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The room was quiet and empty. Tom was lying on a bed in the spartan cell, anxiously waiting for the doctor to come in. It was on his family’s insistence that Tom came to The Allan Memorial Institute. He had been unwell for a while, he didn’t quite know what was wrong. He felt tired mostly, and every small thing overwhelmed him. He could sleep for hours on end and some days , getting out of bed was too much to bear.
His doctor reckoned he was suffering from depression, but it is 1955, only ten years after the war, so many people are broken, suffering from an endless sadness. When Tom’s family insisted he checked in to The Allan, he didn’t put up much of a fight. He never did these days, he simply didn’t have the energy. Besides, one of the best psychiatrists in the world headed up the programme at the Allan, he was in good hands.
After waiting for what seemed like hours, the tall doctor came into the room where Tom was waiting. He had a couple of nurses with him, all of them eclipsed by the aura of greatness that radiated from Dr Cameron. His Scottish accent made him amicable, despite his brash manner. ‘There you go, lad…’ he said as one of the nurses prepared Tom for the daily treatment. First they placed the metal cap on his head, then they connected the wires… So many wires. Lastly, the mouthpiece was shoved into his mouth.
Tom felt the current surge through his body as the electroconvulsive therapy commenced. He wanted to scream for them to stop, but he couldn’t. He protested in his mind, but could not find the words. He heard the ominous hum of the machine, buzzing as 150 volts of electricity were pushed into his flaccid body. When it was finally over, the good doctor came over with a needle and injected a cool liquid into his arm.
Everyone left and Tom was alone. Frazzled, confused as it felt like the room was spiralling, spinning. He saw colours and figures in the darkness. He wanted to push them away, but couldn’t. He heard the familiar voice speaking, repeating the same words over and over again…
“Why are you running away from your responsibilities Tom? Why are you running away from your responsibilities Tom? Why are you running away from your responsibilities Tom? Why are you running away from your responsibilities Tom?”
Where was that coming from? Who was speaking? Was this hell?
Tom was kept in this state for 16 hours a day, for weeks on end. He was given thick mittens, so he could not feel with his hands. He was left in a dark cell wearing goggles, alienated from his own senses. After two months, what was left of Tom, was a man in an infantile state, who had no idea who he was, or why he was there. Once a functional adult who suffered from depression, he had to learn to speak, walk and feed himself again. He had no memory of his life before.
Tom is a fictional name, but the therapy he received, although it sounds like a nightmare, was all too real. This was the experience of countless patients who were admitted to the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal between 1959 and 1964.
In a project funded by the CIA, patients with mental health issues became guinea pigs for mind control experiments. They became unwitting casualties of the Cold War, without ever consenting to anything. Although they were still alive, the personalities they had before were gone. Their friends and families were left with shadows of their loved ones, broken by failed psychological experiments.
Dr Ewan Cameron was born and raised in Scotland, and was the oldest son of a Presbyterian minister. He did his pre-grad in psychology at the University of Glasgow and continued training in the US, at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore. With about a decade of professional experience under his belt, Cameron received his MD status from the University of London in 1936.
The same year, he married Jean C Rankine, his college girlfriend from Glasgow. Jean was a mathematics lecturer and the couple had four children together. Cameron worked and lived in Albany, New York.
He was a rising star of the profession, and when Dr Ewan Cameron spoke, his colleagues listened. In 1943 he was invited to consult at McGill University in Montreal. At this time, Cameron lived in Vermont and commuted to Montreal every week.
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The Allan Memorial Institute was a new progressive treatment facility for people with mental health issues. It’s home was an imposing building, previously known as Ravenscrag. The ominous stone building at 1025 Pine Avenue West, on the slopes of Mount Royal, was donated by benefactor Sir Montagu Allan, to be used as a medical facility.
The sinister mansion boasted 72 rooms that were easily converted into a treatment facility. The Allan Memorial Institute became colloquially known as ‘The Allan’. Dr Ewan Cameron was one of the team members who started things up, making it an ‘open door’ centre, meaning patients could leave whenever they wanted to, as opposed to the ‘closed door’ philosophy of the time. It became the first mental health treatment centre in North America allowing for day treatment. Patients received treatment and were permitted to go home.
