The CIA & Experiments with Recreational Drugs
Recreational drugs have not always been the preserve of party goes and ravers. Once upon a time the US government thought they might have espionage and military use. Read on for details of some of the alleged things they got up to:
The Truth Seekers
In the spring of 1942, General William "Wild Bill" Donovan, chief of the OSS, the CIA's wartime predecessor, assembled a half-dozen prestigious American scientists and asked them to undertake a top-secret research program.
Their mission, Donovan explained, was to develop a speech-inducing drug for use in intelligence interrogations. He insisted that the need for such a weapon was so acute as to warrant any and every attempt to find it.
The use of drugs by secret agents had long been a part of cloak-and-dagger folklore, but this would be the first concerted attempt on the part of an American espionage organization to modify human behaviour through chemical means.
"We were not afraid to try things that had never been done before," asserted Donovan, who was known for his freewheeling and unconventional approach to the spy trade.
The OSS chief pressed his associates to come up with a substance that could break down the psychological defences of enemy spies and POWs, thereby causing an uninhibited disclosure of classified information. Such a drug would also be useful for screening OSS personnel in order to identify German sympathizers, double-agents, and potential misfits.
OSS scientists created a highly-potent extract of cannabis and, through a process known as esterification, a clear and viscous liquid was obtained. The final product had no colour, odor, or taste. It would be nearly impossible to detect when administered surreptitiously which is exactly what the spies intended to do.
"There is no reason to believe that any other nation or group is familiar with the preparation of this particular drug," stated one classified OSS document. Henceforth, the OSS referred to the marijuana extract as TD a rather transparent cover for Truth Drug.
Various ways of administering TD were tried upon witting and unwitting subjects. OSS operatives found that the medicated goo could be injected into any type of food, such as mashed potatoes, butter, salad dressing, or in such things as candy.
Another scheme relied on using facial tissues impregnated with the drug. But these methods had drawbacks. What if someone had a particularly ravenous appetite? Too much TD could knock a subject out and render him useless for interrogation.
The OSS eventually determined that the best approach involved the use of a hypodermic syringe to inject a diluted TD solution into a cigarette or cigar.
After smoking such an item, the subject would get suitably stoned, at which point a skilful interrogator would move in and try to get him to spill the beans.
After testing TD on themselves, their associates, and US military personnel, OSS agents utilized the drug operationally, although on a limited basis. The results were mixed.
In certain circumstances, TD subjects felt a driving necessity to discuss psychologically-charged topics. Whatever the individual is trying to withhold will be forced to the top of his subconscious mind.
But there were also those who experienced toxic reactions better known in latter-day lingo as bummers. One unwitting doper became irritable and threatening and complained of feeling like he was two different people.
The peculiar nature of his symptoms precluded any attempt to question him. That was how it went, from one extreme to the other. At times, TD seemed to stimulate a rush of talk; on other occasions, people got paranoid and didn't say a word.
The lack of consistency proved to be a major stumbling block and Donovan's dreamers as his enthusiastic OSS staffers have been called reluctantly weaned themselves from their reefer madness.
After the war, the CIA and the military picked-up where they OSS had left off in the secret search for a truth serum. The navy took the lead when it initiated Project CHATTER in 1947 the same year the CIA was formed.
Described as an offensive program, CHATTER was supposed to devise means of obtaining information from people independent of their volition but without physical duress.
Toward this end, Dr. Charles Savage conducted experiments with mescaline (a semi-synthetic extract of the peyote cactus that produces hallucinations similar to those caused by LSD) at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
But these studies, which involved animal as well as human subjects, did not yield as effective truth serum, and CHATTER was terminated in 1953.
The navy became interested in mescaline as an interrogation agent when American investigators learned of mind control experiments carried out by Nazi doctors at the Dachau concentration camp during World War II.
After administering the hallucinogen to 30 prisoners, the Nazis concluded that it was impossible to impose one's will on another person as in hypnosis even when the strongest dose of mescaline had been given.
But the drug still afforded certain advantages to SS interrogators, who were consistently able to draw even the most intimate secrets from the [subject] when questions where cleverly put. Not surprisingly, sentiments of hatred and revenge were exposed in every case.
The mescaline experiments at Dachau were described in a lengthy report by the US Naval Technical Mission, which swept across Europe in search of every scrap of industrial material and scientific data that could be garnered from the fallen Reich.
This mission set the stage for the wholesale importation of more than 600 top Nazi scientists under the auspices of Project paperclip which the CIA supervised during the early years of the Cold War.
Among those who emigrated to the US in such a fashion was Dr. Hubertus Strughold, the German scientist whose chief subordinates (Dr. Sigmund Ruff and Dr. Sigmund Rascher) were directly involved in aviation medicine experiments at Dachau, which included the mescaline studies.
Despite recurring allegations that he sanctioned medical atrocities during the war, Strughold settled in Texas and became an important figure in America's space program.
After Werner von Braun, he was the top Nazi scientist employed by the American government, and he was subsequently hailed by NASA as the father of space medicine.
The CIA studied a veritable pharmacopoeia of drugs with the hope of achieving a breakthrough. At one point during the early 1950s Uncle Sam's secret agents viewed cocaine as a potential truth serum. Cocaine's general effects have been somewhat neglected, noted an astute researcher.
Whereupon tests were conducted that enabled the CIA to determine that the precious powder will produce elation, talkativeness, etc. when administer by injection. Larger doses, according to a previously classified document, may cause fearfulness and alarming hallucinations.
The document goes on to report that cocaine counteracts... the catatonia of catatonic schizophrenics and concludes with the recommendation that the drug be studied further.
A number of cocaine derivatives were also investigated from an interrogation standpoint. Procaine, a synthetic analogue, was tested on mental patients and the results were intriguing.
When injected into the frontal lobe of the brain through trephine holes in the skull, the drug produced free and spontaneous speech within two days in mute schizophrenics.
This procedure was rejected as too surgical for our use. Nevertheless, according to a CIA pharmacologist, it is possible that such a drug could be gotten into the general circulation of subject without surgery, hypodermic or feeding.
He suggested a method known as iontophoresis, which involves using an electric current to transfer the ions of a chosen medicament into the tissues of the body.
The CIA's infatuation with cocaine was short-lived. It may have titillated the nostrils of more than a few spies and produced some heady speculation, but after the initial inspiration it was back to square one.
Perhaps their expectations were too high for any drug to accommodate. Or maybe a new approach to the problem was required.
The search for an effective interrogation technique eventually led to heroin. Not the heroin that ex-Nazi pilots under CIA contract smuggled out of the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia on CIA proprietary airlines during the late 1940s and 1950s; nor the heroin that was pumped into America's black and brown ghettos after passing through contraband networks controlled by mobsters who moonlighted as CIA hitmen.
The Agency's involvement in worldwide heroin traffic, which has been well documented in _The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia by Alfred McCoy, went far beyond the scope of Operation ARTICHOKE, which was primarily concerned with eliciting information from recalcitrant subjects.
However, ARTICHOKE scientists did see possible advantages in heroin as a mind control drug. According to a CIA document dated April 26, 1952, heroin was frequently used by police and intelligence officers on a routine basis.
The cold turkey theory of interrogation: CIA operatives determined that heroin and other habit-forming substances can be useful in reverse because of the stresses produced when they are withdrawn from those who are addicted to their use.
It was with the hope of finding the long-sought miracle drug that CIA investigators first began to dabble with LSD-25 in the early 1950s. At the time very little was known about the hallucinogen, even in scientific circles.
Dr. Werner Stoll, the son of Sandoz president Arthur Stoll and a colleague of Albert Hoffmann's, was the first person to investigate the psychological properties of LSD.
The results of his study were presented in the _Swiss Archives of neurology in 1947. Stoll reported that LSD produced disturbances in perception, hallucinations, and acceleration in thinking; moreover, the drug was found to blunt the usual suspiciousness of schizophrenic patients.
No favourable after effects were described. Two years later in the same journal Stoll contributed a second report entitled A New Hallucinatory Agent, Active in Very Small Amounts.
The fact that LSD caused hallucinations should not have been a total surprise to the scientific community. Sandoz first became interested in ergot, the natural source of all lysergic acid. The rye fungus had a mysterious and contradictory reputation.
In China and parts of the Mideast it was thought to possess medicinal qualities, and certain scholars believe that it may have been used in sacred rites in ancient Greece.
In other parts of Europe, however, the same fungus was associated with the horrible malady known as St. Anthony's Fire, which struck periodically like the plague.
Medieval chronicles tell of villages and towns where nearly everyone went mad for a few days after ergot-diseased rye was unknowingly milled into flour and baked as bread.
Men were afflicted with gangrenous limbs that looked like blackened stumps, and pregnant women miscarried. Even in modern times, there have been reports of ergot-related epidemics.
FOOTNOTE: In 1951 hundreds of respectable citizens in Pont-Saint-Esprit, a small French village, went completely berserk one evening. Some of the town's leading citizens jumped from windows into the Rhone.
Others ran through the streets screaming abut being chased by lions, tigers, and bandits with donkey ears.
Many died, and whose who survived suffered strange after effects for weeks. In his book The Day of St. Anthony's Fire, John C Fuller attributes this bizarre outbreak to rye flour contaminated with ergot.
Initial reports seemed promising. In one instance LSD was given to an officer who had been instructed not to reveal a significant military secret.
When questioned, however, he gave all the details of the secret... and after the effects of the LSD had worn off, the officer had no knowledge of revealing the information (complete amnesia).
Favourable reports kept coming in, and when this phase of experimentation was completed, the CIA's Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) prepared a lengthy memorandum entitled Potential New Agent for Unconventional Warfare.
LSD was said to be useful for eliciting true and accurate statements from subjects under its influence during interrogation.
Moreover, the data on hand suggested that LSD might help in reviving memories of past experiences.
It almost seemed to good to be true a drug that unearthed secrets buried deep in the unconscious mind but also caused amnesia during the effective period. The implications were downright astounding.
Soon the entire CIA hierarchy was head over heels as news of what appeared to be a major breakthrough sent shock waves rippling through headquarters. (C.P.Snow once said, The euphoria of secrecy goes to the head.)
For years they had searched, and now they were on the verge of finding the Holy Grail of the cloak-and-dagger trade.
As one CIA officer recalled, We had thought at first this was the secret that was going to unlock the universe.
But the sense of elation did not last long. As the secret research progressed, the CIA ran into problems.
Eventually they came to recognize that LSD was not really a truth serum in the classical sense. Accurate information could not always be obtained from people under the influence of LSD because it induced a marked anxiety and loss of reality contact.
Those who received unwitting doses experienced an intense distortion of time, place, and body image, frequently culminating in full-blown paranoid reactions.
The bizarre hallucinations caused by the drug often proved more of a hindrance than an aid to the interrogation process.
There was always the risk, for example, that an enemy spy who started to trip out would realize he'd been drugged. This could make him overly suspicious and taciturn to the point of clammy up entirely.
When CIA scientists tested a drug for speech-inducing purposes and found that it didn't work, they usually put it aside and tried something else. But such was not the case with LSD.
Although early reports proved overoptimistic, the Agency was not about the discard such a powerful and unusual substance simply because it did not live up to its original expectations.
They had to shift gears. A reassessment of the strategic implications of LSD was necessary. If, strictly speaking, LSD was not a reliable truth drug, then how else could it be used?
CIA researchers were intrigued by this new chemical, but they didn't quite know what to make of it. LSD was significantly different from anything else they knew about. The most fascinating thing about it, a CIA psychologist recalled, was that such minute quantities had such a terrible effect.
Mere micrograms could create serious mental confusion... and render the mind temporarily susceptible to suggestion.
Moreover, the drug was colourless, odourless, and tasteless, and therefore easily concealed in food and beverage. But it was hard to predict the response to LSD.
On certain occasions acid seemed to cause an uninhibited disclosure of information, but oftentimes the overwhelming anxiety experienced by the subject obstructed the interrogation process. And there were unexplainable mood swings from total panic to boundless bliss.
How could one drug produce such extreme behaviour and contradictory reactions? It didn't make sense. As research continued, the situation became even more perplexing.
At one point a group of Security officers did an about-face and suggested that acid might best be employed as an anti-interrogation substance: Since information obtained from a person in a psychotic state would be unrealistic, bizarre, and extremely difficult to assess, the self-administration of LSD-25, which is effective in minute doses, might in special circumstances offer an operative temporary protection against interrogation.
This proposal was somewhat akin to a suicide pill scenario. Secret agents would be equipped with micro-pellets of LSD to take on dangerous assignments.
If they fell into enemy hands and were about to be interrogated, they could pop a tab of acid as a preventive measure and babble gibberish. Obviously this idea was impractical, but it showed just how confused the CIA's top scientists were about LSD. First they thought it was a true serum, then a lie serum, and for a while they didn't know what to think.
To make matters worse, there was a great deal of concern within the Agency that the Soviets and the Red Chinese might also have designs on LSD as an espionage weapon.
A survey conducted by the Officer of Scientific Intelligence noted that ergot was a commercial product in numerous Eastern Bloc countries. The enigmatic fungus also flourished in the Soviet Union, but Russian ergot had not yet appeared in foreign markets. Could this mean the Soviets were hoarding their supplies?
Since information on the chemical structure of LSD was available in scientific journals as early as 1947, the Russians might have been stockpiling raw ergot in order to convert it into a mind control weapon.
Although no Soviet data are available on LSD-25, the OSI study concluded, it must be assumed that the scientists of the USSR are thoroughly cognizant of the strategic importance of this powerful new drug and are capable of producing it at any time.
Security officials proposed that LSD be administered to CIA trainee volunteers. Such a procedure would clearly demonstrate to select individuals the effects of hallucinogenic substances upon themselves and their associates.
Furthermore, it would provide an opportunity to screen Agency personnel for anxiety proneness; those who couldn't pass the acid test would be excluded from certain critical assignments.
