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Experimenting With the Mind

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The CIA was eager to examine the use of dangerous pharmaceutical drugs to modify the behavior of targeted individuals, and so it asked commercial drug manufacturers to pass along samples of medicines rejected for commercial sale "because of unfavorable side effects," according to an undated memorandum included in dozens of CIA documents released yesterday.

CIA scientists tested some of the drugs on monkeys and mice, the memo said. Drugs that showed promise, it said, "were then tested at Edgewood, using volunteer members of the Armed Forces." This appears to be a reference to an Army laboratory north of Baltimore now called the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. The memo doesn't discuss the reactions of those human subjects.

The three-paragraph memo reports that the late Carl Duckett, a senior CIA technologist, had said the testing program was not intended to find new techniques to be used offensively, but rather was an effort to detect if such drugs were being employed by others.

Duckett "emphasizes that the program was considered as defensive, in the sense that we would be able to recognize certain behavior if similar materials were used against Americans," it states. Duckett, the CIA's deputy director for science and technology, retired in 1977 and died in 1992.

Another document, dated May 8, 1973, mentions the existence of a 1963 account of agency scientists administering mind- or personality-altering drugs on "unwitting subjects" -- that is, testing hallucinogens such as LSD on people without their knowledge. The document doesn't provide details.

One of the most notorious such cases involved Frank R. Olson, a CIA germ-warfare expert who died in a fall from a hotel window in 1953, nine days after a CIA doctor spiked Olson's after-dinner drink with LSD. In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford invited Olson's family to the White House to apologize; the government also paid the family $750,000.

Sidney Gottlieb, the chief of the CIA's technical services division, who directed the mind-control experiments, retired from the government in 1973 and died in 1999. The released documents shed little light on those experiments.

-- Thomas E. Ricks

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