The Frank Olson Legacy Project

M E M 0 R A N D U M

TO: Eric Olson
FROM: Gordon Thomas
c.c.: To Whom Else It Concerns
DATE: 30th November 1998

This memo sets out the information provided by both Dr William Sargant, consultant psychiatrist, and William Buckley, former Station Chief of the CIA in Beirut, Lebanon. Both believed your father was murdered by the CIA. To judge my credibility in accepting this claim I begin with:

I am the author of thirty eight books published world wide. Total sales exceed 45 million copies. Five of my books have been made into successful motion pictures, including the Academy Award winning Voyage of the Damned. My other awards include the Critics; and Jurys' prizes at the Monte Carlo Film Festival, an Edgar Allen Poe Award and three citations from the Mark Twain Society for Reporting Excellence.

I have written a number of non-fiction books dealing with the activities of various intelligence agencies. in 1998 1 wrote and presented for Britain's Channel 4, “The Spying Machine”, a major television documentary in which for the first time key members of Mossad appeared, describing their work. My latest book on the Israeli service, “Gideon's Spies,” to be published by St Martin's Press in New York, will be published in 40 countries in April 1999.

In the 1950/60 period that is relevant to the events surrounding your father, I was a senior BBC writer/producer employed by the Science Department. Dr Sargant was engaged by me as a consultant for a number of programmes. A relationship developed between us that became close and remained so until his death in 1988.

The first lesson I learned during what has been a quarter of a century of writing about secret intelligence is that deception and disinformation are its stock-in-trade, along with subversion, corruption, blackmail and sometimes assassination. Agents are trained to lie and to use and abuse friendships. They are the very opposite of the dictum that gentlemen do not read each other's mail.

I first encountered their behaviour while investigating many of the great spy scandals of the Cold War: the betrayal of America’s atomic bomb secrets by Klaus Fuchs and the compromising of Britain's M15 and M16 by Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby. Each made treachery and duplicity his byword. I also was one of the first writers to uncover the CIA's obsession with mind control, a preoccupation the Agency was forced to confirm ten years after my book on the subject, Journey into Madness, appeared. Denial is the black art all intelligence services long ago perfected.

Nevertheless, in getting to the truth, I was greatly helped by two professional intelligence officers: Joachim Kraner, my late father-in-law, who ran an M16 network in Dresden in the post-World War II years, and Bill Buckley who was station chief of the CIA in Beirut in the 1980s. Both constantly reminded me that a great deal can be heard from what Bill called “murmurs in the mush;” a deadly skirmish fought in an alley with no name; the collective hold-your breath when an agent or network is blown; a covert operation which could have undone years of overt political bridge-building; a snippet of mundane information that completed a particular intelligence jigsaw. Through them I made contacts in a number of military and civilian intelligence agencies, Germany's BND and France's DGSE; the CIA; Canadian and British services. Later that network extended to include members of Israel's security services including senior members of Mossad.

It is these contacts who have helped to reinforce the belief of both William Sargant and Bill Buckley that your father was murdered. I am assured that because of the highly unusual circumstances of your father's death, the details have remained on file with several of the above-mentioned agencies, specifically the Mossad. The circumstances surrounding the death are taught as a case study at the Mossad Training School outside Tel Aviv. This has been confirmed by two former Mossad agents, Ari Ben-Menashe and Victor Ostrovsky.

Let me now turn to the specific information that both William Sargant and Bill Buckley provided me with on separate occasions over a number of years. At that time they were both alive and spoke on the usual understanding we had: that what they had to say would not be directly sourced to them. Both made a specific request that I should not publish ‘in any form’ what they told me about your father’s death because, as they believed they were among the few who knew the true circumstances, publication of such information could almost certainly be traced back to them. Given the circumstances they outlined, the outcome for either of them could be severe.

So: First to William Sargant,

At the time we spoke of your father, Dr Sargant was Director of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, England. He was also a consultant to the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI5/6), largely because of his work in the eliciting of confessions by the Soviets. His conclusions can be found in his textbook “Battle for the Mind”; it remains a standard work on the subject of mind control

Because of my own family connections (detailed above), I was able to gain the trust of Dr Sargent. This developed during the time I used him in various documentary programmes for the BBC. It was during that period (1968169), that I first began to explore with him his own relationship with both M15/6 and the CIA. He told me lie had visited Langley several times and had met with Dr Sydney Gottlieb, Richard Helms and other senior CIA officials. During those visits he had also met with Dr Ewan Cameron and, on one occasion, he had met Dr Lashbrook and your father, Frank Olson.

Subsequently Dr Gottlieb and Frank Olson visited London and, according to Dr Sargent, he accompanied them to Porton Down, Britain's main research centre for biological/chemical research. Dr Sargent's interest in the work going on there was to study the psychological implications of mind-blowing drugs such as LSD.
He told me that he developed a rapport with Frank Olson during a number of subsequent visits Frank Olson made to Britain. Dr Sargant remarked that "he was just like any other CIA spy, using our secret airfields to come and go". Evidence in support of that can be found in Frank Olson's passport.

During this period (1953/5), Dr Sargant had met several more times with Dr Ewan Cameron, both in Washington and in Montreal, Canada. Cameron was engaged in secret experimental work for the CIA (details of that can be found in my book Journey into Madness).

Sargent said he knew that Frank Olson and Cameron knew each other and that Frank Olson also shared his (Sargant's) view that some of the work Dr Gottlieb was funding Cameron to do through the Human Ecology Foundation (a CIAfront Organisation, was bordering on the criminal.

During the research and writing of Journey into Madness, Dr Sargent and I met on many occasions, perhaps as many as 20. During that time he gave me much valuable material relating to the work of Dr Cameron and insights into what he knew of Dr Gottlieb, Richard Helms and, of course, the death of your father.

By then, Dr Sargant was physically not a well man but his memory was still good. He could remember exact details with compelling clarity; for instance we once had a somewhat esoteric; conversation on how Patty Hearst (whom he had seen during her trial as an expert witness) would have survived some of the techniques that the CIA had developed in mind control.

From time to time, he referred to the death of your father and, as I clearly recall, he said his paperwork on the case had been handed over to the competent authorities in the British Secret Intelligence Service.

Time and again Dr Sargant expressed the view that, from all he had learned from the M15 and his own contacts in Washington, there was a strong prima facie case that Frank Olson had been murdered. Sargant believed that Frank Olson could also have been given a cocktail of drugs that included more than LSD. He said he knew that Dr Gottlieb had been researching into slow-acting depressants which, when taken, could drive a person to suicide.

He also believed that, from his own meetings with Frank Olson, there was a very real possibility that your father could become a whistle-blower if he believed that what was happening was wrong.

After my book was published, I continued to meet with Dr Sargent. At that time, I was hoping to see a new edition of the book published (this was not to be) and I wanted to get Dr Sargant's permission to use all he had told me in a new edition. He said I could only publish what he had said after his death. He died in 1988. This Is the account he gave me of your father's death which I now feel free to make public.
in the summer of 1953 Frank Olson travelled to Britain, once again to visit Parton Down. Sargent met with him. Olson said he was going to Europe to meet with a CIA team led by Dr Gottlieb. By then Sargent had learned that Frank Olson was acting deputy head of SO (Special Operations).

Sargent was satisfied that the CIA team were doing similar work that M16 were conducting in Europe - executing without trial known Nazis, especially SS men. (One of the survivors of the British “hit squad” is Peter Mason who lives in Montana: I know nothing about him).

Sargant saw Frank Olson after his brief visit to Norway and West Germany, including Berlin, in the summer of 1953. He said he was concerned about the psychological changes in Frank Olson. In Sargent's view Olson, primarily a researchbased scientist, had witnessed in the field how his arsenal of drugs, etc. worked with lethal effect on human beings (the “expendable” SS men etc.). Sargant believed that for the first time Olson had come face to face with his own reality.

Sargant told me he believed Frank Olson had witnessed murder being committed with the various drugs he had prepared. The shock of what he witnessed, Sargent believed, was all the harder to cope with given that Frank Olson was a patriotic man who believed that the United States would never sanction such acts. Part of that assumption was formed by Sargent because he had come to see Frank Olson as a somewhat naive man: "locked up in his lab mentality" was, I recall, one of the phrases Sargant used.

I remember Sargent telling me that he spoke several times in 1953 with Frank Olson at Sargent's consulting rooms in Harley Street, London. These were not formal patient/doctor consultations but rather Sargent trying to establish what Frank Olson had seen and done in Europe.

Dr Sargent's own conclusion was that Frank Olson had undergone a marked personality change; many of Olson's symptoms — soul searching, seeking reassurance etc. were typical of that, Sargent told me.

He decided that Frank Olson could pose a security risk if he continued to speak and behave as he did. He recommended to his own superiors at the SIS that Frank Olson should no longer have access to Portion Down or to any ongoing British research at the various secret establishments Olson had been allowed prior free access to.

Sargent told me his recommendation was acted upon by his superiors. He was also certain that his superiors, by the nature of the close ties with the CIA, would have informed Richard Helms and Dr Gottlieb of the circumstances why Frank Olson would no longer be given access to British research. Effectively a substantial part of Frank Olson's importance to the CIA had been cut off.

When Dr Sargant learned of Frank Olson's death — I recall him telling me it came in a priority message from the British Embassy in Washington Sargant came to the immediate conclusion that Olson could only have been murdered. I recall him telling me that in many ways the staged death was almost classic.

BILL BUCKLEY, Station Chief of the CIA in Beirut (1983).

Again through my family connection and the contacts I had established independently with various Intelligence services, I came to know Bill Buckley. (see pp Chap 4, “Journey into Madness”). At various stages in our friendship the question of Frank Olson's death came up.

I told Bill what Dr Sargant believed. Bill said that Sargant was right but that he was sure that Richard Helms and Sydney Gottlieb would have ensured that nothing would ever be proven. Buckley described both men as expert in hiding or destroying evidence.

I hope this helps to set the record straight.
Gordon Thomas


For Gordon Thomas Web site go to:


Also by Gordon Thomas:

THE PARENT'S HOME DOCTOR (with lan D Hudson, Vincent Pippet)
TURN BY THE WIN DOW (with Ronald Hutchinson)
THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED (with Max MorganWitts)
EARTHQUAKE (with Max MorganWitts)
SHIPWRECK (with Max MorganWitts)
VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED (with Max MorganWitts)
THE DAY GUERNICA DIED (with Max MorganWitts)
ENOLA GAY/RUIN FROM THE AIR (with Max MorganWitts)
TRAUMA (with Max MorganWitts)
PONTIFF (with Max MorganWitts)
THE YEAR OF ARMAGEDDON (with Max MorganWitts)
THE TRIAL: The Life and Inevitable Crucifixion of Jesus


EMMETT (With Gordon Parry)
ENSLAVED (With Jeff Bricmont)