There have been numerous reports since a 1974 New York Times article of the Central Intelligence Agency using American citizens as guinea pigs, dosing them with the potent psychedelic drug LSD as part of the ultra-secret MK-ULTRA program. But most of the details of what actually occurred were about activities in New York City. Now, newly declassified CIA records, recent interviews, and the personal diary of an operative have shed more light on the San Francisco acid operation.
There were at least three CIA safe houses in the Bay Area where LSD experiments were performed on unwitting subjects from 1955 to 1965, reports Troy Hooper in a major article in SF Weekly
. The apartment, boasting sweeping waterfront views, was just a short trip up the hill from North Beach’s rowdy saloons.
Inside, prostitutes paid by the government to lure clients into the apartment dosed their unsuspecting johns with acid-laced cocktails — while martini-swilling CIA agents observed their every move from behind a two-way mirror. The two-way mirror in the bedroom gave the agents a close-up view of all the action.
The government — remember, this was during the height of McCarthyism and the Red Scare — wanted to know how hallucinogens could be used to coax confessions from prisoners or war, or captured spies. And what better way to examine the effects of LSD than to dose unsuspecting citizens — apparently at random — in New York City and San Francisco?
Just a few months ago, a construction crew pulled microphones, wires, and recording instruments out of the walls of the Telegraph Hill property, still there from 50 years ago.
Working girls would pick up johns in the bars and restaurants of North Beach, then bring them back to the Telegraph Hill safe house for experimentation and observation. Besides that, seemingly random San Franciscans were dosed on acid apparently for no other reason than that their paths crossed with CIA agent George H. White, who headed up the MK-ULTRA
operation in the Bay area.
White wrote in his diary how he regularly slipped acid to civilians at local beaches, and in city bars and restaurants. Even unsuspecting dinner guests at White’s home were surreptitiously given LSD. (Ironically, White, an alcohol fan, died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1975.)
There were also two other Bay Area safe houses where CIA agents dosed unsuspecting citizens. People from all walks of life were potential targets.
Testing on unwitting individuals was finally suspended — at least officially — in 1964. But for whatever reason, the CIA safe houses in San Francisco and New York continued to operate for about a year and a half longer.
For the entire fascinating tale of the U.S. government dosing unsuspecting Americans on LSD, read the story at SF Weekly: