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.