- Paul Robeson, the black actor, singer,
and political radical, may have been a victim of CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb's
MK-ULTRA program. We have previously noted Gottlieb's death and outlined
his career of infamy. In the spring of 1961, Robeson planned to visit Havana,
Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. The trip never came off
because Robeson fell ill in Moscow, where he had gone to give several lectures
and concerts. At the time, it was reported that Robeson had suffered a
heart attack. But in fact Robeson had slashed his wrists in a suicide attempt
after suffering hallucinations and severe depression. The symptoms came
on following a surprise party thrown for him at his Moscow hotel.
- Robeson's son, Paul Robeson, Jr., has
investigated his father's illness for more than 30 years. He believes that
his father was slipped a synthetic hallucinogen called BZ by U.S. intelligence
operatives at the party in Moscow. The party was hosted by anti-Soviet
dissidents funded by the CIA.
- Robeson Jr. visited his father in the
hospital the day after the suicide attempt. Robeson told his son that he
felt extreme paranoia and thought that the walls of the room were moving.
He said he had locked himself in his bedroom and was overcome by a powerful
sense of emptiness and depression before he tried to take his own life.
- Robeson left Moscow for London, where
he was admitted to Priory Hospital. There he was turned over to psychiatrists
who forced him to endure 54 electro-shock treatments. At the time, electro-shock,
in combination with psycho-active drugs, was a favored technique of CIA
behavior modification. It turned out that the doctors treating Robeson
in London and, later, in New York were CIA contractors. The timing of Robeson's
trip to Cuba was certainly a crucial factor. Three weeks after the Moscow
party, the CIA launched its disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.
It's impossible to underestimate Robeson's threat, as he was perceived
by the U.S. government as the most famous black radical in the world. Through
the 1950s Robeson commanded worldwide attention and esteem. He was the
Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali of his time. He spoke more than twenty
languages, including Russian, Chinese, and several African languages. Robeson
was also on close terms with Nehru, Jomo Kenyatta, and other Third World
leaders. His embrace of Castro in Havana would have seriously undermined
U.S. efforts to overthrow the new Cuban government.
- Another pressing concern for the U.S.
government at the time was Robeson's announced intentions to return to
the United States and assume a leading role in the emerging civil rights
movement. Like the family of Martin Luther King, Robeson had been under
official surveillance for decades. As early as 1935, British intelligence
had been looking at Robeson's activities. In 1943, the Office of Strategic
Services, World War II predecessor to the CIA, opened a file on him. In
1947, Robeson was nearly killed in a car crash. It later turned out that
the left wheel of the car had been monkey-wrenched. In the 1950s, Robeson
was targeted by Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist hearings. The
campaign effectively sabotaged his acting and singing career in the states.
- Robeson never recovered from the drugging
and the follow-up treatments from CIA-linked doctors and shrinks. He died
in 1977. Robeson, Jr. has been pushing the U.S. to release classified documents
regarding his father. He has already unearthed some damning stuff, including
an FBI "status of health" report on Robeson created in April
of 1961. "The fact that such a file was opened at all is sinister
in itself," Robeson recently told the London Sunday Times. "It
indicates a degree of prior knowledge that something was about to happen
- Robeson's case has chilling parallels
to the fate of another black man who was slipped CIA-concocted hallucinogens,
Sgt. James Thornwell. Thornwell was a U.S. Army sergeant working in a NATO
office in Orleans, France, in 1961 (the same year Robeson was drugged),
when he came under suspicion of having stolen documents. Thornwell, who
maintained his innocence, was interrogated, hypnotized and harassed by
U.S. intelligence officers. When he persisted in proclaiming his innocence,
Thornwell was secretly given LSD for several days by his interrogators,
during which time he was forced to undergo aggressive questioning, replete
with racial slurs and threats. At one point, the CIA men threatened "to
extend the [hallucinatory] state indefinitely, even to a point of permanent
insanity." The agents apparently consummated their promise. Thornwell
experienced an irreversible mental crisis. He eventually committed suicide
at his Maryland home. There was never any evidence that he had anything
to do with the missing NATO papers.
- --Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn