Clay tablet holds clue to asteroid mystery

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British scientists have deciphered a mysterious ancient clay tablet and believe they have solved a riddle over a giant asteroid impact more than 5,000 years ago.

Geologists have long puzzled over the shape of the land close to the town of Köfels in the Austrian Alps, but were unable to prove it had been caused by an asteroid.

Now researchers say their translation of symbols on a star map from an ancient civilisation includes notes on a mile-wide asteroid that later hit Earth – which could have caused tens of thousands of deaths.

The circular clay tablet was discovered 150 years ago by Sir Austen Henry Layard, a leading Victorian archaeologist, in the remains of the royal palace at Nineveh, capital of ancient Assyria, in what is now Iraq.

The tablet, on display at the British Museum, shows drawings of constellations and pictogram-based text known as cuneiform – used by the Sumerians, the earliest known civilisation in the world.

A historian from Azerbaijan, who believes humans originally came to Earth from another planet, has interpreted it as a description of the arrival of a spaceship. More mainstream academics have failed to decipher its meaning.

Now Alan Bond, the managing director of a space propulsion company, Reaction Engines, and Mark Hempsell, a senior lecturer in astronautics at Bristol University, have cracked the cuneiform code and used a computer programme that can reconstruct the night sky thousands of years ago to provide a new explanation.

They believe their calculations prove the tablet – a copy made by an Assyrian scribe around 700 BC – is a Sumerian astronomer’s notebook recording events in the sky on June 29, 3123 BC.

The pair say its symbols include a note of the trajectory of a large object travelling across the constellation of Pisces which, to within one degree, is consistent with an impact at Köfels.

Mr Hempsell said: “All previous work has drawn a blank on what the tablet is about.

 

“It is such a big jigsaw and the pieces we have found fit together so well that I think we have a definitive proof.”

The Köfels site was originally interpreted as an asteroid impact, however the lack of an obvious impact crater led modern geologists to believe it to be simply a giant landslide.

However, the Bond-Hempsell theory, outlined in their book published today, A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels Impact Event, suggests that the asteroid left no crater because it clipped a mountain and turned into a fireball.

Mr Hempsell said: “The ground heating, though very short, would be enough to ignite any flammable material, including human hair and clothes.

“It is probable more people died under the plume than in the Alps due to the impact blast.”

He added that extreme changes caused to rock and other substances at the site had previously led to the Köfels impact being erroneously dated to around 8,000 years ago.

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Mixed signals from NASA about fate of Mars rover

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NASA sent conflicting signals Monday evening about what an official told CNN is a planned $4 million budget cut in NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program.

Initially the Rover program’s principle investigator, Steve Squyres, said one of two vehicles operating on the planet will be suspended because of the cut. He said he learned he would have to trim $4 million from the program’s $20 million budget.

He said the move would probably force the rover Spirit into hibernation.

But, he said, the rover could be reactivated if funding is later restored. Squyres also said the cuts would mean layoffs among a staff of 300 scientists who operate and analyze the rovers.

But shortly after CNN.com published the story, NASA administrator Michael Griffin said the agency will not shut down one of the two Mars rovers, according to spokesman Bob Jacobs.

“There is a process that has to be followed for any mission to be canceled and the cancellation of the Mars Exploration Rovers is not under consideration,” Jacobs said. “There is an ongoing budget review within the agency’s Mars exploration program. However, shutting down of one of the rovers is not an option.”

NASA headquarters spokesman Dwayne Brown confirmed the budget directive had been issued. The cut’s purpose is to offset cost overruns with the Mars Science Laboratory, a rover set to launch next year, he said.

Spirit was designed, along with its twin, Opportunity, to be a robotic geologist. The rovers have examined Martian rocks and soil, looking for telltale signs of water.

Opportunity hit pay dirt when it found evidence that salty sea once stood in the area now called Meridiani Planum.

NASA spent $800 million to build and launch Spirit and Opportunity to Mars. They landed about three weeks apart in January 2004, on opposite sides of the planet. Both were designed for 90-day missions but are still operating more than four years later.

Squyres also said he has been told to expect an $8 million budget cut in fiscal year 2009.

NASA cut means no roving for Mars rover

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Scientists plan to put one of the twin Mars rovers to sleep and limit the activities of the other robot to fulfill a NASA order to cut $4 million from the program’s budget, mission team members said Monday.

The news comes amid belt-tightening at NASA headquarters, which is under pressure to juggle Mars exploration and projects to study the rest of the solar system.

The solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity have dazzled scientists and the public with findings of geologic evidence that water once flowed at or near the surface of Mars long ago.

Both rovers were originally planned for three-month missions at a cost of $820 million, but are now in their fourth year of exploration. It costs NASA about $20 million annually to keep the rovers running.

Last week’s directive from NASA to cut $4 million means Spirit will be forced into hibernation in the coming weeks, said principal investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University.

“It’s very demoralizing for the team,” Squyres said.

Spirit is parked on a sunny slope for the Martian winter and was going to gather atmospheric measurements before the budget cut. Instead, it will now stay in sleep mode for most of the winter and stop all science gathering.

The funding cut was announced in a letter delivered Wednesday to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. JPL, which manages the rovers, plans to appeal the cut.

The cut comes at a time when the robots are in the midst of an extensive exploration campaign, said deputy principal investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis.

“We’re not done. There is still a lot to explore,” Arvidson said.

Besides resting Spirit, scientists will also likely have to reduce exploration by Opportunity, which is probing a large crater near the equator. Instead of sending up commands to Opportunity every day to drive or explore a rock, its activities may be limited to every other day, said John Callas, the Mars Exploration Rover project manager at JPL.

“Any cut at any time when these rovers are healthy would be bad timing,” Callas said. “These rovers are still viable capable vehicles in very good health.”

Aliens downed Tunguska meteorite to save Earth?

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Aliens downed Tunguska meteorite to protect our planet from devastation, stated Russian scientist Yuriy Lavbin. He showed 10 quartz crystals that he found at the place of the meteorite’s crash. Several of the crystals have holes in between, so they can be united in a chain.

What could this chain serve for? Besides, some crystals have strange drawings on them. We don’t have any technologies that can print such kind of drawings on crystal. We also found ferrum silicate that can not be produced anywhere but in the space”, – the scientist states.

The meteorite’s crash took place long time ago, in summer of 1908. An enormous volcanic ball rushed over the sky with terrifying wallop and thunder-like sound. All the citizens were frightened to death and scared to move out of their houses. A flight of a “flamy alien” ended up in an hour in deserted taiga area. In a matter of seconds an explosive wave spread for 40 kilometers, devastating everything living around.

It was not until many years later that a Siberian scientist set up an expedition to place of the meteorite’s crash. They searched carefully through the river banks and found there unusual quartz boards. Mr. Lavbin states that such solid stones do not exist in the Earth. He said about the experiment that was taken on the crystals: scientists tried to put some of the same drawing that were on the stones initially with a laser machine.

How surprised they were to realize that the laser (that usually cuts metal objects into pieces) managed to put just some faint stripes. The stones though have an entire system of different lines and circles on them. Scientists suppose that the stones used to be a part of the navigational system of a spaceship. All stones united form a map, which they used to cruise through the Universe.

In 1908 the UFO is thought to be hit by the meteorite that weighed 1 billion tones. If the meteorite fell down on the Earth, all the people would have been dead. But the aliens interfered and put their lives to save our land. A strange portrait of a strange person on one of the stones proves this hypothesis. Isn’t it the pilot that once put his life for the sake of our future life?

 

Google Joins MIT in Search for Earth-like Planets

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“When starships transporting colonists first depart the solar system, they may well be headed toward a TESS-discovered planet as their new home.”

George R. Ricker, senior research scientist at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at MIT

Google has joined MIT scientists who are designing a satellite-based observatory -the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)- that they say could for the first time provide a sensitive survey of the entire sky to search for earth-like planets outside the solar system that appear to cross in front of bright stars. Google will fund development of the wide-field digital cameras needed for the satellite.

“Decades, or even centuries after the TESS survey is completed, the new planetary systems it discovers will continue to be studied because they are both nearby and bright,” says George Ricker,  leader of the project.

