We Are In Bat Country: Launch! Launch!

My policy toward drug use is pretty open: do what you want, carefully, and accept the consequences if you screw up.

Back in the late 90s, I tried LSD a couple of times. It was an intense and demanding experience and I’m glad that I tried it, but it’s not something I feel the urge to experience over and over. It was definitely interesting, though; it’s hard to describe what it’s like because what you are experiencing is what your brain does when it’s all messed up. It certainly gave me pause to reflect about “what is thinking?” and how much of my sense of self is dependent on my mental state. I know a few people who have creative bursts on the stuff, or who use it to stay awake. One of the scariest use cases I know for LSD is an old hippie who drives from West Texas to an East Coast renaissance faire, and does the drive on low doses of LSD to keep himself awake. So, if you want a scary mental picture: you could be driving through the midwestern darkness on some back road in Oklahoma, and the guy in the F-250 with the trailer next to you could be in cruise control and floating on a tab of acid. I used to think that was one of the most irresponsible things I’d ever heard of anyone doing on drugs, but – stay tuned.

LSD has a particularly bad reputation with the government, because the CIA experimented extensively with it, to see if it could be used as a psychological reprogramming drug. They never were able to get that to work, but did manage to kill one of their experimental subjects: he was surreptitiously given, uninformed, the equivalent of 2 or 3 tabs of LSD. Unsurprisingly, he thought there was something very wrong with him, and freaked out, ending up with jumping out of a window to his death. [wik] When I was in high school, the government promoted a story that LSD could do that sort of thing to people on a regular basis, so: avoid it! It’s a pretty compelling story, but they left out the part where they said “and believe us, because we’re the guys who caused that incident!” The whole program was called MKULTRA; it is a litany of unethical and outright evil actions carried out by the CIA against US citizens. [wik]

There are stories I’ve never confirmed, that if you try to get an NSA or CIA security clearance you can admit to using just about any drug except LSD. Basically, the CIA has concluded that LSD is a big no-no, no matter what. Isn’t it funny, the conclusions we form? The CIA concludes there is something wrong with LSD; I conclude there is something wrong with the CIA.

So, in my experience, which is limited, LSD does not make you come up with ideas like “hey, let’s destroy the world!” although, it might – people who are tripping on acid sometimes have unusual ideas. We need to hope that “let’s destroy the world!” is not a typical one, because recent reports indicate that there have been groups of ballistic missile operators that have been having little LSD soirees down in the silos. What could possibly go wrong?

A report entitled Human Safety and Reliability in Handling Nuclear Weapons [sgs] has a compilation of scary stories: nuclear weapons operators who were suicidal, abusive, substance abusers, etc. – basically: humans. The problem is that being custodian of a multiple city-killer is a superhuman responsibility. By the way, that stuff you see in the movies, where two people have to turn keys at the same time to launch a weapon, etc – that’s not entirely true; there are circumstances in which an individual can launch a missile.

The breakdowns in the report are not minor; most of them are murders. Perhaps the kind of person who’s willing to murder a million strangers, actually is a sub-par human being. Or, more likely, as Nietzsche would say, “human, all too human.”

All of these episodes were associated with a single ballistic missile submarine base. Similar breakdowns in behavior have occurred at other weapon facilities. In this case, the events were sufficiently publicized to provoke concern in Washington State about the navy’s missile handlers. All had been PRP certified. Recent reviews had disclosed no problems, behavior or attitudes that might have caused revocation of their PRP status. The Bangor base commander, Rear Admiral Raymond G. Jones, ordered a review of the PRP procedures and management. Washington congressman Norman Dicks called for a review of the navy’s PRP, saying “Dramatic improvements [in the monitoring system] are necessary.”

A week later, chief of naval operations Admiral Carlisle A.H. Trost told a House subcommittee that he had ordered a complete review of the Naval PRP because of the incidents. Subsequent investigation by the navy revealed that Drizpaul had been known to drink excessively, to carry an unregistered hand gun, and to have claimed to have been a trained assassin. But this information was never conveyed to his superiors – a “significant lapse in security,” according to the  chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Charles R. Larson.

The experience at Bangor is a striking illustration of the difficulty of assuring stability in nuclear weapons personnel even when well  developed systems of screening are employed.

“PRP” is the Personnel Reliability Program; it’s the psychological stability/ideological correctness check intended to prevent unstable people from getting release authority over a nuclear weapon.

The Air Force has its own problems: [guard]

Meet service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles that are among the most powerful in America’s arsenal. Air force records obtained by the Associated Press show they bought, distributed and used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure military base in Wyoming.

“Although this sounds like something from a movie, it isn’t,” said Capt Charles Grimsley, the lead prosecutor of one of several courts martial.

A slip-up on social media by one airman enabled investigators to crack the drug ring at FE Warren Air Force Base in March 2016. The details are reported here for the first time. Fourteen airmen were disciplined, of whom six were convicted in courts martial of LSD use or distribution or both.

and later:

The accused service members were from the 90th Missile Wing, which operates one-third of the 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles that stand “on alert” 24/7 in underground silos scattered across the northern Great Plains

The good news is that they say “we never did it when we were on duty” which I totally believe. Not that it matters, much, the effects of LSD are pretty serious and you can be disoriented for days. Any of you who have taken prescription antidepressants that alter your serotonin or dopamine levels, you have some idea how it feels to have your neurotransmitter levels shifted around – well, if antidepressants are sort of twiddling the dials, LSD rips the faceplate right off the machine and reaches in and jiggles stuff around; it’s not gentle and it has memorable moments. I am not happy at all to hear that people who literally have a finger on the button are messing with that stuff.

If you’re worried that Donald Trump is an amphetamine abusing goofball who can order a nuclear strike, it should not come as any comfort to learn that the Air Force, whose members are the ones that will actually do the launching, and who can launch if they conclude that the National Command Authority (NCA) has been destroyed – i.e.: a first strike has killed the president – those guys are tripping their brains out.

It’s bat country.

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By the way, MKULTRA was administered by CIA psychologists. It was just them doing their little bit to discredit the entire field. [stderr]

When the Church commission learned about MKULTRA, the CIA destroyed all of its files related to the program. Does this sound in any way familiar?

“Memorable moments” – I believe that the famous ‘LSD flashbacks’ are memories that get laid down in your mind with tremendous clarity; there is a relationship between amphetamines and an increase in the vividness and rapidity with which memories are laid down. Well, LSD flashbacks are like that, by a factor of several.

The US Air Force is heavily infested with nihilist death-cultists who all believe that they will go be with their god when they die. [db] Death cultists who believe in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil, which will be resolved with divine fire: just the kind of people you want in control of hundreds of city-killers.


  1. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#1:
    Or (per suspicions of his family) being pushed.

    Yes, there’s that possibility as well. Either way, the CIA was completely responsible for his death.

    When the LSD starts to hit you, you have this profoundly weird feeling, like your brain is forming into something different – it’s indescribable and it’s usually interesting more than it is pleasant. But that’s because most of the time, you know you’ve taken a dose of psychoactives and when your mind starts getting weird you keep telling yourself, “ah, that’s the acid!” Or, at least, that was always my mantra of self-reassurance. I think I’ve done acid a total of 4 or 5 times (between 1996 and 1999) and there were distinct moments where I thought “oh, shit, I’ve broken my brain” – it can be very intense. Having that sort of feeling when you had no idea what was going on; I can totally envision how someone could think they were having a stroke or a psychotic episode and try to escape into oblivion. Giving someone a stiff dose of LSD with no warning is one of the nastiest things I have ever heard of anyone doing; naturally, the CIA did it.

  2. says

    Semi-related: you ever notice how a lot of people talk about why Muslims should not have atomic weapons? Because, you know, they’re all crazed nihilist death cultists who want to be martyrs. Christians are the same – in fact, they invented martyrdom before Islam was a thing. And the US strategic weapons commands are packed full of them. Someone ought to get the US disarmed and under UN inspection, stat!

  3. bmiller says

    Damn, Marcus. Any feeble, flickering remnants of nationalism lurking deep under the surface in my brainwashed mind…extirpated.

  4. says

    “PRP” is the Personnel Reliability Program; it’s the psychological stability/ideological correctness check intended to prevent unstable people from getting release authority over a nuclear weapon.

    I have no doubt that it is absolutely foolproof. There’s just no way somebody could cheat in a test. /sarcasm tag

    I know a guy who was colorblind. He was applying for some job where it was necessary to be able to see colors. The hiring department didn’t just ask potential employees whether they are colorblind or not. They didn’t trust people to tell the truth, which is why they conducted tests. What did my acquaintance do? Before the test he simply got himself a copy of the color test chart, and he just learned by heart the whole chart. Thus a colorblind person successfully passed a test, which was supposed to prevent colorblind people from applying for the job.

