There have been numerous experiments performed on human test subjects in the United States that have been considered unethical, and were often performed illegally, without the knowledge, consent, or informed consent of the test subjects.
Many types of experiments have been performed including the deliberate infection of people with deadly or debilitating diseases, exposure of people to biological and chemical weapons, human radiation experiments, injection of people with toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation/torture experiments, tests involving mind-altering substances, and a wide variety of others. Many of these tests were performed on children and mentally disabled individuals. In many of the studies, a large portion of the subjects were poor racial minorities or prisoners. Often, subjects were sick or disabled people, whose doctors told them that they were receiving “medical treatment”, but instead were used as the subjects of harmful and deadly experiments.
Many of these experiments were funded by the United States government, especially the Central Intelligence Agency, United States military and federal or military corporations. The human research programs were usually highly secretive, and in many cases information about them was not released until many years after the studies had been performed.
The ethical, professional, and legal implications of this in the United States medical and scientific community were quite significant, and led to many institutions and policies that attempted to ensure that future human subject research in the United States would be ethical and legal. Public outcry over the discovery of government experiments on human subjects led to numerous congressional investigations and hearings, including the Church Committee, Rockefeller Commission, and Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, amongst others.
In 1953, the CIA placed several of its interrogation and mind-control programs under the direction of a single program, known by the code name MKULTRA, after CIA director Allen Dulles complained about not having enough “human guinea pigs to try these extraordinary techniques.” The MKULTRA project was under the direct command of Dr. Sidney Gottlieb of the Technical Services Division. The project received over $25 million, and involved hundreds of experiments on human subjects at eighty different institutions.
The project’s intentionally oblique CIA cryptonym is made up of the digraph MK, meaning that the project was sponsored by the agency’s Technical Services Division, followed by the word ULTRA (which had previously been used to designate the most secret classification of World War II intelligence). Other related cryptonyms include MKNAOMI and MKDELTA.
A precursor of the MKULTRA program began in 1945 when the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency was established and given direct responsibility for Operation Paperclip. Operation Paperclip was a program to recruit former Nazi scientists. Some of these scientists studied torture and brainwashing, and several had just been identified and prosecuted as war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials.
Several secret U.S. government projects grew out of Operation Paperclip. These projects included Project CHATTER (established 1947), and Project BLUEBIRD (established 1950), which was renamed Project ARTICHOKE in 1951. Their purpose was to study mind-control, interrogation, behavior modification and related topics.
Headed by Sidney Gottlieb, the MKULTRA project was started on the order of CIA director Allen Dulles on April 13, 1953, largely in response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind-control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea. The CIA wanted to use similar methods on their own captives. The CIA was also interested in being able to manipulate foreign leaders with such techniques, and would later invent several schemes to drug Fidel Castro.
Experiments were often conducted without the subjects’ knowledge or consent. In some cases, academic researchers being funded through grants from CIA front organizations were unaware that their work was being used for these purposes.
In 1964, the project was renamed MKSEARCH. The project attempted to produce a perfect truth drug for use in interrogating suspected Soviet spies during the Cold War, and generally to explore any other possibilities of mind control.
Another MKULTRA effort, Subproject 54, was the Navy’s top secret “Perfect Concussion” program, which was supposed to use sub-aural frequency blasts to erase memory, however the program was never carried out.
Project MKUltra was the code name of a U.S. government covert research operation experimenting in the behavioral engineering of humans (mind control) through the CIA’s Scientific Intelligence Division. The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and “officially halted” in 1973. The program engaged in many illegal activities; in particular it used unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy. MKUltra involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate people’s mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
The scope of Project MKUltra was broad, with research undertaken at 80 institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, as well as hospitals, prisons and pharmaceutical companies. The CIA operated through these institutions using front organizations, although sometimes top officials at these institutions were aware of the CIA’s involvement.
Project MKUltra was first brought to public attention in 1975 by the Church Committee of the U.S. Congress, and a Gerald Ford commission to investigate CIA activities within the United States. Investigative efforts were hampered by the fact that CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed in 1973; the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission investigations relied on the sworn testimony of direct participants and on the relatively small number of documents that survived Helms’ destruction order.
In 1977, a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered a cache of 20,000 documents relating to project MKUltra, which led to Senate hearings later that same year. In July 2001 some surviving information regarding MKUltra was officially declassified.