MKULTRA LEGACY: the Stain of Dishonor and
the Prerequisites for Redemption
by Gordon P. Erspamer
Despite the passage of four decades, America, and its military, has never come to grips
with its own ghastly programs of using soldiers as guinea pigs to test chemical or biological
weapons such as LSD, sarin, nerve gases, plague, mescaline, anthrax, and hundreds of others. At the same time, they also conducted mind control experiments, as soldiers and others were administered drugs, and septal implants were inserted in the sinus cavities ala The Manchurian Candidate. The secret research programs, originally code-named MKULTRA, but continued under a long succession of other code names, were conducted mainly by the US Army from 1943 until at least 1975. However, the CIA provided planning, financial support, and field testing.
The participants in the experiments were recruited by the U.S. Army and lured by promises of no KP duty, a four-day work week, the promise of medals and special recognition. At the same time, they were sworn to secrecy and forced to sign a general consent form without informed consent or even knowing the nature of the toxic substances that were sprayed in their faces, applied to their skin or injected into their veins. And the government continues to try to hide the fact that Nazi members were recruited to help devise these experiments as part of Operation Paperclip, and that many of the biological experiments were modeled after those conducted by the notorious Colonel Shiro Ishi in Manchuria and Japan.
When word of these programs leaked out in the mid-1970s, the CIA Director, Admiral
Stansfield Turner, promised Congress that they would notify and provide medical treatment to the affected veterans. See Final Report of the Senate Select Committee (Church) on Intelligence Activities, 94th Cong. (1976), Book I: XVII (“Foreign and Military Intelligence: Testing and Use of Chemical and Biological Agents by the Intelligence Communities”), at
http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/church/reports/book1/html/ChurchB1_0197a.htm. See also Project MKULTRA, The CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification: Joint Hearing. Before the Senate Select Committees on Intelligence and Human Resources, 95th Cong. (1977), Testimony of CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner at
However, that promise was more observed in the breach, as the process of notifying and
treating the victims of human experimentation has barely scratched the surface of their acts of treachery. And now we learn that the DOD will not even compile an initial roster of affected veterans until 2012. Unlike Britain, which long-ago compensated its veteran participants in a parallel group of tests at Porton Down, America is waiting patiently for these veterans to die, and it is one of the greatest injustices of our time.
Yet, despite the long passage of time, the agents responsible for this program continue to
offer rationalizations to justify their own acts or those of their predecessors. They cite the fears engendered by the Cold War, real or imagined, and raise the chance that our enemies might beat us to the punch. You hear a lot of denial or outright lies, and the trail of documents suddenly disappeared in a document purging ordered by the CIA Director, Richard Helms. And they speak of sacrifices for the common good (not their own, but of those men exposed). The doctors
among them don't like to talk about the Hippocratic Oath or basic principles of morality. Rather, they talk a lot about science, advances in learning, and the thrills of discovery. They forget that “Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession” (Julia Ward Howe). And you hear nothing or very little about the long-term health effects of their programs, and their failure to notify, monitor or treat the victims, who have experienced a panoply of adverse health effects such as PTSD, breathing and lung problems, problems with internal organs, and countless others.
Walter Lippman once said that a man has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct
though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so. The perpetrators of these
programs have stained their honor. In a time of admitted polarization and confrontation, they
sacrificed their scruples, and victimized their fellow man. Their honor will never be restored
unless they candidly admit their complicity and fault, and do everything in their power to help
restore the health and well-being of their victims. With each death, their debt swells, and the
possibilities of redemption become more distant and unlikely. And a miasma of shame, as toxic as the clouds created by biological weapons, continues to hang over this great nation.
And when the last man standing succumbs, a pall of infamy and shame will become
indelible, and choke the last glimmer of redemption, and history will justly record another
chapter in the annals of infamy.
The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the
views of any institution or person to whom he is affiliated. Gordon P. Erspamer is the lead
counsel in the class action compliant which is pending in San Francisco Federal District Court,
Vietnam Veterans of America, et al. v. Central Intelligence Agency, et al., Case No. 09-0037 CW
(ND Cal. 2009). More information regarding this lawsuit can be found at
www.edgewoodtestvets.org. See the following links for the complaint in this action and its
exhibits. VVA, et al. v. CIA, et al. First Amended Complaint, First Amended Complaint Exhibit
A, First Amended Complaint Exhibit B, First Amended Complaint Exhibit C
31 January 2008Sphere: Related Content
Today, 31st January, the lawyers representing 359 of the Porton Down Test Veterans and the Ministry of Defence announced that a settlement had been reached for the claims of the Veterans for the sum of £3m to be split between the veterans.
Further, an apology has today been given by Derek Twigg Under Secretary of State for Defence and Veterans Minister in the House of Commons. The wording of the apology is:
‘The Government has in the past made clear the debt owed by the nation to those who took part in the trials at Porton Down designed to ensure that the United Kingdom had the defensive and deterrent capabilities to counter the very real and horrific threat that chemical weapons would be used against our Armed Forces or civilian population as they had against others; the security of the country rested on the contribution of those people who took part in these trials.
The trials which were carried out in the period of the Cold War were in many cases undertaken under considerable pressures of time as new threats emerged. The Government accepts that there were aspects of the trials where there may have been short-comings and where, in particular, the life or health of participants may have been put at risk. The Government would wish sincerely to apologise to those affected.’
Then there was the settlement by the Canadian Government for the similar tests that were being done at the same time as Porton Downs and Edgewood Arsenal. These were compensations outside of the normal VA compensation, the Canadian and British soldiers still receive disability compensation and medical care, none of the soldiers or veterans or their dependents were made "wealthy" by the settlements, it was just more of an apology and a small financial stipend. In other words an apology with meaning.