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Help! There's a chip in my body
and I can't get it out!

[whitespace] illustration
Illustrations by Winston Smith

In the old days people worried about having a chip on their shoulder. Today, they worry that there's a chip IN their shoulder, implanted by devious conspiratorial forces.

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

TWENTY-YEAR-OLD Jay Kats of Palo Alto shifts a little awkwardly in his seat on the couch between his mother and father and considers the reporter's question: How does it feel having an electronic device implanted in his head that monitors his activities and interjects strange thoughts into his head?

"Well, I don't really feel anything," he replies. "I don't get any messages or thoughts or things, like my father does. But I mean, I don't know what to compare it to. I'm supposed to have gotten this thing in my head when I was 4, so how do I know anything different?"

At 20, Kats appears indistinguishable from thousands of other young men growing up in Silicon Valley. A classic blue-blond, he has an ad model's good looks and a skateboarder's lean, athletic body. A part-time student at Foothill College, he still lives at home with his Russian immigrant parents and an older brother. Jay Kats does not appear to be much different from the average valley kid, a Richie Cunningham for the '90s.

Except that Richie Cunningham never had an electronic listening device inside of his brain.

According to Kats' parents, doctors at Stanford Hospital secretly put the mysterious implant into their son's head during a 1982 tonsillectomy. They think that doctors at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City gave Edward a similar implant nine years later. Edward and Klaudia Kats believe that the implants are the work of the Central Intelligence Agency, originally targeting the family because they were suspected of being Russian KGB agents. The spy charge disproven, the Kats family now thinks they are merely being used as "guinea pigs." They say they have been hounded for several years by intelligence agents, men who stop by their house and drop cryptic comments, or tail them in cars when they travel, or arrange auto accidents or other incidents in front of their house to keep them from attending meetings.

"Have they called your editors yet?" Edward asks each time I talk to him.

The harassment cost them their Palo Alto home, they say, and they are now forced to sleep on the floor of Jazz For Hair, the family's hairstyling business.

Both Edward and Klaudia Kats are multitalented; Edward studied music in the old Soviet Union and now works as a composer and an independent record producer. Klaudia was a professional singer; the two of them became hairstylists after they emigrated to America. They retain Old World manners and charm and still speak with accents that are heavily Eastern European.

Edward explains his son's plight with great anguish. "The high school psychiatrist told us that something is wrong with Jay. He can't concentrate. He gets headaches. He can't sleep at night because the people at Stanford are always sending signals, waking him up. Once this device is implanted, it cannot be removed. My boy is doomed. They want to prepare him for prison and then murder him."

Klaudia agrees. "We know that Jay was implanted because he started great changes as soon as he became a teenager," she says. "He started doing bad in school, all of a sudden. He started having big changes in his moods ... happy one time, and then just quickly change over to be angry without any reason whatsoever. He started getting into trouble with the law. They are able to push buttons any time they want to and get these children to commit crimes. They are doing it to blacks and to Latinos, too. You see it, don't you?"

As for the effects of the implant on her husband, Klaudia says, "He is in pain. They send threats and bad thoughts to him through a wavelength. But Ed is strong. He fights them."

Edward and Klaudia say that although they have X-rays which could possibly show the implanted devices, the X-rays were sabotaged by doctors and technicians so that the devices are partially obscured.

The Kats family takes their allegations quite seriously. They have written letters to the Palo Alto Police Department, the FBI, Congressman Tom Campbell, California Attorney General Dan Lungren and President Clinton, to name a few. They filed a lawsuit against Stanford Hospital in federal court, which was dismissed.

And they are not alone. Along with convicted Oklahoma City Federal Building bomber Timothy McVeigh, who reportedly believes that the federal government tracked him during the '90s through an electronic monitoring device (which he says the Army clandestinely implanted in the legs of American soldiers during the Gulf War), we appear to be surrounded by many such people who believe they are victims of electronic harassment. Implanted Mind People. IMPs.

illustration
Illustration by Winston Smith

Chip Shape

SANTA CLARA COUNTY resident David Duval believes he was kidnapped and implanted with an electronic monitoring device while he was attempting to buy drugs in San Francisco in 1990. He thinks he is now part of some sort of experiment to track the drug trade. "My comings and goings are electronically monitored and then physically reported, probably by city and county departments, transportation agencies and operators," he writes. "And to top it off, some sort of electromagnetic current seems to swirl upon my head and facial areas at particular times of the day, causing me extreme discomfort." He thinks that vacuum cleaners are being used as some sort of time stamp for distant recorders, since people are always coming up to him, eager to clean the carpet around him.

The net, of course, is full of IMP links.

