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 www.frankolsonproject.org.)
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
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
By Roy Meachum.
(Aug. 4, 2004)
secrets of biowarfare
By Scott Shane.
(Aug. 1, 2001)
During the Cold War, top Army scientists toiled stealthily in rural
Maryland to make covert weapons coveted by new enemies.
By Scott Shane.
(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.