MK-Ultra: The CIA and Radiation

Interim Report of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments
Appendix, pp. E-1.1 to 1.6

Courtesy of PinkNoise

History and Organization of the Central Intelligence Agency

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was created in 1947 by the National Security Act, which also established the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Security Council (NSC). CIA was modeled largely after the Office of Strategic Services, which served as the principal U.S. intelligence organization during World War II. The newly created agency was authorized to engage in foreign intelligence collection (i.e., espionage). analysis. and covert actions, it was, however, prohibited from engaging in domestic police or internal security functions. Nonetheless, CIA engaged in a program of domestic human experimentation from the 1950s into the 1970s.

CIA components most likely to have. been associated with any experiment are the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) in the Directorate of Intelligence, the Office of Security, the Technical Services Division (TSD) in the then-Directorate of Plans (DDP, now Directorate of Operations), and (at least from 1962) the Office of Research and Development (ORD) in the Directorate of Science and Technology. Beginning in the late 1940s, OSI analyzed and disseminated foreign scientific, and medical intelligence concerning the development and testing of atomic weapons and interacted with DOD and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on these issues. TSD ran Project MKULTRA, discussed below. Human experimentation was done prior to MKULTRA by OSI and the Office of Security and, after MKULTRA, by ORD.


To date, CIA has found no records or other information indicating that it conducted or sponsored human radiation experiments.

Records Search

In response to the January 1994 presidential directive, CIA conducted an agency-wide search for information about human radiation experiments that it may have conducted.[ 1 ] At the Committee's initial meeting in April 1994, CIA stated that the search encompassed an electronic review of approximately 34 million documents, a manual review of 480,300 documents, and nearly 50 interviews. CIA also stated that it had found no documents relating to experiments conducted by other agencies. The Committee, however, has since found records indicating that CIA officers did participate in DOD groups in which human radiation experiments, including those involving the placement of troops at atmospheric weapons tests, were discussed and planned. As discussed below, CIA is continuing to search for documents relating to these and other activities.

Beginning in the early 1950s, CIA engaged in an extensive program of human experimentation, using drugs, psychological. and other means in search of techniques to control human behavior CIA has so far found no evidence that radiation experiments on humans were part of this program. CIA documents and a 1963 CIA Inspector General (IG) report. however state quite clearly that .MKULTRA was a program "concerned with research and development of chemical. biological. and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior." (emphasis added) The IG report states that "additional avenues to the control of human behavior had been designated . . as appropriate to investigation under the MKULTRA charter, including radiation, electroshock. various fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology, graphology, harassment substances, and paramilitary devices and materials." (emphasis added)[ 2 ] The program included unwitting experimentation on humans with LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), brainwashing, and other interrogation methods.

CIA's human behavior program originated in 1950 and was motivated by Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind control techniques. It began under the code name BLUEBIRD (and was later known as ARTICHOKE) and was operated by the Office of Security and OSI with support from other offices. MKULTRA formally began in April 1953 as a special, clandestine funding mechanism for DOD human behavior research. The program was the subject of investigations by the Rockefeller Commission in 1975, the Senate Church Committee in 1976, and hearings by Senator Kennedy in 1975 and 1977, however, these committees did not focus on radiation experiments, and no such information was found by them.

CIA has told the Committee that MKULTRA involved human experimentation using every research "avenue" listed in the MKULTRA document except for radiation.[ 3 ] The agency also noted that most of the MKULTRA records were deliberately destroyed in 1973 by the order of then-Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms[ 4 ] In early September 1991. the agency found a document that summarized work done for ARTICHOKE which states that "[i]n addition to hypnosis. chemical and psychiatric research. the following fields have been explored ... 7) other physical manifestations. including heat and cold, atmospheric pressure, radiation." (emphasis added) .Although there is no indication from this document that radiation was explored on humans directly. it makes clear that CIA did "explore" radiation as a possibility for the defensive and offensive use of brainwashing and other interrogating techniques.[ 5 ]

In another MKULTRA project, CIA secretly provided funding for the construction of a wing of Georgetown University Hospital in the 1950s so that it would have a locale to carry out clinical testing of its biological and chemical programs. Dr. Charles F. Geschickter, a Georgetown doctor who conducted cancer research and experimented with radiation therapy, acted as cover for CIA financing.[ 6 ] CIA also tried unsuccessfully to enlist AEC to co-fund the project by appealing to its interest in Geschickter's radiation research. Geschickter testified before Congress in 1977 that CIA money helped fund his radioisotope lab and equipment. Thus, CIA money seems to have helped fund radiation-related medical research as a cover for the agency's real interest in chemical and biological research.

Records obtained from DOD and the Department of Energy (DOE) and by Committee staff from the National Archives show that CIA was represented in key DOD biomedical groups in which both human experiments and experimental ethics policy were discussed and planned. At least three CIA officers were members of DOD's Committee on Medical Sciences (CMS) from 1948 to 1953 and attended meetings and received the "program guidance" of the DOD Joint Panel on the Medical Aspects of Atomic Warfare. As reported elsewhere,[ 7 ] the Joint Panel was the center for information gathering and planning for medical experimentation, including human experiments, relating to atomic warfare; for example, this panel helped coordinate the program of placing troops in the vicinity of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. In 1948 CIA also participated in discussions regarding the proposed formation of an Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Organization, during which it was suggested that CIA would be in charge of foreign atomic, biological. and chemical intelligence from a medical sciences viewpoint.[ 8 ]

CIA representatives on CMS worked for OSI (and its precursor, the Scientific Branch). This office had principal responsibility for analyzing and disseminating foreign atomic energy intelligence. It chaired the Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee (JAEIC, also known as the Joint Nuclear Intelligence Committee), an interagency body that helped coordinate analyses and activities by Departments responsible for monitoring foreign nuclear weapons programs. It also chaired the interagency Scientific Intelligence Committee as well as the Joint Medical Sciences Intelligence Committee, both of which coordinated scientific and medical intelligence for the Government. These two committees provided medical intelligence to the Armed Forces Medical Policy Committee, which also played an active role in planning and overseeing radiation research and human experimentation for DOD. This office also worked on Projects BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, at least one of the officers who attended CMS meetings also analyzed medical intelligence for the Office of Security's human experimentation activities under BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE.

CIA historically has employed the facilities of other agencies, including DOD and DOE (and its predecessors) to assist in agency research. For example, in 1965 CIA entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with AEC's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to perform a number of projects for CIA's Office of Scientific Intelligence. CIA has been asked to search for documents specifically related to the work performed under this agreement that might relate to human radiation experiments.

With regard to the history of CIA's ethics policies, the MKULTRA experiment program gestated from 1951 to 1952. This was the very period in which DOD's CMS, with CIA participation, engaged in discussions that led to the Secretary of Defense's 1953 enactment of an ethics policy for human experiments based on the Nuremberg Code. The relationship between these Nuremberg Code discussions (and policy) and CIA's MKULTRA activities is a subject of the Committee's inquiry.

Through the course of MKULTRA, CIA sponsored numerous experiments on unwitting humans. After the death of one such individual (Frank Olson, an army scientist who was given LSD in 1953 and committed suicide a week later), an internal CIA investigation warned about the dangers of such experimentation. Ten years later, a 1963 IG report recommended termination of unwitting testing; however, Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms (who later became Director of Central Intelligence) continued to advocate covert testing on the ground that "positive operational capability to use drugs is diminishing, owing to a lack of realistic testing. With increasing knowledge of the state of the art, we are less capable of staying up with the Soviet advances in this field. "The Church Committee noted that "Helms attributed the cessation of the unwitting testing to the high risk of embarrassment to the Agency as well as the moral problem He noted that no better covert situation had been devised than that which had been used and that 'we have no answer to the moral issue '"[ 9 ]

Following revelations of MKULTRA and other unethical CIA practices President Gerald Ford issued the first Executive Order on Intelligence Activities in 1976 which, among other matters. prohibited "experimentation with drugs on human subjects, except with the informed consent, in writing and witnessed by a disinterested third party, of each such human subject and in accordance with the guidelines issued by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects for Biomedical and Behavioral Research." Subsequent Executive Orders by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan expanded the directive to apply to any human experimentation: "No agency within the Intelligence Community shall sponsor, contract for, or conduct research on human subjects except in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The subject's informed consent shall be documented as required by those guidelines." [ 10 ] CIA has issued guidelines implementing the Executive Order and has provided them to the Committee.[ 11 ]

Remaining Tasks

The primary focus of CIA's initial search was records on the use of ionizing radiation on humans by the U.S. Government. The agency did not initially search specifically for information on such topics as the 1949 "Green Run" release (an intentional release of radiation in Hanford, Washington) or the activities of the JAEIC, CMS, or Joint Panel on the Medical Aspects of Atomic Warfare. Nor did CIA initially focus on activities of the Soviet Union and other countries that may have prompted U.S. agencies to consider human radiation experiments (e.g., when the Soviet Union sent approximately 40,000 troops to a test area to conduct military exercises 30 minutes after an atomic bomb test in Totsk, Kazakhstan, on September 14, 1954).

In response to specific Committee queries, CIA has provided documents that describe activities of the OSI. CIA continues to search for records in light of five Committee requests. These requests include: (1) records on CMS, the Joint Panel on the Medical Aspects of Atomic Warfare, and other DOD and/or interagency medical intelligence organizations involving human experiments, (2) foreign medical intelligence records on human radiation experiments, (3) records on work done by other agencies, (4) records on ethics policies, and (5) records on the Green Run and other intentional releases.

The Committee awaits completion of ongoing records searches that CIA has been conducting on the above and other topics raised by the Committee.


[ 1 ] In contrast to all other agencies, CIA maintains custody of virtually all of its records; only a small number have been transferred to the National Archives and none to any Federal Records Center. No publicly available index or inventory describes the size and organization of the records that CIA maintains.

[ 2 ] A redacted version of the IG report was reprinted in Joint Hearings on Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1975, before the Subcommittee on Health of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee and the Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 94th Cong., 1st Sess., at 877 (the complete report is still classified), see also "Final Report of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Governmental Operations, Book I" at 389-90, 94th Cong.,2d Sess., No. 94-755 (Apr.26,. 1976)("Church Committee").(sb 'Covert'?)

[ 3 ] CIA did investigate the use and effect of microwaves on humans in response to a Soviet practice of beaming microwaves on the U.S. Embassy but determined that this was outside the scope of the Committee's purview. CIA also sponsored radioisotope tracer experiments involving irradiated LSD and other chemicals on laboratory animals as part of MKULTRA. The Army conducted similar tracer studies on humans at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland during this period. Beginning in 1967, CIA's Office of Research and Development and the Edgewood Arsenal undertook a Joint program for research in influencing human behavior with drugs, which included human experimentation (including on prison inmates) and was performed by the same University of Pennsylvania researchers who had performed the tracer studies. It is not known whether the joint program included radioisotope trace studies on humans.

[ 4 ] Helms testified in 1975 that he ordered the records destroyed because "there had been relationships with outsiders in government agencies and other organizations and that these would be sensitive in this kind of a thing but that since the program was over and finished and done with, we thought we would just get rid of the files as well, so that anybody who assisted us in the past would not be subject to follow-up questions, embarrassment, if you will." Church Committee, Book 1. at 403-04.

[ 5 ] CIA officials have suggested this reference to radiation might have meant "ultrasonic radiation" because they found another document in which the possibility of using "ultrasonics and other radiant energy" was proposed and rejected. This suggestion. however, seems unlikely because the summary document also lists "sound" as a field that was explored in addition to radiation.

[ 6 ] The Geschickter Fund for Medical Research served as a principal "cut-out source" for CIA's secret funding of numerous MKULTRA human experiment projects.

[ 7 ] See discussion in Part I of the Interim Report.

[ 8 ] Although this organization apparently was never created, the basic division of labor between CIA and DOD suggested here seems to have been maintained by the Armed Forces Medical Policy Committee.

[ 9 ] Church Committee, Book I, at 402. The Church Committee noted that "the project involving the surreptitious administration of LSD...was marked by a complete lack of screening, medical supervision, opportunity to observe, or medical or psychological follow-up. The intelligence agencies allowed individual researchers to design their project. Experiments sponsored by these into question the decision by the agencies not to fix guidelines for the experiments." Id.

[ 10 ] Executive Order 11905 (Feb. l9, 1976) (Ford); Executive Order 12036, [[section]] 2-302 (Jan. 26, 1978) (Carter); Executive Order 12333, [[section]] 2.10 (Dec. 4, 1981) (Reagan).

[ 11 ] One section of the most recent guidelines originally was classified, i.e., HR 7- l a(6)(c)(4), but was declassified upon the request of the Committee.