MKUltra, which also operated under the cryptonym Project MKNAOMI and MKDELTA, was that project.
“MK” was used to indicate that the project was sponsored by the Technical Services Staff of the CIA, and “Ultra” was used as a nod to the codename that had been used for classified documents during WWII.
The original goal of MKUltra was to create a truth serum that could be used against Soviet spies and prisoners of war. Their goal was to gain intelligence on Soviet actions during the Cold War.
For secrecy’s sake, the experiments were spread out, across multiple cities, even taking place on college campuses and hospitals.
However, “truth serum” quickly spiraled into “mind control drugs.” The scientists began to wonder if the hypotheticals they had learned about during Operation Paperclip could actually be turned into reality.
There had been rumors that the Soviet Union, Chinese, and North Koreans were all developing mind control techniques (which later turned out to be just that — rumors) and the CIA was pushing for the U.S. to come up with one too. The CIA was also interested in the potentiality of using it on foreign dignitaries, in particular, Fidel Castro.
So, under the protection and secrecy of the CIA, the MKUltra scientists began performing experiments.
Most of the experiments involved observing the effects of illegal drug use, such as LSD and opioids, and some involved alcohol use.
However, there were much darker experiments happening as well.
A document from 1955, one of the few that were recovered, lists the assortment of drugs and substances that were given to the test subjects.
1. Substances which will promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the point where the recipient would be discredited in public.
2. Substances which increase the efficiency of mentation and perception.
3. Materials which will cause the victim to age faster/slower in maturity.
4. Materials which will promote the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
5. Materials which will produce the signs and symptoms of recognized diseases in a reversible way so that they may be used for malingering, etc.
6. Materials which will cause temporary/permanent brain damage and loss of memory.
7. Substances which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture, and coercion during interrogation and so-called “brain-washing”.
8. Materials and physical methods which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use.
9. Physical methods of producing shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use.
10. Substances which produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.
11. Substances which will produce a chemical that can cause blisters.
12. Substances which alter personality structure in such a way that the tendency of the recipient to become dependent upon another person is enhanced.
13. A material which will cause mental confusion of such a type that the individual under its influence will find it difficult to maintain a fabrication under questioning.
14. Substances which will lower the ambition and general working efficiency of men when administered in undetectable amounts.
15. Substances which promote weakness or distortion of the eyesight or hearing faculties, preferably without permanent effects.
16. A knockout pill which can surreptitiously be administered in drinks, food, cigarettes, as an aerosol, etc., which will be safe to use, provide a maximum of amnesia, and be suitable for use by agent types on an ad hoc basis.
17. A material which can be surreptitiously administered by the above routes and which in very small amounts will make it impossible for a person to perform physical activity.
Some of the most used substances were LSD, THC, and the synthetic, government-created super hallucinogen BZ, as well as other widely available stimulants such as alcohol.
Some methods of research involved observing subjects under the influence, giving subjects a dose of two opposite effect drugs, such as a barbiturate and an amphetamine, or giving a subject under the influence of alcohol a dose of LSD.
Drugs weren’t the only experiment, however.
Hypnosis was also used on subjects, mostly to “hypnotically induce anxieties.” The goal was to draw out fears that could then be exploited to gain intel. They also studied the effects of hypnosis on the results of a polygraph test.
Sensory deprivation tanks were also used during certain drug trips, to test the effects of the drug without the stimuli of the outside world. Along with the tanks, electroconvulsive therapy, aural stimulation, and paralytic drugs were also experimented with.
Some of the subjects were volunteers, students who were paid to take the drugs or drug addicts that were bribed with the promise of more drugs if they participated.
Some of the subjects were unwitting, or as one agent put it “people who could not fight back” such as prostitutes, prisoners, mental patients, and addicts. They seemed to get the worst of the treatments; all performed without their knowledge or informed consent.
In one experiment, a mental patient in Kentucky was unknowingly given a dose of LSD every day for 174 consecutive days.
However, the unwitting participants weren’t all “people who could not fight back.” In fact, some of them were CIA operatives themselves.
Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the head chemist of MKUltra, decided to take the concept of using LSD in investigations one step further. Noting that the effects were temporary, Gottlieb would give LSD to CIA officials in “normal” settings without warning. The experiments continued for years, even after an Army scientist, Dr. Frank Olson, suffered from a drug-induced depression and jumped out a thirteenth story window.
The side effects incurred by the subjects, both volunteered and unwilling were enormous. Subjects often reported things like depression, anteretrograde and retrograde amnesia, paralysis, withdrawal, confusion, disorientation, pain, insomnia and schizophrenic-like mental states after they had been experimented on.
The effects and repercussions were never treated or reported to authorities. However, as the experiments were on humans, they clearly violated the Nuremberg Code which the United States had elected to follow after World War II.