Project MKUltra, also called the CIA mind control program, is the code name given to a program of experiments on human subjects, at times illegal, designed and undertaken by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations and torture in order to weaken the individual to force confessions through mind control. Organized through the Scientific Intelligence Division of the CIA, the project coordinated with the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Army's Chemical Corps.
The operation began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967, and officially halted in 1973. The program engaged in many illegal activities, including the use of unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy.(p74) MKUltra used numerous methods to manipulate people's mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis,  sensory deprivation, isolation and verbal abuse, as well as other forms of psychological torture.
The scope of Project MKUltra was broad, with research undertaken at 80 institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, as well as hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical companies. The CIA operated through these institutions using front organizations, although sometimes top officials at these institutions were aware of the CIA's involvement. As the US Supreme Court later noted in CIA v. Sims 471 U.S. 159 (1985), MKULTRA was:
concerned with "the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior." The program consisted of some 149 subprojects which the Agency contracted out to various universities, research foundations, and similar institutions. At least 80 institutions and 185 private researchers participated. Because the Agency funded MKUltra indirectly, many of the participating individuals were unaware that they were dealing with the Agency.
Although the Supreme Court sided with the CIA that sources' names could be redacted for their protection, it nonetheless validated the existence of MKULTRA to be used in future court cases and confirmed that the CIA for 14 years performed clandestine experiments on human behavior.
Between 1953 and 1966, the Central Intelligence Agency financed a wide-ranging project, code-named MKULTRA, concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.
Project MKUltra was first brought to public attention in 1975 by the Church Committee of the U.S. Congress, and a Gerald Ford commission to investigate CIA activities within the United States. Investigative efforts were hampered by the fact that CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed in 1973; the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission investigations relied on the sworn testimony of direct participants and on the relatively small number of documents that survived Helms's destruction order.
In 1977, a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered a cache of 20,000 documents relating to project MKUltra, which led to Senate hearings later that same year. In July 2001, some surviving information regarding MKUltra was declassified.
Forty-four American colleges or universities, 15 research foundations or chemical or pharmaceutical companies including Sandoz (now 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.
- 1 Background
- 2 Experiments
- 3 Revelation
- 4 Deaths
- 5 Legal issues involving informed consent
- 6 Scientists involved
- 7 Notable subjects
- 8 Conspiracy theories and claims
- 9 Aftermath
- 10 In popular culture
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
The project's intentionally obscure CIA cryptonym is made up of the digraph MK, meaning the project was sponsored by the agency's Technical Services Staff, followed by the word Ultra (which had previously been used to designate the most secret classification of World War II intelligence). Other related cryptonyms include Project MKNAOMI and Project MKDELTA.
Headed by Sidney Gottlieb, the MKUltra project began on the order of CIA director Allen Welsh Dulles on April 13, 1953. Its aim was to develop mind-controlling drugs for use against the Soviet bloc in response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea. The CIA wanted to use similar methods on their own captives. The CIA also showed interest in being able to manipulate foreign leaders with such techniques, and would later invent several schemes to drug Fidel Castro. They often conducted experiments without the subjects' knowledge or consent. In some cases, academic researchers being funded through grants from CIA front organizations were unaware the CIA was using their work for these purposes.
The project attempted to produce a perfect truth drug for use in interrogating suspected Soviet spies during the Cold War, and to explore other possibilities of mind control. Another MKUltra effort, Subproject 54, was the Navy's top secret "Perfect Concussion" program, which was supposed to use sub-aural frequency blasts to erase memory. However, the program was never carried out.
Because most MKUltra records were destroyed in 1973 by order of then CIA director Richard Helms, it has been difficult, if not impossible, for investigators to gain a complete understanding of the more than 150 funded research sub-projects sponsored by MKUltra and related CIA programs.
The project began during a period of what Rupert Cornwell described as "paranoia" at the CIA, when the U.S. had lost its nuclear monopoly, and fear of Communism was at its height. James Jesus Angleton, head of CIA counter-intelligence, believed a mole penetrated the organization at the highest levels.
