A meditation on mothers and Manchurian Candidates
It’s Mother’s Day, and like you, I’ve been spending the day poring over MKULTRA documents. Oh, you haven’t been doing that today? I’m the only one? Well, not for long!
Because today, I’ll be sharing a document that could very well be the official start of the whole Manchurian Candidate thing. What’s more, it’s a true account—of the non-fiction variety.
As you may already know, “The Manchurian Candidate” was a novel by Richard Condon that came out in 1959. The movie, which starred Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey, and Frank Sinatra, was released in 1962. The film is so good that it has a permanent home on my DVR.
The story is about an American POW from the Korean War who was hypnotically programmed to assassinate a U.S. presidential candidate when given a special trigger. He was also instructed to promptly forget what he’d done afterward through a post-hypnotic suggestion. I won’t tell you any more than that, just in case you haven’t seen it yet. Lansbury, the programmed assassin’s mother, is phenomenal. (Spoiler alert: Jessica Fletcher, she is not.) The “Manchuria” reference is based on the fact that POWs passed through that region between China and Russia after being freed from North Korea. (Here’s a map to help you picture it.)
As the world would learn decades later, that wasn’t too different from what the CIA was dreaming up through Projects ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA. What’s more, some of the people in charge probably wouldn’t have felt the need to stop at just one Manchurian Candidate. Once they had the bugs worked out, they could…well, to quote one redacted expert who was bragging to U.S. intelligence officers: “Two hundred trained [BLANK] operators, trained in the United States, could develop a unique, dangerous army of hypnotically controlled agents.” (See document from March 4, 1952.)
I suppose I considered Condon to be incredibly prescient to have written his book 20 or so years before everyone else discovered that a Manchurian Candidate was a thing, of sorts, or at least something that some people within our government had set their sights on. But as John Marks, author of “The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control,” footnoted, “Condon consulted with a wide variety of experts while researching the book, and some inside sources may well have filled him in on the gist of a discussion that took place at a 1953 meeting at the CIA on behavior control.”
That’s the meeting that I was reading about as I was blearily clicking on some documents from July 1953 this morning. The meeting had occurred on June 18, 1953, two months after the first POWs had been exchanged with the North Koreans and Chinese (called the Little Switch), yet before the war had ended. I’m linking to the full document here, thanks to The Black Vault.
Probably after the first hour had passed in the meeting, someone had this to share:
As Marks noted in his book, “The CIA and military men at this session promised to seek more information but the matter never came up again in either the documents released by the Agency or in the interviews done for this book.”
What do Manchurian Candidates have do with Ron Tammen’s story? Probably, hopefully, nothing. But the fact that these issues were being discussed at the same time that Louis Jolyon West (for sure) and St. Clair Switzer (I strongly believe) were being sought after for their expertise in hypnosis and drugs means that this topic, as well as all other related topics, automatically becomes our business.