- The claim by the Bush administration that Baghdad is
threatening the world with weapons of mass destruction is the main pretext
for its war preparations against Iraq. However, a documentary recently
broadcast by the German state television channel, ARD, suggests that the
US government is itself hiding biological warfare programs from the rest
of the world, and actually employed such weapons in 1952 during the Korean
- The documentary, entitled Codename Artichoke-the Secret
Human Experiments of the CIA, was aired by ARD last August. A book with
the same title was published shortly afterwards. The authors of both the
film and the book, TV journalists Edmond R. Koch and Michael Wech, focus
on the case of biochemist Dr. Frank Olson, who died on November 28, 1953
after a mysterious fall from the 13th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania in
New York City.
- At the time of his death, Olson had been given the highest
clearance for access to classified information. He was one of the leading
scientists doing research in the field of biological weapons, and had been
working for ten years in the biological warfare facilities at Maryland's
Camp Detrick (today, Fort Detrick) near Washington DC.
- He also occupied a leading position in "Operation
Artichoke," a CIA program that coordinated all projects of the Army,
Navy and CIA involving psychedelic drugs, fatal poisons and similar substances.
Those involved in this project included German doctors who had experimented
with human beings in the Nazi concentration camps.
- Artichoke involved the use of torture and drugs to interrogate
people. The effects of substances such as LSD, heroin and marijuana were
studied, using unsuspecting individuals as human guinea pigs. The CIA was
eager to identify military uses for substances that altered the psyche.
The agency was at that time obsessed with the idea that the Soviets or
the Chinese might employ methods of brainwashing to recruit double agents
or manipulate the population of entire nations.
- Artichoke also included the development of poisons that
take effect immediately. These substances were later used in attempts on
the lives of a number of foreign leaders, e.g., Abdul Karim Kassem (Iraq),
Patrice Lumumba (Congo), and Fidel Castro (Cuba).
- Before Frank Olson plunged to his death from a window
of the Hotel Pennsylvania in 1953, he exhibited symptoms of behavioural
disturbance. Friends, family members and colleagues shown in the film and
quoted in the book assume that he had seen things that he felt went too
far, and intended to quit his work with the CIA. Prior to his death he
had seen a psychiatrist on several occasions, always in the company of
a CIA watchdog. He died one day before he was scheduled to be committed
to a psychiatric hospital.
- Olson's death was officially described as suicide due
to depression. Only in the mid-1970s, when the CIA's secret activities
were scrutinised in the wake of the Watergate scandal, did the government
admit to a certain degree of responsibility: Ten days before his death,
the CIA had administered LSD to Olson without his knowledge. President
Gerald Ford subsequently apologised to the family, and the CIA paid compensation
to his widow.
- According to the documentary, this was a further cover-up
operation. The film presents evidence suggesting that the death of the
biochemical expert was not suicide, but murder.
- Frank Olson's son, Eric, is convinced that his father
was assassinated. He has been trying for decades to clear up the circumstances
of his father's death, and has gathered numerous pieces of evidence supporting
the thesis of murder, which he made available to the authors of Codename
- In 1994 Eric Olson had his father's body exhumed and
examined by a renowned forensic scientist, who concluded that in all probability
someone had knocked Frank Olson unconscious in the hotel room and thrown
him out of the window, in contrast to the official version, which claimed
Olson had jumped.
- After the report on the post-mortem had been published,
the public prosecutor's office in Manhattan initiated proceedings against
an unknown person. However, the prosecutor lost interest as soon as the
CIA intervened into the questioning of the main witness, the CIA agent
Robert Lashbrook, who had accompanied Olson continuously prior to his death
and had been in the hotel room when Olson fell out of the window.
- A memorandum dated July 11, 1975 and printed in the book
strongly indicates that the CIA has something to hide. Addressed to the
White House chief of staff, the memo urgently recommended an official apology
by the president so as to forestall any trial or official hearing on the
Olson case. Otherwise, the memo said, "it might be necessary to disclose
highly classified national security information." Ten days later President
Ford met with the Olson family in the White House.
- The addressee and the author of this memo are still active
and hold prominent positions in government. The former is Secretary of
Defence Donald Rumsfeld, who was then White House chief of staff, and the
latter is Vice President Dick Cheney, who was then Rumsfeld's deputy.
- The following year, after delays in the payment of the
promised compensation to the family, another well-known political figure
intervened: then-CIA Director George Bush, who himself went on to become
US president and whose son is George W. Bush.
- Why the cover-up?
- In the mid-1970s, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush senior collaborated
to prevent a thorough investigation into Olson's death, because they feared
that it might "disclose highly classified national security information."
- The authors of the documentary have traced numerous clues,
but given the mass of multifaceted evidence presented, it is often difficult
to distinguish fact from fiction. Olson undoubtedly knew about many things
that would have discredited the US administration, and it is entirely plausible
that the government sought to silence him.
- The authors describe how German physicians who had worked
in Nazi concentration camps were rapidly rehabilitated after the war through
the US denazification program and put to work on US research projects on
biological and chemical warfare. The book also notes that Olson and his
colleagues carried out large-scale field experiments with biological weapons.
In one case they spread a certain bacillus-which they regarded as harmless-across
San Francisco Bay, as a dress rehearsal for a major biological attack on
a large city.
- Both genuine and alleged enemy agents were subjected
to horrifying interrogations, some of which Olson must have witnessed personally,
the authors conclude. In some cases these interrogations led to the death
of the accused. The most convincing proof of this is a telegram from 1954,
in which the CIA director inquires about "bodies available for terminal
- In addition, thousands of people were used, without their
knowledge or consent, for experiments with LSD, mescaline, morphine, seconal,
atropine and other drugs. The CIA even ran its own brothels in order to
lure its victims. As the inspector general of the US Army later stated
in a report to a Senate committee: "[I]n universities, hospitals and
research institutions" an "unknown number of chemical tests and
experiments ... were carried out with healthy adults, with mentally ill
and with prison inmates."
- Most of these activities were exposed in the 1970s, when
two commissions appointed by Congress-the Rockefeller and the Church commissions-investigated
the secret activities of the CIA. A further investigation was published
by John Marks, a former employee of the State Department. After legal proceedings
based on the Freedom of Information Act, Marks gained access to several
thousand pages of classified CIA material. This material is utilised extensively
in the documentary.
- In 1969 the US officially cancelled all research programs
on biological weapons. Fort Detrick was closed down. Today the site is
used by the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases
(USAMRIID), which, according to the official line, strictly limits itself
to the analysis of biological weapons for defence purposes. In 1974, the
US signed onto the international convention against biological warfare.
- Were biological weapons used in Korea?
- There must be reasons for the continuing secrecy surrounding
Olson's death that go beyond the facts which surfaced in the 1970s. One
possible reason is linked to Korea-and to last year's anthrax attacks against
leading politicians of the Democratic Party and others that cost the lives
of five people.
- During the Korean War, both Pyongyang and Beijing repeatedly
accused the US of employing bacteriological weapons. These accusations
were supported by eyewitness reports, photos, laboratory analyses and the
remains of biological bombs.
- In 1952, two international commissions which examined
the war area with Soviet and Chinese help concluded that the US army had
indeed used such weapons. This was confirmed in written statements by US
pilots who were held prisoner by Korea. Some of them appeared before the
international press and repeated their confessions.
- The US categorically denied these accusations, describing
the evidence presented as forged, characterising the international commissions
as instruments of communist propaganda, and claiming that the soldiers'
confessions were the result of "brainwashing." Allen W. Dulles,
the CIA director, even gave a speech devoted to brainwashing, in which
he accused North Korea of "having turned around a whole number of
- When the prisoners of war who had made these confessions
returned from Korea in the summer of 1953, they were interrogated by the
Artichoke team, which had announced its eagerness to do so weeks in advance.
In a memorandum to the top leadership of the CIA, the team said it wanted
to use those "who have been exposed to and accepted in varying degrees
Communist indoctrination ... as unique research material in the Artichoke
work." Among other things, hypnosis, anaesthetics and LSD were to
be used on the former POWs. In this way, Artichoke hoped to gain insight
into the enemy's interrogation methods and to make sure that the returned
soldiers did not work for the other side.
- Koch and Wech, however, believe that Artichoke's main
concern was the confessions of the Air Force pilots. The authors suspect
that they contained at least some true revelations.
- The authors ask: "Was their will to be broken with
LSD? Were they to be subjected to artificial amnesia to make them forget
what they saw and did? Biological warfare? Experiments with anthrax and
other deadly epidemics?"
- Frank Olson probably witnessed some interrogations of
soldiers returning from Korea. This is the conclusion drawn by the authors
from a careful reconstruction of his travels. As the leading expert on
the release of biological weapons, he must have known about the use of
such devices if and when they were actually employed. Was this first-hand
knowledge the ultimate reason for his demise? Did the CIA silence him when
it became clear he was seeking to distance himself from the agency?
- This suspicion is given credence by a reliable witness,
Norman Cournoyer. In the early years of Camp Detrick, Cournoyer had worked
closely with Frank Olson, and remained his best friend until the end. He
knew about Olson's intention to leave the CIA.
- In April 2001, Cournoyer, who had read an article about
the case in the New York Times Magazine, contacted Eric Olson and said
he would tell him the truth about his father's death. "Korea is the
key," he is quoted as saying.
- The authors continue: "And then Norman Cournoyer
confirmed that the American Air Force had indeed tested biological weapons
during the Korean War." Frank Olson had learned about this and began
to despair about what he was doing. In conclusion, Cournoyer said: "Was
this the reason for the CIA to kill your father? Probably."
- According to Eric Olson, this statement is in line with
remarks of his mother, who used to say: "Your father was always worried
- According to Koch and Wech, there is a direct connection
between the cover-up of the Olson case and the sluggish investigations
into the anthrax attacks of October 2001. Last year's attempts on the lives
of two high-ranking representatives of the American state have not been
cleared up to this day. Despite the fact that all evidence points to Fort
Detrick and one possible perpetrator is known by name, the investigation
has plodded along without any suspects being identified by the government.
- A serious probe into either Olson's death or the recent
anthrax attacks, the authors believe, could bring to light things that
would severely damage the credibility of the United States. They suspect
that the anthrax attacker's knowledge of certain facts makes it impossible
for the FBI to lay hands on him.
- The authors suggest that this knowledge relates to secret
biological warfare programs. They ask, "Is it conceivable that the
US army carried out further research on biological weapons in spite of
binding international treaties, even after the official termination of
offensive projects involving biological weaponry in 1969?" They then
charge that there are "very concrete indications that the Pentagon
does not give a damn about international agreements on biological warfare."
- They cite several such indications: the production of
a genetically improved version of the anthrax bacterium, which was reported
by the New York Times on September 11, 2001; the plans by military institutes
to develop new microbes that are able to dissolve certain materials; and
the consistent refusal of the Bush administration to sign a supplementary
protocol to the international convention on biological weapons that would
give teams of United Nations experts access to American military laboratories.
In the course of the negotiations in Geneva, according to the authors,
it became known that Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld wanted at all costs
to prevent any such inspections.
- Codename Artichoke-the Secret Human Experiments of the
CIA is available in German only from C. Bertelssmann Verlag, Munich.
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