In view of the last several posts, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a little background on MKULTRA. At the end of this post, we’ll discuss what’s in store for the next couple months, particularly 4/19/19.
In the early-morning hours of Saturday, November 28, 1953, a 43-year-old man by the name of Frank Olson flew out of his 10th-story window at the Hotel Statler, a century-old brick structure in Midtown Manhattan that, to this day, stands directly across the street from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. (It’s called the Hotel Pennsylvania now.) Olson was a bioweapons expert employed at the U.S. Army’s facility known as Camp Detrick (renamed Fort Detrick in 1956) in Frederick, MD, and, in the preceding days, he’d been struggling with some ethical issues regarding the work he was involved with. Olson had also been acting strangely of late, and for good reason. He’d attended a three-day retreat, November 18-20, at a cabin at Deep Creek Lake, MD, with a select number of people from Camp Detrick and the CIA, and two officials from the latter organization, Sidney Gottlieb and Robert Lashbrook, had slipped some LSD into his drink. Things with Olson were never the same. In the ensuing days, Lashbrook had accompanied Olson twice to New York City to get him some help—from a CIA-affiliated psychiatrist/allergist—and it was during the second excursion that Olson fell to his death.
The CIA contends that Olson’s death was a suicide and that Lashbrook, who’d been rooming with Olson, had been awakened when Olson took a running leap, breaking through a closed window. But despite the CIA’s spin, the jury is still very much out on the question of how and why Olson exited that window. If you’d like to know more about that case, I suggest you watch the highly binge-able, six-part documentary “Wormwood,” on Netflix. You can also visit Frank’s son Eric Olson’s website for background information or the many other articles and books that have been written on the case.
The reason I bring up Frank Olson here is because, as far as I can tell, he may have been the first person who nearly outed MKULTRA as his horrific death hit the front pages of area newspapers. In its inimitable way, the CIA managed to cover up the whole thing, and for the next couple decades, the agency went back to its business of drugging, hypnotizing, electroshocking, and who knows what else to innocent citizens, all in the name of fighting Communists.
Until Watergate, that is.
Some of our younger readers may not realize this, but, in a very weird way, if it hadn’t been for Richard Nixon and Watergate, we may have never learned about MKULTRA and its precursors, BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE.
Richard Nixon, accidental hero
I know. It feels strange to call Richard Nixon a hero in any sense of the term, but I consider an accidental hero to be someone who does something important and positive purely by accident—that the good that came out of a particular situation was unintentional. And, when it comes to MKULTRA, that would be an apt description for Nixon. It happened like this: After five burglars were arrested for breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972, it was discovered that several of them, such as James McCord and Frank Sturgis, in addition to co-conspirator E. Howard Hunt, were affiliated with the CIA. (Sidebar: Those three names have also been linked to the JFK assassination, by the way. So on that topic, can we all just have a kumbaya moment here and agree that the CIA was responsible for killing JFK and move on with our lives? Howard Hunt admitted as much to his son when he thought he was on the verge of dying. Yes? No? Ah well, never mind.)
Back to Watergate. Richard Helms, then director of central intelligence, was later fired by Nixon after his reelection, but not because of the CIA’s connection to the break-in. Instead, Nixon was angry with Helms for not allowing the CIA to assist in the cover-up. Before Helms walked out the door in early February 1973, he ordered the destruction of all documents pertaining to MKULTRA.
“These experiments went on for many years,” Helms said about the program’s LSD experiments in a lengthy interview with David Frost, republished in the Fall 2000 issue of Studies in Intelligence. (The link to the article is currently broken on the CIA website. I’m asking them to fix it.) “There is the inevitable question of whether they should have been ended sooner.”
And he would know. Helms wasn’t just the person who witnessed the end of MKULTRA. He was there, at the beginning, when it was just the germ of an idea floating around in his commie-obsessed brain. In fact it was Richard Helms who infected Director Allen Dulles with the idea. Dulles, in turn, gave the program the green light on April 13, 1953. Obviously, Helms was aware that, should information on the program become public, the public would have blown a collective gasket.
James Schlesinger, unlikely hero
An unlikely hero, in my mind, is someone who does something courageous when most people wouldn’t have expected such actions from him or her, which I think applies nicely to Helms’ successor, James Schlesinger. I mean, who would expect the director of central intelligence to air the agency’s dirty laundry in full view of the American public, not to mention the whole world? When Schlesinger arrived on the job, he wondered what else the CIA had been up to that fell outside its normal charter. He issued a directive asking all CIA employees past and present to report to him all of the outlying programs that they’d been involved in over the years, no matter how ill-conceived, pernicious, or flat-out illegal. And egads! The result was a nearly 700-page compendium endearingly known as The Family Jewels.
Within those pages were descriptions of all sorts of operations—mail tampering, conducting surveillance on journalists and political dissidents, teaming up with mobsters to attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro, and, of course, venturing into mind control and the drugging of unwitting victims. Olson wasn’t identified in the report, however, once Congress began taking action, the sordid details spilled forth, most notably through investigations conducted by President Ford’s Rockefeller Commission and the Senate’s Church Committee. The Rockefeller Commission report, which was released in July 1975, also didn’t specify Olson by name. But when members of Olson’s family turned to page 227, they knew instantly who the commission was referring to and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the CIA. (You can read Eric’s website to learn more about the family’s ordeal and settlement.) Here’s what the commission said:
“The Commission did learn, however, that on one occasion during the early phases of this program (in 1953), LSD was administered to an employee of the Department of the Army without his knowledge while he was attending a meeting with CIA personnel working on the drug project. Prior to receiving the LSD, the subject had participated in discussions where the testing of the substances on unsuspecting subjects was agreed to in principle. However, this individual was not made aware that he had been given LSD until about 20 minutes after it had been administered. He developed serious side effects and was sent to New York with a CIA escort for psychiatric treatment. Several days later, he jumped from a tenth-floor window of his room and died as a result. The General Counsel ruled that the death resulted from ‘circumstances arising out of an experiment undertaken in the course of his official duties for the United States Government,’ thus ensuring his survivors of receiving certain death benefits. Reprimands were issued by the Director of Central Intelligence to two CIA employees responsible for the incident.”
In September 1975, Schlesinger’s successor, William Colby, testified before the Church Committee and revealed the following information, including Olson’s name, which appears on page 12 of the report:
“The threat as well as the promise posed by newer types of drugs, particularly the hallucinogenic drugs, made at least exploratory research on them essential. You will recall our concern over the possible role of drugs in the apparent brainwashing of American POW’s [sic] in Korea, and the haunted eyes of Cardinal Mindzenty as he “confessed” at a Communist trial. I might add that we believe that a drug was administered to one of our officers overseas by a foreign intelligence service within the past year. Those responsible for providing technical support to clandestine operations felt it necessary that they understand the ways in which these drugs could be used, their effects and their vulnerabilities to countermeasures. In pursuing such concerns as these, many different materials were obtained and stored for provision to contractors who did the actual scientific research involved. This concern also led to the experiments which led to the unfortunate death in 1953 of Mr. Frank Olson.“
It’s important to bear in mind that the above information concerning the CIA’s “drug project” was originating in large part from people’s memories, on account of Richard Helms’ efforts to destroy all of the paper evidence. There was, however a 1963 Inspector General’s report that provided some background on MKULTRA, meager as it was. Part of the testimony for both Directors William Colby and Richard Helms focused on the fact that the evidence had been destroyed in January of 1973. “It’s all gone,” Helms, in essence, told them on pages 104 and 105 of the Church Committee’s report. “So, so sorry.”
Nah, just kidding. He wasn’t sorry. In other congressional testimony, he provided this excuse:
“[Gottlieb] came to me and said that he was retiring and that I was retiring and he thought it would be a good idea if these files were destroyed. And I believe part of our reason for thinking this was advisable was there had been relationships with outsiders in government agencies and other organizations and that they would be sensitive in this kind of a thing but that since the program was over and finished and done with we thought we would just get rid of the files as well, so that anybody who has assisted us in the past would not be subject to follow up, or questions, embarrassment, if you will.” (41, Richard Helms testimony, Sept. 11, 1975, p. 5) (By the way, I’m not able to find this testimony directly online—I can only find it quoted by other sources. If anyone is able to find it, can you send me a link?)
John Marks, real-life hero
Thankfully, this was when real-life hero John D. Marks stepped in. The way I see it, real-life heroes are the people who accomplish something great because their heart’s in the right place and they’re willing to take whatever arduous path is required to make it to the finish line, perhaps even putting themselves into harm’s way in the process. Marks didn’t settle for what Helms had to say. A former intelligence officer with the State Department, Marks submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in 1976, seeking “all documents relating to the CIA’s drug and behavior-modification programs,” and later specifying BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, and MKULTRA as well as related programs MKSEARCH and MKDELTA. What came back, eventually, was 16,000 pages of documents—seven boxes’ worth—that Helms and his minions had (fortunately) missed because the documents were from the CIA’s Budget and Fiscal Section and had been housed offsite. (See page 5 of the report of the 1977 Joint Hearing on MKULTRA for a thorough explanation by CIA Director Stansfield Turner of how the documents were discovered.) Marks used those documents along with extensive interviews to produce his 1979 classic, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control, which is must reading on this topic. Seriously, if you read only one book on the CIA’s mind control programs, this is the one you want.
Not only did Marks’ FOIA request make his blockbuster book possible, but it also enabled the rest of us to dive into the source material, though it has taken a while for that to happen. More on that in a minute.
