Operation Midnight Climax: How the CIA Dosed S.F. Citizens with LSD

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Illustration by Rick Sealock.

It's been over 50 years, but Wayne Ritchie says he can still remember how it felt to be dosed with acid.

He was drinking bourbon and soda with other federal officers at a holiday party in 1957 at the U.S. Post Office Building on Seventh and Mission streets. They were cracking jokes and swapping stories when, suddenly, the room began to spin. The red and green lights on the Christmas tree in the corner spiraled wildly. Ritchie's body temperature rose. His gaze fixed on the dizzying colors around him.

The deputy U.S. marshal excused himself and went upstairs to his office, where he sat down and drank a glass of water. He needed to compose himself. But instead he came unglued. Ritchie feared the other marshals didn't want him around anymore. Then he obsessed about the probation officers across the hall and how they didn't like him, either. Everyone was out to get him. Ritchie felt he had to escape.

He fled to his apartment and sought comfort from his live-in girlfriend. It didn't go as planned. His girlfriend was there, but an argument erupted. She told him she was growing tired of San Francisco and wanted to return to New York City. Ritchie couldn't handle the situation. Frantic, he ran away again, this time to the Vagabond Bar where he threw back more bourbon and sodas. From there, he hit a few more bars, further cranking up his buzz. As he drank his way back to Seventh and Mission, Ritchie concocted a plan that would change his life.

Now in his mid-eighties and living in San Jose, Ritchie may be among the last of the living victims of MK-ULTRA, a Central Intelligence Agency operation that covertly tested lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on unwitting Americans in San Francisco and New York City from 1953 to 1964.

"I remember that night very clearly, yes I do," he said in a recent interview. "I was paranoid. I got down to where I thought everyone was against me. The whole world was against me."

After the day had bled into night on Dec. 20, 1957, Ritchie returned to his office in the Post Office Building and retrieved two service revolvers from his locker. He was going rogue.

"I decided if they want to get rid of me, I'll help them. I'll just go out and get my guns from my office and hold up a bar," Ritchie recalls. "I thought, 'I can get enough money to get my girlfriend an airline ticket back to New York, and I'll turn myself in.' But I was unsuccessful."

Out of his skull on a hallucinogen and alcohol, Ritchie rolled into the Shady Grove in the Fillmore District, and ordered one final bourbon and soda. After swallowing down the final drops, he pointed his revolver at the bartender and demanded money. Before joining the marshals, Ritchie served five years in the Marines and spent a year as an Alcatraz prison guard. But the cop had suddenly become the robber.

It was over in a flash. A waitress came up behind him and asked Ritchie what he was doing. When Ritchie turned around, a patron hit him over the head and knocked him unconscious. He awoke to a pair of police officers standing over him.

Ritchie says he had expected to get caught or killed.

The judge went easy on him and Ritchie avoided prison. He resigned from the Marshals Service, pleaded guilty to attempted armed robbery, paid a $500 fine, and was sentenced to five years' probation.

Ritchie's story is certainly peculiar, but not unique. Other San Franciscans were unsuspecting participants in a strange research program in which the government effectively broke the law in an effort to fight the Cold War.

Seymour Hersh first exposed MK-ULTRA in a New York Times article in 1974 that documented CIA illegalities, including the use of its own citizens as guinea pigs in games of war and espionage. John Marks expertly chronicled more of the operation in his 1979 book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. There have been other reports on the CIA's doping of civilians, but they have mostly dished about activities in New York City. Accounts of what actually occurred in San Francisco have been sparse and sporadic. But newly declassified CIA records, recent interviews, and a personal diary of an operative at Stanford Special Collections shed more light on the breadth of the San Francisco operation.

There were at least three CIA safe houses in the Bay Area where experiments went on. Chief among them was 225 Chestnut on Telegraph Hill, which operated from 1955 to 1965. The L-shaped apartment boasted sweeping waterfront views, and was just a short trip up the hill from North Beach's rowdy saloons. Inside, prostitutes paid by the government to lure clients to the apartment served up acid-laced cocktails to unsuspecting johns, while martini-swilling secret agents observed their every move from behind a two-way mirror. Recording devices were installed, some disguised as electrical outlets.

To get the guys in the mood, the walls were adorned with photographs of tortured women in bondage and provocative posters from French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The agents grew fascinated with the kinky sex games that played out between the johns and the hookers. The two-way mirror in the bedroom gave the agents a close-up view of all the action.

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77 comments
dwillis840
dwillis840

So the people who tell us that entheogens are too evil and dangerous to allow citizens to use them for spiritual healing and enlightenment in safe settings have a history of recklessly and irrationally administering the same drugs to laypeople without their knowledge or consent for no better reason than to fuck with them.

Why do we allow these people to decide for us what is good and what isn't?

art01
art01

I was inducted at some point around the age of 4 in the late 1960's. Sometime between ages 4 and 5 I was given LSD in a hospital setting. I have vivid memories of the hallucinatory effect, how the nurse's cap turned into a rainbow colored snake and then a feather boa. Not all of us are so damaged that we cannot function or contribute positively to society, and we do, despite the ostracism, and cold denial with which our stories are commonly met. It continues to be a long wait for researchers to catch up and begin exposing these horrendous crimes. We need good researchers too, because there is often more discrediting disinformation than good available, especially on the Internet.  

I am aware of at least 2 FOIA documents mentioning work on children, including one that describes how two girls were hypno-programmed to arm a bomb. As another commenter mentioned, we also have survivor testimony before Congress (1995 radiation hearings), and at least one survey conducted by clinicians with more than 500 respondents reporting experiences of MK-Ultra style intentional manipulation.

For those interested in the Olson episode, I suggest H.P. Albarelli's exhaustive study, "A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and The CIA's Cold War Experiments", published in 2009. He makes a convincing case for how Mr. Olson met his end on the sidewalk, as the CIA's first known murder of one of its own.

I also prefer Walter Bowart's "Operation Mind Control" over Marks' work. It's based on the same documentation, but Bowart provides a much more accurate description of the techniques developed during the 50's and 60's, and his conclusion, that this "work" continues is also correct. I can't point to a source for this, I don't believe it is in any published survivor account, but we do have young people coming forward as survivors today, people who were born in the 1980's, and 1990's. Together with the reports of other survivors, and my own experience, I can say mind control is still operational.

Keith_R_Radford_Jr
Keith_R_Radford_Jr

I was born in 1953 and place in the program as a small child in 1959 by a joint effort of the USN and Corp of Engineers but under paperwork issued by the Army Corp of Engineers. When the Stanford Project got out of hand Senator Harry Reid and a host of other people from the Churches that took over the project held a meeting in Hollywood. If you know anything about the MKULTRA program and the structure it included drug testing and the CIA involvement with the movie industry. Now don't take this wrong but if your family is long term movie industry workers their is a good chance your mother, or father used me for sex when I was a child. I know how the authorities continue the process of setting us up for jail terms to keep administering theses drugs so out memories won't return. I refused to take those drugs this last false arrest because I do remember and refuse to be put through the abuse of my profile to make our nation look good at my expense. I am done being the scape goat for what has been done to me. I have written congress and told them they will play hell and have hell to pay for their premeditated murderous choice to make someone and then murder them, which is reality and not movie magic. People have worth and are not to be used that way so I write to call them on their lie. Don't think you will get away with it and call it godly. There is nothing godly about murder by design.

Guest
Guest

Thank you for writing the article. SF Weekly is smart in doing so for there are actually millions of victims of the MK-Ultra and related experiments that are living today who do not know they were experimented on. The government ran 150 MK-Ultra related illegal experiments that were a violation of the Nuremburg Code of Laws. They inflicted torture and recruitment on children, young adults, manufactured LSD & other drugs and handed them out at elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, and colleges, went after Jewish minorities who served in the military and their children, robbed and stole articles from people, hired their own garbage collector service that would find ways to rob people including those who served in the military, especially minority groups; gave African American men syphillus so they could experiment on them to see how their treatments were, drove people to suicide using drugs, threats, terror tactics, and more. Today millions survive, yes, and families are affected. The CIA's clear aim was also to cause mental illnesses in people, especially those who they felt were not part of the posse: minority types, non pure anglo saxon Christians. There are people in mental institutions who were raped, defiled, fed overdoses of acid and other drugs, hounded, stalked by the CIA who are so afraid of reality, they may never become well and functioning people again. Worst of all, the CIA is known to cause paranoia, and uses mental threats, sometimes overreacting to situations and underreacting in others. It still goes on today. There are no real reports yet on the drug excstacy which seems to be so freely available to the youth today and for free?? The distribution of LSD was massive whereas, agents handed out sheets to entire schools, trying to recruit and entice people to do their bidding. The results were oftentime severe depression, paranoia, and unhealthy mind expansion that bordered on psychosis somewhat if around negative minded individuals during a "trip." The large list of stars who were bombarded by CIA covert action and the troves of suicides and questionable deaths of people who did not agree with the government's Vietnam war drafting and tactics; Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Reed, Janis Joplin, Stones, and umpteen more. It's important for the media to discuss these issues. They do not just go away!! They get forced under the rug by government officials who are cold, calculating, tactless, and imcompassionate or on power trips themselves. They get forced in the back of agent's memories, who are protected and given the right to get away with troves of crimes. "Power and control" is the main issue, not the protection of Americans! I feel there needs to be a great deal of ammends made to many, many people including, financial recompense, real bonafide apologies, every attempt to heal and help those who fell victims of the dirty evil experiments, and every attempt of the media to help bring those truths to the surface so that those victims and their families can make informed decisions. As for the children who were recruited, raped, sodomized, tortured, physically assaulted, forced to watch as little puppies were tortured as a training tactic, fed up with large amounts of LSD, etc... etc... a real attempt and action needs to be made today to bring them forth to recover any part of their lives robbed them as a result of diabolical government CIA underhanded actions. Those children who are grown up now, have a right to know, to realize the truth, to heal if they can, to regain and recover their own souls, and to be offerred financial recompense for those crimes illegally forced upon them. Wayne Ritchie is not one of the last surviving victims of MKULTRA; he is one of the many millions!

Jenny33
Jenny33

This is the most thoroughly researched story on the San Francisco operation out there. Wow!

Mountainwoman
Mountainwoman

This article was poorly researched. Its information about MK-ULTRA is thoroughly inaccurate.

The writer says, "Now in his mid-eighties and living in San Jose, Ritchie may be among the last of the living victims of MK-ULTRA, a Central Intelligence Agency operation that covertly tested lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on unwitting Americans in San Francisco and New York City from 1953 to 1964."

First, Project MK-ULTRA did far more than test LSD on unwitting subjects. To quote from Wikipedia, "This official U.S. government program began in the early 1950s, continued at least through the late 1960s, and used U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects....The published evidence indicates that Project MKULTRA involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture." This information has been substantiated by testimony before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee, by thousands of pages of declassified CIA documents, by victims, and by scores of reputable psychologists and psychiatrists.

There are thousands of MK-ULTRA victims alive and not well today. Experiments were frequently run on children, whose minds were more suggestible and flexible - and less likely to be missed if psychological experiments resulted in permanent damage to the mind or abuse became deadly. Children as young as 4 and 6 were victims of MK-ULTRA in the 1960s. We are only in our fifties now.

To the bozo who wanted to be an LSD lab rat, there is a difference between occasional LSD use in a supportive environment and forced ingestion of massive doses of LSD by young children in a scary laboratory setting. And the LSD was far from the worst of the horrors of MK-ULTRA. In fact, if Ritchie's sole encounter with MK-ULTRA was a single dose of LSD, then even if he lost his career as a result, he got off easy. Very easy.

Bflaska
Bflaska

This is a continuing saga. An article also called "Sex, Drugs, and the CIA: The Shocking Search for an 'Ultimate Weapon' " by John Marks (The Saturday Review, February 3, 1979, pp. 12-16 available online) describes something of what went on at George White's "safe houses" in San Francisco and Marin, as well as his tricks of the trade.

Bflaska
Bflaska

"If we were so scared of a drug that we wouldn't try it out on ourselves," recalls a TSS source, "we sent it to San Francisco."

This is a continuing saga. John Marks in an article called "Sex, Drugs and the CIA" (Saturday Review, February 3, 1979, available online at unz.org) outlines the activities at George White's Marin "safe house", and describes other tricks of the trade.

Bflaska
Bflaska

Another article describes the horrific circumstances surrounding another victim of George Hunter White's experiments and how the lawsuit against the government was derailed.

(Sex Drugs & the CIA by Douglas Valentine, June 19, 2002, Counterpunch magazine, also available online)

Bflaska
Bflaska

"But internal memos and depositions taken from CIA officials in a lawsuit against the agency in the 1980s reveal that of the hundreds of experimental subjects used in the CIA's mind-control program, code-named MKULTRA, only 14 were ever notified and only one was compensated -- for $15,000.

"The 14 had all been given LSD surreptitiously by CIA agents in San Francisco in an attempt to test the drug in an ``operationally realistic'' setting. One of the victims, U.S. News discovered, was a San Francisco nightclub singer, Ruth Kelley, now deceased. In the early 1960s, according to a deposition from a CIA official who was assigned in the 1980s to track down MKULTRA victims, LSD was slipped into Kelley's drink just before her act at a club called The Black Sheep. The agents who had drugged her ``felt the LSD definitely took some effect during her act,'' testified Frank Laubinger, the official in charge of the notification program. One agent went to the bar the next day and reported that she was fine, though another recalled that she had to be hospitalized. "

(This is from US News article below, available online, which details some of the actions of the CIA's Victims Task Force, charged with finding the people experimented upon. According to another article, the CIA never located Ruth Kelley). The Cold War Experiments

Source: U.S News and World ReportJanuary 24, 1994.

The Cold War ExperimentsBy Stephen Budiansky, Erica E. Goode and Ted Gest

Raven Lee Meadows
Raven Lee Meadows

How many females gave birth to defected babies because of this!?????? HOW MANY!???

Raven Lee Meadows
Raven Lee Meadows

this is horrifying! im sure plenty of people would of been 'willing' test subjects. what fucking pigs! we PAY this men, CIA to protect Americans! NOT trick and dupe them!! to rupie someone now a days gives you jail time. I am floored to be quite frank. 60's rolled round, and LSD was everywhere. Music changed, hippies came, Haight-Ashbury opened a Clinic complete with 'come down' room, which was still present late 80's during opiate ourbreak.. LSD became mainstream after this experiement? I swear, Gov IS the monster that always brings drugs into society. grrrrrrr!

Bflaska
Bflaska

An old book review reveals a hidden truth, the type of misprint that could make copy editors blush or even an historian gnash their teeth or snort in disgust:

The Blacklisted Journalist publishes a book review by Joyce Metzger of "A Long Strange Trip", prepared by Dennis McNally. All of which is pretty colorful reading. Until I hit the klinker, when Metzger pulls a direct quote from the book:

"On May 15th, police and CHP entered the People’s Park as, Dennis wrote, “6000 Berkeleyites marched down Telegraph Hill. The next day, the police trapped 3000 and strafed them with tear gas from helicopters.”

McNally meant Telegraph Avenue, which is in Berkeley. There is a Telegraph Hill in Boston A small mistake that can mean utter unfamiliarity with the scene, certainly in terms of geography. There is also a Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, as Hooper's article points out.

(BlackListed Journalist is available online for reading. Section 6, Column 84, February 1, 2003) Pointing this out may merely add to the mounting conspiracy theory of some.

HaywoodZarathustra
HaywoodZarathustra

There is evidence the Grateful Dead were indirectly tools of the CIA for their style of music, which soothed the potential voters for the radical element. Instead of an angry, physical, war protesting radical you got a laid back, retreating, Learyite type of person leaving the system. Anyone who believes Owsley didn't have government connections is deluded. He practically launched the GD with his financial backing, buying them equipment that was leagues ahead of their peers. That whole San Francisco scene in the sixties was a gubment lab rat experiment. Just read anything by Jim Keith. Grateful Dead lovers HATE to hear this, but too bad.

Bflaska
Bflaska

Excerpts from Hunter's "journal" explains some things except why the CIA would want to give LSD to an attractive nineteen year old young woman who had her infant in her arms ... http://informationfarm.blogspo...

inko8
inko8

"Young, attractive Kelley caught White's eye, though she rejected his advances."-- you know, because he was giant piece of human $#!t.

catblue422
catblue422

So Mom along with my older brother & I as infants to toddler were probably tripping! hmmm

Bflaska
Bflaska

The people described in the Hooper article were what the overseers regarded as an "underclass", useful only for experimental purposes and left to wander off, perhaps suffer and die after the experiment was over. Let's try to keep that attitude of institutional arrogance in focus.

PF Davis
PF Davis

Musician-Songwriters Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead participated in experiments wiith LSD in a controlled enviroment at a university in the San Francisco Bay area in the very late 1950's or very early 1960's. The experiments were sponsored by, you guessed it, the United States government. And they were paid for being guinea pigs.Meanwhile future Grateful Dead member Bob Weir stated he was buying LSD at the back door of a bordello in San Francisco in the early 1960's. Manufactured by Sandoz Corp. So there you go, mates!

Matt Purdy
Matt Purdy

Nice write! (and kudos to U.S. Sen. Frank Church of Idaho for investigating CIA malfeasance.) Is George Hunter White’s diary available for citation in whole or part? Would be fascinating.

Realist
Realist

I would have loved having White's job. Lucky SOB.

Doug C
Doug C

Adam Coe: Your reading of the term is too literal. A two-way mirror is a widely accepted term.

Via Wikipedia:

A one-way mirror, also known as a two-way mirror, one-way glass, or two-way glass is a mirror which is partially reflective and partially transparent. When one side of the mirror is brightly lit and the other is dark, it allows viewing from the darkened side but not vice versa.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O...

Adam Coe
Adam Coe

Great story, but I have to bring up one nitpicky thing, for which I apologize...it just bugs the everlasting shit out of me...the phrase "two-way mirror." A two way mirror is just a piece of glass, because you can see through it in both directions. What you are referring to is one-way glass, where you can see through it on one side but not the other.

Again I apologize, that one phrase just irritates me to no end.

Ineda Name
Ineda Name

Wait, this article was just published two days ago??? MK-ULTRA immediately came to mind when the story broke today about Jason Russell's naked escapades. A Google search for 'Midnight Climax' brought me here.

Interesting...

JerryBallew
JerryBallew

i took a tab of windowpane LSD every day for six months back in 1970s L.A. I had to quit because I became so indecisive I couldn't choose what kind of sandwich I wanted and whether to shower or not to shower. I came to near nonfunction before I quit cold turkey and came back to reality. Powerful stuff that is fun for awhile, but eventually causes mass confusion.

John Ceballos
John Ceballos

I use to pop LSD back in the 80s, it was the best high I have ever experienced, even more so than smoking up a Dime Bag and makes it one helluva an Aphrodisiac when I started thinking about sex.

Jay D
Jay D

Everything you complain about is in the story. Did you read the whole thing?

Lyla
Lyla

You must not have read the article. What you just pointed out is all in there.

People are strange indeed.

Sailorbarsoom
Sailorbarsoom

None. LSD doesn't do anything to the genetic code.

sixstring1961
sixstring1961

Ive always beleive that very thing , owsley or the dead ,unwitting ? im not so sure, there whole show was as LSD drummers , they" pushed" it, it was in the drinks , Owsley gave out truck loads of sandwiches , They turned on the world, and they wouldve been stopped had it been unsanctioned !

sixstring1961
sixstring1961

I agree , owsley , the dead , were lsd pushers ,impressionable unwitting kids ? maybe and probably ,but you think of how easy it would be to take over our country if everyone were tripping at the same time , well guess what , san francisco ( and calif. ) were . Now , what has happened to it mentally ( schitzoids and unreality thinkers) and politically since then? DIVISION and total CONFUSION !

Bflaska
Bflaska

The connection between Jerry Garcia and the FBI was mentioned by Jim Keith in his

book about the Tavistock Institute "Mind Control World Control" (1997). The footnotes need citation. You can read this excerpt directly from the book for yourself if you do a Google search.

"According to a 1968 FBI memorandum, Jerry Garcia, the leader of the Grateful Dead, was employed 'to channel youth dissent and rebellion into more benign and non-threatening directions.'" (8) (p. 97)

And again this connection was mentioned in almost exactly the same words later in the same book: "The first member of the Grateful Dead to take LSD, Robert Hunter, did so under the auspices of a "government sponsored" Stanford University drug study. An FBI internal memo from 1968 also mentions the employment of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead as an avenue "to channel youth dissent and rebellion into more benign and non-threatening directions." It is obvious with their "laid-back", non-politically involved stance, the Grateful Dead have performed a vital service in distracting many young persons into drygs and mysticism, rather than politics. Whether they knew they were performing the service is a matter of argument." (11) (p. 179)

Bflaska
Bflaska

Time Magazine picked up this piece and remarked: "The lack of ethical controls was even more appalling. Here’s how SF Weekly’s Troy Hooper describes what happened to one of the last living survivors of the MK-ULTRA operation."

http://healthland.time.com/201...

Given the sheer numbers and scope of just MK-ULTRA, I think it safe to say there are still plenty more living survivors and family members of survivors.

inko8
inko8

http://www.davesweb.cnchost.co...Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation by dave mcgowan-- always interesting stuff.

Bflaska
Bflaska

They were aware they were guinea pigs, and responded to the ads, The situations described in the Hooper article are substantially different, despite the large over-arching tapestry of "LSD", "early 60s", "San Francisco" and even "bordellos". This was by no means anybody's idea of a groovy scene nor did this tangent ever evolve into a groovier scene. Or so it seems to me.

PauperProphet
PauperProphet

Go fuck yourself "Realist" I had a job in the LSD industry for years and people with your mentality are a contagion upon the Earth.

really
really

White was a low life piece of shit. What's that say about you?

aphex242
aphex242

Actually a two-way mirror, technically, would be a piece of glass that acted as a mirror on both sides. I would argue a no-way mirror is a piece of glass. But you're absolutely right, the author's use of two-way mirror is inaccurate.

Rachel
Rachel

Don't apologize. You're right.

Doug C
Doug C

Two-way mirror is the correct term. From Wikipedia:

A one-way mirror, also known as a two-way mirror, one-way glass, or two-way glass is a mirror which is partially reflective and partially transparent. When one side of the mirror is brightly lit and the other is dark, it allows viewing from the darkened side but not vice versa.

jimtron
jimtron

"A two way mirror is just a piece of glass, because you can see through it in both directions."

But glass doesn't reflect like a mirror does. A regular mirror is one-way, you look at it and see your reflection. A two-way mirror allows you to see the reflection from the front, plus lets you see through from behind--two "ways."

Craig H.
Craig H.

Actually he's wrong. A one-way mirror, also known as a two-way mirror, one-way glass, or two-way glass is a mirror which is partially reflective and partially transparent. When one side of the mirror is brightly lit and the other is dark, it allows viewing from the darkened side but not vice versa (Wikepedia).

inko8
inko8

why don't they just call it a peep-mirror? or a window-backed mirror? 2-way mirror implies a mirror on both sides, when in reality it functions more like tinted windows-- even "mirrored window" would be a better name because it correlates with the name and function of mirrored sunglasses. yes, mirrored window. fixed.

Realist
Realist

Semantics. Who gives a shit what you call the mirror?

The important thing is that there were people lucky enough to kick back behind the glass with martinis while watching all sorts of hedonistic events unfold before their eyes. Probably participated, too. Damn. I can't believe how boring my job is in comparison.

Craig H.
Craig H.

To clarify: I believe Adam C. is wrong. And I misspelled Wikipedia. My bad.

 
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