Since 9/11, I’ve been covering issues of national security (for 20 years at the Toronto Star, and now as an independent journalist and filmmaker.) That work has taken me around the world digging into the U.S. war on terror — including places like Yemen, Somalia and behind the wire at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, more than two dozen times. I’ve also covered intelligence agencies, most especially the CIA and CSIS.

I started Brainwashed about a year ago, and I have to say, I’m pretty embarrassed I didn’t know the full history of MK-ULTRA, especially the Canadian connection. I also didn’t know so much of what I covered after 9/11 — such as the CIA’s interrogation methods — could be traced back to the Cold War. Here I was going all over the world and there was so much history to discover right in Montreal, like a five-hour drive from where I’m based in Toronto.

More on Brainwashed:


Comments: 87 • Responses: 18  • Date: 

dtochoa48 karma

As a journalist, what is your opinion on the watering down of being a journalist due to the increasing platforms on the internet? Secondly, how do you ensure you and other fellow journalists are writing rigorous and vetted stories and not buying into the click bait format of story telling that has erupted in recent years?

cbcnews51 karma

Such a good question and how long do you have?? I do fear for journalism and there has never been a more important time for it. I spent 20+ years at the Toronto Star and am now independent (still writing, but doing documentaries and podcasts too). So it’s a bit of a different role as I’m not on the daily cycle and I get to choose what stories I cover (so am not beholden to the temptations some media outlets have to cater to ‘click bait.”) To your question of how we must be rigorous in our vetting of stories.. It’s always been crucial of course, and ever more so now. Sorry .. not a great answer for you but tough format to really dig in!

Kalyda23225 karma

Did you read Tom O Neils chaos ?More importantly , do you think Charles Manson was an Mk Ultra project ?

cbcnews50 karma

I’ve heard of the book but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I can’t say whether Charles Manson was involved in any specific MKULTRA experiments. But at one point in time, the vast majority of all the LSD in the United States had been bought and provided for study by the CIA. So in a perverse way, the CIA actually helped bring LSD to the U.S. .. and then came the whole “War on Drugs” era.

Jah_Fooly22 karma

For someone who doesn't know much about MK-Ultra, what would you tell them about the project and the ramifications on modern day society?

Edit: Spelling

cbcnews41 karma

Oof. A big one to start. MK-Ultra was the CIA’s attempt to learn how to brainwash people. It started during the Cold War and a time of paranoia that the communists knew the secrets to mind control. What we learned doing this podcast, is that in some ways those experiments never stopped -- that desire to make people do something they don’t want to. During the 1980’s the CIA was involved in interrogations throughout Latin America and then fast forward to after 9/11 and there were the “enhanced interrogation techniques” at CIA Black Sites. Basically, torture interrogations that according to the exhaustive Senate Intelligence Committee Report, didn’t provide any “actionable intelligence.”

sternje13 karma

Does enhanced interrogation still include the administration of hallucinogenic drugs while an inmate/detainee is being questioned?

cbcnews14 karma

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (which I hate using now as it really was torture.. As Obama says “We tortured some folks”) are no longer being used by the U.S. government, that we know of. And while hallucinogenic drugs (specifically LSD) were a big part of the MK-Ultra experiments, we have less information about what happened in later years. Many of the Guantanamo detainees allege they were drugged and I do remember a document coming out through a freedom of information request in the U.S. (maybe through an ACLU lawsuit??) that said the CIA explored using a “truth serum” on detainees but I don’t think it’s confirmed that any drugs were used. Don’t quote me on this.. I’d have to look back to make sure.

paxplantax12 karma

Is the United States the baddies?

cbcnews32 karma

The baddies.. Hmm. We definitely as Canadians seem to have that attitude as we look south. But in terms of MK-Ultra and what happened in Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute (how psychiatric patients were used as experimental human guinea pigs), Canada was even more involved in funding Dr. Ewan Cameron’s work (which was also funded by the CIA). One of the themes in our series is that in times of fear .. when medical and medicine collide, these types of abuses take place. Nothing of course is ever black and white .. but I guess the baddies are those who are part of this bureaucracy. The good guys are those who speak out about it, often at great personal cost.

DCuuushhh8810 karma

They're currently still experimenting on people right? I just read the book Chaos by Tom O'Neil and there was a clinic funded in the he 60s mentioned in height Asbury IN SF that knowingly gave hallucinogens to unsuspecting patrons for experimentation that was open up until last year, a few months after the books release. Are there still somewhat know places like this in operation?

cbcnews13 karma

I have to read this book! There aren’t programs like MK-Ultra in operation that we’re aware of. Hallucinogens have seen a huge resurgence in scientific study and may have many positive benefits (check out Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind). But the big difference in these studies is that the patients are informed and give proper consent before the experiments take place (which did not happen under MK-Ultra).

Welcometodafartparty7 karma

What % of crappy CIA projects would you say are public knowledge? and do you think they're still doing more brainwashing experiments today?

cbcnews7 karma

I hate answering I don’t know.. But I don’t really know. I’m no longer a beat national security reporter (still cover these issues but not the same way since leaving the Toronto Star in 2018), so I don’t get the same tips or have the sources. I’d like to think there’s greater oversight and lessons were learned after 9/11 but … I will say I understand that obviously an intelligence service needs to keep secrets to be effective. It’s when it’s clearly illegal, abuse and ineffective that we need to call them to account (and they so rarely are held to account).

Itzli7 karma

Who do you think is the most successful case of brainwashing? Which technique would you say is the least successful?

Would you call what happened in Guantanamo brainwashing ? Or just torture? Who was brainwashed : the prisoners or the soldiers that held them captive?

cbcnews27 karma

I'm tempted to point to some advertising or social media as the most successful and insidious form of brainwashing to date! But in terms of what MK-Ultra was studying, brainwashing never existed, and never worked. It was always just a form of torture — from Korean war PoWS right up to the so-called War on Terror. When people are tortured, they tell you what they think you want to hear to make the torture stop. It never leads to good intelligence. This Senate Report is amazing:

If that’s too dense, there’s actually a great movie about this called “The Report,” starring Adam Driver. He plays the guy who wrote the Senate report .. Dan Jones. And you can hear Dan talk about the movie here:

Fableside-4 karma


cbcnews15 karma

Kind of my attempt at a joke? Didn’t mean to imply the CIA was brainwashing us through ads for The Gap. But producer Chris Oke (who was on our Brainwashed team) says there’s a good film regarding advertising by Ian Curtis, called The Century of the Self. I haven’t seen it but am going to check it out soon.

cbcnews6 karma

That's a wrap! Thank you folks so much for submitting such thoughtful questions — and thanks to those who listened to the podcast. Don't forget to subscribe, if interested:

leninade4 karma

Hey! Thanks for doing this! I mostly just want to know if you found out what was true or not true about experiments with LSD? Or any other hallucinogenic related information from MK-ultra. Some random rumors that I've heard but never got around to seeing if they are fake news are things like Manson and Bundy were both part of the experiments.

Also, fuck Doug Ford. :)

cbcnews6 karma

I can confirm that Doug Ford was not part of MK-Ultra’s LSD experiments! Now .. as to Bundy and Mason, I’m sad to say we had so much to cover we didn’t get into the full extent of the American experiments in prisons. In episode 3 we go into some other famous Americans such as Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg, who willingly took LSD and then .. quite liked it.

cocoflannel4 karma

What are your thoughts on the Philadelphia Experiment? My dad knew a guy named Al Bielek who had wild stories about being on the ship and experiencing interdimensional travel.

cbcnews5 karma

I'd never heard of it until now! Googling.. Googling.. Oh I see there’s a movie too. It’s certainly a wild and interesting story. But turning a ship invisible? Interdimensional travel? Hmm… Have Al give me a call!

coryrenton3 karma

Consensus on torture and other coerced methods are that it mostly doesn't work, but are there any technologies or methods you've researched that actually impress you in terms of their possible efficacy?

cbcnews8 karma

This is such a contentious subject. I mentioned it earlier but really, The Report (starring Adam Driver) is a great look at this issue. Normally I wouldn’t recommend a Hollywood film to explain an issue, rather than a documentary or article etc.. but it has stayed pretty true to real events (unlike something like Zero Dark Thirty which could suggest that torture works). So the smartest interrogators I’ve interviewed over the years, really say it’s about rapport-building. One famous example is Ali Soufan. He was with the FBI and did an interview right after with a key Yemeni detainee (who I later tracked down in Sanaa, after he was released from prison, to interview as well). Soufan, who speaks Arabic and knew so much about Al Qaeda was able to get key intelligence from this detainee, who went by the name of Abu Jandal. You know what really helped? Soufan noticed he was diabetic and not touching the cookies he would bring. So found sugar-free cookies. He actually testified about this later in arguing against torture. (Also in his book, Black Banners)

Missus_Missiles3 karma

Is it difficult finding interview participants who are objective/rational/logical 60-70 years after?

Because I know I can find any number of conspiracy-theory whackjobs. But good resources, that's harder.

cbcnews8 karma

I definitely benefited from the fact that the CBC, especially the investigative show, The Fifth Estate, had been covering this story since the '80s. And we worked with a Fifth producer, Lisa Ellenwood, who knew so many of the families affected. So we had incredible archive video and audio to choose from — including the victims, many of whom have since passed away, and even Dr. Cameron himself. It can be hard to find reliable sources, especially with a story like this one that’s so susceptible to conspiracy theorizing. But we tried to always go to the primary source where possible. The victims. The lawyers who represented them. The journalists who undercovered the story at the time.

oldginko2 karma

Have you ever heard of CIA MK Ultra testing performed on the cult residents of Jonestown Guyana, under the control of Rev Jim Jones?

cbcnews10 karma

We didn’t hear anything about that. The Jonestown Massacre took place in 1978, and MKULTRA was officially shut down in the 60s, so I doubt that MKULTRA specifically would’ve played a role.

Pony132 karma

What do you think about claims that this or that celebrity is/was under MK Ultra (Beyoncé and her “alter personality” Sasha Fierce; Kim Noble, who painted a lot of weird paintings that supposedly depict MK Ultra torture; Miley Cyrus, etc)?

cbcnews18 karma

I think that these conspiracy theories can seem to be fun, harmless diversions. I definitely went down a rabbit hole looking into what people were saying. But I do worry that this overshadows the very real harm that was done under MK-Ultra. The survivors (who are still alive today) and their family members still suffer. And considering that MKULTRA very directly led to other harmful CIA programs and torture, I think it’s best to focus on the facts — which are often stranger (and more frightening) than fiction!

Xymnslot1 karma

What's the most surprising thing you've learned in your research into this topic?

cbcnews8 karma

So much! I was embarrassed I didn’t know the Canadian connection. I’d been a foreign correspondent for so many years and covered the CIA’s activities abroad, but didn’t know this history right here in Montreal. I also couldn’t believe some of the projects that were part of MK-Ultra. There’s this great book by Stephen Kinzer called “Poisoner In Chief” and he outlines some of these projects. We spoke to him too (Ep. 3) and he told us about one project in San Francisco where the CIA gave LSD to sex workers, so they could slip it into the drinks of their clients without them knowing. And then they’d watch to see the impact of the drug during sex. Ready for what they CIA codenamed it? Operation Midnight Climax. Yup.

Darkwaxellence0 karma

Can you talk a little about religious fundamentalism, domestic terrorism, and why white militia members are not being sent to Guantanamo under the USPatriot Act?

cbcnews9 karma

Big big question. Okay.. So to start, the problem with Guantanamo (or one of the problems) is that it is nearly impossible to prosecute anyone. The Bush administration created a new law after 9/11 known as the military commissions. And the 9/11 trial (five detainees including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are on trial for the attack)? It’s still in pre-trial hearings, yes 19 years after the attack. I encourage you to follow an amazing NYT (former Miami Herald) reporter, Carol Rosenberg. We talk to her in Episode 5. I was down in Guantanamo reporting after Trump was elected and he did say he was going to fill it up .. or something to that effect. But no one has been sent there during his presidency. In terms of domestic terrorism -- or any type of terrorism offences -- the U.S. has a legal system that can handle these cases and that seems to be what’s happening.