Review: The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control: The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences, by John Marks

First published more than 40 years ago, this book tells the unbelievable story of the CIA’s experiments with mind control. Some of these even pre-date the founding of the CIA itself. Its forerunner, the OSS, had some rather hare-brained ideas of its own, including some rather bizarre plans to kill or incapacitate the German f├╝hrer, Adolf Hitler, that involved his vegetable garden. The book’s title is a bit of a misnomer, as only a small part of the volume considers ways to hypnotise an assassin. The rest of the book is far more mundane, as the CIA looked for new techniques to analyse personalities and especially locate weaknesses in their opponents. But the section on the “Manchurian Candidate” scenario is fascinating. The Agency went so far as to hypnotise one secretary into shooting another (not knowing that the gun was loaded with blanks). Some of its boffins were convinced that the scenario envisaged by author Richard Condon in his fictional account was a real possibility. Part of the reason the CIA looked into this was precisely because of the concern that America’s Cold War enemies might well have been considering the same thing. Whether the Soviets or Chinese ever made their own efforts in that field is something that we may never know.