LSD and the CIA: The Shocking Truth About What Our
Government Deemed "Research" in the 1950's and 1960's
Q/A: Does this testimonial record demonstrate the complicity
of due process?
Now back to our feature story.
The following was written by Keith Roussil.
It is permissible to copy any and all portions of the below text so long
as no profit is made and the author is given due credit. Check out the
footnotes and additional resources at the bottom
The Central Intelligence Agency conducted dangerous research
on LSD, a halucinogenic and pshychadelic drug, in the 1950's and 1960's.
The CIA performed this research for many reasons, most of which, are alone,
reason enough to be appalled by the CIA's actions. The first step in this
research was to find suitable materials to study and test. The second
phase in the research process was to study the effectiveness of the materials
found. This was done using what the CIA deemed "volunteers," although
these "volunteers" did not usually know exactly what they were getting
into; and many of these volunteers were patients in mental health institutions.
The final phase of the CIA's testing was, by far, the most shocking, reckless,
and dangerous aspect of the CIA's actions. This phase involved the testing
of LSD on subjects who never did know and might not ever know that they
were in fact test subjects.
The U.S. government performed tests on United States citizens
without their consent or knowledge. The final thing that the CIA did in
its research program with LSD was to destroy all known records of any
activity having to do with their research with LSD in January of 1973.
It was not until the middle of the 1970's that information about this
research was actually discovered and not until the late 1970's that the
American public was made aware of this research. To this date, there have
been no actions of reprimandation taken against any of the persons involved.
The project was code-named MKULTRA, and it began sometime
during the early 1950's. The CIA said that it was for "the research and
development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable
of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior."(CIA
memo) That alone is reason enough to be concerned about the CIA's actions.
The CIA also engaged in this research to develop new and better means
of interrogation, and to protect their agents from releasing information
under interrogation by other countries.(Lee and Shlain1986) The basic
idea in this instance was that LSD could be used as a "truth" drug. The
CIA wanted to find out if it was possible to use the drug as such, and
if so, to expose their agents to LSD so that they would be able to defend
themselves, mentally, against any such interrogation methods.
The actions taken by the CIA and the reasons for which
they were taken were results of an extreme paranoia that came about in
this era. This paranoia resulted from the growing division between East
and West. After World War II, the cold war had started; and the U.S. government
was at all out war as far as the Intelligence community was concerned.
There had been reports that Soviet Intelligence Officers had already began
research into this avenue, using a new drug out of Switzerland, LSD.(Thomas
1993) Obviously, the CIA felt a need to pursue this research with a reckless
abandon. This paranoia probably had a large part in the recklessness with
which this project was conducted.
The first phase of Project MKULTRA was to "search for suitable
materials for study." For this phase of the project, the CIA used experts
in pharmaceutical research as well as involving several private and state
institutions. It is this phase of the project that gives it its famous
roots. It is believed that Swedish scientist, Albert Hoffman,
the man who first synthesized the drug LSD at the Santoz Laboratories,
played a large role in this phase of the project. This is also when the
world famous Timothy Leary became involved as a
professor at Harvard University.(Washington Post, 1996) There is, however,
no proof of this because the CIA is not permitted to give out the names
of private persons and institutions that were involved even if they wanted
to due to restrictions of the Privacy Act.(Senate Select Committee on
The second phase of the testing focused on laboratory testing
of "voluntary" subjects. The word "voluntary" has been put in quotes because
that is only what the CIA calls these subjects, but one will see that
the Guinea Pigs, if you will, were not exactly what one might call "voluntary."
The most sickening part of this phase in the project took place at the
National Institutes of Mental Health in Lexington Kentucky. Most of this
facility was dedicated to persons with severe drug addiction problems
who were serving time for drug offenses, and the CIA couldn't think of
a better place to do research on a new drug.
The CIA, obviously, needed some way to coerce persons into
"volunteering;" and they did so by "rewarding" the "volunteers" with the
drug of their addiction after participating. So, not only was the CIA
exposing these people to a new and dangerous drug whose affects were,
largely unknown; but they were also contributing to previous drug problems
that these people had.
Picture this whole scenario. A heroin addict would be given
acid to drop and then observed for the next several hours while on acid.
After this, the prisoner would be released back to their cell still realing
from the effects of a dose of acid, which usually lasts for up to 12 hours,
and given a fresh supply of heroin to inject themselves with.(Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence, 1977) The final phase of Project MKULTRA is,
by far, the most horrifying and grossly negligent aspect of the project.
This phase went on from 1953 until the whole project was terminated in
the late 1960's.
Having already tested on "voluntary" subjects, the CIA
felt that it was necessary to broaden this research and test on unwitting
subjects. They would, for instance, pick random people on the street or
in bars as subjects for these tests on LSD. A CIA memo states the following
justification for this testing: "testing of materials under accepted scientific
procedures fails to disclose the full pattern of reactions and attributions
that may occur in operational situations." It is certain that this is
in fact true, but it is also certain that what the CIA ended up doing
could not be justified by anything.
There were "safe houses" set up in New York and San Francisco.
These safe houses operated under the cover of that of a brothel, and there
were actually prostitutes there who were used in some of the testing.
The first form of testing, that did involve the use of prostitutes, was
conducted by luring men into the house via the prostitutes. Once inside,
the men would be given a drink laced with liquid LSD. The man's actions
could then be observed by CIA agents on the other side of a two-way mirror
that was located in the room.(Senate Select Committee on Intelligence)
The scariest part of this testing is that, unlike the prison "volunteers,"
these persons had no idea that they were in fact under the effects of
a hallucinogenic drug. This meant that the persons had no reason but to
believe that all of the things going on in their minds were in fact actually
happening. This could cause severe mental trauma to a person for the rest
of their lives, not to mention the fact that LSD has been known to often
cause "flashbacks," which could cause one to have a relapse years later.
Other portions of this phase in the testing involved things
such as CIA agents slipping LSD to random persons in bars or restaurants
for the sole purpose of seeing what might happen. It is also likely, that
this phase of Project MKULTRA had been giving doses of LSD to unwitting
politicians in countries whose foreign policies tended to conflict with
that of the United States'. It is, however, not possible to prove any
of this, except that the CIA had at least expressed interest in doing
this, because all documentation has been "lost" and can not be recovered.
The CIA agents involved in this part of Project MKULTRA
have also seemed to develop very poor memories, and remember very little
of that part of their careers in the CIA.(Senate Select Committee on Intelligence)
Maybe they had done a lot of acid as well. There is no way of knowing
what the long term effects of this part of the testing might be because
the CIA did no follow up investigations into any of these people and never
even kept their names and only referred to them by individually assigned
numbers. It is possible that this testing has caused the ruination of
hundreds of American lives.
An interesting aspect of the final phase of Project MKULTRA
is the death of Dr. Frank Olsen, an army scientist. One must first discuss
what is known and accepted by all pertaining to the life and death of
Dr. Olsen. Primarily, that Dr. Olsen was a civilian Army Scientist, who
was working on experiments on LSD with the Army. It is known that Dr.
Olsen was at least once under the influence of LSD. The last thing that
is known of Dr. Olsen is that he died after a fall from a ten story window
at the Hotel Statler in New York City at approximately 2:30 AM on November
27,1953. That is about all that can be objectively said about Dr. Olsen.
The rest involves two distinctly different stories as to why and how Dr.
Frank Olsen died, these two stories will be referred to as the 60 Minutes
story and the CIA story.
The CIA's explanation of the death of Dr. Olsen is given
in great detail in a joint hearing before the Select Committee on Intelligence
and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee
on Human Resources in the United States Senate, which was held on August
3 1977. The CIA states that Dr. Olsen "unwittingly" received approximately
seventy micrograms of LSD in a drink, which was placed there by CIA officer,
Dr. Robert Lashbrook at a meeting of Army and CIA scientists in Deep Creek
Lake Maryland. It is said that Dr. Olsen showed signs of paranoia and
schizophrenia, which can be associated with LSD use, in the days following
his exposure to LSD.
It is then said that Dr. Olsen was taken to New York City
by Dr. Lashbrook for treatment by Dr. Harold Abramson, who was a psychologist
and had previously done CIA funded research on LSD. While receiving treatment
in New York, Dr. Frank Olsen jumped from his hotel room window due to
an extreme case of paranoia and schizophrenia.
