The story of how the CIA conducted secret LSD experiments on unwitting US citizens — Analysis
The MK ULTRA program, which lasted a decade, used unsuspecting candidates to administer mind-control tests.
After World War II, the possibility of gaining control over a person’s mind became one of the top pursuits for intelligence services. Amid never-ending spy games, the capacity to make someone tell the full truth during an interrogation, or to wipe out a subject’s personality and impose another – perhaps, a controlled one – became quite attractive to secret services.
John Marks was a US State Department former officer who published the book “The Secret Life of John Marks”. “The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’,” which focused on the CIA’s mind-control experiments and is based on agency documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The term ‘Manchurian Candidate’ emerged from a title of a novel by Richard Condon, first published in 1959, which tells the story of a US soldier brainwashed and turned into an assassin by the Communists. Back then, the fear that America’s rivals might use such techniques was not only a fictional fantasy, but a matter of very serious concern.
John Marks describes the situation as follows: “In 1947 the National Security Act created not only the CIA but also the National Security Council – in sum, the command structure for the Cold War. Wartime [Office of Strategic Services]Allen Dulles, William Donovan, and William Donovan were among the leaders who lobbied tirelessly for this Act. The new command structure quickly put their fear and grandiose ideas to use. Reacting to the perceived threat, they adopted a ruthless and warlike posture toward anyone they considered an enemy – most especially the Soviet Union. They took it upon themselves to fight communism and things that might lead to communism everywhere in the world.”
‘Defensive orientation soon became secondary’
This US Senate Select Committee, headed by Frank Church (Democratic senator from Idaho), investigated possible intelligence abuses in the past. It was part of a so-called ‘Year of Intelligence,’ a series of investigations into the operations which included “illegal, improper or unethical activities,”It was stated in the resolution that established the church committee.
Actually, there were reasons for the US public to question the secret services’ methods. The Watergate scandal revealed that the CIA was involved in some of the events. While describing the CIA’s activities in his article for the New York Times, journalist Seymour Hersh mentioned other agencies’ operations targeting American citizens. In 2007, the CIA released documents about the subject.
The Church committee still had a lot to do. There were 126 committee meetings and 40 subcommittee hearings. 800 witnesses were interviewed. In April 1976, after having reviewed 110,000 documents and preparing its final report, the committee published their final report. The committee also published a document called “Alleged Assasination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders,” detailing the intelligence’s plans to kill several top figures like Patrice Lumumba and Fidel Castro.
One chapter in the main report is devoted to the use chemical and biological agents of intelligence agencies. “Fears that countries hostile to the United States would use chemical and biological agents against Americans or America’s allies led to the development of a defensive program designed to discover techniques for American intelligence agencies to detect and counteract chemical and biological agents,”According to the report, the offensive weapon quickly became a defensive one.
As the potential use of these agents to gain information or control over enemy agents became obvious, it became second-nature for defensive orientation.
It is further explained that the sensitive nature of these programs was the reason for their failure to be implemented. “few people, even within the agencies”We knew of their existence. “there is no evidence that either the executive branch or Congress were ever informed.”The experiments caused damage to scores of people, and two died.
Harold Blauer, an American tennis player is a grim example. He entered New York State Psychiatric Institute in 1952 after he suffered from depression and was also suffering from divorce. They had a secret contract with Army to research potential chemical warfare agent. Blauer, who knew little about the experiment, was administered a variety of derivatives from a psychedelic drug called mescaline. He died. In 1987, a US court ruled that the Government had covered up its role in the man’s death. A Judge ordered the authorities to pay $700,000 to Blauer’s family.
Candidates who are not aware
Since late 1940s the CIA had several projects involving biological and chemical agents. From 1947 to 1953, a project called CHATTER researched “truth drugs” – something that, according to the Church commission’s report, was a response to “reports of ‘amazing results’ achieved by the Soviets.” Animals and humans underwent tests involving a plant called anabasis aphylla, an alkaloid scopolamine and mescaline.
The 1950 approval of the project BLUEBIRD came in 50. This project was designed to examine mind control methods that could prevent personnel from being abused. “unauthorized extraction of information”These tools allow the user to use special interrogation techniques to manipulate an individual. The project became ARTICHOKE a year later. The project was no longer used defensively. It now includes research. “offensive interrogation techniques”It involved drugs and hypnosis. There’s no certain information about when the project ended. According to the Church commission’s report, the CIA insisted that ARTICHOKE had been scrapped in 1956 – however, there was evidence that the “special interrogation”The study was continued for many more years.
MKNAOMI also investigated biological warfare agent storage and diffusion. The MKNAOMI was dissolved after Richard Nixon, the president of America, ended America’s offensive-biological weapons program in 1969.
The CIA’s main mind-control research program, which turned out to be a real shock when discovered, was MKULTRA, headed by Dr Sidney Gottlieb. The program, which was launched in 1953 but ended a decade later by Dr Sidney Gottlieb, tested human behavior control using electroshocks, radiation, harassment substances, and paramilitary device. MKDELTA was a branch of the project that oversees international testing.
