By Larry Getlen / NY Post
In his mid-20s, future crime kingpin Whitey Bulger spent time in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for hijacking and armed robbery. While there, he volunteered to be part of a drug experiment that sought to find a cure for schizophrenia.
Or so he was told.
In reality, the experiment sought to determine how much LSD the human mind could take before it snapped. Bulger was fed large doses of the drug nearly every day for 15 months without being told what it was.
He later wrote of the horrors he experienced during this time.
“Hallucinating. Hours of paranoia and feeling violent. We experienced horrible periods of living nightmares and even blood coming out of the walls. Guys turning to skeletons in front of me. I saw a camera change into the head of a dog. I felt like I was going insane.”
When Bulger asked to be released from the experiment, he was refused since, he was told, “We are close to finding the cure.”
Bulger, who was later convicted of 11 murders, may be an unsympathetic victim, but these same experiments were being conducted on unsuspecting civilians at the behest of one power-mad CIA official.
Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control by Stephen Kinzer tells the story of Gottlieb, a chemist obsessed with finding a way to control the human brain, no matter how many innocent minds he destroyed in the process.
Born in The Bronx in 1918, Gottlieb received a doctorate in biochemistry and after working several research jobs for the government, was recruited by the CIA in 1951 by Deputy Director Allen Dulles, who would later lead the agency.
Dulles believed that there were undiscovered methods for controlling the human mind, and that these processes could help the US win wars. He hired Gottlieb to lead the effort into mind-control research, which he named “Artichoke,” by any means necessary.
Many in the intelligence community were convinced that the Soviet Union and China had made great advancements in brainwashing, and they sought to perfect the technique themselves. Hypnosis and electroshock were among the methods tested, but Gottlieb became obsessed with the potential of LSD.
After sampling the drug himself and feeling “as though I am in a kind of transparent sausage skin that covers my whole body,” he began testing it on military volunteers. Soon after, he stopped caring whether people had volunteered and began administering the drug to unwitting subjects, including CIA trainees.
Gottlieb and many around him truly believed that LSD held the secret to controlling minds.
“CIA employees were given LSD and then induced to violate oaths and promises,” Kinzer writes. “In one [mock interrogation], a military officer swore never to reveal a secret, revealed it under the influence of LSD, and afterward forgot the entire episode . . . Gottlieb came to believe that [LSD] could be the key to mind control. He was the first acid visionary.”
To help further this research, Gottlieb recruited doctors around the country to carry out experiments on unwitting psychiatric patients.
“One of them, Paul Hoch of New York Psychiatric Institute, agreed to inject mescaline into one of his patients so its effects can be observed,” Kinzer writes. “He chose a 42-year-old professional tennis player named Harold Blauer, who had come to him seeking treatment for depression following a divorce.”
In late 1952, one of Hoch’s assistants injected Blauer six times over the course of a month, without identifying the drug. Blauer complained of hallucinations, but “Hoch insisted that he proceed.”
“On Jan. 8, 1953, Blauer was given a dose 14 times greater than previous ones. The protocol notes that he protested when he was injected at 9:53 a.m. Six minutes later he was flailing wildly. At 10:01 his body stiffened. He was pronounced dead at 12:15.”
Gottlieb, given free rein by the CIA, authorized and funded “experiments” like this across the country, victimizing countless innocent people who simply sought relief for medical and psychological issues.
“Under Gottlieb’s direction, with Dulles’ encouragement . . . Artichoke had became one of the most violently abusive projects ever sponsored by an agency of the United States government,” Kinzer writes.
The eventual breadth of the program, which was rechristened MK-ULTRA and given an even larger budget, was stunning.
In 1953, Gottlieb rented two adjacent apartments at 81 Bedford St. in Greenwich Village for a CIA contractor named George Hunter White.
White, Kinzer writes, was “a hard-charging narcotics detective who . . . regularly used illegal drugs” and also enjoyed “sadomasochism . . . patronizing prostitutes who bound and whipped him.”
Gottlieb offered him a job “running a CIA ‘safe house’ where he would dose unsuspecting visitors with LSD and record the results.”
So White, who had gained notoriety in 1949 when he arrested singer Billie Holiday for opium possession, was paid by the US government to befriend drug users, petty criminals and others who wouldn’t complain about being wronged, bring them back to Bedford Street and dose them with LSD without their knowledge.
Gottlieb and White later repeated the technique in San Francisco with one variation. Instead of recruiting victims himself, White served as a pimp, keeping a stable of prostitutes who would dose men with LSD before having sex with them so Gottlieb could study the effects of the drug on sexual activity.
In time, Gottlieb was running similar safe houses around the world, and his experiments became even more audacious and cruel. When he decided to try to learn just how much LSD the human mind could take, he recruited prison doctors around the country. While Bulger was one victim, most were African American.
He also got more doctors and hospitals around the country involved, funneling the money through front groups to hide the CIA’s involvement.
At the Boston Psychopathic Hospital, “hundreds of students from Harvard, Emerson and MIT were paid $15 to drink a little vial of a clear, colorless, odorless liquid that might produce an altered state.” It was later found that “none of those involved in the experiments had the proper training or understanding to guide participants . . . [and] several [students] had negative reactions. One hanged herself in a clinic bathroom.”
In experiments conducted by a New York allergist named Harold Abramson, who received $85,000 from Gottlieb, Kinzer writes that “12 ‘pre-puberty’ boys were fed psilocybin, and 14 children between the ages of 6 and 11, diagnosed as schizophrenic, were given 100 micrograms of LSD each day for six weeks.”
In time, though, reality set in, and Gottlieb realized that LSD had no effect as a mind-control agent. As we now know, it has very much the opposite effect, and became a favored drug of the counterculture. LSD pioneer Ken Kesey, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and Beat legend Allen Ginsberg all came to know the drug as volunteers in Gottlieb’s experiments.
MK-ULTRA was slowly wound down in the early ’60s, ending completely by the end of 1963.
Gottlieb continued on at the CIA, working on more conventional spy-craft devices like rocket launchers and bomb sensors to help the Vietnam War effort.
He retired in 1973 after 22 years with the agency, destroying all the MK-ULTRA files (or so he thought) before he left.
When another secret CIA program was exposed by reporter Seymour Hersh in 1974, it ignited a slew of investigations into the CIA, and Gottlieb’s name was made public in regard to the LSD experiments in 1975. He eventually testified before Congress several times, but only after being granted immunity from prosecution.
By the end of his life, he was working as a speech pathologist for children. He died in 1999, and never paid for his cruelty.
John Marks, whose book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, exposed MK-ULTRA after he found files that Gottlieb missed, said the following after his death:
“He was unquestionably a patriot, a man of great ingenuity. He thought he was doing exactly what was needed. But with his experiments on unwitting subjects, he clearly violated the Nuremberg standards — the standards under which, after World War II, we executed Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity.”