Conspiracy Times – The Manchurian Candidate
A novel and twice made into a movie, Condon’s creation seems fiction – as it seems so farfetched, could anyone believe it is real? Nevertheless, Condon accurately reported on then secret experiments. And perhaps the enormous scope and implications of the people and powers involved may also conform to reality.
by Philip Coppens
The Manchurian Candidate was a novel by Richard Condon, which has twice been made into a movie; once in 1962, the second time in 2004.
The book and the first movie are about how during the Korean War, Raymond Shaw and ten other men on an Intelligence and Reconnaissance patrol are captured by the Chinese, brainwashed, and finally released, convinced that Shaw has heroically saved them. It is a feat of bravery that earns Shaw the prestigious Medal of Honour, just as the Chinese intended.
Raymond himself is turned into a pliable killing machine: a crack marksman, a Medal of Honour winner and the stepson of a US senator make him an ideal sleeper-assassin for his Soviet-Chinese handlers to use when going after the most prominent of targets. The 1962 edition had Frank Sinatra in the role of Bennett Marco, the apparent “madman” bent on destroying Shaw, even though Marco is one of the few who realises what is truly going on. Marco was also a former Korean prisoner who even may know how to save Shaw. The movie was extremely controversial in the United States. In Finland, the movie was banned from 1962 till 1989. Nevertheless, it was nominated for two Oscars. Tina Sinatra, Frank Sinatra’s daughter, was the main mover behind the remake, when she acquired the rights.
The re-edition is set in an election year, 2004, and is a political thriller in which the vice president – Shaw – gets killed on the day of the election. However, he commits a type of “passive suicide”, as he has understood that he has been brainwashed. This time, the war is not in Korea, but the Gulf War of the early 1990s. In the first film and book, “Manchurian” stands for Communists, bent on world domination. But by 2004, the threat of communism had disappeared. The global threat is now seen to be corporate totalitarianism, i.e. Manchurian Global, a powerful powerbroker-think tank on America’s political landscape. It maps how the US government intersects with multinational organisations that prosper on war and chaos. As such, the remake also incorporates a lot of the 1984 – Big Brother mythology. Denzel Washington described the movie as “A frightening what if, if things like this could happen”. Others stated that they tried to make the movie to be a mirror of who we are and what we have become, and a warning; that fiction failed to compare with the reality of the people who are in the White House.
As examples of “Manchurian Global”, Enron was used as an example of how big companies stealing are caught stealing money, apparently fully backed up by those who should insist that laws are obeyed, such as Arthur Andersen, who went down together with Enron. In the movie, the makers tried to show that the Spirit of America had become “Corporate Power”. In the first film, the brainwashed mind takes its cue when playing solitaire, in which the Queen of Diamonds “activates” the brainwashed mind. In the remake, the cue is a series of repetitive verbal “key words”. There are further echoes of electroshock, sleep deprivation and hypnosis.
The Manchurian Candidate is not the only novel or film that tackles this subject. Others include Conspiracy, starring Mel Gibson and John Case’s Trance State. Each harkens back to a real scandal: MKULTRA, aka MK-ULTRA, in which MK stands for Mind Control.
Project MKULTRA was the code name for a CIA mind control research program lasting from the 1950s to 1970s. It was first brought to wide public attention, including a U.S. Congress (the Church Committee) and a presidential commission (the Rockefeller Commission). To quote Ted Kennedy, who served on one of the investigating committees: “The Deputy Director of the CIA revealed that over 30 universities and institutions were involved in an ‘extensive testing and experimentation’ program which included covert drug tests on unwitting citizens ‘at all social levels, high and low, native Americans and foreign.’ Several of these tests involved the administration of LSD to ‘unwitting subjects in social situations.’ At least one death, that of Dr. Olson, resulted from these activities. The Agency itself acknowledged that these tests made little scientific sense. The agents doing the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers.”
The “evil genius” involved in these experiments was Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, though due credit should go to CIA director Allen Dulles who issued the order in April 1953, officially in response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean uses of mind control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea. The CIA wanted to use similar methods on their own captives, hoping in the final analysis to be able to manipulate foreign leaders with such techniques, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who was America’s pet obsession of the 1960s – like Saddam Hussein of the 1990s, or Qaddafi in the 1980s.
It is remarkable that the highly classified MKULTRA project and Condon’s novel overlap, including such details as the Korean POWs being a prime problem. We can only wonder whether Condon “knew” and decided to fictionalise what he must have known could never be aired at the time in any other format. By the 1970s, the renewed spirit of the late 1960s not only resulted in Nixon’s resignation over a scandal, it also meant that scandalous projects such as MK-ULTRA – which in essence were a continuation of Nazi experiments on World War II POWs and/or Jews – would come out. No wonder then that most of the MKULTRA records were deliberately destroyed in 1972 by order of CIA Director Richard Helms, so that it would be impossible to have a complete understanding of the more than 150 individually funded research projects sponsored by MKULTRA and the related CIA programs.
What we do know is that Gottlieb was known to torture victims by locking them in sensory deprivation chambers while dosed on LSD, or to make recordings of psychiatric patients’ therapy sessions, and then play a tape loop of the patient’s most self-degrading statement over and over through headphones after the patient had been restrained in a straitjacket and dosed with LSD. Gottlieb was not the only evil genius. The experiments were even exported to Canada when the CIA recruited Albany, New York doctor Ewan Cameron, author of the psychic driving concept which the CIA found particularly interesting. In it he described his theory on correcting madness, which consisted of erasing existing memories and rebuilding the psyche completely; brainwashing. He commuted to Montreal every week to work at the Allan Memorial Institute and was paid $69,000 from 1957 to 1964 to carry out MKULTRA experiments. As he used non US citizens, the CIA’s hands were officially washed clean, as their remit forbids working on their own soil.
Cameron was not some little known scientist. While carrying on the work of men like Mengele, he became known worldwide as the first chairman of the World Psychiatric Association, as well as president of the American and Canadian psychiatric associations. Cameron had actually been a member of the Nuremberg medical tribunal only a decade earlier. All of this work was paid for by a secretive arrangement that granted a percentage of the CIA budget: 6% of the CIA operating budget in 1953, without oversight or accounting.
In December 1974, in the aftermath of Watergate and with a new attitude to cut through the government secrecy to reveal “the truth” to the US citizens, The New York Times reported that the CIA had conducted illegal domestic activities, which resulted by the summer of 1975 of the first official hearings.
One of the most notorious revelations was how Frank Olson, an Army biochemist and biological weapons researcher, was given LSD without his knowledge or consent in 1953 as part of a CIA experiment and apparently committed suicide a week later following a severe psychotic episode. Olson’s son disputes even this version of events, and maintains that his father was murdered for far worse knowledge on MK-ULTRA, due to his knowledge of the sometimes-lethal interrogation techniques employed by the CIA in Europe, used on cold war prisoners. Frank Olson’s body was exhumed in 1994 and cranial injuries suggested Olson had been knocked unconscious before being thrown out of the window.
Unsurprisingly, the CIA’s own internal investigation claimed that Gottlieb had conducted the experiment with Olson’s prior knowledge, although neither Olson nor the other men taking part in the experiment had been informed of the exact nature of the drug until some 20 minutes after its ingestion. The report further suggested that Gottlieb was nonetheless due a reprimand, as he had failed to take into account suicidal tendencies Olson had been diagnosed as suffering from which might well have been exacerbated by the LSD. Nevertheless, Frank Olson’s family received $750,000 by a special act of Congress, and both President Ford and CIA director William Colby met with Olson’s family to publicly apologize.
Subsequent reports would show that another person, Harold Blauer, a professional tennis player in New York City, also died as a result of a secret Army experiment involving mescaline. Following the recommendations of the Church Committee, President Gerald Ford in 1976 issued the first Executive Order on Intelligence Activities which, among other things, prohibited “experimentation with drugs on human subjects, except with the informed consent, in writing and witnessed by a disinterested party, of each such human subject” and in accordance with the guidelines issued by the National Commission. Subsequent orders by Presidents Carter and Reagan expanded the directive to apply to any human experimentation.
In Canada, the issue took much longer to surface, only surfacing in 1984. It was learned that not only had the CIA funded Dr. Cameron’s efforts, but perhaps even more shockingly, that the Canadian government was fully aware of this, and had later provided another $500,000 in funding to continue the experiments. This revelation largely derailed efforts by the victims to sue the CIA as their U.S. counterparts had, and the Canadian government eventually settled out-of-court for $100,000 to each of the 127 victims. In the 2004 edition, part of the scripts read that “The Assassin always dies baby. It is necessary for the national healing.” No wonder then that the original movie was controversial because of the assassination of President Kennedy. Questions were asked, such as whether Oswald could have been a real “Manchurian Candidate”, seeing that he had spent large amounts of time in the Soviet Union. Had they somehow “turned” him and then sent him back to the United States, where he somehow was “activated”, and as an automaton killed the president? Though the scenario is most likely not true (as Oswald was unlikely the assassin), the thought itself was enough to cause controversy…
Some researchers, however, have suggested that Oswald was most likely not, but Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby, may have been “piloted” to kill Oswald. In his book “Dallas Justice,” Melvin Belli, Ruby’s first attorney, stated: “Never once did he [Ruby] voluntarily mention Lee Oswald by name. Never as far as I could see, was he willing to concede that there had been this living, breathing human being who had died at his hands. It was strange because he had the capacity to summon up sympathy for almost anything.” More revealing were the psychiatric diagnoses made of Ruby. Dr. Walter Bromberg stated that Ruby was “pre-set to be a fighter, to attack.” He continued, “definitely there is a block to his thinking which is no part of his original mental endowment.” Dr. Roy Shafer elaborated by saying, “He [Ruby] appears not altogether in control of his body actions, as if they occur independently of his conscious will at times.”
But it was Dr. Manfred Guttmacher, a leading criminal psychologist, who threw the cat amongst the pigeons. He testified that Ruby’s brain had been “damaged,” but could not unravel exactly how. He further testified that he felt that at the time of the shooting Ruby had suffered a “functional psychosis.” “It would be functional, not organic.” Dallas Assistant Attorney Bill Alexander then asked: “Well, by functional mental psychosis, do you mean a psychotic condition for which there is no known organic cause?” “Yes.”
Guttmacher seems to have been hinting at something that his audience was not able to comprehend; though underway for at least ten years by then, MKULTRA remained totally unknown to the general public. Still, in early 1977 the CIA released a document dated January 22, 1954, raising the question, “Can an individual be made to perform an act of attempted assassination involuntarily…?” The document, under the codename “Operation Artichoke,” took the question a step further, “against a prominent (foreign) politician or if necessary against an American official?” The question was left unanswered…
There was at least one reporter who believed Jack Ruby’s mind had been tampered with. It was journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. She was the only reported to have had a private interview with Ruby after the killing. Shortly after that interview, she proclaimed she was going to “blow the JFK case sky high.” Somehow, she suddenly died…