PRISONER OF LSD
Timothy Leary was brimming with confidence as he strolled into an Orange County courtroom in February 1970. He predicted he would be acquitted of all charges stemming from his drug bust in Laguna Beach the previous winter. The trial lasted ten days. On the morning the case went to the jury, newspaper headlines in Orange County read, “DRUG CRAZED HIPPIES SLAY MOTHER AND CHILDREN.” An army medical officer named McDonald reported that a gang of longhairs descended upon his home and murdered his family, leaving the words “Acid is Groovy, Kill the Pigs” scrawled in blood on the wall. Several years later McDonald himself was convicted of the crime. Initially, however, it seemed like a replay of the Manson affair, and LSD got a lot of negative publicity once again.
It was a bad omen for Timothy Leary. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and Judge Byron K. McMillan sent him to jail immediately without appeal bond. Leary spent five weeks in solitary confinement awaiting sentence. During the interim a US district court in Houston gave him ten years for the Laredo bust in 1965. And then Judge McMillan, calling Leary a “nuisance to society,” added another ten to run consecutively with the federal penalty, which meant that Leary, at forty-nine years of age, faced a virtual life sentence.
Leary’s friends were outraged. It wasn’t just drugs, they charged, but Leary’s role as cynosure of the youth movement that incurred the wrath of two vindictive judges. In the activist spirit of the day legal defense committees sprang up on several campuses. Stoned-out hippies shook their heads in sympathy for Leary’s plight while Movement politicos decried yet another example of the establishment’s assault against the values of the younger generation. But the LSD doctor wasn’t about to rock the boat. He gave no press conferences and refrained from making public declarations that might in any way be construed as inflammatory. At one point Leary was asked to take a commonly used prison personality test that he had helped to develop many years earlier while serving as a research psychologist at the Kaiser Foundation in Oakland. His answers were purposely calculated to make him appear normal, docile, and conforming.
After a few months Leary was transferred to a minimum security prison in San Luis Obispo. He passed the time writing, doing yoga, working out in the yard, and generally keeping a low profile while his lawyers prepared to appeal his case before the Supreme Court. On one occasion Leary tried to prevent an altercation between a guard and an inmate; for this he was chastised in his cell by an SDS militant who claimed that confrontations between “the people” and “the pigs” were inevitable and that by stopping them Leary was only delaying the revolution. The High Priest (who stayed high thanks to a stash of LSD smuggled into prison) contended that a revolution in consciousness had already occurred. He was disturbed that acidheads were now “using violent tactics which were light-years removed from the accelerating and rapidly evolving realities of our space and time.”
But the acid militants had a long way to go before they posed a real threat to the governing class. This became apparent when a dynamite blast destroyed a Greenwich Village townhouse in March 1970, killing three Weatherpeople who misconnected a wire while constructing an antipersonnel bomb. It was an ominous curtain raiser for a group of tripped-out urban guerrillas. Shortly thereafter the Weather Underground initiated a wave of dramatic bombings against corporate headquarters, government buildings, and military installations. They always chose symbolic targets that would attract a lot of attention, and nearly every incident was accompanied by an advance warning and an explanation so as to minimize the loss of life and raise the public consciousness. These attacks set the tone for similar actions by small bands of quasi-Weathermen operating in different parts of the country—the New Year’s Gang, the Proud Eagle Tribe, the Quartermoon Tribe, the Armed-Love Conspiracy. After a series of explosions on the West Coast a secret guerrilla unit issued a communiqué that stated, “As the beast falls, a new culture of life arises: our families and gardens, our music and acid and weed, their Bank of America burning to the ground.”
The Senate Subcommittee on Investigations cited 4,330 bombings in the US from January 1969 to April 1970—an average of more than nine a day. These attacks managed to annoy and embarrass the American government, but violence ultimately was not a winning strategy. Such incidents tarnished the image of the antiwar movement and alienated many mainstream Americans who might otherwise have supported the radical opposition. That was exactly what the Nixon White House wanted; hence the extensive use of provocateurs, who provided weapons and drugs to revolutionary cliques in an effort to discredit the New Left as a whole.
The invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970 and the subsequent killing of four students by the National Guard at Kent State sparked another round of demonstrations throughout the US. Over five hundred colleges canceled classes and some shut down for the rest of the semester while four million people vented their rage and frustration by spilling into the streets. But the mass uproar quickly dissipated, for there was no organization to coordinate and sustain the protests. SDS had disintegrated and nothing emerged to replace it. Most activists found themselves suspended in a dizzy political space: between the dogmatic Marxist crazies and the militant acid crazies there was nowhere “left” to turn.
Time and time again the young radicals had put their bodies on the line, but the war kept grinding on. For all their efforts, it seemed like they were getting nowhere. (No one knew that President Nixon secretly kept American B-52S on full nuclear alert in the summer of 1969, but decided not to drop the big one on Hanoi because of what Kissinger described as “the hammer of antiwar pressure).” After years of frenetic struggle, Movement veterans were exhausted and demoralized. “Somewhere in the nightmare of failure and despair that gripped America in the late 1960s, “recalls Hunter Thompson,” the emphasis on beating the system by challenging it, by fighting it, gave way to a sort of numb conviction that it made more sense in the long run to flee, or to simply hide, than to fight the bastards on anything even vaguely resembling their own terms.”
In their wistful swan song, “Hey Jude,” the Beatles offered a musical palliative to a generation of sixties burnouts: “Take a sad song and make it better.” The breakup of the Beatles symbolized culturally what Kent State symbolized politically—the end of an era. What followed, according to rock critic Albert Goldman, was “the new depression.” Instead of rebellious lyrics there were brooding melodies for those who needed a bridge over troubled waters. A number of rock festivals during the summer of 1970 sought to rekindle the Woodstock feeling, but they were little more than occasions for aimless milling and random violence, with most people turning on simply to turn off.
The shift in orientation was reflected in the new drug lingo: “getting wasted” (a term used by GIs in Vietnam to mean death) became a dominant idiom for chemical experimentation. Nineteen seventy turned into “the year of the middle-class junkie” as large quantities of heroin appeared for the first time in youth culture enclaves. Movement leaders were careful to distinguish between “death drugs” (smack, downers, speed, alcohol) and “people drugs” (marijuana, LSD), but the number of victims from accidental overdose kept increasing. Rock stars were falling like dominos: Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison. . . . Some suspected that the heroin scourge was part of a government plot to pacify the masses of young people. The conspiracy was allegedly set in motion in the fall of 1969, when Nixon initiated Operation Intercept to cut off the supply of marijuana from Mexico. A temporary grass shortage resulted, and then came the influx of heroin—the ultimate pharmacological copout. Subsequent revelations, however, topped any conspiracy theory: the CIA was in cahoots with organized crime; Agency personnel based in Southeast Asia were involved in the heroin trade;* for eight years the drug was smuggled inside returning corpses of American servicemen who had died in Vietnam; and corrupt police pushed junk in New York, Detroit, and other major urban ghettos.
When the social fabric starts to unravel, as it did in the late 1960s, the fabric of the psyche also unravels. People needed to put their lives back together and regain their sanity after the turmoil of those years. For some this meant going off to live in a commune or a farm in the country where they could wage a revolution of purely private expectations. Others took solace in Jesus Freakery or any number of Eastern swamis who promised blissful panaceas for acid casualties on the rebound.
Of all the New Age dream-spinners, none made as big a splash as Richard Alpert, whose spiritual Odyssey had begun at Harvard when he met Timothy Leary and sampled the magic mushroom. The two professors set out to publicize the virtues of psychedelic drugs, hoping to alter the consciousness of America. But playing second fiddle to Leary was never quite enough for Alpert. Eventually they went their separate ways—Leary to jail, and Alpert to India on a religious quest. A series of cosmic connections brought him to the Himalayas, where he found a guru with the right stuff. What made Alpert so sure? He gave the old man a few thousand mikes of LSD, and it hardly fazed him—which could only mean one thing: he was high all the timel Alpert changed his name to Baba Ram Dass and returned home to spread the word.
Ram Dass wrote an autobiographical treatise, Be Here Now, which described his conversion to meditation. (Actually it was only a partial conversion; he still took an occasional LSD trip when he yearned for a jolt of expanded consciousness.) The book became a cult bestseller, winning effusive praise from Jerry Rubin and other counterculture mavens. Ram Dass never intended to build a church or a new religion; his metaphysical meanderings were eclectic, and the gist of his message seemed to be, “Work on yourself.” Nothing new, of course, but soothing for an audience of weary radicals who needed some spiritual first aid after years of thankless struggle on the political front.
Ram Dass talked a lot about changing the reality of private consciousness, but he didn’t have much to say about changing social reality. “Better to be good than to do good,” he pontificated. “Trust your intuitive heart-mind, and see where the wind takes you.” It was nifty advice—assuming you were willing to believe that someone or something was tending the proverbial Light at the end of the tunnel. Apparently it was what a lot of people wanted to hear; Ram Dass became a hot ticket on the lecture circuit as the new High Priest. Oftentimes he began with a self-effacing comment: “You may remember me as Mr. LSD, Jr.” For years he had lived in Leary’s shadow, but now Ram Dass had a chance to do his own thing while Mr. LSD, Sr., languished in prison. He showed little sympathy for his former tripping partner. “If he’s there, that’s where he should be,” Ram Dass asserted. “Tim’s in jail because that’s his karma. Trust and obey your karma, grow with it.”
Such enlightened sophistry did not sit well with Leary. He had spent seven long months behind bars, and there was little prospect of an early release. Karma or no karma, he wanted out. If legal methods didn’t work, then he would opt for an immediate solution: escape. An intricate plan was developed with Leary’s wife, Rosemary, ferrying messages back and forth among the principals. She was in touch with a radical attorney who arranged for a getaway car to pick Leary up on the highway near the prison. Members of the Brotherhood put up $25,000 to fund the operation, and a group of trained professionals was hired to spirit him out of the country.
On September 12, 1970, Leary slipped across the prison yard while most of the inmates were eating dinner. To scale the wall he had to climb a tree without being noticed. That was relatively easy. He removed his sneakers and padded barefoot along the roof, his silhouette exposed against an overcast sky. Extending from the other side of the roof was a thin steel wire—his path to freedom. Quickly he donned a pair of handball gloves and grabbed the cable, kicking his legs up like a monkey. He could see the car lights on the highway as he pulled himself hand over hand, bouncing and wrenching with each heave, until exhaustion set in. Leary’s body ached and perspired as he dangled precariously halfway across the highwire, unsure if he had the strength to continue. After pausing to catch his breath, he mustered every ounce of inner reserve and made it to a utility pole on the other side of the fence. Leary slid down the splintery wood, scrambled toward the road, and waited anxiously at a pre-designated spot.
A few minutes later a pickup truck signaled and pulled over. A woman called out the password, “Nino.” Leary answered “Kelly” and jumped into the car, overjoyed to be in the company of two young strangers who had come to rescue him. As the vehicle sped away, they handed Leary ID papers for a “Mr. William McNellis.” The acid fugitive changed into another set of clothes. His old gear was dumped at a gas station to mislead the police while he switched cars and traveled north to San Francisco. Only then did Leary learn that he’d been rescued by members of the Weather Underground.
Leary was taken to a safehouse in the Bay Area where he met with Bernardine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and other Weather leaders. In a communiqué mailed to newspapers across the country, the Weather Underground claimed credit for the jailbreak. It was a tremendous propaganda coup for the acid militants. They described Leary as a political prisoner who was “captured for the work he did in helping all of us begin the task of creating a new culture on the barren wasteland that has been imposed on us by Democrats, Republicans, Capitalists and creeps.” LSD and marijuana, the Weather cadre asserted, would help make a better world in the future, but for the time being, “we are at war. . . . we know that peace is only possible in the destruction of U.S. imperialism. We are outlaws. We are free.”
Leary was grateful to the Weathermen and enjoyed their company. They got stoned together and planned their next move. Leary needed an effective disguise. He shaved the top of his head, grew a moustache, and dyed his hair. But more than just his physical appearance changed during the time he spent with the Weatherpeople. Leary now thought of himself as a psychedelic revolutionary. He expressed his new political perspective in a manifesto called “Shoot to Live.” Disavowing his earlier pacifism, he called for sabotage and other acts of resistance. “To shoot a genocidal robot policeman in defense of life is a sacred act,” Leary proclaimed. “World War III is now being waged by short-haired robots whose deliberate aim is to destroy the complex web of free wild life by the imposition of mechanical order. . . . Blow the mechanical mind with Holy Acid. . . dose them. . . dose them.” He urged everyone to “stay high and wage the revolutionary war.” In a postscript he warned, “I am armed and should be considered dangerous to anyone who threatens my life and freedom.”
Many friends were shocked and dismayed by the turn Leary’s mind had taken. Ken Kesey, who was then living on a farm in Oregon, voiced his concern in a letter to Leary. It was an eloquent plea, written on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, after Kesey dropped some orange sunshine.
Dear Good Doctor Timothy:
Congratulations! The only positive memories I have from all my legal experiences was getting away. A good escape almost makes up for the fucking bust.
But listen to me, please, with a stillness. Listen to me as you would to any felon and fugitive and mainly, friend. With stillness, old timer, and patience, because I must say this carefully and with respect for your ears and not the media. . . . I’ve been doing a media fast, vowing this last summer solstice to try for six months to neither heed nor feed a beast which I am convinced is nourished by the blood and anguish of confrontations which the beast itself promotes. So all magazines, newspapers, TV or radio have been refreshingly absent the last few months. Lots of farming and community and trying to hear the earth and the people without the message filtered through Madison Avenue’s dollar. The true news always penetrates anyway.
“Did you hear? Leary flew the coop!”
“Far fucking out!”
Speculations were rampant and joyous. “I hope he gets his ass to India or someplace. Old Leary deserves some good R and R because, shit, man, how long’s it been? Ten, twelve years now and right in there all the time taking on all comers and never a whimper and you can tell, man, working where it counts inside and out all the time. . .”
Then that letter came out. “You read that letter of Leary’s in the Free Press?. Saying it’s sacred to shoot cops and that he’s armed and dangerous? That doesn’t sound like something he’d put out. It sounds like some of them militants trying to jack a buncha people up. . .”
I read the letter. Halfway through I was sure it was you talking. And it grieved me because I perceived that you hadn’t escaped after all.
Don’t misunderstand me, doctor; I wish in no way to cool your fervor. We all know what is at stake. Unless the material virus that has been burrowing for decades into the spirit of the country is somehow branded and checked, unless our I/It lustings are outgrown and our rapings of the earth and each other stopped, in short unless we become the gentle and enlightened people we all know ourselves capable of becoming, we shall surely lose not only our life and land but, like Esau, our birthright. And worst of all, the birthrights of our children.
In this battle, Timothy, we need every mind and every soul, but oh my doctor we don’t need one more nut with a gun. I know what jail makes you feel but don’t let them get your head in their cowboys-and-Indians script. If they can plant a deep enough rage in you they make of you an ally. Rage is mainly a media brew anyway, concocted of frustrations and self-pity over a smokey fire of righteousness, for the purpose of making headline ink. What we need, doctor, is inspiration, enlightenment, creation, not more headlines. Put down that gun, clear that understandable ire from your Irish heart and pray for the vision wherein lies our only true hope. If it still comes up guns then God be with you in your part of the battle, but if it doesn’t come up guns then I beg you to print a reconsideration. I do not mean to scold someone so much my senior in so many ways; I just don’t want to lose you. What I really mean is stay cool and alive and high and out of cages.
And keep in mind what somebody, some Harvard holy man I think it was, used to tell us years ago: “The revolution is over and we have won.” The poor country still may not survive and even if it does survive and comes again to its feet, there’s still years of work and suffering and atonement before we can expect it to walk straight and healthy once more, but the Truth is already in the records: the revolution is over and we have won.
With all my respect and prayers,
Leary was in no position to heed Kesey’s words. He was in motion, transported from one underground site to another by the Weathermen, preparing to leave the country on a fake passport. His brazen plan was to walk right through Customs disguised as a bland-looking, middle-aged businessman. Leary tested his disguise for the first time with a trip to the movies accompanied by some of the Weatherpeople. They went to Woodstock, a film Leary had wanted to see while he stewed in prison. No one recognized the LSD doctor with horn-rimmed glasses and a shiny bald pate.
A few days later the new Leary passed through a metal detector and boarded a TWA flight to Paris. Rosemary joined him on the same plane; she also had a disguise and phony ID. At first they thought of going into seclusion in Europe, but that was no life for a perennial media star like Leary. The Weathermen suggested a quick trip to Algeria, where Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers had set up a government-in-exile. Perhaps Cleaver could help him obtain political asylum in Algiers. It was a romantic script that intrigued Leary—a new society of American exiles in a Third World country, working to unify the revolution.
A Bitter Pill
Tim and Rosemary arrived in Algiers with great expectations. “Panthers are the hope of the world,” he wrote to Allen Ginsberg. “How perfect that we were received here and protected by young Blacks. Algeria is perfect. Great political satori! Socialism works here. . . . Eldridge is a genial genius. Brilliant! Turned on too!” The Panthers were also enthusiastic. At a “solidarity” press conference, they announced that “Dr. Leary is part of our movement,” having previously been active “among the sons and daughters of those imperialist bandit pigs.”
The alliance between Cleaver and Leary was hot news, and Algiers was suddenly crawling with media. But the much-publicized meeting of the minds quickly degenerated into a battle of egos. Leary didn’t like Cleaver’s heavy-handed security measures. All visitors were frisked—even Leary’s friends—and drugs were banned from Panther headquarters except on rare occasions when Cleaver said it was okay to get high. In his discussions with Cleaver, Leary emphasized that “you’ve got to free yourself internally before you attempt to free yourself behaviorally.” The Panthers, however, were not receptive to Leary’s “spiritual” politics. Nor were they keen on his idea of inviting draft resisters, antiwar activists, hippies, rock stars, Weatherpeople, and other dissident groups to broadcast a “Radio Free America” program throughout Europe. Cleaver had no intention of providing a forum for a multitude of voices on the left. He was quick to brand nearly everyone else “revisionist,” heaping ridicule on Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, LeRoi Jones, and white radicals such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Soon would come the split with Panther leader Huey Newton, fomented in part by FBI subterfuge.
The FBI was also responsible for stirring up tensions between Leary and his hosts. An undercover operative who had infiltrated the New York chapter of the Black Panther party sent a poison pen letter to Cleaver urging him to discipline Leary for his cavalier, individualistic behavior. Tim and Rosemary were busted at gunpoint at Panther headquarters while black CIA agents who had penetrated Cleaver’s entourage monitored the situation. A CIA document dated February 12, 1971, reported that “Panther activities have recently taken some interesting turns. Eldridge Cleaver and his Algiers contingent have apparently become disenchanted with the antics of Tim Leary. . . . Electing to call their action protective custody, Cleaver and company, on their own authority, have put Tim and Rosemary under house arrest due most probably to Leary’s continued use of hallucinogenic drugs.”
Leary had smuggled twenty thousand hits of LSD into Algiers and was planning to turn on all of Africa. This scheme didn’t impress Cleaver, who was fed up with Leary’s stoned gasconades. “Something’s wrong with Leary’s brain,” the Panther chief declared in a communiqué to the underground press. “We want people to gather their wits, sober up and get down to the serious business of destroying the Babylonian empire.” As far as Cleaver was concerned, the psychedelic counterculture would henceforth be considered quasi-political, if not downright dangerous. When he spoke of LSD, he invoked the specter of drug-induced totalitarianism. “To all those of you who look to Dr. Leary for inspiration and leadership,” Cleaver concluded, “we want to say to you that your god is dead because his mind has been blown by acid.”
Leary, for his part, felt he had come up against a new kind of chauvinism—revolutionary chauvinism—and he wanted out. But not so fast. He could leave—at a price. Once again the Brotherhood of Eternal Love came to the rescue, chipping in $25,000 to facilitate Leary’s release. As they scrambled to get out of Algiers in early 1971, Tim and Rosemary were aware of the gravity of their predicament. They had no legitimate travel papers and additional advance money for Leary’s book on his prison escape (Diaries of a Hope Fiend) was not forthcoming. Whoever could help them at this point became an instant ally. A British woman employed as a stringer for Newsweek introduced the Learys to a well-educated Algerian bureaucrat named Ali, who made no bones about his association with the CIA. Ali promised to arrange exit visas for them. Rosemary wondered if they could trust such a man. “He’s liberal CIA,” Tim assured her, “and that’s the best mafia you can deal with in the twentieth century.”
The fugitive couple fled to Switzerland, hoping to obtain political asylum. Leary spent the first six weeks in jail while Swiss officials reviewed his case. Life behind bars was relatively pleasant thanks to a mysterious benefactor named Michel-Gustave Hauchard, who provided Leary with fine wine and assorted delicacies during his incarceration. Described by Leary as a tall, silver-haired gunrunner, Hauchard had strong enough lines into the Swiss council to secure Leary’s release from prison. He also had the funds to bankroll Leary in the high style to which he had become accustomed. Leary nicknamed him “Goldfinger” and accepted an invitation to stay in Lausanne at his luxury penthouse with an exquisite view of the lake. In return Tim merely had to sign away half the money from his forthcoming book to Hauchard.
While in Switzerland, Leary was treated to gourmet lunches, dinners at expensive restaurants, and weekend parties with wealthy foreigners. Old friends such as Billy Hitchcock dropped by to visit. Leary also contacted Dr. Albert Hofmann, the Sandoz chemist who had discovered LSD nearly thirty years earlier. They met for the first time at a cafe in Lausanne. Hofmann told Leary about his informal “wisdom school” centered around psychedelic sessions with leading European intellectuals, including Ernst Jünger, the German novelist and mystic. Leary asked Hofmann about the dangers of LSD, and the elderly scientist insisted there was no evidence of brain damage caused by the drug. The only dangers, he maintained, were psychological and could be avoided by supportive conditions. In the final analysis Dr. Hofmann affirmed the importance of LSD as an “aid to meditation aimed at the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality.”
Leary’s legal status remained ambiguous during his eighteen-month sojourn in Switzerland. He was without a valid passport, but he had money, which is tantamount to a passport for a man on the run. When Bantam Books came through with his $250,000 advance (half of which went to Hauchard), Leary bought a spiffy yellow Porsche and a state-of-the-art stereo system. He traveled from one Swiss canton to the next, each allowing him to stay for just so long. His insecure and terminally jangled lifestyle was wearing on Rosemary’s nerves. For seven years they had been together through high times and the all too frequent cycle of arrests, trials, convictions, jail, escape, and flight. While Tim was convalescing in a hospital after a minor operation, Rosemary had a love affair with an old friend. Leary was high on acid when he found out what had happened, and he told his wife to pack her bags and leave. It was a final break; he would almost never mention her name again.
With Rosemary gone, Leary was no longer moored to any kind of personal stability. He was floating in his own version of a Fellini film, accompanied by a half-desperate circus of wired, burned-out dopers, self-styled revolutionaries, informers, journalists, and star-fuckers. Besides the mysterious Hauchard, various smugglers and power peddlers offered him deals that only further confused the issue of who his friends really were. Weary of a life in constant flux, perhaps a little bored at age 50, Leary was ready for a change of scene. Soon a woman would enter his life who could have walked off a page of a Thomas Pynchon novel.
It’s not clear why Joanna Harcourt-Smith was so intent on tracking Leary down. Born in Saint Moritz, she was a young globe-trotting adventuress who’d been married twice before she met Leary. Her father was a British aristocrat and her step-father one of the wealthiest men in Europe; she was also the niece of Simon Harcourt-Smith, a London publisher.
In the fall of 1972, Joanna met Michel Hauchard for drinks in New York. Hauchard, her ex-lover, bragged that he “owned” Timothy Leary, openly waving the check from his book advance. Joanna boarded the next plane to Geneva, and arranged to meet Leary at a nearby café. Tim was immediately attracted by her wit and sexy smile. As they drove back to Leary’s pad, Joanna reached into her pocket, pulled out two hits of windowpane acid, swallowed one, and said of the other, “Whoever eats this will follow me.” Leary gobbled the psychedelic, precipitating an all-night session of lovemaking, speaking in French, and overall grokking. The next morning, Tim told his housemates that he had found his perfect love.
Joanna filled a void in Leary’s life created by the chaotic events and uncertainties of two years on the lam. She and Tim became almost a single entity. They tripped together, took long baths in a big tub, living only for the moment. But there were still problems with the Swiss authorities. Leary had been denied asylum three times, and he was tired of pleading his case from one canton to the next. Hauchard told him that it wouldn’t be safe to stay in Switzerland much longer.
With some prodding from Joanna they decided to drive off in his yellow Porsche for a “honeymoon,” even though they were not officially married. In Austria, they were joined by Dennis Martino, whom Leary had met a few years earlier in Laguna Beach through the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. (Martino’s twin brother, David, was married to Leary’s daughter, Susan.) Martino had participated in numerous drug smuggling operations for the Brotherhood until he was busted for selling marijuana. After serving six months in prison, he jumped probation and fled to Europe.
By this time a federal task force composed of thirteen agencies—including the FBI, CIA, BNDD, 1RS, Customs, and the State Department—was gearing up for a major crackdown on the Brotherhood. Operation BEL, as the Brotherhood sting was called, scored its first major victory in August 1972, when narcotics agents arrested forty people in three different states. The predawn raids were ordered on the basis of twenty-nine secret indictments handed down by an Orange County grand jury. They marked the culmination of a yearlong investigation that netted a million and a half LSD tablets, two and a half tons of hashish, thirty gallons of hash oil, and $20,000 in cash. Cecil Hicks, the district attorney of Orange County, fingered Leary as “the Godfather” of the largest drug smuggling network in the world and vowed to press for his extradition from Switzerland. “Leary is responsible for destroying more lives than any other human being,” Hicks declared.
Leary felt the heat from Operation BEL as he pondered his next move in Europe. Further complications arose when Joanna grew weak and yellow with hepatitis. She refused hospitalization, telling Leary that unless they kept traveling, American agents would catch up with them. The wandering fugitives were short on cash, but Joanna suggested they head east, perhaps to Ceylon, where they could rendezvous with some of her friends and charter a yacht. An idyllic life in the South Seas was envisioned. But first, at Joanna’s insistence, they would stop in Afghanistan, a country that had no extradition treaty with the US. Martino was in contact with some hash smugglers there, and Joanna said she knew the royal prince. Certainly he’d help them get to Ceylon.
The decision to fly to Afghanistan proved to be a fatal mistake. Kabul, the capital city, was swarming with American narcotics police who were investigating the hashish smuggling ring associated with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. The three were taken into custody while Terrence Burke, a former CIA agent assigned by the BNDD to work on the Brotherhood conspiracy case, convinced the Afghan authorities to deport Leary.
In an unusual display of largesse Joanna was permitted by US officials to accompany Leary on a flight to Los Angeles at a cost to taxpayers of $1,086 for her one-way first-class ticket. Why this was done, neither the State Department nor the BNDD was willing to say. Perhaps it was Joanna’s reward for leading Leary into a trap. Although she had known him for only a month, it was Joanna who persuaded Leary to leave Switzerland and embark on a whirlwind tour that ended with the debacle in Kabul. Tim never suspected that she might have had anything but the purest of motives for seeking him out. A few hours before they landed in the States, he took out pen and paper and scribbled a note that would serve as Joanna’s introduction to radical circles in America: “The right to speak for me I hereby lovingly give to Joanna Harcourt-Smith, who is my love, my voice, my wisdom, my words, my output to the world.”
On January 17, 1973, four days after being nabbed in Afghanistan, Timothy Leary stepped off a plane in Los Angeles and looked out at fifty helmeted policemen with riot guns lining the path to the Volkswagen bus that would take him away. When BNDD agent Burke formally placed him under arrest, Leary responded by flashing his trademark ear-to-ear smile to the camera crews. But it was little more than a mask, for the High Priest was actually in quite a fix. In addition to the grand jury indictment alleging his involvement with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, he now had to answer for his prison escape. Leary was in no position to scoff at these charges. With bail set at $5,000,000 (the highest ever for an American citizen), the Justice Department looked forward to Leary’s escape trial as a means of getting at one of their prime targets: the Weathermen, whose members topped the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.
The escape trial began in March, 1973. The jury took less than two hours to return a guilty verdict, and Leary was sentenced to five years in addition to the twenty he was serving when he escaped. This time it would be hard time at Folsom. Undaunted, Joanna predicted that Leary would be out of prison in a few weeks. “We’ll simply leave our bodies. . . . We believe in miracles,” she told a reporter. “Timothy Leary is a free man. . . . He’s stronger than ever. He’s happy.”
Joanna rented an apartment on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco and proceeded to organize a Leary Defense Committee. Fund-raising benefits were held in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, but she squandered all the money on cocaine, jewelry from Cartier’s, and longdistance calls to her mother in Spain. Joanna’s erratic antics and high-rolling lifestyle alienated many of Leary’s friends. When Allen Ginsberg, accompanied by Joanna and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, visited Tim in Folsom, he warned that she might be some kind of “double agent.” Joanna looked at Tim and sloughed it off. “Oh, you know, he just hates women,” she said, apparently in reference to Ginsberg’s homosexuality. Leary asked Ginsberg if he would take over the defense committee, but Ginsberg was unable to assume such a heavy responsibility. In exasperation Leary threw up his hands as if to say, “Even if she is an agent, she’s all I’ve got.”
In November, 1973, Leary was transferred from Folsom to Vacaville Prison, previously the site of an extensive CIA drug testing program. While in Vacaville, he learned that Dennis Martino had been working as a government informer and that he and Joanna were having a relationship. Martino had struck a deal with the BNDD after they were busted in Kabul. As an undercover narc he was instrumental in arranging the arrests of at least two dozen people, some of whom were old associates from his dope-dealing days with the Brotherhood. His diligent service earned him some brownie points, but Martino’s controllers refused to let him off the hook until he persuaded Leary to cooperate with the feds.
For Leary the confirmation that the people closest to him were working with his captors had to be a terrible blow. Joanna privately maintained that she was really a double or triple agent. According to Martino she routinely met US marshals at the door of her Telegraph Hill apartment in the nude, hoping to catch them in compromising situations; Martino hid in an adjacent room and taped the conversations. Joanna later told Ginsberg that she was monitoring the feds so she could blackmail them by threatening to make public the various “deals” they had proposed for Tim’s release.
Leary, meanwhile, had begun to wither under the systematic pressure exerted by his most intimate contacts. Little by little Joanna and Martino brought him closer to the break desired by his jailers. The turning point came in April 1974. Leary indicated he was ready to talk. The FBI made it official when they pegged him with the code name of the songbird, “Charlie Thrush.”
Leary defended his decision to collaborate with the feds by invoking the spectacle of Watergate. He compared his own situation with that of President Nixon, who would soon face impeachment for obstruction of justice and conduct unbefitting a chief of state. “You’ve got to tell the truth,” said Leary.
I can’t condemn Richard Nixon for shutting his mouth because I’m shutting my mouth. I’m not getting paroled until I’m rehabilitated. I’m not getting out behind the lawyers. I’ve had a chance to analyze, as a psychologist, Nixon’s downfall. I’ve had a chance to see that I’m locked up because of the way I played secrets. I know some people might get hurt. But if I can tell my story and get it all out, karmically, I think I’m free within. And if I’m free within, it will reflect without. . . . When I look at Socrates, I see that all they wanted him to do was just say he was sorry. He didn’t have to drink the hemlock. Maybe if the offer was poison, I’d take that, I don’t know. But it is prison. I’m a rat in a maze, staring at the door, looking for another door and there isn’t one. Like it or not, when you’re in the prison system, you come out through the system, unless you escape, and that didn’t work.”
Leary was grilled by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but most of the information he gave was already common knowledge among law enforcement experts. But the feds had other uses for Leary. They wanted his assistance in setting up the arrest of George Chula, an attorney who had previously defended both Leary and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Leary told a grand jury that Chula had given him a small chunk of hash when they met at the Orange County courthouse the previous year. Joanna also gave damaging testimony, describing an encounter with Chula wherein he allegedly offered her marijuana and cocaine. When asked why she was testifying, Joanna told the grand jury that she found 99% of the drug culture “to be dishonest, lying people [who didn’t know] where they were coming from and where they were going.” Chula was subsequently convicted of a minor marijuana violation and served forty-five days in jail.
“LEARY WILL SING,” declared a Chicago Tribune headline. Soon there were rumors of a massive grand jury circus, with Leary fingering many of his former associates. After all, one of the main reasons the authorities went to such trouble to have Leary inform was to let everyone know about it in order to create fear and distrust among political and cultural activists. Also, it would be a way of trashing their values—the High Priest would turn out to be a fighter for his own skin just like everybody else. The media had always latched onto Leary as the one figure who personified the psychedelic movement, and by exposing him as a fink the entire subculture was implicitly discredited.
Although he insisted he was innocent on the “karmic” level, those who felt threatened by his actions took a different view. “I’m digesting news of Herr Doktor Leary, the swine,” wrote Abbie Hoffman, who went underground after being busted for cocaine possession (which he claimed was a police setup). “It’s obvious to me he’s talked his fucking demented head off to the Gestapo. . . . God, Leary is disgusting. It’s not just a question of being a squealer but a question of squealing on people who helped you. . . . The curses crowd my mouth. . . . Timothy Leary is a name worse than Benedict Arnold.”
Out of anxiety as much as a desire to get the facts, a unique press conference was called at the Saint Francis Hotel in San Francisco on September 18, 1974. It was sponsored by a group calling itself People Investigating Leary’s Lies, or PILL. A panel of counterculture heroes organized and moderated by journalist Ken Kelley addressed an audience of nearly two hundred. Jerry Rubin spoke first, reciting the facts as he knew them. It was a loose chronology and not much was certain. Rubin wondered what had really happened to Leary. Was he brainwashed in Vacaville—a prison with a reputation for behavior modification abuse of its inmates? Had only a phantom Leary survived? Or did his finking demonstrate that he never really took his politics seriously? “He may have gotten frightened—experienced an ego break,” Ram Dass suggested, “or he may have lost control under the pressures of prison and developed a direct paranoid state where the ends justify the means.”
When it was Allen Ginsberg’s turn to speak, he began by chanting OM for a few minutes. He had written something for the conference called “Om Ah Hum: 44 Temporary Questions on Dr. Leary.” These questions, ranging from witty to paranoid, brought out all the contradictions Leary’s informing posed for the New Left. Ginsberg’s open-ended tirade went in all directions, and that was its purpose—not to defend the informer, but to illustrate that the left versus right conflicts of the 1960s were no longer black and white, if they ever had been, and that the gaps in Leary’s recent history made it imperative not to simply denounce him.
“Should we stop trusting our friends like in a Hotel room in Moscow?” Ginsberg asked.
Is he a Russian-model prisoner brought into courtroom news conferences blinking in daylight after years in jails and months incommunicado in solitary cells with nobody to talk to but thought-control police interrogators?. . . Is he like Zabbathi Zvi, the False Messiah, accepted by millions of Jews centuries ago, who left Europe for the Holy Land, was captured by Turks on his way, told he’d have his head cut off unless he converted to Islam, and so accepted Allah? Didn’t his followers split into sects, some claiming it was a wise decision?. . .
Is Leary exaggerating and lying to build such confused cases and conspiracies that the authorities will lose all the trials he witnesses, and he’ll be let go in the confusion?. . . Is he trying to clean the karmic blackboard by creating a hippie Watergate?. . . Is Joanna Harcourt-Smith, his one contact spokes-agent, a sex spy, agent provocateuse, double agent, CIA hysteric, jealous tigress, or what?. . . Will citizens be arrested, indicted, taken to jail for Leary’s freedom?. . . Doesn’t the old cry “Free Tim Leary!” apply now urgent as ever?
A can of worms had been opened. Paranoia was rampant among radicals who feared that Leary might be talking about any number of people he’d been in contact with over the years. Some blamed Leary for being a turncoat, others directed their anger at the government and the criminal justice system. The discussion grew increasingly acrimonious as the afternoon wore on. There for all to see were the signs of disintegration—fear, backs tabbing, confusion, resentment, animosity. “The 1960s are finally dead,” said Ken Kelley after the conference adjourned. “That was just the funeral.”
The Great LSD Conspiracy
While Leary was in the slammer, his erstwhile patron Billy Hitchcock got tangled in a legal mess of his own making. It had taken almost four years for the government to gather enough evidence to indict the young Mellon heir for income tax evasion. He also faced charges stemming from stock market malpractice. A lengthy jail term seemed almost certain unless he struck a bargain with the authorities. He called Tim Scully, who had dropped out of the acid business a few years ago, and explained the situation. Would Scully also be willing to make a deal and possibly save his own skin? Certainly not. Hitchcock was on his own. In March 1973 he surrendered at a federal attorney’s office in New York and offered to talk about the Brotherhood of Eternal Love in exchange for leniency.
