Pubdate: 10 March 1999 Source: Chicago Tribune (IL) Copyright: 1999 Chicago Tribune Company Contact: Website: Forum: Section: Metro Chicago Author: New York Times News Service


WASHINGTON -- Sidney Gottlieb, who presided over the CIA's Cold War efforts to control the human mind and provided the agency with poisons to kill Fidel Castro, has died at age 80.

Mr. Gottlieb died Sunday in the Blue Ridge foothills village of Washington, Va., where he had spent his later years caring for dying patients, trying to run a commune, folk-dancing, consciousness-raising and fighting lawsuits from survivors of his secret tests.

Friends and enemies alike said he was a kind of genius, striving to explore the frontiers of the human mind for his country while searching for religious and spiritual meaning in his life.

But he always will be remembered as the government chemist who dosed Americans with psychedelics in the name of national security.

In the 1950s and early '60s, the agency gave mind-altering drugs to hundreds of unsuspecting Americans in an effort to explore the possibilities of controlling human consciousness. Many of the human guinea pigs were mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes--"people who could not fight back," as one agency officer put it.

Other experiments involved agency employees, military officers and college students, who had varying degrees of knowledge about the tests. In all, the agency conducted 149 mind-control experiments; as many as 25 involved unwitting subjects.

First-hand testimony, fragmentary government documents and court records show that at least one participant died, others went mad, and still others suffered psychological damage after participating in the project, known as MKUltra. The experiments were useless, Mr. Gottlieb concluded in 1972, shortly before he retired.

Nevertheless, the CIA awarded him its Distinguished Intelligence Medal. It destroyed most of the MKUltra records in 1973.

Mr. Gottlieb, the son of Hungarian immigrants, studied at City College of New York, then left for the Arkansas Polytechnic Institute, and later for the University of Wisconsin, where he graduated, magna cum laude, with a chemistry degree in 1940.

He earned a doctorate in biochemistry from California Institute of Technology, where, in 1942, he married Margaret Moore, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries who served in India.

He joined the CIA in 1951. Two years later, the agency established MKUltra and Mr. Gottlieb was running it. As chief of the agency's technical services division, he served two decades as the senior scientist presiding over some of the CIA's darkest secrets.

He also was involved in CIA assassination plots. In the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, Mr. Gottlieb developed a poison handkerchief to kill an Iraqi colonel, an array of toxic gifts to be delivered to Castro and a poison dart to kill a leftist leader in the Congo. None of the plans succeeded.

After he left the CIA, Mr. Gottlieb and his wife went to India, where he ran a leper hospital for 18 months.