Project Artichoke: The CIA’s Quest for the Real Manchurian Candidate

Operation Aritchoke
Operation Artichoke – The CIA’s Quest to Find the Real Manchurian Candidate


Project Artichoke or Operation Artichoke, was a CIA research project that began in 1951 and whose aim was to determine whether a person could be forced via hypnosis or forced drug addiction such as morphine or LSD, to commit an act of attempted assassination.

The CIA’s intent, working in conjunction with other Intelligence divisions of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the FBI, was to find out or to make the real Manchurian Candidate. Project Artichoke was a mind control program focused on behaviour modification as a means of preventing Agency employees from providing intelligence to adversaries, even if that went against the will of the individual or the fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation.

Project Artichoke gave birth to Project BLUEBIRD in 1952, and the culmination of these two projects gave rise to the much-controversial Project Mk-Ultra in 1953. Under various guises and names, mind control programs have survived through the decades and are still in use in modern times.

CIA Mind Control Experiments
CIA Mind Control Experiments

The Manchurian Candidate

On April 27, 1959, in the midst of the Cold War, a novel was published named The Manchurian Candidate’, written by Richard Condon.

 The novel revolves around Raymond Shaw, a fictional character, who is a hero of the first order. He’s an ex-prisoner of war who saved the life of his entire outfit, a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honour, the stepson of an influential politician, and most notably, a perfect assassin.

The Manchunrian Candidate
The Manchunrian Candidate

He was ‘brainwashed’ during his time as a POW (prisoner of war). He turns into a sleeper or one can say an ‘unwitting assassin’ which can be used as a lethal tool that is triggered by a secret signal. In other words, he is a controlled human being who can do whatever his controller wants him to do and a patient of ‘induced amnesia’.

The critics called it a ‘political thriller’ but who knew that it’ll invigorate the intelligence agency of the world’s superpower to find the real Raymond Shaw? Did it invoke an idea in the rank and file of that agency (CIA) or was it just a declaration of what has been happening clandestinely over the years in the ‘secret intelligence room’?

 We’ll unearth the answer to this question in the following article. Let’s uncover the sordid tale of a futile attempt to find one like ‘Raymond Shaw’, in other words, Project Artichoke.

Whispers of Mind Control

“If God himself was sitting in that chair, we would make Him say what we wanted him to say.’

Alleged quote by Communist Interrogrator

This sinister quote is attributed to a communist interrogator, based in Budapest, in the late 1950s. This, and many other similar reports, set alarm bells at the American Security Services, as they perceived that Soviets had developed novel techniques to extort confessions from their foes.

 Also, they’ve acquired techniques to erase the personality of unwilling subjects and induce new convictions and beliefs. It prompted the CIA to start its own mind control programs.

The first program of its type was known as Project Bluebird, which was the precursor of other two extremely controversial CIA ‘research’ projects: Project Artichoke, and Project MK-Ultra.

CIA Operation Against Antiwar Forces - Newspaper Clipping
CIA Operation Against Antiwar Forces – Newspaper Clipping

The Trail of Hungarian Cardinal Joszef Midszenty

The story begins in the 1940s, but in the early 1950s, the menacing acquisition of mind control techniques by Soviet Communists became a serious concern for Western Security forces. The twist came about when a staunch opponent of local communist forces, Cardinal Joszef Midszenty, was put behind the bars on December 26, 1948.

He was accused of treason in the ensuing trial. International observers were left wonderstruck when Joszef confessed, meekly:

  • To stealing Hungary’s crown Jewels.
  • To planning a Third World War.
  • To conspire to take over the country.

A very unusual condition and pattern of behaviour were observed in Cardinal Joszef. Observers at the time made speculations of him being hypnotized or manipulated by the opponent forces using mind-controlling techniques.

Later on, he revealed the modern techniques which were used by his interrogators including:

But these revelations were not enough for the West to expurgate their doubts which had been, by then, embedded in the minds of their higher officials.

