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The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson (extract and author interview)
[Editor's Note: The entire US military apparatus (Air Force, Navy, and Army), especially the leaders of "special force" outfits, is now under the control of individuals who are dedicated to the One World Government takeover agenda and are no longer loyal to the US Constitution or the people of America. Many of them are involved in satanism, as the murder rituals and gore tends to keep them locked down under mind control and under the thumb of the Illuminati elites pulling the strings from above. Kay Griggs recently published articles on the Internet and was interviewed in a video revealing the dark side of one such individual, her former husband, Marine Corps Colonel George Raymond Griggs. Fritz Springmeier and Cisco Wheeler reported in their book, The Illuminati Formula for a Total Mind Controlled Slave, that the military men involved with the First Earth Battalion are all subjected to mind control programming. These men are programmed to be killer robots, so torturing people-and the psychological stress it would normally produce-is not really a problem for these individuals because they no longer control their minds, but rather they are controlled by their programmers and the embedded mind control programs. Please read this story from beginning to end as it reveals justs how evil, illicit, and unjustified are the horroific cruelties heaped upon innocent men at Guantanamo by the 'new" American military/CIA/private contractor monster that has replaced the once honorable (and admired) American military... Ken]
By Jon Ronson
August 22, 2005
Forward courtes y of Ole Gerstrøm, posted at firstname.lastname@example.org on August 22, 2005
[And read below this paragraph: “He was sitting in the Oval office, and Bush came in, in sweatpants. He’d just been jogging, and he swept into the room and said to him urgently ‘I can do a mile in six and a half minutes! I’ve got it down to six and a half minutes. I’m feeling good!’ like shadowboxing! – ‘ I’m feeling good, I’m feeling great!’. And I feel that that simple description of George Bush entering the room, two days after September 11th says so much more about him than...." ]
Book Extract: The Men Who Stare At Goats By Jon Ronson
[Jon Ronson knew from his investigation into US military intelligence that top brass had adopted some strange practices. Jamal al-Harith, the Briton released from Guantánamo in the spring, confirmed it: here, in our second extract from Ronson's revealing new book, he describes the discordant sounds and apparently random music played to him during all-day interrogation sessions, and four psychological warfare experts give their reaction. By Guardian Newspapers, 11/5/2004]
The more I've delved into the US military's psychological warfare, the more examples of New Age-style, First Earth Battalion tactics I've been noticing in the war on terror. I learned of one fact in particular that struck me as entirely incongruous, something at once banal and extraordinary. It happened to a Mancunian called Jamal al-Harith in a place called the Brown Block. Jamal doesn't know what to make of it either, so he mentioned it to me only as an afterthought when I met him in the coffee bar of the Malmaison Hotel, near Manchester Piccadilly station, one June morning this year.
Jamal is a website designer. He lives with his sisters in south Manchester. He is 37, divorced, with three children. He said he assumed MI5 had followed him here to the hotel, but he's stopped worrying about it. He said that he keeps seeing the same man watching him from across the street, leaning against a car, and that whenever the man thinks he's been spotted, he looks briefly panicked and immediately bends down to fiddle casually with his tyre.
Jamal laughed when he told me this. He was born Ronald Fiddler into a family of second-generation Jamaican immigrants. When he was 23, he learned about Islam and converted, changing his name to Jamal al-Harith: he liked the sound of it. He says al-Harith basically means "seed planter".
In October 2001, Jamal visited Pakistan as a tourist, he says. He was in Quetta on the Afghanistan border, four days into his trip, when the American bombing campaign began. He quickly decided to leave for Turkey and paid a local truck driver to take him there. The driver said the route would take them through Iran, but somehow they ended up in Afghanistan, where they were stopped by a gang of Taliban supporters. They asked to see Jamal's passport, and he was promptly arrested and thrown in jail on suspicion of being a British spy.
Afghanistan fell to the coalition. The Red Cross visited Jamal in prison. They suggested he cross the border into Pakistan and make his own way back home to Manchester, but Jamal had no money, so instead he asked to be put in contact with the British embassy in Kabul.
Nine days later - while he waited in Kandahar for the embassy to transport him home - the Americans picked him up.
"The Americans," Jamal said, "kidnapped me." When he said "kidnapped", he looked surprised at himself for using such a dramatic word.
The Americans in Kandahar told Jamal he needed to be sent to Cuba for two months for administrative processing, and so on, and the next thing he knew he was on a plane, shackled, his arms chained to his legs and then chained to a hook on the floor, his face covered in earmuffs and goggles and a surgical mask, bound for Guantánamo Bay.
In the weeks after Jamal's release, two years later, he gave a few interviews, during which he spoke of the shackles and the solitary confinement and the beatings - the things the outside world had already imagined about life inside that mysterious compound. He said they beat his feet with batons, pepper-sprayed him and kept him inside a cage that was open to the elements, with no privacy or protection from the rats and scorpions that crawled around the base. But these were not sensational revelations.
He spoke to ITV's Martin Bashir, who asked him (off-camera), "Did you see my Michael Jackson documentary?"
Jamal replied, "I've, uh, been in Guantánamo Bay for two years."
When I met Jamal, he began to tell me about the more bewildering abuses. Prostitutes were flown in from the US - he doesn't know whether they were there to smear their menstrual blood on the faces of the more devout detainees. Or perhaps they were brought in to have sex with the soldiers, and some psychological operations (PsyOps) boffin - a resident cultural analyst - devised this other job for them as an afterthought, exploiting the resources at the army's disposal.
"One or two of the British guys," Jamal told me, "said to the guards, 'Can we have the women?' But the guards said, 'No, no, no. The prostitutes are for the detainees who don't actually want them.' They explained it to us: 'If you want it, it's not going to work on you.' "
"So what were the prostitutes doing to the detainees?" I asked.
"Just messing about with their genitals," said Jamal. "Stripping off in front of them. Rubbing their breasts in their faces. Not all the guys would speak. They'd come back from the Brown Block [the interrogation block] and be quiet for days and cry to themselves, so you know something went on, but you don't know what. But for the guys who did speak, that's what we heard." I asked Jamal if he thought that the Americans at Guantánamo were dipping their toes into the waters of exotic interrogation techniques.
"They were doing a lot more than dipping," he replied. And that's when he told me about what happened to him inside the Brown Block.
Jamal said that, being new to torture, he didn't know whether the techniques tested on him were unique to Guantánamo, or as old as torture itself, but they seemed pretty weird to him. His description of life inside the Brown Block made Guantánamo Bay sound like an experimental interrogation lab, teeming not only with intelligence agents, but also with ideas. It was as if, for the first time in the soldiers' careers, they had prisoners and a ready-made facility at their disposal, and they couldn't resist putting all their concepts - which had until then languished, sometimes for decades, in the unsatisfactory realm of the theoretical - into practice.
First there were the noises.
"I would describe them as industrial noises," said Jamal. "Screeches and bangs. These would be played across the Brown Block into all the interrogation rooms. You can't describe it. Screeches, bangs, compressed gas. All sorts of things. Jumbled noises."
"Like a fax machine cranking up into use?" I asked.
"No," said Jamal. "Not computer-generated. Industrial. Strange noises. And mixed in with it would be something like an electronic piano. Not as in music, because there was no rhythm to it."
"Like a synthesiser?"
"Yes, a synthesiser mixed in with industrial noises. All a jumble and a mishmash."
"Did you ever ask them, 'Why are you blasting these strange noises at us?' " I said.
"In Cuba you learn to accept," said Jamal.
The industrial noises were blasted across the block. But the strangest thing of all happened inside Jamal's own interrogation room. The room was furnished with a CCTV camera and a two-way mirror. Jamal would be brought in for 15-hour sessions, during which time they got nothing out of him because, he said, there was nothing to get. He said his past was so clean - not even a parking ticket - that at one point someone wandered over to him and whispered, "Are you an MI5 asset?"
"An MI5 asset!" said Jamal. He whistled. "Asset!" he repeated. "That was the word he used!"
The interrogators were getting more and more cross with Jamal's apparent steely refusal to crack. Also, Jamal used his time inside the Brown Block to do stretching exercises, keeping himself sane. Jamal's exercise regime made the interrogators more angry, but instead of beating him, or threatening him, they did something very odd.
A military intelligence officer brought a ghetto blaster into his room. He put it on the floor in the corner. He said, "Here's a great girl band doing Fleetwood Mac songs."
He didn't blast the CD at Jamal. This wasn't sleep-deprivation, and it wasn't an attempt to induce the Bucha Effect1. Instead, the agent simply put it on at normal volume.
"He put it on," said Jamal, "and he left."
"An all-girl Fleetwood Mac covers band?" I said.
"Yeah," said Jamal.
This sounded to me like the tip of a very strange iceberg.
"And what happened next?" I asked.
"When the CD was finished, he came back into the room and said, 'You might like this.' And he put on Kris Kristofferson's greatest hits. Normal volume. And he left the room again. And then, when that was finished, he came back and said, 'Here's a Matchbox Twenty CD.' "
"Was he doing it for entertainment purposes?" I asked.
"It's interrogation," said Jamal. "I don't think they were trying to entertain me."
"Matchbox Twenty?" I said.
I didn't know much about Matchbox Twenty. My research reveals them to be a four-piece country rock band from Florida, who do not sound particularly abrasive (like Metallica and Burn Motherfucker Burn!) nor irritatingly repetitive (like Barney The Purple Dinosaur and Ya! Ya! Das Is A Mountain). They sound a bit like REM. The only other occasion when I had heard of Matchbox Twenty was when Adam Piore from Newsweek told me that they, too (like Metallica and Barney), had been blasted into the shipping containers where detainees were held at al-Qa'im in Iraq. I mentioned this to Jamal and he looked astonished.
"Matchbox Twenty?" he said.
"Their album More Than You Think You Are," I said.
There was a silence.
"I thought they were just playing me a CD," said Jamal. "Just playing me a CD. See if I like music or not. Now I've heard this, I'm thinking there must have been something else going on. Now I'm thinking, why did they play that same CD to me as well? They're playing this CD in Iraq and they're playing the same CD in Cuba. It means to me there is a programme. They're not playing music because they think people like or dislike Matchbox Twenty more than other music. Or Kris Kristofferson more than other music. There is a reason. There's something else going on. Obviously I don't know what it is. But there must be some other intent."
"There must be," I said.
Jamal paused for a moment and then he said, "You don't know how deep the rabbit hole goes, do you? But you know it is deep. You know it is deep."
Subsequently, I talked to Joseph Curtis (not his real name), who worked on the night shift at the Abu Ghraib prison, in charge of the computer network. I asked if he knew anything about the music. He said, sure, they blasted loud music at the detainees all the time. "What about quieter music?" I said, and told him Jamal's story about the ghetto blaster and the Fleetwood Mac all-girl covers band and Matchbox Twenty.
Joseph laughed. He shook his head in wonderment. "They were probably fucking with his head," he said.
"You mean they did it just because it seemed so weird?" I asked. "The incongruity was the point of it?"
"Yeah," he said.
"But that doesn't make sense," I said. "I can imagine that might work on a devout Muslim from an Arab country, but Jamal is British. He was raised in Manchester. He knows all about ghetto blasters and Fleetwood Mac and country and western music."
"Hm," said Joseph.
"Do you think ...?" I said.
Joseph finished my sentence for me.
"Subliminal messages?" he said.
"Or something like that," I said. "Something underneath the music."
"You know," said Joseph, "on a surface level that would be ridiculous. But Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib were anything but surface."
Jamal seemed fine when I met him in Manchester. I asked if he felt at all unusual after listening to Matchbox Twenty and he said no. But one shouldn't read too much into this. There is a very strong chance, given the history of the goat staring and the wall walking and so on that US military intelligence honchos went in for, that they blasted Jamal with silent sounds and it just didn't work.
In late June 2004 I sent an email to Jim Channon and everyone else I'd met during my two-and-a-half-year journey who might have some inside knowledge about the current use of the kinds of psychological interrogation techniques that had first been suggested in Jim's First Earth Battalion manual. I wrote:
I hope you are well.
I was talking with one of the British Guantánamo detainees (innocent - he was released) and he told me a very strange story. He said at one point during the interrogations the MI [military intelligence] officers left him in a room - for hours and hours - with a ghetto blaster. They played him a series of CDs - Fleetwood Mac, Kris Kristofferson, etc. They didn't blast them at him. They just played them at normal volume. Now, as this man is western, I'm sure they weren't trying to freak him out by introducing him to western music. Which leads me to think ... Frequencies? Subliminal messages?
What's your view on this? Do you know any time when frequencies or subliminal sounds have been used by the US military for sure?
With best wishes,
I received four replies straight away.
Commander Sid Heal (the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department non-lethals expert who told me about the Bucha Effect): "Most interesting, but I haven't a clue. I know that subliminal messages can be incorporated and that they have a powerful influence. There are laws prohibiting it in the US, but I'm not aware of any uses like you describe. I would imagine, however, that it would be classified and no one without a 'need to know' would be aware anyway. If it were frequencies, it would probably need to be in the audible range or they wouldn't need to mask them with other sounds."
Skip Atwater (General Stubblebine's former psychic spying headhunter): "You can bet this activity was purposeful. If you can get anybody to talk to you about this, it would be interesting to know the 'success rate' of this technique."
Jim Channon: "Strikes me the story you tell is just plain kindness (which still exists)."
I couldn't decide if Jim was being delightfully naive, infuriatingly naive, or sophisticatedly evasive.
Then Colonel John Alexander responded to my email. He remains the US army's leading pioneer of non-lethal technologies, a role he created for himself in part inspired by Jim's First Earth Battalion manual.
Colonel Alexander: "Re your assertion he was innocent. If so, how did he get captured in Afghanistan? Don't think there were many British tourists who happened to be travelling there when our forces arrived. Or maybe he was a cultural anthropologist studying the progressive social order of the Taliban as part of his doctoral dissertation and was mistakenly detained from his education. Perhaps if you believe this man's story you'd also be interested in buying a bridge from me? As for the music, I have no idea what that might be about. Guess hard rockers might take that as cruel and unusual punishment and want to report it to Amnesty International as proof of torture."
Jokes about the use of music in interrogation didn't seem that funny any more - not to me, and I doubt they did to him, either. I emailed him back: "Is there anything you can tell me about the use of subliminal sounds and frequencies in the military's arsenal? If anyone alive today is equipped to answer that question, surely you are."
Colonel Alexander's response arrived instantly. He said my assertion that the US army would ever entertain the possibility of using subliminal sounds or frequencies "just doesn't make sense".
Which was strange. I dug out an interview I'd conducted with the colonel the previous summer. I hadn't been that interested in acoustic weapons at that point, but the conversation had, I now remembered, briefly touched on them.
"Has the army ever blasted anyone with subliminal sounds?" I had asked him.
"I have no idea," he said.
"What's a 'psycho-correction' device?" I asked him.
"I have no idea," he said. "It has no basis in reality."
"What are silent sounds?" I asked.
"I have no idea," he said. "It sounds like an oxymoron to me." The colonel gave me a hard look, which seemed to suggest that I was masquerading as a journalist and was, in fact, a dangerous and irrational conspiracy nut.
"I'm confused," I said. "I don't know much about this subject, but I'm sure I've seen your name linked with something called a 'psycho-correction device'."
Yes, he said, he had sat in on meetings where this sort of thing was discussed, but there was no evidence that machines like this would ever work. "How would you do that [blast someone with silent sounds] without it affecting us? Anybody who's out there would hear it."
How could you blast someone with silent sounds "without it affecting us"? This struck me at the time as an unassailable argument, one that cut through all the paranoid theories circulating on the internet about mind-control machines putting voices into people's heads. Of course it couldn't work.
The thing is, I now realised, if silent sounds had been used against Jamal inside an interrogation room at Guantánamo Bay, there was a clue in Jamal's account, a clue that suggested that military intelligence had craftily solved the vexing problem highlighted by Colonel Alexander.
"He put the CD in," Jamal had said, "and he left the room."
Next, I dug out the recently leaked military report entitled Non-Lethal Weapons: Terms And References. There were a total of 21 acoustic weapons listed, in various stages of development, including the Infrasound ("Very low-frequency sound which can travel long distances and easily penetrate most buildings and vehicles ... biophysical effects: nausea, loss of bowels, disorientation, vomiting, potential internal organ damage or death may occur. Superior to ultrasound ...").
And then, the last entry but one - the Psycho-Correction Device, which "involves influencing subjects visually or aurally with embedded subliminal messages".
I turned to the front page. And there it was. The co-author of this document was Colonel John Alexander.
1 In the 1950s, helicopters started falling out of the sky, crashing for no apparent reason, and the pilots who survived couldn't explain it. They had been flying as normal and then suddenly they felt nauseous, dizzy and debilitated; they lost control of their helicopters. A Dr Bucha was called in to solve the mystery. What he found was that the rotor blades were strobing the sunlight, and when it reached an approximation of human brainwave frequency, it interfered with the brain's ability to send correct information to the rest of the body.
© Jon Ronson, 2004.
This is an edited extract from The Men Who Stare At Goats, by Jon Ronson, published by Picador on November 19 at £16.99. To order a copy for £16.14, with free UK p&p, call 0870 836 0875. Jon Ronson's three-part television series, The Crazy Rulers Of The World, starts on Channel 4 tomorrow.
Jamal al-Harith is one of four Britons released from Guantánamo in March, after more than two years' imprisonment, who claim they were repeatedly tortured at the camp and, it was announced last week, are suing Donald Rumsfeld and other US military leaders for £6m compensation each.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited
Acting the giddy goat
Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats is an inspired study of America's war on terror, says Tim Adams
The Men Who Stare at Goats
by Jon Ronson
Picador £16.99, pp240
Jon Ronson is forced to begin his book with an extraordinary disclaimer: 'This,' he writes, with some authentic shock and awe, 'is a true story.'
As you read on, it is hard to shift the impact of those five small words from your mind. It would be far, far better for all of us, you can't help thinking, if it turned out that Jon Ronson had actually made up his entire, wonderful investigation into 'psychological warfare' techniques used by America's elite Special Forces.
