US Poisoned Paul Robeson with Mind-Bending DrugBy Tom Rhodes, New York, Sunday Times of London, 14 March 1999
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The round of meetings, interviews and speeches had been strenuous, but by the time Paul Robeson reached Moscow on a spring evening in 1961, the singer, actor and Black American, was in usually good spirits.
He was planning to meet Fidel Castro in Cuba before returning to the US to join the growing wave of civil rights activism led by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It was a very exciting prospect for Robeson.
However Robeson never made it to Cuba. A surprise party was arranged for him at a Moscow hotel suite, after which he was hit by an extreme paranoia and tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists.
Three weeks later Cuban Exiles from USA, led by the CIA, landed on the Island's Bay of Pigs in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Castro. This led to an international crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
On the surface, these two events appear unconnected. But, now Robeson's son is blaming the CIA for the sudden deterioration of his father's health, from which the singer never fully recovered before his death in 1977.
Paul Robeson Jr. claims that his father had been poisoned by the CIA to prevent what would have been a very high profile visit to Havana at the time of the American-backed invasion of Cuba. He believes, that his father was part of a wider plot to ensure that the charismatic activist never assumed his place in the vanguard of the US civil rights movement.
According to Robeson Jr., his father's symptoms at the time of the attempted suicide were identical with those produced by BZ, a mind-altering drug developed by the intelligence agencies in Britain and in the USA for use in a highly classified psychological warfare programme known as MK-Ultra. He found out that at least two Doctors that treated him in London and in New York had links to this programme.
Robeson Jr. on the anniversary of his father's death has approached the US, British agencies, demanding the release of all the classified documents relating to his father's visit to Moscow and the medical treatments.
Paul Robeson was more than a singer, and actor. He learned more than 20 languages, including several African dialects, Chinese and Russian. He was also the first Black man to be employed by a leading New York law firm.
For the intelligence agencies in America and in Britain, Robeson's stature as an artist, combined with his increasing radical political activities, made him a serious threat to the establishment. He was a close friend not only of the American civil rights activists, but also a leading light of the colonial independence movement, such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Jomo Kenyatta.
As early as 1936, MI5 of Britain officers visited Robeson on the set of Sanders of the River, an Alexander Korda epic film that was the first to feature a powerful Black male star. The CIA (or its previous title) opened also a file on Robeson in 1943. At the end of World War II his case was assigned to a special agent who was directly responsible for covert operations.
According to his son, Robeson had several close brushes with death in the next decade. In 1947, a car in which he was a passenger suddenly lost a left wheel and it was found later that it was sabotaged. He was a target of Senator Joseph McCarthy's 1950-54 anti-communist witch-hunt and, with the onset of the cold war, his politics effectively ended his mainstream musical and theatrical careers.
Robeson Jr. found out that there were attempts to "neutralize" his father, and after more than 35 years of investigations and the gradual declassification of some intelligence documents. Robeson Jr. is a fluent Russian speaker and he had interviewed senior Russian officials in Moscow during the Khrushchev period and perestroika period – who were guests at the "surprise" party -which he found out that this party was filled with by all of the anti-Soviet dissidents.
Robeson Jr. said that after he visited his father the day after the suicide attempt, Robeson Sr. said that he had felt trapped in a real life "James Bond nightmare". The walls were always closing around him. He shut himself in his bedroom, suffering extreme depression and feelings of utter worthlessness – all symptoms that is induced by hallucinogenic drugs that were given to him.
Shortly after he left Moscow, he was admitted to the Priory hospital in London, England. Within 36 hours of his arrival in London, and against the advice of Soviet doctors, Robeson was subjected to the first of 54 electro-convulsive shock therapy sessions.
Mike Miniccino, an MK-Ultra historian with very close contacts in the American intelligence, said that the allegations that Paul Robeson was really targeted by the CIA were "entirely plausible." His family kept the suicide attempt and depression a secret. But, between April and June of 1961, the FBI kept a dossier and a "status of health" file of Robeson, which reveals that plans were already made to prevent the world communist movement from exploiting Robeson's "imminent" death.
"The fact that such a file was opened at all, is very sinister in itself," said Robeson Jr. now 71, at his house in Brooklyn, New York. "This indicates a degree of prior knowledge that something was about to happen to my father."