“The Maddest Mad Scientist” The CIA’s Dr. Sidney Gottlieb
On a warm autumn evening in Paris in 1952, a 25-year-old, up-and-coming American artist named Stanley Glickman was enjoying a coffee at his favorite haunt, the Café Dome in Montparnasse. Perhaps he spent the moment thinking of his Canadian girlfriend who was touring Europe at the time, or of the painting he’d completed that was hanging in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In any case, Glickman’s musings were interrupted when an acquaintance approached him and invited him to have a drink across the street at the Café Select. He accepted. There, the artist and his companion were joined by an unfamiliar group of Americans. Dressed in unfashionably straight-laced clothing, the strangers espoused political beliefs that were highly disagreeable to Glickman. After hours of hotly contested debate, the artist decided to pay his part of the bill and go home, but one of the strangers–a man with a clubfoot–insisted on buying him a drink as a way to make up for their argument. Instead of calling over the waiter who’d been serving drinks to the party all evening, the clubfooted man went to the bar himself and bought a Chartreuse for Glickman.
Before he even finished his cocktail, Glickman began to feel “funny.” The walls appeared to move, the electric lights in the café were ringed with halos, and wine bottles seemed to levitate on Glickman’s silent behest. Another member of the party told Glickman that he was now capable of “performing miracles.”
Unbeknownst to Glickman, the clubfooted man had spiked his drink with LSD. The aftereffects of the acid trip sent him into a lifelong tailspin of psychosis, electroshock therapy, and terrifying hallucinations. He had no idea what had happened to him–this was 1952, at least a decade before most people had even heard of the drug. His social life was destroyed. He never had another romantic relationship (he told his Canadian girlfriend to leave him before he ruined her life). He took on a series of odd jobs, including cleaning furniture at a secondhand store. Glickman, who once had a promising future in the arts, never painted again.
Who was the mysterious poisoner? In all likelihood, it was Sidney Gottlieb, a man who dosed many other unsuspecting people with powerful hallucinogenic drugs during the 1950s. Infiltrating the seedier neighborhoods of San Francisco and New York, he poisoned prostitutes and their customers just to see what would happen.
The authorities were aware of Gottlieb’s activities but did nothing to stop him. That may seem strange, until you learn that the man was an authority himself. For 22 years, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb ran the technical services division of the CIA and oversaw the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, an illegal drug and mind-control campaign launched during the height of Cold War paranoia. In addition to developing poison darts and toxic handkerchiefs for assassinating leaders of Communist governments, Dr. Gottlieb ran clandestine drug experiments on unsuspecting U.S. citizens. (It’s not known exactly how many people were dosed, because in 1973 the director of the CIA, Richard Helms, ordered almost all records pertaining to MK-ULTRA to be destroyed.)
Gottlieb typically selected prisoners, poor people, petty criminals, and the mentally ill for his test subjects, since they were the least likely to be taken seriously should they have the temerity to complain about being drugged without their knowledge or consent by an upper-echelon federal official. (In all fairness, Gottlieb also enjoyed slipping mind-altering drugs into the drinks of his fellow CIA cronies, just for grins.) MK-ULTRA also ran tests on “willing” volunteers, like the seven people in Kentucky who were given LSD for 77 days in a row.
It’s not known how many lives were ruined as a result of Gottlieb’s hallucinogenic high jinks, but there’s at least one documented case of a death resulting from his experiments. In 1953, at a U.S. Army research retreat at the Deep Creek Lodge in western Maryland, Gottlieb spiked after-dinner drinks with LSD without letting his fellow diners in on the joke. Frank Olson, a 43-year-old germ warfare researcher, became very disturbed by the experience. When he returned home, his wife and three children could hardly recognize the formerly jovial husband and father. They didn’t have much of a chance to get to know this chemically transformed man, because nine days later, he jumped to his death from a 13-story window.
While some might call this murder, you have to remember that Dr. Gottlieb was acting in the interest of national security. In fact, during the 1977 Senate hearing on CIA abuses, Gottlieb told the committee that dosing unsuspecting human guinea pigs with drugs was justified. “Harsh as it may sound in retrospect,” he testified, “it was felt that in an issue where national survival might be concerned, such a procedure and such a risk was a reasonable one to take.”
Give credit to Gottlieb for being smart enough to work for an organization that would not only allow him to poison and murder people with such aplomb, but would also protect him from the consequences awaiting any other sociopath. Olson’s widow fought years of heartrending legal battles until Congress agreed to award her $750,000 in exchange for releasing the CIA from liability. Glickman never received compensation for his unwilling role as a drug test subject. In fact, after he died in 1992, his sister sued the government. Despite the evidence against Gottlieb, the jury ruled against her. As for Gottlieb, he enjoyed his final years indulging his passions for folk dancing and goat breeding on his farm not far from CIA headquarters in Reston, Virginia. He died in 1999 at the age of 80. While his family refused to disclose the cause his death, it’s not likely that he died as the result of a drug-induced suicidal jump from a hotel window. Link
Reader comment: ScottG in NYC says: "Mark - thanks for the mention of the Frank Olson case. Every student in America should have Orwell's 1984 and this site put up by his family on their required reading list. At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur (which I'm certainly not), I think Springsteen put it best: 'blind faith in your leaders can get you killed.' Sadly, Frank is (non)living proof... :(" Frank Olson Legacy Project
Reader comment:eli says: "You might also might to check out GNN's NewsVideo The Most Dangerous Game: 'The Most Dangerous Game traces the history of top-secret CIA mind control operation MK-ULTRA: from the covert importation of NAZI scientists at the end of WWII, to the illegal brainwashing experiments conducted on the patients of world famous psychiatric researcher, Dr. Ewen Cameron -- cut to the pulsing hypnotica of Mitchell Akiyama.'" Link
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects