By its own accounts, the Central Intelligence Agency throughout its history has explored any and all means for the control of human behavior. The outline of much of the program has emerged from thousands of recently released CIA documents detaining the agency's varied and wide-ranging activities in the behavioral and medical sciences. While this is now common knowledge, the existence and nature of the program raises perennial questions about the involvement, often unwitting, of broad segments of the social science community.Back to home page
One major component of the CIA's program, dubbed ARTICHOKE, was described in a CIA memo of January 25, 1952, as "the evaluation and development of any method by which we can get information from a person against his will and without his knowledge." An internal review of the terminated ARTICHOKE program, dated January 31, 1975, lists ARTICHOKE methods has having included "the use of drugs and chemicals, hypnosis, and 'total isolation,' a form of psychological harassment." Another major component of the CIA's program, called MKULTRA, explored, according to a memo of August 14, 1963, "avenues to the control of human behavior," including "chemical and biological materials capable of producing human behavioral and physiological changes," "radiology, electro-shock, various fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology and anthropology, graphology, harassment substances, and paramilitary devices and materials."
Specific examples from the CIA's files include:
Although the CIA recognized (in a memo of August 14, 1963) that "research in the manipulation of human behavior is considered by many authorities in medicine and related fields to be professionally unethical," they managed to assemble what a recent New York Times article called "an extensive network of nongovernmental scientists and facilities," almost always without the knowledge of the institutions where the facilities were situated.
- Giving LSD to unwitting citizens, some of whom were literally picked up in New York and San Francisco bars;
- Using hypnosis and drugs in interrogation;
- Attempting to recruit a neuroscientist to find the 'pain' center of the human brain;
- Shopping for methods to induce amnesia;
- And looking for methods to make persons subvert their principles.
The CIA documents upon which this information is based were originally made public last July as the result of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act brought against the CIA by John Marks of the Washington-based Center for National Security Studies. Since July, the CIA has notified 80 institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, of their involvement in CIA-sponsored research on human behavior. Oftentimes the scientists themselves had not realized that their research was funded by the CIA. Moreover, much of this work was neither unethical nor used. Rather, it constituted the more theoretical side of the CIA's total program in the behavioral sciences.
While news of blatant attempts at behavioral control have had immediate shock value, the CIA's support of basic research has had the more lingering effect of posing many difficult and complex questions and issues for psychologists. How were psychologists and other social scientists enlisted by the CIA? What did they do? What, if any, is the scientist's responsibility for the applications of research? How are social scientists affected by social and political forces? What are the implications of covert funding?
Many of these questions and issues are raised by psychologists and other social scientists who themselves have been involved in one way or another with the CIA's program of basic research in the past. Some were interviewed for this article. But it should be kept in mind that they represent a tiny but varied sample of social scientists touched by the project. The psychologists include Carl Rogers of the Center for the Study of the Person, La Jolla, California, Edgar Schein of MIT's Sloane School of Management, Martin Orne (also a psychiatrist) of the University of Pennsylvania and Charles Osgood of the University of Illinois. Interviews were also conducted with psychiatrist Lawrence Hinkle of Cornell Medical Center, sociologists Jay Schulman of the National Jury Project, Richard Stephenson of Rutgers University, and anthropologist Edward Hall, retired from Northwestern University. The interviews yield new information and a broad range of approaches to the ethical and political questions which emerge.
The CIA's key instrument for sponsoring basic research in psychology, sociology and anthropology in the decade from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s was the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, later called the Human Ecology Fund. Although accounts vary, according to Lawrence Hinkle, one of the founders of the Society and a professor at Cornell Medical Center, the origins of Human Ecology lie in a friendship between Allen Dulles and Harold Wolff, a prominent Cornell neuropsychiatrist who had cared for Dulles' son following a war injury. The return of American prisoners of war who had served in Korea evoked government and popular concern about the possible existence of "brainwashing." As director of the CIA, Dulles asked Wolff, an expert on stress, to find out what had happened to the POWs, and the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology was set up at Cornell Medical College to address this question through research on Chinese and Soviet methods of interrogation and indoctrination. Hinkle has said that he himself, as well as the Dean of Cornell Medical School, were aware of the Society's CIA origins.
