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[Editors’ Note: We are once again pleased to publish an exclusive investigative report by Douglas Valentine, author of The Phoenix Program, the best book on the CIA’s assassination program in Vietnam. This time Valentine, who has just put the finishing touches on Strength of the Wolf (a history of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the origins of the war on drugs), explores one of the Agency’s more disgusting chapters, the doping of unsuspecting American citizens with LSD. With the Bush administration and members of congress from both parties clamoring to unfetter the spy Agency in the wake of 9/11, this cautionary tale from the CIA’s recent past couldn’t come at a more apt time. For more on George Hunter White and the CIA’s MK-Ultra program read our book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press.–jsc/ac]
Barbara Crowley Smithe was nineteen years old in January 1953. She was full-figured, sexy and smart, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a trace of Irish freckles. She lived in Manhattan with her husband Eliot Smithe, and their 20-month old daughter, Valerie.
People who knew Barbara said she was a vibrant, happy young woman, but that she became confused about her sexuality, and gradually lost her self-esteem. Her friends did not know why, but she began to have angry confrontations with Eliot. Arguments led to rough fights and a separation in 1957. Two extra-martial affairs engendered a haunting sense of guilt, guilt led to depression, depression dissolved into despair, and ultimately Barbara succumbed to paranoia.
At her psychiatrist’s advice Barbara was admitted to Stony Lodge Hospital in December 1958. Before long she and Eliot divorced, and Valerie went to live with Eliot’s parents. Institutionalized for much of the next twenty years, Barbara died of leukemia in February 1978, without ever telling Eliot the secret she took to her grave–the stunning secret that may very well explain her descent into mental illness.
Indeed, Barbara’s mental breakdown may be traced to the night of January 11th, 1953, when–without her knowledge or consent–she was given a dose of LSD by an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. After that incredible night, her short, sad life was never the same.
Why would the CIA want to give LSD to a nineteen-year-old woman with an infant in her arms? What did Barbara Smithe have to do with pressing matters of National Security?
The official explanation dates to 1951, when the CIA received an unsubstantiated report that the Soviet Union was about to corner the world market in LSD. The Soviets were thought to be perfecting drug-induced “brainwashing” techniques, and the CIA reeled at the prospect of Russian agents dumping LSD into New York’s water supply, and then using insidious Communist propaganda to turn drug addled American citizens against their own government.
While this frightening scenario never did materialize, the CIA was able to use it as a pretext to start testing LSD on friends and foes alike. The spy agency’s ultimate objective was to develop the capability to entrap and blackmail spies, diplomats, and politicians–ours, as well as theirs.
The CIA called its experimental LSD “mind-control” project MKULTRA.
After a year of conducting MKULTRA experiments in laboratories, the CIA’s researchers decided they needed to start testing LSD in “real life” settings. In order to do this, however, they needed a “front,” so they asked Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), to provide them with an agent who was capable of finding suitable test subjects within the arcane setting of narcotics control. Subjects were to be FBN informants, drug addicts and drug peddlers, prostitutes, pornographers, and other degenerate underworld characters–in other words, people who were already compromised by their deviant behaviors, and would be unable to complain to the police if they were damaged during the LSD experiments.
The Double Man
The man Anslinger selected for the MKULTRA job was George Hunter White. A highly successful and flamboyant federal narcotic agent since1935, White’s claim to fame was a 1937 undercover case he made against the notorious drug smuggling Sino-American trade association, the Hip Sing T’ong. Posing as John Wilson, the nephew of his “Uncle Sam” (a hitherto unknown hood who was forming a new drug syndicate), White crossed the country contracting with Hip Sing T’ong members for huge purchases of opium.
According to legend, White, a Caucasian, was initiated into the T’ong, swearing to accept “death by fire” should he ever break its sacred oath of secrecy. The investigation climaxed in November 1937 with a series of spectacular mass arrests, including several prominent Mafiosi. The case cemented White’s status as the FBN’s top agent, and subsequently involved him its most important, secret investigations.
At five feet, seven inches tall, and weighing a rotund 200 pounds, White, who shaved his head completely bald, was the image of a tough detective, the kind who made bad guys tip their hats and speak politely to cops. A native of California, he was ebullient and brash, and as a former crime reporter for the San Francisco Call Bulletin, had a nose for sniffing out trouble. And trouble was what White enjoyed more than anything else. Rough and tough and good with his fists, White led his fellow federal agents into many a fight with the country’s most vicious hoods. More importantly, his many newspaper contacts were always available to his publicity hunger boss, and after he extricated Anslinger’s stepson from an undisclosed legal problem, White became the Commissioner’s favorite and most trusted agent.
The main reason White was given the MKULTRA LSD testing assignment, was that he had acquired clandestine drug testing experience during the Second World War. In 1943 he had been transferred from the FBN to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Assigned to the spy agency as a counter-intelligence officer, Major White became deeply involved in OSS “truth drug” experiments, in which distilled marijuana was used in the interrogation of prisoners of war, suspected double agents, and conscientious objectors. White’s ‘truth drug” experiments continued until at least 1947.
White also was selected for the MKULTRA assignment because he was a disgruntled employee. After the war he had returned to the FBN and by 1950 was serving in New York City, where, apart from his work as a federal narcotic agent, he participated in a number of sensitive “political” investigations for the U.S. Government. Among his special assignments, White worked briefly with Assistant U.S. Attorney Roy Cohn and Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) rooting Communists out of the CIA and the State Department, and from mid-1950 until early 1951 he served as the chief investigator for Senator Estes Kefauver (D-TN) in a nationwide expose of organized crime. But White was impetuous and overstepped his bounds. First he incurred Harry Truman’s wrath by attempting to link the President to organized crime in Kansas City. And in early 1951 he was fired from the Kefauver Committee for leaking classified information. But the final blow came a few months later when the Kefauver Committee aired allegations that New York Governor Thomas Dewey had commuted Lucky Luciano’s prison sentence for a sizable campaign contribution. The allegation was base on a memorandum White had written in 1947, and in retaliation, the sullied Governor banished White from New York.
Dewey’s edict was a disappointment to White, whose ambition at the time was to serve as the FBN’s district supervisor in New York. But White was too important to be dismissed offhand: the MKULTRA Program, which was to be established in New York, was already in the works, and so Commissioner Anslinger simply reassigned him as district supervisor in Boston. But White was rarely there. Instead he kept his apartment in New York while awaiting his final security clearance from the CIA. He was still an employee of the FBN, but he was bitter about the roadblock in his narcotic law enforcement career, and was hoping to find steady employment with the CIA. In this spirit George White willingly and energetically embarked on his CIA, MKULTRA assignment.
Partners in Crime
Although George White had notoriety and powerful friends, and existed above the law as one of Espionage Establishment’s “protected few,” he was a deeply conflicted man. His first wife, Ruth, deserted him in 1945, calling him “a fat slob,” and according to psychological reports compiled while he was applying for employment with the CIA, White compensated for that humiliation by seeking attention, and by hurting people. This was the third reason why the CIA accepted him for the MKULTRA job: George White was a sadist-masochist with an unquenchable thirst for alcohol, kinky sex, and power.
The archetypal Double Man, White, however, had the ability to charm as well as to repulse, and on 18 August 1951 he married his second wife, Albertine Calef, a clothing buyer at the Abraham and Strauss department store in Brooklyn. Described as a “bubbly” woman, Tine was born in New York of Egyptian Jewish parents. When interviewed for this article, Tine expressed nothing but devotion to the memory of her former husband. She described him as “effective and punctual, a great raconteur, a voracious reader of non-fiction books, and a very good writer.” According to her, George White was a liberal Democrat who never picked a fight or resorted to strong-arm tactics.
Tine apparently turned a blind eye toward her husband’s deviant behavior. They shared a comfortable apartment at 59 West 12th Street in Greenwich Village, and hob-nodded with politicians, diplomats, law enforcement officials, artists and writers. Tine thoroughly enjoyed the fast company her husband kept, and in order to maintain her exciting lifestyle, she stood by and did nothing when he poisoned Barbara Smithe with LSD. Indeed, when this writer asked her what George White did to Barbara on the night of January 11th, 1953, the 80 plus year old woman descended into a string of expletives that would have embarrassed a sailor. Her tirade left this writer with the firm impression that she was thoroughly capable of having been White’s accomplice in his dirty work.
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Douglas Valentine is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY, all of which are available through iUniverse.com. For information about Mr. Valentine and his books and articles, please visit his website at www.douglasvalentine.com