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 assert creating a "Manchurian Candidate" subject through "mind control" techniques was a goal of MKUltra and related CIA projects. Alfred McCoy has claimed the CIA attempted to focus media attention on these sorts of "ridiculous" programs, so 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 CIA's KUBARK interrogation manual refers to "studies at McGill University", and most of the techniques recommended in KUBARK are exactly those 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 cause the victim to age faster/slower in maturity.
- 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 they may be used for malingering, etc.
- Materials which will cause temporary/permanent brain damage and loss of memory.
- 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 a chemical that can cause blisters.
- Substances which alter personality structure in such a way the tendency of the recipient to become dependent upon another person is enhanced.
- A material which will cause mental confusion of such a type 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 be surreptitiously 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.
The Church Committee report in 1976 described the MKDELTA program as follows: "A special procedure, designated MKDELTA, was established to govern the use of MKULTRA materials abroad. Such materials were used on a number of occasions. Because MKULTRA records were destroyed, it is impossible to reconstruct the operational use of MKULTRA materials by the CIA overseas; it has been determined that the use of these materials abroad began in 1953, and possibly as early as 1950. Drugs were used primarily as an aid to interrogations, but MKULTRA/MKDELTA materials were also used for harassment, discrediting, or disabling purposes."
In 1964, MKSEARCH was the name given to the continuation of the MKULTRA program. The MKSEARCH program was divided into two projects dubbed MKOFTEN/CHICKWIT. Funding for MKSEARCH commenced in 1965, and ended in 1971. The project was a joint project between The U.S. Army Chemical Corps and the Central Intelligence Agency's Office of Research and Development to find new offensive-use agents with a focus on incapacitating agents. The purpose of the project was to develop, test, and evaluate capabilities in the covert use of biological, chemical, and radioactive material systems and techniques for producing predictable human behavioral and/or physiological changes in support of highly sensitive operational requirements.
By March 1971 over 26,000 potential agents had been acquired for future screening. The CIA were interested in bird migration patterns for CBW research under MK/ULTRA where, a Subproject 139 designated "Bird Disease Studies" at Penn State.
CIA documents suggest they investigated "chemical, biological, and radiological" means for the purpose of mind control as part of MKUltra. They spent an estimated $10 million USD (roughly $87.5 million adjusted for inflation) or more.
Early CIA efforts focused on LSD-25, which later came to dominate many of MKUltra's programs. The CIA wanted to know if they could make Soviet spies defect against their will and whether the Soviets could do the same to the CIA's own operatives.
Once Project MKUltra got underway in April 1953, experiments included administering LSD to mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts, and prostitutes—"people who could not fight back," as one agency officer put it. In one case, they administered LSD to a mental patient in Kentucky for 174 days. They also administered LSD to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, and members of the general public to study their reactions. LSD and other drugs were often administered without the subject's knowledge or informed consent, a violation of the Nuremberg Code the U.S. had agreed to follow after World War II. The aim of this was to find drugs which would bring out deep confessions or wipe a subject's mind clean and program him or her as "a robot agent."
In Operation Midnight Climax, the CIA set up several brothels within agency safehouses in San Francisco, California 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 one-way mirrors, and the sessions were filmed for later viewing and study. In other experiments where people were given LSD without their knowledge, they were interrogated under bright lights with doctors in the background taking notes. They told subjects they would extend their "trips" if they refused to reveal their secrets. The people under this interrogation were CIA employees, U.S. military personnel, and agents suspected of working for the other side in the Cold War. Long-term debilitation and several deaths resulted from this. Heroin addicts were bribed into taking LSD with offers of more heroin.
The Office of Security used LSD in interrogations but Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the chemist who directed MKUltra, had other ideas; he thought it could be used in covert operations. Since its effects were temporary, he believed one could give it to high-ranking officials and in this way affect the course of important meetings, speeches etc. Since he realized there was a difference in testing the drug in a laboratory and using it in clandestine operations, he initiated a series of experiments where LSD was given to people in "normal" settings without warning. At first, everyone in Technical Services tried it; a typical experiment involved two people in a room where they observed each other for hours and took notes. As the experimentation progressed, a point arrived where outsiders were drugged with no explanation whatsoever and surprise acid trips became something of an occupational hazard among CIA operatives. Adverse reactions often occurred, such as an operative who received the drug in his morning coffee became psychotic and ran across Washington, seeing a monster in every car passing him. The experiments continued even after Dr. Frank Olson, an Army scientist who had not taken LSD before, went into deep depression after a surprise trip and later fell from a thirteenth story window.
Some subjects' participation was consensual, and in these cases they appeared to be singled out for even more extreme experiments. In one case, seven volunteers in Kentucky were given LSD for seventy-seven consecutive days.
MKUltra's researchers later dismissed LSD as too unpredictable in its results. They gave up on the notion LSD was "the secret that was going to unlock the universe," but it still had a place in the cloak-and-dagger arsenal. However, by 1962 the CIA and the army developed a series of superhallucinogens such as the highly touted BZ, which was thought to hold greater promise as a mind control weapon. This resulted in the withdrawal of support by many academics and private researchers, and LSD research became less of a priority altogether.
Another technique investigated was the intravenous administration of a barbiturate into one arm and an amphetamine 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 begin babbling incoherently, and it was sometimes possible to ask questions and get useful answers.
Declassified MKUltra documents indicate they studied hypnosis in the early 1950s. Experimental goals included: the creation of "hypnotically induced anxieties," "hypnotically increasing ability to learn and recall complex written matter," studying hypnosis and polygraph examinations, "hypnotically increasing ability to observe and recall complex arrangements of physical objects," and studying "relationship of personality to susceptibility to hypnosis." They conducted experiments with drug induced hypnosis and with anterograde and retrograde amnesia while under the influence of such drugs.
They exported experiments to Canada when the CIA recruited Scottish psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron, creator of the "psychic driving" concept, which the CIA found interesting. Cameron had been hoping to correct schizophrenia by erasing existing memories and reprogramming the psyche. He commuted from Albany, New York, to Montreal every week to work at the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University and was paid $69,000 from 1957 to 1964 ($603,580 in 2017 dollars) to carry MKUltra experiments there. These research funds were sent to Dr. Cameron by a CIA front organization, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, and as shown in internal CIA documents, Cameron did not know the money came from the CIA. In addition to LSD, Cameron also experimented with various paralytic drugs as well as electroconvulsive therapy at thirty to forty times the normal power. His "driving" experiments consisted of putting subjects into drug-induced comas for weeks at a time (up to three months in one case) while playing tape loops of noise or simple repetitive statements. His experiments were often carried on patients who entered the institute for minor problems such as anxiety disorders and postpartum depression, many of whom suffered permanent effects from his actions. His treatments resulted in victims' incontinence, amnesia, forgetting how to talk, forgetting their parents, and thinking their interrogators were their parents. His work was inspired and paralleled by the British psychiatrist William Sargant at St Thomas' Hospital, London, and Belmont Hospital, Surrey, who was also involved in the Intelligence Services and who experimented on his patients without their consent, causing similar long-term damage. In the 1980s, several of Cameron's former patients sued the CIA for damages, which the Canadian news program The Fifth Estate documented. Their experiences and lawsuit was made into a 1998 television miniseries called The Sleep Room.
During this era, Cameron became known worldwide as the first chairman of the World Psychiatric Association as well as president of the American and Canadian psychiatric associations. Cameron was also a member of the Nuremberg medical tribunal in 1946–47.
Naomi Klein argues in her book The Shock Doctrine Cameron's research and his contribution to the MKUltra project was not about mind control and brainwashing, but about designing "a scientifically based system for extracting information from 'resistant sources.' In other words, torture." Alfred W. McCoy writes "Stripped of its bizarre excesses, Dr. Cameron's experiments, building upon Donald O. Hebb's earlier breakthrough, laid the scientific foundation for the CIA's two-stage psychological torture method," which refers to first creating a state of disorientation in the subject, and then second creating a situation of "self-inflicted" discomfort in which the disoriented subject can alleviate their pain by capitulating.
In 1973, amid a government-wide panic caused by Watergate, CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed. Pursuant to this order, most CIA documents regarding the project were destroyed, making a full investigation of MKUltra impossible. A cache of some 20,000 documents survived Helms' purge, as they had been incorrectly stored in a financial records building and were discovered following a FOIA request in 1977. These documents were fully investigated during the Senate Hearings of 1977.
In December 1974, The New York Times alleged that the CIA had conducted illegal domestic activities, including experiments on U.S. citizens, during the 1960s. That report prompted investigations by the U.S. Congress, in the form of the Church Committee, and by a commission known as the Rockefeller Commission that looked into the illegal domestic activities of the CIA, the FBI, and intelligence-related agencies of the military.
In the summer of 1975, congressional Church Committee reports and the presidential Rockefeller Commission report revealed to the public for the first time that the CIA and the Department of Defense had conducted experiments on both unwitting and cognizant human subjects as part of an extensive program to find out how to influence and control human behavior through the use of psychoactive drugs such as LSD and mescaline and other chemical, biological, and psychological means. They also revealed that at least one subject, Frank Olson had died after administration of LSD. Much of what the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission learned about MKUltra was contained in a report, prepared by the Inspector General's office in 1963, that had survived the destruction of records ordered in 1973. However, it contained little detail. Sidney Gottlieb, who had retired from the CIA two years previously, was interviewed by the committee but claimed to have very little recollection of the activities of MKUltra.
The congressional committee investigating the CIA research, chaired by Senator Frank Church, concluded that "[p]rior consent was obviously not obtained from any of the subjects". The committee noted that the "experiments sponsored by these researchers [...] call into question the decision by the agencies not to fix guidelines for experiments."
Following the recommendations of the Church Committee, President Gerald Ford in 1976 issued the first Executive Order on Intelligence Activities which, among other things, prohibited "experimentation with drugs on human subjects, except with the informed consent, in writing and witnessed by a disinterested party, of each such human subject" and in accordance with the guidelines issued by the National Commission. Subsequent orders by Presidents Carter and Reagan expanded the directive to apply to any human experimentation.
In 1977, during a hearing held by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to look further into MKUltra, Admiral Stansfield Turner, then Director of Central Intelligence, revealed that the CIA had found a set of records, consisting of about 20,000 pages, that had survived the 1973 destruction orders because they had been incorrectly stored at a records center not usually used for such documents. These files dealt with the financing of MKUltra projects and contained few project details, but much more was learned from them than from the Inspector General's 1963 report.
On the Senate floor in 1977, Senator Ted Kennedy said:
The Deputy Director of the CIA revealed that over thirty universities and institutions were involved in an "extensive testing and experimentation" program which included covert drug tests on unwitting citizens "at all social levels, high and low, native Americans and foreign." Several of these tests involved the administration of LSD to "unwitting subjects in social situations."
At least one death, the result of the defenestration of Dr. Frank Olson, was attributed to Olson's being subjected, unaware, to such experimentation, nine days before his death. The CIA itself subsequently acknowledged that these tests had little scientific rationale. The agents conducting the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers.
In Canada, the issue took much longer to surface, becoming widely known in 1984 on a CBC news show, The Fifth Estate. It was learned that not only had the CIA funded Dr. Cameron's efforts, but also that the Canadian government was fully aware of this, and had later provided another $500,000 in funding to continue the experiments. This revelation largely derailed efforts by the victims to sue the CIA as their U.S. counterparts had, and the Canadian government eventually settled out of court for $100,000 to each of the 127 victims. Dr. Cameron died on September 8, 1967 after suffering a heart attack while he and his son were mountain climbing. None of Cameron's personal records of his involvement with MKUltra survived, since his family destroyed them after his death.
1984 U.S. General Accounting Office report
The U.S. General Accounting Office issued a report on September 28, 1984, which stated that between 1940 and 1974, DOD and other national security agencies studied thousands of human subjects in tests and experiments involving hazardous substances.
