Make love not war may be the enduring slogan of anti-war campaigners but in 1994 the US air force produced its own variation on the philosophy.
What if it could release a chemical that would make an opposing army’s soldiers think more about the physical attributes of their comrades in arms than the threat posed by the enemy? And thus the “gay bomb” was born. Far from being the product of conspiracy theorists, documents released to a biological weapons watchdog in Austin, Texas confirm that the US military did investigate the idea. It was included in a CD-Rom produced by the US military in 2000 and submitted to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002. The documents show that $7.5m was requested to develop the weapon.
As I write this script in November 2019, and hello to you, resplendent people of the future, the jail cell death of a man who provided underage sex traffic victims to politicians, business magnates and royaty –allegedly– was suicide for about 90 seconds before conspiracy theories began flying. The craziest thing about conspiracy theories is that sometimes, just sometimes, they’re actually true. Topic voted on, welcome new patron, they will get stickers, who wants stickers to hand out?
100 years ago, only 10 percent of Americans owned cars, and after losing $65 million in a year, General Motors had to face the fact that cars just weren’t worth it for the other 90 percent.
This is where less successful men would have come to terms with the fact that they’d backed the wrong horse. Capitalism had spoken, and its answer was: “We’ll take the clearly superior alternative that doesn’t cost half a year’s paycheck up front.” Instead, General Motors decided to find a way to make cars worth it to the average citizen. After waiting for the laughter in the room to die down when someone suggested that they lower car prices, the car industry looked at the people who rode electric rails to work and decided to make them what’s known in the mafia as “an offer they can’t refuse.”
According to a Senate report, in the 1930s, GM, Goodyear, Firestone Tire and a bunch of oil companies joined together to form a number of fake rail companies. They would buy up all the small companies that operated America’s small town railway systems, then destroy the systems, and soon enough America would run on gasoline-powered tires. By the mid-1950s, the fake rail companies had replaced 900 of the 1,200 public railway systems with gas-powered buses and cars and were ready to take on the biggest electric railway system in the world: Los Angeles. Yes, the city that’s famous for bumper-to-bumper traffic once hummed along on 1,500 miles of electric railways. GM bought out the local railway companies, and a few years later there wasn’t a single electric streetcar operating in Los Angeles. Today, the smog over LA is so thick that most of the people who live there have no idea they that live at the foot of a beautiful snowcapped mountain range.
Of course, you can’t just form an illegal monopoly and get away with it. In 1947, the government convicted 10 of the biggest corporations in America of conspiracy, and fined GM $5,000. GM was able to survive the fine, since the illegal conspiracy had made it one of the most successful companies of the 20th century. And all they had to do was destroy the infrastructure of some of America’s biggest cities and screw the next dozen or so generations who lived there out of clean, affordable transportation.
Government assassination is a classic conspiracy theory, especially when you combine with the generalize paranoia of beliving someone, yourself or someone else, is being secretly monitored by the government. The government really does keep tabs on a lot of celebrities, especially beatniks, peaceniks, and other types with wild ideas like everyone should be treated with equal dignity. Take for instance Martin Luther King Jr. The famous leader of the Civil Rights Movement was under surveillance up until his assassination. The federal government feared that King harbored Communist sympathies, that was their story and they stuck to it, and that his movement would grow so powerful that it would threaten the established order. The program, helmed by J Edgar Hoover personally, was called COINTELPRO and targeted an array of activists with wiretaps, bugs, spies, and informants. They collected details on King’s sex life, including extramarital affairs. They sent tapes they made to King’s home, along with a letter recommending he kill himself. The package was opened by King’s wife.
Another recipient of phone taps, the gift that keeps on giving, was Muhammed Ali. The heavy weight boxing champion was targeted under Operation Minaret for his friendship with Malcom X and his conversion to Islam. At least he had company. Civil rights activists, satirists, reporters and two sitting senators were also targeted. The Vietnam War only made things worse, as wars are wont to do. Ali refused to be drafted, claiming conscientious objector status. He was jailed for this, stripped of his titles and banned from boxing. His cause made it all the way to the Supreme Court with the landmark Clay vs. the United States case. The court sided with Ali, but his outspoken objection to the Vietnam War meant that his surveillance continued for six more years.
Blending sports with politics led to another real life surveillance that sounds like something your drunk uncle would tell you during a commercial break. After Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, got involved in politics, the FBI did what they love to do and started a file on Robinson, chronicling his involvement in the Civil Rights movement and connection with the Harlem opening of a center for the International Workers Order, a supposed Communist organization.
Okay, that makes sense in its own way, you say; they were seeing Communists under every rock. What if you saw a tweet claiming the government had had Whitney Houston under surveillance? You’d roll your eyes, maybe make a facetious comment, and move on. But it happened. The FBI opened of file on the singer in 1988. It would come to contain 79 love letters written to Houston by a Vermont superfan, cassette tapes from the Netherlands, and an alleged $250,000 extortion attempt by a friend of Houston’s who threatened to reveal personal details about the singer’s relationship with Bobby Brown. Of course, it would be hard to imagine anything in the file that could be more embarrassing than the drug and drama soap opera that was the last few years of Houston’s life, anyway.
If the Bureau groups their files by category of public spectacle, Whitney Houston’s file is in the same drawer as Anna Nicole Smith’s. The FBI investigated whether Smith was involved in a plot to kill her late husband’s son in 2000. Smith and E. Pierce Marshall were fighting the hundreds of millions of dollars his father had earned as an oil tycoon. Prosecutors ultimately decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Smith, who died in 2007. In the same cabinet might be the file on Marilyn Monroe, not because of her supposed affair with at least one Kennedy, but because of the doings of her husband in the late 50’s, Arthur Miller. The FBI suspected Miller of having communist leanings and kept close tabs on his involvement with Marxist and Communist groups. Monroe’s file does also contain theories on her 1962 death, including an excerpt from Norman Mailer’s biography of Monroe that implicates, guess who, the FBI, with the CIA thrown in for good measure.
If you had to think of a singer with a squeaky clean persona, you’d be hard-pressed to get more wholesome-seeming than John Denver, but I guess the Bureau didn’t see it the same way. For the younger people listening, he sang that song from Kingsman 2, “Take Me Home Country Road.” They kept a file on him for over a decade. Though no major crimes were cited, the FBI was sure to write down Denver’s appearance at a 1971 anti-war rally and his regular drug use. The files also contain information about 17 death threats he received from a German-speaking woman in 1979, which is slightly less strange when you learn that his last name was actually Deutschendorf.
You wanna talk about innocent people that the FBI stalked, how about Helen Keller? That’s not a joke. Keller, the first deaf and blind person to receive a Bachelor’s degree, was a socialist, against president Woodrow Wilson, for birth control, and a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. “How did I become a Socialist?” Keller writes in the New York Call, a socialist daily newspaper published in New York from 1908 to 1923. “By reading.”
The “White House Incident”
In January 1968, during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. Kitt was asked by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” During a question and answer session, Kitt stated:
The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons – and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson – we raise children and send them to war.
Her remarks caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Kitt’s career.
Blacklisting and CIA defamation
Following the incident, Kitt found herself unemployable, so she devoted her energies to performances in Europe and Asia. It is said that Kitt’s career in the United States was ended following her comments about the Vietnam War, after which she was branded “a sadistic nymphomaniac” by the CIA. Her government-led blacklisting was enshrined in a false and defamatory CIA dossier about Kitt discovered by Seymour Hersh in 1975. Hersh published an article about the dossier in The New York Times. The dossier contained comments about Kitt’s sex life and family history, along with negative opinions of her that were held by former colleagues. Kitt’s response to the dossier was to say “I don’t understand what this is about. I think it’s disgusting.”
After Lennon’s death, historian Jon Wiener filed a Freedom of Information Act request for FBI files that documented the Bureau’s role in the deportation attempt. The FBI admitted it had 281 pages of files on Lennon, but refused to release most of them on the grounds that they contained national security information. In 1983, Wiener sued the FBI with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. It took 14 years of litigation to force the FBI to release the withheld pages. The ACLU, representing Wiener, won a favourable decision in their suit against the FBI in the Ninth Circuit in 1991. The Justice Department appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in April 1992, but the court declined to review the case. In 1997, respecting President Bill Clinton’s newly instigated rule that documents should be withheld only if releasing them would involve “foreseeable harm”, the Justice Department settled most of the outstanding issues outside court by releasing all but 10 of the contested documents.