If he had not, for example, discovered that there was a Major General Albert Stubblebine III directing operations from Arlington, Virginia, who firmly believes he can walk through walls. Or if the existence of a secret unit in which psyops personnel stared at goats for hours on end with the aim of killing them was actually a figment of a warped author's imagination. Or that the Pentagon's playlist of torture music for use at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib was, in reality, a juvenile attempt at satire. Terrifyingly, however, all this - and much more - is shown, as he says, to be true.
Ronson started out on his surrealist quest with a hunch. There was, he believed, some deep-seated irrationality at the heart of America's war on terror. Once he had this simple thought in mind, one thing led to another. It began with Uri Geller, who Ronson interviewed three years ago about his claims that he was a 'psychic spy' working for US intelligence. Geller led him to Stubblebine and Stubblebine put him in touch with Lieutenant Colonel (retd) Jim Channon, who first started the madness.
Channon had witnessed horrors as a young officer in Vietnam and he believed that the army required a new approach to combat. Having imbibed some of the more extreme Californian philosophies, Channon approached military top brass with the notion of a 'First Earth Battalion' of 'warrior monks' - soldiers who would carry with them into hostile countries 'symbolic animals' such as baby lambs, learn to greet people with 'sparkly eyes' and give the enemy 'an automatic hug'.
Their only weapons would be 'discordant sounds' and 'psycho-electric' guns that could direct positive energy into crowds. Channon's ideas, unbelievably, became current in certain branches of the US army and, in bizarre, mutant form, have been employed in the current war on terror.
Ronson is happy to present himself as slow on the uptake in his quest, not least because it often seems so incredible. He affects an air of very British vagueness that wins over his uniformed interviewees, but he has a genius for detail. Once he gets a fact, he clings to it, interrogates it, makes it relate to other facts.
There is a sort of gonzo spirit in his approach which sometimes lends an air of farce to his findings, but few more earnest investigative journalists would have had the brilliant bloody-mindedness to get what he has got and hardly any would have the wit to present it with as much clarity.
He slips, too, very skilfully between registers in tone. Ronson knows exactly what is funny - what other response is there to torturers with Fleetwood Mac CDs in their arsenal? - but he also knows when that laughter begins to look grotesque. His account of the use of the theme from the children's TV show Barney - 'I Love You', which, played on a loop, has been used to disorient prisoners - is one of the most chilling things I have read about the war.
At one point, Ronson describes seven photographs of a man who underwent such an 'I Love You' torture regime in a shipping container at a disused railway station in al-Qa'im, Iraq. 'His face is deeply lined, like an old man's, but his wispy moustache reveals that he is probably 17... there's an open wound on one of his skinny arms and above it someone has written a number with a black marker pen. He might have done terrible things. I know nothing about him other than these seven fragments of his life. But I can say this. In the last photograph, he is screaming so hard it looks as if he is laughing.'
If Joseph Heller lurks in the margins of Ronson's book - who else could have pulled off the goat-staring GIs? - so, too, does Hannah Arendt. At least, Ronson, for all his coyness, makes you feel at times the full force of her assertion that 'most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil'.
It is his acute grip on the nuance of this idea that makes his book not only a narcotic road trip through the wackier reaches of Bush's war effort, but also an unmissable account of some of the insanity that has lately been done in our names.
Tales of torture, - Jon Ronson, author of The Men Who Stare at Goats, in interview
By : Andrew Lawless
“The truth is actually much more buffoonish than most conspiracy theorists believe”, explains Jon Ronson, the author of The men who stare at goats, a book that deals with the psychological branch of the US military machine. “The men who stare at goats deals with one of the maddest conspiracy theories there is, about powerful people harnessing the occult to control us – he continues – but as the book shows, though the conspiracy theorists are right, just like they were right about Bohemian Grove and the Bilderberg group, they’re right in a very different way to the way they think they are”.
The book details the strange developments within the US military, post-Vietnam, when a number of high-placed military intelligence personnel started to ‘think out of the box’, adapting various new-age theories. The episodes in the book range from the frankly ridiculous (Chief of US army Intelligence, General Stubblebine, who every morning attempts to walk through a wall, receiving a bruised nose for his troubles), to the darkly sinister (the use of children’s music as a torture implement in Iraq).
The book is shocking and hilarious – which is an uneasy combination, and one which Ronson is well aware of. “I’m a humorist essentialy – he explains – I realise that there are quite big chunks of the men who stare at goats that aren’t funny, but in general if I’ve got a paragraph (and I’m doing it right now with a piece I’m writing), I’m always thinking of ways to lighten it and to make it more human. To put in more dialogue, and jokes where appropriate. I’m always looking for that. Big shafts of fact based text isn’t my style. I prefer to make it more like stories, with dialogue and humorous observations, portraits of human beings”. Humour, though, many would argue is not the most appropriate vehicle for dealing with stories about military intelligence and torture. “It’s not so much humour – he responds, in relation to The men who stare at goats - but portraits of people. The thing is that people are often quite unintentionally funny, myself included. I rather like writing in that way. It’s more fun to read, and it’s the style of writing that I’m good at, but more than that I think in the end it all comes down to people, and why they behave the way that they do. Every story in the world comes down to that. Quite often people forget that. Quite often journalists think that it’s all down to facts, but I think it’s all down to people. If you can work out why people behave the way they do, you can get to the bottom of the story”.
As if to illustrate, he tells me a story about an eminent Islamic scholar who was invited to the White House, two days after 9/11, to meet with President Bush. “He was sitting in the Oval office, and Bush came in, in sweatpants. He’d just been jogging, and he swept into the room and said to him urgently ‘I can do a mile in six and a half minutes! I’ve got it down to six and a half minutes. I’m feeling good!’ like shadowboxing! – ‘ I’m feeling good, I’m feeling great!’. And I feel that that simple description of George Bush entering the room, two days after September 11th says so much more about him than some factual analysis of his policies”.
One of the central characters of The men who stare at goats is retired Lieutenant Jim Channon. After the psychological defeat of Vietnam, where the US military despite its strength had lost the war, Channon suggested to the Pentagon that the army needed to be more cunning. They paid him, in 1977 to investigate ways to do this. In 1979 he presented his First Earth Battalion Operations Manual which attempted to redesign the US military both in mindset and aspect. Troops of the First Earth Battalion would carry into battle ginseng regulators, divining tools, symbolic flowers, and loudspeakers that would emit “indigenous music and words of peace”[pg 41, The men who stare at goats]. The surprising thing was not that the military didn’t take on board all his ideas, but rather that they did take on many of them, albeit in modified form.
From the First Earth Battalion’s high ideals Ronson charts the uneasy steps to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. “The military takes hold of these ideas on the fringes – these think tanky ideas – and when there’s no crisis they lie dormant and theoretical. Think of Guantanamo Bay as a sort of experimental lab: every time someone comes out of Guantanamo, you hear of a new esoteric technique being tried out on them. There’s no way that there are individual military people coming up independently with all these ideas on the spot. It’s clear that these are ideas that have been formed in think tanks over decades, think tanks like the First Earth Battalion. A place like Guantanamo Bay is the perfect place for them to flourish, because of the rare opportunity to try this stuff out on people”.
While it’s more convenient, and reassuring to assume that the events in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are just the acts of random individuals, the ‘bad apples’, the testimony of Lyndie England suggests rather the involvement of psy-ops, the division of military intelligence dealt with by Ronson in his book. “There’s the possibility that the acts committed were acts thought up on the spot by some one from Idaho, but when the photos emerged, psy-ops saw a useful product and said – keep doing it. That’s what Lyndie England has said, that psy-ops said’ keep doing it, it’s getting us what we need’. I presume what they were looking for were really garish photographs, these sort of tableauxs that could be passed around to other inmates”.
Ronson returns to the subject of his writing style, as if sparked further, by talk of Abu Ghraib, to explain his use of humour: “What I hope is that the moments that become serious, become even more unbearable because of the humour that’s come before. One example is that description of the guy being held in the shipping container, where I say he’s screaming so hard it almost looks like he’s laughing. I’d like to think that that line is more powerful because you’ve been lulled by a humourous mood. It kind of swipes you”.
The above episode deals with an episode of interrogation, discovered in Al-Qaim in Iraq where prisoners were kept in a disused shipping container, and subjected to repeated playing of the music from popular children’s programme Barney. Humorist Ronson was one of the few journalists to see the unfunny side of the story. “The Barney thing was incredible. The way that it was covered by the media. Everybody treated it as a joke, even The Guardian. While in the end it’s quite obvious that it wasn’t funny. It was almost as if the western world breathed a sigh of relief that they could find something innocent and funny in the midst of all this”, Ronson suggests.
When the story about Al-Qaim broke, Ronson recognised traces of Channon’s First Earth Battalion Manual in the use of music. He called up Channon to ask his opinion on the story. Channon was unfamiliar with the circumstances:
[Channon] ‘They’re obviously trying to lighten the environment’ he said, ‘and give these people some comfort, instead of beating them to death!’ He sighed. ‘Children’s music! That will make the prisoners more ready to divulge where their forces are and shorten the war! Damn Good!’
I think Jim was imagining something more like a creche than a steel container at the back of a disused railway station.
‘I guess if they play them Barney and Sesame Street once or twice,’ I said, ‘that’s lightening and comforting, but if they play it, say, fifty thousand times into a steel box in the deseert heat, that’s more…uh…torturous’
‘I’m no psychologist,’ said Jim, a little sharply.
[Pg 133/4, The men who stare at goats]
In a review in The Observer, Ronson is likened to Joseph Heller crossed with Hanna Arendt, which isn’t a bad description. Ask him about his influences though and he very answers immediately: “Kurt Vonnegut. I re-read Slaughterhouse 5 recently, and I was amazed at how much I’ve stolen from Vonnegut’s writing style [laughs], because I hadn’t really read him since I was 18/19 and just starting out in journalism, and I was flabbergasted by how much of the sentence construction, and things like the phrase ‘And so on’ that I’ve stolen. He’s had a massive influence on me. Give me him over Norman Mailer any day. Mailer wants to dazzle you with the lengthily written severity of the situation, with the way the world is going. Vonnegut’s books on the other hand are short, pithy, funny, and very, very, easy to read. Slaughterhouse 5 is a slapstick book about the firebombing of Dresden, and it’s all the better for it in some ways”.
It will be interesting to judge the reaction when the book receives its American release, next April. His previous book, Them, Adventures with Extremists, came out innopportunely, he explains, “It was the worst time, it was just after September 11th, and it was in New York. No-one really wanted a funny, sweet book about extremists in the latter part of 2001”. The book though has, in a sense, found its place as a document in time. “I think Them stands up more now after September 11th, as things are starting to go back to normal, so you can see these characters as human beings again”.
Speaking about Them in an interview with Salon magazine, Ronson said: “in retrospect it does feel a bit like the book reflects a burgeoning pressure, a kind of pressure cooker situation, which comes to a head in the David Icke chapter -- which is great since it's such a kind of burlesque, absurdist chapter but at the same time that is what it's about: The extremists are getting crazier; so are our responses toward them”. In some ways then, The men who stare at goats is the flip side of the story. While conspiracy theories flourished amongst the marginalised and unstable, so too within the halls of power similar extreme reactions were being produced. “I would love one day for Picador to bring out the two books as a single volume, because I do agree that in some ways there a flip side of each other. It’s partly that move from the fringes of society into the mainstream, but it’s also to do with the fact that the men who stare at goats deals with one of the maddest conspiracy theories there is – says Ronson – David Icke will believe that a crack team of special forces soldiers trying to kill goats just by staring at them fits entirely into the idea that the global elite stems from these reptilian bloodlines trying to harness Satan’s power to control the people [Laughs]. In real life, it’s fuckin weird that they try this, but in real life what it is is just a group of goats standing there, not falling over! The book is humanising the grandest conspiracy theory that there is, and saying it’s true, but in a very different way”.
Critics might suggest that while Ronson talks about humanising the stories, that in fact he’s patronising the characters at the centre of his story. It’s a charge he’s heard before, and is quick to refute: “A couple of years ago people would accuse me, like Louis Theroux I suppose, of setting ourselves aside from the people we were chronicling, because we considered ourselves somehow better than the crazy people. And I never thought that was true about myself – I can’t speak for Louis – but it never rang true for me about myself. I thought it was implicit in what I wrote, that I was just as fallible as the people I was chronicling. So now, in the last couple of years, I’ve made a concerted effort to present myself in that way, because I don’t want there to be this sort of moral distance between the people that I write about. The reason that I choose the people I write about is because I sort of identify with them”.
Indeed, speaking with Ronson, a genuine affection seems to come across when he talks about people like Jim Channon, despite the results that his outlandish ideas have had. He mentions how many modern day useful inventions have come from military research :“In some ways you have to respect it. There are some inventions out there that have a positive impact on all our lives, that originated with US military scientists thinking ‘out of the box’ as they call it. One is fluorescent jackets – they were invented because allied planes needed something to spot to avoid friendly fire in the second world war – so in a way you have to respect them for not being afraid to seem kind of hare-brained, but at the same time there’s some fairly mad stuff”.
That Ronson knows how to tell a great, if outlandish, story is in no doubt. Both books look set to be turned into movies by Hollywood, which has Ronson genuinely excited. In the case of Them, the film looks set to be made by one of his favourite directors, who must remain nameless for the moment. On the face of it, to me, Them will be a tough project to bring to the screen. Ronson excitedly predicts that ”there’s the idea of a nebbish guy, a liberal, getting sucked into the world of conspiracies, and starts to question his rationality. It begins to seem as if the crazy people were right. Kind of Woody Allen meets the Manchurian Candidate!”
He admits to scanning reports and testimonies from released prisoners from Guantanamo bay, searching for traces of First Earth Battalion ideas, and from there goes off on a tangent about “The Gay Bomb” – pulling my leg, I presume, talking about research done by the US military to develop a bomb that would release a chemical aphrodisiac producing widespread homosexuality amongst enemy troops. Some quick research later and, lo and behold, it’s true – “The US military investigated building a ‘gay bomb’, which would make enemy soldiers ‘sexually irresistible’ to each other, Government papers say.”(source BBC News. Sometimes you just have to laugh…
STRANGE TALES OF FREAKS IN HIGH PLACES
Interviewed by Peter Murphy
“This story is about what happened when a small group of men – highly placed within the United States military, the government and the intelligence services – began believing in very strange things.”
Such is the cover blurb for ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats,’ the companion book to Jon Ronson’s fascinating, amusing and often disturbing Channel 4 series ‘The Crazy Rulers Of The World,’ and also the follow up to 2001’s excellent ‘Them: Adventures With Extremists.’ Both books serve as detailed but easily digestible beginners’ guides to various forms of extreme paranoia in late 20th/early 21st century America (and by extension, in cultures that either affiliate with or define themselves in opposition to the US). Them: Adventures With Extremists “Obviously they’re both set in America,” Ronson remarks as he pours us both a cup of coffee in the bar of the Merrion Hotel near the end of an afternoon’s press duties, “but I’m wondering if it’s the dark underbelly of human nature.” Them: Adventures With Extremists The Cardiff born author and documentary-maker is a diminutive character swaddled in a green parka, an open face under a shock of red hair, much younger looking than his 37 years. More to the point, he’s disarming and quite warm. That he should’ve spent the best part of the last decade functioning as a professional freak magnet – spending extended periods of time with fundamentalists, white militia types and paranoiacs of every stripe – seems incongruous, but perhaps no more so than those mild mannered crime writers or horror novelists who in person seem studious and polite, but in private splatter all manner of atrocities on the page.
“Maybe it’s a series of books about neuroses and paranoia in all its forms,” he continues. “In the first book I’m a bit of a neurotic character in it, but I’ve been writing loads lately about my family life, everyday life, that sort of bubble of irrational thought that dictates the characters in these two books. Nobody’s immune to it in a way. Don’t you think like, you have one thought and it spirals into another thought and suddenly you’ve gotten to a completely irrational place, but the way you got there seemed totally rational?”
Many of Ronson’s pronouncements end in a question that draws the interviewer out of formal remove and into the position of participant in a college cafeteria bull session. Yet despite having the kind of mind that simultaneously shoots off on multiple tangents, Ronson the writer is very good at rendering complex case histories and wacko ideologies in clear, simple language, distilling his research into extremely readable narratives.
“People have accused me in the second book of it not being exhaustive enough,” he considers. “I did this reading the other night in Cambridge and there was a don there – well he looked like a don with his glasses and his gown and tweed – and he was saying, ‘You didn’t put in all the stuff about the British in Northern Ireland,’ and I sort of said I wanted the second book to be a sort of chamber piece, this one small story.”
This “one small story” is the kind that raises serious questions about the mental stability of people in the higher echelons of the military-industrial complex. ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’ documents how a whole slew of esoteric notions – New Age doctrines, UFOlogy, quasi sci-fi ideas normally treated as the preserve of black helicopter-spotting nut jobs – found their way into military think-tanks investigating new methods of psychic warfare.
It might also be regarded as a secret history of American black ops, from the Cold War to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, from Waco to Abu Ghraib, featuring some remarkable dramatis personae: high-ranking army officers and tie-dyed lateral thinkers, hard-bitten war veterans and psychic freelance operatives courted by the military in the post-Vietnam hangover, many of whom were discharged in the 1980s, only to be recalled to service (or ‘reactivated’), in the wake of 9/11 and the War On Terror.
We’re talking about people like retired Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon, now resident on an eco-homestead in Hawaii, the author of the ‘First Earth Battalion Manual,’ which was, depending on how you look at it, a visionary template for a new kind of non-lethal warfare for the 21st century, or a load of codswallop cribbed from notions about mind control and can-you-feel-the-force-Luke Warrior Monk psychobabble. Or Major Ed Dames, a decorated army officer and ‘psychic spy’, who from 1995 onwards made a name for himself appearing on Art Bell’s Nevada based syndicated radio show predicting everything from pregnant Martians living underground in the desert to crop-destroying interstellar fungi to President Clinton being hit by lightning on the golf course. We’re talking about the existence of modules such as the wonderfully named Killology Research Group and top-secret military units (so secret they were denied access to the military’s coffee budget and forced to procure their own) sequestered in sheds “trying to be psychic” and attempting to kill goats by simply staring at them.
We’re talking about the US army trying to torture information from Iraqi prisoners by playing Metallica and Barney The Dinosaur records at high volume, ad nauseum. We’re talking about how a hoax photograph of a vessel tailing the Hale Bopp comet led to the mass suicides of the Heaven’s Gate cult. Even Uri Geller gets his ubiquitous mug in there somewhere.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Ronson sums up the thrust of ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’ in its closing chapter:
“I suppose this has been a book about the changing relationship between Jim Channon’s ideas and the army at large… Perhaps the story is this: in the late 1970s Jim, traumatised from Vietnam, sought solace in the emerging human potential movement of California. He took his ideas back into the army and they struck a chord with the top brass who had never before seen themselves as New Age, but in their post Vietnam funk it all made sense to them. But then, over the decades that followed, the army, being what it is, recovered its strength and saw that some of the ideas contained within Jim’s manual could be used to shatter people rather than heal them. Those are the ideas that live on in the War On Terror.”
The military and the counter-culture have always corresponded in cryptic ways, be it army technology birthing the Internet, or impoverished students volunteering for acid experiments, or the MK-ULTRA CIA operations in which their own operatives were covertly dosed in order to see how they held up under interrogation.
One of the more intriguing sub-plots in ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’ reads like something concocted by a caffeine-frazzled screenwriter working under the influence of ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ and ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’ It concerns a Maryland born man called Eric Olson. On a November morning in 1953, the nine year old Olson was woken and told that his father Frank, a civilian scientist working with chemicals at a nearby military base, had fallen or jumped out of a New York skyscraper window in a disorientated state and died.
Over the following years, Olson’s mother refused discuss her husband’s death in any detail, other than to speak of one night when he confided in her that he’d made a terrible mistake and was quitting his job to become a dentist. Then, in June 1975, the Washington Post ran a story about a civilian employee of the Department of the Army being given LSD as part of an MK-ULTRA experiment, and jumping ten floors to his death less than a week later following a meeting with CIA personnel.
It was, of course, Eric’s father. The revelations had come to light through the efforts of the Rockefeller Commission, set up to investigate CIA misdeeds in the aftermath of Watergate. The Olsons were invited to the Oval Office and personally given an apology by President Ford. But it didn’t end there. Eric Olson learned, through the assistant night manager at the hotel in which his father was staying, that shortly after Frank’s death the telephone switchboard operator put a call through to his room. The man who took the call said, ‘Well, he’s gone.’ The man who made the call said, ‘That’s too bad.’ Then they both hung up.
Continuing his investigations, Eric learned that his father had not reacted badly to the LSD at all, but had confided to friends that he found the incident rather funny. The plot thickened even further when he came to understand that his father was not in fact a civilian, but working for a CIA programme called Artichoke, which specialised in inventing brutal, violent and often fatal methods of interrogating people, including the administration and withholding of heroin. Frank Olson had been in Europe with the CIA, and was involved in experiments on ‘expendables’ (captured Russian agents and ex-Nazis). Eric believed his father witnessed and was possibly even directly involved in something so horrific it left him with no moral option but to leave his job. And soon after that, he was dead.
According to Ronson, what bothered Eric Olson most was that the press found the story of the CIA dosing his father with LSD more titillating than the notion that they might have killed him.
“In fact,” says Ronson, “he says that our cynicism is a thin veil beyond which we’re not cynical at all.”
The haunting part of the Frank Olson story is we never find out what exactly he witnessed in Europe that drove him to leave the CIA and put himself in danger.
“And Eric won’t really confront that,” Ronson nods. “The funny thing is, every word of Eric’s story might be absolutely true, but for Eric’s story to work, his father has to be a hero who was going to spill the beans so they pushed him out the window. And for the story to work for Eric, his father had to be slightly separate from whatever grotesque acts were going on, maybe he was brought in as an expert in chemical warfare, so he was almost like an advisor to the torture as opposed to an actual torturer. Eric could be absolutely right, certainly the story that he has created for himself is a lot more potent than the story the CIA put out. For the CIA story to work, I mean, when do you know of anybody who’s taken LSD and thought they could fly or had such a bad trip that they tried to kill themselves? Even at the depths of the madness you can still step back and say, ‘It’s the LSD that’s doing it.’ So Eric is onto something. What it was his father was involved in, it certainly seems to be some kind of grotesque version of the First Earth Battalion, some kind of think-tank.”
Still, even those of us who grew up on a diet of sci-fi comics, conspiracy thrillers and rock music would have difficulty imagining an institution like the US military plumbing such sources, psychic spies modelling themselves after Jedi Knights and so on. The idea that outré notions cooked up by acid-freaks and slackers could trickle up into the higher echelons…
“Yeah-yeah-yeah,” Ronson exclaims, “and then trickle back down to fuck us over. And that they, like us, were fans of 2000AD and Star Trek. They were getting ideas from sci-fi. They’re more likely to have gotten it from the TV than ancient history. I mean, one day I would love to see those two books out in one book ’cos I really think it’s like the journey’s continuing, ’cos when you think about it, this is one of the most whacked-out conspiracy theories, that there would be this occultist unit of mind control freaks at the highest places in intelligence who are kind of harnessing the dark powers of Satan in order to control us. And I think the second book shows that it’s basically true, but it’s true in this utterly human, buffoonish, rather weirdly innocuous way and manifests itself in people bonking their noses on walls.”
Ah yes, that would be a reference to the wonderfully named Major General Albert Stubblebine III, to whom Ronson dedicated the book. In the early 1980s Stubblebine was the US army’s chief of intelligence, a man driven with an evangelical zeal to introduce ideas about psychic healing, spoon bending, walking through walls, out of body experiences and goat-heart-stopping into the army’s research programmes. Here was a character straight out of Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove.’
