A few years ago, I dated a man who had been wrongfully imprisoned in a secret U.S. detention camp in Iraq. He’d been accused of terrorism by a co-worker, and then held and tortured for months by U.S. government employees, part of a protocol under the so-called war on terror. 

A United States citizen, ex-Marine, and CIA agent himself, he accessed his veterans benefits to go get some mental health care and brain scans after his release. 

They showed him the scans and told him he’d never be normal again. 

When we met, he was holding down a job, walking and talking, and even successfully using a dating app, on which he’d piqued my interest with a little photo diary of getting shot through the hand at work. Sometimes, he told me, he’d have a hallucination or two of Casper the Friendly Ghost, one in a handful of lingering after-effects due to the bizarre tactics they’d used. But he knew it wasn’t real. And it didn’t hold him back from doing what he wanted.

So the experts had failed now on two counts: 

One, they’d failed to coerce him into confessing to Al Qaeda affiliation despite various methods: being in a hole for a couple of days with bugs on him, putting a hand in ice water to light up a light bulb that they’d wired into his opposite arm, sleep deprivation with repeated forced viewing of movies, and the like. He managed to maintain his innocence throughout. He used testimony from an International Red Cross visitor to the secret torture camp in a lawsuit against the U.S. government, and won. 

Two, they’d implied he was not neurologically typical enough to be functional. It wasn’t altogether clear to me what the intended purpose or benefit was of this medical care or diagnosis.

Yet here we were, eating pho on a sunny day in Silver Spring and having a chat.

The history of mind control is just as brutal and illuminating as my date’s story. We hear two tales at opposite ends of the spectrum of human behavior: on one hand, studied predictability is the story of the day.  And, on the other hand, news stories from Florida: mankind births an erratic unpredictability, startling in its scope. 

Does the technology exist now (or, will it ever) to truly control a human mind? Many have tried, in a bizarre menu of methods, and for often flimsy reasons. 

This curated survey of the facts and artifacts of mankind’s attempts at mind control will chart a brief history of the ways, whys, and the consequences of trying to control minds, and the minds of the key individuals who have tried. 

You can be the judge of their success or failure.


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