After World War II, the possibility of gaining control over a person’s mind became one of the top pursuits for intelligence services. Amid never-ending spy games, the capacity to make someone tell the full truth during an interrogation, or to wipe out a subject’s personality and impose another – perhaps, a controlled one – became quite attractive to secret services.
In 1979, former US State Department officer John Marks published a book called “The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’,” which focused on the CIA’s mind-control experiments and is based on agency documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The term ‘Manchurian Candidate’ emerged from a title of a novel by Richard Condon, first published in 1959, which tells the story of a US soldier brainwashed and turned into an assassin by the Communists. Back then, the fear that America’s rivals might use such techniques was not only a fictional fantasy, but a matter of very serious concern.
This is how John Marks describes it: “In 1947 the National Security Act created not only the CIA but also the National Security Council – in sum, the command structure for the Cold War. Wartime [Office of Strategic Services] leaders like William Donovan and Allen Dulles lobbied feverishly for the Act. Officials within the new command structure soon put their fears and their grandiose notions to work. Reacting to the perceived threat, they adopted a ruthless and warlike posture toward anyone they considered an enemy – most especially the Soviet Union. They took it upon themselves to fight communism and things that might lead to communism everywhere in the world.”