The Frank Olson Legacy Project

Have some covert activities of the CIA, although intended to protect American citizens, actually hurt them?



The Case of Frank Olson

Oliver Boothby
February 11, 1996



In what follows I will discuss the question: have some covert activities of the CIA, although intended to protect American citizens, actually hurt them? To answer this question I will use as an example the case of Dr. Frank Olson.

Dr. Frank Olson was a military scientist working at Fort Detrick MD. Dr. Olson specialized in biochemical and bacteriological weapons. In November of 1953 he and his colleagues went on a secret trip to a lodge at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. When Dr. Olson returned he was very disturbed and talked to his wife of making a big mistake.

That Monday he went to work and quit his job, but his boss convinced him to stay and to go to New York City to obtain treatment for his depression. That Monday Olson and two of his superiors went to New York. On Friday night, November 28th, 1953 Dr. Olson mysteriously fell from his bedroom window and died. For 22 years the Olson family lived with the questoin of how did he fall?

In 1975, the Rockefeller commission released a report saying that the CIA had given some of its civilian scientists a dose of LSD in their drinks in November of 1953. One of the scientists later was confirmed to be Dr. Olson. The Olson family held a press conference in July of 1975 demanding the documents that were surrounding the incident of Dr. Olson’s death. Later that summer, President Gerald Ford met with the Olson family and apologized on behalf of the government. President Ford also said that the cause of death was the LSD experiments. The Olsons were then presented with all the relevant CIA documents concerning Dr. Olson’s death. In the CIA documents there were a lot of interesting facts about the deat that raised a whole new batch of questions for the family. In 1994, Dr. Olson’s body was exhumed and an autopsy was performed. The autopsy, as did the documents, uncovered a lot of incrimitating evidence that pointed to foul play.

This paper will be basically divided into three sections. The first section tells the information known in 1953 and the effect Dr. Olson’s death had on the family. The second section will contain the facts realesed in the CIA documents. The third section is concerning the autopsy of Dr. Olson, the investigation of Professor Starrs, and what questions remain on the case.

Dr. Frank Olson was a U.S. military scientist researching biochemical and bacteriological warfare during the Cold War. Dr. Olson worked for the Special Operations division (SOD) at Fort Detrick located in Frederick, Maryland. Fort Detrick was the biggest and most important center for biochemical and bacteriological warfare. The SOD was the most secret system working on the delivery of lethal diseases and deadly toxins used for assassinations. Dr. Olson was working with the CIA on a project called MKNAOMI. Dr. Olson and his men were working to develop highly toxic and deadly poisons for the CA to use against enemies.

Dr. Olson had developed all kinds of different posions and ways to deliver them. If an agent needed to kill somebody fast then Olson had produced a super deadly shellfish toxin. The flaws about this particular poison was the assasin had no time to get away, it was easily tracable, and the person being poisoned had to be eating shellfish. Probably the most often used poision was botulinum. It took about 12 hours to take effect so the killer could make his escape. Dr. Olsons specialty was delivering airborne diseases. He always said that people have to breath but they don’t have to eat. Some of his methods for delivering diseases like anthrax was to release them in everyday items like aerosol cans, cigarette lighters, and in cars.

In November of 1953, Dr. Olson went on a trip to Deep Creek Lake, set up by Sidney Gottlieb, the head of the MKNAOMI operation, with some of his colleagues from both the CIA and the SOD. Nobody knew what happened at the lodge untill 1975 when the Rockefeller commission released the CIA reports concerning Dr. Olson. The meeting took place on Thursday the 20th and Friday the 21st of November. When Dr. Olson returned home from the meeting he was very quiet and subdued. He didn’t speak to his family he just moped around the house all weekend. He kept speaking of making a big mistake. Nobody even found out exactly what that mistake was but it was probably working for the CIA that he considered a mistake. On Monday, he went to work at Fort Detrick and told his superior Vincent Ruwet that he had decided to quit his job. His boss, being a good friend of Olson’s, told him not to quit and that he would take him to New York to obtain treatment for his sudden depression. That same day Olson went to New York with two of his immediate superiors Vincent Ruwet and Robert Lashbrook. When the men arrived New York they got a hotel room on the 13th floor of the Statler Hotel. Nobody is sure why they kept Dr. Olson on the thirteenth floor of a hotel when there was a CIA safehouse under Sidney Gottlieb’s control just 20 blocks from the Statler Hotel. Dr. Olson received the treatment he needed from Dr. Harold Abramson, who was said to be a psychiatrist, but in fact he was an allergist.

Next to nothing is known about what happened in New York, but according to Ruwet and Lashbrook, on Wednesday night Dr. Olson got up, got dresed and left the room he shared with Ruwet. The next morning Lashbrook and Ruwet found Dr. Olson in the hotel lobby wearing his coat, Dr. Olson then told them that he had heard the voice of his boss telling him to walk around the city, throw his identification away, and tear up his money and that is what he had done.

Despite Dr. Olson’s strange behavior, Lashbrook and Ruwet continued with their orders to take Olson back to Frederick that day, Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. When they got to Washington D.C., Dr. Olson decided that he wanted to return to New York because he was afraid that he would become violent with his children. Lashbrook took Dr. Olson back to New York and Ruwet went ahead to Dr. Olson’s home in Frederick to tell Mrs. Olson that Dr. Olson was not coming home for Thanksgiving, but that he was going back to New York. When Olson and Lashbrook returned to New York, Dr. Olson continued his visits with Dr. Abramson. On Friday night Dr. Olson called his wife for the first time since Monday. He told her that he was in good spirits and told her that he would be home the next day. Dr. Olson hung up the phone and he and Lashbrook went to bed. Early Saturday morning, November 28th 1953, Mrs. Olson 38 years old, her two sons, ages 5 an 9, and her daughterm age 7, were told that their husband and father was dead as the result of falling out of the window of a New York hotel room.

For the next 22 years, the Olson family wondered what happened to their father. Dr. Olson’s oldest son Eric was especially interested in how his father just simply fell out of a window. He spent his whole childhood trying to find out how his father fell out of a window. It was an especially hard experience for Eric because all of a sudden he had taken his father’s place and become the man of the house. One day he found his father’s camera and he started to take pictures. Eric got very interested in photography and had a great interest in finding a way to superimpose pictures. When Eric was 15 years old, he and his brother Nils, age 11, decided to ride their one-speed bikes across the US from Frederick to California. They did. Eric and his brother Nils are the youngest people in America to ride their bikes across the whole country.

In 1975, the Rockefeller commission was investigating illegal covert activities by the CIA. On June 11, 1975 the Washington Post released a report saying that the Rockefeller commision had uncovered CIA documents that revealed the fact that in 1953 a government scientist had died after the CIA had given him a dose of LSD without his permission. The report never gave the name of the scientist he but was later found out to be Dr. Olson. A month later in July of 1975 the Olson family held a press conference so they could get control of the documents that contained the facts that surrounded the incident involving Dr. Olson’s death. Later in the summer the president (Gerald Ford) met with the family and apologized for the U.S. government and the CIA. President Ford also said that the proximate cause of Dr. Olson’s death was the LSD experiments performed by Gottlieb and his colleagues. The CIA director William Colby then invited the Olson family to join him for lunch where he presented them with all of the documents concerning the case of Dr. Frank Olson’s death.

The CIA documents contained a lot of interesting facts that gave the family a whole new idea of what might have really happened to their father. The documents raised new questions for the family. Now they wondered if he commited suicide because of a bad reaction to the LSD, or if he was thrown from the window because he was a security risk about the LSD experiments. There are hundreds of possible explanations of what could have happened to him. The documents also give more detailed accounts of many of the occurances that happened around the time of Dr. Olson*s death. The documents give an especially good idea of what happened at the Lodge at Deep Creek Lake. According to the documents, the meeting was set up and organized by Sidney Gottleib and Robert Lashbrook who both worked for the CIA had a continuing relationship with Dr. Olson. The purpose of this relationship (at least how Olson understood it) was to enable the the SOD to make available some of research findings to the CIA. Dr. Olson never suspected that during that November of 1953 that he and his collegues would be used as guinea pigs in an LSD experiment performed by Gottlieb and Lashbrook. Dr. John Schwab, Lt. Colonel Vincent Ruwet, and Dr. Frank Olson, led the group to the lodge. They carefully removed their Fort Detrick bumper stickers from their cars before setting out. Sid Gottlieb had brought 3 co-workers form the CIA including Robert Lashbrook. The two groups of men met in the living room of the lodge and split off into specialized meetings. The few people that are still alive who attended these meetings willl not say anything about what was said in the meetings. After dinner on the second night Olson and his collegues were all having an after diner drinks. What they didn’t know was that Sid Gottlieb had spiked the drinks with LSD. Nobody in the group realized anything was wrong until Gottlieb told them about 20 minutes later. Everybody in the group just laughed it off except for Olson who “wigged” out and turned psychotic.

The CIA documents turned over the family also said that the night Dr. Olson died the hotel manager, Armand Pastore, said that Lashbrook was behaving oddly after Dr. Olson’s death. He never went down to see if Dr. Olson was alive, never called the police, or the front desk. He just sat on the toilet with his head in his hands. The CIA documents also say that on the night Dr. Olson died Dr. Abramson had given him a combination of bourbon and rembutal which had a strong likelihood of killing him.

After the family read those documents that were very incriminating to the CIA they must have wondered if maybe Frank Olson was murdered by the CIA. The Olson family has been wondering if their father was murdered, commited suicide, or he just fell, since 1953 and they probably will be wondering for a long time to come.

In the summer of 1994, Mrs. Olson died of pancreatic cancer. They needed to dig up Dr. Olson so they could bury him next to Mrs. Olson. The family decided that since that they were digging up Dr. Olson that they would reform an autopsy. When the autopsy was done evidence that pointed to foul play and possible murder was found.

The 1953 medical report done immedately after Dr. Olson’s death said specifically that there were cuts and abrasions on the body. When the autopsy was performed by James Starrs, Professor of Law and Forensic science at the National Law Center at George Washington University, and a diverse team of scientists assembled by Professor Starrs. Starrs and his team searched the body for any cuts and abrasions and didn’t find any. This means that the report done by the police after Olson’s death was a lie and that Dr. Olson didn’t fall through a window or he would have had cuts and abrasions on the body.

Professor Starrs and his investigative team found a large hemotoma on the left side of Dr. Olson*s head and a large injury on his chest. The team concluded that the injury on his head and chest did not happen during the fall. They most likely happened in the room before falling out of the window.

When Professor Starrs was done the autopsy, he had a feeling that Dr. Olson was murdered and he decided to investigate further outside of the morgue where he performed autopsy. Starrs found out from the hotel manager, Armand Pastore, that after the death the police were quickly under the control of the CIA. According to Pastore, Lashbrook was taken down to the station for questioning and as Pastore said “he was back at the hotel sooner than it would take to book a hooker.” Starrs then raised the question: did the CIA give Olson LSD to create the impression of mental illness to make it probable that he committed suicide when he was really murdered? Pastore also said that the switchboard operator on duty the night of Dr. Olson’s death heard a phone conversation that came from Dr. Olson’s room minutes after he went through the window to Long Island. The call consisted of two sentences, the first voice said “well he’s gone” the second voice said “that’s too bad”.

Another reason that foul play or murder is suspected in Dr. Olson’s death is that here are no known cases of LSD suicides during a flashback that have happened more than one week after taking the drug. It is very improbable that Dr. Olson could gain enough speed in a small room to clear the radiator, penetrate the glass window, go through a closed wondow shade and not get cut, in a small dark hotel room, when just 4 feet away sleeps a CIA agent.

Professor Starrs went to interview the leader of the trip to Deep Creek Lake, Sidney Gottlieb. Starrs says that nothing about the meeting was suspicious except for the final comment, “the national security of this country was on the line,” made by Sidney Gottlieb. When Gottlieb left the CIA in 1973 he reportedly shredded many documents that suggested his wrongdoing and that underlines his unreliability.

The New York police have been very suspicious when it comes to the case of Dr. Frank Olson since 1953. Recently the Olson family went to collect the police records that concern Dr. Olson’s death but the records have been withheld from the family and from CBS News because, as the New York Police Department said, “disclosing them would reveal unconventional police procedures.”

A few years ago Eric Olson was on an airplane and was reading a magazine on the plane called Spin, a popular magazine among teenagers. There was a long article about the CIA mind control experiments with LSD. The article mentioned a new name of one of the CIA agents who was involved with Gottlieb. His name was Ike Feldman. Ike Felman was a CIA agent for the “safe House” operation which was also part of the CIA’s drug testing program that was run by Sidney Gottlieb.

Feldman suspects the CIA of murdering Dr. Olson but he does not know why they would do it. Eric arranged a meeting with Feldman and found out a lot of really interesting things. Feldman told Eric that there was a CIA safe house that was under Sidney Gottlieb’s control just a few blocks from the Statler Hotel. This raised the question of why did the CIA keep Dr. Olson on the 13th floor of the Statler Hotel when there was a safe house run by the same man responsible for the LSD experiment where he should have been kept in an emergency. This is what made Feldman suspicious of foul play and possibly murder. To find out more about the mystery, Feldman went to his superior George White for more answers and information.

Feldman found out that the safe house was used by Gottlieb’s group to test the influence of sex and drugs when combined with each other. George White also told Feldman that Lashbrook and his colleagues had tried to persuade Dr. Olson to jump from the window at the Statler Hotel. He also said that under the influence of drugs Dr. Olson came near the window but refused to jump. The neglect of Dr. Olson’s suicidal behavior in New York was very, very strange. If the reason for taking Dr. Olson to New York was really to obtain treatment for him then why did they keep him on the 13th floor of a hotel, especially after all of the strange behavior incidents in the CIA documents? The documents also said that Dr. Olson also had a pre-existing psychiatric condition why wasn’t he excluded from a mind control experiment?
Very recently Dr. Robert W. Gibson said something that undermines Lashbrook’s credibility even more than it has been already. Dr. Robert Gibson was the psychiatrist of Chestnut Lodge in Rockville, Md. that Olson was going to see next if he had lived through his stay in N.Y. In the morning of November 28, 1953, just hours after Dr. Olson’s death, Gibson received a call from an unknown person he believes was Lashbrook. The caller told him that during the night he had seen Olson standing in the middle of the room. He said that when he tried to talk to him that Olson had run across the room and dove through the window. This story is totally different than the one in the CIA documents.

After the investigation done by professor Starrs, the Olson family and friends believe that Dr. Olson was murdered on November 28th 1953, because of the large amount of incriminating evidence and inconsistencies in the stories of the CIA.

To this day we still don’t know the truth about what happened to Dr. Frank Olson. There have been many questions since 1953 about the death of Dr. Olson. In 1953, the basic question in people’s minds was “fell or jumped?” In 1975, when the Rockefeller Commission released the report uncovering the mind control experiments with LSD it raised a bundle of new questions about the death. Some of these questions were why did the CIA pick Dr. Olson and his colleagues for the LSD experiments? Was it because they worked on a top secret project dealing with biochemical weapons? Was Dr. Olson given LSD to make the impression that he was insane to make credible his death as suicide? And finally the most important question: was Dr. Olson murdered? We still do not know the answer to a single one of these questions and we might not know for a long time.

In 1994 when Dr. Olson’s body was exhumed and the autopsy and the investigation were performed by Professor Starrs and his investigative team many more questions were raised, such as why did the 1953 medical report say that there were cuts on his body when the autopsy in 1994 said there weren’t? Was the large hemotoma on the side of Dr. Olson*s head caused by hit on the head inside the room since it was not caused by the fall? Why did Lashbrook get back from questioning after Dr. Olson’s death so fast? Why was Dr. Olson kept at a hotel when there was a CIA safe house run by Gottlieb 20 blocks away? Why if Dr. Olson had a pre-existing psychiatric condition then why wasn’t he excluded from the LSD experiments? If Lashbrook was the person who called Dr. Gibson and told him he had seen Olson jumpt through the window then why didn’t he tell the turth to everybody else? If the caller wasn’t Lashbrook, though, that means that Lashbrook lied about being the only person in the room. Finally the most important qusetion that hasn’t been answered is was Dr. Olson murdered?

In this paper I have discussed the question: have some of the covert activities of the CIA, although intended to protect American citizens, actually hurt them? In order to answer this question I have used the example of the case of Frank Olson. In the case of Dr. Frank Olson, the answer to this question is definitely yes. It has affected Frank Olson’s whole family and the people that were involved with the death. The death of Ms. Olson’s husband drove her to alcoholism which is probably one of the causes of her cancer. Dr. Olson’s death is also reason that his son Eric became a psychologist whose speciality is collages.

The CIA may be helping the national security of our nation but they are definitely hurting us at the same time. The CIA has been accused of killing civilians and even testing nuclear weapons on American communities but all they say is that it endangers national security and they can get away with murder. This is definately not justice. Along with hurting us physically they hurt the economy by spending it on secret activities that cost billions of dollars. There are more secret agencies than the CIA, like the NSA, though, that are probably commiting even more horrible crimes and getting away with them. The NSA is so secret that their budget is even unknown. Now we have to ask ourselves just one question: is the price we have to pay for the CIA’s protection too expensive?

Marks, John. The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. Chapter 9, “The Case of Frank Olson.” New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1989.

Stratton, Richard. “Altered States of America: The CIA’s Covert LSD Experiment” Spin. March 1994.

Huge, Harry; Olson, Eric; and Huge Theodore. “Memorandum in Support of a Criminal Investigation into the Death of Dr. Frank Olson” Attorney’s memorandum submitted to the New York District Attorney, May 12, 1995.

CBS News. “Eye on the Case of Frank Olson” CBS Eye to Eye segment, August 4, 1994.


Oliver Boothby was 13 years old when he wrote this paper. He was a student at the Dunbarton Middle School in Maryland.