A new book digs deep into the horrifying career of Sidney Gottlieb, the scientist who ran the CIA’s damaging and possibly lethal experiments in drug-induced mind control.
Stephen Kinzer has written books about civil wars, terror attacks, and bloody coups, but his latest might be his most alarming. “I’m still in shock,” Kinzer says of what he learned about the appalling experiments conducted by a government scientist most Americans have never heard of. “I can’t believe that this happened.”
These aren’t the words of an author trying to fire up the hype machine. Though the events recounted in Kinzer’s Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control took place a half-century ago, they’re scandalous in a way that transcends time.
For much of his 22-year CIA career, Gottlieb ran mind-control projects designed to help America defeat Communism. In the ’50s and ’60s, Kinzer writes, Gottlieb “directed the application of unknowable quantities and varieties of drugs into” countless people, searching for the narcotic recipe that might allow him to mold his human test subjects’ thoughts and actions.
Gottlieb and a network of medical professionals gave LSD and other drugs to prisoners, hospital patients, government employees, and others—many of whom had no idea they were being dosed. A CIA staffer died in highly suspicious fashion after Gottlieb had his drink spiked with LSD. Meanwhile, when his bosses considered killing a foreign leader, Gottlieb developed custom-made poisons. Numerous people were harmed by Gottlieb’s work, but because he destroyed his files on the eve of his 1973 retirement, it’s hard to quantify the carnage he wrought.