The story that 60 Minutes related to the American public
in a recent in a recent show differs in a few very crucial ways. This
must first be preface by saying that the CIA's experiments with LSD were
originally funded for the purpose of using it as a truth cerum.(Lee and
Shlain 1986) 60 Minutes reports that the CIA realized that LSD had no
usefulness as a truth cerum, but they wanted to continue research for
many other, more maniacal reasons. It is alleged that Dr. Olsen was going
to snitch and ruin the plans of Project MKULTRA's chief officers. It is
then said that the CIA arranged for Dr. Olsen to be pushed from his hotel
window. (60 Minutes, 1996)
There really is no evidence that sways towards one story
or the other, but no matter how the death of Dr. Olsen is looked at, the
CIA still comes out looking pretty bad, even in their own story. In the
mid 1960's Project MKULTRA was reviewed by the CIA Inspector General,
and it was decided that there was no longer any need for the project and
it was eventually phased out and terminated in the late 1960's.(CIA memo)
One might wonder how and why any of this information ever came to light.
Why would the CIA allow such information about themselves to be released
to the public? One can be assured that the CIA did their best to make
sure that none of this information ever did come to light.
In January of 1973, all documentation of Project MKULTRA
was destroyed under orders of the presiding CIA director,
Richard Helms.(Select Committee on Intelligence 1977) It is also
true that most CIA officials who were involved developed very, shall we
say, "political" memories. After Richard Helms was succeeded in 1975,
there was a full scale investigation launched into Project MKULTRA. This
still did not recover much other than very broad details regarding the
However, in early 1977, Congress passed many bills to make
some previously withheld government information public record. One of
these things is the fiscal budget of the CIA. Because of this act, the
CIA had to find all of its old budget records and, in doing so, found
seven boxes of files containing the budget of an obscure CIA
Project MKULTRA.(Select Committee on Intelligence 1977) It was
these files from which the whole story was formed. After the discovery
of these documents, the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, headed
up by Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, launched a full scale investigation
into the matter that resulted in the hearing mentioned above. During this
hearing, Sen. Kennedy interviewed two CIA agents who had previously remembered
nothing from Project MKULTRA and found that their memories became much,
much clearer when they found out how much had been discovered.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this situation
is that there have never been any actions taken against the members of
the CIA who were involved in Project MKULTRA. No one was fired from the
agency, no one took a pay cut, no one served jail time, and no one ever
truly came forward and accepted responsibility for the project.
At the hearing before the Senate, Sen. Kennedy even says
that the only goal of the hearing is to make public record what is known
of Project MKULTRA. Never does he mention anything about punishment for
these people. People who tested on unknowing human beings and used drug
addicts as guinea pigs in their testing. I think the best way to close
this paper would be to quote what Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts
said about the project and the CIA's actions in the 1950' and the 1960's
during a hearing before The Senate Select Committee on Intellignce which
he chaired at the time:
"The intelligence community of this Nation, which recquires
a shroud of secrecy in order to operate, has a very sacred trust from
the American People. The CIA's program of human experimentation of the
fifties and sixties violated that trust. It was violated again on the
day the bulk of the agency's records were destroyed in 1973. It is violated
each time a responsible official refuses to recollect the details of the
Footnotes and Additional Resources United States Select
Committee on Intelligence. Project MKULTRA, the CIA's program of research
in behavioral modification: Joint hearing before the Select Committee
on Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research
of the Committee on of the Committee on Human Resource, first session,
August 3, 1997. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977
Lee, Martin A. and Schlain, Bruce Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD and the 60's
Rebellion. Buffalo: Grove Press, 1986 Stevens, Jay. Storming Heaven: LSD
and the American Dream. New York: Smith, 1989. Thomas, Evans. "Signs of
a Paranoid Age" NewsWeek 27 Dec. 1993: P. 20+ Wallace, Mike. "Dr. Frank
Olsen." 60 Minutes: CBS, 1996 Hoffman, Albert. LSD, My Problem Child.
Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, Inc. (The man who discovered LSD in 1938)