"I was depressed and tired all the time, and my back hurt," Linda McDonald said, referring to the symptoms that brought her to the Allan Memorial Institute, in Quebec Canada, in 1962.
She was a 26 year old mother with five children under the age of five. Today she would be diagnosed with post-partum depression. But in 1962, renowned psychiatrist Dr. Ewan Cameron was the doctor in charge of her care. Within three weeks of admitting MacDonald to what is often referred to as, "The Allan," Cameron diagnosed her with "acute schizophrenia" and sent her to "the sleep room."
The Allan Memorial Institute is an imposing stone structure that sits atop a hill, behind iron gates, surrounded by trees, overlooking downtown Montreal. On a sunny day it's merely "foreboding." On a cloudy day or at night it looks downright creepy… as if it belongs on the set of a horror movie. Even so, MacDonald wasn't afraid. She assumed she'd be there briefly for some counseling and relaxation. She even brought her guitar. She had no way of knowing she would experience very real horror that would impact the rest of her life.
While at "The Allan," Linda MacDonald and hundreds of other unwitting American and Canadian patients under Dr. Cameron's care had no idea they were being used as human guinea pigs. They were part of a research project named MK ULTRA which was funded by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
"The Allan" was built between 1860 and 1863, in the Italian Renaissance style. It had five floors and 72 rooms. Originally called, "Ravenscrag," it was built for Sir Hugh Allan, owner of a private shipping company, and one of the wealthiest Canadians of the day.
In 1940, Sir Hugh Allan's son, Sir Montague Allan, donated the building to the Royal Victoria Hospital. Today it is known as the Allan Memorial Institute and is part of the McGill University Faculty of Medicine.
When Linda MacDonald was a patient at "The Allan," Dr. Cameron divided his time between Canada and New York. He was, at different times, head of the Canadian and American Psychiatric Associations, as well as first chairman of the World Psychiatric Association and the first director of the Allan Memorial Institute of Psychiatry. His goal was to cure schizophrenia by "crashing through the wall of the patient's insanity." He wanted to wipe out their psyches and reprogram them.
CIA representatives heard Cameron's talk on "psychic driving" at an American Psychiatric Association (APA) meeting in New York City. He told his audience, "The patient's cooperation is irrelevant." The media coined the term "beneficial brainstorming" to describe his work.
It wasn't long before the CIA approached Cameron about MKULTRA.
MKULTRA came into being, at least in part, because of reports of "mind control" experiments in North Korea, the Soviet Union and China. United States government officials were scrambling to compete in the mind control arena.
Funding for the project was funneled through a front organization called "The Society of Human Ecology." The goal of MK ULTRA was simple: find effective brainwashing techniques. At the time, only CIA director Allen W. Dulles and a few others knew the full scope of MK-ULTRA. "Precautions must be taken," a CIA official wrote in an internal memo, "not only to protect the operation from exposure to enemy forces, but also to conceal these activities from the American public in general."
The U.S. Supreme Court, many years later, ruled "MKULTRA was concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior."
Although the goal was simple, the scope of MK ULTRA was broad. Research was taking place at 80 institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, as well as hospitals (including the Allan), prisons and pharmaceutical companies throughout Canada and the United States.
Dr. Cameron's patients were placed in drug induced comas and then forced to listen, via headphones or through a speaker under the pillow, to "looped tape recordings of simple statements or commands, sometimes up to half a million repetitions." A patient named Robert Logie listened to, "you've killed your mother," thousands of times, for twenty three days. When he was released and sent home, he discovered his mother was alive and well. "I just couldn't figure out what was happening."
Linda MacDonald was in a drug induced coma for 86 days. Cameron also used electro convulsive therapy (ECT) or "shock therapy" in massive doses, sometimes three or four times a day, for weeks at a time. MacDonald estimates she received 100 or more shock treatments while under Dr. Cameron's care. "The amount of electricity introduced into Linda's brain exceeded by 76.5 times the maximum amount recommended in the ECT Guidelines of the APA."
MacDonald's medical records during the summer of 1963 revealed the following:
"May 15: …patient shows some confusion."
"June 3: …knows her name but that's about all."
"June 11: …doesn't know her name."
A nurse also wrote in her medical chart, "She didn't know her name, age or where she was. She didn't recognize her children. She couldn't read, drive, cook, or use a toilet. Not only did she not know her husband, she didn't even know what a husband was."
MacDonald said, "When I went home it was as if I'd never existed in the world before. I was just like a baby."
LSD, and other psychogenic drugs were also used on patients at The Allan without their consent. Cameron called the combination of ECT and drugs "depatterning." These "depatterning" techniques often resulted in permanent and complete amnesia.
A 1963 report by the CIA's Inspector General recommended terminating the testing of unwitting subjects. However, future CIA director Richard Helms continued to advocate covert testing on the grounds that, "We are less capable of staying up with the Soviet advances in this field." On the subject of moral issues, Helms commented, "We have no answer to the moral issue."
Dr. Cameron left the Allan Institute in 1964 and died of a heart attack three years later. Linda MacDonald was never able to remember anything from her birth to 1963. She happened to be watching a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) show called The Fifth Estate that aired a segment about Dr. Cameron on January 7th in 1984. The show revealed that "not only had the CIA funded Dr. Cameron's efforts, and the Canadian government was fully aware of this, they (the Canadian government) later provided another $500,000 in funding to continue the experiments."
MacDonald sued the Canadian government and eventually received $100,000 plus legal fees. Other patients of Dr. Cameron's filed a class action suit against the CIA for Dr. Cameron's MKULTRA experiments. Velma Orlikow, one of the plaintiffs in the class action suit said, "It was an awful feeling to realize, when I found this out, that the man whom I had thought cared about what happened to me didn't give a damn. I was a fly, just a fly."
The CIA agreed to settle the case out of court, the day before the trial was to start, for $750,000, divided among eight plaintiffs in 1988. At the time it was the largest settlement the CIA had ever awarded.
Senator Frank Church, who led the Church Committee in 1975, which was the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Intelligence Activities, said "The (CIA) agency was 'a rogue elephant' operating above the law as it plotted assassinations, illegally spied on thousands of Americans, and even drugged our own citizens in its effort to develop new weapons for its covert arsenal."
A four hour mini-series called "The Sleep Room," that aired in 1998, documented many of the abuses plaintiffs and other patients suffered at the hands of Dr. Cameron.
In an interview with The Fifth Estate, Linda MacDonald said, "I am who I am today. My family tells me that I am very much like the Linda that they knew when I was growing up: gregarious, always talking, laughing, singing, happy, positive person. I have no memory of that person. All I'm grateful for is that Cameron might have been able to wipe a memory, but he couldn't wipe the spirit."