6. Them Unwitting: The Safehouses
Frank Olson's death could have been a major setback for the Agency's LSD testing, but the program, like Sid Gottlieb's career, emerged essentially unscathed. High CIA officials did call a temporary halt to all experiments while they investigated the Olson case and re-examined the general policy. They cabled the two field stations that had supplies of the drug (Manila and Atsugi, Japan) not to use it for the time being, and they even took away Sid Gottlieb's own private supply and had it locked up in his boss' safe, to which no one else had the combination. In the end, however, Allen Dulles accepted the view Richard Helms put forth that the only "operationally realistic" way to test drugs was to try them on unwitting people. Helms noted that experiments which gave advance warning would be "pro forma at best and result in a false sense of accomplishment and readiness." For Allen Dulles and his top aides, the possible importance of LSD clearly outweighed the risks and ethical problem of slipping the drug to involuntary subjects. They gave Gottlieb back his LSD.
Once the CIA's top echelon had made its decision to continue unwitting testing, there remained, in Richard Helms' words, "only then the question of how best to do it." The Agency's role in the Olson affair had come too perilously close to leaking out for the comfort of the security-minded, so TSS officials simply had to work out a testing system with better cover. That meant finding subjects who could not be so easily traced back to the Agency.
Well before Olson's death, Gottlieb and the MKULTRA crew had started pondering how best to do unwitting testing. They considered using an American police force to test drugs on prisoners, informants, and suspects, but they knew that some local politicians would inevitably find out. In the Agency view, such people could not be trusted to keep sensitive secrets. TSS officials thought about trying Federal prisons or hospitals, but, when sounded out, the Bureau of Prisons refused to go along with true unwitting testing (as opposed to the voluntary, if coercive, form practiced on drug addicts in Kentucky). They contemplated moving the program overseas, where they and the ARTICHOKE teams were already performing operational experiments, but they decided if they tested on the scale they thought was necessary, so many foreigners would have to know that it would pose an unacceptable security risk.
Sid Gottlieb is remembered as the brainstorming genius of the MKULTRA groupand the one with a real talent for showing others, without hurting their feelings, why their schemes would not work. States an ex-colleague who admires him greatly, "In the final analysis, Sid was like a good soldierif the job had to be done, he did it. Once the decision was made, he found the most effective way."
In this case, Gottlieb came up with the solution after reading through old OSS files on Stanley Lovell's search for a truth drug. Gottlieb noted that Lovell had used George White, a prewar employee of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to test concentrated marijuana. Besides trying the drug out on Manhattan Project volunteers and unknowing suspected Communists, White had slipped some to August Del Gracio, the Lucky Luciano lieutenant. White had called the experiment a great success. If it had not beenif Del Gracio had somehow caught on to the druggingGottlieb realized that the gangster would never have gone to the police or the press. His survival as a criminal required he remain quiet about even the worst indignities heaped upon him by government agents.
To Gottlieb, underworld types looked like ideal test subjects. Nevertheless, according to one TSS source, "We were not about to fool around with the Mafia." Instead, this source says they chose "the borderline underworld"prostitutes, drug addicts, and other small-timers who would be powerless to seek any sort of revenge if they ever found out what the CIA had done to them. In addition to their being unlikely whistle-blowers, such people lived in a world where an unwitting dose of some drugusually knockout dropswas an occupational hazard anyway. They would therefore be better equipped to deal withand recover froma surprise LSD trip than the population as a whole. Or so TSS officials rationalized. "They could at least say to themselves, 'Here I go again. I've been slipped a mickey,"' says a TSS veteran. Furthermore, this veteran remembers, his former colleagues reasoned that if they had to violate the civil rights of anyone, they might as well choose a group of marginal people.
George White himself had left OSS after the war and returned to the Narcotics Bureau. In 1952 he was working in the New York office. As a high-ranking narcotics agent, White had a perfect excuse to be around drugs and people who used them. He had proved during the war that he had a talent for clandestine work, and he certainly had no qualms when it came to unwitting testing. With his job, he had access to all the possible subjects the Agency would need, and if he could use LSD or any other drug to find out more about drug trafficking, so much the better. From a security viewpoint, CIA officials could easily deny any connection to anything White did, and he clearly was not the crybaby type. For Sid Gottlieb, George White was clearly the one. The MKULTRA chief decided to contact White directly to see if he might be interested in picking up with the CIA where he had left off with OSS.
Always careful to observe bureaucratic protocol, Gottlieb first approached Harry Anslinger, the longtime head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and got permission to use White on a part-time basis. Then Gottlieb traveled to New York and made his pitch to the narcotics agent, who stood 5'7", weighed over 200 pounds, shaved his head, and looked something like an extremely menacing bowling ball. After an early-morning meeting, White scrawled in his sweat-stained, leather-bound diary for that day, June 9, 1952: "Gottlieb proposed I be a CIA consultantI agree." By writing down such a thing and using Gottlieb's true name, White had broken CIA security regulations even before he started work. But then, White was never known as a man who followed rules. Despite the high priority that TSS put on drug testing, White's
security approval did not come through until almost a year later. "It was only last month that I got cleared," the outspoken narcotics agent wrote to a friend in 1953. "I then learned that a couple of crew-cut, pipe-smoking punks had either known meor heard of meduring OSS days and had decided I was 'too rough' for their league and promptly blackballed me. It was only when my sponsors discovered the root of the trouble they were able to bypass the blockade. After all, fellas, I didn't go to Princeton."
People either loved or hated George White, and he had made some powerful enemies, including New York Governor Thomas Dewey and J. Edgar Hoover. Dewey would later help block White from becoming the head of the Narcotics Bureau in New York City, a job White sorely wanted. For some forgotten reason, Hoover had managed to stop White from being hired by the CIA in the Agency's early days, at a time when he would have preferred to leave narcotics work altogether. These were two of the biggest disappointments of his life. White's previous exclusion from the CIA may explain why he jumped so eagerly at Gottlieb's offer and why at the same time he privately heaped contempt on those who worked for the Agency. A remarkably heavy drinker, who would sometimes finish off a bottle of gin in one sitting, White often mocked the CIA crowd over cocktails. "He thought they were a joke," recalls one longtime crony. "They were too complicated, and they had other people do their heavy stuff."
Unlike his CIA counterparts, White loved the glare of publicity. A man who gloried in talking about himself and cultivating a hard-nosed image, White knew how to milk a drug bust for all it was wortha skill that grew out of early years spent as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In search of a more financially secure profession, he had joined the Narcotics Bureau in 1934, but he continued to pal around with journalists, particularly those who wrote favorably about him. Not only did he come across in the press as a cop hero, but he helped to shape the picture of future Kojaks by serving as a consultant to one of the early-television detective series. To start a raid, he would dramatically tip his hat to signal his agentsand to let the photographers know that the time had come to snap his picture. "He was sort of vainglorious," says another good friend, "the kind of guy who if he did something, didn't mind having the world know about it."
The scientists from TSS, with their Ph.D.s and lack of street experience, could not help admiring White for his swashbuckling image. Unlike the men from MKULTRA, who, for all their pretensions, had never worked as real-live spies, White had put his life on the line for OSS overseas and had supposedly killed a Japanese agent with his bare hands. The face of one ex-TSS man lit up, like a little boy's on Christmas morning, as he told of racing around New York in George White's car and parking illegally with no fear of the law. "We were Ivy League, white, middle-class," notes another former TSSer. "We were naive, totally naive about this, and he felt pretty expert. He knew the whores, the pimps, the people who brought in the drugs. He'd purportedly been in a number of shootouts where he'd captured millions of dollars worth of heroin.... He was a pretty wild man. I know I was afraid of him. You couldn't control this guy . . . I had a little trouble telling who was controlling who in those days."
White lived with extreme personal contradictions. As could be expected of a narcotics agent, he violently opposed drugs. Yet he died largely because his beloved alcohol had destroyed his liver. He had tried everything else, from marijuana to LSD, and wrote an acquaintance, "I did feel at times I was having a 'mind-expanding' experience but this vanished like a dream immediately after the session." He was a law-enforcement official who regularly violated the law. Indeed, the CIA turned to him because of his willingness to use the power of his office to ride roughshod over the rights of othersin the name of "national security," when he tested LSD for the Agency, in the name of stamping out drug abuse, for the Narcotics Bureau. As yet another close associate summed up White's attitude toward his job, "He really believed the ends justified the means."
George White's "pragmatic" approach meshed perfectly with Sid Gottlieb's needs for drug testing. In May 1953 the two men, who wound up going folk dancing together several times, formally joined forces. In CIA jargon, White became MKULTRA subproject #3. Under this arrangement, White rented two adjacent Greenwich Village apartments, posing as the sometime artist and seaman "Morgan Hall." White agreed to lure guinea pigs to the "safehouse"as the Agency men called the apartmentsslip them drugs, and report the results to Gottlieb and the others in TSS. For its part, the CIA let the Narcotics Bureau use the place for undercover activities (and often for personal pleasure) whenever no Agency work was scheduled, and the CIA paid all the bills, including the cost of keeping a well-stocked liquor cabineta substantial bonus for White. Gottlieb personally handed over the first $4,000 in cash, to cover the initial costs of furnishing the safehouse in the lavish style that White felt befitted him.
