Operation Midnight Climax
|Date||1953 - 1966|
|Exposed by||Richard Stratton|
|Description||A "free-wheeling illicit criminal" CIA project which filmed the effects of prostitutes dosing up victims with drugs such as LSD.|
Operation Midnight Climax has been described as "a free-wheeling illicit criminal operation" to research the effects of LSD and other drugs which were administered to unwitting victims. It was initially established by Sidney Gottlieb and placed under the direction of Narcotics Bureau officer George Hunter White under the alias of 'Morgan Hall' for the CIA as a sub-project of Project MKULTRA, the CIA mind-control research program that began in the 1950s.
The project was established in order to study the effects of LSD on unwitting individuals. It operated out of a set of at least 3 CIA-run safehouses in San Francisco, Marin, and New York. The walls were adorned with photographs of tortured women in bondage and provocative posters from French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Prostitutes on the CIA payroll were paid $100 a night and were guaranteed protection from police harassment in return for luring clients back to these safehouses, where they were surreptitiously plied with a wide range of drugs, including LSD, and monitored behind one-way glass. Several significant operational techniques were developed in this theater, including extensive research into sexual blackmail, surveillance technology, and the possible use of mind-altering drugs in field operations. The Operation was soon expanded and CIA operatives began dosing people in restaurants, bars and beaches.
Nominally, the project was about testing the effects of LSD on subjects, to see whether the drug could be of use in obtaining information from unwitting subjects.
Dr. Colin Ross, a psychiatrist who examined extant CIA documents found a memo indicating another purpose for Operation Midnight Climax: the CIA was testing the performance of the prostitutes under conditions that mimicked a field operation, to see whether they could become female spies or agents.
The projects were of great personal interest for George White, who sat on a portable toilet, while sipping martinis and scribbling notes for the CIA as he watched the encounters through a one-way mirror.
Many of the victims affected became afraid and paranoid as the drugs took effect. Some carried out crimes, including armed robbery, while under the influence of the CIA-administered drugs. No admissions were made by the CIA and they were punished as if they had not been under the influence of such drugs.
The safehouses were dramatically scaled back in 1962, following a report by CIA Inspector General John Earman that strongly recommended closing the facility. The San Francisco safehouses were closed in 1965, and the New York City safehouse soon after in 1966.
The file destruction undertaken at the order of CIA Director Richard Helms and former MKULTRA chief Sidney Gottlieb in 1972 makes a full investigation of claims impossible. However, many records did survive the purge.
News of the story began to leak following a landmark story by New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh on illegal CIA domestic surveillance. This report triggered Senate Subcommittee hearings which investigated MKULTRA, and brought Operation Midnight Climax to light.
- Marks, John (1991). The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate". W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
- Mind-Bending Disclosures. Time. Aug. 15 1977
- Gary Kamiya, When the CIA ran a LSD sex-house in San Francisco, (April 1, 2016).