LSD has long been a staple of overweight, furry men with ponytails who list their occupation as 'Earth Shaman' on tax forms. The CIA is more typically known for their starched suits than their mind exploring orgies. So if we told you that the CIA was trippin' balls before Hunter S. Thompson even knew that balls existed, you'd probably call us liars. Well, prepare to have your mind, like, blown man. Here are the five strangest things you didn't know about the CIA, and how LSD really came to be.
It all started in the early 1950s, when a double agent named Jozef Cardinal Mindszenty was tried for treason in Russia. During the trial, American agents happened to notice that Josef was, to put it modestly, high as a fucking kite. Rather than just chalking it up to Jozef being the spy version of that kid who got high before high school, the US agents figured pretty quickly that he had been doped into testifying by the Russians. Fearing a "larger scale drug attack" (like some sort of like, weed...bazooka, man?) the CIA launched an extensive, decades long research program focused on LSD. The chief goal? Fucking mind control. No really, here's an actual line taken from an interdepartmental memo revealed to Congress:
"Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self preservation?"
Rough translation: "Can we get someone so high that they'll kill themselves if we ask nicely enough?"
Christ! That statement is so ominous it had to be written with one hand while the other ominously stroked a white cat. This program, named Project MK-ULTRA, (which sounds more like something Godzilla would fight than a top-secret government initiative) was an umbrella program, meaning it encompassed a number of sub-projects, most of them seemingly conceived by a Hollywood screenwriter. One experiment involved trying to drug CIA agents with enough LSD to completely wipe their memories upon retirement, thus erasing all traces of potentially classified knowledge--hey, just like Men in Black! Just slightly less "jiggy" and a tad more "suicidally delirious."
"Ha ha! Cha cha! Na na! Givin' you psychoses, Big Willy style!"
Of course, it wasn't all supervillainy and mad science; the CIA had a sense of humor, too... as plainly evidenced by the 60s field agent's favorite wacky prank: Secretly dosing each other with LSD. At one point the practice was so prevalent that the CIA even hired stage magicians to train agents in sleight of hand techniques for use in their mickey-slipping.
"Okay, Frank. Are you absolutely, completely, 100 percent positive you didn't dose my coffee this morning? 'Cause I'm pretty sure just I took an offramp into the Metaverse here. I'm just sayin'..."
So at one point, there was a Master Magician in charge of drugging employed to the CIA. Sure, it's a little terrifying to consider that the severe young government operative holding a gun to your head probably thinks you have a cow-face, and is detaining you for trying to disentangle his soul with your negative energy. But you have to admit - "CIA Drug Magician" is a pretty sweet job title.
But you know what an even sweeter job title is?
Official CIA Drugwhore.
That was a real position (probably several, actually). Another iteration of project MK-ULTRA involved hiring prostitutes to pick up johns and return them to a CIA safe house where, without their knowledge, they would then be dosed with large amounts of LSD so that operatives could observe and record their reactions from behind one-way mirrors. This project was dubbed Operation Midnight Climax... presumably so that they wouldn't have to rebrand it as black market porno if the research didn't turn out. There were several of these CIA-run brothels--in San Francisco, Marin, New York--and at various times they had dozens of whores on government payroll. Though sadly, all free government issue drug and whorehouses were closed by the mid-60s, the research obtained there was invaluable in calculating exactly how long a man can keep a boner while being attacked by carnivorous winged mushrooms.
"Did you finish your drink, baby? Do you want to fuck me now? Do you still want to be inside of me, Larry?"
Oh, and in case you think the CIA was being at all responsible with their unfettered access to acid, whores and one-way mirrors, allow George White; the man in charge of the entire project, to describe his career, in his own words, as taken from this memo sent to his superior at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics:
"I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape, and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?"
And that is officially the scariest violence-fueled drug rant ever. He sounds like Hunter S. Thompson crossed with Conan the Barbarian. Surely he's... joking or something, right? Let's double-check this with an outside source like, say a fellow agent in Operation Midnight Climax, one Lt. Ira Feldman:
"White was a son of a bitch, but he was a great cop. He made that fruitcake Hoover look like Nancy Drew. The LSD, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Write this down. Espionage. Assassinations. Dirty tricks. Drug experiments. Sexual encounters and the study of prostitutes for clandestine use. That's what I was doing when I worked for George White and the CIA."
So... there you go. Operation Midnight Climax is not only verifiable, but apparently there was a man in charge of a massive, top-secret government initiative who was equal parts Jerry Garcia and Dirty Harry.
This is all starting to sound like the plot to an Orwellian science fiction movie isn't it? Evil government forces using sexuality, drugs and mad science to erase the minds and personalities of innocent civilians--you throw some Nazis in there and you've got a Michael Bay movie on your hands.
Oh wait... that actually happened!
The precursor to project MK-ULTRA, the innocuously named Operation Paperclip, began in 1945 when the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency started actively recruiting former Nazi scientists into their burgeoning research programs. Several of these scientists had actually first been identified as Nazis when they were actively prosecuted as war criminals in the Nuremberg trials! Of course, then President Truman wasn't going to have any dirty Ratzies on his payroll and explicitly ordered that anybody officially found to have been a member of the Nazi party could not participate in Operation Paperclip. And the armed forces were totally cool with that!
"Don't worry, sir, we'll technically obey your every word! Why am I stressing the word 'technically'? Was, I? Why, no reason..."
So they promptly erased the criminal and military records of the aforementioned mad Nazi scientist war criminals, instantly clearing them of all charges. Bam! No problems here.
Nazi scientists use civilians in twisted experiments to further their efforts to wipe out an entire race, and they get an all clear and a new job? And yet we at Cracked ride one little elephant naked through a middle school and all of a sudden we have to inform our neighbors when we move to a new town...
Listen, we're pretty forgiving people here at Cracked. We don't like to hold grudges. We like to give the benefit of the doubt to anybody--even those sexy ladies on the corner of 24th and Lexington that all our friends swear are actually dudes--we still give them rides in exchange for favors. We like to believe in people; that's all. So the U.S. Government hired Nazi war criminals to spearhead a worldwide campaign of uninformed, non-consensual drugging using their elite army of magicians and whores... so what?
Forgiveness is a virtue given unto man by God himself.
But some things cannot be forgiven. Some things are so dark, so brutal and so irredeemable that even the kindliest priest would roundhouse kick you right of the confessional if he heard you admit to them. And there's one thing that the CIA did with Project MK-ULTRA that cannot ever be forgiven.
They invented hippies.
Your tax dollars hard at work.
Author Ken Kesey, widely credited with kickstarting the entire hippy movement in the early 60s, was himself a subject of MK-ULTRA's experiments. It was unknown to Kesey at the time exactly what the experiments were for, or by whom--as it's doubtful he would've been quite as stoked to join up if he'd known the government was attempting to erase his personality using Nazi science--but his participation in the MK-ULTRA drug studies was what eventually led him to start the Merry Pranksters, who first widely advocated the "mind-expanding" properties of LSD and eventually gave rise to the modern hippy. Kesey himself, of course, was a genius and a visionary, but regardless of his intentions, his actions are directly responsible for that patchouli-soaked, white-guy-bedreadlocked Birkenstock monster you can find strumming its guitar outside the public libraries of every major city on earth. Kesey began this, and the CIA began him.
So, in summation: The CIA, with a little help from the Nazis, accidentally helped invent hippies while they were trying to figure out how to brainwash communists.
Pour that on your granola and eat it, you zombie pinko bastards!
Find more from Robert on Twitter, Facebook or his own site, I Fight Robots, where you can, to quote Quato, "open your miiiiind."