For many Americans, the 1950s were a docile decade. In U.S. history books, the period is mostly portrayed as a mellow, orderly one, especially in light of the social upheavals that followed in the 1960s. But for the CIA those years were packed with adventure and action, much of it conducted outside of the public's view. Few programs were sheltered with more secrecy than the Agency's mind control experiments, identified together with the code-name MKULTRA. Concerned about rumors of communist brainwashing of POWs* during the Korean War, in April1953 CIA director Allen Dulles authorized the MKULTRA program, which would later become notorious for the unusual and sometimes inhumane tests that CIA financed.
In 1953, Project Artichoke evolved into Project MKULTRA, the project had grown out of an earlier secret program know as Bluebird that was officially formed to counter Soviet advances in brainwashing. MKULTRA is the CIA's super secret project, a program of research on substances designed to influence behavior, a program that was to last for almost twenty years.
Richard Helms has been described as the driving force behind the endeavor, and in a 1953 memo he noted that part of its function was "implanting suggestions and other forms of mental control". MKULTRA was to move from laboratory testing on animals to testing human volunteers (although the individuals were not necessarily to know what substance they were ingesting.) and to the use of experimental drugs on totally unknowing citizens. The range of experiments that the CIA developed to test these materials is both horrifying and fascinating. At least one death can be attributed to the work, more may have occurred. Many lives were touched, and some subjects live on with the effects of MKULTRA disturbing their ability to think.
In reality the CIA had other objectives. An earlier aim...