A Conversation on LSD

This amazing 62-minute video was recorded at a private party in Los Angeles hosted by Oscar Janiger (cousin of Allen Ginsberg). Attendees included Myron Stolaroff, Sidney Cohen, Al Hubbard, Timothy Leary, Humphry Osmond, John Lilly, Laura Huxley, Willis Harmon, Nick Bercel, and others, who were the key conspirators in the CIA's notorious MK-Ultra LSD "mind-ccontrol" project.

MK-Ultra, begun in the 1950s, developed from the behavior control research project coordinated by the Tavistock Institute, with the Scottish Rite Masons, the CIA, and other British, American, Canadian and United Nations agencies. Formed at Oxford University, London, in 1920 by the Round Table’s Royal Institute for International Affairs (RIIA), the Tavistock Clinic, whose members referred to themselves as an “invisible college,” became the Psychiatric Division of the British Army during World War II.[1]

A successor organization, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, was then founded in 1946 under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, when it separated from the Tavistock Clinic. According to John Coleman, a former British Intelligence agent, it was Tavistock-designed methods that got the US into World War II and which, under the guidance of Dr. Kurt Lewin, established the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA.

The Cybernetics Group was unofficially launched in 1942 at a conference in New York, sponsored by Frank Fremont-Smith, the medical director of the CIA front, the Josiah Macy Foundation. Fremont-Smith would be the permanent co-director of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) with John Rawlings Rees, a doctor at the psychological warfare unit called the Tavistock Institute.[2]

Through official military and intelligence conferences over which it presided, and through various informal and secret operations, the Cybernetics Group and the Macy Foundation directed the spread of LSD by US agencies during the 1950s.

In connection with the founding of the (WFMH), headed by John Rawlings Rees, a New York agent of Montagu Norman named Clarence G. Michalis had been made chairman of the board of the Macy Foundation. Rees, along with Margaret Mead, Lawrence K. Frank, Fremont-Smith and Frankfurt School director Max Horkheimer, who were all in Paris together in the summer of 1948 to launch the WFMH, formed the core of the Cybernetics Group. Conference attendees also included the Tavistock Institute’s Kurt Lewin.

MK-Ultra began in 1952, the year Aldous Huxley returned to the United States accompanied by Dr. Humphrey Osmond who was brought in by Allen Dulles to play a prominent role in the project.[3] In 1952, Osmond, who originally coined the word “psychedelic,” began working with psychedelics, particularly mescaline and LSD while looking for a cure for schizophrenia at Weyburn Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada. He suggested that mescaline allowed a sane person to see through the eyes of a schizophrenic and suggested that it be used to train doctors and nurses to better understand their patients. His research attracted the attention of Aldous Huxley, who volunteered to be a subject. In 1953, Osmond gave Huxley a supply of mescaline for his personal consumption. The next year, in The Doors of Perception, whose title was drawn from a poem by William Blake, and which reflected the ideas of Gurdjieff, Huxley claimed that hallucinogenic drugs “expand consciousness.”

The man who introduced both Osmond and Huxley to LSD was Alfred Hubbard, who had worked for the OSS during the war as a “Special Investigative Agent.” Hubbard, who is known as the “Johnny Appleseed of LSD,” became the first person to emphasize LSD's potential as a visionary or transcendental drug. He became an apostle for LSD in the early 1950s after supposedly receiving an angelic vision telling him that something important to the future of mankind would soon be coming. When he first read about LSD he immediately identified it as part of that vision and he sought it out and tried it for himself in 1951.

Over the years, Hubbard also reportedly worked for the Canadian Special Services, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. Through his extensive connections, which included the Pope, as he once boasted, he has been credited with “turning on” as many as 6,000 people to LSD.[4]

Hubbard was also in contact with LSD evangelist Timothy Leary who began privately purchasing large quantities of LSD as well.[5] Between 1954 and 1959, Leary was director of clinical research and psychology at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Oakland, where he devised a personality test, “The Leary,” which is used by CIA to test prospective employees. Leary became associated with CIA contractor Frank Barron who had worked with the Berkeley Institute for Personality Assessment and Research, which was funded and staffed by CIA psychologists.

In 1960, with government funding, Barron founded the Harvard Psychedelic Drug Research Center. Leary followed Barron to Harvard, becoming a lecturer in psychology. Barron administered Leary some CIA-supplied psilocybin and LSD, after which Leary began experimenting regularly with psychedelics and also studied their effects on others in controlled experiments. Leary's Harvard associates included Martin Orne, a researcher receiving funds from CIA, and former chief OSS psychologist Harry Murray who had monitored the early OSS “truth serum” experiments, and numerous other known CIA contractors. One of Dr. Murray’s many subjects was a Harvard undergraduate math major Theodore Kaczynski, later known as the infamous “Unabomber.”[6]

Leary later admitted to knowing at the time that “some powerful people in Washington have sponsored all this drug research.”[7] “It was no accident,” Leary explained, referring to the spread of LSD. “It was all planned and scripted by the Central Intelligence, and I'm all in favor of Central Intelligence.”[8]

Some of the researchers present at the cybernetics conferences later went on to do extensive government funded research on the psychological effects of LSD, and its potential as a tool for interrogation and psychological manipulation in such projects as the CIA’s MK-Ultra program. The Macy Foundation’s chief LSD executive, Harold Abramson, was a psychiatric researcher at Columbia University and at the eugenics center in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York. In 1953, the same year that the MK-Ultra was established, Abramson proposed an $85,000 study to the CIA on the effects of LSD on unwitting hospital patients. Funding for the project was funneled through the Macy Foundation. It was Abramson who first “turned on” Frank Fremont-Smith.

It was Abramson who gave LSD for the first time to Bateson. Bateson then became the director of a hallucinogenic drug experimental clinic at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital.[9] Bateson was also associated with John Lilly who also became friends with both Leary and Ginsberg. When Lilly read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, he had chosen to give up his study of physics and pursue biology, eventually focusing on neurophysiology. In 1952, Lilly had studied the effects of sensory deprivation tanks, and also briefed the intelligence community with his progress. [10]  The 1980 movie Altered States starring William Hurt is partly based on his life.

In 1963, Bateson was hired as the associate director of research for Lilly’s Communication Research Institute, which studied dolphins in the Virgin Islands.[11] From experimenting with LSD and ketamine while floating in isolation tanks, Lilly came to believe that he was in psychic contact with the aliens of what he called the Earth Coincidence Control Office, who were guiding events in his life to lead him to work with dolphins, which were psychic conduits between aliens and humans. The aliens, he believed, were acting for the survival of organic lifeforms against artificial intelligences, called solid state lifeforms.[12] Lilly apparently gave dolphins LSD and told a story of one dolphin who seduced a man into having sex with her in a holding tank.[13] While Lilly implies that he left the National Institute of Health because of unethical government interference, his Communications Research Institute, founded in 1958 to study dolphins, was partially funded by the Air Force, NASA, NIHM, the National Science Foundation, and the Navy.[14]

Bateson gave LSD to his friend, Beat poet Ginsburg at Stanford University in 1959 under controlled experimental conditions. Ginsberg’s cousin was Macy Conference attendee Oscar Janiger, a University of California Irvine psychiatrist and psychotherapist, known for his LSD research, which lasted from 1954 to 1962, and for having introduced LSD to Cary Grant and Aldous Huxley.

Following the framework of a typical Grey Walter setup suggested to him by Burroughs, Ginsburg had himself hooked up to EEG machine connected to a flicker stroboscope, while listening to recordings of Wagner and Gertrude Stein. Ginsberg had a bad trip which became the basis of his poem, “Lysergic Acid,” and which he recounted as follows:

I had the impression that I was an insignificant speck on a giant spider web, and that the spider was slowly coming to get me, and that the spider was God or the Devil—I wasn’t sure—but I was the victim. I thought I was trapped in a giant web or network of forces beyond my control that were perhaps experimenting with me or were perhaps from another planet or were from some super-government or cosmic military or science-fiction Big Brother.

After hearing about Leary’s Psilocybin Project at Harvard, Ginsberg asked to join the experiments. Leary and Ginsberg shared an optimism for the benefits of psychedelics in helping people “turn on,” and Ginsburg convinced Leary of the idea of recruiting popular artists and intellectuals to take these drugs. Leary would later come right out and say, “From the time that Ginsberg showed up on my doorstep, everything changed. After that, the project was different, my life was different, and I was on a different path.” [15]

As pointed out by Peter Conners, author of White Hand Society, about the collaboration of Leary and Ginsberg, Leary began to abandon not only sound scientific methods in his research, getting him fired from his position at Harvard, but started favoring “hip talk and poetic language he was getting from Allen,” which blossomed into his counterculture reputation.[16] Together they began a campaign of introducing other intellectuals and artists to psychedelics.[17]

Ginsberg joined Leary at an experimental community he created at Millbrook, a retreat in upstate New York, after leaving Harvard in 1962. At Millbrook, Leary was working for William Mellon Hitchcock’s CIA front, the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF), later renamed the Castilia Foundation.[18] According to Jay Stevens, author of Storming Heaven, “Anyone who was hip in the 1960s came to Millbrook. On any given weekend there were a hundred people there floating through. Strange New York city types, bohemians, jet setters, German counts. You name it, you could find it at Millbrook.”[19] Among the musicians who visited the estate were Maynard Ferguson, Steve Swallow, Charles Lloyd and Charles Mingus. Other guests included Alan Watts, psychiatrists Humphry Osmond and R.D. Laing, cartoonist Saul Steinberg, and actress Viva Superstar, a prominent figure in Andy Warhol’s avant-garde art circle in New York City. [20]

The Tavistock network now extends from the University of Sussex to the US through the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), Esalen Institute, MIT, Hudson Institute, Brookings Institution, Aspen Institute, Heritage Foundation, the Center of Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown, US Air Force Intelligence, and the RAND Corporation.[21]

Esalen was established in 1962, in Big Sur, California, with the assistance of Aldous by  Michael Murphy and Richard Price. Price took a room in San Francisco at Alan Watts’ newly founded American Academy of Asian Studies (the precursor to the California Institute of Integral Studies). This placed Price at the center of the emerging North Beach Beat scene, where he became involved with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder in particular.[22]

In 1956, in San Francisco, Price experienced a transformative psychotic break and was admitted to a mental hospital for a time. In May 1960, Price returned to San Francisco where he met Michael Murphy, also a graduate of Stanford University. Price’s interest in the expansion of human potential led him to investigate many avenues of research, including the exploration of altered states of consciousness with psychedelic drugs, and participating in experiments at Gregory Bateson’s Palo Alto Veterans Hospital.[23]

Murphy and Price’s goal was to assist in the coming transformation by exploring work in the humanities and sciences, in order to fully realize what Aldous Huxley had called the “human potentialities.” After they met in 1961, Murphy and Price began formulating plans for a forum that would be open to ways of thinking beyond the constraints of mainstream academia, while hoping to avoid the dogmatism typically associated with cults. They envisioned a laboratory for experimentation in a wide range of philosophies, religious disciplines and psychological techniques. They were given networking support by Watts, Huxley and his wife Laura, as well as by Gerald Heard and Gregory Bateson.

According to former British intelligence officer John Coleman, SRI “can be described as one of the ‘jewels’ in Tavistock’s crown in its rule over the United States.”[24] Headquartered in Menlo Park, California, SRI is one of the world’s largest scientific research organizations, funded directly by US intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA’s Office of Technical Services and Office Research. Originally founded as a means of attracting commercial business research at Stanford University in California, SRI began taking on military and intelligence contracts, many of them classified.

The director of Educational Policy Research Center at SRI was Willis Harman, who hired Al Hubbard as a “special investigative agent.”[25] Willis Harman was also vice president of the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS) in Menlo Park, which was Hubbard’s brainchild. The founder and president of IFAS was Myron J. Stolaroff. Born in Roswell, New Mexico, Stolaroff received a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and from 1946 to 1960 he worked at Ampex, one of the first of the high-technology companies to emerge in the valleys south of San Francisco. Stolaroff was in contact with Gordon Wasson, and was introduced to psychedelics by Gerald Heard and travelled to Vancouver to partake of Al Hubbard’s LSD sessions.[26] Hubbard became a member of IFAS’s board, along with Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer.[27]

While Stolaroff was president, IFAS conducted clinical studies that attempted to measure the effects of LSD, mescaline, and other drugs on creativity. The real purpose of the foundation, explains John Markoff in What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, was to make LSD credible to the medical establishment.

In May 1974, Harman led a study at SRI, entitled “Changing Images of Man.” The report was prepared by a team that included anthropologist Margaret Mead, psychologist B. F. Skinner, Ervin Laszlo of the United Nations and Sir Geoffrey Vickers of British intelligence. The stated aim of the study was to change the image of mankind from that of industrial progress to one of “spiritualism.” The report stressed the importance of the United States in promoting Masonic ideals, effectively creating the ideal Masonic state.[28] AS the report stated:

Of special interest to the Western world is that Freemasonry tradition which played such a significant role in the birth of the United States of America, attested to by the symbolism of the Great Seal (on the back of the dollar bill)… Thus this… has the potentiality of reactivating the American symbols, reinterpreting the work ethic, supporting the basic concepts of a free-enterprise democratic society, and providing new meanings for the technological-industrial thrust.

In 1976, Harman wrote An Incomplete Guide to the Future in which he advocated a society based on the ideals of Freemasonry. Harman believed that the symbol of the pyramid with the floating capstone on the Great Seal “indicates that the nation will flourish only as its leaders are guided by supraconscious intuition,” which he defined as “divine insight.”[29]



[1] H.V. Dicks. Fifty Years of the Tavistock Clinic (Psychology Revivals) (Routledge, 2005) p. 107; “The Aquarian Conspiracy”. Konstandinos Kalimtgis David Goldman and Jeffrey Steinberg, Dope Inc.

[2] Glen Yeadon & John Hawkins, Nazi Hydra in America: Suppressed History of America. (Joshua Tree, Calif: Progressive Press, 2008), p. 410; Chaitkin, “British psychiatry: from eugenics to assassination.”

[3] “The Aquarian Conspiracy”; Konstandinos Kalimtgis David Goldman and Jeffrey Steinberg, Dope Inc.: Britain's Opium War Against the U.S, (New York, The New Benjamin Franklin House, 1978), Part IV.

[4] Todd Brendan Fahey, “The Original Captain Trips,” High Times, (November 1991).

[5] Ralph Metzner, The Ecstatic Adventure (New York: Macmillan, 1968).

[6] Michael E. Kreca, “How the US Government Created the 'Drug Problem' in the USA,” LewRockwell.com [http://www.lewrockwell.com/kreca/kreca1.1.1.html]; Mark Riebling, “Tinker, Tailor, Stoner, Spy: Was Timothy Leary a CIA Agent?” MarkRiebling.com [http://web.archive.org/web/20080420123800/http://www.markriebling.com/le...

[7] Mark Riebling, “Tinker, Tailor, Stoner, Spy: Was Timothy Leary a CIA Agent?”

[8] Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain, Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, The Sixties, and Beyond (Grove Press, 1985), p. 7.

[9] Gregory Bateson, Steps to the Ecology of the Mind (New York: Chandler, 1972).

[10] John Marks. The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. pp. 142-4.

[11] David Lipset. Gregory Bateson: The Legacy of a Scientist. (Prentice Hall, 1980), p. 241.

[12] John Lilly. The Scientist. (J. B. Lippincott Company, 1978).

[13] Kripal, Esalen, America and the Religion of No Religion, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) p. 178.

[14] David Lipset. Gregory Bateson, p. 241.

[15] Steve Silberman. “The Plot to Turn On the World: The Leary/Ginsberg Acid Conspiracy.” PLOS (April 21, 2011)

[16] Ibid.

[17] K. Goffman and D. Joy. Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House. (New York: Villard, 2004), p. 250–252.

[18] Kerry Bolton. Revolution from Above. (Artos Media, 2011) p. 125.

[19] Timothy Leary — The Man Who Turned On America. BBC Prime documentary.

[20] Lee & Shlain, Acid Dreams, p. 85.

[21] Eustace Mullins, The World Order.

[22] Barclay James Erickson. “The Only Way Out Is In: The Life Of Richard Price.” In Jeffrey Kripal and Glenn W. Shuck (editors), On The Edge Of The Future: Esalen And The Evolution Of American Culture (Indiana University Press, 2005) p. 139-40.

[23] “The Aquarian Conspiracy”; Konstandinos Kalimtgis David Goldman and Jeffrey Steinberg, Dope Inc.

[24] John Coleman, The Committee of 300, “Tavistock Institute Of Human Relations.”

[25] Lee & Shlain, Acid Dreams, p. 156.

[26] Jay Stevens. Storming Heaven.

[27] Accoding to Myron Stolaroff, in “Hofmann’s Potion.” Documentary by Connie Littlefield, NFB.

[28] Picknett & Prince, The Stargate Conspiracy, p. 319.

[29] Ibid.