Messing With Our Minds (5/98)

A quiet but brutal war is being waged on the victims of child abuse, including sexual and even ritual abuse. The battlefields include academia, the courts, professional groups, and society in general. In some cases, the aggressors are the same people accused of perpetuating the violence. They’ve banded together, forming networks and support groups, most notably the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF), which discounts recollections of abuse recovered in later years, making survivors look like complainers and trauma therapists sound like quacks.

Unfortunately, the Foundation has many psychotherapists on the run. Several lawsuits have already ended with judgments in favor of alleged perpetrators, and the resulting chilling effect has dampened the willingness of some mental health professionals to treat victims, especially those claiming ritual abuse.

If you browse the Internet these days, you’re apt to find regional or local groups started by survivors of childhood torture and/or abuse. The list includes the International Council on Cultism and Ritual Trauma, based in Dallas, Texas; Mothers Against Sexual Abuse in Monrovia, California; Survivors and Victims Empowered in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and the San Francisco-based Survivorship. Meanwhile, researchers such as Alex Constantine, Walter H. Bowart, and Dick Farley conduct valuable research on the FMSF. Despite such scrutiny and the seriousness of the problem, however, advocates for false memory (also known as repressed memory) syndrome dominate cyberspace and have received far more favorable coverage in the mainstream media.

Ironically, it turns out that the Foundation itself has extensive connections to another group that has indulged in extensive experimentation on human beings – the Central Intelligence Agency. Although better known for overseas operations that serve the interests of corporate and financial elites – euphemistically described as protecting "national security" – the Agency also has a sordid history of domestic mind control experimentation. Its interest in this field runs parallel with elite concern about how to control the thinking of US citizens. The fear among policymakers that we might take control of our own destinies is almost as deep as their terror that, without US intervention, people in other parts of the world might go their own way.

It should come as no surprise, then, that long-time CIA and "intelligence complex" operatives turn up on the FMSF Advisory Board. Perhaps the most public member has been Dr. Louis Joylon "Jolly" West, a legendary figure in CIA mind control circles operating out of UCLA. Another is Dr. Martin Orne, an authority on torture who currently works at the University of Pennsylvania’s Experimental Psychiatry Lab. While studying the effects of over 16 biochemical warfare agents until the early 1970s, Orne considered the effectiveness of choking, blistering, and vomiting agents, toxins, poison gas, and various incapacitating chemicals. During the same period, he also worked with the Cornell University-based Human Ecology Fund, sharing his findings with Dr. Even Cameron, who was then based at the McGill University Allen Institute in Montreal. At Human Ecology, electroshock, lobotomies, drugs, incapacitants, hypnosis, sleep deprivation, and radio control of the brain were all specialties of the house.

Still another false memory luminary is Margaret Singer, professor emeritus in psychology at the University of California-Berkeley. Long in the research loop of the "military-industrial-intelligence complex," Singer’s involvement dates back to her experiments on returning Korean War veterans. Scrutinizing the behavior patterns of what were described as "collaborators," "non-collaborators," and "active resisters," she noted that the "collaborators showed more typical and humanly responsive reactions" than the other groups, whose members "tended to be more apathetic and emotionally barren and withdrawn."

The latest concoction of this brain trust is false memory syndrome, a highly ideological theory embraced by the Christian Right and other groups that favor male supremacy, not to mention those accused of abusing and/or sexually molesting women and children. Pedophiles and self-righteous "Christians" often turn up in FMS circles.

The movement’s official literature describes its so-called "syndrome" as a "condition in which a person’s identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strangely believes." It goes on to explain that, when in the grip of a "false memory," a person "may become so focused on the memory that he or she may be effectively distracted from coping with the real problems in his or her life." Certainly, the movement’s leaders should know, since in the realm of memory manipulation they’re the experts.

Inducing memory loss has long been a CIA obsession. The initial objectives included closing the minds of agents – in case they were captured – and making sure enemies who were interrogated wouldn’t remember they’d been questioned. While receiving CIA funds as part of the notorious MK-ULTRA project, West, an expert in brainwashing, learned how to manipulate memories in various subjects – inducing everything from total amnesia to obsessive-compulsive fixations.

West’s most notorious experiment, conducted while at the University of Oklahoma, involved killing an elephant with LSD and tranquilizers. But he also ran a secret CIA mind control lab and "treated" Jack Ruby after his murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Subsequently, he attempted to launch a Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence in California, hoping to incorporate treatments such as chemical castration, psychosurgery, and the use of experimental drugs. But the Center was derailed once its methods became public.

According to false memory proponents like West, the "syndrome" – an iatrogenic (medically induced) malady – is reaching epidemic proportions. But in reality, what has actually assumed such dimensions is the problem the FMS movement seeks to discredit – sexual abuse of women and children. According to recent research, more than one out of four women have been raped. Statistics for incest are similar.

FMS activists crow about inducing those who recall abuse in therapy to recant their "objectively false" recollections. Movement literature perversely claims: "Many describe a sense of relief and comfort with their decision that their memories were false and a sense of well-being that they missed while entrenched in the memory recovery process." Thus, memories of abuse are defined as invalid. But somehow retracted memories aren’t.

According to the false memory movement, many victims are actually "borderline" deviants, the sources of whatever "false" problems they may have conjured up. And how could anyone disagree? After all, as FMSF spokesperson Pamela Freyd explains, "We are a good-looking bunch of people: graying hair, well-dressed, healthy, smiling … about every person who has attended [an FMSF meeting] is a person you would likely find interesting and want to count as a friend."

Yet, Freyd and her husband Peter founded the movement after their daughter, Jennifer, a Ph.D. psychologist, recalled a range of childhood sexual abuses. Among other memories she recovered was one that involved Peter forcing his little girls to dance around naked with Playboy bunny tails for the amusement of his friends.

Ralph Underwager, an early member of the group’s professional advisory board, let the pedophile agenda slip when he told British reporters that, according to so-called "scientific evidence," 60 percent of all women who were molested as children believed the experience was "good for them." Both he and another advisory board member, Holida Wakefield, have publicly described pedophilia as a positive lifestyle choice. Another movement activist, Dr. Richard Gardner, blames the syndrome on "zealots" who want to "destroy every man in sight."

Supporters such as Gary Cooper, who promotes the Foundation via the Internet, claim that "modern therapy is creating phony victims of child abuse and destroying thousands of families." He describes most memories of abuse as fantasies provoked by greedy therapists, who encourage their patients "to break relationship with the family and work on these phony issues."

Thus far, the Foundation claims to have won 14 court cases, largely through the efforts of movement ideologue Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist and FMSF advisory board member who garners large fees for testifying as an "expert witness." Loftus has appeared on behalf of over 150 clients, most of them accused pedophiles and murderers such as serial killer Ted Bundy. In that case, a key aspect of her testimony was the inaccuracies in eyewitness identification, similar to her criticism of the recollections of abuse victims. But such inaccuracies don’t necessarily mean that abuse didn’t happen.

In December 1995, two women filed an ethics complaint with the American Psychological Association (APA) against Loftus, protesting her published statements about two cases involving delayed memories of sexual abuse. Although the APA declined to investigate, Loftus resigned from the association a month later. One of the women who filed the complaint, Jennifer Hoult, was awarded $500,000 for the suffering caused by her father’s incestuous abuse. During the case, her father joined the FMSF.

The movement has been defeated in court more often and more significantly than it cares to admit. Despite its efforts to discredit therapists and blame victims, many people have won civil cases against their parents and other family members on the basis of memories recovered in therapy. In addition, Doctor Charles Whitfield has successfully fought a civil suit brought by the Freyds, who were stung by his commentary on their theories and activities.

Research has proven that people who suffer severe abuse often "forget" it. In a "fight or flight" mode, the body produces high levels of neurochemicals that can obliterate conscious memory. While at the Allen Institute, Ewen Cameron looked into "psychic driving" as another way to accomplish the same thing.

Under high stress, the hippocampus becomes inactive and misses its chance to place a memory in the person’s timeline or "memory bank." Instead, it’s recorded elsewhere or "dissociated." According to Dr. Lenore Terr of the University of California’s Medical School in San Francisco, "Survivors – especially those who were repeatedly hurt by people they love – frequently repress the agonizing memories until they are grown up and safely away from home."

In a very real sense, domestic survivors of CIA experimental abuse have much in common with the millions who have suffered what no child or other human being should have to endure. And this is exactly what worries the false memory movement. Fearing imminent exposure, the CIA was forced to abandon the MK-ULTRA project in the 60s. But the effort to manipulate minds and blame the victims didn’t end; it simply moved from public institutions to cults and private foundations, facades less open to public scrutiny. As a result, the Human Ecology Fund has been replaced by groups such as the Human Potential Foundation in Falls Church, Virginia, founded by Sen. Claiborne Pell and lavishly funded by Laurence Rockefeller. In short, the patriarchal old boys network remains intact, just one more aspect of the backlash against women and children.

To be continued.

Husayn Al-Kurdi is a TF contributing writer and President of News International. Part two of this series will examine the connections between the CIA and various "unsafe sects."