The quote from the study:
Working with the CIA, the Department of Defense gave hallucinogenic drugs to thousands of "volunteer" soldiers in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to LSD, the Army also tested quinuclidinyl benzilate, a hallucinogen code-named BZ. (Note 37) Many of these tests were conducted under the so-called MKULTRA program, established to counter perceived Soviet and Chinese advances in brainwashing techniques. Between 1953 and 1964, the program consisted of 149 projects involving drug testing and other studies on unwitting human subjects
Given the CIA's purposeful destruction of most records, its failure to follow informed consent protocols with thousands of participants, the uncontrolled nature of the experiments, and the lack of follow-up data, the full impact of MKUltra experiments, including deaths, may never be known.
Several known deaths have been associated with Project MKUltra, most notably that of Frank Olson. Olson, a United States Army biochemist and biological weapons researcher, was given LSD without his knowledge or consent in November, 1953, as part of a CIA experiment and committed suicide by jumping out of a window a week later. A CIA doctor assigned to monitor Olson claimed to have been asleep in another bed in a New York City hotel room when Olson exited the window and fell thirteen stories to his death. In 1953, Olson's death was described as a suicide that had occurred during a severe psychotic episode. The CIA's own internal investigation concluded that the head of MKUltra, CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb, had conducted the LSD experiment with Olson's prior knowledge, although neither Olson nor the other men taking part in the experiment were informed as to the exact nature of the drug until some 20 minutes after its ingestion. The report further suggested that Gottlieb was nonetheless due a reprimand, as he had failed to take into account Olson's already-diagnosed suicidal tendencies, which might have been exacerbated by the LSD.
The Olson family disputes the official version of events. They maintain that Frank Olson was murdered because, especially in the aftermath of his LSD experience, he had become a security risk who might divulge state secrets associated with highly classified CIA programs, about many of which he had direct personal knowledge. A few days before his death, Frank Olson quit his position as acting chief of the Special Operations Division at Detrick, Maryland (later Fort Detrick) because of a severe moral crisis concerning the nature of his biological weapons research. Among Olson's concerns were the development of assassination materials used by the CIA. The CIA's use of biological warfare materials in covert operations, experimentation with biological weapons in populated areas, collaboration with former Nazi scientists under Operation Paperclip, LSD mind-control research, and the use of psychoactive drugs during "terminal" interrogations under a program code-named Project ARTICHOKE. Later forensic evidence conflicted with the official version of events; when Olson's body was exhumed in 1994, cranial injuries indicated that Olson had been knocked unconscious before he exited the window. The medical examiner termed Olson's death a "homicide". In 1975, Olson's family received a $750,000 settlement from the U.S. government and formal apologies from President Gerald Ford and CIA Director William Colby, though their apologies were limited to informed consent issues concerning Olson's ingestion of LSD. On 28 November 2012, the Olson family filed suit against the U.S. federal government for the wrongful death of Frank Olson.
A 2010 book by H. P. Albarelli Jr. alleged that the 1951 Pont-Saint-Esprit mass poisoning was part of MKDELTA, that Olson was involved in that event, and that he was eventually murdered by the CIA. However, academic sources[by whom?] attribute the incident to ergot poisoning through a local bakery.
Legal issues involving informed consent
The revelations about the CIA and the Army prompted a number of subjects or their survivors to file lawsuits against the federal government for conducting experiments without informed consent. Although the government aggressively, and sometimes successfully, sought to avoid legal liability, several plaintiffs did receive compensation through court order, out-of-court settlement, or acts of Congress. Frank Olson's family received $750,000 by a special act of Congress, and both President Ford and CIA director William Colby met with Olson's family to apologize publicly.
Previously, the CIA and the Army had actively and successfully sought to withhold incriminating information, even as they secretly provided compensation to the families. One subject of Army drug experimentation, James Stanley, an Army sergeant, brought an important, albeit unsuccessful, suit. The government argued that Stanley was barred from suing under a legal doctrine—known as the Feres doctrine, after a 1950 Supreme Court case, Feres v. United States—that prohibits members of the Armed Forces from suing the government for any harms that were inflicted "incident to service."
In 1987, the Supreme Court affirmed this defense in a 5–4 decision that dismissed Stanley's case: United States v. Stanley. The majority argued that "a test for liability that depends on the extent to which particular suits would call into question military discipline and decision making would itself require judicial inquiry into, and hence intrusion upon, military matters." In dissent, Justice William Brennan argued that the need to preserve military discipline should not protect the government from liability and punishment for serious violations of constitutional rights:
The medical trials at Nuremberg in 1947 deeply impressed upon the world that experimentation with unknowing human subjects is morally and legally unacceptable. The United States Military Tribunal established the Nuremberg Code as a standard against which to judge German scientists who experimented with human subjects... . [I]n defiance of this principle, military intelligence officials ... began surreptitiously testing chemical and biological materials, including LSD.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing a separate dissent, stated:
No judicially crafted rule should insulate from liability the involuntary and unknowing human experimentation alleged to have occurred in this case. Indeed, as Justice Brennan observes, the United States played an instrumental role in the criminal prosecution of Nazi officials who experimented with human subjects during the Second World War, and the standards that the Nuremberg Military Tribunals developed to judge the behavior of the defendants stated that the 'voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential ... to satisfy moral, ethical, and legal concepts.' If this principle is violated, the very least that society can do is to see that the victims are compensated, as best they can be, by the perpetrators.
In another lawsuit, Wayne Ritchie, a former United States Marshal, after hearing about the project's existence in 1990, alleged the CIA laced his food or drink with LSD at a 1957 Christmas party which resulted in his attempting to commit a robbery at a bar and his subsequent arrest. While the government admitted it was, at that time, drugging people without their consent, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel found Ritchie could not prove he was one of the victims of MKUltra or that LSD caused his robbery attempt and dismissed the case in 2007.
- Harold Alexander Abramson
- Donald Ewen Cameron
- Sidney Gottlieb
- Harris Isbell
- Louis Jolyon West
- José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado
- 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.
- Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger volunteered for testing while in prison in Atlanta in 1957.
Conspiracy theories and claims
Lawrence Teeter, attorney for convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan, believed Sirhan was under the influence of hypnosis when he fired his weapon at Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Teeter linked the CIA's MKUltra program to mind control techniques that he claimed were used to control Sirhan.[not in citation given]
Conspiracy theorist Cathy O'Brien claims to have been subjected to the program since childhood. She names several prominent government participants in her book Trance Formation of America. American fashion model and radio host Candy Jones also claimed to have been a victim of mind control in the 1960s.
Although the CIA insists that MKUltra-type experiments have been abandoned, some CIA observers say there is little reason to believe it does not continue today under a different set of acronyms. Victor Marchetti, author and 14-year CIA veteran, stated in various interviews that the CIA routinely conducted disinformation campaigns and that CIA mind control research continued. In a 1977 interview, Marchetti specifically called the CIA claim that MKUltra was abandoned a "cover story." Author John D. Marks wrote an award-winning book published in 1979 titled The Search for the Manchurian Candidate disputing CIA Chief Stansfield Turner's assurances that mind control programs have been phased out, indicating that the work went on into the 1970s.
In popular culture
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- Mr. Right (the 2015 US film) Hopper (portrayed by Tim Roth) mentions the CIA ULTRA program (at 27 minutes 15 seconds) as part of the foundation to the main character's motives and backstory.
- The Killing Room invokes Project MKULTRA as the foundation to the base plot.
- The Banshee Chapter is largely based around MKULTRA.
- Jacob's Ladder alludes to Project MKULTRA throughout the movie.
- The 1997 film Conspiracy Theory Project MKULTRA is referred to by Dr. Jonas (Patrick Stewart) who says he headed the project. Also, the protagonist, Jerry (Mel Gibson) is reported by Dr. Jonas to be a test subject of Project MKULTRA.
- In American Ultra (2015), Jesse Eisenberg plays a stoner slacker who discovers he is the sole survivor of the "Ultra" program.
- The Jason Bourne books and films starring Matt Damon, written by Robert Ludlum, are all based on MKULTRA techniques.
- The film The Men Who Stare At Goats is based on the MKULTRA experiments. It is based on a book by Jon Ronson and its accompanying TV series.
- 2006 movie The Shadow Man starring Steven Seagal has a plot that revolves around MKUltra.
- Marvin Boggs (played by John Malkovich) in the films RED (2010) and RED 2 (2013) had unknowingly been provided daily doses of LSD over a period of 11 years, making him highly paranoid, echoing the actions of MKULTRA.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (the 2014 US film) Sebastian Stan portrays Bucky Barnes who is subjected to MKUltra-like mind control experiments by the Nazis and Soviets AKA "Hydra" to turn him into the ultimate assassin, "The Winter Soldier".
- The 1998 CBC miniseries The Sleep Room dramatizes brainwashing experiments funded by MKUltra that were performed on Canadian mental patients in the 1950s and 60's, and their subsequent efforts to sue the CIA.
- BYUtv's drama Granite Flats is a fictional dramatization of the implementation of MKUltra by a military hospital in Colorado.
- In season 2, episode 19 of Bones, "Spaceman in a Crater", Jack Hodgins mentions that Frank Olson was an unwitting participant and committed suicide, but that an exhumation 45 years later proved he was murdered.
- In an episode of ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "The Things We Bury", one of the characters makes a reference to MKUltra.
- In season 2, episode 5 of Fringe, "Dream Logic", Walter Bishop briefly mentions his involvement with MKUltra.
- In season 6, episode 7 of Archer, "Nellis", Archer briefly mentions MKUltra while bluffing his way into Area 51; in season 7, episode 8, "Liquid Lunch", the program is explained to Archer's colleagues.
- In episode "Via Negativa" from the eighth season of The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen mention MKUltra while discussing a case with Agent Doggett.
- In The X-Files third-season episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space", Jose Chung mentions the experiments as an example of the powerful effect "mere words" can have over the human mind.
- In Alphas, events imply that the Alphas program had its starts in the MKUltra program, and Dr. Rosen has access to certain files from the MKUltra project.
- In season 3, episode 10 of NUMB3RS, Don Eppes investigates the assassinations of a Senator and a Psychiatrist with links to MKUltra.
- In the fourth episode of Season 2 of The Blacklist, Cooper mentions Project MKUltra while talking to Elizabeth Keen. The entire episode is based on the premise of using genetic predisposition to make someone commit an act that they most likely would not have done in the first place.
- In season 1 of Stranger Things, the antagonist Dr. Martin Brenner is discovered to have been involved in MKUltra. One of the young protagonists, Eleven, was raised in a government laboratory after being born to an MKUltra test subject.
- In Season 5, Episode 10 of The West Wing, the White House press secretary is questioned by a reporter about mind control, leading her to investigate MKUltra and the budgetary allocations of DARPA for the project.
- Netflix original series Manhunt: Unabomber portrays the psychological torture of 16-year old-Harvard student Theodore Kaczynski by MKUltra researchers. Kaczynski was the perpetrator of serial bombings over a 17-year period and became known as the Unabomber.
- The 2017 Netflix documentary re-enactment mini-series Wormwood tells the story of Frank Olson and MKUltra through the eyes of his son, Eric.
- The song, "MK Ultra", by British band Muse makes direct reference to this project in the title and uses lyrics to convey the effects of the project directly on a subject.
- Lyrics of "Look... The Sun is Rising", the opening track to The Flaming Lips' 2013 album The Terror, narrate "a little spaceship" as a mechanism for MKUltra mind control.
- The song, "The 4th Branch" by rapper Immortal Technique from his album Revolutionary Volume 2, compares modern media to MKUltra, "controlling your brain".
- The songs, "US Government" and "MK Ultra" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club make direct reference to the project, as well as more oblique references in the lyrics.
- The Providence, Rhode Island-based hardcore punk band Violent Sons named a song "MK Ultra" on their 2013 full-length, Nothing as It Seems.
