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Dana Katherine Scully is a fictional character in the Foxscience fiction-supernatural television series The X-Files, played by Gillian Anderson. Scully is an FBIagent and a medical doctor (M.D.), partnered with fellow Special Agent Fox Mulder for the first seven, and the tenth, seasons, and with John Doggett in the eighth and ninth seasons. In the television series, they work out of a cramped basement office at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. to investigate unsolved cases labeled "X-Files". In 2002, Scully left government employment, and in 2008 she began working as a surgeon in Our Lady of Sorrows, a private Catholic hospital – where she stayed for seven years, until rejoining the FBI. In contrast to Mulder's credulous "believer" character, Scully is the skeptic for the first seven seasons, choosing to base her beliefs on what science can prove. She later on becomes a "believer" after Mulder's abduction at the end of season seven.

Scully has appeared in all but five episodes of The X-Files, and in the 20th Century Fox films The X-Files, released in 1998, and The X-Files: I Want to Believe, released ten years later. The episodes she does not appear in are "3", "Zero Sum", "Unusual Suspects" and "Travelers" plus "The Gift" (excluding archive footage). The eleventh season will mark Anderson's final time portraying the character.[1]


Dana Katherine Scully was born on February 23, 1964 in Annapolis, Maryland, to William (Don S. Davis) and Margaret Scully (Sheila Larken), into a close-knit Catholic family with Irish ancestry.[2][3] She has an older brother, Bill Jr., an older sister, Melissa, and a younger brother, Charles, who is never seen on the show except in flashbacks.[4] Scully's father was a navy captain, who died of a heart attack in early January 1994.[5] Dana Scully grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and later in San Diego, California. As a young girl, Scully's favorite book was Moby-Dick and she came to nickname her father "Ahab" from the book, and in return, he called her "Starbuck." Due to this she named her dog Queequeg.[6]

Scully attended The University of Maryland, and in 1986 received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics. Her undergraduate thesis was titled Einstein's Twin Paradox: A New Interpretation.[7] While in medical school at Stanford University she was recruited by the FBI; she accepted the agency's offer of employment because she felt she could distinguish herself there. After two years in the bureau, Division Chief Scott Blevins assigned her to work with agent Fox Mulder.


Upon being partnered with Mulder, Scully maintained her medical skills by acting as a forensic pathologist, often performing or consulting on autopsies of victims on X-Files cases.[8]

In season two, Scully was kidnapped by an ex-FBI agent turned mental patient named Duane Barry,[9] and then taken from Barry by a military covert operation that were working with the alien conspirators,[10] but was later returned.[3] In season three she found out that a super hi-tech microchip has been implanted in the back of her neck. After having it removed, she developed cancer in the fourth season[11] and was hospitalized after the cancer became terminal. She was saved after Mulder broke into the Department of Defense to retrieve another chip to be implanted back into her neck. At the time, Scully was also undergoing experimental medical treatments and was having a dramatic renewal of her faith.[12]

Scully was pronounced infertile during the fifth season. In the season five episode "Emily", Scully discovers that she unknowingly mothered a daughter during her abduction (in season 2). Her daughter Emily was adopted by another family. Emily died shortly afterwards, and they were unable to further investigate after Emily's body went missing. In the seventh season finale, "Requiem", Scully mysteriously became pregnant.[13] The child, named William, after her own father, as well as Mulder's father, was born at the end of the eighth season.[14] The show did not initially reveal the cause of Scully's pregnancy, but later episodes and movies would see Mulder and Scully call William "our son"; the pair had unsuccessfully tried for a child through in vitro fertilization. Around this time, Mulder was fired from the FBI by Deputy Director Alvin Kersh,[15] and Scully left the field to teach forensics at Quantico.[16] William was given up for adoption during the end of the ninth season after Scully felt she could no longer provide the safety that William needed.[17] William was a "miracle child", of some importance to the alien conspirators. He demonstrated extraordinary powers, including telekinesis.[18]

In The X-Files: I Want to Believe she is shown working as a medical doctor at the Our Lady of Sorrows, a private Catholic hospital in Virginia. Early on in the film Scully is contacted by the FBI who are looking for Fox Mulder in the hope that he will assist them with the investigation of a missing FBI agent. In exchange for his help the charges against him will be dropped. Unlike Mulder, Scully was apparently not considered a fugitive by the FBI. However, she did continue to maintain her romantic relationship with Mulder throughout the six years that he was on the run from the American government. In the movie, they are shown to be living together in a secluded house.[19]

In the first episode of season 10, "My Struggle" (2016), it is shown that Scully is still working as a doctor for Our Lady Of Sorrows hospital, now performing surgeries on children with severe birth defects. It is revealed that Scully has extraterrestrialDNA, as the test that she performs on herself confirms. After the FBI reopens the X-Files, fourteen years after their closure, she rejoins the bureau.[20] In "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster", Scully jokes that she often enters dangerous situations alone due to the immortality she obtained during "Tithonus", which was first referenced in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose". At the end of "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster", Scully steals a dog from an animal control center, named Daggoo. which is named after yet another character from Moby-Dick.[21] In "Home Again" Dana's mother, Margaret Scully, dies after suffering a heart attack.[22] In the show's tenth season finale, "My Struggle II", Scully is in a race against time to save humankind, creating a vaccine from her own extraterrestrial DNA.[23]


Throughout the series, her Catholic faith served as a cornerstone, although a contradiction to her otherwise rigid skepticism of the paranormal.[24] Due to her career in science and medicine, she drifted from her Catholic Christian upbringing but remained somewhat entrenched in her religious beliefs. Scully almost always wears a gold cross necklace, given to her by her mother as a Christmas present when she was fifteen. When she was abducted by Duane Barry, a self-proclaimed alien abductee,[10] it was the only item left behind in Barry's getaway car. Mulder wore it as a talisman of her until Scully miraculously reappeared in a Washington, D.C. hospital.[25] After she recovered from the trauma of her abduction, he returned the cross to her.[3]

The abduction visibly tested the limits of her faith — Mulder believes that Scully was taken aboard an alien spaceship and was subjected to tests. However, because of Scully's skepticism, she believes she was kidnapped by men and subjected to tests, not aliens. She believes she could have been brought there by Barry, and she began to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder on a case involving a murdering fetishist named Donnie Pfaster.[26] This psychological re-victimization continued after Pfaster escaped from prison five years later and again attempted to kill her in her home, ending only after she fatally shot him. She struggled with what motivated her actions to kill Pfaster, and questioned whether it was God compelling her to kill him, or "something else."[27]

Sometime after her recovery from cancer, Scully began to regularly attend Mass again. At the request of Father McCue, Scully got involved in a case concerning a paraplegic girl who was found dead in a kneeling position with her palms outstretched and eye sockets charred. After Scully discovered the girl was part of a set of quadruplets and two more were murdered, Father McCue shared with her the story of the seraphim and the nephilim, which Scully interpreted as a possible explanation for the deformations and deaths of the girls. Scully continued to have visions of Emily, and when the last girl died, Scully believed she was returning the girl to God. Upon her return to Washington D.C., she went to confession to gain peace of mind and acceptance for Emily's death.[28] In confession she regretted her decision of letting the girl go. This suggests Scully had doubts about her faith.

In the sixth season episode "Milagro", Agent Scully’s vulnerability is exposed. In this episode, the murderer takes the victim’s heart out. The suspect, a writer named Phillip Padgett, has a particular interest in Scully and is fascinated by her beauty and personality. When she goes to a church to observe a painting, the writer is there and talks to her about the Sacred Heart of Jesus. During the conversation he says she visits the church because she likes art, but not as place of worship. Scully doesn’t say otherwise and later she says to Agent Mulder the writer told her her life story. All this suggests that Scully isn’t a devout Roman Catholic, although she attempted to approach again the Catholic community and the Catholic faith to which she was devout in her youth, after handling the strange case presented in "Revelations" and also after dealing with life-threatening cancer during the fourth season.


While in medical school, she carried on an affair with her married instructor, Dr. Daniel Waterston who may have been the "college boyfriend" mentioned in "Trust No 1". It is never indicated in the show whether or not the relationship became sexual. According to Anderson in the episode's audio commentary, Scully came very close to having an affair with the married Waterston but left before she could break up his marriage. The end of her relationship with Waterston came about following her decision to go into the FBI.[29] After her entrance to the FBI's Academy at Quantico, Scully began a year-long relationship with her Academy instructor, Jack Willis, with whom she shared a birthday.[4]

Towards the end of the series, her previously platonic friendship with partner Fox Mulder developed into a romantic relationship. When Mulder was injured in a boat crash, he awakened in a hospital and told Scully that he loved her.[30] In the season six episode "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas", a ghost that seems to know the inner workings of Scully's mind suggests that her source of intimacy for Mulder comes from her desire to always prove him wrong.[31] By the end of the sixth season, Mulder and Scully were increasingly shown enjoying more light-hearted activities together, such as practicing baseball,[32] using FBI funds for a "night out" during a movie premiere,[33] and watching a movie at Mulder's apartment.[34] In the season seven episode "all things", Scully is shown getting dressed in Mulder's bathroom, while Mulder sleeps, apparently naked, in the bedroom.[29] In "Trust No 1" a man reveals to Scully that he works for a "new" Syndicate like-organization, and his job requires him and a few other colleagues to spy on her around the clock. Due to this he knows intimate details of Scully's personal life, right down to her "natural hair color" (Titian, as later confirmed by Chris Carter).[35] It is suggested by this man that Scully ultimately initiated a sexual relationship with Mulder, as he remarked that he was very surprised when she invited Mulder "into her bed".[36] The last scene of the series finale featured Mulder and Scully holding each other on a bed, facing an uncertain future together in love.[37]

In the film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, which takes place six years later, Mulder and Scully are still in a relationship. Scully was concerned that Mulder's continuing pursuit of the unknown was taking its toll on their relationship and they could not be together if he couldn't "escape the darkness". However, the film ends with the couple sharing a passionate kiss, and in the "secret ending" after the majority of the credits, a happily smiling Scully is seen in a small rowboat with Mulder, both clad in swimwear, in a tropical sea, having taken him up on his offer to run away together.[19] In the tenth season it is revealed that Scully and Mulder are no longer a couple, as she chose to leave him.[20] In the third episode of the eleventh season, "Plus One", Scully and Mulder are intimate again.

Conceptual history[edit]

Chris Carter named Scully after his favorite sportscaster, Vin Scully of the Los Angeles Dodgers. John Doggett was likewise named after Vin Scully's longtime broadcasting partner, Jerry Doggett.[38] Scully's character was also inspired by Jodie Foster's portrayal of Clarice Starling in the film The Silence of the Lambs.[39] Scully was a known name in UFO lore. In 1950 the less than credible Behind the Flying Saucers was published, written by Variety columnist Frank Scully. The name Scully was also used in 1976 film All the President's Men, an obvious inspiration for the show, in a list of names who work for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.

The casting for Scully caused a conflict between Carter and the Fox network. Carter had chosen 24-year-old Gillian Anderson, who Carter felt was perfect for the role.[40] Of her audition, Carter said, "she came in and read the part with a seriousness and intensity that I knew the Scully character had to have and I knew [...] she was the right person for the part".[41] However, Fox executives had wanted a more glamorous "bombshell" for the part, hoping that this would lead to the series involving a romantic element. This led Carter to insist that he did not want the roles of Mulder and Scully to become romantically involved.[40] Carter decided Scully would be the skeptic to play against established stereotypes; typically on television the quality was attributed to a male.[41] Because Duchovny was much taller than Anderson, during scenes where Mulder and Scully stand or walk next to each other Anderson stood on "the Gilly-Board", an apple box named after her.[42]

Scully appears in every episode of the ten-season series with the exceptions of "3", "Zero Sum", "Unusual Suspects" and "Travelers". She has appeared outside The X-Files on numerous occasions, the most notable being in the Millennium (also created by Chris Carter) episode "Lamentation," in which the main character, Frank Black, visits the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and Mulder and Scully are briefly seen descending a stairway. In fact, they are Duchovny and Anderson's stand-ins.

An animated version of Scully, which featured the voice acting of Anderson, would appear on season 8 of The Simpsons, in the episode "The Springfield Files", as well as Canadian animated series Eek! The Cat, on the episode "Eek Space 9". The animated television series ReBoot featured characters Fax Modem and Data Nully, obvious spoofs of Mulder and Scully, in the episode "Trust No One". Anderson provided her voice work for the episode, but co-star Duchovny declined.


"I love it when women come up to me and tell me I'm a positive influence on their lives and the lives of their young daughters. That's a great feeling."
— Gillian Anderson talking about the reaction to Dana Scully from female fans.[43]

Anderson won many awards for her portrayal of Special Agent Scully during the ten seasons of The X-Files, including an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1997,[44] a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Drama Series in 1997,[45] two SAG Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series in 1996 and 1997[46][47] and a Saturn Award for Best Actress on Television in 1997. In total, Anderson received for the role, four Emmy nominations,[48] four Golden Globe nominations,[49] nine SAG nominations[50] and eight Saturn nominations.[50]

Film critic Scott Mendelson, writing in The Huffington Post, cited Scully as an example of strong female characters on television, calling her "one of the most iconic characters in the science-fiction genre".[51]Radio Times's Laura Pledger also named her as a strong TV woman, placing her at #1.[52] Rebecca Traister of opined that Scully had a better character arc than Mulder. She wrote, "The very fact that her character was such a hard sell made her repeated brushes with the supernatural all the more powerful. Mulder's desire to believe was so expansive, his credulity so flexible, that it's not as though he was ever going to have either shaken from him. But Scully's surety was solid, stable, rigid; every time she saw something she thought she'd never see, we saw it crack, sparks fly from it. She was forced to question herself, grow, change".[53] She praised her for being more "rational, resilient, [and] mature" than her partner and for their mature relationship.[53] In a review of "Irresistible", Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club wrote that it was a cliché to put Scully in danger, as "Scully is [the show's] heart, and any time she's in danger, it feels like the show itself is about to be stabbed through the heart".[54]

The character of Scully has become something of a sci-fi heroine due to her intelligence and resilience, frequently appearing on lists of important female science fiction characters, such as Total Sci-Fi Online's list of The 25 Women Who Shook Sci-Fi, where she came in fourth.[55]TV Squad named her the thirteenth greatest woman on television,[56] while the site also listed her among the most memorable female science fiction television characters.[57] She is also often cited as being an unlikely sex symbol, frequently being included in lists of sexy TV characters.[58][59] She was listed in's Top 50 Favorite Female TV Characters.[60] The pairing Mulder/Scully was ranked number 15 on Sleuth Channel's poll of America's Top Sleuths.[61]

Angelica Jade Bastién of Vulture emphasized the importance of Scully's character in popular culture by listing all the strong female characters she inspired or may have influenced in some aspects, including: Temperance "Bones" Brennan of Bones, Peggy Carter of Agent Carter, Veronica Mars of Veronica Mars, Olivia Moore of iZombie, Dr. Maura Isles of Rizzoli & Isles, Olivia Benson of Law and Order: SVU, Joan Watson of Elementary, Sydney Bristow of Alias, Abbie Mills of Sleepy Hollow, Zoë Washburne of Firefly, Stella Gibson (another character portrayed by Anderson) of The Fall and Olivia Dunham of Fringe. Jade Bastién wrote: "Do all the characters Scully has influenced live up to her? Definitely not. Gillian Anderson's performance and her chemistry with David Duchovny aren't exactly elements that can be replicated. But these characters prove that Scully isn't only the heart of The X-Files, but also the character who had the most profound influence on popular culture".[62]

Indiewire's Liz Shannon Miller ranked Scully as the #1 most important character of The X-Files, writing: "Scully's legacy is so important in so many ways, from giving us the gift of Gillian Anderson's acting, to inspiring an entire generation of young women to pursue careers in STEM. Intelligent, loyal, flawed and brave, Scully was the show's beating heart and saving grace even in its lowest years. As Chris Carter himself has said: 'It's Scully's show'."[63]

"The Scully Effect"[edit]

The character is believed to have initiated a phenomenon referred to as "The Scully Effect"; as the medical doctor and the FBI Special Agent inspired many young women to pursue careers in science, medicine and law enforcement, and as a result brought a perceptible increase in the number of women in those fields.[64][65] At the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con International, Anderson noted that she has long been aware of "The Scully Effect" and stated: "We got a lot of letters all the time, and I was told quite frequently by girls who were going into the medical world or the science world or the FBI world or other worlds that I reigned, that they were pursuing those pursuits because of the character of Scully. And I said, 'Yay!'"[66]Anne Simon, a biology professor and a science adviser for the series recalls: "I asked my Intro Bio class back then how many of them were influenced by the character of Scully on The X-Files to go into science and half of the hands in the room went up. That's huge! That was saying that the show was really having an effect."[67] "The Scully Effect" remains a subject of academic inquiry.[68]


  1. ^MacDonald, Lindsay (January 10, 2018). "Gillian Anderson Confirms She's Leaving The X-Files". TV Guide. Retrieved January 17, 2018. 
  2. ^Michael Lange (director); Howard Gordon & Chris Carter (writers). "Miracle Man". The X-Files. Season 1. Episode 18. FOX. 
  3. ^ abcR. W. Goodwin (director); Glen Morgan & James Wong (writers). "One Breath (X-Files Episode)". The X-Files. Season 8. Episode 2. FOX. 
  4. ^ abDavid Nutter (director); Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon (writers). "Lazarus". The X-Files. Season 1. Episode 15. FOX Home Entertainment. 
  5. ^Kim Manners (director); Glen Morgan & James Wong (writers). "Beyond the Sea". The X-Files. Season 1. Episode 13. FOX. 
  6. ^Kim Manners (director); Kim Newton (writer). "Quagmire". The X-Files. Season 3. Episode 22. FOX. 
  7. ^Glen Morgan (director); Glen Morgan (writer). "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man". The X-Files. Season 4. Episode 7. Fox Home Entertainment. 
  8. ^Robert Mandel (director); Chris Carter (writer). "Pilot". The X-Files. Season 1. Episode 1. FOX. 
  9. ^Chris Carter (director); Chris Carter (writer). "Duane Barry". The X-Files. Season 2. Episode 5. FOX. 
  10. ^ abMichael Lange (director); Paul Brown (writer). "Ascension". The X-Files. Season 2. Episode 6. FOX. 
  11. ^Rob Bowman (director); Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan & John Shiban (writers). "Memento Mori". The X-Files. Season 4. Episode 15. FOX. 
  12. ^R. W. Goodwin (director); Chris Carter (writer). "Redux". The X-Files. Season 5. Episode 1 & 2. FOX. 
  13. ^Kim Manners (director); Chris Carter (writer). "Requiem". The X-Files. Season 5. Episode 1 & 2. FOX. 
  14. ^Kim Manners (director); Chris Carter (writer). "Existence". The X-Files. Season 8. Episode 21. FOX. 
  15. ^Rod Hardy (director); Steven Maeda (writer). "Vienen". The X-Files. Season 8. Episode 18. FOX. 
  16. ^Kim Manners (director); Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz (writers). "Nothing Important Happened Today". The X-Files. Season 9. Episode 1 & 2. FOX. 
  17. ^David Duchovny (director); Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz & David Duchovny (writers). "William". The X-Files. Season 9. Episode 16. FOX. 
  18. ^Kim Manners (director); Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz (writers). "Redux". The X-Files. Season 9. Episode 9. FOX. 
  19. ^ abChris Carter (director); Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz (writers). "The X-Files: I Want to Believe". The X-Files. Episode 2 of 2. FOX. 
  20. ^ ab"My Struggle". The X-Files. Season 10. Episode 1. FOX. 
  21. ^"Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster". The X-Files. Season 10. Episode 3. FOX. 
  22. ^"Home Again". The X-Files. Season 10. Episode 4. FOX. 
  23. ^"My Struggle II". The X-Files. Season 10. Episode 6. FOX. 
  24. ^Kowalski, Dean (2007). The Philosophy of The X-Files. University Press of Kentucky. p. 50. 
  25. ^David Nutter (director); Chris Ruppenthal, Glen Morgan & James Wong (writers). "3". The X-Files. Season 2. Episode 7. FOX. 
  26. ^David Nutter (director); Chris Carter (writer). "Irresistible". The X-Files. Season 2. Episode 13. FOX. 
  27. ^Rob Bowman (director); Chip Johannessen (writer). "Orison". The X-Files. Season 7. Episode 7. FOX. 
  28. ^Allen Coulter (director); Frank Spotnitz & John Shiban (writers). "All Souls". The X-Files. Season 5. Episode 17. FOX. 
  29. ^ abGillian Anderson (director); Gillian Anderson (writer). "all things". The X-Files. Season 7. Episode 17. FOX. 
  30. ^Chris Carter (director & writer). "Triangle". The X-Files. Season 6. Episode 3. FOX. 
  31. ^Chris Carter (director & writer). "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas". The X-Files. Season 6. Episode 6. FOX. 
  32. ^David Duchovny (director & writer). "The Unnatural". The X-Files. Season 6. Episode 19. FOX. 
  33. ^Allen Coulter (director); Frank Spotnitz & John Shiban (writers). "Hollywood A.D.". The X-Files. Season 7. Episode 19. FOX. 
  34. ^Allen Coulter (director); Frank Spotnitz & John Shiban (writers). "Je Souhaite". The X-Files. Season 7. Episode 21. FOX. 
  35. ^"Chris Carter AMA Reddit 2014". Reddit. February 27, 2014. Retrieved June 18, 2016. 
  36. ^Tony Wharmby (director); Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz (writers). "Trust No 1". The X-Files. Season 9. Episode 8. FOX. 
  37. ^Kim Manners (director); Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz (writers). "The Truth". The X-Files. Season 9. Episode 19 & 20. FOX. 
  38. ^Levine, Ken (January 30, 2011). "Naming characters on TV shows". Retrieved January 30, 2011. 
  39. ^Lowry, p.15
  40. ^ abLowry, pp.15–17
  41. ^ abChris Carter (narrator). Chris Carter Speaks about Season One Episodes: Pilot (DVD). Fox. 
  42. ^Anderson, Gillian (May 16, 2013). "I am Gillian Anderson – AMA!". Reddit. Retrieved May 16, 2013. 
  43. ^"Gillian Anderson Bio". Ask Men. 
  44. ^"GA Wins Emmy in '97 – YouTube.Com". 
  45. ^"GA and DD win GGS in 1997 – YouTube.Com". 
  46. ^"GA wins SAG award in '96 – YouTube.Com". 
  47. ^"SAGs – 1997 Gillian Anderson – YouTube.Com". 
  48. ^"Gillian Anderson - Television Academy - Emmy Awards". Primetime Emmy Awards. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  49. ^"Gillian Anderson – Golden Globe Official Website". Golden Globe Award. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  50. ^ ab"Gillian Anderson – Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  51. ^Mendelson, Scott (February 3, 2011). "Why Wonder Woman Belongs on Television, Where Female Superheroes Thrive". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 11, 2012. 
  52. ^Pledger, Laura (March 8, 2012). "Ten Strong TV women". Radio Times. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  53. ^ abTraister, Rebecca (July 24, 2008). "Scully have I loved". Retrieved March 11, 2012. 
  54. ^VanDerWerff, Todd (June 6, 2010). ""Irresistible"/"Die Hand Die Verletzt"/"Fresh Bones"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved March 11, 2012. 
  55. ^

"MKULTRA" redirects here. For other uses, see MKULTRA (disambiguation).

Not to be confused with Edgewood Arsenal human experiments.

Project MKUltra, also called the CIA mind control program, is the code name given to a program of experiments on human subjects, at times illegal, designed and undertaken by the United States Central Intelligence Agency.[1] Experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations and torture in order to weaken the individual to force confessions through mind control. Organized through the Scientific Intelligence Division of the CIA, the project coordinated with the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Army's Chemical Corps.[2]

The operation began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967, and officially halted in 1973.[3] The program engaged in many illegal activities,[4][5][6] including the use of unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy.[4](p74)[7][8][9] MKUltra used numerous methods to manipulate people's mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis,[10][11]sensory deprivation, isolation and verbal abuse, as well as other forms of psychological torture.[12][13]

The scope of Project MKUltra was broad, with research undertaken at 80 institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, as well as hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical companies.[14] The CIA operated through these institutions using front organizations, although sometimes top officials at these institutions were aware of the CIA's involvement.[15] As the US Supreme Court later noted in CIA v. Sims 471 U.S. 159 (1985), MKULTRA was:

concerned with "the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior." The program consisted of some 149 subprojects which the Agency contracted out to various universities, research foundations, and similar institutions. At least 80 institutions and 185 private researchers participated. Because the Agency funded MKUltra indirectly, many of the participating individuals were unaware that they were dealing with the Agency.[16]

Although the Supreme Court sided with the CIA, in that sources' names could be redacted for their protection, it nonetheless validated the existence of MKULTRA to be used in future court cases and confirmed that the CIA for 14 years performed clandestine experiments on human behavior.

Between 1953 and 1966, the Central Intelligence Agency financed a wide-ranging project, code-named MKULTRA, concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.[16]

Project MKUltra was first brought to public attention in 1975 by the Church Committee of the U.S. Congress, and a Gerald Ford commission to investigate CIA activities within the United States. Investigative efforts were hampered by the fact that CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed in 1973; the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission investigations relied on the sworn testimony of direct participants and on the relatively small number of documents that survived Helms's destruction order.[17]

In 1977, a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered a cache of 20,000 documents relating to project MKUltra, which led to Senate hearings later that same year.[4][18] In July 2001, some surviving information regarding MKUltra was declassified.

Forty-four American colleges or universities, 15 research foundations or chemical or pharmaceutical companies including Sandoz (now Novartis) and Eli Lilly and Company, 12 hospitals or clinics (in addition to those associated with universities), and three prisons are known to have participated in MKUltra.[19][20]



The project's intentionally obscure CIA cryptonym is made up of the digraphMK, meaning the project was sponsored by the agency's Technical Services Staff, followed by the word Ultra (which had previously been used to designate the most secret classification of World War II intelligence). Other related cryptonyms include Project MKNAOMI and Project MKDELTA.

Headed by Sidney Gottlieb, the MKUltra project began on the order of CIA director Allen Welsh Dulles on April 13, 1953.[21] Its aim was to develop mind-controlling drugs for use against the Soviet bloc in response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea.[22] The CIA wanted to use similar methods on their own captives. The CIA also showed interest in being able to manipulate foreign leaders with such techniques,[23] and would later invent several schemes to drug Fidel Castro. They often conducted experiments without the subjects' knowledge or consent.[24] In some cases, academic researchers being funded through grants from CIA front organizations were unaware the CIA was using their work for these purposes.[25]

The project attempted to produce a perfect truth drug for use in interrogating suspected Soviet spies during the Cold War, and to explore other possibilities of mind control. Another MKUltra effort, Subproject 54, was the Navy's top secret "Perfect Concussion" program, which was supposed to use sub-aural frequency blasts to erase memory. However, the program was never carried out.[26]

Because most MKUltra records were destroyed in 1973 by order of then CIA director Richard Helms, it has been difficult, if not impossible, for investigators to gain a complete understanding of the more than 150 funded research sub-projects sponsored by MKUltra and related CIA programs.[27]

The project began during a period of what Rupert Cornwell described as "paranoia" at the CIA, when the U.S. had lost its nuclear monopoly, and fear of Communism was at its height.[28]James Jesus Angleton, head of CIA counter-intelligence, believed a mole penetrated the organization at the highest levels.[28]

The Agency poured millions of dollars into studies examining methods of influencing and controlling the mind, and of enhancing their ability to extract information from resistant subjects during interrogation.[29][30]

Some historians assert creating a "Manchurian Candidate" subject through "mind control" techniques was a goal of MKUltra and related CIA projects.[31] Alfred McCoy has claimed the CIA attempted to focus media attention on these sorts of "ridiculous" programs, so the public would not look at the primary goal of the research, which was developing effective methods of torture and interrogation. Such authors cite as one example the CIA's KUBARK interrogation manual refers to "studies at McGill University", and most of the techniques recommended in KUBARK are exactly those researcher Donald Ewen Cameron used on his test subjects (sensory deprivation, drugs, isolation, etc.).[29]

One 1955 MKUltra document gives an indication of the size and range of the effort; this document refers to the study of an assortment of mind-altering substances described as follows:[32]

  1. Substances which will promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the point where the recipient would be discredited in public.
  2. Substances which increase the efficiency of mentation and perception.
  3. Materials which will cause the victim to age faster/slower in maturity.
  4. Materials which will promote the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
  5. Materials which will produce the signs and symptoms of recognized diseases in a reversible way so they may be used for malingering, etc.
  6. Materials which will cause temporary/permanent brain damage and loss of memory.
  7. Substances which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture, and coercion during interrogation and so-called "brain-washing".
  8. Materials and physical methods which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use.
  9. Physical methods of producing shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use.
  10. Substances which produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.
  11. Substances which will produce a chemical that can cause blisters.
  12. Substances which alter personality structure in such a way the tendency of the recipient to become dependent upon another person is enhanced.
  13. A material which will cause mental confusion of such a type the individual under its influence will find it difficult to maintain a fabrication under questioning.
  14. Substances which will lower the ambition and general working efficiency of men when administered in undetectable amounts.
  15. Substances which promote weakness or distortion of the eyesight or hearing faculties, preferably without permanent effects.
  16. A knockout pill which can be surreptitiously administered in drinks, food, cigarettes, as an aerosol, etc., which will be safe to use, provide a maximum of amnesia, and be suitable for use by agent types on an ad hoc basis.
  17. A material which can be surreptitiously administered by the above routes and which in very small amounts will make it impossible for a person to perform physical activity.


The Church Committee report in 1976 described the MKDELTA program as follows: "A special procedure, designated MKDELTA, was established to govern the use of MKULTRA materials abroad. Such materials were used on a number of occasions. Because MKULTRA records were destroyed, it is impossible to reconstruct the operational use of MKULTRA materials by the CIA overseas; it has been determined that the use of these materials abroad began in 1953, and possibly as early as 1950. Drugs were used primarily as an aid to interrogations, but MKULTRA/MKDELTA materials were also used for harassment, discrediting, or disabling purposes."[33][34][35]


In 1964, MKSEARCH was the name given to the continuation of the MKULTRA program. The MKSEARCH program was divided into two projects dubbed MKOFTEN/CHICKWIT. Funding for MKSEARCH commenced in 1965, and ended in 1971.[36] The project was a joint project between The U.S. Army Chemical Corps and the Central Intelligence Agency's Office of Research and Development to find new offensive-use agents with a focus on incapacitating agents. The purpose of the project was to develop, test, and evaluate capabilities in the covert use of biological, chemical, and radioactive material systems and techniques for producing predictable human behavioral and/or physiological changes in support of highly sensitive operational requirements.[36]

By March 1971 over 26,000 potential agents had been acquired for future screening.[37] The CIA were interested in bird migration patterns for CBW research under MK/ULTRA where, a Subproject 139 designated "Bird Disease Studies" at Penn State.[38]


MKOFTEN was to deal with testing and toxicological, transmissivity and behavioral effects of drugs in animals and, ultimately, humans.[36]


MKCHICKWIT was concerned with acquiring information on new drug developments in Europe and the Orient, and with acquiring samples.[36]


CIA documents suggest they investigated "chemical, biological, and radiological" means for the purpose of mind control as part of MKUltra.[39] They spent an estimated $10 million USD (roughly $87.5 million adjusted for inflation) or more.[40]



Early CIA efforts focused on LSD-25, which later came to dominate many of MKUltra's programs.[41] The CIA wanted to know if they could make Soviet spies defect against their will and whether the Soviets could do the same to the CIA's own operatives.[42]

Once Project MKUltra got underway in April 1953, experiments included administering LSD to mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts, and prostitutes—"people who could not fight back," as one agency officer put it.[43] In one case, they administered LSD to a mental patient in Kentucky for 174 days.[43] They also administered LSD to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, and members of the general public to study their reactions. LSD and other drugs were often administered without the subject's knowledge or informed consent, a violation of the Nuremberg Code the U.S. had agreed to follow after World War II. The aim of this was to find drugs which would bring out deep confessions or wipe a subject's mind clean and program him or her as "a robot agent."[44]

In Operation Midnight Climax, the CIA set up several brothels within agency safehouses in San Francisco, California to obtain a selection of men who would be too embarrassed to talk about the events. The men were dosed with LSD, the brothels were equipped with one-way mirrors, and the sessions were filmed for later viewing and study.[45] In other experiments where people were given LSD without their knowledge, they were interrogated under bright lights with doctors in the background taking notes. They told subjects they would extend their "trips" if they refused to reveal their secrets. The people under this interrogation were CIA employees, U.S. military personnel, and agents suspected of working for the other side in the Cold War. Long-term debilitation and several deaths resulted from this.[44]Heroin addicts were bribed into taking LSD with offers of more heroin.[15]

The Office of Security used LSD in interrogations but Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the chemist who directed MKUltra, had other ideas; he thought it could be used in covert operations. Since its effects were temporary, he believed one could give it to high-ranking officials and in this way affect the course of important meetings, speeches etc. Since he realized there was a difference in testing the drug in a laboratory and using it in clandestine operations, he initiated a series of experiments where LSD was given to people in "normal" settings without warning. At first, everyone in Technical Services tried it; a typical experiment involved two people in a room where they observed each other for hours and took notes. As the experimentation progressed, a point arrived where outsiders were drugged with no explanation whatsoever and surprise acid trips became something of an occupational hazard among CIA operatives. Adverse reactions often occurred, such as an operative who received the drug in his morning coffee became psychotic and ran across Washington, seeing a monster in every car passing him. The experiments continued even after Dr. Frank Olson, an Army scientist who had not taken LSD before, went into deep depression after a surprise trip and later fell from a thirteenth story window.[46]

Some subjects' participation was consensual, and in these cases they appeared to be singled out for even more extreme experiments. In one case, seven volunteers in Kentucky were given LSD for seventy-seven consecutive days.[47]

MKUltra's researchers later dismissed LSD as too unpredictable in its results.[48] They gave up on the notion LSD was "the secret that was going to unlock the universe," but it still had a place in the cloak-and-dagger arsenal. However, by 1962 the CIA and the army developed a series of superhallucinogens such as the highly touted BZ, which was thought to hold greater promise as a mind control weapon. This resulted in the withdrawal of support by many academics and private researchers, and LSD research became less of a priority altogether.[46]

Other drugs[edit]

Another technique investigated was the intravenous administration of a barbiturate into one arm and an amphetamine into the other.[49] The barbiturates were released into the person first, and as soon as the person began to fall asleep, the amphetamines were released. The person would begin babbling incoherently, and it was sometimes possible to ask questions and get useful answers.

Other experiments involved heroin, morphine, temazepam (used under code name MKSEARCH), mescaline, psilocybin, scopolamine, cannabis, alcohol, and sodium pentothal.[50]


Declassified MKUltra documents indicate they studied hypnosis in the early 1950s. Experimental goals included: the creation of "hypnotically induced anxieties," "hypnotically increasing ability to learn and recall complex written matter," studying hypnosis and polygraph examinations, "hypnotically increasing ability to observe and recall complex arrangements of physical objects," and studying "relationship of personality to susceptibility to hypnosis."[51] They conducted experiments with drug induced hypnosis and with anterograde and retrograde amnesia while under the influence of such drugs.

Canadian experiments[edit]

They exported experiments to Canada when the CIA recruited Scottish psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron, creator of the "psychic driving" concept, which the CIA found interesting. Cameron had been hoping to correct schizophrenia by erasing existing memories and reprogramming the psyche. He commuted from Albany, New York, to Montreal every week to work at the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University and was paid $69,000 from 1957 to 1964 (which would be $603,580 in today's currency, adjusting for inflation) to carry MKUltra experiments there. These research funds were sent to Dr. Cameron by a CIA front organization, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, and as shown in internal CIA documents, Cameron did not know the money came from the CIA.[52] In addition to LSD, Cameron also experimented with various paralytic drugs as well as electroconvulsive therapy at thirty to forty times the normal power. His "driving" experiments consisted of putting subjects into drug-induced comas for weeks at a time (up to three months in one case) while playing tape loops of noise or simple repetitive statements. His experiments were often carried on patients who entered the institute for minor problems such as anxiety disorders and postpartum depression, many of whom suffered permanent effects from his actions.[53] His treatments resulted in victims' incontinence, amnesia, forgetting how to talk, forgetting their parents, and thinking their interrogators were their parents.[54] His work was inspired and paralleled by the British psychiatrist William Sargant at St Thomas' Hospital, London, and Belmont Hospital, Surrey, who was also involved in the Intelligence Services and who experimented on his patients without their consent, causing similar long-term damage.[55] In the 1980s, several of Cameron's former patients sued the CIA for damages, which the Canadian news program The Fifth Estate documented.[56] Their experiences and lawsuit was made into a 1998 television miniseries called The Sleep Room.[57]

During this era, Cameron became known worldwide as the first chairman of the World Psychiatric Association as well as president of the American and Canadian psychiatric associations. Cameron was also a member of the Nuremberg medical tribunal in 1946–47.[58]

Naomi Klein argues in her book The Shock Doctrine Cameron's research and his contribution to the MKUltra project was not about mind control and brainwashing, but about designing "a scientifically based system for extracting information from 'resistant sources.' In other words, torture."[59]Alfred W. McCoy writes "Stripped of its bizarre excesses, Dr. Cameron's experiments, building upon Donald O. Hebb's earlier breakthrough, laid the scientific foundation for the CIA's two-stage psychological torture method," which refers to first creating a state of disorientation in the subject, and then second creating a situation of "self-inflicted" discomfort in which the disoriented subject can alleviate their pain by capitulating.[60]


In 1973, amid a government-wide panic caused by Watergate, CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed.[61] Pursuant to this order, most CIA documents regarding the project were destroyed, making a full investigation of MKUltra impossible. A cache of some 20,000 documents survived Helms' purge, as they had been incorrectly stored in a financial records building and were discovered following a FOIA request in 1977. These documents were fully investigated during the Senate Hearings of 1977.[4]

In December 1974, The New York Times alleged that the CIA had conducted illegal domestic activities, including experiments on U.S. citizens, during the 1960s. That report prompted investigations by the U.S. Congress, in the form of the Church Committee, and by a commission known as the Rockefeller Commission that looked into the illegal domestic activities of the CIA, the FBI, and intelligence-related agencies of the military.

In the summer of 1975, congressional Church Committee reports and the presidential Rockefeller Commission report revealed to the public for the first time that the CIA and the Department of Defense had conducted experiments on both unwitting and cognizant human subjects as part of an extensive program to find out how to influence and control human behavior through the use of psychoactive drugs such as LSD and mescaline and other chemical, biological, and psychological means. They also revealed that at least one subject, Frank Olson had died after administration of LSD. Much of what the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission learned about MKUltra was contained in a report, prepared by the Inspector General's office in 1963, that had survived the destruction of records ordered in 1973.[62] However, it contained little detail. Sidney Gottlieb, who had retired from the CIA two years previously, was interviewed by the committee but claimed to have very little recollection of the activities of MKUltra.[14]

The congressional committee investigating the CIA research, chaired by Senator Frank Church, concluded that "[p]rior consent was obviously not obtained from any of the subjects". The committee noted that the "experiments sponsored by these researchers [...] call into question the decision by the agencies not to fix guidelines for experiments."

Following the recommendations of the Church Committee, President Gerald Ford in 1976 issued the first Executive Order on Intelligence Activities which, among other things, prohibited "experimentation with drugs on human subjects, except with the informed consent, in writing and witnessed by a disinterested party, of each such human subject" and in accordance with the guidelines issued by the National Commission. Subsequent orders by Presidents Carter and Reagan expanded the directive to apply to any human experimentation.

In 1977, during a hearing held by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to look further into MKUltra, Admiral Stansfield Turner, then Director of Central Intelligence, revealed that the CIA had found a set of records, consisting of about 20,000 pages,[citation needed] that had survived the 1973 destruction orders because they had been incorrectly stored at a records center not usually used for such documents.[62] These files dealt with the financing of MKUltra projects and contained few project details, but much more was learned from them than from the Inspector General's 1963 report.

On the Senate floor in 1977, Senator Ted Kennedy said:

The Deputy Director of the CIA revealed that over thirty universities and institutions were involved in an "extensive testing and experimentation" program which included covert drug tests on unwitting citizens "at all social levels, high and low, native Americans and foreign." Several of these tests involved the administration of LSD to "unwitting subjects in social situations."

At least one death, the result of the defenestration of Dr. Frank Olson, was attributed to Olson's being subjected, unaware, to such experimentation, nine days before his death. The CIA itself subsequently acknowledged that these tests had little scientific rationale. The agents conducting the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers.[63][64]

In Canada, the issue took much longer to surface, becoming widely known in 1984 on a CBC news show, The Fifth Estate. It was learned that not only had the CIA funded Dr. Cameron's efforts, but also that the Canadian government was fully aware of this, and had later provided another $500,000 in funding to continue the experiments. This revelation largely derailed efforts by the victims to sue the CIA as their U.S. counterparts had, and the Canadian government eventually settled out of court for $100,000 to each of the 127 victims. Dr. Cameron died on September 8, 1967 after suffering a heart attack while he and his son were mountain climbing. None of Cameron's personal records of his involvement with MKUltra survived, since his family destroyed them after his death.[65][66]

1984 U.S. General Accounting Office report[edit]

The U.S. General Accounting Office issued a report on September 28, 1984, which stated that between 1940 and 1974, DOD and other national security agencies studied thousands of human subjects in tests and experiments involving hazardous substances.

