Paul Robeson, the CIA and MKULTRA , Updated 2010-2011, New information on CIA contractors who "treated" Robeson.
Update: Since the 1999 publishing of Counterpunch Magazine's groundbreaking piece Did The CIA Drug Paul Robeson and with the continuing persistence of Paul Robeson, Jr. who has been fighting for access to his father's medical and intelligence records in Russia, England and the United States for over 30 years, new information has come to light. This is the one blog online where all the current relevant facts are assembled for researchers and fans alike to consider in one place. It is a work in progress and will be continually updated. All feedback is appreciated.
On March 27th, 2011, it will mark 50 years since Paul Robeson's shocking "suicide attempt" in Moscow. Those of us who are fans and scholars of Paul Robeson's life note with sadness that this effectively marked the end of his long and distinguished career as an artist and activist and where his severe health issues began. The controversy that surrounds his health has been beset with rumors, cover ups and misconceptions since the onset. Why were they so severe? Why was he confined to The Priory and given electro-shock for nearly TWO years? Why, after he managed to recover did he face near death AGAIN in 1965 in New York at the hands of doctors? Why was it never connected until recently that the doctors in NY and in London were CIA contractors, with two even training together at the same London hospital? Was James Thornwell a test subject by Army intelligence to see how Robeson reacted to the CIA drugging in Moscow? Did the US coordinate the drugging of the two men in Europe during 1961? What documents are still being withheld?
Before some of those questions can be asked and answered, here is the first comprehensive chronology of Paul Robeson health breakdown, CIA involvement and names and dates. With whatever can be said now, more information is due to come to light. The most imperative fact to me, is that Robeson survived, to not be assassinated and to live till he was nearly 78 years old passing away on January 24th, 1976 during the bicentennial year of the country he loved so much.
Robeson's health was fragile during his retirement and he told his son that he would "have checked out" earlier given his own choice but felt doing so would be undignified towards his family and fans. As someone who has followed other celebrities with depressive and controversial backgrounds, I feel holding on was his last triumph. He outlived J Edgar Hoover, Alan Dulles, Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Foster Dulles and Eisenhower and many others who attempted to kill him. As his granddaughter Susan Robeson said, " he lived to see the world catch up to his visions and validate the very things he had been persecuted for ."
And he left questions both ambiguous and unanswered that we can consider today along with his unparalleled and magnificent life. Along with those questions and lessons learned and yet to be learned, fans and scholars must continue to go after and expose the individuals and the power structure that tried to destroy him. Many, perhaps all have now died but their names must be brought to the public. No country, no government that calls itself a "democracy" or "free" should be allowed to hound nearly to death, those who exercise their civil liberties and certain unalienable rights.
UP TO DATE CHRONOLOGY OF PAUL ROBESON'S HEALTH BREAKDOWN, CIA/FBI SURVEILLANCE AND MKULTRA
1935: British intelligence looks into at Robeson's activities and warns him on the set of Sanders of The River to tone it down.
1943: the Office of Strategic Services, World War II predecessor to the CIA, opens a file on him to accompany the FBI's file which is opened in the mid 30's.
In 1947: Robeson is nearly killed in a car crash. It later turned out that the left wheel of the car had been monkey-wrenched, As with John Lennon, who was under FBI surveillance at the time of his murder, Robeson was being watched by agents who either fixed the wheel or watched it happen and did nothing to stop it.
THE FBI: J. Edgar Hoover's hatred for Robeson reads like an obsessive, perverted expression of white supremacy. Robeson's frequent trips to the Soviet Union lead to him being investigated by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. Robeson was under surveillance by the FBI from 1941 to 1974, when the Bureau decided that "no further investigation [of Robeson] was warranted"but additional records obtained by Paul Robeson, Jr. show that he was under surveillance until his death by other sectors of the U.S. government including Military Intelligence
1950: Paul Robeson's passport is lifted under The McCarran Act. He cannot travel for what turns out to be the next eight years.
1950's: Because of the controversy surrounding him, Paul Robeson's recordings and films lose all mainstream distribution. It is increasingly difficult in the United States to hear Robeson sing on commercial radio, buy his music or to see any of his films, including Showboat. In the United States the majority of U.S. newsreel footage will be either destroyed or have the sound erased. Historian Martin Duberman wrote that Robeson becomes "an outcast, very nearly a nonperson
1955: After over seven years of heavy FBI surveillance and near universal blacklisting, at the age of fifty-eight, Robeson is hospitalized for a prostate operation. Prior to the operation he expresses to his son, Paul Robeson, Jr., fear of what might "be done" to him by the US Government while he is under anesthesia. Robeson's recovery is lengthy and coupled with depression. First becoming manic with energy, obsessing daily over the pentatonic scale and the connectedness of universal music theory and then lapsing eventually into a withdrawn depressive state where he saw virtually no one. Robeson's doctor feels there are deeper psychological issues brought on by the combined stress of his prostate surgery and government harassment.
Summer 1958: His passport returned and without bitterness or anger, Robeson makes a triumphant return to Europe including the USSR where he is mobbed everywhere he goes by admirers. On his second trip he is hospitalized for dizzy spells of undetermined origin in combination with a bronchial infection. He recovers and return to the UK for what will be his theatrical swan song at Stratford-Upon-Avon in Tony Richardson's Othello.
January 1961: Following the CIA/Belgian assassination of anti-colonialist leader Patrice Lumumba, Robeson starts to question his safety in London. Disagreeing vehemently with his wife Eslanda who wants to stay in London and deciding he is ready to return to the US and assume a role in the civil rights movement he helped build, Robeson makes plans for a trip to Africa, China and lastly Cuba on the personal invitation of Fidel Castro. The CIA finds out about it through an informant at the Moscow embassy though they are tracking him and opening his mail as well.
March 26, 1961: Robeson leaves unannounced for Moscow and. Robeson spends a few days singing and making personal appearances. All witnesses later say he is in great spirits including his interpreter, Irina who last sees him heading to his hotel to get an early night due to an early morning engagement.
March 27th 1961: Robeson is discovered in an incoherent state, with his wrists superficially cut on the floor of his hotel bathroom and hospitalized. He refuses to see anyone, including his wife for the next week until Paul Robeson, Jr. arrives
Early April 1961: Robeson, Jr. visits his father in a Moscow hospital following the suicide attempt. Robeson told his son that he felt extreme paranoia and thought that the walls of the room were moving. Paul Robeson, Jr. recounts: "My father manifested no depressive symptoms at the time, and when my mother and I spoke to him in the hospital soon after his “suicide” attempt, he was lucid and able to recount his experience clearly. The party in his suite had been imposed on him under false pretenses, by people he knew but without the knowledge of his official hosts. The party became so raucous that other guests in the hotel complained. By the time he realized this, his suite had been invaded by a variety of anti-Soviet people whose behavior had become so raucous that he locked himself in his bedroom." All the "guests" at the party were continually walking towards him, begging him for help immigrating and pleading for diplomatic help in leaving the USSR and " getting relatives out of Gulag."
Spring/Summer 1961:Robeson, Jr. questions Soviet officials to find out who had been present at the party, how near Robeson was to death and if the doctors had found any hallucinogenic drugs in his father's blood. He's told that his father is now safe and that the people at the party "were not Soviet people." Robeson, Jr. is also told not to persist with his questions as the Khrushchev leadership is under threat of a coup and the Soviet government (including the KGB) is in flux, thus most of his questions would never be answered and nearly two weeks later Robeson, Jr. finds himself also feeling similar hallucinatory and suicidal symptoms which never repeated themselves before or since, leading him to believe that he too was drugged. Robeson and his son recovered, with Robeson staying at the Barvikha Sanatorium for a prolonged period of rest. Upon his recovery and ensuing return to London, Eslanda Robeson asks the Soviet doctors "if Paul's depression would ever benefit from ECT" and the Soviet doctors sharply tell her "no."
