Vermont State Hospital Implicated in CIA Mind Control Experiments

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

In 1973, when the CIA got wind of the revelations that would expose its decades-long program into mind control experiments, then-CIA Director Richard Helms, and Sidney Gottlieb, head of the Agency’s Technical Services Division, got together to destroy all the files they could find on MKULTRA and related programs. These programs consisted of experiments on human subjects on isolation, sensory deprivation, induction of hallucinations and psychosis through drugs, electroshock, hypnosis, physical debility (through hunger, mainly), and other horrifying procedures. Some of you may be familiar with one such sponsored program, if you’ve read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.

Helms, who bragged about his destruction of the evidence to Congress, and Gottlieb were never held accountable for their destruction of evidence. (No surprise to those of us fighting to get the incoming Obama administration to hold Bush Administration officials accountable for their crimes on torture and lying the country into war.) Later, when through the efforts of heroic journalists — some of them ex-intelligence officers, like John Marks — some of the programs were exposed, but it was believed much of the CIA’s crimes in this instance would never be known.Vermont State Hospital Implicated in CIA Mind Control Experiments

Yet here we are 35 years later, and some information is still leaking out, in this case in the pages of a small, but noteworthy paper in Rutland, Vermont. The Rutland Herald won a Pulitzer Prize back in 2001. Reporter Louis Porter deserves one for his well-written expose on CIA experiments at Vermont State Hospital, and the purported participation of its head psychiatrists, Dr. Robert W. Hyde.

Throughout his article, Porter is careful not to claim too much. He constructs a circumstantial case for the use of experiments on mental patients, using archival and legal documents. He relies heavily on the testimony of former Hyde patient Karen Wetmore and her legal and medical defenders. No one at Vermont State Hospital today claims any knowledge of any drug or electoshock experimentation, nor has any professional who worked with Dr. Hyde, who died in 1976, come forward to verify Wetmore’s claims.

As the article describes it, Karen Wetmore began receiving psychiatric care as a child and adolescent. She was diagnosed in the early 1960s with “hysteria” (a diagnosis no longer in use in the psychiatric field), and then with dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia. Wetmore denies she has schizophrenia.

In any case, her medical records were reviewed by Dr. Thomas Fox, a Rutland, Vermont doctor who later served as “a top mental health official with the state of New Hampshire.” Dr. Fox, who had never offered testimony as an “expert witness” in a civil lawsuit, came forward in Karen’s case, horrified by what he saw in her treatment. Even without any CIA involvement, her treatment was scandalous — involuntary administration of drugs, long periods of isolation. Dr. Fox wrote in her deposition (emphasis added):

“I became convinced, based on the record, that Karen had been mistreated at certain phases of her treatment in (Waterbury), and that, from a professional standpoint, the way in which we police ourselves, the way in which we keep each other ethical and competent, when we identify that, we (members of our profession) should do something about it,” Fox said in a deposition in the lawsuit to Wetmore and the state’s lawyer. “That’s my feeling, you should act on it.”

He wrote in an outline that he prepared for her lawsuit in 2000: “I must conclude, in my opinion, that Karen was involved in drug experimentation without her knowledge or consent.”

As Louis Porter documents, Karen Wetmore’s doctor had connections with CIA researchers and psychologists. It only took me a few minutes to double-check with my sources to see that Robert Hyde had helped co-author two studies cited in the CIA-funded 1961 book, The Manipulation of Human Behavior. Along with LSD-experimenter, Army psychiatrist Max Rinkel, Hyde and other researchers wrote articles on “Experimental schizophrenia-like symptoms” and “Clinical and physiochemical psychosis.”

If anything, the Porter article is a little too circumspect regarding Hyde’s CIA ties. John Marks interviewed CIA personnel back in the 1970s, who verified Hyde’s CIA credentials. According to Marks’s sources, Hyde “advised the CIA on using LSD in covert operations” (p. 65, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate). He had his own special MKULTRA subproject to use as a funding conduit. Thus, while many MKULTRA contract researchers were unwitting recipients of CIA funding over the years, Hyde was not one of those. He was, to quote a certain vice president-elect (out of context, to be sure), “the real deal.”

Nor was the use of mental patients for drug experimentation quite the scandal in the 1960s it would be today. In an article by Marvin Zuckerman from the 1960s on “Hallucinations, Reported Sensations, and Images,” published in Sensory Deprivation: Fifteen Years of Research (1969, ed. by J.P. Zubek), we find the following (p. 121):

Malitz, Wilkens, and Esecover (1962) have presented data on 100 randomly selected chronic schizophrenic patients, and 57 acute psychiatric patients, and 42 normals administered one of three drugs: d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), d-l-methyl lysergic acid diethylamide (MLD), or d-l-acetyl lysergic acid diethylamide (ALD)….

