Approximate History: The PSB and Black Projects
For the past several years, one of my side research projects has been rummaging through the deep archive to discover the role of the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) in black projects such as BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, perhaps even MKULTRA. Generally speaking, these projects involved research and development into “brainwashing,” interrogation and assassination techniques, propaganda and “messaging,” drug testing on a variety of animals and people (especially LSD 25 & 41), as well as exploration of novel plants and technologies to affect sleep, behavior, and mood. In part, I credit Christopher Simpson’s research on the PSB in his Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 for piquing my interest.
Per Truman Directive 128, the PSB was established in June, 1951
for the formulation and promulgation, as guidance to the departments and agencies responsible for psychological operations, of over-all national psychological objectives, policies and programs, and for the coordination and evaluation of the national psychological effort.
PSB membership included the “Undersecretary of State, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the Director of Central Intelligence, or, in their absence, their appropriate designees, and “an appropriate representative of the head of each such other department or agency of the Government as may, from time to time, be determined by the Board.” The PSB was abolished in September, 1953 and its activities transferred to the Eisenhower administration’s Operations Coordinating Board by way of Executive Order 10483.
PSB’s records – many still classified – are split between the Truman and Eisenhower presidential libraries, but also appear in spades within the CIA’s CREST collection; I’ve submitted Mandatory Declassification Reviews, (one successful for the release of the PSB’s Biographic Register for the years 1952-53), filed appeals, become cozy with the collections at Truman and Eisenhower, traveled to NARA to use the CIA’s CREST collection, then used FOIA to obtain docs that weren’t full text .pdf in the online version. This week, all changed. The CIA made the Web version of CREST completely full text. No more FOIA to CIA or making a pilgrimage to NARA.
For an upcoming article to be published later this year, I’ll establish the PSB had knowledge of these black projects through its founding mission as it oversaw the “national psychological effort.” Three DCIs served on the Board, so their records, memos, and internal directives are essential in constructing the history of the PSB. At this critical point in the research process, access is everything. As I sift through and cross check the Black Vault MKULTRA collection (records obtained by John Marks and donated to the National Security Archive after his FOIA battle and completion of the groundbreaking 1979 The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control) and comparing documents with the CREST collection, certain patterns are already appearing. Some documents are indeed duplicates between the two collections, but many are not.
In 1977, CIA located 18 cartons of documents on Bluebird and Artichoke. At the time, CIA determined the “newly discovered materials failed to reveal any information which would contradict or change that information previously furnished to investigating bodies.”* While this may be good news for researchers like me who hope to reconstruct the history of the PSB, CIA, and clandestine projects,** it doesn’t imply the full story is told. New associations can now be made with this open access, ones that reclaim history and voice.
* The “investigating bodies” CIA refers to are the
- Rockefeller Commission (June 1975)
- Kennedy Commission hearings (Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Subcommittee on Health), September 10, 12, and November 7, 1975 (and its report, Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Human-Use Experimentation Programs of the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency
- The mothership of all hearings, the 1976 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly referred to as the Church hearings.
- Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1977), Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification
** It was revealed during the Kennedy hearings (Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Subcommittee on Health 1975, 280) that former CIA DCI Richard M. Helms ordered project files destroyed.