Summer1961: James Robert Thornwell, is tortured by U.S. Army with mind control drugs, (EA 1729, LSD) to force him to "confess to stealing secret documents" while stationed in Orleans, France. Thorwell's entire life has many eerie similarities to Robeson's; humble background, star student, multi-linguist, top of his class, praise from others, strong sense of self and accomplishments that eclipse many white peers etc. The close dates of the drugging of Thornwell and Robeson's breakdown suggest possibly that Thornwell was a test subject to see how Robeson was reacting in Moscow. The Freedom of Information Act of the 70's and lawsuits will eventually reveal the shocking use of illegal drugs (LSD) combined with psychological and physical torture conducted by the United States Army against its very own troops on active duty overseas. This was part of Operation Third Chance. As a result, it leads Congress to award Thornwell $625,000 in damages nearly twenty years later. The real Thornwell, is permanently scarred by the events and is unable to hold a job or happy personal as a civilian. James Robert Thornwel dies in 1984 of a "epileptic fit in his swimming pool..."
September 1961- August 1963: Robeson leaves Moscow for London in early September 1961, where he again became rapidly depressed and suicidal. He was immediately sectioned under the British mental health act, signed into care by Eslanda and admitted to The Priory Hospital. Psychiatrists start him on a course of electroconvulsive therapy 36 hours after his arrival without consulting his previous physicians in the USSR and without offering any combined psychotherapy or antidepressant drug therapy. The electro-shock treatments would eventually reach 54 rounds, a number his son called "criminal by any standards then or now." Doctors at the time feel his condition is "too acute to risk waiting for treatment." According to The Priory doctors and close friends, the ECT treatments in combination with heavy barbiturates did help in the short term but yielded no positive cumulative effects to his mental health.
Fall of 1963: Disturbed over his ineffectual and dangerous treatment at The Priory, friends of Robeson have him transferred to The Buch Clinic in East Berlin. The physicians found him "completely without initiative" and they expressed "doubt and anger" about the "high level of barbiturates and ECT" that had been administered during his stay at The Priory. They also discover that he had heart and liver problems consistent with his age and medication, and stop the heavy doses of the sedatives prescribed at The Priory. Robeson rapidly improves  though his doctor stressed that "what little is left of Paul's health must be quietly conserved and that he must retire from private life" With the blessing of his doctors Paul Robeson eventually returns to the United States.
December 1963: Robeson returns to the United States. He is cheerful, coherent but has come home to "formally retire" due to the deteriorative disease arteriosclerosis and the cumulative effects mostly poor treatment at The Priory for depression. Robeson actually hopes to get his strength and energy back to return to public life. He is approached by James Farner of the Congress of Racial Equality, to take a part in the civil rights movement, provided he roudly denounce Communism and the USSR. He declines.
June 1965: Robeson attempts a small scale comeback tour and is hospitalized with exhaustion and depression when his energy gives out. Nathan S. Kline, one of Paul Robeson's New York doctors is not available so he sends in Ari Kiev. Dr Kline is later documented as having developed and conducted tests on psychoactive drugs and along with Robeson's primary physician at the Priory, Brian Ackner, is an expert on extreme behavioral modification.
August 1965: Due to the very heavy, over medicating at the hands of Dr. Ari Kiev, who combines Valium with Thorazine ( a known toxic and potentially deadly combination) and five other heavy drugs, Robeson is hospitalized near death for "toxic metabolic encephalopathy probably secondary due to combined drug therapy" which leaves him with "elements" of permanent brain damage. The first he is thought to sustain even after high levels of ECT. Only by moving him to a different hospital and away from Kiev is his life saved. Ari Kiev does not reappear.
