Sidney Gottlieb

Sidney Gottlieb

Joseph Scheider (Sidney Gottlieb) was born in 1918. He studied chemistry at the California Institute of Technology and after he finished his Ph.D. he joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He worked as a member of the Technical Services Staff (TSS) and eventually became head of the Chemical Division.

Richard Bissell, head of the Directorate for Plans, an organization instructed to conduct covert anti-Communist operations around the world, made full use of Gottlieb's abilities. The Directorate for Plans was responsible for what became known as the CIA's Black Operations. This involved a policy that was later to become known as Executive Action (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power).

In March I960, President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States approved a CIA plan to overthrow Fidel Castro. Gottlieb was asked to come up with proposals that would undermine Castro's popularity with the Cuban people. Plans included a scheme to spray a television studio in which he was about to appear with an hallucinogenic drug (LSD) and contaminating his shoes with thallium which they believed would cause the hair in his beard to fall out.

Richard Bissell eventually decided to organize a CIA plot to kill Castro. Gottlieb came up with several ideas on how to do this including the insertion of poison into cigars Castro was known to smoke. Another scheme involved a conch shell that would be programmed to explode when Castro was swimming underwater. Gottlieb also came up with the idea of planting a poisoned handkerchief in his suit pocket. This was unsuccessfully used against General Abd al-Karim Kassem of Iraq.

Gottlieb was also assigned the task of planning the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of the Congo. This included the idea of a lethal biological agent that would be added to a tube of toothpaste. Attempts were made to develop a biological agent that would cause tularemia, brucelloisis, anthrax, smallpox, tuberculosis and equine encephalis. These experiments ended in failure and eventually Lumumba was murdered by soldiers loyal to Moise Tshombe.

By 1967 Gottlieb became head of the Technical Services Staff and held the post until his retirement in 1972. Before he left he destroyed some 80 percent of the CIA's most damaging files. Most of these had something to do with programs run by Gottlieb.

In 1975 Frank Church and his Select Committee on Intelligence Activities began investigating the work of the Central Intelligence Agency. They discovered the existence of Executive Action. The disclosure of Gottlieb's work resulted in some of his victims taking legal action against the CIA.

Sidney Gottlieb died on 10th March, 1999.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Sarah Foster, Meet Sidney Gottlieb - CIA Dirty Trickster (1998)

It seemed Stanley Glickman had everything going for him. An American, Glickman was young, living in Paris, and busy carving out a successful career for himself as an artist.

Then one evening in late October 1952, his world crashed to an end. He accepted an invitation from an acquaintance to join him and some fellow Americans at the Cafe Select, a popular spot among writers and artists. There, the conversation turned into a heated political debate lasting several hours. When Glickman decided it was time to leave, one of the men offered to buy him a drink to soothe any hard feelings.

Rather than ask the waiter, the man himself went to the bar and brought drinks back to the table. Glickman noticed he had a club foot.

Thirty years later he learned this was a physical characteristic of Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, who headed the chemical division of the technical services staff with the Central Intelligence Agency.

In an affidavit filed in court, Glickman recalled that halfway through his drink he "began to experience a lengthening of distance and a distortion of perception" and saw that "the faces of the gentlemen flushed with excitement as they watched the execution of the drink."

One of the men told him he'd be capable of "working miracles." No miracles occurred, but as Glickman left the cafe he "experienced distortions of color and other hallucinations." He believed he had been poisoned. Next morning, he was "hallucinating intensely." For the next two weeks he "wandered in the pain of madness, delusion and terror."

On Nov. 11, he returned to the Cafe Select, where he sat and simply waited - with his eyes closed - until someone noticed him, and he was driven by car to the American Hospital of Paris. He was there over a week, during which time he was given electroshock and, he believed, additional hallucinatory drugs. Finally a friend came, helped him sign out, and took him to his studio where he remained, a virtual recluse, for the next 10 months - living in a psychedelic nightmare of terror and hallucinations.

When friends of his brother-in-law's family saw him on the street and realized the condition he was in, they contacted his family, who made arrangements for him to be brought back to the United States in July 1953.

Glickman never painted again.

He held odd jobs and regained his physical strength, but his mental powers were never the same; his artistic talents were destroyed. Nor was he able to lead a normal social life.

If Glickman's story is true, he would have been one of the earliest victims of the MK-ULTRA project, one program of which involved slipping d-lysergic acid diethylamide - better known as LSD - to persons without their knowledge or consent, then watching their reactions. The CIA's secret project was not formally initiated until April 1953, but there are accounts of earlier experimentation.

When the public learned of these experiments over 20 years later, Glickman realized he had been one of the victims.

In 1977, Glickman's sister, Gloria Kronisch, sent her brother an article she had read about how the CIA had experimented with LSD on unsuspecting people in foreign countries during the 1950s. At this time, the Senate Committee on Human Resources, chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-MA, began holding hearings on CIA experimentations on humans, and the CIA was asked to identify its victims.

The CIA identified 16 unwitting subjects of LSD tests in the United States, but denied conducting such experiments overseas.

Watching the hearings, Glickman knew that's what happened to him, no matter what the CIA claimed. A friend traveled to Washington to gather information about the agency's drug experiments. Most of the records had been destroyed, at Gottlieb's orders, in 1973.

(2) US Official Poisoner Dies, CounterPunch (April, 1999)

For many years, most notably in the 1950s and 1960s, Gottlieb presided over the CIA's technical services division and supervised preparation of lethal poisons, experiments in mind control and administration of LSD and other psychoactive drugs to unwitting subjects. Gottlieb's passing came at a convenient time for the CIA, just as several new trials involving victims of its experiments were being brought. Those who had talked to Gottlieb in the past few years say that the chemist believed that the Agency was trying to make him the fall guy for the entire program. Some speculate that Gottlieb may have been ready to spill the goods on a wide range of CIA programs.

Incredibly, neither the Times nor the Post obituaries mention Gottlieb's crucial role in the death of Dr. Frank Olson, who worked for the US Army's biological weapons center at Fort Detrick. At a CIA sponsored retreat in rural Maryland on November 18, 1953, Gottlieb gave the unwitting Olson a glass of Cointreau liberally spiked with LSD. Olson developed psychotic symptoms soon thereafter and within a few days had plunged to his death from an upper floor room at the New York Statler-Hilton. Olson was sharing the room with Gottlieb's number two, a CIA man called Robert Lashbrook, who had taken the deranged man to see a CIA-sponsored medic called Harold Abramson who ran an allergy clinic at Mount Sinai, funded by Gottlieb to research LSD.

By the early 1960s Gottlieb's techniques and potions were being fully deployed in the field. Well-known is Gottlieb's journey to the Congo, where his little black bag held an Agency-developed biotoxin scheduled for Patrice Lumumba's toothbrush. He also tried to manage Iraq's general Kassim with a handkerchief doctored with botulinum and there were the endless poisons directed at Fidel Castro, from the LSD the Agency wanted to spray in his radio booth to the poisonous fountain pen intended for Castro that was handed by a CIA man to Rolando Cubela on November 22, 1963.

Even less well remembered is one mission in the CIA's Phoenix Program in Vietnam in July of 1968. A team of CIA psychologists set up shop at Bien Hoa Prison outside Saigon, where NLF suspects were being held after Phoenix Program round-ups. The psychologists performed a variety of experiments on the prisoners. In one, three prisoners were anaesthetized; their skulls were opened and electrodes implanted by CIA doctors into different parts of their brains. The prisoners were revived, placed in a room with knives and the electrodes in the brains activated by the psychiatrists, who were covertly observing them. The hope was that they could be prompted in this manner to attack each other. The experiments failed. The electrodes were removed, the patients were shot and their bodies burned.

(3) Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times (4th April, 1999)

James Bond had Q, the scientific wizard who supplied 007 with dazzling gadgets to deploy against enemy agents. The Central Intelligence Agency had Sidney Gottlieb, a Bronx-born biochemist with a PhD from Caltech whose job as head of the agency's technical services division was to concoct the tools of espionage: disappearing inks, poison darts, toxic handkerchiefs.

Gottlieb once mailed a lethal handkerchief to an Iraqi colonel and personally ferried deadly bacteria to the Congo to kill Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. It wasn't his potions that eventually did in the two targets, but Gottlieb, once described by a colleague as the ultimate "good soldier," soldiered on.

Poisons and darts were not his sole preoccupation during 22 years with the CIA. He labored for years on a project to unlock and control the mysterious powers of lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. Could it be a potent spy weapon to weaken the minds of unwilling targets?

In the early 1960s, Gottlieb was promoted to the highest deputy post in the technical services operation. By 1967, he had risen to the top of the division, guided by his longtime CIA mentor, Director Richard Helms. At that time, LSD was not a secret anymore. While the CIA was still examining the drug's possibilities as a means of mind control, many young Americans were dropping the hallucinogen as a vehicle of mind expansion and recreation. America was tuning in, turning on and dropping out, thanks, in part, to the CIA's activism in the '50s in the name of national security.

It was not until 1972 that Gottlieb called a halt to the experiments with psychedelics, concluding in a memo that they were "too unpredictable in their effects on individual human beings... to be operationally useful."

He retired the same year, spending the next few decades in eclectic pursuits that defied the stereotype of the spy. He went to India with his wife to volunteer at a hospital for lepers. A stutterer since childhood, he got a master's degree in speech therapy. He raised goats on a Virginia farm. And he practiced folk dancing, a lifelong passion despite the handicap of a clubfoot.