January 20th, 2020
A series of articles on Bill’s childhood experiences in the MK-ULTRA program appeared in The Diablo Gazette Magazine. Below is the fourth article by David King and Bill Yarborough.
Bill Yarborough of Clayton has lived a successful adult life, working for a large public accounting firm and then in the financial industry. He has served as president for two non-profits and is currently focused on his first novel in a series. Although fiction, it is inspired by real-life experiences, which are far from normal.
In the September, October, and November issues of the Diablo Gazette, Bill recalled his time as a young child, age four, in what he concluded was the CIA’s notorious MK-ULTRA program, an experience he endured with his younger brother and older sister. He also described the startling manner in which their repressed memories arose, his subsequent healing journey, and his heartfelt memories of the Mexican boy from a shamanic tribe who helped Bill survive his traumatic experiences while in the program.
MK-ULTRA was a secret mind control program operated by the CIA in the 1950s and early 1960s. In December 1974, The New York Times exposed illegal CIA activities, kicking off a wave of government and journalistic investigations that ultimately uncovered MK-ULTRA.
The clandestine program experimented on adults, college students, and children. It took 30 years before Bill and his brother and sister cracked open the Pandora’s box of repressed memories, an awakening that began in the 1980s. In this article, Bill shares more shocking details about his MK-ULTRA experiences and the therapeutic impact of his writing journey.
One question I’ve struggled with is why the MK-ULTRA project I experienced (there were 149 separate MK-ULTRA subprojects) was so brutal with a concentration camp-like atmosphere. As highlighted in earlier articles, I recall the program included electroshock, drugs, deprivation, isolation, psychological assault, and other ordeals. I’ve also wondered why my brother, sister, and I were placed in MK-ULTRA.
Stephen Kinzer’s recent book Poisoner in Chief helped shed light on those questions. His book—featured by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR’s Fresh Air—exposes the shadowy life of Sidney Gottlieb, who headed MK-ULTRA. Kinzer spells out how Operation Paperclip identified Nazi war criminals with biological weapons, mind control, and other expertise to help America win the Cold War. They brought a number of individuals with mind control experience to the United States to ultimately work on the MK-ULTRA program. Some of them had conducted horrific experiments on human subjects in the concentration camps during the war. But those war crimes were overlooked to garner their expertise.
My father worked in the War Crimes Branch of the US Army where he interviewed Nazis SS officers running the Dachau concentration camp. My father shielded this experience from my brother, sister, and me for years. I knew he fought in the US Army during World War II and met my German mother after the war ended. I knew they were married in Germany before returning to the United States. But one day in my thirties, I noticed my parents were married in 1947. I asked my mother, “What was Dad doing in Germany two years after the war?”
“Oh, he worked on the War Crimes Branch both in Dachau and Nuremberg.”
Stunned, I quizzed my father about his experience, but it was clear he didn’t want to discuss it. When I pressed my mother on what specifically he did, her answers were vague. “He worked for both the prosecution and defense,” she said, reluctant to offer specifics. Of course, I understand his experiences interviewing perpetrators of war crimes would have been highly distressing and maybe accounted for his reluctance to talk. But I can’t but help wonder if my father was used by Operation Paperclip to find potential mind control experts for the CIA.
Kinzer’s book points out that a lot of MK-ULTRA activity centered in Maryland, where we lived as young children. My father may have re-encountered individuals in Maryland he met during his war crimes work—leading us into the MK-ULTRA program.
As I mentioned in a previous article, my father displayed aspects of a split personality when I confronted him with our memories of mind control experiments. His primary personality—the one I knew—claimed ignorance while another personality—one I hadn’t encountered before—arose and displayed knowledge of the program and defended the people who ran it. One aim of MK-ULTRA was to program agents carrying out sensitive assignments from divulging secrets. Since a part of my father seemed aware of the mind control program while his primary personality did not, I’ve wondered if my father was a victim of such programming.
In the last article, I discussed the various techniques I’ve used to heal from my childhood traumas. One I did not discuss is how writing has provided a valuable cathartic effect. My interest in writing began immediately after my brother had his psychotic breakdown at age 23. I experienced significant anguish over his plight—we were very close—and plunged into creative writing, mostly horror short stories, to escape my depressed state of mind.
I came to realize later that comments my brother made during his psychotic episode related to our repressed memories. And I believe some of those repressed memories influenced my writing—in that they often pointed to buried secrets in my character’s lives. I rewrote a long-ago short story of mine named “Night Mother,” which was recently published in an anthology of horror short stories: Jitter # 8 by Jitter Press, a part of Prolific Press Inc.
Several years after my short story endeavors, I began to write MEMORIES OF MK-ULTRA, a novel inspired by my true-life experiences. It took considerable time to write since I edited and re-edited it while engaged in a full-time job, an active family life, and significant non-profit commitments. But like psychotherapy and energetic healing, writing helped me sort out and process my experiences.
Although my brother, sister, and I recalled most of our repressed memories on our own, several arose as a result of therapy sessions. In the last article, I recounted how the memory of the Mexican boy surfaced after a week of intensive therapy sessions with my Texas therapist. I had similar experiences with my California therapist.
Occasionally, my therapy and writing endeavors intersected. My wife said there was a gap at the opening of my novel. “You don’t show the kids entering the MK-ULTRA program. They just appear there.” I told her I’d never remembered our arrival. Deep down, I wanted to know how we arrived, so I asked my therapist to conduct a hypnotherapy session.
During that session, a memory arose of riding in a car down a long driveway lined with trees toward a large house. When we arrived at its door, strangers dragged me inside and into a basement where they locked me in a jail cell.
Another question I get is why did I write a novel rather than a memoir? I did so because of my young age in the program and the nature of repressed memories coming to the surface 30 years later. Also, our memories often came to my brother, sister, and me differently—mine, while consciously awake, my sister, while dreaming, and my brother, while in what our Texas therapist called altered states of consciousness. However, our recollections were typically the same. Repressed memories can be fuzzy, though, and I couldn’t write in confidence that my recollections were fully accurate. I feared I’d be second-guessing myself with a memoir and chose to write a novel inspired by my childhood experiences instead.
My current focus is to get a literary agent. It’s a daunting effort. I’ve been told that very few query letters eventually lead to publication. If I’m not successful in obtaining an agent or publisher, then I’ll self-publish. I’ve worked with professional editors and taken part in many writers’ conferences, workshops, and critique groups. I’ve used anonymous beta readers through a professional focus group who critiqued and rated my novel. The representative of the focus group said my novel received one of the highest scores they’ve seen. Besides that focus group, I’ve had well over 100 people read my entire manuscript. Frequently, when finished, readers want their family and friends to read it. Whether traditionally published or self-published, I will vigorously market MEMORIES OF MK-UTLRA.
To that end, I’ve just launched a website to promote my writing, short story publications, healing articles, interviews, and my progress toward publishing MEMORIES OF MK-ULTRA.
If you’re interested in being notified of the novel’s publication or have a question, please send me a note on my contact page at billyarborough.com.
The link below is to the original December 2019 article published in The Diablo Gazette Magazine: