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The ‘I&I’ guys: Why I think Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor had a hand in his disappearance

Good morning! Is everyone sufficiently caffeinated and ready for the big reveal? Good. Let’s get to it. 

But first, a disclaimer: What I’m about to share with you is a theory I’ve arrived at after assembling some key evidence and determining the most likely person that the clues point to. Admittedly, there are holes, and I could be wrong about some details. In order to help you distinguish between what’s fact and what’s conjecture, I’ll be making a clear distinction in my wording. In the case of the latter, I’ll be using words like “may” and “could” and “possibly” and “allegedly” whereas, if I’m 100 percent certain about something, I’ll use words like “is” and “was” and maybe the occasional “for sure.” I’ll also post original documents as supporting evidence. Despite the holes, I believe that, if we haven’t hit the nail directly on the head, this is as close as we’ve ever been to the truth about what happened to Ronald Tammen. And if you’re with the CIA or FBI and feel that you know better, I simply ask that you prove me wrong.

St. Clair Switzer’s ID at Miami University

ACT 1: The I & I memo

On Tuesday, March 25, 1952, when the CIA was still young and green, though hardly naïve, one of its foot soldiers sat down at his typewriter to compose a memo. The memo’s intended recipient was Robert Jay Williams, a former Naval commander who’d grown up in Spokane, WA, and now, at the age of 38, was one of the head honchos in the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). The author decided on the subject line of “I & I,” which, cryptic as it sounds to the rest of us, was crystal clear to Williams. As you may recall from earlier posts, Williams was at that time the project coordinator of ARTICHOKE, the CIA’s secret program in which they aimed to control people’s thoughts and behaviors with drugs, hypnosis, and other means. I’m sure he preferred to keep things as vague as possible.

Even though the memo writer’s name is redacted, I think it was probably Morse Allen, since he was the person who did so much of the day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE work in the early days. However, because his name is still considered classified for some unknown and ridiculous reason (it’s been released in other memos, why not this one?), there continues to be a shred of doubt as to the author’s identity, so I’ll just refer to him as “the author.” (But I’m 99 percent sure it was Allen.) 

As for the subject head, I can only wager a guess regarding what that means too. The first “I,” I believe, stands for interrogation, since the interrogation process was always a primary focus for ARTICHOKE—both to prevent the release of U.S. intelligence while, at the same time, getting more info out of the enemy. The other “I,” I believe, stands for indoctrination, since that word seemed to go hand-in-hand with interrogation. We know this is true from the words of Allen Dulles in his Brain Warfare speech, delivered April 10, 1953. In that speech, Dulles used some form of the word “indoctrination” ten times and “interrogation” nine times in describing Communist brainwashing methods. For example, he described how Americans were indoctrinated into making false confessions, and that one reason that the Communists hadn’t caused this to happen on a more widespread basis was a “shortage of trained interrogators.” In the CIA’s mindset, interrogation went together with indoctrination like Desi went with Lucy, Martin went with Lewis, and Tonto went with the Lone Ranger. Other examples of these two “I” words used in tandem is a report from 1955 in which the subject head is referring to the “Interrogation and Indoctrination of PWs” (prisoners of war) and this 1956 report for the American Medical Association, conducted at Dulles’ request by Drs. Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff. So I’m pretty confident that “I & I” was shorthand for Interrogation and Indoctrination, even though I couldn’t get confirmation of this while I was on the phone with a CIA rep one day (shocker).

In the weeks leading up to the March 25 memo, Williams (I think, since the name is always redacted) had expressed his frustration with how ARTICHOKE had been progressing, or, rather, not progressing. The folks at OSI wanted to pursue cutting-edge scientific research in ARTICHOKE methods—they were especially enamored with the “very latest ‘ideas’” in “electroshock, lysergic acid [LSD], drugs, electro-encephalograph, hypnosis, etc., etc.,” while the guys in the Inspection and Security Office (IS&O), which happened to include Allen, were all about operations. The security guys wanted to pursue whatever worked best, and, as one meeting summary stated (also likely written by Allen), the writer didn’t understand why OSI wanted to pursue electroshock and lysergic acid, when [sodium] amytal and pentothal had “been used with some success in the United States and elsewhere.” 

The aforementioned summary document, which had been typed up for the departmental files on February 12, 1952, described “a long, involved, and somewhat heated discussion concerning ‘Artichoke’” between the author and someone who was obviously in command. Among other things, the author described how the person he was speaking with—again, I’m thinking Williams—had been inquiring about a hypnosis researcher who wouldn’t be averse to working on a project such as this. Maybe that conversation was the impetus for the March 25 memo, or maybe it was just one of many exchanges they’d had of late on the topic.

Regardless, on this particular Tuesday, March 25, the author was hoping to placate Williams by providing names of serious-minded hypnosis researchers. “You have asked me to put down in writing some of my ideas on how I would go about getting expert help on hypnotism,” the author began. “Above all, I would rely upon proven experimental psychologists who have their feet on the ground on this subject and who have done plenty of research work on hypnotism.”

Nice lead. Way to write for your audience, my dude.

In paragraph 2, our author then begins to discuss perhaps one of the foremost researchers in hypnosis, and, even though, some 67 years later, the CIA still considers this information to be classified, we can figure out many of the words that were redacted, and, I would venture to say, they are quite undeserving of the “classified” designation. Let’s give it a shot, Mad Libs-style, shall we?

“The most extensive and careful series of experiments on hypnotism were carried out by BLANK over a ten-year period,” he said.

Does anyone know who our author is referring to? I’ll give you a hint: three Miami professors studied under him.

That’s right, it’s Clark Hull.You’ll see why in a second. Moving on:

“He began his work while he was still at the BLANK and finished his studies after he transferred to the BLANK.”

Some of you who have read this post may recall that these answers are the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Yale University Institute of Human Relations. Easy breezy.

If you had any doubts about the above answers, here’s the giveaway sentence:

“His book, entitled BLANKETY BLANK, “is a carefully documented research classic which is a [sic] ‘must’ reading for anybody who professes to be even seriously interested in the subject.”

Yep, he’s referring to Hull’s 1933 classic book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach. It’s so unbelievably obvious. And yet, the CIA feels that this is classified information. Forward ho:

“Unfortunately, BLANK is no longer interested in hypnotism and moreover he has become quite feeble…”

The answer, again, is Clark Hull. Remember how Hull had stopped studying hypnosis as soon as his book came out, and even wrote in a journal that “I shall never be able to live down the stigma cast upon me by it”? Also, regarding the “feeble” part, Hull had always had health issues, but it turns out that a “bad heart condition” had limited his activities over his last several years at Yale, and he died on May 10, 1952, just six weeks after the memo was written. So feeble—weak, ailing—fits too.

Clark Leonard Hull

“…but his two principal research assistants are still active in psychology and would prove particularly valuable as consultants on a research project on hypnotism. They are BLANK AND BLANK.

There’s no way to figure out who the two researchers are with that limited amount of information. Thankfully, we have paragraphs three and four to help us. Bear in mind that these individuals aren’t going to be nearly as obvious as Hull. However, what first narrows down our options is the fact that they had to have studied under Hull and were at some point considered his “principal research assistants.” Also, they needed to be active in the field of psychology in March 1952. So at least we have that.

Let’s proceed to paragraph 3: 

“BLANK BLANKETY-BLANKED before he became a psychologist.” That could be anything. We’ll have to come back to it once we have a little more information.

“He is an extremely competent, broad-minded, and non-dogmatic scientist.” Very nice, but again, no giant arrows pointing to someone we know.

“At the present time, he serves as a BLANK.” Grrrr. Fine, we’ll come back to this one too.

“He has plenty of experience in research, experimental, clinical, and business psychology.”

I’ll ask you to ignore the lack of parallel structure in the above sentence and concentrate on the last two words, which happen to provide a big clue. Why would Commander Robert Jay Williams give a whit about business psychology when he’s looking for a serious-minded scientific researcher in hypnosis? Nevertheless, I am so glad our author inserted that needless selling point, because, guess what? I do know of one person who was a principal research assistant to Clark Hull who also happened to have experimental, clinical, and, yes, even business psychology expertise. He was Clark Hull’s right-hand man during the publication of his book Hypnosis and Suggestibility and Hull singled him out in his autobiography by expressing his indebtedness to him. He had experimental research experience through his time spent with Hull for his master’s and Ph.D. degrees as well as in hypnosis studies that he helped conduct at Miami in the 1930s. He obtained clinical experience in the summer of 1936 when he worked for the U.S. Public Health Service as a clinical psychologist for prisoners of Northeastern Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA. And he oversaw the business psychology course at Miami, a course that all business majors were required to take. That person is St. Clair Adna Switzer, Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor.

St. Clair Adna Switzer

“I would certainly trust his judgment on any problem dealing with hypnosis and drugs,” the author stated.

Hmmm…Switzer was a psychology professor—he didn’t dispense drugs. However, perhaps the author was referring to something Switzer had done in a former life. Maybe he was referring to the two years Switzer had spent as a pharmacist in Farmington, MI, before he decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology at Miami? Bingo. Let’s go back to the beginning of this paragraph and fill in some blanks to see if they fit.

Sentence 1: “St. Clair Adna Switzer (or Adna St. Clair Switzer—he went by both names) was a pharmacist before he became a psychologist.” Absolutely true. Switzer referred to himself as a “registered pharmacist” in a publication as late as 1950. He was extremely proud of that degree in pharmacy from Ferris Institute School of Pharmacy, and, according to Fern Patten’s book, Eighty Years of Psychology at Miami, that’s the reason he asked his colleagues to call him by his nickname, Doc.

Sentence 2: “He is an extremely competent, broad-minded, and non-dogmatic scientist.” That’s true too. He was fairly no-nonsense from what I can tell, and judging by Hull’s letters to him, Hull felt he was an exceptional scientist, which tells me that Switzer was no slouch in the research department.

Sentence 3: “At the present time, he serves as a professor of psychology at Miami University.” Or maybe it said, “At the present time, he serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves,” because he was doing that intermittently too. I’m guessing it was the former though.

Then comes the business psychology reference and the reference to hypnosis and drugs. 

And finally: “An indication of his writing and thinking can be obtained from a recent article entitled BLANK.”

At this point in Switzer’s career, most of his publications were from the 1930s, which makes sense, since his military responsibilities took over much of the 1940s, throughout the war, and then, after the war, in the Veteran Guidance Center in Oxford. In 1950, however, Switzer authored a small section of the book Handbook of Applied Psychology, edited by Douglas H. Fryer and Edwin R. Henry. The second chapter was titled “Individual Efficiency,” and Switzer’s section, “Drugs and Smoking,” was three pages in length plus references. In 1951, Switzer wrote a chapter on “Personnel Tests” for the book Personnel Handbook, edited by John F. Mee. Perhaps our author cited one of these? If so, my money would be on the “Drugs and Smoking” section, since it’s more relevant to the subject at hand.

It might seem strange that our memo’s author would even be aware of St. Clair Switzer, who, at that time, was toiling away in a crumbling and bug-infested Harrison Hall (the first one, which was torn down in 1958) in Oxford. But Switzer was known by the U.S. government. The Air Force certainly knew where to find him and would regularly send orders for him to appear at such-and-such Air Force Base on assignment. Moreover, in August through December 1951, Switzer had served a stint with the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore, a facility tasked with the development of state-of-the-art aircraft and missiles. His role was a civilian consultant, and, according to Switzer, he “assisted in formulating the long-range training program for Reserve officer scientists who have research and development assignments in the Air Force.” So Switzer was indeed a known commodity in the Air Force and, because the Air Force worked closely with the CIA in Project BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, it wouldn’t have been a stretch for him to be noticed by the folks in Langley too. But that’s probably not how Morse Allen (or whomever our memo’s author was) knew about Switzer. I think the memo’s author telephoned Clark Hull one day in February or March 1952 to ask him about hypnosis researchers. Hull would have informed him that he was no longer in the hypnosis business and that his health was in decline, and then, ever the mentor, he would have passed along the names of the two assistants whom he remembered fondly and who he thought might be interested in assisting in some government work. That seems like the most logical way in which Switzer’s name would have been passed along, at least in my view.

As for the person mentioned in paragraph 4, at first, I wondered if it might have been Everett F. Patten, but then I sought the opinion of someone who has studied Hull’s work in hypnosis, and is acquainted with Switzer and Patten’s contributions as well as other hypnosis researchers from the past. That person agreed that Hull was undoubtedly the first person, and said that he would bet good money that Switzer was the second person. However, he suggested that the person described in paragraph 4 was Griffith Wynne Williams, who was by then a psychology professor at Rutgers. Griffith Williams was another of Hull’s primary research assistants, having accompanied him on his move from the University of Wisconsin to Yale. The reason my source arrived at this conclusion is that Williams had been prolific in publishing on the topic of hypnosis and had also conducted many hypnosis demonstrations, as described in the memo. Also, Griffith Williams had developed a test for determining a person’s suggestibility, which was featured in Hull’s book. Although he’s not important to our story, I’ll hazard the guess that person number two is Griffith Wynne Williams and leave it there.

Of course, just because the names St. Clair Switzer and Griffith Williams may have been suggested to Commander Williams in a memo, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they were actually approached by the CIA and that they subsequently signed on. At this point, it’s just a “You know who we should approach? We should totally approach so-and-so,” sort of deal and it could have all died there. Except for one tiny little thing. In the CIA’s zealousness to keep its people and intelligence sources confidential, they may have given themselves away. (You might want to read that last sentence a second time, since it’s so deliciously ironic.) Remember the post titled FOIA follies where I described my efforts to get the three people’s names released? If so, do you also remember what the CIA said? To make things easy on you, I’ll just copy/paste that verbiage here:

They came back and said (and I paraphrase here), no. They did so on the basis of Section 6 of the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, as amended, and Section 102A(i)(l) of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended. The latter statute doesn’t say much of anything except for establishing the Central Intelligence Agency. The former statute, however, says this (bold added):

SEC. 6. [50 U.S.C. 403g] In the interests of the security of the foreign intelligence activities of the United States and in order further to implement section 102A(i) of the National Security Act of 1947 that the Director of National Intelligence shall be responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure, the Agency shall be exempted from the provisions of sections 1 and 2, chapter 795 of the Act of August 28, 1935 1 (49 Stat. 956, 957; 5 U.S.C. 654), and the provisions of any other laws which require the publication or disclosure of the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency: Provided,That in furtherance of this section, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall make no reports to the Congress in connection with the Agency under section 607, title VI, chapter 212 of the Act of June 30, 1945, as amended 1 (5 U.S.C. 947(b)).

I’m no lawyer, but this seems to tell me that all three individuals whose names were redacted in the memo had worked for the CIA at some point in their lives.

Would I be showing my bias if I told you that I agree completely with my past self? I mean, it appears as if the CIA is saying that all three people—including feeble old Clark Hull—had some affiliation with the CIA. In my appeal, I mentioned Hull’s feebleness as a reason that they could at least release HIS name. Right? Wrong. Appeal denied. Of course, if Hull had worked for the CIA before 1952? Well, you got me there. 

I’ve gone the entire FOIA route with this document, short of filing a lawsuit, which an extremely knowledgeable lawyer has dissuaded me from based on the impossible-to-beat exemptions they’re claiming. Now, someone else has kindly picked up this ball and is running with it. That’s all I’ll be saying on the matter, but hopefully, that person will be more successful than I in getting the names released. 

Here’s the full memo.

ACT 2: Seeking the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK

I’m less sure of the second document, though my confidence is growing. While the first document landed on my laptop in nanoseconds, after I ran a search for “hypnosis” on the CIA’s online reading room, I stumbled on the second one while reading page after grueling page of the PDFs on the CIA’s MKULTRA DVD. 

It’s dated January 14, 1953, still several months before Allen Dulles approved MKULTRA, and the subject head is “Interrogation Techniques.” The memo is written to Dr. BLANK. While I’ll post the whole document, the only paragraph I’m concerned with is paragraph 3.

Here’s what it says: 

3.         If the services of Major BLANK, USAF (MC), a trained hypnotist can be obtained and another man well grounded in conventional psychological interrogation and polygraph techniques, and the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK, a well-balanced interrogation research center could be established in an especially selected location.

The sentence is pretty terrible and appears to be missing a comma after the word “hypnotist,” but let’s just focus on the two people whose names are redacted. Even though the first person isn’t identified in our version, other sources have identified it to be Major Louis Jolyon West, who was chief of the Psychiatric Service at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio at that time. (Here’s a reprinted article from the magazine Nexxus that also identifies him from that sentence.) As you may recall, Jolly West was heavily into hypnosis and LSD research (he infamously killed Tusko, the elephant, in the Oklahoma City Zoo) and, when MKULTRA came to be, he was funded under Subproject 43. According to author Colin Ross, M.D., West had received “top secret” clearance from the CIA, which tells us that he would have been able to see a lot more of what the government was up to than a typical unwitting MKULTRA-funded researcher.

As for the second individual, Lt. Colonel BLANK, from what I can tell, that person has never been identified, or even attempted to be identified. Until today. Guys, I think the person named there is Switzer. I kid you not. St. Clair Switzer was made a lieutenant colonel in 1946, after WWII ended. That was quite a feat, since it normally takes 16 years’ time in the service in order to attain lieutenant colonel status. In 1946, Switzer had only spent four years with the Army Air Corps (precursor to the U.S. Air Force) and two years with the Navy before he went to pharmacy school. A Miami Student article from September 15, 1942, said that Switzer was in the Army Air Corps Intelligence Service during WWII, the only reference to intelligence that I’ve seen published about him. This might have expedited his escalation in military rank and bolstered his status with the CIA as well. Also, we already know from the I & I memo that, if Switzer is named there, and I am 99 percent sure that he is, he likely had something to do with the CIA’s efforts in interrogation and indoctrination. 

And now I want you to do me a favor. I want you to open up the document at the link below and I want you to focus on that second name in the third paragraph, even though it’s blacked out. Zoom in as high as you can and really examine it. It says Switzer, does it not? I swear, I can see a capital “S,” a “w,” a “z,” and an “er.” It seems to have the right number of letters. There’s a little tail after the “er,” but I think that was a hand-drawn closing parenthesis. I especially like how the author doesn’t feel the need to identify him further—they just refer to “the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK,” as if he’s already well-known around there. Good ol’ reliable Lt. Colonel BLANK.

This time, instead of submitting a FOIA request, I submitted a mandatory declassification review (MDR) request to the CIA for the release of the two names in paragraph 3. (A person can submit a FOIA request or an MDR request, but not both for the same document.) After having heard nothing in over a year, I’ve submitted an appeal to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) for a ruling. If they should order the CIA to release the names and the lt. colonel turns out not to be Switzer, well, OK then. I’ll just crawl under a rock and promise not to bother anyone ever again. But if it does say Switzer? Oh, man. Then, I’m going to have one or two follow-up questions for the CIA. Because if St. Clair Switzer was working for the CIA’s ARTICHOKE program in 1953 and one of his students just so happened to disappear that spring, then we need to find out if he was involved and how. And if St. Clair Switzer is mentioned in the same sentence as Louis Jolyon West in connection with the creation of an interrogation research center for ARTICHOKE, well, I don’t think that I have to tell you that that would also be a very big deal. 

So THIS, Good Man readers, is what we’ll be waiting on from here on out. The current appeals log is below, and, as you can see, my name is on line 1379, ISCAP number 2018-089. I’ll definitely let you know how the panel eventually rules, but you can also keep abreast of my case by visiting their website and downloading the latest log whenever you feel like it.

ACT 3: A few anecdotes

Documents are great—I love how straightforward they are in a bureaucratic, understated sort of way. But documents can be destroyed, which is why so little is left concerning the CIA’s ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA years. Stories, from the mouths of actual people, can help fill in some gaps created by missing documents, and I just so happen to have several to share.

The men in front of Fisher Hall

The sun was shining on this particular fall day. Classes were about to start for the 1952-53 academic year, and some older students with added responsibilities were beginning to arrive and settle in to their dorm rooms before the onslaught of the rest of the students. So many years later, a peer of Ronald Tammen’s recalls feeling energized on that day. Like Tammen, he, too, was going to be a sophomore residence hall counselor in Fisher Hall, and he was looking forward to receiving training on how to do his job. After dropping off his stuff and taking a look around his room, the young man, we’ll call him Walt, went back outside to soak in the excitement. He immediately was drawn to a group of men who were engaged in conversation on the front lawn of Fisher Hall. 

