Hello! Here you'll find comments on the afterlife of Timothy Leary - his impact on our culture and his portrayal in the media. Consider this a continuation of the biography 'I Have America Surrounded - The Life of Timothy Leary', by John Higgs with a foreword by Winona Ryder.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Timothy Leary - CIA agent?

One subject that I didn’t cover in my book was the accusation that Timothy Leary worked for the CIA. This was, I felt at the time, a pretty obscure and unconvincing conspiracy theory that was not worth going into (it is not to be confused with Leary’s dealings with the FBI, which I cover in great detail). However, I’ve noticed the subject cropping up online quite a bit recently, and I’ve had two emails on the subject in the last week alone, so I guess it needs to be covered.

As examples of the theory, see http://www.markriebling.com/leary.html, Or


But in brief, it is bollocks.

Much of the supporting facts that are used to support the idea are perfectly valid, of course. The CIA were all over psychedelic research in the 50s and 60s, and a memo has been released in which CIA operatives were asked to report any information or contact with Leary, Richard Alpert or anyone in their organisation (IF-IF). Leary did have an affair with Mary Pinchot Meyer, who was the ex-wife of the CIA’s Cord Meyer. There’s no doubt that the CIA were very interested in Timothy Leary. But all of this is very different to Leary actually working for the CIA.

There are a few variations on the subject as to ‘why’ the CIA would employ Leary. Usually it is claimed that the CIA ordered Leary to promote LSD in the belief that widespread psychedelic use would undermine the anti-Vietnam war movement. A quick glance at the timeline of the anti-war movement and Leary’s actions should be enough to discount this idea. Others have argued that the CIA employed Leary to discredit psychedelics. Well, I can’t even begin to detail how out of character this would be! Instead, let’s look at the evidence to support the claim.

As far as I know, there is just one piece of genuine evidence that is used to support the idea, and that is interviews Leary did in the late 70s. To my mind, however, these are classic examples of people failing to get Leary’s sense of humour.

In these interviews, Leary makes claims about knowing that he was always working for intelligence agents. (Tim Boucher has a quote in this vein on his site: http://www.timboucher.com/journal/2005/07/10/leary-admitted-cia-involvement/). This needs to be put this in context. At the time Leary was writing a book called ‘The Intelligence Agents’. The basic idea of the book was that he (and many others) were agents working for the GIA, the Genetic Intelligence Agency, and they were obeying their genetic DNA in promoting the next evolutionary step – a change in human awareness. Their enemies were the CIA (the Counter-Intelligence Agency), who's mission was to keep everybody stupid. When Leary claimed to be working for ‘intelligence agents’, he was riffing on the interviewer’s pre-occupation with the CIA, and on his belief that he was obeying nobody but his own genes. Tim – who sounds a little high in that interview – was basically fucking with an interviewer who had not understood the ideas that he was advocating. And not for the first time!

The whole story is, I believe, a classic example of “counterculture math” (ie 2 + 2 = 5). Personally, I think the idea of Timothy Leary as a CIA agent would make a hilarious TV show. But I don’t believe that he was ever employed by the CIA.