The following month Hitchcock was in San Francisco testifying before a grand jury on the Brotherhood LSD conspiracy. He told everything he knew, naming all the key figures he had associated with in the drug trade over the years. He also identified the Swiss and Bahamian banks that had been used to launder drug profits. This information was just what the jury needed to indict Scully and his onetime partner, Nick Sand, who’d been apprehended earlier that year at an underground drug lab in Saint Louis. In the coming months both would stand trial for manufacturing and distributing LSD.
While the prosecution was preparing its case against Sand and Scully, DEA officials appeared before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee and outlined the dimensions of the Brotherhood conspiracy. “In many ways,” said DEA director John Bartels, “the evolution of the drug trafficking activities of the members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is a tragic illustration of the cynicism into which the youthful drug revolution of the mid-1960's has fallen.”
At its peak the organization had approximately three thousand members, according to the DEA, and it operated “in a virtually untouchable manner” until 1971, when federal and state officials began their investigation. Since then, the senators were told, the Brotherhood inquiry had resulted in the arrest of over a hundred individuals, including Timothy Leary, who was inaccurately described as the group’s founder. Four LSD factories had been seized, along with thirty-five hundred grams of acid in powdered form (equivalent to fourteen million dosages), a pill press, six hashish oil facilities, 546 acres of property in Southern California, and sizable quantities of marijuana, cocaine, peyote and amphetamine. In addition $1,800,000 in cash had either been seized or located in foreign banks. DEA officials concluded with a pitch for a budget increase, and Congress dutifully obliged.
The case against the Brotherhood acid chemists came to trial in San Francisco in November 1973 and lasted thirty-nine days. The trial pitted Billy Hitchcock against his former colleagues, Sand and Scully, who were accused of being the largest suppliers of LSD in the US during the late 1960s. Since Hitchcock had already been granted immunity, the defense strategy was to pin all the blame on him, portraying him as the “Mr. Big” who single-handedly directed the entire acid operation. Hitchcock, for his part, tried to walk a fine line, giving just enough information to satisfy the prosecution, but not enough to convict the defendants. (He even put up money for Scully’s legal fees.) The publicity generated by the trial crystallized in a sensational Village Voice article by Mary Jo Worth, “The Acid Profiteers.” The article depicted Leary as a Madison Avenue huckster who was a front for Hitchcock’s money. The whole psychedelic movement, according to Worth, was nothing more than a scam perpetrated by a profit-hungry clique.
But this was not the impression given by Sand and Scully during the trial. Both of them came off as remarkably idealistic fellows who got involved in the drug trade from altruistic motives. When Sand was arrested, the police discovered papers containing formulas for over a hundred psychedelic compounds unknown to the general public. He and Scully claimed the drug they produced was not LSD-25 but a related compound known as ALD-52, which was not illegal simply because the nares had never heard of it. Ingenuity, however, was not a plausible defense, and it failed to sway the jury.
Hitchcock was not a particularly strong witness at the San Francisco trial. He acknowledged that his own drug usage had been extensive, and he listed all the substances he had experimented with over the years, including LSD and heroin. Mr. Billy had already pleaded guilty to income tax evasion and violation of SEC regulations, but he had not yet been sentenced for these charges. The defense contended that Hitchcock had been promised leniency in his other cases if he lied in this one. Although he admitted that he had perjured himself four times during Internal Revenue and SEC investigations and before a federal grand jury, his testimony was deemed reliable enough to send both of the defendants to the pen. Scully got twenty years, Sand got fifteen, while Hitchcock received a five-year suspended sentence, a $20,000 fine, and a ceremonial slap on the wrist.
Sand jumped bail and disappeared while out on appeal, leaving Scully to fend for himself. Scully’s lawyers argued for a mistrial but lost. While in federal prison on McNeil Island, Washington State, he became a model inmate, designing a computer system for the staff and biofeedback equipment to help drug addicts and the handicapped. This helped him win an early parole in 1979. Shortly before his release from prison Scully was named Man of the Year by the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Washington for his scientific innovations.
As it turned out, Scully served a longer jail term than any other person associated with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. At least twenty members of the Brotherhood chose the fugitive route while drug charges were pending against them. One of those who vanished was Ronald Stark, the mysterious entrepreneur who had assumed a commanding role in the illicit acid trade. In November 1972 a team of 1RS and BNDD agents visited his drug lab in Brussels, but Stark was nowhere to be found. He was later indicted—but never prosecuted—as a co-conspirator in the Sand-Scully case.
The fact that Stark was wanted on a drug rap in the US hardly put a damper on his international escapades. He spent much of his time in Italy during the 1970s, cavorting with Sicilian Mafiosi, secret service officials, and political extremists of the far left and far right. Stark’s antics took him far afield. Occasionally he traveled to the Baalbek region of Lebanon, where he negotiated with a Shiite Muslim sect for shiploads of hashish. Stark claimed to be a business representative of Imam Moussa Sadr, a powerful Shiite warlord who controlled vast hashish plantations and a private army of 6,000 men. The area under his dominion was said to include training camps used by the Palestine Liberation Organization and other terrorist groups.
Back in Italy, Stark rented a small apartment in Florence. But he rarely stayed there, preferring the posh hotels of Rome, Milan, Bologna and other cities. By day he carried on as a smooth and successful businessman. At night he donned a pair of faded blue jeans and a work shirt and mingled with student radicals and other extremists. Moving in left-wing circles was nothing new for Ronald Stark. He had a knack for popping up wherever trouble was brewing. An American expatriate bumped into him on the streets of Paris during the peak of the Sorbonne uprising in 1968. In London he frequented the clubs and bars that were hangouts for dissident elements, and he made his first appearance in Milan during the “hot autumn” of 1969, when massive student demonstrations and labor strikes nearly paralyzed Italy. Furthermore, Stark was tight with the Brotherhood leaders who contributed money to the Weather Underground for Timothy Leary’s prison escape.
Whatever game Stark was playing took an abrupt turn in February 1975 when Italian police received an anonymous phone call about a man selling drugs in a hotel in Bologna. A few days later at the Grand Hotel Baglioni they arrested a suspect in possession of 4,600 kilos of marijuana, morphine, and cocaine. The suspect carried a British passport bearing the name Mr. Terrence W. Abbott. Italian investigators soon discovered that “Mr. Abbott” was actually Ronald Stark. Among his belongings was the key to a safe deposit box in Rome that contained documents on the manufacture of LSD and a synthetic version of cocaine. There was also a vial of liquid that scientists could not precisely identify (they figured it was something like LSD). Other items seized by police included letters from a certain Charles C. Adams written on stationery with the letterhead of the American embassy in London. The messages from Adams, a foreign service officer, began with a confidential “Dear Ron,” and were addressed to Stark’s drug laboratory in Brussels, which had been raided in the fall of 1972 by a team of American agents.
If Stark’s contacts with American embassy personnel were difficult to fathom, then his association with some of Italy’s most notorious terrorists was equally curious. In the spring of 1976, while he was being held in Don Bosco prison in Pisa, Stark befriended Renato Curcio, a top leader of the Red Brigades that had stalked Italy since the early 1970s. Curcio and his radical cohorts apparently had no idea that Stark was an American when they took him into their confidence. As soon as he succeeded in penetrating the underground terrorist network, Stark asked prison officials to arrange a meeting with the chief prosecutor of Pisa. He said that Curcio had told him of a plot to assassinate Judge Francesco Coco of Genoa, who was scheduled to preside over a trial of fifty Red Brigadesmen. There was also talk of abducting a prominent Italian politician who lived in Rome. In June 1976 Judge Coco was murdered, just as Stark predicted. (Aldo Moro, five times Italy’s premier, may have been the other victim. Stark’s name would later surface in connection with the Moro kidnapping and execution.)
Transferred to a jail in Bologna, Stark continued to expand his terrorist contacts. During this period he received a steady flow of visitors from the British and American consulates. (Curiously, the US government never pressed for his extradition, even though he was wanted on drug charges related to the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.) Stark also communicated on a regular basis with representatives of the Libyan diplomatic corps and had a series of meetings with Italian secret service personnel. Documents show that he was in direct contact with General Vito Miceli, who received $800,000 from the CIA during the early 1970s while serving as chief of Italian military intelligence. Miceli was later implicated in a series of neofascist coup attempts in Italy.
It was quite a juggling act, to be sure, and a judge in Bologna eventually sentenced Stark to fourteen years’ imprisonment and a $60,000 fine for drug trafficking. At his appeals trial Stark changed identities once again, this time passing himself off as “Khouri Ali,” a radical Palestinian. In fluent Arabic he spelled out the details of his autobiography, explaining that he was part of an international terrorist organization headquartered in Lebanon, called “Group 14.” Stark’s appeal failed, and he was sent back to jail. But Italian police took a renewed interest in his case after they captured Enrique Paghera, another terrorist leader who knew Stark. At the time of his arrest Paghera was holding a hand-drawn map of a PLO camp in Lebanon. The map, Paghera confessed, had come from Stark, who also provided a coded letter of introduction. The objective, according to Paghera, was to forge a link with a terrorist organization that was planning to attack embassies.
In June 1978 Graziano Gori, a magistrate in Bologna, was assigned to investigate and clarify Stark’s ties to the US, the Arabs, Italian terrorists, and other mysteries. A few weeks later Gori was killed in a car accident. The Italian government subsequently charged Stark with “armed banditry” for his role in aiding and abetting terrorist activities. But he never stood trial on these charges. True to form, Stark dropped out of sight shortly after he was released from prison in April 1979 on orders from Judge Giorgio Floridia in Bologna. The judge’s decision was extraordinary: he released Stark because of “an impressive series of scrupulously enumerated proofs” that Stark was actually a CIA agent. “Many circumstances suggest that from i960 onwards Stark belonged to the American secret services,” Floridia stated.
The facts about Ronald Stark raise more questions than they answer. Was he a CIA operative throughout his drug dealing days? Or was the espionage link merely the work of a brilliant con artist who played both ends off the middle to his own advantage? An Italian parliamentary commission recently issued a lengthy report on domestic terrorism that included a section called “The Case of Ronald Stark.” The commission asserted that Stark was an adventurer who was used by the CIA. But proof as to exactly when his espionage exploits began is hard to pin down. If Stark was connected to the CIA from i960 on, as Judge Floridia suggested, then the entire Brotherhood operation, with its far-flung smuggling and financial networks, must be reinterpreted. “It could have been that he was employed by an American intelligence agency that wanted to see more psychedelic drugs on the street,” Scully acknowledged. “Then again, he might have tricked the CIA, just like he fooled everyone else.”
Reflecting upon the sixties, a surprising number of counterculture veterans endorsed the notion that the CIA disseminated street acid en masse so as to deflate the political potency of the youth rebellion. “LSD makes people less competent,” contends William Burroughs. “You can see their motivation for turning people on. Very often it’s not necessary to give it more than just a little push. Make it available and the news media takes it up, and there it is. They don’t have to stick their necks out very much.”
Burroughs was one of the first to suspect that the acid craze of the 1960s might have been a manipulated phenomenon—an opinion shared by John Sinclair, the former White Panther leader who once sang the praises of LSD as a revolutionary drug. “It makes perfect sense to me,” Sinclair stated. “We thought at the time that as a result of our LSD-inspired activities great things would happen. And, of course, it didn’t. . . . They were up there moving that shit around. Down on the street, nobody knew what was going on.”
Even Ken Kesey, who still views LSD in a positive light, would not dismiss the possibility that the CIA might have meddled in the drug scene. “Could have been,” Kesey admitted. “But, then again, they were giving us the cream, and once you’ve seen the cream, you know how good it is. And once you know how good it is, you know they can never take it away from you. They can never take that strength away.”
Nearly a decade before Kesey was introduced to psychedelics as part of a government-funded drug study in Palo Alto, the CIA embarked upon a major effort to develop LSD into an effective mind control weapon. The CIA’s behavior modification programs were geared toward domestic as well as foreign populations; targets included selected individuals and large groups of people. But in what way could LSD be utilized to manipulate an individual, let alone a subculture or a social movement? LSD is not a habit-forming substance like heroin, which transforms whole communities and turns urban slums into terrains of human bondage. Whereas opiates elicit a predictable response, both pharmacologically and socially, this is not necessarily the case with psychedelics. The efficacy of acid as an instrument of social control is therefore a rather tenuous proposition.
The CIA came to terms with this fundamental truth about LSD only after years of intense experimentation. At first CIA researchers viewed LSD as a substance that produced a specific reaction (anxiety), but subsequent studies revealed that “set and setting” were important factors in determining its effects. This finding made the drug less reliable as a cloak-and-dagger weapon, and the CIA utilized LSD in actual operations—as an aid to interrogation and a discrediting agent—only on a limited basis during the Cold War. By the mid-1960s the Agency had virtually phased out its in-house acid tests in favor of more powerful chemicals such as BZ and related derivatives, which were shown to be more effective as incapacitants. But that did not mean the CIA had lost all interest in LSD. Instead the emphasis shifted to broader questions related to the social and political impact of the drug. A number of CIA-connected think tanks began to examine the relationship between the grassroots psychedelic scene and the New Left.
An accurate investigation would have shown that sizable amounts of street acid first appeared around college campuses and bohemian enclaves in 1965. This was an exceptionally creative period marked by a new assertiveness among young people. LSD accentuated a spirit of rebellion and helped to catalyze the expectations of many onto greatly expanded vistas. The social environment in which drugs were taken fostered an outlaw consciousness that was intrinsic to the development of the entire youth culture, while the use of drugs encouraged a generalizing of discontent that had significant political ramifications. The very expression of youth revolt was influenced and enhanced by the chemical mind-changers. LSD and marijuana formed the armature of a many-sided rebellion whose tentacles reached to the heights of ego-dissolving delirium, a rebellion as much concerned with the sexual and spiritual as with anything traditionally political. It was a moment of great anticipation, and those who marched in that great Dionysian rap dance were confident that if they put their feet down on history, then history would surely budge.
But the mood had changed dramatically by the end of the decade, and the political fortunes of the New Left quickly plummeted. There were many reasons for this, not the least of which involved covert intervention by the CIA, FBI, and other spy agencies. The internecine conflicts that tore the Movement apart were fomented in part by government subversion. But such interference would have been far less effective if not for the innate vulnerability of the New Left, which emphasized both individual and social transformation as if they were two faces of an integral cultural transition, a rite of passage between a death and a difficult birth. “We had come to a curious place together, all of us,” recalls Michael Rossman.
As politics grew cultural, we realized that deeper forces were involved than had yet been named, or attended to deliberately. We were adrift in questions and potentials: the organizational disintegration of the Movement as a political body was an outer emblem of conceptual incoherence, the inability to synthesize an adequate frame of understanding (and program) to embody all that we had come to realize was essential for the transformation we sought.
An autopsy of the youth movement would show that death resulted from a variety of ills, some self-inflicted, others induced from without. There was the paramilitary bug that came in like the plague after Chicago, a bug transmitted by provocateurs and other government geeks who were welcomed by the Movement’s own incendiaries. A vicious crackdown on all forms of dissent ensued, while domestic violence played on the TV news as a nightly counterpoint to the appalling horror of Vietnam. It was the war, more than anything else, that drove activists to the brink of desperation. If not for the war, the legions of antiauthoritarian youth would never have endured the totalitarian style of the dogmatic crazies and the militant crazies who combined to blow the whole thing apart.
“What subverted the sixties decade,” according to Murray Bookchin, “was precisely the percolation of traditional radical myths, political styles, a sense of urgency, and above all, a heightened metabolism so destructive in its effects that it loosened the very roots of 'the movement' even as it fostered its rank growth.” In this respect the widespread use of LSD contributed significantly to the demise of the New Left, for it heightened the metabolism of the body politic and accelerated all the changes going on—positive and negative, in all their contradictions. In its hyped-up condition the New Left managed to dethrone one president and prevent another from unleashing a nuclear attack on North Vietnam. These were mighty accomplishments, to be sure, but the Movement burnt itself out in the process. It never mastered its own intensity; nor could it stay the course and keep on a sensible political track.
During the intoxicating moments of the late 1960s, many radicals felt they were on the verge of a cataclysmic upheaval, an imminent break, a total revolution. In their dream world apocalypse was never far away. The delusions of grandeur they entertained were amplified by psychedelic drugs to the point that some felt themselves invested with magical powers. They wanted to change the world immediately—or at least as fast as LSD could change a person’s consciousness. By magnifying the impulse toward revolutionism out of context, acid sped up the process by which the Movement became unglued. Even activists who never took an LSD trip were affected by this process.
The use of LSD among young people in the US reached a peak in the late 1960s, shortly after the CIA initiated a series of covert operations designed to disrupt, discredit, and neutralize the New Left. Was this merely a historical coincidence, or did the Agency actually take steps to promote the illicit acid trade? Not surprisingly, CIA spokesmen dismiss such a notion out of hand. “We do not target American citizens,” former CIA director Richard Helms told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1971. “The nation must to a degree take it on faith that we who lead the CIA are honorable men, devoted to the nation’s service.”
Helms' reassurances are hardly comforting in light of his own role as the prime instigator of Operation MK-ULTRA, which utilized unwitting Americans as guinea pigs for testing LSD and other mind-altering substances. During Helms’s tenure as CIA director, the Agency conducted a massive illegal domestic campaign against the antiwar movement and other dissident elements in the US. The New Left was in a shambles when Helms retired from the Agency in 1973. Most of the official records pertaining to the CIA’s drug and mind control projects were summarily destroyed on orders from Helms shortly before his departure. The files were shredded, according to Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, chief of the CIA’s Technical Services Staff, because of “a burgeoning paper problem.” Lost in the process were numerous documents concerning the operational employment of hallucinogenic drugs, including all existing copies of a classified CIA manual titled “LSD: Some Un-Psychedelic Implications.”
What was Helms trying to hide? The wholesale destruction of these memoranda suggests there may have been a lot more to the CIA’s LSD program than the revelations that came to light during the post-Watergate housecleaning of the mid-1970s. Of course, it’s highly improbable that the CIA would ever have drawn up a “smoking gun” document describing the details of a plot to dump millions of hits of acid on the black market. Nor is it likely that the Agency anticipated the catalytic impact of LSD and its disruptive effect on the youth movement. The CIA is not an omniscient, monolithic organization, and there’s no hard evidence that it engineered a great LSD conspiracy. (As in most conspiracy theories, such a scenario vastly overestimates the sophistication of the alleged perpetrator.) If anything, it seems that a social phenomenon as complex and multifaceted as the psychedelic subculture was beyond the control of any single person or entity.
But there’s still the puzzling saga of Ronald Stark, which begs for some kind of explanation. How does one distinguish between an international confidence trickster and a deep-cover spy when both professions are based on pretense and deception? Stark was a man who thrived in a clandestine netherworld where “facts are wiped out by artifacts,” as Norman Mailer wrote of the espionage metaphysic, and “every truth is obliged to live in its denial.” He appeared on the psychedelic scene like a meteor and produced more acid than any other underground source from 1969 through 1972. While pursuing his exploits as an LSD chemist, he communicated on a regular basis with American embassy personnel, and on numerous occasions he hinted of ties with the intelligence community. At one point he told an associate that he shut down his LSD laboratory in France on a tip from the CIA. He also haunted the radical fringes of Paris, London, and Milan during the heyday of the youth rebellion.
What does it all mean? Was Stark a hired provocateur or a fanatical guerrilla capable of reconciling bombs and LSD? When did the CIA learn of his role as a drug dealer, and was his activity tolerated because he passed information on the counterculture and the radical left to the Agency?* Although it is highly improbable that the CIA would have gotten involved in trafficking street acid as a matter of policy, it’s not at all certain that stopping the flow of black market LSD was a particular priority either. Perhaps the best explanation is that certain CIA officials were willing to condone Stark’s exploits in the drug trade as long as he functioned as an informant.
Stark’s name surfaced once again in 1982 when he was arrested in Holland on charges of trafficking hashish, cocaine, and heroin. The following year he was deported without fanfare to the United States, where he was still wanted on drug charges stemming from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love conspiracy case. The entire matter was handled so discreetly that the press never learned of his return. Stark spent a few months in a San Francisco jail until charges were dropped by the US Justice Department, which claimed that too many years had passed to prosecute the case. In December 1984 he died of a heart attack, leaving others to ponder his ambiguous legacy.
Above all Ronald Stark remains an extraordinary international enigma. “A genius, but a tortured soul”—that was how an Italian magistrate described him. Even if he was never anything more than a brilliant private operator, his remarkable career illustrates the tangled web of espionage, crime, and extremist politics that is so much a part of the secret history of LSD—a story as wild and perplexing as the drug itself. Indeed, as Hunter Thompson wrote, “History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of 'history' it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.”
Acid and After
Ronald Stark liked to brag to members of the Brotherhood that he had developed a new process for synthesizing LSD-25 of exceptional quality. But as was often the case with Stark, this was only a partial truth. Actually it was Stark’s assistant in France, a young British chemist named Richard Kemp, who in 1970 discovered the cheap and easy method Stark took credit for. Kemp had been working for Stark in his French laboratories. Eventually they had a falling out, and Kemp left with his payoff—200 grams of pure LSD—and returned to England.
A self-described political revolutionary, Kemp viewed LSD as a tool for furthering the radical cause. While living in a cottage in Wales, he gathered around him a core of like-minded individuals and set up an elaborate network for disseminating his product. During the mid-1970s Kemp’s group succeeded the Brotherhood of Eternal Love as the main psychedelic distribution operation in the world. Kemp’s high-quality acid flowed from the United Kingdom to France, Israel, the Netherlands, Australia, West Germany, and the US. The British smuggling ring, however, had none of the mythos attached to the Brotherhood. Their notoriety would only come after they were busted. For even as Kemp was completing a manufacturing run of a kilo and a half of crystalline LSD, the police were watching him closely.
Scotland Yard assigned twenty-eight detectives to nail Kemp’s operation. The thirteen-month investigation became known as Operation Julie, so named after the key undercover agent, Sergeant Julie Taylor, who penetrated Kemp’s network. (She was immortalized in the song by the British rock group the Clash: “Julie’s been working for the drug squad . . .”) The police arrested a hundred and twenty people, including Kemp, in the spring of 1977. Six million doses of LSD were seized in the raid. (Curiously, all of the acid later disappeared, prompting speculation that the police may have sold the drug.) During the trial the prosecution claimed that Kemp’s group produced half the world’s supply of LSD in the mid-1970s. Kemp, unrepentant to the end, was convicted and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. Sixteen others also received jail terms.
But this wasn’t the end of the Julie story. By quirk of legal necessity, Kemp had to reveal the formula he used for making LSD. Once this new information entered into the public record, it quickly moved along the underground grapevine, sparking a major acid renaissance that continues to this day. A United Nations survey in the early 1980s noted that LSD was reappearing in considerable amounts in many countries. During this period tens of millions of doses were seized in a few busts in California. As any special agent for drug enforcement knows, supply like that means demand. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 8% of today’s high school seniors are using LSD, and 25% of people from eighteen to twenty-six years of age have experimented with hallucinogens.
Acid has indeed outlived the 1960s, but the psychedelic underground has changed in many ways. The recent recrudescence of LSD use has occurred without the press fanfare of years past. As John Lennon noted shortly before his death in 1980, “You don’t hear about it any more, but people are still visiting the cosmos. We must always remember to thank the CIA and the army for LSD. That’s what people forget. . . . They invented LSD to control people and what they did was give us freedom. Sometimes it works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform.”
The most prevalent form of LSD currently available on the black market is blotter paper soaked with the drug. The “blotters” are cut into small squares and adorned with various emblems: R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, rocket ships, the atomic rings, or Walt Disney characters such as Goofy and Mickey Mouse. The dosage level of street acid usually falls between 100 and 125 micrograms, which is half the average dose found on the black market during the 1960s. As one San Francisco-based dealer put it, “It’s just another high now. Doses are lower, just enough to put a smile on your face, give you a buzz, not like the heavy colors and trips of the sixties.”
The return of acid in the 1980s has spawned a new wave of psychedelic rock bands. These acts frequently dress in granny glasses, sport pudding-bowl haircuts, and play hits from the 1960s. In London the psychedelic bands constitute a movement of sorts on the club circuit, where they are known as the “Paisley Underground.” But the bands openly proclaiming themselves psychedelic do not represent a unique genre of music; rather, they blend in with the contemporary pop music scene, where the parameters of personal and group identity have been pushed to the outer limits.
A few of the original psychedelic bands from San Francisco still tour—most notably, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. The Dead made a mystical pact with their fans, vowing to carry the psychedelic torch as long as they can play their music. They still attract the old sixties Deadheads, as well as younger people who feel they are connecting with that era through the music. Cults have formed around legendary rock figures such as Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. (Morrison’s gravesite in Paris is a magnet for young people who regularly come to pay their respects to the Lizard King). Dr. David Smith of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic reports that teenagers today are taking LSD and listening to Beatles records as a rite of passage. “They seek a nostalgic cultural experience, to individually experience what happened in the sixties,” Smith said.
In the same spirit people still visit the Haight as a kind of pilgrimage. They come to the famous corner of Haight and Ashbury as if it were a shrine or a power place. Some take the ritual walk up the street to Golden Gate Park and sit atop “Hippie Hill” near the Polo Fields, where the first be-in was held. A few familiar places remain from the old days, such as the Free Clinic, and scattered street freaks still haunt the neighborhood. But these are ghosts from the past now that the area has been gentrified after ten years as a slum.
Many turned-on youth continue to view LSD as a sacrament and approach the drug experience with due respect and caution. But for others, acid is primarily a recreational buzz. Psychedelics are used by more people than ever before, appealing to a larger cross-section of American society—from young debutantes tripping at the disco to high school joyriders downing acid with their six-packs. LSD has made inroads among blacks, Latins, and gays in addition to middleclass whites. The drug is prevalent on the club scene in big cities, as well as on the college campus. Today’s students, whether buttoned-down or punked-out, seek a strong dose of intense fun, and that’s what acid gives them. LSD parties are common on weekends with psychedelic clans hitting the drugs as heavily as they hit the books. It’s for getting guiltlessly—if not righteously—high. LSD is one among many popular drugs on the campus scene: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, nitrous oxide, Quaaludes, and new compounds such as “ecstasy” (an MDA-related substance) and ketamine (a “psychedelic anesthetic”).
While more people are using psychedelics than ever before, bad trips are much less frequent, largely because the psychosocial matrix surrounding LSD has evolved. When the social and political movements symbolically entangled with LSD collapsed in the early 1970s, the climate informing expectations about the drug lost much of its emotional charge. The new generation of acid trippers has not been weaned on the psychedelic controversies of yesteryear, when taking LSD was tantamount to an act of social defiance. Without the shrill warnings about psychosis or chromosome damage, or all the hubbub about the glories of expanded consciousness, there are fewer freak-outs and untoward incidents.
The recreational use of LSD as a “technology of the self” has its corollaries in the proliferating hi-tech leisure industry that includes computer video games, cable television, home video, and films whose multimillion-dollar special effects threaten to outstrip the theater of the mind. Ways of playing with reality are big business indeed. Many of today’s TV commercials are more “psychedelic” than the most far-out acid poster of the 1960s. (Psychedelic poster art was recently shown in a special exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York). The corporate cooptation of psychedelia is evident in the army’s television ads, which feature flashing images, strobe effects, hard rock, and the slogan “Be all that you can be . . . you can do it in the army.”
The resurgence of LSD in the 1980s is part of a boom in recreational drug usage throughout the US and Western Europe (where a highly politicized counterculture continues to thrive in various cities, most notably Amsterdam and West Berlin). Marijuana is now a $15-to-$20-billion-a-year industry (making it the third-largest American business, behind Exxon and GM), even though federal allocations for drug law enforcement have grown more than 75%, to $1.2 billion, during the last five years. Although marijuana possession is currently a parking ticket fine in some places, the laws governing LSD are as stringent as ever. LSD remains classified as a Schedule I drug, a category reserved for substances deemed to have no medical value whatsoever. Scientific investigations into LSD are at a complete standstill, and psychiatrists who once used the drug for therapeutic purposes are pessimistic about future prospects. Despite—or perhaps because of—these restrictions, an underground network of LSD therapists quietly persists in the United States.
Meanwhile the CIA, which has always been at the cutting edge of developments in psychopharmacology, continues to conduct secret research aimed at creating more sophisticated forms of chemical control. There are new superpowerful mind drugs that affect sensory modalities in highly specific ways. (One substance, for example, only alters auditory perception; under its influence all sounds become atonal, while other human faculties remain unaffected). Scientists have developed other compounds with recreational applications, including aphrodisiacs and a “two-martini pill” that produces a euphoric state without the subsequent hangover. Some of these drugs—such as “designer heroin” and “designer cocaine”—have already moved from the laboratory to the street, and the consequences have been fatal.
The use of acid in a recreational context is a far cry from how the LSD pioneers of the 1950s—both the spies and the doctors—originally envisioned its future. It was Timothy Leary who first spoke of LSD in terms of “hedonic engineering.” He promoted acid as a sacrament of play, the drug of homo ludens. “The American people today are quantum jumps more sophisticated,” Leary said recently. “About consciousness, about the nervous system . . . about self-actualization and self-indulgence, about pleasure being itself a reward. Pleasure is now the number one industry in this country. Recreational travel, entertainment, sensory indulgence. There’s no question about that being Number One. Now that was my goal.”
Leary was granted an early parole for good behavior in 1976, shortly after sensational reports of secret CIA acid tests began to surface in the press. Publicity surrounding the sordid details of the CIA’s drug programs only added to the negative mystique of LSD, giving it an even worse name. For Leary, however, these revelations were something of a pardon—the same government that had put him behind bars for abusing drugs was guilty of far more heinous crimes.
Tim and Joanna split up as soon as he was released from jail. She left for the island of Grenada and points beyond. Her confidant, Dennis Martino, died of an apparent drug overdose in Spain in 1975. It wasn’t long before Leary turned up on the college lecture circuit, hyping space migration and life extension with the same zeal he once displayed for psychedelics. His next venue was nightclubs, where he performed as a “stand-up philosopher,” a self-described “cheerleader for change.” It was soft stuff by sixties standards, but Leary still managed to stir up controversy in his public and private life. When he appeared as a guest on a TV talk show, Art Linkletter called the station. Linkletter, whose twenty-year-old daughter committed suicide in the mid-1960s, blames Leary and LSD for her death.
In February 1979 Leary showed up at an “LSD Reunion” in Los Angeles, hosted by Dr. Oscar Janiger. An animated discussion ensued among the thirty psychedelic pioneers who attended this private gathering. Dr. Humphry Osmond and Laura Huxley were there, along with Sidney Cohen, John Lilly, Willis Harmon, and Nick Bercel. The legendary Captain Al Hubbard, then seventy-seven years of age, swaggered into Janiger’s home wearing his security uniform, with a pistol and a bandolier around his hip. “Oh, Al! I owe everything to you,” Leary greeted the Captain. “The galactic center sent you down just at the right moment.” To which Hubbard responded, “You sure as heck played your part.” It was the last time most of them would see the Captain, for he died a few years later, not long after receiving a card from President Reagan wishing him a happy birthday.
Leary popped up in the news again when he was busted at his home in Beverly Hills in the spring of 1979. But the only drugs found were new brain-changers that were not yet illegal and virtually unknown to the general public. A few years later he went on tour with his old nemesis, G. Gordon Liddy. Both men had come a long way since the Millbrook days, when Liddy first made a name for himself by arresting the High Priest of LSD. Liddy went on to work for CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President) in Washington, serving as a “plumber” and hatchet man for Nixon. In this capacity he proposed dosing columnist Jack Anderson and other “enemies” of the Nixon administration with an LSD-like substance. After doing time for his involvement in the Watergate break-in, he gladly teamed up with Leary for a tongue-in-cheek debate that caricatured their former roles.
The Liddy-Leary spectacle provided additional fodder for a floodtide of antisixties propaganda that has reduced the memory of that era to a battered corpse. Nevertheless, the Shockwaves of those tumultuous years continue to reverberate throughout society. The 1960s remain the watershed of our recent history, and the decade’s warring impulses are still being played out on the cultural and political landscape. Ronald Reagan began his ascent to the White House by riding a crest of backlash sentiment against hippies, blacks, and student radicals in California. When Reagan became president, he “unleashed” the CIA, which continues to function as an international Pinkerton organization—company cops running amok in the Third World and spying on domestic dissidents. Indeed, the concerns of the 1960s have hardly withered away. Racism, sexism, militarism, and economic injustice are still the burning issues of the day. Opposition movements arising in response to Reagan will champion these same causes. And the new wave of political activists will also inherit the complex and unresolved legacy of the 1960s.
The tremendous outburst of energy in the sixties did not succeed in revamping the American power structure, but it had a profound effect in other ways. Avenues of choice were irrevocably opened, and a new set of options became available to everyone. Experimenting with psychedelic drugs was one of these options. This practice, now firmly rooted in the culture for good or ill, will endure no matter what the legal restrictions may be. People are still starving with the same hungers, and they will take LSD to satisfy a deep-rooted need for wholeness and meaning. In all likelihood acid will continue to ravage as many people as it liberates and deceive as many as it enlightens. Whether it will play a more significant role in the future remains a matter of conjecture, for the psychedelic experience carries the impress of a constellation of social forces that are always shifting and up for grabs.
It’s not over yet.
Since Acid Dreams was first published, six years ago, we have been treated to a series of congressional and news media revelations about CIA involvement with international drug traffickers. Massive amounts of still-unaccounted-for U.S. aid to Pakistani military officers and Afghan guerrilla leaders helped grease a major arms-for-heroin pipeline in Southwest Asia during the Reagan-Bush era. Much of the dirty cash was laundered through institutions such as the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which functioned, not coincidentally, as a conduit for CIA operations in the region.
At the same time in Central America, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and high-level CIA personnel aided and abetted big-time cocaine smugglers who were ferrying weapons to the Nicaraguan contras. North and three other Iran-contra conspirators were banned for life from Costa Rica after that country’s government came up with evidence of the Reagan administration’s role in secretly facilitating the flow of narcotics—all this while U.S. officials were preaching about the war on drugs.
Then came the December 1989 Panama invasion, which the U.S. military undertook for the stated purpose of nabbing a drug pusher, General Manuel Noriega, who had been on the CIA’s payroll for years. Noriega is now standing trial in Miami on charges of cocaine trafficking, while his U.S.-installed successors in Panama revel in narco-dollars.
If the Noriega case tells us anything, it’s that U.S. intelligence officials will dutifully ignore evidence of dope smuggling when they deem it expeditious to do so. That appears to be what happened with acid kingpin Ronald Stark, who, like Noriega, was adept at playing many sides off of one another.
“Drugs and covert operations go together like fleas on a dog,” said former CIA analyst David MacMichael. When congressional probers scratched the surface of the drug trade, it became clear that certain cocaine and heroin dealers were okay by the CIA as long as they snorted the anticommunist line. Anything goes in the fight against communism—that could also have been the motto of MK-ULTRA and related CIA mind control projects hatched during the Cold War.
A number of victims of CIA drug tests have since come forward, seeking compensation for the injuries they sustained and the hardships their loved ones endured. In 1988 nine former psychiatric patients at Allain Memorial Hospital in Montreal reluctantly agreed to a meager out-of-court settlement after suing the CIA and the Canadian government. Adding insult to injury, during the legal proceedings a CIA attorney compared the plaintiffs to mice in a scientific laboratory, but the Agency steadfastly denied any responsibility for the cruelty they had underwritten. No apologies were forthcoming from the CIA or the Canadian government, which also sanctioned the controversial research program at Allain.
A Federal judge in Manhattan awarded $700,000 to the family of Harold Blauer, the tennis professional who died nearly four decades ago during an army chemical warfare experiment. Jim Stanley, another unwitting guinea pig in an army drug test, took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1987 ruled that enlisted personnel can’t sue for injuries related to their service. After this judicial rebuff, Stanley testified before Congress that in 1958 he volunteered to test protective clothing for the army but instead was given a clear liquid to drink at Edgewood Arsenal, headquarters of the Army Chemical Corps. Stanley subsequently experienced severe behavioral changes that ruined his marriage and adversely affected his job.
As a result of congressional pressure, the Defense Department eventually consented to pay Stanley $625,000 in damages. But Congress assiduously sidestepped one of the thornier issues raised by the Stanley affair. For nearly twenty years the staff at Edgewood included Nazi scientists who were brought to the United States after World War II under the auspices of Project Paperclip, a program designed to harness the skills of German researchers and technicians. At least eight Nazi scientists were employed by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, where they tinkered with deadly nerve gas and super-hallucinogenic drugs. Some of these men were involved in administering psychochemicals to soldiers like Stanley.
Meanwhile, CIA drug research plows ahead. Agency spokespersons are tight-lipped about this activity, but a former CIA contract employee indicates that much of the work is being conducted at universities in foreign countries.
Even as the ghosts of the Cold War continue to haunt us, the psychedelic underground marches on. According to U.S. drug authorities, a recent study showed that more high school students have tried LSD than cocaine. It’s not uncommon for today’s chemical astronauts to blast off by swallowing LSD-laced pictures of cartoon characters like the Simpsons. One way or another, the Promethean fire still burns in the local soul.
December 17, 1991