Reading Time: 20 minutes
WhoWhatWhy Introduction by Milicent Cranor:
The story below offers a rare close-up view of a man who is so creepy it’s fascinating. He actually performed some of the dirty, unthinkable deeds you read about in the various exposés on the CIA.
According to the author, the man “looks like Danny DeVito playing the Penguin, and talks like Edward G. Robinson as gangster Johnny Rocco in Key Largo.”
The Penguin in question is Ira “Ike” Feldman. And the deeds he performed were for MK-ULTRA, the CIA’s program on mind control. They experimented on unsuspecting people, slipping them LSD without their consent, sometimes with devastating results. The project’s architect, Sidney Gottlieb, described in a 1953 memo the ways in which the drug could be used:
“‘Disturbance of memory; discrediting by aberrant behaviour; alteration of sex patterns; eliciting of information; suggestibility; creation of dependence.”
From all that has been written about the CIA, we find it easy to believe just about everything Feldman says on the subject. But the real value of this story is not so much the information it imparts; it’s the character it reveals about a major player — even if we see him only from the outside. Here, you can witness the way he talks, the attitude he exhibits, the contradictions he ignores, and the self-justifications he declares.
This was originally published in Spin Magazine in 1994, and is just as relevant today.
The author of that vintage Spin article, Richard Stratton, has recently published his memoirs, Smuggler’s Blues: A True Story of the Hippie Mafia (Arcade Publishing, April, 2016)
Altered States in America
In the early 1950s, the U.S. government purchased the world’s supply of LSD as just the first step in a debauched program code-named MK-ULTRA. In an exclusive interview, Ike Feldman, one of the operations kingpins, talks to Richard Stratton about deadly viruses, spy hookers, and bad trips.
“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 sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?”
CIA contract agent George Hunter White
The meeting was set for noon at a suitably anonymous bastion of corporate America, a sprawling Marriott Hotel and convention center on Long Island. Driving out of the city, I was tense and paranoid. For one thing, I was leaving Manhattan without permission from my parole officer. What was I going to tell him? “I want to travel to Long Island to interview a former narcotics agent who worked undercover for the CIA dosing people with LSD.” My parole officer would have ordered a urine test on the spot.
Then there was the fact that previous run-ins with drug cops had usually resulted in criminal prosecutions. I spent most of the ’80s in prison for smuggling marijuana. How would this ex-agent of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), forerunner of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), take to a retired outlaw writing a story about MK-ULTRA, the CIA’s highly secretive mind-control and drug-testing program?
Ira “Ike” Feldman is the only person still alive who worked directly under the legendary George Hunter White in MK-ULTRA. The program began in 1953 amid growing fear of the Soviet Union’s potential for developing alternative weaponry. The atomic bomb was a sinister threat, but more terrifying still were possible Soviet assaults on the mind and body from within — through drugs and disease. In an attempt to preempt foreign attacks and even wage its own assaults, the CIA funded a group of contract agents and scientists to develop a panoply of means to destroy or forever incapacitate a human being.
For years, Feldman had ducked reporters. He agreed to meet with me only after a private detective, a former New York cop who also did time for drugs, put in a good word. There was no guarantee Feldman would talk.
“The LSD,” Feldman began, “that was just the tip of the iceberg. Write this down. Espionage. Assassinations. Dirty tricks. Drug experiments. Sexual encounters and the study of prostitutes for clandestine use. That’s what I was doing when I worked for George White and the CIA.”
I recognized Feldman immediately when he waddled into the lobby of the Marriott. I had heard he was short, five three, and I’d read how George White used to dress him up in a pinstriped zoot suit, blue suede shoes, a Borsalino hat with a turned-up brim, and a phony diamond ring, then send him out on the streets of San Francisco to pose as an East Coast heroin dealer. Now in his 70s, Feldman looks like Danny DeVito playing the Penguin, and talks like Edward G. Robinson as gangster Johnny Rocco in Key Largo.
Feldman leveled a cold, lizard-like gaze on me when we sat down for lunch. He wielded a fat unlit cigar like a baton, pulled out a wad of bills that could have gagged a drug dealer, slipped a 20 to the waitress and told her to take good care of us.
“What’s this about?” Feldman demanded. “Who the f*ck are you?”
I explained I was a writer researching George White. White, a world-class drinker known to polish off a bottle of gin at a sitting and get up and walk away, died of liver disease in 1975, two years before MK-ULTRA was first made public.
“Why do you want to write about White? I suppose it’s this LSD sh*t.”
No, I said, not just the LSD. George White deserved to have his story told.
“White was a son of a bitch,” Feldman said. “But he was a great cop. He made that fruitcake Hoover look like Nancy Drew.”
Again he gazed stonily at me. “Lots of writers asked me to tell my story. Why should I talk to you?”
I decided to come clean. “I used to be part of your world,” I answered. “I did eight years for the Feds because I refused to rat when I got busted for pot.”
Feldman stared at me for a long time. “I know,” he said. “I checked you out. That’s why I’m here. Now get out your pencil.” He waved for the waitress and palmed her a 50 to cover the tab.
“The LSD,” Feldman began, “that was just the tip of the iceberg. Write this down. Espionage. Assassinations. Dirty tricks. Drug experiments. Sexual encounters and the study of prostitutes for clandestine use. That’s what I was doing when I worked for George White and the CIA.”
For my next interview with Feldman, I rented a day room at the Marriott and brought along a tape recorder. Feldman tottered in, pulled out a small football-shaped clear plastic ampoule out of his pocket and plunked it down on the table. It was filled with pure Sandoz LSD-25. He showed me a gun disguised as a fountain pen that could shoot a cartridge of nerve gas. “Some of the stuff George White and I tested,” he explained.
It all began because the CIA knew the Russians had this LSD sh*t and they were afraid the KGB was using it to brainwash agents,” Feldman told me. “They wanted us to find out if we could actually use it as a truth serum.”
Actually, it all began with a mistake. In 1951, Allen Dulles, later appointed Director of Central Intelligence, received a report from military sources that the Russians had bought 50 million doses of a new drug from Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland…. lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25), available for sale on the open market.
Dulles was alarmed. From the beginning, LSD was lauded by military and intelligence scientists working on chemical warfare compounds and mind-control experiments as the most potent mind-altering substance known to man. “Infinitesimally small amounts of LSD can completely destroy the sanity of a human being for considerable periods of time (or possibly permanently), stated an October 1953 CIA memo. In the wrong hands, 100 million doses would be enough to sabotage a whole nation’s mental equilibrium.”
Dulles convened a high-level committee of intelligence and military officials who agreed the agency should buy the entire Sandoz LSD supply lest the KGB acquire it first. Two agents were dispatched to Switzerland with a black bag containing $240,000.
In fact, Sandoz had produced only about 40 grams of LSD in the ten years since its psychoactive features were first discovered by Albert Hoffman. According to a 1975 CIA document, the U.S. Military attaché in Switzerland had miscalculated by a factor of one million in his CIA reports because he did not know the difference between a milligram (1/1,000 of a gram) and a kilogram (1,000 grams).
Nevertheless, a deal was struck. The CIA would purchase all of Sandoz’s potential output of LSD. (Later, when the Eli Lilly Company of Indianapolis perfected a process to synthesize LSD, agency officials insisted on a similar agreement.) An internal CIA memo to Dulles declared the agency would have access to “tonnage quantities.” All that remained was for agency heads to figure out what to do with it.
“The objectives were behavior control, behavior anomaly-production, and counter-measures for opposition application of similar substances,” states a heavily redacted CIA document on MK-ULTRA released under a 1977 Freedom of Information Act request.
The chill winds of the Cold War were howling across the land. Dulles was convinced that, as he told Princeton University’s National Alumni Conference, Russian and Chinese Communists had secretly developed “brain perversion techniques so subtle and so abhorrent to our way of life that we have recoiled from facing up to them.”
Pentagon strategists began to envision a day when battles would be fought on psychic terrain in wars without conventional weaponry. The terrifying specter of a secret army of “Manchurian Candidates,” outwardly normal operatives programmed to carry out political assassinations, was paraded before a gullible and easily manipulated public.
Ike Feldman remembers that time well. A Brooklyn boy, he was drafted into the Army in 1941. Army tests showed he had an unusual facility for language, so he was enrolled in a special school in Germany where he learned fluent Russian. By the end of the war, Feldman was a lieutenant colonel with a background in Military Intelligence. The army sent him to another language school, this time in Monterey, California, where he added Mandarin Chinese to his repertoire.
While with Military Intelligence in Europe, Feldman first heard of George White. “White was with the OSS [Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA]. I heard stories about him. White supposedly killed some Japanese spy with his bare hands while he was on assignment in Calcutta. He used to keep a picture of the bloody corpse on the wall in his office.”
In the early ’50s, after a stint in Korea working for the CIA under Army auspices, Feldman decided he’d had enough of military life. He settled in California. “I always wanted chickens,” Feldman recalled, “so I bought a chicken ranch. In the meantime, there wasn’t a hell of a lot to do with chickens.
“Before long, I got a call — this time from White,” Feldman continued. “‘We understand you’re back in the States,’ he says. ‘I want you to come in to the Bureau of Narcotics.’ This was ’54 to ’55. White was District Supervisor [of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics] in San Francisco. I went in. I go to room 144 of the Federal Building, and this is the first time I met George White. He was a big, powerful man with a completely bald head. Not tall, but big. Fat. He shaved his head and had the most beautiful blue eyes you’ve ever seen. ‘Ike,’ he says, ‘we want you as an agent. We know you’ve been a hell of an agent with Intelligence. The CIA knows it. You speak all these languages. We want you to work as an undercover agent in San Francisco.’”
What Feldman didn’t know at the time was that George White was still working for the CIA. White’s particular area of expertise was the testing of drugs on unwitting human guinea pigs. During the war, one of White’s projects for the OSS was the quest for a “truth drug,” a serum that could be administered to prisoners of war or captured spies during interrogation. After trying and rejecting several substances, the OSS scientists settled on a highly concentrated liquid extract of cannabis indica, a particularly potent strain of marijuana. Never one to shrink from the call of duty, White first tried the drug on himself. He downed a full vial of the clear, viscous liquid and soon passed out without revealing any secrets.
Meanwhile, at the CIA’s Technical Services Staff (TSS), the department specializing in unconventional weaponry such as poisons, biological warfare, psychoactive substances, and mind control, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb was searching for a candidate to head MK-ULTRA. Gottlieb, a club-footed scientist who overcame a pronounced stutter in his rise to head the TSS, had discovered White’s name while perusing old OSS files on the Truth Drug Experiments. White’s credentials were impeccable. A former crime reporter on the West Coast before he joined the narcotics bureau, White had soon become one of the top international undercover agents under FBN director Harry Anslinger, the grandfather of America’s war on drugs.
After meeting with Gottlieb, White noted his initiation into the world of psychedelics in his diary.
“Gottlieb proposes I become CIA consultant and I agree.”
Moonlighting for the CIA, with funds disbursed by Gottlieb, White rented two adjoining apartment safe houses at 81 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village. Using the alias Morgan Hall, he constructed an elaborate alter-identity as a seaman and artist in the Jack London mode. By night, CIA spy Morgan Hall metamorphosed into a drug-eating denizen of the bohemian coffeehouse scene. With a head full of acid and gin, White prowled downtown clubs and bars. He struck up conversations with strangers, then lured them back to the pad where he served drinks spiked with Sandoz’s finest.
“Gloria gets the horrors… Janet sky high,” White dutifully recorded in his diary. In another entry, he proudly noted, “Lashbrook at 81 Bedford Street — Owen Winkle and the LSD surprise — can wash.” In recognition of the often bizarre behavior brought on by the drug, White assigned LSD the code-name “Stormy.”
According to an agency memo, the CIA feared KGB agents might use psychedelics “to produce anxiety or terror in medically unsophisticated subjects unable to distinguish drug-induced psychosis from actual insanity.” In an effort to school “enlightened operatives” for that eventuality, Dulles and Gottlieb instructed high-ranking agency personnel, including Gottlieb’s entire staff at TSS, to take LSD themselves and administer it to their colleagues.
“There was an extensive amount of self-experimentation for the reason that we felt that a firsthand knowledge of the subjective effects of these drugs [was] important to those of us who were involved in the program,” Gottlieb explained at a Senate Subcommittee hearing years later. In truth, CIA spooks and scientists were tripping their brains out. “I didn’t want to leave it,” one CIA agent said of his first LSD trip. “I felt I would be going back to a place where I wouldn’t be able to hold on to this kind of beauty.”
But as covert LSD experiments proliferated, things down at CIA headquarters began to get out of hand.
“LSD favors the prepared mind,” wrote Dr. Oscar Janiger, a Los Angeles psychiatrist and early LSD devotee. Non-drug factors such as set and setting — a person’s mental state going into the experience and the surroundings in which the drug is taken — can make all the difference in reactions to a dose of LSD.
Frank Olson was a civilian biochemist working for the Army Chemical Corps’ Special Operations Division (SOD) at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. In another sub-project of MK-ULTRA code-named MK-NAOMI, the CIA had bankrolled SOD to produce and maintain vicious mutant germ strains capable of killing or incapacitating would-be victims. Olson’s specialty at Fort Detrick was delivering deadly diseases in sprays and aerosol emulsions.
Just before Thanksgiving in 1953, at a CIA retreat for a conference on biological warfare, Gottlieb slipped Olson and the other scientists a huge dose of LSD in an after-dinner liqueur. When Gottlieb revealed to the uproarious group that he’d laced the Cointreau, Olson suffered a psychotic snap. “You’re all a bunch of thespians!” Olson shouted at his fellow acid trippers, then spent a long night wandering around babbling to himself. Back at Fort Detrick, Olson lapsed in and out of depression, he began to have grave misgivings about his work, and believed the agency was out to get him. Ten days later, he crashed through a closed tenth-floor window of the Statler Hotel in New York and plummeted to his death on the sidewalk below.
“White had been testing the stuff in New York when that guy Olson went out the window and died,” Feldman said. “I don’t know if he jumped or he was pushed. They say he jumped. Anyway, that’s when they shut down the New York operation and moved it to San Francisco.” The Olson affair was successfully covered up by the CIA for over 20 years. White, who had been instrumental in the cover-up, was promoted to district supervisor.
Unfazed by the death of their colleague, the CIA’s acid enthusiasts were, in fact, more convinced of the value of their experiments. They would now focus on LSD as a potent new agent for offensive unconventional warfare. The drug-testing program resumed in the Bay Area under the cryptonym Operation Midnight Climax. It was then that White hired Feldman.
Posing as Joe Capone, junk dealer and pimp, Feldman infiltrated the seamy North Beach criminal demimonde. “I always wanted to be a gangster,” Feldman told me. “So I was good at it. Before long, I had half a dozen girls working for me. One day, White calls me into his office. ‘Ike,’ he says, ‘you’ve been doing one hell of a job as an undercover man. Now I’m gonna give you another assignment. We want you to test these mind-bending drugs.’ I said, ‘Why the hell do you want to test mind-bending drugs?’ He said, ‘Have you ever heard of The Manchurian Candidate?’ I know about The Manchurian Candidate. In fact, I read the book. ‘Well,’ White said, ‘that’s why we have to test these drugs, to find out if they can be used to brainwash people.’ He says, ‘If we can find out just how good this stuff works, you’ll be doing a great deal for your country.’”
These days, Feldman takes offense at how his work has been characterized by former cops who knew him. “I was no pimp,” Feldman insisted. Yet he freely admitted that his role in Midnight Climax was to supply whores. “These c*nts all thought I was a racketeer,” Feldman explained. He paid the girls $50 to $100 a night to lure johns to a safe house apartment that White had set up on Telegraph Hill with funds provided by the CIA. Unsuspecting clients were served cocktails laced with powerful doses of LSD and other concoctions the CIA sent out to be tested.
“As George White once told me, ‘Ike, your best information outside comes from the whores and the junkies. If you treat a whore nice, she’ll treat you nice. If you treat a junkie nice, he’ll treat you nice.’ But sometimes, when people had information, there was only one way you could get it. If it was a girl, you put her tits in a drawer and slammed the drawer. If it was a guy, you took his c*ck and you hit it with a hammer. And they would talk to you. Now, with these drugs, you could get information without having to abuse people.”
The “pad,” as White called the safe house, resembled a playboy’s lair, circa 1955. The walls were covered with Toulouse-Lautrec posters of French cancan dancers. In the cabinets were sex toys and photos of manacled women in black fishnet stockings and studded leather halters. White outfitted the place with elaborate bugging equipment, including microphones disguised as electrical outlets that were connected to tape recorders hidden behind a false wall. While Feldman’s hookers served mind-altering cocktails and frolicked with the johns, White sat on a portable toilet behind a two-way mirror, sipping martinis, watching the experiments, and scribbling notes for his reports to the CIA.
“We tested this stuff they called the Sextender,” Feldman went on. “There was this Russian ship in the harbor. I had a couple of my girls pick up these Russian sailors and bring ’em back to the pad. White wanted to know all kinds of crap, but they weren’t talking. So we had the girls slip ’em this sex drug. It gets your d*ck up like a rat. Stays up for two hours. These guys went crazy. They f*cked these poor girls until they couldn’t walk straight. The girls were complaining they couldn’t take any more screwing. But White found out what he wanted to know. Now this drug, what they call the Sextender, I understand it’s being sold as Viagra to guys who can’t get a hard-on.” Feldman claimed we have the CIA to thank for these and other medical breakthroughs
“White always wanted to try everything himself,” Feldman remembered. “Whatever drugs they sent out, it didn’t matter, he wanted to see how they worked on him before he tried them on anyone else. He always said he never felt a goddamn thing. He thought it was all bullsh*t. White drank so much, he couldn’t feel his own c*ck.
“This thing,” — Feldman held up the fountain pen gas gun — “the boys in Washington sent it out and told us to test the gas. White says to me, ‘C’mon, Ike. Let’s go outside. I’ll shoot you with it, then you shoot me.’ ‘F*ck that,’ I said. ‘You ain’t gonna shoot me with that crap.’ So we went outside and I shot George White with the gas. He coughed, his face turned red, his eyes started watering. He was choking. Turned out, that stuff was the prototype for Mace.”
I asked Feldman if he’d ever met Sidney Gottlieb, the elusive scientist who was the brains behind MK-ULTRA. “Several times Sidney Gottlieb came out,” Feldman assured me. “I met Gottlieb at the pad, and at White’s office. White used to send me to the airport to pick up Sidney and this other wacko, John Gittinger, the psychologist. Sidney was a nice guy. He was a f*ckin’ nut. They were all nuts. I says, ‘You’re a good Jewish boy from Brooklyn, like me. What are you doing with these crazy c*cksuckers?’ He had this black bag with him. He says, ‘This is my bag of dirty tricks.’ He had all kinds of crap in that bag. We took a drive out to Muir Woods out by Stinson Beach. Sidney says, ‘Stop the car.’ He pulls out a dart gun and shoots this big eucalyptus tree with a dart. Then he tells me, ‘Come back in two days and check this tree.’ So we go back in two days, the tree was completely dead. Not a leaf left on it. Now that was the forerunner of Agent Orange.
“I went back and I saw White, and he says to me, ‘What do you think of Sidney?’ I said, ‘I think he’s a f*ckin’ nut.’ White says, ‘Well, he may be a nut, but this is the program. This is what we do.’ White thought they were all assholes. He said, ‘These guys are running our intelligence?’ But they sent George $2,000 a month for the pad, and as long as they paid the bills, we went along with the program.
“Another time, I come back to the pad and the whole joint is littered with these pipe cleaners,” Feldman went on. “I said, ‘Who’s smokin’ a pipe?’ Gittinger, one of those CIA nuts, was there with two of my girls. He had ’em explaining all these different sex acts, the different positions they knew for humping. Now he has them making these little figurines out of the pipe cleaners — men and women screwing in all these different positions. He was taking pictures of the figurines and writing a history of each one. These pipe cleaner histories were sent back to Washington.”
A stated goal of Project MK-ULTRA was to determine “if an individual can be trained to perform an act of attempted assassination involuntarily” while under the influence of various mind-control techniques, and then have no memory of the event later. Feldman told me that in the early ’60s, after the MK-ULTRA program had been around for over a decade, he was summoned to George White’s office. White and CIA director Allen Dulles were there.
“They wanted George to arrange to hit Fidel Castro,” Feldman said. “They were gonna soak his cigars with LSD and drive him crazy. George called me in because I had this whore, one of my whores was this Cuban girl and we were gonna send her down to see Castro with a box of LSD-soaked cigars.”
Dick Russell, author of a book on the Kennedy assassination titled The Man Who Knew Too Much, uncovered evidence to support the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was a product of MK-ULTRA. One of the CIA’s overseas locations for LSD and mind-control experiments was Atsugi Naval Air base in Japan where Oswald served as a marine radar technician. Russell says that after his book was published, a former CIA counter-intelligence expert called him and said Oswald had been “viewed by the CIA as fitting the psychological profile of someone they were looking for in their MK-ULTRA program,” and that he had been mind-conditioned to defect to the USSR.
Robert Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, while working as a horse trainer at the Santa Anita racetrack near Los Angeles, was introduced to hypnosis and the occult by a fellow groom with shadowy connections. Sirhan has always maintained he has no memory of the night he shot Kennedy.
One of the CIA’s mob contacts long suspected of involvement in John Kennedy’s assassination was the Los Angeles-based Mafioso John Roselli. Roselli had risen to prominence in the Mob by taking over the Annenberg-Ragen wire service at Santa Anita where Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby, sold a handicapper’s tip sheet. Ike Feldman told me that Roselli was one of White’s many informants.
“On more than one occasion, White sent me to the airport to pick up John Roselli and bring him to the office or to the pad,” said Feldman. Roselli and White were close. Roselli had lived for most of his life in Chicago, where White had served as District Supervisor of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1945 through 1947. Following a big opium bust in 1947, Jack Ruby was picked up and hauled in for interrogation, then later let off the hook by none other than George White. Federal Bureau of Narcotics files indicate that Ruby was yet another of White’s legion of stool pigeons.
The connection between MK-ULTRA mind-control experiments, the proliferation of the drug subculture, Mob/CIA assassination plots, and the emergence of new, lethal viruses go on and on. Fort Detrick in Maryland where Frank Olson worked experimenting with viral strains (such as the deadly microbes Sidney Gottlieb personally carried to Africa in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Patrice Lumumba) was the locale of a near disaster involving an outbreak of a newly emerged virus. The event was chronicled in a lengthy article in the New Yorker.
Though the New Yorker writer did not make the connection between Fort Detrick, the Army SOD, Frank Olson, and MK-NAOMI, he told of a number of monkeys who had all died of a highly infectious virus known as Ebola that first appeared in 55 African villages in 1976, killing nine out of ten of its victims. Some epidemiologists believe AIDS originated in Africa. Feldman claimed the CIA used Africa as a staging ground to test germ warfare because “nobody gave a goddamn about any of this crap over there.”
