During the 1960’s the CIA experimented with all kinds of substances and psychological practices in an attempt to increase the effectiveness of interrogation techniques, among other things. One such substance was Lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as LSD or acid. As part of the program “MK Ultra” LSD among other substances was tested to see the potential efficacy as mind control device. Although it obviously didn’t pan out, it did create incredible government overreach, corruption, and some fascinating stories. Most of these stories were revealed by heavily redacted CIA documents, or congressional testimony, and there are undoubtedly massive gaps in knowledge. What is known is as interesting as it is terrifying and one of the better documented MK Ultra sub programs was the appropriately named “Operation Midnight Climax”.


Started by Sidney Gottlieb in the 1950’s Operation Midnight Climax involved prostitutes on the CIA payroll dosing their customers with LSD while CIA agents observed the effects through a one way mirror. The CIA had safe houses in both San Francisco and New York City and carried out operations from each well into the mid-1960s. Eventually the program was shut down for obvious reasons, it looked terrible The study was just as much a look into the potential for sexual blackmail as much as it was the effects of LSD. Given CIA and FBI tactics used against figures like JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. the knowledge gained was at least in part put to use. That’s really all that was known about the program and its victims have been hard to track down.


The biggest revelation coming from Operation Midnight Climax is the total disregard for ethical standards the CIA employed at the time. Many officials believed bending moral codes for progress was entirely justified and during the height of the Cold War with nuclear warfare constantly hanging overhead that might be fair. Still the program began more or less ethically and used volunteers to study the effects of the drug. However the program quickly shifted from volunteers to unknowing subjects in order to gather more information quickly without the constraints of a lab or potential for peering eyes.

lsdlsd                                           CIA MK Ultra Funding Report

Operation Midnight Climax was only one of many MK Ultra sub programs, but it’s notable because it shows how the CIA was willing to bend the acceptable in order to accomplish their goal. It also shows they were actively aware that what they were doing was risky and would be viewed horribly in the public. Still the public perception factor didn’t stop the CIA from pushing forward. The program became public knowledge when CIA employee John K. Vance found a box of documents in the late 1970’s that was supposed to be destroyed years prior. This prompted further investigation but most of the documents regarding MK-Ultra were destroyed and the people involved have for the most part kept their stories to themselves.


Operation Midnight Climax was just one of many human rights abuses carried out by the CIA during this period and in the grand scope of them it’s fairly tame. Dosing unwitting men and watching they effects through a two way mirror isn’t nearly as bad as some of the electrotherapy techniques that were experimented with. Operation Midnight Climax was unethical, but it is a fairly humorous chapter in an otherwise incredibly dark chapter of CIA history.
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