Yes. It was James Angleton’s idea.
In May 1963, deputy director Richard Helms asked Angleton, the legendary chief of the agency’s Counterintelligence Staff, to assess the problem of Cuba for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Angleton wrote a 16-page working paper, “Cuban Control and Action Capabilities” that was so sensitive it would remain classified for the next 35 years.
Angleton’s conclusions were stark. Castro’s minions were marching into Latin America aided and abetted by their masters in Moscow, he said.
“In both internal and external activities the guiding hand of the Soviet Bloc, particularly the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Communist China was evident to varying degrees,” Angleton wrote. “Many aspects of the Cuban [security] programs could not have been carried out without external support in terms of funds, experience and expert training.”
In fact Communist China had little influence on Castro’s Cuba. The cultural differences between the two countries were too vast; Angleton didn’t care. The international communist conspiracy was, in his conspiratorial mind, was monolithic.
After Helms distributed the memo to rest of the U.S. government, Angleton turned to possible solutions.
Like Helms, Angleton considered assassination, but with a creative twist. Since all of the many agency’s attempts to kill the Cuban leader by conventional methods (poison, bazooka attack) had failed, Angleton proposed a radically different approach: hypnotizing an unwitting person who would kill on command. Angleton asked tthe CIA’s ablest scientists to look into it.
Mind Control in Mexico City
“Castro was naturally our discussion point,” an unnamed CIA man involved in the CIA’s mind-control program told John Marks, a former State Department officer who wrote The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, a good book about the agency’s mind control program in the 1950s and 1960s.. “Could you get somebody gung-ho enough that they would go in and get him?”
The concept of mind control had been popularized by novelist Richard Condon in his 1959 best-seller The Manchurian Candidate, in which the Chinese communists capture a U.S. serviceman, subject him to mind control techniques, and program him to assassinate the President of the United States. Having done research on the CIA’s mind control programs, Condon knew that the agency was serious about developing the capability to manipulate someone into killing.
That concept had long intrigued the CIA leadership.
“Caught in the muck and frustration of ordinary spywork, [they] hoped for a miracle tool,” Marks wrote in his book, which was based on declassified CIA records. “Faced with liars and deceivers, they longed for a truth drug. Surrounded by people who knew too much, they sought a way to create amnesia. They dreamed of finding means to make unwilling people carry out specific tasks, such as stealing documents, provoking a fight, killing someone, or otherwise committing an antisocial act.” [ii]
This wasn’t science fiction or a conspiracy theorist’s fantasy.
Angleton’s staff had been working with the agency’s Technical Services Staff since 1960 to conduct operational experiments in hypnosis, which one counterintelligence official wrote, could provide a “potential breakthrough in clandestine technology.” The code name for the the program was Artichoke.
Artichoke had three goals: The first was to induce hypnosis very rapidly in unwitting subjects. The second was to create durable amnesia. The third was to implant durable and operationally useful post-hypnotic suggestions, to make a personal responsive to commands. These were serious exercises in behavioral control that needed to be tested. The Technical Services Staff would do the laboratory research, while the Counterintelligence Staff was in charge of what it called “field experimentation.”
In October 1960 the CIA scientists paid $9,000 to an outside consultant to develop a way of quickly hypnotizing an unwitting subject. John Gittinger, a psychologist who worked with Angelton, said that the process consisted of surprising “somebody sitting in a chair, putting your hands on his forehead, and telling the guy to go to sleep.” The method worked “fantastically” on certain people, including some on whom no other technique was effective. But it didn’t work at all on others. “It wasn’t that predictable,” Gittinger said.
In July 1963, Angleton’s staff asked the CIA station in Mexico City to find a suitable candidate for a rapid induction experiment. Angleton had been friends with Mexico City station chief Win Scott since World War II, and could count on him for help.
A counterintelligence officer flew to Mexico City, as did a hypnosis consultant from California. The CIA men brought one of its agents to a motel room on a pretext.
“I puffed him up with his importance,” the CIA source told Marks. “I said the bosses wanted to see him and of course give him more money.”
Waiting in an adjoining room was the hypnosis consultant. At a prearranged time, the two case officers gently grabbed hold of the agent and tipped his chair over until the back was touching the floor. The consultant was supposed to rush in at that precise moment and apply the technique. Nothing happened. The consultant froze, unable to do the deed.
“You can imagine what we had to do to cover-up,” said the official who was literally left holding the agent. “We explained we had heard a noise, got excited, and tipped him down to protect him. He was so grubby for money he would have believed any excuse.”
In the end, Angleton concluded there were more reliable ways to kill people than hypnotizing an assassin, according to Marks.
Mind Control and Lee Oswald
Some JFK authors say that Lee Harvey Oswald became involved in a CIA mind control program in 1963.
There’s no doubt Lee Harvey Oswald was of deep interest to Angleton’s staff from 1959 to 1963. And there’s little doubt Oswald went to Mexico City in October 1963 where he came to the attention of Angleton’s people.
But there’s no evidence that Oswald was of interest to the people running Operation Artichoke.
What’s indisputable is that the CIA considered using mind-control techniques to assassinate perceived enemies of United States. It was Angleton’s idea.
From the Author of Our Man in Mexico,
Comes a Detailed Investigation of
CIA operations in Late 1963
In JFK & CIA; The Secret Assassination Files, Jefferson Morley uses on the record interviews of retired CIA officers and thousands of pages of declassified documents to sketch a granular account of the the inner working of the clandestine service on the eve of JFK’s assassination.
There is no theory here, only the facts about how certain named CIA officers monitored and manipulated the defector Lee Oswald as he made his way to Dallas.
From a five-star Amazon review:
“Highly recommended to all readers wanting to learn the truth on matters that the Government still fights to keep secret, some 53 years after the tragic event.”