In a prior installment of my ongoing "LSD Chronicles" series I considered the legendary figure of Albert 'Captain Trips' Hubbard, a human being frequently described as "the Johnny Appleseed of LSD." In that posting I argued that Hubbard, a former OSS man, represented the benevolent side of the US intelligence community's involvement with LSD. Hubbard was a kind of warped idealist who recognized the incredible possibilities of the drug, albeitly in his own authoritarian way. Still, his ideology did not fit in with the brainwashing program that was increasingly becoming an obsession amongst the infantile US intelligence community, especially the CIA, in the early 1950s. Thus, Hubbard would always remain on the fringes of said community after World War II.
|Al 'Captain Trips' Hubbard|
One of Hubbard' former associates in the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA, would also develop a fascination with LSD in the Cold Wars years. But whereas Hubbard saw LSD's potential to heal this individual seemingly possessed a perverse fixation with the drug's ability to harm. As the title of this post indicates, I am of course referring to the mysterious figure known as George Hunter White.
White is a figure that crops up time and again when one researches the US government's involvement in the spread of LSD. While Hubbard is widely credited with the drug's rapid spread to the general public White also played a major role in this regard. The series of infamous safehouses that he set up in New York City (specifically in Greenwich Village) and San Fransisco, for which he is most well known for, would dose countless unwitting Americans with LSD and other narcotics throughout the 1950s and early 60s. Growing evidence indicates that White did not restrict his LSD experiments to these CIA-approved safehouses, but that he also dosed numerous friends and associates (of which he had many), in many cases without their knowledge.
Beyond his involvement with LSD, White also had ties to the US intelligence community's assassination programs and organized crime links. Indeed, White was associated with any number of unsavory activities on the CIA's behalf throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. He once boasted to MK-Ultra chief Sidney Gottlieb:
"I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape, and pillage with the sanctions and blessing of the All-Highest?"
In theory White was everything any red-blooded boy growing up in America during the 1950s should have aspired to be. Much of his career was spent working for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics with periodic ventures into the world of intelligence. The strongly-built White was both a hard boiled cop and spy who worked tirelessly to make the streets safe from dope and Commies. Or at least this was White's public persona, anyway. By his own admission White was rather fond of many of the underworld figure he came into contact with while working as a narcotics officers, forging close personal and professional ties with more than a few of them. What's more, White seemingly enjoyed drugs as much as he did busting dope dealers and took an almost perverse interest in administering LSD to people he came into contact with long before the public had any concept of what the drug did. White also had what could be charitably described as a rather adventurous sex life that brought him into contact with numerous prostitutes as well as pornographers. If anything, White exceeded Hubbard in both his contradictions and his appetites.
White is generally depicted as a rather buffoonish figure in most accounts of the CIA's LSD ventures and not without reason. As hinted at above, White had quite a streak of recklessness and libertinism. And yet he would have an enormous influence on the early CIA, mentoring several of its most powerful figures. This piece shall be an attempt to examine and explain the strange life and times of George Hunter White.
White was born in Los Angles on June 22, 1908, a day before the historic date of Midsummer's Eve and a day after the actual summer solstice of 1908 (at least according to this website). White's father was a Bank of America official who was eventually elected to the mayorship of Alhambra. Upon coming of age of White began working as a reporter, first in San Francisco and later in Los Angles, beginning in 1929. He immediately displayed ample skills working undercover, making the young journalist long for a profession that was more clandestine and exciting.
"...White realized that his prowess for infiltrating groups could be put to a more exciting and satisfying use. He attempted to join the notorious LA Narcotics Squad, but there were no openings. White is quoted as saying to squad director Captain Edward Chitwood, 'Newspapering is all right, but it makes a bystander out of you. I want to get out on the field, where the game is going on." White quit journalism in 1931 when the Hearst conglomerate took over his Los Angles employer. From 1932 to 1934, he worked in California for former Justice Department agent, Harold H. Dolley, a noted private detective and state law enforcement official. Dolley became White's early mentor and taught the twenty-two year old everything he knew about investigative work. Dolley was also responsible for having infamous West Coast 'rope,' or swindler, Iris Ford, privately tutor White in the intricacies of her trade. Following Dolley's sudden death in San Diego, White went on to work for the U.S. Immigration Service's Border Patrol on August 30, 1934."White reportedly loathed his time with the Border Patrol. Shortly after joining he made friends with several Federal Bureau of Narcotics officers working along the border. Impressed with White's work, they encouraged him to apply for a position with the FBN. White took the entrance exam in 1935 and was hired in 1936 with a bit of assistance from a friend of his father. U.S. Senator William Gibbs McAdoo.
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli Jr., pg. 395)
The notorious FBN director Harry Anslinger had initial misgivings about White, who indeed struggled during his early years with the Bureau. But by 1937 White had secured a major drug bust against opium smuggler Jimmy Wong, netting 50 arrests nation wide and hundreds of pounds of drugs seized. From there his star was on the rise and he found himself promoted to the Bureau's highly coveted Manhattan office. White's posting there coincided with the heyday of organized crime in America, providing ample opportunities for headline grabbing drug busts. White seized the day and quickly became one of Anslinger's favorite and most trusted agents. When World War II broke out Anslinger himself requested that White join the OSS, realizing his skills and underworld connections would be invaluable to America's infantile intelligence agency.
The OSS quickly realized White's value and sent for highly specialized training at the mysterious Camp X.
"George White received his earliest indoctrination into the art of clandestine operations in 1942 at the ominously named Camp X. Located on the north shore of Lake Ontario, between the Canadian towns of Oshawa and Whitby, the camp was the first paramilitary training school in North America. Established in December 1941, just one day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the 270-acre site was operated by Britain's ultra-secret Special Operations Executive. SOE had been formed as a branch of MI-6 in July 1940, after Winston Churchill instructed his military advisers to counter Nazi blitzkrieg victories and 'set Europe ablaze.' SOE's first order of business was to recruit and train hundreds of secret agents, who were responsible for advancing sabotage, subversion, and organized resistance against Axis occupied areas. Camp X, also called Project J and STS-103, offered its carefully selected students a full curriculum in the techniques of guerrilla warfare, covert action, and assassination. In his diary entry for February 28, 1942, just three days after he arrived there, White referred to the Ontario site as 'the school of murder and mayhem.'
"Training at Camp X was extremely rigorous. Recruits were routinely roused well before dawn to perform several hours of strenuous physical exercise before they were allowed a Spartan morning meal consisting of little more than a glass of milk and a hard roll. Then it was on to a full day of classes with instructions on subjects like 'Close Combat,' 'Small and Concealed Weapons,' and 'Silent Killing.' The camp featured a number of extremely difficult 'infiltration courses,' one of which featured a large swamp dubbed 'Lake Oshawa' by SOE instructors; for more substantial water exercise, the frigid waters of Lake Ontario were only twenty minutes away. Camp X's training ethos was kept simple; it revolved around the mantra, 'Kill or be killed.' Several times a week, trainees would participate in group jiu jitsu training, led by their chief instructor, British Major William Ewart Fairbairn, during which words were chanted, in cadence with martial movements, for hours on end. Said one former student years later, 'It turned our values upside down and we wondered about making a world fit for terrorists.'"
(ibid, pgs. 393-394)
Even as White was undergoing his own basic training he was also being groomed to become a trainer himself.
"White was sent to Camp X not only to be trained, but also to become a trainer himself, which he did when he was assigned in 1942 as Branch Chief of Schools and Training for the OSS Counter-Espionage Division in Washington D.C. Subsequently, he became Deputy Chief of Counter-Espionage, or X-2, as it was commonly called. In his trainer role, White rotated among several secret sites, including Area B3, a 9,000-acre center hidden away in Maryland's Cotoctin Mountain Park, a few miles from today's Camp David Presidential retreat. Another secret training site was known as Area A2, a 5,000-acre wooded site near Quantico, Virginia. 'The Farm,' located forty miles from Washington, D.C., was a third site. White's own training continued, as well. In May 1942, together with Garland Williams and Phillip Strong, White took a brief break from his trainer's position to attend a six-week advanced commando and parachute school in Virginia.
"Among White's first OSS students were several novice officers who would later become top CIA officials: Richard Helms, Frank Wisner, Jr., James Jesus Angelton, Lyman B. Kirkpatrick, Jr., Thomas Karmessines, and William Colby. Several other notable students were anthropologists Carlton S. Coon and Gregory Bateson, psychologist Dr. James Hamilton, future Federal Narcotics agent Howard Chappell, and Alfred M. Hubbard, an elusive and fascinating figure who arrived at OSS's Area B fresh from a stint in prison."
(ibid, pgs. 398-399)
|Helms (top) and Colby) bottom, two of White's more noted students|
Needless to say, these men would have an enormous influence on America's Cold War-era intelligence strategy, which included ventures into brainwashing and mind control, domestic propaganda blitzes, collaboration with Nazi war criminals, assassinations, terrorism, and so forth. And they all received their initial training from George Hunter White and would look to White to carry out highly sensitive field operations later on with the CIA.
During World War II White specialized in training but his considerable espionage skills were also required in the field from time to time. He is credited with helping establish the OSS, and later CIA, field office in Rome and is also alleged to have assassinated a Japanese spy in Calcutta during 1943. White also conducted field research for Division 19. Division 19, which also directed Camp X, is one of the most highly secretive programs run by the United States government during World War II, much of it still being classified to this day.
"Division 19 had been a highly secret operation tucked away within the National Defense Research Committee's Office of Scientific Research and Development. Established on June 28, 1941 by Roosevelt's Executive Order, Division 19 was run by Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell... Most of the documents concerning the work of the Division 19 are still classified and may never be released for public scrutiny. However, a few declassified files exist and although they are sketchy, they do reveal the scope and, sometimes, the specifics of certain Division 19 projects...
"Other Division 19 programs... were far more lethal. Many were taken over by SOD and the CIA during the fury of the Cold War, including the CIA's cautious alliance with the Mafia, as well as with the OSS's highly classified assassination programs. The latter were recast by the CIA as 'executive action,' 'health alteration' and 'incapacitation' programs. Well before the CIA was conceived, at the height of World War I, Division 19, through the OSS, began the systematic recruitment of underworld figures that were most adept at 'close-in killing methods...'
"Given the cornucopia of lethal weapons and innovative equipment that Division 19 came up with for the OSS --including silent pistols, signet rings containing L-pill Zyankalium ('L' for lethal), and poison dart pens --one can easily see how the division served as a model for the CIA's Technical Services Section.
"Details about the actual mechanics of the OSS assassination programs are scant, but we are able to catch a glimpse through the recollections of former government-paid 'professional killer' Michael Milan. Milan, a nom-de-plume, reveals in his tell-all book, The Squad, that he was recruited by the OSS on the recommendation of Manhattan's Republican boss, Sam Koenig. As Milan put it, he was hired to be a 'triggerman to work military bases on the East Coast.' Born and raised in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Milan was trained by a mobster named August 'Little Augie' Del Grazio. Milan was 'running the skim' for Meyer Lansky and Benny Siegel and claims that he committed a number of assassinations under the direction of Office of Naval Intelligence Capt. Roscoe McCall."
(ibid, pgs. 66-67)
|Mob boss Meyer Lansky, a figure associates of George White had close ties too|
White would maintain close ties with various organized crime figures throughout of his career, including Del Grazio, as we shall see. For now, let us consider one of White's most curious assignments for Division 19: field work on its 'truth drug' program. This program apparently took place in conjunction with the Manhattan Project.
"...the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America's wartime intelligence agency, set up a 'truth drug' committee under Dr. Winfred Overholser, head of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington. The committee quickly tried and rejected mescaline, several barbiturates, and scopolamine. Then, during the spring of 1943, the committee decided that cannabis indica --or marijuana --showed the most promise, and it started a testing program in cooperation with the Manhattan Project, the TOP SECRET effort to build an atomic bomb. It is not clear why OSS turned to the bomb makers for help, except that, as one former Project official puts it, 'Our secret was so great, I guess we were safer than anyone else.' Apparently, top Project leaders, who went to incredible lengths to preserve security, saw no danger in trying out drugs on their personnel...
"...They decided that the best way to administer the marijuana was inhalation of its fumes. Attempts were made to pour the solution on burning charcoal, and an OSS officer named George White (who had already succeeded in knocking himself out with an overdose of the relatively potent substance) tried out the vapor, without sufficient effect, at St. Elizabeth's. Finally, the OSS group discovered a delivery system which had been known for years to jazz musicians and other users: the cigarette. OSS documents reported that smoking a mix of tobacco and the marijuana essence brought on a 'state of irresponsibility, causing the subject to be loquacious and free in his impartation of information.'
"The first field test of these marijuana-laced cigarettes took place on May 27, 1943. The subject was one August Del Gracio, who was described in OSS documents as a 'notorious New York gangster.' George White, an Army captain who had come to OSS from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, administered the drug by inviting Del Gracio up to his apartment for a smoke and a chat. White had been talking to Del Gracio earlier about securing the Mafia's cooperation to keep Axis agents out of the New York waterfront and to prepare the way for the invasion of Sicily.
"Del Gracio had already made it clear to White that he personally had taken part in killing informers who had squealed to the Feds. The gangster was as tough as they came, and if he could be induced to talk under the influence of a truth drug, certainly German prisoners could --or so the reasoning went. White plied him with cigarettes until 'subject became high and extremely garrulous.' Over the next two hours, Del Gracio told the Federal agent about the ins and outs of the drug trade (revealing information so sensitive that the CIA deleted it from the OSS documents it released 34 years later). At one point in the conversation, after Del Gracio had began to talk, the gangster told White, 'Whatever you do, don't ever use any of the stuff I'm telling you.' In a subsequent session, White packed the cigarettes with so much marijuana that Del Gracio became unconscious for about an hour. Yet, on the whole the experiment was considered a success in 'loosening the subject's tongue.'
"While members of the truth-drug committee never believed that the concentrated marijuana could compel a person to confess his deepest secrets, they authorized White to push ahead with the testing. On the next stage, he and a Manhattan Project counterintelligence man borrowed 15 to 18 thick dossiers from the FBI and went off to try the marijuana on suspected Communist soldiers stationed in military camps outside Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans."
(The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate", John Marks, pgs. 6-8)
In A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Cold War Experiments author H.P. Albarelli Jr. makes no mention of the truth drug committee being connected with the Manhattan Project beyond a few scientists being unwittingly dosed. He also asserts that White informed MK-Ultra director Sidney Gottlieb that the reports about cannabis and Del Gracio had been greatly over exaggerated. When asked by Gottlieb if he believed cannabis was less than idea as a truth drug, White agreed, stating he believed a better drug might be available and that the committee had not had the time to study everything that was out there. This would not be a problem for MK-Ultra.
And it is here that I shall wrap things up for the time being. In the second part of this series I shall examine White's post-World War II ventures into truth drugs, organized crime and assassinations, all under the auspices of the CIA. Stay tuned.