"I would turn our gaze from the past," pronounced CIA Director
George Tenet recently before Congress. "It is dangerous, frankly,
to have to keep looking over our shoulders." Whether Tenet had the
unsolved death of Dr. Frank Olson in mind is not known, but there is little
doubt that it is on his mind today.
Informed sources revealed this week that the Manhattan District Attorney's
Office is reviewing dramatic new evidence in the Olson case. The evidence
is said to involve the Jan. 8, 1953, death of Harold Blauer and its subsequent
Blauer, a widely respected tennis professional, died nine months before
Olson after being injected with a massive dose of a mescaline derivative
at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Blauer was being treated
at the Institute for depression related to a broken marriage, but the
injection was not part of his treatment. It was administered only as part
of a top-secret Army-funded experimental program. The program, codenamed
Project Pelican, was overseen by Dr. Paul H. Hoch, director of experimental
psychiatry at the Institute, who worked in secret collaboration with the
Army Chemical Corps chief of clinical research, Dr. Amedeo Marrazzi.
Born in Hungary and schooled in psychiatry in Germany, Hoch came to the
U.S. in 1933 on a visitor's visa and soon legally immigrated with the
assistance of then-attorney and future Secretary of State John Foster
Dulles. (At the time of Frank Olson's death, Allen Dulles, brother of
John Foster, was head of the CIA.) Before joining the Institute's staff,
Hoch headed the Manhattan State Hospital Shock Therapy Unit and worked
as chief medical officer for war neuroses for the U.S. Public Health Service.
Hoch, along with associates Dr. Harold A. Abramson and Dr. Max Rinkel,
was among an elite group of five private researchers and six U.S. Army
physicians who began quietly conducting LSD experiments in the U.S. in
Rinkel, the man responsible for first transporting LSD into this country,
supplied the drug to Hoch and Abramson in that same year. Rinkel, who
fled Nazi Germany before the war to work at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital,
had known both Abramson and Hoch when all three studied together at the
Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Germany. According to 1998 interviews with
former-CIA official Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, it was Rinkel's close associate,
Dr. H.E. Himwich, along with the Army's Dr. L. Wilson Greene, who first
drew the CIA's attention to the "wonders of LSD."
When he died in 1965, Hoch was eulogized by two of his closest friends,
Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, who would soon be exposed as administrator of some
of the most horrendous CIA-funded experiments on record, and New York
Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.
For nearly five years, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's
cold-case unit has been conducting an unprecedented criminal investigation
into the mysterious death of Fort Detrick biochemist Frank Olson. On Nov.
28, 1953, Olson allegedly dove through a closed and shaded 10th-floor
hotel window in the middle of the night.
He plummeted 170 feet to his death on the sidewalk below. Uniformed policemen,
summoned to the hotel by night manager Armondo Diaz Pastore, discovered
CIA official Robert V. Lashbrook calmly sitting in the room he shared
with Olson. Lashbrook identified himself only as a "consultant chemist"
for the Defense Department and inexplicably told the officers that he
saw no reason to go down to the street to check on his colleague. Lashbrook
also told police that Olson had journeyed to Manhattan to be treated by
Abramson for "depression related to an ulcer."
Two detectives from the 14th Precinct dispatched to the Statler Hotel
were suspicious about what they observed. At first, they suspected they
had a "homosexual affair" gone bad on their hands. Detective
James Ward initially referred to the case as a possible "homocide"
in his report. Ward and his partner, detective Robert Mullee, took Lashbrook
to the precinct house for interrogation. Within less than two hours, Lashbrook
was set loose and the case was closed out as "D.O.A. Suicide."
The final police report makes no mention whatsoever of the CIA or any
drugs, nor does the report on Olson's death filed by the New York City
Medical Examiners Office.
After his release from questioning at the 14th Precinct station, Lashbrook
went to the Medical Examiners office to officially identify Olson's body.
There he was briefly interviewed by a stenographer before returning to
spend another day at the Statler Hotel.
The Olson death remained a suicide stemming from depression for 22 years.
Then in June 1975, a blue-ribbon commission chaired by Vice President
Nelson A. Rockefeller submitted a report on CIA domestic crimes to President
Gerald Ford. In it, under a section headed "The Testing of Behavior-Influencing
Drugs on Unsuspecting Subjects Within the United States," the suicide
of an unnamed man who jumped from a New York hotel after being given LSD
"without his knowledge while he was attending a meeting with CIA
personnel working on the drug project" was briefly mentioned.
The Olson family threatened to sue the government, were granted an Oval
Office audience with President Ford, served a stately luncheon by then-DCI
William Colby at the CIA's Langley, Va., complex, and were generally placated
with a pile of heavily redacted documents pertaining to Olson's "suicide"
and by a 1976 congressionally approved settlement in the amount of $750,000.
At the time, Alice Wicks Olson, Frank's widow, said she "was satisfied
with the settlement" and that her family was ready to move on with
their lives. After decades of doubts and confusion, it appeared that the
strange story had finally found a fitting conclusion.
But then in 1994, Frank Olson's only survivors, sons Eric and Nils, convinced
noted forensic sleuth James E. Starrs of George Washington University,
Washington, D.C., to disinter their father's corpse and scientifically
scrutinize the remains for any signs of suspected foul play.
Working with a team of 15 forensic experts, Starrs quickly discovered
a number of peculiarities in the New York Medical Examiner's 1953 report
written by then-Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Dominick DiMaio.
Starrs noted, "That report was brief and to the point, but it was
a report of what was only an external examination of the remains."
Starrs was troubled that "the accompanying toxicological report only
assayed the presence of methyl and ethyl alcohol, including no drugs of
any kind." This despite that Olson had allegedly been dosed with
LSD and given "nembutal" shortly before his death.
Starrs was even more puzzled to discover that Olson's body lacked any
lacerations on the face and neck. Said Starrs, "This finding stood
in contradistinction to that of Dr. DiMaio in his report of his external
examination of Dr. Olson's remains in 1953." Continued Starrs, "It
is a matter of some consternation how Dr. DiMaio could have reported the
existence of multiple lacerations on the face and neck of Frank Olson
when in truth, there were none."
In addition to these discrepancies in the medical examiner's report, Starrs
discovered a "highly suspicious" hematoma over Olson's left
eye that he concluded was "singular evidence of the possibility that
Olson was struck a stunning blow to the head prior to exiting the window."
There was no mention of this hematoma in the 1953 medical examiner's report.
Armed with Starrs' startling findings, the Olson brothers retained high-powered
Washington, D.C., attorney Harry Huge of Powell, Goldstein, Frazer, &
Murphy, to convince Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau to open
a murder investigation. Earlier in 1975, spurred by the LSD revelations
of the Rockefeller Commission, Morgenthau's office had briefly considered
doing so but for reasons reportedly tied to the Olson family's settlement
decided not to pursue the case. At the same time, DiMaio told reporters
that he had been told nothing in 1953 about Olson being given LSD or having
been brought to New York to see a physician.
DiMaio said that Robert Lashbrook, when questioned by the medical examiner's
stenographer, Max Katzman, failed to say anything about Olson having taken
LSD or that he was under psychiatric treatment. DiMaio also said that
while it "was routine for his office to review the police report
in such cases," the report on Olson's death had "not been forwarded."
Pertinent to note here is that the police report, dated Nov. 30, 1953,
clearly states that Olson was being examined by Abramson for "a mental
ailment" and that Abramson "had advised" that Olson "enter
a sanitarium as he was suffering from severe psychosis and illusions."
On March 31, 1995, attorney Huge sent Morgenthau a 12-page memorandum
that methodically argued why an investigation should be opened. Within
weeks, Morgenthau agreed with Huge's findings and assigned the reopened
case to his newly created cold-case unit headed by seasoned prosecutors
Stephen Saracco and Daniel Bibb.
According to informed sources, newly emerging evidence in the Olson case
revolves around Harold Blauer's death and a number of previously unrevealed
links between the CIA, Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division, or
SOD, Olson's place of work and the New York City Medical Examiners Office.
Cold case prosecutors Saracco and Bibb have learned that, contrary to
long-standing reports, both the CIA and SOD had a direct interest in the
experiments conducted at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Sources
say that Saracco and Bibb have obtained "incontrovertible evidence"
that reveals that CIA officials Lashbrook and Gottlieb, as well as officials
from the New York City Medical Examiner's Office, directly participated
in the cover-up of Blauer's death. Gottlieb was the CIA branch chief that
ordered "the experiment" with LSD that allegedly resulted in
Olson's suicide. In 1986, Lashbrook denied that he had any knowledge about
But a top-secret CIA memorandum obtained by the authors reveals that Lashbrook
knew far more than he claimed. The document, written in January 1954,
details a conversation Lashbrook had with a high-ranking Pentagon official
who telephoned the CIA to inquire if the agency "had heard that the
Chemical Corps was being sued" because "of an incident involving
the use of chemical compounds" at "the New York Psychiatric
Institute, which is affiliated with Columbia University." The memo
states: "A Dr. Paul Hoch was the Institute's principal investigator.
He was carrying out experiments involving the injection of Mescalin [sic]
derivatives into patients. In this particular case the patient died. Relatives
of the deceased have brought the action."
The document goes on to detail that Lashbrook "had been advised of
these facts by Dr. Marrazzi, civilian employee of the Medical Laboratory,"
and that both Lashbrook and Gottlieb advised the inquiring Pentagon officer
that Marrazzi "was keeping [CIA] informed of their various activities
along these lines." The document continues, "Chemical Corps'
contract is for approximately $1,000,000 dollars. We took a $65,000 financial
interest in this place of research around 23 February 1953, after the
referenced incident occurred."
The memorandum goes on to explain that following Lashbrook's telephone
conversation, Gottlieb contacted the Pentagon officer the next day "and
advised him we did not want the Agency's name mentioned in connection
with the case since we were in no way involved." The officer, according
to the memo, "assured" Gottlieb that the Agency "will not
be mentioned and that he would keep us informed." The last several
sentences of the memo read: "Further information supplied by [officer]
was that the lawyer [for the Blauer family] was a military man and had
been advised the case involved military connections. The lawyer stated
he would give the case no publicity. And finally, the reason for [officer's]
contacting the Agency in the first place was to see if we could help them
in any way to hush the thing up. He advised they are now using other channels."
Other recently discovered documents concerning Blauer's death reveal a
more complete portrait of the specifics surrounding the experiments at
the Psychiatric Institute. A 1975 CIA document written by Technical Services
Inspector General, Donald F. Chamberlain, reads: "The Army Inspector
General informed me that the Army's Special Operations Division, Fort
Detrick (the unit that Frank Olson was in) had a contract for two years
with the Psychiatric Institute (1952-53) to test various mescaline-related
and other drugs [including LSD] that the Army was interested in. Blauer
died 2-1/2 hours after an injection of an apparent overdose of 450 milligrams
of EA 1298 [mescaline-related drug]."
That it was Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division that initiated
the secret contracts with the New York State Psychiatric Institute is
significant because the division was established with CIA assistance for
the exclusive purposes of devising biological weapons that, according
to CIA documents, could be targeted "at individuals for the purposes
of affecting human behavior with the objectives ranging from very temporary
minor disablement to more serious and longer incapacitation to death."
These purposes seriously call into question the motivations behind the
"experiment" on Blauer.
Nearly a year before Blauer's death, beginning in 1952, the relationship
between the CIA and Fort Detrick's SOD was formalized through a written
agreement. It was officially referred to as Project MK/NAOMI, an adjunct
to the larger CIA behavior modification program that within months became
known as MK-ULTRA. According to former CIA officials, Project MK/NAOMI
was named after Abramson's assistant, Naomi Busner. Abramson, from 1951
through to at least the late 1960s, served as a high-level researcher
for the CIA and Army. Earlier in 1943-1944, Olson, assigned to Division
D at the Chemical Corps' Edgewood Arsenal, and Abramson worked closely
together on a prototype project involving simulated exercises aimed at
biological-contamination of the New York City water supply.
Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division was the top-secret Chemical
Corps branch that was Olson's assigned place of work at the time of his
death. Contrary to conventional press accounts, CIA-employee Olson was
not a simple research scientist with SOD but was a high-ranking division
administrator holding the titles assistant division chief and director
of plans and assessments. Prior to that, according to military and CIA
records, he served as the division's director of planning and intelligence
activities and as director of the SO division itself for about 12 months.
Documents uncovered by the authors reveal that within 48 hours of Blauer's
death, Dr. Amedeo Marrazzi, the Chemical Corps contract officer for Project
Pelican, traveled to the New York State Psychiatric Institute on Jan.
10 and met with Hoch. According to several documents, Marrazzi instructed
Hoch to do everything possible to conceal the Army's involvement in Blauer's
death. Additionally, documents reveal: "Marrazzi indicated in his
trip report that while he was in New York he prevailed on one of the New
York City Medical Examiners with whom he was well acquainted to place
all the records (regarding Blauer) in a confidential file in the medical
examiners office. Thus the Medical Examiner was informed that Blauer's
death was connected with secret Army experiments, but he was also told
that this information was not to be disclosed." This was the same
office of the New York City Medical Examiner that months later received
the body of Frank Olson.
Contacted at his home, retired medical examiner DiMaio said, "I don't
recall the incident involving Harold Blauer." On Frank Olson's death,
he said, "It was a long time ago. They [the police] told me he was
on LSD and had been acting aberrant and erratic for a while. There was
no reason to do an autopsy."
CIA spokesman Tom Crispwell declined to comment on any of the new evidence
being examined by the District Attorney's Office.
He said, "CIA activities related to the MK-ULTRA program were thoroughly
investigated in 1975 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and
the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research. The CIA cooperated
with each investigation."
Olson family attorney Harry Huge said, "We are monitoring these developments
closely and are very encouraged that we may now have the means to pursue
things further. For obvious reasons, this is an extremely difficult case.
The district attorney's prosecutors have diligently logged hundreds of
hours working on it, and we're anxious about additional findings that
may be forthcoming."
Portions of this article were taken from the forthcoming book, A TERRIBLE
MISTAKE: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Cold War Experiments
by H.P. Albarelli Jr. and John F. Kelly.