Frank Olson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Frank Rudolph Olson
Born (1910-07-17)July 17, 1910
Hurley, Wisconsin, U.S.
Died November 28, 1953(1953-11-28) (aged 43)
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Bacteriologist, biological warfare scientist
Years active 1943–1953

Frank Rudolph Olson (July 17, 1910 – November 28, 1953) was an American bacteriologist, biological warfare scientist, and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who worked at Camp Detrick (now Fort Detrick) in Maryland. At a meeting in rural Maryland, he was covertly dosed with LSD by his CIA supervisor and, nine days later, plunged to his death from the window of a 13th-story New York City hotel room. The U.S. government first described his death as a suicide, and then as misadventure, while others allege murder.[1] The Rockefeller Commission report on the CIA in 1975 acknowledged their having conducted drug studies.


Olson was born in Hurley, Iron County, Wisconsin, and earned both B.S. and Ph.D. degrees (Bacteriology, 1938) at the University of Wisconsin. He married and had three children: Eric, Nils, and Lisa.[2] Olson worked for a time at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and then served as a captain in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps.

As a civilian, he was recruited to Camp Detrick, and to the U.S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories, by the distinguished UW scientist Ira Baldwin, the technical director there. (Baldwin had been his departmental advisor at UW.) At Camp Detrick, Baldwin worked with industrial partners such as George W. Merck and the U.S. military to establish the top secret U.S. bioweapons program beginning in 1943, during World War II, a time when interest in applying modern technology to warfare was high. Olson's duties included experiments with aerosolized anthrax.[3] There were allegations that the US used biological warfare during the Korean War but the government denied this. After 10 years, Olson was a senior bacteriologist at the program.[4]

At some point while assigned as a civilian U.S. Army contractor, Olson began working as a CIA employee with the CIA's Technical Services Staff (TSS), run by Sidney Gottlieb and his deputy Robert Lashbrook.[3] Some of his CIA colleagues were involved in the MKNAOMI-MKULTRA program, previously known as Project Artichoke and, earlier, Project Bluebird. It was a program to explore the possible espionage and military uses of psychotropic drugs.

The author Ed Regis reports that the meeting at which Olson was dosed with LSD took place at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland:

Deep Creek Lake was three hours by car from Camp Detrick. On Wednesday morning, November 18, 1953, about a week before Thanksgiving, a group from the SO Division, including Vincent Ruwet, chief of the division, John Schwab, Frank Olson, Ben Wilson, Gerald Yonetz, and John Malinowski, drove out to the retreat... The Detrick group was met at the lodge by Sid Gottlieb, his deputy Robert Lashbrook, and a couple of others from the CIA....On the second day of the retreat, after dinner, Gottlieb spiked a bottle of Cointreau with a small quantity of a substance that he and his TSS colleagues privately referred to as "serunin" but which was in fact lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.[5]

Olson asked to quit the biowarfare program the week after the retreat:

Ruwet was surprised to see Olson at 7:30 in the morning, but asked him in. Olson told Ruwet that he was dissatisfied with his own performance at the retreat, that he was experiencing considerable self-doubts, and that in fact he had decided he would like to be out of the germ warfare business. He wanted to leave Camp Detrick and devote his life to something else.[6]

Olson subsequently suffered severe paranoia and a nervous breakdown. The CIA sent him to New York City to see one of their physicians, who recommended that Olson be placed into a mental institution for recovery. This was Harold Abramson, an allergist-pediatrician, who was helping the CIA with the psychotropic research into the effects of the drug.[7]

The Hotel Pennsylvania, NYC (called the Hotel Statler in 1953).

