The CIA experimented with brainwashing: LSD and electrocution against its own people

Unsuspecting housewives and fathers end up in the hands of CIA psychiatrists who use drugs and electric shocks in an attempt to reprogram their brains and induce blind obedience. Many…

Unsuspecting housewives and fathers end up in the hands of CIA psychiatrists who use drugs and electric shocks in an attempt to reprogram their brains and induce blind obedience. Many ended up as “vegetables”.

Velma Orlikow thought she was being treated for postpartum depression, but instead, this Canadian housewife from Winnipeg became the victim of a terrifying experiment.

The American secret service CIA gave her LSD, which caused horrific hallucinations:

“I felt like my bones were melting. The room disfigured. I just wanted to scream that I wanted out. I saw a squirrel out the window and thought: It’s not a squirrel, it’s me who is the squirrel – I’m in this cage and I can’t get out.”

But Velma doesn’t get out. Instead, she is sent to the well-known American psychiatrist, dr. Donald Cameron who runs a mental hospital in Canada.

She has no idea that dr. Cameron has made a secret deal with the CIA to study whether it is possible to brainwash patients.

Donald Cameron (1901-1967) was hired to investigate the mental health of Rudolf Hess during the Nuremberg Trials. In the 1960s he was president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

In his experiments, the psychiatrist uses drugs, electric shocks and talk therapy, but his intention is to find out if it is possible to reprogram the human brain so that people obey all commands without question.

The experiments are part of the so-called MK-Ultra mission, and for Velma Orlikow and hundreds of other guinea pigs, the consequences will be fateful.

Communists could do this

In 1949, the CIA was on high alert. Disturbing reports related to the early years of the Cold War shook the American intelligence service.

In Hungary, Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty was charged with conspiracy against the communist regime as well as spying for foreign countries.

Both were obvious fabrications, but Mindszenty, who was otherwise celebrated for his strength of will, posed in front of a camera and confessed to the most incredible crimes as an involuntary tool.

The cardinal pleaded guilty to stealing Hungary’s crown jewels and said he had conspired to usurp power to start World War III.

József Mindszenty (1892-1975) was sentenced to life imprisonment in a mock trial in Hungary. In 1971 he was allowed to move to the West.

To the eyes of the CIA, it all looked like the Soviets had developed a method or drug that would allow them to gain complete control over people. The thought was ominous.

A few years later, American prisoners of war returned home from the Korean War and began spreading communist propaganda. With that, the CIA felt reassured.

On April 13, 1953, Director of Intelligence, Allen Dulles, ordered a major boost to the development of a truth drug. His argument was that in the future the Americans would need to be able to exploit prisoners of war in the same way that the Soviet Union seemed to be doing.

This project was named MK-Ultra, and Dulles later hoped that such a drug could be used to influence foreign leaders, such as Fidel Castro who came to power in Cuba in 1959.

Dulles appointed dr. Sidney Gottlieb to lead the project. In one of the few CIA memos that was not destroyed, the goal of MK-Ultra is said to be to “control the individual so that he will do what we tell him to do, even if it is against his will.”

Sidney Gottlieb (1918-1999) led the brainwashing project MK-Ultra.

Project MK-Ultra was so top secret that only two people knew its full extent; Dr. Sidney Gottlieb and his second in command, Robert Lashbrook. Even the head of the intelligence service himself was not fully informed about all the details.

First it had to be broken down

The MK-Ultra project did not actually start this work from scratch. The CIA had already experimented with substances intended to induce the spies of an enemy state to tell the whole truth.

However, the experiments had shown that such materials were more effective at erasing people’s memories and thus making it easier to control them. LSD was among the most promising substances.

“I think I was given LSD about 14 times,” said Velma Orlikow, who thought Dr. Cameron was treating her postpartum depression.

“I don’t know how long it lasted. It was a long nightmare. Every time I was taken to his office, I trembled with terror,” she said years later.

The CIA headquarters is 230,000 square feet and is located in Langley, Virginia.

CIA in defense of the United States

The FBI investigates domestic crimes, while the CIA keeps an eye on enemies of the state.

During World War II, the United States created the OSS, which was supposed to spy on America’s enemies. The OSS was closed after the war, but it quickly became clear that this great power needed an organization that could run covert activities in other countries.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was therefore established in 1947, mainly to monitor the main enemy; The communist-ruled Soviet Union.

The CIA sent the U2 spy plane over Soviet military bases. The US government also feared the spread of communism and that democracies would fall like dominoes.

The spread of communism had to be stopped by all means, and it affected, for example, the left-wing president of Brazil, Joao Goulart. The CIA got him deposed in 1964 and later poisoned.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA sent weapons to devout Muslims who were fighting the Russians there.

It was Velma Orlikow’s general practitioner who referred her to dr. Camerons who in the 1960s was considered among the world’s most skilled depression experts. Just like Velma herself, the doctor was unsuspecting about dr. Cameron’s with the CIA.

Similarly, hundreds of other patients were referred to psychiatrists who actually worked for the CIA and worked on the implementation of MK-Ultra.

As incredible as it may seem, Velma was one of the lucky ones, because MK-Ultra’s psychiatrists were given permission to experiment with almost every imaginable method and drug.

Some experimented with electric shock to see if such treatment would reduce the resistance of patients and thus make it easier to control them. In the 1960s, it was common for depressed patients to be given electric shocks two to three times a week, but with MK-Ultra it was customary to give electric shocks two to three times a day.

Many of the victims were rendered apathetic by such relentless application of electric shocks. These people were called “vegetables” and often sat all day just looking at the wall in front of them.

The purpose of the electroshock therapy was to “reset” the brain and return it to the level of an infant. Once that goal was reached, the psychiatrist was then to gradually rebuild the thinking of the guinea pig according to instructions from the CIA.

“While I was sleeping, I was always being given electric shocks…”
Robert Logie, victim of MK-Ultra.

Another patient dr. Cameron’s name was Robert Logie. He lay unconscious for 23 days.

“While I slept, I was always being given electric shocks and made to listen to tapes,” he said.

The material of the tapes was intended to break down the patient’s psyche and rebuild it. Some of the patients were repeatedly told the same sentence: “Your mother hates you.”

Others were made to listen to orders. The purpose was to see if this so-called sleep therapy was sufficient to get the patient to obey a specific command when he woke up.

The patients bowed

Robert Logie and Velma Orlikow both escaped the clutches of the CIA without losing their minds, but others succumbed completely. Velma remembered particularly well a woman who was her contemporary at the hospital dr. Cameron’s.

She was thin and very lively. She went out dancing, but one day she disappeared.

When Velma asked for the woman, she was told that she had been transferred to another hospital. Later, Velma was also taken there and then saw the woman again, but she was now completely changed:

“There sat a fat woman who looked like she was kneaded out of dough. She didn’t know me and didn’t even know who she was.

At the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, Velma Orlikow was used as a CIA laboratory animal along with more than 300 other Canadian citizens.

Velma Orlikow also remembered a patient who eventually took his own life.

“There was a man who jumped off the roof of the Allan Memorial Institute (Dr. Cameron’s hospital). He had just come out of sleep therapy and was looking around with a wide smile. Then he said goodbye to us all, went up to the roof and jumped.

The treatment caused many patients to try to get away, but then the psychiatrists resorted to threats. Patients were told that if they did not return voluntarily after, for example, a weekend vacation with the family, the police would be sent to pick them up.

The vast majority were so mentally ill that they dared not do anything but obey.

The critics got out of the way

Not everyone within the CIA was comfortable with such brutal treatment of unsuspecting citizens.

“I think we all disliked participating in such experiments. It was clear to us that we went too far,” said a CIA employee on condition of anonymity years later.

The CIA’s biggest blunder

The most successful CIA operations are still kept secret, but the blunders of the secret service have many times found their way into the headlines of newspapers around the world.

Spy cat for a car in the first mission

In the 1960s, CIA agents implanted a microphone in a cat and let it loose near the Soviet embassy in Washington. A taxi soon ran over the cat, and the $200 million project was shut down as a result.

The CIA protected cocaine traffickers

Three congressional committees have investigated CIA aid to Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries. They smuggled cocaine into the United States and used the profits to fight against the leftist government in the country.

Counterintelligence turned up about 100 spies

By 1990, more than 100 CIA informants in the Soviet Union were exposed. Of them, 10 were executed. It turned out that CIA spy Aldrich Ames had sold the names to the Soviets.

The counter-revolution went down the drain

In 1961, the CIA landed 1,500 Cuban counterrevolutionaries in the Bay of Pigs, Cuba. From there they were supposed to go to Havana and overthrow Fidel Castro. The Cuban army immediately defeated them on the beach.

Commenting on the report, one of those involved in the MK-Ultra project wrote:

“Has the project manager approved these immoral and inhumane experiments?” I suggest that everyone who supports this project volunteer themselves for use in the noble mission of Dr. XXXXX (name crossed out).

At least one CIA skeptic, bacteriologist Frank Olson, was dissuaded when other MK-Ultra operatives suspected he might reveal the mission’s secrets.

At a meeting in Maryland, LSD was put in his drink. A few days later, Frank Olson tried to resign but was lured to New York, where he “jumped out of the window” of his room at the 68-story Statier Hotel in Manhattan, according to an official report.

Experiments on outsiders

Eventually, the CIA was not happy with the number of patients in MK-Ultra. Then more people were needed. The Secret Service therefore established “safe houses” in New York and San Francisco.

The CIA provided shelter to prostitutes in exchange for participating in its experiments. Their clients were also used in the MK-Ultra project – without their knowledge.

In these safe houses, unsuspecting victims were tempted with food and shelter in exchange for joining MK-Ultra. Addicts and prostitutes became the mainstay of the next group of guinea pigs.

At the CIA, people believed that these people would be both cheaper and more willing to participate, but above all, no one would notice if they ever decided to tell about the experiments.

The prostitutes were considered particularly interesting and people wanted to see how it was possible to “take a woman who was willing to use her body to get money from a man and instead get her to talk to the man about important things, such as state secrets,” said the former a CIA employee in an interview with the ABC television station in 1979.

The prostitutes were also used to get more men into the experiments. The women brought the men to the safehouse where CIA operatives slipped LSD into their drinks.

The CIA then watched the men through mirrors and cameras.

The CIA hosted parties where guests were given LSD. However, this photo is from a private party.

The experiments also included rampant LSD parties. Then the CIA observed large groups, precisely through false mirrors and examined the effects of LSD and other substances on large groups.


American soldiers were used in the LSD experiments by the thousands without even knowing it. A number of university students also participated in drug experiments that were officially supposed to lead to the development of new drugs.


In reality, however, all these experiments were carried out by MK-Ultra.


Some historians consider the CIA’s experiments as one of the main reasons why LSD became so widespread among young people in the United States in the late 1960s.


The search for an effective antidote continued and the MK-Ultra project grew year by year.


The CIA tried by all means to achieve the same results as the Communists in the Eastern Bloc. It wasn’t until many years later that CIA leaders realized that the brainwashed North Korean POWs had just become victims of old-fashioned torture and indoctrination.


Truth drugs or advanced brainwashing techniques were nowhere to be found when American prisoners of war were being held by the North Koreans.


It wasn’t until the 1960s that doubts began to gnaw at the CIA. When MK-Ultra had not come so much as a step closer to finding effective methods, this experimentation slowed down greatly, but some experiments continued, both in the United States and Canada, until 1973.


The secret revealed

During these two decades, thousands of Americans were used as laboratory animals, without their knowledge. And as time went on, such a large number made it impossible to keep the MK-Ultra project a secret.

Sidney Gottlieb (left) was allowed to testify anonymously before a congressional committee in 1975.

All officers escaped charges

When The New York Times exposed MK-Ultra, Congress was forced to investigate, but no CIA personnel were ever punished.

In 1975, the United States Congressional Commission of Inquiry led by Senator Frank Church began investigating the CIA. The result was that in the MK-Ultra project, experiments had been carried out on people who had not given the CIA forced permission to do so.

Senator Edward Kennedy revealed more in a speech:

“More than 30 universities and institutions participated in these large-scale experiments, which included drugging unsuspecting citizens.”

Despite a lot of criticism, no one was held accountable. Allen Dulles, head of the CIA and dr. Cameron both died at the end of the sixties, but the head of MK-Ultra, dr. Gottlieb, was still alive.

However, the CIA had destroyed almost all the evidence and was now busy finalizing contracts for compensation to those who could prove that their loved ones had been victims of MK-Ultra. The result was that no case went to trial in the 1970s.

Many Americans choked on their morning coffee on Sunday, December 22, 1974, when they read journalist Seymour Hersh’s article about MK-Ultra in the New York Times.

The revelation caused quite an uproar, and a congressional committee began seeking information on the extent of MK-Ultra.

If the journalist had found out about the project a little earlier, we might have had more information about how wide the field of experiments really was, but immediately after the first revelations about the Watergate scandal in 1972, Richard Helms, then the head of the CIA, ordered the destruction of a huge number documents related to MK-Ultra – for fear of having to one fine day explain all kinds of horrors.

In the following years, many victims came forward, but only 127 of them have received compensation for the wrongdoings of the CIA. In 1984, then-retired head of MK-Ultra, Sidney Gottlieb, agreed to meet with the family of Frank Olson, who lost his life because of his criticism of the brainwashing program.

But there wasn’t much remorse in his words when he spoke to Frank Olson’s son:

“Your father and I agreed on many things. We both participated in this out of patriotism. And we both went a bit too far and some of the things we did would have been better left undone.”

Read more about MK-Ultra

Stephen Kinzer: Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control, Griffin, 2020. The book is also available in Kindle edition.

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