Photo: Sidney Gottlieb (Associated Press, 1977)
The CIA’s Quest for a Mind Control Drug and Wendell Johnson’s Monster Study: A
Comparison of Unethical Experiments ~ Courtesy of Adrienne Hunacek. Used with permission.
(Answering Question 2)
In The Search for The Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control, John
Marks presents a thrilling and gripping story about intelligence agents’ attempts to use
drugs, hypnosis, electroshock therapy, and brainwashing, amongst other techniques, to
try to control other human beings. The disturbing thing about this book is that it is not a
novel, but an entirely factual account of experiments carried out by the Office of Secret
Services (OSS) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The majority of these experiments were unethical, and many violated just about
every part of the Nuremburg Code. In their search for a drug that would make people
share their secrets, the CIA gave subjects marijuana, LSD, and a variety of other drugs
without their knowledge, completely disregarding the idea of informed consent. Perhaps
the best example of this is the testing Sid Gottlieb did on the scientists who worked at the
Army Chemical Corps’ Special Operations Division in November 1953. These men, who
studied toxic substances that could potentially be used for assassination and other
purposes, thought they were going on a weekend work retreat. Instead, they were given
LSD in their drinks without their knowledge, so the CIA could observe the effects of the
drug. One man, Frank Olsen, became depressed and psychotic, and ended up killing
himself within a week or so. The CIA admitted, although secretly, that LSD had
“triggered” Olsen’s death. Olsen was doing classified research for the government, but
he certainly never consented, explicitly or implicitly, to be a guinea pig in the testing of a
mind control drug.
After the Olsen disaster the CIA and the people involved in the MKULTRA
operation, still led by Sid Gottlieb, needed to find new test subjects, so they “chose ‘the
borderline underworld’- prostitutes, drug addicts, and other small-timers who would be
powerless to seek any sort of revenge if they ever found out what the CIA had done to
them” (Marks 96). The CIA set up “safehouses”, brought the subjects there, gave them
drugs (amongst them LSD and marijuana), and observed what happened to the subjects.
In addition to drugs, the CIA agents tested a variety of intelligence techniques, including
recording devices and two-way mirrors. All of this was done, once again, on unwitting
subjects who had not in any way given consent, much less informed consent. In
addition, the CIA operatives had little concern for the health of the subjects, they were
simply interested in learning about response to the drug and how effective it was at
getting people to share secrets.
At the time of the experiments, the subjects’ health did not cause undue concern. At the safehouse, where most of the testing took place, doctors were seldom present…In addition to LSD, which they knew could cause serious, if not fatal problems, TSS officials gave White even more exotic experimental drugs to test, drugs that other agency contractors may or may not have already used on human subjects (Marks 105).
So if these experiments were so unethical, why were they able to be conducted
without a public outcry? Unlike at a university or academic setting, the CIA’s business is
secrecy, lying, and hiding. Therefore, when things did get out of control (for example, in
the case of Frank Olsen) they were able to keep them covered up. After Olsen’s death,
the CIA was scrupulous about making sure no one found out what had happened.
“Agency officials tried to make sure that no outsider would tie Olsen’s death either to the
CIA or to LSD” (Marks 89).
In addition, the CIA can use the designation “Classified” to prevent people
outside of a select group from knowing about experiments. Whereas someone doing
research sponsored by their university is required to present their work at meetings, and
subject their experiments to peer review and criticism, someone doing classified research
is free from the standards of their colleagues. Describing the involvement of academic
professionals in the kind of unethical research that has been sponsored by the CIA, Marks
Any professional doing the kind of things the agency came to sponsor-holding subjects prisoner, shooting them full of unwanted drugs-probably would have been arrested for kidnapping or aggravated assault. Certainly such a researcher would have been disgraced among his peers. Yet, by performing the same experiment under the CIA’s banner, he had no worry from the law. His colleagues could not censure him because they had no idea what he was doing (Marks 35).
