FingerPrint File: Attempted Murder by The FBI and CIA of Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson, the black actor, singer, and political radical, may have been a victim of CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb's MK-ULTRA program. We have previously noted Gottlieb's death and outlined his career of infamy. In the spring of 1961, Robeson planned to visit Havana, Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. The trip never came off because Robeson fell ill in Moscow, where he had gone to give several lectures and concerts. At the time, it was reported that Robeson had suffered a heart attack. But in fact Robeson had slashed his wrists in a suicide attempt after suffering hallucinations and severe depression. The symptoms came on following a surprise party thrown for him at his Moscow hotel.
Robeson's son, Paul Robeson, Jr., has investigated his father's illness for more than 30 years. He believes that his father was slipped a synthetic hallucinogen called BZ by U.S. intelligence operatives at the party in Moscow. The party was hosted by anti-Soviet dissidents funded by the CIA.
Robeson Jr. visited his father in the hospital the day after the suicide attempt. Robeson told his son that he felt extreme paranoia and thought that the walls of the room were moving. He said he had locked himself in his bedroom and was overcome by a powerful sense of emptiness and depression before he tried to take his own life.
Robeson left Moscow for London, where he was admitted to Priory Hospital. There he was turned over to psychiatrists who forced him to endure 54 electro-shock treatments. At the time, electro-shock, in combination with psycho-active drugs, was a favored technique of CIA behavior modification. It turned out that the doctors treating Robeson in London and, later, in New York were CIA contractors. The timing of Robeson's trip to Cuba was certainly a crucial factor. Three weeks after the Moscow party, the CIA launched its disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. It's impossible to underestimate Robeson's threat, as he was perceived by the U.S. government as the most famous black radical in the world. Through the 1950s Robeson commanded worldwide attention and esteem. He was the Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali of his time. He spoke more than twenty languages, including Russian, Chinese, and several African languages. Robeson was also on close terms with Nehru, Jomo Kenyatta, and other Third World leaders. His embrace of Castro in Havana would have seriously undermined U.S. efforts to overthrow the new Cuban government.
Another pressing concern for the U.S. government at the time was Robeson's announced intentions to return to the United States and assume a leading role in the emerging civil rights movement. Like the family of Martin Luther King, Robeson had been under official surveillance for decades. As early as 1935, British intelligence had been looking at Robeson's activities. In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services, World War II predecessor to the CIA, opened a file on him. In 1947, Robeson was nearly killed in a car crash. It later turned out that the left wheel of the car had been monkey-wrenched. In the 1950s, Robeson was targeted by Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist hearings. The campaign effectively sabotaged his acting and singing career in the states.
Robeson never fully recovered from the drugging and the follow-up treatments from CIA-linked doctors and shrinks. He died in 1977. Robeson, Jr. has been pushing the U.S. to release classified documents regarding his father. He has already unearthed some damning stuff, including an FBI "status of health" report on Robeson created in April of 1961. "The fact that such a file was opened at all is sinister in itself," Robeson recently told the London Sunday Times. "It indicates a degree of prior knowledge that something was about to happen to him."
--Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn