“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.
“Cosmic Love is absolutely Ruthless and Highly Indifferent.”
— John C. Lilly
There are not enough pages in any rulebook, and especially not enough in the Fall of Delta Green chapter that looks like it will have to suffice for both 1960s history and backgrounder and scenario seeds, to tackle even a fraction of the weirdness that the Sixties brought to life or to light. And there probably aren’t even enough pages to do proper justice to the many and manifold weirdnesses of John Cunningham Lilly (1915-2001). But in his pioneering spirit, we’ll shoot up with a whole bunch of ketamine and decide we can do it here anyway.
Lilly was a sort of Midwestern ideal type of the Lovecraftian protagonist: born in St. Paul to wealthy parents, he studied chemistry and philosophy from an early age. His undergraduate career at Caltech (1933-1938) almost exactly overlaps the period of the alchemist-Crowleyite John Whiteside Parsons’ GALCIT rocketry program there, and both were chemistry students. (Lilly and Parsons almost certainly met, Caltech not being that big a world in the Thirties, but what happened — or Happened — during that Trail of Cthulhu time slot has managed to go un-recorded in their various biographies.) He entered Dartmouth medical school in 1938, then transferred to Penn where he continued his Lovecraftian development by conducting various medical experiments on himself and writing a forbidden text: a book (this was 1942) called How To Build an Atomic Bomb. He conducted postgraduate work under pioneering biophysicist (and putative Majestic-12 member) Detlev Bronk and at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), doing research for the Air Force — among other things developing early electro-encephalograms and, in 1954, the first sensory deprivation tank. According to his memoirs, he was approached by the CIA to work on such things as animal-activated surveillance and explosives, and (perhaps) on the MK-ULTRA mind-control project. According to Lilly, he refused, nobly insisting that his work remain open for all. He loudly resigned from NIMH in 1958.
The K-r-r-k-k-k-k-k of Cthulhu
Having boldly proclaimed his independence from government control, Lilly founded the Communication Research Institute Inc. (CRII) on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. CRII was, of course, funded by NASA, the U.S. military, and possibly other shadowy figures. Lilly had become interested in the question of dolphin brains: much like those of humans, cetacean brains are very large in ratio to their bodies and have an even higher density of neurons. Lilly set up dolphin tanks and pools, and began to experiment on dolphins, most notoriously when his dolphin Peter fell for researcher Margaret Lowe Howitt while she tried to teach Peter to speak English. It wasn’t all dolphin grabass in the islands, though: Lilly also dissected and probed the brains of the cetaceans, in between drug experiments (on them and himself) and attempts to decipher dolphin communication by floating next to them in sensory deprivation tanks.
James Wade’s terrific 1969 short story “The Deep Ones” provides a fictionalized Lilly in the form of Miskatonic hippie guru Alonzo Waite, and in the form of his opposite number, dolphin researcher Dr. Frederick Wilhelm. Most impressively, it casts the dolphins as one more intermediary between man and Cthulhu, cousin or evolutionary stage of the Deep Ones. Wade mentions the ancient Greek myth that dolphins were pirates turned into beasts by Dionysos, tying it wonderfully into the deeper Mythos truths of Dagon and human-oceanic interbreeding of the Innsmouth sort. Any Fall of Delta Green Handler has a whole mini-campaign just lying there between Wade’s fictions and the CRII’s madness.
But it doesn’t end there. Wade doesn’t even bring in Lilly’s involvement in SETI, which (likely again via NASA back channels) wound up connecting Lilly and the CRII with astrophysicist Frank Drake, who considered dolphins a template for alien life on Earth. Lilly presented his dolphin theories at the Green Bank astrophysics conference in 1961 where Drake coined his famous equation for the probability of alien life. He was such a hit that Drake, Lilly, a pre-turtleneck Carl Sagan, and biologist J.B.S. Haldane all made up the “Order of the Dolphin” and wore dolphin lapel pins when they were wearing lapels, which wasn’t often in St. Thomas.
Lucy in Sarnath with Diamonds
But Lilly was losing interest in his dolphins for the time being, because his dolphins weren’t receptive to injections of LSD. (Although he later decided dolphins could telepathically project sonar images into his head while he floated in his nearby sensory deprivation tank, he somehow didn’t associate those results with his LSD use.) Despite Lilly’s official rejection of government support, he wound up getting on the approved list of LSD researchers, and began charting his own passage into the “province of the mind” at, among other places, the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) in Catonsville, Maryland in 1968-1969. The MPRC just happens to be located in the Spring Grove Mental Hospital, founded in 1797, and a major center for research into schizophrenia, with a large collection of human brains. Which means, of course, that we could go in any number of Lovecraftian directions here, from the mental experiments of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” to the search for the biological boundaries of death in “Herbert West — Re-Animator” to the, well, large collection of human brains in “Whisperer in the Darkness.”
