Mad Scientist or Cold Warrior?

Mad Scientist or Cold Warrior?

Sidney Gottlieb

MKULTRA was a human research project under the auspices of the Office of Strategic Intelligence, an offshoot of the CIA. MKULTRA ran127 projects, some of which touched on mind control. Sidney Gottlieb was its director from 1953. During his tenure in its secret labs, he researched poisons and original ways to deliver them to a target; bioweapons; hypnosis; memory programming; and even ran brainwashing and electroshock experiments.

When it came into the public spotlight, his search for a Manchurian candidate was infamous to some, perfectly justifiable to others. Some might say that certain things Sidney Gottlieb did in the course of his career would have seen him hung if he had been a Nazi officer tried at Nuremberg. But Otto Mengele never gave himself spinal taps or experimented on his own chances of survival in freezing water, while Gottlieb did spend quite a while experimenting on himself with LSD, as well as on others, before deciding that the substance was not right for purposes of mind control. It’s the fact that the drug was also tried on unknowing Canadian and American citizens, mostly bums and junkies, that stuck in people’s craw. That and the death of one of those subjects, Dr. Frank Olson. 

The dirty tricksDr. Frank Olson was a microbiologist working for Technical Services who, along with a few other scientists, was dosed with LSD without his consent in the presence of Dr. Gottlieb. The others reportedly had quite some fun but when Olson crashed, he crashed big time. Literally. Not long after his LSD trip, he threw himself out of a tenth story hotel window in New York, while a CIA agent assigned to keep an eye on him slept in the same room.

Dr. Olson's son is not so sure it was a suicide. The LSD had made him mentally unstable. A mentally unstable researcher in microbiological weapons, who knows many military secrets, can indeed be considered an intelligence liability.

A Senate investigation into intelligence activities made the whole MKULTRA story public.

Keep in mind that when Frank Olson's story came out, it was a different time. Vietnam, My Lai, Watergate; reporters reported and the public heard what they had to report. What could be thought of as one of 9/11's most enduring legacies, the loss of privacy and transparency in the name of national security, had yet to happen. With newspaper magnates mixing news and their own opinion to fit their self serving messages, and the army embedding reporters whose output is strictly controlled; you'd have to rely on Wikileaks to learn about a modern-day Gottlieb, if at all.

Maybe in that spirit : “Many of the details will likely never be known. Gottlieb had destroyed the MK-ULTRA files just before retiring. The records might be 'misunderstood,' he had said”.

PerspectiveTo put things in perspective, Gottlieb was not only a doctor of chemistry that followed orders he was given by his higher-ups, but also a seasoned Cold Warrior who did field work and handled agents in Berlin for a few years, even went to Africa to deliver orders and a bacteriological weapon for the covert killing of a head of state. Money is everything to a mafia wiseguy and he'll lie, blackmail, extort, cheat, steal or kill to get it. Agents in the field, handlers want information and they'll do exactly the same things to get it. Such is the nature of the game.

Gottlieb's father before him had been a socialist and his inherited political affiliation was the first thing he revealed at his job interview at the CIA. Seen as a humanitarian by everyone who knew him, he gave heavily to different charities. He had been born with two clubbed feet which necessitated many operations and, as he could not serve in WWII because of his handicap, was probably left with a sense of inadequacy that might have influenced his overzealous methods in the CIA. After his retirement, he spent more than a year in India, attending to lepers.

Dr. Sidney Gottlieb died in 1999 of a bad heart, putting an abrupt end to a slew of lawsuits against him.

DilemmaAll of this poses a moral dilemma. Would you exonerate a man like Gottlieb, doing his best to catch up with the opposition, subject to the moral Zeitgeist he lived and worked in, fighting for his country in the trenches (or rather the mists) of intelligence for your safety?

Or would you condemn him for using totally unethical means of experimentation on humans beings that sometimes proved fatal? Bums, druggies, Canadians and fellow researchers are human too!

Tell us what do you think

Sidney Gottlieb : Mad Scientist or Cold Warrior?


Read Ted Gup's excellent article The Coldest Warrior at

Robert Wallace; H. Keith Melton, Henry Schlesinger (2009), Spycraft : The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to Al-Qaeda, ISBN 978-0-525-949800 Find it on Amazon

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