Frank Olson

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Person.png Frank Olson  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(Bacteriologist, biological warfare scientist)
Hurley, Wisconsin
Died1953-11-28 (Age 43)
Manhattan, New York City, New York
Victim of • premature death
• LSD?
• MKUltra
Interest ofH.P. Albarelli Jr.
A US bioweapons researcher who fell to his death after having been unwittingly given LSD under the umbrella of MKNAOMI and MKULTRA.

Frank Olson was a U.S. Army biological warfare specialist employed at Fort Detrick in Maryland, who died in unclear circumstances - that suggest he was assassinated by the CIA.

Official narratives

Olson was at first said to have comitted suicide due to depression. However, the official narrative changed in the 1970s when it was revealed that he had been unwittingly given LSD at a joint meeting between the CIA and US Army bio-warfare experts, who were collaborating on biological weapons toxins and drugs under the umbrella of MKNAOMI and MKULTRA. The replacement narrative said that the drug lead to his leaping out of a hotel window ten days later, leading the US government to pay compensation to his family in 1975.

Further evidence pointed to the CIA having assassinated Frank Olson over fears that he would leak the entire U.S. biological warfare program, as well as the chemical interrogation program, to the press.[1]


Frank Olson was a senior U.S. microbiologist at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland.[2] He was recruited from the University of Wisconsin, where his departmental advisor was Ira Baldwin, the civilian scientist who, along with industrial partners like George C. Merck and the US military, established the U.S. bioweapons program in 1943, a time when interest in applying modern technology to warfare was at an all-time high.

His specific research work at Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division has never been revealed, but he was clearly involved in biological weapons research. He had been assigned as a contact with the CIA's Technical Services Staff, run by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb and his deputy Robert Lashbrook regarding experiments with bioweapons, toxins, and mind control drugs. This was the MKNAOMI - MKULTRA program, previously known as Project Artichoke and earlier, Project Bluebird, and justified by claimed Soviet efforts to create a "Manchurian Candidate." In 1953, as Deputy Acting Head of Special Operations for the CIA, Olson associated with Dr. William Sargant, investigating the use of psychoactive drugs at Britain's Biological Warfare Centre at Porton Down.[3] He was clearly privy to the innermost secrets of the CIA interrogation and biowarfare programs.

Covert LSD administration and death

Ed Regis reports that the meeting at which Olson was dosed with LSD took place at Deep Creek Lake:

"Deep Creek Lake was three hours by car from Camp Detrick. On Wednesday morning, November 18, 1953, about a week before Thanksgiving, a group from the SO Division, including Vincent Ruwet, chief of the division, John Schwab, Frank Olson, Ben Wilson, Gerald Yonetz, and John Malinowski, drove out to the retreat."

"On Wednesday morning, November 18, 1953, about a week before Thanksgiving, a group from the SO Division, including Vincent Ruwet, chief of the division, John Schwab, Frank Olson, Ben Wilson, Gerald Yonetz, and John Malinowski, drove out to the retreat...The Detrick group was met at the lodge by Sid Gottlieb, his deputy Robert Lashbrook, and a couple of others from the CIA....On the second day of the retreat, after dinner, Gottlieb spiked a bottle of Cointreau with a small quantity of a substance that he and his TSS colleagues privately referred to as "serunin" but which was in fact lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD."

According to the government's version of events, Olson subsequently suffered severe paranoia and a nervous breakdown. The CIA sent him to New York to see one of their psychiatrists, who recommended that Olson be placed into a mental institution for recovery. This all took place after Olson asked to quit the biowarfare program the week after the retreat:

"Ruwet was surprised to see Olson at 7:30 in the morning, but asked him in. Olson told Ruwet that he was dissatisfied with his own performance at the retreat, that he was experiencing considerable self-doubts, and that in fact he had decided he would like to be out of the germ warfare business. He wanted to leave Camp Detrick and devote his life to something else."

The LSD experience may have led Olson to this conclusion, but it was one he had been thinking of for some time. The CIA asked him to go to New York to meet with their private psychiatrist, Harold Abramson, who was centrally involved in the "research".

The New York Times wrote in July 1975 that "The CIA claimed that on his last night in Manhattan, Olson purposely threw himself out of his tenth-floor hotel room window at the Hotel Pennsylvania, dying on impact.:[2] However, when Olson's body was exhumed by a skeptical family, there was evidence that a blow to the head preceded Olson's exit over the balcony window.

The biological warfare programs and the chemical interrogation programs remained almost completely hidden from the public, until Nixon's closure of the biowarfare program in 1969 and the Church Committee hearings of 1975.


Olson's family had no knowledge of the events leading up to his death until the Rockefeller Commission started uncovering some of the CIA's MKULTRA activities. In 1975, the government admitted that Olson had been dosed with LSD without his knowledge. The government offered his family an out of court settlement of $750,000, which they accepted.

In 1994, Eric Olson had his father's body exhumed. The forensic scientist in charge of the examination, George Washington University Professor James E. Starrs, determined that Olson had suffered some form of blunt force trauma to the temple/forehead prior to falling out of the broken window, but contrarily had no visible laceration indicating that he fell through a broken window. The evidence was called "rankly and starkly suggestive of homicide." Based on his findings, in 1996 the Manhattan District Attorney opened a homicide investigation into Olson's death, but was unable to find enough evidence to bring charges.


His son, Eric Olson, set up a website with the aim of "exploring [the] circumstances [around Frank Olsen's death] and the political and ethical issues embedded in them". It is at

Many thanks to our Patrons who cover ~2/3 of our hosting bill. Please join them if you can.


  1. A TERRIBLE MISTAKE:The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments by H.P. Albarelli Jr 2009
  2. a b Seymour Hersch - Family Plans to Sue C.I.A. Over Suicide in Drug Test - 10 July 1975 "The widow and children of a researcher who committed suicide in 1953 after being made an unwitting participant in a Central intelligence Agency drug experiment said today that they planned to sue the agency over his "wrongful death."
  3. [1]

Further reading

  • ISBN 0-8129-0773-6 The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate": The CIA and Mind Control - John D. Marks 1979
  • ISBN 0-9616475-8-2 MKULTRA: The CIA's Top Secret Program in Human Experimentation and Behavior Modification - George Andrews 2001
  • ISBN 0-7432-7060-6 The Men Who Stare At Goats - Jon Ronson 2005
  • ISBN 0-9777953-7-3 A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments - H.P. Albarelli Jr. 2010

External links