Operation Midnight Climax

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Operation Midnight Climax was an operation carried out by the CIA as a sub-project of Project MKUltra, the mind-control research program that began in the 1950s. It was initially established in 1954 by Sidney Gottlieb and placed under the direction of the Federal Narcotics Bureau in Boston, Massachusetts with the officer George Hunter White under the pseudonym of Morgan Hall.[1] Hundreds of federal agents, field operatives, and scientists worked on these programs before they were shut down in the 1960s.


The project that started in 1954 consisted of a web of CIA-run safehouses in San Francisco and Mill Valley, California, as well as New York City.[2] It was established in order to study the effects of LSD on unconsenting individuals. Prostitutes on the CIA payroll were instructed to lure clients back to the safehouses, where they were surreptitiously plied with a wide range of substances, including LSD, and monitored behind one-way glass. The prostitutes were instructed in the use of post-coital questioning to investigate whether the victims could be convinced to involuntarily reveal secrets. The victims were sometimes fed subliminal messages in attempts to induce them to involuntary actions, including criminal activity such as robbery, assault, and assassination. Many of the CIA operatives involved in the experiments voluntarily indulged in the drugs and prostitutes for recreational purposes.[2]

Every one of these acts was blatantly illegal and several significant operational techniques were developed in this theater, including extensive research into sexual blackmail, surveillance technology and the possible use of mind-altering drugs in field operations.[3] The Operation Midnight Climax program was soon expanded, and CIA operatives began dosing people in restaurants, bars and beaches.[3] The extent to which this widespread exposure of the public to mind-altering drugs contributed to the rise of the counter-culture movement in the late 1950s and 1960s is unknown, although Ken Kesey has attributed his role in the genesis of the influential San Francisco Bay Area psychedelic social scene that developed in the 1960s to his participation in Project MKUltra LSD experiments at the Menlo Park, California, VA Hospital. The safehouses were dramatically scaled back in 1963, following a report by CIA Inspector General John Earman which strongly recommended closing the facility. The San Francisco safehouses were closed in 1965, and the New York City safehouse soon followed in 1966.[citation needed]

In 1974, the journalist Seymour Hersh exposed the CIA's illegal spying on U.S. citizens and how the CIA had conducted non-consensual drug experiments. His report started the lengthy process of bringing long-suppressed details about MKUltra to light.[3] Project MKUltra came to light in the spring of 1977 during a wide-ranging survey of the CIA's Technical Services Division. John K. Vance, a member of the CIA inspector general's staff, discovered that the agency was running a research project that included administering LSD and other drugs to unwilling human subjects.[4]

The operation inspired Neal Bell's 1981 play Operation Midnight Climax.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ornes, Stephen (4 August 2008). "Whatever Happened to... Mind Control?". Discover. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b Kinzer, Stephen (2019). Poisoner in Chief; Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control. New York: Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 9781250140432. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Kamiya, Gary (1 April 2016). "When the CIA Ran a LSD Sex-house in San Francisco". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  4. ^ Holley, Joe (16 June 2005). "John K. Vance; Uncovered LSD Project at CIA". Obituaries. The Washington Post. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  5. ^ Gussow, Mel (November 28, 1981). "Stage: 'Operation Midnight Climax'". The New York Times.

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