József Mindszenty memorial plaque in Budapest, Hungary
József Mindszenty memorial plaque in Budapest, Hungary
Reports from Korea

The fear of communist mental powers was exacerbated during the Korean War. In 1952 Colonel Frank Schwable and other captured US pilots admitted to dropping bacteriological weapons on civilians in North Korea.

5,000 US POWs signed similar confessions, which prompted military and intelligence officials to consider seriously that the communists had developed some form of mind control or hypnotic programming.

Edward Hunter’s Articles

In 1950, the information poured in by Journalist Edward Hunter in his articles regarding the acquisition, utilization, and advancement of mind control and personality erasing techniques that the Chinese and Soviets successfully used against their foes was one step ahead in this matter. He described how the Communists Puppet masters use their mastered hypnotizing skills to induce new beliefs, convictions, and even pre-planned actions in their foe’s personalities. It was Edward Hunter who gave this set of techniques a catchy name: “brainwashing”.

Brainwashing - Edward Hunter
Brainwashing – Edward Hunter

Hunter further explored and popularized the concept in his 1951 book, “Brain-washing in Red China”. And trauma specialists Dr. Joost Meerloo and Dr. William Sargast lent scientific credibility to Hunter’s writings, defining the act of brainwashing as a ‘psychic homicide’.

Journalist Edward Hunter
Journalist Edward Hunter

All the aforementioned events invigorated the CIA to launch a project whose objectives subsume the quest for similar mind-controlling, personality erasing and amnesia induction techniques, in other words, to search for the replica of the techniques adopted by the Chinese and Soviets.

Brain-washing in Red China
Brain-washing in Red China

It all began with a project named PROJECT ARTICHOKE.

Project Artichoke

Project Artichoke officially began on the 20th of August 1951. It was a secretive mind-control experiment operated by the CIA’s Office of Strategic Intelligence.  The aim of the project was to produce a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ that could be made to involuntarily perform an act of attempted assassination.

The Project also studied:

  • Hypnosis.
  • Forced morphine addiction (and subsequent forced withdrawal).
  • Use of chemicals including LSD, to produce amnesia and other vulnerable states in subjects.
This is your brain on LSD - CNN
This is your brain on LSD – CNN
Questions that Operation Artichoke Sought to Answer

Project Artichoke sought answers to the following questions:

Questions that Operation Artichoke Sought to Answer
Questions From Operation Artichoke
  1. Can we condition by means of post-hypnotic suggestion, agency operatives so that they do not divulge any secrets, nor commit acts on behalf of an enemy?
  2. Can we get an unwilling subject to perform an act for our benefit?
  3. Can we influence individuals by post-hypnotic control, so that they perform actions contrary to their basic moral principles? For example, crashing a plane or wrecking a train?
  4. Can we extract details and intelligence from unwilling prisoners by using hypnosis or chemical compounds?
  5. Can we alter someone’s personality by the same means?

The agency put a great deal of effort into the studies of Hypnosis, especially between 1951 and 1954. But how successful they were in finding a desirable answer to these questions?

Fields of Research

Project Artichoke can be categorized into three main fields of research:

  1. Extensive Tests

Extensive tests, such as physical and behavioural, were carried out on Agency Volunteers which didn’t yield any fruitful results warranting an operational use, according to the CIA.

2. Pharmacological Field and Testing of Illegal Drugs

The ARTICHOKE researchers kept samples of numerous prescription drugs, such as:

  • Antipsychotic Rauxidin.
  • Stimulant Methedrine.
  • Tranquiliser Thorazine.
  • Several treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

An ARTICHOKE memo of November 1952 outlines how the chief of the technical branch of the SRS, the Security Research Staff, sought authorization for a journey to Mexico. His aim was to contact a local botanist to experiment first-hand with:

  • Rhynchosia pyramidalis, a psychoactive plant.
  • Panaeolus campanulatus, a hallucinogenic mushroom.

The CIA first experimented with cocaine, marijuana, heroin, peyote, and mescaline, but found LSD to be the most promising drug. LSD was increasingly given to unknowing CIA agents to determine its effects on unsuspecting people. One record states that an agent was kept on LSD for 77 days.

