Project MKUltra

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MK-Ultra was a classified CIA project that carried several clandestine trials on U.S citizens sometimes without their knowledge. The agency’s main objective was to analyze the possibility of mind control, psychological torture, and extraction of information by the use of LSD. The top-secret project lasted from 1953 to 1973, and every detail about the illegal program of the CIA became public in 1975 after investigations by the congress into the unlawful operations of the agency within the United States and nations around the globe. A similar operation was the Montauk Project

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act request in 1975, the public currently has access to 20,000 documents about the program – a tiny fraction of the original documents. Despite the CIA saying that their mission was purely a harmless one aimed at research and observation to establish a military upper hand over the Soviet Union, it was clear that something was compromised. The agency’s assignment turned to the most horrific experiments and what was meant to be theoretical became real, and people were involved unknowingly. Efforts to treat the project with secrecy included giving the project several code names. Project MK-Ultra is undoubtedly among the most heinous cover-ups by the government.


Project MK-Ultra dates back to the height Cold War in 1950 and 1960. During this period, the United States had concerns about the Chinese, Soviet, and the North Korean agents using mind control programs to condition U.S prisoners of war. To counter the techniques of their rivals especially from the Soviet bloc, the then director of the CIA, Allan Dules gave Project MK-Ultra a go-ahead in 1953. The purpose of the covert program was to use psychological manipulators plus other drugs to control human behavior.

The entire program conducted more than 150 human experiments ever since it was put in place. Some of these participants were aware they were participating in a study, but for many, they completely had no idea even when they were subject to hallucinogens, paralytics, psychedelic drugs, and electroshock therapy. A significant number of these trials took place in hospitals, universities, and prisons in Canada and the United States. The exact number of participants involved in the tests most of which happened between 1953 and 1964 is not clear to date; besides, the CIA confiscated and destroyed most MK-Ultra documents as soon as the program came to an end in 1973.

Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Brenner, Hawkins national library in Hawkins Indiana was one of the selected institutions that hosted and carried out some experiments of Project MK-Ultra. The operations at the laboratory started in 1953. The multiple experiments the CIA initiated with Lysergic acid Diethylamide (LSD) followed the directives of Sidney Gottlieb. The poison expert who was the agency chemist as well was convinced that the CIA could successfully maximize the mind-altering characteristics of the drugs to induce psychological torture and brainwashing. To follow through Gottlieb’s claims, the CIA had to fund further studies at Stanford University, Columbia University, and numerous other colleges to find out the full powers of the drug. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive, and the drug proved unpredictable for counterintelligence. Regardless of the results from further studies, MK-Ultra began experiments with other drugs like heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine, mescaline, psilocybin, and barbiturates.

Relation to Midnight Climax[edit]

Another government-controlled program Operation Midnight Climax had the task of luring unsuspecting men to safe houses belonging to the CIA, where they carried out several drug experiments. Frequently, the CIA laced LSD into the drinks of the men and watched the effects kick in behind a two-way mirror. The prostitutes who lured the men had recording devices in their rooms, hidden as electrical outlets. This specific program had little oversight and the operations extended to California, San Francisco, New York City, and Marin County.

The sudden death of Frank Olson on November 28, 1953, was linked to project MK-Ultra. At a CIA retreat earlier that year, the agency orchestrated his death first by secretly spiking his drink with LSD then a few days later Olson fell to his death from a window of a New York City Hotel; they made claims that his death was a suicide. In 1994, the family proceeded to have another autopsy performed, and they discovered from the forensics team that there were injuries on Olson’s body right before his fall. The findings further confirmed the possibility of Olson’s assassination by the CIA. After extended legal proceedings, Olson’s family received a settlement of $750,000 and a personal apology from the CIA director then William Colby and President Gerald Ford. A notable MK-Ultra participant Ken Kesey volunteered for the program’s experiments. At that time, he was a student at Stanford University; undergoing several trials with LSD later made him inclined to promote the drug in many parties he dubbed ‘Acid Tests.’ The Acid Test parties incorporated musical performances from bands like the Grateful Dead with psychedelic effects like black lights and fluorescent paint. Other noteworthy people that likewise volunteered for CIA-backed experiments using LSD were James Joseph, Ted Kaczynski, and Robert Hunter, a lyricist of the Grateful Dead.

In 1974, Seymour Hersh, a New York Times journalist, made several attempts to bring to light numerous illegal spying operations on citizens of the United States and non-consensual drug experiments spearheaded by the CIA. The report further included lengthy details concerning activities about MK-Ultra. In 1975, President Ford established a commission to investigate the illegal dealings of the CIA and experiments it carried out on unknowing citizens. The commission, also known as the United States President’s Commission on CIA activities was under the oversight of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller; consequently, the commission acquired the name the Rockefeller Commission. After President Richard M Nixon resigned, the Church Committee launched a more significant investigation into abuses by the FBI, CIA and the rest of the United States agencies operating at that period. The committee uncovered plots for the assassinations of renowned leaders like Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba and plenty of documents about MK-Ultra.

The Conspiracy[edit]

The Birth of Project MK Ultra[edit]

Before the inception of project MK-Ultra, there was another program, Operation paperclip. Without the groundwork laid by the latter operation, it was highly unlikely for Project MK-Ultra to kick off and advance with its mind-control experiments. The Joint intelligence objectives agency initiated operation paperclip in 1945 to take advantage of German intelligence to widen the program of America’s weapons and be ahead of the Soviet Union in the Space Race. The paperclip program involved German scientists taken from Germany to the United States to work on various government projects. However, President Truman would be hesitant since he would not tolerate working with Nazis or Nazi sympathizers supporting Adolf Hitler. Despite the reservations from the president, the intelligence officials were determined to run the project by any means and outperform the Soviets. Consequently, they erased any available records belonging to the war criminals and the Nazi scientists and made them suitable candidates and took them on board anyway.

Every researcher who made it to the United States through Operation Paperclip were esteemed representatives of the scientific community. Many of them received awards for their input from the U.S department of defense and NASA because the international space hall of fame identified the two institutions. The rest were tasked with more disturbing projects, and they proceeded to develop darker legacies. Besides, the United States government was concerned about how they were lagging when it came to their interrogation techniques since their rivals, and the Soviet Union were making notable advancements in this specific area. As a result, in 1953, April 13, then director of the CIA, Allen Welsh Dulles called for a new contentious and highly secretive project and that was Project MK-Ultra. Allen Dulles was behind the birth of Project MK-Ultra, the CIA’s mind control project. Initially, the proposal was for the project to function under the cryptonyms project MKDELTA and MKNAOMI; gradually, it became an independent project. ‘MK’ indicated that the project was developed and funded by the Technical Services staff belonging to the CIA while ’ULTRA’ was an agreement to the codename which was formerly used for top-secret documents during World War II.

Objective and Motives for MK Ultra[edit]

The main objective of MK-Ultra was to develop a truth serum. The serum was intended for use against prisoners of war and Soviet spies to acquire intelligence about dealings of the Soviets during the Cold War. Unfortunately, the efforts to create a real truth serum were futile in the end. An alternative route the researchers undertook was finding out the most effective procedure of mind control; they discovered that they could use wildly experimental drugs to place the subject in an intensely altered mental state.

Since there were rumors that the Chinese, North Koreans, and the Soviets were all involved in mind control methods, the CIA was especially anxious to take on the project; it later turned out that the rumors were simply that – rumors. With numerous reports about favorable results from the Soviet Scientists, the United States Intelligence community highly expected MK-Ultra to be a success. Their confidence level was so high that they engineered numerous schemes to drug Fidel Castro.

Under the sponsorship and backing of the CIA, scientists began conducting experiments to start MK Ultra. But what exactly did such mind experiments do? Project MK Ultra experimented with LSD; the doctors used to administer doses to volunteers and unknowing participants. For the sake of secrecy, all the experiments had to spread out across various hospitals, college campuses, and multiple cities. Multiple tests involved assessing how illegal drugs like opioids and LSD would affect human subjects.

Official Documents Concerning MK Ultra[edit]

In 1995, a retrieved document about project MK Ultra had a list of the types of substances and drugs given to test the subjects. There were several examples of materials used, for instance, substances that raise the effectiveness of perception and mentation and elements that will advance illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the extent where any recipient would be detracted from the public. Moreover, some of them promoted the intoxicating effects of alcohol and caused the victims to age slower or faster to maturity, caused permanent or temporary damage and loss of memory, and some produced signs and symptoms of known diseases in an unstable way so that they used them for malingering. Doctors used physical methods and materials to create amnesia for any occurrence during and preceding their use. Some substances enhanced the capability of participants to withstand coercion, torture, and privation during brain-washing and interrogation.

According to the document, doctors employed physical methods of causing confusion and producing shock for prolonged periods. Worse still, the substances would periodically produce a chemical that caused blisters or causes physical disablement like acute anemia and paralysis of the legs. Other drugs were so potent that they would alter personality structure in a manner in which the inclination of a recipient to become dependent totally upon another individual was enhanced.

The retracted document also shed light on a specific knock out a pill that was safe to use but intended to be laced into foods, drinks, aerosols, and cigarettes to cause amnesia and be ideal for use by agents on an ad hoc basis. Some materials and substances would reduce the general working efficiency and ambition of men when dosed in undetectable quantities, accelerate distortion and weakness of hearing faculties and eyesight without causing permanent effects, and produce mental confusion to a point where a person under its influence finds it to maintain a fabrication when questioned. The other effect of such drugs was to make it impossible for an individual to perform any physical activity. The most commonly used substances in Project MK-Ultra’s experiments were widely available stimulants like alcohol, THC, LSD, and other synthetic drugs like the government-created BZ, which was a super hallucinogen.

The scientists would simultaneously give out doses of two drugs with opposite effects like amphetamine and a barbiturate and afterward examine the reactions which the subjects would exhibit. Sometimes, the researchers would administer LSD to persons already under the influence of alcohol. Another technique was hypnosis. In an attempt to build fear in subjects to exploit them for information, researchers proceeded to look into the outcome of hypnosis from the results of polygraph tests and its ramifications on memory loss.

MK Ultra tried out almost every technique there was including aural stimulation, electrosensitive therapy, and paralytic drugs; the use of sensory deprivation tanks was occasionally utilized to examine effects of the used medications without stimuli from the outside world. Electroconvulsive machines were also used during the experiments.

Subjects of MK Ultra[edit]

Some participants of experiments of Project MK-Ultra were students paid to take the drugs, volunteers, or addicts bribed with promises of more drugs in case they participated. Notably, some of these participants were not aware of what they were involved in particular those from the most vulnerable populations like people with a mental health condition, prisoners, and prostitutes. For instance, in a specific experiment, the subject was an unknowing mental patient in Kentucky; every day for 174 consecutive days, he received doses of LSD.

Terry Ives[edit]

Terry Ives was one of the participants. At the time the experiments were conducted, she was pregnant and just a young girl in college. Because of her extensive misuse of psychedelic drugs, particularly LSD, her daughter Jane was born with unique mental abilities like telekinesis and telepathy. After Jane’s birth, her birth was covered up, and she was taken away from her mother; the CIA made sure that any official evidence of her existence was destroyed. Consequently, Terry sued the researchers, and Dr. Martin Brenner but unlucky, lack of evidence led to the dismissal of the lawsuit and Terry ultimately turned out to be in an unconscious state needing the care of her sister.


Jane, another MK Ultra subject acquired the name ‘011’ and she was continually subjected to experiments at the laboratory under Dr. Brenner's supervision. As a test subject, they trained her psychic abilities to make her destroy objects; ultimately, they put her in a sensory deprivation tank to make her spy on a communist telepathically. Later on, Jane managed to escape, and those involved had a difficult time trying to capture her and to cover up their operations.


Nevertheless, not all unwitting participants were civilians; surprisingly, some of them were operatives from the CIA. The lead chemist of MK-Ultra, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb thought of studying effects of LSD in prevailing ‘normal settings,’ and that was the reason why he started administering LSD to CIA operatives without warning.

All these experiments continued for quite some years, even after Dr. Frank Olson, an Army scientist started to suffer from depression brought about by the drugs. Consequently, he jumped out a thirteenth-story window of a New York City Hotel. All participants, be it those who were unaware or volunteers experienced significant side effects from these experiments. Some reported anterograde and retrograde amnesia, confusion, depression, disorientation, insomnia, pain, schizophrenic-like mental states, and withdrawal following subjection to these experiments. Unfortunately, any repercussions and effects were never taken care of reported to those in charge. It was so evident that the United States government violated the Nuremberg Code, and no individual could do anything about it; the law stipulates ethical principles concerning human experimentation established in the aftermath of World War II.

Subjects speak about their involvement[edit]

Although every document about MK-Ultra was destroyed and the CIA denied the existence of the entire project, some who participated in the experiments would occasionally talk about how they were indulged by the agency.

Among the earliest participants of Project MK-Ultra was Ken Kesey. The volunteer is the author of ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ a book inspired by his experiences. At the time he volunteered for the experiments, he was a student at Stanford University; his central role in those trials was to take part in evaluations being under the influence of LSD and several other psychedelic drugs. According to Kesey, his experience was a positive one because after completing the experiments, he widely promoted the drug to the public; his published book was an achievement as well. Another notable experimenter was the first chairman of the world psychiatric association and the head of the American and Canadian psychiatric associations, Dave Cameron. The CIA was interested in his works because, at that time, he was leading research into a theory dubbed ‘psychic diving’; with the backing of the CIA, he continued with his experiments.

Cameron’s experiments on the participants were extremely intense. He used to drug patients then play the tapes of noises and simple repeating suggestions when they were unconscious for long periods. He hoped that these techniques, together with other dangerous experiments like electroconvulsive therapy, would help to rectify conditions like schizophrenia by reprogramming the mind or deleting memories. Instead of achieving his objectives, Cameron realized that almost all of his subjects were unconscious for months, some suffering amnesia and incontinence. The irony is Cameron was initially a member of the Nuremberg Medical Tribunal.

One other participant in Project MK-Ultra’s experiments was John Lilly. He was a well-known animal behaviorist by then especially with his research involving human communication with dolphins. In fact, he engineered the first sensory deprivation tank. MK-Ultra scientists commissioned the tank and developed sensory-free surroundings so that their subjects could experience their acid trips.

Exposing project MK-Ultra’s mind control experiments[edit]

Early in the year 1973, during the after-effects of the Watergate scandal, Richard Helms, then director of the CIA, gave an order to destroy all MK-Ultra files. He was worried that it was just a matter of time before government agencies were investigated, and he would not risk violating the law on such a controversial issue.

Two years later in 1975, President Gerald Ford led an investigation into activities of the CIA with the hopes of eradicating all CIA conspiracies. The Rockefeller Commission and the Church committee of the United States Congress were two commissions established from the investigation. The investigations exposed how Helms was responsible for the destruction of most of the evidence. However, an administrative error left out 20,000 documents. The investigations only relied on the retrieved documents and testimonies of other participants of project MK-Ultra.