Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Yankee and Cowboy Psychedelic War, pt 2 “Origins”

Catching the Wave of Psychedelia, circa 1967

Even as America basked in the sunshine of a new-found prosperity in the years following World War II, all was not well in the nation considered to be the “leader of the free world.” A profound expansion of higher education, driven by the GI Bill… fueled by an unbridled optimism in the decades following the end of the War was, in retrospect, the calm before the storm. There was a growing concern in the mind of then President Dwight D Eisenhower… a nagging suspicion was creeping into his consciousness. A suspicion that, given the outcome of WWII, given the growing concern over the USSR and China… the “powers that be” in Washington DC were mutating into something beyond the control of traditional political checks and balances.

As the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during the war, Eisenhower knew better than (almost) anyone, the ramifications of a changing world. The nation Dwight loved had risen to the challenges of Nazism & Fascism during WWII… had “pulled together” …militarily in Europe, the South Pacific and on the home front, to defeat the Axis powers. Even as the Allied forces accepted the surrender of their adversaries, the insidious seed of Nazism & Fascism persisted… defeated… dormant… but very much alive. It was as if the fascist seed, trampled under foot by allied forces, clung to the tread of their military boots marching home… carrying an unexpected contaminant to American soil.

Contamination took the form of “Operation Paperclip” which was enacted by previous president Harry Truman in August of 1945. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which later became the CIA, launched operation paperclip to recruit Nazi scientists for employment by the United States, thereby denying Nazi technological expertise to the Soviets. Specifically, the OSS was desperate to acquire Nazi rocket scientists and aerospace engineers to monopolize intercontinental weapons delivery and the militarization of space. This was the genesis of the “Cold War” …a protracted covert campaign of espionage, statesmanship and military brinksmanship, waged between the US and the USSR.

With the Cold War (which lasted overtly until 1991) as a backdrop, the two “superpowers” as they became known, entered into what amounted to a technology war… a race to achieve technological superiority. In retrospect, the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis, mutually assured destruction (MAD), the space race, détente… finally the demolition of the Berlin Wall (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”  – Ronald Reagan, circa 1987) …all fall into place as pieces to a global techno-industrial puzzle/plot. The symbolism of the Berlin Wall being the “alpha and omega” of the Cold War is intriguing, given that Germany, twice rising from the ashes of national defeat and devastation, is currently the dominant power of the European Union.

Meanwhile, back on January 17, 1961… a worried President Eisenhower is preparing to leave office by delivering his now famous “Military-Industrial Complex” speech. In this farewell address, Eisenhower predicted and succinctly defined humanity’s current socio-political dilemma. Prior to the invention and first use of the “Atomic Bomb” in WWII, industries making swords in times of war could make plowshares in times of peace. After WWII, military weaponry became so sophisticated as to require a large complex of industries dedicated solely to its development. Military technologies such as intercontinental missile capability and nuclear weapons gave rise to the modern corporate-controlled State.

The “defense industry,” in tandem with an escalating legislative bureaucracy, fed by outrageous sums of money and influence wielded by the lobbying industry, was the cancerous mutation in American politics that Ike feared. If left unchecked, Ike implied, the military-industrial complex would become the tyrannical masters of a new world order. But it was not enough to control governments and economies… these tyrants, via their newly created lackey spook show, the CIA… wanted to control the very minds of the citizenry they were supposed to protect. They not only sought to control outer space, (a nudge from Sputnik 1 in 1957 launched both the space race and the aerospace industry) they planned to control “inner space” as well.

Several secret U.S. government projects grew out of Operation Paperclip. Their purpose was to study mind control, interrogation, behavior modification and related topics. These projects included Project Chatter and Project Bluebird, which was renamed Project Artichoke in 1951. A memorandum from OSS veteran, Richard Helms to CIA director Allen Welsh Dulles indicated Artichoke became Project MK-ULTRA on April 13, 1953.

Project MK-ULTRA was the code name for a covert, illegal CIA human experimentation program, run by the CIA's Office of Scientific Intelligence. MK-ULTRA began in 1953 and continued at least through the late 1960s, and used ordinary citizens, including university students, as its test subjects. Over thirty universities and institutions were involved in this extensive testing and experimentation program, which included covert drug tests on unwitting citizens, Native Americans and foreign nationals. Several of these tests involved the administration of LSD-25 to test subjects in a variety of social situations.

In one such experiment, subjects were given LSD-25 without their knowledge. They were subsequently interrogated under bright lights with doctors in the background taking notes. The subjects were told that their "trips" would be extended indefinitely if they refused to reveal their secrets. People being interrogated in this manner included CIA employees, US military personnel and “agents” suspected of working for the “other side” during the Cold War.

