Call of Chicago: OFTEN Is A Word They Seldom Use

“Do you realize that this project concerns human evolution, and that it’s one of the most important questions the human race has ever dealt with? And here these damned fools are thinking in terms of espionage and counter espionage and murder …”

— Colin Wilson, The Black Room (1971)

Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the “Black Sorcerer” of the CIA. For real.

The 1970s are not the official decade of Fall of DELTA GREEN, but they are the decade that gave us the “modified limited hangout,” which is spy-speak for what the mystical-minded Masons call “Making Manifest That Which Should Be Hidden.” In other words: you reveal some of the truth, but as a distraction or cover for the real secrets behind everything. This, of course, is why Beyonce is always making the Illuminati gesture with her hands, and why MAJESTIC-12 greenlit Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and why everybody knows about MK-ULTRA, the CIA mind-control project so secret that CIA Director Richard Helms destroyed 138 boxes of MK-ULTRA records rather than turn them over to the Church Committee in 1975.

The “MK” digraph means that MK-ULTRA fell under the purview of the CIA’s Technical Services Staff (TSS), the Company’s “Q Branch.” In 1953, when MK-ULTRA spun up from the previous Project CHATTER (a Navy program begun in 1947) and Project ARTICHOKE (previously Project BLUEBIRD, a CIA program run under the Office of Scientific Intelligence, which by the 1970s was absolutely not building bionic astronauts), Director Allen Dulles put the TSS’ head chemist, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, in charge of it. Gottlieb, delightfully, was known as the “Black Sorcerer,” because of his expertise in poisons. Gottlieb rapidly expanded the remit of MK-ULTRA from brainwashing, LSD experiments, and hypnosis into some really weird stuff. (Delightfully, the “foreign deployment” sub-project of MK-ULTRA was called MK-DELTA. You cannot make this stuff up, or rather, you just never need to.) In 1964, MK-ULTRA became MK-SEARCH; in 1967, Gottlieb became head of the TSS and came up with even more wonderful toys including a microwave gun for planting voices in people’s heads. In 1972, Gottlieb retired; MK-ULTRA shut down (officially) the next year. Cue Congressional investigation, and Helms’ fun with shredders.

From ULTRA to OFTEN

So if MK-ULTRA is the modified limited hangout, what on Earth must the real deal have looked like? Well, according to researchers who quite frankly begin at “dodgy” and go down from there, the real deal is an MK-ULTRA spinoff called MK-OFTEN. In Congressional testimony, Director Helms claimed that MK-OFTEN was just another name for MK-CHICKWIT, a CIA-Defense Department program for testing “medical procedures” on prisoners at Holmesburg State Prison in Philadelphia from 1967 to 1973. MK-CHICKWIT, meanwhile, has also been associated with investigations into South American and Asian hallucinogens, tests of tropical disease prevention, or a research program to “identify new drug developments in Europe and Asia and to obtain information and samples.” Several intelligence historians believe that MK-OFTEN primarily researched pharmaceuticals for a wide variety of purposes, maintaining an enormous database of tens of thousands of chemicals and drugs. Congressional testimony indicated that MK-OFTEN experiments tried to “disturb a person’s psyche,” create “violent” or “irrational or irresponsible behavior” or “temporary psychotic states in subjects.” Like MK-ULTRA, MK-OFTEN was supposedly shut down in 1972 or 1973.

But we know better, thanks to pioneering (if that’s the word I want) research by Gordon Thomas, a pop-historian of intelligence. According to Thomas, MK-OFTEN’s task was to “explore the world of black magic” and “harness the forces of darkness and challenge the concept that the inner reaches of the mind are beyond reach.” Thomas posits Gottlieb really living up to his nickname, meeting with astrologers and fortune-tellers, “Chinese palmists,” voodooists, practitioners of Satanism, and who knows what else. (This is about when Army Intelligence officer Michael Aquino joins Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, by the way.) The CIA supposedly even approached the monsignor in charge of exorcisms for the Archdiocese of New York, with unknown results.

