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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