The “Government Hospital for the Insane” opened in 1855 on a remote hilltop to the southeast of Washington, D.C. as one of America’s first public hospitals specializing in psychiatry. Later popularly known by the less prickly moniker St. Elizabeths, the asylum’s headiest chapter might be a midcentury stint of clandestine government experiments with drugs, “truth serums,” and mind control.
In 1942 the proto-CIA Office of Strategic Services established a committee partnership with St. Elizabeths to aid in prisoner of war interrogations. Little was known about the pharmacology of mind-altering drugs, but the premise was that intoxicated Nazis would be more likely to reveal sensitive information to interrogators to help win World War II.
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