Editor’s note: In 1998, WorldNetDaily first reported on the CIA’s secret behavior-modification program MK-ULTRA, which included experimentation with LSD on unsuspecting subjects. Authors H.P. Albarelli Jr. and John Kelly’s upcoming book deals with the mysterious death of one of those subject, Dr. Frank Olson. In this report, Albarelli and Kelly disclose new evidence they have uncovered in this case.
“I would turn our gaze from the past,” pronounced CIA Director George Tenet recently before Congress. “It is dangerous, frankly, to have to keep looking over our shoulders.” Whether Tenet had the unsolved death of Dr. Frank Olson in mind is not known, but there is little doubt that it is on his mind today.
Informed sources revealed this week that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is reviewing dramatic new evidence in the Olson case. The evidence is said to involve the Jan. 8, 1953, death of Harold Blauer and its subsequent elaborate cover-up.
Blauer, a widely respected tennis professional, died nine months before Olson after being injected with a massive dose of a mescaline derivative at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Blauer was being treated at the Institute for depression related to a broken marriage, but the injection was not part of his treatment. It was administered only as part of a top-secret Army-funded experimental program. The program, codenamed Project Pelican, was overseen by Dr. Paul H. Hoch, director of experimental psychiatry at the Institute, who worked in secret collaboration with the Army Chemical Corps chief of clinical research, Dr. Amedeo Marrazzi.
Born in Hungary and schooled in psychiatry in Germany, Hoch came to the U.S. in 1933 on a visitor’s visa and soon legally immigrated with the assistance of then-attorney and future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. (At the time of Frank Olson’s death, Allen Dulles, brother of John Foster, was head of the CIA.) Before joining the Institute’s staff, Hoch headed the Manhattan State Hospital Shock Therapy Unit and worked as chief medical officer for war neuroses for the U.S. Public Health Service.
Hoch, along with associates Dr. Harold A. Abramson and Dr. Max Rinkel, was among an elite group of five private researchers and six U.S. Army physicians who began quietly conducting LSD experiments in the U.S. in 1949.
Rinkel, the man responsible for first transporting LSD into this country, supplied the drug to Hoch and Abramson in that same year. Rinkel, who fled Nazi Germany before the war to work at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital, had known both Abramson and Hoch when all three studied together at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Germany. According to 1998 interviews with former-CIA official Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, it was Rinkel’s close associate, Dr. H.E. Himwich, along with the Army’s Dr. L. Wilson Greene, who first drew the CIA’s attention to the “wonders of LSD.”
When he died in 1965, Hoch was eulogized by two of his closest friends, Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, who would soon be exposed as administrator of some of the most horrendous CIA-funded experiments on record, and New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.
For nearly five years, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s cold-case unit has been conducting an unprecedented criminal investigation into the mysterious death of Fort Detrick biochemist Frank Olson. On Nov. 28, 1953, Olson allegedly dove through a closed and shaded 10th-floor hotel window in the middle of the night.
He plummeted 170 feet to his death on the sidewalk below. Uniformed policemen, summoned to the hotel by night manager Armondo Diaz Pastore, discovered CIA official Robert V. Lashbrook calmly sitting in the room he shared with Olson. Lashbrook identified himself only as a “consultant chemist” for the Defense Department and inexplicably told the officers that he saw no reason to go down to the street to check on his colleague. Lashbrook also told police that Olson had journeyed to Manhattan to be treated by Abramson for “depression related to an ulcer.”
Two detectives from the 14th Precinct dispatched to the Statler Hotel were suspicious about what they observed. At first, they suspected they had a “homosexual affair” gone bad on their hands. Detective James Ward initially referred to the case as a possible “homocide” in his report. Ward and his partner, detective Robert Mullee, took Lashbrook to the precinct house for interrogation. Within less than two hours, Lashbrook was set loose and the case was closed out as “D.O.A. Suicide.” The final police report makes no mention whatsoever of the CIA or any drugs, nor does the report on Olson’s death filed by the New York City Medical Examiners Office.
After his release from questioning at the 14th Precinct station, Lashbrook went to the Medical Examiners office to officially identify Olson’s body. There he was briefly interviewed by a stenographer before returning to spend another day at the Statler Hotel.
The Olson death remained a suicide stemming from depression for 22 years. Then in June 1975, a blue-ribbon commission chaired by Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller submitted a report on CIA domestic crimes to President Gerald Ford. In it, under a section headed “The Testing of Behavior-Influencing Drugs on Unsuspecting Subjects Within the United States,” the suicide of an unnamed man who jumped from a New York hotel after being given LSD “without his knowledge while he was attending a meeting with CIA personnel working on the drug project” was briefly mentioned.
