The greatest event that never happened?
esnl’s pick would be the time a timely intervention by a senior spook spiked subordinates’ plans to spike the punch at The Company’s annual Christmas party with a generous dose of lysergic acid diethylamide.
Imagine being a fly on the wall at that party!
While the Central Intelligence Agency and LSD might seem an incongruous mix, there’s good reason for arguing that the CIA was directly responsible for the psychedelic drug explosion of the 1960’s and the rise of the drug counterculture.
The rise of the counterculture, while hailed as an event that threatened the existing political structure, may have instead blunted the edge of a radical movement that united large numbers of folks of all ages and backgrounds in a demand for a profound transformation of American society.
What can be stated with certainty is that many of the seminal figures of the counterculture were first introduced to LSD and other mind-altering drugs by scientists and physicians who were conducting CIA-funded research and attending conferences funded by CIA-front foundations.
esnl interviewed many of the researchers while working as a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, later as associate editor of Psychology Today magazine, then while writing his second book, Deadly Blessings.
I met the Menlo Park researcher who gave Ken Kesey his first dose of acid and the Los Angeles psychiatrists who gave the drug to Henry and Claire Booth Luce, Anais Nin, Alan Watts, Cary Grant, and a host of other luminaries. All were part of the CIA-enabled network.
It may seem strange to describe rock-ribbed old school publishing magnate Henry Luce as a seminal countercultural figure, but it was his Life magazine that first shone spotlight—brightly flattering—onto the realm of psychedelic drugs.
Sidney Cohen, a shrink at the Westwood Veterans Administration hospital in LA’s Westwood neighborhood, administered the then-legal drug to the Luces at their ranch home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Cohen told me he suddenly
realized Luce had vanished. He panicked, realizing that Luce might’ve wandered off into the surrounding desert and gotten lost. A nightmare scenario briefly played out in his mind, a horror story about winding up with the death of one of the nation’s most powerful men on his hands.
A quick search of nearby desert turned up Luce, standing before a bunch of Saguaro cacti, his arms scribing neat, synchronized movements through the desert air. Relieved, but somewhat concerned, Cohen asked Luce if everything was alright. Luce looked back, his face radiant with awe. He was conducting a botanical orchestra, and joyous that he wasn’t tone deaf any more. He was really hearing music for the first time.
Thus the euphoria with which Life gave the nation its first colorful look at mind-altering, coverage that was at once both awed and reverential. It was Life’s coverage that enticed Betty Eisner, psychologist and a central figure in Deadly Blessings, to take her first acid trip. It was Cohen, her teacher, who administered the drug.
Eisner herself became an LSD therapist, providing drugs to patients in individual sessions and in groups, which would later form into communes filled with bright, achievement-oriented followers. Patients included one of the world’s leading mathematicians, a renowned jazz musician, and a prominent television producer, all before LSD became a street drug.
The Central Intelligence Agency was at the heart of it all, bankrolling the folks who gave the country its first and highly promising impression of the drug, an account certain to pique the interest of the inquisitive and open-minded.
Most of the early advocates saw LSD as an initiatory experience, one to be conducted in carefully controlled environments and under the watchful control of a suitable initiate.
It was Ken Kesey, initiated by a CIA-funded researcher, who shattered the old paradigm with the introduction of his Acid Tests, concerts where often-unsuspecting attendees would be dosed by the Koolaid handed out by his Merry Pranksters.
LSD detonated a revolution in music, design, crafts, clothing, and lifestyles. What it didn’t initiate was a political revolution.
While many young radicals dropped acid and kept on protesting, former researcher Timothy Leary, later revealed as a CIA snitch, preached a gospel of dropping out and “doing your own thing.”
The sharpest edge of a rising movement had been dulled, rendered quiescent and content to withdraw from events of the larger world.
Only the draft remained to prompt the anxiety of the children of the middle class, and what that was gone, the communes closed and consumer culture prevailed.
The folks making the real money and steadily amassing political power couldn’t have been happier if they had planned it all out.
Oh, and did you know that back before it all started the CIA had bought up all the stock of the Swiss company that first made the drug and had recruited an American Big Pharma stalwart to make it here at home? And that the CIA can’t account where all that acid went?
Next: Bumbling soldiers, Manchurian candidates, and mysterious deaths.