The Devil’s Breath – Scopolamine and the CIA

Scopolamine, otherwise known as Devil’s Breath, is a drug derived from the seeds of the Borrachero tree, as well as other varieties of plants within the same “nightshade” family, to include henbane and Angel’s Trumpet.  The drug causes memory loss by limiting or inhibiting the function of the acetylcholine neurotransmitter.

Acetylcholine is concentrated in location to the hippocampal region, and this is the part of the brain that records your memories onto a perpetual stream of newly formed brain cells. The class of drugs which includes scopolamine is called anticholinergics, and is also described as a deliriant, as they produce hallucinations and vulnerability to suggestion that leave the user virtually no free will.

In 1922 Robert House, a Dallas, Texas, obstetrician, arranged to interview under scopolamine two prisoners in the Dallas county jail.  He published some eleven articles on scopolamine in the years 1921-1929, with a noticeable increase in polemical zeal as time went on. What had begun as something of a scientific statement turned finally into a dedicated crusade by the “father of truth serum”, wherein he was “grossly indulgent of its wayward behavior and stubbornly proud of its minor achievements’.

Only a handful of cases in which scopolamine was used for police interrogation came to public notice, though there is evidence suggesting that some police forces may have used it extensively. Eventually the use of “truth serum” became of interest to the CIA, and they began their own experiments and research into drugs and hypnosis with the inception of Project Bluebird in 1949, with a wide range of drugs being administered, to include LSD and Scopolamine.

The experiments, carried out under the direction of DCI Allen Dulles, continued until 1951, when they decided to shift the focus of their efforts to using the drugs and hypnosis during actual interrogations, and the program morphed into Project Artichoke. Reports are conflicting as to whether or not Project Artichoke directly preceded the MKULTRA program, but we certainly know that this program expanded upon their previous efforts, and was aimed at developing procedures for mind control techniques, and as well utilized tests with LSD and Scopolamine.[1]

According to the Church Committee (the forerunner to the to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that was formed in 1975 in the wake of the Watergate scandal), MKULTRA’s projects included “research to develop a capability in the covert use of biological and chemical materials. This area involves the production of various physiological conditions which could support present or future clandestine operations.”

The committee also acknowledged that the Inspector General’s survey of the program in 1963 evidenced that they were using alternate means of funding to avoid implications of the following enumerated unethical practices:

a. Research in the manipulation of human behavior is considered by many authorities in medicine and related fields to be professionally unethical, therefore the reputation of professional participants in the MKULTRA program are on occasion in jeopardy.
b. Some MKULTRA activities raise questions of legality implicit in the original charter.
c. A final phase of the testing of MKULTRA products places the rights and interests of U.S. citizens in jeopardy.
d. Public disclosure of some aspects of MKULTRA activity could induce serious adverse reaction in U.S. public opinion, as well as stimulate offensive and defensive action in this field on the part of foreign intelligence services.”[2]

‘Places the rights and interests of US citizens in jeopardy‘, and ‘could induce serious adverse reaction in US public opinion‘, let us realize the gravity of that, and let that permeate into our minds. They’ve expressed a willingness to carry out field experiments in mind and behavior control on unwilling and unknowing subjects within the American population for covert means, to include illegal activity, and that our rights and interests are ‘in jeopardy.’

In light of this information, I will have to say that I would’ve always been one that would have felt that a “Manchurian Candidate” scenario was either a remote, if not impossible, potential reality, yet ultimately find, that in reality, there is more potential for this scenario to be possible than I had ever previously conceived of.   Let me emphasize the fact that if CIA handlers were to keep a subject strung out on this drug for any length of time, for that length of time, they would have an operative with no behavioral filters of morality or ethics, nor the capability for reason that would preclude them from participating in the CIA’s illegal ‘clandestine operations’.

The ramifications are virtually unfathomable, and I would have to say I agree with the Inspector General’s estimation that this information “could induce serious adverse reactions in US public opinion.” While it’s not that great of a surprise to me, upon having learned the scope of this project in greater detail, I think I might replace the term “adverse reaction” with outright outrage.


[1] Memorandum – Project Artichoke

[2] Foreign And Military Intelligence: Book 1; Final Report of the Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities

“Truth” Drugs in Interrogation