Donald Ewen Cameron

Donald Ewen Cameron

Donald Ewen Cameron was born in Scotland in 1901. He graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1924. He began his career as resident surgeon at Glasgow Infirmary, but in 1929 moved to Canada to work in the Brandon Mental Hospital.

In 1936, Cameron became Director of Research at Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts, and in 1938 was appointed Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Albany State Medical School. It was at Albany that Cameron conducted research into sensory deprivation and memory.

During the Second World War Cameron began working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). However, in 1943 he went to Canada and established the psychiatry department at Montreal's McGill University and director of the newly-created Allan Memorial Institute.

Cameron continued to work for the OSS and in November 1945, Allen Dulles sent him to Germany to examine Rudolf Hess in order to assess if he was fit to stand trial at Nuremberg. According to one source, Dulles had told Cameron, that he believed the Hess he was about to examine was not the real Hess and that he had already been executed on the orders of Winston Churchill. (Gordon Thomas, Journey into Madness, 1993, pages 167-68).

It has been argued by John Simkin that Cameron might have been sent to Nuremberg to help the British intelligence services with a problem concerning the real reasons why Rudolf Hess arrived in Scotland in May 1941. Cameron’s task was to remove Hess’s memory of past events. This is why in 1946 Hess was unable to recognize his former friends and colleagues such as Hermann Goering, Julius Streicher and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Cameron next job was to provide Hess with a new memory about events dating back to May 1941. That is why Hess was able to provide Major Douglas M. Kelley with a comprehensive account of his trip to Scotland.

After the war Cameron worked at the Albany State Medical School. Cameron developed the theory that mental patients could be cured by treatment that erased existing memories and by rebuilding the psyche completely. According to his research assistant, Dr. Peter Roper, "He (Cameron) had a technician called Leonard Rubenstein who modified cassettes so there was an endless tape, it could keep repeating itself for hours at a time. If Cameron could give a positive message, eventually a patient would respond to it." Cameron would play the tapes to his patients for up to 86 days, as they slipped in and out of insulin-induced comas.

In the late 1940s Cameron developed a new treatment for mental illness. The authors of Double Standards argue that his "major inspiration was the British psychiatrist William Sargent, whom Cameron considered to be the leading expert on Soviet brainwashing techniques. Cameron took this work and used it for what he called 'depatterning'. He believed that after inducing complete amnesia in a patient, he could then selectively recover their memory in such a way as to change their behaviour unrecognisably."

In 1953 Cameron developed what he called "psychic driving". Cameron developed the theory that mental patients could be cured by treatment that erased existing memories and by rebuilding the psyche completely. According to his research assistant, Dr. Peter Roper, "He (Cameron) had a technician called Leonard Rubenstein who modified cassettes so there was an endless tape, it could keep repeating itself for hours at a time. If Cameron could give a positive message, eventually a patient would respond to it." Cameron would play the tapes to his patients for up to 86 days, as they slipped in and out of insulin-induced comas.

Cameron discovered that "once a subject entered an amnesiac, somnambulistic state, they would become hypersensitive to suggestion". In other words they could be brainwashed. The CIA became aware of Cameron's research and in 1957 Cameron was recruited by Allen Dulles, Director of the CIA, to run Project MKULTRA. Documents released in 1977 show that MKULTRA was a "mind control" program. As it was illegal for the CIA to conduct operations on American soil, Cameron was forced to carry out his experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute in Canada. The CIA arranged funding via Cornell University in New York.

Cameron had to commute to Montreal every week to carry out his work. According to official documents, Cameron was paid $69,000 from 1957 to 1964 to carry out MKULTRA experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute. Documents released in 1977 revealed that thousands of unwitting subjects were tested on as part of the MKULTRA program.

Dr. Peter Roper later claimed that Cameron and his team had visits from senior military officers "who briefed us on brainwashing techniques". One newspaper journalist later claimed in The Sunday Times that "using techniques similar to those portrayed in the celebrated novel the Manchurian Candidate, it was believed that people could be brainwashed and reprogrammed to carry out specific acts."

