One of my favorite ways of coming up with book ideas is to stroll through the stacks at the library and see what books jump out at me. Years ago, a book that caught my eye was Gordon Thomas’s Journey into Madness. As a former therapist, how could I resist pulling that book from the stacks? When I did, I saw the subtitle: The CIA Mind Control Experiments. Intrigued, I sat down in a corner of the library and began reading. I had a vague knowledge of the mind control experiments, but the book put a human face to a shocking chapter in US history.
During the cold war, the US government was concerned that our enemies were perfecting mind control techniques which could be used against our military. As a result, the CIA developed a covert program, MK-ULTRA, to devise similar techniques. Every experiment needs guinea pigs, and in this case unwitting psychiatric patients, primarily at Allan Memorial Institute in Canada, became those involuntary subjects. They were subjected to various brainwashing techniques, including something called psychic driving in which the patients, in drug-induced comas, were forced to listen around the clock to tapes designed to wipe out their personalities so that new thoughts and memories could be inserted in their place. Many, if not most, of the records related to the program were destroyed prior to the investigation of MK-ULTRA by the Senate Intelligence Committee in the seventies.
I knew I wanted to write about the experiments, but I didn’t want them to overshadow the rest of the story. So, it becomes the backstory of one of the characters, Sarah, an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease. I was also curious to understand how the staff at the psychiatric hospital could follow the lead of the barbaric physician in charge. That’s why, instead of making Sarah a patient, I made her a nurse so I could explore her reasons for taking part in the experiments–and her mounting discomfort with them.
It’s unusual for one of my books to have such a gritty element. Yet I think the Mind Control Experiments add a suspenseful layer to an already complex story. I look forward to hearing what my readers think about it.
You can read chapter one of Breaking the Silence here.
Note: The link I provided for the MK-ULTRA program takes you to one woman’s story. If you want to learn more, you’ll find plenty of information by doing a search on either MK-ULTRA or CIA Mind Control Experiments.