Friday, February 25, 2005

The Conspiracy Theory: Is Straight some sort of Richard Nixon CIA-NIH mind-control experiment gone awry?

by Wesley Fager (c) 2005

Thomas Constantine (former director of the DEA) is on the Advisory Board of Straight under its latest name (Drug Free America Foundation). Karen P. Tandy (Administrator DEA) is also on the Advisory Board. Former Drug Czar Robert DuPont of Bensinger & DuPont is another board member. Dr. DuPont administered the US government's grant to The Seed, Straight's predecessor, when he was the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (an NIH subsidiary). Later he became a paid Straight consultant. Peter Bensinger, DuPont's business partner, was another director of the DEA.
Guy M. Tunnell, Commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (Florida's state police) and former FDLE commissioner James "Tim" Moore are also on the board. Former White House drug czars Rober DuPont, MD (a former paid Straight consultant) and Donald Ian MacDonald, MD (Straight's former national medical research director) are members of the International Scientific and Medical Forum on Drug Abuse (a DFAF subsidiary). Richard Schwartz, MD, former medical research director for Straight - Springfield is another forum member.

Former CIA director George H. W. Bush made a TV commercial for Straight out of the Oval Office and appointed Straight founders Mel Sembler and Joseph Zappala to ambassadors to Australia and Spain, respectively. His son President George W. Bush appointed Sembler to ambassador to Italy. His son Governor Jeb Bush is on the Advisory Board for Straight (under its current name, DFAF) along with his wife Columba and his Lt. Governor Toni Jennings. DFAF is funded by the US government. Perhaps it's a good time to wonder whether Straight (and its predecessor--The Seed) is some sort of Richard Nixon CIA-NIH mind-control experiment gone awry?
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In the early 1950s accounts started coming out of Red China about a remarkable discovery to change men's minds. It was quickly called brainwashing in the West, though one prominent psychiatrist suggested "mendicide" or "death of the mind" as a more appropriate title. After careful scientific analysis it was finally dubbed thought reform by the Western medical establishment. What the Chinese had devised are "re-education" schools which they call Seventh of May Academies. In reality they are prisons for political prisoners which they call "students". Academy students are deprived of food and sleep, of toilet facilities and baths, of medicine. Their hands are chained behind their backs so they have to eat their meager rations and lap water out of a bowl like an animal. They defecate like a dog or cat without being able to wipe themselves. People spit in their faces and they are beaten, scolded, and incessantly urged to "tell all" in a process called "struggling". The students live under constant fear that they may be executed at any time.

As the Chinese thought reform student is being systematically humiliated, he is made to invent a trumped-up confession and then to spend the next three years of his life re-writing it, perfecting it, rehearsing it, and defending it, until, it is felt, he actually comes to believe his own made-up story! Once it is deemed the student is sufficiently confused about his own confession, he starts taking classes to learn Communist doctrines [re-education]. Psychologically the student becomes depressed over his present milieu and overloaded with deep feelings of guilt and shame for what he has admitted to, including confessions to turn in his friends and family members for real or dreamed-up crimes. For years he is afforded no exercise, diversions, or free time for relaxation or contemplation to think things out because he spends his three years in a small cell with eight other inmates. No one graduates unless everyone does what is asked. And what is asked is that they all come to truly believe their confession. There is a nightly court where a judge questions the student about his confession and tries to trip him up, and where guards might beat him, but it is his fellow cellmates who wake him through the day and night depriving him of sleep. It is his fellow prisoners who constantly urge him to "tell all" and who spit in his face. There is no trust. Everybody rats on everybody else in order to save himself.

Many newage (one word rendition of "New Age", rhymes with sewage. Coined by cult buster and magician The Amazing Randi) cult leaders have read these accounts of brainwashing (just as this author has) and some have attempted to use some of these techniques on members of their own organizations. Cult apologists, citing findings in Lifton's own work, argue that you can't really cleanse someone's mind. Whether brainwashing truly works or not, I'll leave that to the cult apologists to convince a judge. But I will tell you there is no denying that brainwashing is cruel, physically and psychologically damaging, and can lead to death by suicide from humiliation and depression. And, I can also tell you that, many cult leaders use it because they think it works, or at least they don't know of any better way to exert total control over their subordinates. Some cults, claiming they can make sane men saner and smart men smarter, have been accused of using thought control in their program. This is the so-called human potential movement.

The newage cults are not the only westerners who have shown interest in Chinese Communist thought reform. The United States government is another. In the 1960s the CIA started experimenting with thought reform and in the use of mind altering drugs to control one's thoughts as possible ways to combat brainwashing, and also as a way to try to persuade enemy agents into becoming double agents for the United States. The U.S. prison system is another government agency which has investigated brainwashing. Their interest is in a way to rehabilitate prisoners. Incredibly, in 1962 Dr. Edgar H. Schein, associate professor of psychiatry at M.I.T., addressing the topic "Man Against Man: Brainwashing" at a seminar for prison wardens and psychologists chaired by James V. Bennett, the then director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, told his audience:

My basic argument is this: in order to produce marked change of behavior and/or attitude, it is necessary to weaken, undermine, or remove the supports of the old patterns of behavior and the old attitudes'; this can be done 'either by removing the individual physically and preventing any communication with those whom he cares about, or by proving to him that those whom he respects are not worthy of it and, indeed, should be actively mistrusted.' Dr. Schein told his audience that he had gotten most of his ideas by studying the techniques used by North Korean and Chinese Communist on GI prisoners of war, but cautioned his audience not to be put off by this fact: 'These same techniques in the service of different goals may be quite acceptable to us. . . I would like to have you think of brainwashing not in terms of politics, ethics, and morals, but in terms of the deliberate changing of human behavior and attitudes by a group of men who have relatively complete control over the environment in which the captive population lives.' [Corrective Psychiatry & Journal of Social Change, Second Quarter, 1962.]

Thus were experimental "brainwashing" programs begun in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the Marion, Springfield, and Butner federal prisons.

Thought reform is not the only tool in the arsenal of government agencies and mind control cults. Some newage ideas are coming right out of professional western psychology. Primal Scream, for one, where the patient lays on the floor in his therapists' office and screams to the top of his lungs. Another is rebirthing where a person is wrapped in a blanket and slowly emerges reliving the birthing experience. Two counselors are in prison in Colorado today for rebirthing a defiant little girl named Megan. She did not come out of her the blanket alive. Aversion therapy is another popular tool for behavioral modification. One father, fearing his teenage son was gay, sent him to a program that placed an erection detector on the child's penis. The child was shown pictures of nude males and if the detector sensed movement in the young boy's genitals, he was given an electric shock. The boy committed suicide.

Synanon Church. In 1958 in California a recovering alcoholic named Chuck Dederich formed a foundation to treat heroin addicts which he called Synanon. The heart of Synanon was a brutal, verbal peer group confrontation called "The Game" (or synanon with a small "s") where addicts shouted indictments at one another. That is, addicts aided in their own recovery. Synanon was no more effective than anyone else but some slick marketing strategies plus national exposure in a book by New York psychiatrist Daniel Casriel and spreads in Look, Life and Ebony magazines made the Synanon Game a new standard of addiction treatment. Programs like Phoenix House and Daytop are based on synanon-style confrontations though they prefer to call themselves the more professional sounding therapeutic communities.

A remarkable series of events converged on the month of June 1970 which has forever affected the way the world has come to look at addiction treatment. Woodstock had just occurred and shown us that middle class whites were using drugs. And Charles Manson and Green Beret Captain Jeffery MacDonald had scared us into believing that drugs make middle class kids want to kill. Through the winter of 1970 the nations' newspapers and magazines were forecasting a heroine epidemic amongst middle class American teenagers which would begin in June of 1970. All sorts of drug treatment programs started springing up all over the place. Charles Manson's trial began in June and the month before, in May, Narconon™, the drug rehabilitation program affiliated with the Church of Scientology™, was incorporated on the west coast. But many of the new treatment programs were Synanon-based therapeutic communities like Elan (if you've been keeping up with the Michael Skakel / Martha Moxley murder trial). Another was The Seed which opened for business in June 1970 on the east coast in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Seed was a synanon for kids-only. It was unusual in that as a start-up, experimental program founded by a high school graduate and recovering alcoholic, it got a grant for $1 million (in 1970 dollars!) from the federal government's NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse )--a subsidiary of the sprawling NIMH (National Institue of Mental Health). Psychiatrist Robert L. DuPont, Jr. was then the director of NIDA. The CIA had experimented with LSD on prisoners at the NIH's lock-up hospital in Lexington, Kentucky where NIH had set up its own experimental synanon which it called MATRIX. This has made more than one conspiracy theorist wonder whether The Seed was some sort of CIA-backed mind control experiment to turn long-hair, pot smoking American teenagers into mindful and obedient, clean-cut kids with button-down, collared shirts who would fight our wars and vote for Richard Nixon's Republican Party. The theory gets even more intriguing when, in 1974, the U.S. Senate published a report which likened The Seeds methods to the brainwashing techniques employed by the North Koreans against American servicemen during the Korean War. The Senate report was a principal reason for The Seed to stop its expansion programs.