According to Hinkle, Wolff put together a group for this project which included Colonel James Monroe, one-time head of the Psychological Warfare Research Division of the Air Force. Based on classified data, the project yielded important and seminal findings about the so-called "brainwashing" process. Hinkle says that to accomplish open publication of the findings, "a certain number of arms had to be twisted in the government." The major project report was published in the American Medical Association Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry in 1956. For Hinkle, the real lesson of the research was "the right of people to not be forced to testify against themselves." Yet the CIA's goals were not limited to defensive applications; it was also interested in aggressive development of methods for getting information.
Was Hinkle surprised at these applications? "It's like dealing with the military. You see what the enemy is doing, but you have to suspect that your own military people are going to do something very similar. I'm chagrined, but I'm not surprised."
Annual reports to the New York State Department of Social Welfare, with whom the Society was registered as a charitable organization, indicate that, by 1957, the Society had begun to fund research beyond the confines of Cornell.
Minutes of a May 1956 meeting of a CIA Committee state: "At the present time, the Society is so closely connected with (name deleted) University that it is difficult to use it for contracting for external research in other research communities. Therefore, it was proposed that the Society be completely separated from (name deleted) University, a full-time research director of the Society (be) hired making it possible to keep closer touch with the research community and mount projects of interest as requirements developed."
On Cornell's side, Hinkle says that the proposed expansion of the Society made him and the medical school uncomfortable. The Society's headquarters were moved from Cornell to Forest Hills, Long Island, and Colonel Monroe was hired as the new director.
The high-level board included members of the intelligence establishment, as well as prominent psychologists. One board member was Carl Rogers, then at the University of Wisconsin.
In an interview, Rogers told how he became involved with Human Ecology: "James Monroe came to me and told me that Dr. Harold Wolff, a neuropsychiatrist whom I had a lot of respect for, was heading up an organization to do research on personality and so on. Then he told me more and I realized that it had secret aspects to it."
"We did get, I think, a couple of grants from them, actually among the first money we got to do research on psychotherapy. It was the research work we'd been trying to do for a long time but couldn't get money enough to do it. The fact that we got these grants, I think, helped us get the track record so that we began to get some other support. "Then he (Monroe) did ask me to go on the Board." As a board member, Rogers thought the money "was coming from intelligence funds as a cover for secret work that was going on." He said he was asked not to tell people where the money was coming from and saw helping to maintain the cover as part of his duty.
"It was an organization which, as far as I knew at the time, was doing legitimate things.... It's impossible in the present-day climate of attitude toward intelligence activities to realize what it was like in the 1950s. It seemed as though Russia was a very potential enemy and as though the United States was very wise to get whatever information it could about things that the Russians might try to do, such as brainwashing or influencing people. So that it didn't seem at all dishonorable to me to be connected with an intelligence outfit at that time. I look at it quite differently now." Rogers states that now he would not touch covert funding "with a ten-foot pole. Undoubtedly the government has to carry on intelligence activities, but I don't like fooling our people."
The last meeting Rogers remembers did have an overt intelligence angle. He and other people in the field of personality and psychotherapy were given a lot of information about Khrushchev. "We were asked to figure out what we thought of him and what would be the best way of dealing with him. And that seemed to be an entirely principled and legitimate aspect. I don't think we contributed very much, but, anyway, we tried."
Rogers furnished reports of his work to Human Ecology, but had no knowledge of its application by the CIA. While Rogers saw himself as being funded to study techniques and outcomes of nondirective therapy, the CIA seems to have had other ideas. A CIA memo from January 1960 says of Rogers' research that it could provide a mechanism for evaluating certain techniques of influencing human behavior. Rogers never saw the memo.
Edgar Schein, a social psychologist at MIT's Sloane School of Management, served as a consultant to Human Ecology. In an interview, he presented a careful historical chronology of his involvement with intelligence-related research: "It started with the exchange of prisoners of war in 1953, when literally all the psychiatric and psychological resources that were available in the three services were sent on these various teams to Korea to debrief and do therapy and counseling and whatever needed to be done to help the men readjust. All that was written up by me in an article in Psychiatry that appeared in 1956.
"That Psychiatry paper basically laid out things like breaking up groups, moving leaders, withholding mail, using men against each other. And I think, even in that paper, I made the point, which for me is the central one, that none of this seemed to be a new or unusual or esoteric technique.... At that point I was in the Army as an Army research psychologist working at Walter Reed (Army Hospital). Many of the people who subsequently have been, I think, linked to behavior control, at one point or another probably met each other in those days in Washington, either at symposia or at professional meetings, because at that point behavior control was very, very much an issue in relation to what the Communists had done to the U.S. prisoners. And there was a sizable group of people ranging from psychiatrists to social psychologists and Skinnerian psychologists.
"My hunch is that the reason the CIA got interested in all this is because they realized that what we could learn by what had happened to Americans might teach us something (about) how we could deal with enemy captives, which was very much their business. So it doesn't surprise me that they would have begun to funnel money into this kind of research. But at that time at least, the motivation was very clearly U.S. security and how to improve it....
In '56 I got out of the Army, but by then I had gotten extremely interested in the civilian prisoners who were coming out of the mainland of China. These were civilians who had been imprisoned anywhere from one to five years. They were more interesting cases because they had undergone more radical personal and attitudinal change, which had not been the case of the prisoners of war. So all of us were very curious to get a hold of these people and find out how we could explain what appeared to be a more fundamental, radical change. My book, called Coercive Persuasion, specifically deals with those civilian cases and kind of tries to put the whole problem of brainwashing in perspective.
"I was supported in doing some of the interviews and eventually writing the book with CIA money. I did know at that point that it was CIA money. I do not have in my records whether it was a direct grant to the Center for International Studies at MIT from the CIA or whether it was funneled through the Human Ecology Fund."
Schein said that his view at that time toward CIA funding was "totally positive. What people really can't grasp is how much of a change there has been in the public attitude. The CIA was a hero, and the question of taking money from them wasn't by the remotest stretch of the imagination an issue. In fact, one side of this that hasn't been stressed enough in all this is that I suspect we were vastly better off in Vietnam by virtue of this research having been done, because all of the services learned a great deal about how to train people to withstand the rigors of imprisonment....
"I knew a lot of the CIA people when I was in the Army, and they are very sophisticated people in the first place. The notion that we as social scientists really educated them I think is naive in the extreme....
"When I left the Army in 1956, I came to MIT in the Sloane School of Management. Monroe, then head of Human Ecology, proposed that I be a research consultant to look at proposals and essentially judge their scientific merit. I had nothing to do with the other aspects of the problem; in other words, whether it was an important piece of research to do or not.
"As best I can recall, I knew that the Human Ecology Fund was government money; I don't think I knew that it was solely CIA money. The most important element is ... that it didn't matter, because we were not seeing the CIA in any unusual or villainous or different role from the Navy or the Army or any other piece of the U.S. government. It's only in today's context that this even becomes an issue."
In 1961, Schein was invited by the Bureau of Prisons to present a paper entitled "Man Against Man" as part of a management development program for prison wardens. He described the techniques used by the Chinese, pretty much as presented in the original Psychiatry paper. After the talk, the training director encouraged the wardens to apply these techniques in their prisons. Basically, he had transformed Schein's description into a set of recommendations. Schein had been "struck by the degree to which the manner of our own prison management resembled in many ways what the Communists had done." Years later, prison groups linked his talk with the introduction of behavior modification, drugs and psychiatry into prisons.
In response to an article by Jessica Mitford on the subject which appeared in Harper's Magazine in June 1973, Schein wrote: "For me this matter has illustrated how far our values have shifted in ten years. Science has become politicized, and it is clearly no longer safe for the social scientist simply to describe and report his findings...."
In the interview, Schein elaborated. "I think I'm not ready to say we've got to stop publishing. I think that would be a pretty disastrous consequence if scientists began to say, 'Well, this could be misused; therefore I won't publish it at all.' I think rather what the scientist should do is think through the possible uses and misuses and state as clearly as he or she can what those uses and misuses might be and be clear about it.... I think we have enough power to influence the journals. If we haven't insisted on putting those kinds of things in our articles, then that's our problem."
He added, "I have been in a school of management now for 20 years, and I've learned from that professional school experience that you're never neutral. I've swung completely to the other direction. I think that a lot of people simply have never thought about it because they've never been confronted by a public policy issue around their research."
Martin Orne, then a professor at the University of Pennsylvania said that he was asked by Human Ecology to write an article on the use of hypnosis in interrogation. The article, which appeared in 1961 in The Manipulation of Human Behavior, edited by Albert Biderman and Herbert Zimmer under contract to the Air Force, was entitled "The Potential Uses of Hypnosis in Interrogation." "I didn't do any work on interrogation," says Orne. I went through and I analyzed what could and could not be done with hypnosis and why."
Orne says, "If the CIA used hypnosis in interrogation after the work I published, I think they were damn fools." On the subject of using hypnosis to control behavior to the point of producing anti-social or self-destructive acts, the chapter notes an intrinsic defect to laboratory tests: "The experimental situation legitimizes much behavior which the subject, in other contexts, views as contrary to his internalized prohibitions." Orne goes on to suggest the following experiment. "A better test of the question would be an experiment performed by someone who is not known to be a university professor. For example, a carnival hypnotist might suggest to a subject obtained as a volunteer during a demonstration that he return after the performance. At that time during a reinduced trance he would suggest that he should rob the local jewelry store and bring him, the hypnotist, the stolen jewelry."
In an interview, Orne said he would only be disturbed about CIA attempts to use hypnosis for the control of agent behavior if they were successful. "I know too much about hypnosis for me to be disturbed about this; because, as is made clear in umpteen papers and umpteen lectures, hypnosis is an extremely ineffective way of controlling behavior."
In addition to money for the chapter on the potential uses of hypnosis in interrogation, Orne also received a grant from Human Ecology to study the nature of hypnosis. He said that the "foundation seemed interested in psychobiological material and subjective phenomena at a time when there wasn't much interest because behaviorism was in vogue....
"The research would have been the same no matter who supported it. And I really don't see how anything we did would help anyone do anything they shouldn't be doing. I believe that in the social sciences we are, fortunately, sufficiently ineffective so that our findings can be made available.
"I think that right now there is a kind of hysterical concern, no matter what people did. Very frankly, with the terror of the times there's no way anybody can really look at it dispassionately. I acknowledged the Human Ecology Fund on some papers because I used them as a perfectly straight thing."
Sociologist Jay Schulman sees Human Ecology from a very different perspective. He tells how he had spent two years at the London School of Economics reading Marx and returned to the United States interested in the sociology of revolution. In 1956, while putting together a project at Rutgers University on the Hungarian Revolution, he and his colleague Richard Stephenson, a sociologist at Rutgers, were offered support by Human Ecology.
According to Schulman, the foundation gave him money to go to London and Paris and interview young Hungarian Marxists. Meanwhile, Human Ecology was supporting a research team at Cornell, led by Hinkle, to interview Hungarian refugees who had come to the United States. Schulman says, "The people who came to the United States were those people who were able to get American visas; they were certainly not the people who had participated in the leadership of the revolution, by definition. Those people went to England, France and to some of the other European countries. And that was why I went to Europe to interview those people."
Although the two research teams were in contact, said Schulman, Hinkle never told him of the CIA link. To Schulman, that was one of the most distressing aspects of the whole thing. Hinkle attributes his silence to the fact that he had signed a secrecy agreement with the CIA. Communication of the data to the CIA was accomplished, says Schulman, through Monroe, who attended all of their research meetings. In addition to this channel of communication, Schulman and Stephenson tell of a seminar on the Hungarian Revolution sponsored by the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology at which, he now realizes, CIA people were present. Says Schulman, "Dick Stephenson and I read a paper and I engaged in colloquy with some of these people. I think I was probably the person who spoke the most at this group." Stephenson said that he now feels the CIA was reprehensible because covert funding caused them to deceive their respondents about the source of funds. It seems unlikely Marxist Hungarians would have participated in the study had they known.
At the time, Schulman recalls, he wanted to use the Hungarian material for a PhD thesis in sociology at Columbia under the direction of Robert Lynd. Lynd, an important sociologist who pioneered the study of American class structure, rejected the thesis "on the grounds that any such study had to be tainted by the CIA."
"I didn't believe it at the time; it had to do with my own naivete. Even though my politics were socialist, I had no understanding at that time of how the real world operated.... In 1957, I was myself a quasi-Marxist and if I had known that the study was sponsored by the CIA, there is really, obviously, no way that I would have been associated with that study or that work.... "My view is that social scientists have a deep personal responsibility for questioning the sources of funding, and the fact that I didn't do it at the time was simply, in my judgment, indication of my own naivete and political innocence in spite of my ideological bent."
On October 7, 1977, the Chancellor of the University of Illinois phoned Charles Osgood, a psychology professor there, to inform him that he had received funding through Human Ecology. The University of Illinois was thus one of the 44 universities to receive documents from the CIA, notifying them of past projects in social and medical sciences covertly funded by the agency.
Interviewed on the subject, Osgood said that Human Ecology had supported his cross-cultural study of meaning for three years, from 1959 through 1961. The study used the semantic differential to investigate how people in 31 societies attribute feelings to different aspects of culture. According to Osgood, Human Ecology supported the initial "tool-making" phase of the research, which tested the cross-cultural generality of evaluation, potency and activity as dimensions of affective meaning.
Osgood said that he hit upon Human Ecology from a psychologist at Stanford who had been his boss at Illinois; Osgood was then visiting the Center for Advanced Studies in Palo Alto. This person suggested Human Ecology as a source of funding for cross-cultural research. Osgood learned on seeing the CIA documents from his project that the CIA made a decision to fund his project four to five months before he had submitted a formal proposal or made any contact with Human Ecology. However, he emphasized that, no matter how eager, the CIA never interfered with or attempted to influence the research.
Osgood recounted that while working on the project he was suspicious that one of his colleagues "might be an agent for something, but I didn't know who. He kept disappearing on our early trips. He'd say he was going to bed, and I'd think of something I wanted to ask him and he'd be out for two or three hours. It happened again and again. He had spent many years in Afghanistan as a researcher; he knew his way around other cultures. If he was an agent, he would have probably been sent to facilitate and to keep the CIA informed." CIA records of Osgood's project -- code named MKULTRA 95 -- show that there was, in fact, one witting person on the project staff.
A CIA memo of March 1960 indicates that the agency saw Osgood's project as "directly relevant to agency problems in (name deleted) and technical support of political activities." Osgood said he could well understand CIA interest in his work: "The semantic differential is used in advertising all the time to help sell products. Evaluation, activity and potency zoom out at you from every advertisement. There's nothing I can do about that, you know.
"The physicists have been worried about what was with their brainchild, nuclear energy. Well, in a small way, people like myself have the same problem. You develop a technique which is useful for measuring all sorts of things. It's like Geppetto and Pinocchio. Pinocchio kept wandering off by himself. If we had to do only things that would be safe when other people use them, then there would be very little -- damn little -- we could do in science. But I must admit that what's going on right now doesn't make me too happy."
Another person funded in the area of cross-cultural study of communication was anthropologist Edward Hall, a pioneer in the study of nonverbal communication. Hall said that he received a small amount of money from Human Ecology to support preparation of The Hidden Dimension, his 1966 book on the human use of space in public and private. He commented that funding was difficult because "it was innovative research," and that he had just had a grant renewal turned down from NIH, leaving him "stranded right in the middle of the project."
