The Frank Olson Legacy Project

William Colby

Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA


(Simon and Schuster, 1978, pp. 425-426.)  


But on one point the Rockefeller Commission’s report did add—unintentionally—to the sensationalism swirling around the CIA. That was on the death of Frank Olsen. Indeed, even the CIA professionals, myself included, were shocked and shamed to learn of the true circumstances around this CIA officer’s suicide, as revealed in the report, following his being administered LSD without his knowledge in 1953 in a joint CIA-Army test program. I had been aware that a death had occurred in this program. The program itself, which was designed to determine the effects and possible uses of LSD by hostile intelligence or political forces, was listed among the “family jewels” as one of the CIA’s past questionable activities. But the Agency’s records indicated that steps had been taken in 1953 to ensure that Olson’s suicide was treated as a line-of-duty death and that appropriate arrangements were made to take care of his family.

Thus it came as a shock when the Olsen family, identifying the incident from the published Rockefeller Commission Report, stated that this was the first they had heard of the circumstances and specifics of Olson’s death. The official reaction was immediate. President Ford extended his and the nation’s regret and instructed that recompense be made. I made a particular point of contacting the family and extending the CIA’s very sincere apologies for the tragedy and did everything I could to push through the appropriate and acceptable recompense. But one of the most difficult assignments I ever had was to meet with his wife and his now-grown children to discuss how to give them the CIA records and thus open up and overcome a twenty-year secret that had had such an impact on their lives.