Fifty Years of Secrecy: Investigating CIA Mind Control Experiments in Vermont

Editor’s Note: The following is a submission from Karen Wetmore, a survivor of the CIA’s MK-ULTRA research experiments. She is the author of Surviving Evil: CIA Mind Control Experiments in Vermont.

After I wrote the book, Surviving Evil: CIA Mind Control Experiments in Vermont, I was left with disturbing questions regarding the research I had been subjected to while a teenage patient in Vermont hospitals. My medical records provided me with many details of different drugs that were used, including evidence of the use of hallucinogens, massive electric shock treatments, chemical shock treatments, hypnosis and prolonged isolation. But I continued to ask myself what else did they do to me and why.

My medical records were incomplete – very clearly cherry picked. During the years after I discovered the CIA presence at the University of Vermont College of Medicine (UVM), UVM Medical Center Hospital and the Vermont State Hospital (VSH), I was repeatedly harassed. The phone company told me my phone was tapped, the Post Master confirmed that my mail was being stolen and strangers followed me. Finally I phoned the FBI in Albany, New York and complained that I believed the CIA was behind the harassment and I told the FBI why. All forms of harassment stopped after that phone call.

I asked myself again and again, why would CIA harass me all these years after the 1977 Senate Hearings exposed the CIA MKULTRA programs? It simply made no sense to me. I strongly suspected that my discovery of Dr. Robert W. Hyde in my medical records, noted in court documents during my lawsuit against the State of Vermont, and my discovery of the twenty-year long active presence of the CIA in Vermont had made CIA nervous. It was clear that neither CIA nor the State of Vermont ever expected anyone to discover the CIA mind control experiments.

Robert Hyde was a CIA Technical Services Division researcher who conducted extensive LSD and other hallucinogenic drug experiments at Boston Psychopathic Hospital, Butler Hospital, Harvard and the Worcester Foundation For Experimental Biology – all research affiliates of UVM, UVM Medical Center Hospital and VSH. McGill University was also a research affiliate of UVM-VSH.

Personality Assessment System and MKULTRA

Hyde conducted extensive personality assessment research for CIA psychologist John Gittinger, utilizing Gittinger’s Personality Assessment System (PAS).  Hyde’s declassified CIA subprojects, 8, 10, 63 and 66 show that Gittinger’s Washington D.C. CIA office, Psychological Assessment Associates, funded Hyde’s research, and as I wrote in my book, also funded research at UVM, UVM Medical Center Hospital and VSH.

Robert Hyde was Director of Research at the Vermont State Hospital during the time I was a patient in 1965, 1970, 1971 and 1972. He held that position until his death in 1976. Hyde, as I have discovered, is the CIA researcher almost completely overlooked by investigators. He continues to be very well protected by CIA. His research from 1965 on is almost impossible to find, except for benign articles, and in sharp contrast to the other MKULTRA researchers, no photograph of Hyde has been located, despite years of searching by me and others. Using Hyde as a starting point enabled me to unravel and expose Vermont’s role in the CIA mind control experiments. I was only able to begin my search using his name because I found it in my medical records.

Why after all of these years does CIA still find it necessary to protect Robert Hyde’s CIA research? I’ve concluded that Hyde wasn’t overlooked – he and his Vermont research remain very carefully guarded by CIA.

There were other disturbing questions as well. Why would no Senator or Congressman or Senate Committee help me? They wouldn’t even acknowledge letters from me much less reply. Senator Bernie Sanders tried to help me for years but for the most part was unable to do much.

It is interesting to note that after I wrote a letter in January 2015 to Senator John McCain asking for his help, mentioning Senator Sanders attempts to help me over the years, I learned that shortly after I wrote McCain, Senator Sanders had closed the file on my case. For the first time in over a decade, Sanders’ staff was cool and distant on the phone, in sharp contrast to all the many other phone conversations I had with his staff over the years. Sanders’ office clearly did not want to hear from me again about the CIA research in Vermont.

In mid-December 2014, I wrote a letter to the CIA Inspector General, informing him of the original source documents I located. I also described the experimentation detailed in my medical records that I had been subjected to and I offered proof, not speculation, as to the CIA research conducted in Vermont institutions. I also pressed CIA for compensation for the damage done to me physically and psychologically. I requested an internal CIA investigation by his department, since investigating CIA wrongdoing is what the IG does.  Several weeks after I sent the letter I learned that the CIA IG had resigned.

The Vermont press and the national press remain silent on the information I documented in my book, despite having been informed. A foreign journalist told me that he couldn’t understand why American journalists were not, as he put it, “All over this story.” Again I ask the question: What did CIA do in Vermont institutions that require such measures to ensure secrecy fifty years later?  Beginning in September 2013, I decided to try to find out.

Using FOIA to Investigate

Between 2000 and 2009 I wrote dozens of FOIA requests to CIA seeking documents about Vermont’s role in MKULTRA. During those years I could not be specific as to procedures in particular and each FOIA response came back noting “No Documents Located”. After I wrote my book, Surviving Evil, I felt I had enough information to craft my FOIA requests very specifically. I based my requests on information documented in my medical records and information gleaned from UVM-VSH research documents.

I began my search with a Vermont Records Act request dated October 7, 2013 seeking financial records that existed between UVM-VSH and Psychological Assessment Associates and the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology. Both the latter two were CIA fronts and both were verified in UVM-VSH research documents. I had a PAS assessment in my medical records, dated December 21 and 22, 1965. I was then thirteen years old. CIA has described the use of the PAS as, “…anti-ethical rather than therapeutic…”, “…a way to get at people…” “… to compromise people…”

The State of Vermont responded on October 16, 2013: “The records you requested in your letter dated October 7, 2013 are not available because they were discarded pursuant to public records retention schedule effective March 3, 2010, on file with the State Archives and Records Administration.”

On October 24, 2013, I filed a FOIA with the CIA requesting: “Research documents including subprojects for research conducted and or funded by CIA at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and the Vermont State Hospital during the years 1959, 1962, 1965 and 1966… I filed a Vermont Records Act request on October 7, 2013 for research contracts that existed between UVM-VSH and the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology and Psychological Assessment Associates during the years noted. The response from the State was that the records I requested had been destroyed. Therefore a contractual relationship existed between CIA and UVM-VSH.

“I obtained UVM-VSH research documents (MH-01076) that show the psychological tests (PAS) created by CIA psychologist John Gittinger were given to VSH patients and, according to the documents, sent directly to Gittinger at Psychological Assessment Associates, 1834 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC. Also noted in the documents are plans to expand and continue research with Gittinger.”

CIA response dated November 21, 2013 was that the records I requested are Classified. Based on the information in my medical records I had a strong suspicion about the true nature of the experiments I was involved in and I decided to craft several FOIA’s, one at a time, over the next 17 months in order to be able to put them all together when completed and lay out a clearer picture of the CIA research I was thrust into as a child.

Special Interrogations Research From 40+ Years Ago: “Classified”

On March 24, 2014, I filed a FOIA with CIA requesting “documents involving the use of Special Interrogations at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, UVM Medical Center Hospital and the Vermont State Hospital during the years 1970, 1971 and 1972.”

Special Interrogations (SI) involves the use of LSD (or other hallucinogens), Mescaline, electric shock, chemical shock agents like Metrazol, hypnosis and prolonged isolation. These methods are part of my medical records and SI was the forerunner of what is now termed Enhanced Interrogations.

CIA’s response, dated April 16, 2014, was that the documents I requested were “Classified.” More specifically, they said CIA could “neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive” to my request. This is known as a “Glomar” response.

I filed an appeal on May 5, 2014. CIA’s reply, dated August 28, 2014, was that my appeal had been denied because the documents are Classified. The denial letter stated, “The fact of the existence or nonexistence of requested records is currently and properly classified and relates to intelligence sources and methods information that is protected from disclosure….”

On September 16, 2014 I filed a FOIA with the CIA requesting “research documents including budget office receipts and confidential funds posting vouchers, involving the use of biological, chemical and psychological procedures to produce altered states of consciousness, with or without amnesia at the Worcester Foundation For Experimental Biology during the years 1970, 1971 and 1972.”

CIA response dated October 17, 2014 was that the documents I requested are Classified. I filed the identical request naming UVM, UVM Medical Center Hospital and VSH on November 5, 2014. CIA’s response, dated November 21, 2014, was that the documents I requested are Classified.

On December 2, 2014, I filed a FOIA with CIA requesting “research conducted by, funded by or in the interest of CIA involving the use of hypnosis to create amnesia with posthypnotic suggestion at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, UVM Medical Center Hospital and Vermont State Hospital during the years 1970, 1971 and 1972.”

CIA response, dated January 21, 2015, was that the documents I requested are “Classified.”

On January 28, 2015 I filed a FOIA with CIA requesting, “research conducted by, funded by or in the interest of CIA involving the use of the drugs LSD, LAE, Scopolamine, Metrazol, Sernyl, (PCP) and Quinuclidinyl Benzilate, (BZ) at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, UVM Medical Center Hospital and Vermont State Hospital during the years 1970, 1971 and 1972.”

CIA’s response, dated February 25, 2015, was that the documents are “Classified.”

I’ve been researching CIA experiments in Vermont for eighteen years now but I have to say that this FOIA response shocked me, even though I expected CIA to respond this way. It’s one thing to suspect what the response will be and a whole other thing to have the response in hand. The idea that Vermont institutions were using these drugs on unwitting patients, including me is hard to process. Medical ethics were clearly abandoned by doctors and professors who publicly tout themselves and the institutions they work for as being caring, compassionate health care professionals.

These drugs were used on vulnerable, helpless mental patients who were in the care of the State of Vermont. Sernyl, also known as PCP and Angel Dust, causes acute, sometimes permanent psychosis and was intended for use as an animal anesthetic. BZ, one of the most powerful hallucinogens ever created, causes violent reactions, hallucinations, dissociation and a complete detachment from reality. It is classified as a chemical warfare agent. The idea that these drugs were used on unwitting mental patients is astonishing and as far as I am concerned, it is an unforgivable betrayal.

The UVM-State of Vermont doctors who used these drugs did not do so for any therapeutic reason whatsoever. CIA already knew the effects of these powerful hallucinogens and the effects were that people were driven completely out of their minds.

I crafted the FOIA requests to try to determine what CIA program was used in UVM-VSH. Each response from the CIA cited the same protections from disclosure: Section 3.6 (a) of Executive Order13526, Section 6 of the CIA Act of 1949, Section 102A(i) (l) of the National Security Act of 1947 and FOIA exemptions (b) (1) and (b) (3). The responses to my requests, when put together demonstrate evidence that the CIA program generally known as the Manchurian Candidate research was conducted in Vermont institutions. These methods would have been the building blocks for the creation of a Manchurian Candidate.

A Manchurian Candidate?

CIA has long denied they ever conducted Manchurian Candidate research. I’m certain that the actual name of the program is different than the public name of Manchurian Candidate and I have no idea if the program is still operational. I am now convinced that CIA honed their techniques in Vermont institutions, using unwitting severely mentally ill subjects.

I’m certain CIA calculated that these were people that no one would care enough about to endanger their research. No one would know, no one would complain and there would be no consequences for CIA’s behavior. Tragically, CIA calculated correctly.

CIA began mapping each subject’s psychological profile, looking for soft spots and ways to compromise people using the PAS. When an appropriate subject was selected, Special Interrogations were conducted using hallucinogens, electric shock, chemical shock, hypnosis and prolonged isolation. These methods broke down the subject’s defenses and made the mind far more pliable to suggestion. SI in some cases causes dissociation, which would have been the desired effect for Manchurian Candidate experimentation. By adding drugs like LSD, PCP and BZ a complete mental break with resulting dissociation could almost be guaranteed.

The production of altered states of consciousness, with or without amnesia can be understood as breaking down the mind- a psychological response to unbearable physical and emotional trauma. It’s as if the trauma is happening to someone else-an extreme detachment from the self. It is dissociation.

The use of hypnosis to create amnesia also figures into the Manchurian Candidate research. A person under hypnosis, especially under circumstances described here could have easily been conditioned to behave in specifically suggested ways and then the subject would have been instructed to not remember the suggestion or the behavior.

Much has been written about the Manchurian Candidate program, despite CIA’s claims that the research never happened. The program is thought to have been important to CIA in order to enable them to program their agents in the field in this manner. The theory being that if an agent was captured and tortured, sensitive information would be stored in another previously created personality. The boundaries between the personalities and the amnesia would assure that even under torture, the agent would not be able to reveal the information.

Is this the program that was conducted by CIA in Vermont hospitals during the 60’s and 70’s? Evidence suggests that it was. One thing is very clear: the research conducted in Vermont remains classified. I now realize that I was involved in Classified CIA research.

Vermonters have the right to know the details of the CIA experiments in Vermont hospitals. As an American citizen, I have rights under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but apparently because I was unwittingly involved in Classified CIA research beginning as a 13-year-old child, my government has chosen to deny me these rights. I find this especially difficult to live with.

In December 2014 when the Senate released the report on CIA Enhanced Interrogations conducted on foreign detainees during the war, I watched and listened as Senators and Congressmen, newsmen and others denounced the treatment of these detainees. Special Interrogations techniques were begun during the 60’s and 70’s and SI techniques were conducted on me and other Vermonters at the University Of Vermont College Of Medicine, UVM Medical Center Hospital and the Vermont State Hospital. Special Interrogations became Enhanced Interrogations and were used during the Iraq war.

Every American should be concerned that CIA and Vermont are able to keep the information about these experiments covered up. I have always believed that the American press was independent and free from pressure by the government. I no longer believe this is true.

The stated primary goal by CIA for conducting MKULTRA was “…to learn how to manipulate and control men’s minds”. Unfortunately, for all of us, it appears as if the CIA has achieved its goal.

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