They looked different to him. Their ages were a little outside the norm—older than a typical student, though younger than the professors. Their clothes looked different too. They wore jackets, but not full-on suits. Sport coats and ties. He decided that they were probably administrators who would conduct the residence counselor training, and he walked over to the group to introduce himself.

“Hi! I’m Walt, and I’m one of the new counselors,” he said jovially. He fully expected a “hi” back, and an invitation to join in their conversation.

What he got was stony silence. The men turned to face him and just stared. 

“Oh, pardon me. Pardon me,” he said, “Pardon me. I’ve intruded in your personal conversation.”

Walt was deeply humiliated—so deeply that he still cringes when he thinks about the incident, even more than six decades later. He left quickly, finding sanctuary in another group standing nearby.

“Do you know what that is over there, because I don’t have an idea what was going on,” he remembers saying. “Because I’m really embarrassed.” 

He recalls one person saying something to the effect of, “Well, they were talking about hypnosis and a program in hypnosis in the psychology program.”

As it turns out, Walt had an interest in learning how to hypnotize people, and he thought this sounded like a great opportunity. But there was no way he was going to be heading back over to the group of men talking on the lawn. He’d go to the source. He was enrolled in a psychology course that semester, and, one day, he inquired about the program at the departmental office. A secretary told him that she wasn’t aware of such a program but suggested that he ask Dr. Patten, the department chair who also happened to be Walt’s instructor.

After waiting a couple weeks for the right moment and summoning his courage after class, he said, “Dr. Patten, I have a question to ask you. I’m interested in hypnosis. It may be presumptuous of me, but I’d like to be a physician, maybe even a psychiatrist.” (He felt really weird saying that last part.)

I’ll let him tell the rest:

“And he turned around and looked at me—not hostilely, and not really indifferently. And he said, ‘We don’t have a curriculum here in hypnosis,’ something like that. And I said, ‘Well, I heard there’s a special program and that you were taking volunteers.’ I used the word ‘volunteers,’ because the other guy said it was some kind of a volunteer program or something. I said I’d volunteer if I could learn something, and he said, ‘Well, maybe in the future.’ And that dropped it. To me, these were powerful people, psychology professors and all that, and I didn’t force the issue.”

The clandestine exit

In my post The hypnotists of Oxford, Ohio, I described a conversation between C. Theodore (Ted) Perin and former Dean Karl Limper about Perin’s time both as a student and a faculty member in the Department of Psychology. Perin was the other hypnosis expert who’d studied under Clark Hull, in addition to Patten and Switzer. Here’s another interesting snippet from that conversation:

KL: Did he [Patten] leave the chairmanship upon retirement, or had he done it before that?

TP: No, he was chairman until he retired. [Correction: Actually, Patten stepped down from the chairmanship in 1961, and retired in 1965.]

KL: In those days, chairmen usually went right to the retirement.

TP: That’s right. And he got out of it and Switzer…in those days, they didn’t have searches, you know, throughout the country, they just…

KL: Inherited.

TP: Inherited…Switzer was next in line, and so he took it over. That was in the 1960s—early 1960s, I think. Yes. And Switzer…you can erase this stuff…remember…these tapes, you only need to copy what you…what you want.

KL: That’s right.

TP: Switzer was very difficult. He was not overly friendly.

KL: I got the feeling he was not one of everybody’s favorites. He was very military in his operation of the…

TP: He was very military. That is correct. And very private.

KL: The dean received? He had him…

TP: He had a lot of interesting other people, I think.

KL: Yeah.

TP: And he suffered through several years there as chairman. When Switzer retired, I may have told you this before, Karl, he locked his door, went out and left the office and never came back…never said goodbye to anybody—even myself—I had been there since 1934, and he never said goodbye to anybody.

KL: Isn’t that interesting?

TP: The only…I only saw him one other time up in a bank box when he was gettin [sic] his box out and I was gettin [sic] my box out and he exchanged a couple of little words—pleasantries—and he moved to California and died.

KL: Well, I assume he emptied his office before he locked it.

TP: Yeah, he…

KL: I mean, he didn’t lock everything in there.

TP: Yeah, but he just moved it all out himself and then he was gone.

KL: Isn’t that strange?

TP: Uh huh.

Karl and Ted are correct. It is strange. Do you know what’s also strange? After Switzer retired, he obtained a post office box for his mail. Why would a retiree need a post office box when he had a perfectly good mailbox at his home? What sort of mail was he expecting to receive that warranted the additional privacy? True, people use P.O boxes all the time, but this just seems…well, I suppose it fits the behavior of a guy who surreptitiously cleans out his office and then leaves without saying goodbye to the people he’d worked alongside for more than 30 years. Yeah, come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t strange at all.

The phone call

St. Clair Switzer died in May 1976, before I even started at Miami, so I would have never had the chance to ask him about Ron Tammen, even if I’d started my investigation on my first day of class. The good news, however, is that I’ve spoken with someone who did have the chance to talk to Switzer by phone about Tammen. Here’s a transcript of our conversation about that phone call:

Person On the Phone (POP): “…I found out that Ron Tammen had been in Doc Switzer’s class. I thought, ‘Oh, I know him. I’ll call him.’ So I called. Now, you’re asking me to remember something from, what, 45 years ago?”

Actually, it was probably even longer than that, since it was in the late 1960s that this person contacted Switzer, after he’d moved to California.

POP: “And it wasn’t really a conversation. He said, ‘Yes, Ron had been in his class. He had no particular memory of him. He’d been questioned at the time, and there really hadn’t been anything that he could add to anything.’ And that was the extent of it.”

JW: “I see.”

POP: “So, it wasn’t really anything like an enlightening conversation. You sort of hope that someone would say, ‘Oh yes, I remember him. He was a bright student. Blah blah blah,’ whatever, but there was nothing like that.”

JW: “Yeah. Did he still seem open and welcoming to talk about it, or was he, I don’t know…”

POP: “Well, he had not been a particularly friendly person when we met him here, and if anything, I mean, he didn’t seem to have anything to say that was as though, ‘I don’t really have anything more to say,’ and that’s it. I mean, there was nothing, there was nothing.”

JW: “Yeah, got it. And he never mentioned that Ron had actually dropped the course by the time he disappeared?”

POP: “No, and honestly, that surprises me because if Ron had dropped the course, why did he have his psych book open on his desk the night he disappeared? Are you sure he dropped it?”

JW: “Yeah, I have it on his transcript. I got it from the Registrar’s Office.”

So put yourself in the shoes of St. Clair Switzer. If someone whom you knew had contacted you to ask about Ronald Tammen being in your psychology class, wouldn’t your first response be, “Actually, he wasn’t enrolled in my class at the time he disappeared. He’d already dropped the course.” That’s the first thing I would have said, especially if I’d been questioned about it by investigators, as he’d said he was, and that crucial detail had ostensibly been discussed at that time. But he didn’t say that. Instead, he said something along the lines of “I have no particular memory of him.” And then something like “I don’t really have anything more to say.”

Ummm…really? Because, normally, when we humans come into contact with a newsworthy person or event, even a tragic one, we tend to talk about our slice of the story. Something like “Oh, yeah, I remember he was such a quiet guy,” or “We were all so surprised when he disappeared,” or maybe even “He dropped my course a few weeks before he disappeared—that was so strange!”, or whatever. But all he could think of was…nothing. Also, I don’t care how many years had transpired, this is the sort of thing that a person doesn’t forget. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who had far less in common with Tammen than Switzer did and still had plenty of thoughts on the topic.

It occurred to me that maybe Switzer’s psychology course was simply too big for him to notice Ronald Tammen. If there were a couple hundred students in his class, then perhaps it would have been easier for Ron to blend in and to not make an impression. I knew that Switzer’s class was held in room 124 of old Harrison Hall, but I didn’t know how many students were enrolled in the class. I tried the Registrar’s Office, but they don’t keep records of class sizes. I settled on seating capacity. If I knew how many seats a classroom could hold, then it would at least give me an upper limit of the number of students in the class. Here’s what Jacky Johnson, Miami’s Archivist, told me:

“The maximum student load for Room 124 of Harrison Hall was 45.”

Guys, that’s not a big number. At all. And again, if one of those 45 (or fewer) students happened to disappear shortly after dropping your course, well, it’s something you’re still going to remember. Surely, St. Clair Switzer knew more about Ronald Tammen than he was letting on. To me, his answers are indicative of someone who wanted to end the phone call as quickly as possible. What does that tell you?

Sun City, here we come!

In June 1968, St. Clair Switzer and his wife Elizabeth (she went by Betty) purchased one side of a duplex in Sun City, CA, to live out their golden years. Their home was on Pebble Beach Drive, a name that evokes sand and sea, even though there’s no water or beach in sight. It was the fourth Sun City retirement community to be created by developer Del Webb (the first and most famous being Sun City, AZ), and was located in Riverside County about 78 miles east of L.A. The Switzers moved there in August 1968. 

It has always mystified me why the Switzers would move to Sun City, CA. As far as I could tell, they had no friends or family there. Their only daughter and her husband lived in Washington, D.C., at the time. One person has suggested that they did it for Betty, who had mobility issues, so that she could get out of the cold. But by then, there was a Sun City Center in Florida. If they were so determined to get in on the Sun City fun, why not move there, where you could get all the sun you wanted and still be close enough to family? I needed to see what the draw was.

Last month, my husband and I took a trip to California, where I spent the first two days at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library going through Jolly West’s correspondence and other papers. While Switzer’s name on anything could have provided me with one sweet smoking gun, I’m sorry to report that I was unsuccessful. But that’s OK. Because if anyone was going to spend two perfectly gorgeous days in L.A. camped out in UCLA’s Special Collections room searching for St. Clair Switzer’s name on Jolly West’s archival documents, I do believe that I’m the only person in the world who was cut out for that job. And it’s not like I didn’t find anything of interest—just not that.

Another stop on the trip was Sun City. Though it appears to be a nice retirement community with tidy homes and well-maintained recreational facilities, it still didn’t seem like a place for two Midwesterners to settle with no friends or family nearby, although I’m told that plenty of them did back in the day. Besides the golf course and shuffle board courts, one of Sun City’s enticements at that time was the opportunity to socialize with other retirees by participating in various clubs. From what I can tell, though, the Switzers weren’t joiners. Some former Oxford neighbors even considered them somewhat reclusive. So that didn’t make sense either. I toured Sun City’s new museum, which is a room set aside for records and nostalgic knick-knacks in the Arts and Crafts building, and so far, we haven’t found any signs of the Switzers in photo or roster form. The very helpful people there told me they’d notify me if they do. (I particularly loved one photo in which husbands and wives were ballroom dancing in the rec center in the middle of the day, the wives’ purses dangling from the crooks of their arms. You can look at other photos and news articles on their Facebook page.)

Sun City’s Arts & Crafts Center sign, which has been up since Sun City was constructed in 1962. The Switzers would have seen this sign as well.
Sun City’s lawn bowling field. I don’t exactly picture the Switzers doing this either.

The one place that did look as if it might appeal to St. Clair Switzer was March Air Force Base, now March Air Reserve Base (ARB), which is just up the road from Sun City. Could Switzer have been called to work there? When I wrote them to ask if he might have been employed there, I was told that March ARB doesn’t keep records for anyone who is not currently assigned there and their historian position was vacant. Of course, it also occurred to me that, if the CIA were involved, his assignment probably would have been kept off the books anyway. On May 26, 1976, just around the time MKULTRA was becoming public knowledge, St. Clair Switzer died in his sleep of “suspect cardiac arrhythmia,” due to coronary artery insufficiency that was tied to coronary artery atherosclerosis, according to his death certificate. Two years later, a national cemetery was dedicated outside Riverside, near March AFB/ARB, and this is where St. Clair and Elizabeth are now buried.

St. Clair and Elizabeth Switzer’s grave marker in Riverside National Cemetery.
St. Clair Switzer’s grave is in the foreground. In the background is the American flag, which is always flying at half staff in honor of the veterans buried here. Further in the background, to the right, is Box Springs Mountain with its “M” to signify March Air Reserve Base (look through the branches of the tree and zoom if you have to).

Epilogue: My theory

With all of this new information, plus all of the new details I’ve presented over the past two years, here’s where my head is concerning what happened to Ron Tammen:

On Tammen’s hypnosis/suggestibility

On Tammen’s draft status

On possible CIA involvement

On what the FBI knew/knows

On what the university knew

In the weeks before Ron disappeared:

  • After spring break, Ron was showing signs of stress, I believe, over his grades and draft dilemma and perhaps because of a sexual relationship he may have been in.
  • Dr. Switzer may have approached him with an offer: see the world, serve your country, make a good living, and be true to who you are. However, he wouldn’t be able to see family and friends anymore, for whatever reason, which would have also been stressful for him.
  • I think Ron chose to cut his losses and agreed to sign on with the CIA. He also could have dropped his psychology course at this time to create distance between Switzer and him, since his credit hours/grades would no longer matter once he joined the CIA.
  • I don’t think he knew when he would be officially brought on board for whatever they had planned for him.

On the day of Ron’s disappearance:

*****************

Whew! So there you have it. I realize it’s a lot to digest, and I’m opening myself up to a few darts and arrows for not fleshing out some details particularly well and not addressing certain questions (like the blood test, which I think was a red herring). But that’s OK. I’m just letting you know where I stand and letting you have your say as well. Feel free to comment below. Also, don’t forget to join us from 1 to 2 p.m. ET today for our Twitter chat (@jwwenger; #Tammenchat). Or, if you’re near Oxford, stop by Mac & Joe’s during that hour to say “hi”!

Oh, and one last thing: These last two years have been extremely instructive for me and a total blast as well. I’m going to miss our talks. Thanks so much for being part of this community, everyone. I’ll be in touch as soon as I hear from ISCAP or if anything else really huge happens on the Tammen front that you need to know about. I feel honored to count you among my posse.

ADDENDUM TO POST (April 22, 2019): Please note that, just because I’m putting my blog on hiatus doesn’t mean that I’ll be putting an end to my research. There’s still much to learn on the Tammen case, and I have every intention of chasing down whatever lead I can find as well as filling in as many details as possible. I’m not going away anytime soon–I’m just going to be doing things a little more quietly, under the radar. I’ll aways be accessible through the contact page, however.

MKULTRA and ‘U’

Good Man primer on the CIA’s mind control program and the universities that took part

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I know what you’re thinking. “A primer about MKULTRA? YAHOO!

Well, actually, that’s probably not what you’re thinking. Very few people on this planet truly appreciate a good primer. No one ever looked forward to curling up on a rainy day with a primer. No primer has ever won a Pulitzer. Some of you may have taken one look at the above title and decided to walk away until April 19th, when you can finally see for yourself the evidence that I’ve been dangling over your heads for lo these many months and then be done with it. And I guess that’d be OK. (If you do choose to skip this one, please be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post first for an update on what to expect that day.)

But please don’t go just yet. Because A.) you’d be hurting my feelings, and B.) primers can be super useful tools. They provide background details and references you can consult if you want to know more. And you can pick and choose what topic to read up on and what to skip till later. For the people who stick it out and read the 5000-plus words I have in store for you today, you’re going to be way ahead of the game. How so? Because when I post the two CIA documents on the 19th, you’re going to immediately understand their significance and why the information contained in them is newsworthy. While everyone else is busy looking up who a particular past researcher was, you’re going to be all, “Oh. My. GOSH! So-and-so is mentioned in the same document as What’s-his-name? Incredible!” And I’ll be like, “I know, right?!?” It’ll be amazing. So, Yahoo? Ya betcha!

Do I consider myself to be an MKULTRA expert? Not even a little. This topic is daunting and depressing and scary as hell. But I’ve learned at least a few things that I think will (in a couple short weeks) help us put things in perspective Tammen-wise. That said, I also recognize that I’m perfectly capable of oversimplifying a complex topic in order to wrap my ever-shrinking brain around it, and there’s a reasonable chance that I could do so here. If you feel that I’ve left out an important point or that I could do a better job of boiling things down, please feel free to add your two cents in the comments and I’ll make amends. 

And now, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know to be conversant about one of the most egregious programs ever to come out of the CIA.

What was MKULTRA?

MKULTRA was the name of the CIA’s notorious mind control program that started in the early 1950s. There were similar programs that pretty much fit under the MKULTRA umbrella, but MKULTRA is the one that has received the most press. Of all the CIA’s mind control programs, MKULTRA was the top dog, the big kahuna. 

In 1977, the Senate held a Joint Hearing on MKULTRA, referring to it as the CIA’s “Program of Research in Behavioral Modification.” Mind control, behavior modification—either description is apt, since it’s all about a person or persons having control over someone’s thoughts and actions.

What was the purpose of MKULTRA?

When MKULTRA and related programs were instituted, the United States was in the throes of the Korean War, and the powers that be were concerned about preventing U.S. intelligence from getting into enemy hands. Conversely, they also had a desire to obtain as much information as possible from the other side. They knew that one key way in which this potential transfer of information could take place was during the interrogation of prisoners.

The CIA wondered if techniques such as hypnosis and drugs could help prevent agency personnel and others from saying too much to potential captors while, if used in an alternative way, encouraging enemy operatives to share state secrets as openly as if they were shooting the breeze over a game of Canasta. As the CIA got further into things, their goals for the program crept into other areas. In the Senate Report, MKULTRA was described as “concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.” 

Why was it called MKULTRA?

The CIA likes to assign bizarre names—called cryptonyms—to its programs to keep everyone in the dark about what they’re up to. One might be tempted to think that the MK is an abbreviation for “mind control,” but that would be way too obvious. Rather, MK is a digraph for the division of the CIA that oversaw the MKULTRA program, which was the Technical Services Staff (TSS), later renamed the Technical Services Division. As for the“ULTRA” part, during WWII, that word was used by British intelligence when referring to the highly sensitive information derived from encrypted German signals after they’d been decoded. Such info was also described as being “ultra secret.” With the CIA employing so many seemingly off-the-wall cryptonyms to describe its programs, the name MKULTRA seems to stand out as one that holds more meaning than most. The fact that they felt that this particular program should be held to a higher level of secrecy is especially noteworthy, since they pretty much feel that every single program they’re involved with is top secret, exempt from FOIA, and, to put it exceedingly mildly, nobody’s business but their own.                            

How was Project MKULTRA initiated?

In an April 3, 1953, memo written to CIA Director Allen DullesRichard Helms, then deputy director of the CIA, described some program activities as being “of such an ultra-sensitive nature” that they needed to be handled a little differently than the CIA’s usual way of handling outside contracts. He guesstimated that roughly 6 percent of their projects fell under this overall description whereby “they cannot and should not be handled by means of contracts which would associate CIA or the Government with the work in question.”

Helms then described the two categories as:

  • “Research to develop a capability in the covert use of chemical and biological materials.” [Read the full paragraph below.] And
  • Sorry, you don’t get to know about category B. [See the redacted paragraph below.]

Helms then laid out a plan by which the fewest number of people possible should know about the intentions of the government, including most of the people who were doing the actual work and where TSS should be given carte blanche to authorize the payment of invoices that fall within these two categories. The project would be called MKULTRA and TSS’s only restriction was that they stay within 6 percent of their approved budget. He closed with “The establishment and approval of Project MKULTRA will allow TSS to undertake highly desirable and necessary research in these two sensitive fields which would not be possible unless the work can be handled in this manner.” [Read the entire document here.]

On April 10, 1953—a Friday—CIA Director Allen Dulles stood before the National Alumni Conference of the Graduate Council of Princeton University in Hot Springs, Virginia. In his speech, titled “Brain Warfare,” Dulles treated attendees to frightening tales of how the Soviets and Chinese were able to both break down individuals’ old belief systems through extreme interrogation practices and instill new belief systems through indoctrination. In so doing, they were able to induce American citizens and others of the free world to make false confessions and even renounce their democratic ideals. 

“This campaign for men’s minds, with its two particular manifestations, has such far reaching implications that it is high time for us to realize what it means and the problems it presents in thwarting our own program for spreading the gospel of freedom.”

The following Monday, April 13, 1953, Dulles put his official stamp of approval to Richard Helms’ April 3 memo, ramping up the government’s activities in mind and behavior control. [Read the April 13, 1953, memo here.]

What were the other related programs that fell under the mind control umbrella?

The way most people have described these programs is that BLUEBIRD was the first, which gave way to ARTICHOKE, which then evolved into MKULTRA. However, that explanation is a tad too simplistic, since, even after MKULTRA had gotten its official start, ARTICHOKE was still going strong. 

BLUEBIRD, the first of the mind control programs, was authorized on April 20, 1950. According to the report of the Senate Select Committee on MKULTRA, dated August 3, 1977: “Its objectives were: (a) discovering means of conditioning personnel to prevent unauthorized extraction of information from them by known means, (b) investigating the possibility of control of an individual by application of special interrogation techniques, (c) memory enhancement, and (d) establishing defensive means for preventing hostile control of Agency personnel.” A fifth goal was then added: “the evaluation of offensive uses of unconventional interrogation techniques, including hypnosis and drugs.”

ARTICHOKE was officially on the books as of August 20, 1951, with the renaming of Project BLUEBIRD. ARTICHOKE was principally involved with “in-house experiments on interrogation techniques conducted ‘under medical and security controls which would ensure that no damage was done to individuals who volunteer for the experiments.’ Overseas interrogations utilizing a combination of sodium pentothal and hypnosis after physical and psychiatric examinations of the subjects were also part of ARTICHOKE.” The report says that “the CIA maintains that the project ended in 1956.” however, it also asserts that “special interrogation techniques” continued for several more years.

As for the other programs:

MKNAOMI had to do with the stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons “for specific use by the Technical Services Division.” The CIA was assisted in this venture by the Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick, MD, the same place where Frank Olson had worked.

MKDELTA was the program that oversaw the use of MKULTRA materials overseas. According to the Senate Report, this program probably began in 1953, and maybe as early as 1950.

MKSEARCH is probably the least-often mentioned program associated with CIA mind control. Interestingly, it was the name that replaced MKULTRA in 1964, which just goes to show us how some efforts at rebranding don’t work out very well.

When did these programs finally end?

In November 1969, President Nixon called for the end of the use and stockpiling of bioweapons, which brought MKNAOMI to a halt in 1970. As for MKULTRA/MKSEARCH, according to former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, the program ran until 1972, 22 years after the start of BLUEBIRD. 

When were the MKULTRA documents destroyed?

In January 1973, Sidney Gottlieb, who headed up TSS’s chemical division, ordered all documents pertaining to the program to be destroyed in an effort to keep MKULTRA from the public. This was at the behest of then-CIA director Richard Helms, whom, as you’ll recall, was the guy who authored the memo that put MKULTRA into motion. Thankfully, they’d forgotten about the financial documents, underscoring the happy truths that everyone makes mistakes and what goes around eventually comes back around. Oh, and as for karma? It’s a comfort to know that she is and always has been quite the little bitch.

Why would someone give MKULTRA the green light?

Allen Dulles’ Brain Warfare speech serves as an excellent example of Cold War logic and the code-red-level fear of Communism it incited. Also, weird stuff had been happening. In 1949, Josef Cardinal Mindszenty, leader of the Catholic church in Hungary and staunch opponent to Communism, was tried for treason by the Soviets, and his dazed expression and willingness to admit to acts he hadn’t committed led many to believe he’d been drugged or hypnotized.

In 1952, it was widely reported that American POWs had been recorded admitting that the United States had been using germ warfare, such as disease-carrying bombs, on the Koreans. The government vehemently denied such activities and claimed that the prisoners had been forced into such confessions. As Dulles described in his speech:

“Here American boys—their identity is beyond doubt—stand up before the members of an international investigatory group of Communists from Western Europe and the Satellites and make open confessions, fake from beginning to end, giving the details of the alleged dropping of bombs with bacteriological ingredients on North Korean targets. They describe their indoctrination in bacteriological warfare, give all the details of their missions, their flight schedules, where they claim to have dropped the germ bombs, and other details. As far as one can judge from the film, these pseudo confessions are voluntary. There is little prompting from the Communist interrogators.”

As far as everyone was concerned, brainwashing—a term first used in September 1950 by CIA-paid journalist and author Edward Hunter—seemed like the only plausible explanation.

So, were the Cardinal Mindszenty and the POWs actually brainwashed?

Cardinal Mindszenty had indeed been treated harshly by his Soviet captors. A fellow captive, Father Bela Ispanky, told of his and the cardinal’s unspeakable treatment in a 1956 interview with the International News Service:

“I saw the room. I heard the crackle of high voltage electric current as it passed through his frail body. I heard the cardinal’s voice as they tried to break him in the room adjoining my own with third degree treatment. The next day I was in the same torture chamber, where I saw the tell-tale marks. The wall behind the electric activating switch was completely blackened by fresh burn marks indicating the current had been on for a long, long time.”

As for the POWs, this topic remains controversial, and some researchers contend that the prisoners were telling the truth and that the CIA’s claims that they were brainwashed were designed to both cover up for U.S. bioweapons activities in Korea AND to justify the CIA’s mind control experiments back home and elsewhere. [A recently released report on the topic of bioweapons can be found here.] Frank Olson’s son Eric believes that bioweapons were the reason behind his father’s death in November 1953. According to the Netflix documentary series Wormwood (spoiler alert), Frank Olson was slipped LSD in his drink, not so much because the CIA wanted to test the drug on a bunch of unsuspecting bureaucrats on retreat, but because of Olson’s knowledge of and outrage over the U.S.’s (alleged) use of bioweapons in Korea. The documentary contends that CIA representatives were using LSD as a truth serum to find out if Frank was planning to blow the lid off the government’s (alleged) bioweapons activities. Within the week, Frank Olson would (allegedly) “jump” from the tenth floor of Manhattan’s Hotel Statler.

What sorts of activities did MKULTRA and its related programs fund?

We’ll probably never know the complete truth behind MKULTRA. If you peruse the documents that are available and read some of the passages on the creative ways the CIA hatched to control people’s thoughts and actions, you’ll be sufficiently creeped out. But these are just the financial files. The Senate Report on MKULTRA described how the CIA maintained two documents on a project: one went to TSS, and the other version, which was said to be sanitized, went to the financial division. As former Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania said at the time: “I wonder what the real files contain.”

To this day, even certain portions of the so-called sanitized versions of these documents remain redacted, so I’m sure we’re missing out on some mind-blowing details. Nevertheless, what we do know is that there were 149 subprojects that ran the gamut from hypnotizing unwilling subjects to giving LSD to prisoners in Kentucky to constructing safe houses of prostitution to any number of assorted, sordid projects. [Find the full list of subprojects in Appendix C of the Senate Report, here.]

Who oversaw MKULTRA?

As we’ve discussed above, the office most closely associated with MKULTRA for the longest period of time is the Technical Services Staff (TSS), which was renamed the Technical Services Division and, later, the Office of Technical Services. (Is it just me or does the CIA like to change its org chart on occasion to keep us all guessing about that too?) However, it all began when the Office of Security and its director, Sheffield Edwards, initiated Project BLUEBIRD in April 1950 as a way of corralling agency-wide interest in the operational use of hypnosis. With an eye mostly on protecting the agency from infiltrators, Edwards set up interrogation teams consisting of a psychiatrist, a polygraph operator who specialized in hypnosis, and a technician. But make no mistake, the security folks were very interested in understanding what was happening on the world stage in the area of mind control and getting ahead of that ball.

In March 1951, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), which, as its name implies, was composed mainly of science types as opposed to the law and order guys in security, took over BLUEBIRD and, later, ARTICHOKE. The security office, whose official name at that time was the Inspection and Security Office (IS&O), continued to do a lot of the leg work, however. This is why we have Commander Robert Jay Williams, who was with OSI and listed as project coordinator of ARTICHOKE at that time, in the “To” line of a March 1952 document that I believe links an associate of Ronald Tammen’s to that program. 

Unfortunately, people are people, no matter how well-run the bureaucracy, and there were growing signs of friction between the two offices. OSI complained that IS&O wasn’t making enough progress on the science pertaining to ARTICHOKE techniques—they were mostly practicing hypnosis on staff and working on a training video—while IS&O felt that OSI wasn’t giving them enough information to work with. On October 29, 1952, ARTICHOKE was handed back over to IS&O, however, not for long. According to John Marks’ book, a couple years later, it was transferred to “yet another CIA outfit full of Ph.D.’s with operational experience”—TSS. Also, when MKULTRA was approved in April 1953, it, too, was given to TSS, which is where the program remained until it came to an end in 1972.

Which people oversaw it?

We’ve already discussed Sheffield Edwards and Commander Robert Jay Williams, who, I might add, had never been spoken of online with regard to his role in ARTICHOKE before we did on this blogsite. (We rock, y’all!) However, the person who was most in the trenches during MKULTRA’s formative years was Morse Allen, a security guy who, according to John Marks, headed up BLUEBIRD at the end of 1950, before it was handed over to OSI. Even after that happened, it was Allen who was often overseeing IS&O’s part of the collaboration, and, even though his name is often redacted, he appears to be the author on many memos that have survived from that period. Allen was born on March 6, 1910, in Washington, D.C., served in WWII, and was employed as a civil servant before signing on with the CIA. He was super zealous about the possibilities of hypnosis, and apparently had become fairly good at the technique himself. (Unfortunately, there isn’t much that I can link to online to provide additional background on Allen. I will, however embed the CIA’s initial response to author H.P. Albarelli’s 2015 FOIA request on Allen from the website MuckRock.com, because it also shows how difficult the CIA chooses to be in handling a simple request on a person who is well known to the CIA. He got the same treatment I got for Commander Robert Jay Williams. There was no other Morse Allen. Would they send the same reply for a request about Allen Dulles, I wonder?)

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Once MKULTRA was approved, the person most involved was Sidney Gottlieb. Gottlieb didn’t head all of TSS at first—that was Willis Gibbons, a former executive with U.S. Rubber. Rather, he headed the chemical division of TSS, the arm that had direct oversight of MKULTRA, most likely because drugs and other chemicals played such a big role in the program. Gottlieb was an enigmatic man with eclectic interests, from raising goats to folk dancing to spearheading humanitarian efforts and it’s difficult to understand how he rationalized his work life with how he spent his time off hours. Nevertheless, the times were strange back then, and he believed in what he did, right up to the end. Robert Lashbrook, the man who was with Frank Olson on his fateful night, was Gottlieb’s former deputy.

What other government organizations took part?

Military intelligence collaborated with the CIA in these programs, including Army, Navy, and Air Force intelligence. According to John Marks’ book, the Army and Navy were most interested in “truth drugs,” while the Air Force was concerned with “interrogation techniques used on downed pilots.”

Which universities have been identified as having conducted research through MKULTRA so far?

In 1977, it was widely reported that 80 institutions played some role in MKULTRA, a number that included 44 colleges and universities. Because the ties to the CIA were often hidden by intermediary funding sources, many of these schools and the researchers themselves had no idea that they were linked to such a program. They were referred to as unwitting. The names of the institutions that have been publicly identified, and which then–CIA Director Stansfield Turner claimed were notified by the CIA in 1977 of their involvement, are listed below. Note that we still don’t have all 44 colleges or universities identified. (Sources: MKULTRA Briefing BookThe CIA Doctors, by Colin A. RossThe Search for the Manchurian Candidate, by John MarksNY TimesAlliance for Human Research Protection.)

  1. Boston University
  2. Columbia University
  3. Cornell University
  4. University of Delaware
  5. University of Denver
  6. Emory University 
  7. Georgetown University
  8. George Washington University
  9. University of Florida
  10. University of Georgia (the word “Leler” inexplicitly precedes the university’s name in most lists)
  11. Harvard University
  12. University of Helsinki
  13. University of Houston
  14. University of Illinois
  15. University of Indiana
  16. Johns Hopkins University
  17. University of London
  18. University of Maryland
  19. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  20. McGill University, Montreal
  21. University of Minnesota
  22. Montana State College
  23. University of Nijmegen Netherlands
  24. Ohio State University
  25. University of Oklahoma
  26. Pennsylvania State
  27. Princeton University
  28. Queens College
  29. University of Richmond
  30. University of Rochester 
  31. Rutgers University
  32. Stanford University
  33. Texas Christian University
  34. University of Texas
  35. Tulane University
  36. UCLA
  37. University of Wisconsin
  38. Yale University

Who were some of the best-known university researchers with MKULTRA ties?

Many university researchers were connected to MKULTRA, however, most were considered unwitting participants, since they had no idea who they were working for. Here are three university researchers who seemed to be more witting than most in their activities. As illustrious as the rest of their careers may have been, their names have been indelibly linked to, and almost synonymous with, MKULTRA.

Donald Ewen Cameron, McGill University

D. Ewen Cameron was a world famous psychiatrist who had immigrated to Canada in 1929 from Scotland. He was director of the Allan Memorial Institute, McGill University’s psychiatric facility, from 1943 to 1964. So revered was he in his field, he was elected president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the World Psychiatric Association. Cameron treated his psychiatric patients through a process called “depatterning,” in which he would subject them to drug-induced sleep and electroshock therapy to a point where they would be reduced to a childlike state. He’d received MKULTRA funding through Subproject 68, which was “to study the effect upon human behavior of the repetition of verbal signals,” a procedure he called “psychic driving” in which he played audio signals to patients on continuous loop for hours each day, every day, for weeks or even months. Needless to say, the harm he inflicted on his patients was profound. In May 2018, victims and their family members launched a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government for its role in helping fund his unconscionable experiments. 

George Hoben Estabrooks, Colgate University

George Estabrooks was the chair of the psychology department at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. Estabrooks was a hypnosis expert, and, according to John Marks’ book, he’d advised the military on hypnosis since the early 1930s. In 1943, he wrote a book for public consumption on “Hypnotism,” in which, among other topics, he discussed potential military applications, including the creation of a multipersonality “Super Spy.” He described the process in great detail—not hypothetically, but from real-life experience—in this 1971 article from “Science Digest.” He also said,  “I can hypnotize a man — without his knowledge or consent — into committing treason against the United States.” According to Colin A. Ross, M.D., author of “The CIA Doctors,” George Estabrooks is “the only psychiatrist or psychologist to have claimed in public that he created Manchurian Candidates.”

Louis Jolyon West, University of Oklahoma

Louis Jolyon (“Jolly”) West was a renowned psychiatrist at the University of Oklahoma before becoming chair of UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institutein 1969. Before his move into academia, West had been a major in the U.S. Air Force, and had been stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where he studied the indoctrination of POWs who had converted to Communism. West was the investigator of MKULTRA Subproject 43, titled, “Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestibility.” His name became infamous when he accidentally killed a beloved Asian elephant named Tusko at the Oklahoma City Zoo using massive amounts of LSD. Here’s more on Jolly West.

Who were the victims?

Who are the usual victims when humans are inhumane to other humans? People who are most vulnerable. Prisoners. Prostitutes. People with mental health issues. Foreigners. So-called “sexual deviants.” Members of racial minorities. Lowly students in need of some cash. Anyone whom the CIA considered expendable seemed to be fair game. 

How did researchers get funded?

As Richard Helms discussed in his April 3, 1953, memo to Allen Dulles, the CIA wanted to keep the actual funders of these research projects secret. As a result, CIA front organizations were established so that researchers would be none the wiser about where the money was coming from. Two of the most well-known to help serve as intermediaries were the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology and the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research.

What is meant by the term “Manchurian Candidate”?

In 1959, author Richard Condon wrote his bestselling novel “The Manchurian Candidate,” which was turned into a movie in 1962, and again in 2004. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch it asap (the 1962 version, natch). The story is about Sergeant Raymond Shaw who’d been captured during the Korean War and, through hypnosis, is turned into a sleeper agent and political assassin by the Communists. (Fun fact: Angela Lansbury is actually three years younger than Laurence Harvey, even though she plays his mother in the film. Dang, that woman was good at her craft.)

What’s most amazing is that Condon, thinking he was making the story up, had pretty much nailed what the U.S. government had been working toward when he wrote his book. According to a 2010 article by author H.P. Albarelli and psychologist and investigative researcher Jeffrey S. Kaye, a March 1952 CIA document told of an OSI objective in which “‘Two hundred trained [CIA] operators, trained in the United States, could develop [and command] a unique, dangerous army of hypnotically controlled agents’ who would carry out any instructions they were given without reservations.” In the same article, the researchers told of another 1952 document in which an ARTICHOKE official wrote, “Let’s get into the technology of assassination.”

We also know of this document in which members of the ARTICHOKE team are investigating the possibility of creating an unwitting foreign assassin. That project failed, but who’s to say they didn’t try, try again?

Did the CIA ever succeed at creating a Manchurian candidate?

According to the CIA, they didn’t. But, honestly, do you think they’d tell us if they did? Let’s look at it this way: Did they have a desire to create hypnotically controlled assassins? We know that they did. Do we know of political assassinations during that period in which someone who was implicated in the killing appeared to have memory issues, or had been recently hypnotized? We have evidence of that too. Robert F. Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassinations, both of which took place in 1968, have a possible hypnosis link. I mean, guys, it’s still me here. I need evidence before I buy into something. I know some of you are dyed-in-the-wool skeptics as well. But it’s a question worth looking into. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. These people are asking that the two cases, along with JFK’s and Malcolm X’s cases, be reopened as well.

Finally, this 1980 article posted online in the CIA’s reading room discusses highly-respected hypnosis expert Dr. Milton Kline, who was concerned about the CIA’s efforts in creating a Manchurian candidate. As to its feasibility, the article quotes Kline as saying, “It cannot be done by everyone. It cannot be done consistently, but it can be done.” Kline went on to say that “given the proper subject and circumstances, by using hypnosis he could produce such a killer in three to six weeks.”

So, again, I ask, if creating a hypnotically controlled Manchurian candidate can be done, and if the CIA was committing so many people and resources to making it happen, who’s to say that they didn’t achieve it?

What’s coming on April 19, 2019?

On April 19, I’ll be showing you all of my cards. Here’s the plan: at 8 a.m. ET (roughly—my automatic scheduler isn’t always precise), I’ll be posting the two documents that I think implicate someone Ronald Tammen knew in assisting with his disappearance, and I’ll spell out my current theory. In my view, this new information could potentially add at least one more university to the MKULTRA list, a university that many of you readers know…and love…and honor. I will also be sharing a couple people’s remembrances, one of which (I believe) places ARTICHOKE in the front yard of Fisher Hall in the fall of 1952.

From 1 to 2 p.m. ET, I’ll be hosting a Twitter chat, where you’ll be able to pose questions about those documents or anything else Tammen-related. You can take part in the conversation by tweeting and following the hashtag #Tammenchat. My social media adviser will be helping me out (thanks, sis!), but please keep in mind that neither of us is an expert at this. We just thought it would be fun to try. I’ll also leave comments open on the blog site just in case people prefer to have a discussion that way. I’ll answer as many questions as humanly possible. (Btw, my Twitter handle is @jwwenger. Please follow me! So far I have a small number of followers, and I’d love to drive that number up.)

If you happen to live or work anywhere near Oxford, Ohio, consider stopping by Mac & Joe’s during that hour (or a little after) and saying “hi.” I’ll be giving out some awesome Tammen key chains to the first 50 people. And if 50 people don’t stop by, well, I’ll give what’s left to the Mac & Joe’s waitstaff for being such good sports. It’s all good.

Then, on April 20, I’ll be putting the blog to bed. It’ll still be up and running, and I may add some different tools and functions and whatnot, but the posts will end and I’ll essentially be going back underground, subsisting mainly on roots and grubs. I’ll also be attempting to find an agent during that time and, you know, writing. The minute I hear from the interagency panel about whether they’ve supported my appeal to have the name revealed of my person of interest, I’ll post that update on the blog. If you follow me, you’ll be pinged, and we’ll all have our answer. If the news is good, there may be a party. I’ve always dreamed of getting all of my sources and loyal blog readers into one room for a giant meet and greet. We’ll see how it goes. As I’ve said before, this could take a while—years even.

Sound like a plan? Have I forgotten anything? Hope to see or tweet with you on the 19th!

UPDATE: The key chains are here! The key chains are here! They arrived today in the mail. They’re made of wood and they have Ronald Tammen’s face burned into them. Stop by Mac & Joe’s on April 19, between 1 and 2 p.m. ET, and this bit of Tammen swag can be yours!

Hypnosis—what’s doable, what’s doubtable (part 2)

Photo by Jiyeon Park on Unsplash

Well, it’s finally happened, my peeps. I’ve been hypnotized. Yep, yours truly has experienced a trancelike state, and you know, I feel no different. Well, that’s not true. I feel a lot more knowledgeable about what the technique is all about; I feel silly for having been so scared in the first place; and I feel like I want to try it again.

First, a little bit about my hypnotist: His name is Anderson Hawes, and he’s one of the more interesting people I’ve encountered since I moved back to Ohio. He’s smart but unpretentious. Colorful and expressive but calming and confident. And he plays a mean harmonica.

By my count, Hawes—he goes by Andy—has three jobs. First, he’s a licensed professional clinical counselor, social worker, and licensed chemical dependency counselor who’s been in practice for 29 years. In addition, he’s the vice president of sales at an industrial software firm. Lastly, he’s the lead singer for the Fabulous Voices Band, a local cover and dance band that plays all the great songs. It seems as though everyone in my town and the next two towns over knows Andy, so I feel a little embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to get to know him too. But better late than never, I guess.

Because of his busy schedule, it took us a while to pin down a day, which turned out to be Wednesday, March 20. Andy told me that he’d be leading a self-hypnosis workshop in another town and asked if I would I like to tag along. He said I could interview him the whole way there and back (about a half hour each way) and then take part in the workshop, which would include a roomful of hypnotists and other interested people like me, who just wanted to learn more.

“Fantastic,” I said. 

When I got to his office, he was catching up on some work, so he gave me several instructive handouts to review that he’d written for the workshop. Immediately, I felt myself begin to calm down. The process seemed more meditative in nature as opposed to what I’d always imagined, where a hypnotist exerts some kind of magical force over you and, before you know it, you’re clucking like a chicken.

“All hypnosis can be considered self-hypnosis,” the document said. Also, it said that we’ve been using self-hypnosis since we were kids. Every time we pretend, imagine, daydream, meditate, or even pray, we’re using self-hypnosis. The handout also said that “Problems are often the result of hypnosis happening naturally,” and that “problem behaviors become reinforced when situations cause us to message ourselves unintentionally with defensive or self-defeating ideas or strategies.” Stressing ourselves out was a good example of that, he’d written—a skill I’ve always excelled at. Apparently I was already something of a hypnosis aficionado without even realizing it.

When it was about time to leave for the workshop, Andy came around his desk and asked if I wanted to go into a trance. “Yes,” I said. (That step is important. To be hypnotized, you have to be willing to be hypnotized—the whole “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis” idea—and therefore open to following his suggestions.) He asked me to position my hands a certain way in front of my eyes and to concentrate on them as he wrapped an invisible string around them. He then instructed me to drop my hands and, as he told me that I was going deeper into the trance, I felt my arms grow heavier, more and more weighted down, and a little tingly, as if someone had injected them with low-dose novocaine. He then said that one of my hands would feel lighter than the other and that it would begin to float toward my face. And, yeah, my right hand did feel lighter. It didn’t make it the entire way to my face, but given a little more time, it might have. And then he brought me back to the here and now and we left for the workshop.

Was I the most suggestible person he’d ever met? Hardly. But I think with practice, I could get better at focusing and buying into the experience. And that’s part of the process too.

Despite Andy’s excellent sense of humor, he gets serious and scientific when he talks about hypnosis. He’s a member of the Dana Brain Alliance, a nonprofit organization that sponsors Brain Awareness Week (which was March 11- 17 this year) so he keeps up on the latest scientific literature on neuroscience and the brain.

Andy views hypnosis as a useful and cost-effective tool to help people tap into their brains directly as a way of solving problems. Whereas a clinical therapist might engage in in-depth discussions to get to the root of a problem, a hypnotherapist can get there much more rapidly by accessing the subconscious and reprogramming some of a person’s old beliefs into new ones.

“If I do that kind of cognitive work, let’s say through standard therapeutic verbal talk and the Socratic method, that might take 20 sessions,” he told me, “but I can do it in one session with hypnosis because I can bypass all of their resistance and get a buy-in and get the person motivated to want that. And once they want it, then we can acquire it, like immediately, by just cutting right to the chase.”

Andy acknowledges that not everyone has used hypnosis for good, such as in the controlling way that we’ve been discussing on this blog, however that’s not normally the case. “Most hypnosis is done with a lot of permission and it’s done for the good of the person and usually for certain targeted behaviors,” he said.

Here are some of his takes (occasionally shortened or paraphrased) on a few of the more popular questions I asked him as we drove to and from the workshop. Apologies in advance for not getting to all of the questions that were suggested, insightful as they were. However, I think we were able to hit most of the big stuff.

JW: When is it more appropriate to go to a licensed hypnotist such as yourself as opposed to doing self-hypnosis?

AH: Most people look at the changes they want to make at the surface. They want to quit smoking. They want to lose weight. They want to feel less anxiety. They’re depressed. But what they’re not aware of are the things that are underneath—that the fact that they’re smoking is because they worry a lot and they worry a lot because they weren’t parented very well, or they had a car accident and they’re afraid they’re going to have another car accident and smoking takes away that fear. So they’re medicating, they may even be enjoying it, but they don’t know how they got into that situation. 

When I work with someone and I’m doing an assessment, I’ll dig up all the stuff that I think could be contributing to that by looking at their history, their pattern, their temperament, etc. I’ll start digging in and looking at the precursors. I’ll also look very closely at what they’re getting out of eating or cigarette smoking or worrying or whatever it is. I’ll also measure if they’re a sequential thinker or if they think holistically, which we normally call attention deficit disorder, though it’s not really a disorder. We just call it that because they have a hard time sitting in a classroom doing sequential learning. They want to look at the big picture. Once we know all of that about a person, we can come up with a strategy to help bring about a change. And the method can be enhanced more directly if that person isn’t blocking it because of fears or insecurities. That’s where hypnosis comes into play—to remove whatever might block a person’s response to treatment.

JW: Is there a personality trait that would make a person more hypnotizable or suggestible?

There’s definitely a skill involved with going inside and staying with your imagination. And some people become so focused on linear thinking and learning and existing in the outside world that they don’t indulge themselves as much in the inside world. But there are other people who have spent their whole lives daydreaming and pulling themselves inside. So obviously those people are more comfortable and more skilled at going inside and working their own…let’s call it a trance. And they’re using their imagination to visualize or feel or hear and then exhibiting behaviors that are consistent with that internal process. The other people are more calculating, and those different kinds of thinking access different parts of the brain. So they may not think they’re hypnotizable, but in fact, with a little bit of coaching and a little bit of training, they can experience the same depth of trance that most other people can experience. 

Now there are people who, by nature, are more comfortable and can go even deeper and can completely lose their sense of reality much more deeply with suggestions than other people. If you look at a bell curve, you’ve got the norm in the middle and you’ve got people on either extreme. But most people—about 80 percent of everybody—can visualize a lemon sitting in the refrigerator, can feel it, and will salivate if I suggest to them that they cut it and squeeze it over their tongue. Eighty percent of everybody gets a little parched and swallows.

JW: I just did that.

AH: You just did that, right? But you went right there. And other people may go up in their head and logically deduce or be kind of observing themselves doing the exercise so much so that they might miss out on that experience. But nonetheless, with a little bit of training and coaching, as long as they’re interested or willing, they can go there. If they’re hell bent on staying in control and staying in the present, if they have fear, they can resist that, and many people do. It takes a little bit of intelligence to be hypnotized, not a lot. It doesn’t take a lot of heavy lifting. But it does take a willingness.

JW: What are the most important elements required to put someone into a trance?

AH: The standard formula of hypnosis is to help a person relax so much that they open their mind and become less guarded and that reveals an access to the part of their brain that is kind of running everything without your awareness—your heart, lungs, etc. So we’re tapping into a level of your consciousness that is below your level of awareness. And we call that your subconscious.

There was a guy who studied yoga, hypnosis, prayers, religions, spiritual healing, and all these other things, and he found that they all have three things in common. One of the three things is that you slow your breathing down. The second thing is to focus your thinking. You focus on something that somebody’s talking about or maybe something that doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning. And, third, you also have to have what we call a dismissive attitude. You have to be willing to let go of A in order to experience B.

You can hypnotize dogs. You can hypnotize chickens. There’s a video of this girl who hypnotizes frogs and everything, she’s quite amazing, and she can bring them out of it. And she just does it with this calming, soothing voice. They’re not intelligent. Animals don’t think of the future or the past. They just live in the here and now. 

But this is a natural phenomenon. And we’re just learning how it works and how to use it. Hopefully for good. But it can be used to sell. It can be used to persuade people. It can be used for entertainment. But it’s all the same thing—tapping into these three principles that Herbert Benson outlined in his book called The Relaxation Responseafter doing a lot of research.

JW: I found it interesting in the handout, you said that, with self-hypnosis, you’re replacing certain bad habits that probably originated when you talked yourself into those at some point.

AH: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize, how did this cigarette become in control? It started with smoking one and overcoming the negative side of it. When people first smoke, they often experience a bad feeling—shortness of air, irritation, they cough, they turn green because of the nicotine—but they reinterpret it in their mind that they want to look like James Dean. And so they visualize that and that minimizes their feeling of pain and accentuates finding the pleasure in it.

JW: What are your thoughts on the use of truth serum with hypnosis?

AH: Truth serum, like sodium pentothal, is a sedative, so it’s going to lower inhibition, and when it lowers inhibition, naturally, a person is less inhibited, so they’re more likely to go with any kind of suggestion. 

JW: I’ve watched demos on YouTube, and some people go real deep into a trance almost immediately. Have they achieved the optimal brainwave—theta is it?

AH: That’s part of it. They’re slowing their brain down and they’re less conscious, but their attention is directed inwardly. And their attention goes to a point where they’re in a little trance or a deepened state where a suggestion becomes real, sort of like the idea of salivating at the image of the lemon, which, as you can see, doesn’t take a deep trance to get there. But by deepening the trance more and more, people can experience either a positive hallucination, where they believe something is there that isn’t there, or a negative hallucination, where something that is there becomes invisible to them. So the mechanisms behind that are either the brain sees it and negates it or doesn’t see it and puts it there.

We still have not completely discovered how a lot of these mechanisms really occur. It’s still very theoretical. But we know that people who have brain injuries, where one part of the brain is damaged, can train another part of their brain to take over that function. They can learn to walk. They can learn to drive, even though the part of the brain that was operating that activity is no longer functioning. The brain has that elasticity, that adaptability. So these are adaptive functions that exist in all of us so that we can ultimately survive. So by knowing how it works, we can do some other interesting things, like make someone feel no pain when we’re doing surgery, or if someone normally feels anxiety and fear when they’re flying in an airplane or when they’re riding a chair lift at a ski resort, we can make it so that they can just totally relax and focus on the enjoyment of that whole experience.

JW: Let’s say that you’ve given someone the posthypnotic suggestion that the thought of a cigarette will make them feel ill or disgusted. How long does that posthypnotic suggestion last?

AH: Theoretically, a posthypnotic suggestion can work as long as it’s reinforcing. If you think about it, someone hypnotized that person to smoke. We’re just undoing that hypnosis and giving them a different way of looking at it again. 

I ran the heroin clinic in Akron for 20 years and I never met a heroin-addicted person who didn’t tell me that they at one time swore they would never use a needle. And the only reason they used the needle is because a friend talked them into it, or after they were high without using a needle, they were more suggestible and less inhibited, and somebody said, “Look, you’ve been inhaling heroin, it tastes terrible, use a needle. And we don’t have much, but we want to get high, so this is more efficient.” You know, they gave them a reason to go along with it and they did it. And once they’ve experienced it, they found out it didn’t hurt and it did feel even better than they’ve ever imagined, and of course they want to do it again. James Baldwin in his famous book about heroin addiction said heroin is so good, don’t even do it once. But that’s not true for everybody. It’s only true for the people who buy into it, who maybe have some rationale that it supports. That’s why when we undo things, we want to use the reason that a person got into something as a reason to get out of it. Help them raise their awareness to get back in control. Nonetheless, people will go on the wagon and stay off drugs, but underneath, they’re still buying into those posthypnotic suggestions that they’d put there. Posthypnotic suggestion, if it’s reinforcing, can help undo another posthypnotic suggestion. Whichever one is stronger, whichever one is more interesting, whichever one is reinforced is going to win.

JW: Can you give an example of the type of reinforcement you’re talking about?

AH: So, in the case of alcohol, coming back to an AA meeting and listening to the stories is going to be more satisfying and you’re going to have a greater sense of personal achievement than by drinking. And if you buy into that and you keep coming to the meetings, it’s going to get reinforced over and over and over again. And you’re going to be applauded by your neighbors and your friends as a winner, not a loser. So these are powerful tools.

Intermission: We go to the workshop where we practice self-hypnosis, which is a little different than the hypnosis Andy performed on me in his office. Here, we learned how to slow down our breathing and our thinking, focused on counting down from 5 to 0 to take ourselves deeper into a trance, focused on a positive suggestion that we want to apply to our lives, and then counted ourselves back out. “It’s not necessary to go into a deep trance to get your subconscious mind to respond,” Andy told the group.

Back in the car:

JW: Is there ever a time when you’re practicing self-hypnosis that you’re so deep in a trance that you can’t even count yourself out?

AH: You always have control. On the other hand, for some people, it’s like a drug. They can be tranced out because it’s the only time they actually feel anything or that they feel normal. So once people learn these tools—and the countdown technique I discussed in the session tonight is extremely powerful—they can really learn to enjoy them or take advantage of them. 

JW: Can a person be put into a trance by being stared at from across the room? (I asked this after I told him the story of H.H. Stephenson and the hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY.)

AH: Different people can react to being stared at in different ways. If someone had been conditioned to react to a stare in a certain way…you can use nonverbal things like staring or posturing, and they’ll feel more comfortable or not comfortable. But is there a mental telepathy that would actually cause someone to behave out of character? Probably not. It sounds like an awkward moment—maybe it was Ron, maybe it wasn’t Ron—but if he’s staring so intently at this Ron character, this guy looking back might have been, “What is wrong with this guy?” It’s just really impossible to say what that really was, if anything. But that’s not a hypnotic phenomenon.

JW: Just staring somebody down?

AH: Exactly. Somebody you don’t have a connection with, with no rapport, and putting them in a trance—unlikely. 

JW: Is the verbal part of hypnosis essential?

AH: Not necessarily. Let me give you an example. Andy Kauffman was a comedian who didn’t say a word. He would just go up and stand there, and put people in all kinds of giddy moods just by standing there. And he was exceptionally non-emotive. He wasn’t doing any gesturing—a complete blank. And people reacted to that by filling it in. So when you leave a space open, your mind fills it in, in whatever way is appropriate. But let’s face it. He had an audience. They paid to get in to have a good time. So they’re already pretty hypnotized that they’re having a good time. There’s a lot you can do by just being aware of what state other people are in.

Now in terms of Ron Tammen, there’s not a lot of evidence to make a lot of meaning out of it. But maybe these are subtle clues, not only to what happened to Ron Tammen, but what happened to all the people wonderingabout Ron Tammen. Where did their heads go? And the things that they were able to come up with to create their own beliefs could very likely be 100 percent projection—stuff from their world experiences, their world view, their excitement with drama or fiction or mysteries—to investigate and fill it all in.

JW: So it’s possible, and one reader has said this, that H.H. Stephenson may not have seen Ron at all, and he may have just projected that?

AH: He projected it and this person reacted to that projection and it was maybe, at best, an awkward moment. But he reinforced H.H.’s feeling by looking back with a blank stare. But what was really going on with the guy may not have had anything to do with Ron Tammen, and may have had more to do with the fact that H.H. thought it was Ron Tammen and was staring real hard at him and the guy was just staring back. So there’s really not a lot of data, but it does open a door for speculation more than conclusions.

JW: Is there a placebo effect for hypnosis?

AH: You could say that all hypnosis is the placebo effect. You could say that the placebo effect is a form of believing what you want to believe and selling yourself on it based on someone else’s suggestion based on this pill, or this technique, or this book, or eating this food, etc. The placebo effect has been measured. On a cultural level, the placebo effect in the American culture is getting bigger. Things that don’t do anything have a larger effect but not because of the substance itself. The only way we know to test the placebo effect is called a double-blind study [a study in which neither the participant nor the researcher knows whether you’re taking the experimental drug or the placebo]. They can even say to a person, “We did a double-blind study and that pill doesn’t do anything,” and the person will turn to them and say, “You know what? It does for me.” And right there, they’re telling you that the placebo effect is valuable to them. They value it and totally buy into it. 

JW: Do you have to believe that hypnosis can work in order for it to work?

AH: You have to be receptive to any physical or mental suggestion for that suggestion to be helpful. If somebody is really cynical, a lot of times it might mean that they’re going to take whatever you tell them to support their self image that they’re a nonbeliever. Once somebody’s heels are dug in, you can do things to try to persuade them, but as long as their heels are dug in, they’re incapable of benefiting from something at all.

JW: Is it possible to hypnotize someone without their knowing it?

AH: There’s a whole group of techniques called covert hypnosis where people use powerful language to be able to manipulate people and move them in a certain direction. Powerful words that connect with people—that resonate with people—can do that. Knowing what’s going on with a person can open the door to leading them either into a trance or into a lightweight trance. Imagine your own resistance to something you really don’t like, and imagine that that resistance can wear out. And maybe somebody working on their behalf or on your own behalf could accelerate that process. By going this way with your imagination, you buy into it more and more, and as you do buy into it, you feel less and less resistance. And pretty soon, you want to give me money. These are things that people do all the time.

The car ride and interview come to an end.

As I was listening to Andy talk about the prerequisites for someone to be hypnotized—the openness, the willingness, the buy-in—it got me to thinking about how these traits might apply to Ron Tammen. If Ron was being hypnotized in the days or weeks before his disappearance, and evidence indicates that he was, he was obviously willing to let his imagination go there, wherever “there” was. Yet Ron Tammen doesn’t seem to be the most adventurous or experimental sort of guy, from what I can tell. I don’t think he would have been doing it for the fun of it. And even though he was always seeking ways to earn money, I don’t think a paycheck would have been enough incentive either, particularly if he doubted or feared the process. No, I believe that Ron Tammen fervently wanted to make a change in his life, and he was willing and open to try anything to make that happen. If the change he desired is what I think it was, it wasn’t a habit that he was hoping to change, but a personal trait, something embedded in his DNA. And that’s something that hypnosis, or any other therapy for that matter, can’t touch.

The Fabulous Voices, with Andy Hawes on the harmonica

If you are interested in receiving psychological services, you can find someone in your area on the Psychology Today website. If you wish to contact Andy Hawes, visit his Web page. If you are feeling a threat, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Do NOT leave a message, as time may be of the essence.

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Unfortunately, I need to turn off comments for this post, since I’m conducting research for the next week and won’t be able to respond within a satisfactory amount of time. However, you can still reach me through the contact form or you can comment at facebook.com/agmihtf.

Coming soon: MKULTRA and ‘U’ — A Good Man primer on the CIA’s mind control program and the universities that took part

Hypnosis—what’s doable, what’s doubtable (part 1)

Image courtesy of Openclipart.org

I have hypnosis anxiety. There, I said it. I mean, I have a fairly adventurous spirit. I’ve jumped out of an airplane in Xenia, OH, and drifted over Santa Fe, NM, in a hot air balloon. I like to hike and bike and, in the winter, cross country ski. I’ve spent a weekend caving and rappelling with a group of fellow novices and lived to tell about it. I’ve gone camping in Canada equipped with nothing more than a ground tarp and a frying pan just for the thrill of viewing a meteor shower from a new angle. I’ve handled snakes in the wild and have been attacked by a raccoon. I haven’t ziplined yet, but I intend to. As you know, I sued the FBI and now I’m going after the CIA. Some days, I can be fearless as all get out.