According to Hall, much of the material for both The Hidden Dimension and The Silent Language, a book on nonverbal communication, came out of his work for the Foreign Service Institute of the State Department in the early 1950s. Says Hall, "I put on a very innovative program to train American technicians ... for service overseas, training in intercultural relations, one of the first of its kind."
Hall doubts he would have taken the money, had he known it was coming from the CIA: "I would want to know why were they backing me? What were they getting out of this? I still don't know."
Told that Psychological Assessment Associates, a private consulting firm which was the CIA's successor to Human Ecology, had programs to give agents cultural training, Hall said he didn't know that the CIA was doing anything in cultural training. He agreed, nevertheless, that his books could have been useful for the purpose "because the whole thing is designed to begin to teach people to understand, to read other people's behavior.
"What little I know about the agency, I wouldn't want to have much to do with it," he says of the CIA. "I don't mind training people for the State Department, the United States Information Agency, the Agency for International Development -- even the Army." After all, he notes, "the United States is a world power." Yet, he adds, "Within that overall context, here's a group of people out there doing dirty tricks. I don't know what you do about that.
"But in general (to) the degree to which people read each other accurately, they tend to make more valid decisions. I don't care who you're talking about. Promoting better and more accurate communication is an end in itself. As soon as these start being stated politically, then all sorts of things begin to happen. I'm an apolitical person."
Hall says he feels the anonymous backing of social science does pose problems, but it depends on who is doing it. "John D. Rockefeller is fine, but if it's the mafia, it's dirty pool. How do you work this out? The basic questions are what's going to be done with it and why are they funding you? I don't see how social scientists can answer those questions. Life is extraordinarily complex."
Wilse Webb, a newly-elected member of the American Psychological Associations' Board of Directors, was another beneficiary of the Human Ecology Fund. Originally interviewed two years ago, Webb said he was unaware of the Fund's CIA backing until the interview. He said he had been contacted by an old Air Force friend, Samuel Lyerly, who was then an official of the fund and known to have intelligence connections. Webb said he received a grant to review the Soviet literature on sleep therapy, concluding there was nothing in it after his review.
He also related the following incident: The Russians had developed a machine which induced sleep artificially by passing a low voltage current from the eyes to the back of the head. Sleep induced in this way was supposed to be more restorative than normal sleep; it was claimed that two hours equalled a night of ordinary sleep. One night Webb was called by the Air Force; an intelligence operation had succeeded in getting all the parts of a sleep machine out of the Soviet Union and they wanted Webb's group to investigate. Webb informed them that Lafayette Radio had put out such a machine commercially and was already advertising it in their catalogue.
Webb made a trip to Czechoslovakia to obtain literature on the sleep machine. He said he would have been nervous if he had thought he was doing it for the CIA because the fact would have cast suspicion on his Czech colleagues and friends, as well as himself. He added that he had a Czech working in his lab, and that CIA funding could have made trouble for him. Thus, in Webb's case, covert funding enabled the CIA to obtain the cooperation of foreign scientists who would not otherwise have participated.
Nevertheless, Webb acknowledges that "the atmosphere was different. What was patriotic then is unpatriotic now. Without getting back in that context, I can't figure whether I would have said yes or no. It probably would have been a matter of supreme indifference to me, because I think our attitude to the CIA was much more indifferent than it is now.... I took Air Force money even though I didn't like bombs falling on Vietnam. The fact of the matter is that I was taking away money from the bombs dropping on Vietnam for a good cause.
"Most of us don't think deeply about these things. We search for money to do our job, and I think that many a poor boy would be perfectly happy to get money from the Rockefeller Foundation or Exxon. Right now, for example, if we were terribly conscience-stricken about our money, would we take it from Exxon...? I don't know. Most of us don't think in those particular terms as to where the money comes from. It's what we're going to do with the money."
Patricia Greenfield is professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles.