By FOIA Research
on September 16, 2020 - Last updated: September 16, 2020


Project ARTICHOKE was a CIA mind control program initiallly run by the CIA's Office of Scientific Intelligence1  in collaboration with elements of the intelligence divisions of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and FBI. The primary goal of Project ARTICHOKE was to determine whether a person could be involuntarily made to perform an act of attempted assassination.2 The project also studied hypnosis, forced morphine addiction (and subsequent forced withdrawal) and the use of other chemicals including LSD, to produce amnesia and other vulnerable states in subjects. ARTICHOKE, which started in August 1951, was the forerunner of the infamous MKUltra project, which began in 1953. The project was initiated by CIA director Walter Bedell Smith and the Agency’s Scientific Intelligence Director, Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell. According to an article by Truthout, the "code name 'Artichoke' was selected with sardonic humor from the street appendage given to New York City gangster Ciro Terranova, who was referred to as “the Artichoke King.” 3


In the course of the Cold War, the CIA conducted countless research projects in an “effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind with costs for psychological research and operations that reached, at peak, a billion dollars a year,” according to historian Alfred McCoy.4 In the period from 1950 to 1962 the mind became the battleground for new “weapons for mass persuasion” and interrogation techniques.5  The CIA believed that the Russians had developed mind control techniques, and wanted to find out how humans would hold up under a whole plethora of interrogation methods, to extract information from captured agents, and evaluate in how far the agency's own personnel could be penetrated.

Office of Scientific Intelligence

In January 1949, the CIA created the Office of Scientific Intelligence, to coordinate scientific research projects in the field of mind control for the agency, with a special focus on interrogation techniques. Dr. Willard Machle, its first Director, coordinated a special interrogation program for alleged Soviet spies in Germany in summer 1949.6 Machle also explored the feasibility of creating a “Manchurian candidate” through behavioral modification. The first CIA project for the application of the methods of unconventional interrogation techniques was project BLUEBIRD (1949/1950-1951).


In spring 1950, several CIA branches were considering the operational use of hypnosis. Head of the operation became Sheffield Edwards, formerly an Army colonel. According to now declassified intelligence files published by the National Security Archive, Edwards later personally handled joint CIA-Mafia operations resulting in the assassination attempts of Fidel Castro.7 8  Edwards proposed to form interrogation teams under the command of the Office of Security, which would deployed to handle agents and defectors. These teams should always comprise a psychiatrist, a polygraph (lie detector), an expert hypnotist and a technician.9 Edward's plan was agreed upon, with the condition that the teams would not be deployed without permission of a specially established committee. It was Edwards, who named the project BLUEBIRD, but it is not known, what the name refers to. Operation BLUEBIRD was classified TOP SECRET and was treated with particular secrecy, since it not only established a behavioral control program within the CIA in close collaboration with the Office of Scientific Intelligence, but also made use of the BLUEBIRD's research results trough the interrogation teams operating across the agency.9

On April 20, 1950, Roscoe Hillenkoetter, at the time Director of the CIA, officially approved BLUEBIRD. To protect its most secretive activities, unaccountable funds were authorized.

The program's official objectives were10 :

(a) discovering means of conditioning personnel to prevent unauthorized extraction of information from them by known means,
(b) investigating the possibility of control of an individual by application of special interrogation techniques,
(c) memory enhancement, and
(d) establishing defensive means for preventing hostile control of Agency personnel.

Amongst the attendants of the original BLUEBIRD meeting held in the office of Sheffield Edwards, was the Assistant Chief of Scientific Intelligence, Marshall Chadwell. He assured that his office would continue its efforts gathering all possible data on foreign, particularly Russian, behavior science and mind control. Shortly afterward Chadwell's representative was missioned with looking into the Nuremberg Tribunal records to see if they contained anything useful in regards to BLUEBIRD, i.e. information on interrogation methods that were used in Nazi Germany.9

Oversea experiments in Japan

Three months after the project was approved, a team of three interrogators travelled to Japan to test behavioral techniques on humans, likely to be suspected double agents.11  They arrived in Japan in July 1950, approximately one month after the Korean war started. The team was ordered by the Office of Security to hide its true mission even from US military authorities by saying that they were doing "intensive polygraph" work.11  According to John Marks, they tested a drug cocktail containing the depressant sodium amytal, used as a "truth serum," together with the stimulant benzedrine on each of the four subjects, two of whom received also pictrotoxin as second stimulant. It was also attempted to induce amnesia in the prisoners.11 The CIA documentation on these first tests were considered successful, and give only a very general idea of what really happened at the test site in Japan. Three months later, up from October 25, a second series of experiments on 25 North Korean prisoners of war took place, where "advanced techniques" were used.11

Oversea experiments in Germany

As a result of interrogations conducted, another goal was added: the evaluation of offensive uses of unconventional interrogation techniques, including hypnosis and drugs.

One of the most important long-term "black sites" overseas was Camp King in Oberursel, near Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Here the CIA began developing "extreme interrogation" techniques and "behavior modification programs."12

The unorthodox methods the CIA and its partner agencies explored included hypnosis, electric shock, chemicals and illegal street drugs. Camp King was chosen as an ideal place to do this work in part because it was "off-site" but mainly because of its access to prisoners believed to be Soviet spies.12

In the end of 1950, the former OSI officer Morse Allen became head of the BLUEBIRD program.12 In his earlier career, Allen had worked within the framework of several anti-communist operations, starting in the 1930s with joining the Civil Service Commission, where he had assembled files on communists.11  During WWII Allen had worked for Naval intelligence, tracking down leftists in New York. Later he was amongst those marines who landed on the Island of Okinawa.13  After the war he joined the State Department, where he remained only shortly, until the end of the 1940s, because he did not agree with the way the State Department was treating certain communist cases.13  After that he started working for the CIA's Office of Security.


On August 20, 1951, project BLUEBIRD was renamed to ARTICHOKE. Project ARTICHOKE included now also "in-house experiments" on interrogation techniques, including hypnosis, forced morphine addiction (and subsequent forced withdrawal), and the use of other chemicals, among other methods, to produce amnesia and other vulnerable states in subjects. At first agents used cocaine, marijuana, heroin, peyote and mescaline, but they increasingly saw LSD as the most promising drug.14 The subjects who left this project were fogged with amnesia, resulting in faulty and vague memories of the experience.15 Overseas interrogations were also part of ARTICHOKE, where a combination of sodium pentothal and hypnosis was tested.16  Note that sodium pentothal, also known as sodium thiopental or just thiopental, is a rapid-onset short-acting barbiturate previously administered as the first of three drugs during most lethal injections in the United States. Its usage ceased only because the US manufacturer Hospira stopped manufacturing the drug, and the EU banned the export of the substance in 2011.17

The Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), which studied scientific advances by hostile powers, initially led BLUEBIRD/ ARTICHOKE efforts. In 1952, overall responsibility for ARTICHOKE was transferred from OSI to the Inspection and Security Office (ISO), predecessor to the present Office of Security. The CIA's Technical Services and Medical Staffs were to be called upon as needed. OSI would retain liaison function with other government agencies. According to an article by Truthout3 :

Following a brief period of bureaucratic infighting over which CIA department would have jurisdiction over Artichoke, it was decided that the project would be overseen by the Agency’s Security Research Staff, headed by Paul F. Gaynor, a former Army Brigadier General, who had extensive experience in wartime interrogations.

Gaynor was notorious among CIA officials for having his staff maintain a systematic file on every homosexual, and suspected homosexual, among the ranks of Federal employees, as well as those who worked and served on Washington’s Capitol Hill. Gaynor’s secret listing eventually grew to include the names of employees and elected officials at State government levels, and the siblings and relatives of those on Capitol Hill.

In early January 1953, State Department employee John C. Montgomery, who handled considerable classified material, hanged himself in his Georgetown townhouse after learning of his addition to Gaynor’s list. In 1954, U.S. Senator Lester C. Hunt (D-WY) killed himself in his senate office after he was threatened by Republicans, using information provided by Gaynor’s staff, to publicly expose his son’s homosexuality.

The change in leadership from an intelligence unit to an operating unit apparently reflected a change in emphasis from the study of actions by hostile powers to the use, both for offensive and defensive purposes, of special interrogation and mind control techniques - primarily hypnosis and truth serums.18  In addition, the scope of the project was outlined in a memo dated January 1952 that stated, "Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?"

Memorandum for the record. Subject: Project ARTICHOKE. 31 Jan 1975 (?). Declassified File. National Security Archive.

To this effect, in 1952 LSD was increasingly given to unknowing CIA agents to determine the drug's effects on unsuspecting people. One record states that an agent was kept on LSD for 77 days.19 Representatives from each Agency unit involved in ARTICHOKE met almost monthly to discuss their progress. These discussions included the planning of overseas interrogations as well as further experimentation in the U.S:18

During the early 1950's first the BLUEBIRD Committee and then the ARTICHOKE Committee were instituted to bring together representatives of the Agency components which had a legitimate interest in the area of the alteration of human behavior. No information went to the Technical Service Division (a component supposedly represented on the ARTICHOKE Committee) about ARTICHOKE operations being conducted by the Office of Security and the Office of Medical Services. The Technical Services Division which was providing support to the Clandestine Services in the use of chemical and biological agents, but provided little or no information to either the Office of Security or the Office of Medical Services. As one TSD officer involved in these programs testified: "Although we were acquainted, we certainly didn't share experiences."

Information about project ARTICHOKE after the fall of 1953 is scarce. A memorandum by Richard Helms to CIA director Allen Welsh Dulles indicated Artichoke became Project MKULTRA on April 13, 1953,20 and the CIA maintains that the project ended in 1956. But evidence suggests that the use of "special interrogation" techniques by the Office of Security and the Office of Medical Services continued for several years thereafter.

In the mid-1950s, Project ARTICHOKE was also dealing with the question whether someone could be unwittingly gulled into assassinating another person. A declassified report from January 22, 1954, states2 :

ARTICHOKE also researched the potential of dengue fever and other diseases. A declassified ARTICHOKE memo reads: “Not all viruses have to be lethal… the objective includes those that act as short-term and long-term incapacitating agents.”21

In a written statement following the 1977 Joint Hearing before the select Committee on Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources, Admiral Turner stated the following22 :

For a few years beginning in 1949 we assessed foreign research on LSD under Project ARTICHOKE because of concern that such drugs might be employed against Agency and other U.S. personnel. Information relative to this work has already been provided to relevant Committees. In this early work we also occasionally looked at foreign human experimentation; we long ago eliminated our holdings on this subject and no collection requirements are any longer served. As consumer interest in this area has dropped off and higher priority areas need attention, we have virtually no present coverage with the possible exception of an occasional scanning of the literature for a specific program. To the best of our knowledge no other unit in the Intelligence Community is tracking this subject now.


  • Estabrooks, G.H. "Hypnosis comes of age". Science Digest, 44–50, April 1971.
  • Gillmor, D. I Swear By Apollo: Dr. Ewen Cameron and the CIA-Brainwashing Experiments. Montreal: Eden Press, 1987.
  • Goliszek, Andrew. In the Name of Science: A History of Secret Programs, Medical Research, and Human Experimentation. New York: St. Martins, 2003. Print.
  • Jacobsen, Annie. Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America. Little, Brown, 2014. ISBN 978-0-316-22105-4.
  • Marks, John. The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate" - The Story of the CIA's Secret Efforts to Control Human Behaviour. Penguin Books, 1979.
  • McCoy, Alfred. Science in Dachau's Shadow: Hebb, Beecher, and the Development of CIA Psychological Torture and Modern Medical Ethics. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Volume 43 (4), 2007,
  • McCoy, Alfred. Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation. University of Wisconsin Pres, Aug 24, 2012.
  • Ronson, Jon. The Men Who Stare At Goats. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
  • Scheflin, A. W., & Opton, E. M. The Mind Manipulators. New York: Paddington Press, 1978.
  • Simpson, C. Science of Coercion: Communication research & psychological warfare 1945-1960. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Thomas, G. Journey into Madness: The Secret Story of Secret CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse. New York: Bantam, 1989 (paperback 1990).
  • Weinstein, H. Psychiatry and the CIA: Victims of Mind Control. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1990.
Declassified files referencing Bluebird
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