Sunday, November 27, 2016

CIA Withholds Key MKULTRA Document Because It Reveals WMD Concepts

Last summer I made a request for a mandatory declassification review, or MDR, of the CIA's 1957 Inspector General report on the "Operations of TSD." TSD is the acronym for the Technical Services Division of the CIA, which was a component of the Agency that fashioned and produced technological apparatus for the clandestine service -- sort of like "Q" in the James Bond movies. The CIA recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of this division.

A few weeks ago, I received the CIA's official rejection of my request. They would not release any portion of the decades old inspector general report -- even though pages from it had been previously declassified and long posted online -- because, in part, it purportedly contained information about "the identity of a confidential human source or a human intelligence source; or... key design concepts of weapons of mass destruction"!

How we (and I use "we" as I am a member of the public, and my request was made on behalf of the public) got to this place, and the realization that CIA has been involved by their own account in the construction of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), is the subject of this posting.

I was motivated to pursue the declassification of this material due to revelations in government documents that the CIA's torture program under Bush and Cheney was in part created with the help of the Office of Technical Services (OTS), which is the modern incarnation of the old TSD. (For awhile, the name had also been the Technical Services Staff.) This chilled me, as I also knew that OTS/TSD was the component within CIA that fashioned its infamous MKULTRA mind-control research. MKULTRA was only one of the programs that was involved with such research, which also included the creation of assassination and disabling devices, behavioral studies of various sorts, research on the effects of drugs, hypnosis, and more. The program had various names over the years, including MKNAOMI, MKSEARCH, MKDELTA, MKOFTEN, MKCHICKWIT, and Project Artichoke, and had direct applications to interrogations.

There were a lot of dirty operations associated with MKULTRA operations, including experimentation upon unwitting subjects, and even the deaths of some victims. Operations were conducted overseas and domestically at home. The Wikipedia page on the subject is not a bad place to start, if you aren't familiar with this subject.

The mainstream and blogging press, as well as human rights circles, were uninterested in pursuing the OTS/TSD link to the CIA's torture program, content to follow the identification of two CIA contract psychologists from the military's SERE program who were linked to construction, promotion and operations of the post-9/11 CIA torture (or "enhanced interrogation") program. I, however, felt the link worth pursuing, and in an effort to better understand the role of TSD in MKULTRA, I asked for the declassification of CIA's own early inspector general report on the program.

Mandatory declassification requests are not the same as FOIA requests. They are subject to different deadlines and bureaucratic rules. The exemptions to departmental or agency declassifications are derived from Presidential Executive Order (EO). The current such EO governing such exemptions for MDRs is Executive Order 13526, "Classified National Security Information," released by President Obama on December 29, 2009. (No doubt a new President Trump will release his own EO on this in months to come, and that EO will supplant Obama's version, just as Obama's replaced that of earlier presidents.)

The CIA raised two objections to my declassification request. The first had to do with supposed threats to reveal human intelligence sources and/or "key design concepts" of WMD. The second objection was even more problematic, from the standpoint of making an appeal. It was based on EO language that states that even when governmental materials are more than 50 years old, they can be withheld by an agency head for whatever reason that person deems necessary! In other words, at least when it comes to requests for declassification based on EO laws, information can be denied for decades basically upon agency head say so.

The denial based on the presence of supposed "key design concepts of weapons of mass destruction" was startling to say the least. For one thing, it demonstrates how plastic the legal concepts of WMD are, and how they can be stretched to accommodate propaganda or in some cases legal or political actions. On the other hand, when it comes to MKULTRA, it reminds us that the CIA was for decades involved in the construction and deployment of some very dangerous materials and concepts. The fact that the parts of the agency involved in that are still involved in interrogation policy and research should give all of us pause. So should the fact that no persons were ever held accountable for the crimes committed under MKULTRA, nor for the admitted destruction of thousands of government documents related to that program. Despite the program's notoriety, there never were any indictments or, so far as we know, governmental accountability.

The mainstream press, the human rights community, and academia have done a disservice to the public (with some rare exceptions) in not reporting fully, nor evidently even pursuing, stories that would probe deeper into the U.S. torture scandal. I understand part of the problem: the U.S. government is still trying to hide material that is decades old, as this latest CIA declassification denial makes clear. But, especially when it comes to the press, it is their job to pursue such information for the greater good of the society. It was with such a principle in mind that I am still seeking exposure of government misdeeds in this area. See for instance how my MDR of the CIA's KUBARK interrogation manual produced new information about the government's historic use of rendition and torture.

Below is the full text of my appeal letter to CIA. It can also be found, with associated materials, at the Muckrock website.
November 27, 2016

Michael Lavergne
Information and Privacy Coordinator
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, DC 20505

Re: Reference No. EOM-2016-01415

Dear Mr. Lavergne,

This is a formal request for appeal of the decision made in regards to my mandatory declassification review (MDR) request (number referenced above) for the 1957 CIA Inspector General Report on “Operations of TSD” (hereafter IG REPORT). In a letter dated November 1, 2016, you wrote, “We completed a thorough search of our records and located material responsive to your request. We have determined that the material must remain classified on the basis of sections 3.3(h)(1) and 3.3(h)(2) of the [Executive] Order [13526] and cannot be released in sanitized form.” I thank you for your prompt response.

In my initial request, filed on August 13, 2016, I asked for “the 1957 CIA Inspector General Report on ‘Operations of TSD,’ wherein ‘TSD’ stands for the CIA division, the Technical Services Division.” I believe the decision to withhold the report, concluding it “cannot be released in sanitized form,” to be incorrect for the reasons adumbrated below.

1) Previous declassification of sections of IG REPORT

I noted in my initial request that a portion of IG REPORT had been declassified previously. CIA released a section of this report, specifically 8 pages long (numbered pages 199-206) in Folder 0000146167 of CIA's MKULTRA FOIA release made a number of years ago. This section of IG REPORT was posted online by the website at URL: (accessed 13 August 2016). An alternate posting online is available online at (accessed November 25, 2016).

2) A History of Declassifications

Besides the portion of IG REPORT identified above, there have been other declassifications associated with similar material. From the 1970s onwards, many declassified documents associated with both TSD and the MKULTRA program were declassified by CIA. A later IG report on the MKULTRA program, involving TSD operations, and dated July 26, 1963, was subject to declassification review per E.O. 12065, which was conducted on 17 June 17, 1981. This 1963 report is also available online at numerous websites. One such URL is (accessed November 25, 2016).

In addition to IG reports, many other documents related to MKULTRA’s history and operations have been declassified over the years. This material has been the subject of numerous books, and, even going back some years, Congressional hearings. The website The Black Vault has posted a complete selection of these documents at the URL: (accessed November 25, 2016).

3) Applicable Law

According to EO 13526, Section 3.5(c): “Agencies conducting a mandatory review for declassification shall declassify information that no longer meets the standards for classification under this order. They shall release this information unless withholding is otherwise authorized and warranted under applicable law.”

It is my understanding of your decision that the applicable law precluding the release of IG REPORT, or any portion of that report, is that it “remain classified on the basis of sections 3.3(h)(1) and 3.3(h)(2)” of Executive Order 13526.

The 3.3(h)(1) exemption, which is for documents over 50 years old, states that such exemption is reserved for documents that can “clearly and demonstrably be expected to reveal…. (A) the identity of a confidential human source or a human intelligence source; or (B) key design concepts of weapons of mass destruction.”

Exemption 3.3(h)(2) is reserved for documents that constitute “extraordinary cases.” In such cases, an agency head “may, within 5 years of the onset of automatic declassification, propose to exempt additional specific information from declassification at 50 years.” Such claim of exemption from automatic declassification must be made according to the provisions of section 3.3(j) of the Executive Order, i.e., “[a]t least 1 year before information is subject to automatic declassification under this section…”

The EO continues:
“… an agency head or senior agency official shall notify the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, serving as Executive Secretary of the [Interagency Security Classification Appeals] Panel, of any specific information that the agency proposes to exempt from automatic declassification under paragraphs (b) and (h) of this section.

“(1) The notification shall include:

“(A) a detailed description of the information, either by reference to information in specific records or in the form of a declassification guide;

“(B) an explanation of why the information should be exempt from automatic declassification and must remain classified for a longer period of time; and

“(C) a specific date or a specific and independently verifiable event for automatic declassification of specific records that contain the information proposed for exemption.”

The claim by CIA that IG REPORT cannot be released in toto, i.e., without sanitization, seems highly unlikely in regards to exemption 3.3(h)(1). Sections have already been released, as noted above, with no danger as to whether a “confidential human source or a human intelligence source” were in danger. A 1963 Inspector General report on the same general subject as IG REPORT also was released in more substantive form. Furthermore, it seems unlikely IG REPORT was substantively concerned with identification of human intelligence sources.

Hence, the exemption for released material according to section 3.3(h)(1) of EO 13526 appears to concern “key design concepts of weapons of mass destruction.” Such weapons are defined in U.S. law (18 U.S. Code § 2332a) as any “destructive device” (defined a weapon with a bore diameter of larger than one-half inch propelled by an explosive or propellant, or any “explosive, incendiary, or poison gas [see 18 U.S. Code § 921]); any weapon that “designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors”; “any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector”; or any weapon “designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life.”

According to a July 26, 1963 memorandum to the then-director of the CIA from then-CIA Inspector General J.S. Earman, the MKULTRA program was concerned with, at least in part, “the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.” (See quote of the document at URL: [accessed November 25, 2016]). Hence, the apparent role of CIA in the development of weapons of mass destruction appears to be the basis of withholding material from declassification and release some 59 years after the fact.

But the EO language states that the exemption must be because the document would reveal “key design concepts” of such weapons of mass destruction. Given the arguments regarding prior declassifications made above, it seems that whatever exemption regarding “key design concepts” of WMD, or even identification of human intelligence sources, is segregable within IG REPORT, and there is no need to withhold that document in its totality.

Exemption 3.3(h)(2) presents a greater difficulty for this appeal, as it does not give any reason for the agency head to claim the exemption. But whatever those reasons are, they must presented to Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (hereafter ISCAP), along with a description of what information is exempted, and a projected date of declassification. I request that such information be released if IG REPORT is not to be released.

Further, I note that the language of Section 3.3(j) does not suggest the exemption of an entire document, and in fact argues against it. Section 3.3.(j)(1)(a) states the agency head must provide ISCAP “a detailed description of the information, either by reference to information in specific records or in the form of a declassification guide” to such information. This strongly suggests that only some portions of the document will be subject to exemption, not an entire document itself, especially one that is as long as an inspector general report, or one that has already had multiple pages previously declassified.

4) Public Interest

Finally, I argue that the material requested by MDR in this case is in the public interest. Much of the information in IG REPORT is already publicly available. Furthermore, it seems likely that the passage of time has reduced any potential harm from such release.

Nearly 40 years since the public revelations concerning the CIA’s MKULTRA and related programs, interest in this story remains high. Books published decades ago, such as John Marks’ “The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’: The CIA and Mind Control: The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences” (W.W. Norton & Co.), and Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain’s “Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond” (Grove Press), remain in print and therefore in demand.

Newspaper and mainstream magazine articles continue to address the subject. As examples, see, for instance, “April 13, 1953: CIA OKs MK-ULTRA Mind-Control Tests,” by Kim Zetter, Wired Magazine, April 13, 2010 (URL: [accessed November 25, 2016]); “The CIA Can Do Mind Control: MK Ultra / College campuses, for starters / 1953-1973,” by Mark Jacobson, New York Magazine, November 17, 2013 (URL: [accessed November 25, 2016]); “Operation Midnight Climax: How the CIA Dosed S.F. Citizens with LSD,” by Troy Hooper, SF Weekly, March 14, 2012 (URL: [accessed November 25, 2016]); and “What Do You Do When Your Family Was the Victim of CIA Mind-Control Experiments?” by Rea McNamara, VICE News, April 15, 2016 (URL: [accessed November 25, 2016]).

Finally, in regards to public interest, it cannot be denied that there are a great deal of bogus or wild conspiratorial claims made about the CIA’s MKULTRA and related programs. Release of such documents as IG REPORT helps mitigate wild speculations, and therefore is in the public interest.

It is the contention of this appeal that due to prior releases and government investigations that the material discussed in IG REPORT does not constitute one of an unknown number of “extraordinary cases” that would require exemption from declassification. Even if the appeals panel finds that some material should be in fact exempt from release, I believe that all portions of IG REPORT that do not meet such exemption be released.

Therefore, Mr. Lavergne, in mind of all the arguments made above, I am appealing to the Agency Release Panel, and sending such appeal to your care and attention. If you, or anyone at the Panel, have any questions, or believe discussion of this matter would be beneficial, please contact me directly at or at (415) xxx-xxxx.

Thank you,
Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D.


  1. Thank you Dr. Kaye.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you Dr. Kaye. Interesting information and possible relevancy to the detainee interrogations etc.