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Operation Midnight Climax: The CIA Experiment With Sex, Drugs, And Mind Control

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

LSD, the CIA, a brothel. What could go wrong?

LSD, the CIA, a brothel. What could go wrong? Image credit: Lightspring/

Project MKUltra is one of the most shocking projects conducted by the CIA, investigating everything from withstanding torture (by... torturing people) to creating mind-control drugs to use on the Soviets. One of the more bizarre offshoots of the 1950s project was Operation Midnight Climax.

A team of CIA agents purchased an apartment in San Francisco in 1955, turning it into a brothel in the laziest way possible: putting up a couple of lewd posters on the wall and hiring several sex workers. There were other modifications, however – behind a one-way mirror was an extra room containing a fridgeful of martinis and a portable toilet for agents to sit on and watch the goings-on in the adjacent room. 


Sitting on a toilet and secretly watching people have sex was only part one of the experiment. Part 2 was to see if sex workers could be used to get secrets out of the clients – by drugging them without their consent. The sex workers were paid in both cash and favors, such as promises to get them out of jail if they were arrested for prostitution. The idea that the CIA should face action for illegally drugging unsuspecting customers in a brothel they ran was too preposterous to consider.

The Johns were taken to the brothel and given the psychedelic drug LSD without their knowledge, then the women would have sex with them in front of the creepy mirror. Post-sex, they would attempt to obtain random secrets from the men, or sometimes attempt to give them subliminal messages to do crimes ranging from assault to assassination. 

That was the most structured that the experiments – which ran for ten years – got. George H. White, who ran the project, and his team began to dose random subjects with hallucinogens to study their effects. That's strangers out in the public, going about their day, unaware they were about to be hit with a dose of a powerful hallucinogen. White slipped drugs to people enjoying a day at the beach, and a singer who was about to go on stage before tripping balls and heading straight to hospital.

In one particularly bad incident, deputy US Marshall Wayne Ritchie was drinking at a party when drugs were slipped into his drink. A fit of paranoia hit him, and he believed that none of the other guests wanted him around, running off to drink elsewhere – grabbing a gun from his apartment in the meantime. He ended up, completely off his face on the unknown drug, attempting to hold up a random bar before being knocked unconscious and arrested.


In a much worse incident in 1953, head chemist at the CIA Sidney Gottlieb dosed his colleague Frank Olson without his consent, spiking a glass of Cointreau with LSD. Nine days later, Olson jumped to his death out of the 10th floor of the Statler Hotel in Manhattan, having suffered from "severe psychosis and delusions."

The brothel part of the experiment ran for nine years, after which the man who authorized the experiment concluded that they had learned nothing. On the bright side, White – who along with the other agents was getting pretty high himself on the drugs – was having a great time.

"Of course I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun," he wrote to his boss after the experiment. "Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill and cheat, steal, deceive, rape and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest? Pretty Good Stuff, Brudder!"


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  • CIA,

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