Illegal Drugs
Illegal Drugs

There were many suspicious activities surrounding Project Artichoke.  For example, many Agency employees who acted as test subjects had not been asked to sign waivers of liability. This led to suspicion that the men running the tests did not provide informed consent to those taking the tests, and they were not fully aware of the side effects, or long-lasting consequences of taking such drugs.

The subjects who left this project were fogged with amnesia, resulting in faulty and vague memories of the experience

3. Surgical field

There is a mention of the third field of research: surgical procedures. In particular, prefrontal and transorbital lobotomy were considered as a technique, although it is not clear what the procedure hoped to achieve.

prefrontal lobotomy
Prefrontal Lobotomy

The procedure itself consisted of the resection of nerve pathways in the frontal lobe of the brain. It was a popular remedy at the time to address mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, but fell into disuse in the late 1950s, due to its side effects: apathy, passivity, and loss of concentration. And, well, death. Apparently, no further efforts were devoted to researching lobotomy.

Transorbital lobotomy
Transorbital lobotomy – The Science of a Lobotomy
Pitfalls and Limitations

According to the CIA, the project was never completed due to some limitations. A 1954 memo discussed the feasibility create a real Manchurian Candidate. It argues that:

This project was never completed due to some pitfalls and limitations. The 1954 memo discussed that it was hypothetical to create a real Manchurian candidate because:

  • Agency would have little time to implant hypnotic programming in subjects.
  • Agency would have no control over subjects.
  • The access to subjects would have to take place in a social environment with a non-CIA company.
  • The CIA did not want to expose information about current and future missions. Which would have been the case if there was a mishap.
  • In such cases, it would’ve become difficult or nearly impossible for the investigating agency to carry out similar missions in the future.
Results of Project Artichoke

The CIA claimed that Project Artichoke was a huge flog and most of their experiments were unsuccessful. So unsuccessful indeed that two new projects (Bluebird and Mk-Ultra) were launched in the following two years to carry on and expand on Operation Artichoke’s original research.

The damage done to the victim through the research of mind control experiments was devastating. Those who survived were called all sorts throughout the years, from ‘crazy’ to ‘conspiracy theorist’ to everything in between. Others were not so lucky and died as a result of the experimentation. It is unknown how many victims the Project claimed, but over the years some of the silenced voices are being heard once again.

The Death of Frank Olson

Frank Rudolph Emmanuel Olson was a bacteriologist and biological warfare scientist that worked closely with the CIA and the ex-Nazis during Operation Paperclip on the utilization of aerosolized anthrax and other microbe warfare. He also worked closely in both mind-control experiments Project Artichoke and Project MKUltra.

Frank Olson in 1952
Frank Olson in 1952 – was an American bacteriologist, biological warfare scientist, and an employee of the United States Army Biological Warfare Laboratories (USBWL) who worked at Camp Detrick (now Fort Detrick) in Maryland.

Dr. Olson died after allegedly falling from the thirteenth-floor window of New York’s Startler Hilton Hotel in 1953. Initially, it was called suicide.  In 1975, however, the CIA admitted that Olson had been unwittingly drugged with LSD which led to his death, and paid the family a financial settlement of 750,000$.

In 1994, Frank’s son ordered the exhumation of Frank’s body and for this purpose, he hired forensic experts and there was another twist. It was found that his death was caused due to a blow to the head. 

Later on, New York’s District Attorney General changed the status of Frank’s death from suicide to ‘unknown’. This death remained as suspicious as the death of David Bellin, the Executive director of the Rockefeller commission.

 A similar death of CIA director Willian Colby by boating accident off Chesapeake Bay Island days before he was scheduled to be interviewed by New York’s Court also bred suspicion.

Frank’s death also coincided with those of many other higher official deaths resulting from falls.

The Death of Frank Olson
The Death of Frank Olson

Were such acts an attempt for a self-imposed suicide or were they murders? Was the CIA trying to silence those who ‘knew’ too much?

 Many questions still remain to this day that demand crystal clear answers.

Transcriptions of Declassified Project ARTICHOKE Documents

If You Enjoyed This Content, Feel Free To Leave A Tip Or Visit One Of The Sponsor Adverts