Mind Wars


236 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $19.99
ISBN: 9781934137437


ISBN: 9781934137505

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“There has been virtually no debate on the ethical questions raised by the brave new brain technologies. . . . The time to speak up is before the genie is out of the bottle.”

Wall Street Journal

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“Quietly provocative . . . Moreno takes an evenhanded, thorough look at how deeply the intelligence and defense communities are involved in many of those advances and the mindfields that might lie ahead.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Even-handed and thought-provoking. [Mind Wars] is very readable, and easily accessible to people without a background in neuroscience.”

Neurophilosophy at the Guardian (UK)

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“Fascinating and frightening.”

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

“More than a serious work of public policy, the volume is a son’s quest to understand the work of his psychiatrist father, who pioneered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) experiments in the 1960s . . . Moreno deserves credit for having the courage to go where no bioethicist has gone before. His philosophical forays into mind-brain questions are learned, and his narrative about the rise of big science and the ‘garrison state’ represents a provocative historical synthesis. . . . Mind Wars is not the last word on this fascinating, frightening, and potentially transformative corner of neuroscience and neuroethics. But it is the first.”

Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

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“An exhilarating and anxiety-provoking whirlwind tour of recent developments in neuroscience that possess defense or national security potential . . . groundbreaking.”

American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB)

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“A fascinating and sometimes unsettling book. . . . Any academic involvement in military research presents an ethical dilemma, and Moreno’s exploration of this theme is one of the most interesting aspects of the book.”


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“The world we encounter in Mind Wars is like the world in [Philip K.] Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.”

Conspiracy Times

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“Crisply written . . . praiseworthy.”

Publishers Weekly

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“Renowned bioethics authority Moreno travels to the nexus of brain science, engineering, and national security to explore the connections between neuroscience research and national defense agencies. . . . Given the topic’s provocative nature, this is recommended for all science and bioethics collections.”

Library Journal

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“Raises serious social and policy questions . . . deserves a wide readership.”


“One of the most important thinkers describes the literally mind-boggling possibilities that modern brain science could present for national security.”

Lawrence J. Korb, former US Assistant Secretary of Defense

“The revolution in neurosciences is drawing increasing attention from ethicists, public policy experts and the general public. But, one aspect of that revolution has elicited little notice or comment—how those charged with ensuring the national security and the military dominance of their nations will utilize the growing understanding of the human brain to achieve these ends. The paucity of attention to this crucially important topic is now over. Mind Wars presents the science, outlines the potential applications of it for military and national security purposes, and sounds exactly the right cautionary warnings about where the enormously powerful merger of brain sciences and biodefense might go. This will certainly be the source book on the ways in which neurobiology may rewrite the rules of warfare, spying and intelligence collection in the twenty-first century.”

Arthur L. Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania

“Few people ever think about brain research as a national security discipline. This intriguing and provocative book lays out how neurotechnologies for brain analysis, repair and enhancement can be multi-purpose and serve both good and nefarious functions. Moreno forces the reader to think about the possible dangers and the accompanying ethical issues that co-occur with the great potential benefits of accelerating neuroscience advances.”

Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) CEO and Science Executive Publisher

“Fascinating, clear-headed, optimistic, and lucidly written, Mind Wars makes a compelling yet nuanced case for scientific progress in the area of neurology enhancement and for the transparent collaboration of the academy and the military.”

Sally Satel, M.D., author of PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine and Resident Scholar at American Enterprise Institute

The first book of its kind, Mind Wars covers the ethical dilemmas and bizarre history of cutting-edge technology and neuroscience developed for military applications. As the author discusses the innovative Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the role of the intelligence community and countless university science departments in preparing the military and intelligence services for the twenty-first century, he also charts the future of national security.

Fully updated and revised, this edition features new material on deep brain stimulation, neuro hormones, and enhanced interrogation. With in-depth discussions of “psyops” mind control experiments, drugs that erase both fear and the need to sleep, microchip brain implants and advanced prosthetics, supersoldiers and robot armies, Mind Wars may read like science fiction or the latest conspiracy thriller, but its subjects are very real and changing the course of modern warfare.

Excerpt from Mind Wars

The long term Defense implications of finding ways to turn THOUGHTS INTO ACTS, if it [sic] can be developed, are enormous: imagine U.S. warfighters that [sic] only need use the power of their thoughts to do things at great distances. (Emphasis in original)
—Strategic Plan, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, February 2003

Nearly every week, I take the bucolic drive between Charlottesville, Virginia, where I direct the University of Virginia’s bioethics center, and my other home in Washington, D.C. On one of those drives a few years ago, I received a peculiar call on my cell phone. Like any loyal American, I pulled over before I answered.

“Dr. Moreno?” came a female voice on the line.

“Yes,” I said. “I need to talk to you about a matter, actually, it’s a national security matter.”

“Uh, yes?”

“I read your book. I have been the victim of a government experiment and I need to talk to you.”

As I had done many times, I explained to the caller that I was no longer working for the government on ethical issues about state-sponsored human experiments, that my top secret clearances had lapsed, and that I had long been back at my day job as a bioethics professor. I expressed sympathy about my inability to give her relief. Nonetheless, like others who have called or e-mailed me in the past eight years, she was sure I could somehow help her.

Mercifully, I lost the cell signal and the call.

Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean Someone Isn’t Following You

I believe those who think they have been victimized by government mind control experiments are misguided. Yet, there are thousands of such persons. Many associate their ideas with conspiracy theories. I have worked for two presidential commissions and have been a member of several government advisory committees. During periods set aside for public comments in these meetings and in private conversations, I have heard many of these people provide seemingly lucid testimony about scenarios I find fantastic. Some of them are courageous and resolute in the struggle they perceive as having been foisted on them; others are distraught and terrified of what horrors the next day may bring.

Despite the vast distance between their worldview and mine, I have long been impressed at the irreducible kernel of truth behind their bizarre obsessions: that interest in understanding and manipulating the brain, while always strong, has flourished in recent years, particularly among those scientists in the United States and elsewhere who have been sup- ported by the national security establishment. Often this interest is generally but misleadingly referred to as “mind control.” The tale of research on the mind/brain is complex, rich, and rather odd; an offbeat slice of our social history.

Fascination with this idea that something like mind control is possible is by no means limited to the Western world. While I was lecturing in Pakistan in the spring of 2005, a senior psychiatrist told me that mind control by the CIA or other intelligence agencies is a common complaint of his patients. And just around the time I was in Karachi, the India Daily editorialized that “defense scientists and research engineers are busy all over the world in many countries trying to create the ultimate mind control machine that can make the enemy surrender without any fight,” allegedly by manipulating the electromagnetic field around a person. Somewhat undermining the credibility of the newspaper’s technology reporters was the further remark that “those who had a close encounter with aliens and extraterrestrial UFOs report that they communicate though their mind and so speech.”

A wide range of brain-related scientific endeavors, some as spectacular as mind control and others as mundane as political propaganda, has also been pursued in the interest of the defense of the nation. Moreover, the potential for emerging developments in the neurosciences and national security is indeed remarkable; old-fashioned notions of mind control are quite archaic compared with what is just over the horizon. The improvement of soldiers’ war-fighting ability, brain-machine interfaces, and the use of drugs and other measures to confuse and disrupt the enemy are the sorts of approaches that are going to be developed over the next de- cades, driven by cutting-edge science. And that’s not all. Recalling the epigraph at the top of this chapter, one might well wonder, for example, what “things” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has in mind to do “at great distances.” Later in this book, I will describe experiments in which a monkey has been trained to manipulate a computer mouse or a telerobotic arm “simply by thinking about it.” What else might be made possible? How might such capabilities be applied?

The Future is Now

Doing things at a distance is also mentioned in a 2003 written statement for a congressional committee by DARPA Director Tony Tether. The goal, he also said, is to exploit “the life sciences to make the individual warfighter stronger, more alert, more endurant, and better able to heal.” DARPA’s Continuous Assisted Performance (CAP) program, the statement continues, “is investigating ways to prevent fatigue and enable soldiers to stay awake, alert, and effective for up to seven days straight without suffering any deleterious mental or physical effects and without using any of the current generation of stimulants.”

These remarkable goals would be easier to dismiss if the agency did not boast such an impressive track record. DARPA’s overall mission is to bring discoveries from fundamental research to bear on the requirements of today’s warfighters, accelerating the pace of applicable discoveries. Among DARPA’s accomplishments in its continuous effort to “fill the gap” between basic research and military use are the Saturn rocket, ground radar, the Stealth Fighter, and the Predator missile. DARPA-developed unmanned aerial vehicles have been used in Afghanistan and elsewhere. DARPA designed the computer mouse and, to give the mouse something to click for, the innovation that might prove to be the most socially transforming of them all: the Internet, first called the Darpanet. To be sure, about 90 percent of the agency’s ideas fail, such as the one about a mechanical elephant intended to stalk Vietnamese jungles, but the ones that work are remarkable. As one high-ranking DARPA official put it, “DARPA is about trying to do those things, which are thought to be impossible, and finding ways to make them happen.”

Such mechanical, electronic, and biotechnological innovations require extraordinary foresight, intelligence, and patience. Unlike in other areas of government, in the DARPA framework decades of development are acceptable. Today, the agency is turning some of its considerable ingenuity to innovations in neuroscience. Early in 2006, DARPA announced its funding initiative for the coming fiscal year under the program “Applications of Biology to Defense Applications.” By my count, most of the agency’s desired research proposals directly or indirectly involve the brain:

  • Biological approaches for maintaining the warfighter’s performance, capabilities and medical survival in the face of harsh battle- field conditions;
  • Biological approaches for minimizing the after-effects of battle injuries, including neurotrauma from penetrating and non-penetrating injuries as well as faster recuperation from battlefield injury and wounds;
  • Approaches for maintaining the general health of deployed troops;
  • Bio-inspired systems;
  • Biomolecular motors and devices;
  • Biological approaches to the growth of materials and devices;
  • Understanding the human effects of non-lethal weapons;
  • Micro/nano-scale technologies for non-invasive assessment of health (e.g., vital signs, blood chemistry);
  • Technologies to enable remote interrogation and control of biological systems at the system/organ/tissue/cellular/molecular scales;
  • Investigation of the interactions between physical forces, material and biology (e.g., interface of biology with magnetics);
  • Novel mathematical and computational approaches to characterizing and simulating complex biological processes;
  • New technologies to drastically reduce the logistics burden of medical treatment in the field;
  • Advanced signal processing techniques for the decoding of neural signs in real time, specifically those associated with operationally relevant cognitive events, including target reduction, errors, and other decision-making processes;
  • Novel interfaces and sensor designs for interacting with the central (cortical and subcortical structures) and peripheral nervous systems, with a particular emphasis on non-invasive and/or non- contact approaches;
  • New approaches for understanding and predicting the behavior of individuals and groups, especially those that elucidate the neurobiological basis of behavior and decision making; and
  • Technologies to engineer field medical therapies at the point of care, such as production of multiple drugs from a single pro-drug, or to adapt therapies for wide variations in body mass, metabolism, or physiologic stress.The secret of DARPA’s success is not its funding—at around $3 billion, its budget pales beside the research and development budgeting of U.S. spy agencies—but its brilliant use of intellectual capital. Its “only charter is radical innovation,” according to its strategic plan. DARPA is a science agency, not an espionage outfit. (In fact, the agency historically has tried to stay away from spy projects.) It cycles top-notch scientific talent through its system just long enough that they don’t get too jaded in their outlook. About 90 percent of DARPA’s budget supports university research on vital human problems, including many basic medical studies. So although much of the science I will describe is DARPA-funded, and raises important policy questions, its largely open culture is generally praised by scientists as a smarter operation than the often more closed science programs of other national security agencies.Since its founding in 1958 in response to the Soviets’ Sputnik satellite, DARPA has been the key Defense Department agency whose mission is the pursuit of highly speculative scientific possibilities. Ironically, partly because so much of the agency’s funding has gone toward science that doesn’t seem to have an imminent national security payoff, the U.S. Congress has threatened to cut its budget in recent years. Though DARPA is only one national security agency among others that seek to exploit new technology, its relative transparency has made it a kind of symbol and an easy target for critics. No wonder the DARPA alumni scientists I spoke with said that the agency is especially publicity-shy for an outfit that does mainly unclassified work. Yet, to “sell” the Pentagon on a project, DARPA managers have to show that their idea fulfills some military need, however remote. So, what DARPA manages to get its Pentagon masters to fund tells something about what the military finds interesting. And, of course, not all DARPA projects are open access; the Stealth Fighter was one of the most closely guarded military secrets of the twentieth century.It’s hard to assess the efficacy of other taxpayer money spent on science. The official research and development budget for the Department of Defense is around $68 billion. And that figure doesn’t include related national security research efforts supported by the Pentagon’s secret, or “black,” budget, which in the 1990s was often estimated in the press at about $30 billion but is surely higher now. Assuming that the proportion of R&D to operations in the secret budget is about the same as it is in the Pentagon budget, black R&D funds would be in the neighborhood of at least $6 billion. But these numbers are highly speculative and shouldn’t be relied upon. At best, they would reflect only line items that can easily change, and what is included in the category of “research” is somewhat arbitrary. In addition to uncertainties about how much is being spent on research in general, we have no way of knowing whether the CIA itself is also working specifically on the potentialities of the brain sciences and various methods of enhancing or impairing human performance. What is clear is that DARPA is only one of several government agencies deeply interested in these and similar possibilities and that, other than for DARPA, citizens can’t get much access to information about how their money is used.Whatever the actual amounts at their disposal, the national security agencies spend a substantial portion of their resources on research support to some of our most brilliant scientists. In fact, our defense infrastructure is critically dependent on civilian talent, and vice versa. The results of this collaboration help advance basic scientific knowledge and can improve future health care, as well as address military and security questions. Someday, breakthroughs in the understanding and treatment of brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s might well be attributed to work paid for by DARPA. Techniques to study and augment the cognitive powers of healthy people, many examples of which I will describe later, might also prove effective in circumventing the destructive effects of these terrible diseases. As one Caltech professor told Nature magazine, “The military has always been visionary when funding neuroscience.”The onrush of discovery about the brain and the concomitant technological advancements suggests many areas of interest from the military or national security standpoint. Two of these, improving intellectual endurance and achieving mental control at a distance, are mentioned in DARPA’s strategic plan. Others, such as memory enhancement and distant brain scanning (a device that could detect telltale blood flow in certain neural systems some distance from the subject), also hold interesting possibilities at the intersection of neuroscience and national security. Still others, such as a deeper understanding of the neural processes associated with stress and how to manage it, could affect the preparation of combat personnel as well as treating their stress reactions. This work not only offers to improve the human condition, it also presents formidable ethical questions that our society has barely articulated, let alone carefully ad- dressed: How far should we go to enhance human performance, particularly our intellectual and emotional capacities? What adjustments in social systems will need to be made in light of these developments? Will such interventions have unintended consequences for societal institutions? What long-term risks are faced by those who are first to go down these paths?