It seems that the CIA never really “got it” regarding the whole MKULTRA matter and the need for keeping the public in the loop. Not long after the Joint Hearing on MKULTRA took place in August 1977—after they’d withstood the scoldings for Helms’ 1973 document purge, and then had to subsequently explain how they were able to find seven boxes of documents after all—a 1978 CIA memo was issued saying that MKULTRA was the number one program in which they had concerns regarding the Freedom of Information Act. Why the concern? Because they felt that releasing information about the program in “bits and pieces” only misled the public. Of course, releasing the information in that form was a problem of their own making. But whatever.
The unsung heroes
The unsung heroes are all the people who continue to seek new MKULTRA-related documents by submitting FOIA requests and Mandatory Declassification Review appeals even though the cards are stacked against them. They’re the people traveling the same rocky path that John Marks traveled—one that requires heart and chutzpah and hard-earned cash. They’re real-life heroes but without the name recognition, at least outside FOIA circles. For despite Richard Helms’ efforts at putting the kibosh on any public knowledge of MKULTRA whatsoever, documents continue to be declassified and are being made available online.
The Black Vault is a website repository of declassified government documents that’s overseen by John Greenewald, Jr. In 2004, Greenewald obtained more than 1700 documents from the CIA on MKULTRA, and he’s continuing with those efforts, having posted more documents in October and November 2018. I’m pretty sure that I have Mr. Greenewald to thank for his initial FOIA request because it greased the wheels for my request in 2014. Whereas he had to wait years for his CD-ROM, mine arrived in a matter of days. In fact, I’ve recently discovered that, had I known about The Black Vault then, I wouldn’t have needed to pony up the $10 for the CD-ROM, since, even after ten years, everything I received from the CIA had already been posted on his website. (It’s unclear how the CIA’s “MKULTRA Collection” compares to the documents John Marks received. I imagine many, if not most, of the files are the same, but, as Mr. Greenewald points out on his website, some pages that the CIA lists in its index are missing from the CD-ROM. So there’s clearly more out there.)
MuckRock.com, a “nonprofit collaborative news site,” is a gathering spot for anyone interested in government transparency to file, track, and post FOIA requests and results. Thanks to a FOIA lawsuit fought and won by MuckRock, every man, woman, and child can now access the CIA’s declassified CREST files online instead of having to drive to the National Archives in College Park, MD, and sit at one of the CIA’s designated computer stations. Speaking as someone who has done the latter a time or two, the ability to conduct research day or night from my laptop 300 miles away from there is JUST SO WORTH IT.
Then there’s Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, who filed the FOIA lawsuit that enables us all to view the Family Jewels. There are also FOIA lawyers who, on occasion, are willing to offer their expertise pro bono to help obtain public access to the more tightly guarded CIA documents. And those are just several shining examples. The rest of you know who you are. We thank you too!
Some present and past CIA employees are also unsung heroes. They’re the people who fervently believe in the public’s right to information once it’s been determined that there is no risk to national security or an individual’s privacy. Take that FOIA guy from 1977 who finally discovered the financial documents for MKULTRA in an offsite location for retired records. Where would we all be without him? Or Jeffrey Scudder, a former CIA employee who was so annoyed by the CIA’s unwillingness to let go of information that had been cleared for release, he filed his own FOIA request to have the documents made public. I don’t know if any of those documents had to do with MKULTRA, but maaaan…the way the CIA treated him for doing his job? Those guys don’t play nice.
Where are we headed?
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, amidst all of the MKULTRA documents that have been released to the public, I’ve found two that I believe are related to Ronald Tammen’s disappearance. One I’m 99% sure of, and the other I’m less sure of, though my confidence grows by the day. The documents are heavily redacted and are both under review for the possible release of the name of an individual who is linked to Tammen. I’m cautiously optimistic that the person’s name will be released and, if so, that it will be the person I think it is. But, as you know, this process isn’t for people with short attention spans. It’s been roughly five years since I found the first document—about two years for the second one. This could take another year or two. Or ten.
Here’s my plan: This blog will be two years old in April, and many of you have been with me the entire time. (Btw, thank you for being part of this little community! You are all smart and savvy and your comments and questions have influenced my thinking in a big way.)
On April 19, 2019, the 66th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, I’m going to share the two documents with you, even if we haven’t heard from the powers that be yet. I’ll also propose who I believe is named in them and why I think so. I’ll also give you my theory regarding what I think happened to Ron. There will be holes—loads of them—as far as what exactly happened, since that information is probably impossible to get our hands on in document form and, alas, time travel is still not a thing. But I’ll present my case and everyone will have a chance to weigh in.
Then, Good Man readers, I’ll be putting this blog on hiatus, and we’ll begin the waiting period for the final verdict. For those of you who wish to be notified as soon as it happens, I’d suggest following the blog if you haven’t already. You’ll receive an email within five minutes of my receiving the news—good or bad, right or wrong. In the interim, I’ll be heading back underground—deep into writing and researching and (fingers crossed) attempting to find an agent who is in the market for these sorts of stories.
But that’ll be in a couple months. We still have a few more things to discuss.