May 19, 2003
Olson family press conference, August 8, 2002, Frederick, Maryland.
Eric Olson and his son, Stephan Kimbel Olson.
In 1996, Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau opened a new investigation into CIA Scientist Frank Olson's 1953 "suicide," assigning the case to a special Cold Case Unit staffed by two veteran prosecutors. Details about the activities and findings of that ongoing inquiry have never before been revealed. Investigative journalist and writer H.P. Albarelli Jr. conducted his own seven-year examination into Olson's death. In Part Two, he reports his findings about one of the U.S. government's greatest conspiracies and unsolved mysteries.
H.P. Albarelli's book on Frank Olson's death, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments published in October 2009. Advance orders can be placed at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and from the book's publisher Trine Day Books. Additional information on the book may be obtained at: www.albarelli.net and from www.trineday.com.
When CIA Scientist Frank Olson plunged to his death from the 10th floor of a New York hotel in 1953, his death was ruled a suicide. But in 1975 a government report prepared for the special Presidential Commission investigating the CIA's development of potent drugs for use in biological warfare and assassinations made its way onto the front page of the Washington Post. The Post revealed that an unnamed government employee "had jumped to his death from a New York hotel window after he was unwittingly dosed with LSD while attending a meeting on a test project that involved the administration of mind-bending drugs to unsuspecting Americans."
Days later, at a news conference attended by all the major media, Olson's family threatened to sue the CIA for wrongful death. Four days later President Ford met with Olson's wife and two sons at the White House. Ford apologized and told the Olsons that the CIA's experiments were "illegal and unconscionable." Ford ordered CIA Director William Colby to provide the Olsons with any records pertinent to Olson's death that it possessed. Colby turned over 150 pages of cryptic documents that shed no light on how or why Olson actually died.
The CIA continued to stonewall Olson's death, terming it "a tragic accident."
The Olsons subsequently agreed to accept $750,00 from the government in full settlement of Frank Olson's death.
As time went by and many more CIA misdeeds came to light, Frank Olson's unexplained death gnawed away at his sons. They decided to hire super sleuth James Starrs, a professor of law and forensic sciences at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to reopen the investigation into their father's death. Olson's body was exhumed. Starrs's exam revealed "startling results." There were no traces of LSD in Olson's corpse; there was "a highly suspicious blunt force wound" on Olson's frontal skull, most likely caused by a hammer or similar object; Olson's skull revealed "many fractures," so many that "It would not be possible unless he were on a trampoline. You don't bounce like that. When you hit pavement, you hit pavement"; no facial disfigurements as were reported by the Medical Examiner who examined his body the morning of his death. (Starrs noted that Olson's face was remarkably well preserved due to the embalming procedures used.)
Based on Starrs's findings, Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau opened a new investigation into Olson's death in 1996, assigning the case to a special Cold Case Unit staffed by two veteran prosecutors.
Details about the activities and findings of that ongoing inquiry have never before been revealed. Investigative journalist and writer H.P. Albarelli Jr., who has conducted his own seven-year examination into Olson's death and has been called upon to consult with prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney's office, reports his findings about one of the U.S. government's greatest conspiracies and unsolved mysteries.
Questions Without Answers
Assistant D.A. Steve Saracco was also drawn to the results of Professor James Starrs's forensic autopsy. Saracco was surprised to learn that Starrs had been unable to obtain Olson's fingerprints, dental records, or any personnel records from the Army or CIA. Starrs's impromptu interview of Dr. Sidney Gottlieb also caught Saracco's eye. Starrs had reported that Gottlieb was an "unreliable witness." Further, Starrs concluded that Gottlieb "was concealing information on many critical points." Saracco noted that Gottlieb's parting comment to Starrs was the cryptic: "Professor, the national security of this country was on the line."
In 1977, Gottlieb had requested and received immunity from prosecution from Congress when he testified in open and closed sessions about the CIA's MK/ULTRA program and various agency-sponsored assassination attempts. Why had Gottlieb sought immunity, Saracco wondered. Was it possibly related to Olson's death? And why did the Colby documents still contain numerous redactions? Were these deletions intended to hide names and facts that could lead to indictments? Saracco also thought it odd that DCI William Colby had produced the documents so quickly in 1975, especially since Gottlieb had testified to Congress that he and Richard Helms had earlier destroyed all MK/ULTRA operational files.
Despite their many deletions, Saracco was drawn to several perplexing, but seemingly portentous, passages in the Colby documents. First, there were the passages describing the activities and observations of CIA security agents dispatched to Manhattan immediately following Olson's death. [See Part One of this article.] If Olson simply fell or jumped, why the need for all this skullduggery? Why was it necessary to dispatch at least five special agents to Manhattan to involve themselves in affairs after Olson's death if it were simply a case of suicide?
Especially puzzling was the written report of one of these agents to CIA Security Office chief Col. Sheffield Edwards. The agent recounted that he surreptitiously listened to a conversation between Robert Lashbrook and Dr. Harold Abramson hours after Olson died. During that conversation, he wrote, Lashbrook and Abramson listened to a tape recorded "interview" with Olson and then conspired to produce a report that portrayed the dead biochemist as a "psychotic person" suffering "from guilt and persecution complexes" and "prone to suicide."
Saracco knew from interviews with Frank Olson's family, friends, and colleagues that there was considerable disagreement with this image of Olson. Don Falconer, who befriended Olson in 1943 when they both were recruited to work at Camp Detrick, said that Olson was a "good-humored man" even a bit of a "practical joker." Said Falconer, "I never noticed Frank to be depressed or upset about anything." Gerald Yonetz, who also worked with Olson, said, "Olson was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy" whose favorite drink was "Maalox and vodka." Even Lashbrook, in a 1975 interview with a reporter, said that prior to the meeting at Deep Creek Lake, Olson had been "perfectly normal." Why was it necessary to project a contrived picture of Olson, Saracco wondered? But he was more curious about some of Dr. Abramson's remarks to Lashbrook during the same conversation.
According to the eavesdropping agent's report, Abramson told Lashbrook that he was "worried as to whether or not the deal was in jeopardy" and that he thought "that the operation was dangerous and that the whole deal should be reanalyzed."
What was the "deal" that was in jeopardy? What was the "operation" that was so dangerous? And why did both need to be reanalyzed? Clearly, there was more here than met the eye, Saracco thought. Even Saracco's partner in the district attorney's Cold Case Unit, Daniel Bibb, who was skeptical about the possibility of any foul play in Olson's death, agreed that the agents report to Col. Edwards raised a number of suspicious points.
A once secret memorandum about a conversation held among CIA officials two-and-a-half weeks after Olson's death raised Saracco's and Bibb's suspicions further. The brief memorandum reads: "Lovell reported that Quarles and George Merck were about to kill the Schwab activity at Detrick as 'un-American.' Is it necessary to take action at a higher place? Lovell knew of Frank R. Olson. No inhibitions. Baring of inner man. Suicidal tendencies. Offensive usefulness?"
