The Frank Olson Legacy Project

Frederick's 'Candidate' was not Frank Olson, but Frederick itself




Frederick News-Post

August 22, 2004

By Eric Olson


Roy Meachum's column "Frederick's 'Candidate'" (News-Post, Aug. 4) makes a very useful contribution to the burgeoning literature on the death of my father, Dr. Frank Olson. Meachum's column becomes even more informative when combined with the two long articles by Scott Shane on Detrick's Special Operations Division and on the Olson case that ran in the "Baltimore Sun" three days earlier, on August 1.

Meachum does an excellent job of sketching the context of my father's work at Detrick and the CIA, his objections to biological warfare, and the Cold War climate in which the whole saga unfolded and in which his 1953 murder must be understood.

However, in discussing this history in relation to "The Manchurian Candidate" movies, both the new and the old versions, Meachum inadvertently adds to the confusion.

Why has it taken half a century to arrive at the truth about what happened to Frank Olson?

What Meachum doesn't say is that "The Manchurian Candidate" has been a large part of the problem.

The notion of a "Manchurian Candidate," the idea that someone could be programmed to make statements or commit actions contrary to their own will, bears a very complicated relationship to the Frank Olson story.

Actually "Manchuria" conjoins exactly the two disparate ideas -- biological weapons and mind control -- that initially seem such unlikely bedfellows in the Frank Olson story.

Manchuria is the area in northeast China directly north of North Korea where, beginning in 1932, the Japanese began an intense program of research in biological warfare. Detrick was established a decade later during World War II as a response to the infamous Japanese BW program in Manchuria ("Unit 731") which used thousands of Chinese as live, human guinea pigs for biological warfare experimentation. One of Detrick's early scientific directors told me that the impetus to get the United States into biological warfare research was driven much more by what the Japanese were doing in Manchuria than by what the Nazis were doing in Germany.

The second notion in the Frank Olson story, that of mind control, enters the picture during the Korean War, when captured American GI's were taken to Manchuria for what the Chinese called "thought reform," the strenuous program of interrogation popularly called "brainwashing."

While still in captivity in Manchuria some of the captured American pilots made statements that became known as "germ warfare confessions." In these statements the pilots said they had dropped biological weapons on North Korea.

When they returned to the States these same pilots made statements recanting their former confessions. They now claimed that their earlier statements had been made under the duress of psychological manipulation and torture. Available documents indicate that a Detrick-CIA interrogation program called "Artichoke" with which my father was involved had "debriefed" these POWs prior to their recantations.

The experience of American GIs imprisoned in Manchuria became the basis of Richard Condon's 1959 novel, "The Manchurian Candidate," and then of the 1962 film by the same name. The novel and the film then supplied the name for John Marks' 1979 nonfiction work on CIA mind-control experiments, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. A long chapter on Frank Olson, called "The Case of Dr. Frank Olson" forms the centerpiece of that book. (This chapter and many other materials are available on the Frank Olson website at

John Marks' chapter, combined with the spin that was put on the story of my father's death by the CIA in 1975, formed the basis for the public's belief that Frank Olson committed suicide after being drugged with LSD in a secret CIA experiment. It is this version of the story that has required another quarter of a century to deconstruct, as Meachum explains.

What Meachum does not explain is that the spurious link of Frank Olson's death to the whole notion of mind control and LSD -- in short the link to the Manchurian scenario -- was actually a major stumbling block in arriving at a lucid account of what really happened.

At the time of his death my father's colleagues at Detrick were informed that Frank Olson had been an unwitting participant in a drug experiment, and that this caused the psychological reaction that led to his taking his own life ten days later. His closest colleagues knew that this explanation was not the true reason for his death. Many others at Detrick were highly skeptical to say the least. But the notion of an LSD suicide provided at least a placeholder to quiet rumors and suspicions, even as it left room for the message that was being sent by security to all the personnel at Detrick: potential whistle-blowers will be dealt with harshly.

Fifty years later old-timers at Detrick are still reduced to quivering jelly at the mention of the name "Frank Olson."

The story those colleagues were given in 1953 is the one that the public received in 1975 when the Rockefeller Commission released the news that an unnamed scientist had been drugged with LSD in 1953 and then plunged to his death.

This story of my father's death as it was experienced by insiders was brought up to date for me in 2001 when one of my father's closest Detrick colleagues and friends told me what he knew about the events that preceded my father's death. This colleague explained that my father had become alarmed both by terminal experiments and interrogations that were being conducted by American forces in Europe using Detrick-CIA techniques, and also by the use of biological weapons in Korea.

When my father's colleague told me about the use of biological weapons in Korea, I responded by saying. "Yes, but what about the claim that those allegations were the result of brainwashing?"

As if he were stunned by my naïveté, this colleague looked into my eyes said, "It wasn't all brainwashing. Get it?"

"It wasn't all brainwashing. Get it?"

In its disinformation wars the CIA did not hesitate to use whatever arrows it had in its quiver, including the claim of brainwashing, in the service of what it called "psychological discrediting."

What my father's colleague was telling me was that this discrediting technique had been used to neutralize the "germ warfare confessions."

The LSD drugging story was used with similar effect to neutralize suspicions that my father had been murdered for security reasons.

This complex story is told in detail in the 2002 documentary film on the Frank Olson story "Code Name Artichoke" which has now been shown internationally in many countries and in the United States on Link-TV. Copes of the film on VHS or DVD are available from Satellite Video in Walkersville.

The essential point is this: it is necessary to insert the notion of "psychological discrediting" into the Manchurian Candidate scenario as it applies to the Frank Olson story. It then becomes clear that the real target of mind control was not Frank Olson. Frank Olson was killed the old fashioned way. He was simply knocked on the head and thrown out the window, as the CIA's assassination manual suggests (and as Roy Meachum asserts).

The real target of mind control was the public to whom the story of a suicidal, deranged, drugged scientist would be told. That story was so shocking and sensational that, even though it didn't hold together, nearly thirty more years have been required to shake it loose.

In understanding this phenomenon of directed misperception the most pertinent literary source is not "The Manchurian Candidate," but, rather, "The Emperor's New Clothes." What that classic story illustrates is the power of authority to establish a perceptual illusion among a public who are instructed to see things in a certain way. No one in H.C. Anderson's story, except a small child, has the courage to break ranks and point out that the emperor is stark naked.

In that sense the real Frederick Candidate, the real subject of brainwashing and mind control, was not Frank Olson. It was Frederick itself.

- Eric Olson, PhD


Related Articles

Frederick's 'Candidate.'
By Roy Meachum.
Frederick News-Post.
(Aug. 4, 2004)


Buried secrets of biowarfare

By Scott Shane.
Baltimore Sun.
(Aug. 1, 2001)

During the Cold War, top Army scientists toiled stealthily in rural Maryland to make covert weapons coveted by new enemies.


A father lost

By Scott Shane.
Baltimore Sun.
(Aug. 1, 2001)

Since 1953, Eric Olson has heard more than one explanation for his father's mysterious death. Now he believes it was murder.