1953–1964: Operation Midnight Climax — CIA’s lurid ventures into sex, hookers and LSD

Operation Midnight Climax was an operation known only to Richard Helms and Gottlieb’s Technical Support Division; it was a free-wheeling illicit criminal operation headed by George Hunter White, an Army Captain, OSS officer, veteran agent of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) who was also a CIA operative. During the day, White worked as an FBN agent to keep psychoactive drugs out of circulation, and when night fell, he and his minions dispensed these drugs widely to strangers in in San Francisco and New York. Thousands of unwitting men were lured to CIA-sponsored drug and sex sessions by prostitutes at CIA’s “safe houses.” The prostitutes received $100 a night and were guaranteed protection from police harassment. The walls of CIA’s bordellos were decorated with photos of women in bondage and other suggestive sexual images. White had unrestricted use of surveillance technology; LSD and other mind-altering substances were slipped into the johns’ liquor by the hookers, and their sexual encounters were monitored and recorded from behind two-way mirrors. These taped sexual encounters were useful for blackmailing johns — some of who were prominent upstanding citizens.

White would watch the drugged sex while sipping martinis; to maintain his Jekyll-and-Hyde routine he reportedly relied heavily on alcohol and drugs. (Lee and Shlain. Acid Dreams, 1992; Cockburn and St. Clair Whiteout, 1998; San Francisco Weekly, 2012) “The agency, TIME Magazine noted, “appeared to be experiencing its own form of madness.” (2012)

Colin Ross, MD a psychiatrist who examined extant CIA documents found a memo indicating another purpose for Operation Midnight Climax: the CIA was actually testing the performance of the prostitutes under conditions that mimicked a field operation, to see whether they could become female spies or agents. The johns were given LSD as part of the cover for testing CIA’s female Manchurian Candidates prior to their use in actual operations (the mission being to have sex with and extract information from targets). The recruitment of street prostitutes provided an additional layer of cover for the testing of the Manchurian Candidates, plus it provided free live pornography for the CIA officers.” (Ross. CIA Mind Control Doctors from Harvard to Guantanomo,2013)

Under Operation Midnight Climax, CIA operatives acted as drug suppliers, infiltrating different drug-using groups with political points of view deemed to be of “interest” and relayed information to CIA headquarters. Thus, thousands of ordinary Americans were subjected — most often without their knowledge or consent — to heavy doses of LSD and other highly potent illegal, hallucinatory drugs and surreptitiously surveyed. When he retired in 1966, after 14 years with the CIA, George Hunter White wrote a startling farewell letter to Sid Gottlieb, in which he reminisced about his Midnight Climax work:

“I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the all-highest?” (Lee and Shlain. Acid Dreams, 1992; Michael Kreca. How the US Government Created the “Drug Problem in the USA, 2001) [In 2006, Michael Kreca was shot dead by a San Diego policeman.]

“It would become supreme irony that the CIA’s enormous search for weapons among drugs — fueled by the hope that spies could control life with genius and machines — would wind up helping to create the wandering, uncontrollable minds of the counterculture.” (John Marks.) And so they did.