That time the CIA dosed people with LSD and watched them have sex with prostitutes through a one-way mirror "for science"
"Midnight Climax" was a failure, but it sure must have been fun
George Hunter White had a pretty kinky gig for a CIA agent.
Through the 1950’s and early 60’s, many of White’s evenings were spent sitting on a portable toilet behind a one-way mirror, looking into a bedroom furnished to resemble a French whorehouse and decorated with photographs of tortured women, bound and naked.
That sex-dungeon was ground zero for some of the strangest and most unethical experiments our government would ever conduct on its own people — an operation aptly dubbed, “Midnight Climax,” a branch of the CIA’s now-infamous MKUltra Project.
White would pour himself a martini, sit back on his toilet and wait patiently.
Eventually, a CIA-paid hooker would enter the bedroom with an unsuspecting customer in tow, and the show would begin.
The “john” would be surreptitiously dosed with huge hits of LSD soon after his arrival, while White watched from behind his mirror. The prostitute and her psychically-bent customer would then get down to the business of getting down: clothes would come off, bodies would intertwine, inhibitions would be thrown to the wind and White’s “research” would commence.
No one really knows what he did back there when he was alone (though it’s not hard to imagine).
George Hunter White; CIA consultant, professional kink.
White was a weird one. Known to be swinger and a bit of a sexual deviant, he was the perfect man for this job. He’d made a name for himself in the CIA busting Chinese opium rings and was described by some as both “crazy” and “reckless.” One can only imagine the elation he must have felt when he was assigned to Operation Midnight Climax, and given free rein to non-consensually dose unsuspecting Americans in San Francisco with high-powered hallucinogens, to watch them bang ladies of the night from behind a partition.
It was probably a dream come true for a freak like White.
Officially, Operation Midnight Climax was all about mind-control research. Fearing that the Russians were making progress in this field of psychic science, the CIA authorized a variety of top-secret experiments and programs in a frantic attempt to catch up. This is not the plot of some half-baked Jeff Bridges film, this is real Cold War history — and it doesn't get much more bizarre than this.
Project MKUltra was born in 1953 and so began one of the darkest and most secretive chapters of the century. Still to this day, we do not know the full extent to which our government experimented with drugs on its citizens. Largely because, when the program was officially killed in 1973, a massive paper purge destroyed most of the documents associated with their work and many of our nation’s strangest and most psychedelic secrets were lost forever.
But not all of them.
As it turns out, White’s Midnight Climax LSD sex apartment (which he affectionately referred to as “the pad”) was not the only mischief this CIA shyster was up to at the time. Apparently, he also kept himself busy running around San Francisco, dosing random people at bars, restaurants and beaches throughout the city just to see what happened.
Sometimes he would drug women who spurned him, like the young and attractive singer, Ruth Kelley, who had a mental meltdown onstage when White’s acid hit her like a train.
Or, occasionally he’d dose people he knew well and worked with, like Wayne Ritchie.
Ritchie was a deputy US marshal and an ex-prison guard from Alcatraz, enjoying a lunchtime Christmas party with his co-workers when White slipped him a heroic dose of acid. Still to this day, Ritchie says he remembers the moment when the drug hit him: the Christmas lights of the bar started swirling, the room started breathing and he became intensely paranoid. Ritchie’s strange experience would spiral out of control and ended with him holding up a bar at gunpoint, robbing the place to pay for a plane ticket to get his girlfriend to New York City.
LSD sure is one hell of drug.
Which is a fact that White was apparently very aware of. He admitted to having tried the substance himself, multiple times during his Midnight Climax experiments, as well as testing many of the other drugs the CIA was using on people at the time – such as concentrated cannabis (THCA).
From his own journal: “My personal observation was that the effect of all of these drugs was essentially the same, except for the degree or extent of the effect. THCA was more potent than marihuana [sic] and LSD more potent than THCA. So far as I was concerned, 'clear thinking' was non-existent while under the influence of any of these drugs. I did feel at times I was having a 'mind-expanding' experience but this vanished like a dream immediately after the session.”
225 Chestnut Street, San Francisco, California - aka "The Pad"
“The pad” apparently devolved rather quickly into something like a CIA frat-house. Agents would gather to swill cocktails, shoot the shit and watch average American Joes, bent over backwards on acid plowing women on their payroll. White noted humorously in his journal that “eight-martini lunches” were often enjoyed by agents at the apartment, while “experiments” raged in the adjoining room.
Unfortunately for White and all those other agents, fun like that couldn’t last forever. In 1966 the CIA closed its “bawdyhouses” and wrote the whole experiment off as an “abhorrent” failure. Something to be quickly brushed under the rug and forgotten about. It wouldn’t be until 1974 when the story broke in the public sphere, by which time the damage was already done and most of the heavy evidence had already been destroyed.
While White and his men didn’t actually learn anything about mind-control from Operation Midnight Climax, they did break a lot of ground developing techniques in sexual blackmail and surveillance technology. So it wasn’t a total loss.
And, of course, they probably had a hell of a good time operating the US government’s first psychedelic brothel.