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Thank God for the Freedom of Information Act. Aside from giving us insight we need to be more responsible stewards of a liberal democracy, it provides us with the endlessly entertaining experience of learning how the Central Intelligence Agency has been spending our tax dollars to make the world a more horrifying place. Although the C.I.A. has been doing their best to portray themselves as self aware via their Twitter account in recent months, it's important to remember how many completely batshit attempts at world domination preceded their covert-conquest of our hearts in 140 characters. 

For example...

 

1. "Project ARTICHOKE" Tricked People Into Tripping on LSD Because the C.I.A. Thought It Might Turn Them Into Mind Slaves

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Projects like ARTICHOKE (which was later expanded and rebranded as Project MKULTRA) define an experimental and often surreal period for the C.I.A. It was sort of like their Sergeant Pepper phase in that everyone was "trying new things," most of which involved LSD. 

A fundamental element of ARTICHOKE was the presumed application of LSD (and other drugs and chemicals, including morphine) in brainwashing. The C.I.A. thought that acid could help them make unsuspecting individuals into sleeper agents who could then carry out assassinations. It was supposed to be sort of like the Manchurian Candidate, but real and not remake-able by Denzel Washington. 

From Declassified Documents:

As a 'trigger mechanism' for a bigger project, it was proposed that an individual of ****** descent, approximately 35 years old, well educated, proficient in English and well established socially and politically in the ******* Government be induced under ARTICHOKE to perform an act, involuntarily, of attempted assassination against a prominent  ****** official or if necessary, against an American official.

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"So... So Sinatra killed JFK? Is that what we're saying?" 

If you read that document to the end, you'll also notice that "after the act of attempted assassination was performed, it was assumed that the SUBJECT would be taken into custody by the ** govermnment and therby 'disposed of.'" So this was an ugly situation even before you factor in the fact that LSD doesn't actually turn people into trigger-activated murder-zombies. 

We have the benefit of hindsight, but the C.I.A. had to learn this lesson the hard way. In an almost poetic turn, the project ended in disaster when  Frank Olson, one of the Pentagon employees who had been who had been dosed with about a Grateful Dead Roadie's worth of acid, threw himself from the tenth floor window of a New York hotel. 



2. "Operation Midnight Climax" Was Like Project ARTICHOKE But Marginally Sexier(?)

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Imagine you're some lonely man wandering the streets of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill neighborhood when a woman approaches you offering what you might call "temporary companionship." Perhaps against your better judgement, you agree and accompany the woman back to a brothel. She offers you a drink.

Soon you begin to see things that aren't there. The walls expand and retract, the entire room fluctuating like a lung. Voices hiss and whisper in your ears. This was what many subjects of Operation Midnight Climax, another episode in the C.I.A.'s attempts to use psychotropic drugs for mind control, experienced as a team of agents secretly watched their meltdown.

After being unwittingly dosed with LSD, the men were observed through the use of two way glass disguised as mirrors and microphones hidden in electrical outlets. The C.I.A. hoped that the drug would make them suggestible, that it could ultimately be used to sort of "reprogram" prisoners of war into friendlies. Failing that, they hoped it might at least have some application in interrogations. The subject's reactions were varied. Considering that for this most part this all occurred in the 50s and early 60s,  before "acid" and "hallucinogens" were household words, most of them probably just thought that they had lost their minds.

Midnight Climax benefited from the full cooperation of the San Francisco Police Department and the F.B.I. In fact, one of the Op's masterminds was a narcotics agent named George Hunter White, on loan from the Bureau. White, a hardass O.S.S. veteran (who in the words of one of his colleagues, "made that fruitcake Hoover look like Nancy Drew") spent his days busting Bay Area drug dealers and nights on Telegraph Hill, chugging martinis by the quart and watching unsuspecting subjects trip on acid.

White himself explained his work for the C.I.A. as being, and this is a direct quote, "fun, fun, fun" (as well as being "Pretty Good Stuff, Brudder!"), which is only the beginning of all this starting to sound more like a Jackass skit and less like a covert medical experiment. He also mentioned in his diaries that he would frequently slip LSD to people at bars, restaurants and at cocktail parties. In one case, White's posse dosed a musician minutes before she went onstage to perform. This all happened after Frank Olson jumped out of his window by the way, so it's safe to say that the agents had a pretty good idea of how dangerous this drug could be.

When Sidney Gottlieb, an architect of ARTICHOKE and Midnight Climax, was called in front of the Senate to answer questions about the projects, he defended himself by claiming that C.I.A. agents had used LSD "extensively" themselves to confirm its safety before dosing the unsuspecting public. So, essentially, his defense was "yeah, we know this was illegal and dangerous, but it's fine because we did a ton of acid first," which is an excuse that, by all rights, shouldn't even get you off the hook for using the trash compactor wrong at your job at Wal Mart. 

In the end, White and his compatriots were largely pardoned. A victim's task force was formed to go track down those dosed and let them know that they had been part of the experiment, but due to some somewhat spotty record keeping and some extremely efficient shredding only 14 subjects were ever found.



3. "Accoustic Kitty" Was Supposed to Create a Network of Spy Cats

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You know that animal in your friend's apartment? The one that can't be persuaded to stop chewing through your USB cables and peeing on the floor even though it's treated like Cleopatra in a Marie Antoinette wig? The C.I.A. wanted to make super-spies out of those. 

Back in the 60s, during the height of the Cold War, the C.I.A. really wanted to know what Russia was up to. Like, really bad. So bad that they turned to cats, Man's Worst Frenemy, and made them, like so many others, canon fodder in our proxy war against the Soviet Union.

Something like half a decade was spent on attempts to surgically implant cats with recording equipment. It was hoped that recorded conversations could be transmitted through antennas in cat's tails, that cats could be altered to require less food (for longer missions you see) and that they could be "trained" to stake out enemy territory and report back with valuable intel. 

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Meanwhile this mouth-breather can't even manage to hold still while I take a picture of her.

The operation, adorably nicknamed "Accoustic Kitty" (one assumes the modern version would be called "I can haz Kremlin secretz?") was a failure, kept secret until the Freedom of Information Act brought it to light in 2001.  Apparently, the first "trained" cat to be successfully implanted with a recording device was given "strict orders" (!) to eavesdrop on a conversation between two men in a park. The mission lasted almost no time at all since the cat was run over by a taxi  immediately after being released. Helpfully, a senior fellow from the National Security Archive has since pointed out that "(we're) not sure how long after the operation the cat would have survived even if it hadn't been run over." Oh, so no worries then. (Unless you count the project's ten million dollar price tag.