MK-Ultra was a top-secret CIA project that lasted from 1953 until 1973. The program aimed to develop techniques that could be used against Soviet bloc enemies to control human behavior with drugs and other psychological manipulators. It was created and run by a chemist named Sidney Gottlieb. The program used numerous methods to manipulate its subjects’ mental states and brain functions, such as the covert administration of high doses of psychoactive drugs, electroshocks, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, and other forms of torture. The experiments laid the groundwork for modern-day torture techniques, and victims and their families are still seeking recognition and justice.
Perhaps one of the reasons the MK-Ultra conspiracy theory is so compelling to its believers is that its roots are surprisingly grounded in reality. If I were to tell you the CIA carried out brain surgery on six dogs, putting electric chips in their craniums so they could be controlled by remote controls that made them run, turn and stop, or that it experimented on American citizens with high doses of LSD in a bid to see if they could “de-pattern” their thoughts and turn them into “robot agents” triggered by key words – an experiment which was disproportionately carried out on mental health patients, prisoners, drug addicts and sex workers as they were “people who could not fight back,” according to one government agent – you’d probably assume I’d been reading too much science fiction. But declassified CIA documents show these things really did happen under a program that was in fact called MK-Ultra.
Project MKUltra experiments led to Congress passing various laws to prevent these occurrences in the future. Following the investigation, the Church Committee suggested to President Gerald Ford that human experimentation with drugs should only be acceptable when the subject has given full informed consent in writing, along with the presence of an unassociated third party to be a witness to the experiment. The National Commission on Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research was also given more control and authorized to cover all federally funded human experimentation research.