The content of the drug-induced visual hallucinations was similar to the RVS [Reported Visual Stimulation] phenomena of sensory deprivation (e.g., abstract and geometrical forms, lattice work, flashes,and human, animal, and familiar forms).

There’s more to the Malitz et al. study, but the point here is that there was mass use of psychiatric patients who were given potent hallucinogens and other drugs to study phenomena of interest to the CIA, for example, sensory deprivation.

In the infamous case of Ewen Cameron at Allen Memorial Hospital at McGill University in Montreal, LSD and other drugs were combined with electroshock, induced sleep or coma, and forced indoctrination in attempts to use patients as involuntary subjects in direct attempts to brainwash patients and induce new personalities or memories.

Porter’s article traces the career of Robert Hyde, from the CIA-funded studies at Boston Psychopathic Hospital (now known as Massachusetts Mental Health Center) to Butler Health Center in Providence, R.I., to Vermont State Hospital. While MKULTRA experiments have been documented at both Boston Psychopathic and Butler, to date no one has placed such experimentation at Vermont State Hospital. As for Hyde, he was a highly regarded doctor in his time. Records online show him as a Sponsoring Member of the National Mental Health Committee. The University of Vermont College of Medicine has a “Medical Scholarship Fund” in his name.

Of course, the bulk of MKULTRA records were destroyed, and Porter is left to build a circumstantial case, from documents, and from the nearly destroyed memory of a former mental patient and likely subject of Dr. Hyde’s experimentation. Porter’s article cites a “1994 Government Accounting Office report on the clandestine research notes that at least 15 of the 80 facilities around North America known to have participated in the research remain unidentified.”

Porter concludes:

Wetmore and her advocates could not unequivocally link her case to the CIA’s research activities at other institutions through government documents from the agency, but histories of the CIA’s psychiatric testing, other documents and a preponderance of circumstantial evidence around Wetmore’s treatment based on her medical records suggest the Vermont State Hospital may have been one of the sites for secret experimentation.

It is not my intent to reproduce all of Mr. Porter’s excellent article here. The point is to whet your appetite and send you off to the link. But a few conclusions of my own are in order.

First, it should be no news to anyone that the CIA cannot be trusted to produce evidence of their own wrong-doing. If too long is taken to get the investigatory machinery underway, crucial evidence can and will be destroyed. One only has to look at the controversy last Spring over the CIA’s destruction of the interrogation videotapes of Abu Zubaydah.

Second, despite the efforts of many, it seems clear that there is much we don’t know about our own history. And what sometimes we seem to know is only received knowledge or wisdom, repeated often enough by reputable sources, such that a false history is constructed. My one criticism of the Porter article concerns the way he traces U.S. torture back to Soviet and Chinese prototypes. This myth has been deconstructed by me, and also at length by the noted researcher Darius Rejali in his massive study, Torture and Democracy.

Finally, it is crucial that we understand that the resolution of these issues lies in our hands, not that of politicians, or of Obama in particular. Without an outcry by Americans, their own history, and the punishment of criminals in our midst who misused the public trust to engage in actions outside the pale of normal ethical behavior, who were responsible for serious harm or even death to vulnerable people in their care will go unpunished.

It is a short step, ethically, and perhaps politically, from unethical conduct upon mental patients, to lying about the causes for war, and the deaths of a million innocents, as in Iraq. If we don’t do something about it, history will not absolve us.

My thanks to Austin K. for tipping me to Porter’s article.

Also posted at Invictus


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    • Valtin on December 1, 2008 at 06:56

    earicle commented that Vermont State Hospital lost its Medical/Medicare accreditation a few years back for poor treatment of patients. No replacement has been found as yet and the state facility remains in operation — an eerie coda to an incredible story.

  1. This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, given what I already know.

  2. I might have more to say on this subject 51 days from now.

  3. The flip-side to MKULTRA is that it contributed in a direct and material way to the 1960’s counterculture by providing people with direct access to LSD and other chemicals.

    In the early 1960’s Stanford University paid young men to be guinea pigs, $50 a day to come in and try different drugs, often “hallucinogens” (I use quote marks since these chemicals are not really hallucinogens, but that’s another discussion). One subject was a young author named Ken Kesey, who realized that he was being invited to glimpse into reality in new and exciting ways, and he also realized that the researchers had never tried the chemicals themselves and thus had no idea what they really did. Kesey also discovered that the chemicals were not safeguarded very well and his venison chili, laced with LSD, became a popular cuisine item during weekend parties. One young participant at some of these gatherings was a musician named Jerome John Garcia.

