The Manchurian Candidate (and later, and probably more familiar to you, Zoolander) is about a powerful intelligence agency brainwashing unwitting Denzel Washingtons into becoming involuntary assassins who can be "activated" on command with no memory of their acts. It's clearly satire, right? Even if it were possible, nobody would actually do that, if only because intelligence agencies seem to get by just fine on their assassination skills.

Well, it turns out the C.I.A. really did try to create their very own team of mindless assassins. In the early '50s, Project ARTICHOKE "attempted to induce amnesia and highly suggestive states in its subjects" through "the use of hypnosis, forced morphine addiction, forced morphine addiction withdrawal, and the use of other drugs, chemicals, and techniques" to answer the question "Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?" In another document, the question was phrased as "Can an individual of [redacted] descent be made to perform an act of attempted assassination involuntarily under the influence of ARTICHOKE?" because this was something the government did in the '50s, so of course, they had to do it racistly.

It's not clear exactly what kind of "weaker" and "less intelligent" person the project targeted, but what we know about the guy who supervised it, Paul F. Gaynor, suggests that it wasn't male models.

In addition to keeping a file on political figures that he suspected were gay, leading to at least one suicide, it seems Gaynor wasn't a big fan of the Jews. Apparently, Liev Schrieber and Ben Stiller were more suited to the roles than they knew.

Project ARTICHOKE fizzled out pretty quickly when the agency concluded that it probably wasn't feasible due to the necessarily limited contact with the hypothetical assassins and also because that's not how hypnosis works, but the plot thickens when it comes to explaining how Richard Condon, who wrote The Manchurian Candidate in 1959, could have possibly known about it. He was a Hollywood guy through and through whose only connection to the federal government appears to be a short stint in the Merchant Marines, and most of the information about Project ARTICHOKE wasn't declassified until 2010. It turns out his novel was largely plagiarized, but that doesn't explain anything because the works he copied existed before the project. We're not saying the C.I.A. Manchurian Candidated the novel into his head, but we also don't have a better explanation.

Top image: Paramount Pictures

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