August 2003

Jen Crispin

nonfiction

The CIA's Control of Candy Jones by Donald Bain

When I first picked up a copy of The CIA's Control of Candy Jones, by Donald Bain, I thought it was a work of fiction. Even though the back of the book suggested otherwise, the plot seemed just too bizarre to be true. One of America's most famous models, brainwashed by the CIA? I don't have much problem believing the CIA brainwashes people, but a model? Really, what would be the point? However, this book and the real life events it is based on, is yet another example of the truth being stranger than fiction.

The story begins with a wedding, that of Candy Jones, America's most famous model during the Forties, and Long John Nebel, New York's most successful radio talk-show host. During the wedding, and regularly thereafter, Candy's personality would seem to shift, and she would suddenly change from her affable, self-effacing self to a brusque, aggressive stranger. For the first few months of the marriage, these shifts were infrequent enough an occurrence that Nebel didn't worry much about it.

That was all to change five months later. Candy had been having trouble sleeping for some time, and Nebel had done extensive reading on the subject of hypnosis. Although he had some apprehension about putting this theory into practice, he intended only to induce relaxation in his wife. And in the first two sessions, that's all that happened. Although Candy insisted that she couldn't be hypnotized, she slipped easily into a relaxed state, and then into sleep. But on the third, with no suggestion from Nebel, Candy spontaneously regressed to a young age. After that, Nebel began to record their sessions. Many of the subsequent sessions were similarly innocent. Candy would spontaneously regress to some part of her childhood, and Nebel would ask her questions about what was going on.

It all seemed fairly innocent until the first time Nebel talked to Candy's other personality, Arlene. In this first conversation, Arlene established the fact that she considered herself a separate person from Candy, who she thought of as weak, and that they used to go to a doctor, Dr. Jenson (not his real name), in California for vitamin shots. Over the course of months, Nebel would slowly drag out from Candy and Arlene what really happened in Dr. Jenson's office. Dr. Jenson used a combination of drugs and hypnosis to encourage the memory of one of Candy's childhood imaginary friends, Arlene, to become a distinct personality. He then sent Arlene on a series of courier duties, taking messages to various people during Candy's trips around the world. Eventually Arlene was apprehended and tortured in Taiwan (quite possibly at Jensen's request), and later she was taken to the CIA headquarters at Langley where Jensen showed off how obedient she was, and how impervious to pain and humiliation.

Candy's tale is harrowing, yet somehow at the same time mundane. It is terrible that the government would take advantage of such a sweet and somewhat naive woman. But at the same time, the entire time I was reading the book, I expected it to be somehow...worse. Maybe I've been overly jaded by Hollywood, but Candy's torture in Taiwan, it's all physical, the kind that is designed to not leave marks. And because she doesn't remember it until Jensen uncovers it with hypnosis, until that moment, it's as if it didn't really happen. The only scene that really made me cringe was Jenson showing off Candy/Arlene at CIA headquarters. But even this scene remains disappointingly devoid of details, as Candy became hysterical during the sessions relating the incident.

One strength of the book is the excellent job it does describing the theory of hypnosis. Bain, in addition to telling Candy's story as related by hundreds of hours of tape of her hypnosis sessions, also spent a year studying the subject of hypnosis, and peppers Candy's story with the results of his research. He presents a balanced and seemingly thorough account of medical studies and works written on hypnosis. Candy underwent a Hypnotic Index Profile in order to measure her trance capacity, and her results show her to have an extremely heightened capacity for trance, establishing her spontaneous age regressions as almost certainly real. Adding to the credibility of her testimony is that Nebel never suggests a topic or an age for Candy to talk about, but rather assumes whatever role is convenient in whatever Candy is experiencing from which to ask her questions. Also, Bain claims to have left out any material which seems to have been influenced from her life at the time of the recordings.

I have no doubt that The CIA's Control of Candy Jones must have been radical when it was first published in 1976. This book will surely be a hit with conspiracy theorists, as the CIA has attempted to suppress the publication of the book and may have acted to keep it from being made into a movie. However, today, most of the shock has worn off. It comes as little surprise to me that the CIA would attempt to hypnotize people into becoming super spies, though I would have hoped that they would hypnotize actual spies and not well-mannered models.

The CIA's Control of Candy Jones by Donald Bain
Barricade Books
ISBN: 1569802394
288 Pages