The ensuing police report said that on his last night in Manhattan, Olson purposely threw himself out of the window of his tenth-floor hotel room at the Hotel Statler, which he had been sharing with Lashbrook, and died shortly after impact.[4]

Murder and wrongful death allegations


Although Olson's family told friends that Olson had suffered "a fatal nervous breakdown" which resulted in the fall,[3] the family had no knowledge of the specific details surrounding the tragedy until the Rockefeller Commission uncovered some of the CIA's MKULTRA activities in 1975. That year, the government admitted that Olson had been dosed with LSD, without his knowledge, nine days before his death. After the family announced they planned to sue the Agency over Olson's "wrongful death," the government offered them an out-of-court settlement of $1,250,000, later reduced to $750,000, which they accepted.[8] The family received apologies from President Gerald Ford and then-CIA director William Colby.[9]


In 1994, Eric Olson had his father's body exhumed to be buried with his mother.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28] The family decided to have a second autopsy performed. The 1953 medical report done immediately after Dr. Olson's death indicated that there were cuts and abrasions on the body.[29] Theories sparked about Olson having been assassinated by the CIA. When the second autopsy was performed by James Starrs, Professor of Law and Forensic Science at the George Washington University National Law Center, his team searched the body for any cuts and abrasions and found none. Starrs found a large hematoma on the left side of Olson's head and a large injury on his chest. Most of the team concluded that the blunt-force trauma to the head and the injury to the chest had not occurred during the fall, but most likely in the room before the fall. (One team member dissented.[3]) Starrs called the evidence "rankly and starkly suggestive of homicide."[9]

In 1996, Eric approached the U.S. District Attorney in Manhattan, Robert Morgenthau, to see if his office would open a new investigation. Stephen Saracco and Daniel Bibb of the office's "cold case" unit collected preliminary information, including a deposition of Lashbrook, but concluded that there was no compelling case to send to a grand jury.[3] In 2001, Canadian historian and former politician Michael Ignatieff wrote an account of Eric's decades-long campaign to clear his father's name for The New York Times Magazine.[30][24][31][32]

Eric Olson said the forensic evidence of death is suggestive of a method used by the CIA found in the first manual of assassination that says "The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface."[33]


On November 28, 2012, sons Eric and Nils Olson filed suit in the US District Court in Washington, D.C.,[34] seeking unspecified compensatory damages as well as access to documents related to their father's death and other matters that they claimed the CIA had withheld from them.[35][36] The case was dismissed in July 2013, due in part to the 1976 settlement between the family and government.[37] In the decision dismissing the suit, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote, "While the court must limit its analysis to the four corners of the complaint, the skeptical reader may wish to know that the public record supports many of the allegations [in the family's suit], farfetched as they may sound."[38]


Journalist Seymour Hersh in the 2017 miniseries Wormwood, which streamed on Netflix, says the Government had a security process to identify and execute domestic dissidents (perceived to pose a risk). He said that Frank Olson was a victim of this and an ongoing cover-up after his death. If this is correct, then the USG in this case considered an accidental death as a result of illegal human experimentation to be an appropriate, effective, and less-damning cover story than the truth. However, Hersh explained that he cannot elaborate or publish on the facts because it would compromise his source.[33]

In popular culture

  • A 1994 segment on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries explored theories and rumors regarding Olson's death.
  • Two chapters (14, 15) of Jon Ronson's book The Men Who Stare at Goats (2004) relate to the mystery of Olson's death, including Eric's lifelong research project. Ronson spent several days at Eric's house, researching the background and witnessing Eric's most recent investigations.
  • An opera based on the conspiracy theories regarding Olson's death, Man: Biology of a Fall, was composed by Evan Hause from a libretto by Gary Heidt. It premiered in Brooklyn, New York, at Kumble Theater on October 4, 2007.
  • A 2011 segment on the Science Channel show Dark Matters: Twisted But True featured the Olson case with Hank Albarelli connecting it to the 1951 Pont-Saint-Esprit mass poisoning.
  • Netflix released a documentary miniseries, entitled Wormwood (2017), based on the mystery of Olson's death; it was directed by Errol Morris.[39]
  • In February, 2018 a completely revamped website is launched. The new version contains up-to-date information including never seen comments and personal writings from Eric Olson.