The Mind Control Forum outlines the complaints of Tannie Braziel, an African American professional who owns her own Los Angeles-based paralegal and publishing business: "[Braziel] is also the victim of a particularly vicious electromagnetic attack involving racially and sexually slurring voices and battering sensations. They are ordering her to give up her business."

The Forum also recounts the story of Paul Pietzonka, who writes that after receiving flu shots at the University of Iowa, he knew that "the first shot was some type of transponder or tracking device because they can seem to find me anywhere I'm at, and the second was a tiny crystal similar to what would be in a radio transmitter for the purpose of interfacing with my brain and a computer." The Forum synopsis adds that "Paul goes on about perpetrators, the technology, failed attempts to shield from it and how to fortify the body against it nutritionally."

Edward Kats operates a Web site of his own with a detailed account of the family's claims, including copies of Edward's and Jay's brain X-rays. The Web site is part of an online linkage that includes hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Western Hemisphere and Western European citizens who believe that they have been involuntarily implanted with some sort of electronic monitoring or thought-sending device.

The first thing that comes to mind is: These people can't be serious, can they? There is such a temptation to dismiss these claims of technological invasion as some sort of advertising hype leading up to the release of the new X-Files movie. It was The X-Files television show, after all, that brought into recent popular consciousness the idea that extraterrestrial aliens were snatching people up into their spaceships, planting bugs in their brains and then dropping them back into the midst of an unsuspecting world.

Or are we witnessing some sort of new and exotic post-industrial technology-driven mental disorder? If so, no one seems to have given it a formal name yet. The Mind Control Forum identifies adherents as "psychotronics victims," but that just seems to be their own newspeak configuration. Evan Harrington, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at Temple University who has studied IMPs extensively, says that there is a temptation to classify these people as paranoids, but not all of them are. "Generally speaking, the clinical diagnosis of paranoia might be made on some of those who believe they have implants," Harrington writes. "But the Paranoid Personality Disorder diagnosis represents a belief that everyone is out to get me, rather than the belief that it is just the government. Some of these people might be diagnosed as paranoid, but I doubt that most or all would."

Kats family
Christopher Gardner

Chip Beef: The Kats family--Ed (left), Klaudia and their two sons--believe that agents of the CIA implanted electronic devices inside of Ed and son Jay to monitor their thoughts and actions.

The Devil Made Me Do It

THE HUMAN NOTION of someone or something trying to invade and control the mind is not new. At least as far back as Cro-Magnon times, human beings sawed holes in their heads to let the evil spirits back out. Trepanning, it was called, and the procedure lasted into the 17th century. By the beginning of the Christian epoch, the belief had risen among some that humans were not responsible for bad deeds; they had merely been possessed by a supreme evil spirit. The age of science brought forth science fiction, and with it the idea that it was otherworld aliens who were attempting to exert control over the human brain. And then came the '60s, when everything started being blamed on the government, including such fantasies as sending radio broadcasts through the fillings in people's teeth.

What do the alleged manipulators themselves say about all this? Perhaps smarting from all the bad publicity he has garnered over the various millennia, the devil has not released any books lately and has adamantly refused to appear on Leno. If the extraterrestrials are talking on this subject, SETI hasn't deciphered it yet. The CIA denies they are planting devices in people's brains, but since the CIA's record of denials is so vast, few are inclined to believe them. Stanford Medical Center and Kaiser Hospital of Mountain View deny being involved in any such experimentation.

But each denial only adds fuel to the fire, proof to the true believers that a coverup is being orchestrated and engineered. A woman once called the Metro office, telling a complicated story about how "they" were after her. After a long listen, the employee said, "Ma'am, I'm sorry. I can't help you. I'm just an intern." There was a long pause at the other end of the line. "Oh," the woman finally said. "I see. They've gotten to you, too."

Santa Clara University law professor Alan Scheflin isn't about to deny that many IMPs are making "truly idiotic claims of complete nonsense." Having studied the subject for years, Scheflin is considered by many to be the "grandfather of mind control." In 1978 he co-authored a book on the subject, The Mind Manipulators (the Kats family has one of the few available out-of-print copies, with many passages highlighted). But unlike most scientific or academic observers of the phenomenon, Scheflin believes that some of the claims of implantation are true. He says that clandestine mind-control experiments have been done in this country for years.

The most insidious and notorious experiments were conducted by the CIA during the 1950s and '60s under the code name MKULTRA. The CIA director at the time, Allen Dulles, initiated MKULTRA in 1953 in order to help win what he called the "brain warfare" battle with the Soviet Union. The CIA sponsored secret experiments inside and outside this country on subjects using biochemical research, psychosurgery and electrical stimulation of the brain. In one series of experiments in San Francisco in the 1960s, MKULTRA agents dropped LSD in the drinks of unsuspecting persons to gauge their reactions. CIA-sponsored experiments in Montreal led to a suit by victims against the Canadian government and the CIA, eventually resulting in a settlement.

