Mind Games


Rak Razam


Australian Penthouse, 2007

Forget the war on terror: global military has been engaged in a decades-long campaign to find chemicals that can control the mind, and 50 years after their first experiments it seems the battlefield of the brain is once again front and centre, writes Rak Razam...

According to the US Centre for Strategic Command, the US is presently engaged in a campaign of "Full Spectrum Dominance" in all fields of existence – land, water, space, cyberspace, etc. – and now the realm of the mind itself. Yet the military's interest in psychoactives has been long and sustained. During the height of WWII the OSS, the wartime precursor to the CIA, began the search for a truth serum they could use in intelligence interrogations. In 1945 the US Navy Technical Mission reported that Nazi scientists experimented with mescaline on subjects at the Dachau concentration camp. After the war the U.S. Navy began investigating mescaline itself under the guise of Project Chatter, and for the next three decades they engaged in experiments with mind-altering drugs in an attempt to crack the secrets of the brain.

A 1994 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office says that between 1940 and 1974, the American Department of Defense and other national security agencies experimented on thousands of people with mind-altering substances. The CIA reportedly gave hallucinogens to "volunteer" soldiers in 149 projects throughout the 50s and 60s. Most of these experiments were part of the MK-ULTRA program, which was formed to counter supposed Communist advances in brainwashing on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea, as later dramatized in the film ‘The Manchurian Candidate’. The Army was largely interested in using LSD as an incapacitating agent to disable enemy troops without bloodshed, but a bizarre culture of acid experimentation soon ensued as the game got out of control.

There's a video on YouTube: "LSD Military Experiment", which shows LSD being given to British troops in the 1950s. Around 25 minutes after ingestion signs of the drug become apparent. Whilst on a mock military exercise the men begin to relax and giggle, while others start to trip out. After 35 minutes the radio operator takes off his communications backpack and looks around with a huge grin. The efficiency of the rocket launcher is also under some doubt, and "ten minutes later the attacking section had lost all sense of urgency" the narrator decries. As well trained military soldiers roll around in fits of laughter and climb trees, the true power of the mind-altering drug becomes suddenly became apparent: here is something that can undermine the nature of the war machine itself.

LSD and mescaline were just two of a host of specific psychoactive substances experimented with; others included tetra hydro cannabinoids (agents injected highly-concentrated liquid THC onto cigarettes) and a wide array of pharmaceutical agents. In 1962 the U.S. Army added Quinuclidinyl benzilate, a "super hallucinogen" code-named BZ) to its neurochemical arsenal, after noticing very small doses produced stupor and delirium that lasted for days. By 1964 the Army was using BZ in Vietnam and stockpiling huge quantities of the gas for anticipated use.

Many compounds were unknowingly tested not just on soldiers, but on the civilian populace as well. Perhaps the most infamous was an intelligence project wryly named "Midnight Climax", where prostitutes were enlisted to give their unwitting clients LSD. The CIA also seems to have partly-funded and promoted the use of LSD throughout the 1950s and 60s, in part to do to the burgeoning anti-war movement what it had done to soldiers both in England and America.

Now in the 21st century, in a growing climate of urban unrest and resource scarcity, military officials have been funding an increasing number of projects exploring non-lethal weaponry for crowd control. But restraining an unruly populace on a physical level is redundant if you can control their mind, which might explain the current resurgence in medical and military interest in hallucinogens.

The lesson learned from their Cold War mind experiments wasn’t, it seems, that testing drugs on unsuspecting people is ethically wrong. Instead it appears to be that the level of scientific knowledge back then made the drugs administered unpredictable. But since the 1990s modern assay techniques have allowed greater understanding of the workings of the brain and how chemicals bind to neuro-receptors there. And now, as the war on terror funds an unprecedented military budget, neuroscience can finish what was started all those years ago.

If you think civilians are protected from such experimentation, think again. The 1925 Geneva Protocol was the first international treaty to ban the use of chemical weapons, and it was backed up by the 1975 Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention and the 1995 Chemical Weapons Convention. While all modern nations say they are against such neurochemical warfare, loopholes exist for use in cases of “law enforcement, including domestic riot control". And the development of calmative agents, dissociatives and "equilibrium agents" by military scientists for urban use, is on the rise.

In 2002 during the Russian theatre siege at Breslen, the Russian army used a knockout agent – most likely the opiate derivative fentanyl – against Chechen rebels that also killed 120 hostages. Not long after, in 2003 as the US went to war in Iraq, the then US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, announced the US was interested in (bio)chemical weapons. Rumsfeld charged the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) and the US Army's Soldier Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM) to lead research into drugs that affect things like the sense of pain, consciousness itself and emotive states like anxiety and fear. Fentanyl, ketamine, diazepam and a swath of other anesthetics and anti-depressants were on their list of drugs of interest.

As the pharmaceutical companies line up for the growing military budgets to explore these new wave of mind weapons, a whole new market is opening up for the military-industrial complex that threatens to change the way we think – one way or another.

For as William Burroughs said in 'Nova Express': "This is a game planet. All games are hostile and basically there is only one game, and that game is war. Research into altered states of consciousness – which might result in a viewpoint from which the game itself could be called into question – is inexorably drawn into the game."

It's your move.