In 1945, Cameron was one of three esteemed professionals who evaluated Nazi Deputy Führer, Rudolph Hess and deemed him fit to stand trial for crimes against humanity during the Nuremburg Trials. When Cameron was in Germany, he learnt inside information about human experiments conducted by the Nazi’s in the Dachau concentration camp. The notions of mind control and memory intrigued him greatly and he was ready to push the limits of psychiatry.
In 1952 Cameron was appointed as President of the American Psychiatric Association. When his term ended, he became President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and eventually also President of the World Psychiatric Association. He was widely published and seen as revolutionary for his time. Everyone who worked in the field of psychiatry in the 1950s and 60s, knew who Dr Cameron was.
In 1957 Cameron became director of The Allan Memorial Institute and had free reign of treatment programmes at the facility. But Cameron’s ideas were becoming more and more daring. Despite the Institute’s philosophy of sending patients home to their families during treatment, Cameron was quite outspoken about his belief that the contrary was necessary. He was convinced that mental illness was contagious and that people suffering from mental illness were essentially ‘weak’. The only true way of combatting the problem was to remove people with mental illness from society, in order to prevent them from having children. They needed to be controlled as people with a contagious social disease. In this theory, psychiatrists served as disciplinarians of those who threatened society.
Cameron’s main field of expertise was memory and old age. In the late 1950’s he formulated a programme to cure schizophrenia. He believed that memories could be erased or adapted, by reprogramming the psyche. His work was revolutionary and caught the attention of the CIA, who were eager to find researchers for their mind control program, Project MKULTRA. The name of the project pin-points where it fit into the bigger organisation of the CIA. MK alluded to the fact that it fell under the control of the agency’s Technical Services Unit and ULTRA was the most secret classification of World War II intelligence. There was Top Secret, then there was Ultra – only a select few people within the CIA knew about the existence of Project MKULTRA.
Like Dr Cameron, the CIA were also informed about human experiments conducted by Nazi doctors in concentration camps. The aftermath of World War II set the stage for the Cold War. Espionage, counter-espionage, gathering of intelligence and strong-arming one’s enemies was the name of the game. The United States refused to be outsmarted by their Soviet counterparts and ruthless measures were taken to come out on top.
Fatigued by the war, a couple of years later in the early 1950’s, US soldiers were sent off to yet another war, this time in Korea. In February 1953, US Intelligence officers watched in disbelief as American prisoners of war revealed state secrets to their Chinese captors, admitting that the US was conducting germ warfare against North Korea. It was like something had possessed the Americans, why would they confess to something they did not commit? The confessions were convincing and appeared to be authentic, but something wasn’t right. Outraged, the US government not only denied the claims, but also charged the prisoners of war with treason. On their return to the States they all repudiated their statements, admitting that the information was extracted after hours of extreme torture.
At the end of the Korean War, a total of 21 American prisoners of war refused to be repatriated to the US and defected. The American government feared that those who returned would use mind control techniques to allow Communism to infiltrate the minds of everyday Americans, inside its own borders.
Under instruction of Sidney Gottlieb, Chief of CIA’s Chemical Division, a group of selected scientists were tasked with finding a way, not only equal to Chinese scientists in Korea, but better. They had to take things to the next level. Gottlieb wanted CIA scientists to learn everything there was to know about mind control. Project MKULTRA was launched, using more than 80 research institutions throughout the USA, Canada and UK. The project ran between 1953 and 1964.
Gottlieb was a biochemist by trade and was especially intrigued by the use of drugs for the purpose of mind control. Gottlieb and his scientists believed the closest thing to ‘truth serum’ was a drug developed in Switzerland in 1943, called Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD). Gottlieb knew that, along with psychological manipulation, a combination of drugs could alter a person’s behaviour. Foreign spies or soldiers could defect and tell American intelligence officers everything they needed to know about their enemies. But the CIA weren’t interested in theory alone, it was time to kick off a series of experiments. Gottlieb, managed to purchase the entire world’s supply of LSD for the amount of $240,000, and things were about to get weird.
A variety of human guinea pigs were given LSD without their knowledge or consent. It was slipped to soldiers during active duty as well as everyday citizens. An agent routinely slipped LSD into the drinks of unsuspecting patrons at bars and restaurants, throughout the United States. In an operation called ‘Midnight Climax’ the same agent slipped LSD to sex workers and watched as the drug took effect through the one-way mirror of a purpose-built hotel room.
Some famous unwitting participants were Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as well as Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Professional tennis player, Harold Blauer, went to the New York Psychiatric Institute for help with depression following the breakdown of his marriage. Without his knowledge, he was injected with experimental drugs, as a part of Project MKULTRA’s research programme. In January 1953, one of these injections caused his death. The institute tried to cover it up, stating that Blauer had died due to a ‘weak heart’.
One of the best known ‘LSD-experiments-gone-wrong’ to date, is the Frank Olson case. Frank was a military biologist, a germ warfare researcher to be exact, contracted by the CIA at Camp Detrick. Frank worked on a subprogram of MKULTRA, called Artichoke, researching interrogation methods and techniques. They wanted to find a way of extracting information from their enemies. Once an enemy was captured, how could they get them to talk? Intelligence officers were prepared to die in order to protect state secrets. How could the CIA gather invaluable information, without using ineffective, time-consuming, torturing techniques? There had to be another way to control the minds of their captors to such a degree that they could open up.
By using hypnotherapy combined with a cocktail of drugs, scientists set out to control the minds of human subjects. Most people were seen as ‘expendables’: convicted felons, refugees or prisoners of war. The experiments were filmed and documented in locations across the globe like Europe, Japan and the Philippines.
Another sub-research direction of Project Artichoke was to create the Super Soldier, a Manchurian Candidate if you will. A memo issued in 1952, that has since been declassified, states:
“Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?
Agents would be brainwashed and ‘activated’ to perform whatever task needed to be carried out, like an assassination. By taking LSD after the fact, amnesia would set in, causing them to have no recollection of their actions. This would ensure the soldiers would not break if they were ever caught and interrogated. The combination of hypnosis and LSD functioned almost like the ‘neuralizer’ in the fictionalised film series: Men in Black.
This is one of many reports of a mind-control experiment, conducted on two 19-year-old women. The aim was to see if someone could be programmed to kill someone else while in a hypnotic state. Their names have been blacked out, so we shall refer to them as Miss A and Miss X.
“Miss A was then instructed (having expressed a fear of firearms) that she would use every method at her disposal to awaken Miss X (now in a deep hypnotic sleep) and failing this, she would pick up a pistol and fire it at Miss X. Miss A was instructed that she would not hesitate to “kill.” She carried out these suggestions including firing the (unloaded) gun at Miss X. After proper suggestions were made, both were awakened. Miss A expressed absolute denial that the foregoing sequence had happened.”
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The CIA didn’t only experiment on so-called ‘expendables’. During a retreat in Maryland in November 1953, a group of high-performing scientists, including military biologist Frank Olson, were given LSD without their knowledge. Gottlieb’s men slipped the drug into their after-dinner liqueur, Cointreau. The drug had an adverse on Frank Olson and he caused a scene, saying things he shouldn’t have.
When Frank returned home, he did not give his wife any details, but he was not himself. He was deeply concerned because, in his words, he had made a ‘terrible mistake’. He was embarrassed as his colleagues laughed at him.
At 7:30 on the Monday morning after the retreat, Olson handed in his resignation, but it was refused. Instead, a week after the LSD incident, he was convinced by his superiors to go to New York for treatment, as he was deemed to be a danger to his wife and children. Once in New York, he was slipped a dose of LSD, again. Frank was already agitated and sullen, adding the psychedelic drug into the mix amplified his paranoia and delusion. At 1:30am on the 28th of November 1953, Frank Olson fell to his death, from the window of his 10th floor hotel room.
