In the early 1950s, the CIA started a program called MK-ULTRA. Fearing that the Soviet Union was getting ahead in espionage, they investigated whether LSD could be used for mind control.
The existence of MK-ULTRA is fairly well-known, but most people don’t know just how crazy the details were. CIA agents did some absolutely insane things with LSD. It’s not entirely clear that the government actually learned anything, but they definitely got some incredible stories out of it.
10 Agents Slipped Each Other LSD
In the early days of MK-ULTRA, LSD was mostly tested on willing agents. CIA agents would very carefully take small doses of LSD and take notes on the effects.
As time passed, though, it escalated. Any agent who took LSD also agreed to be dosed unexpectedly at any time. Agents would secretly spike each others’ drinks so often that finding out your morning coffee had acid in it was just considered an “occupational hazard.”
It got so bad that when the CIA held an office party in 1954, they had to send a memo out to their staff specifically instructing them not to put LSD in the punch. Even then, the agents didn’t trust each other. One agent allegedly still brought his own wine bottle—and refused to put it down for even a second.
9 A Magician Taught The CIA Sleight Of Hand
Drugging people with LSD didn’t remain an in-house activity for long. In a short time, the CIA decided to expand its program to unsuspecting citizens, so they called in the experts—magicians.
John Mulholland, a professional illusionist, wrote a manual on sleight of hand, specifically so agents could add a little zest to your drink with a splash of LSD. He taught agents how to distract an audience with a dramatic action, such as lighting a match, to hide what their other hand was doing. He even suggested tricks that the CIA could use, such as gluing a pill to a matchbook and making it fall into a cup.
The manual features a little deception of its own: In the foreword, an attached message says that Mulholland’s methods “were never actually used,” but other documents reveal that Mulholland’s deceptions were a key part of the MK-ULTRA program.
8 The CIA Hired Prostitutes To Drug Their Clients
One way the CIA tested out LSD was through Operation Midnight Climax—an operation that truly lived up to its name.
The CIA set up a brothel and paid prostitutes $100 to lure unsuspecting men inside. Once there, the men were given LSD-laced liquor and brought to a bed next to a one-way mirror, with agents on the other side, watching.
Officially, the CIA was testing the prostitutes to see if they could become secret agents. They wanted to know if they could get information from a target using sex and drugs.
Unofficially, however, this may have just been an excuse for CIA agents to watch people have sex. The head of the project, George White, later wrote that it was “fun, fun, fun” and mused, “Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the all-highest?”