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CIA LSD Subway Experiments and MK-ULTRA Project

By: Michael Stevens
Published: Mar 20, 2010

CIA's top secret MK-ULTRA project was designed to explore LSD on subways as a truth drug.

The CIA conducted LSD tests on New York subways, according to a new book entitled "A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments." The author, H.P. Albarelli, found documents supporting the allegation when researching information for his book. The alleged incident occurred in September 1950.

"The experiment was pretty shocking -- shocking that the CIA and the Army would release the drug like that, among innocent unwitting folks," H.P. Albarelli said in a statement.

One piece of evidence cited in the book is a declassified FBI report from Aug. 25, 1950. "The BW [biological weapon] experiments to be conducted by representatives of the Department of the Army in the New York Subway System in September 1950, have been indefinitely postponed," it says. Dr. Henry Eigelsbach, a former CIA research scientist, says that the aerosol hallucinogenic tests did, in fact, happen. There is little known about their scale and results.

What's also interesting is that the timing of the hallucinogenic experiments coincides with an incident in which a French town was suddenly seized by insanity. The incident put 32 people in the hospital and led to four deaths. Officials blamed moldy rye bread, but the chemical make-up of the fungus resembled that of LSD.

Research Scientist Frank Olson

Frank Olson, the CIA research scientist in charge of LSD, was actually in France at the time of the outbreak. Olsen also became an unwitting subject. He later committed suicide.

Central Intelligence Agency's Top Secret MK-ULTRA Project

The CIA became interested in LSD when they read reports alleging that American prisoners during the Korean War were being brainwashed with the use of some sort of drug or "lie serum." LSD was the original centerpiece of the United States Central Intelligence Agency's top secret MK-ULTRA project. It was an ambitious undertaking conducted from the 1950s through the 1970s designed to explore the possibilities of pharmaceutical mind control.

Hundreds of participants, including CIA agents, government employees, military personnel, prostitutes, members of the general public, and mental patients were given the drug. Several of the patients were given the psychedelic drug without their knowledge or consent. The experiments often involved severe psychological torture and many victims committed suicide or wound up in psychiatric wards.

To guard against outward reactions, doctors conducted experiments in clinics and laboratories where subjects were monitored by EEG machines and had their words taped recorded. Some studies investigated whether drugs, stress or specific environmental conditions could be used to break prisoners or to induce confessions. The agency also created "The Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology" which was the agency's funding front.

This front provided grants to social scientists and medical researchers investigating questions of interest related to the MK-ULTRA program. Between 1960 and 1963, the CIA gave $856 782 worth of grants to different organizations. The researchers eventually concluded that the drug's effects were too varied and uncontrollable to make it of any practical use as a truth drug.