Timothy Leary, LSD, counterculture, psychedelics

The CIA and Psychedelics: From Timothy Leary to the Unabomber


Jeffery St. Clair and the late Alexander Cockburn wrote about the history of CIA-associated psychologists such as 1960s psychedelic pitchman Timothy Leary using LSD and psilocybin, and their effects on subjects, like the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

Timothy Leary, LSD, counterculture, psychedelics
Dr. Timothy Leary, the controversial counterculture guru and psychonaut huckster, who facing years in jail, sold out his cohorts to the FBI, was associated with the CIA from the beginning.

A Psychedelic History of the CIA

By Jeffery St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, Published in CounterPunch.org

On June 17, 1999 the state of Texas put to death by lethal injection John Stanley Faulder, a Canadian who had been convicted in 1977 of murdering Inez Phillips, an oil heiress. Faulder’s case received more press attention than most executions these days, mainly because the Canadian government tried to intervene on his behalf and urged Texas governor George W. Bush to spare his life. Unmoved by arguments that after his arrest Faulder had been denied his right to consult with officials from the Canadian embassy, Bush sent him to the death chamber.

What went entirely unmentioned by the U.S. press was that 37 years ago Stanley Faulder had been the unwitting victim of medical experiments partially funded by the CIA. According to Faulder’s sister, Pat Nicholl, who lives in Jaspar, Alberta, “At 15 Stanley was arrested for stealing a watch and sent to a boys’ home for six months. At 17, another theft got him six months in jail. At 22 he was caught in a stolen car and sent to jail in New Westminster, B.C. for two years. There, he asked for psychiatric help and was put in an experimental drug program which involved doses of LSD.”

“A major civil liberties issue of the next decade will be the control and expansion of consciousness,” Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) declared in a letter to the Harvard Crimson on their shuttered project studying of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. “Who controls your cortex? Who decides on the range and limits of your awareness? If you want to research your own nervous system, expand your consciousness, who is to decide that you can’t and why?”

Faulder was one of hundreds of Canadian prisoners who were experimented upon by psychiatrists in the 1960s and 1970s. The prison LSD program was run by Dr. George Scott, a staff psychiatrist for the Canadian Federal Corrections, who had served as director of the Canadian Army’s psychological rehabilitation department during World War II. After the war, Scott teamed up with shrinks from Allan Memorial Institute, including the notorious Ewen Cameron, to launch a variety of drug, electroshock, sensory deprivation and pain tolerance experiments, using prisoners and patients at mental hospitals as guinea pigs. The LSD for some of the experiments as well as funding for the research was provided by the CIA and the Canadian Defense Department.

Scott was stripped of his license to practice medicine. The sanction was not for dosing prisoners with psychotropic drugs, but for emulating Sandor Ferenczi by making passes at female patients. Even here Scott used drugs and electroshock to aid his seductions. According to court records, Scott used a technique called “narco-analysis” to manipulate one of the women into having sex with him. Narco-analysis involves heavy doses of sodium pentothal and Ritalin. Scott used the pentothal, in combination with electroshock, to take his victim into a near comatose state, implanted erotic suggestions, and then roused her to consciousness with shots of Ritalin. This continued for a period of five years. Scott even prescribed birth control pills for the woman.

* * *

In 1969, Robert Renaud, an inmate at the Kingston Penitentiary, claimed that Scott had given him ferocious jolts of electroshock as a punishment for not cooperating with the doctor. Like Faulder, Renaud was in jail for theft and was not considered violent. Scott dismissed Renaud’s allegation, though films of the psychiatrist shocking prisoners from that time have recently surfaced. In response, Scott said he only performed electroshock once a week on prisoners who “were sick enough”.

Scott was sued by 24 women inmates who say they were subjected to his LSD experiments. One of the women who brought the suit is Dorothy Proctor. She was given LSD at the Kingston women’s prison in 1961–the same year Faulder was drugged. Proctor was a 17-year-old black woman, serving a three-year sentence for robbery, when Scott diagnosed her as a sociopath and put her in his experimental program, which included sensory deprivation (a 52-day stint in the Hole), electroshock and mega-doses of LSD. [The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2002.]

In a 1998 interview with the CBC program “This Morning” Proctor vividly described the first time she was offered LSD as she was in the middle of a long stint in solitary:

“The prison psychiatrist comes down to the Hole, and he has a student with him, a lady psych student from Queen’s University and she’s to take notes. He pulls up a chair for her and him, and they are outside in the hallway section of the cell, talking through the bars. I am on the floor, no mattress just a blanket. Then I am taken out of the cell that has a commode. I am now in a cell with a hole in the floor for my toilet. It had backed up so I am also in my own waste and stench. So he comes out and presents me with this, you know, we want to help you so much. We want you to correct yourself and we want you to rehabilitate yourself. And I am your friend, and you are worth saving. So just cooperate with me. And I have a pill that just might help you. I am going to rescue you. That was the LSD. I don’t think it was 15 or 20 minutes before Dante’s Inferno. It was obvious. I am locked in. I can’t get away. And the walls start to move in on me. And they melt. The bars turned to snakes and there was an awful vibration in my body. Just awful. And I just thought I had gone mad.”

Scott shrugged off the claims, telling the Ottawa Citizen in an interview in 1997 that he had no regrets about his activities. “I am happy with myself. I don’t give a shit.”

STORY: Renaissance of Psychedelics in Psychiatry

Timothy Leary: “Worse Than Benedict Arnold”

On July 1, 1999 the Smoking Gun website put up 14 pages from more than 500 FBI transcripts and memoranda, showing that LSD guru Timothy Leary was volunteering to snitch, then snitching to the feds about his knowledge of the Weather Underground and almost anyone else Leary thought the feds might be interested in, including his former wife Rosemary, his attorneys and the wife of one of his attorneys. This was in 1974 when Leary was in Folsom prison in northeastern California, after convictions for a number of marijuana busts plus time for his jail break.

It’s not entirely fresh news that the late Timothy Leary was a squealer and a snitch to the FBI. The snitching was well known at the time. The FBI was eager to leak the fact that Leary, high priest of LSD and potentate of the counterculture, was singing about his former associates.

Lords of The Revolution: Timothy Leary segment 1

Lords of The Revolution: Timothy Leary segment 1

The news, the Bureau seemed to have reasoned, would spread fear and despondency and foster rifts. On April 4, 1974, the Chicago Tribune ran an FBI-inspired leak, headlined “Leary Will Sing”; and in the letters that Abbie Hoffman wrote in the mid-1970s, edited by wife Anita, To America With Love: Letters From the Underground, vitriol was poured on Leary the Snitch. Himself on the run after his cocaine bust, Hoffman wrote,

“I’m digesting news of Herr Doktor Leary, the swine. It’s obvious to me he talked his fucking, demented head off to the Gestapo… God, Leary is disgusting. It’s not just a question of being a squealer, but a question of squealing on people who helped you. The curses crowd my mouth. Timothy Leary is a name worse than Benedict Arnold.”

Leary’s awfulness was somewhat forgotten by the time he’d become a staple of the Hollywood gossip columns and before his ashes were fired off into the space that he roamed so freely in his acid-sodden years. Leary began his career as a research psychologist at the Kaiser Foundation in Oakland, where he developed a personality test to help the authorities classify prisoners, allocating them to various levels of incarceration. (When Leary himself was convicted, he was handed the very test that he had devised years earlier, and thus was able to frame answers that put him in a minimum security facility in San Luis Obispo, from which he was sprung by the people he later ratted on.)

From Kaiser, Leary went on to become a lecturer at Harvard. It seems likely that the “Leary Test,” as it was known, had attracted the attention of the chairman of the Dept. of Social Relations, Dr. Henry Murray, whose experiments on Ted Kaczynski are noted below. Murray’s “Thematic Aptitude Test” was being used by the CIA, which then took up the “Leary Test,” no doubt with handsome fees to both Kaiser and to Leary. By the time Leary got to Harvard, Murray already had contracts with the Pentagon and CIA to test student volunteers (including Kaczynski).

Leary took the drugs to be tested and sallied forth to the Massachusetts Correctional Institute in Concord, a maximum-security prison, where he embarked on experiments designed, so he said, to see if LSD and psilocybin could be successful agents in behavior modification. As with all research on prisoners, there were certainly other aspects Leary didn’t publicly own up to, such as investigation into the properties of these psychotropic drugs in interrogation.

The CIA helped spring Leary from his prison in Algeria, where he’d been consigned by Eldridge Cleaver, who had instantly seen Leary for the miscreant he was. At the time Cleaver put him in jail, the exiled information minister of the Black Panthers said, “There’s something wrong with Leary’s brain. We want people to gather their wits, sober up and get down to the serious business of destroying the Babylonian empire. To all those of you who look to Dr. Leary for inspiration and leadership, we want to say to you that your God is dead, because his mind has been blown by acid.” Leary’s wife Rosemary didn’t want to deal with the CIA agent who sprang them from prison in Algeria. For once Leary was on the mark. “He’s liberal CIA,” Leary told Rosemary. “And that’s the best mafia you can deal with in the 20th century.”

Black Liberation Theory: Eldridge Cleaver VS. Timothy Leary On Drug Use as Counter-Revolutionary

Black Liberation Theory: Eldridge Cleaver VS. Timothy Leary On Drug Use as Counter-Revolutionary

Ted Kaczynski, Unabomber: Guinea Pig

It turns out that Theodore Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, was a volunteer in mind-control experiments sponsored by the CIA at Harvard in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Michael Mello, author of The United States of America vs. Theodore John Kaczynski notes that at some point in his Harvard years–1958 to 1962–Kaczynski agreed to be the subject of “a psychological experiment.” Mello identifies the chief researcher for these only as a former lieutenant colonel in World War II, working for the CIA’s predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services. In fact, the man experimenting on the young Kaczynski was Dr. Henry Murray, who died in 1988.

Murray became preoccupied by psychoanalysis in the 1920s, drawn to it through a fascination with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, which he gave to Sigmund Freud, who duly made the excited diagnosis that the whale was a father figure. After spending the 1930s developing personality theory, Murray was recruited to the OSS at the start of the war, applying his theories to the selection of agents and also presumably to interrogation.

As chairman of the Department of Social Relations at Harvard, Murray zealously prosecuted the CIA’s efforts to carry forward experiments in mind control conducted by Nazi doctors in the concentration camps. The overall program was under the control of the late Sidney Gottlieb, head of the CIA’s technical services division. Just as Harvard students were fed doses of LSD, psilocybin and other potions, so too were prisoners and many unwitting guinea pigs.

Sometimes the results were disastrous. A dram of LSD fed by Gottlieb himself to an unwitting U.S. army officer, Frank Olson, plunged Olson into escalating psychotic episodes, which culminated in Olson’s fatal descent from an upper window in the Statler-Hilton in New York. Gottlieb was the object of a lawsuit not only by Olson’s children but also by the sister of another man, Stanley Milton Glickman, whose life had disintegrated into psychosis after being unwittingly slipped a dose of LSD by Gottlieb.

What did Murray give Kaczynski? Did the experiment’s long-term effects help tilt him into the Unabomber’s homicidal rampages?

The CIA’s mind experiment program was vast. How many other human time bombs were thus primed? How many of them have exploded, with the precipitating agent never identified?

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

A version of this essay appeared in the October 1999 print edition of CounterPunch.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Cristobal Ferryman

    “A dram of LSD fed by Gottlieb himself to an unwitting U.S. army officer, Frank Olson, plunged Olson into escalating psychotic episodes” Just to be clear, a dram would be about 3,700,000 micrograms, or the equivalent of 37,000 recreational doses of LSD-25. Overdose has sometimes been estimated from animal models to be 16,000 doses 1,600,000 micrograms. There are very few recorded cases of this size dose being administered, one case by injection was with other drugs, making it hard to generalize. One wonders whether the Olson case was misreported, and why would a substance usually measured in 100s of MICROgrams would be measured as a “dram”. While street prices might not apply here, it must have been an expensive experiment at any rate. The thing about “acid lore and legend” is that exaggeration come from both sides, pro and con.

  2. Dillon W Stewart

    Was it the lysergic acid diethylamide, or the suggestions and prompts during these experimental sessions which were the catylists of such tragic episodes?
    The experiences of LSD are typically environmentally influenced as “good” and “bad”. The amount of dosage is less important than who it is that is dosing, but even more importantly, who it is they are around or the environment they are in, what they are doing, what they are asked or perceived to do(etc…) which create the atmosphere of “good trip” and/or “bad trip”.
    There is also “good trip” evidence that personal recklessness which results in injury(interpreted: lack of responsible supervision) that alter such experiences to “bad trip” status(unlike PVP, the mind recognizes the: “this ain’t cool anymore” aspect of “ow!!!!” On LSD.)
    Not to come across all “expert” about LSD, but not having EVER had a “bad trip” may indicate either a psycholical imbalance “corrected” by this drug when administered, or more likely, a lack of psychological imbalance when it was administered.
    That those sharing the environments of such “experimemtation” were not in any manner influential upon making these instances a “bad trip”(even in instances where they, themselves, on very few occasions experienced PORTIONS of a very limited duration of “bad trip”, these were usually quickly remedied by those of us with them who could direct the way in a manner which would not obsess so much upon whatever was impacting those on such occasions.
    This comment is LESS a promotional for LSD experimentation than it is an HONEST discourse concerning how people play a more significant role in impacting other people psychologically, on or off drugs, than the drugs themselves do so.(“hypothesis”)

  3. Pingback: Midnight in Kentucky: Episode 5: MKULTRA; Mind Control, Manipulation, and the CIA – Midnight in Kentucky

  4. Garry Gleeson

    Even the Weather Undergound acknowledged that Leary only gave the Feds information that was already available to them. This whole Leary was a Narc or a snitch or stooge or a counter intelligence agent shtick flies in the face of his very long period of suffering and oppression at the hands of the very organisations he is accused of helping.
    Leary was flawed but few geniuses and pioneers aren’t- either before, during and/or after they set off in the trail.
    It’s amazing how many candy-arsed revolutionary by-standers fall for this narrative and buy into the obvious disinformation campaign that his enemies spread to sully his name and his legacy.

  5. Pingback: Terence McKenna: On Shamanic Schizophrenia and Cultural Healing

  6. Pingback: Where are the Hippies? – This Perfect Day Podcast

  7. Robert Adams

    Timothy Leary was just another over-privileged, CIA-sponsored puppet/criminal that was part of a much larger conspiracy called social engineering.

  8. Dennis Redman

    In a TV interview from the 1970’s, Timothy Leary himself admits that the CIA introduced LSD to the American public in order to derail the anti-war movement.

  9. Pingback: Gonzo: Hunter S. Thompson on American Dream - WilderUtopia

  10. Susannah H

    The USSR was using sound waves to manipulate thought patterns as far back as the 1970s. Tones could be played through tapes – or even through the telephone – to induce brainwave anomalies (so-called “mind control”). Check the info sheet PDF here:


    The PDF is free but there is a link to download a sound file which for obvious reasons I think you should *not* listen to.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.