The experiment caused at least three suicides and 40 people were taken to a nearby psychiatric institute, Mr. Albarelli says.
RT: In 1953, US Army biochemist Dr. Frank Olson died suddenly in NY. City military and federal officials said his death was a suicide, but more than half a century later, a new book argues that his death came at the hands of CIA. Joining us now is Hank Albarelli – author of “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments.”
Why did you decide to explore and investigate the death, or as you call it, the murder, of Dr. Frank Olson?
HA: Well, initially I also thought that it was a death by suicide, but then I had a minor curiosity about the case to begin with. I read everything I could put my hands on. And everything I read I couldn’t believe. The more I read, the more I pricked my curiosity and then within months I wanted to know the real story: what did happen to him?
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RT: And what’s the real story according to your research?
HA: According to my research – and I researched the case for a little over 10 years – he was murdered.
HA: The motive is fairly complex. You’d have to go to the heart of what Frank Olsen was to begin with, and he was a civilian employee for the US Army in a very top secret installation in Frederick, Maryland, called Camp Detrick – that is what it was called at the time. And today it is known as Fort Detrick. And Frank was a fairly arrogant man. He was a civilian, so he didn’t like being subject to military regimes or discipline or the security that was necessary at an ultra-secret base like that.
And on top of this arrogance, he just didn’t perform well in the job and eventually became interested in leaving his employment with the US Army. But he had a lot of secrets from the 10 years he’d spent there, and combined with his arrogance and unhappiness having a job at Fort Detrick, he began to talk out of school, talking of secrets to people he shouldn’t have spoken to. Everyone who worked to Fort Detrick took an ultra secret oath and swore to God and on the Bible that they would not talk about anything they worked on, either while working there or after working there.
RT: What kind of work was he doing?
HA: Olson did the top level secret work that anyone can imagine. Everything revolved around developing lethal and toxic weapons, combined with chemical and biological agents. And around 1950, the CIA formed a direct alliance with the division that Olson worked for the US Army.
RT: Mr. Albarelli, you say that US officials covered up Frank Olson’s murder, allowing CIA abuses to continue. Abuses, which according to you, include drug experiments on men, women, children and foreigners. Can you elaborate on that?
HA: That’s correct. When Fort Detrick formed the alliance with the CIA, that alliance was given a code name and that code name was MK NAOMI. It was a part of broader project called MK ULTRA. It was a research project that awarded some 147 grants to colleges, universities and research institutions across the country, basically to do secret research with drugs: heroin, mescaline, LSD, morphine. They were studying the effects and how these various drugs could be weaponized. The technology that was developed under MK ULTRA would be taken and implied to field operatives that would take place either in Europe, rarely domestically, or in East Germany, and sometimes in Russia.
RT: You say that CIA tested drugs on foreigners. How were they able to successfully do that?
HA: The test that got Olsen in trouble and eventually got him murdered, that he spoke out of school about, was the test that took place in August 1951 in a small French village in southern France, not far from Marseilles. And the CIA funded Fort Detrick to do experiments there involving aerosol LSD sprayed in the small village. That affected 500 people in that village. There were three suicides and 40 people were carted off to a nearby insane resort as a result of that experiment.
RT: Why don’t we just explain why it happened? You believe that military wanted to produce LSD, how did they want to use it?
HA: Initially there was a lot of excitement about LSD. About how to use LSD as a weapon in the field which would eliminate violence which occurs mostly in war time, in other words, people wouldn’t be killed and property wouldn’t be destroyed. So you can launch a massive LSD-aerosol attack on enemy troops, they’ll go crazy for a few hours when people could capture them. It sounds very naive in retrospect but there were several papers written by the army in1941 and 1950 to that effect and it was at that point when the army decided to go forward and experiment with the drug. But this interest rapidly transformed into an interest in terms of using LSD for interrogation purposes, thinking that it would put someone in a state that a person would tell the truth. They thought that maybe it could be used as a truth drug.
RT: I was really surprised to read two familiar names in your book – Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Tell me how they were involved in all of this.
HA: Olson was murdered in 1953. And his murder was covered up from 1953 successfully until 1975. Only his family had suspicions about his death. In 1975, the Rockefeller Commission brought it in a report to the president that a civilian employee for the US Army has been dosed with LSD in 1953, and subsequently committed suicide nine days later in New York City. That provoked everybody’s attention because the report did not name who that civilian employee was. That part of the story was covered up from 1953 to 1975. Rumsfeld and Cheney, to put it bluntly, were part of that cover-up.
RT: What were their roles at the time?
HA: At the time in ’75, Rumsfeld was the President Gerlad Ford’s chief of staff, while Cheney was his closest assistant, a special assistant to the Chief of Staff.
RT: What was the most shocking fact that you’ve uncovered and you investigated for ten years?
HA: It’s a good question. By the time I was finished with the book I thought that nothing could shock me any longer. I think that the most shocking thing and the thing I did not want to believe initially was the experiment in France. I didn’t want to believe that. I didn’t want to believe that my government would do something like that. But on top of that there were countless experiments that were conducted from 1953 until approximately 1970 on thousands of nameless individuals. The US Army alone tested LSD on over 5,000 servicemen at Edgeward Arsenal alone.
RT: How do you think the servicemen could agree to something like that?
HA: They offered them bennies [benefits -ed.] like giving them extra leaves; maybe having another weekend to go home, some extra vacation time, maybe an early out. But what were they told? They were told that they were going to volunteer for drug experiments. But they were told that it was a relatively harmless drug and it wouldn’t have much of an effect and that it was in the process of being approved by the FDA. And that just wasn’t the truth – the drug was never in the process of being approved by the FDA. Nobody had any intention of ever approving the drug.
RT: Do you think that the CIA is still testing out drugs?
HA: Absolutely. I don’t think they are testing LSD any longer, but new drugs – absolutely.
RT: Do you have any fear for yourself and for your family, because you really are making a lot of allegations.
HA: Well, I have made a lot of allegations. It’s not really allegations, I mean the proof is there for anybody who wants to pick it up and read it. If they want to pursue it themselves, they can actually find even more than what’s in the book. I don’t have any concerns. My mother and my wife have some concerns. I am a historian. I mean, I wrote a book about things that happened in the ’50s and ’60s and the early ’70s, and that unfortunately is still happening today.
You know, some of the stuff that’s happening today with torture and renditions – if it continues on the path it’s going on, that could be – 10 or 15 years down the road – that could be anybody. That could be you, that could be I, that could be our children, our grandchildren, who knows who that’s going to be?
RT: Do you think that president Obama has any control or authority over the CIA?
HA: My perception of Obama is similar to my perception of Bill Clinton when he was president. I don’t think Obama has a strong interest in the CIA, the same as Clinton, until maybe the latter years of his presidency when he was forced in terms of what was going on in Afghanistan. But Obama really hasn’t had time to focus on the CIA or any of the multiple related issues. But the CIA, in my perception basically runs itself regardless of what the president thinks.
RT: Can the CIA undermine the president, if they don’t like what the president is doing, saying or advocating?
HA: Absolutely. They can undermine the president. And I think the proof of that is what happened with JFK [John F. Kennedy]. I don’t believe that Lee Harvey Oswald alone assassinated JFK. And it’s my belief after studying the assassination for years and years, that the CIA had a direct hand in that.