The quote from the study:[67]

Working with the CIA, the Department of Defense gave hallucinogenic drugs to thousands of "volunteer" soldiers in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to LSD, the Army also tested quinuclidinyl benzilate, a hallucinogen code-named BZ. (Note 37) Many of these tests were conducted under the so-called MKULTRA program, established to counter perceived Soviet and Chinese advances in brainwashing techniques. Between 1953 and 1964, the program consisted of 149 projects involving drug testing and other studies on unwitting human subjects


Given the CIA's purposeful destruction of most records, its failure to follow informed consent protocols with thousands of participants, the uncontrolled nature of the experiments, and the lack of follow-up data, the full impact of MKUltra experiments, including deaths, may never be known.[27][32][67][68]

Several known deaths have been associated with Project MKUltra, most notably that of Frank Olson. Olson, a United States Army biochemist and biological weapons researcher, was given LSD without his knowledge or consent in November, 1953, as part of a CIA experiment and committed suicide by jumping out of a window a week later. A CIA doctor assigned to monitor Olson claimed to have been asleep in another bed in a New York City hotel room when Olson exited the window and fell thirteen stories to his death. In 1953, Olson's death was described as a suicide that had occurred during a severe psychotic episode. The CIA's own internal investigation concluded that the head of MKUltra, CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb, had conducted the LSD experiment with Olson's prior knowledge, although neither Olson nor the other men taking part in the experiment were informed as to the exact nature of the drug until some 20 minutes after its ingestion. The report further suggested that Gottlieb was nonetheless due a reprimand, as he had failed to take into account Olson's already-diagnosed suicidal tendencies, which might have been exacerbated by the LSD.[69]

The Olson family disputes the official version of events. They maintain that Frank Olson was murdered because, especially in the aftermath of his LSD experience, he had become a security risk who might divulge state secrets associated with highly classified CIA programs, about many of which he had direct personal knowledge.[70] A few days before his death, Frank Olson quit his position as acting chief of the Special Operations Division at Detrick, Maryland (later Fort Detrick) because of a severe moral crisis concerning the nature of his biological weapons research. Among Olson's concerns were the development of assassination materials used by the CIA. The CIA's use of biological warfare materials in covert operations, experimentation with biological weapons in populated areas, collaboration with former Nazi scientists under Operation Paperclip, LSD mind-control research, and the use of psychoactive drugs during "terminal" interrogations under a program code-named Project ARTICHOKE.[71] Later forensic evidence conflicted with the official version of events; when Olson's body was exhumed in 1994, cranial injuries indicated that Olson had been knocked unconscious before he exited the window.[69] The medical examiner termed Olson's death a "homicide".[72] In 1975, Olson's family received a $750,000 settlement from the U.S. government and formal apologies from President Gerald Ford and CIA Director William Colby, though their apologies were limited to informed consent issues concerning Olson's ingestion of LSD.[68][73] On 28 November 2012, the Olson family filed suit against the U.S. federal government for the wrongful death of Frank Olson.[74]

A 2010 book by H. P. Albarelli Jr. alleged that the 1951 Pont-Saint-Esprit mass poisoning was part of MKDELTA, that Olson was involved in that event, and that he was eventually murdered by the CIA.[75][76] However, academic sources[by whom?] attribute the incident to ergot poisoning through a local bakery.[77][78][79]

Legal issues involving informed consent[edit]

The revelations about the CIA and the Army prompted a number of subjects or their survivors to file lawsuits against the federal government for conducting experiments without informed consent. Although the government aggressively, and sometimes successfully, sought to avoid legal liability, several plaintiffs did receive compensation through court order, out-of-court settlement, or acts of Congress. Frank Olson's family received $750,000 by a special act of Congress, and both President Ford and CIA director William Colby met with Olson's family to apologize publicly.

Previously, the CIA and the Army had actively and successfully sought to withhold incriminating information, even as they secretly provided compensation to the families. One subject of Army drug experimentation, James Stanley, an Army sergeant, brought an important, albeit unsuccessful, suit. The government argued that Stanley was barred from suing under a legal doctrine—known as the Feres doctrine, after a 1950 Supreme Court case, Feres v. United States—that prohibits members of the Armed Forces from suing the government for any harms that were inflicted "incident to service."

In 1987, the Supreme Court affirmed this defense in a 5–4 decision that dismissed Stanley's case: United States v. Stanley.[80] The majority argued that "a test for liability that depends on the extent to which particular suits would call into question military discipline and decision making would itself require judicial inquiry into, and hence intrusion upon, military matters." In dissent, Justice William Brennan argued that the need to preserve military discipline should not protect the government from liability and punishment for serious violations of constitutional rights:

The medical trials at Nuremberg in 1947 deeply impressed upon the world that experimentation with unknowing human subjects is morally and legally unacceptable. The United States Military Tribunal established the Nuremberg Code as a standard against which to judge German scientists who experimented with human subjects... . [I]n defiance of this principle, military intelligence officials ... began surreptitiously testing chemical and biological materials, including LSD.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing a separate dissent, stated:

No judicially crafted rule should insulate from liability the involuntary and unknowing human experimentation alleged to have occurred in this case. Indeed, as Justice Brennan observes, the United States played an instrumental role in the criminal prosecution of Nazi officials who experimented with human subjects during the Second World War, and the standards that the Nuremberg Military Tribunals developed to judge the behavior of the defendants stated that the 'voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential ... to satisfy moral, ethical, and legal concepts.' If this principle is violated, the very least that society can do is to see that the victims are compensated, as best they can be, by the perpetrators.

In another lawsuit, Wayne Ritchie, a former United States Marshal, after hearing about the project's existence in 1990, alleged the CIA laced his food or drink with LSD at a 1957 Christmas party which resulted in his attempting to commit a robbery at a bar and his subsequent arrest. While the government admitted it was, at that time, drugging people without their consent, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel found Ritchie could not prove he was one of the victims of MKUltra or that LSD caused his robbery attempt and dismissed the case in 2007.[81]

Scientists involved[edit]

Notable subjects[edit]

  • Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, volunteered for MKUltra experiments involving LSD and other psychedelic drugs at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park while he was a student at nearby Stanford University. Kesey's experiences while under the influence of LSD inspired him to promote the drug outside the context of the MKUltra experiments, which influenced the early development of hippie culture.[82][83]
  • Robert Hunter is an American lyricist, singer-songwriter, translator, and poet, best known for his association with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Along with Ken Kesey, Hunter was an early volunteer MKUltra test subject at Stanford University. Stanford test subjects were paid to take LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline, then report on their experiences. These experiences were creatively formative for Hunter:

    Sit back picture yourself swooping up a shell of purple with foam crests of crystal drops soft nigh they fall unto the sea of morning creep-very-softly mist ... and then sort of cascade tinkley-bell-like (must I take you by the hand, every so slowly type) and then conglomerate suddenly into a peal of silver vibrant uncomprehendingly, blood singingly, joyously resounding bells... By my faith if this be insanity, then for the love of God permit me to remain insane.[84]

Conspiracy theories and claims[edit]

MKUltra plays a part in many conspiracy theories due to its nature and the destruction of most records.[87]

Lawrence Teeter, attorney for Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, believed Sirhan "was operating under MK-ULTRA mind control techniques".[88]

Conspiracy theorist Cathy O'Brien claims to have been subjected to the program since childhood. She names several prominent government participants in her book Trance Formation of America.

American fashion model and radio host Candy Jones also claimed to have been a victim of mind control in the 1960s.[89]


At his retirement in 1972, Gottlieb dismissed his entire effort for the CIA's MKUltra program as useless.[28][90]

Although the CIA insists that MKUltra-type experiments have been abandoned, some CIA observers say there is little reason to believe it does not continue today under a different set of acronyms.[61]Victor Marchetti, author and 14-year CIA veteran, stated in various interviews that the CIA routinely conducted disinformation campaigns and that CIA mind control research continued. In a 1977 interview, Marchetti specifically called the CIA claim that MKUltra was abandoned a "cover story."[91][92] Author John D. Marks wrote an award-winning[citation needed] book published in 1979 titled The Search for the Manchurian Candidate disputing CIA Chief Stansfield Turner's assurances that mind control programs have been phased out, indicating that the work went on into the 1970s.[93]

In popular culture[edit]



  • The 1998 CBC miniseries The Sleep Room dramatizes brainwashing experiments funded by MKUltra that were performed on Canadian mental patients in the 1950s and 60's, and their subsequent efforts to sue the CIA.[57]
  • BYUtv's drama Granite Flats is a fictional dramatization of the implementation of MKUltra by a military hospital in Colorado.
  • In season 2, episode 19 of Bones, "Spaceman in a Crater", Jack Hodgins mentions that Frank Olson was an unwitting participant and committed suicide, but that an exhumation 45 years later proved he was murdered.[95]
  • In an episode of ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "The Things We Bury", one of the characters makes a reference to MKUltra.
  • In season 2, episode 5 of Fringe, "Dream Logic", Walter Bishop briefly mentions his involvement with MKUltra.
  • In season 6, episode 7 of Archer, "Nellis", Archer briefly mentions MKUltra while bluffing his way into Area 51; in season 7, episode 8, "Liquid Lunch", the program is explained to Archer's colleagues.
  • In episode "Via Negativa" from the eighth season of The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen mention MKUltra while discussing a case with Agent Doggett.
  • In The X-Files third-season episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space", Jose Chung mentions the experiments as an example of the powerful effect "mere words" can have over the human mind.
  • In Alphas, events imply that the Alphas program had its starts in the MKUltra program, and Dr. Rosen has access to certain files from the MKUltra project.
  • In season 3, episode 10 of NUMB3RS, Don Eppes investigates the assassinations of a Senator and a Psychiatrist with links to MKUltra.
  • In the fourth episode of Season 2 of The Blacklist, Cooper mentions Project MKUltra while talking to Elizabeth Keen. The entire episode is based on the premise of using genetic predisposition to make someone commit an act that they most likely would not have done in the first place.
  • In season 1 of Stranger Things, the antagonist Dr. Martin Brenner is discovered to have been involved in MKUltra. One of the young protagonists, Eleven, was raised in a government laboratory after being born to an MKUltra test subject.
  • In Season 5, Episode 10 of The West Wing, the White House press secretary is questioned by a reporter about mind control, leading her to investigate MKUltra and the budgetary allocations of DARPA for the project.
  • Netflix original series Manhunt: Unabomber portrays the psychological torture of 16-year old-Harvard student Theodore Kaczynski by MKUltra researchers. Kaczynski was the perpetrator of serial bombings over a 17-year period and became known as the Unabomber.
  • The 2017 Netflix documentary re-enactment mini-series Wormwood tells the story of Frank Olson and MKUltra through the eyes of his son, Eric.


  • The song, "MK Ultra", by British band Muse makes direct reference to this project in the title and uses lyrics to convey the effects of the project directly on a subject.
  • Lyrics of "Look... The Sun is Rising", the opening track to The Flaming Lips' 2013 album The Terror, narrate "a little spaceship" as a mechanism for MKUltra mind control.
  • The song, "The 4th Branch" by rapper Immortal Technique from his album Revolutionary Volume 2, compares modern media to MKUltra, "controlling your brain".
  • The songs, "US Government" and "MK Ultra" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club make direct reference to the project, as well as more oblique references in the lyrics.
  • The Providence, Rhode Island-based hardcore punk band Violent Sons named a song "MK Ultra" on their 2013 full-length, Nothing as It Seems.
  • The song, "MK Ultra", by progressive metal band Periphery makes direct reference to the project in the title and speaks of the abuse children received from the CIA during the experiments.
  • Olympia-based band Unwound recorded a song named "Mkultra" on both theA Single History: 1991–1997 and Rat Conspiracy compilations.
  • The song "They. Resurrect. Over. New." by rapper Lupe Fiasco from his 2015 album Tetsuo & Youth mentions MKUltra.
  • The album Chemistry of Consciousness by heavy metal band Toxic Holocaust contains several references to the experiments, including a song titled "Mkultra".
  • On metal band Arsonists Get All the Girls' 2013 album, Listen to the Color, a song references the program through title and lyrics called "MK-ULTRA: Psychotropic Puppets". Another song of the album is titled "MK-DELTA: Glorified Killers".


  • The Stephen King book Firestarter is based on a fictionalized version of the MK Ultra experiments, and the protagonists all acquire powers as a result of the experimentation.
  • The horror game Outlast makes several major references to MK Ultra and implies that the experiments on the asylum inmates in the game are either a part of or associated with the program.
  • Project MKUltra is mentioned in Call Of Duty: Black Ops as the Soviet Union's attempt to turn protagonist Alex Mason into a Soviet sleeper agent with orders to assassinate President Kennedy. Mason's handler, CIA agent Jason Hudson, even mentions it when telling Mason he had been brainwashed by the Soviets.
  • The manga Lost+Brain mentions MKUltra when speaking about using hypnosis to control the country.
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy novel Omens by Kelley Armstrong uses MKUltra as a driving portion of its plot.
  • The game Manhunt 2 is based around "The Pickman Project" which has several similarities to MKUltra and it is likely it was directly inspired by it.
  • A cannabis strain called MKUltra has been developed by T.H.Seeds of Amsterdam.[96]
  • Project MKUltra is mentioned in the 2016 video game Mafia III. It is mentioned by one of the characters, an ex-CIA agent John Donovan.
  • In the broadway musical under the title of "We Will Rock You" MK Ultra is referred to as the Bohemians are brainwashed and experimented on to become vegetables.
  • The online, anonymously-written science fiction and horror story 9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9 borrows from and refers to the MKUltra project directly.[97]
  • The fictitious video game known as Polybius had spread around as an urban myth in 1981. Many of the key points of Polybius allude to government control testing and other "men in black" type figures, suggesting Polybius took inspiration from project MKUltra at the time of its creation.[98]

See also[edit]






Declassified MKUltra documents
Sidney Gottlieb approved of an MKUltra subproject on LSD in this June 9, 1953 letter.
Donald Ewen Cameron c.1967
Frank Church headed the Church Committee, an investigation into the practices of the US intelligence agencies.
1977 United States Senate report on MKUltra

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