Operation Big City

Operation Big City

If you need thousands of unsuspecting subjects on whom to test various hallucinogenic and incapacitating sprays, why just look around you at all those innocent people walking the streets of major American cities.

Among the assignments given to Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, head of the secret Project MK-ULTRA, by CIA chief Allen Dulles in 1953 was to perfect a method of producing large-scale aberrant mental states on an unsuspecting population. A substance was sought that the U.S. military could spray over a city when engaging an enemy and render both civilians and military opponents relatively helpless and unable to resist. The substance should be able to “cause illogical thinking” or “produce shock and confusion over extended periods of time” or “produce physical disablement, such as paralysis of the legs” or merely “cause mental confusion.”

Agents assigned to Operation Big City modified a 1953 Mercury so its exhaust pipe extended eighteen inches beyond its normal length. A gas concocted to cause hallucinations was then emitted through the automobile’s exhaust as the agents drove the Mercury for eighty miles around New York City, making note of the effects on pedestrians.

In another test, operatives equipped with nasal filters boarded the New York subway with battery-powered emissions equipment fitted into suitcases to test the effect of LSD on people in confined areas.

An ambitious project was conducted in 1957 when operatives released a biological gas off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The intent of the experiment was to blanket the entire city with the gas and then monitor how powerfully the disorienting properties of the substance would affect the population. The agents were dismayed when a sudden wind arose and blew the gas away before it could cause any harm.

In 1957 CIA inspector general Lyman Kirkpatrick issued an internal memo that cautioned operatives to use utmost secrecy to protect the operation not only from enemy intelligence, but also from the American public in general. If the American people should learn that the CIA was engaging in activities that were unethical and illicit, such knowledge could become detrimental to the accomplishment of the Agency’s mission.

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