This suggestion was well received by the ARTICHOKE steering committee, although the representative from the CIA's Medical Office felt that the test should not be confined merely to male volunteer trainee personnel, but that it should be broadened to include all components of the Agency. According to a CIA document dated November 19, 1953, the Project Committee verbally concurred in this recommendation.
Laboratories Of The State
When the CIA first became interested in LSD, only a handful of scientists in the United States were engaged in hallucinogenic drug research. Among those who benefited from the CIA's largesse was Dr. Max Rinkel, the first person to bring LSD to the United States.
In 1949 Rinkel, a research psychiatrist, obtained a supply of LSD from Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland and gave the drug to his partner, Dr. Robert Hyde, who took the first acid trip in the Western Hemisphere.
Rinkel and Hyde went on to organize an LSD study at the Boston Psychopathic Institute, a pioneering mental health clinic affiliated with Harvard University.
They tested the drug on 100 volunteers and reported the initial findings in May 1950 (nearly three years before the CIA began funding their work) at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Rinkel announced that LSD had produced a transitory psychotic disturbance in normal subjects. This was highly significant, for it raised the possibility that mental disorders could be studied objectively in a controlled experimental setting.
Rinkel's hypothesis was supported and expanded upon during the same forum by Dr. Paul Hoch, a prominent psychiatrist who would also proffer his services to the CIA in the years ahead.
Hoch reported that the symptoms produced by LSD, mescaline, and related drugs were similar to those of schizophrenia: intensity of colour perception, hallucinations, depersonalization, intense anxiety, paranoia, and in some cases catatonic manifestations.
As Hock put it, LSD and Mescaline disorganize the psychic integration of the individual. he believed that the medical profession was fortunate to have access to these substances, for now it would be possible to reconstruct temporary or model psychoses in the laboratory.
LSD was considered an exceptional research tool in that the subject could provide a detailed description of his experience while he was under the influence of the drug.
It was hoped that careful analysis of these data would shed new light on schizophrenia and other enigmatic mental diseases.
Hock's landmark thesis that LSD was a psychotomimetic or madness-mimicking agent caused a sensation in scientific circles and led to several important and stimulating theories regarding the biochemical basis of schizophrenia. This in turn sparked an upsurge of interest in brain chemistry and opened new vistas in the field of experimental psychiatry.
In light of the extremely high potency of LSD, it seemed completely plausible that infinitesimal traces of a psychoactive substance produced through metabolic dysfunction by the human organism might cause psychotic disturbances.
Conversely, attempts to alleviate a lysergic psychosis might point the way toward cutting schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness.
FOOTNOTE: While the miracle cure never panned out, it is worth nothing that Thorazine was found to mollify an LSD reaction and subsequently became a standard drug for controlling patients in mental asylums and prisons.
In the early 1950s the CIA approached Dr. Nick Bercel, a psychiatrist who maintained a private practice in Los Angeles. Bercel was one of the first people in the United States to work with LSD, and the CIA asked him to consider a haunting proposition.
What would happen if the Russians put LSD in the water supply of a large American city? A skilful saboteur could carry enough acid in his coat pocket to turn an entire metropolis into a loony bin, assuming he found a way to distribute it equally.
In light of this frightening prospect, would Bercel render a patriotic service by calculating exactly how much LSD would be required to contaminate the water supply of Los Angeles?
Bercel consented, and that evening he dissolved a tiny amount of acid in a glass of tap water, only to discover that the chlorine neutralized the drug. Don't worry, he told his CIA contact, it won't work.
The Agency took this as a mandate, and another version of LSD was eventually concocted to overcome the drawback.
A CIA document state accordingly, If the concept of contaminating a city's water supply seems, or in actual fact, is found to be far-fetched (this is by no means certain), there is still the possibility of contaminating, say, the water supply of a bomber base or, more easily still, that of a battleship....
Our current work contains the strong suggestion that LSD-25 will produce hysteria (unaccountable laughing, anxiety, terror).... It requires little imagination to realize what the consequences might be if a battleship's crew were so affected.
The CIA never got in touch with Bercel again, but they monitored his research reports in various medical journals. When Bercel gave LSD to spiders, they spun perfectly symmetrical webs.
Animal studies also showed that cats cringed before untreated mice, and fish that normally swam close to the bottom of a water tank hovered near the top.
In another experiment Dr. Louis Joylon (Jolly) West, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma, injected an elephant with a massive dose of 300,000 micrograms.
Dr. West, a CIA contract employee and an avid believer in the notion that hallucinogens were psychotomimetic agents, was trying to duplicate the periodic rut madness that overtakes male elephants for about one week each year.
But the animal did not experience a model elephant psychosis; it just keeled over and remained in a motionless stupor. In attempting to revive the elephant, West administered a combination of drugs that ended up killing the poor beast.
Research On Humans
Research on human subjects showed that LSD lodged primarily in the liver, spleen, and kidneys. Only a tiny amount (.01%) of the original dose entered the brain, and it only remained there for 20 minutes.
This was a most curious finding, as the effect of LSD was not evident until the drug had disappeared entirely from the central nervous system.
Some scientists thought LSD might act as a trigger mechanism, releasing or inhibiting a naturally occurring substance in the brain, but no one could figure out exactly why the drug had such a dramatic effect on the mind. Many other questions were in need of clarification.
Could the drug be fatal? What was the maximum dose? Were the effects constant, or were there variations according to different personality types? Could the reaction be accentuated by combining LSD with other chemicals? Was there an antidote?
Some of these questions overlapped with legitimate medical concerns, and researchers on CIA stipends published unclassified versions of their work in prestigious scientific periodicals.
But these accounts omitted secret data given to the CIA on how LSD affected operationally pertinent categories such as disturbance of memory, alteration of sex patterns, eliciting information, increasing suggestibility, and creating emotional dependence.
The Agency turned to Dr. Ewen Cameron, a respected psychiatrist who served as president of the Canadian, the American, and the World Psychiatric Association before his death in 1967.
Cameron also directed the Allain Memorial Institute at Montreal's McGill University, where he developed a bizarre and unorthodox method for treating schizophrenia.
With financial backing from the CIA he tested his method on 53 patients at Allain. The so-called treatment started with sleep therapy, in which subjects were knocked out for months at a time.
The next phase, depatterning, entailed massive electroshock and frequent doses of LSD designed to wipe out past behavior patterns. Then Cameron tried to recondition the mind through a technique known as psychic driving.
The patients, once again heavily sedated, were confined to sleep rooms where tape-recorded messages played over and over from speakers under their pillows. Some heard the message a quarter of a million times.
Cameron's methods were later discredited, and the CIA grudgingly gave up on the notion of LSD as a brainwashing technique.
But that was little consolation to those who served as guinea pigs for the CIA's secret mind control projects. Nine of Cameron's former patients have sued the American government for $1,000,000 each, claiming that they are still suffering from the trauma they went through at Allain.
These people never agreed to participate in a scientific experiment, a fact which reflects little credit on the CIA, even if the Agency officials feared that the Soviets were spurting ahead in the mind control race.
The CIA violated the Nuremberg Code for medical ethics by sponsoring experiments on unwitting subjects. Ironically, Dr. Cameron was a member of the Nuremberg tribunal that heard the case against Nazi war criminals who committed atrocities during World War II.
Like the Nazi doctors at Dachau, the CIA victimized certain groups of people, who were unable to resist: prisoners, mental patients, foreigners, the terminally ill, sexual deviants, ethnic minorities.
One project took place at the Addiction Research centre of the US Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington was ostensibly a place where heroin addicts could go to shake a habit, and although it was officially a penitentiary, all the inmates were referred to as patients.
The patients had their own way of referring to the doctors, hacks or croakers, who patrolled the premises in military uniforms. The patients at Lexington had no way of knowing that it was one of 15 penal and mental institutions utilized by the CIA in its super-secret drug development program.
To conceal its role the Agency enlisted the aid of the navy and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which served as conduits for channelling money to Dr. Harris Isbell, a gung-ho research scientist who remained on the CIA payroll for over a decade.
According to CIA documents the directors of NIMH and the National Institutes of Health were fully cognizant of the Agency's interest in Isbell's work and offered full support and protection.
The CIA also expended considerable effort to monitor the latest development in LSD research on a world-wide scale. Drug specialists funded by the Agency made periodic trips to Europe to confer with scientists and representatives of various pharmaceutical concerns, including, of course, Sandoz Laboratories.
Initially the Swiss firm provided LSD to investigators all over the world free of charge, in exchange for full access to their research data. (CIA researchers did not comply with this stipulation.)
By 1953, Sandoz had decided to deal directly with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which assumed a supervisory role in distributing LSD to American investigators from then on.
It was a superb arrangement as far as the CIA was concerned, for the FDA went out of its way to assist the secret drug program.
With the FDA as its junior partner, the CIA not only had ready access to supplies of LSD (which Sandoz marketed for a while under the brand name Delysid) but also was able to keep a close eye on independent researchers in the United States.
The CIA would have been content to let the FDA act as an intermediary in its dealings with Sandoz, but business as usual was suspended when the Agency learned of an offer that could not be refused.
Prompted by reports that large quantities of the drug were suddenly available, top-level CIA officials authorized the purchase of 10 kilos of LSD from Sandoz at an estimated price of 4240,000 enough for a staggering 100 million doses.
A document dated November 16, 1953, characterized the pending transaction as a risky operation, but CIA officials felt it was necessary, if only to preclude any attempt the Communists might make to get their hands on the drug. What the CIA intended to do with such an incredible stash of acid was never made clear.
