April 13th

On this day in 1953, CIA director Allen Dulles launched the mind control program MKUltra.

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Project MKUltra refers to a series of experiments conducted by the CIA on human subjects, attempting to identify and develop torture techniques and substances for interrogations, using ‘mind control’ procedures to obtain information. Coordination was organised between the Scientific Intelligence Division and Division of the Army Chemical Corps in order to implement the project. As described in the subsequent supreme court case

”(MKUltra was) concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behaviour”

Project MKUltra received much criticism and opposition due to the nature of experiments carried out. Engaging in illegal activities such as the use of US and Canadian citizens who were unaware of their involvement and thus unable to consent (violation of the Nuremberg code), as well as ethically and morally questionable activities such as the use of drugs (LSD in particular), hypnosis, sensory deprivation, sexual abuse and physical abuse to warp a subject’s mental cognitive functions all sparked controversy when details of the project were released. Initially created within a Cold War context to find the perfect ‘truth drug’ for Soviet spies in a climate of CIA paranoia, MKUltra was far reaching, with experiments occurring at 80 different institutions before being shut down in 1973 and brought into public knowledge in 1975.

Experiments involving the administration of drugs were carried out on ”People who could not fight back” according to one CIA operative, such as prostitutes and mental patients, as well as unwittingly on CIA employees and members of the general public to study the reaction a wide range of subjects had towards the drugs and try to obtain a balance of drugs that could create ‘robot agents’ or stimulate a confession.

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Hypnosis was also investigated, often in lieu with drugs, in further attempts to create a malleable mind for the retrieval of information.

The 1973 Watergate Scandal initiated paranoia which led to a wiping of the vast majority of CIA documentation of the experiments and results of MKUltra by CIA director Richard Helms, with 20 000 files only remaining after incorrectly being stored. This considerably hampered investigations into the legitimacy of actions carried out by the intelligence agency. A freedom of information request in 1977 led to eventual publication as well as full Senate Hearings 1977 and a Supreme Court case of CIA v. Sims 471 U.S. 159 (1985) however, many feel as though similar experiments continue today under new guises. The destruction of the majority of documentation has made it difficult to fully appreciate the extent of impact the project has held, with the number of deaths associated unable to be quantified conclusively.

Find documentation of Project MKUltra at:




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