Monday 31 December 2012

Mexico's Cri Cri hijacked

Scientology has hijacked Cri-Cri the singing cricket, a character known and loved by generations of Mexican children.

Among the nonentities wheeled out by Scientology for this year's Christmas parade down Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles was at least one true star – or rather the character that made him immortal.

Somebody dressed up as Mexico’s Cri-Cri, the singing cricket, made an appearance at the event promoting The Way to Happiness Foundation. And according to this press release, Cri-Cri also appears on copies of The Way to Happiness booklet distributed in Southern California.1

The Way to Happiness is a rather creepy collection of platitudes written by Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. It is used both as a public relations exercise and a recruitment tool.2

And now they've got Cri-Cri.

Cri-Cri, el grillito cantor, is the creation of Mexican musical genius Francisco Gabilondo Soler. He developed the character for a now-legendary radio series for children first broadcast in 1934, which he presented for 27 years.

Even after he gave his final broadcast in 1961, new generations of children woke up to repeats of the programme and his songs for years after.

Today, any Mexican will recognise the theme music from his show, having grown up listening to his charming songs. His music is known and loved in much of the Spanish-speaking world.

Such is Gabilondo Soler's stature that in 1963 they made a film of his life starring Ignacio López Tarso, another household name in Mexico.

In this extract, you get an idea of what the programmes were like and hear one of his best known songs La Patita: the Duckling. In the final minute of the clip, actor López Tarso introduces the real Cri-Cri at an event in his honour.

Gabilondo Soler died in 1990 but as the press release cited above makes clear, Scientology got its hooks into the Cri-Cri legacy via the composer's grandson, Francisco S. Gabilondo.

Documents scattered around the Web suggest that Scientology's appropriation of Cri-Cri dates back to at January 2011 – and that the connection with the movement is very much a family affair, dating much further back.

According to this press release, Gabilondo Soler's "first grandson", Francisco Sanz Polo, is heavily into Scientology.3

Sanz Polo's Linkedin entry, in which he describes himself as President of the Friends of L. Ron Hubbard Foundation and a supporter of the Way to Happiness Foundation.4

One account
suggests he was a Sea Org recruiter in the 1980s; another locates him on the movement's punishment programme, the Rehabilitation Project Force, back in 2004.

As far back as 1982, Francisco Sanz Polo is listed as Clear #29969 in Kristi Wachter's Scientology Completions database, which is drawn from Scientology's in-house publications.5 And a Florencia Sanz Polo pops up in a 2004 ex-member's newsletter listing those sent to the RPF.

There's also a Monica Sanz Polo listing herself at Linkedin as president of the Friends of L. Ron Hubbard Foundation. She is endorsed there by Francisco Sanz Polo – her husband.

Finally, Wachter's database throws up a Jack Sanz Polo as having attended a State of Man Congress.6 Freewinds is the cruise ship Scientology uses to give its most expensive, top-level training. 

A shame to see such a wonderful character, who means so much to so many Mexicans, requisitioned in this way.

Happy New Year.
1   Credit to Harold Hinkubah at Divided by Zero for picking up on this item.
2   If anyone has any doubt about the links between Scientology and the Way to Happiness Foundation, have a look at this diagram (published in the context of Narconon, a couple of posts ago), from a 2004 edition of International Scientology News. Among the other supposedly independent satellite groups feeding into the central Scientology organisation, the symbol of the Way to Happiness Foundation features twice.
3   Thanks to "mnql1" for drawing this to my attention.
4   Thanks for "mnql1" at Why We Protest for digging up these details.
5   This information came from Scientology's Auditor magazine N°182.
6   This is from the Freewinds 56 magazine, early 2005.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Belgian Prosecutors make their move

Federal prosecutors in Belgium have charged Scientology's operation there and two leading executives with fraud, extortion and other offences. And it looks like they have learned from the Paris convictions.

It took a few years, but the wheels appear to be moving in Belgium.

Federal prosecutors have charged the Church of Scientology there with a range of offences, more than four years after police raided their Brussels offices. Two senior executives with the movement have also been charged.

This is the list of charges, according to Belgian media reports:  
  • illegal practice of medicine
  • fraud
  • extorsion
  • forgery and use of false documents
  • violation of privacy
  • criminal organisation
The investigation sprang out of a complaint lodged in 2008 by Actiris, the Brussels regional employment office. A number of job seekers had complained that Scientology was using fake job offers to try to recruit people into the movement.

Belgian broadcaster RTBF on Friday ran an interview with Chaida Moussaoui, who had answered one such ad. It read: Non-profit seeks administrative assistant – training provided, no experience necessary.

The Scientology job ad (RTBF December 28 report)

While, it looked like a paid job, she quickly realized that something was wrong. “They were speaking more in terms of becoming a member, of adopting their way of seeing things...,” she said.

“I can't tell you it by heart, I read it in 30 seconds, but it was more of a contract,...” she added. A contract for two and a half years to five years – to work as an unpaid volunteer.

The complaint also referred to a poster on the window of the Scientology: “We're hiring!” it read. But once again, this turned out to be for unpaid volunteer work.1

On April 11, 2008, police raided Scientology's Brussels offices in Uccle, a leafy, up-market suburb of the Belgian capital.

Over the next day or two they sealed off access to the offices and carted off piles of documents.

It was investigating magistrate Michel Claise who had ordered the raids, and within a day or two he had charged the Scientology organisation with fraud.2

Now, more than four years on, according to Friday's reports in two Belgian papers, the Flemish-language De Tijd (Time) and the French-language daily L'Echo, federal prosecutors have taken up the baton.3

Their list of charges appears to build on Claise's initial approach. Presumably the extra charges spring from some of the documents seized during the 2008 raid.

The French connection

Claise and the prosecutors appear to be on the same page – which means they are off to a better start than the French case that came to court in 2009.

That case eventually ended in convictions not just for individual Scientologists but for two Scientology organisations in France. It started rather less auspiciously however.

As the movement's defence lawyers pointed out on more than one occasion, initially, the prosecutors office did not even want to press charges in the case.4

It was left to investigating magistrate Jean-Christophe Hullin to press ahead regardless and bring the case to trial. And at that point the two prosecutors assigned to the case, Maud Morel-Coujard and Nicolas Baïetto, pursued it with a vengeance.5

That trial led to the conviction of several Scientologists on a number of charges – but more importantly of two of its French organisations for organised fraud.

The sentences, together with heavy fines, were confirmed on appeal in February of this year.6

The French prosecutors had asked for the two Scientology organisations to be dissolved under what they thought were the penalties provided under a law punishing organisations convicted of fraud.

But that option, it turned out, had been accidentally removed from the statute books less than two weeks before the first trial started.

The news of that change, when it broke in September 2009, created quite a storm at the time as well as some fairly feverish speculation. Nobody however was ever able to prove that this was anything more than an unfortunate error – a cock-up rather than a conspiracy.7

But a conviction is a conviction, whatever the bumps in the road: and the Paris judgment broke new ground in France.

After the appeal court convictions in February, Maître Olivier Morice, for the French counter-cult group UNADFI, spelled out its significance to reporters gathered outside the courtroom.

“It is the first time in France that Scientology has been convicted as an organisation for organised fraud,” he said.

I think that we are at the beginning of other key decisions against Scientology, which could lead to its banning, or its dissolution,” he added.

And he made it clear he was aware of other investigations in the pipeline in other countries –
including Belgium.

The original Belgian case

Comparing the two cases, one cannot help thinking that Belgium is following in the footsteps of the French investigation.

As I reported in February, after the French appeal court ruling, security specialist Arnaud Palisson
took time on his blog, Rapports Minoritaires, to express some satisfaction.

Palisson, a former intelligence specialist with the French police, argued that the convictions vindicated his own work on how to tackle Scientology's criminal excesses.8

Palisson's doctoral thesis had set out what he thought was the best way to build a criminal case against Scientology, systematically explaining how their core practices violated various laws.

Their belief system did not interest him: he was even happy to concede the point that Scientology was a religion – not something every critic of the movement would be comfortable with.

He focussed instead on their practices: not the creed then, but the deed.

In Paris, the court took much the same line. The lawyers, the prosecutors and the judges were all at pains to stress that they were not there to challenge Scientology's beliefs, its religious freedoms – despite the defendants' claimed the contrary.

They were there to determine if its actions infringed the law.

The indictment, trials and convictions in the Paris case followed the lines set out in Palisson's work.

And in his February posting Palisson mentions in passing that he passed on his thesis to a magistrate investigating Scientology in Belgium.9

What is not clear however, is whether he is talking about Claise or whoever handled an even earlier investigation, dating back more than a decade earlier.

For there is another Belgian case concerning Scientology, this one launched in 1997.

It was not until 2007 that the prosecutor's office moved to charge 12 individuals – and two organisations – on charges including organized crime, extortion, fraud, and the illegal practice of medicine.10

Not unlike the more recent indictment, in other words.

This earlier case however, got bogged down in the legal limbo of the Chambre de Conseil, a federal legal office that can intervene in investigations to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to bring charges.

Given that the events in this case date back more than 15 years, the chances of getting convictions must inevitably, be slimmer.

There has been speculation however that the two cases might in the end be merged into one.

The prosecutors office has made no comment on that question – and has said nothing in response to Friday's media reports on the indictments in Claise's investigation.

One thing looks certain though: 2013 just got a whole lot more interesting.
Update: Arnaud Palisson replied to my inquiry as to whom he sent his thesis in Belgium. Here is what he had to say.

When I made my presentation to the National School of Magistrates in Paris in October 2002, an investigator from the Belgian gendarmerie came to find me in the hall to tell me he was working for an investigating magistrate who was instructing a Scientology, and that he would be very interested in obtaining a copy of my thesis. I sent it on to him by email a little after.

I saw this gendarme a few months later and he assured me that my thesis had become the document of reference in his affair – which explains that he had directed his investigation to fraud (by individual and corporate) and the illegal exercise of medicine; Belgian criminal law is actually every close to French criminal law.”

Palisson confesses he cannot remember the name of the gendarme or the investigating magistrate concerned. But the chronology helps us put the pieces into place.

He was approached in 2002, well before the Claise investigation got started. At that time, the earlier case had been active for five years.

It would seem then, unless there is another case I am not aware of, that the first investigation was informed by Palisson's work.

In any case, Claise is surely aware of his work too: colleagues do tend to consult each other, after all.

1 See here for the RTBF interview. ASBL in French is short for Association sans but lucratif – non-profit association. See also this clip from an English-subtitled Flemish report posted by “mnql1” at Ex-Scientologist Message Board which also features Moussaoui. It shows you the “We're hiring” (On embauche) poster on the window of the Scientology office. As you'll see in this second report, the Scientologist interviewed in this piece actually confirms that they were hiring unpaid volunteers.
2 These details from an April 2008 report, again, from Belgian broadcaster RTBF.
3 This is the De Tidj article here; the piece in L'Echo is behind a firewall, but thanks to “mnql1” you can find it, complete with an English translation, at Why We Protest.
4 See this entry in the blog of Danièle Gounord, for years the public face of Scientology in France.
5 For a detailed account of their scathing summing up in this case see my two-part coverage of this part of the trial: “...for the Prosecution I” and “...for the Prosecution II”.
6 For a summary of the appeal court verdicts and sentences, see “The Appeal Court Judgement”. Scientology has taken the case to a final appeal at the Cour de Cassation.
7 For my coverage of the row at the time see “The Great Escape?” The law in question was subsequently reinstated and is available for use in future cases.
8 You can read Palisson's February 7, 2012 posting here; and in English here, thanks once again to mnql1 at Why We Protest.
9From mnql1's translation at Why We Protest: I forwarded copies of my thesis to two judges. One was Belgian and he was investigating an important Scientology case; the other was French and she was investigating the huge Church of Scientology-Paris Celebrity Centre case (the same case that ended last week at the court of appeal).
From that point on, my thesis never left the desk of the two judges. It also landed on the desk of a Swiss judge a few months later.
I set out my account of what happened to Palisson after his thesis became known in a post earlier this year: “Scientology Cries Foul”.
10 See for example this May 2009 report from Belgium's Le Soir tracking the procedural wrangling in that earlier case; and this February 2012 update published at the time the appeal court confirmed the Paris convictions, published in Belgium's Le Vif magazine (and handily translated from the French at Why We Protest by the ubiquitous mnql1).

Friday 14 December 2012

Narconon is "Casualty Contact"

Internal documents make clear that Narconon is a variation on “casualty contact”, a recruitment policy Hubbard developed for Scientology in the 1950s.

See here for full size
In the opening section of this part of the website, “Narconon: an Introduction”, I argued that Scientology's insistence that Narconon was an independent organisation is hard to sustain.

Narconon, while acknowledging that it runs along principles created by L. Ron Hubbard, plays down the Scientology angle on its website.

But the fact is that much of Narconon's programme is derived from Scientology materials; and most, if not all of its senior staff are Scientologists.

To really understand Scientology's relationship with Narconon however, you need to look at the methods L. Ron Hubbard's used to spread the word about his movement.

From the early years of Dianetics and then Scientology, Hubbard was obsessed with what he called dissemination: getting clients in through the door and paying for courses.

His methods were as cynical as they were creative.

Perhaps the most striking example of his approach is a method he called “Casualty Contact”. This is what he advised his followers in a 1956 edition of the Professional Auditors Bulletin:

Every day in the daily papers one discovers people who have been victimised one way or the other by life. It does not much matter that the newspapers have a full parade of oddities in terms of accident, illness and bereavement occuring at a constant parade before the eyes.

The essence of "Casualty Contact" is good filing and good personal appearance1

Go through the daily papers looking for such items, he advised. And if the address is not in the story itself, contact the newspaper presenting yourself as a minister and get it from them.

As speedily as possible he makes a personal call on the bereaved or injured person...

He should represent himself to the person or the person's family as a minister whose compassion [sic] was compelled by the newspaper story concerning the person...

He should avoid any lengthy discussions of Scientology and should talk about the work of ministers and how all too few ministers these days get around to places where they are needed...

Even at this early stage then, Hubbard was careful to cover his tracks. And he also spelled out the need to use “acceptable truths” to get past the gatekeepers.

Using his Minister’s card, an auditor need only barge into any nonsectarian hospital, get permission to visit the wards from the Superintendent, mentioning nothing about processing but only about taking care of people’s souls, to find himself wonderfully welcome... Some hospitals are sticky about this sort of thing, but it’s only necessary to find another.[My emphasis]

“Don’t pick on the very bad off unconscious cases,” he advised, in one particularly callous aside. “Hit the fracture ward and the maternity ward.”

And don't forget to leave your card, he added.

...[Y]our statement, "The modern scientific church can cure things like that. Come around and see," will work. It’s straight recruiting.2

Chasing ambulances

In a 1956 Hubbard Communications Office bulletin, “After the Flood”, Hubbard described a variation on the same theme: he called this one “Illness Researches.3

Hubbard explained how in 1951, the early days of Dianetics, he had successfully worked this routine with his wife Mary Sue Hubbard.

The exact wording of the ad was as follows: “Polio victims. A research foundation, investigating polio desires volunteers suffering from the aftereffects of that illness to call for examination at address.”

When people turned up, usually after a phone interview, they were given three hours of auditing – after which most had already showed some improvement, wrote Hubbard.

The auditing was given free of charge. It was given under the guise of investigation and was in actuality a research project.

Any auditor anywhere can constitute himself as a minister or an auditor, a research worker in the field of any illness. In that he is not offering to treat or cure the illness but is strictly investigating it, the laws concerning medicine do not obtain to him...

It is best that a minister representing himself as a "charitable organization," which is what he is, do the research so that the ad would then read: "Polio victims—a charitable organization investigating polio desires to examine several victims of the aftereffects of this illness. Phone So-and-so"

Perhaps, for once, Hubbard was not telling tall tales about the results he obtained: if the results he described were accurate, it is as shrewd an exploitation of the placebo effect as you could wish for.4

Nevertheless this approach, like its cousin Casualty Contact, is little more than a kind of ambulance chasing.

Having set out the technique, Hubbard added a couple of lines to head off any qualms about the methods used.

The interesting hooker in this ad is that anyone suffering from a lasting illness is suffering from it so as to attract attention and bring about an examination of it. These people will go on being examined endlessly.

This hints at a core part of Hubbard's philosophy: that everybody is responsible for the bad things that happen to them. As a Scientologist might put it: “They pulled it in.”

Not to worry then, if you have to be a little economical with the truth to get the patients in – because really, they are just asking for it.

Teasing out the disturbing implications of this kind of thinking is work for another day.5

The bridge to The Bridge

So what does this have to do with Narconon?

We have seen how, with Casualty Contact and the Illness Research, Hubbard was perfectly ready to stoop to ambulance chasing in the hunt for new recruits.

Narconon should be seen as the logical evolution of this approach.

For with Narconon, Scientologists no longer had to go looking for the sick; now, the sick came to Scientology – or rather its pseudo-medical alter ego.

A sceptical reader might feel that this is stretching the point. Fortunately however, Scientology has provided the documentary equivalent of the smoking gun.

“Woo Hah” at Why We Protest posted a revealing Scientology leaflet, an internal document vaunting Narconon as a way to get people on to Scientology's Bridge to Total Freedom.

"NARCONON helps get people up RON's bridge to freedom...,” it declares.

"NARCONON is freeing people from crime and drug abuse with standard tech, and starting them up RON'S bridge to total freedom.



And just in case we missed the point, there's an illustration to go with it: a bridge leading to another bridge.

At the entrance to the first is written “Narconon enter here.” That bridge leads directly to the second bridge where over the entrance is written: “The Way to Total Freedom” – in other words, Scientology.

That document dates back to a 1974 edition of Narconon News.

But you can find similar material from the time since Hubbard's death and the rise to power of David Miscavige.

Do Not Pass Go

“Woo Hah” directed me to another Scientology document at researcher Dave Touretzky's Stop Narconon site which clearly puts Narconon on the Scientology organigram. This one is from the May 2004 edition of International Scientology News, well after Miscavige's rise to power.

See here for full size
This document includes a diagram, in which arrows radiate out from a central symbol representing a Scientology Org to other symbols, representing various groups.

Some of the arrows lead to recognised subsidiaries of Scientology, such as its precursor Dianetics, the system Hubbard developed before he had hit on what he once called “the religion angle”.6

But other arrows lead to groups which, according to the official line, are secular organisations with no link to the Church of Scientology – apart from the fact that they are based on Hubbard's writings.

Two lead to the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE), the Trojan horse the movement uses to infiltrate the business sector – and to milk Scientology-run businesses.

One leads to the Way to Happiness Foundation, which promotes Hubbard's book of the same name, a supposedly secular let's-teach-the-world-to-sing collection of platitudes.7

But three of the arrows on the chart lead directly from the Scientology to the Narconon symbol.

Go to Narconon. Go directly to Narconon. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Dave Touretzky sums up what this means, in his inimitable no-bullshit manner.

“Although Narconon explicitly denies that it is part of Scientology, this is clearly a lie intended only for the general public.

“What the Church of Scientology tells its own members is that Narconon is 'the bridge to The Bridge', i.e., another route by which people can be recruited into Scientology.”

And Touretzky provides more such material at the documents archive section of Stop Narconon site.8

I confess, I am a little embarrassed I didn't come across this material before.

Clearly – as they say in the badlands of Why We Protest – I need to lurk moar.

So let's make this page a work in progress.

Let's make this page a clearing house for any Scientology or Narconon documents that give the game away about the true relationship between Scientology and Narconon.

All contributions gratefully received.9
Update #1: Narconon and the GO

Here's a document from a Hubbard internal memo dating back to 1972 (also part of Dave Touretzky's excellent archive).

See here for full size
It was seized during the 1977 FBI raids that led to the conviction of several senior Scientologists – including Hubbard's wife Mary Sue – and subsequently released under Freedom of Information requests.

Hubbard writes:

The incomparable Guardians Office has been running the Narconon(Drugs-no) Program over the world.

The Program is now fully subsidized - state paid - in one country and one state and contributed to by governments in several other locale...

The GO should not hide its light under a basket [sic] - if it could.

Narconon is the ONLY successful drug rehabilitation program on the planet. It is being recognized as such.

Highly commended.

The Guardians Office (GO) of course was the precursor of the Office of Special Affairs (OSA).

It was responsible for external affairs – and the kind of dirty tricks that got its senior officials jailed following those FBI raids.

What for? For the “...brazen, systematic and persistant burglaries of United States Government offices in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, California, over an extended period of at least two years.”

The full story has been told at length elsewhere: but that's Hubbard's “incomparable Guardian's Office” for you.

This document is a clear admission from Hubbard that Scientology's intelligence wing was running Scientology.

Not so much a smoking gun then, as the perp caught red-handed at the scene of the crime with the weapon in his hands.
1From the “Professional Auditors Bulletin” of February 28, 1956, quoted at Chris Owen's excellent page on casualty contact. It was a similar story in “Dissemination Tips”, a policy letter from around the same period.
2From “Dissemination Tips” a Hubbard Communications Office Bulletin, September 15, 1959, posted at Caroline Letkeman's site. She has also scanned in extracts from the original document. Summing up at the end of the bulletin, Hubbard wrote: “Don’t explain. Penetrate. Don’t overwhelm. Penetrate.” In other words, it's all about control.
3After the Flood”, January 24, 1956, HCO Bulletin, which again you can find at Caroline Letkeman's site – and again, she has posted scanned extracts from the original document.
4It would be hardly surprising if a bit of care and attention had helped relieve some symptoms, at least in the short term. And the trance-induced suggestion inherent in basic auditing techniques might also have played their part. But it would a long way from there to the extravagent claims that Hubbard was accustomed to making for his system, particularly in the 1950s.
5The warped thinking behind this philosophy – that somehow you are responsible for all the bad things that happen to you – is Hubbard's half-arsed version of karma (which, with his usual flair for the poetic, he called the overt-motivator sequence). And as crazy as it might sound to the outsider, it helps explain how Scientologists justify some of their more callous behaviour.
For the official version, see this barely coherent account at one of Scientology's websites: you won't know whether to laugh or cry. For a more useful analysis, see this post in the “Scientology Thought Control” series at the Ask the Scientologist blog (which has recently moved over to WordPress). Just Bill's replies to the comments below the post sketch out how he thinks the Buddhist concept of karma differs from Hubbard's more toxic version.
6“I await your reaction on the religion angle. In my opinion, we couldn't get worse public opinion than we have had or have less customers with what we've got to sell... We're treating the present time beingness, psychotherapy treats the past and the brain. And brother, that's religion, not mental science.” From an April 10, 1953 letter to Helen O'Brien, one of his followers, extracts of which are posted at Carole Letkeman's website.
7The injunctions and advice offered in Hubbard's The Way to Happiness are quite breathtakingly asinine. “Do not murder”, one heading advises. “Do not tell harmful lies”, says another. Harmless ones then, are presumably all right. Addressing his Scientology followers, Hubbard once wrote: “Handling truth is a touchy business also... Tell an acceptable truth.” He put it even more bluntly in another internal document: “THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN CONTROL PEOPLE IS TO LIE TO THEM.” For the documented sources and more along the same lines, see Lying as a Religious Rite by Ted Mayett and Keshet.
It has probably already been done, but setting Hubbard's holier-than-thou injunctions from the Way to Happiness alongside some of his more deranged internal policy Scientology letters would be an instructive exercise.
8I think much of Touretzky's research on Narconon has been incorporated into the joint project he put together with British researcher Chris Owen: Narconon Exposed, another invaluable resource.
9You can contact me by submitting a reply to this post, or at any of the main suppressive message boards (Why We Protest, Clambake, the Tipping Point and others), where I post as Albion.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Narconon: an introduction

Narconon is a rehabilitation programme for addicts run on a system devised by Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Experts say it is based on junk science and potentially lethal.

The way Narconon tells it, their addiction treatment programme is about as good as it gets.

Studies have shown that the programme has a 75-percent success rate, the organisation claims on its website.1 “This is one of the best success rates in the field of addiction recovery,” it says.2

Narconon puts its success down to the unique system it follows, which was developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

“Recovery is possible,” says the website. “Since 1966, thousands have achieved productive, drug-free lives through doing the Narconon rehab program.”3

But if all this seems too good to be true, that's because it is, say the critics.

A 2008 study, commisioned by the Norwegian Health Directorate, conducted a view of the relevant scientific literature.

It looked at six studies on the effectiveness of the Narconon programme before reporting back. It concluded:

There is currently no reliable evidence for the effectiveness of Narconon as a primary or secondary drug prevention program. To the extent our extensive database search could determine, no randomized controlled trials about the program have been conducted...

In the 2004, two leading critics of Scientology, Chris Owen and Dave Touretzky reached a similar conclusion.

The research in Narconon Exposed also went over the lies that Hubbard had told about his own scientific credentials as detailed by previous writers.5

After an exhaustive examination of the evidence advanced by Narconon in support of its claims to scientific validity and effectiveness, Owen and Touretzky concluded that their claims of incredible success rates were just that: incredible; unbelievable. They wrote:

It has to be said, in fairness, that the paucity of the data means that one can no more reliably say that Narconon does not work than that it does. There is simply too little evidence to tell either way.

What can comfortably be said, though, is that Narconon's claims of very high success levels are wholly unreliable; a close examination of what evidence does exist shows that it has invariably been misquoted, misused or quite simply lied about by Narconon. In short, its claimed success rates are not credible and should not be believed.6

Having it both ways

Narconon describes itself as a non-profit, secular drug outreach programme, and while mentioning Hubbard in its literature, plays down any links to Scientology. You will be hard put to find a direct reference to Scientology on its website: Hubbard is described simply as “an author and humanitarian”.7

Scientology, on its websites, vaunts Narconon as “the most effective drug rehabilitation and prevention programme on Earth”. But it is careful to describe it as an outreach programme that it sponsors, rather than an integral part of its operations.8

For a number of reasons however, the claim that Scientology and Narconon are entirely distinct entities – that there are no lines of control from the former to the latter – is difficult to sustain.

First, even a cursory look at the components of the Narconon programme reveals a striking similarity to Scientology's own courses.

Narconon, for example, runs something called the “New Life Detoxification Program”, which it describes as a “combination of exercise, induced sweating in a sauna, and nutritional supplements”.

This programme, Narconon claims, reduces or eliminates drug or alcohol cravings and the symptoms associated with addiction, such as depression, irritability and fatigue.9

But to all intents and purposes, this programme is the same as the one run inside Scientology itself, where it is known as the Purification Rundown.

During the 2009 fraud trial of several leading Scientologists and two Scientology organisations in France, the Paris court examined the Purification Rundown in some detail.

There, Scientology insisted it was a religious ritual.

“This is nothing to do with medicine,” one Scientologist told the court. “We are curing nothing. It is a purification rite, in which we have no pretensions towards curing anything.”10

Scientology's lawyers brought in a former emeritus professor at Paris's Sorbonne University, ethnologist and anthropologist Philippe Laburthe-Tolra, to testify as to the Rundown's religious credentials.11

But they also flew in Dr David Root from the United States to support claims as to the Rundown's efficacy as a detoxification programme. Root has appeared on the Narconon website to endorse the programme.12

In its judgment, the court noted what it said was a blurring of the lines between the religious and the scientific and concluded that Scientology was trying to have it both ways.

For while the defendants may have described the Rundown in spiritual terms, Scientology's own literature used pseudo-scientific terms to vaunt the programme's efficacy, it noted.13

Three defendants were convicted on charges relating to the illegal practice of pharmacy for the sale and distribution of what experts said were the dangerously high doses of vitamins used in the Rundown.14

'Hypnotic' training routines

Another feature of Narconon is a course which, it claims, gets subjects “into better communication with others and with the environment...

“Each is a specific drill on the parts of communication and how to get oneself understood and how to communicate with others.”15

Again, the Communication Course is also a key element of Scientology: the training routines, or TRs, that comprise the course are often offered to relatively new recruits to the movement.

The TRs are mainly two-person exercises: in one, you have to stare at each other without talking or moving (TR 0: confronting). In another one person shouts abuse at the other while the other tries not to react in any way: then the roles are reversed (TR 0: Bullbait).

In another, you command an inanimate object, such as an ash tray, to move, basically by shouting at it (TR 8: Tone 40 on an Object).

Former member Marc Headley, one of the movement's leading critics, has described how he did this exercise with celebrity member Tom Cruise. The details are sketchy in Headley's book, Blown for Good, but Tony Ortega coaxed some more details from him for a piece for his Village Voice blog.

“You tell the ashtray, 'Sit in that chair',” Marc told him.

“Then you actually go over and put the ashtray on the chair. Then you tell the ashtray, 'Thank you.' Then you do the same thing with the bottle, and the book. And you do this for hours and hours.”

In God's name, why? Ortega asked.

“It was supposed to rehabilitate your ability to control things. And to be controlled,” Headley told him.16

Scientologists call this kind of shouting a Tone 40 command.

Headley is not alone among former members in arguing that participants are learning not just to give orders, but to take them too. Cult expert Steven Hassan, author of Combatting Cult Mind Control, has called these training routines the most overt use of hypnosis by any cult.

The fact is that most if not all of the Narconon materials derive from Scientology, according to sociologist Professor Stephen Kent of the University of Alberta, Canada – arguably the leading academic expert on Scientology.

“I'd say that L. Ron Hubbard included in Scientology techniques, principles, morals etc, that transferred... directly into the Narcon programme,” he said in a recent court deposition.17

A final point on the link between Scientology and Narconon: the movement's own leader, David Miscavige, underlined the connection in a famous 1993 speech.

This was when Miscavige announced that the movement's battle with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service was over – and that Scientology had won tax-exempt status as a church. He made much of the fact that the “non-religious groups” that Scientology sponsored “which use LRH's tech to improve society” were also covered.

“All such groups have been recognized as fully tax exempt!” he declared. And Narconon, of course, was among them.18

Junk science

Over the years, the science behind the Narconon programme has been harshly criticised by several experts.

In 1989, when Narconon set up a 75-bed facility on Indian territory in Chilocco, Oklahama, editor of the local paper Newkirk Herald Journal started investigating. He asked Mark Palmer, a local medical doctor with some experience with other rehabilitation programmes, for his view.19

He offered the following comments after reviewing Narconon's official literature:

The material is full of generalizations that have no substantiation in fact. There are internal inconsistent statements. There is no documentation.

The Purification Rundown is somewhat patterned after many reputable detoxification programs in which diet, exercise, education and behavioral modification are used. But due to the above mentioned deficiencies as well as several outright untruths, I think that it is fair to say that the Purification Rundown is without merit.20

The Journal also asked Bruce A. Roe, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Oklahoma University to review the official literature on Narconon. Roe did not mince his words either.

Overall the program proposed by Mr. Hubbard is pure unadulterated "cow pies". It is filled with some scientific truth but mainly is illogical and the conclusions drawn by Mr. Hubbard are without any basis in scientific fact.21

Nor has the criticism come exclusively from the United States.

In Sweden, the National Board of Health and Welfare asked Professor of Pharmacology Folke Sjoqvist to give his view of the science behind the Narconon programme.

