Ransom paper, part 1

Ransom paper, part 2

Ransom paper, part 3

Ransom paper, part 4

Ransom paper, part 5

Ransom paper, part 6

Ransom paper, part 7

Ransom paper, part 8

Ransom paper, part 9

Ransom paper, bibliography

  The Frank Olson Legacy Project
Corey Ransom paper, part 2

Frank Olson was a biological warfare expert. He was recruited by the US Army from graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in 1943 for his knowledge in airborne diseases. Olson was one of the first waves of scientists hired by the founding fathers of the crash American biological warfare program. The program, which grew out of British and American fears that either Germany or Japan would attack allied forces with such weapons, centered on defensive (protective gear, detection devices, agent dissemination and mortality information) and offensive (agent development, delivery systems, tactics) research. Frank Olson served in the active duty Army Chemical Corps at Camp Detrick Maryland for several years before trading his Army job for a civilian position in the branch. As a civilian he was drafted into a new sub-division created in 1949 called the Special Operations Division, of which he eventually, in 1952, earned the leadership position

The Special Operations Division grew out of a 1948 report stating that the United States had become vulnerable to biological attack by foreign "espionage agents," from which there was little or no defense. The Special Operations Division (otherwise known as SOD) was ordered to determine the effects of a mass attack by enemy secret agents on the general population of the United States. A parallel research project was to determine the effectiveness of biological agents in clandestine operations, such as assassination.

Olson became involved in tests determining the vulnerability of the general population to biological warfare attack and he worked on several large scale and super-secret experiments. One series of tests sought to test the practicality of ventilation systems in the delivery of biological warfare agents. The Pentagon was chosen as the first target and was infiltrated by SOD men dispersing simulant agents from sprayers hidden in suitcases. The simulant agents were found to have been readily spread through the Pentagon by the building’s ventilation systems. These tests proved that specific targets such as buildings or subway systems could provide a self-contained means of spreading biological warfare agents to civilians. The next level of testing explored the vulnerability of cities and even whole regions of the nation to biological warfare attack. The SOD set up tests where simulant bacteria and fluorescent tracer particles were emitted from high-flying aircraft into the large air masses which constantly move across the earth’s surface. These tests proved that pathogens could be released from a single aircraft and could cover vast areas with an equal dosage of biological warfare agent.

The other line of work being carried out in the SOD consisted of development of the covert operations side of Biological Warfare. Much like 007’s secret laboratory of spy goodies, the SOD developed useful delivery systems and specialized agents for use by the intelligence services. The SOD developed a close relationship with the CIA, providing among other items, the shellfish suicide pill, various lethal or incapacitation agents and means of delivery such as the microinnoculator fountain pen, poisoned chewing gum, and an anthrax filled scuba tank. The joint Army-CIA covert biological warfare project fell under, initially, the cryptonym MKDETRIC, later changed to MKNAOMI.

The SOD branch was a rather small, isolated group which seemed to be somewhat tight knit. Frank Olson, while giving up his position as head of SOD due to a chronic ulcer problem, remained a popular figure within the Camp Detrick laboratories. He had an outgoing, upbeat and likeable personality. Many of his co-workers had become his close friends, including Colonel Vince Ruwet (who replaced Olson as SOD chief) whose family often socialized with the Olson family. Olson was also very much a family man. He spent as much time as his intensive work schedule would allow with his wife Alice (whom he’d met at the University of Wisconsin) and three children Eric 9, Lisa 7 and Nils 5.

Several times a year the MKNAOMI portion of SOD would hold a “working retreat” where the Army scientists could plan and brainstorm up-coming projects and requirements with their CIA associates. On Wednesday November 18, 1953, Frank Olson left his home in Fredrick, Maryland to join his colleagues at the remote Deep Creek Lodge in the western portion of the state. Frank returned home earlier than planned, on the evening of Friday, November 20th. As Alice Olson remembers it:

“[He] came back on Friday, and from the time he walked through the door, he was a totally different person. He came in, I would guess about 5 PM, he sat at the dinner table, he didn’t talk to me and he didn’t talk to the children. I said something about the adults in the family not communicating and he said that he would tell me [about it] after the children went to bed. I got the children in bed and he sat there and said ‘ I’ve made a terrible mistake’ and was totally depressed. I didn’t know what was wrong except he said he had made a terrible mistake. And from Friday night until Sunday we had an incredible fog. There wasn’t a glimmer of sunshine, it was foggy for two days and it fit the mood perfectly. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I have never seen anybody--I had never seen him in that kind of mood. And he wouldn’t tell me anything that had occurred except ‘I’m going to have to resign, I’ve made a terrible mistake.’”

That night Alice tried to reassure and reason with him, “Frank, did you ever break security?“
He quickly replied “You know I wouldn’t do that…”

“Did you ever falsify data?”

"Of course not." Having covered what she considered the most serious mistakes he could have made, she was at an even greater loss. He continued to deny all attempts at reassurance, “You just don’t understand” he would counter. He did promise however, to seek guidance from his friend and superior, Vincent Ruwet first thing Monday morning.

Monday morning Alice received a phone call from her husband at work, “I talked to Vin, he said I didn’t make a mistake, everything is fine and I’m not going to resign.” Frank remained at Detrick for the rest of the day, and that night he seemed to be much happier.

Tuesday, however, saw the return of depression and anxiety.

Frank returned from work early to announce that he had consented to psychiatric care. Even more startling was the fact that a coworker, Jim Stubbs, had driven Olson home and had wanted to stay, "because he thought that I [Frank] might do you [Alice] bodily harm." Alice was shocked; she had never seen her husband in such a state "My legs buckled beneath me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing." Later that afternoon, John Malinowski, another SOD scientist who had also been at Deep Creek Lake, arrived to pick up Olson. Frank was to be taken to a specialized government psychiatrist with a security clearance equal to Olson’s, necessary if Olson was to speak his mind openly. Alice opted to ride out to Fort Detrick with Frank and Malinowski before the two men continued on to the psychiatrist. On the way, they decided to stop at a diner for lunch, where Olson would again display disturbing behavior. During the lunch, Malinowski left the table and Frank turned to Alice and said “I can’t eat this food, it’s poisoned.” Alice was stunned, she realized that her once rational husband had developed irrational delusions. After lunch they continued on to Detrick, where Olson was handed over to Vincent Ruwet, who would accompany Frank to the psychiatrist. Frank would be gone for several days, but would be home in time for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day brought Vincent Ruwet, who had returned to Fredrick after turning Frank over to another government man named Robert Lashbrook. He explained that Frank was not ready to return home, that he wanted to spend more time with the psychiatrist. Ruwet informed Alice that it had been decided that Frank would be briefly admitted to the Chestnut Lodge sanitarium in Maryland to afford him some rest and recuperation time. Ruwet and Mrs. Olson went on to discuss Frank’s condition. Ruwet reassured Alice that it was probably just the pressure of the job that had made Frank irrational and that rest would return him to his normal self. Looking back, Mrs. Olson recalled the two discussing "reassuring things I wanted to hear. That he was going to be okay. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be okay." The day after Thanksgiving, Frank called his wife from the Statler Hotel in New York City. He reassured her that he was fine and that he would be home soon. That night, about 3 am, Olson fell from the 13th floor of the Statler Hotel onto the sidewalk of Seventh Avenue.

On the morning of November 29th, Alice Olson received a phone call from Vincent Ruwet and was notified of Frank’s death. She was told that he had "jumped or fell" from his hotel room in New York City. The news was an immense shock to Mrs. Olson. Prior to his return from Deep Creek Lake her husband had been a happy-go-lucky man who had hoped to leave his government job and return to school to become a dentist. She would later state that he had never before shown signs of depression. The illness afflicting Olson during those days in late November were a complete mystery to Mrs. Olson. Literally overnight she had become a widow and was left to deal with the death of her husband while raising her children. Frank’s death was a trauma which would have a lasting effect on the children. With few details about his death and no explanation for his sudden breakdown, Mrs. Olson had little to offer her children although she would later say, “…it had been very important to me that my children not feel their father had walked out on them.”

In the days immediately following Frank’s death, those members of SOD close to the family, particularly Vincent Ruwet, did much to help the widowed Mrs. Olson. They arranged for the government to cover the funeral costs and pushed for Mrs. Olson to quickly receive benefits under the Federal Employee Compensation Act. While it had been acknowledged that Frank had committed suicide, Ruwet and John Schwab (another of Olson’s superiors at SOD) had placed his official cause of death on the compensation claim as a work related illness. This allowed Mrs. Olson to file a claim with the government and a double-indemnity (accidental death) claim with Frank’s life insurance policy. Within three days of Frank’s death, Mrs. Olson had been approved for a government pension equal to 2/3rds of Frank’s salary.

Alice Olson would eventually go back to school, earn a degree and become teacher in order to support her family. She remained in the same house in Fredrick, where she would meet weekly with Vincent Ruwet (who would later become the base commander at Fort Detrick) for drinks and to discuss Frank. She would unfortunately develop a drinking problem which would haunt her until the later portion of her life. The Olson children would grow up under a strained childhood, particularly the eldest, Eric, who was old enough to vividly remember the morning the family was notified of Frank’s death. He would be particularly haunted by the death of his father. Eric would go on to receive a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard and collaborate with renowned psychiatrist Dr Robert Lifton on developing therapy for those who underwent traumatic experiences, including brainwashing.

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