Chemical Concussions and Secret LSD: Pentagon Details Cold War Mind-Control Tests
More than 30 years after it was written, the Pentagon has released a memorandum detailing its involvement in the CIA’s infamous Cold War mind-control experiments.
But a warning to conspiracy theorists on the lookout for new fodder: This isn’t quite Men Who Stare at Goats II.
The 17-page document (.pdf), “Experimentation Programs conducted by the Department of Defense That Had CIA Sponsorship or Participation and That Involved the Administration to Human Subjects of Drugs Intended for Mind-Control or Behavior-Modification Purposes,” was prepared in 1977 by the General Counsel of the Department of Defense and released on May 6 after a Freedom of Information Act request.
Most of the details have been revealed in earlier CIA papers. And if anything, the Pentagon’s recap is a reminder of how little the Department of Defense cops to knowing about the CIA projects.
Still, there are some tantalizing new details. Take the origins of MK-ULTRA, the notorious CIA program that dosed thousands of unwitting participants with hallucinogenic drugs.
Initially funded by the Navy, the project set out to study the effects of brain concussion. Soon after, scientists noted that a blow to the head prompted amnesia, leading to the pursuit of a drug-based technique to “induce brain concussion … without physical trauma.” Shortly thereafter, the project was transferred entirely to the CIA, because it involved “human experiments … not easily justifiable on medical-therapeutic grounds.”
Other programs, described briefly focused on mind control. MK-NAOMI was after “severely incapacitating and lethal materials … [and] gadgetry for their dissemination,” and MK-CHICKWIT was designed to “identify new drug developments in Europe and Asia,” and then “obtain samples.”
Edgewood Laboratories, where many of the programs were carried out, is also identified as having tested an incapacitating chemical on prisoners and military personnel without the agency’s approval. The drug, EA#3167, was “appl[ied] to the skin” of subjects using an adhesive tape.
Another program, MK-OFTEN, started as a study on dopamine. But the scope was soon expanded to evaluate ibogaine, a hallucinogen, and then several more drugs, in hopes of creating “new pharmacologically active drugs affecting the central nervous system [to] modify men’s behavior.”
And the Navy is reported to have “obtain[ed] heroin and marijuana” in an effort to develop speech-inducing drugs for use on defectors and prisoners of war. The drugs were eventually tested on 14 people: six volunteer research assistants, and eight unwitting Soviet defectors.
The report pins most of the nefarious activities on CIA-funded scientists. But that’s hardly the verdict of subsequent government documents, like a 1994 report from the U.S General Accounting Office. In that report, Pentagon officials are said to have “work[ed] directly with the CIA” and dosed “thousands” of military subjects with LSD and other drugs. Eyewitness accounts, like that of psychiatrist James Ketchum, describe outlandish Army efforts at creating hallucinogenic weapons in conjunction with MK-ULTRA.
And the Pentagon’s had plenty of experience in out-there mind control, even without CIA involvement. Troops have been dosed with LSD and cannabis oil, and Pentagon officials were reportedly toying with the idea of psychic spies as recently as 2007.
Not surprisingly, the released report also doesn’t address darker questions that persist about the specifics of the CIA projects. Last year, a group of vets sued the agency for illnesses and trauma caused by the “diabolical and secret [MK-ULTRA] testing program,” which they allege included experiments with nerve gas, psychochemicals, and brain implants.
[Visionary: Josh Rogin]
Photo courtesy Overture Films