The Frank Olson Legacy Project
December 20, 1999
PAUL ROBESON JR.
In the morning of
March 27, 196 1, Paul Robeson was found in the bathroom of his Moscow
hotel suite after having slashed his wrists with a razor blade following
a wild party that had raged there the preceding night. His blood loss
was not yet severe, and he recovered rapidly. However, both the raucous
party and his suicide attempt remain unexplained, and for
the past twenty years the US government has withheld documents that I
believe hold the answer to the question: Was this a drug induced suicide
documents I have already received under the Freedom of Information Act
confirm that my father was under intense surveillance by the FBI and the
CIA in 1960 and 1961, because he was planning to visit China and Cuba,
in violation of US passport restrictions. The FBI files also reveal a
suspicious concern over my fathers health, beginning in 1955.
A meeting I had in
1998 adds further grounds for suspicion. In June of that year I met Dr.
Eric Olson in New York, and we were both struck by the similarities between
the cases of our respective fathers. On November 28, 1953, Olsons
father, Dr. Frank Olson, a scientist working with the CIAs top-secret
MK-ULTRA mind control program, allegedly jumped
through the glass of a thirteenth-floor hotel window and fell to his death.
CIA documents have confirmed that a week earlier Olson had been surreptitiously
drugged with LSD at a high-level CIA meeting. It is expected that a New
York grand jury will soon reveal whether it believes Olson was murdered
by the CIA because of his qualms about the work he was doing. MK-ULTRA
poisoned foreign and domestic enemies with LSD to induce mental
breakdown and/ or suicide. Olsons drugging suggested a CIA motive
similar to the possible one in my fathers caseconcern about
the targets planned course of action.
In this context,
the fact that Richard Helms was CIA chief of operations at the time of
my fathers 1961 suicide attempt has sinister implications.
Helms was also responsible for the MK-ULTRA program. In 1967 a former
CIA agent to whom I promised anonymity told me in a private conversation
that my father was the subject of high-level concern and that Helms and
Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles discussed him in a meeting
events leading to my fathers suicide attempt began when,
alarmed by intense surveillance in London, he departed abruptly for Moscow
alone. His intention was to visit Havana at Fidel Castros personal
invitation and return home to join the civil rights movement. Since the
date set by the CIA for the Bay of Pigs invasion fell only four weeks
after his arrival in Moscow, the CIA had a strong motive for preventing
his travel to Havana.
My father manifested
no depressive symptoms at the time, and when my mother and I spoke to
him in the hospital soon after his suicide attempt, he was
lucid and able to recount his experience clearly. The party in his suite
had been imposed on him under false pretenses, by people he knew but without
the knowledge of his official hosts. By the time he realized this, his
suite had been invaded by a variety of anti-Soviet people whose behavior
had become so raucous that he locked himself in his bedroom. His description
of that setting, I later came to learn, matched the conditions prescribed
by the CIA for drugging an unsuspecting victim, and the physical psychological
symptoms he experienced matched those of an LSD trip.
My Russian being
fluent, I confirmed my fathers story by interviewing his official
hosts, his doctors, the organizers of the party, several attendees and
a top Soviet official. However, I could not determine whether my fathers
blood tests had shown any trace of drugs, whether an official investigation
was in progress or why his hosts were unaware of the party. The Soviet
official confirmed that known anti-Soviet people had attended
By the time I returned
to New York in early June, my father appeared to me to be fully recovered.
However, when my parents returned to London several weeks later, my father
became anxious, and he and my mother returned to Moscow. There his wellbeing
was again restored, and in September they once more went back to London,
where my father almost immediately suffered a relapse. My mother, acting
on the ill-considered advice of a close family friend, allowed a hastily
recommended English physician to sign my father into the Priory psychiatric
hospital near London.
records from the Priory, which I obtained only recently, raise the suspicion
that he may have been subjected to the CIAs MK-ULTRA mind
depatterning technique, which combined massive electroconvulsive
therapy with drug therapy. On the day of his admission, my mother was
pressured into consenting to ECT, and the treatment began just thirty-six
hours later. In May 1963 1 learned that my father had received fifty four
ECT treatments, and I arranged his transfer to a clinic in East Berlin.
Certain key CIA documents
that have been withheld, in whole or in part, would probably shed additional
light on these events. Among the questions to be answered are:
§ Why was Robesons
health such a concern to the government, and why is the FBIs information
on it still being withheld?
§ Was the CIA
implicated in my fathers 1961 suicide attempt?
§ Did the CIA,
in collusion with the British intelligence service, orchestrate his subjection
to mind depatterning?
The idea that thirty-eight years after the original events occurred, the release of these documents could endanger national security should be rejected. On the contrary, the release of the information will improve national security by helping to protect the American people from criminal abuse by the intelligence agencies that are supposed to defend them.
The PBS American Masters documentary on Paul Robeson titled Here I Stand surveys the life and work of this great American artist, scholar, and activist. The documentary also examines the question of Robeson 1961 suicide attempt. Click the icon above to order the video of this excellent film.
the title below to listen to the Pacifica Radio interview with Paul Robeson
Jr. on the question: