The CIA's Murder of Frank Olson Goes to Court
by Jacob G. Hornberger
Yesterday, the New York Times carried a fascinating article entitled “Suit Planned Over Death of Man C.I.A. Drugged.” According to the article, the children of a former federal official named Frank Olson are suing the CIA for murdering their father in 1953 as part of the agency's infamous MKULTRA program.
The article is of special interest to me because I wrote about the Olson case in the August issue of our monthly journal Future of Freedom, in my article, "The Evil of the National Security State, Part 5." (Part 5 is not yet posted online but is available to subscribers now. Subscribe here.) Part 5 revolves around the book A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, by H.P. Albarelli, which was published in 2011.
The CIA was established with the National Security Act of 1947. Along with the Pentagon, the CIA oriented America's foreign policy in the direction of a permanent warfare state, as part of its "cold war" against America's World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union. As I point out in my series, the result has been a corruption of moral principles and values among the American people, which officials have justified under the rubric of "national security."
Among the horrific acts undertaken by the CIA during the Cold War was the drugging of people with LSD without their consent or knowledge. The CIA went into prisons and hospitals, for example, and caused people to ingest LSD without securing their permission and without telling them what the CIA was doing.
The top-secret program was known as MKULTRA. We don't have most of the details of the program, including all the identities of the victims, because once word leaked out about the program in the 1970s, the CIA ordered all its records destroyed in order to keep Congress and the American people from knowing the full details of the program.
Olson was a U.S. Army biological warfare scientist who was employed at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Working with the CIA in its LSD experiments, Olson witnessed the horrible effects of a LSD experiment that the CIA secretly and surreptitiously had conducted on a small village in France. Suffering a crisis of conscience, Olson began talking about the experiment, thereby violating his oath to keep the project top secret.
One day, Olson came home in a highly agitated and depressed emotional state. A few days later, his wife was notified that he had committed suicide by jumping out of a hotel window in New York City.
Olson's family had no idea what had caused such a sudden, radical transformation in Frank Olson's mental state, and the CIA played dumb.
In the 1970s, congressional investigations uncovered what had caused Olson's sudden change in mental state. The CIA had subjected him to an LSD experiment, without telling him. The official story was now that the CIA's LSD experiment on Olson had led to his suicide a few days later.
The CIA admitted what it had done and issued profuse apologies to the Olson family. President Ford, inviting the family to the White House, offered his own apologies. A financial settlement was paid to the family.
It turned out that the official story, including the profuse apologies, however, were all sophisticated bunk. What had actually happened, which Albarelli details so carefully in his book, is that the CIA murdered Olson because he was talking to people about what the CIA had done to the people in that French village with its LSD experiments, thereby endangering national security.
So, to protect national security CIA agents threw Olson out of that hotel window. The LSD-suicide story was a sophisticated fallback cover story if anyone were to ever discover the reason for Olson’s sudden change in mental state. The idea was that in that case, the CIA would admit what it did and apologize profusely about it, without anyone being the wiser as to how Olson actually died.
The Olsons are now suing the federal government for the CIA's murder of their father.
What are their chances for success? In my opinion, they have no chance at all. The federal courts have long taken an extremely deferential position toward the Pentagon and the CIA in cases involving "national security." All the Justice Department has to do is file a response to the lawsuit that states, "national security" and "state secrets" and most federal judges will immediately dismiss the suit.
We saw this phenomenon in the murder of Charles Horman in Chile. He was a young American journalist who sympathized with the socialist policies of Chile's democratically elected president Salvador Allende. When Allende was ousted in the U.S.-supported coup headed by military strongman Augusto Pinochet, among the people rounded up as suspected communists was Horman. He was executed soon afterward, along with thousands of others.
Both the U.S. military and the CIA played the innocent, acting as if they had nothing to do with the coup and with Horman's murder.
The Horman family filed suit against U.S. officials for the wrongful death of their son, but federal judges threw their case out of court without permitting them to force the Pentagon and the CIA to disclose, through depositions, their role in the coup and in the murder of their son.
Many years later, a State Department memo was discovered in which it was admitted that the CIA had, in fact, played a role in Horman's murder. The CIA had been lying the whole time. They had helped murder an innocent American citizen and had gotten away with it.
Has Congress ever investigated the murder? Nope. Has the Justice Department ever convened a grand jury to issue indictments for the murder? Nope. Do we even know which CIA agents committed the murder? Nope. Do we know whether the director of the CIA or the president of the United States authorized the murder or helped cover it up? Nope.
Hey, national security -- the two most important (and meaningless) words in the lives of the American people in our lifetime -- is at stake. The details of the Horman murder have to be kept secret. Otherwise America might fall to the communists, the terrorists, the drug dealers, or even maybe the illegal aliens.
In my opinion, what happened in the Horman case is what is going to happen in the Olson case. The Olsons will not be permitted to take depositions. They will not be permitted to subpoena records. They will be thrown out of federal court on their ears. They will be taught the lesson of our time: National security trumps everything.
In an interesting twist, however, Chilean officials recently issued an indictment against a former U.S. Navy officer, Capt. Ray E. Davis, for conspiracy to murder Horman and another American journalist killed at the same time named Frank Teruggi. My prediction: the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Justice Department will fight fiercely to oppose any extradition request, just as they will have resisted returning those CIA officials convicted of kidnapping in Italy to face justice.
As I state in my series, "The Evil of the National Security State," the national security state apparatus -- i.e., the CIA and the vast military industrial complex -- are a cancer on the American body politic. The apparatus should never been established, and it should have been dismantled at the end of the Cold War. The national-security state has corrupted American moral values, stultified the consciences of the American people, produced an endless state of war, made us less free and less safe, and is helping bankrupt the American people. It's time to rid our nation of this cancer and restore a normal, balanced, healthy, functioning society to our land.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News' Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano's show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.
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