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The Fatal Flaw
By 1952 White’s advancement within the FBN had come to a halt, and he was seeking full-time employment with the CIA. For both parties, the timing could not have been better. In April 1952 White was introduced to Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, a club-footed, stuttering, Brooklyn-born officer in the CIA’s Technical Services Division and chief of its nascent MKULTRA drug-testing program. White and Gottlieb formed an immediate rapport, and when White’s background check was completed in July 1952, Dr. Gottlieb hired him. For the next 13 years, White conducted MKULRA experiments, first in New York City from 1952 through 1955, and then in San Francisco from 1955 until his retirement from the FBN in 1965.
White’s sadistic streak, underworld contacts, flexible status with the FBN, and experience in “truth drug” experiments, combined to make him the perfect choice to begin testing LSD on unsuspecting American citizens. But White was an anomaly who secretly resented the elitists who ran the CIA. He also had literary ambitions, and against strict CIA regulations he kept a diary of his daily activities.
According to his diary (portions of which were released to this writer as part of a 1994 Freedom of Information Act Request), White conducted his first LSD experiment on 21 September 1952 on a hapless hoodlum named “Tony”. White did not record the results of that initial test, but his diary indicates that he met regularly through November with Dr. Gottlieb and other top CIA officials regarding his LSD experiments. Notably, these meetings were only one side of his Jekyll-Hyde personality; White simultaneously was working undercover on federal narcotic cases and in that capacity he posed alternately as a merchant seaman or a bohemian artist, and consorted with a vast array of underworld characters, all of whom were involved in vice, including drugs, prostitution, gambling, and pornography.
It was under his assumed, bohemian artist persona that White would entrap most of his MKULTRA victims, including Barbara Smithe, whom he first met on December 28th, 1952.
In order to avoid a lawsuit filed by this writer in federal district court, the CIA in February 2000 released approximately 90 pages from White’s diary. The CIA censors were required to redact the names of White’s victims, but they inadvertently released a set of pages naming several of the victims, including Barbara Smithe and her husband, Eliot.
Eliot Smithe was located through a computer search, and generously agreed to speak on the record both about his brief association with George White, and the strange event that occurred in New York on January 11th, 1953–an event Eliot was unaware of until he received a letter, dated 18 July 1979, from CIA officer Frank Laubinger of the Victims Task Force. The startling letter informed Eliot that the CIA, at the request of Congress, was investigating the MKULTRA Program, and that George White might have given Eliot’s recently deceased wife a surreptitious dose of LSD.
Born in 1926 and raised in a suburb of New York, Eliot was attending Upsala College in New Jersey when, through a mutual friend, he met Barbara Crowley on a blind date. Barbara was sixteen and a high school senior from East Orange. They started going steady and when Barbara became pregnant, Eliot, on his father’s advice, asked her to marry him.
“I was confused, not in love,” he explains. “But it was the right thing to do, and I thought love would follow.”
Eliot and Barbara were married in September 1950 and their daughter, Valerie, was born the following May. Eliot went go work for the family business, the F. L. Smithe Machine Company, and Barbara stayed at home and took care of their child. She was a good mother, but naive, with no real interests of her own. Eliot was seven years older and far more worldly wise. He’d spent two years in the Navy and was a college graduate with a degree in English literature, so Barbara tended to follow his lead in everything.
Unfortunately, Eliot abused his power over Barbara, and projected his personal problem onto his young wife. His biggest problem was, in his own words, that he liked to “skirt the edge.” He describes himself as “immature, irresponsible, and erratic,” and confesses that he had tried psychotherapy as a way of understanding and controlling his sexual compulsions. But the compulsions persisted, even after he married Barbara. Their first apartment was on 168th Street and Riverside Drive, but they soon moved to 74th Street and Columbus Avenue, in Eliot’s words, “to be closer to the action.”
“The action” was promiscuous sex in the swinging Greenwich Village scene.
Long before he met Barbara, Eliot had been indulging his sexual fantasies in the Village, and at one fateful party he met Gil Fox, a writer of soft-core pornography. Gil’s books dealt with lesbian sex in an inhibited 1950’s fashion, referring, for example, to a woman’s “secret place.” But sex clearly was the subject, and bringing the reader to climax through masturbation at certain points in the narrative was, according to Gil, the object.
