Preface to LSD Underground

LSD Underground: Operation Julie, the Microdot Gang and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love by David Black is available in paperback for £9.99 at Amazon (£4.99 Kindle edition – free on Kindle Unlimited). You can read the preface and contents for free below: \/


Whilst on remand in Her Majesty’s Prison Bristol, in 1977, Leaf Fielding, LSD distribution manager, met LSD chemist, Richard Kemp:

“Richard was a man after my own heart. We talked long and excitedly in one-hour bursts. He too had wanted to turn the world on and he’d gone a long way towards achieving his aim by producing kilos of acid, enough for tens of millions of trips…

‘And look where our idealism got us.’

His despondently waving arm took in the prison walls, D wing and the punishment block.

‘Well we’re not the first people to be persecuted for we believe in,’ I replied, ‘and I don’t suppose for a moment we’ll be the last. We’ll be exonerated in the future, don’t you think?’

‘Maybe. But that doesn’t help us now.’

The bell brought another exercise period to an end.”

Leaf Fielding, To Live Outside the Law

LSD Underground, the title of this book, refers to the British producers and distributors of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) who began operating in 1968 and continued in secret for nearly a decade. The venture grew into an underground industry, supplying the festival-going youth of the 1970s with tens of millions of acid trips. The police eventually rounded up most of the gang’s principals in March 1977 in what the media hailed as the ‘biggest drugs raid in British history’. On 8 March 1978, at Bristol Crown Court, 29 defendants were handed down prison sentences totalling 170 years, with the sentences for the 17 principal defendants amounting to 133 years.

The first issue in writing about the defendants in the Operation Julie trial is what to call them. They have been referred to as the ‘Microdot Gang’, but this is a misnomer, because a split in 1973 produced two separate and independent organisations which shared a common origin. The LSD conspirators have also been called the ‘Operation Julie Gang’; but that is anachronistic because it wasn’t until 1976 that the police launched Operation Julie. Hence I will use the term, LSD Underground, which is more accurate and descriptive.

The present work follows several books that have appeared since the Julie trial in 1978. Three books have been written by former police officers of the Julie squad: the operational commander, Richard Lee, and undercover detectives, Martyn Pritchard and Stephen Bentley. Two books have been authored by defendants: Leaf Fielding, LSD distributor; and Christine Bott, lover of the LSD chemist, Richard Kemp. Alston ‘Smiles’ Hughes, another defendant, who distributed acid from his base in Llanddewi Brefi, Wales, is currently working on his memoirs in collaboration with Andy Roberts, which will be published sometime in 2022. Stewart Tendler and David May’s book on the US Brotherhood of Eternal Love deals at length with that organisation’s relations with their British counterparts. Lyn Ebenezer’s book on Operation Julie gives the perspective of a local journalist covering the story in Wales (all these books are listed in the bibliography).

Why another book? Simply because, whatever the merits (which are many) of the above published books, some of them suffer from factual inaccuracies which can now be corrected with what historians refer to as ‘updated scholarship’; and none of them present an adequate blow-by-blow account of the genesis, development and downfall of the LSD Underground in the years 1968 to 1978. Detective Inspector Richard Lee’s book Operation Julie, How the Undercover Police Team Smashed the World’s Greatest Drugs Gang attempts to make sense of the British LSD Underground as part of an international conspiracy rooted in the US Brotherhood of Eternal Love, which is described by Stewart Tendler and David May as a ‘hippie mafia’. The international dimension of the LSD producers needs to be explored further and more thoroughly. Here, I attempt to unravel and demythologise it.

One of the challenges any writer presenting this history has to deal with is the age-old problem of participants offering differing accounts of the events and their interaction with each other. These accounts are often motivated by self-justification or simply the wish to tell a good story. It is necessary therefore to be sceptical on the one hand of the ‘official’ agenda which called to account those who broke the law and supposedly threatened public morality; and on the other hand the counter argument that the ‘acid adventure’ was a noble cause which just happened to be illegal – and lucrative. Corroboration – or rebuttal – has been employed whenever possible and in appropriate measure.

Operation Julie exposed a war of ‘values’ between the agencies of the state and its ascribed enemies in the counterculture. The LSD Underground conspirators were committed to changing mass consciousness through psychedelic enlightenment, but their ‘idealism’ rapidly gave way to the exigencies of running an organised crime group. Although as hippies they nominally rejected violence, one of the first things that struck the police investigators was that the organisational structures resembled the sophisticated cell-networks of terrorist groups, involving the use of aliases, secret bank accounts and safe deposit boxes, front companies, dead-letter drops, messages in code, and the like; hence the confusion that wracked the police investigation. I argue that the police, media and state had little understanding of what they were up against.

The reader of whatever opinion will find heroes and villains in this tale. The hippies were plagued by cheating, informing and paranoia; the police by corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and internal rivalry. This historical narrative investigates the motives and practices of the British LSD Underground and its American cohorts. It also shows how Operation Julie was weaponized in a culture war to suppress ‘deviation’ from ‘traditional’ values which a victorious Thatcherism came to represent in the ensuing years. Ultimately, however, it was a pyrrhic victory over the counterculture and in the ‘War on Drugs’.


LSD in the Water Supply a ‘Myth’ Shock


The Daily Mirror, 1978: ‘An entire city stoned on a nightmare drug – that was the crazy ambition of the masterminds behind the world’s biggest LSD factory.’

The ‘masterminds’ were chemist Richard Kemp and his partner Dr Christine Bott – both jailed in the ‘Operation Julie’ trial days earlier. Kemp got 13 years. As for Bott, chemist Andy Munro, later commented, ‘Bott got nine years for making sandwiches. I got ten years for making acid’.

The Mirror continued:

‘Top chemist Richard Kemp and his mistress… planned to blow a million minds simultaneously by pouring pure LSD into the reservoirs serving Birmingham. Detectives were horrified when they heard what the drug barons had in mind.’

How the ‘acid in the water supply’ nonsense became front page news is one of the things explored in my new book, LSD UNDERGROUND: Operation Julie, the Microdot Gang and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (available in paperback or ebook at Amazon).

Clue: The story, which was police-sourced, was written by Ed Laxton, the ghost writer for Operation Julie undercover officer Martyn Pritchard’s book, Busted!The Sensational Life-Story of an Undercover Hippie (1978).

The preface to LSD UNDERGROUND can be read on this site HERE

Alexander Trocchi: Psychedelic Situationist

The following text is an extract from David Black’s book. Psychedelic Tricksters: A New Secret History of LSD (BPC Publications, 2020)

(6 April 21)

In 1965 Timothy Leary sent Michael Hollingshead, the Englishman who introduced him to LSD,  to London with 5000 trips of LSD. One part of his mission was to rent the Albert Hall for a psychedelic jamboree with big-name rock bands and poets; and with Leary himself hosting the event in his role as the High Priest of LSD. This plan never came off, because of Leary’s bust for marijuana possession in the US at the end of 1965. Another task was to set up a centre for running LSD sessions and promoting psychedelia in the arts. One thing Hollingshead was concerned about was the tendency of the London acid heads – such as those around Alexander Trocchi — to politicise, rather than spiritualise, the psychedelic experience. As he put it in The Man Who Turned On the World:

‘From what I had heard in letters and conversations, the psychedelic movement in England was small and badly informed. It appeared that those who took LSD did so as a consciously defiant anti-authoritarian gesture. The spiritual content of the psychedelic experience was being overlooked’.[i]

Hollingshead had been sending shipments of LSD to Trocchi, who distributed it to his contacts in what was to become the London cultural ‘Underground’. Trocchi, born in Glasgow in 1925, had moved to Paris in 1952, where he edited Merlin, an English-language literary magazine. In its pages, Merlin featured contributions from avant-guard writers such as Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Becket — who, at the time, were unable to get their work published anywhere else in English. Trocchi himself, surrounded by young expatriate American writers, such as Terry Southern and George Plimpton, was, in the words of Greil Marcus, ‘seen as a man of towering literary genius, fated to cut a swath through the world’.[ii]

In Paris, Trocchi joined the Lettrist International, led by Guy Debord. In 1957, the Lettrists, some former-Surrealists and others from several countries came together at a meeting in Italy to found the Situationist International. One of the central Situationist concepts was ‘psychogeography’: defined as the ‘study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’. In the ‘experimental mode’, they employed the derive: the basic idea of which was that individuals or groups would ‘drift’ through the city and lose themselves; their customary rationales for movement (work, relationships and leisure) would be abandoned in order to ‘succumb to the enticements of the terrain and the encounters associated with it’.[iii] One of the inspirations for such adventures was a passage in Thomas De Quincey’s 1821 book, Confessions of an Opium Eater:

‘I used often, after I had taken opium, to wander forth…[to] parts of London, in which the poor resort to on a Saturday night… an opium eater is too happy to observe the motion of time. And sometimes in my attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my eye on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a northwest passage… I came suddenly upon such knotty contradictions of alleys, such enigmatical entires, and such sphinx’s riddles of streets without thoroughfares… I could almost have believed, at times, that I must be the first discoverer of some of the terre incognito and doubted whether they had yet been laid down in the modern charts of London’.[iv]

The theory of the Derive, according to Debord, rested on the belief that future developments would bring about an ‘irreversible change in the behaviour and the decor of present-day society’. The Situationist concept of ‘unitary urbanism’ expressed a vision of city planning based on aesthetic and technological innovations in architecture, but freed from subordination to the needs of corporate developers and the endless expansion of private car ownership. Given the ravages of homogenised planning in the urban environments of the twenty-first century, with city centres given over to big business and tourism, functionalist architecture, and streets polluted by the noise and fumes of automobile traffic, it is difficult now to re-imagine the experience of the dérive in the Paris of the early 1950s. Ivan Chtcheglov, the young Situationist seer, could still write of a future in which city dwellers would reclaim the streets: ‘We will construct cities for drifting… but with light retouching, one can utilize certain zones which already exist. One can utilize certain persons who already exist’.[v]

Trocchi enjoyed the dérive with Guy Debord:

‘I remember long, wonderful psycho-geographical walks in London with Guy. He took me to places in London I didn’t know, that he sensed, that I’d never have been to if it hadn’t been with him. He was a man who could discover a city… [Debord had] a magical quality… Distances didn’t seem to matter to the man. Walking in London, in the daytime, at night, he’d bring me to a spot he’d found, and the place would begin to live. Some old forgotten part of London. Then he’d reach back for a story, for a piece of history, as if he’d been there. He’d quote from Marx, or Treasure Island, or De Quincey’.[vi]

Trocchi’s first novel, Young Adam, published in Paris in 1954, is a bleak existentialist parable about how a young anti-hero, caught up in a murder-hunt, grapples with the meaning of responsibility in a mean world. Set on a coal-barge on a Scottish canal, the narrator charts his ‘voyage’ towards an irrevocable break with the deadening world of the work ethic, blind justice and bourgeois marriage.

Trocchi began using heroin in the mid-fifties and would be addicted for the rest of his life (he died in 1984). In Paris, Trocchi financed his heroin habit by turning out porn stories for Olympia Press under the name ‘Frances Lengel’. In 1956, he moved to New York and wrote his second novel, Cain’s Book. This is another barge novel, which describes his time living on a scow, hauling cargoes of rubble along the Hudson, and shooting heroin in the back streets of Manhattan. The inner-voyage here is Trocchi’s wilful abandonment of his own status and vocation in the artistic-literary world. But rather than a case of biting the hand that was feeding him, Cain’s Book is an act of artistic self-destruction, with the narrator declaring himself as, ‘a decadent at a tremendous turning point in history, constitutionally incapable of turning with it as a writer, I am living my personal Dada…. The steel of logic has daily to be strengthened to contain the volcanic element within. It grows daily more hard to contain. I am a kind of bomb’.

Trocchi had originally titled Cain’s Book as The Making of a Monster. Trocchi’s ‘personal Dada’ was his projection of Guy Debord’s ideas on subversion as a ‘game’ of ‘constructed situations,’ played in deadly seriousness, and whose rules were constantly shifting. In the context of ‘the necessity of creating situations’, the junkie fix was, in Trocchi’s mind, ‘a purposive spoon in the broth of experience’. Trocchi’s heroin habit became a serious problem for him. Charged with supplying heroin to a minor in New York in 1961, he faced the near certain prospect of years of imprisonment. The Situationist International in Paris defended their wayward member, with a statement by Guy Debord, Jaqueline de Jong and Asger Jorn entitled Hands off Alexander Trocchi!:

‘Alexander Trocchi, whose case is due to be tried in October, is in effect accused of having experimented with drugs. Quite apart from any attitude on the use of drugs and its repression on the scale of society… a very great many doctors, psychologists and also artists have studied the effects of drugs without anyone thinking of imprisoning them… Indeed, we consider that the British intellectuals and artists should be the first to join with us in denouncing this menacing lack of culture on the part of the American police, and to demand the liberation and immediate repatriation of Alexander Trocchi… We ask everyone of good faith whom this appeal reaches, to sign it, and make it known as widely as possible.’[vii]

Trocchi however, was not relying on a political campaign for his freedom. As soon as he could get bail, he fled to Canada and then to Britain by boat, ‘cold-turkeying’ all the way. By this time Trocchi, in his own search for the ‘north-west passage’, had discovered a new beacon on the voyage: LSD. He had been introduced to it in California by Dr Oscar Janiger, a leading expert in the psychology of creativity, who had been tripping-out Hollywood film people, such as Cary Grant. Janiger had obtained the LSD from the British philosopher Gerald Heard, who had himself obtained it from Alfred Hubbard. Janiger explained ‘Gerald Heard… told me the emergence of LSD in the twentieth century was simply God’s way of giving us the gift of consciousness. He believed that LSD was a device for saving humanity from Armageddon’.[viii]

Coming after his bleak experiences in New York, Trocchi’s psychedelic experiences seemed to give him a new optimism and enthusiasm for re-engagement with the world of culture and politics — even though he never let up on his heroin intake. Trocchi arrived back in Britain at a time when the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Committee of One Hundred were making a big impact. By this time Trocchi’s novel, Cain’s Book, had made him notorious. At the 1962 Edinburgh Writer’s Conference in 1962 — where he coined the phrase ‘astronauts of inner space’ — he was denounced by the pillars of the Scottish literary establishment, including the Stalinist-nationalist poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, who called him ‘cosmopolitan scum’. The legal authorities in Britain likewise disapproved: some local councils banned and burned his books under the obscenity laws.