But perhaps it’s most fun to put a probe in all that and head inside instead, to the Dreamlands. The “province of the mind,” visited by special questers during a ritual dream state, sounds very familiar to us Lovecraftians. As Lilly put it: “In the province of the mind what one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits. These limits are to be found experimentally and experientially. When so found these limits turn out to be further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind there are no limits.”
Lilly mostly wrote up his psychedelic experiments in the context of “reprogramming the human biocomputer” rather than as a way to discover the face of the gods of Earth … assuming there is a difference. What else does Randolph Carter seek, both on Kadath and in the Silver Key, than the human source code, the image of the creators and the geometry of time? Lilly’s own experiences with Gnosticism, at a retreat in the Chilean desert, convinced him that there was a specific ritual control mechanism known to ancient man for opening that “province,” but we should move on before we get trapped in the Witch-House.
The Facts in the K of Arthur Jermyn
Anyone who has seen Ken Russell’s film Altered States knows the next bit of this story. In search of a cure for his migraines, Lilly told his friend Dr. Craig Enright to inject him with ketamine while floating in his isolation tank. After a massive dose did, indeed, end his migraines, Lilly went off the deep end. He and Enright injected each other and recorded the results, even after one time in 1973 when Enright accidentally “reprogrammed himself” to “return to the pre-hominid state of man” and began hopping around the room howling and trying to smack Lilly in the face. Their conclusion sounds like yet another Lovecraftianism, possibly out of HPL’s druggie/Neo-Platonism combo tale “Hypnos”: “One’s internal reality could differ radically from the external reality in which one was participating, even with regard to prominent features of the physical environment.” Parallel worlds, pre-hominids, and K, oh my.
The ECCO Out of Time
In a development surely unrelated to the massive doses of ketamine he was on, in 1974 Lilly made contact with the Earth Coincidence Control Office. This network of higher realities that overlaps ours controls our existence by means of coincidences: Lilly’s entire life became a pattern of ECCO-directed research. (Research, Lilly believed, was merely the decanting of higher truth into our truth by a “universal network of mind.”) During an earthquake in 1971 Lilly had discovered the “Alternaty,” a doorway or window into all futures simultaneously; ECCO has picked the door it wants us to walk through and will suffer no backtalk. Once aware of ECCO, their target must remain ready for the catastrophic and impossible, remain in the “training program” for life, and “use your best intelligence” in its service. This reminds me of nothing so much as the Motion, the Delta Green name for the Yithian agents mentioned in “The Shadow Out of Time,” directing history to produce the Great Race’s ideal conditions for their return.
And just as the Yithians fear and hate the Mi-Go and the Yellow Sign, so too do the ECCO oppose the SSI, who crashed a jet at LAX in 1974 to get Lilly’s attention. SSI are the Solid-State Intelligence rising in all electronics, preparing to eradicate biological water-based intelligence, beginning with the dolphins. (Echoes of a Mi-Go war with the Deep Ones perhaps?) Eventually the SSI, like Wilbur Whateley, plan to “wipe the world clean” and create a low-temperature vacuum, their ideal living conditions. Lilly warned us of the ongoing and escalating ECCO-SSI war in 1981 but surely its, er, echoes reach back two decades to the shadowy forces that gave Lilly access to LSD and (through Bronk and his associate Britton Chance) to the world of early computing. ECCO and SSI, dolphins and pre-hominids, Cthulhu and Carl Sagan: it all flows together in the Mythos cyclone that is the mind and life of John C. Lilly.
“Just as it is almost impossible to be an agnostic in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, so it is difficult to keep from being swept up in the beauty and majesty of the Task Force Alpha temple.”
— Leonard Sullivan, Deputy Director of Defense Research & Engineering, in 1968
There are, in fact, lots of other things happening around the world in the 1960s besides the war in Indochina, but just like the Johnson Administration I find it nearly impossible to tear my attention away from Southeast Asia as I write The Fall of DELTA GREEN. And when the Johnson Administration hands you a multi-billion-dollar above-top-secret surveillance-and-interdiction facility on the Mekong River, you by God make lemonade, son. You’ll need it in the jungle, though not, as it happens, in Task Force Alpha.
Southeast Asia’s Largest Air-Conditioned Building, And Other Miracles of the Age
Task Force Alpha is the compound in the lower right (northwest) of the picture.
Both the North Vietnamese and the Americans extended their war into the neighbors’ yards. North Vietnam supplied the Viet Cong with arms and materiel along the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” which ran through Laos and into South Vietnam. The United States flew combat missions, reconnaissance missions, and every other kind of mission in between out of Thailand. Specifically, out of the Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base just across the Mekong River from southern Laos, a WWII-style airfield scraped out of the paddies by Seabees in 1962. The planes flying out of “NKP” were prop-driven WWII-style (and even WWII-vintage) planes, for the most part: C-47 Skytrains, A-26 Invaders, and A-1 Skyraiders. NKP also hosted a large collection of multi-role helicopters in support of MACV-SOG and other covert ops as well as battlefield evac and air support, and a weird assortment of quasi-civilian aircraft such as Cessnas and the like.
One such plane taking off from NKP was a modified P-2 anti-submarine patrol bomber, which (along with its squadron-mates) dropped 20,000 acoustic, seismic, and magnetic sensors along the Ho Chi Minh trail. (Sensor dropping eventually became the job of Sikorsky HH-53 “Jolly Green Giant” helicopters from the 21st Special Operations Squadron.) Camouflaged to resemble plants and often hidden in the thick brush, the sensors sent a radio signal when they detected noise, movement, or metal in their radius. An electronic-warfare EC-121R Batcat on continuous station overhead picked up the signal, boosted it, and transmitted it to the antenna farm in an isolated corner of NKP. (In 1970, modified Cessna drone aircraft replaced the EC-121 on this station.) This complex was just called “The Project” during its construction in 1967, although eventually it got designated “Task Force Alpha.”
Each sensor’s signal fed into a massive complex of two (count ’em) IBM 360/Model 65 mainframe computers, the same models that plotted the Apollo missions. The Task Force Alpha complex centered on the computer center, inside a cavernous (and necessarily air-conditioned) building kept at positive pressure to escape the omnipresent Thai road dust. Contractors from Harris Corporation and IBM maintained the communications and computer systems, and assisted intelligence officers (including a number of female Air Force officers) in creating a nearly real-time map of NVA operations along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. One witness describes seeing “trucks roll down the Trail in full color, on screens three stories tall.” If this is an exaggeration, it’s exactly the kind of description that both Robert S. McNamara and Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers can agree to exaggerate together.
Once a convoy of trucks could be plotted with reasonable certainty, Phantom IIs staged from carriers such as the USS Kitty Hawk (often carrying radar-assisted navigation and fire control systems controlled from Task Force Alpha) delivered strikes on target. Except when the system didn’t work, or the NVA played tape recordings of trucks near sensors they’d found, or the strike came too late, or it was a peasant with a water buffalo. The whole operation, called IGLOO WHITE, cost something like $7.5 billion dollars, and destroyed between 15% and 35% of the Viet Cong’s motorized logistics, not enough to prevent the Tet Offensive of 1968 or the Easter Offensive of 1972. (That said, the system worked much better as a fire control “mastermind,” directing as much as 40% of the artillery and airstrikes at the siege of Khe Sanh.) The Easter Offensive, and the general Nixon policy of Vietnamization and retreat, ended IGLOO WHITE in 1972, and Task Force Alpha got disassembled in 1975, its computers unplugged and flown back to the States with who knows what secrets in their 2 megabytes of memory and their miles of magnetic tape and punch cards.
I encourage the interested to pursue the matter further into the Internet’s own Ho Chi Minh Trails, beginning perhaps with this site dedicated to the USAF 553rd Reconnaissance Wing, which has some glorious photos that I wish were free to use because this one is just perfect RPG material. More great photos and information (including oh joy of joys a map of NKP) appear on another site, excitingly and aptly titled Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975.
IGLOO WHITE meets DELTA GREEN
Every secret team in Indochina apparently staged out of NKP at one time or another, from the “Gray Berets” of the USAF 10th Combat Weather Squadron to Operation Phoenix assassins to MACV-SOG to Lansdale’s psychological warfare squads. So of course DELTA GREEN runs operations out of “Naked Fanny,” a.k.a. “the end of the line at the edge of the world.” But how might DELTA GREEN make use of IGLOO WHITE?
- When microphones along the Trail pick up the sound of inhuman chanting, or Mi-Go buzzing, or any other unnatural noises, a subroutine deep in the computer system alerts a DELTA GREEN team to go in after the airstrike. I cannot emphasize this enough: after the airstrike.
- Do those strange civilian types with mysterious DoD clearances check the data banks for sounds of the unnatural? Do they keep copies of spells, True Names, or the hateful music of chaotic flautists handy on magnetic tapes for future MAJESTIC acoustic research? Can DELTA GREEN delete those recordings without degrading the operational efficiency of Task Force Alpha — and without getting caught?
- All those antennas and radar dishes don’t only listen for EW aircraft transmissions. They also pick up strange exhalations from the skies and weird echoes from the ancient hills of Laos. Perhaps there’s a dedicated DELTA GREEN antenna out in the field of masts, one tuned for frequencies of the known unknown, or perhaps the unnatural signals wash out the human sounds of the Trail and DELTA GREEN has to stop them — or gather enough recordings from enough directions that the computers can mask them out going forward. Either way, someone’s going up into the hostile karst cliffs with a lot of cumbersome and delicate equipment — and night on the way.
- So we have a huge array of sensors hearing the unnatural, transmitting it to the most powerful electronic brains in the world, brains designed and programmed to correlate their contents. Does the call of COBOL turn into something else? A hypergeometric intelligence nestled inside Task Force Alpha, learning to spy on humans, kill humans, call more powerful human weapons to kill still more humans — this can only end with the DELTA GREEN field team dodging cannon fire from a drone-piloted Phantom II while they desperately try to upload a pentatonic kill code through a balky and malfunctioning ACOUSID sensor.
- Nakhon Phanom makes a great place for DELTA GREEN agents to meet some sort of super-soldier, a real gung-ho type who knows that really understanding the natives, going out into the jungles light and deadly, is the key to winning the war. This puts them on the list to resolve his situation when he inevitably goes rogue at the head of a cannibal Tcho-Tcho cult or worse. No better time for the apocalypse than now, after all.
“The Air Force seems inescapable, like the Eye of God, and soon, you imagine … all will be razed, charred, defoliated by that searching gaze.”
— Mary McCarthy, 1967
“The General is another matter. … In his fifties, he is mild, pleasant, soft-spoken, and not bad-looking … but he has hollow eyes. I don’t know quite what I wish to say here. They are not weak eyes, but they do not have any light in them.”
— Norman Mailer, Harlot’s Ghost, 1991
When one first encounters the oeuvre of Edward Lansdale (1908-1987), the hard part is deciding what to use for a game scenario. Myself, I’m not sure I could resist bringing him all the way into the Fall of Delta Green campaign as a recurring sage-enigma-antagonist-namedropper in a sort of “is he or isn’t he” role — Delta Green friendly? Majestic-12 field commander? Devotee of the neon memetic gods of America’s id? Let’s take a tour with some of his highlights.
Lansdale begins, like all great dubious GMCs, as a heroic OSS agent fighting the Axis. After the war ended, he stayed on in the Philippines as a liaison between the U.S. military (he switched his Army major’s rank for an Air Force captaincy in 1947) and the Philippine government, eventually using his advertising skills (Lansdale had been a successful ad man in Los Angeles before the war) and a few million CIA dollars to shepherd the virtually unknown Ramon Magsaysay into the Philippine Presidential palace. Lansdale also wound up assisting the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency effort against the Huk rebels from 1949 to 1953, when the CIA transferred him to Vietnam.
Lansdale spent four years running similar psychological warfare ops in Vietnam, where President Diem ignored his advice on plausible vote-hocusing (earning himself the nickname “Colonel Landslide” after Diem “won” 98% of the vote) and the CIA and the Army ignored his advice on counterinsurgency. (Or so he claimed later.) After a stint at the Defense Department (ended when he resigned rather than help plot the overthrow of his old pal Diem), he rotated back to Vietnam in 1965 as an ill-defined “minister” in the U.S. mission in Saigon. He left Vietnam in 1968. His personal papers and library burned (conveniently?) in a house fire in 1972. In the 1980s, he played mentor and connector to Oliver North, John Singlaub, and other key players in the Nicaraguan contra effort. He died of heart failure in 1987.
Among Lansdale’s many many greatest hits:
- To remove entrenched Huk guerrillas from a strategic jungle, he first suborned a famous soothsayer to predict “death in the jungle” for that region. Then, he spread rumors that an aswang — the Philippine vampire — operated in that area. Then, the coup de grace: his commandos snatched a Huk guerrilla, strung him up, punched two holes in the man’s throat, then left the bloodless corpse where his fellow Huks were sure to find it. (In a Night’s Black Agents agent’s backstory, maybe Lansdale didn’t fake a vampire attack …)
- Huk guerrillas on a mountaintop used a nearby village for food and supplies. Lansdale’s psywar team captured a Huk courier from the village and tape-recorded his confession, which was, in Lansdale’s own words, “made to sound as if his voice emanated from a tomb.” [Aaaaah! –KH] The courier was then [I bet. –KH] killed, his body dumped near the village. After the villagers buried him, the psywarriors infiltrated the cemetery and set up sound equipment, to play the eerie “undead confession” of the courier at full volume, at night. The villagers evacuated their haunted town, and the Huks starved.
- When his Philippine patrol killed and beheaded a Huk sympathizer, Lansdale picked up the head and began shouting questions at it, slapping it when it “refused” to answer. Eventually, his men told him “He’s dead, he can’t talk,” to which Lansdale replied “He’d talk soon enough if you hadn’t cut his damn head off!” Lansdale later claimed this was to prevent his men mutilating the dead, at least in a non pretend-vampire capacity.