According to the journalist, Craig Howie (The Scotsman, 6th January, 2006): "Roper blames politics in the psychiatric profession for Cameron's sudden departure under a cloud from the Allan, in 1964, four years before the end of his contract. There was no farewell, no gift, he went - as it were - out the back door without any noise. All his research was tossed out."

In 1961 Cameron was appointed as president of the World Psychiatric Association. He was also president of the American and Canadian psychiatric associations.

After leaving MKULTRA in 1964, he returned to Albany as Research Professor at the Albany Medical School and Director of the Laboratory for Research in Psychiatry and Aging at the Veterans' Administration Hospital.

Donald Ewen Cameron died in 1967.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Gordon Thomas, Journey into Madness (1993)

Dulles first swore Dr Cameron to secrecy, and then told him an astounding story. He had reason to believe that the man Dr Cameron was to examine was not Rudolf Hess but an impostor; that the real Deputy Fuhrer had been secretly executed on Churchill's orders. Dulles had explained that Dr Cameron could prove the point by a simple physical examination of the man's torso. If he was the genuine Hess, there should be scar tissue over his left lung, a legacy from the day the young Hess had been wounded in the First World War. Dr Cameron had agreed to try to examine the prisoner.

(2) Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince and Stephen Prior, Double Standards (2001)

Cameron's original interest - indeed obsession - was in finding a cure for schizophrenia (which makes it all the more significant that he failed to note any signs of it in Hess), but his driving professional ambitions could make him very difficult as a person. One member of the Rockefeller Foundation wrote that he had "a need for power which he nourishes by maintaining an extraordinary aloofness from his associates". Becoming disenchanted with psychoanalytical methods for curing schizophrenia, he turned to the now largely discredited electroshock therapy and also the use of drugs: his method involved first wiping the patient's memory clean by applying intensive electric shocks combined with virtually twenty-four-hour-a-day drug-induced sleep, resulting - as may be imagined - in total amnesia. Although Cameron himself had not invented this traumatically radical - perhaps even soul-destroying - technique, he had worked intensively with it since at least the 1940s. But perhaps more important is the fact that the electroshock therapy part had been originally recorded by two British psychiatrists, L. G. M. Page and R. J. Russell, who published a paper about it - after many years of intensive experimentation - in 1948.

Another major inspiration was the British psychiatrist William Sargent, whom Cameron considered to be the leading expert on Soviet brainwashing techniques." Cameron took this work and used it for what he called 'depatterning'. He believed that after inducing complete amnesia in a patient, he could then selectively recover their memory in such a way as to change their behaviour unrecognisably. If 'depatterning' has a bleak Orwellian ring to it, then 'psychic driving' - which Cameron invented in 1953 - takes us into an even more terrifying world. He discovered that once a subject entered an amnesiac, somnambulistic state, they would become hypersensitive to suggestion. If a statement was repeated to them over and over again (for example, on a tape loop), it would penetrate so deeply into their subconscious mind as to change their behaviour completely; their personality would undergo such a radical metamorphosis that they essentially became someone else. Such a powerful tool was not going to remain exclusively in the hands of therapists for long: soon the CIA became interested in the extraordinary potential of Cameron's 'psychic driving'.

There was no doubting its value to them. This sinister technique could be used to implant all manner of ideas in the mind of either a willing or an unwilling subject. For example, an agent on a secret mission could have his cover identity mentally implanted, not only enabling him to recall all the details of his assumed identity much more fluently than if he merely learned them off pat, but effectively turning him into that person. To all intents and purposes he would become his cover. However, the technique was by no means foolproof: there was always the danger of mental conflict between the real and induced memories, possibly resulting in bizarre and unpredictable behaviour.