Most of the more than 200 extrasolar planets discovered so far have been much larger than Earth, similar in size to the solar system’s giant planets (ranging from Jupiter to Neptune), or even larger. But to search for planets where there’s a possibility of finding signs of living organisms, astronomers are much more interested in those that are similar to our own world.

Most searches so far depend on the gravitational attraction that planets exert on their stars in order to detect them, and therefore are best at finding large planets that orbit close to their stars. TESS, however, would search for stars whose orbits as seen from Earth carry them directly in front of the star, obscuring a tiny amount of starlight. Some ground-based searches have used this method and found about 20 planets so far, but a space-based search could detect much smaller, Earth-sized planets, as well as those with larger orbits.

This transit-detection method, by measuring the exact amount of light obscured by the planet, can pinpoint the planet’s size. When combined with spectroscopic follow-up observations, it can determine the planet’s temperature, probe the chemistry of its atmosphere, and perhaps even find signs of life, such as the presence of oxygen in the air.

The satellite will be equipped with six high-resolution, wide-field digital cameras, which are now under development. Two years after launch, the cameras–which have a total resolution of 192 megapixels–will cover the whole sky, getting precise brightness measurements of about two million stars in total.

Statistically, since the orientation of orbits is random, about one star out of a thousand will have its planets’ orbits oriented perpendicular to Earth so that the planets will regularly cross in front of it, which is called a planetary transit. So, out of the two million stars observed, the new observatory should be able to find more than a thousand planetary systems within two years.

In fact, if a new estimate based on recent observations of dusty disks is confirmed, there might even be up to 10 times as many such planets.

Because the satellite will be repeatedly taking detailed pictures of the entire sky, the amount of data collected will be enormous. As a result, only selected portions will actually be transmitted back to Earth. But the remaining data will be stored on the satellite for about three months, so if astronomers want to check images in response to an unexpected event, such as a gamma-ray burst or supernova explosion, “they can send us the coordinates [of that event] and we could send them the information,” Ricker says.

Because of the huge amount of data that will be generated by the satellite, which could launched as early as 2012, Google has an interest in working on the development of ways of process that data to find useful information.

Regardless of the funding for the satellite, the same wide-field cameras being developed for TESS could also be used for a planned ground-based search for dark matter in the universe–the invisible, unknown material that astronomers believe is more prevalent in space than the ordinary matter that we can see. Some of the unknown dark-matter particles must constantly be striking the Earth, and the plan is to train a bank of cameras inside tanks of fluid deep underground, to detect flashes of light produced by the impacts of these dark particles. Ricker’s Kavli group is participating with MIT physics professor Peter Fisher’s team in this new physics research initiative.

The electronic detectors for the new cameras are being developed in collaboration with MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. The lab’s expertise in building large, highly sensitive detectors is a significant factor in making possible these unique cameras, which have no moving parts at all. If all goes well and funding is secured, the satellite could be launched in 2012 with NASA support, or even earlier with a private sponsor.

Nearest star’s wobbles could reveal Earth’s twin

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Another Earth may be orbiting the star next door, and we could detect its presence within a few years, a new study argues. A telescope trained permanently on Alpha Centauri should be able to pick up the slight stellar wobbles induced by a small, rocky, Earth-like planet.

Alpha Centauri lies just over 4 light years away and is the closest star system to the Sun. It appears to be a triple system, with two Sun-like stars orbiting each other relatively closely (about 23 times the Earth-Sun distance). The two stars have high concentrations of heavy elements, which is characteristic of stars that are born surrounded by dusty, planet-forming discs.

Previous computer simulations suggested terrestrial planets probably formed around one or both stars. That is borne out by the work of Javiera Guedes at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), US, and colleagues, who have gone a step further and worked out how to detect such planets.

“If our understanding of terrestrial planet formation is at all correct, then there should definitely be terrestrial planets orbiting both members of the Alpha Centauri binary pair,” team member Greg Laughlin of UCSC told New Scientist.

What’s more, any such planets might boast the conditions thought to be necessary to support life. In the team’s simulations of planet formation around the smaller star, Alpha Centauri B, an Earth-like world often coalesced in or near the star’s habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface.

