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The KGB, Hypnosis and the game of Chess

In Massimo Introvigne’s work, Lavage de cerveau: mythe ou réalité? (Brainwashing: myth or reality) (1) we read: “In 1949 two anti-communist American academics, George Sylvester Counts (1889-1974) and Nucia Perlmutter Lodge (1894-1983), a Russian emigrée, published a study, in which, using Stalinist trials as a starting point, they went back to more general ‘mind control’ that the regime would use on the Russian population and would also try to export to the West.”


It appeared that mind control was the aim of several post-war communist governments.  A pertinent example of this is the case of brainwashing by the Chinese.  This led to the “conversion of several missionaries” to communism.  Robert J Lifton (2),

a famous psychiatrist of the Frankfurt School, put into perspective the capacity of the Chinese torturers, whose method of changing people’s thoughts was, according to him, no great magic.  He confirmed that a little fewer than half the people on whom the Chinese experimented mind control had been “converted to communism”.  Some had merely simulated converting in order to avoid being punished.  According to Lifton, the remaining “patients” had exhibited a predisposition to being easily influenced; in all likelihood the subjects were the victims of sexual, physical or emotional control, such as incestuous sexual repression, or indoctrination from early childhood of “ideas such as Catholicism”.  Following a US Congress hearing,

a CIA director explained in quite graphic detail (quoted by Introvigne in an interview – see note 3) what the communists

were doing with the minds of subjects who were proving more difficult to influence.  “The brain is like a gramophone.  Now the communists have discovered a way to change the record.”  The problem was that the CIA had not mastered the procedure and their own experiments did not help them to grasp, at that time, all the subtleties of thought control practised by the communists.

Robert j Lifton
Chinese propaganda poster

Psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton

Chinese Communist Propaganda Poster

In the CIA the desired effect was not to be found.  The US psychiatrists experimented with brainwashing in two distinct phases.  The ‘negative phase’ was a form of dormant schizophrenia, induced by a process of hypnosis.  Its aim was to wipe the subject’s memory in order to cause a breaking down of his external personality, his ‘interface’ with other people and his intellectual certainties and experiences.  Unfortunately, even though many of these psychiatrists succeeded in this first phase, the majority of the ‘patients’, whose brains had been wiped in this way, would remain in a ‘vegetative state’.


The second phase of mind control appears to have been a failure and though they may have managed to change the record, they were far from being able to overwrite it.


For their part the Russians appeared to have found a solution to the difficulties encountered by the US psychiatrists within their methods of mind control – and a lot earlier.  It was with a certain irony that the Soviets would watch the experts in the West pulling their hair out about the nuclear arms race and their mastery of the atom.  Whilst digging in the archives of the Russian secret service, the CIA had finally discovered that the KGB were convinced that they were going to win the Cold War “by waging psychological warfare on their opponents”(4).


The Soviets approached mind control as akin to ‘religious conversion’ and that was, without doubt, what made their operation effective.  In truth, it took a long time for the West to associate brainwashing with psychological reductionism of a religious type.  In the 1960s the English psychiatrist, William Walter Sargant (1907-1988), would, in the 1960s (see Battle for the Mind – note 5), actually construct a theory partially based on the “experiments of Pavlov and his dogs”.  Sargant identified Soviet mind control, and that practised by the Chinese, as a more general process of religious conversion, which had already existed for a long time, notably amongst the Jesuits.  It is this which in all likelihood explains the Soviets’ fascination for hypnotism and telepathy and the fact that they had undertaken a certain amount of research into the paranormal in conjunction with the KGB.


Here we will look at two examples, relating to chess tournaments, which unfolded in the middle of the Cold War.  As emphasised by Sheila Ostrander in an interview (6), “victory was extremely prestigious; it was like winning a gold medal at the Olympics”. The Russians would not be able to tolerate a defeat, which would be seen by the world (or so the Russians thought) as an avowal of American superiority, or a weakness in the Soviet doctrine.  The game of chess, which (according to legend) had been invented by the Greeks beneath Troy’s city walls following the siege, represented to the Russians the perfect image of ‘two camps’; two different ideologies confronting each other on the world chessboard.  A chess tournament represented perfectly the psychological war.  It was the perfect opportunity for the Russians to attempt to hypnotise or render their most susceptible opponents schizophrenic; those such as Bobby Fischer and Viktor Korchnoi.


Born in Chicago in 1943, Bobby Fischer became US chess champion in 1958.  He was only 15 years old.  Some years later he would beat Petrosian and Geller at the Interzonal Tournament.  But, after his failure at the Candidates Tournament, Bobby Fischer began to accuse the Soviets of a plot to retain the title of world champion.  He subsequently boycotted several competitions and ended up being successful in some of his claims against the Russians in relation to matters of security and the way in which the tournaments were run.  In 1972 the ‘game of the century’ took place in Iceland, the outcome of which was that Bobby became world champion.  Relations between the USA and the USSR became strained by the victory and Bobby, a little too ‘mediatised’, began to believe that the Soviets would take revenge on him.  Suddenly anxious, he no longer disputed any official competitions.  From 1975 he became paranoid and was diagnosed by Dr Louise Morissette as suffering from schizophrenia.

1972 chess championship Fischer and Spassky
Chess players Greek amphora

The 1972 World Chess Championship between Bobby Fischer  of the United States and the USSR's Boris Spassky.

Ajax and Achilles (purportedly) playing Chess.

Exekias c.540-530 BC

Strangely, Bobby Fischer was not the only victim of this misfortune, which reoccurred after the appearance before the Russian chess champion of a weighty opponent.  This was the famous Viktor Korchnoi.  Defecting to the West in 1976, leaving behind his wife and son, he hoped to beat Anatoly Karpov in Baguio, so as to persuade the Soviet government to liberate his family.  This was in 1978 and, Korchnoi having appeared a lot in the media, the KGB decided not to eliminate him.  As Kalugin, a former KGB General explained (7), the assassination programme would cover “political dissidents, enemies of the Soviet system and former citizens of the USSR”.  Korchnoi was a ‘choice target’.  But being the centre of attention, continued Kalugin, “a team of KGB agents was dispatched to destabilise Korchnoi and compromise all chances of his winning”.  A call was made to a Vladimir Zukar, who began to observe every aspect of Korchnoi’s behaviour.  Although a passive observer, Zukar, known for his work in parapsychology, appeared enough of an influence on Korchnoi to destabilise him.  During his game against Karpov, Korchnoi became suddenly anxious and ‘hesitant’, reported Paul Stonehill (8), “even though his game was usually aggressive and dynamic”.


Viktor Korchnoi very soon accused the Soviets of attempting to hypnotise him and rebelled, maintaining that a game of chess could not continue normally when you hear a voice in your head saying, “you are nothing but a traitor to the Soviet people; you must not win against Karpov, you must lose!”  It was then that the Soviets replied to Korchnoi, who had railed against them, that Zukar had only been studying him, watching his body language, so that he could give advice to Karpov”.


The Soviet dream was to be able to influence people’s minds from a distance, while being in command of all aspects of mind control.  As underlined by George Sylvester Counts and Nucia Perlmutter Lodge, this was entrenched in a tradition illustrated time and again during the Stalinist trials and which drew from sources, according to the psychiatrist, William Sargant, at the heart of “methods of religious conversion”.  Would such sectarian practices have taken place within the Russian Orthodox church or Polish Catholicism?  Or did a sectarian religious structure with dubious practices exist in the Slavic countries, whose infiltrated networks would have been underlying Catholicism or the Orthodox church.  This is a theory put forward by certain writers.


Whatever the answer, the scientific progress made in the second half of the 20th century appears to have provided the Soviets with the means to their end.  Today, with electromagnetic waves, it is in all likelihood possible to listen remotely to a person’s thoughts, to program certain people who are predisposed and to cause an episode of schizophrenia.  This still remains a burning issue, as much with the Americans as with the Russians.  Already in 1974 Professor Jose Delgado, physiologist at Yale University, predicted that in the very near future it would be possible to “control the brain electrically”.  He had been experimenting for a long time with implanting electrodes in certain parts of the brain.  At first the procedure had to be carried out with wires, but Delgado very quickly came up with a radio-controlled system – the ‘stimoceiver’.  Such discoveries enabled him to put more revealing proposals to the US Congress concerning research carried out by his superiors: “We need a programme of psychosurgery for political control of our society.  The purpose is physical control of the mind.  Everyone who deviates from the given norm can be surgically mutilated.  The individual may think that the most important reality is his own existence, but this is only his personal point of view.  This lacks historical perspective.  Man does not have the right to develop his own mind.  This kind of liberal orientation had great appeal.  We must electrically control the brain.  Some day armies and generals will be controlled by electric stimulation of the brain”. (9)


Professor Jose Delgado’s views may seem scandalous and anti-democratic, but they are frighteningly current and based on older programmes.  We only need limit ourselves to the well-known case of the ‘Moscow Signal’. (10)  It is here that the Soviets’ interest in using electromagnetic waves in mind control is clearly demonstrated.


