MK Ultra.

I first heard about MK Ultra when listening to a Joe Rogan podcast a couple of years back, and immediately threw it in my cognitive wastepaper basket as being yet another fringe conspiracy theory.
Into the loony bin with you.

But it turns out this improbable and implausible story is totally true. And it all gets pretty knock-kneed, bat-shit, scary-crazy as you dig deeper into it.

MK-Ultra ran for 20 years from 1953 until 1973.
It was a secret program run by the CIA designed to assess the usefulness of psychoactive drugs such as LSD, psilocybin and MDMA in manipulating subjects behaviours (such as getting Soviet spies to defect against their will) and cognitive functioning (could it be used to make people perform acts against their free will? Could it be used to make their own agents give up secrets?).

In fact the CIA attempted to purchase the entire world supply of LSD (which was not illegal at that time) to use in experimentation during the program. Also explored was the use of electro shocks, verbal & sexual abuse, and other forms of torture to achieve the same goals.
Yup. I know.

“Why do we love the idea that people might be secretly working together to control and organise the world? Because we don’t like to face the fact that our world runs on a combination of chaos, incompetence and confusion.”

― Jonathan Cainer

Although conducted in secrecy (with most of its records and files being destroyed in 1973) the program was brought to public attention in 1975 during the Rockefeller Commission. Eventually, via freedom of information requests, government investigations and declassification, a picture of the programs activities emerged. It included:

  • Administering LSD to mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes without their consent or knowledge.
  • Employing prostitutes and setting up brothels equiped with one way mirrors allowing filming and study of customers who were unknowingly given LSD (an operation given the name Midnight Climax).
  • Widespread use of LSD (both knowingly and unknowingly) amongst some CIA staff themselves.
  • Interrogation of CIA employees and military personnel as well as the general public. And by interrogation one might surmise the use of ‘forms of torture’ as mentioned above.
  • The suicide (or murder) of Frank Olson, an army biochemist and biological weapons researcher who died following a fall from the 13th story of a New York hotel after being administered LSD without his knowledge nine days prior.
  • Prolonged administration of LSD to individuals for up to 77 consecutive days.

The activities of MK-ultra were widespread. It is estimated the number of subjects numbered in the thousands. It included experimentation both with and without consent on the following individuals:

  • Allen Ginsberg (poet and writer)
  • Ken Kesey (author of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’)
  • James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (mobster). Dosed with LSD more than 50 times in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.
  • Harold Blauer (professional tennis player). Allegedly given mescaline derivative during and admission to a mental health facility. He died less than a month later. The US government finally admitted culpability after the family sued them.
  • Wayne Ritchie (Deputy US marshal) was unknowingly given LSD whilst at at party in 1957. That evening he armed himself with his service revolver and tried to get the money for a plane ticket by robbing a bar.

So in this case at least, the conspiracy theory was true. I find it incredibly disturbing that such widespread disregard for informed consent, let alone basic respect for innocent human life was in evidence at the CIA for 20 years!
With so much of the records and documentation destroyed who knows what other activities took place over this time.

I can see how it is people begin to slide down the slippery slope into more wild conspiracy theories when stuff like this actually takes place.

A quick google search will take you down your very own MK Ultra rabbit hole, but here is a short film that covers most of the generally-agreed-as-true aspects of this program.

Photo credit: Goashape


  1. New York Times copy of select committee on intelligence report on MK-Ultra 1977 (pdf)
  2. Wikipedia article: MK-Ultra
  3. Listverse: 10 Real Victims Of The CIA’s MK-ULTRA Program

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