Note to readers: This is the second section of excerpts from Alston Chase’s work. The prior segment is back to MKULTRA and UNA. I hope the Atlantic Monthly realizes there is no economic intention behind the treatment of works such as this. I thank you for your patience.
HARVARD AND THE MAKING OF THE UNABOMBER
by Alston Chase © 2000 The Atlantic Monthly, June 2000
After this intriguing start Kaczynski told me little more about the Murray experiment than what I could find in he published literature. Henry Murray’s widow, Mina, was friendly and cooperative, but could provide few answers to my questions. Several of the research assistants I interviewed couldn’t or wouldn’t talk much about the study. Nor could the Murray Center be entirely forthcoming. After considering my application, its research committee approved my request to view the records of this experiment, the so-called data set, which referred to subjects by code names only. But because Kaczynski’s alias was by then known to some journalists, I was not permitted to view his records.
Through research at the Murray Center and in the Harvard archives I found that, among its other purposes, Henry Murray’s experiment was intended to measure how people react under stress. Murray subjected his unwitting students, including Kaczynski, to intensive interrogation–what Murray himself called “vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive” attacks, assaulting his subjects’ egos and most-cherished ideals and beliefs.
My quest was specific–to determine what effects, if any, the experiment may have had on Kaczynski. This was a subset of a larger question: What effects had Harvard had on Kaczynski? In 1998, as he faced trial for murder, Kaczynski was examined by Sally Johnson, a forensic psychiatrist with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, at the order of court. In her evaluation Johnson wrote that Kaczynski “has intertwined his two belief systems, that society is bad and he should rebel against it, and his intense anger at his family for his perceived injustices.” The Unabomber was created when these two belief systems converged. And it was at Harvard, Johnson suggested, that they first surfaced and met. She wrote:
During his college year he had fantasies of living a primitive life and fantasized himself as “an agitator, rousing mobs to frenzies of revolutionary violence.” He claims that during that time he started to think about breaking away from normal society.
It was at Harvard that Kaczynski first encountered the ideas about the evils of society that would provide a justification for and a focus to an anger he had felt since junior high school. It was at Harvard that he began to develop these ideas into his anti-technology ideology of revolution. It as at Harvard that Kaczynski began to have fantasies of revenge, began to dream of escaping into wilderness. And it as at Harvard, as far as can be determined that he fixed on dualistic ideas of good and evil, and on a mathematical cognitive style that led him to think he could find absolute truth through the application of his own reason. Was the Unabomber–“the most intellectual serial killer the nation has ever produced,” as one criminologist has called him— born at Harvard?
What was the purpose of the experiment? Keniston told me that he wasn’t sure what the goals were. “Murray was not the most systematic scientist,” he explained. Murray himself gave curiously equivocal answers. At time he suggested that his intent was merely to gather as much raw data as possible about one interpersonal event, which could then be used in different ways to help “develop a theory of dyadic systems.” At other times he recalled the idealist goal of acquiring knowledge that would lead to improving human personality development. At still other times his language seemed to suggest a continued interest in stressful interrogations. For example, Murray explained in his “Notes on Dyadic Research,” dated March 16, 1959, that an ongoing goal of the research which focused heavily on “degree of anxiety and disintegration,” was to “deign and evaluate instruments and procedures for the prediction of how each subject will react in the course of a stressful dyadic proceeding.”
Such equivocation prompts one to ask, Could the experiment have had a purpose that Murray was reluctant to divulge? Was the multiform-assessments project intended, at last in part, to help the CIA determine how to test, or break down an individual’s ability to withstand interrogation? The writer Alexander Cockburn has asked whether the students might have been given the hallucinogenic drug LSD without their knowledge, possibly at the request of the CIA. By the late 1950s, according to some, Murray had become quite interested in hallucinogenic, including LSD and psilocybin. And soon after Murray’s experiments on Kaczynski and his classmates were under way, in 1960, Timothy Leary returned to Harvard and, with Murray’s blessing, began his experiments with psilocybin. In his autobiography,Flashbacks (1983), Leary, who would dedicate the rest of his life to promoting hallucinogenic drugs, described Murray as “the wizard of personality assessment who, as OSS chief psychologist, had monitored military experiments on brainwashing and sodium amytal interrogation. Murray expressed great interest in our drug-research project and offered his support.”
