(Another in a series of posts about the inspiration and the history behind BLUE FIRE, my new mystery novel, which will be available on Amazon at a special New Release Price – 99 cents from April 8th through April 15th -see first part of this series here )
When you write a mystery-thriller, you obviously have to concoct stories that are a little bit bigger than life. But what’s interesting is that I keep discovering real life is a lot scarier than anything I can think up.
For example, in Dark Sky, the first book in my Max Bowman series, the back story was based around a series of savage raids by Americans in the Afghanistan war. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t know if this level of unrestrained violence had really occurred. After some research, I found that it had; after our military surge in Iraq seemed to have met with some success, we then took off the brakes in Afghanistan and let our troops loose with a vengeance, so much so that the Afghani government asked us to tone it down – too many civilians were getting killed.
Not only that, but I found out some of the Special Ops troops were conducting night raids…with tomahawks. Yes, tomahawks, just like those used by Native Americans back in the day. And these were not ordinary tomahawks, but Hollywood tomahawks, because these particular weapons were hand-crafted by the same guy who made them for the 1992 movie version of Last of the Mohicans.
So that was weird.
When it came time to start thinking of plotlines for Blue Fire, the sequel to Dark Sky, I knew there was some kind of secret mind control project that had been conducted by the CIA back in the 1950s and 60s. For some reason, I at first thought it probably didn’t amount to much, but again, my research proved otherwise. The CIA program was called MK-Ultra and its aim was to create brainwashing techniques to persuade enemies to talk – and also to create zombie assassins who could be programmed to carry out whatever lethal orders the agency decided to give them.
Fun stuff. And it gets better – because the CIA started the mind-control ball rolling with the help of some former Nazi scientists who were anxious to continue the loathsome experimentation they had begun in the Third Reich. We even brought these lovely gentlemen and their families into the country through another secret initiative called Operation Paperclip.
The more I read about MK-Ultra, the more twisted the whole effort seemed. The CIA secretly dosed hundreds of people with LSD – just to see what would happen to them. Friends, family, other CIA agents…everyone was fair game. The agency even set up a drug rehab program in the South where they gave out free heroin to junkies if they would agree to participate in their LSD experiments, and attracted some very famous contemporary jazz musicians in the process. The CIA director even covertly gave his son LSD on multiple occasions and the kid ended up being committed for a time to an institution.
There are more wild and weird facts about MK-Ultra in the book, almost all of them true, including the tragic story of Dr. Frank Olson, another associate who was surreptitiously dosed with LSD and ended up mysteriously falling out a window from a New York skyscraper – oh, while a CIA agent just happened to be in the room.
All of the dirty details about MK-Ultra were, of course, meant to stay secret. As a matter of fact, the CIA tried to get rid of any evidence that the program ever existed. In 1973, when Watergate fever ravaged Washington D.C. and government mistrust was at an all-time high, the CIA frantically destroyed all of the MK-Ultra files in case Congress came after them. And Congress did – holding hearings on the program in 1975, where direct participants testified. In 1977, 20,000 MK-Ultra documents were found to have survived the CIA purge, but only a small portion of those have been declassified.
Despite all the damage done, MK-Ultra is still an almost-forgotten footnote in our country’s history, even though a top secret agency was running amok and messing with innocent people’s brain chemistry at will.
As they say, you can’t make this shit up – and fortunately, I didn’t have to.
Tomorrow…the dirty truth about comic books!