Gottlieb did not limit his interest to drugs. He and other TSS officials wanted to try out surveillance equipment. CIA technicians quickly installed see-through mirrors and microphones through which eavesdroppers could film, photograph, and record the action. "Things go wrong with listening devices and two-way mirrors, so you build these things to find out what works and what doesn't," says a TSS source. "If you are going to entrap, you've got to give the guy pictures [flagrante delicto] and voice recordings. Once you learn how to do it so that the whole thing looks comfortable, cozy, and safe, then you can transport the technology overseas and use it." This TSS man notes that the Agency put to work in the bedrooms of Europe some of the techniques developed in the George White safehouse operation.
In the safehouse's first months, White tested LSD, several kinds of knockout drops, and that old OSS standby, essence of marijuana. He served up the drugs in food, drink, and cigarettes and then tried to worm informationusually on narcotics mattersfrom his "guests." Sometimes MKULTRA men came up from Washington to watch the action. A September 1953 entry in White's diary noted: "Lashbrook at 81 Bedford StreetOwen Winkle and LSD surprisecan wash." Sid Gottlieb's deputy, Robert Lashbrook, served as "project monitor" for the New York safehouse.
White had only been running the safehouse six months when Olson died (in Lashbrook's company), and Agency officials suspended the operation for re-evaluation. They soon allowed him to restart it, and then Gottlieb had to order White to slow down again. A New York State commissioner had summoned the narcotics agent to explain his role in the deal that wound up with Governor Dewey pardoning Lucky Luciano after the war. The commissioner was asking questions that touched on White's use of marijuana on Del Gracio, and Gottlieb feared that word of the CIA's current testing might somehow leak out. This storm also soon passed, but then, in early 1955, the Narcotics Bureau transferred White to San Francisco to become chief agent there. Happy with White's performance, Gottlieb decided to let him take the entire safehouse operation with him to the Coast. White closed up the Greenwich Village apartments, leaving behind unreceipted "tips" for the landlord "to clear up any difficulties about the alterations and damages," as a CIA document put it.
White soon rented a suitable "pad" (as he always called it) on Telegraph Hill, with a stunning view of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. To supplement the furniture he brought from the New York safehouse, he went out and bought items that gave the place the air of the brothel it was to become: Toulouse-Lautrec posters, a picture of a French cancan dancer, and photos of manacled women in black stockings. "It was supposed to look rich," recalls a narcotics agent who regularly visited, "but it was furnished like crap."
White hired a friend's company to install bugging equipment, and William Hawkins, a 25-year-old electronics whiz then studying at Berkley put in four DD-4 microphones disguised as electrical wall outlets and hooked them up to two F-301 tape recorders, which agents monitored in an adjacent "listening post." Hawkins remembers that White "kept a pitcher of martinis in the refrigerator, and he'd watch me for a while as I installed a microphone and then slip off." For his own personal "observation post," White had a portable toilet set up behind a two-way mirror, where he could watch the proceedings, usually with drink in hand.
The San Francisco safehouse specialized in prostitutes. "But this was before The Hite Report and before any hooker had written a book," recalls a TSS man, "so first we had to go out and learn about their world. In the beginning, we didn't know what a john was or what a pimp did." Sid Gottlieb decided to send his top staff psychologist, John Gittinger, to San Francisco to probe the demimonde.
George White supplied the prostitutes for the study, although White, in turn, delegated much of the pimping function to one of his assistants, Ira "Ike" Feldman. A muscular but very short man, whom even the 5'7" White towered over, Feldman tried even harder than his boss to act tough. Dressed in suede shoes, a suit with flared trousers, a hat with a turned-up brim, and a huge zircon ring that was supposed to look like a diamond, Feldman first came to San Francisco on an undercover assignment posing as an East Coast mobster looking to make a big heroin buy. Using a drug-addicted prostitute name Janet Jones, whose common-law husband states that Feldman paid her off with heroin, the undercover man lured a number of suspected drug dealers to the "pad" and helped White make arrests.
As the chief Federal narcotics agent in San Francisco, White was in a position to reward or punish a prostitute. He set up a system whereby he and Feldman provided Gittinger with all the hookers the psychologist wanted. White paid off the women with a fixed number of "chits." For each chit, White owed one favor. "So the next time the girl was arrested with a john," says an MKULTRA veteran, "she would give the cop George White's phone number. The police all knew White and cooperated with him without asking questions. They would release the girl if he said so. White would keep good records of how many chits each person had and how many she used. No money was exchanged, but five chits were worth $500 to $1,000." Prostitutes were not the only beneficiaries of White's largess. The narcotics agent worked out a similar system to forgive the transgressions of small time drug pushers when the MKULTRA men wanted to talk to them about "the rules of their game," according to the source.
TSS officials wanted to find out everything they could about how to apply sex to spying, and the prostitute project became a general learning and then training ground for CIA carnal operations. After all, states one TSS official, "We did quite a study of prostitutes and their behavior.... At first nobody really knew how to use them. How do you train them? How do you work them? How do you take a woman who is willing to use her body to get money out of a guy to get things which are much more important, like state secrets. I don't care how beautiful she iseducating the ordinary prostitute up to that level is not a simple task."
The TSS men continually tried to refine their knowledge. They realized that prostitutes often wheedled extra money out of a customer by suggesting some additional service as male orgasm neared. They wondered if this might not also be a good time to seek sensitive information. "But no," says the source, "we found the guy was focused solely on hormonal needs. He was not thinking of his career or anything else at that point." The TSS experts discovered that the postsexual, light-up-a-cigarette period was much better suited to their ulterior motives. Says the source:
Most men who go to prostitutes are prepared for the fact that [after the act] she's beginning to work to get herself out of there, so she can get back on the street to make some more money. . . . To find a prostitute who is willing to stay is a hell of a shock to anyone used to prostitutes. It has a tremendous effect on the guy. It's a boost to his ego if she's telling him he was really neat, and she wants to stay for a few more hours.... Most of the time, he gets pretty vulnerable. What the hell's he going to talk about? Not the sex, so he starts talking about his business. It's at this time she can lead him gently. But you have to train prostitutes to do that. Their natural inclination is to do exactly the opposite.
The men from MKULTRA learned a great deal about varying sexual preferences. One of them says:
We didn't know in those days about hidden sadism and all that sort of stuff. We learned a lot about human nature in the bedroom. We began to understand that when people wanted sex, it wasn't just what we had thought ofyou know, the missionary position.... We started to pick up knowledge that could be used in operations, but with a lot of it we never figured out any way to use it operationally. We just learned.... All these ideas did not come to us at once. But evolving over three or four years in which these studies were going on, things emerged which we tried. Our knowledge of prostitutes' behavior became pretty damn good. . . . This comes across now that somehow we were just playing around and we just found all these exotic ways to waste the taxpayers' money on satisfying our hidden urges. I'm not saying that watching prostitutes was not exciting or something like that. But what I am saying was there was a purpose to the whole business.
In the best tradition of Mata Hari, the CIA did use sex as a clandestine weapon, although apparently not so frequently as the Russians. While many in the Agency believed that it simply did not work very well, others like CIA operators in Berlin during the mid-1960s felt prostitutes could be a prime source of intelligence. Agency men in that city used a network of hookers to good advantageor so they told visitors from headquarters. Yet, with its high proportion of Catholics and Mormonsnot to mention the Protestant ethic of many of its top leadersthe Agency definitely had limits beyond which prudery took over. For instance, a TSS veteran says that a good number of case officers wanted no part of homosexual entrapment operations. And to go a step further, he recalls one senior KGB man who told too many sexual jokes about young boys. "It didn't take too long to recognize that he was more than a little fascinated by youths," says the source. "I took the trouble to point out he was probably too good, too well-trained, to be either entrapped or to give away secrets. But he would have been tempted toward a compromising position by a preteen. I mentioned this, and they said, 'As a psychological observer, you're probably quite right. But what the hell are we going to do about it? Where are we going to get a twelve-year-old boy?' " The source believes that if the Russian had had a taste for older men, U.S. intelligence might have mounted an operation, "but the idea of a twelve-year-old boy was just more than anybody could stomach."
As the TSS men learned more about the San Francisco hustlers, they ventured outside the safehouse to try out various clandestine-delivery gimmicks in public places like restaurants, bars, and beaches. They practiced ways to slip LSD to citizens of the demimonde while buying them a drink or lighting up a cigarette, and they then tried to observe the effects when the drug took hold. Because the MKULTRA scientists did not move smoothly among the very kinds of people they were testing, they occasionally lost an unwitting victim in a crowdthereby sending a stranger off alone with a head full of LSD.
In a larger sense, all the test victims would become lost. As a matter of policy, Sid Gottlieb ordered that virtually no records be kept of the testing. In 1973, when Gottlieb retired from the Agency, he and Richard Helms agreed to destroy what they thought were the few existing documents on the program. Neither Gottlieb nor any other MKULTRA man has owned up to having given LSD to an unknowing subject, or even to observing such an experimentexcept of course in the case of Frank Olson. Olson's death left behind a paper trail outside of Gottlieb's control and that hence could not be denied. Otherwise, Gottlieb and his colleagues have put all the blame for actual testing on George White, who is not alive to defend himself. One reason the MKULTRA veterans have gone to such lengths to conceal their role is obvious: fear of lawsuits from victims claiming damaged health.
At the time of the experiments, the subjects' health did not cause undue concern. At the safehouse, where most of the testing took place, doctors were seldom present. Dr. James Hamilton, a Stanford Medical School psychiatrist and White's OSS colleague, visited the place from time to time, apparently for studies connected to unwitting drug experiments and deviant sexual practices. Yet neither Hamilton nor any other doctor provided much medical supervision. From his perch atop the toilet seat, George White could do no more than make surface observations of his drugged victims. Even an experienced doctor would have had difficulty handling White's role. In addition to LSD, which they knew could cause serious, if not fatal problems, TSS officials gave White even more exotic experimental drugs to test, drugs that other Agency contractors may or may not have already used on human subjects. "If we were scared enough of a drug not to try it out on ourselves, we sent it to San Francisco," recalls a TSS source. According to a 1963 report by CIA Inspector General John Earman, "In a number of instances, however, the test subject has become ill for hours or days, including hospitalization in at least one case, and [White] could only follow up by guarded inquiry after the test subject's return to normal life. Possible sickness and attendant economic loss are inherent contingent effects of the testing."
The Inspector General noted that the whole program could be compromised if an outside doctor made a "correct diagnosis of an illness." Thus, the MKULTRA team not only made some people sick but had a vested interest in keeping doctors from finding out what was really wrong. If that bothered the Inspector General, he did not report his qualms, but he did say he feared "serious damage to the Agency" in the event of public exposure. The Inspector General was only somewhat reassured by the fact that George White "maintain[ed] close working relations with local police authorities which could be utilized to protect the activity in critical situations."
If TSS officials had been willing to stick with their original target group of marginal underworld types, they would have had little to fear from the police. After all, George White was the police. But increasingly they used the safehouse to test drugs, in the Inspector General's words, "on individuals of all social levels, high and low, native American and foreign." After all, they were looking for an operational payoff, and they knew people reacted differently to LSD according to everything from health and mood to personality structure. If TSS officials wanted to slip LSD to foreign leaders, as they contemplated doing to Fidel Castro, they would try to spring an unwitting dose on somebody as similar as possible. They used the safehouse for "dry runs" in the intermediate stage between the laboratory and actual operations.
For these dress rehearsals, George White and his staff procurer, Ike Feldman, enticed men to the apartment with prostitutes. An unsuspecting john would think he had bought a night of pleasure, go back to a strange apartment, and wind up zonked. A CIA document that survived Sid Gottlieb's shredding recorded this process. Its author, Gottlieb himself, could not break a lifelong habit of using nondescriptive language. For the MKULTRA chief, the whores were "certain individuals who covertly administer this material to other people in accordance with [White's] instructions." White normally paid the women $100 in Agency funds for their night's work, and Gottlieb's prose reached new bureaucratic heights as he explained why the prostitutes did not sign for the money: "Due to the highly unorthodox nature of these activities and the considerable risk incurred by these individuals, it is impossible to require that they provide a receipt for these payments or that they indicate the precise manner in which the funds were spent." The CIA's auditors had to settle for canceled checks which White cashed himself and marked either "Stormy" or, just as appropriately, "Undercover Agent." The program was also referred to as "Operation Midnight Climax."
TSS officials found the San Francisco safehouse so successful that they opened a branch office, also under George White's auspices, across the Golden Gate on the beach in Marin County. Unlike the downtown apartment, where an MKULTRA man says "you could bring people in for quickies after lunch," the suburban Marin County outlet proved useful for experiments that required relative isolation. There, TSS scientists tested such MKULTRA specialties as stink bombs, itching and sneezing powders, and diarrhea inducers. TSS's Ray Treichler, the Stanford chemist, sent these "harassment substances" out to California for testing by White, along with such delivery systems as a mechanical launcher that could throw a foul-smelling object 100 yards, glass ampules that could be stepped on in a crowd to release any of Treichler's powders, a fine hypodermic needle to inject drugs through the cork in a wine bottle, and a drug-coated swizzle stick.
TSS men also planned to use the Marin County safehouse for an ill-fated experiment that began when staff psychologists David Rhodes and Walter Pasternak spent a week circulating in bars, inviting strangers to a party. They wanted to spray LSD from an aerosol can on their guests, but according to Rhodes' Senate testimony, "the weather defeated us." In the heat of the summer, they could not close the doors and windows long enough for the LSD to hang in the air and be inhaled. Sensing a botched operation, their MKULTRA colleague, John Gittinger (who brought the drug out from Washington) shut himself in the bathroom and let go with the spray. Still, Rhodes testified, Gittinger did not get high, and the CIA men apparently scrubbed the party.
The MKULTRA crew continued unwitting testing until the summer of 1963 when the Agency's Inspector General stumbled across the safehouses during a regular inspection of TSS activities. This happened not long after Director John McCone had appointed John Earman to the Inspector General position. Much to the displeasure of Sid Gottlieb and Richard Helms, Earman questioned the propriety of the safehouses, and he insisted that Director McCone be given a full briefing. Although President Kennedy had put McCone in charge of the Agency the year before, Helmsthe professional's professionalhad not bothered to tell his outsider boss about some of the CIA's most sensitive activities, including the safehouses and the CIA-Mafia assassination plots. Faced with Earman's demands, Helmssurely one of history's most clever bureaucratsvolunteered to tell McCone himself about the safehouses (rather than have Earman present a negative view of the program). Sure enough, Helms told Earman afterward, McCone raised no objections to unwitting testing (as Helms described it). A determined man and a rather brave one, Earman countered with a full written report to McCone recommending that the safehouses be closed. The Inspector General cited the risks of exposure and pointed out that many people both inside and outside the Agency found "the concepts involved in manipulating human behavior . . . to be distasteful and unethical." McCone reacted by putting off a final decision but suspending unwitting testing in the meantime.
Over the next year, Helms, who then headed the Clandestine Services, wrote at least three memos urging resumption. He cited "indications . . . of an apparent Soviet aggressiveness in the field of covertly administered chemicals which are, to say the least, inexplicable and disturbing," and he claimed the CIA's "positive operational capacity to use drugs is diminishing owing to a lack of realistic testing." To Richard Helms, the importance of the program exceeded the risks and the ethical questions, although he did admit, "We have no answer to the moral issue." McCone simply did nothing for two years. The director's indecision had the effect of killing the program, nevertheless. TSS officials closed the San Francisco safehouse in 1965 and the New York one in 1966.
Years later in a personal letter to Sid Gottlieb, George White wrote an epitaph for his role with the CIA: "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, steak rape, and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?"
After 10 years of unwitting testing, the men from MKULTRA apparently scored no major breakthroughs with LSD or other drugs. They found no effective truth drug, recruitment pill, or aphrodisiac. LSD had not opened up the mind to CIA control. "We had thought at first that this was the secret that was going to unlock the universe," says a TSS veteran. "We found that human beings had resources far greater than imagined."
Yet despite the lack of precision and uncertainty, the CIA still made field use of LSD and other drugs that had worked their way through the MKULTRA testing progression. A 1957 report showed that TSS had already moved 6 drugs out of the experimental stage and into active use. Up to that time, CIA operators had utilized LSD and other psychochemicals against 33 targets in 6 different operations. Agency officials hoped in these cases either to discredit the subject by making him seem insane or to "create within the individual a mental and emotional situation which will release him from the restraint of self-control and induce him to reveal information willingly under adroit manipulation." The Agency has consistently refused to release details of these operations, and TSS sources who talk rather freely about other matters seem to develop amnesia when the subject of field use comes up. Nevertheless, it can be said that the CIA did establish a relationship with an unnamed foreign secret service to interrogate prisoners with LSD-like drugs. CIA operators participated directly in these interrogations, which continued at least until 1966. Often the Agency showed more concern for the safety of its operational targets abroad than it did for its unwitting victims in San Francisco, since some of the foreign subjects were given medical examinations before being slipped the drug.
In these operations, CIA men sometimes brought in local doctors for reasons that had nothing to do with the welfare of the patient. Instead, the doctor's role was to certify the apparent insanity of a victim who had been unwittingly dosed with LSD or an even more durable psychochemical like BZ (which causes trips lasting a week or more and which tends to induce violent behavior). If a doctor were to prescribe hospitalization or other severe treatment, the effect on the subject could be devastating. He would suffer not only the experience itself, including possible confinement in a mental institution, but also social stigma. In most countries, even the suggestion of mental problems severely damages an individual's professional and personal standing (as Thomas Eagleton, the recipient of some shock therapy, can testify). "It's an old technique," says an MKULTRA veteran. "You neutralize someone by having their constituency doubt them." The Church committee confirms that the Agency used this technique at least several times to assassinate a target's character.
Still, the Clandestine Services did not frequently call on TSS for LSD or other drugs. Many operators had practical and ethical objections. In part to overcome such objections and also to find better ways to use chemical and biological substances in covert operations, Sid Gottlieb moved up in 1959 to become Assistant for Scientific Matters to the Clandestine Services chief. Gottlieb found that TSS had kept the MKULTRA programs so secret that many field people did not even know what techniques were available. He wrote that tight controls over field use in MKDELTA operations "may have generated a general defeatism among case officers," who feared they would not receive permission or that the procedure was not worth the effort. Gottlieb tried to correct these shortcomings by providing more information on the drug arsenal to senior operators and by streamlining the approval process. He had less luck in overcoming views that drugs do not work or are not reliable, and that their operational use leads to laziness and poor tradecraft.
If the MKULTRA program had ever found that LSD or any other drug really did turn a man into a puppet, Sid Gottlieb would have had no trouble surmounting all those biases. Instead, Gottlieb and his fellow searchers came frustratingly close but always fell short of finding a reliable control mechanism. LSD certainly penetrated to the innermost regions of the mind. It could spring loose a whole gamut of feelings, from terror to insight. But in the end, the human psyche proved so complex that even the most skilled manipulator could not anticipate all the variables. He could use LSD and other drugs to chip away at free will. He could score temporary victories, and he could alter moods, perceptionsometimes even beliefs. He had the power to cause great harm, but ultimately he could not conquer the human spirit.
The CIA's reaction to Frank Olson's death is described in numerous memos released by the Agency to the Olson family, which can be found at pp.1005-1132 of the Kennedy Subcommittee 1975 hearings on Biomedical and Behavioral Research. See particularly at p. 1077, 18 December 1953, Subject: The Suicide of Frank Olson and at p. 1027, 1 December 1953, Subject: Use of LSD.
Richard Helms' views on unwitting testing are found in Document #448, 17 December 1963, Subject: Testing of Psychochemicals and Related Materials and in a memorandum to the CIA Director, June 9, 1964, quoted from on page 402 of the Church Committee Report, Book I.
George White's diary and letters were donated by his widow to Foothills Junior College, Los Altos, California and are the source of a treasure chest of material on him, including his letter to a friend explaining his almost being "blackballed" from the CIA, the various diary entries cited, including references to folk-dancing with Gottlieb, the interview with Hal Lipset where he explains his philosophy on chasing criminals, and his letter to Sid Gottlieb dated November 21, (probably) 1972.
The New York and San Francisco safehouses run by George White are the subjects of MKULTRA subprojects 3,14,16,42, and 149. White's tips to the landlord are described in 42-156, his liquor bills in 42-157, "dry-runs" in 42-91. The New York safehouse run by Charles Siragusa is subproject 132. The "intermediate" tests are described in document 132-59.
Paul Avery, a San Francisco freelance writer associated with the Center for Investigative Reporting in Oakland, California interviewed William Hawkins and provided assistance on the details of the San Francisco safehouse and George White's background. Additional information on White came from interviews with his widow, several former colleagues in the Narcotics Bureau, and other knowledgeable sources in various San Francisco law-enforcement agencies. An ex-Narcotics Bureau official told of Dr. James Hamilton's study of unusual sexual practices and the description of his unwitting drug testing comes from MKULTRA subproject 2, which is his subproject.
Ray Treichler discussed some of his work with harassment substances in testimony before the Kennedy subcommittee on September 20, 1977, pp. 105-8. He delivered his testimony under the pseudonym "Philip Goldman."
"The Gang that Couldn't Spray Straight" article appeared in the September 20, 1977 Washington Post.
Richard Helms' decision not to tell John McCone about the CIA's connection to the Mafia in assassination attempts against Castro is described in the Church Committee's Assassination report, pp. 102-3.
The 1957 Inspector General's Report on TSS, Document #417 and the 1963 inspection of MKULTRA, 14 August 1963, Document #59 provided considerable detail throughout the entire chapter. The Church Committee Report on MKULTRA in Book I, pp. 385-422 also provided considerable information.
Sid Gottlieb's job as Assistant to the Clandestine Services chief for Scientific Matters is described in Document #74 (operational series) 20 October 1959, Subject: Application of Imaginative Research on the Behavioral and Physical Sciences to [deleted] Problems" and in the 1963 Inspector General's report.
Interviews with ex-CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick, another former Inspector General's staff employee, and several ex-TSS staffers contributed significantly to this chapter.
Helms' letter to the Warren Commission on "Soviet Brainwashing Techniques," dated 19 June 1964, was obtained from the National Archives.
The material on the CIA's operational use of LSD came from the Church Committee Report, Book I, pp. 399-403 and from an affidavit filed in the Federal Court case of John D. Marks v. Central Intelligence Agency, et. al., Civil Action No. 76-2073 by Eloise R. Page, Chief, Policy and Coordination Staff of the CIA's Directorate of Operations. In listing all the reasons why the Agency should not provide the operational documents, Ms. Page gave some information on what was in the documents. The passages on TSS's and the Medical Office's positions on the use of LSD came from a memo written by James Angleton, Chief, Counterintelligence Staff on December 12, 1957 quoted in part at p. 401 of the Church Committee Report, Book I.
CIA operators and agents all had cover names by which they were
supposed to be calledeven in classified documents. Gottlieb
was "Sherman R. Grifford." George White became "Morgan
2. One case which put White in every newspaper in the country was his 1949 arrest of blues singer Billie Holliday on an opium charge. To prove she had been set up and was not then using drugs, the singer checked into a California sanitarium that had been recommended by a friend of a friend, Dr. James Hamilton. The jury then acquitted her. Hamilton's involvement is bizarre because he had worked with George White testing truth drugs for OSS, and the two men were good friends. White may have put his own role in perspective when he told a 1970 interviewer he "enjoyed" chasing criminals. "It was a game for me," he said. "I felt quite a bit of compassion for a number of the people that I found it necessary to put in jail, particularly when you'd see the things that would happen to their families. I'd give them a chance to stay out of jail and take care of their families by giving me information, perhaps, and they would stubbornly refuse to do so. They wouldn't be a rat, as they would put it." (back)
3. Despite this indication from White's diary that Lashbrook came to the New York safehouse for an "LSD surprise" and despite his signature on papers authorizing the subproject, Lashbrook flatly denied all firsthand knowledge of George White's testing in 1977 Senate testimony. Subcommittee chairman Edward Kennedy did not press Lashbrook, nor did he refer the matter to the Justice Department for possible perjury charges. (back)
4. This was just one of many expenditures that would drive CIA auditors wild while going over George White's accounts. Others included $44.04 for a telescope, liquor bills over $1,000 "with no record as to the necessity of its use," and $31.75 to make an on-the-spot payment to a neighborhood lady whose car he hit. The reason stated for using government funds for the last expense: "It was important to maintain security and forestall an insurance investigation." (back)
5. In 1984, George Orwell wrote about government-encouraged prostitution: "Mere debauchery did not matter very much, so long as it was furtive and joyless, and only involved the women of a submerged and despised class." (back)
6. In 1961 MKULTRA officials started a third safehouse in New York, also under the Narcotics Bureau's supervision. This one was handled by Charles Siragusa who, like White, was a senior agent and OSS veteran. (back)
7. Rhodes' testimony about this incident, which had been set up in advance with Senator Edward Kennedy's staff, brought on the inevitable "Gang That Couldn't Spray Straight" headline in the Washington Post. This approach turned the public perception of a deadly serious program into a kind of practical joke carried out badly by a bunch of bumblers. (back)
8. Lyman Kirkpatrick, the longtime Inspector General who had then recently left the job to take a higher Agency post, had personally known of the safehouse operation since right after Olson's death and had never raised any noticeable objection. He now states he was "shocked" by the unwitting testing, but that he "didn't have the authority to follow up . . . I was trying to determine what the tolerable limits were of what I could do and still keep my job." (back)
9. Trying to explain why he had specifically decided not to inform the CIA Director about the Agency's relationship with the mob, Helms stated to the Church committee, "Mr. McCone was relatively new to this organization, and I guess I must have thought to myself, well this is going to look peculiar to him . . . This was, you know not a very savory effort." Presumably, Helms had similar reasons for not telling McCone about the unwitting drug-testing in the safehouses. (back)
10. Helms was a master of telling different people different stories to suit his purposes. At the precise time he was raising the Soviet menace to push McCone into letting the unwitting testing continue, he wrote the Warren Commission that not only did Soviet behavioral research lag five years behind the West's but that "there is no present evidence that the Soviets have any singular, new potent, drugs . . . to force a course of action on an individual." (back)
11. TSS officials led by Sid Gottlieb, who were responsible for the operational use of LSD abroad, took the position that there was "no danger medically" in unwitting doses and that neither giving a medical exam or having a doctor present was necessary. The Agency's Medical Office disagreed, saying the drug was "medically dangerous." In 1957 Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick noted it would be "unrealistic" to give the Medical Office what amounted to veto power over covert operations by letting Agency doctors rule on the health hazard to subjects in the field. (back)
12. While I was doing the research for this book, many people approached me claiming to be victims of CIA drugging plots. Although I listened carefully to all and realized that some might be authentic victims, I had no way of distinguishing between someone acting strangely and someone made to act strangely. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of this whole technique is that anyone blaming his aberrant behavior on a drug or on the CIA gets labeled a hopeless paranoid and his case is thrown into the crank file. There is no better cover than operating on the edge of madness.
One leftist professor in a Latin American university who had opposed the CIA says that he was working alone in his office one day in 1974 when a strange woman entered and jabbed his wrist with a pin stuck in a small round object. Almost immediately, he become irrational, broke glasses, and threw water in colleagues' faces. He says his students spotted an ambulance waiting for him out front. They spirited him out the back door and took him home, where he tripped (or had psychotic episodes) for more than a week. He calls the experience a mix of "heaven and hell," and he shudders at the thought that he might have spent the time in a hospital "with nurses and straitjackets." Although he eventually returned to his post at the university, he states that it took him several years to recover the credibility he lost the day he "went crazy at the office." If the CIA was involved, it had neutralized a foe. (back)
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