Weird and twisted tale from San Francisco Telegraph Hill
23 March 2008
Weird, twisted and bizarre tales about the San Francisco Bay Area are
so numerous some merely make us yawn. But if any one story stands out
for its sheer audacity, moral depravity and utter madnessthis is it.
Years ago I came across a magazine article about something called
Operation Midnight Climax. I knew it had to be a joke. The CIA, with
the blessing and full cooperation of both the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics and the SFPD sets up and runs an LSD brothel in San
Francisco for ten solid years? Who do you think you're kidding?
Still, I dutifully dug for corroborative facts concerning this
Turns out Operation Midnight Climax was no joke.
Its story is particularly timely in light of revelations concerning
secret Bush Administration memos green-lighting CIA and Army
Intelligence torture techniques supposedly designed to obtain
information from "detainees" and "enemy combatants".
Back in the 1950's and '60's CIA experiments aimed at obtaining
information and controlling human behavior gravitated to covertly
dispensing numerous powerful psychotropic drugs. The CIA's original
charter prohibited it from engaging in any domestic operations. Yet
many of these drugs were given to U.S. citizens, on U.S. soil without
their knowledge or consent. Anyone interested in this unseemly
labyrinth can trot down to the the library or just google MK-ULTRA.
If ever there was a reason to inform ourselves and hold political
feet to the fire concerning our inalienable rights it's MK-ULTRA. Its
many programs had no external oversight and no accounting. For years
fully 6% of the CIA's entire budget went into MK-ULTRA programs that
even Congress knew nothing about.
But I'm wandering from the story at hand, namely:
Operation Midnight Climaxa Bay Area baby born of MK-ULTRA.
He was a tough, fat, bald guya character right out of Hollywood
central casting. Back in the early 1950's an itinerant San Francisco
journalist, former OSS operative and then Federal Bureau of Narcotics
agent named George Hunter White, aka Morgan Hall, was assigned by his
boss Harry Anslinger to team up with the CIA. Together they created
Operation Midnight Climax. White's assignment: explore and record how
a new drug called LSD affects behavior when consumed by unsuspecting
male johns in the company of drug addicted hookers. A great comedy
scenario, if it weren't so damn perverse.
By day George Hunter White continued to work the streets of San
Francisco, ferreting out drug deals and drug dealers, setting them up
and taking them down. By night he'd repair to the portable toilet his
friend Leo Jones had provided him behind the two way mirror set into
a wall of "the pad's" Telegraph Hill bedroom. The L-shaped Chestnut
Street duplex featured fantastic views of the San Francisco Bay. It
was festooned with Toulouse-Lautrec posters, hidden microphones, tape
recorders and a refrigerator stocked with pitchers of martinis. White
was a notorious booze hound. He'd knock back a quart or more of gin
nightly perched on the seat of his toilet scribbling notes on
concurrent activities in the adjacent bedroom.
But dosing unwitting johns produced, well, wildly inconsistent
results. White observed innumerable men behave in ways that suggested
insanity. So White gave LSD the pet name "Stormy". It fit. The
"psychedelic revolution" was still years away. We can hardly imagine
how the varied socio/ethnic/economic group of philanderers who wound
up at "the pad" must have reacted when dosed. Most had never heard
of, much less consumed any hallucinogenic substance before.
Richard Stratton interviewed George White's last living Operation
Midnight Climax associate for Spin Magazine in 1994. According White
lieutenant Ira "Ike" Feldman:
"White was a son of a bitch, but he was a great cop. He made that
fruitcake Hoover look like Nancy Drew. The LSD, that was just the tip
of the iceberg. Write this down. Espionage. Assassinations. Dirty
tricks. Drug experiments. Sexual encounters and the study of
prostitutes for clandestine use. That's what I was doing when I
worked for George White and the CIA."
George Hunter White continued operating his Telegraph Hill LSD
brothel until 1965, when he retired from the service. He moved to
Stinson Beach. Locals came to know him as Colonel White. He became
the Stinson Beach Fire Marshalland, after a few years on the wagon
White died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1975.
Upon his death White's widow gifted the Electronic Museum at
Foothills Junior College, forty miles south of San Francisco, with
his diaries. According to a Washington Post article dated September
5, 1977 these diaries:
"provide documentary evidence that White met to discuss drugs and
safe houses with such CIA luminaries as Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, head of
the Chemical Division of the Technical Services Division and the man
who ran MK-ULTRA, and Dr. Robert V. Lashbrook, a CIA chemist who
worked with LSD. Other high-ranking CIA officials mentioned
prominently include James Angleton, C. P. Cabell and Stanley Lovell.
Gottleib and Lashbrook have been subpoenaed to testify Sept. 20
(1977) before a Senate subcommittee investigating the MK-ULTRA project."
Upon retirement George Hunter White wrote to Harry Anslinger, his old
boss at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, reflecting on White's many
years of service:
"I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled
wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where
else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape,
and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?"
And so concludes yet another true San Francisco tale about your
American taxpayer dollars working to protect you and yours.