Drug Free America Foundation (Straight). But out of the ashes of one of those Seed expansion programs, some former Seed parents including Melvin Sembler (now Ambassador to Italy) and his wife Betty Sembler, opened their own Seed-like program which they called Straight, Inc. which grew to become the largest chain of juvenile drug rehabilitation programs in the world. Straight was so successful , in large part, because Robert DuPont (the man who had administered the unusual NIDA contract to The Seed) left NIDA and became a paid consultant for Straight! He claims that he got Nancy Reagan involved in Straight. He has stated in deposition that it was his idea that Straight go national. He defended Straight in many of its civil suits against it for abusing kids. Today Straight is a drug policy think tank operating under the name Drug Free America Foundation and Robert DuPont is on its Advisory Board. DFAF does not run the Straight treatment program anymore (though Betty Sembler and so many other former Straight officials have infiltrated Operation PAR, another therapeutic community for drug rehabilitation, that a great case can be made that PAR is the new treatment arm of DFAF.) DFAF no longer operates the old Straight program but second-generation Straights continue to operate all over the country and there have been allegations of abuse at some of them. [Look at the people who endorse Straight on the flier at top left. George Bush is the former director of the CIA during the Nixon administration. Robert DuPont is the founding director of NIMH'S NIDA. In World War II Congressman Charles Bennett had been an intelligence officer assigned to the secret Counter Intelligence Corps. And Dr. Maxie Maultsby taught Rational Emotive Therapy to Straight's Dr. George Ross at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY., the same city where the NIMH operated an experimental, federal lockup hospital on addictions and where the CIA conducted LSD experiments on inmates.]

The juvenile heroine epidemic never did materialize in June 1970 but a plethora of treatment programs to combat it did. Now thanks especially to synanons any businessman can open up a lucrative drug rehab program for teens. Today there are all kinds of specialty schools for defiant, middle class teenagers and rich kids (and some wards of the state). They are variously called wilderness programs, boot camps, emotional growth schools, achievement camps, religious boarding schools, and synanon-based therapeutic communities. Kids are treated for drug addiction, sexual orientation, eating disorders, low academic performance, or for just plain being defiant. And the programs are not cheap either, some costing as much as $60,000 a year. Accusations of abuse have been leveled at some of these programs and there have been some deaths. Many of these specialty schools employ aspects of behavior modification including elements of Communist Chinese brainwashing, and some develop novel ways to effect these techniques to avoid criminal prosecutions. Instead of using chains to restrain ( which, criminally, is bondage) they pick fights with clients and then have 4 or 5 of his fellow clients painfully restrain him. In Straight food deprivation is achieved by giving a kid food!--plain peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, for lunch and for supper, no jelly, just big globs of peanut butter, for up to 30 days until the child is sickened at the thought of another peanut butter sandwich.

Like so many involved in the human potential movement, many kids in newage rehabilitation programs are tricked or forced to tell their deepest darkest secret (confession) as a primary step towards recovery, often citing AA ("admitted to God, myself, and another human being") as the reason. This extorted information may then be used against the confessor, relentlessly. Many of these programs use the Chinese peer group concept--no one gets out unless everyone complies. In the Straight cult inmates actually spit in one another's faces just like their counter parts in Chinese Seventh of May Academies. In many of these programs kids are allowed no unmonitored contact with their own parents until they earn that privilege. In many of these programs kids are not allowed to discuss what happens in the program. In order to control parents, parents are often subjected to some form of a control program of their own where they will typically attend parent meetings in the evening or attend a weekend seminar from time-to-time.

It would be another decade after June 1970 before the established psychiatric hospitals would catch on to the the lucrative market of teenage drug addiction; that's another story altogether. But the message about any program which treats teens is this. If a child can be sexually molested in a Catholic Church, can he not be sexually molested in a treatment program for teens--or physically assaulted or psychologically abused? How can a parent consent to place a child in any program where he can not contact that child at reasonably specified time periods? How can a parent consent to not ask his child what happens in this program? And how can a well-meaning judge sentence a teenager to such a place or even recommend such a place? Look, everybody knows there are kids with problems who need help, and there are many fine programs available which are genuinely concerned with helping kids in trouble. But judges need to realize that all of these places, like private prisons, are, after all, businesses. A warden in a publicly operated prison has incentive to get a prisoner rehabilitated and back to society at large as a productive citizen. In a privately owned prison, the longer a prisoner stays, the more money the warden and guards make. Is this not an inducement for prison wardens and guards to pick fights with prisoners to stop early paroles? And while we are on private prisons, the conspiracy theorists among us ask why George H. W. Bush, former director of the CIA, is so interested in Straight which is a private prison. And why is Wackenhut, the nation's second largest operator of private prisons, so filled with former CIA men? Why is George H. W. Bush so close to Straight founders Mel Sembler and Joe Zappala, two Floridian construction moguls.? And why is a Florida-based private prison operations company running private prisons in Texas?

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