In recent years there have been numerous scandals involving government agencies, businesses, and cover-ups. Unfortunately, none of this is new. Whether it’s the government or a corporation, it seems that there is always something to hide.
CIA Mind Control
At the height of the Cold War, the CIA conducted covert, illegal scientific research on human subjects. Known as Project MK-ULTRA, the program subjected humans to experiments with drugs such as LSD and barbiturates, hypnosis and (some reports indicate) radiological and biological agents. In 1973, CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all documents from Project MK-ULTRA destroyed. Nevertheless, late the following year, the New York Times reported on the illegal activities.
In 1975, the Church Committee, headed by Senator Frank Church, and a commission headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller investigated the project. They found that over more than two decades, the CIA spent nearly $20 million, enlisted the services of researchers at more than 30 universities and conducted experiments on subjects without their knowledge. Some of the research was performed in Canada.
Some historians argue that the goal of the program was to create a mind-control system by which the CIA could program people to conduct assassinations. In 1953, Richard Condon dramatized the idea in the thriller The Manchurian Candidate, which was adapted into a film starring Frank Sinatra. Such ultimately wacky ideas were also dramatized in the recent George Clooney film The Men Who Stare at Goats.
Winston Churchill, UFO Cover Up
Forty-five years after his death, Winston Churchill continues to make news. If it’s not his triumphant dentures, it’s his possible cover-up of a UFO sighting. Britain’s Ministry of Defense has just released its latest batch of UFO-related files to the National Archives, and among the more than 5,000 pages are letters, written in 1999, from the grandson of a Royal Air Force (RAF) member who’d served as one of the former Prime Minister’s bodyguards.
According to the letter writer, a scientist who’d heard the story from his mother, the bodyguard claimed that during World War II, Churchill, intending to avert “mass panic,” ordered the 50-year classification of an encounter between an RAF aircraft and a mysterious flying object. Churchill had reportedly discussed the matter with U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although the Ministry of Defense has no documentation of the episode, its UFO files before 1967 no longer exist. Churchill definitely did, however, request a report on flying saucers in 1952.
No list of this sort would be complete without a nod to Area 51. The secret military base about 75 miles (120 km) northwest of Las Vegas has been fodder for many a tale — which is only natural, considering the rumors of secret alien experiments carried out there. But when CIA veterans who are finally relieved of their secrecy vows recount their time at Area 51, they make clear that extraterrestrials are not a part of the job. What they have said is that in the 1960s, the site was the testing ground for spy planes like the A-12 and its record-breaking speedy successor the SR-71 Blackbird.
A group of people called Roadrunners, who count themselves among those who have worked at Area 51, recall that they were paid either in cash or by checks issued from seemingly unrelated companies like Pan American World Airways. The base likely still tests super-top-secret planes and weapons systems, which is why it continues to be shrouded in mystery. But we can all go on pretending there are recovered bodies of aliens stored there, like the ones depicted in the popular film Independence Day. It’s more fun that way.
Listening In on Lennon
John Lennon sure was a feisty one. The ex-Beatle protested war, promoted peace and once wrote a song called “I Am the Walrus.” No wonder the FBI put him on its watch list before the 1972 Republican National Convention (which the feds erroneously thought he might disrupt), terminated his visa and began deportation proceedings — at the suggestion of Senator Strom Thurmond.
During the 1972 presidential election, the FBI monitored Lennon’s television appearances and concerts and even followed the activities of Yoko Ono’s daughter from a previous marriage. Lennon didn’t do anything suspicious, so the FBI closed its investigation a month after Nixon’s re-election. After Lennon’s murder in 1980, historian Jon Weiner fought a 14-year legal battle to force the FBI to release its Lennon files under the Freedom of Information Act. In the end, he won. The findings are detailed in the 2006 documentary The U.S. vs. John
Secret Rooms in Grand Central
Each day, hundreds of thousands of people commute into and out of Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Thousands more eat at the station’s restaurants and sip cocktails at its elegant bars. But Grand Central houses two secret areas few people ever see. Nine stories below the lowest floor sits a bunker known as M-42. It’s rumored that during World War II, the bunker had guards with shoot-to-kill orders, for fear of sabotage while the station’s trains were being used to ferry troops into and out of New York.
Also below the elaborate station is Track 61, which is not on any train map. Track 61 was built for wealthy travelers arriving on private trains and has a freight elevator that rises to the garage level of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The track’s most frequent user was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who wore leg braces and used a wheelchair because of his polio. FDR’s private train included a car specially outfitted to hold his Pierce-Arrow limousine. When he rode into Manhattan from his hometown of Hyde Park, N.Y., he would be driven in the limo off the train, into the freight elevator and right into the hotel. The clandestine entrance prevented the public from seeing the President’s inability to walk.
Julia Child’s worked for the CIA
In August 2008, the United States National Archives released tens of thousands of personnel files of those who worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. Among the former employees was one Julia McWilliams, the future Julia Child. The French chef’s intelligence background wasn’t really a secret, but after the release, more people became aware of her service during World War II. A recipe for an intriguing life: before mastering French cuisine, work on developing shark repellent for underwater explosives.
UFOs in the U.S.S.R.
In 1967, a Soviet astronomer called for a “joint effort of all the scientists of the world” to determine the nature of unidentified flying objects. The scientist, Feliks Zigel, was so convinced of the existence of flying saucers that he said, “Unfortunately, certain scientists both in the Soviet Union and in the United States deny the very existence of the problem instead of helping to solve it.”
His concern was prompted by some 200 reported sightings of “a luminous orange-colored crescent” whose “surface is only a little duller than that of the moon.” It was also said to “throw out jets, sometimes with sparks.” Such suspicions eventually gave rise to a study commissioned by the Soviet authorities in 1978 to research paranormal phenomena. The resulting documents allegedly make clear the seriousness with which the Soviet government treated the prospect of an alien invasion.