Saturday, April 28, 2012

The LSD Chronicles: Frank Olson Part II

In part one of this series we examined developments in the Frank Olson saga all the way up until the mid-1970s. Olson was the legendary chemist that the CIA unknowingly dosed with LSD and who allegedly jumped from the ten story window of a New York hotel room not long after. Solid details of Olson's death were not leaked to the public until the mid-1970s as part of the Rockefeller Commission. Upon learning of the shocking details of Frank's death the Olson family opted to sue the United States government. Not long afterwards the Olsons would agree to settle out of court for $750,00. Once the Olsons' lawsuit was settled the saga briefly hit a stand still.

It would not be until 1979 when John Marks released his landmark study of the CIA's MK-ULTRA experiments (one of the main but not only projects that studied LSD) The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate', that more fuel was added to the fire. For the first time the public was introduced to the scope of the CIA's various mind control experiments (which went well beyond experiments with LSD and like substances) as well as an in-depth account of Frank Olson's death. Needless to say, the book soon became a classic.
"...The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. The story of how Marks' book came to be published deserves attention here. Marks, a writer and former State Department Foreign Service officer, had worked in Vietnam on the pacification program, and had also served as a staff assistant to the State Department's director of Intelligence and Research. In the spring of 1977, Marks was informed by the CIA, in response to a Freedom of Information request he had filed over a year earlier, that several boxes of files --or about 16,000 MKULTRA documents --had been located. Marks had filed his initial FOI request based on his belief that the CIA had informed Marks that it had destroyed all of its drug testing and behavior manipulation documents on orders of DCI Richard Helms in 1973. Subsequently, however, so the explanation went, six boxes of mostly 'financial records' had turned up in storage...

"Marks' book was shocking to many readers; few people in America had any idea their government was conducting such experiments. Many Washington insiders felt that the CIA would have a difficult time surviving the fury and outrage caused by the books contents."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pg. 552)

This was of course hardly the first time rumors of the CIA's demise were greatly over exaggerated. Despite presenting the public with the first in depth account of the events leading up to Olson's death, Marks did not depart far from the the CIA's official story line. He did, however, provide in sight into the cover-up surrounding Olson's death which went into effect hours after Frank hit the pavement. Marks notes that Sidney Gottlieb, the notorious TSS chief who has been described as CIA's Josef Mengele, who over saw the Olson dosing was aware of Frank's deteriorating mental state yet neglected to inform his superiors in the Agency in a direct breach of protocol. It was only after Olson was being scrapped up off the sidewalk that Gottlieb felt compelled to inform anyone.
"Back in Washington, Sid Gottlieb finally felt compelled to tell the Office of Security about the Olson case. Director Allen Dulles personally ordered Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick to make a full investigation, but first, Agency officials tried to make sure that no outsider would tie Olson's death either to the CIA or LSD. Teams of Security officers were soon scurrying around New York and Washington, making sure the Agency had covered its tracks. One interviewed Lashbrook and then accompanied him to a meeting with Abramson. When Lashbrook and Abramson asked the security officer to leave them alone, he complied and then, in the best traditions of his office, listened in on the conversation covertly. From his report on their talk, it can safely be said that Lashbrook and Abramson conspired to make sure they told identical stories. Lashbrook dictated to Abramson, who made a recording of the symptoms that Olson was supposed to be suffering from and the problems that were bothering him. Lashbrook even stated that Mrs. Olson had suggested her husband see a psychiatrist before the LSD incident (Mrs. Olson says that is an outright lie). Lashbrook's comments appeared in three reports Abramson submitted to the CIA, but these reports were internally inconsistent. In one memo, Abramson wrote that Olson's 'psychotic state... seemed to have crystallized by [the LSD] experiment.' In a later report, Abramson called the LSD dose 'therapeutic' and said he believed 'this dosage could hardly have had any significant role in the course of events that followed.'"
(The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate', John Marks, pg. 89)
Of course, Dr. Abramson also attempted to cure Frank Olson's depression with a bottle of bourbon and dose of Nembutal, so its entirely possible that he had no real idea of what the effects of LSD could have on the human psyche. Or, he had no intention of curing Frank Olson, only to brush him out of the way, so to speak. And yet, despite all of the suspicious circumstances surrounding Olson's death, Marks skillfully avoids giving any indication of homicide. It would take another 15 years for the prospect of Frank Olson being murdered to gain much traction.

It began in earnest in 1994 when Eric Olson, one of Frank's surviving sons, had his father's body exhumed and an autopsy performed. The autopsy and an investigation were performed by the famed forensic scientist James Starrs. Starrs alleges that his findings strongly indicated foal play.
"Eric Olson had his father autopsied in June 1994. As if to confirm his suspicions over fifty years after his father's death, there was no sign of the crash through the hotel room window on Frank Olson's body: no cuts, no scrapes, nothing. The coffin had been closed during the funeral on advice of the CIA, since the crash would have disfigured the man's face. There was no evidence of this at all once the body was exhumed. Further, there was a suspicious bruise on Olson's head which suggested that he had been knocked unconscious. He could then have been thrown from the hotel window."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pgs. 201-202)
H. P. Albarelli, who wrote by far the most thorough account of Frank Olson's life and times in A Terrible Mistake, was far less convinced by the evidence Starrs' autopsy produced, especially the notion that Olson was dealt a blow to the head. In said book, he writes:
"Unfortunately, Starrs does not provide in his written report any details or explanations of what the 'non-scientific' evidence was that prompted him to conclude that Olson was 'struck a stunning blow' to the head. Also, in none of his reports that this author obtained, did Starrs mention that he and team member Dr. James Frost seriously disagreed on the possible nature of Olson's hematoma."
(pg. 616)


In 1998, an even bigger bomb shell was dropped in Eric Olson's lap. It came in the form of acclaimed author and newsman Gordon Thomas, who is considered something on an expert on the world of intelligence.
"Gordon Thomas is considered by many to be an expert on espionage matters. His book, Journey Into Madness, published in 1989, is an excellent update and companion volume to Marks' The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. His other works on the Mossad, and on the doomed ship full of Jews unsuccessfully escaping the Holocaust --The Voyage of the Damned--were published to critical acclaim. Yet, it wasn't until 1998 that Thomas felt he was able to communicate to Frank Olson's son --Eric--the story behind the cover story...

"...What is important to our story at the moment is that Thomas was a friend of Buckley's and had also worked with that icon of mind control research, Dr. William Sargant (Battle for the Mind). From them both he was able to extract the story of what really happened to Frank Olson...

"According to Thomas, during their acquaintance Sargant was a consultant to the British Secret Intelligence Service, or MI5 and MI6, 'largely because of his work in the eliciting of confessions by the Soviets.' Sargant revealed to Thomas that he had visited CIA headquarters and met with Gottlieb, Richard Helms, Dr. Lashbrook, Dr. Ewen Cameron... and Dr. Frank Olson.

"Gottlieb and Olson also visited London and Porton Down, which is Britain's version of Fort Detrick and Edgewood Arsenal. Later on, Olson went to England several times himself, and met with Sargant on many occasions. In the summer of 1953... Olson told Sargant he was in Europe to meet Gottlieb and a 'CIA team.' Thomas at this point tantalizes us with the statement, 'Sargant was satisfied that the CIA team was doing similar work that MI6 were conducting in Europe --executing without trial known Nazis, especially SS men...

"Whatever the facts of the case, when Olson returned from his trip to Europe (which included Norway and West Berlin, according to a photocopy of his passport) he had changed. According to Sargant (via Thomas), Olson had seen the results of his work firsthand, on actual human 'subjects' who were being killed by the very weapons Olson himself was developing at Detrick. The horror and ensuing guilt led Olson to question his faith in the United States government and his faith in himself as a human being.

"Sargant reported this to his superiors at MI6, recommending that Olson no longer be permitted to visit their CBW facility. This report was then, presumably, passed on in some form to the CIA hierarchy as a matter of course, and steps were taken to permanently remove Olson's security clearance... with extreme prejudice.

"According once again to Sargant-via-Thomas, Gottlieb had been working with various other drugs besides LSD, including one which could induce depression leading to suicide. It is possible that Olson's Cointreau had been spiked with something other than the straight LSD given to the rest of the test subjects that evening in November. It is also possible that the visit in New York with Abramson and, eventually, with magician John Mulholland involved further surreptitious doses. We have only Abramson's word, for instance, that Olson was given a dose of Nembutal that day in New York. It could have been anything. And alcohol is a known depressant; might bourbon have accelerated the action of Gottlieb's wonder drug."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pgs. 200-201)

Sargant (top) and Thomas (bottom)

Albarelli is also highly dubious of Thomas' allegations.
"There are many questionable features to Thomas' affidavit in this author's view. Overseas CIA experiments activities were conducted under the auspices of ARTICHOKE and not MKULTRA. Therefore Gottlieb would not have traveled with, or headed up, any 'team' to Europe. There is no evidence that Gottlieb and Olson ever traveled together to Europe in the 1950s. Former Camp Detrick SOD scientists say that, to their knowledge, Gottlieb never traveled overseas with any Detrick researchers. [In several dispositions taken in the 1980s and 1990s from Gottlieb, he testified that he never traveled to Europe until after 1953.

"Thomas's claim that Sargant visited Gottlieb, Helms, Lashbrook and Olson 'several' times 'at Langley' during the 1953-1955 period is highly doubtful because the Langley headquarters of the CIA was constructed in 1959 and opened in 1961.

"Thomas's allegations that Sargant claimed that a CIA team was 'executing without trial known Nazis, especially SS men' appears quite dubious given that both the United States and Britain (and Russia) were doing everything possible to locate and recruit former Nazis and SS officers, particularly those with scientific expertise, for intelligence work in the United States and elsewhere.

"Apart from Thomas' assertion, there is no corroborating evidence that Dr. William Sargant ever met Thomas, Gottlieb, Lashbrook, Richard Helms, or Frank Olson. Thomas himself claims that Sargant handed over all of his records concerning his work with the CIA and Frank Olson to British intelligence.

"And lastly, of course, as other astute observers have asked, if Sargant was both an active British intelligence and CIA operative why would he say anything at all to Thomas? If what Thomas is saying is factual, and not deliberate disinformation as some have maintained, clearly Olson knew whom Sargant worked for. Was Olson so naive or stupid that he would risk his job, his life, and his family's future by confiding in someone who had a direct line to Olson's bosses? And there is also the issue of Olson confiding in Sargant, an obvious and severe security breech on Olson's part.

"Lastly, there is the issue of Frank Olson's state of mind. Alice Olson and the Olson family have consistently stated that CIA claims that Frank Olson had had psychiatric problems and had consulted a psychologist for help are absolutely false. Coincidentally, Thomas' account of Olson's alleged disclosures to Dr. Sargant lends tremendous credence to the Agency's claim that Olson was unstable."
(A Terrible Mistake, pgs. 672-673)
Despite putting forth compelling arguments for Thomas as a disinformation agent and debunking several other storied aspects of the Olson affair, Albarelli firmly believes that Olson was murdered by the CIA. And the reason he puts forth for Olson's murder is quite a dozy... Which makes the Agency disinformation campaign revealing Olson's murder all the more understandable. Albarelli claims to have two CIA sources whom he dubs 'Albert' and 'Neal' that told him the dirty details behind Olson's murder and the reason for it being ordered.
"According to Albert and Neal, several weeks before the meeting at Deer Creek Lake, Frank Olson had 'broken security' and talked about the French experiment on at least two occasions. He had been specifically cautioned by Vincent Ruwet and John Schwab about the 'high level of security and sensitivity involving the experiment.'

"After being firmly cautioned, Olson had again broken security and 'spoken out of line' about Pont-St.-Esprit with several of his colleagues, including 'with a neighbor he occasionally car-pooled to work with.' The neighbor immediately reported Olson to Camp Detrick security officials. As a result of this last indiscretion, the decision was made to interrogate Olson.

"The question was posed to the two sources: Was this, the incident in France at Pont-St.-Esprit, the 'un-American activity' referred to in the papers given to the Olson's by William Colby?

"Not surprisingly, the answer was, 'Yes.'

"Was Pont-St.-Esprit solely a SOD operation?

"No. It was a pre-ARTICHOKE joint operation between SOD and CIA's security branch...

"Because Frank Olson had been 'exposed,' as John Schwab had so succinctly put it in his 1953 statement to CIA Security agents, the decision had been made to interrogate Olson at the upcoming Deer Creek Lake meeting through the use of skilled interrogators, including CIC officer Allen Hughes, and to use LSD mixed with Meretran. The drug had been mixed into the Cointreau bottle earlier, as Lashbrook had described in his 1986 deposition... As first hinted at by Schwab's remarks to reporters in 1975, Olson's interrogation had taken place in another part of the Deer Creek Lake grounds, away from his colleagues."
(ibid, pgs. 690-691)

H.P. Albarelli, the researcher who may have finally solved the Olson murder

After Olson's interrogation at Deer Creek Lake, he was taken to New York to Dr. Harold Abramson, whom he had met before and whom he was believed to be chummy with, to discuss his attitudes and intentions behind his security breaches. Ruwet and later Lashbrook were with him. Olson began to become increasingly paranoid, pleading with Ruwet to let him go, presumably so that he could go into hiding. Ruwet naturally refused.

Eventually it was decided that 'additional security' would be needed for Olson, thus he was to be admitted to the Chestnut Lodge Sanatorium. The plan was that Olson would undergo 'intensive treatment' here, which would include electroshock therapy and chemical therapy, according to Albarelli's sources. This treatment would apparently cure Olson of his indiscretion. Am I alone in thinking this treatment sounds suspiciously like the 'depatterning' techniques the infamous Dr. Ewen Cameron would explore later in the 1950s on behalf of the CIA? Was the ground work already being laid for Cameron's 'treatment'?

the infamous Dr. Ewen Cameron

Regardless, Olson didn't make it to Chestnut Lodge. Albarelli's sources are vague on what actually happened in the Statler Hotel on the night Olson was murdered, but basically a struggle broke out between Olson and two additional CIA assets brought up to assist Lashbrook when it came time to take Olson to the sanatorium. In the midst of the struggle, Olson was accidentally 'pitched' out of the window, and the rest is history, as they say.

The two men that, according to Albarelli, that actually killed Frank Olson were Jean-Pierce Lafitte and Francois Spirito. I do not wish to delve to deeply into these individuals here, especially Lafitte, as we shall encounter them again in another installment in this series. So, let us keep things brief. Lafitte was a long time CIA asset with numerous underworld connections. He was believed to be connected to the notorious Corsican Brotherhood, a French organized crime syndicate. Lafitte was considered an expert on so-called black operations, which involved breaking-and-entering, covert surveillance (he was working as a doorman at the Statler when Frank Olson checked in), disguises, and impersonations.

Francois Spirito was a French gangster with ties to the notorious 'French Connection,' which supplied the vast majority of heroin shipped to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. Even stranger, he had barely been out of prison a week when he ended up in New York to assist Lafitte and his experiences in prison had been rather curious, to say the least. Continuing with Albarelli:
"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 Ruwet and Lashbrook. Spirito's long acquaintance with Lafitte is a matter of historical record...

"...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..."
(ibid, pg. 692)

Francois Spirito is the individual to the left in this picture

Naturally the 'psychotic experiments' Albarelli alludes to involved LSD. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer administered the drug to inmates in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary beginning in he mid-1950s. The purpose of these experiments was to intentionally produce psychotic states using LSD in the subjects. This also sounds suspiciously like Dr. Ewen Cameron's 'depatterning' experiments which the CIA eagerly funded due to its applications for mind control.

Based on declassified CIA documents that Albarelli presents, it seems as the though the story his sources told him is highly plausible. What then was the Pont-St.-Esprit secret that Olson leaked, and was eventually murdered for?


Pont-St.-Esprit is a small village in southern France located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. This is the same region of France that, during the late Middle Ages, was the primary stronghold of Catharism. The Cathars have become hugely popular in conspiracy culture in recent decades beginning with the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. More recently they've popped up in the works of Dan Brown, bringing them international recognition. I can't help but wonder if the Cather connection was known the CIA when they selected Pont-St.-Esprit.

Strangely, Pont-St.-Esprit is also the ancestral home of the Bouvier family that would eventually produce Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, wife of JFK, whose assassination the CIA has long been suspected of playing a part in. Talk about synchronicity.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, whose family originally hailed from Pont-St.-Esprit

On August 16th, 1951, numerous residents of Pont-St.-Esprit began to suddenly experience vivid, terrifying hallucinations that lasted for hours. Local medical personnel were quickly overwhelmed. Countless people had to be forcibly tied to beds while outside help was brought in. The situation rapidly turned into an epidemic.
"By August 18, fifty homes in the town were being used as emergency wards; over 250 people had fallen victim to the mysterious malady. Thirty-two people had been carted off to an insane asylum on the outskirts of Marseilles, and four people were dead, three men and one woman."
(ibid, pg. 352)
Over the years several researchers have become convinced that the cause of the mass hallucinations witnessed at Pont-St.-Esprit was LSD. Several CIA documents Albarelli presents make reference to the 'Pont-St.-Esprit secret.' If LSD was the cause behind the Pont-St.-Esprit incident, then it is highly plausible that the secret the CIA alludes was their role in spreading LSD there. Several individuals Albarelli interviewed for his book on Olson's murder indicated that Olson had been involved in developing a delivery system for the spread of LSD there.

And thus, we come to the end of our examination of Frank Olson. If the Pont-St.-Esprit story is true, it's easy to understand why a massive disinformation campaign has been deployed by the CIA for over half century around the Olson affair. Many Americans can accept that research scientists working on military applications sometimes have to die in the line of duty so that the nation can be safe. Some can even accept that during the height of the Cold War, when it seemed as if the expansion of the Soviet Union was unstoppable, that a research scientist may even have to be assassinated in the name of national security... Especially if all he was blowing the whistle on was Nazi war criminals being executed without trials. Many neo-cons would probably even applaud such actions if they were used against 'Islamo-fascists,' and wouldn't bat an eye if a whistle blower died under mysterious circumstances.

But to dose a rural French village with LSD and then murder a scientist possibly trying to come forward with these deeds? In the minds of most Americans, these are the types of actions that only Communists, Muslims, and hippies are capable of... Maybe some freaks back in the 1960s would consider dosing an entire town with LSD, but most certainly not the good Christian patriots that make up our armed forces and intelligence services.

Except that they did. And for whatever reason, Frank Olson died as a result of it after some odd attempts at interrogation and reeducation. And it is here I leave the Frank Olson story --a strange and terrible journey, one that includes everything from CIA-backed LSD experiments, New Age guru Andrija PuharichJonestown and the Cathers, and even the Corsican Brotherhood of the infamous French Connection; It has allusions to mind control and programmed assassins in addition to a fifty + year disinformation campaign. And lastly, it proves an outline for the vast scale of the US Intelligence community's experiments with LSD and other hallucinogens which involved everyone from rank-and-file soldiers, mental patients, and prisoners to college students, academics, and even completely random individuals. It spanned several continents and likely included thousands if not tens of thousands of test subjects.

It is classic Americana, in other words.


  1. Great analysis. I am always hooked when reading your site!

    The whole area of LSD experimentation by the CIA reminds me of something a friend of mine has told me once. She is an older lady now, but she grew up in the hippy-culture era. While working at the library at Columbus University, Ohio, in the late 60s, she recalls how drugs were easily available to you.

    She says 'they were everywhere, and they were free!'. One evening she remembers how a car pulled up outside the library and dumped a bag (hold-all) full of drugs/LSD and then drove away. The students took the stuff and had a field-day, literally! Drugs were turning up everywhere, you could get them for peanuts...

    ...that is the most telling thing all, don't you think?

    Keep up the good work, I have learned so much from this blog.

    aka Marty

  2. Marty-

    Thank you for your response.:)

    I've read accounts of stuff like you're describing --lost of strange drugs turned up on the streets of several major California cities in those days such STP, a BZ-like substance. Eventually I hope to do a full scale piece on the San Francisco/LA scene and the spooks lurking around the fringes.


  3. Hi.

    I've just started digging into this whole MK-Ultra story. I have one question: Where is Eric Olson today? His website has no links besides this webpage. I do not understand why such important people do not have a blog or something these days.


  4. Mike-

    The main website Eric Olson was running in regard to his father was the Frank Olson Legacy Project, which can be found here. There are some links on this webpage, but it doesn't seem as if Eric Olson has added much for over a decade. According to H.P. Albarelli in "A Terrible Mistake," Eric Olson became quite disillusioned after 9/11, which all but ended interest in the Olson affair for years afterwards. Add in advanced age, and Eric Olson may have decided that he had had enough of the spotlight by that point. Albarelli remarks:

    "The last this author knew, Eric Olson still lived in the small, modest home his parents had built in the early 1950s on a hillside overlooking Camp Detrick, the home that Eric's brother Nils calls 'the ghost house.' When I first visited Eric in 1998, he was living there 'temporarily.'"
    (A Terrible Mistake, pg. 701)

    I hope that helps.