On 28 November 1953, at 2 am, a man crashed through a closed window and fell to his death from the 10th floor of the Statler Hotel in New York City. He was identified as Frank Olson, a bacteriologist with the US Army Research Center at Fort Detrick, Maryland. He had fallen from a room he shared with another scientist, Robert Lashbrook. It was ruled a suicide.
Twenty-two years later, in 1975, William Colby, then CIA director, declassified documents that changed the complexion of the case. It was revealed that Olson had actually been an undercover CIA operative at Fort Detrick, and that one week prior to his death, he had been drinking Cointreau at a high-level meeting with scientists at Deep Creek Lodge in rural Maryland. The Cointreau was laced with a large dose of LSD administered by his CIA boss, Sidney Gottlieb. He was then sent to New York with Lashbrook, also with the CIA, to see a psychiatrist because the LSD had induced a psychosis.
It was also revealed that Olson had been part of the top secret CIA program that was known as Project MK-ULTRA, exploring the use of chemicals and drugs for purposes of mind control, and bacteriological agents for covert assassination. Olson had been working on ways to deliver anthrax in aerosol form, for use as a weapon. New evidence that came to light, through the persistent efforts of Olson’s son Eric, made the suicide ruling highly suspect.
It turned out that Olson had been labelled a security risk by British intelligence after getting upset witnessing human experimentation on a trip to Frankfurt, Germany the previous summer. Eric Olson now believes that his father was drugged and then murdered to make sure that he didn’t reveal the secrets of the MK-ULTRA project. Following the 1975 revelations, the government must have felt more than a little guilt about the affair because Olson’s family was given a 17 minute audience with US President Ford, who apologized to them, and they were awarded damages in the amount of $750,000.
Controlling Human Behavior
The MK-ULTRA program was instituted on 13 April 1953 by CIA Director Allen Dulles, ostensibly to counter the brainwashing techniques of American prisoners being held by the North Koreans during the Korean War, and to duplicate those techniques on enemy prisoners, i.e. the creation of “Manchurian Candidates.” This was the claim used to obtain funding for the project. However, the Prisoner of War brainwashing program was just the tip of the iceberg, and the CIA-sponsored experiments ventured far and wide into areas of Mind Control under the aegis of MK-ULTRA that had little or nothing to do with methods of interrogation.
The Colby revelations were part of a sweeping investigation of the CIA in January 1975 by the “Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States,” chaired by Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller. The subsequent June 1975 Report to the President said: “The drug program was part of a much larger CIA program to study possible means for controlling human behavior. Other studies explored the effects of radiation, electric-shock, psychology, psychiatry, sociology and harassment substances.”
Even though the program got off to a rocky start with the Olson affair, it recovered quickly and became an umbrella project with 149 sub-projects. The overall guiding principal was succinctly stated in an internal CIA memo dated January 1952: “Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature such as self-preservation?”
The drug program came under the aegis of the Chemical Division of the Technical Services Staff headed up by Sidney Gottlieb from 1951 to 1956. Gottlieb was a highly intelligent eccentric who drank goat’s milk, enjoyed folk-dancing, and raised Christmas trees on his farm outside Washington.
The Agency funded LSD research programs at major medical centers and universities including Boston Psychopathic, Mt. Sinai Hospital at Columbia University, University of Illinois Medical School, University of Oklahoma and others. The funding was carried out secretly through the Josiah Macy Foundation, and the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research in Washington, D.C. The CIA claimed the secrecy was necessary to keep it from the Russians, but we have already seen that it was part of much larger project to learn how to control human behavior in general, so this is not credible.
Gottlieb told Dr. Harold Abramson at Mt. Sinai (who just happened to be the psychiatrist that Olson was supposed to see!) that he wanted “operationally pertinent materials [about]: a. Disturbance of Memory; b. Discrediting by Aberrant Behavior; c. Alteration of Sex Patterns; d. Eliciting of Information; e. Suggestibility; f. Creation of Dependence.” That sounds like pretty deep stuff for the spy game. They were really afraid of public reaction and congressional condemnation, especially since the CIA charter did not allow domestic operations, and certainly prohibited experimentation on US citizens.
The callousness of the research is best exemplified by the CIA-funded work of Dr. Harris Isbell, the Director of the Addiction Research Center in Lexington, Kentucky. The drug addict hospital inmates, who were mostly black, were encouraged to volunteer for LSD research in return for hard drugs of their choice or time off their sentences. In most cases, they were given pure morphine or heroin. At one point Isbell kept seven men on LSD for 77 straight days. Many others were on it for up to 42 days.
Concerning extended LSD usage, John Marks in his landmark book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control says about writer Hunter S. Thompson (recently deceased) that he “frightened his readers with accounts of drug (LSD) binges lasting a few days, during which Thompson felt his brain boiling away in the sun, his nerves wrapping around enormous barbed wire forts, and his remaining faculties reduced to their reptilian antecedents.” The recent movie The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp, based on the autobiographical book by Hunter S. Thompson, presents an imaginative re-enactment of his LSD adventures.
The CIA Turns On the Counter-Culture
Not satisfied with university research, Gottlieb recruited New York narcotics agent George White to distribute LSD surreptitiously to the “borderline underworld.” Operating through safe houses in Greenwich Village, Haight-Ashbury and Marin County, White gave doses to prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and other “marginal people” and then observed the results and reported to Gottlieb.
John Marks says they were people “who would be powerless to seek any sort of revenge if they ever found out what the CIA had done to them. In addition to their being unlikely whistle-blowers, such people lived in a world where an unwitting dose of some drug… was an occupational hazard anyway.”
Eventually, White started using it randomly all over New York and San Francisco. Regarding the results, Marks says, “The MKULTRA scientists reaped little but disaster, mischief, and disappointment from their efforts to use LSD as a miracle weapon against the minds of their opponents.” Yet, they continued this program for 10 years until 1963.
Ironically, since the CIA had pretty much cornered the market on LSD internationally, buying up all the product of Sandoz and Eli Lilly, the spread of the drug to the counter-culture was through the Agency. Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsburg and Tom Wolfe were first “turned on” thanks to the CIA, and that’s how the “flower children” became psychedelic.
But, the LSD experiments may have been more successful than Marks realised. They were carefully noting the precise effects on brain chemistry, and in the six areas that Gottlieb was concerned with: memory disturbance, aberrant behaviour, altered sexual patterns, eliciting information, suggestibility and creation of dependence. This became evident when they started using LSD as an adjunct in hypnotic and electronic experiments.