Wiener published the results of his 14-year campaign in January 2000. Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files contained facsimiles of the documents, including “lengthy reports by confidential informants detailing the daily lives of anti-war activists, memos to the White House, transcripts of TV shows on which Lennon appeared, and a proposal that Lennon be arrested by local police on drug charges”. The story is told in the documentary The US vs. John Lennon. The final 10 documents in Lennon’s FBI file, which reported on his ties with London anti-war activists in 1971 and had been withheld as containing “national security information provided by a foreign government under an explicit promise of confidentiality”, were released in December 2006. They contained no indication that the British government had regarded Lennon as a serious threat; one example of the released material was a report that two prominent British leftists had hoped Lennon would finance a left-wing bookshop and reading room.
It is the holy grail of the tin foil hat community — government mind control. But that’s not a thing, right? That’s the stuff of cold war propaganda and internet trolls. Well, you’re half right. The cold war, along with the Korean war, made our government fear that not only was mind control real, but that Communist powers were already using it. They cited soldiers returning from Korea espousing Communist propaganda. There was evidence that Korea, China, and Russia engaged in psychological torture and brain-washing and Russia was already studying LSD as a tool for mind control. Double-batter that knowledge in cold war paranoia and you get US government-sanctioned mind control experiments.
They began in 1948 with 7,000 Army soldier volunteers in the Edgewood Arsenal Human Experiments, testing not only psychotropic drugs, but riot control gas like tear gas and Sarin. Questions would be raised later about whether the soldiers volunteered or were volun-told, and that those who volunteered were outright lied to about the testing. Scientists testing LSD found that subjects’ reactions were individualized, random, and unpredictable. Also, most of them were too stupefied to follow orders. These are not characteristics you’d want in a strategic drug, but that didn’t stop the CIA.
From 1953 to 1964, the CIA under Alan Dulles conducted dozens of experiments on the effects of biological and chemical agents on American citizens *without their knowledge* under the heading Project MKUltra. Though Project MK-Ultra ran for 20 years, precious little information exists on it. Many of the CIA’s records were mysteriously lost or deliberately destroyed by the time the Senate opened an investigation on MK Ultra in 1976. According to the report from a joint committee hearing, “The development of a comprehensive capability in this field of covert chemical and biological warfare gives us a thorough knowledge of the enemy’s theoretical potential, thus enabling us to defend ourselves against a foe who might not be as restrained in the use of these techniques as we are.”
Within two years of being authorized, the Project’s focus had expanded to look for and test drugs that could:
which will promote the intoxicating affect of alcohol;
which will render the induction of hypnosis easier or otherwise enhance its usefulness;
which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion during interrogation and so called “brain-washing;”
which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use;
[which will produce] shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use; and
which will produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.
They experiments with ecstasy, mescaline, heroin, barbiturates, methamphetamine and psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”). The testing methods were scientifically negligent and ethically atrocious. Some subjects were chosen after careful consideration; some were chosen seemingly at random. Many people were drugged without their knowledge. There were almost never medical personnel involved, especially in the beginning. People were often drugged in social settings, meaning lots of potential collateral damage if things went pear-shaped. The CIA was so gung-ho about testing people without their knowledge, they even drugged other people who worked for the CIA. The secret drugging was so rampant that an official memo was issued to say that office party punch bowls were now officially off-limits. Many test subjects sought or required hospitalization and some did die.
While everything about it was questionable, special honors go to whoever named one of the sub-projects Operation Midnight Climax. Under Operation Midnight Climax, government-paid prostitutes lured unsuspecting men to CIA “safe houses” in San Francisco and NY to be drugged. CIA agents watched the men’s reactions through a two-way mirror. Recording devices were installed in the prostitutes’ rooms, disguised as electrical outlets. This would become a particular problem when some of the prostitutes were discovered to be under-age, which –and I’m not a lawyer– may mean the CIA was making kiddie porn.
The most well-documented fatality was that of Dr. Frank Olson, a researcher with the U.S. Army who studied “offensive use of biological weapons.” Along with a group of scientists, he attended a conference in Maryland in November 1953, where they were served cocktails laced with LSD. The CIA operatives told the scientists about it … after they’d finished their drinks. Most of the researchers handled the experience well and had no aftereffects, Dr. Olson began to show “symptoms of paranoia and schizophrenia.” His superior and the operative who ran the experiment arranged for him to get treatment in New York City. While spending the night in a hotel room with the CIA officer, Olson plunged through a window to his death. According to the officer’s report, he was awakened by a loud “crash of glass.” . . . . Olson “had crashed through the closed window blind and the closed window and he fell to his death from the window of our room on the 10th floor.” Olsen’s death was considered a suicide, but a second autopsy in the 90’s found injuries inconsistent with a fall, meaning he could have been murdered. His family tried to sue, but the case was dismissed because they had received a $750K settlement in 1976, along with a personal apology from then-president Ford.
The Senate hearing also revealed that “eighty-six universities or institutions were involved,” and “185 non-government researchers and assistants” worked on these projects. Doctors and specialists were lured into MKUltra with the promise of grant money. At some of the 12 hospitals that participated in Project MKUltra, tests were conducted on terminal cancer patients. Experiments were also conducted on prisoners who volunteered in exchange for shorter sentences or more outdoor time. One prisoner who took part in the study was the infamous modern gangster, Whitey Bulger. A prison for convicted drug addict were promised, and given, their drug of choice in exchange for participating.
An unknown number of other experiments were conducted under the MK Ultra umbrella, like electro-shock “and gas propelled sprays and aerosols” to be used as “assassination delivery systems,” and scientists had been given authorization to test radiation and paramilitary devices. There were 149 sub-projects that we do know about, many of which appear to have some connection with research into behavioral modification or the surreptitious administration of drugs. There were 8 subprojects involving hypnosis, including 2 that also used drugs were performed, 4 subprojects used “magician’s art . . . e.g., surreptitious delivery of drug-related materials,” 9 subprojects studied sleep research (read: deprivation) and psychotherapy’s influence on behavior, 6 subprojects studied the effects on human tissue of “exotic pathogens and the capability to incorporate them in effective delivery systems.” I’m not even sure what that means and each interpretation I come up with is worse than the last.
Two lawsuits arising out of MKUltra activities made it to the Supreme Court, but both rulings favored the government over citizen’s rights. In 1985, the Court held in CIA vs. Simms that the names of the institutions and researchers who participated in Project MKUltra were exempt from revelation under the Freedom of Information Act due to the CIA’s need to protect its “intelligence sources.” In 1987, in United States v. Stanley, the Court held that a serviceman who had volunteered for a chemical weapons experiment, but who was actually tested with LSD, was barred from bringing a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
There was one notably name in the list MK Ultra participants, be they willing or unwitting, Ken Kesey, author of the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He volunteered for MK-Ultra while he was a college student at Stanford University. Kesey was, politely put, quite keen on the whole mind-expansion experience. He even tried to get a job in one of the testing facilities so he could steal more experimental drugs. He and friends would later make and take homemade LSD at parties that he called “Acid Tests,” though he complained that it was never as good as the government stuff. Acid Tests combined drug use with musical performances by bands including the Grateful Dead and psychedelic effects such as fluorescent paint and black lights. These parties influenced the early development of hippie culture and kick-started the 1960s psychedelic drug scene. So, if A = B and B = C, then the CIA created the hippies.
And that’s…The documents released to the Sunshine Project under a freedom of information request titled “Harassing, Annoying and Bad Guy Identifying Chemicals” includes several proposals for the military use of chemicals that could be sprayed on to enemy positions. “One distasteful but non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behaviour,” says the proposal from the Air Force’s Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.
The Pentagon did not deny that the proposal had been made: “The department of defence is committed to identifying, researching and developing non-lethal weapons that will support our men and women in uniform.”