CIA Assassination and Cover Up Alleged in Death of Cold War Scientist

The family of an Army biological warfare specialist who was thought to have committed suicide by jumping from the window of a New York hotel six decades ago have sued the United States government claiming the CIA was responsible for his murder and the cover-up which followed.

Eric and Nils Olson, the sons of Dr. Frank Olson who was a bioweapons expert with the CIA during the early years of the Cold War, filed a lawsuit in the US district court in Washington on November 28 contending that their father was instead pushed out of a 13th story New York City highrise window by CIA operatives who feared he was developing deep misgivings about the intelligence agency’s extreme interrogation tactics after he witnessed actual torture being done in Europe.

According to official account, Dr. Olson died on November 28,1953, nine days after he was given LSD by agency officials without his knowledge. The government said he jumped to his death after he unknowingly took the hallucinatory drug as part of a top-secret CIA mind control program, codenamed MK-ULTRA, which involved brainwashing and administering experimental drugs to unsuspecting individuals. The CIA has which has previously denied any foul play was forced to admit in 1975, more than 20 years after the death, that the scientist had been given LSD in a spiked glass of Cointreau. The agency, which originally told the family the death was a result of job-induced stress, has since then  maintained that it was a drug-induced suicide.The government offered his family in 1975 an out-of-court settlement of $750,000, which they accepted. The lawsuit contends that even when the drug details emerged, the CIA embarked on a “multi-decade cover-up that continues to this day.”

In 1994, Eric Olson his father’s body exhumed to be buried with his wife, Alice. The family decided to have a second autopsy performed. The 1953 medical report done immediately after Dr. Olson’s death indicated that there were cuts and abrasions on the body. When the second autopsy was performed by James Starrs, Professor of Law and Forensic science at the National Law Center at George Washington University, his team searched the body for any cuts and abrasions and found none. Starrs instead found a large hematoma on the left side of Dr. Olson’s head and a large injury on his chest. The team concluded that the blunt force trauma to the head and injury to the chest had not occurred during the fall but most likely in the room before the fall. The evidence was called “rankly and starkly suggestive of homicide.” Based on the findings, the Manhattan District Attorney in 1996 opened a homicide investigation into Olson’s death, but was unable to find enough evidence other than the forensic results to bring appropriate criminal charges.

In the civil complaint, the plaintiffs said, “The circumstances surrounding Dr. Olson’s wrongful death are substantially similar to a ‘secret assassination’ technique described in a manual that, upon information and belief, the CIA published the year of Dr. Olson’s death. The manual suggested ‘[f]or secret assassination … the contrived accident is the most effective technique’ because ‘[w]hen successfully executed, it causes little excitement and is only casually investigated.’”

The Olson brothers said they were told by numerous high-ranking federal officials, including President Gerald Ford, that their father’s death was a suicide. However, in 1993 former CIA Director William Colby gave information to the family which prompted them to ask for the exhumation and autopsy of Dr. Olson’s body. According to their account, “On April 27, 1996, former Director Colby, who had previously indicated that the CIA had not actually disclosed all relevant information, disappeared under suspicious circumstances. His body was found nine days later.” Colby died in what appeared to have been a boating accident near his home in Rock Point, Maryland. There was speculation that Colby’s death was due to foul play or suicide.

Eric and Nils Olson are seeking damages for negligent supervision, to be determined at trial. They are also asking for access to documents related to their father’s death and other matters that they say the CIA has withheld from them.