    Psychological tests are even simpler to cheat. You just need to know the correct answers, namely what a normal person would say for each question.

    Incidentally, some people are extremely good at hiding their problems. For example, often family members have no clue about the fact that somebody they are sharing a house with is on the verge of committing suicide.

    In my opinion, creating a situation where multiple people have to press a button simultaneously is safer than testing employees’ psychological stability. The probability of multiple people simultaneously getting suicidal seems smaller than the probability of one person getting high on drugs, becoming suicidal, etc.

  5. jazzlet says

    I am lucky, the time I started to hallucinate (without being in a fever) I remember thinking very clearly, ‘no cigarette packets don’t sit up and talk, cue balls don’t jump around pool tables like that, you’d never be able to play if they did, someone has put somethng in my beer’ (they hadn’t). I knew about hallucinating, I’d even experienced it before when fevered, and I knew what was happeneing wasn’t real, but it did take me a while to work it out and that period was … disconcerting. It must have been terrifying for that poor bloke.

    As for doing it voluntarily when you are in charge of weapons given how long the effects last? Nihilist death cultists is it.

  6. Bill Spight says

    From “Dr. Strangelove”:

    President Muffley (upon hearing that General Jack D. Ripper has sent SAC planes to bomb the Soviet Union): General Turgidson! When you instituted the human reliability tests, you assured me there was no possibility of such a thing ever occurring!
    Turgidson: Well, I, uh, don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir.

  7. Some Old Programmer says

    I had the civilian experience of getting clearance for unescorted access to a nuclear power plant (not that I had any access to the control room–just so I could get to the computer room without a babysitter). It started with the MMPI. For those not familiar, it is (or at least was in the 1980s) hundreds of True/False questions, some more surreal than others (e.g. “I like tall women”). I only lied on one question, “I am strongly attracted to members of my own sex”. Then there was a background check by Pinkertons–they had trouble developing independent character references, as apparently those I nominated tended to cite each other. So they took the expeditious route of asking me for more references. Then there was a followup to the MMPI with a shrink who, as I recall, wasn’t overly impressed with the MMPI as a whole.
    All in all, an interesting exercise in bureaucracy. It felt to me like it was biased to social norms, and too much coloring outside the lines would make it tougher to get access. Of course whether that correlated with someone who shouldn’t have access was left as an exercise for the reader.

  8. jrkrideau says

    It started with the MMPI.
    Trust the US Gov’t to use the worst possible thing.
    Did they proceed to a lie detector test?

  9. Some Old Programmer says

    jrkrideau @10:

    Trust the US Gov’t to use the worst possible thing.
    Did they proceed to a lie detector test?

    No, thankfully. That was a factor in jobs that needed a security clearance, and pre-HTG vs. DISCO, that was an unacknowledged reason why I turned down a job with Raytheon doing software QA for the “Peacekeeper” system.

  10. says

    Trust the US Gov’t to use the worst possible thing.

    No! The worst possible thing would be Myers-Briggs.
    “Oh, you’re an INTJ – that says you’re stable and reliable with an outgoing personality who likes to see a job well done, yet who is capable of disassociating and becoming an authoritarian robot. You’re just who we’re looking for!”

  11. chigau (違う) says

    As much as I dropped (not much) (ca. 1970 – 1972) (never as an adult)
    I never saw bats.
    There was alot of … glowing … things … but never any bats.

  12. says

    Some Old Programmer @#9

    It felt to me like it was biased to social norms, and too much coloring outside the lines would make it tougher to get access. Of course whether that correlated with someone who shouldn’t have access was left as an exercise for the reader.

    I consider myself pretty cynical. I usually expect the worst from governments. It’s rare for me to learn that something was worse than what I expected. Yet that’s exactly what just happened. I was expecting some attempt to find out whether that person who is about to get near the nukes is mentally ill, hears voices, hallucinates, etc., that sort of things. And now I find out that instead they were interested in how meticulously somebody followed the social norms. WTF? How the hell does being attracted to members of your own sex is even relevant in figuring out whether you can be allowed to get near the nuke button? That’s just plain discrimination. (A gay dude with an earring and a tattoo on his arm! OMFG! Just look at him, of course somebody like him cannot be allowed anywhere near the nuke button!)

    Personally, I don’t just blindly follow social norms. Some of them are reasonable and make sense. For example, I’m perfectly fine with social norms that require people to be polite. However, a significant portion of social norms are outdated, misogynistic, discriminatory, or simply plain silly. For example, gender norms, dating etiquette, dress codes, requirement to practice monogamy, various social norms that limit and oppress human sexuality in general, nudity taboos, etc.

    hundreds of True/False questions, some more surreal than others (e.g. “I like tall women”)

    Questions like this one make me wonder how sane the people who made the test were. If you have a sexual fetish for tall women, you can answer with “true.” If you have a sexual fetish for short women, you can answer with “false,” because you don’t like tall women. However, majority of human population cannot answer this question with either “true” or “false,” because the height of some person is not an important factor in determining whether they like this person (for example, I like some tall women and I dislike some other tall women, for me height isn’t particularly important). If the guy who wrote this test had some sexual fetishes, that’s fine; after all, I have nothing against sexual fetishes. However, he should have understood that majority of human population does not share his fetish and hence they won’t be able to answer such a question with either “true” or “false.”

  13. jrkrideau says

    @ 12 Marcus Ranum
    No! The worst possible thing would be Myers-Briggs.

    Got me!

    I was going to say that even the US Gov’t would not use the MBTI for hiring but then I remembered they use polygraph tests.

  14. Some Old Programmer says

    Ieva Skrebele @14
    From experience, I’ve tried to keep in mind how much I don’t know as a couterbalance to my more cynical side.

    For instance, I don’t know much about psychology (I skived off the required 101 course in college). So maybe researchers have some basis (i.e. some data–you know, science) that reaction a minor social variance (tall woman) would have a differential meaning for a given psychological state. I suppose that could be why it isn’t a True/False/Who-Gives-a-Shit test. Of course the history of the development of the MMPI doesn’t inspire confidence in the evidence. And what the hell was up with all the questions about bowel movements?

    My feckless optimist observes that I went through the process required by the US Department of Energy, whereas the process for access to nuclear weaponry would be dictated by the US Department of Defense, so naturally those requirements had to be more stringent. Of course my cynical side guesses that they just added on a security clearance–but I don’t actually know.

    It’s an interesting mental exercise to explore who you want to exclude and how to measure the disqualifiers. Who would I want to exclude? Well, certainly anyone who honestly believed that paradise awaits the virtuous in an afterlife. Unfortunately that’s a social norm, so would be impractical.

    The time period for my experience was the mid-1980s, an era when the US government was being pushed out from some of it’s reflexive rejection of everything that wasn’t utterly mundane. Or it could be argued that it was being forced to expand on what’s considered mundane. The courts were forcing agencies away from the presumption that being gay was disqualifying because of blackmail. I was a member of High Tech Gays in San Jose in the late 80s, and I heard stories from members that had a security clearance. The experience they related is that they needed to affirm that they engaged in every kinky sex act that DISCO investigators asked them about–you certainly didn’t want to express distaste for anything they suggested. It was even suggested (seriously? I don’t know) that you would prove you couldn’t be blackmailed about your sexual orientation by placing a call to your mother and describing your sexual practices.

  15. EigenSprocketUK says

    They were disciplined? That’s it?
    If I did anything that potentially crazy (say, driving down the wrong side of the high-speed highway but luckily not doing anything worse than giving everyone the fright of their lives), I’d be in prison. Still, one rule for me and one rule for those in the service of the rule-makers, I guess.

  16. says

    And now I find out that instead they were interested in how meticulously somebody followed the social norms. WTF? How the hell does being attracted to members of your own sex is even relevant in figuring out whether you can be allowed to get near the nuke button?

    I’m guessing the argument is that people who don’t follow social norms are susceptible to blackmail. Of course, that’s a result of said norms, not the people who don’t follow them. Relax the norms and the problem goes away.

  17. lorn says

    Context is important:The US was perceived as being in the middle of a potential existential struggle known widely as the Cold War. LSD was new and while it was apparent that it wasn’t a biological poison it was clear it had profound, albeit mostly temporary, effects on the mind. It seemed reasonable that if it was used as a weapon or as part of a strategy, perhaps mind control but also as a disrupter (it was understood that mixed in with DMSO or other carrier it could be administered as a spray) that it most likely would be used on people unaware of what was going on. Volunteers, possibly by self-selecting for psychological type and possibly because they had ‘braced’ themselves, might react differently.

