Project MKUltra was the code name the CIA assigned to a government program that lasted from 1953 to about 1973 when, facing the new phenomenon of distrust in government due to Watergate scandal, CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all pertinent documents about MKUltra destroyed. In 1977, about 20,000 MKUltra files were found in a separate building. The documents mostly involved funding for MKUltra and very little about the project’s activities. For that, we depend on the testimony of participants and victims of the project.
It involved psychedelic drugs, death, mind control, interrogation, isolation, hypnosis, and sensory deprivation. And US citizens—who, ironically, funded the project through their taxes—were its unwitting victims.
Birth Of MKUltra—A Way To Counteract Communist Brainwashing Techniques
During the Korean War in the early 1950s, the US grew increasingly concerned about the rise of communism, specifically how its adherents seemed brainwashed by it. Many returning US soldiers were found mindlessly parroting the communist propaganda they had been sent to Korea to fight. Investigations revealed that not only had communist regimes in China, Russia, and North Korea employed mental torture and brainwashing, the Russians in particular were interested in using LSD to manipulate minds.
CIA Director Allen Dulles announced to a group of cohorts:
In the past few years we have become accustomed to hearing much about the battle for men’s minds–the war of ideologies. I wonder, however, whether we clearly perceive the magnitude of the problem, whether we realize how sinister the battle for men’s minds has become in Soviet hands,” he continued. “We might call it, in its new form, ‘brain warfare.’… We in the West are somewhat handicapped in brain warfare.
Three days after delivering this speech, Dulles launched Project MKUltra.
The Scope of MKUltra Drug Experiments
MKUltra’s experiments were wide-ranging, involving 149 separate projects at 80 separate institutions that included prisons, hospitals, drug companies, and colleges.
According to one 1955 MKUltra document, the project’s goals included:
• Drugs which would make subjects appear foolish or crazy so as to permanently discredit them in the eyes of the public.
• Drugs that could cause permanent memory loss and brain damage.
• Drugs that would induce amnesia in subjects.
• Drugs that would break down the ego and induce mental dependency on others.
• Drugs that would lower a person’s ambition.
• Drugs that made it impossible for people to lie.
Following the Soviet Union’s lead, researchers focused on LSD, but they eventually developed a “superhallucinogen” known as “BZ” which was designed to exert complete mental control over a subject.
The Death of CIA Agent Frank Olson
In November 1953, CIA researcher Frank Olson, who had expressed suicidal tendencies earlier in his life, was administered LSD without his consent by MKUltra researchers. He quickly fell into a deep depression and resigned from the CIA.
Nine days later, he was dead—the result of falling from a motel window. According to his family, he had grown disillusioned with the CIA, especially the ethics revolving around performing brainwashing experiments on unwilling and unaware US citizens.
His death was originally described as a suicide, a psychotic episode that may or may not have had anything to do with being dosed with LSD.
But in the 1970s, Olson’s family ordered an autopsy, where it was determined that Olson had died in his motel room from a traumatic head injury before he fell from the window. It was revealed that another CIA agent had occupied a separate room in the same motel as Olson.
Olson’s family sued the US government and received a $750,000 and an official apology from the CIA.
MKUltra And Sexual Abuse
In what was known as “Operation Midnight Climax,” the CIA constructed brothels in San Francisco, dosed unwitting victims with LSD, introduced them to prostitutes, and then filmed them from behind a one-way mirror. Some of the victims were CIA agents themselves, and the sex tapes were saved as potential blackmail material. In other cases, the victims were heroin addicts who agreed to take LSD in exchange for more heroin.
MKUltra experiments were also performed in Canada, where the CIA employed a British psychiatrist named Donald Ewen Cameron, who not only plied victims with drugs, he also gave them electroshock therapy “at thirty to forty times the normal power.” His experiments were so extreme that many victims permanently lost the ability to control their bowel movements and the ability to talk.
After MKUltra was discontinued, Canadian women came forward and said that they were filmed in some experiments when they were underage having sex with with government officials, again ostensibly to be used as potential blackmail material. The Canadian government eventually acknowledged its role in MKUltra and reached a settlement with over 100 victims for $100,000 each in damages.
1970s: The End Of MKUltra
As previously stated, the CIA director ordered all MKUltra documents destroyed in 1973 at the height of the new and unprecedented distrust in government caused by Watergate. In 1975, Idaho Democratic Senator Frank Church launched in investigation into several cases of government malfeasance, including MKUltra.
It concluded that in an offshoot program of MKUltra called MKDelta, “Drugs were used primarily as an aid to interrogations, but MKULTRA/MKDELTA materials were also used for harassment, discrediting, or disabling purposes.”
In the Senate in 1977, Senator Ted Kennedy admitted the existence of MKUltra and its abuses:
The Deputy Director of the CIA revealed that over thirty universities and institutions were involved in an ‘extensive testing and experimentation’ program which included covert drug tests on unwitting citizens ‘at all social levels, high and low, native Americans and foreign.’ Several of these tests involved the administration of LSD to ‘unwitting subjects’ in social situations. It concluded that in an offshoot program of MKUltra called MKDelta, ‘Drugs were used primarily as an aid to interrogations, but MKULTRA/MKDELTA materials were also used for harassment, discrediting, or disabling purposes.’
In 1984, the US General Accounting Office released a report claiming that these sort of psychological drug experiments on unwitting citizens even predated MKUltra and had gone on between 1940 and 1974.
Known Test Subjects of MKUltra
• Ted “The Unabomber” Kaczynski was the victim of a “purposely brutalizing psychological experiment” conducted as part of MKUltra while he was a sophomore at Harvard.
• Ken Kesey, who wrote the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, had volunteered for MKUltra experiments using hallucinogenics while he was a student at Stanford University.
• Boston mobster and killer James “Whitey Bulger” was an MKUltra test subject while he was imprisoned at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta, GA in 1957. He described the experience thusly:
Eight convicts in a panic and paranoid state. Total loss of appetite. Hallucinating. The room would change shape. Hours of paranoia and feeling violent. We experienced horrible periods of living nightmares and even blood coming out of the walls. Guys turning to skeletons in front of me. I saw a camera change into the head of a dog. I felt like I was going insane.
But At Least It’s Over, Right?
The MKUltra program was officially ended in 1973. However, many experts in the workings of the CIA and government intelligence agencies insist that the government continues performing exactly the same sort of mind-control experiments—and possibly worse—using different code names.