THE CIA, LSD AND THE 60S REBELLION by Beatrice Devereaux The Fessenden Review - A review o

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THE CIA, LSD AND THE 60S REBELLION by Beatrice Devereaux The Fessenden Review ---------- A review of the book "Acid Dreams" by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, publisher, Grove Press. ---------- "I fear I owe you an apology, I have been reading a succession of pieces about the CIA involvement in the dope trade in Southeast Asia and I remember when you first suggested I look into this I thought you were full of beans. Indeed you were right." -- C.L. Sulzberger, editor The New York Times, in a letter to Allen Ginsberg. It is more or less common knowledge that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Army experimented with lysergic acid diethylamide starting in the late 40s, and continued to toy with it for more than two decades. However no one has documented those experiments to the extent that Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain have in their book "Acid Dreams." One of the characters in the book is Dr. Paul Hoch. Hoch, who later become New York State Commissioner for Mental Hygiene ... gave LSD to psychiatric patients and then lobotomized them in order to compare the effects of acid before and after psychosurgery. "It is possible that certain amount of brain damage is of therapeutic value," Hoch once commented. In one experiment a hallucinogen was administered along with a local anesthetic and the subject was told to describe his visual experiences as surgeons removed chunks of his cerebral cortex. YEEOOWW! Get me out of here I wanna go back to Dr. Mengele. To our knowledge, a more thorough history of the dispersal of LSD (and other psychedelic drugs) into our society has not been published. Much of "Acid Dreams" is based on information acquired from the government through the Freedom of Information Act and so, we assume, is of some truth. If half of what's in this book is true, it makes one nostalgic for the gentle compassion of Idi Amin and Pol Pot. Despite a few flaws, not the least of which is Lee and Shlain's anti- establishment bias, this is a remarkable book -- if for no other reason than the sheer magnitude of research it must have taken to compile it. The two authors have done their homework and the narrative is well structured and impressively assembled. Like any cultural history documenting an explosive period there are a wealth of colorful characters. In the later chapters the now familiar, perhaps too familiar, gang of yahoos appear: Allen Ginsberg, Dr. Timothy Leary, Dr. Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass), Dr. Ralph Metzner, Ken Kesey, Augustus Owsley Stanley III -- the list goes one. But in the early chapters -- Holy Guacamole! Meet Richard "this stuff is dynamite" Helms (CIA director from 1967 to 1973) and Major General William "war without death" Creasy, chief officer of the US Army's Chemical Corps in the 1950s who, during Congressional testimony, called for the testing of hallucinogenic gases on subways in American cities and Captain Alfred M. Hubbard, the spy who become the Johnny Appleseed of LSD. "If you don't think this stuff is amazing," said Hubbard, "just go ahead and try it." And, the man who started it all, the kindly Swiss doctor, Albert Hoffman. A favorite plan, during Helms' administration at the CIA, involved slipping "P-1" (the code name for LSD when used operationally) to socialist or left-leaning politicians in foreign countries so that they would babble incoherently and discredit themselves in public. General Creasy, "Acid Dreams" tells us, promoted the psychochemical cause with eccentric and visionary zeal. The General was opposed to artillery though he knew that dislodging enemy soldiers was a potentiality that had to be anticipated. "Suppose ... you found a way to spike the city's water supply or to release a hallucinogen in aerosol form. For twelve to twenty-four hours all the people in the vicinity would be hopelessly giddy, vertiginous... Victory would be a foregone conclusion, as smooth and effortless as the French army in 'The King of Hearts' strolling into a town inhabited solely by asylum inmates." In a 1959 interview with "This Week" magazine General Creasy said, "I do not contend that driving people crazy -- even for a few hours -- is a pleasant prospect, but warfare is never pleasant. And to those who feel that any kind of chemical weapon is more horrible than conventional weapons, I put this question: Would you rather be temporarily deranged, blinded, or paralyzed by a chemical agent, or burned alive by a conventional fire bomb?" Let's see now, may we hear the choices once more General? You won't object if we consult our physician, Dr. Hoch, before making a decision? Compared to these last two, Captain Hubbard is a breath of fresh air. A spy by profession, he lived a life of intrigue and adventure befitting his chosen career. Born dirt poor in Kentucky, he served with the OSS (precursor to the CIA) during the Second World War and went on to make a fortune as a uranium entrepreneur. The blustery rum-drinking Hubbard is widely credited with being the first person to emphasize LSD's potential as a visionary or transcendental drug. "Most people are walking in their sleep," he said. "Turn them around, start them in the opposite direction and they wouldn't even know the difference." As a high-level OSS officer, the Captain directed an extremely sensitive covert operation that involved smuggling weapons and war material to Great Britain prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. In pitch darkness he sailed ships without lights up the coast to Vancouver, where they were refitted and used as destroyers by the British Navy. All of this, of course, was highly illegal, and President Truman later issued a special pardon with kudos to the Captain and his men. During his first acid trip in 1951, he claimed to have witnessed his own conception. "It was the deepest mystical thing I've ever seen," the Captain recounted. "I saw myself as a tiny mite in a big swamp with a spark of intelligence. I saw my mother and father having intercourse. It was all clear." The coarse, uneducated Captain lacked elegance and restraint -- "I'm just a poor son of a bitch!" he'd bellow. Nonetheless he teamed up with a tall, slender novelist who epitomized the genteel qualities of the British intellectuals by the name of Aldous Huxley. In 1955 Huxley wrote to a mutual friend "Your nice Captain tried a new experiment -- group mescalinization." Captain Hubbard had provided Huxley with mescaline, a semi-synthetic extract of the peyote cactus. Though Huxley waxes poetic about his experiences with mescaline, his poetry is tempered by the authors' introduction of the subject in "Acid Dreams." The drug, they tell us, was used "in mind control experiments carried out by Nazi doctors at the Dachau concentration camp during World War II... the Nazis concluded that it was 'impossible to impose one's will on another person as in hypnosis even when the strongest does of mescaline had been given... "The mescaline experiments at Dachau were described in a lengthy report by the U.S. Naval Technical Mission, which swept across Europe in search of every scrap of industrial material and scientific data that could be garnered from the fallen Reich. "It was without question the most extraordinary and significant experience this side of the Beatific Vision. opens up a host of philosophical problems, throws intense light and raises all manner of questions in the field of aesthetics, religion, theory of knowledge," Huxley said of his mescaline experience in a letter to a friend. Going on to praise Hubbard he wrote "What Babes in the Woods we literary gents and professional men are! The great World occasionally requires your services, is mildly amused by mine; but its full attention and deference are paid to Uranium and Big Business. So what extraordinary luck that this representative of both these High Powers should (a) have become so passionately interested in mescaline and (b) be such a nice man." Said Hubbard of his proselytizing escapades, "Cost me a couple of hundred thousand dollars. ...I had six thousand bottles to begin with." Hubbard promoted his cause with indefatigable zeal, crisscrossing North America and Europe, giving LSD to anyone who would stand still. "People heard about it, and they wanted to try it," he explained. During the 1950s and early 1960s he turned on thousands of people from all walks of life -- policemen, statesmen, captains of industry, church figures, scientists. "They all thought it was the most marvelous thing" he stated "And I never saw a psychosis in any one of these cases." Hubbard had such remarkable credentials that he received special permission from Rome to administer LSD within the context of the Catholic faith. "He had kind of an incredible way getting that sort of thing," said a close associate who claimed to have seen papers from the Vatican. Even though Hubbard took a lot of acid and was a maverick among his peers, he remained a staunch law-and-order man throughout his life. The crew-cut Captain was the quintessdential turned on patriot, a seasoned spy veteran who admired the likes of J. Edgar Hoover. Above all Hubbard didn't like weirdos - - especially longhaired radical weirdos who abused his beloved LSD. Thus he was eager to apply his espionage talents to a secret study of the student movement and acid subculture... And so on though a psychedelic topological maze alternating cloak-and-dagger with enlightenment. The self-effacing, bicycle-riding Dr. Hoffman who, by virtue of inventing the stuff, is to blame for much of this nonsense, firs synthesized LSD in 1938 while investigating the chemical and pharmacological properties of ergot, a rye fungus rich in medicinal