The MK-ULTRA program, then the largest domestic operation mounted by the CIA, continued well into the ’70s. According to Feldman and other CIA experts, it is still continuing today under an alphabet soup of different cryptonyms. Indeed, one ex-agent told me it would be foolish to think that a program as fruitful as MK-ULTRA would be discontinued. When the agency comes under scrutiny, it simply changes the name of the program and continues unabated.
The public first learned of MK-ULTRA in 1977, with the disclosure of thousands of classified documents and CIA testimony before a Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy.
Previously, CIA director Richard Helms had ordered Sidney Gottlieb to destroy all of the MK-ULTRA files. What was ultimately declassified and made public revealed only a portion of the record. Ike Feldman was subpoenaed and appeared on a panel of witnesses, but the senators failed to ask him a single question.
Sidney Gottlieb, complaining of a heart condition, testified at a special semi-public session. He delivered a prepared statement and admitted to having destroyed MK-ULTRA files. The full extent of the CIA’s activities under the rubric of MK-ULTRA, MK-NAOMI, and a host of other covert domestic and foreign operations may never be known.
George White retired from the Narcotics Bureau and from his role as a CIA contract agent in 1965. The last ten years of his life he lived in Stinson Beach, California, where, known as Colonel White, he became chief of the volunteer fire department and regaled fellow drinkers in his favorite watering holes with his tales of daring do.
Local residents remember him for turning in kids for smoking pot, for spraying a preacher and his congregation with water at a beach picnic, and for terrorizing his neighbors by driving his jeep across the lawns when he’d had too much to drink.
After White’s death, his widow donated his papers, including his diaries, to an electronic surveillance museum. As information on MK-ULTRA entered the public domain, people who had known White only in his official FBN capacity were stunned to learn of his undercover role as Morgan Hall, his long employment as a CIA contract agent, and his close association with Mafiosi and intelligence agents suspected of involvement in political assassinations.
According to George Belk, a former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency in New York, Ike Feldman quit the drug agency after a probe by the internal security division. “Feldman was the sort of guy who didn’t have too many scruples,” said Dan Casey, a retired FBN agent who worked with Feldman in San Francisco. “For him, the ends justified the means.” A DEA flack confirmed Feldman “resigned under a cloud” at a time when a number of agents came under suspicion of a variety of offenses, none having to do with secret drug testing programs. When I interviewed him, Feldman asserted he still worked for the CIA on a contract basis, mostly in the Far East and Korea.
On the day of our last interview, over lunch at a restaurant in Little Italy, Feldman told me the CIA had contacted him and asked him why he was talking to me.
“F*ck them.” Feldman said. “I do what I want. I never signed any goddamn secrecy agreement.”
I asked him why he decided to tell his story after so many years of silence. “There’s too much bullsh*t in the world.” Feldman said. “The world runs on bullsh*t.
“To make a long story short,” he said, using one of his favorite verbal segues, “I want the truth of this to be known so that people understand that what we did was for the good of the country.”
We ambled down the street to a Chinese grocer, where Feldman carried on a lengthy conversation with the owner in Chinese. A couple of young girls, tourists, wanted to have their picture taken with Feldman. “Are you a gangster?” they asked.
“No,” Feldman replied with a wave of his cigar, “I’m a goddamn CIA agent.”
As we walked on, I asked Feldman to explain how his and George White’s work for the CIA had been helpful to the country.
“I learned that most of this stuff was necessary for the United States,” he said, “and even though it may have hurt somebody in the beginning, in the long run it was important. As long as it did good for the country.”
I pressed him. “How so? How was it good for the country?”
“Well, look,” Feldman gestured with his cigar at the throng of citizens in the streets of New York City.
“We’re goddamn free, aren’t we?”
Watch MK-ULTRA from hudson river films on Vimeo. NOTE: password all caps: BIGHOUSE