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Flashback 1960s: CIA Conspires with SF Police Officer to Lure ‘Johns’ to Prostitute Safe House, Sprays LSD on PartyGoers!

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

By Troy Hooper Wednesday, Mar 14 2012

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.

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.

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.

The main man behind the mirror was burly, balding crime-buster George H. White, a Bureau of Narcotics maverick who made headlines breaking up opium and heroin rings in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and the U.S. Few knew he doubled as a CIA spook for Uncle Sam. He oversaw the San Francisco program, gleefully dubbing it Operation Midnight Climax.

American chemist Sidney Gottlieb was the brains behind White’s brawn. It was the height of McCarthyism in the early ’50s, and government intelligence leaders, claiming fear of communist regimes, were using hallucinogens to induce confessions from prisoners of war held in Korea, and brainwash spies into changing allegiances. What better way to examine the effects of LSD than to dose unsuspecting citizens in New York City and San Francisco?

Dr. James Hamilton, a Stanford Medical School psychiatrist, knew White from their OSS days. He was among the small group of researchers who had clearance to the pad. Gottlieb visited, too, but Operation Midnight Climax had no regular medical supervision.

And that became problematic. The first CIA brothel that White and Gottlieb ran in New York City had already gone awry. U.S. biological warfare specialist Frank Olson either jumped or was pushed from a 10th-floor hotel window in 1953, nine days after the CIA gave him LSD. When a CIA chemist, who was sharing the hotel room with Olson, met with police, they found White’s initials and the address of a Greenwich Village safe house on a piece of paper in his pocket. The New York City operation was temporarily suspended when police investigated Olson’s death, and restarted later.

White, a native Californian and former San Francisco newspaper reporter, yearned to return home. In 1955, Gottlieb let him.

Aside from Gottlieb’s scattershot visits, White, now a “CIA consultant,” had free rein over the S.F. safe houses. Ritchie says that White’s right-hand man, Ike Feldman, ran around dressed like “a hot-shot drug dealer.” Ritchie adds: “He tried to act like Al Capone.” The pad quickly became something akin to a frat house for spies. “Eight-martini lunches” were enjoyed regularly, White noted in his journal. And on some occasions he watched the dubious research unfold while sitting on a portable toilet a friend donated to him. It was his “observational post.”

Dr. John Erskine has lived next door to the location since 1954. “I had a feeling that things went on there that were none of my business. It wasn’t overt. People weren’t screaming out the windows,” says Erskine, standing outside the acid house.

Ruth Kelley was a singer at a San Francisco club called The Black Sheep. Her unexpected trip into another dimension happened to her onstage.

Young, attractive Kelley caught White’s eye, though she rejected his advances. White or one of his men eventually dosed her with LSD just before she went onstage, according to a deposition of Frank Laubinger, a CIA official who led a program in the 1980s that made contact with victims of MK-ULTRA. “The LSD definitely took some effect during her act.” Kelley reportedly went to the hospital, but was fine … once the effects of the drug, that she didn’t know she was on, wore off.

How test subjects were chosen by the agents varied. In the case of the Telegraph Hill safe house, working girls would pick up johns in North Beach bars and restaurants, then bring them back for experimentation and observation. Other times, White and his wife would host dinner parties where guests might get dosed with a hallucinogenic cocktail without their knowledge. And seemingly random San Franciscans like Kelley were victimized for no other reason than their paths crossed with White and his men at the wrong time. White wrote in his diary how he slipped acid to unsuspecting civilians at local beaches, and in city bars and restaurants.

There were two other Bay Area safe houses where the CIA researched LSD and other chemicals: Room 49 of the Plantation Inn at Lombard and Webster streets, and 261 Green St. in Mill Valley.

People from all walks of life were potential targets. From an internal CIA memo: “The effectiveness of the substances on individuals at all social levels, high and low, native Americans and foreign is of great significance, and testing has been performed on a variety of individuals within these categories,” wrote CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick in 1963.

But, as a 1976 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities noted, there was no medical pre-screening. “Paradoxically, greater care seemed to have been taken for the safety of foreign nations against whom LSD was used abroad. In several cases [overseas] medical examinations were performed prior to the use of LSD,” the committee reported. “The [domestic] program … demonstrates a failure of the CIA’s leadership to pay adequate attention to the rights of individuals and to provide effective guidance to CIA employees. Though it was known that the testing was dangerous, the lives of subjects were placed in jeopardy and their rights were ignored during the 10 years of testing that followed Dr. Olson’s death.” Although it was clear that the laws of the United States were being violated, the testing continued.

CIA Inspector General John Earman didn’t sugarcoat what he learned. “The concepts involved in manipulating human behavior are found by many people both within and outside the Agency to be distasteful and unethical,” he wrote, questioning whether the clandestine activities were even legal. “Public disclosure of some aspects of MKULTRA activity could induce serious adverse reaction in U.S. public opinion, as well as stimulate offensive and defensive action in this field on the part of foreign intelligence services.”

 

Earman noted numerous civilians grew ill from the effects of the psychoactive drugs they were secretly slipped, and it would be embarrassing if doctors were to discover what the government had been doing. He recommended closing the safe houses. Yet high-ranking intelligence officers called for the continuance of Midnight Climax. “While I share your uneasiness and distaste for any program which tends to intrude upon an individual’s private and legal prerogatives, I believe it is necessary that the Agency maintain a central role in this activity,” wrote Richard Helms, then the CIA’s deputy director of plans.

Testing of unwitting individuals was suspended in 1964, at least officially. Still, the CIA safe houses in San Francisco and New York City continued to operate for a year and a half longer. Scrutiny of the program intensified at CIA headquarters in Virginia, and subsequently the Bay Area safe houses shut down in 1965. New York City’s operation stopped in 1966. Intelligence officers conceded that the drug-testing exposed the agency to a serious “moral problem.”

 

Helms, one of MK-ULTRA’s original architects, succeeded McCone as CIA director in 1966. Before Helms and Gottlieb resigned in the early 1970s, they ordered all of the project’s paperwork destroyed. A massive paper purge occurred in 1973, just as Washington found itself in the throes of the Watergate scandal. In an attempt to clean house, that same year new CIA Director James Schlesinger ordered agency employees to inform him of illegal government activities. That’s when he learned of Olson’s fatal plunge in New York City, and the acid tests.

 

It didn’t take long before details leaked to Hersh. The investigative journalist’s groundbreaking article in the New York Times exposed the CIA’s vast illegal domestic surveillance programs. The government had been screening U.S. mail, wiretapping journalists’ phones, and plotting assassinations. And, oh yeah, it had also been dosing hundreds of civilians with LSD, as well as significant military populations, in the name of defense. Americans demanded answers.

Donald Rumsfeld, then chief of staff for President Gerald Ford, and Rumsfeld’s deputy, Dick Cheney, wanted Hersh prosecuted for revealing government secrets. But Ford didn’t heed their advice. He appointed a committee chaired by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to investigate the intelligence improprieties. U.S. Sen. Frank Church also headed a congressional investigation of CIA malfeasance in 1974, and Sen. Edward Kennedy held hearings on MK-ULTRA in the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research.

http://www.sfweekly.com/2012-03-14/news/cia-lsd-wayne-ritchie-george-h-white-mk-ultra/full/

 

Written by voiceoftruthusa

September 18, 2013 at 7:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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