In an effort to get a handle on just exactly what Dr. Sidney Gottlieb did for a living, several of his obituaries referred to him as "the real-life "Q," as if the perpetually-annoyed-by-007 spy-gear supplier from the James Bond movies came close to describing the man who was also known as "Joseph Scheider."
The fact is: we'll probably never know the whole truth about Gottlieb, the director of the CIA's Project MK-ULTRA from 1953 to 1972. EVERYTHING pertaining to his work on "mind control," "truth serums," poisons and their delivery systems, and chemical, biological, and radiological warfare was ordered destroyed in 1972 by his colleague and mentor, CIA Director Richard Helms.
The best-laid plans of mice and spies, however, oft' get hung-up in their execution. Not everything got destroyed. Certainly there was mis-direction that was allowed to slip through the cracks, but a number of investigations over the years have turned up damning evidence as well. The stuff we do know could curl your toes.
Sidney Gottlieb started out as the non-observant son of Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Hungary, born in the Bronx on August 3, 1918. He graduated magna cum laude in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1940. He stuttered, and he had a club foot, which kept him out of the Army during the Second World War. In 1943 he received a Ph.D. from Cal Tech, where he met and married Margaret Moore, mother of his four children.
Significantly—one would think—nothing is known of his activities between 1943 and his joining the CIA in 1951. Did he do independent study in Old Pasadena while living on spaghetti and love? Enjoy something like a Grand Tour perhaps while Europe was in flames? Did the CIA's precursor, the OSS, get to him young, the way they liked to? No doubt about it, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb must have had an inquiring mind. And maybe we don't even want to know. If he visited the Nazi death camps with a dark purpose. If he studied Mind Control in Heidelberg and Berlin. If he hand-picked the Nazi scientists who got a free ride to America as part of Project Paperclip. If he was worse than Dr. Josef Mengele, because he was ours
He was appointed head of the Chemical Division of the CIA's Technical Support Staff (TSS) by Richard Helms in 1953, and it is in his capacity as the head of Project MK-ULTRA that Gottlieb achieved no small measure of infamy.
Throughout the Cold War years, America's spy agency was obsessed with brain washing and mind control techniques. The CIA experimented with every drug known to man, but Gottlieb's especial favorite was LSD. He ingested the drug himself, and the casual manner in which the agency undertook its tests of the powerful psychedelic are well-documented. (See Lometa's excellent writeups LSD and the CIA and The Bad Trip for the story of the death of one of the CIA's own, Dr. Frank Olson.)
Gottlieb operated safe houses in New York and San Francisco where prostitutes, street people, and other unsuspecting civilians were given acid and other mind-altering chemicals and observed. The San Francisco operation, in which CIA prostitutes dosed their johns, was known waggishly as Operation Midnight Climax. Its participants were filmed and photographed, in addition to being interviewed by CIA psychology expert John Gittinger as part of his elaborate profiling scheme.
In a much more scientific study starting in 1954 as Operation MKPILOT, Gottlieb oversaw experiments which were sponsored by the National Institute of Health at the Addiction Research Center of Lexington Narcotics Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. 800 different chemical compounds were tested on Dr. Harris Isbell's mostly black heroin addicts, who also happened to be imprisoned and thus available 24/7. The men were rewarded with the drug of their choice for participating in the program. Isbell marveled at the convicts' ability to withstand whatever whacked test he threw at them. When seventy-seven straight days of LSD use seemed to have little deleterious effect, he noted "This type of behavior is to be expected in patients of this type."
Psychedelics were, really, a bit of a dead end for Gottlieb, fun though they may have been to test. Results were ultimately unpredictable, and the CIA turned to more observable stimulai—Electroshock. Lobotomy. At one point Gottlieb and the Rockefeller Foundation, which helped fund Dr. Ewen Cameron's experiments in Montreal at McGill University, came up with something called "psychic driving," where subjects whom Cameron believed had been "wiped clean" of their personalities through drugs and electroshock were bombarded by tapes played day and night which told them, over and over, what their "new" personalities were supposed to be.
Gottlieb and his staff invented dozens of ways to kill Fidel Castro. He tried to kill Jamal Abd an-Nasir Of Eqypt with poisoned cigarettes as well, but the project was deemed "not feasible" by the CIA's man in Egypt. Perhaps Nasir simply quit smoking.
Gottlieb personally went to the former Belgian Congo to assassinate African Nationalist Patrice Lumumba, using poison he carried in a diplomatic pouch. A CIA alternate plan got to Lumumba first; he was arrested by CIA puppet Joseph Mobuto and murdered by Moise Tshombe on January 17, 1961.
A similar result was achieved after Gottlieb sent a poisoned monogrammed handkerchief to Iraqi General Abd al-Karim Qasim, who had seized power in Iraq and then immediately restored diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
"It was not an assassination," Gottlieb told investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in an interview for his book The Dark Side of Camelot. "They just wanted him to get sick for a long time."
The CIA's man in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, then a hungry young up-and-comer, helped "loyal" Iraqis execute the enemy of America themselves. The CIA report read that Qasim "suffered a terminal illness before a firing squad in Baghdad." Perhaps Gottlieb's stock was at a low with the agency and Helms wanted to kick-start his protégé's flagging career. We know it all worked out well for the young Ba-ath freedom fighter, Mr. Hussein.
At its height, Project MK-ULTRA involved eighty institutions—universities, colleges, hospitals, prisons and—it is darkly rumored—orphanages. Officially, MK-ULTRA was shut down in 1972, the same year that Gottlieb retired and went to India to volunteer at a Leper hospital. Eighteen months later he moved back to Virginia and grew old, raising goats, practicing folk dancing, and cultivating Christmas trees. And he also got a Master's degree in speech therapy!
Sidney Gottlieb died at the age of 80, after a bout with pneumonia, they say, on either the 5th, the 6th, the 7th, the 10th or the 16th of March 1999. I guess that's why they call them "spooks."
John Le Carre could not have imagined a better ending for America's real life "Q," the man with the club foot and the life-long stutter and the two names. Especially the part where two witnesses die before testifying, and former CIA Director William Colby disappears for five days in 1996 and turns up dead in a mysterious boating accident-suicide-drowning-ruptured aneurism-heart attack just days before he was scheduled to face a Grand Jury in the matter of the death of Dr. Frank Olson.
And if they had asked Colby about the fatal experiments on SS prisoners and Norwegian collaborators? The CIA's relationship with Harry Anslinger and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs? Operation Phoenix in Vietnam, where they implanted electrodes in the brains of enemy POW's, hoping they could get them to kill each other by remote control? Where the experiment failed and they shot them afterwards and burned the bodies?
It's time for me to shut up about this now I think.
on American Espionage:
Wild Bill Donovan
the Stars of Project Paperclip
burning crosses in the Fatherland
doing drugs for fun and profit
the CIA wants YOU!
When is a monkey's orgasm more than just fun and games?
The Johnny Appleseed of LSD
The Nuremberg Code
George Washington, Spymaster
the first American Intelligence failure in New York
The Bureau and the Mole
Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties and Beyond, Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, Grove Press, 1985
The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, John Marks (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/lsd/marks1.htm)
Intelligence and the War Against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service, Richard J. Aldrich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Sub Rosa: The OSS and American Espionage, Steward Alsop and Thomas Braden (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1946)
Creating the Secret State: The Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947, David F. Rudgers (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2000)
Donovan and the CIA: A History of the Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas F. Troy (Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1981)