Only the Wind

con·spir·a·cy (n.)
  1. An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act.
  2. A group of conspirators.
  3. Law. An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime or accomplish a legal purpose through illegal action.
  4. A joining or acting together, as if by sinister design: a conspiracy of wind and tide that devastated coastal areas.

Horror film fans will recognize the following dramatic convention:

A well-scrubbed American family moves into a rambling farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. For about a week - twenty minutes in movie years - the family is happier than they have ever been. Mom plants a garden, Dad throws sticks for the dog, the children do a lot of giggling and running through fields of wildflowers. One day, Dad is in the bathroom washing up after another jolly good romp with Rover, when all of a sudden he notices that the tap water has turned a suspicious shade of red, the walls seem to be breathing, and there is a disembodied head hovering above the laundry hamper. It is speaking in Latin. Dad squeezes his eyes shut and begins to hyperventilate. The audience knows this is the wrong response. A much better approach would be to run down the stairs screeching like a scalded dog, pack up the family, and move into the Motel Six, at least until a suitable exorcist can be located. But no. Dad's no sissy. So this bastion of American manliness wipes his face, tells himself he must be coming down with something, and adjusting the pleats in his Dockers, strolls nonchalantly out of the bathroom to join his family for the evening meal.

Later, when his wife starts levitating in the middle of the night and the children are sucked into the television set, it will be a little harder for Dad to ignore the fact that his new house is trying to kill him. But for now, Dad tells himself, "Relax. It is only the wind."

Why does this hackneyed scene work so well although it is drawn time and again from the horror filmmaker's toolbox? Perhaps it is because every American raised with the proper amount of cognitive repression understands that if an otherwise rational person seriously broaches the subject of "spooky stuff" around the water cooler, it is the cultural equivalent of farting in church.

Just ask a conspiracy theorist. (By the way, how did you feel when you read the words, "conspiracy theory"? Did you recoil just a little? Do you now feel like you will have to struggle to keep an open mind about the words that follow? If so, the government has done its job. Read on.)

This month's Nexus Magazine contains an interesting article by Donald W. Scott called "Mycoplasmas and Neurosystemic Diseases." Although considered a fringe publication by some, there is nothing in Mr. Scott's article that suggests the presence of a tinfoil hat. The first portion of the piece deals with the mechanisms by which pathogenic mycoplasm infects a host cell. Scott then takes us on a trip down memory lane to the idyllic days of the 1950's when Mom was planting a garden, Dad was throwing a stick for the dog, and the Pentagon, in conjunction with the Canadian government, decided it might be a nice idea to test their new biological weapons on the city of Winnipeg.

The chemical deployed was a watered down version of the real deal, but it was still enough to sicken one third of the Winnipeg population. Symptoms ranged from a sore throat to ringing in the ears. In order to obtain official cooperation, the Pentagon told the mayor of Winnipeg that they were testing a "chemical fog.that would protect Winnipeg in the event of a nuclear attack."

Now if Mr. Scott had trotted this information out prior to May 14, 1997, he would have almost certainly be labeled a "conspiracy theorist." But on that day, the Pentagon called a press conference where they admitted the whole sordid affair. How nice of them to come clean forty years after the fact.

As it turns out, the same biological agent tested on the unsuspecting citizens of Winnipeg may be capable of producing a number of strategically useful illnesses such as AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Whether or not you believe that the Cold War Era scientific community possessed the technological sophistication to whip up a batch of jiffy germs, it is clear that the army though it could. Scott reports that upon discharge from the service, one bacteriological warfare specialist who routinely handled the mycoplasmic goop received papers informing him that if he were to develop multiple sclerosis within two years of leaving the service, he was entitled to disability compensation which is "payable to eligible veterans whose disabilities are due to service."

Now I cannot remember when I first heard gay activists propose that AIDS was a government gig, but I believe it was sometime in the late eighties. The earliest information I could find on the internet was dated 1990, although another article made reference to the work of Dr. Robert B. Strecker who stumbled upon evidence of this in 1983. Whatever the original source, by the early nineties, this was a pretty hot topic of conversation, and proponents of the idea that AIDS was a made to order Pentagon disease were promptly labeled "conspiracy theorists."

As with the government's role in weaponizing biological agents in order to enhance the likelihood of multiple sclerosis, whether or not you believe they were successful, there is ample proof that the military intended to develop an AIDS-like illness. At a House Appropriations hearing in 1969, the Defense Department's Biological Warfare (BW) division requested funds to develop a new disease that would both resist and break down a victim's immune system, ("A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare," by R. Harris and J. Paxman). It should be noted that the Appropriations Committee approved the funds.

We have proof of intent and proof of motive. In many cases we have the government equivalent of receipts for funds to implement covert operations. We have enough evidence to withstand cross-examination by Judge Wapner, for Heaven's sake, yet somehow, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of assembling the pieces, the American public tells itself, "Relax. It is only the wind."

Well there are winds, and there are typhoons, and the same decade that saw the Pentagon emerge as the Betty Crocker of germ warfare, begat a biological threat of a different sort. On April 13, 1953, the CIA birthed a hideous child known as MKULTRA. Operating on the principle that it might be more fun to drive people insane rather than just kill them outright, an early project draft asks, "Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against the fundamental laws of nature such as self-preservation?" How would it be possible to get a person in such a useful state? The R & D boys came up with a two-pronged attack plan. One approach was strictly pharmaceutical, with LSD as the drug of choice. The second approach was to use the drugs in combination with physical stressors such as sleep deprivation, verbal degradation, sensory deprivation, starvation, and electro-shock. Some of the human subjects used in these bizarre experiments were volunteers, but some were not. Some of the subjects lived to tell a Congressional investigating committee their story; others did not.

One who did not was Dr. Frank Olson, who hurled himself out of a tenth floor window after a meeting with Sidney Gottlieb, who headed the CIA's Technical Services Staff. Olson was a scientist for the U.S. Army's Chemical Corps Special Operations Division. Gottlieb was, at the time, experimenting with the effects of tossing hallucinogens in the punch bowls of unsuspecting citizens.

Suicide, of course, was not the desired outcome of the MKULTRA experiments. In order for a subject to be useful, he or she had to be alive and programmable. Popular media refers to this state as being "brain-washed," a word that conjures mental pictures of Grade B spy flicks where evil Communists with bad accents stick bamboo shoots under the fingernails of a relentlessly square-jawed American agent. The technical mechanisms employed by the CIA, however, were far more sophisticated than bamboo shoots, and the ultimate effect was to create an individual who could dissociate their personality on cue. The beauty of this plan was that test subjects manipulated in this manner would present themselves as a bunch of loonies should they ever attempt to expose the agency. To that end, the CIA partnered with at least 80 different institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, 15 research foundations or chemical and pharmaceutical companies, 12 hospitals and clinics, and 3 penal institutions. This is all a matter of public record, documented by the Congressional Church committee. Everything from hypnosis to psycho-surgery was employed, in combination with drugs and what amounted to ritual abuse, in order to find the recipe for the perfect programmable spy.

Many of those responsible for these grotesque experiments are still alive and gainfully employed by the U.S. government or associated research facilities. And the survivors of these atrocities are still out there as well, American citizens who are living testimonies to some of the most horrendous human rights violations we have witnessed in our lifetime. But how many of us have even heard of MKULTRA?

Discredited as "conspiracy theorists," the MKULTRA survivors continue to wage a desperate campaign to keep this important piece of our history alive, and many insist that the CIA is still engaged in the unsavory practice of testing their latest widgets on the unwitting and unwary public. They insist that the project has not, in fact, ceased, but has merely changed shift supervisors, with privately funded contractors tied to the government taking up where the CIA left off. Anyone familiar with the wheeling and dealings of the Iran-Contra years and the bogus drug wars in Columbia would recognize these tactics. Yet these people who have first-hand experience with just how low our government can go, are consistently marginalized and dismissed, the "conspiracy theorist" label effectively doing its job.

Award-winning journalist Robert Parry gave an excellent speech in Santa Monica on March 28, 1993. The subject of the speech was Iran-Contra, and he tells a compelling tale of government conspiracy and media duplicity. The full text of this speech can be found here.

There is a part of the speech where Parry talks of how he was asked to investigate a project known as "October Surprise." Many readers will recognize this as the ploy of the Reagan-Bush machine seeking to sabotage the Carter campaign by delaying the release of the hostages in Iran until after his re-election bid. States Parry, "obviously for a long time the North network was just a 'crazy conspiracy theory', and then the idea that Bush was involved was a 'crazy conspiracy theory', and the idea that there was a cover-up was a 'crazy conspiracy theory', and I'd seen all these conspiracy theories actually turn out to be true, so I really didn't want to discount anything without having looked at it carefully." This is not, by the way, just a good tip for investigative journalists. It is wise advice for all responsible citizens, regardless of career aspirations.

But how to discover the truth? Parry states, "What I think is the bottom line is that we are in great danger of losing our grasp of reality. Our history has been taken away from us in key ways. We've been lied to often. And important things have been blocked from us." In other words, the water from the spigot has turned to blood before, and the walls were breathing in a not-so-distant place and at a not-so-distant time. Yet still we manage to compose ourselves, go to work, go to the Mall, go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house, rushing here and there with no sense of history and no sense of reality attached to our past. We are in a perpetual state of the omnipresent Present.

In the 1970's, we discovered that the "conspiracy theories" of the '50's and '60's were reality. People were, in fact, being "brain-washed" in experiments conducted by our own government against innocent, unwilling American citizens. People suffered as a result of these experiments, and in some cases, people died. Some of the "test subjects" are still suffering today.

In the late '80's and early '90's, we discovered that the conspiracy theories of a previous decade were reality. Yes indeed, our government did trade arms for hostages, they did train mercenaries, and they did conspire to overthrow a peaceful and orderly Latin American country. Children were massacred, women were raped, men were tortured.

What will we discover in the year 2010? Will we find that ugly and unspeakable things happened during Election 2000? Will we learn the truth about Dick Cheney's closed-door meetings on energy and social security? Will we like what we discover? Will we finally glimpse the master plan behind Star Wars and FCC deregulatory rulings? Or have we all simply become so used to the Latin-speaking, disembodied head that we invite it to go bowling instead of demanding that it return to the dark place from whence it came?

George Santayana once said those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. The house of democracy has been haunted by evil spirits in the past. We have discovered that there really is a hand living under the bed and a Boogey man dwelling in our closet. Yet time and again, those who point these things out to us are labeled conspiracy theorists, while we pat ourselves on the backs and congratulate ourselves for being pillars of rational thought.

It would seem that the true gatekeepers at the Citadel of Sanity are those who are cooling their heels at the Motel Six and biding their time until the exorcist arrives. The rest of us shift uncomfortably in our La-Z-boy recliners, a gnawing feeling of familiarity in the pits of our stomachs, and as the eleven o' clock news spews out a torrent of clever sound bites and glitzy photo-ops, we turn to each other and say, "Relax. It is only the wind."

Carol Schiffler, CLG
September 2, 2001