- The song, "MK Ultra", by progressive metal band Periphery makes direct reference to the project in the title and speaks of the abuse children received from the CIA during the experiments.
- Olympia-based band Unwound recorded a song named "Mkultra" on both theA Single History: 1991–1997 and Rat Conspiracy compilations.
- The song "They. Resurrect. Over. New." by rapper Lupe Fiasco from his 2015 album Tetsuo & Youth mentions MKUltra.
- The album Chemistry of Consciousness by heavy metal band Toxic Holocaust contains several references to the experiments, including a song titled "Mkultra".
- On metal band Arsonists Get All the Girls' 2013 album, Listen to the Color, a song references the program through title and lyrics called "MK-ULTRA: Psychotropic Puppets". Another song of the album is titled "MK-DELTA: Glorified Killers".
- The Stephen King book Firestarter is based on a fictionalized version of the MK Ultra experiments, and the protagonists all acquire powers as a result of the experimentation.
- The horror game Outlast makes several major references to MK Ultra and implies that the experiments on the asylum inmates in the game are either a part of or associated with the program.
- Project MKUltra is mentioned in Call Of Duty: Black Ops as the Soviet Union's attempt to turn protagonist Alex Mason into a Soviet sleeper agent with orders to assassinate President Kennedy. Mason's handler, CIA agent Jason Hudson, even mentions it when telling Mason he had been brainwashed by the Soviets.
- The manga Lost+Brain mentions MKUltra when speaking about using hypnosis to control the country.
- Science Fiction/Fantasy novel Omens by Kelley Armstrong uses MKUltra as a driving portion of its plot.
- The game Manhunt 2 is based around "The Pickman Project" which has several similarities to MKUltra and it is likely it was directly inspired by it.
- A cannabis strain called MKUltra has been developed by T.H.Seeds of Amsterdam.
- Project MKUltra is mentioned in the 2016 video game Mafia III. It is mentioned by one of the characters, an ex-CIA agent John Donovan.
- In the broadway musical under the title of "We Will Rock You" MK Ultra is referred to as the Bohemians are brainwashed and experimented on to become vegetables.
- The online, anonymously-written science fiction and horror story 9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9 borrows from and refers to the MKUltra project directly.
- The fictitious video game known as Polybius had spread around as an urban myth in 1981. Many of the key points of Polybius allude to government control testing and other "men in black" type figures, suggesting Polybius took inspiration from project MKUltra at the time of its creation.
- Human experimentation in North Korea
- Human radiation experiments
- Human rights violations by the CIA
- Nazi human experimentation
- Poison laboratory of the Soviet secret services
- Unethical human experimentation in the United States
- Unit 731
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Several prominent medical research institutions and Government hospitals in the United States and Canada were involved in a secret, 25-year, $25-million effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to learn how to control the human mind. ... Dr. Harris Isbell, who conducted the research between 1952 and 1963, kept up a secret correspondence with the C.I.A.
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- Church Committee; p. 391 "A special procedure, designated MKDELTA, was established to govern the use of MKUltra materials abroad. Such materials were used on a number of occasions."
- Church Committee; "The congressional committee investigating the CIA research, chaired by Senator Frank Church, concluded that '[p]rior consent was obviously not obtained from any of the subjects.'"
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to MKUltra.|
- Entire Four (4) CD-ROM set of CIA / MKUltra Declassified documents released by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), image format, The Black Vault
- MKUltra Declassified documents, PDF format
- U.S. Supreme Court, CIA v. Sims, 471 U.S. 159 (1985) 471 U.S. 159, Findlaw
- U.S. Supreme Court, United States v. Stanley, 483 U.S. 669 (1987) 483 U.S. 669, Findlaw
- Mind Control and MKULTRA by Richard G. Gall
- The Most Dangerous Game Downloadable 8 minute documentary by independent filmmakers GNN
- Results of the 1973 Church Committee Hearings, on CIA misdeeds, and the 1984 Iran/Contra Hearings
- XXVII. Testing and Use of Chemical and Biological Agents by the Intelligence Community
- List of MKULTRA Unclassified Documents including subprojects