Monday, October 29, 2018



By late 1953 the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had total control over the world supply of LSD, and that control continued for more than a decade. It was a Cold War secret, one of the most closely guarded secrets in the country’s history.(12) This context demands close consideration, because the militarization of social science for national security interests and the monopolization of the right of discovery in the field of human consciousness may have been what the counterculture attempted to counter more than anything else. A single chemical was both a mortal weapon and a precious sacrament in the same society. Only the history of both aspects contributes to analysis of the times; one without the other perpetuates myth.

Exploring the “Other World” came naturally to spies. A primary target of any intelligence organization must be the culture of its own command, because only by reaching beyond that, effectively defeating it as culture, can enemies be clearly perceived, predicted and covertly controlled. Both LSD and espionage push toward a simultaneously attractive and terrifying existential abyss. An LSD trip can dissolve the individual ego; a sustained national intelligence effort necessitates social self-overcoming and a never ending “wilderness of mirrors.”(13) The rational justifications for spying — “Modern Defense!” and “National Security!” — ultimately offer poor cover for a more personal, and always slightly mystical goal, of power in human affairs. As one American veteran of secret operations put it:

 The secret possessor of information produces a feeling of unease in us for an even more fundamental reason than the political history or social organization of the human race. It is simply that in any situation of human conflict information is power…. The power of one man over another by virtue of superior information… is an element in every situation of competition or conflict.(14)

The advent of the nuclear age accelerated the ascendance of the power of secret information and intensified the push toward the abyss. On August 8, 1945, the New York Times proclaimed “an explosion in men’s minds as shattering as the obliteration of Hiroshima,” from the sudden reality of a atomic weapons.(15) Part of that mental explosion was the revelation of the Manhattan Project itself, a secret $2 billion megamachine which, before the American people even knew it existed, had a public relations staff and a captive Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times science reporter as the only allowed source of news on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.(16) In 1943 Secretary of State Henry Stimson told Harry Truman that he was one of only two or three men in the whole world who knew about the Manhattan Project.(17) The power of the atomic bomb was bound up with the power of secret information or preternatural knowledge, as is science itself for unprivileged laymen, and this unprecedented scientific endeavor was specially enhanced through being a military secret during total war. The same total war brought the first enduring American organizations for centralized intelligence and covert action. Apparently, the earliest concerted attempts to modify human behavior through chemical means were carried out by OSS in cooperation with the Manhattan Project, which provided the first dozen human subjects for marijuana “truth drug” tests conducted by Dr. Winfred Overholser at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.(18)

When the CIA was formed, it was unprecedented as the first democratically sanctioned secret service in the world, but it was far from populist. Mirroring British intelligence services whose people were exclusively Oxbridge, CIA personnel and leaders came overwhelmingly from elite social circles in the Eastern Ivy League establishment. Forty-two members of the Yale class of 1943 had joined Donovan’s wartime OSS, and even by the late 1960s, a full quarter of the CIA’s top people had advanced degrees from Harvard. Early in its existence, the agency earned a reputation as a “secret last bastion of mugwump privilege.”(19) Infused with an elite, intellectual culture at its highest levels, the growing U.S. intelligence community was prone to theoretical models of political strategy which quickly acquired pseudo-scientific qualities. Science had, after all, won World War II; American technology was the primary ace-in-the-hole against the power of the brute Russian hordes and sinister communist subversion. By the time Dwight Eisenhower assumed the presidency, Psychological Warfare had gained great status as a technical discipline.(20) Ike was determined to avoid a destructive conventional military contest with the Soviet Union and to limit the power and expense of a huge and growing American military-industrial complex. The substitutes for millions more men under arms were based in the United States’ unique advantage as a rich, technologically advanced nation against the more populous and brutally conditioned Russians. U.S. nuclear capability was one substitute for expensive mass armies; the new intelligence mystique with its hope of magical results from covert action devised and coordinated by the very best and brightest, was the other.

Both these substitutes required alterations of of basic political philosophy. The waves of social anxiety, denial and guilt after Hiroshima chronicled by Paul Boyer and Robert Lifton(21) demonstrate the clash of the new concept of scientific warfare with American morality. David Halberstrom noted that the new fascination for intelligence also implied a sacrifice of certain democratic freedoms.(22) The national security establishment “was, in effect, created so America could compete with the communist world and do so without the unwanted clumsy scrutiny of the Congress and the press…. The laws for the secret regime were being set by our sworn adversaries, who, we were sure, followed no laws at all.”(23) One of the most popular Cold War spy novels, Smiley’s People by John Lecarre, later dramatized this kind of confusion by portraying its hero as overwhelmed with moral tragedy in his moment of greatest triumph:

Smiley had seen it all before. He looked across the river into the darkness again, and an unholy vertigo seized him as the very evil he had fought against seemed to reach out and claim him despite his striving, calling him a traitor also; mocking him, yet at the same time applauding his betrayal. On Karla has descended the curse of Smiley’s compassion; on Smiley has descended the curse of Karla’s fanaticism. I have destroyed him with the weapons I abhorred, and they are his. We have crossed each other’s frontiers, we are the no-men of this no-man’s-land.(24)

Such drama was not limited to fiction. In a book aimed at “educating” the American public on foreign relations, career diplomat Adolf Berle(25) cast the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union as a moral and philosophical conflict, “not between economic systems (communist-capitalist), but between a conception of man as a being of supreme significance and a conception which reduces him to the status of a tool or counter in a social-engineering problem.”(26) A few years earlier Senator Joseph McCarthy had expressed a similar opinion of the struggle as “a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity… (in which) ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down — they are truly down.”(27) Needless to say, McCarthy’s crusade made a huge impression on the lives of many Americans. Adolf Berle was of higher social status, but his description of the foreign menace was hardly less shrill than McCarthy’s. Berle said Western culture was facing extinction unless it could be saved from domination by the Soviet system. The only men Berle figured were capable of effecting such salvation were “men in all countries… (who) may be dreamers. They may be starry-eyed; some may be impractical; and some are living more in the future than in the present. But without them the world would have little hope of achieving peace.”(28) It was in such a context of desperate heros bearing the weight of the world on their noble shoulders and trudging toward the ultimate battle, that Berle made the following confession on the first two pages of his 1957 book:

As the year 1956 closed, we seemed to be moving into a new high pressure area. Mishandled, any of these crises may result in wars, little or big; at worst, they could provide an atomic convulsion capable (literally) of tearing the planet to pieces. A terrifying fact is that the men who grapple with these crises are dealing with forces of which most people are unaware. Often they must seek solutions for which the prevailing politics and public opinion of the United States are unprepared… (T)he men who are obliged to understand, have the job of meeting the crises, and are responsible for the results… can not expect to get, and often do not try to get, agreement on policies they know are necessary, or on measures they know to be essential.”(29)

One example of precisely the kind of measures Berle was referring to, which the elite leaders of the foreign policy establishment knew to be essential regardless of niceties of political agreement, is, in fact, the very existence of LSD in any significant quantities. For the first fifteen years after the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized it, a grand total of 40 grams of the drug (less than two ounces) had been made. But in November 1953 agents of the CIA flew to Switzerland and convinced Sandoz Pharmaceuticals to begin manufacturing and shipping one hundred grams per week immediately. Sandoz was also persuaded to report all details of future orders for LSD from any and all other buyers, to the CIA.(30) In 1953 Berle’s heros, “fueled by the hope that spies could, like Dr. Frankenstein, control life with genius and machines”(31) for service in a Holy War against communism, went a long way toward making the psychedelic counterculture of the Haight possible twelve years later. Adolf Berle’s close friend, Allen Welsh Dulles, who had just become Director of Central Intelligence earlier that year, personally signed the bill.


12. President Nixon fired Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms in January of 1973. At about the same time Helms became aware that as a result of the Watergate scandal the CIA would almost certainly face a serious Congressional investigation into its secret activities. During his last ten days in office, Helms took just two steps to protect the secrets he considered most vital: he destroyed his own personal files and he ordered the destruction of the files on the CIA’s drug-testing programs in the fifties and sixties. Thus in the judgment of this man who was arguably in a better position to know than any American, it was more important to hide the history of the drug programs than anything else. Powers, Thomas; The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA; New York: Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster, 1979.
13. Martin, David C., Wilderness of Mirrors; New York: Harper, 1980. The classic title has become a buzz-term for the general impossibility of ever trusting anyone in a complex world of Balkanized motives and constant betrayal.
14. Felix, Christopher. A Short Course in the Secret War. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1963. Page 40. Thirty-four years after it was published, this book remains at the top of the “Suggested Reading List” contained in the CIA’s public home page on the internet.
15. McCormick, Anne O’Hare, “The Prometheus Role of the United States,” New York Times, August 8, 1945. Page 22.
16. Lifton, Robert Jay and Greg Mitchell. Hiroshima In America: Fifty Years of Denial. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995. The authors’ description of William L. Laurence’s role as Leslie Groves’ official reporter is especially unique.
17. McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992, page 289.
18. Marks, John. The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1979. Page 6.
19. Jeffrey’s-Jones, Rhodri. The CIA and American Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. Pages 20, 71.
20. In fact Ike had been an early champion of “psywar.” The President’s brother, Dr. Milton Eisenhower, had taken the trouble to explicitly define the value of psychological warfare as early as the spring of 1943 in an address to the Kansas Bankers Association in Topeka. At about the same time, C. D. Jackson, the editor of Fortune magazine, an apostle of Henry Luce and a vice-president of Time-Life, Inc., was given the job of integrating psychological warfare into the Joint Allied Command. Jackson went on to become one of President Eisenhower’s special assistants for the Cold War. Cook, Blane Wiesen, The Declassified Eisenhower: A Divided Legacy of Peace and Political Warfare; New York: Penguin, 1984. For a more general history of government-funded psychological warfare projects and their huge influence on the academic research which founded the whole field of communication studies, see Simpson, Christopher, Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
21. Boyer, Paul. By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Caroline Press, 1994. And Lifton, Hiroshima in America.
22. In fact espionage always had a uniquely immoral cast in the American mind. For example in Michael Shiara’s novel The Killer Angels (New York: Ballantine, 1974) Robert E. Lee is portrayed as asking General Longstreet with disgust in his voice right before the battle of Gettysburg, “Am I to move on the word of a paid spy?” Sixty-six years later, Secretary Henry L. Stimson reacted the same way to the discovery that his own State Department harbored a covert intelligence gathering function. He closed down the offending Black Chamber with the infamous admonition, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” Richelson, Jeffrey T., A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Now the Unites States budgets $26.6 billion a year for its peacetime intelligence community (Los Angeles Times report, March 21, 1998). The Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies distribute scholarly papers urging the necessity of a dedicated national intelligence capability and expanded “human intelligence.” Greenberg, Maurice R., Chairman and Richard N. Haas, Project Director, Making Intelligence Smarter: The Future of U. S. Intelligence; New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1996. Internet metapages refer World Wide Web surfers to hundreds of sites devoted to intelligence. “Intelligence on the Web” at; “Virtual World of Spies and Intelligence” at; the Center for the Study of Intelligence Home Page at; and the CIA’s own home page at William Colby canonizes OSS veterans who kept the flame of intelligence burning in America after World War II as the most honorable of all men. Colby, William, and Peter Forbath, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA; London: Hutchinson, 1978; and more than a hundred colleges and universities across the nation offer courses on intelligence or national security, often taught by former professionals who retired when the Cold War ended, from syllabuses duly cleared by the CIA’s own Publications Review Board. Badrich, Steve, “Cold Warriors Woo Generation X: As the world turns, history hits the spin cycle;” NameBase News Line, No. 6, July-September 1994; New York: Public Information Research, Inc. Today the ultimate propriety of effective intelligence work is rarely questioned, only the record of its success or failure and the return on the public dollar are debated.
23. Halberstam, David. The Fifties. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1993.
24. LeCarre, John. Smiley’s People. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.
25. A fascinating reference concerning Berle appears in “Clandestinity and Current Intelligence” by William R. Johnson (Studies in Intelligence, vol. 20, no. 3, Fall 1976; Washington. DC: Central Intelligence Agency). The author discusses the history of William Donovan’s bearucratic victories leading to the establishment of the U.S. intelligence community in its current form. He notes the fact that Donovan did have competition for President Roosevelt’s attention on matters of intelligence. Johnson’s footnote no. 14 states, “One competitor of whom Donovan was apparently unaware until after the war was Colonel Jean Valentin Grombach, whose espionage organization was truly clandestine in its administration and communications.... The history of the Gromback organization has not yet been compiled from the mass of data on hand. Nor have the various conspiratorial and clandestine activities been chronicled of one of Grombach’s patrons, Adolph Augustus Berle, Jr. The selection of Berle’s papers published by his widow... sheds no light.” (Emphasis added.) Berle is remembered as a diplomat, but he had much involvement in clandestine affairs and his influence on the CIA, especially through Allen Dulles, may have been greater than anyone realizes.
26. Berle, Adolf A., Jr. Tides of Crisis: A Primer on Foreign Relations. New York: Reynal & Company, 1957. Page 297.
27. McCarthy, Joseph R. “The Internal Communist Menace.” Speech introduced into the Congressional Record (81 Congress, 2d Session, pages 1954-7) on February 20, 1950.
28. Berle, page 245.
29. Ibid, pages 7-8.
30. See, Marks or Lee and Shlain.
31. Marks, page 130.

To be continued....

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