alkaloids, for Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. The good doctor was searching for an analeptic compound (a circulatory stimulant) by concocting various ergot derivatives and apparently took a wrong turn. However, preliminary studies on laboratory animals did not prove significant. For the next five years the vial of LSD gathered dust on the shelf, until the afternoon of April 16, 1943. "I had a strange feeling that it would be worthwhile to carry out more profound studies with this compound," Hoffman later recalled. In the course of preparing a fresh batch of LSD he accidentally absorbed a small dose through his fingertips, and soon he was overcome by "a remarkable but not unpleasant state of intoxication... characterized by an intense stimulation of the imagination and an altered state of awareness of the world. As I lay in a dazed condition with eyes closed there surged up from mea succession of fantastic, rapidly changing imagery of a striking reality and depth, alternating with a vivid, kaleidoscopic play of colors..." Dr. Hoffman's experience as typical judging from the accounts of those who became familiar with his compound two decades later. "Acid Dreams" is an odd history, to say the least, and one must conclude an unfortunate one. The societal whirl of the 1960s spurred the government into a clamp-down on psychedelic drugs that has made it all but impossible to use those substances in legitimate medical research. What research has been done has shown that drugs such a lysergic acid diethylamide and mescaline to be of value alleviating and treating the psychic burdens (as well as some of the physical pain in terminal cancer patients, those suffering severe neurosis and psychosis, and even habitual criminals. The "sixties rebellion," as it is referred to in "Acid Dreams," with its embrace and massive consumption of psychedelic drugs, sensationalized the substances to the degree that their mere mention invites controversy. What advantages the drugs offer to those suffering from mental and physical ills may never be determined. Whether or not the drugs put one in touch with some higher order, provide a religious experience will, likewise be left to conjecture. The authors of "Acid Dreams" have done a reasonable job cataloging a tempestuous and turbulent period and yet, at the same time, have cashed in on its sensational associations. From "Acid Dreams" we learn that psychedelic drugs have been used and misused by groups and individuals of every stripe. And that the Central Intelligence Agency fooled around with psychochemicals without really knowing what they were doing --just like a good portion of the general population during the 1960s; give some of the other hijinx the CIA had indulged in --the Bay of Pigs, the overthrow of the Allende government --dabbling in mind control and metaphysics almost seem like small potatoes. Lee and Shlain finally conclude, after nearly 300 pages of implying otherwise, that "The CIA is not an omniscient, monolithic organization, and there's no hard evidence that it engineered a great LSD conspiracy. (As in most conspiracy theories, such a scenario vastly overestimates the sophistication of the alleged perpetrator.)" What we can deduce from "Acid Dreams" is that everyone seems to agree, no matter who they may line up behind, that psychedelic drugs pack a considerable wallop and, for dramatic splendor, cannot be matched. Here, for example, is an account that came across our desk recently of young man's experience during the 1960s with a semi-synthetic version of the so-called "magic mushroom." "On a beach one night, under a nearly full moon on a double dose of psilocybin I walked across the pebbles near the water's edge and as I looked at them, they turned into smooth round rubies and emeralds and the water was molten gold. I looked back to where my friends were and my footprints were filled with lapis-lazuli blue eyes, blinking at me. I looked at the sandstone cliff behind me and the entire cliff was made up of a full-maned lions and when they roared -- that was the wind..." Extracting anything like the truth from the storm of controversy surrounding psychochemicals is rather unlikely, but the above account, in its profound, dreamlike beauty, causes one to wonder if these substances may possess more value than the medical and academic community have been willing to credit them. Governments may come and governments may go, as will public opinion, religious bias, legislation, but it would be naive to think that the lions of the mind will stop roaring. *********** The Fessenden Review is published by The Reginald A. Fessenden Educational Fund, 1259 El Camino Real, Suite 108, Menlo Park, CA. 94025. Two year subscriptions are $22.00 ------ This article is from NewsBase, an excellent BBS in the Bay Area that includes a great number of up-to-date articles on current events (415) 824-8767.


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