Document Friday: Project ARTICHOKE, or the CIA Attempt to Create an Unwitting Assassin Through Hypnosis
The 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate –based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel– portrays an American soldier who is hypnotized by Communists and trained to assassinate American officials on command. This 22 January 1954 CIA memo shows that the Agency also pondered using hypnotized assassination. The report’s central question was, “Can an individual of [redacted] descent be made to perform an act of attempted assassination involuntarily under the influence of ARTICHOKE?” According to a subsequent CIA report, “ARTICHOKE is the Agency cryptonym for the study and/or use of ‘special’ interrogation methods that have been known to include the use of drugs and chemicals, hypnosis, and ‘total isolation,’ a form of psychological harassment.”
Later, the document stipulated that this assassination attempt would be “against a prominent [redacted] politician or if necessary, against an American official.” After “American official” there was a hand written asterisk. At the end of the document, next to another handwritten asterisk, the words “simulated only” were handwritten.
According to the memo, CIA operatives would test this theory on a foreign national (his country of origin is redacted) who was once an Agency asset, but had since stopped cooperating. The Agency’s plan deserves to be quoted verbatim:
“Access to the SUBJECT would be extremely limited, probably limited to a single social meeting. Because the SUBJECT is a heavy drinker, it was proposed that the individual could be surreptitiously drugged through the medium of an alcoholic cocktail at a social party, ARTICHOKE [presumably, hypnosis] applied and the SUBJECT induced to perform the act of attempted assassination at some later date. All the above was to be accomplished at one involuntary uncontrolled social meeting. After the act of attempted assassination was performed, it was assumed that the SUBJECT would be taken into custody by the [redacted] Government and thereby ‘disposed of.’ …Whether the proposed act of attempted assassination was carried out or not by the SUBJECT was of no great significance in relation to the overall project.”
Wow. Who needs Hollywood when you can read declassified CIA documents?
The report’s conclusion stated that despite the elaborate setup, a hypnotized assassination “probably” could not be undertaken because:
- The subject would be involuntary and unwitting.
- Access to the subject was strictly limited to social engagements.
- And the real kicker: Hypnotism actually provided “[no] or, at the very most, very limited physical control or custody of the subject.” It turns out, brainwashing someone to commit an assassination is trickier than it appears in Frank Sinatra and Denzel Washington films.
Despite these limitations, the report still stressed that a “crash course” could be possible. If headquarters provided greater access to operational plans and gave the order, “the ARTICHOKE Team would undertake the problem in spite of the operational limitations.” A final, handwritten notation at the end of the document reiterated, “This would be made available when and if required.”