Reporting back in November 1996, he concluded:

[T]here is no documentation to show that the Hubbard method of detoxification from drug abuse conforms to scientific standards and medical experience.

On the contrary, one may from a pharmacological point of view strongly question the idea of using enforced sweating to expel drugs from the body.

The risks and side effects of the treatment method have also not been evaluated in a serious way. Methods that have not been evaluated and/or rest on incorrect theories should not be used in Swedish medical care.

Medical doctors are to prescribe vitamins in the doses recommended...22

The professor joined an already extensive list of qualified professionals who have dismissed the supposedly scientific basis of Hubbard's detoxification programme and warned of its potential dangers.23

But perhaps the most damning single document on Narconon was drawn up by the Oklahoma state investigators.

The Oklahoma report

As concern grew over the unlicensed activities of the Narconon Chilocco New Life Center – thanks in large part to the investigative series run by the Newkirk Herald Journal – state officials finally acted.

They asked for their specialists to investigate and in 1991 the state Board of Mental Health delivered its findings. The board's “Findings of Fact” amounted to a damning indictment of the facility.24

It was scathing about the science underpinning the sauna-vitamins-exercise detoxification programme, rejecting Hubbard's claim that drugs could be sweated out of one's body.

“[T]here is no scientific basis for the technique,” it said.

It was not impressed either by the one-size-fits-all approach to treating addicts. "No scientific evidence was produced to show that all drug addictions are properly treated in the same manner."

The report also expressed concern about the massive doses of vitamins and minerals handed out during treatment: according to “the more credible medical evidence,” this was potentially dangerous, it said.

Worse still, it noted, the programme also "exposes its patients to the risk of delayed withdrawal phenomena such as seizures, delirium and/or hallucinations." It was all the more dangerous because Narconon used unqualified, non-medical staff who might miss or misinterpret the symptoms, it added.

“Narconon employs staff inadequately educated and trained in the care and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse clients,” it said. “Such a practice endangers the safety, health and/or the physical or mental well being of the clients of Narconon.”25

The dangers of having medically unqualified staff imposing a one-size-fits-all programme were illustrated when inspectors visited the Chilocco centre. A student, the report noted, “...was found with a potentially dangerous low level of potassium which could lead to cramps, (muscular, skeletal problems) and cardiac arrhythmia.”26

Perhaps unaware of Hubbard's views on psychiatry, the panel put its finger on another weakness of the Narconon programme: it failed to take into account the well-established link between drug abuse and psychiatric disorders.

“[A] chemical dependency disorder may co-exist with or be secondary to a specific psychiatric illness, such as schizophrenia or major depression, which should be treated by established psychiatric procedures,” it said.

This ignorance – or phobia – of the psychiatric dimension, had serious implications, it noted. They had seen evidence that some clients had been taken off psychiatric medication without regard for the consequences.

Whether they knew it or not however, they were knocking on the wrong door. The problem here was that for Hubbard psychiatry is the root of all evil – and that dogma had been imported wholesale not just into Scientology, but into Narconon.

The report expressed unease at Narconon's practice of hiring former students of the programme to work there straight after having completed it. There should be a delay between graduation from the programme and recruitment “ ensure sobriety and to avoid putting patients in contact with addicts who are not fully recovered,” it said.

It expressed concern too about the amount of time Narconon devoted to activities unrelated to drug and alcohol abuse treatment or addiction issues. Apparently they did not see the value of shouting at ash trays.

The report also had a problem with the vague objectives set for the students – to have a clear mind, for example. How was one supposed to measure success here? “This objective is essentially meaningless,” the report noted.

“In order for a bonafide drug treatment plan to be effective it is essential to have individualized measured objectives which Narconon's treatment plan lacks.”27

The inspectors were uneasy too, about the use of “touch assists”, a kind of laying on of hands practised by Scientologists to help ease physical pain.

This was hardly appropriate in the context of vulnerable individuals in a rehab environment, it argued: “An accepted standard in such programs is for the patients to keep their hands to themselves.”28

Summing up, the inspectors said that Narconon had failed to show that its system was either safe or effective: in fact, it said, the evidence pointed the other way.

Their conclusion, in summary, was that the treatment offered by Narconon Chilocco was not just ineffective; it was also medically unsafe.

But while the state authorities denied Narconon its certification, the centre nevertheless managed to stay open.

Since it was on Indian territory, the state found it could not actually force it to close.

In 1992, Narconon won an injunction from the Oklahoma State Supreme Court to stay a lower court order that had backed the state's bid to shut Narconon down. This allowed it to keep operating while it appealed that lower court ruling.29

Narconon eventually found a way to stay open by winning accreditation from a private agency rather than the state – the Arizona-based Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. And this allowed it to seek – and win – exemption from state accreditation from the Oklahoma state authorities.

By the end of 1992, despite the damning report from its own medical experts, the state authorities appeared to have thrown in the towel and granted it exemption from accreditation.

