Six Degrees Of Frank Olson

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You’re all a bunch of thespians!
–Frank Olson

I had no idea what the Netflix miniseries Wormwood was about before I watched the trailer…but as I watched the protagonist talk nervously about LSD and then dive out a window, it all suddenly became very clear. This was about Frank Olson, a bioweapons expert who in 1953 allegedly threw himself out the window of the Statler hotel in New York City.

Olson had been on my radar for a while, because I have a little bit of a “Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon”-type connection with him. His son—who fought for many years to get to the truth of what really happened to his father—was my husband’s dentist.

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Frank Olson

If I want to now play the “sync game” about all of it, the Statler is now known as the Hotel Pennsylvania, at which I have attended several fateful Big Apple Comic Cons. When I walk past the hotel now, I try to figure out where exactly Olson landed; a morbid thing to do, but as is my nature.

The U.S. government originally told Olson’s family that he died a suicide, as the result of job-related stress. Later, the CIA had to admit that their agents gave Olson Cointreau spiked with LSD right before the “suicide.” According to author Peter Levenda in Sinister Forces Book One, it might have been a little more shady than even that:

There was not enough distance available in the room to permit a fully-grown man to work up enough momentum to crash through a closed window, moreover a window with the shade drawn. It also doesn’t make sense that a person would try to commit suicide in that fashion. At the very least, he would open the window first. At the very least, he would simply go out the window and fall to the ground. By running at full tilt at a closed window all Olson could have hoped to accomplish was a dismal failure…

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Even if we put aside the idea that agents threw Olson out of the window and used the fact he was high on LSD as a cover…why were there agents in his hotel room giving him Cointreau spiked with LSD in the first place? What was so special—or potentially dangerous—about Frank Olson?

Well, in Olson’s travels as a bioweapons expert he allegedly discovered that the CIA was using biological agents—the type perhaps Olson himself was working on—to conduct disturbing interrogations of suspects in Europe. This apparently provoked some soul-searching on the part of the scientist.

Shortly after that, on November 19 of 1953, Olson was invited to attend the top-secret Deep Creek Rendezvous in Maryland, in which 9 government doctors and other personnel—from both the CIA and the Special Operations Division of the Army (SOD)—met in a remote cabin to discuss their projects. In attendance was Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the head of MKUltra. The SOD peeps, of which Olson was one, were apparently dosed with LSD (the aforementioned spiked Cointreau) without their consent. Things get nutty, and at one point a stoned Olson shouts out: “You’re all thespians!”

This was a very odd thing for Olson to say…unless, as Levenda notes, it unwittingly revealed what the scientist was already thinking since his disturbing trip to Europe…that he was surrounded by phonies and liars.

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Olson wakes up the next morning at his Maryland home super-depressed. He tells his wife that he wants to quit his job and become a dentist. On the first work day after the Deep Creek incident, he tells his supervisor that he wants to quit. The next work day, he is taken home early by the SOD and his family is told that he’s gone off the deep end and needs “special psychiatric treatment” in New York City.

Mind, you, the man had been dosed with LSD without his knowledge. That part they failed to mention. That might have fucking cleared some shit up.

Now Olson is in fucking Manhattan, under the care of a “therapist” called Dr. Abramson…an immunology expert from Mount Sinai Hospital with CIA connections. Abramson has no credentials in anything psychiatric or psychological. However, he did have experience with LSD research.

netflix-wormwoodSo Olson is in a fucking snake pit of shady government-connected weirdos who are assigned to look after him in Manhattan. At one point he breaks free and wanders the streets and subways of NYC, getting rid of all his identification in the process. The work of a nervous mind? Or a person who knows he’s chin-deep in the snake pit? Or both?

By November 26, Thanksgiving Day, the CIA claims Olson was simply “too scared” to go home. Still had that “deteriorating mental condition,” I see. The next day Abramson gives him a “cocktail” of Nembutal and bourbon—not a fucking recommended combination, but maybe he just took pity on the guy.

Hours later, Olson was dead on the pavement, having fallen ten floors from his hotel room window.

In 1975, a commission headed by Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller concluded that “a civilian employee of the Department of the Army unwittingly took LSD as part of a Central Intelligence Agency test.” Further, in 1977 Ted Kennedy, during a joint commission looking into MKUltra, said “At least one death, that of Dr. Olson, resulted from these activities.” And while a lawsuit against the CIA on behalf of Olson’s family was dismissed in 2013 due to a claimed time-limit, the Judge did state: “the public record supports many of the allegations that follow, far-fetched as they may sound.”

So when people tell me that “conspiracy theories” are all bunk and the fever-dreams of the Alex Jones crowd…look at the story of Frank Olson. But maybe nowadays in our hi-tech internet society we don’t need to dose “troublesome” people with LSD and make everyone think they are insane. Maybe we just go on an online campaign to discredit them. Maybe we discredit the entire idea of conspiracies as the fever-dreams of the Alex Jones crowd, too; so that way when whistleblowers come forward, they can just get dismissed straight-away as lunatics. A more “evolved” way to handle such situations, perhaps…

Or merely a variation on a theme?

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Wormwood, directed by Errol Morris, will be released on Netflix December 15.

More to read about on Butterfly Language:
The Death Of “Conspiracy Culture”
Book Review: Sinister Forces By Peter Levenda
Thoughts On The Anniversary Of Marilyn Monroe’s Death