One 1955 MKUltra document gives an indication of the size and range of the effort; this document refers to the study of an assortment of mind-altering substances described as follows:
- Substances which will promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the point where the recipient would be discredited in public.
- Substances which increase the efficiency of mentation and perception.
- Materials which will cause the victim to age faster/slower in maturity.
- Materials which will promote the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
- Materials which will produce the signs and symptoms of recognized diseases in a reversible way so that they may be used for malingering, etc.
- Materials which will cause temporary/permanent brain damage and loss of memory.
- Substances which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion during interrogation and so-called “brain-washing”.
- Materials and physical methods which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use.
- Physical methods of producing shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use.
- Substances which produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.
- Substances which will produce a chemical that can cause blisters.
- Substances which alter personality structure in such a way that the tendency of the recipient to become dependent upon another person is enhanced.
- A material which will cause mental confusion of such a type that the individual under its influence will find it difficult to maintain a fabrication under questioning.
- Substances which will lower the ambition and general working efficiency of men when administered in undetectable amounts.
- Substances which promote weakness or distortion of the eyesight or hearing faculties, preferably without permanent effects.
- A knockout pill which can surreptitiously be administered in drinks, food, cigarettes, as an aerosol, etc., which will be safe to use, provide a maximum of amnesia, and be suitable for use by agent types on an ad hoc basis.
- A material which can be surreptitiously administered by the above routes and which in very small amounts will make it impossible for a person to perform physical activity.
1953 experiment record
Early CIA efforts focused on LSD, which later came to dominate many of MKUltra’s programs. The CIA wanted to know if they could make Soviet spies defect against their will and whether the Soviets could do the same to the CIA’s own operatives
Once Project MKUltra officially got underway in April 1953, experiments included administering LSD to mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes—“people who could not fight back,” as one agency officer put it. In one case LSD was administered to a mental patient in Kentucky for 174 days.
LSD was also administered to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions. LSD and other drugs were usually administered without the subject’s knowledge or informed consent, a violation of the Nuremberg Code that the U.S. agreed to follow after World War II.
The aim of this was to find drugs which would irresistibly bring out deep confessions or wipe a subject’s mind clean and program him or her as “a robot agent.
In Operation Midnight Climax, the CIA set up several brothels in San Francisco, California to obtain a selection of men who would be too embarrassed to talk about the events. The men were dosed with LSD, the brothels were equipped with one-way mirrors, and the sessions were filmed for later viewing and study.
In other experiments where people were given LSD without their knowledge, they were interrogated under bright lights with doctors in the background taking notes. The subjects were told that their “trips” would be extended indefinitely if they refused to reveal their secrets.
The people being interrogated this way were CIA employees, U.S. military personnel, and agents suspected of working for the other side in the Cold War. Long-term debilitation and several deaths reportedly resulted from this. Heroin addicts were bribed into taking LSD with offers of more heroin.
The Office of Security used LSD in interrogations but Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the chemist who directed MKUltra, had other ideas; he thought it could be used in covert operations. Since its effects were temporary, he believed it could be given to high-ranking officials and in this way affect the course of important meetings, speeches etc. Since he realized there was a difference in testing the drug in a laboratory and using it in clandestine operations, he initiated a series of experiments where LSD was given to people in “normal” settings without warning.
At first, everyone in Technical Services tried it; a typical experiment involved two people in a room where they observed each other for hours and took notes. As the experimentation progressed, a point was reached where outsiders were drugged with no explanation whatsoever and surprise acid trips became something of an occupational hazard among CIA operatives.
Adverse reactions often occurred, for example an operative who had received the drug in his morning coffee became psychotic and ran across Washington, seeing a monster in every car that passed him. The experiments continued even after Dr. Frank Olson, an Army scientist who had not taken LSD before, went into deep depression after a surprise trip and later fell from a thirteenth story window.
Some subjects’ participation was consensual, and in these cases they appeared to be singled out for even more extreme experiments. In one case, seven volunteers in Kentucky were given LSD for 77 consecutive days.
LSD was eventually dismissed by MKUltra’s researchers as too unpredictable in its results. They had given up on the notion that LSD was “the secret that was going to unlock the universe,” but it still had a place in the cloak-and-dagger arsenal. However, by 1962 the CIA and the army had developed a series of superhallucinogens such as the highly touted BZ, which was thought to hold greater promise as a mind control weapon. This resulted in the withdrawal of support by many academics and private researchers, and LSD research became less of a priority altogether.
Another technique investigated was connecting a barbiturate IV into one arm and an amphetamine IV into the other. The barbiturates were released into the person first, and as soon as the person began to fall asleep, the amphetamines were released. The person would then begin babbling incoherently, and it was sometimes possible to ask questions and get useful answers.
Declassified MKUltra documents indicate hypnosis was studied in the early 1950s. Experimental goals included: the creation of “hypnotically induced anxieties,” “hypnotically increasing ability to learn and recall complex written matter,” studying hypnosis and polygraph examinations, “hypnotically increasing ability to observe and recall complex arrangements of physical objects,” and studying “relationship of personality to susceptibility to hypnosis.” Experiments were conducted with drug induced hypnosis and with anterograde and retrograde amnesia while under the influence of such drugs.
The experiments were exported to Canada when the CIA recruited Scottish psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron, creator of the “psychic driving” concept, which the CIA found particularly interesting. Cameron had been hoping to correct schizophrenia by erasing existing memories and reprogramming the psyche. He commuted from Albany, New York, to Montreal every week to work at the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University and was paid $69,000 from 1957 to 1964 ($543,100 in 2016 dollars) to carry out MKUltra experiments there.
These research funds were sent to Dr. Cameron by a CIA front organization, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, and as shown in internal CIA documents, Cameron did not know that the money originated from the CIA.In addition to LSD, Cameron also experimented with various paralytic drugs as well as electroconvulsive therapy at thirty to forty times the normal power.
His “driving” experiments consisted of putting subjects into drug-induced coma for weeks at a time (up to three months in one case) while playing tape loops of noise or simple repetitive statements. His experiments were typically carried out on patients who had entered the institute for minor problems such as anxiety disorders and postpartum depression, many of whom suffered permanently from his actions
His treatments resulted in victims’ incontinence, amnesia, forgetting how to talk, forgetting their parents, and thinking their interrogators were their parents. His work was inspired and paralleled by the British psychiatrist William Sargant at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, and Belmont Hospital, Surrey, who was also involved in the Intelligence Services and who experimented extensively on his patients without their consent, causing similar long-term damage.
In the 1980s, several of Cameron’s former patients sued the CIA for damages, which was documented by the Canadian news program The Fifth Estate.Their experiences and subsequent lawsuit was later made into a 1998 television miniseries called The Sleep Room.
During this era 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.
Naomi Klein argues in her book The Shock Doctrine that Cameron’s research and his contribution to the MKUltra project was actually not about mind control and brainwashing, but about designing “a scientifically based system for extracting information from ‘resistant sources.’ In other words, torture.”
Alfred W. McCoy writes that “Stripped of its bizarre excesses, Dr. Cameron’s experiments, building upon Donald O. Hebb‘s earlier breakthrough, laid the scientific foundation for the CIA’s two-stage psychological torture method,” which refers to first creating a state of disorientation in the subject, and then second creating a situation of “self-inflicted” discomfort in which the disoriented subject can alleviate their pain by capitulating.