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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Mass insanity"

Here's a fascinating tidbit I picked up from Covert History. The French government apparently has reason to believe that a 1951 outbreak of "mass insanity" was the result of a CIA mind control experiment involving LSD. Alas, the source for this story comes from a Russian site that does not look altogether reliable to my eyes. Still, you may want to check out the details.

Most of you have heard of Project MKULTRA, which studied the use of hypnosis, drugs, and even more eldritch technologies. But that project began in 1953. In 1951, the CIA's program was called either BLUEBIRD or ARTICHOKE. (The renaming occurred that year.) I don't write (much) about those experiments. MKULTRA, like 9/11, is an area where the public seems to prefer sensationalistic bullshit to research.

Still, maybe just this once...
According to reliable US sources, the US State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research has been given a confidential inquiry from the office of Erard Corbin de Mangoux, head of the French intelligence agency DSGE (Directorate General for External Security).i According to the report the inquiry regards a recently-published account of U.S. government complicity in a mysterious 1951 incident of mass insanity in France in the village of Pont-Saint-Esprit in southern France.

The strange outbreak severely affected nearly five hundred people, causing the deaths of at least five, two by suicide. For nearly 60 years the Pont-St.-Esprit incident has been attributed either to ergot poisoning, meaning that villagers consumed bread infected with a psychedelic mold or to organic mercury poisoning.

Scientists with the highly respected British Medical Journal were quickly drawn in September 1951 to what it dubbed the “outbreak of poisoning.” After initial thoughts that the cause was bread infection, they concluded that mold could not explain the event or the afflictions that struck hundreds of people in the village.ii

Scientists dispatched to the scene from the Sandoz Chemical company in nearby Basle, Switzerland also stated that the mold was the cause, but many other experts disagreed with them.

Over time the mystery of the outbreak only deepened and no answers were found to be satisfactory. A 2008 book about the history of bread published in France by Professor Steven Kaplan emphasizes that the “mystery remains unsolved” and at the time, still continued to perplex scientists.iii
Before I lost much of my personal library, I had a copy of a book about this incident, called The Day of St. Anthony's Fire. It was written by John Fuller, best-known for writing about flying saucers. As I recall, Fuller argued persuasively that the residents of Pont-St.-Esprit had eaten ergotized bread. However, a commenter here offers an intriguing argument:
If I remember from the Scientific American circa 1969, there are several different natural compounds in ergot fungus from rye, as well as two families (Tetracyclic Ergolines, and Peptide Alkaloids) with about 8 chemically interesting products. I believe only one natural compound is soluble in water; LSD 2. The water soluble compound would evaporate in an oven, so whatever St. Antony's Fire is, must come from some combination of the others. The effects should not properly be blamed on LSD 2.

There is a lot of speculation about ancient ritual use of LSD 2. It seems to be a relatively benign compound, not as intense as LSD 25.
Others argue that the cause was seed grain that had been treated with a mercury-based fungicide. It is said that farm animals, which did not eat any bread, nevertheless displayed similar symptoms.

The original Time magazine report on the incident is here.

Apparently, the recent claims of CIA involvement stems from this book, as yet unread by me, which seems to state the CIA theory as a matter of provable fact. The author of the book believes that Frank Olson (many of you will know about that notorious case) was murdered because he had gotten blabby about the CIA's activities at Pont-St.-Esprit.
According to Albert and Neal [two CIA informants], several weeks before the meeting at Deep Creek Lake, Frank Olson had “broken security” and talked about the French experiment on at least two occasions. He had been specifically cautioned by [CIA agent] Vincent Ruwet and [Ft. Detrick Special Operations Division chief] John Schwab about the “high level of security and sensitivity involving the experiment”….

The question was posed to the two sources: “Was this, the incident in France at Pont-St.-Esprit, the ‘un-American activity’ referred to in the papers given to the Olsons by [CIA Director] William Colby?”

Not surprisingly, the answer was, “Yes.”

Was Pont-St.Esprit solely a SOD operation?

No. It was a pre-ARTICHOKE joint operation between SOD [Ft. Detrick's Special Operations Division] and CIA’s security branch.
The book also claims that the LSD was administered in aerosol form. This is where the argument loses me, since I've always heard (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that LSD could not be aerosolized.

Fun fact: Pont-St.-Esprit is the place where Jackie Kennedy's family, the Bouviers, originated. Make of that what you will!
Maybe there's another explanation. You write:

"Scientists dispatched to the scene from the Sandoz Chemical company in nearby Basle, Switzerland also stated that the mold was the cause, but many other experts disagreed with them."

How close to Basel is Pont-St-Esprit? Is it upstream? Sandoz manufactured LSD-25 in Basel up until 1965. Perhaps this is a case of industrial contamination and subsequent coverup, rather than an intelligence agency test of some kind.
Never mind - it's 584 km from Basel to Pont-St.-Esprit. Not exactly what I'd call "nearby". So exactly what were a bunch of chemists from Sandoz doing there?
Sandoz-- was that Mr. Wonderful?
Very interesting. According this article from 2008:

The reason for the incident has never been determined, at least officially. Ergot poisoning and mercury treated seeds have both been ruled out (though the article suggests that bleaching agents for the flour may have been a possible culprit).

Having had, ahem, extensive experience with LSD usage and users myself, the symptoms described don't sound like LSD to me. However, if it was a government experiment, there is no way to know what other chemicals or agents may have been involved (it may have been “weaponized” LSD, with additional agents added to make to more deadly and debilitating). In any case, I certainly wouldn’t put it past the US government.

As to the aerosolizing Joseph, I'm not sure about whether that is possible or not either.
Well, LSD can be administered as an aerosol (for instance, see this US Army study, but whether it could have been administered to the unsuspecting citizens of Pont-St-Esprit is another question.

I remember reading "The Day of St Anthony's Fire" as the book section in McCall's (or Argosy, or wherever) as a kid when it first appeared, and I later tracked down a copy for my collection. It seems pretty unlikely the culprit was ergotism -- but what that leaves, I dunno...
Aerosolized? Never heard that acid was or was not deliverable that way. However, considering its tiny tiny effective dose (certainly 100 micrograms is a strong dose), and its known administerability via LIQUIDS (see: Electric Kool-Aid Acid tests), there would not appear to be a problem with that. Unless getting an aerosol form involves heating that might destroy the acid.

But something like a Dristan inhaler method should work fine (if somewhat subjecting one to a highly variable, and possibly extreme, dosing).

Ergot mold creates hallucinogens nearly identical to LSD.

The PBS series, Secrets of the Dead, did a fascinating episode on the Salem Village witch trials that convincingly linked the girls' "possessions" to a recorded outbreak of ergot blight in rye that year. The show noted the near-identical symptoms of the citizens of Pont St. Esprit.

The hypothesis that the Salem possessions were linked to ergot was first put forth in 1972.
If all those people weren't conveniently cremated can't they exhume the bodies and do tests?
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