A different historian of the MK-ULTRA project, John Marks, claims that MK-OFTEN began in 1968 and not under Gottlieb but one Dr. Stephen Aldrich of the Office of Research and Development (which if true means it should just be Project OFTEN, not MK-OFTEN). He claims OFTEN sought “a compound that could simulate a heart attack or a stroke in the targeted individual,” which sounds like the “zombie cucumber” powder in Haiti to me and perhaps also to Gottlieb or Aldrich or whomever. Aldrich was a veteran of ARTICHOKE, and a medical doctor as well, so it may be a distinction without a difference.

Conspiratologist Alex Constantine starts “OFTEN-CHICKWIT” in 1962, and makes sure to rope in the Scientific Engineering Institute (a Boston think tank that may have developed the film for the U-2 flights) and its 1972 “social laboratory” at the University of South Carolina: “a college class in black witchcraft, demonology and voodoo.” He also identifies Aldrich’s main asset in the magical community: neopagan witch and astrologer Sybil Leek. Miskatonic University, this wasn’t. But that said, OFTEN gets fingered as the hand behind the 1968 “Rockland Project,” an alleged repository of computerized personality tests and psychiatric records from all over New England (especially Vermont, hint hint) operating through a front group called Pyschological Assessment Associates in Washington, D.C.

Finally, scholar of the fringe (and take that how you will) Peter Levenda puts OFTEN in 1969, built by Gottlieb after the CIA black-bagged the lab of Canadian mind-control researcher Ewen Cameron, who if you Google him will take you down an endless rabbit hole leading to Rudolf Hess and the Montauk Project among other things. He also cites the human experimentation from CHICKWIT, basing it “out of Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland” but expanding its purview after 1969 into “everything from séances and witchcraft to remote viewing and exotic drugs,” which gets us to any number of places, all of them exciting.

In the final analysis, then, we don’t know what we know, much less what we don’t know. OFTEN might be the side program for Mythos research run by the CIA outside MAJESTIC’s supervision, or it might be an attempt to build a super-soldier (or a vampire, Night’s Black Agents Directors), or it might be a concealed cult preparing to sporulate into the People’s Temple, the Church of Set, the Process Church of the Final Judgement, and the rest of the poisoned fruit of the 1970s supernatural scene. All your agents know is they have a chance to stop it before it spreads — and that doesn’t happen very often.

2 Responses to “Call of Chicago: OFTEN Is A Word They Seldom Use”

  1. George says:

    On the one hand, if articles such as this prompt the public (or admittedly, a small subset of it) to learn more about these covert methods, share that information with others, and cause people to have discussions and draw conclusions based on facts (rather than speculation and conspiracy theories) that must be a good thing. Who knew? Maybe role playing games, from their unique position in the fringe of entertainment can be a subversive, useful ally to democracy (rather than mere escapism). On the other hand, finding out about the forces of hell that the military-industrial complex has secretly unleashed upon the unsuspecting public makes one (ok, me in particular) feel powerless, angry and not really keen to add to the confusion by adding a layer of myth on top of some pretty ugly sh**. Having said that, thanks for writing this article, I found it hugely informative and it punches way above its weight (taking into account it’s weight category is to inspire role playing campaigns).

    I’d be curious to hear Ken’s opinion about the imagery used in pop music videos, further to what he alluded to with his Beyonce example. For me, seeing an inverted pentagram in one of the women’s clothing in Fergie’s M.I.L.F. video proved a lot of conspiracy theorists true. (I am not buying the argument, that it is done merely to court controversy. The same argument that was used by some of my friends for some bizzare, extreme behaviours by metal bands in the past). But maybe a games company website is not the right place for such a conversation.

  2. George says:

    As a side-note (sorry if i’m nitpicking), without getting too politically correct, an article that covers weird territory like that might benefit from a small disclosure as to which parts are historic and which are suggestions/inspiration/rhetorical questions to serve as inspiration for campaigns. You guys will probably feel I’m killing the mood. But part of me things it comes with the territory: it’s a good reminder that truth is often scarier than fiction.

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