The Frank Olson Legacy Project

The Death of Frank Olson in Historical Context

From “Work-related accident” to “Mind-control murder”

First period: To the death of Frank Olson

First period: To the death of Frank Olson
Third period: From the settlement with the government to the exhumation of the body

Second period: From the death of Frank Olson to the lunch with William Colby

Fourth period: From the Morganthau memo to the end of the affair…
  1888, 1890: Frank Olson’s parents Anders and Frederica emigrate from farms on the west coast of Sweden and settle in northern Wisconsin.

1910: Frank Olson, third child of Anders and Frederica is born in Hurley, Wisconsin. Olson’s father operates an ice business, cutting ice from the lake in the winter and selling it in the summer.

1938: Discovery of LSD.
While searching for a circulatory stimulant Dr. Albert Hoffman synthesizes LSD at the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. After accidentally absorbing LSD through his fingertips, Hoffman concludes that LSD can be an important tool for studying how the mind works.

1940: Frank Olson (age 30) marries Alice Wicks (daughter of a Congregational Minister) whom he met when they were both students at the University of Wisconsin.

1942: Frank receives his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin under Department Chairman Dr. Ira L. Baldwin.

1943: Camp Detrick is established.
Pressured by evidence that the Japanese war machine is vigorously pursuing an horrific CBW program involving terminal experiments conducted upon thousands of Chinese subjects in Manchuria and elsewhere, Camp Detrick is established in Frederick, Maryland as the Army’s top secret center for chemical-biological warfare research. The base is established under the scientific guidance of Dr. Ira Baldwin who invites Frank Olson to join him at Detrick.
Frank Olson becomes one of the first civilian scientists to be employed at Camp Detrick. Frank and Alice move to Frederick, Maryland.

1944: Eric Wicks Olson born; first of three Olson children (Lisa will be born in 1946, Nils in 1948).

1948: Jan Masaryk jumps or is pushed out the window.
March 10, 1948: Czech minister Jan Masaryk dies suspiciously in Prague by jumping or being pushed out the window, thus ending the possibility of a Czech alliance with the West, hardening the lines of the Cold War, and inaugurating a still-unresolved debate about whether Masaryk’s death was a suicide or a murder.

1948: ”Special CBW Operations” (The Baldwin Report).
Oct. 5, 1948: Ira Baldwin writes a report to the War Department on “Special CBW Operations,” in which he recommends the pursuit of special secret research projects relevant to the study of CBW as a means of sabotage, some of them to involve realistic simulations of CBW attacks.

1950: McCarthy speaks in West Virginia.
Feb. 9: Joe McCarthy gives a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia in which he claims that there are 205 Communists in the State Department, thus inaugurating the era of McCarthyism.

“…after a friend of Alger Hiss’s apparently committed suicide by jumping out a window, [Senator Mundt of Indiana] answered a reporter’s request for more names of Communists by answering, ‘We’ll name them as they jump out of windows’...”

—David Halberstam, The Fifties

1950: The Korean War begins..
June 30, 1950: Truman authorizes the use of American troops in Korean. The Korean War begins.

Special Operations Division (SOD) established at Camp Detrick.
Special Operations Division (SOD) established as top secret project at Detrick with Dr. John Schwab as first director. Frank Olson is invited to join SOD. A liaison relationship is established between Detrick’s SO Division and the CIA’s TSS group, with some portion (certainly an increasing part, perhaps eventually all) of SOD’s budget paid by the CIA.

SOD conducts secret tests bacteriological tests over populated areas in San Francisco using live bacteria. Details of this test not revealed for twenty-four years, in June of 1977, when in connection with a law suit it is alleged that civilian deaths in the Bay area resulted from it.

1950: Alice and Frank Olson build a new house for their family near Frederick.

1951: The term “brainwashing” coined.
The term “brainwashing” is used by journalist Edward Hunter to describe techniques that had been used after the Communist takeover in China. The word comes from a literal translation of a Chinese term for reeducation which literally means “wash-brain.”

April 2, 1951: Project BLUEBIRD established at the CIA to pursue research in “special interrogations.”

Aug. 20, 1951: Project BLUEBIRD becomes Project ARTICHOKE. The aims of the new program include emphasis on the use of hypnosis to induce amnesia. New York magician John Mullholland is recruited to consult on this project.

1952: “Germ warfare confessions”.
American servicemen captured in Korea make statements (“germ warfare confessions”) alleging that the US is violating international agreements by using chemical-bacteriological weapons in Korea. Pentagon officials claim that these servicemen have been “brainwashed.”

Frank Olson serves for six months as Chief of the Special Operations Division, stepping down to return to the lab when his ulcer flares up.

Oct. 8, 1952: “The International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China” issues a 700-page reports citing the use of cholera, anthrax, plague, and yellow fever by the US in the Korean War.

During this period Frank Olson remarks to his wife that “If the Germans had won the Second World War my colleagues and I would have been prosecuted for war crimes.” Alice Olson has no idea what her husband might mean by this, but she repeatedly notices how depressed he becomes when, upon the successful completion of SOD’s laboratory experiments, all the monkeys die.

Alan Dulles and mind control.

Feb.1953: Alan Dulles becomes Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

April 10, 1953: Allen Dulles gives a talk to a Princeton alumni in which he emphasizes “how sinister the battle for men’s mind’s has become in Soviet hands.” Dulles says the Soviets have developed “brain perversion techniques” which must be countered at any price. The development of mind control techniques was seen, on the one hand, as a necessary response to alleged Communist expertise in this area and to Communist ideology itself, which was regarded as something like a drug against which the mind was defenseless, and, on the other hand, as an alternative to waging war with atomic weapons, which could lead to thermonuclear annihilation. The mind control effort comes to assume in the early 1950’s something like the urgency that had been associated with the Manhattan Project during World War II.

The birth of MKULTRA.
April 20, 1953: Project ARTICHOKE becomes Project MKULTRA based on a memorandum written by Richard Helms to Director Allen Dulles. The purpose of the new project is to “arrive at a means of control rather than the more limited concept embodied in special interrogations,” and includes the idea of attempting to create a Manchurian Candidate capable of carrying out remote controlled assassinations. The use of LSD in combination with hypnosis is heavily emphasized. MKULTRA is placed under the control of Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, chief of the Chemical Division of the CIA’s Technical Services Staff.

CIA-engineered coup in Iran.
June 1953: The CIA assigns its best Middle East operative, Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt to engineer the overthrown of nationalist Mohammed Mossadegh and replace him with Shah Reza Pahlavi.

July 1953: Frank Olson travels to Paris, England, Scandinavia, and Morocco on government business.
[A document discovered in Frank Olson’s personnel file in July 1994 will contain the following entry:

“4. Trip to Paris and Norway in 1953 (?) and possible fear of security violation. Sources - F. W. Wagner, H. T. Eigelsbach, Robert Lashbrook, and Dr. ________________.* [*Abramson]”

1953: Oppenheimer under suspicion.
July 1953: Lewis Strauss appointed chairman of Atomic Energy Commission. Intense lobbying to have Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance revoked begins.

Aug. 1953: Frank Olson vacations with his family at the family summer house in the Adirondack Mountains. He is observed by his sister-in-law reading the Bible and is apparently going through a period of profound soul-searching and self-examination.

Nov. 16, 1953: Prompted by reports (which turn out to be false) that the Soviet Union has purchased huge quantities of LSD, the CIA arranges to buy ten kilos of LSD (one hundred million doses) from Sandoz.

1953: Coup in Guatemala planned.
Fall 1953: Allen Dulles, Frank Weisner, and Tracy Barnes plan a CIA-engineered coup in Guatemala to overthrow the popularly elected but left leaning Jacob Arbenz government which had appropriated United Fruit Company holdings.

Oppenheimer accused of being a Soviet agent.
Nov. 17, 1953: William Borden of the Congressional Joint Committee Staff on Atomic Energy writes a letter to J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI stating that “more probably than not, J. Robert Oppenheimer is an agent of the Soviet Union.” The persecution of Oppenheimer as a security risk accelerates.

“Deep Creek Rendezvous.”
(Details not revealed until June of 1975, twenty-two years later.)

Nov. 19, 1953 (Thursday): Olson leaves his home in Frederick for a secret meeting at a small cabin on the shore of Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland. This meeting consists of nine people, five from SOD and four from the Technical Services Staff (TSS) of the CIA who maintain a working relationship with SOD. The CIA group includes the chief of TSS group, Sidney Gottlieb, and Gottlieb’s assistant Robert Lashbrook. In the first evening of the meeting Olson is drugged with LSD that has been secretly slipped into a glass of Cointreau. Four others are allegedly also drugged.

Nov. 20 (Friday): Olson returns home from the Deep Creek Rendezvous and is uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn.

Deep Creek aftermath.
Nov. 21-22 (Saturday-Sunday): Olson spends the weekend with his wife and family in Frederick. Olson tells his wife he has made a “terrible mistake.” He promises to explain later what he means by this. He never does. Olson tells his wife that he wants to quit his job and retrain himself as a dentist.

Nov. 23 (Monday): Olson goes to his job at Detrick and tells his boss (Vin Ruwet) that he wants to quit his job. Ruwet reassures Olson, telling him that he is doing a good job and should not quit.

Nov. 24 (Tuesday): Olson goes to work but returns home at 10:00, driven by an SOD driver. Olson tells his wife that Ruwet has told him that Olson might become violent with his wife, and that plans have been made for Olson to be taken to New York to receive psychiatric treatment. Alice accompanies Frank to Washington (a one-hour drive) where he, Ruwet, and Lashbrook leave for New York.

Trip to New York: the “treatment” and death of Frank Olson.
(details from CIA documents obtained twenty-two years later, in June of 1975)

Nov. 24, 1953 (Tuesday): Olson has first meeting with Dr. Abramson, the CIA’s doctor.

Nov. 25 (Wednesday, daytime): Olson is taken by Ruwet and Lashbrook to meet John Mullholland, a magician whom the CIA has utilized to teach them how to surreptitiously slip drugs into drinks. Olson becomes agitated and wishes to leave Mullholland’s house.

Nov. 25/26 (Wednesday/Thursday, night): Olson leaves the hotel room in the middle of the night while Ruwet sleeps in the next bed. Olson wanders the streets on New York all night, throwing away his wallet, his identification, and all money. He is discovered sitting in the morning sitting in the hotel lobby in his trench coat.

Nov. 26 (Thursday, Thanksgiving): The group returns to Washington en route to Frederick where Olson is to spend Thanksgiving with his family. When the group reaches Washington Olson says he is worried that he might become violent with the children, and instead of returning home to his family he says he wants to return to New York to see Dr. Abramson. Ruwet continues to Frederick to tell Olson’s wife that Olson is fine, while Olson and Lashbrook return to New York. Olson and Lashbrook eat Thanksgiving dinner at a Horn and Harddart automat in midtown Manhattan.

Nov. 27 (Friday): Dr. Abramson stops by the hotel in the evening to give Olson a dose of Nembutal and a glass of bourbon.

Nov. 27/28 (Friday/Saturday night): According to Lashbrook’s account to Alice Olson and Dr. Robert Gibson (admitting psychiatrist at Chestnut Lodge Hospital, Lashbrook awakens to see Frank Olson standing in the middle of the room. Lashbrook attempts to speak to Olson. Olson does not answer, but instead runs across the rom and plaunges through the window,

According to the version contained in the Colby documents released in 1975, Lashbrook awakens after midnight when he hears the sound of crashing glass. He then sees that Olson’s bed is empty and, putting two and two together, he concludes that Olson has fallen or jumped out the window. Olson dies in the early morning on the sidewalk of 7th Avenue in front of Statler Hotel. Lashbrook remains in the room and is sitting on the toilet in his underwear when the police arrive.

Go to: Second period: From the death of Frank Olson to the lunch with William Colby