When you think about it, once the concept of "Mind Control" or "Brain Washing" is approached scientifically, you just want to go berserk and call it a day. Where do you start when you decide to open the hood of that sleek and specialized machine we call the human brain? Do you dissect a couple thousand of them, in search of physical ways to get a handle on things? Do you experiment with drugs and hope to build up some sort of experiential matrix over time? Do you populate the nation's kindergartens with teachers who secretly work for the CIA and start building spies from an early age? Do you put stuff in cereal and Bosco that can change the world?

Have pity on the poor CIA, which was charged with just such a task back at the beginning of the Cold War. To be sure, there was a plethora of work already to be considered. The Nazis and the Japanese had some pretty hard science to digest, not to mention some hopelessly loopy theories which served to get the "Mind Control" ball rolling. Rest assured, the new American spy agency was not at a loss for data.

After World War II the blue-sky world of psychological possibilities was so enormous that the CIA evolved dozens of programs which, given the liberal application of money, might have panned out—but for the fact that the human brain is endlessly variable and ultimately unpredictable.

Operation Overcast became Project Paperclip which gave birth to ENIAC, the famous general-purpose computer which might help organize everything. The Cybernetics Group discussed Feedback Mechanism in Biology and the Social Sciences way back in 1946, even before the CIA had transformed from the Office of Strategic Services. Project Chatter was the Navy's study of mescaline as a "truth serum." The RAND Corporation was created by the Air Force in order to institutionalize the applications of mathematics to war. Project Bluebird and Project Artichoke were efforts to condition spies against interrogation. Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland agreed to an exclusive contract with the United States government to deliver a hundred grams of LSD a week to the CIA—and not to give any to any Communist Country. By the Korean War, the human brain was definitely where the money was.

Project MK-ULTRA was initiated by Richard Helms, then an assistant director of the CIA, in 1953. For simplicity's sake, let's suppose that the serious government investigation into Mind Control coalesced about then.

One man came up with anything that made any sense at all. His name was John Gittinger and he was a genius.

Gittinger's fascinating journey through the science of personality to the halls of the CIA began in Norman, Oklahoma in the late 1940s. A former high school guidance counselor and US Navy Lieutenant Commander during World War II, he was the only psychologist on the staff of a state hospital there. He possessed only a master's degree and the sort of natural curiosity that often seems to be requisite for success in science and mathematics. On a daily basis he interviewed hundreds of mental patients whose symptoms ran the gamut of clinical textbooks.

There were many itinerant workers passing through Oklahoma in those days. Large numbers of them found employment as short-order cooks and dishwashers at the road-side burger stands that dotted the state's highways. When winter came, Gittinger's hospital took these workers in, since sleeping outdoors had become out of the question. The hospital staff referred to them as "seasonal schizophrenics" and carried on about their business.

Gittinger included them in his frequent psychological testing. He gave them the standard eleven-part Wechsler IQ test, with which you may be familiar, and during the course of the test he made a fateful observation: the short-order cooks tended to do well on the digit-span subtest, which rated their ability to remember numbers, while the dishwashers did not. Gittinger reasoned that since the cooks had to keep track of countless variations of hamburgers, fries, onion, lettuce, and mayonnaise, not to mention mustard and relish, etc, they possessed superior retentive memories.

At the same time, he noticed that the cooks had different personality traits than the dishwashers. They kept their composure in a distracting environment, falling back on their internal rhythms and generally avoiding the commotion around them. Gittenger gave this personality type, which was basically inner-directed, the designation "Internalizer," which he abbreviated "I."

The dishwashers, on the other hand, were unable to separate themselves from the external world. They had to be shunted off to a quiet part of the kitchen in order to do their jobs, otherwise they were diverted from their tasks. Gittinger called their type "Externalizer" (E), and he realized that if he measured a high digit-span in any person, not just a short-order cook, he could make a basic judgment about their personality.

Over time, after observation, Gittinger concluded that babies were born with distinct personalities which were then moderated by environmental factors. The "I" baby was internalized, caught up in himself, and was observed to be a "passive" child, a "good baby." The "E" baby was more interested in outside stimuli; he needed more attention, his parents tended to think of him as "demanding."

Gittinger believed that the manner in which parents, teachers, and other authority figures interacted with the child helped form his "personality," and that the child was constantly adjusting—compensating, depending on the authority's perceptions and reactions—in one direction or the other, internally or externally. He found he could measure this adjustment, or compensation, on the Wechsler arithmetic ability subtest. He noticed that later in life, when the adult was subjected to stress, these compensations tended to disappear and the person reverted to his original personality type.

Gittinger wrote that the system he evolved at this point "makes possible the assessment of fundamental discrepancies between the surface personality and the underlying personality structure—discrepancies that produce tension, conflict, and anxiety."

Additionally, he isolated two other fundamental sets of personality characteristics that he could measure with other Wechsler subtests. Depending on how the subject did on the block design subtest, Gittinger could tell if he were "Regulated" (R) or "Flexible" (F). The regulated subject learned easily by rote but usually did not understand what he learned, while the F person had to understand something before he learned it. R children could learn to play piano relatively easily, and they played moderately well, but the F child often hated piano lessons. Upon perseverance, however, the initially reluctant F child often evolved into a superior musician.

Now these sorts of generalized traits had been observed before, but it was the inclusion of a third personality dimension that Gittinger discovered he could measure, using the picture arrangement subtest, that set his study apart. He called this trait Role Adaptive (A) or Role Uniform (U), and it corresponded to what we might term "charisma," since other people were naturally attracted to the A person while they tended to ignore the U person.

Over time, Gittinger fine-tuned these basic concepts, coordinating them with other parts of the Wechsler test. What came to be a complex clinical study was generally not well-accepted by the professional psychologists of the world. The whole idea of genetic differences alone was problematic, of course. But perversely, the thing that kept Gittinger off the Big Time psychiatric radar the most was the fact that he was largely self-taught. He wasn't an M.D. He hadn't even earned a Ph.D.

Like Colonel Kurtz, regarding a not-dissimilar circumstance in Apocalypse Now, he just thought it up and did it.

And the CIA ate Gittinger's Personality Assessment System up Big Time. Because it worked. The agency would hand Gittinger a subject's Wechsler numbers and he would pinpoint with amazing accuracy how to turn that subject into a useful operative. His boss at the CIA, the man who considered Gittinger his protégé, was Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the head of Project MK-ULTRA, the champion of the whole concept of LSD and "Mind Control."

Gittinger became a sort of CIA Superstar. A special proprietary company was set up for him in Washington, D.C., called Psychological Assessment Associates. Gittinger personally opened a branch office in Tokyo. Other scientists came on board: David Saunders of the Educational Testing Service (the company that prepares the College Board Exams) discovered a correlation between brain patterns and the results of the digit-span test, and was given almost $140,000 by the CIA for his efforts.

Psychiatrist Robert Hyde used the PAS as the platform for his own research. Hyde did studies for the CIA on the effects of alcohol on subjects. Not surprising, pure Internalizers became introspective after a few drinks. The E's became talkative, garrulous. Working with Harold Abramson at Mount Sinai Hospital, Hyde made similar observations with LSD subjects.

As time went by, using only the numbers from the ubiquitous Wechsler test, Gittinger built a huge database of profiles—businessmen and college students, actors and fashion models, doctors and lawyers—any discreet group of individuals he could find a way to test would find its way to the CIA. Gittinger personally kept a collection of 29,000 individual assessments at his desk, and he perused it constantly, perpetually looking for the truth of personality.

Because the CIA was footing the bill, it was only natural that Gittinger tended to concentrate his efforts on the dark side of human nature. He was especially interested in sexual peccadiloes. The Human Ecology Project at Ionia Hospital State Hospital in Michigan furnished him with Wechsler tests of sexual psychopaths. Harris Isbell, who ran the MK-ULTRA drug-testing program at the Lexington, Kentucky detention hospital sent in the scores of heroin addicts. Gittinger himself, tellingly, went to San Francisco to test homosexuals, lesbians and prostitutes. Assessing. Cross-referencing. Creating a matrix of behavior which the CIA would access from the outside whenever it had, say, a foreign agent who had not taken the Wechsler test.

Eventually, Gittinger's data was developed into a checklist of thirty to forty patterns that a trained observer could use to predict how a subject would have performed had he or she taken the test.

Finally, The Gittinger Personality Assessment System became standard operating procedure at the CIA. And why not? It was based on Wechsler, long-accepted in American society as an innocuous "Adult Intelligence Test." Chances are excellent that you've already got a Wechsler score. Ever wonder who's seen it?

In 1963, the Inspector General of the CIA described how the PAS fit into agency operations:

"The Clandestine Services case officer is first and foremost, perhaps, a practitioner of the art of assessing and exploiting human personality and motivations for ulterior purposes. The ingredients of advanced skill in this art are highly individualistic in nature, including such qualities as perceptiveness and imagination. The PAS seeks to enhance the case officer's skill by bringing the methods and disciplines of psychology to bear…The prime objectives are control, exploitation, or neutralization. These objectives are innately anti-ethical rather than therapeutic in their intent."
But the most telling assessment of Gittinger's work, I believe, came from a former CIA psychologist who felt guilty about his participation in certain agency operations. He believed that the CIA mirrors, in a more virulent form, the way Americans deal with each other generally:
"I don't believe the CIA is too far removed from the culture," he says. "It's just a matter of degree. If you put a lot of money out there, there are many people who are lacking the ethics even of the CIA. At least the Agency had an ideological basis."
When you think about it, hasn't America itself come to be totally about behavior modification? Too fat? Get skinny. Too weak? Get strong. Sad? Get happy. Horny? Get laid. We are a nation that is all about control. In the classroom. On the street. In the bedroom.

On the television we see them: our controllers. Our agents of change. Telling us what to think. How to act. Who to vote for. Whom to kill.

You might think about this before you sharpen up that classy pair of new #2 Ticonderogas you've been itching to use. Before you take the test that can change your entire life with the whir of a petabyte drive somewhere in Washington.

And oh yes. One other thing: will you be having fries with that?

on American espionage:

Wild Bill Donovan
Operation Overcast
the Stars of Project Paperclip
burning crosses in the Fatherland
doing drugs for fun and profit
When is a monkey's orgasm more than just fun and games?
The Johnny Appleseed of LSD
Sidney Gottlieb, the real-life "Q"
The Nuremberg Code

George Washington, Spymaster
the first American Intelligence failure in New York
Thomas Knowlton

Hamid Karzai
The Bureau and the Mole

The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, John Marks (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/lsd/marks1.htm)
Intelligence and the War Against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service, Richard J. Aldrich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Sub Rosa: The OSS and American Espionage, Steward Alsop and Thomas Braden (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1946)
Creating the Secret State: The Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947, David F. Rudgers (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2000)
Donovan and the CIA: A History of the Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas F. Troy (Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1981)