In 1953, CIA chief Allen Dulles authorized the agency's top chemist, Sidney Gottlieb, to research mind control. The result was MK-Ultra, an illegal program that drugged U.S. citizens without their knowledge or consent. The MK-Ultra initiative contained numerous subprograms, like Midnight Climax, which ran from 1954 to 1966 and focused on LSD.
The methodology for Midnight Climax went like this: sex workers on the CIA payroll enticed customers to so-called safe houses with the promise of sex; once inside the houses, the workers dosed the men with LSD; had sex with them; and then tried to extract personal secrets via lines of questioning provided by the CIA―all while CIA personnel watched (and filmed) the proceedings from behind two-way mirrors.
Gottlieb hired George White, "a tough-guy OSS captain who had been an agent in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics" to run the safe houses. In 1955, White traveled to San Francisco and rented an apartment on Telegraph Hill, which he decorated to convey an aura of decadent elegance―or so he thought. The historian Gary Kamiya explains:
To give his pad the desired French-whorehouse look, White furnished it with Toulouse-Lautrec posters, a picture of a French can-can dancer and kinky photos of women in bondage and domination poses.
“It was supposed to look rich,” a narcotics agent who regularly visited [said], “but it was furnished like crap.”
As the sex workers gratified their clients, White looked on from behind the two-way mirror. Keeping with the impeccable taste he had evidenced elsewhere, White sat on a portable toilet and swilled martinis (he kept a pitcher in the fridge). In all, between the garish decor, seedy voyeurism, and surreptitious administration of LSD, the house fell far afield of the sophisticated bordello that White intended. Midnight Climax was a lurid scene much closer to the cover of a trashy pulp novel.
And what results did the CIA achieve from all this debauched skullduggery? During his testimony to the Senate in 1977 about the larger MK-Ultra program, Gottlieb admitted, "I think the conclusion from all the activities was that it was very difficult to predictably manipulate human behavior in this way."
This is not to say that Operation Climax didn't have any results whatsoever. For example, it physically sickened some of its human lab-rats, whose symptoms lasted from hours to days. There exists almost no paperwork on the longterm effects on victims. However, anyone who has willingly taken LSD can imagine the terror of experiencing the drug without knowing what was happening, especially in the 1950s when LSD was in its infancy and had not entered pop consciousness. Midnight Climax victims had no reference for their experiences, which appeared to them out of nowhere, as impromptu psychosis.
During Senate testimony about the many facets of MK-Ultra, which included Midnight Climax, CIA personnel were largely unable to recall any specifics. Perhaps they would have been more talkative had they been dosed with powerful mind-altering hallucinogenic drugs without their awareness or consent.