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 1960s assassination attempts and mind-control program, known as Project MKUltra.[1]

Sidney Gottlieb
Born(1918-08-03)August 3, 1918
New York City, U.S.
DiedMarch 7, 1999(1999-03-07) (aged 80)
Washington, Virginia
EducationArkansas Tech University

University of Wisconsin

California Institute of Technology
OrganizationCentral Intelligence Agency
Known forProject MK-Ultra Poison Development
Spouse(s)Margaret Moore
Parent(s)Fanny Gottlieb Louis Gottlieb


Early years and education[edit]

Gottlieb, the son of Hungarian Jewish immigrant parents, was born in the Bronx in 1918. He attended the City College of New York and Arkansas Tech University before receiving his undergraduate degree in chemistry magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1940. He subsequently received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. A stutterer since childhood, Gottlieb earned a master's degree in speech therapy from San Jose State University after retiring from the CIA. He had a club foot, which kept him out of service in World War II but did not prevent his pursuit of folk dancing, a lifelong passion.[2]

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."[3] 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 hallucinogenic 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 nonconsensual human experiments[4] he has also been named as the person who gave Army bacteriologist Frank Olson LSD, leading to Olson's death.

Gottlieb approved Project MKULTRA's "Subproject 8" on LSD in this June 9, 1953 memo. (Redactions obscure much of the context.)

Gottlieb was the liaison to the military subcontractor Lockheed, then working for the CIA on Project AQUATONE, which would later be known as the U-2 spy plane. In 1953 he procured a safe house for the Lockheed Aeronautics Services Division (LASD) with an easy and exclusive egress.[citation needed]

By 1955 Project MKUltra had grown so large that more government funding was needed. At this point subproject 27 (basic research of LSD) was merely a funding subproject that combined all previous subprojects, including those involving LSD (payment to Sandoz Pharmaceuticals), magic and John Mulholland's The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception (subproject 15 magic support, Mulholland Supplement), and the procurement of more LSD (subproject 18), but it continued on to include almost 150 known and documented subprojects, including a microwave gun and the search for alternatives to LSD, which led to later programs like Project MKCHICKWIT, most of which focused on South America.[citation needed]

In addition to working with subcontractors like Lockheed, the CIA also worked with other branches of the government, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense and the Office of Naval Intelligence, though it is unclear what role 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. [5] 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.[6][7] He transported these "toxic biological materials" to Larry Devlin, the CIA station chief in the Congo, and although Devlin declined the assignment, a military coup soon overthrew and killed Lumumba.[8] Gottlieb also wanted Iraqi General Abdul Karim Qassim's handkerchief to be contaminated with botulinum.[9]

Final years[edit]

Gottlieb retired from the CIA in 1972, saying that he did not believe his work had been effective. 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 peace and environmentalism.[10] He and his wife spent 18 months running a leper hospital in India. He had two sons and two daughters.[2]

On October 7, 1975, Gottlieb testified before the Church Committee under the alias "Joseph Scheider".[11]

On March 7, 1999, Gottlieb died at his home in Washington, Virginia.[12] He was reported to have a history of heart problems,[12] but his wife declined to give the cause of death.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weinberger, Sharon (10 September 2019). "When the C.I.A. Was Into Mind Control". New York Times. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  2. ^ a b Rupert Cornwell, "Obituary: Sidney Gottlieb", The Independent, March 16, 1999
  3. ^ Hollington, Kris (2013). "Chapter Four: The Black Sorcerer". Wolves, Jackals, and Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-1429986809. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  4. ^ Weinstein, Harvey (October 1, 1990). Psychiatry and the CIA: Victims of Mind Control. Amer Psychiatric Pub Inc. ISBN 978-0880483636.
  5. ^ Hollington, Kris (2013). "Chapter Four: The Black Sorcerer". Wolves, Jackals, and Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1429986809. Retrieved July 28, 2016.
  6. ^ Coll, Steve. "Remote Control: Our Drone Delusion", The New Yorker, May 6, 2013. Retrieved on May 6, 2013.
  7. ^ Weiner, Tim (2007), Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Doubleday, pg 163.
  8. ^ Senate Church Committee on Lumumba
  9. ^ "The CIA's House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb". CounterPunch. 2017-11-17. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  10. ^ Ignatieff, Michael (April 1, 2001). "What did the C.I.A. do to Eric Olson's father?". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  11. ^ Kinzer, Stephen (2019). Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
  12. ^ a b Barnes, Bart (March 11, 1999). "CIA Official Sidney Gottlieb, 80, Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  13. ^ Weiner, Tim (March 10, 1999). "Sidney Gottlieb, 80, Dies; Took LSD to C.I.A." The New York Times. Retrieved August 15, 2015.

Further reading[edit]