The regular U.S. Armed Forces also participated. "At Tulane University in the 1970s, the Army implanted electrodes into the subjects' brains and then gave them mescaline and other drugs to monitor their effects," Scheflin says, adding that the government to this day refuses to release information on the experiments.

Scheflin says that in order to conduct the experiments needed to perfect an electronic mind-control system, "you need a captive population." He suggests two institutions within the United States where such experimentation could possibly still be taking place: prisons and mental hospitals.

California once made a serious effort to conduct mind-control experiments, part of which involved psychosurgery (cutting out parts of the brain to affect the psychological makeup) and projected plans for the implanting of tracking devices inside the brains of members of the state's prison population. In the early 1970s, under the Reagan gubernatorial administration, the state attempted to establish a Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence at UCLA. According to Scheflin, the purpose of the center was to "look for a biochemical or physiological cure for violence." Projected activities also included studying the effects of giving amphetamines to "violence-prone" children in certain majority African American and Latino schools.

Law Enforcement Administration Agency funds were secured for the project, but when details of the plan were released in California, it was shelved in a storm of protest. But some of the California Violence Center's projects have recently resurfaced in other parts of the country.

Following formal complaints from a number of organizations, the federal Office of Protection from Research Risks has begun investigating a recent Columbia University study of "violent tendencies" in youth. Between 1994 and 1995, Columbia University tested the brain chemistry of 34 African American and Latino boys with dosages of the chemical fenfluramine, which has been linked to heart-valve damage in adults (it is the "fen" in the diet drug fen-phen). The fenfluramine helped scientists determine the levels in the boys' brains of the natural chemical serotonin, which is suspected of triggering aggression in humans. The boys were all chosen because they each had older brothers who had been arrested for juvenile crimes.

Vera Hassner Sharav, director of the New York-based Citizens for Responsible Care in Psychiatry and Research, condemned the Columbia University violence study. "These experiments are not being conducted to try to cure any condition within the patients," she says. "They are inducing a condition solely for the purpose of studying it. It's reprehensible."

Sharav says she does not know of any instances of electronic brain experimentation going on in this country. "This is not to say yes or no," she said in an interview from her New York office, "but that sort of thing would not be published in the regular medical journals."

But Sharav says that scientific experimentation on uninformed citizens involving drug manipulation of the brain is "extensive, probably being done at about a dozen centers around the country." She also noted that some of these experiments may have moved outside the country, where they are next to impossible to track.

Alan Scheflin notes that another common complaint of the conspiracy theorists, destruction of parts of their brains by radio waves, is already practiced on a regular basis in such locations as Stanford Medical Center. In a procedure called radiosurgery, doctors can destroy cancerous brain tissue without incision by focusing laser beams on the targeted area from three different locations. Clearly such operations offer medical benefits, but Scheflin thinks they also present a danger.

"The more you learn how to cure people, the more you learn how to harm them," Scheflin told a Dallas mind-control conference in 1994. "For every step forward in relieving mental illness, you can take a step backward in causing it. And so, for people whose interest is in control of the mind, their data comes from how to help the mind, and so there is no step forward that does not involve equally, in the hands of malevolent people, a step backward."

illustration

Brain Deep

WHEN THE KATS FAMILY insists that electronic control devices are being implanted in people's brains at the Stanford Medical Center, they are not wrong.

One of the Stanford doctors doing such implants is Gary Heit, a tall, athletic, dark-skinned man with a curly, salt-and-pepper beard, a quick smile, an easygoing sense of humor and a résumé in brain surgery that stretches from Cornell University to UCLA to the University of Paris. Deep inside brains, Heit attaches wires leading to sophisticated electronic units the doctor has hidden under the skin of his patients' chests. Passing a remote-control device over these chest units, Heit can program electrical jolts to be sent to affect and disrupt certain functions of his patients' brains. But contrary to what the Kats family is claiming, Heit has no interest in performing his implants in secret. In fact, like Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, Heit wants his patients awake and aware during the entire procedure specifically so they can know what's going on and can tell him how it feels.

But Gary Heit does not spy on his patients or try to direct their thoughts toward evil purposes. His specialty involves using the Deep Brain Stimulator (DBS), a pacemaker-type device doctors hope will eventually be used to prevent chronic pain. For now, its function is to help stop the tremors associated with Parkinson's disease.

Once in place, the DBS bombards the targeted brain cells with regular bursts of electrical charges, disrupting their activity in some way and effectively preventing the tremors. Although Heit admits that scientists really do not know exactly why the procedure works, he says that it is a tremendous step up from the general procedure of simply cutting out the tremor-causing cells. "With surgery, if you make an error and cause side effects, you can't correct it," he says.