See also


  1. ^ Ignatieff, Michael (April 1, 2001). "What did the C.I.A. do to Eric Olson's father?". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  2. ^ "Family Statement on the Murder of Frank Olson". frankolsonproject. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Ignatieff, Op. cit.
  4. ^ a b Seymour Hersh (July 10, 1975). "Family Plans to Sue C.I.A. Over Suicide in Drug Test". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-16. The widow and children of a researcher who committed suicide in 1953 after his participant in a Central intelligence Agency drug experiment said today that they planned to sue the agency over what they claimed was his "wrongful death." 
  5. ^ Regis, Ed (1999), The Biology of Doom: America's Secret Germ Warfare Project; New York: Henry Holt & Company, pg 153.
  6. ^ Regis, Op. cit., pg 157.
  7. ^ Regis, Op. cit., pg 158.
  8. ^ Bob Coen and Eric Nadler, Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail (Counterpoint Press, 2009) p97
  9. ^ a b Brown, Matthew Hay (December 8, 2012). "Six decades later, sons seek answers on death of Detrick scientist". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved September 24, 2016. 
  10. ^ "C.I.A.'s Files on LSD Death Found to be Contradictory". 22 June 2006. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  11. ^ Regis, Ed (1 October 2000). "THE BIOLOGY OF DOOM: America's Secret Germ Warfare Project". Holt Paperbacks. Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via Amazon. 
  12. ^ "Paul Robeson - Here I Stand". 24 August 1999. Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via Amazon. 
  13. ^ Menand, Louis (8 September 2003). "Brainwashed". Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via 
  14. ^ results, search (1 August 1989). "Blowback: The First Full Account of America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Disastrous Effect on The cold war, Our Domestic and Foreign Policy". Collier Books - Macmillan. Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via Amazon. 
  15. ^ Jr, William F. Buckley (11 June 2001). "Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton". Harvest Books. Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via Amazon. 
  16. ^ Endicott, Stephen; Hagerman, Edward (22 November 1998). "The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea". Indiana University Press. Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via Amazon. 
  17. ^ results, search (11 January 2000). "Be Cool". Dell. Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via Amazon. 
  18. ^ results, search (10 December 1996). "The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA". Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 10 May 2018 – via Amazon. 
  19. ^ "Paul Robeson Centennial Celebration". 17 January 1999. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  20. ^ "The Search for the Manchurian Candidate - Chapter 5". 23 April 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  21. ^ "The Search for the Manchurian Candidate". 25 July 1997. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  22. ^ "Center for Biomedical Ethics". 20 May 2000. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  23. ^ "The New Yorker: The Critics: A Critic At Large". 9 September 2003. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^ "Error -". 12 April 2016. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  26. ^ "Mid-century deaths all linked to CIA?". Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  27. ^ "WND - A Free Press for a Free People". Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ Ignatieff, Op. cit.
  31. ^ ""The Man Who Knew Too Much" (GQ, Jan 2000)". 5 February 2002. Retrieved 10 May 2018. 
  32. ^ Michael Ignatieff. "Who Killed Frank Olson?" The New York Review of Books pdf
  33. ^ a b "Errol Morris's "Wormwood" Descends Into Time-Killing Conspiracy Fanfic". Retrieved 2017-12-17. 
  34. ^ The case was Olson v. U.S., 12-cv-01924, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
  35. ^ "Family Sues US Over Scientist's Mysterious Death". AP. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  36. ^ McVeigh, Karen (29 November 2012). "CIA sued over 1950s 'murder' of government scientist plied with LSD". London: The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 12 January 2013. 
  37. ^ Gaines, Danielle (18 July 2013). "Lawsuit by family of drugged Detrick employee dismissed". Frederick News-Post. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  38. ^ Schoenberg, Tom (17 July 2013). "CIA Cover-Up Suit Over Scientist's Fatal Fall Dismissed". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  39. ^ Scott, A.O. (2017-12-14). "Review: 'Wormwood' Confirms That Errol Morris Is Our Great Cinematic Sleuth". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-12-15. 

Further reading

External links

  • Scott Shane, "Son probes strange death of WMD worker", first published in The Baltimore Sun (September 12, 2004)
  • The Frank Olson Project - explores the circumstances of Olson's death and the political and ethical issues embedded in them
  • LSD A Go Go on YouTube, Short documentary about the Frank Olson case
  • audio interview with Olson's sons, Part 1
  • audio interview with Olson's sons, Part 2
  • "Did the CIA Drug Paul Robeson? – a Look at the Secret Program Mk Ultra" Part 1. 23:16 minutes. Amy Goodman interviews Paul Robeson, Jr., Dr. Eric Olson, Martin Lee. Democracy Now!. Thursday, July 1, 1999. Retrieved August 22, 2010.
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Frank Olson"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA