The published evidence indicates that Project MKULTRA involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
The Agency poured millions of dollars into studies examining methods of influencing and controlling the mind, and of enhancing their ability to extract information from resistant subjects during interrogation.
Some historians have asserted that creating a "Manchurian Candidate" subject through "mind control" techniques was a goal of MKULTRA and related CIA projects. Alfred McCoy has claimed that the CIA attempted to focus media attention on these sorts of "ridiculous" programs, so that the public would not look at the primary goal of the research, which was developing effective methods of torture and interrogation. Such authors cite as one example, the fact that the CIA's KUBARK interrogation manual refers to "studies at McGill University", and that most of the techniques recommended in KUBARK are exactly those that researcher Donald Ewen Cameron used on his test subjects (sensory deprivation, drugs, isolation, etc.).
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 prevent or counteract the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
- 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 render the induction of hypnosis easier or otherwise enhance its usefulness.
- 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 "pure" euphoria with no subsequent let-down.
- 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.
ExperimentsCIA documents suggest that "chemical, biological and radiological" means were investigated for the purpose of mind control as part of MKULTRA.
LSDEarly CIA efforts focused on LSD, which later came to dominate many of MKULTRA's programs.
Once Project MKULTRA officially got underway in April, 1953, 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 or 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 though actual use of LSD was legal in the United States until October 6, 1966. In Operation Midnight Climax, the CIA set up several brothels in San Francisco, CA 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 two-way mirrors, and the sessions were filmed for later viewing and study.
Some subjects' participation was consensual, and in these cases they 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 MKULTRA's researchers as too unpredictable in its results. Useful information was sometimes obtained by questioning subjects after they had ingested LSD.
Other drugsAnother 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.
Other experiments involved drugs such as temazepam (used under code name MKSEARCH), heroin, morphine, MDMA, mescaline, psilocybin, scopolamin, marijuana,alcohol,sodium pentothal, and ergine.
Extent of participationForty-four American colleges or universities, 15 research foundations or chemical or pharmaceutical companies and the like including Sandoz (currently Novartis) and Eli Lilly and Company, 12 hospitals or clinics (in addition to those associated with universities), and three prisons are known to have participated in MKULTRA
- A considerable amount of credible circumstantial evidence suggests that Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, participated in CIA-sponsored MKULTRA experiments conducted at Harvard University from the fall of 1959 through the spring of 1962. During World War II, Henry Murray, the lead researcher in the Harvard experiments, served with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was a forerunner of the CIA. Murray applied for a grant funded by the United States Navy, and his Harvard stress experiments strongly resembled those run by the OSS. Beginning at the age of sixteen, Kaczynski participated along with twenty-one other undergraduate students in the Harvard experiments, which have been described as "disturbing" and "ethically indefensible."
- Merry Prankster Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, volunteered for MKULTRA experiments involving LSD and other psychedelic drugs at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park while he was a student at nearby Stanford University. Kesey's experiences while under the influence of LSD inspired him to promote the drug outside the context of the MKULTRA experiments, which influenced the early development of hippie culture.
- Robert Hunter is an American lyricist, singer-songwriter, translator, and poet, best known for his association with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.
Along with Ken Kesey, Hunter was an early volunteer MKULTRA test
subject at Stanford University. Stanford test subjects were paid to take
LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline, then report on their experiences. These experiences were creatively formative for Hunter:
Sit back picture yourself swooping up a shell of purple with foam crests of crystal drops soft nigh they fall unto the sea of morning creep-very-softly mist...and then sort of cascade tinkley-bell like (must I take you by the hand, every so slowly type) and then conglomerate suddenly into a peal of silver vibrant uncomprehendingly, blood singingly, joyously resounding bells....By my faith if this be insanity, then for the love of God permit me to remain insane.
- Candy Jones, American fashion model and radio host, claimed to have been a victim of mind control in the 1960s.
- Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger volunteered for testing while in prison