When the CIA ran a LSD sex-house in San Francisco

On an elegant dead-end block on the north side of Telegraph Hill is 225 Chestnut St., a swanky modernist building with panoramic bay views. It’s about the last place you would have expected to find a clandestine CIA program during the Cold War.

Yet from 1955 to 1965, this building was the site of “Operation Midnight Climax” — a top-secret mind-control program in which CIA agents used hookers to lure unsuspecting johns from North Beach bars to what they called “the pad,” then dosed the men with LSD and observed the X-rated goings-on through a two-way mirror while sitting on a portable toilet swilling martinis.

As John Marks notes in his 1977 book, “The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’: The CIA and Mind Control,” the CIA’s obsession with mind control had its origins during World War II, when the agency’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, set up a “truth drug” program whose purpose was to discover a substance that would make subjects reveal their secrets.

The drug of choice was a concentrated liquid form of marijuana. The first field test in 1943 was administered to a New York mobster by George White, a tough-guy OSS captain who had been an agent in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The results were promising — White’s sidekick said “every (subject) but one — and he didn’t smoke — gave us more information than we had before” — but ultimately inconclusive...


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