ACIM a CIA Misinformation Device?
W. Whitson, Ph.D.
the 1990's, a myth full of deliberate misinformation
began to circulate that the CIA had promoted
the Course as an experiment in behavior modification.
fundamental questions thus challenged a few
students of the Course. Before or after Doctors
Thetford and Schucman began to scribe the Course
in October 1965, did they work for the CIA?
If so, did their work for CIA have any relationship
to the Course? The
purpose of this article is to explore those
1951 to 1954, including a brief assignment to
the Mid-East for three months in 1953, Bill
served as a Senior Psychologist at CIA in Washington,
D.C. During that period and thereafter, Bill
worked almost exclusively with John Gittinger,
a CIA psychologist, to help refine the Personality
Assessment System (PAS). The PAS was a test
that sought to describe personality traits and
Between1955 and 1958, Bill served as a research
psychologist for the Society for the Investigation
of Human Ecology. Organized by the Cornell Medical
Center in New York City, the Human Ecology Fund
employed Bill's sophistication with the PAS
to direct a cross-cultural study of Chinese
in New York City.
From 1958 to 1965, Bill was a Professor of Medical
Psychology at the College of Physicians and
Surgeons at Columbia University. He hired Helen
Schucman to assist him and serve as the Senior
Psychologist for the Neurological Institute
at Columbia University. In addition to their
heavy teaching load, Bill and Helen fulfilled
Columbia University's contract with the Human
Ecology Fund or Psychological Assessments Associates,
to help John Gittinger improve the psychometric
and intellectual rigor of the PAS.
Bill nor Helen was ever associated with CIA
operations such as Project BLUEBIRD or MK-ULTRA."
operative theme is "intellectual,"
not "behavior modification." Indeed,
John Gittinger testified in an interview with
the author in 1997 that, in the CIA culture
of stringent "need to know" and functional
compartmentalization, neither Bill nor Helen
was ever associated with CIA operations such
as Project BLUEBIRD or MK-ULTRA. Instead, their
aim was to help create perhaps the most sophisticated
personality test in the world.
final version of the PAS was completed before
October 1965, when Bill and Helen started to
work on A Course in Miracles. For the next decade,
they feared that public knowledge of their work
on the Course might imperil their professional
academic standing. For that personal reason,
they therefore considered their work on the
Course even more confidential than the PAS.
one at CIA knew about or cared about the Course."
one at CIA knew about or cared about the Course.
In fact, in the late 1990's, when a friend described
the broad principles of the Course to John Gittinger,
he expressed surprise and said that, besides
a few papers for the Human Ecology Fund, disbanded
in 1964, and a final paper for Psychological
Assessments Associates in 1968, he had wondered
what Bill and Helen had been doing.
conclusions notwithstanding, it would be hard
to appreciate their work with the CIA without
some understanding of the growing importance
of personality assessment in the political,
social and professional environment of intelligence
between 1938 and 1962.
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review of the careers of Bill Thetford and Helen
Schucman confirms the fact that they worked (unknowingly
in Helen's case) for the CIA at different times
between 1951 and 1965. With
the exception of Bill's brief assignment to the
Mid-East for three months in 1953, between 1951
and 1965 he worked almost exclusively with John
Gittinger to help refine the Personality Assessment
System (PAS). For seven years (1958-1965), when
she was not engaged in her increasingly time-consuming
academic duties, Helen also devoted her skills to
the intellectual and psychometric improvement of
word is "intellectual." Their aim was
to help create perhaps the most sophisticated personality
test in the world. How, where and when that test
might be employed by CIA was not their concern.
It is not a stretch to say that the development
of such a test had been an intellectual purpose
of the entire history of psychology.
success of the PAS in describing and predicting
the probable behavior of foreign leaders brought
John Gittinger to the apex of the American policy
process: personal advisory contact with several
Presidents. Several of his colleagues thought that
the sophistication of his Personality Assessment
System was equal to the achievements of Freud and
by the PAS with a deeper understanding of Krushchev's
personality and his likely behavior under stress
in 1962, President Kennedy dared to deal with the
Cuban missile crisis on a personal basis.
From 1965, until
Gittinger and Gottlieb retired in 1972, Bill and
Helen continued to write about the PAS, but there
is no evidence that the CIA took any interest in
the Course. Neither of them ever participated in
experiments on behavior modification while they
both were scribing the Course. From 1972 until they
retired in 1977, Heyman was Chief of the Behavioral
Activities Branch at CIA and Senior Psychologist
at Psychological Assessments Associates (PAA). He
told the author that Bill and Helen had no role
with the CIA during that period.
question remains. Did their work with the PAS before
1965 have any impact on A Course in Miracles?
funding over a period of fourteen years (1951-1965)
made it possible for Bill and Helen to gain a profound
understanding of the process by which a human being
creates his own ego and personality in the first
twenty years of life. Did the PAS finally satisfy
his yearning for a cohesive theory? Despite his
fourteen years of work with the PAS to describe
how the human ego, the "differentiated self,"
evolves and dictates perceptions of personal reality,
by 1965 Bill had to face the gnawing conclusion
that some other dimension transcends the power of
ego in human choice. Could the Oriental, if unscientific,
vision of pioneers like Carl Jung and Harry Stack
Sullivan be a basis for a coherent theory?
all his years of work on personality assessment,
Bill concluded that there must be a better way.
the egocentric "differentiated self" of
the PAS coexist with the "undifferentiated
Self" of spirit? From
the spring of 1965 onwards, he and Helen gradually
drifted away from the dynamic, structured PAS definition
of personality. Out of their search for a better
way came A Course in Miracles, a mind discipline
and system of thought whose conceptual roots could
be traced across six thousand years to the Vedanta.
Bill must have been challenged and finally deeply
satisfied some time in the late 1960s when he read
for the first time a section of the Text of the
Course entitled "Self-Concept
learning of the world is built upon a concept of
the self, adjusted to the world's reality. It fits
it well....The building of a concept of the self
is what the learning of the world is for. This is
its purpose; that you come without a self, and make
one as you go along. And by the time you reach ‘maturity'
you have perfected it, to meet the world on equal
terms, at one with its demands... It bears no likeness
to yourself at all. It is an idol, made to take
the place of your reality as Son of God...Yet is
all learning that the world directs begun and ended
with the single aim of teaching you this concept
of yourself, that you will choose to follow the
world's laws, and never seek to go beyond its roads
nor realize the way you see yourself.
will make many concepts of the self as learning
goes along. Each one will show the changes in
your own relationships, as your perception of
yourself is changed. There will be some confusion
every time there is a shift, but be you thankful
that the learning of the world is lessening its
grasp upon your mind. And be you sure and happy
in the confidence that it will go at last, and
leave your mind at peace."
did the Course tell Bill that even though the PAS
could explain the process by which each person makes
his own "self," it must be perceived as
an illusory "self," suitable only for
successive performances on the world's stage. The
Course offered a process by which Bill and Helen
might release themselves personally from their self-illusions
and find inner peace. Unknowingly, they offered
to the world a path to redemption from what Helen
saw as a social and a metaphysical crisis. It is
curious that Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford retired
at about the same time. They had done their best.
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Assessment System (PAS) assumes
that in early infancy a child is inherently susceptible
to certain styles of behavior and that personality
develops simultaneously and continuously in three
dimensions: intellectual-perceptual, emotional-procedural,
and social-interactive. Bill thought its potential
to assess and predict behavior was so accurate
that he eagerly worked with Gittinger as a friend
and colleague to further develop and refine it.
about Bill when he was 27 in 1950, one of Bill's
colleagues said, "An independent but socially
involved person, Bill had a high sense of mission.
He was typically well organized, systematic, self-disciplined
and socially effective, if often aloof. Although
he could be intensely individualistic and unconventional,
he was rarely revolutionary, preferring to dedicate
his practical, pragmatic nature to improving,
not dismantling, organizations and procedures.
He was very conscious of his own needs, which
he usually kept under effective control. He was
equally perceptive of the needs of others but
was not likely to be dominated by them. As a manager,
he was thus concerned but relatively dispassionate,
sometimes appearing detached or even unsupportive
if others failed to meet his high standards. He
was typically ahead of or on top of events, confident
of his ability to cope with most situations and
able to prepare for those that promised to be
challenging. He rarely got caught off guard or
over his head."