In the mid-1970s, the United States Congress conducted hearings into what were known as the CIA's "family jewels" - highly classified documents detailing some of the Agency's most secretive and potentially damaging operations. Among the allegations discussed were whether the CIA had targeted foreign leaders for assassination (they had), surreptitiously opened and read domestic mail (they had), and conducted drug and mind-control experiments on unwitting U.S. citizens (yep).
That last unearthed jewel, a decades-long CIA experiment dubbed Project MK-ULTRA, included (among other facets) a 1950s subproject where agents in New York and San Francisco hired prostitutes to lure johns back to safe houses. The johns were then secretly dosed with LSD (and other drugs) and observed by the agents from behind two-way mirrors. The agents (and the Agency) were looking for the keys to the human psyche, a magic elixir that could force a man to spill his secrets, or, possibly, even empty a man of his secrets, his personality, his convictions, leaving a shell that could then be turned and sent back into the world with a new, specific mission.
This is where HALF WORLD begins, in an apartment on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, with a small group of men secretly watching another man and a woman in the most intimate of encounters.
In this excerpt from the hearings, Admiral Stansfield Turner, then Director of the CIA, answers some of the first questions about the safe houses.