But hypnosis? That terrifies the crap out of me. 

I don’t generally like the thought of someone getting into my head and telling me what to think or do or say. I’ve spent years customizing my internal filter into what I believe does the best job of presenting the true me to the world, and I prefer that it be switched on at all times. When I signed on to look into the Ronald Tammen disappearance, I had no idea that it would put me at this crossroads, where I would consider being hypnotized just to see what it’s all about, but what do you know, here I am. 

What am I so afraid of? Lots of people do it. Heaven knows I have a few issues that it could probably help with.

In attempting to answer a question that recently came up on this blog, I’d been doing some research—reading, reaching out to experts…the yoozh. The question that was raised then was: can a person be hypnotized by being stared at from across a room? Specifically, it applied to H.H. Stephenson’s alleged Wellsville, NY, sighting of Ronald Tammen, whom he said was staring at him, as if he was looking through him, and yet Stephenson inexplicably said nothing to the young man. A resource of mine, a retiree who used hypnosis frequently in the treatment of patients, was willing to entertain the notion that, if it was Ron who was seated there, there was a chance that Ron was either in a trance or had been given a posthypnotic suggestion not to recognize anyone from his former life. Another hypnosis expert had suggested to me earlier that, again, if it was Ron, he was probably just thinking something like, “I know that guy from somewhere, but where?” But as for the notion that Tammen was hypnotizing Stephenson with his stare, in my retired expert’s view, it isn’t feasible.

OK, fine. Good to know. But it got me to thinking about hypnosis in general and how I really don’t understand it very well because I’ve never been hypnotized before. I’ve written about things that I’ve never done myself—things that require years of training on the part of the doer—but being hypnotized is different since it requires zero training on my part. It’s actually quite passive. I started Googling “hypnosis” along with the name of my town, and discovered that there are a whole lot of hypnotists near where I live. I found one with a kind face and a long list of credentials who has been practicing for decades and reached out to him yesterday.

And so, dear readers, I’ve decided that this is the next step. I’m going to give it a try. For me. For you. I will do this as part of my background research so that I can become more enlightened about the hypnotic process. My new resource is also willing to entertain some of my questions about hypnosis, a list of which I’m developing now. If you have questions on this topic that you’ve been wondering about—pertaining to Tammen or something more general—feel free to jot them down in the comments section, and I’ll consider adding them to my list.

Oh, and please understand that this could take some time. I’ll be in touch.

The hypnotists of Oxford, Ohio

E.F. Patten
S.A. Switzer
C.T. Perin

L-R: E.F. Patten, S.A. Switzer, and C.T. Perin

Hypnosis is a therapeutic technique that has been around for centuries. It has long been recognized as an effective means for treating people with phobias, addictions, anxieties, depression, pain, and a variety of other health-related issues, including memory loss. It has helped transform countless lives for the better. 

But in the first part of the 20th century, hypnosis had become something of a fad. These were the days before the profession had developed its ethical standards, and some people considered the phenomenon of putting someone under to be a means of amusement rather than a clinical tool. Any gathering seemed to be an excuse to bring in a hypnotist. They were the entertainment at fraternity parties, women’s luncheons, and Kiwanis club meetings. After an in-class demonstration, students would feel emboldened to try it out on each other afterward. Anyone with a pocket watch on a chain and a script in hand—“You’re getting sleepy…very sleepy”—could give it a go. 

Such amateur antics would rankle hypnosis expert Everett Frank Patten, longtime head of Miami’s psychology department, to no end. “Many are the times that I remember a student frantically asking for his help in bringing a friend out of a hypnotic state,” Patten’s daughter relayed to me one day in an email.  “It made my dad furious that students were using it as entertainment.”

It was no coincidence that Miami had become heavy into hypnosis by 1953. That’s generally how things operate in academia: A professor-researcher mentors a doctoral student, who, upon graduation (and, nowadays, after some post-doctoral training), becomes a faculty member somewhere else. That person mentors a student, who mentors another student, ad infinitum. Pretty soon, an extended family of professors is flourishing at universities around the country and globe with the entire lineage rooted, at least generally speaking, in a similar philosophy and upbringing. If the original researcher happens to be a superstar in a given field, he or she will have mentored scores of students during his or her most high-octane years. 

On top of all that, Miami’s psychology department didn’t have a graduate program of its own back then. If you were a psych major who desired to work toward a higher degree, you had no choice but to go elsewhere. A professor who found an undergraduate student to be exceptional might have counseled that person to study at the same university as he studied, perhaps even with the same researcher.

So it was that, in 1953, Miami’s psychology department had on its payroll three faculty members who had been mentored by Clark Leonard Hull, an icon in the field of psychology and arguably the foremost scholar on hypnosis during the 1920s and early ‘30s. Hull was a creative genius on the one hand, a demanding micromanager on the other. He was a prolific writer—a dream come true for someone like me, what with my insatiable yearning to get to know the people I’m writing about down deep. He penned everything from witty, gossipy letters to friends and colleagues, to thoughtful descriptions of his research and career goals in notebooks (he called them his “idea books”), to weighty manuscripts for publication filled with his experiments and theories. He believed in science, even if the science he was espousing at a particular moment wasn’t popular with his peers. 

Clark L. Hull

Hull experienced lifelong health issues, having contracted both typhoid fever and polio as a young man. He had memory troubles—people’s names mostly—due to the former, and he walked with a cane due to the latter. Nevertheless, his charisma could fill a lecture hall, and his students revered him. His thirst for knowledge was so relentless that in the last decade of his life, when his heart and kidneys were beginning to fail, he wrote: “I seem to have no fear of death but only anxiety to salvage as much from life in the way of systematic science as possible.” Now that’s a scientist whose footsteps are worth following.

Dr. Patten was the guy who gave the dominoes a tap. He’d studied under Hull as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in 1921 and, by the time he’d completed his master’s degree in 1923, also under Hull, he’d already been hired as an assistant professor at Miami. 

St. Clair Adna Switzer, who had received his bachelor’s degree from Miami in 1928, had undoubtedly heard about the esteemed Clark Hull from Patten, and decided that he should learn from the master as well. He went on to become a student of Hull’s for both his master’s and doctoral degrees—the first at Wisconsin, and the second at Yale, after Hull had changed affiliations. 

The third faculty member to have studied under Hull was Charles Theodore Perin, Jr.—Ted for short. Perin had attended Miami beginning in 1934 and had impressed Patten so much with his stratospheric entrance exam scores that he served as a student assistant in the psychology department for most of his time as an undergraduate. He’d been planning to attend the University of Rochester for graduate school, but those plans changed when another Miami graduate who’d received an assistantship with Hull had become ill. Hull asked Patten if he knew of anyone who could take that student’s place, and Patten gave him Perin’s name. Elated by the opportunity to study with one of the world’s most eminent psychologists, Perin pursued his master’s and Ph.D. degrees under Hull in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. (The student who had become ill was Douglas G. Ellson, who eventually completed his Ph.D. under Hull and later became a psychology professor at Indiana University.)

Clark Hull, a scientist who helped take the hype out of hypnosis 

Despite his becoming an authority on the topic, Clark Hull’s foray into hypnosis was mostly a diversion. He’s best known for his contributions in such areas as aptitude testing and his theories on learning and behavior. Hull was a behaviorist, and he believed that the actions of humans and other mammals could be boiled down to a set of mathematical formulas, most of which had to do with conditioned responses to some sort of reward. For his lab rats, that reward would be a pellet in a food tray, but for humans, he theorized, it could be whatever meets a particular need. A cognitive psychologist would contend that behaviorists don’t give enough credit to what goes on inside the brain in influencing a person’s actions. We don’t need to wade into that debate here, though I will say this: every time my cat Herbie waits for my phone alarm to go off in the morning before sprinting to the kitchen to be fed—as opposed to his former practice of yowling like a wounded coyote hours before sun up—I thank Hull and his fellow behaviorists (Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, and the rest) for introducing classical conditioning to the world. For this pet owner, they are heroes, all.

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The many faces of Herbie, a classically conditioned cat

According to his autobiography, Hull became involved in hypnosis when he was a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin after taking over the lecture portion of an introductory course for premed students. He did so because he believed “suggestion, hypnotic and otherwise,” was being practiced widely by the profession. He described the first time he ever hypnotized someone in this way:

“I had never seen a person hypnotized, though I had entreated Professor Jastrow [the original course instructor] to demonstrate the technique to me. A medical student had given me a ‘hypnotic crystal’ which he had secured by mail from England; but he could not hypnotize with it. Late one night a student suffering from a bad phobia came to my home pleading for hypnosis to ‘save his life.’ I brought out the ‘crystal’ and tried it on him as the books described the hypnotic technique, and to my surprise the man went into a deep trance almost at once. This was the beginning of a long series of experiments in the field.”

The “long series of experiments” would be dreamed up by Hull but carried out by his students, which was his normal way of doing things. Though Hull dressed the part of a laboratory scientist—he regularly wore a lab coat and green eyeshade when walking the corridors of the University of Wisconsin’s Bascom Hall—he was the idea man who tended to let others do the actual lab work. But Hull closely watched over his students and he encouraged them to publish their results as principal authors. Patten was one such beneficiary of Hull’s magnanimous mentoring style. Five years after completing his master’s degree at Wisconsin, he passed the baton to Switzer, who began his master’s program there in 1928.

Despite the stock market crash and sudden launch of the worst economic depression in the Western world, 1929 would be filled with promise and new beginnings for Hull, Patten, and Switzer. Hull had accepted a research appointment with Yale’s Institute of Psychology (which later merged with the Institute of Human Relations), drawn to its assurance of greater prestige and vast research opportunities. Switzer returned to Oxford, Ohio, as a freshly minted assistant professor. He was also a newlywed, having married Elizabeth Hezlep, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister from Cincinnati, five days before Christmas. Meanwhile, Patten had been putting the finishing touches on his dissertation, “The Duration of Post-Hypnotic Suggestion,” which earned him a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

For at least the next several years, Switzer and Patten, who had also returned to Miami University, continued their collaborative relationship with Hull, corresponding with him frequently. In 1932, Switzer followed Hull to New Haven, Connecticut, to work on his doctoral degree in experimental psychology at the Institute of Human Relations.

It was also during that period—from the late 1920s to the early 1930s—that Hull set out to write the definitive book on hypnosis. Although he’d first become acquainted with the procedure by helping someone overcome a personal problem, he wasn’t interested in the clinical applications. Instead, he wanted to present the science behind hypnosis through experiments that were objective, observable, and quantifiable. As Hull put it, “the ends sought were principles and relationships rather than treatments and cures.” Hull wanted to more precisely define hypnosis—a state in which a person is highly responsive to suggestion—and its contributing factors. For example, researchers and practitioners had known that people are suggestible even when awake, although some are more suggestible than others. Hull and his students found that when a person is under hypnosis, he is at his peak in suggestibility—roughly twice as suggestible as in the waking state. 

Hypnosis and Suggestibility—An Experimental Approach was published in 1933, and was largely based on the experiments that had been carried out by Hull’s students at the University of Wisconsin, with several add-ons. It’s now considered a classic, most recently reprinted in 2002.

Despite its adherence to science, the book’s success didn’t seem to impress Hull’s colleagues at Yale. According to a brief history on hypnosis written by Australian psychologist Campbell Perry, who passed away in 2003, one anecdote concerned one of Hull’s student assistants. That person had reportedly hypnotized another student—he didn’t say if it was a male or female—but failed to ensure the student was fully reawakened afterward. While crossing the street, the student who’d been hypnotized was supposedly hit by a car, which led to legal threats from his or her parents. The administration soon stepped in, terminating further hypnosis experiments and encouraging Hull to move on to other research areas. Hull, who had a number of other projects brewing in his brain, complied. 

Besides, by the time the book was with the publisher, Hull didn’t seem to want to hear the word hypnosis ever again. On Sunday, June 4, 1933, Hull jotted down the following reflections in one of his idea books:

“Some weeks ago I finished the manuscript of the book on hypnosis. And while it is not yet in print and the index has yet to be made out, still the most of this work can be performed by my assistants and I may consider that project finished. It has been a most disagreeable task, particularly in its later stages, and I regret attempting to continue it when I came to New Haven. I should have dropped it on leaving Madison, and never breathed a word of its existence on coming to Yale. I shall never be able to live down the stigma cast upon me by it. And when the book comes out it will probably be worse than ever. I believe, however that the book itself has been worth doing from the point of view of the advancement of science. I believe that it is an important contribution, that it may mark the beginning of a new epoch in that form of experimentation, and that it will be read and quoted for a long time, possibly a hundred years. At all events it probably will be read after the work of those here at Yale who have thrown obstacles in the way of the experimental work upon which it is based, has long been forgotten. But even if all this should take place, I have paid a high price and would hardly do it again.”

In his autobiographical essay, published the year he died in 1952, Hull credited Patten and Switzer with being especially helpful in the completion of his book on hypnosis. Patten had conducted several remaining experiments in Oxford, while Switzer, who was then Hull’s graduate assistant, helped with “final preparation,” a catch-all category for the invisible yet nit-picky tasks required to ready the book for the printer.

When Hull finally bowed out of hypnosis research, Patten and Switzer kept the fever alive. In November 1933, running on the heels of the release of Hypnosis and Suggestibility, an Associated Press article with an Oxford, Ohio, dateline extolled the virtues of hypnosis in curing all sorts of problems through posthypnotic suggestion—from overeating to stage fright to smoking. The article broadcast the names E.F. Patten and S. A. Switzer far and wide, which soon backfired in the form of a tsunami of letters from people seeking help for their myriad problems. 

In December of that same year, a follow-up article appeared in newspapers by way of the International News Service, with a lead paragraph so academically cringeworthy, I’m sure both men considered calling in sick that day:

Weight Loss by Hypnotism Is Attracting Wide Attention

With the principal characters considerably nettled, the hypnotism “show” at Miami University here has reached a complicated and amusing stage. 

According to the article, Patten was “irked by a flood of letters he has received” and had “retreated to his laboratory,” concerned that his university peers would think he was running a “quack sanitarium.”

Few records remain concerning additional hypnosis research that might have been conducted at Miami. After Patten passed away in 1966, his wife Fern wrote a history of the department, entitled Eighty Years of Psychology at Miami, at the request of the new chairpersonNot everything she wrote was included in the final draft, however, and hypnosis was one of two unlucky chapters, along with several lengthy appendices, that would be given the heave ho. (The other chapter had to do with an early department chair who became mayor of Oxford for a couple years, a historical piece of trivia that even Fern admitted had nothing to do with the evolution of the psychology department.) The Foreword blamed “limitations of funds and space” for their exclusion, but promised: “These important segments, however, have been preserved in the Department files, and will no doubt be used by those who will study our history in the future.”

Sadly, those reassuring words turned out to be more uncertain than Mrs. Patten had anticipated. In 2014, and later in 2017, I emailed departmental representatives, letting them know that here I was, from the future, ready to peruse the hypnosis chapter that had supposedly been preserved in their files. Unfortunately, neither they nor University Archives could locate a copy. Dr. Patten’s daughter doesn’t have a copy either. What remains, on page 50, is a four-paragraph description of Patten’s time with Clark Hull, Patten’s and Switzer’s contributions to Hypnosis and Suggestibility, a sentence about Perin’s work helping “many troubled people in collaboration with local doctors,” and a list of Miami graduates who went on to study with Hull(In addition to Switzer, Perin, and Ellson was a fourth person, Robert S. Sackett, who was an instructor at Rutgers before moving to Washington, D.C., to work for the Naval Research Laboratory, among other institutions.) No hypnosis studies conducted at Miami were included.

Here’s a copy of the publication in its entirety:

There were other things going on in Patten’s and Switzer’s careers in the 1930s as well. Patten was named chair of the psychology department in 1932, and he began transitioning from researcher to teacher-administrator. Switzer pursued his avid interests in standardized testing for aptitude and other attributes. He spent the summer of 1936 working as a psychologist at a model facility for prisoners known as the Northeastern Penitentiary, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (later renamed the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg). 

When the United States entered WWII, Patten and Switzer joined in to help with the cause. Miami University had become the site of a U.S. Naval Radio Training School, and Patten, who had served as a radio operator during WWI, taught radio code to Naval trainees in Fisher Hall in between his psychology classes. Switzer, who, as a young man, had performed a two-year stint in the Navy, received a leave of absence from Miami in the summer of 1942 to enlist with the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), the forerunner to the U.S. Air Force (USAF). His expertise was in aptitude testing, and he gradually worked himself into the upper levels of responsibility in psychological testing, classification, and placement throughout the war. From July to November 1945, he was stationed at Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C.—the Pentagon—serving as chief of the Demobilization Procedures Section, which means that he, in his own words, “formulated and monitored Air Force demobilization procedures, and prepared regulations pertaining thereto, with special responsibility for separation counseling procedures.” (TRANSLATION: Sorry, military speak stymies me, but, by the sound of it, he was important in the areas of aptitude testing, job placement, and job classification during the war and job reassignment after the war. If someone out there knows better, feel free to chime in.)

Switzer’s activities during the post-War years continued to focus heavily on the military, even after he returned to Oxford in December 1945. In January 1946, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and he was employed by the federal government as chief vocational appraiser in the Veterans Guidance Center, a resource based out of the university hospital for all veterans, particularly the thousands who had arrived at Miami on the G.I. Bill. In September 1949, he returned to teaching psychology full-time (with occasional stints with the Air Force), and, as we all know, he had been Ronald Tammen’s General Psychology instructor the semester that Ron went missing—before Ron had dropped the course. In 1961, Switzer was selected to replace Patten as department chair, and in his remaining five years at Miami, he’s credited with transitioning the department into offering a graduate program. He also laid the groundwork for moving the department from the ever-cramped and crumbling old Harrison Hall to a spacious, updated new building, Benton Hall, whose foundation was installed the year he retired. By all appearances, he seemed to have moved on from his time with the “hypnotism ‘show’ at Miami University.”

Dr. Patten hadn’t published a scientific paper since the early 1930s, however he continued hypnotizing students into the 1960s. One article from September 25, 1962**, (reprinted October 15, 1964**), detailed how he would use hypnosis to help students break unwanted habits such as smoking or nail-biting or to help with weight loss. Because he was venturing into medical treatment, the article offered this caveat: “since these cases may sometimes have deep seated emotional problems, the professor only accepts subjects at the request of doctors or psychiatrists.” 

Patten also demonstrated hypnosis to his students during class. Patten’s daughter recalled sitting in on one of his abnormal psychology classes to watch her father hypnotize someone. She described it to me in this way:

It was a student that he worked with before. He had her look at a reflected light in his eye, and he said, “When I count to three, you will be hypnotized.” And then, he told her that when she named people in the class, she would name a particular person a different name. And also, after she woke up, she would ask [my father] for a pen, to write with. And it was fairly brief. Then he said, “When I count to three, you will wake up,” which she did. And he said, so and so—I can’t remember her name now—he said, “would you name the folks in the class?” It wasn’t a very big class. Which, she did, and for that one particular person, she had used the name he had given her, not the name of the person. So he asked, “Why did you do that?” And she said, “Well, that’s what I thought it was,” or something. And then she asked [my father] for a pen. And he said, “Well, why do you want a pen? How about a pencil?” And she insisted on getting a pen. And he asked her why. And she said, well, she just felt like she just had to have it. So, you know it was amazing really. 

Perin’s research efforts in hypnosis were highlighted in an October 8, 1963**, article in the Miami Student. It told of how the psychology department had used funds from the National Science Foundation to purchase a polygraph machine, not to determine if someone was lying, but rather to measure a person’s physiological responses—heart rate, blood pressure, and the like—while he or she was in a trance. The photo is the most compelling part of the article, with a college coed named Nancy (who was also the article’s author) looking warily at Perin as he leaned in, asking stress-inducing questions such as how many classes she’d cut that week. 

After Patten and Switzer retired—Patten in 1965 and Switzer in 1966—Perin single-handedly upheld Miami’s tradition in hypnotherapy and hypnosis research. In 1976, Dr. Perin retired, bringing Miami’s hypnosis era—a span of over 40 years—to a quiet close. By that time, the university appears to have been ready to move on from those days anyway. 

For one thing, there’s that missing hypnosis chapter from Fern Patten’s book. For another, there was a taped interview between Perin and Karl Limper, a professor emeritus in geology who had been dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1959 to 1971, as well as acting provost for academic year 1964-65. During the interview, conducted as part of Miami’s Oral History archival project on February 25, 1992, Perin discussed his time at Miami as both student and professor. And each time that Perin attempted to discuss his hypnosis activities, Limper changed the subject as soon as the h-word was uttered. 

Here’s the first time:

KL: Did the courses that you taught change through the years? Did you give some up and take others to replace them?

TP: Well, not a whole lot. I picked up the History of Psychology…some of the philosophical history, which I enjoyed very much because I had been exposed to that at great length at Yale.

KL: I would think so. Yes.

TP: And Patten had always taught that and later on he turned that over to me, and I taught Social Psych. Since I’m not much good as a sociologist or social psychologist, I did not enjoy that. I upgraded our Business Psychology course to a 400 level course.

KL: Oh, you did. Wonderful!

TP:…which I taught. And that was…I enjoyed that. And I even taught, for a couple of semesters, a course in Hypnosis for our graduate students.

KL: How many chairmen did you serve under? Can you list those?

Weird segue, don’t you think? I mean, was Perin even finished listing his courses? We’ll never know. And then there was this time, which came minutes later:

KL: Did you sense Lex [Milton, a former department chair] was one who wanted to move on to larger fields as quickly as possible?

TP: I think so.

KL: He was going to do everything he could for his department. He was a very demanding chairman, as far as the Dean was concerned.

TP: Well, of course, I couldn’t see that really…how demanding he was, I didn’t know, but…

KL: He was demanding for his faculty. I mean from the Dean’s point of view.

TP: Yeah. Yeah. Uh huh. I remember, one thing I resented, when Lex wanted me to cut down my hours of teaching, and I was enjoying teaching, and I…but he wanted me to cut back, so I’d have more time for research, and by that time, I was an old so and so—pretty far from research. But I’d gotten into this hypnosis area, and so I did do some meaningful research on hypnosis, and it was all right.

KL: What about the presidents under whom you served? You care to comment on any of those?

I don’t know about you, but speaking as a person who has conducted numerous interviews with university types, I would have let the man expound on that topic for a while. Something like “Such as?” springs to mind as a good follow-up question. But when Perin mentioned the word hypnosis, Limper first steered the conversation toward naming his former department chairmen, and, later, the university presidents under whom he’d served. Had someone said to him, “If Ted starts in on the hypnosis stuff, just change the subject”? Again, we’ll never know. 

As I was learning more about Clark Hull and his cadre of disciples in Oxford, Ohio, it wasn’t a huge leap for me to wonder whether any of Miami’s experts might have been approached by the CIA as the agency was getting started with its hypnosis and drug experiments. It wasn’t even my main theory at that point. I just wondered. After I decided to work on my book project fulltime, I began conducting research at the National Archives in College Park, MD, searching through CIA documents to see if I might be able to find a connection. (This was before the nonprofit MuckRock had won its lawsuit forcing the CIA to post everything online instead of making people drive to College Park.) In July 2014, after spending a long day at the Archives, I was at home on my laptop, perusing CIA documents that had already been posted online. Several of my searches focused on what their hiring policy was regarding people who were gay but others focused on terms such as hypnosis or hypnotism or hypnotists. 

And that’s when I happened on it, the first document that told me that at least one Miami University psych professor had likely been identified by the CIA as someone worth consulting during its ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA period. What’s more, the career path he’d pursued before becoming a psychology professor—one that I’d been aware of since I’d read the reason he went by the nickname “Doc” on page 39 of Fern Patten’s book—would make him especially attractive to the CIA. Because not only did this professor have expertise in hypnosis, he had a degree in pharmacy and had worked as a pharmacist for nearly two years. Could anyone have been better suited than he was?

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**Note: These articles are currently not available online, otherwise I’d link to them. It’s my understanding that the university has recently completed a migration of its digital collections, so they may still be working out the kinks. I’m letting them know about the missing articles, and will include the links when they’re available.

As we’ve discussed, my plan is to release two documents on April 19 that I believe are related to what happened to Tammen. I’m planning some other fun stuff for that day too. Stay tuned.

A chance encounter in Wellsville

One question that’s been floating around for decades is whether housing official Heber Hiram (aka H.H., aka Hi) Stephenson actually bumped into Ronald Tammen at a hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY, on Wednesday, August 5, 1953. If it did happen to be Ron, the next question would be: who were the men he was with? And third: why were they there?

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, these questions could have been fairly answerable back in 1953, after Hi told Carl Knox, dean of men at Miami who oversaw the university’s investigation, about his encounter. Knox could have helped spur the process along by asking H.H. this no-brainer: “Which hotel, Hi?”, and then calling his contact at the FBI. The FBI’s Buffalo office could have chased down some of those details and, if they determined that it was likely Ron, they would have had a super hot lead on their hands. If they decided it wasn’t Ron, they would have reported that info back as well. It’s what they do. But, for some reason, Carl Knox didn’t get that ball rolling. 

For what it’s worth, I believe H.H. saw Ronald Tammen that day. I believe it for three reasons. One is that H.H. knew Ron and, as his son has told me, he never forgot a face. That’s big, in my view—much bigger than a stranger who saw a photo in a newspaper and thought that same person had showed up at her doorstep late at night two months prior. 

My second reason has to do with human behavior. H.H.’s account is consistent with how two people who think they recognize each other in an out-of-context location would normally act. I mean, we stare, don’t we? We wait for eye contact, assessing whether the other person recognizes us too, and if they do, then we say something. And that’s what they both did—they stared at each other. Because it was less than four months since his disappearance, Ron would have looked about the same, as did H.H. And although we wish he would have acted differently, even H.H.’s decision to not approach the young men’s table seems consistent with what many people would have done in that situation. 

OK, perhaps that wouldn’t apply to readers of this blog. Members of our little clique would have likely spoken up. Maybe something like: “Pardon my intrusion, but you look like someone I know. I don’t suppose your name is Ron Tammen?” Or, as one reader pointed out, he would have expected a 1950s version of “WTF, Ron?!?” Either would have been a normal response. But H.H.’s decision to walk out the door and immediately regretting it is normal too. And what did Ron’s lookalike do? He got the heck out of there before H.H. returned. If it were Ron, isn’t that what you’d expect him to do—to run as soon as he had an opening?

The third reason is that H.H. reported his encounter to Carl Knox the next day. If Stephenson had any reservations about who the young man was, he might have said something like, “Wow—I just saw a guy who, if I didn’t know better, looked exactly like Ronald Tammen.” But H.H. fully expected Knox to act on the tip. Considering the fact that they were colleagues and he was putting his credibility on the line, he obviously had no doubt in his mind that it was Ron. 

“I was sure it was him,” he told reporter Joe Cella in April 1976.

There is, however, one thing I learned about Hi Stephenson that doesn’t quite jive with my theory. According to his son, Hi Stephenson kept a journal throughout his life, and, as of our phone conversation in February 2013, his son still had the collection. Needless to say, when his son shared this news with me, I was stoked. To obtain a more complete accounting of that encounter in Wellsville would be amazing, would it not? Maybe Stephenson would have described the table of guys a little more—their appearance, their demeanor. Maybe he’d included the name of the hotel and what the daily special was. (The latter tidbit wouldn’t add much to the mystery, but it’s the sort of color I adore.)

Unfortunately, a couple weeks after we spoke, his son sent me an email saying that, after looking through his father’s journal for the date in question, he couldn’t find an entry regarding the Ron Tammen sighting. Of course I was profoundly disappointed, not to mention surprised. On a day when most of Hi’s time was spent reading road signs and counting miles, how he could have thought to write anything other than “Gadzooks—I just spotted Ron Tammen!” is beyond me. 

In September 2014, I took a little trip to Wellsville myself.

When I’m on one of my typical Ronald Tammen road trips, there’s one song on my playlist that I crank up louder and more often than the others. It’s Brandi Carlile’s The Story. The studio version is great, but the version with the Seattle Symphony is my all-time favorite. The reason I love this song so much is that A.) It allows me to scream like a rock goddess when she hits that high note, and B.) I feel the lyrics apply to my search for Tammen. I mean, I’ve literally or figuratively done all of those things (which I won’t name, for copyright reasons) for Ron. And that thing she says about her, um, creases in her countenance? After dedicating nearly nine years of my life to this project, well, let’s just say that that hits home in a very big way too. 

So there I was, one sunshiny fall Tuesday, blasting Brandi along the highways between my then-home in D.C. and Wellsville, NY. Wellsville is the name of both a village and surrounding town totaling around 7400 people in the southwest part of the state, just eight miles north of the Pennsylvania border. As I neared my destination, I had a strong sense that I was passing the same houses and barns that Ron would have passed by—if indeed it was Ron in that hotel restaurant. 

Even a billboard for a restaurant called Texas Hot, which has been serving up chili dogs to Wellsvillians since 1921, looked as if it had been standing along that stretch of road for decades. I knew as soon as I passed it that I’d be eating dinner there that night on the off chance that Ron might have eaten there too. 

Texas Hot is named for a type of hot dog topped with mustard, chili sauce, and chopped onions, all on a soft, steamed bun. They are, culinarily speaking, ridiculously delicious. The iconic restaurant has been owned and operated all these years by the same two families, and is now run by the grandsons of the longtime partners and Greek immigrants who got it all started, James Rigas and George Raptis. If you’re anywhere near Wellsville, you have to go. (No, seriously, promise me.)

Texas Hot in the early years. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.
Texas Hot in September 2014.

After finishing off the specialty of the house, accompanied by french fries and gravy, I roamed the town and was soon drawn to the old train station located one block north of Main Street on the corner of Pearl and Depot Streets. The red brick building, once bustling with visitors and the people who welcomed them or bid them goodbye, was boarded up and rimmed with weeds. Located in the center of town, it ostensibly had been a pipeline that helped power Wellsville’s prosperity in the early part of the 20th century. 

Wellsville Erie Depot in September 2014.

Most noticeably, the train station was steps away from one of the four hotels that, with the help of a 1953 phone directory, I’d narrowed down as being H.H.’s and Ron’s most likely meeting spots. That was the Hotel Brunswick, at the corner of North Main and Pearl Streets, which now houses a real estate office among other businesses. The other three possible hotels, all of which are no longer standing, were the Fassett Hotel, which was a short walk southeastward on Main Street (55 North Main), Pickup’s Hotel (38-40 North Main), and, a little less than a mile to the north, the Wellsville Hotel (470 North Main), where the Lutheran church now stands. 

The building formerly known as the Hotel Brunswick, September 2014.

The proximity of the train station to the Hotel Brunswick led me to wonder: Could Ron have been journeying by train and stopped off at Wellsville for a quick bite or to spend the night? Before that little epiphany, I’d been operating under the assumption that Ron was temporarily living in Wellsville—that perhaps he and his associates were being prepped for some clandestine purpose in a nearby government facility. But if Ron was traveling by train to parts unknown, then the odds of Ron and Hi Stephenson bumping into one another were even more astronomical than I’d originally thought. 

The next morning, I paid a visit to the office of Craig Braack, Allegany County’s historian, whose building was located one town over in Belmont, the county seat. Braack, who has since retired, seemed genuinely intrigued by the Ron Tammen mystery, and he ventured a guess that the hotel in which the sighting occurred was probably the Fassett or Brunswick, which had been my top two choices at that point as well. In addition to occupying space among the businesses that lined Main Street, both hotels seemed upscale enough that they would offer the type of restaurant that might suit the tastes of a woman in her mid-thirties—Hi’s wife Kay. Then again, the restaurant couldn’t be too fancy, or it might have discouraged a group of young men from eating there, at least one of whom was on the lam and possibly didn’t have a lot of cash on him.

The Hotel Fassett. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

Braack wasn’t aware of any government training facility, covert or overt, in Wellsville. He was more inclined to believe that Ron was just passing through town, by road or by rail. He informed me that before the Interstate system, Main Street was part of State Route 17, a major east-west thoroughfare at the time. (State Route 17 has since been replaced by 417, which circumvents Main Street.)

“Route 17 goes parallel to our New York-Pennsylvania state line, so it’s possible that they could have been on that,” he suggested. 

“Sounds reasonable,” I replied, “as long as they had access to a car.” 

I explained that Ron had left his car parked outside of his dorm the night he disappeared, though there was also a chance that he could have been riding in someone else’s vehicle. The other option would have been the train. Braack pointed out that Wellsville’s train station was a major stop along the Erie Railroad, which, like Route 17, ran east and west. Each day, three or four passenger trains would arrive in Wellsville, connecting Chicago to New York City and places in between. 

“If they were taking the train, that would have been a way to easily travel a long distance in a very short period,” he said. “That could also be why he was at the hotel.”

Later that afternoon, I stopped by Wellsville’s Nathanial Dyke museum. I was greeted by Mary Rhodes, who was town historian when I met with her, but who recently moved to South Carolina, and Jane Pinney, then-president of the Thelma Rogers Genealogical and Historical Society. (A September 18, 2018, article in the Wellsville Daily Reporter describes Rhodes’ and Pinney’s commitment to preserving the history of the area and their many contributions.) They agreed with Braack that the Erie Railroad and State Route 17 were the two most likely means by which Ron might have rolled into town, since that’s how most people did it back then. Pinney recounted how neighborhood kids peddling lemonade on Main Street would play the license plate game, making a list of the states that were represented as cars either barreled by or pulled over to make a purchase.

“They had every state in the union by the end of the summer,” she said.

But there were plenty of reasons for people to stay in Wellsville as opposed to just passing through. There were jobs there—lots of them. In the late 1800s, oil was discovered in the region, and a refinery was built, which, in 1953, was owned and operated by Sinclair Oil. The refinery was shut down in 1958 after a fire, but the remnants of oil money are still evident by the string of mansions, oozing with opulence, along the roadside north of town.

“OK. Now the name Wellsville makes sense,” I said. As if by reflex, both women jumped in to correct me, something they’d no-doubt done with out-of-towners many times before. Wellsville wasn’t named for its oil wells, but rather for Gardiner Wells, who was the principal landowner when residents were deciding upon the important matter of what to call themselves.

Other major industries in 1953 were the Air Preheater Company, which produced equipment for improving the efficiency of electrical power plants, and the Worthington Corporation, which produced steam turbines, also used in energy production. According to Pinney and Rhodes, the companies were frequent recipients of federal contracts, especially during WWII, and it wasn’t uncommon for hotels to be filled with clients who wished to tour the facilities, to inspect the product, or to be trained in operations. Pinney recalls driving to her job at 7:00 a.m. each day and seeing 20 or 30 executives who were visiting from China performing their exercises on the sidewalk in front of the Fassett Hotel.

In other words, at the time that Ron was potentially spotted by Hi Stephenson, Wellsville was by no means just a tranquil little town along the Genesee River. It was a player, both nationally and internationally. 

“The place was booming,” said Rhodes. 

Even so, I couldn’t see Ron throwing his old life away to reinvent himself in Wellsville, NY. I mean no disrespect to the good people of Wellsville. It’s just that I don’t understand why there would be any urgency for a young man to run away, cutting off all ties to friends and family to pursue a career in the power industry. I asked if they had any idea which hotel Ron might have been more likely to eat or spend the night in—if, again, it was Ron. Mary said that she thought that the Brunswick was being used as a residence hotel by then, so the sighting probably wouldn’t have been there. Jane’s husband Dave, who’d grown up in Wellsville and who’d joined our conversation by that time, agreed, and added that he didn’t think the Brunswick had a dining room then. The three decided that the Fassett was a more likely candidate. Or Pickup’s. Or the Hotel Wellsville. 

Hotel Wellsville. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

Months after my visit, in an email, Mary let me know that she had followed up with one of the town’s residents, who said that the Hotel Brunswick only had a coffee shop and a bar. “Not a real dinner place,” she told me.I decided to eliminate it from consideration, narrowing the options to three.

The coffee shop in the Hotel Brunswick. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

In Joe Cella’s 1976 news article, Hi had remarked that “he and his wife walked out of the hotel onto the street” when he told Kay about his possible Ron sighting, which is consistent with the locations of the Brunswick, Fassett, and Pickup’s hotels. The Hotel Wellsville, however, was set farther back from the main road, on landscaped grounds. I eliminated it from consideration as well. I was now down to two possibilities: Pickup’s Hotel and the Fassett Hotel.

Pickup’s might seem a little weird for the name of a hotel, but it was named for the family who bought the building in 1936. Constructed in 1852, it was the oldest building in the Main Street business district, though the owners had modernized it. The building had a big sign that said “RESTAURANT” out front that would have been a draw for travelers. An article describing a 1961 fire that “ravaged” the hotel noted that very little of the building was devoted to hotel space and the “principal business activity…centered around its restaurant on the ground floor.” For these reasons—the prominence of the restaurant, and its nice-but-not-too-nice modern touches—Pickup’s was becoming more appealing to me as the backdrop of Hi’s potential Tammen sighting. Plus, it would have likely been the first restaurant Hi would have seen driving into town.

Pickup’s Hotel. Used with permission of the Allegany County Historical Society.

But the Fassett Hotel had its pluses too. Built in 1870, it was a stately brick building whose ground floor had been updated in the 1940s with eye-catching window treatments. It, too, was a popular place for dining—it advertised a “Dining Room” on the sign facing Main Street—in addition to hosting other events. 

 “You don’t happen to know where I could get my hands on some old hotel registries, do you?” I asked the trio as I was getting up to leave. At once, I felt silly for suggesting that anyone would hold onto 60-year-old hotel registries—even there, in a museum, among people who were fanatical about preserving their town’s history.

Mary said that the former owner of the Fassett Hotel still lived in town and she promised to ask him for me. I thanked her, but I knew the chances were next to nil he would have stored them away somewhere. Unfortunately, I was right. 

And that’s where I’m afraid we’ve hit a dead end. My best guess for where Hi Stephenson saw Ronald Tammen or Tammen’s lookalike is at Pickup’s Hotel or the Fassett Hotel, with my personal choice being Pickup’s. 

Either it was a run-of-the-mill doppelganger sighting, nothing more, or it was a coincidence beyond all coincidences—an encounter whose odds of occurring are so remarkably small that it appears that something or someone bigger than all of us may have stepped in to make it happen. Call it fate. Call it the universe. Call it a supreme being overriding free will and moving a couple human chess pieces himself. I can think of no other explanation for why two people so close to the Tammen mystery—one being Tammen himself—would land 480 miles away from Oxford in the tiny town of Wellsville, on the same day, at the same hour, and in the same hotel restaurant. But that’s exactly what Hi Stephenson believed had happened. 

And Carl Knox? Regardless of whether it was Ronald Tammen or not, the only reasonable explanation for his inaction is that his investigation into Tammen’s disappearance had taken a back seat to his other university responsibilities sometime between June 29, 1953, when newspapers reported Clara Spivey’s possible Ron sighting, and August 6, when Hi Stephenson reported his. Did someone of a higher ranking step in during that period to call off the search? That’s my best guess too.

********

Wdyt? Was it Ron Tammen or just someone who looked a lot like him? Feel free to register your vote.

The accidental, unlikely, real-life, and unsung heroes of MKULTRA

In view of the last several posts, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a little background on MKULTRA. At the end of this post, we’ll discuss what’s in store for the next couple months, particularly 4/19/19. 

In the early-morning hours of Saturday, November 28, 1953, a 43-year-old man by the name of Frank Olson flew out of his 10th-story window at the Hotel Statler, a century-old brick structure in Midtown Manhattan that, to this day, stands directly across the street from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. (It’s called the Hotel Pennsylvania now.) Olson was a bioweapons expert employed at the U.S. Army’s facility known as Camp Detrick (renamed Fort Detrick in 1956) in Frederick, MD, and, in the preceding days, he’d been struggling with some ethical issues regarding the work he was involved with. Olson had also been acting strangely of late, and for good reason. He’d attended a three-day retreat, November 18-20, at a cabin at Deep Creek Lake, MD, with a select number of people from Camp Detrick and the CIA, and two officials from the latter organization, Sidney Gottlieb and Robert Lashbrook, had slipped some LSD into his drink. Things with Olson were never the same. In the ensuing days, Lashbrook had accompanied Olson twice to New York City to get him some help—from a CIA-affiliated psychiatrist/allergist—and it was during the second excursion that Olson fell to his death.

