When is a monkey's orgasm more than just fun and games?

Well, for one thing, when your taxes are paying for it. (You do pay taxes don't you?)

Growing up, I believed everything I read about spies and clandestine warfare and dirty tricks, though the latter term didn't blip up on the public's radar till Watergate. (You do remember Watergate, don't you?)

Gradually, as I matured into a young person who inhabited, basically, a land of make-believe, as an actor and a theatre director, I could give two toots less about what the government was really doing with those three thousand dollar hammers and the so-called black bags full of Mafia loot. Like almost everybody else, I was tending-to-fat, not-quite-totally-dumb, and relatively-happy-in-a-manner-of-speaking. A real American.

This was about the time, you see, when the movies caught up with the real-life world of espionage. In a funny way, the movies worked a kind of sleight-of-hand on the average American's sense of just-what's-real-and-what-isn't.

A paranoid or a cynic might call it a plot: those fantastic stories like Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View or Executive Action or even, on another level, James Bond. Those spy tales of derring-do were delivered to our dream-screens (only one to a theater in those days) and basically they lulled us into complacency even as the Real World of Spy Craft outstripped the screenwriters' imaginations.

By the mid-seventies, specifically through the efforts of Senator Frank Church's Select Committee to Study Intelligence Activities in 1975, the truth started to come out: America's spies had been having a field day ever since they plundered the Nazi's secret stash back in Peenemunde during the war.

Church uncovered CIA plots to assassinate world leaders, the coup against Chile's Marxist President Salvador Allende, illegal wire taps, mail opening, break-ins, surveillance, harassment of political dissidents, etc. Not only was the CIA out of control, there was no control to be found anywhere. And on a very profound level, that is the way it had to be. We had to demonstrate our capacity for monstrous behavior in order to destroy it.

Everything really started to unravel about the time we decided to kill Fidel Castro and ended up killing JFK instead. I say "we." I don't mean "we" voted on it or anything like that. I'm talking about the Institution that is America. You know: land of the quite expensive actually. Home-of-the-bravebeautiful. Liberty and justice for a chosen few.

For numerous reasons, powerful people in America (I did not say the American government) wanted the cigar-chomping bombastic Commie pistol-packer dead. Things got out of hand. Jack Kennedy got caught with his hand in the CIA cookie jar with the Bay of Pigs fiascofumble. Lots of people were in a talkative mood. Perhaps it was some sort of societal contact-high: the CIA had been studying marijuana for years; maybe the fact that every other kid in the sixties was turning on backfired. Suffice it to say—somewhere back in the 60's people started talking about the Secret Stuff. After all, it's the American Way. The ultimate Open Society.

Everything you've heard is true. Drugs. Sex. Electroshock. Blackmail. Dirty Tricks. It's the way SPIES were supposed to act, somebody with too much power must have figured. Why are we surprised by that?

Far as I can tell, we got here through espionage in the first place. Code-breaking. Mickey Finns in Frankfurt. Blow jobs in Berlin. Let's just give a cheer to the blood-red, opiate-white, and cyanic-blue that is the CIA. Kinda.

We need spies in this wonderful world. Sorta.

But ever since the Nuremberg trials, where we created the Nuremberg Code and demanded limits to inhuman experimentation, redefined "research" in the name of science, and basically showed the world how ethics and morality could be more than merely situational, it's been America's task to lead the way to the true and the moral and the good.

Finding out how to do that has been the hard part, and we've made mistakes. And as recent events demonstrate, the rules are constantly changing.

Anyhow, one of the ways the whole deal works is, the CIA hooks up with people who are doing stuff they're interested in anyway. Maybe you've seen them nosing around your campus. Maybe that shiny lab you've been working late in was paid for by them. Money gets transferred. Maybe a rich alum lays a few mill down. Maybe there's an on-the-up-and-up government contract. Rest assured: nothing in clandestine warfare is simple except the people who want to shut it down.

Take the whole question of monkey orgasms. This was probably the ne plus ultra of all the CIA's behavioral programs which got started back in the OSS days. Yes. Regular B.F. Skinner stuff was the lifeblood of the CIA back in the fifties and sixties. Sensory deprivation. Extremes of heat and cold. Mind Control by drug. Mind Control by sex. Mind Control by remote-control. We put guys in Skinner boxes just like the Nazis did, though they were just as likely to be Episcopalian as they were Jewish. Mostly, too, they walked away.

Parallel to the Space Race to the Moon, from the same deep pool of public and private talent and money, the CIA plunged ever inward, into the human mind.

We spent a fortune trying to remote-command-and-control dogs, cats, monkeys, snakes and men. No matter how you cut it, however, living tissue has a certain way of its own.

The recently deceased and comparatively benign behaviorist, John Lilly— the dolphin doctor—had given monkeys orgasms by stimulating their brains with electrodes back in the fifties. The CIA upped the ante considerably by the sixties: they used radio waves to actually move animals (and men?) around, stimulating their brains the way you'd tune in National Public Radio. What could be simpler? Walk a wired assassin into Castro's weekend lovenest and cover him in poison lemon meringue. As the documents uncovered in the Congressional probes said:

"We are close to having debugged a prototype system whereby dogs can be guided along specific courses…The feasibility of remote control of activities in several species of animals has been demonstrated…Special investigations and evaluations will be conducted toward the application of selected elements of these techniques to man."
They wanted to control a human brain by computer. It was a major deal. They wanted to reprogram the memories of subjects who'd had their own memories wiped clean. They hired none other than Dr. Edwin Land, the guy who invented the Polaroid camera, a famous outside-the-box thinker, to head up something called Scientific Engineering Institute in Boston.

Independent research was the name of the game. It made perfect sense: if it wasn't happening within the hallowed halls of the CIA, how could the CIA be responsible? A veteran researcher recalls a colleague joking: "If you could find the natural radio frequency of a person's sphincter, you could make him run out of the room real fast." The head of every scientist in the room swiveled to attention.

Plausible. Worth spending a fortune on? Who can say?

There are those who might argue that such a device would come in handy right about now, in a certain cave in Afghanistan.

We need to look at the CIA the same way we look at our children: we want them to fly high, climb every mountain, meet every challenge, think outside the box. Have fun.

But at the end of the day, we want to be proud that we can call them our own.

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)

Regarding American espionage:

Wild Bill Donovan
Operation Overcast
the Stars of Project Paperclip
burning crosses in the Fatherland
the CIA wants YOU!
doing drugs for fun and profit
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

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.