Following the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945, the predecessor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), sought to recruit Nazi scientists for employment by the United States. Under the directions and supervision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Operation Paperclip recruited Nazi scientists who had a broad skill-set, ranging from rocketry to torture.
Using the newly gathered intelligence, the United States Navy started Project Chatter and the CIA started Project Artichoke, both of which studied the effects of drugs for the purposes of interrogation. The CIA’s project used hypnosis, forced morphine addiction, and the use of other chemicals and methods.
On April 13, 1953, Project MK-Ultra was officially approved. MK-Ultra initially began its human experimentation on CIA employees and military personnel, but soon began to include prostitutes, the mentally ill, and abducted American & Canadian citizens. Operating under the umbrella of Project MK-Ultra, Operation Midnight Climax consisted of a web of CIA-run safe houses in San Francisco, Marin, and New York. Prostitutes on the CIA payroll were paid to lure clients to these safe houses, where the men would be drugged and monitored behind one way glass. This method of experimentation was desired because the victims, when released, would be too embarrassed to discuss the events. In 1962, the use of these safe houses were significantly scaled back following the recommendation of CIA Inspector General John Earman.
With the CIA safe houses no longer in operation, human experimentation under MK-Ultra continued in Canada under the supervision of psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron, who previously served on the medical tribunal at the Nuremberg trials in the late 1940’s. From 1957-1964, Cameron was paid $69,000 by the CIA to conduct experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University in Quebec. It was here that the most disturbing experiments took place, which included heavy doses of LSD and electroshock therapy at 30-40 times the normal power. Subjects were also intentionally placed in comas, where recordings of noise or simple statements would be played on a loop for periods of time ranging from several weeks up to three months. When awakened, the patients were severely and often permanently damaged. They suffered from losing control of their bodily functions, amnesia, forgetting how to speak, and some thought the doctors were their parents. Cameron later became the first chairman of the World Psychiatric Association, as well as president of the American and Canadian psychiatric associations.
In 1973, CIA director Richard Helms ordered the destruction of all documents pertaining to MK-Ultra. Due to the destruction of these records, it is difficult or impossible to perform additional research into MK-Ultra or the 150 individually funded sub-projects that operated under the MK-Ultra banner. Regardless, The New York Times reported that the CIA had conducted illegal domestic activities, including experiments on U.S. citizens, which prompted Congress to intervene and conduct investigations. The Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission both released reports in 1975 that revealed that the CIA and Department of Defense conducted experiments on citizens without their consent. The Church Committee concluded in their report that “[p]rior consent was obviously not obtained from any of the subjects.” With the program now in the open, both the Canadian and American governments fought a number of court battles related to MK-Ultra’s experiments. The Canadian government settled out of court, paying each of the 127 victims $100,000 each. The American government aggressively contested any court cases relating to MK-Ultra, some of them successfully. Several plaintiffs received compensation through court orders, out-of-court settlements, and acts of Congress. President Ford and CIA director William Colby met with the family of Frank Olson, a man who died as a direct result of MK-Ultra, to publicly apologize. Olson’s family also received $750,000 via a special act of Congress.