    The testing was sloppy and poorly controlled. But it did show that LSD wasn’t an effective mind control agent, even as part of a larger process, or likely to be used as a weapon simply because the results were unreliable and extremely variable.

    The CIA was involved because if there was any potential to use LSD as a mind control agent they both wanted to defend against it, and, possible, use it. Had it worked the potential operational uses would have constituted a virtual Rorschach test for users. On the up side entire wars could be avoided by spraying leaders and having them agree to do it our way. Battles might end when a crop duster sprays the enemy troops and they are told that we are their friends and that they should lay down their arms … and they do. More nefarious operators would use it to convince people that Coke tasted bad but Pepsi is wonderful. Inevitable the process would be used to throw those switches the opposite way. No doubt it would have drifted into politics and advertising.

    The modern complaint is that media manipulation allows political parties to convert a substantial fraction of the population into instantly re-programmable meat-puppets. The story of LSD was a foreshadowing of how people were thinking about mind control and where it was all going 50 years before Fox News, talk radio, and Twitter.

    LSD use by military personnel is simply a symptom of how mind numbingly boring the missile crews have it. On on level they are being judged and tested (with 100% being the only acceptable score) and abandoned/ ignored by turns. Morale tends to be low because they never ‘do’ anything but drills, and there is virtually no opportunity for advancement. The commands tend to be dead-ends for careers. Stress, boredom, and over-specialization, it isn’t like there is a whole lot of call for missile launch officers elsewhere in the military or in civilian life, keeps morale low.

    The good/bad news is that the Russian missile troops, by some accounts I’ve read, are are just as demoralized, or worse. I’ve not seen anything about Chinese strategic missile personnel but the job seems to have the mind fucking aspects baked in so it wouldn’t surprise me to find out they are similarly demoralized and not infrequently whacked on their drug of choice. Add in some religious fanaticism, particularly in the case of Pakistan and India, but not unknown in the US case, and it paints a pretty picture of the global situation. That the US strategic nuclear forces are being controlled by an orange-faced idiot child is just the cherry on top.

  18. says

    LykeX @#19

    I’m guessing the argument is that people who don’t follow social norms are susceptible to blackmail. Of course, that’s a result of said norms, not the people who don’t follow them. Relax the norms and the problem goes away.

    If the goal was preventing potential blackmail, then the hiring department was doing it completely wrong. Instead of hiring people who follow social norms and appear virtuous, they should have done the exact opposite—hire the openly gay dude, who has blue hair, piercings on his face and tattoos on his arms, who periodically dresses up as a drag queen and whose CV states that he used to work part-time as a porn star back in the college years. It is impossible to blackmail somebody who openly ignores social norms. Such a person simply wouldn’t give a fuck if somebody threatened to tell others about his sex life. The people who follow social norms and try to publicly appear virtuous are the ones who can be blackmailed. The fact that they try to maintain the appearance of following social norms indicates that they care about how others perceive them. And let’s be realistic—majority of humans have some secrets that could potentially be used for blackmail. You don’t belong to the LGBTQ group? Great, but there are other options for blackmail. Maybe you have tried drugs in the past? Maybe you have an alcohol addiction? What about extramarital sex? Have you ever cheated your spouse? Have you ever done anything illegal? And what about any unusual sexual tastes, fetishes, kinky stuff? None of that. You really are the paragon of virtue. Then what about your family members? Maybe you have a son who is addicted to drugs? Or a daughter who ran away from home and became a sex worker? Or maybe your spouse or your parents have some secrets? The possibilities for blackmail are endless, and if you dig deep enough you can find something about majority of humans. The only people who cannot be blackmailed are the ones who don’t give a fuck about social norms and openly ignore them.

  19. jrkrideau says

    @ 19 LykeX
    And now I find out that instead they were interested in how meticulously somebody followed the social norms.

    “I’m guessing the argument is that people who don’t follow social norms are susceptible to blackmail.”

    Not really valid aguements if that was what the rationale was. the test. It is more appropriate to say the use of the MMPI showed extreme incompetence and a shocking breach of ethics, as far as I can see. It can be handy sometimes if you are dealing with a population of the criminally insane. Not so useful with the nominally sane population.