The CIA contends that Olson’s death was a suicide and that Lashbrook, who’d been rooming with Olson, had been awakened when Olson took a running leap, breaking through a closed window. But despite the CIA’s spin, the jury is still very much out on the question of how and why Olson exited that window. If you’d like to know more about that case, I suggest you watch the highly binge-able, six-part documentary “Wormwood,” on Netflix. You can also visit Frank’s son Eric Olson’s website for background information or the many other articles and books that have been written on the case.

The reason I bring up Frank Olson here is because, as far as I can tell, he may have been the first person who nearly outed MKULTRA as his horrific death hit the front pages of area newspapers. In its inimitable way, the CIA managed to cover up the whole thing, and for the next couple decades, the agency went back to its business of drugging, hypnotizing, electroshocking, and who knows what else to innocent citizens, all in the name of fighting Communists.

Until Watergate, that is. 

Some of our younger readers may not realize this, but, in a very weird way, if it hadn’t been for Richard Nixon and Watergate, we may have never learned about MKULTRA and its precursors, BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE

Richard Nixon, accidental hero

I know. It feels strange to call Richard Nixon a hero in any sense of the term, but I consider an accidental hero to be someone who does something important and positive purely by accident—that the good that came out of a particular situation was unintentional. And, when it comes to MKULTRA, that would be an apt description for Nixon. It happened like this: After five burglars were arrested for breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972, it was discovered that several of them, such as James McCord and Frank Sturgis, in addition to co-conspirator E. Howard Hunt, were affiliated with the CIA. (Sidebar: Those three names have also been linked to the JFK assassination, by the way. So on that topic, can we all just have a kumbaya moment here and agree that the CIA was responsible for killing JFK and move on with our lives? Howard Hunt admitted as much to his son when he thought he was on the verge of dying. Yes? No? Ah well, never mind.)

Back to Watergate. Richard Helms, then director of central intelligence, was later fired by Nixon after his reelection, but not because of the CIA’s connection to the break-in. Instead, Nixon was angry with Helms for not allowing the CIA to assist in the cover-up. Before Helms walked out the door in early February 1973, he ordered the destruction of all documents pertaining to MKULTRA.

“These experiments went on for many years,” Helms said about the program’s LSD experiments in a lengthy interview posted on the CIA website. “There is the inevitable question of whether they should have been ended sooner.” 

And he would know. Helms wasn’t just the person who witnessed the end of MKULTRA. He was there, at the beginning, when it was just the germ of an idea floating around in his commie-obsessed brain. In fact it was Richard Helms who infected Director Allen Dulles with the idea. Dulles, in turn, gave the program the green light on April 13, 1953. Obviously, Helms was aware that, should information on the program become public, the public would have blown a collective gasket.

James Schlesinger, unlikely hero

An unlikely hero, in my mind, is someone who does something courageous when most people wouldn’t have expected such actions from him or her, which I think applies nicely to Helms’ successor, James Schlesinger. I mean, who would expect the director of central intelligence to air the agency’s dirty laundry in full view of the American public, not to mention the whole world? When Schlesinger arrived on the job, he wondered what else the CIA had been up to that fell outside its normal charter. He issued a directive asking all CIA employees past and present to report to him all of the outlying programs that they’d been involved in over the years, no matter how ill-conceived, pernicious, or flat-out illegal. And egads! The result was a nearly 700-page compendium endearingly known as The Family Jewels.

Within those pages were descriptions of all sorts of operations—mail tampering, conducting surveillance on journalists and political dissidents, teaming up with mobsters to attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro, and, of course, venturing into mind control and the drugging of unwitting victims. Olson wasn’t identified in the report, however, once Congress began taking action, the sordid details spilled forth, most notably through investigations conducted by President Ford’s Rockefeller Commission and the Senate’s Church Committee. The Rockefeller Commission report, which was released in July 1975, also didn’t specify Olson by name. But when members of Olson’s family turned to page 227, they knew instantly who the commission was referring to and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the CIA. (You can read Eric’s website to learn more about the family’s ordeal and settlement.) Here’s what the commission said:

“The Commission did learn, however, that on one occasion during the early phases of this program (in 1953), LSD was administered to an employee of the Department of the Army without his knowledge while he was attending a meeting with CIA personnel working on the drug project. Prior to receiving the LSD, the subject had participated in discussions where the testing of the substances on unsuspecting subjects was agreed to in principle. However, this individual was not made aware that he had been given LSD until about 20 minutes after it had been administered. He developed serious side effects and was sent to New York with a CIA escort for psychiatric treatment. Several days later, he jumped from a tenth-floor window of his room and died as a result. The General Counsel ruled that the death resulted from ‘circumstances arising out of an experiment undertaken in the course of his official duties for the United States Government,’ thus ensuring his survivors of receiving certain death benefits. Reprimands were issued by the Director of Central Intelligence to two CIA employees responsible for the incident.”

In September 1975, Schlesinger’s successor, William Colby, testified before the Church Committee and revealed the following information, including Olson’s name, which appears on page 12 of the report:

“The threat as well as the promise posed by newer types of drugs, particularly the hallucinogenic drugs, made at least exploratory research on them essential. You will recall our concern over the possible role of drugs in the apparent brainwashing of American POW’s [sic] in Korea, and the haunted eyes of Cardinal Mindzenty as he “confessed” at a Communist trial. I might add that we believe that a drug was administered to one of our officers overseas by a foreign intelligence service within the past year. Those responsible for providing technical support to clandestine operations felt it necessary that they understand the ways in which these drugs could be used, their effects and their vulnerabilities to countermeasures. In pursuing such concerns as these, many different materials were obtained and stored for provision to contractors who did the actual scientific research involved. This concern also led to the experiments which led to the unfortunate death in 1953 of Mr. Frank Olson.“

It’s important to bear in mind that the above information concerning the CIA’s “drug project” was originating in large part from people’s memories, on account of Richard Helms’ efforts to destroy all of the paper evidence. There was, however a 1963 Inspector General’s report that provided some background on MKULTRA, meager as it was. Part of the testimony for both Directors William Colby and Richard Helms focused on the fact that the evidence had been destroyed in January of 1973. “It’s all gone,” Helms, in essence, told them on pages 104 and 105 of the Church Committee’s report. “So, so sorry.”

Nah, just kidding. He wasn’t sorry. In other congressional testimony, he provided this excuse:

“[Gottlieb] came to me and said that he was retiring and that I was retiring and he thought it would be a good idea if these files were destroyed. And I believe part of our reason for thinking this was advisable was there had been relationships with outsiders in government agencies and other organizations and that they would be sensitive in this kind of a thing but that since the program was over and finished and done with we thought we would just get rid of the files as well, so that anybody who has assisted us in the past would not be subject to follow up, or questions, embarrassment, if you will.” (41, Richard Helms testimony, Sept. 11, 1975, p. 5) (By the way, I’m not able to find this testimony directly online—I can only find it quoted by other sources. If anyone is able to find it, can you send me a link?)

John Marks, real-life hero

Thankfully, this was when real-life hero John D. Marks stepped in. The way I see it, real-life heroes are the people who accomplish something great because their heart’s in the right place and they’re willing to take whatever arduous path is required to make it to the finish line, perhaps even putting themselves into harm’s way in the process. Marks didn’t settle for what Helms had to say. A former intelligence officer with the State Department, Marks submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in 1976, seeking “all documents relating to the CIA’s drug and behavior-modification programs,” and later specifying BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, and MKULTRA as well as related programs MKSEARCH and MKDELTA. What came back, eventually, was 16,000 pages of documents—seven boxes’ worth—that Helms and his minions had (fortunately) missed because the documents were from the CIA’s Budget and Fiscal Section and had been housed offsite. (See page 5 of the report of the 1977 Joint Hearing on MKULTRA for a thorough explanation by CIA Director Stansfield Turner of how the documents were discovered.) Marks used those documents along with extensive interviews to produce his 1979 classic, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Controlwhich is must reading on this topic. Seriously, if you read only one book on the CIA’s mind control programs, this is the one you want.

Not only did Marks’ FOIA request make his blockbuster book possible, but it also enabled the rest of us to dive into the source material, though it has taken a while for that to happen. More on that in a minute.

It seems that the CIA never really “got it” regarding the whole MKULTRA matter and the need for keeping the public in the loop. Not long after the Joint Hearing on MKULTRA took place in August 1977—after they’d withstood the scoldings for Helms’ 1973 document purge, and then had to subsequently explain how they were able to find seven boxes of documents after all—a 1978 CIA memo was issued saying that MKULTRA was the number one program in which they had concerns regarding the Freedom of Information Act. Why the concern? Because they felt that releasing information about the program in “bits and pieces” only misled the public. Of course, releasing the information in that form was a problem of their own making. But whatever.

The unsung heroes

The unsung heroes are all the people who continue to seek new MKULTRA-related documents by submitting FOIA requests and Mandatory Declassification Review appeals even though the cards are stacked against them. They’re the people traveling the same rocky path that John Marks traveled—one that requires heart and chutzpah and hard-earned cash. They’re real-life heroes but without the name recognition, at least outside FOIA circles. For despite Richard Helms’ efforts at putting the kibosh on any public knowledge of MKULTRA whatsoever, documents continue to be declassified and are being made available online. 

The Black Vault is a website repository of declassified government documents that’s overseen by John Greenewald, Jr. In 2004, Greenewald obtained more than 1700 documents from the CIA on MKULTRA, and he’s continuing with those efforts, having posted more documents in October and November 2018. I’m pretty sure that I have Mr. Greenewald to thank for his initial FOIA request because it greased the wheels for my request in 2014. Whereas he had to wait years for his CD-ROM, mine arrived in a matter of days. In fact, I’ve recently discovered that, had I known about The Black Vault then, I wouldn’t have needed to pony up the $10 for the CD-ROM, since, even after ten years, everything I received from the CIA had already been posted on his website. (It’s unclear how the CIA’s “MKULTRA Collection” compares to the documents John Marks received. I imagine many, if not most, of the files are the same, but, as Mr. Greenewald points out on his website, some pages that the CIA lists in its index are missing from the CD-ROM. So there’s clearly more out there.)

MuckRock.com, a “nonprofit collaborative news site,” is a gathering spot for anyone interested in government transparency to file, track, and post FOIA requests and results. Thanks to a FOIA lawsuit fought and won by MuckRock, every man, woman, and child can now access the CIA’s declassified CREST files online instead of having to drive to the National Archives in College Park, MD, and sit at one of the CIA’s designated computer stations. Speaking as someone who has done the latter a time or two, the ability to conduct research day or night from my laptop 300 miles away from there is JUST SO WORTH IT.

Then there’s Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archivewho filed the FOIA lawsuit that enables us all to view the Family Jewels. There are also FOIA lawyers who, on occasion, are willing to offer their expertise pro bono to help obtain public access to the more tightly guarded CIA documents. And those are just several shining examples. The rest of you know who you are. We thank you too!

Some present and past CIA employees are also unsung heroes. They’re the people who fervently believe in the public’s right to information once it’s been determined that there is no risk to national security or an individual’s privacy. Take that FOIA guy from 1977 who finally discovered the financial documents for MKULTRA in an offsite location for retired records. Where would we all be without him? Or Jeffrey Scudder, a former CIA employee who was so annoyed by the CIA’s unwillingness to let go of information that had been cleared for release, he filed his own FOIA request to have the documents made public. I don’t know if any of those documents had to do with MKULTRA, but maaaan…the way the CIA treated him for doing his job? Those guys don’t play nice.

Where are we headed?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, amidst all of the MKULTRA documents that have been released to the public, I’ve found two that I believe are related to Ronald Tammen’s disappearance. One I’m 99% sure of, and the other I’m less sure of, though my confidence grows by the day. The documents are heavily redacted and are both under review for the possible release of the name of an individual who is linked to Tammen. I’m cautiously optimistic that the person’s name will be released and, if so, that it will be the person I think it is. But, as you know, this process isn’t for people with short attention spans. It’s been roughly five years since I found the first document—about two years for the second one. This could take another year or two. Or ten. 

Here’s my plan: This blog will be two years old in April, and many of you have been with me the entire time. (Btw, thank you for being part of this little community! You are all smart and savvy and your comments and questions have influenced my thinking in a big way.)

On April 19, 2019, the 66th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, I’m going to share the two documents with you, even if we haven’t heard from the powers that be yet. I’ll also propose who I believe is named in them and why I think so. I’ll also give you my theory regarding what I think happened to Ron. There will be holes—loads of them—as far as what exactly happened, since that information is probably impossible to get our hands on in document form and, alas, time travel is still not a thing. But I’ll present my case and everyone will have a chance to weigh in.

Then, Good Man readers, I’ll be putting this blog on hiatus, and we’ll begin the waiting period for the final verdict. For those of you who wish to be notified as soon as it happens, I’d suggest following the blog if you haven’t already. You’ll receive an email within five minutes of my receiving the news—good or bad, right or wrong. In the interim, I’ll be heading back underground—deep into writing and researching and (fingers crossed) attempting to find an agent who is in the market for these sorts of stories.

But that’ll be in a couple months. We still have a few more things to discuss.

The return of Commander Robert Jay Williams

Photo by Magdalena Raczka on Unsplash

This is a mini-post—just a little over 300 words in length—but I can’t sit on it any longer. First: I need to point out that the government shutdown is affecting this blog as we await a decision on the possible release of certain names on key documents. No matter where you stand politically, I think we can all agree that our federal workers need to be called back in to do their jobs ASAP.

Remember Commander Robert Jay Williams (aka Cmdr. Robert J. Williams, or just plain old R.J. Williams), of the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence), of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)? As I mentioned in the Dec. 7, 2018  post, Commander Williams’ name appears on a memo that I believe also contains the name of my person of interest—a person from whom I can draw a direct link to Ronald Tammen.

Well, today, I’m posting another document with our friend R.J.’s name prominently displayed. The document is long and dense. Some of you may choose to read the whole thing, which is great. I admire your enthusiasm! For others, just seeing how R.J. is identified should do the trick. 

Here’s the To, From, and Subject head:

And here’s the signature:

That’s right. In this 9-page memo, which was written about a month after my memo in question was written, R. J. Williams is identified as the project coordinator of ARTICHOKE. ARTICHOKE! For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Project ARTICHOKE is the forerunner of MK ULTRA, the CIA’s ignoble mind control program. Some of you have been predicting this all along, and to you I offer high fives and fist bumps all around. Yes, Good Man readers, this is indeed the direction in which we’re headed—full throttle. As soon as the government shutdown ends, that is.

Here’s the full document:

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And we’re open for comments! Please, no politics. I’m seeking your thoughts on Tammen, R.J. Williams, ARTICHOKE, the CIA, etc. Also, did you see the new polling feature I’ve installed? (I’m guessing not, since there are currently only 3 votes, one of which is mine.) Feel free to weigh in there as well!

Was the CIA secretly recruiting gay men in the 1950s?

Photo by David Sinclair on Unsplash

In the book Oblivion, which delves into the Richard Cox disappearance, the authors have suggested that (spoiler alert!) Richard Cox may have been gay or bisexual and that the CIA recruited him in 1950 for that reason. We’ve already discussed how Ronald Tammen’s 1953 disappearance draws a number of parallels to Cox’s disappearance, and I’ve also provided evidence that helps support the theory that Tammen may have been gay. So it begs the question: Was the CIA furtively recruiting gay men in the early 1950s, for whatever reason, and if so, were Tammen and Cox two of their more visible recruits representing the great state of Ohio?

Before I proceed with today’s post I need to state this caveat as clearly as possible: I can’t fathom the totality of the CIA’s operations back in the height of the Cold War. If the agency had an interest in hiring members of the gay or lesbian community for intelligence work, it has done an excellent job of keeping that detail a secret, in addition to its underlying reasons for doing so. What I’m presenting here is one scenario that has received a small amount of publicity. However, in no way do I intend to imply that, if Tammen or Cox were gay and recruited by the CIA, they would have been utilized in this way. I’m only asking if the CIA was hiring gay individuals when no one else in the federal government was doing so and presenting some supporting evidence.

With that caveat firmly in mind, let’s talk about spies and sex and the use of sex by spies for the sole purpose of sexy spying. Anyone who’s seen a James Bond film can understand how sex can be used as a tactical weapon in the world of espionage. Sexpionage, as some call it, works like this: someone on an organization’s payroll sets up a steamy little “honey trap” to entice an opposing target to swap his or her government’s secrets for sex. Or a late-night tryst might provide an opportunity for a spy to rifle through a high-level diplomat’s suitcase after drugging his daiquiri. Or there’s also the potential for blackmail. Sex makes a person vulnerable and if there’s one thing that people in the intelligence biz absolutely love 💕, it’s intelligence sources who are vulnerable. 

As you can imagine, the sex lives of spies is a subject that the CIA doesn’t care to talk about. As this December 9, 2010, article from Slate states, “The Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t comment on whether its agents use their sexuality to obtain information, but current and former intelligence officials say it does happen occasionally.” (That quoted sentence used to link to an article from the April 17, 2007, issue of Harper’s Magazine, called “Sex and the CIA,” to back up its latter claim. Alas, if you click on it, you’ll see that the link no longer works, and the article is also nowhere to be found on the Harper’s website. Welcome to the world of intelligence research! Here’s a link to a portion of the original article—for now, at least.)

“Few national secrets have been more carefully guarded, but the CIA has provided kings, presidents, potentates and magistrates with female companionship,” wrote famed journalist Jack Anderson in his syndicated column in June 1976. “On a lower level, girls have been made available to defectors and the CIA’s own agents.”

According to the Anderson article, the CIA’s “sex shop” was run by its Office of Security. Sometimes the diplomat was in the know about the CIA’s role in that evening’s fix-up, however, other times, the agency made its arrangements more clandestinely, for the purpose of spying.

Wrote Anderson, “…the agency has used prostitutes to lure foreign diplomats into love traps where their sexual antics were filmed through one-way mirrors. The film was later used to blackmail the foreigners into becoming informants.”

If the CIA was employing women to pursue intelligence sources who were straight, wouldn’t they also employ men to target those who happened to be gay? The CIA often claimed that the Soviets wouldn’t hesitate to use the latter tactic on us, particularly for its blackmail potential, and, as a result, they supposedly felt that people who were gay or lesbian would be a risk to national security. (By the way, this logic only seems to make sense if the person were closeted and afraid of being outed.) But, if the Soviets were doing it, wouldn’t we have used the tactic too? Doesn’t the CIA generally consider turnabout to be fair play? (Asking for a friend…)

On the other hand, as you may recall, Executive Order 10450 was signed by President Eisenhower on April 27, 1953, thus introducing a policy against hiring federal civil servants who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. What’s more, the Lavender Scare began even earlier than that, in the late 1940s, and by 1950, the government’s zeal for discriminating against people who were gay or lesbian picked up steam courtesy of the despicable Senator Joseph McCarthy. But since when does the CIA follow what everyone else is doing? I would think that, if the cloak and dagger crowd believed it was in their best interest to recruit gay operatives, then that’s what they’d do.

The public record doesn’t support this theory, however. Here’s what’s on record regarding the federal hiring policy of LGBT individuals, both in general and at the CIA specifically:

  • In the 1960s, gay rights organizations such as the Mattachine Society of Washington, cofounded by renowned activist Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols, began filing lawsuits to challenge the across-the-board firings of gay and lesbian federal employees simply because of their sexual orientation.

