North Koreans did perform medical, psychological and drug experiments on 900 American prisoners of war, according to documents declassified in 1996. After the tests, the prisoners were reportedly executed.
Given such a grave backdrop, the CIA sought new methods of interrogation. In 149 separate mind‑control experiments, researchers used hypnosis, electroshock treatments and drugs, including marijuana, morphine, Benzedrine and mescaline. Test subjects were usually people who could not easily object‑prisoners, mental patients and members of minority groups‑but the agency also performed many experiments on other people without their knowledge or consent.
In CIA‑financed tests at McGill University, in Montreal, the goal was to wipe out an individual's existing pattern of thought and behavior. Some patients at the university's hospital were slipped LSD fourteen times over a two‑month period; others endured severe electroshock treatments over the course of three months. After thirty electroshock sessions, one "depatterned" patient was forced into a fifty‑six‑day drug‑induced sleep, leaving her incontinent. Several lawsuits forced the governments of Canada and the United States to compensate the victims or their families in 1988.
Intelligence agents were still desperately searching for a magic espionage weapon when LSD came on the scene in 1952. As one CIA operative put it, "This was the key that was going to unlock the universe." The agency bought the entire supply of LSD from Sandoz, the Swiss pharmaceutical company that discovered the hallucinogen. The CIA then launched a massive covert research project under the code name MK‑ULTRA. Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the man who ran the top‑secret program for more than a decade, was a brilliant chemist with a passion for square dancing and, as he told a congressional hearing, exploring "how it was possible to modify an individual's behavior by covert means." Gottlieb himself took LSD and mescaline several times and considered anyone fair game in the pursuit of science and national security. Seven months after MK‑ULTRA got under way, Frank Olson became its first casualty.
0n June 11, 1975, The Washington Post published several front‑page articles on the results of the Rockefeller Commission's investigation of the CIAs covert projects. One story reported that the agency had infiltrated and spied on seventeen antiwar and black political groups, but another article, headlined SUICIDE REVEALED, caused the biggest sensation. The story described how "a civilian employee" of the army had jumped to his death from a New York hotel window after being drugged with LSD during a CIA meeting. The dead man was not identified by name, and if the circumstances of the reported suicide had not closely matched what the Olsons already knew, they would never have known that the CIA had been involved.
Eric remembers well the Post's revelations: "I sat for long hours talking about this with friends. Everybody was shocked at the idea of a deliberate LSD drugging. I mean, LSD? The CIA? The whole thing was so bizarre, and that it came out of the blue was really stunning. But the shock blinded people to the deeper truth. Everybody was saying, 'You got the truth now ‑now, take it easy. Back off.'"
But he couldn't. The fact that his family had not been notified of the discovery, and that his father's name had been withheld, convinced Eric that the full story was still being repressed. He had to take some action. A month after the Post story appeared, the Olson family held a press conference in their backyard to demand full disclosure of the facts and to announce their intention of suing the CIA. The backyard swarmed with reporters, including Lesley Stahl of CBS News and Rolling Stone's Hunter S. Thompson.
Shortly after the news came out, President Ford invited the Olsons to the White House, where he apologized on behalf of the federal government and set in motion a Congress-approved compensation of $750,000. CIA director William Colby also felt compelled to offer an apology, and in the summer of 1975 he met the three grown Olson children in his office on the seventh floor of the agency's headquarters.
Eric recalled that Colby's manner was "cold and controlled, and he seemed very tense and awkward." In his memoirs, Colby, a fierce warrior who had parachuted behind enemy lines in World War II and later directed the notorious Phoenix Program that killed 20,000 Vietcong sympathizers, called his meeting with the Olsons "one of the most difficult assignments I have ever had."
During lunch, Eric, then 30, got into a heated argument with Colby over the meaning of the Vietnam War, which had just ended. "The whole war was obscene and immoral," Eric said. Colby became upset. "We could have won it," the CIA director insisted. "With more weapons, we could have won the war." At the end of lunch, Colby handed Eric a large stack of documents, the complete Frank Olson file, Colby said, which would reveal everything.
At first the Olson family welcomed the official apologies and the compensation as closure to the case, and they signed a waiver releasing the CIA from any further liability.
However, after closely reading the CIA file, Eric realized his quest to uncover the deeper truths was not over. Although the file laid out more of the details of what had happened, it contained so many discrepancies that he concluded Colby had given him a false "cover" file.
According to the documents, Frank Olson and eight other scientists met at Deep Creek Lodge, in the western Maryland mountains, and shared after‑dinner drinks of Cointreau that Sidney Gottlieb had secretly spiked with heavy doses of LSD. For Olson it was the proverbial bad trip. He became troubled and agitated, almost "psychotic," a colleague said later. 'When his state of mind didn't improve four days later, his immediate boss at Camp Detrick and Robert Lashbrook, Gottlieb's deputy, flew him to New York, where he was placed under the care of an allergist (not a psychiatrist) who had close ties with the CIA. Olson told the doctor that the CIA was "out to get" him and was spiking his coffee with Benzedrine in its efforts to pacify him.
FATHERS AND SONS: Stephan Olson, right, doesn't want to relive Eric's fate.
Lashbrook checked Olson in to the Hotel Starlet on November 25, and the two men shared a small room, 1018A, with two beds. The CIA file goes on to create the impression of an unstable persona, stating that on that same night, Olson became delusional and staggered around the city's streets till dawn. Two nights later, according to Lashbrook, he was awakened shortly after midnight by the sound of crashing glass and the window shade flapping. Olson was lying faceup on the sidewalk. Lashbrook did not immediately telephone a hospital or the police. He placed his first call to his boss, Sidney Gottlieb.
From 1975 on, waves of revelations raised more suspicions about the circumstances of Olson's death. In time Eric went to New York and spent a night in room 1018A of the old hotel. He was so "restless and agitated" that he hardly slept, but he saw how "completely ridiculous the whole scenario was."
For one thing, Eric reasoned, if his father had truly been mentally deranged, why did Lashbrook take him to a room thirteen floors up? Then, too, the way the window was positioned -blocked by a radiator‑ it seemed unlikely his father could have "crashed" through it, as the CIA claimed. Olson would have had to dive out the window after picking up a running momentum. But the room was too small to do that.
Armond Pastore, the night manager of the hotel in 1953, wrote to the Olson family twenty-five years later on stationery from the Diplomat hotel in Ocean City, Maryland, where he was working, and told them he was convinced the CIA was lying about what had happened. He said that moments after Olson plunged to his death, the hotel operator connected a call through the switchboard from a man in room 1018A. The operator overheard him say, "Well, he's gone."
The man on the other end replied, "That's too bad."
Though Eric's research was going well, showing that he "wasn't a conspiracy lunatic," the rest of his life started to deteriorate. He developed ulcers, and once, in terrible pain, he had to be rushed to the hospital. His relationships with women were usually short‑lived, and friction with his brother, Nils, who financed much of the operation, intensified. Nils didn't buy the government's version of events, either, but he kept more of a distance from the case and worried about his brother's "level of perspective." To learn what really happened to their father, Nils told me, "you had to go into a black hole and leave the known universe, and I wasn't willing to do that."
Gradually, Eric abandoned his work as a clinical psychologist to focus, he said, "like a laser beam" on his father's case, which by the early 1990s had become a full‑blown industry involving scholarship, media relations, travel, investigation and the management of a network of witnesses. It was a full‑time operation, but he wasn't being paid for any of it, which meant Eric soon had to add "fund‑raising" to his areas of expertise. He solicited nearly everyone he came in contact with and shrewdly, through the Fund for Constitutional Government, in New York, set up a tax‑exempt account to receive contributions.
Year by year, though, he sank deeper into debt, borrowing