It was a decision that was to come back and haunt them.30

Next in this series: Narconon is 'Casualty Contact'
1You can find this claim on the Narconon International website.
2From the Narconon FAQ at its website.
3Drug Rehab”: from the Narconon website.
4A brief summary and evaluation evidence base for Narconon prevention intervention”, a 2008 report commissioned by the Norwegian Health Directorate. The quote is from page 16 of the document.
5See in particular the section: “L. Ron Hubbard and Medicine” at the Narconon Exposed website. The definitive works covering Hubbard's fictitious credentials remain Jon Atack's A Piece of Blue Sky and Russell Miller's Bare-Face Messiah.
6From “Does Narconon Work?” at the Narconon Exposed website.
8Narconon video at the Scientology video channel: about a minute and 15 seconds in. Scientology also claims that Narconon's success rate “is not merely the world’s highest, it is four times better than international averages.” But then as Hubbard once wrote: what's true is what is true for you.
9Drug Detox Program: The Narconon New Life Detoxification Program” at the Narconon website. It also helps the participants think more clearly, improves memory and attention span, boosts energy and increases one's sense of well-being, the movement claims.
10This was Scientologist Eric Roux: not a defendant, but representing the Paris Celebrity Centre, one of two Scientology organisations targetted by prosecutors. The Purification Rundown was about spiritual liberation, he said (“The Celebrity Centre II”).
11One defendant described the Rundown to investigators as a religious ritual comparable to fasting in other religions '“Purification Rundown: defendants”); another specifically compared it to the Muslim period of fasting over Ramadam (“Alain Rosenberg I”). Scientology's lawyers even tried to argue that prosecuting Scientologists over the Rundown violated their right to religious freedom. See for example, “...for the defendant Jacquart
13Page 88 of the original 2009 judgment.
14These convictions were confirmed on appeal in February 2012.
15Narconon Drug Rehab Program: we get results”, at the Narconon website.
16From “'Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle': Life at Scientology's Secret Headquarters”, at Tony Ortega's Village Voice blog. Ortega now runs his blog at Ortega Underground, having quit as editor-in-chief at Village Voice to write a book on Scientology.
17Deposition of Dr Stephen Kent in the lawsuit over the death of Patrick Desmond. The quote is from pp124-125. More on the Desmond lawsuit in future posts.
18 See Chris Owen’s transcript and analysis of Miscavige's 9th anniversary event of the International Association of Scientologists on October 8, 1993. Tony Ortega, at his new blog, Ortega Underground, recently posted old footage from one of David Miscavige's rare interviews. Back in 1992 on Nightline, he was singing Narconon's praises and effectively claiming their supposed achievements as Scientology's.
This sense that Scientology is trying to have it both ways, enjoy the tax benefits of both its spiritual status and its supposedly scientific method, is nicely summed by one of the movement's own terms: “religious technology”.
Scientology even has something called the Religious Technology Center, which holds all the trademarks of the “powerful technologies of Dianetics and Scientology” and ensures that the “tech” is correctly applied. Miscavige is its chairman. See the RTC website.
19You can find the full Herald Journal investigation, which unfolded over several years from 1989, over at Mark Bunker's website here.
20Dr. Palmer's letter, from the Source Documents section at Narconon Exposed.
21Professor Roe's letter, from the Source Documents section at Narconon Exposed.
22Expert advice on Narconon given to the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare” translated from the Swedish by Catarina Pamnell. Of course it was the prescribing of massive doses of vitamins by unqualified people during the Purification Rundown that led to some of the 2009 Paris convictions.
23For a useful summary of some of the more damning comments from those better placed than Hubbard ever was to comment on the science, see source documents listed at the Critical Evaluations section of Narconon Exposed.
25The report also referred to what it said was “substantial medical literature” suggesting that sauna therapy could pose a significant risk to intravenous heroin addicts. The problem was that “such drug use may impair normal physiological response and problems associated with high temperature saunas which could be detected.”
26As we shall in future posts, the issue of unqualified staff is one that has become an important factor in at least one lawsuit against Narconon.
27Acquiring a clear mind may have been meaningless for the authors of the “Findings of Fact”: but attaining the state of Clear is a prized objective for any practising Scientologist (regardless of whether it actually means anything or not). Among the definitions Scientology offers for a Clear – someone who has reached the state of Clear – is “...a being who no longer has his own reactive mind (another Scientology term), the hidden source of irrational behavior, unreasonable fears, upsets and insecurities.” So that's clear then.
As we shall see in future posts, another parallel between Scientology and Narconon is the use of “success stories” in which people testify to their “wins” after completing a course. This, presumably, was one way Narconon measured the successful completion of the vague course objectives to which the experts were objecting.
28It is worth quoting in full the report's reservations about the use of “touch assists”.
“Touch assists involve massages between patients in rooms by themselves. Narconon has both male and female patients who are involved in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
“This practice of touch assists could likely lead to improper sexual contact between drug addicts or alcoholics in the process of recovery. An accepted standard in such programs is for the patients to keep their hands to themselves.
“The practice of touch assists between male and female patients who are recovering drug addicts or alcoholics in private rooms renders the program unsafe in this respect.”
There have been a number of allegations of rape at Narconon centres.
29Court Sets Aside Order; Narconon to Stay Open”by Michael McNutt, June 17, 1992, The Oklahoman.
30Kaws Defy Tonkawas In Narconon Approval” by Michael McNutt, July 10, 1992, The Oklahoman; “Narconon Gets State Mental Health Exemptionby Michael McNutt in The Oklahoman, August 15, 1992; and “Narconon gets Licence” in the news-in-brief section, November 1, 1992, The Oklahoman. See also the background information contained in Oklahoma State Representative Brian Renegar's August 24, 2012 statement, “Renegar to Revisit Rehabilitation Certification in Light of Deaths at Narconon”.