Dissecting CIA’s Lies About MKULTRA

One of the many interesting documents on CIA’s CREST database was guidance on the MKULTRA mind-control projects. The guidance was produced in 1983 and intended for CIA’s Deputy Directors, the Executive Director, the Director of Public Affairs and “all Agency employees on the speaking circuit.” Just over a page long, the text is riddled with lies, errors and half-truths. In fact, the very first sentence is inaccurate on several counts.

Because of reports that the Soviet Union may have developed the capability to affect human behavior through the use of drugs, the Agency initiated a program of research in this area called MKULTRA which continued from 1953 to 1964.

The dates provided are misleading at best. MKULTRA officially began in 1953, but one of it’s partner programs, MKDELTA, had begun in 1952. Its predecessor programs had begun as early as 1949, judging by CIA’s index of “MKULTRA and behavioral research” documents. It’s impossible to know much about what happened before that in MKULTRA’s predecessor projects BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, as an Agency memo notes that “almost no information [is] available for the period prior to 1952.” MKULTRA also didn’t end in 1964 so much as it changed its name to MKSEARCH.  According to John Marks’ book on the subject, “Gottlieb acknowledged that security did not require transferring all the surviving MKULTRA subprojects over to MKSEARCH. He moved 18 subprojects back into regular Agency funding channels.”

When the destruction of MKULTRA documents was ordered in 1973, it apparently didn’t include the MKSEARCH records either. A CIA letter indicates that those documents still existed and were in circulation in 1977. This may be because the Inspector General report recommended that future testing be conducted in an operational setting (discussed below and in the attached report at the beneath the article).

The project also went well beyond the use of drugs. According to a report from CIA’s Inspector General which had been produced twenty years earlier, the MKULTRA charter authorized investigation into behavior modification using methods “including radiation, electro-shock [sic], various fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology, graphology, harrassment [sic] substances and paramilitary devices and materials.”

The guidance on statements regarding MKULTRA continues:

Much of this research, which principally involved the use of LSD, was conducted at well-known institutions under the control and direction of researchers at, and to the standards of, those institutions. The research and its results were generally unclassified and published in the normal manner by such institutions.

The half of the above statement is mostly true, especially in the instances where the Agency used research foundations to provide “sterile grants” to institutions which would remain unaware of the Agency’s interest. However, “key individuals must qualify for top secret clearance and are made witting of Agency sponsorship. … The system in effect ‘ buys a piece’ of the specialist in order to enlist his aid in pursuing the intelligence implications of his research.”

The next two statements in the Agency’s guidance about statements on MKULTRA are outright lies about some of the most important issues raised by the MKULTRA experiments and similar programs.

Other MKULTRA research was performed in a questionable manner:  research and tests were conducted on individuals who were not witting that they were the subjects of a research program and that they were being given a drug. This unwitting testing generally took place in social situations among friends and acquaintances of the researcher.

The first lie is that the Agency thought this was questionable. The Inspector General report states that these “testing programs [were] conducted under accepted scientific procedures” [emphasis added]. Far from being applied to unwitting friends in a friendly environment, these procedures were carried out by “physicians, toxicologists, and other specialists in mental, narcotics, and general hospitals and in prisons who are provided the products and findings of the basic research projects and proceed with intensive testing on human subjects. … Where health permits, test subjects are voluntary participants in the program.”

The Agency’s talking points go on to assert that:

When questions were raised within the Agency about this program, it was discontinued and its nature and termination were reported to our then Congressional overseers.

As mentioned above, the program didn’t end – it was renamed and reorganized in response to the Inspector General report. However, the Inspector General report also contradicts the official statement that the program was discontinued because of concerns that were raised. The concerns focused on blowback of exposure, not on the efficacy or ethicality of the work itself. The report even specifies that ending the program wouldn’t truly end the program.

Final phase testing of MKULTRA substances or devices on unwitting subjects is recognized to be an activity of genuine importance in the development of some but not all MKULTRA products. Termination of such testing would have some, but an essentially indeterminate, effect on the development of operational capability in this field. Of more critical significance, however, is the risk of serious damage to the Agency in the event of compromise of the true nature of this activity.

The Inspector General report makes it clear that the concerns the Agency was worried about involved exposure, not the nature of the work itself. The introduction to the report even notes that many people within the Agency already found the work to be “distasteful and unethical.”

The talking points end on a note designed to mislead people into thinking that the program was proactively disclosed by the government in 1975 and 1976, instead of being exposed by the New York Times in 1974, and that new guidelines require that informed consent be provided. This is undermined by the suggestion of the Inspector General report that they begin using covert assets overseas to perform the testing for them.



Every line of the press guidance was carefully calculated to be just “true enough” to get away with saying it, while maintaining plausible deniability and misdirecting those who take the statements as anything other than gross distortions of the truth.

You can read the statement guidance on MKULTRA below, which is followed by the Inspector General report.


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