In around 1962 the CIA became concerned about the health of staff at the US embassy in Moscow; they were suffering recurring bouts of depression, inexplicable crying fits and feelings of disorientation.  More serious, though, three ambassadors in a row developed cancer.  After numerous investigations the CIA discovered (11) that the KGB had transformed the US embassy into a psychiatric test laboratory.  KGB agents, posted in a building opposite the embassy, were beaming electromagnetic waves into the embassy and its personnel.  Ambassador Walter Stossel’s office was particularly targeted and this appeared to have a profound effect on the state of his health.  Despite US protests, the Soviets refused to modify their set-up.  This, according to an unofficial source, consisted of radio waves intended to ‘scan’ the brain of the target subjects, so as to influence them in certain decision-making processes.

The old US embassy in Moscow
US ambassador Llewellyn Thompson

U.S. Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who died of cancer in 1972. A target of the KGB?

The old US embassy in Moscow, which was still in use until its relocation to the new Chancery in June 2000.

Contrary to appearances, the great powers’ interest in non-lethal weapons did not end with the Cold War.  If anything, it increased following the fall of the Iron Curtain.  In fact, not only did the borders between political groups in conflict become blurred, but terrorist organisations, anonymous and without national identity, mingled with the civilian population.  These factors brought about an escalation in the development of ‘psychotronic’ weapons, whose operators remained in the shadows and left no trace on the target if things went wrong.


Currently, it is highly probable that if we were to enter into a war, we would not even notice, initially at least.  New technologies are extremely advanced and the days of our image of mind control using drugs and electric shock treatment are gone.  From now on a group of people can be mentally or physically controlled remotely by electromagnetic impulses.  If there were a conflict and these weapons were used, there would no longer be any way, either for civilians or soldiers, of differentiating between a friend or an enemy; of knowing how to react to this type of weapon. The processes are so revolutionary that some scientists have gone so far as to compare this technological leap to that of the development from gunpowder to the atomic bomb.  We can better understand the anxieties expressed in a recent report of the European Parliament on the ‘environment, security and foreign affairs’.  Here we read that it would be highly desirable to establish “an international convention for a global ban on all research and development, whether military or civilian, which seeks to apply knowledge of the chemical, electrical, sound vibration or other functioning of the human brain to the development of weapons which might enable any form of manipulation of human beings…” (12)


But aren’t such weapons already in use?  Obviously, we think of Echelon or the HAARP programme, as well as directed energy, such as lasers or microwaves, which can cut human targets to shreds from a long distance.  Amongst other uses of these weapons, which are a result of research into electromagnetic waves, we are able to report on a series of attacks in the last few months against the industrial computer systems in Iran.  According to Hamid Alipour, deputy head of Iran’s Information Technology Co, more than 30,000 computers were infected with a virus called Stuxnet. This self-replicating worm resembles a many-headed hydra and is so complex that it can infect any computer, even those not connected to the internet.  How is it transmitted?  No-one knows.  Its effects include “the physical destruction of systems it touches”.  Its incredibly high production cost, due to the complexity of its programming, along with the fact that it was aimed at the nuclear centre at Bouchehr in Iran, leads western experts to believe that only one nation could have developed it…






1:  La lavage de cerveau: mythe ou réalité? by Massimo Introvigne and Dick Anthony, L’Harmattan, 2006.


2:  Robert J Lifton, American psychiatrist, influenced by the Frankfurt School, is, along with Edgar H Schein, one of the founders

     of the modern theory of mental conditioning.


3:  Massimo Introvigne, President of CESNUR  (Centre for the Study of New Religions), interviewed in 2006.


4:  Documentary, The Secret KGB Paranormal Files


5:  Battle for the mind: a physiology of conversion and brainwashing, Penguin, 1961.


6:  Documentary, The Secret KGB Paranormal Files


7:  Documentary, The Secret KGB Paranormal Files


8:  Documentary, The Secret KGB Paranormal Files


9:  Transcripts of 24 February 1974 hearings of the US Congress, no 26, vol 118.


10: Documentary, The Secret KGB Paranormal Files


11: Documentary, The Secret KGB Paranormal Files


12: Report of the European Parliament, 14 January 1999, PE227.710/fin. A4-0005/99 on the environment, security and foreign policy.

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Isaac Ben Jacob

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