- In Vietnam, the Diem government wanted to encourage mass migration from the Communist North to the South. Lansdale assembled an almanac full of horoscopes and predictions, all forecasting bad things for the North. One prophecy targeted at Vietnamese Catholics urged “The Virgin Mary is going South.” To make sure his targets took the almanac seriously, he gave orders not to give it away but to sell it for the local equivalent of about 50 cents: what people buy with their own money, they’re more likely to value and thus to believe.
Along with necromancy and fortunetelling, Lansdale was a big fan of the power of projected images. He made successful propaganda films, selling the war to both Vietnamese and American audiences. His teams showed Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons to the children in the Philippine villages they entered. While attached to the anti-Castro Operation MONGOOSE, one of his (unproduced) brainwaves was to holographically project the Second Coming of Christ above Havana to terrify the Communist soldiery. Lansdale became larger than life, almost literally: the model for “Colonel Terryman” in Jean Lárteguy’s Yellow Fever and “Colonel Hillandale” in Lederer and Burdick’s The Ugly American. He thought (mistakenly) that he was the model for Alden Pyle in The Quiet American, and subtly redirected the film’s director Joseph Mankiewicz into detourning Greene’s novel into support for the anti-Communist effort.
But it gets even better. One “Philip Jeckyl” wrote pornographic spy stories starring “Lansdale, of the Army Air Force,” and Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia wrote, directed, and starred in a 1968 spy movie in which he defeated and killed an American agent named “Lansdale.” (The name of the movie, by the way, is Shadow Over Angkor, for anyone looking for a campaign title.) Sihanouk based the film on an attempted coup against him by governor Dap Chhuon uncovered in February 1959, two weeks after Lansdale had visited Chhuon on a no-doubt unrelated matter. In 1991, Oliver Stone depicted Lansdale in his film JFK as “General Y,” one of the “three tramps” on the grassy knoll and a key player in the assassination.
So it’s this sense of immense, hidden iconic figures working behind the scrim of the Cold War that makes me pick this last one as my best-of-all Lansdale story.
Their Eyes Were Watching God And Vice Versa
As early as World War I, fighter pilots would buzz the enemy positions and shout threats at the soldiers below: “We see you, and we’ll tell the artillery where you are.” During WWII, Lansdale headed a team that looked for Japanese proverbs which could be redirected jujitsu-style into airdropped leaflets or radio broadcasts: “The man who makes the first bad move loses the game” was a favorite. But an even more personal touch was better.
In the Philippines in 1951, Lansdale read a report from one of his operatives in the field, a psywar officer in Colonel Napoleon Valeriano’s 7th Brigade Combat Team, the wonderfully named “Skull Squadron.” In a Piper Cub above an escaping Huk detachment called Unit 17, the quick-thinking operative grabbed a bullhorn and shouted down at the Huks, calling them by name (“yes, you, Pepe, and Ramon, and Carmelo, and Baby”) and repeating details from the various briefings he’d received about that unit’s background. Then he completed his call-out with “And to our friend in Unit 17, our thanks for your helpful information!” Unit 17 held a number of fatal self-criticism sessions shortly thereafter, and Lansdale decided to expand the methodology.
Lansdale’s version of the story is a wonderful combination of Walt Disney, Dan Draper, and Aleister Crowley:
“The name of this technique, the ‘eye of God,’ reminded me of the ancient Egyptian practice of painting watchful guardian eyes over the tombs of the Pharaohs. … Recalling its appearance, I made some sketches until I recaptured the essence of its forbidding look [Aaaaah!! –KH] and I handed over the final drawing to the Philippine Army with suggestions for its use.”
Political officers would drive into towns that had an active Huk underground, and announce over the loud-hailer that “God sees all traitors,” or something similar. That night, the psywar teams would enter the village and paint or posterize the walls with Lansdale’s Eye design, in the best case only hitting the walls opposite the homes of suspected Huks. Ideally, every Huk sympathizer would awake to see an All-Seeing Eye staring in his window. As Lansdale put it in his memoirs: “The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect.”
Lansdale must have lost connection with the Eye at some point. Possibly his South Vietnamese intelligence protégé Pham Xuan An stole it — An, it turned out, was a Communist Vietminh agent. (An also went to community college in Orange County from 1957-1959, perhaps his own attempt to back-trace the secret to Lansdale’s Hollywood goëtia.) Lansdale’s career in Vietnam is full of these weird Lovecraftian-via-Tim Powers details, a sorcerer trying desperately to return to power. (Even in WWII, he made a point of interviewing ichthyologists, which has to set Cthulhoid alarm bells ringing.) Lansdale began training dogs to watch for disturbances at houses under surveillance, and studied traditional Vietnamese geomancy. From 1965 to 1968, he asked his visitors in Saigon to sing folk songs for him, recording hundreds of hours of tape. This is where the Agents come in, tools for Lansdale’s attempts to find a new Key. He doles out (Doels out?) lore and hints, perhaps provides a ritual or two, and sends them into the jungles or up the mountains to look everywhere … until they see Something looking back.
In the shadowy world of The Fall of Delta Green, you never know who’s got clearance, not to mention who’s got your back … and who’s got your back in his sights. The Company man – the man from the CIA – might fit any of those descriptions, or any other. That’s kind of the point, after all.
The point of this piece, then, is to give you a few more Company men to introduce into the campaign, if not to introduce to the player characters – just yet. All these figures are historical CIA agents during the 1960s, and all of them are either field operatives during that decade or station officers with considerable field experience. They can show up to drop intel, or stay back to drop bombs with equal aplomb. And of course some of them just might have DELTA GREEN clearance themselves.
N.B.: Darker Secrets may not be historically accurate.
Lucien Conein (b. 1919)
A Paris-born former OSS operative who worked with the French Resistance in Corsica and Paris, and with the French military in Indochina, Conein ran saboteurs into Eastern Europe and trained paramilitary forces in Iran in the 1940s. In 1954, the CIA sent him to Saigon to set up stay-behind arsenals and cadres in Vietnam and train indigenous Montagnard guerrillas for insertions into North Vietnam; he worked under the legendary CIA psychological warrior Edward Lansdale. In 1962 Lt. Col. Conein becomes the CIA liaison with the Vietnamese junta, serving as bagman for the 1963 coup against Diem. In 1968 he resigns from the Company but remains in country running an import-export business.
Darker Secret: In Corsica during WWII, Conein joined the Union Corse, the premier heroin traffickers in Europe. He is a key linchpin in the CIA-run heroin connection.
Miles Copeland, Jr. (b. 1916)
Copeland served with the US Army’s Counterintelligence Corps in WWII and joined the CIG (CIA’s precursor) in 1945 in London. While stationed in Syria in 1947, his Scottish wife Lorraine (a former SOE operative) became a leading archaeologist of the Paleolithic Middle East. He ran coups against the President of Syria (1949) and Prime Minister of Iran (1953), organized the Nazi cadre of Nasser’s secret police in Egypt, and monitored Kim Philby in Lebanon until the traitor’s defection in 1963. Based in Beirut under NOC (Non-Official Cover), Copeland continues to run deniable assets, write up game theory, and plan operations all over the Middle East and Africa, including the 1966 coup against Nkrumah in Ghana.
In the 1950s, Copeland ran what he called the “Cosmic Operations Bureau” for the CIA, better known as OHP, or Occultism in High Places: a program to infiltrate astrologers, gurus, and Scientologists into the inner circles of world leaders known to be susceptible to such things. The OHP is ongoing, likely with Copeland’s continued participation.
In 1977, his son Stewart becomes the drummer for the Police.
Darker Secret: Copeland is also heavily involved with MKULTRA, the CIA mind control project. His interests in psychedelics, “cosmic operations,” primordial Egypt, and amoral game theory betray a certain dark, pharaonic outlook.
Larry Devlin (b. 1922)
WWII veteran Devlin joined the CIA in 1949. After service in Belgium, he becomes Chief of Station Leopoldville in the Congo when it becomes independent in 1960. Ordered to assassinate deposed leftist premier Patrice Lumumba in 1961, he delays the operation until Lumumba’s political rivals kill him instead. He remains Chief of Station Congo throughout the civil war, running a CIA-contracted air force and navy staffed by Cuban exiles and foreign mercenaries; short staffing means he runs assets and operates in the field. In 1967, he becomes Chief of Station Laos, going from a station with 10 CIA operatives to one with 300. He manages the secret war against the Pathet Lao and North Vietnam.
Darker Secret: Devlin learned the secret of cannibalistic immortality from the Anziques in the Congo the CIA used as deniable militias during the war. He requested the transfer to Laos to study with Tcho-Tcho masters.
Carl Elmer Jenkins (b. 1926)
WWII Marine Corps veteran Jenkins joined the CIA in 1952 as a paramilitary and SERE trainer. He trained cadres in Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, and the Philippines; he ran infiltrators into Malaya and Indonesia through 1959. In 1960, he joins the Cuba Project and trains anti-Castro guerrillas until 1963. In 1962 or 1964 he serves a tour as Special Warfare Advisor to the US Army’s I Corps in Da Nang, Vietnam. In 1965 and 1966 he trains cadres in the Dominican Republic; in 1967 he joins the secret war in Laos, rising to Chief of Plans and Training for the CIA’s Laos operation in 1969. Throughout, he commands mercenary, paramilitary, and other deniable operations for the Company.
Darker Secret: Jenkins encountered the cult of Cthulhu during the Southeast Asia Project in 1958-1959. He runs a ratline smuggling artifacts, texts, and high priests of Cthulhu from country to country to facilitate their plans and meetings – basically the same thing he did with the anti-Castro Cuban leadership for AMWORLD.
Félix Rodríguez (b. 1941)
An upper-class Cuban driven out of the country by Castro’s revolution in 1959, Rodríguez joins the CIA-backed Operation 40 (which carries out targeted assassinations of Castro officials) in 1960. Positioned in Havana ahead of the Bay of Pigs, he repeatedly volunteers to assassinate Castro or Che Guevara, but is ordered to stand down. Rodríguez trains anti-Castro militias in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and with the Green Berets trains a Bolivian cadre in 1967 to hunt down Che. (He accompanies the Bolivian army unit, and takes Che’s Rolex as a trophy.) He joins the US Army in 1969, and flies helicopters for Project PHOENIX – basically Operation 40 in Vietnam on a much larger scale.
Darker Secret: Rodríguez owes his preternatural luck, physical skills, and gift for killing to youthful initiation in the Palo Mayombe sect of Cuban Santería. He is susceptible to possession by outside forces at a time of Their choosing.
Frank Sturgis (b. 1924)
Born Frank Fiorini, Sturgis served with distinction as a Marine in the Pacific Theater of WWII. He joined the Army in 1948, working as an intelligence officer in Berlin; his Hungarian actress lover was a Mossad operative. After a stint managing nightclubs, he ran guns to Castro’s rebels; Castro briefly put him in charge of Cuba’s casinos until Sturgis broke with Fidel. The CIA recruits him in 1960 from a freelance Mafia anti-Communist operation; he flies a B-26 bomber in the only air strike of the Bay of Pigs. Sturgis later runs a number of independent anti-Castro ops during the decade, including a botched 1968 attempt to hijack a Soviet intelligence trawler. In 1969, he ostensibly retires to sell aluminum siding in Miami.
Darker Secret: A trained Operation 40 assassin and Marine sniper outraged by the betrayal of the Bay of Pigs, Frank Sturgis shot and killed President Kennedy from the grassy knoll in Dallas.
Bruce Walker (b. 1932)
After graduating from DePauw in 1953, Walker served two years in the Marines and then joined the CIA in 1956. From 1960 to 1968, Walker serves as trainer (at Camp Hale in Colorado) and liaison with the Tibetan rebels operating in Nepal, Sikkim, and Tibet against the Communist Chinese. The CIA tries to keep the STCIRCUS operation focused on intelligence gathering, although the Tibetans wish to launch an open rebellion with US backing. Walker speaks Tibetan and gets along well with the rebels, the Nepalese, and the Indian intelligence service. He collects Tibetan artifacts and religious scriptures.
Darker Secret: Walker is actually running the Tibetans as a cover operation to explain CIA presence in the Himalayas. His actual purpose is to negotiate a treaty with the Mi-Go on behalf of the MAJESTIC-12 group.
“Knowledge was knowledge a hundred thousand years ago, when our especial forbears were shambling about Asia as speechless semi-apes!”
— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Last Test”
It’s a new year, and time for the “Call of Chicago” column to seamlessly shift from endless iterations of Stuff We Left Out of The Dracula Dossier to endless iterations of Stuff We’re Probably Not Going To Have Room For in The Fall of Delta Green. You won’t even notice the difference!
The various peoples of Indochina tell national origin myths in which a hero displaces inhuman rulers – and inhabitants – of the land. The kings of Funan in Cambodia and Champa in central Vietnam both succeeded (and intermarried with) naga rulers, multi-headed snake beings. In northern Vietnam, their hero overthrew the Hung Kings, descendants of dragons and “mountain fairies.” In Laos, hideous giants laid down the Plain of Jars before being driven out. But what if some of these monstrous inhabitants remained for thousands of years, only to be started from their jungles by the new warrior heroes from Hanoi, Hue, and Houston? Might they not leave tracks in the historical record? Might they not leave … footprints?
Of the Reptile Kind
Or perhaps they leave trails … serpentine trails. We’ve already covered the ophidian naga and the almost as telling “dragon” of the Hung Kingdoms. These might refer to Cthulhu spawn of one or another kind, or to the Valusian serpent-people. The latter seems more likely when we read about a 1970 encounter about 30 miles south of the DMZ. A US squad on patrol discovers ruins of Cyclopean architecture (“stacked large stones and boulders”) near the entrance to a cave that seems artificially cut into the rock. A foul odor and opaque mist flood out, and the patrol waits until the serpent folk emerge:
“As it stood up from a crouch it stood at least 7 foot high and started to look in our direction. At that time, another similar-looking creature was moving out of the cave. They were making hellish ‘hissing’ sounds and looking directly at us.
The only way I can describe these beings is that they looked like upright lizards. The scaly, shiny skin was very dark – almost black. Snake-like faces with forward set eyes that were very large. They had arms and legs like a human but with scaly skin. I didn’t notice a tail – though they wore long one-piece dark green robes along with a dark cap-like covering on their heads.”
During the ensuing firefight, the two Reptoids vanish, perhaps turning invisible, rotating into another dimension, or rapidly eating and shapeshifting into two of the men. Eventually, the patrol close the cave entrance with explosives and return to base.
Explorers of Vietnam’s Son Doòng Cave (discovered in 1991 and opened to tourism in 2013) also report sighting reptilian humanoids (or humanoid reptiles) and similar “devil creatures.” One person has vanished in the cave, perhaps abducted by the things. Or perhaps just lost on the way to red-litten Yoth: Son Doòng is one of the largest cave systems in the world.
US forces encounter “rock apes” numerous times in country, with varying results. Rock apes are reddish-brown, furry, upright humanoids, between three and five feet tall. They make “a noise that sounded just like dogs barking.” Some cryptozoologists believe they are gibbons, snub-nosed monkeys, langurs, or even (very lost) orangutangs; they may in fact be ghouls, voormis, or some unknown breed of Tcho-Tcho.
Some prime rock ape encounters include:
- Near Chu Lai, June 1966: Marines ordered not to fire and expose their positions engage in a rock-throwing contest with “hairy, bipedal humanoids.”
- A Shau Valley, 1967: Repeated attacks by rock apes emerging from caves on Firebase Rockpile.
- Dong Den near Da Nang, May 1968: Marines and rock apes battle hand-to-hand after gunfire doesn’t stop the furry attackers. (Date also given as “early 1966.”)
- Nui Mo Tau ridge, 1969: Hundreds of rock apes (“ghostly images swooshing around in bush and trees”) attack a 101st Airborne patrol. After the Airborne open fire and drive the rock apes off, “I searched the site and but found not a drop of blood, which totally amazed me given the amount of firing that had gone on.”
- Quang Nam province, 1970: Another rock fight breaks out between a Marine Force Recon unit and at least 20 rock apes. “Those Apes started to come at us and we ran as fast as we could and we didn’t stop until we were out of the jungle.”
The rock apes’ more elusive cousins, the nguòi rùng (“forest men”) may be Lemurians, voormis, or just bigger ghouls. Their brown fur tends toward gray or black, not red; they are much taller (6’-8’) and generally less aggressive. Significant sightings occurred in 1947 and 1969, a Special Forces patrol in 1968 find one cut in half, and two sets of nguòi rùng footprints (11 inches and 18 inches) appear in 1970. In 1971, tribesmen from Dak Lak province capture a batutut, as they are also called. They haunt Vu Quang Forest in North Vietnam.
The Shining Ones
Another cluster of sightings seemingly has nothing in common – except that the bogeys all glow. They may be mi-go or mi-go constructs, servitors of the Shining Trapezohedron or the Shining Moon-Thing of Muria and Chau-te-leur, shoggoth extrusions, or imagos out of space or out of Dream.
The most salient Shining One sightings include:
- Mekong Valley, December 1964: A squad of Special Forces on river patrol encounter three large (7-8 feet tall), yellow, glowing apelike beings “with flat faces, slits for noses and snake-like eyes.” The creatures have three clawed fingers and three clawed toes. The unit fire on the beings with weapons up to a Browning Automatic Rifle, with no effect except “twitching.” The US team retreat to their boat, but “before leaving they saw a strong powerful glow on the riverbank as if dozens of the creatures had gathered to watch them leave.” (The report no doubt mistakenly gives the year as “1974,” the year after US forces withdrew from Vietnam.)
- Near the DMZ, late 1966: During a Viet Cong ambush of helicopter landing, an 8-foot tall giant “dressed perfectly” and wearing a sort of helmet kills a VC guerrilla, saving a US crewman. It has “an aura,” and speaks to the crewman in English (or telepathically).
- Near the DMZ, October 1967: A six-man Long-Range Recon Patrol encounters a being with a long face and black eyes, emitting an eerie glow. One soldier fires a burst into its head, and “a brilliant blue syrupy fluid splattered the trees.” Using a Starlight scope, the patrol spots three lights in the sky. All the witnesses but two died in Vietnam.
- Near Da Nang, summer 1969: Three soldiers on a bunker see a mysterious apparition above them:
“It looked like a woman. A naked woman. She was black. Her skin was black, her body was black, the wings were black, everything was black. But it glowed. It glowed in the night—kind of a greenish cast to it.
There was a glow on her and around her. Everything glowed. Looked like she glowed and threw off a radiance. We saw her arms toward the wings and they looked like regular molded arms, each with a hand, and, fingers and everything, but they had skin from the wings going over them. And when she flapped her wings, there was no noise at first. It looked like her arms didn’t have any bones in them, because they were limber just like a bat.”
The glowing moth-woman buzzes the team, as low as seven feet overhead, and then flies off after three minutes.