Heit says that researchers are working toward a merger of a number of areas of medicine he calls neuromodulation. "Work is being done right now on limb prostheses that connect directly to your nerves and are operated by the brain in a way similar to how actual limbs are operated. We already have artificial cochlea that allow deaf people to 'hear' again. And visual prostheses--artificial eyes--are on the horizon." He talks optimistically about the ultimate goal of deep brain stimulation: to bring about the alleviation of chronic pain.

Still, despite these advances, the medical profession is a long way away from the kind of mind-controlling chips that the IMPs are worried about. For one thing, there are three distinct problems with being able to broadcast thoughts into the human brain: the power source, the reception and the nature of the broadcasts themselves.

An associate professor in the electrical engineering department at San Jose State University, requesting anonymity because of work conflicts, believes these problems make it next to impossible to conduct the kind of mind control that the Katses and others suspect. "Presumably, you'd be using a device inside the body that could broadcast over some distance," he says, "so you'd need a sizable battery powerful enough to do that. I don't know where you would hide it."

He says that broadcasting to and from a location inside the body from a distance is not the same as the type of broadcasting done with heart defibrillators or pacemakers. "These devices broadcast through the skin using a magnetic field. It is useful at extremely short range, maybe a couple of centimeters. But at a greater distance you'd have to up the power, and it would have weird effects on televisions and cell phones and anything else within the range. You couldn't limit the effect just to the device you wanted to operate. To do that, you'd have to broadcast in the electromagnetic bandwidth."

But the associate professor says this would cause even greater difficulties.

"For want of a better term, the human body is like a big bag of salt water, and that limits the electromagnetic frequencies that you can efficiently use to broadcast. At high frequencies, you would get an incredible loss of information as soon as you pass through the skin. At low frequencies, you would retain all of your information, but you would have to have a huge antenna to capture it and broadcast. And exactly where would you mount this antenna surreptitiously inside a human body?"

And that, says the associate professor, would be the least of the problems in broadcasting to control someone's thoughts. "Because in the final analysis," he says, "we don't know how to hook up thoughts."

Each of these three problems he considers "almost insurmountable at the present time, given our present technology. You'd have to have a leap in technology in each of them." In other words, the San Jose State associate professor believes that the type of electronic mind control envisioned by the IMPs is just not presently possible.

High-Tech Fiction

TEMPLE UNIVERSITY psychologist Evan Harrington believes these charges of a grand government conspiracy to control peoples' minds are merely proof of grand self-delusion, something at which human beings excel.

Harrington says conspiracy theories have been on the upswing since the Watergate scandal shook Americans' faith in political parties. Nowadays, they are fed by Internet forums. He says that he once became a member of an Internet chat discussion list made up almost entirely of 40 to 50 people who believed that they were being mind-controlled by the CIA. "Many of them would search the Internet each day for proof of their hypotheses," he says. "Then they would introduce some new incident to the group that evening, and other people on the list would begin to include these things in their own memories. I mean, you would literally watch false memories being created right before your eyes. Other people would say, 'Yeah, that happened to me.' And they're not faking it when they say they believe it. They really do."

Harrington believes that conspiracy theory should be viewed in the same way that we view any prejudice. "It is a study of how ordinary thinking can go wrong. People start out with preconceived notions. Stereotypes. A hunch. And they begin to ignore all inconsistencies in the information. They pay attention only to those things that confirm their theories." He called such theories a logical extension of the malaise people experience as they believe that they have lost control of their society. "They feel they have been thrown about by the winds of fortune--controlled by evil giants," Harrington says.

It is easy to dismiss the claims of the Kats family and the other Implanted Mind People because--unless you are one who believes that Agent Scully really got sucked up into that alien spaceship--the technology they describe does not seem possible. And the Implanted Mind People can offer no real proof of their theories except one: The fact that they seem so crazy just proves that the government has succeeded in making them look like they are, and therefore shows that what the IMPs are saying must be true. Otherwise, why would the government go to so much trouble to hide it? Does that sound crazy?

Still, there is one small nugget of rational wariness that rattles around in the braincases of Implanted Mind People. If there were some elements of the government somewhere working on some sort of secret mind-control experimentation, would we know about it? Probably not. After all, how many citizens knew about the Manhattan Project until the mushroom clouds were rising over Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How many people knew about the Tuskegee Experiment until 30 years after it commenced? How many people knew about John Travolta before Men in Black came out?

As for me, I'm not ready to believe you, Mulder, not just yet. But as I'm walking down Santa Clara Street, I always make sure I take a quick glance to check behind the ears of everybody I meet. And, just to be on the safe side, I'm keeping these tonsils until the day I die.

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From the June 18-24, 1998 issue of Metro.

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