Forrest Robinson reports in his biography that Murray took psilocybin and in 1961 delivered a talk on his experience to the International Congress of Applied Psychology. That Leary had Murray’s support was confirmed by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Schlain in their book Aicd Dreams: The Complete social History of LSD (1985), Leary returned to Harvard and established a psilocybin research project with the approval of Dr. Harry Murray, chairman of the Department of Social Relations. Dr. Murray, who ran the Personality assessments section of the OSS during World War II, took a keen interest in Leary’s work. He volunteered for a psilocybin session, becoming one of the first of many faculty and graduate students to sample the mushroom pill under Leary’s guidance.
Kaczynski thinks he was never given LSD. And after exhaustive research I could find no evidence that LSD was ever used in Murray’s research. Nevertheless, whether the research had a defense connection of some sort remains an open question. Although direct evidence of support from a federal defense grant is so far lacking, circumstantial evidence exists: the strong similarity between the OSS stress tests and the later experiments. Murray’s association with the OSS, his grant proposal to do research for the Navy Department, and the lack of any clearly explained purposes for the study. Obviously, the dyadic studies would have had considerable utility for the defense establishment, either as a framework for testing recruits or as continuing work on how to improve interrogation
A TURNING POINT
What was the state of Kaczynski’s mental health at the time of the multiform- assessments project and immediately afterward? The evidence suggest that he was entirely sane during those years. By the spring of 1998 Kaczynski had obtained from the Murray Center his answers (along with those of other Murray-experiments participants) on the Thematic Apperception Test, which Murray had given to Kaczynski during the first year of the experiments. At Kaczynski’s request, his lawyers sent these to a psychological-testing expert: Bertram Karon, at Michigan State University. Because participants were identified only by code names, Karon was able to conduct a blind evaluation–measuring the answers without knowing who had given them. Karon found that on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 a complete absence of illness and 10 the highest degrees of illness, “Lawful” scored 0 to “Schizotypy” and 2 for “Psychopathy.” Kaczynski’s undergraduate experience and behavior had been unremarkable. The reports of his housemaster, his adviser and the university doctors attested to his normalcy, as did the observations of classmates. There is no evidence of immediate mental degradation in the project’s aftermath. Emotional turmoil is another matter. As Sally Johnson, the forensic psychiatrist, reported, Kaczynski clearly began to experience emotional distress then, and began to develop his anti-technology views.
And there is one thing that come through clearly in he essays, test answers, and interview of Murray’s subjects at the outset of the experiment: many of these young men already exhibited attitudes of anger, nihilism and alienation–reflecting, perhaps, just how persuasively a culture of despair had infused student attitudes and suggesting that some might have been especially vulnerable to stress.
These thoughts upset Kaczynski all the more because they exposed his ineffectuality. Johnson reported that he would become horribly angry with himself because he could not express this fury openly. “I never attempted to put any such fantasies into effect,” she quoted from his writings, “because I was too strongly conditions…against any defiance of authority…I could not have committed a crime of revenge even a relatively minor crime because…my fear of being caught and punished was all out of proportion to the actual danger of being caught.”
Kaczynski felt that justice demanded that he take revenge on society. But he lacked the personal resources at that time to do so. He was–had always been–a good boy. Instead he would seek escape. He began to dream about breaking away from society and living a primitive life. According to Johnson, he “began to study information about wild edible plants” and to spend time learning about he wilderness. And like many American intellectuals before him, from Henry David Thoreau to Edward Abbey, he began to form a plan to seek personal renewal in nature.
Today society would not tolerate the deceptions inherent in the Murray experiments. The researchers seem to have failed at least two requirements in the American Psychological Association’s current code of conduct: that they obtain “informed consent” from their subjects and that they “never deceive research participants about significant aspects that would affect their willingness to participate, such as physical risks, disc comfort, or unpleasant emotional experiences. But different standards prevailed then, and what we now view a the abuse of human subjects was common. Researchers around the country performed experiments on undergraduates that put them in psychological peril.
In an infamous experiment conducted in 1962 by the Yale professor Stanley Milgram, subjects (forty men recruited through mail solicitation and a newspaper ad) were led to believe that they were delving ever-more-powerful electric shocks to a stranger, on orders from the researchers. Nearly two third of them continued to obey the orders even when they were asked to administer the highest level of shock, labeled “Danger: Severe Shock.” Some participants broke down on learning of third potential for cruelty. “I observed a mature and initially poised businessman enter the laboratory smiling and confident,” Milgram wrote, concerning one of his study subjects. “within 20 minutes he was reduced to a twitching, stuttering wreck, who was rapidly approaching a point of nervous collapse.”
A 1971 experiment by the Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo embodied the pursuit of scientific truth at the expense of students’ psychological health. Zimbardo selected twenty-four students to play a game of guards an prisoners. Nine were “arrested” and taken to a basement “prison” where they were guarded by the others. In a very short time the guard began abusing the prisoners. This sadism erupted so quickly that Zimbardo discontinued the experiment after six days–eight days earlier than originally intended.
The Murray experiment may not have been as intensely traumatic as these other experiments. And its ethics were definitely acceptable in their day. But the ethics of the day were wrong. And they framed Kaczynski’s first encounter with a reckless scientific value system that elevated the pursuit of scientific truth above human rights.
When, soon after, Kaczynski began to worry about the possibility of mind control, he was not giving vent to paranoid delusions. In view of Murray’s experiments, he was not only rational but right. The university and the psychiatric establishment had been willing accomplices in n experiment that had treated human beings as unwitting guinea pigs, and had treated them brutally. Here is a powerful logical foundation for Kaczynski’s latterly expressed conviction that academics, in particular scientists, were thoroughly compromised servants of “the system,” employed in the development of techniques for the behavioral control of populations.
It was the confluence of two streams of development that transformed Ted Kaczynski into the Unabomber. One stream was personal, fed by his anger toward his family and those who he felt had slight or hurt him, in high school and college. The other derived form his philosophical critique of society and its institutions, and reflected the culture of despair he encountered at Harvard and later. The Murray experiment, containing both psychological and philosophical components, may well have fed both streams.
Gradually, while he was immersed in his Harvard readings and in the Murray experiment, Kaczynski began to put together a theory to explain his unhappiness and anger. Technology and science were destroying liberty and nature. the system, of which Harvard was a part, served technology, which in turn required conformism. By advertising, propaganda, and other techniques of behavior modification, this system sought to transform men into automatons, to serve the machine.
Thus did Kaczynski’s Harvard experiences shape his anger and legitimize his wrath. By the time he graduated, all the elements that would ultimately transform him into the Unabomber were in place–the ideas out of which he would construct a philosophy, the unhappiness, the feelings of complete isolation. Soon after, so, too, would be his committeemen to positivism–morality was nonrational–made him feel free to murder. Within four years of graduating from Harvard he would be firmly fixed in his life’s plan. According to an autobiography he wrote that chronicled his life until the age of twenty-seven, “I thought `I will kill, but I will make at least some effort to avoid detection, so that I can kill again.”
THE EVILS OF INTELLIGENCE
Today Ted Kaczynski is serving four life terms in a maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado. Out of sight, he is not out of play. His manifesto continues to be read at colleges around the country.
It is unlikely that Kaczynski will someday be a free man again, but it is not impossible. Although he pleaded guilty in January of 1998 to the Unabomber crimes, that outcome is currently under appeal. He claims that his attorneys deceived him and acted against this wishes by preparing a “mental defect” defense for him, and that by allowing hits to happen, the court violated his Sixth Amendment right to direct his own defense. The Ninth Circuit Court has agreed to hear his appeal, and a new trial is a possibility.
No one other than Kaczynski’s three victims has yet been murdered by a fanatical environmentalist, but investigators consider it merely a matter of time before someone else is killed for similar reasons. “I think we’ve come very close to that line,” one federal agent told theOregonian, “and we will cross that line unless we deal with this problem.”
We may cross that line sooner than we think. In a September, 1998 letter to me, Kaczynski wrote,
I suspect that you underestimate the strength and depth of feeling against industrial civilization that has been developing in recent years. I’ve been surprised at some of the things that people have written to me. It looks to me as if our society is moving into a pre-evolutionary situation. (By that I don’t mean a situation in which revolution is inevitable, but one in which it is a realistic possibility.) The majority of people are pessimistic or cynical about existing institutions, there is widespread alienation and directionlessness among young people…Perhaps all that is needed is to give these forces appropriate organization and direction.
Seen from that perspective, it might seem that the rest of society is only a few steps behind Kaczynski. When Henry Murray spoke of the need to create a new “World Man,” this was not what he had in mind.