In my new book, The War on You, I document how corporate and state elites use information, money, law, and psychology in an effort to control your thoughts and behaviours for their own ends. Most of the psychological warfare documented in the book is a result of living in a fragmented, for-profit culture over which the individual has little control.
In case these unconscious structures fail to keep people in their place, the military, secret services, governments, and corporations have developed an impressive array of deliberate mind-control technologies and behavioural analysis firms targeted towards the individual.
The US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) mind control experiments, dating back to the 1950s, are well-known. Their MK-ULTRA experiments in sensory deprivation continue to be used on Guantánamo Bay captives. But until Ian Cobain’s book Cruel Britannia, few people knew that British psychologists had pioneered the use of sensory deprivation for mind control.
During WWII, Lord Swinton “pressed the Home Office for permission to open an MI5 interrogation centre,” codenamed Camp 020. Brightly lit for 24 hours, a resident doctor reportedly said that the Camp induced “mental atrophy and extreme loquacity” in its victims. A resident medical officer named Harold Dearden “dreamed up the regimes of starvation and of sleep and sensory deprivation.” The Camp was one of a number, including the MI19-run Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, later renamed A19.
After the War, several individuals convened to share intelligence on mind control. They represented the Defence Research Policy Committee, the Joint Intelligence Bureau, the Canadian Defence Research Board, the CIA’s Research and Development Board, and the Psychology Unit at McGill University (Montreal). The latter was led by Donald Hebb.
The scientists referred to their psychological devastation techniques as “menticide.” Hebb subjected terrier puppies to prolonged isolation before trying it on consenting postgraduate students. The British and American governments and the CIA funded Hebb’s successors, including his former student Dr Maitland Baldwin. Baldwin found “that sensory deprivation would almost certainly cause irreparable psychological damage” in humans.
The CIA’s Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual (1963) was based on MK-ULTRA. One of the MK-ULTRA psychiatrists was McGill University’s Dr Ewen Cameron, a colleague of Hebb. Cameron “subjected hundreds of psychiatric patients to large doses of electroshock and total sensory isolation, and drugged them with LSD and PCP,” writes journalist Naomi Klein. In 1960, Cameron lectured to the Brooks Air Force Base, stating that sensory deprivation “produces the primary symptoms of schizophrenia.”
Tulane University was allegedly involved in the operations, using the services of a state-hospital, as well as funding by a CIA front company called the Commonwealth Fund, to conduct research. The Washington Post reports that the “quest to turn humans into robot-like assassins via electrodes planted in their brains” led to a number of lawsuits, in which several ex-servicemen claim to have been unwitting human test subjects. Plaintiff Bruce Price claims that in 1966, he was ordered into a building full of lab animals in which he was strapped to a gurney. Price kept waking up with bruised arms and covered in blood. A later CT scan, obtained by Price’s lawyer, appears to show that he had been implanted with a mind control device.
Beyond Freedom & Dignity
In the 1950s, the psychologist B.F. Skinner utilised the Russian (and later Soviet) scientist Ivan Pavlov’s conditioning techniques to falsely argue that that is how human beings learn. Geneticists pointed out that the potential for knowledge actually comes from innate brain structures, not solely from repetitive learning. But Skinner was correct in that people can be conditioned, if the conditioning is maintained, to behave in certain ways and under certain conditions.
Skinner’s work culminated in the publication of his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity(1971), in which he argued that humanity should be scientifically controlled via a blend of Orwellian and Huxleyan social architecture designed to end both human freedom and dignity.
Skinner failed to persuade elites to impose a blanket control system. But such a system is gradually creeping in, based on these kinds of ideas. In his work on “nudging,” Barack Obama’s former advisor Cass Sunstein argues that, like rats in a maze, people should be given the illusion of choice in what he and co-authors call choice architecture. Conspiracy forums should be “cognitively infiltrated,” he says, and the supposed rationalism of the official line inserted into chat-rooms. More ominously, he says behavioural science teams should be expanded to control public opinion, for benign reasons, like “nudging” smokers to quit. However, since Brexit in the UK and the British government’s response to coronavirus, we’ve seen the darker sides of “nudging” techniques.
The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) was founded by the UK’s Tory-Liberal coalition government in 2010. The Cabinet Office said: “The Behavioural Insights Team, often called the ‘Nudge Unit’, draws on insights from academic research in behavioural economics and psychology, to apply them to public policymaking.” The professed aims of the BIT may sound innocent enough: to use insights in human behaviour from the fields of neuroscience and cognitive psychology to influence behaviour (hence the “nudge”) in positive directions, such as helping people to eat more healthily, keep appointments, and pick up litter.