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.


Anonymous susanne g. seiler said...

Hi John
I was Timothy Leary's German language translator for The Game of Life and Flashbacks. I know his life well and have met him (and stayed at his house on Wonderland Drive) on several occasions.
I never heard that T.L. was supposed to have been into Counter Inteligence. However, people have claimed that he (in his role of Mr. Thrush - a singbird) sold out to the FBI in order to get his jail sentence reduced, a package of info and desinfo on the Brotherhood of Eternal Light and many others. Rosemary Woodrow supposedly went into hiding for years not to have to corroberate this evidence. That made it worthless.
Joanna Harcourt should know about this. She was around Timothy at the time. In Flashbacks, he comments several times on the fact that Joanna just l-o-v-e-d cops. That's what you should have asked her. May not have done much for the mood of the moment...
With a big Smiley, Susanne

12:35 AM

Blogger jh said...

Hi Susanne,

Don't worry, I go into all that early 70s FBI stuff in my book, in detail - Joanna included. Suffice to say here that it is a big, complicated situation and not as black and white as many have claimed. That's not to confuse it with the false claims that Leary worked for the CIA in the early 60s, though, which is what this post is about.

Best, jh

5:48 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then what is, Doc?
hydrocodone lortab

4:01 AM

Anonymous bobby funk said...

"That's not to confuse it with the false claims that Leary worked for the CIA in the early 60s, though, which is what this post is about."

But weren't his early '60s LSD experiments at Harvard funded through the CIA?

Though I understand that he may not have been aware of it at the time. And even if he was, I suspect he saw it as an opportunity to use them for the $$ for his research.

11:50 AM

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10:01 AM

Blogger Saint Michael said...

Did Mr Leary graduate from west point and did he serve in the OSS during WW2.

Once a company man always a company man.

12:11 PM

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6:10 PM

Blogger Gabriel said...

The tenet 'everything: possible until proven otherwise' may apply here.

Leary had numerous connections with people who had numerous connections with the CIA.

his activity helped spur the psychedelic revolution which many believe derailed the anti-war sentiments and operative function of the Students for a Democratic Society.

Leary, as much as I love him and agree with som many things he said and wrote, very well may have been handled by the CIA. Certainly if they wanted him to stop, they could have put him down at any time. If he was such a threat, he would not have been able to go on with such a high profile for so long. The feds could have ended his run at any time, but no, they let him keep going.

8:55 AM

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4:43 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leary might have sold out the Weather Underground, but the rest of this nonsense is little more than guilt by association.

10:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You people have no idea what you are talking about. Soon after Leary died on May 31, 1996, mind control researcher Walter Bowart wrote about his personal interactions with Leary: “While doing research for my book, Operation Mind Control, I'd come across a CIA document with Leary's name on it. The CIA memo directed agents to contact Leary and company, who were then operating an organization called International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF). The memo asked its agents to discover if any agency personnel were taking acid with this group. The CIA wanted to determine what IFIF really knew about what was then billed as ‘the most powerful drug known to man,’ LSD, a drug which the agency was experimenting with in an attempt to create mind controlled zombies. … Other documents indicated that LEARY HAD RECEIVED MONEY CHANNELED BY THE CIA THROUGH VARIOUS GOVERNMENT AGENCIES. The files showed that, in all, there were eight government grants paid to Leary from 1953 to 1958, most of them paid through the National Institute of Mental Health, now known to have ‘fronted’ for the CIA in the MKULTRA program.” Back to the drawing board, you willfully ignorant dupes.

4:42 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The CIA supported LSD and other psychedelic substance research until the end of the MKULTRA program. Leary was researching psychedelics, an obvious reason for the CIA to pay him. They wanted research done. However, the CIA later turned its back on LSD, after it became popular recreationally. Then they antagonized Leary and similar people.

2:19 AM


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