The Olson family threatened to sue the government, were granted an Oval Office audience with President Ford, served a stately luncheon by then-DCI William Colby at the CIA’s Langley, Va., complex, and were generally placated with a pile of heavily redacted documents pertaining to Olson’s “suicide” and by a 1976 congressionally approved settlement in the amount of $750,000. At the time, Alice Wicks Olson, Frank’s widow, said she “was satisfied with the settlement” and that her family was ready to move on with their lives. After decades of doubts and confusion, it appeared that the strange story had finally found a fitting conclusion.
But then in 1994, Frank Olson’s only survivors, sons Eric and Nils, convinced noted forensic sleuth James E. Starrs of George Washington University, Washington, D.C., to disinter their father’s corpse and scientifically scrutinize the remains for any signs of suspected foul play.
Working with a team of 15 forensic experts, Starrs quickly discovered a number of peculiarities in the New York Medical Examiner’s 1953 report written by then-Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Dominick DiMaio.
Starrs noted, “That report was brief and to the point, but it was a report of what was only an external examination of the remains.” Starrs was troubled that “the accompanying toxicological report only assayed the presence of methyl and ethyl alcohol, including no drugs of any kind.” This despite that Olson had allegedly been dosed with LSD and given “nembutal” shortly before his death.
Starrs was even more puzzled to discover that Olson’s body lacked any lacerations on the face and neck. Said Starrs, “This finding stood in contradistinction to that of Dr. DiMaio in his report of his external examination of Dr. Olson’s remains in 1953.” Continued Starrs, “It is a matter of some consternation how Dr. DiMaio could have reported the existence of multiple lacerations on the face and neck of Frank Olson when in truth, there were none.”
In addition to these discrepancies in the medical examiner’s report, Starrs discovered a “highly suspicious” hematoma over Olson’s left eye that he concluded was “singular evidence of the possibility that Olson was struck a stunning blow to the head prior to exiting the window.” There was no mention of this hematoma in the 1953 medical examiner’s report.
Armed with Starrs’ startling findings, the Olson brothers retained high-powered Washington, D.C., attorney Harry Huge of Powell, Goldstein, Frazer, & Murphy, to convince Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau to open a murder investigation. Earlier in 1975, spurred by the LSD revelations of the Rockefeller Commission, Morgenthau’s office had briefly considered doing so but for reasons reportedly tied to the Olson family’s settlement decided not to pursue the case. At the same time, DiMaio told reporters that he had been told nothing in 1953 about Olson being given LSD or having been brought to New York to see a physician.
DiMaio said that Robert Lashbrook, when questioned by the medical examiner’s stenographer, Max Katzman, failed to say anything about Olson having taken LSD or that he was under psychiatric treatment. DiMaio also said that while it “was routine for his office to review the police report in such cases,” the report on Olson’s death had “not been forwarded.”
Pertinent to note here is that the police report, dated Nov. 30, 1953, clearly states that Olson was being examined by Abramson for “a mental ailment” and that Abramson “had advised” that Olson “enter a sanitarium as he was suffering from severe psychosis and illusions.”
On March 31, 1995, attorney Huge sent Morgenthau a 12-page memorandum that methodically argued why an investigation should be opened. Within weeks, Morgenthau agreed with Huge’s findings and assigned the reopened case to his newly created cold-case unit headed by seasoned prosecutors Stephen Saracco and Daniel Bibb.
According to informed sources, newly emerging evidence in the Olson case revolves around Harold Blauer’s death and a number of previously unrevealed links between the CIA, Fort Detrick’s Special Operations Division, or SOD, Olson’s place of work and the New York City Medical Examiners Office.
Cold case prosecutors Saracco and Bibb have learned that, contrary to long-standing reports, both the CIA and SOD had a direct interest in the experiments conducted at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Sources say that Saracco and Bibb have obtained “incontrovertible evidence” that reveals that CIA officials Lashbrook and Gottlieb, as well as officials from the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, directly participated in the cover-up of Blauer’s death. Gottlieb was the CIA branch chief that ordered “the experiment” with LSD that allegedly resulted in Olson’s suicide. In 1986, Lashbrook denied that he had any knowledge about Blauer’s death.
But a top-secret CIA memorandum obtained by the authors reveals that Lashbrook knew far more than he claimed. The document, written in January 1954, details a conversation Lashbrook had with a high-ranking Pentagon official who telephoned the CIA to inquire if the agency “had heard that the Chemical Corps was being sued” because “of an incident involving the use of chemical compounds” at “the New York Psychiatric Institute, which is affiliated with Columbia University.” The memo states: “A Dr. Paul Hoch was the Institute’s principal investigator. He was carrying out experiments involving the injection of Mescalin [sic] derivatives into patients. In this particular case the patient died. Relatives of the deceased have brought the action.”
