Sidney Gottlieb

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Sidney Gottlieb (August 3, 1918 – March 7, 1999) was an American chemist and spymaster best known for his involvement with the Central Intelligence Agency's 1950s and '60s assassination attempts and mind control program, known as Project MKUltra.


Early years[edit]

Gottlieb, the son of Jewish-Hungarian immigrant parents, was born in the Bronx as Joseph Scheider in 1918. He received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. A stutterer from childhood, Gottlieb also earned a master's degree in speech therapy. He had a club foot, which kept him out of World War II, but did not prevent his pursuit of folk dancing, a lifelong passion.[1]

Government career[edit]


In 1951, aged 33, Gottlieb joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 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."[2] He supervised preparations of lethal poisons and drug experiments in mind control.

In April 1953 Gottlieb became head of the secret Project MKULTRA which was activated on the order of CIA director Allen Dulles. In this capacity, he administered LSD and other psycho-active drugs to unwitting subjects and financed psychiatric research and development of "techniques that would crush the human psyche to the point that it would admit anything".[citation needed] He sponsored physicians such as Ewen Cameron and Harris Isbell in controversial psychiatric research including unconsented human subjects research. Many people suffered serious adverse effects from research financed by Gottlieb and the Rockefeller Foundation.[citation needed]

Gottlieb approved Project MKULTRA "Subproject 8" on LSD in this June 9, 1953 letter. (Redactions have removed much of the context.

Gottlieb 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.[citation needed]

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 Project MKCHICKWIT, most of which focused on South America and mushrooms.[citation needed]

The CIA in addition to working with subcontractors like Lockheed also worked with other branches of the government, namely ARPA (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.[citation needed]


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 proposed spraying Fidel Castro's television studio with LSD and saturating Castro's shoes with thallium to make his beard 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.[citation needed] Gottlieb also 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.[3][4] He transported these "toxic biological materials" to Larry Devlin, the CIA station chief in the Congo, although Devlin declined the assignment and a military coup soon deposed Lumumba by other means.[5] Gottlieb also wanted Iraq's General Abdul Karim Qassim's handkerchief to be contaminated with botulinum.[citation needed]

Later, Gottlieb was involved in an operation within the CIA's Phoenix Program (1965-1972) in Vietnam in which a team of CIA psychologists performed mind control experiments on NLF suspects being detained at Bien Hoa Prison outside of Saigon.[citation needed]

Final years[edit]

Gottlieb retired from the CIA in 1972, stating at the time that he did not believe his work had been effective. He nonetheless received a Distinguished Intelligence Medal from the U.S. government. Visited in retirement by the son of his late colleague Frank Olson, he was residing in an "ecologically correct" home in Culpeper, Virginia, where he raised goats, ate yogurt and advocated principles of peace and environmentalism.[6] 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 D.C. in 1999.[1]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Rupert Cornwell, "Obituary: Sidney Gottlieb", The Independent, March 16, 1999
  2. ^
  3. ^ Coll, Steve. "Remote Control: Our Drone Delusion", The New Yorker, May 6, 2013. Retrieved on May 6, 2013.
  4. ^ Weiner, Tim (2007), Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Doubleday, pg 163.
  5. ^ Senate Church Committee on Lumumba
  6. ^ Ignatieff, Michael (April 1, 2001). "What did the C.I.A. do to Eric Olson's father?". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 17 January 2013.