Ari Kiev who became Robeson's temporary New York physician under Kline, has also recently returned from a year's residency at Maudesly, psychiatric teaching hospital in London where Brian Ackner, Robeson's main physician at The Priory had been one of the attendings.
Richard Helms's, MKULTRA Subproject 111, was headed by Professor Hans Jürgen Eysenck, the director of the psychology department of London's Maudsley during the early 1960s when Ackner was doing his residency. Kiev would go onto to serve from 1962 through 1964 as an Air Force captain and attached to Wilfrod Hall Hospital where psychologist Frank Barron was conducting research under MKULTRA. Paul Robeson, Jr, is eventually able to document that Ackner, Kiev and Kline had all been CIA contractors before or when they treated his father with Kiev, who's "treatment" nearly killed Robeson being attached to FIVE MKULTRA locations
January, 24th 1976:On January 23, 1976, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the age of 77, Paul Robeson died of a stroke following "complications from a 'severe cerebral vascular disorder.'" He lay in state for a viewing at Benta's Funeral Home in Harlem for two days. His granddaughter, Susan Robeson, recalled "...watching this parade of humanity who came to pay their respects...from the numbers runner on the corner to Gustaf VI Adolf, King of Sweden."
The early 1980's
Under the then less stringent limits of the Freedom of Information Act, biographer and historian Martin Duberman contacts the FBI requesting all the relevant documents that they have on Paul Robeson.
December 1984: As he nears completion of the draft for his biography, FOIA restrictions are tightening under President Reagan and Duberman is forced to sue the FBI in an attempt to get more than just inked out reports. His attorney Ed Greer, a specialist in FBI lawsuits, tells him that Paul Robeson's "Status of Health file" is unique as is the files internal index (a mark of Robeson's file being amongst the largest). Robeson's premier biographer, Duberman does not wholly discount the claims, but is not able to obtain enough evidence to either prove or disprove Paul Robeson Jr.'s MKULTRA theory. He will later write that "the issue must remain unresolved until the release of all pertinent government material. However, this may never be possible" as FBI lawyers tell Duberman's attorney (their tone purposefully mocking) that "some 56 volumes (out of a probable 103) in the Robeson file of the New York Field Office have "unaccountably disappeared."
Mid 1980's: Duberman is unsuccessful at getting the Priory Medical records.
1988: "Paul Robeson" By Martin Duberman is published to stellar reviews. An out, Gay white man of Jewish descent brings Paul Robeson, the straight black radical artist back to the public's attention via his beautiful narrative writing and staggeringly meticulous notes. The book will stand as the definitive work until nearly two decades later when it is joined by Paul Robeson, Jr.'s two volume "The Undiscovered Paul Robeson" series.
1998: The Paul Robeson centennial year sees a global resurgence for his history with hundreds of celebrations held around the world. Due to the PBS American Masters special, "Paul Robeson: Here I Stand, " Paul Robeson Jr is finally able to get copies of his father's medical records from the Priory.
1990's: President Bill Clinton apologizes for MKULTRA as more victims come forward including people who were mind depatterned at as young as FOUR years old.
1999: CIA spokesman Anya Guilsher issued a statement insisting that Robeson, Jr.'s, "allegation is completely without foundation."
2000: Brian Ackner Insulin Coma Shock therapy: Through the medical records, Robeson, Jr. discovers that Ackner had put his father in an insulin shock therapy coma during his time at The Priory four years after Ackner had co-written a definitive study discrediting the procedure as "dangerous, ineffective and potentially deadly."The notes of the procedure are recorded in his files at The Priory unacknowledged, along with seven other drugs, on Robeson's summary report aka "chart." In referencing this data, Robeson, Jr. continues to argue that his father was "subjected to mind depatterning under MKULTRA." The process being an surreptitious dosing of LSD or BZ to confuse and destroy the victim's confidence and then ECT combined with high levels of barbiturates to obliterate whatever is left.