    Kesey later worked the night shift at a state mental hospital in Oregon. He would occasionally come to work and use LSD as a way of seeing into the gentlemen on the ward. Parts of his novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” were written in that state. After it’s publication and the financial rewards that came with Kesey began to throw parties at his place in La Honda with his crew The Merry Pranksters, guests included the Hell’s Angels and a band called the Warlocks, led by his young musician friend Jerry Garcia. In December of 1965 Kesey took his parties public as “The Acid Test,” the first one featured Jerry Garcia’s newly christened band- The Grateful Dead.

    Also worth noting that the man who became the principle lyricist for the Grateful Dead, Robert Hunter, was also a paid researcher at Stanford. An interesting side-note is that the Dead’s other lyricist, John Perry Barlow, founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

    Finally we must recall the immortal words of Dr. Timothy Leary, who when asked about the CIA and it’s connection to LSD replied: “I am always in favor of Central Intelligence.”

    I share this not to make light of the destructive nature of the CIA and our government, but to point out that Yin and Yang are always connected, and as the Grateful Dead sang:

    Once in a while you can get shown the light,

    in the strangest of places if you look at it right


  4. I am interested in how many other “hospitals” and psychiatrists/psychologists were involved.  Does anyone know if there is a list or a group of people who were participants (I mean as “researchers”).  Abbie Hoffman’s brother Jack claims in his biography, that Worcester State Hospital was doing LSD experiments on patients and others back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

  5. is in any way an isolated case.

    As you say, mental health institutions are the most underserved in all ways possible, and basically, many people are just let to “die” there, so many just victims of absolute neglect.

    On the subject of torture, here is an interesting article written by Matthew Alexander, AN INTERROGATOR SPEAKS,

    I’m Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq

    By Matthew Alexander

    Sunday, November 30, 2008

    I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I’m still alarmed about that today.

    I’m not some ivory-tower type; I served for 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, began my career as a Special Operations pilot flying helicopters, saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, became an Air Force counterintelligence agent, then volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior interrogator. What I saw in Iraq still rattles me — both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn’t work. . . .

    Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives. . . . .

    . . . . The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans. . . .

    Americans, including officers like myself, must fight to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them. Other interrogators are also speaking out, including some former members of the military, the FBI and the CIA who met last summer to condemn torture and have spoken before Congress — at considerable personal risk.. . . .

    This officer and his views, in the face of all others, is truly a “gem,” who is still haunted from his experiences.  

    Matthew Alexander [who] led an interrogations team assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq in 2006. He is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq.” He is writing under a pseudonym for security reasons.  

  6. I did partake in guinea pig tests at that location in the late sixties.

    It was more boring than not. I was not allowed to ask too many questions & after some months, was abruptly terminated as a test subject. I was told that some of the results of these tests showed that I was using drugs of a kind that was completely screwing up the chronology of results so far recorded.

    Hey, it was the sixties.

    But the memories from the Allen, that I`m quite fond of, is the sharing of “hallucinogenics” brought out by a researcher there.

    He/she was experimenting with substances concerning chronic pain, epilepsy & whatever else.

    The vials he/she brought home were labeled “for experimental use only” & something to the effect of “not for human consumption”, “animal testing only”.

    These drugs were administered intra muscular in a home setting with sixties music & I remember vividly some of the sessions as being “time stoppers”.

    The researcher told me these same drugs were used on test patients at the Allen. He/she would not discuss those experiments in any way, but that.

    The researcher in question was a very good friend & my trust in her/him was absolute.

    While I know how serious this diary by Valtin is, & his commitment to the truth, I have to believe nothing in my personal experience was done with any kind of malice aforethought, nor do I think I have been affected adversely in the long run in the long run in the long run, but who oo kn kno know knows.

    The tests & experiments of which you speak, conducted on some of the most vulnerable & defenseless people, by ruthless people, is another chapter that should be opened sooner rather than later.

    Nothing will absolve us.

  7. Given what was going on in mental institutions in Alabama and Mississippi in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s and their widespread use of ECT, drugs, and “millieu therapy,” and what was frequently either considered or done in them (lobotomies, psychosurgery of various kinds, involuntary tubal ligations), you don’t need the CIA connection to argue that these institutions tortured those involuntarily confined in them.

    If the CIA was involved, it would surprise virtually no one.  But I haven’t seen proof of that.

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