Post-Script : Historical Note

One of the characteristics of spy fiction is the moral ambiguity of having the white-hatted good guys sometimes do very bad things. Because they are the protagonists we cheer them on, forgiving their ethical lapses in service to a greater good (and excellent fiction). Covert Affairs builds dramatic tension by playing with that moral ambiguity, while showing us that in the grand scheme, the protagonists are, at their core, good, decent people.

In real-life, however, the CIA hasn't always held the moral high-ground. One of the Agency's most notorious ethical failings was the MKUltra project which subjected unwitting participants to mind-control experimentation, often with devastating long-term effects.

Sanctioned by CIA director Allen W. Dulles, this Cold War project began in the early 1950s as a response to allegations that Communist Block countries were using mind-control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war. One aspect of the program sought to develop techniques to allow captured troops to resist mind-control and brain-washing. Another side looked for ways to control enemy forces through hypnosis, sensory deprivation, and psycho-active drugs such as LSD and mescaline.

Over two decades, thousands of individuals including military personnel, prison inmates and ordinary civilians were subjected to CIA sanctioned mind-control experiments. While some subjects volunteered and gave informed consent, the great majority, including a significant number of military personnel, did not. Moreover, because the legality of these activities was highly dubious, many of the experiments were conducted on foreign soil, most notably at Montreal's Allen Memorial Institute.

In 1973, in the midst of post-Watergate panic, the CIA destroyed most of its MKUltra records. In 1976, following recommendations by the Rockefeller and Church committees, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order prohibiting the use of experimental drugs on human test subjects without informed consent. Presidents Carter and Reagan later expanded the scope of that order to include any human experimentation without consent. The CIA officially terminated the MKUltra project in 1973.

Some of the more notorious participants in the MKUltra project include: Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, author Ken Kesey, and mobster Whitey Bulger. In my story, I didn't think it too far from the realm of the possible that Henry Wilcox might also have participated in the program, and maybe even volunteered for it. That would explain an awful lot. But that is the stuff of another story.