LSD's Midnight Climax
The super secret MK-ULTRA program was run by a relatively small unit within the CIA known as the Technical Services Staff (TSS). Originally established as a supplementary funding mechanism to the ARTICHOKE project, MK-ULTRA quickly grew into a mammoth undertaking that outflanked earlier mind control initiatives.
For a while both the TSS and the Office of Security (which directed the ARTICHOKE project) were engaged in parallel LSD tests, and a heated rivalry developed between the two groups.
Security officials were miffed because they had gotten into acid first and then this new clique started cutting in on what the ARTICHOKE crowd considered their rightful turf. The internecine conflict grew to the point where the Office of security decided to have one of its people spy on the TSS.
This set off a flurry of memos between the Security informant and his superiors, who were dismayed when they learned that Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the chemist who directed the MK-ULTRA program, had approved a plan to give acid to unwitting American citizens.
The Office of Security had never attempted such a reckless gesture although it had its own idiosyncrasies; ARTICHOKE operatives, for example, were attempting to have a hypnotized subject kill someone while in a trance.
Whereas the Office of Security utilized LSD as an interrogation weapon, Dr. Gottlieb had other ideas about what to do with the drug.
Because the effects of LSD were temporary (in contrast to the fatal nerve agents), Gottlieb saw important strategic advantages for its use in covert operations.
For instance, a surreptitious dose of LSD might disrupt a person's thought process and cause him to act strangely or foolishly in public.
A CIA document notes that administering LSD to high officials would be a relatively simple matter and could have a significant effect at key meetings, speeches, etc.
But Gottlieb realized there was a considerable difference between testing LSD in a laboratory and using the drug in clandestine operations.
In an effort to bridge the gap, he and his TSS colleagues initiated a series of in-house experiments designed to find out what would happen if LSD was given to someone in a normal life setting without advance warning.
They approached the problem systematically, taking one step at a time, until they reached a point where outsiders were zapped with no explanation whatsoever. First everyone in Technical Services tried LSD. They tripped alone and in groups.
A typical experiment involved two people pairing off in a closed room where they observed each other for hours at a time, took noted, and analyzed their experiences. As Gottlieb later explained,
There was an extensive amount of self-experimentation for the reason that we felt that a first hand knowledge of the subjective effects of these drugs [was] important to those of us who were involved in the program.
When they finally learned the hallucinogenic ropes, so to speak, they agreed among themselves to slip LSD into each other's drinks.
The target never knew when his turn would come, but as soon as the drug was ingested a TSS colleague would tell him so he could make the necessary preparations which usually meant taking the rest of the day off.
Initially the leaders of MK-ULTRA restricted the surprise acid tests to TSS members, but when this phase had run its course they started dosing other Agency personnel who had never tripped before.
Nearly everyone was fair game, and surprise acid trips became something of an occupational hazard among CIA operatives. Such tests were considered necessary because foreknowledge would prejudice the results of the experiment.
Indeed, things were getting a bit raucous down at headquarters. When Security officials discovered what was going on, they began to have serious doubts about the wisdom of the TSS game plan. Moral reservations were not paramount; it was more a sense that the MK-ULTRA staff had become unhinged by the hallucinogen.
The Office of Security felt that the TSS should have exercised better judgment in dealing with such a powerful and dangerous chemical. The straw that broke the camel's back came when a Security informant got wind of a plan by a few TSS jokers to put LSD in the punch served at the annual CIA Christmas office party.
A security memo dated December 15, 1954, noted that acid could produce serious insanity for periods of 8 to 18 hours and possibly for longer. The writer of this memo concluded indignantly and unequivocally that he did not recommend testing in the Christmas punch bowls usually present at the Christmas office parties.
The purpose of these early acid tests was not to explore mystical realms or higher states of consciousness. On the contrary, the TSS was trying to figure out how to employ LSD in espionage operations. Nevertheless, there were times when CIA agents found themselves propelled into a visionary world and they were deeply moved by the experience.
One MK-ULTRA veteran wept in front of his colleagues at the end of his first trip. I didn't want it to leave, he explained. I felt I would be going back to a place where I wouldn't be able to hold on to this kind of beauty. His colleagues assumed he was having a bad trip and wrote a report stating that the drug had made him psychotic.
Adverse reactions often occurred when people were given LSD on an impromptu basis. On one occasion a CIA operative discovered he'd been dosed during his morning coffee break.
He sort of knew he had it, a fellow-agent recalled, but he couldn't pull himself together. Somehow, when you known you've taken it, you start the process of maintaining your composure. But this grabbed him before he was aware, and it got away from him.
Then he got away from them and fled across Washington stoned out of his mind while they searched frantically for their missing comrade.
