Inside the Army's Far-Out Acid Tests
By David Hambling
November 5, 2009
Dropping acid to boost the Pentagon's psychic powers was just the
start. The Men Who Stare At Goats, the upcoming movie based on Jon
Ronson's non-fiction book of the same name, has George Clooney and
Jeff Bridges in a bizarre military research project involving astral
projection, remote viewing, and LSD. But for the real dope on the
Army's narcotics and psychedelics tests, you have to turn to Dr.
James S. Ketchum, who wrote a firsthand account of the military's
trials with these "incapacitating chemical agents."
The experimenters tried some of the substances themselves, including
red oil, a highly-concentrated distillation of marijuana, which
appeared to be highly effective (and not unpleasant) as an
incapacitant. The military decided it was not powerful enough,
however, "and perhaps too socially unacceptable" for military
purposes, Ketchum notes. A better candidate was LSD, a more powerful
psychoactive drug with an effective dose measured in micrograms.
On one occasion, Ketchum found a colleague wandering around at night
in his underwear with what appeared to be a glass watch faceplate
taped to his wrist. Ketchum asked what he was doing:
"I'm trying to see if LSD has any effects through the skin," he
replied somewhat distractedly. "I've got it in some ethylene glycol
under this watch glass."
"So far it hasn't had any particular effect," he added.
I was still dubious.
But Ketchum's report shows that the Army's operation was a model of
scientific experimentation compared to the CIA's. In 1953, the Agency
attempted to purchase ten kilograms of LSD, supposedly for testing
purposes. This was enough for over a hundred million doses. They were
informed that the total amount manufactured was only ten grams.
However, on a Monday morning, a rather curious incident occurred.
Ketchum found that his office had acquired a new piece of furniture,
a steel barrel like an oil drum in one corner of the room. At first
he ignored it, but eventually curiosity got the better of him, and
one evening when he was along Ketchum undid the fastenings. The
barrel was packed with jars:
Neatly labeled, tightly sealed glass canisters, looking like cookie
jars, filled the entire drum. I cautiously took one out and examined
it. According to the label, it contained approximately three pounds
of pure EA 1729 (LSD).
Ketchum estimated that the barrel contained at thirty to forty pounds
of the drug, a few hundred million doses and with a street value of
something like a billion dollars. The sort of amount the CIA had been after.
Ketchum was not given any explanation for the giant stash, and on the
Friday morning it had disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived. It
seemed like something out of fiction, and Ketchum got as far as
starting a novel with the billion-dollar-barrel in the opening scene
before giving up. But the barrel stuck in his mind, a disturbing
presence which he likens to the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey
"The similarity struck me as quite spooky, and remains somewhat
spooky as I think about it today."
Who knows where the massive supply went? Certainly the CIA had
something of an obsession with LSD, at one point believing it was an
effective truth drug. In the infamous Operation Midnight Climax,
unwitting clients at CIA brothels in New York and San Francisco were
slipped LSD and then monitored through one-way mirrors to see how
they reacted. They even killed an elephant with LSD. Colleagues were
also considered fair game for secret testing, to the point where a
memo was issued instructing that the punch bowls at office Christmas
parties were not to be spiked.
But the LSD testing ended in tragedy as recounted in the book of
the Men Who Stare at Goats with the death of scientist Frank Olson
after he fell to his death. The findings have suggested homicide, but
the case has never been resolved.
Now, it seems that LSD is back: this time as a potential treatments
(along with MDMA, aka Ecstasy) for post-traumatic stress disorder,
something which is currently causing the military real problems. So
instead of being used as a weapon, mind-altering drugs are being used
to heal: the kind of happy ending that Jeff Bridges' hippie character
would thoroughly approve of.
CIA's Lost Magic Manual Resurfaces
By Noah Shachtman
November 24, 2009
At the height of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency paid
$3,000 to renowned magician John Mulholland to write a manual on
misdirection, concealment, and stagecraft. All known copies of the
document and a related paper, on conveying hidden signals were
believed to be destroyed in 1973. But recently, the manuals
resurfaced, and have now been published as "The Official CIA Manual
of Trickery and Deception." Topics include working a clandestine
partner, slipping a pill into the drink of the unsuspecting, and
"surreptitious removal of objects by women."
This wasn't the first time a magician worked for a western
government. Harry Houdini snooped on the German and the Russian
militiaries for Scotland Yard. English illusionist Jasper Maskelyne
is reported to created dummy submarines and fake tanks to distract
Rommel's army during World War II. Some reports even credit him with
employing flashing lights to "hide" the Suez Canal.
But Mulholland's contributions were far different, because they were
part of a larger CIA effort, called MK-ULTRA, to control people's
minds. Which lead to the Agency's infatuation with LSD, as David
Hambling recounted here a few weeks ago:
In the infamous Operation Midnight Climax, unwitting clients at CIA
brothels in New York and San Francisco were slipped LSD and then
monitored through one-way mirrors to see how they reacted. They even
killed an elephant with LSD. Colleagues were also considered fair
game for secret testing, to the point where a memo was issued
instructing that the punch bowls at office Christmas parties were not
to be spiked.
The Boston Globe has put together a great visual summary of some of
Mulholland's best tricks for the CIA: the shoelace pattern that means
"follow me"; the hidden compartment to smuggle in an agent; the best
ways to appear dumb and non-threatening. Because there's no better
misdirection than appearing to be a fool.