*But that doesn’t mean we should throw out our entire theory
When you’ve read as many MKULTRA documents as I have lately, you get to know people. You learn what their favorite subjects are. Their pet words and phrases. You recognize their go-to stats and data points when they’re sharing their expertise with a new audience or making a pitch for research dollars. You learn how they like to format a page as soon as they’ve cranked a sheet of onionskin paper into the old Smith Corona. You develop a feel for their gloriously, uniquely idiosyncratic THEM-ness.
Sometimes, if a person has authored a lot of works and those documents have made their way into the public arena, we can identify something else they’ve written, even without being told who the author was. Even if their name is blacked-out. We can tell because it has their DNA all over it, figuratively speaking.
For example: let’s say that a person in the future stumbles upon an old document. The writer in question is going on and on about the topic of Ronald Tammen, her FOIA requests to the FBI and CIA that have been largely ignored, and a missing interview with Carl Knox’s former secretary. Some of her other quirks include a predilection for the word “ostensibly”; a tendency to use “who” even if “whom” is probably correct (but who the heck really knows?); and an unapologetic fondness for the Q&A format. If the document finder has ever been to this blogsite, I think they could easily conclude that the author was yours truly. This is who (whom?) I’ve become, DNA-wise.
(NOTE: We won’t be discussing AI-generated content at this time, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, is a topic that I find concerning. Please be assured that every word on this blogsite is written by yours truly. Personally, I think writing is a craft that should be performed by an honest-to-goodness human if other humans are supposed to relate, deep down, to what they have to say. Besides, isn’t human-to-human connection what writing—not to mention life here on planet earth—is all about? Controversial, I know. OK, moving on.)
And so, Good Man readers, after getting to know several key MKULTRA players a lot better lately, I find myself forced to modify my initial theory by reporting to you that Louis Jolyon West did not, I repeat did not, write the proposal to develop a hypnotic messenger during the summer of 1957.
George Hoben Estabrooks did.
I can see you have questions.
Who’s George Hoben Estabrooks?
George Hoben Estabrooks (his friends called him Esty, so we will too) was born in 1895 in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, a beautiful and vibrant city on the Bay of Fundy, which is known for its primo whale watching. His education was about as stellar as you can get. He received his undergraduate degree from Acadia University, in Nova Scotia; he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar; and he earned his Ph.D. from Harvard. He became a psychology professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY, specializing in both educational psychology and abnormal psychology. He was named chair of the department in 1938.
Esty Estabrooks had a passion for hypnosis, a skill he’d developed during WWII when he ostensibly worked in intelligence in the U.S. Army. (Interestingly, Colgate University’s president, George Cutten, had a similar passion. According to a December 1997 article in The Ottawa Citizen, Cutten had written a book on the psychology of alcoholism, for which he studied the use of hypnosis as a possible treatment.)
In 1943, when the United States was still very much at war, Esty Estabrooks published the book Hypnotism,which explained the concept of hypnosis to a general audience. He viewed hypnosis as having tremendous potential for a number of practical purposes and wanted to allay the fear and stigma attached to it. Truth be told, he was a pretty good communicator with lay audiences, employing analogies and everyday language and even humor to help keep readers interested. (One story he shared involved a group of people who Esty was going to hypnotize using a recording he’d made of himself giving the instructions for going into a trance. When he discovered that he’d loaned his record out, he put on another record to hold the group’s attention, while he fetched the hypnosis record. When he returned, he discovered one subject had fallen into a trance-like state while listening to the other recording, which happened to be of a Swiss yodeler. I mean, that’s pretty funny, right??) As a result, Esty’s book did very well, and was even recommended reading by the Book-of-the-Month Club. In 1957, he published a revised edition, which is the version I have. Chapter 9, Hypnotism in Warfare, is a topic that was especially near and dear to his heart. We’ll discuss portions of that chapter momentarily.
The name Estabrooks may sound familiar to you. I mentioned him in my blog post titled MKULTRA and ‘U.’ His name is frequently tied to the term “Manchurian Candidate” by people who study this topic because, in a May 13, 1968, interview with the Providence (R.I.) Evening Bulletin, he very nearly admitted to creating one. (The original article isn’t available online so I’m linking to sources who have quoted him.)
Here’s the quote that’s attributed to Esty Estabrooks: “The key to creating an effective spy or assassin rests in splitting a man’s personality, or creating multipersonality, with the aid of hypnotism. This is not science fiction. This has and is being done. I have done it.” And then he added: “It is child’s play now to develop a multiple personality through hypnotism,” which is decidedly not funny—not even a little bit.
Granted, it’s unclear if he was (merely?) admitting to splitting a man’s personality or to going all-in with the creation of an assassin, aka a Manchurian Candidate. But in 1971, he published an article that appeared in Science Digest in which he readily admitted to having created hypnotic couriers that were used as spies during WWII. I find this admission especially surprising since, in chapter nine of the 1957 edition of Hypnotism, he only says that the idea of a hypnotic courier is a proposed use of hypnosis—a possibility, as in we’re just brainstorming here. If the development of a hypnotic courier was already old hat by WWII—I mean, let’s ponder on that for a moment: he claims they were using hypnotic couriers as well as multiple personalities during World War TWO!—I’m guessing he wouldn’t have been shy about taking it to the next level and creating an assassin soon thereafter.
In a quote in the 1997 article of the Ottawa Citizen Sun, author, psychiatrist, and MKULTRA researcher Colin Ross, M.D., said, “In terms of Manchurian Candidate experimentation, he’s the number one person.”
All the while that Estabrooks was being incredibly chatty about his endeavors, particularly between 1957, when he published the second edition of his book, and 1971, when he admitted to creating the hypnotic courier during WWII, the CIA was attempting to keep its MKULTRA-related matters hidden. In the same Providence Evening Bulletin article, Estabrooks revealed that he’d consulted for the FBI and the CIA, which I’m sure pleased both organizations to no end. It also tends to make me question his assertion, since, in my experience, people who brag about being employed by the CIA are generally quite full of it. What’s more, in 1942, the FBI had already scolded Esty about making pronouncements that he was affiliated with the Bureau when they hadn’t even requested his help, which, in that case, had to do with research he was conducting on crime and hypnosis. Yet, in 1968, there he was again…bragging to a reporter about his FBI ties…while J. Edgar Hoover was still alive and well and cranky as all get out. His eagerness to go public on such highly sensitive matters as well as his tendency to state his abilities with so much swagger surely led at least several people from both agencies to view him leerily. I’ll show you what they had to say in a minute.
How do you know he wrote the proposal and not Louis Jolyon West?
Now that I know George Esty Estabrooks far better than I used to, I’m 100% positive that he was the author of the February 1957 proposal to develop a hypnotic messenger. I’m actually a little embarrassed that it took me this long to figure it out, since so many of his go-to words, phrases, and fun facts are scattered throughout the proposal, which was long on promises and short on details. (I think I’ve mentioned before that it would be considered a “trust me” proposal in research circles—a three-pager that basically says “You know me. I’m the best person to do this so can I please have $10K asap?”)
That said, it’s not as if Louis Jolyon West didn’t have an interest in developing a hypnotic courier for use by the military. He most definitely did, and he said so on page one, item #5, of his short-term goals in a six-page letter he wrote to the CIA’s Sidney Gottlieb (S.G.) in June 1953.
Also, the title of the February 1957 proposal adheres to the formula Jolly used for titling his own research proposals, which was always “Studies in blibbity blobbity blah blah blah.” Also Major Jolly West had recently ended his obligatory service in the U.S. Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base when the proposal was submitted. Who but a military guy with expertise in hypnosis would write a proposal on the application of hypnosis in the military? Nevertheless, for the reasons I list below, I can tell you with 100% certainty that the hypnotic messenger proposal was written by George H. Estabrooks and not Louis Jolyon West.
Here’s the link to the proposal, with special thanks to The Black Vault for making these MKULTRA documents available to all.
One of the telltale words in the proposal is “hypnotism,” which was rather out-of-date by then. People still used it sometimes, but just not so much. But Esty used the word hypnotism all the time. That’s what he titled his book, including the 1957 version, and he uses it throughout the book as well. He used the word hypnosis too, but hypnotism was his preference. West, on the other hand, was using the term “hypnosis” in all of his documents from that era. So if he’d been using “hypnosis” in 1953, why would he refer to “hypnotism” in 1957? He wouldn’t. But Esty would.
In the first sentence, the author says that “Hypnotism is now a recognized branch of the science of psychology…” yada yada yada. Why would Jolly West open his proposal with a reference to psychology instead of psychiatry? Answer: He wouldn’t. If you’re going to spend all of the time and money required to pursue a degree in psychiatry you wouldn’t lead with a field in which you didn’t pursue a degree. Furthermore, in his budget on page 3, the author says that a “psychiatrist should also be available.” Jolly West was a psychiatrist. If he was the author of the proposal, he would have made himself available. (How did I not catch that earlier?) For this reason, I believe the proposal’s author was a psychologist, namely George “Esty” Estabrooks.
On June 22, 1954, George H. Estabrooks submitted a memo to someone within the CIA titled “The Military Application of Hypntism [sic].” In that memo, he describes the creation of a courier, but refers to it as a “hypnotic messenger,” adding “if I may use the phrase.” That sounds as if he feels he coined the term. In his book Hypnotism, Esty refers to the hypnotic messenger almost exclusively when discussing the topic. A comparison of the wording and subject matter between the 1954 memo, which is still redacted, and Estabrooks’ book tells us that he wrote the 1954 memo, just as the similarity between those two documents and the proposal tells us that he wrote the proposal too. Oddly enough, in his 1971 Science Digest article, he didn’t call it a messenger but instead referred to it as a courier. He also cut way back on his use of the word “hypnotism” for that article, though not entirely. What can I say? People change. As for Jolly West, in his 1953 letter to Sidney Gottlieb, he used the word “courier.”
Esty Estabrooks had one statistic that he used more than any other, and that statistic was that one out of every five adults was capable of going into the deepest hypnotic trance, which he referred to as somnambulism. He never cites the source—which probably means that he’s the source—but that statistic permeates his book to an annoying degree. (One of my chief criticisms of his book is that he’s very, very, VERY repetitive.) On page 44, he states it most strenuously:
“One out of every five subjects will, on the average, go into deep hypnosis or somnambulism and no operator, whatever his skill, can better this average.”
Does Esty’s mantra appear in the February 1957 proposal? Oh, you betcha. You can find it in the second paragraph, line two of the Introduction. Honestly, the moment I read that line after having read Esty’s book, I knew Esty had written the proposal. “One out of every five” was the singular phrase that sealed the deal for me.
We all have a favorite way of signing off in a letter. The proposal writer’s cover letter closed with a friendly and less common “Cordially yours.” Jolly West was strictly a “Sincerely” or a “Sincerely yours” kind of guy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him swerve from that sentiment even once. But Esty? He preferred “Cordially yours.” It’s all over his letters in the file that the FBI kept on him. Sure, he occasionally slipped in a “Sincerely yours”—who among us hasn’t?—but “Cordially yours,” just like “hypnotism,” just like “hypnotic messenger,” was Esty’s M.O.
The file number
Something I’ve started focusing on lately are the numbers and letters at the top righthand corner of the lion’s share of the MKULTRA documents. They begin with an A/B, a notation that Colin Ross, M.D., says means Artichoke/Bluebird, which makes sense. The A/B is followed by a number from 1 through 7, which is sometimes written as a Roman numeral. I’m not sure of the meaning of those numbers but it appears to be some type of grouping. The grouping that interests me most is group 5, or V, which appears to include various academics and others with whom the CIA may have consulted. The number after that has the broadest range. I’ve seen them reach upwards into the 300s. Following that number, sometimes after a slash mark, is another number that isn’t very big and seems to progress in numerical order. So you may find a document marked 353/1, another one marked 353/2, and so on.
Let’s direct our attention to the tops of the pages of MKULTRA document 147025 and concentrate only on the last two numbers. You’ll see a series of documents, beginning with the first, which is numbered 90/4, the next is 90/5, and the next is 90/6. (You can ignore the last two pages since they appear to have been misfiled. They have nothing to do with the preceding memos.)
Now look at the notations on the proposal. They are A/B, 5, 90/8. There’s that 90 again. I think the second-to-last number—the 90 in this case—is assigned to a particular person, and I think the last number—the 4, 5, 6, and now 8—is the number assigned to the particular piece of communication that pertains to that particular person. If Esty was the subject of the three memos from 1954, and I strongly believe he was, then I believe someone at the CIA assigned the number “90” to Esty’s records, which means that I also believe that he’s the author of the proposal.
Wow. This is a big shift in your theory.
Yes, it is, and I’m not going to lie, it bummed me out big time when I figured it out. But if we’re going to solve this mystery, we need to let go of the things that aren’t true. It’s taken me a week or so, but I’ve managed to do that and I’m hoping you’ll be able to do it too.
Does anything strike you as weird about Esty’s proposal?
As a matter of fact, yes! If Esty had indeed created a hypnotic messenger during WWII, as he claimed in 1971, I wonder why he didn’t mention that fact in his proposal. Here he was, a known braggart, and he didn’t think to mention this to his potential funder? Why did he make it sound as if this would be the first time?
Incidentally, another copy of the proposal can be found here, and the person Esty was writing to was Morse Allen. Apparently, they were on a first-name basis, or at least Esty felt as if they were. (Morse may have felt differently.) Louis Jolyon West’s communications, on the other hand, were usually directed to the man on top—Sidney Gottlieb.
Do you think St. Clair Switzer worked with George Estabrooks instead of Louis Jolyon West in the summer of 1957?
Here’s what we know: St. Clair Switzer had been approved for a sabbatical for academic year 1956-57. However, the researcher he’d originally been planning to work with, Marion A. “Gus” Wenger (no relation), a UCLA psychologist, had decided at the last minute to travel to India to study yogis instead. There’s no way Switzer would have returned to Miami that year—not after waiting so long for his sabbatical. Not after writing in a December 1954 letter to Gus that “It’s quite a job to break out of this teaching straitjacket.” He was working with someone.
We also now know that George Estabrooks had someone working with him for the summer who was “thoroughly familiar with hypnotism at the theoretical level.” That could certainly describe Switzer, since he’d assisted Clark Hull with his 1933 book, “Hypnosis and Suggestibility,” which was both an experimental and theoretical study of hypnosis. Also, a CIA staffer had made the notation “H/B-6” next to that person’s crossed-out name, which I believe indicates that Esty’s helper was a military officer who was affiliated with a military base with an on-site hospital. Again, that could apply to Lt. Col. Switzer, particularly if he was working closely with Wright Patterson AFB.
On the other hand, Jolly West was deep into his research on POWs that year. The focus of that research—interrogation methods—happened to be the reason Switzer’s expertise in hypnosis and drugs was likely being sought by the CIA and military. As you know, I believe the January 14, 1953, memo on “Interrogation Techniques” mentions both Louis Jolyon West (I’m 100% sure) and Switzer (I’m pretty sure) for a “well-balanced interrogation research center.” So it could be that Switzer was at the University of Oklahoma helping West in the use of hypnosis and drugs for the interrogation of POWs, while Esty Estabrooks was across the country working on his hypnotic messenger.
I guess what’s really throwing me off right now are the two letters.
What two letters?
Around the time that Esty submitted his hypnotic messenger proposal to Morse Allen, someone who sounded a lot like St. Clair Switzer wrote two letters to a colleague of his, Griffith Wynne Williams, who was a renowned hypnosis expert and professor of psychology at Rutgers University. (Here’s a link to the December 6, 1956 letter. Here’s a link to the February 8, 1957 letter.) Williams and Switzer both studied under Clark Hull at the University of Wisconsin. Their time with him overlapped when Williams was pursuing his doctorate degree and Switzer was working on his master’s. The letters are congenial, if a little on the obsequious side, and they’re filled with extremely specific questions on hypnosis that quickly enter into the realm of the disturbing.
The letter writer appears to be working with another researcher on a project of great importance. He makes it clear that the subject is “very highly classified” (December 6, 1956) and “sensitive” (February 8, 1957) and instructs Williams to destroy both letters immediately after he’s read them. Thankfully, we know for sure that Williams is the recipient even though his name is redacted because the CIA staffer with the black pen accidentally forgot to redact the word “Rutgers” (December 6, 1956) and he or she also allowed the word “arthritis” (February 8, 1957), which Williams was burdened with for much of his life, to remain exposed. I love when that happens.
So here’s where the letters are throwing me: in some ways they might support a collaboration between Switzer and Estabrooks, while at other times, they might be more indicative of a collaboration between Switzer and Jolly West, or someone else of his stature.
Do the letters pertain to Estabrooks’ research…
The letters are written around the time of Esty’s proposal, with the second letter being written just two days after the proposal was written. So that might lead us to presume that they were related to a collaboration between Esty and Switzer.
Also, the letters indicate that the two secretive researchers had visited with Williams in person, once in his office, though they suggested a less visible place for their second meeting, such as the local hotel. It would be a lot easier for them to make a 4-hour drive from upstate New York to New Brunswick, N.J. than if they were traveling from Oklahoma. Of course, I’m sure the CIA could afford the plane fare, but I’m inclined to think that their interest in having multiple in-person meetings instead of talking by phone makes it sound as if it was relatively easy for them to do so.
Or do they pertain to a researcher of higher stature, such as Jolly West?
At first, the questions that the letter writer asks in the December 1956 letter could be considered relevant to the development of a hypnotic messenger—such as the ones having to do with the production of amnesia (#1), concealed induction methods (#2), and problems with post-hypnotic control (#5). But the other questions go way beyond the scope of a hypnotic messenger, including the series of questions that are focused upon the hypnotizing of large groups of people through various means, such as TV broadcasts, speaking techniques, lighting, stage effects, and so on.
In addition, the letter writer appears open to any guidance that Williams could provide in 12 areas. But in the second edition of Esty’s book, which came out after the December letter was written, he said that the carotid artery technique (he calls it a “neck nerve”) is being done with jujitsu, and has nothing to do with a hypnotic trance, and that of course people can be hypnotized to do something that goes against their beliefs. Therefore, if it was Esty’s project, I can’t see him even asking questions #10 and #12.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier, the letter writer makes a very big deal of the fact that this is a secret project. He even uses the term “very highly classified.” Did you read what the guys in the CIA had to say about Estabrooks behind his back? Plus, you also know what a chatterbox this guy was. I’m just asking: Would those guys have given George Estabrooks a Secret or Top Secret classification?
They had no problem designating the Top Secret classification to Louis Jolyon West, however.
P.S. I’d like to share one additional piece of evidence that St. Clair Switzer wrote the letters to Griffith Williams. You can find most of my reasoning in this blog post, and I’ll let those reasons stand as-is.
However, one thing I mentioned in that post is the letter writer’s use of the term “Ph.D. thesis” in his December 6, 1956, letter. For most of us who don’t have a Ph.D., we think of a “master’s thesis” and a “doctoral dissertation,” and those terms are absolutely correct. But for some odd reason, some academics with doctoral degrees, not all of them, but some, will refer to a Ph.D. thesis. I don’t know why they do it, but they do.
Here’s a piece of evidence that St. Clair Switzer did it too.