The resemblance was not lost on Ronson. By coincidence, Tony Frewen, Stanley Kubrick’s assistant since the mid ’60s, phoned Ronson to request a copy of his radio documentary ‘Hotel Auschwitz’ back in 1996. Last year, Frewen returned the favour and allowed Ronson to go through the Kubrick estate’s archives, an experience he wrote about for The Guardian.
“The reason why I went through the archive,” Ronson says, “was ’cos I’d just started this book, and I wondered were there clues in there. That’s why I phoned Tony Frewen really to begin with. I said, ‘I bet you would have collected some amazing stuff for ‘Dr Strangelove,’ and he said, ‘Well come and have a look.”
Given that the legendary director was such a meticulous researcher, one imagines he must have gathered all kinds of skewed intelligence on Cold War psy-ops techniques, and that the real life counterparts of George C Scott and Peter Sellers were in there somewhere among the sealed boxes and filing cards. So did Ronson find anything?
“No, because almost all of the stuff really begins with 2001. I don’t know what happened to the (other) stuff, they might have lost it. From about ’69 onwards everything was unbelievably meticulously stuck in boxes and filed away, but ‘Strangelove’ was just a bit too early.”
Did he meet Christiane Kubrick?
“Yeah, she was sweet. It’s a funny old place, the Kubrick house. There are all these totally disparate characters. She’s a kind of hippy, would never harm a fly, Tony’s reminds me a bit of me, slightly paranoid, tenacious, and then we had Jan (Harlan, Kubrick’s brother in law and executive producer), who’s incredibly stringent, and I sort of think if you stuck all these people in one person you’d get Kubrick, so I sort of feel as if I met him because different aspects of his character were embodied by all the people still living in the house.”
‘Strangelove’ is not the only Kubrick opus invoked in ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats.’ When Ronson interviewed a soldier who worked the night shift at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the autumn of 2003, the man – who preferred to remain anonymous as he’d already been threatened with court martial for talking to the press – likened the place to The Overlook Hotel from ‘The Shining,’ believing that the building had its own malevolent presence dating back to the acid baths, the women being raped by dogs and various other atrocities perpetrated under Saddam Hussein. Speaking about the abuses committed by the US jarheads in the prison, the man said, “It was like the building wanted to be back in business.”
For his part, Ronson proposes that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were not just holding pens for suspected terrorists and enemies of the state, but that they also served as experimental interrogation laboratories, and that the detainees provided their captors with an opportunity to try out decades of untested psy-ops techniques stockpiled since the end of the Cold War, with Barney The Dinosaur and Metallica being just the tip of the iceberg.
“There’s a sort of question hanging over the book in the funny stories,” he remarks. “Like the Barney torture, are they deliberately…”
“Yeah, leaked. Because they’re funny stories.”
And thus deflect attention from the more sinister stuff. Ronson harbours serious doubts that the photographs of the sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners published by newspapers in April last year were the unauthorised sadistic acts of renegade individuals. Private Lynndie England, the 21-year-old US reservist who became the poster girl for the scandal, may have been portrayed by the media as a ‘Deliverance’ style cracker, but the author reckons the images were way too sophisticated to be the work of rogue rednecks.
“It seemed so complex,” he says, “ those photographs are so whacked out, they’re so complicated, they look like tableaux that have been deliberately designed to become these incredibly powerful photographs.”
Certainly, the pictures of human pyramids and the hooded figure standing on a box with electrodes attached to his limbs, these looked like stills from a surrealist horror movie, halfway between ‘Ringu’ and ‘Un Chien Andalou.’ One can only speculate as to the impact of such images on a prisoner deprived of sleep and blasted with loud music for days on end.
“It would drive you insane,” Ronson says. “It was a psy-op product, it must have been. And you wonder if it’s ever going to be officially recognised as such. None of the people charged have said ‘I’m pleading not guilty because I was ordered to do this.’ I think Lynndie England’s main trial is coming up, so it may still all come out, my theory on this may still be officially vindicated. And you walk the path backwards and that takes you to the New Age movement of the 80s, it’s kind of incredible.”
Ronson also detects earlier antecedents of these practices in the way the FBI approached the sieges at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and Waco, Texas. The Ruby Ridge incident was documented in the ‘Running Through Cornfields’ episode in ‘Them,’ which described how FBI agents accidentally murdered survivalist Randy Weaver’s wife Vicki and son Sammy in a bungled attempt to take him in on minor firearms violations. The Weaver case not only generated spectacularly bad press for the Feds, it also galvanised and united hitherto disparate back-to-the-landers, Aryan Nations types, anti-ZOG (Zionist Organised Government) militia men and all manner of folk gone off-the-grid.
“They were trying out all these psychological techniques at Ruby Ridge,” Ronson says.
“They were saying, ‘Vicki, Vicki, tell Randy to pick up the phone,’ when they knew Vicki was dead. The last time I saw Randy was drunk in a bar, and he started sort of telling me, ‘It’s my fault, let them take away all the shit, it’s my fault, I’m the one who armed the kids, I’m the one who didn’t give up when the Feds told me to go that court hearing.’”
But as some of the published transcripts of exchanges between FBI negotiators and David Koresh attest, the siege of the Branch Davidian Church at Waco was an even worse sham.
“I’m sure there’s no question that Waco was an experiment in interrogation,” says Ronson, “and a publicity stunt because of Ruby Ridge. They could’ve picked Koresh up in town whenever they wanted. So the first thing that happens is they think, ‘Okay we’re getting really bad publicity over Ruby Ridge; what’s a better publicity stunt than… nobody likes a child-molesting, gun-toting militant cult.’ So that was the first fuck-up. The second fuck-up is, you have these people in a siege situation and suddenly they start treating them as laboratory rats. And I’m not even sure how conscious they are of it, but that’s what they did.
“I’m sure the way to understand Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo is to look at Waco,” he concludes. “Ruby Ridge I reckon was on a smaller scale, and Guantanamo Bay, that’s all it is, I’m sure of that. This casserole of ideas. And I wanted to show how these sort of slapstick ideas made on high become concrete and result in human rights abuses.”
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