The CIA, LSD and the Occult

Interview by R. U. Sirius with Martin Lee

High Frontiers, issue #4   (1987)

Martin A . Lee is the author, with Bruce Schlain, of the bestselling book Acid Dreams. Here he talks to High Frontiers about some of the bits he left out of the book. In a recent telephone conversation, Marty continues to speculate — on the connection between Italian Fascist philosopher Julius Evola with his "spiritual warrior elite" , Rene Guenon (the French esotericist) and mescaline; on the reported fascination with psychedelics by Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponti and Henri Michaux. Vie links are intriguing if difficult to pin down. Clearly though, by the 1930s, an awareness of hallucinogens had spread through artistic and literary circles in Berlin and other European capitals. Founded on the German Romantic fascination with deliriants like henbane, it was fueled by Lewis Lewin's Phantastica and Kurt Beringer's Der Mescalinrausch (1927). German Expressionist poet-physician Gottfried Benn described the "cerebral oscillations " produced by alkaloids in "Provoked Life. The Anthropology of the Ego." Klee, Kltiver, Hesse, and Jung round out the list of luminaries who reportedly dabbled in hallucinogens.

All this merely contextualizes the real heavy-duty experimentation with psychedelics which Joseph Borkin stumbled on in researching The Crime and Passion of I.G. Farben. A discovery which Borkin left out of the book- was that I.G. Farben maintained, throughout the 30's, a special secret division devoted to research on psychotomimetic agents. In Acid Dreams, Martin Lee detailed the Nazi mind control experiments with mescaline carried on by Nazi doctors at Dachau. Here he raises the interesting point that LSD, first synthesized in 1938, actually fell into the ambit of I.G. Farben when they gobbled up Sandoz that same year. Curiouser and curiouser! And what about the occult bureau within the Third Reich called the Ahnwerbe? And the secret societies operating within our own industrial and intelligence communities? Read on!  


HIGH FRONHERS: Your book brought to mind the Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. // was like an allegory about human folly. LSD is the mysterious stranger who comes to town and everybody relates to him in their own strange way. They all get to manifest their character flaws and their positive traits in an intensified way through their interaction with him. I thought that, of all the characters in your book, LSD came off the most admirably. In doing the book, what did you learn about the nature of reality and about human beings?

MARTY LEE. It showed me that human beings have a fantastic capacity for self- deception. As to mystical implications of the LSD experience, I wouldn't want people who read the book to come away with the idea that those people who thought it was a sacrament got it wrong. And I would not want them to come away thinking that the perception of the infinite is beyond the grasp or is not the business of people in general. I would suggest quite the opposite. The drug, in and of itself, may not be a sacrament, but it does produce mystical experiences. I'd say that these experiences aren't inherent in the drug, they're inherent in ourselves. If it's an ecstatic drug, it is because we are capable of experiencing ecstasy. If it's an insightful drug, it is because we have insights waiting to be born. And if it yields mystical perceptions, it is because we have that potential for mystical perceptions. So, if anything, it reaffirms something very basic about human nature which cuts across all cultures and all times and that should not be beyond the grasp of people. It should be everybody's birthright to have those kinds of experiences and perceptions. This, of course, does not necessarily require a drug. But LSD certainly makes it easier or quicker. So I don't want people to come away thinking that the people who had profound mystical experiences got it all wrong. On the other hand, I wouldn't want people to think that the CIA got it wrong in seeing LSD as an anxiety- producing drug.  

HIGH FRONHERS: I came away from your book with this thought; when people try to put their own stamp on the psychedelic experience — and use it, either as a tool or a weapon — it becomes problematic. It's too unpredictable and doesn't conform to human goals, however noble. I can easily understand how people like  

MARTY LEE. Leary can assume that, because they've had these incredible experiences, that the experience is inherent in the drug and every- , one else will have similar experiences. They were mistakenly attributing the experience to the drug rather that their own minds. Once you're thinking that way, the idea becomes to make this available to as many people as possible and then they will automatically share certain perceptions that will be interesting, insightful, helpful, positive perceptions. Things can only get better. I can understand how people could get into something like that, particularly when they had television and other mass media at their disposal. Not only did they have this substance that seemed to be guar- anteed to produce a certain kind of positive experience but they also had the media at their beck and call. So they could get the message across just like that.

It was the combination of these two factors... for the first time in human history, you have massive amounts, millions of doses of a hallucinogen (a synthetic hallucinogen which is effective in minute amounts so that the potential supply is virtually unlimited, whereas previously you had only natural hallucinogens) and also for the first time you have social movements interacting with this powerful new perceptual technology, television, in a way that has no precedent for the species. So you have these two powerful perceptual technologies intersecting, colliding with social movements. It created a situation which was so interesting and full of promise that people did not realize the pitfalls. Maybe on the next go-around they would not make the same mistakes.

HIGH FRONHERS: What made you want to begin research in this subject?

