family informed of the death of Frank Olson.
Nov. 28, 1953 (Saturday morning): In the early morning Olsons family
is informed of Olsons death by Olsons boss (SOD chief, Vin Ruwet)
and the family doctor. The family is told only that Olson has fallen
or jumped from the window of a hotel. Alice Olson is thirty-eight
years old, Eric is nine, Lisa is seven, and Nils is five. Government employees
compensation for the Olson family, based upon Franks having died in
a work-related accident, is arranged in three days. So great
was the shock experience by the family that we did not grieve our loss at
all; it was as if nothing had happened.
Dec. 1, 53: Funeral of Frank Olson.
Olsons coffin, which is draped with an American flag, is closed because
the government has advised the family that Olsons body is too badly
injured to be seen. Sidney Gottlieb and Robert Gottlieb attend the funeral.
American POWs in Korea being used in terminal mind-control experiments
Dec. 53: Evidence becomes known in Washington that five hundred American
troops are being held as prisoners in North Korea after the end of the Korean
War, and are being used in terminal mind-control experiments conducted by
the Czechs and the Soviets. Eisenhower decides not to press for the release
of these prisoners. (This
does not become known publicly until September 1996.)
Key events in 1953.
(Was 1953 the hinge of the twentieth century?)
Soviets explode first thermonuclear device.
Stalin dies (March 6).
CIA launches MK-ULTRA project (April).
Castro put on trial for sedition by Batista regime.
Che Guevara in Guatemala.
Plans are laid by the CIA to remove the Arbenz government in Guatemala
by staging a coup.
Rosenbergs executed for treason.
Nude photo of Marlin Monroe launches Playboy magazine.
Shah installed in Iran by the CIA (August).
Korean War ends, inaugurating the Cold War.
I.F. Stone begins publication of I.F. Stones Weekly
to expose lies of the American government.
Watson and Crick discover double helix structure of DNA.
Discovery and repression of the link between cigarette smoking and cancer.
IBM introduces its first computer.
Urey and Miller advance theory of primordial soup as explanation
for rise of life on earth.
Hillary and Norkay reach the top of Mt. Everest.
(In 1991 Norgays son Jamling Tenzing Norgay published an account
of his own ascent of Everest, Touching
My Father's Soul : A Sherpa's Journey to the Top of Everest.)
1954, Jan 4: CIA assassination manual sent to Nicaragua.
CIA assassination manual
(the first of many) sent to Nicaragua for use in the CIA-engineered coup
in Guatemala. Manual
de-classified in the spring of 1997. As the preferred method of contrived
accident to disguise a murder the manual recommends a drop
from at least 75 feet onto a hard surface.
May 7: French surrender at Dien Bien Phu.
Alice Olson starts drinking.
Alice Olson begins a long decline into what becomes very severe alcoholism.
This begins with afternoon cocktails with her husbands boss Vin
Ruwet after work, at the time when her husband would normally have been
arriving home. Alice considers Vins companionship an act of kindness
and support. In the CIA documents which the family obtains in 1975 we
discover that immediately after Frank Olsons death Ruwet was instructed
by Allen Dulles to keep track of the wife.
1960: Timothy Leary establishes a psilocybin research project with the
approval of Henry Murray, Chairman of the Department of Social Relations
at Harvard. This project will eventually become the home of extensive
LSD research and of the cultural proselytizing which helps to start a
1957: William Sargant publishes Battle for the Mind.
A British psychiatrist named William Sargant publishes Battle for the
Mind, one of the first books on the psychology of brainwashing.
1961: Robert Jay Lifton publishes Thought Reform and the Psychology
of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China..
An American psychiatrist named Robert Jay Lifton publishes Thought Reform
and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in
China. In the course of writing this book Lifton begins a dialogue with
psychologist Erik H. Erikson, whose book Young Man Luther had examined
the psychology of religious conversion in a historical context. Lifton
and Erikson will become pioneers in the new discipline of psychohistory,
in which Eriksons 1950 book Childhood and Society has already become
a classic. Liftons work on thought reform provides the
basis for his continuing interest in radical personality change and identity
transformations, which he will later call protean shifts.
This concept eventually becomes one of the sources of my work in developing
the collage method in my Harvard PhD dissertation.
1961: Olson brothers bicycle across the United States.
June 26: My brother Nils (age 12) and I (age 16) leave our home in Frederick,
Maryland on bicycles to follow Route 40 west all the way to San Francisco.
On August 12 we arrive in San Francisco, having completed 3200 miles on
bicycles. Harolds Club or Bust! becomes our motto. At the
time Nils is almost certainly the youngest person ever to ride a bicycle
across the United States; he later calls the trip a rite of passage for
Nov. 61: President Kennedy fires Allen Dulles as Director of the CIA
following revelations of the CIAs role in the Bay of Pigs invasion
1967: CIA backing of Asia Foundation and other organizations exposed.
July 67: I am forced to leave India on short-notice after the Asia Foundation,
which had promised me a research grant, is forced out of India following
revelations of its secret function as a conduit for CIA funds.
Alice Olsons alcoholism reaches a crisis.
Aug. 67. I return from India to Frederick and find that my mother is drunk.
I realize that her alcoholism has become so severe that she can no longer
work as a teacher or live alone. I decide to spend a year living with
in Frederick to try to help with this problem. My efforts fail. My mother
is arrested for drunken driving and spends Christmas night in jail.
1970. I make my first collage.
Summer 70: I make a collagemy first since the high school photo
montageswhich surprises me by starkly revealing how present the
trauma of my fathers death still is.
Jay Lifton and atomic bomb analogy.
Winter 70: While earning a MA degree at Harvard I hear Dr. Robert Jay
Lifton, professor of psychiatry at Yale University, give a lecture called
Prophetic Survivors, in which he contrasts the psychology
of atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer with that of the father of the
H-bomb Robert Teller. In this lecture I recognize themes that seem useful
in understanding my fathers death. I later discover that in 1959
Lifton published one of the first books on the psychology of brainwashing.
In 1984 Sidney Gottlieb will tell me he secretly financed this book.
1971: Alice Olsons recovery from alcoholism begins.
Summer: Alice Olson, committed to a mental hospital for alcoholism, begins
a long process of recovery. After learning about the connection between
families, alcoholism, and repressed grief in a course at Harvard, I arrange
family therapy, which we undergo in the summer. My mother eventually recovers
from alcoholism, and in the 1980s she become a leading figure in
the local alcoholism recovery movement. A halfway house for recovering
alcoholics in Frederick is named for her.
July 13: The New York Times publishes The Pentagon Papers, leaked
to the press by Daniel Ellsberg. These documents contain damaging assessments
of US prospects in the Vietnam War. Henry Kissingers concern with
these and other leaks leads Nixon to establish the plumbers
who enlist the aid of the CIA to break into the office of Daniel Ellsbergs
psychiatrist. This and similar violations will lead in 1974 to the formation
of the Rockefeller Commission, whose assignment is to investigate domestic
spying by the CIA. In 1975 the Rockefeller Commission will exposes the
secret drugs tests on my father conducted my Gottliebs MKULTRA group.
with Robert Jay Lifton begins.
Fall 71: I begin graduate school at Yale, with the purpose of studying
psychohistory with Robert Jay Lifton. Lifton and I begin work on death
and psychology which is published under the title Living and Dying.
1972. Oct. 10: Watergate scandal breaks.
MKULTRA files destroyed.
1973: Richard Helms and Sidney Gottlieb both retire from the CIA. Acting
on orders from Helms, Gottlieb destroys all MKULTRA files before leaving
The start of the collage method.
April: While engaged in an interview study of innovative styles among
young scientists and lawyers with Robert Lifton, I decide that a new psychological
method can be devised by utilizing the techniques and principles of collage.
This work draws upon my childhood fascination with photography, and seems
to be confirmed by the fecundity demonstrated in the work of Picasso (who
dies two weeks later, on April 9, 1973) in the collage medium.
May 73. As a response to accusations of the CIAs involvement in
Watergate, William Colby assembles a file of CIA misdeeds that will eventually
come to be known as the
Family Jewels. In so doing Colby violates Richard Helms
principle that all the secrets must be compartmentalized and are never
to be gathered in one place. For this Colby will never be forgiven by
Interviewing survivors of the Buffalo Creek flood.
Fall 73: I spend many weeks in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia interviewing
survivors of the 1972 Buffalo Creek flood disaster. The interviewing is
intended to support a law suit brought against the coal company that built
the unsafe dam whose collapse caused the flood. The attorney who organized
the suit is Harry
Huge of the Washington law firm Arnold and Porter. Robert Lifton and
I publish a psychiatric paper on the Buffalo Creek experience called:
The Human Meaning of Total Disaster. (In 1994 Harry Huge will
agree to represent us in a second case against the CIA.)
The trauma of loss revisited.
Winter 73: The extremely painful breakup of a love relationship provokes
memories of the pain of my fathers sudden and inexplicable disappearance.
1974. Aug. 9: Nixon resigns and the Presidency is assumed by Gerald
Living and Dying published.
Book entitled Living
and Dying which I co-author with Robert Jay Lifton is published.
1974: Thanksgiving dinner: first suspicion of CIA involvement.
Nov. 28: My father died on November 28, which was early Saturday morning
following Thanksgiving. In 1974 November 28 falls on Thanksgiving day,
which intensifies the connection this year between the holiday and my
fathers death. After Thanksgiving dinner the family watches old
family movies that include shots of Frank. I again ask my mother to tell
the story of what happened to my father. This time her account includes
elements that I have not appreciated before. For the first time it occurs
to me that my fathers death was in some way the work of the CIA.
I say that after I finish my PhD I plan to begin an investigation to prove
my the CIAs involvement. My mother bursts into tears.
Dec. 22, 74: Following leads that had emerged during the Watergate investigation,
Hersh publishes a report of the CIAs Operation Chaos
in the New York Times. Having had his suspicions confirmed in an
interview with William Colby, Hersh describes illegal CIA investigations
of American citizens. Hershs NY Times story leads Gerald Ford to
establish the Rockefeller Commission to investigate CIA wrongdoing, and
also leads to the Senate Select Committee headed by Frank Church. The
Church Committee investigation ultimately reveals CIA involvement in assassination
plots on foreign leaders.
1975. March.: I begin a Jungian analysis.
My first dream is of me probing the upholstery of an old chair for a coat
that had belonged to my father: You are preparing to come into your
fathers legacy is the interpretation given by the analyst.
This interpretation is borne out in an extraordinary way by events soon
April 30, 75: Vietnam War ends.
story: Suicide Revealed.
June 11, 75: The Washington Post carries a front page story saying
that the just-released Rockefeller Commission Report on the CIA includes
description of an Army scientist (no further identification
is given) who jumped to his death from a New York hotel room window in
1953 after being drugged with LSD. Seymour Hersh later tells us that the
CIA file concerning Frank Olson was released to the Rockefeller investigators
by mistake. I will later conclude that the headline is doubly ironic:
the name of the victim was not revealed; and the death was not a suicide.
June 12, 75: A medial examination reveals that Alice Olson has cancer
of the cervix.
Mid-June 75: In a private meeting with family members, Vin Ruwet confirms
that the unidentified Army scientist referred to in the Washington Post
article is Frank Olson.
Mid-June 75: The family approaches Washington
attorney Harry Huge to represent us in a suit against the CIA. Huge
at first agrees, but later has to decline when he discovers that his colleague
Mitch Rogovin at Arnold and Porter has already agreed to represent CIA
Director William Colby in the hearings at the Senate, thus creating a
conflict of interest.
I then contact two very brilliant yourng lawyers from Philadelphia, David
Rudovsky and David Kairys, who were good friends of mine, and invite them
to represent our family. They agree, and one of their first suggestions
is that we hold a family press conference to describe our grievance and
make our demands clear both to the public and the government.
Kairys and David
Rudovsky have gone on to very distinguished legal careers in practice,
writing, and teaching, and still maintain a firm together in Philadelphia.
David Kairys is now a professor at the Temple University Law School, and
David Rudovsky, who was subsequently awarded a MacArthur "Genius"
Award, is a Senior Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
In a 1999 interview
David Rudovsky called his work on the Olson case the most memorable
of his career.)
Press conference in the backyard.
July 10: The family holds press conference in backyard of the family house
in Frederick, Maryland. With the yard swarming with media we demand full
disclosure of all relevant information concerning my fathers death,
assurances from the government that this sort of experimentation will
never occur again, and a financial settlement. The press conference is
carried on all the network evening newscasts and is front page news across
the US and in many other countries.
July 13, 75: Armand
Pastore, night manager of the Statler Hotel on-duty the night Frank
died, writes to inform the family that Frank was still alive when Pastore
found him on the street.
Meeting with President Gerald Ford in the Oval Office of the White
July 21, 75: President Ford apologizes to the family and promises to support
release of all relevant information from the CIA and an appropriate financial
Lunch with William Colby in his seventh floor office at the CIA.
August, 75: My sister Lisa, brother Nils, our two attorneys and I meet
CIA Director William Colby for lunch in his seventh floor office at the
CIA to receive a CIA apology and a file
of documents which Colby claims represents the complete file on the
death of Frank Olson. I spend much of the lunch arguing with Colby
who served as chief of the Project Phoenix which was allegedly responsible
for the deaths of twenty thousand Vietnameseabout the Vietnam war.
In the weeks and months to follow I find the documents given to us by
Colby completely baffling. For a decade I continue to study these documents,
finally concluding from the many sorts of discrepancies they contain that
we have been given a false file. I conclude that the file we have been
given is one that was prepared to conceal the true story of my fathers
death within the CIA.
Gottlieb testifies to his involvement in assassination plots.
Oct. 7, 75: Sidney Gottlieb testifies before the Church Committee of the
US Senate, admitting, among other things his direct involvement in the
attempt to assassinate Lumumba in the Congo in 1960. Gottlieb admits that
he personally carried anthrax to the Congo to be used in the assassination,
and says that he obtained the anthrax from Detrick.
Harvard Ph.D.: The Minds Collage.
June: I am awarded a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice
from Harvard University. My dissertation is titled The Minds
Collage: Psychic Composition in Adult Life. (More
on the collage work.)