|The Frank Olson Legacy Project|
Corey Ransom paper, part 9
In the light of the 1977 revelations of Camerons contract with the CIA, it was obvious that Mrs. Orlikow had been subjected to experimental brainwashing rather than conventional patient treatment. With Cameron dead, the Orlikows decided to bring suit against the CIA. They hired civil-libertarian and renowned attorney Joseph Rauh (who employed a notable list of associates in the case) in an attempt to gain compensation and personal justice. They also sought to confront the CIAs notorious reputation for operating above the law. Rauh and associates saw the case as a means to further public interest as well; to hold " the executive branch legally accountable in the courts [as] a key means of protecting our civil freedom," to extend the law and provide a deterrent to the " most secret and deceptive part of the federal government."
Orlikow case represented another chance to for the Olson family to learn
more about the circumstances surrounding the death of their father and
to confront those who had been involved. The Frank Olson case would play
an essential part in the plaintiffs argument against the government.
1979, as Rauh and his team prepared to open the case, other former Cameron
subjects came forward and were included in the civil action. Eventually
nine subjects would be included in the suit, all innocent patients that
had been admitted for treatment to the Allan hospital for common mental
ailments such as depression, alcoholism, and anxiety. They had been subjected
to treatments as bizarre and unusual as intensive electro-shocks, repeated
injections of LSD (up to 20-30 times), psychic-driving, sensory deprivation
and isolation, and prolonged drug-induced sleep (usually for one month,
but in some cases as long as two or three.) Not one patient or family
member of a patient ever gave consent to experimental treatment outside
of that which was routine and normal.
unwitting subjects in medical and biological experiments was (and is)
in direct violation of the Nuremberg Codes. This would become a key part
of the argument for the Plaintiffs in proving the CIA negligent. The Nuremberg
Codes had been constructed following the Second World War in light of
inhuman Nazi medical experiments as a standard for future experimentation
involving humans. The Codes provided a "comprehensive articulation
of ethical standards for medical experimentation," a means of determining
what is normal, useful and humane research. By showing that the CIA sponsored
experiments which violated the Nuremberg Codes, the Orlikow lawyers had
hoped to show negligence in that the CIA flagrantly violated widely accepted
Further, the Orlikow team hoped to use evidence of other MKULTRA experiments to show further CIA negligence in the up-coming trial. They hoped to show that those men who oversaw the Cameron experiments and the entire MKULTRA program had a long history of operating above the law and below the accepted standard of ethical and humane research. Gottlieb and Lashbrook, and those in the know at TSS would become the focus of this attack.
The Orlikow team would spend much of the early 1980s building their case upon the research previously done by John Marks and his associates for The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. They used evidence of other MKULTRA experiments such as George Whites safe house experiments to show that TSS had violated acceptable ethical standards. They used evidence that Gottlieb had participated in and perpetuated CIA assassination plots to paint Gottlieb as a man who operated on the fringe of morality. But the main thrust in proving negligence on the part of the CIA was through the reconstruction of the Frank Olson case. The events surrounding the death of Frank Olson, which had occurred three years prior to Cameron receiving his CIA funding, was ripe with examples of negligence on the part of those involved at all levels of the CIA.
The fact that Gottlieb and Lashbrook, the two men most responsible for the Deep Creek Lake experiment, were still running the behavioral control project without any major change in disgression or procedure showed negligence on the part of higher ranking CIA officials. Despite an internal investigation which found members of TSS responsible for the nervous breakdown and death of Frank Olson, there was no recourse other than the issue of letters of reprimand. Project MKULTRA itself, also the subject of internal scrutiny, had not been abandoned or brought into compliance with moral and ethical guidelines. In fact the program and its illegal and unethical experiments were widened following the Olson case with the opening of the San Francisco and New York City safe houses and the expansion of contract work (including Camerons contract.)
point further showed negligence at high levels of the CIA. Additionally,
at least six different official apologies or admissions of responsibility
were received from members of the CIA or government, for the experimentation
and resulting death of Frank Olson.
With the Orlikow attorneys building a substantial case and preparing to enter the trial phase, the CIA begun a series of legal maneuvers designed to delay and drag the case out over a long period of time. It was now the mid 1980s and the nine former patients were elderly and most were very ill. The CIAs best defense was to wage a war of attrition and hope that the plaintiffs would die off before the case could reach trial. The CIA attorneys were able to delay through a series of appeals and legal roadblocks (with the assistance of an inefficient judge) the opening of the trial phase for three years. Over the course of those three years, one plaintiff Florence Langleben, passed away. Another plaintiff, Dr Mary Morrow, had her case dismissed due to technicalities.
The lead attorney for the patients, Joseph Rauh (who was also elderly) was sidelined by a severe heart attack. By 1988 however, most of the CIAs obstacles had been breached and with the trial phase about to begin, the plaintiffs attorneys found themselves considering a new option. They found through various inside sources that the main faction of opposition to settlement of the case was at the operational level of the CIA. These were the people engaging in contemporary covert operations and they felt that any favorable trial judgement for the former patients would result in interference in operational capability and leave them vulnerable to future liability for their actions. Therefore the pressure was on the CIA attorneys to not allow the case to go to trial.
However, in 1987, a new CIA Director was appointed, former Federal Judge William Webster. Webster, who was an outsider to the CIA and had experience with human rights issues, was open to negotiation. This provided the plaintiffs attorneys with one last, quick means of settlement before a long and painful trial. While a settlement would sacrifice the public interest aspect of the case (providing the means of legal change,) the aging plaintiffs would receive their award quickly and with out the trauma of having to go through a trial (and the possibility of years of further litigation.)
2, 1988 the CIA awarded a settlement of $750,000 to the seven remaining
plaintiffs involved in the case. The case provided some closure for those
who had been test subjects at the Allan hospital. It also placed the plight
of human test subjects and CIA covert operations back in the public spotlight
as the case received substantial media attention (particularly in Canada.)
The case perhaps also provided some closure for Mrs. Olson who finally
was able to tell her story in court.
For Eric Olson however, the 1980s did not present a time for closure. He was becoming more and more suspicious that the official story was just another cover-up. Ever since the story had broken, the case had been a nagging issue for Eric (who had become the primary spokesperson for the family on his fathers death.) The night he spent in the Statler hotel and the information relayed by Armond Pastore only made him more passionate about uncovering the truth. During the mid 1980s Eric Olson was able to personally confront both Sidney Gottlieb and Robert Lashbrook. In both visits the former CIA men seemed to be very nervous and hostile, perhaps as if they had something to hide.
in an interview for a recent article, Olson revealed that in his visit
with Robert Lashbrook, Lashbrook slipped and stated that Sidney
Gottlieb had been present in New York City the night his father had died.
Lashbrook had always been a loose piece of the puzzle, and from the very
beginning could never quite get his story straight. Whether this was merely
a confusion of facts (Lashbrook was now an elderly man) or a slip on a
cover story, it further raised suspicion. If Gottlieb had been present
in New York City, why had it never been mentioned in any document or testimony?
Could the presence of the director of MKULTRA, and a man connected to
known assassination plots suggest something deeper than an experiment
Several years later in an article published in a popular magazine, one of George Whites former assistants in Midnight Climax revealed that Frank Olson might have been pushed from the hotel window. Eric Olson would later hunt down the man, Ike Feldman, and questioned him about his statement. Feldman suggested that Frank Olson might have been revealing classified information and that he may have been killed. This sparked Eric Olson to pursue an all-out private investigation of his fathers death. In 1993, Alice Olson passed away, and Eric, who had kept his investigation subdued to protect his mother, arranged for his fathers death to be reviewed by professional criminal anthropologists.
The team of scholars, who specialize in scientifically reconstructing crime, was headed by James Starrs of George Washington University. Starrs arranged for Frank Olsons body to be exhumed and autopsied in1994. He and two other independent examiners found on the well-preserved body injuries consistent with the fall as reported by Pastore and the original autopsy. However, no abrasions or glass cuts consistent with a dive through a window were present (Pastore and the police reports specifically state that the window was broken, and Lashbrook reported that Olson dove through the window.)
Furthermore, the examining team found a previously unreported contusion on the forehead. While the other two examiners found that the wound would be consistent with a dive through a window, Starrs disagreed and believed the blow was consistent with a strike from a blunt object such as a hammer. Starrs went further in his attempt to recreate the death of Frank Olson. He scientifically proved that in the tiny hotel room, there was not quite enough running space for a man to build up enough speed to dive through the window. Starrs also showed that a swing to the head with a hammer or other such object would leave a bruise in a location consistent with the mysterious mark on Olsons body. A year later Eric Olson would make a documentary find which lends some credence to Starrs theory. Olson found a CIA assassination manual which described one technique of murder which consisted of rendering a subject unconscious with a blow to the head, then dumping the body from a high location, therefore making it appear as a suicide.
in light of this new found evidence in conjunction with the findings of
Starrs investigation, New York District Attorneys Steven Saracco
and Robert Morgenthau decided to reopen the Olson case as a possible homicide.
The attorneys have concentrated their investigation on Robert Lashbrook
and Sidney Gottlieb. While they eventually compelled Lashbrook (who was
a hostile witness) to testify secretly behind closed doors, the case has
since been crippled by the death of Sidney Gottlieb on March 7th, 1999.
In a recent article published in GQ magazine, it was revealed that
the circumstantial evidence could be strong enough to indicate murder,
and that such an official realization could open up the door for future
litigation against the CIA. For the time being however, much of this evidence
is still secretly locked in Grand Jury.
As for a motive as to why the CIA would want to kill Frank Olson, there are several theories. One theory, based on a CIA document uncovered by Eric Olson suggests that the CIA had planned to assassinate fifty-eight Guatemalan officials. Perhaps biological weapons developed under MKNAOMI were to play a key role in this plot and Olson had some reservations. Another theory contends that Olson had been involved in project MKULTRA and that he had objections to certain moral aspects and that he either "wanted out" or had leaked vital information to expose the program.
information has yet to be discovered or released to the public (by either
the CIA, the NY District Attorney, the Grand Jury, or Eric Olson.) Evidence
of murder, however, would not be a complete surprise, as layers of secrecy
surrounding what went on inside TSS and MKULTRA are gradually uncovered.
Perhaps, conspiracy theories aside, if Frank Olson was murdered, it may
have been for the simplest reason. Following his Deep Creek Lake experiment,
Sidney Gottlieb may have found himself with a man who was so ill that
it was a threat to his programs secrecy. The death of Frank Olson
may have been a means to an end, the end of the threat to MKULTRA.
The motive for Frank Olsons murder, however, is based on speculation. Examining the facts of the incident, the violation of Frank Olsons life by careless government officials; there are important points to be made. Frank Olson was the victim of a system which, at the time, was driven by the fear of Communist invasion and subversion. The fear was so great that American policy makers allowed the defense establishment greater freedom in countering that threat. In many cases throughout Cold War history, if the sacrificing of a few peoples civil rights meant the containment of Communism, those in the defense establishment felt that it was worth the cost.
violation of moral and ethical standards had often been seen as minor
corners to be cut if it meant protecting Western Democracy. However, the
vast majority of American policy makers and the American people would,
no doubt, have rejected such horrific and hypocritical justifications
as violations of basic democratic ideals.
To avoid future MKULTRAs, policy makers must hold a basic respect for human rights and civil liberties. They must avoid letting fear and paranoia drive their decision-making. They must hold the executioners of their policies accountable as well. This can be accomplished through public disclosure of information and by an alert and aware public, which may be the most important lesson from the story of Frank Olson. Over the past thirty years, Americans have been subjected to numerous scandalous revelations about the wrongdoings of government. People must avoid becoming complacent. The public must remain outraged at each revelation, and they must demand accountability.