Something of a sexual predator, Gil immediately recognized that Eliot was looking for sexual adventures and he invited Eliot, and Eliot’s current girlfriend (not Barbara), to participate in a “foursome” with him and his attractive wife, Pat.
“Gil was a charmer,” Eliot recalls, “so we agreed. But it wasn’t a success. He asked me to peel Pat’s stocking off with my teeth, and I tried, but I found myself getting red with rage. It was impossible for me to act against my will. Luckily Gil realized this and told Pat to let me go, which she did. They treated me with kid gloves and because of that we remained friends. We decided to forgot the whole thing.”
After he married Barbara, Eliot continued to socialize with Gil and Pat Fox. In fact, Gil dedicated his book, And Baby Makes Three, to Barbara and Eliot Smithe.
It was through Gil that Barbara and Eliot met George White.
Sex & Drugs & CIA Schemes
Gil Fox served in the U.S. Army Air Force as a bombardier in the Second World War, and in 1948 he graduated from Bolling Green College in Ohio with a degree in musicology. At Bolling Green he met Pat, whom he describes as the most beautiful girl on campus. They were married in their junior year and after graduation moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Gil taught music.
But Gil wasn’t your typical trombone teacher. His real interest was in writing about sexual deviation, especially lesbians and fetishes. Pat shared his interests and after tiring of Chapel Hill, they moved to New York in 1950. A Chapel Hill resident who enjoyed spanking provided Gil with a letter of introduction to John Willie, an artist whose specialty was drawing pictures of women wearing high heels. Gil met Willie at a bar on McDougal Street and began writing pornographic novels for Willie’s Woodford Press. Shortly thereafter Gil decided to self-publish. He set up Vixen Press at his apartment at 125 Christopher Street, and began writing a book a month under the aliases Dallas Mayo, Paul V. Russo, and Kimberly Kemp.
The first mention of Gil Fox in George White’s diary occurs on 6 November 1952.
“I knew George well,” Gil explains. “Extremely well, in a strange way. George was into high heels. That was his major fetish, and we met through John Willie. Willie was putting out a little magazine called Bizarre that featured women in high heels, and White liked it. He liked my books too, and he asked me to write about high heels.
“Later I did a semi-analysis of him,” Gil explains. “As a child, White had been infatuated with an aunt who wore high heels. He was an interesting guy with a sensitive side. He loved to hold and pet little birds, like canaries. But he was a gin drunk. He drank morning noon and night. At parties he would prepare two pitchers of martinis, one for everyone else, and one for himself. He was playing out his sexual fantasies too. One time Pat and I went with him to see his hooker girlfriend at a hotel. She tied him up and strapped him to the bed and whipped his ass. She had on high heels.
“Tine knew George was playing around,” Gil adds, “but she was a social climber and she pushed him to succeed. At the time George was big into the New York mayoral election. The candidate he was backing, Rudolph Halley, had been chief of staff on the Kefauver Committee and was running for mayor on the Fusion Party ticket. If Halley won the election, he was going to make George the Commissioner of the NYPD.
“Anyway, as long as Tine wore high heeled boots, George tolerated her. He would lace her into a special pair of high heeled boots. Those high-heeled boots made up their sex life together.”
An entry in White’s diary notes that he and Tine had the Foxes to their apartment for drinks on Friday night, November 28th, 1952. Kai Jurgenson, a drama professor from Chapel Hill, and Kai’s wife, Jo, were also present–and White dosed them all with LSD. The subjects, White wrote in his diary, had a “delayed reaction” and not until the following day did Gil call him regarding Pat’s “symptoms.” Gil, according to White’s diary, was “puzzled.”
As Gil recalls: “We were all boozing and smoking pot in those days, including George, and one night George gave us LSD. He slipped it to us secretly. Kai and Jo were visiting us at Christopher Street and we went to the Whites. Afterwards we went slumming around the Lower Village. It was snowing. We stopped the car on Cornelius Street and the snow was red and green and blue–a thousand beautiful colors–and we were dancing in the street. Jo thought she had lace gloves up to her elbows. Then we went into a lesbian bar, but that freaked-out Pat and Jo. Pat had trouble coming off the trip, and Jo later went wacko, like Eliot’s wife. And Jo eventually divorced Kai too.
