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CIA Accused of Coverup in Military Scientist’s 1953 Fatal Fall

Last modified: 11/29/2012 11:57:01 PM
CIA employees murdered military scientist Frank Olson in 1953 after he raised concerns about testing chemical and biological weapons on human subjects without their consent, according to a lawsuit brought by his two sons.

Eric and Nils Olson, in a complaint filed Wednesday against the United States in Washington, said the agency has covered up the cause of their father’s death for 59 years. Frank Olson, who the CIA admitted was given LSD a few days before his death, didn’t jump from a 13th-floor window of the Statler Hotel in New York City, but rather was pushed, they claim.

Assassination manual

“The circumstances surrounding the death mirrored those detailed in an assassination manual that, upon information and belief, the CIA had drafted that same year,” Scott Gilbert, a lawyer for the Olsons, wrote in the complaint.

Olson’s family has tried to piece together how Frank Olson died and the circumstances surrounding his death ever since a 1975 government report on CIA activities in the U.S. said that he committed suicide after being given LSD without his knowledge.

The family’s lawsuit includes one claim of negligent supervision by the agency and requests that damages be decided at trial.

CIA spokesman Preston Golson said in an emailed statement that the agency doesn’t comment on pending court cases. He said that the agency’s covert behavioral research program known as MK-ULTRA was investigated in 1975 by the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee, and in 1977 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research.

“Without commenting on this specific legal matter, CIA activities related to MK-ULTRA have been thoroughly investigated over the years, and the agency cooperated with each of those investigations,” Golson said. “In addition, tens of thousands of pages related to the program have been declassified and released to the public.”

Olson’s sons said in the suit they have asked repeatedly “to be told the truth” about their father’s death and “each time, the government has responded with falsehoods.”

Frank Olson was a bioweapons expert with a special operations division of the Army’s biological laboratory who specialized in aerobiology. Since 1950, Olson’s division worked closely with the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the lawsuit.

In 1953 Olson traveled to Europe visiting biological research facilities in London, Paris, Norway and West Germany.

‘Extreme interrogation’

During the trip he witnessed “extreme interrogations in which the CIA committed murder using biological agents that Dr. Olson had developed,” according to the lawsuit, which cites statements from Williams Sargent, a psychiatrist who consulted for the British intelligence agency MI6 and worked with Olson in Europe.

“Concerned that Dr. Olson had serious misgivings related to those murders and might therefore pose a security risk, Dr. Sargent recommended to his superiors that Dr. Olson no longer have access to classified research facilities in Britain,” according to the complaint.

Someone at the CIA also placed a memorandum in Olson’s file claiming he may have violated security restrictions in connection with his trip, the sons allege.

The complaint lays out an alleged chronology of the nine days preceding his demise.

In November 1953, Olson allegedly attended a meeting in Deep Creek, Md., involving men from his division and the CIA. At dinner, Olson was one of several men who unwittingly drank from a bottle of Cointreau that had been laced with LSD.

Two CIA scientists in attendance, Sidney Gottlieb and Robert Lashbrook, were responsible for the drugging and did it as an experiment, according to the complaint.

Five days later, Olson told a colleague, Vincent Ruwet, that he was considering resigning.

“Upon information and belief, Dr. Olson’s statement was based on his ethical concerns regarding the CIA’s conduct,” according to the complaint.

That same day, Ruwet along with Lashbrook took Olson to New York, explaining to Olson’s wife that it was for psychiatric treatment because Olson might be dangerous to his family, the sons allege.

On Nov. 27, Olson and Lashbrook checked into the Statler Hotel. The men had two martinis each before going to bed in the same room. At about 2:30 a.m., Olson fell from the window.


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