  • In 1969, the federal Civil Service Commission (CSC) lost a court case in which a NASA employee named Clifford Norton sued CSC chair John Macy for having been terminated after he was arrested for a gay liaison in D.C.’s Lafayette Square during non-working hours. The court ruled that “the Civil Service Commission has neither the expertise nor the requisite anointment to make or enforce absolute moral judgments …,” and, consequently, it had no right to fire someone for being gay or lesbian, though it took four more years before changes were fully implemented government-wide. While the ruling applied to some federal agencies, it didn’t apply to all of them. According to the 2015 book Hoover’s War on Gays, by Douglas M. Charles, “For agencies outside CSC coverage, political appointees, or those engaged in national security work, however—such as the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and military—antigay employment discrimination continued unabated.” 

To sum things up: the CIA had a policy against the hiring of members of the LGBT community until the mid-1990s; the culture began to evolve after that, albeit slowly; and then around 2011 or 2012, their doors were flung wide open and they were actively recruiting. This doesn’t exactly mesh with the running thesis I’m investigating, but that’s their story and they’re sticking with it.

Fact-checking Oblivion: Was Richard Cox gay?

In the spring of 2014, I drove to Mansfield, Ohio, Richard Cox’s hometown, in hopes of meeting with one of Cox’s sisters to discuss the similarities between his and Tammen’s cases. Although Cox’s sister wasn’t available for a sit-down, she put me in touch with a family friend, whose overriding objective was to shoot down the book’s premise. For an uncomfortable 20 minutes or so, the man insisted to me that the book was “garbage,” “trash,” and that there was no evidence to back up its claims that Cox was gay and was recruited by the CIA. “There isn’t a shred of truth to it,” he said.

I’m not going to say here whether or not I think Richard Cox was gay. I didn’t know Richard Cox. The family friend, who also didn’t know Cox, was adamant that he wasn’t. I’m just going to share several FBI documents that may have led some people to infer that Richard Cox might have been gay or bisexual or, at the very least, experimenting. A lot has been redacted, and I’ve been unsuccessful in getting the whited-out details released, but I think you can get the gist of things from the surrounding verbiage. 

The documents I’m about to share have to do with an incident that took place in April 1948 in New York City between Cox and a former soldier identified as Victor Wolf, from Detroit. The two met at Tony Pastor’s, a gay-friendly bar in Greenwich Village. Later that night, Cox visited Wolf’s room at the Hotel Dixie on 42nd Street and stayed the night. (Judging by this website, the hotel’s boasting of “700 rooms, each with bath and radio” leads me to think that we’re not talking spacious suites here.) 

The following passage was part of a report from the FBI’s New York office in a document dated May 26, 1950. This redaction-free synopsis (from this point on, referred to as “item A”) helps us validate key details in subsequent passages.

The next three passages were included in a document dated July 13, 1951 created by the Detroit office of the FBI.

Background: Sometime in late June or early July 1951, the FBI interviewed Wolf’s landlords, Mr. and Mrs. A. R. Keith, of Detroit. Despite the redactions, we know they’re talking about Wolf because the address (1798 Field) is the same as that included in item A. One wonders what the Keiths had discovered about Wolf and his roommate that led them to immediately ask them to move out of their home. In the second paragraph, two informants from Detroit said that both BLANK and BLANK are known BLANKETY BLANKS. I’m sure that the first two blanks are referring to Wolf and his roommate. As for what they were “known” to be, one can only wonder about that as well.

Background: Included below is a three-page statement dated July 7, 1951, and signed by Victor Wolf concerning his interactions with Richard Cox. Again, despite the redactions, we know that it’s Wolf’s statement, thanks to item A, which describes the timeframe and locations of their liaison in New York. The third paragraph of page one says that Cox, Wolf, and “another soldier” had met up at Tony Pastor’s bar, which Wolf describes as “having a reputation of being BLANK.” Later that night, Cox showed up at Wolf’s hotel room and Wolf told him he could spend the night with Wolf and BLANK. Wolf was later awakened by something—a whole paragraph’s worth of BLANKING—that, to this day, the FBI deems too confidential or of such a delicate nature that it needs to protect the public from such details, 70 years after-the-fact. 

As for next steps, the author of the FBI memo had suggested that the following lead needed to be checked out by the New York office regarding the “Subject,” Richard Cox. 

Evidence that the CIA was recruiting gay men

If you were to contact the CIA (and I have) and ask them if they used to recruit gay men in the 1950s (and I did), they would likely tell you that they wouldn’t be addressing that question (and they didn’t). However, I’ve found several small clues over the years that deem it at least plausible that the CIA was knowingly hiring gay men back then, for whatever reason, regardless of what the agency’s official stance was at the time.

Clue #1: The CIA was modeled after Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, which had been employing gay spies for decades.

If you’re remotely interested in the world of espionage, you’ll know that one of the most notorious spies during the Cold War was Kim Philby, a handsome and sophisticated Cambridge-educated man who charmed a lot of people, including the CIA’s James Jesus Angleton. Angleton had studied under Philby. He developed his intelligence chops under him in London when Philby was with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, and Angleton was with the fledgling CIA. The trouble was, Philby also happened to be spying for the Soviets for many years and Angleton had handed him a lot of state secrets and contacts when Philby was serving in Washington as a liaison between MI6 and the CIA and FBI. Philby eventually defected to the Soviet Union, as did fellow KGB spies Guy Burgess, who was openly gay, and Don Maclean, who was bisexual. Phillip Knightley, an esteemed journalist who had interviewed Philby at length for his definitive book, contends in this 1997 piece that Britain has had a long history of gay spies and, moreover, that spying is a natural fit for someone who is gay. In addition, Jefferson Morely, who wrote an acclaimed recent biography on Angleton, has hypothesized that the relationship between Angleton and Philby may have been a lot closer than just that of mentor and mentee.

Clue #2: Jack Anderson said so (sort of).

I’ve already cited the 1976 news article by Jack Anderson that brought to light several sex operations overseen by the CIA. An article that he’d published a year earlier had gone into greater detail concerning the CIA’s love nests that were being used for blackmail purposes on the East and West Coasts. In the last paragraph, Anderson said this:

“To stage the shows, both male and female prostitutes with a variety of sexual skills were used. The CIA possibly got the idea from the Russians, who have long used sex blackmail to entrap Westerners into spying for them.”

Although Anderson doesn’t mention anything about the entrapped being gay, the fact that male prostitutes were used tells me that that’s what he was referring to, since most foreign diplomats would have been male.

Clue #3: Former CIA employee Victor Marchetti said so.

Victor Marchetti, who passed away this past October, was a former Soviet-military specialist and executive assistant to the deputy director of the CIA. Over time, he had become disillusioned with the agency’s actions and one of its most outspoken critics. He’s most famous for coauthoring a 1974 nonfiction book with John D. Marks, formerly of the State Department, titled The C.I.A. and the Cult of Intelligence, which entangled him in a drawn-out legal battle with his former employer.

In a September 1982 Reuters article, Marchetti is quoted in the following snippet:

“Soviet intelligence agents routinely cruise gay bars seeking candidates for blackmail who could be coopted as spies, a spokesman for the CIA, another agency which is concerned about possible espionage, said.

“Former CIA official Victor Marchetti said in a separate interview that the United States employed similar techniques not only against Communists but in order to extract information from officials of allied governments who were ‘closet’ homosexuals.

“The CIA declined to comment on Mr. Marchetti’s statement.”

Clue #4: Allen Dulles was told by his mistress of OSS’s need to penetrate an underground gay network during WWII.

In her book, Autobiography of a Spyauthor Mary Bancroft shared an experience she had while she was the mistress of spy master and future CIA Director Allen Dulles during WWII. Dulles was with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner to the CIA, in Zurich, and had been using Bancroft to obtain information from various sources. While in this role, she felt it her duty to inform Dulles, who was ten years older than she and utterly naïve about the subject, about an underground gay network among the “Foreign Offices of England, Switzerland, Greece, and our own State Department and through which information traveled even more rapidly than by the channels of the Catholic Church and various Jewish organizations.” She recalled how “a colleague of my generation had told me how essential it was for us to tap this homosexual underground by having, as he put it, ‘Washington send us a guy with a pretty behind.’” Bancroft doesn’t say if Washington responded after she conveyed this request to Dulles, however, if people in intelligence were aware of the benefits of gay operatives in the 1940s, I can’t imagine what would have changed their minds by the 1950s.

Clue #5: Former CIA Director Roscoe Hillenkoetter admitted as much to Congress.

On July 14, 1950, Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, then-director of Central Intelligence, testified before Congress regarding his views of whether a person who was gay was considered to be a risk to national security. His answer was a resounding yes, and he emphasized that a gay employee needed to be “weeded out of government employment wherever he is found.” His final sentence is a doozy: “The failure to do this can only result in placing a dagger in the hands of our enemies and their intelligence services, and the point of that dagger would lie at the heart of our national security.” 

However strong that statement was, and however homophobic his views are throughout the rest of his statement, he actually does a 180 in a couple places and shares that it wouldn’t be so bad after all, and may actually be beneficial, to have a gay person on his intelligence squad. On page 25 of his typed comments, he says this: “…while this agency will never employ a homosexual on its rolls, it might conceivably be necessary, and in the past has actually been valuable, to use known homosexuals as agents in the field.” (bold added)

In addition, on pages 35 and 36, he says: “In one case in which were were [sic] interested abroad in the early months of this year, we found what I believe to represent a Soviet intelligence operation, and we believe that our task will be made considerably easier by the appearance in the area of a known homosexual who we think will be extremely helpful in this particular case.” (bold added)

[You can read his full statement here. But be prepared: it’s, um, a wee bit vile.] 

Granted, the above evidence isn’t much to go on, but, at the very least, it doesn’t rule out the argument that the CIA may have recruited gay men back in Tammen’s and Cox’s day for some purpose that it deemed useful to our country’s service, despite its official policy. I’ll close with these two thoughts:

Executive Order 10450 was signed eight days after Tammen disappeared, at which time, it would have likely been extremely difficult for a person who was gay to obtain a security clearance. Could the CIA have recruited Ron the week prior to get his name on the books before the E.O. went into effect?

Also, some have wondered why the CIA would have had any interest in recruiting a student from quaint little Miami University in rural southwest Ohio, be he gay or straight. Didn’t they have a hefty supply of Ivy Leaguers to choose from on the East Coast? But those doubters probably aren’t aware that the first director of Central Intelligence was a Miami graduate. His name was Sidney W. Souers, and he was born in Dayton. Just saying.

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Care to weigh in? I’ve set up a poll on a new page on this website.

An ode to Joe on his 98th birthday

joe cella hamilton journal-news early 1950s_1 copy
Joe Cella as a reporter for the Hamilton Journal-News in the early 1950s.

December 23, 2018

If there is one name that’s come to be closely associated with the Ronald Tammen story, it would be that of Joe Cella. Cella was the reporter for the Hamilton Journal-News who’d written some of the more substantive pieces about Tammen’s disappearance. So obsessed was he about the case that he carried Tammen’s photo around with him in his wallet for decades—a photo that Richard Tammen had given him. If you’ve been following this blog for even a short while, you probably already know that the amount of respect I have for him is pretty much off the charts. He’s my idol. Maybe even a borderline crush.

Joseph Anthony Cella was born on this day in 1920 in Bisaccia, Italy, an ancient town in the southern part of the boot, approximately where the ankle would be if the boot was for real. He and his parents immigrated to the U.S. before he was one year of age and settled in Hamilton, Ohio, which is where he lived for most of his life. Sadly, he didn’t live long by today’s standards, passing away during the summer of 1980 at the age of 59, right after I graduated from college. (If only I’d thought to give him a call to discuss the Tammen case when I was a student at Miami. I’m still kicking myself for that missed opportunity.) Nevertheless, his impact was significant.

My admiration for Cella grew as I studied every line of every article he wrote on Ronald Tammen. As the years rolled by, he didn’t give up on Tammen. He didn’t recycle and rehash the same-old, same-old for anniversary stories that he wrote. And he didn’t settle for what university officials or the Oxford police were telling him. Sure, he’d write down whatever information they were doling out, but he had other sources too. Even 23 years after the fact, he was unearthing new information, much of which investigators had known but had opted to keep from the public.

Thanks to Cella, we learned:

  • That “a psychology book which Ronald was reported to have been reading was found on his desk.” (HJN, 4-22-1954)
  • That the psychology book on Ron’s desk had been opened to “Habits.” (HJN, 4-18-1976)
  • That Ron had stopped in at the office of Garret Boone, M.D., in Hamilton, OH, to have his blood typed on November 19, 1952, five months before Ron disappeared. Cella also revealed that Boone felt that he’d been given the “brush-off” by university officials, who, according to Boone, “didn’t want to discuss the case” when he came forward with his information. (HJN, 4-23-1973)
  • That on Friday, April 17, the weekend of his disappearance, Ron had stopped by the home of Glenn Dennison on Contreras Road at around 8:00 p.m. to pay his car insurance. They talked a little about the Campus Owls, but then he was on his way. (HJN, 4-18-1976)
  • That H.H. Stephenson, a housing official who’d given Ron his permit to have a car on campus, thought he’d seen Ron with a group of young men in a restaurant in Wellsville, NY, on August 5, 1953. (HJN, 4-18-1976)

At least three of those findings, and possibly four, factor prominently in the solution of this case, I believe.

“He was always a skeptic,” said one of his sons. “And the reporter that he was, he was always trying to find the answer to the truth…He was always digging to find the answer. It was one of those things where he didn’t really trust anything completely. He was going to find out for himself definitively what the answer was. He did that with a number of stories, and this one, in particular, which lasted, you know, to the day he died.”

“He’s out there,” he used to say about Tammen.

joe cella hamilton journal-news early 1950s
Joe Cella looking out the window of the Hamilton Journal-News with the clock tower of the Butler County Courthouse in the background.

Like Tammen, Cella had movie-star looks. His wife June, who met Joe when he was an usher at the Paramount Theater in Hamilton, often said that he reminded her of Tyrone Power, the dashing leading man of Zorro fame who happened to be from nearby Cincinnati. After serving in WWII, Cella thought he might give Hollywood a try, but it didn’t pan out for him. He and June returned to Hamilton where they would raise a family and Joe would work the rest of his days in news reporting and communications.

joe cella Paramount Theater
Young Joe as an usher at the Paramount Theater, Hamilton, Ohio.

He probably was feeling let down about this turn of events, but I consider it to be a good thing. Hollywood has enough beautiful people. Joe Cella had a gift for journalism. He had an inquisitive mind and a thirst for truth, which, in my book, the world can always use more of.

According to his obituary, Cella’s first job in journalism was with the Hamilton Journal-News, where he worked for five years, before moving on to various stints around Cincinnati. These included TV Guide magazine (regional editor), Crosley Broadcasting Corporation (promotion and publicity director), and Avco Broadcasting and WLW radio and television (public relations director). He was an avid golfer and, in 1962, he worked alongside Bob Hope to help organize an annual celebrity golf tournament at a Cincinnati country club, with proceeds benefiting a local charity. He also opened his own advertising and public relations firm.

joe cella bob hope wlw-tv abt 1963
Cella was with TV station WLWT when he worked on a celebrity golf tournament with Bob Hope.

In 1966, Cella rejoined the Hamilton Journal-News, where he worked as a reporter for the next decade, and, as we now know, where he churned out some of his best work on the Tammen case. (I sometimes wondered why I hadn’t seen anything from him on Tammen between 1954 and 1973, and now I know the answer. For much of that time, he was in PR and hanging with the likes of Bob Hope!) Cella received several accolades for the reporting he’d done on other topics during this period. He received two awards from the Associated Press of Ohio—one for his story about Robert Hatton, a young man from Hamilton who could have easily requested a medical deferment from the Vietnam War, but who, instead, fought and died there, and the other for his coverage of the discovery of an unidentified woman’s body in an industrial sludge pit near Hamilton. His third award was from the American Bar Association for his coverage of a mass murder on Easter in 1975 by James Ruppert.

In 1976, Cella assisted with the documentary “The Phantom of Oxford,” produced by WLWD-TV2, in Dayton, which told the story of Ronald Tammen’s disappearance and included on-camera interviews of some of the major players. I’m sure that documentary, for which its producers received regional Emmy Awards, would have never happened without Cella’s zealousness for keeping the case alive, knowledge of every last detail of the story, and well-worn Rolodex.

That same year, Cella stepped down from his job with the Journal-News to run for Butler County commissioner. His platform was to provide “better service to the public” and he proposed to accomplish this through his expertise in communications and public relations. He was a big believer in improving a citizen’s accessibility to the people in charge and having those people in charge engage in a lot less talking and a lot more listening. He won the Democratic primary but, in the main election, he lost to a more seasoned politician named Donald Schirmer, which was devastating for him. I have no idea how Schirmer fared at the job, but I know that Cella would have poured every ounce of himself into it.

Not long afterward, Cella’s health began to decline. He was in and out of the hospital with gastrointestinal issues, which became an ongoing burden for him. Still, he went back to reporting, this time with the Hamilton Sun. On August 13, 1980, while he was covering a Hamilton City Council meeting, Cella slumped over in his chair, unresponsive. He was pronounced dead of a heart attack later that night.

“He died doing what he loved,” his son told me.

Some additional thoughts on Joe Cella in the words of one of his sons:

I guess I wanted to fill in a bit more about my father. I mentioned he was a quiet, gentle person. This is something my girlfriend, now wife, had said she noticed and which in turn, attracted her to me more! He was the opposite of the male Italian head of household stereotype, much different from his father.

He was proud of his Italian heritage and was bilingual. My brothers and I all gravitated to him and his side of the family more because they were a different kind of people from most everyone else in our town. It made us feel kind of special, I guess you’d say.

My father was, as I had said, always interested in finding answers. If something happened, he wanted to know why it happened. He had run for county commissioner back in ’76 and lost pretty badly to an experienced politician. He was in disbelief when the results came in and he kept trying to find out how and why he lost, going over the printouts. I think he took it personally. I had a feeling, though, during the campaigning that he was up against some formidable odds.

I watched him change with the times. He sold off the family station wagon in 1970 and bought two Fiat sport cars, grew his hair longer with sideburns and a moustache (I never cared for it—thought it made him look sinister). His opponent in the election was the clean-cut type. I had been at [Miami University] during some of the upheavals on campus during the Vietnam War and I remember him saying, “This isn’t right,” when comparing it to his experience in the Army Air Corps during WWII. He was against me being drafted  after finding out I had a low number (I wound up getting a 4-F medical deferment my senior year). He became more vocal politically and was influenced by the number of young kids killed in action during that war. As I mentioned, he wrote a story about one soldier who was from Hamilton and his life there. Dad received an AP award for that story.

He was a creative, artistic person, too. I have a few sketches he did of a mockup for an ad for the long gone Surf Club, a  popular jazz spot in Cincinnati where he booked talent. He was big into the jazz scene in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, maybe because he had played trumpet in a band while at Hamilton Catholic High. I recall him taking me, as a preteen, to a hole-in-the-wall jazz bar in Mt. Adams called The Blind Lemon. A trio was playing on the patio that day. I would go back there later on, whenever I could while in town. He turned me on to WNOP, a tiny AM station out of Newport, KY, that was on the air with jazz programming from sun up to dusk. Hardly any kids my age back then were listening to a station like that. His appreciation of that form of music stayed with me.

He was always wanting to be unique, I think, which is why he made several attempts to make a break from Hamilton for the bright lights, big city, but my mother was too tied to her family to move away. I was told once that he did a screen test for Warner Bros. after he came back from the War, having gone to school at Shuster Martin Drama School in Cinci. Through his job in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s as publicity and promotion manager at Crosley Broadcasting, he was finally able to be around the movie and TV personalities, a crowd he had always wanted to be in.

joe cella at wlw-t cincinnati abt 1960
Cella at his PR job at WLWT.

His sudden death from a heart attack while covering a meeting in the Hamilton City Council chambers was a shock, of course, but he had been ill for several years and had been showing it. Still, losing him at age 59 was tragic for us all.

Happy birthday, Joe. Thanks to your healthy skepticism and top-notch reporting, we may finally be able to solve this mystery.

joe cella hamilton journal news abt 1954 copy
Cella at the Hamilton Journal-News, circa 1954-ish.

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A big thank you to members of the Cella family for sharing the above photos with me and for telling me stories about your dad. It’s obvious how important he was in your lives.

Happy holidays, everyone.