In London, Trocchi launched a new project named Sigma. This aimed to build ‘a new decentralised organisation of writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, physicists, bio-chemists, philosophers, neurologists, engineers, and whatnots, of every race and nationality’. To co-oordinate a ‘catalogue of such a reservoir of talent, intelligence and power’ would be ‘of itself a spur to our imagination’. For London he planned to found a ‘living-gallery-workshop-auditorium-happening situation where conferences and encounters are to be undertaken… It will be our window on the metropolis, a sigma-centre… an experimental situation in which what is happening cannot be described in terms of conventional categories (which it transcends)…’[ix]

Trocchi argued that ‘Certain hallucinatory properties of drugs make them central and urgently relevant to any imaginable enquiry into the mystery of the human mind. Unfortunately, ignorance, hysteria and sensationalism have contributed to making this largely a police matter’. Trocchi believed that RD Laing’s ideas on the usefulness of LSD in treating schizophrenia were ‘entirely in line with those proposed by Sigma’. Trocchi planned to produce a book titled ‘Drugs of the Mind’ with Laing and Willam Burroughs but, like so many of Trocchi’s projects, it was never carried through. In 1965, Trocchi did however pull off an event which gave birth to the term, ‘Underground’. On June 5, 1965, several thousand people attended an international poetry reading he organised at the Albert Hall, called Wholly Communion.  Next, along with experimental artist, Jeff Nuttall, Trocchi initiated the Art Laboratory, which put on multi-media and performance art in an old warehouse in Drury Lane.[x] When the 1967 British ‘Summer of Love’ kicked off at the Technicolour Dream gig in Alexandra Palace with the Pink Floyd, it was Trocchi who warmed up the audience with his poetry.

The Situationists in Paris by this time considered Trocchi’s alliances to be politically dubious, so they expelled him. According to Trocchi:

‘Guy [Debord] wouldn’t even mention the people I was involved with – Timothy Leary, Ronnie Laing. I remember the last letter he sent me: “Your name sticks in the minds of good men.” He was like Lenin; an absolutist, constantly kicking people out…’[xi]

In London in 1967, Charles Radcliffe, a Situationist supporter who later formed a hash-smuggling syndicate with Howard Marks, co-authored a cultural/political manifesto with three English members of the Situationist International: Timothy Clark, Chris Gray and Donald Nicholson-Smith. The manifesto highlighted the Dadaists and Surrealists of the inter-war period as their forerunners; as engaged in ‘a revolutionary avant-garde experimenting with a new life-style, drawing on new techniques, which were simultaneously self-expressive and socially disruptive. Art was a series of free experiments in the construction of a new libertarian order’. The Situationists however, went even further than their revolutionary predecessors:

‘Our wildest fantasies are the richest elements of our reality. They must be given real, not abstract powers. Dynamite, feudal castles, jungles, liquor, helicopters, laboratories… everything and more must pass into their service’.[xii]

When the Toronto Expo-67 festival exhibited cybernetic and televisual technology which pointed the way towards virtual reality computer games, the English Situationists commented:

‘Still more sinister is the combination of total kinetic environments and a stiff dose of acid. “We try to vaporise the mind,” says a psychedelic artist, “by bombing the senses” … To date Leary is the only person to have attempted to pull all this together. Having reduced everyone to a state of hyper-impressionable plasticity, he incorporated a backwoods myth of the modern-scientific-truth-underlying-all-world-religions, a cretin’s catechism broadcast persuasively at the same time as it was expressed by the integral manipulation of sense data… a crass manipulation of subjective experience accepted ecstatically as a mystical revelation’.

They did, however, take Leary seriously, carefully adding that, ‘Leary’s personal vulgarity should not blind anyone to the possibilities implicit in this’. ‘The urban guerrilla’ (using the term somewhat metaphorically) would ‘have to be inventive. We must learn to subvert existing cities, to grasp all the possible and the least expected uses of time and space they contain. Conditioning must be reversed’.

(C) All rights reserved. Please contact the editor of this for enquiries about fair use.

[i]  Ibid.

[ii]  Greil Marcus, Preface to Alexander Trocchi, Cains Book.

[iii] Guy Debord, “Theory of The Dérive,” International Situationist, No. 2 (1958), S.I. Anthology, p. 23,pp.50-4.

[iv] Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, p.27.

[v] Debord, ibid.

[vi] G Marcus, Lipstick Traces, p.388.

[vii] Guy Debord, Jacqueline de Jong and Asger Jorn – ‘Hands Off Alexander Trocchi!’, Situationist International, October 1960.

[viii] Leary, Flashbacks, p.132.

[ix] Sigma Portfolio No. 5, 1964. Reprinted in A Life in Pieces – Reflections on Alexander Trocchi. Eds A Campbell and T Niel. Rebel Inc. 1999.

[x] Jonathan Green, All Dressed Up – The Sixties and the Counter-culture, ps.128-47.

[xi] Marcus, Lipstick Traces, p.387; Situationist Anthology, p.204-212.

[xii] Chris Gray, TJ Clarke, Donald Nicholson-Smith, The Revolution of Modern Art and the Modern Art of Revolution.

A ‘Heady Brew’: the Psychedelic Implications of the Eleusinian Mysteries

The Cult of Death and the Maiden: Secret Rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries by Sculptor Eleanor Crook (Zoom)

Sculptor and “lapsed classicist” Eleanor Crook, explains  in this lecture for Morbid Anatomy (  the Persephone myth and what is known about the Mystery Cults of Greek Antiquity.

It seems for one thing that the Greek ritual drink, the Kykeion, was a ‘heady brew’. Clearly there are issues here for psychedelia researchers.




100 Years of Timothy Leary: Reality Tunnels and Armed Love, 1970-71

(27 November 2020)

To commemorate the hundreth anniversary  of Timothy Leary’s birth we present an extract from David Black’s Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD: sections 3 to 5 of Chapter 10 – ‘Timothy Leary’s Reality Tunnels: One Escape After Another‘.

Timothy Leary’s Armed Love

In January 1970 an Orange County judge handed Tim Leary a ludicrous sentence totalling 20 years for two minor marijuana offences. As Leary’s friends organised a defence campaign, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love paid the Weather Underground $25,000 to free him; a task made much easier by his transfer from Fulsom Prison to the minimum security establishment at San Luis Obispo. In September 1970, Leary, according to his own account, took his life in his hands and climbed along forty yards of telephone cable which ran twenty feet-high from the prison roof to a telegraph pole on the outside. Leary was picked up on a nearby highway by Clayton Van Lydegraf, a former First Lieutenant pilot in World War Two and a veteran Stalinist. Van Lydegraf, who never had any time for the hippie counterculture or LSD, told Leary, ‘I was against this whole thing from the start. If it were up to me you’d still be rotting in jail’.[i] Presumably, Van Lydegraf was given the job of getaway driver, precisely because he didn’t look or talk like a hippie. After few changes of cars and drivers Leary was taken to meet up with the group’s leaders, Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers and Mark Rudd. The success of this first part of the mission was celebrated with an LSD tripping session.

The second part of the operation was to spirit Leary and his wife, Rosemary out of the US and send them to Algiers and hook up with Eldridge Cleaver, an exiled leader of the Black Panther Party. The FLN government in Algiers was at the time hospitable to an array of revolutionary exiles from across the world. Leary had always been anti-racist, but had never, until now, identified with revolutionary politics, especially that which embraced armed-struggle. What had changed him in San Luis Obispo prison? One factor was the influence of his wife, Rosemary, who much more than Tim, was a ‘natural’ radical and well connected with the more ‘extreme’ elements of American leftism. When planning to spring Tim from his prison she got him to approve the use of firearms by the rescue team that was being assembled. Another factor was the constant supply of LSD smuggled into prison by Rosemary. According to biographer John Higgs,

‘By using LSD in prison he imprinted a new reality, and replaced his old beliefs with an outlook that made him better adapted to survive in his new environment… Tim had spent years talking about reprogramming the mind in just this way, yet when he did what he had described, his audience was bewildered… Tim had simply, to use his own jargon, rebuilt his “reality tunnel”’.[ii]

Leary, facing decades behind bars, had come to believe that Rosemary and the revolutionaries were his only hope for freedom. Therefore his natural pacifism was put into suspension for the duration. Like any actor playing the good guy, Leary’s had a mission to fulfil in the cosmic drama: to promote solidarity and co-operation between the hippie counterculture and the Black Revolution.

When Leary appeared to buy the Weather Underground’s skyed-out politics, issuing a statement from hiding that, ‘To shoot a genocidal robot policeman in defence of life is a sacred act,’ he alienated many of his old friends. Ken Kesey, the old Electric-Koolaid-Acid-Tester, published an open letter in response which pleaded more in sorrow than in anger: ‘Oh my good doctor, we don’t need one more nut with a gun’.[iii]
Leary however, was playing revolution politics as a game. This is clear from an interview he did with Paul Krasner twenty years later:

Krasner: ..when you escaped from prison, you said, “Arm yourselves and shoot to live. To shoot a genocidal robot policeman in defence of life is a sacred act”
Leary: Yeah! I also said “I’m armed and dangerous.” I got that directly from Angela Davis. I thought it was funny to say that.
Krasner: I thought it was the party line from the Weather Underround.
Leary: Well, yeah. I had a lot of arguments with Bernadine Dohrn,
Krasner: They had their own rhetoric. She even praised Charles Manson.
Leary: The Weather Underground were amusing, They were brilliant, Jewish, Chicago kids. They had class and dash and flash and smash. Bernadine was praising Manson for sticking a fork in a victim’s stomach. She was just being naughty’. [iv]

With fake passports, Leary and his wife, Rosemary, slipped out of America in disguise and flew to Algeria to meet Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver had joined the Black Panther Party after serving an eight year sentence in San Quentin prison for rape and attempted murder. Released in 1966, Cleaver became a journalist for Ramparts and served as Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party. In 1968 he led an ambush of Oakland police officers in which two officers were wounded and 17-year-old Panther Bobby Hutton was shot to death by police after surrendering. Cleaver fled to Cuba, where he was at first welcomed by the communist authorities. However, when he was joined by Clinton Smith and Byron Booth, who had hijacked a plane from California to Cuba, the hospitality cooled. Fidel Castro, not wanting his island to become a haven for plane-hijackers with dubious (possibly CIA) connections, packed the three of them off to Algeria. As other Black Panther exiles began to congregate in Algiers, Cleaver asked the FLN government of Algeria to provide the US Black Panthers with an ’embassy’. This request was granted shortly before the Learys’ arrival there.

Cleaver  was impressed by Nixon’s naming of Leary as ‘the most dangerous man in America’. Leary describes his first meeting with Cleaver at a villa in Algiers, which had been provided by the FLN government:

‘Eldridge greeted us warmly at the gate, recognising that our presence meant more cards in his hand. As Rosemary and I sat uneasily in the haute bourgeois French-provincial living room, Cleaver laid out his plan. He would obtain political asylum for us from the Algerians. Then we’d set up an American government in exile. The Algerians had already recognized the Panthers as the American Liberation Front and ultimately we could swing the entire Third World behind our cause. I suggested that we could represent the non-political counter-culture forces of America. We’d invite dissident groups, draft resisters, anti-war activists, hippies, Weathermen, rock stars, beatniks, bohemians, poets. I agreed that we should form a highly visible, alternative government to the Nixon regime. There was no question that, if we could get a base operating, many counter-culture people would come by to visit. The most effective tactic would be to operate a media centre. If the Algerians will let us set up broadcast facilities, we can start a Radio Free America that would beam over to Europe and the armed forces bases. We could win the respect of the youth and the liberals and the anti-war people in Europe… [for] a popular front of the large majority of Americans who want a peaceful friendly prosperous world’. [v]
Leary’s sentiments were received politely but with sceptical bemusement. Cleaver saw no future for any kind popular front, least of all one composed of the people Leary had in mind. When Leary began receiving visitors – old friends, revolutionary tourists, psychedelic pilgrims and journalists – Cleaver complained that the journalists tended to relegate the Panthers’ revolutionary politics to the colourful backdrop of the story of Leary’s prison escape.[vi] Anita Hoffman of the Yippies recalled,

‘…I revolted against Cleaver’s dictatorial rule, but was surprised to find I had no allies among the obedient lefties I was travelling with. So I escaped by climbing out of window and talking my way out at customs at the airport. Since the Panthers were guests of the Algerians, the Algerians wanted the Panthers’ approval to let me leave. But at that point they didn’t know I was gone’.[vii]

Cleaver assured the Algerian government that he could control Leary’s drug use and bouts of ‘nonsensical political eloquence’. First, Cleaver got Leary to participate in a film shooting session for the Panthers aimed at a US audience. Cleaver wanted Leary to publicly renounce drugs as a distraction from building armed resistance to US imperialism. Leary was diplomatic rather than apologetic:

‘If taking any drug postpones for ten minutes the revolution, the liberation of our sisters and brothers, our comrades, then taking drugs must be postponed for ten minutes … However, if one hundred FBI agents agreed to take LSD, thirty would certainly drop out’.[viii]
Leary was still committed to fulfilling his promises to the Weather Underground. Now that the escape from prison and flight into exile had been accomplished, it was time for the third part of the mission: to organise a tripping session with Eldridge Cleaver, in the hope that he would became less insular and sectarian; and embrace unity between Black Revolutionaries and hippie radicals such the Weather Underground. Cleaver had actually tripped on LSD with Yippie leaders Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman in Berkeley back in 1968. They had failed to change Cleaver’s thinking, but Leary thought it was still worth trying to do so. As he had a good supply of LSD smuggled to him in Algiers, he suggested to Cleaver that they trip together, and Cleaver agreed. The session however, simply aggravated Cleaver’s paranoia, and plunged him into a mood of pessimism.

Cleaver, wishing to assure the Algerian government that he was hosting a real anti-imperialist revolutionary, rather than a white American drugs fiend, sent Leary on a Panther-led delegation to the PLO training camps in the Levant. The delegation consisted of Leary, Donald Cox of the Black Panther party, Panther fundraiser Martin Kenner, and Bernadine Dohrn’s sister, Jennifer , who represented a sort of ‘political wing’ of the Weather Underground. The idea was to have Leary appear before the world media at a PLO camp in Jordan alongside Fatah guerrillas, Black Panthers and white American sympathisers. However, when they arrived in Beirut via Cairo they found themselves besieged at their hotel and followed everywhere by the Western press, who had been tipped off about their arrival. The plan to visit Fatah training camps in Jordan and Syria had to be abandoned when the Lebanese government, under US diplomatic pressure, sent a police squad to escort them to the airport.

Leary and party returned to Cairo. In Cairo, according to Cleaver’s then collaborator Elaine Mokhtefi, Leary became ‘paranoid and hysterical… uncontrollable… scaling walls, hiding behind buildings, raising his arms and screaming in the streets’. The Algerian ambassador to Egypt put them on a plane back to Algiers. On their return Leary and Rosemary began partying with LSD at the desert oasis of Bou-Saada, much to Cleaver’s disapproval. Having recently returned from a conference in North Korea, Cleaver had become a devotee of Kim Il Sung. He now believed that the Panther strategy of uniting with white radicals of the psychedelic counterculture had been mistaken.[ix] And it was not just white hippies that Cleaver wanted to disassociate his movement from. In Leary’s words, ‘Eldridge invented himself a security crisis. Like Nixon, like Brezhnev’:

‘Everything the Panthers did was in the name of security. We were constantly lectured on the precariousness of our situation; American police were after us. All Algerians were racists. The town was crawling with enemies. Our foes were multiplying. The other national liberation fronts turned out to racist too and riddled with double agents. Even our American allies became deadly rivals one-by-one: Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Stokeley Carmichael – all running-dog lackeys of imperialism’.[x]
The CIA’s top-secret Algeria operation had been set up after Cleaver’s arrival in Algiers in 1969. The CIA, as later revealed by Seymour Hersh in the New York Times had recruited Black Americans to spy on members of the Black Panther Party both in the United States and in Africa, especially Algeria. One agent gained access to the personal living quarters of Cleaver in Algeria in the late 1960’s. Another later boasted to his colleagues that he had managed to penetrate Cleaver’s Algerian headquarters ‘and sat at the table’ with him. The CIA’s aim, in the case of the Black Panthers living abroad, was to ‘neutralize’ them; ‘to try and get them in trouble with local authorities wherever they could’.[xi]

According to Leary, the problem with Cleaver was that he was ‘totally American. He doesn’t want to change the system, he just wants to run it’.[xii] On one occasion Cleaver pulled a gun on Leary and threatened to denounce him to the Algerian authorities for his activities with LSD if a sum of $10,000 was not forthcoming. On 9 January 1971, Cleaver ‘imprisoned’ the Learys, placing them under armed guard. A CIA document dated 12 February 1971 noted:

‘Panther activities have recently taken some interesting turns. Eldridge Cleaver and his Algiers contingent have apparently become disenchanted with the antics of Tim Leary… Electing to call their actions protective custody, Cleaver and company, on their own authority, have put Tim and Rosemary under house arrest due most probably to Leary’s continued use of hallucinogenic drugs’.[xiii]
Tim and Rosemary were fearful about ever getting out of Cleaver’s personal prison. They had good reason to be. Unknown to Leary, months earlier Cleaver had shot dead his fellow exile, Clinton Smith, after accusing him of amorous intentions towards his wife, Kathleen Cleaver. Byron Booth, who witnessed the murder, helped Cleaver bury Smith’s body in the mountains and fled Algeria the next day.[xiv]

Cleaver’s imprisonment of the Learys came just as a serious split was developing between Cleaver’s faction and the California-base leadership. Panther leaders Huey Newton and David Hilliard wanted the party to focus on community service and avoid any armed actions beyond self-defense; others, such as Cleaver, wanted to continue and extend offensive armed struggle. Some activists had given up on the Black Panther Party and joined the Black Liberation Army. The Panther split became public in mid-February 1971. In the weeks and months that followed, four members of the party in both factions were killed in tit-for-tat shootings.

As reports reached the Panthers in the US about the disappearances of Clinton Smith and Byron Booth, suspicions of murder began to spread, and Cleaver began to fear being overthrown by a coup at his own headquarters. The Learys took advantage of Cleaver’s distraction and escaped his clutches. Leary made contact with officials of the Algerian government, who told him that they themselves were unhappy about Cleaver’s activities in their country and assured the Learys that they could stay for as long as they wished. Now under the protection of the Algerian government, Leary was visited by the English writer and dope-dealer, Brian Barritt, whose rebel status was very different from Cleaver’s. Barritt, who had been introduced to LSD by Alex Trocchi in London in the mid-1960s, was an enthusiastic student of ‘English Magick’ in the ‘tradition’ of John Dee and Alistair Crowley. He was to become Leary’s co-author on the forthcoming book, Confessions of a Hope Fiend, in Switzerland, the next stop on the Leary’s journey. Leary’s archivist, Michael Horowitz, summarises Confession of a Hope Fiend as the story of his prison escape flight to exile and ‘revolutionary bust’ by the Black Panther Party leader ‘after he either won or lost the debate on the role of psychedelic drugs in the revolution’:

‘In Algeria, the role of Hassan-i-Sabbah – the founder of the hashishin and the first recorded person to brainwash with euphoric drugs – was not necessarily up for grabs. The Aleister Crowley persona emerged during an acid trip in the Sahara. But survival dictated another space time co-ordinate’[xv].

Hotel Abyss

In April 1971, Leary accepted an invitation to give a talk at Aarhus university in Copenhagen. The Learys flew first to Geneva and sought advice from his friend, Pierre Benoussan. He advised them to stay in Switzerland because he thought that if they went to Denmark, they were certain to be arrested and deported to the US. Benoussan gave them the address of Michel Hauchard, arms dealer for the Palestinians, convicted fraudster and jailbird.[xvi] Hauchard, as gentleman rogue, felt obliged to help Leary as a persecuted philosopher. He provided the Learys with a chalet at a Lake Geneva ski resort. Thanks to Hauchard’s generosity, Rosemary Leary was now able to seek the fertility treatment she needed to become pregnant. Hauchard’s largesse had a price. Leary had to promise he would not leave Switzerland and had to sign away in advance half the royalties on the book, Confessions of a Hope Fiend.[xvii] But for the moment Leary had landed in the lap of luxury, and revolutionary politics was now irrelevant to him. As Higgs puts it,

‘Indeed, just three months after pledging “eternal solidarity” to the Brazilian Marxists who had escaped from jail and fled to Algiers, he found himself drinking with the Brazilian aristocrats who had jailed them in the first place. “Torture,” one of them told him, “was nothing more than an advanced form of acrobatics.” By now Tim was quite used to imprinting an entirely new worldview whenever he found himself in a different environment, but rarely was the process as effortless as this’.[xviii]

Hauchard provided the Learys with a lawyer to obtain temporary Swiss residence for them. When, in June 1971, Tim was arrested by the Swiss police to face an extradition request from the US government, the lawyer got him out of prison on health grounds. In December, Leary’s appeal against extradition was upheld by the court, on condition that he would keep out of subversive politics and stay away from illegal drugs; the first was easy, the second was out of the question for Leary, although he believed he could take his daily doses of acid discreetly.  The downside was that the court ruled he would have to leave Switzerland before the end of the following year, 1972.

In September 1971, Leary got to meet Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD. Hoffman told Leary that it was regrettable that investigations into LSD and psilocybin had ‘degenerated’ so much that continuance of psychedelic research in the academic milieu had become impossible:

‘In this conversation I further objected to the great publicity that Leary sought for his LSD and psilocybin investigations, since he had invited reporters from daily newspapers and magazines to his experiments and had mobilized radio and television. Emphasis was placed on publicity rather than objective information. Leary defended his publicity program because he felt it had been his fateful historic role to make LSD known worldwide. The overwhelming positive effects of such dissemination, above all among America’s younger generation, would make any trifling injuries or regrettable accidents as a result of improper use of LSD unimportant in comparison, a small price to pay’.[xix]
David Solomon travelled from England to Switzerland to see Leary and secure a role as an agent negotiating with publishers.[xx]  Another arrival in the Learys’ Swiss household was Dennis Martino, Leary’s hash-smuggling son-in-law from a previous marriage. He was wanted in the US for jumping parole, but in December 1972 made a trip to the US. This should have raised Leary’s suspicions, but didn’t. Leary and Brian Barritt ventured into music production with German krautrockers. Barritt got Leary into heroin, until after few weeks Leary wisely decided to quit. During this period Leary was constantly on LSD, though could function rationally in his day-to-day interactions. Leary had now decided that ‘whereas the space games are survival, power and control, the corresponding time games are sex, dope and magic’.[xxi]
By this time Rosemary Woodruff Leary had had enough of Tim’s new life and entourage. Rosemary took up with John Schewel, an associate of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and spent the next twenty years hiding out in various parts of the world.

Leary hooked up with an aristocratic Englishwoman, Joanna Harcourt Smith, who was introduced to him by Hauchard. Meanwhile the US authorities were renewing pressure on the Swiss by drumming up more charges against Leary, accusing him of being ‘the godfather of the largest drug-smuggling ring in the world’ – the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (the charges were later dropped for lack of evidence).[xxii] At the end of 1972 Leary and Joanna moved to Vienna. Joanna wanted to take Leary to Ceylon, where she had rich relatives to put them up. Then, fatefully, Dennis Martino arrived in Vienna. He suggested that rather than head straight for Ceylon, the three of them should go firstly to Afghanistan, where, he assured them, he had Brotherhood of Eternal Love contacts who would help them. Leary, accompanied by Joanna Harcourt-Smith and Dennis Martino arrived in Afghanistan in January 1973. In Kabul, former CIA agent Terrence Burke was now working in Kabul for the US Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and was monitoring the brothers Aman and Nasrullah Tokhi, who were supplying the Brotherhood of Eternal Love with large shipments of hash. The Afghan authorities provided Burke with copies of American travellers’ embarkation and disembarkation cards, so he was thus warned of the impending arrival of the Learys and Martino. Burke arranged for US Embassy staff disguised as Afghan immigration officers to be on hand to confiscate Leary’s fake passport. Burke then persuaded the Afghan authorities to deport Leary. Dennis Martino, also a fugitive, struck a deal with Burke in Kabul to become an informer. Or was he one already? What is certain is that Martino, spirited back to California after Leary’s deportation from Afghanistan, arranged for at least two dozen of his dope-dealing associates of the Brotherhood to be arrested.[xxiii]

Eldridge Cleaver left Algeria for France in 1972 and went into hiding. He returned to the USA in 1977 a born-again Christian. After some plea-bargaining and public repentance for his political past he got away with a sentence of 1,200 hours community service for the outstanding assault charge.[xxiv] His Black Panther rival, Huey Newton, came out of prison in 1970. He failed to revive the party and fell into gangsterism and cocaine addiction.

Leary ‘Co-operates’

At his trial in March 1973 for the 1970 prison escape, Leary was sentenced to five years imprisonment in addition to the twenty he had been serving. For management of his affairs outside of prison Leary still relied on Joanna Harcourt-Smith. In November, 1973, Leary was transferred from Folsom to Vacaville Prison. There he learned that Martino had become a government snitch and that Joanna was sleeping with him. When Allen Ginsberg met Joanna Harcourt-Smith during a prison visit, he told her he suspected she might be a ‘double agent’. In response, Joanna turned to Leary and said ‘Oh, he just hates women’. Leary simply threw up his hands in exasperation. But for Leary himself, in this latest reality tunnel informing was taking on a new meaning: Leary, in return for early release, was prepared to talk to the FBI.

On the evidence of Leary’s autobiography, the ‘Leary Turns Fink’ story, which gained wide circulation in the late seventies, was, in part at least, the product of an FBI counter-offensive aimed at blunting the revelations about the Bureau’s own illegal actions against dissidents. When a transcript of Leary’s testimony was leaked to journalist, Jack Anderson, Leary complained that it made it sound as if he was testifying against anyone who had ever offered him a joint. But the story severely damaged Leary’s reputation among his followers. Becoming a political extremist under extreme circumstances might have been understandable; but becoming a renegade fink put him beyond the pale. After the FBI milked Leary for all the information they thought they get, Leary was finally given his freedom in April 1976.

According to Leary, he only wanted to convince the FBI that people like the Weather Underground and Brotherhood of Eternal Love were really just all-American kids who had grown a little too enthusiastic about realising their ideals. Regarding his ‘motives’ for talking, Leary said that he wanted an ‘intelligent, an honourable relationship’ with Government institutions:

‘So this does not just turn someone over to get out of prison, it’s part of a longer range plan of mine… I intend to be fully active in this country in the next few years however the things turn out… I’m never going to work at it illegally ever again, but I would prefer to work constructively and collaboratively with intelligence and law enforcement people that are ready to forget the past…’[xxv]

Leary did talk to the FBI about the Weather Underground and name names, but in the long run the group was not impacted by Leary’s testimony. By the mid-1970s the Weather Underground leadership had grasped the reality that they weren’t going to be able to bomb US Imperialism out of existence. Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn believed they could avoid federal prosecution and lengthy prison sentences because of illegal wire taps and reluctance on the government’s part to reveal sources and illegal methods. Ayers and Dohrn favored a strategy of ‘surfacing’ as above ground revolutionaries. Bernadine Dohrn’s sister, Jennifer, organised an umbrella organization of radical groups which was named the Prairie Fire Committee (inspired by Mao Zedong’s polemic against ‘pessimism’: ‘A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire‘).

In 1977 a pamphlet appeared entitled The Split of the Weather Underground Organization – Struggling Against White and Male Supremacy. This contained an abject ‘confession’ by Bernadine Dohrn, admitting to charges of racial and sexual chauvinism, and ‘opportunism’. An article by Clayton Van Lydegraf, ‘In Defense of Prairie Fire’, indicated that the new ‘line’ was a very orthodox Marxist-Leninism committed to supporting armed actions. But Van Lydegraf’s takeover of what was left of the Weather Underground’s military structure proved disastrous. Since 1969 the FBI had largely failed to penetrate the group, but they soon succeeded in doing so when the Bureau’s Weather hunters infiltrated a couple of undercover agents into the West Coast Weather Underground Organization as firearms instructors; one of whom actually moved in with Van Lydegraf as his housemate. In 1977, Van Lydegraf, and several Weather Underground members were arrested for plotting to bomb the offices of a California state senator and got two-year prison sentences. This essentially finished the Weather Underground. All three of the groups Leary had operated with during his fugitive period – the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground – were broken up largely within that timespan. In between 1970 when he escaped prison and 1976, when he was released, Leary created for himself one ‘reality tunnel’ after another: first with the Weather Underground, then with Cleaver’s Black Panthers, then with Hauchard, then finally with the FBI. As John Higgs puts it:

‘Enlightenment thinkers assumed that everyone operates in the same reality, but that, Leary believed, was not true on a practical level. Concepts, relationships and events were now relative, and could only be really understood when analysed alongside the reality tunnels that created them’.[xxvi]

As Leary said of his first LSD trip with Michael Hollingshead ten years earlier,

‘From that day I have never lost the sense that I am an actor, surrounded by characters, props and sets for the comic drama being written in my brain’.[xxvii]

[i] Quoted in Bryan Burrough, Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age.

[ii] John Higgs, I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary, p.125.

[iii] Quoted in Lee and Shlain, Acid Dreams, p.230.

[iv] Paul Krasner, ‘A Game of Mind Tennis with Timothy Leary’, in Forte (ed.), Timothy Leary p.122.

[v]  Leary, Flashbacks, ps 301-2.

[vi] Higgs, p.127.

[vii] Forte, Timothy Leary, p.85.

[viii] Elaine Mokhtefi, Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers , Chapter 5.

[ix] Donn Pearce, ‘Leary in Limbo’, Playboy, July 1971.

[x]  Leary, Flashbacks, p.304.

[xi] Seymour Hersh, ‘Huge CIA Operation Reported in US Against Anti-War Forces’, New York Times, 22 December, 1974; ‘CIA Reportedly Recruited Blacks For Surveillance of Panther Party’, New York Times, 17 March 1978.

[xii] Timothy Leary, Confessions of a Hope Fiend, p240. Quoted in John Higgs, I Have America Surrounded, p.138.

[xiii]  Lee and Shlian, ps.268-9.

[xiv] Mokhtefi, op.sit.

[xv]  Higgs, ps.139-140.

[xvi]  Lee and Pratt, ps.340-2.

[xvii]  Leary, Flashbacks, ps.300-310.

[xviii]  Higgs, p.158.

[xix] Albert Hoffman, ‘My Meetings With Timothy Leary’, in Forte, op.cit. ps.89-90.

[xx] Tendler and May, p.112; Lee and Pratt, ps.340-342.

[xxi] ‘Prophet on the Lam: Timothy Leary in Exile’, in Forte op.cit. p.98.

[xxii] Forte, p.70.

[xxiii] Higgs, p.223.

[xxiv] Mokhtefi, op. cit.

[xxv] Timothy Leary, The Politics of Psychopharmacology (Ronin Publishing: 2009), p.110.

[xxvi] John Higgs, I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary, ps.46-48.

[xxvii] Leary, Flashbacks, p.119.

The Points Interview: David Black, author of Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD

Points: The Blog of the Alchohol and Drugs History Society (US)

(24 September 2020)

The Points Interview: David Black, author of Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD

I’ve titled the book Psychedelic Tricksters because in mythology the trickster is someone who ‘unwisely’ defies the powers-on-high, as when Prometheus steals fire from Zeus for the benefit of humankind. The trickster’s rebellion always fails and yet is seen as necessary for the origin of civilizations, or perhaps, as in the case of psychedelics, a new beginning for a society that had lost way in war, racism and sexual oppression.”

See the interview in full HERE

Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black now in paperback

(28 July 2020)

“I recommend this book; it is more historically accurate than earlier books on this subject.” – Tim Scully, underground chemist of the 1960s who produced “Orange Sunshine” LSD (featured in Cosmo Feilding-Mellen’s documentary film, The Sunshine Makers).

Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black (BPC Publishing, London: 2020) is available as a Kindle ebook for £4.85 HERE

And in paperback dead-tree-format for £11.99 HERE 

Read the PREFACE for FREE on this site HERE

The Charles Manson Nightmare Redux

(20 July 2020)

New review. “A great read… a dramatic, almost Chandleresque narrative.” David Black on American nightmares revisited, in “CHAOS – Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties,” by Tom O’Neill.

“O’Neill studied the bestselling book, Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi, lead prosecutor at Manson’s trial. Bugliosi’s case went as follows. Manson was a huge fan of the Beatles, and believed that the lyrics on the White Album were somehow addressed to him personally. Tracks such as ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Little Piggies’ were taken to mean ‘the black man rising up against the white establishment and murdering the entire white race’. The Manson Family would escape Helter Skelter by taking refuge in a bottomless pit in the desert (‘a place Manson derived from Revelation 9’) and breed until he had 144,000 followers to take over the world. To O’Neill, this fable of bat-shit craziness didn’t explain anything. Bugliosi himself said in an interview with Penthouse in 1976 that he believed while Manson’s followers believed his Helter Skelter bullshit, Manson did not. In which case, why did he organise the murders and how could he have manipulated his followers into carrying them out?2 Bugliosi, as O’Neill was to discover, was corrupt, greedy and (according to his own family) psychotic. ”

Preface to Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black

Preface to Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black

BPC Publications. London 2020 


1 – MK-Ultra: The CIA’s ‘Mind Control’ Project


Midnight Climax

Heartbreak Hotel: the Death of Frank Olson

Human Ecology: an MK-Ultra Front

Personality Assessment

2 – How the CIA Failed the Acid Test

Magic Mushrooms

Harvard Trips

Timothy Leary and Mary Pinchot

‘Captain Trips’: Alfred Hubbard

Coasts of Utopias

3 – London Underground

Centre of the World

Psychedelic Situationists

The 1967 ‘Summer of Love’

4 – David Solomon and the Art of Psychedelic Subversion

Psychedelic Jazz

Acid Revolution

5 – Steve Abrams: E.S.P., C.I.A., T.H.C.



SOMA, Solomon and Stark

6 – The New Prohibition versus the Acid Underground

Psychedelic Alchemy

Owsley and the Grateful Dead


The Brotherhood of Eternal Love

Money Matters

Orange Sunshine

7 – The Atlantic Acid Alliance

Richard Kemp – Liverpool’s LSD Chemist

Tripping with RD Laing

8 – The British Microdot Gang and the Veritable Split

9 – The Downfall of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love

Ronald Stark and the Brotherhood


Operation BEL

The Scully-Sand Conspiracy Trial

10 – Timothy Leary’s Reality Tunnels: One Escape After Another

Political Intoxication

Weather Underground: Stalinism on Acid

Armed Love

Hotel Abyss

Leary ‘Co-operates’

11 – Operation Julie: the Hunters and the Hunted


The Chase


12 – The Many Faces of Ronald Hadley Stark

Busted in Bologna

Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’

The Red Brigades


Prison Wager

13 – Tricksters

14 – Acid 2.0: Redux or Recuperation?


Like atomic power and artificial intelligence, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was discovered in the closing years of World War Two. Since then, atomic bombs and computers have been the constant source of fears that combined they might bring about the destruction of humanity. LSD has aroused similar fears. Albert Hoffman, the Swiss chemist who discovered its effects in 1943, likened the LSD trip to an ‘inner bomb’. He warned that, if improperly used and distributed, LSD might bring about more destruction than an atomic detonation. But it has also been argued that, if properly used and distributed, LSD use might actually change people’s consciousness for the better and help to prevent nuclear war. Professor David Nutt, who sat on the British Labour government’s Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs until he was sacked in 2009, argues that the study of psychedelics is essential for understanding the nature of consciousness itself:

‘This is core neuroscience. This is about humanity at its deepest level. It is fundamental to understanding ourselves. And the only way to study consciousness is to change it. Psychedelics change consciousness in a way that is unique, powerful, and perpetual – of course we have to study them’.

As is well known, in the 1950s and early ‘60s the US Central Intelligence Agency used LSD, in secret and illegal experiments, on unwitting subjects. The CIA did so according to Cold War logic: if the Russians could work out how to use LSD in bio-chemical warfare — or in ‘brain-washing’, as a ‘truth drug’, or even as a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ — then the USA needed to work it out first.

In 1953, the CIA launched a top-secret ‘mind-control’ project, code-named MK-Ultra. The CIA’s assets in the US medical profession ‘officially’ labelled LSD as ‘psychosis-inducing drug’, only of use in psychiatric analysis and research. Many CIA officers, contractors and assets however, became enthusiastic trippers themselves, in full knowledge that LSD could produce atrocious as well as enchanting hallucinations. Knowing the secrets of LSD, they thought of themselves as a kind of anti-communist spiritual elite who, unlike the US citizenry at large, were ‘in the know’.

But by the end of the 1950s, with no sign of the Russians contaminating the water supply with LSD, there were plenty of signs in the United States that the psychedelic experience was escaping its captors. Some of the researchers in American hospitals – who had little awareness that their work was being secretly sponsored by the CIA — realised that LSD had ‘spiritual’ implications, i.e. for developing an ‘integrative’ enlightened consciousness, conducive to visionary creativity. These researchers stressed the importance of ‘set and setting’ in properly supervised LSD sessions. The English scholar, Aldous Huxley, who took his first LSD trip in 1955, related in his essay Heaven and Hell the hallucinogenic experience to the visionary works of William Blake:

‘Visionary experience is not the same as mystical experience. Mystical experience is beyond the realm of opposites. Visionary experience is still within that realm. Heaven entails hell, and “going to heaven” is no more liberation than is the descent into horror. Heaven is merely a vantage point, from which the divine Ground can be more clearly seen than on the level of ordinary individualized existence’.

Huxley, though an advocate for psychedelic drugs, wanted them strictly controlled. In contrast, Timothy Leary, who first took LSD in December 1961, became the ‘guru’ of psychedelia as LSD ‘escaped’ into the counter-culture of the 1960s. The ‘escape’ has been the subject of conspiracy theories which have been weaponised in today’s so-called Culture Wars. According to one widely-held view, the entire psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s was engineered by the CIA as part of a plot by some secret global elite bent on mass mind-control. For elements of the Right, the psychedelic counter-culture undermined ‘traditional values’ such as patriarchy, nationalism and subservience to authority. On the Left, some see the 1960s hedonism of ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll’ as having been a distraction from politics. The theory, as it has spread, has thrown in extra villains for good measure: satanists, MI6, the psychiatrists of the Tavistock Institute, the Grateful Dead, and Theodor Adorno of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, etc, etc.

In truth, the extent of the CIA’s involvement in the psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s has always been difficult to determine; not least because Sidney Gottlieb, head of MK-Ultra, illegally destroyed the project’s operational files in 1973. Nonetheless, some leading figures of the counter-culture, such as Timothy Leary, can hardly be discussed without reference to the CIA – not least because Leary himself had so much to say about it. In the present work, whilst I pay only scant attention to conspiracy theories, I make no apologies for investigating, where necessary, real conspiracies.

The underground networks of acid producers and distributors on both sides of the Atlantic were described after their downfall in the nineteen-seventies in such terms as ‘Hippie Mafia’ or ‘Microdot Gang’: so out of their heads that they didn’t know any better; or were ‘only in it for the money’; or were tools of organised crime and/or state agencies. In an earlier ebook I noted that nearly everyone involved – the psychedelic revolutionaries, the financiers, intelligence and anti-drugs agencies, CIA-sponsored scientists and researchers – operated to a greater or lesser extent outside of accepted standards of ‘legality’, or didn’t even recognise them; hence the title: Acid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-Revolution. But although the term ‘outlaw’ certainly fits many of people in this study, it doesn’t fit all of them by any means. Stephen Bentley, ex-undercover police officer and author of Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story, takes exception to my use of the term ‘questionable legality’ regarding of some of the surveillance methods he and his colleagues used:

‘Questionable by who? Illegal – mostly not… Yes, I smoked a lot of hash… and did some cocaine. Technically, that was illegal. Tell me what I was supposed to do given I was undercover. I wasn’t Steve Bentley. I was ‘Steve Jackson’ – wild, carefree, giving all the impression I was a dealer. I’m now 72 years’ old. I don’t care for the historical revisionism applied to Operation Julie recently. It was a highly successful and unique police investigation carried out professionally under difficult circumstances’.

On my reference to the ‘ham-acting of drunken undercover officers’, Bentley retorts:

‘Maybe you should try living a lie for the best part of a year; doing things alien to you; becoming a different person. Those who know will scoff at the thought of it being an act. It’s not. You become someone else – believe me’.

The point is, I concede that although Stephen Bentley mixed with ‘acid outlaws’ and behaved like one when he was infiltrating them in north Wales in the 1970s, he certainly wasn’t one himself. Steve Abrams – who inspired me twenty years ago to write about this subject in the first place – wasn’t an outlaw either. He is described in an obituary in Psychedelic Press – quite accurately — as a ‘psychedelic trickster’. Many of the leading players who feature in this tale were certainly outlaws at various times but primarily they were tricksters. In Carl Gustav Jung’s definition of archetypes, the ‘Trickster’ surfaces in many stories in mythology, folklore and religion. More generally, anthropologists studying indigenous cultures in various parts of the world identify the trickster with cunning crazy-acting animals such as the fox or coyote, shape-shifting gods such as Loki in Norse mythology and rustic pranksters in human form. In the literature of Greek antiquity, Prometheus, the son of a Titan, tricks the gods with his buffoonery and steals fire from heaven for the benefit of human kind, for which he is severely punished by Zeus. As the historian of religion, Klaus-Peter Koepping, puts it:

‘In European consciousness Prometheus becomes the symbol for man’s never-ceasing, unremitting, and relentless struggle against fate, against the gods, unrepentingly defying the laws of the Olympians, though (and this again shows the continuing absurdity) never being successful in this endeavor, which, however, is necessary for the origin of civilized life (the ultimate paradox of rule breaking as a rule)’.

Like fire, psychedelic drugs can be dangerous as well as beneficial. In various ways the tricksters who feature in this book tended to believe that their antics were beneficial to humanity as well as themselves; and in most cases had to suffer the consequences of their actions. CIA MK-Ultra chief, Sidney Gottlieb, believed that that his immoral and dishonest actions were outweighed by his patriotism and dedication to science, but his reputation has been posthumously trashed (a biography by Stephen Kinzer calls him as ‘the CIA’s Poisoner-in-Chief’). On the ‘other’ side, the reputation of Timothy Leary, who likewise believed he was acting as a patriot and saviour of civilisation, has shape-shifted from brilliant scientist to mystical guru, wanted criminal, wild-eyed revolutionary, renegade informer and finally self-aggrandising ‘showboater’.

I sent a copy of the previous book to Tim Scully, a most significant actor in the events unfolded in this story. Scully is a meticulous researcher (he is compiling a history of LSD production in the US) and, as it turns out, a very reliable witness. Scully, born 1944, was in 1966 taken on as apprentice to the famous LSD chemist Owsley Stanley (AKA Bear Stanley). After Owsley withdrew from LSD production following a bust of his tableting facility in December 1967, Scully was determined to continue. After making LSD in successive laboratories in Denver, Scully began to work with fellow psychedelic chemist, Nick Sand (another trickster). Their collaboration led to the establishment in November 1968 of a lab in Windsor, California, which ultimately produced well over a kilo (more than four million 300 μg doses) of very pure LSD that became known as Orange Sunshine. Scully, in writing to me, pointed to a number of errors in my writings regarding events in the USA. Generously, he provided me with a lot of very useful information: firstly, on how underground LSD production was organised in the United States in the 1960s; secondly, on the relations between the American LSD producers in the United States, their collaborators in Great Britain, and the ‘Brotherhood of Eternal Love’; and thirdly on the alleged CIA asset, Ronald Stark, who Scully knew and did business with. With further research and fact-checking I realised that none of the previous books on the subject (including mine) have accurately covered these three issues. I hope – whilst making no claim to have written anything like a comprehensive or definitive history of the LSD underground – that this one does.