The document goes on to detail that Lashbrook “had been advised of these facts by Dr. Marrazzi, civilian employee of the Medical Laboratory,” and that both Lashbrook and Gottlieb advised the inquiring Pentagon officer that Marrazzi “was keeping [CIA] informed of their various activities along these lines.” The document continues, “Chemical Corps’ contract is for approximately $1,000,000 dollars. We took a $65,000 financial interest in this place of research around 23 February 1953, after the referenced incident occurred.”
The memorandum goes on to explain that following Lashbrook’s telephone conversation, Gottlieb contacted the Pentagon officer the next day “and advised him we did not want the Agency’s name mentioned in connection with the case since we were in no way involved.” The officer, according to the memo, “assured” Gottlieb that the Agency “will not be mentioned and that he would keep us informed.” The last several sentences of the memo read: “Further information supplied by [officer] was that the lawyer [for the Blauer family] was a military man and had been advised the case involved military connections. The lawyer stated he would give the case no publicity. And finally, the reason for [officer's] contacting the Agency in the first place was to see if we could help them in any way to hush the thing up. He advised they are now using other channels.”
Other recently discovered documents concerning Blauer’s death reveal a more complete portrait of the specifics surrounding the experiments at the Psychiatric Institute. A 1975 CIA document written by Technical Services Inspector General, Donald F. Chamberlain, reads: “The Army Inspector General informed me that the Army’s Special Operations Division, Fort Detrick (the unit that Frank Olson was in) had a contract for two years with the Psychiatric Institute (1952-53) to test various mescaline-related and other drugs [including LSD] that the Army was interested in. Blauer died 2-1/2 hours after an injection of an apparent overdose of 450 milligrams of EA 1298 [mescaline-related drug].”
That it was Fort Detrick’s Special Operations Division that initiated the secret contracts with the New York State Psychiatric Institute is significant because the division was established with CIA assistance for the exclusive purposes of devising biological weapons that, according to CIA documents, could be targeted “at individuals for the purposes of affecting human behavior with the objectives ranging from very temporary minor disablement to more serious and longer incapacitation to death.” These purposes seriously call into question the motivations behind the “experiment” on Blauer.
Nearly a year before Blauer’s death, beginning in 1952, the relationship between the CIA and Fort Detrick’s SOD was formalized through a written agreement. It was officially referred to as Project MK/NAOMI, an adjunct to the larger CIA behavior modification program that within months became known as MK-ULTRA. According to former CIA officials, Project MK/NAOMI was named after Abramson’s assistant, Naomi Busner. Abramson, from 1951 through to at least the late 1960s, served as a high-level researcher for the CIA and Army. Earlier in 1943-1944, Olson, assigned to Division D at the Chemical Corps’ Edgewood Arsenal, and Abramson worked closely together on a prototype project involving simulated exercises aimed at biological-contamination of the New York City water supply.
Fort Detrick’s Special Operations Division was the top-secret Chemical Corps branch that was Olson’s assigned place of work at the time of his death. Contrary to conventional press accounts, CIA-employee Olson was not a simple research scientist with SOD but was a high-ranking division administrator holding the titles assistant division chief and director of plans and assessments. Prior to that, according to military and CIA records, he served as the division’s director of planning and intelligence activities and as director of the SO division itself for about 12 months.
Documents uncovered by the authors reveal that within 48 hours of Blauer’s death, Dr. Amedeo Marrazzi, the Chemical Corps contract officer for Project Pelican, traveled to the New York State Psychiatric Institute on Jan. 10 and met with Hoch. According to several documents, Marrazzi instructed Hoch to do everything possible to conceal the Army’s involvement in Blauer’s death. Additionally, documents reveal: “Marrazzi indicated in his trip report that while he was in New York he prevailed on one of the New York City Medical Examiners with whom he was well acquainted to place all the records (regarding Blauer) in a confidential file in the medical examiners office. Thus the Medical Examiner was informed that Blauer’s death was connected with secret Army experiments, but he was also told that this information was not to be disclosed.” This was the same office of the New York City Medical Examiner that months later received the body of Frank Olson.
Contacted at his home, retired medical examiner DiMaio said, “I don’t recall the incident involving Harold Blauer.” On Frank Olson’s death, he said, “It was a long time ago. They [the police] told me he was on LSD and had been acting aberrant and erratic for a while. There was no reason to do an autopsy.”
CIA spokesman Tom Crispwell declined to comment on any of the new evidence being examined by the District Attorney’s Office.
He said, “CIA activities related to the MK-ULTRA program were thoroughly investigated in 1975 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research. The CIA cooperated with each investigation.”
Olson family attorney Harry Huge said, “We are monitoring these developments closely and are very encouraged that we may now have the means to pursue things further. For obvious reasons, this is an extremely difficult case. The district attorney’s prosecutors have diligently logged hundreds of hours working on it, and we’re anxious about additional findings that may be forthcoming.”
Portions of this article were taken from the forthcoming book, “A TERRIBLE MISTAKE: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Cold War Experiments” by H.P. Albarelli Jr. and John F. Kelly.