The Central Intelligence Agency has recently made over 12 million declassified documents available on their easy to navigate online reading room. While many of the documents are completely mundane, some shed light on an agency that feared extraterrestrial threats, Russian mind-control, and an individual’s inability to turn a stereo microscope into a micro stereoscope. Down the rabbit hole…
1. UFO PHOTOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SHEET
At one point, the CIA was obsessed with UFOs. The online reading room has extensive records of alleged sightings, proposed causes, and internal scepticism; one scientist’s notes on an internal UFO report read ‘A rapid perusal of your documents leaves one confused and inclined to supineness’. Despite this, the agency was serious enough about Unidentified Flying Objects to produce the ‘UFO Photographic Information Sheet’, a form that seems to be designed to discourage hoaxes.
The undated form demands excessive detail – where were you standing when you took the picture, time of day to the nearest minute, where were the negatives processed – and a sketch of the photographer’s surroundings. It seems that the CIA might have gotten fed up with the rash of UFO sightings after events like Roswell and decided to only investigate the really serious ones. Still, even the agency – which has done weird things like dose unsuspecting test subjects with LSD to see if it can be used as a mind control drug – doesn’t really believe in UFOs; many of the documents state that they’re probably weather balloons, and everybody seems very confused about it.
2. THE STARGATE PROJECT
Officially starting in 1978, the Stargate Project (not to be confused with the television show) was one of really weird Cold War endeavours. It was created to investigate the potential use of psychic powers – ESP, clairvoyance, etc – in military and intelligence operations. While the Stargate Project was not technically a CIA project, the reading room has plenty of documents relating to it. These include the outline for something called ‘Project: N-1 X’, an operation designed to test the viability of using psychic powers to obtain Soviet documents.
Subjects were required to discover the main theme, purpose, and date of publication for documents; describe the container the documents were held in; and give an overview of the area around the facility where the documents were stored. Incredibly, the project ran for over twenty years before the CIA – who once tried to create an exploding seashell to kill Fidel Castro – was granted oversight, decided that it had no worth and shut it down. The information obtained by remote viewers was exceedingly vague, and was determined to be no more accurate than twenty years of guesswork.
3. SCIENTOLOGIST WOES
In 1976, the Church of Scientology launched a large-scale effort to infiltrate the United States government and destroy documents that could harm their organisation. This was called Operation Snow White, and constituted the largest subversion of
the American government in history. At the same time, Clearwater, Florida branch of the Church was dealing with a pesky radio DJ who wasn’t a fan of their work. Bob Snyder claimed to be affiliated with the CIA, or to be receiving information from the CIA, so the head of the Church’s public affairs branch decided to write to the director of the CIA and find out.
“Is Mr Snyder receiving information from the CIA? Is he in some way connected to, working with or in any way affiliated with the CIA?”
It’s unclear as to why the head of the famously transparent agency declined to write back.
The MKULTRA program was borne out of Cold War paranoia and belief in pseudoscience. When prominent Yale psychologist Irving L. Janis submitted a report stating that the Soviet Union was using ‘some form of hypnosis, possibly in conjunction with drugs and other treatments, as a technique for eliciting confessions from persons’, the CIA decided that they needed their own program.
The agency believed that LSD could be used as an interrogation tool, and quickly signed off on a huge number of experiments that might be considered good fun today. Operation Midnight Climax, an MKULTRA subproject in San Francisco, centred on dosing unwitting subjects who had been lured back to what they thought was a brothel and observing what those men had to say. Other parts of the program included throwing a house party and dosing everybody present with aerosolised LSD, or slipping it into the drinks of random bar patrons. The experiments were eventually shut down when somebody figured out that they might be unconstitutional, and the current CIA interrogation technique is to blast Barney the Dinosaur at expected terrorists until they crack.
5. HONOURABLE MENTION: ADVANCED RHOMBOID ATTACHMENT
The Advanced Rhomboid Attachment is a ‘system of optical elements combined to create an instrument which converts a stereo microscope into a micro stereoscope… simple devices to perform this task have been in existence for a period of years; however, the subject invention substantially improves the basic concept…’. The document that lays out the design has been heavily redacted to the point of being unreadable, which is more than can be said about the genuinely weird stuff.
What grim purpose could the Advanced Rhomboid Attachment have been put to? Who was its mysterious designer? Maybe some things were meant to stay secret. If you’d like to read more about totally illegal CIA programs, here are ‘The Family Jewels‘ – a compilation of all the activities that the CIA conducted in violation of their charter. There are no UFOs, but remember; truth is stranger than fiction.