Perhaps Cameron's work was directly responsible for changing the course of history. Although he was responsible for 'programming' several American agents through psychic driving in the late 1950s, the most notable was certainly Lee Harvey Oswald before his 'defection' to the USSR in 1959. Psychic driving was, as may be guessed, the first step in the creation of 'Manchurian Candidate' assassins, whose usual human scruples about committing murder had been wiped away with their real personalities. As American researcher John Marks writes: "By literally wiping the minds of his subjects clean by depatterning and then trying to program in new behaviour, Cameron carried the process known as brainwashing to its logical extreme."

(3) J. R. Rees, The Case of Rudolf Hess (1947)

Mr. Justice Jackson, U.S. Chief of Counsel, had been fully aware of the peculiar psychiatric problems that might present themselves, not only in the case of Hess, but also in regard to certain of the other defendants. There had in consequence been some discussion on the advisability of a thorough examination in two phases: (1) before trial, to assess fitness to plead and similar matters; and (2) after sentence, when it was felt that a team of psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists from each of the Allied countries might produce a complete survey and report on these men which would be of value for the future understanding of the Nazi mentality and the nature of the movement which had led to so great disasters. This clearly fitted in well with the expressed hope of the Tribunal that they would write an effective chapter in history.Phase 1 of this plan was put into operation in November, 1945. On November 8th, Dr. Rees saw the British War Crimes Executive in London, at their request. He was told he was nominated to be asked to go out to Nuremberg. A later telegram asked, however, for an eminent physician and a neurologist to go also, as the Soviet consultant delegation had been so constituted. It was clearly preferable to refer this to the Royal College of Physicians for names, and this was done. Lord Moran and Dr. George Riddoch completed the party, which left on November 12th. Because of bad weather and a very slow and tiresome journey both ways, the stay in Nuremberg was less than twenty-four hours in duration, and the time for consultation and discussion with our colleagues was short.Colonel Schroeder and our three Russian colleagues were already there-Professor Delay arrived from Paris just before we left. Professors Lewis and Cameron did not arrive from U.S. till a day or two later.

(4) Statement issued by Stansfield Turner, Director of Central Intelligence Agency to the Senate hearing on MKULTRA (July, 1977)

In my letter to you of July 15, 1977, I reported our recent discovery of seven boxes of documents related to Project MKULTRA, a closely held CIA project conducted from 1953-1964. As you may recall, MKULTRA was an "umbrella project" under which certain sensitive subprojects were funded, involving among other things research on drugs and behavioral modification. During the Rockefeller Commission and Church Committee investigations in 1975, the cryptonym became publicly known when details of the drug-related death of Dr. Frank Olsen were publicized. In 1953 Dr. Olsen, a civilian employee of the Army at Fort Detrick, leaped to his death from a hotel room window in New York City about a week after having unwittingly consumed LSD administered to him as an experiment at a meeting of LSD researchers called by CIA.Most of what was known about the Agency's involvement with behavioral drugs during the investigations in 1975 was contained in a report on Project MKULTRA prepared by the Inspector General's office in 1963. As a result of that report's recommendations, unwitting testing of drugs on U.S. citizens was subsequently discontinued. The MKULTRA-related report was made available to the Church Committee investigators and to the staff of Senator Kennedy's Subcommittee on Health. Until the recent discovery, it was believed that all of the MKULTRA files dealing with behavioral modification had been destroyed in 1973 on the orders of the then retiring Chief of the Office of Technical Service, with the authorization of the DCI, as has been previously reported. Almost all of the people who had had any connection with the aspects of the project which interested Senate investigators in 1975 were no longer with the Agency at that time. Thus, there was little detailed knowledge of the MKULTRA subprojects available to CIA during the Church Committee investigations. This lack of available details, moreover, was probably not wholly attributable to the destruction of MKULTRA files in 1973; the 1963 report on MKULTRA by the Inspector General notes on page 14: "Present practice is to maintain no records of the planning and approval of test programs."When I reported to you last on this matter, my staff had not yet had an opportunity to review the newly located material in depth. This has now been accomplished, and I am in a position to give you a description of the contents of the recovered material. I believe you will be most interested in the following aspects of the recent discovery.To begin, as to how we discovered these materials. The material had been sent to our Retired Records Center outside of Washington and was discovered sent to our Retired Records Center outside of Washington and was discovered there as a result of the extensive search efforts of an employee charged with responsibility for maintaining our holdings on behavioral drugs and for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests on this subject. During the Church Committee investigation in 1975, searches for MKULTRA-related material were made by examining both the active and retired records of all branches of CIA considered at all likely to have had association with MKULTRA documents. The retired records of the Budget and Fiscal Section of the Branch responsible for such work were not searched, however. This was because financial papers associated with sensitive projects such s MKULTRA were normally maintained by the Branch itself under the project file, not by the Budget and Fiscal Section. In the case at hand, however, the newly located material was sent to the Retired Records Center in 1970 by the Budget and Fiscal Section as part of its own retired holdings. The reason for this departure from normal procedure is not known. As a result of it, however, the material escaped retrieval and destruction in 1973 by the then-retiring Director of the Office as well as discovery in 1975 by CIA officials responding to Senate investigators.The employee who located this material did so by leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to respond to FOIA requests. He reviewed all listings of material of this Branch stored at the Retired Records Center, including those of the Budget and Fiscal Section and, thus, discovered the MKULTRA-related documents which had been missed in the previous searches. In sum, the Agency failed to uncover these particular documents in 1973 in the process of attempting to destroy them; it similarly failed to locate them in 1975 in response to the Church Committee hearings. I am convinced that there was no attempt to conceal this material during the earlier searches.Next, as to the nature of the recently located material, it is important to realize that the recovered folders are finance folders. The bulk of the material in them consists of approvals for advance of funds, vouchers, accountings, and the like - most of which are not very informative as to the nature of the activities that were undertaken. Occasional project proposals or memoranda commenting on some aspect of a subproject are scattered throughout this material. In general, however, the recovered material does not include status reports or other documents relating to operational considerations or progress in the various subprojects, though some elaboration of the activities contemplated does appear. The recovered documents fall roughly into three categories:First, there are 149 MKULTRA subprojects, many of which appear to have some connection with research into behavioral modification, drug acquisition and testing or administering drugs surreptitiously.Second, there are two boxes of miscellaneous MKULTRA papers, including audit reports and financial statements from "cut-out" (i.e., intermediary) funding mechanisms used to conceal CIA's sponsorship of various research projects.Finally, there are 33 additional subprojects concerning certain intelligence activities previously funded under MKULTRA which have nothing to do either with behavioral modification, drugs, and toxins or with any other related matters.

(5) Craig Howie, The Scotsman (6th January, 2006)

He was the Scot whose gilded career as the world's leading psychiatrist was mysteriously, and ignominiously, cut short. They numbered in their hundreds, victims of Dr Donald Ewen Cameron's "brainwashing" experiments now known to have been funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the height of the Cold War. Fifty years later - with Cameron and most of his patients now deceased or in mental institutions - much remains murky about the often horrific and secretive research into mental illness at Montreal's Allan Memorial Institute. Although Cameron's career was otherwise outstanding, including his appointment as first president of the World Psychiatric Association, it is important to consider whether the Scot's reputation could have been besmirched posthumously...Dr Peter Roper, from Montreal's McGill University, of which the Allan is part and where Cameron began his career after graduating from Glasgow University, is quick and emphatic to point out that medical standards today are far more scrutinised and patient-friendly. He also believes that Cameron's reputation has been "much maligned, posthumously". "When I first came to the Allan in 1957, Cameron was famous, with patients referred from around the world." Cameron, who founded McGill's psychiatry department in 1943, thought he was helping people with his progressive – yet punishing – treatments. "He was working on tape recordings, an idea which he felt had to be promulgated, that he had to publish," Roper says. "He had a technician called Leonard Rubenstein who modified cassettes so there was an endless tape, it could keep repeating itself for hours at a time. If Cameron could give a positive message, eventually a patient would respond to it." Cameron would play the tapes to his patients for up to 86 days, as they slipped in and out of insulin-induced comas. The treatment was known as "psychic driving". It attempted to wipe clean the unsuspecting patients' memories and implant other memories on a "clean slate", treatment that was seen as the researcher's potential legacy. "Cameron was also using massive electro-shock treatments that others had tried, some with good results," Roper adds. "In some of his cases he was using LSD to get more information from patients, a treatment used in Canada at that time for alcoholics. "He (Cameron) had a visit from a US army colonel, who briefed us on brainwashing techniques," the doctor recalls of the meeting from the late Fifties. "You have to understand this about funding at that time: We had (US) navy and army funds (indirectly) coming into McGill, into almost all departments. I don't think (Cameron) ever knew the CIA was behind his funding. "After he died and all this stuff came out, I went down to the CIA headquarters and I got the data and documents," Roper says. "The only one I couldn't get was the final report on his so-called research. It had been 'misplaced'." It is illegal for the CIA to conduct operations on American soil, hence the intelligence agency's choice of Canada, through a "third party" – in this case Cornell University in New York – to funnel research funds into mind-control projects. The programme was often referred to as MKULTRA, a term developed after American prisoners-of-war in Korea returned home subscribing to Communist ideologies. Some GIs reported details of a "sleep room", where they were incarcerated, fed drugs and tortured. Leslie Orlikow's mother, Velma, or Val as she was known, was just one of hundreds held without their consent in Cameron's own form of "sleep room". Val, from Ottawa, and her husband, David, a Canadian member of parliament, now both deceased, and nine others were awarded a total of US$750,000 by the CIA in an out-of court settlement in 1988. In 2004, after a protracted legal battle, a Canadian judge ruled a further 250 victims, many deceased, would be allowed to seek compensation from a Canadian government that also is alleged to have funded the research. "My mother had mixed feelings about accepting the money, because the CIA would not accept any responsibility. My mother felt they were complicit," adds Leslie Orlikow, whose parents were adamant that no-one obtained permission from them to conduct the unorthodox treatments. "I was quite young when my mom went to Montreal the first time, about seven, and would have been 12 or 13 when she went back. It was very painful time for our family. My mom was suffering post-partum depression and rather than getting appropriate treatment [she] was part of mind-control experimentation that left her, and all of us, tremendously damaged." Val Orlikow had no memory of her husband and children after leaving the Allan, as her mind had been regressed to the age of a toddler. She could not use a toilet. Legal documents explain she received 16 doses of LSD and massive electro-convulsive therapy, in a treatment that involved shocks six times more powerful than the norm. Through sustained treatment from other doctors, remarkably she eventually recovered most of her memory and functions. The Orlikow family only uncovered Cameron's covert treatments in 1977 after reading about Congressional hearings into the CIA's mind-control experiments. The discovery and resultant legal battle almost tore apart the family. "My mother thought Cameron was God, he could do no wrong," says Leslie Orlikow. "Then the researchers turned up that Cameron had been paid by the CIA for the mind-control stuff, at which point my mother just freaked out and was demoralised for a long time. "I don't think the Canadian government gave them [research patients] a lot of support and it has yet to admit wrongdoing, as has the CIA. They gave some of the surviving people money, but by then, for my mom and dad, it was too late." Lloyd Schrier is still fighting for the compensation he says he deserves after experiencing Cameron's experiments while in his mother's womb. After reading his mother's medical records, Schrier believes he is lucky to be alive. "For nine months they could see that my mother was losing weight, taking all the drugs in the 'sleep room'. My mother said she was in the 'sleep room' for a month in the first trimester, still seeing Cameron weekly. The ninth month they didn't want to give her any treatments." Lloyd, who now lives in Toronto, was born in a separate hospital, with his family around him. He enjoyed a happy childhood. "We really didn't know very much, only when it came out in the Seventies. My mother didn't know; she'd gone to see other doctors after Cameron and finally got better. "It's bad what he did, he shouldn't have put a pregnant woman, and me, through that and I'd like to know the whole story." Of Cameron, born in Bridge of Allan in 1901, Roper remembers "a genuine fellow, a typical Scot in some ways". He continues: "His wife got a tennis blue [competitor] from Glasgow; he died of a heart attack mountain climbing with his son. "Sometimes, though, in the Allan, if he took a dislike to someone [a colleague], he could be very vengeful. But he was a very good psychiatrist, right up to date; his way of working was well within the limits we had at the time. I think if he were around today he would be able to defend his actions." Roper blames "politics" in the psychiatric profession for Cameron's sudden departure "under a cloud" from the Allan, in 1964, four years before the end of his contract. "There was no farewell, no gift, he went - as it were - out the back door without any noise. All his research was tossed out." Cameron, who died in 1967, left a convoluted legacy of psychiatric brilliance, horrific experimentation and a trail of broken lives. There remains no "smoking gun" that proves Cameron knew his funding came from the CIA. He did not report directly to the CIA, and transcripts from lawyers for the plaintiffs show no direct contact between the spy agency and Cameron on project accountability, funding or research. The CIA, in recently declassified documents, acknowledges funnelling more than $60,000 to the Allan over four years, presumably for this research, but the agency and the Canadian government still deny direct responsibility for the experiments. Many documents relating to the case simply no longer exist or are classified for many years to come. But it also can never be ruled out that these documents did exist at one time, but have since been "misplaced".