The CIA decided it would be best if their involvement with the universities and
their experiments with LSD were kept secret, to avoid anger on the part of the American
public and interest in LSD on the part of the Russians. To accomplish this they passed
funding for their research through intermediary foundations. “They did not want to spur
the Russians into starting their own LSD program or into devising counter-measures.
The CIA’s secrecy was also clearly aimed at the folks back home….Moreover, the CIA
Inspector General declared that disclosure of certain MKULTRA activities could result in
a ‘severe adverse reaction’ among the American public” (Marks 64).
The CIA furthered this by moving many of the experiments out of the United
States, since there are specific restrictions on their actions within the United States. This
is perhaps one reason why they made such extensive use of Dr. Ewen Cameron, a
Montreal doctor who subjected his patients to a “depatterning” regime, which combined
electroshock therapy with drug cocktails and controlled sleeping patterns. Even after
patients became confused or lost their memory, Cameron continued experimenting on
them, interpreting this as a sign that his depatterning was working. He also pressed
patients to go on with the experiment, including combinations of his psychic conditioning
and LSD treatments, when they told him they wanted to stop. It is widely accepted that
Cameron’s psychic conditioning is complete pseudoscience. “Cameron wrote that
psychic driving provided a way to make ‘direct, controlled changes in personality’,
without having to resolve the subject’s conflicts or make her relieve her past experiences.
As far as is known, no present-day psychologist or psychiatrist accepts his view” (Marks
146). In addition to being scientifically unsound, Cameron’s experiments were clearly
unethical, yet he was widely regarded as a psychiatrist and was even president of the
American Psychiatric Association for a time.
A common thread throughout many of these CIA experiments is that they took
advantage of people who were unable to fight back. The CIA experiments made use of
prostitutes and other people that they had deemed not valuable.
The men from ARTICHOKE found their most convenient source among the flotsam and jetsam of the international spy trade: ‘individuals of dubious loyalty, suspected agents or plants, subjects having known reasons for deception, etc’…It is fair to say that the CIA operators tended to put less value on the lives of these subjects than they did on those of American college students (Marks 34).
Likewise the Tuskegee experiment used those who were least able to defend
themselves, and thus the researchers were able to get away with treating the subjects very
unjustly. This included lying to them and telling them they were being treated and then
preventing them from getting free treatment, even once Penicillin, a cheap and effective
way of treating syphilis, became available. They deliberately chose an area of Alabama
where the population was poor and uneducated, and was not in any position to question
the researchers, or create an uproar even if they found out they were being lied to. The
fact that the subjects were black, and the racism that was unfortunately prevalent in this
country at that time, also contributed to the fact that the experiment was not widely
condemned. “The experiment was widely reported for 40 years without evoking any
significant protest within the medical community” (Brandt 29).
These experiments and their exploitation of defenseless people remind me of an
experiment that happened in my home state of Iowa in the late 1930s, that recently made
headlines in the Des Moines Register. Dr. Wendell Johnson, who was a well-known
speech pathologist at the University of Iowa, and has a research center there named after
him, conducted experiments to test his “diagnosogenic theory” of stuttering. The basic
idea of the theory is that
All children have trouble with their speech when they are young, often repeating words and syllables. By drawing attention to their speech, he reasoned, overzealous parents would make their children so self-conscious and nervous that the children would repeat more words. In time, the children would become so sensitized to their speech that they would not be able to talk without stuttering (Dyer).
Johnson decided to experiment on the children in the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans
Home. His graduate student, Mary Tudor Jacobs, was the one who actually met with the
children and conducted the experiments. She identified 10 stutterers and 12 normal
speakers, and divided each group equally into an experimental group and a control group.
The children in the control group, both stutterers and non, received positive speech
therapy, while the children in the experimental group, even the normal speakers, were
interrupted, corrected, and made to feel self-conscious about their speech. Even after
Johnson and Tudor’s involvement was over, the teachers in the orphanage continued
what they believed were lessons that helped improve the children’s speech.
This experiment was clearly an unethical exploitation of powerless people. Not
only did the children not give consent, but they had no parents to give consent and their
teachers were also kept in the dark about the real nature of the study. This is one of the
reasons why Johnson was able to carry out such an experiment on children. Dyer
describes why Johnson was so eager to use the orphanage children. “Moreover, Johnson
didn’t need parental permission – something that probably would have been denied. ‘I
think it’s not coincidental that he chose to do it with a group of parentless kids’, said
Trishia Zebrowski, 45, an assistant professor at the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing
Center in Iowa… ‘This was the only way he was going to get the kids’” (Dyer).
Johnson never even published the results of the study, so it provided no benefits,
and in fact harmed society by the damage it did to the orphans. This violates another part
of the Nuremburg Code. After World War II, Johnson’s colleagues warned him that
publishing his theory might draw unfavorable comparisons to the Nazi doctors and ruin
his reputation. Johnson did eventually publish his “diagnosogenic theory” of stuttering,
though without any of the direct evidence he had obtained in what later came to be called
“The Monster Experiment”, even though this evidence overwhelmingly supported his
ideas. Even without any direct evidence, his theory was widely recognized as the leading
one until the 1970s, and although no longer dominant, is still used. The fact that Johnson
was able to gain all this recognition and acclaim without ever publishing the results of his
study indicates that it was not absolutely necessary, and that it did little or nothing to help
society. While it could be argued convincingly that Johnson’s theory and ideas have
helped in the treatment of many other people with stuttering problems, it’s impossible to
claim that the experiment that he did on the children in the orphanage has benefited
people in anyway, and it has certainly proved very damaging to the victims.
Another part of the Nuremberg Code states “The experiment should be conducted
so as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury” (Nuremburg
Code 182). Johnson’s experiment caused a great deal of mental suffering for its subjects,
including people who otherwise would have had a much better life. Many of the normal
speakers in the experiment were made into stutterers, and suffered for the rest of their
lives as a result. Their stuttering made any hope of being adopted or finding a happy
home impossible. Many started ran away from the orphanage or dropped out of school
because of the humiliation and bullying they had to endure from their peers. One
subject, Mary Korlaske Nixon, who was in the “normal” group before the experiment,
suffered for the rest of her life. Tudor, like the other subjects, did not know she had been
part of an experiment, and that her stuttering had been deliberately worsened. After
finding out from the reporter who was investigating the story, she wrote in a letter to
Mary Tudor “’Why experiment on orphans, we have all ready had enough problems and
was unwanted. I have nothing left. You stolen my life away from me” (Dyer).
In conclusion, it is clear that the experiments discussed here, including the CIA
mind control experiments, the Johnson stuttering experiment, and the Tuskegee syphilis
experiment, were all unethical. Each experiment violated some or most of the
Nuremberg Code. Subjects were regularly experimented on without giving informed
consent, by researchers who took little or no regard for their physical or mental health.
These studies were often not necessary and sometimes gave no benefit to society. Yet
they were able to continue, because they took advantage of the people in our society who
least have a voice: prostitutes and other “lowlifes”, poor, uneducated minorities, and
orphaned children. These are the people who most need an advocate, and instead they
were exploited and used for experiments by researchers.
1. Brandt, Allan. “Racism and Research: The Case of the Tuskegee Syphilis
Experiment.” Tuskegee Truths. UNC Press, 2000.
2. Dyer, Jim. “Orphans Scars Linger” The Des Moines Register. June 12, 2001.
3. Dyer, Jim. “Speech Study on Orphans Haunts Researcher” The Des Moines
Register. June 11, 2001.
4. Marks, John. The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and
Mind Control. New York: W.W. Horton, 1979.
5. Nuremburg Code. Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military
Tribunals. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1949.
In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the agency gave mind-altering drugs to hundreds of unsuspecting Americans in an effort to explore the possibilities of controlling human consciousness. Many of the human guinea pigs were mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes — ”people who could not fight back,” as one agency officer put it. In one case, a mental patient in Kentucky was dosed with LSD continuously for 174 days.
Other experiments involved agency employees, military officers and college students, who had varying degrees of knowledge about the tests. In all, the agency conducted 149 separate mind-control experiments, and as many as 25 involved unwitting subjects. First-hand testimony, fragmentary Government documents and court records show that at least one participant died, others went mad, and still others suffered psychological damage after participating in the project, known as MK Ultra. The experiments were useless, Mr. Gottlieb concluded in 1972, shortly before he retired.
The C.I.A. awarded Mr. Gottlieb the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and deliberately destroyed most of the MKUltra records in 1973.
John Gittinger, a C.I.A. psychologist who vetted Mr. Gottlieb — ”one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known” — and worked with him for 22 years, said the agency began the tests because it was gripped by ”a great fear” in the cold war. It was afraid that the Soviet Union would corner the market on LSD and use it as a chemical weapon or that China would perfect the black art of brainwashing, Mr. Gittinger said.
The agency and Mr. Gottlieb believed the United States had to fight by any means necessary.
”We were in a World War II mode,” Mr. Gittinger said. ”The war never really ended for us.”
John Marks, author of the definitive book on the experiments, ”The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’ ” (Times Books, 1979) said Mr. Gottlieb was ”unquestionably a patriot, a man of great ingenuity.”
”Gottlieb never did what he did for inhumane reasons,” Mr. Marks said. ”He thought he was doing exactly what was needed. And in the context of the time, who would argue? But with his experiments on unwitting subjects, he clearly violated the Nuremburg standards — the standards under which, after World War II, we executed Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity.”
Sidney Gottlieb was born in New York City on Aug. 3, 1918, the son of immigrants from Hungary. His parents were orthodox Jews, but he did not embrace the faith. Mr. Gottlieb ”had had a real problem to find a spiritual focus, having gone away from Jewishness,” Mr. Gittinger said, and he experimented with everything from agnosticism to Zen Buddhism all his life.
He left the City College of New York, first for the Arkansas Polytechnic Institute, then for the University of Wisconsin, where he graduated, magna cum laude, with a chemistry degree in 1940. He earned a doctorate in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology, where in 1942 he married Margaret Moore, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries who served in India, where she was born. A clubfoot kept him from military service in World War II, and he was always bitter that he missed the war, Mr. Gittinger said.
Mr. Gottlieb joined the C.I.A. in 1951, although not before telling Mr. Gittinger, his interviewer, that he had been a socialist in his youth.
Two years later, the agency established MKUltra and Mr. Gottlieb was running it. As chief of the agency’s technical services division, he served two decades as the senior scientist presiding over some of the C.I.A.’s darkest secrets.
The first of these were the LSD experiments. Mr. Gottlieb was fascinated by the drug, and, a family friend said, he took it hundreds of times.
”He was the most curious man I ever knew,” Mr. Gittinger said. ”He was willing to try anything to discover something.”
Mr. Gottlieb was also involved in the C.I.A.’s assassination plots. In the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations, Mr. Gottlieb, always under orders from the Director of Central Intelligence or his chief spymaster, developed a poison handkerchief to kill an Iraqi colonel, an array of toxic gifts to be delivered to Fidel Castro, and a poison dart to kill a leftist leader in the Congo. None of the plans succeeded.
After he left the C.I.A., Mr. Gottlieb and his wife went to India, where he ran a leper hospital for 18 months. A lifelong stutterer, he pursued a master’s degree in speech therapy. He bought land with an old log cabin outside a small Virginia town, Boston, where he practiced two of his lifelong hobbies, folk dancing and herding goats.
”He bought that old house and the land with the idea of setting up a communal home, with several families living together,” said Mr. Gittinger, a lifelong friend. At least one other couple stayed for years.
Mr. Gottlieb spent his last years in Washington, Va., a pretty village in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, working in a hospice, tending to the dying.
He is survived by his wife and four children, Penny Gottlieb Chesluk, Rachel Gottlieb Samoff, Peter Gottlieb and Steven Gottlieb. Cleaving to old habits of secrecy, his wife declined to disclose the cause of Mr. Gottlieb’s death.
Photo: Sidney Gottlieb (Associated Press, 1977)