Someone smelled a rat--or spied a reference to one. And that sparked
front-page revelations of subterfuge by the Bush campaign for running
an anti-Gore attack ad in which the word "rats" flashed for a split
second across the TV screen. Gore campaign officials denounced it
as a dirty trick designed to influence Americans by subliminally
suggesting that the Democrats were untrustworthy vermin.
As it turns out, the Bush team was not the first to contemplate
using subliminal projection to sway voters. In the mid-'50s, then
Vice President Richard Nixon became curious when he got wind of
CIA testing of subliminal manipulation for espionage purposes.
Conducted partly under the auspices of the super-secret MK-ULTRA
program, experiments with subliminal conditioning comprised but
one aspect of an extensive CIA research and development effort that
probed a wide range of mind control and behavior modification techniques
during the Cold War. Initially, CIA psychologists pondered how subliminal
messages might influence hypnosis.
CIA officials were intrigued by the prospect that split-second
subliminal images or "primes," which bypass the conscious mind,
could be exploited as a tool of mass persuasion. MK-ULTRA scientists
understood that television and film are particularly conducive to
subliminal mind meddling. A CIA memo dated November 21, 1955, notes
how "psychologically the general lowering of consciousness during
the picture facilitates the phenomenon of identification and suggestion
as in hypnosis."
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