Saracco and Bibb quickly learned that "Lovell" was Dr. Stanley Platt Lovell, a high-level consultant to the CIA and Camp Detrick's Special Operations Division (SOD). Lovell's talents were well established in the areas of biological warfare and assassination techniques. Described by historian Corey Ford as a "sunny little nihilist" who took great delight in concocting "calculated mischief" and "diabolical devices," Lovell seemed to be a shadowy, foreboding figure, a constant presence lurking in the wings of Olson's finals acts on earth. Once during World War II in his capacity as director of research and development for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), precursor to the CIA, Lovell ordered that huge nets be erected on the roof of the Statler Hotel (then called the Pennsylvania Hotel) so that hundreds of bats could be captured. The nocturnal creatures were intended for employment as unwitting carriers of small incendiary bombs. Later, during the early 1950s as a consultant, Lovell assisted a joint CIA-SOD team with Operation Big City and Project Mad Hatter. These two operations were conducted in New York City employing SOD-designed aerosol devices for spraying LSD on a downtown street and in the city's subway system.
"Quarles" was Donald Aubrey Quarles, assistant secretary for research and development for the Department of Defense and a former official with the Sandia Corporation, a subsidiary of Western Electric. Quarles had overseen the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico for the Atomic Energy Commission. Two years after Frank Olson's death, Quarles became secretary of the Air Force and then in 1959, he was selected by President Eisenhower to become secretary of defense, but he died of a massive heart attack just days before taking office. Saracco, a former officer in the Marine Corps, knew from experience that if someone at Quarles's level were concerned with any "activity" it would be taken quite seriously.
George Merck, who along with Quarles according to the memo, was "about to kill the Schwab activity," was George Wilhelm Merck, the president of the giant New Jersey-based pharmaceutical conglomerate, Merck & Co. George Merck had formerly overseen the government's initial foray into biological warfare when he headed the War Research Service during World War II and then became one of founding fathers of Camp Detrick.
"Schwab" was Dr. John L. Schwab, director of Camp Detrick's Biological Laboratories and Frank Olson's ultimate division superior. Schwab was quite familiar with Olson having worked closely with him in 1943 and 1944 on several classified research projects, one of which also involved Dr. Harold Abramson, who was then a medical officer in the Army and a consultant to the OSS. In September 1950, at the same time that CIA official James Jesus Angleton vetted Frank Olson to work for the agency's top-secret ARTICHOKE Project, Schwab was selected to be chief of the newly formed Special Operations Division at Camp Detrick.
Strengthening Saracco's and Bibb's sense of the seriousness of the cryptic memo was the fact that it had been written by Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell after consultation with security chief Sheffield Edwards. Chadwell was director of the CIA's Office of Scientific Intelligence. Fifty-five years old in 1953, Chadwell, who held a degree in physical chemistry form Harvard University, came to the CIA from the New York office of the Atomic Energy Commission. Prior to that, he had been employed in the Manhattan headquarters of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Saracco and Bibb knew that they would ultimately have to unravel the meaning of Chadwell's memo to get to the bottom of Olson's death. What was it about the so-called "Schwab activity" that was so unacceptable that even hardened, high-ranking Cold War warriors dubbed it "un-American" and called for its termination? How did Frank Olson fit into this and why was he mentioned in this context? Why was Olson branded a man of "no inhibitions" who laid bare his inner self? To whom and what was Olson baring?
Saracco wondered if the memo was somehow related to another cryptic note about Olson that had been discovered stuck in a Fort Detrick file in 1994 by an AP reporter. "Trip to Paris and Norway in 1953 and possible fear of security violation," read the note. "After death -- apparently large number of government checks left uncashed in personnel file," continued the unsigned note purported to be from a person who had worked closely with Olson.
The Kiss of Death
Intrigued with the complexities of the case, the two prosecutors decided to move quickly to interview several key individuals because of their advanced ages. They were former DCI William Colby, Vincent Ruwet, Robert Lashbrook, and Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. As amply documented in the Colby documents, both Ruwet and Lashbrook had been in New York with Olson the week of his death. Saracco drafted letters to Ruwet and Colby requesting interviews, mailing the letter to Colby first. Several days later, on April 28, 1996, Saracco was stunned to learn from the evening news that Colby had disappeared.
Colby went missing for a week, and then searchers discovered his decomposed body on the beach of an uninhabited Chesapeake Bay island nearby his Eastern Shore, Maryland home. His death was ruled an accidental drowning. The coroner speculated that he might have suffered a stroke while canoeing alone. In the ensuing days after Colby's death, Saracco and Bibb heard all sorts of wild rumors about Colby having been assassinated. An intern in Saracco's office pointed out a remark Colby had made about assassination: "If it's done right, you never know how it was done, or who did it for sure. That's what professionalism is all about." An avid reader of the works of enigmatic author Thomas Pynchon, Saracco, who can quote extensively from Pynchon's books at will, summoned up a line from the novel, V: "Events seem to be ordered into an ominous logic."
Saracco and Bibb met with retired army officer Vincent Ruwet in August 1996. They sat on the back porch of Ruwet's Frederick, Md., home drinking ice tea as the sky darkened and a thunderstorm rolled off the Cacoctin Mountains. Despite his hospitality, Ruwet was evasive. To the prosecutors, his answers seemed mechanical and rehearsed. Ruwet explained that he too had been dosed with LSD at the Deep Creek Lake meeting and that he had hallucinated wildly and "experienced the direct and indirect effects of the drug for weeks after." But when Saracco asked why then had he been entrusted to escort a similarly afflicted Frank Olson to New York just days later, Ruwet's explanation was less than satisfactory. Saracco and Bibb decided to meet again with Ruwet, but they would be too late. Ruwet dropped dead from a heart attack suffered in church on Nov. 16, 1996.
Colleagues kidded Saracco that he had become the "kiss of death" and he moved on to Lashbrook and Gottlieb convinced that the grim chain of evens had played itself out. After several letters to Lashbrook went unanswered, Saracco issued the first subpoena of the case. On Sept. 2, 1997, when a deputy sheriff in Ojai, Calif., knocked on Lashbrook's door to serve him, the retired CIA official told the deputy that he had the wrong address and that he did not know anyone by the name of Robert Lashbrook.
On Oct. 24, Lashbrook's attorney filed a motion in the District Court of Los Angeles to quash any request to take his client's deposition. Some six months later an appeals court ruled to enforce the subpoena. Saracco and Bibb made plans to go west, but at the last minute the CIA and U.S. Department of Justice thwarted them. Both agencies demanded to know in writing what questions the prosecutors intended to pursue. Only after the Justice Department approved this information would it agree to Lashbrook's availability and then only if the department were assured that Lashbrook would be granted immunity under New York law. The CIA's attorneys told Saracco that the agency had serious concerns that deposing the retired official might expose matters "still held top secret" thus "posing a risk to national security." Bibb quipped to Saracco that by the time they sat down with Lashbrook they too would be in their retirement years.
Finally in October 1998, following months of missed deadlines, delays, and broken commitments by the government, Saracco and Bibb flew to California to question Lashbrook. The event, not wholly unexpected, was somewhat anticlimactic though useful. Despite Lashbrook's advanced age of 80 and recurring health problems, the former CIA official was lucid while caustic. Bibb later characterized Lashbrook's attitude as "confident and cavalier." The two prosecutors questioned Lashbrook for nearly seven hours. CIA attorneys present for the session berated the prosecutors for "taking advantage of an old man."
The Bizarre Dosing of an Expatriate
Two weeks before they traveled to California, Saracco and Bibb learned that Lashbrook's former superior, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, was the subject of a civil lawsuit for the alleged LSD dosing of an American citizen in Paris in 1952. The case was of obvious interest to the district attorney's office because of Gottlieb's involvement in Olson's dosing a year later. Saracco was informed that the attorney bringing the suit against Gottlieb was Sidney Bender of the New York firm Leventritt, Lewittes, & Bender. Saracco called Bender and was told the fascinating story behind the case.
In 1952, a 24-year old American named Stanley Milton Glickman was pursuing a promising career as an artist in France. Glickman, the son of a successful New York furrier, moved to Paris in the summer of 1951 to study painting at the Academy de la Grand Chaumier, and about seven months he became an apprentice in the studio of renowned French modernist Fernand Leger. (In the 1940s, Leger decorated the Manhattan apartment of Nelson A. Rockefeller.) By early autumn 1952, Glickman, who had already had one of his paintings displayed in new York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, had established his own studio on the outskirts of Paris.
One evening in mid-October, the young artist went into the city to meet a friend at the Cafe Select. There, two American men who Glickman did not know joined them. After some casual conversation and several glasses of wine, Glickman and the two men fell into a heated debate about politics, power, and patriotism. The debate went on for hours. The men told Glickman that he was a naive Bohemian unmindful of the real ways of the world. Glickman countered by telling the conservatively dressed men that their attitudes of political superiority were offensive to all that he felt was right with the world. When it grew late, Glickman prepared to leave and one of the men offered him a drink as a conciliatory gesture. Glickman, who had only been drinking coffee, reluctantly accepted. The man rose from the table, went to the bar, and returned with a glass of Chartreuse for the artist. As the man came back to the table, Glickman noticed that he walked with a pronounced limp.
Glickman sipped the liqueur slowly and the conversation turned to other subjects. One of the men remarked that France was fascinating for its many sites of religious miracles. Midway through his drink Glickman began to feel strange. A tremendous feeling of anxiety filled his chest that quickly gave way to the sensation that he was floating above the table. His perceptions of objects and their dimensions became distorted. Sounds took on an odd resonance, some painful to his ears. The two men watched him intently. One of them leaned toward him and said, "Surely a man of your many talents can perform his own miracles. Can't you?"
Believing that he has somehow been poisoned, Glickman fled into the street. When he woke up the next day he realized that he had lost several hours of time. He had no idea how he had returned home. He was also wildly hallucinating. For two weeks he wandered about Paris in, what he later described as, "the pain of madness, delusion, and terror." He returned to the Cafe Select, went to the same table as before, and sat with his eyes closed irrationally waiting "for someone to come and tell me what had happened." When he refused to leave he was taken away to the American Hospital of Paris and given electroshock treatment. Once released, he lived in a state of "stress, terror, and hallucination" for eight months until his family learned of his condition and brought him back to the United States in July 1953.
A psychiatrist treated Glickman for the next 25 years. Glickman lived in New York's East Village, never again painted, and ran a small antiques shop. His closest friends were his three dogs, Charlie, Gent, and Kuma. Sometimes he told people that his name was Paul Galen. He died on Dec. 11, 1992. But, that was only the beginning of Bender's story to Saracco.
One day in late September 1977, Glickman's sister, Gloria Kronisch, was watching the televised U.S. Senate hearings about CIA abuses chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy. A hearing witness was on Gloria's screen describing an experimental CIA drug program called MK/ULTRA, which had used hundreds of unwitting American citizens as guinea pigs.
The witness, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, informed the Senate committee that he justified the CIA experiments on the basis of national security. The country was essentially at war with the Soviets, Gottlieb said, and if using mind-expanding drugs like LSD on unsuspecting people was necessary to win then so be it. Said Gottlieb, "Harsh as it may sound in retrospect, it was felt that in an issue where national survival might be concerned, such a procedure and such a risk was a reasonable one to take."
Gloria had heard enough. She went straight to the telephone and called her brother Stanley.
"Are you watching television?" she asked.
"No," said Stanley, "there's never anything on."
"There's something on right now that you have to see," Gloria said.
Glickman was shocked at what he saw and heard. Never in his wildest imaginations had he thought that he might have been the subject of a CIA drug experiment. After sitting stunned in his small apartment for several days, Glickman talked to some of his neighbors who had also watched the Kennedy committee hearings. Of course the government dosed people with drugs, they told Stanley. "Haven't you read about what they did to Frank Olson?" one of his neighbors asked.
"Who's Frank Olson?" Glickman asked.
"Don't you read the newspapers?" responded his neighbor.
"No," Glickman said, "it's too depressing."
Glickman soon learned that Alice Olson had appeared earlier as a witness before the Kennedy committee as had the daughter of another man who died during an Army-sponsored drug experiment performed in a New York psychiatric hospital.
One of Glickman's neighbors told him that Sidney Gottlieb walked with a slight limp because "he had been born with a clubfoot." The neighbor said, "I think it was Gottlieb that had a hand in dosing Frank Olson. You need to look into that."
Glickman nervously tried to telephone Sen. Kennedy's Washington office and the office of U.S. Attorney General, Griffin Bell. He had something to tell them that they might find very interesting, he told the people who answered his calls. But nobody wanted to listen to what he had to say. A sympathetic secretary at the Department of Justice finally told Glickman that he needed to get a lawyer if he wanted to get anyone's attention. But Glickman had no money. His sister, Gloria, told him that she would pay the costs of hiring an attorney. After Stanley died, Gloria, with Sidney Bender as her attorney, pushed the case forward despite strong opposition in the courts.
Bender concluded his story by telling Saracco that the case, following many delays and appeals, was due to be heard in court within months. Later, Saracco would say that after listening to the Glickman story he felt like he "had become stuck in the middle of an 'X-Files' episode." He thought that the Glickman case could be wholly unrelated and coincidental to the Olson case, but his instincts said otherwise. Again, Saracco thought of a line from one of Pynchon's books, The Crying of Lot 49: "There are some irregularities, Miz Maas."
And the irregularities continued.
The Enigmatic Dr. Sidney Gottlieb
Following Lashbrook's deposition, the New York prosecutors decided it was time to sit down with Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. Saracco knew this would be difficult because Gottlieb was in the middle of the Glickman trial underway in the U.S. Southern District Court in New York. After a long delay, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that Glickman's suit could go forward against Gottlieb. The jury trial began in April 1999. Saracco and Bibb were intrigued with Gottlieb and keenly understood that, besides Lashbrook, he was perhaps one of the only people alive who could unlock the mysteries of Frank Olson's death. Saracco began to painstakingly assemble a profile of Gottlieb in preparation of their anticipated meeting.
Gottlieb was the son of orthodox Jews who had immigrated to the United States penniless from Hungary. Born on Aug. 3, 1918 in New York's rough-and-tumble Lower East Side, his parents were dismayed to find that infant Sidney had two clubbed feet. Doctors did all that they could to correct the problem, but at the time knowledge about treatment was limited. For his first 10 years, Gottlieb was forced to wear special metal braces on his legs. Other children harassed him viciously, a problem that was only exacerbated by his tendency to stutter a great deal. Eventually rid of his braces, Gottlieb still wore specially made built-up shoes for years to come. His right foot was never fully corrected and for decades he wore an undetectable altered shoe.
Gottlieb attended elementary and high schools in the Bronx and was an outstanding student who, like Frank Olson, displayed a natural bent for the sciences. After high school, he completed nearly two years at City College of New York before transferring to Arkansas Polytechnic College. From Arkansas he went to the University of Wisconsin, Frank Olson's alma mater, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in agriculture. In Wisconsin, Gottlieb attended classes taught by Dr. Ira Baldwin, who soon went on to become Camp Detrick's first director of scientific research.
After Wisconsin, at the urging of his chemist brother, Gottlieb went on with his schooling and, in 1943, earned a doctorate in organic chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. In that same year, Gottlieb, like Frank Olson, married the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. ("The dialectic between conspiracy and coincidence is perhaps most fruitfully explored in the works of Thomas Pynchon...")
Upon receiving his Ph.D., Gottlieb immediately attempted to enlist in the Army, but was rejected. Desperately, he tried to join the other branches of the military, and again he was turned away because of his deformed right foot. "I argued that I could do anything that any other man could, but they didn't listen," Gottlieb said in a 1999 interview. Bitterly disappointed, in the fall of 1943 he took a job with the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. There he performed basic research on organic soil matter and its chemical structure. In 1945, he transferred agencies and went to work for the Food and Drug Administration where he said he spent "two years developing analytical techniques for determining the presence and amounts of various drugs in the human body." He became an expert in the techniques and was called upon to testify for the government in a number of court cases. Occasionally these cases brought him into contact with agents from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Said Gottlieb, "Some of these fellows were straight out of the pages of dime novels. They were Peter Kane-types and, science be damned, willing to do almost anything to make a case."
Near the end of 1948, Gottlieb left the FDA and joined the staff of the National Research Council, also headquartered in Washington, D.C. He was assigned to work on a number of projects involving plant diseases and fungicides. In this position, he occasionally encountered scientists from Camp Detrick and Edgewood Arsenal.
Gottlieb switched work places again in late 1949 when he was invited to become a research associate at the University of Maryland. There he concentrated on "how fungi metabolized in the skeletal portion of plant cells known as ligin." The work may have been an extension of studies first undertaken at the NRC.
In April 1951, Gottlieb was recruited to join the CIA by a former official of the Hercules chemical company, a spin off of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. and a major defense contractor. His initial interview with CIA personnel staff caused some pause when he freely admitted that he had briefly flirted with becoming a Socialist in college. In follow-up, pre-hire sessions, Gottlieb was subjected to a rigorous series of personality and psychological tests administered by a young CIA staff psychologist named John William Gittenger.
Gittenger, recruited from the Central State Hospital in Norman, Okla., worked from 1950 to 1954 as an assessment psychologist in the CIA's Office of Training. Tests used by Gittenger were similar (and in some cases, the same) as those developed during World War II by OSS psychologist Henry A. Murray. Called Harry by his friends and a biochemist before becoming a psychologist, Murray was a close associate of social scientists Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Ruth Benedict. In December 1943, Murray joined the staff of the OSS's Assessment Station S, located on a remote country estate outside of Washington, D.C. Here, Murray designed and operated an experimental program aimed at evaluating the psychological fitness of OSS recruits for clandestine operations. Former OSS officials report that Murray also had "some involvement in truth drug experiments conducted by [OSS researchers] Dr. Roger Adams, Dr. [Lawrence] Kubie, and Dr. [James] Hamilton." These drug tests were conducted at Station S, St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C., and Spring Grove Hospital, a state mental institution outside of Baltimore. The tests also involved George Hunter White, an OSS officer on loan from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Former OSS Lt. Col. Howard O'Neill states that Murray "constantly attempted to upstage Hamilton for position during the experiments" and eventually was able to "oust Jim [Hamilton] from any substantial role at Station S."
Interestingly, two years after John Gittenger assessed Gottlieb, Gittenger began working in the CIA's Behavioral Activities Branch, which was under Gottlieb's direction. In an interview conducted after he retired from the CIA, Gittenger said that after he was hired by the agency he took LSD as part "of an established [CIA] course known as 'Defensive Pharmacology.'" Explained Gittenger, "[The course] was held in an Agency facility in which there was a group of people from various parts of the Agency and they brought in one of the outside experts.... And he talked about all the effects of the various kinds of drugs. And as part of this we took LSD so we could have some idea of what the effect was."
The CIA officially hired Gottlieb on July 13, 1951. From the start, he was an odd but extremely efficient fit. In its early years, the agency was notorious for its bias for social pedigree among its ranks and its disdain for Jews and blacks. Gottlieb and his wife, Margaret, lived with their four children on a small farm in Virginia where they raised goats and their own vegetables. For years their small log home had no indoor plumbing. Gottlieb was well known about the CIA for proselytizing about the nutritional benefits of drinking goat's milk. He was tall and handsome with a special charisma normally reserved for movie stars. Women fond him especially attractive and appealing. Many of his colleagues considered him "a bit off beat" and a "free thinker." But nobody questioned his brilliance or his loyalty. One former CIA employee who worked with Gottlieb for most of the 1950s said: "In retrospect it's really pretty amazing. In many ways, Sid was at the forefront of the so-called Counterculture before anybody even knew there was going to be one."
Despite having been raised Jewish and learning to speak Hebrew, Gottlieb told his co-workers that he was an "agnostic" who sometimes found spiritual comfort in his voracious readings about ancient Eastern religions. For a while he kept the typed lines above his desk: "Until when They come, it will be asked of them: Did you reject my Words while you had no full knowledge of them? Or was it that you did?"
Despite that he was an aberration of sorts, and perhaps even because he was, Gottlieb enjoyed particular favor throughout his CIA career with many of the agency's higher-ups including Col. Sheffield Edwards and DCI Allen Dulles. Like Edwards, Gottlieb had overcome a persistent stuttering problem that occasionally would reemerge in both men under times of stress. Like Gottlieb, Dulles had been born with a clubfoot, a deformity not generally well accepted at the time of their births. Between the two men, who were both ridiculed as youngsters for bearing "the cloven hoofs of the devil," it was a never-mentioned but unbreakable bond.
Almost overnight, Gottlieb rose to the level of branch chief in the CIA's Technical Service Staff (he was head of the Chemical Branch, which was then part of Clandestine Operations). In an interview with the author, Gottlieb said he took LSD (often "self-administered") on "at least 30 occasions" during his tenure with the CIA. (People very close to Gottlieb say that a recent Washington Post article that claimed Gottlieb took LSD 200 times was "less than reliable.") Gottlieb is also known to have participated in at least five assassination plots aimed at various foreign leaders, including Fidel Castro and the Congo's Patrice Lumumba. After retiring from the agency in 1973, he worked briefly as a "special consultant" to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), successor agency to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and then in 1974, he and his wife left the United States to travel throughout Asia. In New Delhi, Gottlieb worked in a hospital that treated people with leprosy. After they returned to the United States, he went back to college in California and received a master's degree in speech pathology and audiology. He and Margaret returned to the East Coast and took up residence on another old farm situated on 50 acres of land near Washington, Va., a small village in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The farm was acquired with the idea of establishing a "communal home" that would include several other families.
In 1993, Gottlieb told writer Nina Burleigh, who made an uninvited, J.D. Salinger-like excursion to his home, that he was "on the side of the angels now" and that he had no interest in "talking about the past."
"What can you say about Frank Olson's death?" asked Burleigh.
"I don't want to talk about it," said Gottlieb.
"Really? Why not?" Burleigh insisted.
"I just don't want to talk about it," insisted Gottlieb. "It's in my past, and that is where it is going to stay."
Assistant D.A. Saracco thought he might have better luck asking Gottlieb questions. On Monday, March 8, 1999 just moments after he sat down to draft his interview request to Gottlieb he received a telephone call informing him that Sidney Gottlieb had died the day before. According to Gottlieb's attorney, Tom Wilson, the former CIA official had become "greatly dispirited" over the Glickman suit. Wilson said, "He was concerned that he might never find any sense of peace of mind in this life. He'd had heart problems for about 10 years and then just a few days ago he came down with a severe pneumonia. He was 83 years old and just didn't have enough fight left."
A former TSS organic chemist who worked under Gottlieb for nearly six years said, "It hurt me to see him go out the way he did. Since the mid-'70s, I felt really sorry for him. He was set up to take the fall for a lot of people above him and he did it without ever once complaining or breaking ranks. He was doing a job approved all the way up the line, all the way to Truman, Eisenhower, the Kennedy's… after that happened to Sid a lot of guys decided to quit the Agency because they didn't want the same thing to happen to them."
Following Gottlieb's death, an outlandish article about him appeared on the Internet. The article claimed that Gottlieb "died from an overdose of a drug" and that his widow shortly thereafter discovered a hidden CIA assassination manual in a trunk in the attic of their Virginia home. The article, which was pure fabrication and greatly upset the Gottlieb family, went on to claim that the "discovered" assassination manual had been "typed some 30 years ago on a manual machine by Gottlieb himself" with the possible assistance of Dr. Ewen Cameron, a now-deceased notorious MK/ULTRA contractor.
"This thing is cursed and I don't even believe in curses."
Days after Gottlieb's untimely death, Saracco told the author, "It took me completely by surprise. I didn't know what to think." When Bibb heard the news his only remark was, "This thing is cursed and I don't even believe in curses." Saracco officially requested a copy of Gottlieb's death certificate "just to be sure," as he put it. Four weeks later, Saracco received an unexpected call from attorney Sidney Bender. The judge in the Glickman trial, Dominick DiCarlo, just moments after the trial concluded and before the jury had deliberated, dropped dead while exercising in a federal court house gym.
"There are some irregularities, Miz Maas."
Another Witness Dies
David W. Belin would also die before Saracco and Bibb could speak with him. Belin, a prominent Iowa attorney, had been a top investigator for the Warren Commission and then later the executive director of the Rockefeller Commission that investigated the CIA in 1975 and was the first to reveal that Frank Olson had been dosed with LSD. Exactly how investigators for the Rockefeller Commission came across the details of Olson's dosing has never been adequately explained. Nor have the details of the commission's inquiry into the Deep Creek Lake meeting yet seen the light of day. Saracco thought that an informal discussion with Belin could be helpful. But the discussion would not be. On Jan. 17, 1999, Belin died of head injuries suffered in a strange fall in a hotel room.
"[Lashbrook] didn't even go down to the street to see if Olson was still alive. He told the police that he didn't see any reason to go down. No reason? Can you believe that? I mean, what kind of animal reacts like that?"
Other potential witnesses that Saracco sought out were more fortunate but went out of their way to avoid interviews. Some refused to talk at all without clearance and assurances from the CIA. One promising witness, a widely respected physician who worked in New York under CIA contract at the time of Olson's death-- and whose name appears in several declassified CIA documents-- flatly denied that he had ever done anything for the CIA or that he knew anything about "anyone named Olson."
One witness who did cooperate was Armond Pastore, the assistant manager at the Statler Hotel the night Olson died. It had been Pastore who comforted Olson as he lay dying on the sidewalk. The bloody and broken Olson desperately tried to speak to Pastore, but was not able to utter any coherent words. It was Pastore, along with two New York policemen, who found Robert Lashbrook still in the hotel room he shared with Olson after Olson's fall.
"He was just calmly sitting there waiting for the police to arrive," Pastore said.
"Had he called down to the desk to report Olson's fall?" asked Saracco's investigator.
"He didn't call down to the desk to report anything," said Pastore. "He didn't even go down to the street to see if Olson was still alive. He told the police that he didn't see any reason to go down. No reason? Can you believe that? I mean, what kind of animal reacts like that?"
Lashbrook did, however, make at least one phone call according to Pastore. "After the police took [Lashbrook] down to the 14th Precinct House for questioning," explained Pastore, "I asked the hotel operator if any calls had been placed from Room 1018A, the room that Olson and Lashbrook shared. The operator said she had placed one call. You know how it was back then. The operator placed the call for you and then stayed on the line to make sure it went through. She told me that Lashbrook had her place a call to a number out on Long Island, to a hospital out there. When a man answered, Lashbrook said, 'Well, he's gone.' And the man on the other end said, 'Well, that's too bad,' and hung up. That was it. Not another word."
In early 2000, Saracco and Bibb got their first major break in the case. After being introduced to the author by Eric Olson some 16 months earlier, Saracco asked D.A. Robert Morgenthau to approve flying the author to New York for a meeting. The purpose of the meeting was for the author to assist investigators in deciphering a number of puzzling aspects of the case and to discuss possible witnesses in the case. Soon after this meeting took place, Saracco was contacted by a former intelligence official who claimed to have crucial information about Olson's death. Skeptical at first, Saracco requested that the official provide him with inconvertible documentation that the official had indeed worked for the U.S. intelligence community. What he got in response left no room for dispute.
Through his new sources, Saracco learned that Olson was indeed given a small amount of LSD, about 70 micrograms. But the dose had been mixed with Meretran, a drug that worked as an "added pressure mechanism to loosen tongues" and "persuade subjects to speak freely about matters they otherwise wouldn't share." The CIA and Army in the early 1950s commonly employed this technique as part of what they termed "Artichoke sessions."
Project Artichoke was a top-secret program jointly operated by the Army, CIA, Office of Naval Intelligence, and several other federal agencies. Contrary to the conventional literature about the CIA's mind-control programs, Project Artichoke was not supplanted by the creation of MK/ULTRA. Project Artichoke, which existed until at least 1956, was aimed at creating new interrogation and behavior modification techniques, employed a wide variety of drugs including LSD, mescaline, MDMA, and heroin sometimes used in tandem with hypnosis and electroshock.
Frank Olson was a high level Artichoke administrator assigned to Camp Detrick's ultra-secret Special Operations Division (SOD). Created in 1950, SOD worked primarily on developing biological weapons and assassination devices for use by both the Army and CIA against targeted individuals and small groups.
Olson, who in his time with SOD served as both its chief and its director of intelligence and planning, was amply familiar with the effects of LSD and its use as an interrogation tool. Olson, however, never suspected that the drug would be used against him, but that is precisely what occurred. Saracco and Bibb were told that Olson was dosed at Deep Creek Lake because he had been talking to the wrong people about certain top-secret Army operations. Said Saracco's source, "The time had come for Olson to talk to the people that really kept the secrets."
One particularly troublesome experiment talked about by Olson had been conducted overseas under the seemingly innocuous code name Operation Span. The experiment had gone disastrously awry, killing several people and injuring many others. CIA and Army documents reveal that the level of sensitivity about this operation being publicly exposed was extremely high. This presumably was the "un-American" activity referred to in the Colby documents. This best explained the "possible security violation" claim in the cryptic note found at Fort Detrick by the AP reporter as well as Lovell's, "No inhibitions. Baring of inner man" remarks. Pieces of the puzzle were slowly falling into place.
Additional information concerning this scenario came from a top-secret document given to the New York prosecutors. Written in December 1953, about three weeks after Olson's death, by Dr. Harold Abramson, the document confirmed that Olson's drugging "had been performed especially to trap him." Further, in early 1954, Abramson informed several CIA and Army researchers that Olson's death was unconnected to LSD and was instead related to serious security breaches. Supporting Abramson's contentions was an internal CIA staff memo written to CIA Inspector General Lyman B. Kirkpatrick who had performed a perfunctory inquiry into Olson's death. "After the incident in [Europe] and subsequent statements made by Olsen [sic] to unauthorized personnel in the field and at his post," read the memo, Lovell was livid and confronted Schwab." (Saracco took note that Kirkpatrick's other notes on Olson's death placed the word "suicide" in quotation marks.) Saracco also learned that weeks after Olson's death, Abramson confided to Dr. Paul Hoch, research director at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, that the "only person who knows the complete story about Olson's death besides Col. White is Lovell who had been concerned about Olson from the very beginning."
Col. White, of course, was George Hunter White, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics official who also covertly worked for the CIA. During World War II, White recruited and trained assassins for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and played a key role in the OSS's experiments with drugs for interrogation purposes. White once quipped to a reporter, "Some of my best friends are murderers."
After being recruited for Artichoke work by CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, White established a domestic Artichoke team that operated out of a CIA-funded safe house located in New York's Greenwich Village. Financing for the operation, which within about 18 months would be carried on the CIA's financial rolls as MK/ULTRA Subproject No. 3, came in the form of large cash payments hand delivered by Robert Lashbrook. The money was then sometimes deposited into a checking account established by White and Sidney Gottlieb. In November 1953, the month that Frank Olson died, White's team received $3,800 for "services rendered." Additionally, other CIA financial records reveal that that Dr. Harold Abramson received $5,200 during the same time. Here it is interesting to note that the bank account White opened was at the National City Bank of New York, which according to FBI records was then the financial institution of choice for criminal mastermind Meyer Lansky.
The Investigation Stalls
Jump to January 2001. By all appearances, Saracco and Bibb were closing in on a definitive finding of murder in the Olson case. Following several exchanges of key information with their new sources, including a statement detailing Olson's "murder", the prosecutors felt confident that the Byzantine puzzle handed them years before was near fully assembled.
In February 2001, Eric Olson's high-powered D.C.-based attorney, Harry Huge, told the author that he was certain that Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau would soon issue "a definitive finding of murder" in the Olson case. Huge said that the long anticipated finding would serve to remove the legal obstacles confronting him and Eric Olson from the Olson family's 1976 settlement agreement with the federal government. Huge would then be free to file a massive lawsuit against the CIA. Eric Olson said the amount "we may be suing for could be as high as $50 million."
At this time, the author also learned that Huge and Eric Olson had held confidential discussions with former CIA director James Woolsey, now a Washington, D.C.-based attorney. Reportedly, Huge had asked Woolsey to consider joining the looming case against the agency Woolsey once headed.
A July 23, 2000 New York Times Magazine article by Andrew Cockburn revealed that recent litigation handled by Woolsey had made the former DCI acutely aware of the government's abilities at duplicity and deception.
When this author asked Woolsey to comment, he said, "I have met with Mr. [Eric] Olson at the request of his current counsel, a longtime friend and colleague of a number of people in this firm, but beyond that I'm not saying anything."
People who were following the Olson case closely at the time ventured that Woolsey and others close to the CIA were "concerned about undue exposure" of the long standing links between "reliable gangster types," or those who lately have become more fashionably dubbed "unsavory characters," and the nation's intelligence community. That these links were far more ubiquitous and stronger in the 1950s (and beyond) than were ever revealed was becoming apparent to many including the prosecutors in New York.
It is no great secret that the CIA still employs "unsavory characters" like those people who murdered Frank Olson. A recent and good example is Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez who in 1990 directed the killings of Michael DeVine, an American citizen, and Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a Mayan resistance leader married to American attorney Jennifer Harbury. Alpirez was officially retained as a CIA informant and was paid at least $40,000. Revelations about Alpirez led to an investigation of the CIA by the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, which found numerous killers and human rights violators working within the Guatemalan program. This, as we have seen, was also true with the congressional hearings that revolved around the Frank Olson revelations and uncovered disturbing evidence of strong CIA alliances with organized crime. Then, as now in the Alpirez case, the CIA covered up these crimes and did not report them as required by U.S. law. In 1997, citing CIA officers, the Washington Post reported that the CIA employed more than 1,000 unsavory informants worldwide, more than 100 of whom were confirmed assassins and torturers.
Today, with the events of 9-11 still at the forefront of the nation's agenda, the issue of government-sanctioned assassinations and murder, and cautious alliances with unsavory characters and groups are heated topics of debate. Said Eric Olson to the author in early 2000: "My father's coffin has turned out to be a Pandora's box. It's no surprise that the CIA's unethical human experiments would turn out to be linked to assassinations." Said assistant D.A. Saracco the same year, "There are a lot of very strange twists and turns to the Olson case. It's an incredible case. Day to day there's no telling where things are going."
While Harry Huge and Eric Olson were holding quiet discussions with James Woolsey, Saracco and Bibb were moving to formally depose their intelligence sources. As might be expected, these sources -- due to concerns about security oaths and new federal laws about disclosure of national security information -- requested that they be granted immunity from the federal government. The prosecutors, based on discussions with the CIA and Department of Justice, responded that federal immunity would probably be no problem, but first the names of the sources would have to be run by the CIA. Obviously this put the sources at tremendous risk and what had been a cautious relationship began to crumble.
At the same time, Eric Olson's relationship with the Manhattan's D.A.'s office, which by all accounts had been a good one, also began to deteriorate. Eric was growing increasingly frustrated with what he perceived to be as a lack of aggression on the part of the prosecutors. Olson felt strongly that many leads and many witnesses were not being properly pursued. During the initial part of the investigation Eric had been in near constant contact with Saracco.
Indeed, on his web site devoted to his father's legacy, Eric with Madison Avenue-style flair states: "Successful prosecution of a case as complex and controversial as this one requires continuing public communication in order to obtain political support. The prosecutors in New York have advised me to support the media's interest in this sensational case with help in planning suitable reports and with participation in interviews."
But not long after these words were written it became increasingly difficult for Eric Olson to get anyone in the D.A.'s office to return his calls or to answer his letters and faxes. Something was wrong. Said an angry Eric Olson to the author in December 2001, "I haven't spoken to Saracco since May, when he gave so many ludicrous excuses for not having carried through on a huge variety of things that it just seemed ridiculous to continue the pretext of a dialogue with him. It became inescapably obvious, as of course it had been for a long time, that [Saracco and Bibb] had been told not to pursue this, and that from the start their 'investigation' has been a sham." (The author challenged this in an e-mail message to Eric Olson, pointing out that prosecutors traditionally work in secret and share little with anyone. I said, as I did in Part One of this article, that Saracco and Bibb had been "meticulous." Olson fired back, "Anyone who says that is not to be trusted.")
Ironically, at the same time that the various relationships began to crumble, Saracco and Bibb were finally making headway in nailing down the identities of two mysterious men who sources had told them were in the Statler's Room 1018A at the time of Olson's death. The two prosecutors were able to track one of these men to his last known place of residence in New England, but there the trail grew cold. A query from the district attorney's office to the CIA about the man's relationship with the government brought the reply that the agency was unable to locate any records concerning the man. Inquiries from New York to other agencies, including the FBI, produced responses that records concerning the man were still classified due to his connections to other cases including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Said Saracco to the author, "Something instinctively told me all along that this case would hook up to bigger things."
The day after the horrendous events of 9-11, Harry Huge called Olson and said that he was sorry but he could no longer handle his case and lawsuit. "I have to leave the case," Olson recounts Huge saying. "A couple of my other cases have really exploded on me."
Said Eric, "Harry, I'm so far out on a limb I can't even see the tree…. And this has nothing to do with the fact that the World Trade Center was bombed yesterday? That's just a coincidence, right?"
"I didn't even think of the timing," Olson says Huge replied.
Why Olson Was Murdered?
In mid-April 2001, Olson received a telephone call from a man named Norman Cournoyer. A close friend and colleague of Frank Olson at Camp Detrick, the 82-year old, wheel-chair bound Cournoyer had read an April 1 New York Times Sunday Magazine article about Eric Olson written by Michael Ignatieff.
On May 19 Eric Olson visited Cournoyer at his Amherst, Mass., home. Cournoyer in the 1940s -- at the rank of army major -- served briefly as Frank Olson's superior. In the late 1940s, Cournoyer left the army and, according to Eric Olson, "took over the food service operation for Camp Detrick."
Not long after that Cournoyer bought a local restaurant and ice cream factory in Frederick, Md. Olson says, "I remember going there with my father as a boy, sitting at the counter eating ice cream sundaes while [Cournoyer] and my father talked."
In Amherst, Cournoyer related a series of what Olson termed "crucial elements" to his father's story. First, Cournoyer said that Eric's father "worked for the CIA," not exactly a startling revelation given that both this author and then the D.A.'s office had confirmed that and passed it on to Eric Olson two years earlier. Secondly, Cournoyer told Olson that "sometime in 1946-47" Frank Olson "became active in the so-called Bluebird and Artichoke interrogation projects being set up by the CIA." This element seems quite dubious, as anyone familiar with basic CIA history will note. The CIA was not yet formed in 1946 and, more to the point, the Bluebird and Artichoke projects did not exist until early 1950; the Bluebird Project was initially approved by DCI Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter on April 20, 1950 and was renamed Artichoke on Aug. 8, 1951.
The more "crucial element" related to Olson by Cournoyer concerned the Korean War. Said Cournoyer, according to Eric, "Korea is the key." By this Cournoyer meant that there was a nexus between Frank Olson and what he claimed, according to Eric Olson, was the use of biological weapons in Korea on a limited basis by U.S. forces. Apparently, Cournoyer offered nothing more definitive than this generalization (a charge that has been made many times since 1953). Olson offers, "This information also fits closely with what [my mother] had repeatedly said about [my father's] sate of mind in the period prior to his death. [My mother] had always insisted that Frank had been very worried that the United States may have been employing biological weapons in Korea. But she did not know whether her husband knew the truth about this or not, or even whether he would have been in a position to know."
