|The Frank Olson Legacy Project|
Corey Ransom paper, part 6
Reacting to the revelations of human rights abuses and cover up in American biomedical research, the Senate Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare lead by Senator Edward Kennedy convened in September of 1975. The committees mission was to "determine the nature and extent" of human subject testing carried out by the Department of Defense and the CIA in past and present, and to extend the jurisdiction of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavior Research, to the Department of Defense and CIA .
of witnesses testified at the hearings including the Commissioner of the
Food and Drug Administration, the Surgeon General for Research for the
Department of the Army, Elizabeth Barrett, the Olson family, Vincent Ruwet,
and Mr. and Mrs. William Chaffin. The Commissioner of the FDA and the
Surgeon General of the Army reassured the panels that the alleged wrong
doings of the past had been discontinued and that contemporary human research
was done under the guidance of modern ethical codes such as the Nuremberg
codes and the Helsinki Codes. Providing a humanistic counterpoint to the
testimony of government officials, Barrett and the Olsons relayed the
stories of Harold Blauer and Frank Olson respectively. William Chaffin
told of his experiences as an Army LSD test subject in the 1960s.
Edward Flowers (who testified at a later date, November 7th) told of his
experiences at a CIA contract hospital in Lexington, Kentucky where he
provided himself as a test subject in exchange for payment of intravenous
Perhaps more important than the testimony was the review and public release of the documents which the CIA had turned over to them several months earlier. Included were documents from the CIAs Inspector General and Security Branchs internal investigations, which had been carried out in secrecy, immediately following Frank Olsons death. Also included, and providing further insight, were documents covering the series of cover-ups. A name frequently appearing in these documents was that of Dr Sidney Gottlieb.
To the Olsons, Gottlieb had meant very little to them until recently. He had been present at Franks funeral, and accompanied Robert Lashbrook (the man who had shared the NYC hotel room with Frank) on a visit to Mrs. Olson. They had known Sid Gottlieb to be a coworker of Franks, but not until the issue of declassified documents did they learn that Gottlieb was an agent of the CIA. Gottlieb, was in-fact, the head of the Chemical branch of the Technical Service Staff (a.k.a. Technical Services Division or Office of Technical Services), which was the CIAs scientific research and development arm. The TSS was the CIA branch which had cooperated with Ft Detricks SOD on project MKNAOMI developing covert biological warfare agents and delivery systems.
was the connection between Ft Detrick and the CIA behavioral control drug
program, revealed in the Rockefeller Commission Report. Not only was Gottlieb
working with SOD on MKNAOMI, but he also was working on a completely separate
behavioral control project. Documents released to the Olsons and the Kennedy
Commission, showed Gottlieb was made head of project MKULTRA on April
13th 1953 by Director Allen Dulles and Clandestine Services Chief Richard
Helms. His assignment was to develop a capability "in the covert
use of biological and chemical materials. Project MKULTRA continued
the drug assisted interrogation programs begun under project BLUEBIRD
but with much greater freedom and scope. The scope of project MKULTRA
was expanded from simple drug-assisted interrogation to behavioral control.
Gottlieb was given wide ranging freedoms in conducting research and experimentation,
and had an enormous budget to work with. Gottliebs MKULTRA projects
would include intricate, extravagant and often times risky experiments,
all within the seclusion of the compartmentalized TSS.
Such was the case with the experiment involving Frank Olson. Gottlieb and his CIA assistant Robert Lashbrook (the man who accompanied Frank Olson to NYC) decided at the Deep Creek Lake retreat to test their new wonder drug on the unsuspecting Army scientists. Their objective was to " ascertain the effect a clandestine application would have an a meeting or conference." After dinner on the second night of the retreat, Gottlieb laced a bottle of Cointreau with LSD from which all (but two) men attending the conference poured drinks. In the following twenty minutes, the atmosphere of the conference changed and Gottlieb revealed that he had administered LSD. According to a document released from the Inspector Generals investigation "they [those attending the conference] all agreed that it was an interesting experiment and there was no adverse comment."
the testimony of Vincent Ruwet suggested otherwise. Ruwet, who was present
at the retreat and unknowingly subjected to LSD, remembered the resulting
trip as "
the most frightening experience I ever had or hope
to have." Ruwet, who would face an "agitated" Frank Olson
the following Monday, further explained, "perhaps this was complicated
by the fact that I did not know what was wrong with me, I suspect Dr.
Olson had the same feelings." The retreat was canceled earlier than
planned because of a lack of focus, "We went home to Frederick, Maryland,
Friday afternoon. I suspect we all had a bad weekend. I did."
testified on the events following the return to work that Monday: "
Olson] informed me that he had decided to resign from his position with
the Civil Service, and he seemed to be quite concerned about committing
a security break. He felt that his performance at the meeting was not
very good. I suggested to Frank that he go home and rest and we could
talk again the following day. My own condition at that point, I guess
was what you might call marginal, but I did have control. The following
morning [Tuesday] he came in, and he was disoriented and it was pretty
obvious to me that he needed help. I got in touch with the agency
Ruwet had contacted Robert Lashbrook (who in turn contacted Gottlieb) seeking help for Olson from the CIA. Lashbrook and Gottlieb decided to take Olson to Dr. Harold Abramson of NYC for treatment. This decision was particularly interesting since Abramsons specialization was in Allergies and Immunology. He did not "hold himself out as a psychiatrist." This was a point of particular interest to the Olson family (in preparing their wrongful death lawsuit) that Gottlieb would seek psychiatric help for Frank from an Allergist. Viewing early reports from the Security Branchs investigation shows just as much confusion for the investigators. Investigators went out of their way to research qualifications for a practicing psychiatrist, and they attempted to trace Abramsons relationship with the TSS. While Abramson had never held himself out as a psychiatrist, he was found to be on a list of contracted physicians hired by TSS to research LSD and in possession of the drug. Sidney Gottlieb would later testify that Abramson had been one of the earliest to investigate LSD (independently) and was one of the first experts on the drug to be contracted by TSS.
Gottlieb had decided to send Olson to Abramson, it was because he was
"providing somebody who knew more about LSD than anybody we [TSS]
knew." This is a suitable explanation, as Abramson was quite experienced
in the effects of LSD, however, it is also likely that Gottlieb chose
Abramson to keep the case compartmentalized within TSS personal. This
would have kept Gottliebs superiors from meddling with his program
and prevented accidental leakage of information. Once Olson died, the
cat was out of the bag, and Gottlieb was not able to keep the Olson case
There was more than just a possibility of a cover-up. There were, in-fact, a series of cover-ups concerning the Olson case. These cover-ups may explain the confusing and conflicting reports found in the documents on the case released by the CIA. Frank Olsons suicide, aside from the tragedy of the loss of human life, created a bureaucratic nightmare for those in the TSS all the way to the top of the CIA. From the moment Frank crashed through the window, a series of cover-ups was created. Lashbrook, leaping from bed, allegedly startled (though this is a point of contention for skeptics,) immediately dialed not the operator, but his superiors at the CIA (both Gottlieb and Abramson.) Minutes later the first security problem arrived, the New York Police Department, they found Lashbrook still in his underwear, and on the phone in the bathroom.
The police, suspecting foul play, began interrogating Lashbrook and searching for evidence. Lashbrooks official government documents and identifications did not deter the NYPD detectives questioning, they wondered what could " be so secretive that Lashbrook would have been justified in being so uncooperative with police officials."
The following day, Gottlieb reported up the chain of command at CIA headquarters in Washington. CIA director Allen Dulles immediately dispatched agents of the Security Branch, CIA "fix it" men, to contain the situation and to begin the internal investigation. The Security Branch agents, already pleased in finding that the Police had successfully killed journalistic curiosity, quickly closed the NYPD investigation. They then concentrated on the internal investigation, which was headed by the Inspector General of the CIA, Lyman Kirkpatrick. This investigation would mark the first time that details of project MKULTRA and the experiment involving Olson left the compartmentalized security of the TSS.
Those involved in the operation were now in a precarious position within the Agency and began diving for cover. Early in the investigation, before the internal (TSS) story was agreed upon, Lashbrook and Abramson downplayed the significance of LSD in the suicide. In a conversation overheard by a Security Branch agent, Lashbrook and Abramson were discussing mental instabilities Olson could have possibly been displaying prior to the suicide that could be fingered as the cause of his breakdown.
speculated (suggested?) that up to a year prior to the suicide Frank could
have displayed symptoms such as guilt (over receiving medical benefits
for his ulcer, something Olson professed to Ruwet after the LSD test),
worries over inadequacy at work, job related stress and marital problems.
They further discussed an idea that Olsons wife had suggested hospitalization
in the prior year. These were attempts made by those closely involved
to deflect blame and to justify the risks taken in administering LSD in
an unwitting experiment. In the end, the Inspector General found the LSD
experiment to be the likely cause of Frank Olsons mental illness
which resulted in his suicide. He would recommend disciplinary action
be taken against Gottlieb, Lashbrook, and Gibbons (the head of TSS and
Gottliebs supervisor) for inadequately managing risk within the
With the Police investigation held off and the internal investigation complete, the last security obstacle was the family and the up-coming insurance investigation. The Olson family had been told that Frank had killed himself. However, many of the details had obviously been withheld, and they were told only that the stress of his work had led to his nervous breakdown. While acknowledged as suicide to Mrs. Olson and the family, Franks death was officially listed as a classified illness on his death records, to satisfy insurance investigators. In addition, listing Franks death as work related would qualify the Olson family for Civil Service benefits, and deter insurance investigators. To expedite the payment of benefits, the Security Branch and TSS pushed the bureaucracy involved in dispensing the Civil Service benefits, thus explaining the unusually quick turn-around time (three days for approval of benefits.)