By Mitch Perry
Beginning after World War II and escalating through the early 1950s,
the U.S. government launched a multimillion-dollar series of
experiments in mind control and behavior modification.
It wasn't until the mid-1970s that Americans learned of such
programs, which went by the names of Bluebird, ARTICHOKE and, most
notably, MK/ULTRA. That's when a commission led by then Vice
President Nelson Rockefeller and a subsequent Senate investigation
revealed what our government had been up to.
In December of 2000 in this newspaper (then known as Weekly Planet),
reporters H. P. Albarelli Jr. and John Kelly published a lengthy
investigation that went beyond government reports. "The Strange Story
of Frank Olson" explored the fate of a biochemist working for the
U.S. Army who reportedly fell from a hotel window in New York City in
November of 1953, after he had been dosed with LSD by the CIA.
Now, nearly a decade later, H.P. "Hank" Albarelli Jr. has published a
book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's
Secret Cold War Experiments, that he says was inspired by the
positive reaction to the Planet story.
In the book, the author -- a resident of Indian Rocks Beach -- weaves
a fascinating tale about the CIA's mind control programs. Albarelli
told CL last month that he was inspired to write about Olson by the
1979 book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, in which author
John Marks used data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act
to document the CIA's use of LSD on unwitting subjects.
Marks devoted one chapter to the death of Olson, reportedly a guinea
pig for Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, dubbed "Dr. Death" for his involvement
in programs like MK/ULTRA. Ultimately, Olson became paranoid and
depressed and allegedly committed suicide by crashing through a
window in a small New York City hotel room and jumping to his death.
Intrigued by that chapter, Albarelli began the research in the
mid-'90s that led to his Planet cover story. "That got a tremendous
amount of attention all over the world," he says, leading to more
articles and then the raw materials that grew into the book.
Among the most startling episodes in his book is the story about the
CIA dosing an entire small French town with LSD back in August of
1951. Albarelli says that anyone who does any type of research
regarding the CIA and psychedelic drugs will come across that
incident, but reviews of his book have commended him for going into
greater detail than ever before. For decades, the outbreak of death
and insanity in Pont-St.-Esprit was attributed to ergot poisoning
(i.e., citizens eating bread that was infected with a psychedelic
mold) or mercury poisoning. But Albarelli says what happened in the
town was central to the fate of Frank Olson.
"He [Olson] headed up the special operations division at Fort Detrick
that conducted the experiment, and after he had been demoted it came
out that he had spoken indiscreetly about that experiment, and that
was a large part of the reason he was placed under suspicion," Albarelli says.
In reading A Terrible Mistake, one wonders why the government, and
specifically the CIA, was so into experimenting with LSD, which in
the mid-'50s very few people knew anything about. Hank Albarelli Jr.
says the government was "all over the map" in terms of what they
thought the mind-altering drug could do.
"In 1949 the Army recommended it be used for psycho warfare, as crazy
as that sounds, which is why it was used in Pont-St.-Esprit as a
field test. They thought that maybe wars could be handled by
chemicals rather than by bombs and guns, and it would result in less
bloodshed and less destruction of property," he said. "Sort of the
capitalistic dream -- you could win a war without harming any
property whatsoever -- but that didn't pan out, they weren't happy
with the results of the Pont-St.-Esprit experiment. They just started
shifting gears immediately and thought well, we can use this drug for
interrogative purposes, and that didn't turn out well at all. It had
no potential whatsoever as a truth drug, but they continued to use it
and even use it today at Guantanamo and other black sites mainly to
frighten people and scare the hell out of them and throw them off balance."
Wait -- they still use it today? We asked Albarelli Jr. to elaborate.
He mentioned the case of Jose Padilla, best known to Americans
shortly after 9/11 as the "dirty bomber." His attorneys contended
that he was injected with LSD or some other drug designed to be used
as a "truth serum." A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy brig in South
Carolina denied that, saying it was a flu shot. In 2008, the
Washington Post reported, "At least two dozen... former and current
detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs
against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on
interviews and court documents... to coerce confessions. The
government strongly denied those challenges."
Albarelli says that the government's belief in the '50s that LSD
could be used as an effective truth serum demonstrated their
ignorance about the drug. He says that the CIA also used acid in
conjunction with other drugs in an attempt to create "the ideal assassin."
"When you really examine that," says Albarelli, "it's really foolish
because there was never a shortage of people who wanted to be assassins."
Another incident in this extraordinary saga has a Tampa connection:
At one point Santo Trafficante Jr., head of the Trafficante crime
family headquartered in Tampa and Miami, met with the CIA to discuss
using drugs to assassinate Fidel Castro.
All of these stories were suppressed by the government until December
22, 1974, when New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh broke the lid
off, alleging that the CIA had been engaged in massive domestic
spying. Hersh's coverage led President Ford to establish the
Rockefeller Commission, followed by the Senate investigation led by
Idaho Democrat Frank Church.
Albarelli initially thought that the commissions did a laudable job
of unlocking the CIA's secrets. But now he feels they were nothing
more than "dog and pony shows" because no one was ever held
accountable for the crimes committed.
"I couldn't help but come to the conclusion that the so-called
investigations were little more than a joke and just sort of placated
the media and the public." He said that recent documents released
from the Rockefeller Commission revealed a strong intent to divert
attention from the Olson death by deliberately exposing MK/UlTRA but
not Project Artichoke (which Olson was involved with), and that the
outing of Dr. Sidney Gottleib was a part of that effort. Albarelli
attributes that trickery in part to former Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
In 1975, Rummy was President Ford's chief of staff, and Cheney was
Rumsfeld's top assistant. Albarelli praises them for a job well done.
"They were able to deflect attention away from Olson's murder and got
the media to swallow whole hog the fact that he committed suicide
because he was dosed with 70 mgs of LSD nine days before his death,
which is by today's standard almost laughable," Albarelli maintains.
And what specifically is the "terrible mistake" of his book's title?
"Almost everything that I wrote about," he responds, but the words
are specifically a quote from Olson. "He came home from the Deep
Creek Lake meeting where he was dosed with LSD nine days before his
murder, and his wife knew something was wrong, and the only thing he
would say to her was that he had made a terrible mistake and he said
he'd speak to her later about it... The event at Deep Creek Lake was
really his interrogation using drugs and probably LSD to find out
with why he was talking about Pont-St.-Esprit and other experiments.
He had decided to leave the CIA and the Army and re-school himself as
a dentist, but Olson was an arrogant, outspoken sort of guy, and the
last two or three months before his departure he started talking
about what he had done over the past three years under contract with
the CIA, and that was just a no-no."
Albarelli is convinced that Olson was murdered as a result.
"His murder wasn't intentional; my conjecture is that he obviously
was murdered in the room and that would probably qualify as
manslaughter... he was thrown out the window because he tried to
escape a couple of times. And that couldn't be allowed to happen."
H.P. Albarelli Jr. can be contacted through his website, www.albarelli.net.