Finding these planets could be time-consuming, but it does not require any new techniques, they say. They suggest using the “radial velocity” method, which looks for spectral signs that a star is wobbling due to gravitational tugs from an orbiting planet.

Calm atmosphere

The method has discovered most of the 228 known exoplanets. But until now, it has turned up only giant Jupiter-like planets, which produce relatively large wobbles in their host stars.

“Our aim is to find rocky planets by muscling up the same technique that has been so successful in finding more massive planets,” says team member Debra Fischer of San Francisco State University in California, US.

Laughlin realised that Alpha Centauri B was an exceptionally good target for this method, in part because it is a calm star. The atmospheres of most stars of its type churn more violently, which would obscure the slight movement caused by orbiting Earth-like planets.

And because it is so near to Earth, Alpha Centauri B is very bright. That means astronomers can rapidly capture a precise spectrum of its light, which is ideal for measuring small Doppler shifts due to terrestrial planets.

Faint signal

Even so, the researchers think they will need several years of data to smooth out random noise in their observations to be able to spot the faint signal of another Earth. That’s because a terrestrial planet would cause Alpha Centauri B to wobble at speeds of only about 10 centimetres per second.

Laughlin and his team will start to monitor Alpha Centauri in May, using a 1.5-metre telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. As well as searching for planets, their observations will be used to analyse the stars’ natural oscillations, which could reveal details about their internal structures.

7 Conspiracies that were actually disclosed

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(Prescott Bush)
#7. The Business Plot
The Plan:
In 1933, group of wealthy businessmen that allegedly included the heads of Chase Bank, GM, Goodyear, Standard Oil, the DuPont family and Senator Prescott Bush tried to recruit Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler to lead a military coup against President FDR and install a fascist dictatorship in the United States. And yes, we’re talking about the same Prescott Bush who fathered one US President and grandfathered another one.

How did that work out?
A good rule of thumb: never trust a man named Smedley to run your hostile military coup for you. Besides being no fan of fascism, Smedley Butler was both a patriot and a vocal FDR supporter. Apparently none of these criminal masterminds noticed that their prospective point man had actively stumped for FDR in 1932.

Smedley spilled the beans to a congressional committee in 1934. Everyone he accused of being a conspirator vehemently denied it, and none of them were brought up on criminal charges. Still, the House McCormack-Dickstein Committee did at least acknowledge the existence of the conspiracy, which ended up never getting past the initial planning stages. Though many of the people who had allegedly backed the Business Plot also maintained financialties with Nazi Germany up through America’s entry into World War II. But at least the United States never ended up becoming a fascist dictatorship (unless you ask Ron Paul supporters).

#6. The July 20 Plot
The Plan:
Near the end of WWII, things were rapidly going south for Germany and the time seemed ripe for guilt-ridden Nazi officers to assassinate Hitler and overthrow his government. Colonel Henning von Tresckow recruited Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg to join the conspiracy in 1944.The plot to take out Hitler and then all of his loyal officers was called Operation Valkyrie, based on the belief that no plan can fail if it has a cool enough name.How did that work out?
In July 1944, Stauffenberg was promoted so that he could now start attending military strategy meetings with Hitler himself. On more than one occasion Stauffenberg planned to kill Hitler at such a meeting with a briefcase bomb, but he always held off because he also wanted to take out Hitler’s two right-hand men, Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler. On July 20, he went for it anyway and exploded a bomb inside Hitler’s conference room with a remote detonator.Hitler, who as a level-20 dark wizard had extraordinary damage absorption abilities, survived with only minor injuries.Stauffenberg fled when he found out his assassination attempt had failed and that the Fuhrer was explosion-proof. When the other conspirators found out that Hitler was still alive, they lost their nerve and Operation Valkyrie never went into effect. After the coup never got off the ground, several conspirators committed suicide, and Fromm turned in the rest to save his own skin. Unfortunately for him, Hitler wasn’t nearly as forgiving as his fiery public speeches and penchant for genocide would lead you to believe, and Fromm was executed along with the remaining conspirators.The good news for the legacy of Claus von Stauffenberg is that he’s become something of a folk hero in Germany, a symbol of conscientious resistance to the Nazi regime. #5. Operation Ajax

The Plan:
For years, Britain had a spiffy trade deal with Iran regarding their prodigious oil fields. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was basically a giant money machine for the Anglo half, while the Iranian half got shafted. That all changed in 1951 when Iran nationalized the AIOC and the Iranian parliament elected Mohammed Mossadegh as Prime Minister. Mossadegh was relatively secular, something that pissed of Iranian clerics, but he was also very nationalistic. When Britain tried to regain control of the AIOC, he gave them the finger. Tea was spilled, crumpets were dropped and monocles everywhere popped out in shock.

You can guess what happened next. Jolly old England went to its ally, the United States, and convinced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to help overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran and install a pro-West monarchy. Together the CIA and British intelligence services funneled guerrilla troops, anti-Mossadegh propaganda and tons of bribes into Iran.

How did that work out?
In the short term? Great! The mostly ceremonial position of Shah (king) of Iran was restored to its former imperial glory, but this time as a puppet of the West. The White House and Tehran became BFFs, and as long as the US government overlooked the numerous human rights abuses happening in Iran, all was well.

Until 1979, that is, when a pissed off Iranian populace finally revolted and replaced the monarchy with an anti-West Islamic Republic. One messy hostage crisis later, and Iran and the US were no longer BFFs. But hey, at least the US learned a very important lesson about overthrowing the governments of unfriendly Middle Eastern countries.

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company is now known as Britsh Petroleum

#4. The Gunpowder Plot

The Plan:
A group of conspirators (including Guy Fawkes, Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving) decided to blow the fuck out of the British House of Parliament, thus killing pretty much all of the aristocracy, as well as King James I.

In May of 1604, a group of Britons who were fed up with King James’s rule met with Robert Catesby. As Catholics, they were tired of the Protestant government. In accordance with the teachings of their faith, they apparently decided that the best way to solve their problems was to kill everyone.

The conspirators were taking up residence across the street from The House of Lords, the building the upper house of parliament met in. Their original plan was to burrow their way to the underground foundation of The House of Lords, and lay their explosives there. When that proved to be more difficult than they had originally planned, they decided to just rent a room in the cellar of building. The explosives were quickly moved into place, and all that was left was to wait for the annual Opening of Parliament.

How did that work out?
While they were waiting, one of the conspirators sent a letter to Lord Monteagle, a high ranking Catholic, which basically said, “Hypothetically, we could blow up Parliament on the day it opens this year. So don’t go, hypothetically speaking.” This proved to be their undoing, as Lord Monteagle immediately passed the news on to the Secretary of State. The House of Lords was searched, and Guy Fawkes, the man left in charge of watching the explosives, was found and arrested.

None of the protestant politicians were killed, but the plan wasn’t a complete failure. King James admitted in a speech that not all Catholics were as crazy as the ones arrested in connection with the plot, which is good, because a lot of historians have suggested that if the plot succeeded, there would have been a very violent backlash against Catholic communities. Plus, England now celebrates Guy Fawkes night every November 5th.

Apparently the conspirators had also planned to kidnap the royal children, as well as incite a revolt. However, they never made it to this part of their plan due to the fact that they had been hung and eviscerated.

#3. The Tuskegee Experiment

The Plan:
Sometimes referred to as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, the idea was that the United States government was going to monitor the effects of syphilis and perform experiments on those who had a developed form of the disease. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well you’re a terrible person for thinking that, because the experiments were exclusively performed without consent, and on the very poor, mostly illiterate black males.

These men weren’t told that they had syphilis and were denied proper treatment for their disease. Because that would have skewed the results, you see. But hey, at least the government promised free burials to those who died.

How did that work out?
The study (started in 1932 in Tuskegee, Alabama) eventually rounded up 400 black men in a move that would inspire Rage Against the Machine-esque lyrics for years to come. But, contrary to conspiracy enthusiasts, they did not actually give people syphilis, they just examined the symptoms of people who already had the disease. Then, things got out of hand:

Doctor 1: “Darn. I’m afraid that we might not get the numbers we want for the next part of this study.”

Doctor 2: “Why is that?”