For the most part, people now know about MKULTRA because it involved LSD – a psychedelic drug created in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann at the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. On April 19, 1943, Hofmann accidentally took LSD himself and discovered how strong the effect might be (this day is now known as ‘Bicycle day,’ as Hofmann was riding a bike when he experienced the first-ever ‘trip’ on LSD, commonly known as ‘acid’). Sandoz Laboratories began marketing the drug under the name ‘Delysid’ four years later, and in 1948 it came to the US.
The CIA knew about LSD’s effects, and relied on it so much that, in 1953, there was a plan to purchase 10 kilograms of LSD, some 100 million doses worth $240,000, for experiments.
To obtain the substances and materials it required, the CIA posed as a research organization and made arrangements with hospitals, universities and other institutions. These tests were done on humans, either with their consent or not. The real reason behind the experiment was not known to anyone who participated. The CIA believed that it was important to keep the secretive aspect of the operation under wraps, as the subject targeted would likely be unwitting.
LSD testing was conducted at the army in a variety of ways. It was used in interrogations with alleged foreign spy spies.
Sometimes, the hallucinogen was tested on drug addicts and prisoners. Several volunteer inmates from “Lexington Rehabilitation Center” – a prison for addicts serving sentences for drug violations – were given hallucinogenic drugs in exchange for drugs they were addicted to.
American organized crime boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger took part in MKULTRA in 1957, while being held in prison in Atlanta. He wrote about his experiences in 2017 for OZY. According to Bulger, he realized that he had been taking part in the CIA experiments only years later, when he read The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’.
Whitey Bulger and several inmates were recruited to participate in the experiment. He claims that it was part of a medical research project to discover a cure. “For our participation, we would receive three days of good time for each month on the project,”Bulger wrote. “Each week we would be locked in a secure room in the basement of the prison hospital, in an area where mental patients were housed.”The candidates received large amounts of LSD, and were then tested to see if they responded.
Whitey Bulger explained it like this: “Eight convicts in a panic and paranoid state. Total lack of appetite. Hallucinating. It would appear that the room was changing shape. It was a paranoid and violent experience that lasted for hours. There were times when we felt like living in nightmares, and blood was even coming out of our walls. In front of me, I witnessed two guys transform into skeletons. A camera turned into the head of an animal and I was stunned. I felt like I was going insane.”According to him, the experiment caused long-lasting sleep problems and nightmares.
Dr Olson’s death
In November 1953, a group of CIA employees (including Sidney Gottlieb), together with scientists from the US’ biological research center called Camp Detrick, gathered in a cabin in Maryland for a conference. One of the group was Dr Frank Olson who is an expert on aerobiology. At some point, the CIA members decided to conduct an experiment on unwitting candidates, so Gottlieb’s deputy Robert Lashbrook added LSD to a bottle of Cointreau liqueur, which was served after dinner. Olson tried it.
Family members discovered that Olson was feeling depressed after he returned from work. Olson went to Vincent Ruwet two days later and complained about his poor health and the experiences he had. Ruwet contacted Lashbrook and Olson was taken to New York to see a LSD-certified doctor. Olson became so depressed in New York that Olson refused to return home, even to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. Lashbrook later claimed that the man had looked awful during their last meal together. “almost the Dr Olson… before the experiment.” According to Lashbrook’s testimony, at 2:30am he was awakened by a loud “crash of glass,” and saw that Olson had fallen to his death from the window of their room on the 10th floor. Olson’s family, however, refused to believe it was a suicide, and claimed that the aerobiology expert had been murdered.
The tests that involved unwitting subjects continued despite all of this. The CIA employees could meet a candidate in a bar, take them to a ‘safe house’ and administer the drug through food or drink – and then wait for the reaction. Sometimes, the candidates were unable to feel well for days.
1963 saw the end of this project. Gottlieb destroyed all documentation regarding MKULTRA 10 years later. The true extent of this project will not be revealed.
While MKULTRA remains just a Cold War-era ghost, research into new weapons and into methods of countering them has never stopped – and will never stop, according to ex-CIA-officer-turned-whistleblower John Kiriakou, while countries all over the world are paying “billions and billions of dollars” for it.
Kiriakou believes that it’s never ethical to experiment on a human being without that person’s complete understanding of what is happening – and without an agreement to be a part of the experiment. “These things shouldn’t be secret; if they are secret, they shouldn’t be done,”He told RT. “Ethically and legally you can’t experiment on a human being without an agreement.
“When I was in college, I didn’t have enough money to pay for rent for one month. I saw an advertisement from a pharmaceutical company saying that they want to experiment with these new drugs on young healthy people that they’ll give $500 if you agree to take these drugs over the course of a weekend, and then they draw your blood and they measure the absorption rate of the medication,”Kiriakou recalls. “So I did it. This made me feel sleepy and gave me my $500. I then went home. They experimented on me, and I understood what they were doing. It was uncomfortable and I felt gross, but my eyes were open.”
When we are talking about chemical or biological research, it’s a good thing until it serves peaceful purposes, he says. “In the end, a lot of good can come of it, especially when countries are cooperating with one another,” Kiriakou concludes. “But in wartime, and especially when the public isn’t informed of these things, it can be a frightening prospect, because we have to just trust in our governments not to use them offensively as weapons.”