Evidence suggests that a CIA-sponsored MK-ULTRA experiment was conducted at Harvard University from the fall of 1959 through the spring of 1962. Dr Henry Murray, the lead researcher in the Harvard experiment, secured a grant funded by the United States Navy. Murray’s Harvard “stress” experiments strongly resembled those run by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), where Murray served during World War II. Twenty two undergraduate students, including Theodore “Unabomber” Kaczynski participated in the Harvard experiments, which were described by some as "disturbing" and "ethically indefensible."

On the West Coast, Oregon author Ken Kesey and singer-songwriter Robert Hunter both volunteered for MK-ULTRA experiments involving LSD-25 and other psychedelic drugs, being carried out through and in association with Stanford University. Kesey's experiences while under the influence of LSD-25 inspired him to champion the drug outside the confines of the MK-ULTRA experiments, which influenced the early development of the psychedelic counter-culture that was blossoming in San Francisco. Similarly, these experiences were creatively transformative for Hunter:

“Sit back picture yourself swooping up a shell of purple with foam crests of crystal drops soft nigh they fall unto the sea of morning creep-very-softly mist...and then sort of cascade tinkley-bell like (must I take you by the hand, every so slowly type) and then conglomerate suddenly into a peal of silver vibrant uncomprehendingly, blood singingly, joyously resounding bells....By my faith if this be insanity, then for the love of God permit me to remain insane.”

Although Dr Albert Hoffman’s “problem child” LSD-25 was clearly the most infamous of substances used by MK-ULTRA, other amazing psychedelics came from odd corners of the natural world.

Hofmann created LSD-25 largely out of ergot, a fungus that grows on rye. Mescaline is nothing more than the synthetic essence of peyote cactus. Psilocybin, the drug that Timothy Leary preferred to LSD-25 for his Harvard experiments, was synthesized from exotic Mexican mushrooms that occupy a special place in CIA history…

When the MK-ULTRA team first embarked on its mind-control explorations, the "magic mushroom" was only a rumor or fable to the Western world. On nothing more than the possibility that the legend was based on fact, CIA scientists tracked the mushroom to the most remote parts of Mexico to identify, test and develop its mind-altering properties. The results, like the LSD legacy, were as startling as they were unintended.”

The CIA scientist sent to Mexico in 1953 to investigate such rumors…

heard amazing tales about special mushrooms that grew only in the hot and rainy summer months. Such stories had circulated among Europeans in Mexico since Cortez had conquered the country early in the sixteenth century. Spanish friars had reported that the Aztecs used strange mushrooms in their religious ceremonies, which these converters of the heathens described as "demonic holy communions." Aztec priests called the special mushrooms teonanactl, "God's flesh." But Cortez's plunderers soon lost track of the rite, as did the traders and anthropologists who followed in their wake. Only the legend survived.”

- from the Search for the Manchurian Candidate by John Marks

In 1973 CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MK-ULTRA files destroyed. Pursuant to this order, most CIA documents regarding the project were destroyed, making a full investigation of MK-ULTRA impossible. Fortunately, a cache of some 20,000 documents survived Helms' purge, as they had been incorrectly stored in a financial record building and were discovered following a “freedom of information act” request in 1977. These documents were fully investigated during Senate Hearings of 1977.

~  ~  ~

The great irony is that MK-ULTRA and the CIA, in their sinister quest to develop and exploit the ultimate truth serum, (for use against foreign agents, both real and imaginary, as well as paranoia induced domestic threats) were instrumental in “unleashing” these profound substances upon the American public. For these incredibly powerful psychedelics, both synthesized and naturally occurring, to be suddenly made available to the masses, at such a crucial time in American history, seems more than a coincidence. In fact, these psychedelic substances seemed to have found their way, as if “of their own accord,” …to the very people who were ready to receive them. Magic Mushrooms, Peyote and LSD-25, for better or worse, became the Eucharist of the counter-culture that caught fire simultaneously on both the East and West coasts, in the late 1960s.

By their own hands, the tyrants of the military-industrial complex unintentionally ignited a firestorm of resistance to their manipulations and control. Blinded by fear, believing their own propaganda, they inadvertently shed light upon their own nefarious activities. The counter-culture of the 1960s, “turned on” by psychedelics, launched the first counterstrike against the Evil Empire. The “Heads” of the counter-culture found strong allies in the civil rights movement and to a great extent spawned the environmental movement.

Ken & Timothy, circa 1996
More significantly, the development of psychedelic culture… unique to each coast… laid the foundation for the Yankee and Cowboy Psychedelic War that was to be defined by the inner explorations of Leary and company on the East Coast and the antics of Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the West. Each coast found their unique way in these turbulent times to develop distinct sub-cultures fitting to each coast’s character. The Psychedelic counter-culture blossomed, morphed, went underground… but is still with us today. It irreversibly altered our planetary consciousness and started us down the “western road” to enlightenment… in the words of Kesey’s house band:  “What a long, strange trip it’s been.