    These questions are especially pointed when we consider that the nature of human conflict could undergo basic change as the new neuroscience is applied to war planning. In a sense, all warfare ultimately happens between our ears. If opponents believe they have been defeated, then that becomes the reality, hence the military’s investment in psychological operations such as propaganda leaflets and disinformation, despite their uncertain payoffs. But if targeted interventions are made possible by the greatly enhanced knowledge of the brain and nervous system now being generated at a feverish pace in our top neuroscience labs, complemented by ingenious new engineering and pharmacologic products, the battle of the brain will have truly begun. The powers that can claim the advantage and establish a “neurotechnology gap” between themselves and their adversaries will establish both tactical and strategic advantages that can ren- der them dominant in the twenty-first century.

    Besides remarkable enhancement possibilities that stem from new knowledge about the brain and new technologies developed in part for nonmilitary applications, national security agencies are engaged in research and development on drugs and devices that work through the senses to affect the nervous system. “Nonlethal weapons” include anesthetic agents, foul-smelling chemicals, and acoustic technologies that might be especially useful in civil disturbances and, in theory, morally superior to more violent measures that are out of proportion to the threat. But they are not so easy to control in the field and might run up against international treaties about chemical weapons.

    It is ironic that discussions about national security often fail to include the optimal means of ensuring that people are safe to live their lives: keeping the peace. The sad fact is that there is a specific marketplace for the materiel of war, not of peace. On that front, it is important to learn what insights the neurosciences might give us into nonviolent means of settling disputes. Clearly, violence has been a constant theme of human history. But somehow, we have survived and, as a species, prospered. The neuro-scientific studies now taking place in laboratories, as in the case of medications intended to act as “calmatives” in potentially violent situations, may point the way toward enhancing prospects of peaceful resolution. But the same work misapplied could diminish them.