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Gottlieb was born in the Bronx under the name Joseph Scheider. He received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. A stutterer from childhood, Gottlieb got a master's degree in speech therapy. He also had a club foot. It kept him out of World War II, but it did not stop him from practicing folk dancing, a lifelong passion.
In 1951, Gottlieb joined the Central Intelligence Agency. As a poison expert, he headed the chemical division of the Technical Services Staff (TSS). Gottlieb became known as the "Black Sorcerer" and the "Dirty Trickster." He supervised preparations of lethal poisons and experiments in mind control.
In April 1953 Sidney Gottlieb headed the secret Project MKULTRA which was activated on the order of CIA director Allen Dulles. Gottlieb was known for administration of LSD and other psycho-active drugs to unwitting subjects and for financing psychiatric research and development of "techniques that would crush the human psyche to the point that it would admit anything." He sponsored physicians such as Ewen Cameron and Harris Isbell in controversial psychiatric research that used unwitting humans as guinea pigs. Many people suffered serious adverse effects from research financed by Gottlieb and the Rockefeller Foundation.
In March 1960, under The Cuban Project, a CIA plan approved by President Eisenhower and under the direction of CIA Directorate for Plans, Richard M. Bissell, Gottlieb came up with ideas to spray Fidel Castro's television studio with LSD and to saturate Castro's shoes with thallium so that the hair of his beard would fall out. Gottlieb also hatched schemes to assassinate Castro, including the use of a poisoned cigar, a poisoned wetsuit, an exploding conch shell, and a poisonous fountain pen.
He also tried to have Iraq's General Abdul Karim Qassim's handkerchief contaminated with botulinum. Less known was an operation within the CIA's Phoenix Program in Vietnam where a team of CIA psychologists performed mind control experiments on NLF suspects being detained at Bien Hoa Prison outside of Saigon.
He was the liaison to the military subcontractor Lockheed, then working on Project Aquatone for the C.I.A. which would later be known as the U-2 spy plane. In 1953 he procured a Safe House for L.A.S.D. (Lockheed Aeronautics Services Division) which would have easy egress for secretive affairs.
The CIA in addition to working with subcontractors like Lockheed also worked with other branches of the government, namely DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) of the DoD (Department of Defense) and ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) though it is unclear what role if any Gottlieb played in these affairs other than authorizing them. By 1955 the project had grown so large that a new procurement was needed. At this point subproject 27 was merely a funding subproject which combined all previous subprojects, including those involving LSD, payment to Sandoz, magic and the art of distraction John Mulholland's manual (subproject 15 magic support, Mulholland Supplement) and the procurement of more LSD (subproject 18) but it continues on to include almost 150 known and documented subprojects including a microwave gun and the search for alternatives to LSD which lead to the later programs like Chickwit, most of which focused on South America and mushrooms.
It is still unclear what role if any Gottlieb had with other MKULTRA scientists such as Dr. Ewen Cameron of McGill University in Montreal, or to what extent he was involved with hospitals, institutions or universities receiving grants and money from MKULTRA, such as Columbia University's Human Ecology department which was created largely out of MKULTRA grants, though evidence seems to be pointing to his heavy involvement and interaction. Gottlieb is said to have played a role in funding investigation into paranormal phenomena, including remote viewing.
Other notable plots
In July 2006, documents released by the United States government revealed that the CIA had plotted assassination. Dr. Sidney Gottlieb played a role in the CIA's attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the Congo; he took a vial of poison to the Congo with plans to place it on Lumumba's toothbrush in the summer of 1960. Gottlieb transported these "toxic biological materials" to the CIA station in the Congo, though a military coup deposed the Prime Minister before agents could deliver the poison.
He retired from the CIA in 1972, stating at the time that he did not believe his work had been effective. He nonetheless accepted a Distinguished Intelligence Medal from the U.S. government. In retirement, he and his wife spent 18 months running a leper hospital in India and he spent his final years looking after the dying at a hospice. He died in Washington DC.
- Unethical human experimentation in the United States
- Church Committee
- Allen Dulles
- Linda Menghetti
- Jon D. Glassman
- Holley, Joe (2005, June 16). "John K. Vance; Uncovered LSD Project at CIA". Washington Post, Page B08.
- Jacobs, John (1977, September 5). "The Diaries Of a CIA Operative". Washington Post, A1.
- Kettle, Martin (2000, August 10). "President 'ordered murder' of Congo leader". The Guardian.
- Marks, John (1991). The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate". W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
- Mazur, Suzan (2005, January 29/30). "Tempelsman's Man Weighs In on the Murder of Patrice Lumumba". CounterPunch.
- Trento, Joseph J. (2001). The Secret History of the CIA. Prima Lifestyles.