of Chairman John Conyers, Jr.
The Subcommittee will
come to order.
Today we meet to examine
a tragic chapter from the Cold War erathe many cases where our government
sponsored secret experiments on Americans in the name of national security.
Last year Secretary
of Energy Hazel OLeary revealed that during the Cold War the government
conducted widespread radiation experiments upon soldiers, schoolchildren,
hospital patients and other private citizens, many of whom had not volunteered
to be experimental subjects.
But the radiation experiments
are only part of the story. We have learned that during the Cold War the
Department of Defense and other government agencies also conducted chemical
and biological warfare experiments on Americans, as well as tests with
various drugs and incapacitating agents.
Because of security
concerns, subjects of the Cold War era test were often not informed that
they were participating in an experiment, and in other instances were
not fully informed of potential health risks.
Including the radiation
experiments, we have learned that nearly 1/2 million Americans were subjected
to some Cold War era tests.
In addition to being
secret, this national security research was often conducted on individuals
who had little choice in the matter, including members of the military,
prison inmates, hospital patients and institutionalized individuals.
In one case, we have
evidence that in the late 1960s the Army Chemical Corps conducted a biological
warfare test from an aircraft flying over Detroit and dispersing radioactive
particles. Although the Army has assured us that there was no likelihood
of injury, I am deeply concerned about using our citizens as guinea pigs,
no matter how safe the Army thinks a test might be.
In other cases, the
military and the CIA contracted with various universities to do research
on the influences of psychochemical agents on combat troops. How did they
accomplish this? They did it by administering LSD and other psychochemical
agents to people who had no idea what had happened to them. They had become
part of an experiment without their knowledge or consent.
Sadly this chapter from
the Cold War is not over. Today, individuals who were injured in these
experiments and their families are still trying to find out the truth
about what happened, and to secure assistance from the Government.
After Secretary OLearys
disclosures, President Clinton established a special Advisory Committee
to review the radiation experiments and to recommend remedial steps. But
this body has only a limited mandate radiation experiments; it
is not examining other potentially damaging Cold War experiments on Americans.
So today we meet to
discuss the full scope of the Cold War experiments, and to begin a process
of trying to provide assistance to Americans who may have suffered injuries
We are joined by the
General Accounting Office, which has examined these experiments for us,
as well as representatives of the Department of Defense who will explain
its plans to assist those who were involved in these tests.
We are also joined by
the children of two individuals who lost their lives in these tests, who
will tell us about their families experience in trying to learn
what had happened to their fathers. Finally, we have invited a distinguished
panel of experts to discuss the many troubling aspects of this sad chapter
from our national history.
I welcome our witness
and now recognize the ranking minority member of the Subcommittee, Representative
Al McCandless, for any opening comments he might wish to make.
The Honorable Martin
Olav Sabo, Representative from the State of Minnesota, United States
House of Representatives.
The Honorable Frank
C. Conahan, Assistant Comptroller General, United States General Accounting
Office, National Security and International Affairs Division; accompanied
by Glenn D. Furbish, Senior Evaluator.
Eric Olson, Ph.D.,
Frederick, Maryland; and
Ms. Elizabeth Barrett,
New York, New York
Ms. Jeanne Fites,
Deputy Under Secretary, U.S. Department for Requirements and Resources,
Personnel and Readiness;
Gordon Soper, Ph.D.,
Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense, Atomic Energy
Ph.D., Director, Environmental and Life Sciences, Office of the
Director, Defense Research and Engineering; and
Mr. Michael A.
Parker, Executive Director, U.S. Army Chemical and Biological Defense
Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
David J. Rothman,
Ph.D., Director, Center for the Study of Society and Medicine, College
of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University; and Author of Strangers
at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical
Leonard A. Cole,
Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, Rutgers University; and Author
of Clouds of Secrecy: The Armys Germ Warfare Experiments Over
Gamble, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of History of Medicine, Preventive
Medicine and Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine;
Robyn Y. Nishimi,
Ph.D., Senior Associate, Office of Technology Assessment.
of Eric Olson
Mr. Chairman, Members
of the Committee, I want to begin by thanking you for inviting me to come
here and speak about my familys experience with U.S. Government
testing on unwitting subjects, which begins more than 40 years ago.
I. The unending event.
In November 1953 my father, Dr. Frank Olson, was given a dose of LSD,
without his knowledge and without his consent in an after-dinner drink.
This bizarre incident occurred during a meeting
of Ft. Detrick scientists, organized by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb who at
that time was in the early stages of what became a very long program of
mind-manipulation research at the CIA.
At the time of that
strange meeting, which one hesitates to call scientific
even though it was organized by and for a small group of scientists, my
mother was still a young woman. She was thirty-eight years old. I was
nine, my sister was seven, and my brother was five.
Nine days after that meeting at Deep Creek Lake, in the pre-dawn hours
of November 28, 1953, which was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I was
awakened to be told that my father was dead. I was told that he died from
a fall out of the window of a New York hotel room.
For me on that pre-dawn morning it was as if the lights went out. I could
not understand what I had been told. I remember seeing my mother sitting
on the sofa across from me, motionless, with a frozen expression on her
face. I remember an overwhelming feeling of isolation, a crushing sensation
that the world in which I had been living was suddenly gone for ever.
Our family did not know what hit us. We did not know that my father had
been the subject of an experiment. We did not know why he had been suddenly
whisked away to New York to get some kind of psychiatric help if
that was indeed the purpose of his visits to a CIA consultant named Harold
We did not learn these things for twenty-two years, until 1975; and even
then we learned them by accident. On June 11 of 1975 one day after
my mother was told by her doctor that she had cancer the Washington
Post reported that an unnamed scientist had plunged to his death in
1953 after being drugged with LSD by the CIA. We
deduced that this unnamed scientist must be my father. Eventually
Vincent Ruwet, one of my fathers colleagues, confirmed for us that
this was in fact the case. But we were never officially notified by either
the Rockefeller Commission, in whose report this story first appeared,
or by the CIA, whose failure to contact us, rendered that agencys
subsequent apology rather empty in our ears. It was as if a body long
missing in action had at last been found, but the family were not notified.
Later that summer we were invited to the White House to receive a formal
apology from President Gerald Ford. And we received from William Colby
a set of
heavily censored documents which he assured us contained everything
the CIA had on this case.
White House attorneys helped our lawyers draft a bill that would compensate
our family financially for my fathers death and for the twenty-two
year cover-up that followed it. After months of discussion, with participation
by the White House, the CIA, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department,
and the Labor Department we arrived at an agreement, supported by all
these agencies, with which we were satisfied. White House attorneys assured
us that Congress was overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, and that it
would face no serious opposition.
On the day of the vote, however, we discovered that a single congressman
opposed the bill. We were also informed that private bills require unanimous
support, and that due to the opposition of this congressman, the bill
could not pass. This individual later agreed to support the bill only
if the proposed financial amount, carefully negotiated over many months,
were cut by forty per cent.
We had no choice but to accept the terms dictated by this individual,
even though the makeshift quality of this emergency compromise deprived
us of a feeling of integrity in the settlement process. I remember my
mothers comment to this congressman, who had refused even to meet
with us. My mother said, This bill represents an apology from the
American people for what our family has suffered. If you compromise an
apology you dont have an apology. And I remember too this
congressmans response to my mother: Oh Mrs. Olson, I would
never want to compromise your pain or your suffering.
II. Widening reverberations.
No one ever did compromise my mothers pain or suffering: she had
it in full measure. She bore her burdens with great dignity, but she paid
a heavy price.
She never remarried. After my father died my mother maintained her public
stance in the community as a woman of great, almost incredible strength.
But privately she began a twenty-year descent into alcoholism from which,
after repeated hospitalizations, she only narrowly escaped with her life.
My mothers serious drinking began shortly after my fathers
death. At the time of day when my father would normally have been returning
home from work one of my fathers colleagues began coming to our
house, to have a drink with my mother. In 1975 we learned from the documents
we received from William Colby that this colleague had been directed by
the CIA to keep track of the wife. Unfortunately, keeping
track did not include telling my mother the truth.
My brother, sister, and I grew up in a home from which our father had
inexplicably vanished, and in which our mother was gradually becoming
severely alcoholic. On the surface we lived a remarkably normal life;
most of pain was hidden from those who knew us and even from our selves.
My fathers death affected each of the members of my family differently.
For all of us, though, there was a feeling of shame shame not only
that our father had vanished, had perhaps committed some inexplicable
kind of suicide, but shame especially because we didnt know how
to speak about his death; that we had no idea what to say to our friends.
My brother, sister, and I used to dread the moment when anyone would ask
us how our father died. We eventually learned to reply to such questions
by saying that our father had died of a nervous breakdown though
we had no idea what that might mean.
It is easier for me to speak about my own reactions than about those of
my brother and sister. I was nine years old when my father vanished
a delicate age when interruptions to the logic of cause and effect can
have a crushing impact on ones confidence that world is a reasonable
place, and that one can trust people and events.
My son, who is here with me today, will never know his grandfather. I
have to try to explain to him why, just as my brother has to explain this
to his children. My sister, her husband and their two-year old child were
all killed in an airplane crash in 1978 while they were flying to upstate
New York to consider an investment of their share of the money we received
in the settlement of my fathers case.
The best way in which I can convey the depth of impact which the revelations
of 1975, and the settlement we made with the government, made upon me
is that, beginning in the late 1970s, after finishing my Ph.D. at
Harvard, I spent nearly a decade and a half living outside the United
States. I moved to Sweden to live in the country from which my fathers
parents had immigrated as optimistic immigrants to the United States in
I relate these things to stress the way in which an incident like this
reverberates for decades through the generations of a family and its close
During the last year of his life, my father spoke of wanting to leave
his job in bacteriological warfare research, and reeducate himself as
a dentist. Dentistry is, in fact, the profession my brother has taken
up. I suspect that the atmosphere of eerie silence in our family around
my fathers death strongly influenced my sisters decision to
become a speech therapist, and to teach deaf children to speak. I know
that it determined my decision to become a psychologist, as well as the
particular path I followed within that discipline.
When I started graduate school in psychology in the early 1970s
I was still strongly motivated by the need to understand what had happened
to my father and the consequences this loss for the history of my family.
I chose to work with the well-known psychiatrist Robert
Jay Lifton at Yale, the sequence of whose research comprised a virtual
curriculum in the issues raised by my fathers death. Liftons
early work concerned the psychology of brainwashing. Later he studied
the psychology of survivors of massive trauma, identity-formation without
the father, and the psychology of weapons scientists. In more recent work
he has concentrated on the motivations of Nazi doctors who performed immoral
experiments on human subjects in the Nazi death camps.
After World War II, in a project known as Operation Paper Clip,
many of those Nazi scientists were in fact recruited by the American military
to work side-by-side with American scientists preparing the experiments
whose effects we are considering today. This fact helps us to understand
that, in other circumstances, the perpetrators of these acts would not
be enjoying their retirements: they would be prosecuted as war criminals.
III. Struggling to learn the truth.
How did my father die? Sadly, I believe that we still dont know
For a brief moment in 1975 I thought the lights had been turned on again.
Unfortunately the feeling of illumination did not endure. In the years
after 1975 my brother and I became increasingly convinced that we still
did not know the truth what about what had happened to my father.
In fact, I believe we cannot be certain about anything concerning my fathers
death, except that he died just outside the Statler Hotel in New York
City (or was it in the hotel room itself?), after falling some thirteen
stories from the room he had shared with Dr. Robert Lashbrook, who was
Sidney Gottliebs associate at the CIA.
The documents we received from the CIA in 1975 are so riddled with contradictions,
omissions, and outright lies that it is difficult to have any confidence
in them at all. The documents that would have been really informative
were almost certainly shredded by Sidney Gottlieb when he retired from
the CIA in 1975. What we have are remnants of the cover-up within the
CIA itself, that began immediately after my fathers death.
Over the past two decades my brother and I have become increasingly convinced
that in fact my father was murdered. In June of this year we had his body
exhumed so that a full-scale autopsy blocked by the CIA in 1953
could now be performed. For the first time in forty-one years my
brother and I saw my fathers body, which was remarkably intact.
No one in my family had ever seen my fathers body after he died.
At the funeral the casket was closed, because my mother had been told
that my fathers body was so maimed that we would not want to see
it. Now, in its mummified state, we discovered that this had not been
true. Even that bit of consolation had been denied us.
Professor James Starrs of the George Washington University National Law
Center is now overseeing an exhaustive investigation of my fathers
remains. Professor Starrs findings will be reported in a press conference
to be held in late November, on the anniversary of my fathers death.
Professor Starrs forensic investigation is not yet complete, but
its preliminary results, which increasingly point toward the likelihood
of homicide, are tending to confirm our most dire suspicions.
Meanwhile I have managed to locate a former CIA employee who worked in
Gottliebs small group during the years after my fathers death.
This source has confirmed that the members of that small group all believed
that my father was murdered.
My fathers case still unresolved after four decades
illustrates what can happen when civil liberties are violated in the name
of national security research. Once one starts on the dangerous path of
poisoning ones own citizens in order to develop the weapons allegedly
needed to protect them one enters a zone of lunacy where anything is possible,
where sadists can disguise their maliciousness as patriotic duty.
In such a situation any experiment, if it goes awry, can quickly become
a risk to the careers of the experimenters themselves. The path from experimental
mind-manipulation to murder may then be a short one, for how else can
one guarantee the security of an immoral research program in which ones
fellow citizens are used as guinea pigs?
My brother and I can only hope that our fathers case, and our familys
experience, remain a lesson in the risks posed to a free society by pretentious
pseudo-science, self-serving secrecy, and bureaucratic arrogance.
Mr. CONYERS: Dr. Olson,
that is one of the most moving statements I have ever heard in this committee.