MARTY LEE. I had participated somewhat as an "activist" at the tail end of the 60's and I identified strongly with both the political and cultural upheavals of that time to the extent that one can appreciate such matters at fourteen. I had an inherent interest in terms of this being my background or roots. So part of it was trying to understand something about me and something about the culture which would shed light on something about me. It's historical and personal. I had a personal interest in understanding this. In terms of the CIA stuff, that grows from literary and journalistic interests.

HIGH FRONHERS:  Did that interest arise after the Church Committee as a result of the public testimony that went on there? A little bit before. I was interested in the Kennedy assassination. You were researching the Lee Harvey Oswald aspect of that? Yes, with some friends — we were working on a group called the Assassination Information Bureau. It was a legitimate, albeit poorly funded, grass roots group. We did some good work there against all odds. While we were down in Washington, everyone got into areas that seemed related to the question of the Kennedy assassinations. And I got into drug testing, mind control, initially thinking this would throw light on the whole assassination question, Mafia plots against Castro, things like that. Eventually I got much more interested in understanding what was happening with the CIA and drugs.

MARTY LEE. Very early on, I postulated the question, "What is the relationship between the subterranean CIA business and the counterculture sixties stuff?" I had a hunch that there was some kind of relationship and, by studying it, I might throw some light on what happened in the 60's. I wasn't thinking that there was some grand conspiracy where the CIA manipulated everything, but just thinking that there was an important relationship here.

HIGH FRONHERS: You re been making it very clear in your lectures that your investigation of the whole relationship of the CIA to the psychedelic explosion has not led you to conclude that the CIA was behind it all but rather that the cat got out of the bag and then, once it did, the CIA did their best to keep an eye on it, control it, manipulate it. . . do all the things you d expect spooks to do. But a lot of the people who read the book come away thinking that the whole psychedelic counterculture thing was just a CIA plot. Some conspiracy freaks are even saying that Leary was CIA.

MARTY LEE. That's terrible. I spent a lot of time talking to Tim and I really like him. In some ways the CIA was like an unwitting midwife in the birth of the acid generation. Leary himself likes to say that the CIA started everything but that's just a touch of Learyesque hyperbole. 

As I see the picture, you have certain streams feeding into what is going to be the roaring river of the sixties upheavals, and one of these streams is the CIA army experiments. That overlaps with the scientific research community, mostly the psychotomimetic school. Then there are the legitimate aboveground researchers who are more of the psychedelic school, rather than the psychotomimetic school, and that overlaps with the literary circles, Huxley and so forth, and the Beats to some degree. The Beats form almost a third stream. It is a commingling of all these different streams that sets the stage for what happens. Granted, there are certain obvious sociological factors that make it a very ripe and fertile setting.

HIGH FRONHERS: Did you ever suspect the possibility of there being some secret society, perhaps having some occult or magical purposes, manipulating the whole thing - the CIA, the acid. . . did you bump into anything in this area?.

MARTY LEE. I did! And I didn't put any of this into my book, but I'll tell you. I have done research on secret societies and regarding the Catholic church, the Knights of Malta. I broke the story a few years ago about the CIA and the Knights of Malta. They are a very old order going back to the crusades, Freemasonry and that sort of thing. These secret societies do play a far greater role in history than most historians acknowledge.

First of all, everyone knows the Nazis were very much into the occult. There are rumors that Hitler experimented with peyote. We know that the Nazis experimented with mescaline at Dachau. Now consider that Hitler's inner circle was very much involved with the occult. They had an occult bureau within the SS called the Ahnwerbe. They were interested in the Tibetan stuff, interested in pre-Christian, Gnostic Greek pagan-oriented matters. These people appear to have been open-minded and receptive to the notion of altered states. The Nazis were really uptight about the Freemasons and tried to crack down on them — they were aware enough to sense the power there. For the LSD story, Allan Dulles was in Switzerland during the war; at one point he was joined in Switzerland by Carl Jung, who had been in Germany up until 1942 as editor of Zentralblatt fur Psychotherapie, perhaps, the pre-eminent psychiatric journal.  

That was when Jung, instead of talking about the collective unconscious, started talking about the racial unconscious and how Jewish archetypes were different from other archetypes. He started getting into some of that stuff. (I think there was a sleazy side of Jung, although he is an amazing figure, don't get me wrong. But there was a strange side to him that people like to forget.)

Jung worked with Dulles giving psychological assessments of the Nazi leaders and giving that information to the OSS. There is reason to believe Jung might also have experimented with peyote. He certainly was aware of such substances and had written about them and referred to them in certain contexts. I don't know if he had personal contact. It's quite possible Jung may have imparted to Dulles certain information about these chemicals, and it is under Dulles that the LSD stuff begins happening in a big way in the CIA. Dulles' assistant in Switzerland was Ann Bancroft, who was Jung's chief student at the time. ( She has written a book, Autobiography of a Spy, published by Morrow. )

Something that I've given some thought to as far as the LSD story goes is this gap in time from 1938, when Dr. Hofmann first synthesized it, to 1943 when he discovered its effects. Before I go into this, let me put it into context. I have no reason to doubt Dr. Hofmann's honesty or his story about how LSD was dis- covered. I hope to talk to Hofmann in Europe. We are really lucky to have him. A great guy. Such vitality. He is really one of the best advertisements for his product.

Nevertheless, there are some curious things that came up that I can't help but wonder about. One point of interest is that during the time when he made that discovery, Sandoz was linked, through cartel agreements, to I. G. Farben Chemical, which was the largest chemical company in the world and was really the backbone of the whole Third Reich war effort. I. G. Farben had extensive links with American pharmaceutical corporations. The legal aspect of that link was represented by Sullivan and Cromwell which was the law firm Allen Dulles worked for. Dulles was in Switzerland not only as a spy but also as a businessman who was still continuing those links through secret associations between American corporations and the Nazis, which was all illegal and hush hush during the war.  

I.G Farben was so dominant during the war that they gobbled up everybody. Sandoz was a sitting duck. Generally speaking, the way it would work is I. G. Farben entered into these agreements whereby they would have automatic patent rights to any new invention or discovery made by those corporations which were gobbled up by them through these cartel links. Therefore, should that apply to Sandoz, as I have every reason to believe it did from my study of how I. G. Farben operated, it would mean that at the time Hofmann synthesized LSD, technically speaking, that would have been the property of I. G. Farben, this monster corporation which was running some of the concentration camps and slave labor at Auschwitz, bad news business. What if Hofmann really knew all along what it was, or somebody else did?

Again, I'll put this into context. I don't believe that he is lying. But it is curious. It could certainly have been an accident, as Dr. Hofmann says. But on the other hand, even if the effects of the stuff weren't recognized until 1943, even then, technically speaking, through the patent agreements, it should've gone to I. G. Farben at a time when they were testing mescaline at Dachau. We can be certain that the Nazi high command was already aware of these substances. They do not just go testing such things without those very high up knowing about it and giving the orders.

HIGH FRONHERS: Imagine if the Nazis had LSD? Or maybe Hofmann and company withheld the discovery for political reasons. The patent wasn't filed until 1946, three years after the supposed discovery of the effects. By then, the Third Reich was collapsing.

MARTY LEE. That is one story. There is another story which I did not put in my book. According to Captain Al Hubbard, Hofmann did not discover it in 1943, nor in '38, but much earlier. (Captain Alfred M. Hubbard was the spy who became the first Johnny Apple- seed of LSD) According to Hubbard, Hofmann was part of a small group of people who were nominally connected with Steiner's anthroposophy group in the early 30's and they systematically decided and set out to make a peace pill to help mankind. They saw the beginnings of the Nazi emergence, so they consciously set out to make something like LSD, which they did and then kept it secret from the world.

Now there is absolutely no evidence to confirm that, and Captain Al Hubbard is an exaggerator. Hubbard is an aggrandizer. He likes to be the one who knows. That's his character. But it's a curious story and I would not completely discount it. Hubbard knows a lot of things. The basic outline of one rather wild story he told a friend of mine proved correct, although some of the details may be exaggerated. This particular tale, I could not confirm.

Regarding secret societies — well, when you come down to it, the CIA is a secret society. And within the CIA, there are all kinds of secret societies operating. The Freemasons are in the CIA. The Knights of Malta are in the CIA, and other groups. These different secret societies are not just within the CIA but in the corporate world, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the FBI, the Defense Department, etcetera. These societies, if we understood them, might help delineate certain factions within the power elite. I think it works on two levels. For the proletariat — for the rest of us — the Rotary, Masonry, doesn't really mean anything. But on the very highest levels, then you are dealing with very influential and powerful individuals. At that level, perhaps studying these different groups can shed some light on understanding different factions within the ruling elite.

I don't think that these groups represent vital mystical bodies or traditions. I think they're decrepit. They're like organized religion and don't represent a real mystical current anymore. They're fossilized structures.

My sense is that these societies have nothing to do with their original mystical roots. So in that sense they are not guarding mystical secrets. It is more like the secret machinations of the power elite. When you get to that level of power you know plenty of secrets but I don't think it has anything to do with the secrets of the mystical roots of Masonry. Now, certainly Masons are not sup- posed to reveal the rituals they go through. They lie in coffins with bandanas around their eyes, with pictures of severed limbs and heads dripping blood. But I think, at this point, it is mostly male bonding and such.

HIGH FRONHERS: So, after all of this, what do you think about LSD? Do you have an existential or epistemological overview of what it 's all about? I'm aware that these views exist. I'm aware that people like Terence McKenna and Timothy Leary, and so on, have various models to explain these experiences.

MARTY LEE. Experience is concrete. One derives different metaphors, scientific or whatnot, to shed light on that basic experience. I don't have much way of responding to those theories. During this kind of social history research, I came to be hesitant to ascribe anything to LSD itself. I came away from it with a healthy respect for ambiguity and not knowing it all. D.


Martin Lee is the Fearless Editor q/"Extra! which we heartily commend to all our readers. A monthly newsletter of F 'AIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), it exhibits the same dogged investigative reporting as his bestselling book Acid Dreams. Write him at Extra! • 666 Broadway, Suite 400, New York, NY. 10012