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Project MKUltra: CIA’s Cold War Conspiracy to Secretly Control Human Mind Goes Wrong

BY Venkat Pulapaka April 28, 2019
Project MKUltra

Memorandum for the record of Project MKUltra. (Wikimedia Commons)

On April 13 of 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States took up an experiment named Project MKUltra with the help of 150 civilian Americans. 

As part of Project MKUltra, the CIA is said to have used certain substances on these civilians to study the impact on their mind. The project, therefore, is known as a mind control programme, according to Brionne Frazier of the website www.thoughtco.com.

The project had no executive sanction and as such, it was clandestine and hence illegal. In fact, the executive had no knowledge of the project until after 20 years. Experiments under Project MKUltra began in 1953 and ended in 1973.

Torture and interrogations

Designed and executed by the CIA’s Scientific Intelligence Division, the experiments on civilians were to identify and create drugs for use in torture and interrogations. The idea was to weaken an individual’s mind and extract confessions from him.

The SID coordinated with the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps’s Special Operations Division in the highly controversial mind control programme.

Lysergic acid diethylamide, known as LSD, is a hallucinogenic drug. Swiss scientist named Albert Hofmann was the first to synthesize the drug in the 1930s. 

Cold War

The CIA got interested in the drug during the Cold War and it used LSD and other drugs in secret experiments as part of its mind control programme. Before that, small doses of LSD were being used for medicinal purposes.

According to a book titled ‘The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History’, the CIA took up Project MKUltra during the Cold War period. The reason: the US government was afraid of the North Koreans, Soviets and Chinese. The book’s author Monica Kim believes these three nations used mind control tests to brainwash American PoWs in North Korea.

CIA director Allen Dulles

In his desire to retaliate against the North Korean experiments, the then CIA Director Allen Dulles sanctioned funds for Project MKUltra. He wanted to use this covert operation to find new mind control techniques for use against the Soviet bloc. He wanted to control the behaviour of these enemies with the help of drugs and other mind manipulators.

Allen took over as the CIA chief on April 10, 1953, i.e. just days before the launch of Project MKUltra. At that time global tensions were high. Commenting on the state of mind of the GIs returning after the Korean War, the Soviets had played a sinister battle over men’s minds. He said this was a new form of Soviet’s brain warfare. Obviously, his words terrified the American people.

Conspiracy theories

The CIA is plagued with conspiracy theories. While some may be true, most are nothing but wild speculations. Perhaps, Project MKUltra could possibly be an ethically true conspiracy theory. According to Scotty Hendricks of www.bigthink.com, the CIA project had violated the Nuremberg codes and therefore it was illegal. 

As part of Project MKUltra experiments, CIA MKUltra manipulated several civilians’ mental state. They used the drugs and chemicals to hypnotise the subjects and deprive them of their sensory perceptions. They even experimented in isolating the subjects and abuse them both verbally and sexually. 

Various other forms of torture were also used.

The scale of Project MKUltra experiments

CIA did not concentrate its Project MKUltra experiments in one place. The experiments were across 80 institutions, including 44 universities and colleges. Some of the other institutions were the experiments took place include pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and prisons. 

The CIA used these institutions as front organisations. As the experiments were done in secrecy, not many people knew that the CIA was behind them. Only a handful of top officials at these organisations knew of the agency’s role. 

In the name of Project MKUltra, the CIA extended funds to universities like Columbia, Stanford and others to study the effects of the drugs. After some tests were done, researchers found that the drugs in question were highly unpredictable and cannot be used in counterintelligence activities. 

These researchers used drugs like ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, mescaline, barbiturates, psilocybin and methamphetamine.

Operation Midnight Climax

In addition to experiments in universities and colleges, the CIA tried to lure gullible men safe drug houses with the help of prostitutes. They were then subjected to drug experiments under the now infamous Operation Midnight Climax.

These unsuspecting men were administered LSD in cocktails under a party-like atmosphere. CIA then secretly recorded changes in these men’s behaviour. These gullible men were mostly from cities like New York City, California, Marin County and San Francisco. 

Almost all the Project MKUltra experiments were the direction of Sidney Gottlieb, CIA’s expert on chemicals, drugs and poison. Sidney was sure that CIA will succeed in finding the right drug that could alter any mind for the purpose of brain controlling.


However, Sidney slammed the experiments as “useless”. He felt the experiments had failed to produce satisfactory results. 

Interestingly, CIA agents experimented with drugging one another at work or at weekend retreats. According to Libby Coleman’s article in www.ozy.com, such CIA LSD trips turned into workplace hazard. They even took the life of at least one person and it was considered as a suicide. 

Also, there were some who volunteered for the Project MKUltra experiments. One of them was an author named Ken Kesey. He was a Stanford University student at that time. He later shared his experiences in his book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

There was also speculation that a person known as Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski) was part of the experiments at Harvard University.


By and large, the Project MKUltra experiments were termed by some as counter-productive. One world famous personality who slammed the CIA experiments was John Lennon. In an interview, John mocked the CIA saying that people forget to thank the agency and the army for introducing LSD to Americans.

He further said, to control people the two organisations invented LSD.

In 1963, a member of CIA’s Inspector General’s staff, John Vance, chanced upon Project MKUltra. Following which the independent audit board of the agency insisted CIA should follow new research ethics guidelines.

Congress investigated Project MKUltra

Then in 1977, Senator Edward Kennedy ensured that the Congress investigated Project MKUltra. Congress interrogated ex-CIA employees on the LSD experiments. The investigation revealed several disturbing facts, including the 1953 suicide of Dr Frank Olson.

Dr Olson was a US Army scientist. He jumped out of a window after consuming LSD. However, during the hearings, the US Congress faced roadblocks. One major problem was the destruction of all key Project MKUltra files except for some.

The surviving 20,000 pages of documents survived as they were misfiled. 

Then under the guidance of the Congress, a Church Committee examined the surviving documents. Following which, successive US Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan ordered the banning of all future experiments

Project violated the Nuremberg codes

Project MKUltra clearly violated the Nuremberg codes. And the real extent of psychological damage is still impossible to ascertain. 

It is interesting to note that there are two Netflix series titled ‘Wormwood’ and ‘Stranger Things’ that deal with issues related to Project MKUltra and other secret CIA programmes. 

Project MKUltra is thus a serious thought of what science can do if given a free hand.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “Unit 731: Gruesome Human-Experimentation To Test Biological And Chemical Warfare In Japan During WWII“.

Fact Analysis:
STSTW Media strives to deliver accurate information through careful research. However, things can go wrong. If you find the above article inaccurate or biased, please let us know at [email protected].


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