Black Gold: The Curse of Covert Science
"The CIA's money undoubtedly changed the academic world to some degree, though no one can say how much."
Several notable themes have started to emerge as we head further down the rabbit hole of hidden finance and covert operations, spanning the history of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) up to the present day. The first thing that has become increasingly clear over this journey has been the sheer number of high-profile, publicly-lauded individuals living double lives throughout their professional careers.
The number of mistruths that must have been told by heroes of academia and government service Is nothing short of staggering. Even more disturbing is the lack of interest from the public after this information is disclosed, usually posthumously, as well as the innate inability of scholars to incorporate these inconvenient truths into the mainstream narrative of US history.
The second major theme is a dilemma we are dealing with in our current news cycle. The willingness of some in academia to partake in unethical quid pro quos in exchange for the funding of their pet projects has been exposed through the ongoing release of documents relating to the Jeffrey Epstein case. Epstein, of course, "committed suicide" while awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges several years ago.
His donations to universities and individual scientists even after his initial plea deal have led to questions over who knew what and when among those who accepted his vast sums of money. His case, though it will not be discussed in detail here, is an even more relevant representation of what we're uncovering when you consider his rumored connections to Western intelligence agencies.
Third, we have stumbled upon an obvious pattern of blatant disregard for the public interest in the name of "national security." This may seem like a legitimate trade-off to some, but the biggest issue with this current dynamic goes to the heart of American democracy.
When a handful of unelected individuals retain the power to make decisions for hundreds of millions of citizens — without their knowledge or input on fiscal and foreign policy — we have a serious problem. The idea that the legislative representatives of the United States citizenry have been left in the dark about how our money is spent, who is spending it, and who is benefiting, is a fundamentally unpatriotic form of government.
When one considers the price-gouging committed by defense contractors and tolerated by the Pentagon due to their revolving door of military officials and private executives, the idea that these massive amounts of taxpayer funds are still insufficient boggles the mind.
The existence of such vast private financial conspiracies as depicted in the book Gold Warriors — from the looting of Japanese gold bullion to the Iran-Contra scandal, and beyond — demonstrates an insatiable thirst for absurd amounts of black money by factions of the military-industrial-intelligence complex.
Given the need for brilliant minds to assist in the protection of our country's interests, some may argue the involvement of prominent academics in the intelligence sphere should be expected and perhaps even encouraged. That is all well and good in theory, but the covert nature of our national security apparatus and the power that comes with privileged knowledge are a recipe for corruption when exposed to such an insulated culture over a long enough timeline.
No aspect of United States history demonstrates this more comprehensively than the shocking revelations of MKULTRA and its related projects. The willingness of some in the medical and scientific communities to contribute their expertise to mind-control experiments on unwitting subjects is still subject to debate thanks to the destruction of records by the CIA after the program was exposed.
In the previous edition of my Black Gold series titled The Smithsonian Connection, we dove into the crevices of the Institution's history with intelligence agencies by highlighting specific examples of its potential involvement in covert operations and funding.
We demonstrated how the Smithsonian's longtime former director S. Dillon Ripley was a spy for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) — the precursor to the CIA — and how his relationships forged during World War II may have played a role in the decisions he made as the leader of the most highly regarded scientific organization in the country.
We also reviewed declassified correspondence between Ripley and CIA leadership, demonstrating a disturbingly cordial relationship between the two agencies. However, my more recent research has led me to the conclusion that despite Ripley's two decades in that role and some of the questionable decisions he made during that time, his appointment may turn out to be more of an act of damage control than anything.
As previously discussed in The Smithsonian Connection, the Institution was involved in a bird study the Washington Post dubbed "one of the largest and most mysterious undertakings in the institution's 139-year history." It was eventually revealed that the research project was a cover for biological warfare experiments that were being conducted by the Department of Defense.
We also reviewed the Smithsonian's involvement in Project Moon Dust, a US Air Force crash retrieval program that was partially funded by NASA and used Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory telescopes in foreign countries to track satellites.
As Ripley took over the role of Smithsonian director in 1964, I was curious to know what had happened leading up to his appointment. It turns out there was much more to worry about than these two relative missteps.
Ripley's predecessor at the Smithsonian Institution was a physician and teacher named Leonard Carmichael. According to a 1985 Washington Post article — the publication date coinciding with the year Ripley resigned as director — Carmichael reportedly felt deeply about US national security.
Carmichael was the director of a research board called the Human Ecology Society from the years 1959 - 1964. As it turns out, the organization was a front for the CIA to infiltrate academia and hijack scientific research for their benefit, specifically in the areas of psychological studies and bio-warfare.
In his detailed book on MKULTRA titled The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, John Marks devotes a chapter to the Human Ecology Society and spells out its operations. After its founding by Cornell University professor Harold Wolff, the organization branched out to provide research grants to academics — both witting and unwitting — using CIA money.
MKULTRA men realized, according to the veteran, that "ninety percent of what we were doing would fail" to be of any use to the Agency. Yet, with a spirit of inquiry much freer than that usually found in the academic world, the Society took early stabs at cracking the genetic code with computers and finding out whether animals could be controlled through electrodes placed in their brains.
By investing up to $400,000 a year into the early, innovative work of men like Carl Rogers, Charles Osgood, and Martin Orne, the CIA's Human Ecology Society helped liberate the behavioral sciences from the world of rats and cheese. With a push from the Agency as well as other forces, the field opened up. Former iconoclasts became eminent, and, for better or worse, the Skinnerian near-monopoly gave way to a multiplication of contending schools.
Eventually, a reputable behavioral scientist could be doing almost anything: holding hands with his students in sensitivity sessions, collecting survey data on spanking habits, or subjectively exploring new modes of consciousness. The CIA's money undoubtedly changed the academic world to some degree, though no one can say how much.
By 1965, the functions provided by the Human Ecology Society had run their course and those involved moved on to bigger and better things. Incidentally, the organization's closure occurred at the same time Carmichael left the Smithsonian Institution and Ripley assumed his vacated role.
So what other covert channels were these successful projects transferred to, and how was the funding maintained?
Some clues may lie within the other so-called "cut-outs" used during the time, with one in particular run by one of the most respected pathologists in the country.
Dr. Charles F. Geschickter was a world-class pathologist and emeritus professor at Georgetown University, known as a prominent contributor to the field of cancer research. Along with teaching at Georgetown from 1946 up until his retirement in 1971, Dr. Geschickter also had duties as the Director of the Clinical Research Unit.
Before his work at Georgetown began, Geschickter had set up a private fund in his family's name to help finance research primarily into cancer and psychiatry called the Charles F. and Elsie L. Geschickter Fund for Medical Research. It was eventually learned that this foundation, like the Human Ecology Society, largely became a conduit for funding research that interested the CIA using government money.
According to Marks, as the Human Ecology Society began its process of shutting down, the address of its headquarters changed to reflect the building where the Geschickter Fund itself was located. This suggests the Geschickter Fund may have been seen as a long-term covert channel within the academic community as well as a suitable landing place for the transfer of this research.
One of the most notable revelations about the Geschickter Fund was the CIA's financial assistance in the construction of a new $3 million building at Georgetown Hospital.
The CIA provided these funds in return for the use of one-sixth of the beds and total space within the facilities, where Geschickter himself performed unethical, highly bizarre experiments on terminal cancer patients and the mentally ill. Parallels to the fictional Depart of Energy facilities depicted in the Netflix series Stranger Things are clear, except these human rights violations took place in the heart of our nation's capital.
Declassified documents on the CIA's involvement with the Geschickter Fund and the man who controlled it paint a rather shocking picture of disregard for human rights and the nonchalant attitude around these abuses within the CIA.
Known as MKULTRA Sub Project 35, the deal with Georgetown through Geschickter was made in 1955 with the agency's Technical Services Staff (TSS) "for the purpose of establishing a cover organization for highly sensitive projects in the field of covert Biological, Chemical, and Radiological Warfare."
The advantages of using Georgetown and Dr. Geschickter for this research are justified at length in the declassified documents.
(a) One-sixth of the total space in the new research wing is to be available to Dr. Geschickter and in turn, will be available to the Chemical Division of TSS. This will provide laboratory and office space, technical assistants, equipment and experimental animals for use of Chemical Division personnel in connection with specific future projects.
(b) The cost of the Chemical Division projects which are to be carried out under this cover will be covered by funds made available through Project MKULTRA, and projects will be subject to the procedures and controls established for MKULTRA. The funds will be passed through the [Geschickter Fund] as has been done in the past. The Fund in turn will either pay expenses directly or transfer the money to the University for this purpose. Each project will be individually funded based on its particular budget, and there will be no other continuing or recurring charges for items such as space, facilities, etc.
(c) The Agency's sponsorship of sensitive research projects would be completely deniable since no connection would exist between the University and the Agency.
(d) Excellent professional cover would be provided for up to three bio-chemical employees of the Chemical Division of TSS. This would allow open attendance at scientific meetings, the advancement of personal standing in the scientific world, and as such, would constitute a major efficiency and morale booster.
(e) Human patients and volunteers for experimental use will be available under excellent clinical conditions with the full supervision of the [Georgetown University] Hospital.
(f) There would be available the equivalent of a hospital safehouse.
(g) It is expected that the output of useful results of the Chemical Division in the bio-chemical field will be greatly improved through the more efficient use of technical personnel who would be able to spend more of their time on actual laboratory work.
(i) Excellent facilities would be provided for recruiting new scientific personnel since members of the Chemical Division working under this cover will be in daily contact with members of the Graduate School of the University.
(j) The regular University library and reprint service will be available as a source of technical information.
Even more concerning than these perceived advantages may be the channels through which the studies were funded. The implications of the arrangements made here should worry anyone in the medical field with even just the slightest integrity.
This single grant will constitute the Agency's entire participation in the new hospital wing, and there will be no recurring obligations in the form of annual support of the hospital or additional grants. Transmission of Agency funds to the [Geschickter Fund] will be made through previously established cover channels set up by the [Geschickter Fund] for similar transmittals in the past. The donation on the Fund's books will be shown as having been received from an anonymous trust in [REDACTED].
In the future when TSS sponsors sensitive research projects which are to be carried out in the [Georgetown University] Hospital, each project will be individually financed through the [Geschickter Fund] as it has been in the past in accordance with previously established procedures and controls using allotted portions of the annual Research and Development budget. The University will be totally unwitting of Agency sponsorship, and the projects to every outward appearance will be sponsored by Dr. [Geschickter].
In the event of Dr. [Geschickter]'s death, the Fund will continue in being and any activities under this project will be continued through the Fund and will be unaffected by his death.
It is with the above excerpt that these clandestine funding mechanisms start to come into focus.
Firstly, the declassified memo establishes an unmistakable tone that this is business as usual. The phrase "previously established cover channels" implies a financial network already in place that is capable of enabling such a complex covert scheme as planned. The infrastructure is solid enough to justify this operation and the additional advantage that the hospital could serve as a "safe house" displays confidence in this assessment.
Additionally, the "donation" from the CIA to the Geschickter Fund showing in their books as an anonymous trust provides insight into the methods used to conceal this. Assuming this could be hidden from other agencies like the IRS using other front organizations once again displays the complexity and clandestine nature of the network.
If the OSS truly did have a political slush fund based on gold bullion looted from the Philippines during and after World War II, it's hard to see how it didn't end up in these studies based on the agency's own words here. This once again demonstrates the pitfalls of having intelligence operations intertwined with the private sector.
Let's now turn to the present day, and how this ongoing dynamic might be presenting itself on the surface.
A Willing Participant
As mentioned previously, managing the fund that provided cover for such horrific CIA activities was far from the only involvement Dr. Geschickter had in MKULTRA.
Although most of the details were likely destroyed in the 1970s, it is understood that Geschickter himself participated in studies that violated the human rights of his patients. According to one CIA memo, the security concerns of a contractor conducting the experimental testing would be eliminated since "the responsibility for the testing will rest completely upon the physician and the hospital."
The same memo describes the testing that was to be carried out on human and animal subjects, including a "knockout pill" that would "provide a maximum of amnesia."
A portion of the Research and Development Program of TSS/Chemical Division is devoted to the discovery of the following materials and methods:
1. Substances which will promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the point where the recipient would be discredited in public.
2. Substances which increase the efficiency of mentation and perception.
3. Materials which will prevent or counteract the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
4. Materials which will promote the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
5. Materials which will produce the signs and symptoms of recognized diseases in a reversible way so that they may be used for malingering, etc.
6. Materials which will render the induction of hypnosis easier or otherwise enhance its usefulness.
7. Substances which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion during interrogation and so-called "brain-washing".
8. Materials and methods which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use.
9. Physical methods of producing shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use.
10. Substances which produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.
11. Substances which will produce "pure" euphoria with no subsequent let-down.
12. Substances which alter personality structure in such a way that the tendency of the recipient to become dependent upon another person is enhanced.
13. A material which will cause mental confusion of such a type that the individual under its influence will find it difficult to maintain a fabrication under questioning.
14. Substances which will lower the ambition and general working efficiency of men when administered in undetectable amounts.
15. Substances which promote weakness or distortion of the eyesight or hearing faculties, preferably without permanent effects.
16. A knockout pill which can surreptitiously be administered in drinks, food, cigarettes, as an aerosol, etc., which will be safe to use, provide a maximum of amnesia, and be suitable for use by agent types on an ad hoc basis.
17. A material which can be surreptitiously administered by the above routes and which in very small amounts will make it impossible for a man to perform any physical activity whatsoever.
In addition to these studies, Marks also notes that Geschickter became interested in behavior modification techniques beyond the use of drugs and hypnosis. He writes that "he branched out into trying to knock out monkeys with radar waves to the head (a technique which worked but risked frying vital parts of the brain)." This was corroborated by Geschickter himself in his 1977 testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research.
Senator Kennedy: Was the NIH involved in any of the research projects?
Dr. Geschickter: There was NIH involvement.
Senator Kennedy: Could you tell us the nature of that involvement? .
Dr. Geschickter: I can tell you the nature of it accurately. One was on studies on concussion in which they rocked the heads of animals back and forth to try to cause them amnesia by concussion of the brain. And that was for $110,000. The other, which was funded through this later business was the use of radar to put monkeys to sleep, to see if they could be, should I say, instead of Mickey Finn, they could put them under with radar directed toward the monkey brain.
Senator Schweiker. Could they?
Dr. Geschickter: Did they go to sleep?
Senator Schweiker: Yes.
Dr. Geschickter: Yes, sir. But, Senator, it showed if you got into too deep a sleep, you injured the heat center of the brain the way you cook meat, and there was a borderline there that made it dangerous.
In his Congressional testimony, Dr. Geschickter very clearly admits he used electromagnetic waves to induce physiological effects on the brains of monkeys. He also states that this was research commissioned by the CIA, or as he puts it, "funded through this later business."
These studies bring to mind more recent developments regarding the enigmatic cases of Havana syndrome, or anomalous health incidents. These are symptoms of unknown origin that have been affecting US spies and diplomats around the world, with the first reports taking place in Havana, Cuba in 2016.
The CIA eventually commissioned a study by the JASON scientific advisory group leading to the eyebrow-raising conclusion that our best and brightest were falling victim to hysteria brought on by a species of cricket native to the region.
However, a full investigation released by the intelligence community a few years later seemed to refute that hypothesis, opting for a more realistic cause for these incidents and exploring the biological effects of directed energy waves.
Interestingly, the report considered radio waves to be the cause of anomalous health incidents and cited a case of Norwegian sailors, but the symptoms experienced did display the core characteristics.
Exposure to high-power, pulsed radar that caused bulk heating and did not result in core characteristics. According to a scientific paper, 14 Norwegian sailors in 2012 were accidentally exposed to high-power, pulsed radiofrequency fields that caused bulk-heating effects.
The signals came from the radar of a US Navy vessel at a passing distance of 70-100 meters and lasted for about seven minutes. The estimated peak power density was about 55 kW/cm2 and the peak electric field was about 15 kV/m, with average powers and fields about 100 times less. Another group of sailors was inside the metal hull of the ship at the time and was not exposed, serving as an inadvertent control population.
The signs and symptoms were fairly uniform—acute onset and offset of warming of the skin and disruption of exposed electronics, followed by headaches that, for all but one individual, resolved after time, treatment, and reassurance. The exposed sailors reported none of the core characteristics, and the unexposed sailors reported no acute symptoms.
So the same problems with heating that didn't allow Geschickter to successfully put monkeys to sleep with these waves also could not explain the symptoms of Havana syndrome. That may lead one to wonder whether the mechanism behind anomalous health incidents would have resulted in a successful outcome of Geschickter's test.
Potentially, this mechanism appears to be precisely what Geschickter and the CIA were trying to prove in these studies.
The idea that studies on technologies related to anomalous health incidents went as far back as MKULTRA is intriguing. Additionally, the thought that some aspects of MKULTRA continued long enough to successfully develop these kinds of weapons is disturbing. If these covert financial arrangements persisted up to the present day, one might wonder what other technologies these funds are responsible for and whether or not there is any oversight involved in their development.
Indeed, overcoming the heating effects of these weapons may be the "holy grail" of controlling human behavior remotely.
When considering the history of the CIA's covert funding of science, it's hard not to see the parallels in the recent revelations of individuals like Jeffrey Epstein and his reported connections to intelligence agencies. Disturbing developments like anomalous health incidents and the corruption of academia are truly just echoes of the MKULTRA era.
Funneling money through foundations or universities to mask the nefarious nature of the research has been the practice of certain factions within the intelligence community for decades, and there is no reason to believe it has not been the case with at least some reports of Havana syndrome.
In the context of the UFO phenomenon and the ongoing push for transparency in the government, these types of behavioral modification programs have the potential to complicate things tremendously.
Famed UFO researcher Jacques Vallee has said as much recently in a lecture at Rice University, and I will leave the reader with his quote to ponder as we move forward with what promises to continue to be a fraught process involving players with unthinkable agendas.
Anyone going through the Rice archives in search of information about UFOs should, in my estimation, keep in mind that any cases dated after 1975 — and certainly after 1985 — must first be analyzed as potential fakes. Not necessarily hoaxes, mind you, but products of classified projects, of which there were hundreds, that played on human expectations of things in the sky in order to hide or simply disguise new experiments with secret platforms.
This is true for aircraft prototypes, whose capabilities, shapes, and material composition which must legitimately remain secret. But it also applies to biological experiments, tests of remote paralysis, special drugs, and psychic manipulation in projects reminiscent of the old MKULTRA. In such an environment, some cancelled projects never really die.
This is obviously a challenge to researchers like me, like us, and to any ufologist. It is even more of a challenge for researchers from the military and the intelligence community, because in spite of their special status, even they may not have the right clearance or access to the right dataset in the programs whose acronyms they don't even know.