Frank Olson's Second Burial
Frustrated about his inability to gain a new attorney in place of Huge and about the silence coming from the Manhattan district attorney's office, Olson decided in mid-July 2002 to rebury his father's remains that had been sitting in cold storage for nearly eight years.
On Aug. 9, 2002, Frank Olson's survivors, sons Eric and Nils, Eric's son, Stephen, and Nil's two daughters, Lauren and Kristin, once again laid Frank Olson to rest alongside Alice Olson in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Md. The day before, Eric and Nils held a press conference in the backyard of the house that their father and mother had built in 1950. Like the press conference of 1975, the day was warm and sunny, however, press attendance was sparse. Failing to attend were reporters from the Washington Post and New York Times, newspapers that had essentially carried the weight of the Olson revelations in 1975. According to Eric, the New York Times demanded a pre-press conference exclusive that he was unwilling to grant.
"Events seem to be ordered into an ominous logic."
The day after Eric Olson arrived home from his meeting with Norman Cournoyer, he received word from New York that a very close friend had been found dead outside her apartment on West 86th Street. Susannah McCorkle, a 55-year old jazz singer, had apparently jumped from her apartment window to her death. Months earlier, Eric Olson and Saracco had gone to hear McCorkle sing at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel, a favorite haunt during the '50s of George Hunter White's. A June 3, 2002 New York magazine article reported that in 2001 McCorkle and Eric Olson spent hours together talking about the technical aspects of Eric's father's suicide. According to the New York City police department, McCorkle left a suicide note but the police refused to reveal its contents.
Four days after Olson's visit to Cournoyer, he received a telephone call from Cournoyer's wife. She was calling to tell him that his visit with her husband had placed so much stress on him that he was now very ill and in the hospital. There were serious concerns that he had suffered a stroke. Mrs. Cournoyer, according to Olson, said that his illness "Had much to do with concerns about the impact that his revelations might have on his children and grandchildren." Weeks later, Cournoyer reportedly began putting distance between himself and what he had allegedly told Olson. He told one television reporter who telephoned him that he couldn't recall the details of his conversation with Olson. A Cournoyer family member who refused to be identified for this article told the author, "Everything about all of this has been greatly distorted without any thought or concern at all about Norman."
A few days after Susannah McCorkle's death, on May 26, one of Saracco's former intelligence agency sources drowned in a boating accident while fishing off the coast of a southern state. A confidential message to the New York district attorney's office about the death, sent by another source, went unanswered.
At Frank Olson's reinterment ceremony, a minister read the words: "And he said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live'? And I answered, 'O Good Lord, thou knowest.'"
And events continued to be ordered into an ominous logic.
Fifty years beyond his fatal fall, Frank Olson has become a character deeply embedded in America's cultural landscape. Indeed, Frank Olson is a dark icon in the chambers of horror known as behavior modification, mind control, and germ warfare. On the Internet, Olson is celebrated in an epic poem that bears the refrain, "Frank Olson is flying, And it's a long way down." A rock band has adopted the name MK/ULTRA in mock homage to the top-secret program Olson labored for. In the popular film Conspiracy Theory, the same deep black program is cited by Mel Gibson's character as the cause of his bizarre and manic behavior. Another musical group, Boards of Canada, have symbolically placed their ambient composition, Olson, at number thirteen on their popular CD. In Norman Mailer's fictionalized magnum opus on the CIA, Harlot's Ghost, Frank Olson is the nameless, but perhaps ultimate, VICTIM. Popular crime-fiction writer, Elmore Leonard, adopted the absurdity of Olson's alleged suicide in his thriller, Be Cool, transposing it to suit recurring character, Chili Palmer. Even eloquent junkie and Beat author, William S. Burroughs, weighed in with his own spin on Olson's death in his collected essays, The Adding Machine.
Hardly a factual book about the CIA has been published in the past twenty-five years that does not contain some mention, or note of suspicion, regarding the Olson case. The case has been the subject of numerous televised documentaries, including those produced by CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, TBS, A&E, Unsolved Mysteries, Sightings, The Discovery Channel, and several foreign features made in Germany, England, Japan, and Australia.
Yet, ironically, despite all this scrutiny and attention, the only result has been a stark underscoring and deepening of the mystery of Olson's story. Did Frank Olson jump or fall through a shaded, closed window? Or worse yet, was he pushed or thrown? And, if so, why?
Today, the answers to these perplexing questions are slowly and painstakingly emerging. What has stood for fifty years as one of the oddest and most puzzling "suicides" on record is being transformed into an explosive and unnerving story of murder and deception.
The brief history of a February 13, 2000 front page article in the Sunday New York Times highlights the pending enormity and significance of the Olson case. The article was about the murder of American citizen and journalist Charles Horman in Chile during the 1976 CIA-sponsored coup. A newly- released U.S. State Department document revealed that Horman had been marked for execution and that the CIA "may have played an unfortunate part in his death."
But that was the end of the story because the CIA-- other than to state that the document "does not say we were complicit in [Horman's] death, it says there is circumstantial evidence"-- refused to comment and refused to release any of its own documents concerning the murder. The story, which was briefly front-page news (much like the Olson case), disappeared, and Horman's family (like the Olsons and others before them) is left with no recourse, legal or otherwise. Another sad saga to toss onto the cluttered heap of alleged CIA conspiracies and crimes.
But the facts slowly emerging out of the Olson investigation may have the effect of finally changing this sad status quo. Despite that Frank Olson's body is once again in the ground his story most assuredly cannot be buried. In all likelihood, in the coming months the federal government will be called to task on events surrounding Olson's death. Congress may even be forced to once again investigate. Last year, assistant district attorney Saracco said to the author, "Cases like this often take on a life of their own. I've seen it happen many times. A case lies cold for years with nothing happening and then in the wink of an eye all hell breaks loose."
End of Part Two. Click here to read Part One of this article.
Frank Olson Legacy Project. Web site devoted to Frank Olson's legacy, maintained by his son, Eric.
About the Author
H.P. Albarelli Jr. is an investigative reporter and writer who lives in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. Other articles he has written about Frank Olson's death, as well as about the post-9/11 anthrax investigation, biological warfare, and other subjects, appear on the World Net Daily web site. Other writings by Albarelli may be found in WITNESS, a literary journal, and Tampa's alternative newspaper, The Weekly Planet. A graduate of Antioch Law School, Albarelli has worked as a researcher, scriptwriter, and technical consultant on several television documentaries including A&E's recent Investigative Report on Frank Olson produced by London's Principal Films. In 1977-80, Albarelli worked in the White House under the Carter Administration and then later served on the Senior Policy Staff for the Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. Albarelli is a former board member of the London-based Transnational Information Centre and has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Albarelli's book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder Of Frank Olson And The CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, will be published in 2003.