role as a communist in the waking state, aggressively, consistently, fearlessly. But his PB is a loyal American, and PB has all the memories of PA. As a loyal American, he will not hesitate to divulge these memories. (Ibid., p. 200)

Unknowing Subjects - In Hypnosis, Estabrooks writes as if he is surrounded at Colgate by persons he has made into unknowing hypnotic subjects.

     One excellent subject, so trained, had been reading one of my manuscripts.

“I can believe everything you say,” he said, “but one thing. When you tell me that you can remove all knowledge of ever having been hypnotized, I simply don’t believe it.”

“Jack,” I said, “have you ever been hypnotized?”


“Do you think I could hypnotize you?”


In one second he was hypnotized. (Ibid., p. 188)

Jack knew no better, but Estabrooks had the satisfaction of proving the man entirely wrong and demonstrating complete hypnotic control over him. Estabrooks viewed persons who were susceptible to hypnosis as fodder for the mill of any hypnotist’s notion of higher purpose, be it research, profit, patriotism, or the mesmerizer’s personal entertainment. His attitude echoed that of Dr. Cook who, in 1927, advised beginning hypnotists to boldly develop a stable of hypnotic subjects:

First secure a good subject and practice upon him until you can hypnotize him with absolutely no difficulty, and then place him in the profound [somnambulistic/amnesic] stages of hypnosis...Next secure two or three more subjects and develop them, and thus gradually add to the number. (Cook, p. 125)

In another incident described by Estabrooks, a visitor had joined the hypnotic operator and his unknowing subject in the lab. As the three casually chatted about a recent boxing match, the hypnotist tapped his pencil three times upon the table top, as if in thought. That was the subject’s induction cue; his eyes instantly closed as he shifted to deep trance. The operator and his guest performed various hypnotic demonstrations of the subject in his somnambulistic state, then awakened him.

He immediately starts talking about that boxing match! A visitor to the laboratory interrupts him: “What do you know of hypnotism?”

The subject looks surprised, “Why, nothing.”

“When were you hypnotized last?”

“I have never been hypnotized.”

“Do you realize that you were in a trance just ten minutes ago?”

“Don’t be silly! No one has ever hypnotized me and no one ever can.” (Ibid., p. 197)

The subject was unaware of the missing time and unknowing of his “other life,” the time he spent under hypnosis.

Estabrooks Promotes Secrecy - and Reveals Secrets - Estabrooks played a curious dual role in the history of hypno programming. He urged secret government hypnosis research. He said that hypnosis would become a valuable weapon as new techniques were discovered in the future. He participated in researching new techniques: “For developing some of them...[I] plead guilty.” (Estabrooks, Future of the Human Mind, 1961, p. 221) He urged the use of consciously unknowing hypnoprogrammed, doubleminded agents, and he had manufactured such subjects.

Estabrooks referred, again and again, to the necessity for secrecy about the specifics of that technology and its possible military applications. But the professor also loved to talk, write, hint, and brag about that secret technology: “The facts and ideas presented are, so to speak, too true to be good...” (Hypnotism, 1944 ed., p. 193) In the first edition of Hypnotism (1943), he laid the groundwork for his hypnotic “superspy” concept. His second expanded upon it. The third edition (1957) added two long chapters on military and unethical hypnosis. He worked hard to inform the public that creating an unknowing, robotically obedient, hypnotic subject was possible—even easy. He made valuable information available about the existence and methods of that technology. Imagining an argument with a nonbeliever in amnesic hypnoprogramming, Estabrooks wrote:

He might... question... Will your controls hold? How long will that posthypnotic suggestion last without reinforcement? Can you count on complete amnesia? Where is your proof that no one but yourself and such others as you may designate can hypnotize that man? Questions such as these...merely involve details of technique. The theoretical and factual basis of that technique no competent psychologist would question. (Hypnotism, p. 193)

Estabrooks, M. H. Erickson, and the FBI Experiment

In 1939, Estabrooks set up a hypnosis experiment for the FBI. He recruited M.H. Erickson, one of America’s most prominent medical hypnotists, to do it. Erickson had worked for years in areas with application to unethical hypnosis and had his own stable of somnambulists. Years later, at a Colgate conference (which was taped and later transcribed in a book which Estabrooks edited), the two reminisced about that experiment. Erickson recalled:

“...[They] sent up a couple of laboratory men to investigate the possibilities of using it. I had Tommy go into a trance. For one whole hour of discussion-answer I did not know what the FBI men were doing. They uncrossed their legs and crossed them; they took cigarettes, and one lit the other’s cigarette, and the next time the other lit the first one’s cigarette.

     "At the end of the hour they asked me to awaken Tommy, to bring him out of the trance, talk awhile, then put him back in the trance, and reorient him to that first trance. They had a program of exact movements, and they asked have him visualize the entire procedure. Tommy gave a blow-by-blow account of the first hour, including the exact time in which so-and-so uncrossed his legs, when he recrossed them, when he shifted his hat over to one side, when he lit the other fellow’s cigarette, when the other fellow lit his cigarette.  

They had that entire program all mapped out, and I was an innocent bystander. But Tommy did it. Then I had Tommy come out of that trance and go back into a trance in which he regressed to the second trance and gave a report on the first trance with extreme accuracy...

It proves that apparently the hypnotic subject can record a tremendous amount of data, that he can recover it in a perfectly remarkable fashion, and that his sense of order and system of experiencing things is very meaningful.” (Estabrooks, ed., Hypnosis: Current Problems, pp. 270-271)

How to Program an Unknowing Hypnotic Subject
Estabrooks estimated that ten hours of hypnosis would be enough to accomplish his basic intention. However, he recommended a ten-month regimen for candidates who were to be both personality split and highly trained. What he called “candidates” were not volunteers. His basic procedure (given in Hypnotism, p. 195) for creating the unknowing hypnoprogrammed subject began with a disguised induction. It then proceeded to suggested amnesia, sealing against hypnotic competition, and the giving of a posthypnotic suggestion for instant re-induction by cue:

1) Covertly identify a specimen of the 20% of persons who are genetic somnambulists and easily can go to an amnesic depth of trance. Induct by a “disguised” method.

2) While the subject is in trance, give a posthypnotic suggestion for him to become deeply hypnotized again whenever the hypnotist gives a certain cue (such as tugging the left ear lobe with the right hand).

3) Also, give a posthypnotic suggestion which will deny the subject any conscious knowledge of this hypnosis, or any subsequent one. That causes an artificial, selective amnesia for all hypnosis events.

4) Give a posthypnotic suggestion that nobody else can hypnotize this subject (called sealing).

5) Give a suggestion under hypnosis that the subject will act in trance just as if awake (called waking hypnosis).

Estabrooks also suggested the creation of hypno programmed messengers to convey secret information. He called for hypnotic conditioning in individuals who risk capture (such as Air Force pilots) to reinforce resistance against enemy interrogation and brainwashing. And he experimented with murder caused by indirect suggestion.

Wiener Links Computer Research with Neuroscience
Norbert Wiener, a professor of mathematics at MIT, organized a 1942 conference called “Problems of Central-inhibition in the Nervous System.” (That’s Pavlovian terminology meaning problems in hypnotic induction.) Wiener’s organizational backup and funding for this very significant meeting came from The Josiah Macy Foundation, a false front funding and facilitating conduit for secret government research.

Cybernetics - In 1942, the Josiah Macy Foundation funded and sponsored a symposium where prominent mathematicians, engineers, and physiologists kicked off the new science of cybernetics. This was the first of a series of cybernetics conferences that the OSS covertly sponsored via the Macy Foundation. Wiener defined “cybernetics” as “the entire field of control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal...” (Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 19)

The specific purpose of that meeting was to begin development of a common vocabulary and shared concepts: machine as human, human as machine. The long-term goals of cybernetics were to create 1) machines with a human (or more than human) ability to remember, learn, and plan, and 2) human beings who would obey like machines—predictably, instantly, absolutely, unconsciously.

Humans could become mechanized only if the intricacies of physiological brain function could be understood. The cyberneticists accepted Pavlov’s view of the human mind as a central-nervous-system-dominated, knowable linkage of technical mechanisms. They set out to study and experiment with minds the same way they had already experimented with salamander cells and molecules. Cybernetics moved forward rapidly toward its dual goals of building a conscious machine, as nearly alive as possible—and an unconscious (on command) human who could function as nearly like a machine as possible.

False Fronts

     During World War II, OSS and CIA research objectives were often pursued and funded by linkage organizations which channeled OSS/CIA money but kept the source of their money and directives a secret. The Josiah Macy Foundation, The Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology (based at Cornell), the Geschicter Foundation for Medical Research, and the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry were all false front organizations that channeled covert Agency funds.

     The Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry sponsored brainwashing research, symposia, and publications such as “Factors Used to Increase the Susceptibility of Individuals to Forceful Indoctrination.” The Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology channeled funds into research on creating amnesia for recent events by means of electroshock “treatments”; research on programming by forced listening to a repeated taped message; hypnosis, and so on. The Josiah Macy Foundation  



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