The Frank Olson Legacy Project

Unpublished letter to the editor, The New Yorker, in response to Louis Menand’s “Brainwashed: Where the ‘Manchurian Candidate’ came from."



September 12, 2003
To the editor, The New Yorker

In his essay “Brainwashed: Where the ‘Manchurian Candidate’ came from” Louis Menand suggests that the charge made by brainwashed American pilots that the US had engaged in germ warfare during the Korean War was “untrue but widely believed in many countries.” Menand implies that this controversial issue is far more settled than is in fact the case.

A new documentary film, “Code Name Artichoke” (produced this year by German public television and widely shown internationally and in the US on WorldLink TV) on the death of my father, Dr. Frank Olson, revisits this question and presents new evidence. (See this link for a transcript of the film.)

In the year before his death in 1953 my father, a biochemist, was acting chief of the Special Operations Division (essentially an off-campus CIA BW lab) at the Army's center for biological warfare at Camp Detrick, Maryland. This position put him on the boundary between biological warfare and interrogation research, precisely the strange boundary zone evoked in the term “germ warfare confessions.” The conventional wisdom alleges that in November 1953 he threw himself out of a 13th floor window of the Statler Hotel in New York (now the Hotel Pennsylvania) after having himself been drugged with LSD by the CIA in a mind control experiment. This version of events comprises the core chapter of John Marks’ 1979 book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. (Times Books)

“Code Name Artichoke” shows that my father became convinced that the US was using biological weapons in Korea, at least on an experimental basis. The film juxtaposes footage of an American pilot making these claims with footage in which this same serviceman subsequently recants his “germ warfare confession.” The question as to which of these statements is the product of indoctrination is thereby starkly posed, with the implication that the notion of brainwashing was, among other things, a powerful tool for psychological discrediting.

Eric Olson, PhD

Visual connections between “The Manchurian Candidate” and the Frank Olson story.



See also the statment by Stephen Endicott and Ned Hagerman on the connections between the Frank Olson story and allegations of use of biological weapons in the Korean War.