Exactly 59 years to the day after a former US bioweapons expert fell to his death from a 10th floor New York hotel window, the man's family announced a lawsuit against the CIA, alleging the agency was involved in his murder and covered up the crime.
The Guardianreports that Eric and Nils Olson filed suit in the US District Court in Washington on Wednesday, accusing the agency of murdering former employee Frank Olson in 1953.
Olson's sons allege that the CIA murdered their father because he had witnessed the torture and murder of Cold War detainees using biological agents he'd developed.
"The evidence shows that our father was killed in [CIA] custody," Eric Olson said in a statement released on Wednesday. "They have lied to us ever since, withholding documents and information, and changing their story when convenient."
"We were just little boys and they took away our lives-- the CIA didn't kill only our father, they killed our entire family again and again and again."
The lawsuit not only accuses the CIA of murdering Olson, but also of perpetrating a "multi-decade cover-up that continues to this day."
Frank Olson began working for at the Special Operations Division of the Army's biological warfare laboratory at Ft. Detrick, Maryland in 1950. He worked with the CIA developing chemical and biological weapons in the early '50s and was involved in several projects, including the notorious MK-ULTRA mind control experiments. MK-ULTRA involved, among many other illegal and highly immoral activities, dosing unwitting human guinea pigs with psychedelic drugs, primarily the newly-invented Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
In 1953, Olson traveled to Europe where he allegedly witnessed CIA agents conducting brutal experiments and interrogations on captured communist agents of the sort for which Nazi scientists had recently been condemned to death at Nuremberg. According to the lawsuit filed by Olson's sons, their father "witnessed extreme interrogations in which the CIA committed murder using biological agents that Dr. Olson had developed."
Olson expressed his strong reservations to William Sargant, a leading British psychiatrist who was himself heavily involved in the then-new fields of brainwashing and mind control research. Sargant then informed British intelligence that Olson was a security risk and the CIA was notified.
By that time, Olson wanted out of the CIA. But he was taken to a secret meeting at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland where declassified government documents show that he was unwittingly dosed with LSD by CIA Technical Services chief Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, who also headed Project MK-ULTRA.
On November 24, 1953, Olson expressed his desire to quit the CIA. But he was ordered to New York for a psychiatric evaluation. While there, John Mulholland, a renowned magician employed by the CIA, attempted to hypnotize him. This unnerved Olson even more. "Just let me disappear," he pleaded.
Then, in the early morning hours of November 28, Frank Olson mysteriously fell from the 10th foor window of his room he was sharing with a CIA doctor at the Statler Hotel in Manhattan. His death was ruled a suicide.
Olson's family was in the dark about what happened to Frank for more than 20 years. Then, on June 11, 1975, a front-page headline in the Washington PostannouncedPANEL FINDS CIA BROKE THE LAW... SUICIDE REVEALED. The panel was the President's Commission on CIA Activities within the United States, established by President Gerald Ford to investigate Agency shenanigans.
The commission found, among other things, that "a civilian employee of the Department of the Army unwittingly took LSD as part of a CIA test" and had "developed serious side effects." The report did not mention Frank Olson by name, but his family immediately knew it was referring to him. They now knew that LSD was involved in Frank's death and they demanded answers. Olson's daughter contacted Vincent Ruwet, her father's former boss at the CIA, who confirmed that Frank was indeed the "civilian employee" in question.
The Olson family decided to sue the government for Frank's wrongful death. They held a news conference, which was quickly followed by an invitation to the White House and a personal apology from President Ford. But the whole truth was still not revealed.
In 1994, Eric Olson exhumed his father's body. When Frank died, his family was told that his face was damaged so badly that only a closed-casket wake was possible. But Eric found his father's body to be in remarkably well-preserved state and his face free of lacerations. A forensic team led by Dr. George Starrs of George Washington University did, however, find that Frank had suffered a blow to the left temple just before he fell to his death. When Olson fell, he hit the ground feet-first and then fell backwards. The bruise above his temple, Starrs and Eric Olson concluded, was caused when someone delivered a stunning blow to Olson before pushing or throwing him out of his hotel window.
Around the same time that Frank Olson was dying to leave the CIA, some of the Agency's top minds penned an assassination manual which described ideal ways to kill people and make it look like an accident. It read, in part:
"The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface... unscreened windows will serve... The subject may be stunned... blows should be directed to the temple."
The New York District Attorney's office subsequently conducted an investigation into Frank Olson's death. The probe was inconclusive. Eric Olson claims the CIA continues to stonewall his attempts to discover the whole truth about his father's death to this day.
"It's unfathomable that our own government could stand by as its agents, operating on United States soil, killed an American citizen in cold blood, destroyed his family, and then allowed those directly responsible to walk away without so much as blemish on their personal files," Scott Gilbert, lead counsel in the lawsuit, said in a statement. "Instead of putting its energy and resources in doing what is right, the United States-- including this administration-- has sought to bury this and hide the truth."
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood released the following statement:
"Without commenting on this specific legal matter, CIA activities related to MK-ULTRA have been thoroughly investigated over the years, and the agency cooperated with each of those investigations. MK-ULTRA was investigated in 1975 by the Rockefeller Commission and in 1977 by the Senate Select Committee on Health and Scientific Research. In addition, tens of thousands of pages related to the program have been declassified and released to the public."