New evidence in Army scientist's death
48-year-old case has links to CIA's secret experimentation program
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.
By H.P. Albarelli Jr. and John Kelly
"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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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