He reported afterwards, the TSS man continued, that every automobile that came by was a terrible monster with fantastic eyes, out to get him personally. Each time a car passed he would huddle down against a parapet, terribly frightened.
It was a real horror for him. I mean, it was hours of agony... like being in a dream that never stops with someone chasing you.
Incidents such as these reaffirmed to the MK-ULTRA crew just how devastating a weapon LSD could be. But this only made them more enthusiastic about the drug. They kept springing it on people in a manner reminiscent of the ritual hazing of fraternity pledges.
It was just too damned informal, a TSS officer later said. We didn't know much. We were playing around in ignorance.... We were just naive about what we were doing.
Such pranks claimed their first victim in November 1953, when a group of CIA and army technicians fathered for a three-day work retreat at a remote hunting lodge in the backwoods of Maryland. On the second day of the meeting Dr. Gottlieb spiked the after-dinner cocktails with LSD.
As the drug began to take effect, Gottlieb told everyone that they had ingested a mind-altering chemical. By that time the group had become boisterous with laughter and unable to carry on a coherent conversation.
One man was not amused by the unexpected turn of events. Dr. Frank Olson, an army scientist who specialized in biological warfare research, had never taken LSD before, and he slid into a deep depression. His mood did not lighten when the conference adjourned.
Normally a gregarious family man, Olson returned home quiet and withdrawn.
When he went to work after the weekend, he asked his boss to fire him because he had messed up the experiment during the retreat. Alarmed by his erratic behaviour, Olson's superiors contacted the CIA, which sent him to New York to see Dr. Harold Abramson.
A respected physician, Abramson taught at Columbia University and was chief of the allergy clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital. He was also one of the CIA's principal LSD researchers and a part-time consultant to the Army Chemical Corps.
While these were impressive credentials, Abramson was not a trained psychiatrist, and it was this kind of counselling his patients desperately needed.
For the next weeks Olson confided his deepest fears to Abramson. He claimed the CIA was putting something in his coffee to make him stay awake at night. He said people were plotting against him and he heard voices at odd hours commanding him to throw away his wallet which he did, even though it contained several uncashed cheques.
Dr. Abramson concluded that Olson was mired in a psychotic state... with delusions of persecution that had been crystallized by the LSD experience. Arrangements were made to move him to Chestnut Lodge, a sanitarium in Rockville, Maryland, staffed by CIA-cleared psychiatrists. (Apparently other CIA personnel who suffered from psychiatric disorders were enrolled in this institution.)
On his last evening in New York, Olson checked into a room at the Statler Hilton along with a CIA agent assigned to watch him. And then, in the wee hours of the morning, the troubled scientist plunged headlong through a closed window to his death 10 floors below.
The Olson suicide had immediate repercussions within the CIA. An elaborate cover-up erased clues to the actual circumstances leading up to his death. Olson's widow was eventually given a government pension, and the full truth of what happened would not be revealed for another 20 years.
Meanwhile CIA director Allen Dulles suspended the in-house testing program for a brief period while an internal investigation was conducted.
In the end, Gottlieb and his team received only a mildly worded reprimand for exercising bad judgment, but no records of the incident were kept in their personnel files which would harm their future careers. The importance of LSD eclipsed all other considerations, and the secret acid tests resumed.
Gottlieb was now ready to undertake the final and most daring phase of the MK-ULTRA program: LSD would be given to unwitting targets in real-life situations.
But who would actually do the dirty work? While looking through some old OSS files, Gottlieb discovered that marijuana had been tested on unsuspecting subjects in an effort to develop a truth serum.
These experiments had been organized by George Hunter White, a tough, old-fashioned narcotics officer who ran a training school for American spies during World War II. Perhaps White would be interested in testing drugs for the CIA.
As a matter of protocol Gottlieb first approached Harry Anslinger, chief of the Federal Narcotics Bureau. Anslinger was favorably disposed and agreed to lend one of his top men to the CIA on a part-time basis. Right from the start White had plenty of leeway in running his operations.
He rented an apartment in New York's Greenwich Village, and with funds supplied by the CIA he transformed it into a safehouse complete with two-way mirrors, surveillance equipment, and the like.
Posing as an artist and a seaman, White lured people back to his pad and slipped them drugs. A clue as to how his subjects fared can be found in White's personal diary, which contains passing references to surprise LSD experiments: Gloria gets horrors.... Janet sky high.
The frequency of bad reactions prompted White to coin his own code word for the drug: Stormy, which was how he referred to LSD throughout his 14-year stint as a CIA operative.
In 1955 White transferred to San Francisco, where two more safehouses were established. During this period he initiated Operation Midnight Climax, in which drug-addicted prostitutes were hired to pick up men from local bars and bring them back to a CIA-financed bordello.
Unknowing customers were treated to drinks laced with LSD while White sat on a portable toilet behind two-way mirrors, sipping martinis and watching every stoned and kinky moment.
As payment for their services the hookers received $100 a night, plus a guarantee from White that he'd intercede on their behalf should they be arrested while plying their trade.
In addition to providing data about LSD, Midnight Climax enabled the CIA to learn about the sexual proclivities of those who passed through the safehouses.
White's harem of prostitutes became the focal point of an extensive CIA study of how to exploit the art of lovemaking for espionage purposes.
When he wasn't operating a national security whorehouse, White would cruise the streets of San Francisco tracking down drug pushers for the Narcotics Bureau.
Sometimes after a tough day on the beat he invited his narc buddies up to one of the safehouses for a little R&R.
Occasionally they unzipped their inhibitions and partied on the premises much to the chagrin of the neighbors, who began to complain about men with guns in shoulder straps chasing after women in various states of undress.
Needless to say, there was always plenty of dope around, and the feds sampled everything from hashish to LSD. So far as I'm concerned," White later told an associate, "'clear thinking' was non-existent while under the influence of any of these drugs. I did feel at times like I was having a 'mind-expanding experience', but this vanished like a dream immediately after the session."
White had quite a scene going for a while. By day he fought to keep drugs out of circulation, and by night he dispensed them to strangers. Not everyone was cut out for this kind of schizophrenic lifestyle, and White often relied on the bottle to reconcile the two extremes.
But there were still moments when his Jekyll-and-Hyde routine got the best of him. One night a friend who had helped install bugging equipment for the CIA stopped by the Safehouse only to find the roly-poly narcotics officer slumped in front of a full-length mirror.
White had just finished polishing off a half gallon of Gibson's. The he sat, with gun in hand, shooting wax slugs at his own reflection.
The safehouse experiments continued without interruption until 1963, when CIA inspector general John Earman accidentally stumbled across the clandestine testing program during a routine inspection of TSS operations.
Only a handful of CIA agents outside Technical Services knew about the testing of LSD on unwitting subjects, and Earman took Richard Helms, the prime instigator of MK-ULTRA, to task for not fully briefing the new CIA director, John J McCone.
Although McCone had been replaced by President Kennedy to replace Allen Dulles as the dean of American intelligence, Helms apparently had his own ideas about who was running the CIA.
Earman recommended a freeze on unwitting drug tests until the matter was fully considered at the higher level of the CIA. But Helms, then deputy director for covert operations (the number two position within the Agency), defended the program.
In a memo dated November 9, 1964, he warned that the CIA's "positive operational capacity to use drugs is diminishing owing to a lack of realistic testing", and he called for a resumption of the safehouse experiments.
While admitting that he had "no answer to the moral issue", Helms argued that such tests were necessary "to keep up with Soviet advances in this field".
The bureaucratic wrangling at CIA headquarters didn't seem to bother George Hunter White, who kept on sending vouchers for "unorthodox expenses" to Dr. Sidney Gottlieb.
No definitive record exists as to when the unwitting acid tests were terminated, but it appears that White and the CIA parted ways when he retired from the Narcotics Bureau in 1966. Afterwards White reflected upon his service for the Agency in a letter to Gottlieb:
"I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape, and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?"
By this time the CIA had developed a "stable of drugs", including LSD, that were used in covert operations.
The decision to employ LSD on an operational basis was handled through a special committee that reported directly to Richard Helms, who characterized the drug as "dynamite" and asked to be "advised at all times when it was intended for use".
A favourite plan involved slipping "P-1" (the code name for LSD when used operationally) to socialist or left-leaning politicians in foreign countries so that they would babble incoherently and discredit themselves in public.
Fidel Castro was among the Third World leaders targeted for surprise acid attacks. When this method proved unworkable, CIA strategists thought of other ways to embarrass the Cuban president. One scheme involved dusting Castro's shoes with thallium salts to make his beard fall out.
Apparently they thought that Castro would lose his charisma along with his hair. Eventually the Agency shifted its focus from bad trips and close shaves to eliminating Castro altogether.
Gottlieb and his TSS cohorts were asked to prepare an array of bizarre gadgets and biochemical poisons for a series of murder conspiracies allying the CIA with anti-Castro mercenaries and the Mob.
Egyptian president Gamal Abdal Nasser also figured high on the CIA's hallucinogenic hit list. While he managed to avoid such a fate, others presumably were less fortunate.
CIA documents cited in a documentary by ABC News confirm that Gottlieb carried a stash of acid overseas on a number of occasions during the Cold War with the intention of dosing foreign diplomats and statesmen.
But the effects of LSD were difficult to predict when employed in such a haphazard manner, and the CIA used LSD only sparingly in operations of this sort.
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