One of the earliest MK-ULTRA subjects was a 17-year old Harvard math student named Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber”.
In 1953, the then-Director of Central Intelligence Alan Dulles officially approved project MKUltra.
The intent of the project was to study “the use of biological and chemical materials in altering human behavior,” according to the official testimony of CIA director Stansfield Turner in 1977. The project was conducted in extreme secrecy, Turner said, because of ethical and legal questions surrounding the program and the negative public response that the CIA anticipated if MKUltra should become public.
Under MKUltra, the CIA gave itself the authority to research how drugs could: “promote the intoxicating effects of alcohol;” “render the induction of hypnosis easier;” “enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion;” produce amnesia, shock and confusion; and much more. Many of these questions were investigated using unwitting test subjects, like drug-addicted prisoners, marginalized sex workers and terminal cancer patients–”people who could not fight back,” in the words of Sidney Gottlieb, the chemist who introduced LSD to the CIA.
MKUltra was preceded by two drug-related experiments, Project Bluebird and Project ARTICHOKE. It was organized through the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence and coordinated with the United States Army Biological Warfare Laboratories.
The program engaged in illegal activities, including the use of U.S. and Canadian citizens as unwitting test subjects. Over 7,000 American veterans took part in these experiments non-consensually during the 1950s through 1970s, many of them suing later on. MKUltra’s scope was broad, with activities carried out under the guise of research at more than 80 institutions aside from the military, including colleges and universities, hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical companies. The CIA operated using front organizations, although some top officials at these institutions were aware of the CIA’s involvement.
Operation Midnight Climax was an MK-Ultra project in which government-employed prostitutes lured unsuspecting men to CIA “safe houses” where drug experiments took place.
The CIA dosed the men with LSD and then—while at times drinking cocktails behind a two-way mirror—watched the drug’s effects on the men’s behavior. Recording devices were installed in the prostitutes’ rooms, disguised as electrical outlets.
Most of the Operation Midnight Climax experiments took place in San Francisco and Marin County, California, and in New York City. The program had little oversight and the CIA agents involved admitted that a freewheeling, party-like atmosphere prevailed.
Ken Kesey, author of the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, volunteered for MK-Ultra experiments with LSD while he was a college student at Stanford University.
Kesey later went on to promote the drug, hosting LSD-fueled parties that he called “Acid Tests.”
Acid Tests combined drug use with musical performances by bands including the Grateful Dead and psychedelic effects such as fluorescent paint and black lights. These parties influenced the early development of hippie culture and kick-started the 1960s psychedelic drug scene.
Other notable people who reportedly volunteered for CIA-backed experiments with LSD include Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead lyricist; Ted Kaczynski, better known as the “Unabomber”; and James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston mobster.
After a series of tests, the drug was deemed too unpredictable for use in counterintelligence.