Welcome to the fifth installment in my examination of the CIA's Office of Security (OS). One of the most mysterious components of the CIA, during its heyday the OS was knee deep in a host of the Agency's biggest controversies, including Operation CHAOS, the Watergate scandal and the behavioral modification experiments conducted under Projects BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE. In the first part of this series I considered the composition and politics of the OS, which were distinctly different from the Ivy league-educated Office of Strategic Services (OSS) veterans who dominated the upper hierarchy of the CIA for years. The OS was far more conservative, with the bulk of its members having cut their teeth in either the FBI and/or military intelligence before joining the CIA in 1947.
Beginning with the second installment and continuing on through part four I considered the role the OS played in the Watergate scandal. The second installment primarily focused on James McCord's total bungling of the second Watergate break-in as well as the strong possibility that either he or one of his employees had tipped off D.C. police prior to the break-in (the arresting officer, Carl Shoffler, was assigned to vice and friendly with McCord's long time CIA boss, OS-Security Research Staff (SRS) head General Paul Gaynor).
Part three addressed the likely target of the Watergate break-in: a prostitution ring servicing the DNC and operating out of the nearby Columbia Plaza. The woman who headed this ring, Heidi Rikan, had extensive ties to the Syndicate and Texas oil money. An employee of James McCord's, private investigator Lou Russell, had set up several thousand dollars of bugging equipment at Heidi's operation in the months leading up to the second Watergate break-in.
Now that Watergate is out of the way and the reader has been exposed to the OS' use of sexual blackmail to subvert American politics I can now move along to some of their even more unsavory activities, such as assassinations.
The official purpose of the OS was to protect Agency personnel from compromising situations and penetrations as well as to investigate potential wrong doings of CIA employees. In other words, it was a kind of safe guard for the CIA. But to fulfill this function, the OS frequently had to get their hands dirty. As such, they were regarded within the Agency as experts at both "black bag" and "clean up" operations. Clean up operations can on occasion turn "wet" and thus the OS would likely have need of professional killers in certain instances.
But in addition to those killers (whom we shall get to in a moment), the OS also seems to have overseen even more exotic methods for "executive actions." For instance Sheffield Edwards, the first Office of Security head, also sat on a particular panel that occasionally dealt in such operations as well as other bizarre actions.
"... the CIA's ironically named Health Alteration Committee, of which [Boris] Pash was a member, along with the CIA's Richard Bissell and Sheffield Edwards. The Health Alteration Committee was responsible for targeting individuals --including leaders of foreign countries --for severe incapaciation or assassination with special weapons, drugs, exotic potions, induced diseases, and other means.
"The Health Alteration Committee, which interfaced often with SOD scientists on many of its projects, and may survive to this day in another incarnation, operated from about 1952 to about 1968. In 1953, it authorized the LSD dosing of a high-ranking elected official in the Philippines. In 1963, the committee approved sending Iraqi leader Abel Karim Kassem an expensive monogrammed handkerchief that had been dipped into a lethal poison concocted by SOD to kill anyone who used it."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pg. 69)
|Colonel Sheffield Edwards|
"The team whose mission it was to learn if Hitler's scientists had developed an atomic bomb was already in Europe looking for key nuclear physicists by the time the other scientific units arrived in 1944. Code-named 'Alsos,' the atomic bomb team was headed by U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Boris Pash, whose long and highly controversial career ran the gamut from volunteering to fight in the 1918 Russian Revolution to being accused of running a CIA 'special operations' unit which, according to testimony before Congress, 'was responsible for assassinations and kidnappings as well as other "special operations." ' No evidence was presented at the hearing that the unit carried out assassinations while Pash was in charge. Pash was also security chief for the Manhattan Project during the development of the atomic bomb in the United States."
(Secret Agenda, Linda Hunt, pgs. 10-11)Pash was actually the son of a Russian Orthodox priest born in San Francisco in 1900. He returned with his family to Russia in 1912. As indicated above, he fought for the Whites during the Russian Revolution. After World War II, Pash was assigned to the staff of General Douglas MacArthur and his Occupation forces in Japan. At the time Pash was detailed to military intelligence and thus would have likely served under MacArthur's long time intelligence chief, General Charles Willoughby, one of the most powerful figures in the history of US intelligence. MacArthur and Willoughby were very close to the American Security Council crew (as noted before here) while another of Willoughby's former officers, Colonel Ermal Geiss, ended up as a high ranking figure in the OS (as noted in part one). Pash and Geiss were both operating in Japan in 1946 and may have possibly known one another. But let us return to Pash's CIA career and that "special operations" unit he was accused of running.
|Colonel Boris Pash|
Pash worked for OPC-CIA from 1949 until 1952 and continued to carry out certain projects well beyond those dates. Apparently his unit was initially comprised of what H.P. Albarelli described as "at least five former OSS hit men..." (A Terrible Mistake, pg. 69). So much for Pash.
Let us now consider Richard Bissell. An Old Boy's Old Boy, Bissell was blueblood to the hilt. He was born into a wealthy family in Hartford, Connecticut and would go on to to attend Groton School, Yale (from which he graduated) and the London School of Economics. Apparently Bissell was offered membership in Skull and Bones while attending Yale, which he declined (reportedly his brother William was a member of Skull and Bones, however).
After generating much acclaim for his role in overseeing the U-2 program, Bissell was made Deputy Director for Plans (DDP). For many years this was one of the most powerful positions in the entire Agency, as the DDP effectively controlled the Directorate of Plans/Operations, the department of the CIA primarily charged with overseeing "black ops." Three CIA directors (Allen Dulles, Richard Helms and William Colby) held the post of Deputy Director of Plans while several other storied agents (including Frank Wisner, Thomas Karamessines and Desmond Fitzgerald) also held the post.
Curiously, it was also Richard Bissell who asked his fellow Health Alteration Committee member Colonel Sheffield Edwards to recruit Syndicate figures for the assassination of Fidel Castro.
"In late summer 1960, the CIA's Deputy Director for Plans, Richard Bissell, asked Office of Security chief Sheffield Edwards to contact Mafia members who owned Cuba's numerous gambling hotels and casinos. Bissell thought that the various Mafioso already familiar with the island could most easily get close to Castro...
"Bissell later insisted that it had not been his idea to use the Mafia, and that it had come from J.C. King. King, not surprisingly, denied that the idea was his and told several Agency officials that the Mafia idea had originated in a conversation among Office of Security employee James O'Connell and narcotics agents George Hunter White and Charles Siragusa.
"At any rate, Sheffield Edwards quickly contacted Robert Maheu, a private investigator and former FBI agent who had worked with security officer James McCord when he was also an FBI agent. Edwards asked Maheu if he had any Mafia contacts in Cuba. Maheu, who had performed 'sensitive' contract work for the CIA for years, had excellent contacts among the underworld, not the least of which was dapper mobster Johnny Rosselli, then living in Los Angeles, where Maheu had an office. Edwards and Maheu agreed that Rosselli would be ideal for the Castro assassination job and that Maheu should meet with him as soon as possible. Maheu said that he would contact Rosselli, but that he was concerned about being involved in a job whose objective was to kill Castro. According to the CIA's report, 'Maheu was authorized to tell Roselli that his "client" [whom he was instructed not to identify] were willing to pay $150,000 for Castro's removal.'
"OS chief Edwards named security officer James 'Big Jim' O'Connell as his lead person in overseeing the operation, and assigned him to keep an eye on Maheu. O'Connell, a former FBI special agent, was then Chief, Operational Support Division for the CIA's Office of Security under Edwards. Like Maheu, O'Connell had worked in New York for the Bureau and is reported to have been closely involved in the Agency's cover-up of Frank Olson's death.
"O'Connell and Maheu met Rosselli in New York City on September 14, 1960 and Maheu made his pitch to Rosselli. Rosselli, who had been around the block numerous times, so to speak, was nonetheless reluctant to become involved in the assassination of Castro."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pgs. 339-340)
But back to the matter at hand. Despite gangster Johnny Roselli's hesitancy to embark on the Castro operation and his refusal to take money from the Agency men, he nonetheless set up O'Connell with more of his associates to further discuss the operation. First, however, the DCI was informed of these developments.
"Edwards meanwhile informed Bissell that he had made contact with a private investigator, Maheu, who in turn had contacts with mobsters in Cuba that might offer assistance in getting close to Castro.
"Days later, Bissell and Edwards reported up the chain of command to DCI Allen Dulles and DDCI Charles Cabell on the plan to assassinate Castro. The CIA's report reads: 'Edwards recalls that Mr. Dulles merely nodded, presumably in understanding and approval. Certainly there was no opposition.'
"O'Connell and Maheu met with Rosselli again on September 25 in Miami at the Fontainebleau Hotel, where, without O'Connell present, he introduced Maheu to 'Sam Gold.' Gold told Maheu that he had a man, whom he identified as only as 'Joe,' who 'could serve as a courier to Cuba and make arrangements there.' O'Connell observed Gold from afar, but he soon learned that 'Gold' was [Sam] Giancana and that 'Joe the Courier' was Florida Mafia chief Santo Trafficante, Jr., who owned a number of thriving gambling operations in Cuba. Castro had not yet permanently closed the American-held casinos and hotels in Cuba, and, according to the CIA report, Trafficante 'was making regular trips between Miami and Havana' on Mafia business."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, Jr., pg. 341)While the Mafioso appeared to be interested in taking out Castro, Sam Giancana rejected shooting Castro out right as being to risky. Instead, the mobsters thought it would be much easier to kill Castro with some type of poison pill.
It was at this point that the legendary William Harvey, another former FBI man now operating out of the legendary Special Activities Division (SAD) was brought in to oversea the operation. As was noted in the prior installment, Harvey was something of a mentor to Theodore Shackley, an especially infamous SAD veteran who was very close to "rogue" OS man Ed Wilson. Wilson, like Maheu, seems to have been involved in the OS's sexual blackmail operations (as noted in part four). Thus, this particular network of Office of Security and SAD operatives is quite incestuous even without all the FBI connections (O'Connell, Maheu and Harvey were all former Bureau men).
"One of Harvey's first official acts was to approach Dr. Edward Gunn, the Agency's Chief of Operations in its Medical Services branch. Gunn, according to the CIA report, said that Harvey 'wanted him to consult with Sidney Gottlieb' on whether toxins and chemicals could be effectively used to kill Castro. Harvey was upset because more than half the substances so far considered for use had proven ineffective. Apparently, Gottliab came through fr Gunn because in March 1961 Rosselli passed a packet of lethal pills to Trafficante. Trafficante promptly handed the pills off to Orta, but Orta backed out, telling Trafficante he could not go through with the plan. At least, that is what the CIA's report asserts. Other, non-Agency reports over the past several decades have considered it likely that Trafficante was playing both sides against the middle and was dealing with not only the CIA but also with Castro, to whom he was personally reporting back to on each and every step of the scheme. (In a 2007 interview, Castro said he knew Orta was a 'traitor' at the time, but made no mention of Trafficante.)"
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli Jr., pg. 342)
|Santo Trafficante, Jr.|
In turned out, however, that the man Roselli had tapped to assist in delivering the pills in Cuba was already a sometimes CIA contract employee known commonly as Pierre Lafitte. Things had become to hot for Lafitte in Cuba not long afterwards and he had to leave the island for good. Apparently from here the plan never quite got back on track and Harvey called it off in February 1963, shortly after the Bay of Pigs debacle. It is unknown if there were any major developments in this plot throughout 1962.
What is known, however, is that there was some curious fallout from this operation that alerted Robert Kennedy to the fact that the CIA was trying to enlist the Syndicate to assassinate Castro. This sorted affair began with Sam Giancana fearing that his mistress was stepping out on him with Frank Sinatra. Robert Maheu, with the blessing of the CIA, offered to lend his assistance.
"Meanwhile, the anti-Castro plotting produced a comic, sordid shadow play in Las Vegas. Giancana was anguished at one time that his Strip mistress, singer Phyliss McGuire, was cavorting at the Riviera with Sinatara. To keep Sam appeased, Maheu offered to bug the lover's suite, the CIA dutifully paying for the break-in and tapping. But when Maheu's operatives botched the operation --catching McGuire with television comedian Dan Rowan instead of Sinatra --and as a result Maheu faced criminal charges in Las Vegas, the CIA had to suppress the case. Its agent Sheffield Edwards told the FBI that the tap related to a covert operation involving Maheu and Giancana, and Hoover promptly passed that lurid tidbit on to the attorney general in May 1961. Officially, the memo was Bobby's first notification of the CIA-mob alliance, though many scholars later came to believe that he had known for some time of the original government conspiracy with organized crime, and in any case was already embarked on his own covert war against Castro with his own Syndicate allies."
(The Money and the Power, Sally Denton & Roger Morris, pg. 248)
|Robert F. Kennedy|
"The bureau complied, and its tight surveillance of Giancana turned up a sexual snag of tabloid dimensions. A woman named Judith Campbell was making repeated calls to the White House from the mobster's home phone in Chicago. The calls, it developed, were to the President himself. The shapely Miss Campbell had met JFK through Frank Sinatra and had by her own admission been trysting with him for some months. What made the relationship doubly distressing was the fact that the President's playmate was continuing to see her old Mafia friends Giancana and Roselli. The potential for diaster was unlimited.
"In February 1962, J. Edgar Hoover altered Bobby Kennedy and presidential aide Kenneth O'Donnell to the hot rock. A month later the FBI director arranged a private luncheon with JFK. There the matter was presumably discussed. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee's 1975 report, 'the last telephone contact between the White House and the President's friend occurred a few hours after the luncheon.
"If that took care of Campbell, there remained the considerable problem of Giancana --if prosecuted, he could be expected to tell what he knew about the President's mistress. There ensued some fancy footwork seemingly designed to make the CIA a foil in covering up the mess.
"The day after his lunch with JFK, Hoover fired off a memorandum to Edwards advising that the Justice Department wante to know whether the CIA 'would or would not object to the initiation of criminal prosecutions.' for bugging against Maheu and the man who actually made the installment. Giancana was not mentioned. Edward's reply was predictable. The CIA would object because, as Hoover reported back, 'prosecution of Maheu undoubtedly would lead to exposure of most sensitive information relating to the abortive Cuban invasion in April 1961, and would result in most damaging embarrassment to the U.S. Government.'
"Armed with this 'national security' objection, the Justice Department advised the CIA that it envisioned 'no major difficulty in stopping prosecution.' Naturally none developed. It was at this point that Bobby Kennedy hauled Edwards on the carpet to explain how the CIA had got mixed up with the mob in the first place and in the process was informed of the assassination plotting. Although Bill Harvey had given the poison pills to Roselli only two weeks before, Edwards told Kennedy that the assassination project had been terminated. RFK's rage was confined to his having been left in the dark about Giancana. He did not preach about the immorality of assassinations, and he did not forbid further collusion with the Mafia. He simply ordered that he be the first to know if the CIA again took up with the mob. 'I want you to let me know about these things,' Kennedy is quoted as saying, by Edwards.
"Edwards realized that he had painted himself into a corner and could not now admit to the attorney general that he had lied about the project's being terminated. Upon his return to Langley he called Harvey and gave him a selective briefing on the session. But to protect himself he wrote an internal memorandum stating, 'On this date Mr. Harvey called me and indicated that he was dropping any plans for the use of Subject (Roselli) for the future.' Harvey found out about the memo when questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1975, and he was furious. He declared that it 'was not true, and Colonel Edwards knew it was not true.; the falsification who intended to show that Edwards was 'no longer chargeable' should the operation back fire."
(Deadly Secrets, Warren Hinckle & William Turner, pgs. 138-140)
Once RFK found out about this plot, his reaction was rather muted and Sheffield Edwards was easily able to set up Bill Harvey afterwards for the continuation of the plots had the scandal ever turned up again. As noted above, the Castro-Syndicate plot seems to have gone on for at least another year after Edwards' meeting with Kennedy, but little is known of what unfolded during this time.
And what of one of Kennedy's mistresses turning up during these intrigues? As was addressed at length in the third and fourth installments of this series, there are ample indications that the OS regularly used Syndicate call girls to entrap politicians. Was Sam Giancana's girl working such an operation for the OS? As noted above, Maheu already appears to have been serving as a cut out between the OS and the Syndicate for these types of operations for several years prior to these intrigues.
With the OS's ties to the CIA's assassination operations established, I would now like to turn to the possibility that the OS was directly involved in ordering and/or carrying out assassinations. There are two especially compelling incidences of this involving Agency personnel whom the OS had begun to suspect the loyalty of. The first we shall consider concerns a close associate of long time DCI Allen Dulles, a slightly built man named James Kronthal.
"The forty-two-year-old Kronthal was a rising star at the CIA, where his profile fit the mold for Dulles's 'very best men.' The son of a prominent New York banker, Kronthal was educated at Yale and Harvard, and served under Dulles in the Bern OSS station during the war. Before the war, he had rejected the banking career that his family had planned for him in favor of teaching art history at Harvard. But Kronthal brought a keen business interest to the art trade, establishing himself in Germany during the 1930s as a broker for Goering, Himmler, and other Nazi leaders who were selling art treasures stolen from Jewish collectors. After the war, he sought to redeem himself by trying to track down the looted art pieces and return them to their rightful owners.
"The slightly built, brilliant young man became a favorite of Dulles, who helped Kronthal take over the Bern station in 1947, after it became one of the CIA's first overseas outposts. When Dulles took charge of the agency in 1953, he brought Kronthal back to the Washington headquarters, with big plans for the young man's intelligence career."
(The Devil's Chessboard, David Talbot, pg. 297)Kronthal, in other words, was a budding Old Boy with the inevitable Ivy League connections. In addition to having attended Yale and Harvard, he also went to Lincoln School in New York with Nelson Rockefeller. His overt collaboration with the Nazis would have no doubt appealed to Dulles (who had ample dealings with the Nazi regime both before and after the war), but it was his covert relationship with them, and later the Soviet Union, that led to Kronthal's death. It was the OS that uncovered Kronthal's dark secret life.
"Kronthal's proclivity for the espionage game derived, in part, from a lifetime of hiding his own personal secrets. He was a gay man with a weakness for young boys. The Gestapo discovered his sexual tastes while he was working in the German art market before the war. Later, while Kronthal was running the CIA station in Bern, the NKVD, the Soviet secret police agency, got access to Kronthal's Gestapo files after penetrating the Gehlen Organization. The Soviets set up a 'honey trap' for Kronthal in Switzerland, with Chinese boys as bait. He was secretly filmed and blackmailed, and by the time he returned to Washington in May 1952, Jim Kronthal was a double agent in the iron grip of the NKVD.
"It was Colonel Sheffield Edwards, the former Army intelligence officer who ran the CIA's Office of Security, who informed Dulles that his protege had been turned. Edwards's internal security department was tasked with protecting the CIA against enemy penetration. The security unit was also in charge of what was delicately called 'enforcement,' providing the muscle to eliminate any potential threats or embarrassments to the agency.
"On the night of March 31, as Dulles confronted Kronthal with the Office of Security's revelations over dinner at his home, two agents from Edwards's department were quietly eavesdropping in an adjoining room. The sense of betrayal was certainly overwhelming for Dulles. But the CIA director, whose fits of rage were legendary, held his fury in check that evening. The spy chief sounded sadly contemplative as he spoke with the traitor in whom he had invested so much hope, remarking on the mystery of personal demons and how they could set flame to the most promising careers.
"After the two men reviewed Kronthal's impossible position and his dismal options, the shattered agent walked back home --a white brick town house with a small garden of spring daffodils in front, just two blocks from Dulles's residence. He was followed by the two CIA security men. When Kronthal's housekeeper arrived the next morning, his bedroom door was still closed and he had left a note that he was not to be disturbed. Later that morning, two men who identified themselves as colleagues of Kronthal appeared at his house and told the housekeeper they needed to bring him to an urgent meeting. When they opened his bedroom door, they found a lifeless Kronthal splayed across his bed, fully clothed, with an empty vial near his body.
"The investigation into Kronthal's death was quickly taken over by Lieutenant Lawrence Hartnett of the Washington D.C., Metropolitan Police, a homicide detective with a history of helping tidy up CIA-related problems. Hartnett revealed that Kronthal had left a letter for Dick Helms, in which he revealed that he was 'mentally upset because of pressure connected with work,' as well as a letter for Dulles. An autopsy concluded that Kronthal had taken his own life, but the report left more questions lingering than it answered, failing to determine the cause of his death or the contents of the vial found in the bedroom. Sometime before his death, Kronthal had mailed a letter to his sister, revealing his homosexuality (which came as no surprise to her) and referring to the 'tremendous difficulties' that his sexual identity posed for him. He then signed off in a perplexing way. Kronthal's final words to his sister were, 'I can't wait till 1984. Love, Jim.' Was it his mordant way of saying that for him, Big Brother's suffocating authoritarianism was already an unbearable reality?"
(The Devil's Chessboard, David Talbot, pgs. 298-299)
It is all but certain that the OS played a key role in managing the investigation into Kronthal's death. As indicated above, one of the chief purposes of the OS was to manage and suppress criminal investigations involving Agency personnel. What's more, the OS had ample ties to the D.C. police, as noted before in parts two and three of this series.
In the wake of Kronthal's death, there was another death and a near death that may have also been related to the fall out surrounding Kronthal's recruitment by the Soviets and OS "wet works."
"James Montgomery, an associate of Kronthal's and ostensibly head of the U.S. State Department's Finnish desk, but actually a CIA employee, had been found dead on January 24, 1953 in his Washington D.C. home, apparently strangled. His nude body was found with a bathrobe cord around his neck. Montgomery's death was ruled a suicide by D.C. police, but U.S. Congressman Fred E. Busbey of Illinois had called for a full House investigation into the death. Busbey told the Washington Post six-days after Montgomery died, 'There are stories being bruited about that the police have been told not to talk.' (Busbey's fellow House members declined to take up the investigation.)
"Just seven days after Kronthal's death, Frederick E. Crockett, a CIA security analyst with whom McCord was familiar, had been discovered on April 8, 1953, in a semi-conscious state in his gas filled D.C. apartment on Wisconsin Avenue. Police had ruled Crockett's condition an 'attempted suicide,' and the CIA told reporters at the time that 'there was no reason to believe' that Crockett's attempt had anything to do with Kronthal's death. (Crockett survived the incident and lived until January 17, 1978)."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, Jr., pg. 123)
|Crockett's attempted suicide is addressed on the top right|
Less is certain about Crockett. There are no real details available concerning the motive for his attempted suicide. But the fact that he had been detailed to the OS at a time the department appears to have been deeply engaged in "clean up" operations that may have raised moral qualms is interesting.
On the topic of clean up operations and possible assassinations the OS played a role in, few are more notorious than the events surrounding the death of chemist Frank Olson in November of 1953, a little over eight months after Kronthal's death.
Frank Olson is of course the most legendary causality of the CIA's behavioral modification experiments after he allegedly committed suicide by flinging himself out of the window of the Statler Hotel and meeting his end on the pavement of New York City several stories down. It is widely believed that Olson was murdered and that his death was related to being unwittingly dosed with LSD at a meeting of Army and MK-ULTRA personnel at a Deep Creek Lake lodge in Maryland a little over a week prior to his death.
Olson's death has fascinated researchers for years and has inspired several in depth examinations of the circumstances surrounding it. It is vastly beyond the scope of this present series to even attempt an in depth account, so the rundown here will be very brief. As many of the people likely to read this blog at least have a passing familiarity with the Olson case, this researcher will not bother contrasting different accounts.
Easily the most informative examination of Olson's death is H.P. Albarelli Jr.'s groundbreaking and epic A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, which also provides the most plausible explanation for Olson's dosing and later death. It is Albarelli's narrative that this researcher shall follow in examining the OS's role in Olson's death and the cover-up that followed.
"In 1951 hundreds of respectable citizens in Pont-Saint-Esprit, a small French village, went completely berserk one evening. Some of the town's leading citizens jumped from windows into the Rhone. Others ran through the streets screaming about being cased by lions, tigers, and 'bandits with donkey ears.' Many died, and those who survived suffered strange aftereffects for weeks. In his book The Day of St. Anthony's Fire, John C. Fuller attributes this bizarre outbreak to rye flour contaminated with ergot."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pg. 13n)Albarelli's CIA sources attributed Olson's death to this curious event, which was actually the result of a joint operation conducted by the CIA and the Army's Special Operations Division (SOD), located in Fort Detrick.
"According to Albert and Neal, Frank Olson had been brought to remote Deep Creek Lake as part of an informal gathering whose purpose was, among other things, to observe the effects of the potent psychochemical LSD. By late 1953, however, the CIA had dosed hundreds of unwitting subjects with LSD and well understood its effects. Thus, it was not necessary to drug Olson or any of his colleagues in order to learn about the powers of LSD. Nonetheless, the sources recounted... that Olson had been given a small amount of LSD --about 70 micrograms --'mixed with Meretran.' As Sidney Gottlieb had previously explained to the author, Meretran was added as a 'pressure mechanism in interrogations' to 'loosen tongues and persuade subjects to speak freely about matters they otherwise wouldn't share.' As noted earlier, the CIA and the Army in the 1950s commonly employed LSD mixed with Meretran to enhance interrogations in what they jointly termed 'ARTICHOKE sessions.'
"Olson had been drugged at Deep Creek Lake not to explore the drugs, but because he had been talking to 'the wrong people' about a top-secret SOD experiment that had taken place in France in the summer of 1951. The CIA and Army, deeply concerned about security violations, wanted to know the full extent of his indiscretions. Frank Olson had been given the drugs at Deep Creek Lake to 'enhance' his interrogation.
"... the 'TOP SECRET' operation Olson had talked about had been the highly sensitive experiment conducted in Pont-St.-Esprit, France under the innocuous code name, Project SPAN ('SPAN' presumably because the French word pont means bridge). The experiment had gone awry, killing several people and injuring numerous others. This was the 'un-American' activity referred to in the Colby documents; this was Olson's 'possible security violation' that was alluded to in the cryptic note found at Fort Detrick. It also explains Lovell's peculiar remarks about Olson having 'No inhibitions. Baring of inner man,' meaning Olson had wrongly spoken out about Pont-St.-Esprit, revealing his arrogance and recklessness..."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.p. Albarelli, Jr., pgs. 686-687)
|presumably one of the victims of the Pont-Saint-Esprit incident|
"Was Pont-St.-Esprit solely a SOD operation?
"No. It was a pre-ARTICHOKE joint operation between SOD and CIA's security branch."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, Jr., pg. 690)Albarelli goes on to reveal that the Pont-Saint-Esprit incident was not caused by ergot, but a "potent LSD mixture" that was both administered by air via aerosol spraying as well as by being placed in local food products. The experiment was reportedly a disaster and deeply troubled Olson for some time afterwards.
Olson himself was involved in this pre-ARTICHOKE operation with the Office of Security and would later sit on its Artichoke Committee, but Olson was not a part of ARTICHOKE. In point of fact, he was a civilian Army employee detailed to MKNAOMI, a joint Technical Services Staff (TSS) and SOD operation under the control of MKLUTRA head Sidney Gottlieb.
It is most likely, however, that Olson's interrogation was handled under the auspices of MKULTRA as Gottlieb was ultimately Olson's superior and may have wanted to keep the lid on the fact that Olson was accused of leaking information concerning a controversial experiment conducted by the Office of Security. Otherwise Olson would have almost surely have been interrogated by the OS, who were the Agency branch most often tasked with interrogations.
Regardless, the interrogation backfired and Olson became even more unhinged due to it in the weeks that followed. It was then decided that something must be done with Oslon. Albarelli's sources insisted that the original plan had not been to kill Olson at the Statler, but rather to have abducted him and institutionalized him at a CIA-linked hospital were he could have been "treated." Olson resisted and a struggle ensued. This led to Olson being "pitched" out the window.
Lafitte took White's place and brought Spirito with him. This proved to be disastrous. Spirito had established a vast criminal empire in France centered around white slavery and heroin trafficking. It was through the former that he had originally met Lafitte. During WWII, Spirito had collaborated with the Nazis during their occupation of France. After the fall of the Nazi regime, Spirito fled to Spain and later South America before ending up in Montreal. From there he began to reconstruct his criminal empire in North America until his arrest in the United States in 1951. When Spirito went to assist Lafitte at the Statler that night, he had only been out of prison for a week. Nor was this the only curious thing concerning Spirito.
"... things did go wrong after Lafitte brought Spirito to back him up with the Olson assignment. Why or how Lafitte enlisted the assistance of Spirito is unknown. What we do know is that Spirito had been unexpectedly released from federal prison in Atlanta and had journeyed to New York the week before Olson arrived there with Ruwat and Lashbrook. Spirito's long acquaintance with Lafitte is a matter of historical record...
"At some point during Olson's last night in New York, Neal explained, Lashbrook had become concerned that 'Olson was once again becoming unhinged.' Before Olson and Lashbrook retired for the night, the decision was made that 'it would be best' if Olson was transported to Maryland for confinement at Chestnut Grove, as Abramson had recommended, but by means other than the commercial flight Lashbrook had booked for the next day.
"The alternative plan involved Lafitte and Spirito, apparently as personal escorts for Olson. Said one source, 'White would have been the ideal alternative, perhaps along with Lafitte, but he was in California.' That Spirito had just been released from prison in Atlanta where he had been a subject in Dr. Carl Pfeiffer's 'psychotic experiments' was either overlooked or unknown. 'I don't think anyone knew where he had come from or where he had been; he was recruited by Lafitte,' said Albert."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli Jr., pg. 692)
|Francois Spirito is the one on the bottom|
"The Bordertown facility is significant, because during World War II, and from 1951 to 1964, it was the site of secret CIA and U.S. Army behavior-modification and mind-control experiments. Dr. Carl C. Pfeiffer of Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Illinois Medical School oversaw some of these experiments, which were intended to both trigger and study 'a model psychosis characterized by visual and auditory hallucinations.' Pfeiffer later refined his objectives with extensive experiments in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Questioned about these experiments in 1981, the CIA's Dr. Sidney Gottlieb said, 'We learned a lot from the Atlanta experiments. The Agency learned that a person's psyche could be very disturbed by those means.' "
(A Secret Order, H.P. Albarelli, Jr., pgs. 17-18)
|Dr. Carl Pfeiffer|
But back to Spirito. Apparently, the United States had interred a vast amount of underworld figures fleeing from Europe to the United States in the wake of WWII at Ellis Island (including Spirito). During the early 1950s, many of these figures were given the choice of participating in drug experiments in exchange for reduced sentences.
"Some of the drug traffickers and criminals held for deportation at Ellis Island were given the option of staying in the United States indefinitely if they 'volunteered' for various secret government projects, including CIA-funded Project Artichoke experiments that were just beginning at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and various mental hospitals in Louisiana. At Tulane University in New Orleans, Dr. Russell R. Monroe was just beginning his research on neurological brain dysfunctions in the minds of criminals and psychopaths. The CIA and the military, which were quickly drawn to the program, were becoming intrigued with the possibility of creating what were then referred to as 'aggressive soldiers' and now are called 'super soldiers.' "
(A Secret Order, H.P. Albarelli, Jr., pg. 14)
There's a lot to taken in here. For starters, it has long been alleged that Pfeiffer and his work at the Atlanta Penitentiary were conducted under the direction of MKULTRA. In A Terrible Mistake, Albarelli reports that the Pfeiffer's research began as MKULTRA Subproject 9 and eventually expanded to include Subprojects 26, 28, and 47.There's just one problem with this claim, however: Pfeiffer's work for the CIA began in 1951 while MKULTRA was not initiated until April of 1953. Thus, as Albarelli indicates above, Pfeiffer's work at Bordertown and later the Atlanta prison was almost surely begun under the direction of Projects BLUEBIRD and/or ARTICHOKE and not MKULTRA. Whether Pfeiffer was working for ARTICHOKE or MKLULTRA at the time of Olson's death is unknown, but it is quite possible he was working for both projects on different experiments as there was frequently overlap between ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA scientists.
As noted above, the MKULTRA personnel involved with Olson on his final day apparently had no idea that Spirito had been used in Pfeiffer's experiments. Certainly it seems curious that Lafitte would just happen to select a man who had recently been released from Pfeiffer's experiments to serve as his back up in moving Olson. While Lafitte frequently collaborated with MKULTRA man George Hunter White, White himself insisted that Lafitte was involved in potential intelligence projects White was unaware of.
Could Lafitte have been approached by ARTICHOKE members to deal with the Olson matter in a more satisfactory way than the MKULTRA team had so far managed? This researcher is unaware of any links between Lafitte and the ARTICHOKE team, but clearly the OS had extensive underworld contacts, including Johnny Roselli, whom Lafitte occasionally did work for (as noted above). What's more, Lafitte was working in the Reily Coffee Company in New Orleans during the early 1960s, around the same time Lee Harvey Oswald was employed there. As was noted in part one, ARTICHOKE bosses General Paul Gaynor and Morse Allen were both close to William B. Reily, one of the co-owners of the Reily Coffee Company.
|William B. Reily|
It was the OS, however, who were ultimately charged with covering up Olson's death. The man tasked with this duty was likely someone we have already considered at length.
"The special agent dispatched by security chief Sheffield Edwards to the Statler Hotel to assist Robert Lashbrook has been identified in CIA documents only as 'Agent James McC.' In 1999, a former CIA official speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the author that this was James W. McCord, Jr. The name will be familiar to readers who recall McCord's June 1972 arrest for breaking into the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee..."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Alnarelli, Jr., pg. 86)Ah yes, our old friend James W. McCord, Jr. At the time of this assignment McCord was already attached to the Security Research Staff within the OS.
"... Subsequently, in the summer of 1953, he would be transferred to Washington. D.C., where he was assigned to the Security Research Staff (SRS), an Office of Security branch, directed by retired Brigadier General Paul F. Gaynor. In this position, McCord was primarily responsible for detecting foreign attempts to penetrate the CIA, interrogating defectors and suspected spies, and operating several 'behavior modification' programs that were part of the CIA's top-secret Bluebird and Artichoke Projects, which predated Project MKULTRA."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, Jr., pg. 88)
One is left with the distinct impression that OS reports concerning Olson were deliberately avoiding ARTICHOKE so as not to raise the possibility that his death was in some how related as well as casting the SRS's chief rivals in the behavior modification racket, the TSS, in a bad light. As Olson's breakdown may well have been spurred by the OS' joint operation with SOD in Pont-Saint-Esprit, it is easy to understand why the OS opted to censure its work on ARTICHOKE from the Olson investigation.
While OS as a whole were deeply involved in developing a sanitized report on Olson's death for their colleagues in the CIA, McCord took the lead in suppressing the police investigation into Olson.
"Security agent James McCord had assured Edwards that the detectives, James Ward and David Mullee, as well as Detective John Scaffardi, who had also worked the Olson case, would cooperate with the CIA in any way needed. Edwards had initially been very concerned about the crime scene report filed by patrolman Joseph Guastefeste, the uniformed police officer in charge. Guastefeste had formally requested that 'the case remain active' for further investigation 'in view of the facts set forth.' Put a lid on this, Edwards had instructed McCord, trusting that his special agent's years of experience and contacts in Manhattan would work the desired magic.
"Which they did. Ward and Mullee closed the case. Olson's death was ruled a suicide, and the supplemental police report identified Lashbrook only as 'a consultant chemist' with the War Department's Defense Bureau. Detective Ward had even been so helpful as to tell McCord that a few reporters had been sniffing around the precinct house trying to get more details about Olson's death, but that McCord could count on him and Mullee to handle things properly. However, the detectives had played it safe and forwarded details of the case to the FBI's New York field office, speaking directly with special agent George Dalen. But, of course, McCord, a former FBI agent, knew Dalen, and Edwards was confident that McCord would manage Dalen."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, Jr., pgs. 147-148)And manage him he did. McCord did such a thorough job in covering up the Olson incident that knowledge of the circumstances surrounding his death would not be revealed to the public or Olson's family until the mid-1970s and now, nearly 70 years after the fact, much of it still remains shrouded in mystery.
Was McCord's work on the Olson incident the reason why he was seemingly tapped by General Paul Gaynor, his long time boss on the Security Research Staff, to handle the Columbia Plaza operation that led to the Watergate scandal? Certainly McCord had demonstrated an uncanny ability to cover up sensitive operations when he handled the Olson incident. This could also explain why Richard Helms opted to destroy the ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA files a few months after McCord's arrest. Had the press or congress dug deep enough, some very curious things would have likely come out concerning McCord.
"During the Nixon presidency the CIA stepped up its domestic operations even though such activity was outlawed by the Agency's charter. In 1969 the CIA prepared a report entitled 'Restless Youth,' which concluded that the New Left and black nationalist movements were essentially homegrown phenomena and the foreign ties to American dissidents were insubstantial. That was not what President Nixon wanted to hear. The 'Communist conspiracy' had become an idee fixe in the White House, and Nixon pressed Cia director Richard Helms to expand the parameters of Operation CHAOS (an appropriate acronym) and other domestic probes. In addition to monitoring a wide range of liberal and left-wing organizations, the CIA provided training, technical assistance, exotic equipment, and intelligence data to local police departments. The Agency also employed harassment tactics such as sprinkling 'itching powder'... on public toilet seats near leftist meetings, which drove people wild for about three days after they sat down."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pgs. 224-225)
CHAOS had its origins in the Johnson administration. LBJ shared Nixon's belief that the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements were being manipulated by the Soviets. LBJ ordered the CIA to investigate these developments and this led to several operations such MERRIMAC, RESISTANCE, and Project 2. Here are a few details about these operations:
"... In 1965, when American youth began to protest against the Vietnam War and the Black liberation movement grew more militant, the CIA --contrary to Congressional approval but with the approval of President Johnson --secretly set up a Domestic Operations Division. Its first project, code-named 'Resistance', co-opted local police 'Red squads' under the guise of providing security for CIA college recruiters.
"This was soon supplemented by 'Project Merrimac', which monitored groups campaigning against CIA research facilities on the campuses. The brief of Resistance and Merrimac required that all anti-war activists and other 'dissidents' be identified and monitored. It also gave agents the green light to indulge in harassment, burglary, electronic surveillance, black propaganda and other dirty tricks known in the trade as 'rat fucking.' "
(Acid: A New Secret History of LSD, David Black, pgs. 105-106)And as for Project 2:
"Project 2 was an operation that entailed infiltration of the Black Power and antiwar movements in the United States, supposedly for the purpose of training CIA undercover agents for assignments abroad. The operation got under way in 1969 and, apparently, was terminated in 1974."
(Secret Agenda, Jim Hougan, pg. 12, n38)Many of these operations were initially directed by the Office of Security, though James Jesus Angleton and his Counterintelligence Staff in the Directorate of Plans had ultimate control over them. Hougan describes this arrangement as thus: the OS "worked as the principal collection agent for the domestic spying project, Operation Chaos, carried out under the nominal auspices of the counterintelligence staff" (Secret Agenda, pg. 12). The OS, in other words, appears to have provided most of the actual agents carrying out these operations in the field while the CI staff (which was rather small during this era) oversaw things from afar.
|James Jesus Angleton|
"In July 1968, the CIA, then headed by Richard Helms, unified all anti-dissident domestic operations into an infamous programme called Operation Chaos. The CIA sent a large number of agents overseas to establish their revolutionary credentials for agitation activities in the US...
"The CIA's assessment of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a radical left coalition that flowered in the mid-to-late sixties, was more in tune with reality that the political perspective of the revolutionary student factions, who seemed to spend more time fighting each other than subverting the system. A CIA situation report in the run-up to the SDS convention of June 1969 clearly foresaw the coming split and collapse: 'The SDS prize continues to be fair game for take-over by any organised communist group on the American scene with the power, prestige and cunning to do so... It can be predicted that such efforts will continue until someone succeeds. Then SDS will split and their influence on the American campus can be expected to diminish.'
"For many participants in the New Left, experiences with LSD were an essential dimension of political development. Ironically, in the case of the Weathermen, an 'ultra-radical' spin off from the SDS, belief in the drug as a 'politiciser' mirrored the CIA's interest in its properties as a 'truth drug.' "
(Acid: A New Secret History of LSD, David Black, pgs. 106-107)The notorious Weather Underground emerged in 1969 as a break off faction of the SDS. The CIA had of course predicted that the SDS would fracture if it was approached by a group with "the power, prestige and cunning" to fracture it. No doubt the CIA report was referring to the KGB, but the CIA itself would more than fit the bill. Interestingly, the Weather Underground emerged a year after Operation CHAOS had gone into over drive and the year Project 2 was initiated.
|the Weather Underground logo|
Interestingly, the same branch of the OS responsible for the behavior modification research also played a key role in infiltrating the New Left and Black liberation movements:
"At the heart of many of these activities, a tabernacle within the inner sanctum, was the Security Research Staff (SRS), a cadre within the Office of Security. Headed by the late General Paul Gaynor, Watergate spy James McCord's immediate superior for many years, the SRS managed the literally mind-boggling Bluebird and Artichoke programs, and coordinated many of the domestic spying activities associated with Operation Chaos and Project 2..."
(Secret Agenda, Jim Hougan, pg. 12)Was all of this merely a coincidence? Certainly it seems that, as far as the OS is concerned, all roads lead back to BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, whether it involves Watergate, "clean-up" operations, assassinations or Operation CHAOS itself. As such, the remaining installments in this series will be dedicated to an in depth examination of these programs. Stay tuned dear reader.