The Cold War began not long after World War II. As I explained in the last post about the Nuremberg Trials, the US and the Soviet Union were working together to bring the war to an end and put the Nazis on trial. One thing I didn't mention, however, was that there were talks between US officials, UK officials, and Nazi officials to try to come to some sort of agreement. This was called Operation Sunrise. The Soviet Union was strategically kept out of these talks. In fact, part of these talks included the Nazi officials trying to come to some sort of agreement against the Soviet Union. But, naturally, the Soviet Union caught on about these talks. They agreed that talking it out and finding common ground would be a good strategy. However, they said that they needed to also be a part of these talks. Only the Soviet Union was told that they could not be a part of these conversations. This very obvious snub led to the growing tension between the Soviet Union and the US that we think of when we think of the Cold War, which began in 1947.
In September of 1947, the CIA is created and these individuals hit the ground running. People felt that they were in imminent danger and because of this, they needed to do anything necessary to not fall victim to what the Soviet's may have in store. After all, they were well aware of what the US had in their back pocket from working side by side to wrap up World War II. They needed a new game plan and they needed it quick.
By June of 1950, the Korean War began. Three years later, the war came to an end and as Allen Dulles said in his speech, they believed there was evidence of mind control taking place on the US military. This could very easily mean that the danger that everyone had been feeling was closing in on them. It appeared as though there was a secret weapon and the last thing that US wanted was to find themselves behind the eight ball.
In 1957, the CIA found, what they felt, may be just the help that they needed. That help would be from a man named Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron. If you're thinking, "hey, that name is familiar," that's because it is. Cameron had a hand in the Nuremberg trials. But before we get to that, let's start at the beginning for our dear friend Dr. Cameron.
Donald Ewen Cameron was born on December 24, 1901 in Scotland. Cameron's father was a Presbyterian minister. While his father was a man of religion, Ewen Cameron found himself drawn to the sciences. There were some reports that the two men didn't exactly see eye to eye, however Ewen Cameron's father still made sure to support his son. No matter their differences, he would do what he could to support his son. With his financial support, Ewen Cameron pursued a career in the medical field. However, once his dad died, his resources dried up.
To make ends meet, Cameron decided to move to a city in Manitoba called Brandon and work as an intake psychiatrist at the Provincial Mental Hospital for about seven years. Cameron was inspired by this time in Brandon. He was caring for people with a variety of mental illnesses and he decided that he wanted to make a difference. He wanted to make a big splash in the field of psychiatry. In some ways, you could say that a big splash was exactly what he did.
Cameron had a specific goal in mind. He wanted to find a way to cure schizophrenia. I think everyone can agree that finding cures for any disease, much less one like schizophrenia that absolutely consumes one's life is a noble cause. However, this then raises the question, "What are we willing to sacrifice in the name of progress?"
In 1943, Cameron was invited to McGill University in Montreal where he helped found the Allen Memorial Institute and served as the first director of the Allen. By this time, Cameron had trained at Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital, Phillips Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, the psychiatric hospital at the University of Zurich, and the Provincial Mental Hospital in Brandon. He had become the director of the research division at Worcester State Hospital in Massachusettes, he was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at both Albany Medical College as well as at Russell Sage School of Nursing. Put simply, but the time the Allen opened its doors, Cameron already had a very impressive background that he was bringing to the table.
Not long after the Allen opened, Cameron brought a new option for patients to seek treatment. Simply put, he started what is now known as outpatient treatment. Patients could come to a clinic during the day, work with their doctors to receive their necessary treatment, go home at the end of the day and start all over again tomorrow. This was helpful for people who needed to go home to their children at the end of the day or for other reasons simply couldn't afford to stay in the hospital for extended periods of time.
As I explained last time, Cameron was brought to Germany in 1945 for the Nuremberg Trials. This meant that he would be spending extended time alone, one on one, with some of the world's most heinous criminals in all of history. He would be studying everything about them, everything they thought and believed in. He was to learn and understand them. He needed to get into the mind of these men.
Needless to say, Cameron came back a changed man.
After the trials ended, Cameron went back to the Allen and picked up where he had left off. Cameron dove back into his work to cure people from their schizophrenia. With the way he understood the disease, the only option would be to completely wipe a person's mind clean and start over. This philosophy of wiping or clearing everything away and starting new is sometimes referred to by the Latin phrase, "Tabula Rasa." This translates to mean clean/blank slate. And Cameron believed if he could achieve this blank slate, he could also then implant the new knowledge that would help a person to succeed in overcoming their illness.
Cameron wasn't certain what it was that would do the trick. But he had a few ideas to try. One idea was to put his patients in an insulin induced coma for an extended periods of time. This meant that patients would be given a great enough insulin injection that they would slip into a coma. Author Anne Collins interviewed a nurse who worked for Cameron in this area. She explained to Anne Collins how this all played out. These insulin induced comas essentially left people slipping in and out of consciousness. And so while they teetered back and forth, the nurses had to watch these patients very carefully. They would have small windows of time where they would become just lucid enough for the nurses try to have some sort of talk therapy with them. Cameron's goal was to have these messages and dialogue help to speed up the progress that normal talk therapy would produce. Essentially taking years of talk therapy and trying to reduce it down to a few weeks.
Cameron was studying anything and everything he could for clues to continue to develop his work. He would pay attention to everything going on around him. This means he also would pay attention to new advancements in technology. One night, Cameron saw an infomercial on TV for something that claimed to teach you Spanish while you slept at night. It was a sort of recorder that you would put under your pillow. You would listen to it night after night and the lessons would teach you Spanish by talking and connecting with your subconscious. Cameron saw this and thought "ah ha!"
By 1953, Cameron developed what is now referred to as psychic driving. For up to about 16 hours a day, patients would sit and listen to the same loop of messages over and over again. It would start with negative messages that varied person to person. Whatever it was that would hurt the person the most. Then, after they were so beat down from these messages, they would then listen to only positive messages on loop. They would go from one extreme to the other. Some would be drugged while this took place, others would have a helmet with these messages strapped to their head so they were unable to remove it, and other times it would be piped in through the speakers. Patients were unable to free themselves from these constant ongoing messages.
Now to circle back to the CIA for a minute. They were desperately trying to find a way to learn how to brainwash people and use mind control. One agent of the CIA went to the American Psychological Association in 1954 where a psychologist named Donald Hebb was speaking. At this talk, they learned of sensory deprivation experiments that had been taking place at McGill University. Through their interest, Hebb led them directly to none other but Cameron. You see, Cameron was taking Hebb's experiments and using a more aggressive approach with them. That aggressive approach was just what the CIA wanted. They felt that the experiments that Cameron was doing would be the key to the work they were attempting to achieve.
From there, the CIA created a fake organization called the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology. This organization approached Cameron suggesting that he apply for one of their grants to help fund his experiments. And so he did just that. And wouldn't you know it, but he was the lucky winner of the grant. Between 1957 to 1964, the Society of the Investigation of Human Ecology gave Cameron around $69,000 to fund his experiments.
With Cameron's new resources, he was able to really kick his experiments into high gear, as though it wasn't already intense enough. And it wouldn't be until many years later that people would learn the truth of these experiments.
Cameron left the project very suddenly before his contract was up. After that, Cameron died of a heart attack in 1967. After Cameron was gone, MK Ultra came into light as well as certain investigations into what Cameron had done.
Subproject 68. That's what the CIA called it. But most others refer to it as "torture," "abuse of power," and other similar sentiments. Cameron had been taking patients with relatively minor illnesses. There were many who had, what we would now call postpartum depression. Others were experiencing anxiety, acute depression, and some weren't even there for mental illnesses at all. One particular man had been experiencing terrible jaw pain. Thinking it could be psychosomatic, he was sent to the Allen for an evaluation and treatment.
As I mentioned before, some would be put in insulin induced comas that would last for extended periods of time. They would be put in what was called, "the sleep room." One patient, Nancy Layton, went to the Allen in September of 1961 and all she remembers is waking up in February of 1962. That's five months of her life that is simply gone.
But that wasn't all for her. Cameron would also use electroshock therapy. This wasn't terribly uncommon in those days and is still used as a form of treatment in some facilities today. However, nothing about the way that Cameron did these treatments was normal. Cameron would shock his patients over 20 times more powerful than the standard level. Not just that, but they would get these shock treatments multiple times in a day. For Nancy, these shock treatments stopped her heart and they had resuscitate her. By the end of her 5-6 month stay at the Allen, Nancy received 129 electroshock treatments.
After coming out of the Allen, Nancy was unable to care for herself and had sever neurological damage. She in time was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia as a result of the treatments she received at the Allen. The irony of it all is that the one thing that Cameron claimed to want to find a cure for was the one disease that he was able to instead create. Now, it's hard to explicitly say if that treatment did in fact lead to her schizophrenia, but all signs point to Cameron's treatments being the culprit. In fact, others have walked away with similar results. A man named Ewen Graham MacDonald explained that his father went to the Allen for hypertension and walked out with schizophrenia.
Following the grand reveal of what had really happened, nine of Cameron's victims came together to sue the CIA and the Canadian government. They knew it would an incredibly large challenge to take on the CIA, but they felt that maybe the Canadian government would see how terribly things got out of hand and their guilt would push the CIA to come forward and seek justice for what they did. However, it was revealed through the suit that the Canadian government was also in on all of it. In fact, on top of the money that the CIA was sending Cameron, the federal government had given Cameron over $500,000 between 1950 and 1965. After dragging the lawsuit out for years, they all finally settled and the victims received around $100,000 each. This was peanuts compared to the $1 million each that they started it.
Since then, there have been other lawsuits that have come up. The family members who were also impacted by all of this have filed their own lawsuits. Most all that are suing all agree that there isn't really anything that will make it all better. It will never be all better. But the issue is that they still deny that these experiments happened. The US and Canadian governments have owned up to and apologized for some horrible things that have happened over the years. However, they to this day deny that any of it has happened. One resource that I used reached out the McGill University to see if they had a statement on any of this, and they did. They acknowledged that these experiments did happen. They acknowledged how horrific it was. However, they explain that during that time, they were not associated with that and it would truly be Cameron that would have to answer for his crimes, which we've already noted is impossible now. So while they are willing to admit that it happened, they are not willing to admit that they had any hand in any of it.
In two podcasts that I listened to on the subject, they each interviewed one of Cameron's sons, Duncan Cameron. Duncan specifically wanted to speak up to try and defend his father's honor. He spoke of how his father was a happy man and enjoyed joking around. He talked about the fond memories he had of his father. However, it was clear that Duncan was careful with his wording when asked more challenging questions. In the end, he explained that he and his family all wish that his father had been alive when this all came to light. They all wish that he would be the one answering for his actions. They claim to have had no knowledge of what he was doing. It it also unclear how much Cameron knew. Did he know he was actually being funded by the CIA? It's hard to tell with so many documents from MK Ultra destroyed, including some of Cameron's work. There are hints that he may have known more than he let on, but we will never know just how much he knew. And no one will get the proper apology from the man that owes it the most.
Endless Thread Podcast: Madness series