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Frank Olson (July 17, 1910 – November 28, 1953) was a U.S. Army biological warfare specialist employed at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Believed to have committed suicide in 1953 as a result of depression, he was later revealed to have been exposed to LSD and other psychoactive drugs as part of experiments, raising suspicion that he had been assassinated by the CIA.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Frank Olson was a senior U.S. microbiologist at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. He was recruited from the University of Wisconsin, where his departmental advisor was Ira Baldwin, the civilian scientist who, along with industrial partners like George W. Merck and the U.S. military, established the U.S. bioweapons program in 1943, a time when interest in applying modern technology to warfare was at an all-time high.
His specific research work at Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division has never been revealed, but he was clearly involved in biological weapons research. He had been assigned as a contact with the CIA's Technical Services Staff, run by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb and his deputy Robert Lashbruck regarding experiments with bioweapons, toxins, and mind control drugs. This was the MKNAOMI - MKULTRA program, previously known as Project Artichoke and earlier, Project Bluebird, and justified based on claimed Soviet efforts to create a "Manchurian Candidate." In 1953, as Deputy Acting Head of Special Operations for the CIA, Olson associated with Dr. William Sargant, investigating the use of psychoactive drugs at Britain's Biological Warfare Centre at Porton Down. Hence, he was privy to the innermost secrets of the CIA interrogation and biowarfare programs.
Ed Regis reports that the meeting at which Olson was dosed with LSD took place at Deep Creek Lake:
"Deep Creek Lake was three hours by car from Camp Detrick. On Wednesday morning, November 18, 1953, about a week before Thanksgiving, a group from the SO Division, including Vincent Ruwet, chief of the division, John Schwab, Frank Olson, Ben Wilson, Gerald Yonetz, and John Malinowski, drove out to the retreat...The Detrick group was met at the lodge by Sid Gottlieb, his deputy Robert Lashbrook, and a couple of others from the CIA....On the second day of the retreat, after dinner, Gottlieb spiked a bottle of Cointreau with a small quantity of a substance that he and his TSS colleagues privately referred to as "serunin" but which was in fact lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD."
According to the government's version of events, Olson subsequently suffered severe paranoia and a nervous breakdown. The CIA sent him to New York to see one of their psychiatrists, who recommended that Olson be placed into a mental institution for recovery. This all took place after Olson asked to quit the biowarfare program the week after the retreat :
"Ruwet was surprised to see Olson at 7:30 in the morning, but asked him in. Olson told Ruwet that he was dissatisfied with his own performance at the retreat, that he was experiencing considerable self-doubts, and that in fact he had decided he would like to be out of the germ warfare business. He wanted to leave Camp Detrick and devote his life to something else."
The LSD experience may have led Olson to this conclusion, but it was one he had been thinking of for some time. The CIA asked him to go to New York to meet with their private psychiatrist, Harold Abramson, who was centrally involved in the "research".
The CIA claimed that on his last night in Manhattan, Olson purposely threw himself out of the window of his tenth-floor hotel room at the Hotel Pennsylvania, which he had been sharing with CIA agent Robert Lashbrook, dying on impact.
The biological warfare programs and the chemical interrogation programs then remained almost completely hidden from the public, until Nixon's closure of the biowarfare program in 1969 and the Church Committee hearings of 1975.
Legacy[edit | edit source]
His family had no knowledge of the details of the accident until the Rockefeller Commission started uncovering some of the CIA's MKULTRA activities. In 1975, the government admitted that Olson had been dosed with LSD without his knowledge. The government offered his family an out-of-court settlement of $750,000, which they accepted. 
In 1994, Eric Olson had his father's body exhumed to be buried with his[clarification needed] wife. The family decided to have a second autopsy performed.The 1953 medical report done immediately after Dr. Olson’s death indicated that there were cuts and abrasions on the body. Theories sparked about Olson's having been assassinated by the CIA. When the second autopsy was performed by James Starrs, Professor of Law and Forensic science at the National Law Center at George Washington University, his team searched the body for any cuts and abrasions and found none. Starrs found a large hematoma on the left side of Olson's head and a large injury on his chest. The team concluded that the blunt force trauma to the head and injury to the chest had not occurred during the fall but most likely in the room before the fall. The evidence was called "rankly and starkly suggestive of homicide." Based on his findings, in 1996 the Manhattan District Attorney opened a homicide investigation into Olson's death, but was unable to find enough evidence to bring charges.
References in popular culture[edit | edit source]
- The 2004 book The Men Who Stare at Goats spends several chapters highlighting the events surrounding Olson's death, especially his son Eric's investigation into the case. A scene from the movie of the same name is a possible reference to the MKULTRA experiment.
- There was a segment on the show Unsolved Mysteries exploring the theories and rumors behind Frank Olson's death.
- An opera concerning the conspiracy theories behind Olson's death, Man: Biology of a Fall composed by Evan Hause on a libretto by Gary Heidt, premiered in Brooklyn, New York at Kumble Theater on October 4, 2007.
- Olson is mentioned in the 2007 episode of the Fox TV show Bones, "Spaceman in a Crater" by Dr. Hodgins, a conspiracy theorist, in reference to theories that the government experiments on people and then abandons them.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- Seymour Hersch (July 10, 1975). "Family Plans to Sue C.I.A. Over Suicide in Drug Test". New York Times. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10A1EFC39591A718DDDA90994DF405B858BF1D3. Retrieved 2008-03-16. "The widow and children of a researcher who committed suicide in 1953 after his participant in a Central intelligence Agency drug experiment said today that they planned to sue the agency over his "wrongful death.""
- Acid Dreams Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain, Grove Press, ISBN 978-0802130624, p 31
- Bob Coen and Eric Nadler, Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail (Counterpoint Press, 2009) p97
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- John D. Marks (1979). The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate": The CIA and Mind Control. Times Books. ISBN 0-8129-0773-6.
- George Andrews (2001). MKULTRA : The CIA's Top Secret Program in Human Experimentation and Behavior Modification. Healthnet Press. ISBN 0-9616475-8-2.
- Jon Ronson (2005). The Men Who Stare At Goats. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-7060-6.
- H.P. Albarelli Jr. (2009). A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments. TrineDay Publishers. ISBN 0-9777953-7-3.
[edit | edit source]
- "Son probes strange death of WMD worker" - Scott Shane writing for The Baltimore Sun (September 12, 2004)
- The Frank Olson Legacy Project - explores the circumstances of Frank Olson's death and the political and ethical issues embedded in them
- The Frank Olson Murder
- [dead link]German documentary (includes a confession by an insider)
- LSD A Go Go Short documentary about the Frank Olson case
- audio interview with Olson's sons, Part 1
- audio interview with Olson's sons, Part 2
- Code Name ARTICHOKE, Hugh Turley, Hyattsville Life and Times, April 2008.
- "Did the CIA Drug Paul Robeson? – a Look at the Secret Program Mk Ultra" Part 1. 23:16 minutes. Amy Goodman interviews Paul Robeson, Jr., Dr. Eric Olson, Martin Lee. Democracy Now!. Thursday, July 1, 1999. Retrieved August 22, 2010.