Project MK-ULTRA, or MKULTRA, was the code name for a covert CIA mind-control and chemical interrogation research program, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence. The program began in the early 1950s, continuing at least through the late 1960s, and it used United States citizens as its test subjects. There is much published evidence that the project involved the surreptitious use of many types of drugs, as well as other methodology, to manipulate individual mental states and to alter brain function.
Project MK-ULTRA was first brought to wide public attention in 1975 by the U.S. Congress, through investigations by the Church Committee, and by a presidential commission known as the Rockefeller Commission. Investigative efforts were hampered by the fact that CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MK-ULTRA files destroyed in 1973; the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission investigations relied on the sworn testimony of direct participants and on the relatively small number of documents that survived Helms' destruction order.
Although the CIA insists that MK-ULTRA-type experiments have been abandoned, 14-year CIA veteran Victor Marchetti has stated in various interviews that the CIA routinely conducts disinformation campaigns and that CIA mind control research continued. In a 1977 interview, Marchetti specifically called the CIA claim that MK-ULTRA was abandoned a 'cover story.'.
On the Senate floor in 1977, Senator Ted Kennedy said:
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.' At least one death, that of [[Frank Olson|Dr. [Frank] Olson]], resulted from these activities. The Agency itself acknowledged that these tests made little scientific sense. The agents doing the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers.
The project's intentionally oblique CIA cryptonym is made up of the digraph MK, meaning that the project was sponsored by the agency's Technical Services Division, followed by the arbitrary dictionary word ULTRA. Other related cryptonyms include MK-NAOMI and MK-DELTA.
A precursor of the MK-ULTRA program began in 1945 when the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency was established and given direct responsibility for Operation Paperclip. Operation Paperclip was a program to recruit former Nazi spies, scientists and experts in torture and brainwashing, some of whom had just been identified and prosecuted as war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials.
Several secret U.S. government projects grew out of Operation Paperclip. These projects included Project CHATTER (established 1947), and Project BLUEBIRD (established 1950), which was later renamed to Project ARTICHOKE in 1951. Their purpose was to study mind-control, interrogation, behavior modification and related topics.
Headed by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the MK-ULTRA project was started on the order of CIA director Allen Dulles on April 13, 1953, largely in response to Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind-control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea. The CIA wanted to use similar methods on their own captives. The CIA was also interested in being able to manipulate foreign leaders with such techniques, and would later invent several schemes to drug Fidel Castro.
Experiments were often conducted without the subjects' knowledge or consent. In some cases, academic researchers being funded through grants from CIA front organizations were unaware that their work was being used for these purposes.
In 1964, the project was renamed MK-SEARCH. The project attempted to produce a perfect truth drug for use in interrogating suspected Soviet spies during the Cold War, and generally to explore any other possibilities of mind control.
An MK-ULTRA program tagged "Operation Teapot" involved the testing of pregnant women with radiation, among other things. Also under this program, U.S. Army soldiers were dosed with LSD to study the effects of panic.
Another MK-ULTRA effort, Subproject 54, was the Navy's top secret "Perfect Concussion" program, which used sub aural frequency blasts to erase memory. During this program LSD's corollary effect on controlled and channeled mass panic was discovered.
MK-ULTRA head Sidney Gottlieb was involved with both Operation Teapot and Subproject 54. The U.S. government officially denied involvement until 1995 when an official apology was issued to the pregnant women and to the affected U.S. Army soldiers. However no apologies were offered to the affected U.S. Navy sailors or to a group of Oregon prison inmates, whose testicles were irradiated without their knowledge. Compensation for medical treatment resulting from these experiments has been disputed and remains tied up in arbitration more than 40 years after the fact. Since 1995, most of the associated files have been reclassified as Top Secret.
Because most MK-ULTRA records were deliberately destroyed in 1973 by order of then CIA Director Richard Helms, it has been difficult, if not impossible, for investigators to gain a complete understanding of the more than 150 individually funded research sub-projects sponsored by MK Ultra and related CIA programs.
Historians have learned that creating a "Manchurian Candidate" subject through "mind control" techniques was undoubtedly a goal of MK-ULTRA and related CIA projects. However, there is no conclusive evidence the CIA actually succeeded in controlling a person's actions through mind control.
An estimated US$10m or more were spent.
Experiments included administering LSD to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, prostitutes, mentally ill patients, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions. LSD and other drugs were usually administered without the subject's knowledge and informed consent, a violation of the Nuremberg Code that the U.S. agreed to follow after World War II.
Efforts to "recruit" subjects were often illegal, even discounting the fact that drugs were being administered (though actual use of LSD, for example, was legal in the United States until October 6 1966). In Operation Midnight Climax, the CIA set up several brothels to obtain a selection of men who would be too embarrassed to talk about the events. The men were dosed with LSD, and the brothels were equipped with two-way mirrors and the "sessions" were filmed for later viewing and study.
Some subjects' participation was consensual, and in many of these cases, the subjects appeared to be singled out for even more extreme experiments. In one case, volunteers were given LSD for 77 consecutive days.
LSD was eventually dismissed by MK-ULTRA's researchers as too unpredictable in its results. Although useful information was sometimes obtained through questioning subjects on LSD, not uncommonly the most marked effect would be the subject's absolute and utter certainty that they were able to withstand any form of interrogation attempt, even physical torture.
It was during this era that Cameron became known worldwide as the first chairman of the World Psychiatric Association as well as president of the American and Canadian psychiatric associations. Cameron had also been a member of the Nuremberg medical tribunal in 1946-47.
In December 1974, The New York Times reported that the CIA had conducted illegal domestic activities, including experiments on U.S. citizens, during the 1960s. That report prompted investigations by the U.S. Congress, in the form of the Church Committee, and by a presidential commission known as the Rockefeller Commission that looked into domestic activities of the CIA, the FBI, and intelligence-related agencies of the military.
In the summer of 1975, congressional Church Committee reports and the presidential Rockefeller Commission report revealed to the public for the first time that the CIA and the Department of Defense had conducted experiments on both unwitting and cognizant human subjects as part of an extensive program to influence and control human behavior through the use of psychoactive drugs such as LSD and mescaline and other chemical, biological, and psychological means. They also revealed that at least one subject had died after administration of LSD.
The congressional committee investigating the CIA research, chaired by Senator Frank Church, concluded that "[p]rior consent was obviously not obtained from any of the subjects". The committee noted that the "experiments sponsored by these researchers ... call into question the decision by the agencies not to fix guidelines for experiments."
Following the recommendations of the Church Committee, President Gerald Ford in 1976 issued the first Executive Order on Intelligence Activities which, among other things, prohibited "experimentation with drugs on human subjects, except with the informed consent, in writing and witnessed by a disinterested party, of each such human subject" and in accordance with the guidelines issued by the National Commission. Subsequent orders by Presidents Carter and Reagan expanded the directive to apply to any human experimentation.
On the heels of the revelations about CIA experiments, similar stories surfaced regarding U.S. Army experiments. In 1975 the Secretary of the Army instructed the Army Inspector General to conduct an investigation. Among the findings of the Inspector General was the existence of a 1953 memorandum penned by then Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson. Documents show that the CIA participated in at least two of Department of Defense committees during 1952. These committee findings led to the issuance of the "Wilson Memo," which mandated--in accord with Nuremberg Code protocols--that only volunteers be used for experimental operations conducted in the U.S. armed forces. In response to the Inspector General's investigation, the Wilson Memo was declassified in August 1975.
With regard to drug testing within the Army, the Inspector General found that "the evidence clearly reflected that every possible medical consideration was observed by the professional investigators at the Medical Research Laboratories." However the Inspector General also found that the mandated requirements of Wilson's 1953 memorandum had been only partially adhered to; he concluded that the "volunteers were not fully informed, as required, prior to their participation; and the methods of procuring their services, in many cases, appeared not to have been in accord with the intent of Department of the Army policies governing use of volunteers in research."
Other branches of the U.S. armed forces, the Air Force for example, were found not to have adhered to Wilson Memo stipulations regarding voluntary drug testing.
In Canada, the issue took much longer to surface, becoming widely known in 1984 on a CBC news show, The Fifth Estate. It was learned that not only had the CIA funded Dr. Cameron's efforts, but perhaps even more shockingly, the Canadian government was fully aware of this, and had later provided another $500,000 in funding to continue the experiments. This revelation largely derailed efforts by the victims to sue the CIA as their U.S. counterparts had, and the Canadian government eventually settled out of court for $100,000 to each of the 127 victims.
The quote from the study:
... Working with the CIA, the Department of Defense gave hallucinogenic drugs to thousands of "volunteer" soldiers in the 1950's and 1960's. In addition to LSD, the Army also tested quinuclidinyl benzilate, a hallucinogen code-named BZ. (Note 37) Many of these tests were conducted under the so-called MKULTRA program, established to counter perceived Soviet and Chinese advances in brainwashing techniques. Between 1953 and 1964, the program consisted of 149 projects involving drug testing and other studies on unwitting human subjects...
Frank Olson, a United States Army biochemist and biological weapons researcher, was given LSD without his knowledge or consent in 1953 as part of a CIA experiment, and died under suspicous circumstances (initially labeled suicide) a week later following a severe psychotic episode. A CIA doctor assigned to monitor Olson's recovery claimed to be asleep in another bed in a New York City hotel room when Olson jumped through the window to fall ten stories to his death.
Olson's son disputes this version of events, and maintains that his father was murdered due to his knowledge of the often-lethal interrogation techniques employed by the CIA in Europe, used on Cold War prisoners. Frank Olson's body was exhumed in 1994, and cranial injuries indicated Olson had been knocked unconscious before exiting the window.
The CIA's own internal investigation, by contrast, claimed Gottlieb had conducted the experiment with Olson's prior knowledge, although neither Olson nor the other men taking part in the experiment were informed as to the exact nature of the drug until some 20 minutes after its ingestion. The report further suggested that Gottlieb was nonetheless due a reprimand, as he had failed to take into account Olsen's already-diagnosed suicidal tendencies, which might well have been exacerbated by the LSD.
Previously, the CIA and the Army had actively and successfully sought to withhold incriminating information, even as they secretly provided compensation to the families. One subject of Army drug experimentation, James Stanley, an Army sergeant, brought an important, albeit unsuccessful, suit. The government argued that Stanley was barred from suing under a legal doctrine—known as the Feres doctrine, after a 1950 Supreme Court case, Feres v. United States—that prohibits members of the Armed Forces from suing the government for any harms that were inflicted "incident to service."
In 1987, the Supreme Court affirmed this defense in a 5–4 decision that dismissed Stanley's case (). The majority argued that "a test for liability that depends on the extent to which particular suits would call into question military discipline and decision making would itself require judicial inquiry into, and hence intrusion upon, military matters." In dissent, Justice William Brennan argued that the need to preserve military discipline should not protect the government from liability and punishment for serious violations of constitutional rights:
The medical trials at Nuremberg in 1947 deeply impressed upon the world that experimentation with unknowing human subjects is morally and legally unacceptable. The United States Military Tribunal established the Nuremberg Code as a standard against which to judge German scientists who experimented with human subjects... . [I]n defiance of this principle, military intelligence officials ... began surreptitiously testing chemical and biological materials, including LSD.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing a separate dissent, stated:
No judicially crafted rule should insulate from liability the involuntary and unknowing human experimentation alleged to have occurred in this case. Indeed, as Justice Brennan observes, the United States played an instrumental role in the criminal prosecution of Nazi officials who experimented with human subjects during the Second World War, and the standards that the Nuremberg Military Tribunals developed to judge the behavior of the defendants stated that the 'voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential ... to satisfy moral, ethical, and legal concepts.' If this principle is violated, the very least that society can do is to see that the victims are compensated, as best they can be, by the perpetrators.
This is the only Supreme Court case to address the application of the Nuremberg Code to experimentation sponsored by the U.S. government. And while the suit was unsuccessful, dissenting opinions put the Army—and by association the entire government—on notice that use of individuals without their consent is unacceptable. The limited application of the Nuremberg Code in U.S. courts does not detract from the power of the principles it espouses, especially in light of stories of failure to follow these principles that appeared in the media and professional literature during the 1960s and 1970s and the policies eventually adopted in the mid-1970s.
In another law suit, Wayne Ritchie, a former United States Marshall, alleged the CIA laced his food or drink with LSD at a 1957 Christmas party. While the government admitted it was, at that time, drugging people without their consent, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel found Ritchie could not prove he was one of the victims of MKULTRA. She dismissed the case in 2007. See this PDF file for details
44 American colleges or universities, 15 research foundations or chemical or pharmaceutical companies and the like, 12 hospitals or clinics (in addition to those associated with universities), and 3 prisons are known to have participated in MKULTRA.
Merry Prankster Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, volunteered for MK-ULTRA experiments while he was a student at Stanford University. Kesey's ingestion of LSD during these experiments led directly to his widespread promotion of the drug and the subsequent development of hippie culture.
Candy Jones, American fashion model and radio host, claimed to have been a victim of mind control in the '60s, but her account has not been verified.
Infamous Irish mob boss, James "Whitey" Bulger volunteered for testing while in prison.
After Leo Ryan was murdered at Jonestown, his children filed a lawsuit claiming that the CIA had been operating Jonestown as part of their MK-ULTRA program, and that Richard Dwyer, the Deputy Chief of Mission from the US Embassy who had organized the trip on Ryan's behalf, was a CIA agent. The lawsuit was dismissed.