It began, as the story unfolded on Capitol Hill yesterday, with the assigning of three CIA agents to fly to San Francisco round up recruits from local bars, and then spray the merrymakers with a newly developed LSD bug-bomb in an agency safe house.
It ended with one of the agents, closeted in the bathroom of the CIA facility, dousing himself with the drug - which didn't work.
The 1959 experiment is not likely to go down in the annals of intelligence triumphs, one of the former agents acknowledged to a giggling Senate panel, which opened two days of hearings into the Central Intelligence Agency's mind control experiment known as project MK-ULTRA.
Safe houses are residences maintained by the CIA for clandestine activities. The problem with the San Francisco safe house, explained David Rhodes, one of the former MK-ULTRA operatives, was that it was summner and the house had no air conditioning. The agents were afraid the LSD would drift out an open windown if they sprayed it at the party.
"The weather defeated us," said Rhodes.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Human Resources subcommittee on health, prodded the reluctant former agent.
"Well, did you ever get sent back to San Francisco?" Kennedy asked.
"Once more," Rhodes said. "We were sent back to attend the first national lesbian conference."
It was, said the agent, all part of the CIA effort through the 1950s and 1960s to understand and influence patterns of human behavior. Rhodes, now retired, said he lives in Reston and described from management affairs to parapsychology."
The description of the agency's MK-ULTRA efforts that emerged at yesterday's hearing was more a portrayal of a group of bumbling amateurs than of American James Bonds.
Philip Goldman, another former MK-ULTRA agent, said he was assigned by the CIA to develop devices for political harassment overseas. One, he told the committee, would propel a small glass vial filled with tear gas up to 100 yards.
The device was ordered, said Goldman, after an agent tried tossing one of the vials out of his hotel window into a foreign political rally. The vial bounced off a wall and broke open, filling the hotel room with gas, he said.
In addition to the faulty LSD bug bomb, Goldman said, he also made billy clubs that shot tear gas, druglaced sqizzle sticks that melted away in drinks and a hypodermic needle that shot drugs into corked wine bottles.
Most of the devices, he said, were turned over for field testing to George H. White, a colorful federal narcotics agent who went by the name of Morgan Hall and operated a San Francisco safe house for both the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the CIA.
Goldman said he presumed White, who has since died, tested the devices in San Francisco bars.
The CIA also received criticism from Dr. Charles Geschickter, the former Georgetown University professor whose private medical research fund served as a front for $2.2 million in CIA-funded covert research over a 13-year span.
Geschickter said documents released recently by the CIA on its research funding were not accurate. In some cases, Geschickter said, the agency had overstated its role in research projects and had even paid bills for nonexistent services. Geschickter said he did not know where the money actually went.
In 1957, Geschickter said, the CIA channeled $375,000 through his foundation to help build a new research wing on the hospital at Georgetown. CIA officials called the wing "a hospital safe house," he said, but no agency work was ever done there.
In the end, said Geschickter, the CIA ended up funding research projects that involved treatments for asthma, high blood pressure, cancer and arthritis. The projects were developed by the researchers, not the agency, he said.
"They had the money," said Geschickter of the MK-ULTRA officials, "but they didn't have any ideas."