Robert Lashbrook was charged with looking after Olson during their time in New York. When police arrived in room 1018A where the men stayed, they found a distraught Lashbrook sitting on top of the toilet in the ensuite bathroom. A switchboard operator said that, at the time of Olson’s incident, a call was made from their room. It was so short, she did not have time to hang up, so she overheard the brief conversation. The caller said:
“Well, he’s gone.”
The person on the other end of the line replied:
“Well, that’s too bad.”
That was the full extent of the phone call. Frank Olson’s family was told that he either ‘fell or jumped’ out of the hotel window and his death was ruled a suicide.
Journalist Nicholas Horrock uncovered an unrivalled scandal in August 1977, when he published an article in the New York Times entitled “Private Institutions Used in CIA Effort to Control Behaviour”. He revealed that the CIA had been conducting experiments for more than 20 years, even LSD experiments on its own employees. Frank Olson’s case became the prime example of how things got out of hand. The Olson family was paid out $750,000 by the CIA in a wrongful death lawsuit. They were also invited to the White House where president Gerald Ford apologised to family in person. The prevalent theory was that Olson was high on LSD when he jumped out of the window.
As it turned out, Frank most likely did NOT jump, but his death was planned, an effort by his superiors so silence him. This is a fascinating case that is explored in the Netflix mini-series called Wormwood. Director Errol Morris follows the Olson family’s quest for truth and justice. The deeper their investigation goes, the more unsettling the story gets.
As the Olson family were told false truths after Frank’s death, the CIA increased funding for mind control experiments. One of the biggest names in the field of psychology at the time, was none other than Dr Ewan Cameron. One of his greatest moments of fame was at the Nuremburg Trials. He was one of three highly esteemed professionals who evaluated Nazi Deputy Führer, Rudolph Hess and deemed him fit to stand trial for crimes against humanity.
Dr Cameron, the high-flying psychiatrist from The Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, who was making waves with his ground breaking research, was the perfect fit for project MKULTRA. The Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, was a front-company, created by the CIA, who approved a $60,000 grant to Dr Cameron. He was to conduct human experiments over a period of three years, starting in January 1957. When asked about it in later years, Cameron denied the accusation that he KNEW the CIA was behind the funding. Be that as it may… If you TOOK the ethically questionable MKULTRA Subproject 68 and ADDED the über-ambitious Dr Cameron, the result was pure evil.
Most patients who visited the The Allan had symptoms of anxiety or depression. Most of them would never be the same after leaving the institute. In line with the philosophy of Project MKULTRA, Dr Cameron believed that a person’s memories could be erased and then adapted. He used methods to regress patients to an infantile state, he broke them down completely. Not only did they lose their memory, but also basic human function. They had to re-learn how to walk, how to talk and how to feed themselves.
After erasing their memory, the idea was to reprogram patients. Patients were made to listen to messages, in varying degrees of complication. Some statements were straightforward commands, like ‘open the book’ but there were also more complex thoughts like ‘you have to think differently about your family’.
Over the years, Dr Cameron’s patients and their families came forward and gave the most chilling accounts of their time at The Allan. Velma Orlicow, wife of Canadian Member of Parliament, David Orlicow, checked into the Institute because she was suffering from depression. At first she was impressed with Dr Cameron and felt that a man with his experience would be able to help her. She recalled the smooth and confident Dr. Cameron coming to her bedside:
“He injected the lysergic acid into the vein, then he patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘Now, there, Lassie, we’ll see you later.’ And he went out and closed the door behind him.”
Velma said that within minutes things became distorted and she felt strange. She had lost all control and found herself throwing her body from one side of the room to the other. Velma did not know what to do to stop and it felt like her bones were melting. During her stay at The Allan, she received no less than 14 intravenous shots of LSD. She was never quite the same when she returned home. Her depression was worse than ever and it drove her to the point of taking her own life. But, fearing that she would fail, she decided against it.
Gail Kastner also recalled Dr Cameron entering her room. For years and years she suffered horrifying nightmares, that a tall man came to her bedside and gave her electro shocks.
Of course, ECT was the most common treatment for mental illness at the time, it is still used today. But Dr Cameron veered off from mainstream use. Typically, a patient would receive a 110 volt shock for a fraction of a second, once a day, not more than three times a week. Cameron shocked his patients with 150-volts, 30-seconds at a time, two to three times a day. Patients at The Allen were exposed to thirty to forty times the accepted power. To Cameron, it was the perfect method to speed along the breakdown of behavioural patterns. Patients were rendered confused and disoriented, some had lost all sense of themselves.
Bevan Weldon’s mother died in his arms, an event that spiralled him into a deep depression. He sought help at Allan’s Memorial Institute. He went through the same steps as others in the ‘Sleep Room’, with ECT and LSD. He recalled the audio loop repeating the phrase “You killed your mother, you killed your mother, you killed your mother…” and on and on. Bevan hadn’t killed her. He was kept asleep for 21 days and when he woke up he had no recollection of the traumatic event. Even 50 years later, he couldn’t not remember the circumstances of his mother’s death.
Psychic Driving was Dr Cameron’s gift to psychiatry. Many patients listened to the taunting audio loops, its intensive repetition for 16 hours a day, while in a drug-induced trance. LSD and PCP were often combined with Curare [cue-rah-ray], a drug which induced temporary paralysis. Being in this state, in a dark room, deprived of all their senses, patients listened to audio recordings played from speakers hidden in their pillows and around the rooms. The audio was read by themselves, family members, nurses, sometimes Dr Cameron himself. The content was a string of frightening statements were frightening. Like:
“You let your mother check you up sexually after every date you had with a boy.”
“You don’t seem to keep a good relationship with your husband.”
Depending on the patient, treatment went on for weeks, sometimes months. In some cases, Dr Cameron would state that it was unsuccessful and send them back home, leaving their families to care for adults who were no longer capable of living independently. If Cameron felt the treatment was successful, subjects were drugged to prolonged periods of sleep. Like Linda MacDonald who was kept in an induced coma for 86 days.
Linda was a young mother with five children under the age of five. She was suffering from post-natal depression and struggled to get through her daily routine. Her family took her to the famous Dr Cameron so he could examine her. When she was released, she had no recollection of her life before she went to The Allan. In fact, she had lost 26 years of memory. Linda’s treatment consisted of high frequency ECT, followed by injections of combined drugs like LSD and PCP, before entering her 86-day-slumber. When she woke up, Linda recognised her husband and children, but did not feel like she knew them. She only knew what she had been taught from photographs – her children’s names and ages. Eventually her marriage broke down and her relationships with her children were strained.
Robert Logey was 18 when he first visited the Institute. He had been suffering from pain in his legs. When doctors couldn’t find a cause, they believed it was psychosomatic, a cause of emotional issues. He left a shell of a man, mentally scarred and damaged. His medical records showed that cortisone worked in ending the leg pain – he only learnt this years later. Bob will never be the same again – in his words:
“Physically, there’s places you can go and have counselling and support groups, and whatnot. But when you’re mentally raped, there’s nothing. And I don’t trust any psychiatrist who might be able to help me.”
Dr Mary Morrow was in her mid-thirties when she reached out to Cameron on a professional level, she wanted to work with him. During their meeting, Cameron noticed that she looked tired and stressed and she had to admit that she had suffered from depression in the past. The well-respected Dr Cameron said he would only consider working with her if she took part in the sleep therapy programme at the Institution. She thought that would be a period of rest, including sleep assisted with the use of sedatives, so she agreed. What Dr Morrow received was Dr Cameron’s signature ‘Depatterning Treatment’.
The treatment was so severe, Dr Mary Marrow lost all sense of herself. This is how she described her experience:
“I was suspended in space in a deep black hole. I had no idea that I was a human being. I was without knowledge of my appendages. I had no sense of solidity. I was floating, I had no… I was completely disoriented. I thought I was an organism.”
Mary’s mother was deeply concerned about her daughter and – against Dr Cameron’s wish – demanded she was released from the institution. Although Mary recovered somewhat, she had suffered severe brain damage. She could eventually exist within her human identity again: walk, talk and look after herself. But she was a shadow of her former self. She had memory loss and worked hard to get her old life back. It took her decades to regain her psychiatric credentials. At the time she was 60-years-old, 24 years after she walked into The Allan with a proposition to work with Dr Cameron.
Two years into the programme, more than 100 patients were treated by Dr Cameron. Many of these people were sent for conditions like depression, anxiety and post-natal depression after having children… This kind of treatment was way over the top and they were all way worse off AFTER being admitted in the Allan, than before. Their conditions weren’t cured and they were haunted by terrible memories of extended torture. The first part of the treatment worked very well: erasing people’s current state. The second part – rebuilding them – never worked. Patients were left with a huge void in their psyche, one that could only be filled with confusion, paranoia and anxiety.
In 1963, staff at The Allan were surprised when Dr Cameron announced his retirement, rather abruptly, abandoning his patients halfway through the experiments. During his address to the American Psycho-pathological Association in the same year, the doctor admitted that he had taken a wrong turn with his research. Three years later, Cameron passed away from a heart attack while hiking at Lake Placid, New York. He was never held accountable for atrocities he had forced onto his patients. On the contrary, he is still regarded as one of the most ground-breaking psychiatrists of the 20th century.
The Rockefeller Commission was appointed by President Gerald Ford to investigate intelligence agencies within the United States. By this time, a lot of evidence had already been destroyed. CIA director, Richard Helm, gave the specific order to destroy all documents relating to MKULTRA. When newly appointed director James Schlesinger ordered all CIA employees to submit records of operations outside of the organisation’s charter, most records about human behaviour modification were no longer in existence.
It was after the much publicised case of Frank Olson’s death, that former patients of The Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal came forward, and demanded compensation for the trauma they had suffered in the name of science.
Louis Weinstein’s family were instrumental in setting the lawsuit in motion. Louis Weinstein was a father of three when he arrived at The Allen. He was a neurotic businessman who occasionally suffered panic attacks. When he heard about the highly esteemed psychiatrist at The Allan, Louis checked himself in, hoping Dr Cameron could find a way to settle his condition.
Louis was treated with the mixed bag of ECT, LSD, sensory deprivation, psychic driving and prolonged sleep therapy. After his treatment, he had regressed to an infantile state. When his family had him assessed by an independent therapist he was diagnosed with Severe Organic Brain Syndrome. He never recovered and his family had to care for him for the rest of his life.
The Weinstein family filed a law suit against the Canadian Government and the CIA, on behalf of Louis and seven other patients of Dr Cameron. The case against the CIA dragged on for eight years (ending in 1988). Each patient received just short of $100,000 each from the CIA – the largest pay-out ever made to private individuals by the organisation. It is believed that the CIA paid this money, so no further stories of human experiments would be revealed to the public.
Because the project was funded by a front-organisation set up by the CIA, the Institute claimed that neither Cameron nor The McGill University knew they had been conducting research for the CIA. Some victims refused to back down and insisted on compensation from the Canadian government. Then finally, in 1992, almost 30 years after Subproject 68 was abandoned, the Canadian government paid 77 of Cameron’s victims an ex gratia settlement of $100,000 each. Not all victims were compensated, the claims of an additional 250 patients were rejected.
It’s no surprise that the building that was once called Ravenscrag, will forever have a dark cloud hanging over it. Stories about the extent of evil that occurred within the walls of the institute keep surfacing, years later. Behind a stone wall around the back of the property, there is believed to be numerous unmarked graves, belonging to children. The story goes that Dr Cameron experimented on children: orphans and first nation children taken away from their families. Many of them did not survive the beastly experiments and is said to have been quietly buried in the unmarked graves of Ravenscrag.
Some souls may be tormented for eternity. Others were physically alive, but they felt they died when they entered the heavy wooden doors of the grey stone mansion that stands vigil over Rue McTavish. A sinister monument to some of the cruelest psychological experiments ever performed.
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