Wednesday, April 23, 2008
NGC: CIA, Cult, Ted K; three disturbing hour films
On Wednesday April 23, 2008 the National Geographic Channel aired three disturbing one-hour films.
"CIA Secret Experiments" would make a good adjunct to a showing of either “Manchurian Candidate” film. The documentary examines the death of 43 year old agent Frank Olson with an apparent fall from the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York the day after Thanksgiving 1953. The movies traces his career as an agent. For one thing, CIA agents (as in “The Good Shepherd”) sometimes live “vagabond” lives, with long stays overseas, or sometimes lots of short trips while presenting the face of a normal life. Olson had apparently witnessed some medical experiments, such as one in which sarin was placed on the taped-up forearms of “volunteer” military personnel. At least one man would die horribly. Then, in Germany, near the Iron Curtain, he witnessed more experiments purporting to develop the perfect assassin. He became troubled and agitated. He was taken to a secret safe house in the Catoctin Mountains called Deep Creek, and given LSD. (There is other lore that claims there is a similar house south of Charlottesville, VA). A bit more than a week later he died in New York. When his body was exhumed in 1994 by the family (the government settled a lawsuit in 1975 for $750000), evidence was found that he was struck and murdered.
The movie examines the CIA “Manchurian Candidate” experiments, where people were given electroshock treatment and “programmed” with tape recordings. The assassin was supposed to act on a secret signal, and then forget the act as if it had not happened, or as if history could simply be undone and an event relived (as in a recent episode of CWTV’s “Supernatural”). Sometimes this gets to be connected to a psychiatric disorder where someone is unsure of what he is done, and one could call this the “Manchurian Syndrome.” The film examines Sirhan, who assassinated Robert Kennedy in 1968 (the film “Bobby”), and supposes that he could have been a “Manchurian assassin” trained by the CIA, who allegedly feared that RFK would end the Vietnam war and would delve into the JFK assassination. Sirhan may have dabbled in Rosicrucianism. However, so did I in the 1970s, and I never encountered any hint of “programmed” behavior.
“Inside a Cult” examines the Strong City cult, offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, in Union County NM, the NE-most county. It is run by Michael Travesser, aka Wayne Bent, who claims to have had a “revelation” in 2000 that he was the Messiah, and that the world would end in October 2007. He controlled other members in a manner common to cults. This show as aired on the same day that Dr. Phil covered the FLDS situation in El Dorado, TX, and suggested that the state should try to work out a way to return the children. The show also mentioned Waco, Heaven's Gate, and Jonestown.
Followup: On May 11, Larry King Live carried a report on CNN of the arrest of Michael Travesser May 7, AP story by Deborah Baker here.
“Unabomber: The Secret History” traces the forensic investigation of Theodore Kaczynski. The investigation went for many years and confounded authorities, and seemed unprecedented until the Oklahoma City tragedy. He would finally be arrested in 1996 when his brother (first the brother’s college professor wife) recognized his writings and turned him in. The film gives a lot of details of the story of “The Manifesto” ("Industrial Society and its Future") which the New York Times and Washington Post published in 1995 with great controversy. TK had lived in a tiny cabin in Montana, and written the Manifesto on a Smith-Corona typewriter. Ted had endured a childhood medical trauma, and then a bizarre form a hazing at Harvard conducted by a psychological professor carrying out CIA-like experiments from the WWII and the Cold War (in that sense, this film makes a companion to the first one tonight). Ted had written a 23 page paper in the 70s that resembles the Manifesto. Psychologists say that there is a lot of narcissism and arrogance in The Manifesto, in which the writer seems to claim that technology has driven people into some new kind of conformism that makes life meaningless. (I think most of us would disagree: The Internet has offered new opportunities for self-expression. His claim seems like a “delusion.” But some of the writing about the Left and about "oversocialization" is telling, although he neglects the emotional aspects of socialization. The Wikipedia link is here.) The physical evidence in the cabin was overwhelming, and the defense tried to plead insanity. TK refused, and agreed to life in prison in SuperMax in Colorado. Had he lived thirty years later, he could have vented his anger on the Internet. Of course, that opportunity did not stop some comparable tragedies in recent history by others. Apparently some of Kacyznski's life might have been patterned after a character "The Professor" in Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel "The Secret Agent."