u201CI 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, rape, and pillage with the sanction of the all-highest?u201D — Federal counter-narcotics agent George White (left, center), who conducted involuntary drug tests on unwitting subjects as part of the CIA’s MKULTRA program.
As an agent of the federal Bureau of Narcotics, the forerunner to the Drug Enforcement Administration, George White u201Cknew how to milk a drug bust for all it was worth — a skill that grew out of early years spent as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco and Los Angeles,u201D notes John Marks in his perversely fascinating study The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control.
White migrated from journalism to law enforcement in 1934. Although he was too late to find employment enforcing alcohol prohibition, he was just in time to make a handsome living in the emerging field of narcotics enforcement, which began in earnest in 1937. Decades later, before dying of the liver disease brought about by his insatiable appetite for liquor (he reportedly could consume a bottle of gin in a single sitting), White would serve as a consultant for TV detective dramas, helping to create the now-customary image of police as intrepid, largely incorruptible paladins of public order.
Many police have earnestly tried to live up to that image. Marks had little use for such pretense. As a missionary in the service of the Almighty State, Marks indulged every familiar whim, as well as some that would never occur to most people.
For example: I doubt that most people would be party to an experiment in which an aerosol dispenser would be used to subject an unwitting guest to a potent dose of LSD. That particular experiment went awry because of unfavorable weather, but White and others involved in the CIA’s MKULTRA program were successful in testing the drug on many unsuspecting people. It’s likely that we’ll never know how many.
During World War II, when the proto-CIA was known as the OSS, Marks — while on the payroll of a federal counter-narcotics agency, mind you — was used to test concentrated marijuana on several people associated with the Manhattan Project, both volunteers and unwitting non-volunteers. He also slipped a dose to August Del Gracio, a lieutenant in Lucky Luciano’s criminal syndicate. (In exchange for u201Cstrategic cooperationu201D from his Sicilian syndicate in World War II, Luciano was permitted to run his criminal enterprises — which included the American heroin trade — unhindered from his prison cell.)
White was eager to join the CIA after WWII, but somehow this was prevented by J. Edgar Hoover. He also sought appointment as head of New York City’s narcotics bureau, only to have his candidacy blocked by Governor Thomas Dewey. But his talents — such as they were — and, more importantly, his connections made White irresistible to Richard Helms, Sid Gottlieb, and the others involved in MKULTRA, who were eager to learn of LSD’s utility as a truth serum, mind control drug, and general-purpose chemical weapon.
“My name is Sid Gottlieb. I’m a nice, clean-living Jewish man married to an equally upright Presbyterian woman. I milk goats every morning. My hobby — nay, passion — is folk dancing. My career is mind control.” (All of these biographical details are accurate.)
u201CAs a high-ranking narcotics agent, White had a perfect excuse to be around drugs and people who used them,u201D writes Marks. u201CHe had proved during the war that he had a talent for clandestine work, and he certainly had no qualms when it came to unwitting testing. With his job, he had access to all the possible subjects the Agency would need, and if he could use LSD or any other drug to find out more about drug trafficking, so much the better.u201D
In May 1953, White and Sid Gottlieb set up a u201Csafehouseu201D in Greenwich Village that was used to lure guinea pigs for drug experiments of various kinds (particularly LSD and concentrated marijuana), as well as tests involving knock-out drops and various kinds of surveillance equipment. The CIA paid all the bills, including the exorbitant expenses involved in keeping White’s liquor cabinet full.
Two years later, with questions being asked by New York officials about White’s activities, the CIA transferred the u201Csafehouseu201D operation to the San Francisco Bay Area; he opened his first u201Cpadu201D on Telegraph Hill, and later set up a branch in Marin County. The Bay Area safehouses were used to test drugs u201Con individuals of all social levels, high and low, native American and foreign,u201D noted an Inspector General’s report years later. (San Francisco, ironically, was one of the first American jurisdictions to enact severe anti-narcotics laws in the late 19th Century.)
As the CIA examined the possible field use of LSD against hostile foreign leaders — such as Fidel Castro — it was necessary to test it on as many unsuspecting targets as possible. To facilitate such u201Cdry runs,u201D White expanded his little federally sponsored criminal syndicate by setting himself up as a full-service vice lord — both drug pusher and pimp.
John Marks describes how this worked:
u201CAn unsuspecting john would think he had bought a night of pleasure, go back to a strange apartment, and wind up zonked. A CIA document that survived Sid Gottlieb’s shredding recorded this process…. For the MKULTRA chief, the whores were ‘certain individuals who covertly administer this material [that is, the narcotics] to other people in accordance with [White’s] instructions. White normally paid the woman $100 in Agency funds for their night’s work…. The CIA’s auditors had to settle for canceled checks which White cashed himself and marked either ‘Stormy’ or, just as appropriately, ‘Undercover Agent.’ The program was also referred to as ‘Operation Midnight Climax.’u201D
By the time White’s grimy business was shut down in 1963, the harvest had begun to come in from Sid Gottlieb’s efforts — which had begun ten years earlier — to cultivate the drug culture in academia. Using tax-exempt foundations as cut-outs — particularly the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation and the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research — Gottlieb funded u201CLSD pathfindersu201D in such institutions as Columbia University, the University of Rochester, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Illinois Medical School, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Boston Psychopathic, and the Addiction Research Center in Lexington, Kentucky (which was also funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health).
These CIA-sponsored researchers have been described as the u201CJohnny Appleseeds of LSDu201D; nearly all of them tried the drug themselves before experimenting with it on others. Prison inmates were offered various inducements — including other hard narcotics — to serve as test subjects. Among those recruited into this program was a small-time thug named James Bulger, who would go on to become the FBI-protected head of Boston’s Irish Mob.
u201CSharing the drug with the Army here, setting up research programs there, keeping track of it everywhere, the CIA generally presided over the LSD scene during the 1950s,u201D writes Marks. It is no small matter that there were, at that time, two companies producing LSD — Eli Lilly and the Swiss firm Sandoz; Lilly turned over its entire supply to the Agency, and Sandoz kept it apprised of every shipment it made anywhere in the world.
By the mid-1960s, the trade in narcotics — including LSD — had become more diversified, thanks in no small part to the academic u201CJohnny Appleseedsu201D who had worked with MKULTRA.
A 1969 study of LSD published by the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (George White’s employer) noted that the drug’s u201Cearly use was among small groups of intellectuals at large Eastern and West Coast universities. It spread to undergraduate students, then to other campuses. Most often, users have been introduced to the drug by persons of higher status. Teachers have influenced students; upperclassmen have influenced lower-classmen.u201D The BNDD described this as a u201Ctrickle-down phenomenon,u201D but as Marks points out, the agency missed the point that u201Csomebody had to influence the teachers, and that up there at the top of the LSD distribution system could be found the men of MKULTRA.u201D
There’s more than simple nastiness involved in the CIA’s creation of the modern narcotics industry.
About a decade ago, former DEA undercover agent Mike Levine — one of the bravest and most self-effacing men I’ve been honored and blessed to meet — described a 1979 conversation with a CIA officer in Argentina.
“There was a small group of us gathered for a drinking party at the CIA guy’s apartment,” Levine recounted to me. “There were several Argentine police officers there as well; at the time, Argentina was a police state in which people could be taken into custody without warning, tortured, and then ‘disappeared.'”
In other words, it was essentially the same as the United States under the reign of Bush the Dumber and Cheney the All-Malignant. Got it. To continue:
“At one point my associate in the CIA said that he preferred Argentina’s approach to social order, and that America should be more like that country.”
Wherever that guy is, assuming he’s still among the living, he must be exceptionally pleased with what America has become; he may be playing a hands-on role in the nasty business he found so attractive. But again, I digress:
“Somebody asked, ‘Well, how does a change of that sort happen?’ The spook replied that it was necessary to create a situation of public fear — a sense of impending anarchy and social upheaval in which the people will literally plead with Congress, "Take whatever rights you need, but save us….”