The Frank Olson Legacy Project
From Norman Mailers novel, Harlots Ghost
(© Random House 1991, used with permission of the author)
All the same, not many occasions in my life had been more momentous than the summer day in 1982 when Harlot had invited me to work again with him. Yes, he had said, I need your assistance so much that I will forgo my true innings. His knuckles, huge as carbuncles, fretted his wheel chair forward and back.
It was exactly at this time, when disaffection was collecting in my pores like bile, that Harlot summoned me to his rump office at the farmhouse in Virginia, much as he must have called in several other men like myself, still ambitious enough to know rage that their careers were in irons, yet old enough to suffer the knowledge that their best years were committed and gone. Who knows what Harlot cooked up for the others? I can tell you what he talked about with me.
We, at the CIA, had gone through some considerable suffering on the exposure of the Family Jewels in 1975. Maybe a few bushmen in Australia had not heard how we labored to rub Fidel Castro out, but by the time the Senate Select Committee to Study Intelligence Activities had done inquiring, there were very few bushmen. The rest of the world had learned that we were ready to kill Patrice Lumumba as well, and had gone in for LSD experiments in brainwashing so exuberantly that one of our subjects, a Dr. Frank Olson (on government contract), had jumped out the window. We hid the fact from his widow. She spent twenty years thinking her husband was an ordinary suicide, which is onerous for a family to believe since there are no ordinary suicides. We opened mail between Russia and the U.S. and closed it again and sent it on. We spied on high government officials like Barry Goldwater and Bobby Kennedy; we had all of those activities advertised in the marketplace. Since we are, at CIA, a proud and secretive people, we felt not unlike a convention of Methodist ministers who are sued by a fine hotel for infesting the bed linen with crab lice. The Company had never been quite the same since exposure of the Family Jewels.
In its wake many of our top men had to go.
Seven years later [Harlot] was calling me to action. I ask us, Harry boy, he said, to forgive the spears weve left in one another. There is a scandal forming that will prove worse than the Skeletonswhich was his term for the Family Jewels. Id estimate about as much worse as Hiroshima was an order of magnitude beyond Pearl Harbor. The Skeletons decimated our ranks; the High Holies, if not excised, will cut us right out of the map.
(PP. 26-28 Ballentine paperback edition)
How are your headaches? asked my father at the bar at Twenty-One.
Herrick, I havent seen a superior hell of a lot of you lately, have I? he asked, unfolding his napkin, and sizing up the room.
Well, theres a reason I havent seen a lot of you Rick. He was the only one to call me Rick, rather than Harry, for Herrick. I have been traveling an unconscionable amount. This was said for the blond woman as much as for me. They dont know yet whether Ill be one of the linchpins in Europe or the Far East.
Now the man in the pencil-strip suit began his counteroffensive. He must have put a curve on what he said, for the woman gave a low intimate laugh. In response, my father leaned toward me across the table and whispered, Theyve given OPC the covert operations.
Whats covert? I whispered back.
The real stuff. None of that counterespionage where you drink out of my teacup and I drink out of yours. This is war. Without declaring it.
Yes, one more
thing, I said. You mentioned that you would let me see Rosens
Why do you
want to see them now?
I shrugged. For
he said. thats right. All right. But I could see he
was reluctant. He went to his room, closed the door, came out, locked
the door, and handed me a thick envelope. Read it tonight,
he said. And when youre done, slip it under the sill.
in this room, I said, and if anybody unfamiliar knocks, anyone
official, that is, Ill put the letter under your door before I go
Approved, he said.
Well, here I am on hotshot duty in TSS, and there you are, honcho number one to the big man in Berlin. Congratulations. The old training group PQ 31 is doing all right for itself, even if PQ has to stand for peculiarwhich is what I can say about my work now. Dix, procedure and any other I send you, is BAP (which in case you forgot is Burn After Perusal). I dont know if work at TSS deserves to be as hush-hush as is presented to us here, but it is certainly a special place. Only geniuses need applyhow did they ever miss you? (Before you get too pissed off, recognize that I mean it.) The overseer for all us Mensa types is Hugh Montague, the old OSS legend, and hes an odd one, as remote as Mt. Everest, confident as God. I cant imagine what would happen if you ever tangled with him. Anyway, TSS is but part of his demesne, which I deliver as a gift to you love of big words. (Demesne is the etymological origin of domain, that is, the lands belonging to the Lord for which he pays no rent.) Montague, so far as I can see, pays no rent.) He reports only to Dulles. Over at Top Sanctum Sanctorum (true meaning of TSS), we tend to be savage our opinions of everybody, but on Montague, we agree. Unlike many in the Company, he is no dedicated brwon-noser.
back to TSS. I
find an unholy desire to tell you about the worst fiasco we ever had,
which is why this letter has to be UltraBAP [Burn After Perusal].
It could fry my kishkes if read by the wrong eyes. Do not bother about
the meaning of kishkes. That is argot from Yiddish and will advance nothing
youre interested in. I mention it only because the nominal head
of TSS is named Gottlieb, and kishkes is the only Jewish word I ever heard
him use. Of course, they assigned me to him I guess they figure
we have something in common. Well, not all that much. Some Jews are deep
in tradition like my family, which is half religious-orthodox, half socialist
typically Jewish, ha, ha but some Jews go in the other direction.
They become mirrors of their culture. (Like me!) Disraeli, the British
Prime Minister under Queen Victoria, born of Jewish parents, but they
say he had the best upper-class English accent of anyone in the British
Gottlieb is like that except hes cosmic in scope, interested in
everything. Odd! He lives on a farm outside of Washington and gets up
every morning to milk his goats. The farmhouse itself used to be a slave
cabin, but Gottlieb is a Sunday carpenter, so its big enough now
to house his family. Mrs. Gottlieb, incidentally, spent her childhood
in India. That may be the explanation for the goats! Shes the daughter
of Presbyterian missionaries. Gottlieb also raises Christmas trees. And
he has a clubfoot, but loves all the same to square dance. Hes only
a chemist with a degree from City College, but hes nonetheless a
genius. Which is why in summary he sounds like nothing but pieces and
parts. I must say, he messed up. Of course, only a genius can when in
concert with another genius like Hugh Montague. It actually happened three
years ago, but its still the worst-kept secret at TSS. You cant
go out with a colleague for a drink and get a little intimate without
being told The Story. I find it interesting. Theres some principle
of reverse-morale here. Montague is so elevated that I think The Story
makes him human for us. Of course he only failed in a judgment call. He
put his bet on Gottlieb, and Sidney did the damage.
Heres the gen.
(Old OSS word for poop.) Three years ago the big rumor at TSS was that
the Sovs had synthesized some magic drug. They could not only control
the behavior of their agents, but could fix a spys memory to self-destruct
upon capture. They also had schizophrenia-inducing chemicals to free their
agents from all moral concerns. Isnt this what Communism is all
about anyway! The magic drug is in the ideology! Anyway, Gottlieb had
come upon a physical substance that turns a few corners in schizophrenia.
It is called lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD for short, and TSS people
harbor the hope that it will become our wonder drug, since present techniques
of debriefing enemy agents are too slow. Allen Dulles wants a chemical
spigot to turn a defector on and off. Kind of a truth cocktail. LSD inspires
one to tell the truth.
Now, its hard
to be sure, Dix, because I only acquired this at several removes, but
Gottlieb seems to have had a honey of a theory, worked out in collaboration
with Mrs. Montague and her theories. It is built on the premise that the
psychic wall which schizophrenia builds to close off communication between
opposite parts of the personality is composed of an immense number of
lies, and the truth is encysted behind it. Any drug that can induce schizophrenia
might also, if used on a start-stop -start-stop basis, induce enough of
a vibration in the lies of that schizophrenic wall to shake it and, conceivably,
crack it. More normal people, in contrast, only choose the lies that will
keep their ego intact. By the Gottlieb-Gardiner theory, a defectors
wall, whether psychotic or normal, can be shattered by the use of LSD.
First, however, Gottlieb had to test the compatibility of LSD to his purpose.
He and a few colleagues tried it on one another, but they were aware of
the experiment. Unwitting LSD recipients were what was needed.
So, one night at a small
cocktail party a TSS researcher managed to slip ad's of LSD into a pony
of Cointreau that a contract scientist was drinking. The victim was not
witting of the experiment. Now, I dont know his name that
fact is sealed, but lets call him what he is VICTIM.
As it turned out, he did not react well. VICTIM returned to his home in a state of agitation. A very disciplined man, he fought the effects of the LSD. No symptoms of overt derangement presented themselves. The only manifestation was that he could not sleep. Then he began to tell his wife that he had made terrible mistakes. Only he could not specify what they were. After a couple of days, he was so agitated that Gottlieb sent him to New York to see one of our psychiatrists. Gottliebs own deputy stayed with VICTIM in a New York hotel room. VICTIM, however, got worse and worse. Finally, right in front of his keeper, he took a running dive through a closed window and crashed ten stories to his death. They gave his widow and children a government pension, and Gottlieb got away with a slap on the wrist. Montague sent a memo to Dulles: Formal punishment would tend to interfere with that most necessary spirit of initiative and outright enthusiasm so prerequisite to this work. Dulles did send a personal letter to Gottlieb scolding him for poor judgment, but no copy of this letter at least so goes the gen ever landed in Gottliebs file. Sidney is in fine shape at TSS these days.
I had a strong reaction to the letter. I could read no further. The fear that I was being used by Harlot in careless fashion had just been confirmed. VICTIM kept falling in my mind.
So I went on to TSS with Allen [Dulles] blessing and Hughs strong arm around my waist. I was prepared to dive into the dark depths, but, of course, as soon as I finished training, they wrapped me in cotton. Technical Services Staff, as you can guess, is as highly compartmentalized as any place youre going to work in the Agency. Even now, after five years in TSSs recessive folds, I still cant decide such basic things as whether we go in for wet jobs, or leaving assassination quite to the side, whether we indulge in even worse deeds, such as honest-to-god termination experiments. If one were to believe the more sinister gossip, its true. Of course, such rumors do come to me in the large from Arnie Rosen, and Im not sure hes always to be trusted. (He loves wild stories too much.!)