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Operation Delirium
December 10, 2012 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Operation Delirium. "The military’s secret Cold War experiment to fight enemies with clouds of psychochemicals. Decades after a risky Cold War experiment, a scientist lives with secrets." [Via]
posted by homunculus (44 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 


"Well, Mike,” he wrote to another veteran, “I guess some people find it satisfying to look back and condemn what doctors and others did half a century ago, especially if it lends itself to sensationalized movies, and entitles them to disability pensions.”

When he gets to Hell, he and Mengele can talk shop.
posted by Egg Shen at 1:12 PM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I feel like I've just read Stephen King's research notes for Firestarter and The Stand.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


When he gets to Hell, he and Mengele can talk shop.
posted by Egg Shen


Together with their cellmate, Walter Freeman. My Lobotomy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:46 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is this what the chemtrails are made of? ;)
posted by trackofalljades at 2:08 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't forget Dr. Cameron.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:08 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Holy shit, that was horrifying.

Did Jack Vance know this guy? The resemblance to Howard Alan Treesong in The Book of Dreams is beyond startling:
Before Ketchum wrote his memoir, he had tried to sort out his experiences in a series of half-finished manuscripts, variously titled “Aerosol One” or “LSD Forever” or “The Black Drum” or, simply, “Jim.” Most of them are romans à clef, though that term suggests too great a departure from reality, as many people in them are named, and all of the events are genuine. In these early attempts at telling his story, the volunteers—the men he drugged—barely figure. Instead, Ketchum’s focus is himself, under different pseudonyms: Peter (Micro) Hansen (“competent and charismatic and soon aggressively takes over, with impressive results”), James McFarley (“a moderate thirst for opponents, human and inanimate”), Dr. McSorley (“nothing if not a man of action—impulse, if the truth be known”).
posted by jamjam at 2:23 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel much, much better about my lifelong lack of empathy which is, in comparison, utterly fucking garden variety.
posted by elizardbits at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think that dosing an opposing army with a temporarily debilitating drug is arguably kinder than dropping bombs on them.
posted by empath at 2:41 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, but psychologically torturing our own soldiers is not really going down the path that rocks.
posted by elizardbits at 2:48 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, fantastic link. I had read the barrel of LSD story before, but it was always at the CIA.

"Rows and rows of binders belonging to his archive towered beside us... the C.I.A. had been pressuring him to turn them over. He glanced at the volumes. “They contain a lot of data, with names, doses, graphs of what we did,” he said. “That is definitely something the government would not want to spread around.” When Ketchum left the arsenal, the archive left with him. “It could have been shredded,” he told me. “It could have been locked away.”"

Holy moly! And he sent a copy of all this to the New Yorker? They should stick it online.
posted by marienbad at 2:51 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


> I think that dosing an opposing army with a temporarily debilitating drug is arguably kinder than dropping bombs on them.

We hear this argument a lot these days - drones are kinder than dropping bombs on them, and now "temporarily debilitating" nerve gas is kinder than dropping bombs on them.

Do you not see that we aren't being given these instead of bombs, but as well as bombs?

And the choice isn't between "bombing them" and "gassing them" - it's primarily between "harming them" and "not harming them". And nearly all these "them" are people who have never offered any American violence, but simply might offer Americans violence at some point in the future.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:59 PM on December 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


Do you ever wonder what will happen when America is no longer the hegemon?
posted by srboisvert at 3:04 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do you ever wonder what will happen when America is no longer the hegemon?

We'll get our ass kicked by Pokeymon.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:06 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think that dosing an opposing army with a temporarily debilitating drug is arguably kinder than dropping bombs on them.

You would be in the right there, except for the dubious relevance of the words "temporary" and "kind" to the agents in question.
posted by fifthrider at 3:07 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, it is hardly temporarily debilitating when the army is being sued by the people it was tested on 30 or 40 years ago for its ongoing effects on their mental and physical health.
posted by marienbad at 3:07 PM on December 10, 2012


I live a half-mile from the site of Chestnut Lodge, a former sanitarium where sinister doings related to the CIA and drug testing occurred. There are still folks around here who worked there, and I've tried to nudge a few conversations toward that era, but they always clam up and refuse to discuss it.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 3:15 PM on December 10, 2012


> We'll get our ass kicked by Pokeymon.

That's why we have a strategic reserve of sour poffins.
posted by gilrain at 3:17 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've tried to nudge a few conversations toward that era

Wow, I dunno. I wouldn't try to go there if I were you. Seriously.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:18 PM on December 10, 2012


I for one am grateful that the U.S. codified in the Belmont Report in 1978 the principles we failed to take to heart from Nuremberg: that when it comes to people as test subjects, the public ends cannot be held to justify the means of research that harms the individual. The temptation to justify injurious research in the name of public good seems too strong if not explicitly stated to be unethical. (Believe me, I served 7 years on an IRB--an internal review board for the protection of human subjects--and while researchers always grouse about IRBs, I saw firsthand that the temptation to risk individuals in pursuit of some scientific goal, always perceived by the researcher to be of vast importance, persists.)
posted by DrMew at 3:26 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


We keep making the same mistakes and doing the same stupid evil things over and over, just in slightly different disguises.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:55 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's like the Cold War paranoia created this graded absolutism that almost digressed into antinomianism, of sorts. I may not be using these terms correctly, so what I mean is, the US military and intelligence almost acted as if the perceived amorality of the Soviet leadership and the citizenry that supported it gave us license to bend our morals and, at times, outright violate them to protect Americans and the world from evil. But I goes beyond "ends justify the means" rationale, I mean it was more like "I'm American, I know I'm the good guy, so I don't need to question my methods at any point. There's no question of my motives, so I won't consider them at all."

I'm having trouble explaining this, but I think you get the point. This guy wasn't so much a product of the times, but an opportunistic infection that sprung up in various leadership positions throughout our madness. If not for the Cold War, he probably never would have been promoted out of the mess hall, where he would have then been dishonorably discharged after jerking off into the ranch dressing.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 4:00 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


This was the part that really struck me:

But many innocent people died, too. “It’s been looked at by some skeptics as a kind of tragedy,” Ketchum has said. “They say, ‘Look, a hundred and thirty people died.’ Well, I think that a hundred and thirty is better than eight hundred, and it’s also better, as a secondary consideration, not to have to blow up a beautiful theatre.”

See? That's what I was trying to explore.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 4:05 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think that dosing an opposing army with a temporarily debilitating drug is arguably kinder than dropping bombs on them.

Yes, but as was pointed out in the article, the way the military works is that this wouldn't ever happen; what would happen is that the military would say, "This aerosol drug has temporarily debilitated the enemy! Now they are much easier to mow down with conventional weapons. They don't even shoot back!"
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:12 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


When he gets to Hell, he and Mengele can talk shop.

That's going to be a crowded room.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:20 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


the review of Ketchum's self-adulatory book at Eowid is interestingly ambivalent. The comments left by "volunteers" at Edgewood are uniformly condemnatory.

The whole situation of US bioweapons research is far more complex than the New Yorker article suggests. In the 1950's there was a mad rush to continue and extend the Nazi and Japanese biowarfare programs by both the US and the USSR. Prior to the end of WWII, neither the US nor the British took chemical or biological warfare as seriously as the fascists. After the extent of the fascist programs became apparent, it kicked off an arms race. Both Nazi and Japanese war criminals were shielded from prosecution in exchange for their cooperation.

This arms race continues to this day. The two most notable leaks in the last decade were the 1996 karnal bunt outbreak (ascribed by Floyd P. Hearn, head of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, to probable intentional release by Russians to manipulate world wheat prices) and the anthrax attacks of 2001 that were used as one of the faked justifications for invading Iraq.
posted by warbaby at 4:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


weaponized marijuana
posted by hortense at 4:41 PM on December 10, 2012


I'm acquainted with James Ketchum. Interesting, if complex guy. Rather conservative. Appears to be in very good physical shape, despite his age. Actually believes in chemical warfare, if his totally fascinating book is to be believed. A personal friend of Sasha Shulgin. Very nice wife.

Once you're done with the New Yorker article, ya wanna get deeeeep into Edgewood Arsenal conspiracy theories? Here ya go.
posted by telstar at 5:10 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I notice people who use LSD tend to plan around it. Be supportive and attentive. All that.
It strikes me that - when do you see people doing that without LSD? Just getting together in a group and giving each other really good vibes?
A guy hammering questions at you while you're tripping - really bad vibes.

dreamed of war without killing.
Warfare is supposed to hurt and be unpleasant. In theory - that's why one would avoid it as opposed to working to make it more palatable.

Not to contend infinitywaltz's point, but we would hope a fighting force would engage the enemy. What's the alternative?
What if some of these endeavors worked perfectly? What if we had - best case scenario in this line - some sort of mind control ray to turn the enemy into our mental slaves?

Would they stop being 'the enemy'? I doubt it.

I know I'm the good guy, so I don't need to question my methods at any point. There's no question of my motives, so I won't consider them at all
Exactly this.
Would we work toward ending war if we could eliminate all of the guilt and pan from our end of it? Would we find better ways to resolve conflict - if we had some kind of superweapon that could render an opponent docile or pliant? Or would we find more reasons to use it? Same damn kind of problem with tasers.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:43 PM on December 10, 2012


That's interesting, warbaby, but are you sure about the source? Edward Knipling was Acting Administrator of ARS (my agency) in 1996, and I'm not familiar with Floyd P. Hearn.
posted by wintermind at 5:51 PM on December 10, 2012


I was gonna mention Shulgin (not the connection as I didn't know there was any between the two), and was going to say that at least Shulgin had the temerity to do his testing in himself instead of using captive slaves of the state.

It's a little disturbing that he was friends with Shulgin, however. :\
posted by symbioid at 6:11 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


One problem with this kind of thing is that whatever weapons you use on your enemy, you can reasonably expect them to use on you, given the opportunity. Another, potentially more serious problem is that this doesn't seem like a problem when your armies are winning and you feel secure and invulnerable.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:21 PM on December 10, 2012


Smedleyman: "Warfare is supposed to hurt and be unpleasant. In theory - that's why one would avoid it as opposed to working to make it more palatable.
...
Would we work toward ending war if we could eliminate all of the guilt and pan from our end of it? Would we find better ways to resolve conflict - if we had some kind of superweapon that could render an opponent docile or pliant? Or would we find more reasons to use it? Same damn kind of problem with tasers.
"

Oh also - recently on our Communist group blog (Socialism In One Blog), Deathgod Franklin wrote a somewhat eponysterical (hmm, perhaps "sterical" isn't the right suffix in this case) post calling into question "liberal" morality as embedded in the Geneva Conventions.

One commenter said something similar, I think, to what Smedleyman says...
I think I can make a case that chemical weapons are the *most* moral weapon to use on the battlefield, from a long-term class perspective. The infamous guarantee of mass slaughter of combatants on the battlefield makes it much harder to enlist the proletariat in armies, which makes it much harder to justify the veritable torrent of money that is directed to the clearly bourgeoisie independent arms manufacturers. Forced conscription of the proletariat for certain death in the army would also hasten a more "revolutionary" attitude.

Following the money in the Geneva Conventions, I see arms manufacturers protecting their markets, both in size (chemical weapons cost much, much less to manufacture, as measured by cost per soldier-death) and expertise (bullets and armor, electronics and avionics present a very high cost-of-entry to competitors).
Of course, this is, in a sense the exact opposite of the case we're discussing here (i.e. Ketchum and "humane chemical warfare" (if you wanted to do that, just fucking bomb the place with aerosolized MDMA (ok, I know, not so easy))), wherein the commenter points out that chemical warfare as traditionally enacted was much more brutal and awful than any conventional war. So there must be some form of tension between too utterly brutal wherein nobody wants to risk life and limb, and utterly ineffective in any coeercive capacity.
posted by symbioid at 6:35 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wintermind, please excuse the typo. It's Horn, not Hearn.

Floyd Horn made his comments about karnal bunt during his presentation at the April 1999 Washington DC conference on terrorism and mass casualty attacks. His written paper (as is mine) is in "Hype or Reality? The 'New Terrorism' and Mass Casualty Attacks," edited by Brad Roberts, The Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute, 2000.

In 1999, Floyd was the administrator of the ARS. Used copies of the conference proceedings are available at Amazon for very little cost.

The underlying problem with bioweapons, toxins and chemical weapons research is that there is no distinction between offensive and defensive research. All known US deaths after WWI from CBW were inflicted by government stocks, either administered as agency endorsed research or diverted by insiders for criminal purposes.

The main reason that CBN use is so rare is that countries go more than a little nuts when they think they are under attack by these means.

Take a good look at Exhibit A, item 10 (pg 97 - 98 in the PDF, pg 189 - 191 in the original.) There are two important points about this memo. 1) it's clear evidence of intentional violation of presidential orders to destroy such stocks and also to continue indefinite violation of the Biological Weapons Convention, and 2) it's fucking weaponized smallpox prepared at Ft. Detrick.
posted by warbaby at 8:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


We hear this argument a lot these days - drones are kinder than dropping bombs on them, and now "temporarily debilitating" nerve gas is kinder than dropping bombs on them.

Do you not see that we aren't being given these instead of bombs, but as well as bombs?


Is this really an argument you're hearing or one you're misunderstanding?

Drones are all about bombs. Albeit, smaller bombs, precisely because drones offer better resolution. Drones are utilized to avoid the carpet bombing scenario.

But the equally big advantage of drones is that it keeps us from sending in people to get the same level of resolution.

You might argue that we shouldn't be involved in any killing. But that's not the situation we have. Drones offer better targeting and fewer casualties. Especially American casualties. Which explains why drones figure so highly in modern warfare.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:33 PM on December 10, 2012


Also don't forget Britain's William Sargant, at least a match for Cameron:
Sargant subjected patients to up to three months' combined electroconvulsive therapy, continuous narcosis, insulin coma therapy and drugs.

and Australia's Harry Bailey:
linked with the deaths of a total of 85 patients. He committed suicide before he could be punished.

Offhand I'd guess there are others out there still. Subtler no doubt. Spawned, we must recall, in an era in which dozens of major scientists fashioned and tested WMD's ... and veterans served as unknowing atomic guinea pigs. An era which embraced the acronym MAD.
posted by Twang at 2:25 AM on December 11, 2012


Drones offer better targeting

This is debatable.
posted by eviemath at 3:01 AM on December 11, 2012


You know, putting aside the horrifying nature of the whole thing, it's just completely astounding to me that the army and CIA would put so much money and time into researching these weapons without even once considering how they were going to physically deploy them. Like, by the time Ketchum got the chance to play evil psychedelic dollhouse with real human beings, nobody had stopped to think, "hey, um, what about ... wind?" Clearly they'd never heard of test-driven development.

But yeah, wow, this Ketchum guy, fucking scary. I mean, to hear him equivocating like that, decades after everyone else admitted they Did a Bad Thing... and to hear about the joy he had in his work, ruining the lives of these poor army guys... it really makes me wonder how he started out. Perhaps in working with such unethical people on such a horrifying project, he allowed himself to be compromised. But then I think about the zeal and enthusiasm with which he approached his work, and it makes me wonder if he was just a psychopath to begin with.

Cold war is one hell of a drug.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:14 AM on December 11, 2012


But yeah, wow, this Ketchum guy, fucking scary. I mean, to hear him equivocating like that, decades after everyone else admitted they Did a Bad Thing... and to hear about the joy he had in his work, ruining the lives of these poor army guys... it really makes me wonder how he started out. Perhaps in working with such unethical people on such a horrifying project, he allowed himself to be compromised. But then I think about the zeal and enthusiasm with which he approached his work, and it makes me wonder if he was just a psychopath to begin with.

He presents a lot like the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance guy. I can't quite articulate why. Either someone who isn't neurotypical just letting it ride, or someone who is seriously mentally ill who has done a good job of faking it for a lifetime.

It's easy to condemn this work now that we know it is impossible. But considering the work in pharmacology in the first half of the 1900's, I don't see how it was unreasonable for them to imagine that they would have thought that they would be able to come up with a drug that would work.
posted by gjc at 6:08 AM on December 11, 2012


Oh also - recently on our Communist group blog (Socialism In One Blog), Deathgod Franklin wrote a somewhat eponysterical (hmm, perhaps "sterical" isn't the right suffix in this case) post calling into question "liberal" morality as embedded in the Geneva Conventions.

From that post:
However, one can easily imagine a case where the use of such weapons might be justified. An outnumbered revolutionary class might in some cases find use of such powerful asymmetric warfare.

I think this is a great bit of context. As an insight into the kind of cruel, cold mind that is so easily enamoured of communism it is very valuable - let us be clear, this is straight up Aum Shinrikyo territory.

If I'm trying to understand how anyone could justify to themselves such hideous research it is useful to keep in mind how dangerous the ideas of communism remain to human happiness and liberty. There are times in the 20th century when the threat must have seemed to some people so great and so immediate as to justify almost anything.
posted by atrazine at 7:31 AM on December 11, 2012


He presents a lot like the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance guy.

Heh. You know, I think I get where you're going with this. You kinda get the feeling that Ketchum thinks of himself in third-person.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:59 AM on December 11, 2012


Do you ever wonder what will happen when America is no longer the hegemon?

I'm not able to answer that question, because I don't like rice.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:05 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


atrazine, I am arguably enamoured of a certain flavor of communism, and yet I, too, find the sentiment in that quote abhorrent.

But apart from following the common misconception of the previous era of equating a communist economic system (where individuals may not own capital, and good are allocated and provision of services organized via a political process rather than a market process) with an autocratic and repressive political system, I agree in essence: I find feeling threatened by a country with an autocratic, repressive, undemocratic political system and a demonstrated willingness to use violence to control people to be understandable (even in the case of brutal dictatorships with expansionist ambitions that happen to organize their economies via capitalism).

(I mean, I don't think that the extreme of throwing one's own values out the window is ever understandable no matter the threat, but the feeling threatened part I find actually pretty reasonable and understandable.)
posted by eviemath at 6:54 AM on December 12, 2012


In addition to the article highlighted in this post, the New Yorker has now put some additional articles, source materials and videos online:
* High Anxiety: LSD in the Cold War
* Primary Sources: Operational Delerium
* Video: War of the Mind (The US Army’s "cinematic attempts to document its search for the perfect psychochemical weapon.")
* Video: Manufacturing Madness (..."video compilation of chemical experiments on soldiers at the Army’s Edgewood Arsenal.")
* Secrets of Edgewood

Further reading:

Vice: The Doctor Behind the Army's Psychedelic Manhattan Project Has Some Regrets (Weed Isn't One of Them) (Fleshes out some points made in the New Yorker article.)

Bohemian.com: The Counterculture Colonel: "During the 1960s, the U.S. Army tested a potent form of synthetic marijuana on soldiers to develop a secret weapon. Meet the Santa Rosa resident who ran the program." (2008 article on Ketchum)
posted by zarq at 8:29 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


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