Thursday, November 1, 2018



Soon after the unique agreement with Sandoz, the CIA persuaded Indianapolis-based Ely Lilly and Company to synthesize LSD in a new process which bypassed the need to grow the rare natural fungus ergot. This breakthrough ensured a domestic supply of a potential chemical warfare agent and enabled the practical manufacture of “tonnage quantities” for the government, according to a memo to Allen Dulles from an official in the Technical Services Staff of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.(32)

Dulles authorized Operation MKULTRA,  CIA’s umbrella designation for clandestine mind control research projects conducted by government agencies and private contractors, on April 15, 1953, three days after he told a Princeton University audience that a battle for men’s minds had erupted with the Soviet Union. His description of “brain perversion techniques… so subtle and so abhorrent to our way of life that we have recoiled from facing up to them”(33) purportedly described what the Soviets were doing. But in reality the MKULTRA researchers themselves had picked up where the Nazi doctors of Dachau left off in 1945,(34) and Dulles knew it. By the end of 1953 the first known victim of CIA human experimentation, Frank Olson, jumped out a window on the tenth floor of  Statler Hilton in New York. Olson’s suicide followed several weeks’ treatment by CIA psychiatrist Dr. Harold Abramson, who had diagnosed his condition as a depressed psychotic state. Olson had no previous record of mental problems, but Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, chief of the MKULTRA crew, had spiked his drink with LSD during a weekend retreat for CIA and Army technicians. In the wake of the Olson suicide, Allen Dulles briefly suspended LSD tests. An internal CIA investigation resulted in mild, off-the-record reprimands for Sid Gottlieb and his team. Very quickly MKULTRA resumed experiments on a much wider scale; Dulles himself obviously wanted it that way.

Meanwhile, Frank Olson’s wife and children spent the next twenty-two years wondering why their husband and father had deserted them by committing suicide, until they happened to read the Washington Post in 1975. President Gerald Ford ultimately made a personal apology to the Olson family, and in 1976 Congress passed a bill to pay them $375,000 in compensation. Alice Olson and her three by-then-adult children read a prepared statement on national television (which with the darkest irony, seemed to refer to the Nuremberg Code), noting that Frank Olson had been experimented upon illegally and that the nature of his death had been concealed for more than two decades. They expressed hope that their husband and father might “become part of American memory and serve the purpose of political and ethical reform so urgently needed in our country.”(35) But the main characters of the MKULTRA story were no longer on the scene. Sid Gottlieb of TSS was virtually forgotten; his powerful benefactor Richard Helms was politically isolated as a convicted perjurer; and Allen Dulles, fired in 1961 by John F. Kennedy for the CIA’s disastrous Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion, had died in 1969.

Allen Welsh Dulles was an archetype of the elite political class of nineteen-fifties America and a key personality in the history of U. S. Intelligence, as well as a leading character in the LSD narrative. He was the child of an elegant East Coast family which had “savored life at the summit of Washington society” for generations. The men in the family generally attended Princeton and then became U. S. Secretaries of State.(36) Allen Dulles wrote his first book on international politics before he was eight years old, and it was published in an addition of 700 copies which sold for fifty cents each to benefit charity.(37) In 1910 he arrived at Princeton and quickly settled into a lifelong, man-about-town routine. He collected admirers such as James Forrestal and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and became a scholar of William James’ pragmatism, which would serve him well as a defining philosophy for the rest of his life.

In Dulles’ freshman year, a former history professor named Woodrow Wilson was Princeton’s president. Three years later, Wilson was elected President to the United States, only the second Democrat to attain the office since the Civil War. Wilson’s progressive, internationalist philosophy made one deep imprint on the young Allen Dulles; a popular novel by the English author Rudyard Kipling made another. Kim was a classic in the literature of espionage. From the book’s main character Dulles learned, “When he comes to the Great Game, (a man) must go alone — alone and at the peril of his head.”(38) Decades after his impressionable, privileged Princeton years, Allen Dulles alone authorized the CIA’s programs to test LSD on unwitting American citizens. He did so out of his Wilsonian faith in rational, scientific human progress, and in the thrall of the Great Game of espionage as one of its foremost captains.

Dulles also had personal motives for his support of the drug research. His only son had suffered a severe head wound in Korea in 1952 and never completely recovered. Though he had regained full physical abilities, he was not the same man mentally or emotionally, and Allen Dulles and his wife Clover spent years consulting with psychiatric specialists. One such specialist, Dr. Harold Wolff of Cornell, was a close friend of Adolf Berle. While Wolff was treating Allen Dulles’ son, he was also working under a secret and lucrative CIA contract researching the brain and nervous system. All of this, coincidentally, began during the very time that Frank Olson’s suicide was under investigation. As Dulles’ biographer Peter Gross speculated:

Grasping at any signs of medical progress that could restore a son to mental health, a father would perhaps pause before imposing restrictions on scientific research that might provide an answer. (Allen and Clover Dulles’) son never regained his full mental capacities, but the CIA drug program proceeded in such secrecy that Allen’s successor, John McCone, was not informed about it until his second year in office.(39)


32. Ibid, page 71-72. As far as I know, there are no subsequent details about whether Lilly ever did manufacture tonnage quantities of LSD, or any quantities at all. This is one big hole in the history of LSD. It appears as though immediately after the memo to Dulles was written everyone mysteriously forgot that their new domestic source was ready and willing. Of course that’s not likely, and it can be suspected that further data on the Lilly connection somehow disappeared with the main MKULTRA files which Helms and Gottlieb destroyed in 1973. The bulk of the information which finally did come to light on CIA programs was in a separate cache of financial records, but whatever secret budget included payments to the Indianapolis pharmaceutical firm must have been well segregated.
33. Lee and Shlain, pages 79-93.
34. The first experiments with mescaline as a “truth serum” in hostile interrogation occurred at Dachau. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence inherited the records for this work after Germany was overrun, and turned them over to O.S.S. Thus the Nazi morality of human experimentation was a direct precedent for MKULTRA. See, Lee and Shlain, and Marks; also Scheflin, Alan W. And Edwin M. Option, Jr., The Mind Manipulators. New York: Paddington Press, 1978.
35. Marks, pages 79-93.
36. Gross, Peter. Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles. New York: Houghlin Mifflin, 1994. I exaggerate only a little: the three Secretaries of State in the Dulles family were Allen Dulles’ maternal grandfather, John Watson Foster, under President Benjamin Harrison; Allen’s “Uncle Bert” Robert Lansing, under President Woodrow Wilson; and Allen’s brother, John Foster Dulles, under President Eisenhower.
37. Ibid., pages 13-14.
38. Quoted in Gross, page 18.
39. Ibid., 396.

(To be continued further...)

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