Excerpt from The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Shock Doctrine

The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

by Naomi Klein

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 576 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2008, 576 pages

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To “depattern” his patients, Cameron used a relatively new device called the Page-Russell, which administered up to six consecutive jolts instead of a single one. Frustrated that his patients still seemed to be clinging to remnants of their personalities, he further disoriented them with uppers, downers and hallucinogens: chlorpromazine, barbiturates, sodium amytal, nitrous oxide, desoxyn, Seconal, Nembutal, Veronal, Melicone, Thorazine, largactil and insulin. Cameron wrote in a 1956 paper that these drugs served to “disinhibit him [the patient] so that his defenses might be reduced.”

Once “complete depatterning” had been achieved, and the earlier personality had been satisfactorily wiped out, the psychic driving could begin. It consisted of Cameron playing his patients tape-recorded messages such as “You are a good mother and wife and people enjoy your company.” As a behaviorist, he believed that if he could get his patients to absorb the messages on the tape, they would start behaving differently.

With patients shocked and drugged into an almost vegetative state, they could do nothing but listen to the messages—for sixteen to twenty hours a day for weeks; in one case, Cameron played a message continuously for 101 days.

In the mid-fifties, several researchers at the CIA became interested in Cameron’s methods. It was the start of Cold War hysteria, and the agency had just launched a covert program devoted to researching “special interrogation techniques.” A declassified CIA memorandum explained that the program “examined and investigated numerous unusual techniques of interrogation including psychological harassment and such matters as ‘total isolation’” as well as “the use of drugs and chemicals.” First code-named Project Bluebird, then Project Artichoke, it was finally renamed MKUltra in 1953. Over the next decade, MKUltra would spend $25 million on research in a quest to find new ways to break prisoners suspected of being Communists and double agents. Eighty institutions were involved in the program, including forty-four universities and twelve hospitals.

The agents involved had no shortage of creative ideas for how to extract information from people who would rather not share it—the problem was finding ways to test those ideas. Activities in the first few years of Project Bluebird and Artichoke resembled those in a tragicomic spy film in which CIA agents hypnotized each other and slipped LSD into their colleagues’ drinks to see what would happen (in at least one case, suicide)—not to mention torturing suspected Russian spies.

The tests were more like deadly fraternity pranks than serious research, and the results didn’t provide the kind of scientific certainty the agency was looking for. For this they needed large numbers of human test subjects. Several such trials were attempted, but they were risky: if word got out that the CIA was testing dangerous drugs on American soil, the entire program could be shut down. Which is where the CIA’s interest in Canadian researchers came in. The relationship dates back to June 1, 1951, and a trinational meeting of intelligence agencies and academics at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The subject of the meeting was growing concern in the Western intelligence community that the Communists had somehow discovered how to “brainwash” prisoners of war. The evidence was the fact that American GIs taken captive in Korea were going before cameras, seemingly willingly, and denouncing capitalism and imperialism. According to the declassified minutes from the Ritz meeting, those in attendance—Omond Solandt, chairman of Canada’s Defense Research Board; Sir Henry Tizard, chairman of the British Defense Research Policy Committee; as well as two representatives from the CIA—were convinced that Western powers urgently needed to discover how the Communists were extracting these remarkable confessions. With that in mind, the first step was to conduct “a clinical study of actual cases” to see how brainwashing might work. The stated goal of this research was not for Western powers to start using mind control on prisoners; it was to prepare Western soldiers for whatever coercive techniques they might encounter if they were taken hostage.

Copyright © 2007 by Naomi Klein All rights reserved.

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