JOHN KIRIAKOU: CIA Should Get Out of the Laboratory

The C.I.A. has long had labs, whether overt or covert, where terrible things happened.

Aerial view of CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. (Carol M. Highsmith, Wikimedia Commons)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

The Central Intelligence Agency announced in October 2020 — which was ignored until just the past few weeks, when it began circulating on social media — that it had launched something called C.I.A. Labs, “a federal laboratory and in-house research and development arm for C.I.A. to drive science and technology breakthroughs for tomorrow’s intelligence challenges.”

The Agency says that C.I.A. Labs will join with a network of more than 300 other federal laboratories and that it will serve as a “research partner for other labs, academia, and industry in disciplines spanning from artificial intelligence and biotechnology to quantum computing and advanced materials manufacturing.”

The C.I.A.’s Deputy Director for Science and Technology Dawn Meyerriecks said in a statement, “In an evolving threat landscape, C.I.A. Labs will help us maintain our competitive edge and protect our nation,” whatever that means.

When I was at the C.I.A. through the 1990s and into the middle of the next decade, the deputy director for whom I worked was fond of saying (over and over again) that the job of the C.I.A. was simple: “Recruit spies to steal secrets and then analyze those secrets so that policymakers could make the best-informed policy possible.”

That was fantasy at best and disingenuous propaganda at worst. The truth is that the C.I.A. for decades has been active in areas, including “labs” and experimentation, from which it should have stayed away.

On my very first day at the C.I.A., as my new boss was walking me to the cafeteria for lunch, I happened to look out the window, where I saw something moving along the ground. It looked like a flat, round robot. My boss mentioned casually that it was a new C.I.A. invention, and it was mowing the grass. He added that the C.I.A. had invented the machine, but didn’t know what to do with it. It was the precursor of the Roomba.

But it’s not Roombas that will come out of this new C.I.A. lab.

What CIA Labs Have Hatched

Building in Montreal where MKUltra CIA experiments were carried out. (Laval University/Wikimedia Commons)

The new lab is actually not new. The C.I.A. has long had labs, whether overt or covert, where terrible things happened. Before we celebrate this new C.I.A. lab, let’s look at what its predecessors did.

  • MKULTRA is probably the best-known example of something awful that came out of a C.I.A. lab. The official explanation to Congress of the purpose of MKULTRA was the development of drugs to aid in interrogations. But it wasn’t quite that simple. Under MKULTRA, the C.I.A. experimented on unwitting Americans, including their own employees. The Church Committee’s investigators concluded that MKULTRA “aimed to develop mind-controlling drugs for use against the Soviet bloc” and “to produce a perfect truth drug for interrogating suspected Soviet spies and to explore other possibilities of mind control.”
  • MKCHICKWIT was a program whereby the C.I.A. would infiltrate foreign pharmaceutical companies to steal drug samples and information about the drugs’ development. It would then seek to duplicate or to modify those drugs in its own labs.
  • A similar operation, dubbed MKOFTEN, started off as a study on dopamine before morphing into something far more sinister. By the end of the “study,” it had expanded to include the hallucinogen ibogaine and to LSD in the hopes of “creating a new pharmacologically active drug affecting the central nervous system to modify men’s behavior.” Thousands of active duty U.S. servicemen were unwittingly dosed during this operation.
  • Operation Midnight Climax was a program in the 1960s and 1970s, carried out in C.I.A. safehouses in San Francisco, to dose non-consenting individuals —mostly homeless men and prostitutes — with LSD and other drugs, monitor them from behind one-way glass, and determine if they would voluntarily reveal secrets. The prostitutes eventually were also taught to dose their clients and were then debriefed as to whether or not the johns had revealed any personal secrets.
  • The C.I.A.’s very first foray into drug experimentation was Project CHATTER, in which both animals and humans were dosed with the drugs anabasine (a product of the tobacco plant, it is chemically similar to nicotine,) scopolamine (a drug used to treat motion sickness and post-operative nausea,) and mescaline (a hallucinogen similar to LSD and psilocybin) to see what the effects might be. The operation ended in 1953.

Descent Into Madness (David S. Soriano/Wikimedia Commons)

As you can see, the C.I.A.’s track record when it comes to developing things in labs isn’t a good one. And we only know about the above programs thanks to the Church Committee and the Freedom of Information Act. Otherwise, the information likely would still be kept from the American people.

My bottom line is this: I don’t care how proud the C.I.A. is of its foray into U.S. Government labs. I don’t care if it considers itself to be a research partner for other labs, academia, and industry. I don’t care if its leaders believe that they have a place in artificial intelligence, biotech, or anything else.

The C.I.A. has proven time and time again that it can’t be trusted. It has proven that it will simply push the envelope into the realm of illegality if it thinks it can get away with it. And the Congressional oversight committees have proven that they will act as little more than cheerleaders for the C.I.A., rather than as overseers.

The C.I.A. has no business creating a new lab. It shouldn’t exist.

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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16 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: CIA Should Get Out of the Laboratory

  1. Anon
    December 29, 2022 at 09:31

    Props2 CN 4 Doin Veejay (sp?) Thang: Radart pieces… Your pub’d Kiriaku QUITE STRIKING

  2. Ed Hiley
    December 28, 2022 at 21:33

    Another book that is a good companion to Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money: …,” not with the CIA, but the ultra-right Koch-plus network is Nancy McLean’s “Democracy in Chains”, i.e., right-wing dark money in politics. Another that chronicles alleged CIA/MKULTRA involvement in the Charles Manson Cult Murders in L.A. in 1969, in Tom O’Neill’s “CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties, the result of of over two decades of investigation. His sources put Manson in S.F.’s Haight-Ashbury free drug clinic which had a CIA drug researcher involved. And don’t forget about Gary Webb – did he really shoot himself in the head twice in his ‘suicide’?

  3. John K Leslie
    December 28, 2022 at 20:03

    At McGill University in Montreal, mind control experiments were performed on Canadians.

  4. Sharon
    December 28, 2022 at 15:41

    This article brings to mind a wondering about the true origin of Covid-19.
    It certainly has messed up a lot of lives, which seems a speciality of the US government and its overlords, the Western elites.

  5. December 27, 2022 at 17:22

    Thank you John for your continued truth telling. CN readers are lucky you are a contributor. Any essay with your name I will always read.

    • John Kiriakou
      December 29, 2022 at 09:02

      Thank you very much for that!

  6. December 27, 2022 at 12:27

    Wow!!! Talk about ominous, but of course, the “woke” will sleep though the threat, too concerned with inanities and cancel culture missions.

  7. jamie
    December 27, 2022 at 12:25

    Is C.I.A only dictated by US government? or probably influenced by corporations, powerful economic actors? Having a “globalist ideology” being a “globalist” organization, it is difficult to believe otherwise. CIA is similar to the mafia. Even “neutral” Switzerland is said to give assistance to CIA, financially and even intelligence assistance. But the ugly side of CIA it is the it is exploiting NGOs, such as USAID in central America and who knows how many others, Amnesty? probably, Libya could have been one of such instance of dirty collaboration. Such perverse relationship is extremely damaging, as now other NGOs are seen with suspicion, by governments and even western people might be more reluctant to donate to NGOs possibly tied with CIA, exacerbating social problems and poverty

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      December 27, 2022 at 21:58

      I would readily agree with your comments here. The CIA had long fallen into the bad books of Americans especially Democratic partisans and this continued till the D’s gradual betrayal in recent decades. As you hint the CIA also run the risk of running down the credibility of many of the NGOs abroad that it sponsors variously. Still as John states the CIA should be relieved not of ALL but of most of its extraneous operations. Midnight Climax may be preserved though, at least it keeps the tarts employed usefully in its line. Continuing beyond that would morph the CIA into the Central Intervention Agency instead of simply remaining the Central Intelligence Agency !

  8. Carolyn L Zaremba
    December 27, 2022 at 12:24

    Thank you, John, for this article. It goes well with Joe Lauria’s article today about psyops. Consortium News is a vital source of truth in this world of lies and propaganda.

  9. Paul Citro
    December 27, 2022 at 07:53

    Let’s put powerful technologies into the hands of an agency with no accountability, decency, or conscience. What could go wrong?

    • robert e williamson jr
      December 27, 2022 at 21:18

      Paul the only things you missed was that blank check they get every year. I mean seriously what could go wrong?!

      Some ominous stuff for a so-called free society.

      As for Jamie and USAID, you do realize USAID was designed and directed as a sourcing mechanism for the despensing of funds, dark money, pun intended, for CIA fronts. Early on CIA financed some of it’s own fronts, sometimes through the use of foundations see:




      or simply google Robert Blum Asia Foundation and finish this list above with 4 or 5 additional sites.

      CIA got caught laundering money from foundations sometime 1967-68 see p104 last paragraph, from Jane Mayer’s 2016 book Dark Money, “Between 1958 and 1966 the CIA laundered $1.95 million through the Olin Foundation.”

      In my opinion, Washington and congress helped the CIA out of jam by facilitating the creation of USAID.

      You might want to study Mayer’s effort thoroughly, it is a very informative read on the origin of the Extremist Republican Party.

      • jamie
        December 28, 2022 at 04:53

        Thank you for the extra info; it seems clear is that this CIA goes well beyond gathering intel by spying etc., this organization is also a “strategic” organization, helping not only US but its allies in shaping the “tomorrow’s western world” by actively engaging in political, economical, scientific/tech, and social “development/engineer”, creating the right environment for us to be successful. I am quite sure Arab spring, which is said to have been fomented by US NGOs (probably assisted by its allies), had economic goals in mind, in addition to political, geopolitical and security issues; hard to believe CIA was not behind it, as USAID was behind the attempt to foment a “Cuban spring” with its zunzuneo social network, or behind Moldova, Philippines, Iran’s unrest. Clinton and Rice were well aware of CIA spying on UN leadership (south korea, Russia, France, China, UK) to know how much was known about its activities, to understand the UN environment/sentiment… and now with social networks, google and other search engines gathering info about people around the world, which are at CIA’s reach… I would refute a billion dollar only if I had access to all the info those tech had acquired, I would the richest man on earth. CIA has become a powerful “influencer” at elite and popular level, a powerful social engineer; it seems to me that it no longer seek to counter security threats, but to prevent them from happening in the future, sort of like the “minority report” movie, sentence the bad guys before committing a crime… because only CIA knows the future

        • robert e williamson jr
          December 28, 2022 at 14:11

          Jamie I’m sure you have a good grip on you info above. These matters are extremely complicated to navigate.

          The CIA seems to have become one of the most destabilizing entities in existence. I’m hoping I’m taking what you have written here in the right way. The CIA only seems to know the future, easy when they control life and death of others, lie constantly and refuse to be criticized, for any reason. Behavior of the “dyed in the wool” elitist. No one knows the future, some, as with the CIA, think they can control it.

          Let CIA release the JFK documents and prove they work instead for good and not for the billionaires.

          The Dark Money book condemns the behavior of the super rich wealthy elitist a serious problem that has compromised the two party system. I don’t condemn only republicans but the democrats also.

          I’ll take your comments in a positive light regardless, we still find ourselves governed by a badly broken system. Thank you for your feedback.

          Thanks CN

          • jamie
            December 29, 2022 at 05:59

            You are right, no one knows the future, but it seems to me CIA and western governments truly believe they can; it is not only about economic competition/opportunism, or based on real intel, real facts, that China has suddenly become such a military threat to western countries and to Taiwan that it needs to be urgently contained. China has become a “future threat” based on some sort of “ideological supremacism” and speculations that follow.
            Western world has experienced so many periods of madness during hard periods, e.g. christianity (religious supremacism), Nazism (racial supremacism) socialism and now progressivism (ideological supremacism), all of which have caused and causes immense suffering to humanity. The idea of knowing who a “future enemy” is plain madness. In making one enemy, we create prejudices, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy, we exclude any other options, and we greatly limit our views of the world and our chances of survival. Has the 2014 coup engineered by CIA saved us, saved Ukraine from destruction? Arab spring?
            The more intel agencies, whether CIA or any others, act based on ideological supremacy, interpret data with distorted perception of the world, and even “engineering” new realities (with the help of media, ngos, etc), the more we alienate ourselves and become inefficient. Instead of recognizing the failures, we create new realities on top of those. That’s what we are good at; we don’t give enough time to explore our failures, to accept them… As you said, the argument is so much complex, our minds are so limited, overwhelmed by complexity, pinpointing an enemy whether CIA, US, EU, Russia, China, is not possible, even counterproductive, perhaps the real enemy here is the “complexity” itself, enabling survival up to a point… will see what the future holds

      • robert e williamson jr
        December 28, 2022 at 12:54

        Pardon me, my apologies to the author here, in order to give all due credit to Ms. Mayer, her book is titled “DARK MONEY”. The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

        This effort is worthy of anyone’s interest in what has happened to the Republican Party.

        I’m betting 99% of the “Trumpists” know nothing of this history. A history totally owned by billionaires, those responsible for this sordid history of the Republican Party.

        Thanks CN

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