(6) Karin Goodwin, The Sunday Times (17th October, 2004)

Doctor Ewan Cameron, who became one of the world’s leading psychiatrists, developed techniques used by Nazi scientists to wipe out the existing personalities of people in his care. Cameron, who graduated from Glasgow University, was recruited by the CIA during the cold war while working at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He carried out mind-control experiments using drugs such as LSD on hundreds of patients, but only 77 of them were awarded compensation. Now a landmark ruling by a Federal Court judge in Montreal will allow more than 250 former patients, whose claims were rejected, to seek compensation. Gail Kastner, who underwent electroshock treatment at a Montreal psychiatric institute in 1953, and whose claim was rejected 10 years ago, successfully appealed the judgment. Last week, Alan Stein, of Montreal law firm Stein and Stein, which represented Kastner, confirmed he was in the process of contacting former clients who could now renew their appeal. “There are about 200 people still due compensation,” he said. “This judgment should send out strong signals to the Canadian government. Those who have previously missed out should have a strong case for appealing.” Using techniques similar to those portrayed in the celebrated novel the Manchurian Candidate, it was believed that people could be brainwashed and reprogrammed to carry out specific acts. Cameron developed a range of depatterning “treatments” while director of the Allan Memorial Institute at McGill University. Patients were woken from drug-induced stupors two or three times a day for multiple electric shocks. In a specially designed “sleep room” made famous by Anne Collins’s book of the same name, Cameron placed a speaker under the patient’s pillow and relayed negative messages for 16 hours a day. Kastner was a 19-year-old honours student suffering from mild depression when she first underwent “treatment” in 1953. On returning home she sucked her thumb, demanded to be fed from a bottle, talked in a baby voice and urinated on the floor. She was ostracized by her affluent family, who were unable to cope with her changed state, and her marriage in 1955 quickly broke down due to her difficulties. Cameron, who was born in Bridge of Allan in 1901, rose to become the first president of the World Psychiatric Association. It took two decades and the persistence of Joseph Rauh, the distinguished American civil liberties lawyer, to uncover what happened and secure compensation for some of Cameron’s victims.