Doctor 1: “Because it involves administering a painful and dangerous spinal tap for no medical reason.”

Doctor 2: “Hmm … Well, why don’t we just underline the word “Free” and tell them that it’s a special treatment for their symptoms.”

Doctor 1: “But, wouldn’t that be a horrible lie?”

Doctor 2: “A horrible what?”

When there was a national campaign to use penicillin to stamp out the disease, those in the study were denied access. If they complained loudly enough, they were given a placebo and then sent back home to die. But not before scientists poked and prodded them for the remaining years of their life.

It took until 1972 for someone to blow the whistle on all of this. That’s 40 years. And that’s after Peter Buxtun, the whistle blower, went to the Center for Disease Control, which told him that they would absolutely end this barbaric experiment, just as soon as they completed the last stage of the study. That stage involved studying the corpses of the subjects, and of course they couldn’t do that quite yet because some were stubbornly still alive.

As a result, in 1974 they passed the National Research Act, which finally closed the apparent loophole in American law that said it was OK for mad scientists to kill people in their experiments.

#2. Operation Snow White

The Plan:
Some time during the 1970s, the Church of Scientology decided that they’d had enough. Their religion about magic space aliens in a volcano wasn’t getting the same respect as the religion about the magic bearded man whose dad made us all out of mud 6,000 years ago. Instead of converting to a slightly less silly religion, they did what any of us would have done and decided to destroy every single document that made their religion look bad, presumably including a trip into the future to destroy every copy of Battlefield Earth.

How did that work out?
Disturbingly well, at least for a little while. Apparently, the Church of Scientology managed to perform the largest infiltration of the United States government in history. Ever. With all the people who have wanted to get their dirty little hands on incriminating records, the United States of America was finally duped by the people who came up with Dianetics. So those billions of dollars we put into national security annually are clearly well spent.

Anyway, somewhere around 5,000 of Scientology’s crack commandos wiretapped and burglarized various agencies. They stole hundreds of documents, mainly from the IRS. No critic was spared, and in the end, 136 organizations, agencies and foreign embassies were infiltrated.

When all of this hit the fan, the Church naturally denied it. Then they kidnapped one of the operatives arrested for stealing documents and prevented him from testifying. These days, the Church of Scientology generally refuses to talk about Operation Snow White, except to say that they “purged” those who were involved. They won’t say what the guilty parties were involved in, and those who were purged still hold high ranking offices in the Church, but goddamn it, they were purged for their involvement.

#1. Project MKULTRA

The Plan:
Don’t be fooled. Project MKULTRA isn’t the misspelled secret recipe to McDonald’s newest hamburger. It was actually a series of CIA experiments in which they tried to figure out how to control your mind. Over a hundred sub-projects were authorized under the MKULTRA heading, though the documents on many of those have been destroyed.

How did that work out?
If you listen to late night talk radio, then you’ve probably already heard of Project MKULTRA. Paranoid schizophrenics from coast to coast like to call in to recount their harrowing tales of psychic violation at the hands of the CIA. Turns out the schizophrenics got something right though, because Project MKULTRA was an actual series of experiments started on April 13, 1953.

You can decide for yourself whether or not the late-night radio callers are actually victims of these experiments, though we would like to suggest that if they are all telling the truth, it’s strange that the CIA would only experiment on nocturnal conspiracy-nuts.

The project started out as a response to rumors of Communist mind control being used on American prisoners from the Korean War. Afraid of being left in the enemy’s pseudo-scientific dust, the CIA quickly jumped on the mind control bandwagon. However, they got their procedures wrong in one crucial aspect; instead of experimenting on enemy prisoners that the national media wouldn’t miss, they decided to go ahead and start jamming probes and shooting drugs into unwitting United States citizens.

Did we mention that these experiments resulted in at least one death? Or that experiments done on people seeking treatment for minor psychological issues (such as anxiety) often caused them to suffer permanent comas and/or incontinence? Or that the CIA themselves admitted that the experiments made no scientific sense?

The project was eventually found out, and the CIA was given a stern talking to.

As far as anyone can tell, they were unable to succeed in finding a way to control the way people act or think. Though we’d probably say the same thing if they had succeeded.