“I was angry at George for that,” Gil concludes. “It turned out to be a bad thing to do to people, but we didn’t realize it at the time.”
Indeed, on December 14th the Foxes again socialized with the Whites, as if nothing unusual had happened. And considering the proclivities of the Foxes and their milieu, to a large extent that was true.
January 11th, 1953
“I was into people on the edge,” Eliot explains, “and Gil said he knew some people over on the West Side that I might like to meet. I’m not trying to make excuses but I was twenty-five going on seventeen, and the Foxes were our friends, and I had no idea that White was a government agent. So Barbara and I went to see them.
“I remember George was fat and bull-like, with a large head and knots on the back of his neck. He was gruff, but wore a nice suit and was well spoken. Tine was in her thirties and very pretty. I had an immediate sexual attraction to her–which White recognized. He showed me a closet full of her shoes, the kind with spiked heels. He was trying to find out what fetishes I was interested in, and he alluded to Tine, who was the bait, and was aware she was bait. Barbara was very good looking too, and it was obvious that they were trying to get us into a sex scene. But because White was so gross I moved away and there never was one.”
At least, there never was a sex scene with Eliot.
Eliot enjoyed the fact that his wife, like Pat Fox and Tine White, attracted men. But while he was away on a business trip, the Whites invited Barbara back to their place for dinner and drinks. It was January 11th, 1953, and Barbara was so naive and so trusting that she brought along her twenty-month old baby, Valerie.
Two other women were present that evening: Clarice Stein, a co-worker of Tine’s at Abraham & Strauss; and Francine Kramer, a linen buyer at Macy’s and a good friend of Tine’s. As White noted in his diary, Francine unexpectedly stopped by later that evening and interrupted the LSD experiment he was conducting on Barbara and Clarice.
It was an experiment that ended traumatically for Clarice. As White scribbled in his diary, Clarice got “the Horrors”.
After being notified by the Victims Task Force that she too may have been one of White’s test subjects, Clarice wrote a letter to the CIA describing what happened that night. In the letter, dated November 12th, 1979, she explained that she lived nearby in the Village and often went to the Whites’ apartment after work. She recalled that Barbara was present with her baby daughter that fateful evening, and that George White served martinis, after which Barbara, Tine, and Clarice embarked on a “laughing jag.”
When Clarice got home, multi-colored images appeared whenever she closed her eyes. She became frightened but when she called White, he told her not to bother him. He hung up the phone. Her fear evolved into abject terror. She promised herself that if she never fell asleep again, she “would kill myself.”
Clarice tried calling White three or four more times that night, each time begging him to tell her what he had put in her drink so she could call her doctor and ask for something to counteract it. White was unsympathetic and hung up every time.
Finally in the morning Clarice called a friend (she did not want to alarm her parents), who remained with her until the symptoms subsided and she fell asleep later that night. Several days elapsed before she returned to work, where, out of necessity, she continued to have a professional relationship with Tine. Resentful and hurt, Clarice cooled their friendship for several months. And yet even though she could never forgive George White, she ineluctably drifted back into his captivating social scene. To this day, Clarice remains friends with Tine.
Her Secret Heart
For some reason, Barbara never told Eliot about her LSD experience. This is one of the great mysteries of her mental illness. Why didn’t she tell?
It was not until CIA officer Frank Laubinger wrote to him in July 1979, on behalf of the Victims Task Force, that Eliot learned that his wife had been given LSD. Barbara had died from cancer a mere seven months earlier. She and Eliot had separated in 1957 after a tumultuous marriage, and he’d had little contact with her for over twenty years. Then Laubinger’s letter unlocked all of his repressed memories and emotions.
“Barbara was healthy in the early days of our marriage,” Eliot recalls. “She was a good wife and mother and I never sensed that she fooled around. But I never knew what was in her secret heart. I can’t remember exactly when she began to deteriorate, but it was several years into our marriage, and it got progressively worse. We started going for counseling, but that didn’t help, and eventually we separated. She went to live with her parents and later, out of a desire to possess her, I called and asked for a reconciliation.
“When I got to her house she was cowering in a corner. She thought the Mafia was out to get her. Her parents were unable to cope with the problem, so on our psychiatrist’s advice I admitted her to Stony Lodge Hospital in December 1958. Not long after that we got divorced, and Valerie went to live with my parents.
“I can’t explain why Barbara broke down,” Eliot says matter-of-factly. “The psychiatrist told me I was partially to blame, and it’s true that I wasn’t the best supporter. But after talking with Laubinger, I was ready to accept the possibility that her problems were the result of a reaction to the LSD. Laubinger implied that the LSD experiment had contributed to her mental illness, so I decided to sue the CIA.”
Wrangling with the CIA
In October 1979, Eliot hired the law firm of Rogovin, Stern, and Huge to represent him on a contingency basis and to seek compensation from the CIA on the premise that Barbara’s mental illness was caused by a surreptitious dose of LSD administered by George White. There was just one catch. Senior partner Mitchell Rogovin, a former assistant attorney general in the Johnson administration, had worked for the CIA on a number of occasions, and that raised the specter of a conflict of interest. But Rogovin assured Eliot that the CIA’s General Counsel did not anticipate any problems in that respect. On the contrary, Rogovin told Eliot that the CIA had expressed a desire to settle the case rather than litigate.
Laubinger, meanwhile, had contacted Clarice, and she too had decided to sue the CIA. She was living in Florida with her husband Sol Smithline, a retired attorney who represented her in the case. Clarice had developed a rare type of cancer, and in her claim against the CIA her physician stated his belief that the cancer might have originated with the surreptitious dose of LSD. Treatments for the cancer had saddled Clarice with diabetes, glaucoma and cataracts, and she was suing the CIA for $150,000 in damages.
Clarice already was suing the CIA when Eliot hired the Rogovin law firm. They never actually met, but through Laubinger they became aware of each other’s cases, and they decided to join forces, at which point Sol Smithline gave the Rogovin law firm a copy of Clarice’s claim. Barbara, of course, had died of cancer in February 1978, and the fact that both women had developed cancer led all of the plaintiffs to the inevitable conclusion that there was a causal relationship between the LSD and the cancer. Taken together the separate cases were a powerful one-two punch, and Eliot, based on Rogovin’s assurances, was certain the CIA would settle without a fight.
Unanticipated problems developed, however, when the Rogovin law firm began to research the long-term effects of LSD. The firm asked several qualified doctors if there could have been a causal relationship between the surreptitious dose of LSD and Barbara’s breakdown several years later, but a “qualified maybe” was the unanimous response.
The CIA had reached the same conclusion and on February 15th, 1980, shortly after the Rogovin law firm completed its research, CIA attorney William Allard sent a letter to the Smithlines characterizing their offer as “excessive” and asserting that there were no facts on which to base the belief that Clarice’s problems were caused by LSD. Allard said her fright and anxiety had been limited to a few days, and the only provable problem was the brief strain on her friendship with Tine. Allard made the Smithlines a counter-offer of $5000.
On March 1st the Smithlines lowered their price to $110,000. In the letter to the CIA, Clarice said that the anxiety and terror of the LSD trip had left an indelible stamp on her memory. She still got an icy reaction whenever she recalled the incident.
On March 21st Allard again denied her claim and shortly thereafter Clarice settled for $15,000–and a gratuitous visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Meanwhile, as Rogovin informed Eliot, the CIA changed its strategy. Instead of settling, it decided to face the bad publicity a lawsuit might generate. But Eliot pressed ahead and on May 16th 1980 he submitted a $2,500,000 Claim for Damage, Injury, and Death against the CIA. The Claim argued that Barbara began to manifest the mental problems that contributed to her divorce from Eliot, and her inability to care for Valerie, only after White slipped her an undetermined dosage of LSD.
The Claim also argued that LSD contributed to Barbara’s death. It noted that White’s boss, Dr. Gottlieb, had monitored the LSD tests, but had made no effort to inform Barbara, even though he later became aware of her subsequent mental problems.
Notably, Dr. Gottlieb in 1972 and 1973 destroyed all MKULTRA operational files, including White’s reports, in order to cover their tracks.
The CIA’s response was predictable in light of the Smithline case. On July 28th 1980, CIA General Counsel Daniel B. Silver responded to Eliot’s Claim by saying there was no evidence that Barbara was ever given LSD. Despite Clarice’s testimony, Silver said it was impossible “to reconstruct the details of the unfortunate and reprehensible course of conduct followed by George White.”
Seeking to bolster its case, the Rogovin firm sought a court order for medical records from Stony Lodge Hospital, and it contacted Barbara’s psychiatrist. With these two actions, the case fell apart.
What the Medical Records Revealed
Barbara was admitted to Stony Lodge Hospital on December 2nd, 1958 when she was only 25 years old. Dr. Milton Berger, the psychiatrist who had been treating her for over a year, referred her there. A Clinical Summary composed during her initial intake described Barbara as “above average intelligence” and “rather attractive”. But her hair was disheveled, and she was apprehensive, confused, and restless. She was agreeable and tried to cooperate, but her thoughts were scattered. She was depressed and afraid that gangsters planned to get rid of her because she had talked much about the labor rackets. She felt her telephone was tapped and that “they” were listening. She expressed feelings of guilt about two affairs she had had after her separation from Eliot. She felt she was paying for her wrongdoing. Barbara was diagnosed as having had “a symptomatic schizophrenic episode.”
Several days of testing followed this initial intake. During these tests Barbara seemed fatigued and perplexed, with motor retardation. She said her marriage was bad to begin with. “My husband kept threatening to kill me and I felt someone was going to kill me–shoot me,” she told the doctors.
Barbara felt rejected by Eliot. She sensed that he didn’t like her or think much of her as a person, because he constantly tried to get her to change her appearance and behavior. He demanded that she wear tight clothes and pretend to be different people–a ballet dancer in one instance, a burlesque queen in another–to satisfy whatever fantasy he had at the moment. Seeking his approval, she would pose for him and act sexy in front of other men. Eliot would get angry if they did notice her, or if they did not. Either way she lost, but for some reason, Barbara blamed herself. “I would just never try to make a go of things, and I’d keep going out to try to find someone else to fall in love with,” she said.
Barbara described herself as follows: “I find myself very confused. I have a short span of interest, and my mind wanders. I used to think I was so right, but now I see that I did a lot of things that caused a lot of friction.”
Applying Freudian theories that were popular at the time, the doctors diagnosed Barbara as having psychosexual confusion, problems with authority, and a “precarious contact with reality.” They said she was a chronic paranoid with depression superimposed–that she had doubts about her feminine identity, felt inadequate in personal relationships, viewed her environment as rejecting and hostile, and had a suicidal preoccupation.
The most damaging information for Eliot’s lawsuit came from Barbara’s psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, who informed the Rogovin firm that he would testify as a “hostile witness” against Eliot. Berger said that Barbara told him that Eliot was associating with racketeers, abused her verbally, and threatened her with a knife.
Despite the fact that there was hearsay evidence that Dr. Berger had made sexual advances toward Barbara while she was his patient, Eliot’s lawyers considered his testimony to be a death warrant. They abandoned the case in April 1981, saying it was too difficult to prove a causal relationship between a dose of LSD administered in 1953, and Barbara’s breakdown in 1958. Furthermore, the medical reports were specious, and the CIA would certainly use them to discredit Eliot. The final nail in the coffin was the possibility that Barbara’s father may also have suffered from paranoia.
“I should have settled right away,” Eliot concedes, “but the climate changed and the law firm abdicated. I was kind of tired of it by then, anyway. They said they would help me find another lawyer, but they didn’t. Then they sent me a bill for about $1000. I never paid it, and they never asked again.”
Eliot denies having any underworld connections. He did carry a knife for a while, and he admits that this frightened Barbara. But they were squabbling over alimony at the time, and Eliot believes that their legal hassles may have motivated her to exaggerate her concerns to Dr. Berger.
He does, however, admit that he played a role in her breakdown. “I harassed her for a year after she kicked me out,” he confesses. “I thought of her as a possession. For me it was always just a sexual attraction.”
Perhaps subconsciously, Eliot may have wanted the relationship to end. On the day she kicked him out, he appeared before his wife and daughter (deleted at Eliot’s request).
For all of these reasons, Eliot felt remorse. After Barbara was re-admitted to Stony Lodge in 1962, he visited her and discovered that the doctors had, in his opinion, damaged her brain with electroshock. “They called it “regressive therapy”,” he explains, “but they never were able to reconstruct her personality.”
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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