The history of mankind is riddled with the weird and the wonderful; bizarre people, strange places and odd events. For centuries, we’ve told each other fantastic stories around campfires and in darkened rooms. Tales of ghosts, UFOs, and conspiracies, but are these stories exactly that: Stories? There’s only one way to find out! Join me as I dive down the rabbit hole and into… the Unexplained Files.
This week: MKUltra
New York City, November 1953. Frank Olson, a US Army biochemist and biological weapons researcher, suffers a severe psychotic episode, which ends with him plummeting thirteen storeys from a hotel window to the streets below. Suicide, right? Not so fast. At the time of his death, his blood was coursing with the drug lysergic acid diethylamide – a.k.a. LSD. One week earlier, without his knowledge, Frank had been laced with the psychedelic drug as part of an experiment. As mental as that sounds, what's more mental is that the experiment was conducted by the CIA. On the evening of his death, an internal investigation at the CIA had ruled, Frank had been told that the drug was in his system, but he wasn’t informed the exact nature of the drug or its effect until twenty minutes later.
You’re Kidding, Right?
Nope. You read it right: Frank Olson died because he was given LSD by the CIA. See, the Agency was conducting experiments (sometimes illegal) on human test subjects with the main aim of identifying and developing drugs and procedures that could be used in interrogations to weaken the subject, thus making it easier to get confessions. I’ll just say that again. The CIA gave people LSD with a view to controlling their minds.
Surely after killing one of their own in poor Frank Olson, that brought a swift end to the MKUltra Program. Yeah, no. Not even close. The experiments continued for a further TWENTY years, and that’s just officially.
Hold Your Horses!
It gets worse. Aside from slipping unwitting US and Canadian citizens Mickeys, the program also used other charming methods to alter test subject’s mental states. Methods like isolation, verbal abuse, sensory deprivation and psychological torture.
By the time it was officially closed down in 1973, the project had included over forty colleges and universities, 12 hospitals or clinics, 15 research foundations, and three prisons.
So what about Frank Olson? Well, his family disputed the official story of his death. See, a few days before his death, he’d left his job. The toll it had taken on him was too great. The CIAs development of ‘assassination materials’ (I’m not sure what those are, but they sure as shit don’t sound nice), use of biological warfare materials, and cooperation with former Nazi scientists (they hired them at the end of WWII in the now infamous Operation Paperclip) were among the reasons he quit. Frank’s family thought the CIA were worried that he’d blab. Sounds crazy, right? It does, until you learn that a medical examiner told the Olsens that Frank had been knocked unconscious before he went through the window, ruling Frank’s death a “homicide”. In 1975, Frank’s family received a formal apology from then President Gerald Ford and CIA director William Colby, along with $750,000 from the US government. So, yeah, there’s that.
Make Your Mind Up Time.
Was Frank Olson the only death at the hands of MKUltra? We may never know. If they killed a dude then thought ‘fuck it, let’s carry on’ for another two decades, it would suggest not. So, how do we know about it?
Just after the Watergate incident caused the government to break out in assholes and shit themselves to death, then CIA director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed. But in a classic and monumental balls-up, 20,000 documents survived, because they’d been stored incorrectly in a financial records building, and in 1977, they were discovered in a Freedom of Information Act request. If not for that simple mistake, we’d have never found out about it. Dwell on that a while.
There are some who hold the belief that the experiments only closed down ‘officially’ in ’73, and that they actually carry on to this day. I can’t verify that, but again, if they carried on for twenty more years after killing a dude they worked with, it wouldn’t come as a massive shock. Did the CIA give people LSD in a mind control program named MKUltra? You’d better believe it.
RATING: 1=Bollocks 2=Not convinced 3=Possibly… 4=Compelling stuff 5=Holyshittheskyisfalling
Further reading/listening: the book The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson. The MKUltra podcast episode by Those Conspiracy Guys (NSFW). And for those of you that think I’m making this shit up, there’s always the CIA’s own website...
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In this blog I'll be bringing to you short tales of things that go bump in the night, true stories of weird and unexplained events, and the real-life news of all things odd and macabre, and entertain you along the way.